The Crossing of Half Way & There
I finally found what I’d been looking for; the numbers on the pad of paper referred to what I thought at first was an ottendorf cipher—I need only find the book my uncle had been referring to.
He must have been a master of secrecy, my uncle. For even in his note, his subtlety still astounds me. I wish I could have met him. In his letter he wrote this phrase, “Your own common sense is your greatest treasure, and the key to your personal preservation.” What I didn’t realize until a few months later, was that he left a copy of Treasure Island in his personal library on the farm. This book, indeed, held the secrets he kept.
Hundreds of clocks hung in an eclectic array on every wall, permeating the room with a soft, synchronized tock, tock, tock, tock. Every clock in the room was stopped on exactly 7:20.
“What?” Rian whispered in awe.
Oaken shelves lined a section of wall, filled with dusty books, ancient looking scrolls, other small trinkets, and more clocks. A log to his left stood like an old grandfather clock, an ovular face etched near the top.
Moonlight filtered in through a window high on the wall behind Rian, barely highlighting the contents of the room. He stepped forward, rubbing his hand across a triangular wooden clock dangling from the ceiling, its bronze face smooth under his fingers. His heart continued to pound against his rib cage.
Across the room, in the opposite corner, something caught his eye. A tall, wrought iron signpost stood fixed in the floor. Solid and black, the post’s gothic metalwork stood out against the decaying wooden walls. Two signs pointed down the length of the walls, marking them as if it were a street intersection. As he neared the post, Rian read the antique inscriptions on the metal signs. The one on his left read Half Way, the other read There.
A wooden plank hung from one of the signs on a thin chain, black ink scrawled across the front in large, loopy letters. Rian reached for the plank and read the words in a whisper.
“Welcome to the Crossing of Half Way & There. This intersection once guarded a great secret. Now it is your time to help protect it. Use your time well—for once it is spent, there is no taking it back.”
Rian looked up at the signs again. “Halfway to what?” This venture was proving to inspire more questions than answers.
Rian dropped the plank, the chains jangling as the plank hit the pole. Turning, he noticed a thin door in the wall next to the signpost. It stood right behind the sign that read There, about half the width of a regular door. He tried opening it, but the handle didn’t budge.
“Why did you bring me here?” He asked, hoping the voice would hear him.
He waited, listening for the sound of a whisper, but the only thing that reached his ears was the soft tock, tock, tock, tock of the broken clocks.
Rian walked to the nearest bookshelf, pulling off a clock identical to the one in his bedroom. He tossed it between his hands as he studied the contents of the bookshelf. He didn’t recognize any of the books—books like A Happener’s Beginning: Year One, and A Fowndian Bestiary sounded like grown-up books.
An elongated, spiral seashell-like trinket rested on a pedestal in front of several cobweb covered scrolls. Carefully setting the clock down in its original spot, Rian picked up the seashell. Several holes lined the shell like a flute. Rian blew through one end of the shell, but no sound came out. He set it down, moving along the bookshelves.
Omsh avam nott ush nus shut khtasham,
Voamsh’ ush shut klasg on nus tso sasgam.
The voice rushed through the room with a gust of wind, an eerie blue glow lighting up the room. Rian turned to see the blue orb hovering in the center of the room, bobbing up and down.
The orb sunk to the ground, highlighting the colors of the floor. Glancing down, Rian noticed for the first time a drawing of some sort. Painted into the floorboards of the attic was a map.
Rian got down on his knees and looked closer at the map. He didn’t recognize any of the names on it—geography had never been his best subject. Though, names like Mountains of Minuscule, and The Forest of Clock didn’t seem like real places.
The blue orb touched the ground above the map, glowing so brightly Rian had to squint. A soft cracking sound caused Rian to open his eyes, and he watched as scratches in the floor began to appear, outlined by the blue glow. The light began to fade, smoke rising from the cracks. Rian leaned over the map to read the smoking words.
Play the flute to find the gold and open up the door,
Into imagination as you’re falling through the floor.
Chills curled around his spine, inspiring his heart to pump faster. Fear gnawed at his insides. He scrambled backward, heading to the trap door. With trembling hands, he fumbled while trying to lift the latch, his heart continuing to pound against his chest.
Rian no longer wanted to be alone in the attic. He rushed down the ladder and ran back to the house as fast as he could. There was no way he would investigate anymore unless Val went with him. This is so much worse than zombies, he thought with a rush. He wasn’t sure whether to be scared or excited.
Slowing down before he reached the front door, he leaned over and coughed, trying to catch his breath. His breathing began to slow, and he quietly opened the door, heading upstairs.
“Psst, Val,” Rian whispered as he entered her room. “Val, wake up!”
She mumbled tiredly, “Mhh . . . The spinach had tree frog for waffles.”
Rian snickered. He missed sharing a room with Val—he hadn’t heard her sleep talk in a while. He approached the bed and nudged his sister. “Come on, wake up!”
Val scrunched her eyes together and breathed in sharply through her nose. “Rian? What are you doing?” She asked, annoyed.
“Val, you’ve got to see this,” Rian whispered anxiously.
She sighed, sitting up. “What time is it?” she asked, her eyes still mostly closed.
Rian glanced down at his watch. “3:27.”
“A.M.? Uhg!” Val groaned, falling back into her sheets. “What did you wake me up for?”
Rian pulled the blankets off her bed, revealing her green polka dot pajamas. “You have to come see this, Val, that’s what I’ve been telling you!”
“Why couldn’t you have waited until morning?” Val complained, curling up in a ball.
“I don’t want Uncle Blake knowing we’ve been up in his attic.”
Val cocked her head up. “You found the key? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Rian drooped his shoulders and sighed in agitation. “Val, just come on—you’re not going to believe it.”
Val clambered out of bed and pulled on her fuzzy green slippers and matching robe. “When did you find it? Don’t tell me you’ve been up all night looking for it.”
“No, I wasn’t. I’ll tell you in a minute,” Rian said as they slowly walked out the bedroom door and down the steps. “Careful, the floorboard at the bottom creaks.”
They both stepped lightly across the front room, worried that the slightest noise would wake Blake or Kathlene. Rian pulled the front door open, and they left the quiet confines of the house.
“Okay, here’s what happened,” Rian said, still in his low whisper, as he proceeded to tell Val about the blue orb and the voice.
“Oh, enough with the voice already!” Val stopped abruptly halfway to the shed. “Are you just trying to freak me out?”
“Val, I’m serious. Come on.”
“Not until you quit with the ghost thing. I’m serious, too.”
“Okay, I didn’t hear anything—I just found the key randomly twenty minutes ago after being woken up by nothing. Happy?”
Val folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. “No.”
“Are you coming, then?”
Val stood in silence for a moment, her green robe swaying in the wind. “All right. But not another word about this voice, okay?”
“Okay, okay,” Rian said, agitated. “Now let’s go.”
Rian led the way through the shed and up into the attic. Val paused at the bottom of the ladder, looking suspiciously up at Rian. “You promise you’re not just trying to freak me out?”
“Promise.” He held out his hand and helped pull Val up. Dusting off her robe she peered around the attic, awe streaking across her face.
“Oh my . . .” she said, surprised. “I think I might believe you now.”