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A Walk in the Park...Or Not
Night enveloped the park, cloaking it with a heavy darkness. There was no light, no sound, no life. None at all.
But suddenly a minuscule flame flickered to life, hovering in the air with a ghostly orange glow. Nobody was around to see it, to gape, as it expanded and bathed the park in a ghastly light.
The glow receded, but not without leaving something behind—something that was not quite of this world.
Anna rubbed her eyes and groaned softly. Saturday mornings meant early morning walks, a part of her feeble attempts to get more in shape. It also meant losing sleep, due to her incorrigible habit of reading until past eleven-thirty on Friday nights. She needed more sleep than the average person, but nothing could convince her to put down a good book.
“Here I go,” she grumbled to the air, slipping down the stairs to leave the house.
Normally the early morning air was cool and refreshing, but today something felt different, almost suffocating. Anna dismissed it as a product of the demented weather of the spring season.
Her routine was simple: follow the bike path in her neighborhood to the park, rest there for a few minutes, continue to the other side of the neighborhood, and then return on the same path.
As she walked the uncomfortable feeling pressed her to walk faster, so she could get the walk done with and go home to escape the weather.
Anna soon arrived at the entrance to the park. When she stepped into its boundaries, she gagged. Good thing she hadn’t eaten breakfast, or it would have been lost. Her instinct screamed at her to turn around and race back home, but part of her mind insisted that she was just being paranoid.
“You’re sixteen years old,” she chided herself. “This is ridiculous.”
So she continued her stroll, venturing deeper into the park, heading for her favorite spot for some silent meditation. This spot was attractive to her because of its utter tranquility. It was formed by a ring of trees almost fifty yards in diameter, surrounding a soft carpet of grass that cushioned a person’s every step.
Before she even reached the ring she saw it.
Is there some sort of carnival going on today? she wondered. What’s with that carousel? At least, I think it’s a carousel.
It was. She drew nearer and gasped.
It was a carousel alright, but not at all a normal one. Instead of the usual vibrant colors, this one was painted in gray, gloomy colors fit for a funeral, not a carousel. The rides were black horses, and one had been replaced by a ghastly gargoyle with a wicked grin. The whole structure emanated a chilling feeling.
Anna blinked, then spun around wildly in search of the voice’s owner.
“I said ‘greetings,’ young lady,” the voice repeated.
She stared at the gargoyle, which was positioned directly in front of her. The thing glared back.
“It’s polite to return a person’s greeting, you know. Don’t tell me you’re another of those rude, idiotic girls without half a brain between her ears.”
“Er…no, I’m not,” Anna spoke, not sure if she was hallucinating or not.
“Excellent. Prove it. Recite the quadratic formula,” the gargoyle prompted.
“X equals negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus four times a times c, all over two times a,” she replied without missing a beat. A basic algebraic formula hardly proved a challenge for a high school student in advanced math classes.
“Marvelous.” The thing beamed at her. “Now, what’s the first derivative—actually, never mind, we don’t have time for mathematical recitations.”
“What are you?” Anna demanded. “Why are you in this park, taking up space, and creeping out innocent bystanders?”
“Getting more talkative now, are we?” the stone-creature giggled. “Fine. I shall answer your question. I’m Gary the Gargoyle, servant to a great wizard, teller of ways, and minister of blockheads. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’m Anna. I’m just a human in high school. You know a wizard? Is it Harry Potter, or Merlin, or what?”
Gary snorted disdainfully. “Harry Potter, however amazing he may be, is a fictional character. And no, my master is not Merlin, but he is the inspiration for the character, have no doubt. His name is Astor Hawkstalon, he doesn’t a have a beard, and sometimes I wonder if he even has a brain.”
Anna smiled at this. “I thought you said he was a great wizard.”
Gary waved a gray hand dismissively. “‘Great’ is not the equivalent of ‘smart,’ my dear.”
She shrugged. “Let me guess, he’s one of those people who has talent but is completely clueless?”
“Hit the nail on the head, you did.” Gary sighed. “I don’t know what I’ll do with him. Whatever. The reason I’m here is because Astor botched an experiment with this carousel.” He gestured around himself. “He was trying to make the horses animated and life-like, but…”
“Instead his spell turned the horses this dreadful black, the carousel all deathly-colored. It’s enough to make anyone depressed. Not only that, he wound up sending the carousel, with me conveniently aboard, across the divide between universes and into this world.” The gargoyle concluded his story with another sigh.
