Imp-Probable Journeys

Imp-Probable Journeys

by Aleksandra Zajackowski

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An oddly paired duo, Pete, a computer "junkie" and class nerd, and Lilly find themselves trapped in a time warp. As they travel through time and space they have to solve numerous mysteries of the past or rescue some unusual characters they meet along the way. Their missions are as exciting as they are dangerous, but the children are helped by a mischievous clay imp…  See more details below


An oddly paired duo, Pete, a computer "junkie" and class nerd, and Lilly find themselves trapped in a time warp. As they travel through time and space they have to solve numerous mysteries of the past or rescue some unusual characters they meet along the way. Their missions are as exciting as they are dangerous, but the children are helped by a mischievous clay imp and his magical powers. However, they soon realize that the wacky little mascot offers more than the simple thrill of adventure and breaking away from his dominance will become their greatest challenge.

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Chapter One

The banner saying 'Game over' scrolled across the computer screen. The electronic music stopped playing. The room fell silent for the first time since the late morning.

Pete Spruce leaned against the edge of his desk and pushed away from the computer. His chair started to roll toward the shelf where he kept his games. But his right foot was firmly anchored on the carpet and the chair didn't swivel far enough. It stopped before he could reach for a new CD.

His first reaction was to kick his leg against the floor and to swivel the chair further. But then he remembered the pain.

"Rotten luck!" He slumped on his chair like a rag doll. Why did it have to happen on the last day of school? Just as he thought he could spend the entire ten weeks playing outside with the kids? When he wanted to put the fifth grade and the elementary school behind him, before the shadow of the new middle school pushed the fun days away? "Life's so unfair!" he hissed as if he could make the pain fizzle out of his body like the air from a popped balloon.

He wanted to believe that this was only a bad dream. Why couldn't he just count to ten and snap out of it? But when he glanced down, his purplish-red scab was still there. It sat on his knee like a splayed plum. Below the scab was a white cast with a single inscription, which ran crookedly across his calf. It read: 'Before you know it, your leg will be as good as new again. Love ya, Mom.'

A gentle breeze came in through the open window and tickled him on the cheek. Pete heard shouts mixed with the rhythmical thumping. The kids must have been kicking the ball in the park. He pulled himself upfrom the chair and hobbled clumsily to the window. He angrily slammed it down to shut out the noise.

And then his eye caught sight of his brand-new tree house.

The tree house was nestled in the fork of their old oak tree, right outside his window. Dad had spent many weeks helping him build it. It was supposed to be Pete's 'Command Post' for his Special Forces unit.

But then yesterday, on the last day of school, the brakes of his bicycle locked up as he was coasting down the hill behind their house. He was thrown from his seat. He made a somersault in the air, and then tumbled down the hill over the tree roots sticking out of the ground. The fall knocked the wind out of his chest for a long painful moment. But it was nothing compared to the pain in his leg. His knee was bathed in blood. His ankle swelled so much it looked as if someone had stuffed a big apple into his sock. By the time he hobbled home, the apple turned into a grapefruit. And the pain? Oh, brother! It hurt worse than if twenty bees had stung him all at the same time. And although Special Forces commandos were supposed to be tougher than nails, Pete screamed and howled louder than an entire army of mortally wounded soldiers.

The doctor said his leg was broken and that the cast had to stay on for six weeks. Six weeks? Holy mackerel! Six weeks out of his summer vacation--with a cast on his leg! How was he going to climb the rope ladder up to his tree house? He grabbed a plastic dart and furiously tossed it at the round target that hung on the wall under a huge map of the world.

The pointed tip of the dart landed right in the middle of the target. Bull's eye. Where was good luck when you needed it? He grabbed his crutches and hobbled back to his desk.

Mom pushed the door with her elbow and maneuvered inside the room with a tray of oatmeal cookies and a pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade. She glanced at the crumpled figure at the computer.

"Cheer up, Pete, help is on the way."

"I wish!" Pete sneered angrily, his eyes involuntarily following her movements as her slender reflection glided over the dark computer screen.

He watched her rest the tray on the edge of his desk. Mom frowned and started to sweep up the strewn baseball cards into a neat pile. Then she patted the lumps on his bedspread. She picked up a yo-yo and a little metal car from the floor, straightened a picture of Pete as a little baby on the wall, and pushed the drawers of his dresser shut.

"What a mess!" she sniffed. "Why is this window closed? You need some air."

"It doesn't bother me."

"We have to straighten this room. You're going to have a visitor here."


"Lilly. Mrs. Roberts is coming over with a new dress pattern for me. Lilly is coming along with her."

