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To tail or not to tail, that was the question. Midnight Reynolds stood in front of the large oak tree where she always met her friends Sav and Lucy, and clutched at the long piece of fabric tied around her waist. It was the Friday night after Halloween — which had been Midnight's birthday, actually — and their school was having a dance, complete with costumes.
Definitely a tail, she finally decided. She tightened the fabric around her waist and smoothed down the furry mouse pants her mom had made, making sure her glasses were in the pocket. Thanks to a dry-eye condition that prevented her from wearing contact lenses, she needed glasses to see at a distance. Unfortunately, when the plain wire frames were combined with her straight, dark hair, sludge-green eyes, and snub nose, they made her look like a goblin. But Midnight carried them for extreme emergencies.
The school was dark, apart from the gym, which was glowing with lights. The doors hadn't opened up yet, and despite the cool night, several groups of boys were running around in short sleeves, screaming and yelling. The girls huddled together in clumps, pretending to ignore them. It reminded Midnight of a nature documentary.
As she waited, a familiar buzzing hummed in her ear. Midnight flinched. She'd first started hearing the noise just after they moved to Berry and had thought it was a power tool. The next time it had happened, she'd assumed it was her sister Taylor's phone ringing with a new (and really annoying) ringtone. But after the rest of her family didn't blink an eye, Midnight realized that whatever it was, no one else could hear it. Which was weird and creepy. She'd been ignoring it ever since.
There was still no sign of Sav and Lucy. She glanced at the time on her phone. What if Sav hadn't forgiven her?
The whole argument had started over Logan Johnson, a boy that Midnight didn't even like. Well, not like that. But Sav did like him like that. She had been furious when Logan had called Midnight to ask for help with their science quiz.
The result was that Sav and Lucy had ignored Midnight for two days. Thankfully, just before second period, Lucy texted to say that Midnight could go to the dance with them and that they'd decided to dress up like mice. Hence the costume.
What if they'd sent her the text just to trick her?
Her stomach churned. It wouldn't be the first time she'd been humiliated. At her old school in Texas, Midnight had been teased mercilessly for her strange name and lack of money. Even thinking about the sneers and the teasing laughter caused a lump to form in her throat. But last year, her mom had inherited the house in Berry from her aunt Glenda, and they'd moved to West Virginia for a fresh start.
Fresh nightmare was more like it. Not only had her mom started dating Phil — a mechanic with a bizarre hobby of dressing up like a Viking, complete with chain mail and strange leather boots — but that was when the weird noises had started. The ones she refused to think about.
"Hey, what are you doing out here?" someone said, and Midnight jumped before turning to see Tabitha Wilson. As usual, Tabitha was all in black and wore her default smirk. They weren't exactly friends, but yesterday Miss Henderson had paired them up for a local history project.
Midnight frowned. "Waiting for friends. Anyway, why are you here? I didn't think a school dance would be your thing."
"Tell me about it. My mom's worried that I don't have enough school spirit. So it was either this or joining a sports team." Tabitha shuddered before pulling out her phone and bringing up a game. "But don't worry. I have no intention of dancing. I'm just going to sit by myself and level up on Zombie Cheerleaders. So, are we still on for tomorrow to start the project? I could come to your house if you like."
"Actually, could we go to yours instead?" Midnight said out of habit. Her mom ran a vegetarian lifestyle vlog called Vegelicious and Saturday was filming day. That meant anyone who happened to wander into the kitchen found themselves somehow involved. "Or the library, we could just meet there."
"The public library on a Saturday?" Tabitha shuddered, sending her black hair out in all directions. "No thanks. Far too many kids and oldies. But you could always come to my place."
"That would be great."
"Cool. I'll text you the address and time," Tabitha said before walking toward the dance.
There was still no sign of her friends, and Midnight chewed her lip as she studied her phone. Should she text them, or would that make it worse?
She hit the screen, but before she could bring up Sav's number, a flash of bright white light flickered up from the side of the school like static electricity. She stiffened. It was coming from the side of the school that was dark and closed for the night. Midnight rubbed her eyes, but the building was about forty feet away and her lousy focus didn't improve. There were still a few huddles of parents talking among themselves, but no one else seemed to have noticed it.
There was another flash, this time accompanied by a buzzing sound more intense than she'd ever heard. It was as if a swarm of bees had been let loose right in her ear. Goose bumps traveled along her skin and she rubbed her arms, suddenly pleased to be wearing the extra layer of fake fur. Her efforts to ignore it didn't work, and the noise increased.
Another flicker of bright light shot up into the air, and still no one acknowledged it. What if it was a fire, and she was the only one who saw it start? Midnight took a deep breath and cautiously walked toward the building. The nearby trees groaned and creaked in the wind, which did nothing to calm her erratic heartbeat.
"Hello?" she called out as she neared the school. Her vision was still too blurry to make anything out, but she thought she saw someone moving in front of her. A thin wail pierced the air, followed by a scuttling noise, as if something went racing toward the administration wing. There was no sign of a fire, but the bright lights were still flickering along the side of the building like a faulty light bulb. The buzzing noise increased, and adrenaline flared through her body. Just as she was about to call out again, the buzzing came to a sudden stop.
Apart from the dull hum of music from the dance, there was silence. Whoever had been there was gone. She was just about to turn and leave when she spotted a gold locket and chain lying at her feet. Midnight picked up the necklace and looked around for its owner. The place was still deserted, so she slipped it into her pocket and made her way back past the building and over to the oak tree.
Sav and Lucy were waiting for her.
Midnight's stomach flipped. She'd come to Berry expecting to fly under the radar at best and be bullied at worst. She'd never had friends like them before — popular friends. But on her second day at school, she'd been seated with Sav and Lucy in science. Since they'd both been too busy playing on their phones to do the osmosis project, Midnight finished it on her own. She didn't mind. She'd seen popular girls in action before — it was better for her just to do the project and not have them mess it up. When her color-coded spreadsheet of results had ended up at the top of the class, Sav and Lucy stopped ignoring her. They laughed at her jokes and decided that they were going to adopt her. For the first time in her life, Midnight felt like someone other than her family could see her. The three of them had been inseparable ever since.
Until two days ago.
Her throat tightened, and she instantly forgot about the necklace and the strange light. As she got closer, she could see they were both dressed as mice. Unlike her own homemade costume, though, theirs were store bought, complete with matching rhinestone mouse ears. Lucy looked cute, but as always, it was hard not to notice Sav, with her pale blond hair and brilliant brown eyes, flecked with gold.
"H-hey." Midnight came to a halt and tried to ignore her shaking hands. "You're both here."
"Of course," Sav said. "Why? Did you think that we wouldn't show?"
Yes. No. Maybe.
"I hoped you'd come." Midnight took a deep breath and tried to sound confident. "And I just want to say once again how sorry I am."
"Stop." Sav held up her hand. "I'm the one who should be apologizing. I feel so dumb for letting a boy come between us."
"S-so you believe that I don't like Logan?" Midnight stammered as her breath caught in her chest. "Because I have a very long speech prepared to prove it to you, and —"
"You don't need the speech," Sav said. "I'm really sorry, Midnight. I should never have given you the silent treatment. I can't believe I thought I liked him. I'm totally over that. Please tell me that you forgive me?"
"Of course," Midnight said, relieved. "There's nothing to forgive. I'm just happy that we're all okay again."
Lucy grinned. "Actually, we're better than okay. Tell her about the skiing."
"Skiing?" Before this year, Midnight had spent her entire life in Texas, which meant she knew as much about skiing as she did about astral projection — nothing.
"My dad's rented a chalet in Rush Valley for the first week of January and I'm allowed to invite you and Lucy." Sav broke out one of her smiles that she reserved for her closest friends.
"Wow." The idea that she had just been invited to go skiing with Savannah Hanson, the most popular girl at school, was unbelievable. It was amazing. It was magical.
"So? Will you be able to come? Sav and I have already worked out a list of all the things we'll need to buy and it shouldn't cost more than two hundred dollars. Three hundred tops."
It was expensive.
Her stomach dropped.
Her family never had much money, and with her mom and Phil's upcoming wedding, they were on a budget. Midnight guessed that skiing wouldn't fall into the budget category.
"What's wrong?" Lucy's eyes narrowed. "Don't you want to go?"
"Of course I do. More than anything," Midnight said. Besides, it was only money. She'd figure out a way around it.
"That's great." Sav pulled out her phone. "We need to take a photo and then we can go and dance."
Sav's excitement was contagious and Midnight leaned into the shot. She didn't care what she had to do to find the money. As the camera flashed, Midnight remembered the strange lights over by the school building, but she pushed it from her mind. Right now, all that mattered was Sav and Lucy were still her friends, and she grinned as the three of them headed into the dance.
As a rule, Midnight was a planner. Where Sav and Lucy blew their allowances on whatever caught their eyes, Midnight preferred to do the research, collect the coupons, and analyze it all on a color-coded spreadsheet. The fact that her allowance was only a quarter of the size of theirs had something to do with it, but she knew that a little bit of planning could go a long way.
Which was why she was sitting in the kitchen with her secondhand laptop, trying to systematically figure out a way to earn money.
"Wow." Her mom's fiancé Phil let out an impressed whistle as he walked in holding the newspaper, a bag of her mom's favorite bagels, and what looked like a wooden Viking shield. "I didn't know you could even do things like that with a spreadsheet."
Midnight always knew that her mom was spontaneous. After all, she named her daughter Midnight just because she was born at twelve o'clock on Halloween. But now that spontaneity had also caused her mom to get engaged to some guy after just three months.
"She's an organizational wizard," her mom said, looking up from where she was coaxing a cake out of a round tin.
Midnight's sister, Taylor, who was three years older, dragged her gaze away from her phone. "More like a freak," she retorted from the other end of the stripped-wood kitchen table. The table and its mismatched chairs had belonged to Great Aunt Glenda, but the numerous pots and pans, recipe books, and green potted plants had all come with them from Texas. So had her mom's crystals, which were hanging in the window, flashing rainbows as they caught the weak morning sun.
"I can actually hear you." Midnight dipped the screen of the laptop so that Phil couldn't see it. Taylor could call her a freak all she wanted, but it didn't change how great the previous night had been. The mouse costumes were a hit, the DJ had played their favorite songs, and Sav had told her more about the skiing trip. Which reminded her. She looked at the first idea on her list and gave her mom a hopeful smile. "What are your thoughts on increasing my allowance? For the ski trip?"
"Sorry, kiddo." Her mom pushed a strand of curly, blond hair behind her ear. "The next six months are all about the wedding and the honeymoon."
Midnight tried not to think about the honeymoon. She and Taylor were going on it too — a family-bonding trip to Charleston. Personally she'd rather visit the dentist than have to deal with all the speeches about how Phil wasn't trying to be a father replacement.
Her dad had died in a car accident when Midnight was one, so it wasn't like she even knew him. Her mom had been so sad that it was difficult for her to talk about him, which meant that all Midnight had were some photographs and grainy home videos.
But at least she had her mom.
Or at least, she used to. Everything was different now. No more having cereal for dinner or sneaking into her mom's bed during a thunderstorm or crying as they watched a sad movie. Instead, she had to make polite conversation with a guy who liked to dress up in chain mail and practice sword fighting in Berry Memorial Park every Saturday afternoon. Oh, and her mom — who'd previously shown no interest in Vikings whatsoever — had suddenly taken to wearing long dresses and watching YouTube videos on how to make flatbread.
Midnight sighed. "Okay, fine. I'll get a job." She'd already made up a flyer to do babysitting or yard work and a list of all the places she could put it. She wanted to get started today, but before she could do anything, she had to go to Tabitha Wilson's house to work on their project.
"Or, here's a crazy idea. You could actually say no to your friends," Taylor said. "You don't even like skiing."
"That's not true. Just because I haven't been skiing before doesn't mean that I won't like it. For all we know, I could be an amazing skier."
"I think you'll have a great time, Midnight." Phil handed her a bagel and then picked up his shield. It had a golden head painted on it. "I used to go each year with a group of Gunnars. Of course we used traditional pine skis and always ended with a battle."
The Sons of a Gunnar was the name of Phil's Viking group, and he talked about them. A lot. Midnight braced herself, but before he could say anything else, her mom, who'd finished with the cake and headed to the laundry room, walked back into the kitchen holding the mouse costume in one hand and Midnight's glasses in the other.
"Midnight Reynolds, for the hundredth time, could you please be more careful with your glasses? Or wear them? You know what the optometrist said. The longer you strain your eyes, the worse your sight will get." Her mom handed them back to her.
"I do wear them," Midnight protested, which wasn't exactly a lie. As long as no one she knew was around, she was happy to put them on. "Sorry. I'll be more careful in the future."
"Thank you." Her mom's brow furrowed as she pulled a gold necklace out of the costume pocket. "What's this?"
"Oh." Midnight had forgotten about the necklace, as well as the flickering white light and strange humming sound at the school. "I picked it up near one of the buildings and meant to hand it in at the dance. I guess I forgot."
Her mom held the locket up. As the morning sun streamed in, Midnight could now see it was engraved with small flowers. Her mom flicked it open to reveal an old black-and-white photograph of a woman with large, dark eyes and a warm smile on her face. The photo's background was black and smudged, like it had been darkened with age.
"Judging by all the lace around the neck of her blouse, this must be well over one hundred years old. The owner must be beside themselves with worry," Midnight's mom said.
"Hey." Phil joined them at the table and put his glasses on so he could study the photograph. "This person looks like Natasha Appleby — I bet it's one of her relatives."
"Who?" her mom asked.
"Sorry, sometimes I forget that you haven't always lived in Berry. Miss Appleby owns that big, two-story Victorian house on the corner of Garston and Hamlet.
I'll give her a call." Phil dug his phone from his pocket and walked into the next room.
Midnight turned her attention to her spreadsheet, but just as she was getting back to work, Phil walked back in, a grim expression on his face.
"The good news is that the locket does indeed belong to Miss Appleby," he said. "The bad news is that she broke her ankle on Friday, so she can't come to collect it."
"Is she okay?" Mom asked.
Excerpted from "Midnight Reynolds and the Spectral Transformer"
Copyright © 2017 Catherine Holt.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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