Most people believe that the lost city of Pamel never even existed. That the soaring pine forests and serene paths were just fairy tales. And if they didn’t believe that, then the tale of Pamel’s treasure was as realistic as dinosaurs running around in the 21st century.
Of course, I didn’t blame them for not believing. Sometimes I even doubted it myself.
But, even though the lost city of Pamel was still lost, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t always be.
Mom took my hands in hers, the way she always did when she had something important to tell me.
I knew what was coming.
“Devin . . . we can’t pay the rent.”
I staggered away from Mom. It shouldn’t have surprised me, I guess. I’d known we would have to leave soon.
“Honey,” Mom began, “it’s just another move.”
I hated it when Mom lied to me about our condition. “It’s not ‘just another move,’ Mom!” I snapped. For two years, we’d been moving from apartment to apartment, and finally we couldn’t even keep the cheapest one.
I looked around the vacant room. Anything to keep my eyes off Mom’s pained face. The beige walls stared back at me.
I had to ask. I whispered, “Mom, where are we going to live?”
Mom put her arms around me and rocked me back and forth. “Oh, Devin . . .” she murmured.
I knew why she didn’t answer the question: because there was nowhere for us to go. No family to turn to. Mom was an only child, and both of her parents had died a few years back. Mom and Dad had divorced when I was a baby, so we obviously couldn’t go to him.
There was absolutely nowhere to go.
Mom had been holding me for a few minutes when there was a knock on the door. I wiggled from her grasp and headed over to the door, though my heart was pounding. Was it the landlord, come to kick us out of our apartment?
I glanced at Mom before I opened the door. The scared look in her eyes told me that she thought it might be the landlord, too.
But when I pulled open the door, standing in front of me was not the crabby old man who owned the apartments but a girl I went to school with: Petrina Marsley.
My eyes widened. What was she doing here?
“Devin, who is it?” Mom called, her voice wobbling.
“Girl from school,” I replied. I met Petrina’s gaze, and my eyes had a question in them: why?
“Well, bring her in!” Mom exclaimed. “She doesn’t want to stand out in the wind.”
I motioned Petrina in and led her to where Mom was. As we walked, I caught her looking around the dull apartment. I immediately stared at the floor as I remembered that Petrina Marsley lived in a mansion.
Why had she come to visit? She couldn’t possibly know about us losing the apartment, right? I racked my brain for answers but came up blank.
Mom and Petrina shook hands. “Ms. East, I’m Petrina Marsley. I go to school with Devin,” Petrina said.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Petrina, and I’m glad Devin has a friend,” Mom gushed. “I’ll go get you girls some food.”
I almost asked Mom not to bother with the food, because she’d likely serve us some stale year-old granola. When I opened my mouth to object, I found that she had already rushed into the dimly lit kitchen.
As soon as Mom left the room, Petrina’s friendly attitude melted into seriousness. “Devin. About your home.”
My breath caught in my throat. How could she possibly know?
She grabbed my shoulders and stared into my eyes. When she spoke, her voice had an urgent tone in it that frightened me. “I can help. You know about Pamel?”
I nodded. Of course I knew about the lost city of Pamel! In school, we had to memorize the prophecy:
The streets of Pamel, in darkness they lay,
Will be discovered again one day.
A young hero, a lonely soul,
Will find the light within the walls of old.
“The treasure. It’s real. It’s all real,” Petrina whispered.
“Your food’s almost ready, girls!” Mom chirped from the kitchen.
I could do nothing but stare as she dashed to the door and cracked it open. “Meet me tonight, in front of my house. I can help.”
And then she was gone.
I felt like I should laugh, but for some reason I couldn’t. Everything Petrina had said was ridiculous, but it almost sounded like she believed it. Like she thought Pamel’s treasure was real.
Mom came out from the kitchen just then, carrying a plate with two sandwiches on it. She must have used the last bits of peanut butter and meat for those sandwiches.
When Mom saw that I was the only one in the room, she got a confused look on her face and asked, “Where’s Petrina?”
“She left, Mom.”
“That was a very quick visit. What did you talk about?”
“School project,” I lied. Oddly, I couldn’t bring myself to mention Pamel.
Mom stood beside me and started to put the plate down on a table before remembering that we’d sold it last week.
“Honey, the landlord told me that he’d give us a week to come up with the rent,” Mom said.
But we wouldn’t be able to get the money to pay the rent unless there was a miracle.
The room seemed to grow darker as we realized that soon we would be homeless.
I snuck out of the apartment that night to go meet Petrina, slipping into my jean jacket both to keep me warm and to conceal the pink material of my sweater. I wasn’t quite sure why I was even bothering to go — I doubted I would get anything out of our midnight meeting. But it was worth a shot. Mom and I were that desperate.
It was fairly easy to find Petrina’s house. I followed a uniform line of dogwood trees until I got to Marsley Avenue, then headed up the path amidst more trees until an iron scroll work gate appeared, beyond which was a private drive that lead to Marsley Mansion.
When I got to the gate, Petrina was already there, waiting for me. She gave a single, swift wave to let me know she had seen me. I returned the gesture.
I’d never actually been this close to Petrina’s home, though I’d walked past Marsley Avenue every day during the school year on my way home. I couldn’t help but wonder if Petrina’s family was as strange as she was.
As a drew closer to Petrina, I squinted through the shadows at the name embroidered on her black jacket: Isabelle. I looked pointedly at it and raised an eyebrow.
Petrina glanced down at the silver writing and explained, “My sister. She gave the jacket to me when it got too small for her.”
“It looks too small for you,” I commented. The jacket’s hem only came down to the bottom of her ribcage.
Petrina laughed lightly; it was the first time I’d ever seen her do that. “It’s just the style,” she told me. “It fits fine.”
I nodded. “Oh, OK. So, Petrina, why’d you call me here?”
She grimaced. “Don’t call me that,” she said. “I hate my name. Call me Peter, please.”
“Peter,” I repeated. “Sure.” I’d never heard of a girl called Peter, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. I had to admit that a fancy name like Petrina didn’t fit the mysterious Marsley girl.
My thoughts were interrupted by Peter’s voice. “I said I could help you, and I will. But you’ve got to trust me and believe what I’m going to say next, or else we might both get killed. Can you do that, Devin?”
A tiny voice in my head was screaming no, but Peter might be my best chance to keep my home. So I said yes.
It was only after I’d agreed to trust her when the last part of her sentence set in: we might both get killed.
“Good.” Peter got down to business. “All we need to do is find Pamel, get inside, take the treasure, and exchange it for money. Then you and your mom can keep your apartment.”
I scoffed. All we need to do. She made it sound so simple, but how were we even going to find the nonexistent city of Pamel? And the treasure was just a silly story we learned in school. Peter couldn’t actually believe that all that stuff was real.
Peter was watching me with concerned hazel eyes. “You don’t believe me, do you?” she asked.
I had said I would trust her and believe her, so I hurriedly assured her with a fib. “Of course I believe you, and that’s a great plan.” I couldn’t help but add, “You do know where Pamel is, right?”
The corners of Peter’s mouth twitched up. “Why would I? It’s a lost city, remember?”
“Then how are we supposed to get there?” I demanded. Peter wasn’t making any sense. If we couldn’t find Pamel, then her plan was useless, and Mom and I would lose the apartment for sure. But I’d been expecting that. It would have been practically impossible for us to get the rent money in the week the landlord had given us.
“Clues and hints and hidden things!” Peter sang, dashing away from the gate. “Come on, Devin East, we’ve got a lost city to find!”
A smile crossed my lips as I sprinted after her. Even if we couldn’t save the apartment, at least I’d have an adventure.
As we ran, Peter told me a few important things about our plan: the whole trip should only take about a week, and we were leaving now. I asked her how she knew how close we were to Pamel, but she just flashed me a mischievous grin and chirped, “Hints!”
We passed my home on our way out of the town of Lemap (Pronounced Lem-app), and I scribbled on a tissue a message for Mom: Love you, Mom. –Devin. When she woke up to an empty apartment, at least she’d know I hadn’t been kidnapped.
I took the apartment steps two at a time and slipped the note under the door. I whispered, “I do love you, Mom, and I promise I’ll be safe.” At the time, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be able to keep that promise.
Peter and I raced out of town, and I didn’t look back once.
We were miles away from Lemap when the sun came up. The autumn weather was unpredictable, and today, it must have been about eighty degrees. I was sweating in my jean jacket.
Peter tugged off her jacket and threw it to the ground. “It’s not going to get super cold again while we’re out, so why don’t you leave your jacket here?” she suggested.
Wondering why she thought she could predict the weather, I shook my head. “You don’t know that it’s not going to be cold. I don’t want to freeze out here,” I protested, slipping out of my jacket and tucking it under my arm.
Peter shrugged. “Suit yourself. But I bet you won’t want to carry that jacket around for a week.”
I tied my jacket around my waist in spite. I’d show her that I could carry my jacket around! We walked on for awhile, but the temperature only went up. Grudgingly, I set my jacket on the ground and left it behind.
About a half hour later, I began to wonder whether we were actually going in the direction of Pamel. It seemed like we just zigzagging across a vast meadow, with no real goal. Why had I even agreed to go on this journey with Peter?
Peter glanced up at the sun, then turned so she was facing south. Did that mean she knew where we were going?
“How do you know where we’re going?” I asked. Not knowing was driving me crazy.
“I told you, remember?” She sighed. “Clues and hints and hidden things!”
That was not the answer I was looking for.
We walked for awhile longer in silence until I groaned, “I’m hungry!” My stomach rumbled, right on cue.
Peter laughed. It was weird when she did that — sort of like it didn’t belong, but sort of like her eyes were always laughing at people. “There’s some food in about a mile. We’ll stop and eat until our buttons burst if you like,” she promised.
Yep. She’d definitely been to Pamel before if she knew where the nearest McDonald’s was.
A mile or so later, a fence, covered in green vegetation, came into view. Red dots were scattered across the fence, and as we got closer, I realized that they were tomatoes.
Peter jogged up to the fence and pulled a ripe tomato off the vine. She popped it into her mouth and handed another one to me.
As strange as it seems, I, in all my twelve years, had never eaten a tomato. Of course, I’d had the chopped up ones Mom put in vegetable soup, but never a whole one. Never one that hadn’t been cut. Gingerly, I raised my hand to my mouth and bit down on the tomato. It’s insides splattered all over the place. I hastily shoved the tomato in my mouth. It tasted like sunshine, and I don’t know what else, but it was good.
Picking tomatoes and stuffing ourselves with them, I decided that I should ask Peter about something that had been bothering me since she’d shown up at my apartment.
“How did you know? I mean, how did you know that my mom couldn’t pay the rent?”
Peter glanced my way, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “My dad knows the landlord,” she said.
It was a pretty good argument, but my gut was telling me that she was lying. Something else was going on here.
We popped a few more tomatoes into our mouths and moved on.
Soon our trekking brought us to a long paved road. The sun beating down on us warmed the asphalt beneath our feet. I couldn’t explain it, but there was something forbidding about the street.
“This,” Peter breathed, “is the Road to Pamel.”
I freaked out after that before I realized that it was just a cracked, abandoned road. It certainly didn’t look like it was hiding a fantastical ancient city.
“So, Peter, where’s this lost city?” I asked my guide, looking around. The road was surrounded by vast plains of grass that stretched to the horizon. As far as I could tell, the city wasn’t anywhere close.
Turns out, you can only get into the city at a certain time of day. How convenient! We had all the time in the world just to sit around and wait. With nothing else to do, I lied back on the ground and got some much-needed sleep, baking in the autumn sun.
Sometime later, Peter shook me awake. She pointed at the road, which was crisscrossed with shadows. “It’s time.”
She scampered over to the one of the fence posts that lined the path. Peter shoved a rock at its base aside with her foot. The rock had covered a hole; she reached into it and pulled out a sword. The blade was silver, with bronze and gold accents on the handle.
Gripping the sword tightly, she strode back to me and faced the road with a grim expression. “Arm yourself,” she advised, “and step carefully.”
