Late at night, I post my second response to the amazing PTWyant’s challenge at ptwyant.com. Something a little lighter, a little more fun, and yet still very Maggie centric. Not to mention involving Maggie vs. Balloons.
By the way, Paula Wyant’s challenge involved beer, a menu, and red balloons. The Tipsy Hedgehog is proud to offer two of the above. It’s not quite sure what to make of the third…:)
“What are those red, floating things?” Maggie demanded. She backed up against her new counter, as she did.
Why did they have to show up now? She’d just opened up her new tavern. The menu was set up on a board above the bar, listing a choice of pie, stew, or a ploughman. The beer on was a rich, reddish gold, or deep brown thick with malt. Everything was ready to go.
Only now there were unidentified, bobbing crimsons creatures in the Tipsy Hedgehog.
“What floating things?” Meggie asked. Maggie’s sister was hunched down over a piece of pie. Hopefully, she wouldn’t go back for another piece, followed by another, finishing off an entire pastry before any customers arrived. Megan tended to do such things, when left unchecked. “I, hrm, don’t see anything.”
“You don’t see anything?” Maggie repeated incredulously. Her sister, who talked to invisible aunts who’d never existed, couldn’t see these fat, floating red ovals above their heads?
The creatures were coming closer, pulled by the tether wrapped around a young man’s wrist. It wasn’t Leiwell. He was the only attractive young man in the village, so who was this youth with the face and neck, which looked like a sculpture from some ancient temple?
Not that Maggie was about to let herself be distracted by the beautiful youth. Not with these exotic red monsters approaching.
They must be some kind of creatures from the Shadow Forest, who’d escaped.
“They’re right there!” Maggie cried, pointing at the unidentified floating objects. “How can you miss them?”
“I don’t see anything,” Meggie said, swallowing a mouthful of pie. “Do you see them?” she asked the empty space next to her.
Or so it seemed like empty space to Magdalene. To Megan, there was a large woman, with huge biceps sprawled out there, crowding a fussy looking old woman, who wore spectacles. Both of these women towered over Meggie. They also took up a lot of space.
“Nope, not all all,” the big one, who was known as Aunt Morgan said. She shook her shaggy head, which caused a small wind to stir up. It was truly a marvel Maggie couldn’t see her. Maggie had never been able to see the aunts, though. Magdalene had never believed in the aunts. “There’s nothing there.”
“Poor Maggie!” Aunt Maureen exclaimed, with a wince. Whether it was on Maggie’s behalf, or because she’d just been hit in the face by Aunt Morgan’s hair, Meggie couldn’t tell. “She’s cracked under the stress of getting this tavern open!”
None of this conversation was heard by Maggie. All she saw was her sister, sitting at a table by herself. Nodding to people, who weren’t there.
In the meantime, the unidentified floating objects were coming closer. Which only she could see.
“I’m cracking up,” Maggie moaned. She pulled at the few strands of red hair, which were coming loose from its messy bun. “Whatever Meggie has, it must be catching. Or run in the family.” She stared at the red creatures, who continued to tug at their tethers.
The youth who carried them above his head had a firm grip on them.
“A very happy opening night to the Tipsy Hedgehog!” the young man said. He flashed a brilliant smile at Maggie. “A tavern is a welcome change in Omphalos compared to some oddball curio shop!”
“Um, who are you?” Maggie asked. Seraphix save her, she sounded as slow as her sister! She was even blinking stupidly at this youth, her first customer? since she wasn’t able to make any sense of what he was saying.
He was about the same age as Leiwell, with hair as raven dark as Leiwell’s, only shorter. It waved around his ears in an almost classical fashion, increasing his likeness to a statue of some young hero, or deity. He also wore the oddest clothes Maggie had ever seen. The youth sported an open leather jerkin, displaying a white under tunic with a triangular collar and a small, green dragon on his right lapel. His trousers were a rough, faded blue material. His shoes, Maggie didn’t know what to make of his shoes. They were a scuffed white, made of a material, which looked kind of like leather, but wasn’t. Lighting bolts adored each side of his footware.
Maybe it was best not to look too much at the young man, no matter how attractive he might be.
“What are those strange…things…you’re carrying into my bar?” Maggie managed to ask with as much dignity as possible. She was the proprietor of the Tipsy Hedgehog. It was entirely possible much stranger things might walk into her tavern.
“Ah, yes, this must seem a little odd!” the young man said, as he looked up, seeming to notice the things floating above his head for the first time. “These are called balloons.”
He lowered his hands. The ‘balloons’ dropped down with the motion of his arms.
Maggie tried hard not to flinch.
“Balloons are a kind of celebratory decoration in another time and place,” the youth explained. “I brought them here as a gift for a pair of very pretty twins who live in this village.” The youth cocked his head. “Do you know them?”
“Danyell and Dayell,” Maggie said, giving the ‘balloons’ a suspicious look. Of course. Someone completely odd showed up and he was looking for residents from the Old Cottage. Especially the twins, who were entirely too small, yet strange; too young, yet ageless, too genderless, yet boys. “Golden curls, with streaks of silver in their hair, like they were elderly. One of them has silver flecks in his eyes, which come and go.” She turned her wary glare onto the stranger. “Your ‘pretty twins’ are hard to miss.” Easy though this youth was on the eye, Maggie couldn’t stop eyeing the red, bobbing things he carried. “I suppose these ‘balloons’ are from ah…ah…”
Maggie couldn’t bring herself to say it. Not in her nice, solid tavern, which she and her neighbors had built, plank by plank. It was a solid and real as places came, a grounded part of this world. Things from the Shadow Forest had no business here. Let alone things from…from…
“Another world?” The strange young man had to go and say it. “The balloons are, yes.” He tilted his head, studied Maggie with the care of one who has made it his business to ease and please people. “I’m actually from Omphalos. Well, same place, different version and time.” He offered his hand to Maggie. “Damian Ashelocke at your service.”
Maggie gingerly accepted the offered hand. She shook it, feeling numb.
Of course. Things like this happened, when you lived in a village near a Door, which allowed people to pass into the Shadow Forest, leading to other Doors, which led to entirely new worlds. Or maybe even different versions of the same place.
Maybe so, but did they have to walk into the Tipsy Hedgehog? Especially on its opening night!
“Maggie, who are you talking to?” Meggie asked. Her sister looked up from her empty plate. “You’re, hrimm, shaking hands with thin air?”
“Like you’re one to talk!” Maggie snapped at her sister. She raised her hands to claw at her hair once more. Yes, she was definitely cracking up. What’s one more mad sister in her family? One might say it was becoming a family tradition!
It was a relief when the pub door opened. Customers. Real customers had come, who would order food and ale. Give Maggie ordinary things to take care of, ordinary things to think about.
Magdalene could simply not get enough of ordinary.