|Product dimensions:||7.70(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.30(d)|
|Age Range:||5 - 7 Years|
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Bella and the Wandering House
By Meg McKinlay, Nicholas Schafer
Fremantle PressCopyright © 2015 Meg McKinlay
All rights reserved.
One morning, Bella woke up to something strange.
It wasn't her breakfast, which was muesli with banana.
It wasn't Dad, who was flicking wildly through the newspaper as if speed-reading was an Olympic sport and he was going for the gold medal.
It wasn't Mum, who was rushing around with the car keys in one hand and a piece of toast in the other, muttering, 'I'm late! I'm late!' as if she was the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.
Those things might be strange to you, but they were not strange to Bella. For Bella, they were every morning things. So when she had finished her muesli with banana, and the Olympic newspaper reading and White Rabbit muttering had stopped, she grabbed her school bag and headed out the door with Mum and Dad.
The same as every other day – out the door, down the path, into the car, off to school.
But when Bella stepped off the veranda, she stopped. Because her feet were not on the path. They were on the grass and in the flowerbed that ran alongside it.
'That's strange.' She pointed at her feet. 'Look, Mum.'
'Bella!' Mum frowned. 'You're trampling my violets!'
'Sorry.' Bella lifted her foot. She hopped onto the path and looked back at the house. And as she did, a shiver prickled her skin. Because what she saw made no sense. The front steps ran down the veranda – the way they always had, the way they must. But where they should have met the path – the way they always had, the way they must ... they didn't.
Instead, things were crooked. It was as if the world had shifted sideways a little, in a quiet sort of way – a way you wouldn't notice if you were rushing off to work jangling keys but only if you were paying a certain kind of attention.
'Come on, Bella!' Dad climbed into the car and started the engine.
'But the path,' Bella said. 'It's crooked, see?'
'Crooked?' Dad frowned.
'It's like something moved in the night. What could –'
'Moved!' Mum laughed. 'Oh, Bella! What a wild imagination you have.' She hurried Bella to the car. 'Come on. We're going to be late.'
Bella stared back at the house. Everything else seemed to be in the right place – the cubbyhouse, the trampoline, the washing line where a row of shirts fluttered in the breeze like colourful flags. High above, Bella's curtains flapped in her window, almost as if they were waving to her.
She smiled. No matter how she was feeling, looking at her funny round window always made her happy. Partly it was because it made her think about Grandad. The way he had insisted on helping to build her little upstairs bedroom. The way he had picked up his hammer with a twinkle in his eye and said, 'What a girl needs here is a perfectly round window.'
And partly it was because she loved its cosy shape. Grandad had made the frame wide like a bench, so she could sit inside it, her back curving neatly against the smooth sweep of the wood.
The window was her special spot for reading and dreaming. There was just enough sun and just enough shade and she loved the way the leaves from the twisty gum tree dappled the light into curious patterns across the floor.
As Bella thought this, she caught her breath.
Because there were no leaves in the window now. The branch that should have stretched across the corner stopped at the edge of the frame.
'Something has moved,' she said. 'Look!'
Dad caught Bella's eye in the rear-view mirror. He smiled and shook his head. 'Oh, Bella. You're such a dreamer.'
Bella bit her lip. Mum and Dad were always saying things like that. And even though they smiled when they did, they sighed too, as if it would be better if she got on with things that mattered – things like eating her muesli and remembering her library bag and getting out the door on time.
Grandad called Bella a dreamer too but it was different when he said it. He spoke softly, as if he liked the feel of the words on his tongue. As if he was happy to let them sit there and didn't want to turn them into something else, something quick and sensible.
My little dreamer.
'Oh,' she said, because hearing Grandad's voice in her head had reminded her. That today was Tuesday and that meant something special. It meant that instead of getting picked up from school, Bella walked to Grandad's house and spent the afternoon there.
It meant she got to sit at the table in his little backyard and eat crackers and fruit and a sticky pastry in a paper bag from the shop around the corner. She got to watch him potter about at his workbench, whittling or sanding a piece of wood, fiddling with a spring or a funny little mirror for his latest project.
It meant today was the best possible day to have woken up to something strange. Because Grandad loved strange. He wouldn't sigh and click his tongue and hurry Bella from where she was to somewhere else. He would sit at the table and listen. He would lick his sticky fingers and nod.
Who knows? Maybe he might even have an idea.CHAPTER 2
Grandad licked vanilla slice from his fingers and nodded.
'Are you sure it wasn't just the bricks moving in the path? Paving can do that sometimes.'
Bella shook her head. She told him about the tree.
Grandad frowned and leaned back in his chair. 'Well, that's no good. A girl needs a tree in her window.'
Bella popped the last bite of doughnut into her mouth and chewed slowly.
'I wonder what would cause such a thing?' Grandad looked around his tiny yard as if the answer might be hidden there somewhere.
The thought made Bella smile. She couldn't imagine finding anything out here. From the front, Grandad's place looked exactly like the other little houses around it. But the backyard was a different story altogether.
Instead of a tidy garden with bright flowers and little statues, perhaps a birdbath or a small pond, he had piles of wood and boxes overflowing with metal pipes and old machine parts – odds and ends of all shapes and sizes he had salvaged here and there.
Mum and Dad were always offering to help clean up, to get rid of some of the old junk. But Grandad said he didn't want to throw anything out. You never knew when something might come in handy.
He was right, too. He was always using bits and pieces for his projects. Last week he had been working on a periscope. It was a long tube with funny bends in it and mirrors inside. He said it helped you see around corners – or at least it would once he got the mirrors in the right spot. When Bella had looked inside, all she saw was a daddy-long-legs spidering its way up the tube.
Grandad followed Bella's gaze to his workbench. 'Ah. My periscope. Did I tell you I got it working?' Before she could reply, he pushed his chair back and began picking his way to his workbench between the piles of odds and ends. 'See?'
It was longer now. He had added extra sections here and there; they twisted out from each other like crooked elbows.
'It's what they use on submarines, you know. So they can see what's happening on the surface while they're underwater, when they're all the way out there in the middle of the ocean, in the ...' He trailed off with a heavy sigh, staring over Bella's shoulder. Even without turning, she knew what he was looking at. On the wall just inside was a framed photo of his old boat, of the three of them – him, Bella and Grandma – standing on the deck waving.
They used to go out sailing all the time but after Grandma died, Grandad said it was too hard without her. And when he moved to this squeezy little house, he had nowhere to keep the boat anyway. He was getting older, he said. It was time to let it go.
Bella didn't think he had really let it go. Even though he didn't stare at the photo as much as he used to, she knew he still missed those days. You didn't love something – or someone – that much and not miss them when they were gone.
Grandad set the periscope down on the bench, folding the elbows onto themselves so that it packed up tight. 'Now that's finished, I should get started on your birthday present. Any idea what you'd like this year?'
Bella smiled and shook her head. 'You decide.'
She knew that no matter what she asked for, Grandad would come up with an idea of his own. It had always been that way. The year he built her bedroom, he had given her a painting of the ocean. 'A girl needs the ocean,' he said. If the beach was too far away for her to see it from her window, then a painting was the next best thing.
The next year he gave her a ship's anchor, crusted with salt and tiny shells, and another time it was a captain's hat with gold piping around the brim. Last year he presented her with a shiny brass compass and showed her how to find north.
'You never know,' he always said, 'when something like that will come in handy.'
Bella couldn't imagine how that might be true, but she loved Grandad's presents all the same. Just having them in her room made her feel like she had a piece of him with her all the time.
'Are you sure?' Grandad said now, looking down at her.
Bella nodded. 'Surprise me.'
There was a knock at the door then and a voice called out, 'Hello?'
'Your mum,' said Grandad. 'You'd better get going before you're latelatelate.' He grinned, making a show of looking at his watch and waving his hands about like a person – or a white rabbit – in a great hurry. Then something came over his face. He strode across to where Bella had left her bag. He unzipped it and began stuffing something inside. 'You should borrow this.'
Bella raised her eyebrows. 'Your periscope? But why?'
Grandad shrugged. 'You never know when something like that will come in handy.' He lowered his voice as Mum came down the hall. 'And listen – what you told me before, about the house? It does sound strange. A little strangeness can be a good thing, but still ... you should keep an eye on it.'CHAPTER 3
That night, Bella couldn't sleep.
It was late. Outside, the neighbourhood was quiet. Moonlight streamed in the window, throwing strange shadows across the room.
From where she lay, Bella began to count the stars that hung in the window. It was what she always did when she had trouble sleeping, marking off each familiar pinprick of light one by one.
But tonight some were missing. They had slipped out of view, beyond the window frame, and others had taken their place. She could only see half of Orion's Belt now ... and what were those two bright stars that had crept in to the top right-hand corner?
She rolled onto her back and looked up at the ceiling. There were stars up there, too – tiny, glow-in-the-dark stickers Grandad had stuck there a few birthdays ago. It was the only time her present hadn't come in the post. Every year, Grandad insisted on posting his gift, even though he always came over on her birthday. 'A girl should get a parcel in the post,' he said, and took extra care with the package, making it look all fancy, with a big ribbon tied in a bow, and Miss Bella Carmichael on the front in curly writing.
But the stars were different. That year, he did a special home delivery, sneaking in to put them up while she was at school. It took him hours because he didn't stick them just anywhere like most people did, but in their exact right places, as if they were really in the sky.
'The stars are important,' he said. 'A girl should know where they are.'
Bella stared up at Orion's Belt and smiled. It had been the best surprise, coming into her room that night to find the ceiling all aglow. Maybe just for tonight she could count these instead.
One, she began. Two ...
She had reached seventeen when she felt it. First, there was a gentle lift in the wind. Shadows shifted around her as the curtains billowed.
Then came a soft creaking noise, a kind of low groaning. Those sounds had scared her when she first moved upstairs, but Dad said it was just the wood settling into place. The wood had come from one of Grandad's backyard piles and was old and weathered. They had painted it yellow, smoothing across the top with long sweeps of the roller, but sometimes little bits flaked off so you could see the pale blue it used to be hiding underneath.
Bella was used to the wood now – to the way it shifted and whispered in the night. It didn't frighten her any more.
Nineteen, she went on. Twenty.
And that was when the stars moved. No, not the stars but the ceiling. The whole ceiling was moving, and the floor too. And now the sky was slipping past her window as the frame tilted this way and that.
She sat up and grabbed at the bedframe. The house! she thought wildly. It's falling down.
It was strange, though, because it was a slow kind of falling, a gentle kind of falling.
And then it was stranger still, because her bed, which had begun to slide just slightly across the floor, came to a stop. It seemed to hesitate for a moment as if it were making up its mind about something. And then it began to move again, only in the other direction now, back toward the wall, as the floor and the walls and the window and the sky tipped the other way.
As the house stopped falling down and began falling ... up?
Bella sat perfectly still, her hands curled tightly around the bedframe. What was happening? Was it an earthquake?
She listened for footsteps, a door opening, for the sound of Mum or Dad coming up the stairs. They would know what this was. They would know what to do.
But the only sound was the creaking of the wood and the squeaking of the bed as it continued to slide slowly across the floor.
Maybe she should call out – Mum! Dad! – like she used to when she was having a nightmare? When she did that, someone always came.
Only ... just now she wasn't sure she wanted anyone to come. What was happening was strange and a bit scary but it didn't feel like a nightmare. There was something mysterious and exciting about it, something that made her want to keep it for herself.
Keep an eye on it, Grandad had said. And so she would.
She peeled her fingers slowly from the bedframe. She swung her legs out over the wooden floorboards, reaching down with one foot and then the other. As the floor rolled beneath her, she wobbled her way across the room, holding her arms out for balance like a tightrope walker.
When she reached the window, she blinked. Once, twice, a dozen times.
It must be a dream.
It isn't a dream.
Streetlights and houses slipped past, framed in the window like a strange, silent movie. The neighbours' place, the flats, the tiny park at the end of the street.
Beneath Bella's feet, the wood seemed to hum, smooth and cool and secret.
She squeezed her eyes tight shut, then opened them wide. She pressed her face to the glass, her heart pounding in her chest.
It isn't a dream.
It wasn't. The house was moving.CHAPTER 4
Bella's fingers trembled as she reached up. They shook as she loosened first the catch for the window and then the screen. Grandad had made it so you could swing them both open at the same time, so there was nothing between you and the sky.
Mum thought it was dangerous but Grandad said, 'Nonsense! Not if a girl is sensible.' He turned to Bella. 'You are sensible, aren't you?'
Bella nodded quickly, because it was quite possible to be a dreamer and sensible at the same time. And whenever she opened the screen she was careful to sit quietly in the window, perhaps letting her legs dangle a little over the side but never leaning out.
She would be even more careful now. She wouldn't climb up into the window but would keep her feet planted firmly on the floor. And lean out just a little, just enough to see. How could the house be moving? Grandad had said a little strangeness could be a good thing, but ...
The house swung suddenly to one side and Bella gripped the window frame, steadying herself. The house slowed as it reached a corner, then turned this way and that, as if it were wondering which way to go.
Bella waited until it straightened, until they had set off again through the quiet streets. And then she leaned out into the night to see what she could see.
But when she looked down, there was nothing but roof. Her room was set back from the front of the house and the eaves were too wide to see past. She could lean a little more ... but that would be dangerous and she was sensible and ...
Suddenly, it came to her.
You never know when something like that will come in handy.
She picked her way unsteadily to where her school bag hung on its peg by the door. The periscope was still folded up inside where Grandad had put it. She carried it over to the window and unfolded it piece by piece. Then she lowered it until it hung below the edge of the roof, and put her eye to the opening.
At first she saw only darkness. She blinked and refocused. Was she even doing it right?
Excerpted from Bella and the Wandering House by Meg McKinlay, Nicholas Schafer. Copyright © 2015 Meg McKinlay. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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