Coming in July: A Nick of Time, Book 4 of the Adventures of Rupert Starbright!
It’s New Year’s Eve in Graysland, but when the final second fails to come Rupert Starbright finds his entire town frozen in time. Rupert and his school crush Rainn Evertree must travel to the Land of Annum to retrieve the stolen second from the nasty and evil Epoch. They will travel a wild, imaginative, and musical world where all the characters of the Zodiac join Rainn in helping Rupert in his most colorful and challenging adventure yet!
A Split Second
Old Year Square shivered along with the folks of Graysland as they counted down the final seconds of the fading year. Frigid winds swirled and swished around the heads and legs of the dozens and dozens who had arrived in the square to greet the newest year. On that wind raced herds of dead leaves that crunched and scraped along the stones. It was Graysland, after all, and here the leaves fell across all the months.
Rupert Dullz stood, his gaze fixed on the giant metal bellberry leaf that sat atop the tall silver Yearling pole, waiting for the countdown to finish. Around him stood his parents, Polgus and Olga, and his grandma Folka, who was bundled up in a brown coat and hat so thick she looked like a bear.
The numbers shouted by the crowd sent clouds of steam into the chill night air. Folka leaned close to Rupert and whispered, “Did you make a wish for the New Year, sweetie?”
Rupert nodded and felt his face grow warm with a blush. A very specific wish had been floating around his head for the last few months. Ever since school began in September, he had noticed a new girl in his sixth-grade class. He wondered if she had noticed him.
It felt like an eternity since he had shared a first kiss with Mynerla in the wondrous land of Far-Myst. He remembered her often, and had wished he could meet another girl who made him feel as special as she had.
This new girl in his class had a very unboring name—Rainn, with two Ns and not just one old boring one. Rainn Evertree. Rupert found it hard to put two words together when she was close by. Even saying hello was harder than reading an entire page from The History of Leaf Cutters. Backwards!
If only she liked him as well. That was his wish.
He kept this wish tightly wrapped in his thoughts. He gazed at the sky, patched with clouds and dabs of glistening stars.
Rupert had experienced great adventure in the wondrous lands of Far-Myst and My-Myst. He had even had the chance to see what his boring town of Graysland had been like in the old days when it was not so boring. That was six months ago, when he’d stepped through Pie O’Sky’s door from old Grayslandville then returned home and celebrated the Winter Joy holiday with his family for the first time.
“The Big Leaf Countdown”, as it was called, was one of the few unboring things that happened in Graysland. He didn’t think his best friend Squeem was boring, either, and sent a friendly wave to him across the square, where he stood with his mom and dad.
Rupert’s heart raced as pulleys creaked on thick ropes and the leaf, cut from a large sheet of green metal, began to lower. The squeaky wheels sent a flock of pigeons into the air, their fluttering wings making fwap! fwap! sounds.
Across the square, Rupert spotted Rainn, in a black capelike coat, a gray woolen hat pulled down low to cover half of her eyes, and a black scarf wrapped tightly around her mouth. Strands of her hair, which shimmered with streaks of brilliant electric blue, hung from beneath her cap.
Rupert thought her hair was so unboring. He had never seen anyone in Graysland with hair of such color. Everyone else’s was the usual, boring old hair colors. He repeated his wish to himself. Then, he noticed she was looking at the sky, and glanced up.
A pitch-black shadow, like that of a giant bird, pushed the clouds aside like a rude man through a crowd. Oddly, stars were not revealed. Instead, strange swirling colors, like motor oil on the surface of a puddle, shimmered.
What the heck is that? Rupert wondered. He turned to ask his father, who was cuddling close to Olga to keep warm.
“Two….O—!” cried the excited crowd.
Something very unexpected happened.
Everything stopped. The metal leaf froze in place less than a foot from the ground. The clouds of visible breath from the gathered residents no longer floated and vanished like ghostly vapor. Instead, it became like a solid mass of thin milk. The pigeons hung in the air like ornaments strung across a line.
All sounds froze, a silence so deep it hurt Rupert’s ears like an explosion of quiet. Only one thing moved—the colors in the sky began swirling like living rainbows all over the square. In that tornado of color, there was a rush of brilliant light and sound.
Then, with a swoosh that vibrated his body, the multicolored winds vanished back into the sky. Silence returned.
Rupert tried to look up to see if it was truly all over but discovered he couldn’t. He could not move his head, or his arms and legs. He could not even shift his eyes about the square. The dozens and dozens of townsfolk were like frozen mannequins. As were the pigeons.
The only thing that was moving and spinning freely were his thoughts. His mind still worked.
This was good.
Rupert tried to think what could have possibly caused this situation. Did a really super-duper cold wind blow through and freeze everyone?
Or maybe his thoughts had been so focused on Rainn that it affected how he was seeing the real world. Maybe it was like time was standing still.
No. That didn’t seem like the answer, either.
What is going on?
In his field of vision, the sight of the pigeons floating in the air, wings spread, filled him with wonder.
I can’t imagine how birds could just hang in the air without flapping their wings.
Imagine! That was the answer.
Rupert’s mind sizzled with sudden excitement. If I can’t imagine why this happened maybe I can Imagine a way to stop it.
It had been some time since he used his Imagining abilities, but he knew the first step was to make his mind as quiet as a library. He needed to shush out all the negative and scary thoughts. He thought about how peaceful the Garden of Dreams was during his journey to the wondrous land of Far-Myst. He recalled the feeling of the warm campfire, and the still night air, and the comforting songs of night birds, and funny, glowing insects.
He felt a smile form. Maybe not on his lips, but in his brain.
Then, Rupert had the image of a clock in his head, like the one over Mrs. Stonelaughter’s desk at school. The clock that seemed to take forever and a day to reach 2:57—the greatest time, when school was over. Sometimes he thought the clock was broken, stuck, its gear gunked up by dust and grease.
Maybe that was what had happened in Graysland. Perhaps there’s some giant, unseen clock that makes days become nights and nights turn into mornings. Maybe, just maybe, that clock was gunked up.
How could it be ungunked?
Anyway, Rupert thought. Where was it? How can I clean the gears of a clock I can’t see?
He would need a special viewing glass to see it.
He figured if he could Imagine that special clock then why not Imagine a way to see it? The glass must be able to move on its own, since his arms were frozen at his sides. It would have little wings, and fly across the square, and settle on the bridge of his nose like his dad’s reading glasses. It would have feathers. Purple feathers on a golden frame.
Yes! Rupert could see such a pair of eyeglasses.
A sound whispered in the solid silence. Tiny pops of cracking air. And there, across the cobblestone road, was an object hovering in the air like a purple bird. Flecks of light struck off gold and glass.
The object of his Imagining was approaching, and as it grew closer and clearer, Rupert felt hope in his heart. The flying glasses settled on his nose, and as he peered through the two crystal-clear lenses, he was able to see the ghostly shapes of gears, a multitude of toothy wheels, hanging in the air before him. One of the gears had a gap, just as Rupert had when he’d lost his first baby tooth.
A missing tooth! I just need to imagine a new one.
He brought into his Imagining a seed. A gear-tooth seed. He Imagined planting the seed in the empty slot. With a little splash of Imaginary water it would grow a new tooth, and the gears would move again.
A little sprout of silver popped up; and in seconds, the missing tooth was back, and the gear wheels began to turn, and…
Everything went dark. The gears, the glass lenses, the golden frame, and the purple wings all vanished. The entire town square was nothing but black.
Then, Rupert realized his eyelids were closed, and he gave them the command to open. And they did. And the town was back.
But everyone was still stuck in place like statues. Even the flock of pigeons.
Rupert turned his head and saw his grandma, her smiling face, with its busy roadmap of wrinkles, fixed and frozen.
Wait! He had moved his head! He tried his hands, and soon had his fingers flexing before his face. He took a step. Then another. He had freed himself!
His stomach sank as he looked at his parents, Squeem, and the gathered crowd. The town square was still as motionless as a frozen river. He stepped up to the New Year’s Leaf and brushed its cold, smooth surface with his fingers. It was a mere foot off the ground. A single second from bringing in a new year.
“Weird,” Rupert whispered.
“Really weird,” someone said.
A NICK OF TIME (The Adventures of Rupert Starbright Book 4), by Mike DiCerto, from Zumaya Thresholds; Trade paperback, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-61271-099-0, 326 pp.; Ebook, $5.00, ISBN 978-1-61271-100-3 (Kindle), 978-1-61271-101-0 (epub)
Coming in July wherever fine books and ebooks are sold. If you haven’t already met Rupert, start your adventures with Book 1: The Door to Far-Myst