A Yellow Box

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A demon and its cursed puppet hunt the wizard that escaped them hundreds of years ago.

"Sean, where are we going? Mama told us not to go wanderin' today." Mary was a constant source of caution for the pair, but Sean could see no danger in their endeavor today.
"I told you, we're just going down to the inn; that's not really wandering. You know how great a cook Ms. Koehane is, and she's baking pies today."
"But why? There’s no festival today...oh, Sean, no..."
"What, Mary? It's just for Annie's pies, really."
"That troupe was coming through this week and were supposed to be getting here today."
"And Papa told us not to talk to them. All their stories will just be legends and lies, anyway."
"They can't all be liars."
"And why go now? It's not three o'clock yet. I'm sure they won't come until tonight."
"Mary, if you were passing through a town where you knew you weren't welcome, would you go to the inn at its busiest hour?"
"Well...I guess not."
"And why would they make up stories for us? We're just kids; they don't need to hide anything."
Mary swung slowly back and forth on the inn's old gate, staring at her brother's back as he tramped up the muddy path to the front door. Her resolve to follow parental demands began to dissolve at the prospect of waiting outside alone, as Sean would continue on, regardless of her.
"They'll have the best stories we've ever heard, Mary." Her last bit of resistance faded and she ran after him.
"If we get caught, it's your fault."
"There is a man we must put an end to." The voice, harsh and deep as a well, broke through the silence of the forest. There was no one to be seen who could be the source of it, and the only thing around to hear it was the form of a small boy with a hood covering his features. He lay motionless, but as the voice spoke again the small figure began to stir. His fingers twitched and his legs straightened before the child slowly rose, as if pulled upright by strings. His body remained limp, though standing, as he began to walk lightly, his feet barely touching the ground. Two points of light burned to life, glaring through the hood. The voice rang out again.
"Remove it." The Child's hand rose up slowly and slid the shroud from its head, revealing the grotesque face of a clown seen through the eyes of a demon. 
"Time to go." The creature bent down to pick up a small box at its feet. A small red star adorned each side of the egg-yellow jack-in-the-box, and the crank on the side was soon grasped by the creature’s left hand, the right cradling the box as you might hold an infant. Slowly the crank turned, the notes jangling out and the tempo increasing. The creature started to hop forward from one foot to the other, faster and faster until the jack-in-the-box sprung open; screaming at the end of the spring was a boy's face, begging for death. At his screams, a blaze leapt up in forest; the clown laughed softly to itself and slowly smiled. It began to bound faster through the trees, laughing and lighting new blazes as it went, a shimmering shadow close at its heels. 
As Ms. Koehane seated the twins at one of the small wooden tables on the side of the common room, she put down her tray of drinks and bent to the children's level. 
"D'you two know who's commin' in today?" She spoke quietly as if about to let slip some secret (She in fact often did for the children; they were common fixtures at the inn and really did love her baking.)
Sean glanced up curiously. He didn't think it was particularly a secret who was on their way. "Isn't it just that traveling circus?"
"Yes, but do you know who's with them?"
"No," answered Mary. "We thought they were just gypsies and stuff.”
"Oh, yes, they certainly are. And with them is that Mysterious Mr. Jameson everyone's been talkin' about."
Mary was ecstatic. "The wizard? The famous magician? Here?"
"Oh, Mary, he just does illusions." Sean didn't want to show it, but he was as excited as Mary. As much as he thought Mr. Jameson was a phony, he honestly couldn't figure out how he did a quarter of what he had heard about. 
"Can we meet him Annie?"
"Well I don't see why not, Ms. Mary, this is a public house after all." Sean couldn't help it; he hadn't been this excited since Christmas.
"Maybe...maybe he could show us a trick or two. That might be interesting." And hopefully he'll have one that I can't figure out in five minutes like the ones the last two "magicians" had. Mary broke into Sean's train of thought by laughing rudely at him.
"You'd love to just shake his hand, wouldn't you?"
Scowling, Sean retorted "Only if that was part of the trick." 
The sound of approaching hoof beats and the squeak of old wooden wheels began to make themselves noticed, and Mary started to fidget and almost shake with excitement. Sean couldn't deny it, though; as much as his sister was looking forward to meeting the great magician, it was no match for the anticipation he was feeling, outwardly shown or not. 
That self-same magician had, at that moment, never been more afraid. It's felt my approach and is coming for me, now. Sitting in his coach, he leafed through his many notebooks. He had no doubt in his knowledge, it merely calmed him. And besides, simple knowledge of what could stop it would not be enough. It was going to be a test of the sort that you can only study for so much. He comforted himself with the fact that no enemy had yet been able to suffer him; all had fled before him or been banished to the realm to which they belonged. But these were empty re-assurances and he knew it. They had been pittances, barely beyond the strength of a normal man's soul. What approached now was a foe of unknown power; yet the depths of his own strength were barely known even to him, and he knew if he could not stop it than no one could. 
I will fight it to death, and beyond if need be. The carriage bumped to a stop with a yell from the driver to the horses. I will free you from its prison, my brother, or lose all in the attempt. Jameson stepped out into the late afternoon sun; he hoped he would be alive to see it rise again. 
“Faster.” The music of the jack-in-the-box began to speed past recognition, blurring into a fevered rendition of a child’s song. Faster and faster the screaming boy’s face burst forth, and just as quickly a third arm grew from the creature and stifled the cries. Though the hand was bitten viciously time and again by the child’s head, leaving it mangled and dripping black blood, the monster began to laugh more and more, though no louder, as plumes of fire erupted all around, engulfing trees in but a moment. 
“Calm, now. The forest is ending.” The trees fell away and the monster emerged over the fields. Its bleeding hand now firmly held over the top of the box which shook and struggled in its grasp.
“He’s here, he’s here!” Mary couldn’t be stopped. She ran from the inn to greet the famous Mr. Jameson, Sean close on her heels. He was not quite what they expected; not dark or mysterious at all. With the face of a very young man on a scarecrow-thin from, he seemed about to be crushed by the small rucksack he carried that was his only baggage. His traveling cloak looked ancient, stained with the dirt of a dozen countries. 
Something of a disappointment, Sean said to himself. As for Mary, she seemed a little dumbstruck. 
“But…but he’s so young!” Sean stifled a laugh at the comment, but the magician seemed not the least bit offended by her impropriety. 
“I see that, once again, my reputation has preceded any real description of me.” He laughed easily. “I assure you, young miss, I am not as young or frail as I look. “
I’m not as young or frail as you look. Inwardly, Sean sized him up. Pale and sickly looking, with ink-black shadows under his eyes, he looked as if a handshake might crush his fingers and his dark hair was long and unkempt. Yet for all of his appearance that belied ill-health, he moved quickly and surely, and his eyes suggested a burning brilliance. 
“I don’t believe you two yourselves to be the proprietors of this inn…” The magician began. Oh, guessed that on your own, did you? Sean was having more and more doubts that this even was the man that people had been whispering about. “But perhaps they are your parents?”
Sean finally spoke up. “No, they’re just farmers, but the inn-keeper is our friend.” He noted, with satisfaction, that his voice didn’t shake at all. Despite his vanishing faith in this man’s identity, he still could barely believe how nervous he was.
Mr. Jameson frowned slightly. “I would hardly call anyone ‘just a farmer.’ But, you say the inn-keeper is a friend of yours, young master? Perhaps you could introduce us.”
“Oh…o-ok.” No disguising his excitement now; Sean had caught a glimpse inside the man’s rucksack, and it was packed tightly full of enormous volumes with writing in indistinguishable languages adorning their covers. Yet he carried it with no apparent difficulty. Maybe he wasn’t as weak as he appeared. Maybe he really was the famous wizard.
“Splendid!” For some reason, Sean saw him glance at the sun now falling behind the inn and grow pale, as if from fear. “Well, children, let us get inside. Night is coming on sooner than I thought.”
“So, my young hosts, where are your most honored parents this evening?” Sean had hoped that this question would never come up; they had passed the last two hours in contentment. Or rather, wide-eyed, listening to the magician’s tales of lands Far East, of demons and sorcerers and battles of long ago. But now he would find out that they were just naughty little children and would send them home. 
“They think we’re at a friend’s.” Mary, of course, had to reveal that right away. Mr. Jameson, though, just smiled and nodded.
“Aye, snuck out to hear some new stories…that’s something I would h’ve done when I was a younger man. Still would, had I anywhere to sneak away from. Unfortunately the rest of the troop is almost half a day’s ride behind; they have ones far better, but,” he shrugged. “I don’t think mine are a terrible disappointment.” He raised his mug towards Annie. 
“Ms. Koehane, would you kindly fill me again as I start these two on another droll tale?”
“Stop.” The hand slowly relaxed on the crank, though another still kept a firm grasp on the top of the box. The creature halted itself at the same moment, resting limply, feet barely touching the ground. 
“Let him know we are here. Give him his chance to flee before us again, and not waste the learning he has gained.” The crank began to turn once more. ? A-round a-round the mulb-e-r-r-y bush ?
Jameson was recounting one of his preferred stories to the children when he heard it; the scream of agony he dreaded above all else in this world, that he had been hoping to find nevertheless. Either I will free him or the demon can have us both! If I fail, I care not what befalls me. Then he remembered; the children, the inn-keeper.
“Hide yourselves!” He cried. Cursing his selfish thoughts, he moved to cast what protection he could around them when he saw Ms. Annie flee out a door in the back of the common room.
“No, miss, stay with me!” With him, at least she had a chance to survive. But as he ran to her, he felt the deaths of those in the first home and saw flames dancing in the ashes of the building just across the lane. And as he reached the inn-keeper he heard the front door of the inn open and the waves of terror from the children as they saw what was here for him. He took Ms. Koehane about the shoulders.
“You must help me protect them.”
“But sir, I…I can‘t do anything to help!”
“Just keep them as close to me as you can.” He rushed through the open door, but feared he was already too late. It was upon them.
As the magician ran crying for Annie, Sean saw the McCaffey’s across the way explode into a fire. He sat, dumbfounded, but felt Mary grab his hand and pull him, drag him, outside, knowing the inn could be next. But as they ran down the path and gained the road, Sean wished they had stayed inside; Mary screamed. Coming towards them was a demon. 
Dressed in the uniform of a proper London school, the thing had no other features obviously human. Out of its face, grotesquely ravaged and scarred beneath its clownish paint, burned two pits of fire which had taken the place of its eyes. Its long, immaculate red hair fell in sheets about its shoulders and in its hands, grossly faded and scarred hands, it held a jack-in-the-box. Sean realized, with a sickening jolt, that a third hand, mutilated and bleeding, held the lid shut, as the box seemed to struggle in its clutches. With each step, drops of blood fell in rivulets along the edges of the black-smeared toy, and with each repetition of its song another building would be engulfed. Then another, and another, until the length of the street took on a ghastly appearance as smoke and glittering ash filled the air. Laughing; Sean heard laughing mingle with Mary’s second cry of horror. The clown’s head was laughing. It then began to hop, gently and lightly, towards them, turning its crank ever faster. ?The monkey thoughtwas allinfun Pop! ? And Sean was covered in flame. Covered, yet they didn’t burn him. What’s happening? Are they moving away from me?
“You will not harm these children.” The voice rang out with almost immeasurable power, and as he strode up beside Mary, Sean realized that it was Mr. Jameson that was speaking. Annie ran up and grabbed the twins, huddling them in a pile of fallen beams. The crank turned, and the music grated out once more. This time, though, there was no blaze, just a smattering of sparks the wizard brushed away. 
“You will not harm them or me. You will hurt nothing ever again!” he cried. Maybe, Sean thought, we will be all right. 
Casting protection over the three huddled forms, Jameson turned his full force to the creature. It stood not a chance against him. Again and again the crank turned. Again and again he caused nothing to happen. “Bring forth your master, terror, you can do nothing to me.” Abruptly, as if cut from its strings, the monster dropped in a crumpled heap and the shadow behind it began to glow. Seeming to take the very darkness of the street into itself, the master took on substance, though glittering black and shapeless. It began to pulse and shimmer; the voice that had commanded the monster came from it.
“You now will belong to me, as you should have long ago and as your kin does now.” The dark burst and absorbed him into itself and he summoned all his vast powers.
“No!” Sean cried out as the wizard vanished into the shadow. “No, it will kill us!” He thought of running, but couldn’t move. He was trapped in the dark. 
A burst of light shot from the depths of the black. Then another, then a third, larger one. Sheets of light began to pour from the center of the darkness, blindingly bright, until it was as brilliant as it had been dark. Sean had to cover his eyes to keep from being dazzled and as he did, a long, deep, agonized cry was bellowed from the vanishing black, echoing off every surface. The light slowly dwindled and died. Sean dropped his hand, and there before him stood an ancient man, white haired and wrinkled beyond recognition. Scared and then relieved past feeling, Mary whispered, “But he’s so old…”
A smile broke the craggy features. “I used my magic to keep young and strong. I have none left, and glad I am to be rid of it. Quite a nuisance.” He gestured to the body of the monster, except it wasn’t quite a monster anymore. A young boy in a school uniform lay with an ordinary jack-in-the-box, blood on his clothes but unharmed. “My brother. He was caught by the shadow when we were boys, just as you almost were now. It used him as a tool of destruction, controlling him completely, without having to put itself in the way of harm. I escaped. I have spent two hundred years trying to save him.” The boy stirred fitfully, but didn’t quite awaken yet. Jameson sighed with relief. 
“And now I know I have.” He sagged and almost fell, but Annie rushed forward and caught him. “I believe I’m done now.” He whispered and slowly smiled. And thus he died.

Submitted: November 09, 2010

© Copyright 2021 S Antonio Gomez. All rights reserved.

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