Said the Tortoise to the Dormouse
Pawn's Advance - Move One
Edgar seeped into consciousness in his little cot above the shop. Another day, and already he could feel it, like weights around his joints. The days had begun to accumulate like a fetid pile, and he had begun to hate them. His old legs carried him downstairs. He couldn’t help it. By now it was automatic.
The shop was as empty as ever. Opening it up, he knew, would make little difference to that. The light from outside passed through the dusty windows, casting a brown hue over the workroom. The multitude of clocks ticked and whirred in unison, like a clockwork army. He searched his memory for what needed to be done. Yes. There was one watch to repair. One job. It’s going to be a busy day, it seemed.
William, too, was awake, though he didn’t know for how long. They had told him that sometimes he would just lie there for hours after waking up. He didn’t remember ever doing that, but maybe so.
Above him was a metal bar, though it’s purpose he couldn’t recall. Still, his mind focused on this singular task. It… helped him to get out of bed. Yes. Something like that, he was sure. It was so hard to be sure.
The room was white and sparse. A mirror. A dresser. A window. More bars along the dresser. The thoughts came to him as though they were struggling upstream…he had trouble walking. Yes, that was why. And if he got a fit, he recalled as if for the first time, he would need something to hold onto to prevent total collapse.
There was a lapse in memory. He didn’t remember getting out of bed, but now he stood dressed in his kitchen. He wished he could ignore these memory jumps after all these years, but they jarred him every time. Once, his memory jumped a month. A whole month he knew nothing of. It terrified him.
The kitchen was equally bare. No fridge, just an icebox. No cupboards, just crumpled boxes. Crumpled from the years of falls and stumbles. It never got any easier to navigate.
Hunger was beginning to stir within him.
Jack Goldman woke to the dings and whirrs of a casino in motion. The hard back of the chair he was sitting on was the first to register fully. The second thing was a voice.
“Jack? Hey, buddy- don’t let the booze knock you out yet! There’s partying to be done!”
The casino-hand was right. This was HIS party- he just sat down to close his eyes. That last drink must have been a little strong. But Jack was back, baby, and ready to party!
The casino was alive with the smell of alcohol and the buzz of neon. The money was flowing. All was right with the world.
“Sir?” came a voice “We think we’ve got a card counter at table eleven.”
Edgar sighed. He had best get started on the watch. It saved him the trouble of getting lost within his own thoughts. His eyes closed and he let the mechanical air overtake him, replacing his thoughts with the cold, hard ticking of the clocks.
Old fingers got to work nearly by themselves. He didn’t need to get dressed – he had only the one good suit, and he slept in it. Why not? It lends some excitement at least. Two hours passed. Two hours, thirty three minutes, and 23 seconds. He didn’t even have to hear the god-damn ticks to know.
The ice box. That must have something of interest, William thought. What, though, it could contain was beyond his capacity.
He started off towards the ice box, a laborious process. It needed to be slow, methodical. Every footfall must be carefully planned and executed, lest his damaged brain decide to send you sprawling.
The icebox was empty, save for a single bottle of water. When was the last time his nurse picked up his groceries? He couldn’t remember the last time she was here.
His fingers twitched and protested at being asked to grasp, but eventually he pocketed the bottle. Then, he thought with a sense of rising frustration, off to the boxes. He let the lid of the ice box fall closed with a satisfying thud.
Crackers, bread, and butter inside the first one. Nothing of any great taste, but filling nonetheless. William nodded. This accomplishment, though minor, was something to be proud of. Some little straw he could grasp, some little nugget of control in a dying man’s life.
He turned, about to continue his hunt when a feeling overtook him. A spasm in his legs. A seizure, he knew it immediately. Before he could reach to brace himself, he hit the floor hard, twitching.
Jack scoffed. “We’ll have to see if some fingers require breaking, boys.”
“Our thoughts exactly, sir.” said the casino-hand.
Jack knew his way to the table. Blackjack table. Dealers run five decks, two of them fixed. But some son of a bitch was stealing his money.
From across the room, it looked like some college kid. Young, clean shaven. Cocky. He knew that with one word, he could have him taken upstairs. Upstairs there was a special room for people like him.
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Look at this cocky asshole. As long as you got the hunch, I’d say we bring him upstairs for a little scare. Better safe and him sorry.”
“Yes sir. Upstairs.”
The casino-hand nodded, and with efficiency that only Jack’s dirty money could buy, two rather large men approached table eleven. The man at the table looked barely surprised, even as they beckoned him to follow. He seemed almost cooperative as they lead him across the gaming floor.
“Do you want to watch, sir?” queried the casino hand.
Goldman adjusted first his suit, then his tie. “I’ll watch. I want to see what he does. Could be fun."
His grin lit up the room more than the neon that filled it.
Edgar looked skyward at nothing in particular, taking in the sound of the clocks.
He had worked for two hours, ten minutes, fifteen seconds.
The door opened, the little rusted bell above it trying hard to make a sound, but failing utterly. The figure that walked in was barely visible from the workshop, but he knew it nonetheless. Carrie, such a sweet little girl, sure to stop in the shop every few days on her way home from school, just to see the odd, grumpy old man that lived behind the counter. Such a troll he must have seemed to her, he thought. He tried to discourage her, at first, from stopping by. There’s nothing for a little girl in a dusty shop, and he feared that sooner or later, she may come into the shop to find her magical old man was more mortal than she thought. But he came to accept the company.
“Mr. Ed-gar!” came the voice too big for the body. “Are you fixin’ time again?”
Edgar smiled warmly. At least, he hoped he did. He had been practicing, though it never felt quite right. He felt his wrinkles fold up against his cheeks awkwardly. “Yes dear, of course I am fixing time. I have to fix this watch to make it run properly again.”
The floor was as cold as ever, and as the twitching stopped, the feeling of helplessness set in. William West’s head pounded – he could feel his pulse everywhere. A horrible, horrible warmth spreading all over him. Horrible, true, but it told him that he was ultimately okay. Or as okay as he could be.
Getting up, though, was going to be a chore. But this was his life. This is what he was now. Some days he just want to lie there. The terrifying part, for him, was that he knew that sometimes he did.
As the hollow man lay in silence, with only the buzz of ambient noise as comfort, something caught his eye. Something on the ceiling. A crack. A tiny crack caught his attention, and he was not sure why. But indeed, his mind and vision focused on its edge, defining its limitations in an odd degree of intensity.
And then he saw it start to spread, moving like a creeping mould.
His heart skipped. A wave of sickening adrenaline covered him, and he knew he had to get up, and get up fast.
The child’s voice is silent for a moment, before a tiny set of eyes poked their way up over the counter, peering with intense curiosity into the workshop.
“I bet you can make time go real fast! Can you make my science class shorter? I really don’t like it.”
Edgar gazed down over his tiny spectacles. “I am no mage. It’s my job to fix time – but I can’t slow it down nor speed it up, my dear.”
The girl, in a futile effort, began trying to climb the counter, so as to get a better view of the old man’s work. Though he could not see her face, he could almost HEAR the pout.
“Yeah, right, Mr. Ed-Gar. The boys at school say you’ve lived for like, a thousand years. You were around for, like, Knights and Pirate times. You got time powers.”
Without missing a beat, or indeed, to pause for breath, she continued “Mr. Ed-Gar! Do you want to see something cool I found?”
Slowly, the ancient man rose help her, wary of the twisting of muscles and bones.
“What do you have to show to father time?” Edgar chuckled.
Jack Goldman, casino master, party deviant, center of everything, surveyed his domain. A wink to a passing waitress. A high-five to a bartender. A glance at the rear of a female casino hand.
By now, he knew the card-counter must have been secure upstairs. He climbed up after him.
