Now, 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!”
Before we get to this, let me explain something about myself. I’ve been many things in my life. Student. Spy. Sacrifice. Potted plant. However, at this point, I’m something completely different from all of those—something more frightening than any of them.
I’m a writer.
You may have noticed that I began my story with a quick, snappy scene of danger and tension—but then quickly moved on to a more boring discussion of my childhood. Well, that’s because I wanted to prove something to you: that I am not a nice person.
Would a nice person begin with such an exciting scene, then make you wait almost the entire book to read about it? Would a nice person write a book that exposes the true nature of the world to all of you ignorant Hushlanders, thereby forcing your lives into chaos? Would a nice person write a book which proves that Alcatraz Smedry, the Free Kingdoms’ greatest hero, was just a mean-spirited adolescent?
Of course not.
I awoke grumpily that next morning, annoyed by the sound of someone banging on my downstairs door. I climbed out of bed, then threw on a bathrobe. Though the clock read 10:00 a.m., I was still tired. I had stayed up late, lost in thought. Then, Joan and Roy had to try and say goodbye. I hadn’t opened my door to them. Better to get things over without all that gushing.
No, I was not happy to be reawoken at 10:00 a.m.—or, actually, any a.m. I yawned, walking downstairs and pulling open the door, prepared to meet whichever ‘assistant’ Miss Fletcher had sent to retrieve me. “Hell—” I said. (I hadn’t intended to swear, but a boisterous voice cut me off before I could get to the “o.”)
“Alcatraz, my boy!” the man at the doorway exclaimed. “Happy Birthday!”
“—o,” I said.
“You shouldn’t swear, my boy!” the man said, pushing his way into the house. He was an older man who was dressed in a sharp black tuxedo, and who wore a strange pair of red-tinted glasses. He was quite bald save for a small bit of white hair running around the back of his head, and this puffed out in an unkempt fashion. He wore a similarly bushy white mustache, and he smiled quite broadly as he turned to me, his face wrinkled but his eyes alight with excitement.
“Well, my boy?” he said. “How does it feel to be thirteen?”
“The same as it did yesterday,” I 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.”
I began to walk tiredly toward the stairs.
“Wait,” the old man said. “Your birthday was . . . yesterday?”
I nodded. I’d never met the man before, but Miss Fletcher had several assistants. I didn’t know them all.
“Rumbling Rawns!” the man exclaimed. “I’m late!”
“No,” I said, climbing the stairs. “Actually, you’re early. As I said, you’ll need to wait.”
The old man rushed up the stairs behind me.
I turned, frowning. “You can wait downstairs.”
“Quickly, boy!” the old man said. “I can’t wait. Soon, you’ll be getting a package in the mail, and—”
“Stop. You know about the package?”
“Of course I do, of course I do. Don’t tell me it already came?”
“Blistering Brooks!” the old man exclaimed. “Where, lad? Where is it!”
I frowned. “Did Miss Fletcher send it?”
“Miss Fletcher? Never heard of her. Your parents sent that box, my boy!”
He’s never heard of her? I thought, realizing that I’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 the light-red ones for these, then looked around. “There!” he said suddenly, rushing up the stairs, pushing past me in my surprise.
“Hey!” I called, but he didn’t stop. I muttered quietly to myself, following. The old man was surprisingly spry for one his age, and he reached the door to my room in just a few heartbeats.
“Is this your room, my boy?” the old man asked. “Lots of footprints leading here. What happened to the doorknob?”
“It fell off. My first night in the house.”
“How odd,” the old man said, pushing the door open. “Now, where’s that box. . . .”
“Look,” I said, pausing in the doorway. “You have to leave. If you don’t, I’m going to call the police.”
“The police? Why would you do that?”
“Because you’re in my house,” I said. “Well . . . my ex-house, at least.”
“But, you let me in, lad,” the old man pointed out.
I paused. “Well, now I’m telling you to leave.”
“But why? Don’t you recognize me, my boy?”
I 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!”
I blinked. Then frowned. Then cocked my head to the side. “You were there . . . ?”
“Yes, yes,” the old man said. “Thirteen years ago! You haven’t seen me since, of course.”
“And I’m supposed to remember you?” I said.
“Well, certainly! We have excellent 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?
Now, looking back, I realize that this was 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.
Either way, I most certainly should have called the police on this elderly intruder. He has been the main source of all my problems over the last five years. Unfortunately, I didn’t throw him out. Instead, I just watched him put away his yellow-tinted spectacles, retrieving the reddish-tinted ones again. Then, he finally spotted the box on my dresser, scribbled-on brown paper still sitting beside it. The old man rushed over eagerly.
“You sent it,” I accused. “Why did you use thirteen-year old stamps? 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 me.
“So, where is it?” Leavenworth asked.
“Where is what?”
“The inheritance, lad!”
“In the box,” I said, pointing at the package.
“There isn’t anything in here but the note.”
“What?” I said, walking over. Indeed, the box was empty. The bag of sand was gone.
“What did you do with it?” I asked.
“The bag of sand,” I said.
