A CURIOUS HOUSE
The worst christmas break ever. That’s what Ethan Moseby was thinking as he looked out of the car window at the bare, rolling countryside. An ancient oak tree stood alone on a hill, its skeletal black branches in stark contrast to the overcast gray sky. His parents were dumping him and his sister somewhere out there in the middle of nowhere. He shook his head and returned to the comforts of his video game.
His younger sister, Jynx, was doing a search on her iPad. “Listen to this—he lives in Deadmoor, Virginia. That’s a creepy-sounding name for a town, don’t ya think? It says he’s a famous artist.”
“His art looks as if it were painted by a baboon.” Their father, Reginald Moseby, checked his hair in the rearview mirror. As always, there was not a blond hair out of place. “Ethan, look at his picture. He looks freaky,” Jynx whispered, holding the tablet so he could see.
Ethan took his eyes off the screen for a split second, not wanting to miss any of Alamein Clash, his favorite game.
“Yeah, Jynx, he looks like a hippie with that long hair,” he said, and then kept playing.
“We do not use that butchering of Jynelle’s proper name, Ethan,” said their mother, Phoebe.
Ethan rolled his eyes. His mother was always trying to keep everyone and everything sounding proper. He looked at Jynx and noticed how sad she suddenly looked—she really hated the name Jynelle. Ethan shut down his video game and opened his drawing app. He drew the word jynx and showed it to his sister, who gave him a big smile.
“By the way, enjoy your iPads now, children, because you won’t be able to use them at my brother’s house,” Phoebe continued. “He said they simply won’t work there. He prat- tled on about some peculiar hocus-pocus—couldn’t under- stand a word of it. He has no internet, so I was forced to call him on the phone. Terribly inconvenient.”
Ethan groaned. “No internet? That sucks! Who doesn’t have internet access?”
“Ethan, if you hadn’t terrorized your cousins, you could be back at the Minge’s this year, with internet,” said Phoebe. But Ethan’s bratty cousins had made Jynx cry. He thought they deserved every prank he’d played on them.
Maybe his uncle’s house would be better. “Why haven’t we ever met this uncle of ours anyway?”
“He’s, well, not like us,” said Phoebe. “Socrates is reclu- sive and prefers the country. He was one of father’s ‘lost boys.’ Father volunteered at the orphanage and grew fond of Socrates, adopting him before I was born. Oh, how my father just adored Socrates—thought he was so charming. I can’t see it myself. He and I were never close; Socrates is ten years older than I am. I was surprised when he turned prema- turely gray, though. I think it had something to do with an accident he had. Anyway, he’ll look after you well enough.” Phoebe looked with disdain at the countryside around her.
Ethan knew his mother preferred the manicured lawns of the country club and the fine shopping districts in Wash- ington, DC, to the open pastures of Virginia.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the car turned into a driveway, passing under a broken wrought-iron archway. Ethan looked out and saw a large black bird perched on a rusted mailbox with the word mAUpIn painted on it in black letters. The bird flew into the air as the car passed. For a twelve-year-old boy, the prospect of life without friends or video games was grim.
“This will be the worst Christmas break ever,” Ethan whispered.
The man stood at the window of the great house, watching the black bird fly and then suddenly turn into an updraft. As the car made its way closer, he glanced up to the ceiling and said to no one in particular, “Gramarye House, please behave yourself while these kids are staying with us.” Then, sighing, the gray-haired man rubbed his bearded chin. “Maybe I should start with ‘Hello, children.’ No, nobody talks like that. Hmmm, what about ‘Hi, kids, I’m your uncle.’ No, that’s just stupid,” he said as he walked to the foyer. There he found the butler peering out of one of the room’s windows.
“They’re here, Mr. Maupin,” the butler said as he opened the front door.
Socrates’s cane clicked against the stone pavers as the luxury SUV pulled up in front of the house.
Phoebe climbed out of the car, her heels making her stumble on the gravel driveway. “Dear brother, how are you? You look, err, splendid? It’s so good to see you!”
Socrates raised an eyebrow and then replied, “Phoebe, welcome. I hope y’all had a good drive.”
Ethan slumped down into the car seat, trying to disappear. Jynx had her nose pressed against the car’s rear window, her large brown eyes surveying the house. “What a curi- ous-looking house—looks like it’s falling down. It needs to be painted,” she whispered.
“Yep.” Ethan watched as his parents approached the rumpled man waiting for them in the driveway.
