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Midnight on Strange Street
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 21, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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AVERY MILLER is looking for a fresh start, away from all the bomb sirens and talk of war in Los Angeles. She expects to find a haven in Callaway, Texas, where the cool new substance “glow” was first discovered. What she doesn’t count on is making friends with glowboard skaters Dani, Bastian, and Lola, AKA the Sardines?
Copyright © 2020 by K. E. Ormsbee
Cover art © 2020 by Violet Tobacco
Designed by Tyler Nevins
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
To Shelly Reed—
kindred spirit and friend through thick and thin
…a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.
—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
We are made of star-stuff.
—Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection
It was the last day of summer when the lights went out on Cedar Lane.
Life was utterly normal one moment, and then, at eight o’clock in the evening, on the twenty-first of September, the power left every house on the street. Ovens stopped cooking casseroles. Washing machines stopped cleaning muddied jeans. Televisions and computers zapped off. All of Cedar Lane went dark.
Then the blue light appeared.
As his fearful neighbors looked on, a man named Mr. Hernandez approached the light—which burned like a flame in the middle of the street, hovering above the asphalt without any visible source—and reached out to touch it. He let out a shout, running back to his wife and children to reveal the strange burns on his fingertips. They had a blue-silver sheen, and they bubbled long after Mr. Hernandez had made contact with the flame.
No one else dared approach the flame after that. Instead, all residents of Cedar Lane remained on their lawns, huddled together, watching the phenomenon in rapt horror. The flame did not expand. It did not diminish. It simply burned.
The local fire station was alerted. Firefighters arrived on Cedar Lane, their truck sirens shrieking, and quickly got to work. They aimed their hoses at the flame, releasing powerful blasts of water. But the blue light did not go out.
The neighborhood children were sent indoors, for what people kept saying was “safety’s sake,” though no one discussed what exactly “safety” entailed. The president of the homeowners’ association proposed that the electric company be called, while Mr. Hernandez suggested a consult with the local university’s physics department.
And while the neighbors were arguing, trying to figure out what to do next, an even stranger phenomenon occurred.
A little girl named Margot was the one who noticed it first. She’d been watching everything from her open bedroom window, when she shouted, “There it goes! It’s gone!”
The adults stopped their squabbling and looked.
Margot was right: The blue flame, source of all their excitement in the last hour, was no more. It was simply, inexplicably gone.
Then, in a startling whoosh, the electricity came back to Cedar Lane. The streetlights flickered on, one after another, as corresponding bungalows filled with electric warmth.
The neighbors checked their clocks and digiwatches. It was nine o’clock, on the nose. An hour exactly had passed since the blue light had appeared. Now it had vanished.
And it never returned.
Hours passed. Then hours became days, and the days turned into months, and those months tumbled into years.
Even so, the memory of the incident, as it came to be called, forever hung over Cedar Lane. Some people called it a curse—the Curse of Strange Street. The account of what had happened that day turned to legend, only fueled further by the fact that, within the weeks that followed the incident, every one of Cedar Lane’s residents moved away—some to retire to sunny beaches in Florida, others to accept jobs in another city or state.
And once they had left, their houses sat vacant for long stretches of time. Even when the houses were finally bought, their new owners rarely stuck around for long. People moved in, and people moved out, for over a decade of comings and goings. If you looked at the situation a certain way, you might say the houses were waiting—trying new owners, discarding them, waiting again—for the right inhabitants to show up.
For, though few people stuck around the neighborhood, two families had moved in and lived there for longer than anyone else, at numbers 23 and 27 Cedar Lane. If you asked either of these families, they would tell you that there was no silly curse on the street. People believed what they wanted to believe. As for the story about the blue light…well, that was closer to an urban legend. A tale from so very long ago.
Still, the houses on Strange Street waited.
“Cheap asking price for a charming bungalow like this,” the real estate agent told the two visitors. “And in such a prime location! It should be selling for twice as much.”
But Avery Miller and her mother, Ms. Rebecca Sills, weren’t going to protest the house’s price.
