There’s always something special for a child on moving day. A new house, new areas to explore, and being the oldest child getting to call dibs on the room of your choice.
“Moving day, moving day, moving day!” shouted Christopher as he ran through the house. There was an unspoken rule that on moving day a child had the first twenty minutes to run around the house and explore every room without question. Closet doors were flung open, lights were turned on, basements and attics were explored without fear. Christopher was twelve and his younger brother John was ten and their younger sister Maliree was three.
“John lets go!” said Christopher. As they took off running from room to room and floor to floor.
“What room are you gonna take?” asked John
“Don’t rush me, I’ll figure it out in a minute.” scolded his older brother.
“Eew, this room is already painted pink. That’s no! Sis can have this one,” said Christopher
“Stop running upstairs boys!” Yelled their mother. The two slowed their pace to fast walking but slow walking was impossible.
“Wow! I want this room,” said John.
“Never gonna happen, this is the biggest room and it’ll be mom and dads.” Christopher snickered.
“It would make sense to me if I had it. There’s a bathroom right inside and I could go whenever I needed too.” Answered John. He wasn’t going to admit it but on occasion, he still had an accident in the bed at night, but he was working on it. He knew his brother would pick on him endlessly so he never told him. Instead John turned away from the room with defeat in his eyes. He’d have to find another way to overcome his problem.
While John was standing at the door to his parent's bedroom Christopher found a room in the back of the house next to the stairs going up to the attic. The stairs separated this bedroom from the hallway bathroom. Something about this room was different. At first glance Christopher knew he’d seen something odd but he didn’t understand it right away. He walked around the room grazing his fingers along the old wallpaper. The room was large enough to have two windows and outside he could see the neighbors house. He walked to the closet and opened the door and found a few old wire hangers inside but nothing else but dust. He stepped out into the hallway and looked both right and left. Up the stairs and down the hall. He looked at the bathroom and at the hall closet next to the room that would be John’s if Christopher had any to say about it. Something was different but he couldn’t figure it out.
Christopher turned slowly in a circle and looked at every detail. This was an old house. Maybe a hundred years old or more. There was fancy wood trim everywhere, and a decorative wood trim that separated wallpaper from the top and the wood panels on the bottom. His father later told him it’s called chair rail. Of course Christopher couldn’t understand how anyone could sit on or hang a chair off of it. The wood was too narrow. He’d have to figure this out some other time. He was deep in thought when his brother John came over to look into the room behind him.
“Hey, what’s this room look like?”
“It looks like my room. So stay out!” Christopher said sharply
“What, I can’t even look at it?” asked John
“You can look but I’m claiming it for mine; and don’t touch anything.”
John didn’t understand what he was going to touch. The room was empty. John reached out his hand now and again to touch the wall or the window sill to spite his brother’s demands. He made it around the room and back out the door. He hadn’t noticed anything particular about this room and went to the bathroom and then the room across the hall.
“I like this one,” said John.
“It’s all yours,” said Christopher as he stepped back into his room and walked around. He couldn’t get it off his mind. His room was different somehow and he went to his brother's room to see if he saw the same thing. His brother’s room looked perfectly normal. He had two windows facing the neighbor’s house and another two facing the back yard. Christopher was almost disappointed he’d not looked in this room first. He was impressed with the size. He looked out the windows and enjoyed the views and he felt maybe he should change his mind and give his brother the smaller one. Maybe even give the room to his baby sister. His parents could always paint the pink walls a different color.
“John, Christopher! Let’s go get some lunch.” Their mother called. This stopped them thinking about the rooms and they moved on to more important things. At their age food was always tops.
Sitting down at lunch Christopher and John fought over the window seat and John won because he’d gotten there first.
“So boys, what do you think of the new house? Do you like it?” asked their father. With mouths full and heads shaking the boys agreed they liked it. Christopher was still thinking about his room and how different it was to the others. He’d found something different but he still couldn’t figure out what it was until John started talking about his room again.
“And I have windows all around. With a huge closet. It’s the best.” said John. Windows thought Christopher. That’s what’s missing in his room: the back windows. Why did John have them and he didn’t? He was deep in thought about this when his mother interrupted him.
“Chris, are you in there?” she mocked. “What do you think about your room? Which one did you take?”
“I took the one to the right of the stairs but I don’t know. I might take Johns. I might like that one better.” he mumbled between bites of fires.
“Hey, that's not fair. You chose the other room, and you said I couldn’t touch anything in there, but I did when you weren’t looking. I touched the walls and the window sill, and the closet door and everything. Nothing you could do about it.” John said triumphantly.
“Whatever nerd. It’s a room and I don’t have to have it if I don’t want to, I’m the oldest,” answered Christopher.
“OK, boys. That’s enough or I’ll choose who gets what room.” their father said.
After lunch they returned to the new house and waited for the moving truck to come. Christopher was still looking at his room and wondered why he didn’t have windows on his back wall, and his brother did. Looking high and low he couldn’t find anything different about the room. The walls looked the same and the old hardwood floors looked the same. Then it dawned on him to look outside and see if there even were windows out the back of his room. Running outside he ran to the back of the yard and looked up to see there were windows back there, but no way to see in them or why. His eyes lit up as an idea hit him. He ran to the kitchen under his room and looked around for another set of stairs but couldn’t find any. He even went into the basement again and couldn’t find any additional reason why there would be windows at the back of his room but no way to get to them. Before walking back up Christopher almost thought he might ask his dad and mom for some help. He walked to the front porch and looked at them but changed his mind.
After a minute he thought about it and realized he’d not looked in the closet. Running up to his room, his parents telling him to slow down going up the steps, he pounded his way back down the hall and closed the bedroom door. Flinging open the closet and pulling on the chain light he looked around but it looked like a wall and nothing different. Then he looked at the floor and saw some scrape marks where something had been moved in a half-circle. Looking down further he didn’t see a lot of marks, only some moving from left to right. He tapped on the wall and it sounded hollow. He pushed in the center and then on the right side. The wall moved. The movement scared him a little but it excited him more. His original idea was right. There was a hidden room behind the wall of his bedroom. Pushing harder the door slid open fairly easy and light from the windows shone in. What he found made his heart race with excitement. There was a room as long as his with a ceiling as high as his, but it had furniture in there with bookshelves. The little room had an old leather chair that looked to be a hundred years old and covered in dust. There were cobwebs and dust all over the place. The bookshelves had hundreds of books lined top to bottom from one end to the other with books he’d never heard of before. Candles were hanging on the wall that had been used at one time; they were half-burned but still usable. The windows had curtains to pull down over them and there were some stone masks of old people up high. There were items on the top of the shelves that looked like bones and large shark teeth. This was the most amazing discovery he’d ever had in his life. He walked around the room and checked out the books. Most were children's books but they were very old and some had titles he’d never heard of in school. He read some allowed. “The Iliad, The Odyssey, The adventures of Jason and the Argonautica, The Three Musketeers, Heidi, Robinson Crusoe, The House that Jack Built, and Fifty Fables of Children.” The books went on and on and Christophers' eyes shined as bright as the sun. This room was a reading room for a kid from a hundred years ago. He couldn’t believe it.
As he looked around he thought he’d never tell anyone about this room. He didn’t have to because no one knew it was there but him. If he wanted to hide there away from his little brother and sister he could all day and no one would bother him. He reached the other end of the room and noticed a narrow set of stairs leading up to the attic. If his day wasn’t exciting enough it was about to get better. He climbed up the steps, his tennis shoes leaving footprints in the dust as he went. At the top he found a room in the attic. There was a round window shining light through. The room had a small desk, a chair, a globe so big it had to sit on the floor. Christopher's body shook with excitement. He saw an old wooden telescope to look out the window at the stars. He saw maps on the wall showing places marked with pins and strings leading to pictures. Under the window was an old trunk with books and papers on top. Hand-drawn pictures hung from the ceiling and another bookshelf with more books about countries, and an atlas titled “The Known World, 1863 - 1894” Whoever had this room was into exploring the world and space.
Christopher was in a world of his own. He’d found something he’d never forget and wanted to keep it a secret. He used to be into video games and watching television. After what he’d found today, his first day in his new house, he didn’t think he’d ever use those things again. Looking out the round window he had a view over the houses behind him and the street below clear to the old churches that sat downtown. He saw his dad walking out back to the garage and look inside. Pulling back quickly so he wasn’t seen he knocked some old books off the old trunk. One fell open and there were words written inside in neat but child-like handwriting. The first page he read had a date on it 3 July 1908. The note that followed read:
Watched Mr. and Mrs. Alexander’s cat Bartlbey enter the house by the kitchen door, with a mouse. The cook shewed Bartlbey out the door and disposed of the mouse in the waste bin outside. Looking down at the street corner, I’m still watching for the 1901 Albion with the license plate 3-812. No other locomobiles have passed today, one delivery man with a horse cart and milkman and his milk cart. It rained for 24 minutes and then the sun shone. The street was muddy when Mrs. Appleton walked downtown. Father is calling me for supper. End of notes Michael.
This made the whole experience even more exciting. Christopher knew the name of the boy who lived here a hundred years ago. Looking around the room he tried to imagine what this other young man looked like. He wondered how old he was when he lived here and when he started writing these notes. All this and more made Christopher curious so he looked around the room for any sign of a picture or a drawing of Michael from 1908. Opening drawers on the desk he found toys, and keepsakes, notes, and letters, magnifying glass and pencils. Things he expected he’d find in the drawers. He went back to the trunk and picked up other books full of notes and stories of mischief. There were old magazines with adventure stories in them and a few more books, a lot of papers with drawings on them explaining stars, animals, and other locations Michael from 1908 had traveled too. Turning to the bookshelf he saw high up in a small frame a picture of a young man. Christopher grabbed a chair and stepped up and looked at the young man. Prying off the back of the frame he read the photograph. Michael C. E. Williams 1905; age 10.
The moving trucks arrived and Christopher returned to his bedroom holding the picture and the notebook he’d found. He left them inside his closet and closed the door. As the movers unloaded the truck Christopher helped pick his boxes and take them upstairs to his room. He wasn’t thinking about the job at hand because he was thinking about the boy named Michael who lived in this room before him. His mind raced trying to figure out what might have happened to him. Was he still alive? How come no one had found his stuff. Then he thought about the dates and realized the guy would have to be 125 years old. He kept thinking about the dates on the notebook and the date on the picture. That meant Michael was only 10 years old just like John when he wrote about Bartleby the cat and that old car. When he was finished unpacking he wanted to start cleaning the dust off the bookshelves and upstairs. He wanted to look through all the books and read as many as he could. He was excited to read through more of the notebooks and see what he could learn about life back in the 1900s.
He rushed through his unpacking, had his bed made, and clothes were thrown in a drawer. He made a half-hearted attempt to put his stuff in a place they would be neat but dealt with later. As the day crossed into night Christopher ate a quick meal of delivery pizza and ran back to his room to start reading the notebook again. Barely a page into the stories and his eyes grew tired and he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning he woke up and had breakfast. His mother told him he needed to do a better job at organizing his room because it wasn’t going to stay like that forever. This is a new house not the old one. Christopher didn’t like it because he had to know more about Michael. He worked hard and found a way to make everything look good so his mother wouldn’t complain. He ran back into the room after she’d left and grabbed more notebooks. He sat in his room for hours that day reading more and more about this kid Michael. After a while he felt as if the boy was a friend he’d only met in letters. By the end of the notebooks Christopher learned that the car he’d been looking for never showed up again and he couldn’t tell Mr. Miller who the man was that splashed mud on his wife’s dress. He talked more about Bartleby up until the day he died. He talked about the stars and the adventures he’d had from state to another and the trip to London, Paris, and Africa. The notebooks told of everything the boy did from a young age. He’d had more adventures in his life than Christoper ever did at the same age. He’d met real American Indians, seen the Eiffel Tower, rode on a camel, and even shot a gun on a safari. Christopher came to the last page in the middle of the last notebook. All the questions he’d had about Michael made sense now.
1 April 1912
Today I leave for London with my parents and brother Simon to see England, Scotland, and Wales. We’re all looking forward to seeing Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards. Mother wants to visit relatives in Scotland while my father wants to see an uncle in Wales. We are very excited and can’t wait for our return trip. Father has booked the whole family in cabins on the RMS Titanic. Farewell Michael.