This journey to find her grandmother, 'wolf' by her side, is quite different...
|Lily’s Tower (In Progress)
It was a very foggy day, and the weight of the air lay heavy on the lungs of all who breathed. After Lily got out of bed that morning and rode in the truck filled with sharp cornered and heavy things, she arrived at the new place. Lily didn’t know what to think of the mottled building the first time she saw it, and clutched her basket with white knuckles. Like a stony finger it poked into the sky, shooting dismal clouds of fog and mist out of its metal tip like fuzzy fireworks. Its angular sides had softened only a little with age, and the yellow-gray chunks of rock holding it together lie on top one another long ways; if it weren’t for the lack of names and dates, Lily thought the bricked rocks looked like sleeping tombstones. If she had only known its history, and the strange happenings still occurring behind its tightly clenched walls, she may have turned right around and left. But maybe not. She stood outside, leaning against a weeping willow whose tendrils gently caressed her face, peering towards the massive structure. She felt herself melting into the tree, her skin crisping into bark, her flaming hair sprouting branches alive with budding leaves that quickly turned gold and floated to the ground. Sinking into the crunching fire underfoot, Lily drew her breath in deeply, feeling suddenly quite drowsy, pulled her hood over her eyes and squinted in search for sunlight she remembered having seen before, long, long ago.
Most little girls had very short fingernails. Lily’s, however, were surprisingly long and strong even though she played as roughly as the boys she used to know. She remembered sometimes scratching others on accident, causing small but thick droplets of blood to form on their otherwise unblemished skin. But Lily never cut herself. These accidents eventually resulted in a lot of solitary playtime for Lily, but she didn’t really mind. Lily found other ways to play and used her nails to her advantage. When climbing the twisted oak trees with trunks so wide she could lay sideways without being seen, she would scrape her claws over every knotted wrinkle so sharply that any other normal fingernails might raggedly rip and tear. Hers perfectly interlocked with the bark on every climb, staying super sharp and pointed.
It was very exhausting getting to the tops of those trees, Lily remembered, and wondered if she could get to the top of the building looming in front of her. It looked ominous. She had heard that word somewhere recently, but couldn’t place where. It simply sounded like the stony structure looked, all imposing and harsh in the midst of the surrounding fog that teasingly licked even at her. She looked away from the sky and put her face on the ground, eyes closing on top of the carpet of burnt-colored leaves as she wished for rain.
Surprisingly, her cold nose met another. Much confused, Lily raised her head and swept away the leaves. There, messily matted under the crisp blanket lay a dog that curiously cocked his head at her. While her first instinct was to pet it and bring it to her chest, she kept him at arms length just in case he was going to bite her with shiny-yellowed fangs like daggered bits of gold. But the dog looked imploringly at Lily and stuck out his furry paw and whimpered so she didn’t think him very menacing. She could see his heart beating through his chest, and the palpitations quickly excited her, too. Smiling, she scratched the scruff of his neck and could have sworn she heard him say, “Ahhh, yes…wonderful, more—YES—more!” But Lily had never known a dog to talk, so she just brushed his coat with a swipe of her hand and stood up. She instantly decided some things. Firstly, he was now hers. Believing in fate and destiny and all those wistful desserts, she knew that they were meant to meet here, for some strange reason. They would go into the tower searching for her grandmother together.
Lily’s shoes slapped on the cobbled walkway and the dog, now called Andolph in her mind, strode powerfully next to her. They looked an odd pair. It was hard to tell who was leading the way, for they seemed to change places quite frequently; if Andolph was slightly ahead, Lily would quickly maneuver in front of her furry beast. This caused Andolph to slyly creep forward after a few moments of straggling behind her, which again resulted in Lily’s advances. They were enjoying the game neither was aware of playing, but struggled nonetheless for the leading position.
It seemed as if the cobblestone walkway stretched for miles: Lily was growing tired and discouraged, for the tower appeared just as far away as it did when they started out. What she did not know was that the odd little stones under her feet played tricks on her—quite childish tricks, actually—and scrambled themselves under her feet so that she never moved forward at all. Frustrated and unaware of their mischief, she stopped in her tracks after she had taken about forty-nine steps. Andolph paused, as well.
