Island of Silence (Unwanteds) (8 page)

Mr. Appleblossom’s eyes narrowed. A small smile played on Ms. Morning’s lips as she watched.

Crandall glanced at Prize, and then they both looked at Mr. Appleblossom. Just as Crandall pulled his arm back to take a swing, he jumped back in surprise. “Ouch!” he cried out, spinning around. “Ow!” He looked this way and that, his eyes wild, his hands swatting at his body.

Soon Crawledge Prize was hopping and exclaiming in pain as well.

Ms. Morning’s smile turned into a look of surprise, for she had not released a spell, and neither had Mr. Appleblossom as far as she could tell. As the two Wanteds gave up and ran for the gate, Ms. Morning spied the instigators, Cole Wicket and Meghan Ranger, who had been meeting on the lawn a short distance away, and now came running toward them.

“Are you all right?” Meghan asked.

Mr. Appleblossom watched the two governors’ sons until they were out of sight in Quill. He lifted his hand to his forehead and patted away any sweat that might have formed, though everyone suspected it was more of an act than a necessary gesture. “I’m well,” he said, finally turning to the students. “The ruffians have fled to Quill.” He turned to the Necessaries. “Now, you two friends are shaken quite, perhaps. A fizzy drink may calm you, if you will. Please, Claire? I must to class with these two chaps.”

Meghan raised an eyebrow at being called a chap, but she knew Mr. Appleblossom often overlooked minor details in his quest for perfect rhymes, and like most students, she was okay with it.

“Of course, Siggy,” Ms. Morning said. “Interesting choice of spells, Meghan. What did you use?”

“Oh, it wasn’t me,” Meghan said. “It was Cole’s quick thinking.”

Cole’s face turned red. “Fire ants,” he said. “It’ll wear off in fifteen minutes or so.”

“I doubt they’ll try that again,” Meghan said.

Ms. Morning nodded, but her face was troubled. “I’m glad it wasn’t a permanent spell, or we might be in for more than we wished for.” She led the Necessaries toward the mansion’s kitchen while Mr. Appleblossom, Cole, and Meghan headed for the tubes to the theater.


A Mostly Normal Day

n rare occasions Alex was late for class, and this was one of those times. While Cole sent fire ants upon ruffians, Alex scrubbed his face and tried to run a comb through his tangled wet hair, but gave up as Clive chided him from the living area of his room.

“Late,” Clive said every thirty seconds.

“Stuff it. I know.” Alex shoved his books and notebook into his backpack and searched frantically for his component vest. He was presenting a new spell today in Actors’ Studio so he needed it.


“Seriously, Clive!” he said through clenched teeth. “I am aware of that.”

Clive tilted his head. “What rhymes with Appleblossom?” he asked. “Not much. But I know what would be worse.”

Alex ignored him.

“Orangeblossom,” Clive said. He chuckled to himself. “Orangeblossom. Get it? Nothing rhymes with orange, so it would be . . .” Clive glanced at the clock in the corner of his screen. “Late,” he said again.

Alex found his component vest and slipped it on. He grabbed his backpack and stepped into the tube. “Bye,” he said sarcastically.

“Don’t die,” Clive said. He’d been saying that since the day of the battle with Quill, and since it had worked, Clive said it daily.

Alex didn’t mind. He knew that deep down Clive was rather fond of him, and while normally quite annoying, the blackboard generally did whatever he could for the boy.

A moment later Alex stepped from the tube into the theater, where Mr. Appleblossom was already addressing the class. Alex slid into a seat next to Meghan.

“Shush,” she said.

“I didn’t say anyth’” Alex said, but Meghan glared at him. He sighed and set his backpack on the floor in front of him, pulling out his notebook and a pencil as quietly as he could.

Mr. Appleblossom, blind to Alex’s lateness, waxed on. “In times like these I do despair this place, kerfuffles and commotion follow me. But one must hurly-burly through the race, for flicker, flap, and ruction ever be.”

Alex blinked. He raised an eyebrow at Meghan but dared not speak.

She scribbled in his notebook, “There was a skirmish on the lawn this morning.” She turned her attention back to the instructor.

Alex’s eyes widened. He scribbled back. “Who’s Flickerflap and Ruction?” He poked the corner of the notebook into Meghan’s leg to get her attention.

Meghan let out a frustrated breath and read the note. “Shh!” she said, and pushed it away.

Alex, who hadn’t said a word, wrote, “I AM NOT MAKING ANY NOISE, SO STOP SHUSHING ME!” He poked it into her leg again.

Meghan ignored him.

Alex gave up and listened as Mr. Appleblossom talked about their next production,
And Then Everyone Dies, The End
another Appleblossom original’a musical comedy this time based loosely on the Purge, which sounded . . . kind of weird. Samheed, leaning forward in his seat, was nearly drooling over the lead part already.

After the announcement came “spells” time, wherein a few students introduced their latest theater spells to Mr. Appleblossom and the class. A few were fairly useless, but Alex and Lani tended to offer a decent lot that were sometimes practical for everyday life in theater, and sometimes potentially lethal, should Artimé be forced to fight again.

Today Lani’s spell was a practical one. She said it was a seek spell, and explained that if an actor missed his cue and was unable to be found, Mr. Appleblossom only needed to touch something that the actor had created and say “seek” silently, and a ball of light would fetch the missing student. When the actor caught the ball of light it would explode, briefly displaying’like a picture’the created element that Mr. Appleblossom had touched. The wayward actor would then be able to decipher who was summoning, and simply follow the direction from whence the light came.

To demonstrate, Lani picked up one of Mr. Appleblossom’s older scripts that he’d lent her. She closed her eyes, imagined the silent verbal component, and a bright ball of light shot out directly from the script to Mr. Appleblossom. It hovered until the instructor reached out for it, and then it exploded, and a lighted picture of
The Astonishing Adventures of Breakfast and Pearflower
appeared in the air. It melted away a moment later.

