T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 12: He Returns

Two days later…

Ariel didn’t think about the huge puff of smoke coming out of I.B.’s chimney until she was already walking back into her house with the day’s mail under her arm.

Suddenly, she realized what it meant.

“Zieke!” she shouted, dropping the mail on the floor. “He’s back—or somebody is!” 

Zieke’s face was in his plate of bacon and eggs. Instantly, Ariel smacked his head and he bolted upright just as fast. His breakfast was practically stuck to his forehead. “I’m awake!” he said quickly, rubbing his eyes. “What happened?”

“It’s I.B.!” Ariel informed. Those two words caused Zieke to widen his eyes at her. 

This time they didn’t hesitate. They ran across the street and pounded on I.B.’s door.

A muffled voice came from inside. “Hold on—I’m coming!”

Their neighbor opened the door after about a minute and a half. He was wearing pajamas that looked dirtied, and his hair was standing on end. His cat protectively circled his feet. 

“Attempted to make my own coffee,” I.B. informed, rubbing his eyes. “What—Oh, it’s you guys,” he said, once he realized who was at the door. He sounded as if he’d known them for years. “What’s the emergency?”

“We should ask you that,” said Ariel.

“What do you mean? Everything’s fine here.” 

Zieke looked at the author suspiciously. “So then…you’re OK?”

“Why shouldn’t I be? By the way, did you feed the cat like I asked?” He frowned. “He seemed very hungry when I got home.” 

“The cat? What about you?” Ariel protested. “We read your note. We thought you needed our help. We went all the way—“

“—to the Other Side,” Zieke said, finishing his sister’s sentence. “We looked all over for you—“ 

I.B. clapped his hands. “Oh, good. I was hoping you would. What was it like? You have to come in and tell me everything.”

“I don’t understand—did you want our help or not?” asked Zieke, not moving. 

“I absolutely did. I still do,” I.B. said indignantly. “And it sounds as if you have plenty of material for me to write.”

“To write?” Ariel echoed in surprise.

“Of course. What did you think I needed help with?”

“You wanted us to help write your book?” Zieke spat out. “That’s why we let ourselves get messed up with the Evening Sun?”

“Well, yes…”

“You mean you weren’t really in trouble?!” Ariel asked, crossing her arms in disbelief.

“Oh, I was. I am. Big trouble. The book is way overdue and, well, I can’t thank you enough—“

Ariel and Zieke looked at each other, trying to absorb what the older author was saying.

“But what about what I heard the other night? The laugh and cry and thud?” Zieke asked. “You didn’t get hurt? They didn’t kidnap you or anything?”

I.B. laughed. “Well, I might have hurt my foot when I threw my notebook to the floor…I was just laughing and crying in despair. Wretched writer’s block—it makes me scream everyday! Afterward, I went for a walk to clear my head.”

“And then you planned it all so we could figure out your story for you.”

“Well, I didn’t plan it at all,” the author said modestly. “There was a little luck involved.”

“So everything we saw and did—encountering the Other Side, saving Rufus, etc.—that’s all going to go in your book? 

“Oh, that worked out, did it?”

“What about everything we saw on the Other Side?” Ariel asked. “Was nothing real?”

“Depends on what you mean by that.” 

“What if we don’t tell you our story?”

“Well, I guess you don’t have to. But then you wouldn’t get the prize.” I.B. added nonchalantly.

“What prize?” Ariel raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, just membership into the Cester Society…”

Zieke’s eyes widened. “Let me get this straight—if we help you write your book, we can be members of the Cester Society?”

“Well, honorary members, anyway.”

“It’s like our payment?” Ariel asked.

“Well, I wouldn’t put it so badly. You make it sound so crass. Like quid pro quo—“

“Wait, we need to talk about it for a second—privately.” Ariel said.

I.B. shrugged. The siblings stepped away from his door and heatedly whispered to each other.

“What do you think, Ariel?” Zieke asked. “It sounds so exciting.”

“Yeah, but…” Ariel hesitated “Would we ever live our same lives ever again?”

“Why are you complaining about that?” Zieke smiled. “We have a chance to change our whole future just by accepting this offer.” 

“You think so?”

“Uh, not really…”

“Besides, I don’t feel comfortable about sharing our information with I.B….I feel so tricked.”

“Yeah, same…and I don’t think I want to share our information about Rufus either…”

Ariel nodded. “But…joining the Cester Society is a chance of a lifetime.” 

Zieke smiled at his sister. “Just as long as we’re always going to be working together.”

Ariel smiled back. “Why not?” 

They turned back to I.B. They’d made their decision.

