Inktober 2019 – Tread

There are few things as upsetting as the sound of a footstep in a house you know to be empty.

Standing here in the attic, searching through boxes by the light of a single bare bulb, it’s all too easy to let imagination get out of hand. I can not have heard the sound of a foot lowered carefully to the old boards of the floor below. Before I came up here, I made sure that the doors were locked, front and back. I looked in every room.

But I also know what I heard. There was no mistaking it. A foot on bare wood. The only bare wood floor is in the hall beneath me. The bedrooms all have carpet. The bathroom is closed. So the sound could only have come from the hall.

Directly under me.

So now, I stand here, trying to decide which is the better idea: go down and look, or wait here for someone to come up the ladder.

Either way, I don’t know what to do if there is someone there. Because I know the house is all locked up tight, and I know that the old couple who own the place are completely, utterly dead, lying side by side on their gore-soaked bed.

“Inktober 2019 – Tread” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Sling

The weight of the work-day had hardly begun to lift when Brett walked into his house. He thought he heard Samantha calling a greeting to him, but it was hard to tell over the furious stampede. All three kids thundered down the stairs, eyes sparkling with glee. They were all shouting something as they clustered around him, hugging his legs and tugging at him. He finally made out Rochelle, the oldest of the three, chanting “Come and see what we made!” over and over, and then realized that’s was all were saying, at different pitches and speeds.

“OK,” he said, loud enough to make himself heard. “Just let me get my shoes off.”

“No, Daddy!” Vanessa, the middle child, still pulling at him. “It’s outside! In the back yard!”

The four of them passed through the house. Brett waved at Samantha as they passed, but he was not allowed to stop, Rochelle and Vanessa each tugging at a hand, little Kayla dragging at a trouser pocket. As they passed, Brett looked a question at his wife, who shrugged. “A surprise for Daddy,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to look.”

After a moment of near-disaster going down the stairs at the back of the kitchen, the formation passed out on the back deck. The kids let go of Brett, and with the same choral unity as before shouted “Ta-daaa!”

Brett stood, letting his admiration show on his face. Some kids would waste a day off school, just staring at a tablet, but not his girls. They definitely had drive.

“We made you a hammock, Daddy,” said Rochelle, giving Vanessa a little shove which failed to stifle a fit of giggles. “Try it!”

Brett shook his head, smiling. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Come on, Daddy,” Kayla piped. “It’s real comforbul!”

Brett looked at his shoes, but the smile remained. He hated to do anything to curb the kids’ enthusiasm, but there were limits he wouldn’t pass. “No, kids, I’m sorry.”

“Aw, come on.” Vanessa took hold of her hand again. She was still having trouble stifling giggles. “It’s a hammock. Sit in it.”

Brett lifted his hand until it slipped out of her grip. He had let them shove him through the house, but he was still a full grown man and able to resist three little girls. “No, it’s not a hammock.”

“It is a hammock,” Rochelle said, with the emphasis of a child’s transparent duplicity.

“No, sweetie. That’s a trebuchet. It’s really impressive, but I’m not going to sit in that. It’s dangerous, and after supper we’re going to have to take it down.”

Brett turned for the door, anticipating the delayed post-work beer, steeling himself against the disappointed groans. He stopped and turned to look at the huge machine again when Rochelle said, almost sullen and without a trace of deceit, “Mr. Gzowski from next door thought it was fun.”

“Inktober 2019 – Sling” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Ornament

Tobin was reaching into the tree, seemingly up to his elbows when Nadine came into the room. She almost yelled at him, then realized she would likely just set off the catastrophe she wanted to avoid. She took a deep breath and said, in as calm a tone as she could manage, “Please be careful.”

“It’s fine,” Tobin said, muffled by his own upraised arm. Nadine stood rigid, coffee mug creaking in pale-knuckled fingers, hardly daring to breath until with a final jingle he withdrew. He turned with a look of pride, which turned to confusion when he saw his wife’s face.

“What’s the problem?” he said.

“Why were you fishing around in the tree like that?”

“I was moving The Elf.”

Nadine sighed, resuming her course through the room. She resented The Elf, an infinitely worse infiltration of surveillance culture into the festive season than the lyrics of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The argument she and Tobin had entered when he’d brought the thing home was not a marriage-wrecker, but it was an uncommon point of soreness between them. If he had consulted before he’d brought it home, she would have vetoed, but he’d just hauled it out in front of the kids, who had been amused. At the time.

