Sunday, 19 February 2012

017 - Returned

Cassidy sat on the cold stone bench, her wrists manacled to the seat between her thighs. She leant back against the rough stone and tried to figure out the next move. Voices emanated from beyond the bars of her cell. She thought she could hear Frida's voice somewhere back down the hall.

Outside the bars of her cell thin grey tendrils of smoke whipped at the air and disappeared. They squirmed between the bars and collected around her feet like snakes. The stench filled her nostrils and made her feel sick. The offensively sweet aroma reminded her of the old caravans.

Distant footsteps began to echo along the corridor outside the cell. A figure, robed and hooded, arrived outside the rusted bars in front of her. She couldn't see the face, it was hidden by a wooden mask with an obscene grin. It was impossible to tell much about the figure but whoever it was had been subject to what Ellis called 'good livin'. The stomach was as round as a barrel and the robe hung from it like someone had slung a sack over a globe. In his hand he carried a lantern lit with a dark green candle.

The figure reached for a stool and pulled it up in front of the bars. He at there for a moment saying nothing, just staring out silently from behind the empty eyes of the mask.

"I don't care what you do to me you coward. I'm not telling you a damn thing. The second I get out of these chains I'm gonna snap off your favourite appendage and choke you with it."

A low, rumbling chuckle emanated from behind the mask. The huge barrel stomach began to bob up and down as the figure's shoulders shook with laughter.

A chill ran down Cassidy's spine. No. It couldn't be him. Not now. Not after so long.

Her mind raced and she yanked hard at the manacles to no effect.

"Hooooo! Now if my perdy little sunrise didn't go an' get herself a mouth. You get that from your mother's side. Weren't no-one that could turn the air blue like a darklander and your momma was no different. Garth used to call em a bunch of shit-mouthed savages. Never did get round to teaching him the meaning of irony. Oh, almost forgot m'self!"

The figure reached up to fiddle with a clasp behind the mask and as the wooden face slid down it revealed a face she hadn't seen since she was a child. Two warm eyes looked out from behind a wind-burned face. Every inch that wasn't pink and sweaty was covered in a bushy, salt-and-pepper beard.

"No! You're..."

"Dead? No shit sugar-lump. There's no gettin' anything past you is there?"

"But... how could..."

"Hush now, darl'n, ain't no point fussin'. Time's short enough without us havin't to fill in all the blanks. All that matters is we're here now. I came back to see you."

"No, I saw you die. There ain't no coming back from that."

The figure got up and walked toward her. As he did, the bars slid aside to allow him through. He sat down next to Cassidy and put an arm around her shoulders. She could smell his old familiar aftershave but something else too. Something bitter and earthy. Something old.

"Now listen buttercup. Dyin's just one o' those things we all have to go through. I did it, your mother did it. But don't go gettin' any ideas now. You got some work to do. Do you remember that place I took you to back when I was still topside? My field workshop?"

"Wait, what the place out past The Blackspires?

Her father's eyes lit up. But not in anyway she'd ever seen when he was alive.

"Bullseye, jellybean! Remember I sat you up on the counter while I sorted out the haul? Roasted one o' them big birds right on the roof under the stars."

"I think so, I don't know it was a long time ago."

"Course you do!" he bellowed. "Listen Cassie, I need you to go there. There's something you need to see."

"What? You can't be serious! That's right on the darklander doorstep. It's suicide!"

"Oh hush! Ain't no daughter of mine gonna get strung up by tree-folk. You'll be fine."

Cassidy opened her mouth but she had no idea what to say. Her eyes welled up. This was too much. Tears began to stream down her face. The giant of a man stood up before her.

"Time to say goodbye, honeybear."

He opened his arms, filling the whole width of the cell as he did so. Cassidy closed her eyes and waited to feel him nearly squeeze the life out of her like he'd done when she was a girl. When nothing happened she opened her eyes. Her father had gone and the bars were back across the front of the cell. All that remained was a masked figure standing at the bars. They wore the same robe and mask as her father but were a fraction of the size. The figure said nothing and after a moment they turned on their heel and walked away.

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