I woke up and my right shoulder hurt some. I sat up with my eyes still closed, yawned and moved my right arm. This bed was very hard and uncomfortable. That reminded me. I was not at home, but in the dorm at the Van Senmut College where Mom arranged for me to stay to have the experience as she put it. I bet she did not know about the bed. Which is another point I can use to disabuse her of the idea that I will attend this college.
Pleased with the thought, I opened my eyes and pulled myself up to a standing position. I blinked. Something was wrong with my eyes. The room looked huge and distorted. Not like a dorm room at all. The opposite wall was far away, covered with dark blue fabric and huge red velvet curtains which probably hid a window. The walls were not straight either, but were bent like when I was watching myself through one of those funny mirrors in an amusement park. I rubbed my eyes and nothing changed. I sat on my bed, missed and ended up on the floor. A brief check revealed the truth. There was no bed. I slept on a floor which was strangely transparent and revealed wooden planks beneath it. I ran my hand over it. I would swear it was glass. My eyes fell on a large object, as tall as me, which lay right next to the place where I slept. I frowned. It was an ankh just like the one I played with yesterday, but it was huge. If it was made of gold, it was worth a fortune. It was not distorted like the walls. That means my eyes were OK. What was wrong with the room then?
“Hello?” I tried. No response. I strolled toward the wall. I will find out myself. Ouch! My head hit onto something. I stepped back and examined my forehead. Just a bruise. What was the problem? I reached out and my hand touched a smooth, hard and cold surface. It must be glass. My heart began to beat fast and I took a deep breath to stop raising panic. I spun around. The whole room was distorted. I was in a glass bowl.
Was I still dreaming? I pinched myself. I heard it helps. It hurt, but it did not improve anything. The glass walls were all around me. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw a movement in the room outside my glass prison. There was help. I run toward the corner where I saw the move and gulped. Out there stood a giant armchair in which sat a gigantic man. His chest rose and fell and my ears caught a faint sound of snoring. He was dressed in a gold robe that flew all the way to his feet, but could not hide his considerable belly. He had a long beard, once brown but now largely grey. His funny looking tall hat lay on the floor uncovering a bald dome ringed with strands of long hair, uncut and reaching past his ears. There was a bottle on the floor resting directly beneath his hand. I decided that the prudent course of action would be to leave the sleeping drunk alone and try to figure out how to get out of my predicament all by myself.
I stepped back from the glass, sat down and closed my eyes to concentrate. I am locked in a giant room in a glass container and there is a giant outside. First things first. Can I get out of my prison?
I opened my eyes and looked up. The glass walls were coming together over my head, leaving only a narrow round hole. I was inside some sort of a beaker. What did I have with me that could help me? The ankh, of course. Anything else? I checked my pockets. Only, I had no pockets. I was stark naked. Great. It took me about fifteen minutes to realize that. If I don’t get my wits together, it is not going to end up well.
How did I get here? I tried to remember. I was playing with that manuscript. I got it translated. Then I read it and played with the ankh. Then I fell and now I am here. There is a giant outside. Or maybe not. My heart skipped a beat as I finally understood the situation. He is a normal size and I shrunk! This is not possible unless that manuscript was some kind of a magic book. Oh man. This cannot be happening. It must be all in my head. I pinched myself again. If I am not asleep, I am having hallucinations. I touched the glass floor. It did not feel like a padded cell, but how can I tell if I am not crazy? Perhaps that guy is a shrink. Or he is going to eat you, whispered another voice in my head. I pushed it away. A shrink. He can fix the problem. How can I call him? I tried to pick up the ankh, but it was way too heavy. I could not even move it. Wait. What is the ankh doing here? It looks real and they would not put it in my room if I was in a hospital. I could hurt myself if I was raving mad. Could this whole…thing…be real? I shrunk, courtesy of some black magic? Thanks to Dr. Ramancharan for giving me the book. He did not give it to you, that voice whispered again. No, he didn’t, I admitted to myself. I just had to go and read it because I was bored. I’d better call that magician. Perhaps he will help even, if he does not eat me.
I knocked on the glass. It made a pleasant and above all a loud sound. I gave the sleeper one more glance. He looked harmless. I took a deep breath and hit the glass with knuckles of both hands. The man’s head jerked up and fell back again. I rapped on the glass one more time. He blinked, yawned and clutched his forehead with both hands.
“Uuuu,” he said. A hangover was not a good sign. Perhaps he will change me into a frog or something? Before I managed to scare myself even more, he looked at the beaker. I waved at him and grinned. He stared at me uncomprehendingly for a second, then he jumped up, cursed and winced, cracked his joints and hobbled toward the table. He bent and stared at me face to face. A delighted smile slowly spread over his face.
“Hello,” I said. He frowned.
“Ave, Homunculus,” he said.
“I am sorry, sir. I do not understand you,” I said politely. His jaw fell open and then he burst out laughing.
“English?” He cried. “You speak English? Are you from good old England?”
“I am an American,” I explained. The magician had a funny accent, but I was glad to understand him. Even his archaic English was not so different from mine as I discovered over time.
“What is an American?” He asked.
“I am from America,” I explained. Was I in some fairy tale land, perhaps in another dimension, where they did not know America?
“You mean the Land of Amerigo,” he said. “Oh.” He pulled up a chair, sat down and placed his chin into his hands.
“I think you are lying,” he said conversationally. “Only Spanish are there. Them and the Red Indians. How could you learn English?”
“I live there,” I said, “and Mom speaks English.”
“If that is true,” he said, “King will be pleased when he finds out he has subjects there.”
“We are not his subjects,” I said. “We are a Republic.”
“He is not going to like it,” he said. “You will have to listen to him. You are so small, you homunculi and we are big. Guess who will be the boss.”
“I am not small,” I said. “Well, not usually,” I corrected myself. “I fell asleep, shrunk and woke up in this beaker.”
“Really,” the man said. “That actually makes sense. I did this experiment ages ago and that dog shrunk too. I thought it got younger at that time, but now I know.”
“What kind of experiment?” I asked.
“I was trying out an old magic spell.” He sighed. “Now I apparently made a homunculus. That is a little person in Latin. It is one of the greatest wishes of every alchemist to produce one. I am the greatest alchemist alive and you are the evidence of it. Funny enough, I cannot remember even trying.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. “What do you know about how you got here?” He finally asked. “Wait, let me guess. You took an ankh and said the spell, didn’t you?”
I slowly nodded and glanced at the ankh. “Not that one,” He said. “This one is mine. It takes two special ankhs, one at each end, so to speak. And the Hermes Trismegistus spell. Where did you learn it?”
“In a book,” I said.
“But I cannot remember it now,” I added. Who could remember that mumbo jumbo?
“Can you help me get back?”
He looked at me and grinned. “Not yet,” he said. “Perhaps later after I show you off. Even if I did not make you, strictly speaking, I can still say so and impress those poor dumb bastards who live off me, right?”
“OK,” I said.
“What does that mean, OK?” He asked.
“All correct,” I said. “I agree with you.”
“You should,” he said. “You are the one in the beaker. Now, what can you do? Can you do magic?”
“No,” I shook my head.
“Hm. What do you do for a living?”
“I am a student,” I said.
“They have schools in America? Interesting. Now, what did you learn best?”
“Programming,” I said. He watched me in silence.
“What year do we have?” He asked at last.
“2006,” I said. He chuckled.
“So this is it.” He put his mouth closer to the glass. I backed off.
“It is the year 1609 of our Lord,” he said wryly. My knees buckled.
“1609!” Four hundred years back in time. I shook my head. I need to pull myself together.
“Who are you?” I asked finally. He stood, wavered a bit and then he bowed.
“Magister Edward Kelley at your service.”
“Am I supposed to know you?” I asked and instantly regretted it. His face flushed.
“They did not teach you about me at school?” He asked angrily.
“I am a lousy student,” I said quickly.
“You should say you were,” he fired back.
“You are not going to let me go?” I asked.
“I may,” he said. “Once I am done with you. Meantime, you better behave.”
He sat down in his armchair.
“Where is it,” he fished behind him with his hand and finally caught a rope hanging from the ceiling. He pulled it and I heard a faint sound of a bell.
“Try to look pretty my little one,” he said.
The door opened in a few seconds and in walked another man. He was old and his back bent with age. He was dressed in a long black robe, bold and clean shaven, but his chin was so long and pointy that it almost replaced a beard. His eyes were almost hidden by deep wrinkles and spaced closely to a long, bent nose with a drop of something on its tip. They regarded Kelley with a slavish devotion.
“Yes, Master,” he said.
“Where is my drink, Petr?” Kelley growled.
“Here Master, I knew you will want a new one,” he said and pulled out a new bottle from the fold of his robe.
“Good, good,” Kelley said, grabbed the flask, pulled out its cork and stuck it into his mouth. For a moment, all I could hear was his deep swallows. Finally, he finished with a satisfied sigh and handed the flask to Petr.
“Look,” he said. “Living evidence that I am the best.” He waved his hand at my beaker.
“There is no need for that Master,” said Petr and bowed deeply. “Everybody knows you are the best one.”
“Everybody knows I am dead,” Kelley said crossly. “Look at the damn beaker.”
Petr turned his eyes toward me.
“What am I supposed to see Master?” He asked uncertainly.
“You fool,” Kelley cried. “Look inside.”
“You,” he addressed me. “Stand up and move.”
I did as asked. Petr’s eyes widened.
“Master,” he cried and his voice skipped an octave. “Is it a homunculus?” He leaned toward me. “How perfect. It looks almost human. Does it talk?”
“Speak,” Kelley ordered.
“I talk,” I said, feeling like an idiot. Is that how animals in zoo feel?
“Master,” Petr rushed back, fell to his knees and tried to kiss a rim of Kelley’s robe. “You are the greatest man alive.”
“I am,” Kelley said and pulled the robe away.
“What are you going to do with it, Master?” Petr asked. Then he bent his head. “Are you going to make it your servant?”
“I will think about it,” Kelley said. “He may be useful.”
“Nobody is as useful to you as me,” Master, Petr said and lifted his head. He turned toward me while kneeling and gave me a look in which was mixed in equal proportion an uncertainty and hatred.
“You are my most important servant Petr,” Kelley said. “Just sometimes I think you could use some help.”
“I don’t need any,” Petr said.
“Just so, just so,” Kelley said. “Dej mu něco na sebe.”
What? Petr understood, though, rose and scurried out of the room, but not before he gave me another look of hatred. Kelley looked at me.
“Not everybody speaks English in this world, my little American. We are in Bohemia now and servants are local. Some learned English from me, but some are just too stupid.”
He walked toward the table and leaned over the beaker while watching me through the hole like I was some exotic specimen.
“What is your name, anyway?”
“Alex,” I said.
“Now Alex, we have to get you out. Don’t think you will escape.” He laughed shortly. “No, I do not think you would. You want to go back, don’t you.” He fingered his beard. “I should have asked Petr for a hammer.” He stuck his hand into his robe. “I guess this will have to do.” He pulled out a dagger. He turned it around, hill down, and grabbed the throat of the beaker with his other hand. “Stand back,” he said. Then he hit the glass.
At the last second, I turned my back toward him which probably saved my eyes. The little fragments of glass flew all around me and some embedded in my back.
“Come out,” said Kelley. I turned. The beaker did not fell apart, but instead there was a huge hole which I could crawl through. I gingerly stepped over the sharp edges which reached up to my thighs. Kelley tossed me a dirty napkin.
“You want to hide your privates, I am never sure when my lady companion shows up.”
Ugh. I lifted the grayish rag which smelled of whine. I hope he did not sneeze into it recently. I held it in front of me, away from my body as far as I could. Did he ever wash it? The door squeaked and Petr hobbled in, holding in his hands a little doll, about six inches tall. To my relief it was a boy dressed up in red pants and shirt with a red cloak over his shoulders, and a hat. Peter dropped the doll on the table and eyed me with distaste.
“I got this one from Marie. I hope you don’t mind, Master?”
“No,” Kelley shook his head. “She has too many anyway. She always bugs me to bring more. Did you buy anything at the market last Saturday?”
“No,” Petr shook his head. “People start to notice and asked me what child I want it for.”
“It is none of their business,” Kelley said and frowned. “What should peasants care what goes on in the chateau?”
“How right you are, Master,” said Petr the Bootlicker. “People are getting uppity. Should we show them their place and put the fear of God into their hearts?”
“Fear of me would be better,” Kelley said dryly. “However, we have to do it indirectly, you are right. Perhaps tonight or tomorrow.”
“Now, get ready the dinner!”
“As you wish, Master,” Petr said and turned to me: “Do not damage the clothes, you hear, you unnatural creature? If you do, I will squash you like a bug.” He glanced at Kelley: “With your permission, Master.”
“With my permission only,” said Kelley coldly.
Peter bent down even more and shuffled out of the room.
“Dress up,” Kelley ordered. “Dinner will be ready soon. Where is that flask?”
He settled back into his armchair. I undressed the ragdoll and dressed up. No underwear. I guess it will have to do. The clothes fit. The pants were a little long, but I stuffed the bottoms into the shoes which reached almost to my knees.
“How cute,” Kelley said and yawned. His nose acquired a bright red color and he had trouble focusing on me. Tingling of a bell reached the room from the depths of the chateau. He did say we were in a chateau, right?
“Come here,” Kelley said and rose from his chair. “I want to show them my newest success.”
“I cannot get off the table,” I said. I leaned over the edge and quickly pulled back. I never liked heights and that was truly an abyss I saw down there. Kelley cursed.
“What am I going to do with you? Petr! No, let me.” He grabbed me with his hand around my waist. “I will carry you. I do not have time to wait for you.” He pulled the door open with his other hand. A corridor, lit up by candles, opened in front of us. The tapestries on the walls somewhat softened the stone walls.
“It looks like a castle,” I said.
“This part,” Kelley growled while navigating the corridor trying to keep a straight line. If he falls on me, he will crush me. “This is the original castle...”
We turned a corner and the corridor brightened. The windows showed only the blackness of a night, but the walls were smooth and painted white and were lined with mirrors.
“Now we are in the new chateau,” Kelley commented. There were chandeliers above our heads carrying only candles, but many more than the candle holders in the castle.
“Here,” Kelley said and entered a double door on the right. It was open already and revealed a long room. It was two stories high and its windows which lined the left wall reached almost to the ceiling. Right now they were covered by dark velvet curtains which complemented the light blue color or fabric that covered the walls. The right wall was almost fully taken up by a huge tapestry depicting a biblical scene. I did not recognize the guy who was being skinned, but there were enough praying and kneeling people and palm trees to place it in the mythical Holy Land.
A huge chandelier, carrying hundreds of candles, illuminated the room. The center of the room was taken up by a long table. Although huge, it was dwarfed by the room itself. Three people already sat there, but they jumped up when they saw Kelley. He strolled toward the table like a sailor on a stormy sea as he tried to keep the balance.
“Stop squirming,” he said staring straight ahead as he tried to reach the table with his dignity intact.
Easy for him to say. I tried to gain some room to breathe as he squeezed his hand without noticing. Finally he made it, he fell heavily onto a high backed chair someone helpfully pulled up, reached forward and dropped me onto the table.
“Behold,” he said. “Homunculus.”
Three huge faces were checking me out. I did my own survey. There. Two uglies. One was a man, smoothly shaven roundish face, but not fat. His bones stood out. He had a sharp outline of his jaws, prominent cheekbones, his eyes hooded by big ledges, but his eyebrows were sparse. He had some wrinkles, but he was probably only around fifty. Some mouse colored hair was still there above his ears, but it was spare and his was mostly bald. His thin colorless lips did not smile and his greyish eyes had a piercing quality around them. His head sat on a scrawny neck which disappeared into a standing white collar. A priest of all people. Was Kelley religious?
I turned to the second ugly. This woman was a dead ringer for the Wicked Witch of the West. A long face, covered with heavy mascara, which failed to hide a wart here and there. She had black eyes. She had some sort of a dark red lipstick – do they have a lipstick in this age? – some red dye anyway – on her lips, which lined a wide mouth. Of course, she would not be complete without a pointy chin. I guessed she was around forty. Her hair was golden and long. Or was it? It was arranged in neat curls, perhaps too neat. There was something black underneath. Oh. She must be wearing a wig. Not that it improved her looks much. She was dressed in a red dress to complement her lipstick I guessed.
I suppressed a shudder and turned to the last admirer. She was young, perhaps twenty, and very pretty. Her lovely face with a small upturned nose was lined this time by natural blond hair. She had large green eyes – but what kind of eyes. They felt empty. She stared at me, unblinking, with her lips slightly parted, frowning for a while. Finally, a smile appeared.
“Edward,” she sang out in a little child voice. “George came alive. You did it, did not you. May I play with him now?”
She reached for me with both hands and pulled me to her chest. She began to rock me, singing something in a strange language. Bohemian, did he say?
“Put him down, Marie,” said Kelley. “You may call him George, if you wish.”
She obeyed. Her shoulders sagged and she placed me gently on the table.
“If I cannot play with him now, you have to buy me another one in Prague,” she said and pouted.
“Sure,” Kelley said tiredly. “Whatever.” Then he spread his hands.
“So what do you say? Who is the greatest alchemist?”
He was beginning to get on my nerves with this ceaseless greatest this and that.
“You, Your Excellency,” said the priest and bowed.
“Thank you, Antonio,” said Kelley regally.
“You are a great magician, Master,” croaked the witch.
“Thank you, Vlasta,” said Kelley. Again.
“You are not so great, if you do not let me play with my dolls,” said Marie.
“I already said I will get you another one and you can play with George later,” Kelley said angrily and she flinched, a glimmer of fear appeared into those otherwise vacant eyes.
“By the way, his real name is Alex.”
“He speaks?” The priest asked.
“In English,” Kelley said. “I made him that way.”
The liar then sat down and looked around.
“Where is the food? Let’s have a feast and celebrate my latest success.”
The witch clapped and a small door in the far wall opened and a file of servants entered, carrying steaming bowls and plates piled highly with roasted birds and game meat and even a whole piglet. My mouth watered and I remembered I did not eat for, say, four centuries.
“What I am going to do with you” Kelly said. “Why don’t you stay on the table if you are hungry? Do you know how to dance?”
“No,” I said in horror. I hope I am not going to become a dancing doll here.
“No?” Kelley said and reached for a roasted chicken that a servant girl placed in front of him. “Help yourself, then.”
“Perhaps our Lord could use him,” offered Antonio who was watching me thoughtfully from under half-closed lids.
“He is too small to be much of use to him,” Kelley dismissed the idea. What did Antonio want? Was he in need of a new altar boy of something?
“I could use him, Master,” said Vlasta and licked her lips. “He could help me to prepare my potions.”
Antonio frowned. Perhaps he disapproved of the witch. Did not they burn them on stake? Why did he tolerate her around?
“Nah,” Kelley said dismissively. “I will let Marie to play with him for a little while and then I will send him back to hell where he belongs. He is amusing, but not useful.”
I exhaled. Everybody was ready to make me work. It was worse than those college applications. I surveyed the plates on the table. Finally I opted for a slice of the pig which was skillfully being carved by a fat man in a whitish, although dirty, servant garb. He glanced at me fearfully and his unkempt short grey beard shook.
“I am harmless,” I told him. He dropped his knife, quickly crossed himself, mumbled something in Bohemian, picked up his tools and constantly bowing, backed out of the room. They think I am the Devil. What do they think of their Master?
“They are scared of you,” Kelley observed. So he is not as drunk as I thought.
“Having people scared of you is a very useful thing,” he picked a pewter goblet and poured himself more red wine. “They listen and they leave you alone when you want.”
“They are all afraid of you Master,” said the witch eagerly. “The whole village and all your servants.” Kelley bit into his chicken and frowned.
“Not enough,” he said crossly. “Call Jakub. This pheasant is too tough. Does not he know that I prefer young and soft meat? My teeth are not what they were.”
Vlasta rose from the table. Kelley reached and caught her sleeve.
“Tell him to bring Lucky,” he said and glimmering malice appeared in his eyes as he grinned. “I want to have some fun.”
“As you wish Master,” Vlasta said. Then she cackled.
I see. Making fun of his servants must have been a favorite Kelley’s pastime, I reflected, as I chewed my dinner. Why didn’t he go to Prague? Did not they have more entertainment there? Maybe not, I decided. They do not even have TV. This must be a pretty boring century. Vlasta appeared in a few minutes.
“He will be here soon,” she told Kelley apologetically. “He just came back from a hunt.”
“I hope he got something better than this” Kelley said and threw a drumstick across the room. “What do I pay him for?”
The door flew open and in walked a middle aged man dressed in leather jackets and tights. He was accompanied by a black beast, so tall it reached almost to his shoulder. Its jaws were open, revealing an impressive set of huge teeth. It slobbered a little and observed the room from its tiny yellow eyes.
“Jakub,” said Kelley and rose, so quickly that he wavered. He caught the table to steady himself and glowered at Jakub. “What kind of meat did you bring me? Do you want to be punished?”
“No, Milord,” said the hunter and switched into Bohemian, quickly jabbering his explanations and probably apologies. I was more concerned with his doggy. It growled quietly and observed the room. I noticed Vlasta put down nervously her wine and even Antonio watched the dog carefully, although he pretended to be interested in his food. Only Marie was oblivious humming to herself a lullaby.
“Never mind,” Kelley finally said. “If you do this again, you will regret it.”
Jakub deeply bowed and tried to back out.
“Not so fast”, Kelley said. “Bring Lucky here. I want to show something to my favorite puppy. Come here, you bad dog,” he addressed it fondly and offered the slobbering beast a scrap of meat. Then he suddenly reached behind him, not looking at me and yet knowing exactly where I am, caught my arm, lifted me and put me on the table next to him.
“What do you think of him?” He asked the dog still holding me.
The hound lifted on his rear legs, put the front paws on the table. Then he lunged. I tore myself out of Kelley’s grip and stumbled back. The dog barked, its eyes turning red, and tried to hop on the table. It slipped back and Kelley put a hand on its back to prevent it from doing it again.
“Petr!” He yelled. The servant appeared instantly.
“What do you wish, Master?”
“Take our tiny friend and set him on the floor,” Kelley ordered. Is he nuts? I ran toward the far side of the table, away from Kelley and Petr. The witch sitting there squealed with pleasure and made a grab for me. I jumped away. My small body gave me an agility I did not possess when I was the regular size. Before I stopped congratulating myself on my lucky escape, I felt a hand close around my waist. The priest lifted me up, closer to his face. He studied me with an unreadable expression. Then he touched and felt my forehead. He must not have found what he was looking for since corners of his mouth turned down and an expression of disgust crossed his face. Did he expect me to have horns?
“Useless creature,” he mumbled and then he put me down on the floor. I peered through the forest of legs, both human and wooden, trying to catch a glimpse of the dog. There. He did not see me yet. I sidled toward the long skirt of Marie and caught the hem. I may be able to climb up. She liked me, did not she? She looked down when she felt my pull and screamed. The dog did not need any more hints. It roared and charged. It was about fifteen feet away and I had but a fraction of a second to decide what to do. I dashed toward the nearest door, which was the one servants used to bring it food. The hound had to run around the table to get to me, which gave me a little bit of a head start. When the door was ten feet away, I remembered my size! I cannot open it. Then I spotted a space under the door. Five feet. The dog was coming. Two feet. I threw myself down and made a headlong dash for the hole. I slid under the door and heard a crash as the dog struck the door. I rolled a few times to get away from the door. That was not such a good idea and I fell down a step on a staircase I did not notice. I got up, and sat down again, as my knees shook and my legs were too weak to support me. The dog barked behind the door. So Kelley thinks I am expendable? Perhaps he was drunk. I better wait until he sobers up and the dog leaves. Meantime, I could explore this place.
The staircase was narrow and steep and I felt like I am scaling a rock wall. Still, I made it down in a short time and it led toward a bright opening. Delicious smells hit my nose. I stuck my head out. It was a kitchen. I should have guessed. My mouth watered. I was still hungry, perhaps more so after the escape. Do I need to eat more than before? I recalled that mice eat more than people compared to their size. No matter the case, I walked out trying to be unnoticeable.
Several fires lit up the place. There was a blackened opening in the ceiling serving as a chimney. Carcasses turned above the fires and a fat woman supervised them. Her back was toward me. Now, how can I get my hands on some food? A man appeared from another entrance and asked her something. She pointed to a roasted lamb which hung above embers of a dying fire to keep it warm. It was ready. The man picked up the lamb and disappeared behind a corner to her right. I followed, quiet like a mouse.
The corner had several tables and three servants, two women and one man, quickly preparing the meat to be served. I left them to their business and made a beeline for a dish which lay on the floor due to a lack of space on the tables. It looked like some game meat, perhaps a leg of a deer. I did not really care. I dug my fingers in, pulled out a piece of meat and stuck it into my mouth. It was good! I helped myself gain. And again. Just as I was contemplating if I should not just crawl into the hole I made in the leg, since the meat reminded me of paradise, a high pitched scream interrupted my reverie.
“Satan!” I understood that. Where was he? I lifted my eyes. One of the women stood above me, her mouth open, and her hands rapidly and repeatedly performing the sign of cross. How could I explain her I was her master’s latest experiment? Before I could come up with an idea, she ran to the fire, picked up a stick, and turned toward me. I decided that discretion would be a good policy and looked for an escape path.
I darted toward her, away from the stick though, around her and toward a door I saw half open behind her. Another staircase, this one leading up. Cook’s screams followed me, but she preferred to stay in the kitchen. Good. I pulled up myself on the first step. They were low and worn down by age, but they still reached almost to my waist. If she followed me, I would be trapped. I scaled another step, and another one. That was not going to work. Finally, I gave up and tried the wall instead.
These old castles were built from stones and not neatly shaped ones. I found enough protruding stones and holes to use them as a ladder. I continued my climb. Finally, I reached a landing. The staircase turned, as it was built in a tower. At last I reached a landing. Through an open door on my left I saw a little chamber containing a roughly made bed covered with a furry cover from same large animal and a cross on the wall. I surmised this would be the cook’s room. The staircase continued and I decided to go on. Another hour of hard work brought me up to a narrow landing which had open window holes in all directions. I must be near the top. I pulled myself up on a windowsill.
Below me lay the castle. It was dark, but guards carrying torches passed along the walls and the moon was full, so I was treated to a rare view. The tower was located almost in its center. There was one huge main building with a pointy roof. Narrow windows in a half of it betrayed their origins as shooting holes for bowmen defending the castle. The other half had its windows enlarged and I guessed that would be the “chateau” that Kelley referred to. If so, he had plenty of space for further home improvements. Or maybe not. There was one more round tower, narrow and lower than the one I was in, and that was it. The towers and the main house were encircled by high ramparts, which seemed to sprout from a vast rock the castle was built onto. There was a single gate leading to a road that was carved into the rock and descended steeply through it until it reached the level of the surrounding forest. It was a deep one, reaching all way to the horizon. Its old fir trees were so tall their tops reached almost to the castle’s foundations.
I jumped down and tried a window on the opposite side. More forest. The village Kelley mentioned must have been far away. The castle brought to my mind a tall ship anchored in a middle of a vast windless ocean, unimaginably far from the nearest human settlement, lonely and waiting for a rescue by a gust of fresh wind before its crew goes mad. Speaking of mad, what should I do now? Reluctantly, I had to admit to myself that an escape was out of question. I needed Kelley to send me back. If he sobers up, he may figure out that feeding me to his puppy is not a good idea. Anyway, I will have to appease him somehow. Now, how do I get back? I left the dining hall a few hours ago. They must be done by now.
I jumped of the windowsill. Let’s see if I can get back. It was faster to descend than ascend. I jumped from a step to a step, until I reached the cook’s bedroom. Loud snoring was just what I needed to hear. I sneaked past the temporarily harmless lady and climbed toward the door to the dining room. Were they still there? No, there was only darkness seeping from below the door and my ears caught only scratchy noises which probably came from scuttling rats. That thought gave me a pause – I was not much bigger than a rat, was I? I sighed and flopped down on my belly. I will just deal with this issue if a rat shows any interest in me. The room was black because the curtains blocked the moonlight, so I bumped a few times on the chair and table legs, but finally made it to the double door on the other side. Fortunately, it had a space underneath, so I could crawl beneath it. A few moments later, I was at Kelley’s door. The light was still on. I knocked. A crash almost made me to jump out of my skin. He must have thrown one of his flasks at the door.
“Leave me, Demon!” A scream penetrated the door.
“It is Alex,” I called. A torrent of curses followed this announcement. Should I run? Before I decided, the door flew open.
“So!” Kelley said and peered at me from his bloodshot eyes. “You decided to come back, you little coward.”
“Yes, Master,” I said, figuring that flattery is the best policy.
“Very well,” said Kelley, somewhat appeased. “I am going to bed now. You stay here in the study and find yourself a place to sleep. Perhaps in a shoe.” He laughed uproariously at his joke. “I will find you there in the morning.”
“Yes, Master,” I agreed. He closed one eye as he tried to focus at me.
“I thought of something,” he announced grandly. “Something you will do for me, since you are so sneaky.”
“I will be happy to,” I said. Anything to get him off my back until he sobers up. A sly smile settled on his face.
“If you don’t do it, I will not let you go back.”
“I will do it,” I said. Will he ever stop?
“You will do what I say,” he repeated, driving the point home. Not waiting for a reply, he staggered out of the room. He did remember to shut the door behind him. I looked around. The candle was burning low and the room smelled of alcohol in addition to the chemical smells it sported before. I guess a chair will have to do. I climbed onto Kelley’s favorite spot and curled up. The only good part of this trip is that it is summer and I do not need any cover. That was my last thought before I fell asleep.