When Max learns that Karl helped spring him from Schwarzburg’s dungeon during the first game, he feels obligated to return the favor. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but supposedly Max is the one who rescued Karl from Hanstein in 1473 and helped him return home. When at last Max finagles a way into the castle, Bero is less than pleased to see him, Lady Clara is near death and Juliana is not meeting his eyes. Can Max sway his friends, help Karl and stay out of Schwarzburg’s clutches? And will he ultimately stop Dr. Stuler’s evil computer game?
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Annette Oppenlander writes historical fiction for teens. When she isn’t in front of her computer, she loves indulging her mutt, Mocha, and traveling around the U.S. and Europe to discover amazing histories.
Read an Excerpt
Escape From the Past: At Witches' End (Book 3)
By Annette Oppenlander
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Annette Oppenlander
All rights reserved.
I was walking home from school when my cellphone buzzed. Text from unknown. I'd been worried about my safety and changed phones. Not even my best friend, Jimmy Stuler, knew my number.
Actually, other than driving to school together, Jimmy and I hadn't hung out for months. He'd tried a few times after he returned from all his fancy trips, but I'd blown him off. He acted all mad and hurt, but who knew what was real or if that was his father talking. Jimmy's dad, Dr. Stuler, is a certified madman.
"You about ready? Fall break starts tomorrow."
"Who's this? Ready for what?" I answered. Some jerk had the wrong number.
"Emma. Need to see you."
I rolled my eyes. Stupid idiot of a girl. Why didn't she leave me alone? I hadn't talked to her since the day Emma's dad, Karl, and I had made it out of Histech, Dr. Stuler's evil gaming company.
I stuck the phone back in my pocket. I wasn't going to see anybody related to the game. My insides churned as the memories of summer returned, barely making it out of New Mexico alive, only to be pushed around by Stuler.
As I unlocked the front door of the cottage I share with my mom, a shadow rushed up to me.
"Why aren't you answering?" Emma's red hair glowed like the setting sun.
"The fact you're already waiting here tells me you really didn't want an answer."
I stepped inside, contemplating shutting the door in her face. Don't be a douche. She'd only keep pestering and I was sort of ... curious.
She marched past me into the living room and plopped on the couch. I followed slowly, just to show I wasn't going to do her bidding. How could a girl be so annoying and so hot at the same time? If anything she'd gotten cuter. I never thought I'd go for freckles, but the way they sprinkled across her face I —
"Hello. You listening?"
"What?" I sagged into the single chair, the coffee table as a safety zone between us.
"I said it's time you finish the game. Dad didn't want to bother you yet, but I think you're ready."
"I told you I'm not playing again."
Emma looked like she was going to pole vault across the table to wring my neck. Apparently she thought better of it and leaned forward instead.
"If you weren't playing any more, my father would be dead."
This time-travel thing was screwy. You could go back to any point in the past, but returned to the same exact second you left.
If you returned.
Karl had played long ago, even before my first game. He'd barely made it back alive. And supposedly I'd been the one to rescue him.
"I can't handle it right now."
"How long are you going to wait?"
I shrugged. Till I'm ready I wanted to say. Assessing the angry squint on Emma's face I said nothing.
Emma pursed her lips. "You know he saved your life. You would've rotted in Schwarzburg's dungeon, had it not been for my dad."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying my father got a guy to spring you from the dungeon."
"No?" Emma jumped up. "I'm calling my dad right now."
"Why?" Secretly I was trying to remember who I'd told about the escape from Schwarzburg's cell in the first game. She was obviously trying to lay a guilt trip on me.
It wasn't going to work.
"Dad, yeah, I'm with Max. Tell him what you told me about helping him escape."
Emma listened to the phone. Obviously Karl wasn't too happy about her being here. Good! Maybe he'd refuse to speak to me. No such luck. She handed over the phone.
"How are you, Max?"
"Em wants me to tell you about the escape." Karl hesitated. It was obvious he didn't want to talk about it.
"How did you know? I mean my time at Rusteberg."
"I was staying in Marth, the little village nearby. Word got around that a strange character had been caught. I suspected it was somebody from the game ... because I'd seen you once before."
"When?" Karl was hallucinating.
"In Hanstein's forest, I'd been on the run, they ... cut off my middle finger. You were watching from the bushes. You wore that T-shirt with nerds printed on it."
In the recesses of my mind the scene from my first game returned. Landing in the woods, my panic at being lost, Bero flinging pinecones at my head. My first night at Bero's hut ...
"... and when Schwarzburg accused you of being Werner von Hanstein's spy, I knew I had to get you out."
The line went quiet for a moment as my mind took me back to the darkest time in my life.
I'd pushed the memory of Duke Schwarzburg's dungeon away, the horrific place no human should endure, feeling like a madman as I grew weaker and weaker. It was the one time I'd wanted to die.
"I found a peasant farmer who'd been wronged by Schwarzburg. He knew the area and agreed to help you escape. He took you to Hanstein. You know the rest."
I blindly stared out the French doors into the garden. I'd always wondered who had saved me and why. Later I stopped caring, just being glad to have escaped the game.
"I owe you one," I said quietly.
Karl let out a rattled sigh. "I know you don't want to play again. I don't blame you. But I wouldn't be talking to you right now, had you not saved me. I'm fine if we wait."
"I've got to think about it."
"Tell Em to leave you alone. You call me when you're ready."
I handed the phone to Emma and slumped back into the chair. "He says you should leave."
To my surprise Emma nodded and headed for the door.
That night I lay awake. It was clear I owed Karl. A year and a half ago I'd convinced Jimmy to let me borrow his father's new computer game. I hadn't known Stuler set me up, using me as a test player. Of course, I was full of myself and tried the advanced version, only to land in the Middle Ages. Not a made-up world, no, the real thing. I'd time-traveled more than five hundred years into the past. Impossible, you say? That's what I thought until I landed at Castle Hanstein, met Lord Werner and my friend Bero, the pig herder. Until I fell in love with Juliana.
Truthfully I wasn't so worried about returning to Hanstein. I had friends there. Knew my way around.
The unsettling part was that the game could send you anywhere. I'd tried to get to Hanstein in the second game and ended up in 1881 New Mexico. What if I landed in Normandy during World War II? Or ended up in the American Civil War? Anything was possible.
I also wanted to destroy Stuler's game though I had no clue how to go about it. If I played again he'd find out. Which would draw new attention to me.
For the last two months I'd managed to forget the uneasy feeling I'd had when I escaped from New Mexico only to be forced into Stuler's office. At first I'd looked over my shoulder all the time, expecting the man to abduct me again.
I'd slept fitfully having nightmares about my computer.
It had always been my favorite possession, but after discovering the game embedded on it, I hadn't felt safe. I even contemplated getting rid of the thing.
I turned on my back and stared at the ceiling. The house was silent, but not silent enough to calm my jittering nerves.
Playing the game entailed a million risks. I was out of my league. Alone, one nerd against all of history. Against Stuler's madness.
I needed help and there was only one guy capable of providing it.CHAPTER 2
Karl opened the door. He seemed better than the last time we'd met, his cheeks a bit fuller, his eyes bright.
"I need to talk to you," I blurted, pushing past him into the kitchen.
"I lay awake all night, thinking how I'd handle this," I said. Karl nodded, holding my gaze. "If I do this game again, you're going to help me get to the right place and time."
"I don't know —"
"You said you were Stuler's top programmer. You know this game inside out. If I land anywhere else or at a different time, I'm screwed." I glanced at Karl across the table. "I can't handle another blunder like New Mexico."
Karl blinked rapidly. "I suppose I could ..."
"Can you come to my place tomorrow? For some reason I've got a copy on my hard drive. I'm not using the PC. Doing all my work on the laptop now."
"I'll have to write new code, make sure the timer stops at the right moment."
I nodded. "How long?"
Karl tapped a finger on his lips. "Not long. A day should be fine. It's just ..."
"We have no way of testing it."
My mouth turned to sand. If Karl made a mistake I'd end up on the Western Front during WWI, being gassed in a trench.
"See you tomorrow afternoon," I croaked. Heading for the front door I added, "Oh, and I want to stop Stuler. I need your help with that."
"Wait a minute." Karl rushed after me and pushed the door closed once more. "You're out of your mind. The man is crazy. You saw what he's capable of."
"That's exactly why we need to stop him."
Karl shook his head. "I'm not going to burn down his place."
"You don't have to." I grabbed onto Karl's forearm. "You know the company. He's got a server room, some place where all the game technology is kept."
"The third and fourth floors."
"They're secured. Not even the elevator stops there." Karl leaned back against the wall.
"If you created a computer virus that infected everything ..."
"I don't know."
"Can you do it?"
Karl finally nodded. "I'll give it some thought. Now let me get to work."
Karl showed up around nine a.m. to install a bunch of code on my computer. I'd been up early watching my mom get ready for work, putting up a show about enjoying my fall break. Secretly, I'd craved her hug, but was afraid I'd fall apart.
"I can stay," Karl said after he explained what he'd done and I comprehended nothing. "Until ..."
"I'd rather be alone," I said, my mouth dry again.
As soon as the door closed behind Karl, I began to sweat. Then shiver. I was having a panic attack. If Karl had made a mistake I'd go to the wrong place, having to complete impossible missions. I wasn't strong enough to survive battles and diseases and who knew what else. Not this time.
I paced through the living room into the kitchen and back. Minutes ticked by. An hour. Then another. Unable to eat, I gulped down a Coke. What are you waiting for? You've got to do this today. You said you would.
I don't remember how I ended up in front of my computer, how I turned on the game. It was like some out-of-body experience, watching myself go through the motions, my forehead burning as if I had a fever.
The screen buzzed, showing the familiar stone gate. Somewhere crickets and birds chirped. As the stone gate fell away, the outline of a castle appeared in the distance. Just like the first time. I expected to see Lord Werner and his brother, Lame Hans, in the woods but the dirt path in front of me was empty.
The button flashed. Upgrade to master level?
With a sigh I took mental inventory of my outfit, the items I'd prepped and stuck into my pants. You may not return this time. Just because I saved Karl didn't mean I'd be able to get back.
It was like the chicken and the egg. Which came first, Karl being there and being rescued by me or me going because I'd rescue Karl. The time-travel thing was weird because you returned the exact moment you left. And since Karl had played the game a long time ago, he'd also returned a long time ago. According to him, I'd been the one to save him.
My forefinger's hover turned into a tremble. In fact my entire body wobbled. The game had taught me respect for historical environments. Modern guys like me just didn't fit in. How many times could I be lucky?
If I wanted to survive I'd have to make my own luck. What if it wasn't enough? Still, all I'd do is postpone the inevitable. I was going to play so why not now. Get it over with.
The monitor quivered and then receded, pulling the room with it. The walls moved out of proportion as if pulsating in and out of focus. Pressure engulfed me, took hold of my arms and legs. My chest stopped moving, my breath caught. Boulder-like weights crushed me. I forgot where I was, who I was.
All I wanted was to breathe.
Nothing mattered, except find a way to make my ribs rise and my lungs fill with air. I couldn't. I stared yet I saw nothing but stars — bright exploding lights that took over my vision until I thought I was going blind.
As quickly as the heaviness came, it disappeared.
Slowly, I looked down, recognizing my feet in the chocolate brown boots I'd bought last winter. They were fur-lined with rubber soles strong enough to withstand the harshest Middle-Ages winter. I was prepared this time.
Beyond my feet a trail stretched into the distance. I shielded my eyes against the orange glow of the sun and sniffed. The aroma of hay and dust filled the air, the heat shifting and shimmering above the brownish fields. Crickets chirped like mad, an outdoor concert filling my ears. I turned in a circle.
My room was definitely gone.
For a moment panic rose and my throat filled with bile. The feeling of complete loneliness was paralyzing. The only thing that came close had to be astronauts in space, knowing that millions of miles were between them and their families and that death lurked around the corner.
In the distance I made out a familiar castle, not the ruins of my time, but a ginormous structure with every stone in place. Oaks as tall as skyscrapers covered the hillside. Meadows swayed in the breeze. Not a soul stirred, the silence oppressive as if something or someone were lying in wait.
With a sigh I yanked off the cape I'd been wearing. It had to be ninety degrees.
Karl had gotten the location right, but what day and time of year was it? Judging by the sun's vicious blaze, late afternoon and definitely not winter. I remembered the first time I'd been here when I'd not even known the year until a couple of weeks into the game. This time I wouldn't wait to ask. No matter how stupid I looked. What if Karl's calculations were wrong?
I turned toward the castle and followed the path until the first shacks of Bornhagen came into view. They were even shabbier than I remembered, especially in the harsh light of the afternoon. Worse was the smell that reached my nostrils — like a thick cocoon of toxic waste.
It was so easy to forget the horrific stink of the Middle Ages when you lived in a clean home with plumbing. I held my breath, but soon sucked in air to keep going. Remnants of onion peels, rotting bones and what appeared like human waste littered the trail. Some villagers simply tossed their excrement into the street for everyone to enjoy.
I carefully stepped across the stench, ignoring the scattering feet of my old friends, the rats. I stripped to a plain brown T-shirt and tucked my cape, a sort of oversized hooded sweater I'd bought at an online medieval clothing store, under my arm. My pants, made of thick wool, stuck to my skin and I wanted nothing more than to take them off — and the ridiculous, fur-lined boots. At home it was October and I'd frozen so badly last time that I'd never even considered it might be summer and I might be overdressed.
I wiped my dripping forehead when my feet forgot to move. Bero's hut was straight ahead, the door open as usual.
Of course, Bero wouldn't be here. He was a Hanstein squire and likely sitting in the shade of the castle walls, stuffing his face and drinking wine. Hard to believe we'd met in the woods, Bero herding a flock of pigs, offering me a place to stay when I'd most needed it.
For a moment I hesitated. Why not go straight to the castle, organize a cooler outfit and get reacquainted with Lord Werner, Bero and my old flame, Bero's sister Juliana. On the other hand, why not say hello to Juliana's mother.
I stopped at the outer gate to the barnyard when a girl rushed from the front door. She was carrying a bucket and had nearly reached me before she looked up. And froze.
I was too stunned to say anything. The girl looked like Juliana, the same doe-brown eyes, short nose and skinny waist. But something was different about her. It had to be the hair, which was several shades lighter. Maybe I didn't remember it right.
"Oh, heaven protect me," the girl screamed. She tossed down her bucket and raced back into the hut, slamming the door behind her.
I stood unmoving, racking my brain about the details of Juliana's face. My memory was playing tricks. Had I returned earlier in time and Juliana didn't know me yet? Could I potentially run into myself playing the game? I rubbed the back of my neck as if to inspire a new idea when I noticed movement behind the crud-covered windowpanes.
Excerpted from Escape From the Past: At Witches' End (Book 3) by Annette Oppenlander. Copyright © 2015 Annette Oppenlander. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At Witches' End is the third and final book in the Escape From The Past series! When Max learns that Karl, a former gamer had help him escape from the dungeon the first time that Max had played the game, Max feels the need to return the favor to go back and rescue Karl from his fate within the game. With Karl's help, Max returns to the game but having two years pass since the last time he was in the Middle Ages, nothing is what it seems anymore. As Max soon discovers that nobody really wants him around but soon discovers an old enemy is still hunting for his capture. With secrets coming out about what had happened in those two years and discovering that a friend isn't what she claims she is, it all leads to an epic showdown between good and evil. As Max gets out of the game for the last time, it's up to everyone that had their life turn upside down to put an end to the game once and for all! This book was perfect in the sense that it wrapped up everything that had happened in this series that lead to this book. It was awesome to see what some of the characters have been up to since the first book and to have certain things happen, was perfect for how it needed to end. You don't see many books with a theme like this one very often but if you ever get a chance to read this book or series, you would be glad that you did. Now if we can only get a TV series going for this series, that would be perfect just to see everything happen on the big screen!! Thank You to Annette Oppenlander for writing a pretty good finale to a series that I love!! I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book from the Author!