Home again, home again...
Joseph “Joe” Winstanton shrugged as he adjusted the shoulder strap on his bag, he walked along the road towards his little house...he was home again so he smiled as his every pace felt like he was bouncing. After his Scottish excursion and the first successful part of his quest with the school of Nature magic, he was approaching his own front door and happy to be home.
“Home again, home again...” he said with a half-smile.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael “Mike” Danvers US Marine Corps had flown back to the US from Glasgow International three days earlier, his vacation officially over and none too pleased to be starting his desk job at the Pentagon. He had left Joe swearing oaths and promises that he would move heaven and hell itself to be available for Joe, if and when Joe needed him again. Joe smiled he felt he had found a firm friend in Mike, Mike had saved his life at least three times now.
Jamie Walshaw, the ageing captain of the inshore fisher Joe had hired to take them out to the nature magic school, had gone back to his fishing. Beaming with pride as he was now in proud possession of a magical talisman, a “gift” from the new master of the school, Archimedes, the little fawn they had met when they arrived. This talisman, when operated in Jamie’s hands practically, had monstrous sized fish leaping out of the water into his fishing vessel hold, so he was ecstatic. Additionally, the halfling mayor inside the school had placed a sizable order with him, one that would, in fact, require a bigger boat, fish it appeared would be very popular especially when Saffi, the mayor’s enigmatic daughter, cooked it just right. Joe momentarily stopped and shuddered, as an image of Plato entered his mind. Plato had been the former Arch Administrator of the school, another fawn...who hadn’t been a fawn at all! He had been revealed to be a chaos imp, whatever one of those was, working for the chaos demon Ghord. Joe shivered, that poor creature’s pitiful cry as he’d vanished when Joe had gained possession of the artefact. It was small consolation that he’d won the prize as that blood-curdling scream haunted his dreams, it seemed chaos didn’t tolerate failure. The artefact itself, he had identified as a highly polished wooden bowl that emitted magic like a lighthouse beacon; it was now nestled neatly down among his change of clothes. Not that it was anything fragile you understand, it was just that Joe felt better with it wrapped up safe and sound. He would need some time and peace with it to try to understand it, and maybe to see the other items to figure out how and where they fitted into this particular puzzle, but he had the first piece and that was something!
A few more steps and he’d be up to the boundary line between his house and his immediate neighbour. His mind was thus elsewhere running over these thoughts that he barely noticed the three black cars parked bumper to bumper in front of his house. One car was a stretch black limousine sporting little flags just above the front headlamps, again if he’d looked he’d have seen the flags bore a familiar seal. He also didn’t acknowledge the six-man security team in mirrored sunglasses and dark suits. Two stood flanking his entrance doorway, looking imposing suspicious-looking bulges at their breast pockets, two more prowled at his end of the car line checking the bushes and side of his house, while the other two were at the far end facing away doing the same on that side. So as Joe stepped casually around the nearest car and approached the front door, one of the two men flanking the doorway touched his ear, spoke into his vest pocket before moving to block Joe’s path with a hand outstretched.
“Sorry sir...but I’m going to have to ask you to wait a moment! Do you have some form of identification?” His accent was American, a certain drawl gave his roots as sounding Texan. The door opened moments later with Mike Danvers standing in the doorway smiling but in a distinctly tight reserved way. Mike was in his formal dress uniform, every inch a military officer. He looked even more imposing and impressive than he had during his time in Scotland.
“Joe...we’ve got to talk buddy, and like right now!... It’s OK man, the dude lives here.” Mike touched the shoulder of the security man blocking Joe’s path.
Joe looked up at the sound of his name and spoke as if seeing his new friend in his doorway was perfectly normal and expected, “Oh hi Mike, I thought you were going back to DC...”
“I did man...these guys are secret service.” Mike tapped the agent blocking Joe’s path on the shoulder, "I said he lives here, he’s OK. Eagle came to see him!” The sunglasses-wearing man looked momentarily uncertain, touched his ear and spoke into his vest pocket again.
“So how come you’re here?” Joe thought nothing of the agent’s presence after all weird stuff happened when you were involved with magic.
“We flew in this morning, I was picked up the moment I landed, these guys grilled me at Langley for four hours...something’s happened, something big buddy boy!
“By the way, this is one nice place you got here, I see why you like your Natalie so much too, that is one very attractive girl...but you’d better come in you’ve got yourself a very special visitor! You won't believe who...” Mike touched the secret service agent on the shoulder again, this time jerking his thumb in a clear the path for the man motion. Finally, the agent seemed satisfied and stiffly stepped aside to resume his flanking position. Joe smirked and stepped in through his front door into the front room to be greeted by the sight of a half dozen more men in dark suits covering every aspect of the room, prying behind his pictures, checking his curtains, opening his cupboards...intrusively prying. In the hustle and bustle, Natalie was currently bent forwards at the waist serving two people seated on the sofa, her body blocked the view so who these visitors were Joe couldn’t see immediately. Two women he didn’t recognise were lounging in the armchairs, the blonde looked across at him widened her eyes and smiled a strange smile before nudging the darker haired one and pointing. Draco sat attentively in his dog form in his basket by the fireplace, he looked like someone had hurried brushed his fur. Natalie raised her head and looked over her shoulder at him at the sound of his entrance.
“Joe! Good, you’re home...come meet our guests...” Joe slipped off his bag and autonomously dropped it by the door. One of the dark-suited men made a reach for it, Mike waved him away and picked up the bag himself.
“Yes,” Natalie smiled shyly and adjusted a lock of her hair self consciously, “they arrived about ten minutes ago, they say they need to talk to you urgently...” Natalie leaned towards Joe to whisper, “and so do I Joe. A lot has happened while you’ve been away.” Natalie at that point looked sideways at the two women in the armchairs then sidestepped a half pace revealing the couple seated on the sofa. If Joe had been holding his bag at this point he would have dropped it, instead, his jaw dropped open in amazement.
“Ah good...you must be the famous Mr Winstanton, I am pleased to meet you at last sir...” The man beamed a white toothy smile from his almost orange tan face and half stood to offer his hand in greeting, “Natalie, I must say has been the perfect hostess, my wife and I have been waiting for you. I like your home too, very comfortable.”
“Err yes thank you...” was all Joe could haltingly say as he shook the man’s hand.
Mike stepped closer to him to whisper, “You recognise him I suppose Joe? Not so disconnected from the modern world to not recognise the president of the United States and the first lady? They are here in your home man!”
“Yes of course I do...it’s just unexpected.”
“After our adventure in jolly old Scotland, I wouldn’t have thought anything could be unexpected...”
The president moved a half pace closer to Joe, “Mr Winstanton? I do hope we haven’t come at an inconvenient time. You understand, this isn’t any sort of official visit, the only people who know I’m here are the security team you see around us, certain ranking agents in the FBI and NSA and Colonel Danvers whom you know...”
“Yeah Joe they promoted me on the president’s orders, I’m a full Colonel now!” Mike showed off his gold oak leaf clusters on his shoulder patches.
“Well I’m sure you deserve it for your diligent service Colonel, thirty years is impressive. I’m actually supposed to be in Switzerland, some meeting or other, national political heads talking shop...very tedious! But after talking to Colonel Danvers I felt I needed to speak with you in person sir. I consider this to be more important than talking with your British prime minister.”
“No, no that’s OK...sorry it’s just the shock of seeing...I mean you don’t expect to come home and see the president of America and his wife seated on your sofa...forgive me it’s probably just the culture shock.”
“Well, we’ll try to keep it brief won’t we Melania?” The first lady sipped at her coffee and graciously nodded smiling to Natalie and passing some compliment. “It seems the colonel came back to DC with quite a wild story. Magic and fantasy creatures, fighting in an old tower that doesn’t look like a tower...sounds like you two had quite an adventure. However, it isn’t that that interests me. I’m referring to something more personal to myself and my wife Melania...I’m referring to my son Barron. He’s out in the limousine at the moment, so would someone like to bring him in please...thank you very much. I think he should be here if we’re going to be talking about him?” One of the dark-suited men by the door smartly turned and stepped out of the front door.
“Err I’m sorry...mister president...I’ve only just walked in my front door. I’ve been away for more than a week...so you don’t expect to come face to face with the leader of the western world sitting drinking coffee in your home.”
“I understand sir, or can I call you Joe? But I like it that way, keeps you off base...always good to be one up on a deal!” Donald Trump smiled again, “Once Barron joins us, I’ll happily explain...” The president resumed his seat and sipped at a glass of ice water that Natalie had placed in front of him. The dark-suited man returned a few moments later with a teenage boy in tow, dressed equally smartly in another dark suit. The boy, however, looked pale and gaunt, almost ghost-like, he was quiet and shy as he entered the front room. The president’s wife smiled at him and beckoned him over as she shuffled herself further along the sofa to create a space. She said something quietly to Natalie who nodded and stepped out of the room into the rest of the house, returning with a glass of fruit juice that she handed to Barron. He sipped at it, smiled at her, thanked her politely before sitting down next to his mother who put a reassuring arm around his shoulders. “OK, so now Barron’s here let me explain. I don’t know anything about what the Colonel is talking about, seems like a tall story to me...but when he described some of the events...well they rang a yuge bell with me.”
“I’m sorry a yuge bell?”
“Yes absolutely yuge! You see Joe...I can call you Joe can’t I?” Joe nodded, “Well you see Joe, my son Barron has been suffering from some powerful headaches for the past month. What was it Melania, march?”
The first lady nodded, “Beginning of April Donald, he collapsed the first time on the first. I was and still, am very worried.”
Barron spoke quietly as if speaking into his fruit juice glass, his voice trembled and sounded as if he was exhausted, “The headaches started at the end of March. They build to a point I can’t do much of anything, I feel like my head will explode if I try...and then after I blackout, they seem to back off for a day, only to build again.
“I’ve also been having intense dreams that I almost can’t tell I’m asleep or awake any more...”
Melania smiled at him and stroked his hair before looking up at Joe, “We’ve tried all the medical professionals Mr Winstanton, all the experts in their field we can find. I guess one advantage of being the first family is we get the best. But they just shake their heads and prescribe him more and more powerful pain killers hoping they’ll help. No two of them seem to agree on what’s causing it all.
“...he’s been going through hell Mr Winstanton. You can see he’s all washed out and pale, I’m almost frantic with worry, he eats little, drinks little more, while thanks to the dreams he gets barely an hour of sleep each night now.” She motioned a hand in Mike’s direction, “Then Colonel Danvers started telling his story, a security advisor passed the story to Donald. Donald wondered if maybe you might be able to help our son Barron...”
“Call me Joe please Mrs Trump...Mr Winstanton makes me think too much of my father.” Joe smiled a winsome smile, “I’m sorry, I do beg your pardon of course but I don’t see how I can be any help. I’m no doctor...I don’t know what help you think I can possibly be...”
“Colonel Danvers described symptoms so similar that you suffer with...”
“Intense headaches? Bad dreams? Anyone can have them surely...”
“Not like these!” Barron spoke again he hung his head and placed a quivering hand against his forehead as he sipped a little more juice.
“Well then maybe if you can tell me how they do feel young man?” Joe took a hesitant step towards Barron, the boy looked horribly pale and Joe’s heart went out to him immediately.
Barron lifted his head searching Joe’s face, he looked white as paper, his sunken eyes were greying around the sockets and betrayed a hunted gaze. He took a large sip of his juice before he put the glass on the coffee table. When he spoke he did falteringly again, “It’s like there’s a thunder in my head, thousands of people, all talking at me, voices and noise that build until I think my head is going to shatter...it’s constantly there too. I can’t sleep it gets so loud, it wakes me up. The pills I get from the doctors do nothing, I barely even feel them.”
Joe stepped closer his mouth hanging slightly open, “The noise...is it like the Marine corps band has moved in with all their instruments, playing the eighteen twelve overture while the artillery are firing their cannons on cue?” Barron nodded shyly. Joe stepped closer again and knelt down on one knee in front of the boy. “It’s a pounding migraine...that no number of pills or potions can even touch the side of?” Another nod, Barron looked up into Joe’s face there was something else in his gaze, desperation? Or was it hope?
“Can you help me please sir? I can’t take much more!”
“Hmm...well I know what causes it in my case. Maybe if you’re here then someone thinks it could be similar to you...”