Jacob Husty turned in a slow circle, taking in the surroundings: the dusty yellow road, the clear blue sky, and the endless fields of swaying wheat stretching to the horizon. He kicked the path with his muddy boots, asking, “What’s the deal with the road?”
“It’s the Yellow Brick Road. From the Wizard of Oz.”
Jacob stared at Alalia blankly.
She sighed. “You don’t know much about fairy tales, do you? That’s a shame, because literally everything in this world is straight from a storybook.” Alalia tugged her fingers through her tangled hair, trudging down the road.
Jacob ran after her. “I don’t know much about fairy tales, but that doesn’t bother me, because they’re for kids,” he sneered. He payed no attention to Alalia’s gasp of outrage, continuing, “But I do know this: you had a red cloak. It got caught up in that weird green mist, and I got a look at it then. This is going to sound weird, but . . . are you Little Red Riding Hood?”
She stopped walking and spun around with her hands on her hips. “I’m not Red Riding Hood –” Alalia started to say, but she was cut short by a gasp. What was he wearing?
Jacob, who had formerly been clothed in faded jeans, a gray T-shirt, and a tough-looking leather jacket, was now dressed in something absurd. Something ridiculous. He wore a three-cornered hat , an elaborate red jacket adorned in buttons and golden trim, and black breeches. A sheathed sword was strapped to a thick belt around his waist. And on top of the weirdness of Jacob’s comical getup, the world was melting away around them in a flurry of swirling colors. It looked like water had been splashed on a wet painting, making the colors run and mix together. The next thing Alalia knew, they were treading water in a warm tropical ocean.
Jacob spit out a stream of saltwater. “Where are we?” he gasped, clapping a hand on top of his hat to keep it in place.
Alalia rubbed her eyes, shaking her head. Off to their left was a crescent-shaped strip of sandy land covered in palm trees. The land rose up to a peak in the distance. On their left was a proud ship anchored in the water.
Alalia’s fingers fluttered up to her head in order to sweep her dripping hair out of her face. She was shocked to find that her chocolate hair had been woven into a loose braid that streamed out in the water behind her. Her ragged crimson dress had been replaced with a simple knee-length one. It was made of cream-colored fabric, and had long, billowing sleeves. Her feet were weighed down by tall boots made of dark brown leather. “What –?” she murmured.
Jacob pointed toward the ship. “Let’s swim toward it,” he suggested, falling into a laid-back front crawl.
Alalia Celinette was about to swim after him when she spotted the ship’s flag.
It had a black background, with a white skull on it. Two bones formed an X behind the skull.
The Jolly Roger.
“Jacob, wait!” she cried, propelling herself toward him and grabbing his arm. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “That’s a pirate ship.”
“No, not cool!” she hissed. “Totally not cool. Before we do anything stupid — like boarding a pirate ship — let’s look at our options. And try to figure out how we got from Oz to . . . wherever we are now.”
Jacob rolled his eyes . “Option One,” he huffed impatiently, “is swimming toward that ship and meeting pirates. Option Two: swimming to land and doing something lame. Option Three: not doing anything and then drowning.” He waved one hand above his head like an over-eager student with the right answer. “Ooh, ooh, I vote for Option One! Now let’s go!”
“Jacob Husty!” Alalia shouted fiercely. Once she’d gotten his attention with some more yelling, she said, “We need to figure out how we got here, in the middle of the ocean, in these crazy pirate outfits.”
Jacob bit his lip. “Uh, well . . .,” he began in a halting way, “right before that weird help-the-world-is-melting thing, I was kinda thinking about pirates. Yeah.”
Alalia’s eyes sparkled with understanding. Back when this whole adventure had started, when she’d been skipping down the path in the forest, she’d felt like Little Red Riding Hood. And what had happened next? She’d suddenly found herself swinging a basket and wearing a thick scarlet cloak. Then Jacob had been thinking about pirates, and they’d found themselves treading water in sight of a ship flying the Jolly Roger. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
This world responded to their imaginations.
“Avast, ye scallywags!” someone on the ship bellowed. “Look at this. Thar are two drownin’ rats out thar!”
Pirates pressed up against the ship’s rails, peering in the direction of Alalia and Jacob.
“Set sail, mates!” a pirate with a fancy red hat (probably the captain) ordered. He waved a cruel, glistening hook at them. “Let’s get ourselves some prisoners.”
“I think now might be a good time for Option Two!” gulped Jacob, striking out for land.