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       The Light, p.1

           D. J. MacHale
 
The Light


  The Light (Morpheus Road #1)

  D. J. Machale

  For Donna

  Foreword

  I love scary stories.

  Always did. I think it started when I was a toddler and my mother read me the Dr. Seuss story What Was I Scared Of? I moved on to reading ghost stories like The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Most Saturdays my friend Frank and I would go to the horror matinee at the local theater where they showed bizarre fright films from Italy and England and Eastern Europe and who knew where else? I had nightmares for years after seeing a film called Black Sabbath. (In hindsight I wished I had skipped that one.) I don't think I've seen any of those films since, but they definitely left an impression.

  Once I started writing for young people, my natural inclination steered me toward telling tales of the supernatural. For years I made a TV show called Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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  Between the ninety-one episodes of that show and the spinoff books and games and short stories, I think I've explored just about every scary convention that exists . . . and some that I made up.

  When I try to figure out what it is about supernatural stories that intrigues me, I don't think it's for the obvious reasons. Sure, I think it's cool when your palms start sweating because you don't know what might be lurking around the corner, and it's a rush when something unexpectedly jumps out at you, but that's only part of it. I think the great thing about supernatural stories is that they are so full of possibility. As a storyteller, you aren't restricted by the laws of nature. Anything can happen. Being somebody who likes to put twists into my stories, having a bottomless toolbox of surprises to dig into is a wonderful thing. The only limit is your own imagination. How great is that?

  But the other aspect of spooky tales I like is that, like any good story, it's really about the characters. Whatever the boogeyman happens to be, the story is really about characters the reader can relate to as they try to understand why they are being tormented by supernatural doings. Since all stories are about dealing with conflict, it's a lot of fun

  putting characters into situations where the conflict is something you don't normally encounter in real life (at least I don't, anyway).

  That brings us to Morpheus Road: The Light. It's going to be a trilogy, but I don't want to reveal where the next two Morpheus Road books will take us. That's all part of the mystery of what is about to happen to Marshall Seaver. You'll learn right along with him. For those of you who have read my Pendragon series, you know that I like to take you on a journey that is always surprising. Just when you think you know where you're going, you don't. Sometimes you'll guess right, other times not, and when you hit the end, it isn't.

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  Yeah, you'll find all that stuff here.

  Though the story is different, I'm fortunate that my cast of supporting players continues to remain the same, and I'd like to acknowledge them.

  I am very grateful to all my good friends at Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing for giving me the opportunity to explore stories that don't involve Bobby Pendragon. They've put their faith in me with not only Morpheus Road, but two other new book series, and for that I am very thankful.

  Liesa Abrams was the final editor on the Pendragon series, and I'm thrilled that she has stayed with me for this new adventure. Her insight and guidance has proved invaluable in shaping Marsh's story. (And she even introduced me to the Goon graphic novels. Thanks, Liesa.)

  Richard Curtis has forgotten more about the publishing business than I'll ever know, and I am grateful to him for his sage guidance during every step of the process. And he's a terrific guy ... for a Mets fan.

  Peter Nelson and Mark Wetzstein continue to have my back on all things contractual. One of these days I may actually read one of those contracts. (Doubt it.)

  The girls I call "my two blondes" make this all worthwhile. My wife, Evangeline, continues to be the first reader of every word that I write and always keeps me honest. My daughter, Keaton, continues to amaze and inspire me with her imagination. She is almost old enough to be reading my books, though I think I'll hold off on letting her read Morpheus Road for a while. I don't want her having a Black Sabbath incident. Thanks, ladies, I love you both.

  Finally, to all of you Pendragon readers who have decided to give this new story a shot, I thank you and hope you enjoy it. If not for you, this book would not exist. Hobey ho to you all.

  x

  When I finished making Are You Afraid of the Dark? I took a long break from writing about the supernatural. I hung out with castaways on a tropical island for Flight 29 Down and traveled across time and space to create massive battles for Pendragon. When I decided to take a trip back into the supernatural world and started to write The Light, I had some doubts. I felt a little bit like a gunslinger who had hung up his shootin' irons for a long time. I had to dust them off, strap them on, and hope that I still knew how to shoot.

  The answer came quickly. The guns were loaded and shot true. I knew it as soon as the bodies started falling. And as everybody knows, you can't have ghosts without bodies.

  It was good to be back in the saddle.

  I love scary stories.

  See you in Trouble Town.

  --D. J. MacHale

  1

  Prologue

  I believe in ghosts.

  Simple as that. I believe in ghosts.

  Maybe that doesn't come across as very dramatic. After all, lots of people believe in ghosts. You always hear stories about some guy who felt a "presence" or glimpsed a fleeting, unexplainable phenomenon. There are mediums who claim they can make contact with the great beyond and receive messages to let the living know that all is well. Or not. Then there are those people who operate on a more philosophical level . . . the spiritual types who believe that the energy of the human soul is so powerful, it must continue on after death to some other plane of existence. Of course, there are millions of people who love getting scared by ghost stories. They may not believe, but they sure have fun pretending.

  I'm not like any of those people. At least not anymore. A little over a week ago you could have put me in the category

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  of somebody who didn't necessarily believe in anything supernatural, though I did like horror movies. But that was then. Before last week. A week is like . . . nothing. How many particular weeks can anybody really remember? A week can fly by like any other. Or it can change your life. You tend to remember those weeks.

  I remember last week.

  It was the week the haunting began.

  Or maybe I should call it the hunting because that's what it was. I was being hunted. And haunted. It wasn't a good week.

  My name is Marshall Seaver. People call me Marsh. I live in a small town in Connecticut called Stony Brook. It's a suburb of New York City where moms drive oversize silver trucks to Starbucks and most kids play soccer whether they want to or not. It's the kind of place where kids are trained from birth to compete. In everything. School, sports, friendships, clothes . . . you know, everything. I'm not sure what the point is other than to win bragging rights. Luckily, my parents didn't buy into that program. They said I should set my own priorities. I liked that. Though it puts pressure on me to figure out what those priorities are.

  I guess you'd call us middle class. We've only got one car and it's almost as old as I am. I can't believe it's still running, because we drove it into the ground. My parents liked to travel. That was one of their priorities. Whenever they had two days off, we'd hit the road, headed for some national monument or backwater town that served awesome gumbo or had historical significance or maybe just sounded different. I complained a lot about how boring it was, but to be honest, I didn't hate it. Bumping around in the
back of a car wasn't great, but the adventure of it all made it worthwhile. It's kind of cool to see things for real instead of on TV. I miss those trips.

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  Other than that, my life is pretty usual. Unlike a lot of people in this town, I've never been inside a country club. Most of my clothes come from Target. I ride my bike to school. We don't live in a monster-size house, but it's plenty big enough for the three of us.

  That is, when there were still three of us.

  Things have changed. Not that long ago I thought I had a pretty good handle on what normal was. I was wrong. Nothing about my life is normal anymore. The events that unfolded over the last week weren't just about me, either. Many lives were touched and not all for the better. As I look back, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if different decisions had been made. Different paths taken. So many innocent choices added to a butterfly effect that fed the nightmare. Or created it. I guess it goes without saying that I'm still alive. Not everyone was so lucky. That's the harsh thing about ghost stories. Somebody has to die. No death, no ghost. I survived the week and that gives me a feeling of guilt I'll carry forever. Or at least for as long as I live. I hope that's a good long time, but there are no guarantees because this story isn't done.

  The hunt is still on.

  My story may sound like a fantasy, and maybe some of it is. But many things happened over that week that can't be ignored or explained away as having sprung from an overly imaginative mind. People died. Lives were changed. That was no dream. After what I saw and experienced, there's one other bit of reality I have to accept.

  I believe in ghosts.

  After you hear my story, I think you will too.

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  [Page Blank]

  5

  Chapter 1

  Cooper Foley was in trouble. Again.

  "What were you thinking?" I screamed at him. "Counterfeit tickets? Really?"

  "Easy, Ralph," Coop replied calmly. "I didn't know they were bogus."

  Cooper always called me Ralph.

  "Even so," I argued. "It's illegal to scalp real tickets."

  "No, it's not," he corrected. "Not if you sell them at face value."

  "Did you sell them at face value?"

  He smiled. "No."

  I wanted to smack him.

  Cooper and I were making the long walk to school on the last day of the year before summer vacation. He was my best friend. Okay, my only friend. My only good friend, anyway. I think the main reason we got along so well was

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  because we were completely different. I worry. Cooper doesn't. I think things through. Cooper doesn't. I freeze in social situations. Cooper doesn't. I hate playing sports. Cooper doesn't. I worry about what people think of me. Cooper doesn't.

  I think we stayed friends because there was never any competition between us. We had plenty of fights over the years, but they always ended up in a wrestling match that lasted about eight seconds. No punches were ever thrown in anger. As we walked along on that hot June day, I was ready to plot out all the exciting adventures we'd be sharing that summer. Instead I found out that Cooper was in trouble. Again.

  "What's going to happen?" I asked.

  Cooper shrugged as if he didn't really care. "Nothing. I got spanked, that's all. Nobody thinks I printed out a bunch of phony Yankees tickets. And for the record, I didn't."

  "Then who did?"

  He gave me a sly smile. "Can't tell you that, Ralph. I'd have to kill you."

  Coop was changing . . . and not for the better. Though he was always a wild guy, he never got into serious trouble. With him it was about being a goof in class or skateboarding without a helmet. The thing was, he always made the teachers laugh and didn't need a helmet because he never crashed. Ever. Once when we were around ten, we snuck into the private stable of some uber-rich Wall Street guy. I was so scared, I wanted to puke. In fact, I did. All over my pants. Not Coop. He hopped on the back of a prize thoroughbred and rode it, bareback, out of the stable and across the huge lawn, shouting, "Yippiekiyay!" He didn't get in trouble, either. I, on the other hand, caught hell for ruining my pants. Cooper lived a charmed life. He never puked on his pants.

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  That is, until we got to high school. That's when he started pushing things. He got into fights. Real fights. He'd skip school. His parents started coming down on him for his grades, which made it pretty tense around the Foley house. They grounded him ... he snuck out. We'd go for weeks without seeing each other because he started hanging around with some older guys. They smelled like bad news, so I didn't go anywhere near them. I'd bet anything they had something to do with the counterfeit tickets Coop was busted for selling.

  None of this was like Coop. At least not the Coop I knew. Yeah, he liked to have fun and push some limits, but he wasn't a bad guy. Or maybe I was just naive.

  "It's okay, Ralph," he assured me. "It was dumb. I get it. I'm not going there again."

  I'd heard that promise before.

  "C'mon!" he said. "Tomorrow the gun goes off on summer. What's the plan? I know you've got a plan."

  My mood changed instantly. Coop had that ability. When he got psyched up about something, he brought everyone else right along with him. He was right. I had a plan. I'd been looking forward to this summer for months.

  "It's gonna be great," I said with excitement. "The rocket kits finally came in. We can set up shop and build 'em at my house . . . wait'll you see the new plasma Dad got from work . . . hello, Yankees in high def . . . then we can head up to the reservoir and camp for a couple of days and launch 'em."

  Cooper gave me a blank stare. "Okay," he said with absolutely no enthusiasm.

  Undaunted, I pressed on. "Oh! And the Jansens said I could take their Hobie Cat out whenever I wanted. I'm thinking we can race the ferry out to Captain's Island like we did last summer. Remember that?"

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  Cooper barely reacted. No, I take that back. Each time I mentioned something I thought was cool, he winced like I was nailing him with poison darts.

  "What?" I asked, confused. "Doesn't that sound great?"

  "Uhh . . . yeah," he muttered awkwardly. "But I was kinda thinking more like we should hang out at the beach."

