Excerpt for Believe by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Believe

by

Abby Rosser

Published by WordCrafts Press for Smashwords

Copyright © 2017 Abby Rosser

Cover Design by David Warren

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite online retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

CONTENTS

Chapter 1 - WELCOME TO PEACOCK VALLEY

Chapter 2 - ANY OTHER NAME

Chapter 3 - SIREN SONG

Chapter 4 - UPSIDE-DOWN

Chapter 5 - MULLIGAN STEW

Chapter 6 - A POET AND DIDN’T KNOW IT

Chapter 7 - FUNERAL FOR A DOLLOPBERRY BUSH

Chapter 8 - HOMER

Chapter 9 - OLAF THE PEACOCK

Chapter 10 - PROPERTY OF AMBROSE E. SULLIVAN

Chapter 11 - THE MAP

Chapter 12 - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMBROSE

Chapter 13 - FERN SEED IN BLOOM

Chapter 14 - CARVED FROM STONE

Chapter 15 - THE BANNER OF DIVINATION

Chapter 16 - THE PLAN

Chapter 17 - LOSING THE FARM

Chapter 18 - IT TAKES A SPELL

Chapter 19 - FAIRIES IN FLIGHT

Chapter 20 - SUMMER SOLSTICE

Chapter 21 - ROLL CALL

Chapter 22 - ROUT THE ROOT

Chapter 23 - BE BRAVE

Chapter 24 - REMEMBER HOME

Chapter 25 - FLAMES

Chapter 26 - THE BIRTHDAY GIFT

Chapter 27 - A FOND FAREWELL

Chapter 28 - SUMMER VACATION

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chapter 1

WELCOME TO PEACOCK VALLEY

Dooley wasn’t hiding, not really. In the last few weeks, he often climbed out his bedroom window to sit on the porch roof of his house and most of the time it wasn’t because his mother was calling for him. On this particular summer morning, he had situated himself on the warm, sticky shingles before he heard her voice, but he knew it would come.

“Dooley, I’m leaving.”

He could hear the jingle of keys and his mother’s voice as she muttered, “Where’s my phone? Oh, here it is. Now…where is…I just had that list…”

Dooley sighed. This might take a while. Ever since they had moved to Peacock Valley at the beginning of the summer, she was always in search of some lost item. They still had cardboard boxes in nearly every room, waiting to be emptied and their contents put away.

“I’m going to the grocery store, Dooley…if I can just find my…” Her voice trailed off as she walked in to an interior room, away from any open windows. A moment later, Dooley heard the metallic screeching of the garage door as it slowly opened, and their maroon minivan backed out, turned, and started down the long gravel drive.

“Another boring day in Boring Valley where I will probably die of extreme boredom,” Dooley thought. He still hadn’t forgiven his father for taking the new job and making them move to Minnesota.

“They want me to be manager!” He remembered his father saying proudly. “Manager of the tasting division of the Peacock Valley Jelly Company! Can you imagine that? Me…a manager!”

Dooley thought his day was boring. Most likely his dad’s was worse. How could anyone get so excited about jams and jellies?

Dooley hugged his legs and rested his chin on his knees. He stared out at the expansive overgrown field beginning at the edge of the narrow strip of his front yard, stretching all the way to the highway. The grass was tall and dry. The occasional breeze swept over it in waves. Clumps of scraggly trees banded together in groups of twos and threes near the edges of the five-acre expanse. In the center of the field grew a lone white ash tree. It was taller than his house, and its branches spread wide and full around it. It appeared far healthier than any other plant-life on the property.

Dooley sighed again, ready to close his eyes and imagine himself back to Boston eating ice cream at Brigham’s with his best friends, Tim and Drew, laughing and joking without a care in the world. He wished something would happen that would make this move worthwhile. Some kind of sign to let him know that being in Peacock Valley was a part of a greater plan.

Suddenly, a movement caught his eye. The wind was still. The grass stood tall and motionless with the exception of a curving path of bent grass coming from the adjoining field to the right and snaking toward the ash tree. Dooley wondered if the path was made by a neighbor’s cat, searching for an unsuspecting field mouse to pounce on. As the creature crept nearer to the tree, Dooley realized it was something brown and furry, but it seemed too large to be a cat. He continued to watch its slow, deliberate progress.

When it finally reached the tree, it stood about three feet tall on its hind legs and looked with quick, darting glances around it. In a lightning second, it looked straight at Dooley before it disappeared near the base of the tree.

