Chapter 1: Beware of Falling

“No!” I yelled, waking up with a jolt.  I wiped sweat from my forehead and thought, Wow, I haven’t had that nightmare in a long time.   

I rubbed my eyes and tried to remember what day it was.  Oh yeah, Tuesday, the second day of my sophomore year of high school.  I got out of bed and said my morning prayer.  It was hard to concentrate as I prayed because I kept thinking of the dream. 

“Eric, breakfast is ready!” 

“I’ll be right there!”   

I stood up and stretched.  Ominous thunder rumbled from the distance.  Was rain in the forecast again?  This is a weird beginning to my day.  I glanced at my Bible on my nightstand and resolved to read a few verses to put me in a better mood.  I randomly opened it and it opened to the first chapter of Matthew which has the lineage of Jesus.  I read a bunch of so-and-so was the father of so-and-so.  That made me think of my father who had passed away a year ago, and who the nightmare was about.  Usually the Bible is uplifting.  My musing was drawn away by, “Breakfast is getting cold, Eric, and you need to wash our new car!” 

Ew! I thought.  I forgot about that ugly thing Just a second!”  It really wasn’t a new car—just new to us.   

I entered the kitchen.  My mom was wearing an old nightgown.  I'm glad I don't have to wear a dress.  I wouldn't be caught dead one.  "Hi Mom," I said giving her a kiss and spying the French toast she made. 

"Hi Son, I’ll say grace."  After the prayer she asked, “How did you sleep?” 

I really didn’t want to answer.  “Well, I woke up the nightmare.” 

“The nightmare?  Oh, you mean that one.” 

“Yes, that one.” 

We were silent for a minute, our thoughts interrupted by thunder from the distance. We had casual conversation then she reminded me about the car. 

After eating, taking a shower, and applying the necessary underarm protection, I got dressed and went out to the driveway.  The sky was overcast but it wasn’t raining Though it was gloomy I kind of liked it, since it doesn’t rain much in Phoenix. 

After staring at the sky I looked over at the car Why did Mom buy an old brown Ford Taurus? I thought.  It didn’t even have hubcaps!  But since she wanted to show it to her coworkers today, I decided to make it look as good as I could I’m the last kid living at home, so Mom depends on me a lot.   

Turning on the hose, I started spraying off the mud that had splashed on it the previous evening when we drove home.  We bought it from some weird old people that lived out in the middle of the desert.  It was raining hard on our way to their house as my mom’s friend drove us there.  What a bizarre memory, I thought as I filled a bucket with water.  I threw in soap, started scrubbing the car and thought back to yesterday. 

When we pulled up to the old people’s house the rain had stopped.  The elderly gray-haired couple were sitting on a porch swing and stood to greet us.  The woman was plump and wore an old white dress with flowery designs.  Her knee-high nylons didn’t reach the bottom of her dress, making her look ridiculous.   

The man was short, skinny, and wore suspenders that pulled his brown polyester pants up to his chest.  He squinted through thick glasses and the cane in his hand had seen better days.  It was black, except at the end where the paint had worn to the wood, as if the old geezer hit things with it.   

I was surprisingly a little freaked out to be there with these old people.  My grandparents are all dead and I didn't hang out with old folks much.  My impression of old people was that they acted strange and smelled funny. 

The couple's last name was Donner and my mom had said they were world travelers.  Yeah, right, world travelers, I thought when I saw them. 

After they greeted my mom and her friend they walked over to the open garage where this brown spud-mobile was parked.  Seeing it from a distance, I hoped Mom wouldn’t buy it but I didn’t have much of a choice.  It's not that I expected Mom to buy a Maserati, but I wanted to be seen in something that looked good, like maybe a Mustang.  I walked over to the Donner’s porch to be alone.   

Ever since Dad died, we were on a limited income.  Sitting down I asked myself, Why did Dad have to go? That was a question I’d pondered a million times. 

Then I was startled to see Old Man Donner standing over me.  Where did he come from?   

“Hi, boy,” he screeched. 

“Uh, hi,” I replied, a little uneasy. 

“Have ya done any good today?” he spat. 


“I said, have ya done any good today?” 

“Well . . . today? . . . I don’t know.”   

“Now, I can tell yer a good kid—honest, helpful, and ya get good grades in school.  Am I right?” 

“I guess,” I replied, not knowing why this weirdo was even talking to me. 

“Remember the value of integrity, and of good friends.  Don’t worry about money.  You’ll have enough of that.” 

What’s up with this dude? 

“And remember, Son . . . ” 

I hate it when anyone besides Mom calls me “Son.” 

“good folks always win in the end.” 

Yeah, as they ride off into the sunset. 

“Now, I wanna tell ya about that car.  It’s no ordinary car.”  

Of course not.  It’s a flying carpet. 

“You can do a lot of good with that car!” 

Now the old geezer’s a used car salesman!  “Look,” I said, “if you wanna talk someone into buying your car, you need to speak with my mom.  She’s over there.”  I pointed a finger, hoping he would get the hint. 

“I’m talking to you,” he insisted.  “You can go places in that thing.  Special places.” 

“Yes, I know cars can take you places,” I sighed, rolling my eyes.   

“Yer not getting ma point, boy.”  He poked me in the ribs with his cane. 

“Ow,” I protested. 

He continued, “It’ll take ya to lands of discovery, places with people in need.  You can have fun, get out of bad situations, but remember to help people!” 

That was the last straw.  I stood up and moved away from Mr. Senile Travel Agent.  Walking over to my mom, I noticed she was writing out a check.  I didn’t care anymore if she bought the car or not; I just wanted to get out of this freaky place. 

Returning my thoughts back to the present, I wrung out the rag I was using and dipped it back into the soapy water. But I had to chuckle at that weird old man.  The worlds full of crazies.  After scrubbing the tires I turned the hose back on and started rinsing the car.  As I did my mind wandered to what I would do at school that day.   

My favorite subject was a hottie named Mala.  We weren’t actually going out . . . yet . . . but . . . I kinda had my eye on her, so to speak.  Her name’s a little strange because she’s from India, but there’s nothing strange about her looks. 

 When she moved here from India two years ago her English wasn’t that great and she spoke with a funny accent, but she caught on quickly.  Though I’d noticed her several times, we didn’t actually meet until we had the same French class last semester.  Our teacher had the two of us do role-playing––like pretending to buy things from a store, asking directions, stuff like that.  Our friendship grew from there.   

I was turning sixteen next month and wanted to start dating.  Though I was still fifteen, Mom gave me permission to take someone to homecoming and Mala was my first choice.  Thing is, I hadn’t asked her yet. 

Mala wasn’t the only thing on my to do list; I needed to start working on my bookshelf in woodshop, come up with a one-act play in drama, and as usual have lunch with the guys.  Oh yeah, I had that oral report on Germany due Friday in World Civilizations Man, I need to start working on that.   

I picked up a dry rag to wipe down the Taurus.  However, when I touched the car I felt a subtle uneasy feeling like something was about to happen.  So I took my hands off the car to see if it would go away.  It did.  Nervously I touched the car again to see if that feeling would return.  It didn’t, at least I don’t think it did.  I must be going crazy, I told myself.   

After a couple minutes I looked through a rear window and saw something shiny on the back floor.  Curious, I opened the door, sat down and picked it up.  Upon touching it that sensation that something was about to happen came back.  I looked around me to see if anything had changed but everything seemed normal.  So I ignored the feeling and examined the ring.  It looked like it was made of gold but I wasn’t sure, and it didn’t have any jewels.  I tried it on the second finger of my right hand—a perfect fit.  I guessed it belonged to Old Man Donner.  There was an etched design on it that looked like a wishbone.  Boy I have a lot of things to wish for, I told myself.  Let’s see, maybe a date with Mala, better yet a million dollars.  Then, thinking of my assignment due Friday, I muttered, “I wish I could go to Germany and learn something awesome for my oral report.”   

