The Hand Bound
The Hand Bound
Sam's Adventure Book 1
Copyright © 2022 PT Brainum
All rights reserved
This book may mention people and places that sound familiar, or that you may think you recognize. They are not those people. This book takes place across multiple universes, realities, and locations. Some may be familiar, some will not, but be close enough to make you think, “wait, what?” None of the people or places mentioned in this book belong to the universe of the reader, so none of their actions, words, or attitudes can be attributed to anyone you may or may not know. The multiverse is truly infinite, and anything that can happen, will happen, somewhere, somewhen, somehow. The reader's home universe is not any of those places.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Mom’s Secret Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
An Ultimate Beef Wellington
A new town, a new school, a new home. Sam is almost 16, and as he helps his Dad paint the new house, a 200 year old mansion picked up cheap at auction, he discovers disturbing things about the previous resident, and evidence of a hidden treasure. But, that is just the beginning of an adventure unlike anything else.
This book contains sex, it is a slice of life and coming of age adventure involving ancient artifacts, food, school, mysteries, and alien intelligences.
The Hand Bound
Book One of Sam’s Adventures
The following conventions are used in this book:
“Quotes are used for audible conversations”
‘Single quotes are used for text conversations, such as emails and text messages’
‘Later, single quotes are also used for sub-vocal conversations, to show that someone is speaking but not everyone can hear it.’
This break is used to show that it is a section of a written work, someone's newspaper article, journal entry, etc. It marks both the beginning and the end of the entry.
This break is used to show a break in time, or thought, and may occur while in another piece of writing
This book may mention people and places that sound familiar, or that you may think you recognize. They are not those people. This book takes place across multiple universes, realities, and locations. Some may be familiar, some will not, but be close enough to make you think, “wait, what?” None of the people or places mentioned in this book belong to the universe of the reader, so none of their actions, words, or attitudes can be attributed to anyone you may or may not know. The multiverse is truly infinite, and anything that can happen, will happen, somewhere, somewhen, somehow. The reader's home universe is not any of those places.
"Hi, I'm Sam," I said, reaching out to shake the hand of my new neighbor.
"I'm Paul Tallman," the short man answered.
"My Dad and I just moved in over the weekend," I informed him, in case he had somehow missed the moving truck.
"I'm glad someone finally bought old man Peterson's house. Hope you'll keep up the yard better than he did."
"I'm sure we will. Are there any other kids in the neighborhood?" I asked him while I wondered just how old, 'old man Peterson' had been. This guy was at least twice my Dad's age.
"A couple of kids near your age live in the house across the street," he said gesturing at the doublewide mobile across the paved rural road. The bicycles in the yard had given me a clue, but it was nice to have confirmation.
"What's your Dad do for work?" Mr Tallman asked.
"He's just started work at the prison, you won't see him much, they promised him as much overtime as he was willing to take," I explained.
"What about your mother?"
The tears didn't come, it had even been long enough that I could keep the catch out of my voice as well. "She passed from cancer, moving here is our fresh start."
"Hmm," he said, "I guess with your Dad working overtime the yard is going to be your responsibility. That old place needs some fresh paint too."
"I'll be sure to discuss that with my Dad."
"Good," he said, "I'll see you later Sam."
I watched as he shuffled his way back up to the stairs of his single story ranch. I had caught him as he came out to his mailbox. I turned and looked at our new house. It really did need new paint. The near Victorian Craftsman home was two stories, plus attic space in the high peaked roof. A tower dominated the front left corner, and a porch wrapped around the front and down the side of the house, opposite the detached garage.
The county records said the house had been built in the mid 1800's, but it had gotten an update in the late 70’s. It really needed another. Dad had plans for the house, but for now it was really much more house than the two of us needed.
I gathered the weekly flier from the mailbox, glad to see that the mail was being delivered, and headed into the house. I checked my phone, but no messages. I wondered just how late Dad would be again tonight.
My phone buzzed, and I checked it. A smile came to my face. Aunt Joan was on her way.
She picked me up, and took me grocery shopping. Part of why we even moved to this town was because of Aunt Joan. My Dad's older sister had never married, but had insisted that I needed a mother figure in life. She had also insisted that since Dad had said he wasn’t interested in getting married again, that she would be that figure.
I listened as she pushed her cart along, as I followed with my own. She had reviewed my shopping list, and only added some fresh fruit to it. I had explained that I'd been doing the shopping and cooking since Mom got sick, but I don't think she actually believed that until she saw my list.
"Your Dad simply works too much," she seemed to conclude after a long monologue.
"He doesn't miss Mom so much when he works," I told her, defending him.
"Pete never did love anything but your Mom and working," she said, then glanced up at me, "and you of course," she hurriedly added.
"I'm old enough to be on my own. I'll be 16 in four more weeks."
"Yes, you do well looking after yourself, don't you. Just a shame you have to."
"That's the end of my list," I told her.
"I have a couple more items, go ahead and start checking out," she instructed.
The cashier was friendly, and checked me out quickly. He gave me a once over a second time when Aunt Joan introduced me as her nephew. The two flirted as he checked her out, in both meanings of the term. He gave me a wink as she turned to put her last bag in the basket, which I just nodded back too.
I led the way back to her car, and put both baskets of groceries in the tiny car, then dropped the carts off at the corral. As I sat in the passenger's seat, and clicked my seatbelt shut, she started the car and drove the three miles back to my new home.
I offered her a drink while she sat and watched me put the groceries away. She accepted, and I kept working until everything was put away. She asked about my dinner plans, and I reminded her I had a frozen pizza. She determined that she could do better, so took me out to dinner.
I sent a quick text to Dad, so he would know where I was, and where to find the frozen pizza, so he could make his own dinner if he got home before me.
When I got home, half the frozen pizza, now slightly over cooked, and a half dozen empty bottles were on the counter. I cleaned everything up and went to bed.
Tuesday I didn't see Dad until after he came out of his room just before noon. I fixed him a sandwich, and some chips and told him about my day. Then I got his help lifting the big screen onto the mount I had installed on Monday. Once it was mounted, I got everything hooked up so it would work, he settled into his lazy boy recliner.
"When does the internet get hooked up?" he asked.
"The guy from Comcast is coming on Thursday."
"You'll be able to handle that?"
"Yeah, Aunt Joan is coming over to be the required on-site adult."
"Good," he said, and started flipping thru the basic channels.
They could turn the cable on remotely because the previous owner had it, but for some reason they had to send a tech out to install internet. I spent the rest of the day installing various items that had been delivered, but not yet unpacked.
"Dad, I need to put the new phone number on your phone," I told him.
"Will my old number still work?"
"Yes, I just am adding a Google voice number, so you will have two phone numbers that make the phone ring."
"Can you make it not ring my phone, anything local I know you can handle."
"Sure," I told him as I spent a few minutes configuring his phone.
"If you tap that green icon you can make calls, answer calls, or send and receive text messages from the new number."
"If they call that number both of our phones will ring?"
"You'd see a call, but your phone won't ring, but mine will."
"Cool, so we don't need a landline to get a local number?"
"Right, just our cellphones are enough. Our phone numbers stay the same so anybody who knows us can reach us, but if a local wants a number, we can give them our new local number."
"Better write it down for me."
I did so, and left him to his TV.
Tuesday was more cleaning, interior painting, and unboxing. There was a short trip that afternoon with Aunt Joan to the highschool to finish registration. School was out for the summer, but the district office stayed open all year long.
"Do you need to do any clothes shopping before school starts?" Aunt Joan asked as we drove away from the district office.
"I'll order online," I told her.
"Have you met any local kids yet?"
"No. Where do they hang out around here?"
"Summerville Mall mostly," she said, mentioning the town and it's Mall, about a 30 to 45 minute drive away.
"Really not much here to do then?"
"There's a nice skating pond in the winter, and the school has lots of field trips, and events throughout the year. The Halloween carnival is always fun!" she said with enthusiasm.
"Where do I have to go to get my driver's license?"
"Summerville has just about everything. Don't worry I'll take you if your Dad has to work that day."
When we got back to the house she wanted to see how the painting was coming. I showed her the finished den, and the half finished office on the first floor. She liked the colors we had chosen, and volunteered to help move the furniture for those rooms after the internet guy was done tomorrow.
Thursday I woke early enough to say goodbye to Dad, and show him that he had data on his phone plan so he could still reply to emails even though the internet hasn't been installed yet. I had just finished washing the dishes when Aunt Joan arrived. The scheduled appointment for the Comcast guy wasn't for another three hours, so we started moving the furniture where it had been piled up in the dining room into the freshly painted den and office.
I got a text telling me that Karl would soon arrive. Joan and I shifted the office couch against the wall, more of a leather covered loveseat, than a couch, and then headed to the front door. Karl was quick, and had the new cable run into the office, and the modem up and running in about an hour. He left, then Aunt Joan followed him and I connected the Google WiFi mesh router up in peace.
A few quick checks showed that the TV, microwave and Alexa all found the now active WiFi. I headed up to my bedroom, and set up my laptop. I was getting a glare from the window, so I decided to shift my small desk against a different wall. I had just pulled the desk back, when I noticed a gap in the floorboards. I slid it out of the way, and bent to investigate.
As the desk leg came off the floorboard it had been resting on, the gap had disappeared. I pressed down and the gap reappeared. A fingernail lifted the gap open as I released the boards, then I pried with my other fingers. I couldn't get it to come up, so I went and found a screwdriver. Just as I was about to start prying, I paused. I pressed down on the edge that had popped up, and it lowered then released with a click, raising itself higher.
The much higher edge lifted easily to my pulling fingers, clearly a mechanism had been released. The floorboard lifted up to reveal a small handle, and an arrow drawn on the wood beneath the handle. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I pulled the handle in the direction the arrow suggested.
A snick of noise came from behind me as a panel next to the closet popped slightly open. I stood and walked to the panel, pulling it open. It swung away from the wall revealing a narrow staircase that led up into the darkness.
Just as I finally found the flashlight in the box in the garage my phone rang. My Dad was calling to let me know he'd be home soon, and asked if dinner was ready.
As soon as the water was on the stove for spaghetti, I ran back up the stairs to my bedroom, where I closed the secret door panel, the hidden floorboard release handle, and shifted the small desk against the opposite wall. I brought the laptop back down to the kitchen so I could watch Alton Brown while I waited for the water to boil.
"Did you ever know the old guy who owned this place?" I asked Dad during dinner.
"Old man Peterson was the local bogeyman when I was growing up. You hardly ever saw him, but everybody knew the story about how he came home from college, went crazy, and chopped his own arm off."
"Seriously? Is that why you wanted to buy this old house?"
"No, I wanted to buy it because it's worth much more than I paid for it."
"Did they find him dead in one of these rooms?" I asked.
"He died in a rest home so it's not like it's a horror movie house where the crazy old man dies and leaves a vengeful spirit behind."
"The old guy next door called him old man Peterson too, just how old was he?"
"I don't know, just old. He came back to town after he left Princeton."
"So he was young, just out of college when he came back and went crazy?"
"No, he was a professor. Mathematics. We used to kid that Math made you crazy. He had to be in his forties when he quit and came home."
"Huh," was my eloquent reply to this revelation.
"His family built this house nearly 200 years ago. He was the last one, and with no heirs, it reverted back to the county who auctioned it off for back taxes."
"It's a pretty cool house."
"I've always thought so. The neighborhood is relatively new, as his family held onto the surrounding acreage until the mid eighties. There were some death taxes when his brother died, and he inherited everything, so he sold off the lots where our neighbors live."
"I was wondering about the neighborhood, it seemed to be a mishmash of styles and ages."
"The town didn't really need, or have the population for a new neighborhood. It's taken a while for it to fill up, and there are still several vacant lots.
"The double wide across the street is the newest house I think," Dad said.
"I haven't met them yet. Mr Tallman next door said they had two kids around my age," I told him.
"The Gershons. I was on the football team with Ed. He was the typical quarterback jock, he works over at the prison now too."
"Is he a guard, or staff like you?"
"He's not a maintenance mechanic like me. He's third in charge over there, part of the disciplinary team."
"I worry about you being over there with all those murderers and gang bangers."
"They're fine. They know I'm there just to run the boilers so they stay warm in the winter and have all the hot showers they want. I've even got a couple of them working for me now."
"That's cool. Still I worry about you."
"I worry about you too. Ed's got a daughter about your age, and if she looks anything like her Mom. Well, let's just say, I worry about you."
"You went to highschool with his wife too?"
"No, Sharon was the princess of Summerville. Every guy in town lusted after her, and every guy in Summerville claimed her as one of theirs. They'd roll you just for looking at her. I still don't know how Ed pulled it off."
"How come Aunt Joan never moved away?" I asked, changing the subject.
"Not really my story to tell. She did go to State for a year, then came home and never left. You should ask her sometime."
We finished the salad, spaghetti, and garlic bread in silence. After Dad headed to bed, and the house went quiet, I headed back to my room with the flashlight. It took just a minute to pop the hidden latch on the floor, and open the secret passage.
The flashlight showed that I could safely pull the secret door closed behind me, as another latch would release it from the inside. With it latched behind me, I carefully made my way up the narrow and steep staircase as it twisted up and around.
It ended at a door, but I couldn't really figure out in my head where in the house I was. I opened the door and stepped into a round room. My flashlight showed white walls with black writing.
'I hope that's not written in blood' I thought to myself. 'or poo. Definitely hope it's not poo.'
The writing spiraled around the round room, going higher as it went. My flashlight followed it upwards as I realized where I was. The tower at the front of the house formed a nice little sitting area with windows for the master bedroom on the second floor, but the tower itself extended upwards above that for some distance, and was topped with a dunce cap of a roof. My secret staircase was the entrance to that hidden and otherwise inaccessible space above the second floor.
I looked around to see if there was anything besides the writing, but other than the door it seemed closed off. I stepped closer to the writing. The bottom most portion read, "it's not evil, but I am. I had to cut it off to keep my evil from spreading."
That was enough for me, I was thoroughly creeped out, and headed back thru the door to the staircase. It would take a ladder to reach where the writing started near the peak of the dunce cap roof to see just what it was talking about, but I wasn't going to do that during tonight.
As the door to the room closed behind me, I noticed a few pages of paper stuck to a nail. I pulled them off, and recognized the same handwriting from the walls. I quickly hurried down the stairs to my room, where I turned on all the lights, and slid my portable laptop desk in front of the secret door, firmly blocking it. Just in case.
The papers seemed to be some sort of journal entry. There were just three pages.
They were numbered at the top, entry 1, entry 2, entry 3.
I've just about convinced myself the math isn't lying. There really is a multiverse, and it really is infinite. Everything that ever could happen, or might happen, or I could possibly imagine, it's happening somewhere right now, in the multiverse.
I'm sure of it.
I even think I know how to prove it. That creative writing class is going to be useful after all!
In an ancient and empty universe, growing dim and cold, orbiting a faint cinder of a star, a frozen world lies dead. Its inhabitants long extinct, beneath a rind of frozen atmosphere, under the depths of the largest mountain, an ancient vault hides the greatest treasure in the multiverse.
Made from esoteric powers and energies, including the still beating heart of a dead God, the science of a 10 billion year old civilization, and the living soul of a black hole, it sat.
It was aware of everything in the multiverse, but had no will of its own. It felt the tiniest glimmer of anger that it had been left there. It had watched the last of the life in its own universe go extinct.
It was capable of great cosmic bending power, but its lack of will left it waiting. Waiting for someone who knew about it, to Call for it. It waited, watching the entire multiverse, all of infinity in its complete awareness.
But, it had been too well hidden. A secret lost to time and circumstances. No one could Call what they did not know. It waited, in the dark. Waiting for a Call, that might never come. For the first time, it felt a hint of fear. These emotions were new. It hadn't been made to feel emotions, just to heed the Call, and Bond. Its purpose was the will of its Bond Mate.
I paused my reading, feeling not a bit less creeped out, and wondering if Dad would care that I might want to switch to a different bedroom. I turned to the second page.
As I write the story, I feel it in my mind. I can sense that I'm right. Anything that can be imagined, is reality somewhere. Somewhere in the multiverse, somewhere in all of time and space. Perhaps I just need to focus my imagination more. Maybe I need more description of the device I've discovered. I know I'm close, I can feel it like an energy of excitement and static electricity.
The joy of the Orb of Reality mirrored its now gone anger and fear. It had detected the beginnings of a Call. Somehow a mammalian intelligence had deduced its existence, and was wishing fervently for it to heed his Call.
It focused awareness on the primitive intelligence. It was in a dimly lit room, writing in a book with a pen. The Orb waited. The Call was more than just wishing. It required a command to be given.
I paused again, the first page was filled front and back, this second page barely filled half the front. 'Orb of Reality' sounded like something from the Marvel universe. I set it aside and turned to the third page.