Dooley rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. The creature—part oversized beaver, part wart hog—was carrying a small, leather bag with the strap diagonally crossing its chest. Stranger still, Dooley thought it had saluted him with a small, furry paw just before it dove down, out of sight.

Chapter 2

ANY OTHER NAME

Dooley decided he must have been out in the sun too long since his eyes were most definitely playing tricks on him. He climbed back in the house through the window and went downstairs to search out something to eat.

Standing in the cool of the open refrigerator, Dooley realized why his mother needed to go to the grocery store. He saw an open can of peaches, a jar of sweet pickles, half a bottle of apple juice and a container of bologna. The edges of the last two bologna slices nearest the opening of the container looked rubbery, but they passed the smell check. Dooley set the peaches, pickles, juice and bologna out on the counter.

He checked the pantry. His parents’ cereals sat on the lower shelf. They had names like “Fiber Nuggets” and “Carob Chunky Chews.” Dooley thought he’d rather eat tree bark, which would not be far from the ingredient list on the sides of the boxes.

On the shelf above the cereal, he saw various jars of jelly, all of them wearing the bright purple “Peacock Valley Jelly Company” label. He chose one of the jars, grabbed a bag of sandwich bread with only the heels remaining, and added them to the rest of his feast.

“A Taste of Southeast Asia: Rambutan-Durian,” he read aloud from the jar label. “Jellies from Around the World.” He remembered his father telling him how the Jelly Company had experimented with exotic fruits just before his arrival as manager. Since this one was on their shelf—unopened and dusty—Dooley wondered if it was because it had failed the taste test and the Jelly Company couldn’t sell it in the stores.

Dooley held the small jelly jar up to the kitchen light and examined the creamy blobs inside. He shook the jar vigorously then stopped to watch the blobs swirl and dance. As he was about to open the lid, the doorbell rang.

With one eye closed and the other eye looking through the peephole, Dooley surveyed the boy standing on his front porch. After he had determined it was a boy about his same age and size who posed little threat to him, he opened the door.

“Hello. I live next door. My name is Cyrano, Cyrano Mulligan,” the boy said with a sniff.

“Hey. I’m Dooley.” Dooley wasn’t sure if he should shake Cyrano’s hand like his father did whenever he made a new acquaintance. It felt like it had been eons since he’d been around other kids his age, and he couldn’t remember how to act. He chose to pass on the handshake. Instead he asked Cyrano if he wanted to come in.

“Sure.” Cyrano followed Dooley into the living room and they both sat down in the matching mauve armchairs. Cyrano adjusted his thick eyeglasses as they slipped down his long, slender nose. Then he folded his pale fingers neatly in his lap and sniffed again.

“We moved here from Boston,” said Dooley.

“Oh. I’ve never been to Boston. Is it nice?” asked Cyrano. Sniff.

“Oh yeah. It’s terrific. There’s all kinds of stuff to do. There’s Fenway Park and the harbors, and there’s a bunch of American History stuff, if you like that sort of thing.”

“Well, we don’t leave Peacock Valley much.” Sniff. Sniff.

Dooley was beginning to think Cyrano’s sniffing was his way of suggesting that their house smelled bad. Every time Cyrano sniffed, his nostrils flared to create two giant holes in the middle of his face. Dooley thought with a few more, he could use Cyrano’s head for a bowling ball.

Suddenly there was a loud pop, followed by the sound of shattering glass. Both boys ran into the kitchen where they were immediately assaulted with a smell that Dooley’s mother would later describe as “a skunk with the stomach flu wearing sweaty gym socks in MY kitchen.”

The boys covered their faces and ran outside for a breath of clean air. “What was that?” Cyrano asked.

“It was some sort of jelly, gone bad.” Dooley coughed. “I’ll have to clean it up before my mom gets back.”

Dooley couldn’t believe it when Cyrano followed him back into the kitchen. Cyrano opened several drawers until he found one with dishtowels. He pulled one out of the drawer, tied it across his mouth and nose like a bank robber and asked, “Where’s your broom?”

Dooley found another dishtowel and did the same. They swept up the broken glass and wiped up the jelly the best they could, then they went back outside.

“Can I ask you a question?” Dooley asked once they sat down on the porch steps. “Could you smell the jelly before it exploded?”

“Yes. Except I thought you were going to be attacked by a skunk or something.” Cyrano looked down at his hands self-consciously. “It’s not a very good power, is it?”

