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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 December 4, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Copyright © 2019 by Romily Bernard
Designed by Mary Claire Cruz
Cover art © 2019 by George Ermos
Cover design by Jamie Alloy and Mary Claire Cruz
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 my mom, who knew Kick was amazing from the very beginning
It started with an explosion. Not a huge explosion, mind you, but one certainly large enough to send bits of floorboards everywhere. Some went down in flames. Some went up in smoke. The rest landed in Kick Winter’s hair.
Not that she noticed.
“Should’ve reread those directions,” she muttered, knowing full well that she hadn’t read them in the first place.
Another bit of floorboard fizzled out, plunging into the ragged hole and sending the black cat, Butler, flying for cover. Kick coughed, waved smoke away from her face, and wondered if all burgeoning scientists had such unfortunate setbacks. She wasn’t sure, and she chalked this one up to yet another example of school never teaching her anything she really needed to know.
Then again, setbacks might be the least of her problems, because her grandmother was now standing in the kitchen doorway.
Kick’s heart swung into her throat. For an old woman with a limp, Grandma Missouri could move fast when the situation warranted it.
Like right now, when her kitchen had acquired unexpected ventilation.
“Kick! Winter!” Grandma Missouri lurched forward, one hand white-knuckled around her cane.
“It was an accident!”
“Absolutely!” Kick tried to laugh. It came out a sputter. “You know how these things go. You don’t know you’re having an accident until you’re having one and—”
Another piece of kitchen floor tipped into the still-smoking hole. Grandmother and granddaughter listened to it land with a hearty plop. Fortunately for everyone, the Hollows—the tiny cottage where they lived—was built on stilts above the swamp, and the flaming bits simply fell into the murky water. Unfortunately for Figgis—the enormous alligator who lived under the Hollows—those flaming bits were now raining on him.
As Kick watched, Figgis floated past the hole, slimy with mud and looking distinctly put out.
Or maybe that was just how the alligator normally looked. She wasn’t sure. She’d only been at the Hollows for a few days.
“Your aunt was right,” Grandma Missouri said at last, studying the singed hole with wide eyes. She sat down heavily on a kitchen chair, the tiny bells on her skirt jingling. “You really are going to grow up to be an evil genius.”
Kick sighed and dusted herself off. “I’m not going to be an evil genius. I’m going to be the world’s greatest scientist. I’m going to help people just like my parents do—and science isn’t evil.” She paused as Figgis floated by again, eyeing her. He blew indignant bubbles. Or, they seemed indignant. Again, it was hard to tell with alligators. “At least, science isn’t evil when it gets up in the morning, but sometimes explosions happen.”
“What were you thinking?” Grandma Missouri demanded, clutching the lace collar of her dress. Kick’s grandmother wasn’t usually into lace—or bells for that matter—but Mr. Jessup was coming by later to have his cards read, and he thought all psychics should look like the ones on television.
For the record, they did not. Grandma Missouri usually dressed like an old Hollywood starlet with careful curls and elbow-length gloves, but she said a customer who came twice a week every week didn’t need to be understood, just accommodated.
“I don’t know what I was thinking.” Kick flipped to a new page in her experiment book and scribbled:
Friday, September 6
Think about reading directions.
She set her pen down. “Maybe we should call Mom and Dad.”
“We are not calling your parents. Georgia’s working.”
Kick frowned. It was true. Georgia was Grandma Missouri’s daughter and Kick’s mother, but to the rest of the world, she was Dr. Georgia Winter, super scientist. She traveled a lot, making the world better, and sometimes she was so busy making the world better, she had to leave Kick behind. Sometimes it was for a few days. Sometimes it was…longer.
And this time might very well be the longest yet.
Kick chased away the thought. She had to. If she let it linger, her brain would turn against her. It would think about how she was losing her parents in pieces: Her mother’s perfume had already faded from her clothes. Would the feel of her father’s hand holding her own be next? It seemed possible. Chemicals weren’t the only things that evaporated.
