Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Alone with Eggs

Bluish smoke sorted from the wizard’s chimney.

The thought of being turned into a toad gave Isaac momentary hesitation. But he’d robbed vicars and constables and merchants who slept lightly and had itchy trigger fingers. He may have come close a few times to being caught, but it was his experience that even the most vigilant clinger to earth’s possessions relaxed a bit when the sun set and the hearth was warm and everyone was quietly nodding off.
He’d wait a bit longer. Dusk would shortly come. The wizard would eat his omelette, then doze the late evening naps of the elderly.
The wizard was alone.
Alone with eggs. He could see at the hearth a small frying pan crusted with egg, and over the banked fire a pot boiled in a gentle roll, a pot filled with eggs and water. But on the makeshift settee, the tables, the floors and benches and nooks in the rocks, wrapped in gunny and linens and other oddemtns of cloth, were eggs. Rather largish eggs. Some nearly round, glistening of mother-of-pearl, others elongated, shiny, like leather loaves of bread.
The room, despite the banked fire, was stiflingly hot. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw in other corners the glow of embers. The reek of coal met his nostrils. As the wizard dozed in a snumbling rumble, smoke and heat, invisible in the twilight except for the waves of distortion they put out, seeped from nearly every crack in the rocks. Yet the wizard was wrapped tightly in robe and blanket, from which seeped hints of a cool blue glow. Enchantment, perhaps.
Quietly, Isaac thrust an arm through the crack. The heat within enveloped his arm as a clap of thunder. Beastly, worse than any summer mugginess, and wet as a sow’s mouth.
It had to be enchantment that kept the wizard cool. Inside the ruin, an oven.
Isaac crept around the dwelling, probing here and there, until he found a slab of rock, cleverly mounted on a pivot, which swung outward as he pulled on it. He quickly darted inside and shut the door, then cowered in the darkness behind a pile of baskets and sacks.
“Who’s there?”
The wizard.
Isaac was right to think the opening and closing of the door would be noted – those who enjoyed baking in such heat felt every draft of cool air.
The cool blue glow from beneath the wizard’s robe was brighter. The wizard walked, flapping folds of the rope so strobes of blue flashed amid the prickly heat.
Behind the baskets, Isaac began to sweat. He gulped silently at the stifling air and sweat coruscated off his brow. The wizard would have to settle quickly, or he’d have to leave, the heat was so oppressive.
“Chickadees,” the wizard muttered.
Instantly the dull red of the fire and the scattered coals burst forth new light – but, mercifully, no extra heat. The wizard, far from resembling the bedraggled soul who bought eggs off his father, looked menacing, probing the darker corners of the rubble pile with the end of his evil-looking walking-stick. He struck the pile of baskets with his stick, and the pile began to whirl and dance, buffeting Isaac with hot blasts of searching air. But because he was a skinny lad, able to clamber into a cleft in the rocks, and because the wizard was still dozy and the baskets whirling in his vision, he went unseen.
“Must be the chinking,” the wizard muttered as the baskets settled once again into their disorderly pile. “Or the damn squirrels sneaking in again. Nothing frightens the brainless things!”
As Isaac’s heart skipped a beat or two, the wizard, mollified, went back to his chair, wrapped his robe more tightly around him, sighed, and settled back to sleep.
Isaac remained in the crack where he hid, listening.
The wizard’s dwelling was quietly noisy, noisy enough for careful sneaking, he decided. He identified the sounds, one by one:
Crackling of the fire.
Boiling of the egg-filled water.
The quiet, easy breathing of the wizard.
Here and there, a gust of wind from outside which, mysteriously, never seemed to work in through the cracks, no matter what the wizard said about chinking.
And something else.
A few something elses.
Teacups rattling on the shelf as if a heavy cart pulled by a pair of oxen were trundling outside.
The sqirmy flap of soggy leather.
And beyond the bubbling at the hearth, another, deeper bubbling, as of a dog slumbering soundly underwater, its breath passing through a vast cauldron of hot, hot water.
He noted different timbres, as his ears got more attuned to the sounds. Many squirmings. Many rattlings.
One squirming close at hand.
Nestled in a basket, wrapped in rough sacking, an egg. But what an egg – an egg the size of a hen. A bald, leathery hen.
As he watched it, the egg squirmed.
Isaac was repulsed. The egg resembled not an egg, but a weevil, a weevil like the ones he discovered once in his oatmeal when he complained to his mother that the currants she put in were putrid.
“No currants to put in, love,” he recalled her saying. “Just oatmeal and a bit of milk.”
The wizard shifted in his seat, snorted.
Isaac saw the basket had handles on it.
He grasped them.
“No use getting caught looking for treasures,” he thought to himself as he backed towards the slab-door. “I’ll come back for a better poke-about when the wizard’s not here, and find his treasure. In the meantime, I’ll see what we’ve got here.” He pulled the slab open, darted out, and swiftly shut it. As he darted into the cover of the brambles alongside the road, he fancied, over his shoulder, he felt a blue glow diffuse the white of the stars above.
Isaac had to keep shifting the basket from one hand to the other, as the heat of the wizard’s dwelling seemed to have accompanied the baggage he carried.

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