By: Graydon Hanson

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Hollenfield cover art

Chapter One

Sometimes something can be obviously weird; other times it can be weirdly obvious. In the case of the only five decent and living members of the Hollenfeld family, their adventure started off obviously weird, but by the time it ended, it seemed weirdly obvious as to why it all happened. But one thing was clear to all of the five siblings: it all started with tea. More precisely, it started with the type of tea you didn’t drink, but instead politely refused to drink. More precisely, it started with the type of tea that had trace amounts of poison in it, and was therefore a bad idea to drink even if you did enjoy its taste. Actually, it started with a party.

The house that stood at the corner of Ruby Row and Archer Avenue was filled with excitement at the prospect that it would soon be full of people. While other houses had kept getting higher and higher over the years, the Hollenfields had decided to keep their house just like they wanted: inconvenient. In addition to every hallway and closet being full of miscellaneous items from some distant relative or friend, the entire house was designed in such a way to make anyone who visited leave with a throbbing headache.    For one, the building was inadvertently made to look like a stack of five boxes on the verge of collapsing and when that almost happened in real life, two stilts the length of four boxes were set up to balance the fifth box from falling into the weedy garden 50 feet below. When the house had been built, many were puzzled by Thersites Hollenfield III’s choice of design and now with his greatgreat-great grandson in charge, things weren’t looking too good either.

Here he stood, mulling over whether to throw out a pair of lamp shades his grandfather supposedly bought from a blind man while adventuring through the Amazon, or a bust of someone named Madam Buschkey his great-grandmother supposedly stole from an antique shop in Indonesia. Besides the look of confusion he wore on his face as he glanced from one item back to the other, he had on an orange plaid suit with an extra button and a missing pocket. As the Hollenfield with the most power in this household, a lot was at stake with how this party turned out. And he wasn’t taking any chances.

His wife, Hera, paced around the kitchen, muttering about how there wasn’t enough flour to make her signature party dish, which no one had ever really cared to give a name to. She frantically pulled at her wild hair and kept looking at the ground, hoping a bag of flour would magically appear there any second. Being in charge of making all the food for the party was a harder task than she’d initially thought and it was taking a toll on her. Finally, she looked at her watch — which told her that the party started in about three hours — and put on her dusty black almond felt coat. She haphazardly fished out $20 from the money jar, accidentally grabbed her husband’s keys, and left the house through the irregular polygonal shaped door.

Orphiellia Hollenfield, the youngest of the five children that lived in the house, heard the door slam shut and flinched. She looked down at the two toys she had in each hand, smiled, and started to fiddle with them again. At barely two years old, she didn’t care about what to throw out or if there was any flour, but instead cared about keeping Bonzi, her giraffe and Cludd, her hippo, from fighting again.

They’d been fighting all week over some thing or another and it was Orphiellia’s job to stop another grapple from happening.

What she didn’t know was that her parents tried to name her Ophelia, but because her great-great-great grandmother had had feared anyone with that name for her entire life after she’d supposedly gotten mugged by an actress playing that part in Hamlet, after she’d seen a rather dull production of it, it simply wasn’t right for any Hollenfield to have that name. So, her parents had opted for Orphiellia, and had lived in peace with that name for barely two years now.

Thersites pursed his lips and then called up to his oldest son, Samuel, who was at that moment designing a better roof for the house and was having a little trouble.

“Sam? What do you think of this? Should I throw away your great-grandfather’s precious lamp shades, or your great-great grandmother’s precious bust? I need the house cleaner for the party.”

After a crash and a few creaks, Samuel’s voice could be heard: “Forget about some lamp shades or marble head, throw away your father’s mounted moose head. That thing’s been rotting away in Closet 15 for 50 years.” After some scrambling, he added,

“At least.”

Thersites sighed and called back up to Samuel, “I’ve told you a hundred times, Sam. That thing’s never getting out of the house. Not over my dead body, it won’t. You’re 17. You shouldn’t be telling me what to do.”

