Authors: Lee Bacon
Her face was tight with concentration. The roots gradually sank, lowering the bus toward the earth. It wasn’t until we were safely resting in the parking lot and the plants had slithered back below the ground that Mom showed just how much the act had taken out of her. Her face slack, she slumped against the wall.
Ripping off my gas mask, I crossed the bus as quickly as my wobbly legs would carry me. “You saved us!” I said, helping my mom onto the sofa.
When Mom finally managed to speak, her voice came out as a cracked whisper.
“This is why I don’t do publicity tours.”
There was no sign of Bubble Boy or his stinky accomplice. They must’ve escaped when they noticed that the local vegetation had a mind of its own.
In the background, I could hear the amplified voices of Captain Justice and Scarlett Flame among the roar of electric guitars and the applause of the crowd. They had no idea how close their promotional event had come to turning into a disaster zone.
A little later, the two superheroes finally returned to the bus. They climbed aboard without even noticing the cracked cement outside and the mess that had been strewn across the bus during our fall.
“Greetings, everyone!” Captain Justice grinned, holding the door open for Scarlett Flame. “Hope the wait wasn’t too boring!”
After a few more hours of driving, Stanley navigated the tour bus through a security gate and pulled into an airplane hangar.
“This is as far as we can go,” Captain Justice said. “You children will have to travel the rest of the way on your own. But not to worry, I’ve made all the arrangements. Principal Alabaster is expecting you.”
Surprise passed over Milton’s face. “The principal is named after the
“Actually, the school is named after the principal. Or to be more precise, it’s named after his great-great-grandfather. Herman Alabaster founded Alabaster Academy nearly two hundred years ago. When he stepped down, his son took over, and when his son retired, the position went to his grandson. This was repeated again and again over the years, generation after generation of Alabasters. And now Edwin Alabaster is in charge of the school. But not even
will be aware of your true identities. So make sure you familiarize yourselves with your fake names and backgrounds.”
“Does that mean none of this will go on our permanent transcript?” Miranda asked.
“We’ll have to work out all the details later,” Captain Justice said. “For now, we have only a few minutes until departure, so let’s keep our goodbyes brief.”
My parents pulled me into a suffocating group hug.
“We’ll miss you!” Mom’s voice shook as she gripped
me a little tighter. “You sure you’ll be okay away from home?”
“Mfff,” I said into her shoulder.
“That’s the spirit, Joshua!” Dad gave me a firm pat on the back. “You’ll do great at Alabaster!”
When they finally released me, Elliot wobbled in my direction, his eyes glowing. “Goood luck at yourrr new schooool!”
“Thanks, Elliot,” I said. “Take care of my mom and dad while I’m gone.”
“Hurry up!” Milton called from the backseat of the SUV. “Don’t want to miss our boat!”
After a quick goodbye to Captain Justice and Scarlett Flame, I climbed into the back next to Sophie, Milton, and Miranda. On the seat were four folders with information about our new identities. While Stanley drove, we read through our files, memorizing the details. Sophie and I had been through this enough times in the past, but for Milton, this was a new experience.
“What if I can’t remember everything about myself?” He gripped his folder nervously. “What if I forget my name, or where I was born?”
“Just relax,” I said. “You’ll get used to it.”
“The idea of a false identity was a lot cooler before I had all this stuff to remember.” Milton was still grumbling as the SUV pulled to a stop at a pier that looked out on the Atlantic Ocean. Stanley informed us that Alabaster was located on an island about twenty miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
“You will be traveling the rest of the way by ferry,” said the robot.
The afternoon sky had turned dark. Storm clouds loomed in the distance, and fog drifted over the gray water. The mist opened like a curtain and our ferry emerged.
“Guess that’s our ride,” Miranda said.
We dragged our luggage and backpacks onto the ferry. When it was clear we would be the only passengers, a horn sounded and the boat lurched back out onto the dark water. The four of us stood by the railing and looked back at the shore as the pier vanished into the fog.
Except for the crew, we were alone on the deck. We listened to the sound of waves knocking against the sides of the ferry and seagulls crying overhead. Sophie, Miranda, and I took turns quizzing Milton on the details of his new life story. A faint rain pattered against my cheeks.
Gradually, a shadowy shape emerged from the fog. A chill gripped me as I got my first glimpse of Alabaster Academy.
“Nobody informed me that we’d be starting the seventh grade at a haunted castle,” Sophie said.
Alabaster Academy was perched on top of a rocky island. Gray stone walls rose out of the tumbling waves, towering high into the air. Crooked turrets loomed over the ocean, disappearing into the mist. At the top of the tallest tower was a lighthouse that sent its beam swiveling through the fog.
By the time we reached the island, the light drizzle had transformed into a heavy rain. Dragging our luggage behind us, we hurried onto a dock. A grim, hooded figure was waiting up ahead. His raincoat flapped in the wind. His features were shrouded in shadows, so all I could see was a thick silver beard and a pair of dark eyes staring back at me.
Milton hesitated, gripping his jacket tighter. “I-is it too late to turn back?”
I glanced at the ferry behind us. It was already pulling away from the dock. “Afraid so.”
“You sure this is a good idea?”
At that exact moment, I wasn’t. Maybe it was the storm. Or the waves crashing around us. Or the forbidding fortress rising from the rocks. Or the dark figure waiting on the steps, looking like the Grim Reaper with a beard. But right then, I was beginning to wonder whether we’d live long enough to see the first day of school.
Then something unexpected happened. The figure in the raincoat threw back his hood and called out in a jolly voice, “Greetings! I’m Principal Alabaster!”
He had bushy silver eyebrows to match his beard. Rain streamed down his pudgy red cheeks. He was more Santa Claus than Grim Reaper.
“I hope you had safe travels.” The man had to yell to be heard over the sounds of wind and waves. “You must be …”
And here he listed off our fake names. But since I wouldn’t want to put us in any more danger, I’ll just leave that part out of the story.
As we climbed the steps, Principal Alabaster looked us over with a huge grin. “It’s an honor to welcome you to Alabaster!” he said. “A real honor. You must be very proud!”
“Proud?” Milton blurted out. “Of what?”
Principal Alabaster chuckled. “No need for modesty. Captain Justice himself called to let me know that you
four have qualified for the first Captain’s Kiddos Scholarship Award. And he’s even offered to make a very generous donation to our endowment fund. Now, let’s get inside before we wash away.”
Our feet splashed against the wooden dock as we trailed Principal Alabaster toward the tall front doors. “Education is a top priority at Alabaster Academy,” he said, inserting a huge iron key into the lock. “And so is safety. When my great-great-grandfather founded this school, society feared and misunderstood Gyfted children. That’s why our fine institution was built on this isolated island, with walls that can withstand the most fearsome attacks. Not to mention top-notch security features.”
Principal Alabaster pressed his hand against a fingerprint recognition pad. With a
the doors swiveled open.
I took one last look up at the gloomy towers of Alabaster Academy. Then I followed the others inside.
The entry hall was enormous. An iron chandelier hung from the high ceiling, casting a glow across two marble stairways that spiraled up into the shadows. On the stone walls were flags with the years of different classes stitched into them.
“For nearly two centuries, Alabaster has been home to many of the most remarkably Gyfted youngsters from around the country,” Principal Alabaster explained. “It’s a nurturing environment where you will receive a quality education while also honing your other—shall we say—
A pair of footsteps drew my attention to the far end of
the entryway. I noticed a tall, slender girl with skin the color of porcelain and long, silver hair that shone in the light of the chandelier.
The girl looked at us with curiosity. “Are these the newbies?” she asked.
Principal Alabaster grinned affectionately at the girl. “Now, Cassie, surely you’re aware that the official term is ‘incoming seventh graders.’ ”
The girl—Cassie—rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the update, Dad.”
“You’re welcome to leave your luggage here,” Principal Alabaster said to us. “Cassie will show you to your rooms.”
“I’ll take it from here.” The girl motioned for us to join her. “Well, newbies? What are you waiting for? Dinner’s in an hour, and we’ve got a big school to cover.”
Cassie spun and headed through an open doorway. My friends and I jogged to catch up. We entered a hall that looked more like a museum than a school. Instead of lockers, the walls were lined with framed paintings. Turning a corner, I nearly bumped into a suit of armor.
Cassie listed off the sights as we went. “Classroom, classroom, stuffed rhinoceros, classroom.”
“Excuse me … er, Cassie,” Milton called after her. “So you’re Principal Alabaster’s—”
“So does that mean you’re next in line to be principal?”
“Not in a million years.”
Cassie came to a stop beside a tall window. With her ghostly pale skin and grandmother hair, it was tough to pin down her age. For a moment, she looked no older than thirteen. But a shift of the light suddenly made her appear twice that age.
Gazing at the rain and the tumbling waves outside, she said, “I’ve basically spent my entire life on Alabaster Island. Dad’s the principal, Mom’s a teacher. They decided to homeschool me.”
“But your home
a school,” Miranda pointed out.
“Exactly. And that school happens to be located on an island where there are two kinds of weather: rainy and
rainy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s an interesting place to grow up. But if I took over as principal, I’d spend the
of my life here. No thanks.”
Cassie started walking again. Our next stop was the library, where a girl was scaling the tall shelves like a spider. Plucking a book off the top shelf, she leaped, performing a backflip on the way down.
“You know there are ladders, right, Veronica?” Cassie called out, leading us into a hallway.
We walked past a kid admiring his reflection in a tarnished old mirror. But as we passed, the boy actually stepped
the mirror. And instead of bumping his head, the two reflections merged and the kid disappeared.