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Xander and the Dream Thief
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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 April 18, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Xander Miyamoto should be feeling great. It's the beginning of summer vacation, his mother has returned from a long absence, and he has learned that he is a warrior with special powers. Xander never would have guessed that the old Japanese folktale about Momotaro, the hero who sprang from a peach pit, was real, much less part of his own heritage.
But instead of reveling in his recent victory against the oni, monsters bent on creating chaos, Xander is feeling resentful. What took his mother so long to come back? Why does his father insist on ruining the summer with study and training? And why is Xander plagued by nightmares every night? Maybe this whole Momotaro thing is overrated.
Xander's grandmother gives him a special baku charm to use to chase his nightmares away. He just has to be careful not to rely on it too much. If he does, the baku will not only take his dreams, but those of everyone in the house, forever. Without dreams, there is no hope, no motivation, no imagination, no Momotaro. And then it would be far too easy for Ozuno, king of the oni, to wreak havoc. . . .
On his second quest, Xander explores new surreal landscapes, encounters more strange and dangerous creatures, and faces even higher stakes as he learns whether or not he has what it takes to be Momotaro.
Text copyright © 2017 by Margaret Dilloway
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Choong Yoon
Cover illustration © 2017 by Choong Yoon
Cover design by Joann Hill and Sammy Yuen
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.
For Keith, who makes all my dreams come true
“If you wish to control others, you must first control yourself.”
The Book of Five Rings, 1645
No matter how many hours pass, the right moment never comes. Is there ever a good time to interfere? the pale old man wonders. In the past, he was always so sure he was right. Now he doubts everything.
His stooped form hovers in the doorway of the sleeping boy’s room, not quite inside and not quite outside. His silvery shoulder blades stick into the hallway with its clusters of family photos; his transparent chest faces the hand-drawn pictures tacked to the boy’s walls; the rest of his body is squarely in the center of the hollow door. Such flimsy things, the old man muses. These doors could not block a licking flame, or even subdue a shout. He wishes he could tell his son, Akira, to replace them with solid wood. He sighs, thinking of all the things he wants to tell his only child but cannot.
The boy has been thrashing in his tangled sheets all night, and perspiration is making his silver hair stick to his scalp. It looks like strands of tinsel on a Christmas tree. Poor Xander. The pale old man inhales sharply. I could appear in his dreams, make things easier for my grandson.
No, the old man decides reluctantly. He mustn’t. Xander has to learn on his own how to deal with his new abilities, no matter how painful it may be to observe his struggles. The old man had treated Akira the same way. When, as a boy, Akira was beaten up by the local bullies, the old man had not stepped in. Instead, he had watched from inside their house, cringing at every blow to his helpless son, praying that Akira would summon his warrior strength. And then there were all those times he had forced Akira to practice his sword work over and over, never accepting less than perfection, even when his son had cried and begged to stop, even when his hands had blistered. The oni won’t care if you cry, he had told the boy. Blisters turn into calluses.
But maybe he’d been wrong about it all. Perhaps what his wife had said was true: he’d been too hard on his son—too gruff, too unbending. He should have shown him more kindness. Then Akira wouldn’t have moved to America, far away from the father he believed had the soul of a glacier. If only he knew, thought the old man, how much that had hurt me. His own heart had turned into a callus in the end.
He tightens his obi belt around his waist and adjusts his kimono collar, which had slipped down uncomfortably. You’d think that a ghost wouldn’t be bothered by things like clothing anymore.
The dog sleeping at Xander’s feet sighs and rolls over onto his back, his large golden paws splayed apart, his tongue flopping out of his mouth. Inu, wake up Xander! the old man thinks at him. One big dark eye opens halfway, unseeing, before the dog covers it with his leg. The old man can’t help but smile, remembering the feel of Inu’s great-great-grandfather’s soft curls under his fingertips.
Now Xander’s fists fly out at invisible opponents, flailing in the darkness. A strangled groan escapes his throat as beads of sweat pop out on his face. His grandfather wavers, disappearing into the fake wood paneling of the door for a moment. Forget it. He will help Xander. He can’t stand watching this struggle. He won’t make the same mistake he did with Akira.
He thinks of Ozuno, the head of the oni, monsters determined to kill the Momotaro and the entire human race. He envisions Ozuno’s mocking eyes trained on his only grandson. Xander must prepare, before it is too late….
