Authors: Linda Chapman
This book is dedicated to
the memory of the author E. Nesbit.
Her wonderful books about magic
and ordinary family life inspired us both
to write this story in tributeâa kind of
“Four” Children and It
for today's readers.
In a dim and distant place, long agoâ¦
“Your mum's going to go crazy!” cried Milly Worthington, staringâ¦
Michael was finally about to beat the end-of-level monster whenâ¦
The children stared at the book as it juddered andâ¦
“That seems to be it,” said Jason, once he'd readâ¦
“Okay,” Jess said, looking at the notebook in her handâ¦
“Nooooooooo!” Jason's muffled wail floated eerily out of the flashlight.
There was a bright white flash and the next secondâ¦
“See through the outward form,” Michael mused. “I've always fanciedâ¦
The next morning everyone trooped down to the bookshop afterâ¦
Milly and Jason ran upstairs to see Skribble and explainâ¦
The children all took turns to be genie and wish-maker,â¦
“What does all that mean?” Milly said, confused.
Toffee cantered out of the parking lot and down theâ¦
Jason rummaged around in the bin. “I've found one ofâ¦
That night, Milly couldn't sleep. She wasn't just thinking aboutâ¦
“Wow,” breathed Milly as she finished reading. “So, we'll beâ¦
Michael, Milly, Jess, and Jason were all dressed and readyâ¦
Even as Michael yelled for help, Milly and Jason wereâ¦
Back outside, Milly jumped as The Genie Handbook started toâ¦
Jason stared in horror as the Slitherbots blasted the doorâ¦
Jason, Michael, and Milly were waiting for Jess on theâ¦
“So we've got to trick someone!” Milly said, putting theâ¦
“Hey, Jess! Over here!” Colette called when Jess walked intoâ¦
The four children stared at the empty book. Suddenly Michaelâ¦
When the children arrived at the town hall for theâ¦
“If we've failed this step, that's it for the genieâ¦
The kids headed upstairs as soon as they got home,â¦
Jess lay awake that night, thinking about the book's mysteriousâ¦
Jess looked back down at Skribble and the book onâ¦
“It's a monster!” yelled Milly.
“Stay away from us,” Jess warned them in a shakyâ¦
The words stood out boldly on the page, in inkâ¦
A smile flickered across Vega's face. “No, child. This isâ¦
“Ginny, it's great to see you! Come in!”
“A bath and a night watching telly for me,” Annâ¦
n a dim and distant place, long agoâ¦
The forgotten room stood in the farthest, shadowy reaches of the ancient library. Nobody went there. There was a large lock on the huge oak door to stop anyone who might try, but nobody ever had.
The students, the scholars, even those who staffed the marble halls of learning, simply accepted the room's existence and ignored it. It was almost as if the room itself did not want to be disturbed. As if it could cast a spell on anyone who came near, moving them gently along
: Nothing to see in here, nothing to seeâ¦
In any case, never once did a single soul imagine what might lurk inside the forgotten room. The answer was simple and, on the surface, not at all surprising.
Big books. Small books. Middle-size ones, too. They sat in stacks or weighed down shelves or littered the marble floor, their hard edges softening beneath a blanket of thick dust. Squeezed in among them were parchments and pamphlets and faded, crumbling scrolls.
The room had no windows, and the locked door offered the only way in or outâto human eyes at least. But on the other side of the door, the smooth oak was carved with runes in strange shapes, like the shadows of weird, unknown creatures; a powerful charm, designed to protect the precious books and scraps of knowledge gathered here.
Because those who had built the forgotten room foretold a time when it might be remembered.
And, one cold fourth-century day, that time finally arrived.
It was announced by the eager thump of filthy feet on the marble, and shouts of alarm.
“What's all the noise? Keep back, you can'tâ!”
The elderly librarian by the door was knocked to the ground as thieves and bandits poured in from the streets and spilled into the spotless
chambers. They upturned tables and chests, scattered the ordered contents in all directions, crushing precious scrolls and trampling parchments underfoot, dragging the heavy volumes from the shelves and stuffing them into sacks.
The door to the forgotten room seemed to shrink into shadow, as if trying to hide. But one man knew where to find it. Eyes agleam, he produced a key from around his neck. It fit into the lock perfectly. Silently, followed by just a few others, he slipped through the door.
