THE FORBIDDEN ROOM
Socrates Maupin climbed the stairs to the front porch. The kids watched him enter the foyer. They could see he was tired, but also happy.
Then they heard Socrates say, “Mrs. Gooch, thank you for everything. The party was wonderful. The kids and I will be heading upstairs. I told them I’d give them a tour of the solar.”
Socrates grinned as he left the hallway and entered the dining room. The kids sat at the table and tried to act like they weren’t excited.
“Y’all take the stairs and I’ll take the elevator—it only has room for one, and y’all’s legs are better than mine.” He winked at them.
The kids were off like a shot and took the stairs two at a time. For once, Amos and Jynx were able to keep up with Ethan.
Ethan thought about the house’s elevator. How could he have missed an elevator?
After passing the second floor, Ethan said, “This is the way up to the forbidden room.” He showed Amos the smaller staircase.
Amos said, “I can’t believe there’s not a riddle.” “Or a cipher,” Jynx replied.
Still a little wary, they climbed the stairs slowly, but nothing happened to them. Ethan had his hand on the doorknob when the door swung open. Socrates stood in the doorway, a big grin on his face.
“Welcome to my solar. Very few people have ever been up here,” he said, leading them into the large room.
Hundreds of candles burned, and the warm, sweet smell of beeswax filled the room. He took them to the center and then stopped on an ancient oriental rug.
“Studios are lit by electricity; a solar is lit by magic!” And with a quick movement of his cane, the candles went out.
The kids froze; what was happening?
Socrates whispered, “Look up, y’all,” and then laughed. The ceiling was made entirely of clear glass. Above them shined more stars than they had ever seen. Then the view changed—when what seemed like hundreds of shooting stars darted in all directions above them.
“How’s that for fireworks, eh?” Socrates asked. “That is so choice!” Ethan said.
Jynx said, “Amazing. What is it?”
“The Pelles Meteor Shower. It’s special because, well, it’s really spectacular, and it happens just once a year, on this very night, at this exact time. I wanted y’all to see it. Happy Christmas, kids. The meteor shower is the best thing you can see up here.”
When the meteor shower had ended, Socrates hiccupped, and the candles were all burning again. He made his way over to some chairs in front of the fireplace and, after sitting down, carefully positioned his leg on the wicker ottoman. “Take a look around, but touch things at your own risk. One never knows what some of this stuff can do. Might even be dangerous,” he said.Taking heed of his advice, Ethan, Jynx, and Amos looked around; it was the most wonderful room they’d ever been in. The walls consisted of tightly intertwined twigs and branches—the glass ceiling the only window. They saw an old radio and television, but neither worked when they flicked the switches to turn them on. Strange taxidermic animals—ones they had never seen before—looked at them from tabletops and walls. More perplexing, however, were all the bird droppings in vari- ous places throughout the solar.
Once, when Amos was reaching to stroke the long bill of a bizarre-looking bird, Socrates whispered, “Careful with the halcyon; they still bite even when they’re dead.” Amos thought Socrates might be teasing him, but quickly withdrew his hand when the bird’s eyes blinked.
Different musical instruments, along with Maupin’s paintings and star charts, hung on the walls, and of course, painting supplies were everywhere. Scientific electric machines cluttered a counter along one wall—a few of them softly buzzing and whirling.
Ethan was looking at a suit of samurai armor when he was startled by a large raven that had flown into the room and landed on a perch beside Socrates. “Uh, Socs, is that your crow?” he asked.
“Ethan, Admiral Benbow is not a crow, and no one owns him. He’s a raven, and he’s decided to live here with us,” Socrates said.
Ethan said, “Sorry, Admiral Benbow.”
The bird turned, squawked, and flew over to him, almost missing Ethan’s shoulder. From his perch he nudged Ethan’s ear.
“Ethan, he likes you. He’s not doing very well, though. I’m afraid he’s losing sight in the only eye he has. From his injuries, it looks like he got into a fight with a weird flying animal. Anyway, I’m amazed he can still fly around without hitting things. It’s almost . . . magical.”
Ethan looked at Amos, remembering the flying snake from the beach.
“Geez, forgive my rudeness—you need to meet my other friend.” Socrates pointed over to a dark corner where a bluetick hound dog was stretching and yawning. The dog trundled over to the rug in front of the fire and plopped down again. He was asleep in seconds.
“That’s Puck, guys. Best dog in the world,” Socrates said.Ethan didn’t hear his uncle; he was staring at a large table beside the massive fireplace. On it were all types of timepieces: brass and wooden hourglasses, clocks, watches, sundials, and water clocks.
