Chapter 1

 

Even great things begin small. Behold, a tree shall flourish from a tiny seed; a molehill shall become a mountain. Is this not proof of the existence of magick?

 

    Translated from Storia Di Incanto; circa 1460

 

A Great Oak Welcome

 

SIXTY-SEVEN YEARS later, birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors landed upon the large elm outside of Davey Boehms window. After settling into place, they burst into song if one could call it singing. On this particular morning, their song didnt offer the gentle melody of normal bird warbling. In fact, it didnt have any musical qualities at all.

The birds grew louder and louder, as if each were trying to outdo the other. Of course, they hadnt intended to make such a racket. Later, they were a bit embarrassed about letting their little party get out of control. The birds were excited, thats all excited and more than a little curious about the person they had come to see.

       At first, this rather perplexing cacophony was lost on Davey. He was fast asleep, having arrived late at night after a long and tedious trip from New York. Besides, he was having a pleasant dream about baseball and in no mood to be disturbed.

       In reality, Davey was not very good at baseball or any other sport, but in his dream, he was a legendary homerun hitter who had just stepped up to bat with the bases loaded. Fear showed in the pitchers eyes as the ball leapt from his hand, low and outside. Stepping into the pitch, Davey swung with tremendous force and sent the ball soaring. He dashed towards first base as the fielder ran desperately backwards. The crowd cheered wildly, but then the cheers suddenly changed. Instead of yells and gleeful shouts, they became peeps, chirps, and cawcawcaw. Davey stopped running and looked towards the stands. No one was there.

       Hey, whats happening? he yelled, but the sound coming from his mouth was nothing more than a gurgling, frog-like croak. Suddenly, his eyes popped open and he found himself sitting up in bed. The strange noises from his dream still rang in his ears. Only now, they came from the raised window near his bedside. Slowly, his brain stirred into wakefulness and the bliss of baseball faded away.

       Initially, Davey didnt know where he was. His eyes grew wide with shock as he surveyed the dimly lit room. Everything seemed blurry and unfamiliar. With fumbling fingers, he pulled his glasses onto his face. The room greeting his eyes was not his snug little bedroom in New York City. The sleek modern furnishings and colorful wallpaper of his forty-second floor condominium were gone. This room was larger and filled with country-style furniture.

       In one corner of the room, a stack of suitcases sat idly. Resting on the floor beside them was his computer, Friday, so named after he had read Robinson Crusoe two years ago. However, Friday was not showing its smiling screensaver face the one he had animated from a picture of a giant lizard with a flickering red tongue. Instead, Fridays monitor was blank; its brain disconnected.

       Davey flopped down with a groan and pulled a pillow over his head while yesterdays events roared back into his mind. He remembered standing at the airport as his parents boarded a big jet bound for China he also remembered sitting between his aunt and uncle for what seemed like forever as their pickup made its way to North Carolina. By the time they reached Great Oak, he was a weary bundle of nerves.

       He went right to bed as soon as they arrived well, almost. First, he and his uncle put his belongings in his room. After that, he was so tired he could have slept anywhere despite his anxiety. No question, fate had turned his life upside down.

 Four weeks ago, Davey had come home from school and found his parents waiting for him. He immediately knew something was up because of their guilty glances. What followed was a conversation so traumatic, he remembered it word for horrible word. It started when his dad announced they were going to China for an entire year. His company wanted him to evaluate some furniture factories that it was thinking of buying.

       The news left Davey stunned, but as he grasped the importance of his dads words, he leapt excitedly into the air. Im going to China! Im going to China! he shouted repeatedly while jumping around the living room. A picture formed in his mind, one of him dressed as a modern day Marco Polo riding a white horse. Davey Boehm, Great Adventurer, read the caption under his picture.

       His dad quickly put an end to that fantasy. Im sorry son, but you will be staying in the United States.

       Very funny, Dad, Davey replied, positive he was kidding. Yet the grim look on his fathers face belied the idea. As the shocking truth sank in, Davey tried everything he could think of to change his dads mind.

       No, not a chance, his dad invariably responded. The part of China well be going to is rather primitive. Its too dangerous for a thirteen-year-old boy.

       Besides, you have school, his mother added.

