Ch. 1: (Not) Chapter One of The Key to Markree Castle: It’s not a secret if you know what it is.
The boys are about to learn The Secret of Markree Castle … whether they’re ready for it or not.
HINT: they’re not.
DISCLAIMER: this chapter is based on the philosophy of “Not Chapter One.” It allows writers to Just Get Started to put the words down without fear of retribution, humiliation or desertion. Of course, I suppose I could also just choose to not publish this, to not make it public, to hide it on a hard drive. But what fun would that be? Li & Lu are sprouting under a thin layer of soil like a budding green beanstalk (think “Jack”) and they’re ready to come back out into the daylight.*
* Sorry about that, sounds like they’re buried alive … let’s just keep it morbid and scary for now. Hey, they’re in a spooky castle, right?
So, where were we? If you need to catch up, here’s the last chapter of The Secret of Markree Castle.
(Not) Chapter One of The Key to Markree Castle: It’s not a secret if you know what it is.
Editor’s Note: Dear reader, I sincerely apologize for taking you away from the castle for a moment, but do you remember the Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer holiday TV programs where it was all built in some sort of clay animation technique? Now and then, a fatherly voice narrated the scene and usually had something concerning to say about what was about to happen to the innocent young (claymation) boy. But still, he returned us to the (clay) snow scene to let us in on what was going to happen next and somehow it felt like a helicopter was lowering down back into the snowy wonderland and we’d soon catch up with the little boy and his misadventures. You weren’t sure if the voice knew what was going to happen or not. You also weren’t sure if he wanted things all to have a happy ending. You just didn’t know what the voice knew. That’s how I feel now. Except for the snow, the reindeer and the clay. I’m the voice and I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Having seen way too many movies and not really sure when adventure movies and reality merged, the boys were a little confused when they were still standing there after their big decision to accept Alastar’s challenge to go further into the castle. If they were in an adventure movie or even better, actors in an adventure movie, the last big scene would have ended, the director would have said, “Cut! That’s a wrap!” and they would have relaxed and gone for lemonades in their trailers.
But none of that happened.
In fact, nothing happened at all. Dan had quietly spoken for the entire group when he whispered to Alastar that they were in and after that, they were still standing there. No fade to black, no director, not even any lemonade.
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The four boys interpreted the idea of “We’re in.” in four different ways.
For Dan, it meant they were really going to go through with it, they were hired, so to speak, to take on the challenge at hand. Alastar had sought them out, trusted them and now was fairly certain that these were the boys who could carry out the mission.
Lu was up for anything and was infected by Dan’s enthusiasm. Of course, if that meant going out into the grounds and playing soccer, that would be fun, too. But he was quietly intrigued by the mystery of the castle and was both scared and excited about what might be behind the door.
Dec was out if Li was out and in if Li was in. He wanted to hang out with his friend. But secretly, he was magically obsessed with the castle and wanted to get beyond the next door and was willing to do pretty much anything to get there.
Li was just plain scared. He put on a good show, but the whole downstairs and dungeon-like tunnels and musty passageways were a little too real for him. Still, he didn’t want to be outdone by his brother, so he was in if they were in.
And just like that, they were in.
Alastar was still standing there. The boys were still standing there. Finally, Alastar spoke.
“Splendid lads,” he said with a smile, but it wasn’t all happy-go-lucky. There was something in his smile that was the slightest bit mischievous. “We’re all in,” he paused again. The boys said nothing. “I’m so pleased.”
The boys were a little uncomfortable and didn’t say anything although there was a bit of mumbling among them.
“OK lads, I need to do a simple test, it will only take a minute. Are you ready?”
“Well,” Dec said after no one else said anything else, “How are we going to know if we’re ready if we don’t know what the test is?”
“Excellent point,” Alastar said.
“Do you mean like a test like at school?” Lu asked.
“No, I’m quite sure you have done nothing like this at school,” he said and paused. “You know, boys, let’s just do it and you’ll see. It doesn’t hurt and will only take a minute.”
“It might hurt?” Lu asked.
“No, I said it wouldn’t hurt,” Alastar said and wondered if Lu was toying with him. He eyed Lu seriously and Lu finally stopped his silly questions. Alastar made a mental note to focus on what he was going to do and not what he was not going to do.
“I’m only going to turn out the lights briefly to see how you all adjust. Is that alright with you all?” Alastar asked and looked at each of them.
The boys collectively couldn’t think of a reason they shouldn’t do it–but none could think of a reason they should either. Still, they trusted Alastar and he was the good guy. If Killian had asked the same thing, they would have had plenty of reasons to object.
“We’re OK with it,” Dan spoke up for the clan.
“Magnificent,” Alastar said and he looked rather pleased. “I’ll just hit the light switch and I don’t want anyone to move or speak. I’ll keep it off for a total of three minutes so our eyes can adjust to the darkness,” he was about to keep going, but was interrupted.
“I thought you said it was only going to take a minute and now you said three minutes,” Dec noted innocently.
“I’m quite certain that when one says ‘a minute,’ it’s a figure of speech, not an actual number,” Alastar said and looked at Dec, who seemed to understand.
Alastar continued, “Please remember that this isn’t like at cinema where there is some light that you can focus on to get your bearings. We’re under 50 feet of earth and stone and there is not a peep of sunlight down here, so your eyes won’t know quite what to do with themselves,” he kept looking at each of them.
“So, we just stand here and do nothing?” Dec asked.
“Precisely, Dec,” Alastar was happy to have a bit of dialogue.
“Are you boys ready? Are you standing on firm ground? Not going to fall onto something near you? Also, get just far enough apart from each other so you can’t reach out and touch anyone else,” he continued and the boys moved cautiously away from each other. It was awkward as being out of arm’s reach was similar to being in the deep end of the pool: it didn’t matter how deep it was at a certain point. If you couldn’t touch the bottom, then it could have been 10 feet or 1,000 feet deep. They shuffled away from each other and looked at each other as if it was the last time they would see each other.
Alastar noted their new positions. “Perfect,” he said. “Are you ready? Take a deep breath and relax. The three minutes might seem like a long time, but I’ll count it in my head. In fact, if you’d like to count in your head, that will help you pass the time. But remember, please don’t speak and please don’t make a sound. I can tell you why later, but please know that it’s important,” he again scanned each face. “Got it, lads?”
“Got it,” Li said as forcefully as he could, but it took most of his strength as the buildup to the lights going off was getting worse than the light actually being off. Or so he thought.
“I just need to take a few steps over here to the switch and then I’ll walk back in darkness those same steps to you,” he continued but noticed the boys were deathly silent. “Boys, I don’t mean to frighten you, but this is actually rather important. I realize you might be scared, but there’s nothing and no one down here but us. It’s just darkness and silence and I need it to remain exactly so. Are we all in?”
Again Dan knew his cue, “We’re in.”
“Great,” he said and took slow and deliberate steps towards the switch. He said nothing more as he shuffled over. He seemed almost to glide over the ground and Dan thought his eyes were already playing tricks on him.
“I’ll count down from five just to give you fair warning. I’m counting on your silence,” he whispered as he reached the wall and the switch.
“Five,” he said in a normal voice.
“Four,” he lowered his voice and his Irish accent came through. He took a breath. The boys could hear it as if his mouth was next to their ears.
“Three,” he again spoke more softly, but somehow was easily understandable.
“Two,” he was barely audible. It looked as if his lips raised ever so slightly in the corners and he was smiling.
“One,” he said but the boys weren’t sure the number was actually spoken.
The very last thing the boys saw seemed to happen in slow motion. Alastar’s ring finger pushed down on a lever on a plate on the wall. No one blinked or breathed. There was no click or light bulby sound or anything. There was no sound at all.
After there was no sound, there was no light. At all. Absolute pure and thick and unknown darkness.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]