Bixie, Montana, is in the middle of nowhere, not connected to any place, and not used as a pass through to get anywhere. But one snowy evening, a lone visitor walking down an old country road changes 13-year-old Aaron Martin’s life forever. Aaron thinks he’s being a Good Samaritan by inviting the nearly-frozen visitor into his home, but he’s unwittingly initiated The Game. A group of Elders, known as the Council of the Legend, come together from time to time to enjoy a rousing event they playfully call “The Game.” Now, Aaron’s town is the playing board and he and his fellow townspeople are the players. The rules are simple. Win. Because if Aaron loses, he won’t just lose his family . . . he’ll lose his very identity.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Beth Bowland is a writer who has always enjoyed reading and creating stories of her own. As a child she devoured every book she could get her hands on and spent numerous hours at the library each week. She loves writing stories for tweens and young teens and her characters are often described as quirky and fun but always relatable. She lives in Arlington, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
By Beth Bowland
Month9BooksCopyright © 2016 Beth Bowland
All rights reserved.
Aaron's living room smelled like the metal workshop area at his middle school. He was not sure exactly what the odor was but he knew who it was coming from. He also knew his mother's hypersensitive nose would not be pleased.
Aaron looked at Nakal, who reminded him of someone in his seventh grade class. Nakal's ivory skin seemed to have an olive undertone — almost as if he was malnourished or ill — but he looked to be average height and weight. His dark eyes were expressionless, and there was a teardrop-shaped birthmark on the side of his neck.
Aaron's attention was quickly diverted when a beeping sound came from the television.
The news station has been flooded with calls from panic-stricken viewers on the extraordinary meteor display this evening. Authorities are investigating and have confirmed that one of the meteors did impact somewhere along Old Country Road 1217. Further investigations will continue at daylight. Stay tuned for weather. A massive blizzard has shifted directions and is headed our way.
"Whoa!" Aaron danced around the room. "I knew it'd hit. I felt the entire house shake."
Nakal didn't respond, only continued to stare at the TV.
"You never answered my question." Aaron sat in the chair across from Nakal. "Did you see it? I mean you had to have. It lit up the entire sky."
"I think I saw something, but I wasn't really paying attention," Nakal said, not removing his gaze from the TV.
Aaron crinkled his forehead, and as he prepared to ask his next question, his mother walked in the front door, causing him to jump.
His mother stopped in the doorway, attempting to balance several bags in her arms while closing the door with her foot. She noticed Nakal and shot her son a questioning gaze.
"Hey, Mom," said Aaron. "Uh, this is Nakal. He was lost and ended up at our house. I didn't think you'd mind me letting him in 'cause it's so cold outside. Nakal, this is my mother, Mrs. Martin."
Aaron removed the bags from her arms. Before he could walk away, she grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him close to her.
"What did I tell you about allowing strangers inside the house?" Mrs. Martin's voice was low and tense. Deep wrinkles crossed her forehead.
Aaron adjusted the bags in his arms and shrugged. "I know," he whispered. "But he was freezing. What if I didn't let him in and he froze on our front porch. I thought that would make you madder, so I let him in."
She crinkled her nose and looked at Aaron.
Aaron immediately shook his head. "It's not me," he whispered. "It's Nakal," he said quickly before running the bags of groceries into the kitchen and returning, not wanting to miss anything.
Mrs. Martin removed her coat and placed it in the closet. "Nakal, where are your parents?" She sat on the couch.
Nakal pursed his lips together slightly before speaking. "I'm not sure. I just remember riding in the car for a bunch of days. Dad stopped the car so we could stretch our legs." He paused to rub the side of his face. "Then I went behind a tree to use the bathroom, and that's when I heard the car pull off. I just started walking, and I ended up here."
Aaron's mother sighed and kicked off her shoes. "What? You're kidding me! They just left you? Have you tried calling them?" She pulled her cellphone from her purse. "I'm going to call the police. How old are you?"
"I'm thirteen. Um ... my dad got a new cellphone before we left, and I never memorized the number."
"You and Aaron are the same age," she said as she punched the buttons on her cell and placed it against her ear. She shifted the position of her phone and looked at the screen. "No signal. It's too late to drive back into town and the roads are getting slick. Well ..." she said to Aaron. "I suppose he can stay here tonight. But I'm going to keep trying to get a call to go through. If I can't get the police to come out here, we'll go to the police station first thing tomorrow morning to see if they can find his parents."
"Okay." Aaron went outside, grabbed the rest of the bags, and carried them into the kitchen.
"Nakal. Do you want something to eat?" Mrs. Martin asked as she followed Aaron.
"Aaron, take him upstairs to get cleaned up. Show him where the towels are." Mrs. Martin looked back at Nakal. "And give him a pair of your pajamas to put on."
Aaron nodded and went into the living room motioning for Nakal to follow him. As they went up the stairs, Nakal lightly touched each portrait that hung on the wall as they passed.
"This one is my room," Aaron said.
Nakal walked in and stood in the center of Aaron's personal planetarium. A chunk of the northern hemisphere was expertly painted across the ceiling and upper walls.
"When I was little, my father and I went on a tour of NASA and he created this for me after we got back," Aaron said. "
"When will he be home?"
Aaron shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe tomorrow or the next day."
Aaron retrieved a pair of pajamas from his top dresser drawer and handed them to his guest. "Here. You can put these on after you shower. You'll find towels in the cabinet next to the sink."
Nakal reached for the pajamas and slightly bumped Aaron's hand.
Aaron jumped and shuffled back a few steps. "Why are your hands so hot?" He tried to touch Nakal again, but the other boy immediately moved out of the way.
"Uh ... maybe I'm catching a cold or something," he mumbled.
"You probably got some sort of creepin' crud from being out in that weather for so long." Aaron's face contorted as he wiped his hands against his jeans. "I'll let my mom know."
"NO!" Nakal yelled. Then he softened his tone. "It's just that your mother has been so nice about all of this. I don't want to worry her. I'm fine," he said before walking across the hallway toward the bathroom.
Aaron sighed with relief when Nakal shut the bathroom door. He slumped down onto the floor and stared at his ceiling.
There was a light tap on the bedroom door right before Mrs. Martin poked her head in. "Everything okay?"
Aaron started to mention Nakal's fever until he noticed the strained look on his mother's face. "Mom, what's wrong?"
Mrs. Martin nervously rubbed the back of her neck. "Nothing, sweetie. Just have a few things on my mind."
"Did you talk to Dad today?"
"Yes, I spoke to him this morning, and he's going to try really hard to come home tomorrow night after they finish breaking down the campsite. But there is a severe weather warning out there. Blizzard conditions are supposed to hit." Mrs. Martin looked toward the bathroom and whispered, "I'm still unable to get an outside line. Are you okay with him staying in your room?"
Aaron nodded. "Yeah, it'll be okay."
"It's hard to believe that parents would just leave their kid on the side of the road. You'd think they would at least drive around and look for him." Mrs. Martin straightened a jacket that was thrown across the desk chair. "And he kinda smells like he's been near something burning." She shrugged.
"Yeah, I smelled that as soon as he walked in," Aaron said.
"Well, be easy on him. He's had a tough day. We're at least five miles from the main road. Just by the look of his clothes you can tell his family was really struggling. Give him something out of your closet to wear tomorrow."
Mrs. Martin reached down and ran her fingers through Aaron's hair. "Okay, well, I'll see you in the morning, but wake me if you feel uncomfortable with him."
Aaron rolled his eyes, "Don't worry about me. I can handle him." His mom left the room.
Several minutes later, Nakal emerged from the bathroom dressed in Aaron's pajamas and holding his old clothes in his arms.
"Where should I put these?" he asked.
Aaron pointed to the laundry hamper in the corner of his room. As Nakal walked by, Aaron immediately caught a whiff of the odor he'd smelled earlier. He quickly dismissed the thought that Nakal hadn't actually washed but rather assumed the smell was still on the other boy's old clothes.
Nakal dumped his clothes as Aaron watched him walk around his room looking at different items. Nakal stopped in front of a picture of Aaron with his dad, both dressed in hiking gear. In the photo Aaron stood on a large striped rock, leaning over his father's shoulders and hugging his neck.
"That's my dad, Greg Martin," Aaron said. "He works for a climate research center. That picture was taken during a trip to Colorado last year." Aaron picked up the picture. "We went hiking and skiing together. My dad's a cool guy. He's on another trip right now."
Nakal took the picture from Aaron and ran his finger over the photograph. "Why didn't you go with him?"
Aaron shrugged then sighed. "School." He retrieved the picture from Nakal's grasp. "You never did mention where you're from."
"We're from a small town in south New Mexico." Nakal moved over to the bookcase and admired the model cars displayed on top.
Aaron quickly shuffled over to the map of the United States that hung over his desk and located New Mexico. He let out a long slow whistle. "And you guys drove all the way here to Montana?" He allowed his finger to trace an invisible path north.
Nakal nodded but never turned around to look at Aaron.
"What were you guys coming up here for?"
"Dad said something about having a new job lined up." Nakal pushed a few of the cars around, turning them to face in the opposite direction before picking up one of them. He examined it closely. "Did your dad help you put these together?"
"Yeah," Aaron responded and took the car from Nakal, gently placing it back in its place, and moved the others back to their original positions.
Nakal turned his attention to Aaron's wall. It was covered in several Honor Society awards, Science Junior Honor Society, Science Olympiad and Math Club certificates, along with a plaque from Space Camp.
Nakal pointed toward the bunk beds. "Which one should I sleep in?"
"You can have the top bunk." Aaron pointed. "I like the bottom one because it has more room."
Nakal climbed up the ladder and sighed as he lay down.
However, Aaron wasn't tired yet and, being intrigued by his new roommate, wanted more information. But when Aaron's next question was cut off by the sound of Nakal's snoring, he decided to take his mother's advice — give Nakal a break and allow him to sleep.
Aaron hit the light switch, flopped down onto his bed, and stared at the brightly lit moon that shone through the window. He felt himself dozing off when he noticed something outside his window. He lifted his head from the pillow and noticed a bird that had sat at the edge of the roof begin walking toward the window. A little flicker of light caught his eye. The bird wore a small gold chain around its neck.
"What the heck?" Aaron mumbled as he sat up. "Is that bird looking around my room?" He crawled down to the edge of his bed to get a closer look and noticed the chain had a tiny medallion attached to it
The bird looked directly at Aaron, causing him to immediately duck behind the footboard in a poor attempt to get out of view. Holding his breath, he gave a sideways glance toward the window. The bird's head moved in a circling motion as its eyes roamed around, searching.
Aaron watched as the bird appeared to look up toward the upper bunk where Nakal slept. The bird then nodded before flying away. Aaron moved to the edge of his bed and looked at his dresser mirror that gave him a view of Nakal illuminated in the moonlight that shone through the window. He saw Nakal sitting up staring at the window. Aaron leaned over a bit further, which made the bed squeak causing Nakal to turn his head toward the mirror. Nakal's eyes appeared to glow as tiny amber electrical sparks flickered from them. Aaron gasped and quickly lay back down, pulling the sheet over his head. He pretended to be asleep, but watched through the sheet as Nakal's shadow leaned down and looked at him.
Aaron held his breath and did not release it until the shadow retreated back into the upper bunk.CHAPTER 2
That's what Aaron's best friend Parker heard the elderly man at the gas station say to him. They disappeared into nothingness.
Now, Parker was running, his rubber boots making an odd crunchy sound against the new-fallen snow. He headed toward a back road that led to the Old Washington Bridge. His breath formed streams of steamy smoke along the side of his face. He resembled a human steam engine. He continued to plow his way through the woods, not stopping until he came to a clearing. It was the road that led to the bridge.
He slowly stepped onto the edge of the road. He gently applied his weight as if he were stepping on a partially melted lake of ice. His breathing slowed as he chewed his bottom lip and gazed at the bridge. An eerie blue haze covered it. His vision was limited to the first streetlight. Beyond that, the blue haze thickened into what appeared to be an impenetrable wall of fog.
Parker slowly walked down the road toward the fog. A faint screeching caused him to stop in his tracks and focus on where the sound was coming from. It appeared to be coming from deep within the fog. Cautiously he continued forward, ever so gently placing one foot in front of the other. As he neared the first streetlight, the ground moved. Something was coming toward him from within the fog as the screeching sound became louder. Parker ran back down the road and through the woods as fast as he could until the sound faded into the background.
* * *
The snow fell from the skies as if from a great salt shaker, dumping massive amounts onto the small town until it looked like a giant goose down comforter rested gently across it. At times the blizzard appeared to let up, but then suddenly Mother Nature would kick up angry squalls that whistled through the houses and rattled against the windows. It was relentless, attacking the town as if to punish it.
This was no ordinary storm. Eeriness seemed to hover all around. Between the meteor shower and sudden onslaught of the blizzard, everyone was on edge. The townspeople tied up the phone lines, whispering of what the old man at the gas station had said, relaying what they'd heard, and sometimes adding what they thought they had heard. By the next morning, the outlandish stories flooded every household.
Bixie was a small town filled with hardworking people who believed in working the land, attending church every Sunday, and helping their neighbors. The main source of income was an old paper mill whose pungent smells filled every nook and cranny of the entire area and employed most of the men in the town. The locals were accustomed to the smell and rarely spoke of it. Only the rare visitors who happened to have stumbled across the town mentioned it.
Visitors to Bixie were few and far between. The town was in the middle of nowhere, not connected to any place and not a waypoint to any destination. If you lived there, it was because your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond had been born there. Very few moved away, or ever had aspirations to work anywhere but the paper mill. Once accepted full-time at the mill, you were looked upon as being established, secure, and ready to buy a house and have kids. After that, you retired, played with your grandkids, fished in the lake, and then were buried in the Bixie cemetery right next to your ancestors.
* * *
Aaron quietly watched Nakal from his bed. Aaron's covers partially covered his face, and anyone who looked his way would think he was still sound asleep. But, he was not, only too afraid to move or call out for his mother. He watched Nakal as he stood at the window and stared out, looking up into the sky. The boy appeared to be in a hypnotic trance. He wasn't blinking and didn't appear to be breathing, except for his breath forming small patches of smoke against the already fogged-up window.
Aaron silently wondered what Nakal could be staring at because the window was practically covered in snow and the remainder of it was fogged up, but he continued intently staring at something. Then at times, he'd give a slight nod as if he were agreeing with someone. It was still early, and Aaron doubted if his mother was awake yet. He watched Nakal for a while longer, pondering whether he really saw Nakal's eyes change or if it had been a distortion in the reflection in the mirror. He decided that he was tired and just imagined it. He continued to watch for any strange things happening to Nakal, until a second round of sleep tugged at his eyelids.
Excerpted from Polaris by Beth Bowland. Copyright © 2016 Beth Bowland. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this book. The constant action, twists and turns will definitely hold the attention of the middle school reader. Especially enjoyed the twist at the end...wasn't expecting that. Having boys, I'm always looking for books they will read and enjoy. This is a great book for boys as well as girls.