Ethan’s father, impeccably dressed in a hand-tailored sport coat and shirt, shook Socrates’s hand. “Maupin, old boy, we really can’t thank you enough, taking the children like this. I just hate that we must dash off without them this Christmas.”
“Reginald and I just abhor traveling this time of year,” Phoebe said. “It’s all so tedious with the crowds, the pres- ents, the tourists.”
“But didn’t you say this is the fourth year in a row y’all have done this? My, the sacrifices we all must make,” Socra- tes said with a wry smile.
“Children, do get out of the car and come greet your uncle,” Phoebe said.
The two children slowly emerged from the vehicle. Like his father, Ethan was immaculately dressed, his dark brown hair sculpted to perfection with pomade. Small for her age, Jynx was a little over a foot shorter than her brother; her light blond hair contrasted sharply with the leaden afternoon. “Socrates, this is Ethan and Jynelle. Come, come, darlings.”
Phoebe waved a manicured hand at the kids.
Jynx winced when she heard Jynelle.
As Socrates stepped forward, the children noticed his limp and saw his unusually gnarled cane. His wrinkled clothes made him resemble an unmade bed.
“Welcome to Gramarye House!” said Socrates, his voice creaky and thin. “I hope y’all had a wonderful drive through the Virginia countryside. Let’s all go inside. I’m sure y’all must be hungry.”
“Dearest brother, I’m so sorry, but Reginald and I just can’t stay,” said Phoebe. “Our flight is leaving tonight, and it’s a three-hour drive to the airport. Somehow, I must find the time to pick up my fur coat from storage before the flight.”
The children gave brief, awkward hugs to their parents. Ethan knew their mother considered public displays of affection to be uncouth and their father wouldn’t want to risk messing up his hair.
Phoebe handed Socrates a packet of instructions in a manila envelope. “It’s all there, dear brother; just call if you need us.”
The SUV sped off down the driveway. The children stood with bags in hand, and a tall, gangly man with sandy blond hair and freckles appeared. “Let me have those bags, and I’ll take y’all to your rooms,” the man said with a heavy Southern drawl.
Socrates said, “Thanks, Fergus. Please ask Mrs. Gooch to fix them a snack after you’ve got them settled.”
“That’s right—they named me Fergus after my grand- father, Granddaddy Bugg,” the butler said to the chil- dren, leading them into the house. “Do y’all like cookies? Boy, I sure do. My favorite is the snickerdoodle, or is it the macaroon? Although there is chocolate chip . . .”
As Fergus rattled on, the children took in their new surroundings. To Ethan, it looked like a haunted house. The inside of the mansion had an old and worn look about it, and the walls were in need of a fresh coat of paint. But it did look better than the outside. Colorful Persian rugs were spread over the hardwood floors. A fire burned in the carved stone fireplace, and Ethan noticed a large piano in one of the many rooms they passed. Jynx was busy looking at the paintings— canvases covered in blotches and blobs of bright color.
“Y’all’s rooms are right up these stairs,” Fergus said, trip- ping on a step and just catching himself to keep from falling. As they climbed the stairs, the boards under Ethan’s feet creaked. On each side of the staircase were small niches in the walls where taxidermic birds were displayed. Their glass eyes seemed to follow him as he walked. “Jynx, those
birds give me the creeps,” he whispered.
“Yeah, I think it’s creepy too,” the butler shouted, stomp- ing up the long staircase.
Ethan wondered if Fergus had superhuman hearing. “Just so y’all know, I got incredible ears. My daddy says
I’m like a turkey—I hear everything. Sometimes drives me nuts. Just the other day, I heard a squirrel . . .”
Fergus started rambling again, and Jynx couldn’t take her eyes off the stuffed animals. Ethan watched her eyes get bigger and bigger. He knew how much Jynx loved animals. They once had to leave a restaurant because a mounted deer’s head was hanging on the wall.
Ethan whispered, “It’s okay, Jynx. Just keep moving and don’t look at them.”
“Who would do such a thing? Killing an animal just because it’s pretty—displaying it under a glass thingy?” Jynx said.
“Well, Jynelle,” said Fergus, “them animals died of their own accord. Them birds were all pets. Mr. Maupin liked ’em so much, he had ’em mounted. You know, taxidermy. I read once the Egyptians used to mummify their cats and bury them with the ol’ Pharaoh.”
“That’s nasty,” Ethan said.
“That’s just horrible,” Jynx whispered.
They reached another landing, and Fergus turned around to look at the kids. “Now, y’all listen very carefully to me. That staircase there leads up the third floor. That’s off-lim- its. No one goes up there except for Mr. Maupin. Well, Mrs. Gooch goes up there to tidy up. But that’s it.”
“But what’s up—”
“Off-limits,” Fergus emphasized. “What kind of off-limits?” Ethan asked. “Off-limits is off-limits.”
Jynx asked, “Oh, Fergus, can’t you tell us, please?” She looked up at him, making her brown eyes larger and flash- ing a bright smile.
“Look, you two, this ain’t fair. Mr. Maupin gave strict orders that no one enter his private solar, and I can’t tell y’all what’s up there. Just know you ain’t—I mean, you are not allowed,” Fergus said.
Ethan wrinkled his nose. “What’s a ‘solar’? Are there solar panels up there or something?”
Fergus chuckled. “To be honest, someone had to tell me what it was too. You see, the solar’s a room on the top floor of the house. What makes it cool is that it has a glass ceiling to let in sunlight. ”
Ethan and Jynx followed silently, taking their minds off the third floor and wondering what their rooms would be like. Ethan was hoping for a TV, while Jynx looked nervous
that something taxidermied might be in her room.
The children’s rooms looked much better than the other parts of the house—the walls had been freshly painted, and there were no mounted animals in sight. Jynx gushed about the canopy bed, chandelier, and cushioned window seat in her room. And even though there was no TV in his room, Ethan had to admit that the fireplace was pretty cool. He was looking at the ornately carved mantle and thinking how great building fires was going to be when Fergus inter- rupted his daydream.
“There will be no fire building by you, young man—you’d burn the whole place down.”
Ethan’s eyes widened. He wondered if Fergus could read minds.
As the butler exited the room, he announced, “Refreshments in a few minutes if y’all want ’em. Dining room!”
Jynx opened his door. “I’m hungry,” she said, smiling. “Me too. Let’s go down,” Ethan said.
Ethan walked ahead of his sister as she rattled on about how much she loved her room. As they entered the main hall on the first floor, they heard a loud BONG! Both chil- dren jumped.
“What in the world was that?” asked Jynx.
“That’s probably the bell for the refreshments.” Ethan laughed, imitating Fergus’s country accent.
The children found the dining room, where a roaring fire was blazing in the huge fireplace. Their uncle was perched in a chair with a tiny Japanese teacup in his hand.
Socrates Maupin’s khakis and T-shirt were covered in drips and splotches of paint, and on his feet he wore a pair of old sneakers with no socks. He was chubby, with wiry, shoulder-length gray hair that tangled on his head and
blended together with his gray beard. He wore round wire- rimmed glasses, which magnified his unusual eyes: one eye was brown, and the other blue.
On a large sideboard sat two teapots and all kinds of pastries, cookies, and what looked like biscuits. Ethan was reaching for a cookie when a short and very plump older woman entered the room.
“Kids, this is Mrs. Gooch,” said Socrates. “She’s the boss around here, and I strongly recommend doing whatever she tells you to do. I always do.” He nodded with a mischievous smile on his face.
“Socrates Maupin, you never listen to me, you rascal!” Mrs. Gooch said and laughed. Her brilliantly red dyed hair contrasted sharply with her pale skin.
Mrs. Gooch and Fergus joined them for a break, and they all sat together near the fire. As he piled more cookies on his plate and munched on a scone, Ethan thought it odd that his uncle’s servants had tea with him. Their servants never ate with them. His hand paused in midair over the cookie platter when he noticed Jynx glaring at him.
“Now that we’re all together, let’s talk about Christmas. I want to continue the tradition of hosting a small Christmas Eve party. Mrs. Gooch, would you be in charge of the preparations again? Last year’s party was brilliant,” Socrates said.
Mrs. Gooch smiled and blushed at Socrates’s compliment. “You just leave everything to me. Fergus, I’ll need your help with the decorations.”
“Yes, ma’am, it’d be my honor,” Fergus said, puffing out his chest.
Ethan noticed there was an older man—accompanied by a large, mangy-looking hound—sitting in a chair beside the window. The man glowered at him and took a large gulp from the earthenware jug he cradled in his gnarled hands. Socrates saw that Ethan had spotted the man. “Children, please forgive my bad manners. Scafell, this is my niece and nephew, Jynx and Ethan Moseby. They’ll be staying with us for Christmas. Kids, this is our gardener, Mr. Scafell Crag.
His faithful companion is Silas.”
On hearing his name, the dog opened his eyes.
Scafell Crag stood up and nodded to Socrates. “Mrs. Gooch, Mr. Maupin, thanks for having me. Time to get back to choppin’ wood,” the old man said. “It ain’t gonna split itself.”
The gardener narrowed his eyes once more at Ethan and left the room. The gray late-afternoon light outlined his thin, sinewy frame as he stepped through the door.
A chill shot through Ethan. Why had Crag looked at him like that?
The rest of the afternoon the children unpacked and settled into their rooms. Mrs. Gooch had told them that supper would be at eight o’clock, so they had some time to themselves.
“Jynx, let’s go look around outside,” Ethan said. The lights in the second-floor hallway suddenly dimmed. “Hey, why would they do that?” he whispered.
“Uncle Socrates said it’s just an old house—that’s all. You go ahead. I want to chillax,” Jynx said, lying back on her comforter and opening one of her always handy books.
It was growing darker outside. The waning fall sun was a blurry orange that couldn’t quite break through the fuzzy gray of the clouds. Ethan tasted the cold, fresh air as he closed the side door of the house and walked out onto the porch. He hoped Crag wasn’t around. Ethan couldn’t forget the mean looks the man had given him.
Gnarled ancient trees surrounded the house, their black branches in dark contrast to the gray sky. Lining the entire width of the expansive backyard was a tall, overgrown hedge. Ethan wondered what was behind it.
Walking to the end of one side of the hedge, he came to a wrought-iron gate set in a stone wall. The gate was chained, but he could see that the wall enclosed an old graveyard. The gravestones looked centuries old, and with the setting sun hitting them just so, the green-and-turquoise lichen on the stones glowed softly.
From behind him, he heard the strangest sound he had ever heard. It was a cross between a fan’s low hum and the amplified purr of a cat. Turning quickly to see what could be making the noise, he found nothing. But the hair stood on the back of his neck, and he could feel sweat on his scalp. A feeling welled up inside of him that he was in danger, and he ran for the house. The rattling buzz behind him became a growl. Ethan ran faster. Reaching the side door, he found it locked. He knew he was trapped and braced himself for the attack, but none came. Then as quickly as it came, the hum was gone.
Thoroughly spooked, Ethan ran around the house to the front doors and, after entering quickly, slammed the door behind him. Ethan exhaled with relief and sat on the stairs. He looked at his hands and saw they were shaking. He had never been so scared.
A shrill burst of crying from the conservatory made him jump.
“What’s that?” he asked, scrambling to his feet.
“Sakes alive!” shouted Mrs. Gooch. “That child’s raisin’ Cain—turnin’ blue from crying!”
Ethan ran to the conservatory to see what was wrong. “Thank goodness, Ethan! Please help me with your sister,”
said Mrs. Gooch.
Socrates, Mrs. Gooch, and Fergus ringed the sofa, parting as he approached. He saw Jynx, whose shoulder-length blond hair was matted to her wet face. Her eyes were red from crying.
“Jynx, what happened? You okay?” Ethan asked.
“I decided I wanted to watch TV. Guess what? They don’t have a single TV in this house, and I’m not okay!”
He was used to Jynx’s tantrums and knew she would later be fine. But no internet and no TV at all? How could they live like this? He never thought anything could be worse than three weeks with their cousins, the Minges, and having to wear matching sweaters and sit through their many family sing-alongs. With everything that had already happened, he almost felt like crying too.
The adults were looking at Ethan in desperation as Jynx continued to cry and flail her arms and legs.
“Jynelle, all this fuss over a focused stream of electrons pouring off a heated cathode into the vacuum of a glass tube?” their uncle asked. His question caught her off guard, and she quieted down some.
“I don’t know what any of that means. Anyway, Uncle Socrates, who doesn’t have a TV?” Jynx asked between snorts and sniffles. “And I wish you’d stop calling me Jynelle. It’s an old-lady name. Sorry, Mrs. Gooch, but I’m only ten years old. I like Jynx, short for Jynelle Xyla.”
“Jynx . . . Hmmm, I like Jynx better than Jynelle too.
Look on the bright side; your name could be Socrates. We don’t have a TV, and there’s a very good reason. All I’d do is watch game shows. Have you seen Jeopardy? Simply addic- tive, I tell you—I’d never get anything done.” Socrates gave her a mischievous smile and pushed his paint-splattered glasses up the bridge of his nose.
Ethan watched his sister’s face as their uncle spoke. Miraculously, she started calming down. She still didn’t look happy, but at least she was quiet. There was something calming in their uncle’s gentle smile.
