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Story #6: Adventures Through The Window

Young James feels like he is just another face in a large school until a mysterious substitute teacher takes an interest in him. Despite his cautious nature, James can't help his curiosity when he happens to see the man walk straight through a large glass window on his way home from school one day! Unable to stop himself, James finds himself following his new teacher into a world unlike anything he's ever experienced. To get back out again, James must not only find his way, but find himself as well.

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Part One, March 23, 2010

"James J. Jefferson?" The substitute asked with amusement.

Poor young James flushed at the mention of his full name on the daily roster. Of all the boys in the world he was surely the only named for two dead presidents and a kid in a peach. James was a quiet boy, not unpopular, but still shy in front of the rest of the class.

"Present," James told his desk in a soft voice.

"J. J. J." The new substitute teacher went on, much to James's dismay. He'd done the same with every other name of the list so far, taking a few minutes talking to each boy or girl in his eighth grade class.

Like so many children, James often wondered why substitute teachers had to be so strange. At this rate the bell would ring before he finished calling out all the names. Actually, that wouldn't be so bad at all.

The substitute was an odd sort of fellow; a tall man with eyes that were too large and a grin that seemed too long. He had actually strode into the class today wearing a dark blue cloak around his neck and a cane swinging in his hand like a sword.

James was quite sure he knew he was about to be teased, but the substitute, Mr. Magister he'd called himself, surprised him instead. "Now, you don't see that often, do you? Triple J, it has a nice ring to it." James looked up from his desk genuinely surprised. "How about I call you TJ, what do you think of that?"

The brought a big smile to James's face. He wouldn't have guessed at the time that the nickname, which he had liked instantly, would come to define the day he started to believe in himself. "I'd like that very much, Sir." James said.

Mr. Magister smiled and looked back down at the roll. He had a satisfied sort of grin on his face that was usually associated with some sort of mischief or other. James and his class didn't notice that, of course.

As the substitute continued down the list, sometimes taking longer to talk to this kid or that one, James grew bored and sleepy. He put his head on his desk imagining different people addressing him as TJ, wondering if his parents would do it as well.

The special alarm bell brought his head up and his attention back on the room. Next to him, his friend David leaned over and said, "Score, I love these drills!" He was smiling and rising from his desk.

James often tried to reason that it could actually be an emergency, but it never worked. David always lived on a whim, not considering the consequences of his actions. James had never been like that; when things like this happened to him he found himself visualizing every bad outcome he could possibly come up with.

The school gym was full since most of the school had gathered by the time their class arrived. Mr. Magister apparently didn't know the school well. They'd gone the wrong way twice when he finally had another student lead them. James remarked to his friend that it was odd that that seemed to amuse the sub more than upset him. David only shrugged.

David's friends were huddled together on one section of the bleachers at the very back corner, away from anyone else. They were always a private group. James never quite felt like he fit in when David's friends were around. Still, he went to join them anyway.

His approach went unnoticed as the school principal began to talk and the students all quieted one by one. Whatever he said was lost to James though. He caught Mr. Magister being ushered by Mrs. Dannis, the old, angry vice principal. She had her hand on his back, likely pushing the skinny man along talking sharply to him.

"Score!" David declared. "Free day, here we come!"

"Score!" His friends all echoed.

"Let's go down to the lake." David said. "I heard they cleared out the brush around the cliffs. Johnny told me you can jump right off them now into the water!"

James froze. He couldn't think of a more horrible idea. Not only would he feel like the outcast, but James had serious issues with heights. Not that he was afraid or anything.

"Can't, Dad is working from home today; he'll know if I don't come home." James lied.

"Dang, I don't know how you deal with that, man. I'd go crazy in no time." David said, but James wondered if his friend seemed relieved. He just sighed and hoped it was only his imagination.

It was a long, boring walk home from school, one that James wasn't looking forward to today. His dad wouldn't really be home and James didn't have a key, but there was a tree he usually climbed to get to an unlocked door on the back porch. They lived just close enough to the school that buses didn't bother to go there, but it was still a twenty minute walk or more. That never seemed fair to James.

When he was walking out of the school he noticed Mr. Magister leaning back behind a set of red double-stacked lockers. That was certainly curious. The man didn't seem to notice James so he stepped back around the corner and peeked his head around to watch.

Mrs. Dannis stalked past along the hallway parallel to James. She looked down the hall for a moment before walking on, unable to see the substitute teacher from his hiding place.

A moment later, Mr. Magister turned toward James and began down the hallway right at him! In a panic James mimicked his teacher's idea and hid behind some lockers. Luckily, Mr. Magister turned the other way down the hallway. It was still curious that he seemed to be trying to escape from the vice principal.

Against his better judgment, James decided to follow Mr. Magister and see what he was up to. For a little bit he thought the man was lost again, turning this way and that with no obvious path. It was when James started thinking the sub was just trying to mess with him that he walked around one corner to see his teacher staring at a very tall window.

James stumbled in surprise and ducked back behind the wall. When he had the nerve to peek around the corner again Mr. Magister wasn't looking toward him at all. He actually seemed to be arguing quietly with the window, his hook-handed cane shaking wildly in front of him.

The metal tip of the cane smacked hard on the floor with a loud "CLICK" as Mr. Magister gave an exasperated sigh of frustration. "Very well, then!" He declared loudly and then walked through the window and disappeared!

James stumbled backward in surprise and shook his head. Surely that wasn't really what he'd just seen, was it? He rushed to the corner and looked out again, but the hall was truly empty. James continued forward to the window he had seen the substitute teacher arguing with. Was he really arguing though, how does one argue with a window when nobody was on the other side?

James was beginning to think he too would see something strange out of the window when he approached, but he didn't. It just faced the thick line of trees a few hundred yards away. James tried to shift his focus to the glass as opposed to the trees beyond it, and his jaw dropped open.

