Chapter 3: The Secret
Lighting another cigarette, I said, “All right, so this dame is off her rocker about a mile and a half—I get that. But what was all that talk earlier about the castle being dangerous, her being evil, and you two staying silent to keep your heads? Sounds to me like old lady Potts only had it out for that scrub, Charlie.”
The clock, looking nervous, leaned forward and tapped my deck of Luckies with his hand.
“May I, sir?” he asked.
“Can you?” I replied.
“I’m not sure,” he said, pulling out a cancer stick, which fit in his hand like a long sword. “But it might be time I started—settle down these tightly wound gears of mine.”
The candlestick gave him a light, and we all sat in silence as the smoke calmed his nerves and blackened his lungs—or is it gears? I’m not familiar with the anatomy of enchanted objects. Watching him suck on the end of that coffin nail got me thinking about it, though; and I began to wonder how someone—or something—like him goes to the bathroom.
“We are cursed beings, sir,” said the clock, his words sliding off his tongue like the smoke in which they were encased. “And it's because of this curse that Potts has been able to build her family. Do you really think she’d let that go?” A misty darkness then fell over the clock’s words. “Her deepest fear is losing her children, you see, being alone again. And, therefore, she keeps the ones she’s created locked away in a cupboard, never letting them roam free.” A cloud of smoke emanated from his quivering mouth. “They’re her prisoners.”
“Oui,” interjected the candlestick. “She spends hours watching them from behind the glass of the cupboard door. She even fills their, um, heads, I guess, with chamomile tea to make them drowsy, just so she can watch them sleep.”
“But that’s not the worst of it,” mumbled the clock, as if the very thought of what he was about to say was weighing him down. “Because she fears losing them, she spends her days fighting to keep the curse alive.”
I’ve heard a great deal of crazy things in my life, seen some stuff that would make the toughest of men, men like Van Johnson, crumble like a dyslexic kid at a spelling bee. I’ve seen killers do the dance in the village square, dimwitted scrubs given the old Harlem sunset, and trouble boys get filled with daylight from rival crews in ‘28 Cadillacs. Such things make a man hard, like my fourth grade arithmetic. But this dame, Potts—by golly, was I ever unprepared to hear her rap sheet.
“Look around,” whispered the clock to me, as he leaned in close, placing his elbow on the table and emanating a stream of smoke. “How many women do you see?”
He didn’t have to ask twice—I quickly started taking a headcount. From my vantage point, I could see three chippies, each one as unique as a common cold, and one barmaid. I almost counted this big, brawny character the pub had been singing about earlier, since every guy in the place was practically drooling over him like they would if Lana Turner herself had walked in.
“Four,” I said.
“Exactly,” replied the clock, pointing at me. “And there aren’t very many more in the entire town, I’ll bet. Why do you think this is?”
“How long have you been in town, sir?”
“I got in last night,” I replied, wondering where he was gong with this line of inquiry.
“Did you notice anything odd about the people?”
“I dunno. They seemed laid-back, charming; though I guess I sensed an underlining uneasiness about them. I mean, they do appear to be drinking a lot tonight. What about it?”
“Afraid, is what they are, sir,” said the clock with a grave whisper. “You see, ten years ago, in the days when this village was wealthy and flourishing, things were—shall we say—simple. Men labored while the women kept house and raised children. Very traditional, you see.”
“Look, buddy, where’s this going, huh?” This story seemed to have a lot of bunny trails, and I was quickly losing my patience.
“Excuse me,” said the clock apologetically, tapping ash from his cigarette. “I will make my point. In those days, the people of the village had little with which to become educated. All they knew was domesticity and making a living by the sweat of their brow. This presented the perfect opportunity for the accursed Mrs. Potts to ensure the witch’s spell would remain intact.”
“The point?” I barked, tapping my finger on the table.
“Of course, of course,” said the clock, hurriedly. “Because the curse can only be lifted if a woman comes to the castle and falls in love with our master, and he with her, Potts decided the best way to keep women at bay would be to lure them in; and she did this by making an anonymous donation of several dozen books from our stupidly extensive library to the village, books that opened minds, promoted adventure, and offered readers insight and escape into the world of imagination—books that would appeal to women sitting at home, looking to pass the time between chores.”
“And it worked!” declared the candlestick. "Women flocked to the bookshop to get their fill on adventures and tales of far off lands.”
“Indeed,” concurred the clock. “And the men were very supportive, at first. What’s not to love about a woman with a mind, am I right?”
The clock took a long drag on his cigarette, and then slowly tapped the ash onto the table before continuing.
“Well,” he said in a glum manner, “the women, now filled with wonder, began to crave the adventures about which they’d been reading, and yearned to test their new ideas and theories. And so, with the full support of their families, many woman set out to change the world. Only, there was one problem.”
“What?” I begged.
July 7, 2015
C. K. Conners
©2015 by C. K. Conners