Anna whistled. “That’s pretty bad.”
“You don’t even know the half of it.” Then he brightened. “At least there’s a way back.”
“Oh. That doesn’t sound so bad any more,” the girl remarked.
“Well, I need the proper ingredients…good thing the fool taught me a spell for this earlier. I’m the minister of blockheads,” he rapped his skull, “but there’s one idiot that never listens to me. Honestly, you’d think he was my superior or something.”
“You’re his servant,” Anna pointed out.
“That’s not what I meant!” the gargoyle snapped. “I was born from the great Nothing, centuries before that youngster ever existed. My magic is different from that of humans, with different—and fewer—limitations and I don’t die so easily, even if you stick me in hot lava.” He grinned. “That’s actually pretty comfortable, the way a hot spring is for humans.”
“Okay. Thanks for your life story,” said Anna. “What are these ingredients you mentioned?
“Oh, those, that’s probably, just maybe, a bit important…”
A little less than an hour later, Anna returned to the park from a trip back home to grab the necessary materials.
“Here you go,” she declared, dropping it all in front of Gary. All sorts of odds and ends had made it onto the list, including a metal spork (Anna’s dad bought it for the sake of amusement), a pineapple, three screws, a handful of M&Ms, an ancient phone, two pickles, five candles, a shoelace, assorted cookies, and a glass goblet. “What do you need these for, anyway?” Anna asked him, casting a weird look at everything on the ground that she’d collected.
Without answering, Gary snatched up the M&Ms, pickles and cookies and started shoving them into his mouth.
Anna gawked, not knowing that gargoyles were capable of eating.
As if reading her mine, Gary said, “Ah doh aff tah yit bu ish testy.”
He swallowed. “I don’t have to eat, but it’s tasty.”
“Ah. Sorry I’m not fluent in the food-in-the-mouth language.”
Gary finished eating quickly and licked his thin gray lips. “This is a delicate process. You’d better stand back.”
“Okay.” She edged away, leaving five feet between the two of them.
Gary rubbed his hands together (Anna noticed the carefully tended claws on the tips of his fingers) and began his work. Taking the metal spork, he began to stab and gouge the pineapple, dripping the golden juice into the goblet. When the goblet was half-full (or half-empty, Anna mused to herself), he tossed the pineapple out of the clearing. The screws he placed in an equilateral triangle containing himself, the carousel, and Anna. The shoelace served to measure distances between the screws (Anna had no clue why he hadn’t simply asked for a yard stick) and he wound it around his wrist several times, knotting it to form a semi-bracelet. Finally, he placed the five candles in a pentagon around the goblet.
Anna wondered if he was going to light the candles, but there were no matches.
Gary muttered something in a weird language. The wicks smoked slightly, but did not light. “Fiddlesticks!” he cursed. “I almost forgot that magic gets majorly warped in this universe.” He amended what Anna believed to be his incantations, and the candles glowed and began to burn cheerily, radiating the gentle, soothing scents that Anna’s aunt had lovingly picked out for her last Christmas.
“Aha!” the gargoyle exclaimed. “Mission accomplished.” He uttered one last foreign sound, and both the triangle and pentagon flared up with white light.
Anna suddenly remembered that she was still standing inside the triangle, but it was too late.
When the light died out the park stood empty.
Anna rubbed her eyes. Her vision slowly focused.
“Great, where am I?” she muttered to herself, brushing away strands of her brownish-blonde hair.
“No. Way.” A more familiar voice, Gary’s, retorted.
She turned around. The gargoyle, standing scarcely four feet tall, grinned up at her. Beside him stood a young man around her age, tall and lanky with with mouse brown hair mussed by fingers running through it many times, and gray-blue eyes.
“Well?” Anna demanded.
“You’re in my home, located in a different universe, one called Chevaria,” the youth explained. “Gary transported you here, something I didn’t approve of.” He cast a look at his mischievous companion, who gazed at him innocently.
“This is insane! How will I get home?” Anna half-wailed.
“Same way you came,” Gary replied evenly. “Well, minus the pineapple and random objects and me inhaling a bunch of food. Sorry for not consulting you beforehand. I had a little something in mind and decided to bring you along.”
“Fine, fine, just as long as I can get back in a timely manner,” the girl sighed. “And who are you?” she asked the stranger.
“Astor Hawkstalon,” he replied. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, whoever you are.”
Anna looked from wizard to gargoyle. “I thought you said he was the inspiration for Merlin! You know, the old guy?”
“Hey!” Astor protested, while Gary said at the same time, “I told you he didn’t have a beard.”
She glared. “I’m Anna,” she said, extending a hand.
The young man knelt down on one knee and kissed the proffered hand.
Anna cast him a slightly disturbed look. “Er, ever heard of a handshake?”
Astor raised his head to meet her eyes, startled. “Oops. I forgot the proper Earth etiquette. I was thinking of some other universe’s rules, with all of that stupid bowing and curtsying and kissing hands.”
Gary snorted. “How like you to take advantage of pretty women,” he commented, hardly concealing his disdain.
“What? I do not!”
“How am I pretty?” Anna cut in, before they argued themselves blue in the face (though she wasn’t positive that was even possible for Gary).
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Astor exclaimed. “How you are not?” Then, realizing what he’d just said, he flushed sheepishly and refused to make eye contact.
Gary rolled his eyes. “There he goes again, being a blockhead. Incorrigible, this lad is, absolutely incorrigible.”
Anna seemed more perplexed than flattered by Astor’s outburst. “Whatever. So what do you need me for, Gary?”
“A portrait,” he answered simply. “Something to remember you by.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! All this way, across a darn freaking universe, for a portrait? Why couldn’t you have done that before you cast the spell?”
“Well, you don’t exactly see paint, a canvas, and an easel handy in a park, do you?” Astor pointed out.
Gary stared at him. “It’s the APOCALYPSE! He actually said something intelligent! Something that adheres to common sense! Hallelujah!” The gargoyle danced a strange jig.
Anna and Astor glared at him. He stopped. “Sorry. I just got a little excited there.”
“Hurry up and get it done with,” Anna told him. “I hate wasting time.”
Soon enough Gary had assembled all of his necessary supplies. He wore a beret, which he claimed to have ‘borrowed’ from someone on Earth. A wooden stool had been provided for Anna to sit on.
“I’m ready when you are,” Gary declared. Anna settled into a comfortable position, and prepared to sit still for a long, long time.
“Wow, that’s great,” said Anna, impressed. “It looks so real.”
“I’m just wonderfully talented,” Gary remarked with feigned arrogance.
“I agree, for once.” Astor had returned from some magical task to inspect his friend’s masterpiece. “Fairest in the land.”
“Me, the portrait, or Anna?” Gary asked, nudging the wizard with a smirk.
“Obviously not you,” Astor retorted.
Gary winced. “Ouch. That’s harsh.”
“The portrait is nice enough,” the young man continued.
“You’ve already received my opinion on that,” he muttered.
An awkward silence passed before Gary said, “Well! We can send you on your way, Anna. Time proportions between universes is pretty messy. Lucky for you, an hour here is only about seven minutes of Earth time, so you won’t be missed.”
“Six minutes, forty-six seconds,” Astor corrected.
“You always have to have the last word, don’t you?”
“Okay, I’m ready to get out of here, no offense to you guys.” Anna stood and stretched.
“Well, master?” Gary prompted.
Astor sighed and muttered a few words. “Once you’ve put a hole through the fabric between universes, it’s not too difficult to open that same portal a second time. All you need is a key spelled to open the portal,” he explained to Anna, as if it mattered.
A glowing circle of light yawned before her. She took a step forward, but stopped. Clearing distance between them, she smoothed down Astor’s hair the best she could, patted Gary on the arm, gave them both a quick hug. “Thanks for the sort-of adventure, and bye.” She waved, and they returned the gesture.
Anna disappeared into the light.
Her eyes adjusted more quickly this time, and Anna found herself back in the park clearing. The sun had begun to rise. Looking down, she spotted something glinting in the early morning light. She picked it up.
It was a wooden carving of a hawk.
Remembering the wizard’s last words, Anna smiled to herself. She had a feeling that she would see Gary and Astor again.