Nightfall: Part One
The Haunted Woods groaned. It was well past twelve midnight. The heart of the place throbbed under the glazed moonlight. Full moon tonight. A whole month had passed since Grant looked up at the sky with awe. Twigs snapped under his bare feet. His tattered hat fell askew on the crown of his head. An equally threadbare bag fell from the Techo's shoulder. The jingle from the bag vibrated into the night air, as the moon gazed down on Grant. The smells of Scary Soup and Deviled Steak wafted from the Deserted Fairgrounds. Grant was always home before the night began. He never enjoyed it as much as he did the daylight in other places. The Haunted Woods never had daylight. He could always feel the hot breath of the vendors on his back, begging for an outpouring of money.
Grant pulled his vest closer to his chest and buttoned up the top. He could see Edna's Tower glowing as he entered the outskirts of the Gypsy Camp. Grant never wanted to live there, but there was no where else he felt so accepted.
A fire roared just feet away from him. At the entrance of the camp, a wood carved Werelupe with red gems for eyes snarled at Grant. The carving had always spooked him, especially with the campfire glazing its back, its large claws seeming to become life-like under the stars. There had never been a story connected to it, but Grant always felt it came alive under the moon.
The caravans in the camp were brightly colored and ornate, sitting beside patched tents. As Grant approached his own tent, a door from the nearest caravan burst open.
"Miz Amy?" Grant called, throwing his top hat on the dirt patch before his tent.
"Grant, m'boy," Amy responded. The pink Kyrii fluttered from the steps of the caravan, a light bouncing from within it. Her blue eyeshadow looked gaudy under the full moon and her skirt drifted inches from the wild grass. "You've been out for a time."
"Yea, I been busy. How you been?" Grant said, looking out at two Aishas howling over some joke.
"Good," Amy said, creeping up to Grant's shoulder. "I need you to go on in my home when you get on and settled, you hear?"
"Not tonight. I'm beat," Grant replied, throwing his body on the ground and laying on a shag carpet in the tent. Amy peeked in.
"It's not about me, boy. I have today a visitor," Amy whispered. "And bring your bag."
Grant could not think of who would want to see him on a night like this. Amy sauntered away, and gently shut the door of the caravan. A breeze picked up and cooled the Techo's face. Grant replaced the top hat on his head and buttoned up his vest.
As he approached the caravan, three gypsy Chias walked past. The nearest one, wearing a grey cloth dress adorned with gold coins, scowled at Grant. These were the ones that made him feel uncomfortable here, made him wander the streets and not want to return.
Grant pushed open the door and closed it behind him without turning around. Inside, the caravan was dimly lit and small. Torn curtains hung from the windows. A small stove sat on the far right by a wooden rocking chair. Amy sat in it behind another figure sitting at the dining table. Neither Amy nor the Poogle jumped at Grant's arrival. Amy lifted her eyes and rose slowly. A grey Whinny bounced from under the table.
"Grant, this is Lamenter Proulx," Amy began, clearing her throat. "He's come all the way down from Neovia."
The Poogle, Lamenter, rose from the table. His pallor was a few shades lighter than his Whinny. His thick black glasses were perched firmly on his nose; his top hat displayed two plated gears, one smaller than the other. Lamenter showed no smile as he adjusted his plush red jacket and his tie as he approached Grant and extended a paw to him. The two shook.
"I've heard a lot about you," Lamenter said, turning his back to Grant and returning to the dining room chair. His voice rang clear as a bell: Grant had expected something raspy. "To be honest, I half expected a bulky Techo."
Lamenter laughed at his own statement. Amy half laughed. Grant nodded.
"Amy, you said he had something to show me?" Lamenter asked, turning half of his body to Amy.
"Oh, yes, empty that there bag, Grant," Amy said, not looking at Grant and fiddling with a candle.
Grant stood motionless, and Lamenter's eyes protruded out from under his glasses.
"It's okay, Grant," Amy said, still trying to light the candle.
"I hardly knows you, Mister Proulx," was Grant's reply.
"Well then," Lamenter said, slapping his leg lightly. "I grew up in Brightvale with friends, took a wrong turn, became a zombie, moved to Neovia, and helped establish the Neovian Printing Press with that Pteri after the curse was lifted. I collect books." Lamenter grinned, showing aging teeth. "Enough?"
Amy placed a cup before Lamenter and a bowl before an empty chair. Amy motioned for Grant to sit and scowled at him. Grant placed the bag on the table, pushed it over to Lamenter, and sat before the bowl. Fried Worm Stew. Better than nothing.
Lamenter pulled the tattered bag to his lap and grasped the contents. A key ring holding thirty four keys glinted in the candle light.
"And these are...?" Lamenter asked, his voice trailing off.
"Skeleton keys," Amy chimed in. "And master keys."
"From where?" Lamenter again questioned, his forehead raised in a way that made the top of his head curl back into his hat.
"All over," Grant replied between bites of the stew.
"Impressive," Lamenter said almost inaudibly. "Professional thief."
Grant paused chewing. Thief was not a term he used for his work. He looked up at Amy who was looking at Lamenter. Lamenter pushed all the keys back into the bag and slid it over the table, back at Grant.
"Yeah," was all Grant could muster to say without getting upset.
"What if I told you I could give you the job to end all jobs?" Lamenter said, taking his hat off of his head. "I need an item. It's in Brightvale. And I can't get it without the aide of someone like you, Grant."
There was a pause. Amy shuffled over to Grant and scooped up the bowl. Lamenter adjusted his spectacles, and the grey Whinny bounced over to the Techo's legs.
"Whatever I get for it, I will give sixty percent to you. It's only fair," Lamenter continued. "Why, you are doing most of the work after all."
"No, thank you, sir," Grant replied after a time. There was no doubt it Grant's mind that the payoff would be huge, but he could not work for this Poogle. He had decided that much when he walked in the door of the caravan and looked at Proulx's waxy skin.
Lamenter inhaled. He said nothing, then turned to Amy, patted her hand, and stood up. Lamenter placed his hat on his head, and sauntered over to the door. The Whinny followed closely behind.
"If you change your mind, my card will be in your tent," Lamenter called, his back turned to the couple. The door slammed.
Amy looked flustered. The natural pink color of the Kyrii's cheeks were deepened.
"You shouldn't be so selfish, Grant," Amy said, tossing Lamenter's used cup into a bucket next to the stove. "Or so proud."
"Amy, it's my livelihood on the line," Grant shot back.
"Which you share, and have always shared, with me," Amy whispered, tears in her eyes.
"I'm not doin' it," Grant said.
"Fine!" Amy shouted, throwing herself on the nearest chair. Grant turned through the door of the caravan and slowly walked down the steps. He fumbled his way to his tent without a light. Once inside, Grant carefully poured oil into his bronze lantern, lit a match, and adjusted the light.
Grant grabbed the card Lamenter had left between the cloth of the tent and inspected it. It was a thick card, printed well. It boasted Lamenter's name and the address of the Neovian Printing Press. On the bottom, Lamenter had signed his name. Below that, in damp ink, he had written Grant's name. As the Techo ran a finger over it, it smudged.
Grant stuffed the card in his pocket. What a joke. Amy could not think for a second he actually want to work for that creepy Poogle.
Grant tucked his head under a pillow beneath the stars and fell into a deep sleep.
Morning dawned. Or so Grant believed. One could never really tell in the Haunted Woods or on the camp ground. But Grant knew it had been hours since he laid his head for rest. A bit of low light filtered in through the low hanging trees. A couple of passersby shuffled near the tent and kicked dirt by the pillow.
"Hey, watch it!" Grant grumbled. As he said these words, his eyes fell upon the green door of the caravan. It was wide open and dark inside. Grant jumped to his feet and called after the couple that had walked by his tent.
A blue Aisha turned around, her tunic billowing behind her.
"Where is Amy?" Grant asked, hastily throwing his hat on his head.
"Gone," the Aisha replied, her eyes sweeping Grant's face. "She left in the night."
"Did you see her leave?" Grant asked. "Did she tell anyone anything?"
"No," the Aisha said, her eyes boring into Grant's. "I just felt it."
Grant turned away from the Aisha and grabbed Lamenter's card, heading out of the gypsy camp, and straight toward Neovia.
To be continued...