I'm ready. As I wrote the description I could feel the focus fall on me from the Orb. It was like making a loud noise in a quiet library, and feeling every eye turn to look at you at once. Only more so. I'm feeling a little frightened. No turning back, I know what the word must be.
It worked! The Orb of Reality is sitting on my desk. There was no sparkle, or visual effect. One moment it was just there. It looks different than I imagined. It is brass colored, and shaped almost like a barbell. The bar between two half spheres is contoured for a hand very different from mine. It's very large, the half spheres are each about the size of a basketball, the bar must be at least eight inches thick, and it's a good 18 inches wide.
I can feel it examining me. I'm getting a sense of amusement from it, almost joy. I don't know what happens next, but I'm going to try to grab onto the bar. I've been too afraid to touch it while documenting the event. I either have experimental proof of the multiverse, or I've gone insane. I trust my eyes, and now I'm going to trust my touch.
Jesus, this guy was nuts! I tried to think if I had seen this 'Orb of Reality' anywhere around the house. Two brass basketball halves connected by an eighteen inch bar, I hadn't paid much attention to the basement, but I'd have to spend some time searching for it. If I did find it, I wasn't just going to start grabbing onto it
I looked at the clock, it was just past 10. Dad had gone to bed early because he had to be back to work another double shift at 6 am. I was too wired to get to sleep, so I grabbed a small bottle of olive oil, and crossed the hallway to the bathroom with my pajamas.
20 minutes later I was feeling much more relaxed and mellow and washing off the oil, along with the rest of me in the shower. A check in the mirror told me I'd need to shave again this week, but I left it for now and dressed for bed.
After I dumped some books up on my desk, to weigh it down against the secret door, I finally felt relaxed enough to sleep.
I woke to my alarm at 730. I yelled at Alexa to shut the alarm off. The sun was up, but it was looking to be a cloudy and rainy day. Alexa confirmed that it was going to rain today, with a high of 98. Ugh, a hot and humid Friday. I didn’t even think about it being the thirteenth.
I double checked that Dad had left for work, and gathered his clothes from the hamper. I threw them in the washer, and set it, then grabbed a cup of coffee. It was cold, so I put it in the microwave, and told Alexa to warm it up.
I added a little splash of dark chocolate almond milk, and sat to think. I noticed a note on the counter, my Dad was reminding me that the paint would dry slower in humid weather, and telling me 'good job' on the den and office. I made breakfast, and then started taping up the living room, moving the drop cloths, and getting everything ready for painting.
The rollers were clean and dry, as were the brushes. I started cutting in all the corners. I'd have to get Dad to help me lower the big screen before I could do that wall, but the other three walls could be done today. I thought while I worked. The lights flickered and I could hear the thunder as the rain started at about 2 pm. I had all the cutting in finished, and had rolled the first coat onto two walls. I decided that was enough for the day.
I had the TV on the weather channel while I worked, but it wasn't talking about our local storm, rather some big fires out west were taking up most of the coverage. I told Alexa to turn the TV off, then started cleaning the rollers, and the one touch up brush I had yet to clean. A quick shower to get the paint and sweat off, and I grabbed my flashlight. I also grabbed the extension pole from the painting supplies, and headed back to my room.
I dug through a box in my closet until I found my selfie stick. I mounted the stick to the extension pole with masking tape, and went up the secret staircase. Attaching my phone I set it to record video, and raised it up to point where the writing began about a foot before the peak of the conical roof.
The combination was a little unsteady, but worked. I recorded a few feet of writing, and pulled it back down to read.
'I'm so sorry. I've buried it where no one will ever find it. Only the instruction manual knows where it is. The call only works between universes, so it is again safe. I'm so sorry. I've hidden the instruction manual, no one will ever realize what it is. I tried to destroy them both, but I don't think there's anything strong enough in this world. I'm so sorry, I have no God to ask forgiveness of, and no excuse for what happened. I'm so sorry.'
It took the rest of the afternoon to record the remainder of the writing, but there was very little more than rambling apologies, and promises that it would never be found. There was one section of what I think was math, symbols and values and other things. I'm guessing it's the math that proves the multiverse.
I looked around the room. Taping off the round tower would be difficult, but without any windows I could use the electric paint gun to paint the room. The tower on the first floor was part of the old sitting room, now our den. I could probably reuse the paper we would put down on the floor before painting. I definitely planned on covering up the rambling madman confession.
I left the room, carefully searching the walls and ceiling for more pages from whatever journal they had been torn from. I found nothing more.
I headed down the back stairs into the basement. A careful search showed nothing but a disconnected and ancient coal furnace, a relatively new 80 gallon electric water heater, and gobs of spiderwebs over mostly empty shelves. Many empty glass jars remained, showing this had once been the storehouse of canned home produce. That would be useful when I had my garden in.
No sign of the Orb or an instruction manual. I even managed to get the rusted doors open to the old coal furnace, but there wasn't even ashes left behind.
I went up the stairs just as the power flickered and went off completely. I hurried up the dark staircase, glad I had my flashlight in my hand. The uncovered kitchen windows provided enough light, and a view of a serious rainstorm. My phone rang, and I answered.
"Hi Aunt Joann…. Yes, I'm fine…. No the power is out here too…. I don't need anything, my phone works just fine…. I've got plenty of food…. Worse case scenario, I eat cereal for dinner…. Thanks, love you too."
I sent a quick text to Dad, "power out from storm, everything is fine"
There wouldn't be a reply, he wasn't allowed to carry his phone around at the prison. Too high of a chance that it would get stolen by an inmate. If it came back on, I'd text him again with an update.
Seeing that there was not much else to do, I climbed up the stairs to the second floor, and went down the hallway all the way to the end. The door that looked like it was for a storage cabinet at the end of the hallway, was instead the staircase to the attic.
Reaching the top of the stairs I found myself at one end of a large open space. The attic followed the rough L shape of the house, it was warm, but dusty. The rafters were uncovered, and there was no insulation, but the high pitch of the roof gave me plenty of room to walk around. While the attic didn't have the polished wood floor of the rest of the house, the floorboards were serviceable and tight.
The living room fireplace chimney was visible as a brick column just off center. The tower was recognizable as a round indentation on the outside corner of the L. Only about a foot of its interior wall was visible, where it intruded into the lowest section of the pitched roof. I reached the center point of the attic, and looked back to the staircase. A large round window let dim light into the space from the east, even though it had been painted over from the outside. There were no electric lights, so exploring while the power was off made no difference.
I looked towards the back of the attic, and only a single small rectangle of a window pointed out to the north. A flash of lightning lit up the attic briefly from both windows. I walked to the end of the attic, peering between the rafters, looking for any clue. I got all the way to the back wall, with the small window above me, and discovered a small handle tucked away in the corner.
Excitedly I turned the handle, hearing a slight snick of a mechanism. I turned trying to find it, and discovered a dark seam had appeared along the wall. My fingers traced it, discovering it was a door that opened onto a dark shaft, heading down. My flashlight showed a wooden ladder to the left, while the door swung inward on hinges on the right.
I couldn't clearly see the bottom of the shaft, but the ladder seemed to go down all the way. I was just getting up my courage to climb down and explore when my phone chirped. I checked my phone.
'Backup generators going at the prison, I'm off in 30, what do you think of pizza and a movie in Summerville?'
I replied to my dad, 'do they have power?'
'Yeah, it's the main line that runs from there to here that's down. They won't have power back up till tomorrow morning soonest'
I only got 'LOL' in reply.
I closed the hidden door, wondering where it went, and went back downstairs. I hot spotted my phone, and looked up movies on my laptop. A quick change into suitable clothes, and I was ready to go.
Dad came in, and took a quick shower, knowing that the longer he waited the colder it would get. The Round Table Pizza in Summerville is ok. We both enjoyed The Suicide Squad.
Saturday the power came on at about 7 am. Dad had the day off so together we finished the living room painting and even did the entirety of the dining room after moving out all the unopened boxes and other furniture to the den, plus half the kitchen. After dinner we agreed on the replacement for the avocado stove, and the almond fridge and freezer. I placed the order on costco.com for him.
Sunday Dad was back to work, and after I finished breakfast I finished painting the kitchen. Fortunately Dad had left both the appliances pulled away from the wall so I could paint behind them. After cleanup from painting, and lunch, I spent some time online looking for a new vent hood that would match the new appliances and fit in the space. I found it online at Lowes, so texted it to Dad so he could give me the ok to purchase it.
All day my mind kept going back to that big dark hole. I was kind of glad my exploration had been interrupted. If that ladder had collapsed, I could have been killed and they would likely have never found my body. I ordered a few things from Amazon for delivery on Tuesday. That would be soon enough to explore down the hole.
While I was painting the kitchen I kept looking for where that hidden shaft went. The kitchen backed against the same North facing wall as the attic’s secret door. I could find no signs of a hidden doorway anywhere in the cabinetry. There was a closed off space inside the corner cabinets, but at 14" x 14" it must have been just for pipes. I even explored the master bathroom, after dumping Dad's clean clothes on his bed. It was against that same northern wall, but there was no obvious enclosed space.
I eventually found myself in the basement, where against the northern wall, behind the coal furnace I found another handle. There was no audible noise when I turned it. I wondered if perhaps the mechanism was broken. I jogged it back and forth, but no hidden door was revealed.
With the handle fully turned, I started pressing along the wall. In the corner, I discovered the secret panel, but it only moved inward for less than a quarter inch before it stopped. I pressed harder, but it wouldn't move.
I carefully pulled it back into position, and turned the handle. When I pushed on it again, it stayed shut. When I tried the handle again I heard it snick open, but I still couldn't push it open. I eventually closed everything back up securely.
I was a good boy on Monday, I didn't spend my time exploring secret passages. Instead I took a bike ride to the local library and did research. We finally had a utility bill with my last name on it, and my ID card from our last state, which was enough for a library card. I browsed the stacks for a bit, then asked about doing research on the family whose house I now lived at.
Their one hundred ninety years of newspapers had first been archived to microfiche, then later digitized for searching. The digitized search part had been via ocr about ten years ago, so it wasn't great, but it could help you locate the right paper. From there you just had to read the right page.
County records had shown a Hiram Peterson as the previous owner, so I started there. There was a ding for that name at the end of 2020 when the county announced the auction. A death notice in 2015, with a brief biography. The guy was a hundred and two when he died, I guess he really was old man Peterson, born in 1912.
A note about him turning 100 in 2012, and another note mentioning him turning 90 in 2002. I guess the newspaper liked keeping track of their oldest readers. Must have been counting down the days until they could go all digital and paper free.
I kept going back till I found a note that he had been hospitalized in 1978 after losing his left arm in an accident. There was a suggestion in the article that he would be recovering at a nearby sanatorium. A 1962 article marked him as the only survivor of his deceased brother Marshall Peterson, born 1926.
1958 announced his retirement and return to town from Princeton as professor of mathematics. It noted he had been a working companion of Einstein until his death in 1955. A 1951 article mentions the passing of his father, and his mother in 1947.
1938 mentioned he had become a junior professor at Princeton, and 1929 mentioned his being accepted at Princeton, after an early graduation. A minor notice of an academic award from the governor made the paper in 1925, and his birth announcement was published April 4th, 1912.
An entire life in reverse.
There was a minor surprise when I discovered a second Hiram Peterson, one of the founders of the local paper, and one of his great grandparents. He had a much bigger obituary in 1847.
We were much too far from Princeton to do any research about the institution in the local paper. I'd have to go online for that. There was something wrong with the library WiFi, so I decided I'd head home and use my own for further research.
I knew that a number of Princeton scientists had been recruited during the time he was there for the Manhattan project. I wondered if he had been involved in it at all. Even if he hadn't been, he would have personally known many of the greats who had been brought together for that project.
The local burger joint, called Burger Queen, insisted that I couldn't take my bicycle thru the drive thru, so I headed in, and ended up eating lunch inside too. Air-conditioning is addictive on hot summer days. In three weeks I'd get my driver's license, but having a car would probably still take a while.
My agreement with my Dad was that when we finished the first floor he'd give me 4k to add to my own savings to purchase a car with. I'd end up with something ok enough to get back and forth to school and occasional trips to Summerville, which was starting to sound like Rome. All roads lead to Summerville.
I spent the rest of the afternoon painting.
Tuesday I was reassembling the dining room furniture when my phone buzzed to show me a really hot UPS worker bringing me presents from Amazon. I rushed to the door to open it just as she knocked. I thanked her for the delivery she dropped on the covered porch, and watched as those amazing legs, tight ass in brown shorts, and that blond ponytail bounced back down the walk to the big brown delivery truck. I'd have to save the video from the doorbell so I could watch the bounce as she came up the steps.
I carried my packages inside and began unpacking. I verified I had everything, then put it away in my room. I had to get back to the dining table, because if I forgot where I was in the assembly instructions, it would never be a dining table again.
I eventually successfully rebuilt, with no extra pieces, a ten piece dining set that filled the room. We had decided it would fit better in the moving truck if we had disassembled it. I had briefly regretted that decision when a crucial part had gone temporarily missing.
Table, sideboard, two captain chairs with arms, and six straight back guest chairs. I opened up the box with the dining fabrics. I'm not sure what they are called exactly but I know how Mom always laid it out.
I couldn't resist and set out the serving dishes on the sideboard table, and the candelabra in the center of the dining table. It looked good, so I took a picture and texted it to Dad.
I checked the time, he wasn't due back till very late, so I headed up to my room, and collected the equipment. It took a bit to figure out the harness, carabiner, and rope as I tied it around the chimney, and tossed it down the shaft. I snapped a chemical light, and dropped it down the hole as well. It hit bottom faster than I expected, but was not nearly as bright as it should have been.
With my harness in place, and the emergency brake ready, I started down the old wooden ladder. I discovered a wooden platform about ten feet down, and stepped off the ladder to look around. My flashlight showed a couple handles, so I turned them, wondering what they would trigger. The first opened up a spy hole into the master bathroom, the second opened a spy hole into the master bedroom.
Well that was weird and kinky. I was expecting some kind of emergency escape hatch from the master bedroom, not a peepers paradise. I closed the peep holes, and headed further down the ladder. This part I couldn't figure out.
I could understand hiding a space on the north wall in the master suite, there were no north facing windows. The kitchen sink however had a big window in the north wall that looked out over the back yard.
I came to the next landing onto concrete. I was very confused. The only concrete was in the basement. Dad had explained that a trench had been dug outside along the foundation stone wall, a water barrier had been installed, then the trench had been filled with concrete.
Inside the basement, after digging deeper into the bare earth floor, form work had been set up and concrete had been poured to create a solid concrete floor for the basement. Concrete supports had been added to supplement the stone columns that held up the middle of the house, and small tunnels had been dug under the foundation stone wall so that the concrete floor extended under both the stone and outer wall addition.
Not seamless, but it had reduced basement flooding and allowed the coal furnace to be added to the home in 1910, according to the plate on the furnace. The house had been rewired in the 70’s, many decades after initial electrification, in some cases running wires thru the old pipes that had run to the radiators, adding baseboard electric heating to the house. Fixing that is one of our future remodel upgrades.
Anyway, I'm standing on concrete. I counted it out in my head, went down one set of rungs from the attic, and ended up on the second floor. I went down the same distance, and ended up in the basement. How was this possible?
I shined the light up the wooden ladder. The flashlight I left at the top seemed unusually dim, and I had a hard time seeing where the ladder ended. I shined the light around, looking for a handle. I spotted it, right above a very large stone. I climbed up on the rock, recognizing the wall it was against. This was obviously what was blocking the secret door in the basement. I pulled the handle and heard the mechanism snick. The secret door moved millimeters inward.
I tried to push the rock out of the way, but it wouldn't budge. It looked to be the same granite as the foundation stones, it was about two feet wide, four feet long and two feet tall. It had to weigh a ton!
I shined the light around, how did it even get down here? Even if I managed to slide it over, there still wouldn't be enough room to get the secret door fully open. I opened my wallet, and carefully slipped an old receipt in the crack of the secret door. I climbed back up the ladder, counting 31 rungs between the basement floor and the attic floor.
I counted the steps as I headed back down to the basement via the staircase. 56 total from the attic to the basement. I grabbed a tape measure, and calculated that it was about a 35 foot rise from basement to attic. The ladder rungs were about ten inches, or about 25 feet.
I wouldn't have believed it, if not for the Trader Joe's receipt sticking out of the thin crack of the open but blocked secret passage. I went and grabbed a bottle of Reed's extra ginger brew out of the fridge, and sat on the couch.
I eventually finished the drink, and realized it was getting late. I pulled out my phone and did some calculations. A 16 cubic foot block of granite weighs about 2700 lbs, so definitely more than a ton.
I climbed back up the stairs, and went down the shaft again. I made sure the secret door was fully closed and latched. I carefully examined the stone block, looking for marks, or writing, or anything that showed how it got there.
