In the buzzing city of New York, 12-year-old Gabriel Scott retreats from his parents’ constant arguing into a virtual world of adventure and companionship. Unfortunately, as summer comes along, his parents ship him off to Kenton Woods to stay with grandparents he hasn’t seen in years. Trapped in a world of small town life, Gabriel suddenly finds himself cut off from the only friends he ever had when he discovers that his grandparents don’t even own a computer.
After sulking in the house for a few days, his grandfather drags him outside and Gabriel takes his first steps into the real world. Gathering all his courage, he talks to Liam, their neighbors’ son, who hands him a small sheet of paper and asks for his help. From that day on, Gabriel follows Liam and his friends on a treasure hunt across town. With the entire school on their heels, they rush to solve riddle after riddle, slowly closing in on that which no one has ever found before. Along the way, Gabriel meets the head-butting twins Jack and Jordan, their dog Cat, the insane story-teller Eddie and Hannah, a young girl locked up in her room.
Hand in hand, they work to help Hannah escape and take her along on their adventure. Having spent her entire life cut off from the rest of the world, Gabriel finds a kindred spirit in the red-haired girl with the glowing eyes. But one day, a secret Hannah has been carefully hiding from the group rears its ugly head and threatens to shatter Gabriel’s new life and the place he thought he’d finally found in the world.
Targeted Age Group:: middle-grade
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The idea to Fireflies was born out of a sad realization how alone children can be in this world. Even if they have parents, a family, to love and protect them, these days people are so busy doing all kinds of things, that children are often forgotten in every day life. They are neglected and feel alone in their fears and worries, especially at an age when the world suddenly changes and everything is seen in a new light.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
To tell you the truth, my characters usually find me, not the other way around. Suddenly they pop up and find their place in my story…or should I say their story. At first I only get a slim glance at them, but the deeper I go into the story the more they reveal about themselves until they completely take over. Sometimes I can actually feel them take control and my fingers move across the keyboard as though of their own free will.
Maybe I’m possessed! But if that’s the case, it’s definitely not an evil spirit!
Chapter 1 – Two Worlds
Gabriel slammed the door shut, muffling his parents’ angry voices. They were downstairs in the kitchen, arguing about…something. A whole floor lay between them and yet Gabriel could still hear their ranting. The sound of glass breaking, splintering into a million pieces on the hardwood floor in the hall, flew up the stairs, crawled under the door to his room and found his ears.
His fingers curled up until Gabriel felt the nails dig into his palms.
Again there was the shattering of glass, and then his mother’s raised voice, screaming words Gabriel couldn’t make out.
For that he was grateful.
Loud footsteps, almost like a stampede, thundered up the stairs. His father’s voice, low but menacing, cut through the air. “I’m tired of this! Shut—”
Uncurling his fists, Gabriel covered his ears. His fingers, working to shut out every sound, almost felt like spikes digging into his brain.
Then there was silence.
Gabriel took a deep breath, leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. As his hands started to shake, he sank down, resting his head on his knees, his fingers still drilling into his mind.
As he pressed the button, his computer buzzed to life.
Gabriel felt his muscles relax and the dull throbbing in his temples subside. The real world disappeared from his radar, all attention focused on the screen in front of him.
Never did it take more than a few moments for him to leave Gabriel behind and become Andril.
He didn’t like Gabriel. Gabriel lived in a big city, full of people, and yet he was alone. Sometimes even his parents forgot that he existed. School was no different. No one saw him there, either. He had barely spoken a word to his classmates since the beginning of sixth grade. Almost a year had passed since then, and nothing had changed. By now, Gabriel knew it never would.
But Andril was different. He lived in a place called Candor. Here, there were no skyscrapers but clear blue skies and oceans of grass as far as the eye could see. It took days of hard riding to get from one village to another, with dangers unknown lying in wait on the road. But Andril didn’t mind. Unlike Gabriel, Andril wasn’t alone. He had companions.
