The Book of Second Chances

Released September 2006

If you were 12, had an accident that confined you to a wheelchair, and you and your stepsister found a magic Book of Second Chances, what would you do?

Would you use the book to save a distant world you traveled to in your dreams, or use it to try and reverse the accident?

 Thatís the challenge Windslow and Hillary Summerfield face when they dream-slip to the land of Gabendoor each night and encounter the evil Fistlock and his shadow beasties; like the Trundle-wraith that lurks under beds or the annoying Tellagain that makes old men repeat the same story over and over, and Flame-fluffers that puff from nowhere to blow out candles.

    The oracle of Gabendoor calls the sister and brother team the Children of the Summer Wind. With an odd assortment of companions and help from three colorful wizards, Hillary and Windslow struggle to solve the mysteries of the Book of Second Chances. The book is the only hope they have to defeat Fistlock and his creatures, including the dreaded and unstoppable Gorlon.
    Itís a fantasy, with magic and faraway lands, but with several twists and lots of creativity to keep it from being just another fantasy story. Its "other world" characters are rich and colorful
with a bit of dry wit snuck in for adults. The real world characters are stepbrother and stepsister who face problems and challenges young readers can relate to.


Chapter One: Journey Wind

The moon was full, yet the forest stayed Halloween black. The fox stopped, her ears erect. Ending her hunting early, she tiptoed silently through the forest. At the edge of a small clearing, she paused to sniff the air before hurrying across, to reach her den under the ruins of the old cottage.

A circular spot in the carpet of dry pine needles rustled then stilled. They twitched again. The gray fox caught the movement and quickly took shelter under the firewood stacked against the stone chimney at the back of the building. The needles lifted and spun, picking up loose blades of grass and dry bits of earth to accompany them. The dust devil grew as unsettled night air brushed across the meadow circled by age old pines. The whirlwind called to the ferns. The feathery plants straightened from their bent slumber to dance and jerk as the glowing wind-spiral rose, broadened and began to howl. High branches on the trees joined in the frolic, swaying and bending as the swirling gray funnel brushed against them.

Swaying gracefully at first, the funnel lurched and began to gyrate wildly from the three growing forms that plumped and distorted its center. Tired of its load and finished with the task it was summoned for, the journey-wind belched and was gone.

"Get off me."

"Thatís my foot."

"Ouch! I burnt my thumb. Whatís on fire?"

"You lit my beard with your pipe, you quarter-wit," Haggerwolf yelled, flailing his hands at the tip of his whiskers.

Larkstone pulled his hickory wand from inside his vest. "Hold him, Fernbark!"

Fernbark locked his stubby arms around Haggerwolf from behind. Larkstone swung. The wand clipped off the tip of the scrawny wizardís beard as cleanly as a trollís razor. The gray hair floated to the ground and sizzled as the last of it burned to curlicue ash.

The fox peeked out after catching the scent of the three odd men; butter and cinnamon. She wiped her tongue across her snout. The smell was familiar.

"Thatís my vest!" Larkstone yelled at Fernbark. "What are you doing with it?"

"How should I know? Hey! Those are my pants. Get Ďem off, you overstuffed bag of lizard lard. Youíll split the leather."

"Me! Iím not the one that eats four pounds of boar bacon for lunch."

"Quiet. Both of you!" Haggerwolf said, still plucking the end of his beard. "Weíre supposed to be doing this in secret. And youíre wearing my boots, Larkstone. The journey-wind mixed us all up. It always does that in a trip this far. Letís change, but fast."

The three wizards stripped, tossing everything but their red long underwear into a pile on the ground near the ramshackle door to the cottage. Then they grabbed for what was theirs.

Haggerwolf, the taller one, pulled out pants, shirt, and a long robe. They were all dark blue, almost black and had the outlines of forest animals embroidered in the fabric. Fernbark and Larkstone, both shorter and stout, sorted through the pile. Fernbarkís clothes were different shades of green with outlines of plants and Larkstoneís clothes light blue with fish and seashell patterns.

