If you are lucky enough to live or visit Grave's Island on the borders of Washington and Oregon, then you probably know the Browns and the Koopas who live in the great mansion, Thornewood Castle. They are a rather strange bunch of people whose past times include talking about business or yelling senselessly at each other for the fun of it, as some families tend to do. They are seen regularly around town on their various trips to the Market, and are friendly enough, smiling or waving as you pass them by. All in all, the family is normal enough. Anyone who lives in the vicinity of the mansion itself knows it's a great red brick structure sitting atop a high grassy hill beside an even higher mountain that one can go hiking on, should they like that sort of thing. Surrounded by high, ivy and moss covered walls, the mansion at first glance can seem rather unwelcoming, and even terrifying. But this is the beloved home of the Brown and Koopa family, and it is here where we shall begin our story.
On a cold, rainy Winter evening, like many of the evenings before this, the Browns and Koopas were spending a pleasant and quiet evening at home enjoying the warmth of the fire roaring away in the Great Hall's fireplace. This fireplace takes up much of the wall which separates the Hall from the Dining Room and is where the family often gathers to keep warm or just enjoy each others company. The Great Hall itself is a vast rectangular room, with a grand staircase on it's center far wall, just across from the entrance, and several large picture windows on either side of the room. It's well decorated and comfortable, and quite inviting, despite the mansion's outward appearance of deep red bricks and moss.
In front of one of the picture windows stands a very short young man, rather skinny and frail for his teens, with long brown hair that hangs messily down from the top of his head. He wears a coat so long and large on his person its sleeves cover his hands. He stands here at the window, staring as if hypnotized by the view. As the rain patters lightly on the windows, it seems to turn the world outside into a great runny blob of many lights and blue or black forms. This, for whatever the reason, has entranced him to keep staring out the window as the rain continues to fall in buckets from the sky and turns the garden into a swampland.
This young man is not alone, as there are three others in this room with him. One of whom is a very small girl with the same brown colored hair as the boy standing before the window. Her hair is tied back in a small braid by a black ribbon, allowing the rest to flow down and curl around her shoulders. She is wearing what appears to be a long white nightgown and white slippers which peak out from beneath the flowing garment. Sitting quietly and unmoving on a large L-shape sofa beside the fire, she reads one of her favorite books: "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". She giggles every once in a while at some of the strangers Alice meets on her travels, remarking sometimes that this or that character is like one of her relatives. Other than that, she says nothing and doesn't look up from the book, captivated by every word.
Another inhabitant of this room at the present is an incredibly large and burly man, sitting in a recliner placed next to the fireplace. He is a bit aged looking with long red, scraggly hair that has a few spots of silver here and there and a similarly colored beard covering his face. His clothes are worn and baggy and just a bit torn at the edges. Looking at him, you would think he was a great, fat lion sitting like a person would upon the recliner or a Viking in modern garb. He stares at a mug that steams furiously like a chimney, every now and then breaking his gaze to check the time or glance over his massive shoulder at the small boy standing next to the bookshelf at the far corner of the room. Every time he does so, his beard moves into what seems like a smile, and he then shakes his head a bit in the direction of the small boy.
This boy is very young, the youngest one in the room. His long hair is a similar fiery red to that of the older man's, but his is pulled back in a messy ponytail to keep it out of his eyes. He wears a long green nightshirt with black pants and green slippers. He stares intently at the bookshelf, much like the boy at the window watching the rain, and seems a bit impatient. His foot tapping on the floor and a soft sigh of "no" is heard coming from him every so often. He runs his fingers over the spines of the multitude of books upon the shelves and every now and then will pull one out and put it back, muttering "no" each time he does this.
It is around this time when the silence was finally broken by the great man in the recliner, when he suddenly throws back his head and yawns loudly, stretching as he does so. This unexpected noise makes the other three nearly jump out of their skin. The man smiles sleepily and gets up from his comfortable recliner, mug still in hand. He walks slowly over to the small boy at the bookshelf and sets his mug down on a small table beside it before looking over the bookshelf himself. He picks up some of the old photos in frames that decorate the empty shelves, and his smile gives way to a gloomy frown. He then sets the photos down and slowly, carefully, brings himself down to the young boy's level.
"So," the man says in a gruff and gravely voice, "have ya found one ya like yet?" The boy keeps on looking at the shelves, still carrying on with his regime of pulling a book out then putting it back on the shelf again, muttering the quiet "no" each time. "Cause you know," the man says, "if you let ME pick one for you, you probably won't like what I choose." "I just can't decide, Papa," the boy says, "there's too many of them! I want you to read me all of them! But you said I can only choose one..." The boy's voice trails off as he looks back upon the tall bookshelf sadly. The old man laughs. "I couldn't read all of these in one night even if I tried, Junior! You'll just have to choose one." Junior turned to look at his father, but turned back an instant later. He knew time was running out and he had to make his choice before his bedtime, otherwise he would get no story.
