Hobart Hucklebuck threw his heavy book pack over his shoulder as he reached the front door of the Hocus Pocus Magic Shop. Though school had only been in session for a couple of weeks since the end of spring break, his book pack already overflowed with boring books. Not to mention the homework he needed to finish before the next day.
“Who cares that the Amulet of Aristocracy was discovered near the Isthmus of Ickkymouth by Professor Percy Prattle?” he muttered, pushing open the door. “Or was it the butler in the belfry with the butter knife?”
He smiled at his little joke and stepped into the store where he immediately tripped, sprawling headfirst to the floor. He sat up and groaned, rubbing at the knot beginning to form above his right eye. This seems way too familiar, he thought, recalling events of recent weeks.
Stars circled Hobart’s head for several minutes, and it took some time before he felt the urge to move. He shook his head as if to unscramble scattered thoughts and turned his neck from side to side. His head still seemed to be attached to his shoulders, although how securely, he wasn’t sure.
Based on events of previous weeks, he wouldn’t have been surprised to find clattersnake tails rattling around on the floor of the magic shop. All he saw, however, was his new pair of Abracadabra Airskates lying in the center of the aisle. With the aid of a nearby counter, he pulled himself to his feet and scratched his head, somewhat puzzled.
The thing was, he didn’t remember leaving his skates where they were. In fact, he hadn’t even used the skates since his encounter with a pack of frenzied felines a few weeks earlier.
Hobart chewed on the inside of his cheek, then pushed the skates out of his path. It never occurred to him to pick them up. He was, after all, a 12-year-old boy.
He turned toward the door leading from the magic shop into his grandfather’s residence and found himself on the floor again. Hobart groaned, rolled over, and gingerly touched his wounded elbow. He winced, then wiped a smear of blood on the sleeve of his shirt.
“What the . . . ?”
He picked up the self-propelled pogo stick he had tripped over and scowled. Now, this is even stranger, he thought. He hadn’t taken that item out of his bedroom closet for months.
Hobart pulled himself to his feet once again and, having learned his lesson, surveyed the floor before taking another step. He negotiated his way down the narrow center aisle of the shop, curious why no one had greeted him when he entered.
Hobart stepped around the counter and through the door leading into the hallway of the living quarters.
He turned toward the kitchen, hoping he would find Flora preparing dinner. He crossed his fingers and envisioned fried famish and potbelly potatoes. And if Hobart knew his grandfather, the old man would be trying to steal a sample or two behind his housekeeper’s back.
The thought made him smile.
Hobart genuinely missed his parents when they were away on one of their archaeological expeditions, but he also loved staying with his grandfather and Flora.
When Hobart turned the corner, he found the kitchen empty and eerily quiet. Even more strange was the lack of familiar smells that made the mouth water and taste buds tingle.
His stomach growled with a loud complaint.
“I’m just as disappointed as you,” he told his unhappy midsection.
He grabbed a glass from the cupboard and filled it to the brim with Mother Mooberry milk.
He drank half a glass of the cold liquid in what seemed like one long gulp and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
“Flora? Grandpa?” he shouted.
He turned toward the door that led into the backyard but stopped when he noticed a package on the counter. He glanced at the return address, hoping his parents might have sent him something from their trip to the Grand Canyons of Eastern Espanasia. They always found something unusual to send him from each of their archaeological excursions.
He usually took the item to school to astound his friends and teachers, although the last piece they had sent had not been a huge success. But the petrified piece of dung from an extinct Bavarian Bog Beast still sat with pride on the windowsill of his bedroom.
He was disappointed to find the package was not addressed to him, but his grandfather.
A customs stamp on the box declared the contents to be Fangtail Root, Brigadoon Leaves, and Moonshadow Plant.
More inventory for his grandfather’s greenhouse, Hobart presumed. At the rate Wicksford Waxenbee collected plants and herbs, it wouldn’t be long before the greenhouse walls exploded, or the residence itself began filling with exotic items. His grandfather might hold the title of a Master Enchanter and Wizard, but the man’s passion was working with exotic plants and potions.
The boy didn’t notice the note on the refrigerator door until he put the milk away.
Hobart. Please make sure your grandfather doesn’t spoil his dinner by eating the leftover sweet and sour squeamish. I’ll bring something home from Madame Ming’s Wontons and Wings for dinner. I’ve gone downtown to pick up an entry form for the Pennywhistle Pickle and Pastry Pageant. Love, Flora.
Had a year already passed since the last pageant?
The annual event signified that Hobart and his grandfather would be eating lots of takeout food over the next few days while Flora turned their kitchen into a gastronomic laboratory. Flora had won the blue ribbon in the pastry division of the pageant for twelve straight years.
There would be very few home-cooked meals until the pageant was over. And as scrumptious as Flora’s cookies and cakes were, they were no substitute for solid fare like sweet and sour squeamish.
He turned to toss the note on the table and froze in his tracks.
Comic books and empty Tummy Tickler wrappers obscured the top of the kitchen table! Had company arrived, and no one had bothered to tell Hobart?
Hobart knew the comics had been in his room earlier that day as he recognized them. In fact, his new issue of Ghouls, Ghosts, and Grimlocks was sitting right on top of the stack, already creased and crumpled. And he hadn’t even opened the pages yet.
He scrunched up his face as he pondered the problem, pushing an unruly crop of reddish-brown hair from his eyes. Hearing laughter from outside, he turned. His jaw dropped as he gazed through the kitchen window facing the backyard.
It took a moment for his brain to process what his eyes were trying to communicate.
He shook his head, rubbed his eyes, and looked again.
“Holy Hot Dogs and Mystic Mustard!” he gasped.