Authors: Annie Auerbach
hummingbird flew quickly through the trees, its hurried sound breaking the calmness of the forest. The bird twisted and turned through the leaves and around the branches as it tried to escape the nasty grackle chasing it down.
Suddenly a louder sound could be heard. Something was breaking through the thick underbrush. Was it a bear? A wolf?
Noâscarier! It was a scientist! Armed with goggles, binoculars, and a backpack, Professor Bomba looked toward the bird fight above him. He could hear it, but he couldn't see it through the leafy branches. He pulled out a remote control and pushed a button.
At that moment, several tree-mounted, wireless cameras came to life, swinging in all directions. Bomba held his breath as he looked at the screen on his remote control. One of the cameras caught the fighting birds rushing past. Using the device, Bomba stumbled along the forest floor, following as best he could. He heard a single
, and then something fell through the branches.
Bomba rushed over and bent down, disheartened to see an injured hummingbird lying on the forest floor. He flipped down his goggles and adjusted them so he could see more clearly. To his fascination, Bomba spotted a tiny saddle on its back. Bomba felt sorry for the bird, but was also elated that he may have found proof of a civilization of tiny people. He had yet to see them, but he was convinced they were real.
In fact, they were close byÂ .Â .Â .
The grackle whirled around the high branches, hunting for prey. The rider aboard the shiny, black bird was only two inches high, but he was still a nasty piece of work called a Boggan. Boggans were brutish, bug-like creatures who wanted to take over the forest and ruin it.
An arrow shot from the Boggan's bow, speeding toward its target: one of the Jinn. The Jinn were human-looking creatures, also only two inches tall. Jinn had varied appearances and were able to camouflage themselves in the forest. Unlike the evil Boggans, the Jinn believed in the protection of the forest, not the destruction.
A group of special and brave Jinn soldiers called the Leafmen believed it was their duty to defend the forest against evil forces. They moved like samurai warriors and rode hummingbirds as if they were fighter jets. It was one of these Leafmen that was currently under attack from a Boggan. His name was Nod.
Wearing a helmet, armor, and carrying a sword, Nod ran along a thin branch when suddenly
! The Boggan arrow pierced the branch near Nod's heel. The arrow was poisonous. Instantly, a seeping wound formed at the impact point of the tree, and decay began to spread.
Nod looked up to see two more Boggans fly inâand another arrow, heading straight for him. Just before it made its mark, three hummingbirds swooped in. Leafmen were aboard them, primed for battle.
Ronin, the leader of the Leafmen, skillfully turned his bird upside down as he flew past. He cut the airborne Boggan arrow in two with his blade. Nod was safe once again!
Of course, this just made the Boggans angrier. But although they were dangerous, the Boggans lacked military precision and training. They dove and swarmed from random directions, firing arrows at Nod, all of them missing their mark.
Ronin flew alongside Nod. “Need a lift?”
“I don't need your help,” Nod said confidently.
“You're running out of branch there, buddy,” Ronin pointed out.
Nod shook his head. “I told you, I got this all worked outâ”
The Boggan's grackle suddenly veered over and snatched Nod in one of his talons!
elllllppppp!” shouted Nod.
In an instant, Ronin leaped onto the grackle. Dedicated and well respected, Ronin wouldn't think twice about putting his own life on the line for someone he cared about. He fought the Boggan rider, while Nod dangled below by one leg.
“Why aren't you with your group?” Ronin asked Nod, while still fighting the Boggan.
“I fly faster alone,” Nod replied. Carefree and sometimes reckless, Nod was all about having a good time.
“How do you not get this? You're not the only one on this team, you know,” said Ronin.
“So? Yell at one of them for a change!” suggested Nod.
Ronin lifted up his sword and blocked as the Boggan took a swipe at him. Then Ronin kicked the Boggan off the grackle, saving NodÂ .Â .Â . again.
“You know how important today is?” Ronin asked Nod. “Now get a bird and get back to Moonhaven or you're done. I'm not coming after you again.”
Nod folded his arms, still dangling from the grackle's talons. “You know what? I'll save you the trouble. I quit.”