The building stretched tautly into the sky, but its stability was betrayed by a slight leaning to the left that only the most scrutinizing eyes could sense. Unbeknownst to the civilians now populating the city, it used to house, once upon a time, the types of people not fit for public life. It was known, mostly by people long dead, or those frequenting antique stores lucky enough to rummage through ancient papers stating certifications of death or registrations of things done while living, that certain spirits still lingered invisibly in the tower, unable to leave its premises. While most of the time their presences went unnoticed, they occasionally appeared to select few, or, legend has it, influenced the tower’s living inhabitants.
If Lily had known this, maybe she would have foregone this trip to her grandmother. But maybe not. Lily, as should be able to understand by now, was a curious and resourceful child, and a bit lonely.
The air that drifted around the tower was thick and slow moving. This fog, in fact, tended to induce a dreamlike state that made all those who breathed it, at length, quite drowsy in a non-sleeping way. Truth be told, most of the current residents of the tower spent their otherwise normal days in this state of semi-awareness, not fully conscious yet functioning quite well. The air formed a sort of flexible shell that surrounded the stone building, keeping the wide-awake world outside while simultaneously protecting its very vertical, very odd little environment inside.
Now, even though the tower knew somehow, in advance of Lily’s arrival, it still tried to discourage her entrance. There had been times in the past when outsiders, allowed within, had accidents: three children disappeared; a man scrambled, start raving mad, hundreds of feet down the cobblestone walkway only to plunge into the middle of afternoon traffic; and a woman, trying to jump out of the 6th floor, tangled herself in the limbs of the balcony below and was taken to a place where she still drools while mumbling an endlessly repeated grocery list. The trickery of the stones, for instance, had persuaded many people to give up plans of entrance; they drowsy fog, licking at eyes and ears and noses, caused them to forget their reasons for wanting to enter. But there was something about Lily—maybe she was strong, or determined, or confident with Andolph at her side—which the building sensed.
So when Lily halted, frustrated and discouraged, the cobblestones beneath her feet also stopped. She could see the path curving ahead, leading to an arched doorway the color of deep mahogany, and wondered, for the first time, how exactly to find her grandmother. The building was very tall. Dejected, she looked down at Andolph, as if asking for permission to retreat, but his blue-black eyes shone with determination, or desire, to continue on. Feeling a bit more empowered, Lily again peered into the distance towards the door. Wait! Now she could make out a carved brass knocker decorating the otherwise blind wooden door, a sheet of paper clenched in its grasp. She began to scramble down the path, her eyes on the note whose edges flapped noiselessly in the lazy breeze, and Andolph, thinking the sudden burst of energy a game, bumped her spindly legs with his rump, forcing her occasionally off the path and into the creeping grass.
And then it began to drizzle. Lightning cracked across the sky and chased them the final few feet to the doorway. They arrived with Lily’s face flushed but both of them quite winded with anticipation. Lily grabbed the water spotted paper with her grubby hands, further smearing the ink and crinkling the jagged edges. It read:
(You and other de a r ent er 40 )
Your grandmother resides in apartment number 401
The tears of rain splotched the pretty cursive, and skewed the original message so Lily couldn’t make it out in its entirety. In what room was her grandmother? She tried to decode the writing but could barely understand any of it. Oh, how she wished, for once, that her wishes for rain weren’t answered, for the brilliant sun would have made everything much, much easier.
She logically deduced the numbers four and zero to be part of her grandmother’s apartment. How many rooms could have both those numbers? Lily looked up and tried to gauge how many floor the building had. Too many to count. Her forehead wrinkled in concentration, her hazel-green eyes zeroed in on the writing, and she further studied the note that threatened to melt away in her hand. She glared at the paper and Andolph, sensing her frustration, rubbed against her leg. Lily pursed her lips, and tap-tap-tapped her fingernails on the door without realizing it. A gust of foggish wind sneezed sound into her ears and she thought—the fourth floor! That was it! Four was the first number of her apartment, and she’d just have to knock on all the doors until she found her grandmother. All was not yet lost.
A heavy brass ring was imbedded in the door at approximately the height of Lily’s shoulders. Lily grabbed for it with her right hand, and pulled the cool metal. Putting all of her weight into the task, she finally wrenched the door open. It slowly creaked like a yawning bear having been unexpectedly awakened from winter’s hibernation, but showed no fangs. After enough space had been cleared for Lily and Andolph’s entrance, they stepped gingerly over the threshold and into the inner chamber.
The air was fresh, though colder. A marbled checkerboard floor rolled milky-white and black towards a bubbling fountain that glowed slightly greenish in the speckled light. Mirrored walls, reaching up towards the curved ceiling, lay both to the left and the right. The intersection at the top of the mirrors and the beginnings of the ceiling boasted intricate ivory carvings of characters and fantastical places with which Lily had never been acquainted. To the left, a leafy plant cascaded over a gleaming table, its limbs resting lightly on two extremely well postured striped-seat chairs; and to the right, a large sofa with stuffed cushions. Two doors—one on each mirrored wall—almost hid in obscurity, for they blended in so perfectly that not many noticed their existence. Andolph, in fact, detected the faint rectangular outline in the mirror upon briefly inspecting the plant. But Lily had never known a dog to talk, so even if he had, she probably wouldn’t have heard him.
Other than the gurgling fountain, the room was still. Lily saw a clump of stairs directly behind the fountain, and, seeing no other available route, decided to make her way towards them. Her shoes clopped on the game board floor and echoed in the chamber. The sound bounced off the walls, each time growing a little softer, a little more distant. Lily and Andolph approached the fountain and smelled earthy forest smells, bitter and tangy in their nostrils. The water’s strange and murky tint didn’t exactly forbid drinking, but it sure didn’t convince them of its goodness, either, so they continued on.
Up one, two, three, four, five, six steps later—big steps—Lily leaned against the sturdy railing and stared at the wall. A green door stood in front of them, and appeared to be the only other exit out of the room. It stood harmlessly armed with a deep brown finish along the top and sides and waited. Lily knocked at the door, but no one answered. She ran her fingers along the surface of the door—up and down the brown frame—thinking. Andolph whined good-naturedly and nuzzled her ankles with his black nose as she mindlessly tap-tap-tapped her fingernail. Suddenly, a bright orb of light awakened in the wall, right under where her fingers had tapped. The door opened! Lily and Andolph hurried in.
But the door swiftly closed, and Lily and Andolph found themselves in a very tight and compact little space. There was really nowhere to go. Like the first room, this space also had mirrors on the walls, but they covered only the upper halves and were rimmed in golden gilt. The deep green that covered the low ceiling and the dark brown lining the lower halves of the walls and floor made Lily and Andolph feel like they were stuck in some weird square forest. They looked at each other. They looked at each other looking at each other in the reflecting walls edged in gold and blinked unsteadily. What was this! Lily closed her eyes to rid the quickly multiplying images in her mind, and when she reopened them, a numbered panel lay directly in front of her. She pressed the ornately scrawled number 4 with her nail, happy to have figured out the solution in this confusing little box.
The box began to move. It creaked and groaned as if hefting a heavy load of weight, when in fact Lily and Andolph weighed barely anything at all. Finally, after feeling a little too close for a little too long, Lily and Andolph were relieved the movement it halted. Invisible hands pushed the door slowly open, creating a rectangle of light in its space. Lily tentatively peered around the door, her hands gripping the brown frame, and saw the number 4 on the wall. Suddenly and without warning, the door began to close, and Lily and Andolph scurried out of its way and into the hall.
They were in a long, dimly lit hallway that felt like a very narrow room. Lily surveyed their new surroundings with her back to the door that had just closed behind them. Two doors standing haughtily on the left wall matched two identical doors on the right. A painted bowl had been placed strategically on a table in the center of the room, and dust motes danced lightly on the air, perhaps stirred by Lily and Andolph’s arrival. This floor was carpeted, and smelled faintly of mildew. A rosy light filtered in through the chandelier overhead, and brightened the otherwise faded papery walls. What were they to do next?
