Chapter One: Doorway to a New World
“I don’t know why we let you be part of our Crafters’ Club, Annie. All you ever do is wander around collecting food and eating.”
Annie shifted in her beanbag and laughed. Her eyes were still fixed on the huge television screen. “What’s wrong with eating? I wish I had a real cake, I’m so hungry.”
JJ shook his head. “Help us finish the house. We still need to fix the roof and add beds before my dad comes and kicks us out.”
Ten-year-old JJ, his seven-year-old brother Jamie, and their two neighbors, Charli and Annie, had started the Crafters’ Club the previous Christmas. The club was based on their favorite game, Minecraft. The boys had received an Xbox from their grandmother and they all loved playing the game. They met most days after school and often on weekends to explore new maps, compete with quick builds, and to play Hunger Games. Sometimes they’d crowd around JJ’s computer and watch him play on a server, but most of the time they preferred to use the Xbox where they could split the screen into four and all play. The girls, nine-year-old Charli who lived next door, and ten-year-old Annie who lived across the road, loved escaping their own families to be part of the Crafters’ Club.
As usual, the walk home from school had been filled with Minecraft discussion. They would build a luxury house. Everyone was allocated a section and, as they did most afternoons, they hurried down their street to get started.
An hour later, the house looked amazing. It boasted a huge entry, movie theater, disco, indoor pool, library, and a massive bedroom with four beds. Jamie continued working on a lookout tower while Charli added a deck. JJ was finishing the glass roof and once the beds were made it would be complete.
“Oh fantastic,” JJ said. He could hear his dad’s footsteps approaching.
“JJ, time to turn the Xbox off and go outside. I’ll bring you a snack soon.” JJ’s dad stood in the doorway of the room, his arms crossed. “Did you hear me?”
Of course I heard you, JJ thought. I hoped if I ignored you, you’d disappear. “A few more minutes and we’ll be done.”
“Two minutes, okay? Or I’m turning it off.”
JJ waited until his dad left. “Sorry guys. Let’s be quick. I’ll put the beds in.”
JJ expanded his window to full screen. Once he finished placing the beds he took the others on a quick tour through their latest creation.
“Awesome,” Jamie said. “How good is the lookout tower? You can see for miles.”
“The library’s amazing too,” Charli said. “I put in heaps of shelves and books.”
They could hear footsteps. Their two minutes had passed.
JJ saved their build and switched off the Xbox. “Come on, let’s go down to the forest.” It would give them time to work out what else they could add. A moat around the house would be great. “I found a way you can use a moat to kill mobs. They get trapped underwater and drown. With luck we’ll be allowed back on the Xbox later.”
Jamie, Charli, and Annie followed JJ out the back door and into the forest at the bottom of the yard. They slowed down when the forest became thick and difficult to walk through.
Annie hesitated as the others walked in further. “Are you sure we’ll be safe in there? It’s a bit overgrown.”
Charli laughed. “A bit? Haven’t you ever been down here?”
Annie shook her head.
“What, never?” Charli asked. “Why not? You’ve lived here for ages now.”
“My dad told me to stay out. Something happened to Noah and Joe Wilson in there. Dad saw them come running out bleeding and covered in dirt. He’s pretty sure they blew something up but he never found out because they moved a week later.”
“I heard the same,” Charli said. “Except I heard they moved because their dad got a job someplace else.”
Jamie picked up a stick and threw it. “Who cares why they left. The main thing is that we find what they blew up. How awesome. Let’s go and find it.”
“No, I’ll get into trouble, big trouble,” Annie said.
“How’s your dad going to know?” Charli asked. “We won’t tell him if you don’t.”
“I don’t think I should risk it.” Annie remained behind the group.
“You don’t have to come with us,” JJ called. “Wait here if you want to.” He turned to Jamie. “Head to the clearing on the other side of the creek. The Wilsons’ built a tree house near there. It might give us a clue.”
Annie changed her mind and ran after the others. Fallen branches slowed their progress as they picked their way through the dense forest. They pushed overhanging vines and cobwebs out of their way. Once they reached the creek they followed Jamie’s lead, stepping from rock to rock, avoiding getting their shoes wet. They leaped from the last rock and climbed the steep bank. A light shone through the trees.
JJ moved a branch and made his way around a wide trunk, expecting any moment to step into the clearing. Instead he crashed into Jamie’s back. “Ouch.” JJ rubbed his chin. “What are you doing? Why did you stop?”
Jamie stared ahead, silent.
“Why have we stopped?” Charli asked as she and Annie caught up to the boys.
Their eyes followed Jamie’s finger to where he pointed. On the far side of the clearing, a fuzzy purple light flickered within a giant door frame.
“What’s that?” Annie asked.
No one answered. They continued to stare at the unusual sight.
“I said, what’s that?”
“It looks like a Nether portal,” JJ replied. “But it can’t be.”
Jamie started to walk closer.
“What are you doing?” JJ grabbed his brother’s arm, stopping him.
Jamie shook his arm, trying to free JJ’s grip. “Let go, I want to check it out.”
“No, you might get hurt.”
“Do you think the Wilson brothers made this?” Annie asked.
JJ shrugged. “Maybe, or perhaps they found it. Why wouldn’t they tell someone though?” Something happened to leave them dirty and bleeding. Whatever this was, it couldn’t be a portal, someone had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to create something so similar. He scanned the clearing looking for a power source. “Okay let’s get a bit closer.” He let go of Jamie’s arm. “Walk around, find out if there’s a battery pack or something.”
JJ took a wide path around the purple light to the other side.
“Listen.” Charli stopped as an eerie noise surrounded them.
“Minecraft portals make the same weird noise,” Jamie said.
The four walked around the doorway until they reached the other side. The back was identical to the front. There was no power source.
“Let’s throw something in,” Charli said, “and see what happens.”
JJ picked up a rock and threw it at the purple light. Sparks flew as the rock entered and a small hole appeared before closing back over.
“It’s gone,” Annie said.
“Gone?” JJ walked back around. He expected to find the rock on the ground. The grass was clear. The rock had disappeared.
They each picked up sticks and rocks and threw them into the portal. Like the first rock, they disappeared.
“Awesome,” Jamie said. “I’m going to try.”
“What do you mean?” Charli asked. “Throw another rock in?”
“No, I’m going in. I want to see what’s on the other side.”
“No way,” JJ said. “You might electrocute yourself.”
“How do you know?” Jamie kicked the dirt at his feet.
“I don’t. Whatever this is, it’s not safe. Let’s get out of here.”
“He’s right,” Charli said. “What if it leads to the Nether? You might end up in a lava lake.”
Jamie’s face turned red and he clenched his fists. “What’s wrong with you guys? This is the most amazing thing ever. You’re all too chicken. Well, I’m not. I’m going in. I’ll come straight back out to prove it’s safe, then we can all go in.”
“No,” JJ said. “It’s a crazy idea.”
“Lucky I’m crazy,” Jamie said. There was no time to stop him. He turned and leaped into the purple light of the portal.