- Ch. 1: Waking up is hard to do. Unless, of course, there are fries.
- Ch. 2: It might be a game to you, but it’s not to us.
- Ch. 3: Does anything actually happen or do we just talk about it?
- Ch. 4: What could possibly be better than jewels, gold and glittery treasure?
- Ch. 5: The first thing we do, let’s uninvite all of the parents.
- Ch. 6: The long walk to freedom
- Ch. 7: Pieces of the puzzle are coming together. But what’s the puzzle?
- Ch. 8: The unknown versus the known.
- Ch. 9: It doesn’t always make logical sense. Sometimes, you just have to go with it.
- Ch. 10: This is the worst day of my life (again).
- Ch. 11: We are family.
- Ch. 12: Castle Burgers with a side of Bog
- Ch. 13: Upside-down ladders and distant brothers
- Ch. 14: Sibling rivalry isn’t only among 9- and 11-year olds
- Ch. 15: No time for patience
Alone, floating, darkness, YouTube stardom. All in a day’s work.
Lu felt nothing. Thoughts swarmed through his head, but it was such absolute darkness that he wasn’t sure it he was even there, even awake. He wasn’t even sure if he was still in the tunnel. Maybe it was all just a dream, yes, that must have been it. He’d wake up and head downstairs for breakfast. Ooh, breakfast. Forget this tunnel and soccer ball stuff. But no, that couldn’t be because he already woke up and went downstairs and had breakfast. The whole fries breakfast paradise. Then outdoors, soccer, penalty shootouts and the stupid stone tunnel and disappearing friends and brothers. Well, the brother disappearing wasn’t so bad, in fact, it had its benefits, but Dan and Dec gone? That was concerning.
As quickly as the nothingness feeling came, it was gone and he felt the last milliseconds of falling, a little bit like that trust game the soccer coach makes you play where someone behind you promises to catch you and you fall backwards. You know someone is there, you know they’ll catch you, but still, it’s scary and for a split second, you’re free falling. Lu instinctively shot his arms out to his sides to brace for impact, but he then felt his body slowing down as if it was landing in clouds. Not that he had tons of experience landing in clouds, but that was what it felt like. His velocity slowed and the pressure on his body increased as this cloud enveloped him and he slowed down. It made not a sound and within another few seconds, he felt that he was no longer moving. But he still couldn’t see a thing.
Then he could. A dull light directly in front of him. In his head, he heard really cheesy movie sound effects saying, ‘Go to the light, Lu.’ but he shook them off and swore to watch less stupid scary movies with dumb lines. But still, the dumb voice in his head had a point, going towards the light wasn’t the worst idea. Plus, he had no idea what sort of weird cloud thing he was in. In fact, he had no idea if he just fell 50 feet or two miles or was still up in the tunnel near the graveyard because he had no sense of space and location.
“This is the worst day of my life,” Lu said out loud and was immediately surprised to hear it echo right back at him. When he heard it come back to him, he realized that it was a slight exaggeration and for the tiniest fraction of another second, he thought that maybe he shouldn’t say it quite so often.
As his eyes adjusted, he could see that he was in some kind of tunnel, but the walls weren’t dirt and filled with spiders, they were again the polished stone of above. Or had he even gone anywhere? He looked back to see where he had fallen and although it wasn’t clear in the darkness, maybe it was the largest hay loft that he had ever seen, although immediately following that thought was the one reminding him that he wasn’t sure that he had ever seen a hayloft. He thought that maybe he should just stop thinking as it only made things more confusing.
“Stupid brother and stupid Dec and Dan,” he said aloud and again was surprised at the echo. He only whispered the words and yet the sound was amplified as if he were wearing a microphone. He instinctively felt with his hands around his mouth just to be sure. Nope, no mic. He continued to walk slowly towards the light.
There were rumblings ahead, muffled sounds that weren’t clearly voices, but might have been. He kept going. The tunnel was now more clearly a tunnel. A flat floor of clean stones and a circular wall and ceiling that was also so perfectly formed that it must have taken a whole bunch of workers a really long time to build. He wondered whether most nine-year olds spend so much time in tunnels in their lives as he has. The voices were soon more clear.
“Li?” Lu cried out and the echo back scared him to the point that he jumped in his skin. “Whoa,” he said and that muffled word was much softer and seemed to seep into the rocks around him. “Ooh,” he played with his voice. “Aaaah,” he tried. “Boom da dee doom bah ka dee poop,” he sang and the echoes danced around him in an orchestra of sound. He just kept talking and walking as he had nothing better to do and it helped to hide his fear of the idiotic stuff he did following the dumbest brother known to the human race.
Suddenly, he knew what he could do and was so excited that all of his fears subsided instantaneously. He set up the scene in his head and stopped in the tunnel. He looked at the person in front of him, although there was no one really there. He had to imagine someone in front of him. “Oh, I know,” he accidentally said out loud. “Killian. Perfect,” he stopped to slow his thoughts down as he was having so much fun he wanted to relish the moment.
He waited for his breathing to calm down and he stood still in the tunnel. Then he pointed down in front of him at what he saw in his imagination to be Killian’s huge black shoes. As his arm extended fully and his index finger pointed clearly down at Killian’s shoes, Lu said in the loudest and deepest adult voice he could muster, enunciating each word clearly and saying them slowly and with all of his power, “What are those!?”
Lu laughed so hard that he bent over and even did the whole exaggerated knee slapping exercise and he just kept going with it as no one was around to tell him that it was enough already. He was pretty sure this was the best imitation of the YouTube video he had ever seen and was only briefly disappointed that it hadn’t been recorded in HD video to rival the original. He saw his name in lights and when he was interviewed at the YouTube opening for the worldwide premiere, the famous interviewer asked him on live TV with cameras and lights and tuxedos and she asked him a really complicated question and he wasn’t sure even what she asked but it was OK because he only had one thing that he wanted to say, but it was yet another question to answer her question and he said, on national TV in front of millions of viewers, as he pointed to the shoes of the interviewer, shoes which were white high heels, “What are those!?”
Because he was famous for that line, but because the interviewer was kinda slow, she at first didn’t know what he was doing and she looked down at her shoes trying to figure out what he was pointing to, then she remembered that Lu was famous for that exact line, she was properly embarrassed and when she looked at him again and the cameras turned back to him, he gave a big wink and a thumbs up. He was, after all, a superstar.
Lu was once again pretty certain that he was the most talented 9-year old ever to grace the front pages of national magazines and he started walking in the tunnel again now that he had his confidence back. He was no longer looking in front of him but rather side to side and he waved to his fans who lined the streets of the Rose Parade and he smiled and nodded and blew them kisses. They even chanted in unison as he slowly drove by in the convertible, ‘Lu! Lu! Lu!’ and Lu was also pretty certain that this had become the greatest day in his entire life.
As he walked with his eyes practically closed and truly waved from side to side while still under the Markree Castle, he heard a voice coming through, again with the chanting, ‘Lu! Lu!’ but this one was a little bit more clear. It echoed off of the walls of the skyscrapers of the downtown city he was in, although he couldn’t recognize it. There was one voice that was more clear than the others. Maybe it was a fan from behind the barricades who had a megaphone. But wait, how did his fans find him here?
The chanting continued and Lu happily kept walking and waving, but at moments was unsure if he was under the castle or on the street for the parade, they were both so real. Then a voice said his name and it was double strange because he recognized the voice and triply mega strange because there was no way his brother was going to wave to his little brother from a street while behind a yellow police tape barricade, so that was just way too confusing.
He stopped looking left and right, motioned to his fans that he had to pay attention straight ahead now, and looked straight ahead and not far at all directly down the tunnel was his brother.
“Lu!” Li screamed again.
Although Lu would have been happier to have seen his brother from the back of a convertible while he was forced to stand behind a yellow tape and wasn’t even allowed to come onto the same street as he was, he was nonetheless happy to see him.
“Li!” Lu yelled and the echo went nuts.
“Dude, what are what?” came another voice, but it was unclear where it came from. “What do you see? What are what?” it asked again. Dec’s head popped around from behind Li.
“Hey Dec!” Li was so happy to see him, even though he had seen him just minutes before, he felt like a puppy who’s always happy to see his owner whether it was 5 minutes or 5 days. “What do you mean, ‘What are what?'”
Dec followed up, clearly curious at his friend’s actions, “We heard a few times, ‘What are those?’ and then we’d hear laughing and maybe it was fighting, like skin slapping skin. Dude, what was going on back there?”
“Don’t know you the video, the one where the guy points to the police officer’s shoes and they’re really big, wide, thick, just really big shoes, and the guys says in this really deep and loud voice like he’s making fun of the policeman’s shoes, ‘What are those?’ Haven’t you seen that YouTube?” Lu asked Dec and waited for his response.
“No,” Dec said. “But I don’t really get it, why is it funny?”
“Guys,” Dan cut in, “We just fell through some weird cloudy hole-tunnel-slip-n-slide thing and you guys are talking about YouTube videos and police officers in big shoes. You guys are just plain weird.”
“No, Dan, it’s really funny,” Li jumped into the mix.
“It’s so funny,” Lu said, but didn’t stop there, “So when the camera cuts to his shoes … ”
“OK, OK, I get it, dude,” Dan was running out of patience, “I’ll watch it on YouTube, I swear.”
“I can show you when we get back to the castle,” Lu said, but then paused, rejected. “Oh,” he remembered, “We don’t have WiFi.”
“Bro, we don’t even have any screens of any kind,” Li added, throwing oil onto the fire of reality hell.
“Guys,” Dan again jumped in and had clearly lost his patience. “How do you even know we’re going to get out of here? We don’t even know where we are or how to get out of here.”
“Hey, did you find the ball?” Lu asked.
“You didn’t seriously just ask me if we found the ball, did you?” Dan asked back.
“Well, I did,” Lu said, “Because, well, one, it’d be nice to have the ball back, but, two, maybe if we can find the ball, maybe that’s the way we’re supposed to go and the way we can get out of here.”
“Oh,” Dec said, “Dan, he’s right. Let’s see if we can find the ball.”
“OK,” Dan gave in with a sigh.
Li had spent the entire morning with Dan and felt that he was getting to know him better. There was something up with Dan and it didn’t sit right with Li. He just plain said what he was thinking, “Hey Dan, what’s up? Are you OK? Do you think we should do something different that look for the ball?”
“No, that’s fine,” he tried to sound upbeat but wasn’t doing a very good job of it. “It’s just, well,” he searched for the words.
“It’s just what?” Dec asked.
“It’s just I don’t really get that you guys are all laughing and joking and wondering where the ball is and Lu is acting out YouTube videos and, I mean, aren’t you guys, well, kinda … ” but he trailed off.
“Kinda what?” Li said in his most genuine voice, as if he cared what Dan was saying and feeling because, well, he did.
“Scared,” Dan finally let it out.
“I’m not scared,” Lu said quickly, but realized that an explanation was due. “I’m not scared because I’m with you guys and when we’re together, I’m not scared.” He thought about it for a second, “If I were alone, I’d probably be crying and maybe doing some serious screaming,” he laughed. “See what I mean? I can even laugh at my being scared, but that’s only because I’m with you guys. I don’t know, I just feel like together we’ll figure it out.”
“Thanks, Lu, that helps,” Dan said.
“I mean, I was scared when I first fell down. What was that all about anyway?” he asked, but didn’t wait. “But then I started playing with the echoes in the tunnel and the next thing I knew I was doing the whole ‘What are those?’ video in my best voice and I had fans around me because I was famous and I was in a convertible and … ”
“OK, OK, Lu, we get it,” Li cut him off and after the echo, it was silent.
Lu responded as usual to being cut off: goggles eyes and bobbly head, but this time whispered just under his breath, “What-e-v-a-h!”
“Did your hear how far that whisper goes?” Dec asked. “It’s like that button on an electric keyboard that makes everything echo and echo.”
“What does it mean?” Dan asked.
“I don’t know what it means, I just noticed it,” Dec replied, clearly annoyed. “Sheesh, why does everything have to mean something?”
“Guys,” Li took over, “How about we just start walking where we were heading when we heard Lu. Let’s head back that way and see what we find. No secrets to the castle, no word games, no spiders, no scary stuff, maybe just a soccer ball and a way out of here. Is that an OK plan?”
“Did you say spiders?” Lu asked and they all started walking slowly down the dimly lit tunnel towards Markree Castle.
“So, remember when I said I wasn’t scared?” Lu asked no one. “Well, that was before you said spiders. I’m really scared of spiders.”
“I got your back, Lu,” Dec said as he put a hand on Lu’s shoulder. “You don’t have to be scared of spiders.”
It actually worked. Lu was immediately less scared of spiders.