MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
CLIO CARTER-PETERSON LOOKED in the mirror and gelled the last of her edges back into place before fluffing the bun on top of her head and closing her locker. “You guys good to go?” She slipped on an embroidered jean jacket and scooped her multicolored patchwork backpack off the floor.
“Do you really have to ask?” Rebecca Chin was already zipped into her cropped bomber jacket, her olive wrists peeping out of its pushed-up sleeves. With her caramel leather backpack firmly strapped over both shoulders and her padded moto-style leggings, she looked ready for action. She bounced impatiently, leather studded high-tops flexing as her heels rose and fell. Tanya Martinez stood beside her, leaning against the lockers with her nose buried in a book. One tawny knee poked out of a hole in her threadbare skinny jeans, and she idly scratched it as she read.
“Sorry; I’m just looking for my history book.” Maggie Anderson stood in front of her open locker, sifting through an untidy pile of folders, crumpled papers, and books, her freckled cheeks flushed pink with effort. She brightened as her hand curled around a small hardback. “Oh, hey!”
Tanya looked up. “You found it?”
“Not yet, but here’s an overdue library book I lost last month.”
Clio reached into her backpack and handed her history book to Maggie. “Here. You can borrow mine. I finished my homework in study hall.”
Maggie smiled. “Thanks.” She tucked the book into her glittery pink backpack. “Okay. Who’s ready for a walk in the woods?”
They headed out of the middle school and over to the parking lot where Clio’s aunt, Kawanna Carter, stood waiting for them by her vintage turquoise 1962 Scout. Kawanna’s long dreadlocks were pulled back from her smiling coppery brown face, and she wore a knee-length black dress with printed skeletons dancing around the hem. “Thanks for the ride,” Clio said, giving her aunt a hug.
Kawanna kissed Clio’s forehead. “Anything for my favorite niece and her friends!”
“Auntie, I’m your only niece.”
“Doesn’t make it any less true,” Kawanna said. The girls tossed their backpacks into the covered flatbed and squeezed into the bench seats.
“How did it go at the shop today?” Clio asked. Her aunt had recently moved to Piper, Oregon, and opened Creature Features, a costume and curio shop on Coffin Street. It was a regular hangout spot for the girls, and Clio sometimes helped her aunt behind the counter when the store got busy.
“Now that Halloween’s just around the corner, business is really starting to pick up. Any chance you could help out after school this week?”
“I’m babysitting for that new family tomorrow, but maybe later in the week.”
“Oh, are they the ones who moved into the old Plunkett Mansion?” Rebecca asked Clio. “I’ve always wondered what that place was like. Have you been inside yet?”
“Not yet,” Clio said. “I’m dying to check it out! I love old places like that; they’re like postcards from the past. And the family seemed really nice on the phone.”
“We like nice. Nice is good,” Maggie said. She poked the back of Clio’s seat. “Let’s just hope they stay nice and don’t get all spooky-weird on you!”
Clio turned around in her seat. “Don’t even try to joke about that! I’ve had enough supernatural experiences, thanks.”
“Tell me about it! Never. Again.” Rebecca laughed nervously. “The last time anything got ‘spooky-weird,’ my favorite baby in the world almost ended up trapped in another dimension with an evil Night Queen. I don’t even like thinking about it!”
Tanya picked at the knee of her jeans. “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, it does open up a whole world of scientific inquiry. Aren’t you just a little bit curious to know more?”
“Not a chance!” Clio said, and the other girls laughed. “I liked it a whole lot better when I thought it was just made-up. One visit to the Nightmare Realm was more than enough for me! I feel like I’m still looking over my shoulder, expecting to see the Night Queen and her disgusting spider hair, standing right behind me.”
Kawanna pulled the Scout over to the side of a quiet country road and turned off the engine. As Rebecca, Tanya, and Maggie climbed out of the car, Kawanna put her hand on Clio’s arm. “Are you sure you don’t want me to walk to the clearing with you girls? I know that adults can’t see all this supernatural stuff, so I won’t be much help, but at least I could keep you company.”
Clio shook her head. “Thanks, Auntie, but I think we’ll have better luck if we go by ourselves. See you in about an hour.”
Kawanna reached for the knit tote bag at her feet and pulled out a Stephen King novel with a snarling dog on the cover. “All right, well, this Cujo book and I will be waiting for you right here when you get back.” As Clio and her friends started walking down the path into the woods, Kawanna called after her. “Oh, and Li’l Bit?”
Clio stopped and turned. “Yeah?”
Kawanna’s expression was serious. “Be careful.”
A short time later, Clio found herself looking doubtfully at a pool of blood at her feet. “Are you sure this is going to work?” she asked. She bent down and poked at the Styrofoam tray.
Tanya barely raised her brown eyes from the pages of the large book that lay open in her lap. “This is exactly what it says in the book:
With iron shoe and whitest rose,
Blood and salt,
The door shall close.”
The girls stood at the center of a forest clearing. A gnarled old tree loomed over them; the brook between its twisted roots burbled softly. The late afternoon sun gave the surrounding trees’ autumn leaves a rich, russet glow, but the chill in the air reminded Clio and her friends that they had little time to waste. Inside the tree’s hollow was the entrance to the Nightmare Realm, which would open again during the next full moon unless the girls did something to seal it.
“You brought the old horseshoe from the back of your aunt’s shop, right?” Tanya asked. “Rebecca has the salt. I clipped a rose from my dad’s garden, and Maggie handled the blood. If we want to seal the portal and keep out the Night Queen and her minions for good, then this is the way to do it.”
“Yeah, but I’m not sure hamburger blood is what the book had in mind,” Clio said. “This is just leftovers from Maggie’s family barbecue. Maybe the book means … I don’t know, like … blood blood.”
Maggie tossed her red curls over her shoulder. “Look, the book just said blood, okay? It didn’t say what kind. And besides, where else was I supposed to get some? There’s tons of blood in meat, anyway. I don’t see why it won’t work.”
Tanya’s lip curled. “Eww. I’m so glad I’m a vegetarian.”
Clio toyed with a silver ring on her finger and looked at the dark hollow in the base of the tree. “You don’t think we should maybe use some of our own? Like cut our hands or something? Just in case?”
“No way,” Maggie said. “I barely even let the doctor give me a shot. I’m not about to cut my finger in the middle of the woods.”
Clio pulled a bundle of creamy linen from her backpack and unwrapped a rusted horseshoe. “It’s just, you know, I want to remind everybody that we’re talking about an open portal to the Nightmare Realm, remember? That place where a bunch of rotting, undead lusus naturae live with their queen who swore eternal revenge on us? Don’t we all just want to be sure that whatever we do to close that portal will actually work, here?”
Rebecca pushed her chestnut bangs out of her eyes and reached into her backpack. “It has to work. We have everything in the recipe. All we need to do is put it all together, right?”
Maggie grinned. “Leave it to you to call it a recipe, Becks.”
Rebecca shrugged and held up a dark blue box in one hand and a small glass jar in the other. “I have sea salt and kosher. Which should we use?”
“I say we use both,” Clio said. “We don’t want to take any chances.” She carried the horseshoe over to a flat, mossy patch of earth between two large tree roots. “Let’s do it over here so nothing spills.”
“I’ll grab the bowl I brought.” Tanya stood up and picked her way around the roots of a massive yew tree to retrieve a dark wooden salad bowl with a small crack running along the side.
Tanya placed the bowl on the ground and wedged a circle of rocks around the base to keep it steady. Clio laid the horseshoe at the bottom of the bowl, and Tanya carefully placed the white rose on top. Rebecca sprinkled the salt, and Maggie poured the blood from the corner of the hamburger tray over all three.
“Are we supposed to say anything?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t think so,” Tanya said. “I think we just put it in the portal.”
The four girls took off their shoes, and Clio picked up the bowl. The group waded slowly into the brook that sprung from the hollow in the tree’s base.
“It’s freezing!” Maggie winced and lifted her pale foot, already mottled purple from the ice-cold water.
Rebecca and Tanya reached into the tree’s deep hollow and set the stones in a circle in the shallow water. Clio positioned the bowl in the circle, wedging the rocks into place so it was stable.
