Magical portals and spells come together in this quirky fantasy novel for the modern age. Pools will appeal to tweens and young adults who enjoy fantasy adventure stories with a touch of humour.
Very few people know what really happened on Montesworth Hill, I’m one of them, but I’m not supposed to talk about it.
‘It’ll upset your father, Loppy,’ says mum, who doesn’t even know the full story.
Everything upsets my dad – everything except football and rugby that is.
Okay, so I can understand why a particular event, that took place six months ago, freaked everyone out.
Admittedly, the whole incidence was partially my fault. And sure, I wanted to take responsibility for what I had done. Trust me, I tried. The thing is, it’s kind of difficult when you’re dealing with Otherworldly Stuff. No one believes in Otherworldly Stuff, do they? If you talk about it, people think you’re crazy. If you keep it to yourself, you start going crazy, which is kind of what happened to me. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone.
My name isn’t really Loppy, it’s a pet name my mum gave me. No one else calls me Loppy. Everyone calls me by my real name Lark, or sometimes they call me Barry. My surname’s Barrington.
Six months ago, we were living in Turnstaple town on Montesworth Hill, in a house painted the colour of the sky. I was thirteen and I lived with my older brother Fin, who was fifteen going on five and my mum and dad, Angelia and Cliff Barrington.
I loved our house. It was right on top of the hill, next door to Sandy and Jack Patterson, and their daughter Shelley, who was my best friend. Mr and Mrs Patterson often came to our house and that meant I saw Shelley almost every day. The sun always shone on Montesworth Hill. I always shone on Montesworth Hill…
Ms. Trowper lived in a lemon-coloured house. It was separated from its neighbours by an unusually high brick wall on one side and a manicured hedge on the other. If you stood on the opposite side of the street, you could see the roof of her house and her two top windows. And when you reached the front gate, you could see the door peeking from between the overgrown hedge.
Shelley and I had a habit of bouncing our ball down the street on the way to and from the park. Sometimes, we’d throw it. Occasionally, it went off course and we’d have to go after it. We didn’t actually play with the ball once we got to the park, we’d toss it to the younger kids to play with. We thought we were so beyond playing ball. We went to the park for serious debates, soul searching and networking, which at thirteen was extremely important.
One hot day in July, the inevitable happened. It was bound to happen. Our ball went right over Ms. Trowper’s wall and we had to go and fetch it.
‘You go first,’ said Shelley, goading me up Ms. Trowper’s gravel path with her big brown eyes.
Shelley has a pug nose, teeny tiny hands and feet, and a mouth that can fit a whole grapefruit. We share a deep bond. I liked to think of her as my blood sister. We had known each other all our lives.
‘Please.’ She pouted and puffed out her cheeks.
Shelley can be very persuasive when she wants to be. She looked like a puppy dog. She wore her brown corkscrew hair in bunches that reminded me of puppy dog ears.
‘No. Why do I have to go first? I’m always fetching the ball.’
To be honest, I wasn’t bothered about who went first. There was nothing scary about Ms. Trowper. Everybody liked her, and it’s not as if she had a rabid dog or anything. It’s just that Shelley and I liked to be dramatic.
‘You’re more approachable,’ said Shelley, by which time we were halfway up Ms. Trowper’s garden path. ‘And you’re wearing your Levi’s. They’re lucky remember?’
‘Why don’t we look for the ball on our own?’
We couldn’t see the ball from where we were standing. It wouldn’t have made a difference if we had. Mum says that if ever our ball goes into someone else’s garden, we shouldn’t wade in and retrieve it, we should knock on their door and politely ask for it back.
‘No, we can’t. We might get into trouble.’
Shelley worried a lot about getting into trouble.
We were both wearing our bright orange t-shirts with three big glittering balloons on the front. I spilled cherry cola down the front of mine and Shelley had a tear in hers from when she accidentally got it hooked on a fishing rod at Birchmere Lake. I stopped walking when I realised Shelley had fallen behind.
‘Not if she doesn’t see us looking for it.’ I tucked my hair under the baseball cap I ‘borrowed’ from Fin. I was planning on putting it back later. I emptied a packet of pink bubblegum snaps into my mouth. The bubblegum crackled and popped just the way I liked it.
‘It’s getting late. My mum said I need to be home by seven. It’s nearly seven now.’ She glanced at her Cannibal watch. Ever since her dad had brought her the latest pink Cannibal cuff watch with the diamante studded face, she’d become obsessed with the time. To display the watch effectively, she had freed her left wrist of five charm bracelets. She now had eight bracelets tinkling from her right.
‘I have to get the ball. It’s Fin’s. He’ll go ballistic if I don’t.’
I had a flashing image of Fin pounding me into the ground with his fist. He didn’t like me touching his stuff. Fortunately, time was on my side. Fin had gone camping in Buttersworth woods. He wouldn’t be home for days.
I continued up the path and paused in front of the green door.
Shelley crossed her arms and shrugged. ‘Hurry up. Knock.’
I rang the doorbell. When I didn’t hear a buzz, I rapped the gold-painted knocker, took two steps back and waited.
‘Come on,’ I mouthed to Shelley, who was dawdling behind me.
She clutched her stomach. ‘I want to go to the loo.’
I rolled my eyes. ‘You went before we left the park.’
‘I want to go again. And look I’ve got sunburn.’ She showed me orange arms. She liked to put on tons of suntan lotion, even when there was no sun, for UV protection. Her mum, who worked in a beauty salon, talked a lot about UV protection.
‘You should have worn your sunhat.’
She scowled. ‘I can’t wear a sunhat with these jeans can I?’
‘Whoops. Sorry, my mistake.’
Shelley started biting her nails and I began to hum. I knocked on the door again and then hummed some more. I thought I heard Ms. Trowper pottering around inside.
We were exchanging our should-we-stay-or-should-we-go-looks when Ms. Trowper finally opened the door.
The ends of Ms. Trowper’s auburn hair were flicked up, so it looked as if she had two giant tick marks attached to each side of her head. She usually wore cherry red lipstick, knee-length flowing dresses and poker-high heels.
Everyone on Montesworth Hill loved Ms. Trowper because she always greeted you with a smile and a wave, but no one knew very much about her, except that she taught at Montesworth Hill Primary School and she was a divorcee.
Shelley’s mouth dropped open. Ms. Trowper wasn’t wearing cherry red lip stick. She was wearing a pair of baggy jeans and a t-shirt that looked as if a baby had thrown up on it. As for her hair, it was a tangled mess.
Not surprisingly, she didn’t look too happy to see us.
I gawped at her like a clueless tourist. ‘Afternoon, Ms. Trowper. Our ball went into your front garden. May we get it back please?’
Shelley smiled at Ms. Trowper, and then looked in horror at her faded jeans and worn sandals.
‘Come in,’ she said.
‘We only wanted to get our ball,’ said Shelley.
‘No, you have to come in.’ Ms. Trowper insisted.
We followed Ms. Trowper inside. It was the first time she had ever invited us into her home.
Shelley kept jabbing me in the shoulder with her finger. I sensed she was having a mini panic attack. It had definitely gone seven.
There were lots of pictures hanging in the hallway. Some of the picture frames were silver, some red wood, some gold, others pink, but all the frames held the same picture – a puddle.
By the time we reached Ms. Trowper’s living room, Shelley had nudged me twice in the back. I turned to look at her pouting, puffy face.
‘We have to go,’ she mouthed. I knew the pictures had freaked her out.
Ms. Trowper’s living room had two large comfy green sofas, and a glass coffee table that I could see my reflection in. She had blinds at her windows and an electric fireplace with pebbles in it.
She shut the living room door. ‘Have a seat girls.’
Shelley and I sat down with our hands in our laps.
‘We can’t stay,’ I said. ‘Our parents are expecting us home.’
My parents were at the supermarket, but that didn’t meant they weren’t expecting me home. My job was to put the shopping away and I couldn’t do that if I wasn’t at home, could I?
‘No, no,’ Ms. Trowper muttered under her breath. She went to the window and peered through the blinds.
She was behaving rather oddly. She always seemed so together when we saw her out on the street.
‘Are you all right Ms. Trowper?’ asked Shelley.
‘Yes girls, I’m fine,’ she replied, digging her fingers into her bird-nest hairdo. I thought she might pull out an egg or something. She strode up and down the living room playing with her hair and running her hands down her legs. She finally stopped walking and turned to face us. ‘Do you want a drink? I have cola or orange juice.’
‘No, thank you,’ Shelley and I chorused.
With resolve, I rose from the sofa. ‘I’m sorry Ms Trowper, we have to get going. If it’s all right with you, we can look for our ball tomorrow.’
‘Yes’, said Shelley. She also got up, or should I say jumped up. ‘It probably went into a rosebush or something. We can get it ourselves. You won’t even have to come to the door.’
‘I’m sorry girls,’ she said. ‘Please stay. There’s something I must talk to you about. It’s important. If I can just show you something.’
‘Is it to do with puddles?’ said Shelley slowly. She turned towards the door. I knew she was thinking about making a run for it.
Ms. Trowper frowned. ‘Yes, something like that. If you can come with me to the attic I’ll show you ’
Shelley rushed to the living room door and yanked it open. ‘We have to go. Come on Lark,’ she said in an extra high-pitched voice. She nodded at me.
I didn’t move. I wanted to see what was in the attic. Attics always have interesting things in them. It occurred to me that Ms. Trowper had a bunch of old things she wanted to give Shelley and I. Things we could take to an antiques roadshow and sell for squillions.
‘Look at me,’ cried Ms. Trowper. I jumped out of my five second daydream. ‘I look a complete mess. You have to understand why. Please come with me to the attic.’
‘We’ll get into trouble for being late,’ said Shelley brusquely.
‘Shelley’s right,’ I said, looking Ms. Trowper bang in the eye. ‘We will.’
I didn’t mind waiting until tomorrow to be a squillionaire. I hoped by then, Ms. Trowper would be back to her normal self.
‘If your parents knew you were assisting me,’ said Ms. Trowper, ‘then they wouldn’t be mad at all. I’ll explain everything to them if you want, and then we’ll get your ball. How’s that sound?’ She gave a strained smile.
‘Okay,’ I said. I didn’t need much convincing. ‘I’m sure they won’t mind.’
‘If it’s not dangerous,’ said Shelley, ‘I suppose we can help you with whatever it is.’
‘Let’s go up then’, she said, without confirming whether it was dangerous or not.