Up on the fifth box, Samuel was too busy trying to find a way to unbuckle the harness he had on to hear what his father’s reply was. “Stupid thing,” he muttered. Finally, he heard a click and saw the metal clip come loose and slide back up to the spot it was tied to on the ceiling. Samuel looked up and sighed. Then, he got up and went over to a small window that looked out over the neighborhood and was a good place to look when one was bored.

Samuel opened the window and looked down at two identical boys who were arguing over what to do to strengthen the two stilts that ran all the way up from the weedy garden they were both currently standing in up to the edge of the fifth box and attic of the house.

Samuel whistled loudly and both boys looked up at the same time. “Trevor! Troy! This thing’s gonna be harder than I initially thought. To put a significant roof on the top of the house, we’re gonna have to be able to have those stilts hold the equivalent of 15 bricks.” The two boys looked at each other and started to speak at the same time. Samuel sighed and then added in a loud voice,


Down in the garden, Trevor heard his older brother finish and threw his hands up in frustration.

“Great. Now we’re gonna need to go to the store and buy three more boxes of water bottles to sustain enough stabilization for the roof. I don’t think I can steal that much money by Friday to be able to sneak out over the weekend. Benny’s is closed on Sundays, remember? That gives me only Saturday to do it.”

Troy looked down at a page of graph paper with all of his measurements and then back up at his brother. “I don’t really think using containers of water bottles is the best way to test how stable the stilts are. There are probably so many other things that we have in, like, I don’t know, Closet 7 perhaps, that would work better than this.”

Trevor rolled his eyes. “The only thing in any closet that could work is our great-great grandmother’s collection of scrapbooks. But guess what? We would need five more of those collections to get a measureable result. The water bottles are the only thing we have that 1. is in stock and 2. has a consistent weight for any package. Plus, I don’t think Dad’s gonna want two ten-year olds messing around his piles of antiques.”

Suddenly, the two brothers started speaking at the same time again and both started fighting each other until they were lying on the ground, wrestling each other.

Samuel glanced out the window to see Trevor and Troy rolling around in the grass and sighed. Then, he loosened the harness around his waist and opened the door in the far corner of the fifth box. He made his way down past the fourth box, where the twins slept and fought, to the third box.

Samuel knocked on the door and called, “Pearl, you in there?”

After a few loud noises and some soft footsteps, the door opened to reveal a girl in a faded polka-dot skirt, a weathered brown overcoat over that and red stockings littered with holes. She had on spectacles that were a size too big and a pair of decaying hunting boots that Samuel guessed were a hand-me-down from some grandparent of her father’s. Her hair was tied into two pigtails in the back and she seemed to be in a state of annoyance.

“Yep,” she declared, before closing the door again. Samuel stuck his foot out to stop the door from shutting and Pearl looked up at him with a look of irritation.

Samuel sighed and peered into the room. There were papers everywhere, as if some were hurriedly hid from someone. “Are you really looking through the books again?”

Pearl’s anger disappeared in an instant and was replaced with hopelessness. She sighed and opened the door, letting Samuel into the ramshackle surroundings. Sam surveyed the box, before letting all his thoughts out on the 14-year-old girl.

“Pearl, we’ve been through this. You can’t go looking through Dad’s stuff without his permission. I know this means a lot to you, but —”

“But what?” Pearl interjected. “What could looking through musty scrapbooks and editorials do to hurt me?”

“It’s not that,” Samuel replied. “It’s just … I need to know

that you’re safe. It’s my job to protect you and it’s your job to protect the twins.” He walked over to Pearl and put a hand on her shoulder. She flicked it off angrily and strode over to a messy bookcase. Lifting what Samuel guessed to be the heaviest volume, Pearl slid a yellow sheet of paper out from underneath the book and handed it to her brother.

“I know it’s a stretch, but I think I might be onto something.”

With overly-practiced hands, Pearl swiftly took her glasses off and cleaned them on her skirt.

Samuel glanced at the paper and sighed. “Seriously? The shipwreck, again? I’ve told you a hundred times. The ship lost course and found itself in pirate territory. That’s how the ship sunk!”

Pearl grunted. “It says here that The Velvet set sail for the The Veiled Peninsula, yet I looked through some of greatgrandfather’s journal entries aboard that ship and one states a specific description of the Crent Archipelago. I looked on a map in Closet 8 and found out that Crent is located just 15 knots off the coast of The Veiled Peninsula. Now I’m not sure about you, but I wouldn’t call that ‘being off course.’”

Samuel sighed. “Pearl, this isn’t stuff a 14-year-old should be looking at. We have a party to set up. And this one is big. All of

Mom and Dad’s relatives are coming.”

Pearl grimaced. “This house is in a perpetual state of uncleanliness. A huge party isn’t going to do much to help.” Samuel glanced at the untidiness that befell Pearl’s room and decided to refrain for comment.

Samuel looked at Pearl and smiled.

“Listen,” he bargained. “If you help everyone out with the party and do as you’re told, then I promise I will help you find

whatever conspiracy you want.”

Pearl’s face lit up. Then, she nodded.

“Great,” Samuel replied and opened the door to the box.

He turned around to face Pearl. “You coming?” he asked. Pearl replied, “I’ll be down in a second.”

Then, Samuel nodded and let the door close. Then, when his footsteps disappeared, Pearl quietly made her way back to the bookshelf. She glanced at a large red anthology that was leaning against the corner of the bookcase. To anyone who might glance at it, the book looked like a further example as to why Pearl should clean her room, but Pearl knew better. She carefully moved the volume out of the way and tried her best not to make a sound. The book slid away to reveal a smaller, weathered book behind it.

The book read in printed golden letters “Journal of Thersites Hollenfield V” and under that were some handwritten words that spelled out exactly what Pearl needed.

Voyage of The Velvet

The Veiled Peninsula – 1666-1678

With one final glance and a cheeky grin, Pearl quickly grabbed the book from the bookshelf and stuffed it into the folds of her overcoat.

Pearl made her way down to the first box, where her dad and brother were gathered, discussing the party in hushed tones and abruptly stopped talking as Pearl appeared.

Thersites nodded to Samuel and went up to Pearl. Then, he smiled. “Pearl,” he said. “When your mom comes back from buying the flour necessary to make her signature dish, I need you to help me with a specific job. Got it?”

Before Pearl could nod, the door slammed open and a disheveled looking Hera Hollenfield stumbled in carrying three bags of flour. She staggered into the kitchen and Pearl heard a loud clump followed by fast uneven footsteps into the living room.

Hera hobbled into the room and abruptly stopped to catch her breath. Then, she took a deep breath and let it all out at once in a loud raspy tone.

“So I was coming back from buying three bags of flour and was thinking about how long it was going to take to make my signature dish when I saw the line outside of people waiting for the party and I sort of freaked out and decided to run into the house and warn you, so anyway…”

Thersites went over to his wife and tried to comfort her. “Hera, please stop yelling. Just go make your signature dish and we’ll worry about the party. Okay?”

Hera nodded, then looked at Pearl and Samuel. Turning back to her husband, she replied, “I don’t yell.” Then, she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Trevor, get you and your uncle’s nephew over here this instant!”

After a muffled reply of, “Who?” from what everyone could

only assume to Trevor … or Troy, Hera rolled her eyes and called back, “Your brother, Trevor. Just get you and your brother here right now.”

After a lot of scurrying and the squeak of the irregular polygon front door, two identical boys ran into the living room and stopped in front of their mother.

Both Trevor and Troy pointed out to the slowly closing door. “There’s a lot of people out there,” one called out. “Yeah, a heck of a lot of people to be in one family. Hey, Trev, you think some people are pretending to be —”

“We know there’s a lot of people waiting, boys. We don’t need you two reminding us.”

