Focus-pocus, show up
Tommy panicked. How was he going to return home and tell their parents that Peter had disappeared? Mr. and Mrs. Sunshine would never forgive him for having left his younger brother go out alone at night.
The boy loved Peter so much that when he was ten and his brother five, he nearly lost his life to save him.
They were playing in the tree house that they built with their father in the branches of the cherry tree in the yard. Of course, Mr. Sunshine did most things himself - he did not want the children to get hurt in any way, but he allowed them to hold the hammer and nails and carry the boxes of wood varnish. He was a good man and wanted to develop in his children a sense of self-assurance and usefulness, so he kept telling them what a great job they had done and in the end the boys were left with the impression that they themselves had cut the boards and hammered the nails –they felt proud of their work and when it was finished, with the confidence of creators, they started to invite friends over in the house in the branches of the cherry tree.
A wooden staircase winding around the tree trunk took them upstairs.
It was nice on the top –you could see the whole yard and neighborhood in front of you and a constant fragrance of something green was oozing from the adjoining trees. When the cherry tree was in bloom, the white blossoms were like snowflakes, which was something the boys had never seen - in Sunnytown winter never came. When the cherries ripened, the delicious fruits were a favorite snack for the two boys (they loved them even better than the lollipops) and it was more often on Peter’s rather than Tommy’s shirt that one could see sticky reddish spots because he ate the cherries in his own way –clenching his teeth and constantly spraying around the cherry juice, leaving sticky marks also on the branches, the walls of the tree house, his own shirt and Tommy’s shirt, who did not blame him at all - he used to laugh, ruffling the hair of his brother and challenging him in a contest of who would eat more cherries...
One day, the house up the cherry tree, was visited also by the neighborhood bully, who was otherwise a nice boy really, but he so much loved to make mischief and enjoy the consequences that everyone in that neighborhood and in a few adjacent neighborhoods had given up any effort to change him because Sven often "toured" there with his mischief, too.
Sven was older than the Sunshine brothers - 13 years old, and had already made several semi-successful attempts to become a man. He was lightinghand-rolled cigarettes that were not very well made because Sven was a self-taught smoker and was holding his cigarette in a somewhat weird and funny way - with the tip of the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, and he was acting adult in front of the kids in the neighborhood, explaining them how cool it was to smoke.
Peter and Tommy had no desire to try smoking, but they admired Sven because they saw in him the grown-up boy, almost a man, that they wanted to become as quickly as possible. Both were very fond of their father - Mr. Sunshine, copying his actions and hoping that one day, the sooner the better, they would turn into such great men like he was…
Sven was smoking that afternoon in the tree house of the Sunshine brothers and was showing them how to blow smoke in different ways and make all kinds of figures in the air. But it was not always working out–he was often coughing, and the figures were quite distorted, yet Tommy and Peter enjoyed watching him. Therefore, none of the three noticedthat Sven’s previous cigarette was not well extinguished and had started to smolder on the floor of the tree house –up on the cherry tree.
The fire flared up suddenly.
Sven, who was bigger and stronger, was able to quickly jump up and get down from the tree. Tommy and Peter, worried more about the house than about their own lives, tried to put out the fire, stripping down their shirts and beginning to brandish them against the flames. They looked like two little knights fighting with a fierymonster... But the situation was not imaginary at all - the flames were real and they were menacingly close to the children.
Tommy realized that the house could not be saved and called out to Peter that they should be getting away from there. In a typically childish manner, Peter would not believe they could so easily lose their wooden castle, and stubbornly kept swinging his shirt against the fire, even though the shirt was already pretty burnt and smoked. Tommy looked down and saw the flames creeping also along the wooden staircase that led to the rescue of the green meadow. There was no way down. He looked again and quickly determined the height, decided there was nothing else to do, hugged his brother and jumped from the cherry tree.
Both survived, but Tommy broke his left arm with which he had tried to soften the fall - with his right arm he was holding Peter firmly embraced.
Peter was unscathed.
Mr. and Mrs. Sunshine were not at home that afternoon.
The neighbor, Mrs. Gertruda Ingemar, had seen the fire and had immediately phoned the fire brigade. When the car came, however, there was nothing left to save from the wooden house on top the cherry tree, and the boys were sitting on the porch – holding tight to each other and blackened all over by the smoke.
Seeing what was happening to the boys, Mrs.Gertruda had called their mother, too. The old woman was amazed, however, how confident Tommy was and what a strange smile he had on his face, though his arm hung limp and it was clear that he was in great pain, and also at how fragile Peter looked, who at this point could only find peace in the arms of his elder brother. It was actually a semi-embrace because Tommy was cradling him with his right arm only, which seemed glued to Peter, continuing thus to protect his younger brother from the wounds that the outside world could inflict on him.
The nurse who came with the ambulance was also surprised by the fact that Tommy's arm was like glued to Peter and she had to put a lot of effort to tear the brothers apart from each other and offer first aid to Tommy over his broken left arm.
After this incident it would be mild to say that Peter was grateful to his brother.
Peter became as if glued to Tommy –he followed him around on his heels, trying to compensate for the difference of five years between them, often showing maturity unusual for his age, he was helping Tommy at home when they laid and cleared the table, when they had to water the garden flowers or when Mr. Sunshine was preparing for the children of the town a huge amount of sugar cockerels for the holidays and the two of them arranged the colorful lollipops in a gift basket at the entrance of the confectionary before opening the shop for their peers impatiently queuing outside. Some children rightly envied them - Tommy and Peter always had delicious sugar cockerels at hand, which they could lick and crunch at anytime.
Tommy’s left hand quickly recovered.
Mrs. Sunshine was so upset by what had happened that for several weeks she ditched her job as chief cashier in the town bank and stayed home, but in front of the boys she betrayed no trace of having cried, for several nights in a row, over Mr. Sunshine’s shoulder, uttering out loud the terrible things about what could have happened if the children were burned in the fire, or if both had been seriously hurt in the jump from the tree. Elena Sunshine could not imagine life without her boys. And the thought of some new trouble befalling them was making her not just despondent but needlessly anxious–she was constantly on the alert, checking whether she had forgotten the stove on or the iron on the ironing table, wiping the floor several times per day, so that it would not be slippery, she even checked the closet in the boys' room in case she had hidden there some time ago any sharp objects which the children could lay their hands on...
Mrs. Sunshine was a believer. She lit candles in the temple and in front of the icon in their home, she eagerly pleaded with God to protect her boys, but sometimes she was afraid she was actually committing a sin, by imagining all sorts of bad things that could happen to them and by living in constant fear that the fate of every person is predetermined and what is destined cannot be avoided.
While praying for her children’s well-being, Elena Sunshine did not have even the slightest presentiment of what fate had in store for Tommy and Peter. And this was to happen pretty soon.
On the night of the full moon, when some obscure black shadow fell upon the moon and clouds slid to Sunnytown, Peter vanished, sucked by the magical chest of the Black man who had settled briefly in the outskirts of the town at the foot of the mountain. Tommy saw nothing of what happened to his brother, but immediately realized that Peter had been befallen by something very bad. Throughout the night and the following days, the Dalmatian Jack could not find any peace, feeling guilty he was not able to find a way to warn the Sunshine brothers of the black shadow and of the Black man, but what can you do - dogs cannot speak...
Mr. Sunshine decided that the dog was simply grief-stricken over the missing Peter and it did not even occur to him that Jack might know more than a dog would typically know about mysterious disappearances and magical chests...
* * *
Jack had scented the sinister force of the chest even outside and before Peter was sucked into the trap of the magic of the Black man, for a moment the Dalmatian had tried to push the boy away, but the power of the chest was much stronger than the dog’s force and the lid quickly snapped shut over the younger of the Sunshine brothers.
At first, Peter did not feel a thing, then he realized that he was collapsing into something so black and dark that he could feel the darkness sticking to his bare knees and elbows. The fall was long. But never once did he hit a sharp edge or bump on the walls of the black tunnel. Inside, there was absolute silence. It was so quiet that he could hear his heart pounding at an accelerated pace. Then at the end of the tunnel, a light appeared, and continuing to fall, Peter wondered if what he saw was a candle flame or a fire of hell...
The black tunnel ended abruptly. But instead of falling somewhere and hitting the bottom of the black tube, the boy suddenly flew out of the hole and landed softly in a meadow.
He did not realize at first that this was a meadow. In the first seconds of "falling out" of the tunnel, Peter was trying to understand how come, in that house, he was sucked by the chest and began to fall down into something awfully black, and here he suddenly came out of this "thing" like the cork of a champagne bottle–as though at one end of the globe he had fallen, and just at the other end of the same globe he had popped out. Why did he hit the bottom of the tunnel but instead he had the feeling of being "shot" upon this strange meadow?
It was strange because it was a meadow like any other meadow, yet the grass was not green but gray. And it both looked fresh, as far as gray can be fresh, yet it looked as if being well-trodden.
The meadow was at the foot of a high and steep, also gray mountain. The higher they climbed its slopes, however, the blacker they became. Gray was turning into raven black, which eventually merged with the darkness hanging over the mountain. Unlike Sunnytown, apparently there was no sun here.
On top of the mountain, in the darkness of the black clouds, soared an imposing black castle. The main tower could not be seen, lost somewhere high above in the clouds, the gloom, the blackness...
Black trees surrounded the small meadow. Their branches were like burned and the leaves looked like petrified coals. There were no birds. The Black forest looked more like a cemetery than a forest. Only from the black hole in the ground from where Peter had popped out, some inexplicable warm breeze was blowing.
Suddenly out of the black hole fell a lonely robin, apparently having come from the other end of the earth - from Sunnytown, and Peter wondered how the little bird had got into that house and then into the chest of the Black man. He took the robin in his hands, stroking its feathers, and hid it in his bosom.
Peter did not have much time to wonder how the bird had fallen through the tunnel behind him. From the watch-towers of the black castle came such an ominous sound of clarions, if these were clarions at all, that Peter winced and covered the bird even better in his bosom.
A black shadow began to descend over the Black mountain. The Black man was flying through the air, as if there was nothing unusual in this, and was heading straight to Peter and the robin...
* * *
In Sunnytown Tommy could not sleep.
He was having nightmares for the fourth night in a row. In his dreams, Tommy could hear Peter calling to him: "Tommy, help me"... He was straining to detect where the voice of his brother came from, seeking his face in the darkness of his sleep and being unable to decipher it, he fingered the dungeon without loathing that he might put his finger on a repulsive creature and without fear that he might get dirty in the blackness of the nightmare.
He woke up covered with sweat and in despair.
The following night Tommy again saw his brother in his dream, but this time there was a picture in the dream –he saw like on a movie screen what had happened to Peter at the abandoned house on the outskirts of the town, he felt the coldness crossing Peter’s face when he saw the Black man wrapping himself up in his black cloak, he felt the fear of Tommy who was sucked into the magical chest and very tangibly felt some disastrous doom, which seemed to have branded his brother from the moment the lid of the chest had snapped over his head...
At the end of the dream he again heard the same cry for help.
"Tommy, help me"...
It was two after midnight. Tommy threw back the covers, got up and stared at the window. The darkness outside was more dense and sticky than the darkness in the room. For the first time he felt safer at home. For the first time he felt he did not want to go out.
But he had to leave.
He had to look for his brother in the dark.
With a little flashlight in hand, Tommy approached the house where Peter had disappeared. He went inside without fear, but also without hope.
The rooms were still empty. There was no trace of the Black man and his chest. The cobwebs on the ceiling had multiplied.
Tommy felt cold as soon as he entered the house. As if it was not an ordinary house but a freezer. The residents of Sunnytown had never felt any coldness, at least as the most elderly of them could recall. At least over the last 100 years. The image of a freezer full of corpses ran madly through Tommy’s head and he shook it off in panic. He did not want to think of his brother as dead. He believed that Peter was still alive and, if faced with mortal danger only he, Tommy, could save him. Just as he had then rescued him from the burning house on top the cherry tree.
Tommy did not want to take Jack with him that night, but the dog had not obeyed and had managed to get away from the home of the Sunshines, although Tommy shut him in the kitchen to stop him from following in his footsteps. The Dalmatian rushed into the house of the black man as the shadow of darkness and at first startled Tommy, but the well-intentioned dog growl quickly helped him get track of what was happening. The boy stroked the dog's head and said to himself that Jack might actually be useful to him –he might smell something...
The dog went around the house, sniffing with his nostrils every corner, surrounding only a brighter spot on the floor –the place of the magical chest of the black man that had engulfed Peter. After having once fainted in the same place, Jack was now more cautious and stayed away from the pale rectangle on the floor, which seemed to have burned edges, but Tommy’s flashlight was not strong enough for a better view.
Tommy stood as if frozen in the middle of the empty room, his thoughts were chasing each other in the search for any trace of his missing brother. The feeling of being inside a freezer was enhanced by staying in one place. He felt as if his feet would stick to the floor and if the dog pushed him with his muzzle, he would crack like an ice sculpture...
The dog also stopped still, yet not absorbed in his thoughts as Tommy was, but because he felt something bad approaching.
The black power of the magical chest made Jack produce a shrill howl, which not only took Tommy out of his stupor, but echoed as far as the center of Sunnytown.
Its residents, who were depressed by the black clouds hanging over the city for a week, also could not sleep well and their concern about the future was the most common topic of conversation in Mr. McCool’s pub. Women imagined the horror of a day when the sun would never rise above Sunnytown again and talked about this until late at night with their friends over the phone, while the men were drinking their beers slowly, and although it was long past midnight, they kept drinking at small sips, not knowing whether they would be able to drink there tomorrow, as well.
Jack’s howlso startled some of them that they choked, and Mr. McCool dropped the mug he was wiping and it shattered into dozens of pieces.
Jack’s howldrove Tommy from the stupor just in time for them both to see how the magical chest of the Black man again materialized in the room.
The mysterious object appeared out of nowhere and scared the dog who immediately ran outside and Tommy was gripped by both fear and the desire to lift the lid and see if his brother was inside, fighting with such furious force in his heart and mind that he felt his head would almost explode and his heart would burst out.
"Stop!", Tommy said to himself, trying to contain his overwhelming feelings. Action was needed.
The boy thought that in order to be able to bring his brother back home, he must apply the methods of the Black man. So he took out of his pocket a stained pen that had left an ink mark on the pocket, grabbed it with the fingers of his right hand and waved it in the air. He looked like a little conjurer who was about to unravel the secrets of the magician’s art.
Tommy swung the pen to the chest as if it were a magic wand.
He swung again and whispered those supposedly magic words in which he had really no belief: "Hocus-pocus-preparatus!"
Again, nothing happened.
Tommy finally got angry, threw away the magic wand, which was just an ordinary pen,and touched the lid, knowing immediately that this was all he had to do–he lifted the lid which offered no resistance and opened the chest.
The chest was empty.
And Tommy was just on the verge of kicking it in anger, when he heard a tweet that surprised him no less than the magical appearance of the chest in the room. He turned on the flashlight and saw in one corner two robins, frightened and seeking their mother...
* * *
At the other end of the Earth, at the foot of the Black mountain, Peter held the robin buried in his bosom, looking boldly at the Black man who flew through the air, as if there was nothing unusual, and floated toward him.
превод: Росица Петкова