MG Contemporary Fantasy by Joseph Miller
My name is Avery Mann and if you’re reading this, then I have good news and bad news.
First, the bad news: If you’re a dream-weaver like me, it’s only a matter of time before nightmarish monsters and story book villains hunt you down and make your life a living H-E-double hockey sticks.
That’s just what they do.
The good news is: This book can prepare you for the worst. No, it doesn’t have all the answers, but maybe knowing my story will save your life someday. At the very least, it might help you avoid repeating my mistakes. Like the wish that caused all my troubles…
Chapter 1: Be Careful What You Wish For
I was having the best birthday ever. First, my parents had given me the e-reader I’d been begging for since January. Second, my brothers had disappeared after breakfast, leaving me to read in peace. But best of all, when we arrived at my grandparents’ house, Grandpa handed me the keys to the treasure chest in the living room. The one where he kept his comic collection.
“Have some fun, birthday boy.” Grandpa patted me on the shoulders.
“Just remember the rules.”
“I will.” I rushed to the bathroom and scrubbed my hands until they were squeaky clean. I couldn’t wait to...
“Were you going to say hello to me before or after you’d read your grandpa’s entire collection?” asked Grandma from the open doorway.
“I...” I dried my hands, trying to think of something to say. “I was just cleaning up before...”
Grandma grinned and flicked her head toward the living room. “Go on, I know you’ve been dying to get your hands on those comics.”
I grabbed the key from the sink, gave Grandma a quick hug and kiss, and ran into my the living room.
My fingers twitched as I unlocked the treasure chest and pulled out the box marked “Daredevil.” No angelic choirs sang as I lifted issue
#1 out of its sleeve, but a part of me wanted to shout, “Halleluiah!”
I flipped to Daredevil’s origin story, my favorite part, and slipped into a daydream. What if radioactive goo splashed me in the face? What kind of superhero would I turn into?
With my luck, I'd probably become Ant-Boy. Not that I needed the ability to shrink to the size of a bug. My six older, attention-hogging brothers made me feel small enough already.
What I really needed was a way to stand out.
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it!” I jumped off the couch. Maybe one of the kids from school decided to come to my birthday party after all. Although considering last year's stink bomb incident, I couldn’t blame them for staying out of range of my brother's pranks.
I yanked open the door, saying, “Come in—”
But no one was there. Instead, a large cardboard box stood on the front edge of the porch. Stamped on its front was a winged-hat logo that read, “Mercury’s Messengers: Delivery at the Speed of Now.”
Where was the delivery truck?
I inched forward into the box’s shadow.
A chill crept up my legs and back as if an army of centipedes were marching over them.
Was this one of my birthday presents?
I peeked at the label for a clue, but it was written in some kind of code.
Grandpa stepped outside and frowned at the box.
I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him without a grin. “Is something wrong, Grandpa?”
“Get the door for me.” He lifted the box off the porch like it was filled with feathers.
I opened the door and said, “What is it?”
“Nothing for you to worry about.” Grandpa squeezed through the front door and weaved his way around a knick-knack cabinet full of Wizard of Oz collectibles and a pair of shelves cluttered with books.
“Come on,” I said, chasing after him. “Give me a hint. Please!”
Grandma stepped into the hallway, blocking my way. “Stop pestering Grandpa and come help me set the table for dinner.”
“Can’t someone else—” I tried to squirm past her, but she cut me off.
“No.” She herded me toward the dining room. “You obviously need something to keep you busy until your mom is done decorating your cake.”
Grandpa disappeared into the back room, which led to the basement. He closed the door behind him. A moment later, the click of a deadbolt echoed down the hallway.
The strange thing was, until that moment, I’d forgotten my grandparents even had a basement. I must have passed by it a thousand times, but never gave it a thought. How weird was that?
“What’s in the basement, Grandma?”
Her eyes narrowed and she pointed me toward the silverware. “Fewer questions, more place setting.”
I grabbed a bunch of knives. Why didn’t she trust me? I was eleven now. I could keep a secret.
I decided on my birthday wish right then and there. More than anything else, I wanted to find out what was inside the mysterious box and why my grandparents never let anyone go downstairs.
Maybe once I uncovered the truth, people would stop ignoring me. My brothers would realize I was more than just their part-time tackling dummy. Even better, if I came across something exciting, I might be able to convince someone at school I was friendship material. That alone would be worth the risk of getting grounded for life.
After what seemed like hours, Grandpa reappeared. He touched Grandma’s shoulder and whispered into her ear.
The color in her cheeks drained away. Her smile crumpled like someone had just run over Cheshire, the stray cat that hung around her backyard.
Grandpa guided Grandma out of the kitchen.
I trailed behind them, keeping out of sight.
They climbed the stairs to Grandpa’s study, closed the door, and turned on the radio.
I pressed my ear against the door. My grandparents seemed to be having an argument, but I couldn’t hear anything over the music. I retreated downstairs. Maybe I could take a closer look at the basement door.
Unfortunately, my brothers had other plans and ambushed me on the bottom step. Bill and Mike, who were home from college for the summer, hooked me under the arms and dragged me outside. They dumped me in the backyard and the rest of my brothers formed a circle around me. On the count of three, everyone shouted, “Happy Birthday, Luckster!”
I winced. My nickname would’ve been great for someone else, but not for me. I didn’t have a lucky bone in my body. The only reason my brothers called me Luckster was because I was born on Friday the Thirteenth.
Dave handed me a present wrapped in newspaper and duct tape. “We all chipped in for this. Hope you like it.”
I sniffed the present. It didn’t stink. I shook it. Nothing exploded.
The contents shifted around like loose clothing. I glanced at Rick and Charlie.
They pinched their noses shut. Not a good sign.
“Don’t pay any attention to them,” said Dave. “I made sure they didn’t slip in any surprises.”
My nose twitched at the memory of last year’s stink-bomb-in-a-box, the evacuation of Pizza Castle, and a whole year of being called “Stinky Cheese Mann” by my classmates.
Prepared for the worst, I peeled off the newspaper and opened my present to find… an extra large football jersey with the number 13 and the name “LUCKSTER” printed in bold letters.