Ch. 7: Going Incognitus
The boys really just want to say goodnight and have a bowl of yogurt. What’s so hard about that?
They ran as quietly as they could, but the old floors creaked under their feet so they sped up and took the first turn they found. They stopped and peeked back around the corner to see if the man was following them. The coast was clear.
“That was funny,” Lu said. “I didn’t even know what you really said, but then you started running so I just started running, too,” he stopped, but then started up again right away. “This has been like the best day of my whole life,” he added.
Dec felt proud that he was a part of one of Lu’s best days in his fully-lived nine years, but little did he know (and it was probably better that he didn’t know) that Lu said this a few times a month. In the grand scheme of things, there are worse crimes than occasionally stating that a day has been one of the best of your life.
“Do you remember how to get to the kitchen?” Dec asked.
“I have no idea,” Lu answered.
“Oh,” Dec said, a bit discouraged.
“Oh, I know,” Lu said suddenly full of action. “Let’s go this way. Come on!” He pointed and pulled Dec’s shirt sleeve and the boys were again running through the castle’s hallways without a care in the world in a scene most boys might also say could be part of the best day of their lives.
They came to a door and it was locked. They turned around, took a different hallway and went down a flight of stairs and ended up in a hallway where they heard music.
“Hey, maybe that’s the party,” Lu said.
“It must be because I think our wedding has booked the entire castle,” Dec replied.
“Want to go check it out?” Lu asked.
“I’m kinda hungry,” Dec said.
“I just want to see if I can see my parents, just to see if they’re out there dancing,” Lu tried to sound like he didn’t really miss his parents or anything, but just that, like a challenge, he wanted to see if he could see them or find them.
“OK,” Dec said. “But I don’t think we’re really allowed in there.”
“We’ll go incognitus,” Lu said.
“We’ll go huh?” Dec pulled his head back.
“Where you hide your face and are camouflaged and stuff,” Lu tried his best to explain.
“Oh, incognito,” Dec figured it out.
“Yeah, incognito,” but Lu thought that that was he said in the first place and made a mental note to check into why that happens that you can’t remember what you said when someone corrects you and what they say sounds right but you’re almost certain it’s the same thing you said.
They made their way down another hallway, then listened again. To the right. Through a door, turn left, follow the rumble of the music. It was getting closer.
“Hey boys,” said a scratchy female voice from behind them. “Where are you trying to go?” she asked. The boys turned around and a larger women who looked to be around 120 years old smiled and cocked her head back. “Wait a minute, I’ve heard about you boys, you’re the groom’s sons, right?”
“Yes,” Dec said while Lu was quiet. It seemed too complicated to explain that only one of them was the groom’s son and the other one was a friend of the groom’s son so they left it at that.
“Getting a wee bit late for young lads like yourselves, wouldn’t you agree?” she said and winked a huge eye with such exaggeration that half of her face scrunched up. She looked not unlike a witch, but she was so friendly. Maybe she was a friendly witch.
“I just wanted to say goodnight to my mom and dad,” Lu said.
“Sweet boy, dear me,” she gushed and held her hand over her heart. “I have longed to hear a goodnight from my son for the past 17 years, may his soul rest in peace,” she closed her eyes and lowered her head. She was silent and motionless for just a few seconds, but it might have been several seconds as the boys were awkward in their waiting. “Oh dear, look at me, still wallowing in my dear son’s memory,” she looked into the boys and smiled and her face now squished up into all kinds of love. “Boys, let’s get you in there to say goodnight to your parents, I’m sure they’d love to see you, although, ahem, well, they might have thrown back a few pints by now, I don’t know how well they hold their own, but let’s go in and see,” she motioned them to move along but kept talking, “Are they expecting you?”
“Well, uh, not exactly,” Lu said.
“Right, lads. Now follow Margaret and I’ll get you in a secret side door and you’ll be able to see into the room without anyone seeing you. I bet you boys are up for a little adventure in your day, aren’t you?” She was now ahead of them and she turned around and again winked but again used most of her facial muscles to do the wink. It was almost painful to witness.
“Actually,” Lu began, but was cut off as Margaret kept talking.
“Oh boys, you’re in for a treat, I’ll get you to a spot where you can see the whole dance hall from above a door and we can spot your parents and we’ll find a way to get their attention so you can give them kisses goodnight,” she talked and her arms floated up and down, left and right as she spoke. “Oh, my dear boy, a kiss goodnight, how lovely.” She turned just for a quick glance back and kept going, “My boy is right outside the castle. Yep, right here in the Markree Castle cemetery. Have you boys been there yet? We could go take a quick visit tonight if you’re not too tired.”
“Well, um,” Dec hesitated, “the cemetery?” He was interrupted by her continuous monologue.
“Oh, of course, did you boys just arrive today? No, I think you arrived Thursday, oh me, oh my, just yesterday. What’s today? Friday? Ooh, but late on Friday now, isn’t it?” She asked questions but didn’t wait around for responses, so none were offered.