"Mom!" Pete's fingers froze above the keyboard, spread wide apart, as if he were going to cast a spell on her. "You are not serious."

"About what? The dress pattern or Lilly?" Mom paused at his desk where she was gathering his spilled pencils into a plastic cup. "You two could play together for a while."

"No way. She is boring."

"Pete, that's not nice."

"But Mom, nobody likes Lilly." The picture of his schoolmate jumped to his mind: a bony, rail-thin creature with awkward movements and ready answers to every question he could ever think of. "She thinks she knows it all. Kids say that she reads the dictionary for fun. That darn Miss Smarty-Pants!"

"Pete, shame on you! Lilly is such a sweet girl. And the Roberts have been almost like a family for us. Please, don't disappoint me today."

Now that was the biggest problem. Dad had known Mr. Roberts since his college days. They worked together in the same office. Both families lived in the same neighborhood; Pete and Lilly were classmates. And their fathers often talked about Lilly and Pete. Dad knew that Lilly was a straight 'A' student and that she read faster than they could publish new books.

Not a day would pass without Dad nagging Pete about his school achievements and his grades. And, naturally, Lilly was the yardstick by which to measure and compare Pete's school progress. Gradually, Pete grew to hate Lilly Roberts with all his heart.

"Mom, why are you doing this to me? I can't stand..." He stopped as the doorbell rang.

"It's them." Mom blew some dust off the shelf holding his soldier collection. "Remember, you are the host. So, please, be nice to her." She lightly kissed the top of his head and added, "At least be civil, I beg of you. I know that you aren't too fond of Lilly. But you know that Mr. Roberts is Dad's best friend. And Mrs. Roberts is such a dear lady, I'd hate to upset her."

She patted his bushy hair down with the same grimace as when she was smoothing the lumps on his bed before. Then she quickly rushed out to answer the door.

"We can't upset dear Mrs. Roberts. But does anyone care how I feel?" Pete yelled from behind the computer screen, hoping that Mom would still hear him from the hallway.

A few minutes later Lilly's red hair and freckled face appeared in the doorway. She glanced around the cluttered room, pouted, and then, carefully lifting her long legs, stepped inside his room. She looked like a crane he had once seen on a lake while fishing with Dad. Pete almost chuckled.

"Hi!" Lilly chirped in an unusually high-pitched voice. Her green, slightly bulging eyes swept the floor. She found a clear spot and put down a stack of books she had brought along. "There!" she squeaked and waded through the room, again lifting her legs in the most comical manner. Finally she plopped down into an empty chair. "So, you've got yourself into quite a mess. Bummer! Horsing around on your bike, weren't you?"

"It's legal," Pete barked, feeling annoyed.

"Sure! That's why now you are legally sporting this handsome cast on your leg. No more bike. No tree house. Some vacation, eh?"

"Don't worry so much about my summer vacation. I have enough computer games to last me 'til August. And I can watch as much TV as I want."

The bulging eyes opened wider. "You can't watch TV round the clock!"

"Oh, yeah? Who says?"

"It's bad for your eyes. Why don't you read, instead? Here, I've brought you some books."

"Forget it! I didn't ask you to bring me any books." His Mom's request to be nice echoed in his ears. He helplessly clenched his fists. "Thanks anyway," he forced himself to say.

But Lilly wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. "Listen." She lifted her finger up as if struck by an excellent idea. "My dad said that on your report card you got only a 'C' in Language Arts. Your dad told him. I thought I could help you. Why don't I come more often and we could read together?"

Pete felt as if someone had punched him right in his stomach. Why was Dad discussing his report card with Mr. Roberts again? He growled, "I don't need your dumb books! Do you understand? Go and find yourself another kid and ruin his summer. Leave me alone!"

Lilly flung her mouth open as if she were going to send a shrill message to her mother in the living room that Pete hadn't been nice to her.

Pete quickly threw his arms up in a desperate surrender. "Take it easy, Lilly. Can't you take a joke?"

Lilly's mouth closed and her usual I-know-it-all grin returned to her face.

"No problemo." She nodded graciously.

Thank heavens, one problemo was taken care of. Now, he had to make sure nobody mentioned books till the end of this visit. Providing this visit was ever going to end, of course!

"So--what do you want to do?" he asked cautiously.

"Let's play something." Lilly jumped off her chair and charged for his toy chest. She flung the lid open and started to rummage inside. "Do you have Chinese checkers? They're my favorite."

Chinese checkers weren't Pete's favorite. Nor, for that matter, were the jigsaw puzzles Lilly asked about next.