"Your buttons made my fingers green," Fernbark said. "Never buy a vest with copper buttons."

"You sold it to me," Haggerwolf said and rubbed his sleeve against one of the buttons. "Iíll take that little matter up with you when weíre back home. Now give me the book. Letís get on with this."

"You had it when Larkstone conjured up the journey-wind," Fernbark answered as he slipped his arms through his suspenders, letting the blue bands snap against his shoulders.

"One of you grabbed it from me when that blasted wind took off with us."

"There it is." Larkstone pointed back to the edge of the pines near where the whirlwind had expelled them. "Must have blown out of my hands."

The book smelled of skin, but not from an animal the fox recognized. She sneezed to push the scent from her nostrils. Bordering the cover of the thick book, heavy studs glowed faintly in competition with the moonlight. Both the light and smell chafed her instincts. Keeping low, she crept from her den, dashed around the corner of the woodpile, and disappeared into the woods.

"What was that?" Larkstone asked, his voice sharp and fast. He hugged the book close to his chest and spun around.

"Just some critter," Fernbark answered. "Probably one of those cats these hills are named after."

"Itís not the cat-hills," Haggerwolf said, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. "Itís Catskills and weíre in the mountains. That critter was just a porkypie, I think. My aunt used to feed Ďem bits of sugar rolls."

"Who else knows about this place?" Fernbark asked and looked in the direction the fox had run. "Maybe we should--"

"Itís safe," Haggerwolf said, cutting him off. "My aunt knew what we were trying to do. Just before Fistlock killed her, she told me about her little secret hideaway world. This will be a safe place to stash that leather-bound scourge."

"But weíre not the only ones who know this world exists," Larkstone said, still clutching the book tight as he walked back toward the cottage.

Haggerwolf gave the teetering door to the old building a kick. "Ah, but we are the only ones that know how to get to it."

Rusted hinges lost their grip and rough hewn boards gave way. When each board slapped to the floor, a new puff of dust joined with the rest. Haggerwolf braced his hands on the doorframe and leaned inside.

The interior was dark except for a strip of floor in front of him and a spot in the far corner of the room where part of the roof had fallen in. In those two spots the moon eased its dim light inside the small stone and log cottage.

"Iíll make some light," Fernbark said and ducked under Haggerwolfís arm. He took a good-sized pinch of dried moss from his vest pocket and rolled it into a ball between his palms. "Give me some water." He reached back without turning around, expecting someone to hand him a water skin.

"I didnít bring any," Haggerwolf said. "How about you, Larkstone?" he asked, looking over his shoulder.

"Weíre not on a blasted picnic, and my spells donít use water. Why would I bring any? Youíre the leader. Youíre supposed to think of those things," Larkstone said and slid past the taller wizard. "Allow me." Larkstone grabbed Fernbarkís hand and spit.

Fernbark jerked his hand away. His eyes widened, his face reddened and his mouth opened.

"Donít say it," Larkstone snapped, before Fernbark could utter a complaint. "It worked, didnít it?"

Fernbark grumbled something about garden slugs under his breath as he picked up the glowing pea-sized ball of moss from the floor. He scowled at Larkstone before taking a pinch of orange powder from another pocket. When he sprinkled it on the moss, the room lit up in the bright yellow-green glow of the magic light.

Haggerwolf pushed between them and moved to the stone hearth. "All right, you two. Letís just take care of the book and then get out of here. Help me clear this spot. Fernbark, find something to sweep with so we can see the mortar lines. Larkstone, weíll need a makeshift pedestal."

There wasnít much inside the cottage, except for a few shelves that retained a precarious grip on the log walls and a pile of rubble from the fallen section of roof. Larkstone sifted through the jumble of broken boards and shingles, while Fernbark went back outside.

Haggerwolf knelt in front of the fireplace and began clearing pine needles and debris off of the hearthstone. Fernbark returned with a bundle of dried grass and began sweeping the last of the fine dust and dirt away from the spot Haggerwolf had cleared. When they had a three-foot oval area swept clean, the two wizards moved back and waited. Larkstone used several chunks of broken timber and a few moss covered wooden shingles to fashion a short pedestal to hold the book.

