You’re probably wondering about the beginning of the previous chapter, with its reference to evil librarians, altars made from encyclopedias, and its general feeling of “Oh, No! Alcatraz is going to be sacrificed!”
This is known, in stories, as a ‘hook.’ It is a vulgar literary convention used to unfairly get readers excited about a story. A hook usually involves beginning a story with promises about exciting content to come, but then proceeding talk about something boring instead. Because only inferior writers use devices like this, you will be relieved to hear that the author intends to make no further mention of Alcatraz’s future perilous fate.
In fact, our hero most certainly won’t end up dangling above a boiling vat of acid, tied to that altar of encyclopedias, surrounded by chanting librarians. At least . . . he won’t end up there inthis chapter. If you don’t keep reading, however, you’ll never know if he escapes or not.
But, the author promised to begin this chapter without a hook. So, instead, he will begin this chapter with a grumpy Alcatraz waking up to the sound of someone banging on the downstairs door.
Alcatraz climbed out of bed quite grumpily, then threw on a bathrobe . . . quite grumpily. Though the clock read 10:00 a.m., he was still tired. He had stayed up late, lost in thought. That was his tendency on nights before he moved to a new foster home, and because of this, he was not happy to be awoken at 10:00 a.m.—or, actually, any a.m. for that matter.
At least Joan and Roy hadn’t woken him up for school. They had likely decided it wasn’t worth the energy. Alcatraz was no longer their responsibility—why force him to get up for school, a process that he usually made quite draining for them?
Alcatraz yawned, walking downstairs and pulling open the door, prepared to meet whichever ‘assistant’ Miss Fletcher had sent to retrieve him.
“Hell—” Alcatraz said. He hadn’t intended to swear, but a boisterous voice cut him off before he could get to the “o.”
“Alcatraz, my boy!” the man at the doorway exclaimed. “Happy Birthday!”
“—o,” Alcatraz said.
“You shouldn’t swear, my boy!” the man said, pushing his way into the house. He was an older man, and was dressed in a sharp black tuxedo. Alcatraz frowned at the strange choice in clothing. It almost seemed like the man should have been wearing a top hat.
There was no hat, but the old man was wearing a strange pair of red-tinted glasses. He was also quite bald save for a small bit of white hair running around the back of his head. The puffy white hair stuck straight out, and the man wore and he wore a similarly bushy white mustache. He was smiling quite broadly as he turned to Alcatraz, his face wrinkled, but his eyes alight with excitement.
“Well, my boy?” the old man said. “How does it feel to be fourteen?”
“The same it did yesterday,” Alcatraz said, yawning. “When it was actually my birthday. Miss Fletcher must have told you the wrong date. I’m not packed yet—you’re going to have to wait for me.”
Alcatraz began to walk tiredly toward the stairs.
“Wait,” the old man said, looking confused. “Your birthday was . . . yesterday?”
Alcatraz nodded. He’d never met man before, but Miss Fletcher had several assistants. Alcatraz didn’t know them all.
“Rumbling Rawns!” the man exclaimed. “I’m late!”
“No,” Alcatraz said, turning to climb the stairs. “Actually, you’re early. As I said before, you’ll need to wait.”
The old man rushed up the stairs behind Alcatraz.
Alcatraz turned, frowning. “I meant you should wait downstairs.”
“Quickly, boy!” the old man said, mustache wiggling. “I can’t wait. Soon, you’ll be getting a package in the mail, and—”
“Wait,” Alcatraz interrupted. Then he paused. People were saying that word far too often.
“Stop,” he said instead. “You know about the package?”
“Of course I do, of course I do. Don’t tell me it already came?”
Alcatraz nodded. “Yesterday.”
“Blistering Brooks!” the old man exclaimed. “Where, lad? Where is it!”
Alcatraz frowned. “Did Miss Fletcher send the package to me?”
“Miss Fletcher?” the old man said. “Never heard of her. Your parents sent that box, my boy! Quickly, where is it?”
He’s never heard of her? Alcatraz thought, realizing that he’d never verified the man’s identity. Great. I’ve let a lunatic into the house.
“Oh, blast!” the old man said, reaching into his suit pocket and pulling out a pair of yellow-tinted glasses. He quickly exchanged these for the light-red ones, then looked around. “There!” he said suddenly, rushing up the stairs, pushing past the surprised Alcatraz.
“Hey!” Alcatraz called after the man, but the intruder was quite quick. Alcatraz muttered quietly to himself, but followed. The old man was surprisingly spry for one his age, and he reached the door to Alcatraz’s room in just a few heartbeats.
“Is this your room, my boy?” the old man asked, pointing at the door to Alcatraz’s room. “Lots of footprints leading in here. What happened to the doorknob?”
“It fell off,” Alcatraz said, puffing slightly from chasing the old man. “My first night in the house.”
“How odd,” the old man said, pushing the door open. “Now, where’s that box. . . . ”
“Look,” Alcatraz said, pausing in the doorway. “You have to leave. If you don’t, I’m going to call the police.”
“The police?” the old man asked, surprised. “Why would you do that?”
“Because you’re in my house,” Alcatraz said. “Well . . . my ex-house, at least.”
“But, you let me in, lad,” the old man pointed out.
Alcatraz paused. “Well, now I’m telling you to leave.”
“Why would you do that?” the old man said. “Don’t you recognize me, my boy?”
Alcatraz raised an eyebrow.
“I’m your grandfather, lad! Leavenworth Smedry, Oculator Dramatus. Don’t tell me you don’t remember me—I was there when you were born!”
Alcatraz blinked. Then he frowned. Then he cocked his head to the side. “You were there. . . . ”
“Yes, yes,” Leavenworth said. “Fourteen years ago! You haven’t seen me since, of course.”
“And I’m supposed to remember you?” Alcatraz said.
“Well, certainly!” Leavenworth cried. “We have grand memories, we Smedries. Now, about that box. . . . ”
Grandfather? The man had to, of course, be lying. I don’t even have any parents. Why would I have a grandfather?
This was, of course, a silly thought. Everybody has a grandfather—two of them, actually. Just because you haven’t seen them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In that way, grandfathers are kind of like kangaroos.
The old man put away his yellow-tinted spectacles, retrieving the reddish-tinted ones again. At that moment, he finally spotted the box sitting on the dresser, scribbled-on brown paper still sitting beside it. The old man rushed over eagerly.
“You sent it,” Alcatraz accused. “Where did you get the fourteen-year old stamps? Surely you haven’t been saving them all this time. And, why take such pains to make the box look old?”
Leavenworth didn’t answer. He reached into the box, taking out the note with an oddly reverent touch. He read it, smiling fondly, then looked up at Alcatraz.
“So, where is it?” Leavenworth asked.
“Where is what?”
“The inheritance, lad!”
“In the box,” Alcatraz said, pointing at the package.
“There isn’t anything in here but the note.”
“What?” Alcatraz said, walking over. Indeed, the box was empty, now that Leavenworth was holding the aforementioned note. The bag of sand was gone.
“What did you do with it?” Alcatraz asked, looking up at the old man.
“The bag of sand,” Alcatraz said, frowning.
The old man blinked. “A bag of sand?” he whispered, eyes wide. “There was a bag of sand in this box?”
Alcatraz nodded slowly.
“What color was the sand, lad?”
“Um . . . sandy?”
“Galloping Gemmells!” Leavenworth exclaimed. “But the sand is gone now? I’m too late! They must have gotten here before me. Quickly, lad. Who’s been in this room since you received the box?”
“Nobody,” Alcatraz said. By this point, he was growing a little frustrated and increasingly confused. Not to mention hungry, and still a bit tired. And a little sore from gym class the previous week—but that wasn’t exactly all that relevant, was it?
Either way, Alcatraz certainly didn’t want to deal with crazy old men—relatives or not—who seemed unduly infatuated with sand.
“Nobody?” Leavenworth repeated. “Nobody else has been in this room?”
“Nobody,” Alcatraz snapped. “Nobody at all.” Except. . . . Alcatraz frowned. “Except Miss Fletcher.”
“Who is this Miss Fletcher you keep mentioning, lad?”
Alcatraz shrugged. “My case worker.”
“What does she look like?”
“Glasses,” Alcatraz said. “Snobbish face. Usually has her hair in a bun.”
“The glasses,” Leavenworth said slowly. “Did they have . . . horn rims?”
“Hyperventilating Hobbs!” Leavenworth exclaimed. “A librarian!”
“Actually, I think I said she was a case worker.”
Leavenworth waved a dismissive hand. “They have spies everywhere these days. But a trained eye can always recognize them! Quickly, lad, we have to formulate a plan of attack. There isn’t much time. Get dressed; I’ll go steal some food from your foster parents!”
“Wait!” Alcatraz said, but Leavenworth had already scrambled from the room, moving with a sudden urgency.
Alcatraz stood for a moment, dumbfounded. He wasn’t an easily-confused boy—actually, as has been mentioned, he was quite clever. However, insanity has a way of confusing even the most unconfusable. Finally, he simply shook his head. Getting dressed, at least, seemed like a good idea. He threw on a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and his favorite green jacket. Lightweight and rainproof, it bore no adornment or symbols—Alcatraz wasn’t particularly fond of advertising for sports teams.
As he finished, Leavenworth rushed back into his bedroom, carrying two of Roy’s extra briefcases. Alcatraz noticed a leaf of lettuce sticking half-way out of one, while the other seemed to be leaking a bit of catsup.
“Here!” Leavenworth said, handing Alcatraz the lettuce briefcase. “I packed us lunches. No telling how long it will be before we can stop for food!”
Alcatraz raised the briefcase, frowning. “You packed lunches inside of briefcases?”
“They’ll look less suspicious that way,” Leavenworth explained. “We have to fit in! Now, let’s get moving. The librarians could already be working on that sand. We’ll need to strike quickly, and possibly at great peril to our lives. But, that’s the Smedry way!”
Alcatraz lowered the briefcase. “If you say so.”
“Before we leave, I need to know what our resources are. What’s you Talent, lad?”
Alcatraz frowned. “Talent?”
“Yes,” Leavenworth said. “Every Smedry has a Talent—it’s part of our heritage. What is yours?”
“Uh . . . playing the oboe?”
“This is no time for jokes, lad!” Leavenworth said. “This is serious! If we don’t get that sand back. . . . ”
“Well,” Alcatraz said, rolling his eyes. “I’m also pretty good at breaking things.”
Maybe I shouldn’t play with the old man, Alcatraz thought, feeling guilty. He may be a loon, but that’s no reason to make fun of him.
“Breaking things?” Leavenworth said, sounding awed. “Why, such a Talent hasn’t been seen in centuries. . . . ”
“Look,” Alcatraz said, raising his hands. “I was just fooling with you. I didn’t mean—”
“This is wonderful!” Leavenworth said, eagerly grabbing Alcatraz’s hand. “Yes, yes, this improves our chances drastically! Come, lad, we have to get moving.” Leavenworth turned and left the room again, carrying his briefcase and rushing eagerly down the stairs.
Alcatraz looked around his room, then sighed. He followed the old man slowly, intending to close and lock the door once Leavenworth was gone.
However, when Alcatraz reached the doorway, he paused, looking out. Leavenworth waved toward him eagerly, standing on the doorstep in his little tuxedo.
There was a car parked on the curb. An old car.
Now, when you hear ‘old car,’ you likely think of a beat-up or rusted vehicle that barely runs. A jalopy—a car that is old, kind of in the same way that cassette tapes are old.
This was not such a car. It was not old like cassette tapes are old—it wasn’t even old like records are old. No, this car was old like Beethoven is old.
Or, at least, so it seemed. To Alcatraz’s estimation—and, likely, to yours—the car looked very out-dated. It seemed like an antique; the type of car that had been built when cars only come in one color. A Model T, or perhaps the type of car you had to crank in the front to make it move. That was how old you would have assumed this car to be.
You would have been wrong. Actually, Grandpa Leavenworth had purchased this car only one year before, and it was still quite new. However, many times, the first thing a person presumes about something—or someone—is inaccurate. Or, at the very least, incomplete.
Take Alcatraz Smedry, for instance. After reading the story up to this point, you have probably made some assumptions about him. You might have seen Alcatraz burn down the kitchen of a very nice foster couple, and assumed him to be a cruel boy. You might have heard him speak snidely to Grandpa Leavenworth, and thought Alcatraz to be a mean boy.
In fact, perhaps you are wondering exactly why the author is writing a story about a boy like this. Wasn’t there anyone better—someone a little more heroic—that deserved to have a story told about them? Someone who didn’t burn down kitchens in his spare time?
And yet, perhaps there are some things you’re missing about Alcatraz Smedry. Perhaps if you noticed how carefully and cleverly he had researched the strange package, you might have realized that he was a rather competent boy. Perhaps if you’d seen into his heart as he lay the night before, feeling guilty for what he felt he’d had to do to his foster parents, you’d have seen a boy who wasn’t cruel, but just confused.
Perhaps you could see in this boy a person who hurt others because he himself had been hurt so often. You might see a boy who forced his foster parents to hate him, if only to keep them from getting too close to him, then eventually abandoning him.
This was the boy who stood on the doorstep, watching Grandpa Smedry wave to him. He was a boy who secretly dreamed about the parents he must have had. A boy who lay awake sometimes, wishing he had family like everyone else. A boy who might have been willing to do something quite ridiculous, if only on the slight chance that he might find someone who had to love him, because they were related to him.
“Well?” Grandpa Smedry asked. “Are you coming?”
“I. . . . ” Alcatraz remained where he was, standing in the doorway, lettuce-trailing briefcase held almost-forgotten in his hand.
“Quickly, lad! This is the fate of an entire world we’re juggling, here!”
“Why is that sand so important to you?” Alcatraz asked.
“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Leavenworth asked.
Alcatraz shook his head.
“The lenses smelted from that sand might contain the most powerful Oculator Distortions this land has ever seen! Gathering those grains was your parents’ life work.”
Parents. And . . . I let it get taken. My parents’ life work. It was a silly thought—Alcatraz didn’t even really believe that the sand had been sent by his parents. It had come from a delusional old man who somehow knew Alcatraz’s name and history.
But, if there were a chance. . . .
“The Sands of Rashid,” Grandpa Smedry said, shaking his head, walking up to Alcatraz. “I can’t believe you let the librarians steal them. I’ll be honest, lad—I had higher hopes for you. I really expected better. If only I hadn’t come so late. . . . ”
Alcatraz looked down, focusing on the man who claimed to be his grandfather.
“I . . . didn’t let them steal it, Grandfather,” Alcatraz found himself saying.
Leavenworth looked up.
“Or, well, I did,” Alcatraz said. “But I let them take the sands on purpose, of course. I wanted follow them and see what they tried to do with those sands—after all, how else are we going discover their dastardly schemes?”
Leavenworth paused, then he smiled. His eyes twinkled knowingly, and Alcatraz saw for the first time a hint of wisdom in the old man. Grandpa Smedry didn’t seem to believe what Alcatraz had said, but he reached up anyway, clapping Alcatraz on the arm. “Now that’s talking like a Smedry, Lad. Come, there isn’t time! Your plan will never work unless we’re there to spy on the librarians!”
Grandpa Smedry turned, rushing quickly toward his old, funny-looking car.
And, surprising himself, Alcatraz followed.