I had a hard time choosing what mine would be for New Year’s Day. Should I share a little from A Symposium in Space which I myself am reading right now? Or should I share something from Stealing Myself From Shadows, Christopher’s story? (I find myself stealing the time to write this tale, which is evolving into an entirely new draft from the one I had, due to all the development Christopher and the other characters have had via blogging at this Cauldron. :))
I decided to do Wind Me Up, One More Time, my novel and other holiday story. After all, it’s New Year’s Day and still the twelve days of Christmas. 😉
From Grace and Theodora: Magic and Mishaps
Theodora Bear could sense the little princess, her Nathalie, her child was in peril. Growing up and away was natural for children, but what was happening to Nathalie was not. She no longer remembered Theodora, her home, her kingdom, or her sister.
*Grace.* She called upon the princess’s younger sister, using the not-voice stuffed animals could use in extreme danger. *We need to find Nathalie. We need to save her before it’s too late.*
Quartz sits, glowering somewhat sulkily at the tall, imposing stern-faced man with neatly combed mustaches and a trimmed beard, crossing his long legs covered in dark slacks with a hint of red pinstripe. He wears a long black cape lined with crimson silk over his shoulders.
Quartz: So you’re Dousselmause. Cracktooth’s uncle. Marchen’s godmother. The bane of all mice.
Dousselmause: (raising a winged brow to look down on Quartz) That is why I chose to reveal to the people around me and the mice that fear me.
Quartz: What’s that supposed to mean?
Dousselmause: I might address you in turn as the oldest of seven dwarves who live in a cottage in the Forest of Tears under questionable patronage. I might refer to you as the keeper of the crystal coffin of dubious properties. I might add that you harbored a human princess from her relations and her realm, an action which led to your untimely demise.
Quartz: (brindling) Do I look dead to you?
Dousselmause: (brindling right back) If am, indeed, the bane of all mice, why did Madam Mousenip live to squeak about it? Not to mention Mousetrick himself?
Quartz: (stops in the middle of his glowering, considers) Huh. You have a point.
Dousselmause: (drawing himself up haughtily) Of course I do.
Quartz: Right. You’ve got so many points, you’re pointy. I didn’t get myself killed, taking my Fairest in, nor anyone else.
Dousselmause: Are you certain of this?
Quartz: I told you. I’m not dead. Just sleeping off a curse. Or the backlash of a curse.
Dousselmause: And I told you. I’m not the bane of all mice. Otherwise I wouldn’t have humoured Cracktooth’s ridiculous romantic feelings.
Quartz: You didn’t. Not at first.
Dousselmause: Can you blame me? He fell in love with a mouse!
Quartz: Right. You’re the one who gave him paws, whiskers, and a tail along with an affinity for things squeaky.
Dousselmause: (brindling once more) And you’re the one you let yourself be sweet-talked into listening to a kobold’s promises. Not to mention you opened your door to a human princess, in spite of sensing that trouble would follow her.
Quartz: (glowering at Dousselmause) Like you never let your best intentions get the better of you.
Dousselmause: (glowering in turn) You’re a fine one to talk after what happened to you.
Quartz: And you might have known or guessed what would happen to your nephew.
Dousselmause: I never! (standing up) Not as things happened!
Quartz: (standing up as well, aware that he’s only a fraction of the magician’s height) Neither did I!
The two glare at each for a long moment, breathing hard. Abruptly both sit down again.
Quartz: Guess we’re both stubborn old fools. Knowing better just makes us bigger fools.
Dousselmause: Wiser words were never spoken. (He speaks with a weary sarcasm, mocking his own mockery.) I just wanted my nephew and Marchen to be happy. Happier than I ever was.
Quartz: Got it. I just wanted my brothers and my Fairest to be happy. Happier than I’ve ever been.
Dousselmause: Were you truly unhappy?
Quartz: (thinks for a moment and shakes his head) No. Not really. Been luckier than some. Worse than others, but better than some.
Dousselmause: As have I. (He draws a slow, considering breath.) I’ve been an outsider in the time and place I’ve lived. I lack confidants, playing the part of a mystery. Or perhaps simply a freak of nature to those I live under the same roof with. When I’m not outright at odds with them. I’ve still had that roof over my head, patronage, resources. Even if I’ve had to play a part to have them.
