Excerpt for Eighty-Six Keys - Discovery - Book 1 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Eighty-Six Keys

Discovery - Book One

By Nik Davies

Rev 8.28.16


Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2004-2016


Also by Nik Davies, Published at Smashwords


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. The book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to other for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for supporting and respecting the hard work of this author.


All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this book are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.




To my friends and family.


And to Sonny, my angel.



*****




Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Preview Eighty-Six Keys Immersion – Book 2

Afterword

Other Books by Nik Davies

Acknowledgements

About the Author




One


Willie Locke studied every tree and shrub, but there was no sign of her would-be captor, and that wasn’t a good thing. Getting caught now would result in pain. Pain in the form of another summer spent confined to her bedroom. No way was that happening again. Time and distance worked in the past, and she was sure it would work again, but first, she had to escape. Flopping down on her belly, she squeezed into the narrow space between the bushes and the house.

“Ouch,” Jerking her hand back, she frowned at the tiny drops of blood glistening on her palm. What was that? A stream of sunlight glinted off something half buried in the dirt. Afraid to touch it, she stared at it for a few precious minutes. Is it a broken bottle? It shimmered and winked at her. Whatever it was, she wanted it. Fingers tingling, she reached for it, and carefully wiggled the object from the soil. It was a long, translucent crystal so chipped and jagged it must have long ago been part of something much bigger. It twinkled as she buffed the last of the dirt off with her shirt.

Light bloomed within the object shooting bursts of light all around her. She blinked. It was as if someone had shoved an entire fireworks display into this one small object. She held the thing up to the sun but dropped it when a voice came from everywhere at once.

When her heart slowed, she dared a peek through the bushes. I have to get out of here. She’s out there somewhere, waiting for me, but where? And where did that thing go? Her head jerked around. There. Willie snatched the strange object up and shoved it in her pocket before crawling toward the street and temporary freedom.

There was one way out, right through the front gate, but it could also be the perfect place for a sneak attack. Wiping her hands on her jeans, she held her breath and peeked around the corner. The porch was empty. For once luck was on her side. Her feet kicked up dust as she ducked under the kitchen window and picked up speed. The small latched gate at the end of the walkway was the only thing in her way, she hurtled it and landed without missing a step. Shoes pounding the pavement, she dared a glance back. Phew, I made it.

Willie put her head down and pumped her legs harder, determined to get as far away as possible. Her backpack bounced up and down as she jumped over a runaway skateboard and swerved around a lady carrying bags in from her car. The poor woman yelped and clung to her groceries. Willie cut through backyards and side streets before skidding to a stop in front of a house covered in ivy.

An enormous Tudor with an uneven slate roof and several chimneys scattered here and there cast a sharp shadow on the sunny lawn. Cavendish Manor stood at the southernmost point of the street. The house blocked all through traffic and guarded the forest behind it like a soldier. It was the largest and oldest house on the street and stood high above the other homes. Eight-foot hedges surrounded the residence blocking all but the front of the house from view.

Parting the overgrown shrubs, Willie spotted a small woman sitting barefoot in an oversized wing backed chair, staring into a big bowl balanced on one knee. Fire-red hair stuck out of a multicolored scarf that curled around her head like a turban and twisted into a knot above her forehead. Her dress, looking suspiciously like a curtain from a window inside the old house, wrapped around her body toga style. At the woman’s feet, a small white dog, spun in circles, chasing its own tail.

Mrs. Cavendish is so weird. A smile tugged at the corners of Willie’s mouth. What is she doing? The woman sat so still, so entranced by whatever was in the bowl that a pair of sparrows, thinking she was a colorful birdbath, perched on the rim of the bowl and looked in too. Mumbling reached Willie’s ears, and she realized it was coming from the lady. Elbowing her way into the thick hedges, she strained to hear what the woman was saying. Is she even speaking English? The words were strange. Time slowed, and her breathing shallowed. The swaying trees stilled and the sounds of the summer morning dwindled as if the entire world wanted to understand the little woman’s words also. Silence surrounded her, and the hairs on her neck stood on end. Something was about to happen, she could feel it. She glanced over her shoulder. Nothing moved, nothing stirred. Skin prickling in anticipation, she peeked back at the woman and dog.

“Come in, child, come in.” Willie flinched, the little dog yipped, and the birds darted away, all startled by the woman’s voice. Just like that, the world sped up, and the sounds of summer rushed back to her ears. Willie pushed through the thick hedges into the yard. “Wilhelmina, my love.”

Two people on the planet called her by her full name, her mom, who only used it when she was angry and Mrs. Cavendish. Who names their kids after dead relatives anymore anyway? Her parents could have picked a cool name like Kiernan or Rowan, anything but Wilhelmina. Yet she didn’t mind it when it was spoken by Mrs. Cavendish. The lady’s strange accent made everything including her horrible name sound exotic and lovely.

