Book One of THE SPELLSPINNERS

Excerpt

WICKED COOL

by Diane Farr

Chapter 1

I saved somebody’s life today. And the awful thing is, I shouldn’t have done it.

I am so mad at myself.

I’m also mad at the world, and fate, and The Great Whatever, for sticking me with this mess. It’s totally not my fault! I mean, okay, yes, I did it. But what else could I do?? This whole situation is so unfair it BITES.

Most of all, I’m mad at Donald O’Shaughnessy and his cheesebrained friends, for horsing around at the top of the tallest water slide in the park. I mean, honestly—get a clue!

The bottom line is, if Donald had had one single ounce of maturity, none of this would have happened. But who gets to suffer for it? Who is hiding all alone in her room, shivering with reaction? Who is scribbling panicked thoughts into a journal because she has no one to talk to? Me.

I bet Donald is surrounded by his near and dear. I bet the O’Shaughnessy clan is making a big fuss. I bet they sat around all evening, exclaiming and hugging and eating chocolate cake, overjoyed to have him safe and sound and all that.

Let’s face it: It sucks to be me.

Why did I do it?? (I ask myself bitterly.)

I already know the answer, of course. I did it because I could. Somebody had to step up, and it happened so fast …

One second, Meg and I were standing at the bottom of the water slide, looking up. Meg—who, despite her general teensyness has a much bigger voice than I have—was screaming at the boys to knock it off. Because the boys were way overhead, at the top of the platform, acting like overcaffeinated baboons.

And the next second, the safety rail at the top of the platform gave way.

It had never occurred to us that something bad might happen. From what I know about boys (which is, admittedly, not much), they ape the mentally challenged on a regular basis. Meg and I weren’t yelling at the boys because we were afraid someone would get hurt. We were just afraid we’d get kicked out of the park. We were yelling, but we were laughing, too, you know? Until this happened.

The platform was about a hundred feet overhead. It might as well have been a mile. I saw a human form grab, miss, and fall. I saw red hair and bright blue swim trunks silhouetted against the sky … there was nothing around him but air.

And that was that. I risked everything, absolutely everything, for Donald O’Frickin’ Shaughnessy. I don’t even like Donald O’Shaughnessy.

There wasn’t time to think. I don’t remember making a decision—although I must have, of course, because summoning Power is never an accident. But I acted so quickly, Donald didn’t even have time to scream.

He plummeted—briefly. Very briefly. The instant I saw him spreadeagled and flailing against the sky, a flash of heat left my body.

The power arrowed into Donald’s torso like invisible lightning. His back arched like he’d been punched in the gut. He shot upward slightly from the force of the impact, then hung in mid-air for about a nanosecond. And then he drifted gently to the ground, and landed. Unhurt.

On his feet, no less. I must admit, that was pretty cool.

The whole incident took about five seconds … probably the longest five seconds of my life.

Did I mention that the water park was crowded? Well, it was. School has only been out for four days, and everybody’s celebrating. So there were a lot of people there.

A lot of witnesses.

Excuse me while I jump up and pace for a few minutes.

Every time I remember all those faces … all those shocked, uncomprehending faces … I have a

teeny tiny panic attack.

After Donald touched down, there was a peculiar moment of silence. The crowd that was lined up to get on the water slide—and the crowd milling around where Meg and I were standing—stared. Everyone had seen what happened. Even the people around us who had missed the start of the fall had looked up well before it was over. So a brief hush fell, while people mentally argued with what their eyes were telling them.

Because everybody saw it, but nobody believed it.

The silence ended with a kind of collective gasp. A couple of girls screamed. Somebody cheered. A smattering of confused applause broke out. But I wasn’t at liberty to notice too much, because Meg grabbed me, shrieking, and clutched me in a hug while she jumped up and down.

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” she wailed. “Thank you! Oh, Zara, thank you! Thank you!”

And then … bedlam.

Parts of the crowd surged toward Donald, seeking to help or congratulate him or check him for wires or get his autograph or who-knows-what. Parts of the crowd shrank back, because there’s something creepy about the unexplainable, even when it’s a good kind of unexplainable. There was a melee at the top of the platform, where people were struggling to get back down the stairs, or at least to get as far from the broken railing as possible. A cacophony of shouts rose above the hubbub. What happened? … Did you see that? … What WAS that? … Is the kid all right? Et cetera.

And in the center of everything was Meg, jumping up and down and thanking me over and over, in a kind of ecstasy of gratitude. I didn’t respond, because I was feeling almost as stunned as the people around me. For different reasons, of course.

I couldn’t believe I had done it. It was a crazy thing to have done. Practically suicidal. To summon Power in a public place … why, it was the stuff of nightmares.

And Donald, the center of everyone’s attention, was staring right at ME with his watery blue eyes practically bugging out of his head. I’ll never know what he felt, up there in the sky, but whatever it was, it must have clued him in somehow. Pointed to its source.

Uh-oh.

Could things get any worse?!

Well, yeah. Because Donald fingering me as the source of his invisible parachute was the least of my worries. Donald’s not the most articulate guy in the world, even on a good day. And somebody who just fell off the tallest water slide in the park could probably babble anything, and it would be written off as the ravings of shock. But Megan? She totally knew. And she totally gave it away.

See, it didn’t matter which jackass fell off the water slide. I would have done the same thing for any of them. It just happened to be Donald whose life I saved.

And Donald happens to be my best friend’s brother.

And my best friend is the only person on the planet who is capable of (a) witnessing something impossible, (b) believing her eyes, and (c) understanding immediately that I was responsible. She might have kept her head, if it hadn’t been her brother I rescued. But it was. So she didn’t keep her head. She lost it.

Megan O’Shaughnessy totally lost it. That is something I have never seen before. Meg is probably she smartest, coolest, most self-possessed person I’ve ever known. Except for boys, who occasionally rob her of her native intelligence, I would have said with utter confidence that Meg could not be rattled by anything.

IRONY: Witnessing a near-fatal accident, horrific as that was (for the first heartbeat or so) did not almost ruin my life. Tweaking the laws of physics to achieve the impossible, in broad daylight, with multiple witnesses, did not almost ruin my life. It was my dearest friend on earth—or, rather, her semi-hysterical gratitude—that almost ruined my life.

I hope I don’t have to rethink this best friend thing.

Ack!! I do not want to go there. I don’t want to go anywhere NEAR there.

What would I do without Megan O’Shaughnessy in my life?! She is the only reason I’ve survived being a teenager.

At school I am a complete loner, because it’s the only safe thing to be—for someone like me.

But away from school, I have Meg. She is a true and excellent friend. I’ve always believed that if you have one true and excellent friend, you are luckier than most. And to have Meg for my true and excellent friend? That made me luckier than anybody.

Tonight, I don’t feel so lucky.

I guess it’s dangerous to have someone, even an incredibly loyal someone, who knows all your secrets.

That just may be the saddest thought I’ve ever had.

So anyway, there I am. In the water park. Too stunned to move. And although most people are still focused on Donald, a few are starting to look curiously at Meg. And me. Because Meg is drawing attention to us, to put it mildly.

And finally, Meg stops jumping up and down and freezes, with this stricken look on her face. Her eyes get huge.

This is the moment when she, obviously, realized that she was outing me—which is, like, violating one of the basic unspoken rules of our friendship. We stared at each other for a split second and I saw that she was so rattled that she was about to apologize —making it even more obvious to the interested onlookers that it was I who saved Donald.

I didn’t wait to hear it. I couldn’t. I slipped out of her loosened grip and headed blindly in the opposite direction. Away from Meg, and Donald, and all the pop-eyed, slackjawed faces. My heart was pounding so hard, I was starting to feel sick.

I was walking into a sea of rubberneckers surging toward the scene, so it was hard to make headway. But anyone following me would have had to swim against the tide like I was, so that was good. I definitely did not want to be followed.

I’m not fond of crowds in the best of circumstances. Struggling past all the people, I thought I was going to suffocate. I was enveloped by the heat rising off their sunbaked skin and the odd fragrance cocktail emanating from their suntan oils. Coconut, banana, strawberry-kiwi. It was like pushing through a bowl of overripe tropical fruit.

I stumbled toward the nearest building. It turned out to be restrooms. Perfect.

The ladies’ room was cool and dim and blessedly empty. Just getting away from the people slowed my heart rate some, and when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror I felt a huge wave of relief. Because I had totally forgotten that I was wearing sunglasses.

Sunglasses!! Ha! Saved by the bell.

I walked straight to the sink, pulled them off, and checked the mirror. Sure enough, beneath the sunglasses my eyes were glittering like twin amethysts. It’s always that way when I tap into the Power. Right afterward, my eyes are lit from within with pale purple fire. I look like … well … nothing on earth. Normally, my eyes don’t draw that much attention. The color is odd, but the eyes themselves are human. Light them up with Power, though, and they’re really something to behold.

Which is why it was an excellent thing that I’d worn sunglasses. With luck, nobody had seen my eyes do their fireflash thing.

It’s lame to stare at your reflection like you’ve never seen anything more fascinating than your own face. Embarrassing. But I couldn’t help it. I avoid using the Power, for soooo many reasons. And the light effect doesn’t last long. So I haven’t actually seen it that much. And it is fascinating. Beautiful, even—in a scary kind of way. So I watched for a few seconds, while the flashing, pulsing amethyst-light ebbed and my normal eyes returned.

I keep hoping that the purple hue will fade completely, one of these times, and leave me with blue eyes. It never does. And it didn’t this time, either.

The door banged open and a chattering knot of tweens poured in. I shoved the sunglasses back on my face and started the cold water running, pretending to wash my hands while I eavesdropped.

“I’m so sure!” scoffed one of the girls. She flounced into a stall and slammed the door behind her.

“I swear,” another protested.

“You had to see it, Ash,” said a third.

Ash, inside the stall, wasn’t buying it. “You guys are so gullible.”

The others started talking at once, their voices rising in an overlapping chorus.

“We are not!”

“It was real!”

“It was like he could fly!”

“I saw the whole thing. He fell off the top. He fell from the platform.”

Ash still wasn’t buying it. “He jumped, you mean.”

Unison: “He did not!”

“There were wires.”

Shrieks of denial.

I wasn’t feeling so good.

More voices as the ladies’ room door banged open again. A middle-aged woman, this time, saying to the lady with her: “…darnedest thing I ever saw.”

I had to get out of there.

I ducked my head so a curtain of dark hair fell forward to semi-hide my face—not exactly an invisibility cloak, but it was all I had. I mumbled, “S’cuse me” through the curtain and tried to slip past the women near the door. One of them put out her hand and stopped me.

“Sweetie, are you all right?” Her voice was kind. “You look pale.”

She obviously meant well, but pale is my natural color.

I tried to smile. “I just need some air, thanks.”

“You sure?”

Behind me, the girls had fallen unnaturally quiet. I could feel their stares, like a prickling on the back of my neck.

Oh no.

Next would come the whispers. Fear squeezed my throat almost shut. It was like … it was like …

Well, I’ve had this dream a hundred times. It’s been my personal nightmare ever since one long-ago Halloween when I was little. Nonny fell asleep in front of the TV and accidentally let me see “Frankenstein.” The old one, with Boris Karloff. The monster didn’t scare me; I kinda liked him. What bothered me was that creepy crowd of black-and-white peasants, marching to the castle with torches and pitchforks … a village full of angry people determined to kill the monster … I’ve been terrified, ever since, that someday the mob would form … for me.

It was hard to believe that a mob might start forming in the ladies’ room at a water park, but hey. Mobs have to start somewhere.

Here’s the deal: the main reason why they don’t burn witches at the stake anymore is that nobody believes in witches. I’ve done my level best to keep my powers on the down-low—because the last thing I want to do is reopen that debate. I’m tough to injure, and I’ve never been sick a day in my life, but being tied to a stake and set on fire? That’s gotta hurt.

And now I’d blown my cover—or Meg had blown it for me. And Ash’s little friends had been there. And they were whispering.

I couldn’t make out the words, but I could imagine them all too clearly. Is that her? … That’s her! … That’s the one …

Next? Kill the monster.

I had to get out of there.

I pulled away from the motherly soul at the ladies’ room door and slipped out the door, assaulted again by the heat and the glare and the noise and the sunscreen smells. There was some kind of commotion off to the right. I had pulled my stupid life-saving stunt in the area to the left, so I didn’t worry about the stuff happening on my right … until the commotion drew closer and I saw what it was.

A big, jeans-clad guy came striding along with a video camera. Not a tourist camera; it had a major, snout-like lens protrusion device and a KCHG logo on the side. Beside him trotted a sound nerd, a smaller guy with headphones slung around his neck like a padded collar and lots of delicate, complicated-looking equipment sticking every which way out of his backpack. In their wake scurried a vaguely-familiar-looking lady in cruel shoes and a pale green suit. She was so out of place in a water park, she looked like she had wandered onto the wrong movie set or something. She had a clipboard shoved in her armpit and was carrying a wireless mike emblazoned with the KCHG logo.

It was the local TV news team, heading for the scene of the disaster-that-wasn’t.

My first thought: How did they get here so fast?!

My second thought: And how can I make them go away?!

Short of summoning Power again, there wasn’t a darned thing I could do. And even in my state of semi-panic, I knew that summoning Power would be a huge mistake.

Frankly, it almost always is. Like I said, it sucks to be me.

My phone buzzed against my hip. Through the chaos of the park, I heard the faint strains of “Disturbed,” so I knew it was Meg.

The second I punched into the line, she started talking. “Zara, are you all right? I am so sorry—”

“I’m fine,” I lied. “Where are you?”

“Hiding.”

“Me too. Better find a good place. Somebody alerted the media.”

“What?!”

I winced and held the phone away from my ear. “Calm down. It’s just one reporter.”

“Omigod. Omigod. Really? A reporter? Like, a news reporter?”

“Meg! You sound excited about it! This is NOT a GOOD THING.”

“No, no, I know. No. Not a good thing. Sorry.” She took a deep breath. “Omigod.”

That’s the closest Meg gets to swearing. She started Catholic school at an impressionable age.

“Seriously, Meg, where are you? We’ve got to get our story straight before—”

“I see them,” she said. “They’ve found Donald.”

My mouth went dry. I sagged against the shady wall of the restroom building and tried to think. “Can you hear what they’re saying?”

“No.”

“Can you get any closer?”

“No. They’ll see me.”

I could hear the concentration returning to her voice and knew that she was getting a grip. Which was a huge relief to me, because frankly, I rely on Meg. A lot.

“Listen,” she said. “We’ll be okay. If anybody asks you—and I don’t think they will—just be as surprised as everybody else.”

“But I’m not.”

“Zara!”

“Okay. I’ll try. But I’m not very good at this.”

“They’re interviewing him. I can’t believe it. They’re interviewing Donald.” She sounded distraught. “I hope he manages to speak grammatically. I hope he uses complete sentences. I hope—”

“Not! I hope he sounds like an idiot. Or, better yet, wasted.”

Meg sighed. “I see your point. Still … the honor of the O’Shaughnessies, you know. I can’t believe they’re going to put Donald on the news.”

Meg is definitely the brains of the O’Shaughnessy clan. They’re a fairly brainy lot, in general—except for Donald, and maybe Petey, though it’s probably too early to tell—but Meg outshines them all. I’m sure it would be agony, if I were Meg, to have the brother most likely to disgrace my family thrust into the spotlight. But excuse me, under the circumstances, I thought she had her priorities a teensy bit skewed.

“I can’t do this on the phone,” I told her. “Where are you?”

“I’m by the smoothie shack. Pretending I’m in line.”

“I’m on my way.”

But by the time I got there, she had disappeared. I asked the smoothie shack guy: “Did you see a girl about my age? Short, with curly hair and glasses? She was on the phone.” He pointed. I turned.

Meg was arguing with Donald. The reporter had her mike stuck right under Meg’s chin. And the camera was rolling.

Fear washed over me in waves. What was Meg saying?? Plus Donald was going to spot me any second. When he did, he would sic the news team on me. I touched my face to make sure I was still wearing those sunglasses. I was, of course. So I turned my back and walked away—controlling an impulse to run.

I walked straight out of the park, mentally counting the change in my pockets. I had enough. So I took the bus back to Cherry Glen.

The bus! I was truly desperate.

Once I had slunk into the rearmost seat and was safely jolting back toward Cherry Glen, I texted Meg: Taking bus c u ltr call me I didn’t have time to get cute with it.

From that moment on, I held my phone in my lap, staring tensely at it like it was a grenade I expected to explode at any second. Not only did it not explode, it just sat there, lifeless as a stone. My anxiety mounted as the minutes ticked by. My imagination overheated and ran riot, picturing the news team wresting Meg’s phone from her grasp, reading my message, and galloping down the road after the bus. I started glancing nervously behind me, out the rear window, expecting to see the KCHG news van barreling up to the bumper, lights flashing and sirens wailing.

I guess TV news vans don’t have lights and sirens. Okay, I realize that now. I’m just telling you what my imagination was conjuring at the time. I was pretty shook up.

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One response

  1. Elisabeth Fairchild

    Teen angst is hard on all of us, but Diane Farr has recaptured that feeling times ten with an amethyst eyed witchy heroine blessed, (or is it cursed?) with the kind of powers that we all wish we had, but which bring a heavy price in today’s cell-phone camera, instant-notoriety kind of world. I want to read more!

    May 25, 2010 at 6:29 am

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