Middle-grade novel, 40,048 words
Chapter One of Twenty-Four Chapters:
The wind blew as I passed the old homes in the neighborhood. There were holes in the thatched roofs. Wind-blown, I could almost see the rafters that held up the straw. Many of the homes had windows without glass, fences with missing boards, peeling paint, or crooked chimneys. My parents told me when the rain stopped falling years ago that our land had turned into a desert. The river that ran next to me had been dried up for as long as I could remember.
As a gust of wind blew dust from the road into my eyes, I covered my face and blinked until I could see again. Mother had warned me that it would be an extra windy night, and I should come right home from the market. Travelers passing me in the windstorm hurried as fast as they could.
My whole body ached from a long day’s work at the market with Father. Selling shriveled vegetables was the last thing I wanted to do, but I was only ten and had to obey my parents’ wishes. I didn’t want to get thrown in the dungeon. Besides, everyone in Zur felt discouraged because of the poor harvests. The whole land looked dry as a cracker in Mother’s cupboard.
Then my foot bumped against a stone in the road.
When I looked down, the light from the setting sun caught a violet crystal. It was the most beautiful stone I had ever seen—bright and bold. As I bent down to pick it up, it shimmered and sparkled in the evening light. It felt smooth as glass.
While I examined the stone, the winds blew harder. I closed my eyes and then squinted to look at the crystal. Its edges were sharp and perfect, almost brand new. I twirled it in my hand, watching it catch the light.
Before I knew what happened, a gigantic whirlwind as tall as the trees shot out of the stone. The tip of the whirlwind sat in the gem, and the winds tugged at me as the whirlwind spun. My feet floated above the ground.
“Someone help me!” I yelled. “Help me!” Then I realized that I was alone. The people on the road with me had disappeared.
As I hovered above the street, the wind blew so hard that I finally lost my grip on the gem. I bounced and floated through the air, higher and higher, until I was at the top of the trees.
“Oh, oh my!” I yelled, as I went flying through the sky. I tried to grab onto a nearby tree, but missed and flew straight into the center of The Whirlwind.
As The Whirlwind sucked me into its spiral, I tossed to-and-fro. My hair blew in my face. I thought I was going to die!
“Priscilla, Priscilla,” a voice called.
“What do you want with me?” I called back. “Someone help me!”
Then I heard the music, a gorgeous melody that made me want to sing along. I had always loved to sing, but I made sure to never tell anyone, or they might make fun of me.
The music grew louder. The drums shook me, and the blast from the trumpets knocked me back and forth.
“Help! How long will this beating last!” I yelled. “I’m not sure how much more I can take!”
I gasped for air and held my head.
Then when I almost lost my breath, it ended.
I flipped out of The Whirlwind with my hair blowing in my face. My entire body shook with fear as I flew through the sky. Then the wind thrust me on the dirty road.
“Ouch!” I yelled, as the violet crystal slipped itself into my pocket. “Why me?”
As the crystal rested in my pocket, people appeared on the road with me again. A certain man with a blue-winged horse stared at me for a moment and then trotted into the night.
“Wait a minute!” I said, wondering how long I was inside the tunnel. “Can anyone tell me where The Whirlwind came from?”
The other passersby kept on their way as though nothing strange had happened. No one had seen the magic but me. I ran home as fast as I could, but it still took me forever because The Whirlwind’s song rang in my ears.
As I hurried up the stone walkway of my house, Mother stood at the broken door, slapping a long wooden spoon in her hand. Hopefully, she would only use it for cooking.
“Where have you been?” she asked. “I told you to come straight home. The winds have been blowing up a storm! I was worried that a dragon got you, or you got trapped in quicksand!”
I stumbled through the kitchen and sat down next to Father at the wooden table. Mother scooped mush for me from the kettle, and I quickly ate it without saying a word about The Whirlwind.
“It was another horrible day at the market,” Father said. “No one bought any vegetables. Tomorrow will probably be worse.”
As he complained, I noticed Grandmum’s old cookbook that Mother hid in the fireplace. King Miobe had banned cookbooks years ago. I doubted Mother had ever made a dessert.
After I finished eating, I hid the violet crystal beneath my pillow in my bedroom. My tattered schoolbooks and worn black shoes sat beside my bed. Cold air gushed through the hole in my bedroom ceiling. Then I did my homework with my door locked.
“Priscilla, it’s time to go to sleep,” Mother said, knocking on my door. “I hope your homework is finished.”
I hurried to open the door. It squeaked.
“Crawl under the covers, Priscilla,” Mother said, as she pulled down my blanket and tucked me into bed.
“Grandmum told me people used to dream,” I said to Mother. “Do you think I can dream?”
“Priscilla, stop talking about dreams,” Mother whispered with a scared look on her face. “We don’t dream. We can’t dream. Dreaming is forbidden.”
I reached under my pillow and felt the smooth violet crystal that lay there. Then Mother pointed her finger straight at me.
“No one defies King Miobe!” she said. “The royal magicians might shrink you, or take your voice, or give you an itchy rash, or make you walk backwards forever. They once gave Father’s uncle a hump in his back for being late with his taxes. They might even execute you!”
She quickly blew out the candle on my dresser and closed my creaking bedroom door. I lifted the pillow Grandmum had made for me and peered at the sparkling violet crystal beneath it.
Then I shut my eyes, yawned, and fell asleep, but I wasn’t sleeping. I found myself sitting at a long floating table filled with desserts. My chair hovered inches from the ground. Even the serving dishes floated above the table. Black smoke lingered across the marble floor. My friends Lucas and Effie sat next to me. Could I be dreaming?
If so, Mother would be so angry with me.
There were high ceilings and arched windows. Colorful banners and flags decorated the room. The music of a lyre lingered in the background. On both sides of the long table, I could see other people that I didn’t know.
“Lucas, where are we?” I asked him.
“We are at a feast!” he said, staring at the desserts.
“Did you see The Whirlwind in town, Effie?” I asked.
“No, but a whirlwind would stir things up!” Effie said.
As clouds of cinnamon filled the air, Lucas and Effie ate vanilla cake with raspberry icing from the floating dishes. Strawberries covered the top of the cake. As much cake as they ate, more always magically appeared in the serving dishes. Crumbs and icing covered their faces.
“Pass the blueberry pie,” I called to Lucas, leaning for the plate. He nudged the floating dish in my direction. I scooped a helping and shoved my mouth full. It tasted so good that I swallowed as fast as I could and scooped another serving.
The blueberry pie in front of me tasted like a warm summer’s day, full of every good wish. I could eat it for the rest of my life with pure delight. Mother’s cooking usually gave me a stomachache, and sometimes I had no choice but to skip meals.
I had only ever seen pictures of desserts in Grandmum’s old cookbooks. There was never enough leftover flour and sugar in the land of Zur for cakes and pies.
As I swallowed more blueberry pie, I had a creepy feeling that something was wrong. I felt an icy hand on my shoulder. I turned and found nothing but a shadow behind me.
“I love this butterscotch pudding!” said Effie. “It tastes twice as good as chocolate and three times better than vanilla.”
Effie swiped her hand across the bottom of her bowl and licked her fingers. Her red curls bounced on her shoulders.
Then I felt the icy hand again, this time on my ear. When I looked behind me, I only saw another shadow.
Lucas gobbled an apple dumpling with honey and cream.
The honey dripped from his chin.
“Priscilla, I know where we are!” Lucas said. “This must be the Land of Milk and Honey.”
While I gulped another helping of blueberry pie, a gush of air rushed past me. The shadow blew across the room and became a woman with dirty black hair and a flowing black dress. She glared at me and pointed her finger, as the bracelets on her wrists jingled. It must have been her freezing hand that touched me. Her eyes felt like daggers.
“Priscilla . . . Priscilla,” Effie said, a spoonful of peach cobbler in one hand and a lemon tart in the other hand. Her shaking hand pointed at the lady.
Smoke surrounded the woman, and it smelled like rotten eggs.
“Priscilla Trumble, who do you think you are?” she said, letting out a sharp cackle. “You are a brat! I am going to rule and reign in Zur!”
Then she pulled the navy tablecloth. It hit the floating desserts, and they went spinning through the air. Without warning, she slid down the table toward me, toppling every dish that stood in her way. She dove for my throat.
While I clung to Lucas, we dodged a falling bowl of fudge that splattered in his brown hair. Chocolate cake spilled across my face and onto my nightgown. My tangled hair hung in front of my face, full of ice cream. Effie’s brown glasses were covered with butterscotch pudding.
Lucas and I dropped to the floor and crouched beneath the table. I wanted to run and hide, but there was nowhere to go. I stuck close to Lucas, figuring he had a better chance of fighting off the ugly woman than I did.
Then I felt the chilling hand slap the back of my head.
“Stop!” I yelled. “Don’t touch me!”
Copyright 2013 Jennifer Waters