Chapter One: Jamie’s Birthday
Screams of delight mixed with frustrated groans as the party guests raced around the yard. The treasure hunt clues were tricky to decipher. JJ couldn’t decide whether Jamie’s friends were having more fun with the treasure hunt than they’d had playing creeper dodgeball or pin the arrow on the enderman.
But then the ghast piñata he’d helped his dad make was a big hit, too. He was pretty sure this was the coolest party ever.
JJ looked beyond the green and black creeper balloons to where Annie stood with Charli. Minecraft music flooded the garden and added to the party atmosphere as the two girls worked together to find the treasure. Jamie waved as he led a group of his friends toward the forest. They’d find their next clue beside the fire pit at the bottom of the yard. None of the clues had been placed in the forest. The last thing they wanted was for anyone to discover their secret.
JJ watched Jamie grab the clue, read it to his friends, and then dash back up the yard. JJ grinned. He, Annie, and Charli had spent hours working on a special birthday gift for Jamie. He couldn’t wait to give it to him.
As the party guests finished the treasure hunt and uncovered the chest, the boys’ father approached them.
“I just wanted to let you two know that your cousin Sam is coming to stay later today.”
The boys’ smiles disappeared as they exchanged a look.
“What do you mean he’s coming today?” Jamie asked. “It’s my birthday.”
Jamie’s dad reached up and ruffled his hair. “I know that, son, but there’s not a lot any of us can do about it. It’s a last minute thing.”
Jamie kicked at the ground. This was the worst news ever, surely his cousin could go somewhere else. “Why can’t he stay with that friend he always goes on about, Ollie or Wally or something?”
“We’re family and Ollie’s not, that’s why. You haven’t seen Sam for over a year. He’s probably grown up during that time. He’ll be thirteen in a few weeks so I’m sure you’ll see a very different boy than last time. Aunt Kate said he’s really looking forward to seeing you both.”
Jamie bit his bottom lip. His dad had to be kidding. The last time their cousin had visited he’d broken Jamie’s Nerf gun, teased him, and pinched and prodded him at every opportunity when he thought no one was looking. Worst of all, his own plan would have to be put on hold. There was no way he’d be able to sneak off to the portal and travel to the End when they would be expected to entertain their horrible cousin.
Their dad continued. “It’s only for three days. Who knows, you might even have fun.” He winked. “Now, get back to your friends and I’ll check on the cake, it’s almost time to cut it.”
The boys stared after their father.
“I can’t believe this,” Jamie said. “My birthday’s ruined.”
“Ruined?” Charli asked as she and Annie joined the boys. “This party is awesome. What do you mean it’s ruined?”
JJ explained the problem to the girls. “It’s not that we don’t like him, it’s just…”
“He hates us,” Jamie said. “No matter how nice we are to him he’s horrible. I can’t believe he has to come and stay today, of all days.”
Annie squeezed his arm. “Forget about him, he doesn’t sound like he’s worth worrying about. We’ve still got to have cake and then it’s time to give you your gift. We haven’t forgotten.”
Jamie’s eyes brightened. “A gift? What sort of gift?”
Charli laughed. “You wait and see. The only clue we’ll give you is that it’s out of this world.”
“Out of this world? You mean…” Jamie looked eagerly at the other Crafters’ Club members. “You mean it’s in the Minecraft world?”
Three faces nodded and grinned back at him. “Sure is,” JJ said.
“And it’s awesome.” Annie put an arm around Jamie’s shoulder. “Come on, your parents are bringing the cake out and everyone’s waiting. As soon as the party’s over it’s gift time.”
Jamie followed Annie over to the party table. His school friends were having a great time. The Minecraft-themed food and drinks were being wolfed down and he overheard Finn and Rocky saying it was the best party they’d ever been to.
Excited chatter erupted as his dad placed the birthday cake in the middle of the table. Jamie smiled at his mother. He couldn’t believe she’d made a cake of his JamieG14 character. It looked amazing. The smiling faces of his friends and family reflected his own happiness as a rowdy version of “Happy Birthday” was sung. All thoughts of his cousin were pushed out of his mind as Jamie blew out his eight candles.
Jamie said goodbye to the last of his guests and raced around the back of the house to where JJ, Annie, and Charli sat in the shade. They jumped up when they saw him approach.
“Ready?” Annie asked.
Jamie bounced from foot to foot. “Definitely.” He was always ready to visit the Minecraft world. Even if he didn’t get to kill the ender dragon just yet, he couldn’t wait to see what map they were going into.
JJ pointed to the forest. “Let’s go.”
“JJ, wait.” They stopped as JJ’s father stepped out from the back door. He approached the group, an apologetic smile on his face. “Sorry to interrupt, but Sam arrived when we were singing and cutting the cake.”
Jamie’s heart sank.
“He took himself into the family room, your mother has just found him in there. I’d like you all to go in and say hello. He might like to hang out with you.”
A lump formed in Jamie’s throat. “But…”
JJ put his hand on Jamie’s arm. He forced a smile as he looked at his father. “Okay, we’ll all go and say hello in a minute. I just need to tell these guys something first. We won’t be long.”
Their dad smiled and walked back to the house.
JJ waited until their father was out of hearing. “Okay, whatever we do, we can’t let on to Sam about our secret.” He turned to Jamie. “I’m sorry, but we might have to put your gift on hold until he leaves. We can’t risk him telling anyone about the portal. It would be the end of it for all of us.”
Jamie nodded, his eyes cast down at his shoes. This had been the best birthday ever, until now. He followed JJ and the girls inside. The sound of The Simpsons blared from the family room.
“At least he’s not on the Xbox,” Charli said. “We don’t want him messing with the map or destroying any of the surprises we’ve planned.”
Annie giggled as a snort erupted from the other side of the door.
Jamie couldn’t help but smile when another snort, just as loud and revolting, followed.
JJ grinned at the others and reached for the door handle. He turned it but nothing happened, it was locked. He knocked. “Hey, Sam, let us in. We’ve come to say hi.”
“Yeah, well, hi to you.” Sam’s voice bellowed from the other side of the door. “You can go away now, dear cousins, I’m extremely busy.”
“Let us in would you,” JJ said.
They waited. After a few seconds the latch turned and the door opened a crack to reveal a shock of red hair and the devilish smirk of their cousin. He looked them up and down then shut the door and relocked it.
JJ glanced at the others, his eyebrows raised. He knocked again. “Sam?”
A loud burp was followed by Sam’s laughter. “Go away and take your little maggot friends with you.”
“Come on, let us in.” JJ banged his fist on the door.
The door opened again and this time JJ pushed past Sam into the room. His cousin towered over him. He’d definitely grown in the last year.
JJ introduced the girls. “These are our friends, Annie and Charli.”
Sam’s eyes remained fixed on the television screen.
“So, my dad says we need to include you,” JJ said. “What do you feel like doing? We could hang out outside, shoot some hoops or something?”
Sam removed his eyes from the television and focused on JJ. “Are you kidding me? The Simpsons marathon is on and you want me to come outside and play your stupid games?”
JJ stared at his cousin. “Only if you want to.”
Sam laughed. “Nah, sorry little cuz, got better things to do. Although, I will play Xbox with you later if you want. Awesome Boss will kick your butt in a Hunger Games.”
“Awesome Boss?” Charli asked.
“It’s my gamer tag,” Sam said. “Cause, you know, I’m awesome. Now go away would you? Go play with your dolls or whatever it is you little kids like to do.”
JJ shook his head. It wasn’t worth talking to Sam. He motioned for the others to follow him as he retreated to the backyard.
“Nice cousin you’ve got,” Charli said. “You’re so lucky.”
JJ rolled his eyes. “He’s a real delight. So much for him having changed. My dad must be crazy.”
“So what do we do now?” Annie asked. “Your dad said we are supposed to include him.”
A delighted smile spread across Jamie’s face. “We tried and failed, which means we’re free again. You can give me my gift after all.”
JJ glanced at Annie and Charli.
“Come on, JJ, say yes,” Jamie said. “It’s not our fault Sam’s such a pig.”
JJ nodded. “You’re right, it’s not.” He turned to the girls. “Ready?”
Jamie grinned as they nodded.
“Come on then.” JJ raced down the sloping backyard toward the forest with Jamie, Annie, and Charli close behind.
The four friends were quick to follow the well-traveled path through the forest, across the creek, and up the steep bank to the clearing.
JJ could hear the familiar hum of the portal before his eyes welcomed its brilliant purple light. His heart rate accelerated as they came to a stop. They’d had some thrilling adventures in the Minecraft world, but also some dangerous and downright scary ones. He was certain they’d prepared as well as they could for Jamie’s birthday adventure. JJ, Charli, and Annie had spent hours ensuring everything was perfect. After building the map they’d placed chests with armor, weapons, and food at various different places. They’d ensured they had the supplies to rebuild the portal if needed.
“Let’s go,” Jamie said. He moved toward the portal.
“Hold on,” JJ said.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, I just want to make sure that everyone’s ready. Charli, Annie, are you ready to go back in?”
Charli grinned. “Definitely.”
Annie smiled at JJ. “Ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s see if we can avoid crazy professors, mobs, and anything else dangerous this time. I’d like a nice, calm adventure.”
JJ laughed. “So would I. We’ve done everything possible to ensure we’ll be safe and can get home. We should be fine.”
Annie raised an eyebrow.
“I said should be, I didn’t promise anything.” JJ held out his hand. “Now let’s go through together and make sure we all end up in the same place. That will be a good start at least.”
The four friends joined hands and stepped into the gleaming purple light.