The chronicles of harris.., p.12
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       The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, p.12

           Chris Van Allsburg
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  Don't look up in worry. Don't knock the walls to confirm that they are solid. Just turn the page slowly. They're watching.

  Don't show them that you know. Please. Don't show them a thing.

  Captain Tory

  He swung his lantern

  three times and slowly the schooner appeared.



  Every morning Captain Tory ate a cinnamon doughnut at the doughnut shop on Church Street, three doors down and across the street from the hardware store. Paul and his mother lived in the apartment above the hardware store, and at 6:17 Paul would look out his window to see Captain Tory leave the doughnut shop and head toward the wharf. "Captain Tory!" he'd shout, and the captain would stop, look around a bit puzzled, and then, seeing Paul in the second-story window, he'd wave. Paul always waved back. He would continue to watch as Captain Tory made his way past the old stone church that gave the street its name and disappear around the corner.

  No one had ever seen Captain Tory actually enter the doughnut shop, which didn't open for business until seven. Vanessa LaRouche, the woman who owned the place, would simply turn around and there he'd be, sitting on a stool at the counter. Even after nine years, it still made her heart jump (although she regained her composure more quickly than the first time she saw him). "What can I get you this morning?" she would ask.

  "Do you have a cinnamon doughnut?"

  "I believe I do."

  "And a cup of coffee, if you would be so kind."

  "Would you like cream with that?"

  "Just a touch."

  The fact that he never paid for the doughnut didn't disturb Vanessa. She assumed money was impossible for him, and considered his morning visits a sort of blessing. Indeed, she would be sorry if he failed to appear. Captain Tory had died one hundred and sixty-five years ago when his schooner got lost in the fog and smashed into the rocks below Lookout Point.

  Vanessa imagined he had been taking that same walk down Church Street every day for the past one hundred and sixty-five years. His routine must have changed to some degree over the years, however, she reasoned, since the doughnut shop had been in business less than a decade.


  Paul's mother owned the hardware store, but she said it was the other way around: "The store owns me." When she wasn't attending to customers, she was managing inventory, ripping apart boxes, updating the window displays, or hauling around fifty-pound bags of cement. She spent most evenings on the computer, desperately trying to balance her accounts. Ten months ago, a giant discount hardware warehouse had opened less than three miles away, and she had to work twice as hard just to keep the store above water. Paul helped out when possible, but besides sweeping the sidewalk in front of the store twice a week, there was only so much a seven-year-old boy could do. She wouldn't let him work the cash register until he turned ten.

  Paul's father had died two weeks after Paul's third birthday. Paul's only vivid memory of him was one time, when he was watching his father shave, his father put shaving cream on Paul's face too.

  When Paul's father died, Paul's mother, an ex-dancer who had only just recently moved from New York City, found herself to be the unlikely owner of the hardware store. At the time, she didn't know a ratchet from a flange.

  But Paul's mother was a "smart cookie." Paul had heard a man call her that, and he would smile whenever the phrase came to mind. His mother learned not only the names of every tool and piece of hardware in the store, but also how they were supposed to be used—correctly. Paul felt a sense of pride whenever he listened to her give detailed instructions on how to fix a leaky faucet or patch a section of drywall.

  My mother is a smart cookie.


  At a quarter past six, Paul, in his flannel dinosaur pajamas, was looking out his window. The sky was still dark, and the streetlights were dulled by a foggy mist.

  Because of the overhang, Paul couldn't see the door to the doughnut shop, but he'd be able to spot Captain Tory as soon as he stepped out onto the sidewalk.

  He glanced at the clock by his unmade bed just as the time changed from 6:16 to 6:17. He waited. He was still waiting at 6:18. And at 6:19.

  Paul felt anxious. This had never happened before. Captain Tory was always on time.

  At 6:24, Paul was about to put on his jacket and go to the doughnut shop when at last Captain Tory emerged. Paul had a lump in his throat from all his worrying, and it prevented him from shouting out his usual greeting. As he collected himself, he watched Captain Tory suddenly turn, cross the street, and walk directly toward him. Paul's view became blocked by the blue and white awning that hung above the store, but a moment later he heard what sounded like a knock on the door below.

  Paul burst into his mother's bedroom and shook her awake. "You have a customer!"


  "Downstairs," Paul said. "At the store"

  "What time is it?" she asked groggily as she squinted at her clock. "It's not even six thirty!" She pulled the covers over her head.

  "It's Captain Tory!" said Paul.

  His mother peeked out from under the covers. "Captain Tory, here?"


  Paul's mother stumbled into the bathroom, where she splashed some cold water on her face. She was still putting on her bathrobe as Paul dragged her out to the utility room behind the kitchen. "I didn't even brush my teeth," she complained.

  A narrow stairway led from the utility room to the back room of the hardware store. Three steps from the bottom, Paul's mother pulled on the chain for the overhead light bulb, and then she and Paul made their way around a row of filing cabinets and several stacks of boxes. Paul switched on the main store lights.

  They could see the silhouette of a man on the other side of the shade covering the glass door at the front of the store. "Make sure it's him," said Paul's mother. "I'm not opening the door for any Tom, Dick, or Harry."

  Paul suddenly felt a little scared as he slowly approached the door. His mother was just a few steps behind him. He pulled back the shade just enough to peek out.

  Captain Tory stood straight and tall. He wore a thick wool coat and heavy boots. His neatly trimmed beard and mustache gave his face a distinguished quality, despite its ruddy color and the two-inch scar beneath his right eye.

  "It's him," said Paul.

  His mother adjusted her robe, then pushed back a few wisps of hair from her face. "Open it," she said, speaking barely louder than a whisper.

  The bell jingled above him as Paul opened the door.

  Captain Tory removed his cap and held it against his chest. An unlit lantern was in his other hand.

  "Good morning," he greeted them.

  "Good morning," said Paul's mother.

  Paul stood next to his mother, and without being aware of it, found himself holding her hand.

  "I'm very sorry to bother you," said the captain. "I realize your establishment usually doesn't open quite this early in the morning."

  "It's fine," said Paul's mother.

  "I seem to have run out of kerosene," said Captain Tory.

  "Kerosene," repeated Paul's mother.

  "For my lamp. I'd be most appreciative."

  "I can show him," said Paul, suddenly regaining his courage. "I know where it is."

  With Paul leading the way, the threesome made their way through the aisles. "There's quite a bit of fog this morning," the captain said. "I will need a bright light and a keen eye."

  The kerosene was too high for Paul to reach. He pointed it out to Captain Tory, who retrieved the can from the shelf. The captain, however, seemed baffled by the plastic safety tab, and Paul's mother had to open it for him.

  "Talented as well as lovely," said Captain Tory.

  Paul noticed his mother's face turn pink.

  Captain Tory poured enough kerosene to fill his lamp, then handed the can back to Paul's mother.

  She placed the can on a shelf behind the register. "I'll save it for you, for next time," sh
e said.

  "Much obliged," said Captain Tory.

  "Are you going to be sailing past Lookout Point?" Paul asked.


  "Be careful," warned Paul's mother.

  Captain Tory smiled and tipped his cap. The bell jingled as he left the store.

  A moment later, Paul and his mother stepped out into the empty street and watched him walk away. As he turned onto Pine, all they could see was his lantern, gently swinging through the fog.


  He was back the following morning. "I'm very sorry to bother you. I realize your establishment usually doesn't open quite this early in morning. I seem to have run out of kerosene."

  By his third visit, Paul's mother had already brushed her teeth, and she and Paul were dressed and waiting for him.

  "I realize your establishment doesn't—"

  "You need some kerosene for your lamp," Paul's mother interrupted.

  "Well, yes. There's quite a bit of fog this—"

  "And you need a keen eye and a bright light to sail around Lookout Point."