 

To be continued…

 

 

Actually, I’m not even sure if it will be continued, because it just says so in the book 😛 Anyway, I really hope you enjoyed! Most of the book was written by me or just edits. Also, this chapter is P.B.’s version. I really didn’t know what else to say. But this whole thing really was fun to write! 🙂 

 

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T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 11: The Great Escape

The same, buff-looking guard guarded the exit. Not to mention the two more guards that appeared to be his sidekicks. They weren’t looking as strong as the first but the look on their eyes told everyone that they weren’t as weak as they looked.

“What do we do now?” Ariel groaned.

“Maybe we could create a diversion,” Rufus suggested.

“That can’t possibly work!”

Zieke thought for a while. He looked around him and soon found that they were hiding behind boxes of gunpowder. His eyes widened. “Does anyone have a box of matches?” he asked.

Rufus shrugged. “Don’t smoke, remember?” 

“Well, do you have any source of fire?” 

“I lost my cigarette after I parted from you guys.”

“Actually, it’s with me,” Ariel reached into her pocket and pulled out Rufus’ pink, bubblegum cigarette.

“You had that this whole time?” Zieke asked.

Ariel shrugged. “I assumed it would come in handy,” She handed it over to Zieke. “I don’t know why you want it though.”

Zieke took the cigarette eagerly. “How do you work this thing, Rufus?” he asked, examining it in his fingers. 

“Well, I need to turn it on for it to work,” Rufus got the cigarette and flipped a switch on it. A spark came out and the siblings smelled bubblegum again.

“Great!” Zieke then started carrying the gunpowder box, still laying low. 

“Zieke, what are you doing?” Ariel asked, afraid to get caught.

“Like Rufus said, we need to create a diversion. This gunpowder should do the trick. And with our handmade lighter…”

Rufus smiled, knowing where this is going. “Nice thinking, kid,” He helped carried the box and started pouring gunpowder in a line while muttering, “What’s gunpowder doing in a theatre…”

“Wait, so you’re planning to blow up the place?” Ariel’s eyes widened at her brother. 

“Sure. This is an Evening Sun location anyway. Best to get rid of it.”

“But…what if something happens?”

Zieke reached out to touch his sister’s hand. “Ariel, please. Trust me on this. I know what I’m doing remember? I’m not a child.”

Ariel swallowed. “I know…you’re right. OK, let’s see where your plan is going.”

Moments later, Rufus had made a line from them to a random spot far away from their position using the gunpowder. He did his best to lay low and to not be caught by the guards. Fortunately, he succeeded. “All right, let’s do this,” he said, going back to the siblings. “What now?”

“We light it up.” Zieke got the bubblegum cigarette, nodded at his sister and Rufus, and flicked it. The gunpowder caught the fire and it followed the rest of the line, becoming smaller and smaller. 

“Duck!” The three went behind the boxes and covered their ears.

The last thing they heard was the sound of an explosion.

Some of the employees were scattered about, trying to get their things out of the fire. Luckily, even the guards started to do the same.

Ariel grinned at her brother, who grinned back. “Let’s go!”

The three of them started heading for the exit. It wasn’t long before they were out the door and running away from the theatre.

“We did it!” Zieke rejoiced. 

Ariel smiled, looking back as they ran. Her smile melted when she saw the Manager by the exit of the burning theatre…with a huge smirk on his face. Ariel didn’t like it one bit. 

They managed to run until they reached the wall that led back to their home. Stopping, Zieke turned to Rufus. “Do you still have our coin?”

Rufus nodded. “Of course,” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the shining gold object. “Do you still know how to use it?” he asked, handing it over.

“Flash it, right?” Ariel said. “But why are you asking us? You sound like you’re not coming with us.” 

Rufus sighed, nodding his head. “I’m not.”

“Why?” Zieke looked at their acquaintance, eyes widened. “The Evening Sun…they’ll catch you again!”

Rufus shrugged. “I’ll lay low for a while until they leave. I really have no choice. Sad to say it, but the Other Side is my home. This is where I live. I’ve never been able to leave here because I didn’t have my own gold coin to activate the wall. I thought of using it after all this was over…until I got captured.” 

“But then…how were you able to find out about I.B. and his disappearance?” Ariel asked, raising an eyebrow. 

“Let’s just say…a little rabbit told me,” Smiling at the siblings, he added, “It’s OK, really, I’ll be fine. It’s not really lonely here, as you can see. But I’ll find another way to leave sooner or later. And when I do, I’ll visit.”

“You better,” Ariel nodded. “It was nice associating with you, Rufus…even if you did try to ditch us earlier back there.”

Rufus smirked. “I know.” 

After an exchange of handshakes and high-fives, Ariel flashed the gold at the wall. She and Zieke gave Rufus one last smile before it started spinning and brought them back to their own world.

“Too bad Rufus couldn’t leave the Other Side.” Ariel noted as she and Zieke started walking back to their house.

“We’ll see him again,” Zieke reassured. “He’s a good guy. It’s a shame that we couldn’t find I.B. though…”

“I don’t get it,” Ariel frowned. “If he wasn’t captured and he doesn’t need our help, then where could he have gone?”