I grabbed a pointed piece of wood, simply because I was afraid of what Peter might do with that sword she was waving around. She started down the road, but I called out to her, “Peter. Tell me.”
It was weird enough that she knew about my family’s situation, and where we could eat on our journey to the Road — but knowing that it had to be a specific time of day to enter the city? And having a weapon hidden on the side of a neglected street? I’d put up with her mysterious behavior for long enough, and now I needed to know what was going on.
Peter stopped and glanced back at me. “What?” she asked innocently, but worry was etched across her face.
“How do you know so much about Pamel?” I demanded, marching up to her with my stick raised. “How do you know?”
She shook her head, staring at the ground. Then she continued walking along. I had no choice but to follow her.
She slowed down as she neared the first shadow that was cast on the path. “Beware the Marks,” she murmured to herself. Her fingers tighten around the handle of the sword and she regarded the shadow with a wary expression. Then she stepped directly into the darkness.
A monster appeared out of nowhere. It had cracked skin the color of eggnog, but the skin on its feet and face were black and reptilian.
I screamed as it charged at us like a bull. “What is that thing?!” I shrieked as I dodged out of the beast’s way.
“It’s an ianua!” she shouted back. (Pronounced i-AN-u-a) “One of the gatekeepers of Pamel.”
“Well, your ianu-whatever is going to kill both of us if we don’t do something soon!” I hollered, dashing to the left as the ianua threw itself at me again.
Peter leaped at the monster and slammed the butt of her sword into its stomach. It cried out in pain — a horrid, raspy sound — and swiped its hand at my guide. They tussled while I danced around them and called the ianua names.
The beast raked its claws across Peter’s shoulder, and she caught its arm with her blade. They went back and forth like that until Peter decided she’d had enough.
With one powerful blow, she shoved the pommel of her sword into the ianua’s gut and sent it flying. It crashed into the fence bordering the path and slumped against the post. As we watched, its reptilian face started disintegrating into dust. Soon the ferocious monster was nothing but a pile of beige powder, being whisked away by the wind.
Once my heartbeat began to return to normal, I studied Peter. She was pretty beat up, with scratches and bruises and a stream of blood trickling from her temple, but she didn’t look like she was in pain. She simply smeared the blood on her forehead and said, “Let’s keep going.”
I gazed wearily at the road. Were there going to be more monsters, more beasts trying to end us? I really hoped not, but with my luck, there probably was.
“Are there more ianuas?” I asked.
Peter gestured at the shadows on the road. “You see that, Devin? Each and every one of those shadows has a monster hiding in it. The shadows, they’re called the Marks, and the monsters are gatekeepers. Their job is to keep people away from Pamel. Since the city fell, no one has stepped inside. But we — we, Devin East, you and I, we’re going to.”
She had a way with words, I thought, as we hesitantly approached the second Mark. Gripping my makeshift sword so hard that my knuckles turned white, I set one foot inside the shadow. Peter mimicked my movements, and, waiting for the gatekeeper to appear, her words flashed through my brain: But we — we, Devin East, you and I, we’re going to. And it was then that I knew we were going to find Pamel’s treasure, I knew that my mom and I would be OK, and I knew that Peter had my back.
No one had ever had my back before.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel nice.
An olive-green snake flickered to life before us. It wasn’t an ordinary snake, of course: it had to be colossal, its head bigger than my hand. The serpent’s nasty forked tongue slid out of it’s mouth, and it hissed at us.
I hate snakes. I’d found the slippery things hiding in the corners of musty apartments more than once, and seeing a giant form of one of my worst fears was simply terrifying. It could probably taste my fear, so I tried not to think about it, but it slithered toward me anyway.
I was frozen in fear. The snake grinned at me — a horrible smile, with the remains of past victims stuck in its razor-sharp teeth — and its tail crawled up my leg. The serpent’s tail continued to climb up my body until it had wrapped itself around my leg and and the hand that was clutching my stick.
“Do something,” I rasped, petrified.
Peter exploded into action, swiping at its tail with her sword. Hissing, the snake released me and wriggled toward Peter.
Although I knew it was a stupid idea, I yelled at the giant snake to get its attention. Its head snapped back toward me, and, while the monster was preoccupied, Peter launched herself at it and grabbed it, right below the head. The snake thrashed around in pain, trying to throw Peter off, but she held on, and after a few more seconds, the serpent, like the ianua, dissolved.
I rubbed my hand where the the snake’s scaly skin had touched it. A bright red, itchy rash was forming there.
We fought in silence as we traveled down the road. As Peter had told me, each Mark was booby-trapped with a monster: ianuas, huge snakes, and other frightening beasts.
Hours later, an ianua, much larger than the rest, turned into dust at our feet. I instinctively headed for the next Mark, but I found no more shadows; we had traveled down the Road to Pamel without being killed.
I turned to Peter. “Now what?” I said.
She was studying the design on her sword’s handle. “Devin,” she started cautiously. “I have something to tell you.”
“My . . . my last name isn’t Marsley. It’s Gates. I’m a Gatekeeper. My family has been guarding Pamel since the day it fell. You know the prophecy?
The streets of Pamel, in darkness they lay,
Will be discovered again one day.
A young hero, a lonely soul,
Will find the light within the walls of old.
That prophecy — it’s about you, Devin! You are the hero. And together, we’re going to find the treasure and bring life back to Pamel.”
I stared at her blankly. Peter was a Gatekeeper . . . I was the hero the legend talked about . . . I felt like my head was going to explode. It was way too much to take in.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to say anything. Peter faced the fence and raised her arms above her head, like she was waving at someone. “Gatekeepers!” she intoned. “The day has come. Open the gates!”
The section of fence in front of us turned into a swirling vortex of white light. Peter grabbed my hand and we jumped into it.
Peter and I stumbled out of the vortex. I glanced around, taking in my new surroundings: just clover, dirt, and more clover.
“Where are we?” I breathed.
“Pamel,” Peter told me in an awed voice. “I can’t believe I’m finally here! My whole life I’ve wanted to see the city . . . and now I’m here . . .”
I coughed. “So, um, what do we do now, Peter?”
She stared at me blankly. “I . . . I’m not really sure,” she admitted sheepishly. “The Gatekeepers told me that the hero of prophecy — you, Devin — would know what to do . . .”
I groaned and held my head. We had come all this way, and now Peter was telling me she didn’t know how to find the Treasure of Pamel?
“But I can show you where the prophecy was written,” Peter offered. “Maybe it will jump start your hero/treasure hunter sense or whatever.”
She pointed at a patch of dirt.
“This great prophecy was written in a little circle of dirt?” I scoffed, nevertheless stepping forward.
“The hut the poet lived in was burned down. Duh,” she said, like it was obvious.
“How do you know this stuff?” I inquired. “I thought you’d never been to Pamel before.”
“It just comes with being a Gatekeeper,” she explained. Then Peter wandered off a few feet, to give me some room.
I had no idea what to do. I didn’t feel like a great hero of prophecy — just a scared girl who was in danger of losing her home.
Mom, I thought longingly, I wish you were here.
Suddenly, I could hear my Mom’s cheery voice in my head, like she was right there beside me: Remember the saying in the East family? When in doubt, go east!
It was a dumb saying, but since I had nothing else, I turned my head east. And that’s when a glimmer of hope returned to me. Because I’d spotted something, a structure sitting in a huge, age-old tree. An ancient tree house.
“Peter, over there!” I shouted, pointing.
We sprinted to the tree house.
Peter placed her hand on an old, fraying rope ladder. It trembled beneath the slight weight of her hand. “This is the only way up,” she observed.
“Are you sure that will hold us?” I asked skeptically.
She grinned at me. “Only one way to find out.”
She stared to climb, laboriously heaving herself up one rung at a time. “Come on, Devin!” she called down to me.
Groaning, I tentatively wrapped my hand around one of the ropes. I stepped onto the bottom rung and began to climb.
Several minutes later, Peter and I, huffing, dragged ourselves into the tree house.
We glanced around. Moss-covered boards, dead leaves littering the ground, and several sun-bleached cushions in one corner.
I nodded my head at the cushions and raised an eyebrow.
“It was a little girl’s tree house,” Peter explained. “I guess she wanted a comfortable place to sit.
“So,” she continued, “do you know where the Treasure is? Your hero sense kicking in yet?”
I glanced around the tree house. There, a glare in the corner of my eye — I turned my head. Wedged into the bark of the tree trunk was the sparkling shape of something blue.
We dashed over to the tree.
Peter made a brace out of her fingers, and I stepped onto her hands, trying to pull myself up onto a low branch. I, unfortunately, didn’t have much experience climbing trees, so it was a bit harder than expected.
“Hurry up,” Peter grunted, her hands shaking under my weight. “I can’t hold you much longer.”
With a final grunt, I hauled myself onto the rough branch.
The blue thing was still a little ways over my head, so I had to shimmy up the trunk to reach it. My exhausted limbs were screaming in protest as I climbed, but I persevered, my fingers groping for the Treasure. Finally, in one last desperate lunge, I leapt up and jerked the Treasure from where it was wedged into the bark.
And promptly lost my grip on the tree and plummeted down.
I smacked against the tree house floor, the wind knocked out of me. As I lay there, struggling to get a breath, Peter knelt over me.
“Devin, get up!” she cried. “Oh, please . . . come on, get up . . .”
Weakly, I lifted my hand, uncurled my fingers, and showed her the Treasure. “I got it . . .” I wheezed.
I heard her gasp.
Peter helped me into a seated position, with my back against the tree. I handed her the Treasure, and she cupped it delicately in her hands.
“Wow,” she murmured, awed.
I grunted in agreement.
The Treasure of Pamel was an arctic-blue jewel, about the size of my fist. It glittered in the sunlight.
“This is worth . . . well, I don’t really know — it’s priceless,” Peter told me in a hushed voice. “You could literally buy the whole world with this thing. If it fell into the wrong hands, the results could be catastrophic.”
“Luckily, just little Devin East was the hero of the prophecy, not some scheming mastermind,” I joked.
She shot me a look, and I realized that this was not something to joke about.
We stood, and Peter pressed the jewel into my palm.
“You can save your home, Devin. You and your mom can live together in that apartment. Or you could buy a mansion; it’s up to you.
“But you need to keep the jewel safe, OK? Promise me.”
I swallowed. “I promise.”
Peter and I scrambled down the ladder. We raced back to the lost city of Pamel, where a vortex of light was waiting: a portal.
“Take us to Lemap!” Peter boomed at the portal.
It shone brighter, so bright that I had to shield my eyes. Peter took my hand, and, once again, we leapt into the light.
The portal deposited us in my hometown, Lemap, in the park.
The first thing I did was glance down at my hand, to make sure that the Treasure of Pamel was still there. It was.
“Come on!” Peter exclaimed, playfully tugging on my ponytail. “We need to get to your house. Your mom is going to be so mad at you for running away!”
I stuck my tongue out. Peter was right: my mom must be worried sick. I’d left home several days ago, not even bothering to say goodbye. I’d simply left a note that said “Love you, Mom,” in the door.
A man with a crazy blonde beard was watching us from the bushes. He spoke into his phone: “Boss, there are two little girls in the park. One of them has a great big jewel with ‘er. Looks like a lot of cash.”
“Send me the location, Diesel” his boss’s gruff voice commanded.
“Yes sir,” the man, Diesel, replied. “Uh . . . could you remind me how to do that?”
His boss groaned, and a different man took the phone. “Julian speaking. Here, Diesel, let me explain . . .”
Peter and I started to run in the direction of my apartment. Out of nowhere, three hairy men swooped in on us.
“Help!” I started to shriek, but one of them clamped his callused hand over my mouth.
We stood there, helpless, as they bound our wrists together with ropes. They tied blindfolds around our eyes and roughly marched us away.
When they jerked off our blindfolds, Peter and I found ourselves in a dark, musty room, surrounded by various construction equipment.
“The jewel!” I cried suddenly. “It’s gone!”
Tears started to trickle down my cheeks. Had we come all this way, come so close to victory, only to be stopped at the last minute?
Peter was wiggling her wrists around furiously.
“Don’t bother,” I sighed. “I tried while they were taking us here. The bonds are too tight.”
But Peter kept working at it, and after several minutes of uninterrupted work, her bonds fell to the floor. “They always use too much rope,” she said with satisfaction.
“How did you do that?” I gaped.
Then I realized that I was talking to thin air. Peter was gone.
Maybe she was a spy, or an escape artist.
I renewed my struggled to slip out of the bonds.
The gang’s ringleader, a man named Houston, was relaxing on an old monster truck tire. His assistant, Julian, the only member of the group that didn’t have a beard, stood at attention by his side.
“How are the kids?” Houston asked in an uninterested voice. He didn’t really care, but the silence was growing uncomfortable.
“They’re fine,” Julian replied tightly.
At that moment, three men barged into the room. The one in the striped shirt, Max, was holding something blue.
“Look what we found, Boss!” he called, waving it above his head.
“I found it,” argued the one in the white shirt, Otis.
“Well done, men,” Houston praised, sliding off the tire and taking the jewel from Max. “Well done.” He studied it, holding it up into the light.
“We will get our share, right?” asked Diesel.
“Of course, of course,” Houston reassured them, fascinated by the jewel.
“And the girls that had it, we took them prisoner,” Max piped up.
“What?” gasped Julian. “You took them prisoner? What if the police show up? What if, what if . . .”
“Calm down, Julian,” said Houston, setting the jewel on the tire.
He gathered everybody around him. “We, men, are the Evil Ha Ha. You may not all be very bright, but you’re part of an elite group of crime lords, and the police will not find us. If you do what you’re told, that is. Understood?”
“Understood, sir!” they shouted. “Evil Ha Ha!”
Peter, who was watching them from the rafters, snickered. Evil Ha Ha? That was literally the dumbest gang name ever.
She shouldn’t have laughed.
The members of Evil Ha Ha may not have been very intelligent, but they still had ears.
“Houston, we have a problem,” said Diesel, pointing at Peter.
“Get her!” raged Houston.
Yelling, the men charged at Peter.
Peter dashed back into the room I was stuck in and ripped off my bonds.
“We need to get out of here!” she shouted.
I willingly ran after her.
We led the men on a wild chase through town, but we finally lost them. Then we made our way to my apartment.
Taped to the door was an official-looking sign.
FOR RENT. Call landlord if interest. 123-4567.
I stared at the sign in shock. For rent? That meant . . . that could only mean that we were too late.
Peter hugged me as I cried.
“I — I can’t believe it!” I choked. “We d-did so much . . . traveled . . . killed m-monsters! And we’re t-too late . . .”
“Hey, Devin,” Peter said softly. “I have an idea, OK? Just tell me when you’re ready, and we’ll go find your Mom.”
When I stopped sobbing, Peter and I walked around Lemap, searching for my mom. We found her sitting along one of the back roads, dressed in her weird mom style: a light blue sweater and an ankle-length white skirt.
“Mom,” I called, and the tears started anew.
She looked around in confusion. Then she asked timidly, “Devin? Honey, is that you?”
“Mom!” I shouted again, running to her.
She jumped up and hugged me tightly. “Oh, Devin! Where did you go? I — I was so worried . . .”
“I found Pamel, Mom, Peter and I did.”
I was relived when she didn’t give me a strange look. I’d been afraid that she might think I was crazy, but apparently not. Or maybe she was just so glad to see me again that she was hardly paying attention to what I was saying.
Peter walked up and showed Mom the jewel. “Ms. East,” she greeted. “You remember me, Petrina Marsley?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Devin found a priceless jewel. She was going to use it to pay the rent, but by the time we got back, you had already left the house.”
“That’s wonderful,” Mom said. “So we can get the apartment back?”
“I have a better idea,” Peter grinned.
Peter told us to hold hands. Then she shouted, “Take us to Pamel!” and a portal came to life.
Mom was screaming, my whole body was tingling, and Peter was laughing softly. The next thing I knew, we were in Pamel.
Peter gazed out at the land. “Ms. East, welcome to the lost city of Pamel — your new home.”
Mom hopped up and down like she was a little girl again, laughing and crying at the same time. “I always knew it was real!” she exclaimed. “I always knew.”