The peal of the village church bells just managed to catch Phoebe’s hearing. She paused on the rough track as she heard them, counting out the rings for five in the afternoon. She had one foot still in the sunlight, one just inside the shadow of the forest. She waited as the pealing faintly permeated throughout the valley — bouncing off the stone walls, echoing off the sheep, before being absorbed whole into the massive oaks that made up the forest. They sucked up the ringing, forced it down into the soil, and gave none of it back. Phoebe looked up at the nearest tree, watching it for the slightest sign that it recognised the calling out of the church below. It stood, guarding the entrance to the forest, impassive to the world. It failed to stir.
Author: Mark P Page 1 of 3
Vilstrax’s wings ruffled slightly as the two soggy tennis balls and half of a well-chewed brick rolled to a stop at her boots. She glared up at Kobal, her eyes glowing red in the pre-dawn mists.
“Good of you to join us, Sleepy.”
Knowing his wife Janet was busy cooking his dinner and him being a man of modern sensibilities, Richard pulled himself up from the chair, pausing the television as he did so. He called out a quick “I’ve got it.” to his wife, followed by a gruff “Coming!” towards the door. Making sure his gown was tied neatly, Richard ambled towards the door, fairly certain that it would be someone selling him either eternal life or plastic kitchen solutions. Neither was standing on the threshold as he pulled the door open.
Richard stared at the woman standing on his doorstep. Although between then and now various facial piercings had come and gone, the nose ring remained. The hair was dyed a resolute black with none of the blonde peeking through. She was almost unrecognisable, but Richard knew exactly who she was.
“It’s you, isn’t it F…”
The woman’s index finger shot out and pressed hard against Richard’s lips, pushing him back slightly and shushing him instantly.
“You don’t get to call me that. No one gets to call me that, not anymore. You remember what happened when you last called me that.”
Richard nodded slightly, his hand instinctively rising to the side of his head where the cricket bat had struck him all those years before. According to the doctors, the damage could have been much worse if the handle hadn’t have broken as the bat hit. He had never called her that ever again, not once in the last twenty years. That kind of thing stuck in the mind of a 14 year old.
Her finger still on his lips, the woman pushed Richard firmly back into the house, closing the door behind her as she did. Giving him a look that made it clear what she wished to be called, she removed her finger. Richard had another go.
“It’s you, isn’t it, Myfanwy?”
Myfanwy nodded slowly, taking the opportunity to appraise her old friend Richard.
“You’ve expanded into middle age well, Richard my dear. Bit softer around the edges now than last time I saw you.”
“We were eighteen then,” Richard frowned, cinching in the belt of the gown as much as he dared. “We we all a lot thinner then. Well, not you. You’re possibly thinner now than then.”
“That a compliment?”
“Not really, no. Thin is possibly too expansive for you. Gaunt is possibly too much.”
They stood awkwardly looking at each other, the silence between them tense. Myfanwy at least knew why she was there, Richard was just scared as to why she was there. The silence dragged on for just a bit too long when it was broken by Richard’s wife coming on from the kitchen, patting her hands dry on her apron as she came towards them.
“Oh, hello,” Janet smiled at Myfanwy as she came up beside Richard. She gave Richard a sharp jab in his ribs and a “are you going to introduce us?”
“Ah, yes. Janet, this is Myfanwy, an old … acquaintance of mine. Myfanwy, Janet. My wife.”
“Hello Myfanwy,” Janet smiled as she extended her hand. “Any old friend of Richard’s is a friend of mine.”
Myfanwy took Janet’s hand and shook it gently. “Pleasure to meet you Janet. Mind you, I’d be cautious of Richard’s old friends if I was you.”
“But not you, I’m sure.” Turning, Janet let go Myfanwy’s hand and with a quick glance back over to her shoulder as she left, she headed back to finish making dinner.
“Nice catch, Richard,” she said, craning her neck to watch Janet as she walked away. “She’s cute, quite adorable. She and I should catch up for coffee sometime.”
“No, just no. I heard you were married to Melody anyway?”
“I am,” Myfanwy said distractedly as Janet went into the kitchen and out of view. “But, you know, we’re open. You?”
Richard bristled at the suggestion. “Definitely not.”
Myfanwy leaned in close and whispered “Don’t be too sure, she gave me a glance.”
