Curse of the broomstaff, p.15
Curse of the Broomstaff, p.15Tyler Whitesides
“Bet they’re feeling sheepish!” Bernard said. “Set up the roadblock on the wrong road.”
“They’re as clueless to where we’re going as we are,” Walter replied.
The garbage truck jarred and bounced along the washboards of the dry dirt road. Dust billowed out behind them like a dingy cloud. Without the truck’s windshield gone, a strong breeze whipped the dirt into their faces, and they choked for a breath of fresh air.
The white vans handled far better on the bumpy road. In no time, they were nudging in behind the Rebel garbage truck.
“Low fuel light just clicked on!” Penny announced. “Don’t know how much farther we can run.”
“We’re almost there!” Alan shouted, unrolling the last length of map. The paper towel slipped off the bare cardboard tube, and Alan stretched the directions tight. “Straight on till morning!”
The garbage truck clipped past another scraggly mesquite tree and the dirt road rose up a steady hill. Penny pressed the gas pedal to the floor, the vehicle feeling like it might shake apart at any minute.
“I think I can, I think I can,” Bernard chanted as they lost speed up the incline. Spencer was clutching his seat belt with both hands, and Daisy’s grip was sweaty on his arm.
The white BEM vans were gaining.
Then the garbage truck crested the ridge, and the road sloped downward. At the top of the ridge, the Rebels could see what had been hidden before.
Straight ahead was a wide and deep gorge. The impossible chasm stretched out of sight on both sides, encircling the largest pile of trash Spencer had ever seen.
This was the secret landfill! The paper-towel map had actually led them right! But the veritable mountain of garbage was unreachable, surrounded completely by the intimidating gorge. They would be forced to stop at the edge. If they did that, the BEM vans would catch up for sure.
The speed that was lost driving uphill quickly returned on the downward slope. The garbage truck thundered ahead, bucking so violently that Spencer wouldn’t have been surprised to see the wheels fly off. Penny was hunched over the steering wheel with no apparent inclination to slow down.
“I don’t mean to be a backseat driver,” Bernard said, “but in case you didn’t notice, we’re doing sixty toward the edge of the Grand Canyon!”
“I thought the Grand Canyon was in Arizona!” Daisy said.
“Then this must be its little brother!” Bernard called back.
Walter, somehow remaining calm, squinted through the binoculars. “I think there’s a bridge!”
Spencer peered ahead, but the truck was bouncing so much he couldn’t see anything.
Walter lowered the binoculars. “The bridge should take us over the gorge and into the landfill!”
Like a madwoman behind the wheel, Penny continued to accelerate toward the drop-off. All hope for survival was riding on what Walter thought he saw through the dust and binoculars.
“Get your brooms ready!” Alan shouted at the kids. “In case we don’t make it, maybe you can still fly out of this mess.”
Daisy reached down to her belt, eyes widening. “My broom got crushed at the high school! Anybody got an extra? I’ll give it right back when I’m done.”
A strong gust of wind crossed the road. For a moment the dust cleared. Not ten yards ahead, just as Walter had described, a strong paved bridge stretched across the deep gorge. It was flat, with an arch of supportive steel beams underneath.
What Walter hadn’t seen was the metal gate, chained and locked to prevent anyone from entering the bridge. A huge white sign hung on the metal gate, its bold red lettering easy to read: WARNING: NO TRESPASSING AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT
And in tiny letters across the bottom, Spencer caught a glimpse of the last sentence: VIOLATORS WILL FALL TO THEIR DOOM
He didn’t have time to shout a warning. No sooner had he read the sign than Penny smashed through the metal gate. Bernard winced and put both hands on his head. Daisy screamed. Spencer suddenly felt his dad’s hand slide onto his shoulder. Alan gave it a firm squeeze, like he wouldn’t let go of his son no matter what happened.
The garbage truck rolled out onto the bridge. After the rough dirt road, the pavement felt so smooth that Spencer thought for sure they were free-falling. His dad’s grip lightened a bit, and Daisy stopped screaming. Penny took advantage of the level bridge by accelerating to even more dangerous speeds.
The garbage truck was more than halfway across when the white BEM vans swerved through the wrecked gate and pulled onto the bridge.
There was a sudden groan from the steel supports under the bridge. The terrible grating sound resonated in the dry gorge. There was a sharp metallic clang, and Spencer saw one of the steel beams break away. Bent like a boomerang, it whirled through the dusty air, plummeting the unfathomable depth of the gorge.
Immediately, the bridge tilted. The garbage truck lurched, and Penny corrected with the steering wheel, nearly sending them over the edge. There was another sound, this one louder than before, as the steel supports buckled together.
The asphalt cracked, and the edge of the road crumbled like a stale cookie. The bridge was sagging in the middle, and the garbage truck puttered as it climbed upward.
They were so close to the other side! Spencer realized that he was holding his breath, both hands gripping the dashboard. Daisy had her eyes closed, mumbling something incoherent.
The bridge gave a final shriek as steel folded on steel. The rear wheels of the garbage truck had just touched solid ground when the bridge collapsed completely. Both BEM vans were caught in the free fall, spiraling downward until they looked no bigger than Matchbox cars.
Penny slammed on the brake, but the garbage truck had too much momentum. With tremendous force, it burrowed into a loose pile of trash.
Stinky garbage filled the cab, the odor causing Spencer to choke. The truck rocked back, finally coming to a halt.
“Is everyone all right?” Walter asked, unbuckling his seat belt.
“I’ve never been better,” Bernard said. His head was barely visible above the trash heap. “I think I’ve died and gone to trash heaven.”
With the passenger door missing, everyone climbed out that way. Slithering over smelly piles of old plastic sacks and decomposing gunk, the Rebels soon stood next to the truck.
Bernard rubbed a hand along his vehicle. “Poor beauty.” He shook his head. “Remind me why we let the teenager drive?”
Penny scowled at him. “I got us here, didn’t I? Besides, I’m actually twenty.”
Alan and Walter were standing at the edge of the gorge surveying the damage far below. Spencer didn’t need to look to know that the BEM vans were demolished, with no chance of survivors.
“Look at this place,” Spencer said, staring off into the heaps of garbage. They stretched far beyond his sight, like rolling hills of trash.
“Never been to the dump?” Bernard asked.
“It’s a landfill,” Penny corrected.
Bernard, ignoring the comment, bent down and picked up a scrap of plastic. “Fascinating place! Think about it, garbage from far and wide gathers here, forgotten and undisturbed.”
Penny chuckled. “The way you talk makes it sound like the trash has a mind of its own.”
All at once, without any warning, a pile of garbage exploded next to Spencer. The trash plowed forward, bowling Spencer into Daisy and sending both kids sprawling on the ground.
The attacking trash loomed above them, stretching to a height of nearly seven feet. It took Spencer a moment to decipher what he was seeing.
It was garbage, no doubt about that. But the trash was fused together, forming a crude humanoid shape. Stout legs supported a dense torso made of rotting groceries and dented cans. Long arms dangled apelike, with springs and scrap wires jutting akimbo. The head, if it could be called such, was formed of an old cereal box.
The garbage figure roare
The trash creature lifted one arm, pieces of old soda cans jutting out of its hand. It remained poised above Spencer, like a cat that wanted to toy with a mouse. Spencer was petrified, Daisy whimpering at his side.
The other Rebels were already moving to attack, but help suddenly came from an unexpected source.
“Back off, you worthless lump of garbage!”
The Rebels whirled around, scanning the heaps of trash for whoever had spoken. Spencer saw a figure crouched at the top of a garbage pile. It was a girl, silhouetted in a halo of sunlight so he couldn’t make out her features. Her hair was silvery white, its shimmer enhanced by the lighting around her.
She skipped down the trash pile with agility and precision, sliding and jumping until she reached the Rebel garbage truck.
“I said, back off!” the girl shouted at the trash figure. “I could take you down with one blow, you weak, pitiful little trash heap!”
At this, the garbage figure righted itself again, roaring at the girl as she strode past Spencer and Daisy. She stood face-to-face with the creature and shouted once more.
“Get out of here, you lazy pile of junk!” She stomped forward for intimidation. “I’ve seen moldy leftovers that looked scarier than you! Begone!” The girl flung her hand in a dismissive gesture.
The big garbage figure crawled backward, still growling but unwilling to stick around. The thing slunk away, falling into pieces of junk as it reached the pile and melted into the garbage.
“Sorry about that,” the girl said. “Not the best way to welcome you to the landfill.”
“Who are you?” Alan asked.
But as the girl finally stepped into plain view, Spencer went rigid. A petrifying chill started in his toes and rapidly worked its way up his spine. It was as though his mind refused to register the face he was seeing. But then she smiled, and Spencer knew for sure who it was.
It was purely inexplicable. What was Jenna doing at the hidden Auran landfill? There was only one explanation, but Spencer’s mind kept refusing it. Jenna was too perfectly normal. That was what he’d liked about her at New Forest Academy. Was it all a lie? Was Jenna actually one of the . . . Jenna nodded. “I’m an Auran, Spencer.”
“What!” Daisy shrieked. “You? But . . . why’d your hair turn white?”
Jenna suppressed a grin. “It was always white. It’s an attribute that all the Aurans share. I had to dye my hair every morning at New Forest Academy just to make it blonde.”
“I didn’t know there were girl Aurans,” Daisy said, a hint of awe in her voice.
“Ten girls, three boys,” Jenna said. “That’s the way the Founding Witches wanted it.”
If Spencer had been thinking clearly, it might have bothered him that the girl Aurans outnumbered the boys more than three to one. But before he could ponder it, his mouth was spouting another question for Jenna. “What were you doing at New Forest Academy?”
“I was there to keep an eye on Director Carlos Garcia,” she said. “He’s one of the warlocks.”
“Yeah,” Alan said. “We figured that out the hard way.”
Jenna walked past the group and peered over the edge of the gorge. “Looks like your friends weren’t so lucky.”
“They weren’t our friends,” Penny said. “It was the BEM. They were trying to stop us from reaching you.”
Jenna shook her head. “They should have read the sign on the gate. This is a limited access area. Authorized vehicles only.”
There was something different about Jenna. The way she moved and talked. She showed an air of wisdom and maturity that contradicted the youthful person that Spencer had met at New Forest Academy. Walter had explained that the Aurans were more than three hundred years old, trapped forever in juvenile bodies. Still, Jenna had played quite a convincing thirteen-year-old back at the Academy.
“Are you saying that my garbage truck was authorized?” Bernard asked.
Jenna strode over to the vehicle and inspected the tires. “How did you find this place?” she asked.
“We solved the thirteen clues,” Alan said. “We followed the map that led us here.”
“Did you follow the map closely?” Jenna asked. “Made every turn and drove every inch of the highlighted route?”
“Then, yes,” she replied. “Your vehicle is authorized.”
“I don’t get it,” Bernard said.
“The route on the map took you past twenty-seven schools,” Jenna said. “Each school had a crosswalk painted over the road. The paint for those crosswalks was Glopified. As your vehicle passed over the crosswalks, a magical residue adhered to your tires. All twenty-seven lines, when driven over in the proper order, create an authorization code. That bridge,” Jenna pointed to the wreckage, “was designed to recognize the crosswalk code, allowing your vehicle to pass over safely.”
“But we barely made it over!” Daisy said. “It wasn’t safe at all!”
“The BEM vans,” Walter muttered. “They hadn’t followed the map route, so their tires weren’t properly coded.”
“Like I said,” Jenna cut in. “Only authorized vehicles are allowed over here. The bridge is rigged to collapse under noncoded tires. It’s a strict policy. Violators fall to their doom.”
Spencer could barely follow the conversation. The fact that Jenna was there, welcoming them to the landfill, was too much to take in.
“So you lied?” he finally managed.
She turned to him. “Pardon?”
“At New Forest Academy,” Spencer said. “You lied about everything?”
“No,” Jenna said. “Not everything. Remember when you flew that school bus off the edge of a cliff? I trusted my life into the hands of a twelve-year-old boy. I was genuinely terrified. No lies there.” She chuckled, but her expression changed when she saw the stony look on Spencer’s face.
“I’m sorry,” she finally apologized. “I couldn’t tell you I was an Auran. The time wasn’t right. But it is right now.” She smiled at him. “I hope you can trust me.”
Something popped into Spencer’s mind. He thought of the note Jenna had given him when she left New Forest Academy. He’d read it so many times that he had the thing memorized. The last line stuck in his mind. “Next time we meet, I hope U can trust me 2.”
Spencer took a deep breath. Jenna wasn’t who she’d said she was. But she had only lied to protect him. If she was ready to deal the truth now, Spencer was all in.
“Okay, Jenna. What now?” he asked.
“One more thing,” she said. “My name’s not Jenna. It’s Rho.”
Daisy shrugged. “I think I like Jenna better.”
“It’s Rho,” the girl repeated. “And that’s what you’ll call me.” She kicked a piece of trash back onto a pile and strode off, dangerously near the edge of the gorge.
“Where are you going?” Alan called.
“The other Aurans will be excited that you’ve arrived,” she answered. “We must call them home. Follow me!”
“Rho.” Spencer whispered the name to himself. In a way, he was grateful to call her something different. Jenna was gone. Never existed, really. She was Rho now. An Auran.
“Just like Camelot.”
Daisy took a few quick steps to catch up to Spencer. “Where’s Jenna taking us?” she whispered.
“It’s Rho,” he corrected. Then he answered her question with a shrug. “How should I know where we’re going?”
“I just thought maybe you’d have an idea,” Daisy said. “Since you’re one of them.”
“Shh,” Spencer said. Learning how much Jenna had kept secret from him at the Academy made Spencer want to keep his own secrets. He wondered if Rho suspected his
As they passed the pile of garbage that had exploded on them, Penny voiced the question they were all wondering.
“What was that . . . garbage thing?”
Rho glanced over her shoulder. “We call them Thingamajunks,” she said. “The landfill is full of them. There’s too much Glop in the trash here. It takes on a life of its own.”
“So,” Daisy said, “they’re bad guys?”
Rho laughed. “I’ve never met a Thingamajunk that didn’t want to eat me. They’re wild, untamable. Like animals.”
“How did you scare it off so easily?” Alan asked.
“Trash talk,” Rho said. “It’s the only thing they understand. I’ve spent years perfecting just the right insults for the right occasions. You can’t let them see any fear. You have to stand up and talk trash right in their faces. If you’re convincing enough, the Thingamajunks will usually back away without a fight.”
They followed Rho for several hundred yards before she turned away from the cliff’s edge and cut between two massive heaps of garbage. As the Rebels followed, jumping over decomposing lumps of trash, Spencer saw their destination.
It was a large cinderblock building, hidden from outside view by the heaps of garbage all around. Rho led them around the side of the building and onto a flat slab of concrete. Here, roughly a dozen dumpsters sat with lidless openings tilted skyward. Trash brimmed, overflowing the dumpsters and strewing the concrete pad with icky garbage.
“So the other Aurans are inside?” Alan gestured toward the building.
Rho shook her head, white hair swaying. “They’re out on assignments right now.” She stepped across the scattered garbage and approached the line of dumpsters. Rho reached around the side of the first bin, her hand grasping something out of sight. As she stepped away, she held a boxy walkietalkie, its rubbery antennae standing straight from the top.
Curse of the Broomstaff by Tyler Whitesides / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes