Wandmaster/C1 Chapter 1 The Parcel
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Wandmaster/C1 Chapter 1 The Parcel
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C1 Chapter 1 The Parcel

"That's odd," said John Stone as he looked at the Registered Letter notification in his hand. He had just got out of bed and his hair was tousled. His hairy legs twitched as he scratched his left one with his free hand and his badly cut t-shirt hung at an angle over his bunny-rabbit boxers. A package, it said, to be collected from the local post office. He pursed his lips trying to remember in his just-out-of-bed state if he was expecting anything, but came up with zero ideas in that direction. Deciding a coffee was in order; he took the form into the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil. He would go by the post office in his lunch hour and see what it was about. It might be a mistake, or maybe some mail-order freebee. 'You never know', he thought.

A grey drizzle hung in the sky as he waited for the morning bus. Pale faces, expressionless and sleep-plagued gazed into the distance vaguely hoping the bus would materialize. Two young girls, arm in arm, giggled past him and one of them shot him a cheeky look that almost woke him up. He blushed, uncomfortable with female attention. He never looked women in the eye; there was a fathomless quality in most that usually left him feeling inadequate and uneducated in the ways of the gender game. It wasn't that he was unattractive, in fact he was quite good looking in a shy sort of way, and he was tall and well built and would have been quite a catch if he had only been aware of it. As with most reserved people, he didn't connect well with others and had little skill in relationships. A few encounters with determined females had left him confused. It seemed that as soon as he started to feel relaxed with one of them they either walked out or started to create situations leading to exasperating arguments. Women were a puzzle beyond a doubt. He was better off without. Life was boring but peaceful.

Work in the modern open-plan office with its potted plants and endless paper pushing was something he could understand; predictable, uncomplicated. Fill in this form, enter that information on the computer; confirm this or that by email, query the other with the accounts department and check the records before passing the whatever it was on to whoever it was that dealt with it at the next stage of its journey through the endless process or record-keeping. He could do his job with no complications most of the time, and his colleagues were pleasant enough, though he didn't see them outside office hours.

Lunchtime came. He reached the front of the queue and presented his notification to the sharp-nosed, bespectacled lady behind the glass, who looked at him with prim coolness before going to the back of the office and sorting through a selection of letters and packages. She settled on a box. It was the size of a shoe box, and John's spirits rose as he once again thought he might have won something; even though he couldn't remember entering for anything. He looked at the details of postage and his eyes popped as he saw that the postmark was from, where was it... it was a bit smudged... must be a mistake after all....... Bolivia! He couldn't even recall from schoolboy geography where that was exactly. He opened his mouth to say something, but wasn't quite sure what, so he shut it again and just looked.

"Next please!" said the pointy nose briskly and he realized he was still standing at the front of the queue obstructing those behind him.

"Oh, sorry," he mumbled, and moved out of the line. His watch told him he was short of time and so he tucked the package under his arm and returned to work. It was weighty. It was mysterious. It was his. Maybe he should have been suspicious; after all it could have contained anything – drugs, a bomb, but it seemed to him highly unlikely that he, John Stone, could have been singled out for something illegal. No, it was probably some promotional gimmick, and it was at least intriguing. He would save it for home, when he ate his microwave dinner that evening. It would go nicely with a foreign dish; a flavour of the exotic to go with his Bolivian package. 'What did they eat in Bolivia?', he wondered. Well probably it wasn't curry, but that's what he bought as the smell was atmospheric, and he wanted atmosphere.

As he closed the front door behind him, he felt the silence in the house and the package in his hands wanting to be opened, but John was enjoying the suspense. He placed the box on the kitchen table, removing his morning coffee cup to make room and put his curry in the microwave. As he got out his plate, knife and fork, and filled a glass with cold beer, his eyes wandered to the box. The kitchen began to smell of curry. Should he eat first, or open the parcel first? The microwave interrupted his thoughts with its electronic beep and he took the curry out mechanically and put it on the plate. Now he remembered that he had not had time for lunch and his stomach took the ultimate decision. He savoured the curry and the anticipation of opening the package, stealing glances at it as he swallowed, cooling his mouth with the beer.

He cleared the table of everything except the package, and set about opening it carefully. The string came off and the brown paper to reveal a cardboard box, well taped and sealed. Getting there! The scissors slit the tape and the lid of the box lifted a little. Carefully, he pulled up the flaps and peered inside. He heard his voice saying "What on earth..?" as he saw a curved, engraved, and probably very old wooden lid. It emanated age and mystery. His breath was fast and low, as he carefully removed what turned out to be some kind of chest from the cardboard box, which he discarded, leaving this brooding thing a centrepiece on the table. There was a lock and in it a key of shiny yellow metal. Could it be gold? He turned the key in the lock and heard a soft click. Slowly he raised the lid.

A musty, spicy smell met his nostrils, not at all like aroma of the curry that was fading away in the kitchen sink. The first thing his eyes fell upon was a black velvet coverlet under the curved lid of the chest, on which was lying an envelope addressed elegantly to John Stone, Esq. It crossed his mind that he should read the letter first, but his hand had already reached for the cover and he removed it cautiously. As he lifted the cloth, his mouth dropped open and his breath became very shallow. A warm glow seemed to be hovering over the contents, which caught the light in the kitchen. He blinked and stared at a set of Crystals! They were of various colours and each one sat in its own indentation; beautiful, wonderful crystals; gems maybe? At the front of the box was a long thin indentation and in it lay a slim pointed clear crystal shaped like a wand.

"Hold me, choose me," they emanated. He was immediately attracted to a rosy tinted clear crystal and took it gently into his hands. Warmth flooded through him, and he smiled.

"I am," it emanated, "Know me."

He felt a connection to this beautiful thing, unlike anything he had felt before; it was a calm presence in his awareness. Mentally he acknowledged it, accepted it and returned the feeling of serenity that was now settled into a corner of his heart like the love for a favoured pet. After some time, he reluctantly replaced the crystal in its niche and paused, not wanting to disturb or lose the contact. His logic told him that he was simply captivated by the exquisite colour and form of the crystal he had held so briefly in his hand, but a newness, and an unfamiliar nudge had set in somewhere deep in his understanding. He couldn't explain it but neither could he deny it. He eyed the other crystals thoughtfully, got up and poured himself another beer. It was time to explore the contents of the letter.

It read,

Dear John Stone,

This gift I bequeath to you at the hour of my passing. It is the most precious thing you will ever have and I beseech you to respect it, use it well and keep it only to yourself. Never try to sell it or gain from it. I have passed it on to you because Stone blood runs in your veins and I am trusting that certain other qualities I possess have also come to you, though you may not yet be aware of them.

These crystals leave me with my blessing to become yours and they will accept you. Treasure them. They harbour strength and power, which are very rare and they must be treated with reverence. Knowledge will come to you now they are in your hands and you must use that knowledge wisely.

No doubt you will be somewhat sceptical. This is not a practical joke. I have travelled to many destinations on the planet to amass the crystals in this box; you could call it my life's work. That alone, should make you appreciate their worth, and I implore you to undertake the completion of my journey, which will not be geographical but something far more demanding and fulfilling.

If this letter leaves you mystified, I apologise. I should have liked to know you and maybe to prepare you for what lies ahead but fate decreed otherwise so you go unschooled into an area it has taken me a lifetime to understand. I urge you to stay true to yourself and to me and to let the crystals guide you in your decisions from this day forth.

Yours,

William Stone.

John lowered the letter and put it on the table. His head buzzed with questions. He felt as though his world had turned a somersault and that reality had been a victim of a bad landing. Surely this wasn't happening. He knew of no William Stone. And the crystals? The letter? This kind of thing didn't happen in real life; real life was the rain, the bus being late and the daily grind of work, home, sleep, eat.

John dearly wanted to take the gentle rosy crystal into his hand again but something held him back; a caution, unease; he wanted to think a bit before he went any further. He put the letter back into the lid of the box, replaced the velvet cloth, closed and locked the chest, and took a deep breath. These things should be dealt with in the morning with a clear head, not after a tiring day in the office. He took the chest to his bedroom that night and found a place for it on the bedside cupboard. It was too precious to leave on the kitchen table, though somehow he wasn't afraid of burglars stealing it. It was meant for him. No one would take it from him, of that he felt sure, though he didn't know where the certainty sprang from. That night he drifted into a calm sleep, aware of a feeling of peace and a promise of a new element which had begun to add spice to his mundane life.

The days and weeks that followed were filled with new interest. The daily routine was the same as it had always been, but in his spare moments John found his mind wandering ever more often to the chest of crystals. They were not now so mysterious or unfamiliar, but were fast becoming a focus for his thoughts. The house in the evening no longer felt empty when he opened the door, and he found the first thing he did when he got home was to say a mental "hi" to their presence. He kept the chest near him when he prepared a meal, watched tv or slept, and often took out the individual crystals and handled them, learning their contours, colours and their individual characteristics. Each crystal had its own 'feel' he discovered, and one by one he accepted them. He had become familiar now with the feeling of connection when he handled the crystals and had learned to quieten his mind to allow them to enter his awareness. He spent more and more time with them, enjoying their company as though they were close friends. Yes, it was odd, and some would have questioned his sanity, or at least said he was escaping from a dreary life into one of fantasy; but the strength of the connection with the crystals and the companionship he felt were such that he didn't really care if either explanation were true. He was enjoying his new acquisition and it filled a gap in his life he had not allowed himself to admit was there before. He started to visit the library and took out books about crystals, marvelling as he read about their formation and speculating about the possible countries of origin of his own.

William Stone was also an ever-present question mark and John had taken to ringing up neglected relatives and asking questions about the family. As he had not been a regular caller, his queries were often met with a certain amount of puzzlement and the thought that he might be more than a little eccentric crossed more than one mind. His parents had died and he could not remember them ever talking about a relative called William during his childhood. His father had a couple of brothers who had visited the house on occasion, but John remembered stilted conversations over rather formal dinners and an atmosphere of polite distance. He had not questioned this, never having had siblings, and it only occurred to him now that there should have been more warmth in the relationships. He tried to bring to mind anything he could that might have hinted at a William somewhere, but there was no memory of any such reference.

He rooted out of cupboards old photographs trying to find an unfamiliar face and had almost given up when he came across an aging browned photograph which showed his father as a child in a staged group family photograph, typical of its era. Grandfather and grandmother sat upright and camera-shy surrounded by their children, all starched collars and best clothes. He picked out his father, his uncles Jerome and Clyde, the three of whom had a close resemblance, and then standing at his grandfather's shoulder a small, thin lad he had never noticed before. He appeared to be some years younger than the other three brothers. He did not have their thick blonde hair, which had come down from their mother, or the rather square jaw. Here was a face of more delicate structure and dark hair plastered down with some oily application emphasising the slimness of the cheeks and chin. John stared hard at the image, noting the eyes; dark serious eyes. No one in the photograph was really smiling it was true, but this face seemed calm and grave. Despite the delicacy of the features there was strength and directness in the gaze, which held the eye. John wondered what it would have been like to see this person up close and not in a photograph, and whether the gaze would have been as penetrating. He knew he had looked at this photograph before, but it surprised him to realize that he couldn't remember questioning the presence of the fourth child. Had he just not been really interested in old photographs, or hadn't he listened to his father's explanations? Could this be William Stone, and if so, why had he disappeared from later family photographs and family discussions?

John kept out the photograph when he packed away all the others. Maybe he could still ask Uncle Jerome or Uncle Clyde, both of whom were still alive. He considered them in turn. Uncle Clyde was a retired civil servant who lived with his mousy wife in a cottage somewhere in Newbury and Uncle Jerome was an eternal bachelor who had a chequered background of unsuccessful relationships and career changes. He lived alone in sheltered accommodation on the outskirts of London. Of the two, Jerome was both geographically closer and, as a personality, more approachable, thought John. He looked up his number and dialed.

The voice that answered struck a chord of recognition in John as it was very similar in tone to his father's and he hesitated for a moment, confusing his words.

"Um, hello, um Uncle Jerome, it's John, you know......... John Stone, your nephew?"

"John, my boy, how are you? Long time, no hear."

"Er, yes, you're right. Sorry about that. Um... how are you?"

"Well, you know, old age and all that, but can't complain," he answered. "What can I do you for?" he inquired, chuckling slightly at his reversal of the usual phrase.

John laughed a little too, but still felt uncomfortable.

"Well, I'm not sure where to start really, but I wanted to ask you something," said John awkwardly.

"Well, ask away then, though I don't know what I can do to help. I haven't got any money, you know." His uncle's voice had become a little frosty.

"No, no, good lord, no, it's not money! I've got a job and a flat. I don't need any money!" He was horrified that his uncle had thought he was calling to borrow. "No, it's about a family thing. Can you tell me anything about someone called William Stone?"

There was a silence for a few moments.

"No John. I can't," he said simply.

"Oh. You mean you don't know who he is?"

"I mean I can't tell you anything about him." Again the reply was short and to the point, but the voice had hardened.

"So you do know who he was?" pressed John.

"I've said all I'm about to say, John, don't press me on this, ok? Now, tell me a bit about yourself, where are you working, did you say?"

"I.. oh, in an office for a local building firm. Money's not bad and the people are alright. Been there three years now."

"Well that's good. Married are you?"

"No, never met the right girl uncle," said John.

"Me neither, though I met a few wrong ones!" Again the chuckle, and John began to warm to his uncle Jerome.

John tried his luck again.

"Look, uncle, I know this is a bit weird and all that, but it's important to me to learn about William Stone, and if you know anything at all, I would really appreciate hearing it."

"Sorry John, No can do. There are reasons. Now, I must be going, that's my doorbell ringing."

"Oh, ok then, well, thanks anyway," said John. "I'll call you again."

"Yes, do that boy, and look after yourself. It was good to hear from you."

"Nice talking to you too uncle," John replied. "Bye now."

"Bye John, and............. let things be," said Uncle Jerome and hung up.

Thoughtfully, John also hung up and walked into the living room. Uncle Jerome obviously knew something, that was clear, and whatever it was he wasn't keen to divulge it. What harm it could do, John couldn't imagine; after all, his parents were dead, William himself was dead, or at least so his letter implied. "At the time of my passing" was what the letter actually said. That meant he was dying, didn't it? Of course, John might be the only one in the family aware of that fact, which was actually highly probable. William must have caused some family trouble at some time and no-body wanted him back to cause more. He thought about calling his Uncle again to explain that William was dead, but knew he would not be able to do that without revealing how he knew, and he wasn't prepared to tell anyone about the crystals at the moment. He looked again at the photograph and asked out loud,

"Is that you, William Stone, mystery man and black sheep of the family?"

The eyes stared back at him. He set the photograph to lean against the chest of crystals and sat for a long time, deep in thought. There was something so familiar in the stare trapped in the picture, as though it belonged to someone he knew but couldn't remember. Maybe he had stared at the photograph for too long and considered it so deeply that it had established itself in his mind like a memory from the past. He was sure he had never met William; and even though it was obvious from the photograph that he didn't look anything like his father or other uncles, perhaps there was a family resemblance that the eye couldn't pin down, but blood could.

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