Welcome to Storyville, where time stops completely, where you never grow old, and where magic lasts forever….
Alice and Jacky-boy are the best of friends. For a year they embark on fantastic adventures, most of which are born from Jack’s relentless imagination. Though as each season draws to a close, another one opens, revealing its own timeless magic and mystery – things even Jack and Alice could have never imagined.
Castle Juliet is a timeless tale for all ages. It is a story for the child in all of us. It will leave you mystified and enchanted. But more importantly, it will leave you wanting more.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This book was inspired by a close friend of mine who showed me the cover of a book with a boy and a girl leaning over a horse corral. You could just see their back sides. My friend looked at me and said, “This reminds me of us.” My head exploded with the idea of a ten year old boy and girl, the best of friends, and the adventures they took throughout the year. I wanted this to be a wholesome, fun read, sort of in the vein of Dandelion Wine. A great, warm, summer read that just makes you laugh and cry and feel good in all the right ways.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters came with the initial idea of the inspiration. Usually, it kind of happens all at once.
“What are you doing up there, Jack?”
“Looking for lost treasure.”
“In a tree?”
Jack giggled from up above.
“Treasures are underground,” she called to him.
“Maybe I just wanted to wear this hat.”
Alice shook her head. “What kind of hat?”
“Well, a pirate’s hat, of course! I got it from a newspaper!”
“Thank you, Alice. I love you, too, schmoopie-poo!”
“Ugh,” Alice protested, making a face. “Don’t say ‘poo’. I hate that!”
Jack giggled again. All Alice could see were his legs as she stood in the shade. The green leaves of the cottonwood and the branches hid the rest of him from view. The leaves rustled in a light breeze by the river. It was a bright, beautiful, summer day. Huge, billowy clouds drifted lazily under a pristine blue sky. To the west, mountains etched the horizon. The surrounding meadow stretched wide with high grass all around. A small stream rippled, meandering through the glade.
Alice was wearing cowboy boots and a white, knee-length skirt with a summery top. It was too hot to wear anything else. Her red hair was thick and curly, spilling to the middle of her back like embers of copper. She had deep, penetrating, sea green eyes. Freckles spotted her round cheeks and small nose. Alice hated the freckles, but Jack said he liked them. They made her pretty in a unique, out-of-this-world sort of way.
Looking up, all she could see were Jack’s pale, stick-like legs. He was small for his age. His blue tennis shoes were visible, a white sock pulled up to one knee, the other scrunched down by his ankle, lacking the elasticity of its counterpart. She could just make out his khaki shorts. Other than this, Jack was invisible.
“There are no treasure in trees, Jack!” Alice called, again. “Treasures are underground! And you are not underground!”
“Land-ho!” Jack called from up above. “I see a ship, Alice! Quick! Run! Hide! Black flag! Black flag!”
Alice giggled. “You’re a goof, Jack!”
“Not to worry, Juliet! I’ll build a kingdom of stars for thee!”
“Stop it, Jack! And come down out of that tree!”
“Alice, darling! The pirates! The pirates! Up in the tree with me, Alice dear! Hurry. There are rogues by the hundreds! I can see them! They fly over the water! They have wings!”
“Jack, I have my cowboy boots on! I can’t climb!”
“Why did you wear them things?” Jack’s voice sounded from above, suddenly serious.
“I like them!”
“Excuses,” Jack mumbled.
Nevertheless, he started down. The branches creaked, the sound of his shoes scraping against the rough bark. Once he was in plain sight, Jack plopped to the ground. Disheveled, long blond hair fell into his eyes under—what was—several pieces of newspaper folded to resemble a hat. It looked more like a boat to Alice. Jack had not been lying about it at least. It was from a newspaper. Jack had freckles, too, but only on his nose. They were brownish red. He wore a dark green T-shirt with War of the Worlds written across the front, people fleeing, spaceships flying in the background shooting lasers. It was an elaborate T-shirt, one of Jack’s favorites, and he wore it all the time.
“Quick Alice!” Jack said, his eyes alight. “Around the tree! Pirates! Pirates! Bloody villains! They’ll pillage the village! They’ll take the women and children! You’re not safe, Alice! Hurry!”
“Jack, stop it!” Alice said, though she couldn’t help but giggle. Sometimes, Alice felt she had to keep Jack in line, to parent him so to speak.
“Ugh!” Jack said, not listening. He was—like the T-shirt—in a world all his own. He threw his hands dramatically to his heart as if he’d just been shot. He stumbled theatrically one way, then the other. “Oh, Alice dear! I’ve been hit! Wounded! Pierced! Run! Save the ponies! Save the ponies! We don’t want them to get the precious ponies, Alice! Oh! I’m so sorry! I failed thee, my love! Forgive me, schmoopie-poo!”
“I said don’t call me that!” Alice said, but laughed anyway.
Jack stumbled around, more like a drunken pirate than a wounded one, still holding his hands to his heart. He fell backwards onto the soft grass under the tree and threw his feet comically into the air. They fell to the ground shortly afterward. His body trembled with a series of spasms. He turned his head to the side and finally closed his eyes. His hat had fallen off. “I’m dead now, Alice,” he said. “You can kiss me.”
“Not on you life.”
“But Alice! Tis the only thing to save me, to bring me back to life.”
“Toads, too, apparently,” Alice said.
Jack kept his eyes closed.
“Looks like you’ve drawn your last breath, pardner,” Alice said, folding her arms in defiance and turning in the opposite direction. She looked out over the fields.
“Ugh! All this time,” Jack said. “Killed by pirates. Failed to find the lost treasure, and now dead, wounded, pierced. Have you no heart, milady? No sympathy?”
Alice smiled, turned, knelt, and whispered in Jack’s ear: “I’m the Pirate Captain’s wife. All part of my enterprise, Jacky Bristol. We have foiled your plan. We have come to pillage your village, and now we’re gonna throw you to the sharks.”
“Pirates don’t have wives,” Jack said, opening his eyes, now sitting up on his elbows. “Duh!”
“This is a newer, more contemporary breed of pirate.”
“Ugh,” Jack said, falling back down. He closed his eyes again and put his hands to his heart. “Ruined by the ladies!”
“Victory!” Alice shouted, throwing her hands into the air, as if her favorite team had scored a goal. The effect was so elaborate, Jack couldn’t help but laugh, closed eyes and all.
They walked for a ways in the shade by the stream. Jack put his paper hat back on after it had fallen off during his dramatic demise. He picked up a stick and was now swatting at the high grass. Suddenly, he stopped and cocked his head.
“What now, Jack?”
“Shhh,” Jack said, putting a finger to his lips. “Tigers roam here by the hundreds, dear Alice. The thousands! We must be careful!”
“Actually, I think only six hundred tigers live in Asia. They’re an endangered species. It could be six thousand, I suppose. Still, it’s not very much.”
Jack gave her a puzzled, reproachful look, and Alice coughed lightly into her hand. “Did you see any tigers, Jack?” she said, playing along.
“Only the cubs,” Jack said. “But they’re mothers are sure to be around somewhere.”
“Oh!” Alice exclaimed. “Look, Jack! There’s one now!” Alice bent down and picked up and imaginary tiger cub. “Isn’t he the cutest thing! He’s so soft and cuddly!”
“Alice, have you gone completely marble-less? If that cub’s mother smells you on her cub, she’ll eat the poor tyke alive! Then she’ll eat you! Then, she’ll eat me! We don’t want that, do we, Alice?”
Alice, feigning shock, dropped the cub to the ground, and paled. It was an impressive act, and it impressed Jack. Still, Alice replied, “You take the fun out of everything, Jack.”
Jack ignored her and played along:
“Run, Alice!” he suddenly shouted. “Run and hide! Here comes the mother tiger now! She’s got steam blowing out of her eardrums! They’re making trumpet calls! Ba-da-boom! Ba-da-boom! It’s gonna be a nasty fight, Alice! She’s got a hangnail, too! Look! Oh, man, I bet that hangnail is killing her! No wonder she’s so mad!”
Alice had to suppress from laughing, perhaps because she didn’t understand the trumpet comment or that Ba-da-boom was more correct to the sound of a drum. She said nothing about this to Jack, however. He had to go at his own pace on his adventures.
Jack moved in front of Alice, positioning himself between she and the ferocious tiger, a tiger of monstrous proportions—the size of a sea-dragon according to Jack’s imagination—because Jack was looking up at a beast at least seven-feet tall. “Alice,” Jack whispered. “Hand me my sword.”
“You don’t have a sword,” Alice protested.
“The stick, then,” Jack said.
“You’re still carrying it.”
He raised the stick, and here was Jack now with his khaki shorts and tennis shoes, his newspaper hat that looked like a boat, and his War of the Worlds T-shirt. Alice put her hand over her mouth to stifle more giggles.
“This is gonna get ugly, Alice,” Jack said. “You’d better not watch.”
“But, Jack!” Alice said. “It’s such a big, mean, beautif—I mean ferocious tiger, I’m terrified she’ll gobble you up. Oh, Jack, please! No! Let the poor, helpless, mother tiger go! Let’s just turn and run! Please, Jack! That tiger is ever-so vicious looking. That hangnail really has her in fits!”
“Alice, as much as I hate to say it, there’s just no other way,” Jack said. “If we run, the tiger will surely give chase, and we’ll both be cub food. Better to stay and fight, dear Alice. Better one of us gets away, at least.”
“Oh, Jack, you’re so brave!”
Jack blushed and smiled. “Why, thank you, Alice.”
Jack’s innocent crush on Alice was obvious, otherwise it wouldn’t have taken him so long to collect himself, but finally he did. “Now, stand aside, Alice dear. This is between Jacky Bristol and the Beast.”
“Oh, Jack, no! Please! Do be careful!”
Jack didn’t respond. He started maneuvering one way, low, holding his hands out on either side of him, the stick in one hand, preparing to wrestle the tiger.
“Yes, Alice?” Jack whispered, eyes on the beast.
“If you slay the mighty tiger—all vicious and mean and stuff—who will take care of the cubs?”
This distracted Jack just enough. A puzzled look crossed his face, and in that instant, the tiger sprang. Jack fell backward onto the ground. Rather, he threw himself backward onto the ground, making it seem like the force of an invisible tiger had done it instead. Jack fought, twisted, clenched his eyes, wrestled massive paws one way, then the other, and bit his tongue between his teeth. A great cloud of dust arose. He rolled around on the grass and dirt. Perhaps the cloud of dust was slightly imaginary, too, but Alice could see it plainly.
“Ugh!” Jack said. “This tiger has bad breath!” Still, he wrestled and fought. He swatted he tiger’s massive head with his sword-like-stick. The stick fell from his grasp. Jack seemed to have dropped it deliberately. “Blast!” he said.
“Jack, is there anything I can do!” Alice clasped her hands together above her heart in perfect, melodramatic fashion.
“Just—ugh—step back. She drooled on me!”
“That’s gross!” Alice said.
Jack continued to roll around. He fought the mighty beast, getting quite dirty. After a while, he kicked upwards with his knee, making the tiger yelp (sound effects provided by Jack, sounding nothing like a tiger but more like a wounded puppy). Surprisingly, the tiger bounded off, taking her cubs with her. She ran away on two feet, cradling the cubs in each hand like a human, tail disappearing in the high grass. Jack lay on his back, panting for breath.
“I’ve been wounded, Alice! Kiss me!”
Alice stepped over, got on her hands and knees, and looked at Jack. His eyes were closed. “Jack?”
“Yeas, dear Alice?”
“How come you always end up wounded, losing these fantastic battles of yours?”
“I just saved you from the ferocious claws and teeth of a horrible monster, and this is the thanks I get?”
“But it does seem strange, doesn’t it, Jack?”
“Oh, Alice! Are you not going to tend to my wounds?”
“What do I get out of it?”
“You can take care of yourself, Jack. There’s a stream nearby. See? That should cleanse those wounds of yours.”
“Alice? You have no heart, you know that?”
“I could put a damp cloth on your forehead. You seem to be running a temperature.”
Jack Bristol and Alice Skylar had been friends for several years. They met in kindergarten at Storyville Elementary School, though it wasn’t until the first grade that Alice truly wanted to be Jack’s friend. They were in the fourth grade now, soon to be the fifth once school started at the end of summer. Though, they’d never talked much at first, at least on a personal level in class (what problems could these two have?), Jack was always getting on the teachers’ nerves. He’d raised his hand once, asking a question regarding arithmetic. This had been in the first grade. Numbers had been scrawled on the board. One of the equations was 5+3. Jack had been looking at these numbers in strange bewilderment for several minutes. Or was it fear? Alice couldn’t tell from the seat beside him. Regardless, the teacher had called on him.
Jack frowned. “How come the five and three look so mean and scary?” he’d asked. “I mean, look at them. They look scary, don’t they? Does anyone else think they look scary?” No one answered. This was a strange thing to be talking about, and something this particular teacher, whose name was Miss Appleblom, had never encountered. “I think they look scary. The eight does too, especially the way you write it, Mrs. Appleblom. You put that little horn on its head. Makes it look like a monster, like a sidekick of the devil’s or something to the terrify minions. Or a fat, nasty snowman. The seven looks kind of mean, too; at least, he could, if he wanted, I guess. I haven’t decided. And look at the two. He looks harmless enough. An easy guy to get along with. But I don’t like the way the five and the three are just sitting up there on the board. They look like they’re waiting for everyone to turn their heads, so they can take over the classroom. They’re plotting, those two, and I don’t like it one bit. Even the six looks like he’s up to something, but he’s not telling. And the nine, too. Look at him. He has that little horn on the top of his head just like the eight. I don’t like them. No, sir, Mrs. Appleblom, I don’t like them one bit. I like the two and the four. I’ll take my papers with just twos and fours on them. Is that okay? Of course, two and four equal six, so maybe we should just forget the whole thing altogether. Bunch of stinkin’ evil-looking numbers anyway. Doesn’t seem right to me—”
“Jack Bristol?” Mrs. Appleblom said, who was looking quite dumfounded by this entire spiel.
“Yes, Mrs. Appleblom?”
“Please understand, I’m here to help you with simple arithmetic, not make things harder.”
“Then why not just call it ‘math?’” Jack asked.
“‘Math,’” Jack said. Arithmetic is, like, the longest word in the known universe. I’m not even sure what it means. I think you should just call it, ‘math.’ It’s easier.”
“Would you like to stand in the corner and face the wall, Jack?” Mrs. Appleblom said, out of patience
“What did I do?” Jack said, on the verge of tears.
Mrs. Appleblom sighed and turned back to the board, pretending nothing had happened, and went over the lesson again.
“She didn’t even answer my question,” Jack whispered to himself.
Alice was sitting next to him. She smiled, liking Jack from that moment on. The other kids in the class veered away from Jack, kept their distance, because they thought him a little odd. Some of them turned in their chairs, looked at Jack, rolled their eyes, and shook their heads. Alice had wanted to be Jack’s friend, and she had done so by helping him with his arithmetic, or ‘math,’ however you wanted to look at it.
“You were very brave, Jack, fighting that tiger.”
“Thank you, Alice.”
They were quiet for a while, and walked for a bit, the day still bright and warm.
“Are you okay, Jack?” Alice asked.
“Of course, Alice,” he said, looking her way. He smiled brightly, showing all of his teeth.
Sometimes, though, Alice wondered about Jack. He lapsed into strange moods she didn’t fully understand, a roller coaster of emotion, sometimes violently up, sometimes drastically down. She’d seen him cry one second and laugh crazily the next. He was a moody child, but it wasn’t always his fault. He was an emotional boy by nature with an over-active imagination. He lived alone with his father since his mother had died of cancer three years ago. He played alone more than any child she’d ever known. She liked Jack, but she was worried about him because he spent so much time by himself, but he didn’t seem to mind. Jack loved his own company. Lately, he seemed to seek even more time alone. Alice wondered if Jack really wanted her to kiss him like he sometimes said, or if it was all pretend, or if he was just lonely—along with his father—since his mother had died. Jack’s father was distant as well, or so she’d thought. Alice had met him several times, but had never gotten to fully know Phillip Bristol, and Jack didn’t have any friends except for her. Jack and Phillip must live a very quiet lifestyle, she thought.
When summer was over, they would be starting the fifth grade. Jack never did well in school, either. He’d been lucky to make it to the fourth grade. He struggled with simple concepts. Maybe he was distracted by his imagination all the time.
Thinking about Jack’s mother, he turned to her now, as if reading her thoughts: “Alice, what do you think happens when we die?”
Alice looked at the ground and pondered Jack’s question. She loved how he could be silly sometimes, battling imaginary rogues and animals, then thoughtfully serious, pondering the deeper complexities of life and its mysteries. Jack had questions of great magnitude. Her heart went out to him, and for a second, she wanted to take his hand.
“I don’t know, Jack,” she said, and wondered if she should say something about his mother being in Heaven, watching over him, and singing with the angels.
“Do you think we have a soul?”
Alice thought about this. She bit her bottom lip, frowned, and furrowed her brows. “It’s possible,” she said.
“What about, God, Alice?” Jack said. “Do you think there’s a God?”
“Hmmm,” she said, thinking she should be honest. “I don’t know. It’s possible. I think He could be up there. I think He could be watching out for us, but I really don’t know, Jack. It’s hard to say. My family doesn’t go to church. I think they have their own beliefs. Do you miss your mom?”
Jack looked at the ground as Alice was doing. He was still wearing his newspaper hat. It was hot and bright out with the summer sun.
“Sometimes, I guess,” he said. “I think Dad misses her more.”
“Maybe he’ll find someone to marry again.”
“Would you want him to?”
“If she was nice like you, Alice.”
“You’re very sweet, Jack,” Alice said.
Jack smiled and looked at her. His eyes were bright. “What do you want to play now, Alice?”
Alice brightened, looked at Jack and smiled.
“Look,” Jack said, and pointed over to a small grassy knoll in the bright sun. The clouds had parted, dispersed, thinning even more. It was warmer, and the mountains loomed large in the distance.
“What is it, Jack?”
“Wild horses,” Jack said. “They’re everywhere! I think we should find one for you, Alice dear, and we can ride off into the sunset. What do you think of that?”’
“I think that’s a great idea, Jack!” Alice said, her freckles bright in the sun.
“Come on, Juliet,” Jack said. “We’ll find one fit for the princess you are. One just as elegant and enchanting! Only the finest, most beautiful of horses for you, dear Alice!”
“Jack, you’re crazy!”
“Thank you, Juliet! Thank you!”
“Why are you calling me Juliet?”
“You’ll see, Juliet. Alice, dear! Why, it has something to do with the wagon wheel, I think!”
Alice burst out laughing—another of Jack’s crazy idioms, but as she looked, she did see a wagon wheel on the ground, virtually buried in the high, overgrown grass. She couldn’t tell how old the wagon-wheel was. Maybe a hundred years or more. It was embedded in the dirt at Jack’s feet. Some of the wooden spokes were missing, some broken, but it was a weathered, wooden wagon-wheel, nonetheless.
Jack stared at the wagon-wheel for a while, as if he’d just gotten a fabulous idea. “I’ll come back for it later.”
Alice didn’t reply.
Jack forgot about the wagon wheel, and they ran into the fields, chasing imaginary horses, which were all—at least according to Jack—quite real indeed.
Brandon Berntson has been writing speculative fiction for more than twenty-five years. He has been featured in various anthologies and published several novellas along with a collection of horror stories, Body of Immorality. He is also the author of Castle Juliet and When We Were Dragons, enchanting, magical reads for all ages. “A really great story has a little bit of everything in it, and should do so much more than just entertain.” Brandon’s influences include, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Jonathan Carroll, and the classics. A fan of ice hockey, Beethoven, long walks, and classic horror movies, he makes his home in Boulder, Colorado. Visit him at brandonberntson.com or bberntson22.wordpress.com
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