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Clara collapsed on the bed, the book dropping from her hands as her consciousness slipped away. The book slowly opened, spreading its crisp, snow-white pages. Slowly, green vines crawled their way out of the spine, surrounding the bed. The sound of flowing water, the aroma of a meadow, the rush of wind tearing through her hair. And suddenly, as quickly as it had started, the room turned a brilliant sapphire and disappeared. He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.
“Clara, I’m hoping you won’t be falling asleep in my class anytime soon,” Ms. Minch quietly commented with a sarcastic grin.
Clara nodded. The two were at the library, shelving books; Clara was serving her punishment with Ms. Minch for falling asleep during class. It wasn’t her fault Ms. Minch was so boring; half the class was always nodding off anyway, too bored to listen through her lectures.
The rest of the afternoon went by like Clara was watching grass grow. Maybe even slower than that. She must’ve looked through at least twenty thousand books before her evil dictator-like teacher finally let her go home. As she left the library, Mr. Linden, the creepy librarian murmured something.
She turned around. “Are you talking to me?”
“It’s the book…”
“What book?” she asked, puzzled. She followed his gaze to her backpack, turning around. A plain black book protruded from her bag. “How did that get there?” she looked at it with a quizzical expression.
Mr. Linden seemed to snap out of his thoughts suddenly. “Leave, Clara. And take that cursed book with you,” he told her sternly.
That night, as she laid in bed, staring at the blank ceiling above her, Clara’s mind wandered. She thought about creepy Mr. Linden, about Ms. Minch’s boring lectures, about the supposedly “cursed” book that had magically appeared in her backpack. She turned on a lamp on her bedside table. Snatching the book from underneath the table, she opened it flipped through the pages. She gazed at picture after picture, each one depicting the same scene but at different angles. A brightly lit, bustling city, a bridge overlooking a river, crowds of people smiling as they chatted happily. How she wished she could go there. Anywhere but here. Anywhere would be perfectly fine with her, anywhere… Her eyes began to close. As her consciousness slowly slipped away, she gasped as green vines emerged from the book and began to crawl their way around her…
“Wake up! Whatever your name is, we need to leave quickly!”
Clara slowly opened her eyes and looked around. Sunlight streamed through windows as she took in her new surroundings. She seemed to be in some kind of vacant building that smelled of wet paint. The beseeching words were coming from a teenage boy, around her age. His coffee-colored eyes pleaded with her to listen to him.
“Okay, you’re up,” he said hurriedly, pulling her out of the warm, cozy bed and toward an open doorway.
“Whoa! Wait a minute! Where am I? And who are you? A minute ago, I was in my house, looking at some book…” Clara had so many questions.
“We have to leave now! I’ll explain on the way. They’re probably coming right now!”
“Who’s coming right now?” They ran out the door and into the street. He pulled her into a busy swarm of pedestrians.
“This is MoonTwist,” he explained. “It doesn’t exist in your world, but that book you picked up bridged the gap between your world and mine. You fell asleep with it, didn’t you?” They followed the rush of the people, jostled and pushed around as she tried to keep up with him.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “all these people you see around you aren’t real. Well, they’re not real people, at least. They came here just as you did, through that book. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but nobody who’s come here has ever been able to escape. Professor Gogglestein, some crazy guy who considers himself the “ruler” of MoonTwist, has been controlling the people by taking out their spirits and replacing them with his robot monsters. He then uses them to capture the newcomers and make them into his slave zombies.” He dragged her behind a café.
“Blech. So what happened to you?”
“I was one of the lucky ones. Every once in a while, a spirit will escape from the holding chamber Gogglestein keeps them in, and will enter its body again. Unfortunately, it won’t be very long before the monsters find out that I’m not one of them, and I’ll be back into a zombie soon. So, while I’m still normal, it’d be kind of nice if I could help you escape.”
Clara nodded, taking it all in. “So I’ll be a zombie too, eventually,” she realized out loud. The boy nodded. “So how do I get back to my world if I’m a zombie?”
“You don’t,” he answered solemnly. “But you do have one advantage over the rest of us. Until Gogglestein identifies you as a human, the zombies can’t see you.”
“So I’m invisible to them, then,” she pondered.
“There he is! He’s the one we need, right?” A group of men in what looked like police uniforms looked at the boy.
“Shoot, they’ve found me already,” he said to Clara. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to outrun them. Take this—” he handed her a small marble the size of her fingernail. “—I have no idea what it’s supposed to do, but I hope you’ll somehow find out how it works. I’m guessing it can do something about—OW!” he cried out in pain as he clutched his arm. A minute passed, and the boy was tied up in rope and being led away by the men.
“Peter,” a raspy voice whispered. It seemed to be coming from a cloaked figure seated at the front of the room. The hood cast a shadow across the man’s face, shrouding his face in darkness. The men led the boy toward the cloaked figure and tied his hands down to a handle on the floor. The man sitting in the chair motioned for the men to leave.
So that was his name, Clara thought. Peter. She had followed him here and was hiding in a back corner, behind one of Gogglestein’s statues.
“What have you been up to lately?” the raspy voice managed to say. “Have you come in contact with any humans?”
“Well, your highness,” Peter said, scoffing as he addressed him, “it’s nice to be back in my own body… and no, I haven’t come across any humans lately.”
“You are lying, Peter,” the man hissed. “You reek of human flesh. That does not please me. Why do you keep trying to help these people escape? You know I will find them eventually. I find everyone eventually.”
At that moment, the marble leapt out of Clara’s hands and landed at Gogglestein’s feet. “Aha!” he cried. “Another human spirit to add to my collection? Come on out, who ever you are, and I’ll make it quick, just for you!” He cackled and made his way towards Clara. She heard the heavy footsteps approaching, his cloak a broom as it brushed the floor, swaying back and forth. And then, all of a sudden, the marble took the appearance of a crystal ball and a miniscule ray of light emerged from it. Gogglestein turned around. As the light gradually spread throughout the room, the darkness disappeared and light blasted from all directions. The marble was as bright as the sun, blinding all three of them as they froze in place. Then, just as quickly as it had started, the marble shone with all its power and abruptly disappeared. The room was dark once again. At that moment, a deep, quiet rumble echoed throughout the room. It got louder and louder as if a train were coming at them with the force of a hurricane. Gogglestein leapt towards Clara, but a second too late; she was already kneeling next to Peter, trying to free him of the rope.
“Clara! I’ll be fine, just go to the holding chamber and free the spirits before the earthquake gets to them! Go!” Peter yelled. The rumbling had gotten so loud Clara could no longer hear herself breathe. She took one last look at Peter, and ran into a hallway. Gogglestein’s men were sprinting past her, probably afraid they would become dinner for the storm. Finally, after running past at least five thousand rooms, Clara spotted something inside one of them. The door screamed as she opened it and closed it behind her, back to the door. Inside the room was a colossal basin, the size of a bathtub. It looked like an extremely enormous punch bowl, and inside it were what she guessed were the spirits of the people Gogglestein had stolen. Each spirit had a face with a ghostly appearance, and had a tail of fog trailing behind each. They seemed to be swimming around in the punch bowl aimlessly, and their faces had looks of pure melancholy. How am I supposed to free them? she thought. Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted when the door banged open, Gogglestein in the doorway, staring intently at her.
“Ahh,” he sighed, shooting Clara a sarcastic grin. You know, you’re the closest person to ever escape, but nobody—as I told Peter—leaves MoonTwist.” He chuckled. “What are you going to do, Clara? Hmm? You thought you could actually defeat me and save the world? That may be possible in your world, but not in mine.” He smiled wickedly.
“Where’s Peter?” Clara asked, trying to keep herself calm lest her temper got the better of her.
“Oh, that parasite? He’s back there, right where I left him. I hope you’re not actually hoping to see him again once I’m through with you.” Gogglestein walked over and grabbed Clara by the arm before she could say anything.
At that moment, a stream of lightning struck the ground with such a force that the giant bowl of spirits fell off the platform and hit the floor with a crash! They escaped from their eternal prison and speedily ploughed right through Gogglestein and out the door. He was now on the floor, writhing in pain as the spirits tore through his body. Another rumble shook the ground, and Clara scampered out the door, her legs moving her as fast as bullets. When she finally reached Peter, he was sprawled out on the floor, unconscious, one of his hands still tied to the floor. She began to undo the knot. Please, just a few minutes, she plead to the storm. Finally, after what felt like perpetuity, the knot was untied and she was dragging Peter out the door. She scrambled outside, seeing newly-freed spirits making their way back into their bodies, the lightning shaking the ground, the evil monster of a storm advancing toward her.
“Clara,” Peter whispered. He was using all his strength just to speak. “You see that bridge over there?” His finger weakly pointed at a bridge hovering above a dense fog. “You… need…” he fell back into unconsciousness. Clara’s entire body screamed in pain, but she knew she had to get back to her own world, which meant bringing Peter along. He was deadweight as she trudged towards the bridge, which was getting hazier by the minute. One step, two, right leg, breathe, Peter, storm. After the most dreadful ten minutes of her life, inching her way to the bridge, Clara reached the bridge and collapsed on it, falling into unconsciousness as well. And everything went black.