“It’s perfect,” said Avery’s mother as she looked over the kitchen for a third time. “That backsplash and the new appliances—it must’ve been recently remodeled.”
“Sure was,” said Janice the agent, proudly patting her blond pouf of hair as though she’d done the remodeling herself. “Lots of work done. I simply had to track down the man who laid this tile. Isn’t it exquisite? He ordered it all the way from St. Louis to…”
Avery had stopped listening to her mom’s conversation with Janice. There were better things to do with her time than learning about the origin of a certain kitchen tile.
“Mom,” she said when Janice had taken a breath. “I’m going to check out the backyard.”
“Oh, yes!” said Janice, with startling enthusiasm. “There’s a swing set out there, too. Though it’ll need new swings. Not in the best shape. Still! Bare bones, that’s something. I’ve always thought—”
Avery donned her sunglasses and went outside.
The swing set Janice had been so excited about was only some poorly nailed planks of wood, splintered and rotted through. Nothing like the house, with its brand-new stainless steel faucets and its all-over smell of fresh paint. Avery wished it were a working swing set, because she wanted a place to sit and read the book tucked under her arm—Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. Avery had been reading it in the car for an hour straight, and with only three chapters left, she was desperate to get to the end.
“Hey!” someone shouted.
Avery turned around.
“Hey! Over here!”
Avery turned again and this time saw a face peeking over the backyard fence.
“Hey,” Avery said back. She approached a girl with brown hair and eyes, wearing a neon-green tee. A sucker stick poked from the girl’s mouth. The candy clanked against her teeth as she spoke.
“You our new neighbor?” the girl asked.
“I probably am,” said Avery, though she knew it was more than probable. There were fires and sirens back in California. Her mother loved that kitchen. And the price—as Janice said, you couldn’t beat the price.
“Cool,” said the girl. “My name’s Dani Hirsch. I live at number twenty-three. You’ll be twenty-five. And my friends the Gils, they live right there. Your other side, twenty-seven.”
Dani pointed to a mint-colored bungalow with ocean-blue shutters. It looked like a gulp of freshwater against the blazing Texas sun.
“I’m Avery Miller,” said Avery. “We’re moving here from LA.”
“Whoa, no joke?”
“My dad worked there. Well, works there. He makes documentaries.”
“Oh wow,” said the girl named Dani. “That’s really cool.”
“No, it’s not. The bombings, you know.”
Dani nodded solemnly at that. Everyone knew about the bombings, and the war.
“Mom wanted to leave,” Avery went on, “but Dad didn’t. Callaway is where my mom grew up. I was born here, actually, but we moved when I was one. Anyway, they fought so much about moving back, they ended up getting a divorce. Mom and I are sort of starting over here.”
“Yikes,” said Dani. “Sorry for your loss.”
“It’s fine,” said Avery, though it wasn’t. “We get a new house, and my mom said I can have a dog.”
“Really?” Dani yanked the sucker from her mouth. “What kind?”
“Haven’t decided yet.”
“My parents won’t let me get one,” Dani said, adding a wistful sigh. “They don’t believe in pets. It’s the Hirsch Code.”
“What’s the Hirsch—?”
“So, did your mom come here for glow?”
Avery started at the girl’s interruption. Then, understanding, she said, “Mom’s in marketing, but not for Component G.”
Dani smirked. “How official. Nobody calls it Component G around here, though. That’s an insider tip: Call it ‘glow.’”
Before the move, Avery had known about Component G, of course. There had been some kids at her school with glowboards. But she hadn’t known all about its history until she’d read a book entitled Callaway: An Origin Story.
Decades ago, the government had sent out people to Callaway to investigate the appearance of a stark white substance, something between liquid and solid, and unlike any organic material the world had seen before. A rancher had first discovered the stuff in his well and, digging deeper, found a seemingly endless supply on his property.
The government had conducted tests and found that Component G was nontoxic and only a little practical. It wasn’t powerful enough for weapons or heavy machinery, but it was innovative enough to be a commercial sensation. Its presence gave rise to a bustling new city over the course of those fifty years: Callaway. That lucky ranch owner became a prosperous man, the first member of the Jensen family dynasty. Soon, he established Gloworks, Inc., a factory that produced small household appliances and, most notably, a line of remarkably popular glowboards. Over the years, there were more glow discoveries across the globe, but Callaway remained the only American source of the stuff, as well as the most abundant deposit. And as a result, Callaway thrived, drawing people like Avery’s mom to work and live there—even if it wasn’t for Component G itself.
“Glow,” Avery said, trying the word out. “Okay, sure.”
“There you go,” Dani said. “You’ll be talking like a local in no time. In fact—”
“Danielle!” called a woman’s voice.
“Crap. Gotta go.” Dani pointed to the sucker. “You never saw me with this.” Then she dropped the candy right there in the dirt and hopped out of sight.
“Bye,” Avery said, a little too late.
Alone again, Avery shuffled around the yard, toeing sagebrush and dirt mounds. In the end, she decided this backyard wasn’t a good place for reading—no trees that provided good shade, and no porch swing, like there had been in LA. Avery swallowed the scratch of homesickness in her throat. Maybe there wasn’t a porch swing here, but there was no Hollywood either, and that was a good thing, wasn’t it? Here, Avery wouldn’t have to take second best to her dad’s important job.
Avery’s eyes started to water. She sniffed loudly and stomped up the porch stairs.
Janice had finished her riveting story about tile, and now Avery’s mom was at the kitchen counter, signing an important-looking document.
“A real steal,” Janice was saying, looking on. “Lucky as two hawks with a carcass, that’s what y’all are.”
“Yes,” Ms. Sills said when the paper was signed. “We’re due some luck, aren’t we, Vee?”
“Hm,” said Avery, considering what the girl Dani had said: Sorry for your loss.
“I met a girl,” she said. “The next-door neighbor. She seemed nice.”
“Well, see! We’re already settling in.” Avery’s mother looked like she very much needed to believe the words she was saying.
Janice smiled and leaned in confidentially toward Ms. Sills. “I’ll be in touch, but between you and me, I foresee no trouble in closing the deal.”
Together, the three of them walked outside, onto the front porch.
“There is one thing I’d like to know,” said Janice as she locked the door. “How did you know the place was for sale? We haven’t listed it online yet, and”—Janice pointed to the red For Sale sign planted in the front lawn—“I was right in the middle of putting that up when you two arrived.”
Avery felt hot beneath her T-shirt. She shoved on her sunglasses to hide her eyes.
“Happy circumstance, I guess,” said Ms. Sills, placing her hands on Avery’s shoulders. “It was Vee’s suggestion we drive through the neighborhood.”
“Is that so?” Janice looked Avery up and down. “Well, happy circumstance, indeed.”
With that, Janice left for her shiny white car, placing a call on her cell phone and chatting all the way. Ms. Sills and Avery got into their old station wagon.
“A new start,” Ms. Sills told Avery, cranking the engine to life. “We’re going to be happy here, Vee. I can feel it.”
Avery looked through her pollen-caked window at the street sign marked Cedar Lane. She thought of the girl named Dani, who couldn’t own a dog, but seemed nice enough. Yes, Avery thought. She could be happy here. She could feel it, too—a burning sensation inside her chest that flickered like a flame.
The man in the navy suit looked out his window at the city—a tangled sprawl of marble and chrome, filled in equal parts by smog, businessmen, monuments, and elected officials. This place was nothing like his hometown of Callaway, a city filled with far more lawn chairs than lawyers. In moments like this, the man got homesick for Texas.
A voice floated into the room, and the man in the navy suit turned away from the rosy, dawn-struck cityscape.
“Yes?” he said as a short, owlish man approached him.
“The report you requested,” the man announced, handing over a folder he’d been holding close to his chest. “The readings are stronger than ever. It seems the DGE was right to focus its efforts in Callaway.”
“Very good. That will be all, Smith.”
The owlish man bent his head in acknowledgment. Then he shuffled out of the room.
