A quiet house, a quiet street. These are rare things in the gnome city of Spice, the Underneath Wonder, the Kitchen Sink of Possibility. Gnomes are not known for their reserve or their placidity – not in architecture nor in decorum. An odd race with preposterous origins they delight in creation, invention, and discovery. Each house an adventure, a riot of red brick and gleaming neon next to a circular wooden palisade surrounded by orange roses. A miniuature castle built on top of a slightly larger castle, a tree fort where the leaves are kites, an empty grass lot with nothing besides a red sleeping bag and fifteen gray rabbits nibbling away. The streets of Spice are equally as likely to feature a nude poetry slam, an impromptu cooking contest, a cross-city game of Freeze Tag, and a hotly contested riddle-sing as the mundane traffic of work and market.
In the City of Oddments, normal is the bizarre. In the Town of Tura-lura-ay, quiet is an unwelcome stranger.
But still, a quiet house and quiet street. The house was large, a sweeping bluestone with wide windows. A friendly place, a children warren, the marks of young gnomes are everywhere in forgotten chalk drawings on the walls and semi-functional doorknobs and shower curtains wrenched askew by the unknown sagas of youthful adventure. Perhaps it is the late hour that makes it so quiet, even gnomes must sleep – the better to dream a better world to make when they burst forth into the waking hours of their lives. The scratchy symphony of a double-dozen snores came from the open windows. The children are asleep, all the lights are out, it is quite late. Perhaps this is why it is so quiet in the quiet house and the quiet street.
But that is not the reason.
One window glows golden in the cool evening. A golden doorway, soon darkened by a crouched, dark shadow.
Carbunkle looked up from his chair and hookah without surprise. The shadow hesitated at the window-sill, seeming to dim the shining lamp-light. The Black Moon was full, or Maero as her name was now known. The old librarian could not see the moon, but he knew it was there all the same. Just as he had known the quiet and made sure his sometime-squeeze Scarlet and her filthy monkey would not stop in for a visit tonight.
“I’m always a little surprised to find this window open,” the shadow said, flipping its legs over into the room.
Carbunkle said nothing, just took a slow drag from his hookah. This conversation, or one like it, had repeated itself a few times across the months and years, his visitor would come to the point without any assistance.
“Yes, I know I always say that,” black-glass eyes glittered with ferocious amusement. “As I know you take great delight in thinking yourself the cleverer one.”
The shadow edged itself into the room, keeping one claw on the window sill — as if for comfort, to keep escape close at hand. It wore only a scrap of white fabric, rough-edged. It’s skin was obsidian. It seemed to find the simple lamplight disgusting, like a haze or foul stench.
“I don’t even really know why I return here, why we have these little chats from time to time. I have work enough, great works and discoveries beginning to bud out there in the world. I and my brethren sing to the moons and dance with them. It is so beautiful, so beautiful. I wish you could see it, it is ..astonishing..no more, an astonishment. Wonder, endless wonder spreading like ivy across the unknowing world.”
Carbunkle began to reply, but his shadow forged ahead.
“I often wonder if yours was the better choice, but when I doubt I just look on the face of my Dark Lady. And then I am sure.” The shadow smiled and cocked its head to one side. “But on some nights…like this one…”
The old librarian nodded agreement from his chair. They both knew what night this was.
“Do you still remember…” the shadow reluctant turned to look out the window. “Do you still remember the first time we saw her?”
Carbunkle sighed and nodded.
“Please. Please tell me,” the shadow implored. “I know I’ve asked this again and again, but tell me. Tell me again. This time I’ll remember, this time I’ll hold it longer. I remembered the anniversary, I remembered the exact day. The day she died. This year, at least. Now please, please tell me.”
The old librarian looked at the dark thing, at his shadow, at the Other Choice and made himself smile. He smiled because this pain he understood quite well.
And so he told the story again. About Saraghina, the Sorceress Supreme. The day they saw her walking through the library, how they saw her pull a pack of ginger cookies from her sleeve and nibble on them as she read, the greatest wonder of all – that such a luminous being could eat cookies and spill crumbs and be real. He told the story again in the quiet night, on the quiet street – between golden lamp and dark moon. The two remembered together.
And then the shadow was gone and Carbunkle locked the window tight behind it.