Curse of the boggin, p.1
Curse of the Boggin, p.1D. J. MacHale
Also by D. J. MacHale
Voyagers: Project Alpha
The SYLO Chronicles
Morpheus Road series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2016 by D. J. MacHale
Cover art copyright © 2016 by Shane Rebenschied
Cover key and keyhole art copyright © 2016 by Leah Palmer Preiss
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Visit us on the Web! randomhousekids.com
Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
ISBN 9781101932537 (trade) — ISBN 9781101932544 (lib. bdg.) —ebook ISBN 9781101932551
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
Also by D. J. Machale
About the Author
To all of my good buddies from Villanova
“Nothin’s real scary except in books.”
—JEAN LOUISE “SCOUT” FINCH IN TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Welcome, my friends.
We’re about to begin a new adventure together. This is always a fun time for me because I know exactly what’s in store for you, and you have no idea of what’s coming. Mwahahahaha! Once you’ve read Curse of the Boggin, you’ll have a pretty good sense of what to expect from future books in The Library series. But as of right now it’s a clean page, a blank slate, an empty screen.
If you’ve read my books, you know I like mysteries. Whether they’re fantasy, science fiction, or thrillers, I like to keep you guessing. And, oh yes—I like spooky.
The Library is spooky.
I’m not sure why I often write about supernatural doings. I suppose you could ask my therapist. But seeing as I don’t have a therapist, don’t bother trying.
If I were to analyze it myself, I’d have to say it’s because I like possibilities. When authors write stories about situations where the rules of science and nature don’t necessarily apply, it creates a slew of opportunities to concoct imaginative scenarios and crazy challenges for characters to deal with. I guess that’s the villain in me coming out. I like to make my characters sweat a little.
And my readers too.
Speaking of possibilities, The Library is going to be a bit different from my other series. If you’ve read Pendragon or Morpheus Road or The SYLO Chronicles, you know that all those stories build toward a conclusion. Whether it’s one of three volumes or ten, each book is the next chapter in a grand overall story that has a definitive climax. Not so with The Library. Once you’ve read the first book (the one you’re holding, duh), you can read the rest in any order. Each will hold a unique tale that doesn’t necessarily rely on any of the others. (Except for the first. It’s the setup. You’ve gotta start with number one. I said that, right?) There will be a continuing cast of characters you’ll get to know, but they will find themselves in entirely different situations and confronted by uniquely weird dilemmas every time.
My plan is to explore all sorts of supernatural puzzles. The common thread will be the characters you are about to meet. They’ll be going along on these adventures with you. And, believe me, I’m going to make them sweat. A lot. It’s what I do.
Before you open the door to these odd archives, I’d like to offer some thanks to the people who helped bring this book to you.
Michelle Nagler, my editor at Random House Children’s Books, was the first who dared to enter The Library. Michelle, Mallory Loehr, and Diane Landolf have thoughtfully guided its creation. To them and to all the good folks at RHCB, I thank you.
My support teams headed by Richard Curtis and Peter Nelson have had my back since The Merchant of Death. (And with Peter, since Are You Afraid of the Dark?) As always, thanks for taking care of business.
The solid encouragement and support of my wife, Evangeline, is, as always, invaluable, while the merciless criticism from my daughter, Keaton, is, as always, totally annoying. But it’s also spot-on accurate. It’s a double-edged sword there. Heck, Keaton wasn’t even born until after The Never War was published. How can it be possible that she is able to figure out my plot twists? Smart kid, I guess. Or my kid. I love you both.
I am truly grateful to the hundreds of booksellers, librarians, and teachers I’ve had the good fortune to meet over the years. Whether you represent a big-box store, local indie, school, or massive district, you do such a wonderful job of promoting literacy by getting books into the hands of kids. Thank you.
And, of course, the biggest thanks must go to you, dear reader. One of the wonderful perks of writing my books for young people is that every year there are new readers who discover them, as well as loyal readers who have been with me for years. It’s great to hear, “I grew up with your stories!” Though it does make me feel kind of ancient. But that’s okay; it’s worth it. Sort of. Seriously, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy hearing from you all so that I can answer your questions and discuss the stories…even if you enjoyed them way back when you were a kid.
Okay now. Back to the main reason we’re here.
This series is about books. Scary books. If you’re reading this foreword, it means I’m speaking your language. You’re just as interested in dark mysteries as I am, aren’t you? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. Settle in. Get comfortable. We’re setting out on a journey together. It’s one of those trips where you won’t be quite sure what you’re going to find behind the next closed door or what you’ll run into when you round a corner. Things won’t always be what they seem. Did that shadow move, or was it a trick of the flickering light? Who can I trust? Who should I fear?
