“The magic beetle is a sacred stone. I know it has a really funny name, but it’s sacred to our town. If the magic beetle is stolen, a ghastly magic will cover our town and everything in it. Once Minna Ginna stole it, everyone started doing bad things.”
The magic beetle is a sacred stone. I know it has a really funny name, but it’s sacred to our town. If the magic beetle is stolen, a ghastly magic will cover our town and everything in it. Once Minna Ginna stole it, everyone started doing bad things. My parents were murdered by their best friends. They regret it, but I hate them. They made me and my family go to an orphanage. Minna Ginna returned the beetle. She got arrested for that. Our priest said no one would do it again. Our Rabbi said what everybody would do and everything that would happen would be bad. The sacred beetle is guarded by four towers. It is said one is there to watch over you, and two are there to pray, and one is there to chase bad things away. I don’t believe that. I mean, how could a tower pray? Or chase bad things away? What the heck? If you don’t know this, my name is Dinah Arena. I think it’s a pretty bad name, you see. We live in the town of Burina in Aspin. Don’t ask me why everybody has weird names. I mean, it’s not my fault. If I have a child, I’ll name them Finnley or Harold. Not Finna Gagina. Or Hinna Bugina. I think I’ll leave the town.
One day, I get great news. Mr. Binna, the head of the orphanage, is letting me stay with a woman named Sarah!!! She is sooooo cool! She has a convertible car, and her last name is Smith!!! Not O’Harra or Marra. She is adopting me and letting me stay in her house until I’m thirteen!!! And I’m only eleven. I am very happy about being adopted. Sarah says she used to have a dog called Beenie. Sarah says she’ll do the best she can to take care of me. Except one thing. She won’t protect me from the beetle’s curse. We are still living in Aspen, in a town called Uttertown near Burina. I won’t be protected from the curse. I thought we would move to, like, Bayridge or Ridgetown. Sarah would be happy to sacrifice herself for me. At least she says so. I told her about the magic beetle. She said she would never kill anybody. Inside my head I thought, When she’s not under the beetle’s curse, no.
I sleep in the bed in the attic. Sarah lives in a four story house. Every morning I wake up, go downstairs, and Sarah teaches me math and to read and write. Then, if I complete my work in an hour’s time, I may discuss the newspaper with Sarah. It only has stupid stuff in it. Like sometimes the headline is, “Former Officer found in front yard naked and is arrested” or “Mayor Sicsalinni of Jasonville found dead in bed, Wife as suspect!!!” Sometimes, under it, it says they had a medical issue. Also sometimes, there is a picture of it under the headline. Today it said, “Former Mayor Diggalier attempts to steal ‘Magic Beetle’ from ‘Four towers.’”
This gets me excited.
“Sarah!” I shout.
Sarah looks up from the second page of the Wednesday newspaper and says, “Dinah, I am working,” which she obviously isn’t because she was just reading the Wednesday newspaper.
“You have to see this, though!” I say.
Sarah gives me a glance and says, “Dinah, you can tell me on Sunday.”
Sarah believes that Sunday is the day to let your feelings and emotions out. I think it is a no work, no post church day. I think Sunday is a stupid day. I know I say “stupid” a lot. It’s because I feel it is a good way to express your feelings. Not on Sunday. On every day. I am used to being Jewish. I sometimes say, “Add Chanukkah to the calendar!” or “We’ll ask the rabbi.”
Sarah corrects me and says, “No, we’ll add Christmas to the calendar” or “No, we’ll ask the priest.”
You see, Sarah is Catholic, and I am Jewish. It is a little strange living with her and celebrating different holidays, but I don’t mind her correcting me. I know Sarah is a good person. She loves me, and I love her. Now, I eat papaya as my main course. I hate papaya. Momma used to let me eat bread and cheese as my main course. Sarah says papaya is better for your lungs and heart. You see, her father died from a lung and heart disease.
I say, “Momma says bread and cheese makes you live longer.”
Sarah says you can eat a host and get that covered. I say that holy water is dirty. Sarah says that is because it is old. I say the bible is all lies. Sarah says you can believe different things. That is how our arguments usually end. But I add one last thing to my journal: How can Jesus be special if we are all sons and daughters of god? Then I erase that and fall asleep.
The next day is Friday. When I go downstairs and push away my papaya, Sarah says, “Eat.” I gape at her. She never forces me to eat. Sarah says, “You have a long journey ahead, and you will need all of your energy.”
I take a small nibble.
“Does this mean missing church?” I ask.
“No,” Sarah says.
I take another nibble.
“Does this mean I can tell you what I found in the Wednesday newspaper?” I ask.
“I already know,” says Sarah.
I am shocked. She had said just a few days ago she would never make me go on a dangerous journey, especially to save the magic beetle.
Sarah ushers me to her convertible. We drive and drive and drive and drive and drive, until we get to Sarah’s momma’s place for shelter. It is a rickety house in the middle of the woods.
“She divorced my dad and never wanted to see him again,” says Sarah.
“I see,” I say.
Sarah knocks on the door.
“Oww!” she says. “I forgot about this. Mom put splinters on the door so if Dad ever knocked to try to make up, he would get so many splinters he would want to run away. But Dad never came back.”
She seems somber. I decide to make her laugh.
“Your mom sounds crazy.”
Sarah half smiles, but I can tell that that has made her feel worse.
“I secretly think deep inside she wanted him to come. She wanted him to knock on that door, and she would open it. If he wasn’t there, then, well at least she would know that somebody remembered her.”
Sarah knocks on the door and a little softer this time, but the door knocks over. I jump a little. “Doesn’t seem like anyone lives here,” I mumble.
“She keeps herself secret,” says Sarah, hopefully.
Sarah opens a door. It doesn’t fall over like the front one, but I can see it hanging on one hinge. I see an abandoned kitchen with a ton of moldy fruits. I open a fridge. It is warm inside, and it smells ghastly. Sarah opens another door. It has a dusty bed and a dusty nightstand. I worry. What if Sarah’s momma left a long time ago? I hear sobbing. Sarah is not sobbing. She is facing me, and she is searching. I can tell because her eyes are closed, and she’s walking towards the sound. She opens another door. In it is an old woman sobbing.
“Malani?” says Sarah.
The old woman looks up.
“Sarah Smith? Is that really you?” Malani says.
“Yes, Malani,” says Sarah.
“Where is my mother?”
“Your mother?” says Malani. “She died back in 1969!”
Sarah and I have been helping Malani around the house. We dusted the bed and the nightstand, scrubbed the bathroom, fixed the lights and the pipes, painted, refurbished, plastered, and while that all happened, Malani tells stories about Sarah’s momma.
“I helped her around the house,” Malani would say. “I was her maid, but she treated me like a friend.”
When it’s time to go, we are all sad. We fix the hinges on the doors and leave, but when we go outside, we see that the front of the house is very bad and needs care, so we fix that and leave. We are sad to leave Malani, but Malani gives us both a hug and says, “They’re each for luck.”
We get back into the convertible. We drive so much, and I am so hungry I could eat a whole, rotten papaya plus it’s rind. Luckily, Sarah brought a papaya (I thought I’d never say that), and I eat the whole thing right up. Then Sarah gives me bread and butter and host (where did she get that?), and I drink lots of water.
“Is this holy water?” I ask.
“Yes,” Sarah jokes and winks at me.
I spit it out all over her.
“Whoa! I was just joking!”
Then, I drink a whole bottle.
“Tell me about your mother,” I say.
Sarah hesitates and says, “Later, Dinah.”
I am pretty happy when we get to Burina. I shriek with joy when I see my little brothers. “Kiene, Reene, and Geine! I’m here!”
My three brothers turn around, and I bear hug them.
They all shriek, “Dinah!”
And I say, “I have to go.”
That is the last time I see them until I am thirteen. I walk into Sarah’s convertible, and we go to the four towers. When we get there, I see one with eyes, two with mouths, and one with legs. So they do pray, watch over you, and chase bad things away. We knock on a tower door.
“Pick a door,” booms a voice.
I scream. Yikes! I am really scared. I tug on Sarah’s shirtsleeve to indicate that I want to go. Sarah is brave, so she doesn’t budge. I am scared.
“What tower is this?!” Sarah shouts.
“I am the heaven tower!” says the tower
Sarah knocks on the door of the other tower.
The tower stomps, “.– …. — / -.. .- .-. . … / -.-. — — . / …. . .-. . # / .. / .- — / – …. . / – — .– . .-. / — ..-. / …. . .-.. .-..”
Sarah counts her fingers and translates.
“Wrong tower,” says Sarah.
How does she know that stuff? She knocks on the next tower.
