The Locksmith Dances
The Locksmith’s home was a quaint, crooked little place that spoke of long comfortable nights by the fire and creaked pleasantly. A happy little place. He sat me down at his creaky little table, surrounded by three plush chairs. He handed me a cup of tea in a chipped tea cup and plopped three cubes of sugar to sizzle and dissolve.
“Who is the Wizard?”
“A scourge.” The Locksmith frowned. “He appeared about a year and a half ago, he and the Alchemist had words. Soon after, the Alchemist was on the run. I can only assume that is why he left you. Milk?”
He lifted the creamer, which did not match the tea cups or pot, and poured a measure of milk into my cup. “So tell me, when did you last see your husband?”
“Until a few moments ago, I thought he was dead.”
“Dead?” He frowned again, tapping a spoon against his cheek. “He must have created a construct in his image.”
Now I was confused, though the tea cup did not seem to be. “Huh?”
“Your husband could create gold from dross. It is what the Alchemist does.” He sipped his tea. “He could easily have created a likeness of himself.”
“So he faked his death to run from the Wizard? That doesn’t quite make sense. Why fake your death out there for an enemy in here?” My point was well-made and it was a question that needed to be asked. The air fairly shimmered with the asking.
His eyes grew shrewd, thinking it through. The cutlery practically cheered me, reveling in the brilliance of that single question. “Unless it is an enemy he faces in both the Nowhere and the other world.” He tapped the spoon against his cheek again. “If I knew the Alchemist outside of Nowhere, I would be better equipped to help you.”
I was hesitant to sigh, but it escaped anyway. “I can’t think of anyone David knew that would want to hurt him…but then, I didn’t know about any of this either.” I looked the Locksmith in the eyes, noting for once the mad bicoloration of his eyes. One green, one orange. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
“You’re a bit young for the knowledge.”
“I’m twenty-four; David’s only twenty-seven.”
The Locksmith snorted tea out of his nose. “He told you he was twenty-seven?”
“Isn’t he?” Now things were starting to get snarled.
“Well…I suppose that’s close. I met him when he was a teenager. He wandered here through a basement entrance. I, of course, immediately built a door and locked it up. Can’t have people running in and out. It’s a dangerous place for people alone.”
“The door in the basement of the building on Hanover Street. He has a lab there now.”
The Locksmith nodded. “Yes, he needed to have access to Nowhere that no one else could see.”
“How long ago was it?”
“Oh…that was about the time that American invented the automobile.” He dumped another cube of sugar into his tea.
“That was over a hundred years ago.”
“Yes, I suppose it was. I lose track of time.”
“But that was…over a hundred years ago. David can’t be that old.”
“Most people don’t talk to spoons either. Nothing is impossible, not for people like us. And especially not in Nowhere. As I said, you’re a bit young. I suppose David would have told you in a few more years, ease you into it. Your power is still growing, changing. Most people with your gifts only Listen and Speak, but you, you also See.”
He nodded. “You see Winter as it is. The cloud folk draping the world in snow. It’s a rare gift for one so young. Of course, most of us don’t survive that long. Usually some rogue dresser topples and crushes your kind to death. I almost had a door slice me in half. The Alchemist had chemicals go bad on him, tried to turn into dynamite and explode in his face. We have to prove we’re worthy of our gifts to the things we have dominion over. You managed not to irritate the inanimate at all. They like you, genuinely.”
“I like them. My teddy bear was my best friend when I was a child. My dresser and I had an understanding. I polished her, and she didn’t lose my socks.” I remembered fondly. “The dryer wanted shoes in exchange for socks. Which was good, my mother insisted upon patent leather shoes. The dryer liked them very much.” I shrugged. “If you're nice to someone, usually they’re nice to you.”
“Most people do not have your attitude.” He dropped another sugar cube into his tea. “You’re taking this well.”
“Not really. But I don’t have time to ask a thousand questions and have my head explode. This is faster.”
“Practical and pretty. I can see why David fell in love with you.”
“This doesn’t answer who’s after David.” The chair tried to console me, but I wasn’t in the mood. “I just can’t think of anyone who’d hurt him.”
“The first step is figuring out why David sent you here in the first place.” He sipped his tea. “This is a dangerous place for first-timers. Especially without a Guide.”
“And who says she doesn’t have a guide?”
I nearly jumped out of my skin, but the teacup resolutely refused to spill on me, bless him. The creature that had spoken jumped into my lap, folded her tail around blue socked feet and nuzzled me.
“In the flesh…so to speak,” she answered with a purr.
“That is the Alchemist’s Cat,” the Locksmith said.
“I am.” Variel rubbed her head against my hand. “But I am also Catherine’s Cat. Or rather, she is my Person.” She met his eyes with a clear green gaze. “I will protect her, it’s my duty.”
“Well, that takes care of that.”
“You knew?” I stared at the cat.
“I did. And as the Locksmith has already said, you were too young by far. I didn’t want to spook you.”
“I talk to lamp-posts and my dead cat and you were concerned with spooking me?”
“Point,” the Locksmith said.
Variel glared. “Point granted. Now, have you warned her about perceptions and explained the necessity of chalk to her?”
“I was getting to it.”
“Eventually you mean. You’d keep the girl from her quest for an age if you could.”
“There is no crime in that. I don’t want the poor child to get hurt. She’s been hurt already; you can see it in the perception.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to coddle her.”
“I can do whatever I think is necessary.”
“So can I!”
“If you think I’m going to let some mangy cat—”
“Shut up!” Both of them stared at me. “Please.”
“She said please,” the Locksmith said in amazement.
“She’s a polite girl.”
“She’s right here. Explain what you need to explain and be done with it.” I set down my teacup and dislodged my cat. “Now, please.”
“The matter of perception,” the Locksmith said, “should be first.” He pulled a mirror from his pocket. “We are not in Nowhere as we are out there. We are…as we perceive ourselves to be. Or rather, how we are to the perceptions of others even. Sometimes, we are the inner self. But rarely do you see us as we are out there.” He handed me the mirror. “I doubt very much that this is your appearance in the world back through the door.”
I took a peek at myself in the mirror, and nearly dropped it. The face staring back at me was mine…but it was not. It was some years younger than I was. Less than half my age I would guess. It was not that the Locksmith was abnormally tall, it was that I had become very small. My clothes were not even the same, and I was uncertain of how I had not even noticed.
“I look like Little Red Riding Hood was attacked by a Goth shop.”
Essentially, that was it exactly. It was a tattered grayed black dress, a hooded gray sweater that buttoned just under my breast with tiny black buttons, and underneath was a once white and now gray pinafore of similar tatter. Ribbons the tone of old silver caught in my hair and in trim on the dress. My shoes, however, were gray sneakers with black laces and my socks were striped gray and black.
“That’s the best way to put it.” Variel nodded. “Appearing as a child in the Nowhere is a safe thing. People will underestimate you.” She licked her paw. “When you appear thus, it usually indicates grief, trauma. You retreat to the self where you were safe and happy.”
“I don’t think of myself like this,” I countered. “I’d never wear anything like this.”
“You, Catherine, wouldn’t. But you aren’t just Catherine. You’re also the Spellbinder,” the Locksmith said. “This is how that side of you sees herself. Well, that and the perceptions of others can affect you.”
“He means we’re affecting you,” Variel said. “I see you as a child, he sees you as a child, and you yourself are hurting and damaged. That damages your self-perception. But now that you’ve seen yourself this way, it’s likely you’ll stay this way until your emotional state changes.”
“This is all very complicated.” I sighed, staring at my fingernails’ chipped black polish.
“This is all very complicated.” I sighed, staring at my fingernails’ chipped black polish.
“It’s psychology, and that is very complicated.”
The Locksmith leaned forward. “Now, this also applies to other people. Their perception of themselves, and your perception of them can overlap, and one can take over the other. If you ask someone for their name, and they give it to you, that binds them to what they have said.”
“And if someone makes a promise, or asks a question, three times, it has power. The promise must be kept; the question must be answered. That’s one reason you should never say your own name three times,” Variel said.
“It binds you.”
“Precisely, and it gives the Wizard power over you. He gets power from taking other people’s names. He’s a very dangerous.”
“David said his name three times.” It wasn’t a question.
“It’s possible,” Variel acknowledged. “But there are more dangerous things out there than the Wizard. Nothing is more dangerous than the evil you cannot see.”
“I won’t argue with you. But, it’s easier to see the other evil when the flashy one is out of the picture. Whatever I do, I’ll have to deal with the Wizard at some point,” I said.
“Practical, pretty, and smart as a button.” The Locksmith smiled.
“I told you that a long time ago.”
“You aren’t going to start arguing again, are you?” I raised an eyebrow. Cat and man turned to look at me guiltily, and shook their heads. “Good. Now, tell me about chalk.”