The Strange Case Of The Strange Case By Catarina Rodriguez Y

Copyright © 2013 Marieke Krootjes; all rights reserved. Published with permission.

Stuff I’m Not Supposed to Tell Anybody by Catarina Rodriguez y Osuna (age 11)

The new school year had only just started. My new school! The Carlos Cory School for Gifted Orphans. That’s right; everybody here is an orphan, just like me. And getting in is a gift indeed, this is a great place. The gardens are really big, and we are even supposed to ride horses and stuff. There are a lot of interesting things to be found in the gardens as well, and I’ve already found the vegetable garden, and I can use the kitchens if I clean up (of course I will, I’m not a baby!) and most kids and grown-ups are real friendly. I like to make them treats. I couldn’t help it that my pudding exploded that one time and I had to clean up the whole kitchen, and I found where the good knives were kept and then I rearranged the herbs to taste rather than to alphabet and I had to undo that, which is really stupid, ‘cause who places cardamom and camomile that close together, they are like totally different and you would never use them together and…

Okay, well, anyway, that’s stuff everybody should know. But there are also things no one is supposed to know, because it is secret. This is how it started, on September 21st:

Victoria, who is older than I am, but still younger than all the others, came running up to me. She’d caught a fish in the pond and wanted me to prepare it. But it was a green one, and they don’t taste very nice, so I told her to catch a silver one instead, and she did. Real quick too! Victoria is very nice and she is on the swimming team or something, so she is pretty strong as well. Also, she knows a lot about fine dining, and not many people here do, so it is nice if I can make her something. I was asking her how she would like to have the fish prepared and I made her cry, which was very bad of me. But I know of a place where you do get the fish while it is still alive and carve of pieces. I’m kind of glad she didn’t want that. I know I should experiment and I do, but eating something while it watches you do so sounds very nasty. Anyway, I was trying to comfort her and then I made a Ceviche with fresh limes and coriander and gave it to her. Wynona was there as well, she is older than Victoria and I, like 15 or so? So the three of us were standing there when Harryn walked up to us.

Harryn is like a grown-up or something, but he is still one of the kids as well. He’s already graduated, but he is still on the football team (and he works around the school-grounds and the stables). He is the quarterback, so he is really dreamy, all the girls say so. He is very nice and makes sure no one gets bullied, which is good. Also, he likes to eat a lot. Real food, as they would say in the orphanage, not the cuisine Victoria enjoys, but steak and stuff. So he walked over to us, and said there was an extraction that needed to be done and Victoria and Wynona and I should come along. Victoria seemed mostly surprised that Wynona and I were supposed to come as well, but Harryn said they needed to train new people. I didn’t know what an extraction was, but I heard that this group of kids do like special extra-curricular stuff and have adventures and I really don’t like to be left behind so I wanted to come with Victoria and Harryn. Wynona had some more questions, though. Then Harryn said some really frightening things. He said that way far back we were all related, like, not like all people all over the world are related, but closer by than that. All the people in this school! And some without as well, and some of them were evil and in some sort of group, like the Evil Society or so, except the word wasn’t evil, ‘cause who would call himself evil? Oh, no, it was like Eternal, or Eternity? Anyway, they should call themselves the Evil Society, ‘cause Harryn said that they had killed my parents! And I said, no, my parents died in a car crash, but he said yes, the ES had killed them. And I had to cry, and Wynona’s lip was trembling too, because her parents had died in a fire and Victoria was comforting us and scolding Harryn for telling us like that and that meant she knew it too, and that it was true and someone killed my parents! Because of some ancestor long ago! And Harryn said we should grab some stuff because we had to get going and Victoria said we had to get our backpacks so we could be fitted for a climbing harness, only we never got to that. But I did get my backpack and some food for everyone and some stuff to make more if needed, and then I thought about my parents some more and then I thought that I have a whole new family now, everybody in this school is my family! I don’t care if it is far back, we are all orphans, and now we’ve got each other. That, and I was really excited to go with the bigger kids.

Maybe she thinks we can’t hear her, but she says some rude things in Spanish.

Harryn drove one of the school vans (I told you he’s old!). There was another older boy as well, Dave, he’s 17 and all in black. Skye is 17 as well, she’s also nice, I met her when I was outside gathering herbs, she’s always outside, and she works with the horses. I’m really looking forward to learning how to ride. Wynona can ride real well, she’s from Montana and her parents had a lot of horses, that’s why. So with Victoria and Harryn and Skye and Wynona and Dave and me we were six. Skye said that what Harryn said was true, that we were all related (even though she didn’t know how I was related to them yet) and that the ES were all related to us as well (that sucks). Apparently all of us are special, and the ES thinks that makes us better than others and they want everyone who is like us to join them and if people don’t wanna, they kill them! So they killed our parents, and are waiting for us to grow to recruit us or kill us as well. Wynona was very upset, I didn’t want to think about all that, so I thought about how these guys were my family now, and that they didn’t leave me behind, but took me with them! Still, I was a bit freaked that Dave was carrying a shotgun. That just isn’t normal. I think I fell asleep then, at least, Victoria said so, since it seemed we drove through a tree and then we were at the sea and then there was like fields of grain and then we were at Monterey Bay and then it seemed like hardly any time had passed, but we were at LA and I was awake.

We got out of the van in the staff parking lot of some hotel. Harryn told us we are supposed to pick up a Dr and Mrs Strange, and their son, since they are related as well, and the ES is coming for them. The boys and Wynona go up by the staff stairs, but Victoria says kids are never stopped and so she takes me up via the reception. Skye follows us. I like Victoria and she seems to really know what she’s doing, but it’s kind of nice to have one of the bigger ones looking over us. But I don’t tell Victoria I think so, I don’t want her to think I’m a baby. We get to the room, but it is locked and nobody answers when we knock, and Victoria dashes off and returns with a key card. Wow!
We open the door and this horrible smell comes out, like eggs gone bad. Gross. No one is there. Before we can enter, a maid comes up to us and yanks the key card from Victoria’s hands. Maybe she thinks we can’t hear her, but she says some rude things in Spanish, about rich folks who think they can do anything and who’s going to clean up that room and stuff, and then she stomps off. We enter the room, and there is a strange circle on the floor. Salt, I know, ‘cause I tasted it. I smelt first! But every cook knows you should taste things. I don’t think the other girls saw, as they were in the bathroom. They said there was nothing there except toiletries and an empty salt tub, and that the smell was less there. They seem worried that someone seems to have stepped on the circle (not one of us, before I mean). Apart from standard hotel stuff there is only a suitcase. Then Victoria gets really agitated; there is a black limo outside. This somehow means the ES is here and we have to get out fast. Skye brings out a disposable camera and takes a picture of the circle and the room, and then we have to clean everything we touched quickly, as we hear the lift arrive. Victoria and Skye have a bit of an argument about whether to take the lift or the stairs, while dragging the suitcase (and me), but since they have it while taking the stairs, I guess Victoria won. Also, I am not permitted to take a peek at the ES. I just wanted to see what the evil people look like! We quickly go to the minivan and tell the others what happened. They say the limo won’t be able to follow us, since it now has a flat tire. Still, we drive off and find a big parking lot where we park way in the back among some trees.

Dr Strange does summon demons, but he follows a recipe when he does.

The suitcase is quickly opened while Dave calls the school. He sounds like he’s from TV or something as he practises his lines: “The package wasn’t delivered, there were some complications and we’re looking into it”. I do get slightly worried; earlier when I asked whether we were allowed to leave the school grounds, Harryn told me we were supposed to. Then why this secrecy? But Victoria says the secretary won’t know about this, and I guess the others know what they are doing, so….
The suitcase contains overnight clothing and toiletries for a man, a woman and a teenage boy. That’s ‘cause it’s Dr Strange, and Mrs Strange en their son, right? The other stuff is weirder, or stranger, haha. The other stuff is just weird: four solid silver candle sticks, a silver and glass crystal chalice, two boxes of candles, a book which the others call a grimoire by someone named John Dee, a piece of tailor’s chalk, a notebook with computer paper and phone numbers, tubes of crystalized resins of different kinds, an incense burner, charcoal blocks, an ornate silver dagger, a lump of very heavy rock (meteorite, they say), and a deck of cards with beautiful but strange 1930s Art Deco drawings, not the normal suits of cards. Dad would have liked that last one and my eyes linger on it for a bit. They are differently shaped from normal playing cards as well. Wonder what they’re for. The older kids say it’s all magic stuff, and not of a good kind. Magic is real, and there is good and bad kinds. I will try to remember that.

Wynona starts reading from the notebook. Skye reacts to one of the names mentioned. She says she has a brother named Neil Amster, who is in the ES. She’s never met him and he was born in 1924! Then she says her father died three times and I get excited, thinking that with all this magic and being special people we can get our parents to come back! But she means he faked his death three (or two, then?) times, since he was living so long.

Anyway, what with thinking that my parents may come back, and then hearing they won’t, and just smelling and tasting the resins for a bit (turns out to be incense) I can’t really follow everything Wynona is reading, but from what she says and how the others react I get the impression that Dr Strange is an evil demon-summoner who keeps a cleaning record. Also, he thinks other people are idiots, who don’t clean up and are ‘bastards’ (really, I didn’t think of that, he did) for also summoning demons. Apparently they should stop.
When we read it for a second time I understand better, I think. Dr Strange does summon demons, but he follows a recipe when he does. There are other people who use like ready-to-go products and think it will taste the same. Also, they don’t clean the kitchen when they are done, leaving their dirty dishes for the morning shift. That is not what it says at all, but it is what it really means. Dr Strange is a chef; the idiots buy TV-dinners.
Dr Strange contacted our school for his son, T.

There is a bunch of dates and phone-numbers and names. Three names: Neil Amster, Sarah Graham and Douglas Clark. They are the idiot-summoners. I mean they are idiots who summon demons, according to Dr Strange, not that they summon idiots. In fact, they summon all kinds of demons. There is HHW, who according to Dr Strange is a ‘nasty bugger’ (I’m sorry, that’s what it said!), and who once came after Dr Strange, but he send him back to the sender like one sends a bad meal back to the kitchen. Then there is a demon called XF. Also he names GHK, who is an avatar of time, and that might be why the dates are all in a wrong order and at one point cities are destroyed that aren’t really and stuff like that, and Dr Strange was killed but he wasn’t. GHK turned events back for 2 dozen cattle. But the worst is that there was also Pestilence, like, one of the four horsemen Abuelo told me about! From the Bible!
Other dates just talk about the three idiot-summoners, and where they went and for how long. We put all the dates in the normal order (I won’t write that down here, it’s really boring) and there is a pattern. They travel around, and sometimes they meet up. There are these special dates (Lammas night, the summer solstice), when they all go to Chicago. NA (that’s Skye’s brother) always comes three days, SG comes two days and DC comes just the day itself, and then they summon something evil and then within a few days Dr Strange gets attacked.

The spell will falter like a flat soufflé, right?

In two days, September 23d, it will be the Equinox. So they will probably go to Chicago to summon something bad! We decide to go there as well, and stop them. Victoria thinks Dr Strange summoned GHK, the time avatar, to keep the family save, and he might be frozen in time or something. I say we should give GHK some cows then, he seemed to like that according to the notes. I am not allowed to summon or feed demons, ever, not even to free the Stranges. Well, okay. We discuss the possibility that the idiot-summoners are part of the ES, since Neil Amster is, but we don’t really know.

We go to Chicago, and this time I didn’t sleep and I have never been to Chicago so quickly and so strangely. I think some of the other kids did something, but they don’t talk about it. Can they do magic? They do talk about someone called Fiona, but when I ask who she is, all they say is that she is scary.

When we are in Chicago, we go to a library. I think I can find out more about the cards, they would be something my father would have liked. As I thought, they are from the 1930s, it’s something called a tarot deck…. It’s very pretty, but I don’t understand it at all. I do find out who drew them: a man called Aleister Crowley. Dave knows the name (from an Ozzy song, he says); it’s a scary man, an evil wizard or something. Skye looks up Dr Dee, who is placed in the same section as Mr Crowley and was a wizard as well. Victoria, Wynona and I play with the cards, but we don’t know the rules, so after a while I get bored and look around the library some more. From the grimoire, and from what Skye finds about Dr Dee, you need all kinds of ingredients to do magic spells. I figure we should just change the ingredients in that case, and the spell will falter like a flat soufflé, right? Like when Dr Strange used salt, if we just exchange it for sugar (or mix some sugar through it), then maybe it wouldn’t work? The older ones think I’m silly, but Victoria thinks I should be prepared just in case.

The older kids think we should hire a PI for the phone numbers. Victoria gives Harryn and Dave some money and they go to find some people to look into it. I wanted to just call the numbers up, but apparently we shouldn’t. I still don’t know why.

We rent a crazy luxurious suite in the Sheraton Hotel, with its own kitchen no less! I can really cook for them all. Then there is something about the ES, and that they might wonder why we are here, since they can see that Victoria spend a lot of money here. So Victoria and I go shopping as a cover story. We go to a place where they put stuff on your face, like a nice smelling mud, and she books in a hairdresser, but then we don’t have time to go. And she wants to power-shop for/with books? And, and, and, we go to this amazing store that sells cooking gear for real chef and Victoria says I can buy whatever I want!!! There are knives, and pans, and rolling pins, and all kinds of equipment, and I buy and buy and buy and Victoria says it will all be delivered to the hotel, but I can’t bear to let go of some of it, so I carry it in my backpack (which is my dad’s old backpack, so it is really big), which gets rather heavy and clangy but I don’t mind! I have like this great cooks-knife, a new thing from the Global company which has been balanced and everything, and boning knives, and skinning knives, and a rolling pin, and a crème brûlée burner(which later on gets greeted with an enthusiastic ‘miniature welding machine!’, unfortunately I haven’t used it yet) and a frying pan and, well lots of stuff! When things quiet down, I will cook Victoria the best meal ever!
Also, we buy lots of ingredients, just basic stuff like flour and sugar and stuff, so I can make fake magic ingredients (which we didn’t use in the end), and we buy battery acid, to pour on the copper circle.

Oh, I didn’t tell about that yet. Dave has been leaving through the grimoire, which is in Latin, and picked up some stuff (apparently he is good with languages). To do magic, you need certain ingredients and circumstances. We figure out the idiot-summoners will go for something from the sixth level. To do this, you need three things (well, apart from the spell): clean silver sand, clear running water, and an intricate copper circle. So the plan is to melt the copper circle with the acid. I’m stubborn, though, so I bring extra sugar (to throw into the sand, so it won’t be clear anymore, with luck it will even attract ants) and a bottle of shampoo for the water. Anyway, we buy battery acid.

Dave is stupid, he says my pop-tarts don’t taste right.

Meanwhile, Harryn and Dave go visit several PI’s. Some phone numbers they recognize immediately: the airport, a taxi company, the Ritz and… the Sheraton! Apparently Neal Amster regularly stays in our hotel, and given that it’s only a few days to the Equinox, he’s probably already here! The PI’s tell the boys to return tomorrow for the other numbers.

We all get back together in the hotel to talk things over. Then Skye buys a stack of books to look up the mythical history of Chicago, to spot a likely place for Big Magic. I cook everybody dinner, and Dave is stupid, he says my pop-tarts don’t taste right. They don’t taste like that pre-made microwavable connerie is what he means! Tsk, he can’t appreciate good food if it comes up to him and introduces itself. Stupid boy. The others are happy, though, there is steak and fish (for Harryn and Victoria), and a salad with walnuts and other nuts (for Wynona and Skye), and I’m just happy using all my new gear!

After dinner Dave sneaks down to the reception to check if Neil Amster is here. And he is! All we can find out about him is that he’s called only one phone number, and it’s not on the list. We shouldn’t go to his room.

Then we all go to bed, except for Dave who reads through the grimoire some more.

The next morning (September 22th), over breakfast, Dave tells us the grimoire is hard to get through in one night. Unfortunately, the Equinox is tomorrow, so we have to work with what we know so far. He has found the names of the demons Dr Strange mentioned in the book, they are really unpronounceable! Also, the sand and water needed for the ritual should really occur naturally, and the proper place to do it is isolated.

Wynona brings out maps of Chicago and the area around it. She starts looking for places that have all the things needed for the ritual. She narrows it down to three possible places. Meanwhile, Skye brings out one of the blue crystals everyone but Wynona and me is wearing and starts moving it over the map. She’s trying to locate the circle, but she doesn’t have much to go on. The crystal keeps returning to Chicago, but that may be because we are here, and we have the book (which has a drawing of what the circle should look like), or that the idiot-summoners are here, and they may have the circle with them if it is detachable (we thing a copper circle would have gotten some attention over the years), but they still need a secluded spot with natural clean silver sand natural clear running water to do the ritual, so that can’t be in Chicago, really.

The boys check in with the PI before we leave, and the other phone numbers are mainly taxis, and one is of the Masonic Lodge. I’m not really sure what that is, but the others say it’s a red herring (yes, I know, not the edible kind), so we go with the van to visit the three places Skye found on the map. Unfortunately, none of them seem quite right. The first had dirty sand, and the water ran through concrete. The second was just all wrong. The third had no sand at all! We wasted the whole day and we are running out of clues!

The others say I shouldn’t have tasted it, ‘cause it could be dangerous.

For lack of anything better to do, we decide to break into the Masonic Hall, which has a two layer basement. Maybe they have a place to do a ritual? Skye en Victoria check the sewers, but that water is very not-clear (duh), and it’s also not an entrance to the building. So we have to wait until it’s really late, and then the boys will go in while we girls watch the entrance.
So, it was real late, okay. I don’t know. Victoria and I just fell asleep. I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one! I’m the baby of the group as it is, and they all said bringing my backpack was too heavy, and it was heavy, but not too, and I just wanted to bring my new stuff and some food for the wait, and I guess I just got tired!

When we wake up, we are all going in after all. Victoria gives me a blue crystal like they all have. Cool, like I’m really part of the group now. My new family! Also, the crystal doesn’t really taste like anything. The others say I shouldn’t have tasted it, ‘cause it could be dangerous. As if… I smelled first, and it wasn’t like I took a bite (lucky for my teeth it wasn’t!) and the others are wearing them against their skin; how big a chance that it would be poison? Really. Unlike the battery acid, that Skye poured in empty bottles and handed out.

So, we go in, but I’m slow because of my backpack and my wanting to be careful with the open bottle of acid. Then it becomes really scary. Apparently the idiot-summoners are in the basement, and they have a porta-fountain and brought in sand and they are summoning something! Dr Strange was so right! The recipe said ‘natural occurring’. This isn’t natural at all! But it looks like it worked anyway, because there is an actual big scary demon in the circle. It speaks, to, in English, which is good, so we can understand. It says: “I told you I would deal with them. Don’t worry about Strange anymore. Who are your friends?” It’s noticed us!

So, we want to stop the evil people and we fight. A really real fight. Skye tells us to put on the masks we brought and she drops teargas. Harryn is lobbing some kind of spiked balls. Everything happens real fast, I don’t really see what everybody is doing, but the idiot-summoners are surprised. Skye knocks over the fountain to stop the water, but the demon just giggles. The idiot-summoners yell that the Demon should take care of us, and they start shooting with real guns. I’m scared and don’t know what to do.

Victoria and I weren’t really in the fight, so we notice when Shadows seem to be gathering in the corners. Victoria draws me upstairs. Harryn takes Victoria’s bottle of acid and throws it at the circle, and Victoria and I grab the salt. I think we want to send the Demon away, but then the Shadows reach out, and Skye disappears! I can’t believe what is happening, but Victoria is still pulling me along and then we are somewhere else. We run, and with my free hand I hold my crystal and I think of Skye, but then I feel my hand slipping from Victoria’s and I see Dave and Wynona being grabbed by some sort of black tentacles and then the Shadows reach me…

I can’t really see, because Skye for some reason or another holds her hand before my eyes.

And suddenly all of us are in a 5 hotel room. At least as luxurious as the Sheraton was. We look out the window and we see the strangest view ever. The sky is half blue and half red and there is, well, a city, I guess. All different styles of buildings jammed in together. I mean, really different. Some parts seem to move. As do the people who walk around. Well, some walk. Some fly, some crawl, some shamble… and they are mostly demons. The window can’t be opened (which might not be a bad thing, considering), and the door is locked, too. Which makes this place a prison. The minibar is stuffed with chocolate and alcohol, the labels in an unreadable language Dave says he’s seen before. Victoria picks up the phone, but there is no room service.

The strange view from the window scares me, and I find a corner as far away from it and from the door as I can. I open up my backpack and start cooking. Cooking always calms me. For Harryn I make steak, and I still have some muffins that we better eat now. Even from where I sit, I can see the sky changing colour, and the buildings changing place.

Victoria picks up the phone again, and she gets the reception! She demands to speak to the manager, but ‘this is currently not possible’. Also, they will let us know how long it takes. Also, there are apparently no air miles in the fourth dimension.

The older kids start talking. They think the demon put us here, probably pre-arranged by Dr Strange. It is all a bit much for me; I just stay in my corner. There is a finger-plant, it’s looking very healthy. I stroke its leaves and… it hugs me back! The others are amazed, and I’m amazed that this is what surprises them, with all that’s gone on over the last couple of days. Whatever, it feels good that someone is holding me, not that I’m a baby or anything, but just… Anyway, the plant tells me there are often people in this room, often for a long time. Usually they die. Although, it has been a while. Not very comforting, and it doesn’t help that the plant tells me this in the same tone of voice that people use when they discuss how plants die. It also says it would like a bit more light, so I ask the bigger kids to help me move it closer to the window.

Then the door opens, and someone in black and white clothes comes in. He doesn’t speak, but he has food for us and he starts watering the plants. I take the food, of course, and mind my manners and say goodbye as we take the change to run out the door!

In the corridor we see more doors, and a painting with a topless woman in disarray. I can’t really see, because Skye for some reason or another holds her hand before my eyes. I recognise the style though, from daddy’s books. It’s a Van Klomp, I think. Wynona reaches for the door handle of the door next to it and again there is that feeling like we’re in a lift or something (Dave calls it special distortion) and even though we’re not moving, Wynona is suddenly gone! Then she appears again, and she says she was on the moon and jumped into a crater and then she was here again!

Victoria takes a closer look at the painting. Suddenly, she’s gone as well! When she returns, she says she was on a beach. She picked up a conch shell and then was back here. She and I try again; we touch the painting, and there is indeed a beach! The shell takes us back. According to the others, the blue crystals feel when we are in different Shadows. Or something. I do feel a pull, or a thingy, so I guess that’s what they mean.

They wear uniforms and they have six legs each, and mandibles, and machine guns!

Everybody starts poking around, to see if there are other things that can pull someone through. I keep watch and get nervous; I know we are trying to get home, but everybody is going off in different directions. I don’t want to be left behind, and I don’t want to leave anyone else behind either…

Skye walks through a glass panel and finds a stairwell. Victoria starts poking the walls. At the end of the corridor she disappears and it takes really long, so Skye goes after her. Then she comes back and Victoria is badly burned! Wynona starts crying, and Skye goes straight on through to the beach, to put Victoria in the water. That helps and they tell us that they were in a large, nice, sitting room, but then they found a world of fire. There is another door in the sitting room, and Harryn goes to try that one. He gets sucked through again and ends up in a library. Then we all go there. It is the hugest, enormousest library I’ve ever seen! So many books! There is a book about the ‘History of the Courts of Chaos’ in that strange language Dave sort of understands. From the windows, we see that same weird city. It sure is chaos there/here, so maybe this is where we are? Skye touches one of the windows, and is gone, again. When she doesn’t return after 10 seconds, Victoria follows her. Then we all go, again. There is an old-fashioned study, like on pictures when I was just a baby. When you click the lamp you go to a laboratory, all black and white, except for one red tile. There is a stool which can take us back to the study, but when Wynona stands on the red tile she is in the open air! The red tile leads to a hill, there is a bramble bush and on top of the hill are a tower and an apple tree. There is also a path, and there are soldiers on it! They wear uniforms and they have six legs each, and mandibles, and machine guns!

We quickly go back to the sitting room. There is a burning fire and there is discussion about going through that. I do it, and it leads to the library. The library has stairs going up, but then we are in the dunes at the beach. With the conch we’re in the corridor again. Skye goes back to the beach and touches the driftwood, which leads to a dining room with a window and a painting. Now we can see that there are soldiers on the beach as well. We start jumping into other places like crazy, finding some new ones as we go along. There are more soldiers around and we don’t want to go back to the hotel suite of death! We split up some, come together again, and there are soldiers everywhere until finally we are trapped at the Tor. As the soldiers approach, we hear a young woman call “Stop! This way!” We have to run, and I’m too short, and my backpack is too heavy and I just can’t keep up. Then Wynona picks me up and carries me as we run down the path. She’s really strong!
We arrive in a large hallway. The young woman, who is called Clara Smith, touches a tapestry, and then we are at some stables. From there we cross a courtyard, pass some iron doors and then we are out in the city. ‘People’ move past. Wynona keeps on carrying my backpack and I walk on my own again. We try not to draw attention.

As soon as we enter the room, we all spin around.

Clara takes us to a small in, and explains she is looking for her parents, John and Jane, who were captured by someone called Dara. Victoria describes the demon we saw back in Chicago, and Clara says it sounds a lot like Dara. She hasn’t seen any other normal people around here. She found one of her father’s books and read it aloud and then she was here. That was a year, maybe two, ago. Long enough to know a bit of the lay-out, anyway. She says we have to wait for things to quiet down again. We still need to find Dr Strange, and find a way home! Huh, the school is home, now. That’s weird.

Clara tells us she’s from Chicago. We tell her we just were there. Her parents disappeared a long time ago and when we try to figure out how long ago that was exactly, it turns out to have been in June 1956! 1956!!! That is really long ago, but Clara doesn’t look that old at all. Her father could cast spells, and she herself heals Victoria with magic. Magic! Real magic! This day keeps getting weirder. Clara has a sort of map (I’ve pasted it here1.) of the whole place, and I can see there is a kitchen, but I’m not allowed to go. To pass the time we practice Thari, which is the language here. When I want to cook, I don’t recognize any of the ingredients, but Clara helps me and we cook together and it turns out all right and then we all eat.

Later on, we all go in. Everybody is looking for stuff to take, but I’ll just stick to my backpack. We bring Clara’s map. So, we hop around a whole lot, and someone spots us from the courtyard and screams, so we hop around a bit faster. And then….. we are in a dungeon. Not a scary house one, a real one. There are all kinds of torture things on the walls. After Victoria tries tapping the torture stuff, we open the left door. As soon as we enter the room, we all spin around. We end up in a square room with a door in each wall. Victoria goes straight ahead, and comes back into the same room! Wynona makes a mark on the wall and keeps doing that. This is like a labyrinth of identical square rooms with four doors. We start marking the rooms with numbers. There are five rooms in total. We try walking through them real quick, and with the torture equipment, nothing happens. Oh, if you enter the right door, you just start in room 5, but otherwise it’s the same.

The people that are missing are supposed to be here somewhere, but for the longest time we’re just moving from room to room. We all know how to get through them now, but we can’t find the Strange family, or Clara’s parents. Then Dave opens a thing called an ‘iron maiden’. It looks really scary, but nothing happens. Then Victoria climbs in, and Dave closes it, and suddenly she’s gone! Good thing, because she would have been really hurt otherwise. We all follow, and end up in a now somewhat crowded cell. Except for us there are four adult people, a boy and a skeleton.

