A fly buzzed noisily, breaking the oppressive silence of the hot, humid, and stuffy room. Thick beams of late afternoon sunlight fell on the steel panned windows like prison bars on the old polished floor of the newsroom as a newspaper reporter gazed at a package addressed to "Joel Flint, Daily Newsread, 32, Hammersmith, London." Little did he know, that package held his new identity, his new life. This would be the last week of Joel Flint's life as he knew it.
The package itself didn't appear like anything out of the ordinary. It was rectangular in shape and meticulously wrapped with creaseless brown paper. Joel picked up the parcel and turned it around in his hands curiously before noticing that something unusual was written on it. He squinted hard, trying to make out the untidy scrawl of what appeared to be a combination of long and short lines with tiny boxes and indentations- a different language, perhaps? Probably Korean, Japanese or even Chinese.
'Yes, yes, yes, but what does it mean?' he thought to himself. He turned the parcel over again and noticed the distorted postmark of Shanghai, China. Slightly confused at the fact that he had just received a package from half-way across the globe, he slowly began picking at the corners of the tape-sealed packet.
He turned the package over, trying to somehow slide its contents out through the small opening that he made at one end of the box, but to his surprise, there was a clatter as metal hit wood, and a key the size of a diminutive butterfly lay still and silent on the floor.
Joel bent over, picked up the key and studied the shiny metal object before laying it suspiciously on his desk. Keeping one eye on the mysterious piece of metal, he brought his attention back to the package. He continued picking at it till all that remained of that initial carefully wrapped parcel was a small, old wooden chest that now lay on his desk.
It was without a doubt the most beautiful work of art he had ever seen before. Covered with intricate designs, the wooden masterpiece had his name artistically engraved upon its lid and an attached lock on the side. Instinctively, Joel picked up the key and slotted it into the tiny metal lock. It snapped open with a gentle click and, like an eager child anticipating chocolate pudding after dinner, he lifted the lid to find a paper fan, and more prominently, a letter attached to it.
He picked up the letter and began to read its contents;
Dear Mr. Flint,
The royal Emperor of China beseeches you to use the tickets enclosed to fly to China immediately where a silver Rolls Royce will be awaiting your arrival. There you will be instructed on the next step of your journey by a representative of the Royal Court.The Secretary of the RRC
Feeling slightly taken aback, Joel folded the letter and put it aside, picking up the paper fan to examine next. Like the box, it was made of wood with gold trimmings and had a red ribbon-like thread attached to the crafted handle. Carefully, he untied the seal and opened it to gaze at its contents.
A map of China? Yes, it was a map of China. Well, at least a part of it and there right in the middle of it, was a tiny red dot with neat, computer-printed letters which denoted "The Emperors Palace". A tiny note was attached to the fan, 'This is where you will be lodging for your time here."
Joel put the letter down, giving himself some time for all that he had just seen and read to sink into him. He just couldn't understand why a family of such heritage in China could possibly have any use for a reporter in London. He needed to know... so within the hour, he was packed and on his way to China.
The trip was a long and tiring one filled with new sights, sounds and strange people of different cultures. Joel felt like he had just embarked on a journey to mars. He was just beginning to feel like he had made a terrible mistake leaving the comfort and familiarity of his home when he arrived at the airport. There, he was soon greeted by a small beady-eyed man who spoke in a very typical local accent.
'Halo, you is Mr. Flick?' he said. His voice was squeaky, almost rat-like even.
'Umm...yes-yes, Mr. Flint', Joel answered.
'Oh, it is most honourable to meet you sir. Your vehicle is awaiting you outside. Please follow us.'
'Us?' Joel questioned.
'Yes, us,' answered the tiny little man as he jerked his head abruptly behind him.
Joel spun around and was stunned to find no less than ten strongly-built men dressed in smart suits. He wondered why he hadn't noticed them before. He felt like he had just walked into a mafia movie scene and he was to play the boss.
Feeling rather unsure of himself, he dared himself to question the petite Chinese gentleman again.
'Umm....are these friends of yours Mr...?'
'You can call me Mr. Chin and these are and will be your friends and bodyguards for your stay here. They will be attending to your every need and request. Help you in your mission. The Royal Emperor specifically instructed so,' he explained as they moved on out of the airport to the shining vehicle awaiting them.
'Yes-yes, your mission but you will know more about it later. Now come with me, the Emperor is awaiting your arrival,' and with that as a final note to their conversation, they were off to the Royal Palace to meet the Emperor.
By the time they arrived, Joel had been informed of his assignment, and that he was to be one of the important factors in the entire operation. He had been so obsessed with the whole story that he barely noticed that they had arrived at the palace. Stepping out of the car, he was amazed by the palace, and he followed Mr. Chin in awe.
The palace was filled with beautiful, fresh, blooming flowers, intricate designs, painstakingly carved sculptures and above all, precious antiques. Gem stones and jewels of all shapes and sizes shimmered and shined, bringing the twinkle of light to every corner of the palace. It was no wonder why the palace was so heavily guarded.
Lead by Mr. Chin, Joel's grubby shoes squeaked across the polished tiles as he walked timidly towards a huge door at the end of a dark hallway.
'This is it,' he suddenly snapped, stopping dead in his tracks about a foot away from the grand bronze doors. 'You must wait here until I call upon you.' He then slid behind the doors and disappeared from sight, leaving Joel feeling quite alone and uneasy again.
As soon as he disappeared, Joel began pacing the squeaky clean floor, trying to anticipate the oncoming questions he was about to be asked. He felt like a kid all over again, waiting outside the principal's office. What would he say? How should he say it? He began practicing some lines, mumbling to himself so as not to attract unwanted attention.
'Oh, haha, nice to meet you sir! Nah, that wouldn't work. Oh your highness... too formal. Umm... yo, wuzzup? No-no-no... think Joel, think!'
It seemed like no time at all had passed before Mr. Chin reappeared behind the open door, prompting him to go in. With a deep sigh, he attempted to calm his rattling nerves, and with bated breath, he stepped into the room.
The lights bombarded him as he stepped into the brightly-lit room. Its floor was carpeted and its walls were draped with pictures, documents and portraits of preceding members of royalty.
'You will sit here and wait,' said the little Chinese man as he left the room with an abrupt shut of the doors behind him. Joel felt sick just as he sat down on the crimson sofa pointed out by Mr. Chin. He really couldn't believe that he, of all people, was to be involved in a mission, a real mission!
'Oh! Welcome, welcome!' boomed a voice from behind which made him jump. He spun around to meet an old man with a long silvery beard and a twinkle in his eyes.
'Umm...ye-your hig-highness?' said Joel suddenly very conscious of the state of his dirty brown suit.
'Yes-yes-yes, but no time for formalities. Now I assume that Mr. Chin has briefed you on your mission?'
'Great, wonderful, good! That will make the job a lot easier and faster. You will be given a new identity, a new family, and new friends. If you will follow Chin, whom I presume is waiting for you outside- he will attend to your every need during your stay here. After this, you can either work for us or be killed, there's no turning back now. The choice is yours.'
Joel just sat silent. Would he want to spend the rest of his life away from all his 'friends' back home? Although he knew he didn't have much to lose, he still felt unsure of himself. He didn't want to die, Who would? Mustering his last fragments of courage, he made up his mind and he sealed his fate with a final 'yes'.
From then on, Joel Flint's life was anything but ordinary. It had begun- Joel was to start work the very next day. Always having to expect the unexpected, never knowing what would happen next.
This was merely the beginning of his life.