Here’s the set-up:
Ty and Marcus Mitchell are average middle school brothers growing up in a suburb north of Chicago until one night when they’re hurtled through an inter-dimensional gateway to a parallel world defined by its multiple moons and planet-wide apocalypse.
As they struggle to figure out where they are and how to get home, the boys encounter refugees of “the last day” from the distant city of Atlantis and a mysterious girl called Bellana, the sole survivor and resident of the devastated metropolis of Spartanica.
Ty and Marcus soon learn they only have seven days to get home. But before they can leave, they must battle through long-extinct deadly predators, find the elusive Professor Otherblood (if he’s still alive), and rescue a new friend from certain death.
Is all of this insanity just Ty’s overactive imagination or are the brothers truly on the brink of being stranded in the brutal wasteland known as Spartanica?
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
SURE, I’VE HAD FREAKY DREAMS BEFORE
My digital alarm clock insists it’s 1:13 a.m. Seriously? How can it possibly be only 1:13 a.m.?
My name is Ty Mitchell, and I just had the longest, most vivid dream of my life and, according to the red digits glaring at me through the hushed darkness of my room, it lasted approximately five minutes. Don’t get me wrong. I’m ecstatic it’s over. I don’t know how much more I could’ve taken. My heart’s already beating at light speed (that’s roughly 670,616,629 miles per hour), and my hands are shaking even more than when I got my whooping cough booster last month at the doctor’s office. I utterly despise getting shots.
I mean, sure, I’ve had freaky dreams before. And I’m talking truly bizarre, like the one where our pet goldfish were sitting at the kitchen table, dealing cards, smoking cigars, and playing Go People. Or when I was on that out-of-control rollercoaster, doing loops and switchbacks and corkscrews while sitting next to this girl from my seventh-grade class, Emma Denzelton. I was screaming my head off, positive we were about to fly off the tracks, when she very calmly tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to pass the butter. Why, you may ask, would I have butter on a rollercoaster? Beats me, but I did, and I passed it to her. So, anyway, I’ve had freaky dreams before, but I’ve always kind of known it was a dream, even while I was in it.
This one was different. It felt real. I totally thought I was really on this other world doing stuff. My brother, Marcus, was in it, and I have never once dreamed about him before. He’s annoying enough during the day. I definitely don’t need him in my head at night. Still, it wasn’t just Marcus. There were the Atlantean kids and the Desrata. All that stuff.
But, gosh, come on. It had to be a dream. How else could I just end up back in bed five minutes after everything supposedly started . . . unless Professor Otherblood’s hypotheses about using majinecity to curl time weren’t really so crazy after all?
Desrata? Majinecity? Professor Otherblood? Confused yet? I am. You have no reason to believe me, but I’m really not a lunatic (at least I didn’t used to be). Maybe, if I think through it all, something coherent will pop out. I’m usually very logical and calm (well, logical, at least), so hang with me.
Why, you may ask, would I remember exactly 1:08 a.m. as the time my dream started? First of all, I never wake up before 6:50 a.m. on a school day. Actually, I never wake up after 6:50 a.m., either. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve just told myself to wake up at exactly 6:50 a.m., and I have. That gives me just enough time to get ready to catch the school bus. So for me to wake up at any other time is just, quite honestly, peculiar. But there was this humming sound. That must be what woke me up. That, or the stench from the dirty socks Marcus left on the floor again. Imagine a lethal combination of toxic waste and two-day-old dead skunk. Got it yet? Marcus’ socks are worse. Much worse.
So my clock read 1:08 a.m. when this humming noise woke me. I tried to ignore it and go back to sleep but it kept getting louder, so I climbed down from my loft bed to see where it was coming from. I stepped out of my room into the hallway, totally expecting to see Marcus and our Aunt Andi wondering about the same thing, but I was alone. I tiptoed slowly across the hallway and through the shadows, toward the nightlight at the top of the stairs. I should’ve gone back to bed right then. Maybe this whole strange episode never would’ve happened. Instead, I grabbed the handrail and gradually navigated down each step, peering into the darkness below for any hint of what might be waiting.
