Evergreen Academy and the Golden Club
A mysterious disappearance
Daniel woke up in the middle of a summer night, disoriented. He felt like an invisible hand had jerked him out of sleep. The bedroom was dark. With the leaden starlight from the window, every piece of furniture was like a crouching beast, cold and menacing.
The night was really quite. Daniel could hear a mouse running across the floor. His clock was ticking persistently. The wheezing of his chest sounded loud and ragged. He suddenly had this fear that his chest was empty and he was going to die. He wanted to call his father, but feared that his voice would shatter the peace of the night and everything would fall apart like broken glass. He got up, wrapped a blanket around himself, and walked to his father’s room. The hallway was so cold. He could almost see his breath frozen into different shapes like ghosts hanging in the air. Every step he took towards his father’s room, the air got colder and colder. It was like he was sliding into a deep cold pond.
The door to his father’s bedroom was ajar. He stood outside the door for a minute, feeling the darkness closing in on him. He had an eerie feeling that he was the only one in the house besides the mouse. He pushed the door slightly. It moved a bit—he waited—nothing happened. He pushed again until he could see his father’s bed. It was empty. One corner of the bed sheet was flipped open, as if his father had just gotten out of the bed for some water in the middle of the night; but the room was too cold. Not a trace of human warmth was lingering in the air.
“Dad—” he called.
His own voice was so loud. It scared him. The sound was like blind birds bounding back and forth on the walls. When it finally died down, all he could hear was his breath again. He stood in the dark, searching frantically for someone that he could call for help. No name came up. It had always been just him and his father. He didn’t think that they had any living relatives. If there were any, they certainly didn’t bother to get re-acquainted with his family.
“It must be a nightmare,” thought Daniel. “I’ve got to wake up.”
He stood there waiting for the moment to come, but everything remained the same. He was still in his father’s bedroom instead of his own. The cold in the air was palpable, and his feet were numb. He thought he might be better off going back to the bed. Maybe tomorrow morning, when he woke up, everything would be fine again.
His bed was cold too, and it was really hard to fall asleep when all he could think about was what could have happened to his father. It didn’t help that his feet were bothering him like bullies in school. He finally fell asleep when his mind wandered away to things like the latest video game or the last action movie.
When Daniel woke up in the morning, he felt miserable. He had a vague felling that something bad had happened. He looked out of the window. It was a sunny morning. Sunny mornings like this always cheered him up, but this morning was different. It was like he just woke up from a nightmare. Although he could not remember anything, the sorrow was still there. Then something caught his eye. The plants on the sill were all dead. They were hardy plants like cactus and mums. They were now all dry and wrinkled, as if all the water was sucked out overnight. He suddenly remembered how cold he was last night, and his first reaction was to find his father.
“Dad—” he called.
He got up and ran out of his room, expecting to see his father downstairs making breakfast. The kitchen was quiet and empty. The morning sunlight came in from a window. He could see dust dancing in the sunlight. He thought that maybe his father was still in bed.
He ran upstairs but stopped in the middle of the hallway. The memory came back new and fresh. Everything remained exactly as he remembered—the door was open, and the bed sheet was flipped. He started shivering. He ran downstairs and stayed in the sunlight in the kitchen—there was something about the sunlight that made the fear thaw.
Daniel was glad that it was Sunday, and he didn’t have to go to school. He didn’t want to miss his dad if he came home. School had never been his favorite place. It was his third year in junior high. He didn’t have any friends in school, nor was he one of the teachers’ favorite students. He was small and skinny, and he always felt cold—even in summer. The other students liked to make fun of him because he always hid under layers of clothes. He did fairly well in most classes but never brilliantly. He had this feeling that he understood everything the teachers said, but he kept making silly mistakes on homework and exams. It was like he knew the lyrics of a song in his head, but they didn’t come out quite right when he sang the song.
Kids in school liked to show how pampered they were, and how prominent their families were. On those occasions, Daniel had nothing to say. His father was an accountant. They were not rich but not poor either. He didn’t know much about his father. Even though there was only the two of them, they weren’t exactly close. Rarely did his father show him any affection. It still bothered Daniel, but in a way he had gotten used to the relationship. He never had the courage to ask his father why their family wasn’t like the other families. When he was younger, he had thought it was probably because he had done something wrong. He had tried his best to do things right—he made his bed every morning, cleaned his dishes after every meal, and even did his own laundry—but nothing really changed.
Daniel could not remember his mother. The tiny bit of memories he could conjure seemed unreal. Sometimes, he wondered if he had invented them himself. He had this image in his head: he was swimming in a pond; sitting by the pond was his mother; a little further away, his father was jumping down from a rock with a beautiful flower in his hand; they were smiling at each other. He had been questioning himself since he was five. First the rock was really tall. It was impossible that anyone could jump down without hurting themselves. In the background was a mansion. The place was completely different from where he was living. The house that he lived in was just a small house like any other houses in a middle size town, where most people minded their own business and life was as plain as the suit his father wore everyday.
Daniel turned on the TV and browsed through the channels. It was all morning news: somewhere in the world, a war was going on; there were an earthquake and a hurricane; but none of these really meant anything to him or caught his attention. He was trying to catch any sound from outside. His father could walk in any moment. He would tell him that he had to run to help an estranged friend after an emergency call, or he was out jogging, and what Daniel had experienced was just a very realistic nightmare. The morning sunlight and the background noise from the TV soon sent Daniel into his dreamland. This time he had a real nightmare. He was running in a dark forest. There was fog lingering in the air. He knew he was looking for something but didn’t know exactly what he was looking for. At the same time, he knew he had to get out of the forest before something bad happened. He was running frantically but found himself in the same spot again and again, feeling more and more disappointed and desperate. Then he heard the doorbell ring. It was like a life-saving cord for someone about to be drowned. He grabbed it and felt himself dragged out of his nightmare.
He lay on the couch for a while, trying to clear his mind and regain the senses. Then it suddenly came to him that it could be his father. He could have forgotten the key. Daniel jumped up and ran to the door. He was disappointed when he saw a stranger instead of his father standing at the door.
The first impression he had about the person was that he was tall. He had to walk back so he could have a complete view of him. The suit that he had on was immaculate. The hems and the sleeves were so straight and crisp that they looked metallic. Daniel looked up and saw a very interesting face. It looked middle age. On a second look, Daniel found it to be much younger. There was not a single wrinkle on the face. There was, however, something very old about it. The person had a long and thin nose. His mouth was wide and firm. What interested Daniel most were his eyes. They were almost mesmerizing. One moment, they were fierce and looked right through you. The next moment, they picked up something interesting, and there was pure joy and fascination.
“Yes?” said Daniel.
“Hi, my name is Edmond Alverdine,” said the person. “I’m a friend of your father’s.”
His voice was deep and full of confidence.
“He’s not home,” said Daniel. The visit seemed to like a bad omen. They rarely had any visitors. A visitor in the morning after his father had just disappeared certainly wasn’t a good sign.
“May I come in? I’m here to talk to you.”
Daniel felt a knot in his stomach. Alverdine seemed to already know that his father wasn’t home. He was too scared to consider what it meant. He turned and walked back into the sitting room automatically.
Alverdine walked into the sitting room and sat down on the couch. For a moment, the TV commercials seemed to really catch his attention. Then he turned to Daniel.
“Come, sit down and tell me what happened,” said Alverdine. He didn’t sound worried or grave.
“Are you a cop?” asked Daniel, feeling his fear ease a bit. If Alverdine didn’t know exactly what had happened, then he probably didn’t know where his father was either. That meant that his father could be safe somewhere neither of them knew of.
“No, no, I doubt in this case the police would be of any help.”
“Er—why should I trust you?” asked Daniel.
“Good question.” Alverdine smiled at him. “Let me see—I have known you since you were born. Your birthday is April 29. And you are wearing a locket, aren’t you?”
Daniel’s hand went up to his chest. Underneath his underwear was a locket that he had been wearing forever. He was told by his father never to take it off.
“So? That could be a lucky guess.”
“It has a engraving of fire. I gave it to you on your first birthday. You see, among five elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal, you lack fire. The locket came from deep inside the earth where the undying fire roams. It complements you—and it has other powers that you will come to know in the future.”
Daniel could not remember seeing Alverdine before, but Alverdine seemed to know a lot about him. Few people knew about the locket. He always hid it underneath layers of clothes even in summer. He knew that if Alverdine wanted to hurt him, he certainly didn’t need to go through this much trouble. Something about Alverdine also made Daniel want to trust him. Slowly, he moved to the couch and sat down at the other end.
“Unlike you father, you have a calm soul,” said Alverdine kindly.
“Now tell me what happened,” he said with a change of tone.
Alverdine listened carefully to Daniel’s recounting of what had happened last night. He didn’t interrupt but seemed to be absorbing every word Daniel spoke.
“Let’s take a look upstairs.” He stood up and walked to the stairs.
Daniel followed him. It struck him as strange that Alverdine seemed to know where he was going, but it also eased his feeling of helplessness that Alverdine was in full control.
Alverdine stopped in the hallway. He closed his eyes for a minute. Then he entered the bedroom. All the coldness had dissipated by now. Alverdine stood in the middle of the room, quiet and unimposing. Unlike anything Daniel saw in detective movies, he didn’t look at each item in the room carefully for clues. He didn’t even leave the center of the room, but Daniel had this feeling that Alverdine had become an integrated part of the room and nothing escaped him.
They went downstairs in silence. Alverdine seemed to be in deep thought, but his face was still serene and peaceful.
“So—where do you think my father is?” asked Daniel. Somehow he knew something bad must have happened.
“I do not know,” answered Alverdine carefully.
“He—he’s dead, isn’t he?” asked Daniel. He felt himself sink into a sea of fear the moment those words slipped out of his mouth. In his mind, that was the worst thing that could have happened. All he wanted was a negative answer. Everything else could be solved step by step afterward.
“No, he is not dead,” said Alverdine with certainty.
Daniel found that he could breath again.
“Do you know where he is?” he asked.
“No, I don’t know,” said Alverdine calmly.
“How can you be sure that he’s still alive?” asked Daniel, even though he wanted to believe it badly. He was afraid that Alverdine was going to tell him that it was just a guess.
“You see, the presence of a person at one place leaves an imprint,” said Alverdine. He didn’t sound slightly offended by Daniel’s bluntness. “From what I picked up in the room, your father was unharmed when he was taken away; but I could not tell where he is or who took him away. As for now, he’s not in any kind of life-threatening danger—his lifeline is still very strong.”
To Daniel, what Alverdine said was strange but seemed to make sense. If what Alverdine said was right, he, however, didn’t seem worried that Daniel’s father was kidnapped.
“Should we call the police?” asked Daniel.
“No, I don’t think there is anything they can do about it.”
It was said in a way that Daniel found no need to argue.
“What am I supposed to do now?” he asked, feeling exasperated.
Alverdine didn’t answer right away. He looked like he was making some decision.
“There is no easy way to do this,” he finally spoke. “I want you to trust me. Please close your eyes.”
Even though Daniel still had doubts, he closed his eyes. At first, he was looking into muddled darkness with apprehension and expectation. Then, he felt a tiny shock at the center in between his eyebrows. When the shock disappeared, he found himself looking at a scene he had never seen before. It was a village at the top of a mountain. It was like an ancient palace. Fog in the air gave the whole village an ethereal feeling. Daniel had an impression that the buildings were built on the clouds. People were flying in and out of the village as if they were riding on rays of sunlight passing thought the clouds.
When he opened his eyes, suddenly the room became small and dull. He felt like he had just woken from a beautiful dream and wanted to go back again.
“Where was that?” he was still in shock. “And—how did you do that?”
“That’s where I grew up,” said Alverdine amiably. “Beautiful, isn’t it? What I have done was just a little bit of magic.”
“Who—who—are you?” Daniel felt like he was losing his mind, but he knew that what he had experienced was not a hallucination.
“I’m one of the people you just saw,” Alverdine said slowly. “We are what people call immortals, and so are you.”
Even though Daniel had prepared himself, he still thought that it was some kind of joke. “What? No, I mean, I’m just a boy—I can’t do magic like you do.”
“Ah, but you do have powers you don’t know of. They have been shielded by your father. It takes some time to open them and develop them—we are getting ahead of ourselves. First let’s have some tea, shall we?” Alverdine opened his palms, and a tray with a teapot and cups appeared. He put them on the table, poured one cup for himself and one for Daniel.
Daniel knew that it was Alverdine’s way of showing him his powers. Although he was still in shock, he knew that it was more than magicians could achieve. Suddenly all the worries that he had since last night seemed to melt away.
“You’ll save my father, won’t you?” he asked.
“I will do my best,” said Alverdine slowly.
“But you’re an immortal,” Daniel exclaimed. “You’ll save him before anything happens to him, right?”
“Sorry, Daniel. I don’t think I can promise that—yes, I’m more powerful than mortals, but in this case, we’re not dealing with mortals.”
“I tried to get here before anything happened,” said Alverdine. He didn’t go on to tell what prevented him from getting here on time.
All of a sudden, Daniel realized that he couldn’t just wait for others to find his father. He had to do something—it was his responsibility now. He searched frantically inside his head whether there was anything he could do. Then he remembered what Alverdine had said trying to convince him that his father was still alive.
“Could the lifeline of my father lead us to him?” asked Daniel. “You said that his lifeline is strong and you could sense it.”
“That’s a very good question,” said Alverdine with an encouraging smile. “But the line is not directional. As far as I’m concerned, I cannot do it, and I don’t know anyone that is capable of doing it.”
“How about the imprints of the people who took him. Shouldn’t they tell you something?”
“Normally yes, but they were very good at erasing all the traces. The only thing that I could pick up was the cold—I think it was left as a challenge. What they have done requires a powerful mind and soul.”
Daniel felt very disappointed but didn’t say anything. The only consolation was that his father was safe in a sense. He had a feeling that Alverdine knew exactly what he felt.
“I will help you find your father, but I don’t think it can be done in a short period of time.”
“Now let’s decide what we are going to do with you,” said Alverdine, as if he had just finished one topic and was moving to the next one in a lecture.
“You can come with me or you can stay here. I think your father wanted you to live as a mortal. It’s your choice now. If you want to stay here, I can make sure you live in a nice home and are well taken care of.”
It was the first time Daniel had to make such a big decision, but it didn’t take long for him to make up his mind. Now that his father was gone, there was no point staying where he didn’t really belong.
“I’ll go with you,” he mumbled.
“Are you sure?” asked Alverdine.
“Er—yeah, I—I’m sure,” said Daniel.
“If it doesn’t work out, I can always come back and be a mortal, can’t I?” he asked on second thought.
“Yes you can, but it won’t be easy.” Alverdine seemed amused. “I think it’s time for us to leave, we have a long way to go.” With a wave of his hand, the tea tray disappeared.
They walked to the river outside of the town. The river was where Daniel spent a lot of time. It ran down from the mountains. The water was crystal clear. Trees covered both sides of the riverbanks. There were different kinds of fish living in the river and birds living in the woods. Daniel knew he was going to miss this place—it had been his home for as long as he could remember—but he knew somehow he was making the right choice.
“This suit is starting to bother me,” said Alverdine. The next moment, he was in a long robe. He drew out a sword the size of a pen from the robe and released it. It floated in the air and grew bigger and bigger until it reached the size of a small boat.
“Hop on,” Alverdine encouraged.
Daniel jumped on, afraid that his weight was going to bottom out the sword. Amazingly, the sword stayed in the air. Alverdine got on a second later.
“Hold my hand tight,” said Alverdine. “Here we go.”
The sword started at such a speed that Daniel almost fell off it; but at the same time, a wave of excitement rushed through his body. He had always wondered what it was like to be able to fly and to glide through the air like birds. He stretched out his free arm and felt the wind.
The river and the woods became smaller and smaller. The clouds were so close that he felt he could just reach out and touch them. Sunlight coming thought the clouds made things seem unreal. It was like he was underwater, and he was a dolphin cutting through the water. The air became colder and colder until his teeth began to chatter.
“I’m sorry,” Alverdine turned around. He murmured some charm, and the next moment Daniel felt like he was in a bubble and all the cold air was blocked out.
The sword picked up speed. Looking down, Daniel could tell that they were basically following the river. The view was so much different from high above. It was like he became bigger. Soon they were at the point where the river met the sea. And for the first time, Daniel saw the ocean. Above them was the vast sky that stretched on and on, and below them was the ocean as big as the sky. There was no limit. Daniel suddenly felt a wave of seasickness—it had nothing to do with flying over the sea; it was what was lying ahead—he knew that he was scared, even though he didn’t like to admit it.
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Author’s blog: 360.yahoo.com/gcgustopher