Knock Knock

Story prompt- Go to bookshelf, pick the first book you see that you don't despise. Open at random page and select random extract to begin your newest story. "1405 abracadabra street" - Eoin Colfer, "The Supernaturalist, page 169

Winter was the coldest and harshest of all the climates supported in the exotic country of Annual. The snowcapped mountains loomed over the borders, shutting off the region’s inhabitants from the rest of the land, trapping them.  There were treacherous mountain trails between what few settlements there were on the outskirts of the land, each rife with danger.  Only the capital of winter, Shindig City offered any form of modern living.  Elsewhere there were only tiny villages or lonesome cabins on the mountainside, where the people lived a simpler existence.  One of these villages was Iceblock, the name given in an insensitive moment of dark humour by its founder.  At the edge of Iceblock is where our story really begins, because it’s where we’re meeting our Hero.

Ursula Major was a child of winter, of that there was no doubt.  The dubious nature of the snowstorms and sleet that tore through the valley between the mountains has sharpened her senses, and as any who made their home in the shadow of the jagged mountains should, she could taste a blizzard riding on the winds.  As she hauled her load of firewood home, the chilly winds bit at her face mercilessly, tugging her straw-coloured tresses into a chaotic halo about her head.  She paid the wind no heed, knowing that doing so would be her own loss in this battle against the elements.

Pressing her weight against the heavy oaken door of her cabin, Ursula shut out the frightful, fiendish world that lay beyond her happy home and sank gratefully into her armchair.  Here she was, and was where she should be.  A girl in her late teens had no business leaving home except for supplies or to fetch a doctor in this kind of weather.  She knew that, and yet…

The house was empty.  No reason it shouldn’t be though.  She alone resided here. Her parents had worked hard to make this a happy place for her, safe from the cruelty of the world outside the heavy oak door.  But they were gone now.  And the cabin seemed hollow without anyone else there.  Memories of her childhood echoed through the rooms, but she knew they wouldn’t be enough to sustain her.  At times like this she was glad her parent’s couldn’t see her.  The pain in her eyes would’ve hurt them also.  She knew she should go somewhere, anywhere.  It wasn’t good for her to be so lonesome.  Yet… She didn’t know.  Home was what she knew.  Familiarity oozed from every corner of this place and enveloped her in warmth and nostalgia.  She’d kept herself these past months by relying on it.

“Promise me you’ll find your own happiness.”

Ah.  She had promised that hadn’t she?  She ran her thumb over the lid of the box she’d left on the table by the armchair, and propped her feet up to warm by the fire.  She turned it over in her hand, examining it for the thousandth time since it’d been given to her.  It was quite a cheerful thing, she thought.  A different bring colour on each face of the cube, green, yellow, red, orange, all colours that weren’t often found in Winter.  Winter was made of white and varnished wood, to adorn something with colour was thought frivolous and wasteful.  The anomaly on the box was the lid, which was black with a large, raised “X” in white on top.  The thing was a mystery, a puzzle given to her by a mysterious man in a long cloak at her parent’s passing ceremony.

“Why did I make such a promise to that man?” She wondered aloud.  Never seen his face, and yet he left behind such a strong impact and a marvellous mystery. She knew it wouldn’t open, she’d tried before.  This box was sealed tight. 

She jumped at the sound of a heavy knock at the door.  Her eyes darted to the source of the noise, warily.  Nobody had called since the ceremony, and nobody simply “went visiting” around here. She padded over to the door, careful not to make any noise in case she didn’t wish to receive her unexpected guest.  The lace curtains twitched and she caught a quick glance outside at the stranger.  Gangly he was.  Wore a massive overcoat unlike the locals she knew preferred cloaks, and his shoes were terrible.  Flimsy little things fashioned for style rather than the practicality needed to traverse the mountains.  City boy She sneered, slipping the chain onto the door before opening it a crack.

“Yes?” She demanded curtly.  If he’d come seeking warmth he’d be getting the cold shoulder from her.

“Uh.. Yes, Hello Miss…?” he allowed his sentence to trail off into a question.  How lazy, not even caring to form coherent speech.

“Aye, it’s Miss.  Why are you here?”

“Oh” he blathered, taken aback by her abruptness.  “Well.. my…”

“Out with it, you’re letting a draught in.”

“Care to let me in?” He asked, seemingly finding a spine in those pocket’s he’d jammed his hands into.

“No,  What do you want?”

“I’ve been sent to escort you to the city at the request of your guardian.” The man said deciding to abandon any pleasantries he’d been expecting. 

“I don’t have a guardian.  You’re at the wrong cabin, try the next one.”

“The next one is a mile and a half away!”

“Yeah, that one.” She nodded and motioned to close the door, Only to cry out in alarm when the man threw himself against it in desperation.  The force of the collision ripped the chain from its socket on the wall and sent the two tumbling into the cabin, the door ajar. 

“My apologies MISS, but I don’t make mistakes.” She said, staring intently into her eyes.  Ursula pulled a face like she was studying soured milk as she examined his face.  Not as old as she’d originally thought, but older than her definitely.  Mousey brown hair was whipped into peaks to mimic the landscape and his forest green eyes bore into hers.  His face was characteristic, to say the least.  Slim and angular, perhaps gaunt and the lad was shockingly pale.  How much of that could be attributed to the climate of Outer Winter was anybody’s guess.

“Perhaps SIR” she spat the word at him as though it tasted vile, “but I do find that you are on top of me that that you’ve quite thoroughly ruined my front door.”

He scrambled to his feet, blushing a beet red that gave Ursula a little satisfaction, before fumbling with the buttons on his overcoat’s pockets.  From within he produced a folded sheet of paper, dog-eared and worn from its adventures in this lad’s keep. Ursula glanced at it before breezing past him and shutting the door. His eyes never left her as she drifted back into the room, took the letter from his loose grasp and sank cautiously into her armchair.   The lad was offered no seat, yet he seemed to think standing disagreed with him and thus perched himself upon the footstool in front of the hearth.  Ursula spared him a cynical glance over the leaf of paper before reading it.

“My instructions, Miss.  This is most definitely right.” He explained, as though that much hadn’t been obvious.  Ursula had lost her interest in the paper for the time being though, instead lowering it and staring at the man in her home.  He noticed her gaze and tried his very best not to meet it, his own eyes instead wandering along the walls and pictures in a desperate bid to stave off awkwardness.  Odd man he was, the boy either was bold as brass or missing his backbone.

Find the cabin at the edge of Iceblock, three miles out from the village centre to the left.  It’s got three windows and a tree stump outside it.  The girl there is Miss Major, we met briefly eight months ago.  Be a lamb and bring her here to meet me could you? I’ll draw a map overleaf.

She read.  Curious, she turned it over to reveal the map.  Was this… Crayon?  Blue crayon.  And the mountains were red.  There was a picture of some sort of frog in green in the center, sporting a curly blonde wig.

“That’s what I followed,” the lad gestured to the frog “And that’s here.  Must be you, it’s the spitting image.”

Ursula was affronted.  Never, in this life nor any other did she believe she’d been a fashionista frog.  “Me is it?” she scoffed, thrusting the paper back to the lad. “And who is it summons me? No name, No address, By our lords, I don’t even know who YOU are!”

“ahem, I am Rothbert News Miss, an errand boy for Mr Street.” She presented himself with a flourish, knocking the footstool aside as he did so. 

“Rothbert?” She parroted, stunned.

“Yes,  The product of a spelling mistake on my documents, but no matter.  Mr Street claims to know you, Miss Major.” He smiled.  Such a trusting and genuine smile.  It made Ursula want to poke him with something sharp. 

She looked to the box on the table.  Ah, colourful it was.  Same colours as Rothbert’s ridiculous map. So the man in the dark cloak at the ceremony was this Mr Street. She paused for a moment, letting her attention drift, although she held Rothbert in her sight.  True then, she’d met him eight months ago.  But if this man was entertaining notions of being her guardian that would need to be addressed.  Their acquaintance had been brief and sweet, nothing that would lead any reasonable person to believe she was now their ward.  Then she’d send Rothbert back empty handed with a red arse and the message.  No, that’d be ruse to a friend of her parents.  And a trip to the city wasn’t necessarily going to be a bad thing for her. Hadn’t she just been thinking of travelling, and here opportunity literally knocks on her door.  She narrowed her gaze on the boy.  He was meeting her stare now, those forest green eyes searching her woody brown for any sign of what she was thinking.  What harm then?

“Sit.” She demanded, pointing to the wooden chair by the dining table at the far side of the room. He obeyed.  This one has promise.  She pulled up a chair across the table form him.

“I barely know Mr Street, but whatever he wants to see me about may be important.  So I’ll go with you, but under my own terms.”

Rothbert visibly brightened up, obviously keen on getting the job he’d been given done. “And what’s your terms Miss?”

She stopped.  Yes, She hadn’t thought that far ahead.  Her face was vacant, something Rothbert didn’t miss. “No matter Miss, I’ll let you pack and we can set off before sunset anyhow. They say I’m an amiable travelling companion, sure you’ll have no qualms with my company.”

Oh?  Was this boy even from Winter? The green eyes weren’t a common native feature but being pasty white certainly was, but he didn’t sense tonight’s storm.  The air was tinny and bitter, which meant at least a couple of hours of hailstorm for this evening. 

 “We’re staying here tonight, leaving tomorrow. You sleep over there.” She pointed to a two-seater couch with some decorative cushions.  Rothbert motioned to object, but a sharp glare from Ursula silenced him.  Was this really going to be a good idea? She mused, wandering into the next room to fetch the lad a blanket.

The End

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