"I'm going to race cars right now," he said firmly, pointing at the computer screen. "You can race with me if you want to."

Lilly pouted. "Too violent." She ran her finger over his CD collection, reading out the titles. "Gee, boys are such savages! Don't you have anything educational?"

I knew it wouldn't work! Pete fumed to himself. He checked his watch. Two--fifteen. This was going to be a lo-o-o-o-ng afternoon. What if Mrs. Roberts wanted to stay till dinner?

Lilly jumped on his bed, landing right in the middle. She folded her legs and slouched comfortably, looking like she owned the place. "Now!" She pulled a strange pendant on a leather string out of her pocket. It was a head of an ugly dwarf.

"Now ... what?" Pete stared at the little face surrounded by a halo of tangled hair.

"Now, we could play something else." She gently blew at the bushy patch of fur on the little figurine and then winked at Pete. "I mean something totally different." She stretched her hand out to Pete offering him a better look of her toy.


"I think it's magical. Do you want to find out?"

Chapter Two

Something in her voice made him look closer at the pendant. He saw an ugly, wrinkled face made of baked clay buried under the long, unkempt hair. It had a pair of pointed ears, and a hooked nose that was so huge it almost touched the thin lips stretched in a mischievous smile. The triangular chin was curved upwards, toward the crooked nose. Ugh!

"Well--," Lilly withdrew her hand and hung the pendant on her neck. "How do you like him?"

"You mean this...this... thing? No offense, but he's ugly as Principal Goodrich."

The little clay eyes flared at him with a strange light. Pete felt his heart skip a beat. He shook off the strange impression. It must've been just the reflection of the sun.

"Let me see him." He leaned across his desk and reached toward Lilly's neck.

"Don't touch him!"

"Why? He's not going to bite me," he joked warily, checking his watch again. Two-twenty five. What could be holding Mrs. Roberts up?

"Shhh!" Lilly quickly clasped her hand over the fuzzy head. "He may hear you."

"So? He's just a stupid piece of clay."

"Not really. He isn't what you think."

"So what is he?" Pete couldn't hide annoyance any longer. She's just so weird. "He looks like a troll. I used to have a collection of trolls ma-a-a-ny years ago. Trolls are so last century."

"This isn't a troll. It's an imp. I think he has some magical powers."

"Is that so? He looks like a K-Mart special to me. Nine-ninety-nine, batteries not included. You can't fool me. I don't believe in any magical imps."

"You don't understand, Pete. He didn't come from any store."

"Oh. So, where did you get this piece of junk?" He lowered his voice--not that he believed her story or because he was afraid the piece of clay would hear him--but just in case.

"I got him from my Great Aunt Aurelia. You know, I got my middle name after her." She pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows as if she were announcing that she was Queen of England's fifth cousin three times removed. "She brought him from Malaysia."

Pete had not the slightest idea where Malaysia was, but he wouldn't even dream of asking this smart aleck, carrot-haired nuisance of a girl. Not in the world! He decided to switch the subject.

"That's cool. Now, what did you want to play?"

"Him." She firmly pointed her chin down to her necklace.

The girl was getting weirder by the minute. "Are you crazy? I don't want to play with a dumb clay doll!"

The imp's lips stretched a bit and his painted eyes bulged slightly in their wrinkled sockets. A chill crept up Pete's spine. Perhaps the pain pills were making him see things. He rubbed his hand over his forehead, blinking his eyes. The doctor said he might have side effects from his prescription, but it was too weird. Clay toys don't make faces at people!

"Don't be silly, Pete. As if I play dolls anymore either!" She bit her upper lip and shot a quick glance at him from under the storm of her red bangs. "Do you have a spirit of adventure?" she challenged him.

"I...I guess. Why?"

Lilly glanced at the door, whispering, "Auntie Aurelia told me this imp could do things. He can take you to different places, in-ter-est-ing places." She stretched the last few syllables. "Wouldn't you want to have a great adventure?"

Pete ran his tongue over his lips. They felt like sandpaper. "And," he hesitated, not sure whether she was serious, "how does he do that?"

"I don't know yet. There must be some special word or something you do to activate him. I hoped you'd help me find it."

"That's a stupid game. I don't want to play twenty questions with a piece of clay." He picked up a dart and tossed it at the target, missing the bull's eye only by a quarter of an inch. "Try to beat that."

The girl pouted, suddenly looking very disappointed. Her glance moved from the target on the wall, then to her imp, and back again to the dart that was still twitching next to the bull's-eye.

"Come on, your turn!" Pete nudged her.

