Chapter 4: The Beginning
The clock paused, and then lowered his head slightly. “They say all roads lead to paradise,” he muttered, looking down, while a dark chuckle tumbled through his lips and off his chin. “Paradise. What a farce!” His head still turned down, the clock lifted his eyes and stared at me from beneath his furrowed brow. “None of us knew anything about Potts’ actions. None of us knew she’d donated the books. None of us knew she’d planned to lure the women to the castle. And none of us—”
A deep and teary breath flowed harshly, in and out, from the clock’s chest; and he slowly lifted his cigarette in front of his face and ground it into a mess of paper and dust before slamming his palm down onto the table.
His hand shaking, the clock lifted it to his mouth and closed his eyes until he’d completely composed himself. The candlestick and I watched helplessly from our seats, wide-eyed and not sure what to do—very much like the way you watch two hours of your life fade away in front of a silly, romantic movie with your girlfriend.
“Beneath the stairs that climb to the west wing,” continued the clock, wiping tears from his eyes and twirling his hand in the pile of ground tobacco on the table, “there is a passage, which leads to a corridor, wherein lie the tombs of the late king and queen. It was there I discovered the secret long kept, on that fateful day I passed by the staircase and saw the way was open. And there, deep inside, piled in a forgotten heap were countless village women, all poisoned and laying amongst books from our library and doctored maps that Potts had slipped beneath every cover, which led every path to the castle."
“And now you see why the village is so against reading and thinking,” declared the candlestick, “and why there are so few women! They’re afraid to lose more loved ones to the unknown perils of adventure.”
“O, if only they knew!” cried the clock.
There it was, plain and simple, like the bran muffins no one ever eats down at the station. Not only had this dame, Potts, bumped off a slew of adventure-starved females from the village, she’d managed to turn the entire town against reading, against thinking, against using the mind in any way, shape, or form. That broad’s menacing manipulation, her lamentable lavishing of literature and diabolical donations of doctored directional diagrams, all in the name of protecting her own interests, had cost countless lives and enslaved hundreds more in fear. Despicable. And, yes, downright evil.
“Will you help us?” begged the candlestick.
I hadn’t been this afraid of a teapot since the day my sister forced me to play dress-up teatime with her and her dolls. But there were twenty Gs massaging the inside of my pocket and a bold and confident image of me punting a talking teapot through a set of golden uprights. How difficult could getting rid of a teapot actually be?
“Please, sir,” implored the clock. “Our time is short. Already there is a woman staying in the castle. So far, we, the staff, have been able to keep Potts at bay; but heaven knows how long we can keep that up. You must help us, not just for the young lady’s sake, but for the sake of the innocent clones trapped in the cupboard.”
“Oui,” interjected the candlestick. “If this young lady breaks the spell, those poor clones will be trapped in the cupboard as they all simultaneously transform into humans! Think of the carnage!”
“What about Chuck?” I asked. “Is he trapped in the cupboard too?”
“No,” replied the clock, shaking his head. “She lets him roam free. He’s reckless, you see—hopped up on morning breakfast tea, which leaves him prone to impulses. She may just be waiting for him to break himself.”
Removing my fedora, I ran my fingers through my hair, and said, “All right, fellas. I’m in. I’ll help you get rid of this broad.”
“Splendid!” declared the clock! “Here,” he said, sliding a map across the table. “This will lead you straight to the castle.
I looked it over for a few moments before the clock’s hand peeled down the northern end of the paper, and he said to me, “There’s one thing more you should know. Potts has a man on the outside. We know not who he is, but we know she’s been using him to woo every lady in town to keep the remaining few away. Now that he’s failed to retain one, the lady presently in our castle, we think he may soon attempt to find her—and if he does, we fear Potts may go so far as to have him kill our master, thus solidifying the curse for all time.”
“Why hasn’t Potts just killed the master herself?” I asked.
“Love,” he replied in a tenderly dispirited manner, as if somewhere deep down in his cogs, gears, and chimes, there was a part of him that truly pitied Potts. “The master was orphaned at a young age. In a way, he’s like an adopted son to her. But desperation, we fear, may lead to her forsaking the adopted for the created.”
The conversation ended right about then. I bid them farewell, and watched until both had bounced out the door, past the inebriated pub guests, many of whom, upon double-taking the sight of a pair of two-foot high, bouncing cloaks, proceeded to sniff the liquor in their mugs before dumping it on the floor.
So what happened next? Did I end Potts’ reign of terror? Save the clones? Was the curse lifted? Well, that part of the story hasn’t been written yet. Right now, I’m just standing outside the castle gates, peering inside, and preparing myself for what’s to come. It’s a world of unknowns, that’s for sure, full of danger. But hey, danger is my middle name. Well, actually, no it’s not. It’s Dylan. But I wish it were danger. That reminds me, we haven’t been formally introduced. The name’s Booker, Sullivan D. I’m a private eye. And this case has only just begun.
- Fin -
C. K. Conners
©2015 by C. K. Conners