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Chapter 11: The Real Secret Handshake

Five seconds later, Neil, Matt, and Tycho still stood on top of the pyramid.

“When do the fireworks start?” whispered Neil out of the side of his mouth.

“Uh, I don’t know,” said Matt. “Maybe it’s a trick. Maybe the next level looks exactly like the last one.

Neil shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think this portal is busted.”

Matt stamped hard on the floor, willing the portal to kick into high gear. “Maybe we have to flick a switch or something.”

“Maybe,” said Neil. “Or another magic word.” He yelled the winning scrabble word again, but it faded into the jungle sounds without effect. Neil shrugged and started down the stairs. “Come on. We should try the door. I want to see the shiny things the monkey was talking about.”

Matt paused, reluctant to leave the starlight’s comforting glow. Finally, he decided he liked the idea of letting his dad rush into something alone even worse. “What if that was the shiny thing? How do we know we’re not walking into the crypt or something?”

Neil shrugged again. “I have no idea. I’ve given up trying to second-guess this place. For all we know, we could walk onto the set of a Broadway musical in the middle of a dance number when we open that door. Let’s just go and see.”

Matt arched an eyebrow, a mischievous grin crossing her face. “Since when have you been a fan of musicals?”

His dad’s face stiffened, as if he had been pulled over. “A fan? No. There’s just a few songs I like…you know. The big, manly numbers.”

He started whistling a tune that Matt didn’t recognize. After a few seconds, however, Matt shook his head and his dad let the whistle die out.

Neil grunted and turned his attention to the door. They both chuckled as they took in the strange carvings on the surface, which looked like two alien figures that Matt thought he’d seen in a movie somewhere, each with an arm extended as if to shake hands. The doorknobs were stone carvings of their hands, which jutted out to make it look like the doormen or more correctly door-aliens were offering to shake your hand.

“See?” said Neil. “It’s a friendly place. They made the jungle out of candy, and here even the doors want to be polite. I wouldn’t be surprised if this pyramid is actually made out of gingerbread.”

“Don’t forget Hansel and Gretel,” said Matt. “The witch lived in a gingerbread house and she wanted to eat those kids for dinner.”

“Okay, okay,” mumbled his dad, sticking out his hand to the nearest doorknob. “If I see an oven, I’ll run out screaming.”

As his dad’s fingers curled about the smooth stone of the hand, the stone fingers curled around his. He gasped, but went along as the hand pumped his own up and down. The handshake continued and the stone mouth of the alien opened in a wide grin.

“What’s the secret handshake?”

Matt’s mind went blank as an untouched field of snow. Because they had been homeschooled, he and Tyson hadn’t had many friends, and didn’t belong to any clubs that could have a secret handshake.

Sweat trickled down the side of his dad’s head as the stone grip grew tighter and tighter. “A little help here, son. Does Tyson have a secret handshake?”

Matt shook his head. “Not that I know about.”

Neil’s face screwed up as the bones in his hands ground together. “Are you…sure?” Neil said with a groan. “I could really use a hand. I’m only going to have one once this is through.”

“Just try something!”

Neil’s face turned bright red, and looked ready to pop like an engorged mosquito. “How am I supposed to do anything when all it does is squeeze my hand tighter? I can’t even move!”

Matt shot over and tried to pry the stone fingers loose from his dad’s. He couldn’t move them at all. Sweat broke over his forehead.

“I don’t know the stupid handshake!” cried his dad, his voice rising to a far less than courageous pitch. His free hand waved about frantically to his side as if he had gone into a seizure.

Strangely, the sight jogged something in Matt’s memory, something that he and Tyson hadn’t done since they were little kids. It probably wouldn’t work, but he was out of other ideas.

“Dad, put your free hand all the way behind your back and start shaking it!”

“What good will that do?” croaked his dad.

“Just do it!”

His dad followed Matt’s instructions. No sooner had his hand disappeared behind his back, than the statue released its vice grip on his hand.

“Ha, ha,” laughed the statue. “Very good. You may enter.” The door swung open, revealing the dark hallway beyond.

Neil gasped and held his crushed hand between his body and his left arm. He swayed precariously and Matt rushed over to steady him. A single word formed on Neil’s lips.


Matt steadied his dad and tried to find the words to explain. “I was totally going out on a limb there. When Tyson was about three or four he saw a TV show where the characters had a secret handshake. He wanted one, too, but he was pretty clumsy. I tried to teach him something cool, but he couldn’t do it yet.”

Matt lifted one of his hands and placed it in front of his dad’s face. “So, I thought of something else.” He placed his hand behind his back and started shaking. “I had him put his hand behind his back and shake it. So now, your hand is shaking in secret…a secret handshake.”

Neil groaned in both pain and disbelief. “Thanks, but I wish that brainstorm had come a few minutes earlier. I think it broke all of the bones in my hand.”

Matt winced and moved to examine the wounded hand. “Let me see it. Can you still move your fingers?”

“I can still move them, but it hurts like crazy.”

“Sorry,” said Matt, “When we meet up with Bahati, she can try some of her healing magic on you. I can barely feel where I was burned anymore after she healed me.”

With a puff of breath, Neil gestured towards the entrance with his head. “So, do we see what’s down this rabbit hole?”

Matt took the lead and stood for a second in the doorway. “Why not? Wonderland’s got nothing on this place.”

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