Marcus is an agent of the Library—a place filled with tales that don’t have an ending. Mysteries that won’t be solved until Marcus and his friends Theo and Lu step in to finish them. Before it’s too late.
Because mysterious accidents are disturbing a middle school in Massachusetts. Windows shatter for no reason. Bleachers collapse at a pep rally. Most of the students think they’re just having a string of bad luck, but Marcus suspects something a lot more dangerous. Something like witchcraft. When the black moon rises, this story must come to an end . . . one way or another.
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“I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m seriously dead.”
“You’re also a drama queen,” Theo McLean said without a trace of sympathy. “It’s not exactly the end of the world.”
“Easy for you to say,” Lu snapped at him. “What did you get on the test? An A, right?”
“No, in fact, I didn’t,” Theo replied. “I got an A-plus. But I missed the extra credit.”
“I hate you,” Lu snarled.
My two best buddies don’t always get along. If not for me, I doubt they’d even be friends. Annabella Lu is driven by emotion. She’s a real “seat of the pants” kind of girl who always starts out in third gear. Theo McLean, on the other hand, is a thinker. An overthinker, actually. By the time he analyzes a problem and looks at every possible solution from multiple angles, it’s usually the next day and nobody can remember what the problem was in the first place.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I can think through a challenge fast, and I’m not afraid to make bold, decisive choices. On the other hand, my bold decisions aren’t always the best, and I’ve been known to solve problems by creating even bigger problems. But, hey, at least I get things done. Sort of.
Lu is Asian American, Theo is African American, and I’m Caucasian Euro-mutt-American. Together we look like the cast of some racially diverse kids’ TV show.
“It’s only one test grade,” I said, trying to be the voice of reason. “Your father’s not going to kill you over one C.”
“It’s not just one C, Marcus,” Lu said, spinning on her roller skates with nervous energy.
Lu is a roller-derby girl. The only reason she takes off her skates during the day is because they aren’t allowed on Stony Brook Middle School property. Theo and I were sitting near the school’s front entrance so Lu could legally roll along the sidewalk and burn off tension.
“I bombed a couple of other science tests I haven’t told my parents about, and now I’m staring at a big, fat old C for the trimester. That will make my dad’s brain detonate.”
“It won’t. Your parents are cool,” I argued.
“Sure, when it comes to my friends and letting me play derby and not getting up in my stuff all the time, but school is a whole different thing. I’ve got a tiger mom and a dragon dad. To them, anything less than an A is failing.”
“So what will they do?” Theo asked.
“I don’t know!” Lu shouted in frustration. “I’ve never had to find out! They could ground me, or get me a tutor, or they might even force me to quit derby!”
“All because of one lousy C?” I asked, incredulous.
“To them it’s not a lousy C. It’s a hot blade that cuts straight into their souls and twists with such a vengeance that pain from the hideous scar will torture them until the day they die.”
“Wow,” I said. “You may suck at science but I bet you’re getting an A in English.”
“So do better next time,” Theo said matter-of-factly. “I mean, you’re not dumb. Not really.”
“Gee, thanks,” Lu said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Maybe that should go on my tombstone: ‘Here lies Annabella Lu. She wasn’t dumb. Not really.’ ”
“But you aren’t,” Theo said innocently.
“Ugh,” Lu groaned, and skated off. She spun around, skating backward, and said, “If you don’t see me tomorrow, it’s because I’ve been shipped off to boarding school.”
“You’re making too big a thing outta this!” I called to her as she spun back around and zipped away.
Her response was to throw me a dismissive wave.
“I don’t know why her parents would be so upset,” Theo said. “I mean, maybe a C is the best she can do.”
I stood and hoisted my pack. “I’d keep that opinion to myself, unless you want roller-skate tracks across your back.”
Theo stood too and said, “So what did you get on the test?”
“An A-plus,” I replied without hesitation. “Nailed the extra credit too. Do not tell Lu.”
Theo and I live close to the school and always walk home together through our suburban neighborhood in Stony Brook, Connecticut. It was late October, and the fall foliage was at its spectacular peak. The leafy trees sported stunning shades of orange, yellow, and red that made the sky seem freakishly blue. It was like something out of a perfect Halloween picture book.