Lily became aware of muffled sounds coming somewhere from her left. She tiptoed in that direction, Andolph curious and panting on her heels. They approached a broad white door with a little gold circle situated far above their heads, straining their vision in order to read the numbers above it. Lily made out a four, a zero, and finally a two. Maybe this was the place! She thoughtfully flattened the fabric of her jacket with the palms of her hands and arranged her hood so that it fell into a cupped funnel down the middle of her back. Her left hand clutched the basket as she raised her right fist to the door. Knock…knock, knock…knock.
A shallow echo reverberated through the hallway. Lily still heard muffled movement inside but no one immediately answered the door. She paused, realizing she had been holding her breath. Lily puffed up her chest and rapped at the door a bit harder. Knock, knock, knock. Still no answer. She looked down at Andolph who, sniffing around near her hands, suddenly nosed his muzzle into a crack in the door she had not noticed. “Andolph!” Lily gasped, with a mixture of emotion, not wanting to upset anyone inside by showing up unannounced but still quite excited about the prospects of finding her grandmother.
The door pushed inwards and a sliver of bluish light escaped from the crack. Lily nudged her foot into the space and slowly continued to open the door. “Hello…Grandma? Anybody? Hello…” she called, in a raspy whispering voice way too soft and tentative for anyone to really hear. The opening was wide enough now for both Lily and Andolph to squeeze through, so that’s what they did.
“Get that beastly dog out of here! Go on, git! I’m not fooling around with you, come on now, out!” The voice screeched from somewhere to their left. Peering through the dull blue light, Lily made out a woman, swiftly pacing on milky-gray linoleum, with some sort of cord hanging from her ear. The cord was connected to a box on a beige wall that didn’t look very sturdy. The dark-haired woman continued to stalk in circles around in her little square space, twittering indistinguishable sounds on her end of the cord to some person Lily couldn’t see. “ Uh huh, uh huh…that’s what I said! Two hours! Uh, yeah…hmmm, I know, there’s never enough time.” The woman let out an exasperated laugh as her fingers twined around the curls of the cord and she leaned against the wall. She had seemed to forget about Lily and Andolph as quickly as she had noticed them.
“You’re gonna have to stay out here, okay?” Lily patted the top of Andolph’s head. He wasn’t moving. She tried to move him by gently bracing herself between the wall and the door, using her hip to decrease the size of the entrance. Maybe Andolph didn’t understand that he wasn’t wanted in this strange woman’s apartment. Maybe the woman was allergic to dogs or scared of animals with big, shiny teeth. But, maybe not. Just as Lily thought she had accomplished nudging Andolph out of the entry way and back into the hall, he slipped in between her legs and snuck back in. There was no keeping him out of anywhere he wished to go, and now, that anywhere was wherever Lily was.
“Alright then…shhh.” Lily’s voice hovered lightly, carefully, over Andolph’s head. “Just don’t let her know. Be quiet.” Lily inched towards the side of the room that seemed to pulsate with the bluish light floating in the doorway. A wall worked as a divider of the two rooms; at the point furthest away from the door lay a narrow passageway just wide enough for Lily to squeeze through. She looked to her left and saw the woman, still moving mechanically, still jibbering, the cord jumping like an electrocuted snake. “Hold on…Hello? Hi… Yes, yes, I know…Ohmigod! Doesn’t that just…Oh, wait, I’m gonna have to call you back later. Where should I…No way! Well, just, I’ll call you in a bit. I’m just so busy…so much to do…Uh, okay, uh huh…yeah…alright, then. Bye-bye! Hello? Sorry…” Lily looked to the right, the meaningless words ringing in her ears, and went through the hole in the wall with Andolph quickly but quietly trotting on her heels.
A little boy with very sallow skin sat slumped in front of a box bigger than he. This child, wearing rumpled clothes and mussed hair the color of dirty field mice, appeared to be motionless. In fact, only his fingers moved, but they moved deftly, lightly, seemingly attached to the controllers in his frail lap. Crumbs of an indistinguishable nature littered the ground around him, and he muttered to himself in a language Lily couldn’t understand. Even though his bloodshot eyes never left the target—the source of the bluish light, Lily noticed—he apparently sensed the visiting presences, for he grumbled, “Whaddayouwant? Ooh…comeoncomeon…so? What do you want?”
“I’m sorry,” Lily put her palm to her forehead. “I’m just looking for my Grandma.”
“Does it look like she’s here?” droned the little boy, his eyes still glued to the screen.
“I’m sorry,” Lily repeated, closing her eyes. The colors and sounds the big bluish box emitted had begun to have a strange effect on her. She felt herself drifting when in fact she stood quite still leaning against the wall. She slowly sunk to the floor, suddenly exhausted, as though she had no control of her limbs. “Maybe I’ll just rest for a minute.”
Andolph sniffed around the corners of the room, tail erect and muzzle searching. He discovered a pile of rather fresh looking crumbs and lapped them up with his long, red tongue. Peanut butter cookies, no nuts! Contented to have found such an unexpected delicacy—for they were his favorite, you know—he slid over to Lily, slumped on the floor, and stretched out next to her.
“Wanna play?” the boy tossed over one of the controllers, proving that he could, in fact move body parts other than his fingers.
Lily heard laughter somewhere in the distance, but it sounded as if many layers of water or earth were in between. She accepted the small rectangle into her lap and squinted at all the buttons. Her fingers prodded the bumps and dents, fingernails slowly tracing around the crevices each made. Lily had no idea how to use the controller and was completely clueless as to what connected it to the game on the box, other than the snaky tail trailing in clumps on the floor. Lily pushed some buttons—grog! boing, boing, grog!—and watched movement flicker across the screen. She made it happen! Again she pressed various buttons. And again. This wasn’t so bad! Lily found herself zoning into the box, infatuated with the scenes she seemed to be creating with or against the boy.
Andolph still lay next to Lily, but must have drifted off into a deep sleep for he began to whimper. As if hearing him from far away, Lily muttered, “Shhh…” The tentacles from her controller tangled around her feet and appeared attached to her. Suddenly Andolph’s ears perked up. Only he had heard the steps trodding lightly down the hall on the other side of the wall. He nudged Lily’s side, but received a reaction identical to the one previously given.
The woman from the other room appeared in the doorway. Her eyes were lowered so she didn’t immediately notice the visitors.
“I’m going to lay down awhile, I have so much to do and I’m so tired. Don’t stay on that thing too long, alright?” She turned from the room, not expecting a response. Then, remembering something else, she turned back. Her eyes surveyed the room and realized the problem.
“I said no beastly dogs! OUT!” Her nasally voice exploded with a sudden burst of energy, her arms conducting an invisible symphony in the air. She rushed towards Andolph and Lily—whose numbing trance still left her feeling quite groggy—and tried to usher them out of the room. Lily jumped up, shaking the residue from her brain and trying to clear her head.
“Come on!” Lily urged Andolph, sprinting around the lady’s legs, through the doorway, down the hall and towards the door. She had no idea what the woman would do to them, and was worried for Andolph’s sake. “Hurry!”
They reached the door, Lily turned the knob, and they burst into the hallway. The force from the door slamming behind them sent a rush of wind that pushed them across the hallway and edged open another door immediately across from where they had escaped from. There was no time to think. This woman could be crazy! They would be better off anywhere than with her chasing after them, Lily thought. Maybe, had there been time, Lily would have reasoned with the lady, explaining to her that Andolph was a good dog and that she hadn’t meant to disobey her rules about no dogs but they were lost, you see, and she was only looking for her grandmother and she lived on this floor and did she perhaps know where Lily could find her? Maybe, had there been time, Lily would have knocked on this door they now stood in front of, breathless, and inquired within before entering. But, maybe not. There was no time; there was no other choice. Lily and Andolph rushed through the entrance.