Richard ignored the last comment as he beckoned Myfanwy into his study. His night had gone from pleasant sitting in front of the TV to being derailed by his past that he assumed he’d left well behind him. Myfanwy has been the harbinger of doom for a while before they had all gone their seperate ways. Her being here, her finding him here could not be good. The quicker he got to her reason for being here, the better. He asked her as such.
“You know why, Richard,” she replied, investigating his study as she did. “Surely you know why.”
Richard shook his head defiantly. Myfanwy sighed at his inability to see what was coming.
“Your dear cousin, my brother. He’s undoing his past, our past. Richard, surely you’ve heard the rumours. Joseph is on his way back and he is nearly here. If we’re lucky, we’re not next but we can’t be far from it.”
Richard continued shaking his head. Of course he had heard the rumours. He knew that Joseph hadn’t adjusted as well as the rest of them had when they had returned. Myfanwy, well, she just did her thing and rebelled against the world. Bessie had moved on and travelled the world extensively. Richard had met Janet at university, and she and himself settled in together and eventually married. But Joseph, he couldn’t shake what had happened as they neared the end of university, and as Myfanwy, Bessie, Janet and himself moved on with life, Joseph spiralled down into something nearing a psychosis. Richard knew that Joseph had received treatment, but had lost contact with him over the years. They all had. He’d heard the whisperings though, that Joseph had gone off again, to deal with his past. Now with Myfanwy turning up, Richard has beginning to get really worried. It didn’t help that the doorbell decided to chime again.
“I’ll get it!” called Janet from the kitchen. Myfanwy and Richard shared a glance and both of them made for the door to head her off. After much fussing at the door to Richard’s study as they both tried to get through at the same time, they made it to the front door just as Janet was shutting it, a largish box under her arm. Covered with “Fragile” and “This Way Up” labels, the fact that it was neatly tied up with string rang alarm bells in Myfanwy’s mind.
“Umm, Janet,” Myfanwy purred as she edged towards her, “could you just, say, put that box down there and maybe sneak behind Richard.”
Trying to keep both Janet and the box in sight at the same time, Myfanwy moved slowly towards the box. Once she was sure Janet was cowering behind Richard who looked for all the world like he wanted to cower behind Janet, Myfanwy slid what Macbeth would have comfortably called a dagger from her boot and kneeled down beside the box. With a quick look back at the trembling Richard and the confused Janet, Myfanwy deftly cut through the string and with the dagger at the ready, opened the box. She slid the dagger back into her boot, gently reached in to the box and pulled out the contents, recoiling a bit as she did so.
“Wha, what is it?”
“It’s a saucepan, Richard, have you never actually been in your kitchen? Ooo, Janet gave that glance again.”
“But what’s in the saucepan?”
Myfanwy walked over to Richard, holding the saucepan out to him as she got close. “Well, it’s not Gwyneth’s head in the box this time.”
Richard peeked in through the glass lid and immediately turned to vomit in the umbrella stand. The sight of Saucepan Man’s lifeless eyes looking up at him from one of Saucepan Man’s own saucepans would haunt him forever. Myfanwy put the saucepan down on a coffee table just in time for the doorbell to chime for the third time that evening. Sliding the dagger back out of her boot and hiding it behind her back, Myfanwy advanced on the door.
Upon reaching it, she quietly turned the door knob and on a quiet count of three, pulled it open rapidly. There, standing on the doormat, soaked in blood and with leaves and twigs matted in his hair, large duffel bag hanging from his hand, stood Joseph, Myfanwy’s older brother and Richard’s cousin.
“Why, hello there Fa…”
Myfanwy’s finger shot out, stopping short of Joseph’s lips.
“No, not anymore. Not for a long time.”
Joseph entered the doorway, brushing Myfanwy aside as he did.
“Whatever. Oh hullo Dick. See you’re cowering in the corner again. Got my gift, did you? And who does the washerwoman belong to?”
Straightening herself and brushing down her apron, Janet introduced herself. “I’m Janet, Richard’s wife.”
“Ooooo, Richard, Myfanwy, well, well. Haven’t we all shunned the monikers of our youth. Feel quite childish still passing myself of as just a Jo. Maybe that’s where I went wrong. Anyway, as you can see, I’m dealing with my past. True, does involve confronting and then burying bits of it, but I am dealing with it.”
