Top Hat and Wand

Jack and the Magic Hat Maker

CHAPTER ONE – JACK

2017 Present Day

The memory was fuzzy, like looking at a photo through grease-smudged reading glasses. There was something there, just beyond his grasp, that he couldn’t quite bring into focus. Faces he strained to remember. They came to him most often in dreams, when he was sleeping. A presence and a warmth would wash over and fill him with a sense of comfort and belonging unfamiliar to him in his waking life. Fleeting images of love and laughter and family. And then, just as quickly as they appeared, they were abruptly ripped away from him. It was overwhelming.

These memories didn’t happen every night. They were sporadic and he wasn’t quite sure what triggered them. But sometimes, like this night, he’d awaken with a jolt, hyperventilating, heart pounding, his dark hair soaked with perspiration and bed clothes clinging to every inch of his scrawny, preteen body. It could take several minutes just to get his breathing back under control. And more recently a new sensation had amplified the experience. His hands tingled. No, burned. Intensely. Not in the same way your arm might feel if you’ve been resting your head on it, in one position, for too long. No, this was different. Normally the feeling would fade as he came to a fully awakened state and he’d almost forget about it as the day wore on. Until the experience repeated itself. But he knew, without a doubt, that whatever prompted these episodes most assuredly must also be the source of his chronic asthma attacks.

Jack sat up now, gasping for air, and turned on the night-light located on the small make-shift table next to his bed. Scrambling for the inhaler he always kept close at hand, he shoved it into his mouth and depressed the nozzle, inhaling long and deep. He breathed in a sufficient dose of the medicine and it had the desired effect. Exhaling a sigh of relief, he put it back in it’s place and reached for a sip from the water bottle sitting next to him.

It had been eight years since his parents died in that damn accident. And he knew that no matter how much time passed, he would never get over the loss.

Reaching again to the table, he pressed the button on his smart phone to check the time and discovered it was only 3:10 am. Too freaking early to get up. But he was wide awake now, so what ya gonna do? He threw back the dingy white sheet and thin plaid blanket covering his bed then swung his feet out and onto the cold concrete floor. Glancing back to his mobile device he thought how lucky he was to have it, even if the only reason Uncle Eamon and Aunt Lizzy sprung for it was to keep tabs on him 24/7. They made sure it had just enough minutes so that he couldn’t really use it to make personal calls. But he could text, and that was something. At least it had a clock and a camera. And a CALCULATOR! Now, that right there, was the bomb!

Picking up the phone, he turned it on and tapped the icon for the calculator displayed prominently on the start screen. Working with numbers delighted him! In the same way some kids could get sucked into a video game, Jack could punch in calculations, working out formulas, for hours on end and before he knew it the day was over. So it was completely natural for him to delve deeply into some complex problem, and forget about the world around him, which is what he did now.

Bling! Jack was startled out of his happy, mathematical delirium. “Who would be texting me at this hour of the morning?” He asked himself as he swiped down the glass to see who had the nerve to disturb him at such an ungodly time of day. Bart. “What in the world was Bart doing up at?” He shifted his gaze to view the time in the upper right corner of the phone and was astonished to find it was already 6:30 am. Rubbing his eyes and shoving his fingers through the longer-than-usual, slightly-greasy bangs to get them out of the way, he resumed reading the text. “Meet me at Pop’s a few minutes early? There’s something I wanna show you!”

“Old Town China Town – Northwest 2nd and Davis” The prerecorded woman’s voice announced over the intercom system.

Jack stuffed his phone into his jacket pocket and stood to grab hold of the handrail as the MAX car slowed, with a screech and a jerk, to a stop. When the doors slid open he dashed out, sprinted to the corner, and looking both ways, ran across the street. He could already see his friend, a block further down the road, waving enthusiastically in his direction.

A little taller, and about twenty-pounds chunkier than Jack, Bart was, he thought to himself, “a bit of a dork.” But that was one of the things he liked best about him. Standing there, shifting back and forth from one foot to the other, Bart was dressed in typical Portlander gear; red Converse tennis shoes, white cotton ankle socks, crunchy-looking khaki Cargo shorts that came down to his calves, and a striped t-shirt. And of course, he also had on a forest green ball-cap with a bright yellow “O” pegging him as a Ducks fan. Shaggy bits of sandy-colored hair escaped from under the hat and almost completely covered his eyes and ears. As Jack came closer he could see thin white cords dangling from Bart’s ears and disappearing into his right front pocket.

“Hey! What took you so long?” Bart shouted as he moved to meet him at the corner. “I’ve been here for ten minutes already,” he said, motioning for Jack to follow him.

