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Chapter Seven

"And that," I said as the Escher Cube flashed us back into existence, "is how I invented medicinal cheese balls that cure cancer."


Ethan raised an eyebrow. "Henry, what are you talking about?"


I looked around. I'd warped us right into the middle of the street outside my house, but there was nobody in sight.


I sighed. "If anyone had been around to hear that, it would have made me sound really smart."


"It also would have blown your cover," Jade said disapprovingly.


"There are some sacrifices that have to be made," I said, pocketing the Cube and making for the door.


The sun was setting, and a cool wind whispered through the trees. There was a green flash behind me as Jade went back into her gem, and I paused in confusion when I opened the door to find all the lights turned off.


"Mom? Dad?" I called from the doorway. "You guys home?"


No answer.


"Is everything okay?" Ethan asked.


"Yeah," I said after a moment. "They're probably just out getting groceries."


Of course. That's where they were. Obviously. So why was my stomach still doing somersaults?


I crept inside, keeping one hand on Splatsy, and left the door open behind me. Ethan followed, his eyes darting back and forth with every tiptoed step. We made our way into the living room. It was almost too dark to see, with the lights off and the sun setting.


"Wait here," I whispered, and went in. Slowly, one step at a time, skillfully (and awesomely) avoiding the squeaky floorboards. There was a light switch on the other end of the room. Maybe once I could see, I'd stop feeling like there was something creeping up behind—




I spun around to see a tall, gaunt figure looming over me in the shadows. It raised claw-like hands, eyes glowing with sadistic glee, and threw them around me, pinning my arms to my sides with surprising strength. It squeezed me, forcing the air out of my lungs. Caught off guard and unarmed, I could only stand there and be crushed in its…


"There's my baby sister!" it yelled, raising me off the floor and spinning me around.


Suddenly, the room lit up, and I was finally able to see whose arms were practically mummifying me. He was a klaon (like me) with bright blue hair (also like me) buzzed so short that I could see his milky white scalp beneath it (not like me). He was taller than me, and almost abnormally thin. Emaciated may have been a better word to describe him. He wore a long, black trench coat over a black shirt and pants, making him the first goth klaon I’d ever met.


Not that I noticed any of that, though, because I was too busy squealing with joy.


"Con!" I screamed. "When did you get here?"


"While you were gone," my big brother answered. “But before we talk, can you tell your boyfriend not to incinerate me?"


"Boyfriend? What do you…"


Wait, where was all this light coming from?


I spun around and saw Ethan with his arm outstretched, the spellhammer shining like it had a star trapped inside it.


“Ethan, stop!” I yelled, pulling free of Con’s embrace.


Too late. He already had Con in his sights. “Cogito et—”


I lunged for him, but my hand landed on the hammer, and—FWOOMPH! Instant Bride of Frankenstein hairdo.


“Henry!” Ethan exclaimed, dropping the spellhammer like it was radioactive. “I- I’m sorry! I didn’t meant to—”


“Ethan, this is my brother, Con,” I croaked, then coughed a puff of smoke. “Con, this is Ethan.”


The magic faded from the spellhammer, plunging the room into darkness again, but a moment later the lights flicked on, and I turned to see my parents standing in the kitchen doorway.


“Wait, you guys have been here all along?” I demanded.


“Sorry,” Mom said. “Con made us promise to stay quiet.”


Dad grinned. “He said he wanted to scare you, just like old times.”


“You okay?” Con asked, barely holding in his laughter.


I shook my head, getting the magic-induced frizz out of it, and then hugged him again. “I missed you, big bro!”


“I missed you too,” he said, giving me another, much gentler, hug. “How’ve things been around here without me?”


“Interesting,” I answered. “Very, very interesting. Speaking of which, meet Ethan!”


I grabbed Ethan by the arm and pulled him over. As soon as I did, though, the sparkle vanished from Con’s eyes.


“Oh, yeah,” he said dryly, lip curled. “Him. The guy who’s been living in my room.”


“I, uh…” Ethan stammered.


Con leaned in until they were nose to nose. “You trying to replace me, you little punk?”


“N- No, I’m just…” He eyed the spellhammer on the floor, but didn’t move to grab it. “You, uh, can have it back if you want.”


A grin broke out on Con’s face. “Nah, I’m just screwin’ with ya! It’s cool that I have a little brother now.”


“You have a what?” Ethan and I exclaimed in unison.


Con looked at me, confused.


“We’re not adopting him,” I said quickly, nervous sweat trickling down my face. “He’s just squatting with us until…for a while.”


Con grinned again and winked at Ethan. “Hey, it’s cool. I said the same thing at first.”


My stomach did another somersault. Adopting Ethan? Like, as my brother? No, absolutely not! That was just wrong! The very thought made me sick! How the onion flavored milk was I supposed to date him if he was my freaking brother?


Luckily, Ethan didn’t look too thrilled with the idea either.


“So, why aren’t you at school?” I asked, steering the conversation back to less awkward waters.


Con paused. It only lasted a split second, but I didn’t miss the way his eyes shifted when I asked him that. “We’re, uh, on a break.”


“How long will you be home?”


“I don’t…a couple weeks, I think.”


“How are your classes going?”




“What are you really?”


I froze, and slowly turned my head to look at Ethan in horror.


“Uh, w- what?” Con asked. “What do you mean?”


“I was with Henry when she picked up your medicine,” Ethan answered, infuriatingly oblivious to how close he was to getting his face Splatsied inside out. “If it turns you into a klaon like Henry, then that must mean…” I slapped my hand over his mouth, “…mrrphgrrblllrrphg.”


“That’s enough for tonight,” I said, giving Ethan my I’m going to strangle you if you say one more word glare. “Con’s had a long trip and he’s probably tired. Right, bro?”


Con smiled weakly. “Uh, yeah. I’m pretty beat.”


“Oh,” said Ethan, deflating like a balloon as his enthusiasm thbbbbt-ed out of him. “Right. You probably want your room back, right?”


“Nah!” Con grinned—a real one this time—and pointed at the couch. “I’ll just crash here.”


I clapped my hands. “Alrighty, then! Let’s all get to bed!”


Ethan looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “But it’s not even nine yet!”


“I know, and you’ve had such a big day that you’re all tuckered out!”


“No I’m n—”


“Come on,” I said, forcibly shoving him toward the stairs. “Upstairs! Now! A growing boy like you needs at least ten hours of sleep!”


To my immense relief, he didn’t argue as I pushed him up to his bedroom. Just as we reached the top of the stairs, though…


“Hey, Ethan!” Con called from down below.


Ethan turned to look, and Con gave him the most devilish grin I’d ever seen.


“Sweet dreams…baby brother.”

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