Authors: Natasha Narayan
The Shaman's Secret
Natasha Narayan was born in India but emigrated to England at the age of five. She has had many jobs in journalism including working as a war correspondent in Bosnia. Like Kit Salter, Natasha loves exploring new places. Visiting the Grand Canyon was one of the most exciting experiences of her childhood.
A Kit Salter Adventure
New York â¢ London
Â© 2011 by Natasha Narayan
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual personsâliving or deadâevents, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Kit Salter Adventures by Natasha Narayan
The Mummy Snatcher of Memphis
The Maharajah's Monkey
The Book of Bones
The Shaman's Secret
For my friend Nina,
who set up her own orphanage:
“Come on, Waldo,” Isaac whispered as I bent down to blow out the candles on the birthday cake. “Big puff. For Kit's sake.”
Thirteen candles stood on the cake, thirteen wisps of flame. One for each year of Kit Salter's life.
“Not so fast,” a voice boomed in my ear. I felt Kit's Aunt Hilda tugging at my shirt. “I've changed my mind.”
“What are youâ”
“Stand down.” She elbowed me aside, her face full of dogged determination. “Kit would have wanted a girl to do this.”
“You're hardly a girl â¦” Rachel blurted, then stopped, reddening.
Hilda glared at her. “A woman, at any rate. Besides, I'm family.”
I moved out of the way. Only a madman would try to
stop Hilda Salter when she was in full flow. She stood in the boarding-house parlor, glowering at that harmless cake as if it was the enemy. There was no obvious reason for her anger. A beautiful creation, the Madeira sponge rose in white tiers with a marzipan figure of Kit Salter on top. Aunt Hilda leaned over and, with a single puff from her bulldog lungs, the candles went out.
I felt sorry, somehow, to see them vanish so fast.
We were celebrating Kit's thirteenth birthday party in our boarding house in San Francisco. Everything
perfect. The presents, the silver vats of punch, the mountains of scones and buns. Everything was just fine, but never had a birthday party felt so much like a funeral. Kit sat by the fire in her bath chair, a blanket over her knees. It was sunny outside, the buds bursting from the California orange trees and the birds in full song. Yet the doctor had ordered that Kit must have fire and blankets at all times.
It was all wrong. You know how Kit is, blazing with energy, jabbering non-stop. Now she just lay in bed night and day, her face empty. She needed a nurse to wash and feed her. Her eyes stared at nothing and she moved not an inch. We could have been pouring out our congratulations to a china doll.
Kit had been in a coma for over six months, since we'd left China. She had not said one wordâwhich, I'm sure you're aware, is highly unusualânot so much as a blink or
a stir or a sneeze. Our adventures, which had taken us from the deserts of Egypt to the frozen peaks of the Himalayas, had been cruelly cut short.
So why bother having a party for her? you may well ask. In part it was to cheer
up. Rachel and her brother, Isaac; her aunt, Hilda Salter; and I, Waldo Bell, had all spent six months in hell. We were on tenterhooks, hoping every morning that
would be the day. This would be the special day Kit would sit up and surprise us all by ordering breakfast.
It hadn't happened, not so far.
But there was another more important reason why we were holding the birthday tea.
The doctor on the ship back from China had told me to treat Kit as if she understood what we were saying. “Just talk,” he'd said. “You never know what might go in.” So I sat and rambled on. I poured secrets out to her, which I would never have told the waking Kit. Other times, I didn't quite know where my thoughts ended and my words began.
Sometimes I would get angry with Kit for being so damned obstinate and with myself for letting her take stupid, unnecessary risks in China. The risks that had landed her in a coma.
But I'm becoming gloomy. This was a happy day, Kit's birthday, a time to smile and put on a brave face. No use dwelling on these wasted months in San Francisco, trudging
from doctor to doctor, seeking anyone who could cure Kit. We had even gone to witch doctors and spiritualists, to the craziest healers out there.
Not one made a jot of difference.
No wonder. This coma, which had struck her down in China when she had held the bones of a long-dead saint, was beyond the understanding of science.
“Before we cut the cake, let's all have a sing-song,” Rachel suggested, going to the piano. “Kit loves music.”
“No, she doesn't,” Kit's aunt said. “She couldn't hold a tune to save her life.”
“It doesn't do to speak ill of theâ” Rachel stopped mid-sentence.
“Out with it, Rebecca! DEAD. D.E.A.D. My niece is not dead. She is merely asleep and any day now she WILL wake up. I, Hilda Salter, demand it.”
“I didn't mean âdead.'” Rachel was flustered, her brown hair falling all over her face. “I didn't mean âdead.'” Her voice was rising hysterically.
Isaac, meanwhile, was sitting in an armchair next to the comatose Kit. I don't think he heard a word, for his gaze was fixed on the cake. He hadn't done anything but gaze hungrily at that cake since he'd entered the room.
“Let's have some cake,” he suggested. “Kit prefers cake to music.”
“Good idea,” Hilda grunted. Picking up the silver slicer,
she cut herself a generous wodge and tucked in. “Well, Rebecca, I dare say I've tasted worse,” she said to Rachel, who had spent hours slaving over that cake. “I'm beginning to see what you're
Just then there came a knock at the parlor door. In came Bessie the maid.
“There's a gentleman outside, asking for you, madam,” she said to Aunt Hilda.
“Show him in. I suppose we have enough cake to go round,” Aunt Hilda ordered.
I was going to protest, because it seemed rude to Kit to spoil her party, but Bessie had disappeared. In a few minutes the oddest-looking gentleman in San Francisco stood in our parlor. He was obviously English, for he was dressed in a good-quality top hat and frock coat that had come from one of London's better tailors. He had ruddy cheeks, long wispy hair that stuck out below his hat and a bulbous pink nose that showed him to be a serious drinker. His eyes darted around the parlor as if valuing the contents.
I took an instant dislike to the manâhe gave off the odor of some cheap huckster. I was willing to bet he was all set to try to sell us something.