Thursday, February 2, 2012

Revising -vs- Re-Writing -vs- Editing

I'm hard at work with polishing up The Door to Justice, but I don't want to go too long between blog posts. So today, I'll talk about what's on my mind... the process of preparing a book for final publication.

A question occasionally arises in writing workshops about the difference between revising, re-writing, and editing.  These three things are all vital to putting out a quality manuscript, and while they may seem similar, each has its own place in the process.

Revising and re-writing are very, very similar.  Revising means going through your manuscript and adding things, subtracting things, and making changes to the existing work.  Changing the wording of a phrase or a paragraph doesn't constitute re-writing.  It falls firmly in the revising camp.  Adding a passage to flesh out a character, or adding to a paragraph, or even adding in new scenes, all qualify as revising.

Re-writing, however, implies tossing out entire sections and going back to outline or original idea.  Say there's a section, chapter, or even a large passage that you just aren't happy with.  Sometimes, you just have to toss out what you've done, examine what the intent is for that part of the story, and start over.  Maybe you revised something from an earlier part of the book, and the next chapter no longer fits with that.  In such a case, you might have to go back to your outline and make changes, and then write that part completely from scratch.

Editing actually encompasses several different things, depending on when and what you're editing.  There's what I consider general editing, which is always going on.  General editing is when you are looking for typos and grammatical errors, and correcting them.  I do this at every stage of the writing process.  But in addition to general editing, there's also content editing.

Editing for content is something I usually do in several stages. First, as I write my outlines, I go through and edit them on the fly, building the basic story until I'm satisfied that it's what I want it to be.  Then, after I've done a draft, my volunteer editors and I all read through what I've written, looking for inconsistencies and ways to make the story flow better.  This happens through several drafts of the book, and can encompass both revising and re-writing as part of it.

So, the difference between the three?  Revising is changing, adding to, and tweaking small parts, and/or adding sections.  Re-writing is scrapping something you've written and starting over.  And editing, the one that you might think sounds like the least of the three, actually encompasses the other two and adds the layer of looking for typos and grammar mistakes.

Confused yet?  Well, I'll boil it down a different way  What's the difference between the three?  Does it really matter?  As long as you're doing your best to tell your story the best way you can, making it flow well, and making sure there are as few errors (or none!) as possible, you're doing it right!

Monday, January 30, 2012

How about a sample?


Okay, folks, since I'm back and blogging again, I thought it was time to share a little bit of the work I've done.  Below, you'll find the prologue and first chapter to Gatehouse: The Door to Justice, book 2 of the Gatehouse series.  It should be fairly familiar, as there have been mostly minor tweaks, but that's the nature of editing and revising... a word here, a phrase there, adding something to make it work with later parts of the book, you know the drill.  I may share further passages as I go along... although I'm planning on doing so sparingly, since I want the keep some of the surprises I have in store close to the vest!


Oh, and don't forget, you can get your copy of Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin by clicking the link to the left or at the bottom of this page. Available in paperback, or Kindle ebook.  For other versions (Nook, Kobo, iPad, etc) just search the title at http://www.smashwords.com or at the Apple iBookstore!


Prologue


Beamer panted with exertion as she skidded around the corner into the shadowed alcove. Without pausing, she squeezed herself between a pair of drainage pipes and huddled back into the darkness. The sound of booted feet was a cacphony on the street behind her.
She cringed as the squad rounded the corner, and held her breath as the squad leader divided his men into two groups. The man gestured silently, the light from the single streetlamp reflecting from his visored helmet. And then the men were gone, off in search of the so-called "dangerous runaway”. With a gasp of pure relief, Beamer pushed her way back into the alley and started toward the street.
Breaking curfew was stupid, and she knew it. But what choice did she have? The Conclave had her scans; she was on the grid now. She’d hidden her abilities for as long as she could, but the sixteen year examination couldn’t be avoided. Her only choice now was flight, or being sent off to the Conclave satellite for training. And she’d made the only choice she could, skipping her indoctrination meeting and going to ground.
But a ray of hope had finally come. The message had been very explicit. This was her one and only chance to escape. The rebels wanted her, and despite what most people thought, she knew that the only safety to be had lay with them. And the only chance to fight back. The only chance to get a little bit of payback for her family.
They’d taken her sister two years ago. Her abilities had been minor, they said, but it didn’t matter… metas joined the Conclave. Period. And then, just six months later, the letter came explaining that Dierdre had died in a training accident.
No apologies, no condolences. Just a note, and a reminder that Beamer must submit to her sixteen year examination to determine if she had also inherited a meta ability.
Beamer’s mind raced as she made her way through the back alleys of New Utopia. What kind of idiot would join the Conclave willingly? There were some, of course. People who thought it would be some kind of adventure to become a state-sponsored hero. People who were overjoyed to discover some hidden talent that would get them into the Conclave, get them a better life than all the normals in the world. But they were the blind ones, the ones who didn’t really understand what was going on.  They were the ones who hadn’t heard the rumors…
Beamer halted and pressed herself against the wall. Had she heard a footstep off to her left? Were they narrowing the search, about to corner her? She waited for what seemed an eternity, but the sound didn’t come again. She glanced left and right, getting her bearings. Unless she was mistaken, she was about two blocks from the rendezvous.
She had to be there, and on time, or else the rebels would disappear. She’d never get a second chance. Moving away from the wall, Beamer trotted toward the end of the alley, planning a circuitous route to her meeting.
Jessica Bemen,” said a deep voice from above and behind her, and Beamer whirled in surprise. “You failed to appear for your indoctrination. Stay where you are, and this will go much easier for you.”
Beamer’s gaze rose slowly to the figure hovering above the grimy alley. Her heart beat a stuttering rhythm in her chest as she realized this was no mere Home Guard thug. It wasn’t even a simple Enforcer, bad as that would have been. As recognition dawned, she found herself unable to think, unable to control herself, as she unconsciously backed away from the hovering form. For his own part, the man calmly began to descend to ground level, a stern look on his face, his arms crossed over his chest.
“I… I won’t go,” squeaked Beamer, and was instantly ashamed of her fear. She squared her shoulders, summoning up all her courage. “I don’t want to go!”
“You have no choice, Jessica,” said the man. His uniform fit snugly, the leather padding tight across the chest, the shining silver buttons up one side of the breast sparkling in the dim light. Unlike most of the Conclave, he wore no mask. He didn’t need one. Overlord had no need to hide his true identity. Overlord was his true identity.  He kept his voice soft and level, approaching Beamer slowly. “It’s for the best, you know. You’ll be happier once you have a chance to think about it. And you’ll be useful, Jessica. You’ll be important.” He held out his hand to her.
“It’s Beamer,” she replied, suddenly irritated despite her awe. She cleared her throat, straightening to her full height, and started again. “You can call me Beamer.”
As she looked around for a means of escape, she felt a thrill of confidence. She suddenly knew, deep down, that Overlord didn’t really know what she was capable of.  A small smile grew as she made her decision.
“I don’t know why you came after me yourself, why you’re here and not some Enforcer. But you people killed my sister. Do you really think I’m just going to go with you?” With that, Beamer turned and leaped for the light of the nearest streetlamp, shouting, “Catch me if you can!”  As soon as she crossed the threshold, her body seemed to transform, becoming a part of the light itself, and then a brilliant streak shot off toward the east like a laser.
Her escape had taken only seconds. She came to rest, kneeling, and let the glow fade away around her. She hoped that she’d been fast enough, and that she’d been able to get far enough away. She couldn’t suppress a tingling sense of triumph. She’d escaped from Overlord! He was… he was… well, he was the greatest of the Conclave, the most powerful. He was Overlord!
But even he couldn’t follow her at the speed of light, halfway around the world. There was no way he could! Rising to her feet, she began to run quickly down the street from where she’d landed, trying to judge her surroundings. She wasn’t sure where she was, but she knew it was farther than she’d ever gone before. She had landed between two buildings in a city she didn't recognize. Many of the structures looked very old fashioned and… what was the word her mother used so often? Quaint, that was it. Some of the buildings looked quaint, but there was a strange sense of ultra-modern to others. Her best guess was that she’d left New Utopia and the entire Jersey/York Conglomerate far behind. For all she knew, her panicked flight had taken her to another country, maybe even overseas! She glanced at her watch, and realized that her rendezvous was already past. She’d missed it.
It didn’t matter. She’d have to do without the rebels, at least for now. The important thing was not to be found, not to be taken away. The important thing was simply to escape.
And she’d gotten away from Overlord!
Without warning, a hand shot out of the shadows and grabbed her wrist.
“It’s no use, Jessica,” said Overlord, his voice soft, almost kind. “You know you’ve got to come with me. You can’t escape. I’ll always find you. We have to teach you how to use your powers, and how not to. You’re going to be a hero.”
Overlord pulled her closer to him, forcing her to look into his eyes. “Be calm,” he said, forcing his way into her thoughts. “Be calm. Don’t resist.” Beamer’s struggles weakened as his eyes bored into hers. “Sleep, Jessica. When you wake, all that came before this will have been a bad dream, and everything will finally make sense to you.” Beamer’s struggles finally ceased, and her body went limp. Overlord gently lifted her into his arms, stepping out into the open.
“Skywatch,” he said, thumbing the communications toggle in his glove. “One for transport, my current coordinates. Immediate stasis upon arrival.” He laid Beamer’s limp form at his feet, and then stepped away as her body began to glow. With a shimmer, she faded from sight.  “Get her registered in the system  Code name…” He hesitated.  “Code name Lightray.  Let’s give her a fresh start.”
“Target retrieved,” said a rasping voice in Overlord’s ear. “Want me to beam you up too?”
“Negative,” Overlord replied. “I want to take a patrol lap before I head back. I haven’t put in enough live appearances lately, and I think it’s best if I’m seen every once in a while. Besides," he said, glancing at his surroundings with a smile, "I haven't been to Europe in ages. I’ll fly up in half an hour or so. For now, just make sure her stasis is secure, and that she’s not exposed to light. I really don’t want to have to catch her again.” And with a quick leap, Overlord sped off through the air, the roar of his passage rattling the windows of Old London as he flew.




