Mom was here now, and she was suspicious. Why was Aloysia so nervous? And why were Gina and Zack so dental-ad smiley? When Aloysia begged off dinner, Mom knew something was up.
“Can’t stay, eh,” the big woman explained. “Got an appointment to buy an antique dog sled from some Eskimos in Saskatchewan. Got to brush up on my Inukitut, eh.” Aloysia’s international antiquities business kept her constantly moving. As a result, she had no mailing address. Which made sense. But she also had no phone. Which made no sense. The Dore’s simply saw her when they saw her.
Aunt Aloysia kissed Mom goodbye, then walked with Zack and Gina to the front door. There, she grabbed them by the shoulders and spoke imperatively: “There’s magic in the world. And it’s waiting to be found!” She’d said these words a million times, but somehow this time was different—urgent—as if it were no longer a motto, but a mission.
The double moon disappeared half an hour after she left, and was replaced forthwith by Middleton’s mundane orb. Few people noticed. But Gina and Zack did.
Dad came home at 5:42. He was disappointed to learn about Aloysia’s hasty exit. His almost-handsome features crumpled, mirroring Mom’s pout. The Dore kids had never learned why Aunt Aloysia was so important to their parents (she wasn’t even a real aunt), or when or how they had met her. Momandad simply accepted her for who she was: a shooting star, a mystical breeze, a glimpse of Northern Lights. More than that, they seemed positively grateful for her.
Dinner was usually a talky affair. Not tonight. Momandad were morose (“She only wanted to see the kids!”) and Zack and Gina were silent, distracted. Mom suggested “a nice walk.” She always suggested a nice walk—her idea of a “nice walk” being only slightly slower than a Greyhound bus. And Dad always protested. Suddenly, the Children Who’d Forgotten How to Speak turned vocal: “Go! You’ll have a great time!”
The minute Momandad left, Gina and Zack snuck the Map up to Gina’s room. It was too big for the toy chest, so they, i.e. Gina, decided it would live in Gina’s room. They rolled it open in the big ex-Barbie space next to Gina’s bed.
It was made of thick, yellowed parchment, badly worn at the edges. The real surprise was that it wasn’t complete. It was nearly six feet tall, but had been torn down the middle so that its original width was uncertain. The whole map might have been as much as nine or ten feet wide; the portion they had was only about five.
It depicted a place, places really, with names like Gar (North) and Sur (South) Kellan, Smensk, Gerd, and Frenga. It was decorated with images of mythical creatures: dragons, sea monsters, trolls, genies, and more. Elevations were marked in “murs” and distances in “quamtomurs.” And in the lower left-hand corner was a lavish coat of arms with the legend…
The Ten Kingdoms of Ismara.
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Thoughts: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” ~C.S. Lewis