by Carrie Connel-Gripp
“Where’s my twin, Mama?” her middle child asked one dreary February afternoon. It wasn’t long after the girls were born and he was only four at the time. Kira was knitting an afghan in earth colors for his bed. She raised her head slowly from her project. She smiled, squinting slightly in the firelight.
“Ah, Fergus,” she said, and took a deep breath. “You are unique in this family. There is but one of you, and you have a special gift.”
“What is it?” Fergus stood on his tiptoes, staring intently into her eyes.
“I cannot tell you.”
Fergus pouted and sunk down to the floor.
Kira reached out her hand and lifted his chin. “I can’t tell you, because I don’t know yet.” She smiled, leaned down and kissed his forehead.
“What could it be?” he asked in a hushed voice.
“You’ll know when it happens,” and she went back to her knitting.
Five years later, nine-year-old Fergus was missing. “Have you seen Fergus?” Kira asked her young daughters.
In unison, they piped, “No, Mama.” She waited. Cecilia, older by a few minutes, said, “We were playing hide and seek, but he never found us.” The girls went back to trying on their mother’s clothes. She’d have a mess to clean up once Amelia finished rummaging in her jewelry box.
Kira left them to continue her search. She found her older twins in the basement building bird houses. “Do you know where Fergus is?” she asked the boys.
Connor, a couple of minutes older than his brother, said, “No, Mama.”
Donal sighed, saying, “He never finds us when we play hide and seek.” The boys continued their hammering and she made her way back to the main hall.
Fergus is no fool, Kira thought. I bet he didn’t even attempt to find them. She moved slowly through the old house that had been in her family for generations. Niall spent the week in the city and the weekends with them. Even with five children in the house, sometimes she felt very alone.
Kira ambled back up the stairs and past her bedroom. She heard the girls chattering in a language only they understood, making her think of the secret code she once shared with her twin brother. She quickly pushed those thoughts away and hesitated at the door to the attic. Damn, she thought. Fergus knows not to go up there, but would he? She tested the door knob – locked as it should be. She left the door, turning slowly in the dim hallway. If Fergus was up here, she knew she would sense him. There was nothing.
Back on the main floor, Kira meandered through the living room. She touched the picture frames sitting on the piano and the porcelain animals on the mantel. She found herself in the kitchen, filled the kettle and lit the stove. She gazed out the window into the backyard. Fergus didn’t like to be in the sun. His pale skin burned too quickly making his freckles stand out more.
Kira took her mug of tea into the dining room and sat at the table. She closed her eyes, breathing in the fragrant tea and enjoying the warmth. This was her favorite room in the house. So many memories, mostly happy. The entire length of the wall across from her contained a mural painted more than a hundred years ago. The name of the artist slipped her mind. Fergus would know. He enjoyed looking at the painting as much as she did.
Kira was not an expert in art history but knew enough to consider the mural a mixture of realism and impressionism with a touch of medieval church art. To the far right, Monet’s water lilies floated near the bank of a river populated by Degas’ ballerinas dancing amidst the partygoers of Renoir. But then, maybe the dancers were fairies and the water lilies were fish. On the left, a castle was under siege and knights rode upon majestic horses. Ladies sat in paladins aboard elephants and camels traversing onto the plain of Giza at the center of the painting, the sphinx positioned before the Great Pyramid. So much more hid in the painting, revealing itself slowly over time: Dionysus and his maenads, unicorns, shamans, powerful creatures with no names. This painting had seen generations of her family grow, and change, and live from its spot on the dining room wall.
“Fergus, where are you?” Kira sighed into her cup of tea.
Fergus looked at his mother sitting at the dining room table. He was close enough to hear her but didn’t want to give up his hiding place just yet. It was too interesting where he was at the moment. In addition to seeing his mother, Fergus saw several different scenes swirling in front of him, making him dizzy, all within the confines of his dining room. Like the beads and bits of glass in a twisting kaleidoscope, the patterns formed and dissolved until the one that interested him the most centered in the space. He put out his hand, touching the gelatin-like surface he had come through; this stopped the shifting scenes at a family having dinner. The father sat at one end of the table; the mother at the other. A girl in a blue and white dress was on one long side and a boy in chinos and a plaid shirt sat opposite her. He recognized the girl’s mannerisms even though her back was to Fergus, and he thought there was something familiar about the boy’s face.
“We’ve discussed this many times already. You have to start thinking about your future, son,” said the man. “If not military school, what then?”
The boy stammered, “B-but I’ll have to leave h-home.” He focused on the girl. “H-how can you separate us? We’re twins and best friends.”
“Why can’t I go to military school, too?” asked the girl.
“Do you want to give up your dream of being a teacher, Kira?” said the woman.
The girl said, “No, but …,” and shrugged her shoulders.
Fergus watched as the man got up and took a newspaper into the living room. The girl and woman cleared the table and disappeared into the kitchen. The boy continued to sit at the table, his plate of food untouched and his chin resting on one fist.
“Hello,” said Fergus as he stepped from the painting.
“Wh-who are you?” The boy’s eyes were wide as he looked around the room.
“I’m Fergus Hoblyn.”
“Really? Are you a little person?”
Fergus took a deep breath to fill his chest. “I’m nine years old,” he declared.
The boy sniggered. “Okay, but you still look kinda small.”
Fergus frowned then asked, “What’s your name?”
“Kyle Gavin. I’m thirteen.” Kyle pushed his chair back and stood up. “Where’d you come from?”
Fergus pointed at the painting behind him. “I live in this house too.”
“You’re bonkers. That’s not possible!”
“Is too! Bet I can show you a hiding place you don’t know about!”
“Alright, show me,” Kyle challenged.
Fergus led Kyle into the entranceway between the dining and living rooms. He darted to the stairs as quietly as he could, not wanting to alert the father to his presence. Creeping up the stairs, Fergus remembered just in time about the creaky fifth riser and reached his leg high to step over it.
“How’d you know?” came a whisper behind him but Fergus ignored Kyle for the moment. There were two more squeaky steps ahead. At the top of the stairs, Fergus tiptoed to what would be his bedroom. He went straight to the closet, opened the door, and knelt inside. He waited for Kyle to get down too.
Fergus stuck his finger in a knot in the floorboard in the middle of the closet. There was a click and Fergus pushed the board down, moving it sideways below the floor.
“Cool,” breathed Kyle. “I never knew. Is there anything in there?”
Fergus reached down until he touched the metal he knew would be there. He drew out a square tin biscuit box, dented and rusty in places. “You’ll never guess who this belonged to.” Fergus opened the tin and pulled out a small black book. He opened it to the last page and read, “Tomorrow, I leave my home to take up residence at the military academy. I’ll be away for some time.”
“Who wrote that?” asked Kyle.
“This box belonged to General Reginald Latimer Gavin.”
“No way! That’s my grandpa,” said Kyle. The two boys spent a few moments looking at other documents, letters and photographs. Then Kyle said, “Let’s put this back. I want to show you something.” Fergus returned everything to the tin, put the lid on, gently set the tin in the hole and showed Kyle how to operate the mechanism on the floorboard.
Kyle grabbed Fergus’ arm and pulled him out of the room. He yanked open the next door in the hallway. “It’s up here,” said Kyle, pushing Fergus ahead of him and up the stairs.
Fergus tried to protest. “That door should be locked. We can’t go up here. It’s not safe.” But Kyle just kept pushing.
“C’mon, over here,” Kyle said, heading towards the large round window at the back of the house. He stopped amid a number of trunks and threw open the lid of the nearest one. “This was my grandpa’s, too,” he said as he pulled something out of the trunk. Fergus heard the rasp of metal on metal and then Kyle was holding a sabre in both hands. The sun streamed in through the stained glass window and glinted off the hilt. Kyle swished the sabre back and forth. Fergus watched silently with a frown. While Kyle struck pose after pose, Fergus slowly moved around the trunks toward the right side of the window. He braced himself against the nearest two-by-four stud on the wall. Another pose, then another and Kyle stepped back too far. His head cracked against the glass and his left foot struck out wildly in front of him. Fergus sprang, catching the older boy low on his body, pulling him away from the window. They crashed together in a jumble of limbs, the sabre flying out of Kyle’s hand and clattering against the wall.
They heard footsteps running up the stairs. Fergus tumbled off Kyle and hid behind a chest of drawers in the corner. Kyle scrambled to pick up the sabre under the window. He returned the sabre and scabbard to the trunk then brushed the dust from his clothes just as his father bounded up the steps.
“What the hell’s going on?”
Kyle looked sheepish and then said quietly, “I wanted to see grandpa’s uniform and I tripped into the trunks over there. Sorry.”
“Well, be careful,” his father said sternly and turned to go.
“Um … Dad?”
“I think military school is a good idea and I want to go in September.” Kyle looked his father in the eye.
“That’s good, Kyle. I’m proud of you.” His father went back downstairs.
Fergus crept out from behind the dresser. “I really gotta get back,” he told Kyle, and walked to the stairs.
“Hey, why’d you tackle me?” Kyle asked when they descended the attic stairs.
Fergus looked back to see Kyle following in the dim light of the hall. “If I hadn’t, you would’ve crashed through the window. You would’ve landed on the stones out back.”
Kyle processed that information. “Was I going to die?”
Instead of answering, Fergus said, “My mama’s gonna be real worried. I gotta go.” He moved quietly downstairs and into the dining room.
“Wait!” said Kyle hoarsely behind him. “Who’s your mom?”
Fergus smiled and stepped into the painting just below the castle and jousting knights.
“Mama, when’s dinner?” Connor asked as the children came into the dining room from the kitchen.
Kira looked up. “I’m disappointed in the lot of you,” she said quietly.
“Why, Mama?” Cecilia and Amelia came to stand beside their mother, on the right side of the table.
“Fergus has been missing all afternoon and you don’t seem to care.”
Donal spoke up. “That’s not fair, Mama. Fergus disappears a lot and we can never find him. We figured he doesn’t want to play with us, so we leave him alone.”
“When did this start?”
Donal looked at Connor and shrugged. Connor said, “Maybe a couple months ago. Look Mama, I’m sure he’s okay. He usually shows up in time for dinner.”
“Can we make the salad, Mama?” asked Amelia.
Kira looked at each twin in turn. “Sure. I’ll be in soon to start cooking.”
The children went back to the kitchen. Kira heard the girls chattering away happily and the back door slamming when the boys went out to the garden. She rose from her chair, thinking she would get the mail from the front door. She stopped in the doorway, sensing Fergus was near.
“Hi, Mama!” piped Fergus.
Kira turned. “Fergus! Where did you come from?” She squatted down to hug him. “I’ve been so worried about you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be gone so long.”
She sat back on her heels to look into his face. “Did you leave the house?”
“Well, no. I just … I’m not sure how to explain it. I’ll show you.” Fergus walked up to the wall and told his mother to put her hand on the painting. She did and he placed his hand beside hers. “Watch,” he said and pushed.
Kira saw Fergus’ hand being swallowed by a tiger. Fergus walked forward and disappeared. He stepped back out.
“Well, Fergus Hoblyn, you found your special gift,” Kira whispered. “Does it lead somewhere?”
“Oh, only to this room.” Fergus thought for a moment. “I can see this room with different people in it. Some are dressed real funny.”
“Who did you see this time?” asked Kira.
Fergus said shyly, “Uncle Kyle.”
“Really? Do you know how old he was?”
“He told me he was thirteen.”
“You actually spoke to him?”
“Yep! I showed him the secret hidey-hole in my closet and he took me up to… oh…” Fergus stopped.
“He took you to the attic?” Kira stood up, one hand covering her mouth.
“Yeah, but it’s okay, Mama. I saved him from falling out the window.”
“Oh, Fergus!” She grabbed the child and hugged him tightly. From the kitchen, she heard the backdoor slam again. “We’ll talk about this after supper. Let’s go see what kind of salad your sisters are making.” Mother and son joined the others in the kitchen. Kira gave the boys the task of making rice while she fried chicken pieces and made a sauce. She left the boys to dish up and instructed the girls to set the table. Kira went to check the mail. She was surprised to find two letters, one addressed to her and one to Fergus. She took them into the dining room and placed Fergus’ letter beside his plate.
The family sat down and Connor said grace. “Where are the letters from?” asked Cecilia, dishing a spoonful of rice onto her plate.
Fergus and Kira picked up their envelopes. “Afghanistan,” they said together.
“What does Major Kyle have to say this time?” asked Donal.
Kira smiled at Fergus. He grinned back.