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Total Quality Reading

Stories are our business ™

       The Rorschalk appears with his lute at the portcullis of Shadow Falls Prison, having stepped diligently upon the younger wood of the drawbridge's half rotted planks to make it without incident and dry to the other side. 

       Upon receipt of his presence, a guard with a funny hat and frilly pants bowed at the joints proceeds to pat him down while another of his company inspects the lute. 

       "That's just my manhood," says Rorschalk to the bemused guard. "Born of a stallion and dryad, not of this world."

       "The loot," says the one with the Rorschalk's instrument in his hand.

       "That's right," says the Rorschalk, thinking both of his assailants quite funny. "I'm taking a cue from the elves and their gist of music therapy."

       The guards glance at one another and shake their funny-hatted heads as the one who spoke before tries again. "No you son of an ass...we require payment for your visit."

       "You mean you'd have the bad manners to make me an accessory to your own corruption?"  

       "Whatever you’d like to call it," growls the second one "Now leave the club in your pants and show us the money."

       Sighing for the wayward vector of humanity but not being so naive as to have come ill prepared, the Rorschalk produces a leather pouch of silver spires from his pantaloons silken folds.

       "I was told that with the proper manner, I could have an audience with one Auntie Owl."

       "Oh yeh," says the first one, "Prisoner 333, will be in the basement block she, a right devil."

       Satisfied with the bribe, the guard gives Rorschalk his lute back after which the other leads him through the grey open air courtyard in between the stacked cell blocks squared around a postages stamp of sky, though the light that filters down past their iniquitous auras doesn't seem to have the same effervescence as the light on the outside, as if it had been filtered through the shroud of a dead man who died violently, by the spilling of much blood. Then down into a dark set of steps carved into the limestone upon which the penitentiary stands. Torch light throws long, distorted shadows across the placid walls as they wind their way down into the rocky bowels of the prison. 

       "Going in alone?" asks the guard who led him to the broad stone door behind which resides the infamous dark occultist and merciless killer Auntie Owl.

       "Music soothes the savage soul," says Rorschalk, strumming a savory chord.

"It's your funeral," replies the guard, twisting the key in the lock and slowly pushing open the door.

       In concord with the creaking door, the Rorschalk takes a deep sigh before he steps across the threshold into the dank, dark cell, holding his lute before him like a talisman to check the evil within. 

       "How now Auntie Owl? It is I, your humble interlocutor."

       Splayed against the wall by taut shackles and cinched manacles, even her fingers fastened each-to-each, the woman in the dirty kirtle already watches him, one eye blinking beneath a tormenting dangle of gray hair.

       “Brave, indeed, he must be, to tryst with wicked old Auntie Owl and all alone. What else is he, one wonders, to have come at all? and with a lute. A tripe fondler, but not just that—and best be warned the acoustics here are something dead; even screams and cries might just snug into the clobber. Well, now, let’s have a lamp at this one, shall we. Yes, yes, the lute’s your badge, but what beats behind it? A love of jink—the commonest sort of loving in the whole bad world—but I can smoke this one’s truest, deepest love is capital. And holding so much less than he knows he deserves—ain’t you? Landing down all this dark way to pay respects to Auntie Owl, but stagging maybe to land up again with more, maybe much more, than you had. Not my first visit, so tell me, for the love of jink, how much they shook you down to see me? What was your investment? Oh, my stars, I hope they didn’t take you for ten silver spires!”

       “No jink, madame, I am here strictly for the monkey, which is always worth the money so don't worry your mengeled gray head about it.” 

       The rorschalk strums a c minor into an e major diminished chord to introduce the proper air of melancholy he wishes to precede him.

       “The lute is a tribute to the fair and brave adventurers who managed to best you at your silent and quite violent skullduggery that sees you here shackled. They were confident there is still hope for the beneficence of your immortal soul. Well?”   

       Whether from his words or voice or her dangling hairs, she winces, tips her head, and squints her open eye. “Quiet as kept is best,” she murmurs. “Twas mine own skull the skullduggery’s violence visited—despite what fair and brave cant you might have eared—so please now soft and snug, my musical pall, everything soft and snug, gentle and low. I can’t stag you’ve come rattling all this way to judge me like a black fly or a beak, I can’t stag but there’s some ken in you, some subtle wanting in you only Auntie Owl can fill—and there it is! there it is! in that word ‘beneficence!’ It means gift. What do friends and coves and musical palls do but tip each other gifts? Tit for tat. Each to each. Something-something. Need for need. I’ll begin and lay it out. Were this tiny string not binding my finger to my thumb, on the caudge-paw here where they’re waggling in their manacles, were this one wee little string but snipped, I could flick away this flopping hank then, I wouldn’t be so cutty-eyed, I could lamp you with both peepers while we visit. And I’d owe you a gift.”

       The Rorschalk thinks of the lion set free of the net by the persistent nippers of the mice, then of the frog stung halfway across the river by the scorpion, and quickly sides with  the interpretation that helping her would see him drown, knowing what he knows of the surprises Auntie Owl has gifted friends and coves alike.

       “My wiles are not beyond suggestion, but that I should ask you for some assurance that we may engage a bit further in conversation, for stories are my business and I've come so far not to judge but, perhaps to add some insight into your, as of late, unhappy story. And I'm dying to ask, since you seem to me to be one perhaps overqualified to answer...where resides pleasure in pain?”

Not for a long time does she speak, her tormented eye squinched under dangling gray, tearing, sluggishly weeping as though itself the slow flowing of thought.

       “Insight,” she finally murmurs, “is on offer then, but not for me, insight for this late, unhappy story never mine or actual anywhere on the world, for that the Law, and you and your mongering lute, simperingly bruit and believe these faerie fabrications. A dowdy fussock married to manacles must be served for that she’s ugly, must be assumed to smack of devilshine, and served the same all her jackanape companions too—all the while innocent as bantlings for being beautiful, four free inhuman foreigners traipse away, their flickering wheed not only mocking me and mine but also thee and thine who gullibly believe. And now here come you with nothing for me, a flouncing philosoph dying to inquire the whither of pleasure in pain, whose hungry need shall not be sated when he learns some wisdom can’t be bandied, but must needs be embodied. Which Auntie Owl would happily undertake for and to you, were she but free to do.”

       Rorschalk’s hackles bristle at the mention, and his mind wanders, strays a bit too, upon the What? of her free to do.

       Then he’s gripped by a strange sensation that prizes anticipation of relief over the relief itself, as for the persistent and terrible itch that can be scratched may be more the merrier bone than the time actually spent scratching. The pathetic scene before him speaks a thousand words of the sufferings and degradation of human bondage as Auntie Owl leans away from the cold dungeon wall of rough-hewn stone, her arms manacled and stretched behind her as if she were hanging from a cross, her ratty grey shawl wrapped round her broad shoulders hanging down from her robust bosoms bound and corseted by the filthy black kirtle partially torn at the collar and rolled up at the sleeves. Still, the enchantress’s one good eye enthralls him, standing before her holding his wooden instrument at the ready, his mind dwindles off somewhere untoward at the mention of the theoretical plane of bandied and the tactile practicality of embodied.

       "Errr, are you..." trippingly, he encapsulates the veiled meaning of his interlocution with the murderess in the rhetorical question of an old film, " are you trying to seduce me Mrs. Robinson?"

       “Robinson—that’s an ancient chaunt methinks, and rammish—and you by your lute a twanger. There’s some of your trade strap dweomers into gutstrings, spells to turn tables and captivate captors, and then you and I would be together, for wherever and however we would. Equipt, inlaid, and warm might be our nights and days in such a time, but for now how can I do anything, helplessly gyved and manacled, but await whatever accommodation you’d have of me? Oh, feed my little need, good sir, and then let Auntie Owl surfeit every one of yours.”

       "Ah, madam, I've seen your initiative with the bone claws. Seems to me you prefer the hands-on approach in your dealings than the hocus pocus. In regards to getting things done, you are, indeed...quite special." 

       As if someone were nudging him from behind, Rorschalk takes a step toward the chained enchantress, thinking perhaps what harm if he snipped that bothersome string restraining the thumb and forefinger of poor Auntie Owl. So hexed, he reaches out toward her manacled hand to alter her vexation and… at once tears his gaze from the demonatrix’s one good eye. He could feel its malevolent influence detouring around his senses and into the more malleable byways of his brain. 

       To occupy himself, distract him from the attempted overthrow of his will, Rorschalk begins to strum his lute and sings, "Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” 

       Helplessly fastened, she flinches, her exhalation halfway between a sigh and a hiss of steam—“ahhhh . . .” Her shoulders, shrugging earward, fall short of muffling. “Snug, snug, snug,” she moans, “shhh now, snug and mum . . .”  Her open eye squinches shut as a second hank of gray, tousled from her squirms, flops onto her face. Every lyrical herbal syllable—pars-ley-sage-rose-ma-ry-and-thyme drives another seeming nail into her body. “Snug! gentle sir!” she whisper-pleads, “quiet as kept . . .”

       Rorschalk stops midstrum, witnessing the prisoner's upset at his gentle lyrical stylings. The mention of those herbs seem to have worked a bit of oppositional magic like the ingredients of some conciliatory witch's brew. Twould be a broader source of melancholy to see her so shackled save the image of her thrusting her bone claws deep into the eye sockets of her former cove's skull.

       Skullduggery indeed! And murder most foul.

       The discomfort his voice incites in her, a solid second tenor if there ever was one, bodes no pleasure for her pains and he thinks he already knows the question to her answer that springs eternal through the dividing line that cuts straight through, as old Solz put it decades prior, amidship the human soul. 

       "Sigh no more lady, sigh no more," he says, bowing low and preparing to bow out as the gaolors heavy metal key rattles in the lock. "Men and their bettor halves have been deceivers ever. Believe me when I tell you that I take no pleasure in your pain, and am happy to vouchsafe sweet Clarissa, er, Marchesa was it?"

       Auntie Owl sees the writing on the wall and hisses her besting rival’s Christian name and all the Nappers Knot's coves downfall with the guttural hiss of a cobra trying to blind its prey with long range venom. "Marsisssssahhhh..."

       "Marcissa," nods Rorschalk. "That's it. As was her hope and contention, I see something in you that begs for a lost soul’s redemption…though I will unfortunately not be able to stay to witness the glorious transform—“

       But he is cut off by Auntie Owl’s tumultuous screed of cursing invective the likes of which he's only heard in bustling sea ports and psyche wards housing the criminally insane. Flinched by the profane cacophony, Rorschalk turns toward the creaking-open cell door, yet wincing at the verbal onslaught.

Recovering his posture somewhat as he steps back over the threshold into the dark corridor lighted by flickering torch light, if only to himself be heard, he whispers, “Maybe not.”