Strange Beginnings

The next day Logan headed out from home. There was nothing he had wanted to do more than sit and read every line and study every picture in the magical book he had discovered until his eyes permanently crossed. But today was a regular day and regular days called for work. Still, the book seemed to be burning a hole in his backpack, eager itself to be seen and read again. At least this close to opening night meant that work started in the evening, which had given him a good day’s worth of mining the old book’s secrets.

Entering town, he walked across the street staring up at the striking Mirrorwind Theatre, standing tall among its more reserved neighbors. It stood very resolute and proud, much like one of those old statues that symbolize peace or wisdom. The Mirrorwind was undoubtedly the most imposing structure in the whole town. Even more dashing than the courthouse at the end of the teardrop-shaped “square” Logan was passing through.  And though that wasn’t saying much, it really was a beautiful place. The little town of Farwell was quite modest, as all good small towns should be, but it did hold this one diamond.

Logan glanced up at the gargoyles perched on each corner of each floor; he never got tired of them.  There was one small statue topping the lighted Mirrorwind sign in front depicting a bowing man with a top hat. Logan thought of him as the doorman, greeting him every time he arrived at the theatre, and that the gargoyles were his trained pets. 

“Evening, Carmichael.” he said to the statue, as he passed through the giant glass doors. He quickly strode through the small mosaic-covered foyer where the ticket boxes sat and through the next doors into the grand stairway. It was everything a magical old theatre should be. The floors were draped with rich crimson carpets that muted every footstep, meandering their way up the two staircases curving regally up the walls. The pillars that held the ceiling were adorned with curls and gilded in gold, and in the center of the room, surrounded by the sweeping staircases hung a magnificent glass chandelier with little painted branches running across the globe at the bottom.

There were a few people milling about taking no notice of the beautiful surroundings. Logan knew them all, of course, living in Farwell his whole life. Janet, older than sin and looking it, was over talking to Beebee, a rotund but flattering woman. Jerrick, an old farmer, was just coming from the theatre hall. He was always a surprise when it came to acting. A gruff, hardened old man on the farm and a Julius Caesar on the stage. They nodded to each other as Logan passed through the double doors to one of his favorite places on Earth. 

The theatre hall itself was just as grand as the stairway, although a bit subdued, so as not to distract from the magic onstage. It was never too bright so it always had a cozy lounge feel to it. There were dazzling wood trees scrawled across the walls leading down to the stage, half in the wall and half reaching out. They created a brim around the audience, like a secret courtyard. Above their branches stretched a speckled sky, thousands of stars smiling down from the ceiling, swimming in a sea of purplish blue. Above the stage, scrollwork of creatures crowned the curtains. It showed satyrs and lovely women prancing through a rushing stream frozen in its golden flow. And resting above them was the ancient face of a man, a giant seashell fanning out behind him.

It made for a spectacular sight. People always said the theatre was like a rich dessert you had first, and then went on to the entree. And it was here that Logan had grown up. Among the ruby red curtains and warm lights Logan had acted out many lives. The theatre had become a second home to him, its stage another world. He had loved it so much he had decided to forgo a college degree and stay in Farwell to keep the place going. And it was a decision he didn’t regret, for every time he stood amidst the magic of it all, a small piece inside of him came to life.

He didn’t even know it was inside him. But down, deep in his soul, far behind his heart and to the left of his fears, was a dream. It was in a shadowy corner, locked in a box and covered in responsibilities, looking sad and forgotten. But it had never been completely abandoned. On sunny days where the clouds looked like a painting and the wind rushed through the grass, and nothing could make a person more content, the box rattled. On winter nights when the snow fell quietly and the only light was coming from a crackling fire, the box lid had strained on its latches. Every small adventure Logan had ever had in his life had unwaveringly and punctually awakened the dream. He never knew what was inside, he rarely noticed the box had even budged, but its existence never faded.

He swept backstage and headed for the makeup room. The noise grew as he pushed through the sound doors and into the mirrored room covered in round light bulbs. Uncle Sterling was already there standing in front of a mirror wearing blue velvet clothes and a shining silver cape. Next to him, praising the getup with loud adoration was the theatre manager, Wayna. She wore a deep green skirt that resembled a saloon girl’s and a blouse with long flowing sleeves.

“Yes, yes, yes! Perfect. Oh, you look dashing in silver, Jack! I just love it. Oh, Logan!” she sang, “Perfect timing!” 

She deftly swiped a maroon costume from beside her and tossed it to him. “I think you’ll love this one.”

As he headed to the dressing room, Sterling asked, “Did you bring it?” Logan smiled and nodded, but when his uncle made to follow him, Wayna’s fingers snatched his sleeve, “Ah, ah, ah, we need to hem a few things.”

Logan rushed in and pulled the clothes on. He grabbed True Mythology from his bag and rejoined the group. A couple of girls in dresses the size of beach umbrellas lumbered past, giggling all the way. When he got back to the two, still fussing with Sterling’s hem, he stopped and looked at himself in the mirror next to his uncle. Logan was a stout person, a bit more barrel than broom. Not fat, per se, but definitely stocky.  He was a contrast next to his tall, solid uncle. Logan looked into his own eyes, which seemed even more forest green in his maroon costume. He glanced at his uncle’s eyes which were the lightest brown he’d ever seen on anyone.  They seemed so different from each other. Well, they did have the same black hair, though Sterling’s was flecked in silver.

He dropped the book onto the counter.

“What’s that?” Wayna asked with needles in her mouth.

“It’s an old book we found at Great-grandma’s house.”

“Oh, Elsie! I miss her already.” Her eyes grew distant. “Tell me about it, I want to hear something happy about her.”

“We haven’t quite figured it out yet.” Sterling said.

“Yeah, we found it in the wall!”

“The wall? What do you mean?” she asked.

Logan explained, “There was a hidden compartment in the wall of one of her bedrooms. But that’s not the most interesting part.” He flipped open the pages revealing the elegant handwriting of a bygone age. “The entire thing is written by hand.”

Wayna peered at the paper, “But there’s more than one handwriting.”

“Exactly!” Sterling said.

For some reason, throughout every page he flipped through, the words changed back and forth from one handwriting to the next with no discernable pattern. A cracked and scrolling black ink ran through the majority of the book and looked the oldest. Mixed about was a rich blue ink that passed seamlessly through the ebony script in a rounder but still dignified hand. 

“But that doesn’t make sense.” Wayna said, running a finger down a black paragraph with two lines of blue handwriting mixed in between.

“That’s what we thought. But it’s even more than that. I’ve been reading this since I found it. It’s like, Greek mythology. But not really. It’s hard to explain.”

“Sounds like it.” Wayna replied, pinning Sterling’s tunic.

“Here look at this.”  He flipped to the beginning and began to read.

“My, that is strange.” Wayna said, accidentally poking Sterling with a needle. 

“And the whole book is like that.” He flipped the pages through his fingers, revealing the full grandeur of True Mythology. Sketched illustrations of creatures and buildings were nestled among the words, and littered throughout the rest of the book were additional papers, maps, scraps of tapestries, and even old coins securely fixed to the old pages. Out of nowhere Wayna slapped the book so hard Logan almost dropped it.

“What is that?” she asked, and they all focused where her finger lay. 

“I don’t know,” Logan said, peering closer, “It looks like some note scribbled on the side.”

In the margin of a page written opposite the old words was a manicured, thin handwriting that looped in and out of itself, all in purple. It said,

“That’s not just some note, my boy. That is the handwriting of Elsie Mae Humphrey!” Wayna stated.

They leaned in a little closer, Sterling accidentally poking himself with a pin again. “Are you sure? She wrote in the book?”

“That means she actually read it, and used it.” Logan said.

“But wait,” Sterling tried again, “How do you know its Grandma’s handwriting?”

“Jack, please!” Wayna stood and swept about indignant as if he had asked whether she could tell her right foot from her left. “The woman practically raised me. She’s the only reason I run the Mirrorwind now. I spent decades working with her, learning from her, you think I wouldn’t know her own handwriting!?” She picked up a pearl necklace and draped it over her neck, watching herself fiddle with it in the mirror.

“Alright, alright. It just seems strange that’s all. I don’t recall Grandma’s handwriting.”

She turned to him, pursed lips locked in place. “You want proof or something? Fine. I can prove it.”  She stormed out of the room, calling, “Follow me,” from the other room. The two men rushed after her.

They followed her down the steps of the stage through the middle aisle like two dukes following their eccentric queen. When they entered the grand stairway, Wayna tromped over to the wall at the foot of the left stairs. They gathered around a glass case sunk in the wall. It housed a poster for the current performance, and surrounding it was a collage of old programs. Wayna searched them for a few moments then pointed her purple fingernail at one in the corner. It was a very old one, starting to yellow, near the bottom.  It was from a Winter One Acts session decades ago, and three unknown plays were printed across the front, things like The Potman Spoke Sooth. But that wasn’t why she was pointing at it. In the corner was an autograph from one of the actors. It was a manicured, thin handwriting that looped in and out of itself. 

“Elsie Mae Humphrey.” Sterling read quietly. “Well, I’ll be sugar-coated.”

Wayna displayed a triumphant smile.

“So it is hers. But…” Logan pulled out the book again, “what does it mean?” Here, Wayna’s smile disappeared but she motioned for him to read the note again.

“Balusters up the stairs…in the Mirrorwind? Is there some sort of secret on them?”

“Or a hollowed out one.” Sterling suggested.

“Maybe one’s a secret lever that opens the floor.” Wayna said wide-eyed. They looked at her for a second, and then she chuckled delightedly. “Oh, boys. I’m sure it’s nothing too exotic. This is Farwell after all!”

They didn’t say anything, but instinctively the group drifted over to the space between the stairs. All three began inspecting the balusters. Eventually, Sterling was crawling up the right side, shaking each one. Logan followed suit on the left. But when they met at the top and found they were all just regular wooden spindles, they finally descended empty handed. Wayna was near the theatre hall doors in a familiar corner of shining light focused on a single oil portrait. It was of Logan’s great-grandmother sitting in the theatre library, smiling in a very charming way. It was almost as if she were up to something, a twinge of mischief in her eyes. 

“Nothing special about the stairs.” Logan reported.

“I’m not surprised. What was the other part of the message, dear?” she asked not taking her eyes off Elsie.

“Um… start with Lloyd’s middle.” he said recalling. “Who’s Lloyd?”

“That’s Grandpa’s name.” Uncle Sterling said.

“Mm-hmm,” Wayna confirmed, “Lloyd Erwin Humphrey.”

Logan felt silly. “I didn’t know that. He’s always been Great-grandpa to me.”

“No need for that, you knew him by a special name. The question is: why is his middle important?”

They all stared at Elsie Mae’s portrait, willing her to give some clue. But she just sat impassive, smiling mischievously. None of them knew what to do next, so they just waited.

Behind them the outer doors opened and shut and Wayna turned to see who it was. Something went rigid about her and Logan followed her gaze to see what had entered.

He wore a suit, strangely cut but dashing, and wrapped around him was a knee length coat the deepest of reds. The man was older, but solidly built, intimidating. He was snapping shut a silver cigarette case when he spotted them at the portrait. His face bewildered Logan. He wore a short gray beard and short hair and his nose was slightly crooked. But his eyes…his eyes tore into him. They were orange, like fire, and inexpressively cold. They held Logan in their lock and he couldn’t take in anything else about the man, not even the few people who followed behind him. 

Wayna jabbed a finger behind her, “Dressing room, boys. Got to finish the alterations. I’ll tend to this.” She gracefully trod over to the man, Logan unable to tear his eyes away. His uncle’s hand broke the spell. 

“C’mon, Logan. Let’s go.” Logan looked up at him and he seemed calm, but his eyes showed the same concern as Logan felt. They finally ducked into the sanctuary of the theatre hall. But Logan could not push away a gnawing thought; a disconcerting thought he didn’t know how to handle.

 “Wasn’t he at Great-grandma’s funeral?”