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THE RETURN TO MINERAL WELLS
No, not behind that piece of furniture.
No! Not in the other room.
The other over here…
Look closer. Closer. Closer still…
Yes! Here I am.
It’s me… right in the pages of this book!
This ink is my voice, and these letters are messages from my mind.
How mystical, I know.
And there you are! How happy it makes me to have you along for yet another journey.
You will join me, will you not?
Apologies for the secrecy. But once you begin reading this—the third tale of the Magic Misfits—you shall understand why I was hiding. You see, the escapades in this book are a tad more treacherous than in the previous, and I want you to take as much care as the Misfits must themselves. I will need you to think twice about whom to trust and whom to blame. And if you examine every page, you might even find clues that answer questions you have not yet asked.
How mysterious, I know!
I have to assume that you remember the details of our favorite young magicians’ club—the titular Magic Misfits. There is Carter (The Vanisher) Locke… Leila (The Escape Artist) Vernon… Theo (The Levitator) Stein-Meyer… and Ridley (The Transformationist) Larsen… and who could forget Olly and Izzy, the (Hilarious) Golden twins.
In the previous two books, our Misfits brought down a criminal circus enterprise run by the ominous B. B. Bosso and thwarted Sandra Santos (Madame Esmeralda) and her crooked crew’s attempt to acquire a secret ledger belonging to Dante Vernon—the owner of the local magic shop and one of Leila’s dads (but of course you knew that). The Magic Misfits also rescued a monkey and a pair of field mice, and performed (twice!) at the majestic auditorium in the Grand Oak Resort, which overlooks their cozy town of Mineral Wells.
This seems like a lot of backstory, right? That’s because it is! But don’t worry if you can’t remember. This adventurous third tale should fill in any gaps in your memory.
How marvelous, I KNOW!
With a lengthy setup like that, you must be itching to start the first chapter. But before that happens, I must insist we pause yet again to explain.…
Theo Stein-Meyer often dreamed about flying.
The dreams would begin with him lying in his bed, his parents snoring just down the hall. Then, as if by magic, he would find himself levitating several inches over his mattress. He would float over to his window, yank up the sash, then pull himself headfirst out into the night. Flying and swooping and swirling in the sky came to him as naturally as it did to his pet doves in the pen behind his house. He would simply squeeze something deep inside his mind, and his body would go.
Up! Up! Up! And farther still, up!
Directing himself through the sky, Theo felt just like he did while playing his violin—making melodies that skipped and flurried and sliced the air. Flying also reminded him of using his magic bow to make objects rise and dance in front of amazed audiences. You see, music and magic were Theo’s two great loves. And he loved life best when he could do both at the same time.
On recent nights, however, his night-flying dreams had turned sinister. A shadowy figure moved through the town below Theo, a tall man in a top hat and cape, whose face was hidden in darkness. He was creeping through alleys and peering into houses. From way up high, Theo could hear him whispering secret enchantments that would make people do bad things.
The man’s name was Kalagan, and he was responsible for much of the trouble Theo and his friends had faced together. The real Kalagan was a mesmerist who had lived in Mineral Wells long ago, but his henchmen had appeared in town several times over the summer, attempting to carry out his nefarious agenda, only to be thwarted by the Magic Misfits. Theo feared that Kalagan would soon return to Mineral Wells to deal with the Misfits himself.
In the dream, Theo swooped lower in the sky to eavesdrop on Kalagan, who had moved into the darkness of an alley. The shadows between buildings seemed to grow darker, more dangerous, and the man’s whispering grew louder.
“Must… stop… Magic… Misfits…”
Kalagan was talking about Theo and his friends!
The mesmerist suddenly whipped around and reached up a hand toward the flying Theo, who shrieked as Kalagan dragged him down toward the ground.
“Must! Stop! Magic! Misfits!” the villain shouted.
Theo woke with a start, tangled in his sheets and gasping for breath. He struggled to free himself, taking deep breaths to calm down. He moved shakily to his window, where light at the line of trees near the horizon was bringing the late-summer morning to life. Was Kalagan somewhere nearby, looking back at him? Everything was quiet, but Theo knew the stillness would last only so long. (This is how the world works, after all.) But for now, he allowed it to seep into his skin and ease him back to sleep.
Later that day, Mineral Wells was wide-awake and buzzing. Cars circled the center of town, passing quaint shops and stands while drivers looked for a rare parking space. Families strolled down sidewalks, while men in suits and women in smart dresses darted in and out of the town hall and the courthouse.
The air was warm and slightly humid, but an occasional breeze kept everyone comfortable. If the residents and visitors listened closely, they could hear a melody carried by that breeze—a lively waltz played on a violin. The musician was a boy dressed in a tuxedo, who had gathered with his friends at the gazebo in the town green to practice for the upcoming Mineral Wells talent show.
Theo danced his bow across the strings. His friends Carter, Leila, Ridley, Olly, and Izzy were standing to the sides. At Theo’s feet, a teddy bear hopped and hovered as if it had been enchanted to life. When Theo sped up the waltz, the bear bounced more quickly, and when Theo slowed, the bear followed dreamily, as if listening.
As the song neared its climax, the bear began to rise up in front of Theo. One foot, two feet, three, four! And as Theo played the final note, he whipped his violin and bow to the side as he reached out to catch the bear with his other hand. At the last moment, however, Theo’s eyes caught on a darkly dressed figure in the distance, and his fist closed on empty air.
It looked just like the evil man from his dreams.
Theo blinked and looked around to find his friends staring at him. He shivered, unsure if his eyes had been playing tricks on him.
“What happened?” Ridley asked, her red curls vibrating as she shook her head. “That was so good up until the end!”
“I apologize,” Theo answered, his cheeks flushing. “My mind wandered.”
“All our minds have been doing that lately,” Leila said, walking over to squeeze Theo’s elbow in support.
“My mind hasn’t only been wandering,” said Olly. “It’s been positively exploring!”
“Hiking!” proclaimed his twin sister, Izzy.
“My mind took a steamer ship to Antarctica,” Izzy said with a grin.
“My mind became friends with polar bears!” Olly countered.
“Wrong continent,” Ridley said, cutting the twins off. She pressed a button on her wheelchair and a “wrong answer!” buzzer vibrated the gazebo. Then she smiled.
“The Magic Misfits have been through a lot,” said Carter. “It’s okay to have trouble concentrating sometimes, Theo.”
Ridley sighed. “Not concentrating isn’t going to help us win the talent show. We’ve got to stay focused. That prize money is nothing to scoff at.”
The Mineral Wells Talent Show was less than two weeks away, and many residents of the town had already signed up to show off operatic voices, hula dances, tightrope walks, gymnastic routines, monologue recitations, and more.
“Who’s scoffing?” said Carter. “It’s more money than I’ve ever seen. If we win, I’ll finally be able to pay everyone back for all their help since I came to Mineral Wells. And if there’s any money left over, I’m getting one of those fancy cabinets that famous magicians use to make people disappear on stage!”
“You don’t owe anybody anything,” Leila argued back at her cousin. “Except maybe a smile now and then. If we win, I’m getting a Leila-sized water tank so I can practice holding my breath while breaking out of my straitjacket.”
“Me and Olly are gonna get a couple pairs of the shiniest golden tap shoes the world’s ever seen,” Izzy jumped in.
“Speak for yourself, sis,” Olly replied. “I’d rather buy myself some lessons in stage combat so I’ll be ready for the next time we have to fight Kalagan’s goons.”
“Why not just take real combat lessons?” asked Ridley, rolling her eyes. “Then you’ll be ready for fights that happen off stage too.”
Olly’s eyes lit up. “That’s a great idea!”
Ridley gave him a small nod. “With that prize money, I’d upgrade my wheelchair with the new gadgets I’ve been working on. I could even make it transform. A race car. An airplane. A tank! No one would mess with us then.” She glanced at Theo, who was staring off into the distance again. “What about you, Theo? What would you use the prize money for?”
Theo came back to the group. “Skydiving lessons,” he said simply. He took one more look around for the dark figure he thought he had seen, then went down the steps to retrieve the teddy bear. “Now, where were we?”
“You wanna try that ending again?” Ridley asked. “You almost had it.”
