Monday, January 26, 2009
Careful -- or Careless -- Footsteps
"And we have got to close that thing before any of those troublesome not-friends slip through behind us."
The Stranger, Birdie's new "friend" -- if friend he was -- gestured upwards at the hole. Birdie thought she saw a hand reaching through the hole but it suddenly (perhaps sensing what was about to happen) pulled back. Like an iris, the hole winked out, plunging them both temporarily into darkness. Then there was a sound like a grilled-cheese sandwich being bitten into, an odor like that of new mint being crushed underfoot, and a sort of whirring sensation. When the natural light returned, Birdie and The Stranger stood in a garden which Birdie thought she knew, vaguely. Was it from a story...?
But the garden wasn't the main attraction. Nearly all Birdie's attention was drawn to The Stranger -- her savior or her abductor.
He stood well over six feet tall -- it couldn't have been seven, could it? -- and his height was accentuated both by the dark broad-brimmed hat and the... the cloak, she decided (fighting her intuition): it had be a cloak after all. His face was long, his hair ebony, his eyes, yes, warm and kindly.
But his mouth looked warm and kindly not at all. The thin lips bespoke cruelty, and the way one corner turned up and one down seemed to taunt her: whether he turned out friend or foe could, in her mind, well depend upon which way he faced when she decided.
It was time to test his "friendship" with something a little more substantial than a sudden miraculous escape from a subway platform.
"So you're my friend," she said. "And you've 'saved' me. Now that I've been saved from a threat I did not feel or recognize, then as my friend I assume you will let me now go?"
Both ends of that strange mouth twitched. "But of course. There's the path." He gestured, and Birdie saw a line of flagstones leading from the spot where they stood. But then he said, "...and there's another path," gestured again, and there was a pond on the other side of the garden, across the surface of which floated a line of sturdy-looking lily pads.
Birdie looked once more at those eyes. Not good enough, friend, she thought. She turned and set out directly between the flagstones and the pond, straight through a bed of periwinkle, in the direction of what looked like it might be an opening through a hedge around the garden.
Over her shoulder, she heard The Stranger's voice. "You are a very difficult girl." She approached the hedge, pushed the opening apart further. "...or a very foolish one," she heard him add. And then, although she couldn't be sure, as she stepped through the opening she thought she heard him say, "...or perhaps not a girl at all."
But that wouldn't make any sense, of course.
Then she was through the opening, which closed behind her like a drape. Before her...