When she was satisfied, Hera looked around at the four children of her family that could actually work instead of playing with toy giraffes or hippos, and shouted, “Okay everyone, headcount!”

The four kids immediately started an over-practiced procedure of organizing themselves in order from tallest to smallest, but when Pearl and Samuel had finished, Trevor and Troy were too busy arguing over who was taller to finish the head count. Troy declared, “Remember that time in fourth grade, when Mindy Patkins told you that you were shorter than me? You didn’t talk to her for a week.”

“Troy,” Trevor countered. “We are in fourth grade. And of course I remember. But Mindy always favored you over me after that time you bought her ice cream from that sketchy dented ice cream truck.”

“That was one time, Trevor, and besides, you like Sarah

Wasabi too much to care about Mindy.”

“Troy, Sarah Wasabi is a wasabi company.”

“Just shut your mouths, boys!”

Everyone turned to look at Hera, who was pulling out her hair. She looked more menacing than ever in her yellow flowery kitchen apron and baggy dusted pants.

“Listen,” she continued. “Listen everyone. We have a very important date today. Everyone who is currently living in your father’s and my family is coming to our house and some of them are even waiting outside the house this very moment.”

Troy leaned over and whispered in Trevor’s ear, “Is she seriously doing one of her supposedly-inspiring monologues again?” Trevor looked back and nodded.

“Anyway,” Hera continued. “We need get ready for when the party starts, but we can’t do this alone, and I have specific jobs that I have especially laid out for every one of you. Don’t be worried, I didn’t think of these jobs on the spot. I thought of them when I was coming back from the grocery store with three bags of flour.”

When Hera was met with five frowns, she weakly added,

“Before I freaked out?”

Then, when she was met with five more frowns, she rolled her eyes and began.

“Okay, Trevor and Troy?” Both boys grunted. “I want you to tidy up boxes 4 and 3.”

Both boys recoiled in disgust.

Trevor exclaimed, “No way. We’re not cleaning up Pearl’s room.”

Troy added, “Let Pearl clean up her own room. We’re not responsible for her cleanliness.”

Hera sighed, “Point taken. Fine, you boys do 2 and 4. Got it?” Both boys nodded.

Hera turned toward Samuel. “Sam, you’re fine with cleaning up Pearl’s room?” Samuel nodded and winked at Pearl.

“Great,” Hera continued. “Samuel, you clean boxes 3 and 5. Got it?” When Samuel nodded again, Hera exclaimed “Great!” again and turned toward Thersites.

“Thers, I want you to continue cleaning this first box, so all our guests get a good first impression when entering.”

Thersites made a mix between a grunt and a sigh that represented a sense of recognition that Hera had asked him to do something and a sense of resentment to do that something. Or he could’ve just been clearing his throat. Either way, he walked away and began to sort through the other pointless relics in the Hollenfield house.

When Pearl noticed that she was the only one still without directions, she felt an arm on her shoulder and looked up to see Hera’s face level with hers.

“Pearl,” her mother started. “I know things have been hard between us and, well, the whole family, but let me tell you this: we all love you.”

Pearl rolled her eyes. She doubted her younger brothers would admit that they loved her, even if they were tied to chairs facing a madman who was threatening to drop them into the ocean. Hera sighed and continued. “I know that some people wouldn’t care to mention this, but it’s true. All of it … is true. And that’s why I have decided to give you the most important job of all.”

Pearl looked at her mother again. She smiled at how haphazardly she tied her bun and how there were little sprouts of gray hair spiraling everywhere around her head like a shield. Pearl realized how pretty her mother looked — even with her dusty apron on, even with a bad bun, even with her temper — and smiled brighter.

Hera smiled, too and the two stood facing each other — silently smiling — before having the urge to ask why she had the most important job.

“I’m sure Dad has a more important job than me. He’s giving the party-goers their first impression, right?” Hera leaned in to Pearl’s ear and whispered, “I doubt anyone will care about how the house looks.”

