Cover of my first novel. You can look at ralphlevinson.com for more
I am getting ready to self publish this novel for older kids (and grown ups!). It is the second novel about Aidan who travels through time and space in his dreams to solve cosmic mysteries. I’m waiting for my friend who is working on the cover then there’s always this and that to do. Self publishing means each hard copy is a bit expensive, but it will be on kindle and nook and if you know someone who cant afford a copy let me know. I just like hard copies! Anyway heres the first five chapters just for fun.
In this novel he has to solve the mystery of the golden feather; he goes to Tang China, Nalanda the Buddhist university in ancient India, meets a naga, Taxila where Alexander’s troops are ready to invade the Indus Valley, an Ancient Greek island and finally faces a cosmic battle in the realm of the dead in Ancient Egypt.
One of his mentors is Wise-and-Able, Red Pine’s translation of the name of the 6th ancestor of Zen in China, Hui Neng.
Enjoy (note the spaces are a feature of the website; ignore) :
Aidan and the Mummy girl Save the Universe
Dedicated to those who try not to be trapped by their stories
Chapter 1. That Mummy Case!
Aidan Alvarado was sure that this time he would open the door to his grandfather’s study.
This was the day.
Now was the time.
Aidan took the large, old-fashioned metal key out of his pocket and inserted it into the lock. All he had to do was turn the key. The key he got as a present four months earlier on his eleventh birthday.
Just turn the key, he told himself. It won’t turn by itself.
Or maybe it would, Aidan thought. He wouldn’t put it past the study to give him a nudge if the time was right.
Maybe the time wasn’t right.
The key wasn’t turning by itself.
And Aidan wasn’t turning the key either.
KoKo, his grandparents’ mostly black German shepherd, nuzzled Aidan’s arm.
“Don’t rush me, KoKo.”
Ever since Aidan and his friends saved the world and he became a dream detective, Aidan wanted to follow his grandfather’s advice and just be a kid again for a while. No special study that gave you clues. No traveling through time and space in his dreams. No need to worry about the greedy ancient Chinese General Ling or the powerful renegade dream detective Diamante Petrus trying to kidnap Lotus, a dragon princess, so they could force her father, the dragon king of the East Ocean, to use his awesome power to help them rule the world.
All Aidan really wanted to do was play soccer. Except now there was the matter of his report card. Awful. Really, it was worse than awful. How about dismal? Thing was, he just didn’t care all that much; homework and studying and grades seemed kind of lame after all he had been through. This attitude was not going over so well with his mother, not only because she was a teacher, but mostly because she was a mother, always looking for things to worry about. And now his report card was something for her to worry about. She might decide soccer was a distraction. That could mean no soccer, and that would be really awful and dismal!
Maybe the study would have an answer. Aidan just didn’t want it all to start up again, at least not yet. Being a dream detective and saving the world was exhausting.
“It’s okay, Aidan. You’ll know when to open the door,” Aidan’s grandfather, Emanuel Prosperowitz, called out from inside the study. “But I’m kind of bored. Why don’t you come in and keep me company?”
Aidan didn’t believe his grandfather for a minute. His grandfather was never bored. Still, somehow, Aidan’s hand was turning the key and the door slowly swung open.
The musty, dusty smell of old books swept over Aidan as soon as the door started to open, and musty and dusty smelled like adventure and mystery.
“Wow,” Aidan thought, “what was I waiting for?”
Aidan’s grandfather was sitting in one of the two large ratty old over-stuffed chairs in the study. His grandmother, Jane Prosperowitz, was sitting in the other one.
“Sleeping well?” his grandfather asked. “Any special dreams lately?”
“I thought you were bored and needed company?” Aidan challenged.
“Just kidding. Jane would never let me be bored,” his grandfather responded, laughing at his little joke as Aidan’s grandmother rolled her eyes. “But you didn’t answer my question.”
“No, Grandpa, just regular dreams.” Aidan was pretty sure his grandparents already knew that.
“I had an interesting dream about the Emperor Wu,” his grandmother offered.
Aidan flinched. At the end of his first case Emperor Wu told Aidan that she would need his help as a dream detective again.
“Does anything in the study grab you?” his grandmother asked.
Looking around his grandfather’s study was not simple. The shelves went up thirty feet and books and papers were piled up and scattered around everywhere. Aidan scanned the library quickly since thinking too much got in the way. The idea was to let the study help you. It would tell you somehow what was important. On top of the old wooden filing cabinet there was a large feather that he hadn’t noticed before. A feather, he decided, wasn’t nearly as interesting as the fossil dinosaur skull or the samurai sword, but those were old news.
Aidan shrugged. “Is this a test or something?”
“No, really, we’re stuck. We’d like your help. Look again,” his grandfather requested.
Aidan looked all the way up to the top shelves. Nothing glowed. Nothing shifted. Nothing did anything. He walked over to the ladder by the shelves and climbed up a few rungs. He closed his eyes and reached out. His hand touched a book. Aidan took the book off the shelf and climbed down, still without looking at it.
His grandparents were smiling.
“You’re really getting the hang of the study!” his grandmother beamed.
Aidan loved her smile. Few things in the world were that warm and sincere.
Aidan read the title of the book out loud. “‘The Egyptian Book of the Dead.’ Wow, that’s kind of creepy. But what does that have to do with dreams about Emperor Wu? I mean, she’s not from Egypt.”
His grandparents looked at each other and his grandmother nodded. “That’s right. She lived 1300 years ago and the ‘Egyptian Book of the Dead’ was first written about 3500 years ago—”
“That’s not exactly true,” his grandfather interrupted. “The first complete religious writings we still have in the world were spells for dead ancient Egyptian kings, the pharaohs, that were carved on the walls of some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids about 4200 years ago. They’re called the pyramid texts. A few hundred years later some of the spells from the pyramid texts, and some new ones, were written on coffins, so they’re called the coffin texts. They were important because they weren’t just for the pharaohs. A couple of hundred years after the coffin texts, about 3500 years ago, collections of spells and instructions for the dead were written on papyrus scrolls or tomb walls. That’s what we call ‘The Book of the Dead.’ The ancient Egyptians didn’t call it that. They called that collection of writings ‘Coming Forth by Day.’”
“You mean the dead came out in the day?” Aidan was getting interested. “Like zombies?”
Before his grandfather could answer, Aidan found himself looking at the mummy case standing in the corner.
That mummy case! When Aidan first met Diamante Petrus he almost convinced Aidan that there was a mummy in there. That was just mean. But it wasn’t the meanest thing Diamante Petrus did. He pulled a gun on Aidan and his friends (sure, it wasn’t loaded, but still!) and tried to kidnap his friend Denise Hu and steal the piece of the vase with the dragon spirit so he could rule the world. So, Aidan was not in the mood for anything to do with that mummy case.
Aidan looked away.
Then he looked back.
But it was no good.
Aidan sighed. “This is gonna be about that mummy case and Mr. Petrus, isn’t it?”
His grandparents both nodded.
Aidan moaned. “This isn’t gonna be good for my grades or for soccer, is it?”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” his grandmother said.
“I’m gonna have to see that Petrus guy again,” Aidan grumbled.
His grandfather shrugged. “You might. But so what? You can handle it. Maybe he’s not such a bad guy.”
“Not such a bad guy? The whole gun and rule the world thing seems bad guy enough for me.”
His grandmother laughed. “He got carried away, but we should give him a chance to redeem himself. He was really sorry. Believe it or not, he had his reasons, and they weren’t all bad. He wanted to fix things that are really broken in the world. He thought he could use the dragon’s power to make the world a better place. Sure, he got carried away and went a bit crazy—”
Aidan exploded. “Sometimes you two drive mecrazy! I know he’s your friend, and you think he’s okay, and he meant well and you like to be nice, but you can’t be thatblind, can you?”
His grandfather stood up. “Show your grandmother a little respect, young man. This is a big world and for dream detectives it’s vastlybigger than most people can imagine. You still have a lot to learn—”
“My goodness, really, both of you! What did I just say about not getting ahead of ourselves?” Aidan’s grandmother admonished.
“Sorry,” Aidan and his grandfather said at the same time.
Actually, Aidan was a bit surprised. He knew his grandmother was the top dream detective, but only because that’s what they told him. His grandfather was a brilliant scientist and physician before he retired, and this was his study. Aidan never saw his grandmother shut his grandfather down and take charge quite like that before.
“Back to business!” his grandmother ordered. “Aidan, I think you’re right, something is brewing and it likely has to do with that mummy case because the study clearly spoke to you just now.” She took the book from Aidan and put it aside. “But I’m also not sure what all this has to do with Emperor Wu.”
“Or Diamante Petrus?” Aidan asked.
“Or Diamante Petrus,” his grandmother agreed.
KoKo nudged Aidan. She had left while they were talking and now returned with a rubber ball in her mouth.
“Are we done? Can I play with KoKo now?” Aidan asked as he took the ball from KoKo.
“Are you sure you haven’t had any special dreams?” his grandfather asked.
“Nope. No special dreams.”
His grandparents nodded again, but they didn’t say anything. They were lost in thought. Aidan took that as an opening to leave and play with the dog.
Aidan thought about what just happened in the study as he kicked the ball in the back yard for KoKo to chase. He wasn’t sure an adventure would be so bad. He’d probably see Lotus, the girl who used to be the dragon named Princess Peace, again. That would be awesome. But he was telling the truth. He wasn’t having any special dreams.
And there was still the matter of his report card.
When Aidan got home he figured it was time to face the music. By “the music” Aidan meant the loud and high-pitched sound of his mother’s voice when she saw his report card.
He waited until after dinner to give her the report card. His mother, Anna Prosperowitz Alvarado, looked it over for all of five seconds, and then handed it back to him.
“There’s been some mistake,” she announced.
“No mistake,” he murmured.
“Oh, there’s been a mistake. My mistake. I believed you when you told me last month that you would bring your grades up. I thought I could trust you.”
Aidan started to protest, but stopped himself. Not only would it make things worse if he seemed to be arguing with her, but also, maybe she was right!
“I’ll do better. Really.”
“Please, Aidan. It wouldn’t take much. Is there something wrong? Are you depressed? It’s not drugs, is it? A bully? You can tell me. We’ll get help.”
Aidan felt like he had been punched in the stomach. It was easier when he thought she would be mad at him. Now, he wanted to be mad at her; how could she think that?
But he knew how she could think that. It’s what they tell parents. Look for the signs. And his grades being in the toilet was a sign of something. Just not the something she thought. It was only that school didn’t seem all that relevant after his dream detective adventures.
She looked so down, so defeated.
“No mom, it’s alright. I just haven’t been interested.”
“What would get you more interested? I mean it. What do we have to do?”
Aidan hugged her. “Give me time. I’ll try, really I will.”
