Chapter Seven: The Cube.
Mark awoke to near darkness. The only light in the room was the green glow of his alarm clock. It read:
Someone was shaking him.
“Mark. Mark; wake up.”
Mark sat bolt upright.
“Wh … wha…?”
He could just make out Ferdia standing beside his bed, his finger to his lips.”
“Shh. Keep your voice down.”
“What are you doing up at three am?”
“Just a moment; mind your eyes.”
Mark shielded his eyes and Ferdia flicked on the lamp beside the bed. When Mark’s eyes adjusted, Ferdia was crouching on the floor with a huge grin on his face.
“What are you so happy about?”
“I’ve cracked it.”
Mark was still a little woolly.
“What have you cracked? Is it broken?”
“I’ve cracked the haiku puzzle. What else could it be?”
Now Mark was fully awake. Eyes wide, he swung his legs from under the covers and sat facing Ferdia.
“You’ve cracked it! Wow! So what does it mean?”
“Not here. Let’s go into the study and talk there.”
The boys crept out of Mark’s room and into the study. Once inside, Ferdia flicked on the light and motioned Mark over to the desk. He unfolded the printout of the haikus and flattened it with the palm of his hand.
“OK, when I first saw this puzzle, I started breaking the haikus down into lines.
“The first line says ‘First letter of line’. I thought it might be a riddle. Well, the first letter of ‘line’ is ‘L,’ but what does that mean? I thought it might be 50 because L is the Roman numeral for 50 but that didn’t work.”
“Ferd, did you get any sleep tonight at all?”
“Shush! Then I realized your dad might have meant the actual lines of the haikus themselves and that’s when I cracked it. The first letter of each line of the haikus spells out Fibonacci.”
Ferdia slapped his hand on the desk and looked at Mark expectantly. Mark looked back at him, his face a picture of incomprehension.
“Don’t you see? Fibonacci? No?”
“Um, no … What should I see? What does fibbernadgy mean?”
“Fibonacci. It’s the name of an Italian mathematician. Look.”
Ferdia grabbed a pen and started scribbling on the haiku printout.
“The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers where each number is the sum of the two previous numbers in the set. You start the sequence with the numbers 0 and 1, and then you just keep adding the last two numbers in the set to give the next one:”
0 + 1 = 1
1 + 1 = 2
1 + 2 = 3
2 + 3 = 5
3 + 5 = 8
5 + 8 = 13
8 + 13 = 21
13 + 21 = 34
21 + 34 = 55
“So if you read the first number on each line, you get the Fibonacci sequence; 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so on. See?”
“Yeah, I can see what you’re doing but I still don’t know why you’re doing it.”
“Look, the Fibonacci sequence is one of the most important number sequences in mathematics. It occurs in nature, it’s closely related to the Golden Mean, and it’s used in architecture - just the sort of thing your dad would have used in a puzzle.”
“But what are we supposed to do with it?”
“Well, if I’m right about this, we have to use the Fibonacci sequence to organize the ‘books of all knowledge,’ whatever they are. Now, books are mentioned twice in the haikus. The second haiku says:
“‘Order seven books numbered by a formula ascending the set.’
“So the books of all knowledge are books that are numbered and can be arranged in sequence. You know what that sounds like to me?”
“Ferd...” Mark started to speak but Ferdia was on a roll.
“So your dad was telling you to organize a collection of encyclopedia volumes according to the Fibonacci sequence … “
“Hang on a sec; so somewhere in the house there must be a set of encyclopedias and … “
Mark pointed. Ferdia’s eyes followed the line of Mark’s outstretched finger to the top shelf of the Gothic bookcase. There, arranged in numerical order, was a leather-bound encyclopedia in thirty volumes.
“’Inspect the top shelf’,” said Mark.
Ferdia stood frozen for a second then turned to Mark.
“Yes, that’s it. All we have to do is put them in the right order and … “
“Well, I don’t know. Let’s do it and find out. Look, there are seven Fibonacci numbers less than thirty: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and 21, so you must have to put those volumes next to each other.”
“Yeah, that must be right, ‘cause the first line of the second haiku says ‘Order seven books,” said Mark.
“Yes, exactly. Grab that chair and I’ll hold it for you. It’s your puzzle; you should do it.”
Mark pulled the chair over to the bookshelf and stood on it. Ferdia held it steady as Mark pulled out the relevant volumes and put them in order. As he pushed volume twenty-one into place next to volume thirteen, the boys heard a loud click and a creak from behind them.
Startled, Ferdia let go of the chair and turned around to where the noise came from. At the same time Mark swung around to look. The office chair rotated with him throwing him off balance. He flailed in the air trying to grab the bookshelf to steady himself but the chair shot away from beneath him like a skateboard. Ferdia turned just in time and caught him but their foreheads cracked together and they fell on the floor groaning. They sat clutching their heads for a moment and as the pain subsided they both looked up in the direction the click had come from.
Their eyes took in the wood paneled wall to the left of the fireplace.
A large section of the paneling had swung open, revealing a dark space behind.
“Jesus, Mark; what was your dad up to in here?” said Ferdia, his mouth open.
“I don’t know,” whispered Mark, “but it’s cool!”
The boys got to their feet and approached the door. His heart hammering, Mark reached out to the secret door and pushed it open. As the door creaked aside, the light from the study revealed a dusty concrete floor and little else. A bare light bulb could be seen in the ceiling. Mark reached around the door-frame and found a switch.
Harsh light flooded a room half the size of the study. The walls were as bare as the floor and the only furniture was a small table against the rear wall. A perceptible drop in temperature made the boys shiver as they stepped into the concrete cell. In the severe light, Mark could see the table bore a small lacquered chest, reminiscent of his mum’s jewelry box. The chest was cherry wood, buffed to a high polish, the lid decorated with an intricate inlay of lighter materials. It was secured with a gold clasp which Mark flicked open. He raised the heavy lid and rested it against the concrete wall.
Then he saw it for the first time.
Nestled inside the lacquered case on a bed of red velvet was a beautiful wooden device.
It was a perfect cube; just the right size to fit in Mark’s hand. He couldn’t identify all the woods used in its construction but they were smooth and oily and spoke of exotic forests. Despite the cube’s beauty, it seemed grave and somehow sinister in contrast to the extravagance of the lacquered chest. This was a device with a purpose.
The top of the cube was decorated with alternating pieces of polished black marble and cream marble; sixteen of them in rows and columns like one quarter of a chessboard. The individual pieces of marble seemed to penetrate down into the cube but they were so flush against each other that it was impossible to see down into the cube itself. Mark ran his thumb over the top of the pieces and noticed a small depression in the top of each square. When he tilted the cube, the depressions glinted in the harsh bulb light like small circular lenses of clear crystal. As he poked at them he felt the pieces depress very slightly as if spring-loaded but he couldn't depress them more than a millimeter or so.
As Mark examined the cube, he got a strong feeling it was part of a bigger object, composed of four cubes in total. There was a raised border, the width of a finger, around two of the top edges of the cube, forming an ‘L’ shape. This border was about a finger-width higher than where the marble pieces disappeared into the interior of the cube, and the tops of the marble pieces were level with the top of it. Inlaid into the wooden border, was a seam of some translucent green mineral. Etched into the mineral was gold writing in a strange script. The writing flowed all the way along one top edge, turned through 90 degrees at the corner and continued along the other edge. The writing at the edges of the green marble seemed cut off, as if it were supposed to continue on an adjacent cube. The sides of the cube below the inlaid borders were of well-polished and finished wood, but on the opposite sides the wood was unpolished and drab. It seemed to Mark the polished sides were meant to be seen but the unfinished sides were not. On the two unfinished sides of the cube, several wooden dowels of different shapes were inlaid, flush with the unfinished faces. When he touched them, they moved in and out slightly as if spring-loaded. If there were more cubes, they would interlock by the inward and outward movement of these dowels. Above the dowels were two small holes, side by side - each the diameter of a pencil.
Mark was so engrossed in the cube that he had almost forgotten Ferdia was standing behind him. He turned to him holding out the cube and said:
“Ferdia, look! What do you think this is?”
Ferdia’s eyes widened. He moved a little closer and took the cube from Mark. He turned it around and around in his hands, looking at all the faces.
Mark pointed out the dowels and the holes.
