The eyes of a fourteen year old boy flashed open. Connor’s head gently reseted on a pillow shaped like a rocket ship. He turned to face an alarm clock that also was shaped like a rocket ship. The boy rolled his eyes lazily, I need to tell dad the rocket ships need to go. The clock stood on a plastic platform of orange and red fire, as if the rocket were going to take off. Directly in the center of the rocket four digital numbers shown brightly: 11:30 AM.
Rocket ships, space rangers, and aliens. This is what filled the room. The boy laid his head back onto the rocket ship pillow and stared endlessly into the fake starry-black painted ceiling. At night it glowed in the dark.
Yeah, I definitely need to talk to dad about changing this room around.
Connor removed the sheets and jumped out of his bed. His bare feet touched the space ranger themed carpet, his toes cringed. He through a shirt on over his bare back. His father didn’t like when he walked around the house shirtless, for his sister’s sake.
He made his way down a flight of stairs and found himself in the kitchen. The late morning sun itching its way through dimly shaded windows. Madison sat at the counter eating a small plate of waffles, reading a magazine. She was already showered and dressed. Wearing a colorful pink and yellow spring top, with a short skirt. Her blond hair was curled and her face was caked in makeup. Is she trying to piss dad off?
“What’s the occasion?” Connor asked throwing cereal into a bowl.
Madison’s eyes didn’t leave her reading. “The party, Connor?” she exhaled with annoyance.
“That’s really happening?” he said. “I thought dad was joking about that. What time are they coming?” He poured milk into bowl.
“In a half hour.” Madison flipped a page in her magazine, as if he wasn’t there.
Connor stuffed a shovel full of cereal into his mouth, “What with the tude?” he mumbled.
“Nothing, Connor. Will you just leave me alone?”
He said nothing more and nothing less. Only tried to sneak out of the room with out poking the bear further. He entered the living room where his father sat in a chair reading the paper. Connor’s father had slick black hair that was wavy and smooth, and a close shaven beard that matched. His eyes were the color of a descending sun. His name was Malcolm.
Connor took another shovel full of cereal as he took a seat on the couch. “I swear,” his father spoke, never leaving the page, “if you spill any of that I will kill you.” He lifted his eyes and smiled.
“Wow, everyone is in such a good mood today. I can’t take it,” the dryness of his words made his father laugh.
“Hey, I’m a single dad and I get one day a week to make sure this place is clean. It’s not like you’re help much,” he winked. “Although, I assume you’re talking about Maddie?”
“Yeah, I was,” Connor said placing the bowl down on the coffee table. “What’s her issue?”
“I don’t know. She said something about a bad test grade or something. It’ll blow over,” he said.
“She’s upset about a test?” Connor laughed. “How can we be twins, or even related, when she’s upset about a bad grade on a test?”
His father chuckled, “Beats me.”
Silence came over them. And his father went back to reading. “So, what’d you get me?”
The newspaper fell to one side slowly, revealing his fathers white teeth and crooked smile, “Excuse me?”
“Well, today is my birthday and all and I had told you a few weeks ago about a video game I wanted and I know how forgetful you are. I just thought I’d remind you...again.”
Malcolm stared at him, sheer unbelieving smeared across his face.
“It’s called 'World of Empires,'" Connor said quickly.
Malcolm folded the paper neatly and leaned over to his son. “I could be wrong,” he said, “but wasn’t it last week you told me you wanted to redecorate your room?”
Malcolm leaned back quick into his chair again, “Doesn’t matter. I already got your gift.”
“Sweet!” he jumped up, slapping his hands together in victory. “I gotta go jump in the shower.”
Connor started to dash away when he father yelled, “Bowl!” Connor ran back, grabbed the bowl off the table, and headed back into the kitchen.
The shower took less than a minute and dressing took even shorter. Connor wasn’t a person for fashion. After dressing he took a moment in front of the mirror, hoping that he would look just a little more like a man and a little less like a boy. He was fifteen after all. Connor’s eyes darted all over his body. From his eyes, to his chin, to his nose, all the way to his hair, which seemed to be the only trait that he and Madison acquired from their mother.
A lot wasn’t said about their mother. Connor’s father didn’t like to discuss it. Whenever they had it resulted in tears and heartache. From what Connor had gathered over the years she had died, or worse left them. Whatever it was he didn’t know.
Connor bounced down the stairs to become face to face with a cousin of his fathers. His name was Ray. Connor’s father didn’t have much family, but he felt it was necessary for them to have some sort of party for their birthday. He wouldn’t let a year go by without it.
Ray was much older then Connor’s father. He looks like a dried up raisin. Ray waddled toward Connor, a shaking hand held out.
“How’s the old fella?” he said, winking lightly at Connor.
He smiled weakly, “I’m good.” Unfortunately, that was all Connor could come up with. This is going to be a long day.
Sure enough it was. Although many people couldn’t make it to Vermont, there were a solid fifteen people moving about in their cottage sized home. Connor and Madison sat in a corner together, next to the table of food, most of the day because they had no cousins their age and because the other guests were all their father’s work friends. Both knew their father had meant well, he always did. He always tried his hardest to make things easier for them. But it was just painful to have to endure the same torture every year on their birthday.
At least there’s a ton of food. A ton there was! Connor and Madison devoured two bowls of chips, a plate of sandwiches, two bottles of soda, and a plate of beige dip that tasted heavenly.
“I think there are drugs in it,” Madison said, taking yet another chunk of dip and smearing it on a chip. “I–I just can’t stop,” she said helplessly.
“I know!” Connor moaned. “It’s like me with those damn sandwiches I feel like I had thirty, but I couldn’t stop it was like eating air that tasted like...like...I don’t even know!” They both laughed.
Suddenly, without warning the lights dimmed and a parade of people walked toward them with a glowing cake. Oh dear god. Connor and Madison looked at each other, dread spreading onto their faces. They had eaten far too much and now were expected to have this cake. A cake that looked like it had come out of a war-zone.
Madison slowly leaned over to Connor’s ear has the cake moved closer and the singing got louder, “If dad made this cake, we’re dead,” she whispered.
As the song ended Malcolm came out of the crowd to cut the cake, he looked at his two kids and smiled. “I made it with a lot of love so you better enjoy it.”
Connor somehow managed to eat a piece of cake, but Madison couldn’t make it past the first bite. She retreated to a different corner where she could hold her stomach in private.
By late-afternoon people started shuffling out. As they left they would place a card in a small basket label ‘Connor’ or ‘Madison’, their father liked to keep track of the money that was given to them. But as people began to leave the house began to quite down and slowly it became bearable for Connor to exist. Through the corner of his eye, Connor could see his father talking colorfully with a woman co-worker. Her hair was a bright blond and she smiled hugely when she laughed. Wonder about his mother crept into his mind, and within seconds it was shielded by his father walking up to him and handing him a rectangular present wrapped horribly.
Alright, here we go! A long smile spread across his face as he began to tear the paper off of it. At last it was free and Connor looked at the gift with confusion. What the hell is this? A book?
“Dad,” he said softly, “what is this?”
“It’s a book, Connor,” he said, looking down at him with a smile.
“So,” Connor spoke slow, “this is it? My gift?”
Malcolm smiled, disbelief clouding his eyes. “Yes, Connor, that’s your gift. I had it when I was younger and I thought you might like–”
“What? A hammy-downed book?”
“Hey, don’t talk to me like that!” Malcolm snapped.
“Dad, I told you so many times that I wanted that game. How could you forget?”
“I didn’t forget. I thought you should read something instead of going completely brain-dead by those games you play constantly!”
“That’s a myth! I told you that! You can’t go brain-dead from playing video–”
“Connor,” he said, “that isn’t the point. I just thought–”
“I don’t care what you thought!” Connor yelled, standing. “I don’t want to read this stupid book!”
Malcolm licked his slips, “Go to your room.”
“What?” Connor said.
“I said: ‘Go to your room’!” he yelled.
Connor looked at his father wanting to challenge him, but thought otherwise. He threw the book onto the ground and ran to his room.
Connor landed on his bed with a thud. Sending the rocket pillow into the air and onto the floor. This is ridiculous. I’m not a child. Although anger coursed through him he couldn’t find reason to move and after a time he feel asleep.
Connor awoke hours later. His eyes jolted to the rocket clock: 10:00 PM. He rubbed his eyes and saw that standing upright, near the clock, was the book. It had a yellow note sticking on the cover reading: “Just read the first page. Love, Dad.”
He picked up the book. It had a film of dust covering it. Connor moved the book from hand to hand glancing at the front and the back. It was rough in his hands and felt old and worn. He moved his fingers across the elevated title: : "The Castle in the Sky."
This better not be a book about religion. I’ll read the first page just to please him.
Connor opened the book. It made noise, as if it were stretching for the first time in ages. When he reached the title page he felt a cool breeze on the back of his neck. The page read: The Castle in the Sky by M. Norauk. He turned the page; another breeze. This time it moved his hair. The letters had a fancy script that caught his eye and as he began to read he felt colder. And without choosing he began to move closer toward the book. He tried a few times to pull away, but curiosity got the best of him. Within moments he could see his breath, and the words on the page began to shake. What’s going on? Before Connor could think else-wise there was a twist, a turn, and a loud swoosh and he was gone.