By Kevin du Plessis
“Hmnf,” said the elegant asshole. He scratched his balls, cleared his throat and continued, “I just really don’t see how she can just go around being such a fucking dried up prune with that look in her eye every time you say fuck that just shows you how much she thinks we’re actually doing something wrong. Like her knitting is so much holier than our baked beans and prime vinegar blend red.”
Elegantly, the asshole sat back. “Hmnf,” he said again.
“Man, seriously, these people believe in Jesus but they don’t believe in dinosaurs. I mean where on earth did they grow up? In a corn field somewhere off the map right next to the ZCC holy mountain, or whatever, where they have 2 litre coke bottles filled with who knows what kind of water – tap? River? Puddle? Who could say? – and then they sell it off next to the road as some kind of holy water that will heal your warts or piles, or whatever it is that holy water in a plastic container would heal.” The asshole’s friend, who was a real dick, said all of this with his eyes screwed up to slits as if he were a very self-amused old man whose jam jar thick glasses had fallen off his face in the middle of his favourite racist joke. “Ah, but shame, she’s not that bad.”
They laughed. And then they lamented. For, really, the dick had a point. She wasn’t a bitch, not always, anyway. And she wasn’t stupid, not always. She wasn’t bad looking, nor too irritating, or whatever it is that makes you like somebody to a degree that isn’t of the erupting volcano kind of fierce liking, but more of a gentle teapot pouring into a cup with a plain kind of tea.
Anyway, the point was, she wasn’t bad, and that’s what made it all the sadder, to them at least. When they had met her she was different. Different in a way that differentiates a non-interested pretty girl from a highly interested mildly horny girl with crazy teeth. Not to say that she was a very horny girl, or perhaps she was and that’s why she was always such a bitch when she saw others having fun, who knew?
They lamented that she’d once been interested, had enough of all of the drinking, smoking, getting high and whoring and then decided that it just wouldn’t work for her and that instead she was going to become a high nosed snot dripper at everything her vice principal in high school similarly disagreed with.
“I suppose she thinks she’s growing up and that she’s past all this?” Asshole asked.
“What? Tired of all this? How could she be, c’mon!” the reply came dickishly as a lighter clicked, water bubbled and an intense coughing fit spread its horrid leprous goose sounds around the dimly lit room.
They made a rehearsed laughing sound they’d heard on a brainless cartoon one night which they’d been pestering everyone they knew with ever since. It faded, and they sat in silence for a while as a scratched Janis Joplin CD shook its way to the end of another Woodstock favourite.
He squirted a giggle from somewhere high pitched. “You used to be like that, man!”
“Fuck you! I haven’t knitted a thing in my life!”
“Yeah, but you were a douche bag.”
The dick sat back in his chair, letting its slightly dirty but immensely fluffy cushioning suck his body in whole until just the moment before he slipped into couch oblivion. Couch oblivion, he thought. What a ridiculous idea.
“Wish we could have saved her, though,” he finally said.
“She who doth not believeth, doth not retrieveth,” he hesitated at a loss for an ending to what was supposed to be funny. “Doth not retrieveth –”
“Doth not retrieveth that small glimmer of a hope that one day you could actually avoid joining the masses of unhappy sandwich munching, spreadsheet compiling, lunch break taking, queue standing cone heads sitting trapped by a bureaucratic wall of desks cemented by paperwork absent mindedly stamped with a dull purple ink that makes you even more depressed and violated to the core at being so fooled into thinking that a cheque at the end of the month makes all that shit worthwhile.”
“It’s okay, we’ll never be like that,” came the response after a few moments, and kindly too.
“But every soul lost is a travesty in the sight of Mortality.”
By Kevin du Plessis
Many of us feel that we belong to a different generation. The majesty of kings were perhaps grander. The romanticism of nature was perhaps more present. The Flappers’ wardrobe was perhaps sexier. But I, I wish I were there for the Beat Generation.
The Beats finally said fuck you, you controlling, judgmental bunch of cunts, going around telling everyone how to act, to feel, to love. Anarchy may be a horrible model to run a society on, but, oh hell, what fun it is.
I wish there were laws for the protection of individuals who declared themselves to be of a Beat ideology. So that when they were caught borrowing a bread and some cheese in a grocery shop on the way to the coast with a free car they had found just standing in a parking lot with locked doors, a bag of weed and a whole lot of premium dirt cheap wines, they would not be told off or arrested.
“My Beat identification, officer,” the driver would say when pulled over for a simple 80 kilometers over the speed limit.
The policeman would look at the card, and though he would want to shit himself for frustration at not being able to do or say a thing, he would reluctantly hand back the document and say, “No problem here, sorry for the inconvenience”.
They would spin away and continue on their merry way, with perhaps one passenger flashing her beauteous breasts through the rear window of the car and another hanging out of the window indicating that the middle finger is indeed the most significant member of the hand.
If I were a Beat, I would have my Africa’s heart beat just slightly too fast.
By Kevin du Plessis
A boy there was who lay flat on his back on a small patch of unkempt grass in full view of the canopy of a tree stretching across a view of what would have been a clear blue sky at midday. He had come out of the heat to lie in the cool shade when at once he noticed that there were a thousand suns dancing in the sky, constantly peeking from behind the leaves fluttering in the wind.
They moved to the rhythm of the air’s slight whistle casting specs of their light over his face and the earth surrounding him. This image was not something wholly peculiar or strange to him but he had never quite seen it like this, in the perfect moment, it seemed.
The boy did not feel any immediate urge to get up from his resting place, so there he lay soaking in through his skin what his eyes saw around him. He was at once content and at peace with all of his worries out there far away from his tree in the field.
It felt like he was experiencing the beauty of nature for the very first time, like he had been looking with blind eyes at the world and for the first time he could experience something that was beyond his understanding except for one aspect which was his comprehension of it being true and good.
