Incognito, Chapter Two: Peter James Connelly

 Peter James Connelly, born to George and Mary Connelly, was a very bored person. It’s difficult to find something to do when you’re the only twelve-year-old on the block, and no other twelve-year-olds would ever desire to play with such a nerd.
He was a rather small boy. He was short for his age, barely breaking five feet tall, and weighed much less than the average twelve-year-old. He was also incredibly smart, but this was ignored by both his teachers and his parents.
Peter was constantly hassled. At school, the bigger twelve-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds with more meat (or fat, as was sometimes the case) on their bones would hassle him to no end. The scrawny old teachers that smelled of rotten carrots and wore ugly sweaters repremanded him for doing insufficient schoolwork, although his work was usually superior.
His parents rarely had time to hassle him—always away at work until dinner. Sometimes Peter wouldn’t know where they were for a whole night, which meant the family didn't cuddle up on the couch to read books.
In place of parents to bother him, he had a sister to deal with at home. His younger sister, Annie (a deceptively sweet name), was always playing with his toys, many of which had personal memories and were easily broken. Annie constantly pestered, and, since she would whine to her parents if he did not, Peter would be forced to play with her.
Since Annie hated being outdoors, Peter found his solace in a tree in the family’s minuscule backyard in the city. There he would eat and read and do the vast majority of his thinking. Enjoyable though it was, it became difficult to find friends in an oak tree within a twenty foot square patch of grass.
So he spent most of his time looking at the roof of Mr. Barrow’s house, the neighbor who hated him when he sat on “his side of the tree” where acorns would drop on his roof and clatter down the gray shingles. Mr. Barrow complained that this would damage his roof, but Peter didn’t pay much attention to him anyway.
That morning, Peter Connelly was at school like most of the boys his age. It was late in Spring, in the month of May, and he was beginning to feel the warmth of the sun on his face through the classroom’s solitary window. He wished that his atrocious vomit-green collared shirt would disappear, and he could live in the world of the books waiting for him at home. But nothing could make school disappear, or the uncomfortable and ugly desk which matched the color of his shirt.
His scrawny teacher picked up a scrawny piece of chalk, and in wobbly, scrawny letters instructed the class to write notes on their next mathematics assignment.
“Your assignment numbers are rather, how would you say it, scrawny today, so you need not worry about having homework tonight,” the scrawny teacher said. The telephone (bulky, not scrawny) rang. The teacher picked it up with her scrawny hand and said in a rather scrawny voice, “Hello?”
Peter paid no heed. He didn’t want to hear the scrawny voice of the scrawny secretary on the other line. “Okay,” said the teacher. “Thank you. He will be down in a moment.”
She hung up the bulky telephone and said through scrawny lips, “Peter James. Office. Visitor.” Her voice was stern and cold.
“All right,” Peter said. Normally he would have loved to be anywhere but in his classroom. But of all places, he hated the School Office.
Peter made sure he walked as slowly as possible toward the Office, looking at each of the posters for choir events and fund raisers for the school paper until he stood before the heavy white door. Main Office, read a bland metal plate.
The superintendent was not scrawny. He was a thick man, great in stature with a heavy, jowly face. He always looked as if there was so much flesh contained beneath his skin that he was about to explode. The bald patch on his head (which covered most of the top) almost glowed red-hot.
“Peter Connelly?” he said.
“Yes?” Peter responded.
“That’s ‘Yes, Dr. Grodestack’ to you!” Dr. Grodestack said, the fat on his chin jiggling for few seconds after he said the words.
“Yes, Dr. Grodestack,” Peter said.
“You have some visitor—I don’t understand why they would visit during school. But that isn’t my business. Mr. Mattethias Milo.” Dr. Grodestack stepped aside, and there was an extremely tall and well-built man. He was wearing a shirt, a cornflower blue with extremely long sleeves, one of which was an annoyingly bright fuchsia.
His pants were so black and baggy that one couldn’t tell whether they were jeans or dress pants, and their bagginess covered his feet so Peter couldn’t see his shoes.
He was very old—his hands looked a collection of bendable twigs covered in dry skin. A pallid, thin face was framed by parted white wisps of hair, tied into a small ponytail in the back. He wore small, round, wire-rimmed glasses that made his gray eyes seem large. And Mattethias Milo had a broad smile across his kind face. “Hello, Peter,” he said in a small comforting voice.
“Uh...” Peter said.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m here,” the old man said. “You can call me Mattethias.”
“Mattethias,” Peter said absentmindedly. “What are you here for?”
“Yes. Well, I’m sorry to have to inform you, but your parents aren’t where you think they are.”
Peter was immensely confused. “What do you mean? They’re always at work during the day time and come home and make dinner at night. Where else could they be?”
“They are nowhere near here,” Mattethias said with a smile.
“They’re dead, aren’t they?” Peter said.
“Let’s hope not,” Mattethias said slowly, ever grinning. Dr. Grodestack peered from behind his desk with a deep scowl on his face.
“Well, then, where are they?” Peter said.
“The question is, where are you?”
“I’m right here in school.”
“Where do you want to be?”
“At home.”