As we walked along, Theo kept glancing at me as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the guts. The whole time he was tugging on his earlobe. It’s a nervous tic that always shows up when he’s thinking hard.
“What!” I finally exclaimed, making him jump.
“It’s nothing,” he said quickly, which meant it was definitely something. “Forget it.”
“Okay,” I said with a dismissive shrug.
He pulled on his earlobe again and said, “But it actually is something.”
“C’mon, Marcus, we have to talk about it.”
“About what?” I asked, though I knew exactly what he meant.
“It’s been over a week, and we haven’t discussed it once. It’s like we’re pretending it didn’t happen.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said innocently.
“Give me a break,” he said with impatience.
“Oh! You mean about how the three of us trapped a centuries-old evil spirit in a metal box and tossed it into the Long Island Sound so it could never escape and terrorize people ever again? Is that what you’re talking about?”
“Yes, smart guy. That. And the Library.”
Theo was right. I was trying to pretend like none of it had happened. I hadn’t been back since we captured the Boggin.
“I know,” I said sincerely. “I’ve been avoiding.”
“I thought you wanted to help Everett finish some of the stories. What’s the problem?”
“No problem,” I said. “It’s just that the whole thing seems like a dream. I mean, you saw those shelves. There were thousands of unfinished stories there. How can I hope to put a dent in that?”
“Maybe not a dent, but you could finish a few. Like maybe . . . oh, I don’t know . . . mine. Or Lu’s.”
He had me there. The unfinished stories in the Library were about people who had experienced unexplainable events. Odd occurrences. Supernatural shenanigans. The only thing the stories had in common was that they were unfinished. Throughout history the agents of the Library were able to step into those stories--don’t ask me how--and work to try and solve them.
Like my biological father before me, I was an agent of the Library. Lucky me. I didn’t ask for the job, but it was mine anyway.
Making things even more complicated, both Theo and Lu feared they were going through their own weirdness. Lu’s cousin had mysteriously vanished without a trace. Nobody in her family had any idea of what might have happened to her. Theo’s deal was that he had had his fortune told by one of those goofy arcade machines at an amusement park. It was an ominous prediction that life as he knew it would end on his fourteenth birthday. Not a big deal except that both of his brothers had their fortunes told at the same time and both came true.
Theo and Lu feared, or maybe hoped, that their stories could be found somewhere on the shelves of the Library along with all the other unfinished stories. If so, there was a chance we could solve the mysteries. I’d promised them I would look into it, but I was having trouble getting up the nerve to go back.
“We got lucky with the Boggin,” I said. “Things could just as easily have gone south.”
“What about your father’s story?” Theo asked. “Your biological father. And mother. I thought you wanted to find the truth about how they died?”
“I do but--”
“But what?” he exclaimed, exasperated. “I can’t explain how that library exists and how spirits are able to write stories about--what did Everett call them, disruptions? Or how the agents can finish those stories. But it’s real and there’s a ton at stake.”
“I know, I get it!” I said, annoyed. “But it’s a lot to wrap my head around, you know? I’m just a little bit . . .”
I couldn’t finish the sentence.
Theo finished it for me.
“Yeah. Scared. Okay? Do you blame me?”
“Not for a second,” Theo said. “I don’t want you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. It was just a dumb fortune-telling machine. I’m sure I’ll live through my birthday.”
I stopped walking and looked him square in the eye. “Now you’re laying guilt on me?”
“Sorry. I’m really not. But just so you know, if you ever want to go back, I’m with you. And Lu is annoying, but she’ll go too. Remember that, okay?”
We got to my street and split up to go to our own houses. When I got home, I went right to my room and tried to do homework. Tried. How could I focus on algebra when all I could think about was the heavy, old-fashioned brass key that hung around my neck? There were many times over the past week that I was tempted to put the key near a door to create the magic that allowed me to enter the Library. I was torn between wanting to jump into a new adventure and fearing where the stories I found might lead.
This wasn’t fantasy. It was all very real. We dodged a bullet when we captured the Boggin. Others weren’t so lucky. People died. Part of me wanted to quit while I was ahead, and pretend the Library was just some strange dream I could wake up from and forget about. I might have done exactly that if my best friends weren’t possibly going through their own disruptions.
