Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter Two: Aunt Aloysia
Previously: Once the “startlingly large, alarmingly red-headed woman” arrived in Middleton, everything began to change.
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“We really do have a lovely home.” The two-person entity known as Momandad said this at least once a week, and it was true. There was a huge cedar tree in the front yard with a swing that went so high you could kick the moon. The back yard smelled of grass and dirt, and a million smoldering birthday candles.
The house was old, but in a white-slat-boardy, red-chimneyfied way. It was warm and lived in, with talkative floorboards and walls full of smiling off-color relatives; Gina and Zack sometimes felt that the house itself actually loved them.
The hands on the clock were feebly dragging themselves forward. Barely past ten, and the air was as thick as creamed corn. Gina was stretched out in the big open space that had appeared next to her bed when her Barbie things suddenly turned stupid and had to be gotten rid of a few years back. She was reading The Hobbit for the eighth time, and wishing she was in Middle Earth instead of Middleton.
“I’ll move to the hallway,” Gina thought aloud. “Maybe it’ll be different there.”
Zack wheeled into the driveway, cut a sharp turn, and hit the strategically-placed wooden ramp between the house and garage. El Furioso flew seven feet before its thick knobbly tires smacked down and skidded to a halt in front of the bike rack. Zack was through the mud-room door before his faithful steed had even settled into place.
Five seconds later, he streaked up the stairs and leaped over Gina en route to Zackland. Neither of them said a word.
Zack’s bedroom had massive quantities of boyness: there were interesting things that had broken and been thrown out by neighbors, plastic hamster tunnels of mind-boggling complexity (all of Zack’s hamsters either became world-class explorers or were never heard from again), and a veritable Gotham of stacked comic books.
And then there was the “toy chest,” a huge box made from dark Spanish olivewood. It had heavy hinges and a dramatically over-sized iron latch, and weighed more than most family cars. It had been given to Zack and Gina by Aunt Aloysia. Its purpose was to house the Objects, or, as Dad sometimes joked, “To keep them from escaping.” Momandad persisted in calling them toys, but they weren’t. They were what Aunt Aloysia referred to as “objets mystére.” She’d given them to the children at the rate of one a year starting just before Zack’s first birthday. There were twelve in all.
No two were alike. Some were sharp and weapon-ish and covered with indecipherable runes, others were strangely beautiful. One that Zack particularly admired was a complicated springy-hingey thing that no one could figure out; he was also partial to a heavily riveted bronze football with dozens of mouth-like spouts.
Gina had two favorites: a burnished lavender hour glass filled with a silvery blue substance that might just as easily be ectoplasm as sand; and a letter opener wrought from some exquisite purple-gold metal, intricately engraved and set with jewels that looked like they were made from fire.
The toy chest was in Zack’s room for two reasons. First, because it was “massive and creepy.” (Gina) Which made it “extremely cool.” (Zack) Second, and mostly, because the objects continually moved around “all by themselves!” (Gina) “Yes!” (Zack) Zack had gotten used to it. Gina hadn’t.
Why the Objects did this and what they were for, no one knew. Dad said they had “some kind of hidden motors” and were “pretty darn clever.”
Aunt Aloysia said they would reveal their true purpose “when it was time.”
Half an hour after coming home, Zack opened his bedroom door. Gina was still in the hallway. He slinked over, squatted down, and offered a piece of paper to her back.
“I drew a new Zachary Zinn picture.” Pause. “I think it’s really good.” Pause. “But maybe it’s not.” Pause. “Maybe it’s really stupid.”
Gina hated it when Zack fished. In one continuous motion, she reached behind her, took the picture, placed it in front of her, scanned it, handed it back, and said, “Cool.”
Zack stared at her expressionless back—the art of non-communication perfected. Gina used to love his artwork, and told him so. All the time. Now she ignored him. All the time. All she ever said was, “Cool,” which meant roughly the same thing as a dial tone. Mixed emotions flittered across his face, then something broke, some dam of resentment that had been building for months. He sprouted a perverse little grin and said:
“And I touched a big, hairy dog!”
Gina instantly went into alarm mode. She was allergic to animal fur.
Now she’s paying attention! he thought. Before she could roll out of the way, he dove onto her back and began rubbing his hands all over her. She was the reason Zack had to have hamsters instead of dogs; he was only allowed to have small animals that lived in cages, and had always suspected her of having allergies “on purpose.”
“Get off, Zack!”
The Dore home wasn’t exactly a hot-bed of violence, but Zack and Gina’s frustrations did sometimes take the form of aggressive play. This was one of those times. Zack would have insisted that he was only playing, but he wasn’t, he was ticked. He slathered Gina all over with hair cooties, braying:
“I have a flesh-eating disease! I have a flesh-eating disease!”
And like a fool, she laughed. She regularly alternated between wanting to hug him and wanting to squash him like a bug. At times he could be almost cool, at other times he’d go berserk, flailing his arms and making idiotic noises he thought were funny. The problem was that sometimes they were, so she would laugh, and then he would do the crazed dork routine another two hundred times!
But this outbreak may have been affected by something else, as well, something literally in the air. For the air around the Dore house had begun to shimmer like a mirage, and the Objects in Zack’s room…
had begun flailing and crashing around.
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Thoughts: What are the mysterious Objects in your life, the things or people whose purpose is still unclear to you?
To read The Wishing Map 7, click here!