Will you stay and play awhile?
Company, tis few and far between
I can never not smile
Tis not false cheer upon my rouge lips, or denial
This jewellery upon my wrists and ankles does not bind me
Will you stay and play awhile?
My jittery, stilted dance tis worthwhile
Pick up these crosses and you’ll see
I can never not smile
My dress though old is a handcrafted style
Such detail, care, an abundance of glee
Will you stay and play a while?
Why leave for those in other aisles?
I am here, just a small worth, then I’ll be free
I can never not smile.
No, please, do not walk away, you of such guile
Like so many others who leave me be
Will you play and stay a while?
I can never not smile.
Of the sharp pine upon the breeze
Branches swaying, dappling dew-grass in shadows,
Of the dull drone of dancing dragonflies
Turquoise, red and green waltzing through the skies,
Of child’s laughter in the glades of dens and gnarled roots
Glimpses of gleaming teeth and mother’s arms,
Of the soft touch of daisies upon a sea of green
Broken by timberline and beaten paths end unseen,
Of undulating forests, emerald and moss
Rises far and above like a world within my own,
Of dogs sprinting between the trees rising to bird calls
Disappear from owners eyes but a moment to see it all.
Mrs. Bitterswitch was her first client. Today, she was the second to be seen to, her bag swollen with her merchandise.
Penelope checked the busy street, pedestrians clambering over each other in the early evening traffic; newspapers hugged the curbs, as exhaust fumes of idling cars filled the air with drowsy smog. She rolled her shoulders against the brick wall of the downtown café, smiling at a pair of girls heading inside, before sliding off of the corner and into the alley.
A Doorknocker meant many different things to many different people; merchants, weasels, gifted, and criminals. Most of which Penelope had heard at length from Aggy and her parents, none were fond of their nicknames, but she didn’t mind so long as she helped someone; like Mrs. Bitterswitch, she believed Doorknockers were of great use to both worlds.
The streetlamp barely made a dent across the dusky tarmac, grit crunched beneath her leather boots, with silhouettes of broken bottles, like discarded fingers, tossed up against the walls. She ignored the hubbub of the city and concentrated on the icy metal tucked in her pocket, fingers wrapped loosely around it. Her heart beat smoothly, so unlike her first time when it threatened to burst from her ribcage and fly off into the starry sky; if it weren’t for her father’s firm grip on her wrist, she wouldn’t have made it past the first knock.
Thoughts tiptoed their way through Penelope’s mind, hidden by the depths of her dull grey eyes and expressionless features. Aggy had taught her how to fit in but not disappear, fresh clients needed to find her after all.
So why wasn’t it working now? She must’ve done something wrong; for the past three months barely a withered old man had sidled up to her in the coffee shop and asked for a dog let alone a handful of buttons. If it weren’t for her regulars then she’d be out of pocket and out of her flat quicker than a troll could fart!
Mrs. Bitterswitch, one of her first and few remaining clients, suffered from acute indigestion. She had tried all known tinctures and pills, herbs and ointments but no cure worked. Had she not known of Doorknockers, Penelope was sure she would have shrivelled up a long time ago. But then, a nymph excreted a gelatinous substance when at deaths door and that alone could be sold for three times the amount of anything she offered.
If she was more of a Doorknocker then maybe she would’ve brought a jar with her on each visit. Earn a bucket load of cash that would buy that pixy from Gundersnatch’s stall she’d wanted for three months, or the new iPhone her friends had been flaunting.
‘Paper, gold, coins and gems. S’all money, Penelope. Don’t you forget that.’
Aggy had leered at her through his grizzly beard through her first year of service, sat upon his throne in the office of his manor and reiterated the Doorknocker law until she and Sebastian were plagued by rumbling stomachs, the sun long set. That was the last time Sebastian spoke of helping others.
But she had seen the good in her work and thought only of her client’s welfare. For two straight years on every Tuesday evening, she popped her Knocker on a wall and delivered her package to Mrs. Bitterswitch. Gradually her clients multiplied and sometimes, if she were lucky, Penelope passed through the Market on Aggy’s errands; but those were usually reserved for her brother.
Penelope slid to a halt, glancing left then right, satisfied when no pedestrians gave her a glance, and then placed the doorknocker against the wall. Rough brick rubbed against the back of her fingers, tickling the fine hairs.
The wind grabbed her coattails, slapped against her thighs, and the lapels to reveal the neck of her blouse beneath, as her hair swirled and danced. Her fingers prickled with an electrical current rushing through her veins into her heart and prickling her brain, the fine hairs on her arm standing on end. She bit her lip and dropped the ring thrice against the bricks, the sharp clack-clack-clack grating over her bones. She prayed it worked, because if it didn’t then Aggy wouldn’t be pleased.
‘We get one chance at Doorknockers, Penelope. Lose it and you ain’t having another.’ A rampaging Troll had ended Augustus Impervious’s days as a Doorknocker, binding him to the trade books in his manor.
Slowly at first, a spark fluttered against the red brickwork. Copper trickled over her tongue, as her teeth gnawed on the inside of her cheek and air expelled from her flared nostrils. Another spark flared and sputtered on the other side of the doorknocker hinge; the pair burrowed into the red terra cotta clay, a smouldering line branching out and down forming a doorway.
Penelope freed her hand from the silver ring and planted it flat against the bricks. The simmering line flashed a blinding gold, before the newly formed door swung inward, the frame barely cresting the top of her head.
Damp vapours coiled around her boots, silky fingers racing across the tarmac, before she stepped forward and the door swung shut behind her; the doorknocker tucked safely in her pocket.
Mrs. Bitterswitch’s flat had been consumed over the years by ornate cages of brittle copper and polished gold and the occasional silver should she be fortunate. Her powder pink walls and matching carpet were mottled and faded in places where the damp took hold. Yet, beneath the sharp perfume of water-lilies, there was the dank and saltiness of an elderly nymph. Penelope dreaded to think what it was like for the other tenants in the building.
Mrs. Bitterswitch hadn’t risen from her chair. Bogged down by pearlescent blue goo, she greedily raised her spindly arms, as her ivory stomach swelled and trembled. Her head of lank green hair was draped over the back of her armchair, cheeks sunken and eyes as large and as green as moss, avidly watching her every move.
‘You’re late.’ Her gaze never moved, but a hand rose and gestured to the clock upon her mantle. The fireplace was swamped with moss and grass, a spider web dancing across the stained white marble.
Penelope stepped further into the room, unbuttoning her jacket; her waistcoat caught the light and shone with runes embroidered in silver, a pocket-watch chain hooked on a button hole.
‘Five minutes won’t kill you.’
‘It might,’ Mrs. Bitterswitch retorted.
The buckle worked free in quick fashion, Penelope withdrew a small finely crafted cage from her satchel, dangled on the tip of her finger. She’d taken care on choosing this one, pristine copper swooped to a teardrop point at the bottom with a bar across the middle and ornately tooled ivy leaves surrounding the door. The yellow canary within, its feathers mildly ruffled and eye unblinking, sat with its beak tucked beneath its right wing.
Mrs. Bitterswitch trembled, her loose skin wobbled like ripples across a lake and trilled in the back of her throat. Life seemed to return momentarily, as she sat up straighter on the pink velvet chair and beckoned Penelope away from the wall.
She deposited the bird in her palms with practised precision, scooping up the bag of money from the coffee table by her feet before a new wave of goo sloshed over it.
‘Ah. Sweet, my sweet,” Mrs. Bitterswitch cooed.
The bird twitched and chirped in her gnarled fingers; its beady black eyes were wide and searching, as its beak nibbled at her saggy skin. She giggled and ran a stained fingernail down its head.
Penelope eyed the growing puddle surrounding her chair. ‘A pleasure…’ It really wasn’t, she’d gotten used to the smell over the years but there were days like today when damp carpet and rotten leaves hung in the air, giving her a migraine.
‘Don’t lie.’ Mrs. Bitterswitch snorted, cradling the canary against her bosom; the bird struggled then quieted with a few distressed squawks. A fresh wave of goo glistened on her skin, pores pumping it steadily down her limbs, through her dressing gown and into the pool around her slippers.
Penelope cleared her throat and discretely shuffled back, putting the table between her and the sea scented gunge. Her favourite pair of purple Doc Martins had been stained by the stuff, not even industrial bleach had removed the splotches of mottled indigo. Tooled dwarven leather cost an arm and a leg, she wasn’t going to test its resilience.
‘How’s your father?’ Mrs. Bitterswitch enquired. She blinked sluggishly, a half-smile curling her lips over needle sharp teeth. ‘Been years, years, since he came.’
‘It’s been a year and nine months,’ she answered. ‘But he’s been well…he sends his regards.’
Mrs. Bitterswitch laughed from deep within her stomach, the croaking of a bullfrog joined in a second after. ‘I doubt that dear, I doubt that. I’m old, seen too much and too little of these worlds.’ She sighed and tickled the canary beneath its chin. ‘Great battles, of wars unsung and wares not even you Doorknockers can hope to peddle.’
Penelope hesitated, hand already reaching for the doorknocker in her pocket. It wasn’t often that Mrs. Bitterswitch spoke to her for more than salutations and farewells, let alone of the past. She glanced back, noticing the settee didn’t appear too riddled with mould and perched lightly on the edge.
‘Did you know we Fae walked once with you?’ Mrs Bitterswitch hummed, gaining a rhythm in her words like a childhood lullaby, drawing Penelope in.
‘We of the woods, the sky and the ocean stood by you humans once in time. We aided you in living with the land, of explaining things you couldn’t understand.’ Her brow wrinkled further. ‘After the tide of change you all became the same, greedy and hungry for more. We couldn’t provide what you desired, so we fled and were heard of no more.
‘We followed the rivers of our home, deep into The Faed and opened the doors to none. Many knocked, many searched and many deserted their hopes. But there were some, some of you remained steady and strong, knowing where we belonged. You dear Doorknockers found us again, bartered and bargained until we all know of your name. Soon, soon will come a time where we shall walk as one again…’
Penelope exhaled, rubbing her clammy hands across her trousers. The words still echoed in her mind, Mrs. Bitterswitch’s eyes trained upon her a moment longer, before they dropped and remained once more on the canary.
‘Now my pretty, how about some dinner?’
She didn’t loiter a moment longer, already having seen Mrs. Bitterswitch eat and it wasn’t a sight she wished repeated. She rose, murmured a hasty farewell and knocked her doorknocker against the wall, intent on her next client.
Mrs. Bitterswitchs’ drooping lips and wrinkled cheeks would slope further down over her sunken chest and her tiny needle sharp teeth would appear from between the red flesh. The ingesting of the screeching bird took only a single gulp, trembling hands cramming the squawking bird into her cavernous mouth. Her beady green eyes would sparkle afterwards and a rosy tint returned on her cheeks.
Perhaps if Penelope had stayed, then she would have noticed the tremors rippling along Mrs. Bitterswitch’s stomach and the horror swelling her eyes. As it was, she heard of the nymph’s death through a different client over a shared cup of tea a week later, her own absent of the freshly bought copper shavings. A cage adorned in ivy leaves hung in the boggart’s window.
Dig your grave
Tip it back of a decanter aged
Past, present, set future
Cover the mask, forget the others
Voice of reason doubts
To be or not your fault
Fallen in deep, so dig
Dig the hole deep
Devil in disguise
Trouble is the name
Your fallen demise
Forge hope the faith
Of never considered reality
In the depths of your insanity
Bloom above, above the
Grave dug deep
Fight or flight
Test of trust in self
In shared want of touch
Needed not heeded in
A reality of pipe filled dreams
Like rainfall and sunshine
Dig the hole deep
Bloom above the shrine.
Beneath a blanket of stars, the comfort of a song whispers through open doors.
May closes her eyes, golden lashes tickle the curve of her cheekbones and watches the fireflies dance behind the lids. Hundreds, thousands even, swarm from their hive, an evergreen forest backing onto her garden. Their orchestra of light begins precisely one hour after sunset, not a moment later. She holds an annual ticket and the best seat in the house.
May dreams often of the golden lights and the subtle perfume of soil between her toes, the soft caress of grass against her bare calves. She wears the same dress, always. White gossamer draped over her curves and slopes, as ruby poppies entwine across the hem.
The stars dance with her then. Shining glimpses of souls lost and forgotten, they draw her in, draw her up into the navy silk of the night and into the moonlight until dawn touches her pillow.
Turquoise eyes alight on the forest, as the final curlicue of fireflies end their display and disappear for the night. Their reflection takes a moment longer to fade, captured by her gaze.
Crickets tease their violins, interweaving with the sighs and coos of the music from the depths of May’s bedroom. They tease her with their skills, beckoning owls, deer and the yips of fox to illustrate how easily nature enthrals her. Envy of their freedom drapes across her shoulders, a heavy shadow lingering too long.
May slips a breath through parted lips and stares at her dress. The white is as frail as gossamer, but far less grand and the poppies embroidered along the hem do not beguile a secondary look like her dream-dress.
But still, she waits. Soon, she hopes, as the moon drifts into sight in a gown of the purest luna-light. Soon she’ll be beckoned to join the stars and leave behind the shadows crawling across her skin.