Zieke shrugged, smirking. “Maybe he’s gone to his own Other Side.”

Ariel sighed and smiled at her brother. Together, they continued to walk towards their home sweet home.

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 10: Rescued

 A couple hours later of sulking, two guards had come to take them to a different room. They couldn’t do anything but follow the guard that lead them and be conscious of the guard behind them.

“Zieke,” Ariel whispered, making sure the guard didn’t hear. “No matter what happens to us…I just wanted to say…I’m sorry I didn’t take better care of you…”

Zieke just looked at her, confused. “What do you mean?”

“We always seemed to be fighting when we were young. Even now, we do. I should have listened to you more often. I’m sorry I don’t take you seriously most of the time. And I’m sorry I called you annoying.”

Zieke stared at his sister for a while until his face softened. “It’s ok…I’m sorry too…I just get annoyed whenever you act like I’m just a child…and I’m sorry I called you a brat. You’re not.” 

Ariel nodded. “Thanks…but now I’ve got us into this mess…” 

Zieke sighed. “We’ll find a way out…somehow…”

As if on cue, the guard in front of the siblings suddenly let out a gasp and fell unconscious. The guard behind them prepared his gun but was too late to act, for he also blacked out.

“What…” Before the siblings could say anything, the ropes around them snapped off and they were free.

“Hey!” Zieke smiled brightly, rubbing his arms. “We’re saved!”

“What happened here?” Ariel asked, rubbing her wrists.

Her thoughts were interrupted as the siblings each felt a tug on their shirts. They looked down and saw…a bunny. 

“Where’d this bunny come from…” Zieke wondered.

Ariel squinted at it. “You look familiar…” Then she gasped. “You’re that dead bunny from I.B.’s house! How are you alive?”

The bunny just bowed his head. He lifted his head back up, a visible curve on his mouth that looked distinctively like a smirk. With that, in lightning speed, he hopped off.

“Thanks, Super Bunny,” Zieke called.

“Super Bunny?” Ariel looked at him with an amused smile.

Zieke shrugged, smiling as well. “Come on, let’s get outta here.”

They quickly darted for the exit. Unfortunately, the exit was near the door with the person and the bag over his head. Ariel paused in front of the door, thinking.

“Ariel, come on!” Zieke came back, frowning at his sister. 

“Zieke…I really think we should check the person out.”

“What? But we already found out that it was a trap!”

“Not really. When that guard came after us, I saw that man still squirming. It was like he felt more trapped than ever.”

“Why do you think we’re in a theatre? Home of good actors and actresses, right?”

“Zieke,” Ariel touched his hand lightly, serious face on. “Trust me on this. I have a feeling about that person. I.B. or not, he needs our help.”

Zieke didn’t like it, but the look on Ariel’s face made him want to believe her. “Alright,” he said finally. “Let’s see who this guy really is.”

Ariel smiled brightly at his answer. “Who knows: it may even be I.B.”

The two opened the door again. Once again, it was open. The gagged person was still in his usual tied up place. But this time, there was a giant axe over his head. It looked like it was about to come down on him any minute.

“No!” In an instinct, the two quickly advanced on a lever and quickly brought it down. The axe was immediately put away in an opening in the ceiling above. 

“That was close…” Zieke sighed. He looked at Ariel who nodded.

They walked towards the person. He seemed relaxed now. Ariel’s hand hovered over the bag. “You ready?” she asked Zieke. He nodded.

“One…two…three—“ Ariel ripped the bag off…

…and the face of Rufus was revealed. 

Rufus?” the siblings exclaimed.

Rufus sighed. “Well. I was exposed.”

As the siblings helped untie him from the chair, Ariel was still having trouble processing all the new information into her head. “But…you can’t be here! You said I.B. was!” 

Rufus shrugged, now free. “Yes, I did say that, but only because that’s what I believed. I ended up here looking for I.B. but only to be ending up caught myself.” 

“Wait, you were looking for I.B.?” Zieke asked. “Why?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I went into his house, saw his letter, and tried to help. Also…I’m sort of a former reader of his books…”

Zieke’s eyes widened. “You’re the X-Fan?”

“Well…yeah. I felt guilty for getting so mad at him about not writing a sixth book. I though helping him would lift my anger.”

“That was awfully nice of you,” Ariel commented. “But now look at where’s it’s gotten all of us.” 

“Exactly. We better get out of here quick.”

“Agreed.” The siblings headed out of the room with Rufus following. Together, the three of them went from box after box, trying to reach the exit. 

Unfortunately, that couldn’t be possible at the moment.

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 9: The Evening Sun’s Manager

The guard didn’t seem to put any considerance in the siblings’ safety at all as he threw them, tied up, into an empty room and slammed the door after him.

