Horace Harlem flipped open the newest Agatha Christie in the interestingly boring Murlay Field Library for the sixth time that day. He would go out with his mates. If he had any. The librarian, Ms Roberts, trundled past with her ancient old trolley, dust gathering on her hundred year old baggy dress, with an endless supply of Fox’s Arctic Mints in the pockets. She had inch thick glasses with a rat’s nest for hair, tied up in an unintelligible, frizzy bun. Horace was a fair but short young lad, with light blonde hair plastered onto his head, with ocean blue eyes and a sad smile. He grinned as Ms Roberts approached him with the trolley,
“Aah, young Horace, reading Agatha Christie for the sixth time today, I see,” she said with a grin. “Here is something that may interest you. The latest atlas, only published in 1925, this year.” She handed him a copy of Cinderella from 1893.
“Ms Roberts, this is Cinderella.”
She inspected the cover, her face an inch away from the book.
“Nope, this is it.” she said with a confident smirk. Horace picked up the book and slammed it on the table, opening it up and inspecting the pages. By gosh she was right. The book was full of pictures of the world, but in incredible detail. He looked at the cover again, just to be sure that he wouldn’t have to take a visit to uncle Barry’s opticians again. The cover had changed. This time it had changed. It read “The Atlas To Anywhere” in gold lettering, with a golden figure of a spinning globe imbedded in the immaculate front cover, that appeared to actually be turning.
The old bat was having an intellectual conversation with a plant pot about her cat. He decided not to interrupt her. He turned his attention back to the book. He turned to the “Asia” page. He always yearned to visit Hong Kong. He touched the spot labelled “Hong Kong”, and felt a sudden lurch in his seat…
Horace was being squashed into darkness, feeling like he was in a small box that had walls closing in on all sides; constricting him like a python. Then there was a flash of light, and he was in the middle of a strange city, surrounded by signs with strange symbols, and people rushing in and out of shops, speaking a strange language. Then the realisation hit him like a bus. He was in Hong Kong. He was beyond shock. Was it the Atlas? Witchcraft? Hold on a minute… The Atlas. Questions ran through Horace’s head at a million miles an hour. How did the atlas get him here? Why is the atlas doing this to him? How did he end up in Hong Kong? Was he ill? Unconscious? DEAD? He took a step forward and stood on something hard. The atlas. He picked it up and inspected the pages. Not a rip or a tear anywhere.
“Boy, what are you doing here” said a foreign voice behind him, speaking a strange language. Horace turned and saw a short chinese man in long robes, clutching a bag of rice and other groceries.
“I won’t ask again, what is your business here.”
Horace clutched the atlas and slowly walked away from this strange man, and led himself into an old alleyway, surrounded by empty beer bottles. He crouched down behind some strangely marked crates and opened the book. He inspected the pages once again. What was this book made of? Something clicked in his head. When he touched the mark labelled Hong Kong, it transported him there. So that means… He flicked to the page marked “England” and scanned the page for his hometown Murlay Field. There it is. He touched his town’s spot and felt the same lurching, then constricting sensation that he had felt before, followed by the sudden sense of relief as he found himself back in the old library, and it was almost as if nothing had changed, apar form the fact Ms.Roberts was sweeping the windows and polishing the floor. She turned to face him.
“You enjoyed your adventure in China, I presume,” she said with a smile, “Such nice people, are the Chinese.”
“What – How?” Ms Roberts cut him off.
“Look, it appears to be closing time. Off you go.” she remarked, popping another ancient Fox’s Arctic Mint into her mouth. Horace didn’t ask any questions. He grabbed the book and scuttled out of the ancient library. He heard a thunder clap and the rattle of rain against the floor. Great. Rain. As he approached the gates of his grand stately home, he got bombarded by the resident bullies in town. They were the middle class kids, unlike Horace, who was rather well off, living in the esteemed Harlem Manor.
“ARE Y’ ALL RIGHT, TOFF?” shouted the head bully, Donald Edwards.
“Go away Donald,” said Horace through gritted teeth “I’ll pull my vicious hound on you.”
“WHAT, THAT BALL OF FLUFF YOU CALL A DOG?”
All of Donald’s cronies started to laugh and close in on Horace. Horace skirted out the way and ran up his driveway, closing the gate behind him. “IT’S A PEKINGESE!” shouted Horace, bubbling with anger as he saw the thugs give up and trudge down to the sweet shop in defeat.