The old man breathed out in awe. “So, it really came?” he whispered, eyes wide. “There was actually a bag of sand in this box?”
I nodded slowly.
“What color was the sand, lad?”
“Um . . . sandy?”
“Galloping Gemmells!” Leavenworth exclaimed. “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,” I said. By this point, as you can imagine, I 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?
“Nobody?” Leavenworth repeated. “Nobody else has been in this room?”
“Nobody,” I snapped. “Nobody at all.” Except. . . . I frowned. “Except Miss Fletcher.”
“Who is this Miss Fletcher you keep mentioning, lad?”
I shrugged. “My caseworker.”
“What does she look like?”
“Glasses,” I 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! Quickly, lad, we have to go! Get dressed; I’ll go steal some food from your foster parents!”
“Wait!” I said, but Leavenworth had already scrambled from the room, moving with a sudden urgency.
I stood, dumbfounded.
Miss Fletcher? I thought. Take the inheritance? That’s stupid. Why would she want a silly bag of sand? I shook my head, uncertain what to think. Now, I wasn’t an easily-confused young man—however, insanity has a way of confusing even the most unconfusable. Finally, I just walked over to my dresser. Getting dressed, at least, seemed like a good idea. I threw on a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and my favorite green jacket. Lightweight and rainproof, it bore no symbols or pictures.
As I finished, Leavenworth rushed back into my bedroom, carrying two of Roy’s extra briefcases. I noticed a leaf of lettuce sticking halfway out of one, while the other seemed to be leaking a bit of catsup.
“Here!” Leavenworth said, handing me the lettuce briefcase. “I packed us lunches. No telling how long it will be before we can stop for food!”
I raised the briefcase, frowning. “You packed lunches inside of briefcases?”
“They’ll look less suspicious that way. We have to fit in! Now, let’s get moving. The Librarians could already be working on that sand.”
“So?” I said.
“So?” the old man exclaimed. “Lad, with those sands, the Librarians could destroy kingdoms, overthrow cultures, dominate the world! We need to get them back. We’ll have to strike quickly, and possibly at great peril to our lives. But, that’s the Smedry way!”
I lowered the briefcase. “If you say so.”
“Before we leave, I need to know what our resources are. What’s your Talent, lad?”
I frowned. “Talent?”
“Yes,” Leavenworth said. “Every Smedry has a Talent. 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,” I said, sighing. “I’m also pretty good at breaking things.”
Maybe I shouldn’t play with the old man, I thought, feeling guilty. He may be a loon, but that’s no reason to make fun of him.
“Breaking things?” Leavenworth said, sounding awed. “So it’s true. Why, such a Talent hasn’t been seen in centuries. . . .”
“Look,” I said, raising my hands. “I was just joking around. I didn’t mean—”
“I knew it!” Leavenworth said eagerly. “Yes, yes, this improves our chances! Come, lad, we have to get moving.” Leavenworth turned and left the room again, carrying his briefcase and rushing eagerly down the stairs.
I sighed, following the old man, intending to close the door on him. However, when I reached the doorway, I paused, looking out. Leavenworth waved toward me eagerly, standing on the doorstep in his little tuxedo.
There was a car parked on the curb. An old car. Now, when you read the words ‘old car,’ you likely think of a beat-up or rusted vehicle that barely runs. 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 me—and, likely, to most of you living in the Hushlands—the car looked like an antique. Kind of like a Model T.
Now, that was an assumption on my part. I was actually wrong about the car’s age. Grandpa Leavenworth had obtained this car only one year before, and it was still quite new. (Though, admittedly, it had a silimatic engine based on Free Kingdoms technology, and had only been disguised to look like an American car.)
The point is that many times, the first thing a person presumes about something—or someone—is inaccurate. Or, at the very least, incomplete. Take the young Alcatraz Smedry, for instance. After reading my story up to this point, you have probably made some assumptions. Perhaps you’re—despite my best efforts—feeling a bit of sympathy for me. After all, orphans usually make very sympathetic heroes.
Perhaps you think that my habit of using sarcasm was simply a method of hiding my insecurity. Perhaps you’ve decided that I wasn’t a cruel boy, just a very confused one. Perhaps you’ve decided, despite my feigned indifference, I didn’t like breaking things.
Obviously, you are a person of very poor judgment. I would ask you to kindly refrain from drawing conclusions that I don’t explicitly tell you to make. That’s a very bad habit, and it makes authors grumpy.
I was none of those things. I was simply a mean boy who didn’t really care whether or not he burned down kitchens. And, that mean boy was the one who stood on the doorstep, watching Grandpa Smedry leave.
Now, perhaps I’ll admit that I felt just a little bit of longing. A . . . wishfulness, you might say. Getting a package that claimed to be from my parents had made me remember days back when—before I realized how foolish I was being—I had yearned to know my real parents. Days when I had longed to find someone who had to love me, if only because they were related to me.
Fortunately, I had grown past that age. My moment of weakness passed quickly, and I slammed the door closed and locked old man outside. Then I went to the kitchen to get some breakfast.
That, however, is when someone drew a gun on me.
Read the rest . . . buy the book!