Chapter 1 1
“NO!” RILEY HOWLED. “LET US go! my dad needs to stay in the water!”
Riley woke with a start and felt hot and disoriented. She could still feel the dream wrapped around her as tightly as her sheets were. It was terrible, and she felt so helpless.
Her mother was at her door and entered her room. She sat on the side of the bed. “It’s over, baby, it was just a dream.”
Riley was panting as she sat up and untangled herself. “That wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare.”
“Was it Mada again?” her mother asked.
Riley shook her head. “No, I—I was with Dad and Galina. We were riding the Leviathan and having so much fun. But then the Coast Guard came. They shot the Leviathan with a harpoon and then threw nets over us to catch us. We couldn’t get away. Dad was screaming and trying to stay in the water, but the men didn’t care….”
Her mother hugged her tightly. “I’m sure your dad is fine. That was just a bad dream because you’re worried about the detectives’ visit this morning.”
Riley’s breathing was returning to normal as she calmed down. “When will it end? Mom, they’ve asked us the same questions over and over again. They asked them in Florida when we arrived. And they asked them again when we got home. And now they’re coming back. When will they finally leave us alone?”
“Soon,” her mother said. “They have to make sure everything fits. Don’t forget, your father had a large insurance policy. They could be looking for some kind of foul play. We know the truth, but they don’t. They can’t ever know.”
“Could they think Alfie and I killed Dad and Aunt Mary?”
“I’m sure they don’t think that. But there are concerns about what happened.” Her mother brushed hair out of Riley’s eyes. “Remember, you and Alfie were gone over six months. There are a lot of questions about your dad, Mary, and the Event Horizon. No one can figure out how you managed to survive alone at sea for so long. Not to mention Maggie’s blood in Miss Pigglesworth’s cabin. So just stick to the story, don’t elaborate, and you’ll be fine.” She got off the bed. “They’ll be here soon. Get up and get dressed; I want to talk to you and Alfie one more time to make sure your stories remain the same.”
When her mother left, Riley climbed from her bed. She looked at the clock. It was almost eight, and the police detectives were due at nine. There wasn’t time for a shower if she wanted to talk with Alfie about what they were going to say.
Riley never imagined that escaping Atlantis would cause so much trouble. It became a media circus when everyone heard about their “miraculous survival.” All the networks, newspapers, and magazines wanted interviews with them to talk about their time alone on the ocean.
When there weren’t television crews waiting to talk to them, there were the police and investigators asking question after question, as though they somehow believed that Riley and Alfie had done something wrong. Riley’s mother said that the media was always looking for a juicy story, even if they had to make one up. It was Maggie’s blood in the cabin that caused the real trouble, despite it being proven not to be human. But it wasn’t animal either. The investigators were especially interested in that.
The problem was they could never tell the truth—that the blood came from a leopard-woman named Maggie who had been badly wounded in a fight with a tiger-man while they were trying to leave Atlantis. And that they hadn’t been lost at sea at all. Instead they’d spent over half a year on a mysterious island filled with strange people who were slowly turning into animals. Where gargoyles and mermaids were real, and a monstrous sea serpent called the Leviathan patrolled the waters around Atlantis while dangerous unicorns protected the land….
“Riley!” her mother called from downstairs.
“Coming,” Riley called back.
By the time Riley made it downstairs, Alfie was already there. “Hey, Shorty,” he said. Alfie tried to sound casual, but he was as nervous as she was.
“Sit down, Riley,” her mother, Beverly, said. “Let’s go through it all again.”
The police detectives arrived promptly at nine. Riley and Alfie had been through this so many times before. But they had to do it all again because any time there was a mysterious death at sea, it had to be thoroughly investigated.
They all gathered in the dining room and sat at the table.
“You are welcome to have your attorneys here,” the lead detective said as he pulled out his tape recorder and a notebook.
Riley was about to speak when her mother said, “Do they need attorneys? Are you accusing these children of something?”
“Not at all,” the female detective said. “We’re just letting you know your rights.”
“We don’t need lawyers,” Riley said, “because we didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Of course,” the woman said. “Now, why don’t you tell us what happened?”
Riley took a deep breath and started to speak. “We’d been on the Event Horizon for two weeks. Dad was making a record of the humpbacks we saw.”
“Whales?” the male detective asked.
“No, humpback elephants,” Alfie said sarcastically.
“Alfie,” Beverly warned.
“What?” Alfie demanded. He stood up angrily. “We keep telling everyone what happened, but they won’t believe us! A storm came out of nowhere. The ocean turned wild. Then this big sailboat hit us. It wrecked our boat and threw us all in the water. Then Riley and me managed to get aboard the sailboat, but we couldn’t find my mom or Uncle Andrew. We looked, we kept looking, but they were gone….”
Alfie threw himself down in the chair, put his head on his crossed arms, and started to cry. “Why won’t you believe us? We didn’t do anything wrong….”
“It’s all right, Alfie,” the female detective said. “You’re not in trouble. We just need to understand how you two managed to survive so long alone on the water.”
“And understand about the fresh blood in one of the cabins,” the male detective said. “What was in there? It’s been tested and forensic teams still can’t identify it. Was it some kind of animal? We know it’s not human blood.”
Riley wasn’t sure if Alfie was really crying or not. But if his tears weren’t real, he was a great actor.
“I don’t know,” Riley insisted. “I—I don’t think it was there at the beginning, but maybe it was. We were too busy trying to stay alive to pay attention to everything on the boat. This was the worst time of our lives. We couldn’t find my dad or Aunt Mary anywhere and our boat was wrecked. When the storm ended, part of the Event Horizon was still stuck on the Moon Dancer’s bow. So Alfie and I went back into the water and salvaged as much as we could.”
“But how did you two survive?” the woman asked.
“My dad always had these safety drills,” Riley started. “He taught us how to survive if anything ever happened. How to fish and save rainwater. Plus we had all the supplies from the Event Horizon. Alfie and I even managed to get one of her sails and used it on the Moon Dancer. It was all because my dad taught us what to do.”
“Andrew was a safety bug,” Beverly said sadly. She was seated beside Alfie with her arm around him. “He taught all of us how to work a sailboat and survive an ocean disaster. It just destroys me that after all that training, he didn’t make it back himself.”
“We are sorry,” the male detective said. He looked at Riley again. “But how did you manage to sail the Moon Dancer home? That is a big yacht that requires a full crew. How did you do it with just you and Alfie?”
“That’s what took us so long to get home,” Riley said. “Dad had been teaching me to sail most of my life. We took our boat out several times a year and during vacation. The Moon Dancer was much bigger, but some of the things were the same. Because the sail from our boat was so small compared to the ones the Moon Dancer must have had, it took us longer to get home. Plus, the wreckage of the Event Horizon was really slowing us down until we finally managed to get it away from us.”
Riley’s mother nodded. “Not to mention they didn’t have a compass or any way of following a course apart from the stars. It was a miracle they made it at all.”
“That’s an incredible story,” the woman said. “You must have been very brave.”
“We didn’t have much choice,” Riley said. “We wanted to get home.”
“I understand,” the female detective said. “So, let’s just go through it one more time….”
Riley felt like screaming as she and Alfie retold the fictional story of their miraculous survival alone on the ocean. There was question after question, but after telling the story so many times, Riley knew all the answers.
Finally, after three hours, the two detectives turned off the recorders, closed their books, and prepared to go.
“That really is an amazing story,” the male detective said. “And the Moon Dancer, what a boat. Of all the lost boats in the world to find you, what were the chances that it would be her? She’s a national treasure, a real record breaker.”
“She’s not much of a treasure to me,” Riley said. “She did hit us and ruin my life.”
“I’m sorry, you’re right,” he said.
“But what do you mean?” Beverly said. “A ‘record breaker’?”
“Don’t you know?” the male detective said. “The Moon Dancer is a classic. It’s been missing for almost a hundred years. It vanished in 1929 and was never heard from again. Everyone thought she was lost. That yacht won the Blue Riband competition four times. It’s… it’s priceless. How it’s managed to survive out there on its own without a crew is just amazing. I mean, apart from some algae, from what I hear, it was intact. How was that possible, alone at sea all this time?”
“I don’t know,” Riley said. “What’s a Blue Riband?”
“It’s a speed record for an Atlantic crossing. Kind of like a race. I’ve always loved boats and ships, and when I saw the Moon Dancer, I had to look her up….”
“Don’t get him started!” the woman detective said. “Come on, Stew, we have to get these reports in and leave this family alone.”
Stew nodded. “You’re right. But when you have a moment, look her up.”
“I will,” Riley promised.
Beverly rose. “So what happens now?”
“Now, after our report, I believe it can be officially declared a tragic accident. There won’t be any further investigation; we’re satisfied and can close the case.” The female detective paused and said, “If I’m honest, I don’t think there should have been this big an investigation in the first place. It’s obvious there’s been no foul play, just bad luck.”
“What happens to the Moon Dancer?” Riley asked. “Can we keep her?”
“I’m afraid not,” Stew said. “Right now she’s been seized for investigation. First because of what happened to you two and the blood in the cabin. Then they have to establish rightful ownership. She’s a priceless treasure, and I’m sure a lot of people are going to be fighting to get hold of her. Including the insurance company from years ago that paid out on its loss, plus the family that once owned it.”
“So we’ll never see it again?” Riley asked.
The woman shrugged. “I guess you could go back to Florida to look at it. But you won’t be allowed back on board. It’s all locked up tight until ownership is decided.”
Beverly shook her head. “Meanwhile, I’m paying a fortune for it to be moored at the marina.”
“I’m sure you’ll be reimbursed once ownership is decided.”
“Or I go broke,” Beverly said, “and they take it for back rent.”
“These things have a way of working themselves out,” Stew said as he finished packing up. “Our involvement ends here.” He looked at Beverly. “We’ll send our report to your insurance company, and they should pay out on your husband’s policy. If anything, it will help pay for the Moon Dancer’s mooring.”
“Thank you, detectives,” Riley’s mother said.
When the police left, Riley, Alfie, and Beverly went downstairs to where the Atlanteans were hiding. Not long after they arrived at the house, the basement was converted into an apartment for them.
“They’re gone,” Riley called. “It’s safe to come out.”
“Is everything all right?” Pea asked. The koala appeared from behind the old bar Riley’s father had built but never used.
“They’ve closed the case,” Beverly answered.
“Thank heavens,” Mary said. She was also hiding behind the bar. Her spider-monkey tail twitched with irritation. “There shouldn’t have been a case to answer in the first place.”
“But you’re considered dead,” Alfie said. “We couldn’t tell them what happened to you or Uncle Andrew.”
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Mary said.
Soon Maggie appeared from her hiding place behind a secret wall. She limped back to the sofa. She was recovering from her wounds but still weak. “Are you all right?”
Riley nodded. “I am now that it’s finally over.”
“Where’s Bastian?” Alfie asked.
“Here,” Bastian called as he, too, emerged from his hiding place. Miss Pigglesworth was beside him.
Alfie looked at Bastian. “Where’s the laptop? I need to look something up.”
Bastian walked back into his hiding area and returned with the computer. With Mary’s help, Bastian and the Atlanteans were learning to read. Within a short time, Bastian had been introduced to the internet and was now spending time on it discovering all the things he’d missed while living in Atlantis.
Alfie sat down beside Maggie on the sofa and started to type.
“What are you looking up?” Mary asked.
“Here it is!” Alfie looked at Riley. “Wow. That cop was right. The Moon Dancer is famous.”
“Really? What’s it say?” Riley asked.
Alfie started to read the first article aloud about the sailing yacht and the four Blue Riband wins it had. The article said the yacht was built in 1890. “Hey, Bastian, look, that’s you and your family. It says your dad was on it during one of the races.”
Everyone looked at the screen and the black-and-white photograph of Bastian’s family standing beside the Moon Dancer. As always, Miss Pigglesworth was there, holding on to young Bastian.
“Oh, weren’t you adorable,” Beverly said. “Look at you in your little sailor suit. And your parents were so dashing. I love their clothes.”
“And look at the Moon Dancer,” Mary said. “Wasn’t she pretty before the Forbidden Zone covered her in algae and moss and her brass railings turned green?”
“She still is,” Riley said.
Maggie pointed at the screen. “So many sails! It would take ages to make them all.”
Riley counted the sails. “There are twelve. They’d be a lot better than the one we used from the Event Horizon. No wonder it was fast. I just wish we could have kept her.”
“Why can’t we?” Bastian asked. “It was my father’s boat. It should be ours.”
“Sorry, dude,” Danny said as he came downstairs and joined the conversation. “You’re officially dead.” He walked to Riley and punched her lightly on the arm. “Good job with the cops. I heard everything from my bedroom.”
Alfie looked at Riley and blushed. “I’m sorry I started to cry. But that guy just bugged me with all the same questions.”
“Creep, it worked perfectly,” Riley said. “The detectives felt sorry for you. It really helped.”
“Well, I, for one, am glad it’s over,” Beverly said. “Now, how about we make us a celebration lunch?”
“That would be great,” Riley said. “I’ll help.”
Her mother nodded. “Then we can talk about getting you and Alfie back into school.”
Riley looked at her cousin. “Is it too late to go back to Atlantis?”