Pearl thought for a moment. “Samuel surely has a more important job than me. He’s cleaning the attic. Everyone who comes will want to look at the attic, right?”

Hera shrugged and shook her head. “All they’re going to see out of that one tiny window is how unstable the stilts are. Besides, have you ever been to a party where everyone looks out of one window all day?”

Pearl was going to mention that she’d never been to a party in general, so she had no idea if people did stare out of windows all day or didn’t, but instead shrugged her shoulders.

To everyone looking upon the Hollenfield family, they would’ve guessed that the Hollenfields were a non-social group: always sticking together and solving problems as a whole, but in truth, the opposite was true. The Hollenfields didn’t go to parties or social affairs because they didn’t necessarily want or need to go to parties. They preferred to make themselves known rather than having other people make them known. In other words, they preferred to explore and find acts of heroism rather than talking to a handful of strangers at a party about the acts of heroism they wished to commit. Hollenfields preferred to remain at home and get ready for when they were hosting a party, which was never, except for the rare exception like the one Pearl, Samuel, Trevor, Troy,

Thersites, and Hera were currently and hastily making ready for.

Pearl finally made peace with the fact that she had the most important job out of the whole family and finally asked her what her job was. Hera’s reply made Pearl both gag and wish she was cleaning her room.

You’re job is to go outside and count how many guests are waiting in the line. Here’s this counter my mother supposedly bought from a merchant in Localia who was half-man and halfgoat.

Her mom’s words rang back in her head. Any look of happiness had been sucked off of Pearl’s face by an imaginary vacuum. She looked up at Hera and reluctantly took the wood counter that was about the size of an apple and had a lever that if pulled, would trigger small cards to change the number to count how many people were waiting in the line.

Pearl’s mom opened up the door and gestured to something. When Pearl finally got to see what her mom was gesturing to, she was both surprised and relieved. What more would she expect from a family that according to her parents, supposedly did many extraordinary and somewhat unbelieveable things that supposedly made the family both different from any other family and the family with the most enemies.

A long line stretched out from the front door and snaked against the sidewalk all the way to the end of the block which was a considerable distance away. Pearl could see more people stepping out of more cars and making the line a considerable length longer by the minute.

From what Pearl could see, every person in the line was participating in some extremely bizarre dance in which they would look at their watch for exactly five seconds and then switch to gazing at the sky for exactly five seconds. Then, they would scrape their shoe on the sidewalk and all express a look of concern. Then, they would fiddle with their coat-sleeve for another five seconds and repeat the strange sequence over and over again until Hera kicked Pearl forward and she began counting the people waiting in line.

1, 2, 3, 4. Pearl made her way along the sidewalk, gazing awkwardly at all her various aunts, uncles, cousins, first cousins, second cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents, and people Pearl were sure weren’t even part of the Hollenfield family. Pearl glanced at a thin man in an oversized suit and thin wire-framed spectacles patting a little girl with bright blond hair and pigtails made from mismatched scrunchies who didn’t seem to feel the thin man’s touch.

8, 9, 10, 11, 12. An old woman carrying a basket full of bright purple vegetables that looked like eggplants yet had sprouting yellow blooms poking out of the tips and had a scaly surface.  The woman was stroking the vegetable like it was her baby or pet and wore an expression of pure content. A man ran down the street and bumped into Pearl, causing her to edge closer to the woman, who looked back in worry, clutching her vegetable like an ancient relic. Pearl realized she must’ve had a confused expression on her face and continued walking and tried not to think of the unusual relatives she had.

19, 20, 21, 22, 23. A middle-aged man sat on a small blue and gold cushion and stared at what Pearl could only think of as an imaginary book in his hands before swiping a finger to turn the page and continue to read.

32, 33, 34, 35. A boy about the age of 8 was trying to climb the tall brick wall that separated the houses on Archer Avenue and stared back at Pearl as she walked by.

47, 48, 49, 50. Finally, the sidewalk ended and so did the line. Though a couple people were joining the line sporadically, the average number of people stayed even. Pearl glanced down at the wooden counter and saw, 61.

