The Sword of Paracelsus: A Knock at the Door, Part 1

Sword & Stone 2 001

“And remember,” said Moira, forcing her unruly auburn curls to submit to the discipline of a black elastic band.  “Keep the door closed and locked.  Don’t let anybody in!  Don’t even answer the phone till I get back.  Do you understand?”

Mom!” said Eny.  “You’re only going to pick up Aunt Grania.  It’s about ten minutes away!”

“Ten minutes too long under the circumstances.  I hope she’ll have her car back by tomorrow!  I don’t like leaving you alone at night.”

“You worry too much.  I’m not a child anymore.”

“That’s part of what worries me,” observed Moira with a wry smirk, slinging her bag over her shoulder and fishing out her big silver key ring.  “This isn’t Santa Piedra.  It’s Hollywood.  You never know who might be watching.  And don’t roll your eyes.”

“I didn’t.”

“You did.  Besides, we have a lot more to worry about than just stalkers and street people.  We can’t be too careful.”  She opened the door and scanned the street from one end to the other.  “Ugh!  It’s still so hot out!  Now don’t forget what I said.  I’ll be back as fast as I can.”

“’Bye, Mom,” said Eny in a flat voice, holding the door while her mother descended the front steps.  “See you in about twenty minutes.”

“Lock the deadbolt!” Moira shouted as she climbed into her old blue Rambler and drove away.

Eny shut the door and leaned against it.  Aunt Grania’s tiny apartment was beginning to feel like a prison.  Or maybe an asylum.  The orange lava lamps, mauve shag carpet, naugahyde bean-bag chairs, and avocado curtains only added to the atmosphere of insanity.  So did the mocking gray eye of the mute television set.  To Eny, the entire living room was nothing but one big garish assault on the senses.  Checking to see that the lock was secure, she turned away and slumped off to the front bedroom she shared with her mother.

It was hot and stuffy in there.  Knowing very well what Moira would say, she opened the window to let in some air.  Outside she could see the sidewalk, a few dusty oleander bushes, and the filmy yellow lights of the apartment buildings across the street.  Dirty patches of starless sky showed above the drooping palms, and search lights swept the dim horizon beyond the sagging telephone lines.  Here and there a random spark of blurred neon from the shops on the Boulevard, just three blocks away, managed to pierce the intervening barrier of buildings and trees.  Shouts of children echoed down a nearby alley.  From a great distance came the foreboding wail of a siren.

Switching on a light, Eny sat down on the edge of her bed and closed her eyes.  She tried hard to imagine that the constant swish and rush of passing cars was really the surge of the sea on the shores of Laguna Verde.  It didn’t work.

How long? she wondered.  How long will we have to stay in this awful place?  Yawning and stretching, she ran her fingers through her hair and fell sideways on the bed.  That’s when the fiddle caught her eye.

It had been months since she’d touched it.  She’d dropped it there in the corner on the day they moved in and had hardly thought of it since. Not once in all that time had she felt even the slightest urge to pick it up.  That would have been to invite memories of Simon.  And memories of Simon had always seemed out of place in Hollywood.  Always—until this week.

Lying there on her side, staring at the silent instrument in its coffin-like case, she became aware by stages that her feelings about the violin and everything associated with it were changing.  She realized that her internal compass was shifting.  Her mind was possessed by a single image—the image of the tall man on the bus.

The resemblance was uncanny.  It might be nothing more than that, of course—an uncanny resemblance.  But then why had he, a complete stranger, taken it upon himself to protect her?  And why had he given her such an indescribably penetrating look as he stood there on the sidewalk?  Those eyes!  Only once before had she seen eyes like that.

And then there were the events of that afternoon.  There was no reasonable way to account for them.  Where had the pawn shop come from?  Where did it go?  Who was the dark-haired, smooth-tongued shopkeeper, speaking in riddles like a Sphinx?

There was only one possible explanation.  As far as Eny was concerned, the whole thing smacked of the Sidhe.  The fingerprints of the Other World were all over it.  It was thick with mystery.  It seemed dripping with enchantment.  And yet …

No, she thought, it can’t be.  Hollywood might mean “magic” to some people, but she knew better.  She was too well acquainted with its dirty, smelly, seamy underside.  Hollywood might be many things, but it was certainly not an otherworldly place—not the kind of place Moira would have called “thin”.   And a place that wasn’t thin couldn’t play host to enchantments.

Or could it?

Eny pondered.  If all this had happened in Santa Piedra—if ocean mists had been swirling outside the window instead of hot, stale smog—it would have been a different story.  In that case there would have been little room for doubt.  In that case she would have begun searching at once for further clues and evidences of the unseen behind the seen.  As it was, she couldn’t be sure.

There was, of course, that other person—the troll, the nameless, faceless pianist beneath the big floppy hat.  What about him?  How had he learned to play like that?  How could anybody create such unearthly music and yet live in hole under a freeway bridge?

His music came back to her now.  Gradually she became aware that it was inside her brain, outside the window, in the room, on the street, floating above the bed.  It was swelling all around her, stirring the air just below the ceiling, inhabiting the halo of light surrounding the lamp.  It filled her like a sweet, warm, liquid; it lapped her like a coverlet of woven lightstrands.  It ran dripping and tingling down from her head, her shoulders, her arms.  Her hands burned with it.  Her fingers itched to be a part of it.

Eny sat up on the bed.  Suddenly it was all clear to her.  In that instant she realized that it didn’t really matter where she was.  Hollywood, Santa Piedra, Timbuktu—it was all the same.  Though parted from her in body, Simon could still be with her in spirit if only she had eyes to see and ears to hear.  Only one thing mattered now:  to merge with the music.  To participate.  To play . ..

( To be continued …)


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