And in less than ten minutes, the room was as bare as a bone, picked clean.
All except for one book. A tall, very thin book with a dark leather cover. It lay in a corner, abandoned in dust.
Suddenly a trace of gold about the cover seemed to glow in the light and caught the eye of a lingering thief. Why not take that last book, too? It was small; it would weigh little on his back.
He snatched it up and ran. Over the noise of screaming onlookers and the pounding of his heart, the thief could not hear the soft and slightly curious sounds coming from within the pages.
The whispering sound of tiny jaws, chomping through ancient paper. The quiet rustling of someone very small who had no idea of the long, long journey that lay ahead of himâ¦
our mum's going to go crazy!” cried Milly Worthington, staring at the heavy box of books on the kitchen table.
“I know,” muttered Jason, her stepbrother, looking up from his Sudoku puzzle. A few tattered paperbacks spilled out of the box onto the pine tabletop. “She told your dad not to buy any more books.”
“Watch out!” Mr. Worthington cried, breezing back into the kitchen. “More books coming through!”
Jason and Milly ducked as another cardboard box sailed over their heads to land with a crash on top of the first.
“Dad!” Milly exclaimed.
“There're still four more boxes to bring in,” Mr. Worthington said, ignoring his daughter's protest. He swung around and almost collided with Michael, Milly's older brother, who was slouching in the kitchen with his Game Boy. “Going to give me a hand, Michael?”
“Nope!” Michael threw himself into a chair, his dark
shaggy fringe falling into his eyes, his thumbs jabbing rapidly at the keys.
“I'll help,” Jason volunteered.
“Me too!” Milly said, jumping to her feet.
“Oh, no, you won't!”
Jason looked up to find his mum, Ann, had come into the kitchen. “Those books can
out there,” she said firmly.
Mr. Worthington's face fell. “Oh, come on, Ann, at least have a look at them. There was a clearance sale at that big old house on the hill; it must have had a really impressive libraryâ¦.”
“We need to talk.” Ann Worthington marched him through to the dining room. The door shut with a bang but it didn't stop their voices from carrying through the walls.
“For goodness sake, Mark, we've already got a whole shop full of books that need sorting and pricing, and we open for business in a week!”
“I know, but I'll bet I got some real bargainsâ”
“We make decisions
!” Jason could hear the hurt in his mum's voice. “Moving out of London to open a bookshop wasn't just your dreamâit was mine as wellâ¦.”
“Blah, blah, blah,” Michael muttered, turning up the volume on his Game Boy.
Milly sidled up to Jason. “Shall we take a stroll, young man?” she said, putting on a quavery voice like an old woman. Milly loved drama and often spoke in funny voices. At her old school she had very nearly been the youngest lead ever in the end-of-year play at just eight years old. But then they had all moved here to Moreways Meetâ¦.
“Yeah, let's get out of here,” Jason agreed.
They slipped out through the back door.
The April air outside was cool on their faces. Behind the house, the misty Malvern hills rose in the distance. Two song thrushes were warbling in a nearby tree.
Milly's eyes darted around. “What should we do?” she said in her normal voice. Her gaze fell on the open trunk of her dad's car. Four cardboard boxes were piled up beside it. “I know! Why don't we have a look at the rest of those books Dad bought, see if there
Jason sighed. “What's the point?”
“You heard what Dad said; there could be all sorts of books in those boxes!” Milly dragged him enthusiastically over to the car. “Come on, quick, before your mum burns them all.”
“Paper bursts into flame at two hundred and thirty-two degrees Celsius,” Jason noted.
Milly shot him a look. “I'll bet there're loads of boring facty books here that even
like.” Crouching down,
her dark ponytail falling over one shoulder, she flung the first box open and started to sort through the titles.
“My Life in Politics, How to Rear a Beagle
â¦nope, nope, nope.” Milly threw the books carelessly out of the box. “Nothing good so far.”
Jason sat back on his heels. He could still hear the sound of angry voices through the dining room window. “I thought moving in together was supposed to make everyone happy,” he sighed. “But it's been four weeks now, and everyone's sad. My mum and your dad argue the whole time, and Michael and Jess are missing London so much that they're in the world's longest bad moods.”
Milly nodded. “I wish we
still in London because then I could have beenâ”
The Wizard of Oz
,” Jason broke in. “I know.” He'd heard his stepsister moan about not being Dorothy practically a thousand times.
not fair!” Milly declared, tossing her hair back as she pulled the rest of the books out of the box. “I'd have gotten to sing and dance
act. It would have been brillâ” She broke off as she reached the bottom of the box. “Hey, there's a really funny little book down here, Jase. Look!”
Jason peered into the box. A thin book with a dark leather cover was lying on the bottom. It looked old. Older
than any book he had ever seen.
A title was etched into the cover in ornate gold writing. Jason frowned. It was hard to make out the exact words because the letters had so many swirls and curls at the ends.
“The Genie Handbook,”
he read out.
“Grant Wishes Like an Expert in Six Easy Steps.”
“What?” Milly was taken aback. “It tells you how to be a genie?”
“As if!” Jason laughed. “It must just be a storybook.” He took it out. For such a slim book, it was strangely heavy. He put it down on the ground between them.
Milly opened it. “Oh,” she sighed. “It's written in a foreign language.”
Jason saw she was right. He wasn't sure that the words were even printed; they looked almost handwritten, with funny squiggles all over the place.
“Shame,” said Milly. “It sounded like a really good book.” She jumped to her feet and put her hands together. “Your wish is my command!” she said, giving a dramatic bow. “I'd be a cool genie, wouldn't I, Jase?”
Jason smiled at her, but there was something bothering him. Suddenly he realized what it was. “Wait a sec. Why's the title in English if the rest of the book is in another language? That doesn't make sense.”
Milly looked surprised. “You're right. Maybe there are
some English words farther on.”
The paper was soft and old, and as the first few pages flicked through her fingers they made a gentle rustling sound. But as she turned more and more, a new noise began to come from the book.
A chomping, wriggling noise.
It seemed to come from deep within the pages, getting louder and louder.
“What's that sound?” Milly said. “Whatâ¦?” She broke off as the book started to tremble beneath her fingers. She snatched them away, and the book fell shut. It lay there, quiet and still again.
For a moment she and Jason both just stared at it.
“Didâ¦did you see that?” Milly whispered, gazing at the book as if it was about to jump up and bite her.
Jason nodded. “It shook. It definitely shook, all by itself.”
“And it made a noise.” Milly gulped.
shake and make noises,” said Jason. “Maybe it got so squashed at the bottom of the box, the pages were expandingâ¦.”
has a brainbox explanation.” Milly looked at him. Her blue eyes widened. “What ifâ¦what if this book is magic?”
“Magic?” Jason echoed. “A
down beside the book, he took a handful of pages in his right hand and cautiously started to flick through them, letting them fall one at a time. The book started to tremble. “It's happening again!” he gasped.
“Keep going!” Milly exclaimed as the same strange chomping, wriggling noise they'd heard before started up again.
Jason let the pages fall faster and faster. The book began shaking so much it almost jumped out of his grip. Then there was a ripping noiseâand a hole appeared in the middle of the book.
popped out from inside it! A tiny wriggling something, its brown, segmented body curling from side to side.
“Ugh!” Jason cried. “It's a maggot!”
Milly gasped as, before their eyes, the tiny wriggly creature started to
. “I never saw a maggot do
It grew bigger and bigger, until suddenly it was the size of Jason's thumb.
it squawked. “Maggot indeed!”
“Agh!” Jason sent gravel flying as he jumped backward. “A
Straining with effort, the creature wriggled out a little farther from its hole. It looked almost speechless with fury.
“Do these handsome, regal features look like a maggot's to you?”
Jason couldn't actually find many features to judge. The might-be-a-maggot's mouth was a simple black line, crinkled in disapproval. Its two dark eyes flicked crossly from Jason to Milly under the specks of its brows. “Well?”
“Actually, you look more like a worm,” Milly admitted. She gasped as she made the connection. “Are you a
“A bookworm!” The creature drew himself up haughtily. “I am a good deal more than just a bookworm, young lady. Still, if you can see me that must mean you believe in magic at least. Now, come on, what do you mean by disturbing me like this? Explain yourselves!” His beady eyes swiveled impatiently from one to the other. “Hurry up! I'm waiting!”