“Let us go!” Zieke shouted, practically throwing himself at the door. But it was no use; no one could hear them now.

“That’s it; we’re done for,” Ariel moaned. Failure was something she knew they both didn’t like.

Zieke sighed. He looked at his sister, opened his mouth, prepared to comfort themselves, but only to be interrupted by the door opening once again.

A thinning man walked inside. He looked like one of those performers Ariel saw earlier. He was wearing a white polo shirt, black dress pants and shoes, a red bowtie, and had a slick haircut. His most distinguishing feature was his thin, twirling mustache, which he stroked gently with the white gloved-covered fingers of his. The Orion siblings gulped at this.

“So,” the man said with a wicked grin and Italian accent. “You plan to sneak into my theatre without me knowing?” He laughed evilly. “You, my friends, are mistaken!”

“Who are you?” Zieke asked, glaring.

“You may call me ‘The Manager’,” he said hesitantly. “I suppose you know what I ‘manage’, hmm?”

“You work for the Evening Sun!” Zieke said accusingly. “You took I.B. so you could force the Secret out of him!”

“Did I?” the Manager asked. He asked it so sincerely it was almost like he was unsure.

“Yeah! Well, you’re little organization will never know it!” 

“Zieke, calm down,” Ariel said nervously. 

The Manager simply smiled. “You think I took that foolish old writer?”

“Well…didn’t you?” Ariel raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“You think I work for the Evening Sun?”

“Well…aren’t you?”

“You do have the gloves,” Zieke said.

“These are magician gloves,” the Manager insisted. “Why do you think we’re in a theatre?”

“Well…we still think you took I.B.!”

He laughed this time. “You two are feisty ones, eh? I’m sure you will enjoy staying with us for a while.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, after what you have done, I can’t possibly let you go now, can I? Besides,” He smiled wider. “My bosses would want to ‘meet you’.”

Zieke realized what he was saying and his angry face melted. “You…you can’t do that!”

“Lost your confidence, did you?” He smiled again; only it didn’t look like a good one. “Don’t worry, I’m sure they’d love have you around.”

Ariel and Zieke exchanged worried glances.

“I hope you like Italy.” With that, he closed the door.

“We are doomed.” The siblings looked at each other one last time, the fear blazing in their eyes.

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 8: Breaking Inside

They crossed the stream and the bridge, as Rufus told them to do. It wasn’t long before they saw the theatre he was talking about.

“Looks like it’s going to be a full house,” Zieke said, seeing the long line for the performance act. “And we didn’t bring any money…”

“Maybe there’s a back entrance,” Ariel suggested.

They headed over to the back of the theatre. There was a buff-looking guard there, arms folded over his chest, looking very serious about his job. A sign was over the door saying, “Employees only”

“I’ve always hated those signs…” Zieke muttered.

“How will we get in now?” Ariel asked.

Zieke looked around. Then he saw crates filled with Styrofoam and smiled to himself. “I have an idea.”

The guard was looking around for trespassers. He saw two small workers wearing hats, so it was hard to see their faces. They were carrying a crate each. “What’s in there, young man?” he asked gruffly.

The first worker gulped. “See for yourself.”

The guard grunted and looked: inside were trumpets, trombones, and other musical instruments.

“Can we go now? This stuff’s really heavy,” the second worker said stubbornly.

The guard rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever,” He opened the door and let them in. “Hurry it up.”

“Thanks,” The two went in. They kept walking until they saw a red curtain and dropped the crates there. The workers took their hats off.

“Did you really have to choose the brass instruments?” Ariel glared at her brother.

Zieke rolled his eyes. “Stop complaining. At least I got us in.”

“Good thing, too. Now, come on. Let’s find I.B.”

The siblings scouted around the backstage theatre. There were so many crates, instruments, and props. Perfect hiding spaces for whenever an employee or performer passed by, which happened a lot. There were many dressing rooms there (as most theatres have) but none of them contained an imprisoned author in there.

“We’re never going to find him at this rate,” Zieke sighed, leaning over a wall behind a box.

Ariel took one more look around them. It seemed like the performance act was almost ending. She looked to her right. There was a door that said “Keep Out: Manager only”. And it was in the far, far, back of the theatre, where it could barely be seen.

“That’s new,” she mumbled to herself.

“What do we do now?” Zieke asked.

Ariel turned to him. “I say we check that last door out.”

Zieke’s eyes widened. “But it says-“

“So did that other door, but that didn’t stop us from breaking in, right?”

Zieke hesitated. He was about to open his mouth to protest again, but Ariel was already running towards the door. Zieke sighed and followed. Ariel was about to turn the knob, but surprisingly, it was already open.

“That can’t be a coincidence, can it?” Zieke asked. Ariel ignored him once again. She went right in. Zieke reluctantly followed.

