Chapters are released singly on Mondays (and sometimes Thursdays!), in the grand tradition of serial writers like Dickens and Twain. Add yourself to my email list (bottom of page) to get them in your in-box!
As the bus soared in and out of clouds on its magic autopilot, Mercury gathered a ball of gold dust in his hands, just as my grandmother had done, and released it into the air.
A vision appeared between us…
My heart was still pounding as I entered the gym and expected a major backlash from Nyx. The team was in the middle of warm-ups and everyone looked up when I jogged to the back. Nyx and I made eye contact, but her ice queen glare held no hint of our locker room confrontation or of the arrow she’d barely missed. Somehow, that made me even angrier. For a split second, I wished that my arrow, gold dust or not, had pierced her heart…
Right before school let out, I stood beside my school locker, still shaking. I had five minutes to get to volleyball practice, but I felt paralyzed. The only thing I should have been worrying about was finding my brother, and even I knew it would be a longshot using coordinates scratched onto a leaf. But instead, I was wondering how to tell my dad I was the number one suspect for stealing an ancient artifact.
Students were already clustered on lunch benches in the MPR, chattering nervously. Miss DiPaola and Dr. Williams stood onstage with Principal Fitzpatrick, a couple of naval officers and Italian officials in dark suits. Captain Baxter stood at the very front, casting a stern eye over each of us as we entered.
Two tables were set up in front of the stage, supervised by two grim-faced servicemembers in khaki uniforms. On the floor in front of each table was a machine that looked like a scale, with a cord connected to a laptop. The clerks sat behind efficiently-stacked white paper, pens and ink pads.
Across the room, Shawna sat with a group of juniors from Troy’s history class. She locked her big eyes on me and mouthed, “What happened?”
The cafeteria was packed, but I couldn’t think clearly after my run-in with Nyx. Every squeaky step of her red leather shoes was an irritating reminder of her smug face. Why was she so hell-bent on making my life miserable?
Find Bax, my earrings pleaded…
By the time Monday morning rolled around, I was hardly enthusiastic about going back to school, but there was no reason to stay home. My grandmother had stayed in her room all weekend with her mysterious silence, avoiding my questions. Meanwhile, my dad was a shadow, walking around the house with his phone attached to his ear, muttering, “How can a six-foot-tall kid just vanish?”
Unable to sleep but equally unable to wake up, I tossed and turned in a purgatory of dreams. The black robes swarmed my brother and pulled Troy into the fiery pit, then Calliope and Apollo flirted without consequence, and on and on, in a maddening loop. The firefly’s taunts buzzed around my head like a soundtrack, and each dream was rounded by more restless slumber.
I closed the curtains and switched on Troy’s lamp. Several old books lay scattered across the desk, their spines flattened so they remained open, their covers overlapping. A small black notebook, a pencil wedged inside its pages, rested on the right side of the desk.
For most people, this might not even register as odd.
I peered through the back window at the entrance to the Pozzuoli amphitheater. The school bus was gone, replaced by navy blue polizia sedans, red-striped carabinieri cruisers and camouflaged Humvees. Armed military guards were positioned evenly around the property, rifles in hand. A helicopter circled overhead, casting shadows over the limbless statues and decrepit arches of the coliseum.
Cruel reality seeped in:
They’re looking for Troy.
The Whim knocked the wind from Cleo’s lungs. She staggered backward, onto the bed where her suitcase lay open, strewn with clothes. Her heartbeat throbbed in her ears as she watched its golden words explode from her forehead into the morning sunlight:
The child has been taken.
We looped around the coliseum, past countless ancient columns lying on their sides. In our big group, I would have missed the details. Instead, everything inspired me: the architecture, the decay, the moody light of the hallway, the packs of tourists snapping photos every few feet. I swept my fingertips across the crumbling tufa walls, imagining a collage spackled with red tempera paint and striped with pearl-gray watercolor columns, paper ripped and glued sideways…
On the day of the field trip to Pozzuoli, I woke up with a slight headache and my stomach felt queasy, but I didn’t want to stay home alone. I hadn’t dreamed of the firefly since the day on the roof, but even so, I didn’t want to be far from Troy.
I scanned the history classes. When I saw the thatch of purple hair on the back of Troy’s head, my shoulders relaxed. As if on cue, Troy turned and stuck out his tongue…
By the second week of school, my life settled into an easy rhythm. At the risk of sounding lame, I was starting to like it here…
At lunchtime, I stumbled into the cafeteria, backpack hooked over one elbow. I felt a massive headache brewing at the front of my forehead from information overload. All those new names and faces, teachers, classrooms, languages… I needed a nap.
When I got to third period – art, thank god – the chalky fragrance of spilled paint and charcoals wrapped its arms around me like an old friend. My shoulders eased away from my neck as I settled into a seat at the back of the room, beside a paint-splotched counter littered with old brushes. Finally, something familiar…
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