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The Twisted Tower of Endless Torment #2

Author Rob Renzetti On Tour
Read by Jay Myers
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On sale Jul 23, 2024 | 5 Hours and 27 Minutes | 9780593820773
Age 8-12 years | Grades 3-7
From the creator of My Life As a Teenage Robot comes the second story in a middle-grade horror series about a horrible bag, the spine-chilling world hidden within it, and a terrifying adventure into the world of GrahBhag.

Perfect for fans of Coraline, the Spiderwick Chronicles, and Small Spaces.


Zenith Maelstrom knows he’s forgetting something…

But he can’t quite remember what. He wakes up to notes in his handwriting with messages like, “Prepare for battle!” – but what battle? – and his sister Apogee seems to grow angrier with him by the day. It’s not until he finds Apogee sneaking back into the horrible bag hidden away in their basement that all the dreadful details about GrahBhag resurface. The spiderlike Shlurps. The trio of foul mouths that hunger for blood. Eldritch horrors around every corner.

Desperate to save Apogee from her ill-planned attempt to right the wrongs of their last trip into the bag, Zenith is forced to follow her into the bizarre world that has certainly not forgotten them. Between old foes set on vengeance like Raggedy Albert and terrifying new ones like the haunting Wraith, Zenith will have to put things right with his sister without falling into the clutches of those who would do him harm. For if he is caught, Eternity Tower awaits...

With a combination of dry, absurdist humor and no-holds-barred horror, Rob Renzetti has crafted a delightfully imaginative fantasy world that will hook readers as surely as it will send chills down their spines.
The Mysterious Message

The bag hissed. When he shoved the hockey stick inside its overstuffed interior, he could have sworn that it hissed in protest. He dropped the bag to the entryway floor.

“Hey, watch it.” His friend Kevin chuckled. “I said you could borrow my stuff, not break it.”

Zenith Maelstrom ignored Kevin Churl’s sarcasm and stared at his friend’s scruffy duffel bag. The “hissing” was just the sound of the wooden stick scraping the bag’s vinyl interior, but Zenith heard it as a complaint. He’d already crammed Kevin’s baseball bat, tennis racket, and four croquet mallets inside, and he supposed the bag had had enough. Too bad. He grabbed the hockey stick again and shoved it all the way inside the duffel.

Zenith tried to zip the bag shut, but only made it halfway before the bulky equipment inside stopped him. He opened the bag back up, then tried zipping faster, as if he could surprise the laws of physics. The seam affixing the zipper to the bag began to rip.

“Hey, what did my bag ever do to you?” Kevin’s tone was a little less playful this time.

With reluctance, Zenith unzipped the bulging bag. He felt silly. Why was he getting so upset? Kevin’s duffel wasn’t his enemy. It was just a bag with too much stuff inside. And yet he wanted to thrash it for defying him.

“So, uh,” Kevin said. “Happy to loan you my equipment. Can you tell me why you need it?”

“I can’t,” said Zenith. He flipped the bulbous heads of the croquet mallets around so that the bulky parts of the gear were evenly distributed within the bag, rather than bunched up at one end. Now the zipper closed.

“Okay . . . Can you tell me when you’ll return it?”

“I can’t,” repeated Zenith. With some difficulty, he shouldered the heavy bag and offered Kevin his hand.

Kevin slowly shook it. “Can you tell me anything at all?”

“I can’t,” said Zenith as he left through the front door and headed toward his own house at the other end of the block.

“Okay, then, thanks!” Kevin called. “Always a pleasure chatting with you.”

Zenith felt bad asking so much from his friend and giving so little in return. He couldn’t tell Kevin why he needed his equipment. He couldn’t tell himself why he needed it. He couldn’t remember.

He took a note from the pocket of his dark blue hoodie, hoping he’d interpreted its message correctly: “Prepare for battle! Get weapons from Kevin before returning to GrahBhag.” Zenith had taken this to mean he should borrow his friend’s sports equipment, because whenever they began any game, Kevin always said “prepare for battle.” He certainly didn’t think it meant he should borrow the Churls’ steak knives.

But why did he need weapons of any sort? What or where was “GrahBhag”? And why should he have to puzzle over the note in the first place? It was in his handwriting and dated yesterday. And yet he couldn’t remember why he’d written it. Zenith scratched the scar above his left ear. He didn’t remember much lately.