Then he remembers how Xander won his first important battle, despite knowing little about his powers. His grandson has already demonstrated that he can be the greatest Momotaro ever, the one who may finally defeat Ozuno once and for all. His strength must be allowed to grow on its own.
Now isn’t the time. Later, perhaps, but not now.
Reluctantly, the old man backs away, through the door, into the stillness of the hall. He can’t watch this struggle anymore. He’ll go downstairs to check on his ancient wife.
But maybe there’s one thing he can do. The old man lifts a picture and lets it bang against the wall, waking the boy from his slumber.
My feet thud against the pine-needled forest floor. My arms feel rubbery; my toes are smashing against the ends of my red Converse. In the shivery mountain air, my breath mists into a cloud. My lungs burn, and I hack.
Welcome to Dad’s physical fitness day.
The golden sunlight streaming through the trees glitters with dust motes and gnats. It’s completely silent, unless you count my cough, which makes me sound like a howler monkey with the flu.
“Quiet! Your enemies will hear you. Don’t slow down!” my father shouts from someplace above me. “Move those toothpicks you call arms!”
“Trying,” I manage to squeak out. I’m getting light-headed, and my ears are buzzing. Then suddenly I’m lying facedown, as if I’d been shoved, though I didn’t feel anything on my back. My palms are on the ground, arms tensed into a push-up position. With my weak stomach muscles trembling from the effort, I try to keep my body stick-straight as I lower my chest to the imaginary tennis ball below. Farther, farther, farther, I will myself. If I don’t get low enough, the push-up doesn’t count, and Dad will make me start all over again.
Something heavy slams against my spine. “Extra weight.” Dad’s standing above me now. Is that his foot? This is a new torture. “Keep going. One hundred fifty.”
“But I’ve only ever done twenty.” My body quivers like a feather, then gives out. “I can’t.”
Dad’s foot drives my stomach straight into the ground. I can’t breathe. “I’m sick of your excuses!” He leans down, puts his face right next to mine. His breath reeks of old coffee and partially digested eggs. I wrinkle my nose, try not to gag.
“Get off me,” I pant.
“You need to learn, Xander!” Dad’s voice sounds almost…gleeful. Is he enjoying this? What’s wrong with him?
Anger roils up into my midsection like a great coiled python. “I don’t want to.”
“You will.” Dad releases the pressure, and I flip over.
I get unsteadily to my feet, feeling my lip curl into a sneer. If he’s going to be so mean, I’m not going to stick around. “I’m done. You can’t make me do this.” I turn to head for home.
“You’re not done until I say you’re done.” Dad digs his fingers into my shoulder. Ouch.
I turn, shove him without looking. “Leave me alone!”
My palm sinks into his flesh, which is as mushy as moldy bread. I gasp and look at my hand, expecting to see it covered with goop, but it’s clean. “What—?”
A voice comes from up above. “Xander, why don’t you ever listen to your father?”
I slowly lift my head toward the treetops.
Dad floats in the air as if lifted by invisible threads. His hair hangs in a silver curtain around his face, hiding it.
He’s floating because he has no feet.
“Dad?” My voice sounds like the peep of a baby chick.
He doesn’t answer, just swivels in a slow circle, up in the air. All casual, like this happens every day.
I have a fairly good suspicion that this most definitely is not my father.
Time to use my Momotaro power.
I take a step back and try to lapse into the relaxed half-dreaming state I need to be in for my powers to work. Disappear!
The wraith thing moves its hair enough for me to see a silver eye, the color of a tarnished knife, glaring out of its nothing face.
I wake up choking, like a goldfish too long out of its bowl. I try to orient myself.
I take a big breath and enjoy the oxygen. My alarm clock blinks 5:30 A.M. in big red letters. A whole half hour before I need to get up. Inu, my big Goldendoodle, snores at my feet, sounding like a rooting pig.
I breathe a deep sigh of pure relief.
I should’ve known it was a dream when Dad called my arms “toothpicks.” He’d never say something so mean in real life. I rub the sleep crust out of my blurry eyes, fluff my pillow, and flop around, trying to find a comfortable position. Let’s see…that makes nightmare number four tonight.
First I dreamed that I got held back in sixth grade—and Mr. Stedman, who won the Most Boring Teacher of the Year Award (a secret award given by me and my best friend, Peyton), was going to teach all my classes. I’d woken up so sweaty, I was afraid I’d wet the bed.