Near the bottom of the staircase, pictures on the walls started rattling as the noise generated a rumble strong enough for me to feel in my feet through the floor. Desperately yearning to stay close to my escape route back upstairs, I felt along the wall with my right hand through the kitchen entrance. I hooked my wrist around the corner as far as it would go and strained to flick the light switch on, but nothing happened. I tried it several more times in rapid succession but got zilch. The nightlight upstairs was still on, so I knew we had power. Why wouldn’t the kitchen lights be working?
The hum gradually worked its way up into a ruckus loud enough to make my head hurt. I covered my ears with my hands, craned my neck over to the doorway, and peeked in, expecting more pitch black confusion but, instead, saw a rainbow of colors flitting across the hardwood floor from the left onto the refrigerator and cabinets on the other side of the room. A kaleidoscope of light beams was pulsating from under the basement door next to the oven.
Just when I thought my skull was going to split because of the ever-growing clamor, it stopped. Except for the ringing in my head, I was standing in perfect silence. Anyone with undamaged hearing, unlike me, probably could have heard a pin drop. The light show, to my amazement, continued to blaze and pulled me toward it like a magnet. I had to see what was doing this.
Opening the basement door, I was immediately engulfed in a blanket of bright colors that filled the room, forcing me to shield my eyes. Squinting just enough to see in front of me, I carefully lowered myself onto my stomach and slithered down the stairs far enough to see below the basement ceiling. The entire room was bathed in countless different-colored light beams, like thick, circular laser searchlights, swirling out of the “A” room door. The “A” room is where Aunt Andi stores and studies “A”rtifacts from her job. She’s head archaeologist at the Sabrina Turner Institute for Civilization Studies in Chicago and brings home all kinds of ancient stuff to research.
I swung my legs around and slowly plodded down the stairs, still shielding my eyes but astonished by what I saw coming from the “A” room. As I cautiously stepped onto the basement floor, the light show stopped. All of it. All at once. Instantly, I was standing in our totally dark, totally silent basement, essentially blind and deaf, hoping to recover from the overwhelming sensory onslaught. That’s when one of my worst fears ripped through me like a lightning bolt. I realized I was all alone, in the dark, in the basement. Have you ever been in your basement all by yourself when it’s totally dark? It’s like you’re not even in your own house anymore and some psycho is lurking in the shadows, just waiting to kill you. I know there’s no reason why anyone would be hiding in my basement, but, disoriented in the infinite darkness, the mere thought was utterly terrifying.
Finally summoning the courage to move, I used my hands and feet to shakily find the stairs again when the basement lights turned on. Yes! The motion detector switch must have seen me move! Sanity was returning to my world!
My overriding instinct was to double-time it up the stairs, but my outright curiosity demanded I at least peek around the corner into the “A” room, so I guardedly slinked over and inched my eyes along the wall until I could see in. Everything inside looked normal, so I walked in and saw a dozen or more roughly two-foot by two-foot copper-looking blocks hanging side-by-side in a single line on the walls around the room at eye level. They looked like big, rectangular pennies but were so shiny it was like they were glowing. Each block had inscriptions engraved all over, but the writing was oddly different from anything I remember Aunt Andi studying down here before. I reached out to touch one but yanked back suddenly because it was so cold. I don’t mean cold like metal. It was cold like it had just come out of a freezer. I moved along the wall toward the back of the room, holding my hand an inch or so in front of each block along the way. They were all like giant ice cubes, yet I couldn’t feel anything unless I was almost touching them.
“What are you doing?” I unexpectedly heard from behind.
Somebody screamed like a chicken. I realized it was me as I spun clumsily to find my brother in the “A” room doorway.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed, laughing so hard he could barely talk. “Sorry about that, little sister! I haven’t heard such a manly scream down here since your birthday party!”
Marcus was referring to my thirteenth birthday party last month when a bunch of friends slept over in the basement. It was an awesome bash, but, somehow, our pet tarantula, Peter Parker, got out of its cage and crawled into a sleeping bag belonging to a neighbor kid, Joey Joe Slatter. When Joey Joe opened it to climb in, Peter Parker vaulted out and landed right on his leg. Joey Joe froze for a second, petrified by what he was looking at, shrieked at the top of his lungs, and ran upstairs. It took a while to get Peter back into his cage, but when Joey Joe finally came back down, the front of his pajamas were soaking wet. He tried to say it was because he spilled his root beer. Nobody bought it.
