Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chapter ONE: In Which the Main Character Finds Himself Perplexed and the Female Lead is Enraged

The body was found two days after his death, amongst the forests of New York State. It was a cold, snow-free wintry day. A mid-December feel, except the month was actually October. Even the slight joy of up-coming holidays was present, for a rather morbid and obscure reason. Not many are overjoyed by a man’s death. In this case, the poor were the rare overjoyed. For the coldest bastard of a man, Theodore Wrensky, was dead.
The body was recovered three days after he had died and five days after he was found missing. The search party was given a clue as to where he quite possibly went by an irate taxi-cab driver, who had the man run out on him without paying. After driving a quite some distance, the driver had realised quite precisely who the man was, and then confirmed it by the wallet that was left behind (which was devoid of money, much to the dismay of the driver).
By the time they had found him, he was stiff, and not the usual cold stiffness of a high-end, stressed and depended upon large corporate businessman, but of a long since used, chilled and completely dead ordinary human body. What was different from the ordinary human body part was the lack of touch on his person.
Unlike most living (or in this case, dead) things, he remained untouched. The sort of dead body that all detritivores and carnivores came together to discuss and eventually formed a census on not to touch it. The only scratch on his body that they found was a small cut on his knee, which ruined his muddy suit pants even further. It was from running a mile and a half straight into a forest that would eventually, if he had kept running, reach deep into the Catskill Mts.
The body was brought back two hours after the news had reached the Miss Alice McKensey, who was even more enraged when told to identify the body. Alice McKensey was Mr. Wrensky’s private secretary, who did more than what she was paid for. She had no love and positively no like for the man, but did so just out of duty (and she was full of that). She had long reflections on why she stayed with him, and she decided that not only did it not matter, but she did not even begin to wish why. All she knew was that her boss had the severe tendency to skip out on the many meetings and visits she planned for him, and for that, she was always furious with the man. He even had the nerve to run out (quite literally, this time) of the most current of many meetings.
She stood outside the meat-packing factory, leaning against the Rolls Royce of a raven colour, deep black with a shiny purple undertone. She shivered and hugged herself further into her fur-lined coat, which was a “present” from Mister Wrensky, and only because he was annoyed by her middle class everyday coat which she wore everywhere. Annoyed with the image she brought upon herself, he gave it to her to make himself look better. She didn’t mind wearing it because it was warm and very comfortable, much more than her previous one.
She looked around, and noticed a man had exited the building. He was walking over, and most definitely was able to note her fine clothing. She sighed, puffing out steam. She moved off of the car and walked over to meet the man.
He had an apologetic and saddened look on his face. “Sorry to make you come all the way out here, Miss McKensey. We’re not allowed to take him out of the county, I’m afraid.” She gave the head cop a slight quizzical look. “Suspected foul play. We’re going to need a few statements and an alibi from you, too.” He paused for a moment, and went on, “I’m the inspector here, Inspector Charlie Kent.”
“Yes, well, state-level I presume?” He was about to say so when she cut in, “I don’t care. Not while we’re standing outside, too cold to do that.” He smiled acknowledging and nodded for her to follow, and they walked towards the door he came out of. He looked over at the woman as he held the door open for her who looked very much in control, emotionally and professionally.
Two men were standing inside, waiting. One was a tall man of deep ebony matte and there was a smaller man with a French body-type. Neither of them looking entirely too happy, which was rather reasonable. They were both cold, in the middle of Nowhere, New York in a meat-packaging factory and it was just plain, good manners to be solemn when there were dead people and their grieving friends and family around.
Alice looked around and gave a polite nod to the two men. She followed the inspector through the corridors and finally to a room. Alice noted to herself that it looked like where they cut the meat, which gave her a chill completely unrelated to the freezing cold of the room.
Sitting there on the table in the middle of the room was a white sheet which formed a fairly human-esque figure. The inspector walked forward, giving her a moment to regain her wits. She nodded for the go-ahead and he pulled the sheet away from the man’s head. Alice stared.
“I know it’s tough, Miss McKensey, but bare with me. Does this look like Mister Theodore Wrensky?” His voice was kind but rough. Alice nodded.
“Yes, it certainly looks like him, just never thought the man could die.”
There was once a man who had a daughter. His wife died quite some time ago and he remarried. The new wife had a daughter also. The new wife did not like the husband’s daughter and so the daughter had a very hard time.
One day the father brought his daughter out into the woods and found a little hut standing on a chicken leg. He called out “Little hut, little hut, stand with your back to the woods and your front to me!” The hut turned around and out cam Baba Yaga (a little irate, she was in the middle of making tea and it spilled over when the hut moved).
“I smell a Russian!” she said, and that was by no means a complement. She wasn’t fond of Russians. They kept coming over and interrupting things.
The father bowed to Baba Yaga and said, “Baba Yaga, I have brought my daughter to be your servant.”
Baba Yaga was rightly pleased with that, she did have some things that needed to be done. She looked the daughter over, a little scrawny but manageable. “Very well, she shall serve me. I will reward her for it.” The father left.
Baba Yaga gave the girl a basket of yarn to spin, told her to make fire for the stove and dinner, then she left. The daughter attempted to spin the thread but failed and broke down crying. A handful of mice came running out and asked for some gruel. The daughter said, “If I give you gruel, then spin my yarn.” The mice did not have anything better to do and so did. They were rewarded and the daughter managed everything by the time Baba Yaga came home.
When Baba Yaga came home, she ordered the daughter to give her a bath. After that was done, the daughter received several fine dresses. The next day, Baba Yaga gave the girl even harder tasks. Again the mice ran out and asked for gruel and they made the same deal. The maiden received even more fine dresses.
One day the father sent out to find his daughter (and see if she is still alive). He found his daughter well and happy. The step-daughter was jealous of the many fine dresses and the step-mother ordered her to head off to the Baba Yaga’s house (much to the annoyance of the poor old woman).
The Baba Yaga gave her the same orders she gave the daughter and left again. The girl started weeping (the family never was good at spinning yarn). The mice ran out, hoping for a little gruel, but when the step-daughter saw them, she killed them with a rolling pin. She never got the spinning done.
When the Baba Yaga returned, she was irate. Not only were these Russians bothering her but they were getting more and more useless. She was already missing some gruel. She killed the step-daughter and put her bones into a basket (the meat was hung). The husband went to pick the daughter up but was handed only a basket.
A raven’s caw sounded. It was evening or late afternoon. All he knew was that it was dark, but that could have been from the trees and heavy clouds and not the sun creeping away towards the other parts of the Earth. He was sitting up and contemplating on his next move. He was very fond of that idea, but the raven called again and he knew that it would not be possible. His option was to stand up, and that was it.
He brushed himself self off, being a bit muddy, and looked over to where the raven was standing in a tree. The raven ruffled its feathers and cawed again. The man looked up at the bird and threw a nearby rock at it. He missed. The bird paused to look at him and flew off, making what sounded remarkably like a laugh. Annoyed, the man turned and walked in the different direction, walked in what he hoped was a way out of the forest.
It was not that he did not like the forest. Sure it was muddy and full of pesky flea-ridden beasts, but it was dark and creepy. A place you would find imps and demons and monsters. A place to scare little children with and he liked that. It made him feel powerful. More powerful than he already was, that is. It just made him happy, and yet he had to leave it. It was not an option. It was like some profound and god-like being ordered him to move and never to rest and that he had no option to disobey it. So he moved.
He left the glen and pushed around bushes until he came upon a path. It was no real path of clean-make and of dirt (or rocks, as some prefer) or widened for people to walk upon with ease. It was a path that had over-brush and rocks and tree roots and was completely unnoticeable to those who were not meant to move along the path. It was a rare and unfindable path that was meant for only one way, person and use. This specific path was for this man to find his way to a house and after that, it would disappear into trees, rocks and any manner of such things.
It took a small manner of difficulty to move along the path, only because he wished to keep his suit as clean as possible. This was already a hard task, for it was soiled from him being on the ground so long. It felt as though the brambles and branches were reaching out and grabbing a hold of him the further he went and that the rocks and roots were tripping him up more and more as he walked. Annoyed and stubborn, he walked on.
Alice was wondering why she was here. The man was the inspector of her boss’s death, after all. She did not even like him. He was too fatherly and she was not fond of her father. She picked up her coffee and sipped it.

“I know it is hard at a time like this, but I do need an alibi. You were the closest person to Mister Wrensky and it will be hard. It would just be better if you found an alibi quick.”

“Inspector, I already have an alibi. It is rather simple and very hard to be. I had just finished setting up the next month’s agenda and printed it out when I got a call that he never showed up to his meeting. I called his phone several times and at all possibly locations. After I could not reach him, I drove over to the meeting room. Look on my phone bill or ask the people I reached instead of Mister Wrensky or look at the security tape that watched me call all these numbers. I was most certainly not anywhere near him. I was in my office all day.” The inspector nodded.

“Yes, we will need to check those tapes.” He said, “I did not bring you out to this diner just to talk about your alibi or legal things. I came to make sure you are OK.” The waitress came around and put a plate of scrambled eggs, some pancakes and bacon in front of the inspector and a plate of toast in front of Alice’s.

“I am fine, inspector. He was my boss and was not a very kind one. If it wasn’t for being out of job, I would not care. He never showed me much kindness, only worried about his self image.” The inspector nodded.

“Is there anyone to contact? I know his parents are dead and his brother is gone. No uncles or cousins you know of?”

“No,” Alice said. “He really wasn’t a family person. He mainly just worked. There were no calls on his birthday or the holidays from family or friends. He didn’t have much of anybody, sad really.”
Finally, the man reached his unknown destination. He looked back and the path melded into the trees and bushes and rocks and things. He looked forward.
What the man saw was a house, a hut, rather. A hut with no doors and no windows (in truth, there was a door, just not visible until it wished to be so), which was rather sensible if it was left to that. For it was also a hut with chicken legs (one in each corner) that was shifting from foot to foot, scratching here and there and shifting around in its paddock. It looked bored. The man stared.
“Staring at it in that stupefied expression doesn’t do you or it any good, you know.” said a quick and haughty voice next to the man, who was trying to collect his thoughts. He looked over to his right and was not so much surprised, but confused (and his lack of surprise perplexed him). Standing there, looking up at him was a surly black cat. “And staring at me doesn’t do much good either, mister.”
Coming back from his daze, the hero retorted in a more pompous manner than he had intended, “Perhaps, then, you ought to stop talking! Act like a real cat and meow, beg for a bit of meat. Act as you should. It’s unnatural and should cause staring. Look at that house, even. It has chicken legs! ”
The cat rolled its eyes and walked towards the hut, calling back, “Then should you not act as you should? You are as every bit as ‘unnatural’ as I am, good sir.” Perplexed, the man followed the cat until they were both standing in front of the gate and fence that surrounded the hut.
Quite like the hut, the gate and fence was just as abnormal (or unnatural, as our hero would say). It was ivory-white, a bleach bone colour. On closer inspection, it was actually made of bone (and when our hero leaned in, he realised that they were very human). Upon every post was a human skull except on one to the exact right of the gate, which was bare, almost waiting for the next unlucky visitor to come by.
The man reached his hand forward to touch the bone fencing to a spot not far from the left of the gate. “They’re quite tired of that, little one,” The keyhole of in the middle of the gate moved and mouthed the words, “Tired of it, indeed.” The gate huffed. The man stopped and looked at the gate surprised. A cat and a moving house he could deal with. After all, houses could move in this day and age, praise technology and profoundly rich people with realism issues, and cats were just cats. He had never understood cats. They could talk for all he knew. However a gate made out of human bones was talking to him. And not only had this gate spoken to him, but it had called him “little one”. For all he knew, he was not the type to be called little one like a small child being talked down to by an aged and pompous adult.
“Might as well go ahead and listen to him. Not much good in risking it. S’not like those bones are standing of their own free will. Take any chance to bring in another to share their pain. Misery loves company and all that,” the cat said.

The gate sniffed in a bored manner, “Oh yes, misery and all that. You know what’s miserable? Not those wankers up on the fence, I’ll tell you that. It’s good ol’ sturdy Gate. Oh sure, people come and see me, but it’s only to use me, only to get to that bloody house. You should see it when it gets riled up. Means we have to keep the bugger in. It runs hard and fast, too. It screeches, too. You haven’t had the chance to hear it yet, little master, but stick around long enough and you will. Oh, you will. Hurts my ears.” Gate continued to rant on about his poor old self and the always moving, unhappy bone-fence as his face, or rather him, creaked and groaned, bones moving how bones never would do so normally and all doing so to form an overly dramatic and loud gate.
The cat looked up at the man and said, “Oh, don’t mind him just old, creaky Gate. His bones won’t take you. Just push on through. I feel up for a fine mouse or two. Talking to him always gets me hungry,” the cat stalked away and disappeared, not without looking back and adding, “Watch for that keyhole though. Get your hand too close and he’ll snap it off. He doesn’t get to eat much, you know.”
The man watched the cat disappear before turning back to Gate, who was still ranting angrily, only this time about a little girl named Vasilissa and her sticky, filthy fingers. Not sure of what else to do, he furtively pushes the gate, making sure not to get anywhere near the keyhole (or mouth, both and whichever) and walked into the lawn.
The grass was craggily and dry: dead and crispy under the man’s feet. He stopped in front of the shifting hut, unsure of what to do. All he knew was that he wished to enter it. He did not even know if he wished this freely or if it belonged to someone else and they passed the desire on to him. He knew that he did not care whose desire it is, but just that he did what it desired. And now, besides wanting to enter the hut, he longs to make it stop screeching.
“Stop it!” he tries. This did not work, mainly because, as everyone knows, houses and homes and huts do not have ears. He attempted again, adding a “now”.
“Open sesame?” No luck.
“Allow me to enter?” No change.
“Cease!” he shouts. In the background, he can hear Gate continuously talking. He sighs and looks around for help, looking for, just maybe, a magic biscuit or mushroom. At least Miss Wonderland had help, he thought. He made a face and spoke the nonsense that suddenly ran through his mind:
Turn your back to the forest, your front to me.

The hut stopped scuttling and stumbled only slightly to keep its balance and sat down. Our hero was only pleased for a second, for while he had stopped the hut, there was still a problem of entering. He tried the door, but it was locked. It had no windows.
Like a dog kicked out of the house, he sat down against the wall. He sat like this for a while, when suddenly there was a noise, a muffled noise of someone shuffling around. He moved away from the door, which busted open with a bang.
The first thing he noticed was a nose looking out of the doorway. Upon a second look it was a tall, gangly, infinitely aged woman with a long nose. She had wild, wiry hair that is a grey colour and a scraggily long dress that looked of leaves and coloured in many Earthy dead tones. Not morbidly dead, but a leafy, dirt death. She glares at the man.
“Ah, you’re not him. You look like him. Oh you do indeed, laddie. But no, you’re not him. You’re not proud an’ tall. He always holds himself like that. But don’t get me wrong, you’re a git alright. You wouldn’t be here is you weren’t. You’re just not that git,” she gives a pause to look closer at the man and made a clucking noise. “Now, state your purpose. I don’t have all day, you know. This old lady has too many plans to be bothered by some new troubled youngster.”
The man was unsure of what to say, for he had no real purpose, of course. He just came upon a path (just for him), talked to a cat and passed through a talking and potentially dangerous gate and, on a strange whim, ordered a house to stop moving. He realised, when taking this into perspective that it was all very wrong and unnatural. He did not know what, but there was something he could not remember.
“Advice! I’ve come for advice,” he figured this to be the safest choice. Everyone gets advice asked from them at one point in their life. What advice, he could not decide. How to get out of the forest, he thought. It wasn’t a complete lie, a little white lie. He wanted to exit the forest and he found someone to ask, perfect.
The old woman made a disgruntled face, obviously not pleased by this answer, “All you humans ever want is advice and advice and advice. Maybe a little bread and a bed here and there, but after that, it’s all the same. What is it this time, it couldn’t be much. You don’t have many ties, not anymore.” The man furrowed his eyebrows at her, confused and curious. He opened his mouth to speak, but she interrupted, “Be quiet. Don’t ask unnecessary questions. Never ask unnecessary questions. It only does harm to the person being asked. Now if you want advice, and bread and bed, you obviously need it, then come in. My house must always be open to visitors. Whether you’re pure of heart or not, is another matter, my dear. For your poor soul, I wish you are. It would make everything easier for the whole of us.”
He paused, only for a moment. He entered the hut.

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