If you’ve read Part I, you may proceed.
Fight or flight, both alternatives wise in their own stead. But making a choice between the two is where wisdom truly lies. Eloise Sanchez is a strong woman who in spite of being scarred by what she witnessed at Barb’s café, decided to fight to find the art gallery. In all probability, she regrets to have chosen fight over flight now, but in the morning when she took on the misty path, repentance was non-existent. With the images of one hundred spiders crawling amidst their webs in her head, she trod on the road, hoping for better things to come her way. Apart from the lingering mist, the path was also slightly crisp, making her wish she had brought an extra layer of clothing. She could hardly see because of the mist which grew thicker with every step. The street was quiet and filled with empty kiosks and Eloise’s footsteps were the only source of noise; that, and the occasional laughter of the little boy that Eloise intended to follow. She was moving forward but she couldn’t tell where she was going. It felt like clouds had descended onto the land and had covered Eloise from all sides, preventing her from seeing anything at all. She took out her cellphone to check the time but it was dead.
The battery was 100% this morning, what the hell is happening?
She put her phone back in the bag and continued walking. There was something queerly peaceful about the path; enveloped by the thick mist, she wondered if that was what heaven looked like. Her divine thought was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind her. At first she thought it were her own footsteps but she stopped where she stood to listen intently. The boy laughed again for six seconds and everything fell silent. The moment Eloise started walking, she heard the footsteps again.
“Who’s there?” she stopped and shouted.
The distant sound of the footsteps came closer in reply.
“Hello? Who are you?” Eloise turned towards the sound and slowly moved backwards, clutching her bag’s strap, desperately wishing to see something other than the white mist.
Almost suddenly, from behind her, someone grabbed her portfolio. They were trying to wrest it but Eloise’s grip was too tight to let the bag go.
“What the hell?” Eloise screamed and jerked her portfolio out of the captor’s hands. He was an old man wearing a dark grey watch cap with eyes as red as fresh blood, wearing rather dilapidated clothes.
“Give that to me, you stupid girl,” the man reached for Eloise’s portfolio again.
“You wish!” Eloise smacked her portfolio against the man’s shoulder causing him to fall on the road. “I didn’t mean to – err, I’m sorry.”
The man, still on the road, started laughing.
“What do you want this for, anyway? It’s my work, a few drawings on a paper. How’s it going to help you?” Eloise asked.
“Alright, you can give me the little bag then,” the man had stopped laughing and was struggling to get up.
Eloise reached out her hand and helped him get up.
“I can’t, sir. This bag is even more important than the big one, but I could lend you some money, if you want.”
“What the fuck will I do with your money, girl? Money might be the language in your world but it isn’t one here.”
With that, the old man walked away and Eloise wanted to stop him, but she couldn’t, for some reason uncharted.
The boy’s laughter became clearer, indicating that he wasn’t too far. The mist was beginning to thin for she could see the beautiful sight of the town again. The sky was clear and an excellent shade of a happy true blue. The road she trod had buildings in the shape of fruits on either side which made Eloise rather joyous. A wide smile started to appear on her face, but it vanished as quickly as it came when she saw the little boy standing right in front of her, his gaze fixed on Eloise. He must have been somewhere between eight to twelve years of age, Eloise guessed. The boy had hair as golden as the sun, and wore a plaid shirt with a white bow-tie and denim bottoms; with his hands held back, he flashed a canny smile.
“I see you met Odd Todd,” the boy spoke in his sweet velvety voice.
“Err, yeah, I guess I did.”
In the past Eloise has had some excellent relations with kids. Her sister’s children love her and every weekend they want to go to the mall with their Aunt Eloise. She never had a problem with any kid the three years she was a kindergarten teacher at the public school. But there was something imprecise about the kid that stood in front of her. She couldn’t read him, and the smile was nothing short of intimidating.
“What’s your name, lady?”
“Eloise,” she spoke, flabbergasted. “What’s yours?”
“I let people call me whatever they want.”
“I could call you Blaise,” she said with a smile.
“As you wish, ma’am,” came the reply.
An unusual period of silence followed. The kid continued to stare at Eloise, smiling all the while. Eloise wanted to stay and read the boy but there was no time.
“So, I am looking for a place, an art gallery. It’s called the House for Art. Do you happen to know where it is?”
The boy’s smile widened.
“It’s on the other side of town,” he said, “where the children live.”
“Children, kids, tots!”
“Aren’t you a child yourself?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re very much one,” Eloise giggled.
“Are you sure?” And with that, the boy’s eyes narrowed and his smile turned into a grin and within seconds, he started laughing.
Even though Eloise had heard his laugh before, this time, up close and personal, the laughter pierced her ears. She had a feeling that if the boy didn’t stop laughing, her ears will start to bleed.
“Stop! Stop laughing!” She screamed, covering her ears.
“I can help you if you help me.”
“Help you with what?”
“A project,” the boy replied. “If you would just follow me, please.”
“Err, no, I won’t. It’s okay, I’ll find my way to the gallery on my own.”
“No, please, I need your help. Nobody would help me,” the boy’s smile had vanished.
And for the first time, Eloise saw the little boy as a little boy and not a creepy kid.
“Okay, what is it?” Eloise gave in to his smile-less innocent face.
The boy took Eloise to a building which resembled a watermelon slice to perfection, juicy red with recurrent black dots for seeds. The building looked exceptionally real; Eloise had to touch it to believe it wasn’t really a watermelon slice.
“I hope you’re not afraid of clowns,” the boy said with his hands on the doorknob, the canny smile back on his face.
Afraid? Eloise laughed to herself. Her mind drifted to the memories of the day she dressed up as a clown for her nephew’s birthday and how very truly each and every kid loved her.
The inside of the building was much like the inside of Barb’s café, dark and sketchy, completely antithetical to its exterior. But like Barb’s place had chairs and tables and a slab to make coffee on, the watermelon building was abandoned in entirety save a single chair that sat right in the middle and the person who sat droopy on it. Eloise surveyed the whole place, closely inspecting both the walls and ceilings for any shocking creatures that might be crawling, waiting to attack her. To her relief, there were none.
The moment the little boy closed the entrance door behind them, utter darkness fell.
“Hello, Twinkle!” the boy said, and the top hat placed meticulously on the head of the person sitting on the chair, lit up. It tried its absolute best to illuminate the entire room and to some extent, it succeeded. Then, the person gradually stood up, and straightened himself, to face Eloise and the boy. Eloise stared at whatever was in front of her, with horror. It wasn’t a person; it was more mechanical than natural but it wasn’t entirely mechanical either. Half-machine half-man, perhaps? She tightened her grip on both her bags.
“Twinkle, this is Eloise,” the boy broke the horrific silence.
“Eloise, this is Twinkle Death, my project.”
Maybe Twinkle didn’t look like a twinkle, but he definitely looked like death. The face was painted stark white and around his eyes were huge circles of black. The mouth wasn’t painted, but masked. The masked mouth was widespread, just like that of an average clown, but the teeth were rotten mustard yellow with red paint in between them painted to represent fresh blood. The eyes of the clown were definitely those of a real person, Eloise could tell from their innate movement, but the body moved like it was some kind of robot.
“This is my project,” pride lurked clear enough in his voice.
“Project for what?” Eloise couldn’t take her eyes off of Twinkle Death.
“HALLOWEEN, of course!” the boy sprung up with acute enthusiasm.
“Alright, great!” Eloise hadn’t loosened her grip on the bags. “I’m gonna go now.”
She started to turn around but the boy grabbed her wrist. His hands were probably colder than ice, or so Eloise felt.
“Not yet!” the boy’s gaze penetrated her skin.
“Leave. My. Fucking. Hand,” she jerked her hand out from the boy’s grip, but at the same time, the machine-man-clown grabbed her other arm with his extremely hot, gloved hands.
“Aah! Thank you, Twinkle!”
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?” Eloise shouted with all her might, at the boy.
“Are you scared yet?”
Eloise didn’t know what to say. She was furious, but the fact that she would probably have been shivering if Twinkle wasn’t holding her arm, was sturdy proof of her fear.
And then the front door opened and in walked a lady donning a long skirt, a tank top, and a scarf. Her hair reached slightly above her knee and were a blaring coral green.
“NOT YOU BETSY! NOT AGAIN!” the boy cried with fury and Twinkle let go of Eloise’s arm, leaving a torn sleeve behind.
Eloise hit Twinkle with her portfolio bag once and just as she was about to hit him a second time, he turned around and sat on his chair, his top hat ceasing to glow.
“Enough, Ubel! This is the fifth time you’ve troubled a newco-” she stopped to look at Eloise, “a visitor, and this will not go unnoticed by the authorities.”
The boy wasn’t listening to the lady who looked only a little older than Eloise.
“Twinkle! TWINKLE!” Ubel shouted at his ‘project’. “What have you done to him, you witch?”
“What I should’ve done to you in the first place,” the lady replied.
This was all very new to Eloise; she couldn’t understand what was going on. She looked from the resting clown, to the furious boy, to the righteous lady, but failed to make any sense of her situation at all.
“Woman, if you will, please come with me, let’s get you some air,” the lady said to Eloise.
Eloise was panting. She looked at Ubel, who was suddenly in tears. Eloise had absolutely no sympathy for the boy and her lack of it was totally justified.
Just as they were about to step out of the place, the boy started laughing in between his tears; he laughed the same, sinister, laugh.
“Betsy the witch,
when your magic fails,
horror will enter your bones,
and we will all hear your wails.”
What Ubel said and the way he said it, with incessant laughter, sent a firm chill down Eloise’s spine, but seemed to have absolutely no effect on lady Betsy.
The moment they were out in the open, the door automatically shut and Eloise followed Betsy to a path that, she suspected, went further inside the town.
“What was all that about?” Eloise spoke when she finally found the courage to speak.
“You just met a bad apple, sweetpea.”
“Feels like I’ve been meeting only bad apples since morning. The café lady, the old kleptomaniac, and if that wasn’t enough, the sinister kid. And he called you a witch so if you really are a witch, I won’t be surprised if you turn out to be an evil one,” Eloise was clearly exhausted of even the anxiety that chilled her nerves.
“Do I look evil to you?” Betsy laughed subtly. “The kid you just met was Ubel. He’s unlike the other kids, who live on the other side of the town. I think you need to relax for a while. Come with me.”
“How do I know you’re not going to take me to a sketchy place filled with spiders or clowns, or worse, the walking dead?”
“Aren’t we all the walking dead?”
Betsy said it followed by a wink but Eloise didn’t quite understand what the joke behind it could possibly be.
“I would rather you help me find the place I’m looking for and really help and not play tricks on me.”
“I’ll help you; let’s just go sit on the bench for a while, okay?”
Eloise could swear there was no bench on the sidewalk but there was, a midnight blue bench just wide enough for two people. The girls sat on the bench and while Eloise sat tense and straight, Betsy relaxed and tied her long hair in a bun.
“What’s in the big bag?” Betsy asked, trying to make conversation.
“Sketches, a few paintings.”
“Oh! Going to meet Gavin, are we?” Betsy’s face lit up.
“Everyone knows Gavin in this town. He’s famous or something?”
“It’s actually a small town, err, what’s your name again?”
“Eloise,” she replied.
“Right, Eloise. It’s a small town in the sense that the inhabitants aren’t great in number, therefore on some level, we all know each other. But you’re right, Gavin is famous. He’s the town’s visionary,” Betsy spoke with a gleam in her eyes.
“Well, he came here from a big city so for the first few months he sulked and wouldn’t come out of his apartment. But then one day, he woke up and he felt like a change had transpired overnight, and he made some really big plans with the people who run this place and has wowed to make this place come to life. As you can see, it’s pretty dull right now.”
“That’s one of the most odd things actually, the streets are utterly deserted. There are kiosks with beautiful tents but no people, no hotdogs or burgers or souvenir shops.”
Betsy chuckled, “Those are mainly for aesthetical architectural purposes. And you’ll like the South of the town much better. That’s where Gavin lives.”
“I was supposed to meet him at 12 in the afternoon at the gallery and I have no idea what time it is now because my phone wouldn’t start and maybe I should just go back but this could also be my only chance of being recognized as an artist and I don’t want to give up on that,” Eloise was in tears. “Only bad things are happening to me in this town. I never should’ve come.”
Betsy wrapped her hands empathetically around Eloise.
“I’m sorry; it’s just that, I’m kinda tired of staying strong.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable sometimes, as long as you carry the hope to be strong again. Even if it’s buried deep inside you, don’t give up, my friend. Hope can always be dug out.”
There was something copiously comforting about Betsy’s smile.
“Now, let’s get you to Gavin. The gallery is also where he lives so he’s practically available all day long. He lives South side so you’ll have to take the bus.”
The two walked on and took a sharp turn to a street narrower than the others, also less colorful, and finally reached what Betsy claimed was the bus stop.
“The bus should be here any minute now.”
“You’re coming with me, right?”
“Oh, honey, I’m really sorry. I sure wish I could but I need to stay here. Not a lot of people live up here and most of the ones who do belong to Ubel’s category and they often frighten the visitors and that upsets the authorities,” Betsy explained.
Eloise could hear the bus approaching but all she could see was smoke.
“Oh, looks like the bus is here,” Betsy remarked.
Betsy stuck out her hand and in place of the smoke stood a bus which looked more like a monorail.
“Hop on, now,” the man on the wheels said in a husky voice while adjusting his baseball cap.
“Thanks,” Eloise said awkwardly to Betsy who replied with a wink.
Upon reaching the second step of the bus, Eloise looked back. Betsy hadn’t moved an inch.
“Are you really a witch?”
The man chuckled a husky chuckle in the background.
Betsy smiled and motioned her right hand towards Eloise’s torn sleeve which immediately fixed itself.
The doors closed and the bus began to move, but Eloise took her time. She stared at Betsy until she no longer could, and then turned to the driver.
“How much for the ticket?”
“Just go sit down, lady.”
Eloise thought it best not to engage any further in a conversation and walked towards a window seat in the back of the empty bus, lost in an utterly preposterous thought.
Stay tuned for Part III.