I awoke next morning to the sound of The Nine O’Clock News on the radio and the smell of eggs frying in the pan, chicken soup, newly sliced onion and freshly baked bagels. It was Sunday – and not just any Sunday, but Palm Sunday.
I had to get ready for church quickly.
I sat up at once and immediately wished I hadn’t – the world spun, my temples pounded and my head felt at least six feet in circumference.
I heard a small chuckle behind me. “An’ ’ow’re we feeling this morning?”
“Like two penn’orth o’God ’elp me,” I replied, half moaning, half rasping.
“After Saturday night comes Sunday morning,” said Uncle Roddy as he sat down beside me, wearing yet another dandified suit, a bottle of aspirin and glass of water in hand. “Time t’rise an’ shine an’ pay the dues, lad.”
I took my left arm out of its sling, wincing a second as my left shoulder reminded me it was still there and still vulnerable, and took the bottle in hand, pouring out two aspirin.
But before I could put them in my mouth, Uncle Roddy handed me a tiny bottle of hot sauce.
“Just a sip, mate, no more – it’ll work wonders.”
I took the recommended sip, and instantly decided that Uncle Roddy and I had vastly different interpretations of the word “wonders.”
My throat was on fire, my temples broke into a sweat and my stomach jumped up and down on a pogo stick. I grabbed the glass of water, threw the aspirin in my mouth and drained the glass in the ensuing 10 seconds. For a second, I thought I was going to retch, but Uncle Roddy was ready with a soda water chaser.
Slowly, the tide ebbed, my stomach flopped back to its original position and lay still, my throat stopped sounding eight bell alarms, my head shrunk and cooled down, and my temples were down to a dull throb.
I silently swore that, when it came to wine, I’d never, ever – oh, never mind.
Uncle Roddy handed me a handkerchief to wipe my brow, straightened his hair again and went to the kitchen. I dabbed the bulk of perspiration away, and was just about to stuff the handkerchief into my shirt pocket when I felt a weight at the pocket’s base. I reached inside, catching my breath as I saw what I pulled out: Some bits of sand and seven minuscule diamond-like jewels. 
* * *
Auntie Gene shot Uncle Roddy a hard glance when Grammer remarked some moments later at breakfast that I was “eating like a bird this morning,” but Uncle Roddy quickly jumped in and said that the restaurant served the kind of food that “stuck to a boy’s ribs” and that I probably just wasn’t very hungry. Thankfully, after taking Auntie Gene’s bags and presents to his car, Uncle Roddy drove her and me to church – I doubt I’d have been up for the walk.
I’d chased down my “wee bit o’brekkie” with a pair of strong cups of tea, but still found myself nodding off in church to a comparatively insipid Palm Sunday service, hoping that no one noticed, singing the hymns a bit too vigorously in a pathetic attempt to counterfeit nonexistent enthusiasm.
In the course of an especially bad lapse of attention, my hymnal dropped to the floor, sliding under the pew in front of me in a way preventing my retrieval without severely disrupting its occupants. To my surprise, a second hymnal now stood in the same space where the first one had been. I picked it up quickly, surprised to find it bulkier and heavier than the previous book, but unable to discover the cause of the discrepancy.
I was certain I’d thumbed through all the pages in the course of my investigation, keeping me awake between hymns, but when we were requested to turn to the requisite page, I found the page bookmarked – with a bookmark I hadn’t seen before.
Attached to the bookmark was a large antique polished brass key, identical to the one I’d unlocked the mirror with in my dream.
A tiny note in a familiar hand was attached to the top of the key. It read:
Think you may find this key useful in rehearsing your various vocal projects, Reggie. Put the note back in the envelope and don’t lose it; when you need to know, it will give you the address of the lock it fits.
I quickly placed the bookmark, key and note inside the inner pocket of my coat. Then, I quietly warbled away, hoping that I was keeping a sufficiently low profile and that no one – save for Uncle Roddy, who’d noticed at once, but pretended he hadn’t – had seen what I’d done.
 I’ve kept them all within a small, inconspicuous cotton pouch. The exact location of that little pouch remains my little secret.
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018.