Authors: Lars Guignard
Twelve-year-old Zoe Guire just talked to an elephant. Well, technically speaking, the elephant talked to her, but either way it was weird, and as a rule, Zoe doesn't do weird. Except the thing is, when Zoe goes along on her mom's business trip to India, things get very weird, very quickly. Only hours after she arrives, Zoe finds herself tagging alongside a kid named Zak, totally lost in a crazy city, with no money and no way home.
And those are the least of Zoe's troubles. Because if she's to believe the scary-looking snake charmer guy sitting in the corner, she and Zak have been chosen -- chosen to protect some kind of mythical animal called the Ghost Leopard from who knows what. Now, Zoe is no fool. She knows that the average leopard lives in a zoo, she doesn't trust snake charmers, and she definitely doesn't believe in ghosts. What she does believe in is trying to get back home, which would be fine, if it weren't for Zak who seems intent on hiking into the mountains to give this whole Protecting-the-Ghost-Leopard-Thing a shot.
Now, the further they get into the mountains, the more crazily impossible things get. Carpets fly and statues talk and if either Zoe or Zak want to make it back to their parents, or the sixth grade, or anything even close to resembling normal, they're going to have to make some new friends, learn some new tricks, and listen, really listen to that talking elephant. Because if they don't, things will never be the same for any of us ever again.
For G & G -- Listen carefully.
You never know when adventure may knock . . .
The man walked backward through the blizzard. He was high in the mountains and the blowing snow stung his face and eyes, but the man didn’t seem to care. He carried a bow and arrow and looked almost ageless with his tight waxy skin and coal-black eyes. A roar filled the air and the man looked up. He readied an arrow and pulled back on his bow string, his gaze focused up the cliffside. At that moment, the full moon shone brightly through the snow revealing a monstrous, cat-like shadow.
The man took aim, treading a thin line backward along the cliff's edge, trying to get a bead on the shadow. As the man stepped backward, the shadow followed him. The man stepped backward again, and once again the shadow followed him. Then, without warning, the shadow covered the man in darkness. That’s when the strange part happened. The man’s face tightened even more, his skin stretching beyond the breaking point. His jaw lengthened, jutting outwards. Fangs flared where his teeth had once been and coarse wiry fur grew out across his face. Even his hands changed, yellow claws sprouting from his fingernails. But the most frightening part was his eyes. The man’s coal-black eyes glowed red.
The man, or creature, or whatever it was now, ran a rough black tongue over his lips. Then he took another step back along the cliffside. His foot searched for firm ground, but this time instead of snow his rear foot found ice. He wavered as his foot began to slide, trying to regain his balance, but it was no use. A gust of wind whipped across the mountainside. The man couldn’t stop himself. He tumbled back, over the edge of the cliff. He screamed into the wind as he fell, his cry cut short by a thud, and then there was no sound at all.
That’s when I woke up. The thud was the thud of my head on the side of the rickshaw. I’d been having weird dreams for a while now and I guess that one totally qualified. I’d never even been to the mountains, so I had no idea why I was dreaming about them. I yawned and tried to do a better job of staying awake.
My name is Zoe Guire. I’m twelve years old and at the time of this writing, almost finished the sixth grade. Right now, I’m just writing this down because everything that happened was so very strange that I have to say something about it. I don’t know if I’ll post it as a blog later or what. For now though, just consider this my diary. The stupid thing is, I hate to write. Really loathe it, as in, cannot stand to do it. But when something happens to you like what happened to me, you need to do something. And since there’s only one other person in the world, well let me correct that, since there’s only one other
person in the world, that I can actually say this stuff to, and he and I are already talked out, I decided to scribble this down, for his sake as well as mine — you’ve got to stay sane, you know.
So here goes. Where was I? In the little yellow and black auto-rickshaw, I think, coughing and sputtering my way through a sea of traffic. It was my first time in an auto-rickshaw and I thought it was pretty cool. In case you’ve never been in one, an auto-rickshaw is basically smaller than a car, but bigger than a bicycle, a sort of motorized tricycle that people ride around in like a taxi. Since it was my first trip to India, I had insisted that my mom and I ride in one of the cool three-wheelers instead of taking a more normal looking car from the airport. The flight from Washington had been long, but there hadn’t been that many people on it, so I’d been able to sprawl out the length of three seats and sleep. Still, obviously I was tired, because I’d been in India for less than half an hour and already I’d dozed off.
