Henry and the Malcontents, Chapter 8

Fiction By Annabel // 11/19/2010

 

The two were walking hurriedly through a shiny hallway in an apartment building, Mike’s hoof beats loud like applause on the scratched floor, Luna taking an extra hop every minute or so, struggling to keep up with her friend. She was breathless and rushed and a little bit bewildered, and almost frightened by the poorly-concealed hostility with which passing strangers viewed her friend. She realized suddenly what an odd pair they must make, the soft-eyed child in an old-fashioned dress and the mohawked centaur with his perpetual grimace.
 
They stopped to look again at the illegible handwriting on the smudged piece of paper that Luna clasped with a sweaty hand.
 
“Ask someone. Ask him,” she urged in a whisper, jerking her head in the direction of a heavy-set, middle-aged man with rattling keys, coming in their direction. Mike shook his head, then looked at the useless directions again, then shrugged.
 
“Hey,” he muttered, then said again louder, when the man did not look up: “Hey!”
 
The man nearly jumped. “What do you want?” he hissed irritably.
 
“Do you know where Asher Levhi lives?” asked Luna, unable to keep the pleading from her voice.
 
The man stared flatly. “The crazy boy? What do you want with him?”
 
I don't know myself, Luna thought, her throat filled with anxiety. Mike shrugged again.
 
“Room 205,” the man said finally, after waiting vainly for a response.
 
Luna thanked him softly and hurried after Mike, who was already making his way down the hall.
 
The door of Room 205, like the doors of all the other apartments in the complex, was painted a sickly shade of mauve, with bright gold numbers. Mike knocked, then waited, then knocked again. Luna felt the silence growing and closed her eyes, swallowing.
 
“Ash,” called Mike softly.
 
“Maybe he’s not at home?” she asked hopefully.
 
The centaur shook his head and knocked again. Luna held her breath and counted five...twenty…fifty. A minute, then two minutes, passed without a sound, then she heard something and tensed again.
 
It was a creaking, like a door opening. But it was not that, Luna felt sure. There was something in it that she could not recognize. Mike heard and grimaced, and took a key from the pocket of his black jacket.
 
The door opened on a tiny room with words scrawled all over the walls in black paint, words that looked like they were born and fashioned in hatred, and that were too mangled for Luna to decipher. The furniture, which was scarce and mostly of the nondescript kind that comes with a furnished apartment, was tossed about haphazardly—a table on its side, a chair with two legs broken, marbles from an inoffensive centerpiece still rolling on the floor. The plain beige curtains had been ripped from their rods, and their shredded remnants stirred helplessly before broken windows.
 
In the midst of the wreckage stood a tree, its reality inescapable as it was inexplicable.
“Hey, Ash,” Mike said softly. “I brought someone for you to see.”
 
“Who are you talking to, Mike?” Luna almost squeaked.
 
He took her hand and led her wordlessly to the tree. Luna saw there were two narrow slits, scar-like, in its bark, from which water trickled steadily. The leaves rustled unexpectedly, and she watched blankly as the slits grew larger and longer, then began opening slowly. They revealed man’s eyes, green and white and murky, that looked straight into her own. She was riveted.
 
Luna was so captured by the eyes that she had not seen the bark below them parting to form an immobile mouth, merely a gash in the wood.
 
“Mike,” she cried.
 
“Ash, you there?” he asked, not looking at her.
 
Luna realized all in a flash that the water coming from the tree’s eyes was tears.  She smiled shakily at what she now knew was Asher Levhi, musician and revolutionary, Mike’s friend.
 
The tree stirred again, its bark seeming ever so gradually to change, its branches almost imperceptibly shrinking, its crude features seeming more and more like a face. The corners of the gash that was its mouth twisted painfully.
 
She watched in wonder as the tree became an man or boy of about twenty years, with very long, very pale hair course as if there were twigs in it, light green eyes set in a face that was at once delicate and wooden, and long hands whose many fingers—seven or eight to each—seemed to have either no joints or too many. These hands, his immense stature, and the curious texture of his hair and skin loudly proclaimed him to be a hamadryad, and yet he was human, with his fierce reddened eyes fixed unblinkingly on Luna’s.
 
“What happened?” Mike asked, closer to hesitating than Luna had ever seen him.
 
“She’s so small,” said the hamadryad, as if that were a valid response to the centaur’s question. His voice was low and breathy and somewhat hoarse. Luna felt the pressure of his eyes and realized, suddenly, how true it was. She was very, very small, and young, and helpless in that furious room. She had wondered, nervously, why Mike was bringing her to meet this dangerous friend whom Wryre disapproved of, Immer didn’t know about, Otis mocked, and Gabe spoke of only in his quietest tones. Now, as all three of them stood quiet and tense in the wreckage, the thought came that she was here to be eaten.
 
“Tell her about our work anyway,” said Mike gruffly. And so Luna’s connection with the
darker side of the revolution began.
 
***********************
 
Zael was mid-sentence when he felt the compulsions coming from far away and fell into silence. All that was left to do was to let the odd accustomed stillness crowd out his communicable thoughts and to wonder what shape the compulsions would take this time.
 
It might be more important to know how the others would respond, but he let that consideration slide. These people whom he rode the train with every Saturday morning and returned with every Sunday evening, these glassy-eyed, quiet people with their minds wrapped in newspapers and winter scarves and discontentment, who regarded him with a sort of half-affectionate, half-repulsed patience—what were they and their responses to him?
 
He had never worried much about people’s responses. The neighbors had been confused when he marched around and around his house, rapping each window twice; when he counted aloud as he walked, retracing his steps  whenever he lost count; when he ran outside twenty times a night to scream at the moon. Some of them had been frightened, and averted their eyes, even when he was normal; others felt all the aversion and fascination one does feel about odd folks, and whispered to each other about the little pale boy. Some were concerned. “Is he sick?” they asked Tessa, their voices high with kindliness. “Have you talked to anyone about it?” And Tessa turned an innocent doll’s face to them and pointed to the small black-and-white child curled up peacefully with a book, and wondered what made them think anything was wrong? They always backed down.
 
Despite her ever-increasing care that the neighbors should not know, or not officially know, of the boy’s problem, Tessa had for the most part not responded in a troublesome way. She did, sometimes, allow her annoyance to show—perhaps he would awake her in the latest part of the night to help him open all the windows, and she would look at him out of sweet wide eyes like miniature heavens and, casting about for the direst of names, call him an imp, a changeling, a cambion. Even then, however, small though he was, Zael was neither disturbed, nor more inclined to explain his unusual behavior. After all, unlike the neighbors’ gossip or fear or curiosity, Tessa’s occasional resentment was an emotion he could understand. And besides, he reflected candidly, he really was a sort of cambion.
 
They moved from that neighborhood when Zael was four years old, then again when he was seven, then when he was nine, and again when he was ten (that was the neighborhood where he took to speaking only in rhyme). By this time he had learned to control himself better, and his fits of compulsive behavior were less frequent, though they were often odder and less explicable when they did come. Also by this time, however, Zael’s disregard and rather biting sense of humor had developed to a disturbing degree, and Tessa began to worry. In her early thirties, she was still a doll-faced woman, the blood in her cheeks delicately blooming close to the surface, with rich, warm chestnut hair. The neighbors got no end of amusement out of contrasting the Wintras:  Tessamy, gently vibrant and Zael, starkly black-and-white, with his curiously shimmering eyes; she, soft-spoken and modestly witty and he, volatile and seemingly reckless. They were alike just below the surface, though, selfish and clear-eyed and calmly calculating, and they shared a tacit but mutual agreement that neither would meddle with the other’s small world unless it was necessary. So the mother and son got along pretty well until Tessa decided to remarry and Zael, at eleven years, was sent to a boarding school in the capitol. Zael did not mind, as Tessa had known he would not.
 
He almost always hid the compulsive fits when they came now, not because he feared what others would think, but because it had become a habit with him. It was almost with a sense of relief that he found himself irresistibly drawn to counting the tiles on the curved walls of the subway tunnels, and knew his fellow-passengers had nothing too unusual to fear from him today.

Comments

Thanks for publishing it,

Thanks for publishing it, James!

Annabel | Thu, 12/02/2010

...

The dark side...... And, another dimension to Zael just when I thought he could not possibly become more interesting.
This story is so, so, so original! And well-written. You leave me hungry for more every single time! If I had this as a whole book in front of me, it would become one of those "one more chapter..." books where you tell yourself you're going to stop and go to bed but then you don't. (The best sort.)

Hannah W. | Sun, 12/05/2010

Thank you, Hannah W. :) That

Thank you, Hannah W. :) That is verily one of the highest compliments I've ever received.--I know  those books very well, and would love to think I could write one.

Annabel | Thu, 12/09/2010

love love love this story!

 I'm pretty new here, and I was randomly looking at people's pages, and I started reading your story and couldn't stop! It's really really good, very original and captivating. You're a very talented writer and I hope you post more of this soon!! please!

Renee | Wed, 01/05/2011

Don't know why I forgot to respond earlier...

Thank you very much, Renee! I hope to post more soon, though a combination of procrastination and loads of schoolwork might prevent that. Also belatedly, welcome to Apricotpie!

Annabel | Tue, 01/25/2011