       Why cant I go? It cant be all that dangerous or you wouldnt risk it. If its school youre worried about, Ill attend school in China.

       Much to Daveys chagrin, his father shook his head. Ive already checked that out. Theres not a single accredited school for American children in the whole of Kansu Province. You cant be absent from your studies for a year.

       Davey was truly befuddled. What will I do while youre gone?

       Then his mom chimed in again. Well, your dad and I have come up with a great idea. Youre going to live with your Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill in Great Oak. Weve discussed it with them and theyre thrilled. You can continue your schooling there and get better acquainted with them at the same time.

       A big, incredulous scowl formed on Daveys face. Mom, I just started seventh grade at my school here. I already know everyone and dont want to begin over somewhere else.

       His dad shrugged as if it was no big deal. The middle school in Great Oak wont be much different from your private school here. Youll quickly make new friends. After all, its only for a year.

       Davey glanced at his mother with pleading eyes. Mom, why cant you stay here with me? His question had a childish, whining tone, which he hated. He preferred more adult-like approaches.

       His mother, whom he could usually talk into anything, offered no help. Im sorry Davey. Your fathers career depends upon the success of this trip and he needs me with him. Well be busy all the time, attending social functions, hobnobbing with the local authorities, and entertaining the plant managers and their wives. Dont worry, youll like living in Great Oak. We wouldnt send you there if we had any concerns about it.

       I dont want to live anywhere except New York. Im not going to North Carolina. Ill be miserable there and Im just not going! Davey shouted, knowing it was a mistake even as he said the words.

       His dad reacted by laying down the law. Son, youve never been to Great Oak, so dont tell us how miserable youll be. Spending time in a small town will let you enjoy a simpler life, one focused on the outdoors. It will get you away from your computer and into activities that will put some muscle on you.

       Daveys face turned red; it always did whenever he became terribly upset or angry. In this case, he was both. Whatever you say Dad, he thought. He had heard his fathers toughen up speech before. Feeling indignant and helpless, he shut himself up in his room for the rest of the evening. The picture of the great adventurer had faded from his mind. Replacing it was an image of a boy dressed in overalls, a goofy grin spread across his face. This time, the caption read, Davey Boehm, Country Bumpkin. He was sure it was a premonition.

Now, Davey sighed as he looked around his new bedroom. So here he was, stuck in North Carolina for a year with Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill, two people he barely knew. Oh, they were nice enough all right. It wasnt that. However, they werent his parents. Plus, he was missing out on China. The whole thing made him scream, which is exactly what he had done at his parents until he was blue in the face. Still, it hadnt done any good. Their decision was final end of story.

       Feeling dejected, Davey threw his pillow across the room. The clock on the bedside table stared at him with big red numbers, proclaiming it was 6:00 a.m. Phooey, he said aloud. Liking the sound, he said it again, only louder this time. With so much noise outside, there was no point in trying to sleep. It sounded like a mob was out there.

       Davey climbed out of bed and walked towards the window. A gentle breeze fluttered the curtains like sails on a boat. He pushed them aside and peered cautiously out. The rising sun flashed in his eyes, making it hard to see, but the birds in the tree saw Davey perfectly. As soon as he appeared, they erupted into a chorus of sound so cheerfully loud it was frightening.

 The tree where they perched stood near the house, some branches practically touching the siding. As Daveys vision cleared, an incredible sight appeared before his eyes. Birds literally filled the tree, hundreds of them, all lined up on the branches. They werent merely sitting there, no indeed. Every bird was staring straight at him.

       Davey didnt know what to think. While the sight of so many birds startled him, it didnt surprise him entirely. Over the past several years, unusual things like this had happened to him with increasing frequency. Whenever he walked along the street, dogs and cats would approach him. They would wag their tails and circle him as though he was a long lost friend. In Central Park, squirrels and rabbits followed him around, three or four at a time. Sometimes, a whole gang of them would come up and sit quietly beside him while he was reading on a bench or sailing his model boat in the pond. Odd, he thought whenever this happened, how very odd.

       At first, it had only been four-legged creatures, but lately birds had started to pay Davey this special sort of attention. He could hardly sit outside anymore without one or two birds fluttering around overhead or even perching on his shoulder. Last month, right after his thirteenth birthday, a severe cold kept him in bed for a few days. On the very first day, seven ravens crowded onto the sill of his window. They stayed there the entire day, often pecking on the glass as if reminding him of their presence. This seemed particularly strange because he had never seen ravens in New York before.

       Although these interactions with birds and animals seemed random and irrational, Davey felt like they werent. He didnt know why they were happening, but he was certain about one thing. They were occurring for a reason. He tried discussing it with his mother several weeks ago. They were in Central Park, and he noticed her studying him while five squirrels sat nearby as he innocently ate an ice cream cone. She had a strange look on her face, as though worrying about something. Suddenly, he stared into her eyes. Mom, why do you think birds and animals like me so much?

       She looked pensive, as if thinking it over. Finally, she sighed. I dont know. Maybe something about you attracts them. There are some strange genes mixed up in your little body most of them from my side of the family.

       Naturally, her answer prompted more questions. I dont understand. Animals and birds dont act the same way around you, so how could it be genetic? Has anyone else in your family had these experiences?

       She shook her head. Im not sure, perhaps my grandmother did. It may sound strange, but theres a lot about my ancestors I dont know. Look at it this way. Genetic or not, you have a special gift, one which may come in handy some day.

       Her remark made Davey even more curious. Ive always wondered about your family. We talk about Dads parents and grandparents all the time, but all you ever say about your relatives is that theyre all dead.

       His mother frowned, clearly regretting the subject had come up. When youre a little older, well have a long talk about them. For now, all you need to know is that they were people of a different sort.

       Davey found this confusing because he didnt understand her meaning of the word different. Did she mean different in a good way or in some other way? He didnt like the latter possibility, so a veritable flood of questions poured from his mouth. However, she wouldnt say anything more, leaving him worried. She was keeping some terrible secret from him. He was sure of it.

       Now, looking out the window of his aunts house, Davey thought about his mother, missing her and wondering what she would say about this weird gathering of birds. They were really raising a racket almost demanding his attention. There must be a reason why they are here, he thought.

       As he watched them, his imagination came up with an answer. The birds were some sort of a welcoming committee just stopping by to say hello. He didnt know why birds would do such a thing, but he liked the idea. His bad humor gradually faded and he smiled. All right, he said, sticking his head out the window. Hello and thank you for coming. But if you dont mind, take the volume down a bitand not so early next time, okay?

       At the sound of his voice, the birds grew silent and just stared at him. This is too bizarre for words, he thought. Then he noticed a cluster of ravens at the top of the tree. They seemed somewhat aloof from the rest of the birds, as if they had a more important role in this little drama. For a fleeting moment, he had the ridiculous idea that they were the same ravens who had perched at his window in New York. The ravens stared at him as though awaiting his acknowledgement.      

       This prompted Davey to embellish his remarks. Really, I mean it. Hello to the robins, the finches, the mockingbirds, the blue jays, the woodpeckers, and a very special hello to the ravens at the top. You werent in New York recently by any chance? Davey watched the ravens closely when he said this. Did I see a flicker of recognition in those beady eyes? he wondered.

 Then he continued. I was a little homesick this morning, but I feel better as a result of your gracious welcome. So thanks for being here. Ill look forward to seeing more of you during my visit.       The birds broke into song again as if applauding Daveys words. This time, there was even a little melody in their warbling. Finally, with several nods of his head and a wave towards the ravens up at the top, Davey quietly shut the window. Rolling his eyes, he sighed heavily. I am totally losing it, he muttered aloud.

      All of a sudden, a different sound startled him a low scratching noise, which came from somewhere nearby. Davey looked back at the window, thinking the birds were pecking on the pane. To his astonishment, not a single bird was in sight none on the tree and none on the windowsill. He froze in his tracks, listening. There it is again, he thought. Now, he was sure the sound came from somewhere inside. He made a running dive for his bed and began looking around.

      The scratching became louder, accompanied by a clicking sound. Thats when he realized the bedroom door was banging against the door latch. The way the door pushed against the latch made it obvious that something big was trying to get into the room.