Chapter 1


Wes wandered the woods behind his grandparents’ house, a stout limb serving as a walking stick. He felt at peace out here, wandering in the silence. He walked without a care in the world, just enjoying the day. It had surprised him how easily he had slipped back into his life. After what he’d been through, the daily monotony of school had been a welcome break.
Homework still grated on him, but it didn’t seem quite as distasteful as it once had.  It had taken him only four days to catch up on his late assignments, once he got down to it. The impossible task of dealing with teachers, tests, homework, and other students had turned out to be a minor inconvenience in comparison to… well, in comparison to fighting a dragon.
He’d managed to keep up with the rest of his homework for the semester, too. Mrs. Jensen in particular had been surprised by his report on the sextant, especially when he’d brought his own in for demonstration. What had she called it? ‘An articulate and well-documented explanation on the art of celestial navigation.’ An A+! He still had barely squeaked by with a C+ for the class, but it was a passing grade. Passing grades in all his classes, as a matter of fact. That alone had been a shock to his father’s system!
Not everything was better, of course. Three months without playing the trumpet had taken its toll. He’d been challenged twice, and dropped down all the way to fourth chair. Somehow, though, that didn’t seem like such a devastating thing. He’d practiced a lot, and was already back to his former skill level, maybe even surpassing it.  He hadn't bothered challenging for position, though.  It just didn't really seem all that important.
Wes looked up to see Jack walking up the slope opposite him.  Wes was amused to see his cousin with a silly grin on his face, lost in his own thoughts.  Jack was kind of a space cadet sometimes, but Wes had to chuckle at the look on his face.  He must be excited about graduation tomorrow.  Jack was eighteen, but he and Wes still had a lot in common despite their age difference.  With Wes spending so much time with his grandparents, and Jack living just down the road, it was only natural they'd hang out. They used to get on each others’ nerves a lot, but that had changed as Wes got older.  Especially these last few weeks.  Wes waved his arm in the air to get the other boy’s attention.
“Hey, Wes,” called Jack, working his way toward him.
“Hey, Jack, what’s up?” Wes stopped and waited patiently for his cousin to struggle up the steep slope.
“Grandma said you were down here. She said to tell you to get your butt back up there for dinner, it'll be ready in an hour.”
“That’s cool. What are we having?”
Jack made a sour face. “Stroganoff. Mom’s cooking.”
Wes smiled. “Sounds tasty. I’ll be up in a little while.”
“You want to go up and play some video games? I got the new Duty Calls map pack last week.”
Wes thought about it for a moment, but shook his head.  “Nahh,” he said. “I think I’ll just walk around for a while. It’s nice out today.”
Jack fell in beside him. “Yeah, it is. Where we headed?”
“Nowhere in particular,” Wes replied. Jack seemed to have something on his mind, but Wes figured he’d let the older boy get around to it on his own. They walked along side by side through the dense woods in silence. It wasn’t long, though, before Jack finally spoke.
“You know,” he said, “you’ve changed some lately. You used to be kind of a punk.”
Wes laughed out loud. “Yeah, I suppose I was.”
“See, that’s what I mean,” said Jack. “You’d have thrown a fit if I said something like that a few weeks ago.”
“I guess I’m growing up.”
“About time,” the older boy said, chuckling. “Heard you picked your grades up. Mom said you passed all your classes, even made it out of a couple of them with B’s. You haven’t gotten in any trouble lately, and I never hear about you and your dad fighting anymore.”
“Dad and I… eh, well, things have changed. We have an understanding.” Wes smiled. “Things are good between us these days.”
“Well, I’m glad,” Jack looked uncomfortable. “I’m not trying to tick you off or anything, or get in your business, but Mom was kind of worried about you guys. I used to hear her and Dad talking about it a lot.”
“I know. It’s okay. Some stuff happened, and Dad and I worked a lot of things out.”
“That’s good. You know, you’re almost tolerable nowadays.” Jack gave Wes a grin.
“Thanks,” Wes replied sarcastically, but with a good natured smile, and they continued on for a while without conversation.
As they trudged up a hill, Wes felt a peculiar sensation and came to a halt. There was a pulling in his mind, as if he were being led somewhere.  It was a familiar feeling somehow, and he shivered.
"What's wrong?" asked Jack.
And then it was gone, and Wes shrugged. "Nothing.  I just felt a..."  He glanced around, but the feeling was gone.  "I don’t know.  Déjà vu, I guess."  He began walking again, and Jack again fell in beside him.
Jack looked around with a melodramatic look on his face.  "Maybe it was the ghost of the woods..." He affected a creepy voice, and Wes chuckled.
And then they crested the top of the hill, and Jack stopped dead in his tracks.
“Um… where did that come from?” Jack looked around with a confused expression. “That wasn’t here before.”
Wes stood looking down into the hollow below, his expression grim.
“Go home, Jack,” he said.
Jack ignored his cousin, totally engrossed in the view below.
“How did a house get out in the middle of the woods without us knowing?” He looked around for a moment. “Wait… where are we? This doesn’t look right.” He turned and looked back the way they’d come. “There should be another hill here. It leads up to the clearing, and then down to the pond.”
Wes let out a long sigh. “I can’t explain it. You won’t believe me. Just go on up and tell everybody I’ll be a little late for dinner.” Wes considered for a moment. “And tell my Dad to come out here. He’ll know what you’re talking about.” He turned and started toward the shack, and Jack quickly reached out to grab his arm.
“You know something,” he said accusingly. “What’s going on? Where are we? Where did that house come from?”
Wes jerked his arm away. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said. “Just go get my Dad. Please, just do it.” He quickly trotted into the hollow and up the rickety steps before Jack could stop him. Jack started to follow, but stopped in shock when the door to the old house opened of its own accord.
“No way,” he said. “You’re not going in there! Are you crazy?” Wes ignored him and disappeared inside the house as the door clicked firmly shut.
***
The house shuddered slightly as it felt the boy enter.
The other boy remained outside, the one that wasn’t supposed to be there, but he didn’t leave. Only a moment after the chosen boy entered, the second rushed to the porch and began pounding on the door.
This could be a problem. The house’s intellect was limited in its understanding of human interactions, but it knew that the second boy shouldn’t be there. It’s thought processes were far different from anything a normal person could conceive, but its overriding motivation was duty and responsibility, and it had a duty to keep its confines secure. That duty could be circumvented by sentiment, of course, such as the house’s decision to return the memory of the father of the chosen boy. But in this case, there was no doubt. The second boy should not be allowed inside.
The house turned its attention to other matters. While its intelligence and sentience were unfathomable in the conventional sense, its mind was incredibly vast and powerful. It maintained the doorways and kept them free of the influence of the Unnamed. It also controlled, at the Gatekeeper’s direction, when and where the house was accessible in the real world. It had failed in these duties before, but those had been isolated incidents, and they had worked out for the best in the end.
A sense of wrongness suddenly intruded on the house’s introspection. It slid its thoughts along the lines of force that controlled the doorways, moving down the endless hallways, trying to find the irregularity. In just moments, it discovered the source of its unease.
The house reached out to the Gatekeeper in order to alert him to the situation, but something blocked it from connecting with the Gatekeeper’s mind. The Gatekeeper was occupied in conversation with the chosen boy, but that would hardly keep the house from getting his attention. It tried again. The Gatekeeper remained frustratingly oblivious.
What to do? This was different than the last incursion by the forces of the Unnamed. There was no sinister presence, no intrusion into the house itself. But the fact that the Gatekeeper was walled off from the house was disturbing.
Something must be done, or it could be disastrous. Even now, the Gatekeeper was leading the chosen boy up the stairs and into the endless hallway. Time was growing short!
Perhaps… perhaps the second boy. The boy outside, who shouldn’t be there. Perhaps…
***
Wes entered the foyer, and a familiar sense of wonder embraced him. The house welcomed him like a Prodigal son. He smiled in spite of himself and entered the cozy sitting room.
“Ah, you’ve arrived!” said a pleasant voice from the hall, and Wes turned to see Pomander entering. The little man smiled jovially, his cheeks rosy, reminding Wes of nothing more than a tiny Santa Claus.
“Uh… yeah, I’m here,” said Wes. “I wasn’t sure if I should come in or not. I mean, after the last time…” He sighed. “I should wait for my dad.  I promised him…”
“Lad, you are the Gatehouse champion, not your father,” said Pomander with a wink. “And this time, I assure you, I am most definitely myself, and things will not be as harrowing as they were in Canellin.” He gestured toward one of the comfortable chairs.  “You must begin your training, Wes, and as much as you wish it might be otherwise, that does not include your father.”
Wes sat down, unsure of himself.  “He’s still my dad,” he said.  “After Canellin, he and I have been doing pretty good.  I just… I don’t want to screw that up.”  He shrugged.  “And besides, I still don’t really know everything that’s going on, or what it is I’m supposed to do.”
“My boy, that’s why you’re here,” said Pomander, taking the seat opposite Wes.  “You have responsibilities that are yours alone.  And I am simply doing my part to see that you are able to meet them.”
Wes looked away, uncomfortable.  “I get it.  So what's going on? Why are you here?”
“Because it’s time, my boy,” replied the little man. “Time to begin your education, now that we have the leisure to do so.”
Wes couldn’t help but grin. “That might not be as hard as you think,” he said, and he made a peculiar wrist-flicking gesture.  A pale ball of light appeared above his open palm.  “I kept the magic,” he said proudly.  “I kept what the Gatehouse gave me.”
Pomander frowned, peering at Wes.  “Of course you did,” he said, seeming confused.  And then realization dawned, and he laughed. “Of course, of course… I still forget that you haven’t been fully instructed in the ways of the Gatehouse, or your role as Champion.  The Gatehouse didn’t give you magic, my boy, it chose you because of the magic.  At least in part.”
Wes’s face fell. “I… I thought it was my adjustment for Canellin.  You know, ‘the Gatehouse adjusts,’ and all that.”
“When normal people go through the house, they get their adjustments, such as your father’s skill with a sword.  But you’re no normal person!” Pomander winked at the boy.  “You’re the champion. The Gatehouse chooses its champion  based on many factors, but one thing is always true. The  champion has inborn magical talent and power.  The magic is, was, and always will be in you. The only adjustment the Gatehouse makes to its Champion is to give him the language of the new world.”
Wes didn’t speak for a few moments, digesting this information. “I guess I didn’t think about it much,” he said finally. “It makes sense, though. I just… I don’t know, I thought something special had happened.”
“Something special did happen, my boy,” he said. “You saved me, Canellin, and the entire Gatehouse, all in a single adventure. Without training, you managed to save a world that would otherwise have fallen to evil, and to save the House from an incursion by the forces of the Unnamed.  A feat which, I must admit, has never occurred in all the history of the Gatehouse.”
Wes’s eyes narrowed.  “Which I wouldn’t have been able to do without Dad.”
Pomander sighed, obviously exasperated.  “You sell yourself short, lad!  You must accept this, and know it fully.  You are the Champion!  Your father was only with you in Canellin by happenstance!  However instrumental he might have been, the protection of the realms is your responsibility.  You cannot rely on your father in this!”
“So even after I promised him, I’m just supposed to go off and do what this time?  Wrestle trolls? Fight giants?”
“Ah, no, nothing like that at all,” replied Pomander, and he looked Wes in the eye. “It is simply time I began your training, as I intended to the night you first came here.  There will be no danger.  I simply want to take you to a place and show you the good that the Gatehouse Champion can accomplish.  A place that has felt the benefits of such a champion.  Tell me, do you like comic books?”
Wes was brought up short by the sudden change in direction.
“Um, yeah, I suppose,” he replied. “I mean, I read some comics, me and my dad both.”
“Wonderful! There’s a world waiting for you, one I think you’ll enjoy visiting. A world where a sizeable number of people have developed phenomenal powers, and use them for the betterment of humanity.”
Wes sat up straight, excited. “You’re talking about superheroes, aren’t you?” he said.
“Indeed,” replied Pomander, and he sat back with a mischievous smile.
Wes stood quickly. “What am I going there to do?”
“Sightsee,” said Pomander with a chuckle. “This is no mission fraught with peril, lad. This is a chance to experience another world without the onus of a difficult quest. This world was rescued from the clutches of Crowley, oh, fifteen years ago, relative to their frame of reference, although for me it was just a few short months before the House called to you. This will be a short, easy journey, something to enjoy!”  He winked.  “Something even your father couldn’t disapprove of.”
Wes sat back down. “So. Superheroes.” Wes chewed his lip. “And you’re coming with me this time?”
“Of course, lad,” the little man replied. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!  Visiting this world was to have been the beginning of your education.  Canellin got in the way, but there is no reason to change that now.”
Wes chewed his lip. If his father knew he was considering going off without him… But super-heroes!  This was too good a chance to pass up. “Let’s do it,” he said, grinning.  “Just promise me, the next time we meet, my dad comes along.  At least until he’s cool with all this.”
Pomander sighed in exasperation and shook his head. “Agreed,” he replied finally. “But whether he becomes ‘cool with it’ or not, it is your fate, and it is vital that you accept it of your own free will! You will not be forced, but you must understand the importance of your new calling!” At Wes’ reluctant nod, Pomander continued.  :Come along, we must begin.” He led the way up the stairs and into the endless hallway.
“There is less of a time differential than there is in Canellin, but we should be able to spend a few hours there and be back here in mere moments.  It will truly be like you never left.”
“How will we find the super-heroes?” asked Wes. 
“When we arrive, we will contact a man known as the Protector. I haven’t spoken to him in years, by his reckoning, but he will remember me.” He brought them to a halt after just a short walk, but when Wes looked back down the hallway, it seemed to go on forever in either direction.
“Here we are,” said the little man.  He opened the door to reveal the swirling nothingness behind it. “Are you ready?”
Wes smiled and walked forward without hesitation, entering the distorted entranceway and vanishing. Pomander smiled at the boy’s enthusiasm, and then stepped into the doorway…
And bounced off some unseen barrier, falling backward to sprawl across the floor with a startled yelp.
***
“Open up!” shouted Jack. “Wes! Let me in!”
Jack was starting to panic. When Wes had entered the house, his first thought was to go in after him and find out what was going on. This place made him nervous, but it was a mystery. Jack hated mysteries. He always needed to know the answers.
But when Jack had approached the door, it hadn’t repeated its trick of opening on its own. He’d tried the knob, but the door refused to yield. That’s when he started to get nervous. He pounded on the door wildly, but it wouldn’t budge.
Jack stepped back and thought furiously. He turned and ran down the steps and around to the side of the house to peer in a window. He froze, and then blinked and rubbed his eyes. What he was seeing made no sense. For a moment, it had seemed as if there were two rooms inside overlapping each other like a pair of superimposed images. One image was what he would expect, a tiny room filled with debris and cobwebs. The other had looked like a very large den with a fireplace and several comfy chairs. Wes had been seated in one, speaking to a small old man with a beard. But the image had only lasted for a second, and now the room was back to its cluttered and ruined version.
Jack tried to slide his fingers under the windowsill. He strained to lift it with all his strength, but to no avail. He moved on, trying every window he could reach, but none would open. He worked his way around to the porch again. After leaning against the railing for a moment to gather his thoughts, he pulled out his phone. He quickly sent a text to his mother’s phone and then trotted back up the steps.
“Wes!” he shouted, banging on the door with a closed fist. “Come on! You’re scaring me! Let me in!”
With a click, the door opened. Jack was caught off guard, but he didn’t hesitate long. He rushed inside, his only thought to find his cousin and get away from this crazy place.
Jack rushed through the foyer and into the large sitting room, and was caught by a strange sensation. There was a sense of relief, and welcome, and then of intense urgency that was almost painful. Jack fell to his knees as information began to flow into his mind. He felt himself losing control of his own thoughts, the sudden intrusion staggering him.  There was an undefinable sense of ‘otherness’ to it, as if his thoughts were no longer his own.
“I don’t… I can’t…” he gasped. “Danger? Crowley?” Jack shook his head, but it refused to clear. “Danger in the hall. Tampering with the portal. Stop them!”
Jack stood, all coherent thought driven from his head. He had to stop them! Without thinking, he rushed to the stairs and started upward.
As he reached the landing, Jack looked down the endless hallway. Off in the distance, he could see two small figures standing in front of an open door. He began to run down the hall just as one of the figures entered the doorway.
As he approached, he recognized the second figure as the small man he’d glimpsed through the window. The man stepped forward, but then recoiled from the entrance to sprawl in the floor as Jack reached his side.
“Stop!” shouted the boy. “Don’t go through!”
The little man looked up from where he lay, his eyes widening.
“Who are you? How did you get here?” The man struggled to his feet.
“Don’t go through the door!” said Jack. “There’s a…” he searched for the words, unable to understand how he knew what he was saying. “There’s a blockage! It’s been tampered with!” Once those words were spoken, Jack suddenly felt the intense urgency fade. His eyes cleared, as did his mind, and he looked down at the little man at his feet.
“What do you mean, a blockage?” asked the man. “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know,” said Jack. “Who are you? Where did Wes go?”
“He…” the little man paused, and then his eyes widened in sudden comprehension. “The House let you in! Oh, no. No, no, no!” He jumped to his feet. “You said the doorway was tampered with!” He closed his eyes and seemed to concentrate for a moment. His eyes snapped open, and his expression grew panicked. “And I can’t communicate with the house!”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about!” shouted Jack in frustration. “Where did Wes go? What’s going on?”
“He went through the doorway,” said the little man absently. “Oh, dear, this isn’t good. I’ve got to trace down whatever spell they used. I have to get through!”
Jack turned and looked at the swirling nothingness behind the doorway, and then back at the little man. His mind was still foggy, but he grasped that somehow Wes was in trouble. The little man seemed to have forgotten Jack’s presence. Jack backed away from him, too terrified to think clearly. Wes had gone through the doorway. Wes was in trouble.
Without another word, Jack turned and leaped into the swirling nothingness.
***
Jack stumbled as he felt solid ground beneath him again. An immense crash to his left startled him, and he whirled in that direction before catching his balance. He managed to keep his feet, but only barely. A few yards away, he saw what looked like a man made out of metal picking himself up out of a deep crater.
Jack, duck!” came Wes’s desperate shout, and Jack whirled again to see, impossibly, a wrecked car spiraling through the air toward him. His eyes widened, and he froze.
A weight slammed into him, and he flew off to the side just as the car came smashing down. Still unable to grasp what was happening, he turned his head to see Wes rolling off him into a tense crouch.
“Are you okay?” asked Wes, and Jack stared at him blankly for a moment.
“Y-yeah,” he said finally, slowly rising to his feet. He looked out over the scene of carnage they’d stepped into, awe replacing shock on his face. They were standing on a sidewalk near an intersection, the light poles and traffic signals hanging ruined at odd angles. Throughout the area, people were doing battle, but no kind of battle he’d ever expected to see. Men and women bounded, ran, tunneled, or flew around each other, trading vicious attacks.
“What’s going on?” asked Jack, his eyes wide. “Who are all these people? Where are we?”
“They’re superheroes,” said Wes. “Or at least, I think they’re supposed to be.”
“How did we get here?” Jack was struggling to control his panic, but it wasn’t going very well. “For that matter, where is here?”
“Get to cover,” said Wes suddenly, grabbing his cousin by the arm. He led Jack behind a truck, where they ducked down. Wes raised himself up to peer over the hood of the vehicle at the raging fight.
“I-I-I don’t get it,” stuttered Jack. “What’s happening? Where are we?”
“We went through a doorway,” said Wes unhelpfully giving Jack an accusing glance. “We’re on another world. I told you to go home!”
“Oh, like I’m gonna’ listen to you,” said Jack irritably. “What do you mean, we’re on another world?”
“It’s a long story,” replied Wes. “We’re not on Earth any more. We went through a doorway to another universe. I’m supposed to be training to be the Gatehouse champion. This was supposed to be a quiet trip!”
Jack shook his head in disbelief. “You’re crazy. This is crazy!”
“Oh, really?” said Wes in a harsh voice. “Does this look crazy?” He grabbed Jack by the shoulder and pulled him up to look over the hood of the truck.
Jack watched as a chubby kid, maybe eighteen or nineteen years old, sprang into motion. The boy’s speed was incredible! He ran first to the left, then veered right and around a big man in some kind of dark leather uniform. The big man tried in vain to stop the young speedster, shooting crimson bolts of energy from his outstretched palms, but the boy was too fast. He ran around in a blur, landing punches that staggered the uniformed man and seemed to infuriate him, until finally a blow connected just right, and the big man went down in a heap. The speedster skidded to a halt, looking around for an opponent, then zipped off in another direction.
And that was just one small battle. Everywhere Jack looked, men and women pummeled each other, sometimes trading blows, sometimes blasting at each other with fire or lightning or wind or even water and earth. Flying combatants swooped down on their landlocked opponents, snatching them up to carry them high into the sky and send them crashing to the ground. A huge man, his bare chest and face covered with deep scars wielded a broken light post as a club to fend off a winged flying assailant in the same dark leather as the man the speedster had felled. He swung the post wildly, but the winged man avoided the blows easily.
“This can’t be happening,” said Jack. He began to repeat those words over and over like a mantra.
“Snap out of it, Jack!” said Wes, grabbing his cousin by the shoulders. “We’ve got to do something!”
“Do something?” cried Jack, incredulous. “Do something? What are we supposed to do?”
“I don’t know,” replied Wes. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I don’t know who the good guys are here!”
Jack looked back over the hood of the truck, taking in the unfolding battle. The worst part of the scene was the people. Not the flying people, or the people shooting lasers out of their eyes or hands. It was the normal, everyday people who were scattered all around. Some of them were obviously dead, their bodies crushed or burned and left to lie in the streets. The casualties were horrendous! But there were others who weren’t dead, and what they were doing was hard to wrap his head around. They wandered here and there, usually not even trying to step aside as gouts of flame or hurled cars struck nearby. They just stumbled along, oblivious to the melee that was going on all around them.
And the fighting never lessened. Not a single combatant even seemed to hesitate before blasting at an opponent, even if one of those dazed onlookers was in the way.
Not everyone seemed to be oblivious to what was going on. Every once in a while, Jack would see a man or woman jump up and grab the arm of one of the dazed onlookers. Without words, the zombie-like person would be hurried off around the corner, just out of the battle zone, and then the Good Samaritan would be back, looking for another dazed bystander to steer away from the carnage.
“This isn’t how Pomander said it would be,” said Wes, turning away. “He said this place was supposed to be peaceful.” He looked over the hood of the truck again, and then grabbed Jack by the arm and yanked him upright. “We have to move!” He pulled Jack away just in time, as a blast of green energy struck the truck, which exploded in a shower of flame. Wes and Jack dived into an alcove, rolling as they fell.
“I’m guessing he made a mistake,” said Jack, groaning as he struggled to his feet.
“That’s an understatement,” said Wes.
Just then, Jack saw a young woman stumbling forward not far from where he and Wes hid, a crying baby in her arms. He watched in horror as she staggered between the huge, scarred man with the light post and his uniformed opponent. No one else seemed to notice her there, and she was oblivious to the danger. The scarred man raised his makeshift club for a mighty swing.
“Hey! Get out of there, lady!” Jack stepped forward, trying to get the woman’s attention, but it was no use. She stood there, dazed, as death approached. Without thinking, Jack sprang from the alcove and ran toward her. The scarred man swung his light post just as Jack collided with the woman. His weight knocked her to the ground a few feet away, the baby in her arms screaming in terror. Jack’s eyes widened momentarily as he saw the light post swinging toward him. It stuck him with bone-shattering force, and bright lights seemed to burst right behind his eyes.
***
Jack!” screamed Wes as he saw his cousin’s body fly through the air. Jack was knocked clear across the wide street, where he struck the side of a building with a thundering crash. The bricks crumbled at the impact as Jack fell limply to the sidewalk. The entire wall collapsed, falling on the boy’s body in a huge mound.
Wes sprinted from the alcove, darting in and out of the raging battle to get to his cousin. He reached the pile of rubble and began clawing at the large stones, trying to move the heavy pile of debris, but it was no use. His eyes stung as tears rolled down his cheeks. With an anguished cry, he stepped back and threw his hands into the air, calling the magic into him and using pure arcane energy to send stones and mortar flying.
He used no spell, no magic words, simply his anguish and raw mystic power. He could think of nothing beyond digging, getting to Jack, saving his cousin.
Suddenly, there was the sound of wind howling, and standing before him was a very chubby young man with choppy hair and wide eyes. The young man began to speak, but his words were so rapid Wes could hardly make them out.
“Hey,whoareyou,wheredidyoucomefrom?” said the young man.  “Yougotsomecool-powersthere,youbettercomewithmebeforetheConclavecatchesyou!” He reached for Wes.  “Comeon!”
The young man grabbed Wes around the waist and hoisted him over one shoulder. He began to run, and Wes did all he could just to hold on. The boy’s speed was incredible!
Before Wes could blink, the entire battle was far behind them. They moved down the streets, zigging and zagging between cars and buildings, and in moments Wes saw that they were in a deserted part of the city. Wide, low buildings of only three or four stories lined the narrow streets, maybe warehouses or manufacturing plants, but they all seemed empty. Here, the young man slowed, although he was still moving faster than any vehicle Wes had ever been in. They came to a long building, three stories high, and the young man darted inside and slowed yet again.
It was hard to judge, but Wes still thought they were doing seventy or eighty miles per hour. The young man angled them down a flight of stairs, zipping down several levels before finally skidding to a halt before a large metal door. He dropped Wes to the floor and knocked three times on the doorframe.
The door opened with a bang, and Wes was shoved roughly inside, still dazed from a journey that must have been miles yet took only seconds. The stress on his body from the extreme speed was more than he could handle. Once inside, he fell to the floor, his eyes rolling back in his head as he began to lose consciousness. Just before darkness claimed him, he heard a deep voice speak.
“Dammit, Jackrabbit, what have I told you? When you’re carrying people, you have to slow down! They can’t take the…”
And then everything was black.
***
Everything was black. The air was stifling, and a heavy weight covered his entire body. He tried to take a deep breath, but his nostrils filled with dust, and he went into a fit of coughing. The weight on top of him shifted in several places with his spasm. He stifled his wheezing and tried to remember what had happened.
The scarred man. The woman and the baby. And a light post.
He was still confused, but his muddled thoughts were clear enough that he knew he needed to get out of this mess.
He bunched his shoulders and pushed upward, and the weight began to shift. With a mighty heave, the rubble moved, and he stood up with surprisingly little effort. He looked down at himself, his clothes in tatters and covered with dust.
“Hey!” a raspy voice called. “Don’t move!”
A slender man approached, clad in a leather uniform similar to those worn by the combatants in the recent battle. His bore subtle differences, though; his legs and torso were protected by some kind of body armor, and his mask was some kind of winged headgear that veered down sharply at the nose like a beak and covered his mouth and chin with thin cloth. The man strode up purposefully, his hand going to his belt to withdraw a small device from among the many that hung there.
“Who are you?” he said, his rasping voice almost businesslike.
“I’m…” He was still confused, but he felt a sudden fear. With a deep gulp, he squared his shoulders and continued. “I’m Jack Forrest. Who are you?”
The man consulted the device and pressed a couple of buttons. “You’re not in the registry. Where did you come from?”
Jack opened his mouth to reply, then thought for a moment. How to explain? “Earth,” he said finally.
“Don’t be an idiot,” rasped the slender man. “Of course you’re from Earth. We’d have known if there’d been any alien incursions recently.” The man snapped shut the small device and returned it to his belt. “Never mind,” he said, pulling out what looked like a button from another pouch on his belt. He tossed the button at Jack, who flinched as it struck, but it only clung to his tattered shirt. Jack looked at it curiously. A small light blinked in the center of a gold disc. The man spoke into the underside of his gloved wrist.
“Skywatch. Raptor here. Unregistered meta in sector four-twelve. Lock onto signal and transport to holding until further notice.”
“Affirmative,” replied a disembodied voice that sounded like a young girl’s, and Jack looked around, startled. A shimmering light formed around him, and his vision began to fade.
“What’s going on?” cried Jack as he began to panic. He tried to take a step forward, but he was frozen in place.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” said Raptor in his raspy voice. “You’re gonna’ be fine.” The man turned and walked away as the light around Jack intensified. The boy struggled to move, but it was no use. As the light grew in strength, Jack’s vision blurred until everything was a wash of color, and then the world winked out for a moment. The next thing he knew, he was somewhere else. The light was gone, and his vision was back to normal, but his surroundings were completely changed.
Jack stood in a small metal room, a single heavy door of the type you’d see on a submarine on one side. The walls were smooth and shiny, and the floor was covered in some rubbery substance. There was a small cot along one wall, and a sink on the other. A metal toilet in one corner had a screen that could be pulled up for some small measure of privacy. The little room reminded him of…
A jail.
It didn’t just remind him of one; there was no doubt, it was a jail. He looked around and was certain he was right.
How had he gotten here? Why was he in a jail? He couldn’t wrap his mind around the thought. He began to tremble, terror biting at him, and a scream built in his throat. Before he could stifle it, the scream escaped through his taut lips, and he found himself yelling wordlessly at the walls. He rushed to the heavy metal door and began pounding on it with his bare fists. His guttural cries echoed from the walls, almost deafening him, but he couldn’t make himself stop. Even the sound of feet approaching rapidly outside the door couldn’t stop his screams.
“Hey!” called a voice from the other side of the door, a high-pitched female voice. “Dude, you gotta’ calm down in there!” Jack jumped backward as an unnoticed slot in the door slid open, a young woman’s face appearing in the opening.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked the girl curiously, and Jack’s screams died away.
“I… I… where am I? Who are you?”
The girl regarded him, confused. “You don’t know?”
When Jack shook his head, she merely blinked. “You’ve been taken in by the Conclave,” she said in a calming tone. “You’re lucky, too. It’s dangerous down there, and you need us.”
“Dangerous? Down where?” Jack took a step backward and sat on the metal cot. “Who are you?”
“I’m Lightray,” she replied casually. “I was on Skywatch duty when Raptor called in. Listen, it’s okay. Everything’s fine. They’ll let you out before too long, and you’ll get to start your training.”
“Training?” Jack was completely bewildered. “Training for what?”
“To use your powers,” she replied matter-of-factly. “To join the Conclave. You’re a meta, and you need us to protect you.”
“A… meta?” Jack repeated the unfamiliar word carefully. “Powers?” He looked toward the girl, and for the first time noticed the dents in the heavy metal door where his fists had pounded. The door itself was even slightly buckled.
“You didn’t know?” the girl asked brightly. “Well, aren’t you in for a surprise!” With a gleeful laugh, the girl slid shut the slot, and Jack heard her walk away.
Powers?” he said again, shaking his head in disbelief.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I'm back!

