Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chapter Forty-Six

The scent of magic is overpowering, almost painful. The Lion isn’t surprised that no animal or bird or even insect will approach this place. A tremor runs down his spine and he subtly hides it with a quick shake of his mane.

“Go on, my boy,” says the Lion. “Open the door.”

Pinocchio looks doubtful. “Why would my father be here?” he asks. Another question, as always. “It’s so... ugly.”

“Is it?” says the Lion. “I hadn’t noticed.” To him, all of Man’s buildings are ugly.

“Everything’s grown over,” says the puppet. “And it’s all broken and ruined.”

Pinocchio tries not to shiver - not in front of the Lion - but there’s something about the castle that makes him feel like he is being watched, and not by the welcoming eyes of his father.

“And wouldn’t he have seen us by now?” Pinocchio asks. “If he were here?” In his imagination, Gepetto would have rushed from the castle as soon as he saw them on the trail. And inside there would be all manner of music and merriment, light and warmth.

But the castle’s windows - the few that aren’t shattered - remain black, empty, staring.

The Lion sighs heavily. He only needs the brat to do one simple, final act - open a door - and even that is proving to be a struggle of epic proportions.

“I don’t know, child. Perhaps he’s asleep. It is dusk, after all. In any case, you’re just moments away from reuniting with him... so what are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid,” says Pinocchio. His nose puffs out slightly. To prove his words, he raps his small wooden fist against the door. It makes a small, lonely sound - the call of an intruder - but from within the castle, there is no response.

At least, not to Pinocchio. The Lion’s ears prick up slightly. He definitely heard something rustle inside. Excellent. He shakes his mane once more.

“Maybe he’s not home?” Pinocchio asks hopefully.

“My boy,” says the Lion, “all the trouble you’ve caused has come to pass because you did not listen to your elders.” He says this with such assurance that Pinocchio cannot help but nod. “Listen to me now, for once, and open the door.”

He does.

“Father?” Pinocchio calls into the empty entrance hall. Once it was grand, fine, plush. Now it is a mess of broken glass and faded, moth-eaten fabric. Shattered porcelain, broken plates, an overturned and ripped-apart divan.

And silence.

“Father, it’s me. Pinocchio.”

Something rustles softly from within, somewhere upstairs. Though the Lion is usually loathe to step indoors - the buildings of Man are always so claustrophobic - he enters the castle eagerly.

“Go on and find him, Pinocchio,” he says in his kindest voice. ”Perhaps he’s upstairs.”

Pinocchio turns back to the Lion and clutches at his mane. “Will you come with me?” It’s even darker upstairs, and he still can’t help but feel he’s being watched.

“I wouldn’t dare intrude on such a reunion,” says the Lion. “I’ll remain down here, waiting for you both. Now go on, show him what a brave son he has.”

Pinocchio looks back upstairs. Old portraits peer at him from the shadows. “I... I guess you’re right,” he says, and with a deep breath, hesitantly makes his way up the staircase.

The Lion smiles back pleasantly until the boy disappears into the gloom. He sniffs at the air, tracing the strongest aura of magic, and then he, too, melts into the darkness.