There’s a place beyond this world where spirits tell their tales—stories that ended too soon, or don’t end at all. It’s a place for unexplainable things: mysteries without solutions. Ghosts. Boogeymen. They all have a story.
Marcus and his friends have found the key to unlock the Library. And they need to use it, because, clearly, something is up. Some strange guy in a bathrobe haunts them; fires rage and flare out in an instant; a creepy old lady shows up at Marcus’s house. . . . At first Marcus thinks he’s going nuts, until the terror gets real. The Library may hold some answers, but if there’s an unfinished mystery, the three friends will have to complete the story . . . any way they possibly can.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Use your brains, people, for a change,” Mr. Winser commanded impatiently as he prowled the aisles of third-period social studies class, hunting for his next victim.
Winser had been teaching seventh-grade social studies since before I was born. Maybe before my parents were born. He was a fossil who wore wide ties that were so ugly, I couldn’t tell if the hideous patterns were intentional or just a bunch of stains from spilled food.
“Can someone please offer me an intelligent response?” he asked with disdain. “What were some of the negative impacts of evolution between the Homo erectus period and the Homo sapiens period?”
Winser spun and pointed his finger at an unsuspecting girl.
“Miss Oliver!” he declared.
Gwen Oliver sat bolt upright, as if lightning had flown from Winser’s fingertip. Gwen wasn’t a social studies scholar. Or a math scholar. Or any kind of scholar, for that matter. She was the kind of girl who did her best to get through the day without having to think too much. Or at all.
“Umm . . . ,” she said, stalling, hoping Winser would move on.
“Unacceptable!” he shouted. He said that a lot. “Stand up. Get the blood flowing to that underused brain of yours.”
Gwen gave him an uncertain look and didn’t budge.
“I said stand!” Winser barked.
She stood slowly, with her shoulders slumped, while tugging at her long auburn hair nervously. All eyes were fixed on her. If it wasn’t her worst nightmare, it sure came close.
“Now, fill the room with your knowledge. Enlighten us all with your insightful thoughts on evolution.”
He might as well have asked her to explain cold fusion.
“I . . . I don’t know,” she said in a voice so small that only highly trained rescue dogs could have heard it.
“Unacceptable,” he barked. “Have you read the material?”
Gwen nodded and shrugged.
“What does that mean?” he said, making an exaggerated shrug, imitating her.
Gwen shrugged again. She looked ready to cry.
“I’ll answer for you,” he said. “You read it, but you didn’t understand it. Would that be accurate?”
Gwen gave him a sad smile and a weak nod.
“Pathetic. Sit!” Winser commanded, as if talking to a dog. “These are not difficult concepts, except to you, maybe.”
Gwen sat down, both relieved and humiliated. She may not have understood the chapter on evolution, but she sure didn’t deserve to be treated like that.
Winser spun and pointed right at me.
I didn’t flinch. I was hoping he’d nail me.
“I’m giving you a gift, Mr. O’Mara!” Winser exclaimed. “The underwhelming Miss Oliver is an easy act to follow.” He chuckled at what he thought was a clever remark.
Nobody else did.
I stared straight at the guy and didn’t answer.
“Well?” Winser said impatiently.
I looked him square in the eye and didn’t say a word.
“Did you hear me, Mr. O’Mara? Or are your ears as disengaged as your brain?”
I did my best impersonation of a statue.
“Should I interpret your silence as proof that you don’t understand the material either?”
I gave him nothing. Not a twitch. Not a blink.
Winser fidgeted nervously. He wasn’t used to having kids do anything but tremble in fear when he got in their faces.
“I’m waiting for a response, Mr. O’Mara,” Winser said, with a touch of uncertainty.
I stood up, slowly, and walked deliberately to the front of the class. I don’t think anybody was breathing, because the only sounds I heard were those of my own footsteps. I walked to the whiteboard, picked up a marker, and in bold blue letters wrote:
YOU’RE A TEACHER. TRY TEACHING.
When I hit the period for emphasis, the class erupted in cheers.
Winser’s face went red with rage. He raised his hands, and the class quieted down, waiting for the next move.
“That buys you two days’ detention,” he said through clenched teeth.
I turned back to the board and wrote:
AND YOU’LL STILL BE A LOUSY TEACHER.
The class broke out in wild applause and whistles.
I held the marker out toward Winser, stared him down, and dropped it to the floor.
The kids all jumped to their feet and cheered. Even Gwen Oliver joined in, smiling broadly.
That afternoon, after school, I found myself in an empty classroom, spending the first of five days in detention. I didn’t care. We’re always getting lectures about the evils of bullying. In my opinion, those rules apply to teachers too.
To be honest, I didn’t hate being in detention. It gave me a chance to do homework. Okay, it forced me to do homework. At least I’d be done and could watch some TV at home. Gotta look on the bright side.
“Seriously?” came a voice from outside. “You dropped the marker and did a walk-off?”
“You’re out of your mind,” came another voice.
Standing outside the open window were my two friends, Annabella Lu and Theo McLean.
Lu was hard to miss. She was Chinese American, with straight jet-black hair that was blunt-cut to just below her jaw, and bangs that barely cleared her eyes. While most girls wore subtle lip gloss, Lu’s lips were always a shocking red. Her pale skin made them stand out even more, like a talking stoplight. She wore a red plaid shirt over a black T-shirt and cutoff jeans. None of the other girls looked anything like Lu, which was exactly what Lu was going for.
I called her Lu because Annabella had way too many syllables.
“The guy is a tool,” I said with a shrug.
“And now you’re a legend,” Lu said.
“I don’t want to be a legend.”
“Then be careful. People might start liking you.”
“You’ve set a bad precedent,” Theo said. “Now Winser will be gunning for you all year.”
Theo always talked like a professor giving a lecture. He was a black guy who dressed as though he’d just come from brunch at some country club. His shirts and khakis were always ironed as smooth as paper. He wore ties too. Bow ties. Basically, he looked like the kind of guy who would get beaten up every day. The only reason he didn’t was because he had an insurance policy.
Nobody messed with me.
“It’s only October,” Theo said. “There’s a whole lot of seventh grade left.”
“Yeah, for Winser too,” I said. “If he doesn’t lighten up, neither will I.”
“I don’t like it,” Theo said with a deep frown. “This can only get worse.”
“Five days of detention,” Lu said. “Was it worth it?”
“What do you think?” I asked her.
“What do I think?” Lu asked with surprise. “Do you have to ask? Have we met? Yeah, it was worth it.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Gotta go,” Lu said. “I’ve got practice.”
She pushed away and sped toward the sidewalk on roller skates. Lu was a roller-derby girl. Lu-na-tic was her derby name. Perfect. In a flash of plaid and long legs, she was gone.
“Do you need anything?” Theo asked.
“Jeez, Theo, relax. It’s detention, not prison.”
“All righty,” he said.
Yes, Theo used the phrase all righty a lot. If he weren’t my best friend, I’d probably want to beat him up myself.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, and headed off the other way.
I didn’t have a lot of friends at Stony Brook Middle School. Okay, I had exactly two. Lu and Theo. I wasn’t a group guy. The three of us didn’t care about being on the “popular” track, which meant you had to wear the same clothes as everyone else and make fun of anyone who didn’t conform. We did whatever we wanted because we didn’t care what anybody else thought about us. It was total freedom.
I checked the clock. Twenty minutes left on day number one of my sentence. Piece of cake. I pulled out my earth science textbook and was about to explore the wonders of magma when I got a strange feeling . . . as if I was being watched. I looked back to the window to see if Lu or Theo had come back.
But I wasn’t alone.
I looked toward the open door of the classroom and saw a man standing there, staring at me with a totally blank expression. As if that wasn’t weird enough, he was wearing pajamas and a bathrobe.
It sent a cold shiver up my spine.
“You looking for somebody, chief?” I asked.
Crash! The sound of breaking glass came from outside in the hallway. It was so loud and so sudden, I actually jumped in my seat.
The guy in the doorway barely reacted. He looked down the hallway to my right, then turned and slowly walked away in the opposite direction.
I leapt up from the desk and ran to investigate. When I peered out the door, into the hall, I shouted after the guy, “Hey! What was that—?”
The guy was gone. Huh? He should have been a few feet away, but he was nowhere to be seen. I guessed he must have ducked into the next classroom. Odd.
I looked the other way and saw what had made the crashing sound. Halfway down the hall, a glass trophy case was completely destroyed.
“Ms. Holden!?” I called out.
Holden was the assistant principal and my detention warden. She had stepped out of the classroom a while earlier to do whatever assistant principals do after school. Wherever she was, she didn’t answer.
I walked the twenty yards to the damage, my sneakers crunching on broken glass as I got closer. The case had held years of trophies and plaques won by long-forgotten teams. The remnants were strewn everywhere. Some were broken in two, others totally mangled. The glass window that had protected it all (ha!) lay in a million tiny pieces on the floor. Whoever had done this wouldn’t get away. The guy in his jammies must have seen it all happen.
I took a step closer and crunched glass again. I jumped back quickly and looked down to see something on the floor that was, in a word, impossible.
Tiny bits of glass were scattered everywhere, but directly beneath the case the debris was arranged into a pattern that spelled out words. Actual words, formed by thousands of small glass fragments, like a mosaic.
“ ‘Surrender the key,’ ” I read out loud.
My mind spun, trying to make sense of it. Could the glass have landed that way randomly? No way. But there hadn’t been time for somebody to set it up.
The vandal was still at work. The sound had come from around the corner at the end of the hallway. I sprinted toward it, reached the end of the hall, turned the corner, and saw the culprit.
My knees went weak.
Standing twenty yards in front of me was a massive black bull.
Yes, a bull.
“Holy . . .”
The animal swung its head from side to side in agitation, flashing its long, pointed horns. It was an eight-hundred-pound monster that looked more like shadow than substance.
I had no idea how to react until the bull fixed its eyes on me.
The animal stiffened, chuffed, and pounded a hoof on the floor. I had seen enough movies about bullfights to know this wasn’t good. I didn’t dare move for fear of pulling the trigger on the monster and releasing its fury.
I shot a look to my left to see Ms. Holden standing beyond the classroom I’d just come from. Bad move. As soon as I broke eye contact, the bull charged.
There was only one thing to do.
“Move!” I shouted to Ms. Holden as I sprinted toward her.
Holden kept walking closer, looking confused.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
The bull reached the corner behind me, its hooves slashing at the linoleum to maintain traction, but it couldn’t make the turn. It skidded and slammed into the far wall with a huge thud and a pained grunt. The floor shook with the force of impact, but, rather than slowing the beast down, the crash only fueled its rage. It let out a furious bellow that made the hairs go up on the back of my neck. I sprinted through the broken glass in front of the destroyed trophy case, crunching over the gritty surface, fearing I would slip and fall.
The bull was on the move again and closing in fast.
Ms. Holden continued walking toward me with her hands out and palms up in a “What is going on?” gesture.
“Get out of the way!” I screamed.
The bull let out a chilling howl. I had no idea bulls could howl. I was sure I could feel its hot breath on my neck. No way I could outrun this monster. In seconds I’d be trampled. Or gored. Or trampled and then gored.
“Get in the classroom!” I yelled.
I cut the angle and headed for the doorway.
The thundering sound of hooves on the hard floor grew louder. It was going to be close. I braced, ready to feel the points of the bull’s horns stabbing me in the back. I hit the brakes and slid across the waxed floor. For a second I thought I’d overshoot the door, but my sneakers caught, and I threw myself into the room. I instantly hit a desk in the first row and tumbled to the floor in a tangle of books and furniture. I vaguely heard the sound of the enraged bull galloping past the open door like a freight train on its way to another station.
When I looked up to get my bearings, I saw that I wasn’t alone.
The guy in the bathrobe was back. He stood with his arms at his sides, totally calm in spite of the pandemonium. He reached into the pocket of his bathrobe, took out a brown leather cord, and held it out to me. Hanging from it was a key. An oversized, old-fashioned brass key.
He held it out as if offering it to me.
I got to my knees, my eyes focused on the dangling key that swung in front of my face hypnotically. I reached out to grab it, but when I closed my fingers around the key, my hand passed through it as if it was nothing more than a projection. A shadow. An illusion.
I looked to the guy, questioning. He gave me a sad shrug.
I spun back to see Ms. Holden standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips, looking totally peeved.
Reality had returned.
I jumped up and ran to her, stumbling over books and nearly tripping over the desk again.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Am I okay?” Holden replied angrily. “What in the world is wrong with you?”
“What do you think?” I said, incredulous. “The bull!”
“Yeah, that’s a good word for it,” Holden said with a frown. “Explain yourself.”