Garfield’s Find

Garfield Wiles was thirteen, and taking his little sister Eunice into the city to help her buy a Christmas gift for their mother.
The lights of the city made the eyes, the windows of the soul, into train windows, and the soul found it difficult to read in the passing changes of illumination. The sky was dark above the lights, and a thin mist was just heavy enough to fall like minute snowflakes. The crowd also was thin but heavy.

There was a light clatter ahead of them. Something long had dropped from beneath the dark mantle of a man walking some yards further on, and no one else was noticing. Garfield ran to take up the thing, and called out to its owner:

“Hey! Sir, your stick fell down!”

The man continued walking, perhaps thinking the shout was meant for another. Garfield shouted again, and began to run after the man. His feet made a gritty sound on the wet pavement, and very soon he slipped. To keep from hurting the stranger’s rod, he took his fall on one hand, scratching his palm badly. Though only on the ground for a moment, when he looked around the man in the mantle was not to be seen. Eunice was by his side, staring at the thing he held.

“What is that?” she asked.

It was nearly a cubit and a half according to Garfield’s arm – thus rather short to be a cane. There was a severity to the sharp grain and the fawn shade, certainly different from furniture wood. It was darkened strangely much, almost to black, where it had gotten wet on the ground. A hand span at the subtly thicker end was carved in the fashion of a hilt, with a small grid-pattern grip.

Garfield switched it to his left hand to take Eunice’s hand, forgetting he had hurt his left hand. The touch of the unsealed wood on his scrape stung. Then it quickly stung again, with more insistence, through the undeniability of its nature and presence. Garfield hissed in pain, and held it with just his fingers. He checked if he had gotten blood on it, but could not tell.

Then he took his sister’s hand.

“Come. It looks expensive; we must find the man who dropped it. He was walking this way…”

In the middle of that city they heard the cry of a coyote, distant, but not nearly so far off as one would expect. People paused and looked around, confirming that the sound had indeed come to pass through the thin falling mist. Garfield felt his hair move when there was no wind, or not enough wind to move his hair so, as it seemed to him.

They hurried in the direction the stranger had been going. Shadows were moving all around them, and there were more than could be accounted for by the people. And more eyes. There was a jingle of spurs, and Garfield saw a skinless face turn towards them, before it was hidden by passersby.

“Did anyone see a gentleman in a dark mantle go by here?” Garfield asked loudly. No one took any notice. The stranger could have turned off or in anywhere.

Eunice reached over, and began to carefully stroke the strange rod with her fingertips. Each tiny pinprick of water in the air caught more light of the lights.

“I think,” Eunice whispered, “this is a witch hunter’s wand.”

A man was standing over them, who said,

“I think it is too.”

He reached out as if to stroke the wand also, but they drew back, startled by his presence, and by something in the brightness of his eyes. He did not seem offended.

“I know something about wands,” he said. “Would you let me try something with this one?”

“What do you want to try?” Garfield asked.

“To see if I can hear the call of the bloodhorn hound. It is…”

“This isn’t mine,” Garfield said, “I have to give it back.”

The man laughed.

“It isn’t mine either, but I could find out whose it is. I can tell things of that sort from wands. Here…”

He held out his hand.

“No thanks,” Garfield said. “I’d best not give it to a stranger.”

“Very well,” the man said, and moved as though to continue on his way down the road. But this brought him closer to them, before they thought to avoid him.

The man seized Eunice’s arm – she jerked back at first, but, being held tight, she stood very still, looking between the intruder and her brother.

“Leave hold of her!” Garfield shouted, hoping someone nearby would hear.

“Leave hold of that,” the man replied, pointing to the wand. He spoke calmly, but his grip pinching through Eunice’s thick coat sleeve made her arm look very thin.

Garfield looked around: there was no one left but the shadows, waiting for what would happen, and the lights were dim, hanging back.

At that he felt a vibrating tightness in his head, and a heat in his stomach. He swung the rod with all his strength – and felt something break.

A thought flickered through him that he had acted rashly: he must have done the intruder no harm, and now he had broken the stranger’s wand, which he would never be able to repay. This thought had no substance, but it did make him look down at the rod in his hand.