“I’m sure you’ve had a long day by now. What time is it, anyway? Must be about midnight by now. Why aren’t you boys in bed anyway? It’s been a long, long day,” she stopped suddenly, maybe to allow air into her lungs. She kept going.
“Did you know that tomorrow night is a full moon? Yes, sir, full and big and bright and it will shine right through this Markree Castle and point through the windows like you’ve never seen,” she motioned with her hands up to the heavens then down towards the underbelly of the castle.
Dec looked at Lu and Lu looked and Dec and they smiled and silently giggled.
“When there’s a full moon in certain years, if there aren’t any clouds, the light shines through the castle in ways that the architects created so light gets into places where the sun doesn’t shine,” she said and turned around. “Oops, I’m sorry boys, I hope you don’t know that expression, ‘Where the sun doesn’t shine.'” she said and looked blushed and embarrassed.
“What expression?” Lu asked.
“Oh, good, much better that you don’t know what that one is, you’ll figure it out in a few years, ask your parents,” she paused, put a finger aside her temple and said, “No dears, don’t ask your parents.”
“Do you know if they have yogurt in the kitchen?” Lu asked.
“Absolutely, son,” she exclaimed. “Irish churned yogurt made locally. Best yogurt you’ll ever have. First thing in the morning to start your day of adventure,” she paused. “Say, are you Dec or Dan?”
“I’m Lu,” Lu said. Margaret looked a little confused, but nodded and seemed like she understood perfectly.
“I’m Dec,” Dec piped in.
“Ah yes, lad, so you are,” she said as if that cleared up everything. “I’m Margaret, aunt to many and mother to none.” The boys nodded slightly.
“Is the kitchen still open now?” Lu asked, trying to be polite, but also just plain hungry.
“Hmm, I know the bar is open,” she said and let out a laugh that pretty much confirmed that she was a witch as it was a cackle which was followed by a hacking cough that could only come from drinking too much soup made with moth balls and cat fingernails. “They might be able to get something from the kitchen. We can check in with Alastar and see what he can rustle up.”
“Oh, we know Alastar,” Dec said with pride. Also quite thrilled to say anything in between the long-winded volumes from Margaret the witch.
She turned around with more agility than a woman of her age and size and looked at the boys, but said nothing. She stared at them for seconds, but it seemed like minutes.
“What?” Dec asked.
“Has he brought you downstairs?” she asked in a way that made it unclear whether or not that would be a good thing to answer yes to.
Lu looked at Dec and Dec looked at Lu and the lack of verbal response was response enough for Margaret.
“I see,” she said.
“You see what?” Lu asked.
“Have you met Killian also?” she asked again. Again the boys weren’t sure what to answer which led to no answer which was answer enough for the clever lady.
“Did he bring you under the castle, too?” she asked, but before she waited for them to not answer, she added, “Don’t worry, boys, your secrets are safe with me.” As soon as she said it, she gave the boys some reason to believe that their secrets weren’t safe with her. But they also had the thought that they didn’t have any secrets as she seemed to know everything they had done already anyway.
“Yes,” Dec said quietly, “we went with Alastar.” He wanted to ask her what she thought of Killian and Alastar, but wasn’t sure he could trust her just yet.
“Did they tell you much about the history of the castle? Some great, great, great grandfathers and late-night games and some crazy stories?” she asked. It didn’t seem like she needed an answer, it seemed as if she asked every kid this every night.
Lu thought of a good question for her, “Is it all true? All the stories?”
“Oh dear, I wish some of them weren’t, but they are. This Markree Castle where you boys are guests has some of the wildest history for miles around.” She leaned down closer to them and continue in a softer tone, “The lights turned out, the missing land barons, the silver key, secret escape tunnels and turning out the lights so he could see.”
“Turn out the lights so he could see doesn’t make any sense,” Dec said.
“Wait, we didn’t hear about the silver key and the escape tunnels,” Lu added.
Margaret sighed and she let loose a sly smile and giggled like a school girl. “Oh boys, it’s late and I should bring you to your parents for that sweet late-night goodnight kiss.”
“No, we’re not tired,” Lu insisted. “We don’t have to wake up early tomorrow, either.”
“I’m not tired either,” Dec said.
“Come on, let’s head to the secret overlook and see how the party is progressing,” and she turned and waddled her way down the hall. The boys had no choice but to follow as whining, begging, just plain being annoying didn’t seem like it would have much of an effect on her.
“Secret overlook?” Dec asked. “Why is everything called ‘secret’ something around here? If you know about it, it’s not really a secret, right?”
“Aha, you’re quite perceptive, young Dec,” she turned to speak, but didn’t stop walking. “But you ask because you didn’t know about it, which means it’s a secret to you. Secrets are only a curiosity if you don’t know them,” she paused her talking, but kept walking. “There are many secrets and some of us know know some of them and some others, but I think what we’re missing is the power of the many secrets coming together and opening up the riddle that each of us individually can’t solve.”
It took Lu and Dec some time to digest all that Margaret seemed to toss behind her like a flower girl at a wedding. Her words floated in the air and Dec and Lu scooped them up and tried to understand them. They had so many questions, but their answer book just kept walking.