Patterns danced in the window pane in a brilliant display of spirals and other shapes he'd seen in math class. In awe, James put up one hand and tried to poke the glass and his finger passed right through it! He tried to pull back in surprise, but his finger was stuck fast and his heart began to pace.

He pulled and pulled, but it did no good and only made his finger hurt. Then, as if reacting to his actions, the window started pulling back with much more force. James pulled harder as his arm moved further and further through the glass. Within seconds the hallway was quiet once more.

Part Two, March 30, 2010

James felt as if time itself slowed as he passed fully through the window. The shapes and patterns he'd seen stretched farther now, as far as he could see. It was a bit disorienting for James to see blue sky no matter which direction he looked. Logically it seemed he must be falling, but it didn't feel like that. He felt as if suspended in midair.

Then the patterns directly below began to move and meld into one other. It took him a minute to realize they were forming a staircase. Struggling, James tried to get his body to fall the few feet toward the stairs but it did no good.

"Well, that's just perfect." James muttered to himself. "What good is a staircase if you are trapped by the air itself?" If James had expected an answer, it didn't come. The more he fought against his invisible bonds, the tighter they seemed to hold him.

At last he sighed and stopped his struggle, his heart was pounding. The struggle certainly didn't seem to be doing him any good at all. So he stopped and began to wonder just what he was going to do instead. Quite a fine mess he had stumbled into here. The dull gray patterns and shapes seemed to stretch on endlessly for miles and miles, and there was no ground at all, just sky. That too went on forever.

The only familiar shape at all was the half formed staircase he couldn't get to. Then again, what good would that do him? Where was he to go even if he could get to the staircase? He thought of Mr. Magister, the substitute teacher James had followed through the window. If he could find him at least, it would be better than nothing.

Even as the thought formed, James fell and landed softly on the staircase covered in symbols. As he landed the stairs began to stretch downward, forming a long spiral. Strange as it was, James wasted no time starting down the stairs. Mostly because he was afraid he would become trapped again if he stayed still.

Down and down young James travelled, occasionally looking over the edge to see how much further he had to go. It seemed like hours before he decided to sit and rest his tired legs, though really it had not even been one. It's hard to judge time in such a state after all.

"Jumping from the cliffs by the lake will be nothing if I ever make it back from this place." He said with a laugh, looking at the endlessly spiraling staircase. "Still, I will be walking forever at this rate; there is no end in sight! Surely there must be some faster way to go."

James instantly regretted saying those words as at that exact moment, the stairs all merged into one long slide and he began to fall quite fast indeed! All around him the shapes and patterns of the staircase became a blur against the sky as he moved faster and faster. Finally, he had to close his eyes, too scared to take anymore of the dizzying effect.

And then everything stopped moving.

Poor James was afraid to open his eyes again. He could feel the stillness, but he couldn't hear anything at all. What if he found himself hovering in midair again? Could he take another shock like that one?

Eventually James did open his eyes of course, and did not find himself hovering in the air at all. His breath caught at the sight. The blue hue of the sky was gone, replaced with a mixture of orange and red. Trees rose high all around him, silver trees with multicolored leaves of reds, blues, and purples. Growing all along the bases of the trees were spectacular plants and fungi. There were mushrooms taller than him, a wild assortment of brilliant colors.

It took the boy a few minutes to remember what he was to be about now that he was no longer stuck. He looked around and noticed there were four distinct paths leading from this clearing. There was no sign of the staircase that brought him here.

He reflected that this situation was not a great deal better than his previous. Instead of one path he now had four, true, but which path should he take? Would any of these paths take him where he needed to get to? Mr. Magister had surely chosen one, but which?

Angry, James kicked at the ground and yelled out, "Mr. Magister! Mr. Magister! Where have you gone to?" He gave up in frustration and plopped down on the ground, wondering why he had ever chosen to follow the man in the first place.

A sound from above him caught his ear. It sounded like a soft yawn, but in the dead silence of this forest it almost seemed loud. "Why do you make such noise, two legs," asked a voice that seemed to match the yawn?

James hopped up in a panic. He hadn't seen anyone arrive. "Who are you, why can't I see you?" The only reply was another loud yawn. James looked around, but still didn't see anyone until he finally noticed the source of the yawn.

Sprawled over one of the branches of a tree was a small cat of some sort. Two paws that seemed big for its size hung around the branch that supported its head. It was a very cool looking cat with black fur that had orange stripes across its back. It looked like the exact opposite of a tiger in miniature.

James kept searching for the source of the voice, but there was no one else about. He searched around the mushrooms and trees while the cat followed him with its eyes. Eventually he gave up the search, assuming whoever it was found a quieter place to sleep. Instead he went to get a closer look at the cat in the tree.

It hadn't moved at all, still just hanging over a branch. When James got closer it grew suspicious and sat up to watch him more wearily.

"It's alright, I won't hurt you." James said in the higher voice he always spoke to his own cat in. He laughed, only just realizing he did that for the first time.

"Hurt me? You could try it, two legs." The cat said, grinning down at him. James stumbled over his own foot in surprise. "You two legs really are a clumsy sort!" The cat hopped from branch to branch until it was walking in a circle around James sniffing his feet.

"What is your name, two legs?" The cat said.

"It's TJ." James said, just remembering the nickname the substitute had given him. It caught him by surprise to answer with the nickname, but it was a cool name and made him smile. "What's yours?"

The cat walked away, shrugging him off dismissively. "What brought you here?" It asked.

TJ was so surprised to be interrupted he simply answered the question. "A gray spiraling staircase� or was it a slide? I'm not sure exactly�"

The cat turned in a fast spin and TJ saw it was batting a large rock around with its paws. He sighed sat back down on the ground. Why was he talking to a cat?

