About the Author
SAL MURDOCCA has illustrated more than 200 children's trade and text books. He is also a librettist for children's opera, a video artist, an avid runner, hiker, and bicyclist, and a teacher of children's illustration at the Parsons School of Design. Sal lives and works in New York with his wife, Nancy.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Nancy put away her radio and looked at Jack and Annie. “I don’t know how you two got past me.”
“We’re sorry,” said Annie.
“This is unbelievable!” said Nancy.
Jack couldn’t believe it, either. How did they mess up so badly?
“I’m so sorry I brought you here,” said Nancy.
“No, no, it’s our fault,” Jack said again.
“It’s mine, all mine, oh . . . ,” said Nancy. She seemed near tears. “You’re just little kids.” Not so little! thought Jack again. Gee!
A snowmobile rumbled outside, its engine warming up.
“Oh, dear,” said Nancy. “I’ve got to lead the group up a safe route to the crater, or they’ll be in trouble. But Pete should be back here in just a few minutes. Will you be okay by yourselves till then?”
“We’ll be fine, don’t worry,” said Annie.
“Good,” said Nancy. “Here, sweeties.” She poured some water into two cups and gave them to Jack and Annie. “Drink.” While they drank the water, Nancy spread a blanket on the floor and turned on the small heater.
“Lie down here,” she said. “Just rest.” She patted the blanket.
Jack and Annie lay down. Nancy covered them with another blanket. “If you get thirsty, drink more water,” she said.
“Thanks,” said Annie. Jack was too embarrassed to say anything. He felt like a preschool kid being put down for a nap.
“Okay!” Nancy said with a big sigh. “You kids nearly gave me a heart attack,” she repeated half to herself as she left the hut.
“Sorry,” said Jack.
But Nancy was gone.
Soon the roar and rumble of the snowmobiles filled the air as Nancy led the scientists and journalists up the mountain.
“We really messed up our mission this time,” said Jack, lying under the blanket.
“And we were doing so well, too,” said Annie. She sat up. “Can I see Morgan’s rhyme, please?”
Jack pulled the rhyme out of his pocket and handed it to Annie.
“Okay,” said Annie. She read aloud:
. . . then all fall down,
Till you come to the Cave of the Ancient Crown.
“I wonder if this counts as falling down?” said Annie. She put the rhyme into her pocket.
“I don’t think so,” said Jack. “I don’t know what that means. And there’s no ‘Ancient Crown’ in Antarctica. It’s all science and research and rules and helicopters and snowmobiles. . . . It’s the real world. . . . His voice trailed off.
“Well, I know one thing: I don’t want to waste time lying around here,” said Annie. She threw off the blanket and stood up. “At least I can take a few pictures while we wait for Pete.”
“You really feel like doing that?” said Jack.
“Not really, but I’m going to try,” said Annie.
“I don’t think you should,” said Jack.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon,” said Annie. “Maybe I’ll see an ancient crown.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Jack.
Annie put on her goggles and ski mask and headed outside.
Jack reached into his pack and pulled out their book. He took off his glove and looked up ancient crown in the index. He wasn’t surprised to find it wasn’t there.
Jack put the book back in his pack and took out his notebook. He read over his notes:
Stay with others!
Cracks in ice!
Never touch wildlife!
Jack’s hand was cold, so he put his glove back on. He put away his notebook, and then laid his head back down and closed his eyes. He just wanted to sleep. The heat from the small heater felt good. The sound of the snowmobiles was fading into the distance. As he started to fall asleep, his notes ran through his mind: Stay with others! Cracks in the ice!
Oh, no! thought Jack. He sat straight up. He tossed off the blanket. He threw on his pack and rushed out of the hut.
The wind was blowing the snow into icy clouds. Jack pulled up his ski mask and lowered his goggles. “Annie!” he shouted.
“What?” Her voice came from the distance.
Jack caught sight of her. She was aiming her camera up the slope at the smoking crater of the mountain.
“You have to come back now!” he shouted, walking toward her. “You shouldn’t be walking around by yourself!”
“Okay, okay.” Annie put her camera in her pocket.
“Come on,” said Jack. He took Annie’s hand. They held on to each other and walked through the blowing snow, toward the hut. “Remember Nancy’s rules?” said Jack. “There are deep cracks in– AHHH!”
Before Jack could finish, the ground beneath him gave way and he and Annie crashed through a thin layer of snow into a deep crack.
Jack and Annie landed on a ledge of ice. Clumps of snow fell on top of them. Silence filled the air. A thin shaft of light came from the opening they had fallen through. It was at least ten feet above them.
“You okay?” Jack said.
“I think so,” said Annie.
They both sat up slowly. Annie peered over the edge of the ledge. “Uh-oh,” she said. “Look.”
Jack looked. He and Annie were on the ledge of a ravine that plunged thousands of feet down into darkness.
“This must be one of those hidden places in the mountain Nancy talked about,” said Jack, “the ones made by the lava and hot gases.”
“It’s incredible,” said Annie. She reached into her pocket for her camera.
As soon as Annie moved, Jack heard the ice crack. “Don’t move!” he said.
“Forget pictures,” said Jack. “We’re facing serious danger here. If we move, the ice might break under us and we’ll fall thousands of feet.”
“Got it,” said Annie. She took a deep breath. “Maybe we should use the wand.”
“We can’t,” said Jack. “The wand won’t work. We can only use it for the good of others, not just ourselves.”
“Darn,” said Annie.
They were both still for moment, listening to the immense silence around them.
“Okay,” said Annie. “The way I see it, if we don’t use the wand, we’ll be stuck here forever. Soon we’ll make the wrong move and fall.”
“Right,” said Jack.
“So we’ll never find the secret of happiness for Merlin,” said Annie. “Merlin will fade away completely from sorrow. And Camelot will lose his magic forever.”
“Right,” said Jack.
“So maybe in this case, rescuing ourselves isn’t just our good,” said Annie. “Our good is also the good of others, like Merlin.”
“Good thinking,” said Jack. “Let’s try it.” He carefully twisted around and took off his backpack. Then he very slowly reached inside and pulled out the Wand of Dianthus.
“Okay. Five words . . . ,” Jack whispered. “I guess I’ll just wish for it to save you and me and Merlin. Hey, why didn’t we make that wish a long time ago?”
“We couldn’t,” said Annie. “We hadn’t tried our hardest yet.”
“Right. Get ready . . . ,”said Jack. He closed his eyes, held up the gleaming silver wand, and said:
“SAVE ANNIE, MERLIN, AND ME!”
Jack waited a moment. Then he opened his eyes and looked around. “What happened?” he said.
“Nothing,” said Annie.
“So I guess it didn’t work,” said Jack. He turned to put the wand away. “I guess the rules must–”
CRACK! The ice broke! The ledge gave way!
“AHHH!” called Jack and Annie as they fell through the twilight, down through darkness,
down into blackness.
From the Hardcover edition.