Edgar the Wise
Tick crouched on the floor of the hallway, panting for several minutes, exhausted and unable to move another inch. He kept looking at the crack under the bathroom door, sure the Tingle Wraith would follow him, but nothing came out. Mothball had told him the Wraiths couldn’t move very much once they were positioned and formed. Their weapon was the Death Siren.
He finally stood, his nerves and heart settling back to normalcy, filled with relief. Tick felt sure the creature had gone away. Shaking his head as he remembered the horrible feeling of running through the Wraith, he set off for home, knowing what he had to do.
It was time to have a little chat with Dad.
The next few hours seemed to take days. Tick did his best to act normal: showering to wash away the icky feel of the Tingle Wraith, joking around with Mom and Lisa, playing with Kayla, reading. When his dad finally came home from work, Tick wanted to take him up to his room right that minute and spill the whole story. He couldn’t do this alone anymore. He needed support, and Sofia was just too far away.
But Tick had to wait even longer because after dinner, Dad challenged Tick to a game of Scrabble, which he usually loved, but tonight seemed to drag on longer than ever before. To liven things up, he put down the word “kyoopy,” at which his dad had a fit, demanding a challenge. Tick held in a snicker as he lost the challenge and had to remove the word, losing his turn. He still won by forty-three points.
Finally, as they were cleaning up the game, Tick managed to casually ask his dad to come up to his room for a minute.
“What’s going on, son?” his dad asked, sitting on Tick’s bed, one leg folded up under the other. “You’ve been acting a little strange lately.”
Tick paused, running through the decision one last time in his head. This was it, no turning back. He couldn’t tell his dad about everything tonight and then say he was kidding tomorrow.
All or nothing, now or never.
He chose all and now.
“Dad, there’s a good reason I’ve been acting so crazy.” Tick leaned down and pulled his Journal of Curious Letters from underneath the bed where he’d stowed it away that morning. “Remember that letter I got a few weeks ago? The one from Alaska?”
“Yeah. Let me guess—it wasn’t from a nice Pen Pal buddy?”
“No, it was from a stranger, saying he was going to send me a bunch of clues in hopes I could figure out something important that could end up saving a bunch of people.” He paused, expecting his dad to say something, but he only got a blank look, ready to hear more. “I thought it was a joke at first, but then weird things started happening—like the Gnat Rat—and I started receiving the clues and I’ve met some very interesting people and I believe it’s true, Dad. I know it’s true.”
Tick expected a laugh, a chastisement, a lecture on not playing make-believe when you’re thirteen years old. But his heart lifted at his dad’s next words.
“Tell me everything, from the beginning.”
And Tick did.
It took thirty minutes, and Tick showed his dad every page and note of his journal, hiding nothing, repeating every word he could remember of his conversations with Mothball and Rutger. He told it all, and when he finished, he felt like three loads of concrete had been lifted from his chest.
His dad held the journal in his hands, staring at the front cover for a long minute. Tick waited anxiously, hoping with all his heart that his dad would believe him and offer help.
“Tick, you’re my son, and I love you more than anything in this world. This family is the only thing in the universe I give a crying hoot about and I’d do anything for any one of you guys. But I need some time to digest this, okay?”
“I’m going to take your journal. I’m going to study it tonight. And I’m going to think long and hard about everything you’ve told me. Tomorrow night, we’ll meet again right here in this very spot. And if anything weird or dangerous happens, you find me, you call me, whatever you have to do. Deal?”
“Deal. Just let me copy down the fourth clue so I can work on it while you have my book.”
When he was finished, the two hugged, his dad left the room, and Tick fell asleep with no problem at all.
The next night, Tick sat at his desk in the soft golden glow of his lamp, studying the fourth clue he’d scribbled on a piece of paper, waiting for his dad to come. Something about this riddle made him think it wasn’t as hard as it first seemed, and he read it again, thinking carefully about each word.
The place is for you to determine and can be in your hometown. I only ask that the name of the place begin with a letter coming after A and before Z but nowhere in between. You are allowed to have people there with you, as many as you like, as long as they are dead by the time you say the magic words. But, by the Wand, make sure that you are not dead, of course. That would truly throw a wrinkle into our plans.
Tick closed his eyes and thought.
It really came down to two hints: the letter the place begins with and the thing about dead people. The word that kept popping into his mind when he thought about the latter was cemetery. It matched the clue perfectly—a lot of people would be there and they’d all be dead. The way M.G. worded it made it sound like Tick would have to kill people or something, but he obviously didn’t mean that, it was just a clever twist of language. The place where he was supposed to go on May sixth had to be a cemetery.
And yet, what about the letter it begins with? After A and before Z, but nowhere in between . . .
Tick snapped back to reality and turned to see his dad standing in the doorway. “Hi, Dad.” He stood from his desk chair and went over to sit on the bed, in the same position as last night. A surge of anxiety swelled in his chest, hope and fear battling over his emotions as he awaited the verdict.
His dad joined him, a somber look on his face, his eyes staring at the Journal of Curious Letters gripped in both of his hands. “Tick, I’ve read through this a million times and thought about it all day.” He finally looked at his son.
“And you think I’m psycho.” Tick was amazed that at the same time he could both want and not want his dad to tell him what he thought of everything.
“No, not at all. I believe it. All of it.”
Tick couldn’t suppress the huge grin that shot across his face. “Really?”