- 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?
Can fear and fun coexist?
Editor’s note: Dear Reader, I must apologize in advance for what’s about to happen, but, you see, I am only the messenger of this tale and I just tell it like I see it. The boys do as they do, talk as they talk and well, shall I say, let loose what needs to be let loose. Ahem. Please remember that these dear boys are just that: boys. Some more dear than others. They are 9 and 11 and they act their age. This is not a bad thing, but if you are not a boy of around that age, some events might cause you discomfort, alarm or worse. This is probably not my last warning, but just so you know, you’ve been warned. The faint of heart might need to skip over this first scene as it is 100% boy.
Jaws hanging and eyes glazing, Lu let rip the loudest fart he’d ever imagined. As the air riddled his backside like a machine gunner, he decided to not hold back and pushed and grunted and, yes, smiled like a dog getting its back rubbed.
He was a proud young man to begin with, but the natural timing of his gaseous state couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time in his worldly view. It was going on record time as he let it all out, careful not to let anything out that he didn’t want coming out, and he gloried in the time everlasting and wished only that time would stand still as this was his true self in no purer form could he be. He smiled from ear to ear and more and more teeth appeared as his eyes went googley and he started nodding as if there were a beat to the rumble. Maybe there was in his ears.
Because it lasted several seconds, the others had opportune time to turn their heads in wonder, delicious joy and pure and unbridled envy as Lu was now bent over slightly to get the full effect of physics on the propulsion mechanics.
The expulsion finally complete and before anyone could audibly react and before any noise at all could return to the empty space that his gusty cloud had filled, Lu straightened up, pointed to Li, then Dec, then Dan and with each pointing of his right index finger said three words in slow, but crystal clear audio:
“I. Am. Awesome.”
“That was nasty!” Dan started, his face beaming with pride and love for his new found soul mate.
“You’re a rockstar!” Li fist bumped Lu’s shoulder. Lu was visibly moved by the show of affection from his older brother as it came infrequently and usually with a cost.
“Dude, I want to be you,” Dec finally responded.
Alastar, yes, ah, Alastar. Poor boy. Over the hill, beyond his years, so far removed from the bliss that it is to be young and innocent. As many words as he had in that beautifully accented vocabulary, none came to mind right away and he only looked at each of the boys and wondered if they were up to the task at hand. Maybe they were too young, he thought. Maybe this was all a mistake. Maybe he needed to test them out first before they proved themselves worthy for what he had in store for them. Maybe he had jumped the gun as, in fact, he had only just met them and although his intuition told them that these were the boys for the job, that same intuition told him to hold off, ever so slightly.
The boys were congratulating Lu as if he had scored the final goal in the penalty shoot out of the World Cup and Lu didn’t mind it for a moment. When their pumps and bumps and hoots finally calmed down some, Alastar stepped in and cleared his throat. Maybe he did have part school teacher in him.
“That was most, hmm, yes, well, impressive, Lu. I suppose congratulations are in order. Dare I say, ooh, I probably shouldn’t say this, but, ahem,” he paused for effect or just in case he had second thoughts, which he did, and finally said in a deep exhale of breath, “Congratulations on your flatulations.”
No, he shouldn’t have said it. If the boys were previously on the moon with elation and honor, this brought them clear out of the solar system. Small boys like this don’t really have the physical capacity to roar with a deep Santa Claus belly laugh, but this was as close as they would get as their innards practically spilled out onto the dusty floor in raucous hysteria. They fell to the ground in exaggerated but well deserved fashion and rolled and punched and drooled and coughed and it was general pandemonium.
An almost-adult was not condemning them but congratulating them. It was one thing to be nine and fart like a pregnant goat, but it was quite another to have a castle-living-bartender-in-Ireland give him the thumbs up. Alastar, it was safe to say, was a friend for life.
Lu could have gone home right that moment and have called the entire trans-Atlantic journey a rocking success. But alas, this party was, as they say, just getting started.
Again things toned down and again Alastar brought this meeting to order.
“Ah, my dear boys,” he started and just as back in school, well, sometimes, they calmed down and started to pay attention. Lu waited for him to next say, ‘All eyes on me, boys. If I can see your eyes, then you can see mine.’ But thankfully, he didn’t. It was summer, after all.
“Do you have any idea where you are right now?” he asked to the blank stares of boys coming down from their fart-induced high and crashing fast. He got not even a joke in return.
“Right, yes. So that old gate we just came through is the old entrance to the old castle,” he continued.
Dec raised his hand, obviously taken by the idea that indeed they were back in school. “But the Markree Castle is already old.”
“Excellent point, Dec,” Alastar nodded. “But this castle was built before that castle. So if that castle,” and with this he pointed above them all, “is old then the one you’re in is very, very old.”
“Like negative years old?” Lu asked?
“Like minus 350 BC or whatever-that’s-called old.”
“Aha, I see,” Alastar understood. “No, not that old, but very old nonetheless.” He paused, again weighing his decision to bring them down here and send them on this quest. It was probably dangerous and certainly important. Or at least, important to Alastar.
“Do you see that door over there,” Alastar pointed to a far wall. Some boys nodded, some didn’t as it was pretty obvious that there was a door over there. “Well, I can’t find the key to that door, but I’m most certain it’s in this room.”
“What’s in that room?” Dan asked.
“Aha, glad you asked,” Alastar chirped. “Well, let’s just say it’s even more impressive than the room you’re in. Let’s just say there is more history, mystery and the mystical than in all of the castle above.”
“But what’s in there?” Dan asked again.
Alastar regained hope that these boys might have the determination to go through with the whole thing. “Let’s see if we can find the key first,” Alastar said.
“So, you’re not going to tell me, but you know,” Dan continued, apparently not quite getting the subtle hints that Alastar didn’t want to tell him. Yet.
“You are clever, Dan, and,” he raised a finger as he remembered something, “a little bit annoying.” He smiled and Dan smiled and was visibly proud although not quite to the level of pride of Lu’s evil-smelling purge. “I haven’t forgotten, Dan,” he said. “I am Dan and I’m annoying,” he quoted and he winked. Some people are suspicious of other people who wink.
“So what’s so dangerous and mysterious and whatever else you said about this room we’re in? This is it? It’s just an old room full of old stuff,” Li asked as he looked around. But the room was impressive, very castle, very old, and full of furniture and paintings and even knights in not-very-shiny armor.
“You just want us to find a key? That’s it?” Li asked, bringing the discussion to something of a contract. There was a hint of, ‘So what’s in it for us?’ tone to the question that surprised Alastar, although he knew what was behind that door and they didn’t.
“I understand your hesitation, Li, and a good point at that. I see your future as a barrister or an attorney, as you say in American English.”
Li’s future career up until that point had a perfectly clear trajectory: international soccer superstar with the backup plan of film actor, it was set in stone. But it was nice to be offered up another possible path. At least, it seemed like a compliment of sorts.
“So why should we look for the key?” Li continued.
Alastar smiled and made a mental note to look Li up on the international register of powerful attorneys in 10 or 20 years, but came back with, “Need I remind you boys that you’re in my castle and you were trespassing in the ‘staff only’ storage room?” He paused, they had needed to be reminded. “But also, dear lads, although you do not know what lies beyond that thick door, I, in fact, do,” he paused and looked into each one of their eyes and they were again glued to his every sing-song word.
Dec came back to the task at hand, “So, is it a key? Is it as big as the one you used to open this door? What color is it? Hey, who’s Killian anyway? Is he the same guy we saw in a room with a chest? With the bushy eyebrows?”
Alastar smiled. He had them right where he wanted them.
“It is here where I stop and you start for no more do I tell,” his voice was practically a whisper, but there was such silence and there was a grand total of zero boys saying anything, much less breathing, that it floated in the musty air as smoothly as, well, we won’t go there.
Dan raised his hand.
“But first,” Alastar interrupted, “we eat.”
Dan put his hand down and smiled.