Thursday, June 17, 2010


All over the world, all over the worlds, through Doorways and lost kingdoms and the Seven Seas, the wishes of an old woodcarver and an even older wizard take hold of reality, reset the pieces of the chessboard and turn back the book to its opening page.

It is a most exhilarating sensation for all - the living and the dead and the hungry, lost souls - who return to their healthy skins and beating hearts.

The Dwarf kneels with his six brothers before the coffin of Snow White, and for a moment, he mourns for himself and for the loss of sweet Cinderella left behind.

In her tower, Cinderella wakes with a yawn, the taste of apple still on her lips. Remembering her travels with a bald-pated Dwarf and a broken Wolf, she smiles, grateful for the family she found after being abandoned by her own.

Back in his den, the Big Bad Wolf scratches at his now-stitchless chest. Next to him, his son sleeps fitfully, troubled by nightmares of the dark and watchful forest in which he died. Feeling the cub tremble, his father holds him close.

Not so far away, the Little Pig sweeps his house of brick. He wishes his own brothers - singing and loafing away, as always - were half as brave as the wooden puppet who threw stones at the Wolf in that most curious of dreams that might have been.

Deep in the Wildlands, the scarred Lion also remembers his dream - traveling with a little wooden boy and finding peace in a land that never was. From the shadows he watches Mowgli laughing with the gray sloth bear, and the sound gives him pause. Smiling sadly, the Lion dismisses his old notions - how foolish they were - of leading an army of soldiers not made up of flesh and blood.

Worlds away, his two would-be soldiers, the Candelabra and the Clock, stop their eternal argument at the sound of singing - their guest roams once more through her beloved library. The once-lonely castle bustles with excitement at her presence, and the Enchanted Mirror lies forgotten in the Master's chambers.

At the same time, another mirror, the Magic Mirror, is studied by the Queen. She would be troubled by the white strands of hair upon her head if she couldn’t remember the horrible power of the Book, which claimed her as prisoner, even in death.

And deep inside her enchanted castle, the Dark Fairy strokes her Book, the mightiest of all grimoires, its spells both tantalizing and forbidden, and she decides that instead, on this day, she’ll content herself to leave the Spell of Living Death unspoken.

For in the end, even if her chaos and destruction was undone by the Blue Fairy and the Genie, the memories will carry on in people’s nightmares. And, she thinks with a heartless smile, the remembrance of death is so much sweeter than the ultimately empty and worthless curse she once unleashed upon the world.

And in all the world, in all the worlds, perhaps it is only Merlin, so used to living backwards in time, who is untroubled by the reversal of everyone’s fortunes and fates.

Within the courtyard of a quaint castle, he calmly smokes his pipe, the Owl perched on his shoulder. Merlin chuckles quietly to himself. These dreams, he decides, are a fair price to pay, if their lives can be reborn and rewritten with the lessons and sacrifices remembered.

And, he thinks, laughing still - much to the Owl’s annoyance - that he must be a clever magician indeed if he could convince the Dark Fairy to change her mind.

“What’s so funny?” demands the Owl, but Merlin doesn’t answer, and after a while, the two are content to sit in silence and listen to the cheerful and busy song of the world.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Chapter Ninety

“Please,” says Gepetto. “Please, take us home.”

The wishing star continues to twinkle, equally oblivious to the thundering storm and the old man’s prayers.

After a long, despairing look into the Enchanted Mirror, the old woodcarver slowly and painfully rises from his knees.

Perhaps in the morning, if the Blue Fairy doesn’t come, when the Blue Fairy doesn’t come, he’ll tell his son that this is their home now, and the wish was granted after all.

The belly of a monster - of a dead monster - isn’t much, but the two are together once more, and that’s all that should matter.

Pinocchio keeps his innocent gaze upon the Mirror, smiling slightly.

“I think it’s working,” he whispers, and holds it up for his father to see. The star shines brightly, as it has for centuries, as it will for centuries.

“I’m sure it is, Pinocchio,” Gepetto says with a sad smile. He tousles the boy’s head, but Pinocchio's wooden hair cannot move. “Now why don’t we go to sleep, and things will be aright in the morning.”

And the old man trudges toward the pathetic planks and pieces of flotsam that protect him from the dead still lurking within Monstro.

The wind continues to howl as another storm churns the Seventh Sea. Monstro groans a dull roar in protest of the crashing waves, towering even over the great beast itself. There is the noise of ever-rushing water, peculiar when heard from within the caverns of Monstro.

