On the one hand, things are going well: she’s aced her Math final, and school’s almost out for the year. Dad’s hanging in there with contract jobs, Mom’s helping make ends meet by cleaning other people’s homes, and they’ve at least got a roof over their heads. Vegas isn’t the nicest place in the summer, but it’s no worse than the half-dozen other places she’s lived in her short life.
But on the other hand, she has no friends. Everyone at school is either diffident or a bully—as if they can sense that Clara doesn’t quite fit in. And then there’s the triplets, who mysteriously vanish in the Art Alley near the school.
That’s when things get interesting. Clara follows them through a Border to Underhill, and before long she’s thrown into a world she never knew existed. A world of magic, witches, excitement, and danger. She not only has to fit in with her new classmates—and avoid the ire of the “in” clique that every school seems to have—she’s apparently the only one who can save all of Underhill from an exile who wants to trap them all and cut off the source of magic!
Also, she’s pretty sure her parents knew about this all along.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-953645-06-7
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-953645-07-4
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-953645-08-1
“Clara shines as a spunky protagonist who is grown-up enough to accept her destiny…. Jones links math and magic in a way that makes math seem cool…. Fresh ideas, some welcome diversity, and memorable character work enliven the material.”
“Jones’ series opener brims with wonderful characters. … While a school for magical youngsters has become a popular subgenre all its own, this novel unfolds as an engrossing mystery. … Clara’s…synesthesialike power showcases the author’s radiant prose.”
“…an incredibly well written Young Adult Fantasy—using magical realism to bring the enchanting world of Underhill to life. The lore of the world…is easy to understand, as [Jones] reveals it in dribs and drabs, allowing the reader to learn about this new realm at the same speed as Clara…. He has hit on all of the typical tropes including found family and magic schools, while managing to create something completely and utterly unique.”
“This is the kind of book that, when you send your child to bed, you know they're making a tent out of blankets and reading by flashlight so they can continue to read.”
The English final wasn’t so tough—Clara loved to read, and writing about something she’d read was almost a pleasure—but History was exactly as bad as she’d feared.
The assignment was a single sentence: “Describe your understanding of the causes and drivers of the American Revolutionary War.” Rich guys didn’t want to pay taxes? she thought. But she had three hours, and Mr. Brant would likely be expecting something more. The problem was… who cared? The war had happened over two hundred years ago, on the other side of the continent, and—like a lot of History, in Clara’s opinion—was mainly about a bunch of middle-aged white guys. Why couldn’t she write something about local history instead? She’d at least managed to pick some of that up, thanks to the many informative plaques scattered about the town’s historic sites.
So she set in, her pen joining the soft skritching of the two dozen others in the room as she guided it across the lined sheets of paper they’d been provided. More than once she had to stop, to try to recollect the facts and stories they’d been told, and, before long, the end of her pen was thoroughly chewed. She finished with scant minutes to spare, took one last look at the paper she’d written—her handwriting had become pretty bad toward the end—and then trudged up to Mr. Brant’s desk. She stood in line behind four other students to hand in her paper. Unlike Math, which was an easily scanned multiple-choice test, History would take a day or two to grade.
As she passed her paper to the teacher, he looked over his horn-rimmed glasses at her, one eyebrow raised in question. She shrugged, and his lips tightened a bit. “At least you’re a good writer,” he said with a small shake of his head. “That’ll be worth something.”
Clara left school feeling not at all reassured.
The afternoon ritual was almost exactly as she’d imagined it the day before: Danica teased her about probably flunking the History final (not impossible); Thomas commented how, poor as she was, college was out of the question for certain now (college had never been on her mind in the first place—how would Mom and Dad afford it?); and Sam’s coterie critiqued her backpack, which just this morning had given up the ghost and separated from its shoulder straps. She’d been forced to carry it by the top handle, leaving Mom to lug her canvas tote full of pine-scented cleaning fluids. Daria, at least, was nowhere to be seen; she’d stomped out angrily halfway through the English final and hadn’t shown up for History.
Clara put her head down and plowed through Sam’s chattering flock, who, as usual, abandoned her once she reached the street corner. They were turn-lefters, and they’d never dream of following her into the unattractive, bustling commercial district. She lifted her head long enough to check the crossing light, hustled across the street, and breathed a sigh of relief. She liked the commercial area this time of day: the brunch-and-lunch place would just be shutting down, with the last lingering smells of bacon wafting through its open windows. The barbershop was on its final few customers. The container park—a small shopping area built entirely from reclaimed steel shipping containers—was getting the first trickle of customers to its bars and shops. The neighborhood Irish pub was changing over to its dinner service, taking a much-needed break after—
Clara stopped, whirling toward the harsh sound. There it was, perched atop a metal-tube bike rack that was bolted into the sidewalk, waving its odd wing at her. “What are you—“
Wait, was that the triplets?
Clara forgot the bird as she watched the three girls walking quickly past the neighborhood sushi place, past the smoothie shop, and past the windowless building that housed the telephone equipment for the entire area. They they ducked into the Art Alley.
She blinked, her mind failing to grasp the reality it had seen.
The triplets never walked. They certainly didn’t turn right out of the school. And they absolutely never, ever, ever were the type to wind up in an alley, regardless of how many murals had been painted along its walls.
Clara’s curiosity was overwhelming. She checked the light, quickly crossed the street, waved to the sushi chef through the window, and looked into the alley.
It was empty.
The Art Alley was actually two distinct alleys that intersected to form a T. One ran east and west, connecting Sixth and Las Vegas Boulevard. The other ran north and south, from about the middle point of the east-west alley, all the way to Carson. Clara’s parents had told her the city had created the alley in part to discourage homeless people from sleeping in it: it was well-lit at night, and numerous local graffiti artists had been invited to paint murals on the sides of the buildings.
Clara stepped slowly off Sixth and into the east-west alley, leaning left and right to see if the triplets had maybe ducked into one of the little niches that sat between the tightly spaced buildings.
A couple of the Fremont businesses had space back here, open patios that they’d recovered from former loading docks and such. But those were mostly walled-in, and the one gate—Clara tugged gently on it to be sure—was locked.
So where had the triplets gone?
She hadn’t taken her eyes off of the alley entrance since they’d stepped into it, and they certainly hadn’t had time to run all the way to the other end. She walked to the middle and looked down the north-south alley.
There was no way the triplets could have moved that quickly, but all that was here was—
She whirled as something darted through her peripheral vision.
One of the most memorable elements in the alley was a statue of a woman. She sat on a sculpted rock, raised a few feet off the ground on a sturdy concrete pedestal. Her legs crossed at the ankles, and long hair flowed down over one shoulder. She was painted a brilliant metallic purple, and in her mind, Clara knew her as the Purple Lady.
But it was the mural behind the Purple Lady that had caught Clara’s attention. It was an abstract blend of blues, teals, and purples, and Clara thought the painting most resembled a fantastic galaxy of some kind. White and red geometric shapes overlaid portions of it, making a striking backdrop for the statue.
But something on the wall had moved.
Clara took a step closer.
Was the wall… wet?
Another step took her within arm’s reach, and the wall did indeed look… moist. She leaned in, and saw what seemed to be a glossy film covering the wall. But it wasn’t running down from the top; it seemed to be staying in place. Wouldn’t oil… drip, or something?
Another half step forward, and she leaned in, sniffing at the wall. Nothing.
She leaned back and regarded the wall again. It still seemed to—
Another shadow zipped past, directly in front of her. It looked like a series of numbers, almost. She looked over her shoulder, back at the alley entrance, and again saw nothing that could have caused the shade.
She slowly turned her head back to the wall, waiting for another shadow to float by. Moments passed, and eventually one did. It was definitely numbers. Was this some kind of fancy art installation? Using a… screen, of some kind? Clara looked behind her, expecting to find a projector, but saw just another painted concrete wall. There was no telltale spot of light that would give away a concealed projector lens.
But where had the triplets gone?
Clara slowly extended one index finger toward the wall, intending to just brush the slightly gleaming surface. Slowly… slowly… slowly…
Her finger pushed through the wall.
Or rather, into it.
She yanked her hand back, clutching her finger in her other hand. It was complete dry, with—wait, was it cooler? She couldn’t tell, as the sensation faded quickly in the afternoon heat.
The sounds of downtown Vegas faded away: the cars and trucks passing by outside, the clanking of nearby kitchen equipment, the thup-thup-thup of tourists in a helicopter overhead. All that was left was a susshing sound, a whispering of water twisting lazily through a brook. But there were no brooks here.
Clenching her jaw, Clara reach out toward the wall again, all five fingers on her right hand extended. Slowly… slowly… she watched her fingertips sink into the wall. She felt nothing, no sensation whatsoever. She pushed a bit further, almost to her wrist, and finally sensed something: a springy resistance of sorts, almost as if she’d contacted a sheet of rubber stretched across—what? The inside of the wall?
She took a half step forward and kept pushing. Wrist. Middle of her forearm. Almost to the elbow, and now the resistance was firmer, as if she’d stretched the sheet to its limit. Her fingertips were warm now, wherever they were on the other side of the wall.
Push, she thought.
Just as her elbow was vanishing inside the wall, the resistance snapped. She fell forward, through the wall, stumbling ahead and barely catching herself before she fell to her hands and knees. When she recovered her balance, she looked around…
…and found herself someplace else.
It was dimmer. The sun seemed well along its journey across the sky, settling into the deep, lazy orange of evening. The colors around her demanded attention, gleaming in intense, saturated colors: a deep emerald for the grass, a chocolatey brown for the dirt on the path. The tree trunks looked almost velvety in texture, and the leaves gleamed in a thousand intense shades of green. Color names from a long-past art class darted through her mind: olive. Viridian. Forest green. Sage. Olive. Persian. Reseda. Dartmouth. Lincoln. Kelly. Bottle. They were all there, mingled amongst the branches of the trees. And the trees! Each was a work of art, with sinuous, twisting trunks and branches that managed to jut out at wild, improbable angles and yet form an impossibly symmetric whole. High overhead, their branches wove together over the path, forming a long, gently winding tunnel.
Beyond the trees, glimpses of sky suggested heavens of the purest cerulean Clara had ever imagined, let alone seen. It was a blue so intense that it wanted to make her cry for its perfection.
She snatched her eyes away from that intense color when she heard a sound: a girl’s voice, ahead of her on the path but too far for her to make out the words. The triplets! She hurried along. The air slid past her as she moved, offering the slightest hint of resistance, perhaps, but parting easily. She quickly came to the end of the tree tunnel, the beautiful wood thinning into a meadow. The road widened, and Clara saw the triplets off to one side, sitting in the long-bladed, brilliant grass. She backed into the tunnel, darted to one side of the path and behind a tree, and peeked out to watch the girls.
“I don’t understand how we could have done so poorly in History,” one of the girls was saying. Harriett, Clara suspected: the girls always wore a slightly different shade of hair ribbon each day, and she suspected those were how you were meant to tell them apart. Harriett—she thought—wore the darkest, Idalia the next-lightest, and Johanna the lightest. Today’s ribbons had been red, but here—wherever here was—the colors had taken on a new vibrancy. Harriett was now the deep maroon, Idalia the cardinal, and Johanna the bright crimson.
“Because Brant is boring and we stopped caring after the second week,” Idalia (perhaps?) grumbled.
“Mother and Father will not be pleased,” Johanna (probably) pointed out.
The wind picked up a bit, blowing directly toward Clara and carrying the scent of cinnamon.
“Did you see Clara? She kept at it even longer than we did,” Idalia said. That much was true: the triplets had stood as one and turned in their papers almost ten minutes before Clara had finally called it quits.
“I didn’t see her on the way out,” Johanna mused. “Usually she’s out the door as fast as possible.”
“With Dariel on her all the time, I’m not surprised,” Idalia pointed out. “Remember when Dariel thought she could bully us?”
“Bound or not, we can at least stop that from happening,” Harriett said with some satisfaction. “But I still think Clara is… off, somehow.”
“Your eyes slide off her unless you focus,” Idalia agreed.
“And even then, something just kind of… bores into you,” Johanna said. “Is the wind picking up?”
It was, Clara realized. The gentle, cinnamon-perfumed breeze had shifted to a clove-scented bluster, whipping her unruly hair. She stood to move toward the triplets and found that the air seemed to have thickened as well. She could still breathe easily, but moving forward was like walking through syrup. She took a step backward and found herself not only unimpeded but encouraged, the air seeming to take her up on the offer to retreat and almost leaning on her to help make it happen.
A burst of blue-white light flashed and the triplets started, scrambling to their feet. “Professor Mycroft!” Harriett said.
Clara blinked hard, for there was indeed a fourth person on the side of the road. An older woman, with gray hair done up in a tight bun. She wore a long dress of deep gray, buttoned right up to her chin and almost brushing the ground at her feet, and she looked at the triplets with glinting eyes. Clara ducked further down behind the tree, hoping to remain out of sight.
“Girls!” the professor said, her voice cutting and urgent. “There’s been a breach at the Border. Have you seen anything? Anyone?”
The girls, their attention focused on the older woman, shook their heads in unison. “We only just came through a few minutes ago,” Idalia said. “We haven’t seen anyone. They’d have passed us.”
“If they stayed on the trail, yes,” the professor said, rising on her toes a bit to look further down the road.
The wind had redoubled its efforts, now carrying a scent of rotting fruit and working itself up to a serious gale. The professor turned, looking down the road toward where Clara had come from, her eyes squinting against the waning sunlight.
“Professor!” Harriett shouted, and Clara’s eyes snapped to where the girl was pointing. A shaggy dog of some kind was standing on the road past the girls, its head down and teeth bared, its eyes pointed toward the tree tunnel where Clara still hid. It growled ferociously.
“That’s a kleinerwolf,” Mycroft said evenly. “Get behind me, girls; I’ve got it.”
The professor held her hands in front of her. She positioned herself between Clara and the creature, so Clara couldn’t see exactly what happened, but a moment later, there was a flash of green light and a yip-yip-yip sound as the doglike animal bounded off the road and into the neighboring trees.
The wind was really working it now, and the air seemed to want to squeeze around Clara, pushing her back. She found herself sliding along the grass and back onto the path, her worn sneakers unable to find sufficient purchase to resist the driving wind.
“Professor!” a male voice shouted from behind her.
Clara turned, the wind still pushing her inch by inch along the road, and saw an older boy standing there. He was wearing a school uniform, like the kind she’d seen in movies, with a burgundy vest over a white shirt, gray trousers, and a lazily knotted gray necktie that streamed out behind him in the increasingly aggressive wind.
“Professor!” he shouted again. “Over here!”
Another growl managed to cut through the windstorm, this time from the side of the road and much closer to Clara. She turned, the wind almost fetching her up against the boy’s legs, and saw another kleinerwolf hunched down. Its teeth were bared, its eyes glowed a sallow green—and it was looking directly at her.
“Christopher, reicio! Quickly!” Mycroft called. She sounded closer, but Clara was too terrified to turn toward her voice. “Girls, who is that?”
“It’s Clara!” Johanna shouted over the howling wind.
The wind finally shoved Clara, still crouching, against the older boy’s legs. She looked up and saw his hands stretched toward the snarling creature, his fingers twitching in a strange pattern. She blinked her eyes, which were so filled with tears and grit that she thought she saw glowing numbers flickering around Christopher’s arms and hands. Then there was a flash, again like a bright-green strobe light, followed by a yelp from the wolf-creature.
“Not doing it, Professor!” Christopher called, his fingers again beginning to twitch in unison. Clara turned and saw the monster picking itself up. A matted line of grass showed where something had shoved it back, but it was once again focused on Clara and snarling fiercely.
“There’s another!” Clara said, pointing. In fact there were two more, each stalking out of the tree line, heads low to the ground and teeth exposed.
”Distineo!” Mycroft shouted. Clara turned; the professor was suddenly just an arm’s length away, one index finger pointing at the animals. Her fingertip was… glowing yellow? “That will only hold them for a moment, Christopher. It’s the girl. She’s not meant to be here.” The professor turned her attention to Clara then, the fingers on her free hand flicking through a complex pattern. ”Perspeculor… powers above and below, no, not meant to be here at all. You don’t belong. Not yet, child. You’ll need… well, a bit of work, but we’ve no time now. The land itself is against you. Christopher, get her back through the Border!”
With that, the older woman turned back to the wolf-creatures and shouted, ”Proturbo!” Another flash of green light. “Christopher, go!”
Clara felt the boy grab her shirt collar and heave her halfway off the ground. “Sorry about this,” he said, his voice remarkably calm. ”Iactus!” he shouted as he hurled her back down the path. He must have been incredibly strong, because she found herself sliding rapidly along the dirt, directly toward a shimmering ring of light that she hadn’t previously noticed. This must be when I wake up, a part of her mind calmly surmised.
But she didn’t. She crashed into the circle of light—Ouch!—but didn’t slide through.
Christopher cursed loudly.
Clara twisted on the ground. He charged toward her. Professor Mycroft was still holding her ground, and Clara stared in horror at the half dozen kleinerwolves now stalking toward where the tree tunnel began. The animals seemed frozen to the spot, held in place by deep-gold halos, but their heads were unerringly tracking Clara. Six pairs of glowing eyes bored into her, and she could see their muscles tensed, ready to move the moment they were released.
“It’ll be the membrane,” the professor shouted. “You’ll have to put her through yourself!”
“On it!” the boy hollered in reply. He skidded to a stop just next to Clara and knelt down. “Again, sorry.” He offered her a quick smile, picked her up and shoved her through the glowing circle.
“Christopher!” Clara heard Mycroft shout, and then she was through.
She rolled onto the filthy asphalt of the alley and lay there for several minutes, breathing heavily. Her hands were shaking, her mind spinning. What had just happened? She focused on slowing her breathing, and as her heart slowed her mind followed.
Eventually, she pulled herself to her feet, staring at the colorful mural on the concrete wall. It still glistened as if it was wet, but she refused to touch it again.
What had just happened?
And what had that professor meant by… “Not yet?”
When made in Underhill, this is an incredibly easy beverage to make: the apples in Underhill do all the work. After crushing baskets of them into a juicy pulp, witches simply leave it sit, skins and all, for a few days, creating the signature flavors that everyone loves so much. They then strain the juice out and age it in Cyantree barrels, which impart additional subtle flavors and create the fizziness.
There’s nothing quite like Fizzycider in the Ordinary world, but if you haven’t found a Border to Underhill, you can still create a close approximation!
This recipe makes two 8-ounce servings. Each serving contains approximately 230 calories. Allow 48 hours to make everything, since you’ll have two overnight infusions to make.
CAUTION: Pressurized chargers can make quite the mess if you’re not careful. Be sure an adult with experience in using the charger is around to help out.
– 2 cinnamon sticks
– 16 whole cloves
– 1 whole nutmeg, cracked
– 2 cardamom pods, cracked (or 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds)
– 8oz water
– 8oz apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 tablespoon honey
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1 teaspoon egg white powder
– A charger (whipped cream maker) and at least 4 NO2 cartridges. A 16oz or slightly larger charger is recommended.
– An 8oz or larger container for liquid, with a sealing lid.
– A small bowl—only needs to hold a couple of tablespoons of powder.
– Two 10oz or larger glasses for serving. Frosted mugs are a great choice!
1. Make the infused water by adding cinnamon sticks, half the cloves, nutmeg, half the cardamom, and the water to the charger.
2. Pressurize the charger. This may require you to empty one cartridge and then add a second and empty it as well.
3. Refrigerate the charger for at least 24 hours to infuse the flavors.
4. Depressurize the charger, strain the water into a container, seal on the container’s lid, and refrigerate.
5. Be sure to thoroughly clean the charger!
6. In a small bowl, mix the egg white powder and sugar together.
7. In your clean charger, bring together the apple juice or cider, honey, vanilla, remaining cloves, and remaining cardamom. Add in the egg white powder and sugar mixture.
8. Be sure to attach the charger’s strainer screen, so that the solid ingredients don’t clog the nozzle.
9. Once the charger is sealed, shake it vigorously to blend everything.
10. Pressurize the charger. This may require you to empty one cartridge and then add a second and empty it as well.
11. Refrigerate the charger for at least 24 hours to infuse the flavors.
1. Evenly divide the infused water from the refrigerator between two mugs.
2. From the charger, release 4oz of the apple cider mix into each mug. Be sure to leave about an inch and a half at the top of the glass—it’ll foam up!
3. Let sit until the foam rises to the top (2-3 minutes). While you wait, depressurize the charger and rinse it out.
– For larger batches, you can make more of the infused water in advance. However, the fizziness comes from the charged apple juice/cider mix, so either use a larger charger or use multiple chargers. Simply double the ingredients to make double the servings.
– You can “level up” the marshmallow flavor of the foamy head by sprinkling on a pinch of vanilla powder before drinking.
Share your creation on social media using hash tags #ClaraThorn and #Fizzycider!