Behind the Fireplace
Thirteen-year-old, Nicholas Hudson sat on the back steps to his house and stared out into the back yard. He was in a terrible mood; his baseball team had just lost a game--an important game. He loved the game and worked hard at it, but he was barely an above-average player and he knew it, which didn’t help his mood any. Perhaps had he been a better player, they might have won. Instead, he was sitting on the steps still dirty and sweaty.
“Nicholas!” his mother, Laura, called out from inside the house. “You need to take a shower. I have to do a load of clothes and can’t wait all day.”
“Coming,” he yelled back. He picked up his discarded shoes and went into the house. His mother tried to talk to him about the game, but the glum look on his faced stopped her. He begrudgingly went up to his room and cleaned up.
After he had dried off and put on a brown, beige, and blue plaid shirt, a brown T-shirt, jeans and tan tennis shoes, he flopped down on his bed with his feet dangling over the edge and stared at the ceiling. He was in too bad of a mood even to play video games. He wanted to wallow in self-pity. The summer had just started yet he was bored already. And a bit lonely.
“Nicholas,” his twin sister, Amy, called as she knocked on his door. “Can I come in?”
He grunted a reply. Amy took the grunt as permission and opened the door. “Sorry about your game,” she said. He looked up to see if she was being snide; her smile told him that she was sincere.
“Thanks.” He sat up. “I guess I had my hopes up that we’d do better.” He sighed.
“Yeah, I know,” Amy replied. She took her scrunchy out of her long hair. “The team back home--well, our other home--was really good. This one’s kind of new.” She sat down on the bed beside her brother. There was no mistaking that they were twins; both had inherited honey-colored blond hair from their mother with brown and green eyes from their father. “And,” she added, “you’re one of the best players on the team.”
That remark got a big smile from her brother. “And that just tells you how bad they are. I was one of the worst players back home, uh, before.” He was trying to break himself of saying “back home” since this was now their home ever since his father had sold the family farm in Goodland in western Kansas at the beginning of summer, moving the family clear across the state to this rural section of Lawrence, Kansas. Nicholas’ dad had quickly found a local baseball league and had convinced his son to sign up, hoping that it would help him adjust to the new place and acquire some friends before school started in the fall. Amy needed no such help; she made friends quickly and easily.
“Hey, Bro, a bunch of us are going into town to shop. You want to come?”
Nicholas playfully punched Amy on the arm. “Thanks, Sis, but I really doubt your friends want me tagging along. I’ll find something to do.”
Amy smiled. She wanted so much to tell Nicholas that her good friend, Brianna, had a big crush on him; however, she had promised Brianna not to say anything. Too bad, too, since Amy was fairly certain--being his twin--that Nicholas liked Brianna, also. Instead she said, “I talked to that Jeff Martinac after the game. You guys seem to get along pretty good. You ought to hang out with him.”
Nicholas lay back down on the bed. “We hang out some, but he’s going to California for the summer to be with his dad. And the other guys all seem to have things to do.”
Amy arose. “Once school starts, you’ll make lots of friends.” Nicholas glanced over at her. “You should be grateful that Daddy decided to concentrate on his carpentry and give up farming for a living. I can tell you that Mom is glad. I don’t think she liked being a farmer all that much.”
Nicholas had to agree; their mother had grown up in Chicago and to her children, she never really fit the mold of a farmer’s wife. “Yeah, I am grateful I don’t have to help with all that anymore. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a farmer.” He sighed again. “At least, though, it gave me something to do.”
“Other than practicing being a catcher?”
Nicolas reached back, grabbed a pillow, “Very funny, Amy. I suppose you think it’s a waste of time?” He threw the pillow at his sister.
Amy caught the pillow, frowning. “I didn’t mean that, Nicholas, and you know it. I just meant---”
Nicholas cut off her reply, “I’m sorry. I know you didn’t mean that. I’m just being a jerk. You know how I get sometimes.”
Amy nodded. She knew exactly what he meant: Nicholas wanted so badly to be really, really good at something. Even though he was fairly proficient at a lot of things and was smart, he wasn’t outstanding at any one thing and it bothered him immensely. Amy, on the other hand, was a straight-A student and excelled at tennis. Plus she could play the flute like a pro. She would have given anything to give one of her skills to her brother if it would make him happier. She thought Nicholas was terrific and was one of the nicest, most honest and truly polite kids she knew though she was careful not to tell him that. She did, however, remind him from time to time that he was a born leader, having held leadership positions with his Boy Scout troop back in Goodland. Not to mention that all her friends thought he was a cutey.
Amy bit her lip, trying to think of something to say which would cheer up her twin but came up with nothing. “Well, I gotta go. You okay?”
Nicholas answered that he was and then told his sister to have fun with her friends. Amy left his room and quietly shut the door.
Nicholas continued to stare at the ceiling. He really liked his room in this old house. All the bedrooms had tall, vaulted ceilings and fireplaces. When the house had originally been built just a few years prior to the Civil War, it had five rather small bedrooms: Three of the bedrooms had large fireplaces and the other two had smaller ones. Eventually, the two smaller fireplaces were covered up and bathrooms installed along with heating and cooling systems. Not long after moving in, Nicholas and Amy were told that the builders were purported to have built secret hiding places and passages to hide runaway slaves during the border war between Kansas and Missouri and the ensuing Civil War.
The twins had spent the first few weeks looking for those passages and had actually found a tiny cubby-hole behind a false panel in the dining room. They figured it would have hidden one, maybe two, people. The discovery was exciting, but short-lived; they hadn’t found any others since then. Of course, they both had soon become involved in other pursuits and quit looking. Today, however, Nicholas contemplated another search--provided he could get the energy to get off the bed. However, he was too tired. Deciding he would take a nap, he closed his eyes. But sleep didn’t come.
“Too bright out, I guess,” he muttered. He rolled over and scooted to the farthest side of the bed so he could reach the drawer of the nightstand. He opened the drawer, took out his sunglasses and put them on. “Maybe that’ll help.” He turned over on his back and shut his eyes again. Still, sleep evaded him. He took off his sunglasses and put them in his shirt pocket before lying back down. He stayed like that for just a few minutes, staring up at the ceiling. He was about to get up when he realized the carved plaster figures around the cornice of the ceiling matched those carved out of wood on the fireplace mantle; except that some of the figures were facing a different direction. He studied the figures which looked a bit like fairies, wondering why he hadn’t noticed them before.
After a few minutes, he arose, went over to the fireplace and inspected it more closely. He located the matching figures on the ceiling and looking back and forth between the ceiling and mantle, he located each matching figure. He placed his hand on the first one on the mantle that was facing a different direction than its twin on the ceiling and he gently pressed on it. To his amazement, the figure moved. He turned it to match the direction of the ceiling figure. There were five others which were turned differently, so he moved each one to match its counterpart on the ceiling. As he moved the last one into place, the floor beneath him began to slowly move. He was too startled to do anything except stand there. He shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind. He could hardly believe it--he was actually behind the fireplace!
It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dark. However, it wasn’t completely dark there. He was in what appeared to be a small, dimly lit room. And he wasn’t alone! There in the dark room behind the fireplace was a man sitting at a very large, very strange-looking desk upon which was an enormous candle and a huge book. The figure at the desk had been writing, but stopped to look up at the stunned boy standing in front of him.
“I have been waiting for you,” the man quietly stated in a very deep, otherworldly voice which seemed to vibrate the entire room.
Nicholas blinked in surprise. As his eyes became more adjusted to the dim light, he noticed that the man was dressed like some wizard out of one of his old children’s books and video games. “What do you mean you’ve been waiting for me? Who are you?” demanded the boy, finally finding some courage to speak.
The man stood up. To Nicholas’ amazement, the man grew taller and taller until he was nearly seven feet. The boy gasped and continued to stare. The man was wearing a magnificent purple robe and tall cone-shaped hat, both which were decorated with brightly glowing, silver stars. Nicholas studied the stars and thought that perhaps they represented the constellations; however, none looked familiar. The stars began moving. Slowly at first and then much faster until he felt dizzy. The glowing, swirling stars mesmerized Nicholas; he couldn’t take his eyes off of them. Fortunately, the movement slowed down until the stars were moving very, very slowly. Now, being able to stop staring at stars, Nicholas saw that the tall man had snow-white, long, flowing hair, a long white beard and the most startling sapphire-blue eyes.