They went down another passageway and soon came to a spot where the hallway turned. It didn’t seem like much of a place to stop, but the music was louder and louder as they approached.
“Do you boys see how we get in?” she asked plainly.
The boys looked around, up, down, left, right and then came to rest on each other’s faces. Lu made a face to Dec that was supposed to say, ‘I don’t see a stupid door, why are we looking for a dumb door, this is for dorky little kindergarten adventurer geeks.’ But Dec didn’t know Lu’s cryptic googley-face language so well yet and only understood that Lu was making silly faces so Dec made silly faces back and they both started laughing.
“Did you find the portal?” she asked, but the boys were still making faces at each other like a couple of 9- and 11-year old boys. Margaret brought her face in between the two of their faces and the close-up of her cauliflower-like skin and scraggly reddish grayish hair was scarier than any contorted face that the boys could make and they both jumped in their skin slightly and quickly started looking around more.
“I found it!” Lu cried out.
“Where?” Dec asked.
“Just kidding,” Lu said.
Margaret was about to get into a friendly lecture about concentration and focus on a task at hand and how they shouldn’t be acting like 9- and 11-year old boys, but reminded herself that these were boys of 9 and 11 and that there would be enough concentration and focus for the rest of their lives, so she let them be who they were.
“Hey, what’s that line right there?” Dec asked and tried to pry his finger into what looked only like a long black stripe where a thick permanent marker might have drawn. There were other markings and scratches on the wall, but they didn’t make any sense. He couldn’t get his finger in there.
“Getting close,” she said.
“Push on it,” Lu suggested and Dec did, but nothing.
“Can you pull?” Lu asked and Dec tried to wedge his nails in there, but no luck. They both stood in front of the wall staring at it and the black horizontal line and all of the other lines were just a big spaghetti of lines on an old wall. Lu pushed on the wall hard. Dec tapped the wall with his toes.
“What did you learn downstairs?” she asked them softly.
“It’s dark,” Dec said.
“What did you see in the dark?” she asked.
“Nothing, it was completely dark,” Lu said, holding back on the ‘Duh!’ comment, but it seemed like a pretty obvious answer.
“What did you see?” she asked again.
“Like I already said, nothing,” Lu said again.
“So you couldn’t see with your eyes, what other senses did you use?” she asked.
“My ears almost hurt because it was so quiet,” Dec said.
“I think I felt my own heart beating,” Lu said.
Margaret again said nothing but stared at the boys the way teachers do when they don’t want to tell you the answer, but they want you to figure something out.
“Dude, close your eyes,” Dec said to Lu.
“Why?” Lu said.
“Just do it,” Dec said.
The boys closed their eyes.
“I can’t see anything,” Lu stated the obvious.
“Shh,” Dec hushed him.
“I’ll just hang out here not seeing anything until you tell me what I’m supposed to feel, OK, dorko?” Lu said, but Dec knew where Lu was standing so shot his arm out and landed a good punch into Lu’s arm. “Hey!” Lu said, but still didn’t open his eyes.
“Could you please shut up for two seconds?” Dec asked rather surprisingly politely. With his eyes closed, Lu did a little bobbly-head dance no one saw because everyone had their eyes closed. “Fine, I’ll just stand here and see nothing while you feel what we’re trying to feel. Don’t mind me, I’ll just stand here and feel nothing.” No one was listening to his voice. They were listening to what else was going on.
Once he finally stopped talking, he realized that he could feel the music in his feet. The beats and drums rumbled the ground just enough to vibrate his toes, but he couldn’t hear anything clearly. He went quieter in his head.
“Dec,” he whispered. “I promise I’ll shut up, but do you feel that in your feet?”
“It’s the music,” Dec whispered back. Both boys still had their eyes closed, but kept whispering.
“It’s under us,” Lu whispered. They were silent and still and felt the vibrations of the music crawl through their heels and toes like electricity.
“Open your eyes,” said a woman’s voice. The only woman in the room. They did. “Look down at your feet,” she said. They did. More black markings that formed a pattern. An elaborate design far too beautiful to be on a regular floor in a hallway. “What do you see?” she asked and they backed up slightly and the lines and markings became the sketch of a bird. The eye of the bird looked either like a lighter color or it was a hole. Dec went down on a knee and felt it.
“It’s a hole,” he said.
“Put your finger in it,” Lu said thinking Dec wouldn’t really do it, but he did it.
Dec put his finger in, curled the tip and pulled. A creaky, dusty square came up slowly as Dec slowly pulled it higher and higher. Both boys looked inside but it was mostly dark. They looked up to the woman who was smiling with pride as if they were her own boys who saw without their eyes.
“I want to live in this castle forever,” Dec said without exaggeration or fanfare.
She didn’t say a word but with a slow swoop of her hand, palm facing up, then pointing with all of her fingers and a knowing nod of her head, invited Dec to descend into the room below.
Photo credit: Mark Natkin, a guest at the wedding … who survived the weekend.