or, The story that never happened
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Chapter 1: The Magic Staircase
In an awfully regular part of the country, in a perfectly ordinary small town called Boredom, on a conventionally long street, and inside a hardly distinguishable house, there lived a boy named Darius Same. He had common, everyday parents with usual names like Fran and Frank, who labored at normal jobs with average salaries. Almost as an obligation, the family owned one pet, a terribly middle-of-the-road dog named Spot who barked whenever something unfamiliar happened—and that was never.
Fran and Frank had no outstanding hobbies, and while some might call their behavior monstrous, they were in fact just your run-of-the-mill misguided grown-ups. You’ll have to forgive that there are a few adults in this story. After all, the suburbs are full of them, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t walk very far these days without bumping into one.
At bedtime, which was at the same hour each night, Darius’ mother tucked him snugly into bed.
“How wonderfully predictable today was!” she said.
“Indeed,” chimed Frank with his familiar, unexceptional tone. “Today was extraordinarily uneventful.”
Darius was not cheered by his parents’ usual chitchat on this unhappy evening. You see, it was the last night of summer, and tomorrow would be the first day of the new school year. Worse yet, and to the whole town’s delight, this year was expected to be the same as every year before it.
“Everything and everyone in the town of Boredom is the same,” complained Darius as his mother tucked his crisp sheets tightly underneath him. “I have identical clothes and hobbies as all the boys in town. My sheets are basic white, my blanket an ordinary dull blue, and my hair a drab color of brown. My pajamas are striped black and white like a prison costume. I want something of my own, something different.”
“Of course you do,” smiled his mother, completely ignoring what Darius had said. “You’re a good, normal little boy.” She kissed him plainly on the cheek and made her way briskly across the room to turn out the light. But before her lanky pointer-finger reached the switch, from the corner of her eye she caught sight of two dangling somethings sticking out the end of Darius’ bed that were peculiar, abnormal, and in a word, quite simply: wrong.
Cried Fran in horror, “Your socks don’t match!”
In this town of Boredom unmatched socks were an abomination that simply could not be allowed. Such strange behavior was entirely unheard of and, on the odd occasion like this, not the least bit tolerated. So without wasting an extra second, Fran replaced the out-of-place yellow sock with a common white one to match, and switched off the light.
Darius, who positively hated to be ignored, reacted furiously.
“I wanted something special,” he said. In fact he had spent all day highlighting his sock to make it yellow. “I don’t want to do soccer practice on Mondays and Wednesdays, karate on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or piano lessons on Fridays. You never listen to me.”
“Of course I do,” she said, wiping away some cookie crumbs from Darius’ chin. “You forgot your youth group on Sundays.” And before Darius could protest any further, Fran planted another homely peck on his cheek and bid him a good, average night.
“Mom,” said Darius unsmiling, “I want to move away from Boredom.”
Fran looked pitifully at her son. She knew very well that Darius had been suffering from desperate nightmares ever since the family had moved to this town. He was unhappy, she understood that, but as much as she wanted to help him, there was nothing Fran could think to do.
“Sleep soundly, my perfect little one,” she said.
“Sleep soundly, my perfect little one,” echoed Frank from the hallway. Their voices were almost identical.
“Where could he have found a yellow sock anyway?” fretted Fran, anxiously closing the door behind her. Frank consoled his wife with the usual pat on the shoulder, both of them knowing that the other parents in Boredom never had to deal with such eccentric behavior as uncoordinated footwear and childish outbursts.
She was nearly in tears. “He’s acting more and more like his brother did.”
“Don’t say that,” Frank implored. “Remember, we live in Boredom now. There is nothing to worry about here.” In fact, the young couple had moved to this town when Darius was just a toddler in order to escape a place that was unpredictable and arbitrary, a world that had dealt them many tears. “Darius is going to grow up an ordinary boy,” continued Frank, “and nothing unfortunate will happen—nothing like what happened to his brother.”
Frank had a point. Boredom, in contrast to most places, had always prided itself on its quiet streets and sleepy ways. Nothing awful ever happened here (but of course nothing really magnificent did either). It was such an average town that you might easily have missed seeing it on the side of the freeway as you traveled someplace far more worthy of notice. Past ten o’clock, even the crickets of Boredom turned irresistibly bored, fell fast asleep, and stopped chirping.