"I don't believe you! Here you have a chance of your lifetime to do something really cool and all you can think of is your darts. Pete, I would gladly give up my allowance and all the blueberry pop tarts to take my imp for a test drive to some neat places. If only I knew how to make him work..."

"Ask your aunt. She should know."

"I did already. All she knows is what the man who sold her the imp had told her. He swore the imp was magical."

"The bottom line is you still don't have the password. End of the story. Now, go for it." He pressed the dart into her palm.

Lilly sighed, but obediently threw her dart. It bounced off the wall and landed on the carpet.

"Oops. Missed it," she stated the obvious.

"It's OK," Pete made an effort to sound a bit friendlier than before. "Give it another try. And ask your imp-buddy to help you. A good opportunity to test his magic powers--if he has any, of course."

And then he heard it! A faint giggle, a tiny voice that didn't quite sound like it could be produced by a human throat.

"Who...who was that?"

"What do you mean?"

"That sound!" He jabbed his finger toward her neck.

"What sound? You heard a sound coming from a piece of clay? Come on, Pete, that's a kid's toy, nine-ninety-nine, batteries not included!"

"Stop pretending like you don't see or hear anything!"

"Honest." She beat her chest with her rolled-up fist. "I haven't a clue what you're talking about. Are you hallucinating?"


"My mom said you're taking a strong medicine for pain. It makes people woozy. You're imagining things, Pete."

"You're crazy!" Pete handed her another dart, trying to steady his shaking hand. "Here, try this one out. Hope it works this time!"

Lilly's lips pressed together and stretched until they formed a thin line, parting her pale face into two.

And then something strange happened to her eyes. Her green irises narrowed and suddenly changed their color. They were red! They looked like two blazing tongues of fire. Pete turned his head to see what they could reflect. The setting sun? Too early for the sunset. The light from the computer? The screen was filled with neon blue cars of his new screen saver.

He felt a chill crumple the skin on his back. He blinked and glanced into Lilly's eyes again.

The glare was gone. Her eyes were green, with a slightly brownish halo around the black pupils. He blinked and checked again. Green. What on earth?

"Let's forget darts, eh?" He hoped his voice sounded natural. "Maybe I can find checkers in my toy chest. You said you liked them."

"No. Darts are fine. My turn." She firmly cupped her hands over the imp, pinched the crooked nose, and twisted one of the pointed ears. She whispered something into the black fuzz. "There!" She threw the dart ahead without even looking at the target. "Are you happy now?"

Probably a sudden breeze coming from the open window swept the light plastic object off its track. The dart twitched, seemed to hesitate for a split moment. At last the nose tipped up and it flew right toward the world map above the target. The sharp point pierced a yellow spot with a black sign EGYPT printed across it. The dart stuck firmly to the sign, the fins vibrating for a long time.

Pete huffed and was about to say something nasty about the powers of the imp, when a dry hot wind blew right into his face and showered him with sharp grains of sand.

"Close the window!" he yelled, but the wind pushed his words down his throat. The familiar giggle came again from somewhere, though now it was much louder and sounded more like a malicious cackle.

The room darkened, and the floor tilted causing Pete to slide down. He felt dizzy. Perhaps he was fainting? He squeezed his eyes closed and instinctively reached out for Lilly's bony fingers. He grabbed them with a deadly grip. But his dizziness didn't go away. Neither did the darkness around him. Totally disoriented, he kept on sliding down, faster and faster, into some petrifying, dark unknown.

Chapter Three

After what seemed like an eternity, the dizziness stopped. The floor leveled off and the impression that he was falling down went away. Without opening his eyes, he drew a lungful of air. It felt so hot it stung. He cleared his throat, tasting a few grains of sand on his tongue. Sand?! His eyes still tightly closed, Pete felt around himself with shaking hands. He was sitting on something soft.

"I must've fallen off the chair," he muttered. He opened his eyes, blinked, and...quickly shut them again. What he saw was not what he had expected. He rubbed his eyes, slowly opened them again and... gasped. His room had just ... disappeared! Totally! Instead there was a lush patch of grass around, and gentle waves of some river splashed nearby. A river?! He rubbed his eyes with his fists and dared to look up again. The grass was still there. And so was the river. It was wide and meandering, creating large bays overgrown with reeds.

He squinted as the scorching sun stung his eyes, then peered ahead. He noticed a few small mud-brick houses perched on the high embankment. Beyond those dilapidated little huts were three or four large palaces, nestled among the palm trees; well-maintained gardens and fish pools glittered between the flowerbeds. And further on, beyond the thin strip of lush vegetation, there was a rust-red expanse of sand, a ghostly waste of desert stretching far, far, up to the distant horizon.

Pete anxiously stirred around. He was not alone. He was surrounded by thousands of people. His gaze leapt from one face to another, without recognizing anybody.

"Lilly?" he whimpered.

Not a head turned at him. The strangers kept staring at the river in a sort of a daze, shading their faces with their hands against the sun.

Who were these people? Where was he? In a park? At a game? But this wasn't the kind of a crowd Pete would find at a Saturday afternoon ball game, either. Honestly, they weren't the kind of a crowd he would find anywhere at all. These people looked strange. Men wore white skirts and no shirts at all. Women were wrapped in long sheet-like dresses and had earrings the size of saucers hanging from under their thick hair. Little children wore only loose belts around their hips and metallic armbands. Their heads were shaven except for one or two braids at the sides of their heads. All the faces around him were golden-brown. Both men and women wore heavy makeup, which made their eyes look like huge almonds.

Pete pinched his arm to make it sure it was only a dream. But the arm throbbed with real pain. He was awake. And as hot and uncomfortable as if some had turned the heat at the full blast in the middle of a summer day.

Despite the heat, a new wave of panic pushed little goose bumps up on his skin.

"Lilly? Mom? Mrs. Roberts?" he yelped again

Someone poked him on the shoulder. "Yesss! It worked! It worked!" A familiar, high-pitched shrill rang in his right ear.

"Oh, my God! You're here, too?"

"Sure thing. You didn't think I would let you come here by yourself?" Lilly beamed a smile at him. She roosted on the hot sand, as comfortable and happy as if she were sitting on a beanbag in front of TV in her own room. "So, how do you like it?"

"Lilly--what's that?"

Lilly didn't seem to have heard him. She kept hitting her clenched fists together as if she were applauding. "He did it! See?"

"Who did what? What happened to my room?"

"He heard me at last!" She moved closer and whispered straight into his ear. "This is the kind of adventure I wanted! Not racing your stupid cars. Look, he really did it this time."

"Who?" It took a great effort to make his voice sound natural despite his teeth hitting each other with a nervous staccato.

Lilly shook her head. Her eyes blazed with excitement, the reddish spots on her pale face became suddenly animated and they seemed to swirl over her cheeks with every twitch of her nostrils.

"Pete, it's so cool!" She chattered like a machine gun in a TV movie. "I aimed my dart at your map and whispered to my imp to take us wherever it lands. And then he... I swear... he blinked at me, something happened to your floor, I was sliding down, the lights went out, it was so dark, I was really scared at first, but then I landed here, I looked around, and ... and here we are! I told you he was magical and you laughed at me. See? I was right! Oh, great-aunt Aurelia, I love you!" She finally stopped to gasp for air. She moved closer to Pete and whispered in awe, "So, how do you like this place?"

"Where in the world are we?" Pete exploded a touch too loudly.

"Shhh!" Lilly put her finger over her lips. "Be quiet, we aren't alone!"

"No kidding! Who are these people? Why are they dressed up like this? What's this--Halloween?

"Come on, you're not serious. You really don't have a clue where we are?"


"No, silly!" She giggled mischievously. "Look across the river and guess for yourself!"

Pete didn't really want to find out where he was, but Lilly pulled his sleeve and pointed. Her arm drew a wide circle.

Pete automatically followed her hand. No, it couldn't be! It had to be some trick, some visual special effects, sort of like a virtual reality on a computer. The distant line of the horizon, which was dimmed in a brownish haze, bulged in a few places, and formed a group of clearly identifiable triangular shapes. Pete didn't have to strain his eyes to recognize the massive contours of the pyramids, which were sprouting from the vast ocean of sand. The huge disk of the setting sun was slowly lowering toward the horizon and bathing the pyramids with a scarlet glaze.

"It looks like...Egypt..."

"Duh! Isn't it obvious? I don't remember seeing any pyramids in your backyard!" She wrapped her arms around herself and dreamily hummed, "It's hard to believe, isn't it?"

"I don't believe it. It's just physically improbable."

"Remember," she wagged her finger at him, "everything is probable with my imp. Or better yet: it's imp-probable. Get it?" She twirled a strand of hair in her fingers. "I've always dreamed about traveling to such places as this one, but I could never imagine my dreams would come true."

"Don't kid yourself, you're still dreaming. Now, let's start it all from the beginning."

"From the beginning?"

"You know--my room, darts."

"Does this look like your room?"

"I told you I didn't believe in magic."

"So what do you call this?" She moved her chin up and pointed with it ahead.

"A hoax. A side effect from my pills. Or whatever. But Egypt? No way!"

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