Jeremy had never brewed a potion of Invisibility, but he knew what it was like to feel invisible. At home no one noticed him. He had to fight for any attention from his parents because his five brothers and sisters always came first. He lived in The City, a place so big it didn’t need a name other than The City. And when he walked the streets, surrounded by skyscrapers, he felt how small he was.
At school it was even worse. Everyone had to feel small in a city this big, right? But school was its own little world, where some kids ruled and other kids followed. And he got stuck at the bottom rung again. He was pretty sure none of the other kids even knew his name, let alone wanted to get to know him.
Now he sat at his desk in potions class, which was a joke of a class. They weren’t even allowed to make potions. They just had to memorize what ingredients went into them. And it was even harder than usual to pay attention because today was the last day before a weeklong break to celebrate The City. It was called City Week, and it started with a huge party on Friday night. But all of that was still hours away.
Fermented spider eye and potion of Night Vision, he read in his book, trying to memorize it for the test that period. That’s how you make a potion of Invisibility.
Earlier in the year one of the kids had asked the teacher about actually making the potions. She laughed.
“You don’t need to do that,” she said. “You can buy any of these potions at the store. When you go to college, if you decide to become a potion maker, you can make them in classes then.”
Speaking of the teacher, where was she? Class was going to start any minute. The other kids had filed in and were sitting at their desks, and they were all listening with rapt attention to what Brant was saying. Of course. Brant was the coolest kid in school.
Brant didn’t even have to try to be cool. His parents were the richest people in The City and ran the redstone contraption company Redstone Co. Even though it was called Redstone Co., it dealt with a lot more than redstone, and its contraptions and merchandise were basically what kept The City running these days. Redstone Co. got The City its coal, iron, wood, brewing items, bonemeal, lava source blocks for obsidian, and so much more. Brant’s parents threw the best parties in The City, so naturally their son was popular.
Jeremy tried not to be envious of Brant, though it was a challenge, especially because Brant was such a . . . Well, let’s just say he knew he was popular. He liked to show off his latest redstone gadgets, like his own piston, or new toys his parents had bought him. If Brant wanted something, he got it.
“I have a new pet,” Brant was saying. The kids hung on his every word.
A pet! Jeremy flushed. He wanted a pet so badly. Any kind of pet. But the more he begged his mom and dad, the more they told him, “No.” They said he hadn’t proved he was capable of taking care of a pet. But how was he supposed to prove it when they wouldn’t give him a chance?
“Is it a tamed wolf?” someone asked.
“Is it a cat?” someone else cried.
Brant sat back and looked smug. “Nope,” he said. “Keep guessing.”
Jeremy thought of the fox outside of his home. It was orange and white and kept getting into the trash outside and knocking it all over. “That dang fox,” his mom would say. “Jeremy, go clean up that mess.” Yes, she noticed him when chores had to be done.
“When I’m done cleaning, can I tame the fox?” Jeremy would ask. He always got the same annoying answer.
“I’ll give you a hint,” Brant said. “It’s green and gurgles.”
The kids thought.
“A frog?” someone suggested.
“A frog doesn’t gurgle!” another person shot back.
Wait a second, Jeremy thought, a chill coming over him suddenly. But that couldn’t be right . . .
“Give up?” Brant asked. Then he sat back to enjoy a few more suggestions that were wrong. He was loving this. Something about his smug smile really rubbed Jeremy the wrong way. Brant’s smile had a strange upward tuck, making it look almost sinister, like a kid who’s getting away with something. That wasn’t the look you had when you got a fun new pet. It was the look you got when you knew you had a secret. An awful one.
Brant crossed his arms, leaned back, waited a moment to build drama, and then finally announced to the shocked classroom:
“I have a pet zombie.”Chapter 2
The class burst into cries and squeals. Jeremy sat up straight in his chair.
“My parents said there aren’t any more zombies!” a girl insisted.
“Yeah, they’re just from the Before Times,” a boy said.
The Before Times were before The City was made. Years and years ago. Centuries ago. So far back people couldn’t count it anymore. Back then the people of the Overworld lived like barbarians, as if they’d just been plunked into a newly created world and had to take care of everything themselves. If they needed a home, they couldn’t buy one with their emeralds. Instead, they had to punch trees and use that wood to create a home. Without stores and structures all around them, they did their own farming and made their own tools and weapons. In The City, no one had weapons anymore because they weren’t needed. And if you needed a tool, there was no point in making one, because redstone factories spat them out. You could just go to the store.
But the strangest part of the Before Times were the hostile mobs. Now they only showed up in books and scary stories, though some people insisted they had once been real. Were they legends or history, or some mix of both? The only hostile mob anyone knew of that still existed were slimes, but they weren’t a problem because they were kept on slime farms, where Redstone Co. manufactured them into sticky pistons.
Like a lot of kids, Jeremy sometimes pretended he was in the Before Times. But that was just for fun and games. He didn’t really want to have to punch trees or find his own food. It was so much safer, easier, and better living in The City.
“How do you know there aren’t zombies?” Brant demanded. “Have you ever been out of The City?”
The room suddenly got very quiet. Jeremy didn’t think he knew anyone who had been out of The City. There was no need to when everything you could possibly want was already here! The City was surrounded by a huge wall, as tall as the skyscrapers, so the people couldn’t even see what it was like outside. The outside was as far away and distant as the Nether or the End, other places people only talked about.
It was true that people could leave The City if they wanted to. All they had to do was ask. But no one did.
“Zombies are just in storybooks,” a girl spoke up. “They used to be real, but not anymore.”
“I’ve been outside The City helping my parents,” Brant said. “Do you know what it’s like out there?”
The kids leaned forward. Jeremy did, too, in spite of himself. He’d read plenty of books from the huge city library that talked about the Before Times, but none of it ever felt quite real. Surely the stuff about zombies, creepers, and Endermen had all been made up.
“There are zombies all over,” he said. “They only come out at night. Except it’s not like here, where we have lights everywhere. If you’re out of The City, you have to make your own torch.”
Jeremy knew from another class that you made a torch from coal or charcoal and a stick. Not that he’d ever made one. He could buy one in a store.
“So there I was, walking outside The City with my torch,” Brant said. “And a whole swarm of zombies came up at me. They made the most horrible sounds.” He stuck his arms straight out and emitted hideous gurgling and groaning noises.
A girl gasped. “What did you do?” she asked.
“I fought them off with my torch,” he said. “Except for one. I captured it to keep as my pet.”
“No way,” a boy breathed.
“I’ll prove it!” Brant exclaimed. “Come by after school.”
Right then the teacher came bustling in, just as the bell rang. Jeremy’s mind was thrumming. A real zombie? He didn’t like Brant, but as far as he knew, Brant wasn’t a liar. He was just stuck up.
“Morning, class!” the teacher called. She barely got a response from her students. They were too busy thinking about the pet zombie.
The teacher looked at them more closely. “Well, I hope you’re awake out there,” she said, a little miffed. “Because it’s test time.”
She handed the tests out to each row, and the kids handed them back over their shoulders. Jeremy looked at his test. The writing turned into zombies, turned into the world outside The City. Brant had actually been out there, discovering a whole new world? What was it like? For Jeremy, anything had to be better than here.
Copyright © 2023 by Danica Davidson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.