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Excerpt for The Invisible Realm by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Invisible Realm


Copyright 2018 Evelyn Dunbar Webb

Published by Bumblemeyer Publications at Smashwords

ISBN 978-0-9983834-3-8


Illustrations by Evelyn Dunbar Webb

Cover design by Matt Tyree



This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, educational institutions, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



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This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. 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 enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





Table of Contents

Title Page

Dedication

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

About the Author

Special Offer

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For Jenianne and Heather


Chapter One

Hattie stared as sheets of water poured down outside, her curly red hair damp from pressing her face against the windowpane. Waves and wind pounded the shore, dumping seaweed like wet dishrags across the sand.

“Even my freckles are depressed,” she muttered at the swirl of dark clouds hurling across the murky sky. “I’ve got to find something to do or I’ll scream.”

Some family vacation. Her first trip to the beach since her dad and stepmom Isabelle were married, and it was ruined before it began. She glanced down on her stepsister Dacey, who sprawled on the floor with her nose stuffed in some book about a talking sea serpent, her mossy brown pigtails dangling like beagle’s ears. Hattie sniffed. Married all of three weeks and already Hattie’s dad managed to coerce her into babysitting, and on vacation, too.

Hattie interrupted Dacey’s fascination with talking snakes and nudged her stepsister’s book with the end of her toe.

“Aren’t you seven? Why do you need a babysitter, anyway? If you’re old enough to read, you can stay by yourself for an hour or two.”

Dacey kept her attention on her book.

“You do anything else besides read?”

“Like what?”

“Like anything. Our vacation’s being washed away with every raindrop—doesn’t that bug you?”

With her nose still stuffed inside her book, Dacey shrugged. “I guess we could go for a walk.”

Hattie gaped at her stepsister as if she’d sprouted an extra head. “A walk? It’s a hurricane outside.”

Dacey again shrugged. “We could walk around inside.”

“Oh, really? Where exactly inside?”

“The bedroom. We haven’t explored anything, and we’ve been here almost an entire day.”

“Bedroom?” Hattie’s brow arched. “That’ll be a short, uninteresting trip.”

“Where, then?”

It seemed to Hattie that Dacey, who demanded so much attention and wasted so much time reading weird creature stories, had this irritating habit of acting dumb when it suited her. Hattie let it slide, but only because she had to admit she was somewhat intrigued by the thought of exploring the old cottage, with or without the bedroom. Her dad had said the place was built way before the Civil War, so that meant there had to be something good stuck somewhere.

“What about the attic?”

Dacey’s head popped up from her book, her eyes wide. “Not the attic.”

“Why not?”

“I—I don’t like attics,” Dacey stammered. “They smell strange, and have lots of spiders, even rats.” Her last word ended in barely a whisper.

“Uh huh…well, trust me, we’ll be fine.”

Dacey bit her lip.

Hattie chose to ignore her stepsister’s panicked face. “The attic probably has all sorts of treasure. Weren’t you listening when my dad told us about the people who used to own the cottage? They traveled all the time—Africa, Peru, even China.”

Dacey’s eyes narrowed.

“And the cellar,” Hattie considered, “who knows what we can find there—think about it.”

“I really hate spiders.”

“Well, I’m 11, I’m the one in charge, so I’m the one who makes the decisions,” Hattie declared. She bent down, picked up her stepsister’s book, and shoved it under the sofa where, if Dacey really wanted it back, she’d have to crawl to reach it. “We’ll start with the attic.”

At that, Dacey’s oversized, multi-toed, freaky cat sauntered into the room, his thick silver tail twitching.

“Why don’t you bring His Royal Tubbiness with you?” Hattie suggested, leaned forward, and winked. “He’d take care of the spiders and rats. He does look sort of hungry.”

Dacey stood and gently lifted the cat into her arms. “His name is Sir Whiskers, and he’s not fat. He’s a Maine Coon, with lots of fur.”

Hattie rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

“And he doesn’t eat spiders or rats, just crunchy kibble.”

“BRR-RROW,” Sir Whiskers added, and buried his face in Dacey’s arms. Within seconds, however, his attention to the conversation wavered and he squiggled free, landing on the space between Hattie’s feet and curling himself into a corkscrew around her legs.

Hattie pulled the clinging furball free and handed him back to Dacey. “Why does he do that?”

“He likes you.”

“Couldn’t he just rub and purr, like any normal cat?”