Looming high above the boy, he announced in a voice which literally boomed, “I am Pervius, Supreme Great Wizard of the Imperial Council of Wizards.” Nicholas stifled a chuckle; the man’s title sounded like something Nicholas would have made up when he was young. The man sat back down and again was a normal-sized, though very tall, man. The stars faded and stopped moving.
“Where am I?” Nicholas looked around the room which seemed to change size and form as he glanced around. This was certainly the strangest place he had could have ever imagined, much less experienced. He rubbed his eyes trying to clear his vision, but it was to no avail. He decided he must be dreaming.
“You are here.” The wizard returned to his writing.
Nicholas shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He looked around, but all he could see was right in front of him. “Hey, uh, Pervius?”
“Yes?” Pervius, the Supreme Great Wizard of the Imperial Council of Wizards, looked up and glared at Nicholas. He tapped the end of the pen on the table.
“What am I doing here?” asked Nicholas. He wondered why the man would be so annoyed when he claimed to have been waiting for the boy. He felt he was clearly at a disadvantage.
“You are here to fulfill the prophecy. Look at this.” Pervius picked up the large book from off of the desk and handed it to Nicholas. Nicholas stared at the book which was bound in some kind of gold metallic-like material and embossed with strange lettering which Nicholas could not decipher. “Go on. Look at it,” implored the wizard.
A chair suddenly appeared behind him and Nicholas sat down. He slowly and carefully opened the book. “Wait a minute! These are my parents and my sister, Amy!” He pointed to the first picture in the book. There on the page was a picture of his parents looking into two side-by-side cribs. “Is that Amy and me?” Nicholas pointed to the babies.
“Yes,” replied Pervius. “Keep looking.”
“Wow! This is cool!” The boy exclaimed, looking at the book. It contained no words, only pictures. Pictures which showed the story of Nicholas’ life: First as a little baby, then playing with his twin in the yard back in Goodland, pitching on the teams he had played on until he came to the part where he had gone through the fireplace and into the dark chamber with the wizard. The last picture in the book showed Nicholas looking at the very book he was looking at that very moment. The rest of the pages in the book were blank. “Whoa! How can this be in here? It just happened!”
“Of course, it just happened. Or else you could not see the picture yet.”
“But--” Nicholas stopped and scratched his head. “This is just too weird. What do you want from me?” He glanced up and eyed the old man suspiciously.
“Ah-h-h-h. I thought you would never ask.” The Great Wizard sighed deeply. “I have been waiting for such a long time for you. Now, I am not certain you are the One. They were so hoping you could save them, but now--” He let his sentence trail off and sighed again.
“They who? And save them from what?” demanded the boy, losing some of his trepidation. He furled his eyebrows. This had to be one of his most confusing dreams.
“Never mind.” Pervius waved his hand as if physically dismissing the subject. “You are not interested.”
“I am! It’s just that--well, this is really weird and I’m fairly sure I’m dreaming. Plus I don’t think that I could save anybody from anything. I’m not that big and not really fast and--”
“Excuses,” interrupted the wizard.
“They’re not excuses,” replied Nicholas. He hung his head and looked at the floor.
“I believe you are right. I do not think you could do it anyway; you are much too small.” Pervius peered at the boy with a look which seemed like an accusation.
“I’m not that small,” protested Nicholas as he stood up. “I’m pretty average height. I know I’m kind of skinny, but I’m a lot stronger than I look!” He was nearly shouting at this point and his face was turning red, yet he had no idea why he was so irritated.
Pervius looked Nicholas up and down, then stated, “You are rather thin.”
“Hey, not that thin. I have high metabolism like my dad. I’m a pretty average, ordinary kid.” he insisted.
“But we do not want an average child we need a special one. A very intelligent and resourceful one.”
“Hey, I’m not a child; I’m thirteen, almost fourteen!” exclaimed Nicholas. He paused and frowned, “Though I have to admit I’m not special, except maybe to my family. But I know how to do a lot of survival stuff; I’m a Boy Scout and will probably get my Eagle Scout in just a couple more years. And I could save somebody if I really needed to. Well, I think I could,” he added softly.
“Yes. I believe that perhaps you could,” admitted the wizard and then he smiled. “Do you think you are intelligent and resourceful? Can you think your way through a problem?”
Nicholas looked a bit perplexed at the question. “Actually I am and I can. And I’m really good at written math problems. You know, the ones where Johnny is on a train going x miles an hour starting from so-and-so place and Bill is on another train from another place and you have to figure out when the trains will meet.”
It was Pervius’ turn to look perplexed. “I do not understand why anyone would want to know when two trains would collide. Would that not be a terrible calamity?”
Nicholas smiled. “What I meant was when they would pass one another.”
“Is there a problem with train schedules in this land?”
“No, no, no.” Nicholas laughed and waved his hand, dismissing the idea. “Nobody really cares when the trains pass. They’re just stupid math problems to test your reasoning skills and junk like that.”
“Ah. Very clever, I must admit.” Pervius rubbed his chin with his free hand and nodded slowly. “And, of course, you pass these tests well.” It was a statement rather than a question.
“Yeah. As I said before, I’m good at that kind of thing. And being a Boy Scout has helped me learn from nature and figure out, uh, different things like being a leader and help others.”
Pervius put down his pen and put his hands together with a quick clap. “Excellent. That is more than I had hoped for.” He leaned forward and motioned for Nicholas to come closer. “Are you able to keep promises?” Nicholas nodded in the affirmative. “Can you follow as well as lead?” Another nod from the boy. Pervius lowered his voice almost to a whisper. Nicholas had to move even closer to the man in order to hear. “Are you brave, but wise enough to know when to be frightened?”
Nicholas thought about the question for a moment before replying, also in a whisper. “Well, I think so. I hope so. My dad always says that to be wise one must know the limitations of one’s wisdom and only a fool is never scared.”
“Your father is, indeed, a truly sage man. What about your mother. Is she also wise?”
“Oh, yeah,” the boy answered, raising his voice back to his normal pitch. “She’s the best. She knows just the right thing to say to make you feel better and she’s real smart. She was at the top of her class in high school and in college. And my sister, Amy, is great at a lot of things. And quite frankly, the smartest one in the family.”
“What a remarkable family!” Pervius clapped again. “I am so pleased!” He smiled broadly. “Most excellent choice, I must say. Even for me!”
Nicholas wasn’t sure what to say. He was slightly embarrassed. This wizard seemed to think very highly of him and his family; perhaps a little too highly. Nicholas was a bit concerned that he had overstated his family’s attributes. He thought they were wonderful, but having a complete stranger think they were so special was another thing. The boy began to ponder whether or not this was real. If it were real, he might have gotten himself into something he wasn’t ready for.
However, if this turned out to be just a dream what did he have to lose? He also had a feeling that the wizard was playing with him, as though he knew all about him already.
The Great Wizard watched the boy’s inner conflict which was quite visible on his face. The man waited until he thought Nicholas had thought things through. Then the man said, “Just open the middle door behind me and begin your adventure.” Pervius motioned to his right.
Nicholas looked to where the man pointed. There were three rather small, but decidedly ornate, doors. He hadn’t even noticed the three doors before. But then, perhaps they hadn’t been there. He walked to the middle door and inspected it. He put his hand on the knob and then turned back to the wizard. “Just like a video game. We could call it ‘The Adventures of Nicholas’.” He let go of the knob, asking, “But won’t my parents be worried that I’m gone?”
“Oh, no. You see, where you are going time is accelerated to the point that time here will seemed to have stopped.” Nicholas’ eyebrows shot up. “Do not worry,” Pervius added hastily, “you will not notice the difference yourself.”
Nicholas put his hand back on the knob. He hesitated for a moment, thinking that he surely was being foolish. But the thought of having a true adventure was much too tempting. Still thinking that more than likely he was dreaming, he turned the knob and slowly opened the door, letting in a brilliant stream of light which nearly blinded the thirteen-year-old. He glanced back again at the wizard for assurance. Pervius nodded and motioned for him to continue. Nicholas opened the door all the way, letting in the light and bathing the room in brightness. Nicholas stepped out into the bright light. He turned back to ask the wizard what he was supposed to do, but the wizard, the doors and Nicholas’ house had all disappeared.
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