Read an Excerpt
I It is when you have already gone too far that your journey truly begins.
—The Quips and Quiddities of Sir Dagonet
Will had taken the motorcycle. He couldn’t believe he had done it, but here he was, zooming down the highway with the wind buffeting him in the face and the bike humming powerfully beneath him. He scanned the road ahead for any sign of the brightly coloured tents he had seen earlier. The late afternoon sky was darkening with thick clouds. It looked like rain.
Will hunkered down over the handlebars. He was in a lot of trouble, but there was no turning back now.
He hadn’t expected the day to turn out like this. The Lightfoot family had been on the road since early morning. It was the third day of their cross- country trip to a new home. On the first day Will had played Goblin Fortress on his GameBook until he was sick of it. On the second day he’d played “I Spy” and other kiddie car games with his little sister Jess, and wondered if he’d ever been so bored in his entire life. On the third afternoon they passed the hundredth field with cows in it and he knew for certain he had never been so bored in his entire life. He was staring out of the window of the camper van at nothing in particular, dazed with boredom and half asleep, when he glimpsed something up ahead that woke him right up.
On the left side of the highway, behind a stand of trees, rose the colourful pennants and pavilions of what looked to be some sort of fair or amusement park.
He nudged Jess. She looked up and her eyes widened.
“Dad, look at that,” Will shouted.
“Look at what,” Dad said without a glimmer of interest. After three days behind the wheel he had become a robot, Will thought. A cranky, unshaven robot. And there was another day of driving still to go.
They were getting closer to the amusement park. Will could see tents, flags, the towers of what looked like a real castle. And the snowy top of a huge pavilion painted to look like a mountain. He thought he could hear music, the happy shrieks of kids having fun, and even smell the mouth- watering scents of popcorn and candy floss.
Then he saw the sign. A long banner strung between two spindly trees, inviting him in thin spidery letters to visit
The Perilous Realm
Enter if you dare.
Haunted Forest The Scary- Go- Round The Dragon’s Lair And much much more!
Something is Always Happening Here
The turn- off was coming up fast. Will could see a narrow dirt road snaking into the trees. The sun was going down and lanterns had already been lit among the branches as if to show the way.
“We have to stop here,” he said. “This place looks amazing.”
“It’s just some flea-bitten old tourist trap,” Dad snorted.
The van wasn’t slowing down.
“You don’t know that,” Will shot back. “Let’s just have a look.”
“Let’s just find a campsite,” Dad grumbled. “Maybe we can come back later.”
They flew past the turn- off. The tents and flags quickly dwindled to bright specks in the distance, then vanished as they rounded the next bend in the road. Will kept talking about what he had seen, in the swiftly- fading hope that he could wear Dad down. He tried to get Jess worked up, too, thinking that her voice added to his would tip the scales, but once the amusement park was out of sight, she quickly lost interest. Will wasn’t really surprised. Since Mom had died, Jess had become very quiet. She rarely smiled, and never laughed. She followed Will around all the time, and whenever he and Dad had one of their arguments, she would hold Will’s hand without saying a word. Sometimes he would forget she was there at all.
They drove on and on and then Dad suddenly pulled off into a big campground for recreational vehicles. There weren’t many other campers in the place, and they soon found a site to park. Dad shut off the rattling engine of their old rust-bucket of a camper van and stretched.
“So let’s go,” Will said eagerly.
“Go where?” Dad asked, clearly having forgotten.
“The Perilous Realm.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said. “I’ve had a long day’s drive and now I’ve got to make dinner. The place is probably closed for the day anyhow. I bet they’ve already pulled up stakes and moved on. With money from a lot of suckers.”
“It’s not late,” Will snapped. “There’s still lots of time if we go now.”
Dad gave him a black look, and then his eyes softened. He glanced at Jess, who was standing nearby, wide- eyed and silent as usual. Then he turned to Will again.
“Will, I really need you to—” he began, then he lowered his head and sighed. “Just give it a rest, okay?” he finished, and climbed into the back of the camper to start unloading the gear.
Jess tugged Will’s sleeve. He knew what that meant, so he walked with her to the main washrooms up the winding campground road. As usual she tried to take his hand, but he shook her off.
There were spiderwebs in the windows of the building, and a garbage can overflowing with discarded food and drink containers near the door. While he waited for Jess outside, Will pictured the tents, the bright flags, the beckoning lights. Something is Always Happening Here, the sign had promised.
Will looked around. Smoke from campfires wafted through the air. From nearby came the sound of country music playing on a tinny radio. Farther away a dog was barking its stupid head off.
“Nothing is always happening here,” Will muttered.
A big truck roared by him in the other lane and brought Will’s attention back to what he was doing. He could feel the bike wobbling under him as he was buffeted by the truck’s wake. For an instant he and the driver had exchanged glances. A kid on a bike in this weather? the driver’s look had said. Will knew he should slow down, but he had to get off the highway and into the fairground before the rain got worse. He needed to finish this.
The road ahead looked just the same as the road behind. He had been driving long enough, he thought, to have returned by now to the spot where he’d seen the amusement park. There was no way they could have already packed up the tents and moved on. But there was no sign of the lanterns among the trees.
“I won’t go back,” he shouted above the roar of the bike and the wind.
He had been angry ever since the day Mom told them she was going into the hospital. He had guessed from the way she and Dad talked that she might not get well again, but even so, he never really thought the worst would happen. And so fast. One day she was there, the next she was gone.
He couldn’t believe it was almost three years ago. Jess could hardly remember her. Will thought of her every day. And then a month ago Dad had announced at dinner that he’d found a new job, as a welder on a big construction project out west, and that they would be moving in three weeks. Leaving the house where Will and Jess had grown up. The house that Will had come home to every afternoon for the last three years with the hope that he might open the door and find Mom there, baking something in the kitchen or sitting in a wicker chair on the back porch reading a book. She would dry her hands on her apron, or put down the book, and call him to come in and tell her what had happened at school that day.
It was a good job and a great opportunity, Dad had said. For all of them. But Will didn’t see it. It was like his Dad was trying to forget. Trying to make them all forget. He’d told himself he wasn’t going to let that happen. And so he’d tried to act like they weren’t really moving. He’d shut himself in his room or stayed out late with his friends, and refused to pack up his things. In the end, though, he’d had no choice. He couldn’t win.
When Will and Jess got back to the campsite from the washrooms, Dad had taken his beloved antique motorcycle down from the rack on the rear of the van. He’d had to bring the bike along with them, even though almost everything else they owned was coming later in a moving truck.
“The old girl’s gotten pretty dusty,” he said to Will, and held out a plastic bucket. “Why don’t you clean her up while I make dinner, and later I’ll let you take her for a spin around the campground.”
Will took the bucket, held it at arm’s length for a moment, then let it drop. It hit the ground with a hollow thunk and rolled to Jess’s feet. She bent and picked it up. Dad looked at Will for a long moment without speaking. Then he rubbed his forehead and turned away.
“Grow up, Will,” he said over his shoulder.
He climbed back into the camper van and soon could be heard banging around in the cupboards. Will turned and saw Jess, still standing there holding the bucket.
“What are you looking at?” Will snapped. She stared wide-eyed at him without speaking.
As Will turned away angrily, he caught sight of Dad’s keys on the picnic table next to his jacket. He picked them up and opened the locket that Dad kept on the key ring. In the photograph inside Mom was smiling, holding a sunhat on her head to keep the wind from blowing it away. Will remembered that the picture had been taken at the beach, the summer before she died. He remembered how he and Dad had come back to the cottage from their canoe trip across the lake, joking about something or other, and Dad had snapped the picture just after Mom said what are you two pals laughing about? She was already sick then but she hadn’t told Will or Jess. She’d wanted them all to have one last happy time together.
He snapped the locket shut and slid the motorcycle key off the ring.
“I’m going,” he said quietly.
“Where?” Jess asked.
“Nowhere. Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t go, Will,” she said.
He ignored her and went over to the motorcycle. Taking hold of the handlebars he lifted the kickstand, then began to push the bike out of the campsite. When he was on the road he looked back at Jess. She was watching him, the bucket still in her hand. She lifted her other hand and waved.
Will frowned and gave her a quick wave back. Then he turned, broke into a trot, and hopped onto the bike. He’d only ever been allowed to ride it up and down the street in front of their house, under Dad’s supervision, but he had learned enough to start the engine and ride on his own.
A moment later he was roaring away from the camp. He heard his father shouting his name, but he didn’t look back.
As Will rounded a long curve he saw another vehicle approaching in the opposite lane, and with a jolt he realized it was a police car. At that moment it occurred to him that he wasn’t wearing a helmet and that he had no license. He tried to think of a story that might get him out of this mess, but his frantic thoughts wouldn’t latch onto anything. All he could do was keep riding as if nothing was wrong, and a few moments later the police car shot past him. He started to relax a little, thinking he’d been lucky, and then glanced in the rearview mirror.
The police car was slowing down to make a turn and its red and blue lights were flashing.
At the back of his mind a voice told him his little adventure was over. He should pull over, stop, and face what was coming to him. But he kept on riding, as if his hands were frozen to the handlebars.
Then, out of the rain, there were lights by the side of the road. And there was the huge banner, shining eerily in thetwilight. Will squinted into the rain and saw it just ahead, the narrow dirt track leading off from the highway down an embankment.
There was no time to think. He leaned into the turn and dived down the track, his one thought that maybe he could reach the parking lot, ditch the bike and hide among all the other people who were sure to be at the fairground. As he passed under the banner he saw that it was badly tattered, the inscription on it faded and almost unreadable. It hadn’t looked like that when he first saw it. He ignored that and peered into the gloom, hoping to see lights ahead, but the dirt track had plunged into dark woods and only grew bumpier and narrower, so that he had to slow right down to avoid crashing into the trees. There were no lanterns. The trees and tall undergrowth on either hand leaned in like the walls of a dimly lit cave.
Will tried to remember where the switch was to turn on the headlight but he was too busy keeping his eyes on the path to search for it. Then all of a sudden he slammed on the brakes.
There was no more road.
Ahead of him loomed a wall of leaves and branches. The bike skidded on the wet ground and with a sickening sense of the inevitable Will felt it slide underneath him. Then the front wheel struck something and the bike flipped violently. Will felt himself lifted from the seat and tossed head over heels through the air. He had time to wonder how much this was going to hurt and then he was crashing into a green darkness that swallowed everything.