for himself, as his parents had not seen the point. He had promptly lost both his kite and the charm, as the wind tore the kite away and it flew—escaped, some said—over the oaks and away from Oliver forever.

He’d lost Ilia’s charm too, or so he had thought. He lifted the charm gingerly and turned it over, looking for her name, but found instead:


Oliver was stunned. He had found his own charm again, years after watching it disappear into the clouds. It seemed impossible—how could the charm be here, so many years later, lying right on the path? This could mean only one thing, Oliver decided. His luck had finally changed. He pocketed the charm with a grin. His great-uncle would help him and he would be a Festival hero after all. He swaggered down the side trail, grinning happily.

He soon found the chickens.

At first it was just one chicken, a large and startling one, fluffing out its wings and bawking at him. Oliver edged by rather fearfully, wondering what one did if a chicken attacked. He turned and saw another chicken, and another—a whole flock. Most of them, blessedly, were ignoring him, squabbling and pecking in a clear space in which vegetables were growing in a disorganized fashion. Here and there were rusting tools and scattered stacks of lumber. Oliver realized he must be close to his great-uncle’s hidden treehouse. He scanned the oaks.

There it was, only two oaks away. The treehouse was built lower to the ground than most, and it blended in with its home oak in a way that made it difficult to spot if you weren’t looking right at it. The whole thing was a madcap jumble, as though the builder had simply added rooms as he went along. A short staircase came straight down to the ground at a precarious angle.

Between the chickens and the rusting tools and the accidental garden, the scene reminded him uncomfortably of his own family’s cluttered yard, except instead of being covered with abstract sculptures, it looked like the inside of a workshop that had been hit by a tornado.

He looked up through the branches of this healthy, giant oak, taking note of its subtle distinctions, adding it to a small gap in his map of which he had been unaware until now.

He could see that smoke was puffing from the chimney. Oliver jogged toward the staircase, a few chickens clucking angrily and scattering out of his way, then went up and rapped on the front door.

He heard what sounded like the scraping of a chair and fast-moving steps. Oliver waited for his knock to be answered.

And waited.

And waited some more. He knocked again.

No answer.

Oliver was beginning to get the distinct impression that there wouldn’t be one. His great-uncle obviously didn’t want to be bothered, but of course he did not realize that the person knocking was a member of his family. And not one of the weird ones, but one who had a normal and healthy interest in kites. Oliver knocked again, harder, and waited.

And waited.

Yes, his great-uncle’s desire for privacy was understandable, but at the same time, the Festival would begin in three days, and Oliver had no time to waste. Pounding on the door any longer would simply be rude, however. Maybe he could wave at him through a window. Once Great-uncle Gilbert saw the family resemblance, he would surely welcome Oliver.

There was a balcony that ran around the first floor of the treehouse, with a number of windows in view. Oliver circled it, peering in. The first room was a kitchen. But the second …

Oliver sucked in his breath.

At least a dozen pristine kites were hanging from the ceiling; they looked as if they had never been flown. Any one of them could have taken the Festival prize for craftsmanship. Oliver had never seen such intricate designs and clever construction. The kites were not only beautiful, composed of delicate hand-painted silks, but they possessed advanced aeronautic features that showed they were intended to be operated only by the most skilled fliers. Scattered on several workbenches were another dozen kites in various stages of completion, and each looked as promising as the finished ones. Along the walls were sliding racks stuffed with more kites. Oliver longed to see them. They were all masterpieces, with one exception.

On the centermost workbench lay a flat, diamond-shaped kite, the type usually given as a first kite, to be flown only on nearly windless days. Oliver thought it wouldn’t be a very nice kite to get, even as a first kite. Its silk was a lovely crimson, but otherwise the kite was artless and unimaginative. The only interesting feature was its long tail, which had been haphazardly decorated with odd-shaped bits of cloth. The tail was coiled up next to the kite and was so long that it spilled down to the floor.

Suddenly one of the kite racks moved.

Startled, Oliver watched as it slid smoothly aside, revealing a dark, hidden room. Then, from another part of the workshop, an old man stepped into view.

Oliver ducked his head until his chin bumped the windowsill.

The old man, who had to be his great-uncle Gilbert, was squat and plump and dressed in a shabby purple robe. To Oliver’s surprise, his great-uncle went immediately to the center workbench, snatched the crimson kite, and disappeared into the dark room that had just opened in the wall.

Oliver ducked lower as Great-uncle Gilbert emerged, no longer holding the kite. The old man hurried out of view. A few seconds later, the kite rack slid smoothly back into place.

Now Oliver was angry. He felt a bit guilty for spying on his great-uncle (he admitted that it had turned into spying), but then again, he would not have had to spy if Great-uncle Gilbert had simply answered the door like a normal person.

Oliver stalked back to the front door and gave it a resounding kick. The door shuddered in its frame. He waited a few seconds, then gave it another. And another. Determined not to tire, he reared back for an especially powerful kick.

Without warning, the door opened. Oliver, in mid-kick, fell backward. His great-uncle reached out and grabbed him just as he was about to tumble down the stairs.

“Hey!” Oliver yelled, swatting.

Great-uncle Gilbert released him, and Oliver looked the old man straight in the eye. He was only slightly taller than Oliver, and he was indeed very old, and very plump, and had a head full of wild gray hair.

He also had piercing brown eyes, and they were glaring right at Oliver. He reached out and gave Oliver a shove.

“So it’s you again!” he growled. “I thought so. I told you never to come back. Go away!”


The front door slammed in Oliver’s face, shaking the entire treehouse.

Oliver was too stunned to move. This was not exactly the joyous reunion of long-lost relations he had expected. For the first time in his life, his father might have been right about something. Great-uncle Gilbert was indeed a crackpot. The condition must run in the family.

Crackpot or not, the man knew a thing or two about kites. Oliver began to pound on the door to the beat of I-need-a-kite, I-need-a-kite.

After a minute the door flew open. In that minute, Great-uncle Gilbert had somehow managed to change into a pair of dirty blue overalls and a straw hat. He looked like someone who was trying to disguise himself as a farmer and doing a poor job of it. In one hand he clutched an elaborately carved walking stick and in the other an ornate clock. His face wore a regal scowl.

“I am going to feed the chickens,” he announced royally. “Kindly remove yourself back to wherever it is you came from.”

Great-uncle Gilbert strode forward, and Oliver, panting from all of the door kicking and pounding, dodged out of the way. His great-uncle sailed down the steps and Oliver followed, wondering if the chickens ate from a clock.

“What did you mean, ‘It’s you again’?” he demanded, catching his great-uncle at the bottom of the steps.

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