William Wenton and the Lost City
“William . . . ,” a voice said.
William rolled over and pulled his pillow over his head.
“William . . . ,” the voice said again. “You have to get up.”
“Just a couple minutes,” William grunted. “Just a couple more minutes.”
He sat up and looked around. He had bed head, and his eyelids felt heavy. He glanced at the laptop on his nightstand. His grandfather’s face smiled back at him from the screen.
“I’ll be in trouble with your mother if I don’t get you up on time,” his grandfather said. “So you’re going to have to get up no matter how tired you are.”
“I know, I know . . . ,” William mumbled, swinging his feet out of bed. The floor was cold, and he wanted to hide under his covers again. At the moment he thought his grandfather was lucky he was a computer program—he didn’t have to wake up in the morning.
“You need to be out the door in nineteen minutes,” his grandfather said.
William scrambled out of bed and found his clothes.
With both his mother and father at work, his grandfather was responsible for making sure William made it to school on time. Now that his father was able to get around without a wheelchair, thanks to the exoskeleton he had received from the Institute, he was working at the local museum. It was the same museum where William had cracked the world’s most difficult code a little over a year ago, and had his life turned upside down.
“How many days are left now?” William asked, pulling his sweater on over his head.
It had become a ritual they performed every morning. William knew the answer but liked to hear his grandfather say it anyway. He could hardly wait to get back to the Institute.
“Eleven days,” his grandfather said, smiling. “And you have fifteen minutes until your bus leaves. You should unplug me.”
William walked over to the laptop.
“Have a good day,” his grandfather said with a wink. “And keep out of trouble.”
“You too,” William said, and waved. He turned off the computer and pulled out the thumb drive.
Then he walked over to his grandfather’s old desk and carefully placed the thumb drive in the drawer before taking out a small key and locking it.
• • •
Ten minutes later, William was running down the driveway in front of his house. He’d buttered a slice of bread at the last minute, and as he turned onto the sidewalk, he took a big bite, then stopped abruptly. A man wearing a red uniform and a hat that was pulled down so far the visor hid his face was standing in front of him. He held a small gray package in his hands.
“William?” he said.
“William Wenton?” the man repeated, taking a step closer. He clicked as he walked. William glanced down at the man’s shoes. They were white and black. Was he wearing tap shoes?
William looked around. There was an old, dented red mail truck parked in the street, but otherwise it was completely deserted.
“I have a very important express delivery for William Wenton,” the man said. “Is that you?”
William forced himself to swallow the buttered bread in his mouth. “Yes,” he eventually replied.
“Do you have some ID?” the mailman said.
“Uh.” William thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out his bus pass.
“You don’t have one with a picture on it?”
“It says my name right there,” William said, pointing.
The mailman muttered something to himself as he carefully tucked the package under his arm and inspected the bus pass.
“All right,” he said after a moment, taking a step back. “I believe you. It’s an honor to finally meet you, young Master Wenton.” He bowed and tapped his shoes against the sidewalk a couple of times. Then he handed back the bus pass and held out the package. “Here you go.”
William took it and was surprised at how heavy it was.
“What is it?” he asked, shaking the package a little.
“Careful,” the mailman said. “It’s supposed to be handled with care. And you need to be alone when you open it.”
William tried to look into the mailman’s eyes, but the shadow from his visor still covered his face.
“Completely alone. This is not a dance for two.”
William suddenly heard his bus down the street.
“I have to go,” he said, and set out at a run for the bus stop.
“Handle with care!” he heard the man yell after him.
William reached the bus stop just as the bus doors slid open. As he climbed on, he turned and looked back toward his driveway. The mailman was still standing there staring at him, but by the time William found himself a seat and the bus drove past his house, the mysterious man was gone.