Chapter 1 Disappearing Act—June 28th, 3:10 PM Eager to get out of school, I shoved everything from my locker into my backpack. Scarlett and Alexa were standing next to me, texting on their phones while they waited. Olivia helped me by holding my bag open as I jammed every last remnant of the school year into my book bag. Finally, the last paintbrush was hurriedly swept inside, and I stood back to look at the empty locker. Somehow, I didn’t feel as relieved as I thought I would for summer break to begin. I knew I had to ask the others. “Did anything weird happen to you the other night at the Summer Solstice Festival?” I asked nervously. The three girls shook their heads no. Olivia responded, “Not really. I mean, some of the boys were trying to hit on me, but they weren’t even cute! Why do you ask?” “Hard to explain.” I decided to keep my story to myself since they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. I looked around and realized this would be the last time we walked these hallways. They seemed so much smaller now. Scarlett tugged on my backpack. “Let’s get out of here.” Together, we walked down the hallway and through the front door of the school. We heard the school bell behind us; it sounded like a dying trumpet. Finally, the school year had ended! The summer was already proving to be humid. I felt my armpits dampening from sweat. Wow, I’ve got to remember to put on my deodorant. Some parts of this growing-up thing were not cool. I held my arms down at my sides to prevent anybody from noticing. I knew I looked stiff as a soldier, but it was better than letting them see my sweat stains. Together, we all walked home: Olivia, Alexa, Scarlett, and I. We lived only a block from the school in the neighbourhood that we had all grown up in. Alexa, the dreamer of the group, dropped back a few steps behind us so she could whistle to herself. She was probably creating a new song, so we knew better than to bother her. Soon, Alexa’s humming drifted off into the distance as I became lost in my thoughts, hoping our friendship wouldn’t change when we got to high school. I felt Olivia tap my arm. She knew I liked to daydream a lot. Olivia was the only one in our group who really got me. She understood my attention and focus problems, and she was patient when I read slowly in class because of my dyslexia, but she also knew that I could draw, paint, or doodle for hours. She is the best … “Hey!” I said, my thoughts interrupted by a sharp jab in my shoulder. I looked over at Olivia, who smiled apologetically. “Well, at least now you won’t be bullied by Rachelle anymore,” Olivia said with a soft voice, not wanting to remind me of Rachelle, but being supportive at the same time. “I know it’s just because I learn differently, and it’s easy for her to pick on me because it’s hard for me to stand up for myself,” I responded, wanting to move past this subject. Scarlett jumped in and said, “Well, what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger or something like that.” Scarlett put her arms around Olivia’s and my shoulders and quickly, Alexa jumped in beside us. We all walked in tandem, as if we were walking down the yellow brick road, each in constant chatter over one another. It was beautiful to have friends who appreciated me and stuck up for me when I couldn’t do it for myself. Rachelle always bullied me because I had to leave class for extra tutoring. I just didn’t understand why she hated me so much. Even saying her name got me so flustered. Scarlett always said that I was too sensitive and that I needed to be more assertive, but I figured I wouldn’t have to do that if everybody just accepted everyone else for who they were. I felt myself getting frustrated while I fumed silently over Rachelle until Scarlett came to the rescue with one of her puns. “I’d tell you a science joke, but all of them ARGON.” “Good one, Scarlett,” I laughed. As we got closer to my house, we hugged each other goodbye and went our separate ways. I noticed the front door of my house was unlocked, which meant Mom was working from home today. I felt a knot in my stomach, knowing that things were about to change since most of my friends were going to different schools. Olivia and Alexa were moving out of the city. Georgia, Lilou, and Camille, three of my other schoolmates, were transferred to a French immersion school. Scarlett was going to an artfocused high school. For me, high school was undecided. Mom talked about homeschooling. I hated the idea, but apparently my dad was homeschooled by and it was some sort of family tradition. I knew my life was changing, and I didn’t like it. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my shirt and just about fell backwards. “Sorry, I surprised you, Ora!” Scarlett said. “Ah, okay, what’s up?” I asked. “I’m not sensitive like you, but I am going to miss you at school.” For a moment, I didn’t know what to say. “I’m going to miss you too, Scarlett.” “Hey, if you ever want me to hunt down Theom and Rachelle, let me know. I will pun them.” “Oh no, don’t ever pun them! So much verbal pun power!” I said. We both giggled, and I hugged her. “Thanks, Scarlett,” I said, feeling grateful. We gave each other heart hands, a symbol of our adoration for each other. As Scarlett walked away, I strolled up the stairs to my house and landed on the porch that wrapped around its front. I had lived in this house my whole life, and I had always loved how old it was. Knowing that it had been here for so long made me feel safe. “Hi, Mom, I’m home!” I shouted cheerily as I walked in the door. “Hi, Bella. Just finishing up some work in the office . I’ll be right out; we’ll order pizza tonight,” she called from the other room. “Oh, yum! Can Olivia or Scarlett come over to hang out before dinner?” I asked excitedly, and then with a little more caution in my voice, “Maybe a sleepover?” I hoped my mom would say yes, but before she could answer, Dad walked through the front door and said happily, “Looks like we finished work at the same time, Bella.” I ran to him and gave him a big hug and repeated, “Dad, can Olivia or Scarlett come over? It’s the last day of school, and I thought …” Mom cut me off as she came out of the office and walked over to give us both a hug. “How was your day at the shop, Marcus?” she asked as she put her hand on my shoulder. “It was really slow at the shop. Not enough tourists came through to buy specialty hats. How about you?” “I think equally as frustrating. I’ve lost two more artists to my new competitor that just opened up on the street!” Mom replied, looking distressed. “Well, when you have a brilliant idea like yours, you end up being copied— not everyone is as original as you,” I chimed in. “Thanks, Bella. That means a lot,” Mom said with a smile. They started talking about boring stuff, so I slowly walked upstairs with my school bag dragging behind me. I was sure they could hear me since I banged the bag against each step of the old, creaky, wooden stairs. As I got closer to the top, I saw Lolo, my best friend and super-cat, in her usual spot at the top of the stairs. I loved her shiny black and brown coat and deep blue eyes. It was almost as if she looked through me sometimes. She always made me laugh when she drooled as she greeted me. “I’m so happy to see you, Lolo. I missed you,” I said as I patted her on the head and walked past her towards my bedroom. She got up from her place at the stairs with a stretch and followed me into the room. I threw my school bag onto the floor and heard Mom and Dad still talking about eating pizza for dinner tonight. “Probably going to have that horrible veggie pizza that Dad always orders. The struggle is real, Lolo.” I sighed as I plopped down onto the bed. Lying there with only my thoughts to occupy me, I realized I was already feeling bored without school consuming my every waking moment. Wow, I managed to make it through this year. Is this how adults feel when they finish college? I started worrying about the inevitability of growing up and having to make my own decisionsThankfully my thoughts were interrupted when I heard my cell phone buzz. I dragged myself to my backpack and noticed a message from Alexa: Hey, do you want to go bowling tonight? All of a sudden, I was not tired anymore, and I texted her back: Let me ask my mom and see if she can drive. I was too lazy to walk downstairs, so I texted both Mom and Dad to see who I got a response from. Hi, can I go bowling with Alexa tonight? Or can Scarlett or Olivia come over for a sleepover? It’s the last day of school. I asked one more time, knowing they couldn’t ignore a text. I lay back down on my bed and felt Lolo jump up and snuggle on my stomach. She started to purr and drool on my shirt as I waited for a response. My cell phone buzzed. It was Mom. Why don’t we go bowling on Sunday evening with all of the girls instead? Let’s just hang tonight with pizza and a movie. It’s been a long week for all of us. We can sleep in and go over our summer schedule tomorrow since you’re already signed up for camps. I was disappointed because I wanted to do something tonight. It was great hanging out with the parents, but I knew the summer would fly by, and I would hardly get to see my friends. I let out a loud, defeated exhale and texted back: Okay. I texted Olivia, Scarlett, and Alexa back that my mom would take us to the bowling alley on Sunday night. Scarlett responded first: It’s not how you bowl, it’s how you roll. I’m in. Alexa was next: For sure, I’m in. I waited, but nothing from Olivia. I sent a text back to the chat room, not waiting to hear from Olivia. Awesome, bowling is on. I put my phone down and picked up the book on my nightstand that I was reading. It was about my heroine, Amelia Earhart. I wondered what she would have done when she was my age. Would she have wished to visit Paris and the Eiffel Tower as I did? She would have been a cool friend to have. I heard my dad call out, breaking me out of my daydream. “Pizza’s here!” I slowly walked downstairs and flopped onto the couch. As usual, it was tough for us to choose a movie we wanted to watch. I wanted a horror movie, Dad wanted a classic film, and Mom wanted a romantic comedy. Since we could not decide, we ended up playing “Shoe-opoly,” a board game that my dad made for me on my tenth birthday because my mom and I both love shoes. I always chose Dorothy’s red slippers as my board piece, Mom always wanted Cinderella’s slipper, and poor Dad was left with the ballet shoe. Dad always said he would make more shoe pieces for us, but he was so busy at the store that it had yet to happen. The life of entrepreneurial parents but from the sound of it, it was tough work owning your own business. This sort of made me sad, because at times it felt like I was competing with their work for their attention. The main goal of the game was to build an empire of shoe stores. My mom and I were the competitive ones of the family, but between turns, I doodled in my comic strip book, coming up with new characters for my superhero comic. We inhaled the pepperoni pizza, my fave, and before we knew it, it was 11:00 PM. I got ready for bed while Mom and Dad cleaned up, but as I was brushing my teeth, I heard the cawing of a raven outside the bathroom window. Shivers went through my body, thinking back to what happened at the community centre the other night. I spat out my toothpaste and ignored it, trying to continue my bedtime routine: pyjamas on and a hug from Mom. “Good night, Bella,” Mom said, appearing at the open bathroom door. “Have you thought any further about being homeschooled in the fall?” “Mom, it’s so late. I’m tired,” I replied, trying to avoid this conversation. “Well, we need to talk about it soon. We don’t want to miss out on signing you up for a high school if you decide you don’t want to do it.” Dad walked in, and I thought to myself, Wow, are we having a bathroom party? “As much as I hate the idea myself, we don’t want to break from tradition. Your mom is right about homeschoolingwe could plan trips for learning purposes,” Dad offered hopefully. Mom looked at Dad with a strange grin. I had no idea what that look meant, but I was not going to make a decision tonight. “But when are you guys going to have time to do that when you’re so busy already?” “We’ll make time.” Mom and Dad jinxed each other. Mom smiled at me one more time before she exited the bathroom, and Dad took the extra space to lean forward to give me a hug goodnight. I held him tightly in the embrace, feeling loved and warm and understood. But as I stood there, knowing the true meaning of comfort, I froze as the warmth drained right out of me. I could feel my dad’s arms still around me, but it was like cold steel, and I was trapped within it. It was a flash, like a memory. I was a ghost that nobody could see. I stood there, paralyzed. I felt so cold and alone, yet I could sense a shadow in the background. It was calling out to me, but I couldn’t make out what the voice was saying. I trembled as I stood there, awash in the cold and the fear, but the feeling faded as quickly as it came, and I was safely in my father’s arms once again. All that remained was the awful feeling that something was going to happen. I held onto my dad even tighter. “Whoa, that’s quite the bear hug,” Dad said. Dad let go of me and winked as he left the bathroom and headed off to his and Mom’s bedroom. I finished up in the bathroom and walked to my room, ignoring the terrifying experience I had just imagined. Lolo was already on top of my bedsheets, looking at me. I hesitated for a moment, not sure if I should close my bedroom door or not, but I decided to anyway. Then, I went over to my bedroom curtains to close them. It was way too hot to close the window, but I didn’t want any more scary run-ins with ravens. I was tired, so I lay down next to Lolo on the bed, but before I could allow myself to doze off, I called out to my mom and dad one more time to put my mind at ease. They responded with a final, “Good night!” and I could finally slip into sleep. I couldn’t have been asleep for very long, but I already felt myself dreaming a dream I had experienced a thousand times before: I dreamt of a falcon and a tree. I thought it was normal to have the same dream over and over, but when I told Scarlett, Olivia, and Alexa about it at school, they looked at me like I was crazy. Scarlett and Olivia said they didn’t remember their dreams at all. Alexa said she had weird dreams but didn’t remember much about them by morning. My dream, on the other hand, was so vivid that I could remember every detail, but it was always the same dream. I woke up with a start as Lolo meowed incessantly. She seemed annoyed as she was doing circles at my bedroom door. “Lolo, shhhh,” I whispered to her in the dark with a harsh voice. I didn’t want to wake my mom and dad. She continued to meow at me. She had never done that before. Hmm, maybe she needs to go to her litter