It blinks, “.– …. — / -.. .- .-. . … / -.-. — — . / …. . .-. . # / .. / .- — / – …. . / – — .– . .-. / — ..-. / .- .-.. .-.. / … .–. .. .-. .. – …”
Sarah counts again and translates.
“Let us in!” shouts Sarah.
“.–. .- … … .– — .-. -..”
The door swings open. Sarah and I walk in.
“Do you know this place?” I ask.
“My mom gave me this info in case I ever needed her, and she wasn’t there,” says Sarah.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but it seems creepy.”
It does seem creepy, and I am scared when I see an angel looking at me.
“Hello,” says the angel.
She is dressed in all white, and she has wrinkles on her face. She has big, round glasses and a bun with two knitting needles in it.
“Hello,” Sarah and I say.
“I am the ghost of Christmas past,” the angel says.
I frown and look at the bookshelf near the angel. It has a book I recognize.
“You’re from a Christmas carol,” Sarah and I say at the same time.
“Yes,” says the ghost of Christmas past. “But today I could be the ghost who will refresh your past.”
“Yes, please,” I say, because I want to see my parents again.
“No,” says the ghost of Christmas past. “I’m talking to her.” Pointing at Sarah, the angel begins to dissolve.
“Wait!” I say, and Sarah begins to dissolve too.
Then I look at my hand and shout. It is not there! I begin to dissolve. It is a strange feeling. Like being sucked into a black hole, except when you get to the other side, you cannot move. It is a horrible experience. Finally, I fall out of nowhere and land on my butt on a piece of land that is next to a mansion. The angel ushers us inside the mansion. We go through a door in the backyard. Inside the mansion is amazing. Sarah seems to know this place. We see a child walk into the room. Sarah and I run to hide behind a barrel. Sarah has a look of horror on her face. The ghost of Christmas past stays where the little girl can see her.
“No person can see us, feel us, hear us, smell us, or taste us,” she says. “Now Sarah, do you recognize this girl?”
“Y-yes,” says Sarah.
I hear a dog barking.
“Run!” says the angel.
We run and run until we reach a garden shack. There is a woman in there. She hears the door slam and turns around but sees nothing. She starts humming. The little girl comes into the garden shack.
“Beenie!” the girl calls.
I figure out at once that that woman is Sarah’s momma. That means that little girl is Sarah.
After a week of drinking tea and eating pretzels, I start to get sick. The ghost of Christmas past gives us company and tea. Sarah bakes pretzels with bread dough, and they burn to a crisp. I don’t know why the ghost brought us back in time. I’m starting to feel homesick. One night, I’m going to bed, and I hear a noise. Suddenly, a siren goes off.
“Someone is stealing the magic beetle!” shouts the ghost of Christmas past.
We scurry out to protect it. It is Minna Ginna! She laughs when she sees us. She stands still.
“Put your hands up at once!” shouts Sarah. “We’re calling the police,” she whispers to me.
I am scared of the police and the curse. The police come, and they arrest Minna Ginna again. We talk to her at prison.
The way to her cell is a dark hallway. I shield my eyes when we pass by a blazing phoenix. When we get to her cell, there is one single flaming candle.
“Explain yourself,” Sarah says, holding the candlestick as a weapon.
“I will arrest your partners.”
“Never!” shouts Minna Ginna, and she flinches at the chains holding her.
“Sarah,” I whisper, and Sarah says it softer this time.
“Let me start from the beginning,” says Minna.
Minna Ginna’s starts telling the story, “I was part of an organization called the yellow bandits. The head was Mayor Diggalier. We were trying to save Burina from eternal doom. In order to do that, we had to steal the magic beetle.”
“But the curse!” I say.
“I’ll get to that,” says Minna Ginna. “The curse was a legend. Only. Sure, the beetle was a sacred stone, but it is set to do something. When it was made, about 350 years ago, it was set to destroy the land in 315 years. I stole it 315 years later, and it is thirty years later now. In five years, it will destroy the land of Burina.”
“The curse,” I reminded Minna.
“The red bandits organization is the opposite of the yellow bandits organization. When I ‘stole’ the beetle, the red bandits pretended they were under a curse. Dinah, you must understand this. Your parents were killed by the heads of the red bandit organization.”
We were now part of the yellow bandits organization. We were having a celebration. There was cake and drinks. We were going to steal the beetle. I wonder how many lives we would save.