The Centerville Bookstore was open later than usual. Excited children, teens and adults stood in a line that ran around the corner for two blocks. The reason was simple: Ian Warwick's new book, Circle of Darkness had just hit the streets, and the author was there, in person, to autograph it.
Inside the crowded bookstore, an ominous black booth with black curtains stood in the center. Behind the curtain, hidden from view, was Ian Warwick. No one had ever seen his face.
"And who shall I make this out to?" said the confident but squeaky voice of Warwick behind the curtain.
Mrs. Thompson, a middle-aged woman in a dark blue suit stepped up to the booth. "Please make it out 'to Donnie'," she said.
A hand with long fingers and a gold ring slid between the curtains. Mrs. Thompson placed the book in Warwick's hand, and then the hand and book retreated into the booth. The sound of scribbling was heard, and then Warwick's hand slipped through the curtains, holding the signed book.
"Thank you," said Mrs. Thompson. She checked the spelling of her son's name. Satisfied, she closed the book and let the next person approach the booth. Now that her mission was accomplished, her eyes darted around. As she expected, her son, Donnie, was nowhere to be seen. She sighed knowingly and walked to the science and physics section of the store. Sitting on the carpeted floor was Donnie, skinny, dark-haired and freckled, reading a physics book.
"Here it is!" said his mother and proudly held the autographed book up.
Donnie kept reading but mumbled, "Mmm-hmmm."
His mother looked at the back of the book and said, "Oh, see here! This story has witches, zombies, magic swords, body-snatching twins, blood and guts, and a creature that can turn you inside out if you look into its eyes! Enough thrills and chills to make you sleep with the lights on. Now doesn't that sound like fun?"
Donnie was so engrossed in his physics book that he barely noticed her. "Sounds good, mom," he droned, never looking up from the book. "Are we going home soon? I still have homework to do."
"Yes," said his frustrated mother. She put the autographed book back in the bag and the two of them headed home. When they arrived, Donnie placed Circle of Darkness in his bookshelf next to the other books his parents had given him. It's not that he didn't appreciate their efforts to expose him to fiction; it's just that fiction didn't grab him the same way science and math did. Fiction was so-fake.
The next morning, the birds were chirping, the sky was clear, and the air was cool and fresh. Despite its idealness, Donnie had been dreading this day for weeks. His parents had signed him up for a field trip to the Ancient History Museum with his afternoon art class.
"I hate art," he whined to his unsympathetic mother. "Please don't make me go."
She crossed her arms and looked at him sternly. "Life is more than just facts and figures, little man," she scolded, still miffed that she'd stood in line for hours, only to have her gift join the stack of other books he wouldn't read. "You need to exercise the right half of your brain before it shrivels up, snaps off the other lobe, and comes out your ear on the head of a q-tip."
Donnie sighed and rolled his eyes. He did not see what all the fuss was about.
Later that day, with pad of paper, board, and pencils, Donnie took a seat on the school bus for the field trip. The ride was riddled with spit balls and rowdy banter. Thirty minutes later, the bus stopped in front of a wide staircase with scowling statues of lions on each side, guarding large twin doors. Donnie piled out behind the other students, ran up the stairs and into the main hall of the museum. The large, cold, room echoed with the garbled voices of his classmates, and their footsteps bounced off the stone walls with sharp claps.
While the other students wandered towards the hall of statues, a room their art teacher Mr. Bousey had recommended, Donnie snuck off down a dark corridor so he could be alone. He walked between two columns, under a faux entrance to a Roman temple, which then opened up into another room with soldiers, swords, shields and scrolls behind walls of glass. In the corner of the room was a bench. He walked to it and sat down. He put his jacket on the floor and his board and pad of paper on his lap. He was happy to be alone, where no one could watch him draw. But what should he draw? He looked up. Before him, inside a glass case, was a large and very old trunk.
I can draw that, he thought to himself. It's a big shoe box. But where do I start? The blank paper looked daunting. "Worry about the details later," Mr. Bousey had coached the class before leaving. "The best way to learn to draw, is to do it." And that's what Donnie did. He flipped opened his pad of paper, balanced his pencil between his fingers, and began drawing. This first mark on the paper was the scariest, but soon his eyes darted back and forth between the paper and his subject, and before he knew it a drawing of the trunk took shape.
He was putting some pock marks on one of the latches when a voice startled him. "It's time to leave," Mr. Bousey called from the entrance of the hall. Where had the time gone? It seemed to Donnie that he had just started drawing moments ago. Donnie packed up his things and joined the others in the main hall.
"Be quiet as you exit," Mr. Bousey said and held the main door open. "And remember to turn your work in when you're back in class."
Donnie stared out the bus window on the ride back. The day hadn't been so bad after all. The dread he had felt earlier was replaced with a feeling of accomplishment. He remembered how peaceful, almost hypnotic it had been drawing the trunk in the Roman hall. Time had stood still, or gone away. Since drawing the trunk, he felt that his fate had changed somehow. Perhaps for the better.
The students arrived back in class just as the bell rang.
"Leave your drawings on the table by the door. See you tomorrow," said Mr. Bousey.
When the last student was gone Donnie placed his drawing on top of the others, face down, and hurried to the door.
"Not so fast, Mr. Thompson. Let's have a peek."
Donnie slunk back to the table and flipped his drawing over.
Mr. Bousey cocked his head sideways in a sort of puzzled look. "It's great!" Mr. Bousey said. "Didn't know you had it in you."
Donnie looked at Mr. Bousey's face. He looked serious enough, but he must have been joking. Donnie was sure he was joking.
The next week at the school's open house, Donnie strolled the halls with his mother and father, introducing them to his teachers and showing them his projects. His mother stopped at a wall lined with drawings from Donnie's art class.
"That's yours?" his mother asked Donnie, taken aback. "The perspective's a little off, but it's not bad. I just knew you had it in you!" She squeezed his shoulder.
Donnie stared at the wall in disbelief. Mr. Bousey had chosen his drawing from all of the sketches for the open house.
His mother wasn't the only one who thought Donnie's drawing was remarkable. The following morning he received pats on the back in class and "nice job" in the hallways, study invitations from girls who formerly called him "geek-boy", and was asked by the school newspaper to contribute a drawing for the next issue.
"You stud-muffin!" said a fellow classmate causing Donnie to blush. "How did you ever wrangle a study date with you-know-who?"
A date? Donnie had never considered helping a girl with her homework "a date."
When the school day ended, he walked down the main hall. His drawing was prominently displayed amongst several others just outside the principal's office. It looked important, matted and with his name on it. As he gazed at it, he became gradually aware of the silence filling the corridors. Except for the janitor, who swept the floor, and the principal's secretary, who tapped away at her keyboard, the halls were quiet and empty. Before leaving, he decided to give his drawing one last glance. A smile tugged at his freckled cheeks. I'm not so bad after all! he beamed.
Then he stopped mid-thought, thunderstruck. His study date! Oh no! he gasped. He looked at the address she had given him, and dashed out the main doors and outside.
Twenty minutes later, he arrived, huffing and puffing. He checked the piece of paper to be sure he was at the right house. Strangely, there was nothing written on either side of the paper. He rummaged through his pocket to see if it had gotten mixed up with other papers and gum wrappers, but his pockets were empty.
He knocked on the door. It eased open with a tiny groan. Donnie peered inside.
"Hello?" he called into the house.
A hollow echo returned.
He nudged the door open wider and the wind snatched it out of his hand. It banged against the wall.
"Hello? I'm sorry I'm late."
Leaving the door open, he entered the house, taking a few small steps into the hallway. The smell of mold, dry and sweet, tainted the air. A faucet dripped somewhere.
"Anybody home?" Donnie asked.
No answer. Just drip. . .drip. . .drip.
Though the house was dark, light seeped through the front door. Several rooms were off the main hallway, each one dark and silent. He was getting a creepy feeling.
Nobody here. I'd better leave, he thought and began to walk back. The hallway went dark and the front door slammed shut. A hulking shadow obstructed the door.
"Nice drawing," said the gravely voice of the stranger.
The shadow defined the stranger's wide shoulders, long arms and hooked fingers. Donnie looked backwards. Where should he run to? The dark rooms? The far corner of the house? He was trapped!
"Tell me where it is," said the man in shadow.
"It?" Donnie squeaked. His heart was pounding and he felt like he might faint.
The figure stepped closer.
Donnie wanted to run, but his legs were rooted to the spot, wobbling like rubber hoses. "W-w-what?" Donnie asked, his jaw shaking.
"The trunk," the stranger hissed. He took another step closer.
"I don't know what you're t-t-t-alking about," Donnie stuttered. His heart pounded like a mallet and felt like it might burst from his chest.
"Is it protected by the manes?" The figure leaned forward. Patches of light shined on his face. Donnie gasped, a scream wanting to escape.
"It's y-y-you!" Donnie gasped.
The figure took a small bottle from his pocket and uncorked it. "The trunk in your drawing. Where is it?"
The bottle started to glow and Donnie felt a strange tingling sensation, like swarms of ants, spreading out from under his armpits, across his chest, and covering his entire body.
"Y-y-y-yes! I c-c-can t-tell you. It's in . . .," Donnie gagged, trying to force air into his lungs and gain control. "It's in . . . the . . ." The museum! Say the museum! screamed a voice in his head. But his mouth no longer worked.
Then, Donnie felt as if he were expanding into the room like steam from a kettle. The bottle glowed bright blue.
And then everything went black.
(c) 2007 Kevin Richardson
Kevin lives in California, USA.
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