Travel, naturally, is quite out of the question. Here we were, isolated in Steampunk-Shrunk Towers, wondering what to do with ourselves.
Mrs S – who is around the same size as yourselves, dear readers – claims that the building is a small and fairly cramped cottage, but since the rest of us (due to a certain, er, accident involving a spacetime anomaly which we prefer not to mention, Henry…) currently find ourselves shrunk to one twelfth of normal size, the residence appears positively cavernous. Walking from one wing to another can easily serve for our daily exercise.
Nevertheless, time had been hanging heavily.
Imagine our delight, then, when Molly hit upon the idea of opening her Literary Emporium to one of us each day. It is an exceedingly small establishment, so social distancing does not permit more than a single individual to enter the building at any time. Each of us has been issued with a card stamped with the dates for our visits and everyone is thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to peruse the many fascinating volumes available.
Only one thing marred our pleasure. Several upstanding and usually trustworthy members of our community mentioned catching glimpses of a tall, shadowy figure skulking around the Emporium. Rumours abounded as to the identity of this personage. This lockdown seems to make everyone a little jumpier than usual and some had claimed it was a creature conjured up by Dr Kopp, our resident mad scientist, who was recently seen taking an extreme interest in certain passages in the ancient Grimoire.
I didn’t for a moment believe such poppycock.
Oh goodness – manners! I failed to introduced myself. Abject apologies. That is me above and to the right – Gwendoline Thrustington-Clawhammer, tea-duelling district champion 1885, 1887 and 1891.
Yes, I know.
I did mention that it was a spaceTIME anomaly.
Anyway, my turn in the bookshop finally came around. I became quite mesmerised by the Book of Spells and lost track of the time. Fearing that I’d be late for an afternoon tea appointment, I rose quickly from my seat and at the same moment heard a definite sound outside the shop. I had the distinct feeling that someone had been spying on me and that my sudden movement had startled them.
“Ava?” I called, “Is that you?” (Madame Ava Brassfeather is most prone to sneaking around the place, so naturally I suspected her.) Then I recalled the stories about the mysterious stranger. For a moment, I blush to admit, I considered screaming. Thankfully I quickly came to my senses and hurried out to see who was there.
I was just in time to see a tall and muscle-bound gentleman trying to duck behind the far wall.
“You there! Halt at once and reveal yourself!” I cried, in my most imperious tone, hoping earnestly that he wouldn’t misinterpret my hurried command.
The figure turned to face me and although he cut a commanding presence, I noted that his eyes looked calm and, indeed, rather sad.
“Ah,” he said, softly. “Ma’am I do hope I didn’t startle you unduly. Please forgive my intrusion.”
His accent appeared to be that of an American gentleman, from the southern States, I suspected. His gentle demeanour mollified me somewhat, but the fact remained that he was undoubtedly a trespasser.
In a slightly quieter tone, but still – I hoped – with a certain air of authority, I replied, “I am not easily startled, Sir, but I wish to know how you come to be in this private residence and what your business is.”
“Yes Ma’am, of course,” he responded. “I can see that my presence here must look most suspicious. My name is Clark Obadiah Jackson III. I’m searching for someone who is – very dear to me. The honest truth is, Ma’am, I can’t rightly explain how I came to be in this building, exactly, unless you are in any way familar with the notions of – uh – time travel and teleportation?”
He was fingering a device attached to his left wrist as he spoke. I suspected (correctly, it later emerged) that he was considering activating it in some way to vacate our particular time and space if he met with too much hostility.
Now that I studied his face more closely, I realised there was something faintly familiar about it. I knew he did not belong in Steampunk-Shrunk Towers and was fairly certain our paths had never crossed, yet that slight memory or familiarity could not be discounted. I realised that I did not wish him to leave as suddenly as he had appeared. On the contrary, I was extremely curious to hear his story.
“I am – unfortunately – more familiar with time travel and teleportation than I would wish to be, Mr Jackson,” I assured him. “Indeed, all the residents of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers have personal experience of its uses and often rather unfortunate side effects. I suggest we take a seat in the Emporium whilst you recount your story.”
“Well that’s mighty civil of you, Ma’am, in the circumstances. I truly do appreciate it.”
He doffed his hat to me in the most charming way and followed me into Molly’s little shop.
I lit the oil lamp and waited with considerable excitement to hear of Mr Clark Obadiah Jackson III’s adventures.
To be continued.