Magic Rats by Jess Mowry: all rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work by any means except short excerpts for use in reviews. The Kindle edition, to date, is the only legally authorized ebook or web-accessible edition of this work. If you find this book being offered anywhere else, either as a download or to be read online, it is there without the author's permission (aka STOLEN PROPERTY) and in violation of copyright law.
Tumbleweed Terrace Desert View Homes, somewhere south of Tucson, Arizona -- “A nice place to raise your kids,” as promised by a faded billboard usually used as a vulture perch -- is broiling under a fierce yellow sun. The land all around is empty except for cactus and sagebrush, mostly shades of rust and gray, and the only green for many miles are the squares of lawns in Tumbleweed Terrace, which, from a vulture's point of view, probably looks as alien as a place to raise your kids on Mars.
Tumbleweed Terrace had burst upon the defenseless desert with snarling trucks and roaring bulldozers, screaming saws and thudding air hammers, during America’s last housing boom, but then a bust had broken its back like a train running over a rattlesnake and the project has languished for over a decade with most of its houses unoccupied -- those that have actually been built -- while others are still only skeletons of slowly shriveling two-by-four bones. The huge shopping mall has never opened, its doorways boarded with sheets of plywood, its signs of Sears, Footlocker, Best Buy, The Gap, Ross, and Starbucks, fading and never lighted at night. The wide but mostly empty streets, laid out in aesthetic meandering patterns and lined with sun-bleached sidewalks that have never known the rattle of skateboards, wander though acres of blank-windowed empty or only partly completed homes; and there are many dusty lots with only barren concrete foundations and raw earth holes for swimming pools.
Dustin Rhodes, and his mom and dad, are not only one of the very few families who live in this nice suburban ghost town -- the only dwellers on Trader Rat Lane -- but also the only black people. Dustin home-schools online, while his father, a Fed-Ex pilot, and his mother, a train dispatcher, are usually away; and Dustin has known mostly solitude for all of his thirteen years, though he has TV, a computer of course, a love of reading books, and most of the coolest video games, including one called Magic Rats, which he frequently plays with a cyber-friend. Perhaps he thinks he's not really lonely, but when he shows kindness to an elderly Apache medicine man, who seems able to see Dustin's soul, someone moves into the house next door. At first they appear to be only a middle-aged man-and-wife, friendly and seemingly "nice," but Dustin soon discovers they seem to be hiding someone else in their house. Dustin begins to investigate and comes to the conclusion that it must be a boy of around his own age… but why is he being hidden? Further investigation only deepens the mystery of why his parents deny he exists; and even when Dustin at last discovers who is being hidden and why, there remains a final mystery only solved at the end of the story.