Allie Strom stared at the eerie blue glow of a small necklace on the floor of her bedroom closet. She knew that necklace well. Her whole life it had always hung from her mom’s neck. Yet here it was, but her mom was half-way across the world.
While searching for her favorite pleated skirt, Allie had first noticed the necklace. Starting seventh grade in a new city made her decision about what to wear especially significant.
She shuddered at the memory of sixth grade, when her stupid friend Crystal had betrayed her for the cool kids. All it took was for Allie to tell her she was moving, and maybe it hadn’t helped to bring it up during Crystal’s birthday party. The cake frosting in her hair took forever to get out, but the feeling of betrayal wouldn’t leave with a year’s worth of scraping.
No, this year she was determined to make sure she started off right. She would get in good with a group of friends and form her own crew of soccer girls. For the past few days she had thought of nothing else, aside from the occasional annoyance at her mom’s absence, once again. Regardless, finding the necklace had thrown Allie off guard.
A knock on the door startled her. She nudged the necklace into the closet with her toe, alongside the skirt and polo combination she didn’t want her dad to see. She paused at the mess, realizing that in spite of already being there for two months, her unpacking job of throwing everything in the closet hadn’t magically fixed itself.
“Honey, can I…?” her dad’s deep voice came from the other side of the door, more hoarse than usual this morning.
“Um…” She checked the other clothes on her bed to make sure they were to her dad’s liking. He was a great dad and meant well, but that didn’t mean he would let her wear whatever she wanted to school. He still had the idea that she wasn’t independent until she turned eighteen, and even that seemed like a stretch. Now, if her mom were here, that would be a different story. She was the one that had noticed Allie buying the pleated skirt and pretended not to see. She would probably help Allie pick out an outfit, tell her everything a girl needed to know when going into Junior High, when becoming a young woman. But, like always, her mom was deployed with the Army. Off trying to improve the lives of others instead of focusing on her daughter like she should have been. No one cared about Allie’s life. Where was Mom this time, Afghanistan or something? One of the Stans, Allie remembered that much.
Allie turned with a smile as she heard the door open. “Yeah?”
Her dad stepped in hesitantly. He was the kind of dad that seldom lost his cool and wasn’t going away for work all the time. Usually he was clean cut and dressed well for his job at Nintendo, testing games or doing computers or something, Allie wasn’t sure. But at the moment he sported a thick scruff and the skin beneath his eyes drooped like purple sacks.
“All ready for the big day?” her dad said with a glance toward her clothes on the bed.
“I’m not worried.” Maybe it would’ve been true if her mom were there to drop her off, or even be there to wish her luck. Allie turned to look out her window at the hint of a rising sun reflecting on the damp asphalt of the apartment complex’s parking lot. She had woken up early with a tingling in her stomach.
“It’s just seventh grade,” she said. “Not like it’s the World Cup or something.”
“Right,” he said, his eyes shifting to the floor. “Hey, Princess, I —”
“Dad, I’m twelve now, okay?”
He looked at her like he couldn’t believe it, then nodded. “Yeah, I know. Hey, grown-up-Princess…”
She rolled her eyes and smiled.
“That’s more like it.” He sat on her bed, his butt on the sleeve of one of her sweaters. She cringed, but he didn’t notice. His left nostril twitched the way it always did when he was nervous. “I wanted to talk to you about something…and well…”
“Can it maybe wait? I mean, I still have a lot to do to get ready and Mom’s not here to help so…”
He looked at her, his eyes lingering. Since her twelfth birthday two months ago, he always stared at her like that, like he would lose her if he looked away. He kept saying how she was growing up so fast. Well, it was about time, in her opinion. A growth spurt before starting at the new school would have been the thing she needed, especially for the soccer team. But alas, she had no such luck.
Her dad sighed and stood. “Sure, honey. But after school, we talk?”
He attempted to smooth out his wrinkled white-dress shirt, then looked around at her piles of clothes. “Maybe I can help?”
“Of course you can. Why didn’t I think of this earlier?” She showed him to the door.
“Make sure Ian doesn’t bother me.”
Her dad frowned as the door closed with him on the other side.
She rummaged around in the darkness of her closet and soon her fingers found the necklace by the smooth, cold stone.
She squatted to pick it up, nibbling at her lip as she pulled it into the light. The necklace had a blue stone at the end of a silver chain, an upside down triangle overlaid on a right-side up triangle of silver in the middle. Her mom had always had it on, as if it grew from her skin. Allie held it in front of the mirror, holding it up to her neck and staring in awe.
The clasp had been broken. She tied the chain in a half-knot and was about to put it on when the doorknob turned again.
“Dad, I’m not….” She paused, seeing it was her older brother, Ian. The light peach fuzz around his mouth stuck straight out and he wore a scarf as if it made him look special.
“It’s me, puke-breath.” He smiled at her in a groggy sort of way. “What’s wrong with this family, why are we up so early?”
“Is it early?” she glanced outside as she tucked the necklace under her pillow to hide it. Sure enough, she could still see her reflection in the window. The sky was a dark blue of early morning, with streaks of pink and bright orange highlighting the clouds. This didn’t mean it was actually that early, being as it was September in Washington State. Still, compared to her friends she had always been an early riser.
Ian leaned against the doorframe and yawned but didn’t leave.
“What?” she said impatiently.
Ian stood in the doorway and smirked. “Dad made his favorite, a la’ surprise for the big day.”
“Yogurt and granola, with his special frozen blueberries,” he said with a laugh.
He waved for her to follow and she did, but with a regretful look toward her pillow. She would have to check out the necklace more after breakfast.
Allie found her mouth watering and she didn’t mind that they were eating the same food they ate every morning. Whatever her dad had wanted to say earlier, he must have put it out of his mind for the moment. He laughed and told stories of his first day in seventh grade. Even Ian, often glum and in his own world, told her a story about how he had accidentally walked into the girls’ bathroom on his first day and been made fun of the whole first month of seventh grade. Stories of humiliation – exactly what she needed before the big day.
“Some eighth grade boys found out,” Ian said, blushing. “Whenever they’d see me they’d say ‘he runs like a girl and sits down to pee.’”
Allie cracked up and thought it was the funniest thing she had ever heard her brother say, and then wondered for a second if he did sit down to pee. He had played with Barbies with her and their cousin when they were younger. But then she decided to think about soccer, because the idea of her brother peeing grossed her out and made her lose her appetite.
When she returned to her bedroom, she sighed and leaned against the closed door. The wall was covered with posters of her favorite soccer players, all except a black Megadeath poster off to the corner. Her brother had given it to her and she had cherished because he said it was cool. He was trying too hard, she thought, but still, she kept it because it was one of the few things he had given her. He had also said Dungeons and Dragons was cool and she had bought into that one as well. Remnants of this fad showed in her perfectly aligned collection of small figurines on the corner shelf. By far the nerdiest was a giant with his massive ax protecting a female warrior with flaming fists. She had painted them herself a couple of years back and couldn’t convince herself to trash them quite yet. The idea of her brother being cool needed to be wiped from her brain, but that appeared harder than she would’ve thought. He would always be her big brother, after all.
For now, she had a priority. She pulled out the necklace and watched the stone glimmer as it twisted on its chain. The rest of her room was dull in comparison. The necklace had always intrigued her, always there, shining from her mom’s neck. Now, holding it inches from her eyes, she stared into the silver lines in the blue stone. The little patterns on the stone reminded her of maps she had seen, maps of the world, but of so much more too. Maybe the universe?
She pulled it up to tie it around her neck again but paused, surprised to see a clasp on the chain where it had been broken before. Certainly her dad and Ian wouldn’t have known she had found it, or managed to sneak into her room and replace the clasp. That would be ridiculous. The only explanation, then, was that she had imagined it being broken.