“Your mother has enough worries without us adding to them.” Grandma Missouri patted her granddaughter’s shoulder. “We can handle this ourselves. We have each other.”
“And besides, we don’t want to ruin this for you. Staying here is a reward.”
This was also true. It would be a reward for most children to stay with their grandmother, but that was because most children’s grandmothers were soft and sweet and liked to bake. Their grandmothers were not town psychics—and they definitely were not fake town psychics. Which, in this case, meant Grandma Missouri took people’s money and told them what they wanted to hear.
“There are worse jobs,” Grandma Missouri would tell Kick whenever she asked about it.
“Like what?” Kick would want to know.
“I’ll tell you later. Now help an old lady with her wind machine.”
And Kick would help because Grandma Missouri was old, but also because it was important to properly hide a fake psychic’s wind machine, otherwise everyone would know she was a fake and that wasn’t good for business.
She turned. Her grandmother still sat at the chipped kitchen table, shoulders slumped like an old pillow. “Yes?”
“Who gave you that chemistry set? Your father?”
Kick paused. She was pretty sure this was what Grandma Missouri called a “loaded question.” She was also pretty sure her grandmother already knew the answer and wasn’t happy about it. Grandma Missouri and James Winter didn’t like each other much.
“It’s to continue my exploration into the fields of science.” Something popped and plopped into the water below. “I’m supposed to record my theories and proposed experiments.”
Grandma Missouri nodded. “Remind me to get your father an ant farm for a welcome-home present.”
“But the ants always get out of those things and—” And that’s the point, Kick realized. Time for a distraction.
But with what? She glanced around the kitchen for inspiration. Through the windows over the sink, she could see swamp trees rising up like gnarled fingers, crusty with moss and scabby with ivy. Through the hole, she could see Figgis.
“Maybe you could tell Mr. Jessup an angry spirit did it,” she said at last.
Grandma Missouri thought it over, attention still on her ruined floor or maybe on Figgis. As they watched, a bumblebee drifted up through the smoke and wandered toward one of the kitchen’s wide windows. “Or maybe,” her grandmother said, “I’ll tell him the curse is upon us, and he better bring his grandkids in for preventative blessings.”
Kick rolled her eyes. Ever since she’d arrived, the Bohring Town Curse was all anyone could talk about. According to legend, every hundred years all the Bohring children turned into monsters and took over the town. Kick couldn’t get a clear answer as to why, though. Grandma Missouri said it was just the way curses worked. Mr. Jessup said it was because the Bohring town swamp was magical, and he said it with such conviction chills had climbed up the back of Kick’s neck. It almost felt true.
Then Kick remembered Mr. Jessup once searched for a gas leak with a lit match—his eyebrows still hadn’t fully grown back—so clearly his judgment was suspect. She took a deep breath, counted to ten for patience, and when that didn’t work, she counted to twenty.
“There’s no such thing as curses,” she told her grandmother.
“You don’t call this monstrous?”
Technically, Kick would call it the unfortunate combination of potassium nitrate and sulfur, but she was wise enough not to say so. “There’s no such thing as monsters.”
“The world is full of monsters.”
“There’s no such thing—”
“There is such a thing as being grounded. No more experiments.” Grandma Missouri leaned forward so their noses almost brushed. Kick narrowed her eyes into slits. The two glared at each other. “Don’t think this will make me change my mind about keeping you,” Grandma Missouri said, hoisting herself to her feet and trading her cane for a yellow-handled broom. “First, we’re going to tidy up.”
Kick looked from the smoldering hole in the floor to the charred cabinet baseboards to the spool of fishing line still sitting on the countertop because Grandma Missouri needed to install it in the séance room. Tidy up? She wondered if the fumes had overcome her grandmother.
For the record, Kick shouldn’t have wondered. Grandma Missouri was intimidated by nothing—not holes in floors, not suspicious clients looking for fishing line that might suspend tablecloths at opportune moments, not even deep-frying candy bars. In fact, Kick had once watched her grandmother deep-fry a stick of butter.
A stick. Of butter.