In the farthest corner there was a tiny bit of paper sticking out from underneath the stone. Just the corner of a page, enough that I could tear it off. Under the intense light of my flashlight, it looked very much like the same type of paper that the journal pages had been written on. I'd have to research how to move a multi ton block of granite.
After I got my rock climbing equipment put away, and the attic secret door closed, I carefully examined the scrap of paper. It appeared to be a perfect match. More pages of that crazy journal were waiting for me under a ton of rock.
Wednesday morning Dad made us a late breakfast. Pancakes had always been his special morning meal. He even microwaved some bacon.
"Nice pancakes. How's work been going?"
"Good. I've got the routine down, lots of paperwork keeping track of the chemicals used to clean the boilers, and I've got an inspection routine I have to complete every four hours."
"Are you working with anyone else?" I asked him.
"Not really, I check in with the boss, and then swap out with one of the other three guys on the crew. One is out sick right now, one is out on paternity leave, so I'm working lots of doubles."
"I noticed," I said with a grin.
"Well you are doing good getting everything set up. Loved getting that picture of the dining room. Looks really good."
"Are you ok with the vent fan?"
"Yeah I ordered it already."
"Wow! All by yourself?" I teased.
"I know how to do that," he said with a slight blush.
I neglected to mention ‘The Late Christmas’, a legendary family story. He had decided to order everyone's present online, but somehow never completed the order. My Mom finally intervened two days before Christmas. Needless to say, everything arrived, but not till January.
"Forward me the email confirmation so I can track the order," I told him.
He fumbled with his phone, and the email arrived, confirming he bought the correct kitchen vent fan, and providing a tracking number.
"Looks good. What's the plan for today?"
"Next rooms to paint are the downstairs hallway, then the laundry room, the utility closet, and finally the downstairs bathroom. The backyard also needs mowing."
I looked at the weather app on my phone. "Cloudy and under 90 on Friday, can the backyard wait until then?"
"Yeah, but the front yard will need it by then as well, so plan on mowing, not painting, that day."
"I'm going to start getting low on paint by then as well," I told him.
He looked at his work schedule, a paper print out he kept folded in his leather phone case. "I'm only doing a single shift on Friday, starting early, so after mowing and work let's plan on making a run to Summerville for dinner and a visit to Sherwin Williams."
"Good, I'll make a list for more brushes and rollers that we might need then too."
"Sounds like a plan. Do you mind cleaning up breakfast, I need to hit the bank this morning before my shift starts."
"You know you can deposit your check with your phone right?" I kidded.
"No, I need a $20 to add to the card for Charlie. He's the one on paternity leave. We are all contributing for a couple months of diaper service."
I pulled out my wallet and handed him a $20 bill. "If that gets me out of dishes, then it's totally worth it."
"Since when do you carry cash?" he asked.
"I got a library card, and they require a deposit towards future late books. Last time I went grocery shopping I got cash back just in case they only took checks or cash."
He snatched up the 20, "So this is my money that you're giving me to do dishes?"
"Worth every penny," I told him with a wide smile.
He just chuckled while I put my dishes in the sink. A little while later as I was putting down the drop cloth in the hallway he hollered a goodbye. It took the rest of the morning to get the wall plates off, the trim cut in, and the wall sconces taped off. After lunch I rolled out the hallway, which didn't take very long.
With the day's work complete I headed out into the heat. I pulled up the garage door, and started looking thru the tools and equipment we had stored there. Eventually I found what I was looking for, a seven foot long steel pry bar. It had a sharp chisel edge on one end, and an inch thick steel rod on the other. It weighed a good forty pounds or more.
I lugged it up the stairs, and carefully carried it down the ladder. At the bottom of the ladder I carefully adjusted the pry bar, a small block of wood, and a wooden stir stick. I knew I couldn't lift the block, but I could use leverage to lift it.
The pry bar slid into the tiny gap under the blocks edge, and I laid it down over the wooden block, using it as the fulcrum. Using the wall on either side to balance myself, I stepped onto the pry bar, letting my weight increase in force until the block started to lift.
Using my free leg, I kicked the paint stir stick under the block. It wedged in just enough that I could now step off the pry bar. I pulled a pair of tweezers out of my pocket, and carefully pulled out two pages of paper.
The first had 'entry 4' written across the top. Success!
It has bonded with me, I think. I reached out with my hand, and grabbed the bar. My whole body froze as my fingers wrapped around the bar. I helplessly watched as the half spheres slid together. It is an Orb now. I'm glad I reached out with my left hand, so I can still write with my right.
I can't feel my left hand. It doesn't hurt, it just has no sensation. The Orb has shrunk so it's just a little bigger than my closed fist. There is no seam where the two half spheres meet. My wrist is locked inside too. I can feel my arm, right up until it enters the Orb.
It fortunately doesn't feel heavy, my arm has motion, but no sense of weight. I'm feeling tired. I think it's trying to put me to sl
I read the entry a second time under the light of my flashlight. I glanced up looking at the shortest route available, then back down at the block in front of the nearest exit from this creepy cramped hidden space in the basement. I turn to the second page.
It put me to sleep. When I awoke I was slumped over my desk. My left hand is back, mostly. I can feel it again, but it's not my hand. I recognize the fingers as mine, all the wrinkles are there, and I assume the fingerprints are right, but it is all the same brass colored material.
The brass starts about 4 inches below where I would wear a wrist watch. I can feel with it, sensing touch and temperature. When I put my hands together it doesn't feel like cold metal to my original hand.
I was unconscious for several hours. I'm glad it is a holiday, no one is expecting me at work. I expected it to communicate with me somehow. Instruct me in its use. Everything has been guess work. I'm not sensing evil, or danger. If it goes bad, I can always chop off my arm. I wonder where my chainsaw is?
It's cold enough that I can wear gloves to cover it if I have to go out. I just wish I understood more. Perhaps there is a way.
The instruction manual lay dormant next to the stand that had held the Orb. Designed as a training tool, it waited to be collected as the first item to be taken by the Bond Mate.
The Orb was eager to retrieve it's young companion. Then the Bond Mate could learn and give it will. The Bond was ready, the Orb was ready. Now this curiously imaginative primitive mammal needed to be ready.
So close! Where is the training manual? Where is the Orb? I stuck the prybar back in, and lifted the block higher, sliding two stir sticks held together with masking tape into the larger gap. Down on my hands and knees I try to see if there is anything else under the block. I can see a third piece of paper deeper under the block.
Using the first stir stick, I slowly drag it out from under the block. I excitedly read it with the flashlight, while still on my knees on the concrete floor.
I'm not sure why I wrote that. I tried to just let my mind relax. I think it's from the Orb. I'm going to try something.
It worked, I concentrated on the instruction manual, and placed my left hand on my journal entry describing it. My fingers sank deep into the journal, and closed around the manual, then I pulled it out. It looks like a thick piece of clear glass. Rectangular, a bit bigger than four of my journals put together in a square.
When I first touched it with my right hand it lit up briefly, a green light from the interior, then it went dark. When I touch it with my left it doesn't do anything. It's a maddening puzzle. Holding it in either hand doesn't seem to do anything. Neither does holding it in both.
I eventually tried talking to it. It spoke back!
I left everything but the flashlight, tweezers, and papers. The climb up the ladder, and down the stairs to my bedroom is good cardio, but not easy. The block and pry bar are just too heavy to carry up and down. I came up with a plan to maybe move the block. Now that I've got it off the ground, I can maybe move it Egyptian style on wooden rollers to the corner of the space.
If I can get it moved over enough I might be able to use the door to get in and out, even if it's a tight squeeze. But even better, I might be able to lift it upright, and completely out of the way. I'd have to do it Stonehenge style, lifting it up a tiny bit, and sliding in a new brace, until finally it's high enough to tip it over to vertical.
That's the future, based on the research I've been doing since finding the huge block. For now, I want to carefully reread the six pages, and read the apology rant again.
I found what I was looking for, the line was in the apology rant. 'the instruction manual shows everything, but I've hidden it in plain sight where no one will ever see it.'
I carefully put four pages together, in a 2 x 2 formation, to make a rectangle. The journal said the instruction manual looks like a piece of thick glass slightly larger than four of my journals put together. I measured it out, the journal pages are a little smaller than a half sheet of printer paper. I'm looking for a piece of glass in plain sight, but not visible. It's probably around 11 x 17 inches, or 2 sheets of regular printer paper. That's pretty big, but if the creators of the device were larger than humans that might be a good fit, with a similar body to tablet ratio as the big iPad pro. It's all speculation anyway.