Gepetto shivers, and the change in the air causes him to wonder. What breeze would there be in here, inside a creature that no longer breathes, but only eats? Where would the wind come from?

Pinocchio’s smile grows wider. “It’s working,” he says again, and grabs hold of his father’s hand. “She’s coming!”

The storm hits them suddenly, immediately, against the laws of nature and weather, for the typhoon, the hurricane, the rain and the wind and the lightning, it is all there inside Monstro, coursing through its belly.

The wind catches hold of Pinocchio, grabbing him, ripping at him, snatching him from the hands of his father. Gepetto is unable to cry out or scream, for the world has gone silent in a mess of water and wind, and Pinocchio is pulled, screaming, into the darkness, through the inky blackness of the bottom of the sea, and momentarily, the Mermaid is with him once more, holding him close in her soft and sure arms, as the water becomes lighter, brighter, warmer, calmer, the waters of Neverland, within her own little house of treasures, and there is the hook, here is the Mirror in his shirt, he bobs in the cold and dark waters of night, only to fall upwards, upwards and dry and even the explosion of the pirate ship is nothing compared to the rushing of the wind and of the storm and of time, and Pinocchio is pulled, ever so briefly, across the decks of the Jolly Roger, only to swim out once more, touching for a moment the polished gold of the lost Candelabra, and they are on the beach again, all of them, the Lion and the Clock and the Candelabra and the little wooden boy, chasing - or being chased by - those poor, lost, dead boys in their animal skins, and they walk and run past trees and bushes and blades of grass, and there is for one bright and shining moment the Doorway marked Neverland, and the world is so different as they march still, trapped in silent and minute conversations as the wind funnels them ever backward, through another Doorway, to the lonely castle of the Beast, where a rifle shot goes unnoticed and blood drips from the Lion’s mouth into the corpse of the hunter, alive again and walking cautiously out the door, but they rush just as cautiously after him, the Lion and Pinocchio, through empty forests, past dying towns, and the ground puffs up as bullets fly through the air and back toward their owners, unobserved by the duo, and another Doorway, and tears fall into the puppet’s eyes once more when the Lion stalks off into the shadows, for Pinocchio is alone, alone, abandoned by his friend the Little Pig, as he crawls through the top of a Doorway, seeing the Little Pig alive and stout once more, methodically unbricking the Doorway, and there is a moment where he sees the Big Bad Wolf, all teeth and eyes and tongue, away from the Castle of the Door, down the roads of his old lands, hurling rocks at the Wolf, and crying by the side of the road, where the Little Pig departs for his own destiny, leaving Pinocchio to cry and wander and sit by a well, surrounded by the dead, then to find himself at sea once more on that horrible island where boys turn into jackasses, the fun and games and the smoke and the liquor and the boat ride back to his hometown, where people bustle by silently, as that friendly fox and cat advise him not to go to school but to play and enjoy life, then they are gone as well, for Pinocchio is pulled, skipping innocently, into the shop of Gepetto, where he sits at his workbench, and suddenly the storm and wind and magic disappear, sound returns, the sound of the townsfolk, the ticking of the cuckoo clocks, the whistling of his father, well-fed and clean and amazed to find himself hard at work on a toy soldier, and his son leaps into his lap and says:

“It came true, Father. We’re home.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Nine

Merlin’s frail and mottled fingers grab the Dwarf’s callused hand. With his other hand, the wizard takes hold of the Wolf’s scratchy paw.

His smile comes across as a grimace, cold and dead in the fairy light. "Stand strong, my friends," whispers Merlin. "This will all be over soon."

They stand before the chamber of the Dark Fairy, a room not bound by the laws of time and space. A room for fairykind, never meant to be seen by foolish mortals. It is larger and darker and truer and yet more of a dream than anything else in this castle.

It takes a moment for the Dwarf’s burning eyes to adjust to the magic. The purple and yellow hues remind him of the poisonous fumes found in caves, or of the acid that is used to foul gold.

“Just tell me what to do,” says the Dwarf. He drops his voice to a growl in the hopes that it will not tremble.

“Hold her off,” says Merlin. “Whatever it takes." He sighs. "Good-bye, my friends," he says, and lets go of their hands.

As one, the Dwarf and the wizard run in opposite directions. The Wolf remains transfixed at the sight before him, at the godlike Dragon in the infinite room.

How dead she is, how horrible. And her serpent stink is amplified by the odor of rotted flesh, of the grave made living, and over all this is the terrible smell of magic - dark, otherworldly magic that doesn’t care about the fates and follies of any mortal.

Merlin, so nimble for a man his age, leaps across the ever-shifting ground and makes for the great Book on its pedestal of bone and stillborn demon. One hand stays by his belt as he rubs the Lamp for his final wish.

The Dwarf rushes toward a comforting glint on the ground - a forgotten Sword and Shield that lie at the Dragon’s twisting feet. They glow with a different light, a light of goodness and kindness, of virtue and truth. These are far nobler, he decides, than the common iron poleaxe in his hand.

The Dragon, the Dark Fairy, the magic, the spirits, all slaves of the Book, remain patient and clever. They sense the waiting power of the Genie, they see him inside his Lamp, already vibrating and humming, and they will protect the Curse.

The Dwarf is nothing. The Wolf is nothing. It is the old man who must be stopped. And the Dragon leans forward, a tower within a cavern, her skeletal mouth snapping and slathering.

Unaware of anything except for the beast, the Wolf has been breathing heavily, huffing and puffing, and before the throne-like jaws can impale themselves upon Merlin, the Wolf blows at the wizard with a mighty gale.

Merlin flies across the chamber, a scarecrow in a nightgown. His hat and spectacles fall to the ground, and yet without them, he appears less silly, less a doddering tutor and more a true wizard.

“Two weapons,” says the Dwarf. One enchanted, one made of cold iron. A final test for him, then. One is enchanted to pierce dragonhide, surely, and the other is the bane of fairykind. Which, though, is he fighting, Dragon or Dark Fairy?

He spits and takes up the Sword, though he keeps the poleaxe in his left hand. No need for the Shield, he figures, and he hacks with both weapons at the Dragon’s claw.

She doesn’t notice, and the Dwarf looks up at the ripped chasm where the beast’s innards should be. He nods grimly. She’s dead, like all the others, free from pain and responsiveness, only a mouth and a hunger.

The Wolf watches dazedly, hungrily gulping at the horrible air. Her snaking neck writhes and turns toward the screaming little Dwarf. The air around him buzzes with the tang of cold iron and the hum of good magic.

The Dragon roars a challenge of her own, a raspy, hollow laugh that is more spirit than any corporeal sound, and she breathes a foul yellow fire. The air is poisoned with the horrible scent of burning flesh and hair.

The Dwarf, unprotected by the Shield, screams as he dies, burning, smelted like a jewel, fierce and unafraid. Though the flesh melts form his skin, he hurls his weapons, the Sword and the iron axe. One disintegrates in the wicked blaze, the other flies through the fire and strikes true into the skull of the Dragon, even as the blackened bones of the Dwarf clatter to the ground.

Merlin is at the pedestal. He feverishly reads the Book, running his fingers along the forbidden words and turning the unholy pages. The Genie hovers over his shoulder and reads along. Together, they seem to know what they are looking for, and they turn to an incantation read only once before.

They do not see the claw of the Dragon, a puppet pushed and wielded by spirits and forces from realms beyond. It reaches for the old man. The Wolf has barely the breath to scream, and Merlin is snatched away, surprised and dismayed. He looks down at the Book, but without his spectacles, he cannot read the all-important words.

Silently, Merlin is lifted toward the abyss that is the Dragon’s maw, yet he stares calmly, knowingly at the Wolf.

Before he can decide otherwise, the Wolf runs, ragged and breathless. He doesn’t know where. Surely not toward the foul Book, so full of repellent smells and sounds - for only the Wolf’s ears can hear the screaming of the souls whose flesh provided its pages, whose blood provided its ink - and then the horrible item is in his paws, held aloft over his head.

There is no air left in the cavern, none in his lungs, but somehow he huffs and puffs and blows the Book towards Merlin - away from his life, away from his death, too far to be thrown, too far for anything except his mighty breath. He hardly notices his lungs fill with blood as the wizard catches the Book.

Weakly, the Wolf smiles a fanged smile, despite smelling the old man’s blood and burst entrails, despite seeing the Dragon's clenching claw, despite hearing the snapping and crackling of Merlin’s brittle bones. For over that, he can hear the bubbling, slushing voice of the wizard as he reads the magic words and wishes his final wish with his final breath "to undo the curse from this and from all worlds."

There is a booming thunderclap, a Genie’s laugh, a Dark Fairy's wail, then the magic dies and all goes dark forever.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Eight


The old man's voice, so unused to the foul, salted air, is little more than a husk. There's been no need to speak since being swallowed by Monstro.

“Father, it’s me!” Pinocchio sloshes across the briny water, and at first Gepetto raises his stave warily, so accustomed is he to the dangers of this new world. But then he realizes if his son can speak, he must be alive. The undead only growl.

“Pinocchio, my son!” Gepetto drops the stave to his feet and lifts Pinocchio high. Tightly, ignoring the splinters and the rumble of rushing waters, they embrace.

“Oh, Father, I’ve missed you so much!”

"As have I. But you look so different now! You're... different."

Not that it's possible for a little puppet made of pine to actually grow, but Pinocchio has changed since those long-ago days in the shop. His skin is no longer smooth and sanded. He is cracked in several places, and a tiny musket ball is lodged into his chest, but he is alive.

How lucky he is, thinks Gepetto, to be immune to all that has happened.

"You look different, too, Father. You're so skinny!"

Gepetto chuckles. "That I am. But look, my clever boy has found me!” He refuses to let go of Pinocchio's hand. If this is a dream, it's one he will not give up easily.

“I thought I was doomed to spend the rest of my days alone, but now you’re here.”

Pinocchio smiles modestly, and would undoubtedly blush if he were able. “Well, I had help."

“There are more of you?” says Gepetto. He peers across the cavern, but their world is silent save for the eternal rush of water and the inner gurglings of Monstro.

“No, Father, it’s just me. It was too dangerous for my friends to come here.”

“Of course, of course. I understand.”

The woodcarver barely remembers the destruction that led him here. It was a storm, perhaps stirred up by the beast’s tail. There was rain, a heavy crash, louder than the thunder and the waves, louder than anything he ever heard. And then there was the horrible crack of wood – the ship’s mast, perhaps – something struck him in the head, and he woke up within the belly of the beast.

He never encountered any of the other crewmen. What were the odds that any could survive such a journey? And who would walk through the mouth of death for the sake of escorting a puppet to his father?

“But now that we’re together,” Pinocchio says over his father’s thoughts, “we can leave here and fix everything and find the Lion and turn the Beast back into a prince and help everyone!”

“Leave here?” asks Gepetto. He smiles as kindly as he can. “My son, how can we leave? I’m not like you, I’m made of flesh and blood. If we go near Monstro’s mouth, surely he'll chew me up.”

“Father,” Pinocchio says patiently, “you wished for me to come to life. Just wish us out!”

He sits in his father's arms, smiling such a trusting smile, no doubt or despair clouding his painted eyes, that it breaks Gepetto’s heart.

“Father? Why are you crying?”

“Am I?” says Gepetto. “It must be the salt air... it stings a little.” His nose does not grow.

“I can't... I mean, I don’t know if it’ll work, Pinocchio,” says Gepetto. “I, I… There is no wishing star here.” He looks forlornly at the wet walls that make up his world’s sky.

To his surprise, Pinocchio laughs. He reaches within his shirt and pulls out a silver mirror.

With eyes tightly closed, he says, “Show us the wishing star,” and the Enchanted Mirror dazzles with a dark blue light.

“The sky!” gasps Gepetto. He can see stars, twinkling as they always have and always will, indifferent to the suffering of the world, giving light to the living and the dead alike.

One star is greater than the others, yet its light is more subdued. It pulses faintly, as if to sigh and mourn over that which has been lost, and it is to this star that - after an encouraging nod from Pinocchio - Gepetto addresses these words:

“Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”

He takes a deep breath, looks at his son, so peaceful and at ease, and gives his wish. “Please,” he says. “Please, take us home.”

Head bowed, he keeps his eyes closed, and he wonders what he'll say to Pinocchio when the wish doesn't come true.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Seven

“So, you have come,” whispers a voice, cold and beautiful.

The fairy lights fade to nothingness. The Dwarf and Wolf stop cold.

“It’s her,” says the Dwarf. His innards turn to ice, his limbs suddenly frozen and shaking. “The Queen.”

“Stay calm,” says Merlin, his voice unpleasantly loud and booming in the corridor. “She cannot hurt us, and she knows it. Fairy tricks.”

Through the closed, round doors - made of cold iron, the Dwarf observed, one of the few metals sturdy against magic - floats something, someone, though they cannot quite see her with their eyes. That she drifts through such a barrier without any difficulty makes them feel very nervous, indeed.

She is like a spiderweb lost on a breeze. Insubstantial and bare, seen only momentarily in the sunlight. And here in the dark, she is all but invisible.

And yet the Dwarf is certain she only has nine fingers.

“Don’t be a fool,” says the apparition that was once the Queen. She lazily gestures with her insubstantial arm, and a horrible pressure, the weight of a castle, presses against Merlin’s heart.

“Fairy tricks,” Merlin struggles to say. He holds a gray and withered hand up to his chest, and crumples against the wall.

And yet the Wolf suffers most, for all animals are cursed with the ability to see into the spirit world. Her smell - death and blood and magic - is suffocating, worse than the forests of the dead, worse than the rotting giant. The banshee comes closer, ripped and bloodless, cursed and consumed - he would run if his legs would only listen.

“And,” says the Queen as she drifts toward Merlin, “you’ve brought me a gift.” Her hollow eyes fall to the Lamp hanging from the wizard's belt.

“Wish her away,” says the Wolf. He would huff and puff if he could only breathe. His once powerful lungs have shrunk in her presence, and there is not enough air in the room, in the world, to blow away her ghost.

“No,” grunts Merlin. He presses farther into the wall, away from the hungry hands of the Queen. “That’s what she wants, for me to waste it.”

“Give me the Lamp,” whispers the Queen. The wizard turns his sweating face away, but her chill is everywhere.

“Why?” shouts the Dwarf suddenly. He still foolishly holds onto his useless polearm. “What do ya want it for?”

Her spirit turns slightly away from Merlin and floats serenely in front of the Dwarf. To the Wolf’s eyes, she coils like a snake.

“Ya cain’t use it,” he continues, his breath visible. He forces himself to take a step toward the round doors. “Yer dead. Ya cain’t wish for nothin'.”

She hisses, and a brittle pain melts through the Dwarf’s bones. His heart stops mid-beat. But as the darkness closes in upon him, he remembers Snow White and Cinderella, unjustly poisoned by the Queen, and his heart angrily resumes beating.

“Merlin was right,” he says, and he falls against the iron doors. They scrape open. “Ya cain’t hurt us. Yer just a ghost.”

She drifts closer, eyes blazing, and the Dwarf forces himself to laugh a rusty chuckle. “Yer nothin’. Ya ain’t even a fairy trick. Yer just dead and you don’t know it.”

And the Queen’s essence, which subsisted on the power of the Dark Fairy's Book, sees what little remains of her body. Just scraps of her traveling cloak, really, and her bloodless, fleshless hands, still bound to the magic of the Book.

And the chill is gone. Blood flows once more through their bodies, rapidly warming them, and the Wolf can breathe once more.

“Well done, old boy,” says Merlin. He wipes at his forehead with the dirty sleeve of his robe, and calmly walks toward the blackness of the final room.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Six

There's a most disagreeable feeling - fading, emptying, disappearing - and then just as suddenly they stand before the Dark Fairy's castle.

Behind them is the forest of thorns and brambles, deep and thick and sprawling. The smell of earth and death is all too reminiscent of the many graves the Dwarf has made.

The castle is wreathed in vines that writhe like lazy serpents. The Dwarf doesn’t like it. Such buildings shouldn’t be. He’s never trusted anything made of magic, and he snorts at the dark, eternal stone.

“I do apologize,” says Merlin in his kindest voice, “but I had to have you work out the wish for yourself. It’s one of the problems of living backwards, you see.”

“Are you gonna do it again?” scowls the Wolf. His fur still bristles at the unexpected magic. “You’re not gonna send us inside and then make us figure out what to wish for?”

“No, not this time,” says the wizard, “I promise. Once we reach the source of the curse, I can handle the rest.” He pats the brass Lamp.

"One wish left," says the Dwarf. His voice is dark, accusing.

Merlin says nothing. He studies the sky for a moment, then checks the gray dirt beneath his feet and attempts to smile. It is a bland attempt.

“One wish is all I need," he finally says.

The others say nothing.

"Well, no time like the present. Let’s be off, shall we?” The Wizard resolutely steps toward the exquisitely carved doors, but the Owl alights from his shoulder.

“Oh, no, not me,” says the Owl. It flies toward a withered tree and perches in its highest branch. “I’ll stay out here, if it’s all the same to you.”

The Monkey looks at the castle, at the tree, and then scampers after the Owl. It shrugs ashamedly in response to the Dwarf’s glare.

“Oh, don’t be a coward,” begins the wizard, but the Owl defiantly closes its eyes and pretends to fall asleep.

Merlin sighs. When he speaks, his voice is softer, older. “Oh, very well, stay here. But if we don’t come out…”

The Owl opens one eye.

“Find someone. Let them know what happened to us. The Fairies, perhaps. They'll know what to do.”

The Owl closes its eye with the barest of nods.

The Dwarf takes a deep breath, spits on the ground one final time, and follows the wizard. He looks back toward the Wolf.

“You wanna stand guard out here?” he asks, his voice casual. “I know you animals don’t like magicks.” It’s a minor concession.

“Nah,” says the Wolf, his voice an octave higher than usual. "You know,” he adds weakly, “there might be treasure or somethin’.”

The doors part before them, but the Dwarf doesn’t ask if this was caused by Merlin or by something else.

Once inside, the doors silently close. The Wolf whines, “Now why’d they do that?” He cringes away from everything - the light, the floor, the portraits on the walls.

“To keep us in, dummy,” growls the Dwarf. He grips his new axe - the only item rescued from Merlin's tower - tightly, his hands itching with distaste at the clumsy iron. He doesn’t like the fairy lights, either. They make his eyes water.

“On the contrary,” says Merlin. He walks without hesitation down a wide carpeted hallway, and passes from corridor to staircase to tunnel. “It’s to keep anything else from getting out.”

“What else is in here?” asks the Wolf, but Merlin doesn’t answer.

“Don’t you eat nothin’,” says the Dwarf. “If you eat or drink anything, you’ll be trapped in here forever.” The warning is unnecessary, however. For once, the Wolf isn't hungry.

“Hey, where are we going?” asks the Wolf.

“Down,” realizes the Dwarf. It’s a familiar sensation from his youth in the mountains, although the enchanted rock ruins what would be comforting memories. “We’re descendin’ into the cliff.”

Merlin sings quietly. "Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, we daren't go a-hunting for fear of little men. Wee folk, good folk, trooping all together - green jacket, red cap, and white owl's feather."

There are windows in these rooms, and the Wolf rushes to one. He throws it open and desperately breathes the air, only to realize it is as false as the light and the illusory skies beyond. The smell burns his nostrils.

“I told you to wait outside,” says the Dwarf.

“I’m fine,” whines the Wolf, though he is suddenly thirsty for water. Real water, flowing in a stream, unsullied by the stink of man or magic. “But do we have to go underground?”

“We do, I’m afraid,” says Merlin softly. “Can’t you feel it? Listen, my friends, and you’ll see. The castle is alive.”

For the Dwarf and Wolf, it’s a sensation they wish they could block out, the pulsing life-force of magic, somewhere deep within, creating illusions both fine and detestable.

This is Merlin’s territory, not theirs, and they are worlds away from any forest or mountain cave.

"Wee folk, good folk, trooping all together..." The song whispers from the walls in a voice old and young, dead and alive.

“It knows we’re here. Oh, yes, it does,” continues Merlin. “Such deep magic from so long ago.

“It makes one wonder,” he continues in a dreamy voice. “Who is the tool and who is the builder? Is it the spellcaster who has the power, or is it the spell?”

The Dwarf and Wolf exchange glances. Perhaps it isn’t just food or drink that can enchant the unwary intruder.

“Merlin…” begins the Dwarf, but he is unheard.

“Perhaps I will know more when I grow to be a young man. But that was long ago for you two. Your past, my future, you see.” He sighs deeply, and a wall fades from sight to reveal yet another descending staircase. Signs and symbols twinkle faintly from Merlin's robes, no longer faded but shining as the sea.

“Perhaps,” he adds, “I will create all this, at the dawn of time, at the height of my youth and power. And now I come, in my senile, inexperienced winter, to challenge my future legacy.”

Merlin looks at his companions, a cruel smirk across his face. The lines around his eyes have faded, and his coarse beard quivers with life. He is taller.

“With nothing more than a Dwarf and a talking beast! This is what comes to fight the Apocalypse? This is all that remains to defeat me?” His words echo in the singing wall.

His smile grows colder, and his fingers brush against the tarnished Lamp hanging from his belt. Merlin jumps slightly at its stirring warmth, and it seems to the Dwarf that the fairy lights dim by the tiniest amount.

“Nonsense,” he says in a much gruffer, wearier tone. “What was I saying? Humbug, whatever it was. Fairy tricks, that’s all.” His voice betrays the slightest of trembles, and he grips the Lamp more firmly.

The wizard sighs. He is old and dusty once more.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Five

Under the sea.

Beneath the waves, beneath all light, Pinocchio trudges through the silt and the slime. And once again, he finds himself alone.

No, not alone, he thinks, because somewhere in this dark abyss swims Monstro.

The Mermaid was torn by the decision, but she left Pinocchio some days ago. As desperate as she was to find any survivors, it was just too dangerous, they both decided, for her to swim anywhere near the great beast.

“He might swallow you whole,” she said, “but I don’t think he’d do the same to me.”

The thought of other Merfolk in Monstro's stomach is tantalizing but horrible, and Pinocchio swore to tell them about the safe waters of Neverland.

And so he completes his journey on foot, step by heavy step. He doesn’t mind the chains draping from his body - they keep him from floating away. He hopes that Monstro can hear him clanking and clinking, and even now the great beast might be swimming toward him with an open, hungry mouth.

It's impossible to tell how long he's been traveling, now that the moon and the sun and the Clock are gone. Perhaps the Mermaid could tell by the ebb and flow of the waters, but Pinocchio had never thought to ask, and now it's too late.

At least there is some comfort in her words - that whenever someone is lost, they seem to wind up in Neverland - because right now he is most certainly lost, so far from his home.

Even his words - for Pinocchio constantly calls out Monstro’s name - have nowhere to go. Immediately, they are swallowed up by the heavy, black water. Can Monstro hear him? Is he even nearby?

The Mermaid, though she tried to hide it, was doubtful. “He travels the world,” she said. “Always moving, always eating. He could be anywhere. My people, they know… they knew of his patterns, but even then, it involved a lot of guesswork.”

“I think he’s nearby,” she after many days of traveling along a fast-moving current. The fresh wreckage, the ravaged bodies, the scales and bits of bone were too much to suggest otherwise. “But it’s an entire sea to search.”

Yet Pinocchio is nothing if not persistent. In a world devoid of day and night, he has nothing but time. There’s no need for him to sleep or eat, no more tears to shed. There is nothing left - not even the Lion - except for the darkness and the water and, somewhere, his father.

“Monstro?” There is still hope in Pinocchio’s voice, but if his calls have been heard, they go unanswered.

He takes the Enchanted Mirror from underneath his shirt and holds it tightly.

“Show me my father,” he says, and it illuminates the murky water with its magical light.

Gepetto - how old and worried he looks - is once more asleep. Scattered about him are various bits of flotsam and jetsam - bottles, metal pipes, pieces of wood leaning precariously against each other - and the whole area is crisscrossed with rope.

The undead, unused to stealth and subtlety, will not be able to reach him without falling or making noise. Pinocchio smiles at his father’s resourcefulness, when suddenly the room, the cavern, the stomach - whatever it is that Gepetto considers his world - turns and shudders and rumbles.

The old woodcarver falls from his perch and awakes with a jump. The bottles tilt to the side, shattering silently in the Mirror’s reflection, and the driftwood collapses.

Gepetto looks around wildly. He stumbles against a wall and reaches for his staff as it begins to roll away.

Around Pinocchio, the waters swirl and churn, almost as if they are trying to escape the ocean itself. There is nothing to see in the darkness, though this doesn’t stop the puppet from trying.

He can feel it rather than hear it, the harsh rush of a typhoon, the change in the water and the disruption of the tide itself.

Something bellows at him from the right, and Pinocchio is swept away, hit with the full force of a tidal wave. The chains do him no good. Pinocchio flies - who knows how high or how far - still clutching the glowing Mirror.

And Monstro is suddenly upon him - almost as big as the sea - and he swallows Pinocchio up, hungry for something, anything, and only knowing that where there is light, there is life.

Pinocchio is falling, falling, the water crushes him with a roar, and suddenly he realizes there is air, a foul reek of death and decay and salt, but it is air, and the walls press against him, soft yet strong and flapping, and Pinocchio hits the ground, deep inside Monstro.