The Small Stranger – Part Four: Farewell

(Some reader discretion advised.)

“Is it over? Can I open my eyes now?” Dolores asked.

Ted seemed hesitant to answer, as he surveyed the macabre and filthy wreck of Marius’ remains strewn along the carpet.

Wilhelmina got up, walked briskly forward, and stamped her small foot, shod in pretty white, through the unrecognisably fouled and distorted skull with a damp crunch. Kitty winced; it brought back sharply the time she had crushed a monster – in bare feet at that. For the same reason though she was also able to understand somewhat the look of blissful satisfaction in Mina’s face.

Otto apparently had gathered more of his breath, and spoke again:

“How did that happen to him? What was it?”

Mina bent, taking some steps forward in the dark gore, and with childish callousness fingered among the clods of decay around the bog-brown warp of the pelvis.

“Here it is! I saw it when he turned. It is yours?”

She held out to Ted a small thing that glinted, which had not been destroyed, and was amazingly little besmeared. It was a two-sided mirror the size of a thumbprint, with knots of plant stems at either end, dangling from a simple hook. Ted leaned the shotgun against the wall again, took the small trinket from Mina’s hand, and began to rub it clean with shaking fingers.

“I made it for Dolores actually, after that horrible business with Otto’s curse. It’s a Divens glass, a strong curse mirror. It’s main flaw is that it will reflect back one’s own curse on oneself, but I thought it wouldn’t be too great a problem for my Dolly.” He smiled kindly at his wife, then his face became serious again. “If I had worn it, that warlock would have easily overcome it; but if I gave it to him, it would rest in his power. Then if I attacked him, it would be able to turn his retaliation on himself. I struck at him to get close, and hooked it on his belt loop…”

Wilhelmina interrupted him with a crow of laughter (as she stood ankle deep in the middle of a corpse).

“I like you Ted! I like you a lot!”

Ted slipped the Divens glass into his pocket, moved gingerly forward, and took Mina under her arms, lifting her from the reeking grot, but hesitating where to set her down. Dolores took her, set her on the doormat, and looked around for something to wipe the girl’s hands with. Ted rubbed his face.

“We can’t stay in the house tonight, not until we have it purged and examined. Mina, is your guardian able to come, now that your enemy is dead?”

“Yes,” she said, her eyes uncannily bright, “He has been calling me, and I have been answering.”

As Kitty dressed to leave, her heart was beating at a light and rapid pace. She thought at first this was because of the grim ordeal they had gone through; but, as she paused in indecision between two Sunday dresses, she realised that it was the thought of Mina’s guardian, which had been growing in her mind, and was making her blood feel warm. It was the thought of a powerful and otherworldly protector of a little girl, someone who, like her father, would face off against a… against someone like Marius. She shivered, not with cold, as she put on her rubber boots (her father had told her to, as they didn’t know how long they would have to be outside). 

It was surreal to walk out the door together, leaving that black, crumbled smear lying dark in the living room. She had a ridiculous and horrid feeling that it would do things in their house after they left.

Wilhelmina walked ahead, holding Dolores’ hand, who also held the torch again, and Ted walked beside them with the reloaded shotgun (“I suppose we should thank Marius that we don’t have a blast mark in our wall”). Kitty walked behind, next to Otto. Her heart was still beating intently, and she didn’t care in the least that the dress she had chosen was rather thin, and left her knees and arms bare to the chill night. She asked Otto,

“Can you hear the guardian? The way you could hear Mina?”

Otto looked at her, and did not say anything at first – she could tell that he was trying to work out how to describe it. He looked away again, ahead into the darkness beyond the torch’s beam.

“Yes… but it isn’t words… it’s in waves of… drumming, or vibrating. It feels… very dangerous, like a wasp. Or an earthquake.”

Kitty felt a tingling thrill run through her, and her stockinged toes curled inside her boots.

The moon was still obscured by clouds, but the wind only came in brief gusts at long intervals, like the last breaths of something dying. They had come to the road, and were walking along it towards Assendoorn. Kitty thought the (unmarked) road looked spooky in the electric light.

Though she did not feel sleepy at all, she did feel rather tired and uncomfortable (Mina set a curiously fast pace with her short legs) when after nearly an hour they came in sight of the first lamppost. The lights of the town were mainly hid by large trees and a slight decline, so that the pool of light under the lamppost looked particularly lonely, like a country bus-stop.

The black shape moved. Kitty had been seeing it under the lamppost the whole time, so that its slight change had the same effect as if it had darted into the light like a hunting panther. But it had not the grace of a panther: it was shapeless shape, until it rose, and she could see it was something wrapped and hooded in a cloak as black as a black horse, something tall, even though it stooped. No cloud of breath came from under that hood, instead it breathed out an aura of cold like an open tomb, like drowning, as if the cold of that frozen night had gathered and anchored itself in that moving form. Though the wind had utterly died, Kitty now hugged her arms and bent her head.

Wilhelmina let go of Dolores’ hand and ran right inside the cloak – Kitty thought she would disappear as if into a pit. But she was embracing the thing, perhaps about the knees, if it had knees. With a shudder she saw a claw, like that of a lizard, jointed like a giant spider, appear from the black folds, almost silhouetted against Mina’s flaxen white hair which it caressed.

As the rest of them came closer, Kitty could smell the thing: not strong, but vastly depressing, like dried blood in the lightless passages of a catacomb. Only the slightest glimpses could be caught within the depth of the hood of some skeletal, inhuman features – empty blackness would have been far better. Then Dolores changed the angle of the torch beam, and deep in their sockets the eyes lit for a few moments like those of a nocturnal beast, like blazing copper coins.

Kitty bit her lip, and felt like crying as if she was no older than Mina. Her dreams of a wondrous guardian had run, and fallen headlong under a heavy waggon-wheel. The thought rushed through her that they had made a mistake, that this was the monster, and the guardian lay dead in their house. The thought of Marius put an end to this fancy, though it did not reconcile Kitty’s heart at all towards this stooping shadow that was clutching Mina.

Mina turned and stepped towards them, standing straight, a tiny white figure framed by a looming hulk. Kitty felt as she would seeing a child with her back to a crouching lion. Mina gestured behind her with her little hand.

“This is my guardian, and he is my second best friend. His name is Guest.”

Kitty realised suddenly that Mina was her friend, and she was leaving. Kitty ran forward, got on her bare knees on the asphalt, and hugged Mina tightly. Then, so did her father and mother, and even Otto. Kitty had the happy thought of asking Mina to write her a letter, but Mina chilled that hope.

“No. I do not write well.”

“But I don’t mind how neat it is, you can write me anyway,” Kitty said, perhaps too pressingly. Mina gave her a look that, for the first time since they had met her, was rather mean-spirited. But another thought seemed to come to her.

“I will get married, and he can teach me how to write well.”

It was as though their small friend was dying, as she would be leaving their world entirely, in company with, if not the Grim Reaper, something more grim than they had ever been able to imagine. Perhaps they expected Wilhelmina and Guest to vanish then and there, but, instead, that unearthly pair simply turned and walked away hand in hand along the road under the huge trees, Mina again moving with her strangely swift pace. The sound of her footsteps died away quickly, as if swallowed up by the absolute silence of her dark companion’s tread.

The Bauers spent the rest of the night at Otto’s place. Kitty cried into her pillow only a little, and fell asleep praying earnestly that she would get a letter from Mina after all. She had to wait a very long time – but she did.

The End of The Small Stranger

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