Ronin took off, leaving Nod to find his own way down.
Meanwhile, seventeen-year-old Mary Katherine sat in the back of a cab. After years away, M.K. was
looking forward to her visit home to see her father. Eventually, the cab came to a stop in front of an old, dilapidated house.
“That's not a house, that's termites holding hands,” said the cab driver. After a moment, he quickly added, “No offense.”
“Don't worry, I'll be fine,” said M.K., getting out of the cab.
“Call if you need a quick getaway, kid,” said the driver and sped off.
M.K. stared at the house in front of her.
It was probably beautiful once
, she thought. But now paint peeled like sunburned skin, the house numbers had fallen off, and the rain gutters were so full of dirt that weeds sprouted out of them. M.K. sighed deeply, walked to the front door, and knocked. When there was no response, she gently pushed the door open.
If the outside of the house had been taken over by nature, the inside seemed to be taken over by a mad scientist with an affection for clutter. Every inch was crammed with scribbled notes, bell jars, scientific drawings, insect collections, and all kinds of homemade scientific gear.
M.K. glimpsed a small display case filled with sharpened twigs and nutshell fragments. They sort of looked like arrows and armor.
What on earthÂ .Â .Â .Â ?
Just then, Professor Bomba scurried past her, down the hall.
“Let me see,” he muttered to himself, not seeing M.K. at all. “Made of polished acorn shell and thin leather.”
M.K. followed him and found him at a microscope, placing something under it to view.
Bomba was startled. “Mary Katherine! You're here.”
“Yeah,” she replied as he enveloped her in a big hug.
“I didn't realize today was today,” he said.
M.K. grimaced. “It always is.”
“But here you are, so it must be,” continued Bomba. “Today, I mean. Makes sense.” He quickly changed the subject. “Let me look at you. You look just like your mother!”
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air as each of them thought of M.K.'s mother, who had passed away.
“There actually are a few things I want to talk to you about,” M.K. started to say, but she was interrupted by a sudden
“Ozzy! Look who's back!” Bomba said to the pug that scampered in. With three legs and one eye, the dog had seen better days.
M.K. was amazed. “Ozzy? He's still alive?”
Ozzy barked. Then sneezed. Then drooled.
“Well, most of him,” replied Bomba. “He may be down to three legs, but he'll make a break for it the first chance he gets.” He yelled into the dog's ear. “Ozzy, go say hi!”
“Here, boy,” M.K. called encouragingly.
Ozzy ran straightÂ .Â .Â . past her.
Bomba shrugged. “His depth perception's a little off, and he has a tendency to run in circles. But that was closer than usual. He remembers you!” He gestured for her to follow him up the stairs. “I have a little surprise for you.”
Bomba opened a bedroom door. “Here we are. Your old room!”
M.K. was almost speechless. The room was princess pink and perfect for a little girl, which she wasn't anymore.
“It's like I never left,” M.K. said, a bit horrified.
“All your things are here,” her father continued. “You've got your dolls, your pictures. .Â .Â .” He looked at her and finally realized that she wasn't a little girl anymore. “Well, it's good to have you home, Mary Katherine.”
“Actually, I go by âM.K.' now,” she said.
“Oh. M.K.? I like that,” said Bomba. “It's moreÂ .Â .Â . grown-up.”
At that moment, a beeping sound pierced the air.
“What's that?” asked M.K.
Bomba flipped a switch on his belt sensor to stop the beeping. “That was just one of my sensors,” he explained excitedly. “Today is actually a highly unusual day because there's both a full moon tonight and the summer solstice, which only coincide every hundred years or so.” Finally, he took a breath. “Well, you probably want some time to settle in. Make yourself at home, Mary, uh, M.K.”
Bomba walked out of the room, gently closing the door behind him. Then he tripped and tumbled down the stairs. “I'm okay!” he shouted.
M.K. sighed. She sat on the tiny bed, her knees almost hitting her chin. In every way, she didn't fit.
Coming home was the worst idea ever
, she thought to herself.