Authors: Bryce Clark
KATHY MAYFIELD FLIPPED
through a magazine as she sat on a couch in her living room. She had just come home from grocery shopping and was looking forward to her usual quiet afternoon. Suddenly, the doorbell rang repeatedly, and her door was assaulted with loud knocking. Cautiously, she peered out the peephole. Laura was pacing on the front step. Kathy opened the door wide.
“I’ve been trying to call you,” said Laura.
“Oh, I just got home. What’s the matter?” asked Kathy.
“Are my kids here?” asked Laura.
“Uh, no,” said Kathy. “I thought they were all over at your place.”
Laura and Kathy stared at each other for a moment. Somehow, they both knew something was terribly wrong.
“Please, come in,” said Kathy urgently. “Let’s figure this out.”
The man in the cloak stalked through the forest, his head lowered, his left arm hanging behind him. A glowing line of molten amber trailed from his fingertips, creating a supernatural leash running from his fingertips to a glowing ball of translucent amber. The glowing ball slid along the ground, leaving bits of the amber substance in its wake. Two children were trapped inside, their silent screams lost in the night.
Inside the ball, Amy tried to push her way out. Her hands slipped into the gooey walls of the glimmering ball, and they gave but did not break. Sam turned to face the man as he dragged the ball of light deeper into the forest. The man in the cloak looked at Sam. His hood was pushed back, revealing a grotesque pale face with glassy, opaque eyes and hideous red scarring running across his face like the veins of a leaf. The man smiled a ghastly grin. Sam’s eyes widened in terror, and he panicked. He banged against the walls of the amber ball with the full force of his shirt-enhanced strength. But his hands plopped into the goop with no effect.
Twenty feet behind the glowing amber ball, Mike moved invisibly through the forest, following the bits of amber goop left behind on the ground. The man in the cloak was moving fast, and Mike was breathing heavily to keep up. Though he was fatigued, his worry for Amy and Sam kept him moving forward. He hoped that they knew he was following them.
KATHY SAT ON
a padded chair facing the couch where Laura sat nervously, her rapidly bouncing leg revealing the tension she felt inside.
“I really don’t know how to say it,” Laura tried to explain. “I mean, things that shouldn’t be there are there, and things that should be there aren’t. Something very strange is going on,” said Laura. “And now they’re all missing.”
“I’m sure they are fine,” Kathy reassured unconvincingly. “They probably went to the library to do their homework. Let’s call over there and see.”
Laura nodded, trying to shake off the worry that had engulfed her for the past half hour. “You’re probably right. Maybe they went back to Sam’s grandma’s to finish their service project.”
Kathy stood up, startled. “What did you say?”
Mike ran through the forest, his footsteps crunching through the forest floor as he rustled past leaves and branches. In the distance, he saw the man in the cloak dragging the glowing sphere toward an enormous spruce tree.
The tree was almost fifty feet tall with a base diameter of nearly fifteen feet. The normally bright green leaves were stained a dark black, and glowing amber sap oozed from the bark.
The tree hulked over the man as he pulled the glowing ball toward it. He held his hand out toward the tree, and a flicker of molten amber shot from his fingertips into the center of the base of the tree. The tree’s bark began to swirl as if it were made of worms. The slithering pieces of bark shifted, and a hole opened—a dark, pulpy hole, like a sucking wound in the side of the tree. The hole widened into a passageway.
Mike stared in horror as the man flashed a freakish smile at Sam and Amy and disappeared inside the hole, pulling the glowing amber ball behind him. The spherical prison stuck in the hole for a moment before popping inside the tree. The hole began to recede slowly. Mike didn’t have time to think as he raced towards it, his breathing accelerating and his footsteps crunching loudly on rotting leaves as he flew toward the tree.
Mike launched himself toward the hole. He heard a loud sucking, slurping noise rattling the tree as he tumbled through the passageway and inside the hollowed-out base of the tree.
Mike fell to the ground with a thud. He stared at the round, brownish walls and the ten-foot ceiling. Through the moonlight that filtered through the shrinking hole, Mike caught a glimpse of the forest before the sucking hole closed with a loud slurp and engulfed him in darkness. Mike forced himself to breathe steadily. He fingered the walls of the tree, trying to find his bearings. He saw a small light impossibly far in the distance and moved toward it, inching his way along the steeply declining interior passageway.
IT WAS KATHY’S
turn to pace as Laura sat on the couch. “I wanted Sam to stay away from his grandma. She’s crazy. These shirts. I thought this was all over,” said Kathy.
“I have to be honest. It is rather … unbelievable,” said Laura.
Kathy nodded. “Sam’s father, Greg, and I dated in high school. He didn’t tell me about the red shirts until we were married. But I knew he was different. And his brother, Francis, too.”
“Different, how?” asked Laura.
“Well, Greg was very strong, and Francis—well, I’m not totally sure about him, but it seemed like he could control trees or the forest,” said Kathy.
Laura stared at Kathy, trying to wrap her mind around what she had just heard. Supernatural powers and magical shirts were way beyond her worldview. She massaged her temples with her fingers as if staving off a headache. “I’m trying to believe you, Kathy. It’s just a lot to take in. Where do these, um, magic shirts come from?” she asked.
“His mother’s side of the family. Greg told me that these shirts have been handed down from generation to generation,” said Kathy. “It all began in ancient Scotland. The Falton clan was loyal to King Arthur, and they fought valiantly against the Saxons in many battles.
“Seamus Falton, the patriarch of the Falton clan, was a strong force on the battlefield. During a particularly nasty battle, Seamus led a large group of Scotsmen dressed in battle kilts against the most brutal Saxon army.
“On that day, on a bright green hillside in Scotland, Seamus saved the lives of four of King Arthur’s trusted knights while personally killing twelve Saxons.
“When news of Seamus’s accomplishments reached King Arthur, he decided that Seamus and his brothers would from that day lead a special battalion whose existence would be known only to King Arthur and the magician known as Merlin.
“King Arthur declared that the Falton clan should be awarded a special mystical gift to assist them in their new endeavors. He sanctioned a fairy, who worked exclusively for Merlin, to present the gift to the four Falton brothers.
“As Greg told it, the ceremony took place deep inside the forest beside a bright blue stream. Seamus and his brothers knelt with their heads bowed in reverence and their arms crossed and leaning on their swords planted firmly in the ground.
“The fairy, dressed in flowing white robes, showered them with red fairy dust that fell and morphed into beautiful silk red shirts that disappeared over their clothes. The shirts were invisible to all but others who wore the shirts. The fairy then bestowed large oak chests upon the four Falton brothers. Each chest had a golden lion-head lock with Scottish flags engraved on top.
“As time went on, Seamus and his brothers led this secret band of warriors dedicated to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They carried out secret missions and reported only to the king.
“On one occasion, they assisted the regular army in a pivotal battle against the Saxons. Seamus was incredibly powerful, tossing men aside with one swipe of his hand. He caught catapulted boulders and flung them back as if they were lightweight balls. The boulders sailed over the heads of the soldiers and crashed into the Saxon catapults, crushing them to splinters. It was here that the legend of the red shirts was born.”
Kathy paused, searching Laura’s face. Laura swallowed hard.
“Kathy,” Laura said slowly. “Thank you for sharing this. I know it can’t be easy.”
Kathy nodded. “I know. I don’t know how much of the lore I believe, myself. But I have seen the shirts—and as crazy as it sounds, I have seen them work. And now that your kids have visited Sam’s grandma, you should know the legend.”
“I agree,” Laura concurred. “Please keep going.”
“Well, Seamus was promised that if his family would remain true to King Arthur’s principles of honor and loyalty, his posterity would be able to keep the magical red shirts. None of his brothers had children, so Seamus passed down the four shirts to his oldest child, who passed it down to his oldest child, and so on.
“Over time, one of the Faltons, Jefferson, found his way to America. With the endowed power of invisibility, he was a valiant spy in the Revolution and became one of the leaders of the secret spy organization that George Washington founded, known as the Culper Ring. It was Jefferson’s clandestine efforts that ultimately led to the American victory at Trenton, New Jersey, in 1776.
“When it was time for Jefferson to pass on the shirts, he had been greatly influenced by American democracy and made the decision to give one chest to each of his four children. But instead of merely guarding the magical shirts, the magic of the chests expanded to actually produce shirts for each family. Somehow, the chest knew how many shirts would be needed for that particular family in that particular generation.
“The oldest living person in each family was appointed as the caretaker of the chest, and this person was to decide who was eligible to receive the red shirts. These shirts could be given to any of Seamus’s descendants—not just the direct line.”
“So,” Laura said quizzically. “You’re saying that the chest chose how many shirts there would be, and the family member distributed them. In theory, there could be any number of people with magical red shirts?”
“Yes, as long as they are Seamus’s progeny. But King Arthur did have one stipulation: Each recipient had to receive his or her red shirt before their sixteenth birthday.”
“Why?” Laura asked. “It sounds a little like giving an eight-year-old a driver’s license and telling him to take the car out for a spin.”
“I agree,” Karen commiserated. “Greg told me the reasoning behind the age requirement was so people could learn to use their gifts before their true character was formed. It was supposed to protect the gifts from ending up in the hands of adults who might use them selfishly. It also allowed the one in charge of passing on the gifts enough time to judge the worthiness of each potential recipient. As it turned out, eleven was the average age the red shirts and resulting powers were given.”
Laura shook her head, trying to make sense of the avalanche of information. “Wait a minute,” she said. “If these powers are only given to the Falton family, what about Mike and Amy?”
Kathy stood and opened an armoire. “Greg was a genealogy fanatic. So was his mother. As you can imagine, genealogy was very important to the Falton family. Seamus’s descendants are all over the country.”
Kathy removed a huge scroll from the armoire and unrolled it. It was a beautiful painting of a tree with family names instead of branches. At the top was the Falton Family Crest—the crossed swords and Scottish flags with the lion’s head. Laura inspected the family tree.
“My goodness, there are hundreds of people,” said Laura.
“I know. Sometimes it seems that Greg was related to everyone in this town,” said Kathy.
“Are there more people like Greg? I mean with the shirts,” asked Laura.
“I don’t know. He kept a lot of that stuff to himself. I do know he was searching for others like him.”
“So, theoretically, there could be hundreds of people running around with all kinds of superpowers?”
“Theoretically, yes. But each recipient is endowed with only one power—no more, no less. And we don’t have any idea how many red shirts the chests have produced over time. There could be hundreds. There could be only a few.” Kathy paused, searching Laura’s face for signs of incredulity.
Laura searched the tree, her fingers tracing over the generations of names. She stopped on one. “Wait. This is my mother’s maiden name. Do you think we’re related?”
Kathy lowered her eyes. “We are,” she said.
“We are?” Laura asked, taken aback. “Are you sure?”
“How did you find out about the house?” Kathy responded with another question.
“Our realtor found it. It was last minute—someone listed it,” said Laura.
“Greg’s mother refused to list the house. Then, all of a sudden, your family purchased it,” said Kathy. “Greg said his mom’s power was teleportation—that she could move place to place just by thinking it,” said Kathy.
“What? Like Star Trek? Wait—you think she teleported to the realtor’s office to bring us here?” asked Laura.
“I think she made the house … available.” Kathy evaded the question. “I’m sorry, Laura. I know how this sounds.”
“It’s okay, Kathy. I just want to understand what’s going on,” said Laura. “And to think my biggest worry before today was how Mike was sneaking food out of the kitchen.”
The mention of Mike’s name suddenly brought the women back to the reason for the visit. The gravity of the situation was now all too apparent. “I can’t believe I am saying this,” Kathy said slowly, “but I think we ought to go take a look at the chest.”
“Where?” asked Laura.
Both women jumped and raced for the door. “Hold on,” Kathy called. “I forgot something.” She ran to the armoire and reached into the back of a drawer. There was an audible click as a false bottom opened, and Kathy pulled out a lion’s head medallion.