Morgan’s Knot - Opening pages

Morgan’s Knot

Adrian was an ordinary boy waiting in absolute silence with his classmates, as the second hand on the ancient clock above the entry ticked away the final seconds. The first ting of the bell was drowned by the roar of children crashing through the hallowed hallways of the Heritage Academy in celebration of the last day of school for the year. Mired in a crush of bodies, Adrian burst through the heavy oak doors into the warm salty breeze of a sunny afternoon.

He found his best friends, Stubby and Kick, and dashed down the sidewalk through a thicket of parents, charting secret plans for the summer. The pavement gave way to a rocky path, just south of the little village, and they trotted into the forest along the ridge overlooking their homes along the bay.

“I’ll call you later,” cried Adrian, cutting down the hill through the woods into a flutter of hummingbirds that rose from the meadow to swarm around him like a shawl wafting in the wind, glittering ruby sparkles. Robins, a pair of cardinals, a blue jay, a nest full of wrens in a titter, and a family of squirrels peeked from the branches of a tall maple. A red fox, stalking a clutch of young rabbits through the grasses, stopped to stare, his bushy tail standing straight and still in the gentle breeze, as the lad passed.

The boy banged through the kitchen door to find his mother wearing a yellow bathing suit and a short robe. She leaned for a hug, “Get your trunks on and we’ll go for a swim. I have cookies in the basket.”

“I’ll be right back,” said Adrian, racing to his bedroom to change his clothes and scamper back to the kitchen.

They strolled, hand-in-hand, down the pebble beach to a catwalk that stretched into the bay. His father’s vintage sloop, The Sparrow, bobbed gracefully on gentle waves at the end of the dock, elegant lines in gleaming woods and polished brass ready to leap through the waves on the open seas given just a whisper of wind. Adrian peeled off his shirt and plunged into the cold water. He dove deep and exploded through the surface with the sheer joy of his new freedom.

He was tall for his awkward age and a bit lanky. A mop of blond waves fell wet around a tanned face and a few freckles dotted his slender nose. Electric blue eyes sparkled with intelligence and, one might suspect, a bit of mischief, yet there was also a tender spirit barely hiding in a softness at the corners of his mouth.

Sara sat on the edge of the dock, while Adrian swam back and forth, kicking and splashing sheets of cold water that fell just short of her long legs. He laughed at her faint protests and, finally, climbed the ladder to towel himself off. She gazed at her son with pride and poured him a glass of iced tea, opening the small wicker basket to reveal a pile of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm in a plaid tea towel. Adrian took one in each hand.

“How was your last day of school?”

“It was a waste of time. We’d already finished everything. Besides cleaning out our desks and lockers, there wasn’t really much left to do,” he mumbled, licking a bit of chocolate from his lip. “I did manage to get a copy of my geography book.”

“Did you steal it?”

“No, they were sorting books to be saved for next year or recycled and I asked Mr. Watson if I could have it.”

“That’s good then. I still have some of my textbooks from college and I actually refer back to them from time to time,” smiled Sara. “You never stop learning…although I’m finding that the older I get, the more I have to open up the archives in my mind to find a fact or a name amongst all that’s stuffed in there!”

“It’s tough getting old, isn’t it?” giggled Adrian.

She pursed her lips, feigning offense, “The flip side is that you still have lots of room inside that marvelous mind of yours for reams of information and I, personally, believe that school ought to last twelve months a year, so you don’t lose half of what you’ve learned lolly-gagging around over the summer. That’s the way it was when I was a girl.”

“That must have been a long time ago,” said Adrian, “and I’ll bet you had to walk ten miles uphill in a snowstorm every day to school and back.”

“Even in the summer!” His mother smirked, “It wasn’t quite that bad, I actually liked school.”

Adrian was a good student, looking forward to his first year in the upper school. He was fascinated with the process of learning and accepted the challenge, which is not to include the redundancy of the lessons or the repetitive exercises, which were certainly designed to quash any creative brain cells that might multiply inside an inquisitive child’s mind. It did not require great effort to earn honors in his classes but his primary complaint was that teachers presented only half the truth. He was sure there was something deeper, darker, and far more interesting buried in missing articles that must have been omitted to prevent normal people from knowing the truth. There would be time to ponder that notion through the holiday, which fluttered through his mind like a book of empty pages awaiting a dramatic first line.

His mother took his hand in both of hers, sighed, and turned away to stare across the bay. Small waves lapped at the pilings below the dock and gulls gathered overhead, squawking for a morsel. Adrian held a piece of cookie in the air and, one by one, the white birds swooped closer and closer until the bravest snatched a large crumb. Others followed in a small cloud of fluttering wings, their caws growing louder as they jostled for a tidbit.

Sara turned to her son, her eyes somber, “There’s something that we must talk about...”

Normally a melody of laughter and mirth, the soft assurance of this particular tenor was reserved for serious matters or apprehension for one of his pranks.

“Dad’s been, ordered to a new job,” she said. “The company wants him in Vancouver.”

“Vancouver?” stammered Adrian. Vancouver was a very long way from home.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “I know this is going to be hard on you. You have your friends, school, and all the things that you’ve known all your life...but we really have no choice. Your father has interviewed for other jobs and we’ve decided that this is probably the best decision for all of us.”

“But....” sputtered the boy, any words of protest escaping in his confusion. Staring deep into the reflections on the waves below the pier, he watched his dreams for the summer dissipating like the inky ripples spreading from the pilings in perfect iridescent rings. Finally, he asked, “When...?”

“They want your father in Vancouver by September. Between now and then, we have to sell the house, pack and ship our things, and move the boat.”

They were quiet for a while as Adrian pondered these unexpected and unwelcome revelations. A huge black raven circled slowly, high above the bay, the golden sunlight reflecting the occasional electric blue-black flash as the enormous bird shifted the feathers at the tips of long thick wings to catch the thermals. He had only seen a few flying over the harbor before, always alone, but certainly none as large and, at this moment, soaring through the clouds represented everything that he was being asked to forfeit.

A gentle puff of wind roused him from his thoughts. He looked at his mother and his eyes filled with tears as he struggled to find the words that might save the happy balance of their life in this tiny hamlet. Sara put her arms around her son and pulled him close, “I know this will be a big change for all of us but we’re a family and we’ll find a way to make this easier, I promise,” she added, her voice trailing off. “There is one more thing,”

Adrian turned, staring expectantly into her blue eyes. She brushed back his hair and kissed him on the forehead, “Your Aunt Elsie has offered to keep you, while we sail the boat around. Once we’re settled, she’ll take you to the airport and we’ll be waiting when you get to Vancouver.”

“But I’ve been sailing with you and Dad since I was born. I won the trophy in my class the past three years. I could help.”

“We talked about that,” she said. “If we were not in such a rush, we might agree. After considering everything, we’ve decided that it would be easier and safer if you spent some time with Elsie, George, and the girls on Morgan’s Knot, while we move the boat, find a house, and get things settled. I know that none of this is what you want but it is what we think best.”

“When?” Adrian asked, afraid of the answer.

“This weekend,” replied his mother, tears flushed her beautiful blue eyes with sadness and compassion.

Adrian had only visited Morgan’s Knot once, when he was younger, and became acquainted with the twins, Molly and Megan, when they visited for a few days, years ago. They were nice enough but certainly not the friends he hoped would share his summer.

“You’ll like the island,” his mother said with a gentle, knowing smile. “It’s a very magical place. I grew up there and I know that you’ll learn how special it is, if you’ll give it a chance until we can send for you.”

Adrian did not reply. He slumped off the dock into the cold water and let himself sink into darkness before stroking hard into the open bay. Finally, shivering and depressed, he swam back to his mother and dried himself off. Before she could stand, he darted across the gangway and up the hill into the woods without looking back. His heart felt abandoned, confused, angry, and an irrepressible sadness.

There was no one that he could talk with who could soothe his anguish or change their decision. Everyone else in the little hamlet was staying, some with family trees stretching back to the Vikings or so they claimed. People didn’t move in and out of the village. They were born here, lived here, and died here. They might go away to college or to follow a dream but they always came back.

