The sky churned turmoil gray, but it only dropped a quiet rain, one that asked a person to nap as it sang its hushed lullaby. The grass was turning bright green despite the approach of autumn, and the newly colored trees hung low over the street. Some were dropping the first of their leaves and with the rain it all seemed very sad, as if the trees regretted letting them go. A great monolith of an oak stood near the corner of the house. It had neglected its leaves, dropping them early, and so stood sulking and gray. The more he looked at it though, the more it looked old and withered. Not sulking. It was more like sorrow — a deep sorrow for something lost. It all seemed very appropriate.
Logan leaned back from the low windowsill and stretched from his uncomfortable cardboard box seat. They had been working for quite a while, searching box after endless box in the tiny attic room. The whole house was stuffed in the same way. Beyond the fact that every nook and cranny was piled high with boxes of books, brooches, china, linens, pictures, newspaper clippings, theatre props, and stemware, the house was tiny. Gingerbread house tiny. The mice felt cramped.
To find the front door was the first challenge, what with oddly placed bushes and decoy doors that were painted shut. Once a person did find it, the real trial began. The downstairs was a series of rooms that didn’t look like they ought to fit when Logan had seen the house from the outside. They twisted and turned in and out of each other, all stacked to the ceiling with antiques. Odd and useless corners sprang out nauseatingly. There were unnecessary slanted ceilings, built-in living room bookshelves with a pipe going through one end, and strange, windowed divots in the dining room wall; someone had said they were for plants. It could have been something beautiful, but it was all overshadowed by the sheer quantity of Logan’s great-grandmother’s life savings. If a person managed to find the stairs, they were led to an even smaller upstairs. Most everyone had to navigate the upper floor bent over, for the ceilings were too low. Logan wondered if everyone from the past had been shorter. The undersized hallway led to a mirrored door, which opened to a tinier stairway leading to an equally tiny attic.
And here Logan sat, beside the only window which was hidden behind a tower of boxes labeled “knick-knacks.” He had chosen that side of the room in case he needed to make an escape from an almost certain avalanche. Dropping out the window seemed better than being crushed under his great-grandmother’s things.
His uncle had not been so lucky. He had gotten stuck in the other corner, his head against the slanted ceiling and the open drop down the attic stairway at his back. There he crouched, trapped amid the most teetering and dilapidated of all the towers. At the moment, Uncle Sterling was dragging a particularly corroded box that jingled with every pull. Once he got to the stool he had been working on, he plopped down with a grunt and took a deep breath. The stool was so short that his knees were bent up to his chest, but anything taller would cram his head against the ceiling.
“How far have you gotten over there?” he said in his low rumble.
Logan looked down at his progress. “I’m almost through with the war-time buttons and pocket watches.”
His uncle sighed, “Why in the world would this woman keep all this junk? She never even used half of it.”
“I don’t mind. This stuff is incredible.” They had been at it for hours and barely scratched the surface of what that one, little attic room held, but Logan knew his great-grandmother… or at least he knew the stories about her. She was something of an enigma. The only stories that he’d heard about her were vague and adventurous. He knew she had traveled a bit and picked up some interesting souvenirs on the way, as proved by the didgeridoo and alpenhorn he had seen downstairs. But he also knew that she had once been arrested for refusing to move from a movie theatre seat for a whole day because she had loved the film so much she wanted to see it over and over. Of course, he knew that she loved theatre and had opened the only one in town. He may not have been close to her, but he knew enough to know that if he mined deep enough, a dazzling gem was bound to show up among all the debris.
“Good night! Would you look at how many teapots this woman owned? I’m pretty sure she didn’t even like tea!” Logan’s uncle pulled a particularly groovy teapot out of the box that resembled a hippie 60’s van. Mouthing a “Wow” he began covering it in bubble wrap in preparation for the auction.
His uncle was another enigma. Logan liked his Uncle Sterling, though Logan was the only one who used that name. The rest of the family called him Jack for some reason; the story was different with each person he asked. But Logan liked his given name Sterling better. And one time, his uncle secretly whispered to him that he preferred it as well. It was like a codename that Logan enjoyed having privilege to. But Sterling was known as Jack to the rest of the world and there was no changing that.
“Hand me that rag will you?”
Logan tossed him the one closest and continued to sort through a box of buttons, buckles and pocket watches.
“So, given any more thought to school?” Uncle Sterling asked.
It was the question that seized Logan’s stomach up every time. “Uh…” It was the question he was most asked and the one that he had very little idea of an answer.
“Logan? Was school still something you were considering?”
Logan swallowed, “You could say that.”
Uncle Sterling made his deep rumble, which Logan knew was his way of acknowledging what had been said. Not a no, not a yes, just an mmmm.
“Are you worried about making friends?”
“No,” Logan said, “Not really.”
Their clinking and scraping through the boxes continued. “Not nervous about leaving home, is it?”
He considered that for a moment. “No,” Logan answered again, “I’m sure that’ll be fine.”
The low rumble.
“Wary of your future?”
Logan stopped. He hated how four little words could make him tense so easily. “Yeah. I suppose so.”
The low rumble.
Logan was silent for a moment. He didn’t think he wanted to talk about next steps in his life, it hadn’t even been anywhere near the forefront of his mind. But all of a sudden his mouth started moving and he couldn’t stop it. “It’s all so confusing. Going to college is just the next step, right? That’s what people do. You go to high school, graduate, and go to college? But I didn’t just graduate high school, I mean… I’ve been out for three years. Is it smart to start late like that?” He took a breath. “And the only reason I would go to this school is because Dad went there. I don’t have any major planned out. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I don’t even know why I’m doing all this!” He glanced over at his uncle to see if he had sounded crazy. Sterling just gazed back. “I’m not sure I’m good enough for college. I’m not sure I’m good at… anything…”
He took a deep breath. “I’m just so… uncertain.”
