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Authors: Ross Mackenzie

Zac and the Dream Stealers

BOOK: Zac and the Dream Stealers
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Zac Wonder sprinted through the forest, the carpet of frozen leaves crunching beneath his bare feet. Whatever was chasing him was gaining.

He leapt over a fallen branch and skidded to a halt at the edge of a deep ravine. There was no way across. He was trapped. The trees rustled, and he whirled around.

A tall figure in black stepped out into the moonlight. In place of a face was a gleaming silver skull. Its arms, encased in bone-shaped silver armor, were folded across its chest.

Zac felt panic rise in his throat as the terrifying apparition advanced toward him. Without thinking, he took a fatal step backward, and fell, tumbling into darkness . . .

He landed with a thud on the living-room floor.

“Another one, lad?”

Zac sat up with a start at the sound of his grand-mother's voice. Perched on her rocking chair by the fire, she was gazing at him over her newspaper.

He nodded, rubbing his eyes.

Another one
. Another bad dream.

“You all right?” she asked.

“I dreamt I was being chased by a skull and crossbones. How stupid is that?” he said, trying to sound casual, but his heart was racing.

She stared at him hard for a second, then turned back to her paper. Zac could have sworn her hands shook slightly.

He clambered clumsily back onto the couch and lay there, thinking. Tall and gangly for an eleven-year-old, Zac had large, awkward feet, crystal blue eyes, and a mop of messy brown hair that always tickled his forehead.

Tonight was the sixth time in a week he'd woken up shivering and afraid. These days it seemed to happen every time he went to sleep. And he wasn't alone. Every day the television news reported the spread of bad dreams. It was like an epidemic.

The world was changing. People were scared.

Zac cast a sideways glance at his grandmother. Granny Wonder was tiny and round, with a cloud of silver hair. She always kept two pairs of golden spectacles on a string of pearls around her neck — one for reading and the other for distance. Puffing away on her favorite pipe, she was squinting at the paper with such concentration it looked as though she were trying to read using the wrong glasses. Zac took a peek at the front page to find out what was so fascinating.
S
CARED TO
D
EATH!
screamed the headline:
N
IGHTMARES ON THE
I
NCREASE AS
C
RIME
W
AVE
B
ATTERS
B
RITAIN!

When she'd finished reading, Granny hissed through her teeth and tossed the paper into the fire, shaking her head. The pages wrinkled and blackened in the flames.

Granny had never been completely normal. She'd always whispered to the birds in her backyard and smoked that awful pipe. The other children were scared of her. They said she was a witch. A witch! Zac shook his head at the thought, and rubbed the ugly bruise under his eye — the latest result of defending Granny's honor at school. He didn't care how many black eyes he got, or that his classmates whispered when he walked past. He wouldn't swap Granny for a hundred friends. She was all he'd ever known. After Mum had died, and Dad had ditched him, Granny had given him everything. Even so, Zac couldn't deny she'd changed these past few weeks.

It had started around the same time as the reports about bad dreams began. She'd become extremely quiet, and though Zac would have been the first to admit Granny had never been a chatterbox, this was different. She'd barely said two words for weeks.

She'd also begun exercising. She only did it when she thought nobody was watching, of course, but Zac had caught her doing jumping jacks in the backyard twice that week. He'd even seen her trying one-armed push-ups.

Lastly, and most intriguing of all, Granny Wonder had been disappearing every single night at the stroke of midnight.

What was she
doing
?

Zac had made up his mind. Granny was up to something, and he was going to find out what.

Tonight.

As the grandfather clock in the hall struck midnight, Zac lay curled up in bed, doing his very best impersonation of someone who was fast asleep. A storm was building, and the wind rattled his bedroom window.

Creak.

That was Granny's door. She was right on time.

Zac heard her stop outside his room. The door opened a fraction. He closed his eyes tightly and concentrated on breathing slowly. He even threw in the occasional sleepy snort.

Creak.

The door closed again. Zac breathed a sigh of relief as Granny made her way downstairs. Then he leapt into action, throwing on his robe and slippers, and sneaking toward the door. He pressed his ear against the wood.

Silence.

Zac held his breath, reached down, and delicately turned the doorknob. The latch clicked open and he pulled the door gently inward.

The hallway was pitch-black; darkness clung to everything like tar. Zac shivered as he crept toward the stairs. The old house was
freezing
. It didn't help that his pajamas were two inches too short, which meant a chilly breeze was wafting up his pants legs.