  "No problem," I said. "We'll do that, too."

  "A lot?" he asked.

  "Yeah, sure, if you want. But there's so much more we can do."

  Coop gave me a sly smile. "Not that involves girls in bikinis."

  Couldn't argue with that.

  He added, "I'm thinking the beach at the Point will be our base of operations. Or maybe our entire operation. Why not? We've only got a couple of months."

  "But . . . really? That's all you want to do? Hang out at the beach?"

  "No! I'm all for the rocket thing," he exclaimed. "Let's get that on the schedule for, oh ... sometime in late August."

  "You're killing me," I said.

  I was disappointed in Coop. He hated being bored and so did I. He was always looking for different things to do and coming up with new adventures that kept us moving. That was his job. Trolling for girls at the beach was okay by me, but I didn't want it to be our sole focus. Besides, the girls I liked had more interesting things to do than spend every waking moment sitting around at the beach comparing tans.

  "Aw, c'mon, Ralph!" Coop said. "What's better than sitting on a blanket in the warm sand next to three or four or eight girls wearing little more than underwear?"

  "And talking about. . . what? Reality TV? Perez Hilton?"

  "Okay, now you're killing me!" he said. "Who cares what we talk about?"

  9

  I guess I did. Unfortunately. Truth was, I needed help in the girl department. Whenever I was around somebody I liked, I got self-conscious. I'm not sure why, either. I think I'm okay-looking and wasn't hit too hard by the acne stick. I've got blond hair and brown eyes, which I've heard more than once is a pretty good combination. I think part of my trouble is that I get nervous and start talking too much about
things I'm interested in, and most girls don't care about graphic novels or wartime history. At least not the ones I've met. Coop may have had high hopes for a stellar summer at the beach, but I couldn't see myself starting up a casual conversation about the Battle of Bull Run with a bunch of near-naked girls. They'd crucify me.

  Besides, I liked building rockets.

  "C'mon, Ralph!" Cooper said. "What's wrong with messing around a little? That's what summer's for. It's in the rule book."

  "There's nothing wrong with it," I shot back. "But there's other stuff too. You always liked doing stupid stuff like building rockets."

  "I liked Power Rangers too . . . when I was six." He put his arm around my shoulder and said, "We are looking at what could be the most awesome summer of our lives, and all we have to do is . . . uh-oh."

  He spotted something over my shoulder.

  "Trouble Town," he whispered.

  The courtyard in front of school was packed, but the crowd parted magically to reveal a stunning girl walking toward us. She had long, shiny black hair that fell to her shoulders and dark skin that was the product of an early season tan. Judging from her short shorts, she didn't mind showing off her long legs. She was hot, and she knew it. Her dark eyes were focused on Coop. My mouth went dry. Something was about to happen. She walked right up to us, locked eyes

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  with Cooper, and snarled a simple, succinct, and venomous "Idiot," then blew past us without breaking stride.

  "I love you too, Agnes," Coop called to her.

  Whenever Cooper gave a girl a hard time, he called her Agnes. With guys it was Richard. In this case the Agnes was Sydney Foley. Cooper's older sister. She and Coop didn't like each other much, which was too bad because I wouldn't have minded hanging out with her. I didn't have the same trouble making conversation with her like I did with other girls. That's because when I was with her, I couldn't speak at all. Seriously. My tongue would swell up and my throat would close. I guess you would call her intimidating. She and Coop had the same dark hair and blue eyes, but that's where the similarity ended. The girl was cold. I mean icy. She was a year ahead of us in school and light-years ahead academically. I think she'll have a shot at class valedictorian. She always had a boyfriend but never anyone for long. I guess she got bored easily. Sydney Foley was definitely out of my league ... if I were to be in a league. Still, I would have welcomed the chance to hang out with her a little, and if it just so happened to be on one of those days that Coop made me go to the beach and she just so happened to be there in a bikini, maybe I'd have to think twice about being so critical of Coop's summer plans.

 
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