Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chapter 7

The village of Malkirk was small, quiet, and squat in that uniquely British way, like a shabby uncle after a few too many sherries. The trees were the round, fat types, with massive emerald leaves. The grass was dotted with daffodils. The train station was small and quiet, but for the old porter who hailed each visitor personally and kindly. There was a butchers, and a bakers; a small variety shop where regular household goods could be picked up, and a plumbers. There was a new office in town; a little legal place where people could get help with taxes and wills and the like. On the edge of town was a post office and a bank, providing most of Malkirk's connection with the outside world.

Adam had been living there for two months. He couldn't quite remember how he had transferred from his life on the run to a peaceful life in Malkirk, but it didn't concern him unless he thought about it too hard. He liked his neighbours, did his chores, and obeyed the rules of the Church and the Town. Obeying the rules made him feel happy, and always had. He was safe, as well, and the King kept the town safe and clean and happy. The town was practically out of a 1950s novel's utopia, a Disney village where the streets were clean and the lone bobby was never needed. People only needed legal services once in a while, but it was enough work to support his lifestyle. As for his older lifestyle, well, that just wasn't done. And Adam obeyed the town's rules.

He woke up every day, bright and early, and walked to the edge of town to buy food. As he approached the swaying fields, lined with scarecrows, his head began to throb again. Adam put his headache down to hunger, and bought fresh bread and cheese, eating it on his way back to town. He saw one of the town's councilmen greeting someone at the train station, and wandered over as his headache abated. The councilman, Roger Matthews, grinned over his half-moon glasses as Adam approached, "Ah, Adam! Such a pleasure to see you-- we were just going to drop by your office! Let me introduce you," Matthews gestured to the stranger, "This is Mr. Green. He's an American, like you, and a friend of the Church," Matthews gave Mr. Green a playfully disapproving look, "Though he's not a member."

"Not at the moment," Mr. Green said, in a clipped Midwestern accent. Mr. Green was a tall man, with fair hair, and very light blue eyes. He seemed strangely familiar.

"Have we met?" Adam asked, reaching out to shake the man's hand.

"Maybe once, a long time ago, but to meet again-- you do have a familiar air to you. In any case, well, I think that's cause for a proper greeting. Nice to meet you, Mr. Adam. Enjoy your time here."

"I have been, and I will!" Adam grinned, and bid the pair farewell. He walked back into the town, and was just getting back to his office when one of the old women by the butcher's called out to him.

"Adam, be a dearie, would you, and take this ham up to old Mr. Summanus? He's been put up by a gammy leg, again, and he needs his protein." Adam grabbed the bag from the woman-- the butcher's wife, he remembered, and walked towards the edge of town. Malkirk was growing, and needed more housing. So the edge of Malkirk was taken over by construction, though the company in charge changed every month or two. Most of the men changed, as well-- they were being run out of town, or went into the woods. And that just wasn't done. The construction site was just across from a primary school, and the kids were playing their chanting games and drawing images from their Church-provided picture books on chalk on the playground.

The Reverend Summanus lived in a cul-de-sac a half-mile walk from the main town. The walk was pleasant enough, if not for the slightly eerie and headache inducing scarecrows that dotted the fields. Adam occasionally trained his eyes across the treeline, then reprimanded himself for doing so. His fears were silly. Adam clenched his teeth a little-- the humming was acting up again. It was at the background of the town at almost all times, and there was nothing to be done about it. The hum was a factor in life everyday, and usually it didn't bother him. Still, he sped his walking to get to the Reverend's house. It was in the middle of a few other identical squat houses, all with magnificent gardens and white picket fences.

Adam knocked on Summanus' door, and waited a few moments, patiently. The old man had moved to Malkirk for retirement, and had suffered a couple of shocks that had mussed up his leg and hindered his movement. The Reverend still hadn't appeared, and something was making him feel uneasy, standing vulnerably in front of the green door. Adam knocked again. There was no movement inside, so, hoping that the older gentlemen would be forgiving or understanding, Adam tried the handle. It was unlocked, so Adam went inside, looking for the fridge. The fridge was scattered with children's drawings, which wasn't unusual, as Summanus looked after many of the town's children. One of them seemed to have fallen under the fridge, and Adam bent to retrieve it, forgetting himself momentarily.

The sheet of paper appeared to be blank, at first, but closer inspection showed it to be lined with white crayon. Intrigued, Adam fumbled for a pencil, and lightly sketched over the paper, in an attempt to see what the wax was outlining. He scribbled for a few minutes, not thinking about the ham, warm in its bag, or his burgeoning headache. Adam stepped back from the children's drawing, and frowned. A man, drawn as a child draws, with too long arms, fingers, and legs, and a line separating his torso in two; a line with three sharp prongs on the end; and a group of blocks, arranged into a circle. The third item could be one of the "faerie rings," or the Malkirk Circles, that span around the Tafe woods. More places that were forbidden. The rest seemed like childish scribbles, and Adam chuckled at himself, that he would spend so much time on such a thing.

Still, there was no sign of the good Reverend, and Adam was nervous; he was supposed to be housebound, after all. Adam put his delivery in the fridge, and crept further into the house. Summanus was neither in the lounge, nor the bathroom, nor his bedroom. The guest bedroom was empty too, and had gathered a noticeable layer of dust. Adam walked back down the stairs puzzled, and then noticed a door he hadn't before. He knocked three times, and tried the knob. It was a study, lined with many books that looked like they hadn't been touched in months. The only books with much ware were Church pamphlets and tomes. On the desk were a few letters, and above it was a golden... a golden staff. It was clawed at the end, with three "prongs."

Something at the back of Adam's mind flickered, slightly.

At the clinic, Ibola managed to wake up from the awful fever dream long enough to see the nurse plunge the needle back into her arm.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Chapter 6

They left London a day later, by train. They were instructed to get off the train at Lancaster, stay there a night, and then take a bus to Keswick. From there, they could take a more local bus to Malkirk. The train station was loud, and crowded. Ibola grabbed Adam's upper arm as they negotiated through tubes and tube station. A few times someone growled a unfriendly sentence at them, and Adam was temporarily relieved that Ibola couldn't speak English. The electronic ticket booth was broken, so they stood in a queue for twenty minutes to talk to a sour-looking vendor, who practically spat an exuberant price at them and gestured uselessly when they asked for directions. Down a crowded hallway, that smelled strongly of grease and cigarette smoke, they stumbled to a large room with several platforms. It took them a few minutes to find the right station.

They sat on the train in a daze, facing each other across a hard, grey table. Ibola's fingers played with someone's spilt coffee as she stared out the window, into the drizzle outside. Adam closed his eyes and hunched his shoulders. theerrrrre was a throbbing in the front of his skull, a little above his nose, and it tensed all the muscles in his forehead. He rubbed his temples, eyes still closed, and asked an attendant for a glass of water. Ibola said nothing. The world seemed washed out, desaturated, and flavourless. All the train car's inhabitants seemed glum and distracted. The only colour that peaked through was a wash of sickly yellow. The train was eerily silent, apart from the occasional cry of a baby.

"What are we going to do when we get there?" Ibola asked, gently.

Adam shrugged, "I don't know."

"Do we have to get this-- thing she was asking for? I mean, surely there are other ways of--"

"She has the information we're looking for. I don't trust her at all, but I can't think of any other way of finding out what happened to me, or to your son..." Adam bit back his words slightly, and looked away. Ibola seemed unaffected by the mention of her son.

"If you don't trust her, how can you trust she has the information?"

"I--" Adam began, but swallowed, the sentence dying in his throat. He mumbled, "She didn't give me the information, but she displayed that she had it-- a name. She gave me a name."

Ibola shrugged, and went back to staring out the window, her fingers still playing with the coffee spill. They ate sad sandwiches out of plastic triangles and too-sweet soft drinks. Every attempt to make conversation was muted and suffocated by the dull fog that seemed to inhabit everything. They were on the train for five hours. As it stopped, they were hurried off by a tinny announcement in a non-threatening female voice, and were rushed through to the streets of Keswick. It took them twenty minutes to find a bus station. The buses were spotty, and they had to ask another tinny voice for a bus schedule to Malkirk. "That's interesting, not many people go out that way," the woman said, in a fierce attempt to be friendly. She gave them a bus schedule, a brochure for hotels, and directions to a good pub.

They stood outside the bus station. It was raining. "The next one to Malkirk is at 4:30am tomorrow morning, and it looks like it takes an hour and a half..." Adam said.

"Are we going to make a plan of how to steal this... staff?"

"I think I need a drink, first," Adam said, walking off in the direction of the pub they'd been pointed towards.

The Hog's Head Pub was dingy and squat, and empty. Outside, a few women sat with cigarettes, chatting over their drinks beneath an umbrella. Inside, an old man nursed his pint in the corner. The bartender looked up from a crossword as they came in. "Beer, please," Adam said, proffering his credit car.

The bartender grinned, picking up the hint of desperation in the man's voice, "American, eh? I'll get you something a little weaker than the house, then..."

Adam ignored the bartender's crack, and asked Ibola if she wanted anything. She shook her head.

"Africans!" the old man cried, merrily, "Haven't seen your types up here in a while!"

The bartender waved away at the man, "Shut up, you damned idiot, not every black person is an African. They're Americans, right?"

The end of the bartender's sentence suggested it was a question, but he seemed certain enough that there was no response to be given. Adam grabbed his beer, and the two sat down. "Plan? Please?" Ibola asked.

"I kinda figured we'd go in, asking him to preach to us or something, then you grab it when his head is turned and we run."

"That's a terrible and vague idea," Ibola said, smiling faintly, "But we don't have much else to work with. We don't even know what the layout of Malkirk is like, or what escape routes we could--"

"Did she say Malkirk?" Interrupted the old man in the corner, "I couldn't tell."

"She did?" Adam said, "Why?"

"Are you two going up there?"

"Yeah, we're visiting a friend," Adam paused, "But, uh, we've not been up here before. What's it like up there?"

"Haha, you'll not be needing return tickets. They're insular types, lots of people are attracted to the town but not many of 'em leave! Lots of woods, and they have fairies up there-- real ones, dark ones, not like the pussy-footed ones you have today! The towns small, lots of copses of houses around, and it's all focused in on a church."

"Oh?" Adam said. The critical part of his mind was telling him that the old man was mad, that faeries didn't exist; but if the monster existed, then who was to say what was real.

"You'll want to be in an out soon. It's a depressing place, and the people are mad. Real religious, good, godfaring people, pay their taxes like the rest of us, but mad!" The old man cackled into his drink.

"Thanks, that was very helpful," Adam said dryly, not sure if he was being sarcastic or not. He turned to Ibola, switching back to French, "He says Malkirk's weirder than most small towns."

"Of course it is. We don't go anywhere normal anymore," Ibola said.

The old man didn't seem to apprrreeeeciaaaeciate the attention turning away from him, and burst out, "You have to stay out of their stone rings, or they'll get you! The world's melting away here, don't let them get to you!"

Adam frowned, and downed his drink, "I can tell."

"Can we go?" Ibola stood, her question actually an instruction. Adam followed her out of the pub, but he glanced back a couple of times as they walked away.

They stayed the night in another seedy motel, Adam collapsed on the bedspread, and Ibola barely sleeping. She dug her fingernails into her arm, and planned for the coming day. They would be on the bus, ask for preaching, and then something would go horribly wrong. It had to. She listened to the rain, and wondered if it was too late to go home. Adam mumbled something, and shifted in his bed. Maybe it wasn't too late to get him home.