by Ben Zackheim | Jul 24, 2014 | Writing |
There are dozens of characters in The Camelot Kids. The loyal pet goldfish, Mr. Boo, who was given a mechanical body so he could take over as manager of Merlin’s shoppe (he’s good with people). Hector, the chauffeur with a secret that will shock Simon out of his socks. Uncle Victor, the man with an agenda…dozens of characters!
But Rukkush… Rukkush is awwwwwesoooooome.
You may have seen some of the tiny peeks at Rukkush that I’ve been doling out. You know the ads and banners like the one at the top of this post — with the peacock-looking eyes staring back at you?
Yeah, that’s Rukkush. And here he is…
Rukkush is not on Merlin’s side. As you’ll see in this excerpt, he’s on a mission to take the old wizard out. Frankly, his beef appears to be justified… oh, just read the excerpt and you’ll see for yourself.
The set-up: Simon visits the old home of Lancelot – a small stone hut on the corner of New Camelot. The door hasn’t been opened in 1000 years. A crowd of curious citizens has just watched him open the dusty, creaky door. Now, Simon inspects the interior. It’s cold, damp and creepy and… well, read on…
Excerpt from The Camelot Kids
What happened next was a blur of sounds and pain. Simon tried to pull his hand away. At the same time, Russ and Josh hollered and pulled him to the ground. There was a flash of red light and a loud slam, like a heavy door being kicked closed.
Simon was on the floor, the two guards on top of him. The room would have been pitch black if it weren’t for Maille. She was standing at the shut door with her glowing red wand raised. She pointed it at someone behind Simon, but he couldn’t see whom as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
“It’s about time you showed up,” came a crackling voice from the shadows.
“Come out where we can see you,” Maille snarled. “I’m warning you, I know how to use this!” She lifted her bat-wand higher. The red light near the tip began swirling. It was an impressive sight to Simon. But the stranger chuckled. It was a dry laugh, disdainful. Simon sat up, trying to see his attacker.
“I’m sure you do, girl. But I know how to use mine too.”
And with that, a tall, thin man emerged from the darkness. His skin was wrinkly white, and his eyes were hollow, devoid of life. Long, stringy hair, like straw, ran down his back and shoulders. His fingernails were as long as the fingers they grew from. He wore leather armor that creaked and scraped as he moved closer. The man opened his mouth and an empty smile crept across it.
“I’d imagine I’m not looking very well, after a thousand years in this pig sty.”
Russ and Josh had their small blades drawn and ready. Simon felt naked without a weapon, but found the courage to speak.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Rukkush. Apprentice and prisoner of Merlin.”
Maille hesitated. Rukkush let his grin get broader. “I’m Merlin’s apprentice,” she finally said.
“Ah. He’s taking girls now. He must be getting desperate on the other side of that door. Well, then, you are his prisoner as well.”
“Are you saying Merlin locked you in here?” Maille asked.
“Indeed. Who else would have the power to do so? I’ve been sitting in that chair right there for the last hundred years, by my count. I lay in the bed for three hundred years before that. I’m afraid Lancelot was not a big reader, so I haven’t had even the smallest of comforts to tide me over. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had visitors who ended up being a figment of my imagination. Perhaps you are only in my head, too. I’m a bit mad, as I’m sure you’ll understand. Not to mention betrayed.”
His smile disappeared and a chill swept the room. He raised a twisted, rotting wand of his own. Maille unleashed a ball of light like the one she’d used on Caradoc. But it was instantly doused like a raindrop in an inferno. Rukkush’s arms swept forward and Maille was thrown against the door.
“That wasn’t very nice, was it, Russ?” Josh said, as Maille let out a moan.
“Not at all, Josh.”
“All right then. In Lancelot’s name!”
And with that, the two boys ran at the ghoul with their swords raised. But Rukkush made quick work of Josh, throwing him against the exact same spot he’d thrown Maille, as if it were target practice.
Russ slipped through and managed to cut their attacker’s chin with the tip of his blade. There was an awkward silence as Rukkush glared at the boy.
Russ swallowed hard. “Oh, there’s hell to pay now, isn’t there?” In a split second, the third of the three kids lay unconscious near the door.
Rukkush poked at his wound and examined the dark blood. “Ah, excellent. Blood. I suppose this is actually happening then. Exciting. Now, we have some time alone before one of Merlin’s brutes breaks through that door…”
Rukkush began to wander around the room. He seemed deep in thought.
“Why is it,” he finally asked, “that Merlin allowed you through this door, when he knows I’m in here waiting for revenge?”
Simon wasn’t going to answer. He sensed he was being pulled into a trap. The way Rukkush was pacing, keeping his distance, and smirking made Simon suspect something else was going on.
“So it’s silence, is it? Fine. That will do. Let me tell you then, so you don’t need to guess. This is the first of many tests for you boy. He’s told you of your bloodline, I’m sure. No need to answer. I know it to be true. Yes, he’s told you of your bloodline and, in so doing, he’s given you a half-truth. That’s more than I ever got from him, so be thankful.” He chuckled, but there was no mirth in it.
“He threw you into this particular arena because you’re tied to a future he believes will unfold no matter what happens here. And, of course, because he does not want to face his past.” Rukkush sighed. “But now that you are here, my long wait is over.”
There was a loud pounding on the door. Rukkush swiftly walked up to Simon and took his chin in his hand. He leaned in so close that his breath covered Simon’s face.
It smelled like nothing.
“Seek the truth, boy, and be prepared to die for it.” The door blew off its hinges, bathing the room in sunlight.
Rukkush turned to dust in an instant.
With that, Simon’s vision went blurry. His knees gave out and he fell to the floor. Silhouetted figures rushed at him. He felt someone lift his head into their lap.
His last thought before he passed out was, “I’m not comfortable in this bedroom.”
You can buy The Camelot Kids: Book One now!
by Ben Zackheim | Jul 14, 2014 | The Camelot Kids |
Welcome to today’s peek into the world of The Camelot Kids!
Today’s sneak peek at Russ and Josh has a special place in my heart. The boys are best friends, always together and always, well, blabbing. Between the two of them there isn’t a discussion unturned. If they’re not trying to get to the bottom of why cats don’t respond to whistles then they’re devising ways to test their theory that melted chocolate will flow just fine through the park fountain.
Here’s an excerpt from a scene with Josh and Russ, best friends to each other and loyal buddies to Simon.
The set-up: Simon has just had a disastrous first day in New Camelot. Day two isn’t shaping up to be much better, until he gets to know some of the other boys.
Simon woke to the sounds of rattling steel and heavy boots stomping out the door.
“What’s going…” he said, half-asleep. The darkness of the room was barely interrupted by the moonlight that crept through the high, slim windows of Wellwoven.
“Been trying to wake you for five minutes, sir,” Russ said, as he followed Josh out the door. “Better not be late again. Hector doesn’t like us making the same mistake twice.”
“Thanks,” Simon said. He threw on his armor as best he could, but it wasn’t so natural to him as it was to the others. He ended up running after the second-to-last last boy out, still rearranging some straps that, for the life of him, he couldn’t find a use for.
He followed the flow of kids down the hallway until the sound from the waterfall surrounded them. But before they reached Tapper, the boys and girls turned left to walk down a set of wide stairs. Everyone filed into a large circular dining hall.
Simon had never seen anything like it.
Large posts reached high to the arched ceiling, which was buttressed by equally massive beams. They must have been made from the biggest trees ever, Simon thought. Fireplaces burned the chill out of all four corners of the hall, casting a warm glow over everyone seated at the table.
And the table! It was the most impressive of all— a single giant, round surface with dozens of slightly curved benches around it, most filled with kids talking with their mouths full of breakfast. Along the walls were several arched windows, lined with ivy. They framed the grounds outside and the mountains in the distance. The first sign of the sun poked up behind them. It was going to be a beautiful morning.
Dozens of castle employees scrambled about, keeping the plates piled high with bacon and the cups filled to the top with juice. One lady kept the staff motivated, barking out polite but firm orders like, “Section 8 is drowning in eggs, while 6 hasn’t even smelled them yet, dear!” The servers bowed slightly as they passed her. She was an impressive woman, three hundred pounds if she was an ounce. Her face was kind but her eyes had a focus to them that kept everyone on their toes. She saw Simon staring at her and gave him a nod and a smile.
He spotted Russ and Josh waving at him. He waved back, which seemed to get a lot of attention, because the chatter began to quiet down. The boys and girls stared at him, some whispering. Simon felt like turning around and going back to bed, but he forced himself to step forward. The floor was smooth cobblestone that clicked under his boots. By step number three, it was the only sound in the hall. He slipped into a spot on Josh’s and Russ’ bench as fast as he could. He smiled and shrugged, not sure what to say.
“Well that was awkward,” Josh said. Simon laughed and some other boys joined in.
They enjoyed some succulent dishes, quiet conversation, and the view of the mountains. No one nearby was showing contempt for Simon so far. In fact, Russ and Josh were joined by some other kids who went out of their way to include him in the conversation.
“Nellie was pretty as a pie, you ask me. I don’t know what she sees in that doofus,” said a fair-skinned, slightly unhealthy looking boy. “He didn’t even pay attention to her the whole time.” The most life he had in his face was in his eyes, which were trying to get a look at this Nellie, who sat across the hall.
“Ooooo. Sam is smitten with a new girl today,” Josh teased him. He leaned in close to Simon and whispered, “He falls for a new one every week.”
“Cut it out, Josh,” Sam said, getting some much-needed color in his face.
“A true romantic,” said Russ. Some of the guys laughed, their mouths full of buttery bread and bacon.
“A true moron,” came a deep voice from farther down the table. Simon remembered the speaker as one of the large boys who had helped Gawain to his feet after the fight the day before.
The nearby kids dipped their heads down. They didn’t want trouble. Simon would have done the same a few days ago, but not here. He’d have none of that here.
“Who are you?” Simon asked curtly.
“I’m your worst nightmare,” the kid mumbled to his friends. The posse laughed. Simon noticed that Gawain was in the middle of them, but he wasn’t acknowledging the conversation at all. He just kept eating his porridge.
“I guess I’ll call you Mumbler, then,” Simon said, not sure where he was getting the courage to stand up to this guy.
All the big kids lost their grins, glanced at each other and nodded their heads.
They stood up quickly, in perfect unison. The backs of their legs knocked the long bench over. All the other boys on the bench, including Simon, were on their backs in a split second.
Gawain was standing along with the other big kids, but he’d grabbed his plate and was still eating from it as if nothing were happening.
Simon was about to sit up when a foot came down on his chest. It was Mumbler, who appeared very self-satisfied. The back of Simon’s head hit the stone floor. The big kid removed an armored glove from his hand and was about to slap Simon with it when Gawain snagged his wrist.
“We play fair around here,” Gawain said. Mumbler jerked his arm away and put his glove back on. Gawain leaned into Simon’s field of vision. “At least some of us do.”
The posse walked through the door to the grounds outside, laughing and giving Mumbler pats on the back. Gawain lifted the bench back into place and sat down by himself to work on a new bowl of porridge.
Russ grabbed one of Simon’s hands and Josh took the other. They pulled him up. All of them stared at their plates of tasty food.
“The Mumbler is Eric,” Russ said softly, probably wanting to break the humiliating silence. “He fancies himself Gawain’s righthand man. That would make him second in command among us trainees.” Russ glanced over at Gawain, who still ate as if he’d just been introduced to food, then whispered. “No one’s sure if Gawain even likes him, though.”
“You could have taken him if he hadn’t cheated.” Sam was jiggling his left knee nervously.
“There’s no such thing as cheating,” Simon said. The words came to him automatically. “The enemy will win any way he can. That means you have to think like him. As long as you’re on the right side of things, that’ll guide you.”
The boys didn’t know what to say for a moment. Even Simon pondered what he’d said, as if someone else had spoken with his voice.
Then Russ asked, “So being right is the only thing that separates us from the enemy?”
Simon was surprised at all the eyes on him. “I don’t know about that, but I lost because I didn’t act on stuff I knew.”
“Like what?” Josh asked.
“Like he’s bigger than me and that all his friends are bigger than me. I knew he didn’t like me from the second I saw him, so I was a target. Me and everyone I’m with. I knew the only thing that bound me to him in any way, actually, was the seat we sat on. It was a weapon he could use against me.” The boys nodded. “The thing that surprises me is that he had the move coordinated with the other guys.”
“Yeah, they pull that trick sometimes,” Russ said. “But usually without provocation.”
“I know the type.” Simon said.
by Ben Zackheim | Jul 10, 2014 | The Camelot Kids, Writing |
If you think you know Merlin, it may be time to meet The Camelot Kids’ Merlin.
He’s a hair over 7-feet-tall.
His torso pushes 4-feet-wide.
He’s 3276 years old.
He’s not a people person.
Merlin’s love of England is the force behind his immortality. He won’t rest until the prophecy of King Arthur‘s return comes to pass. Now, as he senses danger surrounding his beloved New Camelot, Merlin gathers the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table. But since when was an army of teenagers a good idea? Merlin has defeated dark wizards, angry elves and dragons 145X his size. But can he handle The Camelot kids?
In this excerpt, Simon is on his butt, with his head between his knees. He’s been training with the notorious knight Hexter all morning and he feels like hurling. But when he raises his eyes he finds that the training arena is empty. A moment ago, it was teeming with teenagers, onlookers and about two dozen talky chickens.
Excerpt from The Camelot Kids
Simon stood quickly and lifted his training sword in front of him. He turned in circles for a moment, watching out for any movement. He had a sense that things weren’t right. Something dangerous was nearby.
“Who’s there?” He felt silly for talking to no one. It was probably teatime or something, and he’d passed out and missed everyone leaving. He imagined that they’d stepped over his unconscious body, laughing.
Merlin’s humongous shape emerged from the castle’s shadows. His stick click-clacked on the cobblestones.
“Put that thing down before you hurt yourself,” the wizard said.
Simon lowered his sword, but his instincts told him not to. Ever since the sword fight, when his muscles had done things they’d never done before, Simon felt heavy, wary. He saw the world as one big adversary.
“Where did everyone go?”
“Oh, I sent them home. It’s a clever little trick I picked up in India.” Merlin’s eyes lit up. Simon could almost hear the smile in the old man’s words. “You did well today.”
“Yeah. I was real chivalrous.”
“What’s wrong with you?” In an instant, Merlin had turned combative again.
“Nothing… My dad once said that praise from Merlin had a price.”
Merlin chuckled. Simon’s gut relaxed a little. The wizard put his hand on Simon’s shoulder and led him out of the courtyard.
“I do have a reputation for getting my way. But let me give you some context, Simon. I’m several thousand years old. That requires a strong body and a strong mind. It would be very easy to go mad after all I’ve seen.”
They stepped into the castle and Merlin grabbed a torch from the wall. “Actually, I have gone mad a couple of times.” His voice softened. “But one thing always pulls me out of the darkness. One thing keeps me focused and strong. Did your father tell you what that is?”
Merlin stopped abruptly and looked at the wall, up and down.
“Do you have a chainsaw?” he asked Simon.
“Um, not on me.”
“Bother.” The wizard furrowed his brow. He raised his staff, held it sideways and shook it. Suddenly, Merlin was trying to stay on his feet as the weight of his walking stick threw him off balance. Except it wasn’t a staff in his hand anymore. It was a chainsaw.
Without a word, the old man lifted the huge thing, yanked on the cord and revved it up. The explosive sound of the tool forced Simon to cover his ears. Merlin shoved the saw into the stone wall.
Except it wasn’t stone.
It looked like stone, but the surface splintered like wood, white chips flying everywhere. Merlin laughed, maniacally, as he carved out a door shape. The whole scene made Simon want to run to his bed and hide under the covers.
Merlin stepped back, turned off the chainsaw and handed it to Simon, who immediately dropped it because of its weight. The wizard stood still in the uncomfortable silence, looking at the large rectangle cut he’d made. His hair was a wispy mess, long strands of it falling over his face and sticking straight up.
Then the rectangle fell down into the hall with a thud.
“The door has moved since I last used it,” he said, as if that would explain everything. Merlin slipped into the hole he’d made in the wall and gestured for Simon to hand him his saw back.
Except it was a staff again.
“Thank you,” Merlin said in a way that made it very clear that he was enjoying Simon’s exasperation.
They took a step into a narrow spiral stairwell that curved down into darkness.
“As I was saying. The one thing that keeps me focused and strong is Camelot. My home. It has deserved better for more than a thousand years and now, in the midst of great danger, its time has come.”
“What danger?” Simon asked. But Merlin didn’t answer. “Where are you taking me?”
“To the dungeons. Should be fun.”
That didn’t calm his nerves any. “What’s down there?”
“Someone who is the key to finding our enemy’s weakness.”
“He’s a weird one, though,” came a girl’s voice from behind Simon, startling him. It was Maille.
“Don’t do that!” Simon barked.
“What? What’d I do?” Maille shrugged her shoulders.
“You snuck up on me!”
“I’ve been here the whole time, excuse me very much.” But her cocky smirk gave her away.
“Enough bickering!” Merlin barked. “We don’t want the prisoner to hear. It would give him an edge we can’t afford.” When they hit the bottom of the stairwell, Merlin lit a wall of torches with one wave of his walking stick. They passed empty cells that Simon would not have wished on an enemy, of which he had a number, growing by the hour.
At the end of the long, stone hall was a cell with a small flame’s light flickering through its bars.
The prisoner was hard to see, just a slight figure in the corner, whimpering like a caged animal.
Simon recognized him immediately.
And check out these previous character introductions:
Caradoc the troll
by Ben Zackheim | Jun 18, 2014 | Writing |
Tommy told her to stay away from the edge seven times. But Beth didn’t listen. He couldn’t very well stop her from being a fool when she was clear on the other side of the barn, could he?
“Mom told you to be careful,” he repeated. Usually, using the “M” word was the only thing that could make her listen. Many moms can make us behave with just a faint warning from the past. Tommy and Beth’s mom was most definitely that kind of mom.
But Beth wasn’t like you or me. Beth was, and still is frankly, a misbehaver from toe to hairtip.
Tommy, too, was no sample of sweetness, and frankly still isn’t, but he fancied himself packed with sense. Or, as he liked to call it, Sensibles — because that made him sound blessed by spirits.
They were in the barn that Mom told them to stay clear of. They were doing things Mom told them not to do inside the barn (the one that she told them not to be in). All in all, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
The roof, as it was, wore more holes than Mrs. Whisker’s swiss cheese. Sunlight poured into some areas of the barn, and not at all in others. The resulting shadows could move, dance, fly or do just about anything else your imagination allowed them to do.
Old piles of damp hay emerged from the floor like warts. They stunk the place up in that dreamy, moist cloud of decay that’s somehow pleasant if you’re in the mood to enjoy it.
So, inside this nest of wretchedness, Beth fell from the second floor.
It was a short fall, as most falls are. But Beth’s brain, being a rocket, managed to pack a lifetime inside three seconds.
When she first lost her balance and her right foot didn’t feel the floor in that special way it does when we’re grounded, she thought, “I wonder if my funeral will be sunny.”
She saw her parents sobbing. Her little casket perched above a hole in the ground in such a way that it could be shoved off its pedestal and slid straight down into the Earth.
She spotted Tommy playing her Nintendo DS while the priest spoke about what happens to girls who don’t listen to their mothers. Tommy winked at her, which meant he knew she was watching her own funeral. Then he dove back in to try to beat her high score in MarioKart.
By the time she was pondering the barn from an angle she’d never considered before, namely upside down while twirling, her thoughts had turned to the barn.
It upset her, as she fell to her death, that they would likely respond to her accident by tearing the old place down. Which would hardly be a reasonable way to face such a tragedy!
After all, if one girl could die in an abandoned building at any time then couldn’t all empty buildings be killers-in-waiting? Why not tear all of them down? The barns, the warehouses, the schools…
That’s where Beth’s head settled as she saw the ground below her get significantly closer at a good clip. She wouldn’t really miss school. Not only because she’d be dead and wouldn’t be around to miss it; but also because school was her least favorite way to measure the day:
Jump in mud
That’s a thousand times better than any school day, even one with a substitute teacher.
She caught a glimpse of Tommy the moment she hit the ground. He was yelling something. Probably, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Beth felt bad for her brother. He’d probably feel guilty when she was gone. He might not even play video games for three whole days. Okay, maybe more like two days. But still, their parents would…
Would they blame him? Would they blame Tommy? Would it be like the time Tommy let the dog out by accident and she got caught in the fence?
So Beth did what any other sister would do in her situation. She hit the ground hard. But as she hit the ground hard, she thought, “How strong are these floorboards anyways?” And, as if to say, “We’re not very strong at all, Beth,” the floorboards cracked under her butt, dropping her straight into a muddy soup below the barn.
Time slowed down to normal, as did Beth’s brain. Or what passed for normal, as there was almost nothing normal about what had just happened.
Tommy was still hollering above her, his fingers clenching his hair. Finally, he managed, “ARE YOU OKAY?”
“I think so,” Beth said, a little short of breath.
She didn’t really hurt anywhere at first. But later on, when the excitement had died down, she found a large splinter in the back of her leg. The scar would always be there to remind her to mind her brother.
On the long walk home they decided to keep the whole thing to themselves. Most parents will grimace at such a decision, but tough luck. The brother and sister had a secret and it welded them together in all the ways brothers and sisters should weld.
“Did your life flash before your eyes?” Tommy asked as they walked up the steps to their back porch.
“No, but the future did. And I’m having none of it.”
That, Beth thought, will be my secret for me, myself and I.
by Ben Zackheim | Mar 14, 2014 | Writing |
If you haven’t picked up the latest Shirley Link book, Shirley Link & The Black Cat, then now’s a good time. The Kindle ebook is a buck, today only.
I’m trying out the new Amazon Countdown Deal thingy. It lets me put a book on sale for a limited amount of time. I’ll be sure to post about my experience when all’s said and done.
Want to know more about the fourth volume of the Shirley Link series (for middle school readers)?
Shirley Link, girl detective, is back in the critically-acclaimed Middle Grade mystery series! And this time, there’s a black cat involved…uh-oh…
In her fourth adventure, Shirley Link takes a walk on the dark side of her hometown. When a young man, known for making trouble, is targeted as suspect #1 in a string of robberies, Shirley works hard to find the truth.
But even if the young detective proves his innocence, can she save him from himself?
Join Shirley on her most daring case yet!
Emily Neuburger, Everyday Fun blog, Parents.com
“Shirley Link is a new girl detective series that my daughter is crazy about. This is an amazing series, my friends! Your kids will be hooked and you’ll feel really good about it.”
Edward Hemingway, Author/Illustrator, Bad Apple
“This Veronica Mars for the tween-set is funny, smart, and full of preternatural wisdom.”
PopBop (Top 1000 Amazon reviewer)
“There are early middle grade mysteries out there, but most of them have sketchy characters, and a lot of them plod along fairly predictable arcs. This series has an engaging heroine, a lot of attitude, and a much snappier overall feel.”
A great middle school read for girls and boys from 8-12 years of age (and their parents, of course)!