Quartz: Do you play a part with Cracktooth and Marchen?
Dousselmause: (pauses to think about it) To a lesser extent than with others. I’ve been their guardian and father, a role I willingly accepted, due to a lack of either in Cracktooth and Marchen’s lives.
Quartz: Aye, I’ve been the same. To both my brothers and Fairest.
Dousselmause: Honestly, they drive me mad sometimes! (clenches his hands into fists) I just want what’s best for them.
Quartz: Aye, me, too.
Dousselmause: (slumping in his seat) What can we do when they make choices which confound and perplex us?
Quartz: Try to understand them, even when it’s a challenge. Moments like that define a dwarf. A man, too.
Dousselmause: I’m not always a man.
Quartz: That so? Take the chance to be more, then. Someone wiser, more accepting.
Dousselmause: Even though we may never understand our children’s choices?
Quartz: Doesn’t mean you should stop trying to understand them. Or not accept them.
Dousselmause: (lets out another sigh) I guess you have a point.
Quartz: ‘Couse I do.
Dousselmause: You’ve been just waiting to say that, haven’t you?
Quartz: Heh, as expected of someone with a sharp set of whiskers. You’ve got a sharp mind, too.
Dousselmause: I don’t always have a sharp set of whiskers.
Quartz: Sorry to hear that.
Dousselmause: Don’t be. Having a different form that this one I can slip into is enlightening. Satisfying. Fulfilling in a way most cannot understand.
Quartz: Sounds like you’re lucky in this.
Dousselmause: I am, even if countless others try to convince me I’m not.
Quartz: Don’t let them.
Dousselmause: Easier said than done.
Quartz: Right. As if anything worth doing was easy.
Dousselmause: Well, well. You make an admirable argument.
Quartz: (a bit huffily) No need to sound so surprised.
Interested in what you’ve been reading? Want to learn more about Dousselmause was talking about? Here’s the story he, Cracktooth, Marchen, Madam Mousenip, and of course Mousetrick all appear in…
I’m not actually here. Hopefully I’m having a Merry Christmas of presents, dim sum for breakfast, and spending the day with my family; the two-legged and four-legged members. 😉 I wanted to post something for Rainbow Snippets, something which seemed perfect for today…
Forgetting neatness, she tore open the paper.
A brown furry head with small, cloth ears emerged. Two button eyes regarded the little girl over a solemn muzzle.
“A Theodora Bear!” Grace squealed in delight, pulling the rest of the paper from her round torso and stubby legs. “Oh, thank you, Nat!”
“Actually they’re called teddy bears, but yes, this could be a Theodora Bear.” Nathalie nodded with grave seriousness.
Want to read more about Nathalie, Grace, and Theodora Bear? Here are buy links to their story, along with the fairytale alternate versions of them appear in…
On August 4, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a bonfire, a crash, and a hobby.
This Shadow Forest tale was the result…
He watched the worshippers leap over the bonfire, jumping higher and higher. Flames were less likely hold dreams and memories than bodies of water, yet those tongues of heat still lapped and struck at the ankles of those whom avoided their kiss. Burn, smoulder, spit with fury when yet another escaped. Only for every one who resisted, so many more would yield to that burning embrace, if they didn’t crash into the flames of their own accord.
Empty, lacking so much of themselves, drawn into the Shadow Forest again and again, this bonfire offered them a sensation like nothing else. He offered them a sensation like nothing else. It was a happy ending.
This was the truth Christopher might never accept, lying, stopping someone’s story before they could reach the fire, even if he was the one who lured them onto the path, leading to it.
This was the duty the delicate beauty had accepted. For the one who watched those endings, the show was more like a hobby. Watching was always a hobby unless devotion was involved.
He’d watched the bonfire spread, catching the dark trees which had been part of the Shadow Forest for too long. Even they craved an ending. Even the Shadow Forest itself could burn. Oh, the trees would be reborn from the flames. They always were, yet it was still an ending. It was even a happy ending, one which many a dark tree with roots trapping it deep in the earth craved.