“Hey, I have an idea. How about no more soccer? Will that motivate you to try?”
Ouch. “Please don’t make me stop soccer. That would be really depressing!”
His mother stared him down. “Okay, one more chance. I want to see a B or better on every test. One C and no more soccer this spring.”
Aidan had to agree. He had no choice. If that’s what it took to keep playing soccer, he would buckle down and make himself study.
Anyway, maybe the whole dream detective thing wouldn’t happen now. Maybe his grandparents got what they needed from him. Maybe there wouldn’t be any special dreams for a while.
Though he was pretty sure that was notgoing to happen!
Chapter 2. The Girl With a Plan
When Aidan woke up the next morning he was relieved to find that as far as he could remember he had no dreams at all. He was well rested and ready for school…
Then it hit him. He had a test in history! If only the test was about Emperor Wu he’d ace it, but no such luck. Aidan tried to talk himself down. One step at a time, just slow down, he told himself. Was that test today? Oh, please, no, not today! He stepped over his clothes on the floor from the night before, dove at his desk, and opened his notebook. Tomorrow! The test was tomorrow! What a lucky break. Aidan instructed his heart to slow down. His heart didn’t listen right away, and so he took a slow deep breath counting to five in and five out, like his grandfather taught him to do (well, what his grandfather said was: “if things get weird take a deep breath;” this wasn’t really weird, but close enough). His grandmother told him to breathe in and smell the soup, breathe out and cool the soup. They were really into this breathing thing.
Whatever. Aidan wasn’t sure breathing like that helped all that much. Sometimes if he used the “smell the soup” trick, all it did was make him hungry thinking about the soup, especially tomato soup, his favorite. At least breathing slowly was something he could do when he didn’t know what else to do, so he did a couple of minutes of smelling the soup breathing and his heart did slow down.
He had a day to prepare for the test. Tonight, he decided, he would actually study for the test. He used to study before the whole dream detective saving the world thing. Studying for tests was just something he didn’t want to do. Most things they wanted him to learn didn’t seem all that interesting or important. But he had to study if he wanted to play soccer, and he really wanted to play soccer, so he had to study.
Wait a minute! This afternoon was soccer practice. Dang! That was a bit twisted. He had to skip soccer to be able to play soccer. He didn’t like it, but that’s how it had to be.
The school day went by pretty quickly, mostly because Aidan doodled and daydreamed to pass the time when he wasn’t interested in what was going on. Aidan really liked drawing the wild, long flowing beard of the Old Sage. When he was sure no one could see what he was doing he’d sketch butterflies. In old China, Aidan’s name was Butterfly. That’s what the Teacher of the Way of Wisdom, Wise-and-Able, called him because in Aidan’s first dream as a student dream detective the Old Sage told Aidan that he, the Old Sage, dreamt he was a butterfly, then when the Old Sage woke up he wondered if he was a butterfly dreaming he was the Old Sage!
Aidan still wondered about that. Was the Old Sage for real? It seemed so dumb to think butterflies could dream. Did he really think he was a dream in some tiny butterfly head? How big could a butterfly brain be? Like, maybe as big as a grain or two of sand? Was that big enough to be able to dream about old sages? How big did a brain have to be to do that? Still, given all the crazy things Aidan had been through, it didn’t seem all that big a stretch to imagine that butterflies could dream, maybe even about being the Old Sage.
Thinking about this kind of thing made paying attention to schoolwork tough.
After school Aidan rushed off toward the soccer field, forgetting he was going to skip practice that afternoon so he could study. He wanted to get there early so he could work on the Okocha kick, named after the professional soccer player who first made it a thing, where he would flick-kick the soccer ball over his head and when it landed he could change direction or pass the ball. He could do it pretty well, but he never used that move in a game, of course. It was too risky.
Aidan practiced dribbling an imaginary soccer ball as he hurried to make it to practice when he remembered that he had to study for the history test. He stopped short, did an about-face, and found himself face to face with Denise Hu.
“Hey Aidan, where are you going? You seem all turned around!”
Denise was a year younger than Aidan. Her brother, Jeremiah, was in Aidan’s class and had been Aidan’s number one enemy, a bully who only bullied Aidan. Aidan had to admit it was his own fault. He started the feud by calling Jeremiah “Jerry Berry Brain.” The bullying stopped when Denise, who was out of school because she was very sick, told Jeremiah that she needed Aidan’s help to get better. It wasn’t a coincidence that Aidan needed their help in his first case as a student dream detective. Denise and Jeremiah completed the mission by braving the waves in the Santa Monica Bay, releasing the dragon girl’s spirit from a piece of the vase that their parents brought with them when they immigrated from China.
The effort had almost killed Denise.
“Hey Denise. I was gonna go to soccer practice, but I remembered I have to study,” Aidan said.
“That explains it.”
“Yeah. See you later, Denise.”
“Wait a minute,” Denise called out to Aidan as he started to walk past her. “I think Jeremiah’s, I dunno, maybe not doing so well in school.”
“Uh, I guess.” Aidan shrugged. “I mean, really, I’m not sure. He’s always been quiet in class.”
Aidan started to walk off again, thinking the conversation was over, but Denise walked with him.
“Our parents sent me to my room last night and it didn’t sound like they were exactly celebrating with Jeremiah.”
“Bad report card?” Aidan asked. Welcome to my world, he thought.
“Me? No, mine was great,” Denise said. Aidan started to object. “Oh, you mean his,not mine… oh yeah, I think so. Musta been real bad. My dad looked like he ate something rotten and needed to puke and my mom looked like she wanted to cry before they sent me to my room. I thought you guys were friends. How come you never hang out together? Jeremiah really liked the study.”
“Oh, yeah, we’re friends. But I got soccer—”
Denise tilted her head. “If soccer’s such a big deal why aren’t you walking that way?” she asked, pointing over his shoulder toward the soccer field. “Your report card wasn’t so good either, was it?”
Aidan shrugged. “No big deal.”
“What’s with you guys? You need to move on. Stop moping around. Maybe you should take Jeremiah to the study again.”
“Sure, great idea,” Aidan shot back.
“Don’t be sarcastic. It is a great idea.”
“Does Jeremiah think so?”
Denise was quiet for a few steps. “I haven’t asked him. He doesn’t like to talk about the whole thing.”
“Yes, I do, but who would I tell? Who besides you guys would I talk to about that stuff and not seem totally nuts? It was amazing. I felt her, you know. I felt Princess Peace, Lotus the dragon girl, all through me. I felt what it was to be a water spirit.”
“I felt cold and scared.” As soon as Aidan said the word “scared” he was sorry. “I mean, you don’t know what—”
“No, I don’t know what it was like for you, but I know what it was like for her. And me,” Denise interrupted. “And I know you and Jeremiah should be friends. You both need the study.”
“How do you know I haven’t been back?”
Aidan nodded and frowned. “I’m not a liar.”
“Good. It’s about time. Now bring Jeremiah. Like, form a club or something. Call it ‘The Club of The Secret Magic Study.’ No girls allowed, just a couple of boys or something. No, wait. Forget that! Bring me too!” Her face lit up, as if she never thought of that before and it was just the most fun thing she could ever imagine. “How about it? Me and you and Jeremiah, we all go to the study.”
“Do you really want to?”
“Gee, I thought you’d never ask,” Denise answered with a huge smile.
“You’re playing with me, aren’t you? You wanted me to invite you!”
“I really would love to see the study. And meet KoKo,” Denise added.
“Okay, maybe this weekend.”
Denise pulled on his arm. She was almost as tall as Aidan, and now that she was healthy she was strong like her brother. Aidan thought she could beat him easily in a wrestling match. “I’m doing much better now. I almost never miss school anymore. You saved my life, Butterfly.”
“Aidan. In Los Angeles my name is Aidan. And I don’t think I did. You did. And the medicine.”
“If that’s what you want to believe, go ahead. But you really are a hero anyway,” Denise said.
Aidan rolled his eyes.
“You can roll your eyes and make all the faces you want, but I’m the smart one with the good report card, and you know I’m right. So see you after the soccer game on Saturday and we’ll go to the study. I’ll make sure Jeremiah comes.” Denise spun around and saw some girls from her class and called out, “Hey, wait for me!” in what Aidan thought was a way too cheery voice, and then ran off to join them without even saying goodbye.
Once Aidan started studying it wasn’t so bad. When his mind drifted to pondering dreaming butterflies or wondering how in the world his grandparents could even think of trusting Diamante Petrus, he would take some deep breaths and get back to studying.
After studying, Aidan worked on a Lego Star Wars kit. When he was younger all he wanted to do was finish and play with whatever he was building. Now Aidan liked building mostly because concentrating on following the instructions step by step helped him settle down. It worked. He didn’t worry too much about the dreams. When he was done with the Lego project he went to bed and fell right to sleep.
And he fell right into a special dream.
Chapter 3. Do Alligators Smile?
Aidan knew right away that this was not an ordinary dream. He was in a long, wide, hallway dimly lit by Chinese paper lanterns. The hallway had red wooden ceiling beams with carved and painted dragons on them and Chinese scroll paintings hanging on the walls.
Okaaaaay… maybe he was back in Emperor Wu’s China.
Would that mean Lotus was around? When he last saw Lotus she was living as a human girl in Emperor Wu’s palace, her dragon spirit safely hidden by the Old Sage in the small white vase. He really wanted to see her again. Sure, the dimly lit hallway was spooky, but he could deal with that if it meant he would be with Lotus.
There was a large round shadow at the end of the hall. What, he wondered, could be casting that shadow? As his eyes adjusted to the flickering yellow light produced by the lanterns, Aidan was beginning to make out a shape in the shadow. Just as it was all coming into focus he heard Lotus’s voice behind him.
“Butterfly, don’t say anything. Don’t make a sound. We have to move slowly. Step away from that thing.” She didn’t sound surprised to see him. Then again, she didn’t exactly sound happy to see him, either. She sounded really, really scared.
Aidan didn’t have to ask what thing she meant. The shape at the end of the hallway was huge. It filled up almost the entire eight-foot height and ten-foot width of the hallway.
It looked like the butt of a huge hippopotamus with a little flicking tail and stubby hippo legs.
“Why is there a big hippo in your hallway, Lotus? And hi, great to see you, too.”
“I don’t have any idea why that beast is here. But it isn’t just a hippo. Please, just step back and be quiet.”
The big butt down the hall shifted back and forth as the tail wagged.
“I think it heard us,” Lotus whispered with increasing urgency.
“But it looks like such a happy butt.” Aidan started to laugh at his joke when the beast managed to pivot itself around, and Aidan was not looking at a happy hippo butt anymore.
Aidan was now looking at a huge alligator face and jaws surrounded by a thick, golden lion’s mane, a very powerful lion’s chest, and a lion’s strong front legs.
The alligator looked like it was smiling.
“Do alligators smile? Maybe it’s friendly—” Aidan whispered.
“That has to be one of the dumbest questions asked at the dumbest time to ask the dumbest question ever. I think we might think about running right now,” Lotus said as she turned and tried to run. She almost fell over since the long silk dress she wore was not made for running. Princesses in China didn’t run! She lifted the dress above her knees and she was gone before Aidan stopped laughing. Somehow this seemed unreal to Aidan, like a cartoon. He couldn’t take it seriously.
The hallway shook with the deep vibration of a voice that came from everywhere at once. Even though the alligator’s mouth was open, it obviously couldn’t be speaking, yet Aidan was sure the booming voice came from the freaky beast. Very weird, Aidan thought, even for a dream.
”I will eat your heart. I will eat your mind. You will cease to be now and forever, here and in the afterlife. I know you; I know your name! You are Butterfly, you are Aidan Alvarado, I had you in my power and you cheated me! I have come here to find you, to stop you, and now you are MINE!”
The alligator face was laughing, Aidan was sure of it. Aidan, on the other hand, was not laughing anymore. That thing may have been laughing at him, but it was notfriendly! The beast tried to lunge at Aidan, but its stubby hippo back legs couldn’t keep up with the lion’s long front legs, so it only lurched forward awkwardly with a clumsy waddle.
Aidan turned and ran right into twenty of Emperor Wu’s Imperial Guards. They looked mad and scared. They clearly had no idea what that thing was or what they could do about it.
“Aidan, you know what to do!”
Aidan knew that voice coming from behind the Imperial Guards.
The tall, angular figure lurking in the shadows sure looked like Diamante Petrus. The guards parted and there was no doubt about it when Mr. Petrus walked out of the darkness into the light of one of the lanterns. Aidan noticed that his long sandy colored hair had more grey than he remembered.
“No, I don’tknow what to do. I don’t have a clue!” Aidan protested. He really was not in the mood to deal with Mr. Petrus. “You know, between you and the alligator-lion-hippo thing, maybe I’m better off with that beast!”
“Really?” Mr. Petrus asked, pointing past Aidan, “You might want to rethink that.”
The bizarre creature was moving faster and faster as it built up steam. It let out something between a roar and a hiss that shook the walls.
“It wants you, Aidan. But the time’s not right. Tell it. Tell it you know its name. It is Ammut. It doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t belong now. Tell it so!”
Aidan didn’t have a better idea. He saw Lotus behind the guards, but he knew that if he didn’t act soon they would all be alligator-lion-hippo food. He turned to the beast, now only two clumsy hippo-lion steps away. Aidan could smell its hot, wet, stinking rotten meat and dead fish breath.
“Ammut! I know your name. Go back where you came from. No hearts or minds for a snack for you! Not here, not tonight!”
The beast screeched and howled and tried to leap forward but just as its six-foot-long, tooth-filled, snapping jaws were less than a foot away from Aidan’s head, it disappeared.
Gone. Just like that. It was completely not there.
Aidan woke up.
I might as well kiss soccer goodbye, Aidan thought; this is going to cut wayinto my studying.
Chapter 4. The Feather and the Mummy Case
Aidan was wrong about the effect the dream would have on his schoolwork, at least for the time being. Despite the dream, he got an A on his test the next day. For now, his world was safe for soccer.
In fact, he refused to even think about the dream.
Dream detective? Not today, thanks. I’m just a kid in school trying to keep my grades up.
Go to the study at his grandparents’ house and try to learn about the weirdo freak of nature that eats hearts and minds? Nah, I’m good.
What was Mr. Petrus doing in my dream? Whatever.
Aidan had a soccer game in two days. He wouldn’t sleep if that was what he had to do to avoid the special dreams.
Although, not sleeping wouldn’t help his soccer skills.
Fortunately, he did sleep the next two nights and he didn’t have any dreams. Maybe that was how it worked. Maybe he really could simply refuse to have the special dreams.
Saturday morning, Aidan was thrilled. No dreams, a great grade on the test, and he was ready for action. Before the game, he warmed up with his teammate Shirin. Shirin was athletic, graceful and sure of herself. She was very serious, one of those people who worked hard at being great at everything. Aidan figured she barely knew his name. Would she be impressed, he wondered, if she knew he was a dream detective?
Aidan was in the zone from the start of the game. His eyes knew just where to look across the sunny field to see where the action was. His feet knew just how to pivot on the slick grass when he needed to and how to handle the ball in every situation. The ball did what he wanted it to do without him having to think about how to make it happen, whether he was deftly dribbling, kicking the ball hard when passing and shooting, or putting a bit of spin on it when a bit of spin would put it exactly where he wanted it to be.
Aidan scored a goal in the first quarter, and in the second quarter he took the ball from Milano, the other team’s best player, just as Milano was about to take a shot that certainly would have scored because the goalie on Aidan’s team wasn’t in position.
With less than a minute left in the game, Aidan had the ball and he was on fire. The score was tied at two all. He just knewhe could pull this off. The ball responded perfectly to each tap from Aidan’s foot. He easily passed two players when, out of nowhere, looming large right in front of him, was Milano. Milano had that look on his face, the look that said “payback time.” To Aidan’s right, his teammate Brian, “I’m so great” Brian, was waving his long tan arms at him. Even though Aidan didn’t like to admit it, Brian was the best player on their team and everybody knew it. The other team didn’t have Brian covered for the first time in the whole game, but he wouldn’t stay open for long. To Aidan’s left and a little in front was Shirin, with a player from the opposing team guarding her closely. Shirin was gesturing and shouting to Aidan to pass the ball to Brian. Aidan knew he should pass to Brian, but he wanted to see if there was any way he could pass to Shirin and give her a shot at being the hero.
When Aidan decided he’d better pass to somebody, he was stunned. Where was the ball? In the maybe two seconds that Aidan was watching Shirin, Milano took the ball right from under his nose. Aidan ran after him, but Milano and the ball were already far out of his reach.
It was over in less than ten seconds. Aidan’s team lost, three to two.
They lined up to congratulate the other team. When Aidan got to Milano, Milano just shrugged and smiled as if to say, “You tried. You’re really pretty good, but you aren’t as good as me. It’s not your fault. Mess with me and that’s what happens.” Milano wasn’t really gloating. At least that’s what Aidan thought Milano’s shrug and smile said. Aidan didn’t mind so much, because it was probably true.
It was his own teammates that Aidan was worried about. Shirin was looking at him hard and without mercy. She then turned away and he thought he saw her wipe her eyes. Was she crying? He couldn’t tell if she had really started to cry, but she was pointedly not looking at him anymore.
Brian then “accidently” shoulder blocked him hard enough that Aidan fell on his butt. Brian offered his hand to help him stand up.
“Need help walking? I guess passing to an open player is too hard, but I thought at least you still knew how to walk.”
Aidan didn’t take Brian’s hand. He tried to think of a witty comeback, but while he was thinking Brian walked off. There was nothing he could say anyway. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but he thought Brian was right.
He messed up. He let them all down, big time. He was on his butt on the ground. He felt like he was going to cry.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry…
Aidan managed not to cry. Barely.
After a few moments on the ground he stood up and tried to look like none of it mattered. It was all in good fun (not!).
Aidan only remembered that he agreed to go to the study with Denise and Jeremiah when he saw them standing by a tree watching him just a few yards away. Denise waved and Jeremiah stood there, arms folded over his chest, shaking his head.
“Great game, Aidan!” Denise said.
“What are you talking about? I blew it,” Aidan grumbled.
“Don’t feel so sorry for yourself. That guy Milano’s good. Stuff happens. You played great. You shouldn’t let Brian push you around,” Denise said.
“Thanks, Denise, I didn’t think of that. I feel muchbetter.”
“You like Shirin, I can tell,” Denise teased, ignoring his snarky response.
“No I don’t. I mean, sure, yeah I do, but not likelike her.”
“Oh yeah you do,” Jeremiah jumped in. “You like likelike her.”
Denise punched Jeremiah on the arm. “The study, remember?”
Aidan unlocked the door to his grandparents’ house and KoKo came running up to them. After they petted her, KoKo ran for a toy and Jeremiah started playing with her.
“Grandma? Grandpa?” Aidan called out, but his grandparents weren’t home.
Denise tugged Aidan’s sleeve. “The study.”
KoKo looked at Denise, dropped the toy, loped down the hall, and sat in front of the study door. Aidan and Jeremiah looked at each other.
“Girls stick together,” Aidan said. Jeremiah nodded.
Aidan unlocked the study door and made a grand sweeping gesture with his arm, inviting Denise to enter first.
Denise didn’t look around. She went straight to the feather on the filing cabinet. Huh, Aidan thought, he did notice that feather when he was in the study the other day and he kind of blew it off. Not a good idea in the study.
“Oh, an ostrich feather, I think. It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, taking the feather and rubbing it across her face. “So soft.” She held it up to the side of her head. “It would be lovely to wear.” She saw some string around a stack of papers, untied it, and then tied it around her head. She stuck the feather in the string. As soon as she had the feather in place she turned toward the mummy case and pointed.
“That… is that real? Is all this real?” she asked.
Aidan and Jeremiah looked at each other and smiled. That was one of the first questions Jeremiah had asked when he was introduced to the study.
“People ask that in here a lot,” Aidan replied. “Yeah, it’s real. I think it’s like over 3000 years old. And no, there’s no mummy inside.”
Denise looked a little disappointed. She gently touched the mummy case, looked carefully at the face of a young girl carved on the lid, and then slowly examined the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. “Do you know what this means? Can you read what the pictures say?”
Denise stooped to look more closely at the writing. “Wonder what it says. Look at this picture. It looks like a sitting woman with a feather in a band around her hair.”
All three of them looked at the small picture on the mummy case, then at Denise, and then at the picture again.
No one spoke.
No one moved.
Denise’s hand reached up to the feather she was wearing, but she didn’t touch it.
Jeremiah broke the silence. “You must have seen it out of the corner of your eye, or in a book or something. It’s probably just a coincidence.”
Aidan didn’t believe that for a minute. He just kept looking at the picture then at Denise.
Denise shot Jeremiah a sharp look.
So did KoKo.
Jeremiah shrugged. “Or maybe not.”
Denise gently took off the feather and string and put them back where she found them. “Are you having dreams again?”
Aidan nodded. He sat down in one of the two large old over-stuffed chairs. KoKo came over and put her head in his lap.
“I had one a couple of nights ago. I saw Lotus. And Diamante Petrus.”
Denise brightened up. “How did Lotus look? Was she dressed like a princess? Was she happy?”
“She looked like a princess. I guess she was happy, but it was…” Aidan didn’t want to get into it.
“It was what?” Jeremiah asked impatiently.
“It was a short dream.”
Jeremiah sat across from Aidan in the other large chair. “Diamante Petrus was there?” Jeremiah asked.
“Yeah. He helped me.”
“Helped you do what? Spit it out,” Jeremiah said. Denise nodded in agreement.
“A monster was after me. It said I tried to cheat it. But I never saw it before! I don’t know what it was talking about. Mr. Petrus told me how to make it disappear.”
KoKo barked and put a paw on Aidan’s lap. She almost never did that.
“I don’t know anything for sure yet. It was all very fast and weird.”
“Tell us if you need us,” Denise finally offered.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with you guys.”
Jeremiah stood up. “Nah, why should it? What could wepossibly have to do with it? We’renot dream detectives and all. Oh, wait, there was that whole thing at the beach, where I tackled the guy with the gun, and Denise knew what to do for Lotus and the dragon spirit, and now Denise with the feather in her hair…”
“No, I just mean, yeah, sorry, you’re right. I’ll let you know what I find out,” Aidan said.
Denise picked up the feather again. “You think this is important?”
“There was nothing about a feather in anybody’s hair in my dream.”
Jeremiah shook his head. “Don’t be dumb. Of course it’s important. I was wrong. That feather and the picture on the mummy case isn’t a coincidence. They’re clues. That’s how the study works, isn’t it?”
“I guess. Though you went for the samurai sword and the dinosaur skull when you first came in here, and those weren’t clues,” Aidan said.
“Okay, but they were things we both thought were cool. So it got us to be friends. Even if it’s not a clue, it can still be important,” Jeremiah said.
“This is awesome, but maybe I’ve had enough for now,” Denise sighed. She left the study without looking back, KoKo at her side. Jeremiah and Aidan hesitated for just a moment and then silently followed them out of the study.
Aidan locked the door behind them.
Aidan was sure that the feather had to be a clue. It caught his eye and Denise just had to pick it up and wear it. Then there was the picture on the mummy case…
That night Aidan surprised himself; he wanted to have another dream. He was, he decided, a dream detective. There was no fighting it. Might as well get into it.
Chapter 5. Be Careful Who You Pull a Knife On
Almost immediately after he closed his eyes to go to sleep Aidan found himself standing in a large open-air market. He was sure he was back in China, but this was nothing like anywhere he had been in his dreams before. The sun was high and bright, illuminating the vibrant colors all around him. To his left there were stalls selling spices and fruits and vegetables, and to his right merchants were offering bolts of silky material that shimmered. There was movement everywhere, sometimes slow, sometimes hurried, but constant. Strange new sounds reached Aidan from all around. There were the singsong calls from merchants announcing what they had to sell, people haggling and bargaining at almost every stall, and the braying of a donkey here and a camel there. The smell of spices mixed with the murky odors of animals and people seemed to vie for his attention, now lovely and fragrant, then a moment later, with a shift of the breeze or a large, hairy animal passing by and pooping, kind of yucky.
Standing beside him was Diamante Petrus.
Aidan had to appreciate what Mr. Petrus did for him in his last dream, but he still didn’t like him or trust him. He figured Mr. Petrus was after something, looking out for himself.
“What do youwant?” Aidan asked, not really wanting an answer. “I don’t see any monsters around,” he added before Mr. Petrus had a chance to reply.
“No, neither do I, but you should look at that man over there,” Diamante Petrus said, pointing with his chin to a large man who was definitely not Chinese. “I’ve had my eye on him.”
“I think he knows something we need to know. We have to follow him.”
Mr. Petrus scowled at Aidan. “Stop asking ‘why.’ It is unbecoming of a dream detective. You sound like a three-year-old.”
“You don’t know why, do you?” Aidan challenged.
“I don’t need to know why. He just seems to be around almost whenever and wherever I am here in Chang’an City. There’s some sort of connection. You have to notice these things if you’re going to be a dream detective, Aidan. You can’t just take in the sights and smells like an idle tourist. You have to sense when something, or someone, is important.”
“Yeah, I mean you can’t walk around like you’re asleep or dreaming or something,” Aidan replied in the snarkiest tone he had.
Mr. Petrus didn’t take his eyes off the man. “Exactly. Well said.”
Aidan figured that Mr. Petrus missed his sarcasm because he was just so full of himself that he was clueless. Aidan was about to say something when Mr. Petrus gave him a sharp look that clearly said, “I don’t miss anything.”
Aidan kept quiet and observed the large man that Mr. Petrus pointed out. He wore a dusty loose-fitting shirt and pants that had once been white but were now stained splotchy gray and brown. He stood near a fruit stall without looking at the fruit; he was watching the people passing by.
One of the people walking by just then was Ben Ming! Ben Ming, the soldier who became a student of the Way of Wisdom and saved Aidan and Lotus from General Ling in Aidan’s first dream detective case. Even in the crowded, dusty marketplace, the three long scars on Ben Ming’s face, his shaved head and dark patchwork robe were unmistakable. Aidan was thrilled to see him. He started to open his mouth to call out and lift his arm to wave, but Mr. Petrus touched his arm gently. “Hold on, Aidan. As the great detective Sherlock Holmes used to say, ‘the game’s afoot.’”
“You know Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person, right?”
“You know this is a dream, right?” Mr. Petrus shot back.
“Yeah, I mean, well, yeah, sure, but…” Aidan sputtered.
“Don’t get flustered, Aidan. You’re a dream detective. Have some dignity.” Then he added, more to himself than to Aidan, “Ah, yes, watch them carefully. Be patient. We are about to learn something about the connections.”
“Ah,” Aidan mimicked Mr. Petrus, hoping to annoy him, “the connections of what to what?”
“The connections of what to what? Really? Isn’t it clear? The connections between you and that monster, and that man and Ben Ming showing up here in Chang’an, all at pretty much the same time. Watch. That man will follow Ben Ming.”
Sure enough, as Ben Ming passed, the large man turned toward the fruit stall, his head down and face hidden. When Ben Ming was about twenty feet away, the man tossed a coin at the fruit merchant, picked up an orange, and started to peel it as he followed Ben Ming, his head still down.
As soon as Ben Ming got to the end of the row of merchants’ stalls, he ducked into a nearby alley.
Mr. Petrus nodded in approval. “Smart man, that Ben Ming. Time to move. Don’t run, Aidan. We don’t want to attract attention.”
The large man went inside a building on one side of the alley.
When Mr. Petrus saw the man disappear into the building, he started walking more briskly. Aidan fell behind and had to scurry to catch up. When they got to the alley, Aidan could see Ben Ming at the far end. He was just standing there. Suddenly the large man burst out of a doorway, swinging a large knife in a backhanded motion, slashing at Ben Ming’s throat. Ben Ming swirled around, grabbing the larger man’s wrist. Taking advantage of the man’s momentum Ben Ming pulled the knife-wielding arm across his own chest, putting pressure on his attacker’s elbow. The man tried to yank his arm back and Ben Ming flowed the other way, using his right leg to deftly sweep the man’s feet from under him. The large man hit the ground hard. Ben Ming put pressure on the man’s wrist, causing the fingers holding the knife to open, allowing him to disarm his assailant.
Ben Ming stepped back, holding the knife at the ready in his right hand.
“Wow, that was gangsta,” Aidan gasped.
“Yes, it was,” Mr. Petrus agreed. “Notice how Ben Ming backed away, staying alert. You might think to go down and hold the knife at the man’s throat or punch or kick him,” Mr. Petrus said with admiration. “That would be satisfying perhaps, but unless you needed to kill the man, it would be unnecessary and dangerous. You never know, the person you just took down may not be as down and out as you think, and he could easily have another weapon, or a friend lurking, waiting for a good time to assist him. Let’s go see who we have here.”
Ben Ming was watching the man on the ground carefully, glancing around in short spurts. Ben Ming saw Aidan and smiled.
“Butterfly, how wonderful,” Ben Ming called out, still alternately glancing around and keeping an eye on the man on the ground. “You’re just in time. I have someone here you might want to meet.” Ben Ming pointed to the man on the ground, who was moaning in pain. “Gupta, you slimy thief, say hello to my friend.”
“You know him?” Aidan asked.
“Gupta and his friends were responsible for this back in India,” Ben Ming said, pointing with his free hand to the three scars on his face.
Mr. Petrus nodded as if that was obvious.
“Thieves. I was done with my service in the army and I was looking for something to do when I met some pilgrims who were going on the long journey west to India to collect ancient books of teachings of The Way Of Wisdom to bring back to China. I signed on to protect them. After we got the books and started the trip back to China we were attacked by this man and his gang.”
Gupta bellowed, “My men will be here soon and you will die, unless you tell me where it is.”
“That’s not quite true,” Mr. Petrus said slowly and calmly. “This is what will happen. We will turn you over to the Emperor’s Ministry of Justice if you don’t tell us what we need to know. And they won’t be kind and soft-hearted like Ben Ming is.”
Gupta tried not to look frightened. From what Aidan had read, the Emperor’s Ministry of Justice was not a pleasant place. As a matter of fact, it could be real torture. Literally.
“You know what I want. Why I let you go. Why I followed you here. I couldn’t find it, but I know you have it,” Gupta managed to say between whimpers of pain.
“You followed me for over a year, across the desert caravan routes, here to the Chinese capital Chang’an… for what? For some old books?” Ben Ming asked.
Gupta tilted his head and stared at Ben Ming. “Books?” Gupta tried to laugh, but it came out like a sound an angry kitten might make. “Why would I care about old books? Don’t be a fool.” Gupta groaned, squeezing his eyes shut in pain. Then he opened his eyes wide as if seeing something new, something for the first time. “Wait a minute. You really don’tknow, do you?”
Mr. Petrus couldn’t hold himself back. He walked over to Gupta and said quietly, “I will give you one chance to answer. Don’t know what? What is it you couldn’t find? What did you hope Ben Ming would lead you to?”
“You’ll let me go?” Gupta asked suspiciously.
Ben Ming looked hard at Mr. Petrus. Mr. Petrus ignored him.
“We are reasonable people,” Mr. Petrus said with a smile. The smile quickly faded. “What are you after? Tell me now or we will call the Emperor’s security force and let them deal with you. I assure you Ben Ming here is really struggling with himself not to thank you for those scars on his face by giving you a few of your own. He is peaceful now, a student of the Way of Wisdom, you see. But then, Iam not…”
“The Golden Feather from Nalanda, you idiots. Now, we have a deal, right? I can go?”
Ben Ming looked confused. “What golden feather?”
Gupta laughed, then moaned again, then laughed some more. “Don’t pretend you don’t know!”
Diamante Petrus looked at Ben Ming, then at Gupta. “You really don’t know, do you?” Mr. Petrus asked Ben Ming.
Ben Ming shrugged. “I don’t know anything about a golden feather.”
Aidan woke up.
Golden feather? Nalanda?
Dang, Aidan thought, the game isafoot!