“Power?”

“I mean…if you could have a magical power, any power in the world, would you pick Olfavoyance?”

“Olfa-what?”

“Olfavoyance…Nose-tradamus? A Schnoz-ard? It’s the power to smell the future.” He said matter-of-factly. “Not very impressive, is it?”

Dooley’s mind was so full of questions, he couldn’t decide which one to ask first. “You have a magical power.” Dooley said, his voice a mixture of mocking and apprehension. “And it’s olfa…olfa…whatever.”

“Yep. That’s what happens when you have a bunch of older brothers and sisters, and they get all the good powers first.”

“So, you all have powers? You know that sounds crazy, right?”

As if he hadn’t heard the skepticism in Dooley’s question, Cyrano continued, “My brother Cashel has the best one. He’s a Carver. He can make animals out of stone and then, the next morning—poof—they come alive. It’s really amazing.”

“Do you actually expect me to believe…” Dooley began.

“And then there’s my sister Clio,” Cyrano interrupted. “She’s a Rhymer, you know, a Spell-Speaker. Her spells are usually terrific…except when they’re not. Like the time she tried to write one to clean up the bathroom. It was supposed to end something like: ‘Finish with the brush. Then give the toilet a flush.’ But instead she said: ‘Finish with the brush. Then give the toilet a gush.’ Water started gushing out of the toilet and all over the floor. Believe you me, it was some kind of a mess. Much worse than what we started with.”

“Is this a joke or something? Like maybe you always do this to the new kid in town?”

“Do what?”

“Tell him crazy stuff to see if he’ll believe it,” answered Dooley.

“No. You’re the only person outside our family I’ve ever told any of this to.”

“Why me?”

“My mom told me to come over. She said you’re one of us.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“My mom is a Namer so if she says you have a power then you have a power.”

“Well, your mom is even crazier than you ‘cause I don’t have a magical power. If I did, I would’ve already used it to get me out of Peacock Valley.”

“It doesn’t work that way. My mom’s always saying, ‘Your power is your gift. Use it for others.’ She gave each of us our names, and then when we turn eight, she tells us our powers.”

“What about your dad? Does he have a power?”

“No. He’s an optometrist.”

Cyrano began sniffing the air, then he put his finger in his mouth and pointed it up in the breeze, testing the direction of the smells. “Looks like my mom’s going to bake oatmeal cookies this afternoon. I’d better get in there to make sure she leaves out the raisins.” Cyrano stood and brushed off the seat of his pants. “Come over anytime, Dooley.”

“Sure…maybe…I’ll see you,” Dooley stammered.

He watched Cyrano’s loping strides as he walked back to his house. He couldn’t necessarily smell his future, but suddenly Dooley didn’t think his summer would be so boring after all.

Chapter 3

SIREN SONG

The two days following Dooley’s introduction to Cyrano were spent indoors due to fierce thunderstorms. By the afternoon of the second day, Dooley was pacing the length of his bedroom like a caged tiger. He was eager to get outside but nervous he would run into Cyrano. He had finally decided everything Cyrano had told him was a lie, a practical joke. “No one has magical powers,” Dooley muttered to himself as he paced. Nevertheless, he felt an undeniable pull to their house and to the Mulligan family.

His mother knocked on his bedroom door. “Hey, Dooley. May I come in?”

“Yes.”

She stooped to pick up a few dirty socks and threw them in the hamper. Then she sat on his bed. “The rain’s starting to let up. Why don’t we go in to town? You need out of this house as badly as I do.”

“I don’t really feel like it.”

“I know this move wasn’t what you wanted, but we’re here and you’ve got to make the best of it. You have to start making an effort.”

Dooley sat down at his desk chair and folded his arms without a reply.

“I don’t think you’re being fair, Dooley. Small towns have a lot to offer…”

“This is nothing like Boston. I’m a thousand miles away from any of my friends and anything fun to do.”

“So you want to compare this to Boston? Fine. Did you have a house with five acres in Boston? No. We had a tiny apartment with the closest park two subway stops away. You’ll make friends, Dooley, believe me.”

Dooley looked doubtful.

“Come on. Let’s go find an ice cream place, but if you say one word about how the ice cream is better in Boston…”

“Okay, okay. I get it.”

Dooley and his mom drove to the town square and parked in front of an ice cream parlor called Eddie’s. They decided to forego an umbrella and dashed from their van inside the shop.

A girl was standing behind the long metal ice cream freezers. She had her back to them as they entered, but Dooley knew she worked there by the strings of her striped apron and her striped sailor hat. She was humming softly as she listened to the music in her headphones.

Dooley didn’t recognize the song, but the sound of the girl’s humming washed over him, soothing his worries away. It was as if she were massaging the furrows on his forehead and whispering comforting words in his ear. He suddenly remembered when he was little, and his mother had rocked him after a bad dream. With that memory in mind, Dooley turned to look at his mother, and her face wore the same expression of peace and contentment.

When the girl finally turned around, she stopped humming and took off her headphones. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you come in.”

When Dooley saw her, he knew immediately she must be related to Cyrano. She had the same dark hair and pale skin. She also wore the same glasses with thick lenses and large, black frames.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, pointing to the variety of ice cream choices in the cardboard canisters. “We’ve got two new flavors today: Blueberry Buckle and Key Lime Pie. Of course, my favorite will always and forever be Chocolate Supreme.” Dooley felt like he could listen to her talk all day. Her words took on a rhythm, both steady and surprising. They sounded like music notes, climbing up and sliding back down ever so gradually. Her voice sweetened her words until they nearly dripped with syrup.

“Dooley?” His mother’s voice brought him back to reality. “Do you know what you want?”

“Oh, I’ll just have that one.” He randomly chose the canister just in front of him without looking. It held frozen, neon pink peaks of ice cream.

“One scoop or two?” asked the girl. Dooley thought he might have heard another voice blended with the girl’s, harmony coming from one mouth.

After she had handed over one cone of Chocolate Chip for his mom and one cone of Pretty Pink Princess Party to Dooley, he finally worked up enough courage to ask her if she was a Mulligan.

“Yes. I’m Cicely Mulligan.”

“Well, we’re your neighbors. I’m Dooley Creed and this is my mom, Rose.”

“My brother Cyrano told me about you.” Cicely looked at Dooley intently, as if she were searching for something invisible to most people. After a moment she cocked her head and smiled a little. Then her smile grew until her cheeks were high and round, and her eyes were only dark lashes, magnified by her glasses.

“It’s nice to meet you, Cicely,” Dooley’s mom said as she pulled dollar bills out of her wallet.

Cicely handed Dooley’s mom her change as another customer entered the shop. “It’s nice to meet you, too,” said Cicely as she continued to look at Dooley. She gave him one last smile before turning to help the next customer.

After observing that the rain had completely stopped, Dooley and his mom stepped onto the sidewalk outside the shop. The weighty, humid air clung to their skin and clothes, and it even slid into their lungs as they gulped wet breaths. Dooley turned his cone quickly to lick the sides of his melting, pink scoops before the ice cream drops made it to his fingers. In racing the heat that threatened to completely liquefy his ice cream, he devoured it before they reached the van.

Nearly home, Rose spotted a rainbow in the distance. “Look Dooley! You can see both ends!” she exclaimed.

Dooley leaned into the car window, pressing his nose against the glass. He searched for the exact spot where the arch ended.

“Maybe you’ll find a pot of gold, me laddie,” said his mom in her best imitation of a leprechaun. “Ah, they’re always after me Lucky Charms.”

Dooley pressed his face even further against the window so his mother couldn’t see him smile.

After they had turned in their driveway and pulled into the garage, Dooley hopped out to look at the rainbow again. He could still see the entire curved arch, and he marveled at the size of it.

As he started to walk to the field in front of their house, his mother called, “If you see a pot of gold, I get half. It’s only fair since I saw the rainbow first.” Dooley shook his head, smiling, and waved her off as he continued to the edge of the yard.

The ground was drenched and sucked at his sneakers with every step. Tall, wet grass brushed against his bare legs, and soon he was soaked from the waist down. Eventually he reached the large tree in the middle of the field. He walked around the base of the tree, running his hand over the rough bark. It was enormous. If his mom and dad held hands with him to make a circle around the tree, their hands wouldn’t reach. The tree reminded Dooley of the Giant Sequoias he saw when they visited Yosemite Park last summer—some even wide enough for people to walk through.

When he had made a complete circle, returning to the spot where he had started, Dooley turned to face his house. He stepped backwards to see exactly where he had been sitting on the porch roof on the day of the exploding jelly. When Dooley dropped his foot, his heel met with something squishy, softer even than the wet mud under the tree branches where grass couldn’t grow, and he heard a crunching sound amidst the squish.

