Later that night, after Lily and Matthew had left, and I had eaten dinner, I lay in my bed trying to fall asleep. No matter what I did, I just couldn't. Counting sheep didn't help, and neither did singing the ABC's backwards. Finally, I decided a midnight snack might help.
As I left my room, an odd smell wafted towards me. The doorway to my left hung ajar, and wreaths of blue smoke drifted out. That must be Uncle Mortimer's room, I mused, peeking in through the crack to make sure the room wasn't on fire.
Uncle Mortimer stood in the center of the room, surrounded by the smoke and... I squinted to make sure I got this right... floating books! Someone- or something- chanted words in a lilting foreign language.
The words rang in my head as I stumbled backwards, tripping over the couch and knocking over a lamp with a crash. The voices stopped and Uncle Mortimer came running out, frowning thunderously. When he saw me sprawled on the ground, his expression softened. He tried to help me up, but I shied away.
"Wh-what was that?!" I asked, gesturing wildly, frantically. "Those books were... were floating!" He sighed, trying to calm me down.
"Seth, you have to listen. Take a deep breath and try to relax." Once I had regained some semblance of calm, he began his story.
"Your father and I are what you would call wizards. We come from a place in Anaira." Seeing the confusion on my face, he shook his head. "Anaira isn't a place on Earth. Wizards come from a parallel world called Septhos, which is currently linked to Earth by the Gateway. Our family, along with a couple others, was sent by the Anairan High King through the Gateway to stop non-wizards from making it through the other way. If they did, well, you know the feds would storm us and take everyone and everything to Area 51." He paused, watching me with wide eyes. I guess I must have been in shock or something, because I had no idea what to say to this. "Seth, your father was a wizard, which means you are as well. Your mother knew this, but insisted on raising you on Earth, without magic, to protect you."
I blinked, still trying to take all of this in. "Protect me? From what?" Uncle Mortimer bit his lip and glanced away. I could swear I saw tears in his eyes, but he blinked, and they were gone.
"When we left Anaira with you in tow- because by then you were a mere five days old- another wizard attacked our convoy out of jealousy. Your father-"
"What was his name?" I asked, leaning forwards. "What was my father's name?" Uncle Mortimer's mouth opened and closed once without saying anything. "Please! Mum never told me anything about him," I pleaded. He nodded.
"His name was Esben. Esben Marks. He loved you a lot, you know." He paused again, clearly struggling with how to continue. After a minute, he took a deep breath and went on. "Well, your father threw up a protection, but not fast enough to save himself. The other wizard's spell fatally wounded Esben, but he made sure we made it through safely." His lips trembled, but he pressed on. "He wanted to watch you grow up. Become a man." Uncle Mortimer reached out and patted my shoulder awkwardly, sitting next to the overturned lamp. With a single gesture, the fire roared up from the embers and began crackling comfortingly. I wordlessly moved closer to the fire, drawing my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them. "Esben named you," he blurted out. "He always wanted a son named Seth. When you were born, he was ecstatic. He never stopped smiling." Uncle Mortimer chuckled.
"What did he look like?" He frowned, thinking hard.
"I have a photo somewhere," he muttered, jumping up and searching through the shelves of a bookshelf next to the couch.
He came back a couple seconds later with a crumpled paper. On it was a photo of a tall, muscular man. He had a shock of dark red hair that fell in waves over one of his bright green eyes. His smile spread practically from ear to ear, an infectious grin that made me smile as well. My mother, or a younger version of her, at least, leaned on him. She was smiling too. With a jolt, I realized the man held a baby in his arms. "Is that...?"
"That's you, Seth." I glanced up at him, tightening my hold on the picture. "You can keep that." He smiled at me, enveloping me in a surprise bear hug. "Go to sleep. I'll tell you more in the morning, promise," he whispered. I nodded, clutching the photo to my chest, and made my way back to my room. Just outside the door, I paused to glance back at my uncle.
"Thank you," I said. "Thank you, Uncle Mortimer." He looked up at me, in the middle of picking up the lamp.
"There's nothing to thank me for," he replied. With a smiled, I went inside, shut the door, and lay down on my bed. Almost immediately, I fell asleep- the photo of my family clenched in my hand.