Am I going to be able to get to sleep tonight?
No promises about that last one.
It’s all there waiting for you. So let’s turn the page, open the door, and step into…
—D. J. MacHale, 2016
It was under the bed.
Parents always tell their children there’s nothing scary down there, or lurking in the deep depths of a closet, or hiding low in dark shadows. That’s what parents always say, and they’re right.
Most of the time.
Alec Swenor had something under his bed that night, and it wasn’t dust bunnies.
“Again?” his mother, Lillian, asked with frustration. “I’ve checked under there every night for a week, and I always find the same nothing.”
Alec’s bedroom was a typical nine-year-old’s room. The walls were covered with Avengers posters, a small desk had a computer that was mostly used to play Minecraft, and a long shelf held a vast collection of his favorite books.
He watched nervously from a safe distance as his mother knelt down next to the bed to examine the dark below. Mrs. Swenor got down low so that her face was barely inches from the floor. She lifted the Jedi bedspread, peered underneath, and…
Alec jumped back with surprise. “I told you!”
“I don’t believe it!” his mother exclaimed as she reached under the bed and pulled out a plate of day-old scrambled eggs.
She held out the congealed mess as if it were diseased. “You told me you finished your breakfast,” she said, annoyed.
Alec let out a relieved breath. “I ran out of time. It was either eat breakfast or tie my shoes.”
“Or you could have gotten out of bed ten minutes earlier.”
“I’m sorry. I was tired. I haven’t been sleeping so hot.”
Mrs. Swenor softened. “I know, sweetheart. But please believe me, there’s no boogeyman down there.”
She kissed Alec on top of his head and walked toward the bedroom door. “I love you, even if you are a nutjob.”
She left with the plate of stinky eggs, passing her husband, Michael, who was watching the scene from the door, looking more worried about the situation than his wife was.
“You okay, bud?” he asked his son with genuine concern.
“Yeah,” Alec replied, embarrassed.
“Want to sleep with us tonight?”
“Nah, I’m being dumb.”
“No, you’re not. You know you can always shout, and we’ll come running. No matter what. Okay?”
“Good night. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Michael Swenor gave a last, concerned look to his son, then left, gently closing the door behind him.
Alec gazed across the room to his bed. It was as normal as any bed on the face of the planet. He had absolutely no problem with it.
Until a few days ago.
It began with subtle scratching, as if rats were scurrying below. The Swenors’ apartment was on the top floor of an old four-story brownstone in New York City. It wouldn’t be weird for rats to be scampering under the floorboards.
Then came the knocking.
Rats didn’t knock.
Alec would run out of the room and drag his parents back in to listen, but each time, the sounds had stopped before his mom and dad arrived. During the day, Alec felt silly for being so scared. But at night, when all was quiet, things were different.
Alec sprinted across the floor and flung himself the last few feet into the bed in case blood-soaked claws were waiting to reach out and grab his ankles. He dug under the covers, lifted them up to his chin, and listened.
All he heard was the far-off wail of a police siren and the white noise of the city beyond his closed window. He believed his mom. There was no boogeyman under his bed. It was silly to act like a jumpy two-year-old instead of a mature nine-year-old. He scrunched his eyes shut, and after a long twenty minutes, he fell asleep without having heard any more weird sounds.
All was well.
Until just after midnight.
There’s no logical reason why strange doings begin when the day changes, but that’s often how it goes.
The scratching returned.
Alec’s eyes snapped open as though he had heard the crash of a cymbal. He lay very still. Whatever was under his bed was back. His panic grew and his mouth went dry. He wanted to yell for his parents, but his throat was closed so tight, he couldn’t utter a peep.
Then came the knocking. Whatever was down there was alive. Or at least alive enough to be making sounds. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had to know what it was. Slowly, moving his body as if it weighed a ton, he peered over the edge of the bed, toward the floor.
His Jedi blanket was half off the bed and bunched below. Moonlight streamed in through the window, providing enough light for Alec to make out the image of Chewbacca with his head thrown back midroar. All was normal.
Until the blanket moved.
Oddly, it didn’t scare him. Instead, it confirmed that something was really there. Something normal. Something real. Nothing spooky. It was probably a rat. Alec hated rats, but they didn’t scare him. Enough! He reached down and yanked the blanket back.
What he saw was something far stranger than a common rat.
Words were scratched into the floorboards. Words that hadn’t been there before. They looked to have been crudely scraped by a knife.
Or a claw.
Alec had to lean down close to read them.
“ ‘Surrender the key,’ ” he read aloud.
He reached for the floor, wanting to touch the etched letters to figure out if they were real or a trick of light. His hand slowly dropped lower, growing closer to the mysterious message. As his fingertips were about to touch the odd markings, an ominous growl came from under the bed.
Rats didn’t growl.
Alec pulled his hand back quickly and cowered against the wall as…
…the Jedi blanket came to life. It flew across the floor to the center of the room, stopped suddenly, and fell to the floor, revealing the culprit.
It was a dog. A pit bull. Its head was nearly as large as its muscular body, with jaws that split its skull, like a leering jack-o’-lantern…with teeth. Fangs, actually. The beast turned to face Alec and tensed, staring him straight in the eye.
This was not a friendly dog.
“Dad!” Alec called out weakly, fearing his words might trigger the beast.
The animal stood between him and the door, its body as tense and tight as a banjo string, staring at Alec.
Alec glanced toward the window above his bed. It was his only option. He lunged for it, threw it open, and rolled out onto the metal landing of the fire escape.
Behind him, the dog sprang.
“Dad!” Alec finally shouted out.
He slammed the window shut as the powerful animal launched. It drilled the glass with its head, creating a spiderweb of cracks. The window didn’t shatter, but that didn’t stop the beast. It hammered away at the glass, butting with its head again and again, determined to break through.
Alec had to move. His family’s apartment was on the top floor. Climbing up to the roof would be fast and easy. He grabbed the metal rungs of the ladder and made the short climb. He was only a few feet from the top when the window below him shattered and the dog blasted through in an explosion of broken glass.
Alec froze and looked down to see the animal staring up at him with angry red eyes.
“Leave me alone!” he screamed at the beast.
He threw himself over the low safety wall, onto the black, tar-papered surface, and ran for his life. It was the dead of night. The only light came from the city and the moon and stars above. He dashed to the far side of the roof, hoping there would be another fire escape. When he reached the edge of the building, he looked over to see…no fire escape. He spun around, frantically looking for a doorway that might lead back down to the fourth floor. What he saw instead was the pit bull standing on the far edge of the roof, staring back at him.
How did it climb the ladder? Alec thought.
He didn’t have time to come up with an answer, because as soon as the dog locked eyes with Alec, it leapt off the safety wall and ran directly toward him.
Alec spun around, desperate to find an escape route. This time he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. A metal ladder was attached to the outside of the building. How could he have missed that? Didn’t matter. It was his only hope.
The vicious dog was halfway to Alec and charging hard. Thick slobber flew from its mouth as it bared its sharp fangs. Alec ha
…the ladder disappeared. Vanished. Poof. Gone.
Alec had already committed to going over, and he fell. Desperately, he grabbed for the roof and managed to catch the edge. He hung there by the fingertips of both hands, his bare feet dangling four stories above the hard pavement. So many thoughts flashed through his head: How could I have been so stupid? Why did I think there was a ladder? Will the dog bite my fingers?
Alec heard the scraping of its claws as it arrived at the edge of the roof. He looked up, expecting to see the dog looming over him, dripping slobber.
Instead, peering down at him was an old woman.
“Help me!” Alec called to her.
She had waist-length gray hair and wore a long forest-green dress. Over it was a black shawl that she clutched to her chest with a bone-white hand. The tendrils of hair blew about her head like a pack of wild dancing spirits. Though her face was pale and wrinkled like that of someone a hundred years old, her eyes were focused and alive with fiery madness.
Alec’s brief moment of relief was shattered when he looked into those horrible eyes.
“Dad!” he screamed in desperation.
He didn’t have the strength to hang on much longer.
“Save me!” he cried to the woman. “Please!”
The woman leaned down over the edge to stare him straight in the eye.
“Oh no,” she replied in a low, dark voice that sounded like the hollow echo from an empty grave. “That wouldn’t help me at all. Now, if you don’t mind…please fall.”
“Dad!” Alec screamed again…
…and lost his grip.
His fingers slipped off the edge, and he began to fall as…
…a hand shot down and grabbed his wrist, stopping him from a death plummet. He was quickly hauled up and over the edge as if he weighed no more than one of his Transformers toys. A second later he was deposited safely on the roof.
Curse of the Boggin by D. J. MacHale / Fantasy / Horror / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes