Saturday, 20 November 2010

Chapter Twenty

Links to 1-19 here.

The bag lady that was actually a bit of a Galadriel rip off had given Al some quite useful advice. One of the first things she had told him was on no account should he trust messages brought to him by animals, because that was a cutesie thing that bad guys did to try and lure you away from the true path. So when he was accosted by the carrier pigeon sent by Tim and Adric to warn him about the presence of Dennis and his interest in the amulet, he followed her advice and smothered it with a pillow of lichen.

He was by this point walking through a wooded area to the south of the city, in search of an old well that doubled up as a means of transportation to the mystical island where the amulet was hidden.

The trees were very old here and the wind whistled through the whorls of their gnarled branches as though singing a sad and wistful song of times gone by. Perhaps it was remembering warm golden harvests, when it blew crops around to the annoyance of the farmer, who hated getting barley in his eye… Or perhaps it was remembering beautiful frozen winters, blue in hue, where it breezed across icy lakes and ruffled the bonnets of rosy cheek skaters…

But we could sit here and speculate as to what the wind was feeling nostalgic over all day and never reach a conclusion. Such is the way that many long winters evenings fly by in my house. Yet it matters little what we say, for the wind is far too private to ever clear up the mystery of why he is sad. He just is, that’s all.

So Al was walking through some ancient woods, and listening to the wind, and thinking of Bracken and Esmeralda and wondering how he could love two women that were so very different. And then he thought that perhaps in the old days, not as old as the ones the wind was pining for but more towards the start of his acquaintance with Esmeralda, that maybe the two women hadn’t been so very different then. When he first knew her Esmeralda had been ambitious, yes, but a lot less bloody minded about her pursuit of all things science, and a lot more fun and inclined to do things socially. It was the first time she came back from her travels that he had noticed she was more conservative, deeply focused on her work, and quite boring to be around.

He was musing on these memories when he came across a clearing, which contained a lot of flowers and small rabbits, and also the well for which he had been searching.

“Score,” he said out loud, scattering bunnies in all directions as they registered his presence for the first time, “that was much easier than I anticipated.”

Al walked towards the well, exercising caution. If finding it had been this easy, there must be some other catch involved.

As he walked, he felt very much as though he was being watched. This was a feeling he had been experiencing ever since finishing his chips and going for a turn with the bag lady who wasn’t a bag lady. It was almost as though four tiny lasers – or two small wee little pairs of beady eyes – were boring through his jacket and into his back. It made him feel nervous, but there again he was already pretty nervous about the whole finding a cursed magical amulet and keeping it out of the hands of evil. So it all kind of evened itself.

As it happened, he was being followed, still by those two beaky goblins from before, the ones who work for someone bad and mean. Sometimes you are justified in your crazy, hysterical paranoia, and you are genuinely being followed by a couple of mythical beings who would quite like to kill you and eat your toes. With your shoes still on. Goblins are kind of weird. By human standards, at least.

Al hadn’t worked out who was following him, which was down to sheer luck for the goblins because they hadn’t been doing a great job of keeping hidden. They’d left tracks, talked a bit too loudly, shouted ‘Scubbers!’ at Al and then ducked behind a rock which was not actually large enough to obscure them effectively... The only thing that kept him from discovering them was his own fear that the follower might be something big and scary that he wouldn’t be able to deal with. Prolonging the inevitable was one of Aloysius’s trademarks.

The well was quite pretty. It was made of pearly coloured stone and had tendrils of sweet pea growing up the side, which were in bloom even at this time of year. This is what singled it out as a magical well, as opposed to ordinary water producing one, or the type that you would put a Japanese ghost in for safekeeping.

Al reached the side and peered down into the darkness. He couldn’t see the bottom, which suggested it ran comparatively deep. There again it was nighttime, and he hadn’t thought to bring a torch. Mainly on account of the fact that he didn’t own one, and never had. His father had pronounced them a waste of batteries after a particularly farcical camping trip with the lads when Al was a baby, and refused to have them in the house from then on. It had proved embarrassing when he was going through his Duke of Edinburgh camping expeditions, but beyond that Al hadn’t really missed the presence of torches in his life. His mother had felt the strain quite badly, but we don’t have time to go into that here. Suffice to say she was quite highly strung in certain very specific ways.

He ran his fingers over the smooth stone of the well. It was warm to the touch, and almost felt as though it were alive. It was sort of pleasant but at the same time really rather creepy, Al decided.

He felt around each brick, looking for the secret one that the bag lady had informed him would start the teleportation equipment inside the well. Sods law dictated that he went almost all the way around the thing feeling every single stone before he located the on button two to the left of where he had begun. However, he did not allow himself to be irritated by this. He merely pushed it in, and waited.

At first it seemed as though nothing was going to happen at all.

“She’s tricked me,” he thought in dismay, “she’s bollocking well taken me for a ride!”

But then the ground began to shake and clouds of golden steam erupted from the well, enveloping Al in a sea of fragrant vapours. When the mist cleared, he was not just outside of Edinburgh anymore.

Our hero glanced around at his new surroundings, feeling slightly queasy from the journey but avoiding the temptation to fall to the ground curled into the fetal position crying for his mother. This was no mean feat, as every fibre of his being was suggesting that this was the only sensible course of action to be taken at this point in time.

He was standing in a bright patch of sunlight which turned out, when he looked up, to be the joint effort of three different suns. In the distance to his right he could make out a vibrant blue body of water, to his left there was a forest of trees as big as redwood trees, and behind him lay a range of majestic purpley-green mountains. It was all quite breathtakingly beautiful, and for a few moments Al forgot to breathe as a subconscious mark of respect.

“Nice, isn’t it,” remarked a passing snail.

“Lovely,” Al agreed, remembering how to operate his breathing apparatus again just in the nick of time.

“Here to find that famous missing amulet, are you?”

“No,” Al lied unconvincingly, “I’m visiting a friend.”

“Nobody has lived here for thousands of years,” the snail replied in neutral tones.

“They’re thinking of moving here,” Al said, “and they should be here by now to scope out the place. So I said I’d come along after work and offer my help.”

“Nobody’s come through yet,” the snail told him. “I’d have seen. There’s only one way on and off the island, the way you just came. And I am the guard.”

“You’ve been here all day then?”

“All day every day for the past seven hundred and twenty two years,” the snail announced, puffing out his chest with pride.

“Well that’s annoying,” Al said, “she might have texted to let me know she was going to be late.”

She, eh,” the snail said wisely. “Well what more can you expect from a girl? Their heads are full of flim flam and fiddle dee dees. She’s probably been curling her ribbons and forgotten to keep track of the time.”

“Isn’t that a bit sexist?” Al asked, amused in spite of himself.

“You’re not in a politically correct bedtime story here, mate,” the snail replied crossly. “I can be as misogynistic as I like. I have my rights.”

“Anyway,” Al said in an attempt to move the conversation forward a little, “if she turns up could you tell her which way I went?”

“You haven’t gone anywhere.”

“No, but I’m about to.”

“But you haven’t though.”

“But I will.”

“What if she turned up right now?”

“Well she hasn’t, and I genuinely don’t think she will,” he replied.

They waited.

Nobody appeared.

“Bye then,” Al said cheerily, heading in the direction of the majestic looking mountains.

“Wouldn’t go that way if I were you,” the snail called after him, but his voice got lost on the wind and Al didn’t hear the warning.

“S’really dangerous,” the snail said, more to himself than anyone else.

“What’s really dangerous?” Asked one of the goblins, appearing in a puff of perfumed smoke as Al had just done.

“Are we talking proper hardcore danger, or just mild discomfort?” Asked the other, appearing in similar style.

The snail looked like it was about to explain when the first goblin picked it up and ate its head, passing the rest to his colleague.

“Who do you think was speaking?” he enquired through the rubbery mouthful.

“Dunno,” his colleague replied unhelpfully.

Ow,’ thought the snail, who remained alive for almost three full gruesome minutes after being cut in twain.

The goblins sniffed the air, located Al’s smell (which happened to be Old Spice, somewhat preemptively for a man in his early twenties), and set off in pursuit.

Somewhere far away, their boss switched from watching the CCTV footage to using the magic pool you can see stuff in and that.

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