FLANAGAN’S HOBBY SHOP - PORTLAND, OREGON - PRESENT DAY
“What is it, Jack? You know you’re only allowed to make calls if it’s an emergency.” Aunt Lizzie asked when, after six rings, she finally answered the phone, her words clipped with annoyance.
“It is an emergency, Aunt Lizzie,” Jack blurted in response. “I’m sick. I can’t go to school today,” he said, glancing up at Bart, who nodded eagerly.
“Sick? What’s wrong with you? You sound fine to me.” Jack could practically feel her agitation through his cell.
“It’s… it’s not a cold or the flu or anything like that…” He started but paused, not knowing how to continue.
“I think…I may have had some kind of a seizure or something. And I just need to come home. Can you come pick me up?”
He hated asking either Uncle Earl or Aunt Lizzie to do him any favors. They always acted like he was such an enormous inconvenience for them. Despite taking him into their care all those years ago, he couldn’t help but wonder why they even agreed if he was such a burden.
“A seizure?” Her voice was high-pitched and accusatory. Then, more thoughtfully—“A seizure? What kind of seizure?”
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone while Lizzie waited for a response. Jack looked at Bart in frustration. How was he supposed to know what kind of seizure? He didn’t even begin to understand the experience himself. So, he was pretty sure there was no way he could expect her to understand.
“I don’t know, Aunt Lizzie!” He said, fighting to keep his voice from becoming hysterical. “I just had some kind of spontaneous attack, maybe something to do with my asthma. Can I please come home?” Geez, could she make this any more difficult? He stared imploringly at the floor as he spoke, willing her to feel the desperation in his words. Though he didn’t like to admit it, he was scared.
“Well, I suppose you can miss a day of school,” she said. “But you’ll need to take the train. I have my ladies group coming over for tea soon and—-”
“Don’t you get it? I can’t take the train! What if I have another stupid attack?!?” He rolled his eyes at Bart. “Do you want me spazzing out in public?”
Jack knew her hyper-concern over their public image would get the better of her, so when he heard Lizzie’s sigh in his ear, he knew he had won.
“Oh. Well, you do have a point there. No, we wouldn’t want that.” She paused for a moment, then said, “I’ll send someone to pick you up. Where are you?”
Jack looked at Bart and rolled his eyes again in exasperation, throwing his left hand into the air. They were both standing in front of Flanagan’s Hobby Shop when suddenly Bill, Bart’s father, came strolling around the corner.
“Dad!” Bart said. “I’m so glad you’re here!” And he rushed to where his dad stood and grabbed him by the arm. “Jack is sick. Can we give him a ride home?” He said, looking over at Jack, still on the phone.
Bill looked down at his son, then across at Jack, who waved meekly with his phone still pressed to his ear. Bill Flanagan was in his mid-40‘s and looking at him, Jack could see where Bart got his Portlandish look from. Of medium height and build, his lightly tanned, weather-worn face had a pair of matching lines deeply etched from cheek to jawline and just enough stubble to mark him as an outdoorsman. His sun-kissed, sandy-colored hair was a little long for his age and gave him an unusually ‘hip’ look that made him seem laid-back and approachable. He had intense, light-blue eyes, and today he was wearing a muted green, button-down shirt tucked into khaki jeans and taupe-colored suede Birkenstocks with tan and brown nubby socks.
He was that guy, the kind who is genuine, transparent, and compassionate. And he would protect you with his very life.
“Of course we can,” he said, crossing to where Jack stood. “Sick? What’s the matter?”
“Seriously, Pop? You don’t mind?” Jack asked. Bill nodded, then Jack spoke into the phone again. “Never mind, Aunt Lizzie. Bart’s dad just got here. He’s going to give me a ride.”
“Oh, good. Alright then. I will visit with you later after you get home and settled.” Lizzie replied, sounding much too pleased, and Jack knew that she was glad to be relieved of the responsibility. Before Jack could even say goodbye, the line cut off. He shook his head and pushed the phone back into his pocket.
“What’s wrong, Jack?” Bill asked, lifting the sunglasses off of his nose and relocating them to the top of his head.
Jack shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I can’t really explain it. I kind of had, maybe a seizure or something. I think it’s just best if I go home.” Jack’s dark eyes peered up into Bills. “I don’t understand it enough to explain it right now. Can we maybe talk about it later?” He asked.
Bill put his arm around Jack’s shoulder. “Sure, pal. No problem. Let’s get you out of here.”
Bill stepped into the hobby shop and posted the ‘Closed’ sign on the door before locking up. Then the three of them headed for the parking garage two blocks down the street. They walked in silence, with Bill leading the way and Bart hanging back with Jack.
“What are you going to tell your aunt and uncle?” Bart asked in a whisper.
Jack bit his lower lip and looked into the shop windows as they walked. “I honestly don’t know yet. I think it might be best if we kept the part about the ship and the telescope and all that just between you and me, for now, ok? I don’t want to make it any weirder than it already is. You know how they get.”
Bart nodded his head slowly in agreement. “Yeah…good idea.
They arrived at the parking garage, located Bill’s SUV, got in, and headed to Jack’s house.
The drive through downtown was uneventful, and shortly after they set off, Bill pulled up next to the curb in front of the familiar home.
“Thanks again, Pop. I really appreciate you giving me a ride,” Jack said as he opened the door of the vehicle and turned to Bart. “I’ll let you know how it goes.” He whispered as he closed the door.
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The rumble of the SUV disappeared behind him as Bill drove Bart to school, leaving Jack standing alone on the sidewalk, staring up at the large, red brick house that was the O’Brien residence. He didn’t call it his home; it wasn’t, really.
Rain from the early morning hours had reduced to a drizzle, but all the yards and Rhododendrons on the street were drenched in moisture. The sky was gray and overcast as Jack made his way up the front walk. Glancing at the ornate iron and glass front door, through which Lizzie O’Brien’s guests would have entered, Jack abruptly turned left to the driveway. He walked around the side to the back of the house, where he was required to take the exterior cement staircase down to his living quarters, the cold, dank basement his aunt and uncle had converted into his bedroom.
Once inside, he made a mental note of the time—9:27 a.m.—removed his cell phone from his jacket pocket, and texted his aunt: I’m home.
After taking off his shoes, he dropped his backpack on the floor next to his bed and laid down, reflecting on the events of the morning.
Aunt Lizzie’s response finally came three hours later, at 12:30 p.m.
Come up for lunch. Your uncle and I would like to talk to you.
Uncle Earl? Jack thought, staring at the message as if it was some complicated equation he couldn’t quite get his head around. Wasn’t he supposed to be on a business trip in Europe?
Opening the door and ascending the wooden staircase leading to the kitchen, Jack found his aunt and uncle standing there, waiting for him expectantly.
“Uncle Earl…when did you get back?” Jack eyed him warily.
Ignoring the question, Earl motioned for Jack to follow him. “Jack, let’s have a seat in the living room.” And without waiting, he turned and walked in that direction.
Sitting down next to his wife on the white leather sofa, he looked at Jack, who sat in the chair situated across from them. Aunt Lizzie was acting weird. She had the hint of a smile on her face and anxious energy in her body that caused her to sit perched forward in an awkward position. Jack swallowed nervously.
“Your aunt tells me you missed school today because you were not feeling well,” Earl said, looking with interest in Jack’s direction. “I want to hear all about that, Jack,” he said, pushing his glasses up off the end of his nose.
The familiar gold and red ring that Earl wore on his right-hand glimmered in the murky daylight as he moved. Only, this time, Jack noticed, it was now glowing in a way that it never had before.
Realization struck him like a ton of bricks, and he averted his gaze immediately, worried his uncle might recognize the look in his eye and inquire about things he promised himself he wouldn’t reveal. The ring his uncle was wearing was almost identical to the one he saw on the hand in that vision.
An icy chill went up the back of his neck, making the little hairs there stand on end.
“Well…” He started cautiously. “I’m feeling fine now. But earlier, I had a kind of—-I don’t know how to explain it, an attack. A seizure, maybe? It really scared me.” He looked at both of them, but his eyes rested on Earl, who had a curious expression on his face.
“What kind of seizure, Jack? Can you be more specific?” His uncle asked. Both he and Aunt Lizzie were now leaning forward.
“I really can’t explain what happened…” Jack’s mind was spinning now. “I was hanging out with Bart like we always do, and all of a sudden, I just blacked out. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor, and Bart was leaning over me, shaking my arms, trying to wake me up.”
“Where were you when this happened? Was there anything else unusual going on at the time?” Uncle Earl seemed overly intrigued by this incident, which was odd for Jack because his aunt and uncle had never shown the least bit of interest in his life before this.
“We were at Flanagan’s…” He said slowly. “Bart wanted to show me some cool new stuff they got in the store before we headed to school. It happened while we were there.” He fidgeted a bit in his seat as he spoke but tried not to look too nervous.
“Thankfully, his dad got there just afterward, so he offered to drive me home.” Jack continued, hoping he had satisfied their curiosity.
“I think, maybe, I should go to the doctor to get checked out.” He added. “Bart and I were thinking it might be related to my asthma attacks.”
“Why would you think that, Jack?” Uncle Earl asked, looking a little amused.
“Well, I have had more attacks lately, and there is this…new sensation. My hands have started burning at night. Just sometimes—not every night. I think the two things might be related somehow.” He finished, looking at the two of them. Then added, “Besides, what other explanation could there be? I just think I should get checked out.”
And he waited for them to say something.
Earl and Lizzie looked at one another for a long moment. It seemed to Jack as though they’d forgotten he was sitting there across from them. When he heard Lizzie quietly, almost in a whisper, say to Earl, “I think it’s time to tell him.”
“Tell me what?” Jack frowned, suspicion increasing with every passing second.
They turned, almost in concert with one another, to gaze at him, still not a word uttered in his direction.
The silence was deafening.
“What?” Jack exploded at them. “I just want answers! Is there something you’ve been keeping from me?”
With no reaction to Jack’s outburst, Earl got up from where he sat on the couch, crossed the room to the chair next to Jack’s, and sat down facing him, much closer now.
“Well, yes, to be perfectly frank, Jack, there is.” Earl looked down to his hands and with his left thumb, rubbed the glowing red stone on his ring.
“I’m not quite certain how to tell you this… we’ve known your entire life this time would come…” He started, looking up at Lizzie, then back to Jack. “But that knowledge and preparation aren’t any help now that the time is finally here.” He stopped speaking and looked into Jack’s eyes as if searching for some indication of how to proceed.
Jack looked at Earl, then to Lizzie, and back again.
“What are you talking about? Just spit it out! What have you known my entire life? You’re starting to freak me out now!”
Earl closed his eyes, removed his glasses, and ran a hand over the top of his mostly bald head. He took a deep breath before opening his mouth to speak.
“Where to begin? I guess it will be easiest to just cut to the chase and then fill in the gaps afterward.” He started. “The quick and dirty answer is to say that you are not having seizures.” He paused for emphasis, looking at Jack.
“And how do you know that…? Without taking me to a doctor to have me checked out, that is?” Jack asked, squinting warily at his uncle.
“Because, Jack,” and he inhaled deeply through his nostrils, his chest visibly filling with oxygen before audibly exhaling through his mouth, “you come from a long line of magic workers whose powers awaken during this time of hormonal shift in the body—puberty.”
Earl said it matter-of-factly, with no hint of amusement in his face, voice, or body language. He was completely serious.
Jack looked at him for a moment, then shifted his gaze to his aunt, who was staring at him intently as if she was actually concerned about his reaction. Then, he looked back at his uncle again before breaking out into an abrupt burst of laughter, a very brief burst, before he became enraged.
“Magic workers? Do you think this is a joke? I don’t find this funny! I mean, I know you’ve never taken an interest in me or my life before now, but why you would decide this is a good time to play a stupid trick on me like this when I’m going through one of the scariest experiences of my life, I just don’t get it! This is a new low, even for you two!”
Jack shot out of the chair and bolted for the kitchen.
“Stop, Jack! This is no joke.” Earl said, and he turned in his chair to look at Jack as he was dashing from the room.
Jack stopped abruptly and turned to face his uncle. When he looked into those eyes, he could see a solemnness in his demeanor that conveyed the truth of his words. So, he stood motionless, not knowing what to do.
“Please come back, calm down, and allow me to explain.” Earl implored.
Jack’s brain was buzzing. He felt dizzy and needed to sit. Reluctantly he returned to the chair he had been sitting in and stared at his uncle, a look of utter contempt on his face.
“Well, then, explain,” he said, watching to see what kind of tall tale his uncle planned to spin.
“I knew the very instant it happened, before you even called Lizzie, that you had experienced a life-altering incident this morning, Jack.” He looked down at his right hand, at the ring. “How, you might ask? This ring.” And he lifted it in Jack’s direction. “I didn’t miss the fact that you noticed the change in its appearance and behavior, Jack.” And he looked up to gaze into Jack’s eyes.
“This change? It’s you. Your energy is what lights up this ring I’m wearing. But it’s not just your ordinary, day-to-day energy represented here. No, it’s your magical energy, or rather, the awakening of those abilities, that has lit up this ring.”
Jack scrunched his eyebrows together. “I don’t understand.”
“What I’m saying, Jack, is that when you came to live with us nine years ago, following your parent’s death, you and I were magically bound to one another, and this ring represents that binding. It’s a kind of energetic monitor, if you will. Its sole purpose is to alert me to magical activity in and around you. That is how and why I knew there was some unusual activity related to you this morning. Though I didn’t know precisely what.”
Jack sat there, speechless for a few minutes, a blank look on his face.
“Do you understand what I’m saying, Jack?” Earl asked.
Jack’s gaze shifted to the carpet. “No, Uncle. I don’t…” he started, “So, if I follow what you’re telling me…there is some magical energy in the world that you are somehow connected to, and which also somehow involves me and allows you to track magical activity around me…So, you’re saying that the seizure I had this morning was, in some way, related to this magical energy and wasn’t a seizure at all? Is that about the gist of things?” He asked, looking now to his uncle for confirmation.
“Yes, that’s essentially it,” Earl replied.
“So, then, I have to ask why?” Jack looked at both of them. “Why do you have this ring that connects us? What is this magical energy or ability you are so busily tracking? And what does it mean to you? Are you worried I’m some kind of wizard or something?” Jack asked, indignantly amused by his inquiry.
“I know you have a lot of questions, Jack. And justifiably so. For now, though, the most important thing is that you know that you are not sick. You are not having seizures. And we are here to help you work through all of these questions. I think that’s enough for now. Take some time to absorb what I’ve told you so far, and we can talk more about details as time goes on.” Earl finished and stood, ready to move on from the conversation.
“I’m sure you’re tired now, dear,” Aunt Lizzie began. “Have lunch and then get some rest. We will talk later.” And she, too, got up and walked to stand next to her husband.
It was clear the discussion was over, but Jack was angry and distraught and had lost any appetite he may have once had. He turned to the staircase in the kitchen closing the door behind him and headed back down to his bedroom.
Magic? That was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.