The room was pitch black. Like most of the rooms, it had props in it. But right in the center was a figure that wasn’t a prop at all: it was a moving figure, sitting in a chair with a gag bag over the head. When it heard someone was coming in, it made strangled, grunting noises.

“Is that I.B.?” Zieke gasped.

“It must be!” Ariel said breathlessly. Ariel prepared to run towards him but Zieke grabbed her before she could.

“Ariel, wait…what if it’s a trap?”

“How can it be a trap?” Ariel narrowed her eyes at him. “It’s as clear as the nose on our face! It has to be I.B.!”

“But this seems to easy! They wouldn’t just let I.B. in a room like this without any weapons around him or something! We should check more rooms.”

“But this is the last room left! We have nowhere else to go!” 

“But think about it! Would the Midnight Sun just simply leave I.B. in a place where he could easily escape?”

“Geez, you’re so annoying!” Ariel suddenly shouted. “You complain about everything! You always seem to have a problem at hand and doubt my suggestions! Sometimes, I think you’re forgetting that I’m the older sister!”

Zieke was taken aback by her outburst but he shouted back, “Yeah, well, you’re not much better! You treat me like a kid most of the time! You push away my concerns and don’t listen even to me when I’m right! So what if I think that I’m in charge? Most of the time, you act like a brat!”

Ariel turned red and was about to defend herself when the lights of the room turned on. The gagged person made even louder noises. The siblings whirled around to find themselves face to face with the same, buff-looking guard, wearing a huge smirk on his face.

“I knew it was right to leave the door open for you,” he said wickedly.

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 7: A Stranger in the Rye

The stranger stared at them, puffing on a cigarette, not saying anything. He was about their ages, fifteen or sixteen. It was hard to tell exactly.

“I’m Rufus,” he said, as if they should have known. (Rufus is not my OC, by the way) “What do they call you where you’re from?”

Ariel and Zieke squeaked out their names.

Zieke nodded at Rufus’ cigarette. “You must have a death wish,” said Zieke, trying not to show any fear.

Rufus laughed. “Are you talking about this?” He puffed on his cigarette, and a white cloud came out. But it was a cloud of powdered sugar, not smoke.

He held out the cigarette for them to inspect. It had a pink rubbery end. “It’s bubble gum, you dummies. I’m using it to quit.”

“You’re quitting smoking? That’s good,” said Ariel.

“No, I would never smoke. I meant quit chewing gum…Now give me the gold.”

“What gold?” asked Zieke nervously.

“The gold you flashed to get into this place. The coin.”

Zieke looked at his sister. “I knew I saw a flash from your pocket as I activated the wall!” he whispered.

Ariel reached into her pocket and held the coin tightly. “Say we have it – why should we give it to you?” asked Ariel.

“You’re looking for I.B., aren’t you? Or were you just collecting Dairy Milk brand chocolate bar wrappers for fun?”

Zieke opened his mouth in surprise. “You know where he is?”

Rufus smiled. “I might.”

Ariel and Zieke looked at each other. Could they trust him?

The siblings took one more look at Rufus. He looked like one of those street magicians, judging by his top black hat and coat.

“Reminds me of I.B. a bit…” Zieke mumbled.

“Hush,” Ariel whispered. She turned back to Rufus. “Tell us where I.B. is; then you’ll get your gold.”

Rufus pursed his lips. “He’s being held captive by the Evening Sun.”

I knew it!” Zieke exclaimed. “They’re still after the Secret!”

Ariel ignored him. “Where did they take him?”

Rufus pointed northward. “Down by the stream, cross the bridge, and you’ll find an old theatre. That’s where the old glove wearers are going to keep him until the Secret is revealed.

Ariel and Zieke exchanged glances. That didn’t sound good.

“I still don’t understand,” said Ariel. “Why would anybody take I.B.? He’s just a writer. It’s just books. You know, like make-believe. Who cares?”

“Make-believe, huh?” Rufus pulled out a white glove from his pocket. “All I know is, I found this in I.B.’s house,” he said grimly.

“It is the Evening Sun!” cried Zieke.

“But – it can’t be one of them – they never take off their gloves,” Ariel protested. “How do we know it’s not I.B.’s glove – he used to be a magician, right?”

“You think I.B. would wear a white glove, knowing what he knows?” asked Rufus.

“Fine, but how do we know it’s not yours?” asked Ariel, refusing to be convinced.

“Really, you think this is mine?” Rufus put his hand against the glove. The fit wasn’t even close.

Ariel sighed in defeat. “Give it up, sis,” Zieke said.

“If you two don’t hurry,” warned Rufus. “the Evening Sun could use whatever they have on I.B. to get the Secret out of him. For all we know, he could be a stuttering lunatic by now.”

Zieke looked at Ariel. She glanced back. That wasn’t good at all.

“Now about our deal…” Rufus mused.

Ariel grunted, reaching into her pocket again. “All right, here’s your stupid gold,” She tossed it to Rufus, who caught it midair. “As you said, we need to get there fast. Do you think you could…”

“…Help get us there?” Zieke finished.

Rufus stared down at the gold, then back up at them. He smiled mischievously and blew on his cigarette. A huge cloud of white smoke came out from his lips and engulfed him in it.

“Look out!” The siblings shielded their eyes and the cloud exploded in their faces. When they turned, Rufus was gone.

“Great,” Ariel groaned. “What do we do now?”

Zieke sighed, looking north. “We’re on our own, I guess…” he muttered.

Ariel sighed. ‘I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him…’ she thought sadly. She saw something on the floor and picked it up. It was Rufus’ discarded bubble gum cigarette. Full of disgust and hate, she stuffed it into her pocket angrily.

“We have to hurry,” she told her brother. “If we don’t, the Secret will be out and I.B. could be dead!”

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 6: The Other Side

Ariel and Zieke followed the address of the Other Side. True enough, it was only at the end of their street. When they reached it, they expected to see another street leading them to their destination – but all they saw was a brick wall.

“What? I don’t get it!” cried Ariel.

“Hey, don’t freak out. Maybe there’s a secret door or something…” Zieke reasoned. He placed his palms to the wall and started feeling around.

“This is stupid and you know it.” Ariel groaned, watching her brother as he ignored her.

Just then, Zieke thought he saw a flash of light come from Ariel’s pocket. Suddenly, there was a click. A fraction of the wall moved and rotated, taking Zieke with it. “Whoa!” Zieke yelped out as he spun.

“Zieke!” Ariel shouted.

“It’s OK!” her brother called out from the Other Side. “I’m fine! A little dizzy, but fine! Just do the same thing I did, Ariel!”

Ariel didn’t trust that wall the moment Zieke started spinning. But if it meant getting to the Other Side…

She placed a hand on the brick wall. She felt around for the wall fraction. As soon as she found it, the same click was heard and she started to spin as well. “Help!” she started to shout, but it wasn’t needed. She stopped spinning and landed flat on the floor of the Other Side, Zieke smirking down at her. “You OK?” he asked, reaching a hand.

“Yeah…” She let him pull her up. Ariel dusted herself off. “Are we on the Other Side?”

“We must be…I’ve never been in this part of town before.” Zieke replied.

The Other Side was the complete opposite version of their own street. Unlike the usual gloomy grayish, black-and-white colors their town had, the Other Side was a really lively little ray of sunshine. All around were magicians, street performers, and cheery vendors that, unlike most street vendors, made you want to trust their products enough at first sight. Unlike in their street, everyone who lived there was up and about; not a single person wanted to waste their day rotting inside their houses. Everyone was so happy while it made the siblings sad.

“If only everyone else was like this…” Zieke murmured. Ariel nodded in agreement.

“Come on,” Ariel said, turning to her brother. “We need to focus.”

Zieke nodded, sighing. As he did, he spotted something on the floor. “Ariel, look at that!”

His sister turned her attention to the floor. On the path ahead was a trail of crumpled Dairy Milk brand chocolate bar wrappers.

“Oh, Orion…” Ariel said, turning to Zieke. “What if they belong to I.B.?”

“Only one way to find out,” Zieke replied.

Together, the siblings started to follow the littered trail, hoping it would lead them to their next clue.

Unfortunately, the trail had ended after a few minutes, in front of a little stream. On the other side of it, there were no more Dairy Milk wrappers in sight.

“Stars and constellations…” Zieke muttered. “What now?”

“We have to keep looking!” Ariel cried.

By now, they had been searching for hours without finding another Dairy Milk bar wrapper. ‘Could this really be the end of the trail?’ Ariel and Zieke wondered. Would they ever find I.B. in this new world, or were they doomed to wander the Other Side forever?

Suddenly, they heard a noise coming from close behind them.

“Do you hear that?” Ariel whispered.

“Yeah…” Zieke replied quietly.

Quickly, they spun around to see the silhouette of a stranger blocking their way.

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 5: Two Sides

Just a little note: the book made me choose a genre of three choices – Noir, Fantasy, and Gothic. I chose Noir. I loved mysteries. Plus, it’s what this book’s about, right?

Another day, another crime scene.

Ariel and Zieke seemed confident enough about solving this mystery. They cracked enough of I.B.’s old bookamajigs to handle a simple missing-person case like this one. Like old pros, they scoured his office for clues, dusting for fingerprints, checking for hidden doors, all the usual.

Soon enough, they saw it: a body lying behind I.B.’s desk. Glazed eyes. Faded color. If you’ve seen one dead body, you’ve seen them all, right?

It was an old stuffed bunny. You know the type. Cute. Cuddly. Covered with ink stains. Some poor kid must have loved this thing once. Now one of his long bunny ears was about to fall off. It would have brought tears to your eyes. That is, if you were the sort who had eyes instead of plastic marbles inset in your fur.

Ariel leaned down and picked up the bunny from underneath the desk. His bad ear dangled by a thread.

Zieke looked at her askance. “This is no time for playing with stuffed animals. You’re tampering with evidence.”

“No, I’m putting him back where he belongs.”

Somberly, Ariel laid the bunny inside I.B.’s top hat. He looked ready for his funeral. All that was missing was a bunny priest.

Ariel’s hand lingered inside the hat. “Either I.B. has a really big head or there’s a secret compartment in here-“

Zieke stepped closer, “Anything in it?”

His sister pulled out a shiny gold coin with a flourish, playing magician. “Voila.”

Zieke whistled. “That’s a lotta gold to hide under a little rabbit. What’s it say? Name of a casino or something?”

She handed him the coin so he could read it. They both swallowed as he turned it over.

THE OTHE SIDE, it said on both sides. Like it was some kind of joke. Only it was about as funny as a pimple on picture day.

Beneath the words THE OTHER SIDE was something that looked suspiciously like a street address.

The Other Side wasn’t on the other side of the moon. It wasn’t even the other side of town. It was right around the corner – the other side of the end of their own street itself.

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 4: The Mysterious Letter

Zieke dumped the contents of the envelope unceremoniously onto the floor.

It was fan mail – if you could call a barrage of questions, demands, and conspiracy theories fan mail. Many of the letter adopted I.B.’s notoriously “snarky” tone. Some were downright hostile.

One letter stuck out because it wasn’t handwritten or typed like the others; it was composed with letters and pictures cut out of magazines and newspapers. It looked like a ransom note or a flyer for a rock band:

(This is basically what was written)

2 ib u stink, 5 bOoks waiTing for tHe secret and that’s all i gEt? what the heck was that?! u betteR write another book or elSe I’ll senD u 2 u know wherE. i’m watching u! frum yr X-(insert drawing of fan here)

(I’m so gomen)

“See this? It’s like a picture code,” said Zieke, holding the letter. “That’s X-Fan, like ex-fan of I.B.’s books. Like he used to be a fan, but he isn’t anymore.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Ariel mumbled, rolling her eyes and looking over her brother’s shoulder. “It’s not that subtle.”

“He sounds pretty mad.

“If it’s a he. Could be a she,” Ariel pointed out. “Can’t tell by the handwriting – ‘cause there isn’t any.”

“Either way. They’re pretty mad…”

“I know, but I mean, come on, it’s just a book!” Ariel shook her head. “So they didn’t like the ending, so what? I can’t believe they got so upset about it.”

“I can…” muttered Zieke, thinking about his own equally enraging experience reading the end of the Series of Secrets. “Hey, what if this guy came in here and saw the same thing we saw?”

“What? All the Dairy Milk wrappers?”

“No, the empty notebook.”

“And then they got even madder because there was no sixth book?”

Zieke nodded.

“Right. And then…” Ariel trailed off.

They stared at each other, both contemplating the horrible possibilities.
Could the X-fan have kidnapped I.B.? Or worse?

“Where’s that letter?” Ariel demanded. “Let’s see if there’s any clues in it.”

Zieke held it up. They inspected it for a couple of minutes until-

“Hey, wait!” Zieke suddenly exclaimed.

“What?” Ariel asked.

“Look at that!”

“Look at what?”

That.”

“What?”

“The capital letters,” Zieke said breathlessly. “There are capital letters in the letter.”

Ariel squinted at it. Her brother was right. “Yeah, so?”

So, let’s try spelling them out to see what they form! They do stand out from the rest.”

“O-kay, but…are you sure it’s not a coincidence?”

Zieke shrugged. “Let’s find out.”

Later, the siblings soon realized that the capital letters spelled out O-T-H-E-R-S-I-D-E.

Other Side.

“What does it mean?”

“It could only mean one thing,” Zieke said excitedly. “Remember that in the letter, the X-Fan said he would take I.B. to ‘u know where’?”

“Yeah…?”

“Well, that’s where I.B. is! The Other Side!”

Ariel took a while to take this all in. She rubbed her temple. “OK…let’s say I.B. has been kidnapped and is being held on the Other Side,” said Ariel. “The question is, other side of what?”

“I think you mean what Other Side,” said Zieke. It’s not necessarily the other side of anything. On the other hand, maybe it’s the other side of everything.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Remember the end of I.B.’s last book?” The Other Side is where Italo disappeared to.”

Ariel stared. “So are you saying that the Other Side is real? It’s a place? I find that very hard to believe.”

“I do, too, but I know this much – if the Other Side is real, it’s where we’re going to find I.B.”

