Book One: The Kingfisher King
Chapter 1: The Broomcloset
Many years ago there was a boy who went to school in upstate New York. His name was Joshua Plummer. He was short for his fourteen years of age and this, along with his name made him the target of some ridicule from his classmates. They enjoyed teasing him because of his height, and used the excuse of him being a "Plumber" to take him to the boy's restroom to fix a leaking pipe. There was no leaking pipe, and all they did was hang him upside down, dipping his head into a toilet, and flushing. It was obviously not something that Joshua enjoyed. And so, Joshua was running.
It was a late October afternoon, the kind in which the weather hasn't quite made up its mind as to which it wanted to arrive first; snow or Halloween. Along the emptying school hallway, Halloween decorations were placed on the classroom doors and windows. Creatures like Spiders and ravens, but also monsters like vampires and mummies. Even a orange pumpkin was placed here and there.
Joshua's heart was pounding in his chest. Robert Cooper and his gang were a couple of minutes behind him. He was running at breakneck speed toward the exit, but then saw that it was blocked by a crowd of students. He wouldn't be able to get out of the school and to his bike if he went that way. The crowd would slow him down just enough to give Robbie and his gang enough time to catch up to him.
Nobody dared call Robert Cooper, “Robbie” to his face. It was the whole reason Joshua was in this mess to begin with. The brown haired boy was a good foot taller than he was and two years older. As soon as the school bell had rung, Joshua was headed for the exit as quickly as possible.
He glanced down the hallway. On one side of the hallway were windows. He might be able to get one open and climb out, but he didn't know how long doing that would take and decided not to risk it. On the other side of the hallway were lockers and a couple of doors. The classroom doors were always locked at the end of the day, and the lockers were no guarantee of protection.
After not seeing him at the back of the group of students, Robbie's gang would probably check the lockers without locks on them. Joshua knew that if he hid on one of the lockers he would definitely be getting a swirlie.
At the other end of the hallway, was a blue door with a small plaque that read "Janitor", and to Joshua's good fortune, it was slightly open. Joshua dashed toward the open door and closed it behind him. He fumbled his fingers around the doorknob until he found the lock on this side of the door and turned it.
As his eyes adjusted he saw a brass chain hanging down in the middle of the broom closet attached to small lightbulb. It was much to high up for him to reach it. Instead he found the light switch on the wall, and turned it on. The broom closet looked like what Joshua assumed every other broom closet looked like.
On the one side of the closet was a janitor’s mop bucket. Unfortunately, it still had a small bit of water in it that reeked of being dirty. On the other side were shelves of powders and sprays: Antibacterial, Multi-surface, Floor polishing, Cat Liter, and half a dozen others.
In the back of the broom closet, hung dozens of brooms and mops in all sorts of sizes. There was a tiny broom that must have been used for sweeping in small corners. Another was as tall as the other one was short. It was a good six feet long. That one must be used by the newest janitor who was just a bit taller than the broom, Joshua thought. All of the handles hung straight down towards the floor, making the entire back of the broom closet look like a forest of trees. There were so many, Joshua could not be sure whether he was seeing the back wall; or if he was just imagining that he was seeing it.
Outside in the hallway, Robbie and the other bullies had arrived. Joshua put his ear to the door and he could hear them talking. “Come on out,” Robbie said. “There’s a toilet in the boy’s bathroom that needs a Plummer to look at it.” The other bullies laughed at Robbie’s joke.
After a few moments, Robbie spoke again. "Guys," he ordered. "Check the lockers. That small fry might be hiding in one of them." The bullies started on the far end of the hallway, opening any locker that didn't have a lock on them, and shutting them again when they didn't find anybody in them.
"Nothin' there," one of the boys said.
Joshua heard the sound of doorknobs being rattled, and backed up toward the wall. His hand parted the forest of broomsticks reaching for the wall. The door knob on the broom closet door rattled, and Joshua went deeper towards the back.
The lightbulb dimmed and soon Joshua found himself completely surrounded by the broomsticks. Only now they no longer looked like broomsticks. Their handles had grown all the way down to the floor and deeper, almost like the roots of a tree; they were no longer smooth either, but rough like tree bark. Above him, the straw had turned into small twigs with green leaves on them.
Behind him, he could see the dim light of the janitor's broom closet swinging back and forth. In front of him was a different kind of light, and Joshua was drawn towards it. As he went further and further on, the broomsticks became more broom-like again; they were no longer rooted to the ground, but they still had a barky appearance.
He reached out for one and pulled away a broom as twisty as a pretzel. It curved in the shape of an S, and instead of straw at the end, it had the stiff spines of black feathers. Joshua looked around him into the new room. All around him things were different. There was a single metal bucket instead of the yellow plastic mop bucket, and all of the brooms were made of wood and the same stiff feathers as the one he held.
The door leading out of the room was open just a hair, and Joshua peered out into a place that was definitely NOT the school, nor was it a place like anywhere near the school. The door he was now in opened to a large open room, with pale adobe colored walls. A few pillars seemed to support the ceiling while brilliant sunlight filtered into the room from stained glass windows to his left. Across the room, maybe about thirty or so feet away was a man sitting in a chair on a raised platform.
He had tanned skin and wore a cloak of black feathers the fell to the floor. His hair,
however, was as dark as the feathers were. When he spoke, the man's voice had authority, projecting itself all the way to the broom closet Joshua was in. The voice did not sound like a nice voice. It was the same type of voice Robbie used whenever he was telling his friends about his latest idea for a prank, whether it was the plan to Superglue a nickel to the floor, the plan to put Jello mix into the toilets, or what he planned on really doing once he caught 'that Plummer kid'.
"Are my ships ready, minister?" The raven-haired man asked. A man wearing a plain brown and white cloak approached the raised platform, crawling on his hands and knees, and not daring to look up at the raven-haired man.
"Yes, milord." he said. So, Joshua thought, the raven-haired man was some sort of
prince, or king. "The three hundred warships are ready to set sail. But you have not yet told us where, if I may ask.”
“We are sailing the fleet to Breakwater,” the raven-haired man stood, addressing the assembled crowd. “We will strike at the heart of the Kingdom of Aves while it is weak, and it will be ours.” The man smiled. "That so-called King of Aves," he spat. "That old man is weak and dying. And his son is a fool that frolics plays games with animals and half-people. That boy prince Galen doesn’t know the first thing about running a kingdom.”
“Are not three hundred ships too many?” the minister asked, glancing up briefly. In a moment the man screamed. The other ministers in the room backed away from him, revealing deep red gashes on the man’s face.
“That king and boy need to be taught a lesson,” the man growled. “I want it to be so
that I can ride my horse from ship to ship without getting its hooves wet. I will choke the seas around the Castle Aves. They will have no option but to surrender, or die. Aves, and those other kingdoms beyond it, need a firm hand.”
He raised his hands, and Joshua could see that the man only had three fingers. Each finger ended in a sharp claw speckled with red blood. It looked like a bird’s talon. The talon-handed man snapped his hand shut, making a sound like the sound a knife makes with sharpening.
“And I have two such hands.” He said grinning from ear to ear. "We set sail tonight."
At that same moment, the door of the broom closet pushed opened an inch from Joshua leaning on it. The creaking sound in the large room was a loud as an automobile on the highway. The talon-handed man sharply turned toward the broom closet.
"What was that?" He snapped angrily.
Scared, Joshua ran backwards into the forest of handles, still grasping onto the curved one tightly, and not daring to look back.
Pushing through the broom forest, he soon reached the janitor broom closet. The lightbulb was still swinging back and forth. The same yellow plastic mop bucket with dirty water was off to one side. Joshua wondered whether it had all been a dream, but then looked down to the curved broom he was holding in his hands. It hadn't been a dream, it had all been real. Even the talon-handed man was real. The thought made Joshua shudder. He opened the door and stepped out into the hallway ready to face whatever punishment was waiting for him. Compared to the talon-handed man, Robbie
and the other bullies were insignificant. After a few moments, nothing happened. Joshua opened his eyes and saw a hallway completely empty hallway. He glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was four o'clock in the afternoon. He had been gone for half an hour. Joshua shook his head, certain that he had only been gone a few minutes. Robbie and his gang must have left after not being able to find him anywhere.
Outside the school, Joshua tied the curvy broomstick to his bike handlebars and made his way home quickly. He very nearly got hit by an automobile because he was so distracted by the recent events, and he did actually fall over a few times when he had forgotten to pedal. The events of the past hour passed through his mind; the Kingdom of Aves, a military invasion of three hundred ships, a scary talon-handed man.
Joshua didn’t know what was going on. He did know how he might be able to find out though. The internet was always helpful in these kinds of situations. As soon as he got home, he told his parents an excuse for being late, something about helping a teacher get a box of borrowed library books to her car to take back to the library now that the reading was over.
Kicking off his shoes, we ran upstairs to his room and fired up his computer. He put the words he could remember in the search bar. There were no search results for any person that had talons for hands. There were no results for a Kingdom of Aves either, except that Aves meant Bird. Nor did any naval invasion tie the two together. Except for the broom, there was no evidence that what had happened, did indeed happen.
The talon-handed man was really bad news, and Joshua felt that he needed to go back to warn the Kingdom of Aves that the talon-handed man planned on invading, and that very night. After supper and homework, Joshua had decided what he was going to do. Tomorrow, he decided, he would go back to the broom closet and hopefully be able to get to that other world once again.