Twelve years after Chester Reynolds’ mysterious disappearance from the Bell Tower at the Enchanted College of Oceania (ECO), his fourteen-year-old identical twin daughters, Harper Leigh and Leigh Harper (named in honor of Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird), embark on a magical quest to determine why he was abducted from their relatively quiet hometown of Oceania, Maryland.
Harper and Leigh may be identical, but their personalities could not be more different. Harper excels in sports, and her love of skateboarding is matched only by her feelings for her boyfriend, Jeremy Alexander Fletcher, the good-looking, athletic captain of the Lakeshore Preparatory varsity baseball and football teams. Leigh is light-years ahead of her sophomore class in academics and she prefers to spend Saturday afternoons in ballet class rather than at the skate park with Harper. Harper is a natural dare-devil, but Leigh, the more reserved twin, soon discovers that her chats with a stranger called Poem Man on Teen Village prove to be more sinister and dangerous that she could have ever imagined.
Lydia Reynolds, the twins’ mother, owns and operates The Enchanted College of Oceania (ECO), a school for children and young adults with Magical Talents and Special Gifts. ECO is housed in an old mansion with a sordid and murderous history; from ghostly sightings of the mansion’s former owners, J.L and Eloise Winthrop, to strange occurrences in classrooms, students have no shortage of surreal tales to tell.
Unlike their hopeful mother, the twins aren’t convinced that their father is still alive. Dr. Xavier Montague, the Headmaster of Lakeshore Preparatory, who has plans of his own for Lydia, often quietly thwarts Lydia’s search for Chester. While visiting ECO one afternoon, Harper discovers a rather ominous magic book that details how to reclaim the dead. The twins soon realize that the book’s spells for resurrection involve “soul-napping”, which proves to be quite difficult as ghosts are hard to capture and control. While the twins attempt to bottle spirits, Lydia becomes the legal guardian of a handsome, sixteen-year-old named Lance Meridian, whose parents recently died in a car accident in Washington D.C. The trauma of the event caused Lance to experience hysterical deafness. Despite his grief and solitude, he establishes a friendship with the four peculiar and rarely seen women of Emerson Pond. In Oceania, no one but Lance is brave enough to even venture into their territory, as few are aware of what occurs in their enchanted cottage.
The Reynolds twins must balance the paranormal pursuit to find their father, Chester, (which they title “Project C”) with real world drama at The Academy of the Sacred Names, their all-girls Catholic high school. While executing Project C, the girls must also navigate the precarious corridors of high school marked by rigorous academics, the self-proclaimed “Royals” and their arch-nemesis Meredith Ford. The Reynolds girls certainly never have a dull moment and they manage to find romance, danger and adventure in this world and beyond.
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About the Author
R. Marion Troy and Pixie Carlisle are a mother-daughter writing team from Washington D.C. R. Marion has a PhD in International Relations from Howard University. Her BA, from Georgetown University, is in English and Government. She has worked for various government agencies and non-profit organizations in foreign policy and STEM education. Pixie earned her Masters Degree in Justice, Law and Society from American University in 2011, and her BS in Biology, Chemistry and Anthropology in 2009 from Howard University. She is currently an intern with an anti-child trafficking organization.
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The Enchanted Cottage of OceaniaAn American Fairytale
By R. Marion Troy Pixie Carlisle
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 R. Marion Troy and Pixie Carlisle
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHARPER: Loose Teeth
My name is Harper Leigh Reynolds. I am nearly fifteen years old (if you count the fact that I have only eight months until my birthday). Next year, I plan to have a birthday party so my birthday has obliged by falling on a Friday. How perfect can that be? Friday, June 6th. Of course this date means I'm a so-called out-of-control Gemini. But that's okay because I have company. My identical twin sister, Leigh Harper Reynolds, was born on the same day, but I guess that makes sense, right? Wednesday, June 6, 2000. Our mother, Lydia Winchester Reynolds did not believe in rhyming twin names and refused to call us 'Terri' and 'Sherri' or 'Missy' and 'Sissy' or any other foolish sounding names that remind people of cocker spaniels or French poodles. We Thank God for that. She decided to just flip the names around and guess which one we were on any given day or whatever mood she happened to be in. We look like her. Cinnamon complexions and black licorice eyes shaped like almonds. People say our mother is beautiful and I guess that means that when we outgrow the braces, our too-long arms and elbows, that we won't look half-bad either.