Another dreamer crashed into the others, kicking them away from their temptation. Bold woman, to drive others from their dreams, tell them truths they didn’t want to hear.
“Map.” He rose from a throne carved with rose and bone, faced the one he regarded as his mother more than any arachocrat who’d spawned him in a secluded garden. “You have no right to interrupt the dance.”
“Dyvian.” She gazed at his moonlit beauty, hands on her hips, unimpressed. Why would she be? All of her adopted sons were beautiful. “This isn’t a dance. It’s a trick, a way to trap people in the Shadow Forest forever.”
“No one dances unwillingly. Tricks are a natural part of this dreamscape.” He bowed his head, tapped a finger to his lips. “You’ve used them yourself.”
The voices rose from the darkness, a chorus of angry women. Sparks flew from the bonfire, becoming tiny flames. Each flame screamed in angry pain.
Map shut her eyes. How wrinkled and weary she looked. She never shrouded herself with illusion, she couldn’t. The only way she changed her shape was in a grotesque, painful contortion of fallen flesh. How she punished herself, for simply being who she was. Seeing it roused the usual combination of pity and irritation, not unmingled with concern.
“You’re showing me an old nightmare.” Nightmares were how Map often entered the Shadow Forest, always her own. “I was drawn here by a new one.” She nodded her graying head at him before raising a wrinkled hand to gesture to the leaping flames. “A shared one.”
Dyvian turned, aware of being Dyvian, a person with personal concerns. Aware of the slight figure boldly approaching the bonfire, his flesh moonlight pale in the darkness.
Of course Leiwell was drawn to the fire. Of course its challenge would tempt him.
“He’s not a questing soul, nor a lost one.” Dyvian shook his head, denying the nightmare, but ah, the possibility was here, wasn’t it? “Leiwell has a purpose he’d give anything for.”
“That’s right.” Map set her mouth in a grim line. “Anything.”
Leiwell began to dance. Graceful, yielding, yet there was a fierceness in his movements, a defiance Dyvian couldn’t quite understand. Perhaps it was a legacy from Damian Ashelocke?
Whatever it was, it drew him closer to the flames, made him began to leap and bound.
The flames, aroused by his passion, hissed in pleasure, rising in sparks, flashes. They rose out of the bonfire, bursting into explosions of firey color, colors lost, chosing to give up their safety for the promise of one beautiful moment.
Leiwell smiled, the firelight illuminating his perfect features. Never had he seemed more beautiful, green eyes shining in the light.
He leaped, not over the fire, but into it.
“No!” Dyvian waved his hand, willing away the vision, willing away even the possibility of this. “It shall not happen! I will not let it happen!”
“You made him.” Map gazed him with dark eyes as cold as the deepest shadows no one ever wanted to explore. “It’s within your power to destroy him. He’s given you that power.”
“Do you think I ever would?” Furious, he turned on the woman who was part of him, whose rage he’d been reborn from, yet somehow had become the vessel for everything he wished to deny. “You may be his mother, but you’re only playing a part which Ashleigh and I gave you. You said it yourself. I made him! I made him for myself!”
“Don’t you see, Dyvian?” Her dark eyes softened. “You are the flames. You are the bonfire. You warm Leiwell, but you could consume him. Right now, you’re tearing him in two.”
With those words she disappeared. Leaving Dyvian alone in the empty darkness of the Shadow Forest with only his fears.
Like my style of writing? Here are some links to my published works…
Christopher gets up from his stone seat and starts to walk through the mists. They part, revealing a large white house with a rose garden in the front.
Christopher: Wherever I go, I seem to find roses.
Christopher turns to see a little girl in a scratchy red sweater, holding a large teddy bear in her arms.
Christopher: (for he’s met these two before, had them as guests at the Cauldron) Hello, Theodora. Hello, Grace.
Grace: Hello, Christopher. Theodora says not to be frightened of these roses. They’re Mama Morisot’s roses. They’ll only scratch you if you’re careless.
Christopher: I’m more frightened for the roses. If I get too close to them, they may wither and die.
Grace: Theodora says let’s take a walk and have a talk, OK? Away from the roses.
Grace turns down a path lined with other houses, carrying Theodora with her. The air gets colder. Singing fills the air, a chorus raised in praise of the holidays. Just a little melancholy for what was lost in the passing year, yet filled with hope and joy for what’s to come.
Christopher follows, feeling the chill, the melancholy, yet touched by the hope. If he let himself truly listen, those voices might start to sound familiar.
Grace: It was at this time of year I met Theodora. Yes, she was a Christmas gift from Nathalie, but it was also when we met.
Grace: Yes, it was a cold day, but I was warm and happy. It should be cold now. Funny how the roses are still blooming in front of Mama Morisot’s house.
Christopher: The roses are always in bloom where I come from.
Grace: Huh, good point, Theodora. (She turns her head to face ahead, but she’s speaking to Christopher.) Maybe Mama Morisot’s roses are blooming because of you. They shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s part of your magic? Or something like that?
Christopher: Roses don’t generally bloom in my presence. Not anymore.
The sky overhead darkens. The street disappears.
Grace: (stops in her tracks) What?
A barren landscape lays before girl, boy, and bear with only a single tree with a golden apple, glowing upon its seemingly skeletal branches.
Golden leaves wink into existence all over the tree. They fall in a gentle rain over Grace, changing her. A slightly different little girl with coppery waves instead of curls falling over a red cape instead of sweater stands there. She’s holding the same bear.
Christopher: Hello, Your Highness. It’s good to see you again.
Princess Grace: (for it is Princess Grace from the fairytale Grace and Theodora: Magic and Mishaps tucked within Wind Me Up, One More Time) It’s not good to hear you talk like that, Christopher. You make me think of Iama the Terrrible.
Christopher steps over to look at the pulsing, glowing golden apple on the branch.
Christopher: Is this where Iama hid her heart so it could no longer hurt her in Grace and Theodora: Magic and Mishaps?
Princess Grace: (lifting her bear up so Theodora is a little closer to the apple) Is this a mishap? Or a choice? To hide her heart?
Christopher: I suppose it was both.
Princess Grace: Anyone might choose to do the same. Anyone with a heart which pained them too much to wish to feel it.
Christopher gazes at the apple as if spellbound.
Christopher: I could almost see it; all the fragmented confusion, all the pain leaving me. Becoming silver cherries growing all over the tree.
For a moment, the gold of the apple fades. Tiny pinpricks of silver light appear all over the boughs, quivering, bright and pale.
Princess Grace: I agree! (She grabs Christopher’s hand, shifting Theodora to under one arm.) We need to leave. This place isn’t good for you.
Christopher: Touching me isn’t good for you. It isn’t safe when I’m so hungry…
He grows silent when the darkness parts, revealing a cozy living room with a fireplace. A fire burns within it. A handsome wooden table covered with a lace tablecloth sits in the room, placed where everyone in the comfortable chairs and couch can enjoy its warmth.
The table different than the one Mousetrick scampered up, a little simpler, yet very pretty. A Forget-Me-Not china pot sits upon the lace tablecloth along with two cups and saucers. There is also a platter of gingerbread.
Princess Grace is gone. It’s Grace in her scratchy sweater once more, studying Christopher with a worried frown.
Grace: Here, hold Theodora. I think you could use a stuffed bear’s hug.
Christopher isn’t sure if this will help. He still gives Theodora a squeeze. Oddly enough he does feel a little warmer. Or maybe it’s just the fire.
Grace strips off her sweater, tossing it to the couch. She’s wearing a handmade green dress with a lace collar underneath. She pours two cups of tea and offers one to Christopher.
Christopher: No, thank you. I have trouble drinking liquids.
Grace: Just hold it. You can still smell it, can’t you?
Christopher takes the teacup, passing the bear back to Grace.
She accepts Theodora, giving her a squeeze.
Grace: I know, Theodora. (She takes a sip of tea, put downs her cup and saucer. She picks up a piece of gingerbread.) That was a cold place. You seemed like you were going to stay there, even though you didn’t want to.
Christopher: Did you actually turn into Princess Grace? Or were you both there? Are you both here now?
Grace: Yes. Anything is possible at the Cauldron. You told me that, remember? Stop trying to hide. You’re doing what Nat and Maia do to hide from things they don’t want to talk about, asking me something else.
