How To Stop a Witch

How To Stop a Witch
Bill Allen

August 2012 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-171-5

Dearest Greghart...

Let me be the first to offer my condolences on your unfortunate demise.

 

 

 


 

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

 

Back Cover

Dearest Greghart . . .

Let me to be the first to offer my condolences on your unfortunate demise.

Once again the kingdom of Myrth is in danger, and once again a prophecy claims Greg will save the day.Only this time, the prophecy also predicts Greg’s death. So when he receives a letter telling him not to go to Myrth, he is all too happy to stay home. But Greg knows prophecies cannot be denied. If it has been foretold that he will lose his life, then he will surely do so, and each minute he delays may cost the life of one of his friends.

This time it is Witch Hazel Greg must face, and she holds the Amulet of Tehrer, an artifact of unimaginable power that lets her bend the will of dragons. Greg's only hope of defeating her is to elicit help from a man from the strange land of Myrth and then travel to the Netherworld—not the safest place for him to visit, since there, children's body parts draw a high price for use in spells of Dark Magic.

Greg has already survived two trips to Myrth, but how can he be expected to survive a third? According to the prophecy, he can’t.

Bill Allen may be described as an unusual man who has accomplished an unusual many deeds. In fact, it has been said that if you total up all the things he claims to have done, he cannot possibly be less than seven hundred years old.

No one knows if this is true. All that is certain is that for much of that time he's been living in Melbourne, Florida with his wife, Nancy, writing software by day and, well, mostly sleeping by night. Every now and again he writes stories, too. But then I guess you already knew that. Find out more about all of Bill Allen’s books at www.billallenbooks.com.


Reviews

"The adventure was quick paced, humorous, and all around fun to read. The writing was engaging… The characters were fantastic!" -- Dena McMurdie, Books For Children

"This is a really cute book for young readers full of funny parts to keep young readers interested in the storyline." -- Carolyn Tepe, GoodReads


Excerpt

Special Delivery

"Wait, Greg, that’s Manny up there.”

Greg Hart hadn’t been tardy once this year, but when Kristin Wenslow grabbed his wrist, he couldn’t imagine leaving for class.

Would Mom notice if I never washed my arm again...?

The smell of hyacinths drifted past his nose, and in spite of the fact he was crouched in a flowerbed, Greg truly believed the fragrance was coming from Kristin.

Ahead, Manny Malice and two other bullies loitered on the steps outside the school, tormenting any smaller children who tried to sneak past. It took all of Manny’s attention, since every child was smaller, and Manny had little attention to give.

"I’m not afraid of him,” Greg said, trying unsuccessfully to sound confident. In truth, he placed Manny somewhere between a troll and an ogre in the list of things he’d least like to meet on his way to school, but he didn’t want Kristin to think he was a coward.

Kristin pulled her jacket tight. "Well, you should be. He’s had it out for you since the first grade.”

She stared intently at the steps. Greg stared just as intently at the curve of her cheek. "How’d you know that?”

"What do you mean how? You’ve been sitting across the room from me since Mrs. Dorman’s first grade class, remember?”

"You knew that, too?”

Kristin turned to Greg, confused. "Of course. What do you mean?”

"I-I just didn’t realize you knew who I was back then.”

"Oh, now you’re just being silly.”

Something in her eyes caused Greg to look away. Over on the steps, Manny stole Tommy Ritter’s backpack and began a rousing game of keep-away with his friends. Tommy ran between them, jumping and waving his arms, a frantic version of a mime trapped inside a box.

"We need to go,” Greg said. "The first bell’s already rung.”

"Hang on. Manny’s got to go in too, doesn’t he?”

"Do you even know Manny? He’s always late. I’ll bet he’s spent more afternoons in detention than all the other seventh-graders combined.”

"I think you’re exaggerating.”

"Maybe. But I doubt waiting will help.”

As if to spite Greg, Manny tossed Tommy’s backpack in the dirt, and while Tommy ran in circles collecting homework scattered by the breeze, the three bullies ambled inside, laughing.

"See,” said Kristin. "Let’s go.” She grabbed Greg’s wrist again and pulled him toward the stairs. Exhilarated over the touch as much as the danger, Greg let himself be led along the sidewalk and up the steps, passing Tommy Ritter so quickly, the boy spun and nearly dropped his homework again.

"Sorry,” Greg yelled over his shoulder.

He and Kristin burst through the doors and into the school. Not far ahead, Manny was working hard at stuffing a five-foot-tall boy into a three-foot-tall locker. Otherwise, the halls were empty.

Kristin yanked Greg toward a stairwell at the end of the corridor. "This way.”

They reached the door just as the second bell rang, signaling the start of homeroom. Up the stairs they sprinted, their footsteps echoing loudly in the empty stairwell.

The first landing proved to be no problem, but before they reached the second, a door slammed from above. Greg stopped abruptly, nearly pulling Kristin over backward. There the two waited, listening. Light footsteps started down the stairs above. A woman’s heels.

"Teacher,” Kristin whispered.

"Shh,” warned Greg. Getting caught out of class after the bell was bad, but nothing compared to the danger he’d just sensed. His skin began to prickle as the air became charged by a threat far greater than anything of this world.

"Down,” he urged, turning Kristin around and nudging her back the way they’d come. "Go.”

Kristin didn’t argue. The pair fled down the stairwell, two steps at a time, no longer bothering to hide the noise.

"Who’s there?” a woman called. "Is that you, Mr. Malestino? It’ll be suspension for you if I catch you out of class again.”

Kristin rounded the landing and started down the lower flight. Greg hung back, risked a glance over his shoulder. Behind, the air split open, revealing a tiny, unwelcome window in space. Halfway up the stairs, stars floated in a blackness deeper than any Greg had ever seen—unless of course you counted the other four times he’d been faced with this rift between his own planet and the magical world of Myrth.

"Come on, Greg,” said Kristin. "Why are you stopping?”

"Wha—?” Greg couldn’t tear his eyes from the sight, but at least he had the sense to grip the rail. It wouldn’t do to be sucked through that gap.

Thankfully, Kristin couldn’t see from the lower flight. Greg looked between her and the danger. Part of him wanted to flee with her, or for that matter do just about anything with her, but another deeper, far less sensible part longed to know why the rift was here for him again.

Whatever he did, he had to do it quickly. "Go on. I’ll catch up.”

Kristin hesitated. "What is it, Greg?”

"Go,” he insisted, knowing he was in trouble if she took even one step closer. "I’ll come in a second.”

Reluctantly, Kristin turned and ran. Greg stared back at the hovering tear in space. Not far above, heels clomped down the stairs. What would he do if one of his teachers rounded the corner and disappeared through that gap?

Then, just as quickly as it opened, the rift zipped up with a flash. A small white envelope remained in its place, suspended in mid-air. It swished back and forth as it dropped to the stairs and landed with a barely audible clap.

The footsteps grew close. Greg snatched up the envelope just as Mrs. Beasley, his math teacher, rounded the corner from the upper landing.

"Mr. Hart. What are you doing out of class?”

Mrs. Beasley was a wretched old woman, Earth’s version of Witch Hazel from Myrth, and the similarity grew when her voice squelched like a series of violin strings being stretched to their limits.

Greg forced a smile. He met her eye as he stuffed the envelope into his pocket.

"Morning, Mrs. Beasley. I’m on my way to homeroom.”

"You’re late. The bell rang just a moment ago. Didn’t you hear?”

"That was the second bell?”

"Yes.” She peered past his shoulder. "Was there someone else with you? I thought I heard another voice.”

Greg didn’t like lying. He thought carefully about his reply. "Well, you’re here with me.”

Mrs. Beasley frowned. "It’s not like you to be late for class. I don’t believe I’ve seen you in detention all semester.”

"No, ma’am.”

"Well, see to it I don’t.”

As long as Greg had known her, Mrs. Beasley had worn a tight bun high atop her head. From it she pulled a pen. Greg wouldn’t have been surprised if she found a pad in there too, but she reached into her pocket for one of those. While she jotted down a note, her wide eyes darted about the stairwell, as if she might still spot the source of that second voice.

Greg silently wondered if her eyes might not be so wide if she wore her bun a tad looser.

"You’re in Mrs. French’s homeroom, aren’t you?” Mrs. Beasley asked.

"Yes, ma’am.”

"Fine. Give her this note, and she won’t give you detention. But if I catch you out in these halls during class again, rest assured, next time I won’t be so nice.”

Greg had no reason to doubt her. He could hardly believe she was being nice this time. "Thank you,” he said, taking the note and stuffing it into his pocket.