A thin layer of clouds shrouded the sky, muting the reflection of the sun glittering on the water silhouetting several sailboats moored to buoys in the harbor that opened into the Atlantic. His eyes traced every detail of the only home that he had ever known. A screened porch wrapped around the south side beneath gray wood shingles and yellow shutters almost glowed against the blue clapboard cottage nestled beneath several huge maple trees. The first pink blossoms had opened on his mother’s rose bushes, standing determined despite waves of cold north wind that refused to give way to summer.

He etched the view into his memory because he felt in his heart that he might never see it again, then turned and scampered up the path through the woods until he was out of sight. He slumped down next to the trunk of an ancient oak and sobbed uncontrollably, knowing that the roots of his life, the village that was the foundation of his identity, would be displaced by a boring summer on Morgan’s Knot with cousins he hardly knew and then a new life in Vancouver. “Somehow, someday, I will come back.”

He was roused by the distant caw of the gigantic raven tracing long slow circles in the sky over the bay. A patch of sunlight, streaming through the giant trees, illuminated the tiny meadow of wildflowers. Waves of hummingbirds fluttered into the air, wrapping him in a cloud of buzzing wings and a chorus of tiny chirps, their joy lifted him from the ground and guided him along the path to the little blue cottage.


Sara took the helm and guided the bow of the beautiful sloop into a strong north wind under clear blue skies. Adrian and his father raised the mainsail and then the jib. John was tall and broad shouldered, with dark hair and eyes. Born of a nautical family, he had been a naval captain during his service before becoming a ship designer, although racing yachts were a not-so-secret passion. His movements around the deck were comfortable and easy from years on the seas and he taught his son to read the winds and the waves, to find his way by the angle of the sun, and to feel the rhythm of a sailboat.

The Sparrow passed through the jetties into a choppy sea but leaned into her keel, slicing her way with ease. Adrian relieved his mother at the tiller and asked, “How long?”

“We’ll be there by sunset,” replied his father, who was studying his own personal charts. Adrian loved piloting the sloop. He looked up at the sails and leaned into the tiller to gain just a little more speed. He wanted to protest that he was sailor enough to make the journey but he knew their decision was final. There was the temptation to look back at the house and the cove, life as he had known it since the day he was born, but he knew that it would just make leaving harder and he stared straight ahead into the open sea. Waves of blond hair blew in tangles around his face, veiling tears streaming down his cheeks.

As the sun settled to the horizon in the west, his mother sat down beside him with a knowing smile, her long slender fingers closed around something that glistened. “I have a very special gift for you,” she said. “I think you’ll find it useful on Morgan’s Knot.”

She opened her hand to reveal a golden key, somewhat larger than an old-fashioned house key, with a large square where the teeth might have been. The rectangle contained a perfect cross, even on each side, surrounded by a slender crescent etched through the metal. A tiny star floated near the breach at the top, as if trying to escape into the freedom beyond the confines of the inverted arch. The spinnaker billowing over the bow of The Sparrow bore the same cross and crescent, a tribute by John to his wife’s ancestry. Adrian reached out and took the key, examining it with a quizzical look.

“I think that you’ll find this valuable,” she said. “I did when I was younger.”

Adrian thought the well-worn key was beautiful. It had been handled and used through so many years, the metal was worn to a smooth patina with no hard edges. He had no inkling of the function or significance and stared at her with curiosity in his eyes.

“As I said, Morgan’s Knot is a magical place and this key will open doors of understanding for you. You’ll see. Keep it with you wherever you go.” Without another word, she stood to peer across the waves, “There it is!”

Adrian spied a large black lump on the northern horizon. It had been years since he last visited and he remembered little about the place, “I’ve always wondered, why is it called Morgan’s Knot?”

“I wanted you to see it at sunset,” she said pointing to the black mountain, a jagged cone of rock jutting into the evening glow above the northern end of the island. “If you watch right up there in the rocks on the mountain, you’ll see.”

As they tacked closer and the sun melted across the horizon, the black rocks began to glow in reflection, their brilliant facets bleeding crimson and gaining shape. Slowly, the peak was transformed, bound in massive ropes tied in a heavy knot with the leads flowing away around the summit.

“It really does look like a knot,” exclaimed Adrian. He noticed that the peak above the glowing stones appeared capped by snow but thought it another play of light. “Who was Morgan?”

