My stomach lurched, my heart turned a handspring and my breathing stopped. I knew that voice. Slowly, ever so slowly, I looked up from the trap door, still in a crouch.
Half a dozen candles lit the room, creating an ambient light that gave it a copper-like tone. A brighter, nearly golden light sat 20 paces farther, on a venerable, antique desk – Victorian, perhaps even Regency, looking as if it had waltzed in from Whitfield’s World of Wonder. Behind the desk and the light sat Whitfield’s shopkeeper – and the newest member of the board of governors at school – still looking as unsettling as ever.
“Surprised, Reggie? You shouldn’t be. In my line, you’ll find that it helps to wear many hats.”
“Where are we?”
“Know that little building on the rooftop, about the size of a shop or a flat, with its own fancy exterior?”
I nodded. “Seen it, yeh.”
“That’s where you are – inside it – or in any event, inside a certain… ‘dimension’ of it, you might say. I’m theatre manager – erm – in this dimension, you understand – and I find it convenient to… operate out of here. Pardon the mess, it allows me to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone, if I do my administrative tasks as I keep an eye on some of the props in interim storage.”
“Interim storage, sir?”
“Props that aren’t of any immediate use onstage, but are either used on a recurring, if rather intermittent, basis, so as to make their being constantly dragged in and out of a warehouse something of a pain, or will be used a great deal, but not constantly, over a short period of time.”
That certainly explained the plethora of objects – paintings, mirrors, furniture and statuary mostly – which I saw covered with drop cloths as I looked about the room.
“Actually, most interim props are quite small,” he said, seemingly picking up on my train of thought. “Take this one for example,” he added, opening a shallow, narrow drawer near the top of the desk, pulling out what looked to be a brass pin, about seven centimeters high, maybe four wide.
The figure had tiny jewels where its eyes should have been, and was vaguely humanoid. It certainly had human hair, hands and facial features, and dressed the way men of the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century might have dressed, were he of limited means, but it had a rather elongated head, limbs and torso, like those of a lizard.
He tossed the pin to me and, as I caught it, the thing came alive, jumping out of my hand to inspect the velvet on my cuff, running up my arm to do the same on my collar, before diving off, swinging on my tie, and landing inside my coat pocket.
“Will he be safe in there?”
“The imp or pixie or whatever that thing was that just jumped into my pocket – poor fellow might get crushed in there – or heaven knows what might happen to him if I fail to fish him out before the coat goes to the cleaners.”
“I think you’ll find he’s a bit more resilient than you imagine. Anyway, he’s yours for the duration.”
“Duration of what?”
“Of your time here.”
“I’d only planned on seeing a concert here tonight, not on taking up residence.”
“Are you sure? There’s an excellent flat, you know, on the other side of those sliding double doors, across the room. It’s normally only reserved for special guests – but I could let you have it, if you want.”
“Can’t afford rent, sir; besides, why would I – or any 10-year-old – want my own flat?”
“Fair point now, but I’ll return to the question in a year or so. Your answer may be different by then.
© 2018, 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 be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018.