Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie
The opening to the mansion was beautiful, but that’s all I can remember. I don’t have a name exactly, but you can call me Jo. Because you don’t have a photograph of me, I have auburn hair down to my shoulders, hazel eyes, and I was average height for age 11.
“Of course we’ll take it!” my mom shouted unknowingly. The chandelier was the first thing that attracted your attention as you walked inside. It hung still like a bat sleeping. The real estate agent just smiled at us and wrote notes on her wooden clipboard. I found a nice, comfortable, red leather chair and sat down.
“How do you like our new house, Honey?” my mom asked in a cheery tone. I just wanted all of this moving business to be over, so I nodded my head slowly. I am certain that was the worst, but possibly best decision I ever made.
I sat in my room. An old rag doll sat on my bed. An ancient looking chest sat in the corner of the room. I got curious, so I went over and opened it. All that was in it was a book. The book had no visible title, but on the cover it did have a painting of a bird. It flew in a nighttime scene. The bird though, wasn’t normal. Its feathers weren’t a cardinal’s red or a chickadee’s yellow. They were white and blue, and they were arranged into a beautiful daytime sky. The clouds on the bird were like cotton pillows that have been pulled apart. The stars in the sky around the bird seemed to have the smallest circle of light around them, clearing the night away. At the bottom of the painting was the middle of an ocean with soft yet crashing waves. Slowly and quivering, I opened the book.
When the book opened, I shouted, “What?!” the book was empty. I rapidly turned the pages, searching for a single word. None were found. You might be thinking this empty book is being mistaken for an unused journal. However, it wasn’t lined or marked, and the pages were way too thin for writing. I threw the book down and it fell open to its last page. I had not seen this page yet. It was the one page with words. I gasped and picked it up. The page read,
“If you are truly willing and brave enough
To experience this story,
Put these on, protect them,
They may save”
But the rest of the ink was smeared off. I thought about what it meant by “put these on”. Was I supposed to wear something? That was when I realized a pair of gold earrings in the spine of the book.
The earrings were the same shape as the bird on the book cover. I thought about putting them on, but then I remembered, I haven’t even got pierced ears. I groaned and pinched my earlobes. Nearby in the room another painting caught my eye. It was a portrait of a girl. She was smiling and was very pretty. Her wavy, dark chocolate colored hair went down to her thighs. Her eyes were like a pitch black night sky. Her silk dress was the same color as her eyes, and it draped down to the ground like a waterfall. Right then I heard a loud crash from behind me. I yelped and spun around. My bookshelf had fallen over and all my books were scattered. Shocked, I started picking up my books. I heard a giggle. I spun around. The girl in the painting’s smile seemed to be even wider. I finished putting my books back, and I made sure my bookshelf was secure against the wall. I thought about the bird book I found earlier. I pinched my earlobes again and felt bird- shaped earrings dangling from them.
My jaw felt like it dropped to the floor. I took off the earrings and grabbed the bird book. I slowly put the earrings back on. As I put on the second earring, my hand fell through the cover of the book. At first I thought I wrecked the cover, but then I felt a breezy ocean wind. I reached down and felt an icy, wavy ocean. I also felt what seemed to be a fish. I reached up and felt feathers. The sky bird! This was amazing! I still had to test something. I kept one hand in the painting, and took off the earrings with the other. I felt no wind or ocean or feathers. My hand was stuck in the cover. I put the earrings back on, and the breeze was back. I took my hand out. I wondered if I could jump in. Well I tried, but was interrupted. A rat jumped on the cover and yelled, “Stop!!”
“Oh gross!” I screamed.
“Are you crazy?!” The rat spat.
“Whoa, you can talk?” I said in fascination.
“I am no ordinary house rat, I protect you from…” she quieted down, “the paintings!”
“Paintings can’t hurt you, you mutant rat!”
