19. in which danny seeks the crone’s help

•October 26, 2008 • 1 Comment

The crone grunted and snatched the little bean sack from the air. She immediately threw it back at Danny — hard.

“Oy,” said the rabbit as Danny barely caught it.

“Throw it back!” hissed the snake.

Danny hesitated, then threw it back to the crone. This time, gentler. The two began to throw it back and forth.

“She’s not holding onto it,” Danny told the carcasses.

“That’s fine. Just keep it up,” said the rabbit.

“Finally,” said the venison. “Thought me skull was going to shatter.”

“Yours!” said the rabbit.

Meanwhile, the crone’s demeanor had changed entirely. “Sorry about the animals, dear,” she said. “They do talk back, and they are rude!”

“I beg to differ, marm,” said the snake.

“Sssshhh!” she said. “You’ll never finish cooking if you keep releasing all of that hot air!”

“Yes, marm.”

“So,” said the crone, peering at Danny. “You’re Danny. Have you come for dinner?”

“No, ma’am,” she said. “I’ve come for a name.”

“A name! But you have one already, dear!”

“Yes, but I’ve come to find someone else’s.”

“Ooooh, splendid! You’re on a quest, then! What a dear. Nasty affair, losing one’s name. Well, I bet you’re hungry, all on a quest and what!”

“No, ma’am. Thank you, though. I’ve come to ask your help.”

“Of course!” she said. “Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, you’ll have to tell your friend to come get his name. I can’t be giving names out to anyone who stops by, don’t you know?”

Danny nodded. “Quite understandable – only, he’s trapped and can’t come himself.” Technically, that was true. She added, “I need his name to free him.”

“Oh! I see. Well, let me consider. Dear me, I haven’t put the onions on yet. Hold this, honey, while I put them on the fire.” With that, the crone tossed the poppet to Danny and turned back to the iron skillet.

“No!” cried the rabbit.

“Don’t!” cried the venison.

“Oh no!” cried the snake, fearfully lowering back into the kettle.

Wham!

The crone brought the cleaver down hard onto the stone countertop, and the sound left Danny’s ears numb.

“Told you to be quiet!” the crone said irritably. Then, almost as an afterthought, “Blast it!”

next page


Creative Commons License
Christie “Iamba” Bailey

Advertisements

18. in which danny receives advice from dinner items

•October 19, 2008 • 1 Comment

“Yes, a visitor,” said another voice. It sounded like the same male voice that had beckoned her into the shack. “And it’s not here for dinner, neither.”

The voice came from the right of the room, where the crone still crouched to the ground, digging through the cabinet. Above the old woman, hanging over the wide counter top, were the bodies of a skinned duck and a white rabbit. The rabbit was hanging from its foot next to a huge meat cleaver. It had one glassy, dead eye fixed on Danny.

“That’s all right,” said the snake. “I won’t be ready for a while yet, and Jack’s not skinned yet. Are you, Jack?”

“Gutted,” said a third voice. A deer’s head rose from the counter top. Its belly had been split open, and red intestines spilled out onto the grey stone of the counter.

“Quiet, you!” said the crone, suddenly standing. She bashed the deer on the head with an iron skillet. The venison went still and limp again, its tongue protruding. The old crone grunted. She snatched the meat cleaver off of its hook and began to chop three onions on the counter top.

“Um, excuse me,” said Danny, walking slowly closer. “Are you the Keeper of Names?”

“Rrrggh!” said the crone. “Keep yer own name!”

“If you’d like to get anything out of her, love, do throw her the poppet,” said the rabbit, who Danny now identified as the owner of the old male voice that had welcomed her in.

“That one, there,” added the snake.

Danny looked down. A few feet away, a hand-sized bean sack lied on the floor. It was made of two squares of coarse brown material that had been sewn together to make something like a small pillow. A crude smiley face had been stitched onto it. It grinned inanely up at the ceiling.

“That?” she asked.

“Yes, that,” replied the rabbit, crankily. Its body shook from the force of the crone’s chopping. She brought the meat cleaver down with another loud, rattling bang, and it cried, “Oy! Me back!”

Danny knelt to pick up the poppet. She played with it in her hands, feeling the beans shift back and forth.

“That’s a good love,” said the rabbit. “Do throw it to her, would you?”

“Excuse me,” Danny said to the crone again.

The old woman turned. “What!”

Danny threw the poppet at her. She wasn’t quite sure what she was doing, so she aimed — more or less on purpose — at the face.

next page


Creative Commons License
Christie “Iamba” Bailey

17. in which the crone stirs a kettle with questionable contents

•October 15, 2008 • 1 Comment

Stunned, Danny stared at the door. After a moment, she stepped forward and knocked. The door swung open of its own accord under the force of her fist.

Danny stood before the black threshold. Sounds of metal banging and the hiss of steam drifted out.

“Come in. Won’t bite,” said an old male voice, thick with a British accent.

Danny entered, and immediately the contents of the shack began to resolve themselves. It was one room, lit with gas lamps and a fire that roared against the far wall. For a moment, the room seemed empty. Then, a black mound before the fire moved, revealing the crone. There was no one else besides them that Danny could see.

The old woman did not notice Danny at first. She bustled about her kitchen-bedroom, poking at the huge black kettle that hung over the fire, sniffing something in a glass vile, pulling bunches of dried herbs from the rafters where they hung, drying.

Someone cleared their voice then, although it was not Danny, and it was not the crone. The old woman looked up at the sound and narrowed her eyes at Danny. “What’re you doing here? Told you to go away! No visitors!” At that, she began to bustled toward Danny. Danny leaped out of the way, hand instinctively going to her hip. She was just about to pull the bag of sleep sand open when the crone bustled right past her. Danny turned to see the crone pull a long wooden paddle from a pail near the door. The old thing rounded on Danny again, paddle in hand, and once again began that fast shuffle. This time, Danny was ready with the sleep sand. She began to gather some in her hand as she dodged away from the crone. She raised her hand, aiming to throw, when the crone whooshed straight past her. Danny felt the air of her passing.

The crone dipped the long paddle into the huge kettle over the fire. Her back was turned to Danny, as if she had completely forgotten that she was there.

“Still not cooked yet?” squawked the crone to the kettle.

A slender thing rose from the kettle. “No, marm. Not yet.”

“Tchah!” spat the crone. “Not yet!” She bustled back to the kitchen cabinet to rummage in the cupboards.

The slender thing turned. “A visitor,” it said.

It took Danny a moment, but then she realized that the thing was a snake. Its head was glistening white — a bare skull that had been boiled of flesh. Its body was thicker, was red and shining with musculature — skinned.

next page


Creative Commons License
Christie “Iamba” Bailey

16. in which danny decides to be herself

•October 12, 2008 • 1 Comment

“Oh, this is not happening,” Danny muttered under her breath as she stared at the skulls, remembering her recent nightmare. The rogue forest taking over the city — the citizens’ skulls — hundreds of them —

She shook her head. For a minute, she stood at the edge of the forest, wondering how to proceed. She wasn’t sure what to expect, so she wasn’t sure how she should prepare herself. She had only the warning from the little bird, and…those things. The skulls. Why did they seem to be staring at her?

Danny thought about what form she would wear. A strapping woodsman, perhaps? She could use intimidation to press the Keeper of Names to give her the name she wanted. Or, maybe, a small woodlands animal. Who would suspect a small bird or squirrel?

In the end, she settled for appearing as herself. Often, she changed her appearance or gender to suit a situation, but not this time. She might be able to use her seeming youth and innocence to her advantage.

“She carried a bag of magical sleep sand in the purse that rested at one of her hips, and a shining dagger the length of her hand on the other,” she said out loud, weaving her words into reality.

Slowly, Danny approached the shack. Each crunching step she took sounded painfully loud to her ears. As she neared, she could see that the windows were dark, like sockets.

Suddenly, the front door banged open, and a stooped figure rushed out and past Danny in a blur.

Danny leaped back, drawing the knife in one hand with an expert flick of the wrist. She found herself standing alone. The door remained gaping open, revealing more of the same darkness she’d seen through the windows. Her gaze flicked left and right. Once more, everything was silent and still. Danny’s hackles raised, and she felt like the victim of a horror movie. At any moment, the monster would roar out and shred open her throat.

From around the corner of the house came a loud scrape and thump. The stooped figure suddenly reappeared, shuffling quickly toward the door. Danny had a hard time making it out; it was hunched over and dressed in nondescript slate-colored robes — and it was moving surprisingly fast.

The figure didn’t seem to notice Danny at all. However, as it passed, it glanced up and irritably rasped, “Go away. Not visitors.”

Then, the old hunched thing went inside again and closed the door with a bang.

next page


Creative Commons License
Christie “Iamba” Bailey

15. in which danny follows a path through the woods

•October 7, 2008 • 1 Comment

Danny dodged trees, leaped over moss-covered logs, and tore through bunches of ferns. The little yellow bird was always just in sight, leading her on.

Danny could see a splash of sunlight through the trees ahead. Abruptly, the little bird circled and disappeared. A moment later, Danny stumbled upon a path. It was about three feet wide and seemed to be made of gravel. As no trees came within a few feet of the path, sunlight streamed down here, and Danny could see the blue, blue sky above. A carpet of verdant grass lined the path, flourishing under the light.

“Here it is,” the bird said. It was sitting on a nearby branch. “Go that way.”

Danny looked up, then followed its gaze. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me. Be careful careful careful!” it sang, then dropped from the branch and flittered off into the thick of the woods.

Danny was left alone again, this time with a clear path and a direction. As she walked, the gravel crunched underfoot like dry Cheerios. Startled, she stopped. On closer inspection, she realized that it was not gravel at all, but breadcrumbs.

She walked for some time. It was hard to tell how much time passed, as the intensity of the sunlight never changed, and — as she did not see the sun in the sky — she could not track its movement. The dense forest that flanked the path never thinned or let up. She felt like she was walking through an endless sunlit tunnel.

Eventually, however, she caught a whiff of woodsmoke. Soon after, the forest opened into a small clearing, in the middle of which sagged a tired-looking cabin. A chimney poked out of one end of the thatched roof, exhaling a curling tendril of smoke.

And lining the bread crumb path to the door were several wooden poles, each topped with a human skull.

next page


Creative Commons License
Christie “Iamba” Bailey

14. in which danny is led by a songbird

•October 5, 2008 • 1 Comment

Chapter Three

Danny stood in a fairy tale wood. It was dark and thick and moist, the ground covered with a soft mattress of loam. Ferns and white toadstools stood in small stands beneath the trees. The air was damp and smelled spicy with the decay of old, dead trees.

Danny turned slowly in place and sighed heavily. She was surrounded by trees and more trees. She saw no path, nor any other trail marker. After several moments, she picked the direction that seemed the least dense with foliage and began to wander that way.

Although the forest was thick, some sunlight filtered down through the canopy. In places where patches of light streamed in through a break in the leaves, small bursts of wildflowers colored the forest floor. Once or twice, Danny swore she noticed the quick movement of tiny gossamer wings amongst the flora.

From behind Danny, a sweet bird’s call sang out above the background noise of droning insects and birdsong, so close and so loud that Danny whirled. A small yellow songbird perched in a nearby branch, tail perked up, apparently staring at her.

“You’re lost,” said the bird in a high, lilting voice.

“That,” Danny deadpanned, “is an astute observation.”

The bird paused, cocked its head, and said, “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to see the Keeper of Names. Do you know where she lives?”

“Of course!” it chirped. With a flick of its tail, it said, “Follow me.” Then, it leaped into the air.

As she ran after it, Danny wryly noted that she had a habit of chasing after talkative fowl.

next page


Creative Commons License
Christie “Iamba” Bailey

13. in which danny searches for a name

•October 4, 2008 • 1 Comment

Danny began to flip through each volume off the shelf, one-by-one. None felt right. There were occult texts, baby name books, nonfiction resources on name meanings and origins — even a couple of pieces of fiction.

When she reached her third shelf, Danny found a large book — maybe a foot and a half in width — filled with names. There were thousands of them, written in tiny text. Each page had more than a dozen columns of them. “You’re in here, aren’t you?” she murmured, propping the book so that she could flip through it. “But how the hell do I find you?”

Names held great power. If she could find the name of the forest…

Danny flipped from one end of the book to the other. There were nothing but names, cover to cover. Scowling, she sat, and began to search again, this time slower. Cover, title page, and — ah-hah. On the second page, there was a monograph. It was a woodcut print. In it, a crone pored over a huge tome. The title beneath the monograph said, “The Keeper of Names.”

Danny smiled. “Ah-ha,” she said.

next page


Creative Commons License
Christie “Iamba” Bailey