“Since the earliest of times, even from the dawn of man, when myst first painted images on the walls of the caves at Lascaux and Altamira, there have been rumors: rumors that the worlds drawn in pigment and charcoal exist not only in the minds of the artists who created them, but in actual fact. And in every age, children are born who gaze with wonder at these worlds and ask ‘are they real?’ and ‘can I go there?’
“These journals are dedicated to those of us who never stopped asking those questions. They chronicle a story that began long before our own time, but that I take up in the present day. If you are reading my words or hearing my voice, then you are being entrusted with knowledge that very few have possessed over the long march of the centuries. My name is Azarias, and these are the tales of our Order: of those who have, in the past, been called the Fratrum Simulacrorum, but who are today known simply as The Framerunners.”
Brother Azarias, Fratrum Simulacrorum Archives Manual
It all began on a chilly February morning in Chelsea Heights. Jill Jonsson was sitting at her kitchen table, watching the birds in the outdoor bird feeder, her blonde hair glowing golden in the morning sunlight. She usually pulled her hair into a ponytail, but this morning it was falling loose around her shoulders. There were two cardinals, a male and a female, that flitted back and forth between the feeder and the bare fig tree in the front yard. They reminded Jill of the Christmas ornaments that she and her mother had put away just the week before.
Suddenly, Jill was startled by a loud thump and a crash. The noises came from the back of the house, and she immediately jumped up to see what Hazel, her mischievous tomcat, might have gotten into. But then she noticed Hazel sitting nonchalantly by his food dish, looking curiously toward the hallway.
Jill was nearly thirteen, and some considered her pretty. She lived with her mother in the house at 1513 Vida Way. It was a small cottage, but nice; Jill had her very own tiny bedroom upstairs, and her mother had turned a spare room in the back of the downstairs into a library just for her.
Three full walls of the library sported bookcases, and these groaned under the weight of Jill’s favorites: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin, The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wind in the Willows. These were just a few of the many in her collection, but she also loved mysteries and tales of other worlds than these, and longed for the time when she would be old enough to read books that, for now, her mother considered too difficult for her.
Jill also collected posters and prints of her favorite characters and scenes from her books, and these covered what little wall space was not already claimed by bookshelves: Fledge the Winged Horse flying through Narnia; Bilbo Baggins walking in the Shire; Mole and Rat poling down the river together. She even had a painting that she loved, but that didn’t seem to belong in any particular fairy tale: it was just a beautiful scene from a late summer’s day, with a gnarled oak tree and a little boy seated beneath it. He was playing a sort of flute. Behind him stretched a river, and circling around him were wispy fairy-like figures that seemed to be dancing while he played.
But now Jill was startled and a little perplexed by the noises from the library. Hazel had been known to knock over her bookcases; it had happened before, heaven knows! But now there sat Hazel, looking back and forth at her and at the hallway. So, something else must have happened, and there was nothing for it but to go see just what.
“Come on, Hazel, let’s see if anything is broken,” she said. Hazel ignored her, remaining firmly planted beside his food dish.
Jill stepped out of the kitchen, but then she halted. She heard more noises coming from the back of the house. Now she was a bit frightened. It occurred to her that a raccoon might have gotten inside, or perhaps even a burglar; and she was all alone! She looked around and grabbed a broom from the pantry, then she slowly tiptoed down the hallway, trying her best not to make the slightest sound.
She crept toward the door to the library, but nothing seemed to be stirring. Jill was just starting to relax, when she heard a second crash, and a loud “Ouch!” coming from the library door. She tiptoed closer and peeped inside.
Sprawled upon the floor was a man with his back to the wall and his long legs stretched out; beside him stood a boy with curly black hair wearing a rumpled sweatshirt. The library desk, which was a heavy old fashioned rolled-top that had been made by Jill’s great uncle, was knocked halfway across the room. It appeared almost as if someone or something had come hurtling through space and struck the side of it, skidding it and leaving scratch marks on the hardwood floor. And of course, this is very nearly what had happened. The man on the floor was rubbing his forehead and wincing. The boy was looking up at the wall behind the man; on it was a large poster-sized painting of a centaur in a wood in Narnia.
Just then the man looked up and saw her. “Oh! I’m sorry! We didn’t know anyone was home!”
The boy turned around, and said “Jill!” at the exact same time that Jill said “Sam!”
The man looked at both of them. “Oh, do you two know each other?”
“I should say so!” said Sam. “Jill is in my class. She’s my friend.”
“Ah, well then, that’s good, then there’s nothing to worry about. I’ve just bumped my head, you see…” The man indicated to Jill the lump on his forehead, which looked quite red and swollen.
“Yes, but you almost crushed me on the way in,” said Sam, crossly. He rubbed his shoulder and flexed his arm to make sure it was still functioning properly.
“But who are you?” asked Jill, looking at the man, “and whatever are you both doing in my library?!”
“Ah, yes, that…” the man slowly pulled himself up from the floor, steadying himself against the wall. He was tall, looked to be in his early twenties, and had longish hair and a thin, closely-cropped beard. He brushed himself off. He was wearing a long duster coat that made Jill think of Sherlock Holmes.
“My name is Luke; Luke Lester. You can call me ‘Mr. Luke’ if you’d like; Sam does.” He reached out his hand toward Jill, who didn’t move from her position by the door. In fact, she still held the broom in front of her to show them both that she was armed.
“Oh, come on, Jill, be a good sport. We’re not here to hurt you!” said Sam.
“Then what are you here for?”
“Yes, well, I expect this is a bit of a surprise for her, Sam,” said Luke, “and I don’t blame you for being wary, my dear. Let me apologize for the mess.” Luke looked at the desk and, with Sam’s help, pushed it back into place. “We were, well, chasing someone, and we…uh…thought we saw him come into your library through a…um…through a window.”
“But the window’s locked,” said Jill, “and we have an alarm system.”
Luke looked at the window, still rubbing his forehead. “Yes, that does seem to be true. I suppose perhaps the alarm may have malfunctioned? But, this fellow was definitely in your house, you see, and he had something that…well…that we were afraid would cause him harm if we didn’t get it back; something that he seems to have gotten hold of…uh…by accident.“ He paused for a moment. “You haven’t, well, seen any strangers in your house today, have you?”
“You mean, other than you?!”
“Ah…yes…other than me, since you already know Sam…”
“Well, no, I haven’t. But I don’t think that matters. You both need to go. My mom will be home any minute and I think it would be better if you left.”
“Quite right! Quite right!” said Luke. “I’m sure we must have been mistaken, after all, Sam,” he said, turning to Sam and smiling. “Well, if you’ll just lead us to the front door, Jill, we’ll be off. I’m terribly sorry about all of this….” Luke suddenly put his hand against the wall and rubbed his eyes.
“Are you alright?” asked Jill.
“Yes, Mr. Luke, you don’t look too well…” said Sam.
“Yes, yes, I’ll be fine. Just a combination of taking an unexpected run and then bopping my head. I need a moment…” He shook his head again and muttered something under his breath. Sam put his hands on his hips and said something back to him, also under his breath, which sounded to Jill rather like “…well, you didn’t tell me there’d be wild boars in Narnia, of all places…”
“Well, you don’t look fine, either one of you! Would you like me to call someone for you?”
“No, no. But, that’s very kind of you.” Luke looked at her more closely. “Why, you have very nice manners for a little girl!”
“I am not a little girl!” said Jill. “I’ll be thirteen next week!”
“My mistake, I should have said ‘for a young lady’. I’m afraid I’m still a bit groggy. Will you accept my apology?” Luke again reached out his hand to Jill. This time she timidly accepted it.
Jill led them toward the front door, but when they reached it, Luke sat abruptly down on the lowest step of the stairway leading to the second floor. He gripped the handrail tightly.
“Would you like some water…or tea…or something?” Jill asked.
“Well, you know, I expect this will sound a bit strange, but…would you happen to have a bit of chocolate anywhere in the house?”
A half hour later Sam, Luke, and Jill were sitting in the kitchen sipping on tea and eating chocolate chip cookies. Jill had gotten some ice and wrapped it in a washcloth and Luke was holding it against his forehead. The knot was still noticeable, but the swelling was going down.
“I’m afraid I was a bit too dazed to take a closer look,” said Luke, “but I saw that you had some very nice pictures in your library. From fairy tales, I think?”
“Yes, most of them,” said Jill. “My mom thinks I’m too old for them, but I like reading them a lot better than what we read for school.”
“Well, it shows good taste on your part. But, I’m sure you don’t just read books. You have plenty of friends—other than Sam here, I mean—to spend time with, don’t you?”
“Well, a few. But most of my girlfriends are just interested in dressing up and shopping.”
“And you don’t like doing those things?”
“Well, they’re alright, but I’d rather…I’d rather be walking in the Shire! Or time traveling with Meg Murry, or riding to the edge of the world on Fledge!” Jill was suddenly animated. “I mean, these are places where things really happen…where things really matter!” She paused and sighed. “Not like around here.”
Sam beamed at Luke. “See, I told you she was my friend!”
“Well, strange things can happen right here, too, you know,” Luke said, ignoring Sam.
“Not to me they don’t.”
“Well, look here, that’s not strictly true, is it? After all, we showed up in your house this morning. That isn’t something that happens every day, is it?” Luke smiled.
“No, but you’re not even supposed to be here. My mom is going to have a fit if she comes home and finds me home alone with a stranger, even if he did come with you, Sam. And, by the way, who exactly was it you were both chasing, anyway?”
“Well, I’m afraid that’s a long story,” said Luke, ”And, since I’m feeling better, and since you’re quite right that I shouldn’t be here at all, at least not without your mother’s permission, perhaps we’d best save that tale for another time? We’ve finished our tea, plus the cookies; many thanks for both! Come along, Sam, we should be going.” Luke stood up.
“But, Jill, don’t be surprised if we were to meet again. This…hmmm…person that we were after, he has a habit of showing up in the strangest places, and has thus far led us on many a wild goose chase. If he comes again…uh…into your backyard, don’t be too surprised to find us right behind him.”
“But, what does he even look like? You never told me.”
“Well,” said Luke as Jill walked them back to the front door, “he’s a boy of about your age, or maybe a bit younger. He has curly black hair and a mischievous smile. He’s all about mischief, I think.”
“That reminds me a bit of Sam,” said Jill with a grin.
“Well, that’s somewhat true.” Luke looked at Sam and smiled.
“No, I’m just kidding. Sam’s alright,” said Jill, “even if he has been getting more and more into odd things. You know, like Star Wars and Star Trek and Doctor Who.”
“Doctor Who? Aren’t you a bit young for Doctor Who?” asked Luke, looking at Sam.
“But don’t you like such things?” Luke turned back toward Jill.
“I don’t know; I’ve never watched them. I don’t like space stories that much.”
“Well, they do have their own challenges, to be sure,” said Luke. “But, the person we’re after certainly isn’t Sam, and he’s not from outer space. One thing you’ll definitely notice about him, should you run across him, is that he is never without his pipe.”
“Wait, he’s a little boy, and he smokes a pipe?!”
“No, not that sort of a pipe. I mean like a flute, but not played sideways. You know, more like a recorder. Do you know the sort of thing I mean?”
Jill thought of the painting in her library. “Oh! I do! I have a picture of someone playing something just like that. would you like to see it?”
Luke hesitated for a moment. “Well, I suppose, but we don’t want to get you into trouble…”
“Come on!” said Sam, “We can at least have a quick look!”
Jill raced back down the hallway, and Luke and Sam followed. Inside, she pointed triumphantly to the painting of the boy beneath the oak tree. Luke looked at it aghast, then smacked his head, forgetting for a moment about the knot.
“Are you alright?” asked Jill.
“Yes, I just forgot about my head. But, that’s the very fellow!”
“What, the one you’re after?”
“Sure is!” said Sam.
“But, this is just a painting; he’s not a real person!” said Jill.
Luke looked closely at the painting. “This isn’t a painting I’ve seen before. Wherever did you find it?”
“At an old antique shop with my mom. I’m sure it’s just a print, but it looks so bright and real….”
“Yes, it does.” Luke gazed at the picture.
“That also explains where he went after we came through,” Sam said under his breath. Luke nodded.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing; nothing, dear. But we should go speak to Azarias about all of this,” he said to Sam.
“Azarias? Who’s he?” asked Jill.
“Oh, a very good friend of mine; rather a mentor of sorts. A wise old fellow; you’d like him, wouldn’t she, Samuel? But, many thanks for showing us the picture. If you happen to see someone that looks…” Luke turned and looked hard at the picture once again, “…that looks exactly like this fellow, you’ll be sure to let us know, won’t you?”
“OK, but how do I do that?”
“Well, you can call Sam, for one thing. But also, you can reach me here.” Luke handed her a business card. On it was a painting of a man standing by the seashore and gazing at the ocean. Printed beside it were the words:
Artist & Illustrator
“You can email me from my website. You use email, don’t you?”
“Of course! Doesn’t everyone? But, what’s a ‘Framerunner’?”
“Oh, just a special type of artist. Some day you should visit my studio and I’ll explain it a bit more; I think you’ll like my paintings!” They walked back to the front door. “But by now you’ve had quite enough of us! Thanks again for the tea and cookies!” Luke bowed to her.
“You’re welcome. You know, I’ll have to tell my mom about your coming by.”
“Certainly! If she is at all concerned or wishes to speak with me, do have her ring me up. I’d be happy to meet her! And now, we’re off…” Luke stepped down to the sidewalk.
Sam looked down at the floor and shuffled his feet for a minute. “See ya,” he said, and followed Luke. They both walked briskly away.
Jill stood for a moment looking at the business card, and then she tucked it into the pocket of her frock. She closed the door and started back toward the kitchen, but then she noticed something on the floor by the stairs. She went over and picked it up; it was a piece of broken chain with a pendant. The pendant was of simple silver wire, and clasped within it was one of the prettiest jewels she’d ever seen; it was deep blue, and it reflected the light in the room in the most amazing way. Jill touched the stone; it felt almost slippery, and a tingle went through her fingertips, like electricity.
That’s when she heard it; a sound like a bird. No, it wasn’t; it was a flute! But coming from…from where? She turned around, still holding the gem in her hand. The music was coming from the library!
Jill stood completely still for just a moment. Her first thought was to run after Luke and Sam, but then it occurred to her that maybe she should grab the broom again and find out who else might have stolen into the house.
She hesitated for just a moment more, and then knew exactly what she’d do.
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