But not one of the books jumped out at him. He looked at the many different colored spines and the titles in gold leafing or various colored inks, but he and choices never mixed well. The colors began to swim and swirl in his vision and it made him feel sick. He collapsed down into his father's arms. "You OK, son?" his father said, genuinely concerned. "I just got a little dizzy. And I have a headache... Could you choose for me? I'll be OK with what you pick." After bringing his poor child to his feet, the man picked himself carefully back up off the floor and began to look over the books as well, all the while muttering about how his knees weren't what they used to be. Although his son had told him he would be fine with what he chose, any book he reached for Junior would tell him "Not that one!" or "You read that to me already!" He could see his father was beginning to grow impatient, so he decided to help.
Meanwhile, the small young man by the window, who all this time has had his back to the trio, turned around on his heels rather quickly and walked over to the shelf with the father and son. He had to lean far back to get a view of the entirety of the bookshelf, much the way Junior had to do. "So, have YOU found a book to read to us yet, Uncle Morton?" he said in a joking tone, a coy smile spreading across his face. He nudged his small cousin at this comment, and Junior giggled a bit to himself. The giant man turned around, a rather disapproving scowl on his face, and said "Don't mess around right now, Elliot. We don't have a lot of time, and Junior needs a story to go to bed." As he turned back to the bookshelf, Elliot waved to Junior and slunk quietly back to his window.
On the way, he passed by yet another disapproving scowl, this one given by his little sister, Zelda. "What?" he said as he walked by. She got up from the sofa and joined him at the window, her nightgown flowing behind her. "You know exactly what. Why do you have to mess with Uncle Morty like that? He's never done anything to you." she scolded. Elliot sighed. "I know, but I can't help but pick on him sometimes. He does that to ME all the time, right Uncle Mort?" Without looking away from the bookshelf, Uncle Morty just said "Piss off." causing Zelda to start laughing hysterically. Elliot, visibly shocked by his uncle's comment, turned angrily back to his window, and now resembled a hunched vulture seeking prey. Zelda stopped laughing, and patted her brother's back. "Uncle's just teasing you, Ell. No harm done, right?" she said soothingly. "After all, he does that to you ALL the time, right?" she laughed as she went back to the sofa to continue with her book.
"How about this, Junior," she said trying to ease her young cousin's troubled mind, "I'm almost done with 'Alice'. Once I'm done reading it, your dad can read it to you. That sound good?" "No, because by the time you're done reading it, it'll be bedtime!" Junior cried out. His face saddened at the very thought of going to bed without his bedtime story. Since he was born, he never went to bed without at least a short story read to him. His father stopped skimming the titles and looked wearily down at his small son, who was now almost in tears and shaking in anger and frustration. He reached down and picked him up. "Don't cry Junior. We'll find a book for ya. We just gotta think what it is you want to hear tonight is all." his father said in as comforting a way as his gruff voice would allow.
While looking out at the rainy night, Elliot, hearing the conversation between father and son, suddenly had a thought...a bad one. "I know a story Junior would like," he thought to himself, "but with my own...SPIN on it." Elliot once again turned on his heels and slunk quietly across the room to the bookshelf where the two still looked over every title. As he slid across the room, Zelda happened to glance up at her brother. What she saw made her look questionably at him but she soon became absolutely horrified when fully seeing the look on his face. This gaze he had was one of pure malice and evil all rolled up in a devilish grin, something that shook Zelda to her core.
He slid between his uncle and cousin and began skimming over the shelves as well. His uncle, looking a bit annoyed, puzzled as to why he was standing between them and the bookshelf. Elliot didn't have to look long before he found the book he was looking for, the perfect book for an evening like this. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was printed in gold leafing across the cover of a particularly plain looking book with an emerald green cover. He picked up the book and threw it upward into his uncle's spare hand. "Wizard of Oz, huh?" Uncle Morton said, looking down at his now beaming nephew, "It's a little too lengthy, don't you think? I mean, we would probably only get a few pages into it before..." Elliot said in a quiet and angry voice, "Just...read...it..." His large uncle surprisingly shuddered at his nephew's tone and walked with Junior, now clinging to him for dear life it seemed, back to his comfortable old recliner. Zelda glared at her brother as he slowly made his way out of the Great Hall and into the Music Room and, despite her better judgement, followed him.
"Just what are you up to?" Zelda said standing in the doorway, hands placed firmly on her hips. "Four seven, give or take," he said as he casually looked through the old records cabinet, "I'm going to have a little fun with Uncle Morty and Junior, that's all." "Oh no you are NOT!" she said, "it's almost Junior's bedtime, and you are NOT going to get him all riled up! He'll never sleep!" "That's the point..." Elliot said darkly. After finding the record he needed, he put it on Aunt Claudia's old record player and tried to make his way out of the room with it. Zelda blocked him. "AH-AH! Elliot, if you try anything, I swear I'll break that record player over your head!" "Oh! I'm shaking!" Elliot exclaimed. Zelda kept moving in front of Elliot every which way he went. He then put the record player down and slowly closed the door. Zelda, thinking he'd admitted defeat, turned triumphantly away from the door and started for the sofa once more. Suddenly, the door to the Music Room burst open! Elliot came flying out of the room wheeling the old record player in front of him on a tea cart and knocked poor little Zelda to the floor in the process.
"Hope ya haven't started yet!" he exclaimed, reaching the sofa where Zelda had been sitting the entire evening. Uncle Morty and Junior, in a bit of a daze from the chaos that had just ensued in the Music Room between he and Zelda, shook their heads simultaneously. "Good!" cried Elliot, as he pulled a plug out from the record player and plugged it into an outlet on the floor. "What are you doing with your aunt's record player?" Uncle Morton asked in a rather befuddled tone. "Just a bit of music to enhance the reading experience!" Elliot said with the coy smile from earlier slowly returning to his face. "Now I just have to find the right...number...uh, go on ahead and start reading Uncle Mort. This could take a few."
Uncle Morton, still looking a bit confused, cleared his throat and opened the book. "Chapter One," he began, "'The Cyclone'!" Junior suddenly looked as confused as his father had. "What's a cyclone...?" he whispered. "A very big wind that takes the shape of a funnel," his father said, "they're very strong storms that can rip apart buildings and throw stuff around." Junior nodded, satisfied with this explanation. Uncle Morton cleared his throat once more. "'Chapter One: The Cyclone! Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds.'" "That sounds really small..." Junior said. "Well, a house doesn't have to be as big as ours ALL the time. Some houses are really small and only have the bare essentials." Uncle Morton told his small son, whose eyes were appearing to get very heavy now.
Zelda finally shook off her daze from being knocked over and woozily rejoined the trio back on her side of the sofa. She glanced angrily over at her brother as he continued tinkering with the record player trying to get it to work. "Just what ARE you doing?" she said. "Shh!" Junior said loudly, trying to hear as his father continued. "'When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else." "Cousin Elliot, why'd you pick this book? It's boring!" Junior cried out. The record player finally screeched to life as a haunting piano melody began to play. Uncle Morty, recognizing the tune and realizing what he'd been suckered into, slapped the palm of his hand to his face. "You went THERE, eh kid?" he growled at Elliot.
Elliot wasn't listening to his uncle though. He was listening intently to the melody. Suddenly, a man's voice came from the record player. It sounded a bit old and slow and rather sad. As he spoke, Elliot mouthed the words: "I am not afraid of dying. Anytime will do, I don't mind... And why should I be afraid of dying, there's no reason for it, we've all gotta go sometime, right?" He smiles, almost happily, as the old man finishes the rather eerie lyric. Uncle Morton, once again, clears his throat and tries to read the book once more. He notices that Junior is now holding onto him quite tightly, almost in fear. The lyric wasn't the happiest one Junior had ever heard, and the old man who said it sounded rather creepy.
"'When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.'" "That sounds like you, Ell," Zelda said coyly. Elliot stopped the record for a moment. It DID sound a bit like how many described him sometimes. He laughed a bit, poking his sister in her shoulder and said "Just don't start calling me 'Auntie Em' anytime soon, kay, Zelly? My little budgerigar?" Zelda scoffed and brushed his hand away. He began the song again from the piano melody at the start.
As Uncle Morton read onward, the song began to get as furious as the storm in the book, something that made Junior nervously laugh. His father realized what was going on, but he read onward, trying to finish at least this chapter of the story before eight o'clock rolled around and Junior had to go to bed, despite being interrupted several times by Elliot howling and screeching badly, trying to match the vocals of the song. He had restarted the vocals several times during the course of the reading. At one point, Uncle Morty had ended up taking off one of his slippers and throwing it at Elliot. It stuck right in his mouth. Another time, Zelda had jammed a pillow in his mouth. But Elliot both times had just taken the objects out of his mouth and continued.
By this point, believe it or not, Junior had become quite sleepy. His eyes began to open and close as he fought hard to stay awake to listen to the remainder of the chapter. "'Hour after hour passed away, and slowly Dorothy got over her fright; but she felt quite lonely, and the wind shrieked so loudly all about her that she nearly became deaf. At first she had wondered if she would be dashed to pieces when the house fell again; but as the hours passed and nothing terrible happened, she stopped worrying and resolved to wait calmly and see what the future would bring. At last she crawled over the swaying floor to her bed, and lay down upon it; and Toto followed and lay down beside her. In spite of the swaying of the house and the wailing of the wind, Dorothy soon closed her eyes and fell fast ASLEEP!!!' THAT'S IT!!!" Uncle Morton shouted as Elliot replayed the record once again, the vocals now louder than before. The great giant shot up out of his recliner like a rocket, accidentally tossing his poor little son off of his lap. Junior landed on the floor with a "thwump".
