Chapter Fourteen: Of Mice and Men

“No,” I say. “No. You’re all crazy. I’m from the United States! We don’t believe in kings!”

Randy tears the parchment from my hands and raises his eyebrows. “‘Find the king’? What is this?” A smirk takes up residence on one side of his face. I rip the paper away from him. Mr. Smith and Rose take a step away. I glare daggers at them.

Turning back to Randy, I say, “Despite the fact that we have a zombie-ghost-pirate in our midst, it’s not a treasure map. And despite the fact that it seems like everyone around here has been putting a little more than tea leaves in their breakfast brew lately, it has nothing to do withthat either.” I take a breath and turn to wave the parchment in Book-boy’s face. He smiles like he is delighted by my reaction so far. I scoff. “You people. Are all. Bloody. Looney Tunes!”

“I’d be careful, Mary,” Rose says. She grins, but her skin is pale—well, paler than it usually is, anyway. “Your English is showing.”

“Are you daft? I’m not blooming English!”

She bursts out laughing. “Exactly.”

I toss the parchment at her and stomp away, throwing myself into Book-man’s stiff leather desk chair. He opens his mouth to protest, but Randy shakes his head in warning, and he stops.

“I saw that, you know.”

“I just thought it would be a good idea to keep you from murdering the only lead we’ve got right now, is all.” Randy shrugs and crosses his arms. “Unless, of course, you’ve found anotherreporter with inside knowledge about this whole zombie thing for us to question.”

“Shut it, Princess Randilyn, or I’ll run you over with a bus, too.”

“Oh, dear me,” says Book-boy. “I dare say I forgotyou were the one who defamed that tour bus last year.” He takes another step away.

“We had reason to believe the diplomat was an alien,” I say, glowering at him. “Wait, how do you know about that?”

He doesn’t answer my question, instead asking, “And was he?”

Before I have a chance to try interrogating him again, Rose shouts, “Could we please focus on the matter at hand?!”

I don’t think anyone is more surprised by Rose raising her voice than Rose herself. I know for a fact no one is less surprised than Randy, who spends the next moment looking between Book-boy and me in confusion as he takes in our dropped jaws and wide eyes.

“What just happened?” he asks after a second. “Did the ghost die or something?”

“Zombie,” Book-boy and Rose correct in unison.

“Same difference,” I say. They shoot me a look. “What? Rose is dead either way.”

Rose ignores the comment. She is still pale and extra dead-looking, lips set in a firm line, as she nods to the parchment on the floor, then looks up to meet my eye. With a groan I lift it so she can examine the writing. Her fingers trace across the words.

“I told you we shouldn’t have ignored the summons, Mary,” she says.

“I told you I didn’t believe in magic, Rose,” I shoot back.

“You believe in me, obviously.”

“You’re like paranormal-science-fiction stuff more than fantasy,” I remind her. “Whole different ballpark.” I lean back against the leather of the chair and burrow into it, trying to get more comfortable. How Book-man stands to write so many creepy articles while sitting in this thing is beyond me.

“Well, evidently the pixie was real, if we keep hearing about the prophecy.” Rose goes another shade paler.

Can ghosts—invisible zombies, whatever—actually get paler? Maybe there’s just something weird with the lighting in here.

I glance up at the ceiling. Nope. That seems normal.

Darn it all, now I’m seeing spots.

“Or this could be the ultimate episode of Punk’d,” I say. “Ooh, I hope Justin Bieber’s running this episode, so I can run him over with a bus!”

“You are absolutely hopeless.”

“Can someone please explain to me what’s going on?” Randy asks. He’s leaning against the far wall beside the door, pants pockets bulging with things he must have stolen while we’ve been talking, the kleptomaniac. His pale face is lax with boredom.

“Book-man, my dear fellow,” I say, “I’m afraid my colleague here has stolen all your paperclips. And possibly your butterfly clips, too.”

“You are a horrible roommate, Mary,” Randy says. “I was going to sell these for a week’s worth of fish and chips.”

“Where, on the office supply black market?”

“Don’t worry about the clips, they come free with the office,” Book-man says. He shrugs and Randy sticks out his tongue. I roll my eyes. “Now, Miss Rose, what is this about a prophecy?”

“Hey, why are you only addressing her?” I ask, leaning forward in his chair. “The dumb prophecy thing affects me just as much as it does the ghost-zombie-whatever!”

His tone is sharp as he says, “I thought Rose might actually give me an answer instead of leading me in circles the way you seem to enjoy to.”

I close my mouth, but I’m sure my eyes say enough for me.

You’re going down, Book-man. Dooown. What kind of a superhero is someone named Book-mananyway? I should have named you Scrooge McBook or something instead, you little—

            “The prophecy is how Mary and I met,” says Rose. “It was around Christmas when a pixie approached the two of us in a cemetery and told us we had to save the king of Norland.”

“Norland?” Book-man asks. He glances at Randy, apparently having forgotten that the kid can’t hear Rose.

“What?” Randy asks. “Am I supposed to know what that means? Is it a place near Surrey? I think I did a bank heist in a place called Norland before.” He stops. “Wait, no, that was Newfoundland. In Canada.”

“Not even Norway,” I mutter to myself. “He didn’t even get it confused with Norway. No, it’s Newfoundland of all places.”

“Norland is a place that’s neither here nor there,” Rose says. “It’s a magical place.”

“Sort of ethereal and annoying, you know,” I add helpfully.

“I was thinking more of the word intriguing, actually,” retorts Rose.

“Amazing,” says Book-man. “And the two of you have been prophesied to save this mystical country of Norland?”

“Unfortunately.”

“I was hoping Rose would respond.”

“Rose, what do you think of this quest for ethereal greatness?” I swivel the chair around to face her—but she’s not there. “Rose?” I do a 360 with the chair. Nowhere. Nowhere, nowhere, Rose is nowhere.

“Where is she?” Book-man asks.

“I don’t know!” I’m panicking now. I turn faster and faster in the chair, until I’m growing dizzy in my search of the teeny office. “Rose, Rose, Rose, where are you?” I stop. “Blast it all, invisible-zombie-ghost-pirates can’t just disappear whenever they feel like it, can they?!”

“The parchment,” Randy says. He rushes over from the wall and scours the desk, the floor, the ceiling. “It’s not here!”

Nowhere. Rose is nowhere, and so is the paper from the pixie.

“Rose, get your butt back here!” I shout at thin air. “I’m not done antagonizing you yet!”

Then I blink and I am nowhere too.

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