Henry’s World

Two spires rise sharply into the crisp blue morning sky as our minivan pulls into the lengthy drive leading toward the towering mansion. I can feel my teeth tighten at the sight. It is still an awkward feeling, these braces. Not exactly the birthday present a twelve-year-old boy hopes for, but still, I am thankful to have a better smile some day.

“Is that Uncle Julian’s house…uh…castle?”

“That’s right, Henry. I want you to remember we’re here to talk to Uncle Julian’s visiting nurse about moving him someplace that can better take care of…well…his needs.” My mom grips the steering wheel tighter.

There’s something she isn’t telling me. I don’t know what it is, but that’s not unusual. She is my mom after all.

“Doug, can you believe this place? Look at that yard!”

Doug has been my friend since first grade when he saved me from a life of boredom and loneliness. At least that’s how Doug likes to tell it.

There is no mistaking the two of us for twin brothers by any means, much less brothers at all. Except that we are inseparable. My mom knew before she asked me about going that we had to invite Doug. My friend has a mop of brown hair rather carelessly shoveled to one side, but sometimes even to the other depending on his mood – one of several visual contrasts compared to my meticulously combed blond hair, always parted to the same side. I know; it’s a thing.

The door slides open, releasing us as we snatch up our tablets. I am so looking forward to trying out a new game I installed this morning.

“No boys. Those stay here.”

I can actually feel my shoulders sink as my hand slips off the tablet. This was going to ease the ensuing boredom, but I know spending time with my uncle is the better thing to do right now. I’ve only ever seen him over the holidays once in a while at my house. We haven’t talked a great deal. Usually about baseball or something. Oh, he is nice enough, but just so adult.

After a few hours there talking, it is obvious why my uncle needs some different arrangements.

“What is it they said he has, oldshimers?” Doug leans over to me to whisper. “He’s not all there, is he?”

I draw a deep breath, feeling time crawl. “Yeah, Alzheimer’s. I guess it’s getting pretty bad.”

My uncle seems to be fine for a bit, then slips out and forgets who we even are. The nurse goes to the kitchen, probably to get some medicine or something for him. She’s been doing that on and off for hours. My mom stands up, pensive.

“I’m going to find the restroom.” She can see the look on my face, I’m sure, since she continues, “I know I said I wouldn’t leave you alone with him, but I drank all that tea. It won’t be for long.” She rushes off before I can protest.

“Good. I thought those two would never take a break.” My uncle snatches my attention back as I thought he had slipped off to wherever his mind goes.

“Let’s do this quick before one of them comes back. They won’t understand.” He plunges a hand deep under his chair as if looting a hidden stash.

“Understand what, Uncle?” I lean a bit closer, peering under the chair. This is the most interesting development all day.

A look of blissful satisfaction dances over his face as his hand retrieves the treasure. A book. A rather old-looking book. He hands it to me. Pulling the cover open, I see there is no title inside, just as there isn’t outside. I flip a few more pages. All empty.

“A journal?”

“Of sorts,” my uncle says as a crooked smile wrenches his mouth.

I close the book and notice my name on the cover. Henry Sevenson. “Was that there? I could have sworn there were no words on it.”

“Quickly put it in your pocket, your mother is coming. Remember, she won’t understand this book,” my uncle speaks more adamantly.

“My pocket? But it’s…” I look down at the book that now looks to be barely a sixth of its original size. I glance at my equally perplexed friend, then shove the tiny book into my pocket as my mom walks in.

After another hour of chatting and working out details with the nurse, we are at the door donning our shoes for our trip home.

I feel a hand rest on my shoulder as I turn to hear my uncle, “We likely won’t see each other here, but there’s a place you will find me. Find me once you start to understand and we’ll explore worlds you’ve never imagined exist.”

“Okay,” the nurse interrupts with her shockingly awful bedside manner. “Let’s get you some rest. It seems the long day of visitors has you more confused.”

But his eyes stay locked on mine as he is led off to a room to get rest.

Back in the minivan and on our way home, only one thought keeps pushing its way through my mind. Judging by the look on Doug’s face, he probably has the same one: What’s with that book and that stuff my uncle said as we left?

I pull the tiny book from my pocket. Almost expecting it not to be there, like the entire conversation was just a daydream I had, but there it is. As it rests in my hand, the book becomes full size again. I exchange a glance with Doug. He nods, knowing we have to look inside again.

I pull back the cover and a strange warm light spills out. My head snaps up to check if my mom noticed anything, but she looks very still. Too still. In fact, so do the cars around us on the road. They are moving, but incredibly slowly.

“What’s going on?” Doug croaks the words as if not having talked for a week. It seems he and I are the only ones not affected by this slowness.

“I better close this book. This doesn’t seem right.”

The cover starts closing as I feel Doug’s hand stop me. “Wait, we need to understand what your uncle was talking about.”

I nod. “Okay, yeah. He didn’t seem to think it was dangerous. But then he wasn’t thinking clearly much at all.”

I pull the cover fully open. As our eyes start to adjust to the light, we begin reading words that form on the page just ahead of us reading them. Like the story is being written as we read.

We both start reading the words together:

The sun presses down on the two boys like hot coals. They make their way up the final sand dune, ready to escape from the heat in the refuge they expect to see any moment.

“Why do I feel sand on my feet?” Doug looks down as we both see his feet sink a couple inches into sun-drenched sand. “What are you wearing?” He lets out a chuckle so hard he has to hold his belly.

“Probably the same ridiculous outfit you are. We both look like we’re in some big bath robe. Wait! These are desert clothes. This is the story we were reading! How can this be?”

Before Doug can give an answer he doesn’t have, someone crests the dune from the other side. A rather intense-seeming woman, but I can’t make out her face with her head covering. She grabs our hands as if she knows us. Tugging us forward, she snaps, “It’s about time you two got here. We need to hurry up. There isn’t much time.”

“Wait, what? First, where is here? How did we get here? I don’t understand any of this.”

She stops abruptly and straightens up. Turning toward us, she licks her dry lips. “You don’t know? Your uncle didn’t explain anything to you? Oh great! We’re doomed. How are you supposed to help us if you don’t know how to use it?”

Afraid to ask for seeming even less helpful, “The book?”

She sighs, “The book is only a tool. A door.” The woman takes a softer tone as she places a hand on my chest. “This brought you here. Your heart.”

A cloud begins forming in the sky somewhere behind her. She must have noticed my gaze shift as she turned. The three of us watch the swirling gray cloud grow larger and bolts of lighting begin darting out of it toward what seems like a desert city.

“You’re going to need to learn very fast.” She looks back at me. “Your uncle, your mom, they are depending on it.”

“My mom? No, she doesn’t have anything to do with this.”

“Did he tell you she wouldn’t understand?” She kneels down.

“How did you know that?”

“He didn’t want you to know they were going to capture her soon.” I can feel my teeth tighten again. Not just my teeth. My hands clench into fists.

“We’ll find her before it’s too late. Don’t worry.” Her eyes waver.

She isn’t sure.

Technology Pirates

This post is based on a story idea I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Let me know what you think of it and what you’d want to see more of in a story built around this.

Thanks,
Victor

#

He picks up the package with a pointed curiosity. Shakes it three times. With each shake, his shining, marble eyes grow a little bigger. The word slips out. “Toy!” At the impressionable age of two-years-old, Jayden holds the paper covered package with both hands. Trying to create that first puncture. The one that opens the mysterious world inside, letting it be explored and discovered.

“Here Jayden. Like this.” I coach, punching my finger into the side, forming a hole. The package is quickly tugged back as he begins making quick work of enlarging the small hole.

Will I ever be able to tell him? He needs to know what life used to be like. But not today. His birthday of all days. Seriously, I’m thinking about this today?

I shake my head slightly as if to shake off the feeling and the thought which somehow crept their way back in. Jayden pulls off most of the paper then lets out a shriek of joy. He held tightly to it. His new birthday gift. A green bouncy-ball.

He only has a few toys so this was sure to be a hit. I collect both him and the ball in my arms, off the deck of our small boat. Looking around I draw in the crisp morning air. It was still chilly these days in what they once called the Gulf of Mexico. Today it has had many names. New ownership seems to fight its way in every other week.

I better check it one more time.

I set Jayden down and turn to the mooring line. My hands feel coarse against the thick rope keeping us attached to the larger, stationary ship. That ship is our floating city. The one we are now a part of. Just like the other boats that have cast their lines onto the ship we claim it to be our community. That is until it disbands. Unity is something in short commodity.

Oh, how I do miss the land. Stop! I wasn’t going to do this today. Thinking like this on Jayden’s birthday.

A tear slips out of my eye. I can feel it. But is it for me? For my longing for life on land? No, it is for him. My son, that never knew what it was like to be on hard soil. Jayden was born on this boat. Of course, that was three cityships ago. Or was it four. Whatever. I tug hard on the line ensuring, once more, it isn’t going to let go. Without this cityship… I can’t think like that.

It really is a peaceful morning. I scan the horizon taking in a deep breath of fresh air with hints of the smell of saltwater. I don’t always smell it, the saltwater. I’ve gotten used to it over the years. When I do smell it I know my senses have slowed down enough that I can really enjoy the moment.