Okay... first, let me apologize to those of you who do follow this blog for my extreme absence these last few months.  I'll give you all a life update, by way of explanation.

As many of you know, I've been going through some troubles with my eyesight for nearly two years now.  In fact, that is one of the major factors that spurred me on to self-publish the Gatehouse books as soon as possible.  My intent was to spend most of 2011 working on revisions to The Door to Justice for a fall 2011 release.  But my eyesight continued to deteriorate, and I spent the last half of 2011 almost completely blind in one eye.  With my normal day job having me looking at computer screens for 8 to 10 hours a day, I started to get ferocious headaches that pretty much kept me from wanting to see a monitor at all in my free time.  Reading became a chore, editing became an even bigger chore, and even updating this blog and my Facebook pages fell to the wayside.  And so, I have been unable to keep the promises I made about getting book 2 released in the fall.

However, there's good news to be had!  Just before the end of the year, I had surgery to replace the natural lens in my left eye with an intra-ocular lens implant.  As of my last appointment, I've recovered around 80% of the vision in that eye!  That's all that I will ever recover, barring some medical breakthrough that allows doctors to regenerate the retina, but even that is more than I could have hoped for!

A second setback was a hard drive failure.  Not only on my previous laptop, but on my backup hard drive as well!  The only version of The Door to Justice that I had available to me was in PDF format.  Reformatting the document for revisions (copy and paste, painstakingly remove extra carriage returns, methodically go through and fix special formatting for things like italics) was a big undertaking, particularly with my vision problems.  That task, however, is now complete, and I have an outline in front of me of revisions that need to be made to the completely reformatted book.

So, none of this is an excuse for my absence or my failure to get all this done in a timely manner, but it's an explanation.  And I can say that now, with the revision plan in hand and a properly formatted document to work with, and better vision than I've had in 2 years, I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!  I'm not going to commit to time frames, but the revisions themselves shouldn't take that long, and then a few rounds of professional editing, and I'll have book 2 out the door.  So, friends and neighbors and Gatehouse fans, bear with me for a while longer, and you'll finally get to see where the story goes next!  I promise!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Been hard finding blog time

Well, folks, I have to apologize.  Been very hard to find time for blogging the past couple of months.  I did mention that marching band season was going to start kicking my butt, didn't I?  ;)

Well, even though I haven't blogged much, or participated in many forums, or really done any marketing at all on The Door to Canellin, progress has been made toward the publication of the sequel!  Allow me to share with you the work in progress cover of The Door to Justice!



I have to say, I'm loving it so far, and I can't wait until it's finished!  The artist, of course, is Barnaby Bagenda, who did the amazing dragon for The Door to Canellin.  To see more of Barnaby's work, check it out here:
http://www.takrezz.deviantart.com/

Friday, August 19, 2011

Freebie Friday

Hello, readers!  It's been a while since I've posted, as I've had a crazy week or two IRL that has slowed down my blogging.  But I think it's time to jump back into something I haven't done much of in a while... giving away books!  I love to do giveaways when I can, and even better, I love to hear back from readers!  So I'm giving away a total of twenty ebook copies of The Door to Canellin!

I've decided to do something different this time around, yet again.  Usually, I send folks through this blog to sign up for a giveaway, but the past couple of times I did that, it was difficult to get the word out.  So, this time around, I'm going to do it all through Kindleboards, and I'm going to ask all of you to help spread the word and help me give some freebies away!  And, as extra incentive, I'm throwing a free paperback into the mix!  Here's how it works out.

Send me a PM on Kindleboards at 
http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,63571.0.html, specifying whether you want a copy of The Door to Canellin gifted through Amazon or whether you'd rather have a free Smashwords coupon.  You can sign up for Kindleboards at http://www.kindleboards.com if you're not a member.  The first ten requests for each will receive a response either requesting your e-mail address (for the Amazon gift... your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose, and I will not save the addresses), or for the Smashwords requests, providing you with the free coupon code.

After I've received ten requests each, I'll toss all the names in a hat, and draw one name out to receive a free paperback copy of The Door to Canellin.

That's the plan, folks.  Once I've received all 20 requests, I'll get with the lucky paperback recipient, and with his or her permission, announce who it is on the Kindleboards thread.  So as not to artificially bump that thread, I won't post again until all 20 requests are received, and the paperback winner has replied.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

#SampleSunday and a Back to School Sale!

Well, I made it through a week of chaperoning band camp for the Mount Vernon Marching Wildcats! And yes, I have a bunch of "This one time, at band camp" stories, but I don't think I'll be sharing them here!  ;)

So it's been a dry week for blogging, but now I'm home and plan to get things going again!

The Door to Canellin is now on "Back to School" sale!  You can get your digital copy at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords for just $.99! (The Amazon and Barnes and Noble price should change to $.99 by the end of the day today).  The paperback is on sale at BN.com for just $10.07, which is almost $4 off the list price!  This sale will go at least through the month of August.  If you haven't picked up your copy yet, now would be a great time! The book has been getting rave reviews, and the sequel is still tentatively scheduled for a mid-September release!

And, of course, today is #SampleSunday!  So, since I haven't blogged at all this week, I figured it was time to go big or go home.  Today's sample includes the prologue and first three chapters of The Door to Canellin!  If you like, you can download a larger sample from Amazon or Smashwords, or even better... buy it and enjoy the whole story! ;)

Tomorrow, I plan to get back into some non-promotional blogging, and I'm looking for some interesting topics to write about here.  If you've got any requests, feel free to send me a message at ehjones@writeme.com and I'll see what I can do!

And now, here's what you're really here for... The Door to Canellin!  Enjoy!
---------------------------------------


Prologue 
THE LITTLE MAN STEPPED OUT of the doorway and closed the door behind him.  He was dressed in a long, sturdy tunic and thick trousers, with brightly polished leather riding boots on his inordinately large feet.  He was short, barely five feet tall, and what there was of his hair flowed down his back in white wisps.  He took off his broad-brimmed hat and batted it against his hand a few times to get the dust off before giving it up as a lost cause.  His beard, also snow white, hung over his broad belly to his thick belt.  As he looked down over that broad belly, he grinned, reflecting on how paunchy he was getting in his old age.
He began walking down the long, seemingly endless hallway, musing to himself as he went. He had been away from the House for far too long.  There was always work to be done beyond the doorways, and at the moment, there was no one else to do it.  Now that he had returned, he needed to stow some things from his last few trips. Then there were the thousand other nagging little chores that had been left for later while he was away.  And he would certainly need to consult the Book.  But the most important thing he needed to accomplish was a good long rest, to recoup his strength and rebuild his waning mystical energies.
He came at last to a stairway and started down.  Entering a large sitting room, the strange little man pulled his pack off his back.  He sorted through its contents, placing things here and there on shelves or tables.  Each of the objects he removed brought a different expression to his weathered face; here a figurine that made him smile, there an ornamental dagger that brought a look of sadness.  A locket that transformed his expression to one of wistful melancholy found a prominent place in the largest glass case.  When he finally placed an antique sextant on the drawing table in the corner, his pack was empty. 
The man flopped down in one of several overstuffed chairs in the large sitting room. Gods, he was tired.  But he rested only moments before slowly rising to his feet.  There was work yet to be done, important work, before rest could come.  Ah, but rest… rest would be welcome, when the time was right.
The little man headed toward the door just past the stairway, unaware of the sinister gaze following his every step.  He shuffled through the doorway and made a sharp right turn into an abbreviated hallway that ended in a massive, iron bound door.  Fumbling with a large ring of keys at his belt, he selected the largest and inserted it into the lock.  It turned with difficulty, producing a loud click, and the door swung open on silent hinges.
Through the door was a small room, roughly eight feet wide by ten long.  Along the far wall was a sturdy bench overflowing with coils of tubing and vials and decanters, hand tools, wires, and other unidentifiable odds and ends.  In the center of the room was a lectern, and on it was a large book bound in material that gave off a faint golden glow.  The little man casually flipped the book open, displaying the first blank page.
“Show me the champion,” he said quietly, making an arcane gesture over the page.
Words appeared line-by-line, just long enough for the man to read them before fading away again.  What he read disturbed him, and a look of dismay began to grow on his face.
He read about a boy.  A boy who seemed to him the least likely prospect for a champion imaginable.  As he read on, the little man learned more about the poor decisions this young champion was making, the bad ideas that seemed to plague him.  The champion was supposed to be a bastion of goodness, a pillar of solid values and hopeful optimism.  Instead, the little man was reading about a boy who couldn’t seem to make himself do the right things in life.  A boy who was sarcastic, caustic, ill mannered, and more than a bit selfish.  Oh, the child had his good points, certainly.  He was compassionate, despite his overall selfishness, and he had a strong moral sense of right and wrong.  But the story was rife with bad choices, wrong-headed attitudes, and a self-centered streak that seemed to have grown all out of proportion in one so young.
“Oh, no…that’s not right.  This is who you’ve chosen for a champion?”  He shook his head, looking around at the walls of the small room.  “How am I supposed to turn this child into a savior?”  No answer came, and the little man looked back at the book with narrowed eyes.  With a strained sigh, he closed the book and leaned on the lectern for support. 
“Well,” he sighed, “that’s that.  I suppose we’ll just have to take the direct approach.  You have a great many lessons to learn, young man, and I have a great many preparations to make.”  Feeling very put upon, he sighed again and left the workroom, locking the door firmly behind him and looking at the walls of the House accusingly.  “So much for a nice, long vacation.”
From the shadows, a baleful gaze followed the little man, but he attributed the prickling on his neck to worry over what he must now do. 

Chapter 1 
Bullies and Brawlers 
MRS. JENSEN WAS WAITING AT THE DOOR when Wes arrived for Social Studies. “Glad you could make it, Mr. Bellamy.  You just missed the bell.  Please take your seat.”
Mrs. Jensen’s Social Studies class was a pain.  History, names and dates… dry, boring, and pointless.  And the homework and reading were completely mind- numbing, normally leaving Wes with nothing to look forward to but a drowsy hour of her droning voice.
Wes could tell right away that today was going to be different.
“All right, class, I want you all to step over here and look over the items I’ve set out for display,” Mrs. Jensen said as she gestured toward the long table that had been set up against the far wall.  “Everything is tagged and labeled so you can identify it.  You may touch, but please, be very careful, since these things are on loan to me from the collection of a friend at the museum.”  She led the way to the display, and her voice took on a dramatic tone.  “These are all examples of items that early explorers used in their travels when sailing uncharted oceans and exploring the unknown wilderness.  They range from simple methods of record keeping,” she said, pointing at a leather bound logbook, “to this complex device, sort of a precursor to the modern Global Positioning System.”  Here, she pointed at a strange looking contraption of metal dials, mirrors, lenses and telescoping arms.  The bizarre device caught Wes’ attention immediately.  He took a few steps nearer to that end of the table, trying to catch a better look.
“Your assignment is to pick one of these items, examine it, and figure out what it is and what it does.  Learn everything you can about it, especially how the early explorers might have used it to help them travel the world.  There will be a four page typed research paper due next Thursday, and oral presentations on Friday.”  Most of the class groaned, but Wes was too engrossed in trying to get a better look at the device to even take notice.  “Okay, everyone, start examining.  You have until the end of class to look everything over, decide what you want to research, and get started.”
Wes immediately headed toward the strange little device at the end of the table.  No one else seemed even vaguely interested in it, which was just as well as far as he was concerned.  He gently picked it up and read the tag.  The device was called a ‘sextant’.  He examined it minutely, swinging the arms along the gauge, looking through the lenses, trying to figure out what it was supposed to be for.  Something told him he should know this already.  He spent the rest of the class period looking up everything he could about sextants in his textbook.  The passages he found were frustratingly vague.  ‘A measuring instrument used by early explorers to calculate their position on a map using the measurement of angles of elevation between a celestial object and the horizon’.  Despite the vagueness of the definition, Wes couldn’t shake the feeling that he could almost grasp how it worked and what it was for, if only he could examine the contraption long enough.
When the bell finally rang, Wes reluctantly replaced the sextant on the display table and filed out of the room with the rest of the class, his mind still whirling as he contemplated the complex device.  He wasn’t paying the slightest attention to where he put his feet.
“Watch where you’re going, maggot!”
Wes tumbled to the floor, his books skidding away from him, papers flying.
“I told you yesterday to stay out of my way, Bellamy,” said Cameron as he stood over Wes’ prone form, Darren and Jimmy flanking him.  “You’re not careful, you’re gonna’ get yourself in trouble.”  He laughed at his own pathetic wit, Darren and Jimmy chortling at his side.
“Whatever,” said Wes irritably as he gathered up his fallen belongings.  “Hard to miss such a big target.”
Cameron was Wes’ physical opposite in almost every way.  Where Wes was a small boy, just a couple of inches over five feet, and slender, Cameron was tall and bulky.  At six foot two, he weighed in at nearly two hundred and thirty pounds, and was the largest sophomore in the school.  He was also a bully, pushing around anyone who crossed his path.  Even some of the teachers tread lightly around Cameron.
“Smart mouth, there, Bellamy,” he said with a sneer.  “Careful.  You know you don’t want any of this.”
Wes stood, still trying to arrange his books, and gave Cameron a spiteful glare.
“What did I ever do to you anyway?  Why do you have to be such a jerk all the time?”
Just then the chimes began to ring, and Wes groaned.  The sound meant he had sixty seconds to get to the band room, in the opposite wing of the school.  He shouldered his way past Cameron, beginning to trot, and then to run as Cameron, Jimmy, and Darren’s laughter followed him down the hall.
Wes sprinted down the hallway, skidding around the corner and through the double doors into the instrument storage room.  He made it into the classroom and into his seat, still struggling to open his trumpet case, mere seconds before Mr. Drummond stepped to the podium.  He let out a sigh of relief as the latch on his case finally gave way.  Out of breath, he pulled out his trumpet and prepared himself.
“Okay, everybody, let’s work on number twenty-seven, starting in measure sixteen.  Flutes, concentrate on precision during the arpeggios, and trumpets, watch your dynamics.  Forte does not mean blast me off the podium.”  Wes grinned as Mr. Drummond tapped his baton sharply, twice, and raised his hands.  “Ready?  Horns up!”
Despite having been nearly late yet again, Wes soon lost himself in the music, playing by instinct.  Cameron was immediately forgotten as the music danced around him, almost visible in the air.  The trumpet was something that just came naturally to Wes, and it was pure joy just to let it flow through him.  He was glad now that he’d let his Dad talk him into joining, way back in middle school.  This was the thing in the world that he was best at, by far.  His skill had made him the first freshman to be a soloist in the school’s history, and he’d kept that edge all the way through until now, as his sophomore year was approaching its end.  Forget about homework and tests, this was what he was meant to do.
Fifteen minutes before the end of class, Mr. Drummond called a halt, as Wes had known he would.  Every couple of weeks it happened, like clockwork.
“Okay, everybody, good work today.”  Mr. Drummond applauded them quietly, clapping his hands as he beamed at his students.  “Now, it’s Wednesday, that means challenge day.  I’ve already received one request for challenge, but is there anyone else who wants to take a shot at moving up a chair?”  He waited a few moments, but there were no takers.  “Nobody?”  Silence.  “Okay, then,” he said, sounding disappointed, “today we have Miss Stephanie Coscoe, our second chair trumpet, challenging Mr. Wesley Bellamy, our first chair.”  He gestured to Wes.  Mr. Bellamy, you’re up first.  We’ll be playing today’s selection, number 27.  Follow me.”
Wes rose with a sneer and followed Mr. Drummond.  He wasn’t worried in the slightest.  He knew beyond doubt that he was better than Stephanie.  She was good, sure, but he didn’t see any need to be concerned.  Stephanie, a senior, had been stuck at second chair for the entire semester, unable to dislodge Wes.  She seemed to take it as an insult that a sophomore could beat her every time. 
Wes entered the small office behind Mr. Drummond and seated himself in the challenge chair, arranging his music on the stand, supremely confident.
“Well, Mr. Bellamy, I hope you’ve prepared today.  Miss Coscoe has been practicing hard for the past two weeks in after school sessions.”  He grinned at Wes. “You’ve got your work cut out for you.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Drummond. I got this.”  Wes grinned.
“All right, then, at your leisure,” said Mr. Drummond, flipping on the metronome.  Wes counted slowly, horn to his lips, and began to play.
The trumpet was alive in his hands, the music flowing forth in a graceful dance as he worked his way easily through the selection.  The notes came pitch perfect.  He knew he was doing well, he could feel it, and when the final note died off, he lowered the trumpet with a satisfied smile.  Mr. Drummond was making notes on his tablet.
“Good, Mr. Bellamy, very good.  Please send in Miss Coscoe.”
Wes strutted out of the office like a peacock, confident and sure of himself.  He walked back to his seat and looked toward Stephanie.  “You’re up.  Good luck!”  He smiled at her as she walked to the office.  “You’ll need it.”
The class was waiting for the challenge to be over, most people chatting quietly.  Wes turned to Doug Boerner, a freshman trombone player who sat behind him.  “I nailed it.  There’s no way she’s getting my seat.”  Doug grinned and gave Wes a quick thumbs up.
A few minutes later, Stephanie returned from Mr. Drummond’s office and took her seat next to Wes, smiling.  She obviously thought she’d done well.  Still, Wes wasn’t worried.
Mr. Drummond returned to the podium a few moments later and theatrically shuffled the papers he carried with him.  “This was a close one, ladies and gentlemen.”  He looked at Wes and Stephanie.  “Very close.  Fingernail close.”  He placed the papers on his podium.  “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to present your first chair trumpet, Stephanie Coscoe.”  There was a momentary silence, and then light applause.
Wes froze.  He had been preparing to stand up and give a grand bow in front of the class.  But this… this was impossible.  This couldn’t be right.  No one had beaten him since the beginning of the school year!  He was first chair!
Except he wasn’t.
As the rest of the class got up and began filing out of the room, Mr. Drummond put his hand on Wes’ shoulder.
“May I see you in my office for a moment, Mr. Bellamy?”
Wes didn’t reply, just let Mr. Drummond steer him gently to the office and into a seat.
“I wanted to talk to you privately.  I think there’s something you need to understand.”  He sat in his own chair and steepled his fingers in front of his face.  “You played better than Stephanie today, Wes.”  At Wes’ shocked look, Mr. Drummond held up his hand to forestall him.  “Not a lot better, son, but better.”
“Then why did she win?”  Wes’ voice was soft, despite a sudden surge of anger.  He couldn’t seem to wrap his brain around what Mr. Drummond was saying.
“Because while you played slightly better than she did, you didn’t play any better at all than you did at the last challenge.”  He shook his head.  “You haven’t practiced, and it shows.  You haven’t gotten worse, but you’re not improving, either.  You play on instinct and natural talent, which I’ll admit you’ve got.  But there’s more to it than that.”  He looked Wes directly in the eye.  Stephanie worked very, very hard for this.  And she improved, not a little but a very big improvement.  And believe it or not, that’s a lot more important to me than talent.”
The anger suddenly burst forth, and Wes shot to his feet.  “That’s not fair!  If I did better, then I should have won!”  Wes could hardly contain himself.  He was straining not to explode and get himself in trouble, but he couldn’t keep his voice from rising.
“You didn’t do better, Wes, you played better, and even at that, only barely.  In fact, I’d say if I had given it another two weeks until the next challenge day, and you still were at the level you are now, Miss Coscoe would have easily beaten you.
“It’s not just about being able to do something, Wes, and this isn’t just about band, or a first chair challenge.  It’s about everything.  Your other teachers asked me to speak with you, hoping I’d be able to get through where they’ve failed.”  Mr. Drummond stood and looked out his office window.  To Wes, the whole thing seemed staged, and very melodramatic.  “It’s not about being the best, and it’s not about being first chair in the trumpet section.  I’d be willing to bet that if you practice for the next two weeks, you’ll win, and that’s what it’s about.”  He took a deep breath and turned to face Wes.  “Not the winning, but the trying.  The striving to be better.  Or just the plain, ordinary doing what you’re supposed to do.”  He paused to let that sink in.  “Let me ask you something.  When’s the last time you turned in any homework?”
Wes was thrown by the sudden shift in direction.  “I don’t know, I just always forget it.  So what?”
“So, it’s just another example of your choice to not strive.  And it’s why you lost the challenge today.  And you do realize that if your grades don’t come up, you won’t be marching next season, right?”
Wes looked at Mr. Drummond, filled with anger, and another familiar emotion.  Shame.  “It’s not fair.”  He clenched his fist by his side as he trembled.  “So I played better than Steph, but you gave it to her because I haven’t been turning in homework.  It’s not fair!”  His voice had risen to a shout, and his eyes were beginning to fill with unshed tears.  “If I’m better, I should be first chair!”
Mr. Drummond sighed.  “Before you keep this going and end up regretting it, I’m sorry to say, you’ve missed the point entirely, Mr. Bellamy.  You’re not better than Miss Coscoe, when it comes down to it, because she will always try while you choose to coast.  But you’ve heard my decision, and my explanation, and it’s final.  You may challenge Miss Coscoe in two weeks, but for now, she’s first chair.  Now get to your next class, you don’t want to be late.”
***
Wes sat slouched at the lunch table, barely playing with his food as he doodled in his notebook.  He was still trying to shake his fury at Mr. Drummond, and this sketch he was working on was frustrating.  Drawing the sextant from memory was harder than he’d thought it would be.  He couldn’t seem to get the mirrors on the upper arm quite right, and the irritation wasn’t helping his mood.
“Gimme your pizza, putz.”
Wes turned at the sound of Cameron’s voice. The big ox was at the next table over, his two cronies Darren and Jimmy at his side as he snatched the pizza off Doug Boerner’s tray and used his other hand to shove the freshman trombone player aside.  Wes sighed. 
“Hey, come on, Cameron,” said Doug.  “That’s mine!”
“Not anymore,” said Cameron. He gave Doug another rough shove and laughed.  “Fries look good too.” He reached out and snatched a handful of French fries from the tray.  “You got my algebra homework done yet?”
“Yo, Cameron,” said Wes, rising slowly. He’d had more than enough.  He walked deliberately around the table and moved face to face with the bully.  “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
“Find me someone, I will,” replied Cameron, and Darren and Jimmy laughed uproariously.
“Seriously, can’t you ever lay off? Leave Doug alone.”
“Why don’t you get lost?” Cameron grabbed Doug by the back of the neck.  “So what if I decide to make Doogie here my slave? What’s it to you?”
“Brass section’s gotta’ stick together.  Besides, I don’t really like you all that much, so whatever I can do to screw with your day, I’m up for it.”
Cameron let go of Doug and poked his finger into Wes’ chest.
“You think you bug me, Bellamy?  You don’t sweat me even a little.”
“Knock it off, Cameron.  You’re gonna’ get us in trouble.”  Wes’ tone was sharp.
The bully grabbed Wes by the shirt and pulled him close. “You’re the only one that’s in trouble, Bellamy.  I’m tired of your crap, and I’m doing something about it.”
Wes jerked free from the larger boy, his contempt plain.  “Yeah, sure, what are you gonna’ do, ugly me to death?”
Cameron’s face clouded, and he pulled Wes close again, his hot breath making Wes wince.
“No, you little turd.  I’m kicking your butt.  Show up or shut up.  Right after school, behind the gym.  You better be there.”  He shoved Wes aside, turning his attention back to Doug.
“Yeah, whatever.  You coming alone, or you bringing your two girlfriends along?”  Wes gestured toward Darren and Jimmy.  He held his forefinger and thumb about half an inch apart, showing Cameron.  “Your cojones are about this big, and it takes all three of you to make one tough guy.”  With every word, Wes could see Cameron getting more and more angry, but he couldn’t stop himself.  “Bad enough it takes three of you to think up a comeback, but now it takes three of you to beat up somebody half your size?”  He waved Cameron away dismissively.  “You aren’t worth the time.”
“Shut up, you little…,” began Cameron as he lunged for Wes.  His voice was raised just a bit too much, though.
“All right, you two, that’s it!”  Mrs. Schultz stormed over angrily.  “Out in the hall, now!”  She took both boys by the arm and walked them into the hallway.
“Now, what exactly is the problem here, gentlemen?”
“He was insulting me, Mrs. Schultz,” said Cameron.  “He turned around and started talking nasty about my mom.”  Cameron smirked as he pointed his finger at Wes.
“Whatever!” said Wes indignantly.  “He was picking on Doug Boerner, and I told him to back off, that was it!”
“Doogie and I were just having a little chat!” protested Cameron with mock sincerity.  “What gives you the right to stick your nose in?”
“What gives you the right to pick on a little kid?” shouted Wes, his finger in Cameron’s face.  “He shouldn’t have to take that crap!”
Mr. Bellamy, you’re right, no one should have to take threats from anyone, but that doesn’t give you the right to make trouble in my lunch room!  If someone is bothering you, you’re supposed to come to me.”
“Oh, sure, that’s gonna’ work great.”  Wes’ voice still held the disdain it had when insulting Cameron.  He couldn’t seem to help it.  He liked Mrs. Schultz, but she was blaming it all on him!
Cameron, I’ve had enough of your bullying.  You have detention today and tomorrow for threats and intimidation.”  She rounded on Wes as he chuckled.  Wes, you can’t behave like this, and you know it.  We’ve had this conversation too many times.  You get a detention this afternoon.  I’ll be having a word with your parents, both of you.”  Mrs. Schultz looked at them sternly, but the boys seemed cowed.  “For now, I want you in the office.  I’ve had enough of this for the day.  Finish out the lunch period there and then go to your next class.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong!”  Wes couldn’t believe that she was sending him to the office, and worse, was going to call his father.  Again!
“Not another word, Mr. Bellamy!  To the office, now!  You too, Mr. Jacobs!”
With that she went back into the lunch room and closed the door.
“I can’t believe this crap,” muttered Wes as he started down the hall.  “She’s so stupid!  And you’re worse than she is, Cameron! I can’t believe you got me a detention!”
Suddenly Wes felt a shove from behind and was slammed face first into the wall, bumping his forehead so hard that his head jerked back.  A heavy arm settled on the back of his neck, forcing his face up against the rough bricks.
“Who’s stupid now, you little freak?” a whispered voice said directly in his ear.  “I’m gonna’ beat you so bad you won’t be able to walk for a week.  I’m gonna’ make you hurt.”  He shoved harder against Wes.  “I’m gonna’ make you wish you hadn’t got out of bed today.”
Something inside Wes snapped.  The weight of everything that had happened today, losing the challenge, Mr. Drummond’s lecture, Cameron’s bullying, Mrs. Schultz’s unfair treatment.  It was all too much.  He shoved against Cameron, hard, with strength he didn’t know he possessed.  He flung his head back and felt a satisfying crunch as it made contact with the brute’s nose.  Turning, he felt satisfaction as Cameron staggered.
Wes looked at Cameron, seeing the blood starting to run down from the boy’s suddenly crooked nose, seeing his eyes start to water, and a cold fury came over him.  It didn’t matter in the slightest that Cameron was ten inches taller than Wes, and outweighed him by a hundred pounds.  Wes’ blood boiled as he looked at the bully, and he was gratified to see astonishment growing in the bigger boy’s eyes.  When Wes charged forward, his fists flying, Cameron staggered backward in surprise.  The sheer ferocity of the attack even surprised Wes.  He landed a couple of solid blows, one to Cameron’s jaw, another to his midsection, before Cameron reached out and took him into a bear hug, squeezing the breath out of him.
“What do you two think you’re doing?”  Mr. Jarvis, the gym teacher, ran toward them from the other end of the hall, but the two boys were oblivious.  They both fell to the floor, struggling, each trying to gain advantage over the other.  Mr. Jarvis grabbed Cameron by the shoulder as Mrs. Schultz emerged from the lunch room at a dead run.  She got there just in time to grab Wes and hold him back from trying to get at Cameron, who was straining against Mr. Jarvis’ grip.
“That’s enough!”  Mr. Jarvis bellowed at the two boys.  “Both of you, come with me, now!”  He grabbed both of the boys by the back of the neck and propelled them down the hall and toward the principal’s office.

Chapter 2 
Amazing Discoveries 
RYAN SAT AT HIS DESK, his fingers drumming an unsteady staccato on his computer keyboard. He hated working under a short deadline like this, especially on something that should have been done two days ago, and by someone else at that.  But Dan was the boss, and Ryan was the low man on the totem pole. He checked his notes, grumbling, and typed a few more lines when his phone startled him out of his concentration.
“Tech support, this is Ryan.”
Mr. Bellamy, this is Mrs. Novack at the high school.  We’ve had a problem here today that we need to discuss.”
Ryan buried his face in one hand and tried to keep his voice level.  “What is it?”
“Well, Wes has gotten into a fight here at school.  Don’t worry, he’s fine, but I’m afraid he broke the other boy’s nose.”
Ryan groaned inwardly.  “What was the fight about?”
“That’s not really clear, Mr. Bellamy.  But we have a zero tolerance fighting policy, as you know, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to come and pick Wes up.  He’ll be suspended for two school days.”
“Crap.  All right.”  He looked at his computer, and the report he was supposed to have finished in less than an hour.  “All right, okay, I’m coming.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.  I’m leaving now.”  He hung up the phone.  Gathering up his papers into a decent stack and saving the file on his computer to the share directory, he left his office and walked to the door next to his, poking his head in.
“Hey, Adam, listen, can you do me a favor?”  Ryan stepped inside and waved the stack of papers.  “I just got a call from my son’s school.  He got in a fight and I have to go get him, but Dan wanted this report by lunch.  I’m almost finished with it. Do you think you could…?”
“Yeah, yeah, go.  You need to kick that boy in the pants, man.  He’s gonna’ be the death of you.”
“Thanks, Adam, I owe you.” Ryan turned to leave.
“Hi, Ryan,” came Dan’s irritating, nasally voice, and Ryan winced.  “I just came by to, you know, see if maybe you had that report ready for me?”
“Yeah, Dan, about that.  I just got a call from my son’s school, and I have to go over there and pick him up.  It’s kind of an emergency.  I asked Adam to finish the report.  You’ll have it by lunch time, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Oh, okay,” said Dan, his brow furrowed as he sauntered down the hall behind Ryan.  “Well, if you’re going to have to leave now, I’ll need you to stay over tonight and make up the hours.  That won’t be a problem, will it?”
“Uh, no, I guess not,” said Ryan in resignation.  “I suppose Wes can have dinner at my mom’s.”
“Good, good,” said Dan.  “You know, Ryan, this is the third time in three months you’ve had to leave work because of your son.  Do you really think that’s fair?”
“What do you mean?” Ryan was trying hard to hide his annoyance.
“Just that Adam hasn’t ever had to leave to deal with his kids.  If he’s supposed to be at work, that’s where he stays.”
Adam doesn’t have any kids,” said Ryan, his calm façade slipping.
“Maybe not,” said Dan, “but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s here when he’s supposed to be.”  He shook his head.  “What I’m trying to say is that this has been going on for quite a while now, and it’s starting to be a disruption.  I just think you should consider that.” 
Ryan took a deep, calming breath.
“Listen, Dan… believe me, I know it’s been a pain, me having to deal with my kid all the time the past few months, but he’s just going through a rough patch right now.  I’m sure he’ll get it together before too much…”
“Maybe I should be a little more clear, so you can understand what I’m getting at,” interrupted Dan, bringing Ryan up short.  He poked his finger into Ryan’s chest. “Get it together, be here when you’re supposed to, or I’ll find someone who will.”  With that, Dan turned and walked back down the hall, whistling tunelessly.
Ryan stared after Dan, suddenly struck mute.  This situation with Wes was starting to get serious.  His shoulders slumped as he realized that Dan wasn’t out of line.  He was running out of options.  He didn’t think Wes even realized how far off the track he’d gotten.  Well, he was going to get an inkling today, that was for sure.  This was the last straw.
Ryan mulled over his options as he drove the twenty miles from his office to the high school.  What was left to do with the boy?  Military school?  Boot camps?  Grounding never worked, and Wes was way too old for spankings.  He had finally decided on talking to Wes again, trying one last time to get through to him. Not that any of the half dozen talks about behavior they’d had over the past two months had done any good.
When he got out of his car and walked into the school, Wes was waiting on a bench outside the office.
“Hi, Dad.  Sorry, I…”  Ryan cut Wes off before he got any further.
“Not now.  Enough.  Just, don’t talk right now.”
“But…”
“Enough.”
Ryan walked into the office.
“Hi, I’m Ryan Bellamy.  I need to take Wes home, I guess.”
The receptionist looked up at him.  “Yes, Mr. Bellamy, I’m Mrs. Novack.  Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
“Not really, Mrs. Novack.  I’m already in trouble for having to leave work, and I have to get Wes to his grandparents’ house and get back immediately.  I’ll be available this afternoon, though, if you’d like to call me.”
“Perhaps Wes’ mother could come in for a…”
“I don’t think so. Wes’ mother lives four hours away. I’m sure she’ll have some words to say about all this, but for now, I’m all you’ve got. And I really do need to leave, Mrs. Novack, so if you don’t mind?” Ryan turned to go.
“Really, Mr. Bellamy, I think we need to discuss…”
Ryan turned back to Mrs. Novack.  “Did Wes start the fight?” Ryan was having trouble keeping his voice level.
Mr. Bellamy, that’s really not the issue…”
“I’m asking anyway.”  Ryan hated being rude, and he knew this woman was just doing her job, but for some reason this question felt very important.
“The other boy started the fight and Wes defended himself, Mr. Bellamy, at least at first.  But when Wes got away from the other boy, he kept the fight going when he didn’t need to.  Either way, though, our policy here…”
“I know your policy, and I agree with it in spirit.  I just expect my son to be able to defend himself if he’s attacked. Or for that matter, to be safe when he’s at school! If that means a suspension, so be it.  But I’d be more than willing to discuss it further, later, after I’ve had a chance to talk to his mother.  I really have to go now, so may I please sign my son out and get back to work before I lose my job?”
Moments later, Ryan came out of the office and motioned for Wes to follow him.
“Dad, listen, I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now, son.  I have to get you to your Grandma’s house and get back to work.  I’ve already been chewed out for leaving, and Dan made it pretty clear what would happen if this keeps going on.  If you keep this crap up, I’m going to lose my job.”
Wes was silent for a moment. 
“I just wanted you to know I was sorry.”
“I know, Wes.  You always are.”  Ryan regretted the words as soon as he said them.  But it was too late to take them back, and he couldn’t think of any way to soften the sentiment. And at that moment, he wasn’t sure it should be softened.
The drive to the home of Ryan’s parents, Jane and Tim, was not long, but it was long enough to get the story from Wes.  Ryan’s anger cooled a bit as he listened, and he felt a little guilty.  But regardless of the reasons, the fact remained that Wes had gotten suspended again.  This was becoming a definite problem.
Ryan considered how to deal with the inevitable afternoon phone call he would receive from the school, particularly in light of his rudeness to Mrs. Novack.  And the equally inevitable call to Wes’ mom, Ruthie, wasn’t going to be pleasant either.  He really couldn’t blame Mrs. Novack for this, though.  It wasn’t a bad rule.  But after hearing Wes’ side of the story, he couldn’t help but feel a little indignant over the school system’s treatment of his son. That, and even a little pride in Wes.
They pulled into the driveway and parked, and Ryan cleared his throat.
“Listen… son…”
“I know, I’m grounded,” said Wes sullenly.  “Just about as fair as getting suspended when someone jumps you in school.  Whatever.”  He opened the door and got out, walking quickly into the house.
Ryan gritted his teeth, biting back a quick surge of anger.  He’d meant to tell Wes that it was all right.  He’d meant to tell him that stepping in to defend Doug had been the right thing to do, and that defending himself… well, he shouldn’t have to, but if he did, that was all right too.
He’d meant to tell him that he loved him, and was on his side.
With a sigh, Ryan decided that conversation could wait until Wes cooled down a little.  And finding out he wasn’t grounded after all might even be a good end to a bad day.  He got out of the car and headed inside.
“Hey, Mom, you here?” called Ryan.
“I’m in the den,” she replied.  “What are you doing here?  Shouldn’t you be at work?”
Ryan walked into the den, leading Wes.
“Yeah, Ma, I really should.”
Jane turned around to see Wes and Ryan, and noticed Ryan’s stern expression.
“Well, I take it someone got in a bit of trouble at school today.  Or is there some other reason my grandson is standing in my den in the middle of a school day looking like a dead man walking?” She put her hands in her lap, looking at Wes and waiting patiently for an explanation.
“I got in a fight, Grandma.”  Wes stared at his shoes.
“Well, that apparently wasn’t a very good idea, was it?”
Wes turned away, ashamed.  “Guess not.”
“Listen, Ma, it’s a long story, but I’m going to be in trouble at work if I don’t get back.  Can you handle Wes for me this afternoon?  I didn’t want to leave him alone after this, and I’m going to have to work late as it is to catch up.”  Ryan glanced at his watch meaningfully.
“Sure, you head back to work, we can handle things here.  I think I can find a few things to keep our favorite prize fighter occupied.”  Her grin was almost sinister.
Wes groaned.
***
Wes wiped the sweat from his forehead, looking down in disgust at the row of cabbages he’d been hoeing.  Well, at least I’m finished, he thought.
It had definitely been a long afternoon.  His grandpa had gotten home from his morning yard sale trip and joined in with his grandma in finding more chores for the boy to do.  They seemed to be of the opinion that hard work in the hot sun was good for disobedient young men.  So far he had washed both their cars, hoed the garden, weeded around the house, and washed two loads of laundry.  While he had complied with their orders without question, Wes couldn’t find it in himself to agree with their philosophy as he walked wearily toward the house.
“Grandma, I’m done,” Wes called as he walked inside to the cool air conditioning.  He entered the kitchen to find that his grandma had a glass of sweet iced tea waiting for him, a smile on her face.
“Here you go.  Good work out there today.”
“Thanks.”  He took the tea and couldn’t help but smile back at her beaming expression.
“Your dad called, and he’s talked to your teachers.  He’s going to have to work late again tonight, but he said he’d talk to you when he got here.”  She sat down at the head of the kitchen table.  “I thought maybe you’d like to tell me what happened before he gets back.”
“It really wasn’t my fault, Grandma,” began Wes, but she stopped him with a hand.
“I’m not interested right now in whose fault it was.  I want to hear what happened and how.  Give me the story with just the facts, without trying to make yourself look better.”
Wes shot her a petulant scowl.
“Fine,” he replied, and he told her the entire story, from bumping into Cameron in the hall to the end of the fight, sparing no detail.
She looked thoughtful for a moment as she considered him.
“And after you’d bloodied his nose, got him off you and away from Doug, why did you go after him again?”
“I… I don’t know.  I was mad, I guess.”
“I’d say that’s an understatement.”  She poured him some more tea.  “Well, does anything jump out at you as to what went wrong?”
“Yeah, I guess.  I probably shouldn’t have gone after Cameron in the first place.  I should have gone to Mrs. Schultz.  But that still doesn’t feel right.  Why should I have to be a rat?  What’s wrong with sticking up for myself, or for Doug?”
“Nothing at all,” she replied.  “But you should follow the rules, at least, don’t you think?”
“Yeah.  Yeah, I guess I should.”  He took a long swallow of tea.  He still felt abused, and in his gut believed that none of this was his fault, he just wasn’t about to say so to her.  At that moment, he just wanted to be out from under her understanding eyes.
“Good.  I think we’re done for the day, then, as far as your chores go.”  She smiled at him as she stood, and he found himself smiling back at her.
“Cool.”  Wes sighed.  “Mind if I go for a walk in the woods?” 
“I think that would be okay.  Try to be back before dinner.”
Wes grabbed his backpack and headed out the door, trotting down the hill and into the woods. He trudged through the little forest, following his favorite paths and slashing at the underbrush with a stick, his mind going over everything that had gone wrong in his life lately.  He was confused, his emotions in turmoil, and he needed solitude.  He made it to one of his favorite clearings and sat down in the crook of a tree root, his back against the trunk.  After a few minutes of silent contemplation, he pulled out his notebook and spent a little time sketching, still trying to draw the sextant from memory, but he just couldn’t get it right.  Grunting in disgust, he gave up and stuffed the notebook back into his backpack.
He wanted to be angry at the world, angry that everything was conspiring to turn his life into this mess, and yet the more he reflected on things, the more he realized there was only one person to be angry with.  It was his fault.  Some of it was, at least.
Suddenly, the weight of what had happened, and of how far he’d fallen, came crashing down on him.  He felt himself on the verge of tears.
There was no way to fix this.
Wes was suspended from school.  His father had almost lost his job.  All the things Mr. Drummond had said to him…
When the tears came, they surprised him, but he couldn’t hold them back.  It was too far gone!  There was nothing left for him to do.  He couldn’t stop the sobs as his body continued to shudder.  He’d been depressed before, he’d felt sadness, but nothing like this.  This was utter despair. He hadn’t cried in… well, he wasn’t sure how long. But now the tears came freely.
A sound off in the brush caught his attention and he jerked his head up.
“Who’s there?”
There was no answer.  He wiped the tears from his eyes and stood, following the sounds of brush being trampled by someone who apparently wasn’t that familiar with hiking.
“Hey, is anybody there?”  He followed the sounds further, and eventually saw a small form perhaps fifty yards ahead.  “Hey!” he shouted.  “Stop, who are you?”  It was hard to see the moving shape clearly as it struggled through the underbrush, but it appeared to be a small man, considerably shorter than Wes, but definitely bigger around.
Wes picked up speed to follow, trying to catch up to the little man.  He shouted after him a few more times, but when it was clear he wasn’t going to get an answer, Wes simply followed.  For some reason, the idea of someone violating these woods, violating his privacy, made him angry again.  He fought that off and tried to remain calm, but he couldn’t help feeling as if someone had been spying on him.
Wes followed the little man for a good distance, up and down wooded slopes, zigging and zagging between the trees.  The little man was pulling away from him with surprising speed, widening the gap between them, and then he disappeared over a rise just ahead.  Wes began to run, struggling to get up the steep rise, and he breathed heavily when he finally reached the top.
All thought of the little man was driven out of his head.  Something was wrong here.  In front of him was a hollow that memory told him shouldn’t have been on the other side of the hill he’d just climbed.  There should have been another gradual slope leading up to a large flat area with several clearings where he liked to sit.  Instead, there was the hollow, and most surprisingly of all, a dilapidated shack sitting dead center in the bowl shaped depression.  As he watched, the little man hurried up the steps of the shack and vanished inside.
Wes started forward again cautiously, looking at this little house where he knew there shouldn’t be one.  It was a small house, very run down, but all the windows seemed intact.  There was a porch across the front that leaned precariously to the left side of the entrance, and a large, solid looking door.  He walked around the house, staying back a good distance, trying to figure out how he could have missed this all these years, but it didn’t make any sense.
He made his way back around to the front of the house, looking up the three steps to the porch.  He grew more determined as he explored the outside of the house.  He wasn’t going to let the little man get away now!  He wanted to know why that house was there, where it had come from, and who the little man was.  He wanted to know how a house could appear overnight in a place where memory said it should never have been.  He inched forward hesitantly toward the porch, paused, and then made up his mind and walked the rest of the distance.  He stopped at the foot of the steps and pondered them, wondering if they were safe to hold his weight.  He lifted his foot and gingerly placed it on the bottom stair, when…
BOOOOMMMM!!!!
The lightning struck barely twenty paces off to Wes’ right, and the sound of it nearly knocked him down.  He immediately staggered back from the porch, looking around in panic, and noticed the darkening sky threatening to drop rain on him at any moment.
Screwing up his courage, he placed his foot on the stair again.
BOOOOOOMMMM!!!   Another lightning bolt struck, even closer, and Wes scrambled up the steps to the porch, his eyes wide.  It took him a moment to regain his composure.  He stepped back from the door and reached his hand up to knock.
Before he could make contact with the worn wood, the door swung open.
***
Ryan sat at the kitchen table with his father as his mother puttered around the kitchen fixing dinner.  He’d managed to get out of the office only two hours late, but he’d spent most of the afternoon mulling over Wes’ issues.
“So what do you think I should do?” he asked.
“I think you should give that kid a swift kick in the pants, is what I think,” said Ryan’s father, Tim, in a gruff voice.
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Dad, and I really don’t think it’d do any good anyway.  I’m serious here.  I’m at my wits’ end.”
“Well, there’s always private school, but I’m not sure you could afford that,” said Jane, his mother.
“I’d already thought of that,” said Ryan, “and I kind of tossed it out for that very reason.”  He chewed his fingernail.  “I just don’t know.  It’s just… honestly, today, I didn’t know whether to scream at him or pat him on the back.  After what he did… I know it wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do, but I can’t help feeling a little proud of him.  He stood up for someone, and he got punished for it.”
“Then maybe you should tell him that,” said Jane.
“I tried,” said Ryan.  “In the car.  But he wasn’t in the mood to hear it.”
“Just give him time,” said Tim, gripping Ryan’s shoulder affectionately.  “He’ll listen when he’s ready to. I seem to remember another young man who had his share of teenage troubles.”
Ryan nodded. “I know, I know. It’s just… ah, well, I guess I’ll know more after I meet with his teachers next week.  I’m taking Monday off work so that we can have a conference.  We’re going to talk grades and attitude, and see if we can come up with a solution to all this.”
“That sounds like the best plan.  Now, why don’t you go call Wes for dinner?”  Jane gently patted Ryan on the hand, giving him a reassuring smile.
Ryan stepped out onto the back porch and cupped his hands around his mouth.
Wes!  Dinner!”
He went back inside to wait.  After about fifteen minutes, Wes still hadn’t arrived.  Ryan went back out on the porch and called again.
Wes!  Time to come in!”  There was no answering call, or any sign at all.  Ryan opened the back door and poked his head in.
“Hey, Ma, how long has Wes been out there?”
“Oh, I don’t know, hun, I think he went out at about five.”
“Mom!  That was three hours ago!”
“I know, but he wanders these woods all the time.  He’s not a little kid anymore! I wouldn’t worry, he’s probably just out of earshot.”
Ryan peered out into the deepening darkness, a strange sense of foreboding filling him.
“I’m going to look for him,” he called, trotting down the back steps.
The air was cooling quickly, and there were storm clouds rolling in.  If he didn’t hurry, he and Wes were going to be drenched before dinner.  He followed the path down through the hills and valleys, calling after Wes as he trudged through the tree-covered landscape.
As he wandered further through the woods, he began to get worried.  How was he supposed to find Wes?  He hadn’t been out in these woods in years.  He wasn’t really much of a hiker these days, all things considered.  Years of sitting at a desk had softened him more than he’d like to admit, not that he’d ever been terribly athletic to begin with.  He was what you would call a husky man, well under six feet tall and pudgy.  He’d only trudged through the woods for fifteen minutes, and he was already short of breath.  But he couldn’t just wait inside for Wes.  The boy was notoriously irresponsible, and wouldn’t bat an eye at wandering until well after dark, rain or no rain, and probably get lost at that.  All Ryan could do was wander through the trees calling for his son, following the hills and valleys, trying not to get lost himself.  He picked up his pace as thunder boomed nearby.
Before he knew it, he crested a rise and looked down into a bowl shaped depression with a gentle slope on one side and steep, almost cliff-like rises on the others.  The slope in front of Ryan dropped about fifteen feet at a precarious angle.  There was a rundown shack in the center of the hollow, its walls leaning at odd angles as if it might collapse at any moment.  Had there been a shack here when he was growing up?  He couldn’t remember.  It didn’t seem like it, but if not, where had this one come from?  From his vantage point, he could see the dilapidated condition of the house, although his angle only showed him the front and left sides.  The porch looked like it might be ready to fall off the structure with the next gentle breeze.
At that moment, he saw Wes.  The boy was standing on the porch, his hand raised to knock.
Wes!”  His voice didn’t seem to carry to the boy.  Wes!  Answer me!”  As he stared in disbelief, the door swung open from the inside without Wes ever touching it.  Ryan stood by in horror as his son stepped inside.
Ryan looked down the steep slope in front of him and judged the angle and distance.  He crouched and stepped forward, intending to climb down and get to that house.  What was Wes thinking, going into a strange place like that?  He stepped over the edge of the slope, and his heel caught on an exposed root.  He found himself tumbling out of control, trying to catch his balance, but it was a lost cause.  He fell the entire distance, slamming into the ground below, and felt his head strike something hard and unyielding.  And then there was only blackness. 

Chapter 3 
Of Dragons and Doorways 
WES ENTERED THE RUNDOWN SHACK with some trepidation.  He took a few steps inside and stopped in awe, not even hearing the door creak shut behind him.  What he saw inside was both impossible and wonderful, but what he felt inside was by far more astounding and profound, and even somewhat moving.  It was the most bizarre sensation he could have ever imagined, but it was a sensation that he wanted to continue.
Wes felt… safe, warm, comforted.  It was almost as if the house were welcoming him inside like a long lost son.  No, that wasn’t quite right either.  The house was conveying the sensation of a loving parent wrapping arms around him in safety and comfort.  It was giving him a hug.  There was a gentle scent in the air that he couldn’t really place at first.  Mint, and a hint of chocolate, perhaps, but whatever it was, it was soothing and sweet.
A few more steps took him out of the entryway and into a large, cozy sitting room.  The high ceiling was crossed with large oaken beams, and there was a strangely inviting fire burning in the fireplace, despite the warm weather.  Everything about the room, in fact, was inviting, and completely at odds with the house’s outside appearance.  He had been sure, on seeing it from the outside, that the house was nothing more than a small shack with an upstairs off the back of the main room.  But from the inside, it seemed much larger.  The sitting room was larger than he’d thought the entire house should be, and there were obviously other rooms in the back.  Not only that, but he could clearly see a staircase that led up not two, but at least three floors that he could make out. 
Still, the overall feel of the house was one of safety, comfort, and welcome.  From the overstuffed armchairs to the large, thick rug before the fire, the room seemed designed to evoke a feeling of hominess.  Not any particular home, or indeed any place at all that Wes had ever been or imagined, but something about this room resonated with him in ways he would never be able to explain, most especially to himself. 
The room was filled with items both strange and commonplace, none of which seemed to go together in any semblance of order.  A large glass cabinet contained hundreds of tiny carved figures of dragons, knights, warriors, wizards, all sorts of fantastic creatures and people.  In a prominent display case was a scale model of what appeared to be some kind of space ship, straight out of a sci-fi movie.  On a side table, he spied what looked to be a stack of comic books, and was absorbed in looking those over for a few moments, but he recognized none of the characters, or even the language of the text.  These and other items, all as different from each other as possible, filled the room from wall to wall.  But what caught his interest and held it was what he found on the drawing table in the corner.  A sextant!  He quickly strode over to examine it closely, picking it up off the table.
Yes, it was definitely a sextant, although the design was slightly different, more elaborate, than the one he’d seen in Social Studies class.  It seemed to be more ornate, designed to be pretty, unlike the simple utilitarian device Mrs. Jensen had brought for their project.  He walked around the room in wonder, the rest of the bizarre contents forgotten for a few moments, examining the sextant in great detail.  Just as he passed the bottom of the staircase, however, he heard a thump and the rustle of someone moving.  He had forgotten all about the bizarre little man!  Suddenly, the strangeness of the situation hit home.  He was alone in an unfamiliar house with at least one other person he didn’t know.  He almost fled then and there, but he could still feel that strange sensation of welcome, and despite his misgivings, he screwed up his courage to speak. 
“Hello?”  His voice only quavered a tiny bit.
Wes jumped back as a head appeared around the corner of the landing above him.
“Ah, good, you’ve finally made it!”  The head disappeared back around the corner, only to reappear a few moments later.  “Well, what are you waiting for?”  Then the entire figure stepped backward onto the landing, and Wes saw that the head was attached to the little man he’d followed to the house.  The man was tiny, barely five feet tall, and somewhat round.  He had a long, flowing beard and scruffy white hair stuffed up under a dusty old hat.  He wore an outfit that seemed to be out of another era, with a long robe or tunic held shut by a broad belt, a cloak thrown over his shoulder, and brightly shined leather boots.  His boots were the only part of the outfit that shined, though, as all his other clothing seemed to have been left out in a storeroom for the past hundred years.  Maybe two hundred.  The dust literally wafted from the man as he moved.
“Come, come, boy, time is wasting and days are passing and we must hurry!”  The strange little man beckoned Wes up the stairs.
Wes hesitated a moment, but he felt no danger from the little man.  In fact, he mostly felt amusement, and still that comforting hominess he had felt since entering this strange house.  He glanced back to the front door, thought for a moment, and then made up his mind.  He started up the stairs toward the funny little man, who was bouncing impatiently from foot to foot on the landing.
When Wes reached him, the little man grabbed his hand and hurried him around the corner and up to the top of the stairs.  “So slow, so slow you go, don’t you realize there are people waiting for you to save them?”  When they reached the top, Wes looked down a long, seemingly endless hallway.
“Wait a minute,” Wes said, stopping and jerking his hand free, his mind racing after hearing that last comment.  People here, people waiting for him, people he didn’t know, and him in such a strange place… he was feeling the beginnings of worry prickling the back of his neck.  “Where are we?  What is this place?”  The little man sighed loudly at him, exasperated.
“Yes, well, boy, there’s a lot to do and not a lot of time, but I know you need the details, lad, I won’t forget!”  He led Wes over to an arched doorway before the actual hall and led him inside to a small study, the walls covered with bookshelves.  There were several comfortable looking chairs and a long couch, with a couple of old tables between them.  “All right, lad, take a seat anywhere, I’ll be back in just a few moments.  There’s something very important that I’ve got to show you!”  And with that, the little man hurried out of the room.
Wes was flabbergasted.  What should he do?  Should he wait, or should he make tracks down the stairs while he had the chance, and get out of this crazy place?  He looked down at his hands and was surprised to see that he still held the ornate sextant.  Well, a few more minutes couldn’t hurt anything, just to find out what was going on.  Wes could never resist his curiosity, and maybe this man could tell him more about the strange device.  He shoved the sextant into the open mouth of his backpack and settled down to wait.
***
The little man was downstairs fumbling with his keys, trying to open the great iron bound door to his workroom.  He wasn’t quite as prepared as he’d hoped!  He had just sent out the call, it seemed, and he wasn’t ready for a smart mouthed selfish boy, no matter that he had called him here himself and needed him.  He must show him the book!  He finally found the key and inserted it into the lock, when he heard a rustling sound behind him.  He turned, expecting to see that the boy had followed him down the stairs instead of staying in the sitting room as requested.
“You,” he breathed in disgust, but no real fear, when he saw the small creature emerge from the shadows.  Its wings were held tightly against its back as it skittered forward on all fours.  He readied a spell to fling at the little beast, drawing as much power as he could manage, knowing it would be tricky.
“Yes, Pomander.  Me.”  The little creature’s voice carried nothing but contempt, and before the little man could react, the creature sprang.
Pomander’s spell hit the black shape hurtling toward him, flinging it backward to slam against the wall.  It was back up immediately, though, and rushing toward him again, zigging and zagging down the little hall.
“You must be mad, confronting me here,” Pomander said, throwing lightning and fire at the creature without much success.  “You can’t hope to prevail.”  He flung another bolt of mystical energy at the beast, missing again and leaving scorch marks on the tiled floor.
“I do as my master tells me, Pomander, as do you!”  The creature sprang the last distance toward him.  Pomander was ready, though.  His blast of pure energy hit the creature full on, bathing it in iridescence.  The small form stretched out fully, wings spreading, its small mouth opening wide in a soundless shriek.  The light around the creature continued to build until even Pomander could no longer see the thing, and then it faded, leaving nothing in its wake.
“Maybe so, Crowley, but my master doesn’t tell me to do stupid things.”  He shook his head sadly and turned back to the door as an unseen tendril of shadow fell on his shoulder.  He felt a sudden chill, and began to tremble.  Without warning, he fell to his knees, the trembling becoming an uncontrollable convulsion as he gasped for breath. He pulled his arms and legs in around his chest as the cold grew inside him.
***
Wes waited in the sitting room upstairs, not knowing whether to stay or run.  All was quiet up there, no sounds intruding from either the outdoors or downstairs where the little man had disappeared.  He had finally risen from the chair, making up his mind to leave, when the strange man appeared in the doorway.  The man looked at him blankly for a moment.
“Well,” prompted Wes, curious, “what was it you were going to show me?”
That startled the little man.  “Show you?”  He looked back at Wes, suddenly nervous, unable to meet his eyes.  “Show?  Oh, yes, oh, nothing boy.  It was nothing.”  He stepped into the room, glancing about as he did so.  After a moment, he looked at Wes, and a sly grin crossed his face.
“Well, boy, it’s time, now.  Come along!”  He grabbed Wes by the hand and pulled him from the room, suddenly very animated and full of energy.  Wes jerked his hand back out of the little man’s grasp.
“No way, I’m not going anywhere till you tell me what’s going on here.  What is this place?”
“Talk while we walk, boy, we’ve a ways yet to go!”  With that, the little man grabbed Wes’ hand and tugged him back into motion, not allowing him the luxury of delaying them.
“Where we are,” he said in quick, accented words, slightly British or maybe even a little German, “is simply the House.  Or the House of Doors.  Or the Gatehouse.  It’s not really important, and I’m fairly sure it doesn’t care what we call it.”  He quickened his pace, pulling Wes along behind him.  “As for who I am, which you didn’t ask, you may call me Pomander, and I shall call you Wes.”
Wes dug in his heels, determined to stop the little man tugging on him.  “How did you know my name?  What do you mean, it doesn’t care?  How could it care?”
“I know a great many things,” said Pomander irritably, “not least of which is your name, young man.”  He tugged again, hard, and Wes stumbled into motion lest he fall and be dragged behind the little man.  Pomander was most definitely stronger than he looked.
“Fine,” he said quickly, stumbling along behind the little man.  “But what am I doing here?  What was that you said about people waiting up here for me to save them?”
“Ah, lad, that’s the meat of the story!”  For a change, Pomander was the one to slow their pace.  “And I suppose you do need to hear the basics, at that, don’t you, boy?  Listen closely!”  And Pomander began to tell his tale.
“The Gatehouse is a very special place.  No one knows exactly who created it, or why.  What is known is that these doorways we keep passing,” he gestured to one of the many doors along the hall, “aren’t what you’d consider normal doors in your average family home.  No, no, not at all!  You see, the universe is in no way, shape, or form the place you have been taught that it is in school all these years.”  He looked back at Wes, still pulling him down the hall, though more slowly now.  “There are many worlds, you see, even worlds between those worlds.  And each of these doorways here holds a gateway to hundreds, thousands of worlds, the like of which you’ve never imagined!”
Pomander stopped walking and approached one of the doors.  He tapped the frame.
“Some of these, you see, open onto worlds in this particular plane.  For instance, I might open this door here and find that on the other side was the surface of Jupiter, or maybe a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri.”  Hearing those words come out of a tiny man dressed in clothing that would have seemed ancient a hundred years ago struck Wes as very strange indeed.  “Other doors open to worlds on other planes, other universes, if you will.”
Wes thought he finally understood what was going on here, and adjusted his thinking.  The guy was a nutjob!  But it seemed to be a harmless kind of crazy, not the homicidal maniac kind, and he was really very entertaining.  Wes decided to play along.
“It sounds like something out of a story,” he said with a wide grin.
