by Marty Crow
Candles Burned In Rows: Jake discovers Reasonsedge and its odd characters... 1987 words
|Word count: 1,987
Candles burned in rows.
Not entirely straight rows, Jake observed as he peered into the rough-worn passageway. Rows with a hastily-constructed appearance as might be made by a workman in a hurry with too few candles for the job.
Rows not expected to be needed for long.
The candles cast a warm dancing light, exaggerating the jagged shadows and animating the tiny crystals in the walls of the passage. Odd that the candles should be here at all. Extremely odd when one considered the remoteness of the cave. But not as odd as the faint sound he could hear echoing through the dimness. Jake reckoned that his hearing was as good as the next man, and there was no mistaking the distant sound of the sea.
It ought to be distant.
Jake estimated he was thirty miles from the nearest coast, yet the sound of surf and the gentle sucking noise that the sea made as waves receded over rock pools echoed quietly but clearly around him.
Jake gazed down the passageway and pondered turning back. “Here be THE life of Jake” promised the marker.
He could turn back. Oh yes.
Back to the tiny house he shared with his mother.
Back to the exam preparation (“You’ll end up a little lost loser like your father if you don’t pass these exams Jake.”)
Back to the taunting of Brian the Bully at school (“Hey! Jake! Where’s your father? Heard even he couldn’t stand you! Eh? Where’s he gone? Eh? Huh! I’m speaking to you, you effing dolt, look at me when I’m speaking. Hey! Give me some effing RESPECT man!”)
Back to the scene of his recent rejection at the hands of Sophie (“Sorry Jake, Brian has already asked me. And I said yes. Sorry.”).
And of course, back to the tittering of her friends whenever he walked by.
Or he could go on. And have at least one day of adventure?
Jake turned and started to follow the candles.
* * *
In the Old Arcade the Old Argument concluded.
“I have consulted this very morning with the Great Wise Lolligo” crackled Sid Sideways “and she agrees that this is the time.”
“It’s as the Tide Sands have foretold then. We’re agreed on our plan?”
A silent chorus of nods.
“Very well, Admiral! Prepare the lure!”
“Lucas! Prepare the way!”
Portly banged down his gavel, tipped back his official cap and looked at the gathering around the Arcade.
“I declare the Old Argument closed. Good luck everyone.”
“Oooo this is exciting” whispered Kissme to Admiral as they filed out. “I do hope he’s handsome!”
* * *
Jake pulled the map from his pocket, unfolded it and examined it under the light of the candle. He’d brought a torch with him of course but there’s no sense in wasting precious battery when there’s good candlelight available.
The map was crude, almost child-like in its construction. Like the candles, the map had the sense of being made by a cartographer in a hurry. The map was drawn in ink on paper from “The Grand Hotel, Reasonsedge”. There were plenty of Grand Hotels but Jake had never heard of Reasonsedge. The top half of the paper contained the map. The bottom half of the paper contained a large, rather grand seal embossed into the paper which was in turn imprinted with a smaller wax seal showing what Jake thought looked like a walrus.
Jake had discovered the map sealed inside an old telescope that he’d bought from the market. Jake loved such things and had spotted the telescope on the stall of an old woman (“what can I do for you, my dearrr?”) amongst a pile of other ancient house-hold rubbish. He’d managed to haggle a good price for the telescope – after all the lens cover was missing, one of the lenses was cracked and it was impossible to see anything when you looked through the eye piece.
Jake was sure that he’d be able to clean it up and make it work. He had settled down at the kitchen table with newspaper, metal polish and rags and was in the process of unscrewing the telescope when he found the map. The telescope clearly hadn’t been handled for years – there was dirt and grit in the threads that took some loosening. But the odd thing about the map was that it looked like it was drawn yesterday.
Jake turned the map over in his hands. And there on the reverse was the other odd thing.
The map appeared to be addressed to him.
* * *
Kissme bent over the Good Eye. While she was seeing, there was none of her usual bawdiness. She focussed and waved Portly into silence. After several minutes of concentration she looked up from the Good Eye and rubbed her face hard. Seeing with the Good Eye gave her a headache and made her irritable.
“Well?” asked Portly.
“Not what I expected, but I’ve tried all of the facets and there’s no doubt.”
“No doubt about what?”
“Oh, he’s on his way alright.”
“But my goodness, he’s young!”
“Here let me see!”
Portly shoved Kissme aside and glared at the Good Eye – it was no use though; he wasn’t a seer like Kissme and he knew it. Exasperated he shoved the Good Eye to one side and got to his feet.
“Let’s go and help the others get him through.”
The Good Eye rolled onto the floor with a thump.
“And help me get this up before we go”
“Ooo-er Doc-ter” teased Kissme, some of her old humour returning as her headache started to ease.
“Humph” sniffed Portly. “I feel sorry for that young man”.
* * *
Jake picked up one of the candles and examined it. They were all of the same thick, stumpy variety that his mother bought to burn over the fireplace for show. Jake blew out the flame, placed the candle back on the floor and proceeded on down the passageway.
Jake hadn’t gone fifteen paces further down the passageway when a scraping, clattering noise behind caused him to freeze. He turned slowly and peered back the way he had come. The passageway appeared empty and it took a moment or two for him to realise.
All of the candles were now alight, including the one he’d just blown out!
Before he had time to retrace his steps, Jake heard the same clattering and scraping ahead. One of the lights further down the rows winked out. Jake could see a small shadow moving swiftly up ahead. Scuttling? Then another flame hissed into life and wobbled into the place where the previous candle had been. The shadow disappeared from sight.
Someone or something was maintaining these candles!
* * *
“We’ll wait for him on the other side” hissed Lucas.
“Is he following?”
“Of course, it’s working as planned. Just like a charm in fact.”
* * *
Jake sensed the cavern – he could no longer see the walls of the passageway, and the black darkness beyond the flickering pool of light cast by the candles echoed with nothing. The sound of the sea was slightly louder here, and Jake fancied he could hear the calling of sea birds too.
The rows of candles wobbled on through the cavern, illuminating the rough floor. It was starting to become damper here too. The rough floor had a varnished sheen to it that reflected the candle light and the occasional patch of slimy moss promised to slide the unwary foot from under its owner.
Jake carried on slowly, carefully, testing each step to make sure his foot wasn’t going to disappear from under him before trusting his weight to that foot and repeating the process with the other.
The candles continued their unsteady march to another passageway that seemed to gleam, not with the warm yellow of the passageway he had left, but with a steadier green-blue light.
Jake followed the candles towards the mouth of the new passageway. As he approached, the green-blue light within robbed his skin of its natural colour; his hand stretched in front of him appeared grey and his red shirt brown. The light was coming from rows of candles but these were very different to those in the earlier passage. Indeed different to any candles Jake had ever seen! The rows of candles were dead straight, as though they’d been laid down by an unearthly engineer. And the candles were dead white with flames that burned like they were in competition with each other – vertical flames, straining at their wicks and consuming wax with a faintly audible hiss.
The entrance to the passageway was framed by a carved lintel and door posts that also glowed with a faint light. A portal?
Jake hesitated, squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and stepped through into the strange light.
* * *
Lights. Strange lights.
Ceiling. A strange ceiling.
Bed. A strange bed. But comfortable.
Voices. VERY strange voices.
“Oooo that reminds me of a good rhyme!” A woman’s voice cut through the hubbub.
“Let me see now.” She cleared her throat. “There was a young man from Bude, who wandered around in the nude, he stopped for a pee, at Clacton-on-Sea where a crab took his winkle for food…”
“That’s enough Kissme!!” a chorus.
“And that one only works if you rhyme ‘nude’ with ‘food’. Which practically no-one does” pointed out another voice.
“Oh alright, what about a chorus of ‘the sailors mighty horn’ then?” asked the woman’s voice again.
“NO!” chorused the crowd.
Jake’s head hurt like he’d hit it on a beam. And all of his limbs had that feeling that you get when you wake up having been to sleep on your arm and can’t move it. And he felt sick. How did he get here? The last thing he remembered was stepping into the blue-green passageway in the cavern.
Jake twisted his neck round to look around the room. His clothes were on a chair next to the bed, including his underpants he was embarrassed to note.
Nor was he alone in the room. And the rooms other occupants were the strangest he’d ever seen.
“Where am I?” he croaked.
“He’s awake!” cried a voice.
“Hurrah” crackled another voice.
“You’re in the Grand Hotel at Reasonsedge” said another “nothing to worry about, just a little transition sickness. It happens to us all the first few times.”
Jake squinted at the occupants. He’d heard of people pinching themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming. He did this to himself now although he wasn’t entirely sure how it worked. Surely if you were dreaming that you were pinching yourself you’d also dream that it hurt? It hurt. He flopped over onto his side to get a better look at the room.
“Excuse me, but aren’t you a – a lobster?” he asked.
“Why yes I am young sir” said Lucas “and do you know what, I don’t actually know how old I am. With us lobsters it’s impossible to tell our age” he finished proudly.
Jake blinked several times. But the lobster remained solidly there, looking at him.
“But why am I here?”
“Why because we called you of course! Who do you think put the map in the telescope?” Admiral puffed out his chest.
“And surely you recognised me from the market, my dearrr?” the Victorian puffed out her ample chest.
“Why bless my soul, the boy has no idea at all!”
The Admiral squatted down next to him.
“You’ve been chosen. You’re here to save us from the Sirens my boy. And the rest of the world too of course!”
“You’re the last hope we have me dearrr” added the Victorian.
Jake glanced round at the sea of pleading, expectant faces and then slumped back on the bed.
What kind of crazy mistake had been made here?