From where the cityship is anchored, just outside the bay, I can almost see what’s left of Tampa. What were once great buildings are now destroyed or barely standing rubble. I’ve never been any closer to the city…since it happened. Has it really been twelve years? I remember the explosions. The way electronic devices in my house started shooting bright sparks as all the parts fused. Everything. Every major electronic device on the planet wiped out in minutes. Sure one would think it would change life. But no one could have understood how much.

Now the bay is a haven for pirates just waiting for an unknowing wanderer to enter their web. Another reason it’s good to be part of a cityship community. I would have never known the risk of the bay otherwise. The safety from strong waves is easily a tempting advantage to the bay for a single boat.

Slowly turning to the left I scan the horizon, further enjoying the quiet peace of the morning. North and West the waters look relatively calm. I adjust my footing careful as to not to step on the bouncy ball Jayden rolls between my feet. My eyes now looking to the South. Nothing but beautiful…wait, what’s that. It’s moving fast. Oh no. It’s moving this way!

My hand is reaching for the bell. I hear five other bells around me. I join the alert. Pulling the bell rope so hard I’m sure it will come loose.

“Pirates due South!” shouted the man two boats from me. He’s been a member of this cityship only a week but already eager to help the community.

There’s so many! I can make out three, no four ships! Even one is a serious challenge for cityships. Most cityships started out as vacation cruise liners back when the land was still livable. Even with their overhauls, they are still no match for a pirate ship focused primarily on a different means of survival…to conquer.

I reach down grabbing Jayden up into my arms and rush to the rope ladder leading up to the safety of the cityship. My foot manages to kick his new ball into the lower level of the boat. I can’t worry about that now. Jayden screams. I look over my shoulder. The pirates closing rapidly. I don’t have time. “I’m sorry Jayden we have to go now.” He doesn’t understand. Another scream. I’m going to need him quiet when we are hiding on the cityship when it’s boarded. That ball is the only thing that can do that right now. After one quick look back to check their rate of progress I take a wavering breath. We both descend into the lower level.

Overhead, I can hear people shouting to each other to climb faster as they ascend the cityship. Where is that ball? I set Jayden down so I can look faster. It’s starting to get quieter outside. Most people must already be on the cityship now. I clench my hands to fists trying to not let the shaking take over. Emotions rip through my body like a drug I have no control over. Panic, fear. Jayden. Where is that ball?

Powerful jet motors are sounding louder. They are almost here! I glance out a portal window. They are almost close enough to board the cityship.

There it is! I snatch up the ball then Jayden and start ascending to the deck but then I hear it. The sound I feared. The cityship was locking down! I didn’t make it. What do I do now? My legs shook on the ladder rungs as my knees gave out, making me slip a couple feet, nearly dropping my precious cargo.

I can’t get to the cityship, I’ll need to stay here. Letting out a heavy sigh and resigning myself to hiding here I carefully climb back down. As I set Jayden down I hear the jet engines go silent. I hear nothing. Nothing but voices. It must be the pirates.

Thud! That couldn’t have been more than three boats away. That’s usually where they start. Searching the boats. Looking for anything that will fetch a price. Or anyone. I look down at my hands. They were shaking again. The only place to hide in this tiny boat is the small compartment behind the ladder. If they don’t look hard they probably won’t see the access panel. I rush over to the panel pulling on it. Stuck! I look at Jayden’s glassy eyes staring back at me, as he struggles to find some understanding of what is going on. Pull! Using all of what little strength is in my arms I manage to break the panel free. There isn’t room with this stuff in here. I haven’t looked at this in ages. I’ve had a cityship so long I haven’t needed this hiding space for years.

Thud! That was closer. Have to hurry. I grab a few dusty boxes, toss them to the floor making just enough room. My feet move so fast I nearly trip. I collect my son and his ball then plunge us into the tiny crevice. Pulling the panel closed I let out a quiet, controlled breath in the attempt of slowing my heart which I’m certain was beating so loud it could be heard.

Thud! Dust fell on my shoulder from the hard jump onto the deck just above. I count each creak. Knowing the distinctive sound each rung of the ladder makes. I swallow hard as I can. My mouth and throat both dry.

“Ball?” Jayden asks with pure innocence. My heart sped up as if it had a higher speed. The tall sliver of light pouring into the small, dark space through the crack around the panel suddenly flashed out. I could hear the pirate’s heavy breath just the other side of the panel.

“We got it!” Called a voice from outside.

The man rattled the panel a moment. Stuck. I’ve never been glad that old thing sticks so much, until today. He let out a grunt dismissing the panel as he bolted up the ladder joining the other pirates in their victory of claiming whatever treasure they sought and were successful in finding.

Safe again, for now.