He descended the stairs. It was a little easier to see here, because the glass on the front door let in a long sliver of orange light from the streetlamp. The kitchen was at the back of the house, so Zac tiptoed down the hall, carefully avoiding the creaky floorboards. A lifetime of sneaking downstairs for midnight snacks had taught him a useful lesson!

The kitchen was deserted. Zac crept to the window and looked out at the backyard. A blizzard was blowing with gusto; he could barely see the end of the garden. As he wiped the condensation from the glass, he caught a glimmer of movement. Yes, there it was again! Through the curtain of falling snow he could just make out a figure . . .

It was Granny, struggling with all her might against the wind.

Zac was dumbfounded. He blinked. Was he still asleep? What on earth was she doing out in a snowstorm in the middle of the night?

Transfixed, he watched Granny reach the frozen goldfish pond in the middle of the garden. She stopped at the edge and glanced around. Zac ducked out of sight. Seconds later he looked again, and what he saw made his hair stand on end.

Granny was jumping into the pond!

As she disappeared under the icy surface, Zac screamed in shock. He had to do something! He turned, ran straight into the kitchen table, ignored the flash of pain, and sprinted to the door. Tying the belt of his robe tightly, he threw himself out into the storm.

The bitter cold hit him immediately, wrapping an icy hand around his throat, squeezing the air from his lungs. On he charged, fighting against the stinging wind and snow. The wind howled in his ears and whipped great flakes of snow into his eyes.

Granny Wonder still hadn't emerged from the fishpond. Zac felt his heart thundering as he covered the final few steps to the water's edge. He half expected to find her lifeless body floating there, but there was nothing but a large hole in the thin layer of ice. Zac's mind raced. How could someone just disappear into a shallow fishpond? Shielding his eyes from the blizzard, he frantically looked around the garden. Where was she? He searched for footprints that might lead away from the water's edge, but there were none. Granny clearly hadn't climbed out.

“Follow her in.”

What was that? Zac spun a full circle. No one was there.

“Follow her in.”

Someone was whispering.

“Into the pond,”
the voice said again.

“No way!” yelped Zac — just as a powerful gust of wind knocked him from his feet. He sailed through the tumbling snowflakes, watching with horror as the icy surface of the pond drew nearer and nearer . . .

He braced himself for the sting of freezing water, but when he crashed through the ice, the pond was warm! It felt just like a relaxing bath. He trod water for a moment, listening to the wind, now a ghostly whisper, and the magnified sound of his own heartbeat. Granny's goldfish tried to nibble his fingers. Then, almost as though someone had pulled a plug at the bottom of the pond, he was sucked down . . .

Zac landed hard on a cold stone floor. As he lay on his back, trying to catch his breath, he realized not a bit of him was wet, even though he'd fallen into a fishpond. Things were getting
really
strange
now!

Above his head was the surface of the pond. It looked as though a layer of water was suspended in the air. Astonished, he realized he could still see the goldfish swimming in it, as if they didn't mind the gaping void beneath them. He could even see the swirling blizzard. It was like looking up through a liquid skylight. To one side of the suspended pond he spotted a rickety wooden ladder, which seemed to be the only way back to the surface. Useful — but first he needed to find Granny.

Turning, he realized he was at the entrance to some sort of stone chamber. Taking a breath, he crept in.

The air in the chamber was thick with dust, and smelt like snuffed candles. Enormous cobwebs sparkled like diamond necklaces by the light of a fire popping in the hearth. Books covered every inch of the walls. In the very center of the chamber stood a crumbling stone archway, leaning to one side as though it were tired as well as ancient. It looked very odd standing there on its own.

“Hello, lad.”

Zac's heart leapt, and he spun around to see Granny sitting in a comfortable armchair, peering at him over her golden glasses. On her lap she balanced a book so large her legs were entirely hidden.

“You're OK!” said Zac. “When I saw you jumping into that pond . . .”

“I'm fine,” she said apologetically. “I'm sorry if I scared you. I wasn't entirely sure you'd follow me through the ice, so I made the wind give you a little push. I hope you don't mind.”

Zac frowned. “You knew I was following? You wanted me to come here? Why? What's going on? What is this place?”

“Well now,” she said, “that's the million-dollar question, isn't it?” She heaved the enormous book up onto a chunky table, and leaned back in her armchair. “You'd better sit down,” she continued.

Zac flopped into the armchair next to her. His mind was spinning.

“I'm going to tell you something, lad,” she said, “something very important. In fact, it's the biggest secret there is to tell.”

BOOK: Zac and the Dream Stealers
3.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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