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?”
“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! 🙂