The Virtues of Drac
Text copyright © Jeannie Meekins (2013)
Editorial Associate Melissa Cleeman
Illustrator © AT Davidson (2015)
Published by Storm Cloud Publishing (2015)
ISBN: 978-1-925285-13-0 (Shakespir Edition)
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.
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Junior Fiction: Jack finds himself trapped in the dying world of Drac; a world of magic, dragons, and evil doings. A prophecy has been set in motion and will be fulfilled, one way or the other.
Adventure quest, Children’s fantasy, Magic and Magical worlds, Hero’s journey, Fantasy creatures, Bullying and Ignorance, Conflict and Problem solving, Courage and Resourcefulness
Ages: 8 – 12 years
101, 900 words
Reading Level: 2.6
For my son, John, who gave me the idea and my daughter, Laura, who kept me going until I finished.
A big thank you to Melissa Cleeman for seeing more in this story than I ever realised I’d put into it and helped make it as good as it is today.
Thank you to AT Davidson for capturing the characters exactly as I saw them.
It was recess at school and the oval was full of kids. Jack was playing on the swings with his friends. He’d wanted to play footy on the oval, but Trent and his friends were there.
“We’ll play later,” Rob had told Jack. “When Trent’s gone.”
Jack kept glancing towards the oval to see if Trent was still there. He was, and he didn’t look like going anywhere as he took a mark and lined up for his kick.
The footy slewed off the edge of Trent’s boot and went sideways.
Some of the boys began laughing. Trent glared and they were soon silent, then he ran after the footy. It bounced to where some boys were playing a card game. All the boys scattered – except for one.
He stood up and retrieved the ball as it came near him.
“Hey, you,” Trent called. “Give me that!”
The boy looked at the ball, then at Trent, who stopped a couple of metres short of him.
“I said, give me that,” Trent demanded. “What are you? Deaf or something?”
“I see Trent’s at it again,” Rob nodded towards Trent.
“He’s not happy unless he’s picking on someone,” Jack said.
“Can I play with the footing ball with you?” the boy asked.
“No,” Trent stepped forward.
“Trent, let him play,” one of his friends called out.
Trent turned around and glared at the boy.
Jack cringed. This was not going to end well. This kid with the ball didn’t know Trent. Trent always got his own way.
“Gimme the ball!” Trent snatched the ball from the kid.
“I just want play the footing ball with you,” the kid said.
“You can’t even talk properly,” Trent laughed. “Where are you from? Another planet?”
Trent’s friends all laughed. The kid didn’t seem upset.
“You can give me your lunch money too,” Trent demanded.
The kid frowned. “Why? Don’t you have any?”
“Oh, I got plenty. I just want yours too.”
Jack was about to ignore it, but a sudden anger came over him. Trent shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. He looked around, but there were no teachers nearby.
Jack jumped off the swing. He took a breath and walked over to Trent. “Leave him alone, Trent.”
Trent turned his attention to Jack. “What did you say?”
“I said, leave him alone. You’ve got your footy. Now just go back and play.”
Trent turned to his friends, a malicious smile forming. He tossed the ball to one of them, then turned back to Jack.
“You can give me your lunch money too.”
“I don’t have any.”
“Really? Well, I’ll just have to search you and find out.” Trent stepped forward.
Jack stepped back. His nose tingled and he remembered the blood nose Trent had given him last year. He felt himself begin to shake. “Stop it, Trent.”
Trent raised both hands and shoved Jack hard in the chest. Jack stumbled back. Trent went to shove him again, when he stopped, looking over Jack’s shoulder. Jack turned and followed his gaze, and saw a teacher approaching.
“You’ll keep, Jack,” Trent hissed before taking the footy from his friend and racing back to the oval.
“Thanking you,” the boy smiled at Jack.
Jack didn’t remember seeing this kid before. He must be new. He was small with dark skin, and the most brilliant blue eyes Jack had ever seen.
“Trent’s a bully,” Jack said. “Stay away from him.”
“Everything all right over here?” the teacher asked.
“Yes, Miss,” Jack answered.
The teacher looked at the other kid, but he said nothing.
“All right then.” The teacher walked away.
The kid bent down and picked up the cards. He quickly worked them into a stack, tapping the edges with his fingers until they formed a neat block. Then he took an open-sided box from his pocket. He placed the cards in the box, then took the bottom off the box and fitted it over the top. Jack realised the box had been sitting in its lid. The gilded surface had a delicate pattern etched into it that Jack couldn’t quite make out.
The boy smiled at Jack as he slipped the deck of cards into his pocket. Then he turned and skipped away.
The bell rang to end recess. Jack raced to line up outside his classroom door.
During class, Jack thought about Trent. Trent was a bully. He pushed other kids around, took their lunch money and homework – and pretended it was his. Most times, the teachers did nothing.
Jack never had any lunch money because he always brought his lunch from home. Even so, when lunchtime arrived, Jack kept an eye out for Trent. He also looked around for the kid with the cards. But he didn’t see him.
Must have found somewhere else to play, Jack decided.
When he got home from school that afternoon, Jack told him mum about Trent.
“If you don’t tell the teachers, then they can’t do anything,” she told him.
“I know, but…” Jack sighed. There was always a “but”.
But Trent will only get angry.
But Trent will come after me tomorrow.
But Trent never gets into trouble.
Jack’s mum sat him down at the table. She pulled up a chair and sat opposite him. “Look, Jack, I know you only wanted to help this other boy. But kids like Trent don’t listen.”
“And now he’s going to come after me, ’cos I stood up for that new kid. So how do I stop him?”
“You could always ignore him. Turn the other cheek.”
“Why? So he can hit that one?”
“No. Take away his power.”
“Huh?” Jack looked up at his mum and frowned.
“Bullies only pick on people who they think are weaker than them. Or who they know won’t fight back. I’m not saying you should fight him, because that’s wrong. You need to be smarter than him.”
Jack’s head dropped, and he stared at the table. “I’m not.”
“You are, Jack.” Mum reached across and squeezed his hand. “You just don’t know it.”
He looked up, hoping she would say more. But she let go of his hand and sat back in her chair.
“Have you got any homework?” she asked.
“Yes,” Jack answered.
He shook his head. “English. Comprehension and essay writing.”
“Ah,” she nodded her head knowingly. “Do you want to start now? I’ve got a bit of time before I have to start tea.”
Jack shook his head. “I can’t think straight. And they use all these big words that I don’t understand.”
Mum smiled. “Come on. Take it out and I’ll look at it with you.”
Jack looked down at his school bag on the floor near his feet.
“The sooner you start, the sooner you finish,” Mum encouraged.
Jack reached into his bag and pulled out his books and pencil case. He took out a pencil, then opened his book to the page with his homework.
Jack stared at the page. There were long sentences and big words. He chewed on the end of his pencil while he tried to make sense of it.
“You just need to clear your mind and forget all about Trent,” Mum told him. “Read the questions properly, so you understand exactly what they’re asking. And if it’s not clear, read it again.”
That was okay for Mum to say, Jack sighed. It wasn’t her homework.
A few days later, Jack was on his way home from school. A lady with a long skirt and long shawl stood on the edge of the footpath. She was hunched over, leaning her weight on a wooden walking stick. The long shawl covered her head and most of her upper body, draping down over her arms.
The road wasn’t particularly busy, but the cars that were on it came whizzing past. The lady looked both ways. Every time she went to step onto the road, a car came by, making her jump back to the safety of the footpath.
Jack could see that she was never going to get across. And if she did get onto the road, she was likely to get hit.
He looked around. Both sides of the street were lined with houses, and the footpath was empty. There was no one else around.
He walked over to the lady. “Would you like some help?”
She jumped at the sound of his voice.
She turned to him, but she remained hunched over so he couldn’t see her face properly. She had a slight reddish tinge, and Jack thought she was probably a bit frustrated by not being able to get across the road.
“That would be lovely, dear,” she answered. “My eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”
She grabbed his arm with her free hand. Her skin was flushed and wrinkly; her hand bony. She had a strong grip, which seemed a contradiction to her frail appearance.
“What’s your name, dear?” she asked as they waited for a break in the traffic.
“Jack,” he answered.
“Jack,” she repeated. “A fine name for a fine boy.”
She went to step off the footpath.
“No, no, there’s a car coming.” Jack grabbed her arm and pulled her back as the car shot past less than a metre from them.
“Oh, my! Didn’t see that one at all!” she exclaimed.
She continued chattering, half to herself, half to Jack, as they waited for a break in the traffic.
“Okay, it’s clear now,” Jack announced a minute later.
They stepped off the footpath and began to cross the road.
She waved her stick in front of her as she stepped, checking for obstacles before putting the tip to the ground and resting her weight on it as she walked.