Mr. Appleblossom applauded. “A silent, lighted spell is all the rage,” he cried out, “for it can be so dark behind the stage.”

Lani grinned and sat down.

Alex’s spell was a practical one, too, and not really one of his best, but he thought it would be quite popular in the right niche. He called it the prompter. It was a tiny intuitive earpiece that would whisper the words one needed when performing, in case of stage fright or confusion. “You only have to rehearse with it in place in your ear, and it will memorize the lines you say out loud, in the proper order. When you try to repeat the words later during a performance, it recognizes the context. If you get stuck, just touch the earpiece to signal that you need a prompt and it immediately whispers the next line into your ear.” He demonstrated and offered others a try. “I’ve only made one so far. It took a while, but now that I have it figured out, I can make more when I have time.”

“How very interesting, Mr. Stowe,” Mr. Appleblossom said, but he looked concerned. “As long as all the actors here realize that this is not a substitute, you know, for the old-fashioned way to memorize.” The little man tapped his foot threateningly.

“Of course, sir,” Alex said. “Actors wouldn’t be actors if they had to use it frequently. It’s only supposed to be used for the occasional emergency prompt. In fact,” he said, brightening up, “I think I can alter it so that if too many prompts are needed in a certain period of time, the earpiece shuts down.”

Mr. Appleblossom smiled. “I think that alteration will work well. Congratulations’it’s a brilliant spell.”

» » « «

After class the four friends met up and tubed to the dining room. “So what happened?” Alex asked once they got to a table with their food. “A fight? Who was fighting?”

Meghan spoke up. “Some Wanteds came by pretending to visit, so the girrinos let them in, but they were really here to, um,
their Necessaries to go back to Quill and work.”

“Why’d you say ‘encourage’ all weird?”

“Because it was more like force. They were going to shackle them.”

Alex’s face grew troubled. “Oh, no.”

Lani jumped in. “Mr. Appleblossom tried to settle it peacefully, but the Wanteds took a swipe at him, so Meghan and Cole totally sent them running with fire ant spells.” She grinned.

“That’s excellent,” Alex said. “Nice work, Meg.”

“It wasn’t me,” she said modestly. “It was Cole.”

Samheed rolled his eyes and muttered, “He’s lucky he didn’t miss and hit Mr. A.”

Meghan went on as if she hadn’t heard Samheed. “The Wanteds were really furious. Mr. Appleblossom told us that he thinks we’ll see more fights.” She sighed and tossed what was left of her roll back onto her plate. “I thought this was all over. I don’t want to do this war thing anymore.”

Alex bit his lip. He didn’t want to tell her what Mr. Today had said about the probability of that’he knew Meghan was still struggling to make sense of her family situation and she didn’t need more stuff to worry about. His thoughts turned back to his meeting with Mr. Today and he wondered whom Mr. Today would choose to be the future leader.

It looked as if he might need help sooner than anyone expected.


Born to Spy

kay, Mr. Broody Pants. Spill it,” Lani said to Alex as the four sat around a booth in the lounge one afternoon. Sean, who sometimes joined them for afternoon snacks, was nowhere to be found.

Samheed smirked. Meghan, swirling a mug of hot chocolate, tilted her head, puzzled.

“Spill what?” Alex looked crossly at her. “You always think you know things.”

Lani grinned. “Aha!” she said. “I do know things. I’d make a great spy. So what’s going on with you?” She slid toward him. “Tell us.”

“Yeah,” Meghan said. “I’ve been meaning to ask. What have you been talking to Mr. Today about? Is that what’s up?”

“Nothing’s up,” Alex said. “Stop bugging me.”

Samheed, watching all of this, crossed his arms over his chest and settled back in his seat as the girls stared Alex down. Alex flashed Samheed a helpless look, but Samheed just shrugged. “You’re on your own.”

Alex leaned back and let his head flop against the booth cushion. “Fine,” he said with a sigh. “Mr. Today wants to take a holiday and he needs somebody to . . . I don’t know. Sort of help Ms. Morning run the place, I guess.”

“Ooh, a holiday,” Meghan said dreamily. “Nobody ever does that! Where is there to go? I thought holidays were only in books.”

Lani’s lips parted in surprise. “So . . . he wants you?” she said softly.

“Well, he mentioned something like that, but I said no thanks.” Alex turned to Meghan. “He wants to go back to the island where he grew up.”

Samheed narrowed his eyes. “He wasn’t born here?”

“I guess not,” Alex said. He didn’t know how much Mr. Today would want him to say, so he remained vague.

“Why did you say no?” Lani’s eyes blazed.

Alex looked at her, surprised. “Because I’d be a terrible leader.”

“What?” Meghan exclaimed. “No you wouldn’t. Don’t be so thick.” She sat back on the seat. “Besides, this place practically runs itself by now, doesn’t it? And it’s just for a holiday. What’s that, a few weeks maybe?”

Alex scowled at the table and said nothing.

Lani stared at Alex. Meghan looked at Samheed and then back at Alex.

“Oh. So, not a few weeks,” Lani said. “Longer, then?”

Samheed leaned forward, elbows on the table. “All right, Stowe. What’s this really all about?”

Alex, feeling a headache coming on, pressed his fingers to his temples. “For some stupid reason, Mr. Today thought I would make a good future leader. A permanent one for after he . . . you know . . . gets too old. Like in ten years. So he wanted to start training me a bit at a time now so I can help Ms. Morning while he’s on his little holiday, and then slowly take over some other things because Ms. Morning doesn’t want the job permanently. But I said no, because I’d stink at it, so that’s that. Okay? Can we drop it?”

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