“But what’s there to do here?” Jynx asked.
“Mrs. Gooch, you can find something for Jynx to do, can’t you?” Socrates asked.
Mrs. Gooch gave Socrates a frustrated look and then said, “Jynx, sugar, you can come talk to me in the kitchen.”
“Gooch, awesome idea. Jynx, before you go, let’s you, me, and Ethan go to the library and have ourselves a talk,” Socrates said.
While they walked down the long hallway from the conservatory, sugary cinnamon and nutmeg aromas filled the air. Evening had dimmed the light in the house. When they entered the library, they couldn’t believe their eyes— the room was beautiful.
Dark wood shelves lined every wall, except for the two-story windows on the rear wall. The shelves ran floor to ceiling with a balcony extending around the perimeter of the room. Ethan noticed a smaller room to the left. To get to it, you had to walk under a portion of the ornate balcony. Soft leather chairs, sofas, and a large desk with heavy brass lamps were positioned on oriental rugs. Wheeled ladders, used for reaching the higher books, completed the room.
“Please grab a seat near the fireplace,” Socrates said. He carefully lowered himself into a leather club chair, extend- ing his leg.
The logs in the fireplace suddenly caught fire. Ethan and Jynx exchanged looks of amazement. Could Socrates have hit a button somewhere?
Socrates looked at them and grinned.
“Ethan and Jynx,” he began, “let’s not beat around the shrub. I’m glad y’all are staying here over the Christmas holidays. Your mother and I were never very close, with me being older and a stepbrother, after all. That’s why I was surprised, to say the least, to hear from her concerning you two. I’ve only seen photos of you. I don’t imagine you’ve seen any of me?”
The children looked at each other and shook their heads no.
“The thing is, we don’t know each other very well. I’ve been a bachelor most of my life, and much of that has been spent wandering here and there, hither and yon, up and down, and away over yonder. Anyway, I’m not your parent, a principal, or a policeman.” He adjusted his glasses. “My four eyes have a great deal to look at, so I can’t be spying on you and infringing on your rights of piracy—I mean privacy. I’m going to trust you two to be cool, okay? I’m going to treat you like I want to be treated. Please grant me and the other good souls who inhabit this menagerie the same.”
The room was silent except for the crackling of the fire. Ethan thought about what he’d just heard. Usually their other relatives gave them long lists of rules and punish- ments if they were not followed. This could be one of the best Christmases ever!
“No questions, rebuttals, conditions, or outrages?” Socra- tes asked. There was no sound from either of the two chil- dren. “Good, then we have an accord.” Socrates got up from his chair and walked toward the library door.
“Um . . . sir, what do we call you?” Ethan asked. “Anything you want to, kids—even Aloysius, but definitely not Mordred,” he replied before exiting to the hallway.
Ethan was sitting on the window seat of Jynx’s bedroom, staring out the frosted panes.
Jynx broke the silence. “Ethan, that meeting had nothing to do with the fact that there is not one TV in this house. What are we going to do for three weeks?”
“We may not have any TV, but we also don’t have any rules—how awesome is that?” Ethan said.
“But Ethan, no internet and no TV? Even I can’t read forever,” Jynx said.
“I bet there’s tons of stuff to do around here. I want to look around this freaky house.”
When Ethan said the word freaky, the fire in the fireplace suddenly went out and the electric lights flickered. They heard a loud bang as one of the shutters on Jynx’s window slammed against the house.
“Whoa! Has that happened before?” Ethan asked. “Funny—it did. I was unpacking, and while I was hanging
up some clothes, the closet door shut on me. I thought it was just an old-house thing.”
“Did you say something before the door shut?” “Well,” Jynx said, “just that the closet is small.”
“Maybe Gramarye House is like Socrates—different,” Ethan said.
They heard Fergus shout from downstairs. “Dinner’s ready!”
As they left Jynx’s room, the door slammed shut behind them. Startled, they ran downstairs, Jynx reaching the dining room before Ethan.
Stacked in a dark corner of my garden, supporting the Buddha, are three flat stones. One of them is a gravestone. My father and I took it from a country church graveyard, about a mile away from the little white frame house he’d been born in some seventy-five years ago. He and my aunt called the place Leatherwood. It’s not on a map and I’ve never seen a sign for it. It’s where the Minter’s come from.
My father had lived most of his life in Martinsville. The tragic death of his father made him an orphan. He left the country and lived with his uncle in the small mill town. He had been six years old. My father wasn’t a “talker” and never spoke of his childhood.
One late fall afternoon, we were having a drink together. After a wonderful silence, he said, “I want to show you where our people are buried.” The quest to reconnect and forgive began.
The next day we stood in front of his father’s grave. The sixteen by twenty-four inch marble gravestone was weathered and parts of it where blueish-green from lichen. We couldn’t read the epitaph.
When I moved the black crayon back and forth across the surface of the paper, the worn edges of carved letters introduced themselves to us. Putting the crayon in my pocket, we read the inscription.
Show him, O Lord, Thy mercy.
For a few minutes, neither spoke. Being a talker, I had to say something. “What a crappy thing to put on someone’s headstone. That’s horrible.”
My father remained silent. He continued to stare at the epitaph. He turned and began walking back to my car, the frozen grass and brown leaves crunching under his feet. All I could hear on the drive back to his house was the car’s engine and the tires on the road. Then he said, “His brothers were self- righteous. Judgmental too it seems. That marker is a shame. No one deserves that.”
Midway through Once Upon a Time in the West, a thought came to me. That inscription had stayed in my brain, the arrogance, the attitude. “Let’s get rid of it and put up a new one.”
“Can we do that?”
“No one’s taking care of that graveyard. Who’s going by? Is there anyone left from his family?”
“Hell yeah, let’s do it. I’ll write a new epitaph.”
The only monument company I could find that could match the marble, style and dimensions of the original gravestone was in Rock Hill, SC. My father produced the new epitaph, and we ordered the new stone. It was a cold, late February afternoon when we returned to the church.
Clarence, my father’s good friend, could make and fix anything. He was with us. Removing the old stone was harder than we thought. After much hard work and sweat, the new stone was in place. The three of us admired the new, bright white gravestone and its crisp new inscription. Then Clarence broke the silence, “February 28, 1936. Well, don’t that beat all.”
“How’s that?” asked my father.
“Y’all know what today is don’t ya?”
No one said a word.
Clarence said, “February 28th .”
He sowed with a strong hand.
I see my little ghosts every now and then. They appear and vanish as I walk through our house, the house we’ve lived in for twenty-four years. There, in the corner of the dining room that was time out. Then the five-year old sneaks out of time out as I watch him reflected in the foyer mirror.
I see my little ghosts being pulled across the hardwood floors as they sit giggling on the old comforter. Walking past the bathroom at the end of the hall, I see the blond-haired girl dropping a wriggling kitten into the bathtub as my son takes his bath. “She needs a bath.”
When our house became quiet, being in it by myself fueled my melancholy. My imagination, of which I am so proud and grateful, became a curse. Memories are unearthed like greedy miners searching for diamonds.
My ghosts followed me on evening walks on the streets of our neighborhood. A perfect Dorothy clicking her ruby slippers and James Bond leaving me for a buddy on Halloween. The three of us piled on a sled, sliding down the longest steep street in the cold, still night. While missing my children’s childhoods, was I missing my own?
Then, a miracle happened. My little ghosts became friends, visitors to lighten a stressful day, to heal an injury. I guess my imagination decided to give me a break or become a friend. Now, I remember reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Harry Potter to them before bed. I remember the tiny little girl splashing in the large washtub on a hot summer day. Her laughing puts a smile on my face. Or maybe, just maybe, my little ghosts are blessings reminding me of how lucky I’ve been.
- Owen R. Minter
Finding an old photograph, I wonder.
I’m guessing college days, early nineteen fifties. Looking into these eyes, what’s he thinking
about? He’s in his twenties, getting ready to graduate. It’s springtime in southern Virginia and the campus
is in the early stages of bloom after a long cold winter. Green shoots are popping out on black limbs and
grass is viridian, having changed from the dull, lake mud green of bitter February.
Is he thinking about the Art History paper he doesn’t want to write for Dr. Thompson, or the party
planned at the nearby lake? The party that will have the jazz combo set up on the back of his fraternity
brother’s flat bed. The jazz combo, the jazz music, he doesn’t even like. Even though, the female singer
can sing, a strong alto.
Is he thinking about working his uncle’s farms in Leatherwood again this summer? That high
school did offer him the football coaching job. No, that would mean teaching. He didn’t want to teach.
Football, it was always satisfying to show those private school guys from Richmond what being hit was
really like. They’d laughed at his 225 lb., five-foot six frame. They soon stopped.