"So you came here because you wanted to ride on a slide?" The cat asked, obviously confused. TJ laughed to himself.

"No, I came to find Mr. Magister. But he could have gone any direction."

"Well old Ma Gister is off that way," the cat batted the rock toward one of the paths. "Or Mag Ister is down that path, she's a two legs, like you."

"But neither of them sounds like a man." TJ pointed out.

"Well okay then, if you're not going to ask around, what was your plan?"

TJ blushed at the rebuke. "I'm sorry, I suppose I haven't yet gotten over the fact that I'm talking to a cat."

"Jester," the cat corrected.

"Sorry, that I'm talking to a Jester." TJ said sarcastically.

"No, just Jester, I am not a Jester, I am Jester."

"But just a few minutes ago you wouldn't tell me your name. Why did you change your mind?"

"Look at this rock; it has a very special symbol on it." The cat used its paw to bat the rock toward TJ. The boy was growing tired of the cat constantly changing topics, but he bent to pick up the rock anyway.

On the center was a symbol that looked like a trident, or perhaps it could be considered an arrow. He turned it over and saw the exact same symbol on the other side. "What does it mean?" TJ asked.

"It means you have to close your eyes and throw it up in the air."

"That doesn't make any sense at all!" He said.

"And I suppose you are the expert then?"

TJ gave up in frustration and did as the cat asked. He opened his eyes again when the rock thumped on the ground. The trident looking thing was pointing toward one of the paths. "So we go that way then?"

The cat shrugged again, and turned to walk down the path. TJ, not seeing any better options, picked up the rock and followed Jester down the path.

Part Three, June 1, 2010

TJ walked down the dusty path wondering what exactly old Ma Gister would be like. Jester walked, head held high, by his side. The small cat had said there was a� a "two-legs like him" back the other way, but what did that make Ma Gister? Maybe he didn�t really want to think about it.

"Does this path ever come to an end?" TJ complained.

"I imagine that would be up to you." Jester said pointedly.

That made TJ stop in his tracks. "What do you mean!?" He said, a bit more heated than he meant. "You said she would be this way, this Ma Gister you mentioned."

"I did." The cat agreed with a nod.

"Well then why is it up to me?"

"Because you�re the one who tossed the stone, of course," Jester said, yawning. The cat stretched out his front paws then rolled over on his back, looking up at the boy. TJ pulled the stone out of his pocket and looked at it, confused by the cat�s words. In a flash Jester jumped back to his feet upon seeing this. "You picked it back up?" The cat said in surprise.

TJ felt hurt by his companion�s obvious disappointment, as if he�d expected him to know not to do that! The boy looked down to meet the cat�s eyes. "You never said anything about leaving it," he pointed out. TJ was getting very tired of this.

"It�s not much of a path if it�s moving," Jester said with a knowing shrug.

"Why did I even decide to listen to you," TJ asked in frustration? And with all his might he threw the stone into the forest. He regretted the decision immediately, and then he regretted it even more when Jester crouched, shaking his tail, ready to pounce. The excitement built until the cat shot forward into the forest, chasing after the stone.

"Jester, wait! Please, I was just upset, come back!" TJ yelled. He continued to call out to the cat for some time, but eventually his throat tired and he was forced to stop. Alone again, and with no other option, TJ continued walking through the forest, head held low. If only he would have watched his temper.

To TJ�s surprise he only had to walk a few minutes before coming upon another clearing. Unlike the first, this one was one big dead end. A small old house filled the majority of the clearing, surrounded by trees too close to pass through comfortably. TJ wondered if the cat had been right about picking up the stone after all.

His relief at finding it started to fade when he noticed the little house felt� wrong in some way. Surrounded by trees as it was, a dark shadow was cast all the way across the clearing. The house was white with dark green on the trim and shutters. It was an old house and the paint was faded and chipped in many places. The more he thought about it, the house looked like an old witch�s hut from a story.

When the door opened suddenly, TJ leapt behind a large clump of bushes. He got a bit too close he realized when one of the bushes reached out and batted at him, its sharp leaves scratching his hand. TJ sprang up in surprise and backed away from the shaking bush.

"Well, Boy, I�m not just going to stand here all day! Are you coming in?" An old woman�s voice made TJ look up in surprise. Being attacked by the bush had made him forget all about the sound of the door opening.

The voice came from a hunched over old woman leaning on a tree-branch cane. She was the perfect image of the old witch TJ pictured when he saw the house. Even down to the large mole just above her lip. TJ was beginning to feel nervous. There really was something wrong with this clearing.

"Well?" She asked again.

Finally TJ regained his senses and thought about what the woman was asking him. She seemed to just assume he would go inside her house. Every part of him was screaming that this was some sort of a trap he should run from, but he felt stuck. He looked down and realized the bush had wrapped around his legs, holding him in place!

TJ called out for help in a panic and the woman rushed forward. Realizing he was calling her over, he crouched and only managed to scratch his hands again for his effort. When she was close to him, the woman called out "Nurashkee Azallamush!" Certain of his doom, TJ crouched even lower, not caring about the bush anymore, but the bush was shying away from him. Released from its grip, TJ fell backward and scooted a little away from the old woman.

He looked up and met her eyes as she reached out a hand to lift him to his feet. "Have to watch out for that one, it likes children most of all, did it scratch you?" She asked. TJ looked down at the three scratches across the back of his hands.

"Yes, a bit, but it�s not serious." He replied.

"You are so sure of this, eh Boy? I guess I will leave you to your travels then." The old woman turned on a dime and started back toward her house.

TJ�s mind raced. Was the woman serious? Could the plant be poisonous, why would anyone have a poisonous plant as their lawn decoration? Then again, why would anyone have a plant that attacks them either? His eyes moved from the woman to her house then back to the trail away from the clearing. But then he had come here to find this woman, if there was another that fit the name Old Ma Gister better than this, he�d be surprised.

"Ma Gister?" TJ asked. The woman turned back slowly with an eyebrow raised. "Oh, I�m sorry, is that not your name?"

"Hmm, it could be my name, I have used it before. The real question remains, how did you hear of it?" Ma Gister asked.

"Jester told me." He said, and thought to explain better when he noticed her reaction. "I met a talking cat, like a tiger with its colors reversed. He told me I could find you here.

"I see, and where is this little cat of yours, boy? I would quite like to meet him I think." Ma Gister�s lips curled into vicious looking smile. It made her even more intimidating, if that was possible.

"I don�t know, he ran off and left me just before I got here."

"Did he now?" Ma Gister seemed amused at the answer, but she didn�t press it. "So why exactly were you looking for me?" She asked.

"I wasn�t exactly looking for you specifically I guess, not really." TJ said, and got another raised eyebrow for the comment. "Well, you see, I was trying to get back home, and then Jester said I could try to talk to you or another woman, Mag Ister. What, what�s wrong? Was it something I said?"

"Forgive me, boy. I haven�t heard that name in a long time indeed. Lucky you chose to come this way, you want nothing to do with that woman. She�s a terrible enchantress."

TJ tried to think of someone that would be even more frightening than Old Ma Gister, nothing immediately came to mind. Maybe that creature from the alien movie his dad liked so much, the one with more than one mouth.

"Wh- what is an enchantress?" TJ struggled over the question.

"That�s rather difficult to answer, suffice it to say they are never what you expect. But you need not worry, my boy, you chose a better path. That shows great wisdom I think, even if you cannot see it. Oh don�t look so confused, I will explain it all, let�s go inside. You must tell me all about your home. I haven�t seen one of your kind in so very long."

"My- my kind," TJ stammered, "what do you mean?"

"Surely you must realize you are far from the world you know? I do not know how you have found yourself here, but you are not the first of your kind to visit our little land of wonders." The old lady said.

"No, you can�t be serious, another world? That�s just impossible! Next you�ll tell me I�m in the Wonderland we read about in school, I suppose you know a Mad Hatter and the Red Queen next?" TJ said with a nervous laugh.

The old woman stared at him for some time in thought. "There was once a visitor that knew the Hatter, and some still think of the Queens, but that was a very long time ago. He was a young boy, much like yourself, in fact."

TJ was caught off guard by the answer, he had only been joking. She turned away and he didn�t ask any more questions. The old woman led him to her door and opened it to enter. She didn�t wait for him though and went in first.

Looking through the portal, TJ�s breath caught in his throat. There were dead animals hanging from one wall, and a large metal cauldron in the center of what appeared to be the only room in the house. There was no bathroom, no bedroom. In one corner there were papers scattered over what looked like one of the science stations at his school, complete with glass tubes and bubbling vials. A fireplace on the back wall cast eerie, moving shadows that danced across the room. It was too much for him to handle.

"I- I can�t," he began to say, moving slowly backwards. "I�m sorry, I can�t do this!" TJ ran as fast as he could toward the path back into the forest. Ma Gister shouted for him to stop and come back to talk to her. He could hear warnings of the danger of his leaving. TJ tried to tune it all out as he ran as fast as he could away from that dark place

Part Four, June 8, 2010

TJ ran as fast as he could down the path back to the clearing. Heart pounding in his chest, he wondered just how far he would have to travel this time. After a few minutes he decided that maybe running wasn�t the best option, even as slow as his run had been he was out of breath.

Sucking in air, TJ looked around and wondered what he should do. He could venture off the path and look in the forest. Jester had done so, but then again the cat was probably more prepared than him as well. TJ decided he didn�t care. There was no reason for him to follow endless pathways anyway.

He approached the line of trees noticing for the first time just how perfectly they all were lined up. TJ had never seen anything so precise before, especially something natural. That made him wonder just how natural any of this really was.

What had that old woman said, he was on another world? Things had happened so fast since he fell through that window. His friends were probably laughing and swimming and yet he was here, lost in some strange world. TJ laughed at the ridiculousness of that and sat on the ground.

Were his friends even swimming anymore? For all he knew hours could have gone by. He tried to think back and judge time in this place, but he couldn�t. The sky had never once changed colors; it was no darker now than before, it wasn�t lighter either, for that matter.

Feeling rested, TJ rose to enter the forest when he noticed a rock lying at the very edge. If he hadn�t stopped, TJ would have missed it entirely. The rock looked the very image of the one he�d held before. What luck!

TJ snatched up the stone and walked back to the middle of the path. He thought for a minute and realized he had no idea where he should go. Did he want to try and visit the Enchantress? Maybe Ma Gister had only been trying to trick him. Then he smiled, finally knowing what he wanted.

He closed his eyes and said out loud. "I want to go to Mr. Magister!" He tossed the stone and didn�t open his eyes until he heard the thing thump on the ground. His eyes opened to see the stone pointing diagonally into the forest.

TJ smiled and walked in the direction the stone pointed, leaving it on the ground this time. It wasn�t very hard to work his way through the trees, there was very little underbrush. There were rocks resting against any number of trees that he had to climb over or around. There were a few bushes, but nothing TJ had ever seen before. It certainly supported the other-world theory.

The only things he did recognize were some mushrooms, a wild assortment of colors and sizes. Some of them were bigger than his head! TJ decided he should just stay away from those entirely.

After awhile TJ started to wonder how well he was keeping on his desired path. There was no clear way to tell that he was going in a straight line, he realized. For all he knew he could be going a completely different direction by now. He felt like it was still the right path, but his fatigue let doubts slip in.