The word buzzed in his head. It almost felt like an insult. But he had been friends with Ridley for as long as he could remember, and he knew she did not mean anything by it. “I have performed the trick fine before,” said Theo. “I was simply distracted just now. Someone else can go.”
Ridley came forward and made a great show of pulling a bunch of bananas from the pouch at the back of her chair. She asked a volunteer from the crowd (Leila) to pick one and peel it. But when Leila pulled at the banana’s skin, the fruit inside fell to the ground in many distinct slices.
Carter went next and covered himself head to toe with a large silk cape. He asked the twins to pull it away. When they did, Carter’s head appeared to be missing! He stumbled around the gazebo until he bumped into Izzy, who was still holding the cape. Then he draped it back over himself. Seconds later, when he whipped the cape away, his head had reappeared.
“That was amazing!” Ridley exclaimed.
“Thanks!” said Carter. “I’ve been working on it for a couple weeks.”
“Should we practice the finale?” Leila asked.
“We should definitely practice your routine,” Ridley answered. “But are we sure we want to use it for the last act?”
“We can figure out who will go last later,” said Leila. “For now…” She pointed to Theo, giving him his cue.
He raised his violin to his chin, and the jolt of a harsh chord echoed across the town green. Pedestrians stopped in their tracks on the sidewalk across the street.
“Move along!” Ridley called loudly. “Nothing to see here!”
Leila rolled her eyes at Ridley’s typical gruffness and kept going. Her act was a re-creation of the break-in at Vernon’s Magic Shop a couple of weeks ago, when Kalagan’s henchmen known as the “frown clowns” had attempted to steal Mr. Vernon’s important notebook.
Theo was accompanying the trick with a moody melody on his violin as Leila quickly tied the clowns (played by Carter, Olly, Izzy, and Ridley) together with soft white rope. The makeshift villains formed a straight line across the gazebo, arms raised in front of themselves.
“Good people of Mineral Wells!” Leila called to a few passersby. “Our magic club needs a volunteer to check that these knots are solid. Is anyone willing to help?”
From around the town green, people stared, unsure if they should approach. Then a familiar group of five boys crossed the street.
Theo’s bow slipped. A shriek echoed from his strings.
“We’ll help you,” said the largest of the five, coming to the bottom of the gazebo steps. The others flanked him. Up close, Theo was certain that these were the bullies who had bothered him and the other Misfits earlier in the summer. A squishy feeling settled in his stomach, and he felt a rustling of feathers at his ribs.
Carter, Olly, Izzy, and Ridley were all connected by Leila’s single white rope, and they looked as worried as Theo felt. Then, to his surprise, Leila waved the largest boy onto the gazebo platform. “Step right up,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“You know it’s Tyler,” he answered. Theo remembered that Leila knew these boys well, as they were her classmates during the school year. Since Theo attended private school, he luckily ran into them less.
Leila whispered to the bully, “No funny business, Tyler.”
Tyler whispered back, “But I’m hilarious.” Then he smiled wide, showing his teeth.
“Hilarious-looking,” Ridley murmured, and Tyler frowned at her. Theo wanted to step between them and demand that the boy get off the stage, but his tongue appeared to be stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Leila’s voice came out like a squeak. “Please check the knots, Tyler, and make sure I tied up my friends tightly.”
“Glad to,” he said with a smirk, then pulled hard at the rope around Carter’s wrists, pinching his pink skin.
“Ouch!” Carter cried.
“Hey!” Ridley yelled. “Knock it off!”
Tyler moved on to Olly and Izzy, pulling the knots tighter around their ankles.
The twins yelped.
“Quit it!” Leila scolded, pushing the boy’s hands away from her friends. Tyler shoved her back. Theo felt chills of rage. He started to rush over, intending to thwack the jerk across the skull with his bow, when another idea popped into his head.…
“You all think you’re so amazing!” Tyler scoffed. “You’re no better than the rest of us.” His cronies sneered in agreement.
“We never said we were,” said Leila. “We only want to make people smile.”
“Mission accomplished,” said Tyler. “I’m smiling.”
Leila’s own fake grin was gone. “Not for long,” she muttered. She nodded at the tied-up Misfits, then clapped her hands over her head. Carter, Olly, Izzy, and Ridley made a swift movement.
And the rope disappeared! Standing on the stage, they were all free as birds.
And speaking of birds…
Theo opened his tuxedo jacket, releasing several white doves that he had been concealing for the grand finale. The doves circled the ceiling of the gazebo. When Theo clucked his tongue, the birds dive-bombed Tyler, who stumbled, trying to escape their sharp beaks and claws. He teetered at the top step and then tumbled down into his friends at the bottom, sending them sprawling onto the grass.
“You were right!” Olly called out to the boy. “You are hilarious!”
“A genuine chuckle-factory!” added Izzy.
As the doves flew out from inside the gazebo to circle the town green, Tyler stood up and pointed at Theo. “You’re gonna regret that!”
Straightening his tuxedo, Theo stuck out his tongue and released a long, musical raspberry. He waved his bow, as if conducting a symphony of spittle. The sound was so surprising that the bullies froze and stared at him.
You see, my friend, the raspberry was a misdirection, a classic magician’s trick. It made the boys pause just long enough for the doves to receive Theo’s signal—his bow waving in the air—and react.
Little white splashes rained down onto the heads of the bullies. Splat! Splat! Splat!
“Ugh,” cried one of them, glancing upward, only to be greeted with a splash right on the tip of his nose.
“What is this?” asked another, wiping the goo from his hair.
“Those birds!” shrieked a third. “They’re… going to the bathroom on us!”
“Gross!” shouted Tyler. “Run!”
The bullies scattered in all directions. Moments later, the doves settled onto the roof of the gazebo, awaiting further instruction.
“Is everyone all right?” Theo asked his friends.
“My wrists are a little sore,” said Carter. “But at least the rope trick worked.”
“You guys did great!” Leila chirped, retrieving the rope, which had recoiled by spring into a space inside Ridley’s wheelchair. “Grace under pressure.”
“Pressure?” echoed Carter. “That felt more like torture.”
“It was worth it,” Izzy and Olly said in unison.
Theo waited for someone to mention his doves, but his hopes were interrupted by the unmistakable sound of someone clapping.
The Misfits looked around. Theo worried that the bullies had come back. Instead, he saw a girl with long blond hair dressed all in black, including a beret that was tilted to the side of her head. She clapped slowly, like a ticking clock. With every smack of her hands, her feet stepped in time, bringing her closer and closer to the gazebo.
The girl in black had hypnotized the Misfits.
Theo stared as she crossed the lawn, unsure if she would become even more trouble than the group of boys. “Please tell me you all planned every moment of that,” the girl said. “Bird poo included.”
“We wish!” said Carter. “Might be something to remember for next time, though.”
“I’ll be sure to pick nicer volunteers during our actual performance,” Leila added with a grimace.
Ridley cleared her throat. “And who are you?” she asked the girl.
“Oh, sorry. I’m Emily Meridian.” Meridian? thought Theo. Where have I heard that name before? “I stay with my dad during the summer sometimes. The rest of the year, I’m with my mother in another town upstate.”
Leila came down the steps and pulled Emily into a friendly hug. “Welcome to Mineral Wells! I’m Leila Vernon.”
Emily squirmed at the unexpected embrace, but released a surprised giggle when Leila let go.
Ridley wheeled down the ramp straddling the gazebo staircase. “I’m Ridley Larsen. The boy with the violin is Theo Stein-Meyer. Carter Locke is the blue-eyed blond. And the twins are Olly and Izzy Golden. With Leila, we are the Magic Misfits.”
“I know who you are,” said Emily. “The whole town knows about you. And after seeing what you just did to those creeps, I’d say you’re the ones to beat at the talent show.”
Theo felt a flush of pride. “Are you participating too?” he asked.
Emily shook her head. “I don’t really have a tal—”
Just then, from the bushes at the base of the gazebo, Tyler leapt up, clutching a handful of wet earth. He ratcheted his arm back before flinging the crud at Theo. It hit him, WHUMP, right in the chest, splattering across his white tuxedo shirt.
Before Theo could react, Emily bolted to the bully’s side. “Leave them alone!”
“Or what?” Tyler moved to push her, but she swiveled, and he tripped past her. He reached out to grab her arm, but she swung it around, and Tyler ended up on the ground. “Ow!” he said through a mouthful of grass before turning onto his back.
“That was nothing, Tyler,” Emily growled. Before he could get up, she placed her foot lightly on his chest, leaving a mark similar to the one the dirt had left on Theo. “If you don’t want your mom to know how you’ve been treating my new friends, you’ll knock it off. She’s at my father’s store right now. Should we walk back there together?”
“Get off me!” Tyler yelled as Emily put more weight on his chest.
“Promise you’ll leave them alone,” she warned.
“Fine! I won’t do it again!”
Emily removed her foot and helped him up. Tyler gave her one last nasty look, then took off in search of his pals.
Theo was floored. He had seen plenty of magic before, especially after spending so much time with the Misfits at Mr. Vernon’s magic shop. But he had not experienced anything so spectacular as this girl taking out an oaf six inches taller than her and at least twenty pounds heavier.
“That was—” Carter started.
“—awesome!” Leila finished.
“Impressive,” Ridley decided.
Olly and Izzy immediately began to re-create the scuffle on the gazebo platform, adding gymnastic flourishes and staccato tap-dance moves.
“Thank you, Emily,” Theo added. He placed his violin gently on the floor so he could wipe the clump of mud from his stomach. “But were you not worried about him hurting you?”
“That doofus?” Emily smirked. “No way. I’ve known Tyler since he was still eating mashed peas. Even better, our parents are close friends. He knows I’ll tell his mother if he’s bothering someone. It takes a lot worse to scare me.”
“Us too,” said Carter, clutching his suspenders. Then he glanced around nervously. “Usually.”
“You said your father owns a store,” Theo mentioned. “Which one?”
“Meridian’s Music,” Emily answered. “It’s just down the street.”
“Of course! I go there all the time with my father. Meridian’s is where he bought me this very violin. Does this mean your father is—”
“Mick Meridian. The owner. He’s the best at what he does.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” Theo raised his hand, and his violin lifted up off the floor. When its neck met his palm, he brought his bow to the strings and played a quick, happy melody.
His friends all clapped, while Emily nodded. “Pretty.”
“I did not know Mr. Meridian had a daughter,” said Theo.
Emily frowned. “You mean… he’s never mentioned me?”
Theo blushed. “I am sure he would have—”
Emily grinned. “I’m kidding!” She knocked his shoulder lightly. “My dad’s pretty busy while he’s at the store. It’s not a big deal.”
Theo chuckled self-consciously. He suddenly felt a little too warm.
Across the street, a bell jingled as the door to Vernon’s Magic Shop swung open. “Leila! Carter!” called Mr. Vernon, standing in the entry. “Change-O has been racing around the store nonstop. As wonderful as I think it is that you’ve been practicing with your friends, I would appreciate it if you would come feed him before he knocks over another jar of fake eyeballs!” Mr. Vernon’s curly white hair sprang from his head like a shock of whipped potatoes, and his black mustache sat on his upper lip like a smear of tapenade. He wore his usual dark, formal suit, shiny black shoes, a top hat, and a long cape tied at his neck. The first time Theo had encountered Mr. Vernon, he had been so taken with the tuxedo the magician had been wearing that Theo had become inspired to wear them too.
A hunger pang gurgled in Theo’s belly, and he realized how late the day had grown. He pulled a chain watch from his jacket pocket. “Oh good,” he said. “I still have time before dinner. My parents hate it when I am late.”
“Do they hate you being late?” asked Ridley. “Or do they just wish you spent more time practicing your violin?”
“A little of both.”
“But they’d have to be impressed by that bird poo trick!” Emily said with a laugh.
“I doubt they would want to know about it,” Theo replied sheepishly.
“Coming, Dad!” Leila answered. She glanced at her friends. “You guys want to help feed the monkey?”
“Not if he feeds me first!” Izzy joked.
Praise for The Magic Misfits: The Minor Third:
- "Series fans will welcome the insight into Theo's life.... Illustrations and magic trick tutorials help break up the story's fraught moments as the Misfits puzzle out their latest case and endeavor to save their friendships."—Booklist
- Praise for The Magic Misfits: The Second Story:
—Here and Now, NPR
- On Sale
- Aug 11, 2020
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers