The Face in the Wallpaper

Many people experience that cold, clammy moment when they inexplicably glimpse something extraordinary in an everyday household item.

In an odd shaft of light, a kettle can be transformed into a dangerous alien weapon, and the silhouette of a harmless pot plant resemble a triffid.

Laurence was a sensible seven-year-old. Dylan, his older brother, was the one troubled by teenage hormones, which made him intense one moment and screech at some imagined slight the next.

But Laurence could also peer into that mysterious dimension beyond reality. As well as able to see the extraordinary in mundane items, he knew his future. He would never be bothered by acne and appalling school reports.

This gave the seven-year-old a calm demeanour which worried his parents. On one hand they were proud and relieved to have at least one son who was polite and caused no trouble. On the other, for a boy of his age, it didn’t seem natural. Laurence kept his bedroom tidy, went to bed when he should do, and always ate his vegetables... There had to be something wrong with him, but why complain when the other son was more than enough to cope with?

During an unguarded moment it had crossed the mind of Martin, Laurence's father, that his mother had been unfaithful with an alien life form. But that was ridiculous, as he would have been first to admit, especially as Martin was the one who had an uncle with similar personality traits. The DNA that explained Laurence’s behaviour probably came from his side of the family.

Uncle Marmaduke had been an odd one; obsessively tidy, immaculately mannered, and mad as a March hare.

His favourite pastimes were painting the outside walls of the family home in patchwork colours and, after the local council condemned it as an eyesore and he was obliged to paint them magnolia, he took to topiary. The shapes of huge teddy bears began to appear in the local hedgerows and bushes of untidy gardens.

No one complained. Most people thought it cheered up the neighbourhood, but having to admit that he was related to Uncle Marmaduke did have its uncomfortable moments. Martin could only hope that Laurence didn’t develop these eccentric traits and become the resident oddball.

Perhaps some-father-to-son interaction would divert the seven-year-old’s attention to more boyish activities before it occurred to him to paint the school railings fluorescent orange, or a landing pad for UFOs in the school playground.

So Martin suggested that they change the wallpaper in Laurence's bedroom. At that moment its friendly ducks and fluffy bunnies were more suited to a nursery. Most seven-year-olds would have protested about it by now, but Laurence needed to be persuaded to consider something more Star Wars... Jedi knights and Death Stars etcetera - though probably not Ewoks.

Being a polite, ready-to-please child, Laurence acquiesced to satisfy his father, though insisted on something more decorative, if not a little weird. His choice of wallpaper was full of leaves and tendrils. It was very green and glowed eerily in the dark. No light sabres or battles against the Dark Side for Laurence - he was apparently more interested in the Green Side.

This was fine, and quite gratifying from Martin’s point of view as he was concerned about climate change. Dylan, his older son, had never grasped the basics of recycling, let alone the use of a waste bin for crisp wrappers. Although, once the paper was hung, the sinister leafy shapes reflected in the wardrobe mirror were enough to give Martin hallucinations. He knew that Laurence wouldn't have so much as a bad dream. Somehow this weird, green forest was his son's natural element. So Martin left him to rearrange the room to show off the wallpaper to its best advantage.

Spending time with his youngest son had been a strange experience.

That evening, as usual, Laurence went to bed on time and read a few pages of Harry Potter, before turning off his bedside lamp to gaze at the glow in the wallpaper facing his bed.

As the full moon filled the space left by the curtains half drawn over the French window there was a movement in the thicket of leaves. Lights flickered deep in their depths... and came closer.

“So you found the right wallpaper, little elf,” said a distant voice.

“My father thinks it's odd - but that's alright.”

There was a raucous laugh. “He remembers his Uncle Marmaduke!”

“Shush...” warned Laurence. “We have to keep our voices down. They’ll soon come up to check that I'm asleep.”

“Do they still do that?”

“They have to check on Dylan because he plays games or watches TV all night, or even runs off until morning. He would only throw a tantrum if they didn't check on me as well.”

“Your big brother sounds quite a problem?”

“He's really horrible; a big bully who posts vile messages on Facebook.”

“Shall we spirit him away for you?”

“Not tonight, thank you.”

“We can do to him what we did for you.”

“But that was good. He wouldn't understand it.”

A pointed, mischievous face peered from the tendrils. “What would your parents say if they knew?”

“Mother has no idea, but dad thinks there is something odd about me. He might even believe it if I told him.”

“That would not be a good idea.”

But Laurence had no intention of telling anyone that he possessed elfin powers which had opened up a magical world, and that he now belonged to the elemental dimension of Nature's realm.

Laurence soon realised that living things would not thrive without the sprites who had found him happily burbling in his cradle when he was just four weeks old.

He had only been left for a few moments in the garden. Martin had to answer an urgent call and didn't want to wake him. The elfin world had also gifted his Uncle Marmaduke with strange powers. The eccentric had died before Laurence could meet him, but he was always there, smiling, slightly maniacally, from the hedgerows and spring flowers.

Laurence and Uncle Marmaduke were like minds. They recoiled at all forms of cruelty and damage inflicted on the environment, unable to look into the wonder of Nature's realm and refuse to care about it, unlike Dylan, the ghastly older brother.

“What would you change him into then?” Laurence suddenly asked.

“We could change his mind.”

“Wouldn't work. Dylan's too stupid.”

“One sensible thought can sometimes transform a personality.”

“So can brain damage. Given the way he heads a football it's probably already happened.”

“Just one thought...” The soft elfin tone was hard to resist.

“What sort of thought?” Laurence asked cautiously, aware that his friends had powers well beyond his comprehension.

“A lucid one. A glimpse into the wondrous world of living things.”

Laurence doubted that would make much impression on his delinquent brother. “Okay then.” What harm could it do? “Want me to help?”

 

Dylan was always too busy on Facebook, hanging out with his mates, and playing football to pay much attention to its little brother. So when Laurence mentioned that he had found an astounding web page with directions to a treasure map he ignored him - at least until he learnt about the reward being offered. The finder of the casket containing a secret code would be able to access a fortune in bitcoins. Dylan didn't have an account to put them into even if he did win, but Laurence promised to help him set one up. He was quite surprised that his older brother knew what they were. The teenager was proof that greed is a marvellous stimulant for the intellect, however limited.

Dylan wouldn't allow Laurence come with him when he followed the trail of clues on his smart phone. Letting his young brother get to the casket first was too much of a risk.

And it was much easier than Dylan had expected. Each time he found a marker the phone played a little tune, encouraging him to go on. By the time he reached the final markers indicated by the face of a grinning elf, it was dark and his parents were resigned to their eldest son returning in his own good time. He had run off before, but that was usually after an argument when he couldn't get his own way.

 

Not wanting to admit he knew what Dylan was up to, Laurence stayed in his bedroom.

“I just hope you know what we're doing?” he told the wallpaper.

It just giggled.

 

Dylan followed the twinkling green lights which now lit his way. The deeper they led him into the woodland, the harder the elves tried to plant a life-changing thought into his mind. It was hard work and they eventually had to admit defeat.

His seven-year-old brother had been right.

So the elves decided to do something else.

As Dylan reached the next marker, a bright green globe of light ballooned out before him.

He must have found the casket!

And there it was, suspended in midair, inviting him to open it. Dylan pounced on the promise of a fortune and opened it. He expected to find a flash drive, list of codes, or just another phone with instructions. Instead, the intense green light engulfed the young man and his body lit up like a neon sign, saturating every cell with elfin magic.

Dylan was stunned for a moment.

Then a peculiar awareness flooded his teenage mind, pushing out the detritus it had used as an intellect.

And it wasn't just his mind that had been changed.

 

It was midnight and Dylan still hadn't returned.

Laurence dare not go to sleep without knowing what had happened to him. The elf in the wallpaper would admit to nothing, apart from reassuring him that the venture had been a total success.

At 1 o'clock in the morning something tapped his bedroom’s French window.

Expecting to find a stunned bat on the balcony, Laurence got out of bed and opened it.

What confronted him certainly had the power of flight, but it glowed with a green aura and had a deep, resonating voice. A short cape fluttered from broad shoulders and its features radiated superhuman awareness.

Laurence didn't recognise Dylan until he said, “Well, little brother, you already know about saving the planet from ecological disaster... so where do we start?”