“Funny thing, time,” Socrates said, scraping out the bowl of a pipe. Reaching over to an old, tattered running shoe that was hanging from the fireplace mantle, he pulled out some tobacco and pushed it into his pipe.
Amos’s eyes became very wide. “It’s like Sherlock Holmes’s Persian slipper,” he whispered.
“Pardon? Weird you’d know that. A writer friend of mine taught me that trick, except I use an old sneaker. But anyway, it’s a tricky thing . . . time.” He chuckled, lighting his pipe. Expecting him to continue, the kids sat quietly and waited. Instead of talking, though, Socrates sat back in his comfortable chair and puffed his pipe. Puck rolled over onto his other side with a grunt.
Socrates laughed, slid his glasses back up his nose, and continued to puff on his pipe in front of the fire.
The kids looked at each other, as if to say, “And?”
“Socs, what’s so tricky about time?” At Jynx’s question, the boys moved forward in their chairs.
“Everything—it’s only the most precious treasure we have. Others think there are four great treasures in the world—more valuable than all the gold and precious stones in existence. I say they’re not using their noodles. Nothing is more valuable than time.”
“What makes time so valuable?” Amos asked.
Socrates blew perfect floating rings of aromatic smoke, then said, “Think about it; we wish for it, lose track of it, waste it, and even fight for it. People even dream of traveling through time.” He glanced back at them, his eyes looking over his glasses.
Ethan, now very uncomfortable, said the first thing that popped into his head: “Socs, would you tell us about the maze?”
“Excuse me, y’all,” Mrs. Gooch said, bustling into the room. “It’s time you children were going to bed. Off you go now. Honestly, serving tea this late at night—they’ll never sleep,” she said as she left the room.
“That’ll have to wait for another time, I think,” Socrates said. He winked at the children and whispered, “I need to keep this place messier—that way, she won’t come in here.” “I heard that, Socrates Maupin.” Mrs. Gooch’s voice echoed from the hallway below.
“Nothing wrong with her hearing, anyway. She is right.
. . . It’s getting late and I’m worn out. Happy Christmas, guys,” he said through a yawn.
Ethan, Jynx, and Amos made their way across the backyard to walk Amos home. Moonlight glistened on the snow, and all was still and quiet. Upon reaching the garden wall, they clambered over and met in the road on the other side.
“Ethan, I think Socrates definitely knows about our adventure,” Amos said.
“I think you’re right, but what I don’t understand is why wouldn’t he just ask us about it? He knows the maze is behind his house. He can see the mausoleum just as clearly as we can,” Ethan said.
“I think he tried to ask us a little while ago up in the solar. Remember, he was talking about time—even mentioned time travel. Ethan changed the subject,” Jynx said quietly.
“Jynx, he would think we’re lying.”
“Or insane,” Amos said. “Anyway, he’s not mad at us, and we’re not in trouble. What an adventure! My parents wouldn’t believe it. I sometimes don’t think I believe it.”
“Even though it was scary and dangerous, it was awe- some,” Ethan replied.
They watched Amos make his way toward his house. As they walked back to Gramarye, they heard Amos call out, “Merry Christmas, y’all!”
“Amos, it’s happy Christmas!” Ethan said with a chuckle, recalling the strange words of his uncle.
The fire was blazing in his bedroom as Ethan climbed into bed. It had been the best day and night of his life. On the nightstand beside him was Treasure Island, the book he’d brought up from the library.
When he opened the book, the first page he saw had the words Admiral Benbow written on it in elegant writing.
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Ethan said aloud. Making himself comfortable, he settled in and started reading. Soon, however, he was fast asleep.
He was awakened by a poke on his arm. “Badger wants to sleep in here tonight. Is it okay?” Jynx said, yawning. “She heard a strange noise that frightened her, and she can’t sleep. I’m her friend, and she needs me to keep her company.”
Like something bad is going to happen to a leopard. “Sure, Jynx, we don’t want Badger to be afraid, especially on Christmas Eve.”
“You mean Christmas Day,” Jynx said, wriggling under the covers. She patted the heavy quilt with the palms of her hands, and the big cat silently leapt in between Ethan and Jynx. They all yawned and closed their eyes.
Ethan heard another noise at the door. He looked and saw Puck, his tongue hanging out of his mouth and an expectant look on his goofy face.
“All right. Come on, boy,” said Ethan, and Puck jumped onto the bed and snuggled in.
“Happy Christmas, everyone,” he whispered. His hand moved toward the lamp’s switch, but before he could reach it, the light went out.
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.
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