Twelve-year-old Peter Michaels is accustomed to weird things happening with a regularity that seems to be a part of his life. But when an old man dressed in strange clothes falls from the sky and lands in Peter’s front yard, the weird quotient, as his dad would put it, gets ratcheted way up. Peter does the only thing he can. He helps the man into his house. That mistake leads to a second, the one that puts an end to Peter’s dream of making the all-star baseball team. As Peter soon discovers, comforting a dying wizard puts your mark on an unbreakable pact—one that will ensnare him and his two best friends, Raven Dakota and Stumpy Simpkins, in a fight for their lives…

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Fallen Wizard by S. P. Brown, Peter Michaels is only twelve when his life is suddenly turned upside down, due to the death of a wizard who lands in his front yard—literally falls from the sky into Peter’s azalea bush. Peter helps the old man into his house and takes him to his bedroom where the old man dies, disintegrating into sparkly vapor. Peter doesn’t know it yet, but this vapor has just put an end to his dreams of playing baseball for the all stars. In fact, Peter and his two best friends have just been shanghaied into an adventure that could have fatal consequences.

Intriguing and clever, with fast-paced action and lots of twists and turns, this mid-grade book should thrill magic fans of all ages.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Fallen Wizard by S. P. Brown is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who dreams of playing all-star baseball, but he ends up on an adventure he could never have imagined. When Peter Michaels sees a man fall from the sky and land in his azalea bush, he has no idea that his life is going to change forever. The old man, who Peter helps into his bedroom, is nothing less than a wizard, and after giving Peter and his two best friends, Stumpy and Raven, some very weird instructions and advice, he apparently dies, or at least disintegrates into sparkling lights, leaving Peter his belt and boots. The kids take the belt and boots to the baseball dugout, where their adventure begins in earnest.

Fallen Wizard is a new genre for this talented author, going from dark fantasy to mid-grade, but he does an equally good job in both genres. The book is geared toward mid-grade kids, but even as an adult, I found it quite suspenseful and entertaining.

Chapter 1

The Angry Azalea

The day started like most days in Peter’s life. Before scrambling from under the covers, he peeked through his bedside window with a guarded eye. Caution was a habit Peter had no choice but to adopt. His father insisted on it because of his son’s peculiar predilection for the unusual, for strange things happening around him with a regularity too frequent to be mere chance. “Curious occurrences” is what his father called the things that seemed to follow Peter like ants to a picnic. Most of the time they were silly little things. Sometimes, though, they could be dangerous. A gift, Mr. Michaels would say, trying to downplay them as a way of safeguarding his son’s mental state. Calling his problem a gift softened it, bringing a sense of normalcy to Peter’s life.

Peter made it a point to look for signs, small indications of impending doom. He’d developed his little routines to keep trouble at bay, or so he hoped. The gift had a nasty habit of inserting itself at precisely the wrong times.

This time, though, everything looked cool so Peter jumped up and threw on his baseball uniform. It was Saturday, which meant practice after his math tutoring session. All set, he took a tentative step into the hallway, Lena’s crappy music blaring from her room two doors down. No danger here. He turned for the stairs just in time for a skateboard to zip under his feet.

Peter had two thoughts as the board sent him hurdling along the wooden floor. His father would have a fit because skateboarding in the house was one of the five cardinal sins. More importantly, his coach would be pissed, and this really scared him. He couldn’t afford to break a body part in the middle of baseball season.

Fortunately, Peter played third base, which meant he had good hands and quick feet. It took both to save him this time.

He grabbed the corner railing at the top of the stairs and pushed his feet out from under him, which sent the pesky board on its way. It would have decapitated his mother calling up to him from the landing if she didn’t have good reflexes herself. She ducked just in time.

Peter ran down the stairs to the glass-strewn floor. “Sorry, Mom. It was Lena’s fault this time.”

His mother gave him a skeptical look then her eyes widened in recognition of the gift at work. It was an understanding most members of his family accepted as a reasonable excuse for calamities. Nann Michaels was much more tolerant of it than Peter’s father. When color returned to her face, she removed the board from where it had smashed through the sidelight at the front door and instructed him to be more careful.

His school work completed without the roof caving in as had happened last summer, Peter made it through a scorching noon time practice with a brilliant throw from third base and a not-too-shabby-at-bat. Nothing calamitous happened, like a plane crashing onto first base or birds dive-bombing the infield. Last year, some guy crashed his Hawker Tempest, a neat vintage World War II remote control job. It had broken into a thousand pieces as Peter’s friend Stumpy Simpkins tried to field a sharp grounder to first.

After Stumpy removed the propeller from his glove and the broken parts of the plane were swept from the field of play, the game had resumed.

No one ever explained the thing with the birds. Peter shrugged it off as just another weird episode haunting his life.

Being overly fond of baseball, Peter had a name for days when his gift got in the way of normal. Strikeout days, he called them, like the day his grandfather decided would be an excellent time to die. And so he did, while riding in tandem with his grandson on a dual bicycle, grandpa in front. The crash was awful. Peter broke his arm, not to mention losing a riding partner in his eighty-year-old grandfather. For nine months, Peter thought of the poor old man almost every day. His arm felt much better now. The throw-out at first was a thing of beauty.

Not all of the unusual things visiting Peter over the years were sad or accidental or even weird. Some were just plain nuts—literally nuts—like the time last fall when he’d discovered a squirrel’s nest in his closet. Peter preferred to dress there, but he wasn’t at all in the habit of eating pecans there. So why all the broken shells he’d been stepping on suddenly? Why the occasional leaf and twig? He had borrowed his father’s step ladder to check out the top shelf. There they were—nest and rodent. Both creatures had a horrible fright. Of course, Peter kept the squirrel a secret.

When spring came, the squirrel moved out, leaving Peter with quite a mess to clean up. He got most of it.

Peter loved secrets. Having a sister three years younger meant secrets were a way he could control the little scamp into doing his bidding. It was a game he played to varying degrees of success. He shared some of his secrets with his best friends who lived three blocks away. Others he kept to himself.

All told, Peter could count on about a dozen unusual things happening to him each year. Lots of unlikely occurrences piling up on the debate side of the ledger, his father would say. Peter had begun to think like an accountant because his father talked like one. He’d also taken an interest in finances after acquiring a paper route. He actually had some spending money for the first time in his life.

He didn’t really keep track of all the bad things that had happened to him. Life held surprises—ordinary days and those not so ordinary—one for each side of the ledger sheet, Mr. Michaels called them. You couldn’t control when bad things would happen, only how you responded to them. His father was always spouting wise sayings. Peter believed most of them.

Like most Saturdays this time of the year, he could be found mid-afternoon walking home from Fairfield Middle School’s baseball park six blocks away. After he mounted Chester Hill, the point where he left his friends, Raven and Stumpy, who lived on Chester Street across from one another, he was alone for the last leg home.

Peter crossed Halifax, then Myrtle. He turned up Woodview. It was lined with mature maples. Peter loved the fall when the splash of gold, red, and orange took his breath away. Today the trees were green so he had his head down, reading his baseball cards when two distinct sounds occurred almost together, causing him to snap to attention.

There was a thump then a thrashing sound like something large had made contact with a bush, struggling to get out. He was used to those sounds because he had lots of bushes in his yard. He and his friends had run through enough of them. Then he heard some low moans.

Peter stopped about ten yards from the corner of his property and looked across the road. Mrs. Wilkins was out front swatting six-year-old Chris on the butt, probably for playing in the street again. After a couple more well-landed whacks, she hauled him straightway to their house, never turning her head to the ruckus across the street.

Peter turned back to the sound. The moaning was louder now but what really got his attention was the bush at the corner. It was shaking, acting like a living thing, which of course it was. Peter’s brain stuck on the thought. Everyone knew bushes couldn’t move, not on their own, anyway. Today there wasn’t even a hint of a breeze.

Nothing was in the bush, like a cat or a squirrel, making it move.

He stood there, eyes wide, his mouth acting like a flytrap. The bush was beating something lying beside it.

Beating something.

Peter’s mind stalled on the mad thought, because bushes don’t beat things. It’s just the opposite, people beat bushes. He turned to look behind him as if seeking confirmation he wasn’t imaging things. Maybe someone else could verify what his eyes were telling him. The street was deserted.

He turned back to the bush still thrashing about, obviously ticked off, like Peter had been known to get when trying to hit Lefty Thompkins’s maddeningly slow, slow-ball. Then he noticed two feet sticking out, moving. Whoever lay there was alive, despite the bush’s obvious effort.

Peter took a step, then another. The feet had boots on them, with shiny golden buckles. Then the owner of the feet groaned, halting Peter in his tracks.

He looked around again. No one was there. Being extra cautious, he cut the distance in half with several quick strides. He could make out some sort of trousers or leggings, a garment of bright scarlet and purple, a robe coming down almost to the top of those black and gray boots. The thrashing bush seemed to get angrier the closer Peter got to it.

Peter rounded the corner. An old man with wrinkly hands covering his gray head lay beside the bush. The azalea obviously decided today would be a good time to snuff the life out of this intruder.

© 2018 by SP Brown