She tried not to snicker: 61 people in her house? Even seven people felt crowded there sometimes and that was including Orphiellia.  Pearl glanced down the line and saw the small figure of her mother talking wildly with someone and she couldn’t tell if Hera was very excited or very angry. Later, when Pearl looked back at this moment, she remarked that she should’ve noticed the black van parked at the corner of the block. But at that moment, she didn’t and her vision gazed up and down the long roads and sidewalks in wonder.

For the town of Gallon, paved roads and pedestrian walkways were a relatively new development. But for Pearl, with her parents being both so adventurous and protective, this was like walking out into a completely different world.

Sure Pearl and her siblings went to school, but her parents always drove her and always kept metal shutters over the windows. Her parents’ only answer to her countless questions regarding this was because of “an accident in the past, that needs to stay in the past.” With all of Pearl’s eccentric ancestors, she still wasn’t sure whether this accident had happened because of her parents or because of their parents and grandparents.

Pearl heard a low whistle and saw her mom waving to her to come back to the house. Before Pearl could start to walk, however, she felt a hand grasp her shoulder and stop her in her tracks. Startled, she turned around and stared into two sleepy eyes behind thin glasses. Those eyes belonged to a rather narrow ovalshaped head with a black goatee that came to a dangerously sharp point and a black hat that concealed all hair. That head belonged to a tall, slim body with two toothpick thin arms, one of which was still holding onto Pearl’s shoulder. A long black shiny suit covered the body and a small menacing rose was poking out of the breast pocket, as if daring her to stay away.

But, the hand pulled Pearl closer and she brushed against the flower, feeling the thorns poke her already prickling skin. The odor of fish oil and vodka suddenly attacked Pearl’s nose and made her belch inside. She looked up at the sleepy eyes glaring down at her, for the mysterious man was so tall that he could stare directly down at Pearl and still look menacing.

He had the sort of nose that only bad people had and it hung off of his face in a downward slant that could be used as a weapon against someone his own height. He still stared rather distastefully at Pearl, his two dark eyebrows molded into question marks.

Pearl was still deciding whether to back away or to ask the man if he was sane, when a low voice, almost a grumble, escaped from his lips. Even though his mouth barely moved, the message to Pearl was clearer and scarier than the instructions Hera forced upon the whole family.

“Are you Pearl Hollenfield?”

Her parents were so secretive of their children’s identities that this question took Pearl aback. Maybe he was still part of the family, she considered. However, one glance at his appearance confirmed the worst: this man wasn’t part of the Hollenfield family, yet knew the Hollenfields’ names by heart. Pearl took note of the fact that the man’s hand still clasped her shoulder and after considering the countless outcomes she knew could happen, of which there were only two, she made the most sensible option.

Pearl nodded and the man seemed to relax. He took his hand off of her and kneeled down to look into her eyes. Pearl noticed how they had a dark tint to them as if there was a veil over the actual pupils.

“Listen to me,” the man grumbled. “Your family is in danger.”

Pearl glanced around at the line still enacting their bizarre dance.

“Not them,” the man continued. “Your family. But there could be collateral damage if the plan goes exceptionally well and could impact the extended family if need be.”

Pearl’s breathing increased and the man continued in a hushed tone. “A threat has been made. My people came as fast as we could. I need you to do something for me.”

Pearl turned around once more to face the man, a quizzical look on her face. “If a threat has been made, what could I possibly do to stop it?” The man sighed.

“I didn’t want to bring you in this much, but I had to.”

Pearl thought for a moment. This would be her chance to finally get out of the house and become her own person, rather than a medal her parents wanted to show to every family member ever.

“Fine,” she finally said. “What is it you want me to do?”

Pearl heard a high whistle behind her and guessed her mother was signalling for her to come in a frantic tone. Frantically, the man looked straight into Pearl’s eyes, which Pearl found to be rather unnerving.

After another whistle sounded, he replied, “Find Clement

Gardens. Please do that for me, Pearl, and you will save everyone.”

After a third whistle, Pearl finally turned around, and saw her mother briskly walking toward her, her arms hanging at her sides, and her white apron still tightly pressing against her clothes. An annoyed look sat on Hera’s face like an elephant would sit on a fence.

She felt the man whisper into her ear one final cryptic answer. “From this moment, everything will change.” Pearl realized that she had been holding her breath and she let it out in a single huff.

“What are you doing?” Hera demanded when she got up to Pearl, practically picking her up by the waist. Pearl saw that Hera knew she wasn’t able to lift her, but really wanted to at this moment.

Before Pearl could think to conjure up a reply, her mother continued, “Aren’t you supposed to be counting the people who are waiting here very patiently in this line for the party to start — thank you, Henders.”

At this moment, Hera turned around to face a very sunburned man in a three-piece suit, who was dabbing at his damp brows with a half-soiled handkerchief.

When Henders realized he was being spoken to, he quickly put away his handkerchief and tried to make up an elegant and polite response to the complement, but all he spoke was, “Err, thank you … your kindness is like … well, um, like … let’s see here … well, what is kind? Hmm. Well, the flowers … yep, that’s it … your kindness is like the flowers.”

Pearl felt herself wanting to sink into the sidewalk when she heard the man’s ghastly response, but her mom seemed to be taken aback.

“Oh, Henders, you kind man,” she began, clearly blushing. “You might possibly be the most kind friend I shall ever have in the world and I should really hope to save you when the end comes.

Anyway, say hi to Andy for me.”

Henders clearly had no answer to the first part of Hera’s answer, so instead responded only to the second part.

“Will do, Hera. Will do.”

While watching this all unfold, Pearl wanted to talk to the mysterious stranger again.

When Henders’s attention had drifted away from Hera and was instead on the bizarre dance that was happening in the line in front of him, Hera turned back to Pearl. “Now, what is it you wanted to tell me?”

“Well, this man came up to me,” Pearl started in a hushed tone. Hera came closer as Pearl explained her unusual encounter with the stranger, only making a few remarks to question the man’s intentions and ask whether Pearl had made up the entire encounter to begin with. Pearl denied the second, yet seriously considered the first.

What did she know about the man, Pearl considered. All she knew was that he had somehow figured out who Pearl was and somehow know that her family was in danger, but she was beginning to doubt that was even true.

However, Pearl chose to withhold the task of finding Clement

Gardens, wherever that may be, in the hope that her mother would be much less angry at her now than if she told her that she’d agreed to the proposal. Plus, there was something about that answer that made Pearl not want to tell her mom.

“So,” Hera said, haphazardly smiling at her daughter. “You’re saying that a mysterious man in all black randomly came up to you and said that our family was in danger?” When Hera put it that way, it sounded really hard to believe the man was telling the truth, so all Pearl could do was gravely nod.

“Wait a minute,” Hera said, a quizzical look on her face and one eyebrow perched above the other. “You were just nodding and the last time I saw someone nod was Samuel when he agreed to clean your room, and at that moment I was assigning jobs for everyone, and the boys were the last to line up for the roll call because they were too busy being frightened by the frightening line that was outside and still is outside, just like the time I was frightened by the frightening line, and what was I doing outside?”

Suddenly, Hera bounced into the air and cried, “I need to make my signature dish!”

Then, she raced down the block and took a sharp left turn into the house, leaving Pearl shell-shocked on the sidewalk.

As she was about to walk back to the house, a black van with the company label of Abacus Tea speed past her and stopped right in front of the house, noisily jolting to a halt.

Confused, Pearl raced down to her house and waited, as her mother, also confused, talked to a few men in identical orange rubber suits.

“I’m sorry,” Hera was saying. “I just think you have the wrong address. I tell you I didn’t order any teabags for the party. And speaking of that, how did you know that there was a party here anyway?”