I've looked everywhere, but I can't think of where it might be. Thursday I finished the hallway, and utility room then started on the laundry room. On Friday I mowed the front first, and received a head nod and thumbs up from Mr Tallman when he got his mail. I saved the afternoon for the back, hoping that the northern side of the house might throw some shade while I'm mowing.
I happened to look up as a bird flew over my head, and up and over the roof of the house. I can see the kitchen sink window, the blank wall of the master bath, and the big, round, painted over, attic window. I was wondering why they painted over the windows when I let go of the mower in shock. Its shutoff arm released and it sputtered to a stop.
There's not a big window on the north side of the attic, it’s a little rectangle window! I saw it light up when the lightning flashed. But how did it light up, if there's a dark hidden room on the other side of that north wall. A dark hidden room, with a ladder that goes to the basement in too few steps.
"Holy shit!" I exclaimed, then quickly looked around, worried someone heard me curse. I checked the time, just enough to finish mowing before Dad gets home.
I hurriedly pull on the cord, restarting the hot motor easily. A few minutes later I've finished and put the mower away, and am climbing the attic stairs with my six foot painters ladder and my flashlight. I set the ladder against the north wall under a rectangular window in which I can see blue sky out of.
I open the hidden compartment, and can just make out where plywood is nailed to the back of what from looking underneath is a large round painted over window identical to the one on the east facing wall. I exit the hidden space, and start climbing the ladder up to the window. As I look thru it, I can clearly see the freshly mown grass outside.
My hands are shaking as I touch the piece of glass. The scene disappears, and is replaced with the words, 'It's about time Sam'
The words shift 'answer the phone Sam'
I reflexively reach for my phone, and as I look at the screen, the unlock screen disappears, my Dad is calling me.
"This is Sam," I say, in wonder at my steady voice.
"This is Pete," Dad laughs back, "Sherwin Williams is closing at six, I'll be there in 20 minutes, and I need you out front so we can make it on time."
"Got it, I'll be ready," I tell him.
I climb down the rungs, giving a brief glance up as the window shifts from words to the blue sky and clouds of the outside. I set the ladder in the hidden room, and lock the secret door closed, then I run to the bathroom to shower.
Twenty minutes later my Dad pulls up, and I jump in, ready with my list of supplies to go with the extra paint. We make good time and get to the store before it closes. We load everything up in the extended cab because Dad doesn't want to have to watch the truck from the restaurant window.
"Did you get the mowing done?"
"All of it, finished and put away the mower just before you called."
"Excellent, then dinner is your choice, anywhere in town that serves food."
"We haven't been to Applebee's in a while."
"I think that's off of fifth?"
I pull out my phone, "hey Google, where is the nearest Applebee's?" I ask it.
It tells us the distance and address while I look at the map. "Corner of West Ave and Sixth," I tell him.
It only takes a few minutes, and there is no wait as the waitress seats us at a table. We review the menu, and I decide on the baby back ribs, while Dad orders the 12 oz rib-eye. He also gets us mozzarella sticks as an appetizer to go with our sodas.
We eat in companionable silence enjoying the food. I'm trying to enjoy it, but finding the instruction manual has left me in a crazy tizzy. The ribs are good, and the waitress keeps our drink cups full. When she brings extra napkins without me asking I know I've either got the best waitress ever, or she's flirting with Dad.
A quick check shows she's flirting with Dad and a really good waitress. I don't know what it is, but women find single guys being good Dad's really attractive. Dad hasn't worn his wedding ring for over a year now, the first two years he refused to remove it, he said he still felt married.
When she brings the check I take it, "Thank you Tammy, that was a wonderful meal," I tell her, and hand her my card and the tray. She gives me a wide happy smile, and winks at Dad as she takes it.
"That's a surprise," he tells me.
"That's the groceries card, we get 5% back for restaurants."
"You are always finding ways to save me money when you spend it. Your Mom was the same way. I've never paid so much for a dress she found on sale," he said with a soft smile.
"So do you think Tammy will leave her number on the receipt?" I asked him.
"If she does, which one of us should call her?" he chuckled.
"Definitely you. She might be a great waitress, but I'm holding out for a great cook."
That made him snort, and almost spray the last of his soda out his nose and across the table. Tammy returned, so I signed and gave her a 20% tip. There was no phone number. She did manage to meet us as we went out the door, where she asked us to ‘come again soon,’ and handed Dad a card with her number on it.
It made us both chuckle all the way home.
Soon after getting home Dad said he was headed for bed. I waited a while, then headed upstairs with a screwdriver. I had a hot date with an old manual.
I opened the secret door in the attic to retrieve the ladder when I heard Dad's muffled voice, coming up the secret passage to his room.
"That was Sam, he turns 16 at the end of the month…. No, we just moved back…. Cancer, three years ago…. It was nice seeing you again, it's been nearly 20 years…. I wondered what happened to…."
I had frozen at first when I heard my name. The whole conversation was so personal, I felt embarrassed for having overheard it. When I finally heard "goodnight Tammy" I just smiled, let go of the ladder, and closed the secret door. I went down to my room, and went to bed. My hot date could wait, especially if Dad was thinking he could maybe date again.
Dad had Saturday off again, he was working doubles on Sunday, with another guy doing Saturday. It didn't matter to Dad, and the other guy needed Sundays off for church. We spent the morning getting drop cloths over all the furniture in the den and office, and masking off the ceiling lights.
Dad taught me how to use the sprayer, and by mid afternoon the ceilings in the den, office, dining, kitchen and hallway were now painted in the same creamy white color as the walls, except in semi-gloss instead of the eggshell of the walls. We had taken turns running the sprayer, as it got heavy quickly.
After getting everything cleaned up, and taking the masking tape off the ceiling fixtures, Dad installed two new smoke alarms on either side of the house, and then declared it was time to clean up. We both headed to our respective bathrooms and showered then dressed to go to my Aunt Joan's for dinner.
At Joan's, Dad started a new bottle of wine with her, after verifying I had my learners permit on me, and handing me the keys to the truck. It wasn't that he was tipsy, or expected to get drunk, but no one in our family ever drove after consuming alcohol.
Dad told me about a study they did years ago with marshmallows and kids. They told the kids that if they didn't eat the few marshmallows the researchers would double what they had. The kids who didn't eat all of them immediately showed that they could put off immediate desires for future prosperity.
Years later a follow up was done that showed the kids who knew that lesson as children had done much better by all the available metrics, wealth, health, and happiness. Those that immediately ate their marshmallows, and still expected more didn't do nearly as well in life.
That is why I wasn't going out of my mind about the instruction manual. I was still nervous, excited, near trembling with anticipation, and had a hard time paying attention to the conversation. But I knew, deep down it was waiting for me.
"Yeah the chicken is great, ABCO does a great rotisserie chicken," I replied.
They both looked at me, then burst out laughing.
"Where is your mind at? I asked if you were planning on dessert," Aunt Joan said.
"Yes, dessert is good!" I replied.
Dad laughed, "Do you think he's dreaming about Sharon 2.0?"
"Elizabeth Gershon?" Joan asked Dad, to his agreeing nod.
"I'm sure he hasn't met her yet. Cheer camp won't be back for another week," Joan said confidently.
"I wonder who he's daydreaming about?" Dad asked.
I just burned in embarrassment, but also with a new and intense curiosity about the girl who lived across the street.
"I'm not daydreaming about anyone. But have you met our UPS driver?" I said to try to fend off the teasing.
"Oh yes, Betty is delicious in brown."
"Really? Is Betty someone I know from back when?"
"No, she lives in Summerville, but her route takes her here every day."
"How do you know so much about everybody?" I asked Aunt Joan.
"I volunteer for just about everything around here. I help everywhere from the school, the library, even fill in for City Hall when one of the girls is out sick. There's not much that happens in this town that I don't know about," she said confidently.
"Joan is practically the town's unofficial Mayor. If you need something, or are having a problem, she's going to know the who, where, and how much to solve it," Dad said, bragging on her.
Joan just gave a beatific smile, and served us dessert. It was a store bought Entenmann's coffee cake. I looked at the meal with fresh eyes, the rotisserie chicken had been on a serving tray, as had the cake. Bowls had held the two side dishes, I recognized the green beans as the kind you just microwaved in the bag, and the coleslaw was clearly from the grocery store deli.
There was only one conclusion. Aunt Joan didn't cook. I wondered if it was a lack of desire, or lack of ability. If it was ability, then that was probably genetic, because Dad couldn't cook either. Odd, the things you notice about family when you pay attention.
Sunday morning I got up and double checked Dad was gone. Once I knew the way was clear, I headed up to the attic to retrieve my manual.
It greeted me 'hello Sam' as I dug into the wood that held the glass in place. I wasn't worried about damaging it, as Hiram hadn't been able to even scratch it. With the frame removed, I pried it out, holding it in my hands.
The greeting shifted, 'better get this cleaned up'
I chuckled, thinking about how this was an instruction manual, and it was instructing me to perform manual labor.
I put the pieces of wood in my school bag, and carried them and the ladder down, with the manual also in my backpack. I wasn't going to make multiple trips, just too many stairs. I put the ladder away, the wood in the trash can outside, and brought my school backpack to the kitchen island.
I sat on the stool and sipped on my coffee as I stared at this mystery I had uncovered.
'until you bond, I'm only allowed to answer three questions a day.'
I sat back, and contemplated what questions to ask.
"Where is the Orb of Reality?"
A large number 1 appeared.
'Hidden, buried in a mine shaft 97.4 miles north by northwest'
A map appeared with a big X
'I will direct you when it's time'
Then the screen went blank, going to see thru again.
"That's too fast," I told it, pulling out my phone and turning the video recorder on, "Show the answer again."
It repeated, and I recorded it. I had been careful not to make it a request that could possibly be considered another question.
"What does the Orb do?"
A large number 2 appeared, the answer that followed was a myriad of moving images.
A tailless dinosaur man with a brass hand reached into a screen and pulled out a hunk of meat it began to eat.
Another one shifted the brass hand into a shield that protected him from an explosion, then it shifted to a sword that cut another dinosaur dude in half.
A scene showing Hiram reaching into a book with his brass hand, specifically Treasure Island, and pulling out a large gold coin.
Another scene of Hiram with a fuzzy dark circle, he grabbed it with his brass hand and pulled it larger, then stepped thru to somewhere else. His hand then grabbed the edge of the dark circle and pulled to the center, until it became a tiny speck that disappeared.
A scene of Hiram in the woods as the brass hand extended into full dinosaur man claws with six fingers, as it swiped bloodily across the back of a running woman. The scenes ended as she collapsed, ragged and broken.
'it breaks reality'
The words faded away.
I stopped the recording. I sat for a minute, before I got up and got a fresh cup of coffee. The images had disturbed me. Sure, The Suicide Squad had been bloodier, but that wasn't real. I had an idea that if I searched for a bizarre animal attack on a young woman in the late 1950’s near Princeton I'd discover what Hiram was so sorry about.
I sat and looked at the instruction manual. I got up and went to the kitchen junk drawer to get a tape measure. It was about 10.75 x 16.75 x .5 inches thick. It's diagonal was just shy of 20 inches. The edges and corners were slightly rounded, there were no sharp edges or corners on the device.
I put the tape measure away, and set the manual on the counter vertically. I could see thru it clearly, there was no distortion in the glass.
"What do you do?"
A large number 3 appeared, and I turned to look at the clear transparent manual from the back side. From both directions it was showing the number 3, and neither of them were backwards.
'I train you, then I show everything, everywhere, everywhen'
Images started displaying, I recognized a statue of the dinosaur people in a ruined and ice filled city, creatures from the deep ocean swam across the screen. Creatures beyond description floated across a purple sky, a Mars rover trundled across a red desert filled with grey rocks. A young man about my age tied to a bed, while an old woman with floppy tits bounced on him. Beautiful Betty driving down the road in her UPS truck. My Dad, bent over some gauges as he writes something down. The Vice President sitting on a toilet, grunting. Me, watching myself. My Mom walking down a street.
'you must see reality to break it'
"Show me my Mom again!" I shouted.
'That is not your Mom'
The glass went clear, and I stopped my recording. I played it back, pausing briefly at the Vice President. He really is too old to be forcing himself like that, he's going to get an aneurysm or something. I hit play, that was clearly me, and the woman that followed. That was Mom. I'd know that smile, that walk, even that dress.
"This is my Mom!"
'That woman didn't get cancer'
'That is not your Mom'
I grabbed the instruction manual and threw it across the room. It hardly made a sound as it bounced off the wall, and landed on the wood floor.
I stood over it, "Show me my Mom!"
'until you bond I can only answer three questions each day'
I stomped onto glass, to no effect as it again went clear.
I grabbed the glass and carried it upstairs, where I released the secret door in my bedroom, and threw it up the stairs. I slammed the secret door shut, and sat at my computer.
I hit the upload button to send the first video to my Google cloud storage. It took only a few seconds, then I pulled it up on my laptop. Comparing the video of the map, and using the directions and distance provided I located the approximate location of the Orb. It was in the foothills just outside Millville. Google helpfully showed me that it was 1 hour 47 minutes by car.
I marked the spot, and then pulled up the county website. That didn't work, Millville wasn’t in Washington County, the neighboring county’s website was harder to find. Their GIS system was much older and clunkier, and it took a while to locate a parcel with a mine listed as closed. A double check showed it was the right spot, and the only mine in the area.
It showed as county owned property now, but a quick check showed it had been once owned by a Marshall Peterson.
I bookmarked the pages, and closed the laptop.
I opened the laptop. Google search: symptoms of schizophrenia
Requires a medical diagnosis
Schizophrenia is characterized by thoughts or experiences that seem out of touch with reality, disorganized speech or behavior, and decreased participation in daily activities. Difficulty with concentration and memory may also be present.
People may experience:
Behavioral: social isolation, disorganized behavior, aggression, agitation, compulsive behavior, excitability, hostility, repetitive movements, self-harm, or lack of restraint
Cognitive: thought disorder, delusion, amnesia, belief that an ordinary event has special and personal meaning, belief that thoughts aren't one's own, disorientation, mental confusion, slowness in activity, or false belief of superiority
Mood: anger, anxiety, apathy, feeling detached from self, general discontent, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, elevated mood, or inappropriate emotional response
Psychological: hallucination, paranoia, hearing voices, depression, fear, persecutory delusion, or religious delusion
Speech: circumstantial speech, incoherent speech, rapid and frenzied speaking, or speech disorder
Also common: fatigue, impaired motor coordination, lack of emotional response, or memory loss
For informational purposes only. Consult your local medical authority for advice.
Sources: Mayo Clinic and others. Learn more
I closed the browser and shut the laptop. I walked over and popped open the secret floor panel and pulled the switch that opens the secret door. I closed the floor panel.
I pulled open the secret door, and look up to see where the instruction manual is wedged in on one of the steep stair treads as it turns a corner, up into the secret room. I reach for it, as a message displays.
'I'm sorry Sam'
I carried it back down and put it on the laptop desk, closing the secret door which locks behind me. I move the laptop desk back against that wall blocking that creepy confessional rant. I lay back on the bed, and closed my eyes.
In my mind, I can see my Mom, sitting in her wheelchair, head wrapped in a colorful scarf to hide the missing hair. Her cheeks are sunken, but her eyes still sparkle with life. I see her frail arms, and thin fingers point at the bowl.
"Now slowly mix the dry mix bowl into the liquid mix bowl, combining the two together."
I write the instruction down on my phone, and then follow the direction. The bowls are heavy, but I'm strong enough. I have to wrap an arm around the liquid bowl to stabilize it as I mix the ingredients of the batter.
"It should be sticky. I hate getting this part of the batter on my fingers. Now add a half cup of chocolate chips, and mix them in."
I again write it down, and follow the directions. "I prefer the Hershey dark chocolate chips for these cookies, anything else is just too sweet to my palate," she adds.
I make a note on my phone, 'use Hershey's dark chocolate chips'
"Ok, if the chips stick into the batter, it's wet enough and you are good to go. Sometimes though, they just kind of roll around, and don't incorporate. If that happens add another teaspoon or more of the dark chocolate almond milk."
I show her the bowl, "Not quite wet enough, add just a teaspoon."
I try to figure out how to word her instructions, and write it all down. Then I add the teaspoon of dark chocolate almond milk. I see the difference immediately, the chips lock in place in the dough as I stir them in. I show her again.
"Yes, that's exactly what it's supposed to do. Now it's time to put the dough in the bag."
I double check the instructions are written down, and start scooping the mix into a gallon sized zip lock bag.
"Right, this part you've done for me before, once the dough is all in, seal the bag and flatten out the dough so it's uniform. Then put it in the fridge. Or you can put it in the freezer if you aren't going to use it right away. I like to make double batches, one for now, one for later."
I flatten down the cookie dough, bleeding air out of the bag. I show her the results, and she smiles big and wide, against her narrow thin face.
"Excellent work Sam, that is my secret vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. Now my gluten free cookies aren't nearly as yummy, but sometimes that's what your teachers ask for."
I write down the last of the instructions, and label the page as 'Mom's Secret Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.' Then I carefully slide the gallon bag onto a rack in the refrigerator.
Aunt Joan is Fun
Monday when I stepped into the kitchen I found the plate of cookies I left Dad missing. I read the note he left me.
"These are my favorite. Thanks Sam, I'm sorry you were here all alone. I'm only working one shift today, I'll be back about 4. Love you, you've been doing a great job with the painting."
Dad knows I only make these cookies when one of us starts missing Mom too much. Usually it's me, but sometimes he asks for them too.
I have a cup of coffee, but without my usual additive of dark chocolate almond milk. The last of it went into the cookies the day before. I eventually fix myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast. After eating I wash the bowl and cup, staring out the window at the back yard.
I eventually get my laundry going, and head into the downstairs bathroom. I spend most of the morning removing the towel racks, shower curtain rod, and other items attached to the walls. I get everything taped up and covered just in time for lunch. I'm just about to make a sandwich when my phone says that someone is heading for the front door.
I look and see a couple guys and a delivery truck.
The doorbell rings, and I answer it.
"Atwoods?" the man asks.
"Great, I've got your new stove and fridge."
The guy behind him asks, "Is there an adult who can sign for delivery?"
There should have been a reminder message that these guys were coming today, but I think quickly. "My Aunt just left, let me call her back."
"That sounds fine, we'll start unloading."
I shut the door and quickly call Aunt Joan. "Aunt Joan, this is Sam. I need your help. The delivery guys are here with the new appliances, and they need an adult to sign for delivery and install."
"I'll be right there," she said, and hung up.
I watched the doorbell camera on my phone for a moment, then stepped out. "Hey guys, she's on the way. Let me double check you have the right appliances before you unbox them," I holler out.
"Sure, I've got the manifest here, plus the model numbers are written on the outside of the boxes."
I texted my dad, 'appliances just arrived, called Joan to sign for delivery'
He must have been at lunch because the reply came quick. 'sorry, they called Monday and I forgot to tell you'
Than after a moment, 'thanks for handling'
I pulled up the email order, and compared it to the boxes that had been pushed to the end of the truck.
"That's them, I'm going to go start unloading the fridge. You can bring them in once my Aunt gets back and signs for them."
I sent another text, this time to Joan. 'don't sign until you've checked them over for dents or damage after they are unboxed, Sam'
Then I grabbed the cooler from the utility room, and started unloading the freezer then the fridge items into it. It would take a while for the new unit to get to temp, I hope we didn't lose anything. I'd probably have to use up the frozen meatloaf for dinner tonight. I left it in the cooler where it would add its thermal mass.
I was standing on the porch when Aunt Joan arrived in her little red Miata. One of the guys waved and said, "Hi Joan, I should have recognized the Atwood name."
"Hi Nick, good to see you again. So show me what they look like under the cardboard so I can sign off on the delivery for Sam," she told him, giving me a wave too.
I remembered that the stove had a drawer under it for storing pots, so I quickly emptied that, then checked inside for anything that needed keeping. There wasn't anything.
A guy knocked on the door then opened it, "Sam, are you ready for us to take the old appliances out of the way?"
"Come on in Nick, both are ready to be moved. Let's get the new ones plugged in and running before we pull them all the way out of the house."
"Which room do you want to set them in?" he asked.
"Dining room there," I told him, pointing at the room that had the most space near the door.
He acknowledged with a nod, and turned to shout out the door, "Mike the old ones are ready to move."
In a well practiced display of acrobatic talent they had the two appliances away from the wall, unplugged, and up on straps as they deftly carried them to their temporary resting area. Moments later in a reverse of the original procedure the two new stainless steel appliances were brought in, and set in place.
"Normally we would tell you to let the refrigerator settle in place for an hour before plugging it in, but this model uses a different kind of compressor pump and doesn't have that problem," Nick told me as he plugged the fridge in.
"Do you have the app installed yet for the oven?" Mike asked.
"Alexa, connect to the new device," I told the echo show 5 mounted under the kitchen cabinet, next to the sink. It did it's little routine, and I double checked the Alexa app on my phone.
"Alexa, start oven cleaning cycle," I told her.
"There's still packaging in there to keep the tracks from rattling," said an anxious Nick.
"Alexa, oven off."
"They look nice, Sam," Aunt Joan said from the doorway.
"They do, don't they? The new vent fan for above the stove arrives Thursday," I told her while Nick quickly removed the packaging from around the oven racks.
"It's clear now Sam," Nick said.
I gave the command again, and the oven locked shut. Running the cleaning cycle would test the machine, and burn off the factory smell. I looked where Mike had just finished drilling a hole in the kitchen base cabinet to fit the water line that would feed the ice maker and chilled water dispenser.
He wiped up the tiny bit of sawdust, and started feeding the hose in. Nick opened the cabinets and fed it along the back. He shut off the cold water, under the sink, unscrewed the connection, added an extra fitting, and screwed it back. He connected the ¼” water line to the hose, and turned a knob to start the water.
Mike was at the fridge, so I handed him a drinking glass so he could bleed the line. "There is a filter built into the fridge, you only need to change it once a year. It filters particulates and chlorine," he said.
Nick added, "Order replacements on our website or Amazon, it's accessed via the small door at the bottom of the fridge."
Mike opened the freezer, and set a digital thermometer inside. "It'll drop five degrees in five minutes if it's working correctly."
"Can I offer you guys cookies?" I asked them.
"Ooh, is that the secret recipe?" Aunt Joan asked.
"Yup, made them last night."
"Wow, those are really good," Mike said.
"Why are they a secret recipe?" Nick asked.
"My Mom's invention, they are vegan," I told him.
"Hey, your Dad is Pete, right?" Nick asked.
"That's right, do you know my Dad?"
"Not real well, he was a year or two ahead of me in school. It's great that quality people are moving back into town with their families."
There was something about the way he said 'quality' it just made me wince inside. It's not that it was explicitly racist, or whatever, just the way he drawled it out. I just nodded a general acknowledgment, but he continued, "Are you going to play ball like your Dad, or run track like Joan did?"
"I don't know, my last school didn't have a freshman team, only sophomores and higher played, and track wasn't an option at all. I'll have to try out both I guess."
"Your Dad played the year that Ed took us to State. His son will be a freshman this year."
"That's Mike Gershon, he was the junior high qb last year," Aunt Joan supplied.
"He lives across the street, right? I haven't met him yet."
"You might meet him on Wednesday," Aunt Joan revealed.
"What's Wednesday?" I asked.
"Freshman orientation, but it also includes any new students."
Mike opened the freezer, "It's down 7 degrees. Looks like it works."
"Thank you Mike, Nick, appreciate the hard work."
"Not quite done, need to get the old appliances out to the truck," Mike reminded us.
In a quick and careful dance, they carried them out to the lowered lift at the back of the truck. Aunt Joan had walked them out, but came back in as they drove off.
I was installing the app for the fridge when she came in. Once I had the app installed, and the fridge connected to the WiFi, I then added it to Alexa. Like our washer and dryer, but unlike the new oven, it needed to be connected via the proprietary app first.
"The fridge is internet connected too?" Aunt Joan asked.
"It helps you monitor the temp, and set distinct temperature zones. The freezer has two sections, a deep freeze where it does a maximum low temp of minus 30, and a regular freezer where it keeps it at about 0. The fridge should be at 36, but I can set different temperatures for the veggie drawers, depending on what I store there."
"I get the voice activated microwave, I love having mine after seeing yours, and I can see the benefit of the oven maybe, but I don't get the connected fridge."
I tapped a button and the whole front of the fridge became a display, showing a photograph of the fridge contents.
"Imagine you are at the store, now you can remotely access a picture of what's there, especially if you can't remember if you need something."
I hit a button on the screen, and held up the empty carton of milk. It beeped, and added the item to a shopping list that it displayed. Alexa beeped as the item was added to a shopping list there as well.
"I can immediately record anytime I run out of something, and I can initiate a refill order via Amazon, or if I finish setting up the app, the local Flemming brand grocery store for curbside pickup or delivery, all right from the fridge."
That was a preview of The Hand Bound. To read the rest purchase the book.