“Stupid girl,” the rat puffed, “you could never survive this house without me!” she started to get calm, “If you were to pay attention to this house you would notice the 762 dangerous paintings in it.”
“How do you know this, are there more of you?” I asked, still stunned about this talking rat. The rat grinned, “Yes, and my name is Penny. There are two more of us here, and we have been watching you. You moved in a day ago. All we want to do is protect you and all intruders!”
“What do you mean ‘intruders’? We bought this house. It’s our house.” I argued.
“You see, a little girl used to live here. She considers it her house.” Penny explained. Then she crawled into my hands. Now I got a good look at Penny. She had a mix of cocoa brown and black fur. Her eyes were green and looked like an owl or snakes. I petted Penny. She was soft but kind of greasy. Then she scurried into a crevice in the wall. I looked at the portrait of the girl. It was covered up with a sheet. 3 words: Weirdest… day… ever.
The next day, my mom told me to take a walk outside. I nodded, slipped on my hiking sneakers, and left. I wasn’t a personal fan of walking or anything else, but I do what I’m told. The air was crisp and a bit chilly. A slight wind made the trees sway. When I was about a block from home, I saw an orange blur on the road. I pretended to cross the street but I was really trying to get a good look at the tan figure. It had long pointy ears and a small ratty body. It was a rabbit. I knew the poor thing would get ran over if it didn’t get off the road. Right then a red car came toward the rabbit and I. The driver was distracted by something on their phone. I quickly grabbed the rabbit and bolted off the street. Panting for air, I sat on a nearby bench.
“Thanks for saving me! I’m Sammy,” said the rabbit.
“Now you can talk. What next?” I sighed. Sammy giggled then got serious, “The house you live in was actually a little girl’s house. She might not be very happy with you,” he warned. I thought about how Penny spoke of a girl as well.
“I know,” I muttered, “let’s get you home.”
My mom was a very caring person, but not with Sammy.
“Honey, a cage for this rabbit would be very expensive. After all, it’s just a stray.” I already knew it wasn’t a good idea to tell her the animals talk. If I did, they would probably end up in a cage in a huge lab that says clearly: NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY, with a bunch of tourists taking pictures with flash cameras. So I gave my mom puppy eyes. That did the trick.
“Oh fine! I have a transparent blue storage box. You can decorate it and put holes in the top so your rabbit friend can breathe. I smiled right till she added, “Okay, now go down to the basement and you’ll find it in the staircase cabinet.” I’m fine with going in the basement. I just heard from a neighbor that some rats live down there. The only rat I wouldn’t mind would be Penny. I nodded and brought Sammy to my room. I told him to stay and be quiet. Then I went down the hallway leading to the basement. I opened the door. A spider crawled out. I sucked in my cheeks. I went down the stairs till I reached the staircase cabinet. Inside the cabinet I found the box… and an unknown rat.
“Timmy!” the rat squeaked.
“What? Who is Timmy?”
“Me! I Timmy! I friends with Penny, she know you! I told by mistress to stay in basement!” Timmy squealed proudly.
“Who is your mistress?” I asked lightly. I figured Timmy wasn’t too smart.
“She told me not to talk to you. She’s dead. Also she is living upstairs in this house!”
“That made no sense, Timmy.” I whispered. Timmy sighed.
“She die and ‘fore she die she made portrait of self and she alive in portrait! She doesn’t like to come out.” Timmy stammered, almost like he was lying. I made a fake smile. I wondered if Timmy meant that his mistress was the girl in the painting. An even bigger thought came to mind. Is the girl in the painting also the girl who used to live here? Timmy, as Penny did, crawled into my hands. He had mostly grey fur, but in some places white fur. Timmy had swamp colored eyes. His fur was coarse and thick.
“What your name?” Timmy asked.
“Um, I don’t have one…” I really didn’t. Not that I knew of.
“Everyone has name, that how we talk to each other!” Timmy exclaimed. I looked around the basement for a tag or label I could call my name. I came across a pretty doll with a tag that said, ‘Josephine’.
“Oh, well… my name is Jo!” I stammered.
“I think I broke the rule of not speaking to you, Jo.” Timmy said. Then another rat came out of the wall. Its eyes were green, and they looked like a cat’s would be when it’s about to pounce on a fly. The rat was white with deformed light and dark brown spots.
“The mistress wants to see us, Timmy!” the rat saluted.
“Rainy, it the girl named Jo!” Timmy said happily.
“Jo, huh,” Rainy muttered, “well nice to meet you!”
“You too,” I replied softly. Rainy turned to her long, wormy tail.
“No! The Evil Dr. Tail has the nerve to come back! I better teach him a lesson!” Rainy screeched. Then she started chasing her tail. I bit my lip trying to hold back a laugh. Maybe the rats weren’t so bad after all?
I started to make Sammy’s cage. I made sure to poke holes in the top. I made bedding from shredded newspaper. I put some poorly drawn paper carrots on the outside and some real carrots on the inside. I took a bowl from my dollhouse, filled it with water, and set it next to the carrots. For an extra touch, I put some of the extra shredded newspaper together with clay water to make a Paper Mache dome.
“How’s this?” I asked Sammy.
“Perfect!” Sammy replied. About a week later, Rainy was telling us a story about one of her deadly adventures against The Evil Dr. Tail.
“I grabbed him, and he tried to get away! His deadly pull was too strong, even for a warrior like me. I am sad to say he got away,” Rainy shrieked dramatically. We all held back a laugh except for Timmy, who bought every word. Right then, I heard an awful rasping… it sounded like my name!
“Jo! Jo! Jo!” the rasping continued. I suddenly realized the girl in the painting was saying it. I didn’t say a word, instead, 4 squeaking voices chimed in, “Mistress, leave her alone!”
“You want to disobey me, rodents? Then PAY!!” the girl screamed in rage. The ceiling started shaking. I ran away from the girl at lightning speed. Before I realized where I was heading, I went right into the bird book!
“Whoa!” I shouted. Before I knew it, I plummeted into the salty, ocean water. I quickly swam to the top. I was doing my best not to drown, when the sky bird lifted me onto its back and flew around. I was flying on day. The bird flew out of the painting, picked up Sammy, and dropped us on the ground. It flew back into its painting. The girl rasped, “Get out of my house, Jo! NOW!” the ceiling was shaking more. It was going to collapse!
“Get OUT!” She screamed. Now parts of the ceiling were falling.
“NO!” shouted Sammy. He charged at the portrait and tore it to bits. I shut my eyes tight and turned away. When the horrible tearing noise stopped, I opened my eyes slowly. In the spot where the portrait was, a girl stood. She was the girl in the portrait. The ceiling was fixed, and Penny, Timmy, Rainy, and Sammy turned to… kids!?
“You don’t have your powers anymore, Marcy!” Penny whispered to the girl. The girl gasped, and ran out of the room.
“You must be… really… confused,” Sammy said awkwardly.
“Yes, yes I am,” I replied.
“A long time ago,” Sammy sighed, “Timmy, Penny, Rainy and I were friends with that girl, Marcy. We played tug of war and accidently pushed her into her weird grandpa’s unfinished painting when we tried to give her the end of the rope. She became a part of the painting, and gained powers. She used them to turn us into animals, and she told us she was our mistress. If we disobeyed her, she would squash us as punishment. I disobeyed her, and that’s why you found me in the street. It was her attempt to squash me.”
“I heard a completely different story from Timmy,” I said, giving Timmy a grin.
“Hey! Penny told me to say that if we ever have to talk ‘bout the mistress!”
“Yes I did, to keep us safe. I covered Marcy’s portrait up so she couldn’t hear me talking about her to Jo also! Anyway, go look in your book Jo.” Penny said. So I picked up the book and opened it. There, I saw my whole story, written down…