Nearly thirty years later, in the south Belarian village of Tempstow, two young boys were busy at a game of Trimpato.
The elder of the two, Charles was a skinny teenager of 15, with a triangular face, elongated nose, brownish hair and eyes. An odd thing in his features was his right ear, which was slightly larger than his left.
His cousin, Thomas was three years younger to him and had a flat face and broad lips that were presently even broader due to his broad grin. He had succeeded in trapping Charles’s shepherd by crating an irregular circle of sheep. There was no way out for Charles now.
‘Urgh!’ Charles groaned. He took his shepherd in hand and knocked off Thomas’ sheep with it.
‘Hey!’ Thomas said, ‘you can’t do that!—Still, I win! LOSER, WOESER! Ha, ha!’
‘Nah,’ said Charles playfully, sweeping away all the pieces from the Trimpato board with a swift motion of his hand, ‘You don’t have any proof of that, do you?’
‘I won! I won!’ Thomas hooted, ignoring Charles, ‘I won, I—‘
Thomas, baffled, narrowed his eyes.
‘A cat?’ He jumped off the bed and looked under it, where the ‘MEOW!’ had come from. ‘It’s there!’
Charles got to the floor and getting on his knees saw it too. It was a large purple cat, dead mouse in mouth.
Thomas picked his boot from nearby.
‘Here you go!’ He threw it at the cat. It made a dash and nearly dodged it, but for its tail where the boot hit violently and the cat meowed in anguish.
It madly sprinted out of Thomas’ room. Soon they heard a great clash of utensils falling onto the floor in the kitchen.
Rushing there Charles and Thomas were aghast seeing the vast numbers of utensils scattered on the floor and, at least, half a dozen clay plates and cups had been reduced to tiny fragments.
The purple cat was nowhere to be seen.
Charles and Thomas, extensively cursing the cat, spent almost half an hour tiding up the mess. It was to their great relief when they finally ended with it; but before they could decide whether to have another game at Trimpato, Aunt Isabella, who had been off to the market, showed up at the door.
Aunt Isabella was the youger sister of Charles’ father and also Thomas’ mother. Charles owed a lot to her and knew he could never repay her fully in life. Aunt Isabella had been the one who had adopted him, had consoled him as his very mother would have, at his father’s death in a dreadful cab accident, when his other relatives hadn’t cared to give him much of a thought.
‘Well boys’, said Aunt Isabella, she appeared distinctively tired for some reasons; ‘I want you to do something right away’.
‘What?’ Thomas asked sheepishly, frowning.
‘To go to Mr. Dolby Doof’s house and –‘
‘Mr. Dolby Doff!’ exclaimed Thomas, flabbergasted, ‘That mind numbing owner of the “Recipe Book Library”?’
Aunt lent him a severe look.
‘Exactly, him,’ She said. She turned her eyes to Charles, her expressions becoming kinder.
‘And you need to ask him a book, any book actually, which tells how to prepare Goigpaise—‘
‘Goigpaise?’ Thomas burst, even Charles was taken; Aunt Isabella wanted to prepare Goigpaise? There wasn’t even any occasion.
‘Are some guests coming, Aunt?’ Charles asked.
‘Yes, guests are coming tomorrow... Special guests,’ she added, more reminiscently.
As the two cousins trotted up the dusty tattered road of Tempstow villa, Charles could very well understand the irritated temper boiling about Thomas.
‘I tell you,’ he said, to himself and not really to Charles, ‘we’re gonna be stuck in Doof’s for hours... Man, he’ll suck the soul’s outta us with his talks!’
Thomas wasn’t lying; Mr Dolby Doof was the most boring person living. He had a whole house stuffed with books, books, books and books – all recipe books that too, no sign of literature or fiction or poetry. Mr Doof lent his books for free to anyone who wanted to try out a new dish that, he considered, was his way of social contribution.
And with him giving lectures on almost every book he owned, Charles’ earlier visits, along with Thomas, had been deathly dull, and he remembered being thankful they hadn’t fallen unconscious out of excessive boredom.
Reaching the Recipe Book House, they knocked and were welcomed in by the wide smiling Mr Doof.
‘Um, Mr Doof,’ said Charles, wanting to be direct to the point, ‘um, do you have any book on how to prepare Goigpaise?’
The big bellied Mr Doof frowned at the word then smiled at his own forgetfulness.
‘Ah, Goigpaise, how can I even forget that dish!’ he lent them an approving look, ‘It’s one of the finest delicacies! ... Well, do take a seat, while I go bring just the book for you.’
They sat themselves on the chairs and Mr Doof, humming an awkward tune, walked to the next room. Thomas looked at Charles uneasily.
‘The moment the book’s in our hands,’ he said in a hushed voice, ‘we’re gonna make a run from here.’
Charles nodded, acknowledging. Make a run, he thought, he was sceptic it was even possible.
Mr Doof returned in a short while, clutching a fat little book called ’Goigpaise? Here it is!’ and featuring a tiny man on the cover swimming merrily in a bowl of Goigpaise.
‘As I said, just the book for you; it tells everything about Goigpaise, How to prepare it, the history, additional information, etc, etc... Here,’ He made a bow and handed Charles the book.
‘By the way, how many times have you tasted Goigpaise before?’
‘Just a couple of times,’ Charles replied.
‘And you?’ Mr Doof was evidently in no intention of sparing Thomas, who flinched awkwardly, as though accused of a crime he hadn’t committed.
Then, not very confidently, he answered in a small voice,
‘Yes... a few times.’
‘What sort of visions did you see?’
‘Er, I- I don’t remember...’ Thomas said quietly, turning a shade of pink. Mr Doof, however, seemed like he hadn’t heard a funnier job.
‘What?!’ he laughed hilariously, ‘No one ever forgets any Goigpaise vision!’
Thomas might have as well received a slap.
‘No- No, really I cannot remember them properly,’ he poorly tried to explain, it couldn’t have been clearer though that whether he remembered any Goigpaise or not, he simply wished to keep conversation the shortest possible with Mr Doof.
‘Okay, then,’ said Mr Doof, ‘If you don’t want to share your joyful experiences with a poor old man like me, then so be it,’ he stretched his lips into a weak smile and Charles could almost sense Thomas all wanted was to disappear. Honestly, Charles did not think Mr Dolby Doof was any poor old man he claimed to be. He did have a few streaks of grey hair here and there amongst his balding circle of jet black, but with a face that yet had to shed the youthful glow; he couldn’t have been anymore than 47-49 years of age.
Charles decided to speak up, before Thomas had to suffer more of his interrogations.
‘Um, Mr Doof... Well then, I think we should leave now.’ Charles and Thomas got up to go; suddenly, began rapping hard at the door.
‘Master I am home!’ A voice yelled from outside, strangely artificial sounding.
Thomas opted to open the door.
‘No! Don't open!’ yelled a frantic Mr Doof, ‘No!’ Too late, not understanding, Thomas opened the door already.
Charles gaped in raw bewilderment as he saw the man at the threshold – Standing with the identical bulging stomach and funny rounded face was the exact replica of Mr Dolby Doof!
‘But- But!’ Thomas stuttered, ‘Two Dolby Doofs!’
Charles looked questioningly at Mr Doof.
‘Who is he?’
Mr Doof went and roughly pulled his look-alike inside, who apparently didn’t mind.
‘He is, err, my- my... twin brother. He... lives in Lofusgrad,’ he explained to the boys rather desperately, ‘he look like me a lot... doesn’t he?’
Charles tentatively eyed Thomas, who shrugged giving him a tragic I-think-we-should-make-a-run look.
‘Well,’ said Charles, heeding Thomas, ‘so long then, Mr Doof, we’ve got work at home... I think we should be on our way.’
Then uncaring to any response from Mr Doof, the boys hurried out of the house.
‘That geek has a twin brother?’ said Thomas once they were in the road, ‘And he’s come to live here?’
‘Maybe, though I never heard that before,’ said Charles. He felt vaguely suspicious of the matter, not recalling any incident when Mr Doof had mentioned his twin before – something he shouldn’t have failed at, not with his big-mouthed nature; and especially his desperate reaction when his twin showed up, it was strangely like he was covering p something, not to mention his weird twin calling him ‘Master’.
Thomas abruptly stopped in his tracks and caught Charles’ arm.
‘What?’ Charles asked. Thomas’ face had become ghastly white like parchment.
‘There, the hat is a pointed one,’ he said pointing down the road. Charles felt cramps in his stomach.
A person in a great moustache, reaching down to his waist in tendrils and wearing brown rags altogether with a high pointed hat, was coming towards them, staggering unsteadily – a future stocker!
‘What are we gonna do now?’ Thomas panicked.
‘Dunno,’ said Charles, ‘Best thing would be to ignore him totally.’
‘We cannot ignore him,’ said Thomas, ‘Stockers smell too bad! I don’t wanna go near him.’
‘We’d have to, he is coming our way.’
‘Let’s take the other road,’ suggested Thomas.
‘The other road, we’d take an hour to reach home?! Come on Thomas, don’t be a git!’
Charles nudged at Thomas arm. Thomas looked at him with grave eyes.
‘Alright,’ he said, stubbornly.
As they approached the future Stocker, bad smell wafted to them from him, intense smell, like that of animal dropping except a great many times stronger, making them cover their noses.
The Stocker in his coarse broken voice, was singing himself a song (one that would definitely win any Ugly Melody contest in the winter celebrations) when suddenly he stopped.
‘Charles’, he said. Wait Charles? No, not possible, Charles thought, the Future Stocker certainly hadn’t spoken his name! His heart sank horribly.
‘Quick,’ he whispered to Thomas, and as they hastened, the voice came again.
‘Charles...’ A chilling sensation crept down Charles’ spine, clouds blocking the one last tiny ray of hope he had. It wasn’t considered good when a Future Stocker knew your name. Charles gulped bile.
The Stocker scrambled and the next moment he found himself separated from Thomas, the Stocker’s dirty brow eyes drilling at his own, his bony but immensely powerful hands holding Charles tight by the collar.
He almost couldn’t breathe, the Stocker stank so horrid. Nausea overwhelming, Charles fought to get loose from the Stocker.
‘Let go! Let go!’ he yelled, as the Stocker grabbed his arms, restraining them from movement. Thee Stocker, though fragile appearing, was extremely strong.
Charles tried to kick him away, but it was to no use, his drastic attempts a mere itch to the Stocker, who kept whispering ‘Charles! Charles!’ In an eerie tone, like he would forget the name if he didn’t.
‘Let him go you --!’ Thomas violently banged himself against the Stocker: A mistake.
The Stocker glared at him, threateningly. Grasping Thomas’ clothes with one hand, controlling Charles with the other, he hurled him away.
Thomas landed roughly on the ground, though fortunately escaping injuries.
Rolling his eyes at Charles, the Stocker once again repeated, ‘Charles...’ Then most unexpectedly, he released Charles and burst into a bout of hysterical sobbing. Charles seized his chance to scram away, as the man sunk into a ball and began wailing pathetically.
Aunt was more than astonished, when after reaching home, they told her about her misadventure: She was aghast.
Charles had never seen her get so much worried, except a couple of times when Thomas had got in a fight with a bully and another when had had broken his leg, in the two years he had been with her.
‘... but they dint have any right to go about frightening people like that! Even the king had forbidden them from going near normal people!’
‘It’s alright, Aunt,’ said Charles, wishing they hadn’t opened their mouths about the Stocker in the first place, ‘He didn’t really harm us, anyway.’
‘No Charles,’ said Aunt, her thin face a red chilli, ‘you don’t know these Future Stockers... they are a curse.’
‘A curse?’ asked Charles.
‘Yes...when I was young,’ she continued, a vein beating at her temple, her eyes teary and red, ‘your grandfather, h- he met one – the next day, he was m- murdered!’
‘What?’ Charles had never known this before.
‘Yes, t- that was w- what happened,’ Aunt was actually weeping now, ‘T- These St- Stockers are to b- blame for everything b- bad.’
Out of the moment, Aunt stood up, and wiping her tears, made out of the room.
Thomas stared at Charles, big eyed.
‘Are you gonna die tomorrow?’
The rest of the day was the Charles and Thomas took baths (they had acquired a nasty rotten stench after coming in contact with the Stocker). Aunt Isabella was quiet most of the time, taking only to call for meals and her eyes always were bloodshot. Thomas wasn’t very talkative either, proffering instead to be lonesome. Charles suspected he was probably wondering if he, Charles, was really to die tomorrow – something he himself hoped against and choose not to bother too much about.
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