About the Author
BRUCE COVILLE is the author of over 100 books for children and young adults, including the international bestseller My Teacher is an Alien, the Unicorn Chronicles series, and the much-beloved Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. His work has appeared in a dozen languages and won children's choice awards in a dozen states. Before becoming a full time writer Bruce was a teacher, a toymaker, a magazine editor, a gravedigger, and a cookware salesman. He is also the creator of Full Cast Audio, an audiobook company devoted to producing full cast, unabridged recordings of material for family listening and has produced over a hundred audiobooks, directing and/or acting in most of them. Bruce lives in Syracuse, New York, with his wife, illustrator and author Katherine Coville. Visit his website at www.brucecoville.com.
Read an Excerpt
ONESwamp Thing Charlie Eggleston looked at the frog he held cupped in his hands. “Want to go home now?” he asked gently. The frog did not answer, which was not really a surprise. Charlie knelt and opened his hands anyway. The frog took three long leaps into Tucker’s Swamp, disappearing with a final plunk! under a mat of algae. Wiping his hands on his jeans, Charlie took a deep breath. He loved the smell of this place—loved everything about it, for that matter: the great willows with their drooping branches and trunks so big his arms could barely reach halfway around them; the familiar paths—sometimes a narrow strip of solid ground, sometimes no more than a string of squishy hummocks; the shallow pools filled with frogs and salamanders. Most of all he loved the sense of magic that hovered over the swamp, the feeling that something deep and strange here had resisted being civilized. A familiar lump of anger lodged itself halfway between his stomach and his throat. He couldn’t believe Mark Evans’s father was going to drain the swamp and turn it into an “industrial park.” He snorted at the words. People always accused him of lying, but the very phrase industrial park was a whopper that beat any he had ever told. How could a collection of factories be called a park? Glancing around, Charlie wondered if it was safe to leave the swamp yet. His mother would be angry if he didn’t get home soon. But if he left before Mark and his gang had given up waiting for him, he might never get home at all. The buzz of insects filled the air. A mosquito began drilling a hole in his neck. He slapped at it. When he brought his hand away the insect’s flimsy body lay crushed in his palm, its head and thread-thin legs extending from the small blot of Charlie’s own blood that marked where its abdomen had been. “Little vampire,” muttered Charlie, reminding himself that he didn’t actually love everything about the swamp. He turned to go, stirring up a small cloud of yellow butterflies as he pushed his way through a patch of ferns. A water snake slithered off the path and into a murky pool. Life seemed to pulse all around him, and the idea that someone was going to destroy the swamp made him sick all over again. That was why he had made up the story that got him in so much trouble with Mark today: to protect the swamp. Besides, he told himself, just because I don’t have the facts to prove it doesn’t mean what I said wasn’t true. I bet it really is. *** Charlie was dragging his bike from the brush pile where he had hidden it when a familiar voice sneered, “Well, look here—it’s Charlie Eggleston, king of the liars.” Charlie felt his stomach clench. If he didn’t get away fast, Mark and his cronies were apt to turn him into something resembling roadkill. Swinging onto his bike, he began to pedal. One of Mark’s friends appeared ahead of him. Charlie swerved to the right to avoid him but found his path blocked by another of Mark’s pals. “Get him!” cried Mark—rather unnecessarily, thought Charlie, since the gang was already working pretty hard at doing just that. Charlie spun his bike and headed straight for the swamp. Shouting and screaming, the others charged after him. Under normal circumstances they would probably have caught him. But with fear as his fuel, Charlie was able to outdistance them, if only by a few feet. At the edge of the swamp he cast aside his bike and plunged in, splashing through the murky water, not caring where the paths were, what he stepped in, whether he was going to ruin his sneakers. The terror was on him, and he had to get away. He could hear Mark and the others splashing in behind him but dared not glance back to see how close they were. Heart pounding, he raced through water that reached past his knees. He knew his mother would be furious when she saw his swamp-soaked pants, and even as he fled Mark’s vengeance some small part of his mind was inventing an alibi to offer when he got home. The voices began to fade behind him. Mark’s shouted “I’ll teach you to lie about my father, you snot-faced baby!” were the last words Charlie actually made out. He was gasping now, and the breath burned in his lungs. Looking around, he found he had entered a part of the swamp he had never seen before. He felt a little tingle of fear, until he realized that since he had abandoned all the regular paths he should be someplace new. Tucker’s Swamp wasn’t that big, so if he kept going he would have to find his way out sooner or later—though if it was later he would probably be in even more trouble at home for not showing up in time for supper. His father was big on having the whole family sit down together. He slogged on, hoping his favorite daydreams—the ones about weird creatures that lived in the swamp—were really only fantasies after all, and that he wouldn’t find anything too large or too strange before he made his way out again. *** The swamp turned out to be bigger than Charlie had realized. Even so, he didn’t start to panic until he noticed the sun getting low in the sky. The orange and pink that smeared the horizon were spectacular, but their awesome beauty announced a fast-approaching darkness, and he had no desire to be wading through the swamp once that darkness arrived. A flutter of wings made Charlie look up. Was it dark enough for bats to be out yet? He shivered, and moved on. Somewhere to his right he heard the hoot of an owl. When he turned to see if he could spot the bird, he noticed a strip of dry land. Maybe that will get me out of here! he thought eagerly. Filled with new hope, he squished toward it. The swarming mosquitoes were thicker now, and he was constantly slapping at his neck and arms. The evening chill had settled, and his wet legs were freezing. What a relief it was to see a glow of lights ahead! He began to hurry along the path. Another hundred yards brought him to the edge of the swamp. He crossed a grassy area, came to a road, and looked around expectantly. The chill that rippled through him this time had nothing to do with the dropping temperature. Where am I? He had been all the way around Tucker’s Swamp dozens of times and had no recollection of ever seeing this spot. Much as he dreaded what his parents would say, Charlie decided he had better call home to see if they would come and get him. That decision made, he set off along the road to his left, where the lights seemed closest, hoping to find a pay phone. Mist curled around his feet. Wisps of it rose before him like beckoning fingers. Charlie shuddered. Wishing he had not abandoned his bike, he began to walk faster. A moment later he found himself standing in front of a store he had never seen before. That wouldn’t have bothered him if the store had looked brand-new. But this store looked old—very old indeed—and that was a little frightening. Even so, the place was so fascinating that he couldn’t resist stepping up to look through its window. That window, divided into many small sections by thin strips of wood, curved out from the front of the store. Printed on the glass in old-fashioned lettering were the words: ELIVES’ MAGIC SUPPLIES S. H. ELIVES, PROP. A small bell tinkled overhead as he stepped inside. Charlie began to smile. The shop was filled—crammed, really—with great stuff. Chains of jewel-colored silk scarves draped gracefully from the ceiling. Every available surface—not just the tabletops and the countertops but the walls and most of the floor as well—was cluttered with magicians’ paraphernalia. To his right he saw a whole wallful of cages. Some held doves and rabbits—for pulling out of hats, he assumed. But the majority of the cages held a weird assortment of lizards, toads, snakes, bats, and spiders. Charlie wondered if this Elives guy collected them from the swamp, or if they were some kind of special animals. Straight ahead was a large wooden box for sawing people in half. Charlie chuckled. It would be fun to try that on Mark. Especially if it didn’t work. To his left was a glass display case that held—among other things—big decks of cards, Chinese rings, and little books that hinted at ancient secrets. At the far end of the case was a human skull labeled THE SKULL OF TRUTH. Cool, thought Charlie. At the back of the shop stretched a long counter made of dark wood. A wonderfully detailed dragon was carved into the front. On top of the counter sat an old-fashioned brass cash register. On top of the cash register sat a stuffed owl. At least, Charlie thought it was stuffed—until it turned toward him, blinked, then uttered a series of low hoots. Behind the counter was a doorway covered by a beaded curtain. From beyond that curtain came a voice that reminded Charlie of the wind whispering through the willow trees in the swamp. “Peace, Uwila. He can wait until I finish this spell.” “It’s all right!” shouted Charlie. “I’m in no hurry. I just—” His words were cut off by a small explosion at the back of the shop. A cloud of sour-smelling green smoke drifted through the beaded curtain, accompanied by some muttered cursing. “Do you need help?” called Charlie. “Don’t be silly! I’ll be out in a moment.” Charlie shrugged. He only had a dollar or two in his pocket—almost certainly not enough to buy anything here—so as far as he was concerned the longer the man took the better, since the odds were good that once he realized Charlie was just looking and not buying he would throw him out. A wet sound caught Charlie’s attention. He looked down and groaned. His chances of getting thrown out would be even higher if the shopkeeper noticed he was dripping swamp water all over the floor. Eager to distance himself from the small puddle that had formed beneath him, Charlie crossed to the glass display case. He found himself staring at the skull. Its lower jaw was missing, which somehow made it seem even spookier than it normally would have. It gave Charlie a delicious thrill to think this bony thing had once been inside the head of a living person. “Like that, do you?” asked a voice close to his ear. Charlie jumped again. Turning, he found himself face-to-face with a man no taller than himself, and so old that the wrinkles in his walnut-colored skin probably qualified as historic landmarks. He had dark, astonishing eyes and white hair that hung loosely about his shoulders. Charlie noticed a smudge of green above one bushy white eyebrow. “I said: ‘Like that?’” Charlie nodded. The old man—Mr. Elives, he supposed—gave him a sly grin. “Well, it’s not for sale. Now, what are you here for?” He asked the question in such an intense voice that Charlie hesitated before he said, “Do you have a phone I could use?” The old man shook his head. “I don’t have any use for such things.” “Not even a pay phone?” The old man narrowed his eyes. “You heard me the first time. Now, why have you come here? No one enters this shop by accident. No one comes here to use a pay phone. No one comes here just to ‘look around.’ What do you need, boy?” Charlie thought for a second. “Do you have a spell for getting rid of bullies?” “Not one that you can afford,” replied the old man, as if he really did have one. Charlie smiled. He appreciated that kind of answer—though he would have appreciated the spell even more. “Then I guess I don’t need anything. Though I might buy that skull if I could afford it. Can I take a closer look?” “Bend down and put your face to the glass. You’ll see everything you need to see.” Startled by the old man’s rudeness, Charlie was trying to decide whether to make some smart comment in response when another explosion rattled the back of the shop. “Fraxit,” muttered the old man. Moving faster than Charlie would have thought possible, he turned and hurried back through the beaded curtain. Charlie stood for a moment, wondering if he should follow the old man to see if he needed help. Finally he decided to stay put and do just as the shopkeeper had suggested instead. Kneeling, he pressed his face to the glass to take a closer look at the skull. A chill skittered down his spine. The dark eye sockets, so big they looked as though you could tuck a duck’s egg into each of them, seemed to stare directly into his. Charlie felt something stir inside him, and recognized it as a deep desire to possess the skull. Maybe he could use it the next time his mother got on him about the way he made up stories. When she moaned “Why can’t you tell the truth, Charlie?” (as she did nearly every day) he would hold up the skull and say, “This is the Skull of Truth. Do you want me to end up like him?” He smiled. That was a good idea. Pressing his face close to the glass again, he whispered, “Want to come home with me?” He jumped back with a shout as he felt a kind of buzzing in his brain. Charlie shook his head to clear it, then stared at the skull nervously. A second later he did something that astonished him. For though he lied constantly, Charlie Eggleston had never stolen anything in his life, had never even had the desire to do so. So it was almost as if someone else’s legs were carrying him behind the counter, someone else’s hands sliding open the unlocked wooden door, someone else’s fingers reaching into the glass case to lift the skull from the polished wooden base on which it was mounted. What am I doing? thought Charlie in horror, as he drew the grisly item from the case. His horror increased tenfold when he heard the rustle of beads that signaled the old man coming back. How could he possibly explain? He would be arrested for shoplifting! His heart pounding with panic, Charlie looked around wildly. He spotted a door at the side of the shop. Spurred by fear, he bolted for it, tore it open, and shot through into the darkness.
What People are Saying About This
"A fast-moving, rollicking, yet serious tale . . . Will keep youngsters thinking."School Library Journal
"This skillfully told, fast-paced fantasy ranges in mood from serious to scary, but it's always laced with humor."The Horn Book