Gift of the Master

By Robert Fluegel All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Freezer-Burned Chicken

The thief did not really know what to expect while searching the boy’s bedroom. The thief looked through the titles of the many books in the boy’s shelves. Wars, fantasy, books about sled dogs in the Alaskan wilderness, science fiction—the boy seemed to like a bit of everything.

When looking at the desk the thief about choked. The face in the picture stared back, almost as if the man was watching the thief, accusing. Putting down the picture, the thief turned away and noticed something golden sticking out from under the boy’s pillow.

“What a dumb place to hide something,” The thief whispered.

Moving the pillow aside, the thief found a book made of pure gold with the words “The Midas Quest” engraved on the cover. Upon attempting to open the cover the thief discovered that the book was one solid piece of gold. Also under the pillow was a glove, more like a gauntlet, golden in color that felt very strange to the touch. The thief sensed something from that gauntlet, like it held its own energy or perhaps was pulling energy to it. The thief grabbed it and the book, carefully replacing the pillow and stashed the items carefully just as the handle of the bedroom door turned…

I searched my entire bedroom looking for the book and the gauntlet. Before I finished I knew it was hopeless. How long had Amelia been in my room? Long enough. I stopped looking, knowing what I had to do. Bursting through my front door and sprinting down the middle of the street, I began searching for the thief.

Towards town I caught a glimpse of a girl several blocks up. It might be her. Running as fast as my bruised legs would carry me, I watched the girl turn down a side street. To my relief I could see when I got closer it was Amelia. She was five or six blocks ahead of me and didn’t seem to be in any hurry.

She led me out of my subdivision towards downtown Covington, through the older neighborhoods and down a long hill. Every telephone pole we passed was littered with circus fliers. Apparently, the circus was in town. I didn’t really care, watching animals and crazy people walk on wires wasn’t my idea of entertainment. The posters did give me something to do though as I stalked Amelia. Each telephone pole had a different poster on it about a different act. I figured they would run out of acts before the street ran out of poles but the posters just kept coming. Finally, Amelia turned again down a street that led to the buildings that were once large factories and warehouses an old set of railroad tracks.

She walked up the steps of an old building with a sign marking it as a book warehouse and paused with her back to me. I scampered behind a tree in the empty lot across from her, peeking out to see what she would do. After a moment’s hesitation she looked across the street in my direction. I ducked back behind the tree. Did she see me? After waiting what seemed like hours, I peeked out again. She was gone.

The large warehouse was built in red brick which had faded over time. There were rows of windows high up, indicating at least five floors in the massive structure. Considering its size and appearance, I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed it before. In the front, a pulley arm extended over the steps in line with wooden slat doors on each floor that I imagined could be opened to lower large items to the ground. The dark smokiness of the glass gave the building a creepy look. The large roof of red tile stretched out and then angled down all of the way to the second level on both sides of the building. Skylights were cut into the roof, allowing natural lighting into the upper floors of the building.

I sneaked across the street and looked through the first floor windows. It looked like it claimed to be: a warehouse. No people inside. Finally giving up, I crossed the street and returned to my spot behind the tree.

The afternoon sun beat down on me with the sparse branches of the tree providing little relief. The sun felt good to my aching muscles at first. Then, as the afternoon wore on, I wished for some protection from its harsh rays. The physical and mental toll of the past few days began to wear on me. My eyelids started to droop.

Activity across the street woke me up. A group of young people arrived at the warehouse and went in. A few looked to be in their early twenties but the rest were my age or at most, a year or two older. The last to enter looked to be the oldest. He glanced across the street in my direction before entering the great wooden door to the building.

It was my stomach that decided I had stayed long enough. I hadn’t eaten at all since returning home. I had no idea how long the girl would stay in there with the gauntlet and the book. But at least I knew where they were. When I turned to go, I jumped. Amelia stood in my way, hands on her hips, a scowl on her face.

“What are you doing out here? Spying on us?” She pointed her finger like a mother scolding a child.

“I’m here to get back the things you stole from my room and I am not leaving until you return them.” My voice was calm.

“Whatever are you talking about?” she snapped. “I took nothing from your room. Have you really spent the day here to call me a thief?”

“All I know is that the items were in my room before you got there and then, when you left, they were gone. Nobody else was in that room but you. I lost a close friend getting that gauntlet and I want it back. Now!”

“What are you talking about?” she looked genuinely baffled. “Where did you get these things?”

“You know perfectly what I’m talking about, a golden book and a golden gauntlet. The book is the one I just returned from this morning, the Midas Quest. I accidentally touched it with the gauntlet. I brought the gauntlet back from the book which turned the book to gold. The gauntlet is worth all the treasure in this world but it is also cursed so it’s not safe.” By the look on Amelia’s face I couldn’t tell whether she believed me or not. Her face was as pale as death.

“As soon as I can learn how, I am going to put it back. I need it back before it can cause any damage. The guide in the book told me the curse will affect everybody around me. It might already be affecting you. Maybe that’s why you took it?”

Amelia began shaking her head before I had even finished. “Now I know you are lying. It is impossible for the Gifted to bring an item created in a book into this world. Only one has that power and the last has been dead for years. Your story is not unlike many others I’ve heard from immature scripts who have just been quickened. I will forget it and forget that you have been stalking me when you are in training. That is, if you are smart enough to put these stories behind you and accept what has been offered. In the meantime, go home and don’t forget—we know right where you are at all times so hiding behind a tree does you no good.”