But Kick didn’t have time to consider any of this because Grandma Missouri passed her a dish towel.
“After we finish cleaning,” her grandmother added, sweeping bits of glass beakers into a pile, “we’re going into town to register you for school. Clearly, you need to be kept busy.”
Busy? In a town named Bohring? Highly unlikely, Kick thought, but again, she was wise enough not to say so. She picked up her chemistry book and what was left of her evaporating dish and—she frowned. The evaporating dish wouldn’t budge. It was stuck to the Formica countertop.
“Definitely need to be kept busy,” Grandma Missouri said to herself, sweeping faster. “This is exactly what I’ve been telling Georgia. People need roots, a home, and I have never in all my life met a child more in need of friends.”
“I’m not lonely,” Kick said quickly. And she wasn’t. She’d been left—but only because her parents had gone abroad to help grow crops for at-risk population. Yes, she missed doing experiments with her father on the weekends and cooking with her mother in the evenings, and yes, it sort of felt the same as being lonely and looked the same as being lonely, but it wasn’t. Kick was positive.
“I’m not lonely,” she repeated.
Her grandmother ignored her. “Nope,” she continued, sweeping the last of the glass into the pile and the pile into the hole. Figgis thrashed his tail. “The child needs Bohring, and she’s staying in Bohring.”
Kick sighed again, and this time, she made sure to sound especially long-suffering. It wasn’t hard. After all, if Grandma Missouri were really worried about her granddaughter becoming an evil genius, she would’ve realized staying in Bohring—human population 453, alligator population 2,053, mosquito population innumerable—was actually an excellent way to turn her into one.
There was nothing to do.
There was nothing interesting going on.
But as usual, only Kick noticed these things.
The clock struck three when a grim-faced Grandma Missouri and a slightly singed Kick walked through the front doors of Bohring Elementary and Middle School. Kick’s last school had smelled like mold and floor polish, but this one smelled like new paint and newer tennis shoes. It was bright and shiny with dark brick on the outside and creamy-colored walls on the inside. There were student pictures in the hallways and trophy cases by the windows, and Kick—who understood the importance of ambience better than most people—decided she would give the school an A-plus for presentation.
Even if it was a little empty.
“Where is everyone?” Kick asked.
“Most children like to play outside.”
“I know.” Grandma Missouri smiled, but she didn’t smile for long because the blond woman standing behind the giant reception desk gave her a stack of paperwork to fill out. Kick’s grandmother wasn’t big on forms. They made her nose wrinkle like she was smelling burned kitchen floorboards. “Are you sure you need all of these?” she asked, flipping through the forms.
Grandma Missouri glared at the receptionist. The receptionist glared back. She was a narrow woman with sunburned cheeks and ghostly-pale hands. She should’ve seemed small next to Grandma Missouri’s voluminous dress and generous figure. Instead she looked…sharp.
“I don’t think we’ve met.” Grandma Missouri heaved her massive red purse onto the counter, and something inside of it squeaked. “I’m Missouri Jackson.”
The receptionist blinked.
“Missouri Jackson. The psychic.”
Heat began to roll up Kick’s neck. Can someone self-combust from embarrassment? she wondered. At the moment, it seemed likely.
The receptionist cocked her head. Her blond hair was slicked back into a tight bun and it glinted under the overhead light. “Well, I’m Dr. Malinda Callahan. The school psychologist.”
“Psychologist?” Grandma Missouri’s purse squeaked again and she thumped it. “Psychology is for hippies, dear. Are you sure you’re fulfilling your destiny? I sense something far more…organic about you. And when did we need a psychologist for paperwork? What happened to Bessy?”
“Shouldn’t you know?”
“Your aura is overwhelming me. It’s very green.”
The corner of Dr. Callahan’s left eye twitched. “Bessy’s out sick and we’re short-staffed, so I’m helping.”
Grandma Missouri nodded as if she had expected nothing less. “And yet I suspect the universe wants more for you.”
“Considering I hold dual doctorates in biology and psychology, I’m fairly certain ‘the universe’ is perfectly happy with me.”
“Is it?” Grandma Missouri’s voice tilted up, and Kick winced. A prediction was coming. “Because daughters of Bohring—especially daughters of Bohring who go on to such magnificent accomplishments—don’t usually return to, uh, fill in.”
As if on cue, Dr. Callahan’s nostrils flared with indignation.
Kick grimaced. In the last four years, her parents had worked in six different cities, which meant Kick had gone to six different schools, and thanks to those six different cities and schools, she knew all about being the New Girl, the New Smart Girl, and especially the New Smart Girl Who Has No Friends and Sits Alone at Lunch.
But she’d never been the New Smart Girl the School Staff Hates. Thanks to Grandma Missouri, that seemed likely to change.
Grandma Missouri shrugged. “Well, we might be strangers, but I’m sure you know my other granddaughter? Carolina?”
“Oh!” Dr. Callahan leaned across the desk to look down at Kick, then looked up at Grandma Missouri. She seemed to be making a decision. Kick prayed it was to refuse enrollment.
Pleasepleaseplease, she thought. The only thing worse than being the New Girl again would be getting into school because of her cousin.
“Everyone knows Carolina,” Dr. Callahan said at last. “Such a gifted child—and such a huge vocabulary.”
Kick rolled her eyes. Some of that vocabulary was because Carolina’s mother was a lawyer and her father was a retired super scientist. The rest was because Carolina was a know-it-all.
Dr. Callahan studied her clipboard for several seconds, pale fingers playing with the magnolia-shaped pendant around her neck. “Let me see what I can do, Miss Missouri.”
“Thank you,” Grandma Missouri said, waiting until the psychologist had stepped away before leaning down to Kick. “Did you hear the way she talked about your cousin?”
Kick rolled her eyes again. Of course she heard the way Dr. Callahan talked about her cousin. Adults always said Carolina’s name with joy and reverence. It would be annoying if Kick were bothered by such things. Luckily, she wasn’t.
“You’re going to get in today,” her grandmother added. “I will bet you my famous swamp cake I don’t have to do the paperwork.”
“I don’t want to bet against you.”
“Because you always win.”
Grandma Missouri grinned. “That’s because I can read people.” She straightened, smoothing her delicate leather driving gloves. They were supposed to make her look elegant—and they did—but Kick suspected her grandmother really liked them because they made her feel like a European race-car driver. “How do you think I knew Dr. Callahan was a former Bohring resident?”
“No idea, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to tell me.”
“Peeked in her Prius as we drove in. Though she may have been gone long enough to think that little car is suitable for dirt roads and swamp flooding, she hasn’t forgotten she’ll need her snake-proof boots for when she goes hiking. Fang Proof Boots are only sold at the Grimp and Myer, so she had to be a local. And how did I know she was a gardener?”
For a beat, Kick had no idea, and then suddenly she did. “The sunburn, the necklace, and the pale hands. She’s out in the sun a lot, but she must wear gloves.” She paused. “‘Green’ and ‘organic’ were nice touches.”
“I know. You can tell everything you need to know by reading a person. That’s how you’ll make your fortune, dear girl.”
“I don’t want to trick people. I want to be a scientist.”
Grandma Missouri blew out an exasperated breath. “Listen here, Miss Smarty-Pants, people don’t mind being tricked into feeling smart nearly as much as they mind being talked to like they’re stupid. You would do well to remember that.”
Kick opened her mouth, but Dr. Callahan and her clipboard returned. “Miss Missouri,” she said, “since these are special circumstances, we’ll make an exception for the paperwork. You can turn it in later.”
“I do appreciate that.” Grandma Missouri shouldered her red purse. It squeaked again. Kick and Dr. Callahan both eyed the purse, and Grandma Missouri pretended not to notice. “Kick’s living with me at the Hollows until her parents return.”
Dr. Callahan paled. Kick smiled. The new school psychologist might not recognize her grandma, but around here, the Hollows’ reputation preceded it.
