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The Monster’s Ring
Chapter One
The Magic Shop

Russell Crannaker glanced up and down the alley.

Empty.

Perfect. He could practice in peace.

Putting up his arms, Russell staggered forward. He rolled back his eyes so only the whites were showing. Then he began to moan.

Fantastic! He was going to be great as Frankenstein's monster-the best ever.

Russell relaxed and grinned. Halloween should be all right this year after all.

He moaned and lurched forward again.

Frankenstein. Boy, would he love to actually be the Frankenstein monster for a while. Then he'd show that Eddie a thing or two. He could see it now: Eddie kneeling in front of him, whining, begging, pleading for mercy.

He could even hear Eddie's voice: “Please, Russell. Please don't hurt me. Please. Please!

Russell smiled. It was a pleasant daydream. But his smile quickly turned to a frown.

Something was wrong.

Eddie was still talking!

“Oh, no! Save me, save me! It's the horrible Crankenstein! Hey, Crannaker, what's up? You lose your marbles?”

Russell opened his eyes and turned pale. Eddie, six inches taller than Russell and made mostly of mouth and muscle, was standing at the end of the alley. “Come here, twink,” he sneered. “I'll make you really look like Frankenstein.”

Russell started to shake. So far that day Eddie had poked him, punched him, called him names, and smashed him in the face with a cream-filled cupcake. Under the circumstances, only one thing made sense.

Russell did it.

He ran.

“Hey, Crannaker!” bellowed Eddie. “Whassa matter? You afraid?”

Afraid? Of course he was afraid! These days he lived in fear of what Eddie might do next.

He rounded the back corner of the alley and tripped over a row of garbage cans. One fell, spreading trash from wall to wall. Eddie, racing around the corner after him, struck something slimy, and slid to his seat. “I'll get you for this, Crannaker!” he roared.

I've got to get out of here, Russell thought desperately. Got to get away… now!

He was off like a shot, barreling down some back street. Without thinking, without looking, he turned another corner, and then another.

Suddenly everything was quiet.

Russell stopped. Where was Eddie?

He looked around.

To his surprise, he was alone. Not only that, he was on a street that was completely new to him. That bothered him a little but it was no real problem. He knew Kennituck Falls fairly well. He couldn't be far from a main street.

He walked to the next corner, figuring that would take him back to where he had started.

It didn't.

He turned right again-and then again. He was confused now. And scared. Not scared the way he had been when Eddie was after him. He was scared because Kennituck Falls was too small to get lost in

It was starting to get dark. A fog began to rise, the mist curling up and clutching at his feet.

Russell stopped again. He had reached a dead-end street. It was lined with shops he had never seen before. They were closed-all except one. Directly ahead of him, a light burning in its window, crouched a store that took his breath away. The sign in the curved window, written in old-fashioned letters, read:


ELIVE'S MAGIC SUPPLIES
S. H. ELIVES, PROP.


Russell felt a surge of delight. He was crazy about magic anyhow. But in October, when it always seemed as if anything could happen, he was consumed with a desire to experience it. His worries about being lost disappeared. He had to see what was in that shop!

He hurried forward. Through a window dark with the grime of years, he could see a crammed display of typical magician's stock: big decks of cards, top hats, Chinese Rings, silk scarves. But there was more here-dark boxes with mysterious designs, capes with dragons on them, a skull with a candle on its top…

He loved it.

Glancing over his shoulder to make sure his enemy was nowhere in sight, he opened the door.

A small bell tinkled overhead as Russell stepped in. He looked around uncertainly. The shop was empty; not only were there no other customers, there was not even a clerk in sight.

He didn't care; he was too thrilled by the contents of the place, which was jam-packed, from top to bottom, with magic equipment. The wall to his right held a section of live animals-doves and rabbits, mostly, for pulling out of hats, but also lizards, toads, and snakes.

I wonder what they're for? thought Russell.

Then his attention was attracted by a stack of books-old, leather bound volumes with thick ridges on their spines. The top book on the pile was titled Mystery and Illusion. Beneath it was A Traveler's Guide to Other Worlds.

Just past the books, resting on a pair of dark red sawhorses, was a large box for the old trick of sawing someone in half.

Beyond the box, stretching across the back of the shop, was a long wooden counter with a rearing dragon painted on its side.

On top of the counter sat an old fashioned brass cash register.

On top of the cash register sat a stuffed owl.

At least, Russell thought the owl was stuffed-until it turned its head toward him, it blinked its brown-flower eyes, then uttered a low hoot.

From beyond the curtain that covered the door behind the counter came a voice that made Russell think of dead leaves moving in the October wind.

“Peace, Uwila. I know he's there.”

A wrinkled hand pulled the curtain aside.

Out shuffled an old man.

Old? Ancient might be a better word. His withered brown skin reminded Russell of dried mushrooms. He was shorter than Russell, and probably weighed less. Yet for some reason-maybe the eyes that glittered like black diamonds below his bristling brow-he seemed very, very strong. He walked around the counter, came to stand right in front of Russell.

“Why are you here?”

Russell shivered. “I… I just came in to look.”

The old man shook his head. “Young man, no one comes in my shop just to look. Get to the point. What do you need?”

“Honestly, sir-I just came in to see what you have.”

The old man arched one eyebrow and squinted his other eye shut. “Well, you've seen it. Now-what do you need?”

The tone of his voice made it clear to Russell that he had better need something.

He glanced around desperately.

“I don't even see any prices.”

“How much money do you have?” asked the old man.

Fishing in his pocket, Russell found a crumpled bill-lunch money he had saved by being too nervous to eat. “Just this dollar. But I don't think-”

“That will be fine!” snapped the old man, snatching it away from him. “Stand still.”

Russell looked at him in surprise.

“Quiet!” said the old man, though Russell had not spoken a word.

Russell stood as if frozen. The old man stared at him, then closed his eyes and bent his head, almost as if he were listening to something. After a moment he opened his eyes. “Wait here,” he said, then turned and disappeared back through the curtain.

Russell felt as if his feet had frozen to the floor; he couldn't have moved if he had tried.

After what seemed like hours the old man reappeared, carrying a small box. “Here,” he said, extending the box to Russell. “Take this. It's what you… came here to get.”

Russell's fingers trembled as he held out his hand to accept the package.

The old man would leaned even closer. Staring directly into Russell's eyes, speaking in a low hiss that made the boy feel as if a cold wind were running down his spine, he said, “Now for Ishtar's sake-be careful!

Then he dropped the box into Russell's waiting fingers.

Russell looked around wildly. Through the front window he could see that it had gotten very dark outside.

“Take the side door,” said the old man, gesturing to his right. “It will get you home more… quickly.”

He began to laugh.

Russell spotted the small door at the side of the shop and bolted for it. Outside he continued to run, without looking where he was going, until he could go no farther. Then he stopped, panting, and leaned against a wall. He looked up. To his surprise, he was back in the alley where he had started.

For a moment, Russell thought he must have had some strange dream, or hallucination.

Then he realized that he was clutching something in his hand.

Slowly, nervously, he opened his fingers to see what he had bought.



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