Middle Grade - Revision #1
Holding his breath, Charlie opened the door of the reading room just wide enough to check that the immediate area was empty. A sigh of relief escaped. He’d lost so much time. He needed to be in town where he could solve the word puzzle. How else could he find the hiding place of the birthday gift from his father? He couldn’t let anyone else find it. Not now.
Charlie squeezed his head out; peering past the gas lights to both ends of the hallway. The coast was clear. Easy as pie.
Charlie pushed open the door and headed towards the staircase. Built in 1874, this part of the Sisters of Charity orphanage was the original structure and after 26 years, the wood floor was old and worn. No squeaks to give him away.
New Boy. Charlie didn’t even have a name with the other boys yet. He couldn’t be sure one of them wouldn’t report his absence or even notice him gone, but it didn’t matter.
I wonder if this is what purgatory is like, he thought. After his parents’ yellow fever ten days ago, no one had been willing to take him in. But he didn’t belong here either. He had family; just none in Galveston. It wasn’t fair. If he’d been in town, solving the puzzle would be so much easier.
Charlie tiptoed down the hallway.
“Get off my bed!”
“I can sit here if I want to!”
Charlie grimaced at the shouts of the Jacobsen twins arguing in the dormitory. At least the noises would help cover his escape. The nine o’clock morning bells had rung for Terse. He’d spent the last few days watching how the nuns took turns going to prayers so that the children were supervised at all times. Learning the routines of the nuns kept him from dwelling on memories.
Charlie had watched Sister Elizabeth leave at first light just like the prior Saturday. Taking the orphanage’s horse drawn wagon, she picked up supplies in town each week. That left only six nuns to patrol both the girls’ and boys’ dormitory wings. Still, Charlie couldn’t afford to lose the opportunity to try to solve a part of the puzzle today. He wasn’t sure there would be many of them before his uncle arrived. A letter sent eight days ago. How long would it take to catch up with a traveling man?
Charlie reached the staircase and started down the steps. Eight, nine and ten were the tricky ones. They groaned under any weight and Sister Hildegarde’s office extended under the stairs, so any sound would alert her. Charlie lightly pushed off with his left foot. His cotton britches slid easily in the indention of the wooden handrail past the noisy planks. He slipped off onto the eleventh one and his small, wiry frame landed softly. From there he moved quickly down the last steps.
The back stairs ended near the doorway to the kitchen in one direction, the hallway to Sister Hildegarde’s office in another and a doorway to the garden in the last. Charlie grabbed his straw hat off a peg, thumbed his suspenders back on his shoulder and glanced in all directions. He ran the short distance to the outside door. Without a second glance, Charlie opened it and navigated through the turnips and potato patch. He dashed through the outside wrought iron gate onto the beach.
Charlie looked around and didn’t see anyone. With a three mile walk ahead, he dashed forward. Seagulls screamed and fought for the sea’s leavings along the narrow beach. The waves crashed and threw their foamy crests high in the air, closer than Charlie remembered for this time of the morning. The wind blew in hearty gusts and Charlie’s sandy brown hair kept blowing in his blue eyes. It looked like it might storm but the sky was clear blue with no clouds. Charlie half walked, half ran. He needed to talk to Arne and find some answers. The first stanza of the puzzle ran in his head again:
“One and the same
of each other
but not the same.
The father of those who roam the open spaces
And the father of us all.”
It seemed so simple. Charlie slowed and kicked at the sand. He spotted a piece of driftwood that was slender and long. He picked it up and swung it, feeling its weight. Never knew when you might need a sword. Nearing the edge of town, Charlie searched for any sign of Arne. Or Weasel or Wart. The two dockrats seemed to be everywhere he went these days.
Charlie again wondered how long he had before his uncle arrived. Once he gets here, he won’t want to stay. Now’s my only chance to solve the puzzle. I can’t leave before then. I won’t leave. I’ll find a way to stay if I have to. I know my pa hid my present before… Charlie’s thoughts were interrupted.
Charlie whirled around, swinging his stick. Where had Arne come from?
Smack! Charlie’s sword smacked into Arne’s.
Slash! Bang! Clap! The swords clashed as the boys danced around each other, parrying for a better angle. Slivers of wood flew in the air.
Crack! Charlie’s sword broke in two.
“Do you yield?” Arne shouted.
“No,” Charlie said.
Poof! Charlie turned to find the sound. “Look at that,” Charlie said as he pointed behind Arne.
Laughing, Arne said, “Good one. I’m not falling for that.”
“No, really. You have to see this.”
Arne frowned for a minute and then half turned to look, keeping one eye on Charlie.
Fascinated, Charlie moved closer to where the wind churned along the top of the sand. A small funnel of swirling sand formed, growing in strength. It spun for a moment and then exploded in a final burst of energy – the sand falling back to the ground. Charlie and Arne looked at each other.
“Have you ever seen anything like that,” Charlie asked.
“It’s like a miniature tornado,” Arne said. “I didn’t think there was such a thing.”
The boys watched another funnel form and explode. They ran up the beach chasing after a third one forming.
“Have you figured out anything new on the first part?” Arne asked.
“No. And it’s a long puzzle. We’ve just got to get the first part solved.”
“Yes, but how?”
Charlie frowned. “It’s not a chicken and egg. And it’s not a library and its books. What else is there?”
“I don’t know,” said Arne.
“I still think it’s one thing with more than one part,” Charlie said.
“Sure is hard,” said Arne. “Why didn’t your pa make it easier?”
Charlie stared down at the sand as dug his foot in the ground. “He thought he’d be here to help. But he’s not.” Charlie screwed his eyes closed at the thought of how much fun it would have been to share the search with his father. He wouldn’t cry in front of Arne. Charlie sucked in a deep breath.
“ I know he would’ve made it something I’d know,” Charlie said. “It must be something we use every day.”
“What about a house with people?” Arne asked. “That might relate to the father part.”
“No. How would we know which house? We must be missing something.”
Charlie’s stomach grumbled. “Your ma didn’t send a snack, did she?”
“No,” Arne said. “We could try the docks. See if anyone would give us something.”