“Which way?” Gavin asked, looking up at the sky. “It will be night soon. And I don’t want to be caught on the road in the dark.”
Andril pointed to the west, where the sun hung low in the sky. “There is a village just past that hill. I heard people are friendly there.”
Directing their horses westward, the four riders took off. Andril smiled. He could almost feel the wind on his face as they flew across the plain.
The village was only a small cluster of houses set against the steep slope of a grassy hill. Small puffs of smoke rose from their chimneys into the darkening sky and were carried away on the eastern breeze blowing in from the sea. The golden glow of candlelight shone through the windows, beckoning them forward.
As the riders approached, a door opened and an old man appeared in its frame. He waved and Andril directed his horse toward him, the others following suit. Stifling a yawn, they slid out of the saddle, tying their horses to a pole in the yard.
The old man, wrapped in a thick, grey cloak, hobbled toward them, leaning heavily on a gnarled cane. “Are you Andril? The guide?”
Andril nodded. “You have heard of me?”
“I sure have. It is fortunate that you come here this night. I have need of your assistance.” The old man swayed on his feet, his hands trembling.
Andril took him by the arm to steady him and directed the old man back toward the house. “Let me help you inside. In exchange for shelter this night, my companions and I will be more than glad to assist you.”
The old man chuckled. “Do not be too quick to agree. You have not yet heard what I would ask of you.”
Shutting out the night, they all gathered around the fireplace, noisily slurping the old man’s stew. The wooden cottage was of small size, containing the heat from the fire in a confined space. Soon, all their cheeks glowed red; if from the fire or stew, Andril couldn’t tell.
When they were all settled comfortably, he turned to the old man. “May I ask your name?”
“Darkin,” the old man said, and not only Andril’s eyes grew wide.
“The sorcerer?” Laran asked, his blonde hair shining almost red in the light from the fire.
The old man nodded. “That was a long time ago.”
Andril leaned forward, eyes glowing with excitement. “What can we do for you?”
Suddenly there came a knock on the door.
The door opened and his mother poked her head in. “Dinner’s ready. You coming?”
With a sigh, Gabriel turned from the screen. Outside his window, the sun was already setting, casting its auburn rays across the Manhattan skyline. A faint, pulsating buzz of people and cars down in the streets soared up like a bird, engulfing the buildings in its midst, but Gabriel hardly noticed. His ears were deaf to the sounds of the city, as his eyes were blind to the people who lived there.
As he turned to the door, his hands started trembling again. He had to force himself to open it and step out into the hall. A winding staircase led down to the first floor of their apartment. Gabriel wondered what would await him there.
Straining to listen, his eyes darted from side to side as he looked for signs of the ongoing battle. But he could spot no broken glass or furniture out of place, and his ears only detected the low hum of the oven and the occasional clinking of silverware. The scent of chicken hung in the air as he followed the stairs and then tiptoed down the hall. Breathing in, he felt his stomach rumble.
His father, as usual in a suit, his tie loosened, already sat at the left end of the table, his notebook in front of him and a wireless headpiece in his ear. “No, it has to be tonight,” he growled, jaw clenched. “The presentation is tomorrow morning, which means I definitely need the numbers tonight.”
Gabriel pulled out his chair as his mother walked in, chicken platter in one hand and a basket with garlic bread crusts in the other. Hair twirled up, she now wore an old apron her mother had given her many years ago over the elegant dress she’d put on that morning. “Sweetie, could you go get the vegetables,” she asked, placing the food on the table.
When his father yelled at his assistant again, her eyes narrowed. “Would you turn that damn thing off?” she snapped.
“One minute.” He held up his index finger, eyes still on the screen. “Then call London and—”
A scowl on her face, his mother stormed over, snatched the earpiece from his father, threw it on the floor and crushed it with her three-inch heel into a million tiny pieces. The sound reminded Gabriel of someone chewing crunchy cereal.
His father’s eyes went wide and his jaw dropped open. “Are you insane?” he screamed. Pushing back the chair, he jumped to his feet, a dark red slowly creeping up his neck. “How dare you?”
“How dare me?” his mother snarled. They stood nose to nose, glaring at each other. “You can’t even pretend to care for one lousy dinner? How dare YOU?”
“This is business. You damn well know that,” his father shot back, the muscles in his jaw flexed. “You get the same way when something comes up at the gallery, so don’t give me this crap about me working too much.”
Gabriel’s eyes went wide as they shifted from one parent to the other. Setting one bowl filled with peas and another with broccoli on the table, he sunk down on his chair, hands trembling again. He felt his heart pounding in his chest and his cramped fingers dig into his legs. “Mom? Dad?” he whispered. “Can we eat?”
“I spent two hours in the kitchen cooking dinner,” his mother screamed, eyes still glaring at his father. “And you can’t make time to sit down and eat it? I’m not even asking you to set the table. God forbid you’d ever lift a finger around the house.”
Lips pressed into a thin line, his father took a step back, shaking his head. “That is it! We’re done!”
Gabriel’s heart skipped a beat and the breath caught in his throat. “Mom? Dad?” he said again, his voice shaking. “Please?”
As though suddenly remembering that he was there, his mother slowly exhaled. Turning away from his father, she walked over and sat down at the right end of the table, a smile back on her face. “Sorry sweetie. You want some chicken?”
Gabriel nodded, holding out his plate.
“Sorry son,” his father agreed. He cleared the table of his notebook and papers and sat down. “Would you pass the gravy?”
Not another word passed between his parents that night. They didn’t even look at each other.
Slumped down in his chair, Gabriel picked at his food. He wasn’t hungry any more, feeling a big knot settle in his stomach and a huge boulder crush his chest. Only when he got back to his room, hearing the welcoming buzz of his computer, was he able to breathe again. In and out. In and out.
Gabriel sat down in his chair, feeling the mouse in his hand. Only a little push and the screen came alive again, pulling him back into the old man’s cottage.
“The matter is of a delicate nature,” Darkin said as he leaned back in his seat, pulling his cloak tighter around his shoulders. “About a fortnight ago, an old friend knocked on my door. I hadn’t seen him in many years. He asked a favor of me.”
“What favor?” Gavin blurted out, his bowl of stew forgotten.
“He had his granddaughter with him and he asked me to look after her. He assured me it would only be for a few days. He said great danger lay in wait for her and he didn’t know who he could trust. He said he would send word.”
Putting aside his own bowl, Laran pulled his chair closer. “But he didn’t?”
The old man shook his head, lines of worry creasing his face. “He did. He said to send her after him. He said it was safe now.”
Andril shrugged. “Then, where is the problem?”
The old man took a deep breath, his eyes troubled as he looked at him. “His granddaughter, when she first came here, she hardly said a word. Over the last few days however, she started speaking more. Only what she said gives reason for doubt, and concern.”
“What did she say?” Andril pressed, again sitting at the edge of his chair.
“She said that her grandfather is the one who seeks to harm her.”
Andril’s brows rose, forming arches over his eyes. “Do you believe her?”
The old man shrugged. “I am unsure. This is where I would ask for a favor myself.”
Sitting back, Andril looked at the old man through narrowed eyes. “You want us to find out what your friend is hiding; if anything at all, that is.”
The old man nodded. “I could not have peace of mind if I sent her to him without making sure.” He turned pleading eyes to him. “Will you do it?”
Andril looked at his companions, knowing that this was not his decision alone. But seeing the eagerness at the prospect of a new adventure on his friends’ faces, he nodded his agreement. “We will.”
Lost in a life so different from his own, Gabriel never saw the sun outside his window disappear behind the horizon, dipping the sky into an ink pot.
Eventually, his eyelids became heavy. Short after, his head started sagging, and before long he was fast asleep, head resting on the keyboard.
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