A Box of Bones

A Box of Bones

by Marina Cohen


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Twelve-year-old Kallie despises nonsense. She believes there’s a rational explanation for everything, despite the good-natured prodding of her Grandpa Jess, who takes her to frivolous wastes of time like their town’s local Festival of Fools.

There, Kallie meets a faceless man (must be some kind of mask) who gives her a strange wooden puzzle box (must be some kind of gimmick). Intrigued despite herself, Kallie sets to work on unlocking its secrets and…lets something out. From here Kallie’s life begins to entangle with another world, a world where Liah, a young bone carver, journeys with her master to sell wares to a wicked Queen.

The sights, sounds, smells, and spells of Liah’s world are beginning to leak into Kallie’s, and if Kallie can’t decipher the meaning of her own story, “the end” might be far from happy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250172211
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 05/28/2019
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Lexile: 730L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 11 Years

About the Author

Marina Cohen grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, where she spent far too much time asking herself what if. . . . In elementary school, her favorite author was Edgar Allen Poe. She loved “The Tell-Tale Heart” and aspired to write similar stories. She is attracted to the fantastical, the bizarre, and all things eerie. Her books include The Inn Between and The Doll's Eye.

Read an Excerpt


The Man In The Pink Fedora

The man in the pink fedora had no face. He looked like an unfinished wax mannequin dressed in a crisp black tuxedo. He cocked his head and turned slowly toward Kallie.

Even with no eyes, it was as though he were staring right at her. Right into her. He touched the brim of his hat, nodded once, and then vanished into the crowd.

"Did you see that?" Kallie's voice was sharp, her expression dauntless.

Many twelve-year-olds would have been frightened. At the very least, unnerved. Kallie was neither. She had read Darwin. She knew facial expression was an important feature of ancestral social communication, and the very idea that someone dared walk around faceless served only to annoy her.

"See what?" Grandpa Jess tried to follow the jagged path of her gaze, but it lost itself in the labyrinth of people, performers, and sidewalk cafés.

The man was gone. Kallie sighed. "Nothing important. Never mind."

Raven-feather clouds had flocked the sky over Lake Champlain, turning daylight to dusk. The air was thick and unstable. It was sure to storm, but this didn't seem to worry the masses that had come to the marketplace in droves for the annual Festival of Fools.

Kallie wore sturdy rubber boots and a water-resistant jacket over a sensible denim skirt. She carried an umbrella almost as large as those hovering over the outdoor tables like enormous black and green mushroom caps. She subscribed to the Scouts' motto: Be prepared.

"Relax, Kaliope," said Grandpa Jess. "Try to have fun."

"People who relax rarely achieve a thing." She checked her watch and then pressed her thick black frames higher on the bridge of her nose.

Grandpa Jess's mustache twitched. He patted her head. "You can't plan your whole life. And even if you could, you'd miss out on a lot of interesting things."

Though her brown hair was pulled back in a painfully tight ponytail, she smoothed it nonetheless and frowned.

She turned her attention to a woman wearing a shimmering blue leotard standing on her elbows. The woman's legs contorted over her body, steadying a bow and arrow. Her toes released their grip, and the arrow flew, striking a target about twenty feet away. The crowd cheered.

Kallie clutched the handle of her umbrella with one hand and took her grandfather's plaid shirtsleeve with the other. She dragged him farther along the bricked street, walking with purposeful steps. The quicker they moved, the quicker she could leave.

They passed beneath a canopy of lights stretching outward from a giant post that hung suspended, almost like magic, in the intersection of Church and College. It was late afternoon, but darkness had swept the landscape. The delicate bulbs twinkled like tiny jars filled with fireflies.

All around her the air was steeped in powerful aromas: piping hot coffee from Speeder & Earl's; Ken's gooey cheese pizza; caramel apples from Lake Champlain Chocolates; sweet and salty kettle corn; and paper-thin crêpes filled with strawberries and cream from the Skinny Pancake cart.

Kallie's olfactory system clicked to overload. She wrinkled her nose as she wove through the throng, past a man on a ten-foot unicycle, a belly dancer, and a juggler in a plum patchy vest tossing flaming sticks high into the air.

Over the din, a haunting melody crackled from a loudspeaker. Outside Vermont Violins, a sad-faced clown in a red velvet suit eased a bow across delicate strings.

"How about a treat?" asked Grandpa Jess, stopping at the end of a lineup winding toward an ice-cream shop. In the narrow space between his beard and brows, his eyes crinkled with delight.

"Ice cream is fourteen percent cholesterol. Not to mention thirty- five percent fat."

"Haven't you heard?" said Grandpa Jess. "Fat is now the sixth food group." He pinched her upper arm with a meaty hand. "Or is it the seventh?"

"Good fat, Grandpa. Like nuts. And beans."

"Perfect. We'll have Rocky Road. It has almonds. And chocolate is made from a bean."

She rolled her eyes, then smiled and joined the line.

As they waited, Kallie couldn't help but wonder why so many people were drawn to the festival. Even the mayor himself had kicked off the annual event filled with what he called awe-inspiring hijinks and rollicking tomfoolery.

Kallie was no fan of jinks — high or low — or any sort of foolery, be it Tom, Tim, or Harry, but her grandfather had insisted they go. She didn't envy him having to answer to her father for it.

They stood for some time, only inching forward. All the while, the dark clouds grew thicker and tighter. The wind picked up, and Kallie was certain she heard a low murmur of distant thunder.

Nearby, a man in an emerald suit shifted shells around on a small table. When he stopped, a woman guessed which of the three concealed a pea. She smiled self-assuredly at the crowd. Then the man held up her watch for all to see. While she was busy eyeing the shells, he had stolen it right off her wrist.

"Like magic!" the woman gasped.

"Magic," scoffed Kallie. More like distraction and deception. Mind tricks. Didn't these people know there was no such thing as real magic?

Grandpa Jess had moved farther up the line. Kallie was about to catch up when she caught sight of the faceless man. He was smaller and thinner than she'd first imagined. Except for the tuxedo, she wasn't entirely certain it was a man.

He clapped his hands, plucked a fistful of roses from thin air, and began handing them to those gathered nearby. When he arrived in front of Kallie, the roses were gone.

Up close she could see flesh-colored material covered his head, masking his features. Even his hands were concealed. He took off his fedora, flipped it over, and tapped it lightly. Out tumbled a tiny box, which he placed in the palm of her hand.

It was cube-shaped with a variety of ivory-colored circular inlays on each face. There were circles inside circles with elaborate dark designs. The box had no hinges and no clasp. No apparent way of opening it.

Kallie's father had taught her never to accept gifts from strangers. She'd taken the box on reflex, without thinking. She extended her arm to return it, but when she looked up, he was gone again.

A blue flash split the sky above the lake, followed instantly by a loud clap of thunder. Kallie shoved the box into her jacket pocket and snapped open her umbrella just in time. The rain came fast and furious. Enormous drops of water beat so hard against the ground they appeared to bounce back up.

The streets were a blur of motion as everyone scurried for shelter — everyone except a thin girl wearing a bright yellow shirt and matching shorts. She stood with her chin tilted upward; her arms stretched wide to catch the downpour. The rain- soaked shorts clung to her thighs, and her T-shirt was quickly becoming embarrassingly transparent, but she didn't seem to mind. For a moment, her eyes met Kallie's, and the girl's gaunt face lit up with a smile.

A tiny door in Kallie's cobwebbed memory clicked open and something soft and gentle fluttered out. She chased it back inside, sealed the door, and hunkered deep beneath her umbrella. Her father would be upset if she got soaked and caught a cold.

Grandpa Jess waved at Kallie from beneath the awning of the ice-cream shop. When she approached, he disentangled himself from the bodies, bunched like asparagus, and joined her beneath the umbrella.

"Can we please leave, Grandpa?"

He glanced at the sky and nodded sadly. Placing his arm around her shoulder, he took the umbrella handle. They clung together as they made their way along Church Street toward Main. Just before they turned the corner, Kallie took one last look back.

The unicyclist was gone. So was the belly dancer. The juggler's fire sticks had been extinguished, and the pounding rain drowned out the haunting melody of the sad clown's violin.

Everything was gray, as though the rain had washed all color from the world. The girl in yellow twirled and sloshed through the deep puddles, as if dancing to music only she could hear.

Kallie formed a final, fleeting picture in her mind's eye, but there was no sign of the faceless man.


A Peculiar Puzzle

"Where were you?"

Kallie's father stood in the narrow doorway. He was tall and lean and wore a perfectly pressed pinstripe suit, accentuating his height. His hair, slick against his skull, was like black glass.

In contrast, Grandpa Jess was a burly, bearded barrel. He wore nothing but faded flannel and well-worn denim. His hair was like a dandelion gone to seed. Kallie worried a good, strong wind might one day blow it right off his head.

She raised an eyebrow at Grandpa Jess in an I told you so expression. She closed the umbrella, shook it twice, and then climbed the porch steps to their green-shuttered foursquare in the heart of town.

The neighborhood was known as the Five Sisters because its primary streets were Caroline, Catherine, Charlotte, Margaret, and Marian. Legend had it the streets were named after the five daughters of the original developer, though no one — not even local historians — could confirm or deny the claim. This didn't matter to Kallie, for legends were stories, and stories were lies.

Grandpa Jess had bought the house decades ago, immediately after he married Grandma Geneviève, whom he called Gem. He never moved, not even after she died. Kallie's father returned to the house with Kallie when she was very young. It was right after The Writer had drowned.

Grandpa Jess cleared his throat. "You're early."

"And you're one hour, seven minutes, and thirty-two seconds late." Her father held the screen door open, his eyes steely behind his dark-rimmed glasses.

"We were at the festival," said Kallie, adjusting her matching eye gear.

"For a short time ..." added Grandpa. He offered a sheepish grin.

Kallie shook the last drips and drops from her umbrella and leaned it against the dull white siding. It was no longer raining, but the air was still a heavy slate-gray.

"The festival? Of Fools?" Kallie's father stepped aside and let them pass. The screen door slammed behind. He gave Kallie a peck on the cheek, then eyed Grandpa. "Waste of time and money."

Victor Jones was in charge of risk management at Lake Champlain Insurance, which meant he was re–sponsible for calculating calamity. What were the exact chances a person would be struck by lightning or lose a limb to a rogue shark? What were the precise odds a library would implode? How likely would it be that a meteor would plummet from the sky and land directly on top of the local laundromat?

Most people disliked contemplating dreadful things, so they underestimated the likelihood of such things happening. Luckily, Victor Jones was on the job. He knew tragedy could strike at any moment, and just like Kallie, his motto was: Be prepared.

Kallie removed her boots. She arranged them in perfect order on the mat so they would not leak onto the old pine floor. "I warned him you'd be mad. He didn't listen."

Victor Jones sighed. "Does he ever?" He picked up the shoes Grandpa Jess had flung haphazardly and lined them up as well. "And I wasn't mad. Just worried."

"The festival was fun," said Grandpa, shaking his hair, spraying droplets of rain. "You do remember what fun is, don't you, Victor?"

Kallie's father scowled. He wiped the drips from his cheeks and jacket sleeves. "There's enough nonsense in the world. Kallie doesn't need you exposing her to even more."

"Don't worry, Dad," said Kallie, making a face as though she'd just bitten into a mealy apple. "I didn't enjoy it."

She took off her rain jacket, but as she hung it on the newel post to dry, something knocked against the wood. She reached into the pocket and pulled out the box. She'd forgotten all about it.

"What's that?" asked her father.

"A box."

Kallie tilted it. Something shifted inside.

"I can see it's a box, silly," he said. "Where'd you get it?"

"A man gave it to me. At the festival."

Victor Jones's eyes narrowed. He folded his arms, staring hard at Grandpa. "What man?"

Grandpa Jess shrugged.

"The man in the pink fedora," said Kallie. "He had no face."

"What do you mean he had no face?" Her father's expression contorted, nearly twisting into itself. He suddenly reminded Kallie of the woman in the shimmering blue leotard.

"He was faceless. Without face." She examined the surfaces covered in ivory-colored circles and dark etchings. It seemed old. Very old.

"Must have been part of his act," said Grandpa Jess, leaning in for a better look. "There were all sorts of buskers. Magicians, belly dancers, clowns ..."

"And why would this faceless clown give Kallie a box?" asked her father, his tone a calculated balance between suspicion and anger.

"Because he ran out of roses," she said, sliding her fingernails into the grooves, trying to pry it open.

"Roses?" Her father seemed genuinely confused.

"Yes. He made them appear out of thin air and then —"

Victor Jones waved a dismissive hand. "I thought I taught you never to accept gifts from strangers." He snatched the box from her and held it up to the light. It rattled softly. "Who knows what's inside? Could be dangerous."

"Don't bother," she said. "It doesn't open."

"Let me see that," said Grandpa, taking the cube. He turned it over in his hands, studying it carefully. Kallie watched his bushy eyebrows stitch tightly together and then burst apart as his eyes grew wide. "Why ... this is a trick box."

"A what?" Kallie and her father said at the same time.

"A secret box. A puzzle box. I've heard of them," he said, running his thick finger over the deep grooves, the corners, and the edges. "Never come across one, though."

"How do you open it?"

"Well, now. That's the trick part." He touched the tip of her nose. "Some will open with a simple squeeze in the right location." He pressed several spots, but nothing happened. "Others require a sequence of complicated — often obscure — manipulations. Anywhere from two to two thousand moves."

She eyed the box with carefully measured curiosity. She didn't like picture puzzles — they were like artwork cut into pieces, a waste of valuable time. But this was different. "How do you think it works?"

"I'm not sure," said Grandpa. "They're all unique. The man gave it to you — so I guess it's up to you to figure it out." He plopped it back into her hands and winked.

"I'd get rid of that silly thing," said her father. "It'll distract you. You have only a few weeks before school starts. You need to prepare."

Every morning, Victor Jones prepared for work by walking five miles. Running disorganized the brain, he explained to Kallie, but walking helped the mind focus. He liked to be focused.

"It's hardly silly," said Grandpa. "It's quite clever. Mechanical. Let her keep it."

"What's that white material?" Kallie's father pointed to the circles. "Ivory? Maybe the clown kept his face hidden because he's an ivory poacher."

"It's not ivory," said Grandpa. "Ivory is as smooth as butter. This is rutted and pockmarked. Could be shell. Possibly bone. Probably plastic. Tough to tell these days."

Kallie inspected the circles. The shapes, lines, swirls, and curls etched into them seemed random. Her father had taught her about chaos theory. According to it, nothing in life was random. There was an underlying order in even apparently random data — you just had to find the pattern.

"You know, I once heard a story about a box like this ..." began Grandpa Jess.

Kallie frowned. She turned on her heels and marched upstairs. Over her shoulder she heard her father call, "Toss it out, Kallie. It will only cause trouble."

Kallie's bedroom was tidy and perfectly organized, with minimal distractions. There was a bed, a nightstand, a dresser, and a desk. Beside the desk was a bookshelf with atlases, almanacs, dictionaries, a set of used encyclopedias, a microscope she got for her tenth birthday, and a single faded photograph in a plain brass frame.

On her desk sat her laptop and a neat stack of textbooks. Culture and Customs of Ancient Civilizations,The Joys of Trigonometry, and Everything You Need to Know About Quantum Physics, but Were Afraid to Ask — her light summer reading. On the wall above her desk hung a poster of the periodic table; on the opposite wall, an enormous world map; and over her bed, a giant graphic image of the night sky divided into eighty-eight constellations.

Kallie sat on the edge of her bed so as not to muss the wrinkle- free covers. If the box was mechanical, that meant it was mathematical. She would solve the puzzle just as she solved really tough equations — with patience, hard work, and determination.

She toiled for over an hour, pressing, pushing, and prying, but by dinnertime, she was ready for a break. She set the box on her desk and headed for the kitchen.

Kallie set the table as usual, folded napkins crisply, placed them strategically beside each plate, and aligned cutlery neatly on top.

"To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind," she quoted from Buddha.


Excerpted from "A Box of Bones"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Marina Cohen.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
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.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. The Man in the Pink Fedora,
2. A Peculiar Puzzle,
3. Possibilities,
4. The Jackal,
5. Something Yellow This Way Comes,
6. Dark Waters,
7. A Beautiful Sun,
8. The Goblet,
9. Fragments and Shards,
10. A Haunting Melody,
11. The Bone Flute,
12. Assignment #1,
13. Gone Fishing,
14. Still Life,
15. The Castle,
16. The Power of Suggestion,
17. The Unsinkable Truth,
18. Partners in Crime,
19. The Flaming Cylinder,
20. Personal. Private. Secret.,
21. The Revenant,
22. Shades Of Gray,
23. The Coffin,
24. A Mysterious Illness,
25. Entangled,
26. Flesh and Bone,
27. The Skull,
28. In The Closet,
29. Beneath the Surface,
30. A Light Extinguished,
31. The Dagger,
32. Unmasked,
33. Truth and Lies,
34. A Sort of Ending,
35. The Last Bone,
About the Author,

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