16. Just a nudge.
“Janey? Hold my hand. Are you okay?”
With her vision a blur, Janey grasped Mojo’s hand and forced herself not to faint. All around her colours swished and spun. She was on a merry-go-round except it didn’t feel very merry. Her stomach lurched and she took a few deep breaths.
“Easy now, little Janey.” Mojo’s voice centred her. “The Grind isn’t kind to visitors, yet try we must, push we must or the fate of the Cog will win this day.”
Janey steadied herself and blinked away the blur. They were in a kitchen and that added to Janey’s confusion. Moments before they were in a classroom, bright, colourful and quietly noisy. And before that she had been elated to be back in her park, wide open spaces, familiarity and lush outdoor smells. Such welcome odours had been all too rapidly replaced. Now coffee and toast replaced those she had only moments to take in. Not that Janey didn’t like coffee or toast, but when one smell was exchanged for another in the blink of an eye it was a little bewildering.
“What are we doing here?”
Janey squinted at her friend. He wore a sly grin but it didn’t mask the concern in his eyes. “I’m okay. What are we nudging?”
When the front door opened, Janey jumped to avoid the rapid march of a same young boy they had seen in the classroom. Janey took a moment to remember what had happened only a moment before. She didn’t like how her memory wasn’t being as forth coming as she wanted. Her memories were lagging, like waiting for an image to load on a web page.
“That’s him isn’t it?”
Mojo nodded. “The very same.”
The boy threw his school bag on the kitchen table and snatched open the fridge door. He rummaged inside and fetched out a carton of milk. In the centre of the kitchen he glugged it down in one go and tossed the empty carton into the bin. It missed and landed on the floor. A milky dribble splashed on the dark floor tiles. Janey, still fighting her nausea, watched the boy scowl at the milk carton.
“What’s he doing?”
“Thinking. Worrying. Raging.”
A memory loaded. “Oh. Because of the C-?”
“Yes. It has worked very well.”
Janey wished she could wipe a cool cloth over her brain like she would her brow. She backed up and sat on the bottom step of the stairs. “Mojo…something isn’t right…” She felt hot and sick. “What’s happening to me?”
Mojo glanced down at her. “It’s the Grind. Strangers are apt to feel sick and tired.” He dug around in the pockets of his jacket and offered her a cube of chocolate. “Eat his. It will make you feel better.”
Janey popped it in her mouth. It tasted sweet and warm. What she wanted was a nice cooked meal but she accepted the chocolate with gratitude. As she chewed she studied the kitchen cupboards with hungry eyes.
With a squeak of wheels an elderly lady rolled into the kitchen and came to a stop at the table. Janey glanced at Mojo for an explanation but he was staring intently at the lady.
“Bad day, honey?”
“Yeah. You’re not wrong, Gran.”
“Not enough to turn the kitchen into a junk yard.” She nodded at the milk carton on the floor.
“Sorry.” The boy retrieved his litter and placed it in the bin.
“A problem shared is a problem halved.”
“It’s not a problem.” The boy frowned. “Not really. Just unfair.”
From his school bad he pulled out a folded piece of paper and smoothed it out across table. Janey recognised the painting of the rainbow tree.
“Unfair,” said the boy.
When his Gran said nothing he pointed to the corner and the C- scrawled in the corner.
“I agree, Tom. Fair it most certainly isn’t. What did your friends paint?”
“Rob did a house. He got an A.”
“Just a house?”
“A house, Gran.” Tom kicked at the cupboards and scowled. “It was crap, I mean rubbish, really, really rubbish. He even painted a big yellow sun and a bit of sky at the top.”
“That’s where the sky belongs isn’t it?”
Tom shook his head. “No. The sky is everywhere. It doesn’t go at the top. And the sun isn’t yellow neither, it’s all sortsa different colours.”
Janey smiled. This one sees things as they should be. She saw a knowing smile play at the edge of Mojo’s mouth.
“Did it have a smiley face and a hat?” asked Gran.
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“Just a guess.”
“He got an A, Gran.” Tom stared at his phone for a moment.
Janey realised she was missing her own phone. The last time she had seen it was in her bedroom before she crept out into the night to meet Mojo at the park. It seemed like a life time ago.
Tom fiddled with his phone. He tapped it on the kitchen table. “Even Suzy Becker got a B for her painting of a dog,” he said with a deep sigh. “And it only had three legs.”
My sort of dog, thought Janey.
Gran tried to cheer up Tom but the young boy wasn’t in the mood to accept her support.
“Well I think it’s very good, kiddo,” she told him.
“Thanks Gran,” said Tom. He pulled his bag off the table as if it were filled with bricks. “Just wish my teacher did too.”
Janey experienced a moment of panic when Tom walked straight through her as he headed upstairs. Physically she felt nothing. It reminded her of what Mojo said about them being mismatched in space and time, though it didn’t make her feel any better having someone walk through her. Perhaps that was how ghosts felt. Janey shuddered.
They followed Gran out of the kitchen and into an artist’s studio. Janey’s attention was instantly drawn to a dark landscape of horror and decay. Gran wheeled herself up to the painting and gazed at it for a moment before pinning Tom’s painting to the top of the canvas. Janey didn’t like how she saw the angry landscape shifting across. It was as if the thick dangerous brush strokes reacted to the invasion of colour, snarling on the canvas as if poised to attack.
Mojo stood beside Gran but Janey hung back, the grey monstrosity frightened her. Maybe if she got too close it might infect her with its decay.
“Wait by the window, if you would, little Janey,” said Mojo.
Janey stepped around Gran’s wheelchair and pressed herself against the wall, putting as much distance between her and the aura of menace that surrounded the landscape. She was careful not to touch any of the other paintings.
“And now for the nudge,” said Mojo.
He reached out to grasp the invisible wheel of the Grind. Janey closed her eyes. She didn’t want to feel sick again. She wanted their Task to be over so they could leave the Grind alone. She felt a pang of envy for Mojo’s ability to ignore the effects of shifting through time. How long had he been kicking around the pathways of time? She realised that for everything she thought she knew about her friend, there was so much she didn’t.
When she opened her eyes again Janey was relieved they were still in the studio. Dust motes played in morning sunlight that streamed through the windows. Someone was talking. A man stood in the doorway, his lips moved but Janey couldn’t hear his voice. Mojo still gripped the wheel of the Grind, teasing it slightly one way and the other. The world around Janey clicked into place.
“Sorry, I was away with the fairies,” said Gran. “Are you ready?”
The man in the door way laughed. “I’ve been ready for half an hour.”
“You never were much of a joker,” Gran replied. “I know I’m getting on a bit but it most certainly has not been thirty minutes.”
He pointed at the clock on the wall. “Time doesn’t lie, Cal,” he said. He shrugged. “Hey, I take that as a compliment. My latest piece has caught your eye. Come on, I’ll get the car ready.”
Janey stared at Mojo. “Can she see us?”
Mojo winced and strained to hold the wheel in place. “Mayhap, for a split moment. The Grind leaks sometimes. Be ready to open the window.”
Gran nodded slowly and turned back to the painting.
The front door opened. “Now,” said Mojo. “
Janey cranked the handle on the window and pushed it open. A draft snatched the rainbow treepainting of the canvas. Gran took it out of the air before it could land on the floor. Janey watched her hold it in her hands for a moment. On the other side of the old lady she saw Mojo bend down and whisper into her ear just as he had done with Tom in the classroom.
His words were for Gran alone. Janey didn’t care to hear them. The idea of anyone wielding the power of persuasion bothered her. How many other people used the Grind to change the course of history to suit their own desires? What would history be like if the Grind didn’t exist? The possibilities were staggering.
Gran didn’t pin the painting back on the canvass. Instead she folded it neatly in two and slipped it inside the pocket of her cardigan. Mojo inched the wheel without warning and the studio shifted out of sight, fading and twisting into nothing.
Mojo grunted and struggled to grip the shaking wheel. Pricks of red light shivered in the air around him.
Something was wrong.
“It’s the Cog,” said Mojo. Sweat stood out on his brow. “Help.”
Janey would have crossed the studio in a few steps had it still been there. The instant she thought about moving she was there, stood before Mojo, staring into his pleading eyes.
“Take the wheel,” he said.
Janey hesitated. It was invisible.
“Feel it. Know it’s there even if your eyes tell you otherwise.”
Janey was astonished to feel the solid wheel beneath her finger tips. She grasped two struts either side of Mojo’s hands. The wheel shook and she almost lost her grip.
“Why’s it shaking? What do I do?”
Mojo didn’t reply. Sparks of red rushed through the air around him. He flinched every time they landed on his skin. Janey felt helpless. Without Mojo to guide her she would be trapped in an empty space.
“The park. Think of the park, little Janey,” Mojo said through clenched teeth. “We must get to the park or our eternal home will be here, trapped between worlds with the Grind snatched away from us.”
Janey pictured the park, dark and quiet, far from the scary none space the Grind held them prisoner.
“Good Janey.” Mojo’s face was smothered in a film of sweat and bright red sparks. “Just a little more.”
“You’re all covered in red,” said Janey.
A ragged gash ripped through the air between them. Mojo screamed when a shower of red sparks poured out and surrounded him. Janey could barely see him through what had become a whirlwind of red mist. There was a dull crack like shattered ice and the park exploded into view around them.
Mojo staggered back and collapsed onto the grass. Janey released the wheel, her strength gone. Her knees gave way and she slumped next to Mojo. She could hear music and laughter and the sound of water splashing somewhere behind her.
“The Cog is trying to take control of the Grind,” said Mojo. He could barely talk, his voice a cracked wheeze. Janey saw with horror that he suddenly looked very old. “I had no choice. I had to use it. Consequences are inevitable. I don’t have much time, little Janey. I have so much to tell you.”
“Lay still. Just get your strength back. We’ll be okay, won’t we?”
Mojo chuckled. “Always positive. My little Janey. My inspiration.”
Tears slid down her cheeks. “Stop it. We’re here now. Everything will work out.”
“Yes it will.” Mojo lifted his head and looked around. “The Grind is only forgiving to a point. The Cog knows this, as does the clacker jacker. Remember only use it when you must. Never on a whim.”
“Stop it. Stop talking.” Janey didn’t want to see her friend looking so old and frail.
“No time for tears, little Janey,” said Mojo. “Much to do and barely the time to do it. Time catches up with us all sooner or later.”
“No. It hasn’t caught you yet. I won’t let it.”
Mojo smiled. “Your truth is well spoken.” He beckoned her closer to him. “There is time, but only a little. I will speak now, little Janey, of truth and of the path you must follow to complete the Task and find the clacker jacker.”
“Our path. It’s ours. We started it together and we’ll finish it together.”
“Please Janey.” Mojo coughed. “The Grind has taken back what I have borrowed. I must tell you about the clacker jacker.”
Janey sobbed. It couldn’t end like that. Mojo was forever. He couldn’t leave her alone.
“The clacker jacker is here.”
Janey snapped her head up and looked across the park.
“Not where. When. And together we will trap him.”
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 2 and half hours to write, and is a shade under 2,500 words. I feel as if things are rushing toward a conclusion now and I’m happy with how Mojo and Janey’s path has crossed that of Tom, Lee and Caroline from Ground Fall. It seems that many of my short stories have a sort of overlapping effect, where the characters impact on each others journey’s.
I feel I must apologise, dear blog reader, for not posting this instalment of Arcane Insane sooner. Just as Mojo has run out of time I too have had little time to devote to this story of twists and turns. I can’t say for sure how many more chapters are to come, but it feels that the home stretch is within sight. The fates of Mojo and the clacker jacker will soon to be revealed. I’m looking forward to it!
The next Arcane Insane will hit your screens on 10th October. Until then, dear blog reader, clickety-clack keep an eye on the track!
A quick word about stories and fictional adventures, a moment of your time I beg. In November I’ll be joining the masses in National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo – and have joined a special support group set up by Indigo Spider to help us on our journey through the writing frenzy.