Birthday cake and unexpected striped boxes - will Creaole's birthday wishes come true?
| Four ~ Birthday cake and unexpected striped boxes
Creaole woke up alone. She had not expected anything else but as she stared at the ceiling watching her light ball sway gently she could not help the small sad feeling that crept into her heart. She kept a calendar, more out of interest than it being of any use to her in this timeless place. Sometimes Darm would appear and flick it forwards or back a few days when she had completely lost track. She was pretty certain that the date she flicked it to as she woke was right: 27th August.
‘Happy birthday to me …’ Creaole began half-heartedly, then stopped and rolled out of bed, getting annoyed at herself for moping. She crossed to the little bathroom to have a wash, more a cursory pass of a cloth over her skin than something that made her cleaner.
Tea was next, the nectar of Creaole’s life and the only thing between her and dehydration. She opened the pantry cupboard to fish out her usual breakfast then stopped. At the front of the cupboard was a packet of self-raising flour, a bag of sugar, two eggs, cocoa powder and a leaflet on how to make a cake. A smile drifted onto Creaole’s face as she shoved the cereal back into the cupboard. At least the magical furniture remembered her birthday.
The cake smelt amazing, filling the little hut and making Creaole’s mouth water as she finally fished it out of the oven.
‘Happy birthday to me,’ Creaole began again, this time with considerably more gusto as she cut herself an overly large piece. ‘Happy birthday to me,’ she continued to sing, with her mouth full.
‘Happy birthday to Creeee … ole, happy birthday to you.’ Creaole spun round as Shin’s voice joined in with hers, making up in volume for what it lacked in tune.
They locked eyes, her big brown ones narrowing, his round and white, the same as ever. Creaole wanted to be mad with him. She did not, however, want to ruin her birthday which had been going so well so far. She turned back to the table.
‘Do you want some cake?’ So much for eating it all herself.
Behind her she heard the door fall shut and then Shin was pulling out the other chair and shuffling himself up to the table. He was the same as last time she had seen him, his form mostly human. He reached out for the cake with five regular fingers, rounded at the ends with the faintest impression of nails. Creaole suddenly wondered if it was harder for him to look like that. She kept the question to herself, unwilling to give too much as it had been him who had up and left her for nearly two weeks.
‘Hmm, this is actually pretty good,’ Shin mumbled with his mouth full. Creaole resisted the urge to ask him if it was as good as humans and smiled instead.
‘Yes, it is, isn’t it.’ Creaole took another bite, loving the warmth and the way it stuck to the top of her mouth. ‘Thank you, magic cupboard.’ She raised her cup of tea in the direction of the sparse kitchen. ‘It is lovely to know that at least the furniture thinks of me.’
‘Creaole …’ Shin sighed, sounding tired. He had definitely been hoping that things would just go back to the way they had been.
‘What, I’m not allowed to be just a little bit annoyed?’ said Creaole as she took another bite of her cake to distract herself.
‘Yes, but you know why I had to stay away.’
Creaole stuffed more cake into her mouth and talked around it.
‘No, I know why you had to leave. I have no idea why you had to stay away for almost two weeks after,’ she mumbled, with her mouth half full. ‘For a week of which, I might add, Darm was also away, leaving me to turn into the miserable hermit that life has always been threatening to make me. Hell, even the cupboard felt bad for me this morning.’ Creaole had to stop to swallow the stodgy mass of cake that had amassed in her mouth. It still tasted good, at least.
‘How could I know Darm would be gone too?’ Shin asked, guilt pressing down on his shoulders as he saw the deep dark circles under Creaole’s eyes.
‘You couldn’t. That’s not the point. You just shouldn’t go in the first place.’ Shin sighed, and took another bite of his cake. Creaole had never seen him eat before and she tried to hide her curious observation as she nibbled on the edge of her last mouthful. It was disappointingly uneventful. There were no extra teeth, no weird dimension swirls, nothing.
‘I have to stay away after …’ He hesitated, searching for the words. ‘It takes me a while to readjust, back I mean,’ he held his hands up from the table as an example of his almost perfect human form, ‘to this.’
Creaole eyed up the cake. It had certainly been doing the right job so far, because how could she be angry with a mouthful of cake? She cut herself another piece.
‘I’ve seen you all freaked out, Shin. Heck, I’ve stabbed you in the head enough times and pulled your blasted nails from my arms more times than I care to think about.’ And definitely will never be telling Darm about, she added in her head.
‘No, not like that, Creaole. It’s just, look …’ He shook his head, really not wanting to talk about it. ‘Can’t I just say I’m sorry but that I can’t help it?’
Creaole took an especially large bite of cake and started ranting.
‘Why can’t you change? You’re already completely different from all the other Shadows. You frustrate me so much! You just need to actually try and stop being such a massive … idiot.’
‘Huh?’ Shin asked. Creaole had mumbled the whole lot with her mouth full of cake, not a single word comprehensible. She shook her head and swallowed.
‘Just something I needed to get off my chest. This cake is great.’
Shin nodded but his round white eyes stayed trained on Creaole as she took another – considerably smaller – bite.
‘I brought you a present,’ ventured Shin after a while.
She peered over at him from the cake. She had just been deciding whether or not to have a third piece now, or if it would be as good to save it for later.
‘Is it a birthday present, or an I’mSorryForBeingARubbishFriendAndTurning YouIntoAHermit present?’ Creaole asked, managing to keep a perfectly straight face.
‘Can it be both?’ He held his hand out, and resting on his palm was a small drawstring bag.
‘What is it?’ asked Creaole as she examined the bag, which appeared to be holding something circular, smooth and quite heavy.
‘The point is to open it and find out, not for me to tell you.’
‘Oh, and now you’re suddenly an expert on presents?’ Creaole raised an eyebrow at him.
‘Maybe I am,’ said Shin, on the defensive. Feeling guilty, Creaole prised the top of the little bag open and tipped it up into her waiting palm. It was a heavy round disk, like a flattened silver ball. It had a nob on one edge and what looked like something to hang it from a necklace. It was attractive enough, but with no obvious use. Creaole was not sure it would be worth putting the thing around her neck, given how heavy it was.
‘Thanks, it’s lovely.’ Shin eyed her in silence for a moment, then rolled his round white eyes and snatched the trinket back from her.
‘Hey, that’s mine,’ whined Creaole and tried to take it back. Shin turned away stretching his arms so the present was out of reach.
‘You don’t even know what it is?’ he said, as above them both his black fingers fiddled with something on the gift.
‘I asked you to tell me and you didn’t.’ Abruptly, Shin’s arms shrank to the size they were supposed to be and he turned back to the table, dropping the now open trinket into Creaole’s hands.
‘Wow.’ Creaole turned the trinket over, her eyes now wide with admiration. Both faces of the disk had flicked open, revealing a clock on one side and a compass on the other. The fine silver needle of the compass flicked round sporadically useless inside the Gateway. Creaole flipped it over to the other side, and the delicate second hand of the clock ran smoothly around the face, passing all the numbers one by one in order.
‘It’s clockwork, so you just have to wind it. It works in the house – I checked.’
Creaole nodded, staring at the smooth beauty of it, mesmerised as she watched time pass second by second.
‘And there is a date on it to. So as long as you keep it wound up you’ll be able to keep track of when we are.’
Creaole’s eyes flicked reluctantly away from the second hand to the small elaborately painted number 27 that sat neatly in the bottom half of the clock’s face. With a squeal of glee, she jumped from her seat, the offering securely grasped in one hand as she threw her arms around Shin. His body gave slightly at first and then rebounded back solid and he wrapped his own arms around Creaole in return.
‘This is the best present ever. Thank you so much.’
Shin patted her back gently, concentrating on keeping himself in one piece with her so close.
It had taken him a long time to find the present. He had been sitting in the Lost and never to be found room for most of the last ten days while he pulled himself back into a person that could be around Creaole. Whoever went there next was going to have trouble finding anything, unfortunately that was most likely to be him and Creaole. The room was a state, bags half shredded, trinkets and contraptions crushed and bent out of shape. Even now, with her so close it was hard to hold on to the human shape he had forced himself into. There was no pain, but just the smell of her emotions was enough to make his teeth want to pop from the darkness and his hands want to elongate into claws. Gently, he pushed Creaole back into her own seat.
‘Happy birthday, Creaole.’ Creaole spun round in her chair to face Darm, who had appeared in the doorway to their home. The smile that split her face faltered as she realised that Darm’s face was turned not towards her but towards Shin, who shrank back into his chair. Shin was not allowed in the hut. The Shadows were not even supposed to set foot in the garden.
