When Lizzy Mortimer, 14, reads the newspaper one morning, she can’t believe her eyes as the letters swirl and rearrange themselves into a message about her best friend’s death. Confused at first, Lizzy soon learns a family secret from her grandmother, Bizzy—that the newspaper shuffle was a death-specter and that Lizzy and Bizzy are descendents of Morgan le Faye, one of the legendary sisters of Avalon. Caught in a feud older than time between Morgan and her sister Vivienne le Mort, Lizzy must save people from dying before their time.
Now let’s see what happens when Lizzy meets Humpty Dumpty!
“Lizzy, you remember Mr. Greenblat, right?”
I definitely remembered Mr. Greenblat. He was one of my favorite teachers, always taking extra time to explain science concepts to me. He was also one of the smartest people in Crabapple. With a PhD in Wildlife Biology, locals often wondered why he stuck around teaching Earth Science to a bunch of obnoxious eighth graders.
The whole family was gathered around the breakfast table. Mom handed me that morning’s newspaper. “Take a look at this.” I stared at the headline: LOCAL EGG-HEAD TO GIVE TALK AT HIRAM CHITTENDEN LOCKS IN SEATTLE TODAY.
The article detailed how Mr. Greenblat, who’d just published a book on the evolution of the Chinook Salmon, was giving a lecture at the famous locks that kept Lake Washington’s water at the correct level, explaining how the fish ladder there allowed migrating salmon to move around the locks and dam. There was a picture of the fish ladder, a deep concrete water shoot, bordered by a white railing.
My grandma, Bizzy, who knows my secret and shares my gift, peered at me curiously. Bizzy sees her death-specters as visions in water, but I get mine reading a newspaper. A normal article suddenly morphs into an obituary, with details about how and when a person’s death occurred – sometimes it’s dated days in the future, and sometimes it’s weeks. Then the person’s name appears on my inner wrist in red letters, as if I’ve scratched them on. Bizzy and I have recently taken to calling ourselves The Death Catchers, because we try to stop the deaths we see in visions. If we succeed, the letters disappear from my hand.
Anyway, that’s when things went blurry. The letters and words in the article swirled. I focused on the page as the text disappeared completely. Soon, under the LOCAL EGG-HEAD headline, a different short paragraph appeared. I took a deep breath and began to read, knowing it would be important to remember every detail if I wanted to help the person who’s deadly fate I was about to learn.
Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall;
All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty
I blinked several times. Normally, when I have such a vision, I get details about how a person died and when. But this was nothing more than a nursery rhyme. Was it some kind of joke? I shook my head and blinked again. But the poem was gone. The original article about Mr. Greenblat’s speech was back. I looked down at my palm, wondering who the death-specter was about, if it was a death-specter at all. There was the beloved teacher’s name, Morton Greenblat, as plain as day. I panicked. How was I supposed to save Mr. Greenblat when the only clue I had about his death was a nursery rhyme? I knew I would have to confer with Bizzy . . . and quickly.
* * *
Bizzy and I brainstormed for nearly an hour. At over seventy years-old, with decades of practice interpreting her own death-specters, she was the expert. Her intense gaze zeroed in on the newspaper.
“Holy mackerel, that’s it!” she exclaimed.
“What?” I asked, frustrated. I had no idea what a Humpty Dumpty could have to do with Mr. Greenblat’s soon-to-be-demise.
“Mr. Greenblat is an egg-head. A’ course. He’s the egg in the poem! He’s humpty-dumpty. He has a great fall. That’s what the death-specter is tryin’ to tell you! That’s how he’s gonna go kaput!” Bizzy was speaking quickly, her southern accent in full force.
“That doesn’t seem likely, Bizzy,” I said skeptically.
“All the King’s men? That’s King County . . . which is where Seattle is located . . . where he is giving his speech!”
“But that speech is today.”
“I know it is, Sweet Pea.”
“And that poem was tryin’ to tell you that the King’s men – like the county police and firemen, won’t be able to rescue him.”
“That’s crazy,” I said. But Bizzy was undeterred.
“ Now, sayin’ he has a great fall. How?” Bizzy put her finger on the picture of the fish ladder. “If I were a bettin’ woman, I’d say he has an accident involvin’ some defect in that railin’ and fallin’ in that water.
“Even if what you’re saying is true . . . how in the world can we help save him if he has his great fall today? We’re in California and he’s in Seattle!” I looked at Mr. Greenblat’s name in blazing red letters on my wrist.
* * *
I was the one who located Mom’s copy of the Crabapple Middle School Staff Directory, although it was Bizzy’s idea to try to call Mr. Greenblat in the first place. As I dialed the number, my hand trembled.
“Yes?” Mr. Greenblat sounded as nice as I remembered him.
“Mr. Greenblat, it’s Lizzy Mortimer.”
“Oh, hello Lizzy! It’s great to hear from you, but I’m actually right about to give a talk—”
“It’s actually about your speech. I wanted to tell you to be careful at the Hiram Chittenden Locks because . . . uh . . . because I hear there’s a weak spot in the rail there and someone fell over it recently.”
Mr. Greenblat let out a shocked laugh. “Well, Lizzie, it’s very nice of you to alert me. I appreciate your concern. I will certainly stand back from the rail. Thanks for the call.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. And then he hung up.
Bizzy looked at me anxiously. After a few minutes she said, “Now check your hand, Sweet Pea.” I took a deep breath and flipped my hand over.
I gasped when I realized that Mr. Greenblat’s name was no longer etched at the base of my palm. Despite the odds, the warning had worked.
Bizzy broke into a wide smile.
“Well, I think you learned something ‘bout bein’ a Death Catcher today, Lizzy.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, my pulse finally beginning to return to a normal rate for the first time since I saw the rhyme in the newspaper. “What’s that?”
“Sometimes, the best solution is to just phone it in.”
Jennifer would like to offer a signed copy of her latest release, The Death Catchers, Harper would also like to offer a second copy. So you have two chances of winning one!
On her fourteenth Halloween, Lizzy Mortimer sees her first death-specter.
Confused at first, Lizzy soon learns from her grandmother Bizzy that as Death Catchers, they must prevent fate from taking its course when an unjust death is planned-a mission that has been passed down from their ancestor, Morgan le Fay. Only, Lizzy doesn't expect one of her first cases to land her in the middle of a feud older than time between Morgan le Fay and her sister Vivienne le Mort. Vivienne hopes to hasten the end of the world by preventing Lizzy from saving King Arthur's last descendant-humanity's greatest hope for survival. It's up to Lizzy, as Morgan's earthly advocate, to outwit fate before it's too late.
With its unique spin on Arthurian legend, this fresh, smartly written story will stand out in the paranormal genre.
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Ends September 7th, 2011.
Jennifer Anne Kogler lives in California, where she was born and raised. She graduated with a degree in English literature from Princeton University in 2003. Her most recent novel, THE OTHERWORLDLIES, is a 2011 Truman Award Nominee. Jennie has two books coming out in 2011: a sequel to The Otherworldlies, THE SIREN’S CRY (released in July), and THE DEATH CATCHERS (due in August).
She currently attends Stanford Law School and has worked as an intern for the Late Show with David Letterman, a clumsy waitress, and a legal intern for the U.S. Department of Justice. Jennie is a longtime fan of the L.A. Dodgers, which as it turns out, was a great thing to be in the 1980s and not so much since then. She remains hopeful.
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