Sigourney Perri walked from Harriet Stowe’s private quarters to Edbert’s bookshop. Like Edbert, she replayed her previous encounter over and again in her head. All the tiny mistakes she had done with Harriet caused the same goblins as Edbert had to parade around her stomach, banging their pots and pans together. In spite of them, she pick-locked Edbert’s front door open and slipped inside. Soon the old man came rushing in, holding a poker high. Sigourney watched as Edbert Pollock searched for her in agony. She walked past him to sit on top of his desk. As she sat, the desk groaned, but Edbert didn’t hear or see her. She felt bad for him.
Sigourney could hide in plain sight. She merged into the background, making it difficult but not impossible for others to see her. If they knew what and where to look for her, they might detect a glimpse of her. The first time she had gone into hiding was when she had turned five. She was trying to stay away from her older brother. He liked to do horrible experimentations on her. One time he had wanted to know what would happen when a hand is dunked inside an anthill. Sigourney could attest nothing good comes of it; and that was the most harmless way her brother observed the world around him.
On the fateful morning of her fifth birthday, which really was like any other morning, for no one celebrated birthdays where she came from, Sigourney had heard him shouting her name. He sounded agitated, and right away she knew he would finally kill her. She didn’t have enough time to hide in the common room when he barged in, but there she stood in the middle, fearing for her life.
He walked straight past her.
Thereafter Sigourney could just stay hidden in plain sight. It annoyed the misery out of her brother.
Only later in life did she understand she didn’t turn invisible. She affected others’ minds instead and persuaded them to believe she wasn’t there. If she thought about her ability closely, it was a sad skill to posses. At first she had rejoiced in her skill because it kept her out of harm’s way, but then Sigourney became more and more secluded, and later she couldn’t control her ability anymore. Most of the time even a slightly uncomfortable moment triggered it. Now she fully knew how to use her ability to hide, but it had left her socially awkward, nervous, and mute. Well not exactly mute, but more like voluntarily silent.
To top it all, she hated herself and what she did. She felt extremely sorry for Edbert. The man must be frightened to death. An old man like him might have a heart attack at any moment and it would be her fault. She let out a nervous suppressed laugh. Edbert shot a glance in her direction, looking straight through her. Sigourney shifted her weight to ease the pressure bottling up inside her. Again the desk groaned, but Edbert didn’t pay any attention. He walked out of the shop, searching for her.
Gathering information for Harriet Stowe neared her sense of wrong. Actually, her work had hopped onto the side of cookies and doom a long time ago, but she did her work because she thought Harriet was her friend. If she wasn’t her friend, that meant Sigourney was all alone in the world.
She didn’t want that.
Sigourney scratched her head. Everything itched when she tried not to think about her past, the loneliness she felt daily, and her constant graving for cranberry cookies.
Soon Edbert came back, but he gave up and went to bed, giving Sigourney an opportunity to search the place for any useful information to be used against him. All she found out was Edbert Pollock liked to be stingy. The only thing the man spent his personal money on was food and nothing else. No new fedoras, no hats, or a more chipper attitude. It was clear from his faded clothes, precise ledgers, and the musty shop itself everything was secondhand and passed on to him. All she saw was an old miserable man whom Harriet should leave alone.
Upstairs, inside a closet she found a happy and deranged garden gnome with a red hat and a belly full of enough gold for Edbert to retire to some remote village and live a peaceful life. Why he was still here baffled Sigourney. Maybe he liked to torture himself and others with his miserable existence. Maybe that was all he wanted out of life.
Sigourney wondered more often than not why people did what they did, but she never got the answer. But from what she gathered for Harriet, she surely made them dance to her will, so somewhere in their actions must be reason and logic. Otherwise it was just madness and randomness, and she refused to believe life could be about that. She, like many other people, was afraid of the small step it took to lose one’s mind.
Sigourney let the gold to be, walked back downstairs, and went over Edbert’s desk. He clearly kept everything important to him there. On the desk lay his ledgers and The Pantheon of Gods. It was the only other book which had seen good use. She glanced through the book. The man had circled gods and deities, scribed his own notes about their usefulness, and ranked them from best to worse. Clearly his only passion.
Sigourney frowned. She didn’t care about gods. The only god she believed in was an omnipotent god who exists only on Wednesdays. That was enough god for her, and it was debatable if the god would be the same god on the next Wednesday, rivers and all that; and it wasn’t blasphemy to question the function of gods as it was Friday and her god didn’t exist at all.
The night slipped away from her, and she woke from her own thoughts as Edbert made noises upstairs, startling her. Sigourney put the ledgers and The Pantheon of Gods back in their rightful places and left the building, feeling too tired to observe him all day and doubtful if she would find anything useful. Why on earth did Harriet send her here? She hadn’t found anything useful to give to her. She couldn’t disappoint her. She had to get someone to continue watching Edbert.
Sigourney knew just the right fellow for the job.
Sigourney slowly opened the front door. It still creaked, making all the hairs on her back stand up. She waited for a moment to see if Edbert hurried down, but the man made no noise. Sigourney closed the door after her and hurried to find Lars. He was the right and cheap man she needed. She was sure Lars would be sleeping behind his favourite pub. He always was.
Like she expected, he slept in the untidy backyard, snoring loudly. Annoying all the neighbourhood’s cats, rats, and other creatures which saw loud noises as horror coming from the darkest dimension there can be. Sigourney sympathised with them.
She gently pushed Lars with her black moccasins, pressing her hands against her ears. He groaned and pulled a bit of cardboard over him. The man smelled of yesterday’s booze and looked sweaty and puffy. He was drunk as always.
“It’s me. Wake up,” Sigourney said. When the man made no move, she had to add more words. It was a painful process to come up with the right word to say. She didn’t know what word to use, when to use it, and how to use it. After careful consideration, she said, “Money?”
The word snapped him to attention. Wonders what mentioning money can do. The man groaned when he tried to get up, but he fell face flat on top of the cardboard bed. Sigourney helped him get up and waited for him to get sober enough to perceive there was a world out there beyond his lulled existence.
Lars had ginger hair, broken lips, and dull eyes which looked as if someone had shut off something important inside him. He was much taller than Sigourney, and of average build.
Sigourney had to wait for him to be functional because she couldn’t go to anyone else for help. All her interacting with Lars had already strained her socially, and for that matter she didn’t know anyone else. Also, Lars met the criteria of what she needed him for. He wasn’t a bright fellow, a rich fellow, or a great fellow, but he could follow people unnoticed due to being so plain everyone thought nothing of him, which didn’t help his alcoholism. Mostly Lars followed people for those who thought their husbands cheated on them, and most times he lied to the ladies on behalf of their husbands for even bigger paydays.
Occasionally Lars did the job and reported the truth. On those occasions his dead mother had visited her alcoholic son to remind him that the dead were always watching. Alcohol helped him forget that, hence his constant drinking.
“Go watch Edbert Pollock,” she said.
“Pollock?” Lars said. “Isn’t he the man who dares to fight against the Dragon Lady? What about him?” he asked.
Sigourney tilted her head. She had missed something.
“Crit. I hope Pollock isn’t in trouble. He’s a good man,” Lars said, wiping snot off his face.
“No, just follow him,” she said.
“Sure,” Lars said.
He staggered towards the bookshop. He understood the language of money, and Sigourney had a habit of paying well. One might even say she had a habit of paying royally.
As soon as the man vanished, Sigourney trotted back to the palace, cursing her own ignorance. She would get the details later when she wasn’t so tired.
Already people were queued up at the palace to see Harriet.
Using window ledges and drainpipes, Sigourney climbed to her home nestled on the palace rooftop, a small shack. She had built it there by herself without Harriet’s consent. But what Harriet didn’t know couldn’t harm her, and Sigourney got to her faster, which she was sure sanctified her actions.
The rent-free shack was small and draughty, but it was hers and she liked it. Sigourney had already lined her home with royal fabrics emblazoned with Leporidae Lop’s insignia on them for the upcoming winter. She opened the shack’s door and quickly snuggled beneath the stack of blankets she had also borrowed from the palace. Sigourney melted between them. Before dreamland took her, she thought she should have first reported back to Harriet Stowe, but it was too late.
As she fell asleep, she kept repeating her nightly mantra: “I’m not a monster.”
The rest of the book can be found here:
Thank you for reading!
© K.A. Ashcomb