Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
A sudden gust of wind blew leaves and a scattering of twigs from a giant maple tree in the old woman’s yard. Kurt and Jesse watched in awe as the leaves merged with the twigs and transformed into a flock of what looked like sparrows and then flew northwest. “I’m out of tea,” Melania explained as she led them through the door. “The young Asian lady who works at Hunter’s grocery will send some when she gets my message.” She noticed the boys staring after the birds. “It’s much faster than starting my old Buick and making the drive. Petrol is so expensive these days – ninety-six cents a gallon last I looked. What can a few tea bags weigh? The sparrows will be fine!”
“How did you do that?” Kurt gasped as he pointed to the tree and the tiny specks in the sky.
“The branches and leaves on the trees are all living things and thus are interchangeable with man-made creations.” Melania noticed Jesse staring at her gnarled and twisted hands. “The secret is in science and nature … not in my boney fingers!”
Jesse had imagined the heavy wooden entrance door would creak when she opened it, because doors as old as this one always creaked in the movies, but even though its hinges were rusted, it rolled without a whisper. “I wasn’t exaggerating about waking the dead,” Melania said brushing her fingers across the cast iron gargoyle. “There’s more nonliving things in this house than living, especially in the basement, and an enchantment on a door knocker is much better than a burglar alarm.”
Melania led them through an old fashioned parlor or sitting room and into what looked like a freshly-painted canary yellow kitchen. She motioned for them to sit at a large round table with a glass top as she filled an ancient looking Dallah Bedouin tea pot with water and placed it on a burner.
Kurt cleared his throat. “I guess you’re wondering why we’re here?”
“I know why you’re here,” Melania said with a smile. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have invited you in.” Kurt was amazed at how beautiful the old woman was … her eyes were like dark garden pools lit from below, with shimmering moonlight dancing on the surface. He found it nearly impossible to guess her age although reason and stories from his parents and grandparents told him she had to be ancient.
Both Jesse and Kurt could feel a slight breeze that was somehow intoxicating … like a mother’s tender caress after an infant’s injury. Lights on a spinning fan above the table rotated along with the blades and created ever changing shadows and angles of light. One second Melania looked like a school girl no older than sixteen the next instant she was a twisted hag lurching well past a hundred.
“You know about the Royal Theater’s new projector?”
“No,” Melania said. “But I know Joseph Callahan. He used to throw-off bravura sparks when we were together … nineteen thirty-one to thirty-three I believe it was … and I would catch them like glowing embers while we danced. People didn’t have a lot of money back then so we were forced to fall in love with all the simple things in life. Then something terrible happened between us and the raging fire inside that I felt for him was extinguished. But that’s a miserable story better suited for those who seek out and adore gloom. It’s a pity; in some ways he and I are still very much alike. We both dabble in magic … although his is of a more practical almost you could say scientific type.”
“How did you know we needed to see him?” Jesse was astonished that Melania took their arrival so matter-of-factly.
“All non-physical things such as dreams, thoughts and emotions can be found riding a dark energy wind called fatoma,” Melania told them. “Especially whispers from the obsoletes … as it is the poor lingering souls only way of communicating.”
“That’s amazing! How do you receive this information?” Jesse was staring through an arched doorway into the living room where a large porcelain jar sitting on an upright piano had just fallen on its side. Hundreds of glass balls rained down onto the keyboard playing an exuberant rendition of Tchaikovsky’s - Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major.
“Sorry for the noise,” Melania said. “I do need to have that piano tuned.” Just then there was a tapping from outside a large stained-glass panel hanging over the sink. The colored glass depicted a ragged medieval-city rat perched atop a mountain of bones. Melania put on a pair of thick gardening gloves and opened the window “Thank the gods the dark and horrible plagues that ravaged the world six centuries ago are now imprisoned in this masterful glass … I just hope the more mischievous children in Cloverdale never decide to start throwing stones!”
A dozen sparrows flew inside. Each one held a bag of Da-Hong Pao tea in their tiny talons. The boys noticed that the birds appeared to be constructed of tiny whirling gears and with wings made of silk. “I do hope you like this blend of Wuyi rock tea,” Melania said looking at a tiny bill attached to one sparrow’s leg. She had to take her gloves off to remove it. “The price has been rather dear as of late.” She noticed Kurt and Jesse both looking at her oddly and shook her head. “You must excuse me; how rude not to have answered your question, Jesse. There have been so many distractions as of late and my dimly lit brain flutters about like a cluster of Fuoco-flies caught in a bottle. I know what you want because you both left this house not an hour ago!”
Both boys were now gaping open-mouthed.
“Sometimes reversing Fatoma winds can be as easy as flipping a switch!” They watched as she walked to a wall plate and turned off the ceiling-fan. The exuberant feeling of having their faces caressed by a loving mother slowly faded. A moment later Melania once again pressed the switch this time downward. The fan began to turn slowly at first and then picking up speed everything was moving in reverse. Both boys now seemed to be in a dark theater watching as the film stopped and then began to run backward at high speed. The flock of sparrows flew backward out the stained-glass window and Melania closed it behind them. Tchaikovsky’s - Piano Concerto sounded like Indian music as it played in reverse. They watched themselves leave the room with Melania … all three walking backwards. After they watched the door close before it was opened there was a lull of almost thirty seconds before they once again left the kitchen. This time Jesse had a cut above his left cheek and Kurt had two black eyes. Melania stopped the fan once again and started it moving forward. “Those in need who bend the dark wonders into useful tools call it magic,” she said. “Joseph Callahan would call it Quantum Physics.”
Just then the antique tea-pot began to sing Credence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising in Arabic. “Many people think the Genie from the Arabian Nights comes from a lamp,” Melania said. “They’re wrong … he’s always lived in this brass container … turn over your cups the tea is almost ready.”
Kurt and Jesse turned over tiny porcelain cups on the glass table and dangled in tiny woven bags filled with tea leaves as Melania poured the steaming water. She now looked well over a hundred. “Let the tea seep for a few moments,” she said. “It doesn’t strengthen the flavor … but the cups are quite delicate. They were crafted in China in 1419 and like my old bones they tend to get brittle when exposed to sudden heat or cold.”
Jesse watched as a mist from the tea swirled upward creating prisms of light that danced on the walls of the room. “If you knew that we were trying to find Joseph Callahan then you must know that we’re looking for a way into Motha Forest … that is if the projector’s inventor still resides in the old textile mill.”
“He does,” Melania said sitting down. “And you’re right about the forest. The domain of the Mommet is a dark and dangerous place for the unwary traveler.” Melania took a sip of her tea and she was suddenly young again darkly ravaging and dangerously beautiful.
“This Wuyi stuff is so very very … cool!” Jesse and Kurt both gazed at the old woman with dreamy eyes.
“Oh that’s not the rock tea,” Melania confessed with a blush. “It’s the blended Ginseng … so much better for avaricious things … and I must say a great deal cheaper! But enough of that. Don’t worry about getting into that dark forest … I’ll drive you myself, my old Buick needs a good run. Although I will not go inside the mill …. spiders! Too large for a broom and I never took a fancy to them. But right now while we enjoy ourselves with this intoxicating brew perhaps you’ll tell me about Bridget Bardot … I’ve often wondered what enchantments she uses on men in general. Did you notice if her eyes changed color under the moonlight? Were her lips as soft as rose petals or as firm as teenage anticipation? Was she dripping with Ein Gedi from Israel or just splashed with a bit of Chanel No. 5? I’m sure she must be a witch. Come now … don’t be stingy with the details!”
The front seat of the 1949 Roadmaster was huge – easily big enough to seat both Jesse and Kurt in comfort. With what looked like flames shooting out of the port holes on each side of the classic Buick, they felt like they were in a Word War II fighter plane. Melania tore down unpaved roads catching-air on every bridge they crossed, taking corners at more than 90 MPH and burying the speedometer on the straight sections. “I don’t know how much being a witch pays,” Kurt said gripping the armrests with white knuckles. “But if you ever decide to change professions I’m sure NASCAR would create an opening.”
Jesse was startled when the old woman tuned the radio to KRNR, a local Rock and Roll radio station, and then cranked the volume almost all the way up. Deep Purple was playing Smoke on the Water. “I keep hearing imaginary noises every time I drive this piece of junk,” Melania said. “Tires about to blow, leaking radiators and loose push rods … extra-loud music helps me to relax.”
Before the song ended Melania was careening sideways into the gravel yard of an old farm house on River Road that seemed built next to a wall of trees. The boys didn’t know whether to be thankful or not when the car finally skidded to a stop; they were alive but the old farm house looked like something that might soon change that. Black windows like the empty eye-sockets of a corpse stared as Melania opened her door and they slowly did the same. “There’s a tunnel entrance in the basement covered by about an inch of old cotton fibers. It’s about a mile long and comes out a few hundred yards from the old mill. Joseph’s place and most of the rest of Motha Forest is guarded by a group of colorless women who call themselves my daughters.” Melania snapped her fingers and a black rose in full bloom appeared in her hand as if by magic. She gave it to Jesse. Show this to the most aggressive one when you’re caught … and make no mistake you will be. They usually follow my advice and there’s a good chance they’ll let you live … at least long enough to talk to Joseph Callahan.”
Both boys stood frozen as they watched Melania drive away. Then slowly they turned and entered the old house.
“There’s a good chance they’ll let you live …” Kurt mimicked Melania’s words as he and Jesse crept through the old tunnel with flashlights supplied by Melania. “I don’t know about you but I don’t plan on getting caught. Especially not by a bunch of women who cover their faces with white cloth bags.”
“This is kind of disturbing,” Jesse said. “We both saw ourselves entering Melania’s house in reverse even though to the best of my knowledge neither of us has ever been there before. I had a cut above my left cheek and you had two black eyes; we didn’t get those by not tangling with anyone.”
Kurt rubbed his eyes as if to make certain they weren’t swollen. “I just hope that when we find Callahan he has the means and the will to fix the projector! What if he knows exactly what it does and just doesn’t care?”
“Melania said they were alike … let’s hope he’s as helpful as she has been!”
At the end of the tunnel, they found an old wooden ladder fastened to the wall … its upper rungs disappeared into the darkness. “Looks like we’re almost there,” Jesse said as he started to climb. “Perhaps we can sneak into the mill without getting caught!”
“If you fall, try not to make any noise … screaming, or that sort of thing,” Kurt suggested as he followed. Within a couple of minutes they had clambered up more than one-hundred rungs. “It really won’t do any good … and it makes it hard for those of us that are always careful with everything we do.”
“Watch that last rung,” Jesse warned as he lifted open the top hatch. He heard Kurt scream and was just quick enough to turn and catch his friend before he fell. “My God! A snake!” Kurt wailed as he scrambled to get his feet back on the ladder. “I put my hand right on it!”
“So much for being quiet,” Jesse said as he pulled Kurt out of the shaft. The Moonlit forest looked almost as bright as day after being in the dark tunnel. They could see the old mill in the distance, silhouetted against a background of stars.
Kurt brushed himself off and began to laugh. “Were almost there and I don’t see any sign of Melania’s so-ugly-they-bag-their-faces daughters!”
The stars were suddenly extinguished as a large black tarp or blanket was thrown over them. The fabric was dry but clung to them as if it were wet. They couldn’t move and could barely breathe. Kurt heard a female voice speaking right above him. “What makes you think we’re ugly just because we wear sacks on our faces?” she said. And then she kicked him.
TO BE CONTINUED …