Hayden meets a mysterious ghost with secrets to tell. Can he help explain the unsolved mystery surrounding the death of someone who was already dead? Can Hayden, with the help of her family, friends, and her sassy cat, Latifa unscramble this mystery and keep Destiny Falls safe?
A mysterious old man keeps popping up to tell Hayden a series of tall tales. Who is he? And is he actually glowing? Are his stories fiction, or is he telling her the history of her family, the enchanted islands, and the witch? And why did a dead body show up . . . of someone who is already dead?
Hayden’s adventures in the magical world of Destiny Falls continue in this gripping story that answers your questions about the mysterious world she entered through a mirror in book one, Falling into Magic. We learn more about her missing mother, whose story begins in book two, The Disappearance of Emily.
“Generously seasoned with sass, class, and a dose of spunk. Delish!”
~ Pages & Paws
It had taken a week, but finally I had memorized my long-lost mother’s letter. Now I was struggling to get a fire started in my fireplace in which to burn it. It hurt my heart to give up something so precious to me, but there was no other option. Now, if the dang logs would just ignite!
I rearranged the logs, and finally, after three false starts, I had a nice blaze going. I decided to recite the letter one more time before giving it up to the flames.
“Oh, goodie! Another reciting of the mysterious letter!” Latifa said. Not only did my cat’s comment enter my head, but her joy was evident in the tone of her voice.
“How do you know that? Is it one of your telepathy skills?” I asked her.
“Nothing so mysterious. You always cough twice before you begin. I thought it was part of the introduction. ‘Cough. Cough. My darling daughter, Hayden . . .’”
“Ah. Well then. Relax, sit back, and enjoy the show.”
She took my instructions literally. She jumped up on the bed, planted her ample behind on my pillow, and shifted her body this way and that until she was perfectly comfortable. Latifa leaned back against the headboard and looked like a furry, laughing Buddha.
I stared into the flames and took in a breath. It had taken forever to memorize this. Not just because it was a long letter, but because of the lifetime of emotions it brought to the surface.
I cleared my throat. Cough. Cough. I gave Latifa the side-eye, and she wiped the smirk off her face.
My darling daughter, Hayden,
I hope with all my heart that you find this letter. I have been trying in vain to reach you since you arrived in Destiny Falls. I have things I must tell you.
All your life you have believed that I abandoned you. I want you to know that I did not leave you of my own choosing. You were my life, my precious new baby. First, I lost Leonard, the love of my life, gone so fast. So mysteriously he vanished. Taking with him my little son, my heart, my precious Axel. Then I was stolen from you. Not a day has passed that I don’t grieve for you, for all that we’ve lost. Our little family, torn apart.
Your birth was a beacon. A beautiful thing, drawing evil to it. I discovered that it was the reason they found Leonard. They removed him to Destiny Falls. And it was the reason they found me. There are things you have never been told because no one knew the story to tell. I have learned much, and I will tell you some of these things now.
I have great pain and empathy for you being abandoned by your mother as a newborn. Because you see, they snatched me away from my mother, days after my own birth.
Days after I was born, I was found in Seattle, in unusual circumstances, too complicated to explain now. I was placed in a foster home with two wonderful, kind-hearted people who then adopted me. Your Nana and Granana. They did not know the circumstances of my abandonment, nor did they care. They embraced the maternal roles and raised me as their own. And then they raised you as well. They are saintly, beautiful women, and I miss them desperately.
It pains me to think they live with the belief that I left them willingly, without a backward glance. That I disappeared without a trace. Well, except for that horrible note that I was forced to write. The words cut me deeply and they created a scar on my heart that I feel to this day. “I can’t do this. Take the baby. Goodbye.” The smudges on that paper were remnants of my tears.
There are so many things that Nana and Gran did not know. Things that they could not know, for their safety and yours. Facts that were well hidden.
I was not a normal baby found in abnormal circumstances. Anything but normal. I didn’t know my background until I was stolen away from you. That’s when I began to learn the truth, in bits and pieces, over years of searching, prodding, and discovering one small piece at a time.
My mother brought me to Seattle. She had escaped with me from a cold, dangerous island called Gladstone, which is where I was returned and where I remain.
There is one family here that holds a power within them: the Gladstones. It is a power that fuels the engine of Gladstone. They need the family here to maintain their illusions and their magic.
There is a parallel place where you find yourself now. Destiny Falls.
Gladstone and Destiny Falls are two halves of what was once a whole. The yin and the yang, the dark and light, the moon and sun. Destiny Falls is the positive half, but it is also fed by the power of a family—the Caldwells. Your father was needed there for that reason, as the Caldwell power runs through him.
Hayden, you need to know something very important. My birth name was Emily Gladstone, and the Gladstone power runs through me. That makes you half Caldwell and half Gladstone. You are unique. I do not know exactly in what ways. I can only imagine what powers might flow through you. In all my studies, I have not found there to be another like you.
Keep this information well hidden. Do not tell anyone, as it can be used against you if the truth comes to light. I have learned in life that there is no one you can trust. Especially here. Be wise in this. Hold this information close. Memorize this letter and then destroy it.
I will continue my attempts to reach you, but so far it has been hopeless. Please know that I love you with all my heart. Be careful, my sweet daughter. I hope to see you some day. Stay safe.
Love, your mother,
I heard the soft puff of two furry paws being tapped together. “Brava! If I weren’t wearing these furry mittens, you’d hear my applause. Sometimes I feel like Bernie Sanders.”
“Why Bernie Sanders?” I asked.
“The most famous mittens in history! Stop living under a rock, Cricket, and read the news once in a while.”
I crossed my arms and frowned at her. “And where exactly do you read the news?”
“Oh, sweetie, sweetie.” She shook her head and scrunched her nose. “Chanel and I pore over the paper every morning once Eleanor has completed her perusal of it. Your grandmother kindly spreads out the pages for us. Speaking of newspapers, when’s the next issue of the Destiny Falls Observer? You had a magnificent first issue. The story of the capture of that murderous ferry helmsman and his fiery death! Ooooo, gripping stuff! Oh. Can I say death now, or do I have to say demise?”
I ignored her reference to my aversion to the word “death.” I mean, since I had been so close to two deaths who could blame me? They were people I knew. People who had not died of natural causes. That gave me the shudders.
“The paper is on a once-a-month schedule, you know.” I lifted my chin and attempted to look confident.
“Then you best get yourself a new calendar, Cupcake. It’s been a month since your big debut.”
I knew that, of course. I’d been working diligently at my new job as editor of the Observer. But it had been an effort since we lived in a small town with little actual news.
Well, to be clear, I thought Destiny Falls was a small town, though others had indicated that I was wrong in that assumption. The enchanted location was on an island … somewhere. Where exactly was a big secret that I’d been unable to crack. Where in the world was I? It had been on the top of my list of research projects, but I kept get sidetracked.
“The lack of interesting news makes reporting a challenge. What do I put on the front page? Hmmm?” I shrugged my shoulders and tapped a finger on my lips. “Should it be the local arts and craft fair, or the ribbon cutting at the new hair salon downtown? Hardly a good follow-up to the capture of a murderer and the police car crash that killed him on the way to prison.”
“I have confidence you can dig up some juicy gossip. You’re good at that.”
“Um. Thanks? I think.”
I realized with a start that I was still holding my mother’s letter in both hands, close to my heart. I was reluctant to give it up to the flames. It answered some long-held questions, but it brought up more mysteries than it solved.
My mother did not leave me by choice. That was earth-shattering news. All my life, I’d believed I was abandoned, and I was wrong. My mother did not discard me. She loved me with all her heart and was wrenched from me as much as I was stolen from her. And Nana and Gran adopted her as a baby? How was it I never knew this?! Neither one of them was known for being able to keep secrets—and this was a doozy. What could be their purpose in keeping this from me? I couldn’t imagine.
“Gladstone has her,” I said aloud, feeling a chill zap through me.
“Da-da-da-dumm. The forbidden, mysterious island of doooom,” whispered Latifa as she slowly crept toward me across the bed.
Latifa’s theatrics jarred me out of my melancholy moment.
“And I don’t understand something.” I was pacing the room now. Questions were rolling through my head. “She says I’m unique, that there’s not another like me. But what about Axel? He was born of the same parents. Doesn’t that make him half Caldwell and half Gladstone, too? Doesn’t this power run through him as well? And, what exactly is this power she refers to?”
“It’s needed to fuel the illusions and magic. Like the great and powerful Oz.”
My cat loved her old movies and occasionally tried to tie them to real life. It was often a stretch, but this time it seemed to accurately define this very weird situation. I was a normal human being, yet was I somehow behind the curtain, making the magic happen?
“And why isn’t there a letter to Axel, too? Or one for my father? Doesn’t it seem odd that she would write only to me? Now? What about all these years that Dad and Axel have been in Destiny Falls? Something’s definitely off …”
I was pacing the room, thoughts jumbled up and swirling through my head. I couldn’t even catch some of the ideas as they raced by.
“And here I am with another colossal secret.” I sat on the floor and put my head in my hands.
“Yeeeesss.” Latifa hissed out the word. “She warned you. ‘Do not tell anyone,’ she said. She did not say, ‘Do not tell anyone except Axel.’ Or ‘Do not tell anyone except your father.’ Or “Do not tell . . .”
“Ugh! I get it, Latifa!”
I stood up and walked over to the fire. It was time to do this. Tears came unbidden, and I gently kissed the paper that had been handwritten by my enigmatic mother. Then I slowly moved it over the flames. I gasped and yanked the paper back before it caught.
The back side of my letter had the impression of writing. Like when someone presses on paper with a pen and leaves a shadowy indent on the page beneath it.
What did my mother write on the page before my letter? Did she write a letter like this to Axel or my father before she wrote mine? Or was it something as mundane as her grocery list? I needed to find out.
I tilted the paper back and forth but could not see more than a bit of a shadow in spots.
I remembered back to when I was little. Gran and I used to write secret messages to each other using this technique. We’d press hard on the top page, leaving what we called “invisible ink messages” on the page below. The reader would decode the message by gently rubbing the side of a pencil over the page.
I took the letter over to my desk and pulled out a pencil. Starting at the top of the page, I gently sketched over the imprinted letters, and as I hoped, some words showed up. It took a while, but I had lightly drawn over the entire page. I puzzled over the words that appeared:
6. Write letter to Hayden
7. Transfer letter to Nakita
8. Pay Nakita “postage”
9. Reapply for ticket?
Clearly, this was the second page of a list. I wish I knew what the first five items were! Could letters to Axel and my father be on this list? It would certainly help if I knew that—then I could discuss the letter with them. Without knowing this, I was hesitant to expose the secret.
Nakita was the ferry captain who had been murdered right after she mailed the mysterious box of documents to me. It appeared that my mother paid her to deliver the letter to me—at least that was what I took this to mean. Did “reapply” refer to the illegal tickets on the ferry between Gladstone and Destiny Falls? My mother’s name had been on several lists apparently related to the transport scheme, but the word DENIED always followed. Was she going to try again?
The question marks after Lazarus on number ten were darker than the rest of the writing. As if she pressed much harder on those than all the other writing. Who was Lazarus? Was she frustrated or confused about him? Or did she simply have no idea what her next plans were?
I needed more time to make sense of the message. Perhaps another session of research at the library would uncover more pieces to this puzzle, including who Lazarus of Gladstone was. I would hide the letter for now and examine it again later. And to think! I almost dropped it into the flames!
I carefully folded the letter and tucked it inside a paperback mystery I kept on hand as a backup in case my Kindle ever lost power. I zipped the book into the pouch of my backpack and placed it on the shelf of my closet.
With that done, I changed into my running clothes and made my way downstairs.
Excerpt from The Ghost Camper’s Tall Tales by Elizabeth Pantley. Copyright 2021 by Elizabeth Pantley. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Pantley. All rights reserved.
Elizabeth Pantley is the international bestselling author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution and twelve other books for parents, published in over twenty languages.
She simultaneously writes the well-loved Destiny Falls Mystery & Magic book series and the new Magical Mystery Book Club series.
Elizabeth lives in the Pacific Northwest, the gorgeous inspiration for the setting in many of her books.
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