One Andreas Hawforth, eight years of age, loose fawn hair, wearing a thick jacket of mostly red, was bouncing a yellow golf-sized rubber ball on the slick floor of the hallway. He skipped around it to contain its movement, with solemn and precocious deftness.
Then the ball struck the floor like a heavy globe of lead, rolling slightly rather than bouncing so much as a millimetre. He saw the legs of a man standing before him, in pressed beige trouser legs. As he looked up, he squinted in the breeze, which carried spray or mist. He heard the voice of the man as if on the other side of a tunnel:
It wasn’t his father, just the sort of older man who called boys “son”.
“Hello, Sir,” he replied.
“Do you want power?” the stranger asked.
“That is good. But what do you want most of all?”
“To be worthy of it.”
It sounded strange in Andreas’ mouth, but it was what he wanted to say, and he had been able to say it. His eyes had turned to glass, so that he could not see; but images came to his imagination without his imagination asking. A face being smeared by many hands or paws, being covered and hidden and masked by mud; he couldn’t tell what kind of face it was, but it seemed young, or that of a girl, or both. A hand reaching through a wall of bricks; a regular net set up as a wall, which, incongruous with its orthogonal structure, consisted of living vines – or roots, as there was no green. This was being climbed by many shapes silhouetted against the paleness of the unknown; he noticed that some of the shapes were human, and some were not.
The stranger handed Andreas his ball, which felt the same as before, and the stranger smiled at him, though the stranger’s eyes were hidden by a dark blindfold.
“What would you do with this power?”
“Um…” he thought for a moment. “I told Ma I would shell some peas, so it could help with that.”
“It might help a little, but it is unlikely.”
“So it isn’t a very useful power?”
“Its uses are as mysterious as its sources, but you will find both in due time.”
The stranger was gone, and only then did Andreas wonder why there had been wind indoors, why there had been mist which had made him damp – the ball in his hand was bedewed with droplets. He was glad he had still been wearing his jacket.
He went on bouncing his ball, not knowing that, unseen under his hair, an intricate symbol in dark lines had appeared.