Elliot and the Pixie PlotJennifer A. Nielsen
Copyright (c) 2011 by Jennifer A. Nielsen Cover and internal illustrations (c) Gideon Kendall Cover and internal design (c) 2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Series design by Gothamhaus Design
Cover images (c) Cloudniners/iStockphoto.com, Baloncici/Dreamstime.com, Afroto/Dreamstime.com Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems--except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews--without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Fax: (630) 961-2168
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.
Source of Production: Sheridan Books, Chelsea, Michigan, USA Date of Production: July 2011
Run Number: 14716
For Sierra, who amazes me every single day.
About the Author
About the Illustrator
An entire floor of St. Phobics Hospital for Really Scared Children has been set aside just for readers of this book. If you are about to begin reading, then you may wish to take a minute first and reserve yourself a bed there. St. Phobics Hospital is located right on the Strip in Las Vegas, one of the brightest places on earth. You may not understand why that's important now, but somewhere in chapter 18 you will.
As you read, you may begin to understand myctophobia (mic-to-fo-be-a), or the fear of darkness. However, do not expect this book to help you with arachibutyrophobia (a-rak-i-something-be-a), the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. There is no peanut butter in this book. Elliot's family is out of peanut butter and probably won't buy any for another month. Nor does this book deal in any way with zemmiphobia (just show the word to your teacher and she'll pronounce it for you), the fear of the great mole rat, although most readers will agree that great mole rats are pretty freaky.
If you can't get yourself to St. Phobics Hospital, then there are things you can do at home to protect yourself. First, get every lamp, flashlight, and lantern you can find, and drag them into your bedroom. Next, turn them all on. Not bright enough? Before we go any further, it is very important, no matter how afraid you are of the dark, that you never, ever light a fire in your bedroom to try to make it brighter. A fire won't give you that much more light, and it will probably burn your house down. A much better idea is to go to a baseball field and ask the owners if you can borrow all of their field lights for your bedroom. You'll need them until you're certain there is nothing in the dark that is going to try to kill you.
At least that's what Elliot wishes he had done.
Deep inside, even past his intestines and kidneys and all that yucky stuff, eleven-year-old Elliot Penster wondered if there was something different about him. Like, maybe he was really a magical half-breed or a young wizard.
Usually in these stories, when a kid wonders about things like that, it's because he's right; that's who he is.
But that's not who Elliot is. He can wonder about it until his face turns purple, but it won't matter. The fact is he's just a regular kid.
A kid who happens to be king of the Brownies.
The story of how Elliot became king of the Brownies is pretty good. Some people think it should be in a book or something. The book could be called Elliot and the Goblin War, and it would probably be terrific. As a strange coincidence, a book with exactly that title does exist. Maybe it was sitting on the shelf right beside this book. But if you haven't read it, don't worry. Neither has Elliot.
All that's important to know is that he did become the Brownie king. And although it would be nice to tell you more about that now, Elliot happens to be in a bit of trouble, which requires your immediate attention.
For Elliot is being chased. Hunted may be a better word, because the hunter is sly and tricky and finally has Elliot square in her sights. She watched for him all week, the way a hungry lion waits in the brush for the antelope to pass by. It stops at the edge of the water hole for a drink. The lion creeps forward, and BAMMO! The antelope is captured.
Now, don't worry. That didn't happen to Elliot, mostly because he never drinks from strange water holes, and there are no lions in his small town of Sprite's Hollow. But something was waiting for him to pass by. The hunter searched everywhere for him at school, sort of like the way your little brother searches your room when he knows you've got candy hidden in there. She looked for him beneath the slide on the playground and under his desk in the classroom. Rumor is she even went into the boys bathroom to search for him. She found Elliot's twin brothers in there, shooting spit wads onto the ceiling, but no Elliot.
Then, just when Elliot thought it was safe to come out of hiding and hurry home, the hunter spotted him. He only made it halfway home before she threw her weapon of choice, an old jump rope, around his legs and toppled him to the ground.
Elliot rolled onto his back and looked into the leering face of the scariest thing ever to cross his path--Goblins included. She was the curse of the entire fifth-grade class, the plague of Sprite's Hollow, and if the entire planet ever imploded inside a black hole, he knew that somehow she'd have caused it. The hunter, whose real name was Cambria Dawn Wortson, had found him at last.
She leaned over him with her hands on her hips. "Elliot, we have to talk."
"Later. For once, my sister isn't cooking tonight, so this might be my only chance to eat real food all month."
"Always thinking about yourself. Did you ever think that my grade is going to be ruined if we don't do our project?"
He hadn't. Elliot tried very hard never to think about anything related to Cambria Dawn Wortson. Everyone except her mother called her Cami. Elliot preferred his own nickname for her: Toadface. He had called her that once at lunch. She dumped her tray on his head and convinced the lunch lady it was an accident. Now he called her Cami too. Seemed like a good compromise.