Then I dreamed that I’d failed as Momotaro, and everyone I loved had been killed by oni. I shudder thinking of that one. I’d woken with tears streaming down my face, scream-sobbing so loud that Dad had run in to see what was wrong. That’s when he told Inu to get on my bed and stay there.
The third I can’t recall. I just know it was a nightmare because I woke up thrashing, with Inu whining anxiously and licking my face to wake me.
Will I never have a good night’s sleep again? The nightmares have been bothering me ever since we got back from that island of monsters.
I can’t take any more of this baloney.
I sit up, my mouth feeling as sticky as a movie theater floor. My water glass is all the way across my room, on the desk.
I extend my hand toward the glass and envision it flying through the air.
Smack! I feel the cold glass hit my palm.
I smile as a small surge of victory goes through me. At least I can still do this, make things happen with my imagination. I gulp down the water and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, trying not to feel guilty.
Dad told me not to go around using my powers all the time. “There’s a cost to our magic, Xander,” he had said. “For me, it’s terrible headaches—something like the flu. For you, we’re not sure yet.”
I’ve been doing stuff like this for the past two months, ever since I found out I’m the Momotaro. Once, I thought Momotaro was only a Japanese legend, about a boy warrior who fought the oni, the monsters responsible for all the bad things—wars, natural disasters—that go on in the human world. But when the oni took my father, I suddenly discovered that Momotaro wasn’t a legend after all.
Momotaro is me.
And my father before me, and my grandfather before that, and so on and so on, going all the way back to the original peach boy (yes, that’s what his name means—the warrior was found inside a giant peach). And every Momotaro basically had the same kind of powers, until I came along.
I’m different. I’m half-Japanese and half-Irish, and my father isn’t quite sure how this will affect me. Hopefully, it’ll all be for the better. Dad acts like I might accidentally cause the house to explode, but I control my powers with my imagination, and my imagination is always under control. So I’m perfectly fine. Better than fine, in fact. I’m like Xander 2.0, the beta version. I’m super-booted, and all my bugs have been fixed.
I just don’t let Dad see me doing it. It’s easier this way.
Besides, how am I ever going to find out what all my powers are like if I never get to use them? Nobody knows when the oni will try something again. And if I’m not ready, maybe next time I won’t be able to defeat them.
The way I won last time was just plain dumb luck. Me fumbling around, trying to figure out my new abilities. Plus, I had the help of my friends: Jinx, Peyton, and Inu.
What I haven’t told my father, or anyone, is how really, really not heroic I feel about the possibility of tangling with the oni again. Battling monsters from the underworld or wherever isn’t as much fun as it seems in the movies. Part of me wants to just hide in this bedroom forever so I don’t have to deal with any of it. I wonder how easy it would be to build a fortress around this house.
I glance at the clock again, then decide it’s not worth going back to sleep. This morning, we’re going to actually do the mountain training I was failing in my dream. Hopefully, Dad won’t turn into a drill-sergeant-wraith in the middle of it, though.
I free my legs from the tangled sheets. We’ve been getting up early to do some form of training every day since school let out for the summer two weeks ago. We do physical activity in the morning, while the weather’s still cool. In the afternoons, we sit around in my un-air-conditioned house, sweatily reading ultra-boring books written by samurai who lived six hundred years ago.
We won’t get to the good part—sword training—until the middle of July. I sigh noisily. Longest. Summer. Ever. And not in a good way. Maybe I wouldn’t be having so many nightmares if I were having some actual fun.
Inu opens one large brown eye and chuffs at me like a tiger.
“Wanna get up, buddy?” I swing my legs out of bed.
He shuts his eye and grunts ruefully.
No doubt Inu’s tired from my waking him multiple times in the night. He probably thinks I’m crazy for not staying in bed. But the sweet, delicious, greasy-salty scent of bacon is wafting up the stairs. I can hear it sizzling in the pan down in the kitchen. My stomach rumbles. Maybe my nightmares just didn’t want me to miss the yumminess.
I hold on to that thought and hop out of bed. Inu yawns loudly, and then, his nails clattering on the hardwood, he slowly follows me downstairs.
