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Reality Leak

Reality Leak

5.0 1
by Joni Sensel, Christian Slade

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Come follow this trail of riddles lined with popcorn and drawn in invisible ink!

Pants that walk by themselves . . . Secret messages that pop up in the toaster . . . A mysterious factory that plants already-popped corn and makes invisible ink . . . or is it inc?

What is going on in South Wiggot? It all started when Mr. Keen arrived in the dusty


Come follow this trail of riddles lined with popcorn and drawn in invisible ink!

Pants that walk by themselves . . . Secret messages that pop up in the toaster . . . A mysterious factory that plants already-popped corn and makes invisible ink . . . or is it inc?

What is going on in South Wiggot? It all started when Mr. Keen arrived in the dusty little farm town—in a wooden crate. Strange things have been happening ever since, and Bryan Zilcher is determined to find out why, before things can go from strange to sinister.

This compelling adventure is like nothing else you've ever read. Part Saturday morning cartoon, part secret agent mystery—and all zany fun!

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal

Gr 4-6 - The dull town of South Wiggot gets turned upside down when the mysterious Archibald Keen appears. After he arrives in a wooden crate, opens up a factory, and makes sure the townspeople all have fillings in their teeth, strange things start happening. Eleven-year-old Bryan, with help from a girl named Spot, discovers flying dollar bills, tea bags that turn into mice, and other oddities, and then realizes that no one else even notices what's going on. With persistent curiosity and cleverness, he learns that the apparently sinister Mr. Keen is actually trying to patch a dangerous "reality leak." They finally join forces to save the town, and Bryan earns a bright future as a special agent for Mr. Keen's secret organization. The boy's inner feelings about his family and his tentatively developing friendship with Spot seem tacked on at times, but add a bit of depth to the story. The bizarre occurrences are fun, and also key to the plot, as the boy tries to make sense of them all. Black-and-white illustrations provide lighthearted depictions of some of the unusual items Bryan encounters. The delicate balance between humor and pure absurdity generally works. When Bryan sees his dad's pants walking around with nobody in them, for instance, it's more weird than suspenseful, but the mystery surrounding the cause of such events should keep readers involved.-Steven Engelfried, Multnomah County Library, OR

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
This truly eccentric take on the power of imagination requires a big suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. Sensel's first novel features 11-year-old Bryan Zilcher, who becomes involved with the terribly mysterious president of ACME Inc., Archibald Keen. Bryan's realistic feelings about his divorced dad's girlfriend seem incongruous when mixed in with the wildly fantastic plot. ACME is an acronym for Astro-Chrono-Magical-Enterprises, and weird things do happen there. Bryan is hired after answering a series of incredibly nonsensical questions. Fellow school nerd Rebecca is hired as guard dog, acting and living life as a dog named Spot. Bryan's first job is to plant popped corn in a vast field. Eventually his dad and his dad's girlfriend get involved in what becomes a seriously warped and possibly dangerous experience with ACME. Some of the bizarre occurrences are truly imaginative. Slade's illustrations add greatly to the tale, but the strange juxtaposition of reality and fantasy doesn't quite gel. (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher
"This utterly silly but entertaining story clearly has a lot of madcap influences, including old Saturday morning cartoons, Roald Dahl, and the Addams Family. Readers who enjoy oddball characters and off-the-wall mysteries should find this amusing."


"Fun and funny to boot. Few of the titles out there have as clear a sense of lighthearted glee as Joni Sensel's Reality Leak. Never disappointing and always surprising. I was truly delighted."

— Elizabeth Bird (Fuse #8), New York Public Library.

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Sold by:
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
9 - 11 Years

Read an Excerpt

Reality Leak

By Joni Sensel, Christian Slade

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2007 Joni Sensel
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3732-0



People did not usually travel down Route 64 stuffed inside wooden crates. Yet here was a crate, a big one, squatting atop the road's dotted line, and somebody odd was about to climb out.

From his LemonMoo stand by the highway, eleven-year-old Bryan Zilcher gaped. Just a minute before, he'd been gazing sadly as a big white semi sped past. He'd been hoping the brake lights might blink. The driver could still turn back to buy a cool drink. He didn't. As the truck bounced over a pothole, the trailer's left rear door had flung itself wide. A large wooden crate slid from the shadows and tumbled out to the road.

Bryan had braced for an explosion of splinters. Instead of busting on the blacktop, the crate flipped twice, then clunked flat in the center of the road. The truck never slowed. It roared toward the horizon and was gobbled by shimmering heat waves.

Bryan looked both ways down the highway. It stretched along empty, as usual. He eased out to the wooden box, as big as an oven, for a closer look. Nothing hinted at what was inside, but one end of the crate bore a bright orange sticker that said WARNING: DO NOT LICK.

"Why would you want to?" Bryan wondered aloud. Licking a crate seemed a sure way to get slivers in your tongue.

The crate, of course, had not answered. Bryan decided the warning must be in truck-driver slang. Maybe licking was something you did with a forklift. Beneath the orange sticker was a name: Acme Inc. Keeping his tongue safely behind his teeth, Bryan ran his fingers along one wood slat.

The crate might have been waiting for that. Bryan heard the snick of some invisible latch. Without even a creak, the lid swung open wide.

Bryan had nearly jumped out of his sandals. Now, from a few yards away, he watched first an arm and then a long, spindly leg crook over the crate's open edge. Slick as scissors, a man clambered out. His white suit and shoes made Bryan think of a preacher or perhaps Colonel Sanders, the fried chicken king. The shiny, gold object he had in his hand was no drumstick, though. It could have been a small flashlight, except one end tapered to a sharp, curly point like the tail of a mechanical pig. The device reminded Bryan of something unpleasant a dentist might use. He shivered despite the July heat.

The tall man looked directly at him. For an instant, Bryan could have sworn that tiny green spirals twirled in the man's eyeballs. Then those eyes blinked and the spirals vanished. The stranger's eyes were simply an odd green. They made Bryan think of bitter olives without the red pimento stuffed in.

Bryan shook his head. He had to stop spooking himself. It was only some weird-looking guy who'd shown up by accident. It had to hurt to be dumped out of a truck like that, too.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

When the man grinned, Bryan wished he would go back to staring. That grin had too many teeth. It made the stranger look a bit like a jack-o'-lantern.

"Greetings," said Mr. O'Lantern, or whoever he was.

Bryan licked his lips. He considered fleeing to the gas station behind him, but he did not want this man to guess that he was even a bit scared, so he grabbed a paper cup and asked, "Um ... would you like to buy a glass of my delicious LemonMoo?"

The man twisted his neck slowly to the right, then the left. He pointed his metal device here and there across the farmland and tumbleweeds of South Wiggot. Used to being ignored, Bryan juggled the cup and wondered if the strange tool took spy photos or measured radiation. He nearly dropped the cup when the creepy visitor finally turned back and replied with a question of his own.

"At what price, may I ask?" The man's voice sounded like he might have a metal gear in his skinny throat instead of an Adam's apple.

Bryan gulped. He usually charged a dollar a cup. But a man in such a well-ironed suit might pay a bit more. He took a deep breath and said, "Two dollars, with ice." He hoped the stranger didn't notice how nervous he felt.

The man tucked his pointy tool into his spotless jacket. When his hand slid back out, he held a small black pouch.

"Of course. Acme Inc. is happy to support local business." Surprised and excited, Bryan hurried back behind his card table. He felt safer there. He grabbed his LemonMoo pitcher from his dad's ice chest, filled a cup, and dropped in two cubes of ice.

"Archibald Keen, at your service," said the man, waiting. "President of Acme Inc." He unfolded his long fingers and reached to shake hands. Bryan, reminded of a praying mantis, put the cup there instead.

"Uh, hi. My name's Bryan." Hoping to sound as smooth as the stranger, he added, "President of LemonMoo Enterprises." Mr. Keen looked into the cup, his sharp nose nearly dipping into the yellow milk. For a moment Bryan feared he might suck the drink through his nose. Then he realized Mr. Keen was merely looking at it closely.

"It's like chocolate or strawberry milk. Just lemon instead," Bryan explained.

"Lemon milk?"

"LemonMoo. My own recipe," Bryan added.

"Clever," said Mr. Keen. He took a sip. "Mmm." Or he might have said "Hmm." But he handed Bryan two crumpled bills from his pouch.

Bryan unfolded the bills before he realized what they were — play money from some game. "This is fake," he said.

"Nonsense," said the man, drinking the rest of his LemonMoo in one gulp. "But would you rather have this?" He handed the cup back to Bryan. At the bottom, in a few drops of lemony milk, rested two large gold coins where the ice cubes had been.

Bryan tipped the heavy coins into his hand. Could they be real? He cut off his excitement with a snort. The stranger was just trying to cheat him.

"There's no such thing as gold doubloons," Bryan said. "Or pieces of eight."

"Wrong again," said Mr. Keen. "These, however, are pieces of seven. More lucky than eight. But if you insist — "He reached back into his pouch and pulled out two ordinary dollars. "Perhaps you're not as clever as I thought," he added, handing over the cash.

Ignoring the insult, Bryan took the bills. He offered the coins back to Mr. Keen.

"Keep them," the man said, waving his hand. "Check them out if you like." He looked at his watch. "I must be off. Which way to City Hall, may I ask?"

A laugh and a groan both tried to escape Bryan at the same time. The noise that came out made him sound like a goat. His cheeks hot, he pointed to the gas station, which was stuck with the embarrassing name of Zilcher's Zoom-Juice.

"Right over there. In the office. The mayor's my dad." He quickly bent to replace the pitcher in the ice chest so he wouldn't see Mr. Keen laugh about a gas-pumping mayor. When he peeked up, the stranger was gone.

That wasn't so odd, Bryan decided. With such long legs, Mr. Keen could probably walk pretty fast.

What was strange was the middle of Route 64. The crate was gone, too.



By the time Bryan folded up his Luminous stand and dragged the ice chest to the gas station office, neither his father nor Mr. Keen could be found. Wrenches and car parts lay strewn all over the floor. On the desk, behind the little sign that read MAYOR, the pages of an auto-parts catalog flipped in the breeze. His father's wiener dog, Oscar, curled in the hubcap that cradled his blanket.

Oscar ran to say hello, and Bryan bent to rub the dog's smooth cinnamon hair.

"Where'd they go, boy?" What might the president of Acme Inc. want with his dad? Maybe Mr. Keen ran a shipping business and traveled around in a crate to advertise his services. It was easier, though, for Bryan to imagine the peculiar man selling voodoo dolls or shrunken heads.

He considered making a quick addition to his secret file of suspicious people and events. Instead he hurried back outside, Oscar trotting behind. If the grown-ups had started down Main Street, Bryan might still catch them.

The Zoom-Juice station squatted at the end of town nearest the highway. Elmer's Eats marked the far end. Bryan could almost have flung a cow pie from one to the other. Between were scattered houses, the feed store, the old farmers' rest home, the Church of Our Lady of the Pea Vines, and the post office, where his dad's girlfriend worked.

The street appeared empty. Mayor Rich Zilcher was too big to miss, especially in his greasy green coveralls. Disappointed, Bryan headed to the post office. Maybe Tripper had noticed the two men going by.

He caught her hanging a new FBI Wanted poster. As he watched through the window a moment, Bryan had to admit he liked Tripper. She told jokes and performed handstands, and her long brown hair was always getting dunked in paint buckets or dish suds or dinner. She looked smart and official in her postal uniform, but the rest of the time she looked like she'd escaped from the circus; her bright clothes never matched. She made the best flapjacks in the county, though, and she would make them any time, day or night. That was enough for Bryan.

She jumped when the bell on the door jingled.

"Oh, it's just you," she said. "Hi."

"Just me?" he huffed. "Hmph! If I was the fugitive on your poster, you'd be in trouble."

"If you were, it wouldn't be too smart to hang around the post office, would it?"

"No, but it would be cool to see your own face on a poster," Bryan said. He imagined "The LemonMoo Legend — Dead or Alive!" splashed across a fuzzy version of his last school photo. His hair was so blond that the skin underneath sometimes tinted it pink, but that wouldn't show on a black-and-white mug shot. Neither would knobby knees or big feet or the strange place where he and Dad lived.

"It wouldn't be cool once they locked you up," Tripper replied. "I'd turn you in so I could be on TV."

"No way," Bryan argued, changing his mind. "If Crookbusters ever comes to South Wiggot, they're talking to me." He and his dad never missed the show on TV. It told about ordinary people who had spotted fugitives and helped solve big crimes, and Bryan couldn't wait for his turn to be Crookbuster of the Week. It was one of the things that kept him going during the summer, when he couldn't often see his school friends. Instead he stood at his stand by the highway, peering into every car for a fugitive. His skin tingled at the mere thought of recognizing a crook.

"Okay, you win," Tripper said, picking up a stack of mail. "But I doubt any criminals will ever show up here."

"Some weird guy just did," Bryan said. He shuffled the FBI posters, checking for Mr. Keen's pointy features. It would be hard to mistake a mug like that one. "He wanted my dad. You haven't seen him lately, have you? With a tall, skinny man in a suit?"

Tripper shook her head. "Probably some government inspector. Coming to see if you were bugging me often enough." With a wink, she began flipping envelopes into the old-fashioned wooden slots on the wall.

When none of the sinister faces on the Wanted posters looked familiar, Bryan shoved them away. Tripper was right. Nothing important ever happened in South Wiggot, and nobody important lived there — including him. He heard it often enough at school, didn't he? The few kids who lived in South Wiggot rode a bus to the next town for classes, and the other students never let them forget they were misfits and hicks. Bryan, for his part, was known mostly as Zilcher the Zero.

He sighed and hoisted himself onto the counter to watch Tripper sort mail. If he'd been more than a zero, one of those slots would hold fan letters and interview requests, or at least a card from his mother once in a while. Instead he only got to collect the gas station's bills.

Tripper glanced at him. "Sell all your LemonMoo already?"

"Fat chance." Bryan rolled his eyes. He'd never sold more than a few cups a day, and Tripper bought most of those. The LemonMoo Legend was a joke. If he got tired of being Zilcher the Zero, he could always be the LemonMoo Loser instead.

He blew wisps of hair off his forehead, trying to banish his grouchy thoughts. "I did sell a little, though," he said, "to the guy in the —"

The bell on the door made a racket. Bryan's dad stood there, jiggling the door. A two-foot wrench teetered half out of his coveralls pocket.

"Ta da!" said Bryan's dad. "Can I get a round of applause, please?" Oscar, who'd been left on the sidewalk, ran in to spin excited circles around Dad's boots.

Bryan hopped off the counter to peer out the window for Mr. Keen. The sidewalk was empty. Way down the street, three old coots gazed up at the sky, probably discussing the weather. If the newcomer was still out there, he must have hidden in somebody's Dumpster.

"What are we celebrating?" asked Tripper.

"Guess what your loyal mayor just signed?"

"A law," Bryan guessed, "making me the town sheriff!" He slipped a drawl into his voice as he added, "Ya got two hours to get outta South Wiggot, Pa."

"Elsewise, cowpoke," added Tripper, "you'll be buzzard meat by nightfall."

Dad ignored their joking. "Lease papers!" he said, waving them like a winning lottery ticket. "South Wiggot just got a new business!"

"Not Mr. Keen?" Bryan wondered.

"Did you meet him?"

"He bought some LemonMoo," Bryan began. "And I saw him get here in a — "

"He must have liked it, pal!" Dad crowed, clapping Bryan on the back. He sounded so proud it almost made up for his rude interruption. "Or maybe he figured if the town was good enough for your business, it was good enough for his!"

"What kind of business is it?" asked Tripper.

Dad's smile wavered. "I'm not really sure. They're leasing the old TaterNugget plant, plus the five acres behind it."

"I hope they don't get too much mail." Tripper looked around her tiny office. Her eyes fell on the FBI posters. "You're certain it's all legal, though, right?"

Tripper liked to suspect things. Bryan liked to give her things to suspect, so he said quickly, "He seemed kind of creepy to me. His eyeballs twirled, too."

"That doesn't sound like a businessman." Tripper grinned. "That sounds more like Mesmo, Master of Hypnosis. Did he tell you to cluck like a chicken?"

"Actually, he kinda looked like a chicken," Bryan said. "A tall, plucked chicken with teeth."

"I can see this good news is wasted on you two," grumbled Bryan's dad.

"I'm sorry. We're just having fun." Tripper peeked at his papers. "So what's this great company called?"

"Acme Inc."

Over Dad's shoulder Tripper read, "Astro-Chrono-Magical Enterprises — that's what ACME stands for?"

"Magical?" Bryan repeated. Maybe Mr. Keen bottled conjuring oil or printed spell books. Bryan stuffed his hand in his pocket to make certain his gold coins hadn't vanished.

"Weird name," Tripper continued. "What's it mean?"

"It means jobs and new people in town," said Bryan's dad. "Not to mention customers for my station. And for LemonMoo, too!" He beamed at his son.

"I wonder what they're gonna make," Bryan said.

"Pollution, probably," Tripper muttered. "You should have asked a few questions, Rich. What if they make dynamite? Or toxic waste?"

"What if they cut ladies in half?" Bryan teased. "Or make all the rabbits in town disappear?"

"In a TaterNugget factory?" Dad replied. "Don't be sill —"

WHAM! The door slammed open. The same gust of wind sent letters flying.

"Whoa!" Tripper clutched at flying mail. "Is it a tornado?"

Bryan hurried to the window, where the glass rattled in the frame.

A big white truck zoomed past outside. Another followed, then another. Each was perfectly white, blank, and just like the one that had delivered Mr. Keen not long ago.

"What the heck?" After grabbing the door to stop it from slamming again, Bryan's dad stepped into the dust swirling in the street. Bryan hurried behind.

Another truck approached, an Acme logo plain on the cab.

"Guess they're moving in, huh?" Bryan said.

"That was quick!" exclaimed his father.

The trucks rumbled toward the old TaterNugget factory on the hill. The place had been deserted for years. Apparently not enough people wanted lumps of squished spuds. A chain-link fence stood around the plant's parking lot, but the gate was wide open now. White trucks poured through like milk.


Excerpted from Reality Leak by Joni Sensel, Christian Slade. Copyright © 2007 Joni Sensel. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joni Sensel is the author of two picture books and various things for adults. She lives in Washington State.

Christian Slade worked on several animated films for Disney. Reality Leak is his first book for children. He lives in Orlando, Florida.

Joni Sensel is the author of The Farwalker's Quest, Reality Leak and The Humming of Numbers. She also works as a communications consultant. When not writing for children, she climbs trees and chats with boulders at the foot of Mount Rainier.
Christian Slade worked on several animated films for Disney. Reality Leak is his first book for children. He lives in Orlando, Florida.

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Reality Leak 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I haven't read this book but all my friends say it is SO good!