"Now are you going to tell us your plan?" Fernbark asked as he set the book in place. "You said it was better if we didnít know until the last moment. I figure weíre pretty close to that time now."

"Weíre going to seal the book and hide it with a layer of spells. Any spell that can be done, can be undone, so weíll each cast our own spells.

"Good plan," Larkstone said and began rolling up his sleeves. "If weíre creative enough, even if one person knew all the spells, it would take three ogre-lives to figure out how to work them."

"I do admit, itís one of my more brilliant plans," Haggerwolf said. He reached to tuck the end of his beard behind his wide belt, but grabbed air where the missing end would have hung. He cleared his throat, scratched his side and then tucked the sheared end inside the opening of his shirt, between two buttons. "Letís get started. Weíll bury it inside the hearthstone. But firstÖ" He drew a slender dagger from behind his belt and knelt by the book. Holding the hilt in one hand, he placed three fingers of his other hand over runes etched into the blade. The dagger began to glow.

The thick book had a strap and ornate latch to hold it closed. Haggerwolf placed the tip of his blade at the base of a brass acorn that formed the lock for the clasp. He gave his wrist a quick twist. The acorn popped loose and Larkstone snatched it from the air.

"HmÖ Magic. It figures. It turned back into a real acorn," Larkstone said. He put the nut on the hearthstone and smashed it with his boot. "So much for the lock, but one of us will have to deal with the acorn in their spell. Itíll need replacing to unlock the strap. No one can cut that leather. Itís from a glorgwart."

"Then I say itís spell time," Fernbark said. "Letís circle around. Who wants to go first?"

"Book in a stone stays out of sight," Haggerwolf said and waved his wand.

"Not bad," Larkstone said and nodded as he pulled out his own wand. "Seek with a rainbow in the night." He and Haggerwolf looked at Fernbark.

"Tears from a girl with an overbite."

"What in the troll-ear was that?" Haggerwolf asked as he stared at Fernbark.

"Well," Fernbark said and began to blush. "You two rhymed and thatís all I could come up with. Weíre supposed to be spontaneous, arenít we?" He tried to force a scowl on his face.

Haggerwolf rolled his eyes and cast another spell beginning the next round. "Nut with a cap where the pine cones fall."

"Names of love in a motherís shawl."

"Laughs from a boy who ain't too tall."

Haggerwolf and Larkstone both looked up.

"Itíll make it harder to figure out. Wonít it!" Fernbark yelled at them, his face burning bright red. "Letís place it."

The three men pointed their wands and the hearthstone began to shimmer. A rectangle in the center of the quarried stone turned clear before it vanished. While Larkstone and Fernbark kept their wands steady, Haggerwolf used his to move the book. The bound pages floated from the makeshift pedestal and hovered over the void in the hearthstone. As he lowered his wand the book settled into place. When all three wizards withdrew their wands, the void filled with clear stone, sealing in the book.

"Now just a single spell by me," Haggerwolf said. "Itís an alarm for the three of us if someone tries to tamper here." He pointed his wand at the book. "Shambles re-scrambles." A puff of wind fluffed the end of his beard and circled the other two wizards, flipping their shirttails as it passed.

"Whatís the alarm?" Larkstone asked as he tucked his shirt back in.

"Youíll recognize it if it happens," Haggerwolf said and put his wand away. "Letís finish it. Same order as before. Iíll start. Lightning reveals."

"A tear unseals."

"Blood heals," Fernbark said, his face beaming this time.

Fernbarkís look of pride and the surprise on the other two faces were lost in the sudden swirl of dust. The magic light dimmed and the clutter of boards and shingles in the corner rattled until the wind stopped. The three wizards coughed and waved their arms.

"I guess that means it all worked," Haggerwolf said as the dust settled. "If Fistlock, himself, found this place, heíd never figure out all of that."

