The call, p.1
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       The Call, p.1

         Part #1 of The Magnificent 12 series by Michael Grant
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The Call


  Michael Grant

  The Magnificent 12

  Book One

  The Call

  For Katherine Tegen,

  who believed I could be funny.

  And for Katherine, Jake, and Julia,

  who still aren’t sure.

  Contents

  One

  David MacAvoy—whose friends called him Mack—was not an unlikely hero.

  Two

  Grimluk was twelve years old. Like most twelve-year-olds he had…

  Three

  So, back in the present day, Mack was waiting to…

  Four

  Let’s just skip the part where Stefan lost two pints…

  Five

  So twelve-year-old Grimluk hit the road as a fleer. He…

  Six

  Mack’s parents always asked him about his day at school.

  Seven

  The golem was supposed to spend the night on the…

  Eight

  After his run-in with the Skirrit and the princess, Grimluk…

  Nine

  Mack was somewhat disturbed by the incident of the snakes.

  Ten

  “Have at you!” the green man said.

  Eleven

  “What know you of the conjurer’s tongue?” the man in…

  Twelve

  The giant bug arm oozed green-black blood from the stump.

  Thirteen

  Mack and Stefan flew from Flagstaff to Los Angeles without…

  Fourteen

  From the high, crenellated walls of Castle Etruk, Grimluk could…

  Fifteen

  It was hard to tell how big it was, the…

  Sixteen

  “I’m good right here,” Mack said.

  Seventeen

  “Nooooooooo!” Mack screamed, but the wind tore the words right…

  Eighteen

  “Ret click-ur!”

  Nineteen

  One of the rules of Great Literature is: show, don’t…

  Twenty

  They surrounded the castle like a sea: the creatures of…

  Twenty-One

  Looming ahead, larger and larger, was the rock. Ayers Rock.

  Twenty-Two

  “Ahhhhh!” Mack cried, knowing even as he made that whinnying…

  Twenty-Three

  Grimluk and the others reached the Pale Queen. And they…

  Twenty-Four

  Mack woke too early. It was the high whine of…

  Twenty-Five

  The chewing, grinding sound was getting slowly louder. “It’s Risky,”…

  Twenty-Six

  Grimluk wandered far and wide with his companions of the…

  Twenty-Seven

  They ran—straight into the tunnel Risky had cut. They ran…

  Twenty-Eight

  Grimluk left the island continent after the death of Miladew.

  Twenty-Nine

  It was many hours before the ambulance came and took…

  About the Author

  Praise

  Other Books by Michael Grant

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  One

  David MacAvoy—whose friends called him Mack—was not an unlikely hero. He was an impossible hero.

  First, there was the fact that he was only twelve years old.

  And then there was the fact that he was not especially big, strong, wise, kind, or good-looking.

  Plus he was scared. Scared of what? Quite a list of things.

  He had arachnophobia, a fear of spiders.

  Dentophobia, a fear of dentists.

  Pyrophobia, a fear of fire, although most people have some of that.

  Pupaphobia, a fear of puppets. But he was not afraid of clowns, unlike most sensible people.

  Trypanophobia, a fear of getting shots.

  Thalassophobia, a fear of oceans, which led fairly naturally to selachophobia, a fear of sharks.

  And phobophobia, a fear of phobias. Which makes more sense than it may seem at first because Mack was always finding new fears. And it scared him to have more scary things to be scared of.

  Worst of all, the horror among horrors: Mack had claustrophobia, a fear of cramped spaces. A fear, to put it as unpleasantly as possible, of being buried alive.

  So this was not a twelve-year-old you’d expect to become one of the greatest heroes in human history—not the person you’d expect would try and save the world from the greatest evil it had ever faced.

  But that’s our story.

  One thing to remember: most heroes end up dead. Even when they don’t end up dead themselves, people around them very often do.

  Mack was an okay-looking kid: crazy, curly brown hair; medium height; medium build. He had a serious case of mediumness.

  His eyes were brown, too, which is the most common eye color in the world. But there was something else about his eyes. They were eyes that noticed things. Mack didn’t miss much.

  He noticed how people looked at him, but he also noticed how they looked at each other and how they looked at things, and even how they looked at a printed page.

  He noticed details of how people dressed, how they moved, how they spoke, how they trimmed their fingernails, and how they held their book bags. He noticed a lot.

  This habit of noticing things was very useful when it came to Mack’s hobby, which was provoking bullies and then fleeing from them.

  Just five days before Mack learned that he was going to have to save the world, he was first concerned with saving himself.

  Mack attended Richard Gere Middle School in Sedona, Arizona. (Go, Fighting Pupfish!) The school was blessed in a number of ways, but cursed in others. It was known to have a number of excellent teachers. It had advanced placement yoga classes, and something called noncompetitive bowling was an elective.

  It also had more than its share of bullies, which meant that the bullies had to organize. The bullies at RGMS each had his or her own sphere of influence.

  The jocks had a bully, the skaters had a bully, the prep/fashionistas had a bully. The stoners had a bully, but he tended to lose focus and so was not very effective at terrorizing people. The nerds had one bully and the geeks had another. Even the goth kids had a bully, but he was out with mono so the emo bully was filling in.