Jack thought she walked quite quickly for an old person.
He was about to tell her they had reached the other side when the tip of her stick touched the gutter and moved upwards. She planted it on firm ground and stepped up the gutter to the footpath.
Clear of the road, she stopped, still clinging tightly to Jack’s arm.
“You are most kind.”
Jack shrugged. “Anyone would do the same.”
“Not anyone.” She let go of his arm and reached under her shawl. “Please let me repay your kindness.”
“No.” Jack stepped away, lifting his hands in protest. “That’s not necessary. Really.”
She looked up at him from beneath her shawl. Her face was flushed and there was a hint of blue in her shadowed eyes. Then she lowered her head as she fidgeted around under her shawl.
“Oh, but I insist.”
“I’ve got to get home.” Jack backed away. “You have a good day.”
He turned and headed home.
“Such a kind boy,” he heard her mutter.
He wondered if he should walk her to her home or wherever she was going. It didn’t seem right to just leave her on the side of the road. He debated it for a few more steps before guilt took over.
He turned back, about to ask her if she needed any more help. She was gone. He scratched his head as he looked down the row of houses. Maybe she lived in one of them, he decided.
He shrugged and headed for home again.
The following evening, Jack was putting out the rubbish. He heard some kids arguing and looked down the street. Rob, Jess and several of his friends were standing around a stormwater drain. Something was going on, but he couldn’t make out what anyone was saying.
Jack dumped the rubbish in the bin and ran over to join his friends. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“Can’t you hear it?” Jess asked.
Jack couldn’t hear anything with all the talking. He shook his head.
“Be quiet, everyone,” Jess spoke loudly.
They obeyed, and Jack heard a soft miaowing.
“Hear it now?” she asked.
“We’ve got to get it out,” she cried. “The poor kitty’s stuck there.”
Jack looked at the small rectangular gap in the gutter. No one could fit down there. “How?”
“We tried moving the cover,” Rob told him. “But it’s too heavy. Maybe you can help us.”
Jack looked at the rectangular concrete slab. He doubted that his strength would make any difference.
Jack, Rob and two other boys crouched down, putting their fingers in any gap they could find around the edge of the cover. The miaowing drifted upwards.
“Hurry,” Jess cried. “It’s scared.”
“Ready?” Rob asked. “Lift.”
They all heaved, but the cover stayed in place.
Again, nothing happened. Jack felt his muscles were going to burst. He heard the cat miaowing, Jess crying and the boys heaving and straining as they tried to lift.
“It’s no good,” Jack puffed as he let go. “It’s too heavy.”
Rob stood up, sighing and wiping his sweaty brow with his sleeve.
Jess grabbed Rob by the front of his shirt. “You have to do something,” she pleaded. “It’s going to die!”
“Wait a minute,” Jack thought aloud. “If we can wedge something into one of these cracks, then we might be able to lever it off.”
Jess still had hold of Rob’s shirt as she turned to Jack. “Something like what?”
“I don’t know.” Jack scratched his head. “A shovel, or something… I think we’ve got one in our garage. I’ll go have a look.”
Jack bolted back up the street and down the driveway into his garage. He flicked the light switch on to see properly. There were all sorts of tools in there. Leaning against one wall were a shovel, a couple of rakes and a crowbar.
Jack smiled. The crowbar was nearly as big as he was. It was heavy iron and flattened at one end. Just the thing for wedging into small gaps.
It was heavier than he thought and he struggled to pick it up. He rushed back to the drain as fast as he could.
“Look out,” he told everyone. “I’ve got a crowbar.”
They moved apart enough for him to get to the drain cover. He inserted the flat end into one of the gaps and pushed it in as far as it would go. Then he moved to the end of the crowbar and leaned down on it with all his strength and weight. The cover moved slightly; concrete grinding against metal.
But it wasn’t enough to move the cover off.
Jack eased off on the crowbar and the cover fell back into place. “I need some help.”
Another two boys lined up along the crowbar. The three of them leaned on it. The cover lifted a couple of inches.
“Quick! Move it to the side!” Jack groaned.
The boys pulled the crowbar to one side. The cover moved in the opposite direction. Some of the other boys helped push the cover from the side, and it slid onto the grass. There was a gap big enough for someone to fit down the drain.
The boys let go the crowbar and crowded around the drain. Jack levered the crowbar out from under the cover and lay it on the ground. Then he tried to see into the dark drain.
“Anyone got a torch?” Rob was leaning over the gap, looking down. “Here, kitty, kitty. Where are you?”
The cat miaowed.
Someone arrived with a torch and shone it into the drain. The cat’s eyes reflected like two bike lights.
“Okay, it’s still here,” Rob announced.
“Of course it’s still there,” Jess told him. “I can still hear it.”
“Okay,” Rob looked up. “Don’t panic. We’re getting him out.”
Then he looked around.
“Who’s going down there?’
Everyone except Jack shook their heads and stepped back.
“Jack! Good boy,” Rob grinned at him. “Down you go.”
“What? Hang on…?” Jack looked around at the others as they backed further away. “I didn’t…”
He looked at Jess. She was looking at him with such hope in her eyes.
“Okay, Jess, I’ll get your cat.”
“It’s not my cat,” Jess replied. “I just hate to think it’s stuck down there.”
“It doesn’t matter whose cat it is,” Rob interrupted. “Jack’s going to get it out.”
Jack looked at Rob. “How?”
Rob shone the torch back down the drain. “It’s only about two metres. Just climb down, grab the cat and I’ll pull you back up again.”
Jack looked down the drain. It was pretty dark down there. It was also starting to get pretty dark up here as he noticed that the streetlights had come on. Then he looked at Jess again. If he didn’t do this, then he’d never hear the end of it from her.
He shook his head, then sat down on the edge of the drain, dangling his feet into the darkness below. He turned onto his stomach, and slowly slid down the side. The concrete was dry, but he could smell the stagnant water below.
He moved lower, until his face was below the level of the ground and he hung onto the edge by his hands. His feet hadn’t touched the bottom.
“How far is it?” he called back up to Rob.
Rob shone the torch down past Jack. “Not far.”
Jack looked around his body to see what was below. The cat sat in a corner staring up at him. A pool of water covered most of the bottom. He had no idea how deep it was, but figured it wouldn’t be much or there’d be no dry bit. It looked about a foot or so below him.
He let go his hands and dropped down.
He landed in the water. A little shot up his legs. Most of it sprayed sideways, covering the cat, which hissed and spat.
“Good shot,” Rob praised him. “Oww! Jess!”
“Don’t be mean, Rob,” Jess growled.
Pick on a girl, you usually got hit, Jack smiled.
The water stank and Jack’s body cast creepy shadows in the torchlight.
He looked at the cat. It hissed at him, its lips and whiskers pulled back showing its sharp teeth.
“Come here, kitty,” he spoke quietly as he crouched down. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
As he reached a hand to the cat, it lifted a paw, showing its claws, and hissed again.
“Great. I’m here to rescue you, and all you want to do is attack me.”
“Have you got it, Jack?” Jess called down.
“It doesn’t like me,” Jack called back.
“Maybe if you had some treats for it.”
Treats? Where was he supposed to get treats from?
The cat began to wash itself. Jack could hear it begin to purr softly.
“Good, you’re calming down. Now, if you want to get out of here…” He slowly reached out his hand again.
The cat watched him.
“You’re going to have to let me…”
The cat’s eyes followed his movement as he neared its head. Its lip began to curl back and it stopped purring.
“Get you!” Jack dived his hand over the cat’s head, grabbing a handful of fur as its mouth opened. He quickly picked it up by the scruff of the neck.
The cat was more startled by the fact that it was no longer on the ground than it was by Jack grabbing it. Claws out, all four legs began swimming in mid air as it looked for something to grab onto. Jack held it at arms distance, talking quietly to it.
After a short struggle, it gave up, retracting its claws and miaowing softly.
“Poor thing. You’re probably exhausted and scared,” Jack told it. “Who knows how long you’ve been down here.”
He moved it closer to his body. When it didn’t try to attack him again, he cradled it into his windcheater with his free arm and began to stroke it.
“There you go. That’s a good kitty.”
The cat began to purr again.
Then Jack looked up. “Okay, you can get me up.”
Rob lay down and reached one arm into the drain. Jack reached one arm up to him. Their fingertips brushed each other.
Rob inched forward, and his hand reached a bit lower.
“Take the cat.” Jack lifted the cat up to Rob. “Make sure you get a good grip on it.”
Rob’s hand groped around in the fur. The cat squawked as he grabbed it tight.
“Okay, got it.”
Jack let go, and Rob lifted the cat out. A few seconds later, Rob reached back down. Jack jumped up and grabbed his hand.
Rob tried to pull him up and Jack scrambled against the side with his feet. But his shoes were wet and slipped against the concrete. He banged his knees on the hard surface.
“Stop wriggling,” Rob told him. “Just let me pull you up.”
Jack looked up to see a couple of the other boys helping Rob. They grabbed both his arms and he was soon lifted up. As his face cleared the drain, the boys changed direction. They began to move backwards, pulling him along the ground.
“You can let go. I can do it,” Jack told them as he felt his hips scrape on the sharp, concrete edge.
The boys let go, and Jack scrambled clear. He looked around for the cat, but it had gone.
“Thank you, Jack.” Jess rushed up to him, a huge smile on her face.
Jack blushed. “Any idea whose cat it is?”
“We had new neighbours move in last week,” Jess answered. “It’s probably theirs.”
Jack turned at the sound of scraping concrete. The boys were using the crowbar to put the cover back on the drain. It fell back into place with a loud bang.
Rob wrenched the crowbar out and passed it to Jack. “Here you go, Jack.”
The crowd quickly dispersed. Jack headed back home with the crowbar, and put it away in the garage.
As he closed the garage door, he saw the cat sitting on the fence between his house and the neighbours.
“There you are,” said Jack. “I hope you’ve learnt to stay out of drains now.”
The cat just stared at him. In the fading evening light, its grey, tabby coat looked wet and scruffy. Its shining eyes had a hint of blue.
It miaowed softly, then turned and jumped down the other side of the fence, disappearing from Jack’s view.
Saturday morning and Jack was up early. The sun shone, but there was still an early morning chill as he walked to the main shopping strip.
There were lots of good shops here. There was the butcher and the fruit and vegetable shop next to each other, where the fruit shop owner always let customers taste the new season’s grapes and cherries. There were a couple of cafes and some take away shops. The hot bread kitchen always smelled delicious in the mornings with the aromas of freshly baked goods.
Jack took a deep sniff. He wasn’t anywhere near the kitchen and already he could smell the warm bread and homemade pies.
There was a post office, a newsagent, and a couple of clothing shops. There were some of specialty shops, selling homewares or electricals and such. The scent of fresh flowers drifted across the road from the florist, mingling with the warm bread smells.
Jack stopped suddenly. About three quarters of the way along the strip was a shop he had never seen before. Jack thought he knew all the shops here, and he didn’t remember any new ones opening. This one looked old, like it had been here for years. The fancy lettering arched across the front window said: Antiques.
Jack pressed his hands and face against the glass, shading his eyes from the glaring light around him. Inside was an assortment of treasures. Walls were lined with ornaments and books. The floor was covered with furniture. There were armchairs covered in velvet and leather, rocking chairs adorned with patchwork quilts, and tables of all sizes and styles, most covered with ornaments. At a far wall, stood a writing desk. Its lid was raised, displaying drawers and hutches filled with stationery.
The room appeared to be empty – until Jack saw a figure that he first thought was a statue. A small, balding man with big ears and dressed in overalls was halfway up a ladder. He reached to a shelf, taking a small figurine from it, and dusting it with the cloth he held in his other hand. Then he reached back to the shelf and replaced it.
He was about to pick up another figurine when he turned suddenly and stared at Jack.
“Oi, you,” he called, pointing the cloth to the window.
Jack pushed away instantly. He looked around anxiously as though he thought everyone in the street had been alerted by the strange man.
The door opened and Jack jumped.
“You, boy,” the man snapped.
“I wasn’t doing anything,” Jack answered, suddenly wondering how the man had got to the door so quickly when he’d been up the ladder. “Honest, I wasn’t.”
The man seemed to realise that he had frightened Jack and his tone calmed. “I have just cleaned that window this very morning and I don’t want grotty little hands and faces all over it. If you want to have a look, come inside.”
Jack didn’t want to go in, but he did want to prove to this strange, little man that he was not afraid of him. He was almost as tall as the man, and he was sure he could run faster.
“Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?” the man asked, opening the door wider for Jack to enter.
Jack shrugged and buried his hands in the pockets of his jeans. He felt the crisp clean note and coins of his pocket money that reminded him why he was in town on that Saturday morning.
“It’s my mum’s birthday next week and I want to buy her a present.”
“Look around.” The man spread his arms around, showing the entire shop. “Is there anything you like?”
“I don’t know. She likes all this old stuff.”
The man’s eyes narrowed slightly for a moment. “A lovely rocking chair – out of your price range?”
“Ornaments… Books… I have many classics.”
Jack was not fond of reading and it showed on his face.
“I have some jewellery under the counter. Necklaces, bracelets, a fine selection of rings.”
Jack drifted towards the counter. It was a glass showcase, a little over a metre high and close to three metres long. It had two shelves. The top shelf was covered with neatly displayed boxed jewellery. Some antique pieces were in their original packaging. Others were arranged in groups: gold chained necklaces, silver chained necklaces, chain bracelets, solid bracelets, jewelled bracelets, and so many types of rings that Jack just sighed and shook his head. The bottom shelf had watches and some small clocks.
The man rushed behind the counter to be of service, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of a sale. Jack barely registered any interest in what he saw as he looked at the price tags. Way out of his price range. He doubted there was anything in the shop that was under a hundred dollars – until his eye caught the small rock sitting on the counter.
At first, he thought it was a paperweight. But it was too small. He reached for it, picking it up and turning it over. It was more like a crystal than a rock. It sat neatly in the palm of his hand, and it was warm to touch. The shop was not well lit but the smooth surfaces of the crystal seemed to draw in the light, holding it in its opaque depths.
“Do you like it?” the man asked.
“It’s all right,” Jack shrugged. “Mum likes that kind of thing and it does catch the light.”
He was about to put it down and move onto something else.
“Look at it more closely,” the man spoke quietly, almost hypnotically. “What do you see?”
Jack did so, staring at one of the flat surfaces, and frowned. “Umm… nothing.”
“Look deeper. Look inside.”
Jack bent his head down until his eyes were only centimetres from the crystal. The crystal felt warmer in his hand; its opaqueness began to clear. Blue and green emerged and began to separate.
“Whoa!” Jack’s eyes lit up.
The green turned to trees and grassy hills. The blue became sky.
“It’s like there’s some sort of picture forming in here.”
“Deeper,” the man instructed.
Jack closed one eye to look closer. The world of the crystal opened up before him.
Suddenly, he felt himself falling. Wind rushed past him and his arms and legs waved about as the ground seemed to rush up at him. He closed his eyes, thinking that he was going to crash into the ground, when he landed softly. He looked around quickly. He was lying on his stomach on the grass. He reached out one hand and tentatively touched the grass. It sprang back under his touch. Then he sat up quickly and felt his body – his arms and legs. Nothing was broken. Nothing even hurt.
Then his head shot up. The light blue sky was swirling above him yet there were no clouds or wind to make it do so. The sun was near its peak.
It was the same light blue that he’d been looking at. And the grass, and the trees… They were the picture that had been forming in the crystal.
He was inside the crystal; that was all he could think of. Yet that didn’t make sense. How could he be? It was impossible.
It had to be a dream. This whole thing had to be a dream. He was probably still at home in bed. Yes, that was it. He’d wake up soon and…
His hand began burning. He looked down to find the crystal still cupped neatly in his palm.
“Nooo,” he spoke slowly, trying to remain calm while every instinct in him told him to panic. His heart began to race and his breathing became short. His body began to shake as every muscle in him tensed. “This is not real. This is not happening. I’m… I’m…”
He didn’t know where he was. The more he tried to convince himself that it was a dream, the more he feared it wasn’t. And the crystal still sat in his hand.
He flung it away as far as he could. He watched it fly through the air and sink into the grass twenty metres away from him. Good, it was gone. Now he should be home. He closed his eyes and counted to ten. Yet when he opened his eyes, the crystal was on the grass in front of him.
He jumped to his feet, backing away from it in fright. He looked from side to side, to see what else might be around. Some sort of way out, or… anything. All he saw was the grass and the woods a little way off.
He lifted his hands in front of his body, palms outwards, in an attempt to calm himself and stop himself from panicking. The crystal flew to his hand.
He looked down at it in horror.
“Stupid crystal!” he yelled as he threw it away again.
He turned and ran, but stopped after a few metres. Where was he running to?
He spun in a slow circle, looking around him. Looking for some sign of how to get out, or which way to go. But there was nothing. The trees were silent. Their upper branches waved softly in the breeze. There were no birds, no animals, no insects; no sign of any life either in the trees or anywhere around him.
Ahead of him, the grass became sparse, like it was dying off after a long, hot summer. To one side, the land undulated. He could see a few small hills rising to meet the horizon. There were some dark patches just in front of the hills, which looked like shadows cast by the peaks. Behind him, in the distance, were the scrubby woods.
He sank to his knees, covered his face with his hands and began to sob. He wanted to go home. He was lost, alone and – yes, he was willing to admit – he was scared. But where was home? How was he to get there? And what was his mum going to do without him?
When he finally took his hands from his face and opened his eyes, the crystal was sitting on the grass in front of him. He snatched it up, ready to throw it again, but he had cried out all his anger and frustration.
He looked at the crystal. “It’s all your fault. If I hadn’t looked…”
If he hadn’t looked into the crystal he wouldn’t have fallen into it. Maybe if he looked out of it, he would fall out; back into the real world.
He lifted the crystal to eye level, perching it almost on his nose as he looked into it. He expected to see the shop and that strange, little man, but the opaque clouds didn’t clear and he saw nothing.
He tried until his eyes hurt, which was only a minute or so considering they were already red and swollen from his tears.
He sighed heavily and dropped his hands. He was going to have to find some other way out of this place. Maybe if he asked someone. But there was no one around. There were no signs of any civilisation. He could have been the only living thing for hundreds or thousands of kilometres. And that suddenly made him more scared and alone.
He looked down at the crystal in his hand. “I don’t suppose you know how to get me out of here.”
The crystal remained unresponsive.
“Well, I won’t get home by sitting here.” He sniffed and wiped his sleeve across his snotty nose.
He stood up, putting the crystal into his jeans pocket with one hand and wiping his damp eyes with the other. Then he looked around for the most promising direction. At first, he decided against the hills, for he didn’t really didn’t feel like climbing. Then he decided that a bit of height might be just what he needed. If he could survey the land, then he might just find the way out.
He set off in the direction of the hills. Things started to look up now that he had some idea of what he was doing. The grass was soft to walk on; a little springy underfoot.
The hills were further off then he had thought. Within an hour, he was dragging his feet through the grass. He stopped to rest a few times, wondering why he didn’t seem to be getting any closer. As the day wore on, the dark patches that had seemed so far off loomed up quickly in front of him, joining and taking shape until it became a thick woods.
Jack stopped. He had no desire to travel through the woods but he also didn’t want to waste the time it had taken to get here. The sun was dipping low in the sky and it would be night soon.
Night, he thought wryly. It had only been morning in his world when he arrived. Time was obviously different here. But time was still passing. He’d told his mum he’d be gone for a couple of hours. When he didn’t come home, she’d start to worry. He had to find a way out of this place.
His stomach began to rumble. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast and that seemed such a long time ago. He was also tired. He was afraid to walk through the woods in the dark and there was no way he was going to get through it while it was still light.
A sound alerted his ears. He realised that until now he had been in complete silence. There had been nothing but his breath and his footsteps – and his voice when he began talking aloud.
He listened carefully. A breeze, a gentle wind – no, it was more like water. A stream or a creek of some sort. His long walk had made him thirsty as well as hungry, especially now that he could hear running water. His mouth felt incredibly dry. If he couldn’t satisfy his hunger, then at least he could satisfy his thirst. And maybe there were some bushes with some berries or something. Or people. People always camped near water.
His thoughts began to race. People could tell him where he was and help him get home. He was saved. He’d be out of here and home by dark.
The sound of running water came from inside the woods, but not from a distance that was too far.
Jack shivered as he stepped from the sunlight into the shadows. With each step, he felt he was being watched. That behind every tree lay something ready to pounce on him. He was driven on by his thirst and the thought of people.
The ground dipped slightly and he came to the creek. It was a little over a metre wide. Its water was clear enough that he could see the rocky bed. He cupped his hands and dipped them into the water, surprised at how cold it was. But it was sweet and refreshing to his lips; something he had never known water to be before.
He looked around for signs of people. He didn’t see any car or bike tyre marks. There were no paths or footprints. He listened carefully, but couldn’t hear any sounds of human activity, or anything else.
He put his hands to either side of his mouth and called out, “Hello! Can anyone hear me?”
He was met with silence.
“Is anyone there…? Hello. My name’s Jack… I’m lost… Can anyone help me…?”
There was no answer. Not even a bird in a tree.
He dropped his hands, sighed and flopped to the ground. He was tired. He couldn’t go any further. The woods were darkening and soon he’d be wandering around in the dark with no idea where he was going.
As the sun disappeared, he began to shiver.
It was nice by the creek. The sound of the slowly running water was comforting, compared to the silence of nothing.
But there were no berries. None of the shrubs had anything growing on them. Now that Jack had begun to look for food, he felt more and more hungry. There was nothing – unless he wanted to chew on some dry bark or a piece of grass. He searched his pockets, wondering if he had anything in there.
He pulled out his hanky, the money and a few buttons. No lollies, gum or anything else. He knew there wouldn’t be, but it was worth double checking.
“Great,” he sighed. “Now I’m going to starve to death and freeze.”
He looked around. He had no idea how to make himself a shelter for the night. He curled up on a soft patch of moss at the base of a tree. At least the tree might provide a bit of protection from any wind or rain.
He was cold and pulled the crystal out of his pocket. It felt warm in his hand but the rest of him still shivered. He unzipped his windcheater and slipped the crystal inside his shirt, then zipped it up and pulled the hood over his head.
The warmth filled his chest and began to spread through his entire body. He stopped shivering and began to relax. He was asleep before he knew it.
“What is it, do you think?”
The faint voice barely penetrated Jack’s subconscious. A hard object jabbed into his shoulder blade. He flinched, then shrugged it away and snuggled back into his own body warmth.
A harder jab, this time into the middle of his back, had Jack starting.
“It’s alive, I think.”
“Alive? Alive? Then what is it doing here? No one spends the night in the woods.”
Jack sat up, still half asleep. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. His head darted around, trying to see who or what was there. “What’s going on? Who’s poking me?”
“Alive, yes, it is. You’re quite right.”
“I am, yes, I am.”
Jack saw the two faces staring down at him and he jumped in alarm. The faces were attached to bodies, which also both jumped back.
“Who are you?” Jack asked, quickly looking around to see if there were any others.
“Who are you, that’s the question,” one of them said.
“What’s a Jack?”
“My name’s Jack. I’m a boy.”
“Ah, a boy. A boy what?”
“A boy… human,” he whispered.
As Jack’s eyes cleared, he got a good look at the two beings. They looked down at him with big, dark curious eyes. They had a button nose and rosy cheeks. But it was their hair that struck him as being strange. It sat on their rounded heads in three large clumps. One right on the top of their heads and another just near each ear, as though someone had dyed a handful of cotton wool black and then glued it in place making sure no piece touched any other piece.
Their bodies were also rounded.
They wore dark grey jackets and matching pants, with black shoes. They had light grey button up shirts, buttoned all the way to the collar. It looked to Jack as if they were wearing waistcoats under their jackets.
One of them had a walking stick. It was thick and solid, and not quite straight, with ridges and knots along it. It looked like it might have been a tree branch.
They stared at Jack. Jack stared at them. The one with the stick then jabbed at Jack’s legs.
“Ouch! Stop poking me with that stick!” Jack complained. He put a hand up to fend off the stick and hurriedly scrambled out of the way.
“Seems harmless enough.” The stick kept poking at the air.
“Where do you come from, boy?” the other asked.
“My name’s Jack.”
“Where do you come from, Jack?”
Jack looked up. The trees above him blocked out the sky. “I don’t know,” he answered slowly, a little confused himself.
“Up there?” The beings looked up also, to see if they could find what Jack was looking at. “In the trees? But you have no wings.”
“Beyond?” There was agitation in the first’s tone. A look of uncertainty covered his face. He withdrew the stick and clutched it tightly with both hands. “The Great Beyond?”
“There is nothing beyond the Great Beyond,” the second stated firmly.
“I’m hungry,” Jack yawned again. “I don’t suppose you’ve got any breakfast?”
Jack stretched. As he did so, his shirt untucked and the crystal fell out and tumbled onto the ground. The beings saw it and jumped back in alarm. Looks of sheer terror crossed their faces.
“He has The Talisman!” the one with the stick shrieked.
“We’re all doomed!” the other wailed.
“You mean this?” Jack frowned. He reached down and picked up the source of all his problems. He held it out to the beings. They jumped back another step, clutching each other for safety.
“Where did you get it?” one ventured hesitantly. He looked afraid to know the answer.
“I wish I’d never seen it,” Jack grumbled. He closed his hand and let it fall back to his side. “It’s how I got here… and I don’t know how to get out.”
“You found it in the Great Beyond?”
