The Door Between Worlds
Chapter One - Ghost Spheres
Michael launched himself through the library’s sturdy double doors, narrowly missing a well-aimed apple thrown by one of the boys in the year above him. The apple’s juice splattered over the tiled floor as it made contact, but at least Michael’s uniform had escaped the mess for once.
Mr Rogers, the school librarian, looked up from his desk as the doors banged shut, pen poised over the enormous catalogue that contained the details of every book the library held. He examined Michael critically, taking in the boy’s hurried breath and crumpled appearance, and shook his greying head. ‘So, you’re back again,’ he said.
The old man had a short, stubbed nose that looked almost clownish against his serious eyes, and always wore a kilt, despite not being even remotely Scottish, as far as Michael knew.
It was Mr Rogers’s job to make sure that every book was neatly in place at all times, unless it was being borrowed or read – a job he took very seriously. If a book stood out even an inch from the others, then Mr Rogers would rush over and put it back in position, as though he feared something might happen to him if he left it.
Michael sighed and made an attempt to straighten his shirt. ‘You know this is the only place where I’m safe from them at breaktime, and anyway, this is the only place I want to be.’ He eyed the bookshelves around him, paying particular attention to his favourite section: fantasy. It was just to the right of Mr Rogers’s desk and most of the books resembled giant slabs of paper that would take most people a year to read. ‘Have you got any new books in about magic yet?’ he asked.
‘No, the one you returned last time is the newest one we’ve got. What happened to the book you told me you got for your birthday yesterday? Don't tell me you've finished it already?'
Michael looked away. 'I might have stayed up all night reading it,' he said quietly. 'You won't tell Miss Rowan, will you? She'll tell my mum for sure, and then I'll never be able to read in bed again!'
Mr Rogers laughed. 'No, I won't tell Miss Rowan. Besides, I've spent many a night reading too...though that might be why I have so many wrinkles creeping up on me.' He looked wistfully off into the distance for a moment, giving the impression of remembering his younger days. Michael coughed, and Mr Rogers gave a slight start. 'Oh, yes, where were we? Books. Now, I have got a new one in about the Greek myths. Are you familiar with them?’ he said, looking at the shelf behind him and pulling out a book still wrapped in cellophane.
‘I've heard a bit about them, but I've never actually read any,’ Michael said. 'They're about the Greek gods that live on Mount Olympus, aren't they?'
‘Most of them, but not all,’ Mr Rogers said. ‘Actually, my favourite is one about the Gorgon Medusa.’
'Medusa? Isn't she the one with snakes for hair and a stare that turns people to stone?' Michael asked.
‘Indeed she is; I thought you might recognise her name. It is one of the more well-known myths, after all. There are lots more in the book, some that even I haven't heard of before. Feel like giving it a try?'
Michael eyed the book hungrily. His interest was always stirred when he found a book that contained stories that most people had never heard of. Mr Rogers grinned at him, revealing two very crooked front teeth, and without waiting for an answer, unwrapped the cellophane around the book. He stamped it with the date he wanted it returned by, and then dropped it into Michael's eager hands.
Michael could smell the pages, the crisp scent of paper and freshly printed ink that only came from new books. ‘Thank you, Mr Rogers,’ he said, clutching it to his body and running off to find his favourite corner of the library where he could read uninterrupted until the end of break.
He opened the cover, turning the pages until he reached the chapter list. The one about Medusa was halfway through, but as Mr Rogers had said it was his favourite (and as he usually had good judgement in these things) Michael turned straight to it.
Medusa was a creature called a Gorgon, with the torso and face of a woman, but the tail of a snake. She had a gaze that could turn any living thing into stone if you looked her in the eyes, and her hair was made up of live snakes.
Instantly, Michael found that he was being drawn into the story, turning page after page, reading about all the people who had tried to challenge her and had been turned to stone, quite forgetting that the bell was about to ring.
When it did, he jumped violently, almost losing his page. Quickly, he took a bookmark out of his pocket and marked his page, before making his way back to the classroom where Miss Rowan was waiting.
Instead of smiling at him like she usually did, her brow creased and a frown twitched at the corners of her mouth. But that wasn't all that was strange. The polka dots on her dress were moving around, floating and rippling across the material. No one else seemed to have noticed. Then he realised that the dress had been plain earlier that morning, and the truth about what he was seeing began to sink in.
Not good. Trying to hide his concern, he took his seat at the back of the class, watching the polka dots dart around, getting bigger by the moment. They weren't actually dots, they were ghost spheres – balls of ghostly matter that, for some reason, only he could ever see. They were attracted to people in bad moods, and apparently Miss Rowan was in a very bad mood.
‘It seems,’ she said, speaking slowly and fixing her gaze firmly on Michael, ‘that some of you didn’t take your work on writing about what you would like to be in the future seriously. I would like to remind you all that things like wizards, spells and magical creatures do not exist, and that pretending they are real is what only the infant classes do.’
A sinking feeling hit his stomach. Although she was addressing the whole class, he knew her words were directed solely at him. For some stupid reason, he had been compelled to write about his ambition to train as a wizard. He knew to everyone else the idea would seem ridiculous, but he’d believed that wizards existed ever since he was a toddler. And after reading the book his father had given him for his birthday, it had only served to convince him further.
On the outside, the book looked just like any other, but the details inside were so well written that it sounded like the author had actually been there. The story was simple; a wizard named Ramble, the most powerful in the Kingdom of Treeshallow, had been enlisted by the King to battle a horde of demons known as the Desrai. What was strange about it, though, was that Michael seemed to know things that hadn't even been written down. Like the King's daughter, who was only mentioned once because she had been taken somewhere safe away from the battle. Michael knew there was more to her tale, he knew that Ramble had once cured her of a terrible illness that had swept the town, and that her mother had contracted it too, but the disease had progressed too much for Ramble to save her.
Michael had searched the entire book afterwards, trying to find some trace of it; there simply wasn't one. Yet he was sure it had happened, just as he was sure his mother had been angry at his father that morning for falling asleep at his desk instead of sorting through the bills.
As Michael shook his mind back, he realised that Miss Rowan was now standing an inch from his desk. The ghost spheres were even bigger now, and were trying to merge into one. 'Go away,' he told them, hoping that it would work. He’d done it twice before, but there had only been one or two then, not a whole swarm.
The ghost spheres resisted, and now everyone was staring at him. Miss Rowan looked furious.
'I beg your pardon?' she said, her voice cracking.
'I'm sorry, Miss Rowan. I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to...' he faltered, unsure of what to say.
'Talking to who? Some magical creature that only you can see? A unicorn, maybe, or perhaps a dragon?'
'No, they're ghost spheres,' he said, before he could stop himself. Why had he said that? There were times when telling the truth was necessary, he knew, but this really wasn't one of them.
Miss Rowan sneered at him, and the classroom erupted in laughter. It was too much for him. He jumped up as tears clogged his eyes, warping his vision so that her hair looked like snakes as hideous as Medusa’s, and ran from the room.
He wasn't headed for anywhere in particular, just somewhere to get away, but his feet took him straight to the library. Crashing through the double doors once again, he swept behind the nearest bookshelf and fell to his knees.
‘Michael?’ Mr Rogers said, peering around the corner at him. ‘What’s the matter? Why are you here during lesson time?’
Michael wiped his eyes on his sleeve and looked up at him. ‘I...I can't tell you. You wouldn't believe me,’ he sniffed.
‘Oh, I'm very open minded. Why don't you try me?’ Mr Rogers said, helping Michael to his feet. He took him over to the desk and pulled out another chair for Michael to sit down in, and found a tin of biscuits in one of the drawers, flourishing it around until Michael reluctantly took one.
As though the biscuit had contained a truth serum, the whole story came spilling out of his mouth before he even had time to swallow. His ability to see the ghost spheres, the story about Wizard Ramble and how he knew things about it he couldn't explain, Miss Rowan berating him for believing that wizards were real, and even his own dream to become one.
Mr Rogers listened silently, and then took a biscuit for himself. ‘Well, I can tell you one thing. Wizards are real,’ he said, brushing crumbs off his kilt. Michael blinked at him.
‘Unfortunately,’ he continued, ‘Miss Rowan is one of those people who I tend to call practical minded. Magic is just too difficult an idea for her to understand, and if, like you say, she's currently possessed by these ghost spheres, there's no wonder she doesn't believe you.’
‘What’s so difficult about it?’ Michael asked.
‘She's a person that needs explanations as to how things work, and given that most people have the idea that magic just...happens, with no hard or fast rules…she just can't accept it. I know, both you and I are aware that magic has many rules and takes a lot of skill to use, but she doesn’t realise that,’ Mr Rogers replied.
‘You seem to know an awful lot about it,’ Michael said, narrowing his eyes. ‘Why? You’re not a wizard, are you?’
Mr Rogers smiled, though his eyes looked sad. ‘No, I’m not a wizard. But I did know one once, a long time ago before you were born. I believe his name was Ramble, come to think of it.’
'You knew him?’ Michael said. ‘How?'
Just then the library doors banged open, revealing Miss Rowan. Her expression was one of pure rage, and the ghost spheres on her dress had almost formed into one. Mr Rogers frowned at her, and then said softly, 'I think it's time for you to leave.'
At first Michael thought Mr Rogers was talking to him, but then he followed his gaze and saw that the ghost spheres were disappearing. As the last one vanished, Miss Rowan shook herself.
'Whatever am I doing in the library?' she said, and then caught sight of Michael and Mr Rogers. 'Mr Rogers, you should know better than to allow a student in here during class time.'