      Davey grinned from ear-to-ear because he guessed what it was. He started for the door with an excited shout, but one foot caught in the bedding and he tripped. Instead of reaching the door, all he succeeded in doing was falling on his face near the doorway. At that exact moment, the door swung open.

      A large golden retriever stared down at him. Davey was sure the dog was laughing, black eyes crinkling at the corners, tail flopping back and forth. Well hello, Davey said. Are you part of the welcoming committee?

       Woof, barked the dog.

       Ill bet you planned on waking me up. Sorry, but the birds got here first. Davey sat up and began rubbing his elbow where it had banged against the floor. Did you see me fall? I was doing a stunt mans trick in case you didnt know. Just call me Dangerous Dave from now on.

        Woof, woof, the dog replied and then licked him in the face.

        Davey grabbed the dogs collar and wrestled him to the floor. The friendly retriever played along, licking him again. A few minutes later, the dogs ears perked up and his head turned towards the door. Davey heard his aunts steps on the wooden floor downstairs. Bristol, where are you? Time for breakfast, she called. The dog rose, stared at the open doorway, and then looked longingly at Davey.

        You must be Bristol, Davey said. Well, youd better go eat.

        The dog licked him one last time, twirled in a circle, and ran out the door, his claws clattering on the floor in the hallway. Davey smiled wistfully as he watched him go. The animal's presence put a slightly different slant on things. He had always wanted a dog, but his condominium in New York didnt allow them. Now, he had Bristol, which made his spirits rise.

        He turned and surveyed his new bedroom with less pessimistic eyes. It was kind of nice actually. The peaked roof of the house cut into parts of the ceiling, creating some interesting angles. A small wooden desk sat in an alcove on one side, a good home for Friday. Alongside the desk was an overstuffed chair, an inviting place to read, and behind the desk were two large windows covered by denim curtains.

 Pushing the curtains aside, he looked down on an expansive back yard. Large trees, so tall they towered above the house, stood everywhere. Their leaves shimmered in the morning light as they twirled in the soft breeze.

       Wow, what a great backyard, he thought. Some of those trees look climbable too. He had always wanted to climb a tree, yet never had the chance mainly because the only trees in New York were in the parks; it was against the rules to climb them. First thing after school, Im going to climb a tree, he promised himself.

       School! Davey exclaimed, almost shouting. He had just thought about school. The moment had arrived the day when he would start a new school. Ever since his parents had decided to ship him off to North Carolina, he had been dreading this day.

       Davey readily admitted he wasnt a very popular kid at his old school. He pretended it didnt matter to him, although it did. You can't change the way others feel about you, so dont worry about it, he often told himself. In Daveys opinion, his problem was that he was short for his age, thin, and worst of all, nearsighted. He wore thick eyeglasses, which gave him tunnel vision. This effected his coordination and made him a terrible athlete. Sports were an important activity at his school, so being a poor athlete was not a distinction he relished.

       Since Davey felt physically inferior to most of his classmates, he was a loner. Oh sure, he had a few friends, but they werent close ones. Mostly, everyone treated him as though he were a nerd. They called him nicknames like the brain or computer head because he was a top student.

 Still, making good grades gives me some status, he thought. Besides, he had a quick wit and sometimes made clever wisecracks in class ones making the other kids laugh. That had raised his popularity a notch.

       Then there was Alice Sterling, a cute dark-haired girl whom he secretly liked. For some reason, she had spoken to him twice in the last week. All she had done was ask about a homework assignment, yet she could have asked anyone. Instead, she had picked him, which meant something. Davey believed it meant she liked him too, but hed probably never find out now. He groaned with exasperation. He liked his old school and knew where he stood among his classmates. Having a place in the pecking order was a source of comfort, even if it was somewhere near the bottom.

       In Daveys mind, a school in a small town would be completely different. He would be a total nobody in an environment where how far he could throw a football, or hit a baseball, or spit tobacco juice for that matter, were the important things. What he was good at wouldnt mean anything. His sense of humor would probably be over everyones heads, or worse, get him punched in the face.

      With his gloom returning, Davey opened his suitcases and began unpacking his clothes. He tried to think about Bristol and climbing the trees in Aunt Sallys back yard, but anxiety over his new school kept creeping into his mind. It was going to be a disaster. He was sure of it, a complete and total disaster.

 

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