The beings relaxed a little now the initial shock had worn off. They let go of each other, pushing the other away and brushing themselves down. Their voices calmed. Polite smiles were plastered on their faces.
“Well, that makes sense. Even Septis cannot pass the Great Beyond.”
“You must be a powerful wizard. Are you good or evil?”
“I try to be good,” Jack sighed. “Mum says I’m not always… Hey, where are you going?”
The beings were cautiously backing away, trying to make their escape. They froze in mid movement. Their smiles also froze. Their eyes twitched guiltily.
“We are sorry to have disturbed you, oh powerful wizard.”
“I’m not a wizard.”
“He doesn’t look like a wizard,” the one with the stick leaned towards his companion and whispered quietly.
“Have you ever seen a wizard before,” his companion hissed. “They can turn themselves into whatever they want to be. Let us go and leave him in peace.”
“Hey, don’t go.” As annoying as they were, Jack didn’t want to be left on his own in this strange place. They were the first… people… he’d seen. The first living things he had seen since he got here. Maybe they could tell him where he was and help him get home. “I want to come with you.”
“Should we take him?”
“Should we not. He may blast us to a million pieces if we do not.” The second looked cautiously to Jack.
“Oh, I apologise so much for waking you.” The first threw himself down on his knees, his head bowed to the ground. Realising the stick was still in his hands, he lifted himself enough to fling it away. “Please don’t punish me. I don’t want to die.”
Jack frowned as their words sank in. They were scared of him?
“I’m not going to hurt anybody.” Jack retrieved the stick.
The second let out a squawk and threw himself on his knees beside his friend.
Jack shook his head and knelt down in front of them, placing his hand on the first one’s shoulder. “Here.”
The being lifted his head slowly, tears streaming from his eyes. “You won’t blast us to a million pieces?”
Jack smiled. “No.”
Jack helped him to his feet. The small frame was solid and a lot heavier than he expected, and he struggled under the weight. He remembered the crystal was still in his hand and slipped it into his jeans pocket.
The second tilted his head slightly to one side, watching through one open eye. On seeing there was no danger, he rose to his feet.
Once they were all standing, Jack noticed that he was a little taller than they were. Their top clump of hair came to about his nose.
“Where are you going?” Jack asked.
“We were about to go home.” The one with the stick bent down and brushed the dirt from his knees. He pulled something from his pocket and dabbed at his face, trying to wipe the tears away without anyone noticing. He straightened up, stuffing whatever it was back into his pocket.
“Oh… well, that sounds like a good idea. Lead the way.”
Jack followed as they set off through the woods.
“Where do you live?” Jack asked.
“Now, that is a question.”
“Yes, it is,” the second agreed. “We used to live in our homes, but not any more. Driven away we were.”
Jack smiled to himself and shook his head. These beings made little sense. “What are you, anyway?”
“What are we?” The first stopped in disbelief. “What are we?” he repeated, slamming the point of his stick into the ground.
“We are Clubs,” the second stated with obvious pride. “A wizard would know that.”
Jack scratched his head. How many times did he have to tell them that he wasn’t a wizard? “I mean… do you have names?”
“Names… he wants names,” the first sighed with relief.
“Of course,” the second sighed in agreement. “Not even a wizard can read minds.”
“Especially not one as filled with trivial rubbish as yours.”
“Well, at least I didn’t poke him.”
“Forget it,” Jack cut in.
They stopped arguing and stared at him for a moment.
“Forget what? Our names? Of course not. I am Crimb.” The first planted the end of his stick firmly on the ground. His free arm folded across his stomach and he bowed low as he introduced himself.
“And I am Crumb.” The second bowed even lower. One arm wrapped across his stomach. The other arm rose out beside him in mid air.
“Crimb and Crumb,” Jack repeated. “That shouldn’t be too hard to remember.”
They continued walking deeper into the woods. Jack was not aware of the morning passing, for the trees blocked out the sky and kept the forest in a dusk-like state. He was aware that his stomach was rumbling and wondered how long it would take to get to food.
The path they were on widened a little. Crimb looked cautiously around before walking up to a tree with the breadth of ten men, and tapping loudly on the trunk with his stick.
A small piece of bark shifted at eye level of the Clubs.
“Who is it, I say?” came a voice from inside.
“It is me, I say,” Crimb answered. “Crimb and Crumb. Crumb and Crimb.” He looked around nervously as though someone might hear him, then leaned forward and whispered importantly. “We have a wizard from beyond the Beyond.”
“A wizard, eh,” came the doubtful reply.
A large piece of bark shifted outward. A rounded head poked out from the dark inside. “Doesn’t look powerful. Doesn’t even look like a wizard.”
“Have you seen a wizard before?”
“Why… no.” The Club inside the tree sounded disappointed. “Come through.”
He pushed the bark outwards and stepped clear. The bark swung on hinges of some sort. Jack realised it was a door. One side was bark and the other side was the wood of the trunk. A small round knob stuck out on the inside at about waist height.
Jack was reluctant to follow the two Clubs into the dark tree.
“Umm… where are we going?” he asked.
“Come through.” Crimb waved him forward.
It didn’t seem to be dangerous, and Jack didn’t want to be left on his own, so he followed. He was surprised to find that it was not dark inside the tree. The walls were light coloured and while he could see no ceiling, the same light colour was above him. Outside, the woods looked hazy, as though he was looking through an invisible film that distorted the view slightly.
The doorkeeper grabbed the knob and pulled the door shut. The outside world disappeared.
“Come through,” Crimb urged, grabbing Jack by the sleeve and pulling him downwards.
Jack looked down to find his feet at the top of a set of stairs. He followed Crimb for what must only have been five or so minutes. Though he was only aware of the stairs going down, when Crimb opened the door at the bottom, Jack stepped out onto solid ground.
Jack frowned. He put his hands on his hips. “Hey, if we went down, shouldn’t we…?”
Crimb lifted his free hand to brush aside Jack’s question.
Jack shook his head.
He looked around his surroundings. A thriving village spread out before him. The woods were gone, though trees were still scattered across the landscape. Small thatched huts sat along either side of a dirt road.
Jack stared for a minute as Crimb and Crumb set off down the road.
“Out of the way. Out of the way, I say,” yelled a voice behind Jack.
Jack turned sharply and had to jump out of the way of a cow and cart that clattered up from behind. At least, it looked like a cow. But it had two sets of sharp horns on either side of its head and its long grey hair reached almost to the ground. Jack watched as it passed him.
Then his vision drifted to the field beyond, where stalks of grain crops rippled in the gentle breeze.
Jack looked up and saw the sky. It was a clear blue. For a moment, he thought he saw a vague outline – the face of a balding man with big ears that struck him as being strangely familiar. The sky swirled, the clear blue becoming opaque, and Jack was left with nothing but an uneasy feeling.
He looked back down the road. Crimb and Crumb were almost out of sight.
“Hey, wait up,” he called as he jogged after them.
He caught them easily and began to walk with them.
“Who’s in charge around here?” Jack wondered, still looking around.
“You wish to see the King…? Of course you wish to see the King,” Crimb answered his own question. “Why else would you be here? Come… come.”
“Come… come,” Crumb urged from behind.
Jack found himself bundled along the street. His stomach still rumbled. The two Clubs were too full of their own newly found importance to be bothered with anything as menial as food. Wizards didn’t come along every day, and they had found one.
Jack had no desire to see the King, unless this King could help him get home. Judging on what he had seen of Clubs so far, he doubted that very much.
Crimb and Crumb were attracting quite a crowd. Crimb’s revelation of “a powerful wizard wishes to see the King” was getting the desired reaction.
“No, I’m not… really…” Jack found himself apologising to the ecstatic faces that began to gather around him. “I just want to go home…”
Men, women and children all looked at him with big, dark adoring eyes. He could see such hope in them.
“I’m not… sorry…”
It was quite a procession that ended up outside the King’s residence.
Jack expected a palace of some sort. A giant estate barricaded by some sort of immense fence with guards everywhere.
There were guards at the gate – two of them. Dressed in smart black uniforms with red trim around the cuffs and lapel of the jacket and a single red stripe down the outside of the legs. The jackets were finished with gold buttons down the front. They held a spear in their outer hand. With one end resting on the ground, the tip of the spear stood slightly taller than their heads.
On the other side of the gate was a path. A dirt path that looked so neat and clear it might have just been swept. It led to a neat but ordinary little house. The property was bordered by a small fence no more than a metre high. The whole place was no bigger than what Jack lived in.
Without the guards, Jack would have thought no more of it.
“A wizard to see the King,” Crimb announced importantly.
“I see no wizard,” a bored guard replied evenly.
“Here, here.” Crimb pointed to Jack.
