“…Also, it should be noted that neither myself nor anyone I have spoken with has seen Mr. Arnold recently as of this writing. If he should turn up, I will let you know immediately…”
Adding in a few private sentences to properly conclude the letter, Erica signs, seals and deposits her letter in the hands of the waiting messenger boy. The youth, seeming like he just outgrew his urchin-hood and sporting what can only be described as a rather dirty-looking upper lip, dashes off.
With a sigh she closes and bolts her door. As if unsure of the sturdiness of its construction, she pounds her tiny fist on it. A satisfying dull thud assures her all is solid and secure, at least from mortal assailants.
Returning to her study, she finds herself unable to work. It has been a rather distracting week. Doodling idly, she muses on the recent and drastic changes to what had been, until that point, a rather dull summer.
She speculates idly on the probable locations of her feline friend. Oh sure, friend might be a bit of a stretch. She was never quite sure where she stood with him. He had shown up on her doorstep some months ago, while her doorstep was merely plans on paper. Initially, she had mistaken him for a stray, but quickly realized her error on the sight of his waistcoat. Further that he started to speak – offering some unsolicited, yet highly useful engineering advice. She knows she is many things, but structural engineer she is not. Since that time he has shown up at intervals, uninvited though certainly welcome. He always refused an offered drink. Pleasant, if a little strange. She hopes he is all right, wherever he is.
One week previous
Erica strolled down the boulevard, the day had been hot, sunny, humid and smoggy. She had decided she needed a new frock – one of a much lighter material, and not merely for ventilation. This shopping was fully justified by recent hints of a possible augmentation of a certain other friendship, one that would be quite well received by her.
Happily, she walks along in a daydream until she was stopped cold by the most inhuman – but definitely feline – roar. Before she could react, a furry blur tore past her, nearly knocking her off her feet. There was no mistaking him even though he currently resembled a bottle brush. He was gone and out of sight before she had a chance to regain her balance. No question, it was Mr. Arnold. But was he frightened? or angry? Something inside her told her a measure of both.
Not liking that omen, she hurries home. Fumbling briefly with her key, she steps inside the warm rose-papered room and dumps her parcels unceremoniously in the corner. A crunch under her boot reveals she trodden on a letter.
Picking it up, she dusts her boot print off and smiles broadly at seeing who it is from – the odd encounter with Arnold suddenly forgotten. She tears it open eagerly and reads in her doorway. In her careful scanning, her giddy expression is gradually altered to one of confusion, then concern, then to worry. Though vague, and laced with affection as a sweetener, this letter is a firm warning.
Stepping outside cautiously, she looks up to the skies, scanning the her eaves and the Gangplank’s across the road. Spying no ravens, she feels a small relief and quickly steps inside.
Then, the next evening…
Back to the present
Shaking her head, she realizes she’s been daydreaming again, a new habit which has proved highly counterproductive. Also, she has completely spoiled a page in her accounting ledger with abstract doodles. Tearing the page out and crumpling it up, she stands.
A succession of enormously loud thumps startle her and she rushes to the window.
“What NOW?!?!” she exlaims.
Pulling aside a curtain, she spies a rather large clockwork lizard thrashing its way down the boulevard intent on its search for someone or something.
Great, just what the city needs. Exasperated, clears her social calendar, not intent on going out until at least the streets are clear of mechanical horrors.
Much has happened in this past week. Though she is quite unharmed, indeed much improved by recent events, all is not quite well. She is still minus one Mr. Arnold, mechanical lizards roam the streets, many citizens seem drunk on the idea of someone or other “making it all better” and the man to whom the aforementioned letter is addressed to, has taken ill. For that last one, she feels a pang of guilt, believing she is partly to blame.
His warnings, the fragments of the story related to her by several people of the one called “Metier”, and the concurrent absence of Arnold have her worried. She knows something bad is going to happen. Whether or not to her is rather immaterial – she didn’t fancy it happening in her house despite the kind offer of protection she has received.
Taking a page from her dear friend’s book, an idea from his own doorstep, a plan is hatched. She had all but forgotten she has some ability, which just might come in handy. Descending the stairs she examines the front door. Just a door, a good solid door. But just to be sure….
She gets down on her hands and knees and examines the floor where it meets her door. Brandishing a sharp fingernail, she begins to inscribe characters, very carefully, one after the other, into the hard rosewood of the floor. Her lips move, muttering as she does so, until the span is filled.
Will it work?
One way to find out.
She spits out one final word, sounding much like a muttered oath. The strange characters might have glowed orange, to the right kind of eyes – just for a moment so brief as to almost not exist – or might not have. The characters are no longer in evidence.
“I will take that as a yes” she replies finally.
Standing proud at her first success since she has immigrated, her elation is marred by a pang of guilt.
“Drat. I will have to tell him, someday”