Behind her Shin slid his chair out from the table. ‘I should go,’ he murmured, and began padding round the table.
‘You can stay.’ Darm’s voice surprised them both as he stepped fully into the hut and around to his corner. Shin paused, still unsure whether to stay or go.
An uncertain smile played across Creaole’s face as Shin sat back down. There was no precedent for this so she was unsure how it was going to turn out. An uncomfortable silence stretched between the three of them.
‘How have you been, Soul Guardian?’ Shin asked politely, his hands clenched on his lap, his eyes purposefully turned away from Creaole. Creaole cringed.
‘I have been as well as I can be,’ said Darm after a moment of awkward silence. ‘Quite busy.’ The silence stretched out again. Creaole stared pointedly in Darm’s direction. She had seen enough magic to know eyes were not always necessary for sight.
‘And how have you been, Shin?’ Darm said reluctantly. ‘Has your week of remembering how not to kill my daughter been pleasant for you?’ he tagged quietly on the end.
‘Darm!’ Creaole shrieked. ‘For goodness sake, don’t even bother if you’re just going to be spiteful.’
‘So you know he is currently stopping himself from ripping you into pieces,’ Darm added calmly, as if they might be discussing the weather. Creaole sighed.
‘I am not an idiot Darm, I can see Shin’s hands perfectly.’ She turned to Shin and gave him a smile. He was sitting on his hands now, hiding them from view. ‘I’m just glad he came.’ She turned back to Darm, her smile slipping into an annoyed frown. ‘And Shin brought me a present.’ She left off its full title. Darm rarely had a sense of humour at the best of times.
‘Found, really. I just found it,’ Shin mumbled. Creaole plucked the little bag from where she had left it on the table, poured the contents into her palm and held it out for Darm to see. He plucked it from her palm and held it up.
‘Very functional.’ He handed it back to Creaole, who shook her head slightly at the black angel. She glanced over at Shin to see what he thought but he was now studiously staring at his lap.
Creaole turned back to Darm, but he had gone, with not even the tell-tale whoosh to give him away. Creaole ground her teeth, wishing she could do that too just to show Darm and Shin how annoying it was.
‘I have a gift for you as well.’ Creaole almost choked on a mouthful of Cake as Darm reappeared, a striped green and grey box under one arm. He placed it on the table in front of her and backed away to stand in his preferred spot at the end of her bed.
Creaole eyed the striped box nervously. Darm had never brought her a present before. He had brought her plenty of things over the years, but they had been like the gift from Shin, reclaimed items that were interesting or necessary, like text books or clothes. Creaole wondered what had happened that he was suddenly bringing her something new. She eyed up the box with mistrust.
‘What is it?’ Beside her, Shin tutted. ‘Never mind, I’ll just look.’
She reached for the box with shaking hands, gripping it tightly to still them. The lid did not want to come off. Creaole gave it a rough jiggle. Abruptly, the bottom dropped free, making her jump and almost throw the lid across the table. Creaole gave a nervous smile and peered inside.
They appeared to be clothes. With a puzzled frown, Creaole pulled them from the package and held them up one by one to examine. First was a very small shirt that definitely wouldn’t cover her bum, then some kind of grey tube that Creaole had no idea what to do with, followed by a pine green cardigan with some kind of embroidery on the chest pocket. There was more below but Creaole glanced up at Darm with a frown. She was pretty sure they were clothes but she still had no idea why he had thought she would need them. All the clothes she was wearing were recycled from the Lost and never to be found room, and they had served her fine for the last sixteen years.
‘Erm … thanks,’ she said as she pulled the cardigan on over her grubby shirt. It was unnecessary in the Gateway as it never got hot or cold, but she wanted to seem as if she appreciated the thought. Shin tutted again.
‘Please explain to Creaole what the present is for,’ said Shin with slow mocking patience. ‘She doesn’t know but she won’t ask.’ He was still sitting on his hands, staring at the box of clothes with suspicion.
‘They are a uniform,’ Darm answered. Creaole gawked at the clothes. Shin sighed quietly, his suspicions confirmed.
‘And a uniform is worn for what?’ Shin asked once again. He had already guessed, remembering the leaflet Creaole carried round in her pocket better than she did, and selfishly hoping that he was wrong.
‘They wear them at schools.’
Creaole’s eyes widened in shock as Darm answered, confusion, hope and fear stealing her voice.
‘This one is for Saint Serenity’s.’ He reached over the table and riffled to the bottom of the box. Beneath the pile of neatly folded clothes he found an envelope and handed it to Creaole. ‘That is your provisional acceptance letter. Term begins on the fourth of September.’
Creaole turned the letter over in her hands to read the front. It was addressed to a Mr D Plumviar, Flat 1a Evenstar Court, Chester. Her hands were misleadingly steady as she opened the envelope and pulled the heavy embossed paper out to read. Creaole scanned the letter, not quite able to bring herself to believe what Darm had said until she read it herself.
‘Why?’ she asked as turned her face up to Darm, the whites of her eyes showing all around her irises.
‘Because I remembered that you are here because I wished to save your life,’ he answered, his voice unusually soft.
‘There are rules, of course.’
‘Yes, of course, anything.’ Creaole was clutching the paper so hard that her fingers were hurting.
‘I have organised a flat for you. You will stay there during the week and you may only return here at weekends.’
Creaole’s head bobbed urgently. Unconsciously, she reached her hand out to take Shin’s across the table.
‘I have created a cover story for you, I am your uncle Darius Plumviar. My sister, your mother, Felicity, died in a car accident. I am your only living relative. You were living in a self-sufficient smallholding in Canada; your mother was a recluse and home-schooled you. This will explain some of the peculiarities about you.’ Creaole frowned.
‘I am peculiar?’ She echoed his words and Darm sighed.
‘Yes, Creaole, you will not be considered normal for a sixteen-year-old in the human world. But you are not normal here.’
Creaole sighed, suddenly worried that her dream might turn into something horrible.
‘I am uncertain how much time I will be able to stay with you, so I have organised a bank account for you from my human estate and have arranged other provisions for your new home.’
‘What?’ Creaole’s head snapped up as she processed what Darm was saying. ‘Why do you have human money?’
‘That does not concern you.’ His tone of voice was final.
‘Obviously, I think it goes without saying that you are forbidden from talking about the Gateway,’ Darm began again after a pause.
Creaole swallowed down her curiosity and refocused on what was before her, the chance of her lifetime. Shin gave her hand a quick squeeze.
‘You need to go into the school on Thursday, the thirtieth. They want to sort you into sets for the start of term. Before that, you will need to sort out your appearance.’
‘My appearance?’ Creaole asked, turning to Shin for confirmation, he just shrugged, as clueless as her.
‘Yes, you will need to bathe and see to your hair,’ Darm said slowly,
‘Oh.’ Creaole frowned, her hand going unconsciously to her head as she remembered the last time she had ‘seen to her hair’. Parts of the brush still appeared on her pillow every now and again. ‘I have to?’
‘Yes, you have to.’
‘It will be worth it, Creaole,’ Shin said from her side.
‘Do you want me to show you the flat?’ asked Darm, drawing Creaole from the memories of her hair-washing debacle. It had the desired effect, drawing a smile back onto her pensive face.
‘Yes please.’ She hesitated, turning back to Shin, guilt lessening her smile somewhat. ‘I’m sorry, now I’m leaving you.’ A smile split Shin’s face and he shrugged.
‘Don’t worry about it. For me, the weekend will be here in no time at all.’
Creaole grinned and jumped up to give him another hug, this one much quicker.
‘Sorry, I’m just so excited.’
Shin was still smiling as he tucked his hands behind his back. Creaole bounced around the table to Darm’s side and peered up at the giant black angel.
‘Ready?’ he asked.
‘Erm …’ Creaole scanned around the room then dashed back to her bed. Grabbing her satchel, she dropped a few pens and a notebook inside and grabbed her gift from Shin from the table. She glanced longingly at her latest book from Keikei but thought better of removing it from the Gateway.
‘Okay, I’m ready now,’ she said as she stood back in front of Darm.
He nodded and wrapped them both in his bedraggled wings, and then with a rush of air they were gone.
Shin sighed, his beady white eyes scanning the little hut. It seemed so empty with just him. He relaxed his form, but with Creaole now gone he just melted back into the rounded grey humanoid form he had grown so used to when Creaole was growing up. His miserable, treacherous fingers were rounded and harmless. With another longer sigh, Shin stood up to leave.
chapter 5 & 6 now up in my portfolio