15. The Grind.
“We’re back in the park.”
Janey rubbed her foot on the grass to make sure it was real. Only moments before the Cog had given Mojo his Task. The instant Mojo accepted it the machinery vanished, leaving them in darkness of the park. Janey considered following her train of thought along the “am I dreaming?” tracks but gave up before the train left the station. If she started that line of questions everything she had experienced would seem nothing more than subconscious gibberish. Janey refused to accept that possibility. There was a reason they were back in the park and it had little to do with her being asleep.
“A park,” said Mojo. “I doubt it’s the same park you know and remember.”
“Of course it is,” said Janey. “There’s the swings, slides, the kiosk. The path to the town centre.”
“The Cog didn’t say it would be the same place,” said Mojo. “Expecting it to be so is unwise given the Cog’s nature.”
“Time and space, reality and truth, toys for the Cog to play with,” Mojo said.
“So we’re not back in my park but some other park that looks exactly the same?”
Mojo shrugged. “Who knows why the Cog does what it does? Just as I have accepted my Task we have to accept the possibility this is somewhere else. It may look the same but experience tells me it isn’t.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“It doesn’t smell the same.”
Janey sniffed the air. “Smells like wet grass to me.”
“You base your experience on what you know, little Janey,” said Mojo. “As do I. Your park had a subtle odour of rust from the trash cans, a faint smell of ice cream and dust blown in from the outlying corn fields. Those are all missing here.”
Janey turned and looked at a nearby trash can. It looked brand new. She put aside her doubts, it wouldn’t help to add more questions to her already overloaded list.
“Do you know what the Cog meant about this thing coming up out of the ground to kill people?”
“The Hun. Yes. I have never seen it, few have. But I know of it.”
“And we’re supposed to help it do that?” Janey didn’t want to be part of an event that killed one person let alone hundreds or more.
“Not exactly,” said Mojo. He looked up at the sky. “We’re moving. The Cog is eager for this Task to be finished. Daylight will be here in a few minutes.”
Janey gazed up at the stars. Instead of the steady twinkling lights she saw them drift across the black backdrop like time-lapse photography. She felt giddy and looked down at the grass.
“The stars…why are the moving so fast?”
“It’s the Cog. It’s toying with us. It can change things like time.”
“So why doesn’t it just do the Tasks instead of asking others do to them?”
“Because it can’t. It’s just machinery. Think of it as a baseball game. The Cog is the stadium, the power, seating, hot dog stands, parking lots. It is everything but the people and the players. It creates a situation for the actual events to take place.”
“And then we unlock this thing to come and kill everyone?” asked Janey. “Why would it do that?”
“I fear to know the answer, little Janey,” said Mojo.
“Well I don’t.” She tugged his sleeve and he tore his eyes from the sky. “You’re really going to do what it asked?”
Mojo smiled and shook his head. He looked around at the dark park then placed a finger to his lips and leaned toward her. “Step back and be still.”
Janey did as she was told and sat on a bench that smelled of fresh wood. Mojo turned around and around like a dog searching for the sweet spot to take a nap. He stopped and held out his hands to grip something that wasn’t there. A faint glow of golden light pooled around his hands and Janey saw the silhouette of a wheel like that found in a boat. The glow shimmered, it was difficult to concentrate on the details. The wheel looked old and ornate, one moment it was solid, the next transparent.
Mojo gripped the wheel and strained against it. Janey could see the concentration on his face. The wheel looked heavy and unyielding to his efforts. Then it turned, slowly at first until Mojo moved his hands around it. Janey felt a dullness behind her eyes as a moment of dizziness washed over her. She was reminded of a banquet her parents held where she’d secretly swiped glasses of champagne and swigged them from a hiding place under the table. It was a giddy, light-headed sensation where some things moved too slowly whilst others appeared to move quicker than they should.
The glow faded and Mojo released the wheel. He stumbled over to her and dropped on to the bench.
“As powerful as the Cog and Bonds Keeper are, they are blind to the tricks that those in Limbo learn,” Mojo said. He was breathing heavily. He pointed at the sky. “The stars have stopped.”
“The Grind is an invisible wheel?”
“A secret known only to a few and they guard it well. It is a secret access point to the wheels of time,” said Mojo. “The Cog sets the stage but I control the curtains. It takes a long time to learn how to use it and I rarely risk exposing it to the Cog. It takes great energy to control it. It demands concentration beyond the reach of most in Limbo.”
“Why? What’s it for?”
“Time is like clockwork, cogs turn and time moves on. You travel from one city to another and time is used up. Now imagine a way to reach into that invisible machine and tweak it ever so slightly. You can nudge two places closer together by adjusting the time between them.”
“The Grind is not so clumsy as that label your physicists place upon it,” said Mojo. “It is a delicate thing with many subtle uses, time being one of them.”
“So what did you just do?”
Mojo smiled. “Stopped everything,” he said. “Just for a moment before sunrise.”
Janey gaped at him. “You’re serious?”
“Indeed I am, little Janey. In order to answer your question I needed to remove us from the Cog’s reach.”
Janey looked around. “So it can’t hear us?”
“More than that. It doesn’t know we have stopped. It can still see us right where we stopped on the wheels of time. Some try to spin the Grind round and round until it fits their exact needs. Foolish. The Cog has no control over the Grind but it recognises the sudden power unleashed. Yet touched by a tiny fraction the Cog cannot see the ripples of energy because they look just like everything else that creates cause and effect.”
Janey thought she understood. “So you stop time for us but not for anyone else?”
“So you can explain why we’re not doing the Task?”
“Oh we will carry out the Task, make no mistake,” said Mojo. “But we won’t leave those whose lives will be shaken beyond measure by the event to suffer without protection.”
“I am not so cruel or heartless as the Cog. I have my own Tasks to perform first. Long have I known this day would come and I have prepared for it well enough.” He frowned and looked at Janey. “I never expected to have a companion but it makes no difference. I have a duty to protect people, a duty neither the Cog nor the Bonds Keeper know of. I am just another drifter in their eyes, an annoyance indeed but they only see things as they are not as they should be.”
“How long have you known?” asked Janey. She remembered the date called over the loud hailer. “Since 1802? Is that when you were born?”
Mojo chuckled. “That’s when they think I was born.”
Janey shook her head to shrug off her bewilderment.
“For now it’s best you don’t know,” said Mojo. “The Cog and the Bonds Keeper are blinded by their power. They fear what doesn’t fit. There are things beyond their understanding.”
“Like Rickety Jack?”
“Amongst others, yes.”
“Okay,” said Janey with a deep sigh. “What’s your plan?”
Mojo stood and stretched. “We are going to visit a young school boy who has a gift for art.”
“Yes. Before unleashing the terror that will change this world I will create a guardian to protect them.”
“But you said the Task was to let this thing out, the Hun? Whatever that is.”
“The Cog said that was my Task.” Mojo gave her a wink. “But it didn’t say I couldn’t do anything else.”
Janey had accepted almost everything she had experienced since leaving the park, but as her path twisted and turned she felt she was losing what shred of control she originally had. Rickety Jack made sense, kind of, with his talk of deals and the elusive clacker jacker. Even the Bonds Keeper, bizarre as he appeared, had a plan she understood, albeit one she disagreed with. But talk of time and space, truth being different from reality and Mojo revealing more than she expected about himself, there was just too much information, too much to take on board and process.
What she wanted was the truth yet it seemed farther away than ever.
She needed time for her brain to unwind and relax. She realised she needed a good nights sleep.
“Time we have plenty of, little Janey,” said Mojo, reading her expression. “After our first errand you will have time to recuperate. Questions will connect with answers, that I promise, a most solemn and sincere promise made.”
“Okay. Let’s go visit this boy.”
Mojo rose from the bench and with outstretched hands her gripped the wheel and they entered the Grind once more.
16. Rainbow Tree.
A classroom. Colourful pictures and alphabet posters adorned the walls. Children chattered away, sat on small chairs around tiny tables. The room smelled of paint, paper, pencils and wood. A teacher walked around the class, congratulating the pupils and keeping order. Janey stepped aside when the teacher walked toward them. There was no commotion caused by their unannounced arrival. No one looked at them or even acknowledged their presence.
“Why can’t they see us?” Janey said to Mojo. “Are we invisible?”
“Not quite. We’re not really here. We’re out of synch with their time and place, not much but just enough to avoid being seen.”
“Oh. Who are we looking for?”
Mojo pointed and they walked over to a table where industrious hands covered sheets of paper with bright paint. One boy was painting a house on a hill with a big yellow sun and deep blue sky across the top. A girl beside him chewed on her lip as she dragged her paint brush across the paper. Janey thought the three-legged dog looked more like a horse but she silently applauded the girl for her efforts.
On the other side of the table a boy stared at his blank sheet of paper.
Janey glanced at Mojo who nodded.
The boy had a assembled a dozen pots of paint in a neat row above his paper. He held his paintbrush in the air above them as if undecided which one to dip it into first. Mojo knelt down beside the boy and whispered into his ear. Janey watched in amazement as the boy’s hand slowly moved to the yellow pot. Mojo continued to whisper and the boy touched his paint drenched brush to the paper.
For a few minutes Janey couldn’t work out what the boy was painting. It looked like a block of yellow. But slowly a figure emerged, one dressed in a yellow coat and holding an umbrella. She couldn’t hear what Mojo was saying and the boy took no notice of either of them. Janey thought it was wrong for Mojo to tell the boy what to paint, surely he should be painting whatever he wanted like his friends had? It looked like control had been taken away from him.
After a few more words Mojo rose to his feet and stood beside Janey. “Encouragement, little Janey, nothing more.”
The boy continued on, his paint brush darting back and forth between paint pots and the paper. Janey watched as the scene took shape. A dark and gloomy painting of a tree drenched in multi-coloured rain, the central figure sheltered from the rain as flames ate the ground around its feet.
Janey jumped when a bell chirped and the classroom was filled with activity. The pupils took their paintings to a long side table by a window to dry in the sun. When the classroom was empty Janey and Mojo followed the teacher. Marks were awarded for each painting. Janey waited with barely contained patience when the teacher stopped at the rainbow tree. It was very different to the rest of the simplistic paintings.
The teacher put a C- on the corner of the rainbow tree painting and moved on.
“Good,” said Mojo.
“That’s crap,” said Janey with a frown. “The kid who did the house on the hill got an A. Surely the rainbow one is way better than the rest. “
“It is but we don’t want an A,” said Mojo. “That C- is the cause that leads to the effect we need.”
“We shall find out, little Janey,” said Mojo and grasped the wheel.
To be continued…
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write a 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 4 photos as a prompt.
This section took about 3 hours to write, and is a shade under 2,300 words. Every word, twist and turn has come straight from brain to screen without forethought or planning. Just the way I like it, well, for this ongoing adventure at least!
Just as I have done with the previous instalments, I have not given this piece of writing any thought since Part 6. I want to sit and write each piece in one go without any planning, just let the characters go where they will and must.
I have to admit that I am a little disappointed with myself with this instalment. I wasn’t sure where the Cog was going to send Mojo and Janey but as I wrote I realised I was tying this story in with my short story Ground Fall. I kept going to see where it would lead until I found out there was going to be a strange cross over between these two stories. I was tempted to delete it and start again because this new twist has led me to a place where I won’t be giving the next instalment a blank canvas.
The story will continue but for a while there will be a more determined aim, that of connecting Arcane Insane with Ground Fall. It’s quite exciting actually because I get to work parts of Ground Fall into this story but from a different perspective. I don’t actually know exactly what will happen other than a few key scenes I have in mind.
Mojo is turning out to be much more than a drifter stuck in Limbo and I’m sure we’ll find out his true nature at some point, so long as he gives Janey the answers she so craves.
I offer apologies for the lateness of this instalment, dear blog reader, work and life have kept my imagination away from writing this week.
The next Arcane Insane will hit your screens on 9th September. Until then, dear blog reader, clickety-clack keep an eye on the track!