PART TWO: HE KNOWS
Garth of Bannockburn was never one to let go of his beloved weapon, a jet black war hammer still crested in dried blood. Or rather, he couldn’t let go of it. His feet shuffled him along as quickly as one can move when hung in neck-to-foot armor, as black as the hammer and ornamented with sharp shoulder pauldrons. The cottage somewhere deep in the Great Abyss was small, but Garth was slow to maneuver it, stopping often to lean on a wall and hold his knee as though he was comforting a baby pig. Pig farming was his old job, his old old job, before he was gruesomely slaughtered on the battlefield. Sort of like a pig.
When finally Garth reached the other side of the cottage he straightened his posture, cleared his throat, and knocked gently with his armored knuckles on a door, one insignificant from any other door.
“Yes?” said a woman on the other side of the, her voice prim and airy.
“Misses Montgomery,” began Garth of Bannockburn, breathlessly. “He’s got someone. He’s got a child.”
The door opened.
Harrison opened his eyes to a yellowed popcorn ceiling and the scent of tea leaves seeping into his nose. He didn’t feel panic, or fear. Only confusion. There was a man sitting at Harrison’s bedside, the man that had commented about a light fixture at the restaurant Harrison and his family had eaten at the day before. Or…was it last week? Harrison couldn’t remember. The man smiled, pulling his skin tight over his face. He had slick hair pulled back in a messy bun and his eyes were different colors, white and gold. They were familiar. The man was wearing a red velvet suit and black shirt that was buttoned all the way up to his Adam’s apple. Though he was sitting with one leg crossed over the other, Harrison could tell that this man may have been the tallest person he’d ever seen. The man extended a small silver cup he’d been holding. “Welcome back,” he said. “Have some tea.”
Harrison felt hesitant, but couldn’t think why. He took the tea. “Where am I?”
“Just around the corner,” said the man.
“Oh,” said Harrison, nodding, but that didn’t seem like enough information. “Around the corner from where?”
The man chuckled and shrugged his thin shoulders. “From everything. Do you recall your name?”
“Pleasure, Harry, I’m Mr. Strangeman. We get real inventive with names around here. People call me a strange man, though I am neither, and so I am called Strangeman. I added the Mr. because I think it makes me more approachable.” He stopped and leaned back in his wooden chair, a glimmer of consideration in his eyes. “Though, now that I’ve said it aloud, I’m not sure it’s working.”
Harrison sipped the tea. “Why am I here?” he asked.
“Well, you got right to it. Most people take a minute from what I’ve been told, but not you, Harry Sims.” Mr. Strangeman stood, straightened his suit, and picked a small speck of hair from his velvet jacket. “Ready to remember?’
Before Harrison had finished asking his question, Mr. Strangeman had firmly poked him in the forehead, releasing what felt like a heatwave through Harrison’s body. Harrison’s tea flew from his hands. He ripped the blankets off of himself, sprang up onto his feet, and slammed himself against the wall in terror at the sight of Mr. Strangeman. Mr. Strangeman gently lowered back into his chair, another cup of tea mysteriously in his hands. “I—I’m dead,” Harrison sputtered. “I can’t be dead.”
Mr. Strangeman drank from his cup. “Mhm,” he answered gingerly and gave a smile. “Well, not entirely dead. That’s what we’re here to sort out.” Harrison patted himself down, making sure he was all there. He quickly scanned the room, spotted the door in the corner, and was gone like a ghost spooked from his grave. Mr. Strangeman was mid-sip and nearly choked on the liquid before he struggled to his feet, coughing wildly, and shouted, “Avarellia, he’s headed your way!”
Harrison flew out the door and down a narrow staircase lit by small, wall-mounted candles. His feet tangled with each other and sent him barreling head over heels down the stairs. He crashed against the wall and clamored to his feet just as Mr. Strangeman appeared at the top of the staircase, teacup still in hand. Harrison kept moving, passing through another doorway and into a storage room lined with antiques from times long past and souvenirs from days yet to come. Another door read EXIT in wooden lettering on the far side of the room, but before Harrison could get to it, the door opened. In came a woman with dark brown skin and silver-blue hair, a shimmering necklace hanging from her neck and a loose black tunic around her body. Harrison tried sliding to a stop but couldn’t slow down fast enough. The woman swiftly but gently flicked her hand forward, casting the room in a flash of azure light and sending Harrison flipping onto his back. The shelves of antiques shook, a large vase fell and shattered, and the wind chimes, chandeliers, and marionettes that hung from the ceiling rattled like a deaf choir.
Mr. Strangeman walked in while the boy was still moaning in pain on the ground. “Good lord, Avarellia, could you make any more noise?”
The woman, Avarellia, rolled her eyes. “Could you let another one get away?” She produced a rope out of thin air and threw it to Mr. Strangeman before pulling Harrison, too dizzy to fight it, upright by the straps of his backpack. Mr. Strangeman tied Harrison’s hands and lifted him weightlessly over his shoulder, carrying him through the exit door behind Avarellia and into the front of the building. It was a small antique shop by all appearances, with the streets of Portland on the other side of the storefront windows and a solid wooden door hiding untold truths between them. Avarellia pulled up a chair for Strangeman to put Harrison in; they reworked the rope to tie him to his seat.
“I can’t be,” the boy was mumbling. “I’m dead?”
“Why does he know already?” asked Avarellia.
“He asked! I couldn’t lie; it would have made everything worse.” Mr. Strangeman and Avarellia were whispering despite being alone with Harrison.
Harrison leaned back, recovering from the shock, tears still in his eyes, and said, “Have any more tea?”
“Certainly,” said Mr. Strangeman, jumping to and dashing from the room.
Avarellia knelt down in front of Harrison and stared him in the eyes. “You hungry?”
“Can I even be hungry?”
“‘Course. You’re not dead dead.” She paused. “Not yet anyway.”
“What about…” Harrison hesitated, swallowed a lump in his throat. “Is my mom dead?”
Avarellia frowned. “I don’t know, kid,” she said softly. “We can’t know. But if she is, she’s already gotten judgement and moved on.”
“Tea,” exclaimed Mr. Strangeman, reappearing armed with a steamy cup. He extended it to Harrison before he realized the boy’s hands were still tied. “If we undo the rope, then no running, hm?”
Harrison nodded, and as quickly as he had, Avarellia had snapped her fingers and the rope had dissipated. Strangeman extended the cup of tea again. “I wasn’t judged,” said Harrison. “Or, was I?”.
“Ah, I see you proceeded without me,” mumbled Mr. Strangeman. “You weren’t judged because we needed an opportunity, one which you provided. A scale too close to tip, if you will. I snagged you out of the Great Abyss, kept you from trial with Guidance, and brought you here!”
“To help us,” added Avarellia. Harrison was quiet. He shifted in his seat, idly swirling the tea in his cup. “And possibly help you, too.”
“Do you understand?” asked Mr. Strangeman.
Harrison closed his eyes, murmuring, “Why me?”
“We’re gonna be real honest with you, kid,” said Avarellia, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’re a bargaining chip.”
There was a knock at the door, stirring Avarellia to her feet and Mr. Strangeman to behind a shelf of antiques. “Who is it?” he hissed.
“How the hell should I know?” she hissed back.
There was another knock, and then a woman’s voice called loudly, “Let us in, please.” Avarellia made a nearly unnoticeable gesture with her hand and the door opened. On the other side of it was not Portland but an icy, grey mountain range and a huge man holding a war hammer in hand.
“Garth,” said Mr. Strangeman breathlessly. “Come in!” The man with the hammer entered and behind came a woman dressed in a frilled white blouse and a long black skirt. Her hair was in an elaborate up-do, and her petite, narrow facial features culminated at her mischievous eyes. “Oh, and Misses Montgomery,” added Mr. Strangeman, less excitably.
Harrison leaned forward, squinting as hard as he could. “Lucy Maud Montgomery,” he gawked. “I really am dead.”
“He knows?” cried Misses Montgomery.
“He asked,” said Mr. Strangeman in a mocking tone.
“Lucy. Maud. Montgomery.” Harrison repeated the name over again, but much slower. “You wrote Anne of Green Gables.”
“Hush, meddlesome child,” she sighed. “I wrote a lot of things.”
“How did you know to come?” said Avarellia, her voice wavering slightly.
“You weren’t discreet, if I may say,” said Garth, holding his weapon behind his back as though it wasn’t even in his fist.
“But if you know…” Mr. Strangeman trailed off.
“He does have a brain,” said Misses Montgomery. “It’s a shock Guidance didn’t beat us here. In fact, I’m more worried by him having not come yet than I would have been by him casting us all into the bottom Great Abyss already!”
“I’m not helping you,” said Harrison, casting the room into silence. Everyone stared at him, their eyes an array of anger and confusion. “I’m not helping with whatever you’re doing, which I’m still very confused about, unless I find out what happened to my mom. And I get more of this tea.”
Misses Montgomery looked to Mr. Strangeman, her thick eyebrows raised above her thin-framed glasses. “Deal,” said Strangeman after a moment. “We’ll find a way to do it. Bring the teacup; we’re leaving now.”
When Guidance did come, the glow from his huge opalescent form casting out the darkness that surrounded the antique shop, a portal to the human world of Earth, the shop was vacant. Guidance stamped his staff against the ground. A moment later the shop had imploded into thin air and Guidance had vanished back to where he’d come from. There was a stolen soul on the run, and the chase had begun.
To Be Continued…
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