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The Emerald Tablet
The Forgotten Worlds
By P.J. Hoover
CBAY BooksCopyright © 2008 PJ Hoover
All rights reserved.
The Mirror Comes to Life
When Benjamin Holt saw his mom disappear into a pinprick of light, he shouldn't have been surprised; his life was already weird. What with him and his best friend Andy constantly arguing over what was better — telepathy or telekinesis — he knew he didn't lead a normal life. But vanishing into thin air — this hit the top of the freak-out scale.
Hidden behind his bedroom door, Benjamin stared at the spot where she'd been. And then he looked at the picture — the one she'd had her palm on as she disappeared. They'd had the velvet tiger picture forever, and, to the best of Benjamin's knowledge, it had never before sucked anyone else into nothingness.
Three minutes went by. Still no mom. Benjamin walked over and tapped the hideous tiger picture with his finger. Nothing. And so he dared to put his own palm on it.
This is when Benjamin decided he must've been dreaming, because when he looked down, his feet were still firmly planted on the ground. And so he decided since he was still sleeping to go back to bed.
No sooner had Benjamin gone back to his room and crawled into bed, his mirror started talking. "Benjamin Holt?" the unfamiliar voice asked. "Do I have the right house?"
Benjamin bolted upright. He hadn't had time to fall back asleep, so he knew the voice couldn't be a new dream. But he'd for sure dreamed the picture thing, so the mirror just must be more of the same. That made sense. He pinched himself — hard — to check, and it hurt. Not a dream.
"Benjamin Holt, get up!" the voice said.
Benjamin threw the covers off and walked to the mirror. If the thing didn't shut up, he'd toss it out the window — and then get some sleep. But then he actually looked at the mirror and jumped when he saw a man looking back at him.
"What in the world?" Benjamin asked, taking a few steps — maybe ten steps — backwards.
"Ah, there you are. Why are you still sleeping? Today is the big day," the man said, as if that explained everything.
"What big day?" Benjamin asked, pinching himself again. It still hurt.
"Why your first day of summer school!" the man announced, grinning from ear to ear.
"Summer school!" Benjamin exclaimed, now continuously pinching his arm. Not only did it hurt, it started turning red. But Benjamin didn't care. His mom had vanished into thin air. There was a strange man in his mirror. And to top it off, the man thought Benjamin was going to spend his summer in a classroom.
But the man kept smiling. "My name is Proteus Ajax, and I am here to invite you to summer school."
"I'm not going to summer school," Benjamin replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
The man crossed his own arms and stared back. His wide smile began to look less like a smile and more like clenched teeth. "It's not really a request. And please don't be tardy."
Benjamin stared but had no idea what to say.
"Now, if there's nothing else, I really must get on to the next student," Proteus Ajax said.
"What do you mean — the next student? Do you mean Andy?" Benjamin asked, feeling just the slightest glimmer of hope that his best friend might have to suffer too.
Proteus looked down, then back up. "I have already notified Andy Grow. I'll be seeing you shortly." And without another word, his face vanished.
The mirror once again reflected Benjamin's image, and he noticed his gaping mouth. Shutting it, he studied the mirror, touching it with his right hand and then with both hands. He lifted it away from the wall and looked behind it. Nothing unusual back there. But the velvet tiger picture which sucked his mom up had looked normal too.
Did his parents know about this summer school thing? Had they been the ones to sign him up? And did they know his mirror could talk? For the first day of summer break, things were not going at all like Benjamin had planned. He had no intention of wasting his entire break in summer school. And why had he and Andy been signed up in the first place? With a sigh, he opened his bedroom door; he needed to talk to his parents right away.
Benjamin headed downstairs, dodging toy cars flying through the air. As with any morning, chaos had erupted. Becca, his eight month old sister, was crying, and Derrick and Douglas, his twin five year old brothers, were doing what they always did. Telekinesis. They were always levitating something — Benjamin's homework or Becca's rattle. One time they even levitated eggs. Nobody liked to talk about that. Today it was toy cars — no less than five each — racing around the room. It still irked Benjamin how good they were at telekinesis. When he'd been their age, he'd hardly been able to lift one — and that was on a good day.
Benjamin grabbed one of the cars out of the air. "You guys know you're not supposed to levitate stuff when Mom's not around."
"Who's levitating stuff?"
Benjamin's spun around when his mom walked into the room, and all the other cars immediately hit the floor. So he must've imagined her vanishing.
His mom looked down at the pileup and then looked over at the twins. They shrank under her gaze. And then the excuses started.
"It wasn't our fault," Douglas said.
"Yeah. Not our fault," Derrick added. "We just started playing car chase, and Benji walked in and ruined everything."
"How many times do I have to tell you not to levitate things when I'm not around?" she said. "Telekinesis is not something normal five year old boys can do!"
"But ..." Douglas began.
