“So it’s a stone or a rock…” Annie mused aloud.
“Same thing,” Carlos said it sharply.
Annie fought the urge to snap back. “Witch Woods and The House at 2769 Sullenberg Lane…that doesn’t tell us much. How’re we gonna know where she hid it?” Annie sighed.
Carlos spun a wheelie to his bookcase. “Let’s look at each book cover to cover. Maybe there’s a clue in one of them.”
Coriander began to pull books out and hand them to Carlos. “Good idea,” she said.
Annie bit her tongue. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Nevertheless, she helped take each of Mrs. Lokken’s books out and piled them on the floor. “Let’s get started,” Annie flopped herself down and began thumbing through a book, page by page.
Two hours later, they were still paging through books. Annie’s eyes stung. She uncurled her legs and gasped as her knees popped.
“You’ve been in one position too long,” Coriander told her. “Me too. Let’s stretch for a sec.”
Carlos ignored them. “I haven’t found anything.” He kept turning pages. “Have you guys?”
“No,” Coriander and Annie said it in unison. They grinned at each other.
“Keep looking.” Carlos instructed. He hesitated at the looks on the girls’ faces. “This is serious,” he reminded them. “We’re talking the end of the world here.”
At that, the girls sobered and each picked up yet another book. Annie’s eyes continued to water, but she stared hard at each page anyway and concentrated on finding a clue. Carlos’s words had brought her back to the urgency of the situation. As it was now, her mom was gone, her dad was brainwashed and they were all just days away from disappearing forever. What would it be like when the doors to the other worlds closed? Would it hurt? Would she and everyone she knew just fade away?
Annie grabbed another book and suppressed a yawn. She couldn’t let being tired stop her. She concentrated on the book before her. No word, no illustration offered any clues. She didn’t even know what she was looking for.
The words swam before her eyes. Each letter looked like it was underwater. She could barely make out the sentences anymore. She flipped the pages. Page eight. Nine. Ten. Ten. Eleven. She blinked. That was weird. This book had two page 10s.
“Well, there’s this.” She pointed at the double page number, her voice flat. She didn’t think it was really anything to get excited about.
Coriander took the book from Annie while her finger still rested on the page. “Yes, that’s it!” She yelped. “That’s the clue!” She dragged the book and Annie over to Carlos.
He scanned the page. “It’s just a typo,” he said, returning his attention to the book he’d been scanning.
“No, no,” Coriander looked expectantly at Annie. “Don’t you remember?”
“Huh?” Annie took her finger back.
“What did Mrs. Lokken say to you yesterday?” Coriander was practically jumping up and down.
“About the…?” Annie searched her brain. “You mean the….?” She couldn’t think of anything that had to do with a double page 10.
“Wait…” A memory tugged at the corners of her mind. “When Mrs. Lokken asked how old I was?”
Coriander nodded spastically. “Yes, yes!”
“So?” Carlos didn’t seem impressed.
Coriander stopped jumping and stood in front of Carlos. “So, the last thing Mrs. Lokken asked yesterday was Annie’s age.” She looked at him, waiting.
“Uh huhhhh,” he motioned for her to go on.
“And, she knows how old Annie is. So it was a weird question to ask.”
“Yyeahh…” Carlos still didn’t seem excited by the information.
“So now, here’s the number 10 repeated twice,” Coriander paused. “Anyway, it’s all we have.”
Carlos hesitated. “Did you read what’s on the pages?”
Annie blushed. She hadn’t. “No, I, well I didn’t get a chance!” She said to Carlos’s disapproving look. She was sick of Carlos making her feel so dumb. She grabbed the book back.
“Let’s look at it together,” Coriander suggested.
At that, Annie laid the book on Carlos’s desk while he and Coriander gathered around. They read the two pages word by word. “I don’t see anything clue-like,” Annie despaired.
Coriander squinted and rubbed her eyes. “Where’s the map?”
Carlos pulled it out from the side of his wheelchair. “I studied it carefully. I know it doesn’t say anything about a number 10.”
Coriander didn’t take her eyes off the page before her. “Let me see,” she held her hand out.
Carlos passed her the map, wrapped up like a pipe.
“What’s this?” Coriander ran her fingers along the flimsy plastic that encased the map.
“It’s just something to hold the map,” he looked at Coriander like she was stupid. “It came with it,” he continued as if that should be obvious.
Coriander removed the map and unfurled the plastic cover. Small holes pockmarked the surface and she san her fingers over some numbers barely visible below each of the holes. She smoothed the plastic over the double page 10s. It fit perfectly over the book. Letters from the pages appeared through the holes.
“Look!” Coriander struggled to keep the plastic cover’s edges flat. “It’s a clue!”