Instantly I was falling through space, as if the backseat opened up and dropped me into a dark tunnel.   

I panicked, flailing my arms and kicking my legs.  “Help!” I screamed, but the sound was so muffled I could barely hear myself.  Flipping head over heels in the dark void, I waited for myself to painfully hit bottom, if there was one.  I was going to die––I knew it.  The spud must be some kind of monster, killing the unsuspecting.  First me, then my mom.  I’m coming, Dad!  It won’t be long now! 

Suddenly I was thrown out of the void, like being pushed out of an elevator before it stopped.  I hit something as I fell onto a hard, stony surface.  A loud metallic crash rang in my ears.  When I opened my eyes, a medieval knight was lying next to me, face to face.  I yelled and quickly stood up.  On second look, it was just an empty suit of armor that I had knocked over. 

Trying to calm down, I glanced all around to get my bearings.  I was in a dimly lit corridor of gray stone walls.  When I looked to see where I had entered the corridor, it was from a rounded, hollow part of the wall where the metal suit had been standing.  During my fall through the void I thought I was going to die, yet this surely wasn’t heaven. 

This is a dream, I told myself.  I must have fallen asleep in that old Taurus.  To prove it, I pinched myself.  Ouch!  Not believing it wasn’t a dream, I did it again.  Ouch!  This doesn’t make sense.  It can’t be real!  Ouch!  Every time I pinched myself it hurt.  Whether it was a dream or not, I decided to stop pinching myself, at least for a while 

One of the first things I noticed was the cool, musty air, nothing like the warm air in Phoenix.  I touched the walls.  The stones were cold, rough, and cemented together.  This place reminded me of King Arthur movies.  Suits of armor, like the one I had knocked over, decorated the halls.  I figured I must be in a castle or fortress, which looked hundreds of years old.  Did I go back in time?  Is the spud a time machine? 

I noticed an open window and peering out I saw that I was high up in a light gray castle.  Rolling green hills surrounded a valley patched with golden farmland.  The air was fresh and I could hear birds singing.  The castle stood on the top of a hill.  Anyone approaching could easily be seen, however no one was in sight.   

The sights, sounds and smells convinced me that this couldn’t be a dream, but if it wasn’t, what was going on?  As I explored the castle, I found stairs that spiraled up a circular tower.  They took me to a roof, or terrace, high in the air.  It was obviously a lookout because I could see all the countryside in every direction.  A short wall encircled the terrace.  

The view was awesome.  I couldn’t get over how much greenery there was—the hills, the meadows, and some of the crops—way different than the barren deserts of Arizona.  In the distance I saw farmhouses and asphalt roads, one leading up to the castle.  My theory about being sent to medieval times was dashed, but where was I and why?    

At last I saw human life.  A crowd walked into view as they rounded a hill on the road that led to the castle.  There were dozens of them, old and young.  They looked like they were just out for a stroll.  As they neared the castle, others approach them from the ground floor, carrying boxes.  They opened the boxes and proceeded to pass out metal medallions to all who arrived.  It was as if everybody won a prize.  Most of the people wore the medallions around their neck. 

Their conversations weren’t clear, yet I could tell the language wasn’t English.  Many of them entered the castle and began exploring.  Nervous, I remained where I was.  Soon the visitors came near enough that I could clearly hear them, but I still had no idea what language it was.  Spanish was spoken around me almost every day and it definitely wasn’t Spanish.  I was a little worried of what to do if someone talked to me.   

Crossing over to the other side of the terrace I saw some visitors strolling across a stone bridge about ten feet below me.  Short walls on either side of the bridge protected them from a fifty-foot drop.  They were too busy taking pictures and enjoying the view to notice me above them. 

A young boy about five years old held a small, inflated ball in his hand, and was playing hopscotch on the large stones, or perhaps he was trying not to step on the cracks.  While he played, his mom continued on the bridge, taking in the panorama and speaking with her companions.   

The kid’s behavior amused me and for a moment I felt more at ease.  It struck me that no matter where in the world you go, kids are all the same.  Then it happened.  The boy climbed on top of the bridge wall and began taking short steps, arms outstretched as if on a tightrope.  I became paralyzed as thoughts raced through my mind.   Why wasn’t anyone watching him?  If I yell out they won’t understand me.  But that wouldn’t matter.  I would still get their attention.   As I was about to shout, the kid’s mother turned around.  Horrified, she brought her hands to her cheeks and screamed.  That startled the kid and he lost his balance.  He teetered toward the fifty-foot drop and there was no one near to grab him.   

I don’t know what caused it but the next thing I knew my feet leaped over the terrace wall.  Questions raced through my mind as I seemed to fall in slow motion.  What have I done?  I’m going to kill myself and the kid.  Watching the boy, I noticed that he had already fallen.  I’m too late!   

My lower chest and abs hit the wall where the boy had just stood, my feet smacking the walkway.  Pain shot through my whole body as the air was knocked out of my lungs.  As my arms jerked down from the force of landing, one of my hands grabbed the kid’s ankle just before he was out of reach.  The ball that was in his hand slipped out of his grasp and exploded on a spiked wrought-iron fence below.   

Sightseers soon surrounded us, pulling the boy to safety.  Feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, I limply slid down onto the bridge and tried to get air back in my lungs.  I knew I was in pain but the adrenaline flowing in my veins made me numb.  As I lay on my back staring up, the mob surrounded me, looking down like doctors around an operating table.  All I could think was, Mom, where are you?  I wanna go home! 

They talked to me but I didn’t understand.  They spoke to one another as they felt me all over—my legs, my arms, my head.  Again they said things to me but I was oblivious.   Seeing that I wasn’t badly hurt, they lifted me to my feet, brushed me off and patted my back.  Some embraced me.  I knew they appreciated what I had done, but I just wanted to go home and lie down.   

My chest began throbbing painfully.  I started to walk away, but didn’t know where to go.  People kept speaking to me, then staring as if waiting for an answer.  I just nodded and tried to push through.  Making headway, I almost stumbled over the boy’s mother.  She was holding her son and kissing him all over.  Upon seeing me, she handed her boy to someone else and caught me in an embrace that would put a boa’s squeeze to shame.  The others closed in on me too, holding me, trapping me.  Never had my personal space been so violated.  The mother started kissing me all over my face I cried, “Help! Help!” but my words were muffled by the mother’s mouth all over mine. 

Not knowing what else to do, I went limp and fell to the floor, hoping they would release me.  That got the mother to let go, but the others just pulled me to my feet again, giving her another chance to attack.   

I was so confused.  I felt like a boy who had accidentally walked into the girls’ bathroom, desperate to get out, but not knowing where the exit was!   

I pushed through the crowd again and they finally relented.  However, the kid’s mother wouldn’t let go of my arm.  As I quickly walked with her in tow, she took her medallion from off her neck and placed it around mine.  Finally I broke loose and made a mad dash for an exit.  But that didn’t stop some bystanders from following me––three teenagers and a man in his thirties.  After about a minute of racing through the castle, looking for an exit and dodging visitors along the way, I saw the corridor where I first entered the castle.  Frantic, I ran towards it. 

The suit of armor was still sprawled on the floor.  My pursuers were fast behind and the only thing I could think of was to go back the way I came.  In desperation, I jumped into the hollow in the wall, expecting to feel the cold, hard stone impact my body.   

The next thing I knew, I was lying in the backseat of the Taurus, hot and sweaty.  I sat up and realized it was just a dream.  A bucket of soapy water sat on the driveway and a rag lay on the seat.  That’s right.  I was washing the car.  And then what happened?  Oh, yeah.  I was drying a window and saw...the ring.  Looking down at my hand, I saw the band still on my finger.  Then I noticed something dangling from my neck.