You think you know the world you live in…
but you’re wrong!

The life of 15 year-old city kid, Barnabas Bopwright, is turned upside down when he discovers a transit map with a subway line he’s never seen before. The map leads Barnabas deeper and deeper into dangerous secrets that have been closely guarded for over a century.

When he uncovers a terror plot against the city he loves, he is shocked to discover that none of the adults in authority will lift a finger to stop it. Barnabas and his friends realize that if the city is to be saved, if the secrets are to be revealed at last, they must do it themselves.

READ AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK BELOW.

“The characters are bright, likeable, and flawed. The plot is engaging and the stakes are high. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys YA set in a deeply created world.”

- Book blog, One More Chapter

PURCHASE TEETERING as an ebook from Smashwords, Amazon, Apple iBooks (in-app purchase), Kobo, Barnes and Noble Nook, and more.

PURCHASE TEETERING in softcover (434 pages, colour cover) from Amazon.com and from local booksellers through the Ingram Catalog, or in person from me at readings.


Teetering, Chapter 1

You know what’s kind of a shame? That the universe doesn’t send you email or text or anything when something important is about to happen. The message might say, “Everything in your life is going to change in the next 24 hours,” with a footnote that reads, “and everything you thought you knew turns out to be totally wrong.” But maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. Maybe if any of us got a message like that, we would say “Oh, it’s just spam,” and carry on as usual.

On a sunny Wednesday morning, early in May, Barnabas Bopwright woke to a sharp knock on his bedroom door and one of his mother’s inspiring morning greetings: “You’re going to be late for school again!”

This abrupt wake-up call dragged him from a dream, and as he sat up groggily, it was hard to shake its lingering after-images. Crowds were cheering him as he floated over the City in a balloon. He waved in humble gratitude, excited by the unaccustomed attention. His best friend, Deni was beside him in the wicker basket and she was deeply unimpressed.

“If they knew just how short you really were…” she said, not altogether without sympathy, but still, it hurt.

He climbed out of bed and began searching the mess on his floor for some clothes he could wear to school. His computer abruptly woke up and alerted him to an incoming VidChat message. He leaned over his desk and accepted the call. His half brother, Thelonius appeared onscreen.

“Did you get it? Tracking says you got it.”

“Oh! Yeah, it’s here.” Barnabas picked up the strange device from the floor beside his bed. “I was trying to figure out how it works last night, but I fell asleep.”

“They’re new. Already really popular here.” Here meant Japan, where Thelonius was teaching English. The brothers VidChatted often, and sometimes the computer screen seemed to Barnabas like a strange Alice in Wonderland mirror. Everything on the far side of the screen was familiar, but oddly different. For instance, Thelonius was now munching on something that looked like a pepperoni stick, but it was entirely possible that it was made, for example, of seaweed. Thelonius gestured with the mystery food stick at the device in Barnabas’ hand and said, “It’s called a diaboriku. Can you figure out what it does?”

“Di-a-bo-ri-ku,” Barnabas repeated carefully. “Can you give me a hint?” He turned the device around in his hands: It was around the size of a baseball, surprisingly heavy, and made of some shiny blue plastic. On one side was a small glass circle, like a camera lens, and on the opposite side was a larger lens. The smooth blue surface, like a still sea, was studded with islands — three rubbery green buttons and one red one — that were clustered in a grouping that seemed purposeful but was utterly mysterious.

Thelonius, half a world away, smiled with smug amusement. “Read the instructions, Beaner!”

“They’re in Japanese! And don’t call me that.” His phone buzzed with an incoming TxtChat message. “That’s Deni. Hold on a sec.” He picked up the phone from his nightstand and read the screen.

Agirlnameddeni> We have a real camera!!!!!

Barnabas swiftly thumbed his reply:

barnabustamove> Where from?

agirlnameddeni> Just get to school. Don't be late. I'm serious.

He looked at the time and swore. “Thelonius!” he shouted. “Got to rocket. Talk to you tonight?”

They signed off and Barnabas pulled off the underwear and t-shirt he slept in, adding them to the compost of laundry on the floor. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he hurried down the hall to the bathroom.

Deni’s text was good news; the special guest at that morning’s school assembly was Arthur Tuppletaub, the Mayor of the City. As videographer for the Journalism Club, it was Barnabas’ responsibility to make the footage look good. He was glad he wouldn’t have to use his camera phone for this important shoot (and, anyway, he had forgotten to charge it overnight again).

Thirty minutes later, with breakfast in his stomach and his backpack fully loaded, Barnabas took the elevator down 35 stories from his family’s apartment and stepped into the endless rolling boil of the City. No matter how often Barnabas joined the morning rush, he still felt an electric thrill to be part of it all.

It was the best city in the world, at least that’s what its inhabitants said. But the claim was easy to justify. Just walking down the crowded sidewalks, you could feel the special buzz. This was the city of ideas, of innovation, and on every street corner, debates broke out about Sports! Arts! Politics! Barnabas loved the beautiful discordant symphony, whose orchestra was made up of cars, jackhammers, shouts of laughter, and shouts of rage. He loved the smell of hot chilli chestnuts that the vendors sold, and he loved the crowds, marching down the sidewalks, heads held high, carrying their steaming cups of KonaBoom coffee and looking up to see the sun glinting off majestic towers that kissed the sky.

Barnabas had lived in the City for all of his 15 years and five months. He had ridden the subway alone since he was 12, and he knew that whole underground labyrinth by heart. He could tell you to take the Green Line to the Manhammer Audio Dome. He knew which end of the platform to stand on if you took the Purple Line to the Jumble Market. And if you were going to River’s Edge Park on a Sunday morning to see the best skaters on Earth perform their death-defying moves, he knew it was better to get off at Caramello Station and walk back through the marina than to do the obvious and exit at River’s Edge Station. In short, Barnabas wasn’t one of those fakes from the endless suburbs across the river who just came in on weekends to hang out at the obvious tourist spots. No, he was the real thing: a true child of the City. What better life could there be?

He walked three blocks and descended into Kiletko Station, where he took a southbound Red Line subway to Rebbertrue Station and followed the shuffling crowd up a short staircase, round a corner, and down an escalator to the Yellow Line.

The Yellow Line, which ran parallel with the river, was the first to have the flashy new subways trains because it was the line that most tourists used. The train cars were like sleek silver fish, each equipped with state-of-the-art 3D info screens, whose eye-watering graphics flashed a non-stop, high-speed stream of news and ads.

The recorded station announcements on the Yellow Line featured a different woman than the one who narrated the journey on the other four lines. She had a deeper voice that Barnabas’ step-dad, Björn said was really sexy. To Barnabas’ ears, she sounded sophisticated and sarcastic like she thought life was hilarious, like she could barely contain her slightly condescending amusement at this gig: “Deerlick Station is next. Deerlick.” The second time she said it, she separated the words — “Deer–Lick” — as if she was saying “Did you all hear that? What does that even mean?” He rode the Yellow Line seven stops to its terminus, Admiral Crumhorn Station.

Barnabas thought Crumhorn was the best station in the whole system. He had even written a report on it for his History class. The station had been built for intercity rail traffic decades before the first subway tunnels existed. Sometimes when he walked through its cavernous spaces, Barnabas liked to imagine it was 100 years ago and he was Mayor Lawrence Glorvanious himself, dropping into the gentlemen’s lounges, the elegant restaurants, or maybe checking in at the swanky hotel. All of these were now gone, but the majestic central hall remained, with its walls of honey-coloured stone. The columns, covered with carved figures of thinkers, artists, and manual labourers rose high into the air, holding aloft the great domed ceiling of stained glass. While everyone else marched along, noses down in their phones, Barnabas’ eyes often turned upwards.

Maybe it was because he was looking up that he didn’t see the kid coming. The collision was sudden and jarring, and Barnabas and the little human missile both found themselves on their butts on the hard floor. The kid was maybe 12, with unkempt, dirty blond hair and astonishingly wide eyes. He was wearing a pair of khaki coveralls that seemed overly generous for the bony body that stuck out at odd angles inside the garment.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” the kid was shouting (louder than he needed to), running to help Barnabas up, and at the same, looking all around nervously.

Barnabas picked up his backpack, which had fallen off, and said, “It’s fine. I’m okay.”

The boy stared for another second as if waiting for Barnabas to say, “But, I’m calling the police anyway…” before he turned and began walking away quickly. Barnabas looked down and saw the kid had dropped a sheet of folded paper, printed in bright colours.

“Hey, buddy!” he called, and the boy spun around nervously. “You dropped something.”

The boy actually said, “Eep!” like a startled cartoon monkey and scooped the paper up, holding it possessively to his chest. He opened his mouth as if to thank Barnabas, but then turned and ran off, vanishing quickly into the crowd. Barnabas snorted in astonishment.

“A northbound Green Line train has arrived on track 5,” said a PA announcement that echoed across the vast hall. “All aboard.”

Barnabas cursed under his breath. He should have been on that train, but it was too late to reach it now. Taking the next train would make him six minutes late for school. But today wasn’t a bad day to be late; his homeroom teacher would just be taking attendance before leading the class to the assembly with Mayor Tuppletaub. Barnabas figured he could tell her that he was getting ready for his video duties.

The only real problem lay with Deni, who was going to interview the Mayor onstage. If her videographer didn’t show up on time, she would be devastated. In his head, he could hear her say the word with high dramatic fervour: “DEVASTATED!” Still, six minutes late was okay, he reassured himself.

With a few minutes to kill before the next train, he pushed his way out of the thick, moving crowd and wandered over to peer in the window of the nostalgia store. For the past week, he had been eyeing a big blu-ray box set of digitally-restored private eye movies from the 1940s and ’50s. His cinema studies teacher had introduced him to this stylish black-and-white world of tough guys and cool dames, and he loved them. But he knew he couldn’t afford the set. Nor could he ask his mom to buy it for him like he would have in the past.

Everything had changed for their family a year ago when both his mom and his step-dad had lost their jobs, one after the other. Barnabas could tell they were worried even though they tried to keep the extent of their troubles a secret from him. Sneaking out of his darkened room after bed-time to spy on their hushed late-night conversations, he heard horrific cost-cutting proposals. They would move from the City, pulling him out of his small, private school and sending him to one of the giant suburban public schools where jock bullies roamed the halls, looking for short, quiet kids like him to squish like caterpillars.

“And what about after high school?” he heard his mother say to Björn during one of these late-night sessions, dropping her voice even lower. “How will we afford his university? He’s not exactly scholarship material!” During those terrible months, his parents had kept fake smiles of reassurance on their faces, and Barnabas had pretended not to know anything.

After a few months of growing tension, his parents found new work, though neither of them was making as much as they had before. They sold the condo Barnabas had grown up in, and the three of them moved to a tiny apartment, where they were always tripping over each other and all their excess stuff. Barnabas had been able to stay in his school, (though Björn cringed every time he opened the latest tuition invoice). With his newly reduced allowance, Barnabas suddenly realized why people called the City an expensive place to live. Maybe he could get the box-set for his birthday.

But, in truth, things weren’t so bad. His tiny room in the small apartment had an amazing view, and he liked their new neighbourhood, which was full of funky junk shops that sold vintage posters and old vinyl records, and weird little restaurants, where he ate amazing greasy food from around the world. Best of all, he hadn’t had to leave his beloved City and his friends, especially Deni. He was kind of confused about Deni lately. Kids at school were teasing him, saying he was in love with her. Maybe they were right. The truth was, he didn’t exactly know what love was supposed to feel like.

Sensing something like an itch in his ear, Barnabas snapped loose from his memories and turned around. There was a man moving towards him, still quite far away, but getting closer. The man and Barnabas locked eyes for a moment, and Barnabas quickly turned back to face the store window. Hes probably not looking at me, Barnabas told himself, but when he glanced back, the man — closer than ever — was still staring as if Barnabas might be someone he knew… or someone he wanted to kill.

He was dressed in a worn khaki one-piece coverall — rather similar, Barnabas noted, to the one the kid had been wearing. There was a belt of tools at his waist and heavy boots on his feet, grey with dust. His shaved head glistened with a sheen of sweat, and as he passed the Koffee-Smile Bakery, his shiny scalp reflected its red neon sign which promised: “Hot and fresh, every day.” Now the man was only about 10 seconds away, and Barnabas could see he was pretty old — maybe 40 or 50. Even so, he appeared powerful. His black eyes, piercing as a crow’s, bore into Barnabas and seemed to pin him in place.

The man was saying something, and as he came closer, Barnabas could hear he was calling out, “Galt-Stomper?!” Barnabas didn’t know what a Galt-Stomper was, but his heart started to beat faster, and he braced himself against a pillar. It felt like he had made an appointment with some terrible destiny, and the fateful day had finally arrived. But then the man stopped in his tracks and scowled. His black crow’s eyes began searching elsewhere, and he turned and walked off. Barnabas understood the man had mistaken him for someone else.

Despite his relief, Barnabas had the perverse desire to follow him, like one of his movie private eyes, and figure out what this strange character was up to. But then the PA announced: “A northbound Green Line train is approaching on track 6.” So much for detective work, he thought. If he ran, he could just reach his train. He was about to push his way back into the moving crowd when he heard a high, strained cry above the noise: “Mr. Glower! Mr. Glower, I’m here!”

Barnabas spotted the source of the alarmed voice: it was the kid in the matching coveralls! He was jumping straight up and down in the stream of commuters, appearing above their heads for a moment like a fish breaking the surface of the water, and then vanishing back under. He was waving the same paper document and calling out, “Mr. Glower! Help!” as if he couldn’t break free of the pull of the crowd. Curiosity again overtook Barnabas, and he crouched behind a garbage bin as the big, bald man (whose name seemed to be “Glower”) reached out a meaty hand to grab the gangly kid by his skinny arm and pull him free of the crowd.

Barnabas’ phone vibrated aggressively in his front pants pocket, and he reached in awkwardly to grab it. There was a new TxtChat message from Deni: “Cameras here. Where the hell ru?!!”

He ignored this and looked up again. The boy was exuding a non-stop stream of punctuated babble: “… I didn’t KNOW there’d be this, ohfatherglory, this MILLIONS of PEOPLE! ohmighty —”

“Be quiet, Galt-Stomper!” Glower barked at the boy. “We’re not supposed to draw attention to ourselves, and here you are waving your arms and caterwauling like a howler monkey!” This kid must have been who Glower had mistaken him for. Really, they didn’t look at all alike, other than their relative lack of height and generally messy hair.

Galt-Stomper, for his part, was too wound up to quiet down. “Sorry, sorry! And, look, I was following the map and, HERE, we’re at Admiral Crumhorn, and we have to go all the way THERE to Minimus Junction and —”

“I know where we’re going! Put that idiot map away,” Glower growled, shaking the boy by the arm like he was trying to make apples drop off a tree. “You know it’s a restricted document beyond the Frontier. Getting you a train pass cost me a lot of favours… and a lost day of collecting! Don’t make me regret my decision.”

Chastened, Galt-Stomper shut his mouth and hastily pushed the map into the back pocket of his coveralls. Glower dragged him over to the wall until they were standing right above Barnabas, who pulled himself deeper into the shadow of the garbage can. The kid was looking around everywhere like he’d never been in the City before. He was clearly afraid of both the crowds and the man holding his arm. The map was in Galt-Stomper’s back pocket, but only just; it was mostly hanging out. What did Glower mean it was a restricted document?” Barnabas wondered with burning curiosity, craning his neck to see if he could read anything on the folded paper.

Glower again grabbed Galt-Stomper by the arm and said, “I just need you to keep quiet and follow orders. Can you do that or not?”

“Yessir.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Barnabas felt a moment of dizzying panic; he was about to lose his chance to investigate the mysterious document! The pair lurched forward, vanishing into the crowd, and Barnabas found himself staring in shock at his own out-stretched hand. He was holding the map. For a frozen second, he just sat there, amazed at what he’d done. Then he jumped to his feet, waving the paper in the air and shouting, “Hey! You dropped your document!”

But they were already gone. And he had the mysterious map. Excitement overcame guilt as he crouched back down, unfolding the crumpled sheet half way. To his grave disappointment, he saw that it was nothing but an ordinary subway map, the old paper kind from before everyone used the transit app. The different colour-coded subway lines were as familiar to him as his nose in the mirror.

His phone buzzed: “BARNABAS?!!!!!!!!”

He texted back: “b ther in 5”

“A northbound Green Line train has arrived on track 6. All aboard,” said the PA and Barnabas cringed. It was too late to catch it. He was now at least 15 minutes late for school — not to mention a thief — and all for an ordinary subway map. He looked back down at it in disgust…

…and noticed something odd.

In the lower right hand corner was Admiral Crumhorn Station from where Yellow, Green and Purple lines shot out at different angles like limbs of a rainbow tree. He knew as well as he knew his own name, that this station was the final stop on the Yellow Line; but on this map, the line continued beyond the terminus, disappearing under the last unopened fold. And, although the line seemed to be a continuation of the Yellow Line, after Crumhorn the colour changed to blue. No, not blue. The line that emerged on the other side of his favourite station was Aqua. As he had learned in art class, Aqua was not blue or green. It was a mystical colour associated with the primordial sea, with the unknown.

With a sense of thrill and foreboding, he opened the last fold of the map, and there he saw another subway line, an Aqua Line that followed a strange, meandering path, first West, but then veering North to the edge of the city where the Tower District stood, and continuing… beyond.

The PA crackled once like it was clearing its throat before the announcement rang out: “A northbound Green Line train is approaching on track 5. Please make your way to track 5.”

There was no more time to spend contemplating this mystery. Barnabas folded up the map, stuffed it in his bag and ran to meet his train.

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All contents ©2016 by J. Marshall Freeman