Carlin and Jack are back. Mr. Bough is not. He's never around when they need him. Holes flying in the night sky, a plot to bring dragons to Stawberry Island and that nagging feeling that the TV is watching you - this really is one of those summer evenings when they could use his help. Without him will they have to rely on Todd? An evil fairy? Some nights look like the can't get any worse . . . until they do.
On an island snuggled between the United States and Canada lived the very normal Jack Oliver. If his school had a normal team, he would have voted himself captain. He was not too tall, not too big, with hair the very forget-table color of milk chocolate. He had a polite appearance that caused him to travel about unnoticed. As a model of normality, Jack tried his best to ignore the island’s strange-ness.
The strangeness, however, had developed quite an attraction to him.
Jack knew Strawberry Island better than anyone. He could say that with some certainty for three reasons. First, he had lived on it his whole thirteen years. Second, his paper route made sure he traveled around it, rather than fix in one part and ignore the rest. Third, he had recently learned what, as far as he knew, only three other people on the island knew: The place was magical. Strawberry Island was not magical like advertisements tell you your trip to an amusement park is going to be. It was magical as in sometimes faeries stole your body, cancelled out gravity and tried to make it a playground for dragons, ogres and other assorted creatures generally believed to be completely fictional.
Knowing Strawberry Island so well did not help Jack identify the small rolling hum coming from behind him. He had just started his evening delivery, so his paper bag was packed nearly to bursting. Balancing it on his worn and wobbly bicycle made it difficult to turn around and see the source of the noise.
He was, he had to admit, skittish. Not afraid. Absolutely not. Just cautious. He’d seen and smelled and tasted enough strange things to know when something didn’t sound right. He stopped his bike, planted his feet and stretched his neck to see behind him.
“Great,” he said out loud. His ears went red. His jaw stiffened.
Dill Vernon was coming up the street on one of those two-wheeled scooter-things, the kind with the wheels side-by-side, not in a row like a bike or motorcycle. It looked like he was riding an up-right vacuum cleaner with enormous tires.
Jack had not seen Dill in a week, not since Dill had used his dirt bike to slobber Jack with 80 pounds of gushy mud. Jack had no desire to be anywhere near Dill. Just the sight of him triggered all his nerves. This sight, how-ever, was kind of funny. Why would any teenager with as much money as Dill, a kid who already had a warehouse full of motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, jet-skis and who knew what else, want one of these things?
Dill grinned widely. He had an arrow face. The chin was sharp. His nose and eyebrows looked like barbs, and his thin black hair was, as usual, blown out and back, mak-ing his face look even more triangular than it would if he was standing still. None of this bothered Jack. It was Dill’s lips that bothered Jack. He preferred when Dill tormented him from atop a dirt bike because then Dill would be wearing a helmet that would cover up the thin, skin-col-ored seams around his mouth marking where his lips were supposed to be.
He circled Jack, stopped, traced the circle backwards, then spun in place.
It was kind of cool, Jack said to himself. He shook his head. Regardless of cool stuff, Dill Vernon belonged in a cage.
“This cost me more than both your parents make in a month,” Dill said still smiling with what weren’t really lips.
“That’s great, Dill.” Jack adjusted the paperbag and faced forward.