I'm really looking forward to that.
I guess you could say that I am the more serious twin. I believe in hard work while Leigh believes almost exclusively in the maxim that 'those who can - don't; and those who should, shall.' I guess in her nutty head that means something profound, but my second best- friend and love of my life, Jeremy Fletcher, thinks she's just stuck-up and makes it a point to tell her that often. Which IS often because he's over here nearly every day which is perfectly okay by me, less so by Leigh, and not at all by our nosy neighbor, Miss Pringle. Anyone named after chips should be careful how they tread – at least I would think so. They could get ... well ... crushed.
Right now Jeremy is spread out on my floor, doing push-ups and reading his chemistry book upside down, his long blond hair pulled back into a short ponytail. He says that studying this way gives him motivation. I say it makes him even hotter. He's already on three varsity teams AND is president of the Chess Club. And I've already written my name as Mrs. Jeremy Fletcher in every color marker and in every notebook I've owned since we started dating. Exactly 526 days, 6 hours, and 3 minutes.
That bellow is my mom. She never comes in the house with a simple hug or smile like the fake people you see on T.V. She comes in like a crazy person and things go downhill from there.
"HARPER LEIGH REYNOLDS!"
That means I left something on the stairs. Probably my sweater or some other inoffensive article of clothing that she has turned into something positively demonic. You would think that after running that wretched school of hers, The Enchanted College of Oceania, or Eco, as it is fondly called by the Echoes (the overly creative, frantic, native inhabitants of the school), that all her energy would be used up. Depleted.
Wrong. She actually gets charged up when she gets home.
"Coming!" I yell this back in the hopes it would forestall her entrance into my room.
I don't know if I mentioned that my mother likes Jeremy even less than Miss Pringle, but she does and she lets it show.
Our eyes meet and then hers drop to the floor where Jeremy, oblivious to anything but his count and his sweat, continues to pump his arms and heave off the floor in glorious rhythm.
Mother rolls her eyes.
"Jeremy. I'm sure you have a better way to study than that. Harper. My room."
I jump off the bed and hurry after my mother like a baby duckling, hoping that I look as cute as I did when I was three. My mother is like most mothers and is addicted to our baby pictures. And whenever I'm in trouble, I try as hard as I can to waddle and grin like a toddler. Leigh says it makes me look even more pathetically ridiculous than usual.
Uh-oh. Both of us? All the cute tricks in the world won't help us now. She hardly ever yells at us in tandem. Says it's like screaming at the sisters from The Shining.
Leigh tumbles out of her room, yawning. Of course she was asleep. Or, as she puts it, she was recycling her energy for more important occasions than me and what she calls "my unfortunately challenged life."
Leigh looks at me and I shrug.
"There's no way those stupid Echoes found those containers this fast," she whispers to me in a rush as we make our way to our mother's palatial suite. "They're not that bright and they're all scared of the basement down there."
I sigh, wondering if our little adventure has been discovered. If so, we're toast.
We tap lightly on the door and let ourselves in.
"Is that idiotic boy still here?," Mother whispers, her eyes more like slits than usual.
"Then close my door."
Chapter TwoLeigh: Mirror, Mirror
Mother's room is exactly how I want my bedroom to look one day. It's my dream-come-true room. It has window seats for our cat, Tabitha Samantha Elizabeth – we call her Tibby for short, and a ginormous chaise lounge that is absolute perfection when you're sick and want to be cuddled. Adorable bay windows on one side and a castle-like round at the other. Wow. It's just like being in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. It has everything except a fire-breathing dragon and handsome prince. Although there is Jeremy ... he's pretty cute. But he belongs to Harper, right? So, I'm not sure that counts for much as far as I go.
Until recently, my love-life had consisted of dramatic online poems from a boy I met in a TeenVillage chat room. His poems always ended with what he called Conversations with God. Deep. He told me he was thinking of becoming a priest and at fifteen he was ready to commit his life to two things other than God. Me and Batman. He let it slip the other day that he used to watch the original Batman show when he was little. He went on and on about it. Sent his avatar with tears spouting out at the memory of a particular episode of the Caped Crusader with Cat Woman. In other words, he wasn't remembering watching re-runs on the Family Channel like the rest of my friends. He was reliving the memory of how he had experienced the real thing – like in the 1960s? I online searched the show just to be sure of the time zone and did some quick math. Poem Boy was definitely more like fifty than fifteen. EEK! He was an Old Man.