An itch on his hand reminded TJ of the scratches he had gotten from in front of Ma Gister�s place. He rubbed the scratch and thought the wound felt very hot. Trying to fight down his alarm he rubbed the scratches on his other hand and found the exact same thing. The skin was red and starting to puff up around the cut.

How had he forgotten about the old woman�s warning? Now he was in the middle of a forest with no help in sight. He realized his heart was pounding. Was it fear, or had the plant really been poisonous?

Through the trees in the distance ahead of him he thought he saw Jester, except� bigger than Jester. TJ wondered if it could be one of his parents. He felt the seconds passing by slowly as he tried to decide whether or not to go to the creature. Finally he decided it would be the best bet if a fever was coming. He just hoped it was friendly.

He began after the big cat when two dogs stepped in front of his path. "You shouldn�t be here, child," said one. The other turned to the first dog that had spoken and answered, "He shouldn�t be here, brother."

TJ moved back instinctually. The dogs were big black mastiffs. He�d only seen one of the dogs in his life, but he�d never forget the experience. They were an enormous breed. These two looked garbed in night, with fur so dark it gave their eyes a rather eerie glow.

He felt beads of sweat forming on his head, and didn�t think it was just the fear any longer. His whole body felt hot all of the sudden. His vision began to blur a little.

"What do you think we should do with you, little one?" The first dog said with a mocking tone. The second responded, "What should we do with him, brother?"

"You aren�t safe," the dog continued, "you bring disease here." The dog�s companion responded again. "He�s not safe, brother, he brings disease."

TJ felt confused even through the fear. In his mind it would make sense if their sentences were backwards. It was as if the second was telling the first what to say, but was doing so only after the first had spoken. A wave of dizziness hit him again and he cursed himself for getting distracted.

"Sleep, child, she comes to help you."

"She�s approaching to help him, brother, she comes. He must sleep."

Then the two turned to look at him and said in unison, "sleep."

His vision blurred and TJ realized he had fallen to the ground. He looked off to the side to see the large cat watching from bushes not far off. TJ tried to cry out, but his voice failed him. He turned his head, looking for the dogs. A tall woman stood in front of him. His eyes slowly moved up to her face. From the ground she looked like a giant.

Whenever his vision cleared for a moment TJ tried to get a good look at the woman and he realized she was very pretty. She had a warm smile that made him feel taken care of. He heard the word sleep uttered again and agreed that that was what he needed. His eyes closed.

Part Five, June 15, 2010

TJ woke in a sweat. His eyes opened wide to the sight in front of him and he would have tried to back away, had he not felt so weak. Looking out the window he faced, TJ�s breath caught at just how strange this world really was. From high above the trees he could see quite far. To the right was a great mountain reaching up even higher than wherever he was, its rocks were a bright shade of red. TJ wondered how he could have missed that before, even in a forest.

A long winding river stretched from below him on the ground out as far as he could see. The water being blue would have given him some comfort except for the shade. TJ had vacationed to places with very blue oceans, but this water was close to black. He�d never seen water quite so dark.

It took TJ a minute to realize just how far up he really was. Heights had always bothered him, but the thought hadn�t even occurred to him yet. Despite the pain, he smiled.

A door opened behind him and caused him to jump. The abrupt motion brought a brief wave of nausea and it took TJ some time to calm down enough to stop coughing. The woman he�d seen out in the forest rushed forward and placed a silver tray on a desk. She pulled a handkerchief from one sleeve and held it to his mouth. TJ reached to hold it, grateful.

The cough died out eventually and TJ rested back against the bed, breath coming in labored gasps. The woman spoke finally, "I did not expect you to be awake, forgive me for startling you." Her hand rested against his forehead. "The fever is going down. I brought you some tea that will help with that as well."

She helped him drink some of the tea and then left him to drink the rest on his own. He had so many questions, but was in no state to ask them. Head lying back he thought maybe it was best that he couldn�t ask. Everything that had happened to him was due to his need to know where he was going. In this place, what did that even matter?

Maybe the better thing would be to learn about where he was. In his mad quest to find Mr. Magister he had completely ignored Jester and Ma Gister both, and anything they might have taught him. Sleep came again as he was deciding to do things differently.

 

The next time he awoke he felt much stronger. Outside, the sky had changed for the first time. The red sun had been replaced by a blue moon. Or maybe it was a blue sun. TJ couldn�t really tell the difference since it was no darker than before. Everything just had a different tint now. The river below looked black.

He stood and a small dizzy spell made him sit back down. Maybe he wasn�t quite as strong as he thought. Moving a little slower this time, TJ got up and began looking through the large room. There was more tea on the desk and it was still warm.

The room was about as strange as everything else he�d seen. Large paintings on the walls depicted other strange lands, or even stranger creatures and animals. Similar images were depicted as puzzles and stacked high on a large, deep bookshelf.

A trunk on the far side of the room was filled with colorful blocks for building. There were certainly worse places to recover from an injury. TJ looked down at his hands and noticed they were bandaged. For some reason he couldn�t remember why he needed those. He remembered feeling sick and losing consciousness in a forest, but how had he gotten there?

A knock on the door made him realize he was wearing nothing but his boxer shorts. Sickness forgotten, he dashed for the bed and wrapped a blanket around himself, leaving the tea on the tray.

"Um, come in." TJ said.

The door opened and TJ saw for the first time just how beautiful his rescuer really was. Light brown hair curled around the woman�s shoulders, and her dress was tight enough to make him blush. She held a small stack of folded clothes in one arm.

"I thought you might be awake now. I�m glad you noticed the tea I left for you. Is it making you feel any better?" TJ nodded, unable to do more, captivated as he was. The woman laughed softly. "I brought you some clothes, yours were not in the best condition I�m afraid." She approached and placed the clothes next to him on the bed.

TJ looked down at his hands again. Whatever had injured him must have ripped his clothes as well. Why couldn�t he remember that?

"Um, thanks," was all he could muster. Her smiled seemed to say that it was enough.

"Are you hungry, I imagine you haven�t eaten in some time?"

His stomach rumbled at her reminder. How long had it been? There was no way to tell that TJ could see. "Yes, Ma�am, I am." He said, and the woman laughed.

"Please, call me Ambrissia. I am not so old as that."

TJ nodded and she moved for the door. "I�ll go start some food then. You get dressed and come down to meet me. Just follow the stairs to the bottom, a servant will take you the rest of the way."

When the door shut TJ finally let the blanket fall back to the bed and examined the clothes the woman had left. They weren�t like anything he�d worn before, but they looked comfortable. On top of the pile was a pair of leather boots that would rise just above his ankles. The pants were thick and a perfect fit.

Had Ambrissia made all these for him? Hadn�t she mentioned servants? TJ had never known anyone with servants before. He supposed it was more likely that they had made the clothes.

Once he was dressed, TJ felt ten times better. He went back to the desk for more tea and remembered that he didn�t even like tea. It seemed strange that he wanted it at all, especially since he wasn�t thirsty. Not wanting to seem rude he opened his window and looked down slowly. It was a long way to the ground and he was right above the river. It seemed the tower was built right on top of it, letting it flow through the center. He poured the cup out.

TJ placed the cup back on the tray and picked it up to take downstairs with him. It seemed the polite thing to do. After waking up to this view, what was the rest of this place going to be like, he wondered, and then moved toward the stairs.

Part Six, June 22, 2010

TJ was running down the spiral staircase so fast that he almost fell over the last few steps when he noticed who the servant waiting for him was. The big black mastiff didn�t move an inch over the commotion, the dog rose from his seated position sleepily and started down the hall without a word. TJ found it amusing that he expected a dog to talk to him. It had in the forest at any rate, he knew that. It was just about the last thing he could remember.

What bothered him most about his memory was that it seemed gone only in patches. TJ remembered falling through a window, coming to this place, he even remembered a forest of strange, colorful leaves, but what he�d done since arriving was so foggy. It annoyed him that it was so specific.

Perhaps he�d hit his head when he fell in the forest? The mastiff led TJ to a long banquet hall, even bigger than the track back at school. The wooden table was long enough to have dozens of chairs tucked away, and three chandeliers hanging over it. The one in the center made the other two look small even.

A door opened to his left, double doors in fact, and Ambrissia entered. Beside her were two monkeys roughly the same height as TJ. At least, TJ thought they were monkeys. They didn�t look exactly right, but the resemblance was definitely there.

"TJ, my dear, what wonderful manners," Ambrissia said. "Garviss here will take that tray." The monkey to her left came forward using his arms to swing his body; once he had the tray he walked back a bit more awkwardly. Ambrissia looked at the tray as it passed. "You must enjoy my tea a great deal. It�s very important you drink it. It helps tend wounds quickly."

TJ let his eyes wander the expansive room and he noticed a grand fireplace at the other end. A fire was crackling with life inside. Ambrissia noticed his interest and gave him permission to wait for his meal by the fire.

The chair beside the fire was thickly lined and TJ sank into it with a contented smile. He didn�t have a fireplace at home, but his friend David did. TJ really liked sitting by it. This fireplace even had a cauldron inside, and whatever was cooking inside it smelled delicious, like a funnel cake from the fair.

In his mind flashed an image of him standing in a doorway to an old house in a clearing. There had been just one big room with a cauldron in the center. And hadn�t there been somebody else there too? Did this mean his memories were coming back? It seemed too real to not be a memory.

Lunch was brought out on silver platters by huge gorilla-like creatures. As more and more servants filed into the room, TJ began to wonder who else would be coming today. Surely this wasn�t just for him. Then other animals began to enter once the food was all spread out. Animals of all kinds, and all talking to each other!

None seemed to pay him any mind as they all gathered around the table. Some could sit upright, but many were obvious relations to dogs and cats, and they sat on their back paws. Some of the birds weren�t sitting in a chair at all, but high up on the backs closely watching the others. When Ambrissia entered again the room fell into silence.

She crossed the room toward TJ in a regal glide that made him sink further into his chair. Some of the animals were now looking in his direction, wondering where Ambrissia was going. "TJ, come now, this feast is in your honor. Your place is at the head of the table."

TJ was shocked. This feast was for him? He hadn�t considered that he was just waking up after a long rest. Had they been waiting to celebrate the occasion?

"Why are you having a feast for me, what have I done?" He asked.

Ambrissia smiled like his mother always did when she thought he was being cute. TJ had never liked it. "You are not from our world, TJ. Here you are a very special visitor. We don�t get many from your world."

He was special? Nobody else had made him feel special. Wait, how did he know there were others? And who were they? TJ shook off the thought and stood. Ambrissia walked him over and he took his place at the end as the honored guest. All down the table the animals sat silent, watching him.

"Welcome our kind guest, TJ, who is the reason we are all here to celebrate today!" Ambrissia said, and the table erupted in cheer. The animals looked very relieved to not have to sit so silent any more. It made TJ relax as well and soon he was laughing and joking with two birds just like his mom�s love birds back home, except for the talking. The pair introduced themselves as Adam and Steve.

To TJ�s great delight, he found this wasn�t the type of feast where you passed around plates and platters to be served, but you could change places at any time. He laughed as he rushed from place to place trying to eat as much as he could before being forced out again. Eventually everyone became full and tired and the moving about slowed.

TJ thought it was funny that he ended back at the head of the table by the end of the meal. Ambrissia had never moved, her plate was still clean. He would have asked why she wasn�t hungry, but he would have had to yell it all the way down the long table and didn�t want to be rude.