box? Speaking of the bathroom, I need to go too … I opened the bedroom door so we could both take care of business, but when I walked out of my room, I noticed the lights in the hall flickering. I heard what sounded like arguing coming from my parents’ bedroom. Instead of heading for the bathroom, I decided to go check on my parents. As I moved one foot in front of the other as lightly as possible, I noticed an awful smell in the hallway— like rotten eggs. I was immediately reminded of Theom at the community centre and how he smelled the same way. I started to move a little more quickly towards my parents’ room but still didn’t want to make any sound. The spoiled smell of sulphur intensified with each step. The hall lights continued to flicker on and off for no apparent reason. From under the crack in the door, it looked as if the light in my parents’ bedroom was also flickering. My breath caught in my chest. I was nearly paralyzed with fear when I finally arrived at their door— the smell of sulphur so strong that I wanted to cover my nose with my shirt. I ignored the urge to protect myself from the smell, as I could now hear the urgency in my parents’ voices from behind the door. I reached up to turn the doorknob and opened the door just a crack to peek in. To my horror, I saw my mom standing at the foot of the bed, arms reaching out and trying to hold on to Dad. She was like a ghost, fading in and out of existence. “Marcus, help me!” Mom cried out desperately. As she faded to nothingness, my dad had nothing to hold onto except empty air. My dad turned to face me, peeking through the open sliver of the door, looking at me with terror in his face. Somehow, that was even scarier than my mom disappearing and reappearing. I had never seen him so helpless before. I pushed open the door and ran into the room, unsure of how to help but desperate to do so in any way possible. I rushed towards them, but my dad reached out a hand to halt me in my steps. “Orabella, there’s no time. You need to call Opa. He will explain everything.” Before he could finish, he started to fade in and out like Mom, and then they both vanished. They were gone. I stood there alone in the bedroom, frozen in shock. I began to shake uncontrollably, and Lolo started pacing in circles around me. My mind was racing. What just happened? Am I dreaming? I noticed the clock by their bed said 3:00 AM. I screamed out, “Dad! Mom! Where are you?” Nothing but silence. The bedroom lamp lights stopped flickering and returned to their normal steady glow. The smell of sulphur was gone. Their bed was empty. I ran back to my room, grabbed my cell phone, and began to look for Opa’s phone number. My hands were shaking as I scrolled through the contact list. I got frustrated when I could not find it right away, but Lolo had calmed down and was purring at my feet, which helped me to steady my racing thoughts. Finally, I found it and dialed the number. The phone kept ringing and ringing. “Please, answer the phone!” I yelled out of fear and frustration. A voice finally picked up. “Hello, who is this?” “Opa, this is Orabella! I need your help! Dad and Mom disappeared into thin air!” There was silence on the other end. “Bella, are you okay?” “No, Opa, I’m freaking out! What’s going on? Where did they go?” “Orabella, I’m going to call your Auntie Adri. She’s going to pick you up and bring you here.” “What do you mean? Why can’t I stay with Auntie? She lives so close, and you live so far away!” I was holding back from full-on screaming into the phone. “Orabella, you need to come here. I can explain what is going on.” “How did Mom and Dad just disappear into thin air like that? It was like a crazy sci-fi movie! Were they kidnapped by aliens?” I frantically asked, my imagination going wild. “Orabella, I’m calling your aunt now. She’ll be there in a few minutes.” I started to cry as I hung up. So weird. Opa seemed so calm. I was still in shock. I was about to text my friends but remembered I still had to go to the bathroom. I really needed to pee now. As I washed my hands, I heard my cell phone ring. I quickly picked up the phone. “Hi, Bella, it’s Auntie Adri. I’m on my way! Are you okay?” “Please hurry. I’m scared,” I whispered as I felt a shiver run through my body. I began to cry again. “Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Auntie said in a calm voice. I could hear her car door close while she was talking to me. “Bella, please don’t tell anybody about this.” “Okay, Auntie, but I’m terrified and confused. My mom and dad just vanished!” “Orabella, I’m in the car and on the way. Head downstairs.” I lost her connection and tried calling her back, but there was no answer. I grabbed Lolo and ran downstairs, waiting for my aunt at the front door, scared and alone. I looked out the window. All of the neighbours’ windows were dark, including the bedrooms of Olivia and Scarlett, who lived just across the street. I guess that was a good thing; I wouldn’t have to explain why I was up.