On June 10, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt with the words nagged, an escaped tortoise, and an auction.
This freebie story taking place before Stealing Myself From Shadows in my Tales of the Navel: The Shadow Forest was the result, although in true Navel-style, it decided to do its own bizarre take on the prompt…(wry grin)
It was a curious auction but it was an auction for the Navel. Damian Ashelocke stepped into the circle of trees, a clearing right outside the cottages and shops of the main street of Omphalos. Various residents, visitors, and people simply drawn to this place, the energy of the objects gazed at him, open-mouthed, enthralled.
Or perhaps they were simply gaping at him. Duessa had hinted more than once there was a reason arachnocratic males, particularly Ashelockes were savored and sucked dry before they could fully mature to manhood. The silent, stone state immortalized them, yet it also contained them. Whatever power Damian possessed was still his, churning within, exuding from his skin. Some people just had to take a whiff of him, draw too close to him, almost to fall into a dazed trance, gazing at him with glazed, smitten expressions.
It couldn’t be what he was auctioning. Damian had never understood what anyone saw in the Navel’s wares, even though he’d created some of its objects himself from the bits of trash, paper, and wood delivered to the Navel’s door.
“I have a tortoise here.” Damian placed a velvet bag on the ground in front of him. “Whom wishes to claim him?”
Carved of wood, the creature shouldn’t have moved, yet it crawled out of its bag, began to move away from the crowd. Some of them cried out, dancing out of the way for what should have been an inanimate object in some saner place.
“The tortoise is mine.” A man in dark robes, an oily bearded face with an equally oily smile spoke with nasally unpleasantness. “I have what Gabrielle truly wants, child, so see to it that creature comes to me.” He darted his sharp, accusing beady eyes around the crowd. “Or does anyone want to challenge my claim?”
No one spoke up, even though Damian really wished they would. He hated letting Gryluxx get his way. It made him more insufferable than ever, but Damian couldn’t allow any of that to show. He plastered a smile upon his face for the customer he secretly loathed.
“It appears the tortoise is indeed yours.” Damian made a slide half-bow. “What do you offer in return?”
“Do not play me for a fool, young man.” Gryluxx wagged a beringed finger at him in an imperious manner. “You’re an employee of the Navel, supposed center of all things bizarre, according to the never-ending boasts of your boss. You ought to know what I want.”
“Yet somehow I keep getting surprised,” Damian muttered between his teeth. “Enlighten me.“
“Considering the way Gabrielle brags about the wonders within her tacky little shop, I’d think one of hers would be more intuitive. More insightful.”
“Insight varies from person to person.” Damian kept his head bowed. He could see the tortoise, burrowing its way into Gryluxx’s black robes lying on the ground. “Just what do you offer?”
“This.” Gryluxx held out a soft white tunic, one a boy might have worn in the Garden of Arachne. Any boy.
Damian frowned and reached out for the tunic, not sure he should accept it, but this tortoise wanted to be with Gryluxx and he had other objects to auction off, if one could call this auctioning.
The smell of Christopher wafted into his nostrils. An image of his lost one smiling at him amidst the flowers came to him, when his fingers touched the soft cloth.
“Where did you get this?” His words came out a little breathless, a little choked. He clutched the tunic to his chest.
“Would you believe me if I said beyond the Door?” The man waggled his eyebrows at him. “There is much you can find, if you can open a Door to the Shadow Forest, young Damian, even if it’s just a crack.”
Gryluxx turned his back to him to scoop up the bag lying on the ground, dropping the tortoise unceremoniusly within. “Now if you’ll excuse me. I know you have other fragments of lost fools to return to those fool enough to accept them.”
The man marched away, slinging the back over his shoulder with surprising ease. Damian had expected a servant to carry it for him but there was none.
Oh, if only he could go find some private spot in the trees and simply breathe in the scent of this tunic, lose himself in memories.
Not now. He was here on Gabrielle’s orders, strange as they might be. This was one of those special moments when the Navel came out to meet its customers rather than waiting for its customers to come to it.
He didn’t understand, but he didn’t need to. Gabrielle was his master, even if her actions baffled him. He’d simply do as she asked and hope understanding would eventually come. Even if he was getting tired of waiting for it.
Damian fixed his smile back on his face and turned to lift his next object, a rooster statue.
He nearly groaned out loud. As if anyone would want this, although people in Omphalos had a way of surprising him in what they were drawn to.
“I have an usual statue here. Who wishes to claim it?”