He knew his little sister, Apogee, was angry with him, but he wasn’t sure why. She wanted something from him, but he didn’t know what. The answers danced around the edge of his mind, just out of reach. The effort to remember was exhausting, yet he was getting very little sleep. He’d tried taking allergy medication because it always made him sleepy during the day, but at bedtime it just made him feel dizzy.

He returned home as the summer sun dipped beneath the horizon. The house was dark except for the glow of the television from the living room. Wishing to avoid any questions from his parents about the borrowed equipment, Zenith snuck past the living room’s archway and down the hall, pausing at the open door to Apogee’s bedroom.

His little sister was asleep on her tummy, her purple polka dot pajamas on full display. Her beloved snuggle blanket was coiled at the foot of her bed instead of nestled in her arms. When Zenith first noticed this a few weeks back, he had draped the blanket over her shoulders. But Apogee complained it was too warm, her sleepy mumble-­mouth pronouncing the word as “wurm.” Apogee normally clung to her blanket, dragging it behind her in the summer, wearing it outside like a coat in the winter, and cuddling with it at bedtime, no matter the season.

Zenith felt this change in behavior was somehow tied to his memory loss. But staring at Apogee and swaying sleepily wasn’t leading to any revelations, so he shuffled down the hall to his own room. The duffel bag dropped to the floor. He dropped to the bed without undressing or pulling down the bedsheets. A relieved smile spread across Zenith’s face as sleep overtook him.

He dreamed of sleeping, of Apogee sleeping. At first, the imagery was peaceful and soothing. But then Zenith’s old alarm clock blared on Apogee’s nightstand—­when had she gotten hold of that? Apogee silenced it and sat up, listening for other sounds from the slumbering household, then slid her feet to the floor gently and snuck down the dark hallway. She slipped through the open basement door and closed it softly behind her.

Apogee descended gingerly to keep the steps from creaking. Zenith didn’t want his sister in the basement. There was danger down there. But he could only watch as she went to where the menace lay hidden.

She found the horrible bag.


The Bag in the Basement

Zenith sat bolt upright in bed. “The bag! The bag!!” He ran through the hall and into the basement. Apogee sat on the concrete floor under the pool of light cast by a bare lightbulb, puzzling over an old-­fashioned doctor’s satchel. Its exterior sported a haphazard assemblage of animal hides from creatures undreamed of on Earth. His sister hunched over the beastly bag, tongue protruding from between her lips, trying to open one of three padlocks Zenith had used to secure the chain holding it shut.

As he watched Apogee struggle, all he’d forgotten came rushing back—­their trip to the terrifying world inside the horrible bag, how his lanky fourteen-­year-­old sister had been supernaturally shrunken and regressed to the age of four. Most importantly, he recalled his vow to return to that treacherous land, known as GrahBhag, to revise the message he’d written on a magical chalkboard. The inscription had allowed them to escape, but had also changed Apogee’s age and given him psychic knowledge of her whereabouts.

The paper clip Apogee was using to pick the lock snapped in two. She crossed her arms and glared at Zenith.

“Geegee, what are you doing?” He bent down to pick her up, but she twisted and turned away from him.

“What you promised to do. Goin’ back inside the bag.” She crossed her arms tighter.

“In the middle of the night? In your pajamas? We agreed we’d go back after we had a plan.”

“That was two weeks ago!” Apogee shouted.

Zenith glanced up at the open basement door. “Shhhh! You’ll wake Mom and Dad. You want to explain to them what we’re doing down here?”

Apogee kicked the bag. “Doin’ nothin’. You’re doin’ nothin’.”

“Not true. I just got a bunch of weapons. Remember when you conked that creepy spider-­hairball thing with my baseball bat? We can battle a brigade of those things this time.” Zenith grabbed at her armpit, where he knew she was ticklish, but she wriggled away. He stared down at his sister. “C’mon, Geegee. Do you think I like having to watch over you all the time?”

“Stop callin’ me that.” Apogee looked up. “And yes. You like bein’ bigger. You like bein’ boss.”

“Not true. I’m really tired of being the older one. I’m as anxious as you to change things back. It’s just . . . something keeps making me forget. About your age change. About GrahBhag. About everything.” Zenith’s eyes lost their focus. He shook his head and reached into the pocket of his hoodie. He handed Apogee the slip of paper with the “prepare for battle” message. “But I’m writing notes to remind myself.”

Apogee read the message, then dropped the paper. “Not working.”

“True. I’m not sure why. But it doesn’t matter.” Zenith picked up his sister and climbed the stairs.

“We’re heading back to GrahBhag real soon. Just some final preparations and—­”

“No!” Apogee seized the railing. “Not real soon. We go tomorrow. Promise me.”

“Apogee, we need more time to—­”

“Mommy! Daddy!”

Zenith clapped his hand over her mouth. “Okay, okay,” he whispered. “Keep quiet. We’ll go tomorrow.”

Apogee lifted his fingers. “Promise?”

“Promise. Now let’s get some sleep.”

Zenith tucked Apogee back into bed. She pulled the sheet up to her chin and stared at him intently, as if to prove how serious she was about their agreement. But her eyelids soon drooped, and she fell asleep.

Zenith reluctantly returned to the basement. The cool concrete floor usually felt refreshing during the summer, but tonight it sent a chill through his bare feet and up his spine.

No, it was the bag that chilled him. Simply looking at its menagerie of mismatched pelts sewn together with rough scar-­like stitches gave him shivers. And now he had to put his hands on it, wrap his arms around it, and find somewhere new for it to hide. Perhaps the brass clasp, fashioned to resemble a rose vine, would once again prick him with one of its sharp thorns. If that were the only pain the bag could inflict, Zenith would gladly take it. But there was an entire world of unbearable agonies contained within.

The horrible bag awaited Zenith’s embrace.
"Renzetti’s imaginative world and its creatures are delightfully dark and twisted… A well-paced follow-up full of deliciously nightmarish creatures and scenes."—Kirkus

Praise for The Horrible Bag of Terrible Things:

"This book is Terrible, Horrible, and a fiendish delight. Rob Renzetti will send a shiver down your spine and give you a phobia of bags that you never will recover from. Open at your own dismay!"—Alex Hirsch, New York Times best-selling author and creator of Gravity Falls

"Exhilarating, spooky, and reminiscent of Through the Looking Glass—if everyone and everything in Wonderland was trying to kill Alice."—Shelf Awareness, starred review
Rob Renzetti is a veteran of TV animation whose work on Cartoon Network’s Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends earned him an Emmy. He created the Nickelodeon show My Life as a Teenage Robot, acted as the supervising producer for Disney’s Gravity Falls, and served as executive producer on the first two seasons of Disney’s Big City Greens, among other projects. Recently, he has published four books for Disney Publishing, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Gravity Falls: Journal 3 and Onward: Quests of Yore. View titles by Rob Renzetti

About

From the creator of My Life As a Teenage Robot comes the second story in a middle-grade horror series about a horrible bag, the spine-chilling world hidden within it, and a terrifying adventure into the world of GrahBhag.

Perfect for fans of Coraline, the Spiderwick Chronicles, and Small Spaces.


Zenith Maelstrom knows he’s forgetting something…

But he can’t quite remember what. He wakes up to notes in his handwriting with messages like, “Prepare for battle!” – but what battle? – and his sister Apogee seems to grow angrier with him by the day. It’s not until he finds Apogee sneaking back into the horrible bag hidden away in their basement that all the dreadful details about GrahBhag resurface. The spiderlike Shlurps. The trio of foul mouths that hunger for blood. Eldritch horrors around every corner.

Desperate to save Apogee from her ill-planned attempt to right the wrongs of their last trip into the bag, Zenith is forced to follow her into the bizarre world that has certainly not forgotten them. Between old foes set on vengeance like Raggedy Albert and terrifying new ones like the haunting Wraith, Zenith will have to put things right with his sister without falling into the clutches of those who would do him harm. For if he is caught, Eternity Tower awaits...

With a combination of dry, absurdist humor and no-holds-barred horror, Rob Renzetti has crafted a delightfully imaginative fantasy world that will hook readers as surely as it will send chills down their spines.

Excerpt

The Mysterious Message

The bag hissed. When he shoved the hockey stick inside its overstuffed interior, he could have sworn that it hissed in protest. He dropped the bag to the entryway floor.

“Hey, watch it.” His friend Kevin chuckled. “I said you could borrow my stuff, not break it.”

Zenith Maelstrom ignored Kevin Churl’s sarcasm and stared at his friend’s scruffy duffel bag. The “hissing” was just the sound of the wooden stick scraping the bag’s vinyl interior, but Zenith heard it as a complaint. He’d already crammed Kevin’s baseball bat, tennis racket, and four croquet mallets inside, and he supposed the bag had had enough. Too bad. He grabbed the hockey stick again and shoved it all the way inside the duffel.

Zenith tried to zip the bag shut, but only made it halfway before the bulky equipment inside stopped him. He opened the bag back up, then tried zipping faster, as if he could surprise the laws of physics. The seam affixing the zipper to the bag began to rip.

“Hey, what did my bag ever do to you?” Kevin’s tone was a little less playful this time.

With reluctance, Zenith unzipped the bulging bag. He felt silly. Why was he getting so upset? Kevin’s duffel wasn’t his enemy. It was just a bag with too much stuff inside. And yet he wanted to thrash it for defying him.

“So, uh,” Kevin said. “Happy to loan you my equipment. Can you tell me why you need it?”

“I can’t,” said Zenith. He flipped the bulbous heads of the croquet mallets around so that the bulky parts of the gear were evenly distributed within the bag, rather than bunched up at one end. Now the zipper closed.

“Okay . . . Can you tell me when you’ll return it?”

“I can’t,” repeated Zenith. With some difficulty, he shouldered the heavy bag and offered Kevin his hand.

Kevin slowly shook it. “Can you tell me anything at all?”

“I can’t,” said Zenith as he left through the front door and headed toward his own house at the other end of the block.

“Okay, then, thanks!” Kevin called. “Always a pleasure chatting with you.”

Zenith felt bad asking so much from his friend and giving so little in return. He couldn’t tell Kevin why he needed his equipment. He couldn’t tell himself why he needed it. He couldn’t remember.

He took a note from the pocket of his dark blue hoodie, hoping he’d interpreted its message correctly: “Prepare for battle! Get weapons from Kevin before returning to GrahBhag.” Zenith had taken this to mean he should borrow his friend’s sports equipment, because whenever they began any game, Kevin always said “prepare for battle.” He certainly didn’t think it meant he should borrow the Churls’ steak knives.

But why did he need weapons of any sort? What or where was “GrahBhag”? And why should he have to puzzle over the note in the first place? It was in his handwriting and dated yesterday. And yet he couldn’t remember why he’d written it. Zenith scratched the scar above his left ear. He didn’t remember much lately.

He knew his little sister, Apogee, was angry with him, but he wasn’t sure why. She wanted something from him, but he didn’t know what. The answers danced around the edge of his mind, just out of reach. The effort to remember was exhausting, yet he was getting very little sleep. He’d tried taking allergy medication because it always made him sleepy during the day, but at bedtime it just made him feel dizzy.

He returned home as the summer sun dipped beneath the horizon. The house was dark except for the glow of the television from the living room. Wishing to avoid any questions from his parents about the borrowed equipment, Zenith snuck past the living room’s archway and down the hall, pausing at the open door to Apogee’s bedroom.

His little sister was asleep on her tummy, her purple polka dot pajamas on full display. Her beloved snuggle blanket was coiled at the foot of her bed instead of nestled in her arms. When Zenith first noticed this a few weeks back, he had draped the blanket over her shoulders. But Apogee complained it was too warm, her sleepy mumble-­mouth pronouncing the word as “wurm.” Apogee normally clung to her blanket, dragging it behind her in the summer, wearing it outside like a coat in the winter, and cuddling with it at bedtime, no matter the season.

Zenith felt this change in behavior was somehow tied to his memory loss. But staring at Apogee and swaying sleepily wasn’t leading to any revelations, so he shuffled down the hall to his own room. The duffel bag dropped to the floor. He dropped to the bed without undressing or pulling down the bedsheets. A relieved smile spread across Zenith’s face as sleep overtook him.

He dreamed of sleeping, of Apogee sleeping. At first, the imagery was peaceful and soothing. But then Zenith’s old alarm clock blared on Apogee’s nightstand—­when had she gotten hold of that? Apogee silenced it and sat up, listening for other sounds from the slumbering household, then slid her feet to the floor gently and snuck down the dark hallway. She slipped through the open basement door and closed it softly behind her.

Apogee descended gingerly to keep the steps from creaking. Zenith didn’t want his sister in the basement. There was danger down there. But he could only watch as she went to where the menace lay hidden.

She found the horrible bag.


The Bag in the Basement

Zenith sat bolt upright in bed. “The bag! The bag!!” He ran through the hall and into the basement. Apogee sat on the concrete floor under the pool of light cast by a bare lightbulb, puzzling over an old-­fashioned doctor’s satchel. Its exterior sported a haphazard assemblage of animal hides from creatures undreamed of on Earth. His sister hunched over the beastly bag, tongue protruding from between her lips, trying to open one of three padlocks Zenith had used to secure the chain holding it shut.

As he watched Apogee struggle, all he’d forgotten came rushing back—­their trip to the terrifying world inside the horrible bag, how his lanky fourteen-­year-­old sister had been supernaturally shrunken and regressed to the age of four. Most importantly, he recalled his vow to return to that treacherous land, known as GrahBhag, to revise the message he’d written on a magical chalkboard. The inscription had allowed them to escape, but had also changed Apogee’s age and given him psychic knowledge of her whereabouts.

The paper clip Apogee was using to pick the lock snapped in two. She crossed her arms and glared at Zenith.

“Geegee, what are you doing?” He bent down to pick her up, but she twisted and turned away from him.

“What you promised to do. Goin’ back inside the bag.” She crossed her arms tighter.

“In the middle of the night? In your pajamas? We agreed we’d go back after we had a plan.”

“That was two weeks ago!” Apogee shouted.

Zenith glanced up at the open basement door. “Shhhh! You’ll wake Mom and Dad. You want to explain to them what we’re doing down here?”

Apogee kicked the bag. “Doin’ nothin’. You’re doin’ nothin’.”

“Not true. I just got a bunch of weapons. Remember when you conked that creepy spider-­hairball thing with my baseball bat? We can battle a brigade of those things this time.” Zenith grabbed at her armpit, where he knew she was ticklish, but she wriggled away. He stared down at his sister. “C’mon, Geegee. Do you think I like having to watch over you all the time?”

“Stop callin’ me that.” Apogee looked up. “And yes. You like bein’ bigger. You like bein’ boss.”

“Not true. I’m really tired of being the older one. I’m as anxious as you to change things back. It’s just . . . something keeps making me forget. About your age change. About GrahBhag. About everything.” Zenith’s eyes lost their focus. He shook his head and reached into the pocket of his hoodie. He handed Apogee the slip of paper with the “prepare for battle” message. “But I’m writing notes to remind myself.”

Apogee read the message, then dropped the paper. “Not working.”

“True. I’m not sure why. But it doesn’t matter.” Zenith picked up his sister and climbed the stairs.

“We’re heading back to GrahBhag real soon. Just some final preparations and—­”

“No!” Apogee seized the railing. “Not real soon. We go tomorrow. Promise me.”

“Apogee, we need more time to—­”

“Mommy! Daddy!”

Zenith clapped his hand over her mouth. “Okay, okay,” he whispered. “Keep quiet. We’ll go tomorrow.”

Apogee lifted his fingers. “Promise?”

“Promise. Now let’s get some sleep.”

Zenith tucked Apogee back into bed. She pulled the sheet up to her chin and stared at him intently, as if to prove how serious she was about their agreement. But her eyelids soon drooped, and she fell asleep.

Zenith reluctantly returned to the basement. The cool concrete floor usually felt refreshing during the summer, but tonight it sent a chill through his bare feet and up his spine.

No, it was the bag that chilled him. Simply looking at its menagerie of mismatched pelts sewn together with rough scar-­like stitches gave him shivers. And now he had to put his hands on it, wrap his arms around it, and find somewhere new for it to hide. Perhaps the brass clasp, fashioned to resemble a rose vine, would once again prick him with one of its sharp thorns. If that were the only pain the bag could inflict, Zenith would gladly take it. But there was an entire world of unbearable agonies contained within.

The horrible bag awaited Zenith’s embrace.

Reviews

"Renzetti’s imaginative world and its creatures are delightfully dark and twisted… A well-paced follow-up full of deliciously nightmarish creatures and scenes."—Kirkus

Praise for The Horrible Bag of Terrible Things:

"This book is Terrible, Horrible, and a fiendish delight. Rob Renzetti will send a shiver down your spine and give you a phobia of bags that you never will recover from. Open at your own dismay!"—Alex Hirsch, New York Times best-selling author and creator of Gravity Falls

"Exhilarating, spooky, and reminiscent of Through the Looking Glass—if everyone and everything in Wonderland was trying to kill Alice."—Shelf Awareness, starred review

Author

Rob Renzetti is a veteran of TV animation whose work on Cartoon Network’s Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends earned him an Emmy. He created the Nickelodeon show My Life as a Teenage Robot, acted as the supervising producer for Disney’s Gravity Falls, and served as executive producer on the first two seasons of Disney’s Big City Greens, among other projects. Recently, he has published four books for Disney Publishing, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Gravity Falls: Journal 3 and Onward: Quests of Yore. View titles by Rob Renzetti