“Well, then, let’s get you there.”
Mattethias beckoned. Peter hesitated. On one hand, he would love to get out of school. On the other, who in the world was this man?
“Come,” the old man said. His voice was so comforting that Peter could hardly say no.
Peter stepped closer to Mattethias. He reached a bony hand to Peter, who took it with caution.
Looking to the ground, Mattethias stopped abruptly.
“What—” Peter started.
Mattethias gripped Peter’s hand harder, and Mattethias led him forward quickly. Suddenly Peter heard Mattethias mumble something, and he found himself in front of his house, approaching the porch.
Mr. Barrow was standing out in his yard, pulling weeds from under his cement steps. He gave a wary eye to Peter. He was sure that he heard Mr. Barrow mumble something mean about boys skipping school.
“How did we get here so fast?” Peter asked.
Mattethias smiled. “Magic!”
Peter was used to adults’ sarcasm. “No, really, how?”
Mattethias looked at Peter quite seriously, and without another word he entered the house by the side door in the narrow alley between Mr. Barrow’s house and Peter’s. The old screen door smacked the side of Mr. Barrow’s house, but Mattethias showed no care about this on his thin and kindly face.
Peter felt insecure about Mattethias entering the house.
“Excuse me, Mr. Mattethias,” Peter said.
“You’re excused, but I won’t allow formalities such as Mister. You need only call me Mattethias.”
“Who are you? And what are we doing here?”
“We’re coming to your house to discuss something very important. And I am a customer of your parents,” Mattethias said.
“What do you mean?” Peter asked.
“I buy from your parents’ business. It’s a good one, too. Not only do I buy from them, I work for them as well. Best mapmakers in Tabbic—no, the whole island.” Mattethias grinned.
Peter looked on at him with total bewilderment. “But don’t they use computers to make maps nowadays?”
“Do you have any coffee?” Mattethias asked.
“It’s in the second cupboard in the kitchen,” Peter said. “Can we sit down? I’m quite confused.”
“No! No time to sit right now, not until I’ve brewed my coffee.” Mattethias swept across the room. He had a presence like a hawk, eyes darting in their sockets. Peter wondered if this man ever rested his gaze.
Mattethias opened the cupboard and put the bag of coffee grounds on the counter with flourish and agility unusual for a man his age. “I’d much prefer to grind whole beans myself….”
He filled a teapot with water and set it on the stove, closing the lid down with special flick of the fingers. He leaned against the counter.
Peter held an annoyed expression. “Well, are you going to explain anything?”
“Ah, yes,” Mattethias said. “Your parents have kept this hidden from you long enough. Tell me—where do they work?”
“At something like Bowie’s company—they’re in accounting I think,” Peter said. “I don’t pay much attention to it. Why?”
Mattethias chuckled darkly. “They definitely don’t work for any Bowie’s company.” His kind voice was firmer than it had been.
“Where could they work then?” Peter asked.
“I just explained it to you Peter! At Connelly & Connelly, fine map-making since 1972. They’re partners not only in marriage, but in business,” Mattethias said with great pride.
“Then why would that matter?” Peter said. “I mean, so what if they didn’t tell me that they were mapmakers. What does that mean?”
Mattethias laughed heartily. “No, no, no! It’s where they’re mapmakers that’s important,” he said. Mattethias appeared as if the soul of a giddy child had entered his frail body.
“Where, then?” Peter’s tone elevated.
“Your parents are indeed the finest mapmakers on the Island of Pimrise,” Mattethias said, “and they’ve hidden their real lives from you for years.”
Peter Connelly, who had considered his life abnormally dull, stared at Mattethias with the dumbest look he could muster.
“So you barge into my school and somehow got permission to take me out, then we go to my house (which was evidently unlocked) and tell me that my parents are mapmakers on some island?”
“And you expect me to believe you?”
Mattethias stroked his gray hair. “I don’t think you’ll believe me until I show you where they work,” Mattethias said. “Would you like to see it?”
Peter stared harder at Mattethias. “I don’t believe a word of what you’re saying. Who are you really? Get out of my house. I’ll call the police if you don’t.”
“I am exactly who I say I am,” Mattethias said. “I am Mattethias Milo. I myself have been the steward of a keep on the opposite side of the island where I live.”
“Yeah, right. Lunatic.” Peter felt defiant, now sure that this man meant him harm. He stepped back, thinking of what to do now, with a crazy man in his house.
Silently, Mattethias walked to the bookshelf at the end of the narrow, cluttered kitchen. He pulled out an old green book and flipped through it. Dust and little shreds of paper flicked through the air until…yes, in the center. A tri-folded piece of paper, old and yellowed, slid out from between the pages.
Mattethias unfolded the paper laid it flat on the counter beside Peter’s hand.
It was a map of an island, and the largest letters across the center said The Island of Pimrise.
“Look, in the corner,” Mattethias said.
Peter looked in the bottom right corner.
Connelly & Connelly, in his father’s signature, and below it, in his mother’s handwriting, Fine Mapmaking since 1972.
“I don’t believe it!” Peter.
Mattethias laughed. “You ought to.”

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