The weary parents retired to their bedroom to watch the evening news, which was always about the same tired topics as the night before: a new strip mall being constructed, the weather (72 degrees, the same as yesterday), and the loss of the Generals, Boredom’s local football team. The only bad news to report was about a strange foreign man, widely suspected of committing tourism. Witnesses alarmingly described how he had spent his day talking in a language no normal person could understand, wearing comfortable but brightly-colored clothing, and gesturing for help taking photos of himself next to statues and especially delicious ice cream shops. The man was detained, but not arrested.
Meanwhile in his perfectly sized bed, no matter how hard he tried, little Darius could not get to sleep. Thoughts swirled around like leaves in a windstorm, keeping his mind alert and awake. Tomorrow he would wear his clean white shoes to Pea-in-the-Pod Elementary, the same old school that every child in town went to and would always go to. Darius dreamed of doing something else instead. He didn’t know exactly what—maybe fly to the moon and catch a movie, or box with a professional kangaroo in a ring of spaghetti, or search the sewers for an underground army of radioactive alligators. “I don’t want to do what everyone else does,” thought Darius.
“Why don’t you wear cheese on your head?”
“Or you could fold your ears and scream insults at carpet samples!”
These unexpected voices appeared to be coming from under Darius’ bed. Having never heard voices coming from there before, they startled poor Darius—as voices coming from under beds tend to do when we don’t expect them. Yet they seemed kind enough, and it was something different.
Bending over the side of his bed, Darius found two tiny, shaggy monsters with purplish fur fluffed up like oversized balls of lint, gazing expectantly at him with their sharp black eyes. They blinked rapidly and swayed back and forth as if they were listening to a pleasant tune. In short, they looked just as he imagined they would.
“Well hello, sir. So kind of you to join us,” said the first monster. “My name is Deviant and this is my colleague, Meek. Go on now, Meek, say hello to the nice young man.” But the second monster said nothing and Deviant was forced to apologize for him. “Meek is hopelessly shy, I’m afraid.”
“Hello Deviant,” said Darius, not the least bit fearful of monsters. Darius did not know to be afraid of things out of the ordinary, as nothing surprising had ever happened before in Boredom. “And hello to you, Meek,” he said greeting the second monster. “My name is Darius. What are you two doing under my bed?”
“We’re on vacation,” replied Deviant rather excitedly.
The poor boy was completely ignorant of monster customs, as a surprising number of children are these days, and had no idea where they vacationed. If you fall into this category, too, you’ll want to pay extra attention, so that when you meet monsters you will impress them with your knowledge of monster travels.
“Do you always take vacations under my bed?”
“Oh no, certainly not! Sometimes we have a holiday in your dresser, or take a weekend behind your mirror. You know, just sit back and reflect for awhile. We try to go somewhere different each time.”
“That’s wonderful,” thought Darius and he told them so. He wriggled out of bed headfirst and sat upon the floor to have a better look at these two curious guests. “And how are you enjoying yourselves under my bed?”
“The carpet makes my nose itch,” replied Meek weakly.
While Meek was a monster with a very large nose, but awfully small eyes and ears, his companion Deviant had beautifully large eyes and giant ears, but a peculiarly small nose.
“Meek is just getting anxious,” said Deviant. Then whispering privately to Darius he added, “So many adults about, you know.”
“I’m ready for home,” cried the other monster suddenly.
“Where exactly is your home?” Already Darius had learned where monsters vacationed, but he did not have the slightest idea where they lived.
“In your closet, of course.”
“In my closet!” scoffed Darius. In Boredom, you will be shocked to learn, closets were used only for clean white shirts, for storing collectables, for shoes, and for hiding messes when guests arrived—but never for housing monsters.
Deviant frowned very seriously. “You mean to tell me you’ve never noticed the monsters living in your closet? You haven’t seen the Spooke or Drudge or the Automatons? How curious indeed! Did you catch that, Meek? I suppose we’re not terribly good monsters then, are we?”
“Not your typical variety,” Meek replied, never one to say things too forcefully.
“If there are monsters in my closet, as you say,” questioned Darius further, “then why haven’t I seen any before?”
Deviant sneered jovially, his giant ears flapping in excitement. “If you haven’t noticed us, my dear boy, perhaps you have glimpsed the terrible mess of shirts, shoes, belts, caps, socks, and malodorous underwear in there? Or maybe the board games, sports equipment, baseball cards, comic books, trophies, and discarded birthday presents? If you haven’t caught sight of these things in your closet, then I shouldn’t be surprised you haven’t seen us monsters. Really, Darius, you must clean out that clutter once in awhile—if you want to see monsters that is.”
“Every boy has those things in his closet,” Darius sighed. “And it’s not that messy. I’m just an ordinary kid.”
“Don’t say that!” cried Deviant.
“Not ordinary at all,” said Meek.
Of course Darius wanted to believe the monsters, but every adult in Darius’ life had always treated him as just any average kid. So you can understand why Darius was not yet ready to believe these two sincere creatures under his bed. Sometimes we won’t believe the most honest compliments, even though we always, as a rule, take insults to heart far too readily.
“I feel ordinary, that’s all. Even my name is Darius Same!”
“Well you’re the first Darius Same I’ve ever come across. Let me grab a good eyeful of you,” said Deviant scrutinizing the boy from the tips of his tousled hair down to his wiggly toes. He inspected the shine of Darius’ skin, the points of his ears, his poor posture, and the cookie crumbs in his hair. Shaking his head, his ears flopping jovially, the monster at last confirmed: “Nope. I’ve never seen a boy like this.”
“Quite extraordinary,” added Meek.
Monsters, of course, have an astoundingly watchful eye and a special aptitude for recognizing things that are out of the ordinary. But you too can see as monsters do. To do so you must begin to be mindful of all the little dashes and freckles and squeaks in people’s voices that make one child not like any other. You have to catch them away from school, far from strict parents, out of clarinet practice, and all the other programmed events in their lives. Alternatively, you can just ask them politely, but where’s the fun in that?
Darius was not yet persuaded.
“What makes me different than any other boy sleeping tonight?” he argued.
“Well, firstly, you aren’t sleeping, are you?” Deviant insisted. “Currently you are conversing with two sharp, intelligent, and dare I say it, handsome monsters, both of whom are chatting with you about vacation destinations available right here in your bedroom, wasting time until the Magic Staircase arrives. Now how many boys are doing that just now?”
“Most unorthodox, really,” whispered Meek.
“That may be so,” replied Darius, “but if I could be sure I wouldn’t have another nightmare, I’d be off to sleep too. And why, might I ask, is a Magic Staircase arriving?”
Just as he was finishing this most important question, the closet door swung wide open and inside, where all Darius’ games and clothes and books had been only moments before, was a wobbly spiral staircase leading upward into the darkness.
“But that staircase wasn’t in my closet before!” cried Darius.
“Of course it wasn’t,” explained Deviant. “It’s a Magic Staircase. It can only appear where it wasn’t. Otherwise it would be an ordinary staircase.”
“Strangely, that’s the more popular kind,” added Meek.
This tiny observation goes a long way toward explaining how Boredom, and about a million other towns (give or take 6), have become so very dull. Surely, you too must have noticed that our world is populated with a ghastly number of ordinary things. Staircases that remain fixed in the same place, nightfalls that are predictably dark, and water that is invariably wet. In this story that never happened, you’ll be relieved to know that a fair number of things are extraordinary, especially beginning now as our trio of friends ascend a Magic Staircase to a place that never was.
Little Darius stared up into the stairwell as far as his eyes could make out, but the light faded precipitously into a dark emptiness that hid its destination. He understood that truly the only way to discover what was there beyond required exceptional bravery and resolve, so he tried to imagine that he had both of these wonderful qualities.
“After you, Darius,” said Deviant politely, pointing into the dark closet.
“No, after you,” said Darius, who was always courteous—especially in such exceptional (and dim) circumstances.
And with that, the three of them—first Deviant, then Darius, and finally Meek (who was most polite after all)—filed up the Magic Staircase and into a darkness that never was.
© 2006 by b.z.