We free them all (except the skeleton), the Strange family, and Mr and Mrs Smith. We go quickly, through the dungeon, the stain, the lamp, the library, the stairs, the reception room, and then the door through the fire doesn’t work! All the jump-places stopped working!
And then Clara seems to be growing taller, and she gets tentacly hair, and Mr and Mrs Smith are changing shape, too! Clara is Dara! We’re trapped!

I can’t help it, I start crying.

Dara is very calm, and she does something, and there are dark tentacles, and then there is a settee. Dr Strange looks on, but Mrs Strange and the boy (Tommy), look as horrified as I am. Tentacly Dara holds like a speech. She says that she was seeing us as messing with her plans and she was wondering whether to kill us. The idiot-summoners didn’t catch her, they came to her attention. She calls them ‘power-mad idiots’. Now she wonders whether we could be useful. Her original plan was to take over the Shadow and use it as a resource space (well, she can use shadows, I saw her do it, so I guess she could take over all shadows. Would we be like Peter Pan, then?), the idiot-summoners gave her a foothold in the Shadow while they think they hold her captive.

Dr Strange says that she is no demon. That the others were, but she isn’t. Dara laughs.
She tells us that she wants us to be useful to her. I tell her I don’t want to be bad people. She wants to know who we are, and Skye tells her we’re distant relatives of Corwin. Dara says she doesn’t know him, but she tells us the idiot-summoners are more than human, like we are. Well, we don’t know who this Corwin is, either.

I can’t help it, I start crying. I don’t want her to kill my new family! Victoria comforts me. Then she starts bargaining. She asks Dara whether she would mind betraying the ES. Dara has no problem with that. I ask whether she would betray us. Dara answers that she is using the ES, as opposed to where we would have a deal.

Victoria says Dara would have a, a khalif? That Earth would become a protectorate of Dara, if we make a deal. I’m horrified, but Victoria explains that Dara could kill us easy, and then she would have Earth anyway. Well, yeah, but…

Dara tells us what the deal would be: we’d have to report to her, and do the occasional favour.
Harryn, Dave and I ask immediately what kind of favour that would be.
Dara says it wouldn’t be anything suicidal, or anything endangering our Shadow.
Harryn asks whether she would teach us, and I say I don’t want to endanger good people! She asks whether I mean I don’t want to assassinate anyone. Harryn says ‘not in cold blood’, but I don’t want to hurt people, not just not kill them! But I don’t get a chance to say that just yet.
Dara says she wants us to report anything interesting (the kind of things she would be interested in), especially anything about this Corwin, or about shadows, or about Chaosians. Victoria asks for access to the library. Dara says she’ll pay us with knowledge. And we would have to do jobs for her. It seems like everybody is agreeing to that, so I have to speak up even though I’m really scared. I say I do not want to kill people from our school. Dara says she won’t ask us to endanger anyone we don’t want harmed, or to kill our friends. She says that would be a silly thing to do. It seems we have to make a deal and I don’t dare ask for more, so I say okay as well. Everybody agrees, we can all live with this.
Dara says she thinks we can, too. And she thinks she can as well.
She turns to Dr Strange and says the ES won’t trouble him again. Also, we will take Tom to our school, even though he isn’t an orphan. He’s family. I have lots of family now.

Dara gives each of us a tarot card. It’s the Princess of Wands, and she looks just like Clara, or like Dara, I suppose. We can use the cards to contact her. Then there are tendrils of black again and suddenly we are back in the Masonic Lodge. Let’s hope we can get back to school without any trouble!

Rules I learned:

  • No looking at the ES
  • Summoning (and presumably magic in general) is much like cooking: you have to follow the recipe and clean up after yourself. No free-wheeling unless you really know what you are doing
  • No summoning demons
  • No feeding demons (except I did cook with Clara and she ate from it and then she turned out to be Dara and a demon, so I kinda broke this rule, but I didn’t know)
  • No calling up strange phone numbers just to hear what’s on the other end
  • No taking a look at the idiot-summoners rooms
  • No to the eating of Blue Crystals
  • No looking at paintings of half-naked women, even if they are art
  • No sitting in the deck chair, for you’ll end up on the moon and there is no air there
  • No going to the kitchen when soldiers are trying to find us
  • Losing your shadow is a bad thing.

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