Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Opening the way

Police tape stretched across the end of Holbein Street, closing it off to traffic and pedestrians alike. The street turned a corner half-way along stopping Grimmerie from seeing if the other end were similarly closed, but he expected it would be. There was a smell of rain to come in the air, and the breeze had stiffened in the last few minutes into an adolescent wind; going around now, up past the clock-tower meant that he might get caught in it all. He sighed, and looked about for the police officer who would be manning the tape to stop people from just slipping under it, and saw none. He paused, wondering what the real danger was, and then decided to walk round anyway, just in case.

He'd just drawn level with the clock-tower, a wedding-cake ornament of a building commissioned by the council in a fit of civic pride, when the first fat drops of rain starting splashing down around him. Cursing furiously under his breath he stepped into the porch of the tower for shelter, hoping that this was just a passing squall.

While he waited he looked around. The tower was steel and glass like so many modern buildings, but the porch here at the bottom was brick, and old-looking brick at that. He tried to remember if he knew what had been here before the site was cleared but his memory was dragging its heels again -- it seemed to do that more and more these days -- and he couldn't quite think of what it was. The door at the back of the porch appeared wooden but when he touched it it was freezing cold. He tapped on it lightly with his fingernails, wondering what metal it was. It sounded slightly hollow, but then someone on the other side tapped back.

Grimmerie tapped again, wondering if he hadn't just heard an echo. Someone tapped back in a different cadence, and then the thunder roared overhead and the rain started hammering down. Water splashed back up when it hit the street and there was a film of running water covering it in just thirty seconds. The sky lightened briefly, and two seconds later the thunder crashed again, echoing around the shops and houses. Grimmerie stared out at it, mesmerised by the ferocity of the weather, until the wind started driving the rain into his face in sporadic gusts. Then he pulled his coat collar up, and turned back to the door to see if it would open.

As he placed his hand against it and pushed he felt a familiar warmth against his chest. The amulet that permitted him access to the ways, to the places where he hunted teddy bears in their natural habitat, had activated. A ghost of the door swung inwards under the weight of his hand, and he stepped through it. For a long moment he was stood both in a ghostly clock-tower and at a meeting point of the ways, staring at a familiar middle-aged woman who was staring back at him. He noted almost idly that the ghost of the clock-tower looked almost exactly like the real clock-tower, and less idly that this was the woman who'd come into his shop to take an amulet from him. Then one world faded and the myriad paths of the ways opened up before him.

He loosened the Brinchev Kris in its little sheathe inside his jacket. He didn't have far to go, but a careless hunter quickly became a dead hunter. Sure that he was prepared, he picked a path he knew, and headed home.

Behind him, trapped inside the clock-tower, the woman who'd seen a ghostly Grimmerie walk through a locked door and then disappear listened to the rage of the storm and wondered how much more there was that she didn't know about the ways.

No comments: