Fantasy & Magic

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Downside Up
Excerpt

It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been looking down. I think about that sometimes, what it means. Down. I was looking down, all right.
I walked out of school bouncing Casey’s old tennis ball, like usual. Until Lance Levy kicked it out of my hand and I ran after it.
“Yesss!” Lance called. “See that? See the way I kicked Berdit’s stupid tennis ball right out of his hand? Yesssssss!”
His voice chased me across the playground, then passed me, fading into the distance as Lance raced away down the street. He was the fastest kid in sixth grade. Yesss he was.
I was holding onto the ball when I came up to Velma Dudding, who was on the sidewalk in front of the school. I thought about saying hi to her. Or bye. Or see you tomorrow. But I didn’t. Her mom drove up and Velma slipped into the front seat of the SUV. I walked on.
Izzy was waiting for me at the top of Sorauren Park. 
“Hey, Fred,” she said.
“Hey.”
Now that I was closer to home I was bouncing the ball and catching it again.
“I changed my screen saver. Wanna see it?” said Izzy.
“Nah.”
My eyes were on the ground. Cracked pavement. Weeds. Ants. Dirt. The tennis ball made a flat, hollow sound when it bounced.
“Come on, take a look. Harry has a new hat.”
“Nah.”
She’s my big sister. Isabel. We both go to Sir John A. Macdonald Public School. She’s in eighth grade, two years ahead of me. We cut across the bottom of Sorauren Park, crossed Wabash Avenue and headed down toward Wright Avenue. I bounced my ball off the paved path and caught it. Off the grass. Caught it again.
Izzy walked ahead of me. Her runners were broken at the back. The red heels flapped up and down. They looked like little mouths, opening and closing.
“Race you home, Fred!” she said.
“Huh?”
“Race you! Come on. From here to the back door. Ready . . . set . . . go.”
I gave up after a few steps. She stopped, turned back for me.

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Very Rich
Excerpt

Rupert Brown came from a large family. They lived in a very plain small house on the edge of Steelville, Ohio. Rupert had so many brothers and sisters that it was like living in a small city-state. They crawled over the furniture. They ran in and out of doors. They were big and small and male and female. They all had sandy-brown hair, pinched noses, high cheekbones and narrow lips. They were all thin.
There were so many children in the Brown family that Mrs. Brown claimed not to be able to remember all their names. She often addressed them by “Hey you.” Rupert had siblings he rarely talked to and hardly knew at all. There were many different alliances within the family, many secrets, many separate lives. Close proximity does not always make for coziness. Sometimes it is just crowded.
Rupert was ten, and he moved among his family largely unnoticed except by his favorite sister,
six-year-old Elise. She, like Rupert, was quiet and shy and spent a lot of time trying to keep out of everyone’s way.
One day before Christmas, Rupert’s teenage brothers John and Dirk came home with a cat. Because they were often bringing home stolen cats, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the origin of this cat. It was not a stray. Perhaps they secretly longed for a pet and this is why they did it, although what they told the family was that it was sport.
“Catch and release. Like fly-fishing. Only with cats,” explained John as he held the new one up for his mother to see. There was a wistful look in his eyes. Rupert wondered if he was hoping that his mother would fall in love with it and let them keep it.
“Did I not tell you to stop doing that!” shrieked Mrs. Brown, just home from her job cleaning the offices in the steelworks.
She tore across the room, grabbed the cat, and threw it into the backyard. Then she slammed the door.
Elise looked out the window in concern. “The cat isn’t moving,” she whispered as Rupert joined her.
“I’ll check,” Rupert whispered back. Their mother had gone to the kitchen to make the thin gruel of oatmeal that, along with other people’s kitchen scraps that their father collected every day, passed for dinner nightly.
All the Brown children tiptoed around their mother. Sometimes she lashed out. Sometimes she hoisted one of the younger Browns onto her lap to watch television and cuddled them as if this, this soft and comforting jolly person, was who she really was. Because you never knew which mother would emerge, it was better to err on the side of caution.

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A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying
Excerpt

“I know you love unicorns, Rowan, but please stop staring at mine. You’re making him nervous.
”I do not love unicorns, as my aunt Jannah knows. Jerks. All of them. I’m not staring at Courtois. I’m staring him down. Unfortunately, she’s wrong about the third part, too. I can’t make him nervous, no matter how hard I try.
We’re in the castle courtyard, the high stone walls stealing the morning sun. Around us, the royal hunters prepare for their mission. A mission I should be joining. My twin brother, Rhydd, is and I belong at his side, keeping him safe.
As I scowl at Courtois, Rhydd’s hand thumps on my shoulder. “Give it up, Ro.”
“That beast stepped on my foot,” I say. “On purpose.”
“Yep, I’m sure he did. He is a unicorn.”
I move away from Courtois only to stumble over my aunt’s warg, Malric. The giant wolf lifts his head, upper lip curling to reveal canines as long as my hand. The last person who tried to pet him lost two fingers. Even I know better. I quickstep out of his reach.
“Making friends with all the monsters this morning, aren’t you?” Rhydd teases.
As I grumble, he leans in to whisper, “I know you’re upset. You’re worried about me going on the gryphon hunt.”
“I’m not wor—”
“You’re worried, and this is how you show it. By grumbling and scowling and staring down unicorns.”
“It’s not fair.”
“I know,” he says.
My scowl deepens, and I want to kick the dirt and growl and stomp. That would be childish, though, and I am not a child. I’m twelve. I’m a princess. One day, I’ll be queen.
I don’t want to be queen. I’ll be horrible at it. Rhydd should get the throne. Even now, as scared as he is, he’s trying to calm me. That’s what a real leader does.
“Rhydd?” Jannah calls. “Saddle up.”
As Jannah climbs onto Courtois, her sheathed sword swings by her side. I look at that sword, a gleaming ebony-wood center with a razor-sharp obsidian edge. I imagine it in my hands, and a lump rises in my throat.
This is who I want to be. This is who I should be. Not the queen, but the royal monster hunter. Everyone knows it. I hear the whispers, how my thoughtful brother should sit on the ivory throne, how his headstrong twin sister should wield the ebony sword.

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