His mom put up her hand, stopping Douglas mid-excuse. She looked at the cars on the floor, and they lifted up, gliding over to the basket where a hundred more were kept and dropped in.
"What am I going to do with them?" Benjamin heard his mom think as she shook her head. "All right, Benjamin, into the kitchen. We don't have that long," she said aloud, pushing him from behind.
Benjamin's dad and Joey Duncan sat at the kitchen table, but when Benjamin and his mom walked in, Joey got up. The only things Benjamin knew about Joey Duncan were he worked with Benjamin's dad and he was the coolest person in the world. It wasn't just the ponytail and special powers just like Benjamin's; it was that he never minded when Benjamin used his powers around him.
"All I'm saying is that if the escape rate doesn't go down, things are going to change." Benjamin heard Joey's telepathic comment clearly.
"What escape rate?" Benjamin replied audibly.
Benjamin felt a mind block go up in the room, and no one spoke. At least not aloud. Nor could he hear any more telepathic thoughts. He was almost thirteen now. Why did all the grownups still exclude him from conversations? He wasn't a baby anymore.
"What escape rate?" Benjamin repeated.
The mind block went down.
"Oh, it's nothing," Joey replied. "I came over to give you a going away present."
Before Benjamin could say that he had no intention of going away, Joey telekinetically tossed an object to him. It stopped in front of Benjamin and rotated in the air.
The sphere was multilayered and constantly changed colors. The pieces didn't look like they could even be turned by hand, and, just for kicks, Benjamin telekinetically reached out and flipped one.
"What is it?" Benjamin asked. He'd never seen anything like it before and was pretty sure Joey hadn't bought it at a Wal-Mart.
"It's a Kinetic Orb," Joey said. "Kind of like a Rubik's Cube, but for smart people."
"Wow, thanks," Benjamin replied. "But I'm not going anywhere." But even as he said it, Benjamin knew, deep in the pit of his stomach, he was. He knew there was no getting out of this summer school thing, whatever it was.
"Yeah, whatever," Joey replied. "Anyway, I thought you might like it. The trick is not only to solve all the phases, but to learn to do it with your eyes closed."
"How in the world do I do that?" Benjamin asked.
"If I told you, it would take all the fun away," Joey replied with a smile. "Anyway, have a great summer, and I'll see you when you get back."CHAPTER 2
The Picture is a Teleporter
Benjamin looked over and saw his duffle bag packed and by the stairs.
"I'm assuming you've spoken with Proteus Ajax," his mom said.
Once again, he shouldn't have been, but Benjamin was surprised to hear her say the name. "How do you know Proteus Ajax? Was he in your mirror too?"
"No, I met him this morning in person."
The image of his mom disappearing into a pinprick of light filled his mind. "Where? In the picture?"
"You weren't supposed to see me," she said. "You were supposed to be asleep."
"So I wasn't dreaming!" he said. "I knew it. But why was Proteus Ajax in our ugly picture?"
"He wasn't," Benjamin's mom said. "Our picture is a teleporter."
"A teleporter," his dad said. "It transports an object from one place to another."
"Our picture teleports stuff?" Benjamin asked. "Like what?"
"Well, it teleported me this morning." His mom laughed. "And it's going to teleport you in a few minutes."
Benjamin's jaw dropped open, and he wasn't sure if it was because he had a teleporter in his house or because he'd be using it in a few minutes. He decided it was a combination of the two.
"I thought you'd be surprised," she replied.
"So where will I teleport to?" he asked. "I'm not going to summer school." One last effort. Even though at this point he kind of wanted to use the teleporter, even if it did mean summer school.
"Yes, Benjamin, you are," his dad replied. "And you're going to another world."
"Another world!" Seriously. Maybe his parents were playing a trick on him. "Is that all?"
"Not quite," his mom said. "You're not really human. But that's all we're going to tell you."
* * *
Benjamin threw a few last minute items into his backpack, still waiting for the punch line of the joke. His parents had told him nothing else and sworn him to secrecy, but Derrick and Douglas had pestered him nonetheless. He hated to leave them and Becca, but, at the same time, some new world you could teleport to would have to be pretty cool, right?
Even with his excitement, when he reached the family room, Benjamin actually had to fight to keep tears from springing to his eyes. He squatted down to the twin's level. "You guys be good," he said. Derrick started to cry, and Douglas looked just on the verge.
"But we're gonna miss you," Derrick said, wiping tears from his eyes.
Douglas suddenly seemed to remember something. "We have a going away present for you." He pulled a wad of balled up paper towels from his pocket. It had the letter 'D' written on it twice. "Here you go," he said. "We wrapped it ourselves."
Benjamin took the small present. "I wonder what it is."
"It's a car," Derrick blurted out before Benjamin could open it.
"You're not supposed to tell him," Douglas said. "Now, it's not a surprise."
"It's still a surprise," Benjamin replied. "I don't know which car it is."
"It's our favorite black police car," Derrick told Benjamin.