“I feel like we should say something,” Clio said, “just in case. It seems weird to just put this stuff in the portal and then walk away.”
“Let’s read the lines from the book again,” Tanya suggested. The girls huddled around her, and they read in unison:
“With iron shoe and whitest rose,
Blood and salt,
The door shall close.”
“Now what?” Maggie asked. “Is something supposed to happen?”
“I don’t think so,” Tanya said. “The book doesn’t mention some big explosion or anything during the actual sealing.”
“Well, that’s kind of a letdown,” Maggie said.
“Not to me,” Rebecca said. “I’ve had enough drama to last a lifetime! I’m just glad it will finally be over.”
“This is just stage one,” Tanya said. “Since the portal only opens during the full moon, we won’t know for sure it’s actually sealed for good until those full moonbeams hit it and it doesn’t open.”
The girls waded out of the stream, and Rebecca pulled a fluffy white hand towel from her backpack. “Here. Use this.” She dried her feet and handed it to Clio.
Clio used the towel and passed it on before slipping into her black ballet flats. “We’re definitely coming back during the full moon to make sure the portal can’t open anymore, though, right?”
Tanya tucked the book inside a faded canvas backpack covered in badges and pins. “For sure! I need to record the results.” She pulled out a pencil and a purple notebook with a peace sign on the cover and opened to a fresh page of graph paper. “It’s interesting that it required both iron and salt; I wonder if it causes some kind of chemical reaction. But if so, then what’s the catalyst?” She bent over the page, writing a rapid series of notes in tiny, cramped letters.
Maggie finished the knot on her glittery silver sneaker and peered over Tanya’s shoulder. “Wait, are you writing up a lab report?”
“Mags, you’ve known Tanya since you were three. How are you literally the only person surprised by this?” Rebecca asked. She pulled a small plastic garbage bag out of the pocket of her jacket and reached for the empty Styrofoam tray on the ground.
“I just still can’t believe that anyone would decide to make up homework for themselves! Just … why?” Maggie grabbed her glittery pink backpack and slung it over one shoulder.
Tanya grinned and tucked the notebook back into her bag. She pulled on a green army surplus jacket. “Don’t worry. You’ll thank me someday.” She slipped her pencil into the breast pocket and straightened the sky-blue wolf pin on the flap.
As the girls left the clearing, Clio turned to scan it one last time, her arched eyebrows knitted with worry.
Rebecca paused next to her. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Clio said. “I just got a weird feeling back there.”
“Look, we went through some really scary stuff a few weeks ago. We almost lost our lives doing battle with the Night Queen.” Rebecca put her arm around Clio. “But it’s going to be okay. Now that we’ve sealed the portal, she won’t be able to come into our world again. We’re safe.”
Tanya joined them. “And hey, in science, at least, some of the most exciting reactions are things we can’t even see. Just because we didn’t see anything change right now doesn’t mean it didn’t work. But don’t worry; we’ll come back and make certain.”
“I know. It’s just that I’ve spent my life watching scary movies with my auntie. And it’s never this easy, is all.”
“I get it,” Rebecca said gently, “but we’re not in a movie. Don’t worry, Clio. We got this.”
Maggie crowded in. “Besides, I wouldn’t exactly call everything about this easy. I mean, closing the portal, maybe, but not any of the other stuff. Remember, a few weeks ago Rebecca did almost kill us all and everything.”
“Hey, no fair!” Rebecca laughed. “If it had been up to you, we would have been toast!”
Maggie tugged on Rebecca’s French braid. “Don’t get too high and mighty! I think I managed to save us once or twice, too.”
“Oh, don’t you two start!” Tanya said, smiling. She pointed to herself. “Because this girl is done with the drama.” She pulled the others closer and noticed Clio’s face was still clouded with uncertainty. “Come on, I think Clio needs a group hug.”
The three girls surrounded Clio and squished in. She squealed and squirmed. “Yay! Okay! Thank you. I feel very loved. You can stop now!”
After one last big squeeze, the girls headed for Kawanna’s car. But Clio couldn’t help taking one last anxious look back at the clearing behind her.
Text copyright © 2019 by Katrina Knudson
Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Imprint.