  "Exactly so," said Captain Tory.


  One week later as Captain Tory was leaving the store, Paul slipped quietly into the back room, then on out the door. He raced through the alley and reached the street just as Captain Tory was walking past the old church.

  "Captain Tory, wait up!"

  The captain stopped and looked back. He waited as Paul hurried up alongside him.

  As they approached Pine Street, Paul kept his eyes fixed on Captain Tory, whose form seemed to be mingling with the mist. His beard became blurred. His coat seemed to be enshrouded with fog. Before he could completely fade away, Paul reached out and grabbed the captain's hand.

  At first touch, it felt something like a burlap glove filled with feathers, but as Paul held on, the hand seemed to firm up, along with the rest of Captain Tory. When they turned onto Pine Street, he was as tangible as he had been back at the hardware store.

  Paul smiled at Captain Tory, who smiled back.

  "It must be tough to grow up without a father," the captain said to him.

  "Me and my mom do okay," said Paul.

  "Can't be easy for her," said the captain. "Running a business and raising a child all by herself."

  "She's a smart cookie," said Paul.

  "Aye, that she is."

  "She's pretty too," said Paul.


  The fog was beginning to lift when they reached the harbor. Paul could see the lights from the houses on the other side of the bay. There were a few commercial fishing boats, and some private yachts anchored to the docks, but no schooner.

  He wondered what Captain Tory would do.

  "If you want, you can come back home with me?" Paul suggested. "We have an extra room. You can help out around the store, and my mom's a great cook."

  "That's a mighty tempting offer," said the captain. "But my crew is waiting for me." He swung his lantern three times and slowly the schooner appeared.

  Paul watched it silently glide to a stop against a dock. He waited on the jogging path above the harbor as Captain Tory went down to it and climbed aboard. Paul heard him calling out instructions to his crew as the schooner moved lightly across the water, in the direction of Lookout Point, then slowly faded from view.


  Change happens, sometimes slowly, sometimes in sudden bursts. The following morning, Captain Tory was back again at the hardware store, but instead of a lantern, he held a bouquet of daisies. Within six months he was living in the extra room and proving to be a great help around the store.

  Whenever Vanessa LaRouche heard people in the doughnut shop gossip about Paul's family, she would tell them it was none of their business. And while she was sorry that Captain Tory no longer frequented her establishment, every morning she would put a cinnamon doughnut in a white paper bag and leave it outside the door of the apartment above the hardware store.

  Oscar and Alphonse

  She knew it was time to send them back.

  The caterpillars softly wiggled in her hand,

  spelling out "goodbye."


  The Farkas Conjecture


  The Farkas Conjecture was named for Joseph Farkas (1892—1945), a brilliant and eccentric theoretical physicist who fled Munich in 1939, narrowly escaping the predations of the Nazis. His fate remained a mystery until 1952, when a Swedish naturalist studying the migratory patterns of elk along the Kalixalven River came upon the collapsed remains of a small cabin.

  Beneath the pile of bleached and broken birch logs, the naturalist discovered a brass box that contained the journals of Farkas. In them, the scientist had not only described his years of isolation in the Swedish wilderness, but had also laid out the conjecture that has bedeviled the greatest minds in science for more than half a century.

  In the journals' final entry, dated April 18, 1945, Farkas indicates he has found the solution to the problem, but feels, before writing it out, that he must check the fishing lines he has hung through holes he'd cut in the frozen surface of the river.

  Records indicate the spring of 1945 was unusually mild in the northern parts of Sweden. It is assumed Farkas unintentionally and for eternity joined the fish in the frigid waters of the Kalixalven.

  One might describe the Farkas Conjecture as the Mount Everest of unproven scientific theorems, except that Mount Everest has been scaled countless times and not a soul has come close to standing atop the Farkas Conjecture.

