In the Castle of Dread, Drogor the Insane summoned his dragons and zombie soldiers. And in the grey wastes of the Doom Fields a tiny figure stumbled across muddy uneven ground. This was Hord, the boy hero upon whom the freedom of the Universe depended.
‘Hide!’ cried a girl’s voice.
Hord leapt into a crater and rolled under an upturned cart.
Dark wings passed above him, a dozen dragons on the hunt.
‘That was too close,’ panted Hord. ‘Thanks for the warning.’
‘You’re welcome,’ replied the invisible girl, ‘But don’t just lie there. Drogor’s zombie soldiers are on the way.’
Hord wasn’t scared of much, which was why he’d been chosen to rescue the Universe from the clutches of Drogor the Insane, but Hord's knees wobbled at the thought of zombies.
He was up and running before the girl had finished speaking.
* * *
‘Sarah! School!’ yelled her mum.
‘Coming!’ Sarah stuffed the book in her bag and raced to the bus stop. The bus screeched to halt when the driver saw her.
‘Almost missed us,’ grinned the driver. ‘Nose in a book again?’ She nodded and the driver laughed. ‘I’ll call out when it’s time for you to get off. Don’t want you missing school, eh?’
‘Thanks,’ said Sarah. She picked the seat behind the driver, grabbed her book and started to read.
* * *
Hord had made it out of the Doom Fields and was now in the Forest of Gloom. He was hiding in a dagger bush and getting pricked everywhere.
‘Quiet!’ warned the girl.
‘Easy for you to say—you don’t have to hide in this bush,’ said Hord grumpily. ‘Ouch! … Wish I was invisible too.’
‘I’m not invisible,’ said the girl. ‘I’m not even here.’
‘Yeah, you told me. You’re reading a book and sometimes you get so wrapped up in a story you can talk to the characters. You’re as mad as Drogor! Who’d write a book where an evil wizard makes a copy of the Universe the size of a snow globe, and uses it to control everybody and everything? I’m real and you’re … I don’t know what you are.’
‘I’m helpful. I’ve saved your life. A lot.’
Hord had to agree. He couldn’t have stolen the snow globe containing the Universe and escaped Drogor’s Tower without her. He stared at the tiny glass orb in his hand. Inside was a copy of everything that existed—every man, woman and child; every sun, moon and planet. Hord himself was in there too, somewhere. He was outside and inside at the same time. His head hurt just thinking about it.
He was about to start complaining again when heavily armoured zombie soldiers lurched past.
* * *
Sarah tried to listen to everything her teacher was saying but she couldn’t stop thinking about her book. Would Hord make it past the zombie soldiers?
At morning break she hurried off to find a quiet corner where she could start reading again but her friend Charlotte caught up with her.
‘Hey, Sarah, did you hear about …’ Charlotte started to say. Charlotte was Sarah’s best friend and right now she looked frightened. Sarah almost put her book down, but luckily Marie turned up and Charlotte started to tell her the news instead. Sarah wasn’t listening. If it was important, she’d find out soon enough, but right now, she needed her book.
* * *
‘Nearly there,’ whispered Hord. At the top of the small hill was the Temple of Justice. All Hord had to do was make it into the temple, smash the orb containing the Universe on the stone altar, and then everyone in existence would be free.
‘Watch out for the Sitters,’ whispered the girl.
‘I can handle anything that just sits and does nothing,’ Hord said confidently.
‘I never said they did nothing. They sit on people.’
‘And then they get up and let you get on with your day, right?’ he said hopefully.
As he finished speaking three Sitters loomed into sight. Three times the size of an Earth elephant, each Sitter had a single eye at the end of a trunk. They had no mouths that Hord could see. They didn’t look so bad.
‘Whatever you do, don’t …’ the girl started to say.
But Hord was already sprinting toward the temple. The Sitters didn’t look fast. He could outrun them.
‘… run,’ the girl finished.
The Sitters were suddenly in front of Hord, blocking his way.
‘They can teleport,’ said the girl breathlessly.
Hord was grabbed by a tentacle that hung down from the underbelly of one of the Sitters. And instead of a belly, there was a giant mouth with rows of teeth like a shark’s. The Sitter began to sit, moving Hord towards its mouth, which was coming closer and closer.
‘Any advice?’ asked Hord, trying to be brave.
‘Tickle it,’ she said.
Tickle it? Had she gone crazy?
* * *
At lunchtime the other kids weren’t playing their usual noisy games. They were in silent groups, watching the sky. The sky didn’t interest Sarah. She needed to find out if Hord had taken her advice.
* * *
Hord reached the temple door just as a Sitter appeared behind him. He scrambled in, expecting at any moment to be squashed or eaten, or both.
‘You’re safe,’ said the girl. ‘Sitters hate being tickled. It confuses them and makes them teleport away.’
‘Thanks,’ said Hord. ‘You sure they can’t get in?’
‘They don’t like buildings. Ceilings make them think something’s trying to sit on them.’
‘Suits me,’ said Hord as he ran to the altar. He brought out the small glass globe that held the Universe and smashed it on the altar.
* * *
The bus driver didn’t say anything when Sarah got on the bus. He usually made a joke about how her eyes would fall out if she read too much. Now he just played with his radio, trying to tune into the news.
The others on the bus were as quiet as mice.
Quiet was good. It meant Sarah could finish her book.
* * *
Hord was having a well-earned rest in a haystack.
‘What’s your name?’ asked Hord. ‘Or is it a secret?’
‘Thanks, Sarah,’ grinned Hord sleepily. ‘If it weren't for you, the Universe would still be trapped, and I’d probably be dead.’
‘No worries,’ said Sarah. ‘What are you going to do now?’
Hord shrugged. ‘I bought an ebook reader with some of the treasure I was given as a reward. I might read a book or two and relax.’
‘You have ebooks?’ said Sarah surprised.
‘Yeah, enchanted books. They’re amazing. Each one is just a single book but every time you finish a story there’s another completely different one waiting for you to
read. They’re all the rage at the moment. I’ve just started one where a planet is invaded by giant spiders.’
Sarah laughed. ‘Sounds a bit unlikely.’
* * *
The sky was filled with strange grey clouds that pulsed with light every couple of seconds. They looked as if they were made up of strands of dark silk.
Sarah hurried up the front path.
No-one was home, but as she turned the key in her door, she heard a voice.
‘Hurry up and get inside.’
She looked around. There was no-one.
‘Hord? Is that you?’ she asked as she slammed the door and hurried down the hall to her bedroom.
‘Yes,’ replied Hord. ‘You want the good news or the bad?’
‘Bad news, please.’ Sarah felt it was always best to start with the bad and finish with the good.
‘The bad news,’ said Hord, ‘is that giant spiders have invaded your planet and are spinning their webs over every city in the world.’
‘There are no such things as giant spiders,’ Sarah corrected. ‘It’s physically impossible and …’ She looked out of the window. Hanging down from the strange sky came masses of grey strands and climbing down were thousands of giant spiders.
One landed outside her window.
Sarah quickly pulled the curtains closed.
‘What’s the good news?’ she cried.
‘The good news is that I’m here to help you,’ said Hord.
‘What do I do?’ she asked.
‘First you hide. And then together we save the world.’ Hord laughed. ‘I must say I prefer reading books to being in them!’
As the spider smashed the window and tried to crawl in after Sarah, she was inclined to agree.
After reading the story , look at both images below and think about what you know of Sarah’s and Hord’s character and their perspective. What else does the image tell you of their character? Look at the background of the images – what does this