"Just get to class, Mr. Hart.” She started down the steps again, not waiting for a reply.

Greg breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes, ma’am.” He turned and ran up the steps two at a time.

"Walk!” Mrs. Beasley called from below. "Hurry, but walk.”

Greg forced himself to a slow jog until he heard the stairwell door open and close with a bang. Then he raced up the remaining steps and out into the corridor. He reached Mrs. French’s room a minute later and eased the door open.

Mrs. French was sitting at her desk, rather miraculously reading a newspaper through coke-bottle glasses. He doubted he would need the note Mrs. Beasley gave him. Mrs. French’s hearing was even worse than her eyesight. Then again, he hadn’t counted on Manny Malice coming to her aid.

"Ahem,” Manny said in the worst interpretation of throat-clearing Greg had ever heard.

Mrs. French licked her finger and turned the page of her newspaper.

"AHEM,” Manny tried again, at twice the volume.

Mrs. French blindly patted the desk for her coffee mug.

Manny grabbed his seat and hopped about the room, producing a ruckus that couldn’t be missed.

Mrs. French allowed her paper to droop. "Did someone say some—? Oh, Greg. Are you just coming in?”

Greg shot Manny a disgusted look. "Uh, yes, ma’am.”

"Oh, dear. I hope you have a note.”

"Yes,” Greg said. He hurried over to her desk. "Yes, I do.” He reached into his pocket for the note Mrs. Beasley gave him and handed it to Mrs. French, who studied it curiously.

"What’s this? An envelope? How formal.”

Greg’s head snapped up. "What? No—”

But she was already tearing open the letter. She pulled out a single piece of faded parchment and shook it, then lifted her nose to read the page through her thick lenses.

"Hmm, let’s see what we have here... This writing is terrible, Greg, just terrible... Dearest Greghart...

Greg’s stomach churned. He silently measured the distance between himself and the door.

"Greghart?” Mrs. French said, staring at Greg past the note he’d given her. He thought about snatching it from her hand, but already she was back to reading, and he had an idea that as bad as her eyesight was, she might notice.

"It is with depressed rugrats... no wait, that’s deepest regrets...that I rescued the newts... That can’t be right... oh... received the news... from Simon today. Please... allow me... to be the frost... no... first... to offer my sincerest convalescence... no, that would have to be condolences, wouldn’t it?... on your rather unfortunate demise. Hmm, that part’s right. Rest assured that you will mower... er... river?...oh, never!... Rest assured that you will never be frog rotten... er... forgotten. Signed...Brandy Alexander?

The class roared with laughter. Greg might have thought to be embarrassed if he hadn’t been so stunned by Mrs. French’s words. Rather unfortunate demise? Hopefully she’d read that part wrong.

"Is this some sort of joke, Mr. Hart? Because if it is, I, for one, do not see the humor.”

"No—there’s been a mistake.”

"There certainly has. I do not like being made a fool. I’m afraid you leave me no choice. You will report to detention directly after school this afternoon.”

"But—” Greg started.

"Take a seat, Mr. Hart. Homeroom is nearly over.”

Greg groaned and shuffled to his chair to the smirks and chuckles of several of his classmates, not the least of which originated from Manny Malice. The huge boy’s face was beaming so brightly, it looked as if he were using it to guide Greg in for a landing.

When the bell rang, announcing the end of homeroom, Greg was met at the door by Kristin Wenslow.

"What was up with that note?” she asked.

"Nothing. It was just a big mistake.”

The two of them stepped from the room and ambled toward Greg’s next class.

"I can’t believe you got detention,” said Kristin. "It’s all Manny’s fault. He’s such a jerk.”

"Yeah, well, it’s early. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s there with me by the end of the day.”

"I suppose. But still... it spoils my plans.”

"What plans?”

She eyed him coyly, holding back a smile. "I thought maybe you’d like to walk me home today.”

Greg stumbled and banged his head into a locker but recovered quickly and pretended nothing had happened. "Really?”

"Sure. That is, unless you don’t want to.”

"No! I mean, yes, I want to.”

Kristin smiled. "Well, I’ve got some homework I could work on for Mr. Heineke’s class. Maybe I could wait around until they let you out of detention.”

"Really?”

"Yes, really. Why do you keep saying that?”

"Oh, sorry.” Greg could barely speak. "I don’t think they’ll keep me more than an hour. Want to meet out front around four thirty?”

Kristin’s smile widened. "I’ll be waiting.”

And just like that she was gone. Two minutes later, Greg breathed again.


Hart Decision

Greg spent all day waiting for detention. At three thirty he grabbed up his knapsack and practically ran to study hall. Just as suspected, Manny Malice had crammed himself into one of the tiny desks near the back of the room.

Scattered about were several other students Greg didn’t recognize, but each shared a certain commonality with Manny, and Greg had an idea he was better off not knowing them. He took a seat up front, as far from the others as possible, and immediately began to watch the clock.

Mr. Armbuster, Greg’s gym teacher, had everyone sign an attendance sheet, but then, to Greg’s dismay, left the room. Greg felt as if hundreds of eyes were upon him. He silently thanked the fates each time Mr. Armbuster popped his head in to ensure no one left or misbehaved.

Having never been to detention before, Greg wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. The others all either slouched with their heads lolling backward, drool running from the corners of their mouths, or slumped forward with their foreheads resting in their folded arms atop their desks. Greg would have liked to do the same, but he was way too anxious over his date with Kristin to sleep. Besides, he didn’t feel safe closing his eyes with Manny Malice behind him.

The hour dragged by like a runnerless sled drawn up a rocky cliff by a lame husky. While he waited, Greg thought again about the strange note Brandon sent. Greg’s rather unfortunate demise?Had Simon really prophesied Greg was going back to Myrth to die? If so, he knew one thing for certain. The next time he felt the unpleasant prickling of a rift about to open, the last thing he was going to do was stick around to see what came out of it.

The memory of that eerie prickling pressed so hard on his mind, Greg could almost believe he was experiencing it now. Suddenly the air beside him split open, and Greg realized the awful sensation wasn’t a memory at all. He jumped up, screaming, and ran for the exit, knocking over two desks along the way.

As if he’d been standing with his hand on the knob, Mr. Armbuster threw open the door. "What’s all the commotion about? Hart, what are you doing out of your seat?”

Greg snapped his head toward the front of the room, where the rift disappeared in that instant, leaving behind a second envelope that dropped soundlessly to the floor.

"What? Oh, nothing. I... uh... thought I saw a spider.”

The other boys roared. Apparently they’d all been either sleeping or too distracted by Greg to notice the gaping hole that had floated at the front of the room a moment ago.

Mr. Armbuster scowled. "Take a seat, Hart, before I add another hour to your detention.”

"Yes, sir. Right away.”

"And put those desks back.”

Greg righted the desks he’d knocked over and rushed back to his seat, where he stomped on the envelope and waited forever for Armbuster to leave. The instant the door closed, Greg snatched up the envelope. He struggled to keep his hands from trembling as he tore it open and peered cautiously inside.

The message was written on old parchment, just like the first, but this time the handwriting was perfectly legible.

Dearest Greghart,

It has come to my attention that my scribe has taken it upon himself to send a rather inappropriate message your way. Please allow me to offer my deepest apologies for his thoughtless action. I do not know exactly what he told you, but rest assured we do not expect you to deal with Witch Hazel for us. Our problems are our own, and we can handle them without your help, no matter how overwhelming the odds against us may seem. Simon’s prophecy about the destruction of Pendegrass Castle is no doubt incorrect, and just in case it isn’t, that’s all the more reason why you should just go about your business as if you never heard from any of us. Again I apologize.

Hope not to see you soon,

King Peter Pendegrass III

(Please, call me Peter.)

Greg studied the note a long while, wondering what trouble Witch Hazel might be brewing. The witch was an ornery old hag whose idea of fair play might be to kill you slowly, so you wouldn’t miss out on any of the experience. She could be dangerous even under the best of circumstances, but Greg had an even deeper reason to be concerned.

The Amulet of Tehrer.

Last time he saw Hazel, Greg had been forced to give her a small pentagon-shaped piece of metal, the crucial piece to an amulet that had been broken apart centuries earlier, after nearly causing the destruction of Myrth.

Even though at the moment the destruction of Myrth didn’t sound like a bad thing, deep down Greg knew the Amulet of Tehrer must never be reassembled. With it, Hazel could control dragons, and while only one dragon remained on Myrth, an enormous creature named Ruuan who had helped Greg the last two times he visited there, Greg didn’t want to think what might happen if Ruuan were forced to use his seemingly endless powers for evil rather than good.

Now, as the clock ticked slowly toward four thirty, Greg couldn’t help but wonder if Hazel had already managed to locate the remaining amulet sections. Maybe King Peter really did need his help. But what about that first note and Brandon’s talk about Greg’s "rather unfortunate demise”?

Perhaps Mrs. French just read it wrong. Maybe it was supposed to say "rather unfortunate disguise” or "rather unfortunate devise.” But no, then why would Brandon have been offering condolences? Maybe she got that part wrong too. Brandon’s handwriting waspretty bad.

Mr. Armbuster came back into the room at twenty after four. After what seemed like another hour, he announced to the boys that their punishment was over for the day. Greg was first out of the room. For the moment, he gave up fretting over what might be happening on Myrth and fretted instead on his upcoming meeting with Kristin. As inconceivable as it seemed, he found her waiting outside as promised.

"You’re here,” Greg said.

"Well, of course,” said Kristin, laughing. "Why wouldn’t I be?”

"It’s just... I thought this morning... well, maybe I’d been dreaming or something.”

Kristin’s cheeks flushed in a way Greg found particularly pleasing. But then he realized she might just be cold. He debated putting an arm around her for warmth but couldn’t shake the vision of her shooting mace into his eyes and using some Judo move to send him somersaulting into the shrubbery.

They cut across the grass toward the start of a path that led within three blocks of Kristin’s house. Last month, Manny Malice had cornered Greg on this very same lawn. Fortunately, Greg had just returned from Myrth and was recovering from a spell that allowed him to rip a four-inch-thick limb from one of the trees and threaten Manny with it. Of course, Manny knew nothing of Myrth or the spell. He just assumed Greg possessed superhuman powers, so naturally he’d given Greg a wide berth ever since. Still, Greg scanned the woods. Seven-year-long habits were hard to break.

"So what was up with that note?” Kristin asked as she and Greg stepped into the woods.

Greg stooped to pick up a fallen branch to use as a walking stick, another habit he didn’t acquire until his first trip to Myrth, last fall. "You know about the note?”

"Of course. Everyone knows.”

It took Greg a moment to remember the incident in homeroom that morning. "Oh, you mean the first one.”

"There was another?”

"Huh? Oh, no, of course not.”

"Sure there was. What did it say? And who’s writing them?”

Greg sighed, wondering if there’d ever been a boy who could get himself into trouble quicker. "It was nothing, really.”

"Come on, Greg. How about the first note? What was that? Who’s Brandy Alexander?”

"Brandon,” Greg corrected. "I mean, he’s nobody. I just made him up.”

Kristin frowned. "I can’t believe you’re lying to me.”

Greg didn’t know what to say. This walk wasn’t going anything like he’d planned. "No, Kristin, wait. I’m sorry, but—well, I can’t tell you who he is.”

"Why not?”

"I just can’t, that’s all. You wouldn’t believe me if I did.”

"Try me.” Her eyes gazed up at him, pleading, and Greg tripped over a root for not watching where he was going.

"Careful,” Kristin scolded.

Greg nodded and limped along, nursing a newly sore toe. "I tried to tell you once before. As I recall, you asked me to go see the school nurse.”

"You’re not talking about that silly story you made up about traveling to some other world, are you?”

"It’s not a story. It really happened.”

Kristin reached for his forehead, but Greg ducked her hand. "I’m not sick. I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”

She folded her arms across her chest and stared forward, avoiding Greg’s eye. It seemed an awkward way to walk, but it did effectively convey her mood.

"Okay, you’re right,” she said. "But look at it from my point of view. You’re claiming to have been abducted by space aliens.”

"Not aliens. People. Good people, just like you and me. And according to their note, they’re in serious trouble.”

"I heard the note,” Kristin said. "It sounded like you were the one in trouble.”

"Not that note. The second one.”

"So you did get another?”

"Yes, while I was in detention.”

She frowned at him. "I’ll bet Mr. Armbuster found that interesting.”

"Armbuster didn’t see it. He was out of the room. And neither did anyone else. They were all asleep.”

Kristin quit walking and propped her hands on her hips. "Do you know how ridiculous you sound?”

"I’m not making this up. I can prove it.”

Greg slipped his backpack off his shoulder and loosened the straps. For a moment he debated pulling out his pet shadowcat, Rake, but he was trying to sway Kristin, not find out if she really did carry mace. Instead, he withdrew the second note from under his journal and handed it over.

Kristin eyed him doubtfully but took the parchment and read it. "Oh, so this one’s from a king now.”

"Yes, King Peter. You’d like him.” He wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw her roll her eyes.

"Maybe we should start small,” she said. "Do you know any kings on this world you could introduce me to?”

Greg scowled. "Okay, you’re right. I’m making it all up.” Furious, he turned and stomped down the path without waiting to see if she would follow.

"Hey, wait up.”

Greg watched her come. As mad as he was, he couldn’t help but admire the way her hair jostled from side to side when she ran. He wished there was some way to convince her he was telling the truth. Then the secret of Myrth could be something only the two of them shared.

"So, who’s this Witch Hazel the king mentioned?” Kristin asked.

"What do you care? You don’t believe me anyway.”

"I’m trying to understand, all right? Are there witches on this other world of yours?”

"It’s not my world. It’s called Myrth, and yes, it has witches and magicians and monsters and all kinds of scary things.”

"I see,” said Kristin. "Then it sounds like they’re used to trouble.”

Greg knew she was just patronizing him, but still her statement caused him to recall King Peter’s note. "Not trouble like this. I think Witch Hazel may be threatening to destroy their whole world.”

"Why would she do that? Isn’t it her world too?”

"Yeah, but I think she might be crazy. She kind of lost it when everyone started calling her a witch.”

"Oh, then she’s not a witch?”

"No, she is. She just doesn’t like being called one.”

Again Kristin frowned. She was staring at Greg’s face but not into his eyes, probably checking his color. "Hardly worth destroying your world over, I would think.”

"Look, I know you don’t believe me.”

Kristin wasn’t paying attention. "What isthat?”

"What’s what?”

"That creepy buzzy feeling in the air.”

"Buzzy?”

Despite the two earlier occurrences, Greg was caught completely off guard when the air suddenly split between them, revealing an endless sea of floating stars. As if from far off he heard Kristin scream, but he couldn’t see her face behind the gaping hole that hung in mid-air between them.

The opening remained for only a few seconds before it flashed and disappeared, leaving behind a third envelope that dropped harmlessly to the path. Greg could now see Kristin clearly. Her face had lost all color, and her mouth had gone slack.

"Believe me now?”

"W-what was that?” Kristin managed to say. "Greg, did you see that?”

"Of course I saw. It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. That was the rift I went through to get to Myrth.”

"B-but that’s impossible.”

"You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

Greg stooped to pick up the envelope. He tore it open and pulled out another letter, identical to the others. This one was written in a flowing script, though it was harder to read than King Peter’s, as it looked to have been written in a hurry.

"What does it say?” Kristin asked.

Greg suspected she’d rather have spent a month of detentions with Manny Malice than hear the answer. He certainly understood her reluctance. He still had a lot of trouble accepting the concept of Myrth himself.

 

Dearest Greg,

Lucky just told me Dad sent you a note. I know he asked you not to come, but Lucky says he worded it in such a way that might make you ignore the warning. Listen to me. YOU MUST NOT COME HERE. Simon says you’ll get killed when you do, and whether you save the kingdom first or not doesn’t matter. I won’t see you harmed.

Love, Priscilla

 

Greg looked up from the note.

Kristin’s earlier expression of terror had been replaced by something else. "Love, Priscilla?” she said.

Greg tried his best not to smile. "That’s what it says.”

"Who’s Priscilla?”

"She’s a princess. Didn’t you hear? She said Dad just sent me a note, and that last one came from King Peter, remember?”

"I meant, who is she, and why is she signing notes, ‘Love, Priscilla’?”

Greg blushed. "I don’t know. It’s just something people say in notes. You know, like ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Yours truly.’”

"I don’t think I like it.”

"Really,” he said, feeling quite the opposite. "Oh. Well... sorry.”

"So, what are you going to do?”

"What do you mean?” He started walking again, slowly, so Kristin could follow on trembling legs.

"It sounds like these people really need your help,” she said.

"You did hear the part about me dying if I went there, right?”

"Yes, I heard.” She fell silent for a few steps. "So, who’s Simon?”

"Simon Sez. He’s a prophet.”

Kristin glared at him. "Are you messing with me?”

"What? Oh, no. His name really is Simon Sez, and he’s a prophet, I swear.”

