Unless the time had slowed to a snail’s pace here, while they were in the city Magnus and …
Mark’s grip on the antiques tightened and his eyes widened at the sunset in the distance. It was fading slowly in the horizon.
With the last bit of hope, Mark sprang forward and ran. He was running toward his home and running as if his life was depending on it.
So… Will Mark reach home safely?
Please to find out!!!
Jennifer was getting onto the seat behind Logan, who turned and beamed at her. She let down her hair again and clipped her hairpin playfully onto the tip of his nose. The redhead laughed and rode off without removing it. Somehow, the hairpin did not set him into action the way Mark had envisioned: Logan clutching his nose in pain and cussing the hairpin like sailors do.
What shocked him the most, of course, was Andrew. The cowboy half-rose from his seat as he pedaled. That would have never made possible unless his arm was completely healed. Sure enough, Mark caught the glimpse of his arm before he vanished into the distance. The cut off part of Andrew’s sleeve had been miraculously reattached so it was no longer bounded on Becky’s ankle. The entire costume was now crisp and good as new.
Mark stood alone beside the road and remained that way for a long time.
Was there a way to explain the impossible?
With that being said, the others began preparing their leave, and it was until then Mark noticed some strange phenomenon.
Becky took off first, pedaling as though her hurt ankle did not bother her a bit. How did she manage to do that? But that was not the only thing that surprised him. Diane, whose jumpsuit was no longer tattered, sat behind Becky and rode along as the passenger.
He swiveled to the side when he felt someone nudging his elbow.
It was Diane. She was watching him warily but her eyes had lost their usual spark of interest. She seemed tired. “You coming?”
Mark opened his mouth to speak, but Andrew cut him off, a little too loudly.
“Ya need a ride, Mark?”
He hesitated, feeling every set of eyes stare curiously at him.
“Uh,” he began, unsure of how to put it in words that might seemed less personal, and clutched his antiques. He cleared his throat and shifted his weight uncomfortably.
Luckily for him, there came a flicker of understanding across Andrew’s kind face.
“Ya seen enough of my show already,” he told Mark with a wave of his hand. “Let’s make it a rain check, then.”
Mark gave him a look of gratitude.
Diane spoke suddenly. “Hey,” she said. “You’ll call me?”
Mark knew it was more of a statement than a question; it was written all over her face. “Sure.” Diane, the perfect daughter at home and a role model in school, was always worrying about Mark getting into trouble.
Andrew, apparently having caught the brief, horrified look flickering across Logan’s face, managed to say quickly, “The City Cowboys.”
“Dude,” muttered Brad, checking his watch. “You’ve got, like, fifteen minutes before the show starts. Need a lift?”
A look of shock passed swiftly across Andrew’s face, then it was replaced by a look of sheer excitement. As much as he wanted to say yes, he couldn’t leave his shiny red bike behind.
He pulled it upright and beamed. “Got my own. But thanks.”
“Nice bike,” muttered Henry.
Mark allowed his mind to wander from the pleasant exchange before him. He looked down worriedly at the necklaces and grimaced. It occurred to him that he still got some unfinished business to do.
“Really?” said Henry with interest. “You don’t mean the one this afternoon? What’s it called?”
Logan bit his lip and stared into the empty space. His heart was thumping wildly. Who was he to kid? What he told Brad and Henry were far from the truth. In fact, he has never – not even once – gone to any show, let alone Andrew’s.
Great. He had risked his own reputation to save Andrew, only to have his own lie blown.
“Andy and I already made plans. We’re going to hang out with some friends.”
Logan pointed at the cowboy. “Andy here.”
Henry looked at him, surprised. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” answered the redhead, this time more firmly. “Andy here is an awesome dude. He got the coolest and some of the most expensive costumes in town. You guys know what’s it for?” Not waiting for their answers, he abruptly clamped a hand on Andrew’s shoulder and shook it. “It’s for that big show, man. He’s got the leading role too.”
The high school kids exchanged glances and regarded the cowboy for the first time with real friendliness.
Henry sneered. “Think that’s the weird kid in the middle school. You know, that weirdo.” Then in a louder voice, so Logan knew he was spoken to: “You don’t have to be that nice, dude. It’s not worth it – hanging out with a bunch of jerks and all that.”
“Yeah. Let’s go skateboarding.” Brad looked at Logan expectantly and put his hands on the bar, ready to take off.
Logan sighed. “That’d be cool, pals…”
Brad gave him a strange look, accompanied by a look of slight irritation. “But?” He could see the redhead really wanted to go, except something was holding him back.
Ahead of them, two bikes braked sharply and circled back. Sitting on them were Henry and Brad, the older kids from the high school.
It was until then that they realized they had reached the edge of the Dark Woods, where some of their own bikes parked on the grass not far from where they stood.
“What’s up, Logan?” said Henry, the taller of the two. He was perched atop of his bicycle, one hand rested casually on the crossbar.
Brad, his companion, had his arms folded across his chest in a manly way. He nodded curtly at the redhead before turning to Andrew, his eyes moving up and down disapprovingly at the costume.
“Didn’t know the circus is here in town. How come no one told me?”
Andrew’s face turned deadpan. He looked away, his ears reddening.
Jennifer shook her head slightly. “The bats, he told me, were his army of some sort. I don’t think they transform the way he did. They’re just some regular bats he trained after the city Magnus became deserted.”
Becky let out her breath. “I sure hope so…”
Nobody said a word for a long moment. They kept their heads down and moved in silence on the grassy side of the road until a loud sound startled them, coming from somewhere behind.
Mark looked back just as a blur rushed past him and the group, so fast that it made his eyes crossed.
Becky gave George a strange look before she continued. “But let’s just say that John is gone. I mean, what if something else is also after the antiques? What is Mark going to do? What should we do?”
“Calm down, Becky,” said the redhead. “Do you even have a clue of what kind of things you’re talking about?”
“Like, I don’t know, those other bats?” she said exasperatedly.
“Naw, Jenny,” Logan groaned. He looked heavenward. “Let’s hope not.”
“No, really. His power was only temporary, you know. That’s why he needed the scepter badly. He believed it would give him even more power.”
George had his mouth wide opened; he was trying to pick out some jellybeans that were stuck between the molars of his lower teeth. Now he paused and said, his words slurred by the finger he put in his mouth, “At least the potion we drank wore off and he stopped controlling our minds. That counts for something. For now.” A drip of drivel was hanging at the corner of his mouth. George slurped quickly, and the drivel ascended back into his mouth, mixed in with the rest of saliva.
The evil bat already seemed like such a long time ago, but everything resurged in their minds clearly and sharply, as though someone had adjusted the telescope lenses and everything was brought into focus again. The massive six-foot frame, the powerful wings, and the terrible glowing eyes of his. The thought had not occurred to them until now – that he might still be alive and may one day return for his revenge.
“Dead or not,” said Diane thoughtfully. “He wouldn’t come for the necklaces again.”
“How’d you know?” asked Becky.
“The entire building was destroyed by his own curse. There’s no need for the key anymore.”
“Unless he still thinks that Mark knew where the real scepter and treasure are.”
“No offense, really,” said Becky suddenly, sounding more like her real self. “I hope you won’t carry on that tradition, Mark.” She stood up. “And another word of advice. Sell those necklaces of yours or keep them away from your house. Do something, Mark. Some bad luck they were.”
“Aw, Becky.” Logan too stood up. He brushed the dirt off his shorts, and the entire group started walking. “Come on, man,” he told her. “You saw Andrew. He destroyed the evil bat.”
“It’s just… I don’t know. John was shrinking fast even when Andrew was crushing him… You really think he’s dead?”
They looked at one another in horror.
He shrugged. “I wasn’t even the descendant,” he said. “But I was too upset to care. Sorry.”
“But you’re right to do that, pal,” the redhead pointed out. “Or things wouldn’t have worked out in the end, you know.”
The others nodded.
“Where’d your dad get those necklaces, then?” asked George.
“My grandfather was an antiquarian.”
Becky sat quietly beside him. She was pulling the seam on her shirt. “I’m sorry, too, Mark,” she said without looking up. “Especially about your father. It must have been hard…” Her voice trailed off.
“Sorry, dude,” George echoed.
Jennifer put down the jellybeans on her lap with a frown.
“I don’t know why you guys are apologizing,” she said. “I’m the one who should be blamed. I let John put ideas into my head, got carried away–”
Mark raised both of his hands as though to cut her off. “Whoa,” he said jokingly. “What’s this? An apology contest?”
The others looked at one another in embarrassment, then burst into a long and hard laughter.
“Me, too,” Mark said after the laughter died down. The others regarded him with a look of surprise in their eyes.
“What for?” said Diane, surprised but touched by his sincerity. “You were right about a lot of things, Andrew. Look what happened to me for being so headstrong.” She paused briefly. “Let’s just forget about it, okay?”
Andrew took a deep breath before he nodded and abruptly turned away. There was a glint of tears in his eyes. Mark knew it must have taken a lot of courage for him to do that.
Mark grinned back. It was such a good feeling, just like the old times. He took a few jellybeans and handed the package to Diane who sat next to him.
Andrew stopped smiling all of a sudden. His face, now serious and watchful, turned to Diane.
Diane raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
The cowboy coughed. Then he cleared his throat loudly and stared at her in the eye.
“Would ya forgive me?” He hesitated. “For everythin’?”
Andrew seemed to be in a better mood – at least compared to the others. He fished out a small package from his back pocket.
“These might make y’all feel better,” he muttered but grimaced a little. “But there ain’t much to go around.” Tearing the package open, he popped a few into his mouth and passed the rest around.
His eyes met Mark’s for a brief moment.
“Forgotten ‘bout them,” he told Mark, smiling shyly. “But thanks, though.”
However, she and John hadn’t the slightest idea about where the treasure room was located and what it looked like. Or else, all they had to do was to simply close their eyes and think of a place they wanted to go.
Now the key scraped against the obsidian stones of the other eight, making a slight clinking sound, as Mark hung it around his neck. Never in his life had he ever imagined that nine little necklaces could be so troublesome.
It was a narrow escape. So narrow that they’d almost believed they would not make it out of the City of Magnus alive .
The towering trees that embowered them swayed gently in the breeze, causing the leaves on the treetops to quiver and part, sending some warm, glistening sunlight into the chilly, gloomy woods.
Jennifer had then placed something in Mark’s hand.
Mark immediately recognized it as another one of his father’s antiques: a flat piece of necklace, made entirely out of solid gold. She told him she had been placing it in that cave opening by the statue upstairs of octagonal room, using it as a means to transport herself to and from the City of Magnus and the Dark Woods.
The teenagers collapsed on the ground of Dark Woods, gulping and gasping for some fresh air. The entire floor of the woodland was a mere blanket of damp leaves.
But they were too tired to care. Only a minute ago, Jennifer was leading them through the rumble of quakes as they fled into safety from the horror of the City of Magnus.