  It has certainly not been for want of trying. Armies of mathematicians and physicists have spent the better part of their lives and careers, some might even say their sanity, trying to discover an approach that will lead them to the summit of this great puzzle of all puzzles.

  What drives them on is their belief that a solution will lead to unprecedented insights into the nature of the physical world, insights with rewards that can scarcely be imagined. Some have claimed that a complete understanding of the conjecture could allow man to control gravity and even manipulate time.

  Among the most passionate and dedicated believers in the hidden power of the Farkas Conjecture was the father of thirteen-year-old Alice Randolph. Dr. Julius Randolph was a world-renowned professor of physics who had turned his obsession, his "Farkas fever," into a family business. He sent each of Alice's three older brothers off to college to earn advanced degrees in math and physics. He then summoned them back to the family home every summer. There, the four of them would spend hours in the professor's blackboard-lined study, opening the door only to receive pots of coffee from Alice's mother and to release the clouds of chalk dust produced by their incessant calculations.

  Though Professor Randolph had pushed his daughter to follow in her brothers' footsteps, the child simply did not have "a head for numbers" What really held her interest, as her father put it, was "communing with nature."

  This was true. For a child her age, Alice was unusually content to spend prolonged periods alone, sitting in the backyard, leaning against a tree and gazing into the distance, or strolling through the woods behind the old Randolph home.

  It was on one of these walks that Alice found herself beside a small stream that ran through the woods near her home. She spotted a bird circling just above a leaf that was being carried along in the stream's current. Precariously balanced on the leaf were two caterpillars. Alice knelt beside the water's edge, scaring away the bird and rescuing the two wet and fuzzy creatures.

  She placed them on a sunlit rock. Once they'd dried out, they began to move. Alice watched them closely and saw they positioned themselves to form the letter t. "That's strange," Alice thought to herself. Then they wiggled around and formed an h. This was followed by an a and an n, until they had spelled out "thank you."

  Alice lowered herself close to the caterpillars and whispered, "You're welcome." They lay perfectly still. "Are you all right?" Alice asked. They spelled out, slowly, "very hungry."<
br />
  "Of course you are," Alice answered. She gathered up a handful of choice leaves and placed them on the rock. The caterpillars started chewing eagerly. "I know why you are so hungry," she told them. "It's because soon you're going to have to make yourselves cocoons and turn into butterflies!"

  The instant Alice said this she felt silly, because of course if anyone knew about that sort of thing, it would be caterpillars. They stopped eating and answered politely, "yes true hard to believe," they paused for a moment, "we are not sure we will make it."

  Alice understood. They'd certainly had a close call before she rescued them. "I can take care of you until you are ready," she told them, and rose to her feet. "Will you wait here for me until I come back?" The caterpillars seemed to confer, and then spelled out, "yes we are grateful."

  Alice ran to her house and found an empty glass jar. She poked holes into its lid, then hurried back to the rock. Her new friends were still there. She filled the jar with leaves, then set it sideways on the rock. "You'll be safe in here," she told them. The first caterpillar wiggled into the jar and Alice said, "I think I'll call you Oscar." As his companion joined him she added, "and you will be Alphonse."

  Alice was very excited to show her family the spelling caterpillars. She knew her brothers and father were hard at work, but certainly they would want to meet Oscar and Alphonse.

  When she went into the study she could tell they were annoyed by her interruption. "But look!" she said. "Look at what I have." The men gathered around Alice as she opened the jar.

  "Why, it's just a couple of caterpillars," one of her brothers said. "Wait, just wait," Alice told them.

  Oscar and Alphonse wiggled out of the jar and onto the top of a worktable that was covered with sheets of paper bearing endless equations and calculations. The caterpillars stopped moving, and Alice spoke to them. "Go ahead, spell something. Say hello." She gave them a little nudge with her finger, but they just lay there, lifting their tiny heads toward the chalkboards but otherwise remaining motionless. Alice looked up at her brothers, her father, who had already turned away and resumed his work, chalk stick in hand.

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