Ariel nodded slowly. The Other Side was the only clue they had. They might as well try to find it.

T.C.O.T.M.A. – Chapter 3: Inside the House

Having read all of I.B.’s books, Ariel and Zieke had been expecting the inside of I.B.’s house to look like a clean, mysterious kind of mansion; but instead, it looked like a normal house that was also a trash bin, waiting to be cleaned out.

Nothing had suggested that a tragedy had occurred the night before. More than a few crumpled Dairy Milk brand chocolate bar wrappers littered the floor, but they looked as if I.B. had just dropped them there, not like they’d fallen in a fight.

“What a slob!” whispered Ariel.

Aside from the Dairy Milk brand chocolate bar wrappers, the one thing Zieke recognized from I.B.’s books was an old, fraying black top hat, perched on top of a bureau.

“Hey, it’s Italo’s hat! Or it’s just how he described Italo’s hat, anyway.”

If his books were to be believed, I. B. had inherited his top hat from the old magician Italo Barbero, leader of the secret organization known as the Cester Society.

In his Series of Secrets, I.B. wrote about himself in the character of middle school student Jon-Thomas, an aspiring magician (as well as aspiring comedian). Together with his best friend, Tess, Jon-Thomas joins the Cester Society and comes to think of Italo as a sort of father figure. At the end of I.B.’s series, Italo disappears, leaving only his hat for his young friends to find – a conclusion both Zieke and Ariel had found frustrating, to say the least.

Zieke placed the manila envelope of the bureau and glanced inside the top hat, half-expecting to find a rabbit, but the hat was empty.

Under the couch, I.B.’s gray cat, Cacao, crouched, his hair bristling on his back. When Ariel reached to pet him, the cat slunk out of sight.

‘Strange,’ Ariel thought; when she’d met him on the street, the cat hadn’t been especially affectionate – how many cats are? – but at least he had permitted her to touch him.

“When did he get so scared of me?” she whispered to her brother.

Zieke replied, “Maybe he figured out you’re part dog.” in which he received a punch in the arm.

Cautiously, they began to explore the rest of the house, starting with the kitchen.

“If he knew he was going away, he could have at least done the dishes,” said Ariel, nodding at the sink, which was filled to the brim with unwashed, dirty plates and utensils.

“He wouldn’t have known he was going to away if he was kidnapped by the Evening Sun,” said Zieke darkly, referring to the villainous organization that haunted the Cester Society throughout I.B.’s Series of Secrets.

“The Evening Sun? First of all, I keep telling you, his books are just books. They’re not real,” said Ariel. “Second of all, I don’t see any white gloves lying around, do you?”

“Exactly. They never take off their gloves.”

“So you’re saying the fact that they didn’t leave gloves proves that they were here? That makes no sense.”

There was an open doorway at the end of the hall. I.B.’s office. They were drawn to it like moths to a flame.

Most of the room was piled high with more Dairy Milk brand chocolate bar wrappers and half-eaten pieces of trail mix. But, curiously, the middle of the room was empty. It was as if some centrifugal force had spun all of I.B.’s belongings away. Except for a single leather notebook that lay on the floor in the exact center of the room.

A handwritten note was clipped to the note. “Look – it’s for us!” cried Zieke, holding up the note to show his sister. “How did he know we were going to be here?”


Dear Ariel and Zieke,

Welcome! I’ve been inspecting you. Here’s my new book for you to expect.

By the way, can you feed the cat? I may be gone awhile…

Secretly, I.B.

Ariel frowned. “Expect? I think he flipped the words. He must have meant inspect – you know, like, I’ve been expecting you. Here’s my new book to inspect.

“You’re missing the point – it’s his new book and it’s not even published yet! You know how many kids would kill to get their hands on this?!”

“Well, I hope they wouldn’t kill him-“

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

Zieke eagerly opened the notebook, but as soon as he started flipping through the pages, his face fell.

“What – what’s wrong?” asked Ariel.

Zieke turned the pages toward his sister. The notebook was blank. “Why did he leave it for us if it’s not even written?”

Ariel shrugged. “I guess he meant expect after all. There’s no book yet to inspect.”

“Maybe it’s written in invisible ink?”

Zieke performed a few quick tests, but he couldn’t find evidence of any hidden writing anywhere in the notebook.

He was about to toss the notebook aside when Ariel pointed to a page near the front. “Hey, what’s that say?”

There were four names written faintly on it – not in invisible ink, just old-fashioned number two pencil.

Horatio
Eleanor
Leopold
Penelope

“Do you think he was trying to pick names for his characters?” asked Ariel.

“No, look at the first initials,” said Zieke, growing excited again. “It’s code, just like in his first book! H – E – L – P. HELP.”

“Wait, you think that’s a message for us?” asked Ariel.

Ariel and Zieke looked at each other.

I.B. was in trouble. He wanted their help.