Witherwood Reform School

BOOK: Witherwood Reform School
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To you, the reader—good luck!





I wish I could tell you that life is made up of nothing but sunshine and kittens—how cute and warm that would be—but I've a feeling you already know that's not the case. You're clearly smart enough to understand that on certain days bad things happen. And by bad things, I don't mean stubbed toes or scraped elbows; I'm talking about things well worth fearing. Yes, fire can burn you, and poison may kill. But are you aware that sometimes great tragedy can come from something as simple as not holding your breath at the right time, or widening your eyes when the moment calls for them to be shut tight? I now know that whole histories can be changed, and lives can be burdened forever, by the simple misuse of a gravy boat. How do I know this? Well, let's just say I know the Eggers children, and I'm painfully aware of what they are going through. May you find more hope than abhorrence in their tale.

Yours in either case,

Obert Skye




Some prologues are just for show, bits of writing that come at the beginning of books directly before the good stuff. If you're like me, you might not care for them. You probably wish they'd just get to the story already, dive right into chapter one. I understand, but I want to assure you that this prologue is important—it's also not that long. And whereas I don't wish to be the kind of person who tells you what to do, I suggest you read it.

There is a very old desert not too far away from where you now sit, stand, lie, or lean. It's as wide as a great lake and as empty as the parking lot of a long-abandoned mall. If you squint hard enough, you can see purple-tinted mountains off to the west. No need to squint while looking the other direction, because all that's there is desert—dusty land that appears to simply run off into the horizon like a dry river that has no end and no beginning.

Thousands of years ago, something happened in this desert—something unusual. It began as a normal day, but as the afternoon descended, the once-clear sky became overcast. Gray clouds moved in, causing the sky to look like a thick soup filled with dark mushy potatoes and noodles of twisting sunshine. Those noodles reached down and poked bits of the land, where weeds grew in the fashion of unwanted hair on the earth's dusty back.

As the lonely desert lay blanketed in gray, an object deep in space hurtled toward the earth at a remarkable speed. Rodents and insects living on the soil looked up in surprise as the air filled with the sound of a massive meteor screaming toward them. The meteor broke through the earth's atmosphere, creating a boom that mimicked a billion sheets of glass shattering against a metal floor. The boom was followed by a whistle. Three seconds later, the meteorite smacked against the soil in the middle of the desert. It was no ordinary smack—it was the kind of smack that steals every bit of your breath and leaves you feeling sick and unsettled for weeks to come.

A massive ring of dust and smoke shot into the swirling sky. Dozens of birds collided in the air and fell to the earth. It was very dramatic and awesome, not in the sense of a cool new shirt or a particularly great song, but awesome like two planets colliding.

The ground settled, and the gray clouds above exhaled and spread out slowly. A light rain began to fall, and the desert calmed. For a moment things looked as they always had. The only difference was that where the meteorite had slammed down, there was now a wide, hissing hole in the earth.

The new hole gurgled and spit. It widened, and dirt shot out like a filthy fountain. The winds intensified, and the hole quickly began to suck the soil back down into itself.

The rain increased.

Rocks and dirt flew in from all directions, drawn to the buried meteorite. In a few moments, there was a mound of soil big enough to be called a hill. The mound burped, sending dirt up and out into the wet air like muddy vines. Waves of wet soil rolled across the desert, washing up against the hill and pushing it higher and higher. Boulders the size of cars tore loose from the ground and flew in.

The smaller waves of soil were followed by a tsunami of land from the east. It thundered in and engulfed the hill, packing the earth and quickly making it hundreds of feet higher. Soil twisted and rolled from the bottom to the top, giving the hill a surface as level as any respectable table. The soil still blowing fell to the earth with a great
And then the rain stopped.

The purple-tinted mountains in the distance had not moved, but the desert was no longer empty. Where there was once nothing, now there sat a towering mesa hundreds of feet high. It had three steep sides and a sloping back, and it stuck up from the flat land like a blocky thumb. The birds that had fallen to the ground shook it off and took to the sky once more, acting as if a meteorite had not just come to earth and created a lonely mesa that would remain empty for thousands of years. Until the day when some well-meaning travelers would discover it and one of them would have the bright idea to build a school on top of it.




Tobias Eggers looked at his sister, Charlotte, as they sat at the dinner table with their nanny. He breathed out slowly and nodded. It wasn't the kind of nod one civil grown-up would give another grown-up as they passed on the sidewalk. Nor was it the sort of nod you might use when someone asks if you would like a piece of cake. Nope, it was the kind of nod that only a mischievous child could execute. Charlotte nodded back, her hands shaking slightly.

Tobias patted the object hidden in the front pocket of his red hoodie. He reached up to the back of his head and squeezed a handful of his dark brown hair—a habit he had had ever since he was a little kid. The top of his hair stuck up slightly, and his shoulders were wide, making him appear much more athletic than he actually was. Tobias was smart and good with his hands. It was not unusual to find him taking apart locks and machines to see how they worked, or to find him with a pencil in hand drawing maps and making lists. If he had been making a list at the moment, item number one would have read
Get back at Martha.

Tobias glanced across the table and focused on their nanny. Martha Childress was a large woman who was currently groaning and mumbling as she shoveled food into her face. She had a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, and she was whirling potatoes and meat into her mouth like a buzz saw. She was wearing the same brown blouse and same boring blue skirt she always did. She was also wearing a plain white apron. It looked like the employee uniform of a store called Dull. Her sensible black shoes knocked against the legs of the table and made everyone's plate shake. Martha had been Tobias and Charlotte's part-time nanny for the last couple of months. As far as nannies went, she was awful, but as far as humans went, she was even worse—she was horrible, ghastly, evil, and as rotten as mayonnaise-soaked fish left out on a warm day. She yelled when it was normal to whisper, screamed when most people would just speak; she insulted everyone but their father. Recently, she had taken to shoving Charlotte around and issuing uncomfortable threats.

“I'm quite good at making things look like an accident!” Martha had told Tobias three days ago when she found dirty clothes on his bedroom floor.

Tobias had hoped she was joking, but yesterday Martha had almost pushed Charlotte down the stairs by “accident.” When Tobias told his father, he only instructed Tobias to be obedient and mind his elders. But Mr. Eggers had no idea how rotten an elder Martha was. And since his dad wouldn't listen, Tobias had decided to take matters into his own hands. He looked at Martha and Charlotte as they sat at the table and cleared his throat.

“No coughing,” Martha snapped. “This isn't a barn.”

“Sorry,” Tobias apologized. “Would you pass the gravy?”

Martha glared at him. “What?”

“The gravy.” Tobias pointed.

“Would you pass the gravy,
?” Martha corrected snidely. “It's a delinquent who asks for things without adding

“But you said I
a delinquent,” Tobias reminded her.

“Watch your tongue,” she chastised him.

“Right,” Tobias told her. “So, would you pass the gravy—

Martha pursed her thin lips and scratched at the three long hairs sticking out of her fat chin. She burped and picked up the white porcelain gravy boat.

“I'm tempted to just ignore your request,” Martha said, passing the gravy. “But I've been burdened with a caring heart, and I have a difficult time being harsh.”

Charlotte couldn't stop herself from laughing. She put her hand over her mouth to try and hide it.

“Excuse me,” Martha snapped. “Is there something funny?”

Charlotte Eggers was exactly one year younger than her twelve-year-old brother, Tobias, but her sense of humor was just as sharp. She and Tobias shared the same birthday, March 4—the only date on the calendar that was also a command. Charlotte possessed large brown eyes that resembled dark coins in deep white wells. Her hair was shoulder length and blond, and she was constantly brushing it forward to hide her small, slightly pointed ears. For an eleven-year-old, she appeared cheerful. She looked like the kind of kid who might be used in an ad to convince others that they needed to buy something cute. In reality, she was more suited to be the spokesperson for something tricky or complicated. Charlotte was more athletic than Tobias. Alone she was fairly reasonable, but with her brother, she was good-natured, pleasantly stubborn, highly mischievous, and brutally clever. As a team, they not only attracted trouble at every turn, but if for some reason trouble didn't show up, Charlotte and Tobias would usually track it down, wait for it to fall asleep, and then stick trouble's hand in warm water so it would wet itself.

BOOK: Witherwood Reform School
10.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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