Sir Whiskers rotated his head to stare at Hattie upside down. She groaned inwardly. So now the beast had to look at her, all cutesy-like?

“He wants you to pet him,” Dacey explained.

“Which translates into me having to babysit for some creature as well? No way.”

Sir Whiskers continued to stare, his unblinking eyes making the hairs on the back of Hattie’s neck jump to attention.

“Boo.”

Sir Whiskers didn’t budge.

“His Royal Tubbiness appears to have a defect.”

Dacey pouted at Hattie’s words. “Sir Whiskers has nothing wrong with him. He’s just very sensitive.”

“Fine; now, get moving before my dad and your mom get back and we’re stuck helping them put away all the groceries.”

“But what about Sir Whiskers?”

“Like I said, bring him along. Maybe he can sniff out some treasure.”

Dacey hugged her cat tighter. Sir Whiskers, however, had had enough of being held. He twisted from her grasp and with a THUD, landed on the floor next to a well-chewed toy mouse.

“BRR-RROW-RROW!” One fat paw swatted the fuzzy toy, and it sailed down the hallway towards the back of the cottage and the open stairwell that led to the attic, Sir Whiskers thumping close behind.

Dacey shrieked. “Catch him!”

“What for?”

“He’ll get lost,” Dacey wailed.

Hattie doubted that but said nothing. The last they saw of Sir Whiskers was his fluffed-out tail as he sprinted up the stairs and disappeared into the dark.

Dacey’s eyes filled. “Now what do we do? He might get hurt, or trapped, or—.”

“Stop it,” Hattie snapped. “He’s a cat. Cats see in the dark. They hear better than us and can smell danger. They use their whiskers to make sure they fit into spaces. His Roy—Sir Whiskers probably found a hole in the wall and some real mouse to chomp on, much better than any stupid toy.”

“Yuck,” Dacey mumbled, but at least she wasn’t crying.

“C’mon, kid; you don’t have a choice if you ever want to see your cat again.”

CRASH… THUMP… BANG!

“W-what was that?” Dacey cried.

Hattie shrugged. “Ghost, goblin; who knows. We’ll figure it out when we get up there. Let’s find some flashlights.”

Of course, now she had to figure out where they should look for flashlights. Maybe a living room or kitchen drawer? Or the pantry, or possibly the back porch.

She checked the porch, but all she saw were boxes waiting to be unpacked. She moved back to the living room, Dacey watching her, and checked inside the end tables on either side of the sofa; empty.

Hattie harrumphed. “You going to help?”

“I don’t know where to look.”

Hattie squashed her retort and pointed towards the kitchen.

“Check the pantry while I search the counter drawers.”

“Already did; pantry’s empty.”

Hattie ignored her and rummaged through each of the drawers next to the sink until she found two small flashlights and a bunch of different sized batteries. She tossed one flashlight to her stepsister and stuffed a package of batteries in her pants pocket.

“Ready?”

Dacey swallowed. “But the spiders—.”

“Maybe bats or lizards have already eaten all the spiders.”

“B-bats? Lizards?” Dacey blanched.

“Move it, kid; we’re wasting time.”

WOO-OOO—THUNK…

“Don’t be such a baby—it’s just wind.”

Dacey appeared nailed to the floor, so Hattie yanked her sleeve and dragged her towards the stairwell. She flipped the wall switch next to the railing; a flicker of light sparked, then the old bulb at the top of the stairs sputtered to life, adding an eerie reddish glow to light their way.

“Aren’t you scared?”

Hattie sighed heavily. “Wind in a chimney can’t hurt us.” I hope, she added to herself, and crossed her fingers behind her back. “But I’ll go first, just to make sure the steps are safe.”

Shadows popped at her from the cracked plaster wall. A wind gust hit the outside of the cottage above their heads, filtering through unseen cracks in the attic door, which coaxed the old lightbulb into a lopsided sway. In turn, the shadows wavered, then merged into faces.

At least that’s what they look like, Hattie mused.

“What are those spots?” Dacey asked, indicating the wall.

“These?” Hattie pointed at the faces. “They’re shadows.”

“They look like ghosts. I don’t like ghosts.”

“They’re not ghosts; it’s just the light moving because of the wind.”

Hattie swallowed against her own uneasiness. The shadows did look like ghosts, one of which only had a head, the other pointing to the top of the stairs.

She walked back down to where her stepsister waited. “Okay, kid; stairs are fine. Let’s go.”

Dacey hesitated.

Hattie prodded her forward with her flashlight. “Come on, kid—we have treasure to find, and your cat to rescue.”

Slowly, the girls crept up the stairs, closer and closer to the top, their own shadows dancing along the walls. For several long minutes, all you could hear was the soft squish of Hattie’s sneakers.

Another cool draft escaped from beneath the attic door. Arms tingling, Hattie stared at the looming X of the door’s beams.

Creaking stairs, whistling wind, and strange noises… a runaway cat and a bad storm… she’d wanted adventure, and this certainly qualified. It was almost as if she was some sort of detective. And if other detectives could find missing people, secret passages, and criminals, then she, Hattie Edwards, could find a fat, furry cat, even in the dark, and discover what riches an old attic might hold.

“What if there really are ghosts up there?” Dacey whispered.

Hattie shuddered. Her stepsister’s words echoed in her head as she held the doorknob and twisted.



Chapter Two

The door refused to open. Hattie checked for a lock, wiggled and rattled the knob, but nothing happened. She leaned into the door and pounded, but that, too, was useless.

“It must be stuck from the rain.”

“I can help,” Dacey offered.

Hattie scoffed. “You’re hardly big enough to make a difference.”

“So are you.”

Hattie hated to admit it, but the kid had another point. She glanced down at the bottom of the door. A hole just big enough for a fat cat—or a very large mouse—appeared in the glare from her flashlight. She nudged Dacey and gestured at the hole.

“Too bad neither of us is small enough to fit inside here. Your errant cat, however, is probably inside, so if we want to find him, I guess you should try to help. Just don’t get hurt, or Dad and Isabelle will have my neck when they get back.”

Dacey said nothing, but her smug smile was enough to tempt Hattie to pick her up and use her as a battering ram. She squashed that, however, especially since the kid was only being a kid—and besides, Hattie really wanted to see what was hidden inside.

Both girls pressed their weight against the door. They grunted. They shoved. The door grumbled, but still held fast. The girls heaved and thrust themselves as hard as they could. The door griped and groaned; Hattie and Dacey pushed harder. Finally, with an almost painful, loud crack, it popped open.

Dacey wrinkled her nose, then sneezed.

Hattie shined her flashlight along the wall to either side of the doorway. She found a light switch on the left, but this time, when she flipped the switch, there was a bright flash then darkness as the light fizzled out.

“Sir Whiskers,” Dacey called softly, “here, kitty, kitty.”

At least the dark didn’t seem to bother her, Hattie noted; a good sign.

The roof, slanted on both sides, was high enough for the girls to walk upright. Wood planks covered the entire floor. Stained, cracked walls surrounded the room, some chunks lying on top of the boxes lining the wall to their right. Ahead of them, all the way to the round window at the front of the cottage, wood crates were stacked in the corner. Sawdust and cobwebs clung to everything, so much that Hattie swore she could taste them.

Window glass rattled, and wind moaned, but she refused to let nastiness, noise, and goosebumps stop her. Whether or not there were ghosts and bugs, Hattie would not give up before she searched every inch of the attic for treasure—and yes, even look for her stepsister’s fat cat.

“Does your delinquent pet have any favorite places to hide?”

“Anywhere there’s a big hole, especially inside boxes.” Dacey pointed her flashlight at the stacks against the wall.

“I’ll check around the window,” Hattie decided, “see if any of the crates are open.”

With Dacey busy rummaging through boxes, Hattie worked her way towards the front, careful not to step on the array of rusty bicycle parts, finger puppets, wooden spin tops, and broken sailboats littered across the floor.

Two desks stood beneath the window, one a roll top designed for kids, piled high with dusty copies of old books with titles Hattie recognized: Tales of Mother Goose, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and The Jungle Book, books much like the stories Dacey kept on her side of the bookshelf in the room they shared back home. Hattie considered whether she should set the pile aside, or at least tell her stepsister about them. Maybe later; right now, she had a lot more spaces to explore and a fat cat to locate, and they could always come back another time.

Hattie tried the top drawer. Bundles of letters tied with faded pink and red ribbons filled the space. A cat as plump as Sir Whiskers would have little luck finding a spot to nap here.

SCRATCH… RUSTLE… SCRATCH…

“Kitty?” Hattie focused her flashlight beam behind both desks and around the wooden crates, but all she saw were more cobwebs, unused ones just sort of hanging there like ragged threads.

SCRATCH… RUSTLE… SCRATCH…

“All right, Sir Whiskers; where are you?” she muttered, but nothing, not even a lone ant crawled out.