Water sloshed over Mrs. Cavendish’s legs as she waved. Willie wasn’t surprised at all that she got caught spying. Mrs. Cavendish always knew when she was around. It was one of the many things about the woman she could never figure out.

“It’s Huxley’s birthday, and I must give my salutations, but he is just so difficult to reach these days.”

Willie beamed a crooked smile, “Most people use phones. Is there a phone in that bowl?” Dropping her backpack on the lawn, she peeked over Mrs. Cavendish’s shoulder. A swirl of light flickered along the surface of the water. As she leaned in for a closer look, a blue jay landed on the edge of the bowl, and all heck broke loose. Mrs. Cavendish’s small white puppy lunged at the bird. His paws clipped the bowl, it flipped in the air and landed on Willie’s head. SPLASH. Cold water drenched her face and dripped down her back.

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Cavendish wagged a finger at her small white puppy. “Black, you naughty boy, when will you learn you are not, and never will be, a cat,” The dog stood on his hind legs yipping and yowling as if explaining that he was just as good, and perhaps even better than any cat around. “I’ll have no sass from you, young man.”

Willie grinned at the woman and the dog. They were having a conversation, or at least they thought they were. What a freaky pair. Mrs. Cavendish was definitely the weirdest person she knew, but somehow she loved her that much more for it. Besides, she was used to it. Tons of strange things happened when she was with Mrs. Cavendish, which was why she loved visiting so often. Speaking of strange…

After pulling the bowl off her head, she spun it in her hands. It was just an ordinary wooden bowl. “I swear it was glowing. Did you see it?” The little lady plucked the bowl from Willie’s hands and tucked it into the folds of her dress before nudging Willie toward the house.

“Up the steps you go. Quickly now dear, get inside, and I’ll find you a towel, and you too scruffy,” Mrs. Cavendish snapped her fingers, and the little dog tucked his tail and dashed toward the house.



Two


Willie stepped into the room and inhaled deeply. The manor always smelled like a giant cinnamon stick mixed with a touch of dust and a hint of wood oil. In fact, she could no longer get a whiff of the spice without thinking of the old house and the fascinating woman that lived in it.

Without fail, rain or shine, summer, winter or fall at some point during each day, Willie found herself at the Manor. Visiting Cavendish Manor was number one on her daily to-do list. Mrs. Cavendish and her tiny pup were permanent fixtures in her life, and she liked it that way. She had known them her whole life, and they had long ago become an extension of her own little family. Having no grandparents of her own, Mrs. Cavendish filled a void in her she could never explain.

If Willie could describe the woman with one word, it would be fun. There was never a dull moment with the little lady. Once a month, throughout the year Mrs. Cavendish hosted elaborate tea parties in the greenhouse with silly hats and outrageous dresses even though Willie was usually the only guest. They gorged themselves senseless at picnics on the back lawn. Red checkered blankets, wicker baskets and lemonade included. They had day long scavenger hunts in the woods and Willie could always count on catching something interesting when fishing in the pond. The grounds surrounding the manor was home to a garden maze with hedges so high she could lose herself for hours. A conservatory with thousands of butterflies and extensive rose gardens extended from the west side of the house. There was even a creepy old mausoleum tucked in a cluster of Palmetto trees.

Mrs. Cavendish swore there was no one buried there, but Willie promised herself that one day she would check, just to be sure. What good was a crypt without dead people inside anyway? Everything about the old house and its extensive grounds and gardens fascinated her despite the fact that most people in her small town went out of their way to avoid it. It was her private refuge, and not having to share was all right with Willie.

“Make yourself comfortable child while I find you a towel and pour us a bit of sweet tea,” Mrs. Cavendish pointed to a chair before disappearing down a narrow flight of stairs. Willie glanced around the comfortable kitchen. As often as she visited, she had never explored the entire house. Usually, her visits were spent somewhere on the property or right here in the kitchen. Not because she couldn’t go any farther, but because she never thought to do anything else. There were just so many cool things to explore outside the manor, there was never enough time to check out the inside.

The kitchen didn’t have all the latest appliances, it didn’t have marble flooring or fancy lighting, but it was cozy. It was neat and warm and always smelled delicious. Willie’s eyes wandered until they came upon a wooden chest of drawers. She knew every corner and cobweb in Mrs. Cavendish’s kitchen, every creak of the floorboards, every scratch in the wooden table. The kitchen never changed, it had been the same since the day she first stepped inside. Until today. That wasn’t supposed to be there. The chest was as wide as it was tall and curved at the top as if the tree it had been carved from was still trying to reach the sun. It had a handcrafted look to it with life-like faces carved into its dark edges. She ran her fingers over the dark, knobby wood and lingered on the dozens of tiny drawers all crammed together in a nonsensical jumble. The chest was beautiful in a lopsided way. Each drawer had a small brass label above a little brass knob, and each sign was engraved with a word. Stepping closer she read some of the labels out loud.

