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King of Things
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-348-4
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Young Adult
eBook Length: 390 Pages
Published: April 2006
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

The Beginning of an Epic YA Fantasy!

Orphaned by the death of their parents, Maddie and Wil are sent to live with their aunt, a respected college professor with no experience raising children. Largely left to themselves, they find a portal in her house-a door through an ordinary washing machine that leads to Loss, a strange world where all of the things lost in our world go to-keys, umbrellas, socks, loose change.even people.

Wil and Maddie find themselves thrust into an enchanting world, where literal mountains of laundry and eyeglasses loom over exotic cities such as Marketown. At first all they want is to simply get home-back to their aunt’s house. But a desperate idea comes to Wil-when people die in our world, we say we?ve "lost" them. If so, perhaps he and his sister might be able to find their dead parents here and bring them home. The only person who can help, though, is the King of Loss, and he sees no one.

They?re helped on their journey by Bob, a 7-foot-tall robot; a talking dog called Usher; and Cooper, a tight-mouthed, intimidating guide who parachuted into this world after highjacking an airplane in his. Along the way, they meet Ambrose Bierce and a certain hip-swiveling King who might be dead in our world or not. .

But they?re also being chased by minions of The Judge, the shadowy power behind the throne... a man who was lost from their world before they were born; Judge Joseph F. Crater. He’s gained a lot of power here in Loss, and he knows something about Maddie.something that makes her important in this world. And he can?t afford for these two kids to gain an audience with the King of Loss.

In the spirit of The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit, King of Things begins an exciting and magical journey through a land unlike any other that will continue in The Shadow of the World and finish in The Ends of the Earth.

John F.D. Taff is the author of seven novels and dozens of short stories. His horror novel, The Rat Catcher’s King, published by Double Dragon, was the finalist in the horror category of the 2006 Eppie Awards.

King of Things (Excerpt)


Through the Washing Machine

Wil awoke with a start, scattering the pillows and sheets with their smell of an unfamiliar fabric softener. His surroundings were dark and featureless, as if someone had wrapped black construction paper around his head.

He moved his hands to his eyes, but there was nothing.

His fingers realized this, and his mind slowly remembered where he was. It all came back in a sickening lurch that made him feel as if the entire bed was plummeting from a great height.

I?m at Aunt Peg’s house.

Maddie’s in the other room.

We live here now because Mom and Dad are dead.

Dead.

It was a curiously flat word to Wil, like pancakes, or jeans or television. Just a normal word that he used many times now during the course of a day, often without even knowing it.

Wil took a deep, shuddering breath, squeezed his eyes shut.

In fact, it seemed as if all he?d done during the past two weeks was think about death and talk about death. How adults liked to talk about death. Except to them, it wasn?t death, it was a "loss." They told him what a great "loss" it was; as if his parents were like misplaced keys or a billfold that would turn up sometime soon in an unexpected place, none the worse for wear.

This was no "loss." It was more permanent than that.

If those same adults weren?t discussing your "loss"-or if you didn?t want to join them-they were eating and forcing food on you. Wil hoped that it would be a long while until he saw another baked ham, potato casserole or bowl of ambrosia salad.

Living with Aunt Peg was not his choice, but at least she didn?t seem like much for talking, about anything much less the loss of her sister and her brother-in-law. Peg was a professor of mathematics, single and taciturn. She?d no children of her own, and knew little of raising them.

But it wasn?t all bad. She didn?t press them to talk or try to comfort them or hover over them in any way. And she wasn?t forcing ham and green bean casserole into them. In fact, since they had come into her house, she?d pretty much left them to their own devices. And her house, once a sorority house, was big enough to get lost in.

The room Wil slept in had, at one time, been home to four girls and their amazing array of stuff-clothing and makeup and shoes and books and posters of long-forgotten boy bands. Now, it was largely empty, with only Wil’s twin bed huddled against one wall and his dresser and a few cardboard boxes to fill it. During the day, his possessions barely made an impression on the room. Now, with the room in early morning twilight, they made no impression at all.

In fact, the room was so large that, here in the dawn, Wil had no definite idea where the walls were. For all he knew, he could be dead, too; somewhere dark and unbounded and featureless, with his parents cold and silent somewhere close by.

He shivered again.

A faint smell came to him, winding its way through the room.

Toast.

Maddie was downstairs making toast for breakfast because, he still couldn?t believe it, Aunt Peg didn?t know how to cook.

If there was one thing that his parents? death had hammered home to Wil at the young age of just 12 years, it was that death wasn?t fair. As with so many things in life, there were rules without end for the things that meant little, yet no rules governing the most important things.

Will drew a hand through his hair, tossed the covers off, got out of bed.

Wil’s footfalls resounded through Aunt Peg’s cavernous house, echoing off the polished hardwood floors of the hallway as if he were inside a school gym playing a pick-up game of basketball.

Today was Peg’s first full day back after the summer break. She would leave this morning to get her office in order, review her class load for the term and-more important, Wil guessed-to get away from him and Maddie.

And that would leave them, first and foremost, to explore the house and its surroundings a bit more. Second, and it was a distant second, it would leave them alone to perform the tasks that Aunt Peg had set before them. It wasn?t as if they didn?t have chores to do when their parents were alive, but these new jobs seemed designed only to give Wil and Maddie something to do during the day and, perhaps, to satisfy some obscure motherly impulse on Aunt Peg’s part.

Wil descended the steps quickly, spun around using the banister as a pivot point, and shot into the kitchen, a tad out of control.

Harsh fluorescent light gave the kitchen a deathly pallor, heightened by the fact that everything in the room was either black or white or antiseptic steel. The cabinets were glass-fronted-like X-rays showing what each held, from plates and bowls, to cans of condensed soups-giving the room the look of an operating room.

Wil slid from the slick hardwood of the hall onto the equally slick black-and-white tile of the kitchen. He caught himself on a counter, trying to look as if nothing had happened, just as Aunt Peg turned from the coffee machine.

Maddie, sitting at a black table that had to have been hauled from one of the university’s science labs, stifled a giggle over her bowl of Cap?n Crunch.

"Good morning, Wil," Aunt Peg said, putting the lid on a Thermos of coffee. Wil saw her brow knit for an instant as she took note of his demeanor. He could tell that she was aware she’s missed something, though she didn?t know what.

"Morning, Aunt Peg," he said, sliding over to the kitchen table and waggling his eyebrows at Maddie as Peg turned again to the coffee maker.

Maddie blew out a silent laugh, milk spilling from the spoon of cereal she held to her mouth.

"There’s cereal, Wil," Peg said, replacing the can of coffee into the glass cabinet. "There’s bread if you want toast. Just clean up when you?re through."

Wil nodded, poured cereal into the bowl on the placemat before him.

Aunt Peg came to stand behind Maddie. Wil saw her lift her hand, reach out to touch Maddie’s hair, then reconsidered and let it drop back to her side silently.

"Will you two be all right today?" she asked.

Wil looked back at his bowl, lifted the milk carton and sloshed some of its contents onto the cereal.

"Sure, we?ll be fine. It’s not like we don?t have a lot to do today."

Wil peered from the corner of his eyes to see if this elicited a reaction from her.

She frowned at him, looked away for a moment. It was not an angry frown, he noted, but a sad one.

Distantly, this made him feel ashamed.

Wil lowered his face to his cereal to cover his reddening face, and Maddie kicked him beneath the table.

"OK," Peg breathed, tapping the back of Maddie’s chair as if she had more to say. "Well, if you need anything, call me at the office."

She grabbed a thick, black leather satchel sitting near the refrigerator.

"Oh, and Wil, you?re in charge of the laundry today. Please try not to lose any more socks. It’s getting a little ridiculous, you know."

Her footsteps sounded down the hall, then the sound of the front door opening, closing.

With that she was gone, and they were alone.

"You don?t have to be such a jerk to her, Wil," Maddie said, rising and taking her empty cereal bowl to the sink.

"Yeah, well, she could be nicer, too," he grumbled into his cereal bowl.

"She’s trying her best."

Wil considered this, thought of Aunt Peg stopping herself from stroking Maddie’s hair just moments ago.

After breakfast, Wil and Maddie spent time upstairs alone in their rooms. Wil listened to his sister down the hall. From the sound of it, she actually seemed to be doing her chores. He thought he?d better make at least some effort to finish his.

So, he made his bed in a haphazard fashion, pushed a few cardboard boxes around with the toe of his sneaker, herding them into a corner where they huddled like dumb cattle.

Laundry had been the one chore given to them by Aunt Peg that they had originally resisted. They hadn?t had to do laundry when their parents were alive. Their mother had handled it, with a middling amount of assistance from their father. But even though Wil had been old enough to learn to do laundry on his own, his mother never pushed it.

This was at least partially because Wil had a long-standing reputation for losing clothing-his socks in particular. His mother felt the aggravation of finding two matching socks or buying new ones was harder to handle than simply doing his laundry herself.

Peg had gone through the spare details of doing laundry, then showed the children where the detergent and other powders and fluids of washing clothes were kept.

She had almost seemed sad, Wil thought, or maybe embarrassed as she did this, perhaps at making two kids who had just recently lost their parents do their own laundry.

Wil scooped his dirty jeans and shirts, his underwear and his socks into the? .

?his socks!