After dinner the animals all took turns giving their farewells, and thanking him for allowing them to come to the feast. TJ didn�t know what he had to do with that, but he accepted their thanks at the bidding of Ambrissia. She knew a great deal more about the behavior of this world than he did after all.

When it was just the two of them again they went back to sit by the fire. Two of the servants came and filled a bowl with the contents of the cauldron. He watched as one of the monkeys stirred it, his mind going back to the image he saw earlier. The scene was there, the one-room house with the cauldron, but there was more, something missing. There had been an old woman, that was it, a woman with a walking staff.

"TJ," a voice said, interrupting his thoughts. He looked up to see his hostess was offering him a glass. He took it with a smile, he was quite thirsty, until he realized it was more tea. "You must drink more tea; it has almost been too long since your last glass."

The old woman�s name� was Ma Gister, that was it! And he had travelled with someone else, too, a cat of some sort. Jester, that�s what the cat had called himself. And all the memories came flooding back into his mind. The strange throwing stone and the warning Ma Gister had given him about a terrible enchantress.

TJ sprang to his feet, remembering the feeling of needing to drink more of that awful tea. It was the tea that was messing with his memory, he was sure of it! TJ took the glass and tossed it into the fire where it sparkled and turned to a green puff of smoke.

He turned to Ambrissia and said, "You are Mag Ister, aren�t you, you�re just trying to trick me for your own benefit. I should have seen it earlier!"

The woman sneered and everything around him changed. The banquet hall was gone, the tower, everything. TJ stood on the middle of a wide bridge over the river that had run beneath the fortress. In front of him stood an older woman, but TJ was sure it was the same person. Beside her were her two large mastiffs and all around were the animals, the feast guests, and the servants.

He suddenly didn�t feel so confident about his abrupt plan to accuse her. This was certainly not what he�d been expecting to happen. All around they began to move in slowly toward him.

"You should have been smarter. All I wanted was a new pet, you know, we didn�t have to do it the hard way." The old woman screeched the words, the soft voice of Ambrissia gone completely. TJ looked around and realized for the first time that these animals must all be others who�d become trapped in this world.

He tried to think of anything that might defeat an Enchantress, but the idea was ridiculous. What did he know about that? He felt like there was something he remembered; didn�t they get power from a victim�s belief? Surely that was just from some movie he�d seen, but it seemed better than nothing.

"I deny your power, Mag Ister! I will not be your pet! I DENY YOU!" TJ�s voice got more confident with each word. He�d had enough of accepting things. Everyone said he was special, that he had powers here, well if he did then he would use it to get home!

Mag Ister screamed, but TJ didn�t know if it was from fury or pain. He heard the sound of popping from all around and it took a few seconds to realize it was the animals. With each pop another disappeared until it was just the two of them. Mag snarled at him and drew a very sharp looking dagger from her waist. TJ hadn�t noticed it before.

He began to back away slowly but jumped when he bumped into something behind him. Turning, TJ cried out when he saw the animal he�d run in to. It was the tiger that had looked like Jester in the forest, he realized. Its low growl was not directed at him though. The creature was looking right at Mag Ister.

"You have not won," the woman spat, "I will rebuild them all!" She turned and sprinted off the bridge and into the forest.

"Should we go after her?" TJ asked, but the cat simply shook his head. It turned and began walking in the other direction off the bridge.

TJ only took a second to looking both directions before deciding who he�d rather follow. If nothing else, Jester had been nice to him, and this cat might know him. TJ wished he didn�t always feel like he�d gotten nowhere when meeting someone new.

Part Seven, July 6, 2010

"So� do you know Jester? He�s younger, but looks just like you." TJ asked. He�d been wondering just how to bring it up, but gave up and decided to just ask.

The black cat turned to look at him. "I am Jester, TJ." That made TJ stop walking, which eventually made the cat stop and look back.

"Bu- but you can�t be, you were just a child, you-." He cut off, remembering the cat he�d seen in the woods. That cat had also looked just like Jester.

"There are no children here, TJ. Time doesn�t work the same in this place." Jester�how strange it was to think of him that way�turned and started to walk again. But as TJ thought, he found some truth in the words.

Time going by was something that had bothered him all along. TJ rushed to catch up to the cat. There were so many questions to ask.

"Why are you finally answering my questions?" TJ asked.

"Because you are now ready for the answers," the cat said simply.

TJ wondered at that. What had changed? He did feel more at ease now, curious what would come next.

"You are no longer just looking for a way out, TJ." The cat said. "Our strength comes from that, but it means your time here is coming to an end as well."

TJ felt a stab of alarm, he didn�t want to leave yet. "Your world grows the more I want to stay?" The cat nodded, TJ had never noticed how tired he looked. "Why don�t you get more visitors to stay then?" He asked.

A voice ahead answered the question. "One of us has already tried that." TJ looked up to see a great clearing in the forest. The clearing he had seen before, what was inside of it he had certainly not.

A woman, looking both young and beautiful, and old and wise as well, stood before the gates to a great white palace. His eyes widened as he took in the grand towers above the shining walls. Beyond the palace gates was a long white drawbridge connected to thick sturdy links of chain.

The presence of white itself caught TJ off guard. He looked up to see a moon just like the one he knew was bright in the sky. It was a full moon, reflecting a great amount of light. He hadn�t even noticed it before now.

TJ watched the woman approach and knew who she was. "Of course," he said, "the enchantress was keeping people here. Isn�t that a good thing though?" TJ paused as he thought about what that really meant. "Well, for you anyway?"

"We�ve all thought about it at times, but this world wasn�t meant to have such power." Ma Gister said. "Some choose to stay here; but that choice does not come lightly. Holding visitors against their will did have the effect Mag Ister wanted, our world has not rested for a very long time. You�ve done a great thing for us, young one. You�ve helped tip the balance of this place. We did not imagine it would be so easy for you. How did you avoid her web?"

