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Jared Grace took out a red shirt, turned it inside out, and put it on backward. He tried to do the same with his jeans, but that was beyond him. Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You lay atop his pillow, open to a page on protective devices. Jared had consulted the book carefully, not sure any of it would help much.
Since the morning after the Grace kids had returned with the griffin, Thimbletack had been out to get Jared. Every so often he could hear the little brownie in the wall. At other times Jared thought he saw him out of the corner of his eye. Mostly, though, Jared just wound up the victim of some new prank. So far his eyelashes had been cut, his shoes had been filled with mud, and something had urinated on his pillow. Mom blamed Simon's new kitten for the last, but Jared knew better.
Mallory was completely unsympathetic. "Now you know how it feels," she kept saying. Only Simon seemed at all concerned. And he practically had to be. If Jared hadn't forced Thimbletack to give up the seeing stone, Simon might have been roasted over a spit in a goblin camp.
Jared tied the laces of his muddy shoe over an inside-out sock. He wished that he could find a way to apologize to Thimbletack. He'd tried to give back the stone, but the brownie hadn't wanted it. The thing was, he knew that if everything were to happen all over again, he would do exactly what he had done. Just thinking about Simon being held by goblins -- while Thimbletack stood around talking in riddles -- made Jared angry enough to almost break his laces with the force of the knot.
"Jared," Mallory called from downstairs. "Jared, come here a minute."
He stood up, tucking the Guide under his arm, and took a step toward the stairs. He fell immediately, hitting his hand and knee against the hardwood floor. Somehow Jared's shoelaces had been tied together.
Downstairs Mallory was standing in the kitchen, holding a glass up to the window so that the water caught the sunlight and cast a rainbow on the wall. Simon sat next to her. Both of Jared's siblings seemed transfixed.
"What?" Jared said. He was feeling grumpy and his knee hurt. If all they wanted was to show him how pretty the stupid glass looked, he was going to break something.
"Take a sip," Mallory said, handing the glass to him.
Jared eyed it suspiciously. Did they spit in it? Why would Mallory want him to drink water?
"Go ahead, Jared," Simon said. "We already tried it."
The microwave beeped and Simon jumped up to remove a giant mound of chopped meat. The top part was a sickly gray, but the rest of it still looked frozen.
"What's that?" Jared asked, peering at the meat.
"For Byron," Simon said, dumping it into a huge bowl and adding corn flakes. "He must be getting better. He's always hungry."
Jared grinned. Anyone else would be wary of a half-starved griffin recuperating in their carriage house. Not Simon.
"Go on," Mallory said. "Drink."
Jared took a sip of the water and choked. The liquid burned his mouth and he spat half of it onto the tile floor. The rest slid down his throat like fire.
"Are you crazy?" he yelled between bouts of coughing. "What was that?"
"Water from the tap," Mallory said. "It all tastes that way."
"Then why did you make me drink it?" Jared demanded.
Mallory crossed her arms. "Why do you think all this stuff is happening?"
"What do you mean?" Jared asked.
"I mean that weird things started happening when we found that book, and they're not going to stop until we get rid of it."
"Weird stuff was happening before we found it!" Jared objected.
"It doesn't matter," Mallory said. "Those goblins wanted the Guide. I think we should give it to them."
The room was silent for a few seconds. Finally Jared managed a hushed, "What?"
"We should get rid of that stupid book," Mallory repeated, "before someone gets hurt -- or worse."
"We don't even know what's wrong with the water." Jared glared at the sink, anger coiling in his gut.
"Who cares?" Mallory said. "Remember what Thimbletack told us? Arthur's field guide is too dangerous!"
Jared didn't want to think about Thimbletack. "We need the Guide," he said. "We wouldn't have even known there was a brownie in the house without it. We wouldn't have known about the troll or the goblins or anything."
"And they wouldn't know about us," Mallory said.
"It's mine," Jared said.
"Stop being so selfish!" Mallory shouted.
Jared clenched his teeth. How dare she call him selfish? She was just too chicken to keep it. "I decide what happens to it, and that's final!"
"I'll show you final." Mallory took a step toward him. "If it wasn't for me, you'd be dead!"
"So?" Jared said. "If it wasn't for me, you'd be dead right back!"
