‘The Very Strange Adventures of a Travelling Knight: Part 9 – A Broken Toy’
Our stone boy with wings, Phillip. Flying towards the open door in the dome, not knowing what waited for him there or what he must do. Aware that although Bodnar had no wings, his mighty limbs would soon scale the wall and reach the door too. What was it the Giantess had called this place he was heading towards? The waiting room? What did that mean?
Through the door and yes it had slammed shut behind him! Made it, he thought. Safe in here if the door is strong enough. He wasn’t even tired after his flight. His new stone body didn’t seem to feel exhaustion or hunger. He was getting to rather like it. Phillip looked around himself with eyes which never had to close anymore, through the gap in the visor that had become his face. And he saw…he saw himself. Reflection upon reflection, on every wall, in every corner, above and below him. And each one distorted so that he was too small or too tall, stretched out wide to the size of a horse or wizened down to the width of a twig.
So much light came from the mirrors that for a moment he was truly dazzled by himself. But then his hard eyes grew used to the sight and he began to make out the figure he shared the room with. Or rather the remains of a figure. He lay on his back, unable to raise himself because he had neither arms nor legs. There was a well-defined torso and a handsome face with chiselled features and blazing blue eyes. Nothing more. And he was made of gold.
‘I say’ said the golden man ‘Would you mind awfully giving me a hand up? It’s not very comfortable down here’
Phillip reached down and grasped the golden body in his claws. He heaved with his arms, expecting the man to be incredibly heavy. To his surprise, he was light and easy to lift. The texture of the skin beneath his claws was not as slippery as he’d thought it would be. Maybe it wasn’t gold he was made of but some other, lighter material?
Phillip set the figure down on the glass floor. The misshapen reflections beneath the body created a sense of multiple gold forms suddenly springing from the bottom of the first to create a bigger creature. Phillip felt dizzy and wished there was something he could hold on to. Despite his wings, this room made him afraid that he was going to fall.
‘Oh thank you so much’ said the gold man. His voice reminded Phillip of the nobles that used to visit the Castle, though there was a nervousness to it as well, as though he was only being so polite because he was scared he was going to be hurt.
‘It was my pleasure’ said Phillip. ‘My name is Phillip. Who are you?’
The blue eyes regarded him. The man’s expression hadn’t changed since he had been set upright. In fact the mouth seemed to be the only part of it that moved.
‘My name is Gram’ he said. ‘Serial number twenty seven dash four z. Return within twenty eight days if faulty. Accessories sold separately’
Gram’s head cocked to one side. ‘And you?’ he asked. ‘You look very well made, nice plastic’
He must be mad, thought Phillip. His words made less sense than the Insect’s had. Every sentence made his head spin.
‘I’m a Knight’ he explained, surprised to find that his throat ached as he spoke. ‘I’ve been sent here to help’
Still the expression on the face did not change. Entirely calm. There was a permanent burrow in the forehead, as though Gram were constantly thinking deep thoughts.
His voice though, sounded sad when he spoke. Oh I’m afraid it’s far too late for that, you know’
Phillip turned quickly to look behind him. He saw a dozen reflected wooden doors, some the size of a drawbridge. Each one was, for now at least, closed. He turned back to Gram. The movement made his vision blur. His arms were aching now.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
Gram ignored the question. ‘A Knight eh? Well some of the children did like all that medieval stuff. Even after they could do magic for real, they kept the dragon toys. Not my scene at all. I was an investigator, you see’
‘An investigator?’ echoed Phillip. It was getting more and more difficult to follow what Gram was saying. His voice sounded as though it were coming from a distance even though they were still standing close together.
‘Oh yes. Jeremy Gram, Private Investigator. A sharp mind and a quick fist. The children used to send me out to solve mysteries. Not very difficult ones, to be honest. Normally it was just another toy with a different head on. But it kept them amused. And oh I did love it. That feeling when I solved a puzzle, found a treasure. It gave me such a glow’
Phillip was slowly sinking to his knees. He couldn’t help it. He had never felt more exhausted in his life.
He was eye to eye with Gram. He could see the blue eyes in the golden face and the light from them was growing brighter.
‘What’s happening to me?’ he said, fighting to shape the words in his mouth.
The voice grew even sadder.
‘Oh that will be me. I’m really sorry. Honestly I am. I thought after the children threw me away and forgot me, after they could make new toys with their minds alone, I would be left alone. But I’m afraid some very angry fellows found me. And…well, they thought it would be a good joke to turn me into a weapon and give me back to the children. Had to break me a bit first as you can see. Tried not to make it too easy for them. I think I may even have killed one of them. Smashed the globe. And kept smashing what was inside. But the others ripped my arms off, then my legs. Part of the joke they said. It was funny because it wasn’t happening to them’
‘See if you can press on my chest Phillip. Then you’ll see’
Gathering his strength, Phillip raised his claws and pressed them against Gram’s chest. The golden skin creaked.
‘Oh you’re made of stone’ Gram said. ‘I hadn’t realised’
‘Unusual that. Stone. Plastic through and through I am. It was good for recycling. New life from rubbish. You need to press harder’
Phillip increased the pressure, wondering if Gram’s flimsy body would fall apart. Suddenly there was a click and the upper part of the torso split in two and opened like a pair of window shutters.
‘Take a look Phillip. I’m really sorry’
Inside the gold man was a cat’s cradle of long, thick strings, some blue, some yellow. There were silver globes which spin quickly and quietly without any clue as to what powered them. And in the middle of it all, sat a blue, gleaming eight sided diamond. It was humming softly to itself.
‘Is that…is that your heart?’ asked Phillip. He could barely open his mouth to speak now.
‘No. That’s why they put inside me. Their joke. A bomb to set the sky on fire’
Phillip remembered the sky blown wide open in the land of the Flower. Could something so small cause such terrible devastation? And yet his claws, still hovering close to the open chest, were beginning to blacken and shrivel. He could feel cracks forming on his arms. It hurt.
‘What…’ he began but his voice failed.
‘Leaking I’m afraid’ said Gram. ‘They didn’t make it very well. Half the time they blow themselves up with the damn things. I hate having it inside of me. I wanted to get it out but they’d already taken my arms. They set it going and left me for the children to find. A punishment as well as a joke, according to them. Not long to wait’
Gram’s head turned swiftly from side to side, looking at the multiple reflections around them.
‘And then I was here. I don’t understand how or where this is’ His voice broke with what sounded like a sob. ‘I didn’t want any of this to happen. I’d have been happy just to be forgotten’
Phillip could feel his stone body withering and crumbling. His mouth was filling with dust. He forced out one last question. ‘What do I do?’
The blue eyes bore into his stone ones.
‘Please take it. If you can deactivate it, there’s a chance’
I don’t know what that means, thought Phillip desperately. What does deactivate mean?
Perhaps Gram read his mind.
‘See if you can take the crystal Phillip. See if you can split it in two, the top separate from the bottom. That’ll stop it’
And so Phillip, a dying stone knight and angel, reached out and grasped the crystal that sat inside the gold man’s chest. He pulled and it came loose. Gram sighed with what sounded like relief. The surface of the crystal burnt Phillip’s palms with a heat he could not have imagined even existed.
‘Try Phillip’ pleaded Gram. ‘Try to separate the two halves’
Suddenly there was a huge banging sound. Fists on wood. And what sounded like a roar of rage.
‘Never mind that Philip. Just concentrate on the splitting it in two’
Despite the pain, despite the exhaustion sweeping through him, despite the dust falling in torrents from his body, Phillip began to work at the crystal with his claws. The surface was unyielding and perfectly smooth and yet he was sure he heard a clicking from it as he turned it in first one direction then the next, pulled at it and then pushed.
More banging from behind them. It must be Bodnar, he thought. Trying to break in. Desperate to get in here, where he would die too. What an idiot. Still he carried on working.
‘After the children began to forget me’ Gram was saying. ‘I taught myself to sing. I thought that might entertain them better. Never got the chance to try it out though’
And then he be began to sing. It was a song without words, mournful and yet full of hope too. It rose and fell, reverberating across the glass surfaces of the mirrors and making them hum in tune with him.
More banging and then a splintering crack!
Phillip turned the crystal in his claws again and again. He thought of all those he had seen on the way here. The Giantess, the Flower, the Insect, the Snake Woman and the Lions. Sepi falling to nothing after a life of war. They would all come to that same end unless…
The crystal split. The top was grasped in his right claw, the bottom in his left.
‘Oh well done Phillip!’ shouted Gram, sounding happy for the first time. He began to sing again, only this time it was a song of joy and freedom. His chest snapped shut.
There came a roar from behind them and Phillip felt a huge hand grab him under the arms and raise him upwards. The mirrored ceiling spun around him and then Bodnar’s huge metal form filled his view, the ball of boiling clouds that was the head coming closer and closer.
‘Thought you’d got away from me, did you?’ bellowed Bodnar. ‘Stupid, stupid little creature! Not even a man anymore! Just a thing!’
He shook Phillip furiously from side to side.
‘Tell me how to get out of here!’
He tried to say he didn’t know but the words wouldn’t come. Bodnar shook him again.
‘I can smash this place into little bits but I want to know the way out!’
The pressure on his body from the mighty hand grew stronger and stronger. He’s going to crush me, thought Phillip. Crush me to bits. Somewhere beneath him, he could still hear Gram singing. It really was a lovely song. A shame Bodnar would probably smash him too. And then he felt the weight of the two halves of the crystal in his claws. If he was going to die, it wouldn’t be alone. These things liked to smash things it seemed. He would show them smashing then.
Summoning the very last of his strength, he flung back both arms and hurled the two halves of crystal at Bodnar’s domed head. They struck it with two, ringing notes, one after the other. Bodnar seemed to freeze for a moment. A cobweb of lines was spreading across his head. The lines began to meet and cross over each other. Just for a second, he squeezed a little harder on Phillip’s helpless body. And then the giant’s glass head exploded in a billowing mass of smoke and glass.
Phillip was falling now and the headless metal man was falling too. Phillip tried to move his wings, to fly to safety, but they had withered and shrunk on his back. The ground came closer and closer and still he could hear Gram singing.
He crashed into one of the mirrors beneath him and heard the glass break. For a moment he lay motionless, hearing only Gram’s voice. Then Bodnar thundered to the ground beside him, sending up a whirling blizzard of glass fragments. The impact flung Phillip up into the air. He span in mid-air for a second and then tumbled back down to lay on his side among a pile of glass fragments.
Phillip could hardly see. He could hardly move or think. There was a darkness moving in to his mind that he thought might be death.
A strange though drifted through his mind. I never did find that stupid book for the Goblin.
Although his vision was fading, he could see Gram, the armless torso still somehow upright, still singing. Something was moving towards him. A long, narrow form crawling from the metal wreckage of Bodnar. It was wrapped in grey cloth and had straggly white hair. As it reached Gram, it raised itself and wrapped two spindly arms around him.
Phillip heard the infinitely sad voice of an old man and knew that it was also Bodnar’s voice.
‘Oh my boy. My beautiful boy. I made so many of you’
And then he couldn’t see or hear anything. As his mind began to fade, Phillip wondered if this was his ending.
To be concluded
Damian Mark Whittle