Benjamin unwrapped the paper towels. "Wow! Thanks! But won't you guys miss it?" he asked, remembering the telekinetic car chase.
"Yeah, but we talked about it, and we want you to have it," Derrick said.
Benjamin stood up and put the car in his front pocket. Next he picked up Becca. She smiled and kicked her legs. "Go tell Mommy if the twins levitate stuff. And go tell mommy if they take your toys." He shot his best stern look at the boys. He then hugged Becca and kissed her, thinking about how much she'd grow in eight weeks.
"Well, we better get you going," Benjamin's mom said after his dad had gone out front with the kids.
"Won't you be teleporting with me?" Benjamin asked. He liked how the word sounded.
"No, you'll be on your own."
"What if I get lost?" Benjamin asked.
"You won't get lost."
They walked upstairs and stood in front of the tiger picture; it was velvet and ugly — just like always.
"This has to remain a secret from your brothers and sister. Do you understand?"
Benjamin nodded his head.
"I already have to keep it disabled. Otherwise, knowing the twins, they'd probably just stumble upon it." She reached out and put her palm on the picture; a holographic keypad appeared. His mom then entered a thirty-two number sequence on the keypad. Benjamin didn't dare blink as he watched, afraid if he did, he might miss something.
"Just put your palm on the picture, and you'll be gone," she said. She smiled as if she'd told him to do something normal like put away his laundry or unload the dishwasher.
Maybe his face betrayed how nervous he was, because she grabbed him and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "We love you so much. Be good, and don't get into any trouble," she advised him. "I don't want reports of any levitating frogs or tormented girls."
"I love you too," he said. "And I'll be good, I promise. What trouble could I get into anyway?"
His mom rolled her eyes.
"Is this how I do this?" Benjamin asked. He reached up and put his palm on the picture. Everything disappeared.CHAPTER 3
The Kiosk Checks in Benjamin
Benjamin wondered if his atoms had been scrambled. He hadn't felt like they had, but really he had nothing to compare it to. The teleportation was pretty much instantaneous, and when the world around him immediately returned, he found himself back in normal surroundings.
Well, sort of normal.
He stood on a platform in an atrium the size of a football field underneath a dome ceiling. Mammoth columns held up the dome, and people mobbed the place. Benjamin stared, but forced himself to blink once he felt his eyes get all dry and glassy.
A voice to his left snapped Benjamin out of his stupor. "Welcome, Benjamin Holt. Step off the platform to your left." Benjamin turned to look. An old man with ears the size of oversized monarch butterflies stared back.
"How do you know my name?" Benjamin asked, but wondered why he did. Maybe the better question to ask would be 'What world am I on?'
"We've been expecting you, of course. And you arrived exactly on time — which is quite an accomplishment. Not everyone does, you know, and then things really get messed up. We have to shut down the whole platform waiting for them. Once there was a student who was nearly five hours late. Can you imagine? And another time, three platforms stalled at once." The old man shook his head and his ears flapped back and forth. "But hurry down. The next student is scheduled to arrive any minute now."
"Where do I go?" Benjamin asked the man as he exited the platform.
The old man pointed to his ears. "Listen for instructions," he said. "And, goodbye." He turned his back on Benjamin and welcomed the next kid who'd just arrived where Benjamin had just been standing.
Benjamin has no idea if he should walk left or right, or if it really mattered.
"Welcome to summer school. Please report to a kiosk for your homeroom assignment," a female voice said over an intercom.
After standing frozen for the better part of a minute trying to figure out what was going on, Benjamin came to the conclusion that the kiosks were actually the columns. It was the lines of kids queued up to them that finally gave it away.
He made his way to the nearest column and stood there for close to fifteen minutes. Hopefully summer school wouldn't just be a lot of waiting in lines. Finally, though, his turn arrived.
"Name, please," a female voice said.
"Benjamin Holt," he replied, leaning his mouth close to the kiosk disk.
"Thank you, Benjamin Holt. Date of Birth please," the voice requested.
"Thank you, Benjamin Holt," the voice said. "Please place your hand palm down on the disk in front of you."
Benjamin had barely placed his right hand palm down when the kiosk lit up, sending a small shock through his body as it did so. He jumped back and yanked his hand away.
"Thank you, Benjamin Holt. DNA match confirmed. Welcome to summer school. Your homeroom will be down Primary Hallway Number Zero, Secondary Hallway Number Seven, Tertiary Hallway Number One and will be in Classroom Number Three."
"DNA match? How do you know my DNA?" Benjamin asked, but the kiosk had already reset. "Name, please," it kept repeating.
"Where is Primary Hallway Number Zero?" Benjamin muttered. He walked around the atrium, looking for a sign. The first hallway he saw had a large number five above it. This was good. Benjamin kept going and passed hallways until they looped back around to zero.
Excerpted from The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover. Copyright © 2008 PJ Hoover. Excerpted by permission of CBAY Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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