Mallory took a deep breath. Jared could almost imagine steam coming out of her nose. "Exactly. We could all be dead because of that book."
The three of them looked down at "that book" dangling from Jared's left hand. He turned to Simon, furious. "I suppose you agree with her."
Simon shrugged uncomfortably. "The Guide did help us figure out about Thimbletack and about the stone that lets you see into Faerie."
Jared smiled in triumph.
"But," Simon went on and Jared's face fell, "what if there are more goblins out there? I don't know if we could stop them. What if they got in the house? Or grabbed Mom?"
Jared shook his head. If Mallory and Simon destroyed the Guide, then everything they'd done would have been for nothing! "What if we give back the Guide and they keep coming after us?"
"Why would they do that?" Mallory demanded.
"We'd still know about the Guide," said Jared. "And we'd still know faeries are real. They might think we'd make another Guide."
"I'd make sure you didn't," said Mallory.
Jared turned to Simon, who was pushing a wooden spoon through the half-frozen mess of meat and cereal. "And what about the griffin? The goblins wanted Byron, didn't they? Are we going to give him back too?"
"No," said Simon, looking out of the faded curtains into the yard. "We can't let Byron go. He isn't all the way better."
"No one is looking for Byron," Mallory said. "It isn't the same thing at all."
Jared tried to think of something that would convince them, something that would prove that they needed the Guide. He didn't understand the faeries any more than Simon or Mallory did. He didn't even know why the faeries would want the field guide when the only thing in it was stuff about them. Did the faeries just not want people to see it? The only person who might know the answer was Arthur and he was long dead. Jared stopped at that thought.
"There is someone we could ask -- someone who really might know what to do," Jared said.
"Who?" asked Simon and Mallory in unison.
Jared had won. The book was safe -- at least for now.
He smirked. "Aunt Lucinda."
Copyright © 2003 by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
It's very sweet of you kids to want to visit your great-aunt," Mom said, smiling into the rearview mirror at Jared and Simon. "I know she's going to love the cookies you made."
Outside the car window the trees streamed by, patches of yellow and red leaves between bare branches.
"They didn't make them," Mallory said. "All they did was arrange frozen dough on a pan."
Jared kicked the back of her seat, hard.
"Hey," Mallory said, turning around and trying to grab her brothers. Jared and Simon snickered. She couldn't quite get them with her seat belt on.
"Well, that's more than you did," their mother said. "You are still grounded, young lady. All three of you have a week left."
"I was at fencing practice," Mallory said, slumping in her seat and rolling her eyes. Jared wasn't sure, but it seemed like there was something odd about the way her ears got pink when she said it.
Jared absently touched his backpack, feeling the outline of the field guide within, safe and sound, wrapped in a towel. So long as he kept it with him, there was no way that Mallory could get rid of it and no way the faeries could take it. Besides, maybe Aunt Lucinda knew about the Guide. Maybe she was the one who'd locked it up in the false bottom of the chest for him to find. If so, maybe she could convince his brother and sister that it was important enough to keep.
The hospital where their great-aunt lived was huge. It looked more like a manor than an asylum, with massive, redbrick walls, dozens of windows, and a neatly mown lawn. A wide, white stone path edged in rust-and-gold mums led to an entranceway cut from stone. At least ten chimneys rose from the black roof.
"Wow, this place looks older than our house," Simon said.
"Older," said Mallory, "but not nearly as crappy."
"Mallory!" their mother cautioned.
Gravel crunched under their tires as they pulled into the parking lot. Their mother chose a spot next to a battered, green car and turned off the engine.
"Does Aunt Lucy know we're coming?" Simon asked.
"I called ahead," said Mrs. Grace, opening the car door and reaching for her purse. "I don't know how much they tell her, though, so don't be disappointed if she's not expecting us."
"I bet we're the first visitors she's had in a long time," Jared said.
His mother gave him a look. "First of all, that is not a nice thing to say, and second, why are you wearing your shirt inside out?"
Jared looked down and shrugged.
"Grandma visits, doesn't she?" Mallory asked.
Their mother nodded. "She comes, but it's hard for her. Lucy was more like a sister than a cousin. And then when she started to...deteriorate...Grandma was the one who had to take care of things."
Jared wanted to ask what that meant, but something made him hesitate.
They walked through the wide, walnut doors of the institution. There was a desk in the vestibule, where a uniformed man was sitting, reading a newspaper. He looked up at them and reached for a tan phone.
"Sign in, please." He nodded toward an open binder. "Who're you here to see?"
"Lucinda Spiderwick." Their mother bent over the table and wrote their names.
At the sound of the name the man scowled. Jared decided right then that he didn't like this guy at all.
In a few minutes a nurse in a pink shirt with polka dots appeared. She led them through a maze of off-white hallways filled with stale air and the faint odor of iodine. They passed an empty room where a television flickered, and from somewhere nearby there was the sound of giddy laughter. Jared started to think of the asylums in movies and imagined wild-eyed people in straightjackets, biting at their bonds. He peered through the windowed doors they passed.
In one room a young man in a bathrobe giggled over an upside-down book, while in another a woman sobbed near a window.
Jared tried to avert his eyes from the next door, but he heard someone call, "My dancing partner is here!" Peering in, he saw a wild-haired man press his face against the window.
"Mr. Byrne!" The nurse stepped between Jared and the door.
"It's all your fault," the man said, showing yellow teeth.
"Are you okay?" Mallory asked.
Jared nodded, trying to pretend he wasn't shaking.
"Does that happen often?" Mrs. Grace asked.
"No," answered the nurse. "I'm very sorry. He's usually very quiet."
Before Jared could decide whether this visit was a good idea, the nurse stopped at a closed door, rapped twice, and opened it without waiting for a reply.
The room was small and the same not-quite-white color as the hallway. In the center of the room was a hospital bed with a metal headboard, and sitting up in it, with a comforter wrapped around her legs, was one of the oldest women Jared had ever seen. Her long hair was as white as sugar. Her skin was pale, too, almost transparent. Her back was hunched and twisted to one side. A metal stand by the side of her bed held a bag of clear liquid with a long tube that connected to the IV in her arm. But her eyes, when they focused on Jared, were bright and alert.
"Why don't I shut that window, Miss S.?" asked the nurse, moving past a nightstand cluttered with antique photos and knickknacks. "You're going to catch a cold."
"No!" Lucinda barked, and the nurse stopped mid-stride. Then in a gentler voice their great-aunt continued. "Leave it be. I need fresh air."
"Hello, Aunt Lucy," Mom said hesitantly. "Do you remember me? I'm Helen."
The old lady nodded slightly, appearing to regain her composure. "Of course. Melvina's daughter. Goodness. You're quite a bit older than I remembered."
Jared noticed that his mother looked less than pleased by that observation.
"These are my sons, Jared and Simon," she said. "And this is my daughter, Mallory. We've been staying in your house and the children wanted to meet you."
Aunt Lucy frowned. "The house? It is not safe for you to stay at the house."
"We've had people in to make repairs," Mom said. "And look, the children brought some cookies."
"Lovely." The old woman looked at the plate as though it were piled with cockroaches.
Jared, Simon, and Mallory exchanged glances.
The nurse snorted. "Nothing you can do," the nurse said to Mrs. Grace, not seeming to care that Aunt Lucy could hear her. "She won't eat anything while we're watching."
Aunt Lucy narrowed her eyes. "I am not deaf, you know."
"You won't try one?" Mom asked, uncovering the sugar cookies and holding the platter out to Aunt Lucinda.
"I'm afraid not," said the old woman. "I find that I am quite content."
"Perhaps we could talk in the hall," their mother whispered to the nurse. "I had no idea things were still so bad." With a worried look she put the plate on a side table and left the room with the nurse.
Jared grinned at Simon. This was even better than they had hoped. Now they were guaranteed at least a few minutes alone.
"Aunt Lucy," Mallory said, speaking fast. "When you told our mom that the house was dangerous, you didn't mean the construction, did you?"
"You meant the faeries," said Simon.
"It's okay to tell us. We've seen them," Jared put in.
Their aunt smiled at them, but it was a sad smile. "Faeries are exactly what I meant," she said, patting the bed beside her. "Come. Sit down, you three. Tell me what's happened."
Copyright © 2003 by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black