by M.D Schultz
How would you like to travel 2000 miles in a flash? No? Well, you're going to do it anyway
|Previously "The Appointment"
“I’ve been followed by those things ever since.” Alice wiped beads of sweat from her forehead from the increasingly intense gazes.
“No, kidding.” Detective Gill leaned back in his seat, adjusting his hat, so only the slits of his eyes were visible.
“Awesome.” Anna sighed as if she were reading a nickel romance novel.
“How tragic.” Jeromy rubbed the fur under his chin.
Alice looked down at her feet, doing her best to ignore the burning itch in her right hand. She had already been a member of the Fifth Chapter for several days, but she couldn’t help but feel a child under house arrest. They had given her a room on the second floor which hadn’t been used in a thousand or so years by her estimation with its crooked faded paintings, moldy boxes filled with broken teacups, and, oh lord, she cupped her hands over her mouth, dust bunnies with fleas.
It took her a whole day to make the room serviceable, even for a salt of the earth orphan girl. She sighed; Anna was no help either. Though she was apparently as old as Alice, she acted like a child, refusing to clean and claiming the clutter was only part of her, ahem, chaotic organization skills.
So, on her own, Alice threw out the boxes, slew the bunnies, burned the sad scraps of lopsided yellow paper, and shoved parts of worn clothing into the large window crack which whistled wind across her back whenever she changed. It was no wonder that her right hand itched with hives by the end of the day.
“Don’t you dare scratch!” Anna shouted as she rubbed Alice’s hand in a salve and pulled out a moldy cloth.
“But, it stinks.” She said, holding her noes.
Anna shrugged. “My mom found this in some old tomb.” She held up the stained rag before wrapping her hand with it, tightly.
“I guess it belonged to an ancient dead guy.” Anna paused. “What did she call it? Mumuto? Mumifie?” She snapped her fingers. “Mummification, that was it.”
“Oh, don’t get your panties in a wad.” Anna winked. “It has magical healing properties, ya know.”
“Great.” Alice sighed.
That was more or less how she spent her days as a member of the Fifth Chapter detective agency. Furthermore, she still hadn’t gotten used to seeing a rodent read, tugging at the light novel’s pages as if weighing anchor on the high seas.
“The spiritus nympharum is such a page-turner.” The gerbil Jeromy explained with tiny hands outstretched. “Alice, you seem a learned girl, you simply must read this, this divinity.”
“Um, I’m sorry, I can’t read.” Alice tiptoed around the bookly throne and its most unseemly ruler.
“My word, this won’t do.” He grasped at his chin. “Ah, but I can smell an academic from miles away; the nose simply cannot lie. Have no fear, my girl; I will teach you.”
“Thanks, but I’m a little busy right now.” She called, sprinting to her room without looking back.
While her new roommates were weird, Alice was grateful to be surrounded by people who didn’t fear her but understood her situation. Not that they had a choice; after all, she wasn’t allowed to leave the agency until detective Gill could find a temporary solution to her tenuous problem.
Every morning, she found him tapping on a rusty typewriter and sipping coffee so black a lead weight wouldn’t break the surface.
“Alice, you’re not trying to sneak out, are you?” He would say each day as she poured herself a cup of tea.
Unlike the others, Detective Gill didn’t seem to sleep. If he wasn’t typing, he was pacing the bottom floor, puffing away at that old pipe until the building developed its own ecosystem. Oh, he rode away occasionally, bags filled with typed papers only to be empty upon his return. Anna told her that his journalism kept the doors open when they weren’t taking cases, which was often.
You see, it’s not that they didn’t receive patrons; no, it’s that the detective was picky. During her stay, she served tea to no less than eight potential clients, one even claiming that a shriveled hand brought their lover back to life with murderous intent.
“What was wrong with that one?” She asked as the older man slammed the door on his way out, knocking the loose painting from the wall, which fell with a thunk.
“I don’t deal with zombies.” He sipped his coffee. “Their filthy, besides, a shriveled hand didn’t bring her back to life.”
“Then what did?”
“Well, Jeromy.” Detective Gill lit his pipe again. “One of his spells misfired and shook that poor dear from death.”
Alice fumbled with a silver tea tray. “What!? Why aren’t you stopping it!” She shouted.
Detective Gill looked on with a blank expression. “Didn’t I tell you? Zombies are filthy.”
“So, I don’t do filthy.”
Alice kicked his desk, and a plume of dust formed below his chin as three spiders ducked for cover under the loose boards.
“You are filthy!” She cried.
Sighing, the detective stood from his desk, waving smoke from his eyes. “It’s not the same thing.” He turned toward Alice. “But, I will let you in on a secret. Do you know why that spirit is murderous?”
“It’s because her loving husband buried her alive.” He seized upon the silence. “Oh yes, hubby is a murderer, and Jeromy’s spell simply gave her the opportunity to, shall we say, get even? Now that same man wants to hire us to kill her again.” Detective Gill puffed on his pipe. “How poetic. If I truly wanted to do either of them a favor, I would have just killed him and fed his corpse to that shambling horror.”
“Oh…” She sat down, her knees trembling.
“Don’t worry; he’ll be off the streets soon enough. Filthy though they are, zombies are quite efficient.”
Maybe she didn’t fit in here after all, but after three days of fumbling through her job, they found a solution to the Raven problem.
They woke her early that morning, gathering on the ground floor. Detective Gill had her recount her experience with the afterlife, for clarities sake, she was told.
“Why are you all staring at me? That’s all I know, I swear it.” Alice reached down to rub her right hand, but Anna pounded the table before she had a chance.
“Are you sure this will work?” Jeromy asked, skittering up the detective’s sleeve and perching on his shoulder.
“Assuming the merchandise is authentic, yes, it will work.” He chewed on the edges of his lip.
“And what do you mean by that? Of course, it’s real; my mother wouldn’t lie about this.” Anna puffed her cheeks, jumping up and down until those oversized glasses bounced off her face.
“What are you going to do?” Alice asked, clutching her breast.
“We are going on a little trip.” He stood, slinging his coat across his shoulder. “To the city of Banuavara.”
“Ooooh, oooh, oooh, road trip!” Anna said, still sliding around dust and books looking for her glasses.
“But, Banuavara is across the ocean, it will take us weeks, no, months to get there.” Alice panicked; the prospect of traveling so far with strangers only put more lives in danger.
“He’s not suggesting we go by foot or that primitive motor thingy.” Anna brushed the dust from her spectacles before sliding them back over her nose. “Come on, silly; I’ll show you.” She grabbed Alice’s hand, leading her up the stairs before shouting, “Last one there is a rotten egg!”
Alice was taken to an empty attic where she faced a long wooden wall.
“You mean to tell me you couldn’t store the junk in my room up here.” She whispered as the others gathered around.
Detective gill drew an amateur door on the wooden wall with a piece of chalk and backed away signaling for Anna to step forward.
“Okay, everyone, stand back.” She said, unveiling a necklace hidden beneath her tunic and setting it on the floor before her. It was a strange bit of jewelry in the shape of a key.
Anna stepped away before spinning back around, dipping into a curtsy, lightly grasping the corners of her skirt as she knelt.
“My lord Oberon, please grant me your power.” She said, bowing her head.
After a few minutes, nothing happened, and Anna’s cheeks started to turn red.
“My lord Oberon, please grant me your power.” She repeated, the temperature of the room now rising as she clenched her teeth.
“MY LORD, OBERON!” Now entirely red, steam was visible above Anna’s head.
Alice leaned towards Jeromy, still perched on the detective’s shoulder. “Who’s Oberon.” She whispered.
“He is one of the Fae Kings; some call him the pixie whale.”
“HEY! HEY, you stupid dunderhead! Answer me!” Anna broke down, pounding on the floor right before the key.
“Sometimes, I wonder who’s in control of who.” Jeromy slapped his face as Detective Gill restrained the girl who was now kicking at the key.
“Anna! Calm down! We talked about this!” He shouted over her until, with a sigh, Anna relaxed.
She returned to her original position, this time bowing much lower and squeezing her eyes shut.
“Oh great Fae King for whom the spirit world revolves, I, your unworthy wife, pray for just audience in hopes of receiving divine succor,” Her cheeks were as red as cherries now.
“I, your unworthy wife, who dotes on you, who loves you, who fantasizes about you.” The key began to shake.
“I, your unworthy wife, who basks in your warmth and clings to your whims.” It suddenly rose into the air, and a blinding light filled the room.
“I, your unworthy wife, beg of you, please come forth and grant me strength.” When the light finally dimmed, the once-tiny key was now a metal staff with intricate carvings like a fish’s tail etched into the haft.
“I, your unworthy wife-” Anna paused, opening one of her eyes. “Finally, you jerk.” she picked up the staff, which appeared as light as a feather, spinning it above her head washing fragments of crystalized matter across the room.
Alice looked on, unsure whether she had any wonder left to express. She couldn’t help but feel that there was something else in the room now, something that floated just at the corner of her eye and scattered when she turned like a school of fish.
“Anna is wed to the Fae King Oberon, so she is the only one who can see him,” Jeromy whispered in her ear, firmly seated on her shoulder and tugging at her loose hair. “Mortal Fae, or Praetorians, like Anna, are the only humans able to cross between worlds, times, and places, well, you’ll see.”
Anna placed the flat end of the staff against the crudely drawn door and tapped it three times. In an instant, a smooth crack formed across the chalk, and the wood took shape molding into hinges and a handle. Once assembled, she flung the door open, and inside was a mirrored wall that moved like water with light dancing across its surface.
“After you, my lady.” Detective Gill said, guiding Alice to the open door.
Alice held out her hand, dipping it into the liquid wall, which wrapped around her arm pulling her through with a sudden tug.
Passing through the rift was, at first, like stepping into an ice-cold shower. Even fully dressed, the effect was jolting, and Alice felt chilled right to the tip of her spine. Soon, the swirling energy blurred her vision, and the sound of static noise became deafening. That’s when the torture began.
It was like that feeling you get falling from great heights, a bottoming out of your stomach, a numbing sensation felt to your naval. Only, there was no quick end to this fall, no merciful floor to cut her journey short, no, Alice fell for ten minutes straight, as static noise rang in her ears mocking her screams.
It took ten minutes to travel two thousand miles. Ten minutes of plummeting through that bottomless pit of spiraling light, pulsing liquids, and crystallized air. Ten minutes may as well have been an eternity. Yet, finally, Alice was flung from the other side of that hellish conduit, landing face-first in a mound of grass, just in time to empty what was left of her stomach while Anna, Jeromy, and Detective Gill passed from the rift as if taking a stroll through the park.
“Quite your retching, dear girl.” Jeromy pounced up and down from the middle of her back.
Alice peaked her head up over the grass mounds to see shopkeeper stalls and crowds of people gathered with a few kids pointing in her direction, their stupid grins spread from ear to ear.
“Welcome to the city of Banuavara.”
Next "The Great Devourer"