“It is something out of a story, boy, very astute of you!  It’s the basis of stories, as a matter of fact.  Some of the greatest works of ‘fiction’ your world has produced were written by people who, well, I suppose you would say ‘picked up’ on emanations from the House.  As far as I can tell, this is something unique to your world.”  He glanced away for a moment, and said, seemingly to himself, “Your world is unique in a number of ways, it seems.”
“What ways?”
“Let’s not worry about that just yet, Wes,” he said, grasping Wes’ hand again and resuming his quick pace down the hall.  “What you need to understand is that these doors are gateways to imagination.  The rules you might find behind one of these doors are different from the rules you’ve grown up with all your life.  Maybe there’s real magic behind that door there.  Or perhaps great starships fly through the vast reaches of space faster than light behind that other door.  Maybe people run around in skin-tight, brightly colored costumes, battling evil with their amazing powers and abilities far beyond those of… well, you get the idea, child!  What I’m getting at is, think of anything a boy like yourself might have ever read or seen in your television or movies or in your imagination itself.  Any of those things could possibly, even probably, be on the other side of a doorway!”
Wes couldn’t stop himself from laughing.  “So behind that door, there might be people flying or shooting lasers out their eyes!”
“Or you might find a powerful wizard, now you’ve got it!  Now hurry, we’re almost there!”  And he quickened his steps yet again.
All this stopping and starting, hurrying and pausing, essentially being dragged who knew where, grated on Wes’ nerves for a moment.  A part of his mind kept tickling him, telling him that this situation should have been scaring him silly, and yet he couldn’t seem to feel any fear here.  Between the sense of warmth and safety he could still feel emanating from somewhere, and the little man’s odd mannerisms, he couldn’t help but feel amused by this whole adventure.
“Now, you must understand, lad, it’s not all wine and roses on the worlds behind the doors, any more than it is here.  They’re all actually very much like this world, in that they’re all filled with people.  And people, of course, come in all types.  Every world has its heroes, but every world also has its villains.”  He paused in his monologue here, as if for dramatic effect, and again stopped their forward progress.  He looked nervously down the length of the hall from whence they’d come, and then down the seemingly endless passage ahead of them, and he spoke in a melodramatic stage whisper.  “And then, there’s Crowley!”  He looked up at Wes, as if expecting the name to mean something to him.
“Ummm…” said Wes.  Crowley.  Okay.”  Wes looked at Pomander blankly.  “Who’s Crowley?”
The little man’s face showed his sudden annoyance, and he began walking again, dragging Wes along behind him with a great harrumph.
“Yes, boy, Crowley!  Even here, that name should strike terror into your very marrow!  A powerful demon, servant of the Unnamed, Crowley fills men’s hearts with fear wherever he’s found!”  His voice took on a sonorous, almost reverent tone.  “Ten feet tall, he is, with great black wings and row upon row of razor-sharp teeth!  His terrible countenance drives mortals mad with a single glance!  The arcane powers at his disposal are unmatched in all the worlds, and woe unto me, he is my nemesis!”
“So… he’s the big bad guy in the story, then,” Wes said chuckling, imagining this whole thing as a comic book or video game.  At Pomander’s crestfallen look, he quickly said, “He sounds pretty tough!”
“The Unnamed is the ‘big bad guy’, as you so eloquently put it, boy, but Crowley is his right hand, and quite enough to be getting on with.  In most cases, though, Crowley works from the shadows toward the goals of the Unnamed.”
“But you still haven’t told me what it is you want from me, and who I’m supposed to save.”  Wes was enjoying the little man’s story so much that the strangeness of the entire situation was becoming lost on him.  “What is it I’m supposed to do, defeat this Crowley guy?”
“Ah, Wes,” Pomander said, guffawing.  It expanded into a laugh so hard that tears streamed down his face.  “Heavens no, lad, you could never hope to face Crowley directly!  If you ever see Crowley, you run the opposite way as fast as you can!”  He got his laughter under control and wiped the tears from his beard, still rushing Wes down the long hallway and chuckling occasionally.  “No, you see, Crowley works behind the scenes, sowing seeds of dissension and evil throughout the worlds to try and claim them for his master.  My job, and your reason for being here, is to unplant those seeds and unravel the plans he hatches.  Ah!  We’re here!”
Wes was startled by their sudden halt.  He looked up the corridor, and then back the way they’d come, and couldn’t see the end of the hall in either direction.  “What do you mean?”
Pomander pointed proudly at the door to their right.  “This is it, the one we need!  On the other side, you’ll find the kingdom of Canellin.  Everything else you need to know, you will learn there.  There is a man there who can help you.  So, simply defeat the evil dragon and its minions and return home, job well done!”  He looked Wes in the eye and opened the door to… nothingness. 
A roiling, swirling nothingness, if you can imagine that. Wes couldn’t tear his eyes from the sight.
“Do you, Wes, accept this obligation of your own free will, and swear you’ll carry it out or die trying?”
“Sure,” said Wes absently, not really paying attention to Pomander’s words.  His mind was still trying to grasp the concept of a swirling nothingness.  Was that even possible?  At that exact moment, a bestial roar erupted from the other side of the doorway.  “Wait,” he said, “did you say dragon?”
Pomander shoved him roughly through the doorway and slammed the door.  With a gleam in his eye and a sinister chuckle, he started back down the long hall.
***
Awareness returned to Ryan in a slow wash of pain.  He struggled to sit up, causing his head to fall off.  That’s what it felt like, at least, as the pain overcame him and everything faded out again.  When the wave passed, he put his hand to his temple and reassured himself that his head was, indeed, still attached.  Much more worrisome to him, though, was the blood that covered his hand when he pulled it away.  It took him a few moments to realize that the darkness around him was due to night having fallen while he was unconscious. Rain poured in torrents, and he was covered in blood and caked with mud. Comprehension dawned, and memory slowly returned.
I fell, he thought to himself.  I hit my head on something.  I must have been out for hours!  He stood up quickly, and immediately wished that he hadn’t.  His knees buckled, and he sank halfway back to the ground before regaining his balance.  He could tell both from his grogginess and the fact that he was still bleeding freely after all this time that he must be hurt badly.
There was something he needed to do, if only he could think of it.  Where was Wes?  The house!  Wes had been about to go into that house in the hollow!  He turned his head quickly and again regretted it as nausea struck him.  When his vision cleared, he could see the house silhouetted in flashes by the occasional lightning.  There seemed to be a light on in a second story window, but other than that, all was dark and quiet, the only sound the rain and thunder, and the occasional frog braving the torrential downpour.
The light started thoughts racing through Ryan’s head, dark thoughts that chilled him to the bone.  Child molesters, serial killers, crazy murdering hermits squatting in abandoned, secluded houses.  He had to get to Wes!  The fog of confusion, though, was hard to work through.  He struggled upright and started toward the structure, his feet squelching in the muck.  He was having too much trouble concentrating, too much difficulty keeping his thoughts focused, as he took a few stumbling steps toward the shack and again fell to his knees.  Every few seconds, his vision would fade out, and when it came back, he’d be a little closer to the house.  Somehow, he found himself on the porch, lurched toward the door, raised his fist, and pounded.  Every blow sent lightning bolts through his skull.
The door slowly creaked open, and Ryan fell inside.  He was surprised that he was having so much trouble standing, seeing, concentrating.  He hauled himself to his knees once again, trying to count how many times he had fallen to get this far, trying to shake his vision clear.  Working his way back to his feet, he made his way past the entryway to the large sitting room.  He felt a strange sensation, something bizarre perhaps emanating from the house itself, but it was so vague that he dismissed it from his mind.
Wes?”  His voice sounded like a bellow in his head, but to his ears it was a whisper.  He tried again, louder.
Wes!  Are you in here?”  He shuffled forward, single-minded now that he was inside.
“Who are you?”  The voice came from the bottom of the staircase.  Squinting in that direction, Ryan spied an odd little man in archaic clothing who was staring at him in obvious surprise.
“I’m… I… who are you?  Where’s Wes?”  Ryan stood straighter and took a few halting steps toward the little man.
“How rude,” said the man.  “You didn’t answer my question, and you’re dripping blood all over the rug.”  He stared at Ryan reproachfully.  “I am, umm, Pomander, and I’m afraid Wes is gone.  Now, sir, as I said before, who are you?”
Ryan.  I’m Ryan.”  When Pomander said nothing, Ryan clarified.  Ryan Bellamy.”  Ryan’s knees buckled for a moment, but he retained his balance.  “I saw my son come in here.  Where is he?”  He felt a sudden surge of anger toward the little man.  “Where’s my son?”  He lurched toward Pomander, intending to grab him and shake the answers he wanted out of him by force.
“Hmm,” said Pomander, taking a step back.  “A father’s anger.  That could be quite dangerous.  Quite useful, too, I admit, but to be honest, I don’t think you’ll be around long enough to be either a danger or a use to me.”  He looked Ryan up and down as if sizing him up.  “You realize you’re not in the best condition at the moment, don’t you?  You’re bleeding rather badly, and you can hardly stand.  No, I don’t think you’ll be able to interfere at all, for good or ill.  Regardless, your son is not here.  He’s running a little… errand for me at the moment, and I’d really rather you be kept out of it.”
Ryan drew himself to his full height, angry now, the little man’s callous words galvanizing him to action.  He was by no means an aggressive man, avoiding confrontation at almost any cost, but not where his son’s safety was concerned.  “Tell me where he is.”  He took two steps forward, right up to Pomander, towering over the little man.  “Tell me now, or take me to him.  You do not want me any angrier than I already am, I promise you that!”  He hoped Pomander didn’t call his bluff.  It was taking everything he had to stay upright, and he was sure even this tiny little man could take him easily.
“Spirit.  You have it in abundance, don’t you, my good man?”  Pomander looked up at him, a gleam in his eye and no trace of fear.  “That and bravado.  You can’t even stand, and you’re threatening me with violence.”  He looked thoughtful for a moment.  “You love your son a great deal, I can see that.  I may be able to use you after all.  I’m not sure what you’ll be able to accomplish, even if you survive the trip.  Confusion, if nothing else.  Chaos is always an admirable goal!  Wes has been there for quite some time, and will surely be well on his way to finishing my little task by now, if he’s going to finish it at all.”  He waved his hand theatrically, and dizziness again overtook Ryan.  When his vision cleared again, he found himself standing in a hallway with no apparent end, a doorway in front of him, and the little man nowhere in sight.
“What…?”
“Quiet,” a sharp voice said in his head.  “You are about to make a journey beyond anything you’ve known, with little chance of survival and even smaller chance of success.  It will be difficult, and there will be danger to you, and to Wes.  But if you want to have any chance at all, when you arrive, immediately tell whoever you meet that Pomander sent you, and ask for Diaticus.  Your son is in danger.  It’s up to you to save him.  Now, go.”
The door in front of Ryan opened slowly, and he felt a hard shove against his back.  Then a sensation of falling… falling…
Ryan fell to his knees in the dust, hot sun beating down on him.  He rose shakily to his feet and looked around.  He was in some kind of courtyard surrounded by a high wall.  Directly across the broad court from him, a woman in strange clothing saw him and raced off around a corner with a cry of alarm.  From the other direction, four very large men wearing what appeared to be some kind of armor approached at a run, spears lowered, charging.  He held his hands palm out in front of him, unable to find words or think of anything else to do.  Panic engulfed him as danger approached.  Finally, he squeaked out, “Puh… Pomander sent me!”  And then he collapsed into oblivion.