“Viewsbine, Poppen, Havenburrow, Temble,” Her fingers tingled as she reached to open a drawer.

“What brings you about so early, Wilhelmina?” Mrs. Cavendish appeared behind her, holding two fluffy tea towels. She handed one to Willie before lowering herself into a chair.

Willie patted the water from her face and arms, “I brought you a present, it’s your birthday too, remember?”

“Another year older, I wish I could forget, and your birthday is tomorrow. I hear Terese has something special planned for you.”

Willie sighed before turning her back on the chest and its tiny peculiar drawers. “Yeah, Mom’s going a little overboard this year. I mean, it’s no big deal.”

Mrs. Cavendish grabbed her shoulders and leveled an eye at her, “A big deal it most certainly is. Tomorrow, you will leave your childhood behind and become an official teenager.” Mrs. Cavendish’s face took on a look of seriousness, “You embark upon exciting times, magical times, times of dreams and nightmares. You must be prepared, you must be ready.”

Willie’s eyebrows knitted together, “Ready for what?”

“For life,” Mrs. Cavendish’s eyes twinkled.

Willie picked up a half-full coffee mug from the table and sniffed it. “Just coffee in here, right?” Mrs. Cavendish chuckled, and her plump little body jiggled. Willie beamed a megawatt smile at her, “Speaking of birthday’s, I’ve got a present for you,” She looked around for her bag. “Shoot, I left my pack outside, I’ll be right back.” When she returned a few seconds later, the chest of small drawers was gone. Her head snapped to Mrs. Cavendish, and her eyes narrowed. The little woman hadn’t moved an inch.

“Hey, where did that chest…?”

“Cookie, dear?” Mrs. Cavendish held a full platter of goodies under her nose. Willie’s stomach grumbled as she took a bite of a warm chocolate chip cookie. Their sudden appearance didn’t surprise her, there were always dishes filled with yummy stuff at the Manor, yet another reason to visit often. “Sit with me a moment Wilhelmina, we’ll get you dried up.” Willie sat while the little lady patted her head and shirt with the soft blue towel.

Willie ate cookies at any time of the day or night when she was at the manor. Things like that never bothered the little woman. Mrs. Cavendish always said full bellies led to content minds and Willie couldn’t agree more. Grabbing another cookie from the plate, she shoved half of it in her mouth. Her mother would keel over if she caught her eating cookies at nine o’clock in the morning, but what her mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

“These are so good. You must have been baking since before the sun came up.”

“Something like that. Now, where is this present you spoke of?”

Willie pulled a shoebox from inside her backpack and handed it over.

Mrs. Cavendish’s mouth dropped open as she withdrew a large orange and purple flower from the shoebox. Her caramel cheeks bloomed with color, “Great galloping Firewalkers, where did you find this?” The woman stared with eyes so big Willie could see her reflection in them.

“We found it last night,” Willie giggled. “And what’s a galloping Firewalker?” She stuffed the last bit of cookie into her mouth.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, love. My goodness, I haven’t seen one of these since…”

“Since when?” Willie sat up, waiting for an answer she knew would never come. Mrs. Cavendish never talked about her past or why she lived alone in this old house. Family members never visited, the phone rarely rang, and the mailbox at the end of the front walk was always empty. Mystery, legend, and rumor surrounded the woman, the dog, and the house. There wasn’t much to know about Mrs. Cavendish, but folks in her small town had their theories.

Her eyes dropped to the strange bracelet Mrs. Cavendish always wore. When Willie was seven, the large gem on the bracelet opened exposing the pudgy face of a boy. Mrs. Cavendish caught her staring and closed it before she could get a good look. Willie had asked a million questions about the child but walked away with nothing but a name.

“You found this last night?” Mrs. Cavendish held up the flower.

Nodding, Willie sighed and picked up another cookie, “We couldn’t sleep so we went to the backyard to look at the stars and…”

“We?

“Terren and me.” Mrs. Cavendish put a hand over her mouth. “We found it on our way back inside. Never noticed it before, it’s like it just popped up out of nowhere. Crazy isn’t it? Have you ever seen anything like it?”

“Only once but that was…,” Her words trailed off into silence, eyes like small black daggers bore into the flower. Mrs. Cavendish stared without blinking as she twirled the flower between her fingers, examining, thinking, calculating. The little lady was acting stranger than usual. Willie pulled at the collar of her t-shirt. The air felt hot and charged as if energy was building and waiting for release.

An eerie, faraway look eclipsed Mrs. Cavendish’s face. Willie waved a hand, “Are you alright?”

“What hour was it?”

Willie paused, trying to remember. “Around midnight I think.”

“Curious,” The little woman mumbled. “If I’m not mistaken, there was a full moon last night, am I right child?” Her eyes darted over Willie’s face searching for something.

“Yes, there was,” Her stomach clenched as Mrs. Cavendish’s leaned closer, examining Willie’s face as if it was a new and interesting specimen. The silence seemed to go on forever.

“Who are you?”

Willie swallowed hard, “It’s me,” she squeaked. “It’s Willie, you remember me don’t you?”

Mrs. Cavendish blinked and sat back in the chair. The crazed look on her face disappeared as if it had never been there at all and the building tension dissolved the moment she spoke.

“Of course, I do, sweet child.” She tapped the flower to Willie’s nose. “This is the best birthday gift I’ve ever received. It is something incredibly unique. My, my, it will spark much interest at the party this evening,” Her eyes twinkled. “Thank you, dear.”

Willie released a gush of pent-up air, but her uneasiness didn’t go away, neither did her goosebumps. “You’re having a party?”

Mrs. Cavendish stood up from the table, “Yes, a farewell party. I’ve decided it is time to do something for me. I deserve it after all. I’ve been faithful, haven’t I? I’ve been vigilant.” Barking a laugh, she mumbled something that Willie thought sounded a lot like ‘mostly’ before examining the countertops. She peeked in the bread box before climbing a step stool and scanning the top of the refrigerator. She opened and closed drawers and cupboards while making her way around the kitchen.

“Farewell party?” Willie chuckled. Here was the woman she knew, slightly absentminded, strangely fascinating, a bit vulnerable yet completely lovable. This Mrs. Cavendish was far better than the steel-eyed, scary lady she saw moments ago. “I think you mean birthday party. How old will you be anyway?” Willie dropped that last part in, hoping to get an accidental answer.

“Not quite older than dirt, but I’m gaining on it.”

It wasn’t the answer Willie was hoping for, but it did make her laugh so hard she almost tipped the chair over.

Mrs. Cavendish rustled through more drawers and cabinets, “Birthday party indeed, it will be splendid. Relatives from all over are coming. Sonny Rutledge just sent word today he would be here.” Willie’s eyebrows disappeared into her hairline. Relatives? Sonny Rutledge? Willie knew that name, Mrs. Cavendish had mumbled it once or twice over the years. Her eyes darted to the bracelet again.

“Sonny Rutledge? Is he your friend that lives in the land down under. That’s Australia right?”

“No dear, he’s from the land far under,”

“Where’s that?”

Mrs. Cavendish waved a hand as she looked around the room, searching for something. “You must come and bring Raquel and Terren also,” she moved again from drawer to drawer opening, closing, and moving things around.

Willie scratched her chin, “Mrs. Cavendish, are you looking for your glasses again?”

The little woman spun around, “Why, yes, yes I am.”

Willie grabbed the glasses resting on top of the lady’s head. Untangling them from the haphazard scarf, she placed them on Mrs. Cavendish’s nose.

“There they are,” She kissed the little woman’s cheek and at the moment of contact, all traces of uneasiness disappeared. Her shoulders relaxed and calm spread over her.

“Sweet Wilhelmina, what would I do without you, child?” Mrs. Cavendish chuckled. Willie shrugged before glancing at the clock over the stove. Time to go already? It was the first day of summer vacation, and there was fun to be had, but she hesitated. It was always hard leaving the Manor. It seemed the longer she stayed, the less she wanted to go. Her heart swelled with love as she glanced around the cozy kitchen. I’ll be back, she promised herself forcing her legs to move towards the door.

“I better get going. Thanks for the cookies and happy birthday, Mrs. Cavendish.”

“Thank you, love. Come by later for some cake, will you?”

Willie left the kitchen, closing the door behind her. Just as she stepped through the high hedges, the distant sound of a phone ringing reached her ears. Uh oh. It was her mother, it had to be. That woman always knew where to find her, especially when Willie didn’t want to be found. By the second ring, her casual walk turned into an all-out run.



Three


“Is Rockie home?” Willie spoke between gasps for air. Rockie’s mother looked at her with wide sky blue eyes. Willie shuffled from foot to foot trying to imagine what was going through Yvonne Mitchell’s mind. The woman looked her up and down noticing her dirty jeans and the red paint covering her hands, arms and streaked through her dark hair. Following Ms. Mitchell’s eyes, she glanced down and grimaced. Oh, crap.

Willie fidgeted, “I had a rough morning.”

“Do you know you have on two different shoes?”

“Uh, yes, um, the other one is stuck in the driveway.” Willie chewed a nail as Ms. Mitchell raised an eyebrow before opening the door wide.

“Rockie’s upstairs, go on up.”

“Thanks,” Willie raced up the stairs two at a time, barged into Rockie’s room without knocking and did a front flip onto the bed. Raquel Mitchell never flinched nor did she look up from where she was hunched over her old desk.

“Hey,” Willie sang.

“You’re early. I told you I was unavailable until one o’clock and get your feet off my wall,” Rockie snapped. Willie peeked at her feet, they were indeed planted on the pale pink wall.

“I thought I’d surprise you.”

“You know I hate surprises.”

Willie glanced at her best friend. All that could be seen was a mass of blond curls covering a well-used microscope. Willie’s eyes wandered around Rockie’s room. It wasn’t a typical twelve-year-old girl’s room. There were no posters of famous people. No stuffed animals or pictures of friends either. Rockie Mitchell’s room was the perfect reflection of her name. Granite and slate, volcanic and lunar rocks in every shape and color were her decorations of choice. Igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks cluttered the room. Rocks huddled on the windowsills and under the bed, on bookshelves and desktop. There was even one small pebble holding up the corner of the desk to keep it from wobbling.

Pictures of volcanoes, tar pits and the inner core of the Earth peppered the walls. Where there wasn’t a rock or stone of some variety, there were books on stoney topics like mineralogy, petrology, and geology. Books Willie thought no self-respecting kid should have, but they were everywhere, and all she could do was scowl at them.

Rocks are meant for climbing not studying. And studying wasn’t meant for summer at all, especially not the first day of summer vacation. They should be outside christening their twelve glorious weeks of freedom. They should be bike riding, bungee jumping or running for no reason at all except to feel the wind blowing through their hair. They should be doing it up big, but that wouldn’t happen until Rockie was done with her stupid rocks.

“Hey,” Willie threw a crumpled piece of paper at her, but Rockie didn’t look up. How were they friends anyway? They couldn’t be more different, yet something concrete tied them together. Something Willie could never figure out. It was a similar bond that she shared with Mrs. Cavendish and Black. They all just fit together, and that was a seriously good thing. A smile curled the corner of her lips.

“So, are you going to tell me what you’re looking at?”

“Jake’s ring,”

Willie bolted up, “You stole your brother’s ring?”

“Of course not.”

“Wait. He just let you have it?” Her mouth dropped open, “Is he sick or something?” As far back as she could remember, Jake had worn a ring etched with delicate, ornate swirls and set with an unusual stone. It was the most beautiful ring Willie had ever seen. Thick and sturdy, impossible to scratch or chip, it once belonged to his father, but somehow, it looked like it was made for Jake’s finger. He never took it off. Never. “You’ve wanted to check that weird stone out for years, why would he give it to you now?”

“He said it was glowing and kept him up all night and asked if I could figure out what kind of stone it is. I know it sounds crazy, but I would’ve agreed to anything to get this thing under my scope. Willie, it looks fantastic at this magnitude. Like a million stars somehow live inside it.”

Willie’s stomach sprouted butterflies. Jake’s ring was glowing just like—she pulled the crystal she found from her back pocket. It shimmered as it rested on her palm. “If you think that’s something, check this out.” In one quick move, she swiped the ring from under the microscope.

“Hey,” Rockie snapped. Her tone changed when Willie placed the crystal under the microscope. “Wow, this is magnificent.”

“What is it?”

Rockie readjusted the object, “Well, it can’t be an Iceland spar because it’s too vibrant. It looks like a scalenohedron, but somehow the scalene triangles don’t seem congruent.”

“Sorry, I asked,” Willie turned around too fast and bumped into the dresser knocking a bunch of rocks to the floor, but Rockie paid no attention.

“It could be common calcite, but I’ve never seen one so large before. Hmm, it has a threefold axis. It may be of the trigonal-trapezohedral class, but I don’t remember seeing anything like this in any of my books. I’ll have to check again.” Although she was speaking fast and scribbling notes on a scrap of paper at the same time, Rockie never took her eyes from the microscope. “Where did you find it?”

“In my backyard, it gave me a wicked cut on my hand, see,” Willie offered her palm, but Rockie didn’t bother looking up. Rockie went on as if she were alone in the room, mumbling to herself and moving the object around to get a better view.

“There’s something inside of this thing. I want to drill some holes in it and check out its core.”

“No way,”

Rockie’s voice rose an octave, “But, this could be a new geological find. This could make us famous.”

“Uh huh,” Willie yawned. If Rockie cracked that thing open, they’d never get out of this room. This subject needed changing before their entire day was doomed. “Hey, I couldn’t sleep either.”

“I was awake too, must have been the full moon or something,” Rockie added, still looking into her microscope. Willie kicked Rockie’s chair. The girl didn’t notice.

“So, do I have to talk to the back of your head all day or what?”

Rockie kept her head down, “I told you to come by later, you didn’t listen,”

Willie sighed and flopped back down on the bed. “You know, Terren couldn’t sleep last night either. I found him in the kitchen.”

“What else is new?”

“We grabbed some snacks and hung out in the yard. The sky was incredible last night. On our way back to bed, we found this weird orange and purple flower. I gave it to Mrs. Cavendish for her birthday. Totally freaked out about it, got all creepy and mysterious on me.”

“Are you sure you’re talking about Mrs. Cavendish?”

Willie bit her lip. “Kinda scared me a little.” A chill coursed through her body. The more she thought about it, the more it bothered her. Mrs. Cavendish’s reaction to the flower was so out of character something had to be wrong with the woman. “That reminds me, she’s having a birthday party tonight, asked me to invite you and Terren.” Willie’s eyebrows scrunched, “Maybe I should go back over there and check on her one more time,”

“First, come look at this, I see something else.” Rockie looked up from her microscope, her bright blue eyes grew wide. “Willie Locke, what did you do?” Rockie’s cheeks bloomed with color.

“Well,” Willie chewed a fingernail for a few seconds before answering. “I was painting my bike because it needed a new coat of paint and it was going along great when…”

“When what?”

“When I sort of painted the cat.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’re covered in paint. Look at you. Summer has just started, and you’re messing up already?” Rockie stood up from the desk. “Great, you’re going to get grounded on your birthday, just like last year.”

Our birthday,” Willie reminded rolling her eyes at the thought of last year’s birthday party. What made her think she could drive her father’s lawn mower around town. Her head ached thinking about all the yards she demolished, and no one would ever forget the Rombo’s dog, Peeko, almost lost his tail during that incident. Willie fidgeted as Rockie yelled.

“How could we be born on the same day? We’re so different,” Rockie paced back and forth.

“No worries, my mom will be over it by tomorrow. Besides, she has a huge party planned for us, she can’t stop it now.”

“Well, I’m not risking it. Out. Get away from me before I get blamed for this somehow.” Rockie pointed. When Willie didn’t move, she opened the door wide.

“Are you kicking me out?”

Rockie snatched Willie’s braid and yanked. “Your mom is going to call any second. She’ll find you, she always does, and I don’t want her finding you here.”

“Ow, let go…” Both girls jumped when Willie’s back pocket beeped. Willie pulled her phone out, and they peeked down at the screen.

The color drained from her face, “It’s her.”

“Answer it.”

Willie’s stomach did flip-flops, “I don’t want to.”

“She’s going to kill you.”

“Not if she can’t catch me.”

“Give it to me.” Rockie lunged for the phone, but Willie dodged away. “Answer it,” Rockie ordered but it was too late, the phone fell silent. They waited in silence before turning toward Rockie’s open bedroom door. More ringing, this time coming from downstairs. Willie fidgeted. Please don’t let it be her. Slapping a palm to her face, Willie groaned when Ms. Mitchell called her name.

“See, she always finds you. Go on and don’t mention me,” Rockie pushed her into the hall and slammed the door. Ten minutes later Willie was back upstairs looking dazed.

“So, did she freak?” Rockie teased trying to cover the grin on her face.

“I could hear her voice coming through the window from three streets away. I have to go clean up. It’ll take me all day, so I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe.” Willie frowned when Rockie giggled until her face turned bright pink. “So not funny, Rockie.”

“Yeah, it is,” Willie scowled until Rockie stifled her giggles and straightened up. “Fine, I’ll help. How do I always get stuck cleaning up your messes?”

Willie hugged her. It felt good knowing she could count on her best friend. Sure, Rockie would complain the whole time, but she needed all the help she could get. “Just think, without me, your life would be boring,” Willie’s light brown eyes glittered with mischief.

Rockie snorted, “Without you, my life would be normal.”

“Normal’s overrated.”



Four


The girls spent the rest of the morning removing red paw prints and a single sneaker from the driveway and the afternoon trying to hold the cat still long enough to give her a bath. By three o’clock, they were both sitting at the kitchen table wincing as Mrs. Locke cleaned and bandaged all of their scratches.

Rockie grumbled for the hundredth time, “How do I always let you get me into these messes?”

Willie shoved fingers in her ears, “Blah, blah, blah, give it a rest will you,” Rockie stuck out her tongue. “Seriously, you act like you never get me in trouble.”

Rockie crossed her arms, “I don’t, I’m the good one,” Willie and Mrs. Locke exchanged a look before they burst into laughter. “What?”

“Remember the time you thought you found a hidden cave in the Symond’s well?”

“My calculations indicated that the depth of the well and the vibration of the water...”

“And the time you were five and strapped all of those kites to Willie and tried to push her off your roof,” Mrs. Locke wagged a finger at Rockie.

Rockie’s cheeks turned pink, “That would have worked. With the combination of wind speed, velocity, and roof height, she would’ve been fine. You just didn’t give it a chance.”

“Remember when you thought you found a treasure map in my basement?”

Mrs. Locke’s laughter turned into a growl, “We had to fill seventeen holes, and you cracked the water pipe.”

“Okay, I get your point,” Rockie threw her hands up just as Terren walked into the kitchen with a football in his hands. He tossed it to her before yanking Willie’s long braid.

“Ouch,” Willie swatted at him as he headed for the refrigerator. They were silent as he pawed through the contents of the fridge. Willie’s nose scrunched when he shoved a handful of grapes in his mouth. Terren had the appetite of a full-grown bear, and it seemed with every bite he grew a bit taller. He outgrew her about a year ago, she just couldn’t keep up with him. Being the oldest, this had initially annoyed her, but she got used to it.

Terren grew two inches in the last six months, and now he stood eye to eye with his mother. He towered over Rockie too, but everyone towered over Rockie. Large brown eyes, curly hair, and deep dimples were mirror images of his fathers. It was scary sometimes how much they looked alike, and in a few years, he’d be the same height as his father too. Their father. Now was not the time to think about him. “Did you have a good game?”

Terren shrugged before returning to the table with his arms loaded with sandwich fixings. They all stared at him. “What?” He mumbled with cheese hanging from his mouth. Elbowing Rockie out of the way, Terren dropped the stuff on the table. “What happened to you?” He nodded toward Rockie’s bandaged arms.

Rockie pointed, “Her.”

Terren shook his head, “When will you learn?”

“Uh, I can hear you, you know? Come on, the day hasn’t been all that bad. I mean, I did find something cool. Show him,”

Rockie placed the crystal on the table. “It has some sort of writing on it, see,” She pointed to the etchings.

“What does it say?”

Willie displayed her bandaged arms, “Haven’t figured that out yet, had to wash the cat,”

Terren snorted before picking up the crystal and examining it while he munched. He swallowed and held the thing up to the light, turning and twisting it.

“If you turn it just right, you can see something inside it. Is that a bird?” They rushed over to him and peeked over his shoulder.

“Can I see it?” Mrs. Locke reached for the stone. As Terren placed it in her hand, a flash lit up the kitchen followed by a loud crackling zap. “Ouch,” She yanked her hand back. The stone dropped to the table and rolled toward Willie. The kids scrambled away from it and stared open mouthed as Mrs. Locke reached for it again. This time, a tiny neon blue lightning bolt arched across the table and zapped her outstretched fingers. Yelping, she staggered backward, collided with the fridge, and her knees buckled.

“Mom,” Willie reached for her, but Terren got there first.

He wrapped an arm around her waist, “Whoa, are you okay?”

“I think so. Don’t touch it Rockie,” Mrs. Locke warned as Rockie picked up the strange stone. Nothing happened, not even the smallest glimmer of light.

“It’s fine now. Maybe you’re just full of static electricity.”

“I guess,” Mrs. Locke stared at her hands. “Where did you find that thing anyway?”

“I found it this morning.” Willie examined her mother’s hands. They were a little red and felt shaky, and her face looked pale and dazed. Willie led her to a chair.

“You found that flower last night too didn’t you?” Rockie looked from Terren to Willie. “Two super weird things found and both of them in your backyard. What are the odds of that?”

Mrs. Locke’s head snapped up, and she pierced Willie with an angry glare. Oh, crap. Willie stared at her friend. Sometimes, Rockie just didn’t know when to shut up. “Last night, when?”

“About midnight,” Rockie responded matter-of-factly, grabbing a piece of cheese off Terren’s plate. Willie kicked her under the table. “Ow, what did you do that for?”

Mrs. Locke folded her arms, “And what were the two of you doing outside so late?” Willie and Terren exchanged a nervous glance.

“Uh, we couldn’t sleep and…” Willie started.

“We just stayed in the yard Mom and…” Terren continued.

“Never mind,” Mrs. Locke rubbed her temples, “I’ve had more than I can take for one day.” Piercing Willie with a meaningful look, she left the kitchen. Willie and Terren turned angry gazes on Rockie.

“Sorry,” Stuffing the stone in her pocket, she hopped off the chair and flashed through the front door. Willie and Terren chased after her.

“Home by five you three.” Mrs. Locke yelled from an upstairs window as they chased Rockie through the yard and across the neighborhood. Willie knew they wouldn’t catch her, they never could. Rockie was just too fast, but that didn’t stop them from chasing her anyway.

Willie skidded to a stop when she noticed a lady wobbling down the street struggling with an enormous box. “Hey guys, there’s Mrs. Cavendish. Looks like she could use some help.”

“Hi, Mrs. C,” Terren grinned at her.

“Terren my love, how you’ve grown,” Mrs. Cavendish looked up at him. “I didn’t think you’d be taller than me for at least another year.”

“Well, you’re not a giant, Mrs. C., Rockie’s almost taller than you and she’s a shrimp,” Terren jumped back before Rockie could punch him.

“I’m petite,” She growled.

“Here, let me help you with that,” He heaved the box into his arms.

“The perfect southern gentleman,” Mrs. Cavendish cooed and patted his cheek. “Come now, you can all help me open it.” They hurried along to Cavendish Manor. After placing the large box on the kitchen table, Terren rubbed his arms. “What’s in there, a dead body?”

“Terren,” The girls gasped.

“What? It weighs a ton,” He reached for a cookie, took a bite and grabbed a brownie with his other hand.

“No, my child. No dead bodies this time. I’m hoping it’s something just as interesting, though,” Mrs. Cavendish’s eyes twinkled with excitement. “Shall we open it?” Three heads bobbed. Mrs. Cavendish opened the package, examining the plain brown wrapper and the cardboard box as though each might have something important hidden in them. After a painstakingly long time, she uncovered a large, decorated wooden box. A small crank handle hung down from one side. A tinkle of music filled the room as Mrs. Cavendish cranked the little handle. The faster the handle turned, the faster the tune played. The song picked up speed until, POP. Everyone, except Mrs. Cavendish, screamed when the lid flew open, and a little man jumped out.

“It’s a Jack-in-the-box,” Willie held a hand to her pounding heart.

Terren wrinkled his nose, “Looks more like a troll in the box if you ask me. He sure is ugly,”

“On the contrary, it’s beautiful. I have been searching for this for some time now. I have a dear friend who helps me find unique items. This box is of particular importance.”

A dear friend? Mrs. Cavendish didn’t have friends. It was on rare occasions that she left her house, and she never had guests other than the Willie, Rockie, and Terren. The woman didn’t believe in computers or mobile phones, there wasn’t even a television in the enormous old house of hers. This made Willie curious about Mrs. Cavendish’s dear friend she somehow never mentioned before, ever. Willie pondered the new information as she admired the box and the little puppet inside. Precious gems covered his clothing. Large red rubies and emeralds hung from a three-tailed jester’s hat and tiny diamond-encrusted bells dangled from each section. There were two of the same bells on the tip of each curled shoe. Black and white pearls, solid gold beads, and large sparkling gems covered the box.

Willie couldn’t believe that Mrs. Cavendish didn’t notice she had an entire treasure chest in her kitchen. Instead, she pulled and yanked at the little jester. The woman grabbed a hammer from a drawer, raised it over her head before smashing it into the music box.

“What are you doing?” Willie’s eyes popped open as the little lady whacked the puppets leg so hard it flew across the room. Willie ducked under the table, pulling Rockie and Terren down with her just in time to escape a shower of wood and precious gems. They gazed up at Mrs. Cavendish from under the table. The little woman looked crazed as she bashed the box to bits.

“She’s bananas,” Terren mumbled.

“I can’t argue with that,” Mrs. Cavendish giggled as she swung at the box, “but these diamonds and fancy jewels are here to distract from the real riches.” The hammering stopped, and the children peered over the tabletop. The poor puppet and the beautiful music box were in pieces, yet Mrs. Cavendish glowed. “I’ve got it. Yes, I think this is it, see?” It was long, purple and translucent. A weathered wooden ball protruded from its top, and its scratched and worn surface ended in a jagged point.

“What is it?”

“It’s important, and it came just in the nick of time, isn’t it beautiful,” Mrs. Cavendish exclaimed, holding it up to the light.

Terren scowled, “It’s nowhere near as nice as the box was. I can’t believe you demolished it for that thing?”

“You don’t understand, child,” Mrs. Cavendish danced Rockie around the kitchen. “I’ve found a key,”

Willie studied the object again, it didn’t look anything like a key she’d ever seen, “That’s a key?”

“Yes my dear, it’s a key to...”

“It’s almost five,” Rockie stopped dancing and pointed to the clock. “We have to go,” She hugged Mrs. Cavendish, snagged Willie’s arm and pulled her toward the door.

Willie dragged her feet and tried to pull her arm free, “The key to what?”

“Sorry Mrs. C., we’ve got to get home, see ya later,” Terren patted the little woman’s head.


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