Arabella, The Secret King And The Amulet From Timbuktu by Hamilton Wende is published by Clockwork Books and is available online and in all good bookstores. This excerpt is published by permission.
Arabella climbed in the dormitory window carrying the Book of Echoes to find Charlotte’s face staring at her. Her hair was sticking up and her cheeks were red. Somebody switched on the lights as Arabella dropped onto the floor.
‘Where have you been?’ Charlotte’s voice echoed along the rows of beds.
Before Arabella could answer, Emily came up to her too. Her hair was frizzy and wild all around her face.
‘And what have you been doing?’
‘I couldn’t sleep, so I went for a walk.’
‘Went for a walk?’ Anne whispered loudly. ‘In the middle of the night??’
‘Well you left the window open and guess what came inside?’ Charlotte could hardly breathe she was so angry — ‘A hadeda, a real live smelly hadeda, came right inside the window that you left open.’
‘And it jumped on my bed,’ Emily hissed. ‘With its horrible muddy claws. Look, it left its claw marks all over the duvet mommy bought me in Paris. Uurgh!’
‘And then it opened its huge filthy lice-covered wings and flitted over onto my bed,’ Anne squealed.
Then Charlotte jumped up onto her mattress.
‘But look,’ she said, pointing across the dormitory. ‘Look what the horrid beast did to your stuff.’
Arabella turned to look. The sheets and blankets on her bed had been pulled back and even ripped in places. The pillows were lying on the floor. Her hockey bag had been tugged out from under her bed. The zip had been torn open. Her socks and hockey uniform were scattered around.
‘No, no,’ Arabella whispered to herself as she looked at the mess the hadeda had made. She clutched the Book of Echoes tightly to her chest inside its plastic packet, and ran to the bed.
She put the Book of Echoes down on the bed and knelt down in the middle of the mess. She scrabbled through the ruins of her hockey kit. She dug into her bag, searching the bottom and then running her trembling fingers along the inside seams. She felt in the corners, but all she could find was the dirty old cloth Akbar had given her.
The amulet was gone. The hadeda had stolen it while she was out on the lagoon with Lwazi.
She looked around her in horror. Charlotte and Anne and Emily were laughing. Arabella’s heart was pounding. The room seemed to be spinning around her.
She half fell, half sat down on her bed.
Caitlyn rushed over to her.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked, gently putting her hand on Arabella’s shoulder.
Arabella knew she couldn’t explain about the amulet. ‘Look,’ she said, pointing at her bag. ‘Everything’s ruined.’
‘It’s all your own fault,’ Emily said. ‘You’re the one who spends your time moping around and imagining things. If you only paid more attention to the real world, none of this would have happened.’
‘What happened is real,’ Thando retorted. ‘You saw the bird yourself. It flew in here by accident and then it got frightened ‘cos it felt trapped. It panicked and tried to find some way to escape.’
‘So then why did it go for her bed, and her hockey bag?’
The voices of the girls got loud and shrill. They began to gather around Arabella. She could see their faces in the cold neon lights of the dormitory. They were staring down at her.
‘And what was it looking for?’
‘And what is in that packet of hers? Charlotte yelled. She jumped off her bed and ran towards Arabella’s bed.
‘It’s none of your business!’ Arabella said, as she picked up the packet and held it tight against her chest. She could feel the Book of Echoes trembling in fear at being exposed by the other girls.
Charlotte lunged forward and grabbed at the packet.
‘It feels like there’s a big book inside,’ she said as she pulled at it. Arabella clutched even tighter around it and tried to twist her body away from Charlotte.
‘Give it to me, give it to me!’ Charlotte snarled as she pulled at the book.
‘No,’ Arabella shouted back, ‘you can’t have it!’
‘Give it to her!’ Emily screeched.
‘Leave her alone!’ Yasmin shouted out, while Arabella and Charlotte wrestled on the bed.
There was a loud banging as the dormitory door swung open.
‘WHAT IS GOING ON?’ Mrs Snapdragon’s voice clacked out over the hullaballoo.
Every girl in the room froze.
Mrs. Snapdragon stood there in her pajamas with purple dots, and a Bestiary’s tracksuit top over them, looking at the scene of chaos in front of her.
Charlotte sprang back off the bed, and collapsed on the floor, clutching her arm.
Emily was the first to break the silence: ‘Arabella—’ she began.
‘Did nothing!’ Caitlyn interrupted her.
‘What are all these bird feathers doing here?’ Mrs. Snapdragon asked.
‘That’s exactly what we wanted to know,’ Charlotte said, from where she was lying on the floor.
‘Arabella sneaked out in the middle of the night, and left the window open,’ Anne added.
‘And then a giant real live hadeda came flying in through the window, and jumped on my bed,’ Emily said with a trembling voice. ‘It put disgusting mud all over my new duvet and then it flew to Arabella’s bed and made a mess there.’
Mrs. Snapdragon said nothing for a moment. She just looked through her glasses at Arabella sitting quietly on her bed. In the middle of all the confusion, she had quietly slipped the supermarket packet with the Book of Echoes inside it onto the bed and was now sitting on it so Mrs. Snapdragon wouldn’t see it.
‘Hadedas again?’ Mrs. Snapdragon shook her head.
Arabella nodded, but didn’t dare say anything.
‘That’s all we asked too,’ Charlotte said. She waved her arm around the dormitory. It’s very upsetting for all the other girls, all this weird business of hadedas and midnight comings and goings.’ She looked up at Mrs. Snapdragon. ‘I just asked and then she—’
‘— attacked Charlotte!’ Anne quickly added.
‘Not true,’ Yasmin said.
‘Hurt me!’ Charlotte squealed.
‘SHUT UP, SHUT UP ALL OF YOU!’ Mrs. Snapdragon bellowed. ‘GET INTO YOUR BEDS AND GO TO SLEEP!’
She stood and watched as, one by one, the girls clambered back into their beds. Charlotte was one of the last to do so.
‘I just wanted to—’ she whined as she walked past Mrs. Snapdragon.
‘Not now,’ Mrs. Snapdragon replied. ‘Tomorrow you and Arabella will come and see me.’