Disappointed but determined to not become a dating-an- online-stranger-and-about-to-be-stabbed-to-death-in-a-park statistic, I changed my avatar and my user name after that piece of vital information and stayed out of TeenVillage. After I dropped Old Man, my girlfriend, Lacy, told me in a huff that I'm 'too strong', 'too opinionated' and would probably end up an old maid with my cat, Tibby, in a house without windows or doors. I tried to picture how I would get into a house without windows or doors and then I remembered who I was talking to and decided it wasn't worth the visual effort. In typical Reynolds fashion, I told her what Harper would have said. SHUT UP.
Mother cleared her throat and I was back to reality. She was sitting in her favorite paisley armchair, studying us as if we were pieces of rare art. Or a pile of manure. At any rate, she seemed intense. Her deep brown eyes were as watchful as a cat. And I didn't have to try to figure out who was the prey.
I like to pretend that because of Mother's exquisite interior design tastes - that just so happen to mimic my own - that she likes me the best. But I know better.
Most of the time, she can barely tell us apart.
"Sit down. One in one chair and one in the other."
This is her attempt to remember who was which. When we were younger, she used to put different colored ribbons in our hair, but after she figured out that we were switching them, she gave up.
We were four.
Mother faces us, her expression more grim than usual.
"I think you need to tell me what's going on."
I think I will faint. Fall right out. Onto the floor. I wonder fleetingly if fourteen-year-olds have heart attacks.
"What do you mean, Mommy?" That was Harper, trying to look and sound three.
Mother glares at her. I mean, really. Harper has yet to figure out that Mother does not fall for on-cue cuteness. But that never seems to deter Harper. She just keeps trying. She is nothing if not persistent.
"I mean THIS!!"
Mother is waving a piece of paper that has our school logo on it. Anything coming from the Academy of the Sacred Names, addressed to our Mother, is not good.
I blink, struggling to figure out what Harper has done wrong – beyond our little joint adventure. Nine times out of ten, this is a purely Harper Problem. Something that should be prosecuted in a court of law, but is usually dismissed by the Sacred Names' Mother Superior Katherine Dominguez as grounds for two weeks of detention and an additional thirty days of service to the Sacred Names community – washing floors, running errands for the nuns, and free babysitting services for the lay teachers. In other words, slave labor. That place should really be renamed: Academy of the Sacred Names Penal Colony.
"It says that the two of you – the TWO of YOU –" Mother always repeats anything involving the two of us twice – as if we each need to hear the same thing separately, "- have been accused of taking items from the chemistry lab without permission. Is that true?"
Unfortunately, it was. How else were we supposed to contain our abducted souls? Put them in sandwich bags? Crystal cylinders seemed so much more logical – and for me - ascetically pleasing.
I could hear Harper's brain working. Not a good sign.
"Mother?" I raise my hand as if I were in class.
Mother glares at me and nods.
"I think there's been a misunderstanding. Harper and I are working on an experiment. I think Dr. Krass simply forgot that our science fair project was so ... involved. So sophisticated."
Mother allows the paper to rest on her knees while she bores holes in our faces.
"And what precisely does this project entail?"
Harper jumps in. Against my better judgment, she talks.
"It's TOP SECRET. No one must know. Mommy, please?!"
Mother tilts her head, studying Harper with that intense look she usually reserves for certain members of our father's family – down to the tight smile and uplifted eyebrow.
"Including me?" was her only comment which I consider a good thing given Harper's utterly foolish outburst.
I watch Harper giggle and squirm. I could tell she thought she was being delightfully cute again. I couldn't stand another second of ridiculous – pathetically ridiculous - toddler-like behavior.
"Mother, we would rather not discuss our scientific pursuits – even with you – our financial benefactress." I was on a roll and knew she'd appreciate recognition of her hefty commitment to our private school education. "Because we feel that it would compromise the nature of our project and the integrity of our commitment to produce something that will one day be considered completely revolutionary. We are on the verge of a scientific breakthrough – a discovery of monumental importance!"
Mother smiles at this. I could tell she appreciated the elevated use of language. If we had to plead our case, she liked the fact that it was done using good vocabulary.
"I'll have a talk with Dr. Krass tomorrow. We'll see what can be worked out."
That meant that Dr. Krass would back off. I pictured him in his spectacles and ill-fitting chemistry lab coat that hung on his almost skeletal frame like a white shroud basking in our mother's beauty and glowing, confident smile. No one said 'no' to Mother – or at least, hardly ever – when she wanted a 'yes.' And, if nothing else, she wanted us to stretch our minds, our imaginations. And she would fight to see that we had that chance – something she considered our birthright.
Good for her. Little did she know how much we were stretching.
"Okay, girls. You may go."
We rise in unison and watch her fond expression change to one of mild rebuke. She has told us repeatedly that twin behavior could be unnerving at times and that we should try harder to act independently to appear less – well - sinister. The fact that we look like mirror images was bad enough as far as she was concerned, but to act as one person with one body and mind was incomprehensible.
As we walk out, I turn to wave jauntily, glad to end the conversation ahead of the game.
I had celebrated too soon. I should have kept my hand down.
"Whatever it is that you're doing - just don't blow us up, okay? I rather like this old house. And the people in it."
I grin. Mother is funny. And sometimes very sweet.
"We do, too, Mother. Not to worry."
We close the door behind us and lean against it for support. Harper slides to the floor, sucking in air.
My problem wasn't breathing, it was thinking. What were we going to do now? We need those extra containers, but with Dr. Krass on our heels, it will be impossible to borrow more without explanation.
"We simply must find more containers, Harp. The question is where?"
I knew I was whispering to myself. Harper was practically incoherent. She could only shake her head from side to side. Too spent from the recent Inquisition with Mother to say anything more. I sit down beside her, putting her hand into mine. Understanding, like only a twin can, everything she is feeling without a need for words.
The Enchanted College of Oceania, or Eco, as it is fondly called, was built on a hill overlooking the Atlantic. It was the restored mansion of a local family of rather dubious distinction. Once owned by the then-distinguished J. Lawrence Winthrop family, it was a house that most would agree was quite beautiful. But those same people would also agree that it had never been what one would call a real home. Legend (and supporting police documents) had it that upon returning home early from a European business trip back in the spring of 1920, Mr. J. Lawrence Winthrop had had the unfortunate experience of catching Mrs. J.L. Winthrop in the arms of the family chauffeur. Neither one was near the family car at the time, Mrs. Winthrop was in perfect health and not at all prone to fainting spells, so no plausible explanation beyond what was obvious could be provided. Not one to resort to polite conversation and negotiation (the Winthrops had made a fortune on selling firearms and for being particularly ferocious in the War Between the States), the Man of the House went promptly into his study, returned with a pistol, and shot both his wife and his driver quite dead before turning the gun on himself.
It had caused a great scandal in the small town of Oceania, Maryland but after an embarrassingly short period of time, people forgot. Only thirty miles away from the nation's capital, Oceania was too close to Washington, D.C. and the more dramatic scandals of congressmen and their wives to worry about a rather pedestrian crime involving a spurned husband and his wayward wife and chauffeur. The spectacles in the District of Columbia always drowned out the tinny clamor of local Oceania gossip – even the Winthrop scandal. The local Oceania News only ran the story for a week, but to its credit, the News did have a few pictures of all three parties (in happier times) and even one shadowy photograph of the crime scene itself. But, even the most morbid fascination for Eloise and J.L faded after less than a month. After all, it was far more interesting to see the mighty fall on Capitol Hill than in a house on some obscure hill in Oceania.
No one would have remembered that the event had even occurred at all until Lydia Winchester Reynolds, and her husband, Manchester "Chester" Stuart Reynolds had decided twelve years ago to excavate the ruins of the once-lovely Winthrop estate and turn it into a school for Children and Young People with Exceptional Abilities. It was to be a training ground for children of eclectic ages and abilities in which the youngest pupil was just four and the oldest was a robust twenty-two.
Excerpted from The Enchanted Cottage of Oceania by R. Marion Troy Pixie Carlisle Copyright © 2012 by R. Marion Troy and Pixie Carlisle. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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