The room he was in was bare, save for the single wooden chair he had been tied to. The two hired goons flanked him. Jack could see from his vantage-point in the adjacent hallway that they had slipped on heavy metal rings. He couldn’t have his boys carrying brass knuckles, after all. That would be illegal.
The kid remained silent, even as the goons began to talk. “What are you, mute, kid?” one of them called, just before the first punch was landed.
The beatings grew only more viscous as the kid refused to say a word. His teeth hit the floor with tiny plinks, and his blood had sprayed across Jack’s pristine room. One of the goons looked towards his boss’s viewing window and shrugged. What else could he do?
Then the room went black. Utterly black. The light from the hall didn’t seem to penetrate it. No sound emerged from the room.
Jack’s head whipped about in shock.
“Did the power go? Is the casino still running? Make sure no one gets out without paying up!” he shouted to anyone who would listen.
William, fighting to control his own damaged brain, scuttled out from under the crack, another pulse of adrenaline assisting his climb up to his feet.
The ceiling crumbled in an instant. But it did not collapse downwards. It was as though the debris of the ceiling was sucked back up, an inverse collapse. The floor was clean of rubble, while in the ceiling was now a nine foot diameter hole, stretching up into darkness.
William stared up in not fear, but an intense sadness. This was it. He must have gone insane.
A wave of rationality. No, he was probably unconscious and this was just a dream. The top priority, in any case, was survival. Some part of him wondered why he should bother, but his instinct proved stronger still. Determined to remain standing, he clutched the closest wall rail.
The hole remained unchanged as he watched it, refusing to be any less impossible.
More curious was what was occurring upon William’s wall. Slowly, footprints formed along it, as if some invisible man was walking up the wall towards the hole. The footprints were black as night, and inside each one of them he could see, written in tiny letters, “WALK ON ME”.
William scowled at them. Well, this was interesting. Slowly, he moved closer to investigate.
The footprints were dried onto the wall, as if by some years-old ink. The words “WALK ON ME”, however, were written in red, and were fresh and sticky like new paint. William grimaced. Why not? Perhaps, a little voice spoke, this insanity will offer you some measure of control, at long last. A measure of freedom.
A tentative foot was placed on one. Then another. And with that, William West was standing on the wall. Slowly and cautiously, he began his journey up his kitchen wall.
Carrie’s voice had reached a crescendo of exuberance. “I have something so cool Mr. Ed-Gar! But I found it outside! When I jumped the fence behind your shop-house, I saw it in the alley. Come on, Mr. Ed-Gar!”
With whimsical abandon and the attention span of a small dog, she darted out the front door.
Edgar braced himself against the counter, just for a moment re-evaluating his choice in companionship. With untold weariness, he mustered up the strength the shuffle after her. It was, he thought with a scoff, the most excitement he’d ever had, no doubt.
The power was still on in the hallway, and Jack could hear the sounds of the casino running downstairs. This calmed his nerves considerably. Still, it was always good to check on the money.
“I’m on it, sir” came the voice of the casino-hand that followed him up. The boy ran off down the stairs.
Still, there was a dead silence from the interrogation room.
Jack peered against the glass, to no avail. If he knew anything, it was that he didn’t want to go in there until he figured out what the hell was going on. Besides, if there’s one place he didn’t skimp on funds, it was in the muscle department. His men could handle things.
Edgar Torello moved his brittle old bones slowly out into the outside world. It felt like walking into a whole new reality. It had been days- weeks, even- since he had been outside.
Shuffling around to the back alley, he found Carrie, pointing excitedly at a hole in the wall.
A gaping, nine foot hole that stretched back impossibly far into darkness.
He knew the wall was only two feet thick.
“Stand back dear, I don’t know what that is.” Edgar muttered, looking about as if some logical answer hung somewhere in the air.
Carrie frowned, as only little girls can. “It’s just a hole.” A look of excitement crossed her face. “I wonder where it goes?”
Edgar took a moment, holding up a hand to hopefully pause the girl, to take a cursory glance around, though nothing else seemed out of place. The hole existed as though it was a perfectly normal phenomenon like rain or fog. Carrie, however, took the opportunity to scamper up into the mouth of the thing.
“Cool!” she called, which echoed down the tunnel.
Edgar, his attention caught, called “Be careful, you don’t know what’s in there!”
With long strides, he reached the mouth of the hole itself, to feel the slight musty breeze drifting lazily out of it.
A little unnerved, Jack continued watching the darkened room, pressed in a futile attempt at vision against the glass. Suddenly, the lights flickered on with a low buzz, sending Jack stumbling a few paces back.
The room was empty. The card counter was gone. So was the chair they tied him to. And the goons as well. And in the wall, about nine feet in diameter, was a hole. A hole in the wall, stretching impossibly far back. Jack knew the other side of this wall was the street. But this hole tunneled deeper still, out into darkness. The room was silent.
Jack, pressing himself against the far wall as though the door would fly off its hinges and attack him, quickly regained some semblance of composure.
“What the bloody hell is that? Some kind of trick? Bloody card counters- some kind of Las Vegas street magic tunnelling trick to steal my god damn money.”
The thought of money sent the swell of courage through him, or at least, what he would describe as courage. The barest possibility of being cheated firm in his mind, he resolved to investigate immediately.
Inside the room, the casino sounds were drowned by the dull hum of the lights. The hole sat, unnatural as it was, perfectly round within the wall. From it, he could feel a cool breeze flowing, blowing in air that was somewhat stagnant.
Standing on the wall was dizzying, to say the least. Still, following the footprints was oddly inviting, if a little disconcerting. William found himself somewhat at odds.
He could not stop the thoughts, however. Was this a fantasy? He directed his focus on waking up, even as he walked. Failing that, he scanned the room for anything else that should not be, yet his current position in the room called out as by far the most unnatural thing. Still, while he knew his mind was damaged, he insisted to himself that he was not this far gone. He prayed, at least, that was the case.
“Come on, Mr. Ed-Gar!” Carrie echoed. “I’ll meet you on the other side!”
At this she began to crawl in deeper.
“Come back here!” Edgar cried, fear starting to well up. Pushing aside the primal fears of such utter dark, he pulled himself up and followed her in.
His old bones couldn’t quite keep up with her agility, and soon he lost sight of her in the darkness. Still, the echoing sound of her laughter kept him moving forward. Deep, impossibly deep. Until the darkness was suddenly lit, and his vision assaulted, by a barrage of colours. Edgar’s eyes closed reflexively to block the blinding display. Blood vessels still flared against his line of sight.
Jack Goldman looked at the hole as if it was the most detestable thing in the universe. He adjusted his tie. Then for good measure, he adjusted it again.
“No idea where this thing can lead, but it must lead outside. Outside to a second story drop- probably a good idea to stick my head in a take a closer look, the walls can’t be that thick here. And where did everyone go? Were my men in league with the kid, was this some elaborate escape plan? Did he plan to get caught and then escape this way? No, that’s stupid. Doesn’t make any sense, stupid. Look, Only one option, jump through the hole and hope for the best. Freaky as it is, it can only really lead to out of the building. Also, paying for health coverage of those goons would be a bitch. They’re coming back here, damnit. Also, who am I talking to?”
And into the hole he climbed. He didn’t know how long he traveled down the tunnel. Too long to be natural. But soon, the darkness exploded into colours. His eyes watered, and eventually closed…
Some part of William was convinced of the phantom nature of what lay before him, but still he pressed on. The words “WALK ON ME” began to pulse, growing and shrinking as if they had tiny living hearts within them.
Intrigued, and with not much left of himself to lose, he pressed onward.
While West’s head still hurt from the fall, he could almost make out little whispers, as if from a thousand tiny voices: “Walk….walk…walk…”
Indeed, he continued up the wall, slowly and carefully. Finally, the ceiling was reached- but the footprints there proved to hold him just as easily as those on the wall. He was now standing at the edge of the hole. The whispers changed from “walk” to “jump”.
West’s own voice, the tiny voice in the back of his head, grown so sullen and cold, took only a moment to concur.
And into the hole he fell. The air rushed past his ears, already filled with the sound of his racing heart. As he began to wonder how deep this hole truly went, the darkness broke into a blinding array of colour.
Edgar Torello. Jack Goldman. William West.
Three men became conscious at the other side of void.
Three men stand beneath a deep purple sky. Three men stand upon foreign, greyed grass, with coal black trees marking the clearing around them. Three men all come to realize that they are not alone.
William West stood dazed, but the strangers surrounding him could see he was unmistakeably a knight. He could only be described as a knight, as an embodiment of all that is Knight. He wore shining white armour, trimmed with gold. At his side was a greatsword, a longsword, and a shield. He was tall, regal, and warmly charismatic without having to say a word. The confusion was clear, but altogether more prominent was the wonder in his eyes.
Edgar Torello looked up at the world from a height of about three feet. Glancing immediately to himself, he found, with considerable distaste, he was covered with a fine grey fur, sporting a dirtied red jacket with inner vest, and carried about his person the inescapeable sound of a running watch – the source of which, he found, was a large golden pocketwatch, too loud for its own good. ‘Bloody Hell,’ thought Torello, ‘I’m a rabbit’.
Jack Goldman put his stunned fear on display only for the briefest of moments. Then, in one fell swoop of moxie, any indication that Jack Goldman was anything but in control vanished, replaced by a smirk that any greasy salesman would envy. Jack’s hands moved to straighten his suit, only to find he wasn’t wearing it. Instead, he felt only the straps of leather armour and the cold metal shapes that adorned it. Indeed, his brown-and-black ensemble was dotted with metal symbols, acting as buckles, pins, and studs. Notably, hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds. Daggers, strapped to one of his many belts, bore the same symbols along their hilts and blades.
Jack maintained his smirk, unwilling to upgrade it to a smile until he had a better handle on the situation. “Great, I hit the pavement headfirst.”
The rabbit glanced up at Goldman. “It may be gray but it is still grass” he mused. “My name is Edgar, gentlemen” he continued with a bow, “Who might you men be?”
Jack decided introductions were worth at least a show of his dazzling teeth, and with perfect delivery, replied with “Goldman, Jack Goldman”.
West, ignoring the other two, took in a lung full of air, enjoying the feel of such fullness. Slowly, he tested his arms and legs, astounded at the newfound mobility. Better, even, than his days as a youthful police recruit. Eyes closed, he uttered a short prayer of thanks – whatever madness he found himself in, whatever strangers surrounded him or oddities lay in this place, it was a heaven for this gift of freedom.
Edgar turned his attention to the stoic man. “And you, Mr. Knight?”
Slowly returning to his senses, the knight replied, at barely more than a whisper, “William…”
The rabbit cleared his tiny throat, content to ignore the oddity of behaviour in favour of the oddity of observation. “Nice to might you all” he noted, desperate to apply some sense of normality to the situation. “Despite the fact I seem to be a rabbit.”
William turned a quizzical gaze at the hare, as if seeing for the first time. “Is that unusual for you?”
“Being a rabbit? Yes. Quite so.” Edgar returned absent-mindedly, while searching his pockets for anything unusual. It seemed a fruitless search, turning up only trinkets and parts.
The white knight scanned the horizon, his expression nigh heroic. "I suppose we’re all not what we seem.”
Edgar, done with his search, took a glance at his hands, now paws. “I was an old watch maker” With a slight grimace (as best his rabbit face could manage), he removed his pocket-watch from his vest for closer inspection. William, deciding personal inspection to also be in order, removed his sword from it’s sheathe. The blade felt light in his hand, lighter than it should have been. It was as though his muscles were trained for actions his brain was not aware of. The blade swung well, and William was sure, despite never holding such a weapon, he could put it to some use.