“See the way two of the sides are different; the wood is plainer and not as shiny; and see the holes and the pieces of wood there? I bet this box is meant to connect to another three boxes and make some kind of a chessboard. There must be three more of these somewhere. And see the way that weird writing seems to cut off at both edges?”
Ferdia examined the writing around the edge of the cube.
“It’s Runic,” said Ferdia.
“The writing; it’s Runic. An old Norse alphabet.”
“Can you read it, Ferd?”
“Not right now, but I’ll be able to look the individual letters up and translate it back to the Latin alphabet.”
As Ferdia looked at the cube, a strange look came to his eye. He cocked his head to one side, pursed his lips then looked away into the distance.
“You know … I’ve seen this thing before.”
Jealousy bubbled in Mark.
“What? Has my dad shown you around in here before?”
“No! Of course not. I don’t recognize it from here. It’s from my granddad Vincent’s place; when I used to go there as a kid, before he fell out with my parents.”
“My mum’s dad. There was some kind of a family argument and they don’t speak any more.”
“So … your granddad has one of these boxes?”
“I think so. It was only seven when I saw it but it looks the same.”
“But that’s great! Maybe we can talk to your granddad and find out what it is. See if they’re part of a bigger … thing. Did he ever tell you what it was?”
“No. He was annoyed with me. Granddad used to work in a lab at one of the big pharmaceutical companies and always had cool stuff lying about. I was mooching around and I found it in his wardrobe. He caught me and told me to put it back and forget about it. I guess I did – until now. You’re right, though; we could ask him. He lives up in Bray.”
“Cool! That’s only half an hour away. We could go up there tomorrow and take this to show him.”
“We’d have to lie about where we’re going. My mum won’t let me see him. She says he has strange ideas and knows the wrong people and he’d be a bad influence on me.”
“Well, we could say we’re going to the amusements on the seafront in Bray, and then it’s only a half-lie.”
“Yeah, OK; but how are we going to get there?”
“We’ll go on the bus. There’s one at ten o’clock. My mum will let me go as long as you’re with me, and I’m sure she’ll drive us into Wicklow to catch it.”
“OK, well we’d better get some sleep then; that’s only a few hours away.”
“Yeah; good idea. I won’t be able to sleep though.”
“Me either, but I’m gonna try.”
The boys closed up the secret room and padded out of the study. Mark watched until Ferdia sneaked back to the guest room then closed up the study and crept back to his own room, the strange cube in his hand. He got into bed, hid the cube under the covers then rolled over and tried to get some sleep.
The next day the mystery deepened.
It was another glorious day and the mothers were going golfing. When the boys announced over breakfast that they wanted to go to the amusements in Bray, Bree and Kiva looked at each other, shrugged, and then agreed. They issued the usual dire warnings about care and safety, handed over money and Kiva dropped the boys into Wicklow to catch the ten o’clock bus.
As they waited, Ferdia told Mark about Granddad Vincent, of the times he used to visit there as a small child and how he had found the strange cube hidden in the bottom of his granddad’s wardrobe. Mark asked about Ferdia’s grandmother and Ferdia told him she had died before he was born. He didn’t know the details.
Soon the bus arrived and the boys boarded. They bought their tickets and Ferdia led Mark to the empty seats at the back of the bus.
“Why are we sitting back here?”
“For privacy. We are going to have a look at that cube and do some translating.”
Ferdia reached into his rucksack and pulled out his iPad.
“I downloaded a Rune translation app onto my tablet this morning. You hold the cube up so I can see the runes and I’ll tap them in. We should have this cracked in no time.”
Mark got the cube out of his rucksack and held it up so Ferdia could see the characters. He leaned over to watch the screen on the tablet.
“Right, what’s that first symbol? OK, I’ll just select it... Right, that’s an “A”. Next one …”
He wrote in the next character.
“That’s a g then … a, then i ...n ...s ... t - against! It’s in English! Let’s keep going and see what we get.”
After much work, and just as the bus pulled into Bray, Ferdia had a cramp in his writing hand and Mark had a strained neck, but for their pains, they had a translation of the runes:
Against the sable backdrop of the night,
The starry actors glide across the stage.
In jeweled costumes sewn with threads of light,
They read their parts, then turn tomorrow’s page.
