Curse of the broomstaff, p.1
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       Curse of the Broomstaff, p.1

           Tyler Whitesides
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Curse of the Broomstaff


  A Message from the Author

  Dear Reader,

  Here it is: the third installment in the JANITORS series. And I must admit, this is definitely the trashiest book I’ve ever written. No, literally. This book is full of garbage.

  This time, our young heroes must venture deep into an enchanted landfill. They will battle heaps of living garbage and hike through distorted trashscapes as they discover a mysterious group of kids living among the refuse, harboring a centuries-old secret that could save the future of education.

  As you can see, I take garbage very seriously. As a parttime janitor at a local middle school, I could slide a trash can from its hallway alcove, empty it, install a clean liner, and be on my way in less than 27 seconds. But between bouts of extreme efficiency, I would often find myself staring aimlessly down a dim hallway. I soon understood that there was a story to be told—about schools, about trash, about janitors. . . .

  Pesky little monsters, invisible to the common eye, are living in every school. These Toxites inhale students’ brain waves and exhale sleepiness, distraction, and apathy. For countless years, janitors from the Bureau of Educational Maintenance (BEM) have hunted these creatures with magic-powered cleaning supplies.

  But now the BEM has defected, withdrawing support from every school but one. New Forest Academy is the last safe haven for education, but it’s run by the bad guys. Their scheme is to raise the next generation of brainy kids to take over the world while the rest of the schools fall by the wayside, rotted out by Toxite breath.

  Sixth graders Spencer and Daisy have joined a group of Rebel Janitors, determined to use magic mops and vacuum dust to fight Toxites and save schools from the destructive plans of the BEM.

  I hope you enjoy JANITORS: CURSE OF THE BROOMSTAFF. I think it’s really going to kick some trash.

  Tyler Whitesides

  © 2013 Tyler Whitesides

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher, Shadow Mountain®. The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Shadow Mountain.

  Visit us at ShadowMountain.com

  All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data (CIP on file)

  ISBN 978-1-60907-605-4

  Printed in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Table of Contents

  “The clean way.”

  “That’s jaywalking!”

  “You wouldn’t get it.”

  “I’m the first one here, then?

  “You are a stranger.”

  “That’s irony.”

  “Treasure!”

  “A joystick!”

  “Who’s next?”

  “Pluggers.”

  “It’s a pattern.”

  “It doesn’t really work like that.”

  “We won’t forget this.”

  “Shake your leg!”

  “It’s all in the system.”

  “Smelled like oranges.”

  “Potato, potahto.”

  “It’s all right here.”

  “Woke us all up.”

  “Vanilla scented.”

  “A paint spill.”

  “Everyone knows the answer.”

  “To get to the other side.”

  “Don’t tell her I did that, okay?”

  “Hold your breath.”

  “And that’s a loose end.”

  “Rest in peace.”

  “So, that’s it?”

  “Straight on till morning!

  “Fascinating place!”

  “It’s Rho.”

  “Just like Camelot.”

  “They left us no choice.”

  “I couldn’t be honest about anything.”

  “Who’s behind this?”

  “Now I’m your prisoner?”

  “How much can you trust her?”

  “I don’t know anything about that.”

  “With an attachment.”

  “Say the meanest thing you can think of!”

  “You gave it a gift?”

  “We’re going under.”

  “Being an Auran just got gross.”

  “It smells like an ambush in there.”“What kind of soda?”

  “I love a storm like this.”

  “And I’m supposed to like this plan?”

  “It doesn’t matter, Spence.

  “I have to shut this down!

  “Get out of here!”

  “We have something for you.”

  About the Author

  Chapter 1

  “The clean way.”

  Mrs. Natcher’s chalk squeaked against the board, and Spencer shuddered at the sound. The teacher stepped away from the chalkboard so the students could see what she’d drawn. It was another story problem. And this time there was a pie chart to go with it.

  Why did Mrs. Natcher have to ruin pie by turning it into a math problem?

  Spencer sighed and picked up his pencil. He finished the problem quickly and still had time to double-check his work.

  Class was different without Dez. Spencer found that it was much easier to finish his assignments without the bully’s grubby hands poking him. Dez’s absence, under any other conditions, would have been a great relief. But Spencer was troubled.

  Three months had passed without any word from Dez. Under Slick’s persuasion, the bully had stayed at New Forest Academy. But Slick was long gone, eaten by his own overgrown Grime. So what was keeping Dez from coming home? Had the bully given in to the BEM? Was he truly one of them now?

  Glancing around the classroom, Spencer saw that he was practically the first student finished with the pie chart problem. Daisy sat a few desks away, her nose an inch off the math notebook as she scribbled out numbers.

  Spencer sighed as he thought through the rest of his day. It was Max’s fourth birthday. Spencer’s mom would be busy planning a party for his little brother. They’d have cake. But Max would probably slobber when he blew out the candles, getting his germs all over, so Spencer probably wouldn’t eat any.

  Life had actually become quite boring lately. If it weren’t for his bronze visions, Spencer would feel completely left out of what the Rebel Underground was doing. Ever since Walter had escaped through the woods around New Forest Academy, Spencer liked to check on the old warlock. Just to make sure everything was all right.

  Spencer’s hand drifted to his left pocket. He knew he shouldn’t do it. Not during class. But a quick checkup wouldn’t take long. Spencer could be back before Mrs. Natcher sliced the pie chart.

  Spencer plunged his hand into his pocket, his fingers slowly lowering to the object concealed there. It was an old high school swimming medal that his sister had bought at a yard sale. It wasn’t gold or silver. It was third place—bronze.

  Spencer’s hand closed around the cold medallion. He tried to keep a casual gaze forward, but almost immediately, Mrs. Natcher and the chalkboard were blurred away in a blizzard of white. It spread, consuming his entire vision, until it fell away, point by blinding point.

  He stood in a parking lot only fifty-two miles west of Welcher Elementary. Spencer tried to remain calm. His power was still new and, in many ways, uncontrollable. Even though he’d been able to increase the length of his warlock visions, Spencer still didn’t know who he would be spying on at any given time. He had hoped for a glimpse of Walter, but the man in the parking lot was too broad and tall.

  Spencer knew at once who it was.

  The man was Mr. Clean, the president
of the BEM and the most mysterious of the three warlocks. The name was clearly an alias, which prevented Walter from discovering his true identity or anything about Mr. Clean’s past.

  Spencer had seen through Mr. Clean’s eyes a number of times. The warlock was usually at his BEM office in Washington, DC, causing everyone nearby to cower in fear. But not this time. What was Mr. Clean doing in Idaho, standing in the parking lot of a prison?

  The sun was brilliant, sparkling on the mounds of snow at the edge of the parking lot. The warlock looked down, his breath billowing in the frosty February morning. He was wearing a long white lab coat, but as his gloved hand moved the lapel aside, Spencer saw that something was attached to his belt.

  It was a large black battery pack with a dial in the center. Plugged into one end was a thick orange extension cord. Mr. Clean’s eyes followed the trailing cord, and as he looked over his shoulder, Spencer gasped.

  Not three feet behind the warlock crouched a gigantic Filth. The rodent’s face was downturned, its hideous buckteeth jutting crookedly from a slobbering mouth. It was purring softly, a deep-throated, phlegmy sound that caused the deadly sharp quills on its back to rise and fall.

  The other end of the cord was nestled into the monster’s dingy fur, plugging into the gray flesh near the spine. The Filth’s eyes were half closed and the beast pulsated lazily as energy flowed through the extension cord and into the creature’s body.

  The warlock did not seem the least bit terrified that an overgrown Toxite was breathing down his neck in the open parking lot. In fact, the broad man reached out a gloved hand and stroked the creature’s muzzle.

  Then, with a blur of movement, the man leapt into the air, his white lab coat swinging wide. To Spencer’s surprise, the warlock landed atop the huge Filth, straddling it like a warhorse. The Filth made no reaction, completely contented, apparently due to the energy coming through the cord.

  The warlock adjusted his weight, and Spencer noticed that there was a floor mat draped across the Filth’s back like some kind of primitive saddle. The man’s hand dropped to the battery pack at his waist. As soon as he twisted the dial, the Filth roared to life.

  The huge creature leapt forward, bounding across the parking lot with a snarl. When it reached the doors of the prison, the Toxite lowered its broad head. Spencer flinched at the sound as both doors were ripped open, the Toxite and rider tumbling into the reception area. The Filth stomped its clawed feet, shaking broken glass from its fur as the alarm blared.

  There was a uniformed woman behind the reception desk. She sprang from her seat, fumbling to draw her gun. The warlock and his beast paused in the center of the room, reveling in the chaos they had just created.

  In seconds, the reception area was swarming with armed guards. But Spencer couldn’t understand what was happening. The guards raced past the warlock, inspecting the walls and shattered doors. Of course they wouldn’t be able to see the huge Toxite, but had Mr. Clean somehow made himself invisible as well?

  “Was it a bomb?” asked the uniformed woman.

  The warlock drew a deep breath. “No,” Mr. Clean said aloud. Every guard turned, pistols aimed randomly across the room. “It was a phantom.”

  Then, with terrifying speed, both gloved hands plunged into his lab coat. Two plastic spray bottles flashed from concealment. He took aim and pulled the triggers.

  It was over in a moment. A drip of green solution glistened on the nozzle of each spray bottle, and an emerald mist hung in the room. The guards collapsed into a heap on the hard floor, their guns slipping from limp hands.

  Spencer felt a stab of fear pass through him. He was aware of himself, sitting stock straight in his school desk, hand gripping the bronze medallion so tightly that the edge dug into his palm. He wanted to let go, to end the vision on his terms. But the fallen security guards, the green spray, the warlock atop that fearsome creature . . .

  Mr. Clean twisted his head from side to side in satisfaction, his neck popping from the motion. The reception area was littered with bodies—all of them trained security guards, but none of them a match for the warlock in the white coat.

  The big man touched the dial on his belt, and the Filth moved away from the wreckage. They walked down the hallway, the warlock holding his spray bottles like dual pistols in his gloved hands.

  In a moment, Mr. Clean had found the cell he was looking for. He twisted the dial and dismounted the giant Filth in the middle of the hall, keeping the extension cord stretched between them. Peering through the bars, Spencer saw the limited contents of the cell. Curled upon the bed was a figure in an orange jumpsuit.

  “Knock, knock,” the warlock whispered through the bars.

  The startled prisoner leapt from the bed, tripped in surprise, and came to rest on her knees not three feet away. Her thin face upturned, she stared through the bars.

  It was Leslie Sharmelle!

  Spencer’s breath caught when he recognized her. Leslie Sharmelle! She was a BEM worker who had substituted for Mrs. Natcher at the beginning of the year. Leslie was the one who had teamed up with Garth Hadley to get Spencer involved with the BEM. She had survived the Vortex, but the classroom had collapsed on her. Walter had framed her for the accident, and once she was released from the hospital she had gone to jail.

  Now she knelt before the mysterious warlock. And with fear and respect in her eyes, she muttered his name.

  “Mr. Clean.”

  “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

  Leslie swallowed hard. “You . . . you have the key?”

  “Why would I need a key,” Mr. Clean asked, “when I have this?”

  His fingers turned the dial on the battery pack, and the Filth bellowed. Leslie jumped away from the bars, but it was too late. The creature had already caught sight of her.

  Mr. Clean stepped aside as the Filth sprang at the cell bars. Its jaws snapped through the metal. Clawed toes scraped, bending and twisting the bars aside. In less than a heartbeat, the Filth was inside the cell.

  In panicked shock, Leslie collapsed against the back wall, shielding her face as fragments of metal fell around her. Her hands reached out and she screamed as the slavering jowls of the beast opened to destroy her.

  But the Filth did not bite. It bowed its head in relaxation as a surge of electricity flowed down the Glopified extension cord. Mr. Clean stepped through the twisted bars and approached the cowering woman.

  “I see you’ve met the Bureau’s newest weapon,” the warlock said, one hand scratching the creature behind the ears. “An Extension Filth.”

  Leslie did not move from her place against the wall, the Filth’s face inches from hers. Mr. Clean reached out for her. Leslie put her thin hand into his, carefully sliding away from the huge Filth as he hoisted her up.

  The warlock drew a strip of gray cloth from his white lab coat. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. “It is the cuff of a shirtsleeve, ripped from the arm of a very elusive man.” He held up the scrap. “But I’m about to make sure that he never escapes again.”

  Mr. Clean paused. For a moment, Spencer was afraid that the man had somehow detected his spying eyes. Then the warlock continued, his voice metered and steady. “You’re going to bring me Alan Zumbro—dead or alive.”

  Spencer almost lost contact, his hand slipping on the bronze medal in his pocket. He forced himself to linger in the vision a moment longer, to face Mr. Clean’s terrible pronouncement.

  Leslie wrinkled her forehead. “I thought Alan was—”

  “The Rebels rescued him,” the warlock cut her off. “But he doesn’t have the package. He’s out there now, looking for it.”

  “Where?” Leslie asked.

  Mr. Clean approached the Extension Filth. He adjusted the dial on the battery pack just enough to cause the creature’s head to perk up. Then he lowered the scrap of cloth to the beast’s nose.

  The Toxite inhaled sharply, its slit nostrils opening wide to take in the scent. Then the warlock dropped his hand lower.
The Filth’s coarse tongue emerged and the razor teeth snapped together, Mr. Clean barely pulling away his hand in time. The creature chewed noisily on the scrap of cloth and then swallowed.

  “All is ready now,” said the warlock. “The Extension Filth has been baited.”

  “So your beast will lead me to Alan?”

  Mr. Clean laughed. “It’s not my beast.” He unclipped the belt and battery pack. “It’s yours.” He held the items out. “On its own, an Extension Toxite is reckless. Plug it in, wear the battery pack, and you have the power to control it. Saddle up, Leslie. Become a Plugger.”

  With shaking hands, Leslie Sharmelle accepted the pack. She turned to the huge Filth, and Spencer could see her reluctance to climb onto its back.

  “I have a gang of Pluggers waiting to meet you at the edge of town,” Mr. Clean said. “They will teach you to control your beast and prepare you for the manhunt.”

  The big warlock stepped away, passing through the wrecked bars. “I’m trusting you to prove yourself,” he said. “To do better than your previous assignment.” Mr. Clean turned away from the cell. “If you fail me again, Leslie, there will be no forgiveness. I’ll have no choice but to deal with you . . . the Clean way.”

  Chapter 2

  “That’s jaywalking!”

  Spencer’s head slammed against his desk. His hand slipped from his pocket, releasing his clutch on the bronze medallion. He snapped his head back, gasping for air as he sat bolt upright in his desk.

  “Spencer Zumbro!” Mrs. Natcher’s voice cut through the stillness of the math-enveloped classroom. “It seems you would like to share your answer with the class.”

  Answer? What answer? Mr. Clean had just broken into prison and put a death sentence on Alan Zumbro! How could Spencer possibly think about math?

  “Uh . . .” Spencer glanced down at his notebook, but he couldn’t focus on the page. He had to get home and call his dad immediately. He had to warn Alan that a giant Filth was out to hunt him!

  “My socks are warm and fuzzy,” Spencer said. His face flushed with embarrassment, his eyes darting over to Daisy’s desk. But his classmate was somehow the only person in the room who still appeared to be working on the math problem.

 
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