Horace hid the Atlas in his waistcoat as he sneaked past the labyrinth of rooms in his home and turned the corner to his room. Only a few turns to go until he was in the safety his bedroom. He closed the door behind him and tried to hide under the safety of his bed, only to find his 4 year old sister Florence having a tea party with Mr. Teddison, Tom Tinker and Mickey mouse. Horace sighed, as this happened often. He pried Florence of his bed frame and carried her to the playroom, where he found his mother rocking his other two sisters, Fern and Faye on the new rocking horse. Faye, Fern and Florence are identical triplets, all very different in personality. Florence is the soft, gentle, sensitive sweetheart, always wearing pink frocks and pink ribbons. She had made a hideout underneath Horace’s bed for an escape plan when she didn’t want to play. Fern was the one who tended to keep to herself, not really interacting with her other two sisters, but she was very smart for a four year old. She was always wearing purple. Finally, there was Faye. She was a ball of energy, bossing about her sisters and leading them around the house and leading them into the kitchen to invade the cupboards for sweets. She constantly wore blue.
“Horace, my son, how are you!” said his mother, her long brown hair spilling over her shoulders as she took Florence’s hand and lead her over to the rocking chair and placed her on her lap. Of course, the other two ran over and started to climb all over her to prove a point. Before Hoace could lift a finger, his Mother asked him “Horace, could you get the girls some lemon barley water?” Horace had to oblige. If he didn’t, the girls would go m e n t a l and tear up the house. Horace briskly left the playroom to fetch the girls’ lemon barley water, or as they called it, “spesull dooce”. ( translation; special juice ). Why couldn’t mother just do it? Horace thought huffily. They were her kids, her responsibility. He entered the kitchen, begrudgingly made the drink, sprinted back to the playroom and slammed the cups down on an old table decorated with the remains of the first Charlie Chaplin plushie, who died in the hands of Fluffy the pekingese
Horace pressed his armchair against his bedroom door to prevent further toddler invasions and took the Atlas out from under the bed. He flipped it open and admired the moving pictures; wondering how such technology was implanted in such a thin piece of paper. He knew who would be able to figure out this strange find. His father. Horace heaved open the door, weaved past the trooping toddler trio and made his way to the study, The Atlas tucked neatly under his armpit. He flew down the corridor like a greyhound on caffeine. He kicked open the door to the study, making a previously sleeping Fluffy yelp in shock and immediately fall back asleep, and his father to drop the latest copy of The Daily Tree. His father was a well groomed, handsome man, with chocolate brown hair and a moustache. He usually wore brown slippers, brownish – grey trousers, a red bow tie and a pea green sweater vest, and he always had a pipe in one hand, a newspaper in the other and fluffy at his feet. Horace’s father spoke;
“Hello son, how are you toda-”
“DAD LOOK AT MY BOOK!” Horace thumped the book into his father’s lap and winded him, but the book had changed. It was, once again, a copy of Cinderella from 1893. Horace’s father laughed and ruffled Horace’s hair.
“My boy, you are a wonder.”
“You really need to do something with your life, like actually getting friends.”
This statement cut Horace like a knife. He silently took his book and slumped off to his room, anger bubbling up inside of him. He wanted, no needed to escape this house. He couldn’t sneak out on his own without being caught. Unless… Horace opened the Atlas,now in its true form and put his finger on a random page.
Everything once again turned black and constricting, until he found himself in another strange location. He felt himself get hotter in the baking sun, and he was surrounded by bustling people speaking another odd language, spanish, maybe? He looked down and realised a horrible truth. The atlas was gone. He went into full panic mode, frantically getting on his hands and knees. He saw further up the street a colourful parade, with colourful headdresses, floats and a huge crowd following. He finally realised where he was. Rio de janeiro, Brazil. He didn’t have time to admire the beautiful parade and lush surroundings. He had to find the Atlas. He looked around frantically, left, right, up, down. He saw a man running towards the parade, Atlas in hand. The little thief. He picked himself up and shot off like a pea in a peashooter, sprinting down the cobbled paths and following the thief down the winding roads, the bright colours and the loud music getting further and further away, eventually becoming a muffled voice in an ocean of silence. He was lead to a rough part of the city called a Favela, a rough neighborhood which is basically huts stacked on top of eachother. He slithered past children, adults and dogs, following this man. The man tripped and dropped the atlas, so Horace picked it up and fumbled with the pages. He found his town and smacked the pace his town was. He felt a sharp pain on the back of his neck, and he started falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling…
He awoke in the hospital, his body aching all over and his neck in a collar. His family were standing over him, his mother close to tears and Florence was sitting on his stomach, the other two looking at her in jealousy . “What happened?”
“My boy” his father said, giving him a massive hug to end all hugs. Horace saw through his father’s grasp an old woman. By jove. It was Ms Roberts. She scuttled in and whispered something to the parents. The parents nodded and walked out the room with the triplets, or at least tried to as they pried Florence off the bed frame. Ms Roberts stood beside him, the atlas in her hand. She quietly scuttled over and placed the atlas on his bed. She nodded and uttered four words that would stick with Horace the rest of his life:
“The atlas chose you…”
She blinked at him, put a final mint in her mouth, and disappeared in a tornado of pages and ink, leaving Horace gobsmacked and the atlas twinkling in his lap…