Chapter 21: Shadowhood and The Sad King

So apparently, I’m a wizard.

A bona fide, wand-waving, magic-producing wizard. All I can do is hope that Richard never finds out. I can hear the Harry Potter jokes already.

Since I am aware of who I really am, I assume that I haven’t been Mr. Wizard for very long. I think that’s the way it works. And since we’ve been teleported into a time and place that seems like something from a Brothers Grimm story, I’ve decided to tell it like a fairy tale.

Once upon a time…

There was a wizard (me, of course). He is not the old kind of wizard, like Gandolf or Merlin, with a long, grizzled beard and impressive gnarled staff. Instead, he is rather young – in his forties, maybe, like my kids. The village folks refer to him as Shadowhood, as he always wears a long, hooded cloak which casts his face in shadow. Shadowhood lives alone in a cottage which was built for him by the last king of Allowyn, as payment for service.

Is Shadowhood a good wizard or a bad wizard? That’s hard to say. When he performed magic for good kings, then the people called him good. When he performed magic for bad kings, then the people called him bad. I wish that I could say that he has scruples; that he turned down orders that went against his own sense of moral judgment. After all, the idea of inhibiting the body of someone who might have, at times, played the villain, makes my skin crawl. If given the choice, I’d play Superman every time.

But Shadowhood has lived in a time of fear, when only the best, most courageous men dare to act against the king and risk the executioner’s axe. And Shadowhood is no more courageous than most.

The current ruler of Allowyn is King Frederick II. He is a kind and fair ruler, but is known by the nickname Frederick the Sad. This guy is a mushball. Don’t take me wrong – I’m all for men expressing their emotions. Why should women own the right to shed a few tears? But King Frederick is so melancholy, he could be a poster boy for Prozac, if Prozac had been a thing six hundred years ago. Even Jacko the Jester couldn’t bring a smile to His Majesty’s face, and Jacko was known as one of the most talented jesters to ever live at court.

King Frederick was not always down in the dumps. He was as cheerful and relaxed as a king could be, until something happened to trigger his unhappiness. At first, the people attributed the change in mood to his wife, Queen Margrethe, who is a lovely woman, but rather surly and sharp-tongued. But a lack of  marital harmony did not seem enough to explain his chronic sadness. Then, as time passed by, the reason became more clear.

The king and queen have only one child – a daughter, whom they named Lalia. Princess Lalia was blessed with great beauty, earning speculations that she would marry well, and bring great honor to the kingdom. Though she could not inherit the throne alone, as a woman, she would be able to rule side by side with her husband, and produce heirs who could claim the future throne.

However, there turned out to be one tiny snag in this great plan. Princess Lalia is mute. The child is gorgeous, but is quieter than the vacuum of outer space. More silent than six o’clock AM the morning after Mardi Gras.

Rumor has it that an evil witch from a distant kingdom held a grudge against King Frederick, and thereby cursed his only child. Not like the Sleeping Beauty curse where she would prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die, though. More like the Ariel curse where her voice was stolen. But still. Because of the curse, the king and queen have been unable to find an appropriate suitor to marry their daughter. They summoned young kings and earls and dukes from all over Christendom. But the story was always the same. The young man would be enchanted by Lalia’s beauty and attempt to woo her. But the moment he learned of her disability, and the cause of it, he would recoil in fear or disgust. Then Mr. Royal-face woud hop back on his white horse and ride off into the sunset. Alone.

And so, Princess Lalia is in danger of becoming the worst thing ever – an Old Maid, who will leave the royal family with no heirs. If this happens, then the kingdom of Allowyn may fall under the control of King Frederick’s lazy and treacherous younger brother, Cameron, who had been exiled to Denmark for plotting against the king. I guess I can see why this makes the king so depressed. Either that, or the witch’s curse just happened to sap him of his joy, too.

Whatever the cause, the entire kingdom now lives under the gray saltwater cloud hanging over the king’s head. And when Kingsey ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. Not even Jacko the Jester, whose one and only job is to make everybody merry.

The night that a page from the castle stops by to deliver an order from the king to come and see him at once, I know what I must do. I hop right on my horse, Styx. Then I ride toward the castle without delay. It’s not often a wizard gets the opportunity to play the hero and save the entire kingdom from despair and ruin. Maybe this will be my chance.


Chapter 20: Back to the Past


Now that I had completed my mission as Detective Hughes, it was time to complete my next mission, this time as Al Becerra. It was time to locate another missing person – a crotchety old man named Richard, currently disguised as…well, I had no idea. This town was full of freaks and weirdos and, apparently, mimes, and Richard could be any one of them.

Two weeks drag on after I’d located the missing girl who was really Melissa. But there are still no magical transformations of the townspeople I encounter. I do get a number of strange looks, though, as people wonder what I’m still doing hanging around in Raven Creek.

Believe me, I want to tell them. If I could snap my fingers and get out of here, then I would have done it already, with little Melissa by my side. But it doesn’t work that way. Apparently, the mysterious time machine phone booth thingy only shows up when the three of us are together.

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I had been avoiding my roomie, Lloyd, ever since discovering his true nature. Not to be a bigot or anything, but something about vampires make me kind of fear for my life. I prefer to keep my blood inside my own body, you know? But one evening, exhausted after another unsuccessful day of Richard-hunting, I collapse into a chair in the library. Lloyd is already there, absorbed in what looks like a cheesy romance novel, the kind that women buy on impulse for five bucks while picking up bread and milk at the supermarket.

“Good book?” I ask, trying to make polite conversation. Lloyd just grunts and doesn’t bother looking up from the page.

That’s when it happens.

The air around him blurs for a second, shimmering like heat waves on a hot day. Then Lloyd isn’t Lloyd anymore. Richard is seated on the sofa, staring down at the book through his wire-rimmed glasses.

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“Oh my god!” I exclaim. Richard, who is Lloyd again, looks up, startled. “You—you’re…” I stammer.

Richard/Lloyd sighs. “I know, I know. You’ve finally figured out my secret. But listen, if it helps, I have no interest in drinking your blood. It has an odd, garlicky scent to it.” He wrinkles his nose in disgust.

“No. I mean, you’re Richard! It’s me, Al!”

Richard stares back, unblinking. Then his face lights up with recognition. “Well if it isn’t Alonso!” he says, grinning. Then his expression changes to one of horror. “Wait – you mean to tell me I’m a vampire?” He looks down at his freakishly pale skin.

“Yeah,” I say. “That must suck.”

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That same night, we head over to the orphanage and kidnap Philippa again. Only she’s really Melissa, of course. She has this unexplainable feeling that the three of us should go back to the toy store. And good thing we listen to her, because there’s the phone booth, waiting for us.

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“Remember to focus, boys,” Melissa urges us as she climbs into the booth. “Concentrate on home, okay? We’re somewhere in the future, so think of the past, and maybe we can rewind the clock to where we belong.”

We both agree, and Melissa disappears in a flash of purple light. When it’s my turn to step into the booth, I close my eyes and focus on rewinding the clock. As it had each time before, the booth spins and spins, then shudders to a stop. Then everything goes dark.

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When I come to, I can tell right away that it worked. The booth had transported me to the past. Only problem – from what I can tell, I am now very, very far in the past.

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