“Well,” the worker replied. “We got a call from the address of 111 Archer Avenue and the voice on the line told us that they needed twenty bags of our signature Blackroot Tea Blend for a party they were hosting here.”

“When exactly did you get this call?” Hera inquired.

The man rolled up his black gloves and checked his watch. “About two hours ago, ma’am.”

Hera thought for a moment. “Did the caller give you their name?”

The man thought for a moment and then signalled for another worker a few steps behind him to come. “Say Henry, do you remember any name being mentioned on the call?”

Henry thought for a moment while stroking his scruffy chin. “Hey, I do remember the guy saying the name Thersites, but I don’t know if that means anything to you, ma’am.”

Hera clearly didn’t realize the man was talking to her until he had to poke her shoulder. “Say ma’am, does the name Thersites mean anything to you?”

A confused look appeared on Hera’s face.

“Yeah, that’s the name of my husband. He’s in the house. I’ll grab him for you if you want.”

The workers nodded and Hera disappeared through the irregularly shaped orange door. A few seconds later, Thersites walked out of the house with a perplexed expression on his face as well.

“Say,” the first worker began. “You’re Thersites?”

“Yeah,” Thers replied. “Why?”

“Here’s your twenty bags of our signature Blackroot Tea

Blend, just like you asked.”

Thersites looked from the workers to his wife, who shrugged, and then back to the workers. “What is this? Some kind of a joke or something?”

The workers shared looks of concern between each other. “What are you talking about, sir? We’re just here to give you the twenty bags of tea you ordered.”

“What are you talking about?” Thersites shot back. “I tell you I did not order any bags of tea at any time in my life. You see, my great-grandfather was actually allergic to all types of tea and he forbade anyone who lived after him, whether they were allergic or not, to drink any tea, or they would be sent away from the family.”    After the workers looked clearly lost with Thersites’s claims, he continued. “So you see, workers, that there has been some big mix up because there is no way that I could’ve ordered tea from you, let alone twenty bags of it.”

The workers still looked very lost, yet Henry chimed in.

“Okay then, I guess this is just a whole big misunderstanding. Boyd,

Will, start up the van again, will you?”

After two of the workers climbed into the back of the van,

Henry added, “Thank you for your time, though, Mr. —”

“Hollenfield,” Thersites finished. “It’s Hollenfield.” He reached his hand out to shake Henry’s hand, but before he could respond, Henry punched him in the face while the other worker grabbed Thersites and pushed him into the van, right as Boyd and Will were bringing out what looked to be fire hoses and snaking them around the truck and onto the sidewalk.

The other worker, after throwing Thersites into the back of the van, came back and growled at Henry, “Find the book. Now!”

Henry nodded and raced into the house

By now, many of the people waiting in line for the party had scattered, but the ones still confused by what was going on were looking around, confused expressions on their faces.        Before Pearl could react, Henry came rushing out of the house, an unconscious Hera slung over his shoulder. Pearl started running towards the workers, an unknown energy pulsing through her veins.

Before she knew what she was doing, Pearl rushed toward Henry just as he was throwing the limp body of her mother into the black van. Henry cried out when Pearl pushed him to the ground, and then planted a kick right on Pearl’s chest, sending her flying through the air until she landed on the sidewalk.

She saw Boyd and Will spraying an unknown brown frothy liquid at screaming people, causing them to be blinded for a second and then fall limp onto the ground, a happy look on their faces.

Pearl began to look around at the chaos that was ensuing between the Hollenfield family and Abacus Tea before she realized she suddenly felt very tired. The world began to spin around and around, faster and faster until she couldn’t bare it anymore.

She closed her eyes and right before she went to sleep, she thought about the mysterious man. He was right, she concluded. He had warned her and she had done nothing about it. Then, as her conversation with the man replayed over and over in her head, she thought about Samuel, Trevor, Troy, Orphiellia. What was going to happen to all them?

The man was right, Pearl thought before she lost consciousness all together. From this moment, everything will change.

To be continued…..

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