A Brief History
Josh considered himself pretty normal looking for a thirteen-year old. Sometimes he wondered what other kids his age thought about how he looked. He was average height and weight. He had a lot more growing to do, so he didn’t worry about it too much. His nose wasn’t super long, his ears weren’t transplanted from an elephant, so he pretty much ignored his physical presentation. He had dull dark eyes and dark hair, but what did he need to appeal to others for anyway? Just this morning he had been a normal eighth-grader. Eighth graders had more to worry about than appearance.
Dumbfounded, Josh realized he was fidgeting and wondering if his hair looked good and if he had anything in his teeth.
She didn’t seem him at first, which gave Josh the opportunity to watch her. She was bigger than him, so he concluded she must be older. She had black hair just past her shoulders combed over half of her face. She wore a long-sleeve tee shirt and jeans. She had fair skin, a serious contrast to her black hair. When she walked into the room, her face betrayed her disinterest in the world, and when she finally looked over at Josh, her disinterest seemed only to increase. But in that moment, Josh saw her twinkling green eye (the other one hid behind her hair) like a windswept meadow at noon.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Mr. Tuff didn’t say we had anyone new here.”
“Sorry,” Josh said. Before he could continue, she interrupted.
“What are you apologizing for?”
“Uh…sorry…I mean I’m not sorr…um…”
“Wow,” she said deliberately before sitting on the couch in front of the person-sized fireplace. She had carried in a few thick books and now she opened one to a bookmarked page and began reading.
“Um…” Josh muttered. Then louder, “What’s your name?”
Josh’s brow furrowed in frustration. Once, in fourth grade, Josh had read every entry in the dictionary to figure out the best adjectives to describe himself. He found one to be particularly true, he thought: resilient. He thought it was his best quality, the ability to be tough and steadfast in his beliefs, but also to adapt to his surroundings and rationally understand change. He’d already excelled at these things in the past few hours, being uprooted from his home and replanted in this mansion. If he could handle that with resilience, then he could handle this girl. Though it broke his rule of not sitting in the front of a classroom, Josh abandoned his couch in the back and sat at the opposite end of the couch that Luna sat on.
She didn’t stray from her reading one iota at his arrival. Suddenly stricken with a desire to talk to a girl, Josh thought of everything he could possibly say to make an impression on her.
Unfortunately, since he had no prior girl experience and had never read any books on the topic, Josh didn’t even know where to start. When he finally did put together the coolest thing he could come up with, someone else entered the parlor. Thank god, Josh thought because he was far too nervous to muster any voice in front of this girl.
The new kid was about the same size as Luna. He had short blonde hair that was spiked out in all directions. He had bright blue eyes and a smile perfect for cloaking the mischievous look on his face. He was quite thin, clearly a side effect of running from the people he’d angered whilst making mischief. He carried several thick books as well as a fabric bag slung over his shoulder. He was wearing a short-sleeve tee shirt and long-legged shorts that came halfway down his calves.
Josh stood up as the boy dropped his books on an end table without regard for how loudly they would crash onto the surface. They did make a horrible sound, and Luna looked up from her reading with an extremely irritated sneer.
“Hi,” he said cheerfully. “My name’s Check. What’s yours?”
“Well, Josh, welcome to Yadwiga Mansion. It’s the best house in the world!”
“Why is that?” Josh asked, any discomfort he might have had from being in an abrupt new home washing away with Check’s friendliness.
“Because there are so many secret passages in this place. You can pretty much get anywhere in the mansion from everywhere in the mansion. There are passages between all the bedrooms, between the first floor and the top floor, between the parlor and all the bedrooms, between…”
“We get it,” Luna grunted. “Just be quiet about the passages.”
Just then, Josh had a glimpse of inspiration. He remembered a tactic his dad used to use on him when he had a bad attitude. His dad would talk about him to his mom right in front of him.
“What’s her problem?” Josh asked. Luna’s mouth dropped open.
“Oh, Luna?” Check replied. “She’s always grumpy. She’s been here the longest. She was here before any of us, so she’s about ready to get out of here. Unfortunately, there’s no leaving. It’s too safe here and too dangerous out there.”
Josh nodded. “How old is she?” he asked. “She acts like a five-year old.” Luna gritted her teeth with rage.
“Oh, she’s fourteen. I’m thirteen though. Usually, you don’t come here unless you’re thirteen. That’s when they try to take you.”
“Yeah, my parents were gonna try to pay to keep me, but then they sent me off.”
“Really?” Check said, the surprise clear in his voice. “Your parents tried to keep you?”
“Of course they did. They love me.”
Check’s cheery demeanor quickly circled the drain to be replaced by sadness. His smile drooped into a frown and he lowered his eyes, their bright blue somehow becoming dimmer. He trudged over to an empty couch and flung himself onto it.
“What did I say?” Josh muttered weakly.
“Maybe you should have found out the whole story before you put him down about it,” Luna said, returning to reading. She almost sounded like she was chuckling.
“That’s funny to you, huh?” Josh asked, infuriated with her lack of compassion.
“Kind of. I will admit, though, that I like to inflict his pain myself, so I’m not happy that you got the pleasure.”
“Don’t use ‘wow,’ that’s my word,” Luna said nonchalantly without looking up from her book.
Josh might have exploded with anger then. Luna acted so much like a bully that Josh was having emotional flashbacks to fourth grade. He wanted to get in her face, tell her how terrible she was being. Just like the bullies back in school, even though they were sure to overpower him easily, Josh couldn’t help but stand up to them. Knowing full well that he didn’t stand a chance physically, just telling them to their faces how mean they were made him feel better.
But then more people came into the parlor. Josh turned around to see Lee, now wearing a tee shirt and jeans and a smile. By his side was another girl. If Josh could have given her a name right there, it would have been Goldilocks. From the light blue little dress to the golden blonde hair with big looping curls, this girl was straight out of a nursery rhyme or a Disney movie. She blinked her big blue eyes and stared at Josh.
“Um…Hi, I’m Josh.”
“Alice,” she said.
Josh stifled a laugh.
“What?” she demanded.
“Uh oh,” Lee muttered as he walked past Josh and sat down on a lone chair near the fireplace.
“Oh, I’m sorry, no, I didn’t mean anything,” Josh stammered. “I didn’t even say anything.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed with contempt.
“Jeez, Josh,” Luna said from behind him, her voice thick with mirth, “you’re taking all of my good insults away from me. You better cut it out.”
Alice stepped toward Josh until their noses touched. She was shorter than him, but only by a little. She poked her finger into Josh’s chest.
“You think you’re better than me?” she asked, sounding more like a mafia thug than a little girl. “We’re all the same here, friend. Under…stand?” Chest pokes emphasized that last word.
“Y-yeah, I… un-er-st-nd,” Josh wheezed. His mouth had gone quite dry.
“All right kids,” Lee said loudly. “Let’s sit down.”
With great relief, Josh found his seat on the couch opposite Luna again. Check sat up, but still looked majorly melancholy, and Alice sat on the other side of the room, near a tall window.
“So, you’ve all met Josh,” Lee began. “He’s the newest member of the house, and as far as anyone can tell, the last of you. If there were more of you, they’ve already been taken. We’re lucky to have found four of you.”
“Um, excuse me, Lee,” Josh said, as he was completely in the dark to all this talk, “where were they taken?”
All three of the others shot Josh a look. Should he know the answer? Should he know why he was here? They only knew because they’d been here longer. Have they known their whole lives? Josh had so many questions boiling up within him that he nearly burst.
“I’m sure you have lots of questions,” Lee said. “They will all be answered eventually. But first, let’s let you in on who your companions are. This is Alice Wunder, pronounced with a ‘V.’”
Josh stifled another laugh, but Luna didn’t stifle hers at all.
“Shut it, Luna!” Alice cried.
“All right, all right,” Lee said. “Anyway, Alice is thirteen years old and specializes in conjuring. This is Check Grey. He’s thirteen as well, and specializes in enhancements. And this is Luna Faizze.”
“Ha!” Alice shouted triumphantly. “Like the phases of the moon!”
“It’s not funny if you have to explain it,” Luna retorted calmly.
Josh laughed blatantly. Clearly this girl was in charge and he wasn’t going to stand for her abuse of power.
“What?” Luna demanded.
“Is that really your name?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Yes, you little nerd! So what?”
“Whoa!” Josh cried, acting defensive. “Calm down. It’s just a funny name, is all. Nothing against you.” Then, deliberately, he added, “It’s just…funny.”
Luna’s visible eye burned with fury. She took a deep breath and puffed up her chest, opened her mouth, and paused. And then she deflated, and merely held Josh’s gaze for a long moment before slowly returning her attention to her book.
Josh looked across the room to see Alice smiling.
“Anyway,” Lee went on. “Luna is fourteen and she our resident information specialist.” Alice seemed to be about to make a derisive sound, but Luna shot her the worst death-look Josh had ever seen. “And, this is Josh Donnelly. He’s thirteen. He specializes in I don’t know. What have your parents taught you?”
Josh’s mouth hung half opened. He didn’t have an answer. What was Lee even talking about? Specialties? What did these other kids do that they needed a specialty? Clearly, this had something to do with the odd symbols he’d seen since yesterday at home, but he didn’t know anything other what he’d deduced himself.
“What are you talking about?” Josh asked.
“Have your parents taught about glyphs?” Lee asked.
Josh shook his head once. “No. What’s a glyph?”
“Great,” Luna groaned.
“Easy, Luna,” Lee chided. “What happened, Josh, right before your parents contacted me?”
Josh told them the story that had started the previous day with the stranger in the kitchen. He also put in the story about the bully.
“Then a million dollars appeared,” he finished.
“What?” Alice said. “You can’t conjure a million dollars. I know I can’t.”
“You can’t do a lot of stuff,” Luna griped.
“Shut up!” Alice wailed.
“Girls!” Lee cried. “Josh, what did you do to make a million dollars appear?”
“Well, I was in the shower and I was drawing in the condensation on the tile and I drew a…”
“No!” Lee yelled with abandon.
“But, why? What’s the big deal?”
“Don’t. Don’t tell anyone ever.”
“That’s what my mom and dad said too.”
“Trust in their words, Josh.”
“What’s the big deal, Lee?” Check asked.
“I’ll tell you the big deal.”
A long time ago, before anyone knew anything much, humans started walking around. And then some time after that, no one is really sure of the exact year, a few humans found that they could draw symbols in the dirt and make animals come to it. They were the first glyph writers. And since then, our people have lived among regular humans without much incident. The glyph writers would use symbols to make themselves stronger so they could build houses quickly. They used glyphs to gather wild animals so it would be easier to hunt. Eventually, they learned to write glyphs that would take them places or make things appear out of thin air.
There was a period of time, an epoch of history during which most humans today aren’t quite sure what happened. But there is an account of what happened. There aren’t many of us left, but we glyph writers know what happened.
During the dark ages, all those centuries ago, the glyph writers discovered the most powerful glyph of all. They stumbled on it one day without even realizing it, thinking it a mere conjuring glyph. But then something started happening. They started using this glyph for everything. They started wishing for entire castles built in a moment, giant rivers altered to flow where they wanted, complete mountain ranges split in two, thousands and thousands of pounds of gold. Anyone who knows about glyphs knows they aren’t powerful enough to conjure such things.
And so they named this glyph something special. They named it the wish glyph.
Over the years the glyph writers had managed to migrate together, building societies together, living as a big nomadic family, looking out for each, and with their secret kept tight. There was only one settled colony of glyph writers. And it was in that town that the wish glyph appeared. Quickly, use of the wish glyph got out of hand, and the elders knew it straight away. They vowed to never use it again.
But they had to be sure it would never be used by anyone. After all, the whole town knew it, and there were at least two thousand of them. So one night, the elders got together in the town square. They drew a giant glyph in the square and all eight of them stood within it. When the power of the glyph was unleashed by all of them together, the wish glyph was gone. They had banished the memory of it from every mind in the town. They forced all who knew the wish glyph to forget it ever existed.
After that, all returned to normal. No one knew the wish glyph other than the elders. They needed to remember it in case it was to show up again. They promised to never use it. And they thought it was gone forever.
But it wasn’t.
Two generations later, a child was born. All of the elders had died by then, being replaced by their sons, except for one. The moment the child used the wish glyph accidentally, the elder knew. Horrified and fearful, he called a meeting of the elders and wiped the child’s mind of the glyph. It had to be done. Far too much evil could come of the wish glyph. And so he told his fellow elders about the wish glyph. He explained everything. And so from then on, every generation or so, a child would be born with a memory of the wish glyph. And each time it was discovered, the elders banished it from that child’s mind.
That was a long, long time ago. Now there aren’t many glyph writers left. The power was bred out of us. Not many children are born with substantial powers, and so the ability is never used.
“We have a written account of the wish glyph here in the mansion,” Lee said. “We have it because I am a descendant of the elders. But there is one other who comes from a line of elders. And he is the one who wants to collect all of you children who are thirteen years old. That is the age that the glyph writer power becomes noticeable.”
“That’s crazy,” Alice breathed.
“Heavy, Lee,” Check added.
“So…I’m a glyph writer?” Josh asked.
“Yes, you are,” Lee replied. “So are your parents, though the ability in them is extremely dormant. You, however, are quite strong.”
“So, I used the wish glyph, huh?”
“I believe you did, Josh.”
“Are you going to banish it from my mind?”
Lee shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t. No one can, really. It took the power of the original elders to do it back then. I’m only one descendant of the elders. I’m not powerful enough.”
“Oh, well, that makes me feel better. I was getting nervous about it, actually.”
“It wouldn’t hurt,” Lee assured him.
“Lee, are you Native American?” Josh asked, suddenly placing the likeness of the man’s face.
“Partly,” he answered. “The glyph writers were Native Americans. They were Narragansett, actually.”
“And they knew about castles?” Luna asked skeptically.
“They knew about a lot of things. With glyphs, they were nearly boundless in their education.”
Josh sighed. “Lee? I think I know the answer already, but, what is it exactly that the other elder descendant wants from us?”
Lee breathed a laugh. “It’s no big secret now, Josh. It’s pretty obvious. He wants what you know. He wants what everyone else can’t know. He’s been waiting for a child to be born with the knowledge of it.
“He wants the wish glyph.”