Read an excerpt from the novel:
by MJ Bell
Deston pushed with all his might, but the door didn’t budge. Taking a step back, he wiped his hands on his pants and threw a quick embarrassed look over his shoulder at Margaux. Even though it was a big door, it shouldn’t be this hard to open. Digging his feet into the dirt, he pushed until he was red in the face and out of breath, to no avail. Margaux joined him then and together they pushed. The door didn’t give an inch.
“Is it stuck?” asked Margaux.
“I don’t know,” Deston panted, resting his forehead against the wood.
“Or could it be locked?”
“Maybe. But if it is, it has to be locked from the other side, because there is no keyhole or locks out here.” Deston stepped away and looked up at the door. “And if it is locked, we’re screwed,” he added in an afterthought.
Margaux’s brow puckered. “What does that mean, ‘we’re screwed’?”
“It means we aren’t going to get the door open,” he snapped back, taking his frustration out on her.
“Oh,” she said flatly. “So what do we do now?”
Deston had no answer. He looked back at the ravine. It was completely hidden by the mist, which was now rolling over the ground toward them.
Aghh! There has to be a way to get inside. What am I missing? He walked away deep in thought and sat down on a large boulder.
Margaux craned her head back and looked up. Her mind was also wrapped up in the problem, and there were several things in particular nagging at her. For one, she didn’t understand why someone would need this much protection in a place that was already so secluded. It was also strange the key to the bridge was fairly easy to find to get over here, but was hidden now. It almost seemed as if they’d been set up. As she pondered these mysteries, another thought came to her. They had almost missed the indentation for the key on the pyramid. In fact, it was only when she had re-examined it very closely that she found it. Maybe the key on this side was just as inconspicuous.
Margaux leaned in close to the door, her nose almost touching it, and lightly placed a hand on the icy cold wood. Gently, she rubbed its silky surface feeling for an indentation, but there was nothing. Moving her fingers to the wall, she inched them up and over the stones that framed the doorway as far as she could reach. The stones were surprisingly smooth along the edge of the frame, but again she felt no place for a key. However, she wasn’t tall enough to reach a good portion it and the mist was beginning to obscure what little light was left, making it harder to see.
Margaux stood back and chewed on the side of her cheek, her eyes going to the torch on the wall beside the door. If it was lit, it would help with at least one of their problems.
“Deston, do you by chance have any matches with you?” she asked.
Wrapped up in his own thoughts, Deston didn’t bother to look up. “What?”
“Do you have any matches?”
“Um … yeah, there are some in the backpack,” he replied.
Margaux flipped her hair back over her shoulder and scurried onto the rock that was set directly under the torch. Standing on her tiptoes, she stretched up, but her fingertips didn’t even brush the bottom tip of the torch. Not to be discouraged, she pressed her lips together and looked around for something else to stand on.
“Will you come over here for a second, please?”
Deston looked up at the second interruption, but didn’t move.
“Come on, hurry. I need you,” she persisted.
Deston rolled his eyes, but got up and walked over just the same. As soon as he got close, Margaux grabbed his arm and pulled him up on the rock beside her.
“Stand right here while I get on your shoulders,” she stated bluntly, positioning him right below the torch.
“What?” Deston cried out. “Are you kidding? Why?”
“Because we need light if we are going to find the way to get this door open. And that torch up there will provide a lot more than your penlight will.”
Deston didn’t have time to argue as Margaux was already placing her foot on his leg and had begun to climb onto his back. He wobbled a little and his knees buckled as she hoisted herself up onto his shoulders, but he automatically locked his knees in place and grabbed her ankles to steady her and keep them both from falling.
Slowly, Margaux straightened her legs and walked her hands up the wall. When she was standing erect, she reached up and pushed up on the tip of the torch to knock it out of the basket. To her dismay, it didn’t even budge. Undaunted, she pounded on the handle in an effort to get it loose.
“What are you doing?” Deston demanded breathlessly, as Margaux’s foot rocked back and forth on his collarbone.
“It’s stuck. I’m trying to … oh!” Margaux shrieked, as her foot slipped off his shoulder. She grabbed for the torch to regain her balance, but the handle was slick with oil and her hand slid right off. She grabbed for it again and the torch and basket both twisted to the side. The unexpected movement sent her tumbling down onto Deston, and they both crashed to the ground.
Margaux’s scream drowned out the soft click of the door unlocking, though as they hit the ground, they both felt the whoosh of cold, stale air blow over them. In an instant they untangled themselves and sat up, as the giant door silently swung outward to reveal a stairway leading down into darkness.
Deston and Margaux turned to each other at the same time, their eyes bulging wide. Slowly, a grin spread across Deston’s face.
“That was so awesome! Way to go!”
He raised his hand for the ceremonial “high five,” but Margaux, not understanding the meaning of the gesture, didn’t reciprocate. Unfazed, he dropped his hand, jumped up and ran to the doorway to peer down the dark staircase as Margaux sat where she had fallen, too shocked to move.
“This is so incredible,” he said under his breath. “It’s got to be Merlyn’s fortress. The old man said it was here, but I thought he was crazy.”
Margaux’s courage had fled the moment the door opened, and she stared up at Deston as if he was insane. “Deston, you cannot seriously be thinking of going in there.” When he didn’t reply, she sprang to her feet and ran to him. “Deston, listen. This is not a good idea. I think we should go home and tell my papa. He will know what to do. We can bring him back here to go with us. It will be a lot safer,” she tried to reason with him as she pulled on his arm to get him away from the stairs, but Deston shook her off.
“No! I’m not leaving now. Are you kidding me?”
“Deston, listen. I really think we should …”
“NO!” Deston roared. “I – am – not – leaving! What if we go and can’t find this place again?” he stammered, glaring at her. “Don’t you see? This may be our one and only chance of finding out if this really is Merlyn’s place.”
Margaux let her hand fall to her side, and her eyes turned glassy.
“Ah, man,” Deston sighed, turning away from her. He knew this would happen. How could she not see this was possibly one of the greatest discoveries in history? He ran his hand through his hair and tried to think. The only thing he knew for sure was he was not leaving now. Even if she went home, he was staying.
Taking a deep breath, he turned back with what he hoped was a resigned look on his face. “You know what? You’re right. Maybe we shouldn’t go in there alone. So how about this…you run home and get your dad, and I’ll stay here. You know, to make sure the door stays open.”
Margaux sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “You won’t go in there without us will you?”
“Noooo, of course not.” Deston crossed his fingers behind his back to cancel out the lie.
“But how am I going to get across the ravine?”
Deston looked over his shoulder. He had forgotten all about that little problem. “Oh yeah … umm … I’m sure there’s a way around it.” He looked off through the trees. “Why don’t you walk down there a bit and see if it gets narrower. Or maybe there’s a shallow spot where you can get across. I’m sure you’ll find a way,” he added with a nod of his head.
Margaux looked over her shoulder in the direction he was pointing. “Do you really think so?”
Deston nodded more earnestly. “Yeah, I do.”
“OK … I guess it’s worth a try.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “But you’ll stay right here and wait for me to come back, right?”
“Sure. Just hurry up, OK?”
Feeling more than a little apprehensive, Margaux gave Deston a wary smile. She walked the few feet to the edge of the tree line, hesitated, and looked back.
Deston gave her a thumbs-up in encouragement and sat down on the rock. “I’ll be waiting. Just hurry.”
She swallowed hard and nodded, and then stepped into the trees.