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Outside the window, a squirrel in a tree popped out with a little black suitcase. At first, Jane was sure she must be mistaken, but as she watched, the squirrel opened the tiny suitcase and began arranging nuts and acorns inside...
The animals clearly knew something was wrong. Even her pet iguana scrawled a warning in the sand of his tank: He is coming.
Soon all the animals are fleeing the suburb where Jane lives. But they aren't the only ones acting strange. Jane's parents seem to be hypnotized by their cell phones and the TV. And her grandma starts controlling the weather and speaking in a funny language. But when Jane meets an old blind man who can drive a car and claims Jane is the only one who can save the world, well, that's when things really start to get weird...
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Stephen Chambers is the author of Jane and the Raven King. While still in high school, he sold two novels, Hope's End and Hope's War and has recently collaborated with bestselling author Adam Blade on The Chronicles of Avantia and Beastquest series. Stephen is currently a doctoral candidate in the history department at Brown University.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Packing for a Trip
I don't believe it," Jane murmured.
Outside, a squirrel was wedged into a hole in the tree. It's stuck, Jane thought, but then the squirrel popped out with a little black box. Jane stopped copying her spelling words, checked to be sure Mrs. Alterman wasn't watching, and leaned on her desk for a better look. No, it wasn't a box; it was a suitcase. At first, Jane was sure she must be mistaken, but as she watched, the squirrel opened the tiny suitcase and began arranging nuts and acorns inside.
Mrs. Alterman lowered her red pen and frowned. "Hm?"
"Implacable," Jane said. "I-M-P..."
Mrs. Alterman said, "Silently please," and then returned to her grading. Jane glanced back out the window. The squirrel was packing in twitches and nervous half-starts, as if he were rushed and couldn't decide which nuts to leave and which to bring. He ducked back into the tree hole and returned with a scrap of blue fabric that he clutched to his furry chest for a long moment. Then he laid it carefully in the suitcase before closing the bag.
The bell rang.
"How far along are you, Jane?" Mrs. Alterman asked. "Jane?"
Jane said, "There's a squirrel..."
Mrs. Alterman took Jane's quiz to check the scribbled spelling words on the back as the kids came in loudly from recess. "You can finish the rest tomorrow. No more daydreaming like you did this morning. Get to class, Jane."
"But he has a suitcase-look."
"A suitcase?" Mrs. Alterman stepped closer to the window. The squirrel and his miniature black suitcase were gone. "Where?"
Michael approached behind Jane. "Is there something outside?"
Mrs. Alterman brightened. "Your sister has made friends with a squirrel," she said. "A squirrel with luggage."
Before Michael could speak, Jane said, "Mrs. Alterman, you saw him on the branch. He was right there."
"Why aren't you in class?" Michael said.
"Thank you, Michael," Mrs. Alterman said, and to Jane, "You can learn a lot from your younger brother. The first rule of success is punctuality. That's spelled P-U, Jane."
The class laughed, and Jane went into the hall just as the other teachers closed their doors. The bell rang again; she was late for math.
The day only got worse from there. After a lecture from Mr. Hendricks about how irresponsible and selfish it was to come to class late, she got a C- on her social studies test. Then she had to endure another language arts class, this time at the front of the class so Mrs. Alterman could smirk disapprovingly at Jane's doodled-on English book and call on her for every other question.
Between classes, Jane went to her locker alone. The inside door was stickered with a photo of a gorilla and environmental bumper stickers: It's Not Easy Being Green and Save the Humans!
Behind Jane, the leader of the popular girls, Alison, said, "What a loser. She doesn't even have a cell phone. Do you know what an iPod is, Jane?" Jane tried to ignore Alison and her friends, but Alison continued, "So, did you see the new episode last night? Oh, that's right-you don't watch TV." She nodded to a book. "Is that the stupid nature book you were reading by yourself at lunch? Is that worm on the cover one of your friends?"
Jane said, "My friends are worms? Look who's talking."
Alison slammed the locker, just missing Jane's fingers, and the girls all laughed as they left.
After school, Jane sat at the top of the steps outside the side entrance, and when the last of Michael's friends had been picked up, he joined her.
"So, you saw a talking squirrel?" he said.
"Let's go get a soda," Michael said.
Two blocks off school property was a corner convenience store called Napps. It was a dingy shop across the street from the water treatment plant and Sadley Community College, and it sold everything from grinning green Buddha candles and switchblades to buckets of chlorine and soda. Jane checked her watch: 3:35. Their father wouldn't be there to pick them up until at least four o'clock.
"I don't want to," Jane said. "Dad told us not to leave the school grounds."
"It's only around the corner. Come on, I'm thirsty."
"Fine," he said and got up. "I'm going then."
He started walking, so she reluctantly went with him. When they crossed through the school fence to a residential sidewalk, Michael said, "So, you had a bad day?"
"You could say that."
Jane watched the tree branches sway overhead, and her stomach clenched. The leaves rustled in the wind. She stopped.
Michael said, "What's up, Jane?"
"Something's wrong," she said. "Don't you feel that?"
"I don't know." Cars passed, and a pair of nannies walked by pushing baby strollers. They were both talking on cell phones.
"Come on," Michael said again. "I'm thirsty."
Jane nodded and continued with him to Napps, waiting by racks of candy bars and incense as Michael selected a drink from behind the sliding refrigerator door. I did feel something, Jane thought. I noticed something, as if part of the world were off balance or had suddenly changed to a different color. But what?
Michael bought his drink and said, "Are you going to tell me about the squirrel? What did Mrs. Alterman mean?"
Jane started to answer, then froze as they went back outside. A grizzled old man with white eyes-the frosted pupils of a blind man-was waiting with a fat German shepherd. The man wore a leather coat and blue cap, and he held the dog on a thick chain. Watching Michael's soda, the German shepherd whimpered, and Michael took Jane's arm as she stared at the old man's eyes.
"Do you know the name of the world?" the man said. "Did she tell you?"
Jane didn't move. "The name of the world-you mean Earth?"
"Do you know where it is?" He hobbled closer. "They will come for it very soon-do you understand?" The dog flopped onto his back, belly in the air, paws curled. "Well?" the old man said.
Jane said, "I'm sorry...?"
"He would like," the old man said gravely, "a tummy rub."
"Oh." Jane knelt to rub the German shepherd's belly, and the dog bicycled his hind legs, eyes closed as he wagged his tail and farted loudly.
Jane laughed. "He's cute."
"Finn," the old man told the dog. "Mind your tail. She's only a child."
"Finn is a nice name," Jane said. "Is there something wrong with his tail?"
"He's a boxer," the old man said. "Very dangerous."
"A boxer? He looks like a German shepherd to me."
"A tail boxer," the old man said.
"Jane," Michael said. "Come on."
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Book Description Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111402241518
Book Description Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 1402241518 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.0575270