Rachael survived her adventures on The Floating Menagerie and went back to her normal life…except that her mom is still missing. Now she’s coming down with the Exotics virus herself and is changing into a half-human, half-animal Exotic, just like her friends. As a new Exotic, Rachael can’t control the change, so she travels to a safe place for Exotics in danger—Xanadu House. The house is owned by an aunt that Rachael never knew she had, and who will protect any Exotic, no matter which side they’re on. But is Xanadu House as safe as it seems?
“Go on!” Rachael’s dad yelled. “Get out of here!” The front door slammed.
Rachael rubbed her eyes and blinked a few times; they were all dried out.
Second grade had been a really weird school year so far. At least it was almost over.
First her mom had disappeared, and then she and her friend Raul had been kidnapped and taken to The Floating Menagerie, a strange ship in the middle of the ocean.
The ship had been run by the Shadow Dogs, a group of…well, she didn’t know what to think about them anymore. At first, she’d thought they were people who kidnapped and smuggled Exotics. (Exotics were humans who had been infected with a magical virus that turned them into magical half-animal creatures.) Some of the Shadow Dogs, like Mr. Hightower and Tapeworm, were pretty awful. But some, like Captain Monn and Dr. Menney and maybe even Ken and Sponge and Bob, were pretty nice, and they weren’t trying to smuggle Exotics at all, but protect them.
The bad Shadow Dogs had wanted to make Rachael tell them her mom’s password, because they wanted the secrets on her computer…her mom was an Exotic, a bee (the Queen Bee was her name, and she was a spy for another group of Exotics, the Animal Lovers’ Club).
Rachael finally told them the password to keep them from hurting her and Raul, but the password had been changed.
Her mom hadn’t come back. Nobody knew what happened to her.
And nobody would explain anything to her. Her dad didn’t know, and nobody else would talk to her about it.
So now she was spending a lot of time searching on the Internet for weird stories about animals, trying to find anything that might tell her more about the Exotics or where her mother was, and sometimes she forgot to blink, and it felt like her eyes were dry all the time.
She yelled, “Who was it?”
“Kids from that club of your mother’s,” her father said. “Just because you’re back doesn’t mean they can start having their meetings here again. It’s not like you’re part of their club.”
Of course Rachael wasn’t part of the Animal Lovers’ Club; the club was a fake club. It was really only for Exotics, and Rachael was just a normal second-grader.
But maybe they wanted to tell her something about her mom.
“What did they want?” she said.
Her father said a bad word and stomped out of her hearing. Rachael tiptoed into her bedroom, where she could look out the window over the front door.
She’d taken down all the pictures of princesses and put up glow-in-the-dark stars and pictures of panthers, horses, and falcons. Secretly, she hoped she’d be infected by the Exotics virus, and she was trying to decide what kind of animal she wanted to be. The stars were there because she just liked them.
To her surprise, she didn’t see anybody from the Animal Lovers’ Club out of her window. Instead, the twin Shadow Dog boys who had helped kidnap her and Raul hid behind a tree in the front yard. They weren’t doing a very good job of hiding.
They saw her face at the window at waved her to come down to them.
She opened the window and hissed, “What do you want? Are you going to break down my door and kidnap me again?”
The two boys looked at each other. One of them said, “We wanted to apologize.”
Rachael wrinkled up her face. She wanted to yell at them and call the cops to make them arrest them—but then the truth about the Exotics might be revealed, and everyone would freak out, so she couldn’t.
“I don’t forgive you.” She had to get them to shut up as soon as possible, before her dad came over to find out what was going on. “Go away.”
“Wait,” the other boy said. “It’s about your mom.”
Rachael snorted. “I know, I know, you want her password so you can break into her computer and steal all her secrets. But it’s too late. The password is changed; nobody can get in.”
The second boy shrugged. “I’m just supposed to tell you she’s safe in a castle in Hungary.”
The first boy elbowed the second boy. “You weren’t supposed to say what country.”
“Sor-reeeee,” the second one muttered. “I told you to do the talking.”
Both boys turned around and started walking away from Rachael’s house.
“Wait!” she whispered as loud as she dared.
The first boy stopped, looked up at her, and said, “Sorry, Baby Bee. That’s all we can say.” Then both boys ran down the street.
She closed the window. Baby Bee was the nickname the members of the Animal Lovers’ Club had called her…it was weird that the Shadow Dog boys knew it, too.
This one I wrote while Ray was in third grade. It was a crappy year for her. She liked her teacher a lot (the teacher was different than the one in the book, of course), but the class was riddled with bullies. There was a kid who took a plastic knife to another kids’ throat. There were two other kids who ran away several times. And then there were the girls and the namecalling. What is it about that age? I dug in deep to pull out memories of what it was like to be bullied as a kid (not fun), and tried to find a way to tell Ray that it was okay, that it was the people doing the bullying who were at fault, not the people who were getting bullied.
No matter how many times people tell you, “You have to stand up for yourself,” it’s still not your fault that bullies are bullies, you know?