"And my little creative touch rules out random chance," Fernbark said, looking at his friends expecting to see them nod in agreement. They were looking at the hearthstone.

The stone, the fireplace, the beams and shingles from the pedestal, were all back in their original positions.

Haggerwolf nodded approvingly at their work. "Thereís absolutely no chance that anyone from this world or any other could ever find and open that book."

"Well, my friends," Larkstone said as he used his hands to brush dust from his shoulders. "One of you call up another journey-wind and letís get home to Gabendoor before Fistlock comes looking for us."


 

Chapter Two: Children of the Summer Wind

 

"Give me a push. My wheels are stuck," Windslow yelled over his shoulder at his older sister.

"I thought you said your new chair could go anywhere? Maybe you need to recharge the battery. I want to go back to the campsite anyway," Hillary said. She grabbed the handles at the back of her brotherís wheelchair. Before she gave it a shove, she used an edge on the back frame to scrape dirt off the side of her hiking boot.

Clear of the temporary obstruction, Windslow sped ahead. Hillary watched his brown hair bob up and down as the wheels of his all-terrain wheelchair bounced over the rough ground. She smiled to herself as she imagined his head as a giant pinecone and his freckles as seeds. Her friends thought she and Windslow looked alike. Their hair color and complexion gave them a similar look, so much that people often thought they were natural brother and sister instead of step. She wished he'd let her fix his hair. Cut short, it stuck out at odd angles. She tried to put gel in it once and he freaked.

"These stupid sticks are hard to roll over. My battery is fine," Windslow yelled as his chair rolled over dry needles and small dead branches from the trees. He looked up into the tall pines and stopped. Digging into his side pack, he searched for his bag of acorns. "Watch this."

He loaded an acorn into the leather pad of his slingshot. Holding the wood handle out straight, he pulled hard, stretching the rubber cords back to his chin. When he released the pad, the acorn flew high into the pine trees, clipping free a few needles as it whizzed through the branches. The crow hopped along the branch, cawed once, and flew away.

"Youíre so mean," Hillary said. "When I filled up your acorn bag, you promised me that you wouldnít shoot at any animals. This is a state park and youíre breaking the rules. Stop it or Iíll dump the whole bag in the trash."

"If you do, Iíll tell mom that you have makeup. Youíre not supposed to use it until next year when youíre twelve. Itís stupid to wear it on a camping trip anyway."

"It is not stupid," Hillary said. She closed her tiny lipstick case and mirror and shoved it into the back pocket of her jeans. "Mom wouldnít care."

"Then why do you wipe it off before we go back to the tents?" Windslow said and moved the joystick control for his chair to pivot around and face his stepsister. "Youíve got lipstick on now."

Hilary stuck her tongue out at him and ran ahead, deeper into the woods. After ducking behind the broad trunk of a pine tree, she pulled a small package of tissues from her shirt pocket and wiped her lips. "Ouch," she said and snapped open her lipstick case. She puckered, trying to curl up her lip. "Stupid braces. Who cares, or even knows what an overbite is anyway." She had to twist and turn the lipstick case to look at her lip in the skinny mirror. Before she put it away, she saw a small reddish chip of bark. It nearly matched the color of her hair and clung to her curls near her shoulder. As she pulled it out, she winced, flicked it away, and sighed.

She liked camping. Bill, her stepfather, knew a lot about the woods and was fun--most of the time. At least he made her mother happy. Windslow was fun too--at first. Hillary liked having a stepbrother. Windslow had been like Bill. Windslow laughed a lot and could think of fun things to do until the accident. Now instead of thinking up adventures, he just got her into trouble. She felt like his personal servant. But even worse, she felt guilty about the accident. It was her stuffed bear that he was trying to rescue. He liked to show off and had made her watch while he climbed up on the roof of their house. He slipped and fell when he held the bear up like a trophy over his head.

