by Eygló Daða
There was chill in the air. She put on a pair of black leather boots, a long dark trench coat and she wrapped a green scarf around her hair before she ventured outside. A dove cooed in the distance and the large clock on the ivory tower was as still as always.
It hadn’t struck on the hour since the man with the iron hammer and the thunderbolt eyes vanished on his steed. That was a long time ago, a different story.
She put on a pair of white silk gloves and picked up a bucket she had lying outside on her porch and placed all her instruments in it. A wolf howled weakly somewhere far away, she raised her head and looked in the direction the sound had come from, but there was no more.
She put her instruments into the bucket, made sure she had everything she needed and then she headed off into the forest, past the ivory tower.
She thought the same thoughts whenever she passed the tower. She thought that it was a shame the tower didn’t work so well anymore. Life had been much easier when it was doing its part, working the way it was supposed to. Then all she had to do was climb up the stairs, which had been the chore of the day, and then look out the window and observe and whenever she saw something out of place, she corrected the mistakes on the great panel. Now the panel was only partially working.
Now all she could do was sit up there and watch what happened and when there were real discrepancies or major errors she ventured out to correct them. It was a tedious job, and she was just one woman. She treaded through the forest of eternity, as she affectionately liked to call it, and when the time was right she stepped into a street in a large city. It was cold, damned cold, and a man was scraping ice of his car windows. It was dark and the houses around them looked quiet.
The man looked serious and she could see his face was filled with worry lines. She shivered a bit, but quickly got used to the change in temperature. Then she picked her sickle from the bucket and headed towards the man.
It was an old tool, not as sophisticated as her electrical diadem, but it got the work done quickly and efficiently. She walked up towards the man, with the scathe in her hand behind her back and her bucket in the other hand, and she greeted him in his tongue.
The man looked up, bewildered to be confronted on a chilly Monday morning by a stranger. He grunted something in return and kept on scraping his windows. He did a thorough job, she would give him that. She asked him his name. He quit scraping for a moment, looked at her and shook his head.
She sighed and hesitated a moment, but she had to do this. She picked the scanner from the bucket, thought for the umpteenth time that she needed to get a more fitting carrier for her things, a bag maybe, and then she scanned the man. When she got the reading she was expecting she walked behind him and pushed the scathe up against his throat.
The blood tickled warm down his throat, a gurgling noise came from deep within him, and he fell to the ground. She quickly plucked a small needle from her bucket and pushed it into his right eyeball. Then she pulled the needle out again, carefully placed it in a small plastic holder and then she used the scanner to vanquish the body.
It disappeared right before her eyes.
“There” she said, satisfied with her work. She put her instruments back into her bucket and sighed deeply before stepping into the forest again. She shivered, the change in temperature always made her feel a bit strange, and then she headed towards another place in the forest. It was no more than a minutes walk, but the place had to be accurate. She exited the forest again.
This time she was standing in a badly lit room. She noticed a lamp standing beside a window and walked there to put on the light. The room was filled with old furniture, heavy oak, dark curtains and a dark green velvet couch. There were pillows in it that looked hand made and the walls were filled with stitched works of art. A bloody battle was depicted in one, a praying child in another, she didn’t care for them, but it showed character and she liked that. She looked around, but she was alone in the room. She picked up her scanner and waved it carefully in a circle around herself. Then she exited the room. The hall was not furnished except for a single chair standing beside the door she stood in. It was made of oak with the same velvet on its seat as was dominant in the couch. She walked to the right and entered the room beside the one she had entered.
It was a bedroom. A giant bed with white sheets and pillows in the middle of it. Above the bed hung a large arch with a thin white net, which could potentially be drawn to cover the entire bed but was now just covering the left side of it. By the right side stood a wooden nightstand, on it stood a green library lamp, a glass half full of water and a bottle of small white pills. By the foot of the bed stood an old fashioned vanity dressing table. It had carved details and was made of light wood, a pleasant tan colour that rang true. The stool in front of it had no back, and the feet matched the table perfectly. The mirror was a round arch, and the table was filled with old fashioned bottles, brushes, lipsticks and a beauty box. She guessed it hadn’t been used in a long time, this table.
On the left of the bed stood a rather large chair, on it lay two newly washed, white towels and an off white dressing gown.
She took a step closer to the creature lying in the bed and pointed her scanner at her. The old woman was barely alive. Just moments later and she wouldn’t have been able to do this. She hesitated a moment before her. Then she sat down on the bed beside the woman and patted her cheek.
“You always had character” she told the old woman, but the creature on the bed was too far gone to hear her. She was cold to the touch, not dead yet, but so close to death it had already breathed on her, made her bad smelling and grotesque.
“I’m going to give you something” she said, “something incredible” she sighed and picked the casket with the needle in it out of her bucket. “You deserve this, you know” she said, “if anyone does”.
She took out a rather large handle from her bucket and carefully placed the needle in one end of the handle. She hesitated a moment, looking at the old woman in the bed. She stroked her cheek again and let the memories flow through her.
It had been such a long time since the old woman, young then, saved her life. She guessed she wouldn’t even remember it now, but she had promised herself that whenever it came to it she would pay back her dept to her.
It wasn’t easy knowing what would do the trick though.
“I am not robbing you of your, much deserved, conclusion” she said, “I’m just adding to the adventure” she smiled, pushed one of the woman’s eyelids open. A stone, dead eye met her. She pushed the needle carefully in the apple of the woman’s eye, then she pushed a button on the handle and withdrew the needle.
The woman before her started to change. Her grey hair slowly transformed and became blond. Her wrinkles lessened and then vanished. Her limbs started to move slowly as if on their own at first, but then the woman opened her eyes and a clear cerulean blue colour of her eyes looked very much alive.
“Don’t try to talk” she told the woman. “I’ve come to pay my dept to yo. I know I’ve made assumptions, and I hope you forgive me for that, but I knew of no way to actually make sure you wanted this” she sighed and smiled. The young woman on the bed looked at her, curiously searching her, sizing her up and down.
“You recognise me?” she said, surprised, startled. But the woman shook her head. A sensation of relief came over her and she smiled. “That’s alright” she said. “It’s better that way”.
The woman on the bed moved her hand, grabbing hers and shook it comfortingly, lightly as if her strength wasn’t greater, and it probably wasn’t yet. She took her scanner out of the bucket and pushed a button.
“There” she said to herself. “A prolonged existence isn’t much without something to exist for, though, is it?” she continued. “So I have several options for you, but I’d like to see that you regain your strength before I get into the details. Do you trust me?”
The woman smiled, nodded her head and then she sat up slowly. “Who are you?” she asked in a broken voice.
“My name isn’t important” the woman told her. “I am a keeper” she said. “You are Eve, and you saved my life many moons ago. I owe you one and I always pay my depts.” The woman nodded her head, stroking her fingertips over her own cheeks and hair, in awe of the transformation she could feel, but not yet see, except on her hands that had been grey and filled with liver spots just moments ago. Now they were the hands of a young woman again, long fingernails and fair skin.
“The world will easily adapt to your change” the keeper went on, she didn’t want to linger longer than she had to. “No one will think it’s strange that you are young. The world is good with change, unlike most people.” She smiled, “but you may not want to stay here? You may want something else? You will not forget. You will remember everything that has been, you will remember this, so don’t worry”.
The woman tried to speak but her raspy voice broke, before she could say the words. She coughed and tried again. “What magic is this?”
“It’s within my power” the keeper said, “and you have earned it. Now if you don’t want to stay here, you can go with me. The people who know you here will bury a husk, that we’ll make to put them at ease, and you will come with me to choose another place, another time, another adventure.”
“I can stay, or I can go with you? What adventures are there?”
“Lives, worlds, wonders” the keeper told her. “I will give you the options, you will have your free pick”.
“Will it be nice?” she asked.
“I can’t guarantee that it will be without difficulty” she said, “no life ever is, that’s what makes it beautiful, isn’t it?” she sighed, “but it will be a great experience, if that’s what you want”.
The woman got up and sat herself in the stool in front of the vanity table and stared at her own reflection. “What magic is this?” she said, a bit startled.
The keeper put all her instruments back into the bucket and stood up. “I’m afraid I can’t give you a lot of time to make up your mind” she told the young woman. “You can stay” she cocked her head, looking at the woman’s mirror image. “It will be strange, but only you will feel that. Or you can come with me now and leave this life behind.”
“I have little here left” she said, “my husband has been dead for many years, and I..” she hesitated and stroked her own cheek, “I had alzheimer” she said bewildered, “I couldn’t remember anything. I’ve been laying here for…” she stopped talking, tears crawling down her cheek. Then she stood up and nodded her head firmly, “I’ll come with you” she said.
The keeper started to make preparations right away. She pushed a few buttons on her scanner and a husk of an old woman lay in the bed suddenly. Eve was taken aback, she stifled a scream and turned away.
“I’m sorry, I should have warned you, I can imagine it’s startling” mumbled the keeper while doing her task. She pushed a few more buttons, to make some minor adjustments and then she placed the scanner back in the bucket.
She took Eve’s hand and they stepped into the forest together. Eve was startled, but she kept it together. They walked towards the cottage, past the ivory tower. When they entered the cottage the keeper took off her gloves and made coffee. They ate cinnamon roles out on the porch, Eve wearing a big blanket around her shoulders. When the cups were empty and the sun was nearing the horizon, they climbed the ivory tower and the keeper showed her the choices she had.
“Who did you sacrifice to be able to do this?”
“How did you know there was a sacrifice involved?”
“Life is never without sacrifices, I’ve learned” Eve said, “and I assume that this wasn’t without its price”.
The keeper sighed. “There was a sacrifice, but it was an easy one. “The man who gave his life to you was an evildoer. He deserves to rot where he does”.
Eve was silent for a while, staring at the images on the big screen in front of her.
“And I will remember?” she asked.
“You will not forget a thing” The keeper assured her, “ever again”.
“Because not remembering…” the woman started crying, “it’s awful, worse than hell”.
“You will remember, I promise you that. I’ve made sure of that.”.
Eve nodded her head and pointed towards one of the images. She was smiling again. “This looks lovely” she said, “like entering a fairytale” she giggled and at first it sounded like the wrong sound to come from her, but soon it seemed right at home.
“It is” the keeper said, “it’s not always pleasant, but I think you will like it there” she smiled. “In fact I know you will like it there”.
Eve nodded her head, her blond curly hair jumping around her shoulders in quiet anticipation. “And I will remember?”
“You will remember” she assured Eve one more time. “Just push the image, and you’ll be there”.
The young woman stepped closer to the screen and raised up her right hand, but then she hesitated. She turned back to the keeper and smiled. “Thank you” she said, “you didn’t have to do this. What are you the keeper of?”.
The keeper smiled, “Don’t thank me yet, you may not like it. And it doesn’t matter what I keep” she told Eve. “As long as the job gets done”.
Eve nodded her head, a bit puzzled, and then she turned to the screen and pushed the image she had chosen before. Instead of seeing Eve standing before her in front of the screen, she instead, saw Eve on the screen, standing under a large oak, amongst a sea of roses, a large castle in the background.
The keeper looked for a while, as Eve walked amongst the roses and then headed into one of the cottages in a small village below the castle. She watched for a while, and then she descended down to her own cottage again. She carefully took off her green scarf and placed it high on a shelf in the hall. She was herself again.
She cleaned her instruments, especially the needle needed to be thoroughly cleaned after a job like this. It took a while.
She sighed as she placed the needle back in the blue box it belonged in, when she wasn’t using it. She placed the bucket by the door and then she sat down in her rocking chair on the porch and watched the silhouette of the treetops in the darkness.
He had deserved what he got. She had cut his role short a bit early, but he had deserved it. The man she had ones called son. She had kept track on him through the years, his dark persona didn’t surface often, but when it did it did terrible things.
She saw it as a part of her role to minimise the evilness his darkness created. It didn’t matter that he had been hers, once upon a time.
But that evening she wished for forgetfulness for the first time in a very long time. She wished that she wasn’t burdened with the memory of his happy smile as he caught a frog in the pond and carried it home in his shirt. She wished she could forget his hugs.
She let the idea slip away. No, she wouldn’t want to forget those memories. It was the knowledge of what he had later become, that she could do without.
And had she died when she should have, the death Eve had saved her from, then she would never have known.
She poured herself a glass of water, entered her bedroom. It wasn’t much, just a bed and a nightstand with a few books and a lamp. There was a closet in one corner, and a chair to put her used clothes on. The chair was grey and worn and she never sat in it.
The keeper placed her clothes on it and went into the bathroom to wash herself. When she crawled into bed she felt tired, endlessly tired.
In the darkness she wasn’t as sure as she had been before, that she had been doing Eve a favour. Perhaps death would have been better? She remembered it all so well now. Better than ever before.
She lay in her bed and listened to a branch outside beat the rafters and promised herself that she would do something about it the very next day, knowing very well that she probably wouldn’t remember to do that.
In her dreams she saw the women her son had murdered. Ten faces of innocent blond women, who had suffered their souls blue before the knife was in their chests, and she twisted and she turned before dawn came with the promise of a new day.
She had at least saved a dozen of them now. There was always that.
And Eve? Eve would be happy in the world of dragons, overlords, strong dames and peasants. It was what she had wished for, wasn’t it? And when her son would be born, he would hug her and he would catch frogs for her and he would break her heart a thousand times.
And she would never forget.
Eve got out of bed and made some coffee. She drank it on the porch, in her rocking chair, watching the trees light up and regain the colour the darkness had robbed them of. She was a keeper. There were things to be done and the ivory tower was working poorly. She needed to be on top of her game. She had to remember everything it would possibly forget. And her job was an endless source of adventure, and she had always been a sucker for fairytales.