Huffing and puffing, Turtle Fulton ran another few feet while the Kincaid twins, Nate and Nick, Nick, with his long, wavy blonde hair, and Nate, with his short blonde buzz, came up behind him, barely winded. They were running a practice race in Central Park, and as the slowest member of the school's already slow track team, Turtle expected the brothers to laugh as they roared past. Instead, they turned around to look at him and then veered off into some bushes. They waited there while Turtle ran at his own pace, slow and steady. His real name was Paul but his plodding gait gave him his nickname. He didn't mind it. Slow and steady won the race, after all.
Turtle ran a few more feet, counting his footsteps in his head as he ran, breathing out on every prime number between 2 and 11—2, 3, 5, 7, 11—a trick he used to keep himself distracted on the longer runs. His track coach said he was good at distances, and exercises like this made him better, but the Kincaids were always faster and always first.
Now, they were doing something weird.
As he stopped to glance back, he saw them turn and rummage through a cluster of tall green bushes topped by purple flowers growing on the face of a towering rock. They moved farther into the greenery, submerging themselves like they were hiding. Weird, yes, but Turtle kept running—until the rustling stopped.
Turtle halted midstride. From out of the bushes came something that sounded like a surge of wind , and when Turtle turned to look again, the twins were gone. They had vanished into the bushes.
Where did they go? What was that noise?
He ran over to the rock, a few feet off the path. He could feel his heart rate rising, his pulse booming in his ears. The scent of the flowers on the bushes was strong in the air, even over the sharp smell of fresh asphalt coming from somewhere nearby.
Scratching his shoulder through his Manhattan Friends Track Team T-shirt, Turtle tried to think. A jackhammer that had been thrumming through the air stopped, and the trill of birds replaced it in the quiet. Somewhere over a low hill, Turtle heard the sound of traffic—the whine of hydraulics as a bus stopped, a horn beeping once in warning, the rev of a high-powered motorcycle peeling out into the street. The rest of the team was somewhere far ahead, but there were more pressing matters.
Where could the Kincaids be?
Turtle parted the bushes, convinced the twins were hiding there, somewhere, but it took only a few seconds to confirm what he had suspected: the boys were gone.
The stone behind the bushes looked like the wall of a forgotten, ruined castle, the edges chiseled roughly at right angles and the cracks filled with brown dust. Someone had carved the number 13 into the rock, although the carving was old and worn down to near invisibility. It reminded him of the vague, permanent graffiti that Turtle had become used to seeing in the city, although this was a bit tamer than some of the stuff he had seen written on other Central Park rocks.
His grandmother had told him that all the huge rocks in Central Park had been quarried north of the city then brought in on horse-drawn wagons—what a wild thought. This rock alone was a monster. Bigger than a small house, it had been taken from the earth and placed here as a decoration.
As the jackhammer pounded again, drowning out the sound of Turtle's own heartbeat, he reached out to feel the cold rock and the grit of the mud that had sluiced off the top and dried on its surface. There was nowhere for the twins to have gone. Wiping his sweaty brow, Turtle faced a blank wall of stone, his hands searching for hidden handles or buttons.
Was this a magic trick? he thought.
Waffle-patterned footprints scuffed the dust at the base of the wall, and Turtle saw the faint imprint of a Nike swoosh in a patch of drying mud. He put his own foot next to the fresh track; it was about his size—and about Nick's and Nate's size too. So they had been here. He wasn't dreaming.
YOU ARE READING
Imagine if, right now, clattering underneath your feet was a secret train system that could take you anywhere in minutes. Imagine a trip full of mystery and excitement from New York to Barcelona to the wind-swept coast of Italy to the edge of space...