“Why do you have to put it in the tree?” Nadine asked as she sat. “I thought it was supposed to stay on a shelf.” She  tried to keep her eyes on the TV, but in the end she scanned the tree for it, finding its judgmental little pink face peering from between a couple of silver icicles and… damn it… Nana’s glass ball.

“Oh, they say in the book to do that,” Tobin said, settling onto the couch. “It keeps the kids from peeking into the presents.”

“Have our kids ever…” She cut herself off, making gestures of negation with both hands. If they kept arguing about The Elf, the little beast would start to affect the marriage, and Nadine was entirely aware of how stupid that would be. “Anyway, when you want to move it tomorrow, let me do it.”

“Why?”

“Because if I break Nana’s ornament, then I don’t have to be mad at you.”

Tobin frowned, then became appropriately horrified. He knew exactly how much that big opalescent ball meant to Nadine. It was the only thing either of them had to which “heirloom” could be properly applied. It was not intrinsically worth much at all, as far as either of them knew, but it connected Nadine across a span of three maternal generations. It was a distillation of what both of them understood as the real Christmas spirit.

“You got it,” Tobin said, and then turned on the TV.

The next morning, between breakfast and the arrival of the school bus, Kaori and Devan engaged in the usual sort of pre-Yule speculation common to all children. Nadine looked in on them occasionally as she made got their lunches and hers packed, and saw The Elf Effect at work. Each child would occasionally stop, peering over one shoulder or the other, body rigid with anticipation of spotting the filthy little homunculus.

As far as she could tell, neither of them had actually spotted the thing in its perch in the tree. Their counter-surveillance was broadcast, as it were, taking in the whole living room, rather than focused aloft. She thought of pointing it out to them, just so the anticipation would break, but the demands of the morning preparations kept her from acting on the urge, and soon the bus’s appearance took away the kids and the opportunity.

After supper, the morning scenes began to play out again. Nadine remembered her intention from the morning, and was drawing breath to act upon it when she realized that she couldn’t see The Elf where she expected it. Nana’s ornament was an easy landmark, and the sappy face was nowhere near it.

A quiver of anger went through her, modified by the fact of the antique decoration still being there and whole. She filed the matter until later.

As it happened, Tobin raised it while the kids were brushing their teeth. “Nadine, where’s The Elf?”

She asked him to repeat himself. When he did, verbatim, she said, “I didn’t touch it.”

“Well then where is the little dickens?” Tobin stepped in close, craning to look between the branches.

When he started to reach toward the tree, clearly intent on pressing limbs aside, Nadine stood. “Hold up, there. Let me.”

They traded places, and Nadine stood tip-toe to look into the tree. The little lights shed their diverse glows into the depths of the needles, making it clear that The Elf was not just slumped further down the branch. She reached for Nana’s ornament, thinking that she would take it down and set it aside to allow for a more energetic search.

Her hand froze by the hanger. Nana’s ornament was slightly translucent, and normally there was a hint of the lights behind it. Now it was dark, and its usually unblemished surface seemed marked… except the marks were within.

Two blank eyes and a wry smile, The Elf’s features, were just visible through the pearly glass. They lay not at all in their usual relation. Broadened and smeary, they brought the word dissolved rushing out of Nadine’s imagination. Even as she stood, hesitating, one of the eyes disappeared, swirling away from the other and losing coherence.

With the reverence she usually showed it, Nadine took the ornament from the tree. She cradled it in both hands as she moved away. “OK, you see if you can find your Elf,” she said, her back to Tobin.

She dared not let him see the way she was smiling.

“Inktober 2019 – Ornament” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Overgrown

The kids were making such a ruckus, I had to say goodbye twice. It was worth it, the ragged chorus of I love yous reminding me that we were raising the kids right.

As I stepped off the porch, onto the little path that ran to the driveway, I noticed the tiny yellow dot of a dandelion’s newly-formed blossom peeping from the otherwise uniform green of our lawn. I’d probably take care of it myself when I got back, although it was the sort of minor chore that allowances were built on.

When I reached the front corner of the car, I realized I had left behind my shopping bag. I could have just gone, brought home the four items in one of the store’s plastic bags, but if I kept neglecting the reusable bag, it would never become a habit. I spun in place.

The grass on either side of the walkway was suddenly knee high, thistles and ragweed visible in the yellowish stalks. I took a shocked step back, took in the way the ornamental cedars on either side of the picture window had gone shaggy, swelling to hide all but a grimy black sliver of the glass behind them. Above, the gutters bore a line of saplings.

I touched the hood of the car, without looking at it. Firm, smooth painted metal under my hand. I moved the opposite foot a little, heard the shush of long grass, felt a tickling on the arm on that side. Without turning my head, I could see the neighbour’s house, trim and unchanged, the lawn on their side of our little shared fence cropped like a golfing green.

I tried to not blink as I moved back toward the house, afraid what other changes might come if I took my eyes away. I stepped onto the first step, paint crumbling away from satiny grey wood. The door had shed its paint, too. The doorknob was dim verdigris, and its corruption had made a long stain under it.

I hesitated as I reached for the knob, not fearing to touch it, but terrified of what I might discover by opening it.

I stepped through the door, back into the embrace of my family.

“Inktober 2019 – Overgrown” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Ash

Bronson seemed shocked to find himself where he was. It was not, after all, where he went to sleep. He was still confined, of course. I might have pulled him out of prison, but I was not letting him free. I stayed back in the shadows for a while, listening to him rattle the bars, stifling my own laughter when he screeched as the cage shifted and he realized how far off the ground it sat. I didn’t think he noticed the cables securing it at the top. He wasn’t in any danger.

Not of falling, at least.

Five minutes seemed enough of an overture. Bronson was starting to run out of juice anyway, as he either started to think about his current situation or just didn’t have the stamina to keep screaming. I lit a candle and stepped out where he could see me easily. Another laugh needed suppressing, although I could hardly disguise my smirk at the way hope and fear chased one another across his face.

“Hey,” he called down. “Where am I?”

“You’re in a cage, Mr. Bronson.” More fear in his eyes, and much less hope. Excellent. The very tone I was looking for in the opening movement of this little composition. “Shall I elaborate?”

A single slow nod, and I could almost smell his thought. Keep her talking. Stall for time. Good luck with that. “Your cage is in a dairy barn which has not been used for about fifteen years. It’s not too far from town, but it’s a lot farther than your voice will carry. I promise.”

He drew a breath, as if he would prove me wrong, as if he hadn’t spent almost five minutes making as much noise as he was able before I revealed myself. I watched, holding the candle up by my face so he could see how unconcerned I was. How amused I was.

I wondered if any of the rage was showing behind it.

“Why are you doing this to me?”

I should have made up a bingo card of things I expected him to say. Two for two, so far.

“Because of what you did to me, Mr. Bronson.” I gave that a moment. The glare of the candle by my face made it a little hard to see him, but I kept it there, letting him have a good look as his expression wrinkled with the effort of searching memory. “I don’t think you know who I am.”

“No. No! I never did anything to you. Why don’t you let me go?”

“After going to so much effort to bring you back to San Guillermo?” I lowered the candle, because I wanted to see his face properly when that realization dawned. The start of the second movement came as his eyes grew wide.

“Hey…” He came right up to the bars. They’re widely spaced, and I wondered if he would try to get between them. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see that or not. It might have been fun to watch him wriggle between the steel uprights, head firmly stuck, but he’d also be distracted when the finale arrived.

He didn’t even try. He just looked down at me, and said, “Look, no one was hurt…”

“That’s what I heard. That’s what they thought. We had to look pretty hard to find somewhere so far off the beaten track that wasn’t already full of nazis or preppers.” He shook his head a little, and backed away. Good. I didn’t want him to misunderstand anything.

“I’m not… the judge said I…”

“Spare me the diminished capacity line, Mr. Bronson. You seem to have a fine grip on the concept of consequences, to judge from how you’re sweating up there.” I walked around his cage, a wide arc which took me toward the barn’s main door. A little table stood there. It had been a fortuitous discovery, because the moment I saw it, I knew it was going to be an important element in this part of the performance. I stood behind it, setting the candle down on one corner. He watched me, mesmerized.

“You will spend the rest of your life in that cage, Mr. Bronson, unless you can give a convincing reason why you shouldn’t.” I held up my hand, shaking my head, and he didn’t finish the first word of whatever he was about to say.

“You don’t have to convince me. You have to convince my husband,” and as I said it, I set medium-sized jam jar down on the table. It had no label, and the dusty grey contents were easily visible in the candle-light, even from where Bronson was. “And our children.” Two more jars, smaller, one on either side of the first.

“Go ahead. Make your case.”

While I didn’t know the specifics he’d come out with, I had a sense of how the end of the second movement would run. The sheet music often has largo or andante up in the corner. It’s the dull part, the bit where the audience can nod off. But I did him the courtesy paying attention, because part of me was honestly curious.

What I found most interesting was that he actually spoke to the jars. Pointless, of course. They were just props. When I got back to the house I couldn’t tell any of my family from the beds they slept in or the roof that had failed to shelter them. It had been a dry season.

Less interesting was the litany of excuses. Failures of society. Frustration at rejection by the fire department, despite his obvious potential. No mention of an abusive parent. No suggestion of the kind of cognitive impairment that would really lift the blame from him. Eventually, I raised my hands to stop him.

“Let me consult with the tribunal.” Like the jars, this was mere theatre. Where my family had gone, my powers cannot reach. It was just the way I wanted to kick off the finale.

“I suppose you’d like out of there,” I said, and Bronson nodded enthusiastically.

“Stand by the door, then.” I really couldn’t help smiling at this part. He did a full turn, then reversed, yanking at the bars on each of the four sides of the cage. Then, bless him for being thorough, he reached up to tug and push against the roof. He even stared at the grill under his feet.

“Oh, that’s right. There is no door.” He gaped at me. “Do you know how I got you in?”

A shake of his head. He was slack-jawed, confusion starting to crowd out the terror that was filling him. That was fine. Terror could take a short rest.

“Magic. My family lived at the back end of nowhere so I could do magic without people getting in the way.” He wasn’t believing me. His confusion was marbled with amusement, and that amusement was coloured by the idea that he was at the mercy of a lunatic. Bronson did not have much of a poker face. “So when you were asleep, I made you into a mist, and passed you right through the walls of Folsom and all the way back here to San Guillermo and into that cage.”

Terror was coming back from its break. His eyes were on swivels, looking for the way out that wasn’t there. He touched one of the support cables, ran his fingers over it, dismissed it as unhelpful.

“So,” I went on, as if I hadn’t noticed, “would you like to see how I got you in? How I could get you out?”

That got his attention. He still didn’t believe me, clearly, but I suppose he thought humouring me might help. I picked the candle up from the table, raised it until it was right before my face.

“Watch carefully,” I said, making the flame dance with the passage of the words. Then I brought it closer, pursed my lips like I was about to blow it out.

Then I blew, very gently, and the flame of the candle laid over, stretched out and drew the candle behind it, until the whole thing was just the idea of a candle stretching from where I stood, filtering between the slats of the great cube of shipping pallets I had collected and built up until it was as tall as me. The cloud that once was a candle found its way to directly below Bronson at the height of the packed dirt floor, and then it was a candle again.

It was also dark in the barn again. Not as dark as it had been because a little light was seeping out between the pallets. It was getting brighter. The finale was well and truly underway, allegro, soon to be vivace.

“It’s very dry wood, Mr. Bronson,” I said. “You won’t have to worry about suffocating from the smoke.” He let out a weird little yap as I turned my back on him, and I could hear him frantically bounding from one side of the cage to another. I was pretty sure the cables would hold, to keep the cage where it was once the platform under it collapsed. It likely wouldn’t matter, one way or another.

By the time I had driven down to the little secondary highway, the light from inside the barn was noticeable. I glanced to the right, saw people at the gas station on the edge of San Guillermo. Satisfied that someone would raise the alarm before things got out of hand, I turned left.

It was only then I realized that I had left the jars behind. I shrugged. Only props. If they did, by chance, contain any trace of my husband or my children, if that trace somehow mingled with a similar residue of their killer, it didn’t matter. The essential parts of them and him were bound for entirely different places.

“Inktober 2019 – Ash” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Snow

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The way it drifts down, great fat clumps of it sifting slowly past the window, and it you open the door you can hear it, almost fizzing, a more festive sound than rain’s hiss.

The world closes in when it snows like this. You can hardly see across the street, and you want to hug your family, all huddled together on the couch with mugs of hot chocolate, just enjoying the fact that you’re all together and warm. Even when it’s time for bed, the glow of the city trapped in the flakes means it’s never quite dark

And then, the next day, when the snowfall has stopped and the sun has just come up, everything shining brilliant white in those first minutes of the day. There’s a real sense of newness, as if the whole world had just been shipped, new and wrapped up against bumps in transit, all the familiar sights in front of the house obscured and waiting to be revealed, waiting to delight you with details forgotten during that brief concealment.

Of course, one can’t just stare out at it. Eventually, boots have to go on, shovels have to be taken up, and doors opened. Then you get to breath in the brisk, bright air, as sparkling as the smooth surface of the snow, and it feels like your lungs are being cleaned.

But then, there’s those footprints in the snow, the only ones laid down since the snow stopped. They come all the way along from the farthest corner of the block on the city sidewalk, turning at the path up to your front door, and covering half the distance from street to house. And there they stop, as if the walking person just vanished mid-stride.

Just the same as last year, and the year before, and as far back as memory stretches. And every year, just for a moment, you wonder why no one ever comes looking for the owner of those footprints, just before you scrape them out of existence.

“Inktober 2019 – Snow” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Pattern

“Please come inside. You’ll get sick.”

I had left my mentor alone with her reading to prepare our lunch, and as was not uncommon, which I returned with the plates I discovered that she had wandered out of her study. She was the grand scholar, after all, and her whims were the guiding force of our lives. I was starting to wonder if she wasn’t going senile, though. I wouldn’t have thought to look outdoors on a day like this if she hadn’t left the door open.

“No, come here, come here, you must see this.” She beckoned to me from the apex of the bridge, sodden sleeve flapping. I went, and when I stood beside her I put the umbrella she had walked past into her hand. Her fingers were ice cold.

“It’s very picturesque,” I said, glancing out over the lake that held her interest. The rain hazed the usual view, throwing a grey veil over all but the nearest houses of the village. None of the fishers had taken to the water today, their boats tied up on the shore, and the windless downpour made the lake into a pale slab, as flat and blank as cutting board. “Why don’t you come and have your lunch? I’ll make up a fire and…”

“Hush.” It was not the harsh tone she usually used when I vexed her. She almost sounded awestruck. Thoughts of senility gained strength, especially when she said, “I could hardly believe it when I heard it.”

I listened, but heard only the patter of raindrops on the umbrellas and the hiss of the broader rain dropping on the lake and surrounding landscape, white noise under random percussion. I put a hand under her nearer elbow, tried to gently get her moving in the direction of our cottage.

“Fool!” There was the tone I was used to. She drew back, furling the umbrella I had pressed upon her. She swung it against the backs of my thighs, the blow sharp if not too hard. “This is why you study. Now, look at the lake.”

I looked again, and when she pointed I followed the gesture. Not far from the bridge, I watched the unremarkable reunion of rain and lake.

“What to you see, youngster?”

I weighed whether I  should try to be clever. Not with her in this odd mood. “Raindrops hitting the lake.”

“Yes.” Again, the low tones, nearly reverential. “A drop makes ripples, yes?” I agreed. “Look again. What do the ripples make.”

Which ones? was at the back of my throat, ready to jump out, but then I started to see what she meant. Each drop had its ripples. The countless impacts sent peaks and troughs across the lake, high and low, light and dark. I knew I wasn’t seeing what she saw, but there was something in the way those tiny waves moved together.

“Close the umbrella and listen.” Hardly even a whisper, right by my ear. I did as I was told. “See and hear.”

The lake ceased to be a uniform flatness before me. Light and dark. Dark and light. High and low. All churning, cooperative and antagonistic in turns, to make the image of a great face, as big as the lake was wide. The sound of the rainfall was a voice, whispering in a language I hadn’t known that I understood until this moment.

I shivered, although the damp had yet to penetrate my clothes. I trembled at the sudden knowledge the world was revealing to me, and before the storm ended I fled to the cottage, leaving my mentor all alone to face that enormous unrepentant confession.

“Inktober 2019 – Pattern” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Swing

Every day for the past week, supper had been devoured in a hurry. Ethan had suddenly decided that the play structures in the little one-block park across the street, which had been there for his entire life, was the best sort of dessert. He had, in the way of little kids, decided that his visits to the slide, the teeter-totter, and the swings must come after supper, but he was more than willing to force the clock regarding just when after was.

Every day for the past week, Rose and I had taken turns courting indigestion, stuffing down our own supper to make sure he got his play-time in. It had been worth the effort, as Ethan had been flirting with insomnia previously, and this week had been a paradise of easy bed-times.

But tonight, he was carefully counting peas before each spoonful, and making potato sculptures with the slow deliberation of someone in a movie who has seen a UFO. It was my turn on playground duty, and I finished my supper long before he did. I exchanged a look with Rose when I stood to take out my plate, and we shared our confusion. Ethan had seemed as excited as every other night when the plates were going down, but that excitement had disappeared by the time he came in from the living room.

When he eventually finished, I said, “Ready for the playground?”

He looked up at me, corners of his mouth a little down-turned, eyebrows tented, and said, “Do I gotta?”

That demanded another look at Rose. She, behind him, was free to shrug. I felt myself mirroring his expression as I said, “Not if you don’t want to.”

His face cleared. Not all the way, but there was definitely relief. “Good. I’m gonna play Legos.”

I thought I should dig a little. I could understand a kid suddenly wanting to use a slide that he hadn’t taken notice of previously. It was like suddenly noticing that air exists; it’s been there all your short life, but one day you blow on a piece of paper and you’re aware of it. That playground was sort of the same. We’d taken him across when he was very wee, slung him on the little kid bucket-swings, then fallen out of the habit. It had become a mere part of the background until, for whatever reason last week, it came into focus.

To suddenly become disenchanted, though, was a bit of a worry.  That’s usually connected to a bad experience. When I’d been out with him, we’d been alone, and he hadn’t hurt himself on anything. Rose hadn’t mentioned anything, either. Maybe we’d missed something.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go across the street?”

“No.” He didn’t stop in his amble toward his room.

“Why not?”

He replied, as he rounded the corner out of the hall, but I didn’t understand what he said. “What was that, Ethan?”

He shouted the same response, as kids will, not just a little louder to carry the distance, but top volume. I still had no idea what he said, other than it had two syllables and might start with a G or a K. There was something in it, though, a slightly hectic edge, that made me drop it. I could ask again later, in hopes he would be more settled.

I was still afflicted with curiosity, so I went to the living room and had a look at the playground. It was just as it had been every other night previous, a line of structures on the near edge of the block, the rest of the space given to tiny ball diamond and an open field that saw little kids playing football in the fall. It was just as empty as ever, slide unslid, teeter-totters inert, only the swings showing any action, set going by the wind.

But that wasn’t right. One of the swings was moving, one of the big-kid ones that was just a straight strip of rubberized canvas. The others, another of the same sort and two of the little-kid baskets, hung like plumb-bobs. I looked past the swings, to the trees of the block beyond, and saw no sign of wind stirring their canopies.

Just that one swing, swishing through a broad arc, an enormous pendulum without a clock.

I watched, mesmerized. I wanted to call Ethan out of his room, get him to say that word again so I would know what it was. But I was starting to think that I had heard it as clearly as it could be heard, and I also remembered the slight tinge of hysteria in his voice when he repeated it.

As I stared, someone came in view. I didn’t know his name, I just recognized him from a similar passage the last time I was out there with my son. An older man, accompanied by a small trotting dog and a mild fug of smoke from his pipe. I had nodded at him then, as he passed, and he responded in kind, the standard suburban mutual acknowledgement. He didn’t look in my direction this time, but he did glance at the mobile swing without slowing his pace.

A moment after he was past the swing, it stopped dead at the bottom of its travel, suddenly as immobile as the others.

I craned to see the man as he departed. Neither he nor his dog seemed concerned. When I lost sight of them, I pressed my ear to the window, listening for… anything.

I almost jumped when the thunder of Ethan’s feet came up through the floor and into the glass. He had pounded out of his room, carrying something made entirely of blue Lego, with an unlikely arrangement of wheels. “Daddy, can we go out and play now?”

There was no sign of the nervousness that had gripped him earlier. I turned, and saw all the swings hanging and still in the light of golden hour.

“I thought you didn’t want to go tonight,” I said, cursing myself internally for wanting to rekindle worry in my innocent, happy boy.

“It’s OK,” he said, laying down the Lego thing as he headed for the shoe rack at the front door. “It found someone else.”

“Inktober 2019 – Swing” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Enchanted

I lost the path hours ago, and sunset is upon me. The woods are certainly deep, and they grow darker by the moment, but I no longer think they’re lovely. I wonder, not for the first time today, how many idiots like me Robert Frost has sent to their doom

I think I hear something, away to the right, and freeze, straining to listen. The last thing I need now is to stumble in front of a bear.

Definitely a sound, but not the crunch of stealthy paw on leaves, nor a warning growl. I’d almost swear it’s someone humming a tune. I’d cry with relief if I was sure of what I’m hearing. I turn my head one way and the other until I’m sure of the direction.

I find myself standing in… well, not a clearing, exactly. It would be a clearing, if not for the gigantic tree in the middle of it. I don’t remember seeing any other oaks during my wandering today; I guess this one used up the whole oak budget. It has to be more than eight feet across at the base, and I can’t begin to guess how high.

A moment after I come into the clearing, the source of the tune appears. A young woman is dancing around getting the tree, and before I even get a clear look at her, I feel elation, because I can any least get directions to town.

But now I have had a clear look at her, and which way to town? is not the first question that I want to ask. I realize that there’s more light in this clearing than there was outside, and I wonder why I can’t make out any lamps up in the tree. There’s just a pervasive illumination, a little greener and bluer than daylight, as if the clearing is slightly underwater.

And I also wonder whether it’s the light or the length of time since I last had some water that’s making my vision go funny, because with this much light around, I should be able to tell what she’s wearing. I blink, and then I rub, trying to clear the problem, but it’s still there. Her face is clear enough, clear enough that I can see how striking her eyes are, wide and hazel, as she returns my stare, and I can see the small bright teeth shown as she smiles at me.

And so I don’t know why I can’t tell what she’s wearing. A part of me is trying to suggest that she’s not wearing anything, which is ridiculous, because it’s too cold for that, and because no one is going to be so completely unembarrassed to be naked in front of a stranger, and because I have seen a naked woman before and I know what one looks like and she doesn’t look like that. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.

But she has a very nice smile, and when she starts singing I think it’s about the nicest thing I’ve ever heard. She sings to the tree, but that makes sense. The words are a language the tree knows. I sure don’t.

It would be a shame to interrupt, though, so I withdraw to the edge of the clearing, to wait for her to finish her song. The mossy ground looks comfortable enough, once I kick a couple of these skulls aside, and I settle down cross-legged to wait.

Such a pretty song. I sort of hope it doesn’t end too soon.

“Inktober 2019 – Enchanted” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Build

“Ygor, I will need a left arm here.”

When, after several seconds, he heard nothing but a nervous shuffling right beside him, the doctor looked up from his stitching. Raising the magnifying goggles, he saw Ygor was still watching from just outside spurting distance, where he had retreated to after bringing over the most recent leg.

“Well?” When Ygor dropped his gaze to the floor, apparently embarrassed, the doctor felt his heart sink. “We’re not out, are we?”

Ygor’s head snapped up, professional pride displacing the bashfulness. “No, doctor. It’s not that.”

“Thank goodness.” The doctor took a deep breath, sighed out his relief, then returned to his original point. “Let’s have that arm then. This scaffolding can’t last indefinitely, and…” he paused, listening to a distant grumble of thunder, “We might be able to finish tonight with some effort.”

“Should we?”

“What?” The doctor almost dropped the spool of thread he held.

“Should we… finish?” Ygor ducked his head again, then found an inner reserve of courage. “It doesn’t seem quite right, what we’re doing.”

“This is coming very late in the game, Ygor.” The doctor spoke with icy slowness.  “If you had objections, you should have brought them up before we got this far along.”

“Well, until last week, I though you were just… you know…” The courage failed, but the way he glanced out the window toward distant Ingolstadt made his meaning plain to the doctor.

“Just reviving a corpse?” Ygor nodded. “Just creating a semblance of humanity, imbuing the spark of life into the disparate flesh of a tinkered-together homunculus?”

“Yeah, that.” Ygor took an unthinking step back, then grabbed at an upright to keep from slipping off the little work platform they stood on.

“That was fine for cousin Victor,” the doctor said. “Victor, for all his mechanical skills, lacks an artistic imagination. Besides, why should I do exactly what he did? He already proved it was possible.

“My creation, Ygor, will be the talk of the biennale in Florence, not just a source of nervous gossip in the medical schools. Now, will you please nip down to the Lefts bin and get me a nice-looking arm so I can finish this junction?”

Ygor nodded, shuffling toward the first of the four ladders he would have to climb to reach the parts stores. When he was halfway down, he paused to take in the doctor’s masterwork, trying to see it through its creators eyes. If it was actually able to support its own weight as it trundled overland to the art show, the intricately arranged network of arms, legs and torsos would indeed be admired by the cognoscenti of Europe’s art world.

From a distance, at least, where the details were less obvious. And probably only from up-wind.

“Inktober 2019 – Build” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.