[tdc_zone type=”tdc_content”][vc_row tdc_css=”eyJhbGwiOnsiZGlzcGxheSI6IiJ9fQ==” el_class=”narrow”][vc_column][td_block_title title_tag=”h4″ custom_title=”Chapter One” block_template_id=”td_block_template_2″ content_align_horizontal=”content-horiz-center” f_header_font_family=”615″ tdc_css=”eyJhbGwiOnsibWFyZ2luLXRvcCI6IjYyIiwibWFyZ2luLWJvdHRvbSI6IjAiLCJib3JkZXItYm90dG9tLXdpZHRoIjoiMCIsImRpc3BsYXkiOiIifX0=”][td_block_title title_tag=”h4″ custom_title=”A House & Its Boy” block_template_id=”td_block_template_2″ content_align_horizontal=”content-horiz-center” f_header_font_family=”615″ tdc_css=”eyJhbGwiOnsibWFyZ2luLXRvcCI6IjAiLCJkaXNwbGF5IjoiIn19″ f_header_font_size=”34px” f_header_font_weight=”900″][vc_single_image media_size_image_height=”737″ media_size_image_width=”696″ image=”31″ size=”contain”][td_block_text_with_title]
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There was once a boy, who for a moment, was lost in another world. His name was William Wesley, but no one ever called him William, only Will.
Will lived in a two-story brick house surrounded by a chain-linked fence. Just outside that chain-linked fence stood a red mailbox covered in snow, and beside that red mailbox covered in snow, stood Will.
On this ridiculously cold day, Will wore a fluffy and shiny red jacket, blue jeans with an on-purpose hole in the knee (despite the weather), and he had a black scarf wrapped around his face, which made him look a bit like a ninja from the North Pole. His straight reddish brown hair was just long enough to fall into his bluish green eyes. His hands were stuffed deep into the pockets of his jacket, and we’re pretty perturbed that they had been left naked out in the cold. In his hurry to get home after school, Will had left his gloves in the desk of his math class. By the time he slid to a stop by his mailbox, his fingers were probably pretty perturbed. I mean, would you like to be left outside naked and numb in the snow? I imagine not.
Will stood there, a little spaced out, staring at his house, as he tried to catch his breath, and he and was puzzled that there was absolutely no smoke billowing from his chimney.
No smoke was no good, especially in this weather.
It was cold. And by cold, I mean finger-numbing, nose-nipping, toe-curling, breath-seeing cold. Only a few days before, Winter had snuck into Will’s tiny town, which was confusingly named Nameless, and chased all the residents inside. Snow now lay in heaps two feet deep, ice-sickles dangled from frozen gutters, and the trees had shivered and shaken until they stood naked with all their clothes piled up around their feet. It was so cold that every single puddle from Will’s school to Will’s mailbox was frozen as solid as the sidewalk. The air was thick and still and quiet. Not a soul stirred up and down the brick streets. Not a sound could be heard other than the whistling of the wind and a faint distant siren. Everyone was hiding indoors, huddled beneath the warmth of their dancing fireplaces.
Everyone, but Will and three magi who had secretly crossed into the world of Earth.
The youngest of the three magi was at that moment leaping from light-pole top to light-pole top, rushing back to a portal; the next was holding a wrecked eighteen-wheeler together with his mind as he drove madly through Nameless’s icy streets; and the eldest was invisible, and silent, and crouching behind a frozen tree, watching Will.
Will, however, was clueless of the magi. The only reason he was out and about in this wacky weather was because today was the last day of school before Christmas vacation and his birthday.
Today, Will was turning eleven! His dad had been saying for a few years now that eleven was going to be a very special year for Will.
“When you turn eleven, that means you have circled the sun ten times! A decade!” his Dad had said again and again, each time with an excitement that Will couldn’t help but smile at. “Eleven is the year when a boy steps on the road to becoming a man!”
Will had no idea what his dad was talking about. He was, however, very excited about the probable presents this year. That and the fact that his parents were supposed to be waiting for him to get home from school so they could leave for a long birthday surprise get-away. It wasn’t a surprise in that Will didn’t know that they were going on the trip, but rather a surprise in that Will didn’t know where they would be going. His mother had packed the equivalent of a small wardrobe full of Will’s summer clothes the day before, so Will thought it safe to assume the trip would be both long and warm.
Warm! Warm would be wonderful! How Will hated this cold weather! He wasn’t made for it. He was more than thrilled to be leaving behind this blasted bleak blizzard.
That’s why Will was staring at his chimney. No smoke meant no fire, which meant no warm inside, and worst still, no parents waiting. What was going on?
Before going inside, Will flipped open the mailbox and checked the mail. The mailbox was empty, which wasn’t really surprising. The only one who ever sent him mail was his father, and Dad had just returned from one of his many business trips only a few days before.
As far back as Will could remember, his father had mailed home packages while he was traveling for work. The envelopes usually came worn and covered in exotic postage and stamps. Often they were filled with foreign money, pictures of giant mountains, colorful cities, and people dressed in bright clothes that wrapped around and around like nine-foot-long bed sheets. Each letter was different; Will never knew what his father would send, but one thing always remained the same: every package contained a handwritten note from his father. It was their special tradition. His dad wrote the letters; Will waited for them. Often, because the post from overseas was so slow, his father outran his own letters home. One time he beat his package back home by over a month!
That’s why Will always checked the mail, even when his father was home, just in case.
Will snapped the mailbox shut, stuffed his frozen hands back into his jacket pockets, and kicked open the annoyingly squeaky chain-linked gate. The front lawn from the fence to the front steps was buried in a foot of freshly accumulated snow that sat on top of another foot of not so fresh accumulation.
Will sighed audibly.
Birthday or not, he knew he’d have to shovel the front walkway before they left on their trip. His dad was weird like that. Rain or shine or blizzard, he had to do his chores. Yes, shoveling sucked, but as bad as Will hated the work, he secretly hated going to get the shovel even more. That required him to venture into their basement. Their stupid, dark, creepy basement. But Will wasn’t afraid of the dark. No, he was much more afraid of whatever hungry monster was staring at him from the dark corners, deciding if it was hungry enough to eat the boy in the red jacket! Will looked over his shoulder and shivered just from thinking about the basement.
Stupid basement. Stupid dark.
At that moment, another frigid gust of wind caught Will’s scarf and sent the loose end flying. The sky was getting hard to look up at because the snow was getting heavier. The howl of the wind was almost drowning out the distant siren and a thick fog was settling in. His street was already invisible beyond a stone’s throw in both directions. Will tucked his nose deeper into his scarf, gritted his teeth, and started toward his front steps.
But then, from a few feet behind, a deep crisp voice spoke.
Will spun around, and then the frozen hairs stood up on the back of his neck. There was no one there.
“Hello?” whispered Will. He stepped back through the gate toward the street and looked to the left and right. There was nobody, or at least nobody he could see. The other side of the street was fading away, the mist visibly thickening as the howl of the wind whined louder, and louder, and louder. It almost sounded like–
Will snapped his head to the right, just as a screaming semi-truck burst out from the fog. Nine of the truck’s eighteen wheels were not on the road. Instead, they were skidding wildly on the sidewalk – the same sidewalk where Will stood!
Will squeezed his eyes shut, but then suddenly he was jolted backward. Just in the nick of time, he jerked backwards so hard that he slammed into the mailbox back first. The truck blew by, roaring and rattling less than a foot from Will’s nose. Once passed, the vehicle jerked itself back onto the street and disappeared into the fog, leaving behind swirls of mist with the wind.
For a moment, Will stood motionless, eyes open wide, taking shaky breaths. It took him a moment to realize that he was still alive.
With a grimace, Will reached around and rubbed in between his shoulder blades. He had slammed into the mailbox so hard that the poor thing now sort of leaned to the left, and the lid had been knocked back open.
Inside, lay a letter.
“What in the world?” said Will to himself. He slowly reached in and took the envelope. The envelope was thin and there was no return address or postage, just old-looking ink on an old-looking envelope. The back was sealed with an actual red wax seal stamped with a lion standing broadsided in front of the sun. On the front, only two words were written:
Slowly, Will smiled. He had no idea how his parents had hidden it in the mailbox at first, but this had to be some kind of birthday surprise! His dad did old-fashioned things like this all the time: letters, actual paper maps, handwritten journals. His father didn’t even own a cell-phone nor would he let Will have one until he was older.
Or maybe this was one of Will’s mom’s many little games. Just as much as his dad was old-fashioned, his mother was playful. Even now, when Will was about to be an official teenager, his mother would sword-fight with sticks and make-up stories about princes (or the occasional princess) and ninjas and talking animals. As much as Will hated to admit it, she was much more fun than his classmates, and since she preferred he spend most of his time at home, it worked out quite well. He actually preferred it most days.
But he couldn’t tell her that.
Suddenly, Will knew why there was no smoke in the chimney. He knew why he couldn’t see any signs of anyone through the windows of his house. He knew why they had both been acting a little weird over the last few days. It made perfect sense.
A surprise birthday party!
Will stuffed the letter into his jacket pocket and ran to his front door, kicking as much snow off the walkway with his feet as he could. When he reached the front steps, they were covered with a thin sheet of ice. Will tried climbing to the front door without removing his hands from his pockets, but that resulted in something between a weird dance and a fall. In the end, he bear-hugged the cold metal guardrail and pushed his way to the front door. He fumbled around with his numb fingers until he unlocked the door.
“Surprise!” yelled Will.
You could almost hear crickets chirping.
“Mom, Dad! I’m home! Hello?”
Again, no one answered. Nothing moved; nothing spoke: not the twin chairs and fat cushioned couch, not the family portraits in a perfect checkerboard formation, not the green plant snickering in the corner, nor the large white brick mantle taking up an entire wall. As suspected, the fireplace sat silent. It was quite quiet, and quite still, which made it suddenly feel quite colder than it really was.
So much for a surprise birthday party.
“Where are they!?” growled Will.
After checking all the downstairs rooms, Will returned to the living room, dropped his jacket and scarf on the floor, wrapped up in a blanket from the couch, and knelt at the fireplace. He grabbed a few pieces of kindling pine and a box of matches; he brushed away the pile of ashes. He stacked the pine in a line and lit it, threw in a few sticks of wood, as much as he possibly could get into it, then setting it just right so it would prop, he finished his fire pile with by placing a pine cone on the top.
It only took a minute for the fire to get going and the pine cone to ignite. For good measure, Will tossed in a few extra sticks of kindling pine (although he had been continually told not to use so much), and watched until the fire glowed a vibrant orange.
Will warmed his hands until he regained feeling in his fingers, then grabbed the envelope from his jacket pocket, dropped the blanket messily on the floor by the fireplace, and walked into his father’s little library.
To Will, the library always felt a little warmer than the rest of the house, thus it was his favorite winter place. Every dreary winter, Will got lost in these stacks and stacks of books, disappearing into the stories of spaceships and superheroes zooming and zipping through the air; in worlds of titans and submarines and pirates, with a hook for a hand, a stick for a leg, and a patch for an eye, who were bad but somehow good at the same time. Even during those dreary school days, his mind would wander back to the books in the library, and he secretly imagined his math teacher, whom he had not-so-affectionately nicknamed Peg-Leg, as an evil pirate that kidnapped children and forced them to learn the horrid art of Pre-Algebra. Argh! Turn to chapter two! Argh!
The family library was a rectangular room with a long skinny table set in its middle. On the two long walls stood bookshelves, and on the far end opposite the door, just above a roll-top desk, hung a painting of a fiery yellow mulberry tree in a golden field under a blue sky. Behind the picture, hid a secret safe that Will had never seen open. Again and again, his parents told him he’d be shown what was inside when he was older, but he had still tried unsuccessfully to crack the safe at least a dozen times when his Dad was traveling and Mom wasn’t looking. There were two main problems. One: Will couldn’t find the key, and two: there was no keyhole or combination dial! Both major obstacles when trying to crack a safe.
After so many failed attempts, Will had finally accepted he was no locksmith, but perhaps eleven qualified as when you’re older.
Will sat down at the library table and held the thin envelope up toward the light so he could see through the paper. From what he could tell, there was a single folded piece of paper inside. The seal on the back of the envelope was actual red wax, and it was stamped with the silhouette of a lion wearing a crown, standing broadside with all four legs visible, in front of a strange and dull yellow glimmer, as if the beast were walking in front of the sun.
Will pressed with both thumbs until the seal broke. He removed the old looking piece of paper, unfolded, and read:
Happy Eleventh Birthday.
First, let me tell you I am sorry for your loss. This is a difficult time for you, and I know you are hurting. I know about the fire. I know about your parents. I know how the accident happened. I know what she said to you in room twenty six. I know you are angry and alone and miserable. I also know that right now you are asking yourself many loud questions. I can hear them as clear as a voice.
First, the most obvious question, which you have already attempted to answer by glancing at the closing of this letter: Who am I? The second question that is running in your mind is, How did I know these things would happen? And the third you are asking is, Am I, the writer of this letter, the one responsible?
Today, in this letter, I offer no answers, but I do offer them. Tomorrow, get on the 3:30 train. Go south. Get off at sunset and walk deep into the eastern woods. Knock on the door of the only house you come across.
I know this brings up a fourth question, which is the most important: Am I good; can I be trusted? This question you will have to answer on your own. This is my offer. I urge you to accept this invitation, but it is your choice. After tomorrow you will not find the house.
King Mel Masih
“What?” said Will, confused. The letter made no sense. Who in the world was this King Mel guy? And King? Where in the world is there a king? Mom had an incredible imagination, but honestly, if this was some sort of weird joke, Will didn’t get it.
Will spun around in his chair, then reread the letter, this time more slowly to try to decipher any hidden messages. When he reached the bottom, he noticed a part he had missed the first time. How, he didn’t know, since the words were written in very large letters.
P.S. ANSWER THE DOOR
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK, screamed the front door.
Will jumped, knocking the rolling chair out from under him. When he came back down, the chair was gone, so naturally, Will fell butt-first on the floor. It was a good thing too because it made it easier for him to hide under the table.
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
What is the world was going on! This wasn’t funny!
After a moment, Will crawled out from under the table and eased out of the room to the front door. When he finally found the courage to look through the peep-hole, he saw that standing outside the front door, there was a very tall, very broad, very black, very square-chinned, police officer.
Will engaged the chain lock as quietly as he could and cracked open the front door, leaning against it with his shoulder. He looked up at the officer, who stared down at Will without saying a word.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
“Are you William Wesley?” asked the officer. His voice reminded him of a movie star – deep, crisp, and perfect.
“Yes, sir. I’m Will.”
There was a short and very uncomfortable pause before the office, who never broke his stare, replied. “Son, my name is officer Andy.” The officer motioned toward his badge before he continued. “I’m afraid there has been an accident. You need to come with me.”
Will suddenly felt like the cold air outside had moved into his blood.
“Accident? What kind of accident? With who?”
The officer sighed, not breaking his stare. “It’s your parents. Now come, we must hurry.”