“There was some holdup at The Square,” Jack said, readjusting the strap from the backpack slung over his left shoulder as they walked. “It probably would’ve been faster if I’d just gotten off the train and headed over on foot. But I’m here now. What’s so exciting that we have to meet before school?”

Bart was already standing in front of the familiar destination. Flanagan’s Hobby Shop was owned by his dad and it was their favorite hang-out. The two boys spent most days, after class, helping in Bart’s family store. In exchange “Pop” would pay them a small weekly allowance for their assistance, which was a good deal for him since most of that money just ended up getting spent on some cool new item in the store.

Grabbing hold of the key on the ring at the end of the purple plastic, spiral band he always wore around his left wrist, Bart inserted it into the lock on the old, sage-green and glass door and opened.

“Just you wait, Jack! This is going to blow your mind!” Bart said as he walked in and flipped the light switch on the wall just inside. Flooding the long, narrow space the light revealed floor-to-ceiling shelves lining the walls on either side of the shop, each one filled to overflowing with magical looking merchandise of all shapes and sizes. Art kits, race car, hot-rod, and airplane models to assemble, tiny, square glass bottles of brightly colored paints in every shade of the rainbow, glues, and tools, and books, and wooden boxes filled with X-acto knives… Jack loved being here! This special, little shop made him feel he had been transported to another place and time. A place that stimulated his imagination and the cares of the world withered away, leaving him only with dreams of possibility.

Bart confidently made his way to the back of the store where a thick, burgundy drape hung from the top of the door-frame, down to the floor. Jack glanced at the “Employees Only” sign posted on the wall to the right of the opening, before following him through and into a part of the shop very few people were permitted to see. Walking past large work benches in the center of both sides of the room, and more shelves crammed to the gills with all kinds of supplies, they passed a dark, open staircase leading down to…Jack didn’t really know where…before Bart came to a stop in front of an old mahogany door. He turned to look at Jack, with a twinkle in his eye. “You know Pop keeps his private office locked. But he told me it’s ok if I take you in to show you this thing he found last night.” He spun back around and inserted the same key into the lock and turned the knob. There were no windows in this part of the building, so it was pitch black inside, the only illumination coming from the outer office, as Bart walked to the far side of the room. There he fumbled for the switch on a green glass and brass lamp sitting on top of an old, roll-top desk. Turning it on he motioned for Jack to join him. “Close the door behind you, just in case.” He said, and Jack complied before walking to stand next to his friend.

“Dude, what’s all the mystery about?” Jack asked. “You make it seem like your dad has some kind of national treasure hidden back here, or something.” And he laughed, nervously.

“Well, that’s not such a stretch.” Bart said as he lifted the lid on the wooden desk to reveal the inner surface, drawers, and cubby-holes of the thing. There, sitting in plain view, was a shiny, golden telescope. Jack could see that there were lots of unusual symbols engraved all over the exterior of it and wondered what they could mean. Picking the treasure up, carefully, and holding it nimbly in both hands, Bart turned to face Jack. “My dad thinks this…”, he started, a little too dramatically for Jack’s taste, “might have belonged to Joseph “Bunko” Kelly.” His eyes widening, for emphasis.” Jack stared back at him with a blank, inquisitive look on his face. “And whooooo…is that, precisely?” he asked, lifting his chin slightly to the right. Bart appeared shocked. “What? You’ve never heard of the “kidnapping king of Portland?” I can’t believe my ears!” He said, setting the glass back down on the desk, momentarily. “You know this shop sits right on top of the old Shanghai Tunnels, right?” He didn’t really wait for Jack to respond, but hurried on. “Well, Bunko Kelly is only the most famous kidnapper of them all. He supposedly smuggled over two-thousand guys out of this place.” He finished and turned to once again pick up the telescope. Looking at Jack, he held it out in his direction. “You wanna check it out?”

“Wow…and your dad really thinks this thing might be his?” Jack asked, reaching to take hold of it. He placed his right hand on the telescope and “Boom!” instantly, a burning sensation shot, like a lightening-bolt, up his arm, filling his head with a blaze of light that electrified his brain and blinded him to his current environment. Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, he was looking out across a massive expanse of midnight blue water, salt-air filling his nostrils, his feet steady but unfamiliar as the slippery surface on which he stood rocked violently back and forth with the movement of the waves. Looking down to his hands he could see the telescope, grasped in both of them, but to his surprise, those weren’t HIS hands he was gazing at. They were much larger than his own, and older, with hair on the knuckles, and a gold ring with a big, black stone was displayed prominently on the ring finger of the left hand.

He dropped the telescope at once and immediately found himself back in Bill’s office, standing next to Bart, who was frantically shaking his right arm.

“Jack! Jack! What the hell?!?”

Copyright ©2016-2018 Tracy Partridge-Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.