“He was the man who discovered this island and brought the families to live here generations ago. That’s only the beginning,” smiled his mother, kissing him on the forehead. “There is so much more.”

“Sara, you take the helm while we pull down the sails,” said John, as he guided the sloop into a small cove from the southeast. Several fishing trawlers were tied up along the wharf and a little village rose up a hill beyond the waterfront. On the only open dock, Adrian’s cousins and his aunt and uncle, George and Elsie, waved with excited anticipation.

John took the tiller and guided The Sparrow to the pier, while Adrian and Sara threw lines to George and the girls. “Bumpers out!” cried John, as the beautiful sailboat glided to rest within inches of the pilings beneath the dock.

John lifted Sara onto the wharf and into her sister’s waiting arms. Adrian grinned at the two women, so much alike with their fair complexions, blond hair, and blue eyes. Elsie was a bit shorter than his mother and not quite as slender but they shared a wonderful sparkle that infected everyone around them.

George reached a hand to pull Adrian onto the dock and enveloped him in a hug. He was tall, with strong, thick arms and large hands, rough from physical work. His huge, dark eyes twinkled behind tiny glasses, which seemed to pinch his face into a squint, as he leaned down to the boy. “It’s lovely to have you here,” he said with a warm smile, clapping his nephew on the shoulder. Brushing his salt and pepper hair back from a tan and weathered brow, he replaced a well-worn felt hat and rose to shake hands with John and hug Sara.

Adrian turned to greet his cousins, Molly and Megan, who were a year younger. Both had tangles of long blond curls surrounding rather round faces framing those same blue eyes. Molly’s smile was warm and friendly and she seemed genuinely delighted to see him. Megan gave him a little smirk and a brief hug but her eyes bored into him, rummaging through his soul for hidden flaws.

Adrian jumped back into the boat to help his father stow the sails and close the hatch, while George and the girls carried their bags to what appeared a small truck. Unlike any vehicle that he had ever seen, there was an open cab under a short awning, a steering wheel in the middle above a long bench seat, wheels made of wood and covered with a metal flashing instead of rubber tires, and spokes like those on an old-fashioned wagon or cart. There was no bulge of an engine compartment in front of the cab and there certainly was no horse to pull it along.

George climbed behind the wheel with Sara and Elsie on either side, while the twins made room for John and Adrian in the back. Without a sound, the truck leapt into motion and climbed through the small village to a ridge that crested onto a great open plain. Small cottages dotted the landscape, their windows glowing as the last wisp of the setting sun slipped behind a forest, silhouetted in the distance along a jagged ridge that crawled along the length of the island to the south. Between houses, fields in various stages of plowing, planting, and harvesting formed a checkerboard of textures separated by narrow lanes overhung with graceful old trees, lush and green with the new growth of spring. To the north, the black mountain jutted ominously into an inky sky, a gargantuan lump of fragmented rock that must have exploded from the very core of the Earth to attach itself to the rest of the island in some ancient upheaval. It seemed much more imposing than it appeared from the boat and Adrian felt a chill run down his spine as he gazed up at the indigo glow on the snowcap.

Molly and Megan were identical twins and he was sure they would be unmerciful if he mixed up their names. As they talked excitedly, he noticed that Molly always looked directly into his eyes when she spoke in a rapid-fire gush, while Megan tended to look away, as if pondering her words. “As long as they’re talking, I’ll be able to keep them straight,” thought Adrian.

It was dark by the time they arrived at the old stone farmhouse. The truck purred to a stop and Elsie slid from her seat, pointing to the two lamps on either side of the door, which spilled warm amber down the staircase. George and John grabbed the bags from the back of the truck as the group hustled up the steps into the house and Adrian noticed a small brass plaque to one side of the heavy oak door that read, “The House of the Four Seasons.”

“Come in, come in,” said George, as the door closed silently. Elsie walked through the front hall and turned left into the kitchen, pointing at lamps as she passed. Each flickered to life, as if she had pressed some invisible switch.

Molly grabbed Adrian’s hand and pulled him to the staircase, “Come on, we’ll show you to your room.”

Megan produced a round glass ball, about the size of a grapefruit, “You’ll want this.” He took the globe carefully and it glowed bright blue. “Don’t worry, you won’t break it,” she laughed. “It’s called an orb.”

The girls bounded up the stairs to a landing completely encircled by heavy wooden doors.

“Do you have a key?” asked Megan.

Adrian reached into his pocket and withdrew the golden key that his Mother had given him on The Sparrow. Molly laughed as he held it up and led him to a burl wood door at the far end of the hall, “Put the key in the lock, but don’t turn it.”

Adrian inserted the key into a slot beneath the doorknob and, through force of habit, began to spin it. A deep, mysterious voice resonated from the door or, perhaps, behind the door, “Oooo, that tickles!” Adrian instinctively released the key and stepped back in alarm. The girls doubled over in laughter.

“Ah, that is a key that I have not felt in many years. Is it you, Sara?”

“No, I’m Adrian, Sara’s son,” he replied, feeling odd speaking to a door.

“Welcome, Adrian,” said the voice, as the door heaved open. Adrian took the key from the latch and slipped it into his pocket. He held up his orb and two strange round lamps painted the room in warmth. Chilled air shrouded him like the first breath of winter, as he stepped through the threshold but a bright fire sparked to life in a small stone fireplace at the foot of a large room, with a curved beamed ceiling and a four-poster bed at the far end. A soft chair sat near one of two windows, a writing desk nestled between them, and a small dresser rested against the wall near another door on the left.

“The bathroom is through there,” explained Megan, pointing at the second door, which opened as she gestured.

Adrian put his bag and the orb on the bed. The glowing ball dimmed as soon as he put it down. He looked around the room and then to his cousins, who were giggling at his expression. “Your mother did tell you that this was a magical house, didn’t she?” they asked in unison. He nodded in response, his mouth slightly ajar.

“Well, this is just the beginning. Once the house knows who you are and that you’re supposed to be here, it won’t ask you to produce your key again. If you want to light a lamp, just point at it,” said Molly. “Our room is next door, c’mon.”

The orbs brightened the darkened hallway as they turned to the door next to Adrian’s room, which opened with the greeting, “Good evening, girls!” Molly raised her hand to light the darkened room, which was slightly larger than Adrian’s, with two beds, two dressers, two small desks, and two overstuffed chairs. A large bookcase crammed with books, most worn as if they had been handled and read many times, covered most of the window wall.

The beds were piled with stuffed animals and ribbons and bows in every imaginable color fluttered like butterflies on long streamers that curled around the bedposts. A pair of small night tables nestled between the beds, stacked with books and notebooks, and, at the far window, a small telescope was pointed at the sky. Adrian wandered over to inspect an orb, several times larger than those they carried up the stairs, and as he reached out, a blue light radiated around it. A voice from within asked, “Where would you like to go this evening?”

Adrian jumped, shooting a quizzical look at his cousins, who chuckled knowingly. “You have television and videos and the internet, don’t you?” asked Molly.

“Yes,” replied Adrian, still hesitant.

“Well, this is television, the telephone, and the internet all wrapped up in one,” said Megan, impatiently. “We can watch entertainment, or listen to music, or do research for school, or talk to our friends with this. We call it a messenger.”

“Here, I’ll show you,” said Molly. She turned to the large orb and said, “Cartoons!” and it flickered with a radiance that surrounded it like a blue cloud. Suddenly, Bugs Bunny appeared, yammering madly, bouncing from one side of the image to the other, his figure flashing through midair in front of the orb.

Fascinated, Adrian stared at the cartoon, the image so crisp and real that he was overwhelmed by the sensation that he could almost snatch the rabbit out of the video. “Oh, we’ve seen that one a hundred times,” cried Molly. “I’m hungry, let’s go see what’s for dinner!”

Megan turned to the messenger and said, “Good night.” As suddenly as it had appeared, the image dissolved and the glow faded.

Adrian followed the girls into the hallway and the lights dimmed and the door closed silently. He held the orb high, illuminating the entire passage, “Why don’t you just have lamps in this hallway?”

“Oh, it’s Mother. She says that they’ve been doing it this way for generations and there’s no reason to change now,” replied Molly.

“I think it’s her special reminder of the magic of this place. We get so used to things being the way they are that we take it all for granted,” added Megan.

“Why are there so many doors?”

“Well, it is a magical and hospitable house. In spite of the size on the outside, each door leads to at least one bedroom and a bathroom. It sort of expands to accommodate lots of guests.”

“That’s incredible.”

“Yeah, but it’s true!” laughed Molly.

They clamored down the stairs and Adrian noticed his father and George sitting together in front of a large fire in the hearth in the parlor. The children dropped their orbs in the carrier in the foyer and marched through a doorway to find their mothers working in a large, old-fashioned kitchen with an oval table to one side. “Ah, there you are,” said Elsie. “Dinner will be a few minutes. We’ve made some treats to hold you over. Girls find Adrian something to drink and take these to your father and John. And don’t spill!”

The twins poured apple juice into three glasses from a bottle from the refrigerator and Megan carefully carried a small tray of toast points covered with tomatoes, herbs, and cheese into the living room.

As they crossed the hallway, Adrian again felt that chill but the fire warmed the lounge nicely. She placed the tray on a low table in front of the men and giggled, hesitating for a moment to be polite before grabbing a piece of toast and munching hungrily.

Adrian gazed around at the fine comfortable furniture, overstuffed bookcases surrounding the fireplace, and a credenza on the far wall with three fading portraits of two women and a man in simple black frames. He walked over to gaze at the two women, one looked a bit like Elsie with darker hair but the other bore no family resemblance. The man in the center frame had fair skin, straight black hair, and intense but kind eyes that seemed to peer out through the years, judging or challenging whoever dared look at the image. It was an inviting room but there was certainly nothing that even hinted at magic, other than orbs, messengers, and talking doors.

“That’s quite a journey that you’ll be making,” said George. “Are you sure The Sparrow’s up to it?”

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll be fine. We’ve got the radio, so we can stay in touch and we’re just heading into hurricane season. The southern Atlantic hasn’t had time to heat up. I’ve been meaning to upgrade the electronics but the old ways have worked this long. We talked about selling her and buying another when we get there but she’s been in the family for so long that I’d hate to give her up,” said John. “She’s an old friend and she’ll look after us.”

The sisters wandered into the room with another small platter, chatting about friends and family, catching up on life on the island. It had been several years since Sara was last home and Adrian knew that his parents were planning to leave in the morning. “Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” said Elsie, as she passed the tray.

After a feast accompanied by laughter and stories, the men carried the dishes to the kitchen, while Sara took Adrian’s hand and led him out the back door. A soft breeze bearing the scent of a salty sea wafted across the island, as they stepped into the warmth of a summer evening to sit together on a split log bench at the bottom of the steps. Sara put an arm around Adrian’s shoulders and pulled him to her, “I know this is awkward but I also know that you’ll love it here. I see that you’ve already discovered the orbs. Did you use your key?” she asked.

“Yes, and the door talked to me!” he said. “It asked if I was you.”

”Well, it was my key when I lived here.”

“But the voice? And the orbs? And the messenger?” Adrian looked into his Mother’s soft eyes, her smile was gentle and loving.

“I told you, this is a magical place,” she said. “These are only a few of the wonders that you’ll encounter. Things happen differently here and there are powers that our ancestors mastered that do not exist in the rest of the world, which is too bad. You’ll meet Professor Ponte soon enough, he’s the astronomer, teacher, and Keeper of the Powers.”

“I should apologize for not preparing you for all of this but…there just isn’t any way to explain it, unless you’re here,” she paused, “and, in a way, I think I’m guilty of shielding you from it.”

“We think that our trip will take six to eight weeks and then another few to get things settled in Vancouver. We’ll send for you as soon as we can,” said Sara, looking into her son’s teary eyes. “In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful place. You seem to like the girls and I know that Elsie and George will care for you just as I would.”

“But...” Adrian’s words trailed off as a large tear leaked down his cheek. His Mother pulled him closer and they were quiet for a while. Adrian could feel gentle sobs ripple through her warm body and he was comforted by a faint hint of perfume that smelled like spring flowers.

He didn’t want this moment to end…but it did.

rick stiller 2019