My mother stands in front of the stove, using the cast-iron skillet that’s older than my father and me put together. She shrieks and dances back as hot bacon grease spatters. “Ack! I should’ve worn my welding mask,” she says. A chipper smile flashes in my direction, but I don’t return it. Inu sits down next to her to watch the bacon as intently as a cat watches a bird.
“Time to do your business, Inu.” I open the back door, temporarily sweeping aside the dried beans that line the doorway. The beans, called “fuku mame,” are supposed to keep out the oni. In some places in Japan, people still participate in bean-throwing festivals. To them, it’s just an ancient tradition. To my family, the beans are the real thing. Anyone who visits us wonders why we have them all over our floors. It’s a good thing we’re practically hermits.
Dad says the fuku mame are a kind of insurance, to buy us a little time. They wouldn’t protect us from an army of oni camped outside the house, but they’re better than nothing.
Inu ignores me. I sit in a tattered lawn chair that has seen better days. When two people were suddenly added to our family, we had to call our outside chairs into service in the kitchen. I slap my thigh. “Come here, Inu. Stop begging.” But he just sort of nods his big golden curly head and continues to watch my mother. There’s no distracting him when it comes to bacon.
“You’re up early, mo chroí.” This is Irish for my heart. You don’t even want to know what she calls my father. “How did you sleep? Better, I hope.” My mother, her wild red hair tamed by a blue bandanna, wearing oversize sweats and one of my father’s old T-shirts, swivels to smile radiantly at me again. The sapphire wedding ring that my dad saved for her glints on her finger.
“I slept okay,” I lie, not wanting her to fly into her oh-my-love-I’m-so-worried-about-you mode. You know how mothers are—you tell them ONE THING and then they make such a fuss that you wish you’d kept your big mouth shut. I trace a scar on the table from a hot-glue-gun project gone wrong.
I’m still not used to thinking that word. To seeing her in our kitchen, cooking breakfast. As if she hadn’t been MIA for eight long years. Almost my whole childhood.
Shea, I call her. Not Mom.
It’s been two months since Shea returned.
She was waiting at home when we—Dad, Peyton, my sort-of friend Jinx, and Inu—all came back from the island of monsters. Where I had tried out my Momotaro oni-fighting skills.
If it weren’t for the silver hair I ended up with, I might have doubted that the whole adventure actually happened. That it wasn’t some dream I’d had while battling the flu.
Anyway, when we arrived home that day, we expected to see the house still wrecked from the earthquake and tsunami that had happened a few days earlier. But everything looked to be in good shape. Instead, something else was waiting for us.
Shea stood in the kitchen, chatting with my grandmother. Both of them were laughing as if she’d gone out for milk and, I don’t know, gotten stuck in traffic for a few minutes. Like it was not a big deal.
All the joy I’d felt at saving my father from the demons (not to mention the world, too, ahem) drained out of me in a big, practically audible whoosh, like air escaping a slashed tire.
I stared at the woman, not knowing who she was at first. Or—if I’m being honest—knowing who she was and wishing I didn’t.
My father let out a whoop, swept her into his arms, and smooched her like they were on the cover of one of those gag-worthy romance novels. Minus the shirtlessness, thank goodness. “Shea!” he cried.
I just stood there like I was playing freeze tag. Who is this? my head asked over and over again. Does not compute. Fatal error. Fatal error.
Your mother, my gut answered, but I didn’t want to believe my gut. It didn’t seem real. I stared at her some more. A gale-force wind couldn’t have blown me over.
When my parents finished their clinch, Shea turned to me with a wide smile. “Xander.”
My nose began running as if someone had turned on a spigot, and my eyes burned with salty tears. I felt my lips quivering and my throat shaking like a maraca. I wanted to run away and I wanted to hug her at the same time.
“Xander,” Shea repeated. “Baby. Mo chroí. I cannot believe it. My little lad, all grown up.” She took a step toward me, holding out her hands. Her long white fingers looked as delicate as a porcelain doll’s. And about as realistic.
I opened my mouth to say something. Anything. Hi. Long time no see. What the heck are you doing here? Why did you leave me?
Maybe even Don’t you know how much you hurt me?
But my vocal cords wouldn’t work. Instead, a garbled noise, the sort of sound you make before you’re going to be sick, burbled out. I clapped a hand over my mouth.
She reached me in a single step and wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
I stiffened. It might as well have been a random woman off the street hugging me. Then I inhaled her scent—a mix of flowers and green grass and orange slices—and I knew, without a doubt, who she was.
It was my mother, all right. And I wanted nothing to do with her. I shoved her away. “No.” It came out of my mouth like a moan. “No. Where were you? Where have you been? I thought you were dead!”
Dad stepped toward me. “Xander, let us explain.”
“No.” I held out my hand, and both of my parents stood still. “How dare you?” My voice was low and steady now. I pointed at Shea. “What makes you think we want you back? That you can just walk in here like nothing’s happened? I’ve got news for you. We’ve been fine this whole time.”
“Xander!” Dad’s voice dropped an octave.
“We don’t need you!” I continued. “In fact, maybe you did us a favor.”
Dad glared at me. “Do not speak to your mother like that.”
Shea touched him on the shoulder. “It’s all right,” she murmured in her sonorous Irish accent. “Let him have some time.”
“I don’t need time. What I needed”—I blinked back my tears—“was a mother when I was growing up. In the past!”
Her face crumpled as if I’d hit her with a brick. Good. I turned and ran upstairs to my bedroom before I could start feeling bad about it.
They’d given me an hour to calm down before my father knocked on my door. I lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling, trying to figure out how all this had happened. How I’d become Momotaro and fought demons and gotten silver hair and my mother back, all in one fell swoop.
Before that, life had been so boring. I kind of missed boring.
“Xander?” Dad tiptoed into the room. His face was both wrinkled with worry and full of joy. A happiness I hadn’t seen in him since forever. “Son, this is a good thing, your mother coming home. Believe it or not.”
I swiveled away from my father, staring at the wall.
Dad sat on my bed and patted my back. “Xander, I couldn’t tell you this before.” He drew in a breath. “There’s a lot to the story you don’t know.”
“What?” I wiped my nose on my sleeve. “Did you do something bad to her to make her leave?” I said it, but I didn’t believe it for one second.
“Of course not,” Dad confirmed. “Your mother had to leave for your safety.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I moved away from Dad’s hand. “Was she in the witness protection program or something?”
He hesitated. “In a way. You see, your mother—she has this…well, this light about her. A glow.”
“Ew.” I rolled my eyes. “I saw you guys kiss. I don’t need to know about that. Please.”
“No.” Dad laughs a little bit. “I mean your mother has a literal light. One the oni can spot.”
I rolled over so I could stare at him with my best poker face. What on earth did he mean?
Dad fiddled with the blanket. “You know how I’m a Momotaro? Was, I mean? You’re the Momotaro now because there can only be one at a time.”
During our journey, Dad had explained that his powers were gradually transferring to me. As mine grew stronger, his would fade away.
“Yeah.” A surge of pride went through me. Momotaro. The one who had bested those monsters—the snow woman, the kappa, the oni eggs, and, of course, Jinx’s dad.
Dad nodded. “Well, your mother’s not exactly normal, either, Xander.” He seemed to be having trouble figuring out the words he wanted to use. “She’s a fairy.”
“What?” I bolted upright, almost jumping clear off the bed. My head must have looked like it was about to spin off its axis. “A fairy fairy? Like Tinker Bell?”
Dad laughed and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Not the teeny-tiny kind. No, Shea’s part of the tall folk, who traditionally protect Irish land.” Dad cocked his head at me. “Before you were born, your mother only glowed when she was using her powers. She could control it. But after you came, her glow became stronger. Brighter every year. She had no control over it anymore. By the time you were four, it was becoming a real problem.”
I sat down next to him.
“The oni can see this glow, Xander. We were worried she was becoming a beacon. So she left. To protect you. So they wouldn’t find you before you were ready.”
I considered this, turning it over and over in my head like a coin. “But why did her glow appear only after I was born?”
Dad’s shoulders moved up and down. “We don’t know, Xander. Some connection to her baby? The joy of motherhood? It hadn’t happened to her other relatives, though. We think it may have something to do with the Momotaro powers interacting with hers.”
“But didn’t the oni already know where you were, Dad?” I raked my fingers through my hair. I wasn’t sure this was making sense. Maybe it never would.
Dad’s mouth flickered into a smile. “I’d stopped fighting oni before I even met your mother, Xander. They no longer cared about me.”
I grabbed Dad’s arm. “But now they know me. Is she still glowing? Could they find us now?”
- On Sale
- Apr 18, 2017
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers