Last week we announced that Jayden & the Mysterious Mountain: Book 1 by Katrina Cope is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
When a rich grandfather figure, strangely appears in the dark street, to rescue the young boy Jayden from homelessness, a life better than his dreams has come true. He is taken to a five star hotel – no, actually a school called The Sanctum, camouflaged in the mountains. The students build and operate high tech equipment, including surrogate robots all to fight against terrorism. Or are they?
By the way, you don’t want to annoy Scarlet who runs the general operations of the building. She is one cheeky AI and plays nasty if you cross her.
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
– Chapter One –
The Stranger of Hope
Jayden ruffled the newspaper in an attempt to get warm. The night air was cold and pierced through his worn clothes. A cool dampness seeped through the hole in his raggedy shoe. Trying not to disturb his carefully placed newspapers, he attempted to block the hole with his other foot. His reward was a slight relief from the discomfort. Convinced this was the most warmth he could achieve, he placed his hands on the chilly concrete ground using them as a pillow.
From a slight slit through the newspaper, he peered down the street that was his home. White fog floated through the air illuminated by the streetlights and lights shining from windows of the buildings. It was a quiet street for the city of Bowdon, in the country of Alaminia, and is the reason Jayden chose it as his home.
Through the stillness came the sound of a rusty cough. Jayden’s eyes squinted trying to see through the fog for the owner of the noise. He studied the harsh straight lines of the grey buildings, and between the large and small staircases that coarsely jutted from the apartment doors to the road. Heavy dew dripped from the railings of the stairs from the chilliness of the misty night. He did not find the source of the cough.
As he continued his search, another cough sounded. This time he noticed a large pile of newspapers, between the rubbish bins on the footpath. The paper came to life, for whatever lay beneath attempted to find a more comfortable position.
Nights like this had become familiar to Jayden. It seemed like forever since he had slept in a warm bed under a permanent roof, yet in reality it was only six months.
The flicker of a strong light caught the corner of his eye. Curious, he lifted his head above the newspaper to have a better look. He spotted a tall, sandy-haired man step out onto the street from his apartment. A blonde, friendly-faced woman accompanied him. She gave off a soft laugh as though she had found something amusing in what he had said. She reached back into the apartment. When she pulled her hand back out to the street, there was a young boy attached. Jayden guessed he was about nine-years-old. The boy was well dressed in warm clothing and looked contented and relaxed in their company.
Watching the young family leaving their home reminded Jayden of when his family had been together. There were times Jayden recalled being happy, like this young boy, although he also had other memories that were more like nightmares. He remembered how his dad, after having too many drinks, would quite often become enraged and bad tempered over the most trivial incidents or shortcomings. He would end up verbally abusive, which often turned violent.
Jayden shivered. It was his mother who would receive most of the abuse. But if he happened to be in the wrong place at these times, or if he tried to protect her, his dad would turn on him. He did not miss having to invent stories for when he suffered broken bones while being admitted to the hospital.
His dad was not always like this. There was a time when he was a very loving dad, who went to work in the morning, like most other dads, and came home to spend quality time with his family. All this changed when he lost his job.
Initially, they just had to watch how much the family spent, but then there still wasn’t enough money to pay the mortgage on their house. The Bank took the house. It broke his dad’s heart, so he started drinking, and that was where it all changed.
Jayden wondered where his parents were, but because of these memories he didn’t want to find out. He didn’t know where they were because one night when it all became too much, Jayden ran away. With nowhere to go, he began to live on the streets. Even though this was a very hard life to live and not safe, he did not want to return to the horrors of the past.
He looked back across the street to the young family and longed for an easier way to live. As they drove away in their little sedan, he wondered where they were going.
There was another cough from the pile of newspapers down the road. He watched the person underneath trying desperately to pull the newspapers together in an effort to trap some warm air. Goosebumps rose on his body. He felt the air getting colder as the night set in, so he too started to adjust the papers around him for extra warmth. When he was satisfied that he had achieved the best possible outcome, he settled down in the hope that sleep would soon come.
He watched the lights in the apartments flicker on and off in the different rooms. Trying to ignore his harsh surroundings, he set his mind toward more pleasant thoughts. He imagined the nice circumstances the people would be experiencing in those warm apartments. Slowly, after what must have been at least an hour, he felt sleep taking hold.
Click. Scrape. Click. Scrape. Click. Scrape. Slowly Jayden’s mind started to register that he was waking, and there was movement nearby. Half asleep, his eyes did not want to open. Click. Scrape. Click. Scrape. The sound stopped. After a short pause, he heard a loud, “Arghh,” followed by the rustling of newspapers.
Something had disturbed the man down the road. That did it. Jayden’s eyes flew wide open, and he looked down the street curious what was happening. He noticed a man standing over the homeless man, holding a cane that he used to jab him in the ribs. The man from underneath the papers let out a loud curse after his rude awakening.
Jayden was surprised to hear the man with the cane say, “Oh, sorry. I was looking for someone in particular and couldn’t see your face.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out something. “Here is some money for your next meal for causing you this trouble. My apologies.” After he had handed him the money, he walked away.
Jayden was in shock. He had not seen anyone treat the homeless with respect before. He studied the man apprehensively as he continued through the street.
Click. Scrape. Click. Scrape. The man searched every dark spot. He had a slight limp yet moved around quite well. He puzzled Jayden. It was unusual for someone to come out on the streets searching in every dark corner, especially in search for someone. Plus, the man was alone. Jayden didn’t know whether he should hide or stay, but the idea of the man possibly giving him money for food enticed him to stay.
His stomach groaned. It had been a long time since he had eaten a proper meal. The stranger must have heard the groan because immediately he looked across at him and changed direction.
Click. Scrape. Jayden waited patiently as the stranger approached. He pretended to be asleep, in the hope that the stranger might think he had been troubled as well and hopefully give him money. After a long thirty seconds, the man was finally at Jayden’s side.
The cane stroked across his newspapers and light from the streets hit the back of Jayden’s eyelids as the papers fell away.
Jayden opened his eyes and looked at the man. He looked old enough to be his grandfather and was wearing a business suit. His hair hung slightly past the tops of his ears and was dark brown with flecks of grey. “How old are you, son?”
Well, that was not what he was expecting; that was for sure. Thinking again about money for food, Jayden answered him, “Eleven.”
He watched as the man’s face clouded with concern. He let out a small whistle as his eyes turned to the shade of dark chocolate. “You are too young to be out here all alone. Where are your parents?”
Jayden shrugged. “I’m not sure, but I am not really worried. My life here is much safer than with my family.”
“Are you certain it was that bad?” the man asked.
Without any hesitation, Jayden answered, “I am very sure. I had at least ten trips to the hospital with serious injuries in two months and not enough good stories to explain how I got hurt.” His brow creased together, and he nodded. “I am definitely sure.” He sat up baffled over the man’s intentions.
The man sat on the staircase nearby and rested his cane against his leg. “That sounds dreadful. What is your name?” His voice sounded sincere.
“Jayden.” The apprehension carried in his voice.
“My name is Avando.” He smiled, and it looked genuine. “I am out here tonight because I am looking for some young people, like you, in the hope I can make a difference in their lives.”
His eyes opened wide, and his voice raised an octave. “Really?” Most people shun the homeless treating them like they are scum and are only homeless because they deserve to be there. His eyes squinted. “Why?”
Avando saw his suspicion and understanding crossed his face. “Well, you see, I have done very well in business over the years and I have no one to share in my good fortune. So, I am looking for young people, like you, who I can hopefully provide with all the necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, and a better way of life.”
“There must be a catch,” Jayden said warily. The roughness of his life had taught him that nothing this good comes along without a catch.
Avando heartily laughed while peering at him over his larger sized nose. “I can see you are a clever boy, and that is good.” His face straightened, and he held up a finger, “There is one catch.”
“Oh, here we go.” Jayden rolled his eyes.
“No, young man. It is not as you may think,” he said shaking his head while grasping his cane. “The only catch I have is that you study at the college I have set up for the unfortunate. In this college; I provide the top teachers in the country to educate people, like yourself if you decide to come.”
Jayden frowned and remained speechless.
Seeing Jayden’s apprehension, Avando continued. “But I do expect good grades with a minimum of ninety percent pass rate.”
“Are you serious? How is a homeless person who hasn’t studied for ages able to achieve that?”
Avando smiled. “Yes, there will be a large amount of studying to do but it will be worth it. Not only do I offer an excellent education, but I will provide all your needs such as food, clothing and shelter. I don’t see what you have to lose. Do you?”
Jayden wrapped his arms around his knees tucked up to his chest as he thought. It did sound like a good opportunity, especially when his stomach growled again reminding him of the food offer. “What happens if I don’t pass with ninety percent?”
“There will be tutors available to help you achieve this, so all it would take from you is your sincere effort.”
“But what if I don’t pass?”
“Then we would have to look for other accommodation for you. By all means, the choice is yours. I am merely offering a better alternative than your current living conditions.”
Jayden’s stomach growled again. “Look, I’ll give it a go.”
“Great, then come with me.” Avando stood then reached out a hand to help Jayden up off the hard ground.
Avando pulled his phone out of his pocket and held it to his ear. “Hello. Yes, Charlie. We have a new member. Can you please come and get us? We are three blocks east. Thank You.” He ended the call, returning it to his pocket as they waited under the streetlight.
After a couple of minutes, headlights shone down the street toward them. When the car stopped in front of them, Jayden’s mouth dropped open. It was a black limousine.
“Wow. I have never been in one of these before. I thought I would never even touch one, let alone get a ride in one.”
Avando lightly placed a hand on Jayden’s back. “Well, my son. You are about to have one of your disbeliefs turn into reality. Hopefully, it will be the first of many.”
Jayden thought it strange that Avando called him son, but life had been tough lately, and it was nice to have someone show him they cared and called him family.
The driver jumped out and moved hastily to their side of the car. He was an elderly man who, Jayden guessed, would be about sixty-years-old with short, grey hair and faded blue eyes. The man was of medium build with a small potbelly hanging over the top of his pants. He was wearing blue jeans and a black cardigan, with runners on his feet. It was not what Jayden was expecting a chauffeur to wear.
The driver looked at Jayden. On his weathered face, there were many deep wrinkles revealing a life that had not been easy. When he smiled, his face showed that there were many happier times as well.
“Hello. Who do we have here?” the man asked him.
“It’s good to have you join us, Jayden.” He continued smiling, and Jayden warmed to him. “I’m Charlie. You’ll see a fair bit of me around in the future. I’m pretty much the general handyman, doing a bit of everything.” He opened the passenger door to the large compartment in the back of the limousine.
Once opened, Avando indicated the vehicle. “You first.”
Jayden stuck his head inside and saw the polished tan leather seats, glimmering under the internal light. It was all an unbelievable dream. He climbed in and made his way to the rear. Steadily, Avando followed and sat on the opposite side to Jayden.
Charlie closed their door and climbed back into the driver’s seat.
As the car pulled into the street, Avando said, “You must be thirsty Jayden?”
“Yeah, I am. But I’m more hungry than anything.”
“I don’t have any food in here, although I will get you some, but for now I can offer you a drink. What would you like?”
Avando pressed a single button and from the side of the limousine appeared a little open fridge stocked with all sorts of soft drinks, juice and all kinds of flavoured milk.
Avando peered over the selection and pouted his lips. “Hmmm. It is a little cold out there. Perhaps you would prefer something warm to drink.”
Jayden stared at the selection amazed at the tiny hidden fridge. He realised his feet still felt cold, so he nodded.
“Just press that little button in front of you.”
Jayden pressed it, and a door slid across, revealing a hidden compartment. Inside was a vending machine with a selection of hot chocolate, tea, coffee and just plain warm milk. He was amazed at the treats readily available.
“Could I have some hot chocolate?”
“Yes certainly,” Avando said laughing at Jayden’s astonishment. “Just press that other little compartment beside you and in there you should find a good sized mug.”
There, where Avando had instructed, was the biggest mug Jayden had ever seen. He picked it up and placed it under the nozzle labelled ‘Hot Chocolate’ and pulled the lever. When his cup was nearly full, he let the lever go and out rolled five fresh marshmallows from the little hole next to the lever. “Wow. I don’t believe it. Everything has been thought of.” His stomach growled. “Well almost, just not the food.”
Avando’s face lit up. “I have just remembered. Press that little compartment next to the hot milk. There should be a couple of small travel packets of biscuits in there.”
Jayden eagerly followed the instruction. “Ah, so there is food.” His fingers fumbled with the packaging, unable to open it quick enough. After succeeding, he looked at Avando. “Not much food, but I thought it was very strange you didn’t have any when it appears everything is in the vehicle.” He shovelled the biscuits into his mouth desperate to silence his stomach.
Watching him while wearing a pleased smile Avando asked, “Do you have any friends about your age who are living on the streets?”
Jayden swallowed his mouthful. “Kind of. I didn’t always hang around them, but we probably see each other about once a week.”
Avando’s forehead creased together. “That’s odd.”
“What is?” Jayden asked, shovelling some more biscuits into his mouth.
“Well, I would have thought that young people on the street would group together. With all the dangers and the lonely tough life you live out there, why weren’t you all sticking together?”
“Yeah, well, I tried. But the others started doing weird things that just didn’t sit right with me, so I stayed away from them most of the time.”
Avando’s eyebrows rose. “Like what?”
Jayden looked embarrassed and began to squirm in his seat. He wanted to disappear into the generous layers of the leather.
He swallowed the lump rising in his throat. “I don’t want to ‘ dob’ on my friends and make them seem bad.”
Avando repeated himself, “You can tell me.”
“Well,” he paused, “they started doing really bad things.”
“I know what they were doing was bad, … but in a way, I understand … life on the street is tough. Even though I also found it hard, I didn’t want to live the way they were starting to live,” he stammered.
“It’s great you were strong like that, but you still haven’t told me what they were doing. I will not criticise them; I just want to know before I go and possibly offer them a place with me and the college.”
“Well.” Jayden felt a little more comfortable, but still hesitant. “At first they were trying, like me, to find enough food to get by. But after a while the reality of life on the streets set in. An older guy gave one of the boys named Ben, a tablet and said he could help take away the pain of being homeless.”
Avando’s dark brown eyes filled with concern. He remained silent and fiddled with his cane as Jayden continued.
“Ben took the tablet in the hopes that it would make him happy. He was for a short while, but it wore off. He was desperate for the feeling to last and went in search for another.”
“He is extremely lucky that he did not die or suffer serious consequences from the tablet,” Avando said.
Jayden nodded and looked at him. He didn’t see any criticism, so he continued. “He had to pay for the tablets from then on. Ben was distraught. Hunger was no longer his main priority; getting another tablet was. To raise the money needed he started to do all sorts of bad things, including stealing handbags from old ladies. He did this until his addiction got worse. Then he started to mug people in the alleyways for their cash and valuables, breaking into houses and pawning the stolen goods for money.”
“Dependency on drugs can change you. So what did the others do that was so bad?”
“Taylor and Declan found Ben’s stash and decided to try it just for fun.”
“Didn’t they see what it did to Ben?” Avando asked.
“This was before Ben became really bad with his dependency, and they hadn’t seen all the early stages of the bad things he was doing to get the drugs. When they tried the tablets, they felt so good, and Taylor wanted to impress Jessica ’cause he had a crush on her. She tried it too, which also started a vicious cycle with them. The only difference was Jessica preferred not to mug people, so she found other inappropriate ways to raise money. I don’t think they wanted to take the tablets anymore, but they were so hooked on them they couldn’t get off them without help.”
“Oh, my. How old are your friends?” asked Avando. His eyes had darkened as he looked at his cane.
“I think most are twelve, but Taylor is thirteen.”
“Where do they stay?”
“They are about five blocks from where I was on Delton Street, but I wouldn’t be pulling up to find them in this car, let alone walking to search the shadows.”
“Yes, Avando.” Charlie’s voice sounded over the intercom.
Jayden spun around in his seat to look directly at Avando. “Look, it’s really not a good idea that you go there in this car, and you obviously need a cane to walk. So I really would not recommend going there unless you have protection.” He scratched his leg nervously. “Do you have anyone you can maybe pick up on the way?”
“I’ll be fine Jayden,” he replied in a no-nonsense tone, but Jayden was still not convinced.
Panic churned his stomach. He was going to lose the person who was about to give him good food and shelter. It was undeniable that he would be badly injured and maybe even hospitalised.
Desperate, he tried again. “No, really, don’t go, unless you have some protection.”
Against his better judgment, he noted Avando’s mind remained unchanged. He began to wonder if Avando was crazy. With judgement like this, he wondered how he made it in the big business world. His mind turned over until finally he thought of a solution.
“I know! They won’t attack me, or try to mug me in their alley because they know me and realise I don’t have any money. I’ll go and speak to them for you.” He smiled proudly at his idea, confident Avando would accept the proposal.
“Thanks for your offer. I can see your point; however, I would rather do it and see for myself what kind of life they lead.” Jayden’s jaw dropped. He was convinced that he was sitting next to a crazy person.
“Are you mad?” He couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Did you not listen to the story I just told you about them, and how in the alleys they mug to get valuables and money — something you obviously have. You have a target placed on your head. Walking or driving in, they will notice you.”
Avando smiled at his assumptions and responded with a calm voice. “I will be fine. Just wait and see.”
Jayden slumped his shoulders in defeat. “Well, thanks for thinking of me and all. It was good to know that someone was willing to help. It is just a shame it won’t be lasting long.” He let out a big sigh.
“Don’t go all melodramatic on me. Honestly, I’ll be fine. Just relax.” Avando placed a hand on his shoulder.
Jayden remained in his sulky mood and looked out the tinted windows. He sighed when he noticed that the destined street was getting closer. I’ll be back to my old cold street again soon and without a proper meal. How depressing, he thought.
As the car turned a corner, he looked up to see the street sign with the words ‘Delton Street’ written on it. Here we go, he thought. The car started to pull over when they first entered the street.
“Are you sure I can’t go for you?” Jayden asked again in hope.
“I’m sure. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” He ruffled Jayden’s hair before climbing out the car door. Jayden cringed as he watched him slowly limp down the street, looking, again, into the dark shadows.
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