I quickly checked to make sure the front of my pajamas weren’t wet before yelling back, “You are such a jerk. What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here?” Marcus asked.
His face was red from laughing but he was finally settling down.
“I came to the kitchen for a drink of water and saw the light on,” he said. “Why are you skulking around the basement in the middle of the night?”
“I’m not skulking,” I insisted, still wigged out. “The humming noise. Are you telling me you didn’t hear that incredibly loud humming noise? Stuff was rattling. The floor was vibrating. It was like a UFO abduction.”
“No,” Marcus snorted sarcastically. “No rattling. No vibrating. No UFOs. No little green men. I knew you’d snap one day. You’ve always been wound a little too tight.”
“I didn’t say I saw a UFO,” I snapped back. “Can you listen for just once? I said things were rattling and vibrating like in a UFO movie. Seriously, you didn’t hear anything?”
I was desperate for Marcus to corroborate at least some small part of the whole creepy episode. He finally got a clue and realized I was dead serious about the whole thing.
“I didn’t hear any noise, dude,” he said. “I’m going back to bed.”
Just as he turned to leave, the hum started again. It was much softer but definitely the same sound as before. Marcus started to say something, but I raised my left hand to stop him.
“Wait!” I whispered. “Shh. Listen.”
I hadn’t noticed before, but in the center of the room a solid black, perfectly smooth and shiny crystal orb about the size of a large cantaloupe was sitting at waist level on a small, ornate wooden stand with four round legs. It was obviously the source of the hum, which was getting louder again with each passing second.
“Why is that bowling ball making noise?” Marcus asked, his eyes fixated on it.
“See!” I blurted, terrified out of my wits but ecstatic Marcus knew I wasn’t losing my mind. “It was a million times louder before! We better go wake up Aunt Andi.”
As the volume ramped back up, the orb’s color gradually morphed to maroon, then red, and finally a brilliantly bright, pulsing crimson. In the blink of an eye, the array of light beams I’d seen before shot out from the orb and filled the room. The intensity bothered my eyes, but I squinted to see orange, blue, green, yellow, and red rays swirling everywhere like a multi-faceted spotlight saturating the space around us. As the hum once again reached an ear-blistering volume, the beams gradually blended until all the colors faded into a very bright white light that consumed everything. I buried my eyes in the creases of my elbows but peeked out a few seconds later to see nothing. Literally zippo! No orb. No table. No “A” room. No Marcus. No me! I could feel my fingers wiggling in front of my face but couldn’t see them. There was nothing but raw emptiness.
“Marcus?” I yelled, hopelessly trying to be heard over the now rampaging scream that, I assumed, was still blaring from the orb. “MARCUS?” I hollered louder, this time unable to even hear myself!
Instantly, without so much as a hint it would do so, the hum stopped, leaving nothing but unbridled silence in its wake. I called to Marcus again but still couldn’t even hear my own voice. I could feel my mouth open and air rush past my vocal cords, but no sound came out. Powerless to communicate or do anything to understand what was going on around me, I just stood terrified and motionless in my own personal void, imagining this must be what birds experience when they fly through the middle of a big cloud. No sensation. No sound. Nothing. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and a chill shuddered through my soul as it dawned on me that I’d either been magically transformed into a red-bellied woodpecker, or I was dead.
THE END BEGINNING OF A REALLY STRANGE DREAM
If my little brother, Ty, is anything, he’s predictable. He always has an answer (not that he’s always right) and will gladly be the first to explain how anything works, even when he’s just heard of it for the first time. Our Aunt Andi says he’s our “instant authority” on everything.
Don’t get me wrong. Ty is really smart. Book smart, that is. He’ll gladly recite the first two hundred digits of pi and explain how gravity works better than any teacher. But he can get on people’s nerves (including mine), usually without realizing it.
Finding him staring at the wall in the “A” room all by himself in the middle of the night was totally not right. I should’ve known right away something was sideways because he was awake and it wasn’t exactly 6:50 a.m. He’s so proud because he doesn’t use an alarm clock. Big deal. Everyone uses an alarm clock. If using an alarm clock wasn’t normal, they wouldn’t have been invented. Am I right?
But finding Ty was only the beginning. A really bright light shot out of this bowling ball in the “A” room, forcing me to cover my eyes. I opened them back up after a bit to find I was in total whiteness. It’s like total darkness except everything’s, well, I think you get it. It was beyond freaky. I couldn’t even see myself! I started wondering whether it was real. After all, something that weird had to be a dream.
After straining my eyes forever to see anything other than nothing, I spotted what, at first, looked like a tiny dot a million miles away. I wasn’t truly sure it was there until another, bigger dot appeared next to it. Then another, and another. Then a bunch more popped up one at a time and meshed together until the white was completely replaced by alternating shades of dark gray and black. Now I was sure it was a dream. After all, everything goes dark just before you wake up, right? And if it was just a dream, I’d be back in my bed, safe and sound, in just a few seconds. I kicked back to let the insanity of the past few minutes float away. As I stretched out my arms to get comfortable, my right fist hit something.
“Ow!” someone yelped.
“Ahhhh!” I screamed and jumped back, turning to see a pained expression on Ty’s face staring back at me through the dimly lit shadows, his hand rubbing his side where I’d hit him.
“What was that for?” he blurted angrily.
“Ty?” I yelled as my heart jumped into my throat. “What are you doing in my dream?”
He ignored me, completely distracted and squinting into the subdued space around us.
Something or someone suddenly jerked my left arm with so much force that I slid backward across the floor and through the air until my left hand smacked into a wall, trailed shortly and painfully by the rest of my body. I was hanging off the ground by my left wrist. Behind me, a thud, followed immediately by a not-so-manly whimper, confirmed the same fate had befallen Ty.
“Ow!” he blustered frantically. “My wrist!”
He fidgeted like a freshly caught bluegill at the end of a fishing pole.
“Oh, what the heck is going on?” he cried out. “Marcus, where are you?”
“I’m right here,” I answered, trying to work myself free.
“Can you touch the ground?” he asked.
“No!” I replied, gritting my teeth and putting everything into trying to break free from my bondage. “I’m stuck, too! What’s keeping us up here?”
“I don’t know,” Ty continued, getting more panicky with every word, “but I can’t even see the ground! Ow, my watchband is digging into my skin! I think I’m bleeding!”
He suddenly gasped and stopped flailing.
“Dude, what if we’re suspended over a bottomless pit?” Ty said. “If we break free, our bodies will fall into infinite nothingness forever.”
His voice quivered in fear, but that wasn’t really unusual.
A nervous laugh tried to work its way into my throat until I looked down. Ty was right. We could see exactly nothing beneath us. All we really knew was that we were both hanging off the ground with one arm each pinned over our heads against a wall. Now my only interest was to stay perfectly still so my own watchband wouldn’t break. Not that I believed in Ty’s bottomless pit theory, but . . . it’s not like his overactive imagination is wrong every time.
“Okay,” I tried to say in a very measured way, not moving a single muscle other than to speak. “So maybe we should stay real still and just hang here until we know what’s under us.”
“Uh, yeah,” Ty replied, mimicking my delivery. “Real still.”
So there we were. The Mitchell brothers, each of us hanging by the wrist in total silence, neither one wanting to push our luck and fall into the bottomless pit, if it was actually there. I kept expecting my eyes to adjust more to the darkness but could still only see dimly lit outlines. Then, in the distance, I thought I saw a miniscule light blink a few times. Staying perfectly still, I focused my eyes on the exact spot where I saw it and waited to see if it would happen again.
“Marcus,” Ty whispered, trying to talk without moving his lips.
“Shh,” I shot back quietly.
“No, Marcus, I really . . . .” Ty persisted.
“Shh,” I repeated.
“Don’t shush me!” he chastened with an annoyed tone, still trying not to move his lips, like doing so would trigger his arm to release. “I really, really, really . . . .”
“Shut up, Ty!” I whispered. “I think something moved over there.”
Now I was doing the lip thing, too. The flashing light reappeared, but much closer this time, and it looked like there was more than one.
“Dude,” I whispered, “I think something is over there, and it’s moving this way.”
Ty stiffened like a statue.
“But, but, but I don’t see anything,” he stammered, trying to convince himself nothing was there.
We hung in silence, hopeful the space around us would remain undisturbed, for what felt like an hour. I didn’t see any more lights, and the only thing I could hear the whole time was my pulse pounding like a jackhammer in both ears.
Finally, convinced the threat, real or imaginary, had passed, I took a slow, deep breath and said, “Okay, I don’t think anything’s—”
Without warning, something big moved through the shadows directly in front of us, maybe twenty feet away. The sound of footsteps and a dozen or more of the tiny lights I’d seen before slowly advanced toward us. I barely made out the silhouette of a human head and shoulders through the dimness. Someone was coming at us and all we could do was dangle helplessly.
The commotion stopped and a woman’s voice gently said, “Initiating scan.”
A single, thin, blue laser beam shot up from where the woman was standing and stopped at the ceiling where it fanned out, in blinding fashion, three-hundred-sixty degrees and engulfed everything in front of us. Shielding my face with my right hand, I turned my head and, through the narrowest possible slit in my right eyelid, saw Ty hanging by his left wrist, also sheltering his vision.
The blue light vanished, leaving us in total silence and darkness again, right up until the woman’s voice said, “Intruders detected. Weapons armed and locked on.”
REMOTE SENTRY 113
“Wait!” I screamed. “Don’t shoot! Marcus, she’s going to kill us!”
Again, she said, “Weapons armed and locked on.”
“Aaaaah!” I shrieked, turning my head and covering as much of my face as possible with my free arm. “Please don’t kill us!”
“Identify,” she commanded.
Marcus and I looked at each other through the shadows, turned back at the thing, and both said, “What?”
“Identify,” she repeated.
“Uh,” my brother said hesitantly, sounding challenged to catch his breath, “I’m Marcus. This is Ty.”
“Identification failure,” she responded. “Weapons armed and locked on. Hands down.”
“What?” we both said again, the hysteria in our voices reaching peak levels.
“Secondary identification measures are required,” she said. “Failure to remove facial obstructions will result in severe negative personal consequences.”
“Marcus, don’t cover your face,” I said, putting my arm down, hoping to keep us alive through sheer submissive obedience. “I think she wants to scan us again.”
I barely finished my sentence before a blazing red light shot right into my eyes. Even jamming my eyelids shut did little to shield the intensity. “Ahh, it’s so bright!” I protested. “My eyes! I’m going blind!”
After an eternity, the fireball finally turned off, enshrouding us in dark shadows again.
“Identification confirmed,” the woman said.
“I can’t, I can’t see anything,” I shrieked. “I’m blind! I’m blind!”
“You’re not blind,” Marcus implored. “Our eyes just need to adjust. Settle down!”
Although I couldn’t see, it sounded like the woman turned and was leaving. Good riddance of a bad nightmare, if you ask me!
“Wait!” Marcus hollered. She stopped moving.
“What are you doing?” I blurted exasperatedly. “Do you want her to come back and arm weapons again?”
“Can you get us down?” Marcus asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Oh, uh, okay,” a surprised Marcus sputtered. “Then, uh, get us down.”
She turned back around and came toward us until she was only a few feet away. A warm blue glow emanated from where she stood, accompanied by the sound of something charging up.
“Are you happy?” I shrieked. “She’s arming weapons again! She’s going to kill us!”
A pencil-thin blue line shot over my head, instantly freeing my arm. My body and mind were immediately overcome by a devastating sensation of endless descent. I screamed a scream as unending as the infinity into which I was tumbling. I had been freed from my vertical prison only to plummet into a vast pit of death, never to be seen again!
“Turn on the lights,” I barely heard Marcus yell from far above as I hurtled into the abyss.
The woman said something in response, but she was too far away by now to be audible.
“You can stop yelling now!” Marcus screeched.
I did so, and as my eyes adjusted to the newly lit space around us, it became painfully obvious I wasn’t plunging to my death at the planet’s core. I was, in fact, lying on the ground, in the fetal position, with Marcus four to five feet away, staring down at me, still hanging on the wall by his left wrist.
Overwhelmed by the need to explain, I said, “Well, it felt like I was falling. And you even said, you even said there could be a pit!”
He just kept looking down at me with that you’re such a schmo look. I hate that look. He wouldn’t have thought I was a schmo if there really was a pit there.
I quickly realized it would be pointless to try to defend myself, so I ignored the whole situation and sat up to get a better look around. We were in a large, dark, cave-like space, except that the floors were very shiny and smooth, like they were installed over the natural rock to create a flat surface. My watch was still stuck to the cave wall above and behind me with each half of the metal band completely flattened up against the wall. I didn’t see any actual lights, yet a bright glow from all around us lit the room, which didn’t make sense because the cave itself and the floor were both pitch black.
Marcus looked up at the woman and warily asked, “Can you please get me down, too?”
“By your command,” she replied and turned toward him.
She was easily six feet tall and built like a human, which she obviously was not. While her voice was like a lady’s, nothing else about her was feminine, most noticeably her completely bald head. She wore a black t-shirt and pants but no shoes. Her skin was smooth and light gray and her eyes had a haunting green glow around the edges. She reminded me more of an animated mannequin than a real person. Her lips moved very convincingly when she spoke, and she blinked her eyes often enough for me to notice, but the rest of her face was completely expressionless. It was like somebody tried to build a human replica but didn’t quite finish the job.
She extended her right arm and pointed above Marcus’ head. The same blue laser that had cut me down shot out from her index finger and neatly etched a path through his watchband, dropping him to the ground where he fell onto his right side, winced, and rubbed his wrist. Both halves of his severed watchband immediately flattened up against the wall, as mine had. The laser turned off and the woman gracefully moved her hand down to her side, her gaze still fixed on Marcus.
“Amazing,” I uttered, stunned by a paralyzing combination of awe and extreme fear. “Marcus, who is she? What is she?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, gingerly rolling into a crouched position. “Maybe we should ask her, if you’re done falling to the center of the Earth.”
“Oh, shut up,” I complained but got interrupted.
“I am Remote Sentry 113, assigned to perimeter defense,” the woman announced.
I started relaxing a little. This thing actually had a name and didn’t seem like she was there to kill us or take us prisoner.
While Marcus sat there, obviously terrified, I dug deep into my courage (which I always did . . . well, mostly) and asked, “What is this place? Where are we?”
“Insufficient authorization,” the sentry responded.
Marcus and I looked at each other, puzzled.
“We’re not authorized to know where we are?” I said.
“Insufficient authorization,” the sentry reiterated.
“Okay,” I said, “well, we’re from Newkastel, Illinois, near Chicago. Can you help us get back there?”
“Location Newkastel, Illinois, not recognized,” the sentry responded.
“Maybe, since it’s some kind of security robot, it only knows about the inside of this place,” Marcus guessed, shrugging his shoulders. “Let’s have a look around.”
Marcus stood up for the first time since being cut off the wall.
“Insufficient authorization,” the sentry said. “Unauthorized movement within the complex is strictly prohibited during system lock.”
“We can’t look around?” I asked, confused by what she’d just said. “Are we supposed to just sit here forever?”
The sentry turned, tilted her head down, locked her creepy emerald gaze directly onto me, and said, “Unauthorized movement is strictly prohibited while the complex is in system lock. You may stay where you are or be escorted out.”
“Okay,” I answered very quickly and compliantly, my eyes wide open and my feet pushing me back against the wall as far as I could go.
Even though she sounded calm, she was seriously intimidating when she looked right at me. I just hoped she wouldn’t come any closer.
“Where will we be if you take us out?” Marcus asked, prompting the sentry to finally look away from me toward him.
“You will be outside the complex,” she replied.
“Uh, yeah, I could have figured that out for myself,” Marcus continued with a slightly exasperated tone, his voice echoing into the surrounding spaces. “I mean where will we be? What is the nearest city? We are not from here. Can you please help us? Where can we go once we’re outside the complex?”
The sentry took two quick steps toward him. Marcus flinched a little and swallowed hard, unsure whether the sentry was going to stop, which it did.
“You are leaving now,” the sentry commanded and turned away. “Follow me.”