She leaned even further over him, and he wondered how she kept her balance. In a bossy voice, she said, "Science fair projects are due next week. You didn't ask to be my partner, and I definitely didn't ask to be yours, but we're stuck with each other, so let's make the best of it, okay?"
As proof that the entire will of the universe was now focused on the single purpose of destroying Elliot's life, Cami had been assigned as his science project partner. Elliot thought back to when he had
nearly been scared to death by the Goblins. If he'd known then that he would have to do a whole science project with Cami, he might have let the Goblins finish the job.
Not really. But he definitely would've moved to a different country.
"Elliot, are you listening to me?"
He was now. The way Cami pronounced his name, the last part rhymed with "Scott." Whatever. Her name rhymed with "Fanny." Almost.
"I said, are you listening?"
"Sure." He began loosening the rope around his legs. "We have to do our science project."
She huffed. Being a toadface, it was no surprise her breath smelled like a toad's. Although to be fair, he'd never really smelled toad breath before, so it was really just his best guess.
"So do you have any ideas?" she asked.
Anti-girl spray? Probably best not to suggest that, so he shrugged. Something fast and easy. That was all he cared about.
Cami plunked down beside him and pulled a notebook out from her backpack. A pink pen was lodged in the middle of it, and she opened the notebook to that page, showing him a bunch of writing that was so girly. The dots over her i's were tiny hearts, for Pete's sake.
"Then we'll have to use my idea," she said. "I read on the Internet about a potion we can make that might turn things invisible."
Elliot snorted. That was close to the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. The actual stupidest thing was when Tubs Lawless, a boy who used to bully Elliot, had forgotten his own name. Cami gave Elliot a dirty look, then continued. "Anyway, my mom got us all the stuff, and I've already mixed it together, but she doesn't want to store it at our house in case it blows up. I figure your house already blew up once, so if it happens again it's probably not as big a deal. Okay?"
"Do I have to do anything but store it?"
"Well, it wouldn't kill you to stir it once in a while--unless stirring makes it blow up, in which case it really would kill you. My mom thinks it's probably safe just to keep it somewhere. It has to sit for a while before it can be tested. So what about it? Can I bring it over tomorrow morning?"
Tomorrow was a Saturday. Elliot had always liked the idea of never having to see Cami on the weekends, but for once in her life she was right. The project was due really soon, and if all he had to do was store it, then that didn't sound so bad.
"Fine," he said. "We'll try to turn something invisible. You can bring the potion over in the morning."
She jumped to her feet and offered him a hand up, which he ignored. She kicked her foot on the sidewalk a couple of times, then said, "By the way, I hear you finally stood up to Tubs."
"Oh, yeah." Tubs had bullied Elliot for as far back as either of them could remember. Tubs probably only remembered as far back as last week, but Elliot remembered his preschool years when Tubs used to tie Elliot to the merry-go-round with his blankie and start it spinning. After he won the Goblin war a few weeks ago, Elliot had told Tubs the bullying was going to stop. Tubs had pretty much left him alone since then. In fact, Tubs's parents had even asked if he could sleep over at Elliot's house tonight while they were out of town.
Proof that good deeds do get punished.
Cami shrugged. "Well, I thought it was really brave of you to do that. See you tomorrow!"
She skipped off down the sidewalk away from him, like the tricky hunter he knew she was. All of that being nice to him--it was just her game, her bait to draw him in. But it wouldn't work, because he was no ordinary kid. He was Elliot Penster, king of the Brownies. And he had to hurry home before his dinner was all gone.
"Pssst, Your Highness!"
Elliot jumped back on the sidewalk as his Brownie friend Mr. Willimaker motioned to him from behind a tree. "Oh, it's you. I wondered when I'd see you again."
Mr. Willimaker pressed his bushy gray eyebrows together. "It hasn't been that long, has it?"
"Just a few weeks, I guess--since the Brownies finished rebuilding my family's blown-up house."
Mr. Willimaker nodded as if he had no clue what Elliot was talking about. "Er, yes, naturally I know all about that story, so let's say nothing more of it. I've got to talk to you. It's an emergency."
Elliot sighed and tilted his head in the direction of his home. If he really concentrated, he could almost smell his mother's lasagna from here. And he had the sinking feeling that whatever Mr. Willimaker's emergency was, it meant Elliot might not get any of her delicious dinner.
"Okay," Elliot said, sighing. "Tell me your problem."
Elliot followed Mr. Willimaker deeper into the orchard where he'd been hiding. "If you can be invisible to other people, then why do we have to go so far away to talk?" Elliot asked.
Mr. Willimaker frowned. "I can talk, but you'll look pretty silly talking back to me. You can only talk to invisible people a few times before people start to wonder about you."
"People already wonder about me." Elliot noticed something new about his friend. "Hey, you've got a white patch of hair on the back of your head. When did that happen?"
"It's always been there. You just didn't notice it," Mr. Willimaker said.
Elliot was sure he would have noticed it, but it didn't seem important to push the matter. So he set his backpack down and knelt on the ground beside Mr. Willimaker. "So what's the problem? Are the Brownies okay?"
"Probably. But we need to talk about Grissel."
Elliot's eyes narrowed. "What about him?"
Elliot wasn't the type of kid to hold grudges, but it was hard to forget that as leader of the Goblins, Grissel had scared Elliot half to death and blown up his house. Elliot finally tricked the Goblins into ending the war and eating things for dinner other than the Brownies. All of the Goblins agreed and have lived quite happily with the Brownies ever since. All of the Goblins, that is, but one.
Their leader, Grissel, is cruel and calculating and entirely unpleasant, and that's when he's in a good mood. He is not in a good mood now. That's because in addition to having lost the war, Elliot also sentenced him to hard time in the Brownie prison.
Doing hard time with the Brownies means eating chocolate cake at every meal without frosting or even a glass of milk. You'd be entirely unpleasant too if you had to eat chocolate cake day after day while surrounded by a bunch of Brownies.
"What's the problem with Grissel?" Elliot asked.
Mr. Willimaker clasped his hands together. "It's, uh, just not working out with him. I feel--er, we Brownies feel it's time to release him. We're sure he'll return peacefully to Flog and never bother anyone again."
"Did he promise that?"
Mr. Willimaker's mouth, which he must have opened to speak, dropped a little wider. "I don't, er, think we need to worry about any promises. Just give the order to release him, Elliot, right here and now, and then he can go free and we'll all return to our happy lives."
Elliot scratched his chin. "Are you all right?"
"What? Yes, of course." Mr. Willimaker tilted his head. "Why do you ask? Don't I seem like my normal self?"
"You're acting really strange."
"Ah, well, this is just how I act when I want you to release a prisoner. You've never seen me act this way, because I've never asked you to release one before."
"Oh. Well, I'm not going to release Grissel."
"What?" Mr. Willimaker threw up his hands in disbelief. "Why not?"
"Because he'll just start eating the Brownies again. Until he promises to stop, he has to stay in jail."
Mr. Willimaker's face darkened. Normally, he was excessively polite, and his tidy gray hair and suit made him look like a gentleman. But something about him was different now, and Elliot was sure he heard an angry growl escape his lips. "But Your Highness," he said between clenched teeth. "If you knew how important this is."
Elliot sat flat on the ground and rested his arms across his legs. "What's going on, Mr. Willimaker?"
Mr. Willimaker's nose began to quiver. Not his entire face. Just the nose. For a brief second it popped out like a long, pink carrot, then he took a deep breath and it
flattened itself back to its regular button shape. He said, "I'm asking you for the last time, Your Highness, to release Grissel the Goblin."
Elliot stood. He placed his hands on his hips and then thought maybe that was too much like what Cami had done, so he put his hands to his side. "Who are you? Because you're not Mr. Willimaker."
The creature who was not Mr. Willimaker stared at Elliot with wide eyes while he searched for something to say. He stuttered out a few halfhearted protests, then finally leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He exhaled slowly, and as he did, the body of Mr. Willimaker dissolved, leaving in its place a small white goat.
Elliot stepped back, just to be cautious. Although he had figured whoever this was would give up trying to look like Mr. Willimaker, this was not what he had expected.
With black eyes, the goat looked up at Elliot, bleated loudly, then said, "Release Grissel or else!"
"Or else what?" Elliot asked. "What are you going to do, eat my shirt?"
Elliot sighed and picked up his backpack. "If this is the best you can do, then I've got to go."
The goat drew in a large breath of air that seemed to fill its entire body. It stretched and expanded until it was four feet taller than Elliot. The goat's thin white hair turned dark and wild (except for a small patch of white hair on the back of its head). Long, muscular legs formed, leading to a wide, hunched back and the face of a wolf.
With a growl, the creature said, "So you're not afraid of farm animals. What about a werewolf?"
Elliot wondered why the creature hadn't turned into a werewolf to begin with. Goats don't have fangs, or sharp claws. This was much more impressive. In a bad way.
Elliot tried to keep his voice from shaking as he said, "You won't hurt me. I'll bet you're not as bad as you say you are."
"I'll take that bet," the werewolf said. "And I'll win, because I am very bad. I'm like a triple scoop of evil with a cherry on top. A wicked, evil cherry that you'll probably choke on if you don't chew carefully before swallowing."
Elliot tilted his head. "Huh?"
The werewolf leaned in closer. "I'm so evil that my analogies don't even have to make sense. So I win the bet. Never trust anything that can change its shape."
Elliot shrugged. "In my world, the only thing I can think of that changes is a butterfly. It starts as a caterpillar, and then it changes to a butterfly. I trust butterflies. They'd never hurt me. I don't think you would either."