Note: To read the Preface and Prologue to The Wishing Map first, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter One: The Double Moon
“Zachary Zinn rode like the wind on his faithful steed, El Furioso,” Zack narrated as he pedaled. Zachary Zinn wasn’t his real name, of course. It was his alter ego, a super-hero with a crooked grin and muscles like veiny boulders, disguised as an ordinary kid, who bore a striking resemblance to Zack. El Furioso was the winged, midnight-black demon stallion Zinn had saved from Hell.
Zack had been drawing pictures of ZZ and Fury for two years. One day he’d publish his first comic book, and the rest would be history. In the meantime, he was Zachaeus Elliot Dore, named for the shortest guy in the Bible.
To Zack, imagination was everything, and pretend was the fountain through which imagination sprang to life, but recently that fountain had sprung a serious leak and now he was desperately trying to repair it. That was why he was pedaling so intently toward Minzer Reservoir. Laced with wispy upside down clouds floating in sky blue water, surrounded by the green-souled Kleemuk Hills, Minzer Reservoir was truly beautiful, but that wasn’t why Zack was headed there. It was because he hoped to find kids younger than himself to play with.
For the skeleton in Zack’s cupboard was that he still loved to pretend—deeply, desperately loved it. But when you’re almost thirteen, the list of guys your own age that are willing to play make-believe starts getting painfully short.
Zack’s mid-life crisis had begun a month ago when his best friend, a middle school giant named Arman Artunian, left for Armenia. “I gotta go hang out with foreigners I’m supposed to be related to,” Arman had complained. And now Arman, whom Zack had never passed more than two days without seeing, was gone—for nearly four months. It might as well be forever.
Zack was lost in thought, his principal address lately, as he pedaled down Third Street past Mike’s Bikes: Sales and Service that hot June morning…which may be why he failed to notice that the normally cheerful one storey blue and yellow building that housed Mike’s Bikes had just risen six feet off the ground and was beginning to twist and maw at the air like a voracious cinderblock shark.
It should not have been able to do this, of course, but there it was, salaciously sucking in everything around it: manicured boxwoods, sleek Euro bike racks, a passing cat. Its entrance awning flailed like a blue and yellow striped tongue, its tinted doors gnashed like big glass bicuspids. It was furious—furious because something had escaped its jaws.
That something was a startlingly large, alarmingly red-headed woman who’d passed under the awning just a moment before. She was tightly clutching what looked like a worn, rolled up carpet, and seemed intent upon preserving it at all costs. “Hah! Missed me!” she shouted as she hurried on.
At first the three other passersby simply stared, then one screamed, another walked into a juniper bush, and the third, an elderly lady from South Carolina, managed to faint. A passing driver in a pink Maxwell Florists van swerved, but then adjusted his mirror, cursed its “&#!?>!*%! wobbly bolts,” and drove on.
The startlingly large, alarmingly red-headed woman, now a building away, turned to chiropractor Marc Neitterbaum as he entered his office and said, “Sorry.”
Dr. Neitterbaum blinked and mumbled, “Mmm-hmm.” He hadn’t seen a thing.
The entire incident lasted less than a minute. As quickly as it happened, it simply un-happened. Mike’s Bikes shuddered as if awakening from a nightmare, wafted listlessly down onto its foundation, and went back to sleep. The building’s human contents—Stu-the-Bike-Repairman and two wiry guys in tight checkered shorts—like travelers in a large passenger jet, had only felt a minor rumbling. Doors, shrubs, bike racks, and cat were all returned to their rightful places, and none seemed worse for the wear, although the cat hissed at anything that came near it for the next several days.
Of the three passersby, the man who’d screamed swore off coffee forever, the woman who’d walked into the juniper bush started regularly wearing her glasses again, and the old lady from South Carolina made an immediate appointment for an adjustment with Dr. Neitterbaum. Within the hour, all were convinced nothing had happened. Because if there was anything the citizens of Middleton knew for certain, it was that if you can’t explain a thing—it didn’t happen.
The red-headed woman, whom no one recalled having ever seen before, hurried quickly on. And Zack Dore, who by now was five blocks south, had missed the entire thing. Still, he felt more certain than ever that Middleton would never again be…
An eight-minute-long town.
⇔ ⇔ ⇔
Thoughts: “If you can’t explain a thing—it didn’t happen.” And yet…
To read the next episode of The Wishing Map, click here.