Like I said, I’m nearly done with the sixth grade. I guess I’m a bit of a tomboy, meaning I’m not super girly. It might be because I’m tall for my age and bigger than most of the boys I know that I’m like that, I don’t know. I have long legs and arms and my teeth are pretty straight, you know, given that half the kids my age wear braces. I’m fairly physically strong, like I play volleyball and stuff, so I don’t tire out easily or anything like that. My dark brown hair is wavy and long and my eyes are green, though sometimes they look a little blue. Kind of a strange combination, but I didn’t pick it, that’s just how I am. I guess I consider myself fairly outgoing. I mean, I have friends, but none of this stuff really matters, except to give you an idea of who I am. I also need to say right now that I consider myself to be a fairly calm person. That might not seem like a big deal, but trust me, I’m letting you know so that when things start to get really freaky later on, you might at least half believe me.
My mom works for the United State government in the State Department. Her job means she has to travel and lately she’s taken me on a couple of trips to foreign countries. This particular trip came up near the end of the school year and I had begged my mother to let me come. After some discussion, and since we probably wouldn’t be doing that much important stuff in class anyhow, my mother had agreed. It would be educational my mom had said. I thought it would also be fun, but my mom told me she would have to work everyday for the first few days, so I would have to promise to be on my best behavior. I suppose what I’m saying is that I knew going into this whole thing that there would be a lot of time at the beginning of the trip when I would be on my own.
But have you ever noticed that however much you think you know how something is going to turn out, it doesn’t turn out that way at all? Like not even close? This turned out to be one of those times. I thought I was going on a short trip for some quality time with my mom. Instead I ended up questioning every single thing I had been told in my life so far.
The trip to India had something to do with a World Economic Forum which basically meant, as far as I knew, a fancy meeting at a fancy hotel. But so far the India I had seen though the open doors of the rickshaw hadn’t been fancy at all. It had just been crazy traffic and a whole lot of people. Horns blared and exhaust smoke billowed into the sky while entire families rode by on tiny little scooters designed for one person. In the five seconds I’d been there, I could already tell that the place was going to be a crazy experience. Which brings me to the other thing that you need to know about me: I love to take pictures. I love to take pictures so much, that even though I was really tired, I snapped away with my camera for the whole rest of the ride from the airport. Pictures of ox carts and monkeys on the side of the road. Pictures of women walking with giant brass jugs of water on their heads. Pictures of cows on the streets rooting through piles of garbage. Pictures of everything.
The driver pulled off the main road and the screech of the engine died down enough that I could hear myself think. The yellow and black auto-rickshaw thingy had no doors or windows, just an open seat in the back under a little roof so it was pretty noisy and windy and it smelled like exhaust. When the rickshaw slowed and there was less breeze blowing over me, I could actually feel how hot and humid it was. It didn’t take long before I was drenched in sweat. I saw some women in purple and red saris, selling big round plates of what looked like candy or fruit on the street.
Saris are the long pieces of fabric that Indian woman wrap around themselves. They’re basically the traditional dress and I think the piece of fabric in the average sari is almost thirty feet long or something, so you can imagine how long it must take to put one on. The other random factoid that I know about saris is that they’re supposed to be mega dangerous to go swimming in because the fabric wraps up around your legs and doesn’t let you move. I know this and all kinds of other stuff about India because in the month before we came I read up on tons of it. I like to be prepared when I can and research stuff as much as possible. I guess I just feel better knowing what’s coming at me, which I suppose is why I was so totally unprepared to deal with what did come at me. I had no idea it was coming at all.
We turned off the side street and rolled through an enormous stone gate into a beautifully manicured garden. The place looked like a palace it was so fancy. I swear, almost immediately the blaring horns and exhaust and chaos were behind us. It was totally peaceful as we pulled up to the gleaming glass hotel. I shot a picture as we squeaked to a stop under the porte-cochere, which is the fancy French word for the roof thing out front of a hotel where the cars stop. I know some fancy French words from Madame Brossard’s French class back at school, but that’s not really the point. The point was, the difference between this peaceful tropical landscape and the blaring horns of the street was so extreme that I almost needed to take a minute to recalibrate. It was like we had stepped into a totally different country.