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One afternoon in mid-September Gracie climbed to the fork in the oak tree behind her family's apartment and opened her new royal blue suede journal. The soft suede changed color slightly when she rubbed her fingers over it. The pages were old and crackly, water-stained, and the lines were thin, college-ruled, like something an adult would write on.
Now. What to write? That day, in English, Ms. Campanella had quoted a famous poet who said, "There's a dead squirrel in every good poem." When she asked what that meant, Dylan, always the first to raise his hand, said he thought it meant there was no good without evil, no life without death, no beauty without ugliness. Now, as the leaves around her whispered in the breeze, Gracie wrote:
A squirrel landed on the branch beside Gracie and boldly looked her in the eye.
No more than a second later, when Gracie lifted her pen to write another sentence, she felt the chill passing darkness of a cloud. A yellow leaf on the branch beside her trembled. She glanced over and a mangy-looking squirrel crouched there, flicking its tail. It cocked its head and snared Gracie with its beady little eye.
Gracie's heart thudded. The squirrel leaped away. Gracie stared at the branch, which was still vibrating slightly, and then at what she'd written.
Gracie chewed on her pen. Okay, the squirrel had been kind of weird. Probably a total coincidence. She wrote the next thing that popped into her head:
An acorn fell to the ground.
She held her breath. Hollow clunks, splats, and bonks sounded, something small hurtling through the leaves and branches. She craned her neck and looked down. An acorn lay at the foot of the trunk.
Could it be . . .?
She sat up straight, her senses suddenly feeling sharper. In third grade she'd hoped that maybe in some old house, she'd walk through a wardrobe full of fur coats into the crystalline snow of Narnia. In fifth grade she'd looked for Platform 9 3/4 whenever she went to a train station. And even as recently as two summers ago at the beach, she'd tried using telepathy to call dolphins like Vicky in Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light. (It hadn't worked.)
Life was life. Making a peanut butter sandwich every day, going to school, doing homework, loading the dishwasher, listening to everyone argue. Take it or leave it, like it or lump it, this was Gracie's dull and ordinary eighth-grade life.
But it hadn't been easy, giving up on magic. Now she felt a small thrill of excitement. Could it be? Was she dreaming?
She drummed her pen on the page. If she really wanted to test it, why hadn't she written something outrageous, like A fuchsia elephant appeared on the horizon? She took a deep breath and wrote:
Then she stopped. Was that how you spelled it?
"Gracie! Dinner! Come set the table!" Dad yelled out the back door.
Gracie, who normally would have waited a minute or two before respondingjust to assert her own free willslammed shut the blue suede notebook. If she wrote one more thing right now and it didn't happen, she knew she'd be devastated.
She'd wait until after dinner. This could be amazing. Was it possible that what she thought was happening was really happening? She had to tell Dylan about this. She stuffed the journal into her back jeans pocket and slid to the ground so fast the bark stung her palms.