Hillary picked up a handful of dry pine needles and threw them. The gentle breeze blew them back at her. She scowled as she brushed them off her flannel shirt. She knew she should check on Windslow, but also knew heíd yell for her if he needed anything. And almost anything he wanted, he got, including most of the attention. She couldnít imagine what not being able to walk must be like. But she missed the days when she and her mom would do things together. Now everything they did seemed to be for Windslow.

"Hillary? Hillary!"

Hillary jumped to her feet and ran back to the clearing. "Where are you?" she yelled.

"Look for my wheel tracks. I found something back in the trees. Itís the ruins of an old cabin."

His wheels hadnít left a clear trail, but Hillary could see the direction he had gone and ran into the woods. "I canít follow your tracks!" she yelled. "Say something."

"You sound louder. Keep coming. Iím in another clearing. Iíve got a new adventure for us. It starts at midnight."

"Sure!" she yelled as she walked fast through the trees. "An adventure for you, but Iíll just get grounded. Itís not fair that you never get punished."

"This chair is the ultimate grounding. Howíd you like to trade?"

He was right, Hillary thought as she batted away a branch and then saw his tracks just to her left. She was lucky and shouldnít complain. She ducked under a limb and saw him up ahead.

"Isnít this cool?" he said. Windslow had the side of his chair up against the remains of an old stone chimney. He held a dead branch and jabbed it at the old hearth. "We havenít had a good adventure since I got sentenced to this chair. Tonight, weíre going to have one."

"Why at night?" Hillary asked as she walked around the chimney. She poked at the stones with the toe of her hiking boot. "This is just an old cabin."

"We need to come here at midnight so we can call up ghosts. Thatís the only time they come out, you know."

"How would you know?"

"TV. Remember? I watch a lot of it now. People who lived in old places like this didnít use banks, either. Lots of them hid their valuables under the big rocks they made their fireplaces out of."

"Just because youíre changing it to a treasure adventure doesnít mean Iíll do it. Mom and Bill wonít let us come here after dark. You know that. And I donít think theyíd want us here now either."

"You know they wonít do anything to me. They wonít even know. And itís a ghost and treasure adventure. We need to call up a ghost to find out where the treasure is. Come on, Hillary. Itíll be fun. Just like the adventures we had before I got hurt trying to do something nice for you." Windslow dropped the stick and drove his chair around the chimney to where his stepsister stood. "Please, Hillary?"

"All right," she agreed. She knew it was useless to argue when he had his mind set. And after all, he was right. He used to do nice things for her all the time and she had encouraged him to show off that afternoon. She wanted to impress her friends and had them come watch when he climbed up on the roof. She bragged to her friends that she could get him to do anything for her. Maybe the tables had turned because she acted silly that day. She didn't want to let those dark thoughts drag her back down again. Hillary forced a smile and gave him a playful punch in the shoulder. "But if I get grounded, Iím going to let the air out of your wheels."

"Youíre the best, sis. We better get back to the campsite. I need to recharge my battery for tonight. Grab an armful of those sticks over there. Weíll use them to mark the trail. Put one over there," Windslow said, pointing as he drove his chair back toward the trees. "And another one there."

Hillary grabbed some of the dried sticks. Each time he pointed, she either sighed or shook her head and then shoved a stick into the ground. Twice she threw one at him, but missed.

***

"Windslow," Hillary said softly as she ducked inside his tent and knelt beside her brother.

"Itís about time you got here," he said. "Help me outside."

"How am I supposed to do that? I canít lift you. And how are you going to get into your chair?"

"Easy. Just grab the blanket, wrap it around my feet and pull. Help me roll over onto my stomach first. Then I can push with my hands."

"This is stupid," Hillary said.

"Just do it. We need to get there before midnight."

With his sisterís help, Windslow rolled over onto his stomach. He looked back over his shoulder and watched Hillary wrap the end of the blanket around his boots. "Pull," he said and began pushing with his hands.

Hillary strained and pulled. She was surprised that the blanket slid easily on the grass. It was like dragging a big pile of dry leaves on a canvas. Just like they did before his accident, when they raked the yard. But he was heavier than a pile of leaves and she knew heíd be the only one having fun this time.

The bigger challenge was getting him into his chair. Together they struggled, whispered a few sarcastic words back and forth, and finally managed to get him in the seat. When they heard Bill cough, they looked at the tent-trailer where their parents slept. The night stayed silent, except for the spring peepers calling down by the pond.

"Push me until weíre away from the tent," Windslow whispered.

"Great adventure," Hillary whispered back a bit louder than he had. "I think itís just going to be a lot of work for me. And look over there. Thatís lightning off in the distance. There might be a storm coming. Maybe we--"

"Maybe you should push. This is our last chance. We go home tomorrow."

Hillary was about to give his chair a shove that he wouldnít forget. As she pushed, he moved the chairís joystick forward and sped ahead. She nearly fell before she caught her balance.

"Would you warn me before you do that?" she snapped, then ran ahead to catch up with him. Windslow suddenly stopped and she ran into the back of his chair.

"Watch out," he said to her and began searching his pack. "You could get hurt. One of us in a chair is enough. Maybe if I wasnít stuck in this thing, I could be a better brother and watch out for you."

Hillary wanted to both smack him and hug him. It was nice when he was like he used to be. ĎIn the time before the chair,í as Windslow would say. "Wait," she said and ran back to her tent. When she returned she carried a shawl, knitted from pale yellow yarn. "Here," she said and handed the shawl to her brother. "Itís the one mom knitted for me with our names in it. Just in case you get cold."

"If she finds out you brought this camping sheíll have a hyper-spaz. But thanks. Here." He handed his sister a long flashlight with a shiny red-metal case. "I fixed mine up with Velcro. Watch." He smiled at her after he pressed his flashlight against the side of the chairís armrest and the light stayed in place. "Come on," he said and pushed his joystick forward. "Weíre late for our meeting with the ghosts who are going to make us rich. What are you going to buy with your share?"

"A new servant for you so I can go on a vacation," she mumbled.

***

Black of night and midnight blue from the approaching storm chased colors away from the forest. The longer meadow grass bowed to puffs of wind the storm chased ahead of it through the valleys in the foothills. Night creatures sniffed the air and scurried back into den or thicket, giving the night up to those more courageous or foolhardy. They granted this night to the two children of the wind who moved steadily toward the ruins. Hovering high in readiness the clouds flashed with far off lightning and hid the ruins below from the stars, moon, and all else above.

"Windslow, it is going to storm. I saw lightning again. Maybe we should go back," Hillary said and unconsciously clutched her lucky crystal pendant, hanging from a thin chain around her neck.

"Weíre almost there. Look," he said as the beam from his flashlight swept across the stones of the chimney up ahead. "Besides, itís almost midnight."

When they reached the ruins, Windslow tried to move his chair close to the chimney. As he struggled with his chair, the wind puffed stray gusts, cooler than the others. Hillary felt their chill and took the shawl from her brotherís lap and wrapped it around his shoulders.

"Thatís as close as youíre going to get," she told her brother. "Letís just get started. I donít like this adventure. Weíre going to get rained on. And if you catch cold, mother is going to--"

"Hillary. Look there. At that stone. I saw something when the lightning flashed. Help me out of my chair."

"Windslow. What are you doing?"

Hillary moved to her brother, who rocked his chair, trying to get out of it by himself. "All right. Here. Put your arms around me."

She strained while Windslow helped with his arms. Moving him barely ten inches at a time, she boosted him closer to the chimney until he could lean against the pile of round stones.

"There," Windslow said and pointed. "Brush off the hearthstone, that big flat one. Thatís where I saw it."

"Saw, what?"

"I donít know. Something. When the lightning flashed. It was like the stone turned into a big block of ice. I could almost see through it. I wish it would lightning again."

"If youíre doing this to scare me," Hillary yelled at her brother, "then you have! Letís go back. I donít want any more lightning and your chair might attract it. Did you ever think of that?"

"Good. I want to find out what I saw. There. See that?"

Lightning flashed again, still far off. In the seconds between the flash and the distant thunder, the large two-foot square hearthstone turned nearly clear, like cloudy glass.

Brother and sister huddled together, each trying to get a better view of the stone. A stronger gust of cold air swirled past them. The wind rushed into trees and rattled a dead branch against a hollow trunk. Windslow sat up straight and looked into the forest as the branch kept rapping.

Hillary gave a short scream when she heard the sound. "What was that?"

"I donít know. Maybe just the wind. It was nothing," Windslow said. "Get my backpack."

Hillary stayed on her hands and knees and scrambled to her brotherís chair. She unsnapped the bag and dragged it back to the chimney.

"What are you doing?" Hillary asked when her brother pulled out his slingshot and pouch of acorns.

"Just in case," he answered and put an acorn into the leather slingshot pad.

Wind buffeted the trees, announcing the closeness of the storm. The dead branch broke loose and crashed to the ground. Windslow pulled back on the acorn, stretching the rubber bands tight. Both Hillary and Windslow screamed when one of the cords snapped. The acorn flew back, ricocheted off the chimney and struck Hillary in the cheek.

"Ow!" Hillary held both hands to the side of her face and began crying. "You shot me," she said between sobs. "Look. You cut me!" She grabbed her brotherís flashlight and held her hand under the beam. Her palm had a smear of blood on it.

"Itís not that bad. Iím really sorry, Hillary. I--" Windslowís mouth stayed open, but his words stopped. He stared down at the hearthstone.

Hillary looked at his expression and she couldnít tell if she saw fear or excitement. She knew he wasnít pretending. "Windslow?"

"Look. No wait. Sit up a little," he said and used one hand to push her back.

Hillary sniffed and swept her hand across her cheek, both to wipe away the blood from the tiny cut on her face and her tears.

"Give me the flashlight." Not waiting he grabbed it from her. "Lean forward again. Just a bit. Let your lucky crystal dangle into the light."

"Windslow, what--"

"Do it, Hillary. Do it! It makes something happen." He looked up at her, his eyes bright. "This is working. Thereís something here. Really."

She leaned forward until her crystal pendant hung over the hearthstone. Windslow moved the beam from the flashlight around until the tiny rainbow of light from the glass prism washed across the stone. Lightning flashed. The hearthstone turned milky white, then slowly turned clear as glass. While Windslow and Hillary stared at the clear stone, a single tear ran down the edge of Hillaryís nose and splashed near the rainbow. The clear stone shimmered. The change startled her and she sat up straight. Her quick movement shook a drop of blood from her cheek. It landed next to her tear.

Lightning flickered close this time. Thunder boomed and shook the ground. The hearthstone was gone.

"Donít touch it," Hillary said. She grabbed her brother, trying to force him back from the space where the hearthstone had been. "It could be--"

"Let me go!" Windslow yelled and wrenched his shoulder away from her hold. He fell forward and tried to thrust his hand into the hole. Hillary pinned him down.

The wind kicked up stray blades of grass and twigs. Lightning crackled in drawn out choruses that ended in loud, ground shaking booms. Hillary had to let go of her brother to grab the fallen flashlight.

"Hillary, itís a book. Didnít you see it? Help me reach it and then we can get out of here. All of this is starting to scare me too."

She swept the light down into the hole as Windslow tried to get a look. His hand brushed his pouch of acorns and a single nut fell into the hole. They watched the acorn roll across the studded leather cover. When it touched the clasp that held the book closed, the acorn stopped. With a loud "click" it turned to brass and the leather strap fell away.

They both sat up and hugged each other when they heard the clear yet whispering voice carried on the wind that swirled around them.

Book in a stone stays out of sight.

Seek with a rainbow in the night.

Tears from a girl with an overbite.

Nut with a cap where the pine cones fall.

Names of love in a motherís shawl.

Laughs from a boy who ain't too tall.

Lightning reveals.

A tear unseals.

Blood heals.

Windslow grabbed the book.