TJ thought about it, but he already knew the answer. "It was the tea she gave me. I�ve always hated tea so I avoided drinking it." Beside him, Jester laughed softly. He really did look tired. "What�s funny, Jester?"

"Such a small thing to finally bring rest, that�s all." The cat said. Ma approached and scratched him behind the ears.

"What do you mean, rest?" TJ asked.

They both turned to look up at him, Ma smiled softly.

"Come with me." She said. "We have a surprise for you."

Ma led the trio through the empty halls of the palace. TJ�s smile never failed at all the great sites of it. The decoration was complete with full body armor and weapons used as displays on some of the walls. One room they passed was an enormous library with bookshelves reaching all the way to the towering ceiling.

Other sights were just as impressive. Like the throne room they passed through. Huge pillars supported the room. TJ thought it might be bigger than his entire school. A long carpet of dark green ran along center all the way to a raise platform that held a throne of carved wood. This wasn�t where they were going though, and he was lead up to one of the tall towers.

TJ ran from the door and straight for the edge, it was a very long way down, but the distance didn�t bother him in the least. Oddly, or maybe it wasn�t odd at all, he really didn�t know, there were no mountains at all in the view. Just a long stretch of forest with two great rivers, flowing to either side of the palace, that came together off in the distance.

"This is magnificent!" TJ said.

"The show is about to begin." Ma said.

A light burst brightly in the sky, and another followed it. TJ turned back to his companions with an even bigger smile. Fireworks continued to burst in the sky. They were all kinds of colors and sizes. Some were unlike anything he�d seen on TV or for Independence Day celebrations. They had actual scenes: fish swimming through lights of blue, a great green dragon flying through sparkling yellow stars, a rabbit being chased through green bushes.

And then the finale started. There were huge bursts of light like nothing TJ had ever seen. But the way the lights alternated were� so� hypnotic. As the show was ending he yawned and his eyes drooped. He turned slowly and sank to the ground. Jester and Ma Gister were there in front of him.

"Thank you, TJ, for your help. You are a very courageous boy." Ma whispered, smiling.

TJ tried to respond, but he was just too tired. He closed his eyes and gave in to the desired sleep. The popping sound of the fireworks faded and everything was silent.

"Well?" A voice said. TJ�s eyes shot open and he was standing with his friend David. "Do you wanna swim with us or not?"

TJ closed his eyes again and opened them, just to be sure. He was back at school, in the gym where everyone was gathered. "Sure, but I have to do something first! I�ll meet you there." He smiled and ran from his confused friend.

Part Eight, July 13, 2010

TJ rushed through the empty halls with an excited determination. Despite his hurry, he remembered to look out for Vice Principle Dannis. The thought turned out to be a good one, he realized, when she stalked past his hiding place. Out of the corner of his eye, TJ saw Mr. Magister going around another corner to avoid the woman.

With the way clear, TJ rushed to the hallway he suspected the man was headed to. As he�d hoped, the substitute was standing in front of the same window. The strange cloak and long cane still seemed funny to TJ, being so out of place.

As he looked at the man he suddenly felt a bit uncomfortable about what to do next. Who was Mr. Magister after all? TJ never did succeed in finding the man. Where did his allegiances lie? Had his intention been to trap TJ like the enchantress, or to get his help? His reluctance took the decision out of his hands.

"I wondered if you would come." The substitute said in voice loud enough to carry down the hall.

Seeing no point in staying where he was, TJ moved down the hall to approach the man. Mr. Magister didn�t look threatening. There was something oddly familiar about that cane, too. Was that a tiger�s paw at the top? It was! And the colors were reversed as well!

"You were Jester all along, weren�t you?" TJ asked excitedly.

"You didn�t think I wasn�t going to say goodbye did you?" Mr. Magister sounded amused.

TJ smiled. "You said your world was going to disappear. How come you�re still here?"

"It is, TJ, it is. Even as we speak the darkness descends over our world."

"It sounds so sad." TJ said.

Mr. Magister smiled and shook his head. "No, no, child, it is not sad. To us it will be but a good rest before another breathes life into the world once again." The substitute held out his cane to TJ. "Here, I want you to have this." He said.

The boy smiled broadly and took the cane without question. The tiger paw would always remind him of his adventure through the window. "Thank you!" TJ said.

The man turned to go but TJ reached for his arm. "What happened to the others, the ones that had been trapped?" He asked.

Magister�s face took on a troubled look. "I suppose you deserve to hear the truth since you saved them. Some of them have been trapped a long time, TJ, and they will finally get their own rest. Some are still alive in your world, for them, a long dream will finally end and let them wake."

TJ thought about all people that hadn�t survived and it made him sad, but there was another side to that. Because some of them lived, what had their life been like while they were trapped? Maybe they were in a coma like he�d seen on TV. He felt tears on his face.

"Don�t feel bad, TJ. You did a good thing in either case. They were nothing but slaves to that woman. They all deserved better." Magister put a finger under TJ�s chin and lifted it to meet his eyes. "Don�t be so hard on yourself, alright? I must leave you; my time is running out now."

TJ nodded and gave the man a hug. Mr. Magister seemed confused and uncomfortable about that, but he didn't complain. Then the substitute took a step through the window. It rippled a little then looked just like any of the others. TJ turned and ran back down the hallway.

He left the school and hopped onto his bike. The short distance to the lake made him more and more excited. He knew what small cliff David was talking about. The idea of jumping off it sounded like great fun. How different that was from what he thought earlier in the day.

With the cane tucked into the belt loop of his jeans, TJ peddled even faster, pretending he was charging head-on into battle. He pulled out the cane and thrust it forward in front of him.

"Chaaaaarge!" He yelled with a laugh.