He was holding the evil man’s arm. There was just time to be shocked, before he saw that it was actually the heavy rod (had it been heavy before?). It was the man who was clutching his own arm. Garfield had struck him with the rod, and broken the man’s arm: his sister was free, and shaking the blood back into her cold fingers.

“Very well,” the man said again in a winded voice, “Merry Christmas.”

He truly did walk past them this time, but when they turned they could not tell from the back which passerby was him, so they could not call anyone’s help and point after him. The street was full of people again. Garfield pressed his lips together.

“We’d better keep this out of sight until we can return it.”

He slid the rod down inside his coat, which just covered it. Eunice was still looking around for the man who had hurt her arm. Garfield took her hand.

“We won’t be able to find either of those people tonight, so we’ll finish what we came for, and tomorrow we’ll ask… Ow!”

The rod was hot, stinging him. He quickly removed it from its hiding place, his fingers twitching to avoid holding it too long at a time.

“Don’t let it go!” Eunice said. “He’s trying to take it from you again!”

Garfield realised this was true, and gripped the searing hot wood firmly. Flames rose all along the rod – he held it away from him, but did not loosen his red, sweating, shaking fist. His eyes watered, and soon the inside of his hat and clothes was wetter than the outside. Eunice put her hands on his to help him hold on – the flame did not seem to hurt her. No one stopped to help them.

There was a dash of a more impetuous frigid rain. Though hardly any fell on the rod itself, the flames died away with a squeak like a faucet turned off.

Garfield was now soaked through and through, and though his hand was not physically burnt, he was starting to fall asleep on his feet, exhausted by the degree of pain he had undergone.

“We need to find help.”

Eunice walked straight away towards one of those on the street, and Garfield hadn’t gathered the presence of mind to warn her to be more careful. She quickly ducked and made for a different person, then darted back past her brother, then returned to him and whispered urgently,

“They’re all the same man! The man who’s attacking us, all the people are him!”

Garfield could see some people who were not the same, at least as far as he could tell in that light and his dazed state. However it was clearly not safe where they were, and he pulled Eunice quickly into the nearest store.

This happened to be a somewhat tacky souvenir shop. What caught Garfield’s eye were some cracked vase-shaped jars filled with dried foreign leaves; they looked out of place, like a feminine hat on a man. The owner of the shop was very visible: his puffy black furs (though the store was warm) stark against the white wall behind his counter. For some reason he had the foot of his cane set on something, so that it looked tall like a shepherd’s staff.

“What you did was hard,” he said, looking directly at Eunice. “Holding your brother’s hand in a fire takes knowledge.” He tapped his temple with his finger.

Eunice glanced nervously up at Garfield.

“I didn’t hurt you did I? I mean, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I mean, I only wanted to help…”

Garfield was still too tired to do more than shake his head reassuringly.

The evil man pushed the shop door open and leaned inside.

“Hey, old friend,” he said to the shopowner, “may I come in out of the rain?” (The rain had begun to fall with much more presence of mind.)

“You know the answer to that, Balsa,” the shopowner said, “particularly when bent as you are.”

The man, who was apparently named Balsa, raised his brows.

“And I’m sure you know my reply to that answer.”

Garfield felt a thrill of shock, the same as one feels at the sight of a cat darting past in the night – or perhaps a wolf.
The shopowner’s cane flopped with a crash among the things on the counter, and the shopowner himself canted awkwardly to the side, but his eyes remained open. He looked over at Garfield and his sister.

“This next ordeal,” he said to them, “may be harder than bearing pain.”

He straightened in his seat, and showed them his hands. Thorn-like needles were bristling out of them, piercing his skin from the inside.

“You see how much he wants that man’s rod? See what he’s doing to me, and tell him no.”
At the word “no” the thorns pushed and shifted; the shopowner’s arms twitched.

Garfield looked at Balsa, who waited with the door propped open with his foot (the warmth was draining from the room). Then Garfield looked to the shopowner, who had beads of sweat forming on his face. Garfield was robbed of strength, but the fires had not burned him carnally.

He strode towards Balsa, who recoiled at first, but steadied himself, and held out his hand.

As before, Garfield swung the rod at the man. Balsa grabbed for it, but just then a puff of breeze kicked a fistful of rainwater from where it had collected in the old ragged awning, and the water struck Balsa in the head. Consequently, his hand missed – but Garfield nearly dropped the wand anyways. He snatched himself back just in time for the door to swing shut, pushing Balsa’s boot out with a squeal.

With a sharp hiss, all the glass in the storefront was turned like frosted glass by a fuzz of tiny cracks. Outside of this Balsa appeared as no more than a dramatic moving shadow in a shadow theatre.

It looked as though the storefront would collapse the next moment, but the shopowner shook his head.

“That will hold, we have a little time now to ourselves.”

The thorns were gone, and on his bloody hands he was sprinkling a powder from a cardboard cylinder container – covering it with the mess from his hands in doing so, and hence Garfield could not read what it was.

“So,” said the shopowner to Garfield, “what made you swing at him? You almost handed him what he wanted.”

“It worked before,” Garfield said simply.

“Had you done it before when it worked? But what you did now you had done before, and so it was not what you did before.”

He wiped some sweat from his face with his arm; the powder container was still in his hand as he did so, and thus he accidentally shook a puff of powder onto the counter and floor.

“But it provided enough distraction to help in a pinch.”

The point of an ice pick stuck suddenly through the glass, and was withdrawn, leaving no hole.

“Don’t knock!” the shopowner called out, “I don’t care who it is!”

Eunice stepped forward.

“Do you know who the wand belongs to?”

“I did. But I’ve forgotten.”

“Would you be able to find out from the wand who owns it?” Garfield asked.

“That’s not in my line – unless it has a nameplate.”

Eunice asked if the owner would be coming back to look for it by now. The shopowner gave a nervous glance to the shop front.

“Whether he is or no, the first order of business is to get away from Balsa. I’m scratching the bottom of what I can do at present, but we might get through to reinforcements yet.”

He checked his rotary telephone – it was dead. “Worth the try anyway.” He picked his cane out of the wreck of its fall, and began looking for something. The rain was now torrential, and pouring down the fuzzy glass made it tremulous like the air of a deadly Australian heat.

The shopowner picked a drawer open, and his eyebrows jerked. “From your father, this morning,” he said, handing a note to Garfield before returning to his rummage. The note read, “Good work, both of you. Hold tight for a bit, and I’ll see what I can do.”

“He gave you this a whole day ago?” Garfield wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“Some individuals have quite a clarity in their premonitions,” said the shopowner, then found what he was looking for on the floor. It looked like a heart-sized shapeless lump of coal when he picked it up and spoke to it under his breath, but then he set it on the counter, and they could make out the contours of a face on it. Then foot-long flapping lengths of black, seven of them, jutted out from it in all directions, and it wavered away through the air into another room. It was quick, but Garfield didn’t think it would be quick enough to bring help, unless help was next door.

“Sir, what’s your name?” Garfield asked the shopowner.

“Mr. Kremser. And yours, sir?” he replied, glancing up briefly from something he was writing down very fast.

“Oh, it’s Garfield. Wiles. And my sister, Eunie.”

“It’s short for ‘Unicorn’,” she added quickly.

Kremser had finished writing, and was folding it carefully.

“Sir, Mr. Kremser,” Garfield asked, “how were we just in front of your shop when we were attacked and needed your help?”

“The same reason I’m able to help. Some.” Then, half to himself, “‘How do things happen?’ Some still know the right things to ask, then. But, now…”

Garfield jumped when it seemed that a man was coming in from a back room. But was only a flying knapsack. Kremser took it and began checking its contents, and Garfield saw that the flying black lump had brought it. So, it hadn’t been going for help – this disheartened him more than he expected.

“Excellent,” said Kremser, reclosed the sack, and was slinging on his back. “Mr. Block has gotten to be packing it better than I. And, my instructions to the shop…” He slipped the folded paper he had written into a slot in the whiteness behind him. “And let us be going. The walls are closing in.”

The main room, quite cluttered and none too spacious to begin with, had indeed begun to have a distinctly puckered and contracted bearing.

Kremser offered a hand to Eunice, but it was still crusted with blood and powder; she did not take it.

“Mmm. Sorry,” he said.

“Doesn’t it hurt?” Eunice asked.

“It does, certainly, but that isn’t what I forgot. Let us go…”

“We’re going out the front door?” Garfield asked.

“We are.”

“Should I hide the wand?”

“Too much risk to that, but hold it close.”

The rain beat in and splashed on the floor with a dark hiss as soon as the door swung open. Looking back, the shop was shabby and dead, especially with its about-to-crumble glass, but it looked safe, like a shaggy guard dog.

They saw a man in a rain hat who was Balsa so far as they could tell in the rain. He shook his head at them, but did nothing more as they set out. Hardly anyone else was on the street now.

A coal grey python, thick as a leg and long as a whip, s-curved across the standing water in the street ahead of them, rain spattering off its smooth, muscular body. A man stood with his back to them, sheltered under an overhang that they passed; he twisted his head backwards like an owl, and surely he fixed his eyes on Garfield.

Garfield panted under the bug-like sting of the raindrops.

“This is an expensive wand…”

“Could we call the police?” Eunice asked, speaking loudly to be heard over the rain, which made Garfield feel nervous, though they weren’t hiding. Kremser replied,

“Their metaphysical trials are a little out of touch with what is needed in the field. After they’d tried the ineffective, they would need to call in a specialist, which is what we’re doing now.”

“Who are we going to call?” Eunice inquired further.

“Wouldn’t be wise to say his name just now, but once with him we should be in good shape. Cross your fingers, Miss, so he doesn’t close early on account of the rain. If we…”

He almost skidded down into a trench, the bottom filled with rushing water and growing deeper; the pavement was angling down more and more towards it as the three of them scrambled backwards on the slippery stones.

As Garfield entered a particularly violent stumble, he felt Kremser catch the end of the wand to keep it from striking the pavement, for which he was grateful. But the hand did not let go; he then saw that it was not Kremser’s hand, but Balsa’s.

Garfield gave the wand a sharp jerk, but this sent him off balance, and it was all he could do to keep from throwing out both hands to save himself, and thereby giving the wand away. He looked up at their tormentor, who was about to snatch the wand from his wet, stiff fingers.

A sharp thrill of rejection darted through the rod, so severe that Garfield was sure his hand had flown from the wood. But he still held it, and heard Balsa hiss with pain. The forked tongue of a serpent, made of rough iron, had sprung from the shaft where Balsa was holding it, piercing the man’s hand and thrusting it away. There was a thunder high above, and snapping pinpricks of electric light about the metal prongs, lighting dramatically their fierce shape and seething gone the drops of Balsa’s blood: he gasped, and his fingers twitched like the legs of a spider that has bitten itself. Snatching his hand back, he put it to his mouth, composed himself, and strolled into the wires of falling storm.

And there was Jared, Garfield’s father, just letting go of the hinder part of the wand; so, he had grasped it and driven Balsa off the other end: this was the rejection, and the tongue of iron (which was not to be seen the moment Balsa removed his hand). The ground was stable now, and the trench an ordinary gutter.

“Father!” Eunice cried, getting up from having sprawled, and strangely leaving behind a Eunice-shaped drier patch on the stones for a few moments.

Kremser took off his hat to Jared, and quickly put it back on. Jared was bare-headed, and his short black hair should not have been made to look darker by being wet, but it did. The four of them set out, and Eunice linked arms with her father.

“It’s so glad for you to be here!” she cheerfully ungrammaticised.

Garfield asked his father how he had arrived just when needed – expecting an answer similar to that given by Kremser. But Jared said,

“I waited for the right moment. I’ve been nearby for a while; I didn’t want to waste an element of surprise.”

“Would the wand be safer if you took it now?” Garfield asked.

“Yes,” Jared said frankly. “But it won’t let me take it by now. It’s like a cornered dog. Only it’s master, or someone… influential, could handle it now.”

They turned into an alley, at the end of which was an opening to an indoor marketplace, the Trodden Market. From it smells of raw meat and herbal smells both stale and new, thick as thatch, welcomed them; with that aftertaste of the stocky undercurrent everyone knows and very few can see.

More eyes than could be set in human faces turned towards them as they made one turn after another. Though indoors, many of the shops had awnings. One such awning struck Garfield as having the form of a giant, ribbed ear. Looking up as they passed, he saw: it was an ear. One dark shape chased another under a counter; it would have been easier to make out what they were without the crisscrossing lights and shapes and movements of the crowded market.

“There!” Kremser said, “That’s good; he hasn’t closed up. Little wonder, being in conversation.”

A place selling various oils, sauces, and soaps, and a short man in overalls and rectangle wire rim glasses: his face was as if a cat were a bulldog. He was conversing with Balsa, who looked up as they approached, and he did not show either surprise or expectation.

It was as if someone – perhaps the wand – pushed Garfield’s eyes down a little, to see Balsa’s hand in the shadow of the counter moving towards a pocket in his coat. At the same time Garfield heard Kremser’s voice in his ear speaking very fast, extremely fast, and he knew that he alone heard it, or at least understood:

“I’m sorry, this is another ordeal. There is less than a moment now to decide, and Balsa’s failure rests on what you decide to do. As a hint, I myself do not know what you should decide.”

So, less than a moment to decide. Garfield’s left foot came down, and as his right foot swung briskly past it, he pondered the entirety of the following ponderation.

Should he try something with the rod himself, or pass it to another? Should he hand it to Kremser? But Kremser said he didn’t know what to do, and that this was a hint. Perhaps a hint not to give him the wand. Father had already ruled himself out. Should he give it to the man at this shop, to whom Kremser seemed to be taking them? But he was right next to Balsa; if there was less than a moment left now, how much less if he brought the wand that much nearer to the thief?

Speaking of there being less than a moment, he finally realised that his thoughts were racing at the same dramatic speed as Kremser’s voice had been, and were growing faster. Was the wand giving him this ability? In that case it must trust him, and may be able to help him more. He immediately sought its counsel.

It immediately responded, pouring into his heart many things about the place he was in and the people he was near, particularly the man Kremser was bringing them to, whose name was Fin Larson. Many helpful things, very terrifying things.

“Right,” he said to himself at the crescendo of his mental hum – when his thoughts ran among the fine swept grains of the rod’s wood itself; “I hope I have it now.”

Out loud, he shouted,

“Treacherous scoundrel!”

And levelled the wand, aimed right between Finn Larson’s eyes. He then drew it back and upwards, fishing-rod manner, and began to speak a mystery:

“Pirardia gerende malfecor esdastere, pesaratio…”

The air became as meshes of linen, tightening and warping this way and that to carry his speech in their otherworldly creaking, every strand straining in a different voice with his words; with it came a fetid smell of skunk.

It is no small feat to interrupt such a mystery as it is spoken, but Garfield was unfamiliar with it, and soon enough Larson began to speak as well:

“Catem! Perasdener, solende serkemia…”

The meshes began to change to untanned leather hides, the heads of vibrating drums that spread outward with every beat, and a cold, dangerous smell swallowed up the stench. With slight but forceful gestures the wand was lowering again towards Larson. Larson was stepping forward, and the floor slid into place under his feet, so that it seemed nothing moved at all, yet he was nearer to Garfield moment by moment.

Hence Garfield did not realise how close he had come, till he reached out, and grasped the dark wand. There was a flash of vapor, and Garfield was thrown from the wand to the ground.

It was not a surprise that being so suddenly separated from the rod was more of a jar to Garfield than having his head skip on the tiled floor. No one within hearing moved or made a sound, except Eunice, who gave a short and sharp scream, and Garfield’s father, who stepped forward with concern, but froze when Larson turned a sharp look on him.

“Careful, Larson,” Balsa said. “Really, I’ll be fetching a doctor… and perhaps a policeman.”

But Larson’s eyes were hard as beads, quick as little birds’ heads. The wand was now levelled at Balsa, direct as a rifle and deadly as a unicorn’s horn. Balsa put up his hands obligingly.

“You have a question?”

“Turn out your pockets,” Larson ordered, which made Balsa laugh. He took from his pocket and placed on the shop counter a thing the size of a walnut. Garfield only glimpsed it, but could feel as well as see that it was a tiny ape, its limbs twisted in knots, the whole blackened solid. Larson spoke in a dangerous tone,

“An agony mast?” Then, with considerably less grimness, “to use on yourself?”

“Yes indeed,” said Balsa. “My plan had been to make out that they were attacking us with the wand, and to take it in defence. When he did in fact attack you, that made me hesitate. Which hesitation allowed you to defend yourself quite prettily. Notwithstanding, it may yet be safe to take you apart.”

He began forming a sign with his hands, and Larson twitched like a threatened animal; but Balsa glanced, and saw something behind those he faced.

“Ah,” he said, “never mind.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *