“The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” is a collection of illustrations done by Chris Van Allsburg in an attempt to provide writers with inspiration. The story according to Allsburg is that a children’s book editor named Peter Wenders met with a man by the name of Harris Burdick who had brought 14 illustrations which apparently represented 14 stories he had written. Each picture was paired with a title and one line caption.
After their first encounter Wenders never saw Burdick again, however, he still had the 14 illustrations that Burdick had originally showed him. Curious, Wenders set out to find this Mr. Burdick and find out exactly what the pictures were all about. Unfortunately, he was never able to.
After a long time of searching, Wenders met Chris Van Allsburg. After showing Allsburg the illustrations, they both decided that if they were to publish the pictures, Harris Burdick was sure to come forth. So, with the help of modern publication, “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” was published.
The picture I’ve shown here is one of the 14 illustrations said to be produced by Harris Burdick. The accompanying title was “Another Place, Another Time” and the underlying caption read “If there was an answer, he’d find it there.” Below is my interpretation and attempt at doing what so many writers have done before me: attempt to recreate what Burdick had mysteriously hidden from the world.
Another Place, Another Time
Sir Timothy had just slain his third troll. A very impressive feat considering he had only been knighted three hours earlier by the High King of Bedroomia at the measly age of eight. Never again would the Trash Bin Trolls terrorize the good people of his land with their stench filled breathe and disgustingly run-down limbs. A single problem, though, still remained: how to clean up the trolls’ remnants which now lay scattered haphazardly in a mosaic of rubbish upon his floor before his mother and queen returned to his domain. He begun the tedious process of cleaning his room whilst simultaneously hoping that his mom’s arrival would somehow be delayed by an unknown cause… perhaps a vicious attack from the rare Blanket Bear that was known to stalk the living room.
Timothy had recently moved into a clean but historic two bedroom apartment in the heart of the Chicago metropolis with his mother and father – their fourth move in the last two years. With his father constantly having to be relocated for work, his mother had never really gotten the chance to chase a career and has consequently found herself spending a majority of her time looking after the rambunctious Little Timmy who proved to be quite a handful most days. It must be stated, however, that Timothy handled the moves quite well. He took every new location as a chance to change himself, a new persona to live through and utilize to conquer the novel and exciting world that now surrounded him. In suburban Rochester, he was Timmy T: the coolest kid on the block. In New York City, he was Special Agent T, great spy and private “I”. By the time he reached Chicago, he took over the role of Timothy, brave hero and eventual knight destined to save the entirety of the Kingdom of Bedroomia. With each new character came out a different side of Timmy and a different way to cope with the changes.
What Little Timmy didn’t realize yet though was that these characters were more than just fun figures of his imagination. While in essence they were simply innocent creations of his obviously overactive mind, there was an underlying danger that these characters had been alluding to which would lead to something nobody could’ve predicted. It wasn’t until the morning after his father announced their next move to Nebraska that this danger quickly came to light
Timmy awoke that morning to the tart and singeing smell of freshly burnt bagels and the ear piercingly loud sound of a city regulated smoke detector resonating throughout the house; It was an average Saturday morning. Timmy was alarmed however when he realized that there was another boy, about the same age as himself standing no more than a few feet from his bed, watching him as he slowly became cognoscente of his surroundings. He let out a muffled gasped and attempted to speak to the boy,
“Who… who are you?” was all he was able to formulate from his plethora of swirling thoughts.
The boy didn’t answer, just continued to watch Timmy intently. He tried again but received the same, blank, disinterested stare. Fear began to creep its way into Timmy, slowly snaking its way through his veins, icily spreading throughout his body until finally setting into a nauseating and formidable pit right in the center of his stomach. Faster than he ever had before during the early hours of a Saturday morning, Timmy lept from his bed and hastily scrambled his way out through his bedroom door and into the living room in search of his mom. The mystery child followed.
When he finally reached her, he attempted to explain the reasoning behind his urgent arrival and the appearance of the child but she refused to believe a single word of it claiming she saw no such kid. The mystery boy had now just caught up and was standing directly in front of Timmy’s mom. Timmy continued his, what his mom believed to be nonsensical, rant but to no avail. The mom muttered something about an imaginary friend and walked away.
The rest of that day and the following weeks were filled with futile attempts at convincing his parents of his new stalker’s presence as well as attempts to make the child speak. Nothing he did would make the kid go away or do any unique action. Wherever Timmy went, the kid followed (even to the bathroom which made Timmy uncomfortable). The child never ate, never slept, and never played games. He just quickly followed Timmy’s every move with no explanation. It wasn’t until they were in the car, all packed up and on their way to Nebraska that the child showed any sign of individual thought or personality.
By this point, Timmy had learned to simply accept the kids presence who he now referred to as Johnny. They were in the back of his parents’ car, himself on one side and Johnny on the other. Being that the ride was rather long and he knew he was going to gain little entertainment from Johnny, he decided to gaze out of the window and allow his mind to wander; this is something he hasn’t done since Johnny’s arrival.
When he looked out the window, he looked at the vast expanses of corn and wheat laid row by row by some unknown planter and noticed the way the wind seemed to move it. The way it seemed to ebb and flow from the gentle touch of the air, raised in parts while lowered in others. The way the light bounced off of it causing nearly incomprehensible areas of mixed dark and light. It appeared almost like a green and gold sea to Timmy, with waves pushing and pulling currents across its great expanse. He felt the gentle sway of the car mixed with the odd occurrence of a bump or hitch in the road caused by some random obstruction. It was as if they were traveling in a sailboat set on a fixed path towards an ultimate destination.
As he imagined this to himself, his thoughts began to become more and more vivid, the boundary between mind and reality slowly becoming distorted and dim. He began to see the waves, actual waves, creating an infinite expanse of deep blue that surrounded him. What used to be a car carrying his family was now a small but sturdy sailboat, set upon a rail, quickly racing towards what appeared to be a new and exciting land. His parents remained in front of him, apparently oblivious to the changes that were going about around them. Timmy felt the tingle of cold ocean spray on his face as a wave crashed a little higher upon this rails than the rest. The potent smell of fresh fish and weeds began to assail his nostrils reminding him of the time he used to spend at the docks searching for clues when he lived in New York City.
It appeared as if his imagination had taken complete control of the world and had no intention of losing its grip. Fascinatingly terrified and utterly speechless, he chanced a look over at Johnny who he had completely forgotten about with all the chaos that had erupted around him. It was then that Johnny took what was unmistakably a sailor’s hat out from behind him and confidently placed it upon his own head. Looking over at Timmy, he slyly and nicely smiled for the first time since his appearance.
Timmy was mystified. He had so many questions about what he had just experienced and about the boy that had randomly appeared by his side but he had no idea where to start looking for answers. All he knew was that it was without a doubt that a great story was about to unfold with him as both the author and illustrator. His only hope now at solving these seemingly impossible riddles was to ride his imaginative mind to Nebraska and hope for the best. If there was an answer, he’d find it there.