Christopher: (smiling a bit) You know you’re a bit like Danyel. You’re relentless.
Grace: Is that good thing or a bad thing? And stop hiding! You’re still hiding behind all these questions!
Christopher: (smiling a bit) Sorry. (His smile fades, crumping around the edges.) Sometimes it seems like everywhere I go is a cold place. Or it turns cold.
Grace: Not it’s not. This place is warm and you’re here. We’re not about to let it get cold.
Christopher: You’re definitely like Danyel. (He breathes in the fragrance of the tea, savoring the scent.) This is a very warm place. It would be so easy to stay here. Or someplace like here.
Grace: Why don’t you?
Christopher: It won’t last. (He shakes his head.) No matter how hard I try to hold on, it won’t last.
Grace frowns at this, holding Theodora close.
Grace: Theodora says nothing does. Not the warm places. Not the cold places. In the end, it’s what you do in that place to make them warm or cold that matters. Even if the time you have in them is fleeting.
Theodora looks at Christopher for a long moment, a sad wisdom shining in her button eyes.
Christopher: (gazing into those buttons in a moment of mutual understanding) Thank you, Theodora.
Grace frowns at Christopher, then looks at her bear with the same frown.
Grace: Stop right there. Why not?
Grace: Why can’t those places last?
Christopher: (shrugs) Why can’t we live happily ever after? Because nothing lasts forever. Things change. No matter how hard we try to hold on, they change. It’s what makes everything precious, including happiness. Everything is fleeting and should be treasured.
Grace: And you’re going to let that stop you from living happily ever after?
Christopher: Grace, I was Happily Ever After. Or an incarnation of Happily Ever After. I tried to grant it to people. They didn’t want it. Eventually they changed, moved on, stopped being happy. They had to. It was part of life.
Grace: So what?
Grace: So a warm place may turn cold. A cold place might also get warm. Or a person will change, move on, stop being happy. It doesn’t mean they won’t be happy again. Just because they’re in a cold place doesn’t mean they can’t warm it up.
Christopher: (chuckles again, breathing in the warm tea) I suppose that’s true.
Grace: Besides, why should we fear change? Sure there’s going to be bad changes, but there will be good changes to. Especially if you’re trying to change things for the good.
Christopher: (glancing at the bear with a smile) I think I understood you, Theodora, even if I don’t speak your special language. What your child is saying makes a certain amount of sense.
Grace: Of course it does! Why can’t we live happily ever after if we keep reinventing happiness?
Christopher: Reinventing happiness…
Grace: It’s one of Nathalie’s favorite words; reinventing. Maybe when your happiness runs out, you have to reinvent it. Once you’ve gotten over the sadness.
Christopher: Maybe we should. Maybe I should. Thank you, Grace.
Grace: You’re welcome. I learned from the best. Not everyone has a bear to listen to, or to listen to them. A bear who’s learned a lot from a Stump of Wisdom.
Christopher: (smiling) I can guess what she said this time, too. She’s proud of you.
Grace’s golden-brown cheeks don’t show blushes, but the brightness of her eyes and the shy smile that spreads across her lips are answer enough.
A very special thank you to the Great Leadership Reset for the gift of optimism they gave me this year. I was able to give some in turn to Grace. Grace was able to give some to Theodora and Christopher. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Never stop.
Speaking of gifts, how about getting adding this holiday story to someone’s book collection? 😉 Wind Me Up, One More Time; the story of Grace, Theodora, Nathalie, Maia, Princess Grace, and Iama the Terrible is available at these places…
For my own, I’ll be finishing up my free taste of Seven Tricks…no, this is not a vampire story. Don’t be confusing by the biting, even if it was love at first bite. Vampires can’t have all the fun. Mice and nutcrackers want to make a point of this or perhaps a nip? :)=
I sank my teeth into his hard shoulder.
His head turned very slowly. He regarded me with wide hungry eyes. The strange prince dropped his jaw, only to close it on my snout.
In a moment of intimacy, we bit each other.
I awoke with the taste of bitter sawdust in my mouth, mixed with the salty residue of nuts.
What comes after a mouse prince is once bitten and all the more smitten? Find out by reading the rest! 😉
On July 7, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a purse, cleaning supplies, and an easel.
This Tale of the Navel was the result…
It was a tangible darkness, grimy, clinging to the shelves of the shop. I dared to reach out a finger to touch it.
“Welcome to reality.” Damian carried a bowl and a rag. “Here in the real world, we have dirt. And dust. And grime. They won’t go away just because you want them to.”
“What it that?” The smell from the bowl was acrid, almost painful.
“Cleaning supplies after a fashion.” Damian dropped the rag into the bowl. “This particular substance works for me…and the Navel. It’s Gabrielle-approved.”
“I’m not sure if it’s Christopher-approved.” My nostrils ached at the odor, causing my temples to throb in time with them.
“Give me a moment.” Damian winked at me. The next moment his expression changed, eyes narrowing, growing bright. He stretched out his hands, waved his hands over the bowl.
Something shimmered within the dish. The acrid scent disappeared, leaving a thick scent of roses in its wake.
“I’m impressed with your sense of smell.” Damian dropped his hands, the glow disappearing when he lowered his eyelashes. “Most wouldn’t have noticed it.”
“Am I most?” I frowned at the sharpness in my own voice. Why was I so annoyed? “It was overwhelming. Distinctive.”
As the roses were now. I took a deep breath, felt their perfume caress my nostrils, press against my throat. “Smells and sights didn’t used to be so sharp. Nothing was.”
Abruptly the musty smell of cloth, wood, things tucked away in a closet mingled with the scent of pressed roses. I could almost imagine I was hiding in a closet. A door opened, letting in the light, allowing me to breathe.
I breathed in the slightly dusty odor of the shelves, of crystals, boxes, and things which had been waiting upon those shelves for a long time. There was no sign of a wardrobe or closet. Not in the shop itself. The mirror I’d once looked at my reflection within was no longer here.
It was dark inside the Navel, but sunshine crept in the door, through the windows. It was dark inside a closet, too. The darkness made it hard to see things. You could hide, but other things remained hidden. Stuffy and filled with the smells of those hidden things, I could almost hear the light tap of a finger upon the door and a voice deeper than Damian’s, saying, “You’ll wither if you hide away away.”
I took a second glance at the shelves; crystal, carved box, chicken statue. Only there was a small cloth bag with a golden clasp lying in front of the chicken.
“That’s new.” I studied the bag, a purse. I heard the sound of a clasp snapping open, felt the weight of the beaded weight of the purse in my hand, but I hadn’t touched it.
“Sometimes new items manifest when we clean the Navel.” The calm in Damian’s voice reassured me, bringing me back. He glanced at the purse without much interest. “If someone wants the items, they’ll come to the Navel for them. If not, they’ll disappear.”
It had been a while since I’d seen a purse. Strange how I hadn’t noticed their absence from the shoulders of the people in Omphalos. I recalled the weight tugging on my shoulder from a long strap. I’d carried a little notebook, a chain with a bunch of keys, many which I didn’t use within it. I’d had to dig through a lot of other stuff to find those things.
I’d been a different person when I carried a purse. Just who had I been? I couldn’t remember her name, just the purse.
Or perhaps I’d simply swallowed that person’s memory of her purse.
This one was different. The purse was smaller, fancier with a spiderweb design of sequins which was both eerie and beautiful.
I didn’t like it. I could almost hear the echo of cruel, high laughter as someone snapped this purse open, hoping to make everyone around her squirm. There was a miniature inside, one I wasn’t sure I wanted to see.
I turned away, wanting to excuse myself, to hide, to go run in the closet when the voice found me. “Don’t ever hide. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Ah, but I did, even if I could no longer remember my shame. I clapped my hands to my cheeks, pressing my fingers to the sides of my face.
“Christopher.” Once again Damian’s magical touch brought me back to the hear and now. Reminding me that I was Christopher. “You’re here. You’re you.”
The door chimes jingled, as if denying that. A girl appeared in the light of the door, forcing my eyes to adjust to sight of her. She wore a short dress of sequins, the same spiderweb design as the purse. A cap hid what I knew were the same glossy black waves as Damian had upon his head, jammed over a heart-shaped face similar to my own. Rose-purple eyes gazed at him from under the brim between the familar wrinkled slits upon her face which were other eyes. And yes, they were slits in her dress where other arms could wave and gesture.
Damian froze, becoming almost like a statue himself.
“I’ve finally found you, my lovely.” She moved with a predatory sashay, yet it wasn’t quite as frightening as Duessa’s under all the rustling skirts. “I thought I’d never catch you, but here you are.”
What little color there was ran out of Damian’s.
She moved closer to us, but her eyes weren’t upon Damian. They were fixed upon the purse.
There was only one thing to do with a stranger in the Navel like this.
“Here you are.” I smiled the brightest, most empty smile I could manage, offering her the purse.
“Ah, yes!” She snatched it out of my hand, snapped it open. “Yes, yes, here is everything I need. At least I’m fairly sure it’s everything I needed.” She frowned a bit. “It seems there was something I wanted…badly. Something I walked out of a dream, hoping to catch…it.”
Once again she fixed her eyes upon Damian, her tongue darting out of her mouth to lick her lips.
“And now you’ve found it.” Damian pulled his composure together like armour, flashing his bright smile at her. “Just as you knew you would.”
“Yes, just as I knew I would.” She frowned as if unsure of her words, only to shrug, dismissing her own uncertainty. Typical of her.
Only who was she? I felt like I knew her well. Damian obviously did. Only something was wrong, off about the woman before me, the way she dressed. It was as if she’d been dropped out of a dream at the Navel’s door a different person.
Who was I to judge someone for that? I found myself smiling, a more genuine smile this time.
To my surprise, the young woman smiled back, a more genuine smile with no cruelty in it. “Ah, well! I can always come back, if there’s something else I need to get here.”
“Yes, you can.” Damian’s fingers pressed down in sharp warning upon my shoulder. Uh oh, that could be considered an invitation. Still I didn’t feel this particular woman posed a threat to us. Not as she was right now. “Have a great day.”
“You, too.” She smiled at both of us this time and turned to head back out the door.
Damian breathed a sigh of relief when she left. “Just what did you think you were doing? Inviting her back in?”
“Shouldn’t I?” I raised a hand to touch his, turning to meet his eyes. “Just who was she?”
“Someone I’ve been trying very hard to avoid.” He shut his eyes for a moment. “If it really was her. Perhaps she did wander in from a dream. Strange things happen when I clean the Navel.”
I thought of my own odd memories of the purse, the wardrobe, and the woman who’d just been here. I wasn’t sure if any of them were truly mine, but I had them now. They weren’t going to fade away.
Perhaps they were a gift from the Navel in return for cleaning.
“Yes,” I agreed, not letting go of Damian’s hand. “Strange things.”
I thought of the easel Damian hid in the gazebo in the garden, the one he set up a canvas in when he was about to paint. I wondered if he’d be painting the strange woman who just appeared.
No, he wouldn’t. He didn’t want her to manifest, not in any form. I could feel it in the tremble of his fingers. He wanted her as far away from him as possible.
I pressed down on his hand, willing as much reassurance as I possessed into him.
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Christopher sits in a surprisingly cushy red chair in front of a roaring fire in a comfortable, old-fashioned living room. Instead of mist, there’s endless amounts of tissue paper everywhere. A huge platter of cheese and gingerbread sit on silver platters on a marble-topped table with clawed wooden legs.
In a red cushy chair opposite him stands a little mouse with dark fur, whiskers twitching.
Mousetrick: There. Isn’t this better? Much more comfortable than your usual stone seat surrounded by mist. I even provided us with refreshment!
Christopher: You provided yourself with refreshment. I don’t exactly eat food like that. I can only handle a tiny morsel and not always.
Mousetrick: Really? (twitches his tail) You poor creature. Not only do you have a hideously ugly countenance, but you’re incapable of savoring cheese and gingerbread? They’re among the finer things in life!
Christopher: (a bit wistfully) Are they?
Mousetrick: Indeed! I’ll just help myself if you don’t mind.
The mouse runs down the leg of his chair only to climb up the claw of the table to where the cheese awaits. He starts munching on a piece of cheese, only to be distracted by his reflection in the silver platter.
No, not his reflection. In the etching of a nutcracker’s face into the platter itself.
Mousetrick: (after swallowing) I must say there is something to be said for this Cauldron, the way it changes into whatever you want. It’s quite pleasant to be surrounded by dainties and loveliness. No wonder you spend most Mondays here.
Christopher: Err, thank you? I can’t really take credit for the Cauldron. The scribbler set it up with her husband’s help. It’s all part of WordPress. Our current setting comes from, as you say, your own desires and wishes.
Mousetrick: Really? Qute the discerning and cultivated Cauldron this. Our scribbler is much better at conception than she is at performance and direction.
Christopher: Hmm, yes, I see what you mean.
Mousetrick: My dear giant, how could you not? I pity that Polkadot Mouse, trying to channel my magnifence, puppetted by the scribbler’s clumsy human hands.
Christopher: Are you talking about our scribbler’s reading of Seven Tricks last Saturday?
Mousetrick: Honestly. I know the scribbler created us, but I pity a great, gawky human like her. Trying to depict Madam Mousenip and myself, convey the scope of our hopes and dreams through with human lips and a human voice.
Mousetrick: The scribbler has a big brain. I’ll give her and other humans that. I suppose her hands and her mouth scamper desperately to keep up with her mind and her words. Ah, well, she’s only human.
Mousetrick: I pity not just her, but all humans. Not only are you big and ugly, but you have such long, dull lives you plod through with all your heaviness. With all that time, where’s the drive, the impetus to truly scamper toward your cheese? Or anything else you want?
Christopher: I’m not sure if I can answer that question. I’m not exactly human. Nor do I eat cheese.
Mousetrick: That’s very odd. You look human.
Christopher: Yes. This is the form Damian visualized before drawing me forth in this shape from the Shadow Forest.
Mousetrick: You’d think this Damian would give you a handsomer form. Shame on him.
Christopher: (touching his own face) Am I truly that ugly?
Mousetrick: Well…(takes another bite of cheese, chews, and considers) I suppose you’re not all that different from other humans. If this Damian himself has a hideous human countenance, he may not know any better.
Christopher: (brindling) Damian is not hideous!
Mousetrick: (lifting a conciliatory paw) Now, now, don’t go thundering, giant. I suppose you giants all look very handsome to each other. Still what’s with your jaw? (He waves at the image of the nutcracker embossed in silver.) Now that’s a jaw!
Christopher: Is that face handsome to you?
Mousetrick: Is that face handsome?! It’s beyond handsome! It’s beauty guaranteed to make cheese curdle, tissue shred, and a thousand scamper into traps willingly! It’s legendary loveliness!
Christopher: Do other mice think so?
Mousetrick: Well, err, no. Other mice think I’ve gone mad, swooning over that face.
Christopher: Have you met the owner of that face?
Mousetrick: In my dreams. I hope to meet him. I’m hoping to prove myself to him. Handsome is as handsome does.
Mousetrick: Well, no. Not at first. Handsome deeds are a way to make your beauty shine for a larger audience. Why do you think I’m performing seven tricks, giant? A fine pelt and expressive whiskers will only take you so far.
Christopher: I see what you mean. Good luck in scampering the rest of the distance.
Mousetrick: Oh, I mean, too. I’m just going to enjoy this Cauldron cheese and gingerbread while I can.
Christopher: You should. It may well fade away once we finish talking.
Mousetrick: (eats the rest of a chunk of cheese, chews, swallows) All the more reason to enjoy it while it’s here. (starts nibbling the gingerbread) Enjoy everywhile while it…and you…are still here. That’s age-old mouse wisdom, squeaked to each generation.
Christopher: Is it? That’s good advice.
Mousetrick: Of course it is. (takes a bigger bite of gingerbread)
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For my own, Mousetrick will get a little more aggressive with the mysterious beauty under the human’s ornate shrub…
Was he mocking me?
I nudged him with my snout.
He rocked on his stiff wooden legs but didn’t budge. The creature stood like a human being, but no human possessed so broad and beautiful a mouth as he. Nor did they smell so deliciously of roasted nuts.
“Maybe you’re a giant nut yourself,” I said in the way of mice, which sounds like chittering to anyone without the talent to understand our speech. “Do you taste as good as you smell?”
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