Uncle Sterling made his rumble, nodding. They were quiet for a few moments while he finished wrapping a flowery teapot.
“What does your heart tell you?”
“What?” Logan asked. He had unconsciously been mentally preparing himself for the same barrage of questions he usually got when this topic came up: ‘A good education means a good future’, ‘Find a career path that is in demand like medicine or business’, ‘Once you’re at college, you’ll figure it out’. So he didn’t answer right away.
“What do you feel deep down, Logan? What do you wish for in life? Your heart knows that better than anything else.”
Logan sat and stared for a while, an old pocket watch ticking away in his palm. No one had asked him that before and he didn’t know what to say. In all honesty, he’d never even asked himself the question before.
“It’s not that hard of a question really. You might think it’s embarrassing to admit to your uncle, but I assure you I won’t laugh.” He twisted around and stared Logan right in the face. “You know what I always wanted to be?”
Logan shook his head.
“A superhero.” He smiled and spun back around continuing to pull endless teapots out of the box. “So what does your heart tell you?”
Logan thought for a moment. The patter of rain on the roof above them increased a little. Uncle Sterling patiently waited for him to gather his thoughts together. Finally, Logan said, “I guess I want… an adventure. You know, I want to… discover things. Find the wonders of the world. Climb mountains and explore jungles. I want to fly in the clouds and walk up to a volcano. I want – I want to see if there’s any magic left in the world before I have to admit that there isn’t any anymore.” Sterling made his rumble, urging him to continue. “I guess I feel like… if I go to college and then get in a career… I won’t have a chance to.”
His uncle just nodded, popping a few bubbles as he placed a gravy boat in with the sorted teapots. Then he turned to Logan and said simply, “You will.”
“You think? I mean, college won’t… get in the way?”
“College is an adventure, but I know what you mean. You, Logan, have adventure in your blood. You are related to Elsie Mae Humphrey, only the most adventurous great-grandmother you ever had!” He smiled a smile that lit up his face, despite the perpetual dark circles under his eyes. She once parachuted out of a crashing plane! Another time, long ago, she traveled to South America in search of a hidden temple! And I even heard that she climbed to the top of a 200 foot tree just to pick a rare piece of fruit! Gave her a stomach ache if I recall.” They chuckled together. “I’m sure you’ll have your own grand adventure someday.”
He went back to the teapots, and Logan finished up with the knick-knacks in front of him. “Thanks Uncle Sterling.”
The low rumble.
Logan shuffled over and pulled a tremendous box toward his window spot. Prying back the lid he found such a tangle of dusty gibberish he didn’t know where to start. When he began to pull at the tangle a rubber ball fell out and started to roll away. It headed toward the attic stairs and bounced down them loudly. Uncle Sterling looked back as it clattered away, and said, “Better go get it.”
Logan got up quickly, banging his head on the low ceiling. He rushed down the steps holding his head, his uncle laughing deeply. The ball had just banged into a box in the hallway and bounced into the adjacent bedroom. He followed it in and found where it had lodged itself between a few rolled up rugs. He straightened up after retrieving it and bumped into something behind him. A domino of crashes rang out from deep within the bedroom boxes. He had to struggle to see what had happened but finally found a picture frame had toppled over and knocked down a hefty alpenhorn, banging against the wall in the corner. Logan squeezed his way over to see the damage.
The alpenhorn had put a large dent in the wall, even knocking part of the chair rail loose. “Whoops.” When he looked closer though, something seemed strange. He ran his finger over the perfectly straight cuts in the chair rail segment.
“I didn’t do that.”
He pushed it every which way until suddenly the jarred section slipped off the wall. A hole was behind it, and inside it housed a very dusty box. He pulled it out, excitement growing with every second. He could see ink stamps behind the dust as he brushed off the time.
Holding his breath, he pulled the lid back, hoping secretly for some treasure to be staring back at him. All that was there was an old navy blue cloth.
He sighed. A little disappointed, he reached in and his hand knocked against something solid beneath. A tiny glimmer of hope sprang back in him. As he folded back the cloth it was as though the world had pulled away from him for a moment, leaving just him… and the book.
In his hand laid a grand old book with a scaly, gray-green cover. It was covered in rich leather that smelt of age and magic, and a glittering gold title was carved into it:
There was nothing else. No author, no date, just the gold words. He lifted it out of the box realizing how heavy and substantial it really was.The old leather cracked as he gently pulled back the cover. Turning to the first page, there was written in a beautiful old script:
He flipped to the next page and there he was met with a spectacular illumination, etched with such detail that he felt a shiver go down his spine. It depicted a great man, perfect in form and wearing a flowing robe, feet planted on the balcony of a grand columned palace. He pointed powerfully out over the horizon to a darkening sky filled with looming clouds. On the ground surrounding the palace walls were hundreds of men, all in scripted armor, brandishing spears, swords and bows. A look of stone etched each soldier’s face as they gazed out at the mass of creatures the perfect man seemed to be pointing at. Logan recognized the mythical creatures huddled together with panic on each face. Strong centaurs reared and cowered, satyrs ran from the army, elegant women with branches for hair screamed, and a great griffin tended to his broken wing. They looked awful. Not because the artist had depicted them in a horrid bug-eyed way most old books tended to. These had a very genuine look to them. It was the fear in their faces that looked so awful; complete and utter fear of the perfect man and his army. It was a picture Logan never would have dreamed up, yet as he looked at it, he could interpret each feeling on each face.
He stared at it for a few moments, and then the world returned back around him.
“Uncle Sterling, come look what I’ve found!”