  But there was one bully to rule them all, one bully to find them, one bully to bring them all and in the darkness pound them. And this bully was Stefan Marr.

  Like Mack, Stefan Marr was in seventh grade. Unlike Mack, he was fifteen.

  Stefan was big, blue-eyed, blond, and handsome. And he was terrifying.

  Stefan was not academically gifted. Let’s just put it that way because the alternative way of putting it might be rude. But he was fearless. While Mack had twenty-one identified phobias, Stefan had zero. In fact, you could say his number of phobias was in the negative numbers because there were some scary things that even completely normal people avoided that Stefan went looking for.

  When Stefan would see a sign that read, “Beware of Dog,” he would interpret that to mean “come on in.”

  On this particular day, a Wednesday in October, Mack would have a run-in with Stefan that would change both of their lives.

  The problem had started with Horace Washington III, a kid Mack kind of knew and kind of liked, who was being introduced to the concept of a swirlie. Horace was a nerd, and therefore the swirlie was being administered by Matthew Morgan, the bully for nerds. Matthew was ably assisted by his frequent partner, Camaro Angianelli. Camaro had never gotten over being named after her father’s favorite car, and she expressed her sensitive nature by bullying geeks.

  Strictly speaking, Camaro should not have been in the boys’ bathroom at all, but the last person who had poin
ted this out to her now ate his meals through a straw.

  In any event, Matthew and Camaro had Horace upended. His head was in the toilet and things were falling out of his pockets, but he was squirming and he was a bit on the heavy side, so the two bullies were unable to reach the flush button. So, hearing that someone else was in the bathroom, they called for help.

  Mack opened the stall door and immediately saw the problem.

  “It’s a self-flushing toilet,” Mack pointed out.

  “Duh, we’re not morons,” Matthew said.

  “Then you actually need to move Horace away from the toilet before the flush will activate,” Mack explained.

  “That would defeat the entire purpose of a swirlie,” Camaro said. Camaro was not stupid; she was just hostile.

  “Yeah,” Matthew agreed, not sure what he had just agreed to.

  “There’s a manual override button,” Camaro pointed out, shifting her grip on Horace’s ankle.

  “Yes,” Mack agreed. “But I don’t see why I should help you torture Horace.”

  “Because we’ll kick your butt,” Matthew said.

  This is where a sensible kid would have said, “Good point,” and pushed the manual flush button. But Mack had never been accused of being sensible. He had an innate dislike for bullies.

  So he said, “You can try.”

  “Try what?” Matthew asked, baffled.

  “He means,” Camaro explained patiently, “that we can try to kick his butt. He’s implying that we are unable to kick his butt.”

  Camaro was an attractive girl in a bodybuilder, zero-percent-body-fat, sleek, and predatory sort of way.

  “You see,” Camaro explained in the pedantic manner that had made her a natural fit for the job of bullying geeks, “he’s trying to trick us into putting Horace down and chasing him.”

  Mack nodded, acknowledging the truth. “You see right through me.”

  “Mack, Mack, Mack,” Camaro said. “You’re cute.”

  “I am,” Mack agreed.

  “I don’t want to beat you up,” Camaro admitted. “So why don’t you just run away?”

  Mack sighed. “Okay. But I’m taking this.” He reached down and snagged Matthew’s book bag. It was surprisingly light since it contained no books—just a pack of Red Vines licorice, a Mountain Dew, and a pair of nunchakus.

  This Matthew understood. He released Horace, which put all the weight on Camaro, who was strong but not that strong. Horace plunged but did not swirl. Matthew leaped, but Mack leaped faster.

  Mack was out the door, racing down the hallway with Matthew in lumbering pursuit.

  Timing worked in Mack’s favor. (He had of course noticed the clock on the wall.) The bell rang, ending the school day, and kids exploded from classrooms like buckshot from a shotgun.

  Mack unzipped Matthew’s book bag, scattering Red Vines everywhere in the crush of frenzied kids.

  Mack had a detailed map of the school in his head. He knew every door, every locker, and every closet. He knew which were unlocked, which exits were alarmed, and where an open window might be found.

  He had very little concern that Matthew or Camaro, who had now joined the chase, would actually catch him. He dodged into the chem lab and took the connecting door through to the former chem lab. It was being remodeled following an unfortunate explosion. He noted a ladder, and the roller tray of paint that was perched atop the ladder. He placed Matthew’s book bag just so, beneath the ladder.

  The windows were open to allow for ventilation, and the painters were on break outside. Mack slid out through the window just as Matthew rushed into the first lab.

  Mack crouched outside, just out of sight but not out of hearing, and waited.

  “Hey!” Matthew yelled.

  Pause.

  Mack heard the sound of Matthew’s knees popping as he knelt down to pick up his bag.

  And then…thunk! Followed by a soggy clattering sound and a cry of pain.

  “Arrggh!” Matthew yelled.

  Mack knew he shouldn’t risk it but he did anyway—and peeked. Matthew’s head was dripping with pale yellow paint. It ran down his face and into his yelling, aggrieved mouth.

  Camaro was a half step behind him.

  She spotted Mack and was after him in a heartbeat.

  Across the open space between Building A and Building C, Mack found an open door. He ran into a crush of kids very similar to those he’d left behind. He worked his way against the flow, intending to exit by the far door, the one that led to the gym.

  But then, to his horror, he saw a massive blond beast just coming in through that very door.

  No way he could have known that Stefan Marr would be coming from the gym, having previously forgotten his gym clothes and needing (badly) to take them home to be washed.

  “Bluff it through,” Mack told himself.

  He smiled at Stefan and started to walk very calmly past him. Ten feet and he would be safe. Stefan didn’t even know Mack was fleeing.

  But then Camaro’s voice, a hoarse roar, rose above the happy hubbub. “Bully emergency!” she cried. “I’m declaring a bully emergency!”

  Mack’s eyes went wide.

  Stefan’s eyes narrowed.

  Mack leaped for the door, but Stefan wasn’t one of those great big guys who’s kind of slow and awkward. He was one of those great big guys who was as fast as a snake.

  One massive paw shot out and grabbed Mack’s T-shirt, and suddenly Mack’s feet were no longer in contact with the floor.

  He did a sort of Wile E. Coyote beat-feet air-run thing, but the effect was more comical than effective.

  Camaro and a paint-dripping Matthew were there in a flash.

  “Bully emergency?” Stefan asked. “You two can’t handle this runt?”

  “Look what he did to me!” Matthew cried, outraged.

  “You know the rules,” Camaro said to Stefan. “We dominate through fear. A threat to one of us is a threat to us all.”

  Stefan nodded. “Huh,” he said. The word huh was roughly one-third of Stefan’s vocabulary. It could mean many things. But in this case it meant, “Yes, I agree that you have properly invoked a bully emergency, in which all bullies must unite to confront a common threat.”

  “Better round everyone up,” Stefan said. “The usual.”

  Everyone meant all the other bullies. The usual meant the usual place: the Dumpster behind the gym and up against the fence.

  “I am going to mess up your face!” Matthew raged at Mack. He pointed for emphasis with a hand dripping pale yellow paint.

  “Not the face,” Camaro said. “I like his face.”

  Matthew and Camaro went off in pursuit of the others, while Stefan, seeming more weary than highly motivated, stuffed his sweaty shorts into Mack’s mouth and dragged him outside.

  This was the point where Mack should have started begging, pleading, whining, and bribing. But the weird thing about Mack was that even though he was afraid of puppets, sharks, the ocean, shots, spiders, dentists, fire, Shetland ponies, hair dryers, asteroids, hot-air balloons, blue cheese, tornadoes, mosquitoes, electrical outlets, bats (the kind that fly and suck your blood), beards, babies, fear itself, and especially being buried alive, he was not afraid of real, actual trouble.

  Which, when you think about it, is what tends to get heroes and those around them killed.

  Two

  A REALLY, REALLY LONG TIME AGO…

  Grimluk was twelve years old. Like most twelve-year-olds he had a job, a child, two wives, and a cow.

  No. No, wait, that’s not true. He had one wife and two cows.

  Grimluk’s wife was called Gelidberry. Their baby son’s name was as yet undetermined. Picking names was a very big deal in Grimluk’s village. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment, so when the villagers had something other than eking out a miserable existence to occupy their minds, they didn’t rush it.

  The cows didn’t have names either, at least not that they had shared with Grimluk.

&nbs
p; The five of them—Grimluk, Gelidberry, baby, cow, and cow—lived in a small but comfortable home in a village in a clearing surrounded by a forest of very tall trees.

  In the clearing the villagers planted chickpeas. Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus, but the discovery of hummus would take another thousand years. For now the chickpea farmers planted, watered, and harvested chickpeas. The village diet was 90 percent chickpeas, 8 percent milk—supplied by cow and cow—and 2 percent rat.

  Although, truth be told, not a single one of the villagers could have calculated those percentages. Math was not a strong suit of the villagers, who, as well as not being math prodigies, were illiterate.

  Grimluk was one of the few men in the village not involved in the chickpea business. Because he was quick and tireless, he had been chosen as the baron’s horse leader. This was a very big honor, and the job paid well (one large basket of chickpeas per week, a plump rat, and one pair of sandals each year). Grimluk wasn’t rich, but he earned a living; he was doing all right. He couldn’t complain.

  Until…

  One day Grimluk was leading his master’s horse when he spotted a hurried, harried-looking knave who, judging by the fact that his clothing was colored by light brown mud rather than good, honest dark brown mud, was not from around these parts.

  “Master!” Grimluk said. “A stranger.”

  The baron—a man with more beard than hair—twisted around as best he could in order to see the stranger in question. It was an awkward thing to do since the baron was facing the horse’s tail as he rode. But he managed it without quite falling off.

  “I don’t know the knave. Ask him his name and business.”

  Grimluk waited until the stranger was in range, loping and wheezing along the narrow forest trail. Then he said, “Knave? My master would know your name and business.”

 
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