"Really?”

"Yes, and he’s never wrong. If he says I’d get killed if I went there... well, then I might as well take a headstone with me.”

Kristin looked even more upset now than she had when the portal opened. "If he really is a prophet... well, he didn’t say you would get killed, did he? He said you willgetkilled.”

Greg gulped. "Not if I don’t go there.”

"But you will. Simon says.”

Now it was Greg who fell silent. How was it Kristin seemed so comfortable with the whole notion of prophecies when Greg had already lived through two of them and still refused to believe? Anyway, she had a valid point, even if it was one he desperately wished to ignore.

They eventually reached the end of the woods and followed the sidewalk to Kristin’s house. The whole way Kristin grilled Greg about the world of Myrth, but mostly she wanted to know about Princess Priscilla and what Greg thought of her.

As much as he liked her, Greg was glad to drop Kristin off at her porch. As soon as the door closed, he rushed back to the woods, eager to follow the trails home before his mother got too worried.

Along the way he tried not to dwell on the inevitable. He didn’t know when or where it would happen, but surely it was just a matter of time before the rift would come for him, pluck him from this world, and drag him off to his doom.

A twig snapped, and Greg spun toward the sound, fully expecting to spot a gaping hole in the universe.

Nothing. Probably just a monkeydog.

Oh no! Already he was thinking like he was back on Myrth. Small creatures, never seen but always heard making impossibly loud noises in the brush, monkeydogs existed only in that other world.

Or did they? Greg had once been told that long ago Earth had real magicians. Who’s to say they didn’t have monkeydogs, too? After all, when it came to monkeydogs, the fact no one had ever seen one could be offered up as irrefutable proof that the whole planet was littered with them.

A second rustling caused Greg to jump. He searched the path behind. What if Manny Malice had followed him out here? He gripped his walking stick tighter and hurried forward, listening to the many noises of the woods. Again he thought about Priscilla’s note. She must really be in trouble this time. Too bad there was nothing he could do to help.

Or was there? Simon had already predicted Greg’s return to Myrth. He was going there no matter what. But if he waited for the magicians to come for him, who’s to say they wouldn’t take too long about it and botch up the whole prophecy?

Because then it won’t come true—which is impossible, right?

No. His friend Nathan once told him the reason prophecies always come true is because the people who act them out work so hard to see them fulfilled. Maybe Greg did need to take action now. He debated the matter a long while. And then, thankfully, a longer while.

What about his "rather unfortunate demise?” It seemed an important detail, one that kept him spinning around and flailing his walking stick each time he heard a rustling in the brush behind.

He continued to debate the issue nearly the whole way home, but in the end, as horrible as it was to accept, he arrived at the only conclusion possible. Simon had already predicted he was going to die. There was no way around it. But why die for nothing? At least he could save Priscilla and her family first, not to mention all the other citizens of Myrth. Many would have said it was a noble viewpoint. Greg recognized it for what it was. Utter resignation.

His fingers closed around the ring he wore on his right hand. Given to him by the dragon Ruuan, it was no ordinary piece of jewelry. With it, all he had to do was say one magic word, and he’d be transported to Ruuan’s lair in an instant, and from there the dragon could carry him back to the castle in minutes.

He slowed to a crawl, debating what to do. Again, a noise behind. Greg spun toward the sound.

Maybe Manny was following him. Maybe when Simon predicted Greg’s demise, he also knew Greg’s time had come no matter which world Greg stayed in.

Greg knew then what he must do. He removed the ring from his finger and held it up to what little light bled through the trees.

"Well, this is it,” he said to the empty woods. The monkeydogs quietly rustled in reply. "I wish I could say I’ll see you again soon.”

For a moment the woods fell silent. Then Greg said the one word that would forever seal his fate. "Transportus.”

Behind him the brush rustled. Greg’s world shifted and began to fade from view. But then a voice screamed out, and something hit him hard about the waist, reminding him of the time Princess Priscilla had latched onto him and hitched a ride all the way across the kingdom to Ruuan’s lair, risking her life to protect him.

The image was still floating in his mind an instant later, when Greg found himself standing at the center of a huge cavern surrounded by glowing rock. Around his waist he felt the arms of a young girl. He realized then the thought of Princess Priscilla had been more than just a memory.

Only this time it wasn’t Priscilla who had risked her life to protect him. It was Kristin Wenslow.


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