The earthly audience watches from the dust,
As cosmic players tread Forever’s boards.
Our bearing on our travels we entrust,
To these bejeweled heroes of the Gods.
Mark looked at Ferdia.
“What does it mean?”
Ferdia shook his head. “I have no idea. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what my granddad says – assuming he knows.”
Ten minutes later, they were walking up Cuala Road towards Vincent’s house. Cuala Road climbed gently upwards from the busy Putland Road towards the foot of Bray Head. Neat but unremarkable semi-detached homes with walled front gardens lined both sides. Vincent’s house was three-quarters of the way up on the left-hand side and the boys soon arrived at the front gate.
It was immediately obvious to Ferdia that something was wrong.
The grass in the front garden was overgrown and the hedge was overhanging the sidewalk.
“I guess your granddad doesn’t spend much time in the garden,” said Mark.
Ferdia was visibly upset.
“No, this is wrong. He’s a neat freak. My mum told me he drove her mad when she was a kid. She and her brothers couldn’t leave anything lying around for a moment or he was on to them like a flash. He’d never leave his garden like this.”
Ferdia opened the gate and they walked down to the front door. Through the frosted glass they could see a pile of mail on the floor inside the door.
“This place is empty,” said Ferdia. “No-one’s been here for ages.”
He rang the doorbell. They waited but no-one answered.
Mark had a horrible thought and turned to Ferdia with a sick look on his face.
“You don’t think he’s in there … like … dead, do you?”
Ferdia swallowed and licked his lips. He looked absolutely terrified.
“I … I don’t know. But I’ve got to find out.”
“Maybe you should call your mum.”
“I guess. She’s going to kill me for being here, though. And for lying to her. Listen, before I call her I want to find out what’s going on here. If he’s not in there maybe he’s gone away and she already knows about it. I mean, she wouldn’t have told me. Anyway, he used to keep a house-key hidden under a rock behind the garage. I’ll see if it’s still there.”
Ferdia started towards the garage but Mark grabbed his arm.
“Ferd, I’m scared. I’ve never seen somebody dead. I don’t want to go inside.”
Ferdia looked at Mark for a moment then smiled and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Ok, you wait out here. He’s my granddad, my responsibility. You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to.”
Ferdia continued to the garage and looked through the glass windows on the wooden garage doors.
“Hey, his car’s not here. Maybe he has gone away.”
Relieved by the absent car, Ferdia walked down the passageway between the house and the garage and found the rock. The key was still there. He took it and returned to the front of the house. Mark sat on the wall and watched him. He put the key in the lock and opened the front door. The door brushed the pile of mail aside.
“Granddad?” he called. “Granddad, it’s Ferdia. Are you here?”
No answer came. Ferdia looked back at Mark, grimaced, and then stepped into the house. He stooped and gathered up the mail and placed it in several neat stacks on the telephone table inside the door. Leaving the front door open, he walked down the hallway and into the living room. It was exactly as he remembered it; comfortable and neat. It was clear his granddad hadn’t been there for some time though: A thick layer of dust lay on every surface and several Christmas cards stood in a neat line on the mantelpiece. He walked back to the hallway and down to the kitchen. There was no sign of his grandfather in there either.
Heart hammering, he climbed the stairs and searched the rooms upstairs. To his relief his grandfather wasn’t there. He went to the wardrobe in Vincent’s room and rummaged around in the bottom of it until he found the mysterious cube in its presentation box. He brought the box downstairs, called Mark in and walked down to the living room. Mark crept in to the living room like he was walking on eggshells. He looked around like a frightened bird.
“It’s OK, he’s not here,” said Ferdia, “and look what I’ve found.”
He opened the presentation box and took out the cube. He placed it on the coffee table.
“Wow!” said Mark, “it’s exactly the same!”
He opened his rucksack, took out his own cube and put it on the table beside Ferdia’s. They spent some minutes examining them and turning them around on the table.
“Well, they’re not identical,” said Ferdia, “but I think you’re right about them connecting. Look, the rods on the side of this one and the side of that one match up. And the two small holes are in the same place.”
He placed the cubes side by side and pushed them together.
“Hey, look,” said Mark, “the runes on the top edge continue on the other cube. These are definitely meant to go together.”
“Yeah,” said Ferdia, “but something must make the rods push in and out so they click on to each other.”
He looked distant for a moment, then said:
“I have an idea. Have you got a pen in your rucksack?”
Mark rummaged in his rucksack and produced a ballpoint pen.
Ferdia took the Biro and pushed it into one of the small holes on his cube. Nothing happened, but when he pushed it into the second hole, something clicked deep inside and a wooden rod sprang about two centimeters out of the first hole. They both jumped.
“Jeez!” said Mark. “That frightened the crap out of me!”
Ferdia was nodding.
“I thought so. I knew there must be a way to get the mechanism started. Let’s see what happens when we put these together now.”
He moved the two cubes together again, guiding the protruding rod into the matching hole on the other cube. When he pushed them fully together a loud thunk sounded from inside the cubes and he felt them lock firmly together. At the same time, two more rods sprang out, one from each of the remaining exposed rough faces on the cubes.
“Well, I guess that clinches it,” said Ferdia. “There are definitely two more cubes somewhere that connect on to these.”
“Yeah, but where are they?” asked Mark.
“I have no idea,” said Ferdia, “and I have no idea how we go about finding them, either.”
“What do you reckon the runes on this one mean?”
“Well, let’s find out. I wonder if we can get these apart.”
He pushed one of the rods back in and it retracted with a snap. He pushed the other and this too retracted but then a deep spring-loaded clunk sounded inside the cubes and they jumped apart slightly. Now both cubes were back to their original states with their various rods and dowels fully retracted. Ferdia took out his iPhone and put it on the table.
At that moment, to Mark and Ferdia’s horror, an elderly woman appeared in the door of the living room and shouted:
“What the hell are you two young thugs doing in here? Who are you?”
Ferdia stood up and started to speak. The woman took a step back and shrieked:
“Don’t come near me! I’ll call the police.”
Ferdia put up his hands in a placatory gesture.
“It’s all right Mrs. O’Brien, it’s me: Ferdia; Vincent’s grandson.”
The old woman looked very relieved indeed.
“Ferdia! Well holy God, look at the size of you! I haven’t seen you in years. You were only this big the last time I saw you. You gave me an awful turn. I saw the front door sitting wide open and I thought your granddad was back. And who’s this young fella?”
“This is my friend Mark from Wicklow. Mark, this is Mrs O’Brien from next door.”
Mark nodded and mumbled “Pleased to meet you.”
“Well I’m pleased to meet you too, Mark. Now, this is a surprise and no mistake.”
She sat down in an armchair.
“Now, have you any word of your grandfather? How’s he getting on on his travels?”
“Travels, yes. He headed off out of here months ago and we’ve not heard a word from him since. I met him as he was getting into his car and he said he was going away from a while. I thought he must have been going to visit family, it being Christmas day and all.”
Mark felt the hair on the back of his neck standing up. He and Ferdia looked at each other.
“Christmas day,” they said in unison.
“That’s right. I thought it was a bit strange. Have you not seen him?”
Not knowing quite what to say, Ferdia decided a few white lies would be the best option.
“Well, you probably know that he and my mum don’t talk anymore, so I don’t get to see him much. He went away to visit some friends in England at Christmas and stayed on a bit longer to travel around. He rang me a few days ago to tell me about a couple of antiques he wanted me to pick up.”
Ferdia gestured at the cubes on the table.
“I said I’d drop in and collect them and check out the house when I was here.”
Mrs. O’Brien looked as if she had been slapped.
“Well, he’s never called me and Pat in six months and we used to be great friends. And he has our number! Himself and Pat used to go for a drink the odd time too. Ah well, I suppose he has his reasons. And he doesn’t talk to your mother anymore? I never knew that. Sure, that’s terrible. But sure, I suppose you never know what goes on in families and it’s probably none of my business either but he was probably lonely here on his own and when you’re old …”
Mrs. O’Brien was on a roll and didn’t look like stopping for a long while. Ferdia was uncomfortable about lying to her, particularly since she was so put out that Vincent hadn’t been in touch with her, and now he just wanted to get away.
He interrupted her.