And the Library gave me a chance to solve the mystery of how my birth parents died. Not knowing them or who I really was had haunted me my whole life. Getting the Paradox key was like a gift from the grave. From the past. From my past. My biological father wanted me to have it. He wanted me to know the truth about him and my mother, and their deaths. How could I not follow through? And how could I not try to help my friends?
With all that at stake, how could I possibly pretend the Library didn’t exist?
I don’t think I slept much that night. I held on to the Paradox key, running my fingers over the details of its elaborate carvings and trying to get past the feeling of dread. By the time morning came, I hadn’t gotten any closer to making a decision about what to do.
Maybe I wasn’t so good at making bold, decisive choices after all.
Mom and Dad were already sitting at the kitchen table. I immediately sensed tension. I was good at that. I’d had a lot of practice. They were always on me about something and that morning was no different.
“Family discussion time,” Mom announced as I sat down.
Uh-oh. I knew what that meant. I was about to be hit with something I wouldn’t like.
“What’s up?” I asked innocently.
“Mom and I have been talking,” Dad began.
Uh-oh again. That was never good news. I hated it when they talked. Especially when it was about me. It was never a discussion that led to them giving me an award or something. No, whatever was headed my way, it would be bad.
“You’re doing well in school,” Dad said. “We’re proud of you.”
I wanted to jump up and say, “Thanks! Good talk. Have a nice day!” and get out of there. But I knew that wouldn’t fly.
“But life isn’t just about school,” he said.
I couldn’t argue with that.
“What I mean is, we want you to branch out a little and get involved with some after-school activities. You know, extracurricular things.”
“Like what?” I asked skeptically.
“Like anything,” Mom said. “Play a sport. Join a club. Volunteer somewhere. Maybe take music lessons. There’s a whole lot of time between school and dinner when you could be doing something constructive. There’s more to getting an education than homework.”
I couldn’t argue with that either.
“Besides,” Dad said, “and don’t take this the wrong way, but let’s be honest: you don’t really study all that hard and you still get straight A’s.”
Again, no argument. School was cake.
“That’s awesome,” Dad added. “We’re proud of you, but we’d like to see you challenge yourself a little.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it,” I said, and dug into my cereal, hoping my answer would satisfy them.
No such luck. I could sense the two of them exchanging looks, silently debating about who would fire the next shot.
“We’re serious, Marcus,” Mom said. “It’s important that you experience as much as you can. It’ll also help you make new friends.”
“What’s wrong with my old friends?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Mom said quickly. “But you’ve been hanging around with the same two kids pretty much your whole life. Maybe you should broaden your horizons a little.”
“Look,” I said curtly. “I like my horizons where they are. I’m not going to join the chess club. Or the yearbook. Or the paper-freaking-airplane club. That’s not me. Maybe I’ll run track, but that’s not until the spring. I think I’m doing pretty well. I get good grades and I don’t get into trouble.”
That prompted another look between the two of them.
“Okay,” I added. “I don’t get into much trouble, so let’s just leave well enough alone, okay?”
“Don’t get angry,” Dad said. “We’re just thinking about what’s best for you.”
“I don’t need help. I’m doing fine. I don’t need to join some group of geek--”
My words caught in my throat as I felt a strange sensation. At first I thought I might be getting sick. Or having some kind of attack. It took me a second to understand what it really was.
The Paradox key was growing warm against my chest.
“What’s the matter?” Dad asked.
I opened my mouth to answer, but no words came out. Mostly because I didn’t have any. At least none I wanted to give. Mom and Dad had no idea about the Library, and I wasn’t going to tell them either.
The key was growing warmer. For a second I feared it might burn a hole in my shirt. Or my chest.
“I . . . I . . . I gotta go to the bathroom,” I said, and ran for the stairs.
As I sprinted out of the room, Dad said to Mom, “Did the milk go sour?”
I took the stairs two at a time, went straight for the bathroom, and closed the door. I reached for the cord around my neck that held the ancient brass key and pulled it over my head. The key was definitely warm. I clutched it in my hand and felt it pulse with life, or whatever it was that magical keys pulsed with.
Excerpted from "Black Moon Rising (The Library Book 2)"
Copyright © 2018 D. J. MacHale.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Children's 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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