The Enchanted Press: Part 5
By the time Sen and I returned, the song had finished, and a spray of coins rained down on Prince. Deep in thought, I mulled over Sen’s words. Gepetto was a father again. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d have been glad for him, but Sen’s attitude for the boy had me concerned. As with Prince, if she perceived something awry with Pinocchio, then something must be off.
Poor Gepetto! While we quested together, he’d lost his wife and newborn daughter to dragon pox. When the courier delivered the message, I expected the man to choke on his sorrow.
Wearing big smiles, the merrymakers settled back in their seats and fell into the rhythm of their earlier conversations. Panting, Prince tipped his beret at the crowd, kissed Mrs. Picker’s proffered hand, and picked up his money.
A brimful of coins cradled in his palms, Prince hopped over to me. I’d never seen him hop before; it was evident he was unaccustomed to the action. Amid each leap, his feet paddled through the air then wobbled beneath him as he landed.
“Look,” he cried, regaining his balance. He opened his hands. “I’ve never made so much dough before at once.”
Prince gave the coins a meaningful jangle. “Dough. That’s what we call money sometimes where I’m from.” He held out the coins. “Can you hold these for me? I don’t have anywhere to put them.”
The expression “dough” was peculiar, but it struck a morbid chord in my memory. Many, many years ago, when I was just a faunling, I’d stumbled into a strange land where they referred to items in the oddest terms. Frightened and alone, I’d been trapped there for days before my parents found me.
Luckily, a kind little boy took pity on me. When he discovered I was hiding in his shed, he brought me a blanket, stale bread, and some sound advice that kept me alive until my parents arrived. “Stay outta sight or my mama will put the gris-gris on me for not telling her about you. You could make us a lot of dough.”
When I’d told him I wasn’t a baker he’d replied, “My mama don’t need no baker,” which confused me—all bakers made dough. As for gris-gris he’d muttered it so often with such dread, I surmised it was something bad. As I loitered in the shed’s stifling heat, nibbling on crusts of dough, I contemplated just how terrible gris-gris could be.
A few nights later, I understood its true meaning. It took them years, but with the help of a powerful tracking charm, my parents located me. You didn’t hear me wrong. You see, as with all worlds, time moved differently in that place.
Time is a fickle friend and as unreliable as a coin toss. Sometimes it lands on your side; sometimes it doesn’t. Once in a while, the timelines of different worlds run parallel and with equal velocity; other times they’re as skewed as a lightning bolt, with one world leaping ahead like a hare toward the finish line.
While I spent a week in that world, nearly a century had gone by at home. I scarcely recognized the couple when I saw them standing in the shed’s doorway. Their shoulders were round, their hair as white as the moonlight shining down through the treetops. But, when they smiled at me and wrapped me up in a great hug, I knew they were my parents. I inhaled the familiar scents of cedar and sage on their skin and felt safe again. I was going home. It was a wonderful moment, though very short-lived.
“Come, Shirley,” my father said, “There isn’t much time before the portal home closes.”
Beaming, my mother hurried toward the door and reached out her hand. I clutched it only to have it wrenched loose a second later. Someone dragged my mother out of the shed, a mob of bloodthirsty humans encircling her. Eyes wide and rabid, my mother looked at my father.
“Go!” she shrieked, kicking at the knives and pitchforks aimed at her heart. “Save Shirley.”
My father stood in front of me and whipped out his flute. The tendons in his arms and neck gradient and laid bare, he played a furious tune that stunned the humans. In seconds, they grew as still as the sculptures in Faunwood Square. All except one.
My father, intent on saving my mother, blew into the flute, scooped me up with his free hand and leapt from the shed, without noticing the one woman still poised to charge. Staring my father straight in the eye, she uttered a strange chant that overpowered the magic of his song and plunged a knife through my mother’s back.
A sigh of pain and shock on her lips, my mother heaved, her chest arching upward before she collapsed around the blade. Her final breath left her in a rattled whisper that carried through the darkness. The sound brought bile to my mouth.
My heart stopped then picked up with alarming speed. Fauns are not warriors, nor are we prone to violence. I may have been young and naïve to death, but I knew my mother was gone forever.
Several erratic heartbeats later, I was being whisked away, trees whizzing by us through the darkness. Their knobby fingers groped my hair, snatching out tiny tufts; their greedy roots tripped my father’s already spastic hoof steps. Sobs wracked his body as he fled with me, clinging onto his back. My eyes were wide, but I saw nothing of the forest. My mother’s lifeless body, slumped over and bleeding, was carved into my retina.
Through gaps in the canopy, the moon provided ample light for my father to find his way back to the portal. A group of fauns met us on the other side, smiles, and arms wide with love that instantly shifted to alarm and grief. My father passed a few weeks afterward of a broken heart. When my younger brother couldn’t take me in, my great-niece and her husband raised me.
I stared at the jumble of coins in Prince’s hands. “Of course. Put the money in here.” I opened my satchel, and Prince dumped his money inside of it. As the coins clanged into my bag, a different curiosity for the frog took hold of me. I searched his face. Could he be from the same world I’d visited as a youngling?
I sensed someone watching me and looked up. “I’ve found a guide who can take you to Gepetto’s,” Sen said hovering well out of Prince’s reach.
I searched around but saw no one. “Who?”
She pointed at the floor. “Prudence.”
When I looked down, a bespectacled cricket tipped his hat at Prince and me. “All enchantments upon you, my friends.”
“And upon you as well,” I replied.
Prince raised his raspberry beret in salute and chomped down on his tongue as it pushed its way out of his mouth. After a brief struggle, it went limp.
Prudence eyed the tongue and shuffled closer to me. “Are you certain you need to go to Gepetto’s? It’s not as friendly a place as it used to be.”
“Yes.” Now that I’d seen the backlash to my request, I felt it was a moral imperative to check on my old friend personally.
Prudence gave a slight shudder then turned on his heel. “Follow me.”
Prince and I waved to the crowd as we started for the door. Mrs. Picker blew Prince a kiss and waggled her stumpy fingers at him. Prince pretended to blush and threw a copper coin in her direction.
“Good luck,” Sen called as the door closed behind us.