“She’s living out there?” Dr. Callahan asked the question in the same tone someone would ask, You eat children? or You never brush your teeth?
Kick understood the tone. In fact, she understood it better than almost anyone because she was indeed living at the Hollows. And it was indeed horrifying.
But it was only horrifying if you didn’t know the black cat, Butler, purred like a tiny outboard motor. Or if you didn’t know the overgrown grass smelled sweet at night. It was especially horrifying if you didn’t know Figgis was more interested in eating expired chicken cutlets from Winn-Dixie than he was in eating children.
Dr. Callahan didn’t know any of that, though, and if Kick told her, Grandma Missouri would skin Kick alive for ruining the Hollows’ terrifying reputation.
“Of course she’s living at the Hollows. Where else would she live?” Grandma Missouri waited for an answer and Dr. Callahan went back to her clipboard.
“And her name is Karis?” she asked, peeking up at Kick.
Kick lifted her chin. “No. My name is Kick.”
Dr. Callahan looked at her grandmother. “Is that really what you want her to be called?”
Grandma Missouri shrugged. “If that’s what the child wants to be called.”
“Interesting.” Dr. Callahan wrote something down on her clipboard, looking very, well, psychologisty. She pulled off a piece of paper and handed it to Kick, exposing the white line of her wrist. “Your new schedule.”
“Thank you,” Kick said, holding her breath as she scanned the columns. She had reading, math, social studies, gym, and…natural science. “Dr. Callahan?”
She placed the schedule on the desk and slid it toward her. “There aren’t any real science classes on my schedule.”
“That’s not true.” The psychologist smiled like Kick was especially stupid. “There’s natural science. Right there. You’re going to get to build a volcano!”
“The predictable response of sodium bicarbonate and acetic acid is perfectly fine,” Kick said. If you like being bored to death, she thought. “But I’d like to sign up for chemistry, please. Or any other class where students work with real acids.”
Kick didn’t think any other classes would work with real acids, but she thought it was important to appear open-minded.
Dr. Callahan gaped and gaped, and finally: “We would never let you work with real acids! That’s terrible!”
“It’s only terrible if you spill them.” Kick was trying for polite, but it was definitely a strain.
“Ha. Ha. Kick.” Grandma Missouri’s laugh was forced. She shifted her red purse to her other shoulder, and this time, it didn’t squeak. Kick wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or worried. “Why ever would you ask such a thing?”
Kick stared at her grandmother. If Grandma Missouri didn’t know why Kick would ask about chemistry, then she really hadn’t been paying much attention for the past eleven years.
Or paying much attention this morning.
“Because,” Kick explained, “in chemistry, you take stuff and put it together with other stuff and come up with something else entirely.” She paused, waiting for the adults to nod with understanding, and when they didn’t, she shrugged. “I like seeing what I can do.”
Grandma Missouri blinked, and then looked at Dr. Callahan. “Aren’t children funny?”
“Hilarious,” Dr. Callahan said, but she didn’t mean it. Kick could tell. She was pretty sure Grandma Missouri could tell too. “You’ll take natural science like the rest of the children,” she said with a sniff. “Chemistry. Why, I never.”
Kick could well imagine that Dr. Callahan never did. In fact, Kick figured there were a lot of things Dr. Callahan never did.
But luckily for everyone, she didn’t get a chance to say it because the attendance office’s door opened. Afternoon sunlight caught the newcomers from behind, stretching three shadows across the wide reception desk.
And Kick—who didn’t believe in magic or spirits or premonitions—shivered.
Dr. Callahan turned. Kick could hear the smile in her voice when she said, “Oh, hello, ladies!”
“Hi, Dr. Callahan!” The three girls had shiny white smiles and matching green dresses, and when they walked toward the reception desk, they walked in unison.
“Ladies,” Dr. Callahan said, “this is Kick Winter. She’s new here, so introduce yourselves.”
“I’m Jenna B.,” said the first girl.
- On Sale
- Dec 4, 2019
- Page Count
- 300 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers