Nadia Knox and the Eye of Zinnia by Jessica McDougle by Jessica McDougle - Read Online

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Nadia Knox and the Eye of Zinnia - Jessica McDougle

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Nadia!

Chapter One

Oh no, my brother said next to me on the plane, reaching for the white bag in the seat pocket. The airplane shook and dropped. Nadia, I think I’m going to— He leaned over the sick bag, and I covered my nose.

It wasn't exactly how I had planned to spend my summer vacation: stuck on a plane between my airsick brother and my dad who snores like a chainsaw. But my life isn't exactly normal, so I've learned to accept whatever comes my way. My mom always tells me, Nadia, look at the good points of our extraordinary life, as she adjusts her purple-rimmed glasses. By extraordinary, she means weird. Unlike a lot of kids my age, though, I don't think weird is always bad.

But what do I know? I'm just a slightly clumsy, home-schooled thirteen-year-old bookworm—otherwise known as Nadia Knox. That's right, Knox, as in the famous Fort Knox in Louisville, Kentucky. Fort Knox is a vault that holds the majority of the gold that belongs to the United States. It's locked up airtight and heavily guarded—you have to be pretty special to get inside. My mind pretty much works the same way; it's a vault full of secrets that people have trusted me with, and I've never let one slip.

My parents are anthropologists who have traveled all over the world trying to discover the untold secrets of cultures and civilizations. My brother Chris and I have been following them on their journeys across the globe since we were little. We've been to countries the kids back home in Virginia have never even heard of, like Tuvalu and Guyana. My dad says every continent has its secrets, and this summer we were hoping to uncover some of the ones hidden in Africa. I know tons about secrets. Everyone always tells me their secrets like my English tutor who admitted she never read William Shakespeare, or my dad, who told me he used to take ballet lessons to help with his rock climbing.

I’ve never been any good at flying, Chris hiccuped, rolling down the top of the sick bag and looking around for an unlucky flight attendant to give it to.

No secret there. No one seemed bothered by all the hours we'd spent on a plane besides Chris, who grabbed for a bag every time the plane bounced. In the row behind us, my mom was talking to one of her teammates about the path we'd be following through Uganda during our trip. In an effort to get away from Chris and his sick bag, I tried to turn around to face my mom and Mrs. Haynes, but I leaned over too far, and my hand slipped off of the armrest, which made me toss myself towards the aisle instead. Luckily a stewardess caught me by the arm before I could hit the floor. Breathing a sigh of relief, I straightened myself up and smiled Sheepishly.

Thanks, I said embarrassed.

No problem, said the stewardess smiling. You're not the first person to throw themselves out of a seat on a flight this long.

I checked to see if Chris was paying attention. He was usually pretty insistent of pointing out my lack of balance, but he was preoccupied with trying to keep his soda down.

Thinking I was in the clear, I cringed when I heard Teddy laughingly belt out, Way to go Tumble-ina, don't take the whole plane down with you next time.

Trying to play it cool, I pretended not to hear and turned my attention to mom and Mrs. Haynes.

Let's think about what we do know about the area, my mom said to her partner, Mrs. Haynes. African civilizations, both modern and ancient, were centered on the availability of water. It was essential to their physical survival, as well as their spiritual survival. She held up the map. That means that we should start by following the rivers.

Mrs. Haynes nodded, wearing a headscarf that matched her shirt just right. Even after all those hours on a plane, she still looked picture-perfect.

Sometimes my parents work alone, but that summer they are working together with the Haynes family to compete for the FISH award, which doesn’t have anything to do with the trout we eat back home. It stands for Finding Inaccuracies in Science and History. It’s one of the most famous prizes in the world, given once every five years. Last time around, my parents lost to a team of paleontologists who discovered an ancient snake fossil proving that snakes once had feet. Because of that discovery, scientists had to rewrite the whole history of the Cretaceous period. So, my parents’ team has to come up with something pretty big. They are determined to win at any cost.

For the last four years, my mom and dad had been searching for lost ancient civilizations, trying to prove whether or not they still exist. To have an even better chance at winning the FISH award, they've teamed up with Mr. and Mrs. Haynes, or as my parents call them, Tim and Joyce. They're famous anthropologists like my parents, and they have two kids, Teddy and Charlotte. I've known the Haynes family forever, but I'd never spent much time with them on projects. All put together, the eight of us were a pretty weird group. Like I said before, weird isn't always bad. But isn't always great, either.

How many hours left? Chris asked, reaching across me to nudge my dad. He popped up like he’d been awake the whole time, pushing his sunglasses on top of his head and looking at his watch. We’re almost there, he said with a big smile. Only eight hours left.

Eight hours? How can you call that almost there? my brother whined, kicking the seat in front of him. A man in a suit turned around and glared at him. Chris stopped kicking but kept whining, trying to add up out loud how many minutes there were in eight hours.

If I'm the ears of the group, my brother is the mouth of the group, not only because of what comes out of it but because of what goes in it. Chris can say anything he wants and get away with it because he's precocious, and he's hungry every hour of the day. He can eat as much as my dad, even though he's only eleven. You'd never know it looking at him. He's tall and skinny as a rail, and that's why we all call him Bean Pole, even though he hates it. People say he looks just like my dad, but they must be looking in a funhouse mirror. My dad is tall, but he isn't skinny. He’s built up with muscles from rock climbing. He looks more like an Olympic athlete than an anthropologist.

You can't say the same about my mom, though, who looks like she walked out of a National Geographic article. She's a foot shorter than my dad, but the big ponytail she wears on top of her head almost makes them look the same height. Mrs. Haynes is always trying to get my mom to do something different with her look, but she won't go for it. I know she'd especially never give up her purple glasses; it's like they make my mom who she is. I saw the pictures from the night I was born, and she was even wearing them then, in her hospital gown.

I’m hungry, Chris said. I wasn’t surprised. All the food the flight attendant had given him earlier he’d just handed back to her.

I’m bored, Teddy said from across the aisle. I wasn’t surprised by this either. This is Teddy’s first big trip. He’s only eight, so he usually stays behind with his grandmother who lives in Athens, Georgia. Being on a plane for this long has really taken a toll on his attention span.

I’m sick of everyone complaining, Charlotte complained, seated next to Teddy. Sticking his tongue out at his sister, Teddy slouched in his seat.

Has anyone seen my passport? Mr. Haynes asked, standing up next to Teddy at the window seat, feeling around the pockets of his cargo pants.

The first compartment of your briefcase, Mrs. Haynes said loudly, not looking up from the map my mom had given her.

Most of the time I don't mind the Haynes family. Mr. Haynes has an IQ of 140 and is a member of MENSA, which is a super exclusive club for super smart people, but sometimes he forgets to match his socks or button his shirt right. Then Mrs. Haynes has a fit.

Mrs. Haynes paid her way through college by being a beauty pageant queen, and even in the middle of a steamy jungle, you can tell. She's always ready for the camera because there's always one around her neck. Don't let her looks fool you though; she's more than just a pretty face. She's a genius too. Before the Haynes joined up with us in Africa, Mrs. Haynes was the head of her own research project preserving ancient Indian scrolls that could possibly serve as the missing link