Amelia didn’t wait for my rebuttal. She left without another word, walking back to the building without so much as a glance over her shoulder. Then it occurred to me. She didn’t need to look back. She would know if I stayed.

There was nothing more I could do there so I began the walk home. On the way I tried to think of any way to get my stuff back. I couldn’t break into a building where everyone knew you were coming. The guide in the golden cave told me the curse would affect everyone around me. The guide didn’t say what the effect would be. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to get the gauntlet back.

The thief finally had a few moments alone to examine the gauntlet and the book from the boy’s room. Looking first at the book the thief read the title, “The Midas Quest” By J. Richard Burns. It appeared to have been chiseled perfectly onto its golden surface. Meticulously scanning every inch of the book for any clues or secrets, the thief determined that the book was simply a piece of gold shaped like a book.

Setting the book aside, the thief began to examine the gauntlet. It was no ordinary gauntlet. The gold was dark in color and seemed to shimmer as it caught different angles of the light. It was like no other material the thief had ever seen. Seeing nothing else to do the thief put the gauntlet on. It did not feel hard or metallic. There seemed to be nothing special about the gauntlet nor any special power coming from it, which was quite disappointing. The thief had hoped it could be the key to everything or at least something very powerful. Reaching to pick up a pen to make a note, the pen suddenly turned to gold. The thief looked in amazement at the writing utensil and its sudden transformation. This was magic which the thief had never seen before. Smiling, the thief took off the gauntlet and got a new pen. Soon the sound of furious scribbling could be heard from behind the thief’s closed door.

My stomach made sure I made it home in time for dinner. It was my first opportunity in weeks to eat normal food. When I sat at the table I was more than a little disappointed to find that my mother had simply warmed up some pre-made frozen chicken dinners. They looked to have been in the freezer for months. Sunday evenings were supposed to be the night the family was treated to a nice dinner. My brother didn’t say a word. He was too wrapped up in a basketball game to notice. The T.V. had been turned towards the table and the volume raised so he could continue watching while he ate, a strictly forbidden practice at dinnertime. Mom always told us that her house didn’t have T.V. at all when she grew up. Whatever planet that was on.

I watched my mother close, waiting for a reaction. Not only didn’t she complain, she didn’t even seem to notice. She sat in silence, sawing her tough chicken.

No one said a word. Usually it was Mom starting the conversation at dinnertime. Without her prompting, an uncomfortable silence settled over the table. Reed yelling at the T.V. occasionally was the only noise. That and the sound of us hacking at our tough chicken. It reminded me of my first attempt to cook meat on the road to the Sea of Inachus. It was too done in some places and still cold in others. The mashed potatoes were from a mix and the peas were cold. All in all the worst meal I ever remembered eating at that table. Jerky and hard bread sandwich on the trail would have been better.

As I stared down a piece of over-done chicken the game was interrupted by the local news anchor. “This is a Channel 3 special newsflash. Police have reported a massive robbery at the Covington National Bank & Trust this evening. At approximately 6 P.M. a group of four men were seen leaving the bank in ski masks and dark t-shirts and jeans. Reports indicate that they somehow gained access to the vault and security deposit boxes as well as the teller areas. They escaped in a van and sped up Main Street where conflicting reports have them in every part of the city. Police are currently questioning bank employees in connection with the robbery. Judging by evidence collected at the scene, the group may have had inside help.”

Reed stood up when the report started; his face grew redder as it continued. When the anchor went on to report a mysterious unrelated break-in at the public library, he erupted. “Why aren’t they saving this for the news at ten? Why are they interrupting the most important part of the game to tell us about some robbery nobody cares about? Now they tell us somebody stole a few books from the library? Someone call the governor! Get the National Guard in here!”

“I know why they are doing this,” he continued, his body shaking. “That Rod Hillman can’t stand to have the city go ten minutes without seeing his face. He loves having his mug on all of those billboards all over town. I’ve met the guy. He’s a self-important jerk! Well I’ll tell you what, Roddy,” he said, clenching his teeth and putting his face right next to the screen, “if you don’t put my game on in 5 seconds, I am going to drive down to that station and take you down a few notches myself.”

My eyes widened. I nearly choked on my last bite of chicken. My brother liked his sports, but he never lost his temper like that. My mother finally seemed to snap out of her daze.

“Oh Reed, you will do nothing of the kind,” she ordered as she started cleaning up the plates. “Instead of worrying about all of that, why don’t you do something useful like helping out with the dishes for once? I never get a break around here and it is time that changed. You can watch your game while you scrub.”

Now it was my brother’s turn to stare in shock. He hadn’t done dishes in years.

“I’m not doing any dishes. I work all week long so I can come home and relax. Not so I have to come here and do more work! I shouldn’t have to do anything at home. That’s what a mother is for.” Reed returned his attention to the game which had just switched back on.

My jaw hung open. I watched my brother for a hint of a smirk. Reed was into his game, he didn’t even seem to realize the beartrap he had just stepped into. I leaned back, wanting to be as far as possible from the explosion I knew was coming.

Instead my mother used her calm voice which usually meant bad things. “Fine, if you treat me like an employee then I’ll act like one. You can find a new chef and maid. I am done here.” She rose to her feet and threw her fork down so it made a loud clattering when it hit her plate. “I believe I have a nice book I would like to curl up with for a while,” she stated, looking at me for a brief instant before departing to her room.

Reed yelled down the hallway after her, “Good! At least we don’t have to eat any more freezer-burned chicken!”

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