CHAPTER 1 - The Glowing Book
Jack Disor greeted the lightning storm with a smile. As palm branches rapped against his bedroom window amidst the howling winds, he happily filled a suitcase with winter clothes and booklets from a boarding school he was attending.
“What else can I bring?” he asked himself as he looked around the gloomy room, eyeing a perfectly preserved monkey’s skeleton. He shook his head and, instead, packed a book about witches, a bejeweled ring that changed color if ghosts were apparently nearby, and a pair of night-vision goggles he used to spy on a neighbor that he was convinced was an alien (but who only turned out to be Dutch).
By the time Jack finished packing, he could barely lift the suitcase despite being rather tall for an eleven-year-old. Step by step, he dragged the bulging piece of luggage down the stairs.
“That better be the last of your baggage,” boomed a deep voice. Jack quickly looked around but saw no one. “Up here, Son.”
Jack’s father dangled upside-down meters above him using gravity boots, one of his latest inventions, though Jack wasn’t the least bit surprised of his air-defying ability.
“Morning, Dad,” he greeted his father who fixed a weather machine sticking out from their roof. Jack then lugged his suitcase to their library where the rest of his baggage awaited. “This should be all of it, I think.”
“Wouldn’t hurt to triple check,” noted his father. “That’s twelve thousand kilometers between the Philippines and Canada, Jack, and you don’t want to leave anything important behind. I’d even pack a map and compass, just in case.”
But Jack was not paying attention. He was distracted by something that flickered from the bottom of a bookcase when a flash of lightning illuminated the library. He crawled towards it and parted volumes of The History of Shepherd’s Pie, which only revealed another row of books. When his father came down from the ceiling, all he saw were Jack’s legs sticking out of the cavernous bookcase. “What on Earth are you doing in there?”
Jack still did not answer. He eventually reached the back of the bookcase and found that the shiny object was just a big, black book. But the moment he touched it as lightning flashed one more time, the book glowed brilliantly. He quickly pulled back his hand thinking it was hot and the book stopped glowing at once. With his eyes fixed at the strange discovery, an engraving appeared on the cover of the leather-bound book: giant stone pillars in a circular pattern.
“Stonehenge?” said Jack, somewhat disappointed. But every turned page revealed images of sinister sorcerers and magical creatures, and by the second chapter his grin nearly reached his ears. He never expected such a find in their library because his parents were both scientists and didn’t care much for folklore or fairytales.
“Anything interesting back there?” asked Jack’s father, knocking on the side of the bookcase. Jack hurriedly crawled out, collecting dust in his bowl-shaped haircut, and handed the book to his father.
“I found a glowing book!” he said with a pant.
“There’s no such thing,” said his father.
“Just watch! The next time there’s lightning, this book will light up.”
They blankly stared at it for a few seconds, but Jack groaned when he looked out the window and saw the clouds parting as sunlight swept across the library.
“I swear it lit up.”
“Jack, this is just a simple tome… and not at all academic,” he said after opening to a page with a giant, menacing unicorn trampling people. “I wonder how this got into our library. Here, best ask your mother.”
The last raindrops echoed throughout the Disor manor as Jack left the library with his newly found book right up to his face.
“Ouch!” he said after bumping into a wall and tilting a portrait of his great grandfather. More dead relatives peered down as he passed through a labyrinth of hallways until an orchestra of boiling pots and sizzling pans welcomed him to the kitchen.
“There’s my little traveler!” greeted Jack’s mother with a big smile while having a tug-of-war with the oven door. “Your special breakfast is on its way, if this oven ever spits it out.”
She gave the oven a swift kick and it yelled back at her in Japanese.
“Anything I can help with?” asked Jack distractedly.
“I’m almost done so—Jack! Are you reading that book about plane crashes again?”
“No, I finished that last night,” he said frankly, finally finding the breakfast table.
“Honestly, I don’t know why you read such books.”
“In case my plane crash-lands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
His mother’s eyes widened. “And what, pray tell, is that book about?”
“I’m not sure yet… I found it in the library with Dad. There’s a picture of Stonehenge so maybe Grandpa Byron left it when he visited from England. He said you used to live there?”
“Yes, in Amesbury, but only up until I was six. It was a weird little town and the people called themselves ‘Moonrakers.’”
Jack' hurriedly flipped the pages back to an illustration with hooded figures digging graves under the light of two moons. He held the book up to his mother and asked, “Like this?”
“Goodness, no! The only things in Amesbury are tourists and the occasional stray sheep.”
She finally opened the oven and pulled out a tray with a dozen, dark brown sausages covered in tiny bumps.
“Here you go,” she said, handing Jack a plate of two of the sausages next to a lump that looked like mulched grass. “A twist on a traditional English breakfast: bangers made of sea cucumbers and mash made of bamboo shoots.”
But Jack was too engrossed with the book and devoured the bizarre breakfast in a couple of servings without question. He was particularly entranced by a drawing of a man in a grey cloak with his left hand covered in fire and the right hand all white, dangling icicles.
“Don’t you think you’re getting a little old for fantasy?” asked his mother as she added two more sea cucumbers on his plate. “Eleven-year-old honor students don’t read these kinds of books, you know. Or those Tales of the Enchanted Orphan you still keep in your bedroom.”
“You donated those to the orphanage last week!”
“That’s because we have enough books as it is. Which reminds me, a van full of nuns will be coming by to go through the things you’ll be leaving behind. And I’m sure the children in the convent will just love that book.”
“How about… I keep this book and give away that German one you got me?” said Jack as he turned to a page of a child reasoning with a giant, flying serpent.
“But that book is educational; it’s good for you.”
“Mum, I think a fourth language at my age borders on child abuse.”
“Very funny,” she quipped.
Just then, the kitchen door swung open and a tall and lanky boy, about a couple of years older than Jack, stood by the doorway bathed in sunlight.
“Good morning, Aunt Victoria,” called the boy as he came inside the kitchen. “Hey, Jack, sorry I missed your party yesterday.”
“That’s alright, Pedro,” he said. “But you’ll never guess what I found—”
“In a moment, Jack,” said his mother as Pedro handed her a wet sack that hissed. “Pedro got me the secret ingredient for my new English trifle.”
“Hermit crabs?” asked Jack with a raised brow when his mother opened the sack. “Wait, is this going to be my snack for the plane ride?”
His mother nodded excitedly. Jack rolled his eyes and continued to read the book, opening to a two-page illustration of Stonehenge.
“Hey, that’s similar to the Tagu-An near my village,” said Pedro.
“What’s a Tagu-An?” asked Jack.
“That’s impossible. Stonehenge is only in England.”
“What makes you think we don’t have our own version here?”
Jack paused and looked at him with a growing grin.
“They’re not the same,” scoffed Jack’s mother as she gave Pedro a plate of breakfast. “The Tagu-An is small and crumbling, and it has the same color as the floors in the living room. Probably from the same marble quarry.”
“Marblehenge,” Jack softly said in awe. He looked back at the page that showed a group of druids carrying torches around Stonehenge.
“You know, there’s an old legend about the Tagu-An—I mean, Marblehenge,” said Pedro ominously, though with a smile. “A demon lives in the shadows of its many pillars and if you foolishly step on the shadow as the setting sun touches the horizon, the demon will grab—”
“Grab your ankles and take you to the underworld,” interrupted Jack’s father as he entered the kitchen. “They told me that same story when I was a kid, along with the ghost of the drowning mermaid. In fact, I hear you can still see her corpse when the Tagu-An gets flooded. Of course, it is only a trick with the—”
“You have to take me there!” interrupted Jack with a gasp as he grabbed Pedro’s arm.
“I guess we have time before your plane leaves,” replied Pedro smilingly. “Would it be alright, Uncle Arnulfo?”
“I can’t see why not,” said Jack’s father. “And take his new book with you incase it glows again.”
Jack huffed indignantly at his father, who quickly stifled a chuckle.
“Alright, Jack, but leave your wristwatch behind,” noted Pedro. “There’s something there that messes up the time.”
Jack did as he was told and he rushed to the backdoor with the book in one hand and Pedro in the other.
“Be back by eleven!” hollered Jack’s mother. Then she crossed her arms and turned to her husband who was now upside-down on the ceiling. “Well I hope you’re happy, Arnulfo. You’ve filled our son’s head with such foolishness.”
“Don’t blame me, Victoria,” he noted while dodging the ceiling fan. “He’s just getting all excited because of that book. Isn’t it from your father?”
“I don’t think so. I’ve never seen that book in my life.”
Leaving the manicured lawns and paved roads of Jack’s affluent neighborhood, the two boys entered Pedro’s village of wooden huts, stray dogs, and narrow dirt streets.
“It says here that the tallest stone in Stonehenge is eight meters high,” said Jack, reading while carefully walking over puddles. “How tall do you think that is, Pedro?”
“Almost as tall as the Aquino’s acacia tree,” he answered, aiming his thumb at a dilapidated house that had been pushed aside by a massive tree. “Or Mrs. Kwan’s prize pig.”
Jack jumped back, startled by a large sow that grunted at him for getting too close to Mrs. Kwan’s property. Pedro may have been exaggerating, but Blanka the pig was nearly the size of a cow—or Mrs. Kwan herself. The sow easily stood over a short fence, using its fatty forelegs to climb over, and leered at passersby who happily offered it foliage and fallen fruits. Blanka was now eyeing the leafy pages of Jack’s book.
“I bet you won’t find pigs in people’s yards when you arrive in Canada,” said Pedro laughingly. “You must be excited.”
“I guess. But I’m going to be all alone once I start boarding school.”
“You’ll get by; your English is pretty good. And, remember, you’ll finally get to see snow!”
“Mum says I’ll hate it after a week of winter. She keeps talking about ‘frostbite’ and ‘black ice,’ but they all sound so magical to be bad things.”
“Well, at least it will be a lot cooler there. Imagine, sunburn only in the summer.”
Jack smiled as he looked at the red welts on his arms and felt the flaking skin on his freckly cheeks. He certainly was not going to miss the tropical weather, which never failed to give him sunburn in five of the twelve months of the year—if he was lucky.
“I can’t believe it’s so hot already,” said Jack, placing the book over his head. “You’d think there wasn’t a thunderstorm this morning.”
“Did you know that if you whistle, the wind will blow?”
“No way,” balked Jack.
As much as he indulged in fantasy, he considered himself quite the man of science and found Pedro’s suggestion rather improbable. But to his delightful surprise a gentle breeze began encircling them when Pedro melodically blew. He couldn’t believe that it worked and just passed it off as a pleasant coincidence.
Through an orchard of mango trees and past the muddy ponds where the water buffalo swam, Jack and Pedro arrived at a quiet meadow. Soaring green mountains towered all over and at a distance was a jungle of palm trees overflowing with colorful but poisonous fruits.
“Is that it?” Jack asked Pedro when he saw unusual skinny posts jutting into the sky. They climbed a short hill towards seven dark-purple pillars situated in a circular pattern. “These look nothing like Stonehenge. See?”
Jack handed Pedro the book.
“You’re right, I guess,” said Pedro as he leafed through the pages. “Not that it matters. The city’s going to tear it down for a new cemetery.”
Jack shrugged as he walked in the middle of the ten-foot-tall pillars. He noticed their rough surface, with scratches and ring-like dents that reminded him of the surface of the moon. They were all precisely five feet from each other so that he barely touched two at the same time. He leaned against the tallest one and looked up as the wispy white clouds vanished before his very eyes. “Where are the druids supposed to do their sacrifices when they tear this down?”
“Druids?” said Pedro, holding back a laugh. “Sorry to disappoint you but there are no druids in the Philippines. We have witchdoctors, though. Tons of ‘em.”
“Yeah, but druids don’t cure warts or make tonics out of dried lizards,” said Jack. “They use sorcery.”
“From what Grandma Kunchita told me, only imps live around the palm forest. She saw a family of them—as big as cats—right here. The father imp was rolling tobacco leaves and the mother imp was breastfeeding their baby and knitting a tiny shirt—”
“I thought a shadow demon lives here?” interrupted Jack.
“Everyone has their take on the Tagu-An,” said Pedro, walking down the hill with the book. “My friend says that it’s the crown of a buried giant, and my father thinks it’s the ruin of the stairway to heaven. The story about imps was Grandma’s.”
“I thought so. Did she ever tell you the myth of the river horse?”
“You can’t believe everything she tells you, Jack. And as for this ‘Marblehenge,’ well, it could just be some pagan ruin from centuries ago. You know, before the Spanish came and turned them all into Catholics.”
“Maybe… I wonder what the real Stonehenge in England is like. I bet they’re a lot bigger than these telephone posts.”
The brilliant sun dried the puddles around the Marblehenge as Jack explored it further. He clasped a pillar with one hand and swung around to grab the next pillar, weaving in and out while a warm breeze jostled his brown hair.
“Hey, Jack,” called Pedro from down the hill, still reading the book. “One of the druids in this book has the same last name as your mother. Hibbard, isn’t it?”
But Jack was too distracted playing around the Marblehenge, twirling from pillar to pillar as the breeze intensified. When he closed his eyes all he saw was bright, yellow light and all he heard was the wildly rustling palm trees. Pedro called again but his voice was now faint, as if he was moving away, until Jack could hear him no more.
Suddenly, the breeze stopped. The rustling stopped as well, replaced by the sound of crashing waves from a distance. This was quite odd for he knew that they were miles away from any shore. He stopped swinging around the Marblehenge and slowly opened his eyes. Everything was dim and blue, and right above him was a large storm cloud that appeared out of nowhere. It looked unusually solid like a giant, rugged rock.
Something was amiss.
For one thing, the pillars of the Marblehenge were now taller and did not look as worn out. There was a thickness in the air and he felt a strange sensation of weightlessness despite being firmly on the ground. And instead of a mountain chain and the jungle around him, all he saw was a field of very tall grass. He’d never seen this type of grass before, which eerily swayed despite the absence of wind.
“Pedro?” he called with a quiver in his voice.
But no answer.
Jack began to breathe heavily and felt a faint itch all over his body like a thousand crawling ants. A chill from behind made him turn around, and he staggered backwards.
From a distance was a great wall of darkness spreading across the field, like the night was out to chase him. He bolted down the hill and waded in the sea of shoulder-high grass, which continued to sway as if trying to ensnare him. Even though he had no idea where he was going, he knew he had to run away from the creeping shadow.
“Pedro!” he yelled, looking around desperate to spot his cousin.
Amidst labored breaths, he peered over his shoulder seeing the darkness getting closer and feeling the air growing colder.
Then he heard voices.
Beyond the field was a forest of giant fern trees where two figures moved about calling to him. When the shadow finally outran him and enveloped the entire field in darkness, a ball of light burst from where the two strangers stood. The sudden brightness stunned Jack and the last thing he saw was the grassy ground rushing towards his face before everything went black.