She moved away from the desks to check the crates. Most were open and empty; no cat, just leftover wood chips and straw packing material. Two of the crates, however, were closed, their labels indicating they were shipped from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Hattie laid her flashlight on the larger desk under the window and tried to remove the lid from each crate. The first lifted easily but produced little except a pile of porcelain dolls with yellowed clothes, cracked faces, and missing hands or feet.

The second crate proved more difficult to open, as the lid was nailed and wrapped with rope. At least the rope was frayed so Hattie could break it apart, but the nails were too tight to budge.

She searched around the floor for something she could use to remove—or at least loosen—them, but nothing seemed strong enough. Then she noticed more bicycle parts: chains, pedals, what looked like brakes, and handlebars, most covered in rust and bent or flattened. Flat would be perfect, at least as a tool to wiggle under a lid and hopefully pry it loose.

Hattie glanced over at Dacey and shook her head. Amazing, she thought; the child was still busy with the boxes. After all her whining, her stepsister managed to find something to keep her mind off spiders, rats, ghosts, and books with talking serpents. And she was humming. For someone who hadn’t even wanted to go to the attic, she seemed awfully perky, almost as perky as her mother Isabelle.

Hattie leaned against the handlebar and pressed hard. The lid lifted just enough for her to wedge the bar in deeper. Thankfully the wood was soft; if she could muster sufficient strength, she’d soon force the nails loose. She grunted and pressed harder on the handlebar. Too bad her stepsister was so little; she could use the extra help instead of giving up her free time to babysit. But at least the kid was quiet for now.

Finally, Hattie felt the nails move up a notch. She wiggled the handlebar until it slid further beneath the lid, and the extra pressure helped. With a mournful squeak, the nails groaned apart from the crate’s frame, and Hattie placed the lid on the floor.

Inside, nested within wood chips and shredded paper, Hattie counted ten weirdly shaped lumps, each wrapped in a thick, soft blanket-like material that was crisscrossed with packing tape. Whatever they were, each was as solid and heavy as a rock.

Carefully pulling off the tape from one of the lumps, Hattie unwrapped it, then caught her breath. A crystal music box shimmered from inside the blanket. She gently lifted it from the crate and held it up to the light coming from the window.

The top was carved into a graceful swan, its wingtips edged with silver. Hattie turned the key. Soft music tinkled like the keys on a xylophone as the swan glided over its crystal lake.

“Nice,” she murmured and placed it back on its blanket to continue her examination.

Over the next twenty minutes, she painstakingly uncovered the remaining lumps to reveal nine more music boxes, each one a different color crystal and featuring one or more creatures taken from fairy tales: a dragon with wide, sad eyes that glowed red; two black bears who spun in circles around each other; a cat who bowed, dressed in a fancy costume and an artist’s beret; four gnome children playing marbles; six plump fairies who danced and twirled their wands, their crystalline dresses and matching wings like shooting stars in the low light; a Southern cricket frog with spots and a green stripe down its back, seated atop a lily pad that floated across a swamp; a spotted red and blue butterfly with large eyes and long eyelashes coated with gold dust; a brown and gray eagle owl, wings spread and landing on a tall tree; and a misshapen monster with branches for hair and a gleaming, bent scimitar hung from a brass belt.

Hattie set the music boxes back on their wrapping inside the crate and closed the lid. Dacey would love these; she should show them to her and see if she wanted to come back later to carry them down to their room. Perhaps they could try a different one every night, listen to the music, see how the crystals glimmered in the dark.

As Hattie moved away from the crate and turned back towards her stepsister, a pink shimmer flashed as Dacey pulled four gauzy hats and a dark, almost black, feather boa from one of the trunks. Like something out of an antique photograph, silky flowers surrounded each hat’s brim and long satin ribbons draped from the back of each crown. In the dim light from the window along with the shadowy glow of the girls’ flashlights, Hattie guessed the hats were either dark red, or maybe a deep purple.

Dacey seemed entranced by her find. She gently placed one hat on her head and wrapped the boa around her shoulders, then glanced up at Hattie, bright-eyed and grinning. The final, waltzing notes of the last music box wound down, and just for a second, Hattie’s mind floated back to a time long passed.

“BRRR-OWWW-ROWWW!”

From out of what seemed to be nowhere, Sir Whiskers sliced through the air, a fat, silver bolt of lightning, to chase after the dangling feathers.

“No! Bad kitty,” Dacey shrieked, and attempted to yank the boa away from her cat’s teeth and claws. Sir Whiskers, however, refused to let go.

“Stop him!” Dacey squealed and ran towards the window, shredded feathers scattered behind her.

At that moment, the mystery of what had been scratching and rustling in amongst the crates was solved when a gray field mouse darted past the desk, scampered between Hattie’s legs, and halted in front of the window.

“Eww,” Hattie squawked and stomped her feet, but the mouse remained motionless.

Sir Whiskers paused in his attack on the feather boa as if to consider his options—keep up with the flying feathers or take a meal break. But feathers and ribbons proved too much to resist, and he was soon back to batting the dangling temptations.

The mouse scurried back to safety behind the crates and Hattie breathed deeply.

“Shame on you,” Dacey tsked, and lifted Sir Whiskers off the floor. Hattie helped her remove the hat and set it back inside its trunk. The feather boa, however, was no more; all that was left was a skinny rope of tattered satin, remnants of feathers fastened with tiny stitches, the effect of which was a ragged sort of millipede.

“So, what did you find?” Dacey asked, then giggled. Hattie bit her lip to stifle the snicker threatening to erupt but failed, and—boxes and crates forgotten for the moment—the attic resounded with their merriment as the two girls laughed until tears streaked their faces.

When Hattie finally wiped her eyes, she motioned for Dacey to follow her over to the crates, then showed her one of the music boxes, the six fairies with crystal dresses and wings.

“Oh!” Dacey gaped, her mouth open. “Can—can I hold it?”

“It’s heavy,” Hattie warned, “so use both hands.”

Dacey placed Sir Whiskers inside the crate and held out her hands.

“What do you think?” Hattie placed the delicate box in her stepsister’s outstretched palms.

Dacey gripped the bottom of the music box. “Does it work?”

“You mean the music? Here, let me show you.”

Hattie turned the key twice and a merry tinkle rose into the dusty air of the attic. Six fairies twirled to the dance tune, their dresses and wings creating rainbow flickers against plaster walls.

“Can we take it downstairs?” Dacey whispered. “I mean, do we own this?”

“Of course, we own it,” Hattie scoffed. “We own all of them, and everything else here. It’s all part of the cottage, and my dad bought the cottage, remember? But,” she added as her stepsister reached for the music box’s wrappings, “we need to come back later. We haven’t finished our search for treasure.”

“But we found treasure!” Dacey protested.

“Some treasure, yes; but we still have more places to look. I haven’t touched the big desk, and you need to check the other trunk.” Hattie pointed to the ratty but stiff luggage case lying in the corner on the opposite side of the window, its black bands fastened with some sort of metal studs.

Dacey made a face but said nothing and slunk past Hattie to reclaim her cat, then stopped when she found Sir Whiskers making a bed in the wood chips and paper packing material.

“At least you’re happy,” she grumbled.

Hattie ignored her and moved back to the second desk. This one was larger than the roll-top and newer than it seemed from across the room, with shiny brass drawer pulls and a dark green leather blotter. Smooth, polished wood, coated in the same sawdust and cobwebs as everything else in the attic, had minor wear, but no obvious scratches, no ink stains, no flaws to mar its shiny surface.

Hattie yanked on the first drawer without success. Whatever was inside had caused it to jam. She picked up the old handlebar she had used for the crate and tried to wiggle it in between the frame and the side of the drawer, but no luck. Maybe the drawer was not meant to open? That made no sense, at least to Hattie. Why would someone make a fake drawer? Maybe it was broken? Could be why the desk was in the attic and not downstairs.

The second drawer was stuffed with old-time books on music, math, and mythology, and an Old Farmer’s Almanac from 1851. Hattie moved the books aside and found several ink drawings, all images of various animals except three, which were depictions of gnomes, trolls, and a monster rather like a combination of the two.

Scribbled beneath the pictures was a single name:

Charly

As good as the pictures were, however, Hattie would have preferred something a little more exciting; maybe old photos, or better yet, a diary.

The center drawer held blank sheets of paper and a few dried-out bottles of ink. Then Hattie noticed the edge of something stuck at the back, something like paper, but crinkly and brown.

She lifted the blank sheets and pulled at the strange paper, only to have a piece of the edge break off. It was old, and obviously fragile; could it be parchment? She placed her hands atop the page and gently joggled it until it was free. Oh, my—.

“Dacey!” she shouted. “Get over here.”


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