The man in the navy suit opened the folder, removing the most important of its reports: Callaway’s glow activity reading, or GAR. A red-colored bar indicated all he’d been hoping for. With each passing month, the activity had been increasing. Now, according to the work of the government’s top scientists, the GAR had at last reached a level deemed worthy of investigation.
“Yes,” the man murmured. “I told them. I always knew.” Looking up, he called out, “Smith!”
The owlish man reappeared at the doorway, adjusting his glasses with fumbling agitation. “Y-yes?”
Once more, the man in the navy suit looked out over the nation’s capital. Soon, he would be leaving this sordid skyline behind. Soon, he would be going home.
“Get the department on the phone,” he told the man called Smith. “It’s time.”
Dani adjusted her helmet and kissed her elbow pads. This was her good-luck ritual before every race, and this race—the May Day Draft Train Bonanza—was more important than all the ones that had come before. This time, her team was going to win.
“Hey, ladies!” called an unpleasantly familiar voice. “Hope you’re not PMSing today!”
Mitchell Jensen, captain of the Grackles, was behind the spectator line with the rest of his team. He was also there with his dad, Carl Jensen, CEO of Gloworks, Inc., known around these parts as the King of Callaway.
So what, though? Dani thought. Mitchell’s dad might run the city, but this was a speed race, and Mr. Jensen’s money couldn’t buy his son time. This was about the Sardines and what they could do.
“He’s used that line before,” said Avery, putting her hands on her hips and shouting back, “Super original, Jensen!”
Dani smacked her friend’s shoulder. “Don’t engage, remember? That only makes him do it more.”
Avery shrugged, a little smile curling up her sunburned face. “He makes himself an easy target.”
Dani rolled her eyes. In a lineup of nine registered race teams, theirs was one of only two with any girl members. Hazard Hill was a sea of guy skaters, all slapping each other’s backs and calling each other “bro.” If anyone made for easy targets, it was the Sardines, a team composed primarily of girls, and the only one in the league with a girl captain: Dani.
“Mitchell’s a giant turd,” said Bastian Gil, the Sardines’ only boy member. “Just avoid the smell.”
“Bastian,” said Lola, tugging on her slider gloves. “Don’t be mean.”
Bastian tapped his twin sister’s daisy-printed helmet. “How many times has he given you crap for this?”
Lola’s mouth twisted.
“A lot of times,” Bastian answered for her. “He’s the enemy.”
“Pfrsh!” Lola blew out a puff of air. “It’s all in the way you look at things.”
“Thank you, Lola,” said Dani, “for those motivational words. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to add some of my own.”
The team huddled in a circle, placing their arms on each other’s shoulders and ducking their heads until their helmets touched.
“Okay,” said Dani, her heart beginning to pump with adrenaline. “We’re ready for this. We’ve done the work, we’ve put in the practice, and we’ve beaten our best time. Most days, it’s about the love of the sport. But today, it’s about beating that jerk and his stupid team.”
“Dani,” protested Lola, but Dani continued. This was her motivational speech.
“They’re the actual worst,” she said. “We can’t let them get first.”
“Hey.” Avery grinned. “You rhymed.”
“No interruptions!” said Dani. “If we—”
“Yeah, Avery, stop interrupting,” Bastian interrupted.
Dani gave all three of her teammates an irritated glare, but soon smiles cracked on every face, including her own. Dani guessed they wouldn’t be the Sardines if she could ever get through a pep talk in one go.
“If we concentrate,” she said, “and we listen to each other, and we focus on the goal, there’s no way we can lose. Today is our day. We’re gonna pulverize those Grackles. Are you with me?”
“Totally,” said Avery, putting a hand in the middle of their huddle.
“Yep,” said Bastian, adding his own.
“I guess,” sighed Lola, gingerly placing hers atop the others.
Dani topped the right-hand pileup and shouted, “Today’s our day!”
“Today’s our day!” the others echoed, throwing their hands in the air.
Dani tried to ignore the snickering at her back. Mitchell and his teammates had started a chant of their own: “Smelly sardines! Smelly sardines! Smellyyy sardines!”
“Hey,” said Avery, leaning in close to Dani. “You cool?”
Dani shook the sound of the taunting Grackles out of her ears. Who cared what they said? What mattered was what Dani did. She gave Avery a thumbs-up.
Dani didn’t have to ask Avery the same question. When it came to glowboarding, Avery Miller was always cool. She’d only been doing this for a year, but she was the second-strongest skater on the team. That’s why Dani had placed her at the back of the draft train. Avery had the best control, as well as a knack for knowing the precise right time to whip up and cross the finish line.
Dani, the strongest skater, led the train. She took the brunt of the draft, set the pace, and forged their path. There was nothing Dani liked better than the few windswept moments between start and finish, when she was zipping into that wall of wind, her teammates at her back.
Dani loved skating the hill individually, too—just her and her board, leaving behind an aftershock of glow in the hot night air. That kind of skating required different skills, like better balance and navigation. But there was something special about draft train, and not just because it was the only Junior Glowboarding League event that the Sardines were old enough to qualify for. No, there was magic in a draft train. Together, linked hand in hand, the members of the Sardines became something beyond themselves, something bigger. When they were skating in perfect rhythm, Dani swore she could hear three other hearts beating in time with her own. Drafting made them a team.
Draft train was all about seconds and fractions of seconds. The teams skated one at a time, their only challenger the clock as they raced to see who could speed down the hill and whip up their crosser the quickest. Teams had to remain connected—hand in hand—until the last moment, when the crosser broke ahead of the pack and skated over the finish line, securing their official race time.
Today, the Sardines were last in the race lineup, which was both the best and worst position. Best, because the team knew the exact race time they had to beat: two minutes, eighteen seconds, set by the Grackles. Worst, because everyone knew the exact time the Sardines had to beat. And everyone was watching. The pressure was on.
We’ve done better than 2:18, Dani reminded herself. At last week’s practice, the Sardines had managed 2:15. They were ready.
Dani switched on her glowboard, which hovered inches off the ground, and concentrated on its familiar hum. There were a few stutters and coughs as it started up—to be expected, with a beat-up secondhand. But the board hadn’t failed Dani yet, and it wouldn’t in this race, either. It couldn’t.
She crouched into position and tilted her chin up, focusing on the game official’s laser flag. That flag was synchronized with the timekeeper’s watch at the finish line.
Time. It was all about time.
“Mark!” the official shouted.
Dani’s muscles tensed, all taut rubber bands ready to be flung free, over the starting line.
Today was their day.
The official brought down the flag.
And Dani was off, pushing her left sneaker against the asphalt track. From here on out, there could be no more contact with the ground; the team had to let their boards, the track’s incline, and their formation do the rest of the work.
Dani’s form atop her board was perfect, her timing just right. Every afternoon, on school days and weekends alike, she’d practiced until each muscle was in place.
Dani gained speed, the asphalt flashing beneath the board. Time to link, she thought, and in that instant she felt pressure on her hands, which she had clasped at her back like a duck tail. The pressure turned to a grip, as Lola curled her fingers into Dani’s. Behind Lola, Bastian clasped his sister’s hand, and behind him, Avery completed the chain. Dani felt the change and accommodated, tipping her head at exactly the right angle to press through the oncoming air.
Now came the very best part of the race. Dani shut her eyes as the growing speed thrilled up her bones. She felt alive. Deep inside, right above her stomach, a concentrated heat pulsed like a blue-hot star, urging Dani on, whispering, Faster, faster.
- "Inventive and intriguing, Midnight on Strange Street is both a deliciously spooky mystery and an endearing story about friendship and bravery. An action-packed adventure from start to finish."—Ashley Herring Blake, author of Stonewall Honor Book Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World
- "Serves up adventure and intrigue in a near-future world.... Recommend it to sports lovers and fantasy readers alike."—Booklist
- "This title will hook readers with its sports action and the strength of the friendship between the main characters."—School Library Connection
- "The idea and execution of glowboarding is great fun."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Jan 21, 2020
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers