The fiery sun beat down on the grounds of Kalos Academy. Jenna Hamilton dragged her hand across her sweaty forehead, otherwise trying to stand as straight and still as possible. Rows of students surrounded her, covering half the football field in a sea of gleaming brass and soiled t-shirts.
“Again,” came the voice of Dr. George Lee through the megaphone.
Jenna groaned with the rest of the trumpet section and moved to her starting spot. It was the last day of band camp, and as usual, the hottest day of the summer. After hours of drilling, the group had yet to perform the entire show to the satisfaction of Dr. Lee.
“Quickly, quickly. We need to get this right.”
The director was perched atop a tall scaffold on the sideline. His wild, white hair tossed in a breeze that only he could feel. Beneath him, 100 students from the most prestigious private high school in America trudged into formation.
Jenna took her place on the 20-yard line. Something poked her in the back. She turned around and smiled at Tony Marino, the newest member of the drumline. Jenna and her friends had spent the entire summer trying to convince him to join the marching band. She never thought he’d actually do it. Tony was an outsider and, based on a number of strange occurrences last year, most of the school still thought he was somehow cursed. Jenna told everyone she didn’t believe in curses, but even she was a little nervous around Tony after everything she saw.
“Thanks a lot,” Tony muttered. “This is loads of fun.”
“It gets better,” Jenna whispered.
“Silence,” bellowed Lee through the megaphone. “One, two, three….”
The reeds began to play softly. Jenna raised her trumpet and joined the rest of the horns as the cymbals crashed at the end of the crescendo. Lee waved his arms dramatically, teetering on top of the thin scaffold like a frenzied sorcerer. The band was moving through its first number seamlessly. Jenna sidestepped the trombone section as her friend, Jubie Marshall, moved in front of her.
Suddenly, an object hit Jubie in the head and he collapsed on the field. Several students tripped over the lanky boy and fell atop each other. The music died awkwardly, bringing a shriek from the scaffold.
“What was that?”
Tony helped Jubie to his feet. A girl with neon orange hair rushed up to Jubie and grabbed his face in her tiny hands.
“Are you all right?” Erika Stevens asked.
“I’m okay,” the tall boy stammered, gingerly rubbing the back of his head.
“What was that?” Lee demanded again.
Jenna picked up the object and held it high above her head. It was a football.
Lee exploded, “Coach Farragut, I thought we had an understanding!”
His voice echoed throughout the stadium, all the way to the opposite end where the football team was also practicing. A hulking player ran into the middle of the band to retrieve the ball.
“Nice catch, Jubie,” he snorted.
“Nice throw, Dan,” Tony snapped back. “Next time try lifting your knuckles off the ground, you stupid ape.”
Dan Reese removed his helmet and stepped closer to Tony. He was already a head taller than everyone else and outweighed Tony by fifty pounds, but in his uniform he looked even more enormous.
“I’m ready any time you are, freak,” he growled.
Jenna knew the two boys hated each other. She also knew Tony didn’t stand a chance against Dan. She thrust the ball into Dan’s stomach and stepped between them.
“Don’t do this,” she warned Dan, “not here.”
“What are you going to do about it, Amazon?”
Jenna dropped her gaze in embarrassment. Her size was her biggest insecurity. She hated that she was larger than everyone else, everyone but Dan. Luckily, a blue flag dropped in Dan’s face, separating him from Jenna, and a stern voice ordered, “Walk away, Dan.”
Along with being the dean’s daughter, Katie Donovan had been the object of Dan’s affections all last year. Despite their breakup after Dan attacked Tony, she was still the only student who seemed able to influence the large athlete.
Dan smiled, grabbed the ball, and sneered at Tony.
“Good thing you have so many girls to take care of you, freak.”
He turned toward his team, but froze in fear. Jenna followed his gaze and gasped. The entire band stared at an enormous red horse standing in the stadium entrance.
Unable to see the creature from his perch, Lee called over the silent field, “Can we please get back to our rehearsal?”
The animal strutted slowly onto the field. Smoke seemed to pour out of its nostrils. Jenna’s feet felt like they were rooted in the ground. As the horse neared the band, Jenna noticed a figure slumped on its back. Purple and gold robes draped over the heavy, red belly of the gigantic beast. A mottled, muscular arm dangled lifelessly from beneath the drapery.
Towering above her head, the horse passed by Jenna and stopped right in front of Tony. Tony and Jubie stared at the creature with wide eyes and pale faces. The horse snorted, then lowered its head. Kneeling slightly, it twisted its back and dropped its load on the ground at Tony’s feet. Jenna, Erika, and Katie stepped next to Tony. The five friends peered in awe at the mound of cloth. Whatever was wrapped inside the fabric was huge.
The horse reared above the students, its whinny sounding more like a lion’s roar, then galloped out of the stadium. Jenna could feel the ground shaking under its hooves. The music director scrambled down the scaffold as the rest of the football squad joined the band. Tony knelt beside the figure and placed his hand on the colorful robes.
“It feels hot,” he said, “and it’s breathing.”
Jenna joined him on the ground. She lifted a corner of the purple garment, revealing the massive arm they had seen before. It looked sallow and leathery, and was covered with strange symbols which were too faint to be tattoos. Tony gave Jenna a nervous look. She reached out and touched the arm. It was indeed hot.
The mysterious being groaned and flipped violently, knocking Jenna backward. Tony caught her and helped her to her feet. They watched as the arm shakily pulled fabric from the face of an old, wheezing woman. The giantess was probably over ten feet tall, and she looked more than a hundred years old. Her wrinkled lips quivered as if trying to speak, but no audible words would come.
In frustration, the old woman gripped the folds of her clothing and strained to pull them away from her neck. A blue glow emerged from under the fabric. All of the students took a step back from the giantess. She tugged at the robes with a hoarse scream, and finally revealed a glowing wound on her chest. Jenna covered her mouth and squeezed Tony’s arm.
“That’s too weird,” he whispered.
Carved into the giantess’s chest was a bizarre symbol that looked like a backward “F.” Her pale skin appeared bruised around the wound, and a blue light pulsed from the rough shape. The mark seemed strange to everyone except Jenna and her friends. They had seen the same symbol numerous times last year, and it had led them through a series of monsters and curses to find the magical staff of Moses. Jenna didn’t know what to make of this new appearance, but she suspected something awful was about to happen.
The giantess’s arms dropped to the ground, and she lay lifeless in the middle of the field. The short grass around her body trembled. Jenna grabbed Tony with both arms as the stadium began to move. Small cracks began to appear in the turf as the earthquake grew. Within seconds, every person was knocked to the ground. Bricks and bleachers shook around them, mixing with screams of terror.
When the ordeal ended, an explosion thundered from the heavens. An immense swirl of dark red clouds developed overhead, spinning ominously against the pale blue sky. Jenna stood slowly, noticing that every eye was on Tony.
Dan broke the silence. “Starting early this year, freak?”
“I didn’t do that,” Tony insisted. “She did.”
He pointed at the giantess on the ground. Jenna stared at the woman, wondering first if she was dead, and second just what she was.
“Don’t pretend you’re not causing all this,” Dan seethed.
“Daniel, enough,” a sharp voice commanded.
Dr. Andrea Tauber stepped from behind the football team. She was the thin, elderly teacher of health studies, and a licensed nurse practitioner who also doubled as the physical trainer for most of Kalos’s sports teams. For some reason, Dan listened to her and stepped away from Tony.
Tauber continued, “Have the team carry this woman to my office.”
Dan glared at Tony for a second before shouting a string of names. The largest players formed two lines on either side of the unconscious stranger. With enormous effort, the giantess was hoisted above their heads. The team slowly moved her across the cracked field and through the twisted gates.
When they were gone, Jenna turned to face her friends. They looked as concerned and confused as she felt. Remembering all the horrors of the past year, she asked the question she knew terrified them all.
“Does this mean the curse is back?”
The others looked at Tony, the one who was cursed. He was just about to protest when Jubie spoke up.
“There’s one way to find out.”
The skinny boy jogged toward the gates, and Jenna knew exactly where he was going. She and her friends followed after Jubie despite the howling objections of their band director. Within minutes, they were rushing up the steps and through the glass doors of Edwards Hall. Tumbling into the Religion classroom, the group startled Dr. Malcolm Hammon.
“Dr. Hammon,” Jubie blurted, “we need to see the staff!”
Hammon quickly regained his composure, calmly rolled some parchments together, and placed them in his desk drawer.
“I disagree, Mr. Marshall.”
“Sir,” Jenna pleaded, “we just saw the sign on the staff.”
Hammon squinted. “You saw the backward ‘F?’ Where?”
Jenna swallowed. “Carved in the chest of a giant woman who just appeared on the football field.”
Hammon’s eyes grew wide. He fumbled through a set of old keys, finding one that unlocked an ornate cabinet. Reaching inside the chest, he triggered a hidden recess and pulled a steel box from behind the cases. He placed the box on his desk and took a deep breath.
“Lock the classroom door,” he said quietly, “and pull the shades.”
Jenna locked the door while her friends covered the windows. In the darkness of the room, everyone peered anxiously at the metal container. Hammon unlocked the box and opened the lid.
The staff was gone.