“Mrs. O’Brien, I’m really sorry but we have to meet my mum down at the seafront in a few minutes. I’m sorry if we gave you a fright. I’ll ask my granddad to give you call when I’m speaking to him. I’m sure he didn’t mean to ignore you.”
“Oh, yes. Well, of course you have to go. Give my regards to your mother and don’t worry about your granddad. Sure, I suppose he’ll call when he’s good and ready. It was nice to see you again, Ferdia.”
She got up and walked out to the front door. The boys followed her.
“Bye bye Ferdia. Bye bye to you too Mark.”
“Bye bye Mrs. O’Brien,” they both said.
Ferdia closed the front door behind her and the boys went back in to the living room. They stood staring at each other for a long time. Eventually Mark spoke.
“Christmas day, Ferdia. He disappeared on Christmas day, just like my dad.”
“I know. And they both had these cubes. There’s definitely some connection between my granddad and your dad.”
“Ferdia, we need to find the other two cubes. If we find them maybe we’ll find out what the whole thing does and maybe we’ll find out what’s happened to my dad and your granddad.”
“Yeah, but how do we find them?”
“I don’t know Ferd. I don’t think we can tell our parents about this though.”
“They’d hardly believe us anyway.” He sat down and rubbed his eyes. When he looked up at Mark, he looked like he hadn’t slept for a week. “This is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Mark decided to lay all his cards on the table.
“Actually, there’s more.”
“More! How can there be more than this?”
“Well, I never told you about what made me go into Dad’s study in the first place, or how I found out the entry code for the lock on the study door.”
With disbelief growing on Ferdia’s face, Mark told him about the mysterious page in his comic.
Ferdia’s face went red. He stood up and waved his arms.
“No way! Just… no way, Mark. That’s crap! Don’t be so stupid! Why are you making up baby stories?”
“I’m not! Look.”
Mark reached into his rucksack and pulled out the comic-book page. He handed it to Ferdia. Ferdia looked through it slowly and his mouth fell open. He sank back into the armchair. He read through it again, then again. Eventually he dropped the page on the floor and without a word, got up, walked out of the room and sat on the stairs. After a few moments Mark followed him out. Ferdia looked up and the look on his face scared Mark more than anything he had ever seen. Ferdia’s voice quaked as he spoke:
“We’re in over our heads. What you’ve just shown me is impossible. I … I … I just don’t know what to think. I can’t figure out what’s going on.”
Mark’s stomach felt ill, and it did a little handspring as something else occurred to him. He was almost afraid to mention it in case it tipped Ferdia over the edge. He decided full disclosure was best:
“Remember that text you said you got from me? I never sent you that. I swear I never sent it.”
Strangely, this seemed to make Ferdia happier. He stood up and wiped his hands together.
“Well, that’s it then. Somebody’s behind all of this. I don’t know how they’re doing it but they can have pages added to your comic and they can make texts appear as if they’ve come from your phone.”
Yeah, but who?”
“Well, it’s got to be your dad. No-one else knew the code to the study. Maybe he needs your help and can’t contact you directly. Maybe he’s involved in something top secret and he’s being watched so the only way he can get through to you is like this.”
“So you think my dad’s still alive?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“That’s a lot of maybes, Ferdia, and if he needs my help why doesn’t he just ask for it? And where does your granddad fit into all of this?”
“I don’t know, Mark. This whole thing has melted my brain, but that’s the only explanation I can think of.”
Through the frosted glass of the front door, the boys noticed Mrs. O’Brien hanging around near the front gate.
“We need to get out of here,” said Ferdia. “I don’t think we’re going to figure anything else out and I don’t want Mrs. O’Brien to get suspicious and call my mum. Look, you look after the cubes. I’ll take a photo of the runes and translate them later.”
The boys returned to the living room. Ferdia picked up his iPhone and took several photographs of both cubes then handed them and the presentation box to Mark. Mark tucked them in his rucksack and the boys left the house. Ferdia locked up and put the key in his pocket.
“I’m hanging on to this,” he whispered. “We might need to get back in and I don’t want to risk putting it back under the rock.”
Mark nodded and hefted the heavy rucksack on to his shoulder. The boys walked up the path, waved goodbye to Mrs. O’Brien and headed back down Cuala Road.