“Here, here,” Crumb added with emphasis.
The guard’s head barely moved as his eyes ran inspectingly over Jack. “I see no wizard.”
Crimb leaned forward. “Do you want to be blasted to a million pieces?” he whispered urgently. “He comes from beyond the Great Beyond.”
The guard’s eyes widened a little, then he turned and called loudly up the path. “A visitor for the King!”
His voice echoed throughout the village and anyone who might have been unaware of Jack’s presence certainly knew about it now.
“A visitor for the King.”
“A wizard to see the King.”
“A powerful wizard.”
“Blasted his enemies to a million pieces,” were some of the murmurings repeated through the crowd.
The door of the house opened. “What’s that, you say. A visitor for the King? I don’t get many visitors.”
“A visitor for the King,” the guard repeated, his tone quieter this time.
The King rushed down the two steps at the front door and along the path to the gate. Only his clothing of a finer cut and quality than his guards distinguished him from them. Jack wondered if he should have had a crown upon his head and pictured one sitting neatly around his topmost clump of hair.
The King stopped at the gate. “Who is it wishes to see me?” he asked excitedly.
The Clubs all stepped aside, leaving Jack in the centre of a circle.
The King blinked strongly once. “A strange being you are. I have not seen your like before.”
“What is it, my King?” asked a sharp female voice.
Jack’s attention had been on the King and he hadn’t noticed the tall woman who had walked up behind him. She didn’t look like a Club. She was taller than the King – he barely came up to her shoulder. Even with her dress draped to the ground, Jack could see that her body was thin and not rounded. Her three clumps of hair were the only Club feature Jack could recognise, but they were a chestnut red in colour.
Jack frowned and looked around. Everyone else had black hair – even the women.
“A visitor, my Queen,” the King answered.
The Queen looked down at Jack with an air of superiority. Her tone was far from friendly and made him feel as though he was being told off by the school mistress.
“My name’s Jack,” he spoke as he would to a school mistress.
She ignored him. “It’s just a knave, my King. A scoundrel. Up to no good, I’m sure.”
“He is a powerful wizard.” Crimb stepped forward to defend Jack.
“He comes from beyond the Great Beyond,” Crumb added.
“No one can pass through the Great Beyond,” the Queen snorted. “Be off with you.”
The King’s face fell as the Queen dismissed his visitor.
“He has The Talisman to prove it,” Crimb announced.
There were hushed whispers throughout the crowd.
“He has The Talisman.”
“A powerful wizard indeed.”
“Must be powerful.”
Even the Queen looked a little shocked, though her condescending look returned almost immediately.
“Show her The Talisman,” Crumb whispered urgently to Jack.
Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out the crystal. Holding his arm out in front of him, he opened his hand. The Queen stared in disbelief; the King’s face lit up. Clubs pushed and shoved at each other to catch a glimpse.
Jack turned to show the crowd. Once sighted, they stepped back in awe and fear, as Crimb and Crumb had first done, then remained at a safe distance.
“Look, my Queen, he has The Talisman.”
The King fumbled with the gate latch in his excitement. The guard leaned over and flicked the latch. The gate swung open.
“Come in, come in, I say.” The King waved Jack through the gate.
The Queen did not cross her husband, though she regarded Jack with deep suspicion.
“Beyond the Great Beyond,” the King bubbled. “You must be exhausted. Would you like some refreshments?”
Food at last, Jack thought. His face lit up. He put the crystal back into his pocket.
The King stopped and frowned uncertainly. “What sorts of things do wizards like…? Some of everything,” he decided before Jack could answer.
Servants filed out of the house. Two carried a table between them. Another had a folded bundle of cloth. A fourth and fifth each carried a tray in their right hands, lifted high above their heads.
Jack stood on his tip toes and strained to see what they contained. There appeared to be cutlery on one – knives, forks and teaspoons. The other had bowls, plates, cups and saucers.
The table was placed on the front lawn. The cloth was shaken out and draped over the table. The three servants retreated to the house again while the other two set up three place settings.
The first three returned with chairs, putting one of each at the place settings. Then four of them returned to the house.
The King ushered Jack to the table. The guard shut the gate, allowing no one else to enter. The smell of cooking wafted from the house. It reminded Jack of home and his stomach rumbled loudly.
Jack and the King sat down. The servant who had remained pulled out a chair, waited for the Queen to sit, then guided the chair back into position at the table. He took a napkin from the place setting, shook it out and draped it over the Queen’s lap.
The four servants returned, carrying large platters of food.
“What news have you?” the King asked as a steaming platter of roast meat and vegetables was placed on the table.
“Firstly, I’m not a wizard.” Jack’s eyes roamed over the table. It was tempting to simply grab something though it was not polite to do so. He leaned against the back of the chair as the servant shook out and placed a napkin over his lap. “I’m a boy. But I do come from beyond your world.”
A second platter had cold meats and salad. A third had freshly baked breads, rolls and pastries. The fourth was a tray containing a teapot, a milk jug, a sugar bowl and two large pitchers. One pitcher had a clear liquid in it. The other had a pale green liquid.
Someone had spent all day preparing a feast and Jack was not naïve enough to think that it all magically appeared on his behalf.
The King helped himself to the meat and potatoes. The Queen chose some cold meat and salad. Jack shivered in the midday sun, and realised he wanted something hot. He picked up the serving implements and began to pile his plate with hot meat.
A servant poured the King and Queen a cup of tea. Then he approached Jack. He waited, cleared his throat, then nudged Jack’s elbow.
Jack frowned up at him.
“Something to drink?” the servant asked politely.
Jack didn’t drink tea, and wasn’t game enough to try the green liquid. He pointed to the clear pitcher. “Water, please.”
The servant poured him a large glass.
The King was a delight, but Jack kept his eye on the condescending, suspicious Queen.
“So,” the King spoke through a mouthful of roast meat. “You are not a wizard. Why have you come, may I ask?”
The forkful of food hesitated on the way to Jack’s mouth. “I… I don’t know.”
“But you have The Talisman.”
“I have a crystal.” Jack shovelled the fork into his mouth and chewed slowly. He took the crystal out of his pocket and looked at it, turning it over in his hand. “I never noticed that before!”
He put the fork down, running his fingers lightly over the upper surfaces of the crystal and looking at it more carefully. A club had been etched into one face, a spade into the face directly opposite. To one side was a heart: the other had a diamond. He pulled back suddenly, remembering what happened last time he looked too deeply into the crystal.
“Noticed what?” the King asked.
“These shapes,” Jack answered.
The King looked over. “Yes,” he nodded. “They are the symbols of the World of Drac.”
“What do they mean?”
“Each one represents one of the four races of people and is their virtue. The club is for wisdom. The diamond for strength. Spades have courage and hearts are full of compassion. No one race can rule over the others, for no one is complete without all four virtues.”
“So, you rule together,” Jack reasoned.
“Alas, that is not so. The elements have been stolen, as you can see by their empty places. Evil tried to take over. In the ensuing battle, the elements became separated from The Talisman. Septis has three of the elements. Without the fourth, she cannot rule.”
“Septis?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” the Queen drawled.
Jack felt a chill creep over him, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He decided not to ask any more about Septis.
“Where is the fourth element?”
“No one knows,” the King continued, tearing apart a hot roll. Steam rose from its insides. He looked around anxiously. “Where is the butter? Where is it, I say. If they’ve left it inside –!”
“Here, my King,” the Queen answered, picking up a small plate and passing it to the King.
He beamed. “Thank you, my Queen.”
He picked up a knife, sliced off a huge chunk of butter and began to spread it onto half of the roll.
“What happened to the good guy?” Jack asked.
“Who?” The King looked up and frowned.
“The one who fought against… this Septis.” Jack avoided looking at the Queen.
“He disappeared into the Great Beyond with The Talisman.”
“Maybe he has the fourth.”
The King shook his head slowly. “The elements cannot leave the World of Drac. They would be destroyed in the process and their virtue with them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“If, for example, the club were to be destroyed, then all wisdom and knowledge throughout the land would be lost. Not only the higher learning. People would gradually forget small things such as their name and where they live. Even how to feed and clothe themselves.”
“But you have The Talisman. You can restore peace and order to our land.”
“By finding the elements and replacing them in The Talisman.” The King stuffed a piece of the hot roll into his mouth.
“But you said Septis has the elements.”
“She has hidden them,” the King mumbled, lifting the napkin to his mouth. He gulped down the roll, then continued, lowering the napkin. “She could not find the fourth so she hid the others. You simply have to find them.”
“Forgive me for saying so, but you’re a King. You must have an army of some sort that could do that.”
“But you must,” the King implored excitedly. “Don’t you see? That’s why you are here.”
Jack shook his head. “No, I don’t see.”
“Then I’ll prove it… Where’s my Book. Bring The Book!” the King ordered.
Within seconds, a servant came rushing out of the house with a large book for the King.
“Clear all this away.” The King waved his hand over the table.
Another servant immediately began to clear everything, barely waiting for the fork to leave Jack’s mouth before taking that also. Jack quickly pounced on a bread roll as the basket of rolls passed in front of him, and stuffed it into his pocket.
The King put The Book on the table, pulled a pair of spectacles from his jacket pocket and balanced them precariously on his rounded nose. Jack thought there was something vaguely familiar about the pattern etched into the cover, but The King opened The Book and flicked through the gilded pages before he could ask about it.
To Jack, The Book was full of empty pages; blank sheets on which nothing had been written.
“Ah, here it is.”
The King leaned over closely. The page blurred, then words began to appear. Jack could see them becoming clearer before his very eyes, but only on the page the King was looking at. The other sheet remained blank.
“He shall return, the Bearer of The Talisman; he who has all the virtues within him. He will restore the elements to their rightful place and banish the evil that has befallen… and so on.”
The King looked up.
“See, it is all written here. In ink. On paper. In black and white, although it’s probably looking a little more greyer now. The ink, not the prophecy. The prophecy is quite clear.”
“What does ‘banish the evil’ mean?” Jack worried. “Kill Septis?”
“Yes,” the Queen answered quickly.
“Not necessarily,” the King answered cautiously, not wishing to offend his wife. “I believe there’s some sort of banishing spell in here somewhere. But you should already know that.”
“You have The Talisman. You must do this. You must free us.”
“What if Septis kills me?” was a more important issue to Jack. He didn’t even want to be in this world. Now he was being told he had to kill an evil being who had taken over the world. All he wanted to do was find a way home.
The King waved his hand dismissively. “She is one element short. Unfortunately, we do not know which one she is missing. If she believes you can find it, you will be safe.”
“Until I do,” Jack swallowed hard.
“The World of Drac is full of magic. The club will show you how to use it. The Talisman also has its own power… Will you help us?”
The King looked imploringly at Jack. His eyes held the same hope that his people had.
“He is not the one, my King,” the Queen answered. “Look at him. Not a wizard. No powers. Nothing special at all… Just a knave.”
It was the Queen’s attitude and words, more than anything else, which made up Jack’s mind. “I’ll do it.”
“Wonderful!” The King clasped his hands joyously in front of himself. “You should get started right away. Before Septis even knows you’re here.”
That sounded like a good idea. Jack found he was getting swept up in the King’s excitement. Maybe he could get the first element before she knew he was there.
“We believe we know where the first one is. Somewhere on top of the Great Hill.”
“Where is this hill?”
The King stood up and walked to the corner of his yard. Jack quickly got up from the table and followed him.
Jack followed the King’s outstretched arm across the fields. In the distance, loomed not a hill but a mountain, reaching up for the blue of the sky.
“From the top of the Great Hill, you can see the whole World of Drac,” the King continued. “It is the highest point in the land. And, also the hardest to get to.” His voice lowered. “Apart from the Far Hill. But that never used to be hard.” He cleared his throat and his voice rose again. “Which is why we believe one of the elements must be there.”
Jack realised his mouth was open. He picked up his jaw and swallowed hard. “That’s hardly a hill. It’s a mountain! How far away is it?”
“Shouldn’t take you more than a day, I say. Climbing it is another matter. No one has ever climbed the Great Hill.”
“I’m not surprised,” Jack mumbled to himself.
“Will you set off immediately?”
“No?” The King stared in disappointment.
Jack had to think quickly. He felt the Queen’s eyes burning into him. She was just waiting for another chance to put him down.
“I need to prepare. I need…” he had no idea exactly what he would need, “umm… stuff.”
“Stuff?” the King frowned. “That’s… er… some special… wizard equipment, is it?”
Jack looked up. The sun was quickly moving across the sky. It was going to take him the rest of the day to make a list and find what he needed. “If you have the… stuff… I require, I’ll set out in the morning.”
“Of course,” the King nodded understandingly. “I will have my servants –”
“No.” Following the fence line, Jack could see back to the gate. The crowd was still gathered and the two troublesome Clubs he had first encountered were sitting meekly on the grass. “Those two.”
“Crimb and Crumb?” The King frowned at the obvious bad judgement. He leaned close to Jack and lowered his voice. “Are you sure? They are not the most reliable of Clubs.”
Jack didn’t mind. “I like them.”
“Crimb and Crumb!”
The two Clubs scrambled to their feet, rushed along the fence, stopped in front of the King and bowed low. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
“You will take care of our guest tonight. See that he gets all the… stuff…?” He looked to Jack for confirmation.
“That he needs for his quest. Tomorrow, you will accompany him to the Great Hill.”
“Us?” Crimb went quite pale.
“The Great Hill?” Crumb went paler.
“Yes,” the King answered. “It will be as I say.”
The three of them were silent as they walked along the road. Crimb focused on his stick and where he was placing it on the ground. Crumb clasped his hands behind his back and trudged along with his head lowered.
“Crimb?” Jack asked.
Crimb picked up his stick, inspected it closely and brushed the dirt from it.
Jack turned to the other Club. “Crumb?”
Crumb flinched as though he’d been hit, then shook his head slowly.
“Aagh!” Jack groaned. “Will one of you say something?”
“Say what?” Crimb asked.
The Clubs glanced sideways at each other.
“Anything,” they both repeated.
“No… that’s not what I meant! Talk to me.”
“Umm…” Crimb began. “This… stuff… that you require. What is it exactly?”
“I don’t know.”
The Clubs stopped walking.
“You don’t know?” Crimb asked.
“He doesn’t know?” Crumb frowned.
“I’ve never climbed a mountain before,” Jack told them.
“Hmm…” Crimb rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“But if he doesn’t know…” Crumb whispered urgently.
“Yes, but he will.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then we must.”
“Can we not?”
“I also say.”
They turned to Jack. Small smiles broke out on their faces as they nodded.
Jack frowned in confusion. “What?”
“If you tell us what you need, we will have everything you require,” Crimb proudly told him.
“And more,” Crumb added.
“Okay… that’s better.” Jack was still a little unsure. He changed the subject. “Where’s your home?”
“Back there.” Crimb lifted his hand and pointed back over his shoulder.
“Then why are we still walking?”
“We’re following you,” Crumb answered.
“You didn’t say that you wished to go to our home,” Crimb added.
“Oh… well I do.” Jack suddenly realised how rude he sounded, and gave them a polite smile. “If it’s okay with you. I need time to think and work out a plan. And then I need to make a list of what I need.”
“Then it will be our pleasure,” Crimb bowed low to emphasise his words, “to take you to our home.”
As they turned and walked back along the street, Jack looked at the houses. They were small and square and looked like they had been made of tree branches that had been placed vertically next to each other. Windows were gaps, supported by a small frame. They appeared to have no glass. In one, a blue fabric wafted in the breeze.
The roof was a thatchwork of leafy branches.
Jack couldn’t distinguish a door in any of the buildings, but a path led from the road to a small step at the front of each house. There was no gate or fence. There were small patches of well trodden grass between the road and the houses, and several plots of cultivated gardens. Some had flowers. Others had tall vines climbing over wooden frames, or leafy foliage in straight rows along the ground. Others were just plots of clearly defined dirt.
Crimb and Crumb turned along the path of one house and walked the short distance to the front step. Crimb lifted his stick and touched the house. A door swung inwards and they went inside.
Inside, the house was plain. The walls were a light brown colour. It reminded Jack of being inside the tree, though, when he looked up, he could see the ceiling. He lifted his hand and could almost touch it.
Jack lowered his hand and looked around. Again, there was that hazy look to the outside world before Crumb shut the door. The walls were smooth and bare, with no pictures or decorations. A single, small window had no curtain, but had that same hazy film to the outside.
The floor was bare. It looked like dirt, but it was clean and smooth, and firm to walk on without being disturbed or kicked up like dirt.
The room looked as big as the whole house had looked from outside. There was a small table and two comfortable chairs. Two doors led off a side wall. Another door was in the back wall and a smaller door on the other side wall.
“Our rooms,” Crimb indicated the doors with his stick. “Meals room… ablutions room –”
“Ablutions?” Jack queried.
“Should you need to ablute yourself,” Crumb answered.
“Or freshen yourself up in any way,” Crimb added.
“Right,” Jack nodded. Bathroom, he realised.
“Our home is your home. You are most welcome here, I say,” Crumb smiled.
“Thanks… I don’t mean to offend you, but you don’t have much here.”
“We have everything we need.” Crimb’s eyes twinkled. “Now… what it is that you need, Wizard Jack?”
Jack refrained from saying he wasn’t a wizard. “Tell me about the Great Hill.”
“Well…” Crimb hesitated and frowned. He indicated the chairs. “Sit down, I say.”
“But you only have two chairs.”
“We have the floor.”
Crumb reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of smooth stones. Then he sat on the floor with his legs apart in front of him.
“Stones!” Crimb bubbled with excitement as he rushed to sit on the floor in front of Crumb. “Excellent idea, I say!”
Jack shook his head and sat in one of the chairs. He leaned back, watching the Clubs play. The game looked like a cross between knucklebones and checkers. Crumb arranged the stones in rows. They took it in turns to move; blocking each other, jumping each other. Occasionally, they would toss a stone into the air, scoop up the jumped stones and catch the tossed one. They giggled with delight and despair at the outcome as some were caught and eliminated from the game, or dropped and replaced to continue playing.
“Clubs have been no further than the foothills of the Great Hill,” Crimb informed Jack. “A series of hills that rise and fall before you get to the Great Hill. By the time you actually reach the Hill, you’re part of the way up.”
“It becomes steeper and steeper. And most tiring, I say.”
“You’ve been that far?” Jack asked.
“At the end of the grassline, the Hill becomes rock. From that point, it is said, the top cannot be seen.” Crimb stopped playing and looked to Jack with concern.
“As though there is no top, they say,” Crumb whispered cautiously.
“But there is a top,” Jack objected. “I saw it from the King’s yard.”
“Did you?” Crimb’s mysterious voice had Jack suddenly doubting himself.
“Yes… And, besides, the King said you could see all of Drac.”
“If the King says,” Crumb turned to Crimb, “then it must be so.”
“Yes, it must,” Crimb agreed. “The King is the King.”
Jack sighed and thought aloud. “Okay… Grassy hills. Rocky mountain… I’m going to need some climbing gear. Ropes and…”
Jack didn’t know much about mountain climbing. He looked down at his clothes. He had jeans, a windcheater and runners.
“If we’re going to be spending a couple of nights in the open, we’ll probably need a tent, blankets… a coat… We’re going to need food and…”
He looked to the Clubs.
“Do either of you know how to make a fire?”
They smiled and nodded. “We know.”
The rest of the day passed quickly. Jack wasn’t aware of it getting late. Though there were no lights of any sort in the house, it stayed the same. At one stage, he glanced out the window and was surprised to find that it was becoming quite dark outside.
“It’s getting dark,” he remarked.
Crimb lifted his head and looked around. “It is?”
“Meal time!” Crumb scrambled excitedly to his feet, and hurried to the meals room.
Within minutes, Jack could smell something cooking.
He wandered to the doorway of the meals room. A pot was bubbling on the stove. The steamy aroma quickly filled the room. A light was on inside the oven and Jack could see something on the middle shelf. The bench and sink area had a pile of what looked like vegetable scraps.
Crumb was fussing about, setting the table. He placed three sets of everything neatly. There were knives, forks, plates, spoons, glasses, teacups and saucers, and serviettes. He stepped back and lifted his forefinger to his chin while he studied the table.
Then he let out a little gasp. There were only two chairs.
He turned to see Jack standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry, Wizard Jack. We seem to be a chair short.”
“We can move one from the other room,” Jack told him, pointing over his shoulder.
Crumb beamed. “An excellent idea. Sit down and we shall attend to it.”
“No, I’ll help.”
“The King put you in our care. You are our guest. Sit down and eat, I say.”
Jack was about to say that the food wasn’t ready when Crumb began to dish it up.
“Crimb, we shall need another chair,” Crumb called. “Can you move one?”
Jack sat down and began to help himself to the hot food. He heard a scraping and turned his head to see Crimb trying to push the chair through the doorway. The chair looked too big and awkward to get through the small opening. He was about to say that it wasn’t going to fit when Crimb gave it a final push, and it slid across the floor to the table.
The chair looked out of place in the meals room. When Crimb sat in it, his head was almost lower than the table. It didn’t seem to worry him, and he quickly ate his meal.
Jack slept well that night only for the fact that he was completely exhausted. When he awoke and remembered where he was – and that it was not all a dream – he wanted to change his mind about what he had agreed to do. He climbed out of the small bed and stretched. The Clubs were only a little shorter than he was, and the bed was quite comfortable – unless he wanted to stretch right out.
As he dragged his clothes on, he could hear them moving around in another room.
“Meal time!” Crumb announced.
Jack made his way to the meals room, where the table was laid with cereal, fresh pastries, fruit and a pitcher of orange liquid. It looked like juice and it smelled like juice.
“Help yourself, I say,” Crumb told him.
“Thanks,” Jack sat down and poured himself a glass. It even tasted like juice. “But isn’t it a bit much?”
“We can take the rest with us,” Crimb mumbled through a mouthful of cereal. Small pieces fell from his mouth as he spoke.
By the time Jack had finished eating, he felt capable of tackling the Great Hill.
Crumb began to pack the leftovers into a small bag.
“Do you need some help?” Jack asked.
“No, we’ve got everything under control,” Crimb smiled.
Jack took a few moments for himself. He went outside and sat on the front step. The morning sun was streaming over the top of the Great Hill.
He pulled The Talisman out of his pocket and stared at it. “Is this what I’m here for? To find your elements? Your virtues…? What about me? How do I ever get home?”
The Clubs came bursting out the front door, nearly knocking Jack off the step in the process. The Talisman fell from his hand, bounced down the step and a metre along the path.
“Careful,” Jack growled. “Look what you made me do.”
He pointed to where The Talisman lay on the ground. It glowed slightly, then flew back to his outstretched hand.
“What did you do?” Crimb asked, his eyes open wide with shock.
Jack stared in surprise at The Talisman in his hand, not even hearing Crimb’s question.
“What did you do, Wizard Jack?” Crimb repeated.
“I don’t know,” Jack whispered. Then he turned to the Clubs. “I told you, I’m not a wizard.”
“Of course not.” Crimb’s tone disagreed with his words.
“Let’s get going.” Jack gave up. He stood up, tucking The Talisman into his jeans pocket.
Crimb had his stick and Crumb had the bag.
“Are you sure you’ve got everything?” Jack asked.
“Of course,” Crumb answered.
“Even the ropes and blankets and… what about the tent?” Jack looked around for more equipment.
“Don’t worry,” Crumb told him. “Everything we need is in here.”
He patted the bag. Then he put his arms through the straps and hitched it onto his back.
They headed down the path to the road. Young Clubs in smart uniforms were heading towards the centre of the village. They were smiling and laughing as they walked or skipped along, with an older Club lagging behind.
School, Jack assumed.
He thought about home. It would be Monday. Rob and Jess and all his friends would be at school. Was it Monday here? He shook his head. It was too different to think about, he decided as he followed Crimb and Crumb.
“How long will it take us to get to the Hill?”
“Getting to the Hill is not the problem,” Crimb answered.
“Getting up the Hill is the problem,” Crumb added.
“No one has ever climbed the Great Hill before.”
“Why not?” Jack asked.
“Why should we?”
Jack shrugged. “Because it’s there.”
“We already know it’s there. We can see it from the village.”
“No, I mean… People climb mountains because they’re there. For the sense of achievement to say that they’ve done it.”
The Clubs stared blankly at him as he spoke, then to each other and back at Jack.
“You have strange customs where you come from,” Crimb concluded.
“Most strange,” Crumb nodded in agreement.
They headed away from the mountain. Jack was about to tell them they were going the wrong way when Crimb walked straight up to a large tree and knocked solidly on the trunk with his stick. Jack didn’t think it was the same tree they had come out of yesterday.
He followed the Clubs into the tree; a mumbled hello to the Club who let them in. It was a different doorkeeper from yesterday. He was polite and welcoming. Jack also recalled that yesterday a doorkeeper had let them into a tree, but there had not been one to let them out.
“Do they live in the trees?” Jack asked as they headed down the stairs.
“Of course not.”
“Then how do they know when someone wants to use the trees.”
“They just do,” Crumb answered.
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Jack finds himself trapped in the fantasy world of Drac; a world of magic, dragons, and evil doings. The world is dying. The Talisman, which stores the elemental virtues of the races and keeps the world in balance, has gone. A prophecy has been set in motion and will be fulfilled, one way or the other. Jack has been brought there to save the world. While travelling the lands, he begins to realise that good and evil are not so clearly defined, and all the people need to unite to save their world. This edition contains the full text of the trilogy: Into the Land of Clubs (Book one) Through the Land of Diamonds (Book two) Fallen Virtues (Book three)