#2 on GoodReads Middle Grade Novels of 2016
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There’s no furniture except for a naked table and chairs standing alone in the family room. I remember the table being a lot bigger, so I must have been about five the last time I saw it. We have a fireplace? A sad sigh escapes my lips. It would’ve been so nice to sit by a fire on cold nights.
I numbly inspect the apartment and try to fathom how this happened. It’s impossible to remove everything from this place in the few hours I’ve been gone. Even with a crew of twenty and heavy equipment, it should’ve taken at least a week.
Auntie steps out of the kitchen and greets me with a ridiculously wide grin. “Oh, there you are, dear.” The dear at the end of Auntie’s statement must mean she wants to impress the tall man standing next to her. Just looking at the guy, it’s obvious he’s important. His perfectly tailored wool suit is an expensive shade of charcoal, and his black shoes are very shiny. Lawyer, obviously.
Auntie’s treasures are the most important things in the world to her. They’re gone, and she’s delighted. She should be bawling her eyes out or, more accurately, screaming her head off.
She’s definitely enthralled with the stranger beside her. Maybe she’s just happy she was able to keep her cats, which are sitting in a row against the wall, staring at her. I’ve never seen cats line up like that: twenty cats, each sitting an equal distance apart.
I’m still dreaming. I bet I never woke up. This is part of my nightmare. At least, I hope it is.
“Well, say hello!” Auntie demands.
I drop my gaze to the floor. “Hello.”
Auntie’s visitor nods as he walks past me, closes the door and ushers me in to sit at the table. His long braid falls over his shoulder when he sits in the other chair. He gives me a self conscious smile when he flings it back over his shoulder.
I shiver when he slides Auntie’s beautiful carved chest with the crystal ball in it over to me. Maybe it is valuable if a lawyer is involved. “Do you know who I am, Agatha?”
“No, sir,” I whisper.
“This is Grand Wiz—” Auntie begins, but he silences her with a wave.
“My name is Duradin. I’m a friend of your foster mother, and I knew your parents.”
This information is supposed to give us a connection, but I don’t want to talk about my parents. I want to know why he’s here. He’s expecting a reaction, but I just sit there and wait for him to tell me whatever it is he wants me to know. We stare at each other for an uncomfortable amount of time until he gives up and nudges the chest. “Do you know what this is?”
“It’s Auntie’s box.”
Duradin smiles. “No. It’s your box. More precisely, it’s your Orb.”
By the way he says it, he’s trying to impress me, but it’s just the crystal ball that Auntie always makes me look at. This man is crazy. Auntie is crazy, and it’s becoming quite clear that I’m crazy, too.
Duradin lifts the box, opens it carefully, and formally presents it to me. I grab the marble and he places his hands over mine, closing my fingers around the orb. The contact causes waves of revulsion to travel up my arms, but I don’t know how to yank my hands back without making Auntie mad.
He leans in and puts his face close to mine. I can smell the mint on his breath as he stares into my eyes. “This Orb has special powers, and I’m here to help you use them.”
The marble slides around my sweaty palm as I fight the urge to stand. I put my head down to break his stare, and glare at the hands holding mine captive. I just want to get this over with so this man will leave and I can ask Auntie what happened to her stuff.
“I need you to relax,” he instructs as he shakes my arms. “Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes.”
I do as he orders, but I’m not relaxed. My heartbeat is matching pace with my anxiety. Mr. Duradin starts chanting in the weird language Auntie always uses when she makes me do the birthday ritual. His chant is longer than Auntie’s and more powerful, if that’s possible.
“Now, open your eyes and peer into the Orb,” he whispers.
I do what he wants, but as always, it’s just a ball. I want to lie to him and tell him I see something, but then he’ll ask questions, and I won’t answer them correctly, and then everyone will be mad at me. So I look at the ball and wait for the question I dread.
“This isn’t an ordinary orb, Agatha. Look at it. See through it. How deep does it go?”
I figure it goes about an inch, maybe an inch and a half. I’ve never measured Auntie’s ball—I mean, Orb. However, I can’t answer because he’s chanting again. If everyone around you loses their mind, does that mean you’re really the one who’s insane?
“Look into the eyes of the Orb,” he whispers. “Look into it.”
I do my best to appear as if I’m trying. I would laugh at this man if he weren’t so scary. I want to throw the ball in his face and inform him it’s just a glass marble—so no eyes. I gaze down at the distorted reflection of my hand while Duradin chants louder and Auntie joins in. I focus on keeping my trembling hands still and my breathing even. I don’t want them to know how badly they’re scaring me.
I’m fixated on keeping an appearance of concentration on my face when a dim orange pinlight appears in the center of the Orb. I glance around the room, trying to find what the ball is reflecting.
“You saw something! What do you see?” Duradin grabs me by the hair and forces me to look down at the ball.
Tears spring to my eyes, blurring my vision. Why does he need to hurt me if I’m doing what he wants? I try to lift my head, but he pulls my hair again. The ball is glowing brighter, but I won’t say anything. After he’s gone, I’ll tell Auntie what I saw, and maybe she can explain what’s happening. Until then, I open my hands and let the ball drop to the floor.
Auntie yelps and dives for the ball. Her bulky body bounces me out of my chair. A shriek bursts from my lungs, more from surprise than from the actual fall. I land with a thud and hit my head on the now uncushioned floor.
Duradin’s fingers bruise my skin when he grabs me and drags me to the Orb. “Pick it up.” His tone is quiet and more terrifying than Auntie’s ranting. I do, and he forcibly sits me back down in the chair. He grips the back of my head and demands, “Look at the Orb. What do you see?”
My head hurts, my stuff is gone, and this vile man is forcing me to stare at a marble. I refuse to tell him anything until Auntie explains what’s happening.
“Tell me what you see!”
There’s a hiss, and the man hollers. I snap my head up. Oberon, one of Auntie’s cats, is wrapped around Duradin’s head, sending him to the floor. I launch myself out of the chair toward the door, but Auntie tackles me. I crash to the bare subfloor and slam the air from my body.
“You’re not going anywhere!” she screams, trying to pin me to the ground.
“Let me go!” I try to wiggle out of her grasp. I’ve never been in a fight in my life, and I never in a million years thought Auntie would attack me. She’s never been a violent person. Who is this man, and why do they care so much about a stupid marble?
The other cats join the fray, and the scary guy gets caught in the middle. Auntie’s tiring, so I’m able to squirm free. I only take one step when the man seizes me by the ankle and knocks me down, smashing my face against the floor, and jarring the ball loose. The cats rush after it.
“What did you see?” Duradin demands as he picks me up and shakes me.
My body shuts down and my brain follows. I go limp and close my eyes tightly. They fly open when he drops me. My elbow connects with the wood floor and sends an electrical shock up my body. I flip onto my stomach, ready to run, but freeze when I see what made him let me go.
The large black monster that came through my window last night is in my family room, brutally striking Duradin in the stomach with a long white staff. It follows that hit with a blow to his face that sends him tumbling backward. Then the hooded creature turns toward me.
Auntie leaps onto its back. She’s only there for a second before the monster shrinks into nothingness. She hits the floor with a loud smack and a groan. It’s only gone for a second before it’s back and lunging at the man.
Duradin shouts, and ten soldiers appear from thin air. They’re in red armor with raised gold swords, crowding our tiny apartment, and charging the monster. They end up crashing into each other when the hooded creature vanishes and reappears again a few feet away. It swings its staff and bashes the soldier in front of it. Then it thrusts the staff back, taking out two behind him.
That buys it some time. The glowing eyes search the room and find me.
Maybe if I play dead, the monster won’t come after me. I lie still so it can tell I’m not a threat to it.
“Run!” it screams.
I spring to my feet, but only make it a few steps when I trip over one of the cats and hit the floor again. It’s Oberon, the small black and white tabby that attacked Duradin. The cat trots to the side of the room where the glass ball rolled and bats it to me. I capture the marble without thinking and sprint out of the apartment.
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