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Chapter 1

Goff pushed aside the wisps of hair poking out from under his wizard’s cap and pulled a stubby yellow pencil from behind his ear. Turning his ring-bound notebook to an empty page, he positioned the sharp pencil point just above, reminding himself of the importance of his mission: make magic happen on these pages, or stay stuck here forever.

Late autumn sun lay in strips across the cobblestones of the tiny garden behind the Danville library. An icy breeze scratched Goff’s cheeks and spun his hair into waves crashing against his dirty glasses. He stood with his jacket flapping in the breeze, staring at a bronze statue as tall as a telephone pole: four somber men in robes positioned around a tall pillar, guarding all four directions of the compass. They seemed braced for attack from something unknown. At the top of the pillar, out of the range of sight for the men at the base, crouched a winged gargoyle bearing sharp fangs. 

Goff had hoped that standing before this statue would teach him something about Danville’s strange relationship with witchcraft, something he could use, but it hadn’t. It had only brought up more questions.

Why was this bizarre statue here behind the little Danville library? What was the menace the four men guarded against? What was the significance of the gargoyle, poised to attack from an unwatched direction?

Shaking his head, Goff continued to stare at it, study it. He needed answers, not questions. This history paper had to be amazing. It was his only ticket out of this crappy town.

“What a dork!”

Goff flinched and spun. Tom Sweeny, a rhino of a boy from his class, stood a few feet back. Goff suddenly regretted donning a wizard cap and cape. It wasn’t something he regularly wore, but he’d read an article by William Cranston, a famous journalist, about the importance of a writer fully immersing themselves in a story. Now, feeling idiotic, he regretted taking that advice. He yanked the hat off. “I’m doing an assignment for a class.” 

“A class about how to be a dork?” Tom asked.

Goff sighed. Tom was typical Danville. “It’s a history class, Tom.”

“History of dorks?”

“Regional history.”

“Regional history of dorks?”

“That’s just dumb.”

“You’re dumb.”

Goff didn’t reply. This was going nowhere.

Tom walked closer. “Dork.”

“Will this be over soon?” Goff asked. 

“Yup,” Tom said, punching Goff hard in the stomach. “Done!” 

Goff doubled over, unable to breathe. He wanted to shout something at Tom, something clever and nasty, but shouting required breathing, and his lungs weren’t working at the moment. He fought off the urge to puke, not wanting to give Tom that satisfaction. 

Tom walked away. “See ya later, loser!”

Goff stared at his shoes, watching the ground spin. It spun and spun and then slowed and eventually became just the ground again. The danger of puking now over, he stood up. 

Tom was nowhere to be seen, but Goff caught his own reflection in the shiny marble at the base of the statue. There before him was a blurry picture of the poster child for “Most Likely to be Bullied” — skin as pale as snow, wild blue eyes, a mass of brown hair clawing at his head, plastic glasses with thick frames covering half of his face, and of course, a goofy wizard’s cape draped over his shoulders. 

“It’s a miracle I’m still alive.” 

Goff stared for a moment longer and then looked away, even more determined to accomplish his mission: to write a paper good enough to win the Amworth Academy Journalism Scholarship. All his life, he’d bounced around the foster-care system, but if he won that scholarship, he’d finally have a home that no one could take away.  

He stepped back and surveyed the statue. The sun had faded just a little, darkening the shadows. It looked even more evil now, more mysterious. Glancing around first to make sure he was alone, he jammed the wizard’s cap back on his head. 

“Screw you, Tom.” 

Goff opened his notebook. After thinking for a moment, he wrote: 

Behind the Danville library stands a statue of four men, worried and serious, watching, guarding against something unexpected, something evil, something that will attack without warning. I ask myself: Are we all in danger here? Perhaps the little town of Danville harbors secrets only the oldest of townsfolk know, secrets that may one day haunt us — or maybe even kill us — in our sleep.

Goff re-read it and smiled. It was a good start he could fill out later at home. But before he left, he wanted to add an illustration to give the paper more pizazz. He wasn’t great at drawing, but could manage the basics. With  broad strokes, he captured the pillar and roughed out the four men. He rendered the gargoyle by pressing hard and making dark lines for its wings, bulging muscles, and eyes.

Out of nowhere, a stiff breeze kicked up and fluttered the corner of the page. Goff pressed it down and kept drawing. The wind kicked up another notch, lifting a pile of red, orange, and brown leaves nearby. Goff looked up to watch them swirl and dance for a moment and then returned to his work. He added a few lines for sharp talons before looking back up at the gargoyle. 

The gargoyle was no longer looking straight ahead as it had only a moment ago. It had turned its head and was staring right at him.

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