He could join the merchant marines. He and Pete had talked about it. Both had only seen the
ocean one time. Perhaps he could sail around the world like James Fenimore Cooper and later write
stories of the sea or the American frontier. The army wouldn’t take him. Four F. Did he know the
merchant marine recruitment officer would tell him to come back tomorrow morning and when he did,
they were closed?
Looking into these eyes, the world is ahead of him. A world as vast and rich as the Bach Mass in
B Minor or as beautiful and sad as a Hank Williams lyric. He won’t write the Art History paper. He’s
thinking about the party.
- Owen R. Minter
I really loved this! This was such a great version of a modern day Merlin story. So original, & a great time! Siblings, Ethan & his sister Jynx, are spending their Christmas break w/estranged uncle Socrates. They’re not looking forward to it. They don’t know who he really is either. He currently lives as an artist in Virginia. There is no internet/any TVs, etc. The house also seems alive! Lights turning on & off, & fires lighting themselves-all when needed. I loved that house lol Ethan is looking out over a maze in the back yard when he suddenly hears a strange voice saying to seek the light to reveal the shrouded treasure-for the sake of the trust. He gets the local caretakers son, Amos, to help him. He recently met him, & the kid is like a genius lol They also get occasional help from Jynx. They have to solve riddles & ciphers to locate whatever it is that will lead them to the shrouded treasure. They’re not the only ones looking for it. There are blood thirsty pirates of yore, & a fairy witch-who has a riddle-loving goblin, & a fire spitting salamander at her disposal. If the treasure falls into the wrong hands, the fate of the whole world is at stake. This was full of so much suspense, & tension that I read the last 52% in 1 sitting yesterday. Couldn’t stop! There’s even a lot of Sherlock Holmes love in here. The siblings have a dull life back at home-their parents care more about things/appearances than anything. Their time w/their uncle was anything but dull. They got to really be themselves-discover themselves. & Amos got to finally belong. He doesn’t have any friends, & the dynamic b/n these kids was so heartwarming, & I loved seeing it develop. I wish the kids could stay w/Socrates. Socrates was so great. Such a well written character I loved. I also adored Mrs. Gooch (housekeeper/cook), Fergus(the butler), & even scary Scafell (the groundskeeper). Also amazing, were the animals - Badger, Puck, & Admiral Benbow. The house itself, the staff, & animals all made this even more cozy & such an amazing atmosphere/setting. Highly recommend. So much adventure, time travel, pirates, magic, magical creatures, & just amazingness! Can’t wait for the next one! (From Good Reads: http://bit.ly/bellesmg)
“First time novelist Owen Minter has delivered a surprisingly captivating story in The Shrouded Sword, a book which delivers suspense and intrigue throughout an action-packed tale that features three young people not yet jaded by life, Merlin the Wizard and a house that is like no other. Minter clearly has been influenced by the Harry Potter series, but his story is entirely fresh and original and some of his characters evoke the innocence and wonder of those who lit up the old Disney films — films made before the manipulation of special effects replaced epic story telling. This book soars and the reader finds himself wanting to be transplanted into the story the adventure these young people share. It is a wow! It belongs on everyone’s must read list.”
Literary Lion of St. George Island
A wooded hollow ran between two streets in the small, southern mill town. A dying creek struggled to trickle through the bottom of the hollow. When the water had been flowing, it cut a deep gouge through the wooded bottom land, its banks reaching ten feet high in some places. In the summer, crawdads under smooth stones hid from small hands, and lightning bugs dotted the dark twilight. The boy loved this world. He couldn’t hear the trains, cars, or the nearby factory whistles.
His favorite time in the hollow was late fall and winter. He loved the musty smell of the fallen leaves layering the paths he’d worked so hard to cut the previous summer. The man next door was burning his leaves, sending the cleansing incense over him. He could see his breath in the evening, and the bullies that hid during the summer didn’t care for the woods when the temperature dropped.
One late November day, it began snowing at noon. The snow fell in dense white clouds until later that night, a foot and half of the pure white powder coated the woods and the creek. The boy descended into the freezing hollow, the crunch of his rubber galoshes the only sound. Hundreds of stars shone but were dimmed by the blue-white light of the sliver of moon. The boy stopped at the bottom of the hollow and looked around at the glowing blue and silver moonscape. High above him on Church Street, the Episcopal Church’s bells began to ring eleven. He didn’t move. He felt the silence and the bells and knew this was the most beautiful music he had ever heard.
The Shrouded Sword is a fantastic read! Author Owen Minter takes us on a journey where siblings are dreading their Christmas Break because they are staying with their uncle who is a recluse in Deadmoor, Virginia and they have been told that there is no internet or cell service, so their usual means of entertaining themselves will be unavailable for the time being. The siblings have no way of knowing the magical adventure that awaits them.
Ethan and Jynx Moseby are free to roam through the majestic mansion with the exception of the Solar Room. That is the only place that is off-limits. To their delight, they soon discover the mansion is alive and are embarking on the journey of a lifetime with one of the local kids that has always been fascinated with Socrates Maupin and his home.
This is a wonderful read that anyone who loves magic, mystery and decoding ciphers will fall in love with.
Minter takes us through the complexities of an ever-changing maze, time hops, and challenging riddles while sprinkling in pirates, goblins and other fantastic mythical creatures that join us on this good versus evil odyssey.
You’ll be captivated as you navigate your way through the whimsey, wit and pure fun of the Shrouded Sword.
(From Spreading Joy)
Owen R. Minter. The Shrouded Sword. 2019.
Some of you may be staying at home with the young and the restless---tweens and teens. You may be struggling to find ways to grab their attention other than the ubiquitous screens. I see you. In fact, I know those challenges myself, and that’s why I want to recommend a book that will engage the younger members of your self-quarantined unit. The Shrouded Sword is Owen Minter’s first book. He grew up in Martinsville, and lives with his family in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Set in the fictional southwestern Virginia town of Deadmoor, this is the story of the adventures two young people, Ethan Mosely and his sister, Jynx, have when they spend their Christmas break with their eccentric uncle, Socrates Maupin. Their pompous, selfish parents usually park them with relatives for the holidays, but never have they been left at Maupin’s rundown mansion, Gramarye. Facing weeks with no Internet or TV, the children believe this will be the worst Christmas break they have ever experienced. But they soon learn that eliminating access to media has the unexpected effect of opening new experiences.
For one thing, Gramarye presents a veritable world itself. Only one place is off-limits, and that is Socrates’s hangout, called the Solar. Of course, as forbidden fruit, it has allure, especially for Ethan. But there are plenty of other intrigues within the walls of Gramarye to engage any young, curious explorer. The place is home to Mrs. Gooch, the housekeeper and maker of delicious cookies; Fergus Bugg, the butler; and the malevolent Scafell Crag, the groundskeeper. Then there are the mansion’s grounds which include a vast maze that figures prominently in the plot.
Ethan, his new friend from Deadmoor, Amos Sprunt, and Jynx have dangerous adventures in this story, and yet the peril is mitigated by the forces for good that seem to align to help them, including a raven named Admiral Benbow, and Gramarye itself. Minter’s story refers to other legends, adventure books, and mysteries to build a plot line. The story works on its own without full knowledge of all those references, but gains layers of meaning when the reader takes the time to learn about the Arthurian legends, pirate adventures like Treasure Island, or Edgar Allen Poe. In this, it is not unlike other books with which young people may be familiar---Tolkein’s work being just one example. Read aloud by an adult, those references can be pointed out to younger members of the family, too.
An adventuresome tween, his sister, a sidekick, riddles, a maze, pirates, time-travel----all of these add up to a book that will captivate the younger members of your quarantined family, and perhaps help the adults revive the tradition of the read-aloud. This is the first installment of a planned three-book series, and I’m looking forward to the next adventure already.
Diane S. Adkins is a retired Director of the Pittsylvania County Library System.
The topic of a recent podcast was the prevalence of moral and social issues in middle grade fantasy literature. The hosts complained that “in your face” morality and social issues had drained all the fun out of a once enjoyable genre. One can no longer escape into the story. Many condemn escapist stories. I considered the gold standard, Harry Potter.
J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece is fun. It is wonderfully escapist. It’s also profoundly moral and addresses social issues honestly. It’s not “in your face”. It’s perfect story telling. I agree with the hosts of the podcast. As writers, do we respect the reader’s intelligence? Are middle grade kids intellectually capable of discovering the moral of the story without it smacking them in the face? I know they are. I don’t see anything wrong with trusting them and letting them escape into another world. Who knows, they might become life long readers.
Owen R. Minter was inspired to write The Shrouded Sword, a fantasy story filled with ancient magic and time travel, after creating a drawing based on Arthurian legend. The Shrouded Sword is the first book in the Gramarye Cycle series. When he’s not writing, Owen makes paintings with a leaf blower, reads, and enjoys coaching Special Olympics Athletics.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies