- Not Chapter One: Wait, you want us to do what?
- So Not Chapter Two: Hot chocolate with marshmallows or bloody dagger gallows?
- No Way is this Chapter Three: Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Frying pan? Is it lunch time yet?
- This Can’t Be Chapter Four: Mysterious, Spooky and Dangerous? We’re in!
- Chapter 5: Grand, Old, and Secret
- Chapter 6: It might get worse before it gets better.
- Chapter 7: What happens under the castle stays under the castle.
- Chapter 8: Meat, Potatoes and a side of Uncertainty
- Chapter 9: Stuffed, serious, and scared
- Chapter 10: Caterpillars, decoys, and messengers
- Chapter 11: Big night planned?
- Chapter 12: This is just a test run, right?
The boys learn of their place in the world order, but they’re not sure they like it … or love it.
“Guys, we have to find Alastar,” Dec said. “And we have to talk to him fast.”
“Do you think Killian heard what we were talking about?” Dan said, his back to where Li saw Killian leave.
“When he walked away, he must have been so close to us, right behind that post behind you, Dan,” Li said. “I think he heard us.”
“But who cares what he heard,” Lu suggested. “What are we doing wrong?”
“Nothing yet,” Dan answered with a combination smile, hesitation and excitement in his face. The other boys read it immediately and if they weren’t feeling all of those things already, joined with Dan in what he was feeling about what was going to happen.
“Let’s find Alastar,” Dec said again and stood up. As he did, the waitress came over.
“So my dear lads, how was it?”
“They were the best bangers and mash we’ve had in our entire lives,” Li borrowed freely from Lu, but smiled at him before Lu could count it as stealing and Li turned it into a gift of recognition rather than pure thievery. Lu nodded in his bobbly-doll exaggerated fashion and was immediately proud, surprised and happy that Li was being so giving. It was good to have a big brother. Sometimes.
They walked but not casually or slowly out of the dining room and dashed to the left into a hallway covered in chandeliers and even a giant antlered deer head high up on the wall. Quickly to the right, but that was just the restrooms. Back out and down the hall led to a large room full of lush sofas and tables and cozy fireplaces. None of this was appealing as they needed the bar. There were no exits other than the one the came in, so they turned around and in front of their noses was a large man in a black suit, white shirt and two furry and seemingly alive black and gray caterpillars above his eyes. Killian.
“Good afternoon, dear boys, and welcome to Markree Castle,” he said, a jolly song in his Irish tone and even a smile that showed off his sparkly but dagger-like teeth. His eyes were a deep brown and warm and inviting, a loving uncle. On the surface, they had nothing to fear.
The collective thoughts of our four heroes could be summed up in one word: run! But they were frozen and the imposing man stood squarely in the return path into the hall. It would have to be Plan B: scream! No, that wouldn’t do. Plan C: Lu.
“Hello,” Lu started as friendly as if to his favorite uncle. He even included a full wave of his hand and arm. “We were looking for a soccer ball, do you know where we could find one?”
“Oh my, a soccer ball, yes. Well, I don’t get that request all too often, but let’s see what we could do about that, shall we?” He paused as if to think, but he seemed to do that fake looked-up-into-the-ceiling-as-if-to-think-but-knew-already-what-he-was-going-to-say thing.
“Aha, I think I know where we might have a ball,” he continued. His glance went from boy to boy, either in a friendly manner of greeting each one individually or sizing them up like a witch tasting the pot of brew to see how each boy’s bones would taste.
“Downstairs in the storage room we might have some balls for you fine young lads to play with,” he finished.
The boys couldn’t think of a worse situation and the immediate resolution to this problem was unclear and out of reach. Above the head of Killian flashed a bright and pulsating although very imaginary sign that said, in exact words thanks to Dan’s photographic memory, ‘Just stay away from Killian and if he does approach you, don’t go downstairs with him no matter what he promises you.’
What to do? What to say? Quick or he’ll get suspicious.
“Oh great,” Dan chirped in happily. “We’ll just wait in here by the fireplace.”
Killian said nothing for a moment, but then again scanned the boys, this time as if a lion searching for the weakest of prey to pounce on. He chose wrong.
“How about you, young lad,” and he pointed to Li, “Would you like to come downstairs with me and help me find a soccer ball?”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Li stammered, but got the words out. Killian looked at Dec.
“I have to pee like a racehorse,” Dec followed quickly.
“I have to poop,” Lu said and the extra detail in his response made the caterpillars wince and Killian turned his eyes finally to Dan. The large man didn’t say a word, but twitched his head slightly to one side and one of the caterpillars did a backbend above his eye, waiting for an answer. Although his large, soft eyes were a warm brown, they seemed to look inside of Dan and see into his own thoughts. Luckily, Dan’s thoughts were quick.
“I’m allergic to dust,” Dan said in such a way that made it seem impossible to go against sound medical advice.
“OK, boys, OK,” he jostled and jiggled and laughed a hearty laugh. He even patted Dec on the shoulder softly. He sure seemed friendly. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe he wasn’t going to bring them downstairs to torture them, maybe he just wanted help finding a soccer ball. It was hard to tell.
“I’ll go and see if I can rustle up a ball for you downstairs. But if I come across any secret passageways, Leprechauns or chests full of gold, I’ll just have to keep them to myself,” he added with a wink and waited to see if the hook would lure any single boy.
Don’t trust anyone who winks.
With the extra mention of Leprechauns and gold thrown in for good measure, the ante was certainly raised to new heights, but the boys were going to go with intuition here and that flashing billboard still was bright above his head … ‘no matter what he promises you.’
“If I don’t poop now,” Lu said, bright and cheery and doing his best psycho-ward escapee imitation, “I’m going to start farting and when I start farting … ”
“OK, OK,” Killian laughed and smiled and he put a thick hand on Lu’s head as if to stop the words spewing out. Although the soccer ball request was a relatively rare one, this line of conversation had most probably never been heard in the hundreds of years of the castle’s history.
“You boys just do your business and I’ll come back to the fireplace in a quarter of an hour or so, hopefully with a shiny soccer ball for your endless amusement,” he said, again so merry and jolly that it made it difficult to be scared of him. Maybe Alastar was the one to fear and Killian was indeed a jolly old Saint Nick.
“We’ll be here,” Dan answered as cheerily as he could and also nodded extensively as if to convince Killian that they wouldn’t actually bolt as soon as they could as soon as he was out of sight. Which was exactly what he planned on doing.
Killian tipped his hat to them and turned on a dime and made his exit. For such a large and bushy man, he walked silently and as if on a cushion of air. Hmm, worrying.
As soon as Killian was down the hall and around a corner, each boy simultaneously hit the boy next to him and they all sprang forward without a word necessary.
Going this direction down the hall, they saw another passageway that was somehow joined with the same entrance to the men’s restroom but now it was clear that this was also the entrance to the bar. They filed in through the narrow and old-wood hallway.
Inside was a wood-paneled wall straight out of, well, a castle. Dark brown tables and chairs carried the stories and histories of hundreds of years of conversation, stories and drink. Fists slammed down in raucous laughter and glasses of wine softly laid down in quiet conversation. The stories of the room filled it up like layers of smoke. It was a bit like the haunted mansion at Disneyland where they superimposed ghosts onto everything–including the little car you were riding in. Alastar was sorting bottles behind a sweeping wood bar. The boys arrived out of breath from their quick sprints.
“Boys,” Alastar cried out, visibly pleased to see them. He noticed their worried looks. “What’s the matter? What’s going on? Haven’t seen a ghost, have you?” he poked Dan softly in the shoulder with his pinky.
“Worse,” Dec started.
“Killian,” Li finished.
“Oooh, wee, that was quick,” he smiled, but it was a polite smile that turned quickly to concern. “Did he want you to go downstairs with him?”
“Yes, exactly,” Lu said.
“How did you know he would ask us that?” Dan asked.
Alastar put down a bottle of something with a green label and a huge image of a buck on it. He leaned on one elbow and brought his face closer to the boys.
“I’m not sure how to say all of this and I certainly don’t have the time right now as I have to prepare the bar for this evening, but,” he paused again, something heavy weighing on him. The pauses and stalls were killing the boys.
“Just tell us, it’s OK,” Lu said and tapped Alastar’s hand as a mother would a small child.
Alastar smiled at the show of care and concern. He took a deep breath and if he didn’t start talking soon, the boys were going to gang tackle it out of him–as that was the method they knew best to get what they wanted.
“It’s OK,” Dan said, almost holding his breath in anticipation.
“Boys, I can tell you this, but there’s a big chance you don’t believe me and you won’t want to go through with it,” he paused, but saw no one was else was going to do any talking anytime soon, so he continued. “Ooh, yes, right.” The boys were going to kill him if he put all of those words in the air again. “We’ve been trying to get into that second room downstairs for years, boys, and there are a certain set of circumstances that are just right and they’re happening right now.”
“Wait,” Dan interrupted, “Who’s we?”
“Well, right, yes, there’s that,” he started. “Excellent question, Dan,” he paused, but only briefly. “Killian and I are both trying to get in that room,” he finally said. “But we have different reasons,” he looked around the room, but it was just the five of them. “Guys, any minute my boss might come in here, so I have to be quick, we’ll have to meet later.”
“What are the different reasons?” Li asked.
“Well, as I said before, we both come from families around here and we’ve been a part of the history of this castle for generations. We both know some things about the histories, but actually I need him and he needs me. We probably can’t do it alone, we need each other. But we’re both, well, let’s see, how do I say it,” he searched for the words.
“Just say it,” Dec pleaded.
“We’re both too stubborn and there is such a bad history between us that neither of us will give in. Our families have come to practically killing each other over what’s in that room downstairs.”
“But what’s down there?” Dan asked.
“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Try us,” Li said.
“I can’t tell you, you won’t come.”
“We’ve been there once already, we’ll come again,” Dec said.
“Tomorrow night, actually, the night of the wedding, there will be the moon at its fullest,” he again leaned in closer, careful not to speak too loudly. “According to the histories that I’ve read, there will be a time tomorrow night when we can get into that second room. We need the key, we need the moonlight at a certain time, and we need, well,” he cleared his throat. He wiped his mouth as nervous people do, although Alastar seemed liked anything but a nervous young man.
“What else do you need?” Lu asked.
“You won’t believe me,” Alastar said again.
“We will, we promise,” Dec said, but of course, at this point, he would have promised anything.
“We need, ach,” he made a sound with his mouth and throat that sounded something like Dutch, “We need minds and brains that have no history with the history of this castle. We need memories that are fresh and pure and believing and open. There will be something of a transfer of information tomorrow night when we can get the key, the moon and a mind that is willing to act as a messenger,” he knew he was going off the deep end, but there was no turning back at this point.
“Wait, what?” Li asked, trying to keep up.
“Quite simply, boys, we will have two of the pieces of the three that we need to get into the second room tomorrow night. We just need that third piece and that third piece is,” he was about to continue when Dan finished it for him.
“Us,” he said plainly without any emotion. Alastar nodded.
“Boys?” there was a call from the hallway. Killian.
“Go,” Alastar whispered. “Go.”