But when I turned back, Bethany was solid, three-dimensional, and waiting for me.
The hollow tree where we’d entered before, during the Christmas I’d first met her, was off to my right. She took me by the hand, and we walked through the spiral entrance together.
We finally came to the large door, working as a team to get the heavy thing open.
This time, the interior was simpler, basic, still not unlike the lounge in Grammer’s house, but cozier, intimate, a third the size. Its wallpaper, curtains, pictures, fireplace, bookshelves, hearth and mantle were identical. The furniture consisted primarily of a pair of large chairs that I recognized from somewhere, but not from anywhere I’d lived, flanking an ornate circular table, roughly a meter’s radius, standing on a large hearthrug a few meters from the fire.
I also noticed no discernible electric light; the room was lit solely by the fireplace and candles, perhaps a score, set various places around the room.
I presumed that either Gramfer hadn’t adequately explained electric lighting to her or that she’d failed to grasp the concept – or that he’d explained, she’d understood, but found the glow of electric lights harsh, distasteful and not to her liking. I looked over at the table. She’d attempted to set out a nice repast for tea.
“Let us convive,” she said. “For see, doth I not recall some scantling of our feast from that Christmas two years ago – sufficient to confect these sleights for our sustenance and delight?”
She’d tried hard: A seventeenth century girl had attempted to concoct sweet dishes that wouldn’t even be invented until centuries after her death.
The repast had to be drawn from her memory, the results most decidedly mixed. Her attempt to make chocolate-covered orange and raspberry sticks tasted like jelly babies, covered in thick, brown bittersweet goop that tasted nearly nothing like chocolate. Her go at making Kunzle showboats bore only a vague, academic relationship to the genuine article. I sampled both, trying hard to come up with some plausible praise, but could do little more than hem and haw.
But it was the tea I found particularly fascinating.
It had a strong mint flavor, yet also with a scent of pine. It was sweetened with a berry like syrup with a hint of licorice root. Several, subtle herbal tints, some like the aromatic teas at Stan’s house, floated beneath it all, but I’d no idea what they might be.
We said a quick grace and then dug in, as I told Bethany about my adventure in the cemetery. I returned her silver charm, apologizing for the chain’s still being attached, but she laughed and put it around her neck, letting the charm hide beneath her bodice.
“Now ’tis a periapt,” she said.
At length, my tale was spent, but she plied me with yet another piece of bread, another Toll House Cookie and another cup of tea before we both sat back in our respective chairs, watching the fire.
Yet, as I sat there, it felt as though the room was gently beginning to spin. It seemed something – the biscuits… the bread… the tea? – was beginning to have a gentle hallucinatory effect.
Pine branches began growing from the walls, until the walls disappeared and Bethany and I sat, still in our comfy chairs – the hearthrug, table and fireplace before us – in the midst of a forest.
“Come sit in my lap, Reggie,” Bethany said softly. “I shalt clip thee and keep thy body safe, as thou seel thine eyne and behold the view from within thy mind as it wanders wither it will.”
© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available late this year. Gilbertine & the Exhange (Volume Two) will be available in early 2020.