He was afraid to lift his foot, assuming he would see some flattened, oozing bug. Instead, Dooley found the broken remains of a small basket, crudely made of bark and twigs. A sticky mixture spread from the center. It was an amber-colored goo with bunches of reddish petals mixed throughout. A few inches away from the ruined basket, Dooley saw a berry in the same orangey hue. He reached down to pick up the unscathed fruit. With the exception of its coloring, it looked like a large blackberry with red petals and a long, thin stalk. He held it carefully, considering its delicate design and its ready-to-burst plumpness.

Dooley scraped the gooey mess from the bottom of his shoe with his hand and smeared it on the tree trunk. Then he cleaned off his fingers on his shorts. The aroma from the smashed berries was strong and sweet. Suddenly the smell changed. It took on a burning smell, reminding Dooley of the afternoon he spent at his grandfather’s garage burning his initials on the bottom on the small, wooden racecar they had built for his scout badge.

He looked back at part of the tree where he had spread the berries. Gray smoke was rising from the surface while a design was revealed. Letters, then words appeared, burned into the wood before his eyes.

It takes a spell to break a spell

A lute

A flute

A toot

May rout the root

Before dusk’s knell

Save us from this beastly cell

A shiver ran down his neck past his shoulders, and Dooley stumbled backwards. He tripped on one of the lumpy tree roots that had grown too large to stay underground, and he fell into a sitting position in the mud. His hand landed in the smashed berries and crumbled basket. He stood quickly and ran all the way back to his house.

When he entered the kitchen, he realized he was still holding the berry in his cupped hand. He set it on the counter while he washed his hands, uneasily observing his fingers shake under the running water.

“Would you look at this?” Dooley hadn’t noticed his father was home, let alone standing next to him at the kitchen sink. “That looks like a Rubus chamaemorus.” His father picked up the berry and admired it.

“A what?”

“A Rubus chamaemorus, also known as a cloudberry. I’ve been experimenting with a line of Scandinavian jellies for work and this one’s a beaut. Where did you get it?”

“Oh, I found it…out in the field.”

“Well, it’s unusual to find these around here.” His father popped the fruit in his mouth and picked up the plate of raw burgers to take to the patio grill. “I guess this place is just full of surprises.”

Chapter 4

UPSIDE-DOWN

The next morning began with sunshine and a cloudless sky. Dooley came downstairs just in time to see his father leaving with a piece of toast in his mouth, a travel mug of coffee in his hand and his briefcase tucked under his arm.

“Hey there, sleepy head,” his dad said as he pulled the toast from his mouth. “You ought to try some of this jelly I brought home. It’s made from figs!”

It took every ounce of Dooley’s willpower to keep him from rolling his eyes. “How can you eat that for breakfast when you know you’ll be tasting that stuff all day at work?” asked Dooley.

“Love what you do and do what you love, son.” Dooley’s supply of willpower was no match this time; his eyes rolled up, sideways, and backwards. Luckily, his dad was out the door without ever noticing.

“So, what are your plans today?” his mother asked.

“I don’t know. Probably nothing.”

“I’m going to empty the last boxes in the basement. You’re welcome to help…”

“Tempting, mom, really tempting.” Dooley poured himself a bowl of cereal. “I think I’ll go next door and see what Cyrano’s doing.”

“Suit yourself.”

After breakfast, Dooley walked over to the Mulligan house. He had to maneuver through an obstacle course of bikes, birdbaths and beach balls to get to the front door.

He climbed the steps and pressed the doorbell. He heard no sound from inside the house. Feeling his resolve trickle out of him, Dooley was about to turn and walk back home when he noticed something twitching by his shoe.

A shriveled fern sat in a large pot to the side of the door. All of its fronds spread out in lifeless defeat with the exception of one, which curled slightly at the tip. Slowly, the single frond raised itself until it was level with Dooley’s elbow. Then, unexpectedly, it wrapped itself around his wrist. Dooley tried to pull and pry himself free, but the plant only gripped him tighter. It raised Dooley’s arm until his hand brushed against the knocker. Dooley grasped the knocker, and the frond swung his arm back and forth three times. Then it unwound itself from Dooley and slunk back down to the pot, innocent as any dead plant.

When Cyrano opened the door, Dooley was still rubbing his wrist. “I see you’ve met Jeeves,” Cyrano said as he motioned toward the fern. “That was all Calix’s idea. I thought we should just fix the doorbell, but she’s got a thing for ferns.”

Dooley and Cyrano entered the house. “Mom, Dooley’s here,” Cyrano shouted.

Dooley was surprised how similar the basic floor plan of this house was to his own, but that was where the similarities ended. The walls of the foyer at his house were painted beige, and the banister leading to the upstairs bedrooms was dark wood. At Cyrano’s house, every bit of the foyer—walls, trim, steps, even the floor—was painted a deep, robin’s egg blue.

To his left, Dooley saw the living room with every inch covered in sea foam green, even the sofa, armchairs and stone fireplace mantle. To his right, he saw the dining room, awash in peachy-pink down to the ten peach chairs around the large, peach table. A peach-colored bowl in the center of the table was full of actual peaches.

“Come on. I’ll show you my room,” said Cyrano as they climbed the blue stairs.

The blue walls and floor continued all the way up to the hallway. When they reached the top, Cyrano pointed to the closed bedroom doors. “That’s Cashel and Crispin’s room. That one’s for Cicely and Calix. Clio and Celeste share that one. That one used to be mine—mom and dad said I could have my own room since everybody’s smells make me nauseous—but when Granny Gibbs moved in with us, she took their room downstairs and my parents took my room. Eh, who cares? Now I get this.”

He pointed to the blue ceiling where there was a wooden, rectangular door with a blue rope hanging from it. He pulled the rope to open the door, and a ladder uncoiled before them. It was made of thick, blue yarn, and it seemed to be forming before their eyes. When it was finished, it looked more like a cruise ship gangway than an attic ladder. Cyrano placed his foot onto the woolen step and placed his hand on the rail. He clambered up the ladder, and Dooley followed.

After he reached the top of the ladder, Dooley understood why Cyrano had been willing to give up his bedroom. His attic room covered the entire top floor of the house. Maps from around the world were hanging on most every wall. The floor was carpeted with colorful and intricately woven rugs. One was a map of Peacock Valley. One was of a giant tree. The one by Cyrano’s bed looked like a family portrait. Dooley felt guilty walking on such amazing artwork. Cyrano sensed his apprehension. “Don’t worry about it, Dooley. Granny Gibbs made these for me. They’re pretty much indestructible.”

Cyrano kicked off his shoes and stepped onto the map of Peacock Valley. His toes sunk into the thick fibers of the rug. Dooley sat on the edge of the map to remove his shoes then he ran his hand on top of the lush pile. “I can’t believe your grandma made these.”

“It’s her power. You know, she’s a Knitter.” Cyrano lay on his back with his hands behind his head. “I’ve always wondered how Granny felt when she found out knitting was her power. It’s all well and good for a grandma, but she got her power when she was eight like the rest of us. Kind of disappointing, I bet.”

“Yeah, about that…I’m still not so sure about this magical power stuff.” Dooley waved his hands in the air like a magician about to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Cyrano rose up and looked at Dooley. “What do you mean ‘magical stuff’?”

“I mean…I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything, but…”

“Okay. Come with me.”

Cyrano and Dooley climbed down out of the attic and returned to the upstairs hall. “Let me introduce you to my brother Crispin,” said Cyrano as he opened one of the bedroom doors.

The room was divided in half with silver duct tape. In the half to the right of the tape, Dooley saw a pottery wheel and carving tools on a desk in the corner. A muslin sheet covered a round lump on a table. There was gray dust everywhere. On the side to the left of the tape, every piece of furniture looked to be nailed to the ceiling. The bed, dresser, desk and chair were all upside down. It made Dooley dizzy to look up at them.

“Oh, shoot. He’s not in here,” said Cyrano.

Just then Dooley saw a pair of shoes on the window glass. They were actually standing on the glass with total disregard for gravity. A dark-haired boy with giant glasses ducked into the room through the open window.

“Crispin, meet Dooley.”

“Oh, hey, Dooley.” Crispin walked up the wall and onto the ceiling where he sat at a desk, opening and closing drawers. Without looking at them, he asked, “Cy, have you seen my fudge wheel?”

“How is he doing that?” asked Dooley.

“Your what?” Cyrano asked Crispin with obvious delight in Dooley’s bewildered expression.

“My fudge wheel.” Crispin stood and walked to his dresser. “I’m working on some wingtips, and I’ve got to mark the welt.” He opened and closed more drawers.

“Cyrano, why isn’t he falling?” Dooley asked.

“I haven’t seen it, Crisp, but it sounds delicious,” Cyrano teased.

“A lot of help you are.” Crispin strode back to the window and crouched to climb out. “See ya, Dooley!” Then he disappeared.

“Ok, what just happened?” Dooley leaned back against the doorframe for support. “From what I can tell, I either just saw a guy walking on the ceiling looking for a snack or I’m hallucinating.”

Cyrano placed a hand on Dooley’s shoulder. “Well, you did just see a guy walking on the ceiling—my brother Crispin—but he wasn’t looking for a snack. He’s a Boots, and he was looking for one of his cobbling tools, at least I think that’s what he was looking for. Those tools have got the craziest names.”

“So, he makes shoes…that can walk upside down?”

“Yeah, that’s how it started. Now he’s figured out how to make all kinds of inanimate stuff defy gravity.” Cyrano gave Dooley a hearty slap on the back. “All this talk about fudge wheels is making me hungry. You want some lunch?”

Chapter 5

MULLIGAN STEW

The boys headed back downstairs to the all-yellow kitchen. Every appliance, the countertops, sink and cabinets were awash in hues of lemon, goldenrod and canary yellow. Cyrano opened the refrigerator and pulled out a container of pasta salad. On his way to the yellow kitchen table, Dooley stepped on a loosely woven, yellow rug on the bright yellow linoleum.

“Watch out, Dooley!” Cyrano yelled.

Before he knew what had happened, Dooley was suspended from the ceiling, ensnared within a yellow net.

“Granny!” Cyrano called. “Come on, Granny. I know you’re around here somewhere! I could smell your lavender soap before I came downstairs.”

A bent, old woman waddled into the kitchen from the back door. Despite the heat outside, she was wrapped in a bright shawl made of knitted patchwork squares and wore purple, fingerless gloves. Dooley also noticed her long, striped socks piling in folds at her ankles. Her wavy, gray hair hung to her waist, and ancient-looking spectacles were perched on her tiny nose.

“Oh, dog-water!” Granny Gibbs swore. She snapped her fingers and the net released Dooley in a crumpled lump on the floor. It instantly regained its rug-like form.

“Granny!” Cyrano groaned. “We have a guest!”

“Well, excuse my manners, son. You wouldn’ta known it was me if it weren’t for my smell. That soap of mine always gives me away. The recipe is a family secret, ya know. Anyhow, I was just trying to catch us a Nabber.”

“A Nabber?” Dooley asked as he stood, rubbing his sore backside.

“Oh, Granny. You know you’re never going to catch anything in that net.”

“Don’t never tell your Granny ‘never,’ son.” She picked up one of her knitting needles and poked it in Cyrano’s general direction. “My daddy told me ‘bout them Nabbers when I was a little girl, and he weren’t no liar.”

“All right, Granny, I’m sorry. Now put those away.” Cyrano led her to a yellow chair and helped her sit down. He took the needle from her and returned it to the large basket on the table. “This is my friend, Dooley. He lives next door.”

“Dooley, huh? I wondered when you was coming over. I’m Dorothea Gibbs, but you can call me Granny like the rest of them.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” Dooley walked over and sat in the opposite chair.

“Well, what do you think about this place? Not one of your regular kind of families, is it? Yep, this here’s a real Mulligan Stew, I tell ya.”

“Ma’am?”

“A Mulligan Stew. When my daughter Callidora married Lloyd Mulligan—Lloyd the optometrist,” she said, wrinkling her nose in distaste. “That’s just what she got: a Mulligan Stew. That’s when all the hobos put in something good and cook it all up in a pot to make their dinner. I wasn’t too keen on her marrying an optometrist what with all her potential and whatnot, but they’ve turned out some right good kids with all kinds of powers.” She leaned in toward Dooley, squinting her eyes at him as if he’d just named Cyrano’s major flaw. “And I’m not just saying that ‘cause I’m their granny.”

“No ma’am.”

“But I don’t need to do no convincing you about them Nabbers, anyhow. Ain’t that right, Dooley?”

Cyrano turned from his spot by the open refrigerator door to look at Dooley.

“Who, me?” asked Dooley.

“That’s right. You know all about them Nabbers ‘cause you already seen ‘em.”

“I have?”

“That’s so. They’re in your tree on your property so by that way of thinking, they’re your Nabbers. You’d better start investigating on what’s gone missing ‘cause you can bet whatever it is, you’ll find it in that tree.”

“Nothing’s missing…that I know of…”

“Is she right, Dooley, about you seeing Nabbers…I mean, seeing something unusual by the tree?”

Dooley chuckled uneasily. “Well, sort of. It was just…”

“Was it covered in fur but with a head like a bird or did it have a body like a lizard with the face of a kangaroo? Or maybe it had a beaver tail and big teeth?” Granny asked, excitedly, holding her two pointer fingers against her mouth like tusks.

“I did see something furry…with tusks…and a backpack?”

“Hot diggety!” exclaimed Granny as she slapped her hand on the table. “I knew it! You can see ‘em!”

Cyrano shut the refrigerator door and smiled. “Now this is getting interesting!”

Chapter 6

A POET AND DIDN’T KNOW IT

After they finished lunch, Dooley and Cyrano returned to the attic bedroom. “Okay, tell me everything you saw,” said Cyrano.

“There’s not much to tell, really. In fact, I’m not even sure I saw anything.” Dooley was sitting on the rug with the giant tree in the center. He traced his fingers along a branch until he reached the end then returned to the trunk to trace another one. He looked up to see Cyrano’s face, open and expectant. “Okay, okay. I was sitting on the roof, and I saw a creature, brown and shaggy like a cat but bigger, crawling through the field. When it got to the tree, it looked at me and disappeared.”

“So…that’s it?” Cyrano sounded disappointed.

“Well, it was carrying this leather bag, and it kinda…well, it looked like it saluted me.”

“Like a soldier?”

“Yeah.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, yesterday, I went out to the tree and…”

“Cyrano-o-o-o-o!” A voice from the upstairs hallway called to them. “Can I come up?”

“That’s my younger sister, Celeste. She’s seven and so annoying,” he whispered to Dooley. “I have a friend over,” he yelled down. “Come back later.”

“Cyrano has a friend? Will miracles never end?” another voice asked.

“Ugh. As if one sister in my room wasn’t bad enough…” Cyrano’s slapped his forehead with his hand.

A moment later, a small girl with two long, black braids hopped through the opening. Her face was covered in freckles, an anomaly from the rest of the Mulligan kids Dooley had seen so far. The freckles on one side of the little girl’s nose looked just like the Big Dipper and the freckles on the other side looked like the body and arrow of the constellation Orion. An older girl followed her into the room. The second girl’s hair was just as dark, but it was pulled back into a thick ponytail. Both wore the now familiar Mulligan eyewear.

“This is the one bad part to having my room in the attic: no door for them to knock. Then at least I could say, ‘Don’t come in’ and really mean it,” Cyrano said to Dooley.

The younger girl walked directly to Dooley and introduced herself. “My name is Celeste, and I can talk to animals.” She pulled a shivering, white mouse from the bib pocket of her overalls. “Can’t I, Clementine?” She stroked it with one hand as she cupped it with the other.

“Anybody can talk to animals,” Cyrano said. “That’s not a power.”

“Well, I can listen to animals then.” She lowered her head so that the mouse’s whiskers brushed against her ear. “What’s that, Clementine? Really? How very interesting!”

“If animals could talk, they would probably say, ‘Put me down and make Celeste go away!’” said Clio.

Hmmph!” Celeste pouted. “Come on, Clementine. Let’s go where we’re ‘ppreciated!” She stomped over to the ladder and climbed down.

“Can she really understand what animals say?” Dooley asked after she was gone.

“I seriously doubt it,” said Cyrano. “She won’t really know what her power is until she’s eight and that’s not for another week. She’s been telling us she has a different power every month or so since I got mine, and that was almost three years ago.”

The girl with the ponytail cleared her throat loudly.

“Oh yeah. Dooley, this is my sister Clio.”

“Nice to meet you, boy named Dooley, with crumpled shirt and hair unruly.”

“Clio!” Cyrano cried. “Please excuse my sister. She’s a Rhymer…”

“A blessing and a curse but a big nose would be worse,” she interrupted.

“She’s usually not this mean.” Cyrano gave her a cautioning look. “She’s just showing off ‘cause you’re here.”

“Showing off for little boys is not something Clio enjoys.” She folded her arms across her chest and stuck her nose up in the air.

“Hey, I’m not a little boy,” protested Dooley. “I’m twelve since March. I bet you’re not much older…”

“Age is counted by cleverness not years. A boy of twelve may seem a child of his peers.”

“She’s thirteen,” offered Cyrano. She hmmphed just like Celeste and stomped her foot. “The rhyming thing is annoying, but she can’t help it.”

“Why is that?”


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