A soft warmth emanated from the stone when it touched her skin. She closed her eyes, overcome with a feeling of relaxation, but when she opened them again a flash of light burst forth from the necklace and suddenly she was younger, lying in her mom’s arms. Her mom’s hair tickled as it brushed Allie’s cheek. Those soft blue eyes stared down lovingly, the warm summer breeze tingled as it caressed her skin, carrying with it the scent of strawberries. The warmth of the stone engulfed her like a bath and, for a moment, she saw only the bright light as it flared again. She smelled fresh air, like a forest after the rain. Was she floating? The pleasant sensation drifted through her body and she was in the passenger seat of her mom’s car, her mom driving while calm music played in the distance.
“Allie,” a soft voice said. “Allie….”
The light flashed again and then gave way to darkness. A cave or a tunnel, rolling darkness as if it were alive, twisting and weaving through her limbs. She wasn’t herself. Her hands were too big and something felt different. She wore Army fatigues and was running. A menacing laughter echoed through the darkness from behind. Her boots thudded on moist stone. The scent of scorched metal, a sour taste in her mouth. Her mom’s voice sounded distant, but at the same time inside her head, said “Run, run!” She tore the necklace from around her neck and placed it on the ground before her, glowing. “Protect it, at all costs,” her mom’s voice said. Her large hands lifted a rock and then with an echoing smash the necklace was gone. Scorched blue marks were all that remained where the stone of the necklace had been moments before.
Darkness and a lingering scent of honey. Again Allie was in her mom’s arms as a child, falling asleep.
With a jolt, Allie was pulled from her mom’s arms, kicking and screaming. She wanted to stay in that comforting embrace forever, but when she opened her eyes she was back in her room, the necklace around her neck. She tried to clear her head. It was heavy. A light sweat dampened her temples. Somehow she had ended up lying on her bed. She sat up and saw someone in the window. Could it be?
“Mom?” She stood and approached the glass to see that the morning sky was still dim. The image she saw was her reflection. Had it all been a dream? Perhaps it was something more, her mom calling to her in desperate need of help. But that was impossible. Allie wanted to scream in confusion.
The tapping sounded again, from her door.
“Allie?” Ian’s voiced called out from the other side of the door. “Dad wants to know if you’ll need a ride today.”
She held her head, trying to figure out what had happened.
“Allie?” he said again.
“Leave me alone!” she yelled, then fell down to her bed. Her eyelids grew heavy. She thought she heard her mom whispering to her, or maybe calling from far away. But it didn’t make sense, she convinced herself as her eyes closed.
“Allie,” Ian said. “You’re going to be late!”
Her eyes flickered open and she saw the morning light streaming through her blinds. She must have drifted back to sleep. She jumped from bed to get ready for her first day of school. Whatever had happened, the strange dream or whatever it was would have to wait.
FROM JUSTIN >>> This is a trilogy, so what you see here is just a small taste of the whole. It gets pretty intense, with going after magic items through portals and fighting fallen angels and all that. Allie started a long time ago – I think it was actually the second book I ever wrote! But back then it was a completely different story. It’s fun to see where it’s come to!
If you want to check out the trilogy, it’s on Amazon.
And I like to highlight someone else’s book when I talk about my own, so today let’s check out Marti Dumas’ book…
Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest
Giant Afro. Even Bigger Brain.
Jaden Toussaint, 5 year-old scientist and all around cool dude, is on a mission to convince the grown-ups that he needs more SCREEN TIME. His only weapons are science, ninja dancing, and his super-powered brain power. Can Jaden Toussaint get the grown-ups to change their minds?
Fans of Junie B. Jones, the Magic Tree House, Dan Gutman, and Franny K. Stein will love the Jaden Toussaint series of illustrated chapter books. They are hilarious and empowering for kids and grown-ups alike. Get your copy today.