Uncle Morton's whole head was now a brighter red than his hair, almost resembling a tomato. His teeth were gritted, grinding with rage and his eyes were bloodshot. His broad shoulders going up and down with every infuriated puff of his breath. All this seemed intensified by the roaring fire he stood before. His towering and broad frame was now silhouetted by the fire and it gave him a truly hellish appearance. "All's I was trying to do was read my little boy a book! And you went and ruined it for us both!!! Now he's never going to go to sleep!!!" his voice boomed, making it feel as though the entire mansion was shaking. "Is it too much to ask for a little peace while I do so, Elliot?!? IS IT?!?" he screamed at his nephew now cowering behind a pillow on the sofa. "No, sir..." he said quietly.
Zelda noticed a now thumb sucking Junior lying on the floor, curled up in a sort of fetal position before the fireplace. She took one of the other pillows off the sofa and put it under Junior's head. She tried ignoring her brother and uncle as they yelled and shouted at one another. She began humming the calmer half of the song they had all just been subjected to. Junior curled up a bit closer to his cousin, as she sat by the fireplace with him.
"I never said I was afraid of dying..." she whispered, quoting the song.
Uncle Morton looked over at Zelda and asked her what she had said. Upon seeing his son there on the floor, he was afraid he'd gone and hurt him. He knelt down next to the two of them, and Zelda shushed her uncle as quietly as she could. "I think he's been asleep this entire time." she told her uncle. "Maybe it's time he went up to his room?" Her uncle looked up at her, his eyes now bloodshot with sleep deprivation instead of rage. "And maybe you should get some sleep as well..." she said in a whisper. "He hasn't been sleeping well lately, story or not..." he said, his voice returning to it's calmer tone. "He's been staying in MY room, not his. Even there he doesn't get sleep..." "Try putting him in HIS room tonight then. I think he'll be ok." Zelda said. As carefully and quietly as he could, Uncle Morton picked Junior up off the floor, with a bit of difficulty on his part, and began the ascent to his son's bedroom. The entire way, he did nothing but mutter sleepily about how his knees weren't what they used to be.
The fire was beginning to die down as Elliot unplugged the old record player and wheeled it off back to the Music Room. "Let me ask you a question..." Zelda said. "That depends a great deal on what it's about..." Elliot told her in response. "Do you ever miss me being as young and small as Junior is? And do you miss me when I'm away all day?" she asked in as serious a tone as she could muster. After putting the record player back on its shelf, Elliot stood there in the Music Room and really thought about the question. It wasn't one of those normal kid questions you hear all the time, he thought. He knew this was a question Zelda often had on her mind after all the years of him being the one who needed caring for. Honestly, as her older brother, he didn't quite know how to respond, so he stood there in silence.
Zelda, feeling that she would never get a reply, started to her bedroom. The fire had now completely died and the Great Hall was now as cold, dark, and blue as the world beyond those rain covered picture windows. Suddenly, she heard his voice, from within the Music Room; a distant, sad tone, almost like a sigh.
He then poked his head out from behind the door frame, and smiled up at his little sister. She smiled back. She felt oddly reassured that after all the years she felt her attention had gone unnoticed, her brother really DID miss her and worry about her every day just as much as he did everything else. She said good night to her older brother and with this new reassurance in mind, headed up to her room for a good night's sleep.
Elliot stood there, watching as she went up the Grand Staircase, wringing his hands. In that instant, he understood what Zelda had really meant when she had told him earlier in the evening that he was like Aunt Em. He was an easily frightened person, and often wondered what Zelda could find to always be so happy about. He wished he could find that happiness too, but figured Zelda and his family MUST be his source of happiness, as he always smiles and laughs around them.
It was during this time of pondering that he found himself back at that same window where he began, staring out at the rain. As he watched the world become a muddled blue and black mass, he wondered whether he himself would get any sleep that night or not. Even if he didn't, the rain entranced him to keep staring out the window and watch as the garden turned into a swampland. He found happiness in the rain, almost as much happiness as his family brought him.
So if you are ever lucky enough to live or visit Grave's Island on the borders of Washington and Oregon, and you see a large red haired man carrying his small son around in the Market, wave and say hello. They're friendly enough. And if you ever need a place to stay, give that old red brick mansion a visit. Don't be put off by the surrounding high, ivy and moss covered walls, as you will most likely be welcomed in by the Browns and Koopas with open arms, like you, yourself, are a member of their family. Who knows, you may just find your happiness there much the way Elliot and his sisters have.