Firstly, he tried to take it all in so as to never forget his experience there, gradually, he thought of ways that he could capture the moment’s essence so as to share it with others, and finally, unable to think of a single way to accomplish any of these aspirations, he resolved never to get up and leave behind what he had found.
The day wore on as he dipped in and out of sleep and every time he opened his eyes there they were, the fairies or spirits or saints in an everlasting dance with the green leaves of the tree. The shadows of the host of dancers grew longer and longer as the day threatened to come to an end.
Of course, as he knew, night would eventually come and the ball would be over only to retake the celebration the next day. But even with this knowledge he was resolved not to get up in fear of losing forever the bliss of what he had taken so long to see clearly. A vanilla twilight stretched over the world, followed by an opal light veiled with a tinge of the colour of the night. Slowly stars started popping up in places and they also peeked through the holes of sky left by the now resting leaves. These lights were cooler than the sprites he had been watching all day, it was as if the entities he had been admiring retreated behind the horizon and then spread themselves all over the universe where they slept far away in their own beds, resting, as the moon watched over the world in their absence.
He fell asleep, dreaming of what he had seen. In this dream he could see beyond the light of the sun’s faces and he could make out their features. “Angelic,” he thought, but no, that word was not enough. He went through every word he had ever heard but not one could describe what he saw. He tried combinations of words made up in sentences, then paragraphs, then whole books full, but he could not succeed in his task. “Very well,” he said aloud to himself, “if not words then I shall have to recreate your image.” He imagined in his mind, if he were ever to capture a single one of these faces, how he would do it. Would he do it with pencils, or pastels, or paint? What technique would he use? Would it be fine and detailed or smeared over the surface so as to capture the spirit of their beauty? Again, not one of his considerations would do and he resolved that it was impossible. If he were a musician, what instrument? Strings or horns or percussion? But, not a sound that he had ever heard could describe their faces.
Slowly his dream flipped over onto its side and what it revealed from beneath its blanket of bliss was the backside of a nightmare. All of the feelings that his emotions were able to capture but he was not, now turned into anguish and fear and loneliness until the light around him turned to a hot red glow that pierced his eyes.
With a start he came back to consciousness and when he opened his eyes he saw that it was the sun, come back to wake him so as to not miss a new day of what it did within the space of where he lay on his patch of grass. It was once more dancing and to his relief he saw that he had not lost what he had discovered the previous day. He would still not get up. He would still not move. He would lay there another day and try with all of his might to find a way to interpret the sun and the leaves and the wind.
He had not been awake for long when came his brother from afar to find him, having noticed that he did not return from the fields. He had water with him so the boy drank a little. His brother lay with him on the grass for a while but could not stay all day so he left. By midday, when he had not moved from his spot for a whole twenty four hours, a girl that he knew passed by with a basket of apples. She saw him lying there and offered him one of her apples. He took one bite and set it aside, thanking her. She lay with him for a while but also had to leave after a time. Late afternoon, having heard from the boy’s brother where to find him, his friend came to him. He had with him neither drink nor food to offer, but he lay with the boy for the longest by far. They spoke a little from time to time and it seemed that something of the boy’s plight was shared and understood in this. However, as with his previous visitors, his friend could also not stay forever. So, they too had to greet each other and again he was alone.
He faced another night of dreams, another bad ending, and then another day under the tree. In time he stopped thinking of ways to make something of his encounter and simply lay there always looking up. The dreams faded leaving him with only his clear view and not much else.
It was days later that he was found. True to his resolve never to get up, he lay with his eyes open, no longer able to see a thing.
By Kevin du Plessis
He did not quite know who the girl was, what she looked like or whether she could write, for that matter. She had merely made it apparent to one of the currently employed journalists that she wanted to write for the paper.
The editor-in-chief of a small community newspaper, that was either hated or loved in the small town of Port, was in dire need of writers, or rather of writers of a certain breed; those who had the absolute audacity to claim that they are better writers than most while also being able to admit that they cannot write at all.
Whatever the case was with Luanne Keith, she must have somehow got a foot in the door.
“Yes, I hear that you have been wanting to apply for a job with us but missed out on our previous vacancy?” the editor-in-chief asked trying to establish a sense of this being a formal interview, though it was happening over the phone.
“True,” said Luanne. “I would like to write, there are quite a few things that have caught my attention in this town and I want to break the stories.”
Reginald was taken aback by the girl’s serious tone. A good first impression, yet something about it was annoying. “Is that so?” he asked.
He could hear her voice falter as she attempted to make him understand what she had meant. “Well, all I’m saying is that I would like to write for you. I will prove my worth through my work. Really, you should see me as the female Henry.”
Reginald looked over to the desk where Henry was feigning work as he tried to read the telephone conversation on his boss’s face. Luanne’s remark had cost Henry one of Reginald’s disapproving frowns, which he was not used to since they were reserved, with a few nasty cutting swear words, for those who sent in really shitty work. Luckily, there was no denying that Henry was the best reporter on the team, and even the possibility of getting another one of the less idiotic reporters who never made it with the bigger city papers was something that an editor of a humble paper with a low 10 000 reach couldn’t refuse.
“A female Henry. I will be sure to remember that description when you send in your first piece the day after tomorrow.” With that they said all of the appropriate things before hanging up and when the receiver was back in its place, Reginald got up from the second hand armchair which was awkwardly placed at his desk for maximum comfort during the long hours at office.
“And?” asked Henry in his usual inquisitive tone.
“A female Henry. What utter shit,” Reginald said and left Henry without asking whether he would also like a cup of instant coffee.
The office of The Post Wagon had a few interesting characters, though the faces changed so often that Reginald did not always bother to get to know too much about any of them. The exception, of course, being Henry, a thinker and on the whole a good investigative journalist who would not stay on the team forever when eventually he’d gotten enough experience.
There was also one other: Daniel, though he was always called Dan at his own request. Daniel was just too formal.
“I got us another draught from Violet,” Dan said as he placed three Black Labels on the table and took his seat in their regular booth at their regular bar across the street from The Post Wagon office.
Henry and Reginald accepted the beers, as they always did when it was either one of the three’s turn to buy drinks after work. This does not imply that they each took turns buying a single round after work, just that they were all too lazy to get up every time they had finished with another golden foaming refreshment during their extensive daily visits to Violet’s bar moving either to the bar, the toilet or eventually moving on to more exciting places when it was time for the pub to close its doors for the day.
“Give us another Princeton there,” Reginald said knowing that he did not need to thank Dan every time he got up from his chair. They had been friends for so long that these things were a mere bother no longer to be paid any attention to.
“Sure thing,” Dan replied and flicked a cigarette over to his friend and boss (though, the latter term was one that came to its full effect only at random intervals; depending on the mood and how the paper was coming along).
“When is she coming?” Reginald asked again.
“She will come,” Henry said reassuringly and looked over to the door.
“Well, I am not going to be impressed if what she brings to the table is going to cost me doing most of the work for her. I don’t need another writer with Ruda Landman-aspirations who can’t even report a damn charity event without using the words ‘It’s that time of year again’.”
Dan sniggered at the comment. While being a good writer himself, he was never very eager to do much more than was expected of him. He’d rather spend his days in the garage fighting the endless battle of mastering the guitar. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the challenge of writing from time to time and he needed the money.
“You will see for yourself, she is good at what she puts her mind to,” Henry said. “Luanne is one of those people who immerse themselves in their work and never goes out for a drink in fear of missing out on some grand opportunity.”
“Oh joy,” Dan said, “is she going to bring her cat along?”
Dan had barely uttered the remark when the door of the pub squeaked open and slammed again behind a young woman with good posture, a pretentious scarf and long rich dark hair protruding from beneath a somewhat childlike pink woollen hat. She had papers clenched beneath the pit of her one arm and an overly large handbag stuffed with lord-knows-what hanging over the other.
She came to a standstill as the paper with the words ‘DOOR CLOSED DUE TO COLD’ printed over it in Wordart gently settled itself back against the window. She gathered herself, looking around the room for the now slightly tipsy party waiting for her in their drinking booth.
Henry waved and she waved back as she started moving in their direction.
Reginald and Dan exchanged a look that only they understood. Their first impression of Luanne Keith had been communicated and though it wasn’t an eye roll (or instant death according to Reginald), it wasn’t far off.
Before taking the time to rid her of the baggage awkwardly hanging around her body, she stuck out her hand first to Dan and then to Reginald, repeating the phrase, “Luanne Keith, pleased to meet you”.
She sat down after that and wasted no time before diving into the work. She had a flustered expression and you could see in how desperate she sounded that she was going to explain exactly why her work wasn’t done. From whom she’d seen, step by step to how she was waiting for replies and confirmations. How she had stalked out her prey for a moment where she could speak to them face to face.
“The audacity,” Reginald said stopping her in mid-sentence before any of this could be uttered.
“I- Excuse me?” she said glancing at Henry.
“How dare you interrupt our afterhours winding down time with your bullshit?” Reginald continued in a condescending yet calm voice.
The expression on her face was priceless. She did not know what had hit her, she couldn’t believe her ears.
“Well, I didn’t mean to do that,” but before she could continue her sentence Dan, no longer able to hold it back, grabbed her shoulder reassuringly and smiled.
“Let him finish,” Dan said fixing his eyes back on Reginald.
“Thank you, Dan,” he said and placed his hands on the table. “As I was saying –bothering us with your bullshit, without getting a drink first?”
She relaxed and smiled, slightly tilting her head. At this moment Luanne took off the woollen hat revealing her bangs. Instantly more a woman than a girl. More an intellectual than a career junkie. And certainly more interesting than before.
“Is your hair coloured?” Dan asked immediately.
“No,” she said wrinkling her nose as she smiled. “Never have, never will.”
“Dark, isn’t it?” Reginald remarked peering over the rim of his beer glass.
She opened her mouth but she didn’t get the opportunity to release what she had on the tip of her tongue.
“No one cares. Beer. Now.” He smiled.
She responded with another smile and wrinkling of the nose as she left them behind to see what Violet had to offer at the bar.
“You shouldn’t be too hard on her, you know,” Henry said smiling knowingly as he always did. “She’s not like you two. She comes from a respectable family with some slightly far back notions of the proper way to talk and walk and sit-”
“And fart,” Dan said and he and Reginald sniggered.
Henry rolled his eyes but did not deny them his warm teddy bear-like smile. “Always with the fart jokes. If I didn’t know you two, I’d say you were right idiots. Anyway, just don’t scare her away just yet.”
“Oh calm down Henry, this isn’t a funeral,” Reginald said. “Here she comes, so no more of your farting business Henry.” Henry snorted and ignored them putting on a happy face for Luanne returning with a milky white drink in a bottle.
“Oh no! I also want one of those,” Henry said excitedly leaving the booth before Luanne could sit down. She naturally shifted into Henry’s spot in the corner so that no one would have to get up when he returned.
“Good, now you look more human,” Reginald said satisfied.
“I’m glad you think so,” she said. Amazingly, Luanne wasn’t uncomfortable or intimidated by the two strange men at the table with her. In fact she seemed to be enjoying the company, keeping a constant smile on her face. “So about the story, as I was saying before, we definitely have something good here. I just have to push on a few more buttons to get there.”
Reginald nodded. “Yes, tell me something, what have you been doing with your life?”
“I don’t follow?”
“Well, all I mean is I can see you’re a hard worker, and you live for success and all that. But what is it that you do for life?”
“Good question, Reg,” Dan said. “What do you do for life, mind not a life, but life?”
“I don’t quite follow?”
“Well, for instance, we are sitting here drinking. We like doing that. We bitch about stupid things people say and do, we laugh, we carry on,” Reginald said.
Dan laughed. “And we do bitch. But we live. I like music, that’s my life story really. You know, that kind of thing.”
Henry, returned satisfied with his purchase.
“Oh don’t tell me they’re putting you through one of their ‘think about the world’ torture sessions,” Henry said as soon as he realised what was going on.
“It’s alright. I’ve got this,” she said silencing Henry, who like Reginald was fond of rolling his eyes at people. “I do art.”
“I do ink drawings. And I have travelled quite extensively. My favourite place so far has been India,” she said and started going on about why, despite the smell and dirt, India was her number one destination.
“You write about India?” Reginald asked surprised that she so loved the one country that he too found most fascinating, though he had never been.
“Extensively. I always try and get a piece done when I visit a place.”
“So it’s work?” Reginald asked.
“Well, I suppose everything in life is work, isn’t it?”
Reginald got quite worked up at this. “Absolutely not. Work is a necessary evil we must endure. We should not be aspiring to great careers, but to great lives. We should at all times strive towards being able to manipulate the world into allowing us to spend our time exactly as we wish to. If you sigh more than once a day, you are being stupid, letting the superficial circumstances of a manmade community tell you what you should think and feel and aspire to. I find the notion of a world where your work is the sum of your worth horrifying, don’t you?”
Henry intervened. “Well yes, of course what you’re saying makes a nice little hippie sketch of what you dream about for yourself. But, are you not also driven by work? Are your days not filled with sighs and contempt for the clueless drones who criticise The Post Wagon every day?”
“A necessary evil, like I said before. But that’s not the point here. We both know that we won’t be in this place forever, right? Some things are worth doing, even if its worth is lost on most. Even if it makes me sigh for now, in the long run I will have made a change to some one person’s life through the work at the paper. For that I would do it over again.”
“You would?” Dan asked.
“No, not really, but I tried.”
Everyone laughed after that. Luanne loosened up considerably and the rest of their evening went from one discussion and made-up philosophy to the next. She kept saying how she enjoyed the conversation and even she did not mention work again, at one point sliding the stack of papers into her already full bag and hiding it all under the table.
Eventually the background music died down and it was only then that they realised everyone had left and that Violet was silently waiting for them to finish their drinks and be off.
“I think it’s time for us to move our party elsewhere,” Dan said downing the last of his beer and slamming the glass against the table. “And you?” he asked Luanne who was already gathering her things.
“Oh, I think it is high time for me to be heading home. Lots of work.”
“Nonsense! None of that. You will accompany us gentlemen to our next destination and that’s final. Don’t forget that you are still on trial, missy,” Reginald said lighting up a final cigarette as he struggled to put on his coat.
“I don’t know,” she said looking at Henry for support, knowing that he would understand her plight for the sake of work.
“Don’t be such a prude, unbutton the blouse a bit and let’s go,” Henry replied looking at her high collared shirt through the slits that were his eyes. He laughed, satisfied with his attempt at humour. Reginald and Dan also laughed at this, but much more at Henry than the remark.
“Oh alright. But, one more drink and that’s that,” she said and when they all agreed very solemnly that one more drink would be the end of it, she only shook her head at their blatant lie.
They greeted Violet and filed out of the pub. Before going through the door, however, Reginald pulled the “DOOR CLOSED DUE TO COLD” printout off the window and stuck it to Luanne’s back, sniggering and wondering how long it would take for her to notice and pull it off once and for all.
By Kevin du Plessis
By ways of a first memory, how does one describe it when the Devil was present? What manifestation of the many different depictions of this not at all fictive figure do you blame for a memory, perhaps as false as the tits on a blonde bubble gum chewing bimbo who surely has this elusive child frightener on her own shoulder? A fart of the brain that seems to have been conceived in the distant memory of a dream when you were but a yet uncorrupted bundle of raw bone, fat and brain in a crib somewhere off in the not-so-distant medieval past of a 1990-South Africa.
Whatever the truth of the origin of my first memory, it has been with me for as long as I can remember (obviously). As I recall it, or how I have been telling it all my life at any length, is that I was lying in a crib that was positioned at the foot of my parents’ bed. A crooning baby most probably with all of the movie clichés that has the camera zooming up to me staring up at the ceiling with sparkly baby blue eyes clutching a fleece blanket as the silver moon light spreads itself through the window over my mother and father sleeping soundly (no pun intended) whilst emitting in the case of the female, light peaceful breathing, and for the male a fitting snore, varying in intensity throughout the night.
In this dream, from amid the shadows in the long dark hallway a figure emerges. As far as his appearance went, I cannot remember much, just that he had a mischievous grin on his face as he looked me in the eyes and lifted me from my bed right before carrying me across the length of the house and through the kitchen door at the back. I did not struggle or make any sound that could alarm anything more that the cat which always snoozed in the pot plant right outside. There were about three or four rather amateurely built steps that attached itself to the house, connecting its high floor to the ground outside.
We left the completely silent kitchen (for there was no fridge to make even a hum – but more on that later) behind as we descended the steps. It is necessary to say something more about the steps since in my dream, they did not connect the house to the earth outside, but rather continued spewing forth steps that went down into a hole in the world. It was somewhat like a tunnel that was lit by a glowing fire-like light.
I do not know what happened down there. Nor shall I ever know or get the chance to understand the incident. Though, I strongly suspect that my grandmother would come closest to such a thing. She always said, “Funny things happen there, there is something strange about that place”.
The dream had not yet reached its end. After the blank of wherever The Foe took me that night and whatever happened, I remember that he took me back up the steps, through the silent kitchen and the dark corridor and placed me as he had found me back into the crib at the foot of my parents’ bed. There I lay as the dream ended and made its imprint upon the farthest recesses of my memory.
By Kevin du Plessis
Sometimes, when travelling, one starts seeing the world with different eyes. On top of a small hill around which the road made a bend stood a single lush green tree with the smallest of white flowers adorning its canopy. There were very few trees in the area and many a traveller must have taken refuge under it as it was the only shade not ridiculously far from the road for leagues around.
But to the runaway boy who had seen very little kindness in the world the tree stood atop that hill as a beacon of something more. Hope. The tree was hope.
He sat under it for hours simply staring out at the plains of golden grass that surrounded him and his tree. Sometimes he would feel like the loneliest person in the world and at others he would be content with where he was; at one with nature. He listened to the wind on the grass and watched the confetti of fine white flowers dance in the air and then come to rest on the hill upon which he sat.
He fell asleep as the day wore on and the dark haired boy dreamt. He dreamt of finding his way. He also dreamt of food, having last eaten almost two days ago.
As he lay there, far away, from the same way that he had came, a dark spec appeared on the road; moving slowly along. Later it became discernable as a rider. It was another traveller. He got closer and closer until he reached the hill and, like those before him, he left the road seeking rest under that same tree. A narrow footpath had been established up the hill and the newcomer followed it, aware of the fact that he would not be alone up there as the boy’s horse tied to the tree could be seen from far away.
It was the whinny of his horse that woke him from his slumber and he started when he saw the most bizarre looking man standing at his feet with a camel by his side seeming just as curious as its rider.
He was a fellow well in his fifties and he wore the silliest attire one could think of. It was all flashy colours with moons and stars. His cloak was long and sweeping and perched on his head was a wide brimmed tall pointy hat. There was no denying that he had a shocking presence, provoking either mockery or awe from any beholder. He sported a long plaited beard that was mousy brown and the top of his head was completely bald when he removed the hat. The camel had the very same air as he was painted all over with mystical patterns intended to provoke admiration and was thrown with the most intricate and exotic materials.
The boy, now sitting up, was startled at first but the fear quickly left him as he drank in the sight before him. He wanted to laugh. Surely this man was a jester of some kind.
‘Mr Owl,’ the man said in a loud whisper. ‘And this here is my dear friend, Camille.’ At the introduction the camel shook her head and blew out of her nose as if trying to greet and get rid of a tickle in her nose at the same time. The boy raised his eyebrows at the pair but said nothing.
Again in his loud whisper, as if he refused to use his voice, the man asked, ‘You are? But only answer if you have a name, of course. I once knew a man who had no name and refused to respond to any name I would give him. Odd fellow he was; never quite got on good terms with him. Oh, I’m babbling again! What is it that you said your name was?’
‘I didn’t say anything,’ he replied.
‘Well, seeing as I now know that you are neither dumb nor deaf I think it would be safe to ask again. What is your name boy?’
He hesitated but answered shortly. ‘Alban,’ he said. ‘I was just leaving, so you can have the tree if you want.’ Alban stood up and started untying his horse’s reins.
‘No, no, no,’ Mr Owl said. ‘No need for you to leave, in fact I beseech you to stay. That is if you would at all care for some magic?’
Alban’s attention was captured and he stopped what he was doing, still facing away from Mr Owl.
‘What silly trick can you offer me that I have not already seen, master jester?’
‘Jester?’ Mr Owl asked, offended. ‘No, I am a wielder of the gift that will be forgotten! A magician, one might say, but another might think “wizard” more fitting.’
‘Oh, really?’ Alban asked sarcastically. ‘Show me your magic then.’
Mr Owl bowed a sensational bow in obedience. He stretched out his hands and the wide sleeves of his cloak made it look like he was spreading his wings, preparing to fly. There was a subtle movement of his hand and suddenly the air was full of a thick red smoke and in his confusion Alban could hear the impressive whisper of Mr Owl saying something in a strange tongue. Slowly the smoke cleared and a good trick as it was that the camel and the horse had switched places Alban was not too impressed.
‘Well done,’ he said with a mock applause. ‘You must make a fortune on the streets?’
‘Oh yes, indeed!’ he replied. ‘The bigger the show the better. It’s what they crave, Alban; it’s what they come to see.’ Mr Owl made a silly leap of joy in the air and smiled. He moved Alban’s horse back into the shade then sat down against the tree finding a comfortable spot between the roots and indicated that Alban should join him and he once more sat down.
‘Mr Owl…’ Alban said thoughtfully to himself.
‘Very strange name for a person, I know,’ Owl said. ‘So strange in fact that people think I made it up.’
Alban raised his eyebrows questioningly seeking confirmation whether it was not perhaps true.
‘No, no, I didn’t make it up.’
After a while Mr Owl said, ‘Somebody else made it up,’ and Alban laughed. It seemed to please the old man that he had brought some merriment to the hill.
After resting for a while and talking about the long way he had come, Mr Owl got out some things and prepared a meal for them. They ate their full and Alban found himself thinking that the funny old man who sat there as if it were the most natural thing in the world was a friend and he almost felt that he could trust him. Perhaps it was the food he had needed so badly, but he warmed up to the idea of having someone to talk to after almost half a year of being nearly totally alone.
‘Where are you headed?’ asked Mr Owl taking a small sip from a flask he got from inside his cloak and then returning it.
‘The next town,’ he said and returned the question.
‘Ah, what can I say? Where does a pleaser of the crowd say he travels to? I suppose I’m off to where the road will end.’
Alban smiled at this. It seemed to him that Mr Owl simply had a very weak voice as traces of it could occasionally be heard but he was forced to speak mostly with the use of his breath. It gave his speech a certain atmosphere that one could not help but cling to.
‘You do not, perchance, know the name of the coming town?’
Alban shook his head and Owl replied with a thoughtful look as he slowly nodded knowingly. He took out a pipe with a bearded face carved into the dark wood and lit it up. Soon he was puffing merrily and Alban fell in love with the sweet smell of his tobacco.
‘I have a proposal,’ said Owl in his strange voice. ‘How about you come with me and Camille to Vaden? We have quite an impressive show and if you agree to help out a little I will let you keep some of the profit.’
‘Actually I’m meeting someone there,’ he said looking away.
‘Oh yes I’m sure that you are but there are many people in that town. Why not spare yourself the trouble and replace that meeting with ours?’
Alban’s mouth fell open. ‘Are you calling me a liar?’
‘I’ve said no such thing. Think about it though, my boy. You will be surprised what the wisdom of a crazy old magician combined with that of a camel can bring you. She’s quite brilliant, by the way,’ said Mr Owl indicating Camille. Alban considered her but didn’t see anything special outside of her adornments, especially not after she dropped a heap of steaming dung on the grass.
‘How far is Vaden?’ asked Alban.
‘About another day’s ride,’ he said.
‘I do need some money so if I like what you’re planning to do I’ll help you.’ The old man nodded with an extremely broad smile stretched across his face.
‘Very good, but for now I just want to enjoy the peace here. We ride in the morning?’ Alban followed Owl’s example and stretched himself out on the grass and the entertainer took this as a yes.
Alban lay there in complete fascination of the stranger beside him. What a remarkable man. Alban did not trust readily though; he had accepted some help from Mr Owl but trust would not be so easily acquired. Alban was on his own now and it was because of trust. It had been his hope, however, to make a friend and even if Owl was not exactly what he had had in mind he would certainly do. Talking to his horse had become very unsatisfying and Alban had a lot to speak of.
The two of them started a fire later that night and Camille came to share in the heat it provided. The camel made occasional sounds during their conversations and sometimes it seemed to Alban that she changed her expression and mood to fit that which her master was showing. Later, he did not even bother to look away and kept staring at the captivating animal that lounged in their company.
The next morning came and Alban was up early, woken by Mr Owl who had been up at exactly the time he’d said he would be the previous night.
They rode well and it turned out that Mr Owl was wrong about how long it would take since they arrived just after midday. Alban confronted him about his miscalculation but Owl defended himself and made it clear that he was not expecting the wind to blow with them. Alban laughed. He realized that he was enjoying laughing again and that the last few hours had been the best he had had in a while.
Vaden was a nice town. The people from Gala had not yet infiltrated it and Owl pointed out how nice it would be not to have to get a permit to perform his tricks. He had explained the act to Alban on the road and it was interesting to know how he did things but the most prominent part of it all was the presentation; the acting and the so-called “show”. Mr Owl emphasized it a lot.
‘Methinks there might be time for us to do a quick round or two, Camille!’ Owl said excitedly. ‘Do you remember everything I told you, my boy?’
Alban answered that he did but as it turned out that was merely some background, and he would in fact be attracting people and picking up Camille’s dung for the most part. He wasn’t out of his skin with excitement but he had agreed to help so he didn’t complain directly. Instead, he was overly enthusiastic.
He made it seem that he took particular delight in picking up every piece of dung that he could find and was constantly in search of another. Also he started calling out people from their houses with a loud overbearing voice that travelled all the way down the main street.
People started to gather, of course, but Alban had a point to make so he moved away from where Mr Owl was getting ready, to shout out his announcement to the rest of the town.
‘Come see Owl the Awesome in performance all the way from distant lands travelled to bring to the town of Vaden magic that will drop your jaw and have you shout for more! Come now to see it all! He brings smoke from the east, jewels from the north, ice from the south and from the west he brings sands of time! Come and be amazed!’ Alban shouted this over and over and excitement stirred in the streets. The children came running by and people left what they were doing and headed down the main street to see what was going on for them self.
Mr Owl had his ways of making something otherwise mildly interesting spectacular. It was in the way he spoke and the way he moved. It was the sound of his drums and the explosions of smoke. It mainly revolved around the allusion that he and his camel could do magic and it was a performance that amazed and really made the crowd shout for more.
As Owl and Camille took their bow, the former balanced on the back of the latter, Alban frantically scurried around cleaning up anything that could be cleaned. He pushed the people standing in front back to get to everything and caused some commotion at which Owl frowned before announcing that that would be all for the day. The people moved slowly away, all chattering happily about the old magician and his camel. One could not expect to see a camel every day and when it was trained like Camille was it made it all the more interesting, especially this far from the desert.
‘Very nice, Alban,’ the whispery voice said. ‘You are an excellent clean-up. We’ve surely found your calling in the show.’
As Owl said this Alban stopped picking up a scattered deck of playing cards and looked around with his mouth hanging open. That was not what he wanted to hear and he was not about to become a servant boy.
Mr Owl first put on a face of mock-confusion then resumed his speech, ‘Unless I’m interpreting your actions wrongly? Surely not, I’m hardly ever mistaken. But, I suppose, it is possible that a mere confusion of goals may have transpired. Did you wish to, perhaps, set off a smoke box?’
‘Set off a smoke box? No, Mr Owl, I’d like to be part of the show.’
‘Part of it? I haven’t thought of that. You’re no longer meeting up with your non-existent friend then?’ he asked curiously, extending his neck as he waited for Alban’s answer.
Alban mumbled something and Owl turned his head, still waiting on the answer. Then he said it louder. ‘There is no one.’
‘Oh!’ exclaimed Owl pretending to be startled. ‘No need to shout…and, quite right.’ The older man turned around and returned the last of his items to Camille’s saddlebags.
‘Oh, yes, very good proposal and Camille doesn’t seem to mind the idea.’
The three of them eventually made their way up the road in search of lodgings for the few days they were in town. Mr Owl pointed out a place called The Flying Pig and compared to where Alban had been sleeping the last few months it was a welcoming sight. To his disappointment though, they were not given a key to one of the rooms. The innkeeper had agreed that they could do their shows in the tavern-part of his establishment and at the request of Mr Owl they got a nice stall in the barn with fresh straw. Apparently he wasn’t keen on leaving Camille outside alone and was saving his earnings for something else. What someone as strange as him would want to buy evaded Alban altogether.
‘Besides,’ said Mr Owl as they rounded The Flying Pig and the stables became visible, ‘we will need the extra space since you have deemed our company acceptable enough to join in our trade. I dare say it’s going to take a while for you to get the idea and to really be part of it.’
Alban was okay with sleeping in a barn as nice as the one they were allotted with. It was fairly well built as the wind stayed out and it wouldn’t leak if it started to rain. Also the smell that generally hangs where animals stay wasn’t too significant, especially in their stall. The stall was the first one in the line of quite a few and it seemed to have lodged people before as there was a washing bowl, two lanterns and two beds of straw.
Owl smiled as he entered. ‘Just as I’d hoped; seems to me, Alban, that the innkeeper has given the stable boy a little holiday. At least there’s no dung where our heads must lie.’ He unpacked Camille’s saddle as Alban tied his horse in another stall where it immediately started chewing on the feed.
Mr Owl washed off all the paint from his camel as Alban unpacked a few bags containing some curious items as he had asked. When both of their tasks were completed and the lanterns lit, as it was almost completely dark inside the stable, Owl beckoned the boy to come closer as he moved back to Camille with a few brushes and small pots of paint.
‘Alban,’ he said as he opened the pots and carefully placed them on the edge of the table upon which the washing bowl was. ‘I’m going to let you in on one of my many little secrets. In fact, this one is almost like the key to all the others. As I paint the patterns on Camille I will explain to you what they all mean and in what order they must be read.’
At first he was rather confused but as the wrinkly hands gracefully dipped the brushes into the different colours of paint, forming intricate patterns with easy seeming strokes of his wrist while pointing out the meaning of each, Alban realized that Camille’s hide was like a map of instructions of what tricks to do when and what to say at the right times during a show. Mr Owl explained that he no longer needed the symbols but that they looked nice and would certainly help Alban. He made Alban repeat the meanings and names of all the symbols as he continued to paint her yellowish brown body with his map where the saddle and materials did not cover.
Alban recognised the strange names of the symbols as the words that Owl had spoken amidst the red smoke on the hill where they had first met and during the performance that afternoon. Sometimes when he repeated these sounds Camille started moving at which Owl calmed her and explained that they were merely practising. Apparently she knew them too.
‘What you have to understand,’ Owl said painting the last few curls under the camel’s tail, ‘is that the commands here painted almost never come in the same order and that you, as well as Camille, have to listen to my voice for the instructions. When I say, for instance “smarag”, then you have to know where the symbol for that particular coloured smoke lies and read the instructions for yourself and Camille accordingly. That is if you aren’t sure of what to do. If you can remember, just do it.’
Alban nodded that he understood and felt confident as he was picking up fast on this magnificently strategic way of controlling a magic show. From here they moved out of their stall and attempted some of the tricks. These, however, weren’t so easy to get right. He was forgetting key points in the “act” of doing a trick. At the end of a few tiring hours he had managed to learn only about three things that fully satisfied Owl. He said that those would be all that he needed for their first show the next day and in their completion would resume his former duties.
They went inside to share a meal in the tavern and Alban lay awake for some time on his bed of straw afterwards, trying his best to remember everything he had learned as he slowly dozed off.
The sounds of the barn grew sharper each second to slowly wake the sleeping Alban. First he stirred under his blanket then his hearing grew sharper until, last of all, his thoughts escaped that blissful state of dreaming to fall suddenly into consciousness. He leaped from the bed as he realized how light it was. Someone could be heard whistling as they replaced the water a few stalls away and Alban realized that he must have slept through the first hours of his first day on the act. He had never gotten dressed that quickly. He splashed his face with water before he ripped open the door and ran out to look for Mr Owl.
To his disappointment he wasn’t to be found in The Flying Pig. Alban asked the barman if he’d seen the magician and he replied that there had been a small crowd in there earlier and that Owl had done a few tricks for them before taking his camel and leaving after a few words with the owner.
Had Owl deemed him unfit to work with since he couldn’t even get up in the morning to do his part in the show? Did he decide to leave town before he could wake up and be nagged with questions and pleads to stay? These were the paranoid thoughts running through Alban’s head as he ran through the streets of Vaden looking for that unusual shape of Mr Owl and Camille.
Alban was fit enough and he broke a sweat before he finally found who he was looking for in the marketplace. Owl was casually browsing through the stalls that sold beads and all kinds of funny adornments. He seemed to be asking the attendants a whole series of questions about each article that he picked up. Though he was as calm as a soft breeze on a hot summer’s day the people burdened with answering his strange questions seemed a little frustrated. Apparently the bangles in his hands weren’t the first things he wasn’t buying.
‘Listen, if you don’t buy something I suggest you go find conversation somewhere else,’ a dark skinned woman with a purple turban said impatiently to Mr Owl and before he could make a reply Alban touched his shoulder.
‘Mr Owl, I thought you’d left. Why didn’t you wake me?’
Mr Owl turned his back on Alban and led Camille to the next stall. ‘If you are going to insist upon sleeping all day who am I to stand in your way? But know this if you do not do better I might just really leave you behind.’
‘I didn’t realize you weren’t going to wake me. I can try waking myself. Really, I can.’
‘Yes, we shall see about that. You will be receiving no payment for today’s work as you caused me terrible inconvenience this morning. You can, however, make up your debt by working on the other performances I have planned.’
Alban didn’t like what he was hearing but was so relieved that Owl had not left him behind that he didn’t complain. He accepted his lot and started by taking Camille’s reins. After all their errands had been run it was about midday. They performed a trick in the street at the request of a few townspeople then moved back to the tavern where Alban finally got his chance to do what he’d practiced the previous night.
Not only was the innkeeper giving them money for every person they attracted to the tavern but the people were putting coins in the basket on the floor whenever they felt amazed. By the end of the afternoon alone they had done several tricks and people came in until there wasn’t even space for a mouse. He was finding it easier to follow the prompts that Owl spoke as though they were incantations every time he did them. Camille knew every one of the words and it was something amazing to see an animal so intelligent. It must have taken years to teach her all those tricks because Alban had never heard that camels were particularly trainable animals.
They stayed in Vaden for a few more days until they had truly done everything they knew to everybody they could, Alban all the while being trained. The profits were very good and Mr Owl seemed to be pleased with them too. They left with good spirits and it was nice to be back on the road, especially with someone to talk to.
Alban loved the countryside and the time for his thoughts to run free that it provided. It was always good for him to have time to figure things out in his head. The thing was, however, that he wasn’t getting closer to his answers. In the long silences they sometimes experienced Alban caught Owl occasionally glancing at him. It felt like the old man was somehow sensing the conflicts in his mind.
‘I wasn’t always like this, you know,’ Owl said randomly one morning as they filled their water skins in a merry little stream beside the road. ‘Oh no, there was a time that I was respected, even feared by the people who didn’t know me. Being a petty magician in the streets was definitely no goal of mine.’
Alban listened as he let the flowing water touch his fingertips. He felt emotion crawl up inside of him as Owl continued.
‘The world is changing and we are all forced to change with it. I have been ruined, Alban.’
‘You aren’t alone there,’ he said almost inaudibly. ‘I’m not from the streets either.’
‘The streets, you say?’ Owl shook his head with raised eyebrows as he laughed dryly. ‘At birth I was taken away from my parents to be trained. My masters were some of the greatest men this world has ever seen and now, as we speak, their names are being burned out of the history books in that corrupted city that is spreading this cursed disease from the very heart of Micanea.
I call it a disease because it is killing off the true people of this land. This new government wishes to ensure their rule over Micanea by eliminating any opposition. Look at the elves. They are leaving us, Alban. They leave their homeland to immigrants.’
You could see in Alban’s eyes that something was happening inside of him. That carefree look had disappeared and there, beside the stream sat a boy with his problems. Owl saw that he was touching a sensitive spot so he sat down and continued. He told Alban his story.
‘The masters of magic chose my parents to give birth to the next wizard of the stone towers. The day I saw light they came to take me to my tower for extensive training. Micanea was a land where all prospered and those who wielded the gift of magic was thought of above all others.
We were seen as healers of the land and it was to us that people would come for wisdom. Like the elves, wizards lived longer than normal for we were a race on our own; not human, not elf but wizards! and keepers of Micanea. It was in us that the long line of kings and queens trusted and when the last of them died without an heir, the lands were thrown into a panic.
It would have been our task to choose from among the people a new family to rule over Micanea, whether elf- or humankind. But treachery was afoot. A council of men had made them known and took it upon them to take the reins in Gala. Before the king was buried in his tomb they put them self on thrones in the senate temple slowly manifesting their council as the new rulers of Gala. They were seen men and to the people everything seemed alright, until things started changing,
They uprooted everything that had been built up through centuries and applied their own methods. It is the council’s goal to change Micanea into a place similar to that where they came from. You see, a new race of men came to this land long ago and as it seems, they came to take over.
Magic was banned from being practised and elves were being driven from their cities when they wouldn’t accept the supreme rule from Gala. I can tell you so much about the mayhem that has been caused but it would take me very long.
The wizards in the stone towers, all over the land were unexpectedly ambushed in their different regions. We were thrown into jails and no magic could set us free. The governors were far more evil than they seemed at first.
While stuck in a dungeon for months I came to realise that everything had been planned to the last detail. It was a plot that has overthrown everything we know. They have, in a sense, stolen Micanea.’
There was a short silence and then in a deep powerful voice Mr Owl said, ‘I found a way out though, and here I stand today, in a disguise. I wear a constant mask.’
Alban jumped up. ‘Mr Owl! You have a voice!’
‘Yes,’ said the old man in his previous whispery voice. ‘I have a voice but I have kept my entire identity hidden behind this street magician act for so long that I barely even notice the difference anymore.’ Owl looked down at his silly cloak and removed his overly large pointy hat. ‘Ironic disguise, isn’t it?’
‘You really can do magic?’ he said, confused. He looked over at the camel. ‘Camille, that’s how you trained her?’ Mr Owl nodded. Alban felt extremely overwhelmed by all this information. Owl sat there merely looking at him as he processed everything. Slowly tears started running down the boy’s face. Alban looked back at the old man and tried to stop his crying but tears kept streaming out of his green eyes.
Owl didn’t seem too surprised at this reaction. Later Alban realized that he must have intentionally opened his own thoughts so that Alban would feel free to talk of what had been bothering him for so long.
And he did. He told him everything, from the afternoon that he returned from schooling to his house where it started. From where he grabbed his things and ran away; escaped.
He spoke of his parents who cornered him, because he had shown strange behaviour. He could move things with his mind, and when he had told them about what he could do, being confused beyond comprehension, they wanted to take him to the oracle to have the powers removed from him.
Naturally, Alban had to run. He’d seen people coming back from the oracle, and it was never good. And that, as he explained it to Owl, was how he had become a lonely young traveller.
Owl stood there. He smiled, as if everything was alright.
“Yes, Alban. Thank you for openeing up. I think you are ready now.”
“Ready for what?”
“To do what I came looking for you to do. Be trained. You are the last generation of my kind, I have come to train you…”