“What do you want, Jo?”
Jo spun back around to Myfanwy, “You’re what’s left of that disastrous tree, the rest had been done for. Mrs Slap will strike no more, Silkie and the Pixie fell into a bug zapper, and poor Dame Washalot. Alas, fell and slipped into her very own mangle. It’s okay Janet dear, you’re quite right to shudder at that. Moon-Face had an accident on his slide, very unfortunate that one. Quite messy a misalignment of the segments can be, quite messy. Saucepan, well you know what happened to him. As for the rest of them, the tree burns as we speak. It will all be nothing more than cinder and ashes before long.”
Jo reached down and pulled a sizeable axe from the bag, and gesturing towards Richard and Myfanwy he quietly added “And that leaves just you two. Janet you may run. Or stay. See what happens to your poor Dick and little Fa…”
“…nny over there.”
Myfanwy figured two warnings were enough. That and the very real threat of dismemberment, but mainly being called Fanny again. With three quick steps, she closed the gap between herself and Jo and using her momentum drove the dagger up under his rib cage, through his diaphragm and straight into his heart.
As Joseph’s eyes widened with the shock of the ice cold dagger being plunged into him up to the hilt, Myfanwy whispered into his ear. “No one get to call me that. No one, not ever, never again. It is the worst name to have to suffer under as a woman.”
As his eyes dimmed, Myfanwy lowed him down to the floor, his head beside the coffee table holding the last resting place of Saucepan Man. The sirens of the fire trucks and police cars began to swirl around the house, drowning out Richard’s sobbing into the umbrella stand. As Janet helped Richard into the kitchen, she gave a quick glance back to Myfanwy. Myfanwy smiled as she turned and headed out the front door to wave down a passing police car. Janet would need some comforting after this sordid affair and it looked like Dick just wouldn’t be up for it.
We proclaim that loudly to ourselves in the daylight, that fiction. In the dark, it becomes a whisper, a fallacy we repeat to ourselves to help us keep seperate from those that do kill. You and I, we both know it for the lie that it is. Deep down, we all have a point, a line, a bar that we that know lurks inside. A tipping point. A line in the sand. A bar that we must hurdle, or perhaps slink under. You have one. They have one. The person sitting beside you, look at them closely for they have one.
That thing for which we would kill. That circumstance for which reason would step aside and allow you to take another life. If you don’t know at what point, which line, or where your bar is set, well, lucky you. It’s there, trust me. I found mine, bumped up against it, nudged it even. It wasn’t where I expected it to be, but it made sense to be there.
It was sleep that had driven me to the Plaza that day, a complete lack of it. Over the last two weeks the total hours of sleep my wife and I had accumulated together could comfortably be counted on one hand, so in order to give my increasingly delirious wife a chance to boost that number I’d brought the cause for a walk here. I had about two hours to get him out of the house, to sleep, and then return before he needed to feed again so here I was, walking these hallowed halls, the cathedral of capitalism, this memorial to materialism, all to put a newborn to sleep.
It had worked too. The mind numbing muzak had rendered us both senseless, the soporific effect in me held at bay only by a long black strong enough to eat its way through a paper cup. I walked the promenades, never ceasing in case the beast awoke to collapse the commercial catacomb with his caterwauling. And so we paraded, upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, me dragging my feet, him in his black carriage, veiled from the prying public by the lightest of muslin.
As precarious as this arrangement was, it worked. Fellow slumber deprived wraiths circulated; we nodded our unkempt hair towards each other in silent acknowledgement of our shared plight as we conveyed our charges around the circumference of purgatory. We raised our adult sippy cups in salute as we celebrated yet another circuit sans crying. And so it went, downstairs, upstairs, round and round until on what may have been the trillionth time around, I found my tipping point.
There they were, walking nonchalantly towards me, cloaked in the skins of the kindly elderly lady. Your average gran, nanna, nonna, nemesis of the sleeping child. They whittered towards us, hair coiled Medusa-like, glittering a silver blue. With a sharp crystal-clear clarity, I knew then that if they lifted the veil, if they awoke the child, I knew that my line will have been crossed.
I hoped my sunken eyes, my listless perambulating would ward them off. That they would recognise the signs, do no more than nod and smile and walk on by and preserve whatever life they had left. Could they do it? Could they pass by a sleeping babe and leave it in peace?
No. They could not.
The first had barely leaned in when I decided to act. The glass shattered, catching the reflections from a million sequins as she went through the window of a pre-teen stationery crack den, a hundred strawberry scented pens skewering her frail body. Before she could begin to squeal, I sent the second over the railing to plunge downwards, ever downwards towards her end. A damp thud signalled her demise amidst the cupcake stand on the lower level. Dark red velvet frosting oozed out from underneath her body, neck angled in a wholly disconcerting manner as her arms draped over the espresso machine, her support stockinged feet dangled in the gluten-free muffins rendering them no longer vegan friendly.
A quick peep into the pram to assure myself that my son was still sleeping, and then onwards we walked, lap after lap, to fill the next hour before feeding.
Not that I did this, I’m not a monster. Of course I didn’t. I could never kill someone, just don’t have it in me. How could I possibly send two dear elderly women to an early and vicious demise? I’m no barbarian.
Well, that’s what I tell myself in the darkness of night, Jupiter rising in the top left quadrant of bars in my window. It’s what I tell myself in an attempt to keep me morally seperate from the other guys in here, the real murderers, the ones who could and did. The ones with a much lower bar, a closer line, a more unstable tipping point.
Unfortunately, the CCTV remembers it differently, it captured it all, in colour, in high res. The glittering shards. The grand entrance into frame from the promenade above. The noiseless screams, the soundless panic. The echos of that thing that I could not possibly have done, but yet did. The reverberations spreading every outwards of that damp thud, the shattering glass. The girl behind the register in the cupcake stand, she’ll never be able to look a white chocolate and raspberry cupcake in the frosting ever again. As for the eleven year old twins in the sub-adult stationery supplier, you should insert a shiver here. The waft of strawberry scent substitute will forever send them recoiling in search of their happy place.
The trek for each if them began in their respective villages. Sagas were sung, garlands were hung, food was prepared. Wise women smiled toothless knowing grins at them. As daybreak broke across each of their homes, they were sent forth with a good hard shove in the back to overcome nerves. There were more songs too, but nothing encourages like a shove.
Their paths were similar, though from different directions. They wound their ways through the forest along well established paths. They weren’t the first to undertake their journeys and if all went well, they wouldn’t be the last. These paths had been walked a few times each generation, back to a time when the reasons were not understood. Carved stones set as waypoints guided them through the forest, the path carpeted with a soft green moss that grew only there. The forest seemed strangely complicit in their adventures.
They each had food, but the forest supplied ample berries and mushrooms for sustenance along the path. Many brooks and streams were crossed giving plenty of fresh water as they went.
They walked their paths through the forest, sleeping as the night drew around them, enveloping them in velvet. The predators kept their distance, refraining from turning them into a mid afternoon snack. Even they sensed the import of their ramble through the forest, slowly gaining altitude as they went, drawing closer to the ridge that separated the villages. In the mornings, the velvet would lift and a blue silken cloth be thrown across the sky. The continued on for five of the velvet/silk cycles until they finally crested the ridge simultaneously.
They stood there, their packs and what little had been left in them discarded before they began their final climb. They stood, separated not so much by distance as they were circumstance. Their villages were subtly similar but so different. They had no common language, no common history except this. The ones they send a few times every generation, the ones that have found no companionship in the village. The ones that meet their other half on top of this ridge.
They began to cross the ridge towards each other, dropping their simple clothes as they did, pausing a handspan apart, toes curled over the edge of the rift that cleaved the ridge along its length. A handspan wide and eternity deep, mesmerisingly dark, a warmth rising from it. They stood, these two who had no-one in their village for them, they stood not yet touching across the rift, savouring this last moment.
Toes gripping the edge of the rift, they leaned forward into an embrace, an intimate embrace that had waited for their lifetimes until now them to discover each other. Limbs intertwined as they held each other, as they melded into each other. Their toes curled and gripped the edge, giving them purchase as their arms and torsos interlocked, as they became one with each other. The rest of the world faded away into sharp focus, the sounds of the forest muting into a stark cacophony. Their years of solitude left behind forever, falling away behind them as a never ending future of being inextricably together stretched out before them.
Their toes dug into the edges of the rift, shattering the rock under them as they drove down through the surface. Their bodies twisted around each other, limbs interlocking, mouths grasping at each other, hands kneading into each others flesh. They grew taller, harder, more supple as now, after all these years, they finally became lost in each other. Their hair fell down in cascades, spread outward as an umbrella, twisted in with other.
Either side of the rift they stood, knotted together.
The rock beneath them cracked as their toes drove ever deeper down, anchoring them in place as they grew longer, taller, their limbs spreading outwards as they grew. Their fingers lengthened, their hair spread out. They hardened together, locked forever, their embrace eternal, one pair more in a row of paired trees along the ridge, one either side of the rift a hand width wide and an eternity deep. A pair sent a few times a generation to lose themselves in their other for evermore, to hold the rift closed, to protect the villages on either side.
Forever intertwined, forever holding each other in intimate embrace.
“What does a pretty girl like you want a book on black magic and necromancy for‽”
This, gentlemen, is not a great opening line, especially when I’m the one holding the folding stuff, and you’re just a jumped up book grocer.
“Never mind the why’s, bub. Just sell me the book!”
His under the breath tut’s spoke volumes about what he thought of me as we made our way over to the register. Hawing and harrumphing, he made a bit of a show of trying to find whatever price he’d penciled in the book. I was already resigned to paying a bit more than it was worth on the open market and for once my cut to the navel dress was failing to work its charms. The book would still be cheap to me. Eventually, he named his price and I dropped a wad of green on the counter. Slipping the book into a plain brown bag, he handed it over, pausing to let go of it as if he was still unsure that a member of the delicate sex should have such a volume. Eventually, he must of decided that I wasn’t going to hurt myself or anyone else and let it go. I turned and left the store, feeling his gaze wander down to my ankles as I went. Who knows what he thought of my scarlet stilettos.
Walking down the alley back to the main street from the shop, I shook my head gently. The beret I had been wearing filled out into something more like what a respectable lady in my line of work would wear. The ruby coloured dress went too. The silk felt nice, but was completely impracticable for today’s work. A white blouse, knee length skirt, and a matching jacket would be better. By the time I’d stepped out on to the street, I’d gone from a hot dame to a respectable working witch. How I pitied those poor superheroes and their need for a phone booth for costume changes.
Threading through the crowd, I looked for a nice, discreet cafe I could hole up in for a short while. I had no time to return home, besides, coffee beckoned. I stepped up into a diner, all chrome on the outside that wrapped around to the inside, and slid into a leather booth that just so happened to match my heels. Let’s face it, with a bit of concentration I could have anything match my heels in a second or two. I nodded to the plate captain to bring a cup o’ joe, settled in, and pulled out the dead tree edition.
To anyone else trying to sneak a peek, it was now a cheap dime mystery, dame in disrepair on the cover, private dick bursting through the door waving a piece. To me, it was my guidebook for the day. My instruction manual. Being good had only got me so far, and let me tell you, I was good. I was the best. I could repair your spectacles without thinking about it. Spelunkers could get lost in my handbag for months. I could make you think I was you and you was me and you wouldn’t know for weeks. But I was good good, there was a line that shall not be crossed. Until now.
I flipped through the book, page after page, cup after cup, until it was hard to tell if the words were jumping on the page from excitement or caffeine. I knew these things could be done, knew I could do them, but that line had always been there. Turning someone into a frog. Making them think they were a frog. Pulling their insides out through their belly button and stringing them up on a light pole. I flicked through the book, slid my finger down these spells and worse. Internalising them all not because I was good at learning, but because deep down good only extends so far. Deep down, I already knew this.
I continued on with the coffee, grabbing donuts to dunk as I went, chapter after chapter, each one darker than the one before. The light outside started dimming as I went on. Maybe night was falling, maybe the light was being sucked out of the world. It didn’t matter. I was getting closer to what I needed, that final spell. I knew I hit it when the page turned with the squeal and wail of a dungeon door, when a rank odour began to spread. A quick flick of my finger and a vase of jonquils appeared on each table. I might be on a descent into darkest of magic, but I’m not inconsiderate.
A quick scan of the page reaffirmed that I already knew this, that I just had to let myself cross that line. I had all the ingredients in my handbag except one, and that would be exceedingly easy to get. I just had to take that first step over the line, accept that I may not return. I didn’t so much step as leap.
I pulled out my wand and with a quick flick all the other diners were gone, cast to the four corners of the globe. It left just me and the waitress. I was quick, she didn’t have a chance to scream, and they’d be able to grow her a new one anyway. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t wake up until they’d finished. Dropping another wad of cash to settle my tab on the register with a nice tip to bide the waitress over, I turned on my heel and disapperated.
I stepped out of the aether in a swirl and tumble of particles to find myself on the end of a jetty on the other side of the country. It was here on a bright and windswept day that I lost my worlds. While canoodling one, the other slipped unseen into the water. The foam folding over her, the fish pulling her away, to play out her childhood with the mermaids. My other half, the canoodler, I later lost to grief and the booze that failed to keep it at bay. He couldn’t bear to be with someone who could raise lamps to the ceiling but was unable to lift our daughter from the ocean, and so he left.
I walked down the steps to the lower level, close enough that the waves broke through the deck every now and then. I reached into my handbag and pulled out my bag of ingredients, my pot, and a small burner. I scooped up some sea water into the pot, placed it on the burner, placed the waitress’ eye into the pot, and lit the burner. For the next hour, I sat and I chanted, cast spells, added herbs, limbs, and scales. I reached out to my daughter, pushing myself out to find her and bring her back to me. I called to the fish, the little ones and the big ones, to bring her back. I screamed at the mermaids to stop playing with her and let her return. I shed enough tears to replace the water I had taken for the pot. I called to the dead and demanded they listen to me. They shunned me.
It was all to no avail.
I lay back on the splintered wood deck, surrounded by squid stains and the bits that should still be inside fish, and stared at the sky. I had lost her forever. I had crossed over, committed evil in the name of good. I was forever tainted. I would be hunted for this and imprisoned. Quite rightly so. Resigned to my fate in a damp and dark stone cell, I sat back up, ready to go back and atone. I packed up what was left into my handbag, poured out the eyeball tea I had made and turned to leave, only to halt at the bottom of the stairs.
My world, my daughter, was at the top.
She stood there, dripping with the water than had changed her not one whit in the last eight years. She was as I had last seen her. We both stood, her at the top and me at the bottom, daring not to move. I dropped my handbag and opened my arms to her, trying to not hope too much. She stared at me just a bit longer and then rushed headlong down the stairs, leaping from half way into my arms, only for her to break against me as a wave against the rock, shattering into millions of droplets that flowed past me. I spun around to face the ocean to her see her once again standing there. Looking at me with such mournful eyes, she shook her head at me, turned and dived into the water.
Back to the fishes, little and big. Back to the mermaids. Back to her eternal childhood.
The house, and again, we use the term loosely, was made of four plain walls. A door in one, a small window in another. A bare wooden floor had been laid, a roof of iron raised above it all, a small stovepipe poking through. Trees and ferns pressed in from all sides, creepers making attempts to drag the house back into the earth. By the right light, in just the correct level of gloom, the house looked part of the forest. Like it had always been there. Like it would always be there. And there was nothing to prove otherwise. No-one remembers it not being there. Always being there, both in and part of the forest, is a possibility.
This is what presents itself to you, these four walls that call themselves a house. They might of been white once, could now be a grey. Or maybe a green. It was hard to tell. Right now, after making your way through the twists and turns of the forest, you don’t care. You place your hand on the brass doorknob, turn it too easily, and push the door open. You fall into the space that those four walls, the floor, the roof create, and with a desperate kick, you slam the door shut.
You lie there, on that bare wooden floor, trying to gather yourself. Your heart rate is racing out of control, your ragged breaths are echoing off that simple iron roof. Your blood is hammering through your veins, pulsing through your ears. Your heart beat, your breath, your blood, that’s all you can hear. All you want to hear. While you can hear them, you’re not yet dead.
Lying on your back, you look at the roof. It shimmers as your vision blurs and refocuses, blurs and refocuses. Constellations of pin holes are arrayed across the roof, sparkling in the distance. You let your eyes wander over them, naming these never before seen clusters of stars. The Devourer. The Unbinder. The Renderer. The last few hours has obviously coloured your naming bias. The I’m Parched and The God I’m Hungry are the next two constellations you name. You look at your watch and realise it’s been 5 hours since you set out.
You pull yourself up to standing and look around. There’s not much here. What’s left of a bed and mattress, a table and chair, a set of cupboards. The mattress disintegrates as you move past it, but the table and chair seem solid. The cupboards, well, they’re probably best left alone. You shrug off your day pack, drop it on the table, and sit your self down on the chair. Poking through your pack, you find the muesli bar you’d brought to snack on and your water bottle. You chew on the bar, sipping on the water to make it palatable, slowly replenishing yourself, quietening the gnawing creature inside you. Finishing the bar, you’re finally under control. Heart rate slowed, breath back to normal, hunger diminished. You take another look around the house.
The window is mainly boarded over, just a few cracks to let through the green light of the forest, to offer a glimpse outside. The door looks solid, the brass door knob tarnished and dinted. There are rust stains on the walls. Rust splatters more likely. There’s a lot of iron in blood and the previous inhabitant had obviously lost a lot rather quickly and in a showy manner. On the wall opposite the door there’s a calendar, an old one, just a day to a sheet. October 21, it reads. 1957. Over seventy years ago since it had last been changed, the 21 circled again and again and again with red pen. Something was going to happen on that day, did happen. And nothing had happened here since.
Surprisingly, the bed wasn’t where the rust seemed to have come from. Following the rust took your eye down to a spot just between where you were sitting and the cupboards. Point zero. Where what happened all those years ago happened. Where someone went out with a crunch. Where you, finishing off your muesli bar and getting down on all fours, may just find what you’ve come here for.
You scan across the floor, running your hands through what you keep telling yourself is just dust and dirt. You push away larger, chunkier bits of bone shaped dust as you search. You made it through the forest today, evaded the creatures that would happily make a meal out of you, to be sorting through the desiccated entrails of this houses previous occupant. You gently scrape and sift and feel your way across the floor until it finally catches your eye, tucked under the bed frame. You catch your breath as you gently reach out and pick up the fragment of bone and gently wiggle out the one thing you would risk your life for. With utmost care, you seperate it out, turning the translucent blue finger length object over, examining it for damage and finding none. You have it.
The canine tooth of a goblin.
The last ingredient you need.
Holding it up the the dying light coming through the cracks in the window, it catches the light and suffuses a blue glow throughout the room. It’s just translucent enough to make out the shape of the window behind it, just translucent enough that it turns purple just as the red glowing eye appears in the crack in the window of the house in the deep dark forest. And you remember just how far from home you are.
So why did Curtis Fitzpatrick fail to walk into that meeting and end up on the other side of the planet posing as someone else? And how did he manage to do it without anyone finding him? He doesn’t know, but for the most part he puts it down to the existential dread that meetings caused in him. The constant discussions, the lack of any really work being done, discussions by committee. He detested meeting at a cellular level, and for whatever reason, this meeting was the one that did him in.
As for posing, it appears that Curtis did indeed believe himself to be Mario Lombardi. At no point in the six months that he worked at the caffé did he ever waver from the fiction he had wrapped himself in so completely. His tales of growing up near Lago Maggiore, of swimming on hot days. Of hiking in the mountains as soon as he was old enough. Of his nonna stuffing him until he couldn’t walk. Story after story, related faithfully, none of it real.
Looking back through his childhood, the threads began to emerge that he would have used to weave the whole cloth of his illusion. A boy in his class named Mario, a girl with the surname Lombardo, both children of Italian migrants from the north of Italy. Curtis had been friends with both, especially Mario. Most of the tales he spun had probably been imported to Carlton by his friend’s parents, the reminisces of a land left long ago.
Curtis has no idea how he ended up in a foreign land, imitating his schoolyard friends. A fugue state, perhaps, triggered by yet another pointless meeting. A need to get away from his life as a programmer, to try something else. To be someone else. A want to escape the pressure of his life and take on the small pleasures of another. Whatever the reason, Curtis doesn’t particularly care to dwell. All he knows is that he got up from his desk to go to the meeting and ending up serving espresso.
The story of his discovery is one of happenstance, of serendipity. As things often are, the threads of his past connections came to entwine him in his reprieve from his world. Into his nondescript caffé walked one Camllla Lombardo, on a holiday to the world her nonna left so many years ago. The last few months of being Mario ceased the moment she asked if she knew him. From primary school, maybe. Wasn’t he Conrad, or Brutus, or maybe even a Curtis?
The fugue fell away at that, indeed he was Curtis. The mask he didn’t know he was wearing, had been wearing for so long it had become him, it slipped and fell. Much to the amazement of his regulars, his boss, the other staff, he ceased being Mario and stepped back into Curtis. He stood there in his black apron and vest and after spending the last months there, recognised none of it. The last thing he remembered was heading to that meeting, 277 days earlier.
It would be nice to think that the subconscious choice to take on Camilla’s surname would have resulted in a life of happiness together, but alas, Camilla’s husband of the last few years would have had something to say about that. Her husband was, however, not unmoved by Curtis and his wandering, and paid for his return airfare to Melbourne. It helped that his restaurant was understaffed and Curtis hand the experience and no desire to return to the corporate world.
And so Curtis’ sojourn into the world at large came to a pause. He managed his flight from the land of desks and timelines and future goals, and found a new calling stalking the tables, juggling plates, and fixing drinks. He was once again Curtis Fitzpatrick of Melbourne, more so than he had been before.
Most don’t make it past the Wall, a set of small stones, knee high, that ran across the ridge, separating the larger stones from the rest of the world. Of those that crossed the Wall, the majority turned back quickly. The Door, a set of intricately carved stones topped with a lintel barely the height of a child off the ground, sent them back. The carvings were unsettling, the inscriptions unknowable. There was no way around it as it straddled the narrowest part of the ridge, the only way past was to go through. Katelyn had threaded her way through the Wall and had traced the carvings before slipping through the Door, paying heed to neither.
She made her way through the waist-high ferns and bracken until she stood at the edge of the stone’s domain. They were nameless, generally not referred to at all. Standing near them for the first time, Katelyn finally got a sense of their size. Taller than her, not that that was difficult. Probably taller than her father, that was an achievement. Not as round as the local monk, very few things were. They were old, older than the village crone, perhaps the only things around here that were. Dark grey, jagged, embedded in the ground as if they had been dropped from above the clouds. Moss and lichen free, unlike all the other stones and rocks in the area.
Katelyn stepped across the threshold. Immediately she felt the drumming through her feet, hammering up into her chest, reverberating through her head. She took a step closer to the stones, the drumming becoming more intense. Katelyn closed the gap, one step at a time, the drumming getting stronger and more forceful until it felt as if her insides were liquifying and her eyes and ears were about to bleed. She pushed forward through the wall of drumming until she was an arms length from the first stone in the line, until she was about to fall to her knees. She forced her way through and brushed the first stone with her fingertips and the drumming subsided. It was still there, but now Katelyn recognised it for what it was – the heartbeat of the earth.
Exhausted, Katelyn embraced the first stone. As her forehead touched, she heard something new, carrying itself over and around and through the heartbeat. She began to circle the stone, slowly releasing her embrace until just her fingertips were grazing the surface. Katelyn whirled around the stone until she was moving too fast to continue orbiting and she spun off, twirling towards the next stone, fingertips brushing, a new sound adding in.
Katelyn swung around the stone, it correcting her course, sending her towards the next as she pirouetted across the gap, caressing the next stone, another sound layering in. A melody developing as she spun and dipped and whirled from stone to stone, her fingertips caressing each one as she flew by. Her footfalls hammered out the heartbeat, whilst her twirling transcribed the complex intricacies of the melody that flowed from stone to synapse. She found herself almost sliding across the void betweens stones as the border between this world and the other began to get slippery.
Reaching the end of the line, Katelyn spun, arms outstretched, feet sliding across the barely held edge between worlds, her face gazing upwards to the sky as snow began to fall around her in the summer heat. She spun and slid, one with the melody, driven by the heartbeat until she reached the edge of the ridge-line, the termination point of the prominence overlooking her village. She was carried by the music, by the song of the stones. She was carried off the edge and into the empty space between heaven and earth.
The crone found her body later that day. She knew where she had fallen, she had watched the dance, fearful that she wouldn’t fall, the she would hold onto that last stone and slalom back down through the row. That she would undo the suture that held heaven and earth and allow the unspeakable through. That the prophecies on the doorway would come true and would tear the village and the world beyond it asunder. The crone carried Katelyn’s body back to the village, her strength belying her millennia old frame. As she did, she hummed the song of the stones one last time, easing Katelyn’s soul into the afterlife.