Excerpt – The Red Ring

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Released from an ancient prison, it lurks beneath the city. Invisible, unknowable. Hungry. Can Maggie stop it before it kills again?

 

Maggie Stuart, now sixteen, feels alienated and lost. Her former friends ignore her, and magic, something that once came naturally, has deserted her entirely. But when she interrupts a dangerous occult ritual, it is the beginning of another baptism by fire for both her and the boys she once saved: Jason Lawson, Scott Saunders, and Aaron Scribner. She discovers that the supernatural world has never been as far away as it had seemed.
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from THE RED RING

Blood & Magic ✪ Book Two

by Jen Frankel

 

The first person I saw the very first day of grade eleven, or at least the first person I noticed, was Scott Saunders. I don’t know why I should have been so surprised to see him unchanged by the summer but he wassame curly dark blond hair and long body, a gait that bordered on the lumberingeminently recognizable. I followed him from the parking lot into the main building, to the boards where our names would be posted alongside our home room numbers.

I said “Hi,” as I checked my classroom number, and he indicated he’d heard with a little nod. He seemed particularly smug and I felt snubbed. It wasn’t like he was one of the big heart-throb football players or anything. In their way, the group he belonged to was just as outcast from the popular crowd as I am. There’s nothing like getting dissed by someone way, way down the social ladder to really make you feel truly unworthy.

There wasn’t anything to do in the half-hour before class, so I sat down with my back to the wall, and took out a book to read. I’d made a brown paper cover for it, one of the works of Aleister Crowley—I figured it was better to have everyone think I was reading dirty books than something weird and occult. Some things are deviant yet acceptable. Others make people nervous, and I seemed to do that easily enough without pressing the issue.

Our school is called John Diefenbaker, after the former Prime Minister, but that gets shortened more often to “Dief”, or to just “J.D.”, like the whiskey. Almost everyone who used to go to Westbrook Elementary ended up at Dief, so I’ve been seeing the same faces nearly all my life. It’s funny how that could be true, yet I can say I don’t have a real friend in the lot. Jason and I were friends once, pretty good ones, and I got along well with Aaron Scribner too, but that was in the part of the past neither of them remembers. But then, maybe what I had with them was intensity, because we were all in danger and helping each other out. We didn’t have history, and I think that might be more important in the long run. I couldn’t imagine how I’d get to know either of them again.

I turned a couple of pages without reading a word. Scott was still standing by the board, meandering back and forth. The hall was crowded, mostly confused grade nines from the conversation. I was kicked and tripped over, and stepped on numerous times, but Scott stayed and so did I. I was curious to know who he was waiting for. Spying was the only way I had of keeping in touch, pitiful though it sounds.

The first bell rang, and the school song started, giving me about five minutes to walk the one short corridor to my home room, which was actually my second period class, just to make matters more confusing for newbies. This was for the benefit of anyone with a first period spare. My actual first period class was drafting, the only thing I was really looking forward to this year. Home room, period two, was Grade Twelve history, which I was dreading. I stood, and was about to go to class when. . .

. . .when Scott’s companions arrived. Old home week at the Psych-Me-Out ranch. I hadn’t seen Jason Lawson since before the summer. He was tanned and nervous. He had always been very tall, even in grade eight, but now he was filling out a bit and looked very athletic. I don’t know why I was surprised that Jason and Scott were still hanging around together.

The other two were girls, Rae Kennie and Suzanne something. Rae was a star volleyball player, popular and pretty. Suzanne had arrived from another school the year before and had rocketed up the high school pecking order to princess status almost instantly. I knew very little about either of them, except that it annoyed me to see Scott and Jason with them. Somehow over the summer they’d moved up on the social ladder. Probably about the same time I was being hit on by a horrible older man with tobacco and sweat hanging around him.

I was too far away to hear their exchange, but whatever was said got Scott as agitated as Jason. Suzanne opened her gym-bag and handed Scott an old, large book. He slipped it into his own bag, and the four of them disappeared toward their new classrooms. I felt a tingle that was far too much like the feeling of my powers that were gone forever, and I was almost in tears when I reached my home room. Seeing them was like looking in a window at a party someone forgot to invite you to. I walked a little faster.

My classroom was full of grade twelve students, and not a single one that I knew. I slid into the only seat left in the room just as O Canada began over the P.A. The teacher motioned for us to stand, and I did, with a crash the volume of a 747 at liftoff. The contents of my bag scattered up and down the aisle, and one of my paintbrushes just kept on rolling, up towards the front of the room.

I hardly noticed the kindly grade twelve girl who helped me collect my things and shovel my books back into the knapsack. All I knew was that the whole class was laughing—at me.

I zipped the case just as the national anthem finished and slid back into my desk, color rising in my cheeks.

This being the first day of school, we’d have an auditorium in the morning, then run through an entire day’s schedule in fifteen minute long periods after lunch. There was a pep rally on the football field planned for the latter part of the afternoon. We would be out an hour early, which was more a tease than anything else. Another year in school. Don’t think about it, Maggie, I told myself, and concentrated instead on filling out all the first-day-of-school paperwork.

When we had been given our timetables, the grades nine to eleven assembly was announced. I was the only grade eleven in the classroom, so I had to stand, explain, and excuse myself. I was in the hall before I realized I had forgotten my knapsack inside, and had to return for it. Seriously, I could hardly look any stupider than I already did. On a first-impression scale of one to ten, I rated about minus fifteen.

I thought I’d finally got the hang of Dief this year. It wasn’t easy. There were three wings, each constructed in a completely different era of the school’s history. You’d guess each successive architect hadn’t bothered to even look at what had come before when planning the expansions.

The oldest, the middle section, was a blocky, rectangular edifice on three levels which included the library, the cafeteria, and the office. The tech floor at the bottom was like a dungeon, half-sunk so that the windows were level with the grass outside.

That I could handle. Below there was an even deeper and much creepier level, where there were few classes but a lot of doors, and although a lot of other students used the sub-basement for quickie shortcuts between classes, I had never made it past the top of the stairs. Being underground doesn’t suit me.

The other two wings were constructed about five years apart. Each had two stories, but neither building lined up in any way with the old school. The more modern annex had low ceilings and narrow halls and almost made sense, but the other was built like a labyrinth with twisting passages and odd-shaped rooms.

There were staircases to nowhere, and blind corridors turning unexpectedly into walls, and steps leading up just to go back down without even the excuse of a room or intersecting hallway. I hated the whole place passionately, and it gave me the creeps. People got lost all the time, although never permanently—at least as far as I knew. The layout of the school had given me enormous problems for the first couple of months of grade nine. But this year, I thought I had old Dief pretty much in hand. Maybe I was just cocky because my home room class was close to the main entrance and easy to find.

The only sort-of nice part of the school was the gymnasium, big and modern, with skylights and a gallery—but damned if Maggie Stuart was going to be caught dead in there. I was not in the least bit athletically inclined. The compulsory phys. ed. class in grade nine had been almost enough to kill me.

The auditorium nearby was another detrimental feature as far as being a place for functions was concerned, although I had a special relationship with it personally that I’ll get to later. The stage in the auditorium had always confused me. It was convex, like someone had started with a nice, rectangular stage and cut a scoop out of the middle of it, for the orchestra we’d never have, I guess. It was a completely useless shape for any kind of play to be performed on it, because center stage was so far back from the audience. Maybe that’s why Dief had never in twenty years put on a school show.

Now, the auditorium was full of students, not my favorite way to see it at all. Grudging every moment, I sat as far back as I could and stuck my knapsack under my seat. It was too dark to read, so I dozed instead. Mr. Philps, a.k.a. the Mouse, called for attention, twice, and the auditorium began.

The assembly lasted forty-five minutes and did nothing to instill me with the school spirit it was supposed to, and we were returned ‘to the work of period one,’ which for me meant sitting by myself in an empty classroom for the duration of the top grade’s assembly.

Finally, the grade twelves returned, and we were released for lunch. I was the first one out the door. I would have given almost anything for a look at that book Scott and Jason had been passing around.

 

$25
412 pages, trade paperback