The Wrong Side of Magic
By Debbie Dadey, Marcia Thornton Jones, Adam Stower
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2009 Debra S. Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones
All rights reserved.
The troll's yellow fangs barely missed Luke.
Luke slammed his basketball into the belly of the troll. The hideously ugly creature stumbled backward toward the bushes and trees behind Luke's house. It lashed out at Luke, but Penny was too fast. She bent over behind the monster and tripped it.
Long stringy hair and huge treelike arms flew backward. When the troll hit the ground, the whole backyard shook.
"Get out of the way," Luke's neighbor, Natalie, yelled. She stormed past him with an enormous high-beam flashlight. The light cut through the evening darkness, putting the troll in the spotlight.
The troll let out a deafening roar, covered its face with its long barklike fingers, and crashed through the trees. "Hurry!" Penny said. "Fix the border."
"Links, come quick!" Luke yelled.
Three creatures bounced into the yard.
A dazzling white unicorn landed beside Penny, a small green and silver dragon beside Luke, and a rat scrambled onto Natalie's toe. For a few moments, none of them spoke. All six of them concentrated on the row of bushes and trees.
A wave of energy vibrated in the air. Immediately, the trees broken by the troll were made whole again. It was as if the troll had never invaded Luke's backyard. But the kids knew differently, and so did their magical links.
Natalie quickly switched off the flashlight to keep the magical creatures from being seen by anyone in Luke's house.
Penny's unicorn, Kirin, spoke first, "What's going on? That's the third break in the border this week. The border is getting as holey as Mr. Leery's underwear."
Dracula, Luke's dragon, bounced up and down. "Break. Break. Break." Luke's dragon was a dragon of few words, but a lot of energy.
Luke patted his dragon and said, "Kirin is right. Something strange is going on. Don't you feel it?"
Penny shivered. Strange was exactly how she'd felt ever since they'd found out that the old man who lived next to Luke was a mysterious Keyholder who kept the magical world from leaking into the real world. She had known him all her life as Mr. Leery, a nice old man who gave her birthday presents and liked to putter around his yard with his cat Mo.
But nothing was as it seemed. Mo wasn't a cat at all: He was really a shape-shifting griffin. He was also a link — an animal from the magical realm that had formed an unbreakable lifelong bond with Mr. Leery. Just like Dracula the dragon was Luke's link and Kirin was her own.
At first, Natalie had been bummed to have Buttercup, a rat, as a link, but now they were great buddies. Although Penny had to admit that having a rat for a link wasn't nearly as wonderful as a unicorn.
The whole thing made Penny's head spin if she thought about it too much, especially the part where Mr. Leery had chosen the three of them to be the new Keyholders.
"I do feel something strange going on," Natalie said. "I don't know what it is but I don't like it."
"Wait just a minute," Penny said. "How did you know to use that big flashlight on the troll?" Usually Penny was the one who figured out how to deal with the bad creatures that sometimes slipped through the border.
Natalie giggled. "I used my new phone with its wireless Internet connection."
Luke groaned. Natalie had every known gadget available. She was the most spoiled kid he knew.
"When I saw that troll thing out my window," Natalie continued, "I typed 'trolls' on my phone and it said that they didn't like bright lights."
"Genius!" Natalie's rat said. Buttercup beamed with obvious pride.
"If I'm such a genius, then why haven't I had my installation ceremony?" Natalie snapped.
"Not that again." Luke grabbed his basketball off the ground and walked away from Natalie. She was always complaining about something.
"Mr. Leery promised as soon as he was feeling better he would officially make you a Keyholder," Penny said, edging away from Natalie.
"He's taking too long," Natalie complained. "I think he's just pretending to be sick so we have to do all the border work ourselves."
Being a Keyholder wasn't as glamorous as the kids had thought it would be. Mostly, it meant trying to sense where the border was weak. When that happened, they had to mend the break so evil creatures couldn't sneak through. They didn't even want to think about the chaos that would erupt if bad magic was set loose in the real world.
"You know that's not true!" Penny said. "Mr. Leery really is sick."
Kirin nudged Penny on the shoulder with her horn. "Maybe he picked up some germ when the Boggart Queen trapped him in that rock," the unicorn said.
Natalie's cheeks paled. She didn't like to think about when the Boggart Queen kidnapped Mr. Leery and used him as bait to trap the apprentice Keyholders. It had only been by chance that the three kids and their links had figured out how to break Mr. Leery free from the spell that kept him sealed inside solid rock.
"Germs!" Dracula sputtered as he jumped up and down in front of Luke. "Ick! Ick! Ick!"
Luke reached out and put his hand on Dracula's head to stop him from bouncing. "Mr. Leery seems to be getting better," Luke told Natalie. "It won't be too much longer before he has your installation ceremony."
Buttercup put a paw on Natalie's leg. "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll have your ceremony soon."
Natalie stomped her foot and sent Buttercup skittering away. "It's not fair," she told Luke and Penny. "You've had your ceremony. I want mine."
"Big deal," Luke said, bouncing the ball. "You have everything else." Natalie lived in the biggest house in Morgantown, complete with a home theater and swimming pool.
"Come on," Penny said, "let's finish checking the border so we can go home and work on our science projects." Although Natalie wasn't her favorite person, Penny could understand Natalie wanting the ceremony. It had been the most amazing event of Penny's life. She had received the blessings of fairies, elves, centaurs, and even a genie. It made her smile just to think about the beauty and mystery of it all.
Natalie turned her back on Penny and Luke. "No. I'm going home now. I've had it with stinky trolls and borders."
"You can't," Penny said. "What if there's another breach in the border?"
Luke threw the basketball and it swished through the net. "Natalie's right. There's never been more than one break in the border in a day. I'm sure everything is fine. Let's just get our homework done. My mom will ground me if I have another late assignment."
The three kids were all in the same fifth grade class, and since finding out they were Keyholders, their grades had slipped. After all, it was hard keeping their minds on math and social studies when they were the only kids in Morgantown who knew an evil Boggart Queen was trying to take over the world.
Penny looked at the thick hedge of trees and bushes. The trees, bushes, vines, and weeds were so thick they made a living wall. She still had that funny feeling, but maybe she was being silly. After all, Natalie and Luke were much better at being Keyholders. She had trouble finding weak spots in the border and they were both becoming experts. And she really did need to work on her science project. She hadn't even chosen her topic yet.
"All right," Penny said with a sigh. "But don't forget to wear your silver bracelets just in case."
Luke rolled his eyes. "Yes, mother," he teased.
Mr. Leery had given them each a special silver bracelet to protect them from goblins and boggarts, but Luke thought they were girly. Still, he wore the bracelet tucked under his shirtsleeve.
Luke and Penny hugged their links goodbye and watched as they slipped back into the total darkness of Mr. Leery's yard next door. One of the best parts about being a Keyholder was the lifelong bond they had with their links.
One of the hardest parts was being separated from them. But their links needed to stay hidden from everyone, and the only safe place was in Mr. Leery's yard. Thanks to the new magic the old wizard had learned for surrounding his yard with a muffling spell, no one would notice an energetic dragon and a bored unicorn hanging out in the yard at the end of Rim Drive. It was much safer than hiding them under an invisibility web.
Natalie scooped up her link and went across the street to her house without even a backward glance. Buttercup, the rat, was definitely a lot easier to hide than a unicorn or a dragon.
Penny and Luke watched Natalie until she had closed the door to her huge house.
Luke sighed and headed inside his house to search the Internet for a possible science project until he couldn't keep his eyes open.
In her room, Penny looked through library book after library book for the perfect science project. Finally, she fell asleep with a book in her lap.
Natalie, on the other hand, took a relaxing bubble bath, painted her fingernails pink and Buttercup's claws purple, and fell asleep listening to her MP3 player.
Everything seemed calm on the last street of Morgantown, but in the early hours of the morning, Buttercup jumped on Natalie's head.
"Hurry!" Buttercup screeched. "Wake up!"
Natalie rolled over, sending Buttercup flying across the room.
"Leave me alone," Natalie grumbled. "It's still dark outside."
Buttercup scrambled up the pink bedspread and pinched Natalie's nose. "You must get up. It's an emergency."
Natalie sat straight up in her bed, sending Buttercup head over heels to the bottom of the bed.
"Oh no, there's been another breach!" Natalie screamed.
"You look like a truck hit you," Luke teased Natalie the next morning. Usually Natalie had every hair in place, complete with ribbons that matched her outfit. This morning, she wore gray sweatpants with holes in the knees, a stained long-sleeved T-shirt, and her brush had missed her hair totally.
"Being a Keyholder is ruining my fashion reputation," Natalie wailed as she walked down the sidewalk to school. "I had to get up early this morning to fix another break in the border."
"Another breach so soon?" Penny asked, shocked.
"Something strange is going on," Natalie said.
"No kidding," Luke said. "Look at the school."
A big crowd of kids stood on the front lawn, huddled around the Morgantown Elementary sign.
"What are you guys looking at?" Penny asked, squeezing through the group.
A kid named Alex pointed to the new rules posted on the bulletin board by the front door. "Principal Bender has gone crazy!"
"She's always been nuts, if you ask me," Natalie snapped.
Luke read the new rules in disbelief.
No recess. No candy. No snacks. No coffee.
School will be thirty minutes longer.
A teacher stood in front. "No coffee?" she gasped. "No coffee?"
"She's insane!" a boy named Thomas yelled.
The kids grumbled as the bell rang. Principal Bender stood inside the school door with her arms folded over her chest. The wind grabbed her hair and flicked a long strand across her face. "Absolutely no talking. Get to class. Now."
No one dared to talk back as they walked down the hallway. Teachers stood outside their doors clutching empty coffee cups. Everyone looked unhappy — except Principal Bender. She smiled as she fingered the big yellow beads on the necklace she wore.
"What's she grinning about?" Luke asked when they were out of Principal Bender's hearing range. "Does she like torturing kids?"
"She always has that same stupid smile," Natalie muttered. "I even wrote about it in my notebook, the one I lost." Natalie snapped her fingers. "I've been so busy fixing the border, I still haven't gotten a new one."
Natalie had always been nosy, watching and listening to other people. Last summer she had started carrying around a pink notebook. Penny suspected Natalie used it to jot down embarrassing facts. She wondered what Natalie had written about her.
"Why do you need another notebook?" Luke asked her.
Natalie smiled. "For my observations. You never know when information might come in handy."
"What kind of information?" Penny asked.
Natalie winked. "Just stuff. Anyway, I heard the comic book store has some cool ones. We can go after school."
Luke groaned. Shopping with Natalie wouldn't be fun. Did being a Keyholder mean he'd have to do everything a prissy girl wanted?
Without recess or snacks, the school day was very long. Luke was starving by the time they got to the cafeteria for lunch. Plop! Mrs. Morton dumped a bubbling pile of green glop onto Luke's plate.
"What is this?" he asked Mrs. Morton. She was one of his favorite cafeteria workers. She usually smiled and gave out special treats, but today Mrs. Morton didn't even look up from the steaming dish in front of her when she said, "Eat it. It's good for you."
All around the lunchroom, kids stared at the food on their plates. Nobody, not even Thomas, who could usually eat anything, dared to take a bite. "This is a terrible waste of food," Penny said.
"I don't think it is food," Natalie said, pushing it around her plate.
"Are you going to eat it?" Luke asked.
"Of course," Penny said bravely. She put a spoonful of the slime-colored casserole up to her lips, held her nose, and took a bite.
"Yuck!" Penny spat it out. Slimy bits of green goop splattered Luke and Natalie.
"That's it!" Natalie yelled, wiping her face with a napkin. "I'm going right up to that kitchen and demanding some decent food. My father will hear about this nasty lunch."
Natalie's father was a judge. She always bragged about what he could do to people.
"Wait just a minute," Luke said. "Did you notice anything strange about the cafeteria ladies?"
"Who has time to worry about them with Mr. Crandle dumping so much work on us?" Penny asked. "He's never given so much homework before."
Natalie sat down. "Our teacher always gives too much homework. I put it in my ..."
"I know, I know," Penny said. "You put it in your notebook. I'll be glad when you get a new one and we don't have to hear about the old one anymore."
The minute the school bell rang to end classes, Luke yelled, "I'm starving. Let's go to the ice cream shop."
Luke wasn't the only one. Most of the students raced across School Road to Mike's Ice Cream. They couldn't believe what they saw.
A sign was taped to the door. "Closed?" the crowd of kids groaned together.
Adam called, "The comic book store has candy." The mob ran across the empty parking lot to the shop next door.
"I'm getting two notebooks and the biggest box of candy they have," Natalie said as they dashed up to the glass door. A big sign hung on that door, too.
"What's going on?" Penny said. "Why is everything closed?"
"We could walk down to the A&P grocery," Luke suggested. It was a long walk, but his growling stomach made him desperate for food.
Natalie shook her head. "There's no time. We have to get to Mr. Leery's house."
"What's wrong?" Penny asked, seeing the stricken look on Natalie's face. "I'm sure your parents will drive you to another store to buy a new notebook."
"It's not that," Natalie said, rubbing her forehead.
"Then what's the problem?" Luke snapped. "I'm starving here."
"You know how I can sense things?" Natalie said.
"You don't have to brag," Luke said impatiently.
"I am not bragging," Natalie told them. "In fact, this is one time I wish I wasn't so good."
"Why?" Penny asked.
Natalie leaned against the closed comic book store. "Because I just got the feeling that something very bad is going to happen right here in Morgantown, and it's going to happen soon."
Penny and Luke looked at each other.
"I think I feel it, too," Luke said.
Penny closed her eyes and concentrated. Sure enough, she felt a prickly feeling deep in her stomach that reached all the way up to her throat. Penny's eyes flew open. "It's our links! They're calling us. We have to go. NOW!"
"Closed! Closed! They're all closed," Alex wailed, grabbing Luke's arms as he turned to head back home. "It's the end of the world."
"No, it isn't," Luke said, pushing Alex away. "At least, not yet."
They watched Alex zigzag down the street, pounding on the closed store doors.
"He has no idea," Natalie said.
"If he only knew about goblins," Penny added.
"Or how bad trolls stink," Luke added. He'd had the misfortune of smelling one up close not too long ago. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Keyholders #4 by Debbie Dadey, Marcia Thornton Jones, Adam Stower. Copyright © 2009 Debra S. Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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