TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
By taking the time to open this book, youve become a member of a very elite
group: The Curious. I cant tell you how pleased I am that weve found each
other. As you must have noticed, there arent many of us around.
Contained on these pages is a true account of my first adventure with the legendary Kiki Strike. If youre looking for a thrilling story to keep you entertained on those rainy days when you have nothing better to do, it should serve that purpose quite nicely. But if youre interested in learning a few essential skills along the way, all the better. Of course, Im not speaking of the kind of skills youre likely to learn in any classroom. Hopefully, Ill be able to provide you with an altogether more useful education.
CHAPTER ONE: The Shadow City
Until the age of twelve, I led what most people would consider a unexceptional
life. My activities on an average day could be boiled down to a flavorless mush:
I went to school, I came home, I took a bath, and I went to bed. Though Im
certain I didnt realize it at the time, I must have been terribly bored.
Then, early one Saturday morning, I happened to glance out my bedroom window. Across the street from my apartment building, a little park had been sucked into an enormous hole. Roughly ten feet from side to side and seemingly bottomless, the crater had swallowed two Japanese pagoda trees, an old marble birdbath, and a statue of Washington Irving. The park bench where I had sat just the day before teetered on the muddy lip of the hole.
Holes of this sort are rare in New York City, where the earth is sealed beneath a layer of asphalt, and one can go for years without catching sight of actual dirt. Ordinarily, such a spectacle would have drawn a crowd. But it was a dismal November day, and the streets were deserted. Black clouds hovered just above the roofs, and a bone-chilling mist had licked every surface. In the buildings on the opposite side of the park, the windows formed a checkerboard of pulled blinds and drawn curtains. At street level, the hole was hidden from view by an ivy-covered fence that stubbornly circled what was left of the park. A delivery van with a cross-eyed dragon painted on its side sped past without even slowing, headed toward the narrow streets of Chinatown.
Leaning out my third story window, I noticed a peculiar bulge on the section of fence nearest the hole. An orange rope had been tied to one of the pickets, and I followed its long end with my eyes, through a row of mangled juniper bushes and over the side of the hole. As I watched, the rope began to thrash violently, and then two tiny hands and a head smeared with filth appeared. The creature to which they belonged took little time to pull itself over the edge of the pit. From a distance, it didnt appear human. Its entire body was caked in muck; its hair plastered to the sides of its head. When it stood upright, I could see that it was extremely short, and with nothing to guide me but my imagination, I determined it might be a highly intelligent monkey or a troll of some sort.
For a moment, the thing peered back into the hole, apparently hesitant to leave. Then it looked up at me, as if it had known all along that I would be watching at the window. Even now, six years later, I can still see its eyes, which looked colorless and without expressionlike those of a statue come to life. It all seemed quite sinister until the creature offered a little wave, its hand cupped in the singular style of British royalty. It jumped back into the hole, only to reemerge minutes later. Before it scampered over the fence and disappeared into the mist, I could have sworn that I saw it grin.
Excerpted from Kiki Strike, (c) 2006 by Kirsten Miller. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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