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House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 2

September 20, 2019 10:53PM

The House with Kaleidoscope Doors


Shout out to Nikita for the excellent peer review!

Marci, I didn't include Turnip Head in the story. There was a lot I cut out to keep it short (~20k words). I would have loved to delve deeper into the whole "birth order determines your fate" and how that feels like such an Austen plot device with so many characters being in reduced or precarious circumstances due to not being born the eldest son. And it would have been a completely different story if I could have made Isabella Thorpe into the Witch of the Waste (I even had John Thorpe mention his magical relative in the first chapter), but Isabella Thorpe pursuing Henry Tilney was not something I was prepared to write.

Anyway, the meet-cute is out of the way. Now on with the story!

Chapter 2: Minding the Shop



“I cannot believe you were shouting at a wizard like that, without a trace of fear,” said Jamie. He plucked at the small platter of unsellable pastries on the table and placed an apricot crown in front of his friend.

“He stole my hat!” said Catherine, still fixated on the fact. “Of course I shouted at him.”

“Just be grateful it wasn't your heart, Hattie,” warned Jamie.

She made a sour face. “I don't think he was after such a plain thing,” she dismissed the idea. “My father himself gave me that hat. I must get it back.”

“Your father?” Jamie said. “But Mr. Morland died when we were just children. Shouldn't you have outgrown it by now?”

“You just don't know anything about hats! Quality hats can last a lifetime and I've taken very good care of it. Oh! To lose it now and like that -- to a, a, a lousy thief!”

Jamie could have consoled her with the thought that she had a store full of hats from which to choose a new favorite but her entire posture was closed off. She would not be over the loss for some time and nothing Jamie could do would speed her recovery. Instead, he sat in silence and gathered crumbs into a pile.

“I'm sorry, Jamie,” Catherine said after a while. “I was so excited to come here today and see you, but then a wizard happened and I just…” She huffed. “I just want to go home.”

He patted her hand. “I understand,” he told her. “Tell Sally I said, 'hello.’ And don't forget the sugar knots I made for you.” He pushed forward a pastry box and Catherine took it with a reluctant smile.

“Thank you, Jamie. You are a good friend.” Her behavior wasn't particularly deserving of a good friend right now.

“Old friends usually are,” he said with a crooked smile. “Otherwise you would never have kept me this long.”

.o8o.

Rather than risk the streets as a pedestrian where one might be accosted by magicians, Catherine rode a streetcar home. The first leg of the journey took her to the harbor where a few military ships were anchored. She stepped down from the streetcar and joined the people who were gathered to watch the sun glinting off the water, or to admire the warships at anchor.

Catherine paused to admire the colors of the water, seeking inspiration. It was beautiful but without her hat the wind kept throwing her hair back in her face. It was too annoying to remain long so she left.

Sally had been minding the shop all day and was alone when Catherine crossed the threshold. Sally gave a cursory recap of the customers and sales and asked briefly about Catherine's trip to the bakery. Catherine decided to omit any mention of the hat thief being a wizard to shield her sister from worry, but Sally took the wrong conclusion from the retelling.

“Do you think this criminal will steal other Morland hats?” Sally wondered. “On the one hand, our hats are so amazing that everyone wants them. On the other hand, who wants to buy something that is going to be stolen from you?”

Catherine tried to amend her story to dampen Sally's sensationalism but that only prompted Sally to ask probing questions that Catherine would rather not answer. In one last bid to change the subject, Catherine offered to watch the shop until closing if Sally wanted to step out.

Having been cooped up in store all day while her eldest sister went about at leisure, Sally jumped at the opportunity, shucking her shop apron and flinging it at Catherine, checking her reflection as she positioned her hat, and calling out a goodbye as she opened the front door.

The bells hanging from the door had stopped ringing their welcome cacophony before Catherine could muster her own goodbye in response.

With a sigh, Catherine glanced around the room. She rarely was up front these days, spending her time instead with teaching the new apprentices, meeting with wealthier clients about bespoke pieces, and reviewing the books and settling accounts with various tradespeople. Now, however, as she looked, she saw Sally's influence over everything.

It wasn't a bad thing! Sally had an astute understanding of how to sell hats. She probably could sell anything she wanted, Catherine realized, but the girl was stuck in a shop she would never inherit. Perhaps Sally might one day elope with one of Catherine's apprentices and the two could open their own shop in another town.

But that was a concern for another day. Right now, Catherine needed a new hat.

She wandered the floor, looking at the different hats on display. Sally had organized them based on similar themes. The prettier hats and fascinators for social events sat in the front windows to lure in customers. Wide-brimmed sunhats were grouped together on a table. Cloches were arranged around a gilded mirror. Military and patriotically-colored hats were likewise gathered around an army helmet that Sally must have found somewhere. No-nonsense bonnets had a corner near the back.

The sunhats most closely resembled the hat she had lost, so her first instinct was to choose one of them. With the right trimming, she was certain she could find a suitable replacement.

With a grimace, she pulled her hand away. It felt too cold to replace her father's gift. A sunhat would not do, she decided, and walked away from the table. There was a small exhibit of hats representing a more prosperous life. Typically, these hats were commissioned directly and never appeared in the showroom, but occasionally an apprentice attempted one and it ended up here. There were hats that a woman like Catherine might wear in a few years when her mother officially turned over the keys. But that was not now.

She spun on her heels, letting the room swirl into a disordered rainbow before settling her gaze on the bonnets. Catherine made a small face; a bonnet was beneath her position as well as something she associated with much older women. She looked about once more but there was nothing fitting for her in the showroom. Still, John Thorpe would never have looked twice at her in a bonnet, nor that pilfering wizard.

One bonnet stood out from the rest, the brim tapered so that the cheeks were nearly exposed. It was not as traditional as the others. With a jolt of recognition, Catherine remembered making it a year ago. If it was still available, it must not be very good. She snatched it up, intending to pick it apart and see what was wrong with it.

Just as she was about to forget the shop entirely and wander back to her workstation, the welcoming bells jingled, signalling a new customer.

“I am sorry, sir,” said Catherine automatically, “but the store is closing. You will have to come back another day.” She really wasn't cut out for sales.

Instead of leaving politely or apologetically, the man sailed around the shop, looking down on everything with a condescending glare. “What a pathetic little shop,” he averred.

Catherine felt her eyebrow quirk upward. Her grip tightened around the bonnet reflexively. “Excuse me?” Surely she hadn't heard that correctly.

“What a pathetic little shop,” the man repeated, emphasizing his words for clarity, “full of pathetic little hats. And the most pathetic, littlest thing in this shop is its worker.” By now he was standing in front of Catherine, looking down at her from his substantial height and overgrown sense of entitlement.

Catherine felt her blood boil. How could Sally deal with people like this? “The shop, sir, is closed,” she said in clipped tones. “And the exit is over there.” She pointed to the front door with the same hand that grasped her silly bonnet.

The man saw it and narrowed his eyes. “Oh, but you are making this too easy for me,” he smirked. With a flick of a wrist, figures began solidifying in the shadows and stepping forward. A wizard! The man was a wizard, and Catherine had just attempted to throw him out of the store! It had taken all her luck to survive meeting one magician that day, but she had no idea how she could escape from this second one.

Before Catherine could flee, the shadow henchmen captured her and held her in place. Her eyes were wild with fear but the magician found the whole situation rather amusing.

“I am not going to kill you,” the wizard said but the words provided no comfort. He plucked the bonnet from Catherine's hand and placed it on her head. “There, it suits you. More than you ever realized.”

The room grew darker, the shadows stronger, the wizard larger, until Catherine could not see anything else, until Catherine could not see anything at all.

.o8o.

Catherine woke up in a heap on the showroom floor. Everything hurt. As she struggled to get to her feet, she ransacked her memory for a hint as to what had happened.

Standing upright seemed impossible; her back wouldn't straighten. Just how long had she been lying on the floor?

Then she glanced at a mirror and nearly jumped out of her skin to find that she was not alone. An old woman was looking at her with worry and disbelief.

“Excuse me --” Catherine began, but the old woman moved her lips at the exact same moment.

“Oh!” she exclaimed softly as a horrible thought occurred to her. “Oh no.” She reached up and patted her cheeks and the old woman copied her gesture perfectly. Her cheeks felt like chapped parchment, as if they were as wrinkly as the old woman's.

“Oh no,” Catherine said again, realizing that this was not a stranger staring back at her through the glass.

With one voice, Catherine and the old woman in the mirror opened up their mouth and screamed.

.o8o.

Catherine stood immobile, gaping at the hag in the mirror until she couldn't deny it any longer. She was cursed, hexed!

After the realization sunk in, she slapped her hands lightly on her cheeks and began to scurry about, locking the door and dousing the lights. If anyone should see her looking like this, Catherine was sure she would die.

She repositioned the bonnet to further shield herself from being recognized and hobbled up the stairs to her room. No doubt she should have stayed behind to dust the shelves and sweep the floors, but she couldn't, not now! Whatever problems she had left behind, she would face them in the morning, when this curse had worn off and she was back to her regular self.

As she got ready to sleep, it was almost a relief to hang up that bonnet and to take off that pretty dress that was hanging so poorly on her temporary body. But that only exposed wrinkled, flabby flesh that brought tears to her eyes. Her night dress was flowy and fit her well in any form, which only made her feel more miserable.

All night long she laid in her bed waiting for the feeling of magic leaving her body, but it never came. Instead, she grew more and more uncomfortable, her mind raced, her heart pounded.

In an unguarded moment, she fell asleep, but when she woke up she felt stiff and old, even worse than before. She patted her cheeks again, finding them as wrinkled as when she had climbed into bed. The curse hadn't broken.

A cheery knock shook her from her reverie.

“Hattie!” It was Sally. “Time for breakfast!”

“I'm not going,” Catherine croaked. Even her voice was that of an old woman.

“Hattie? What's wrong?” asked Sally. “You sound ill.”

Catherine seized the idea. “Yes! Yes, I feel terribly ill. I will stay in bed all day and rest.” There was no way she could face her sister or the rest of the shop in her current form.

“Shall I send for the apothecary?” Sally called through the door.

“No! No. No thank you. No, I'll just get some sleep. I'm sure that's all I need,” said Catherine.

“Hattie, you really do sound awful. Let me come in there to check on you.”

Catherine could see the door knob turn slightly before catching on the lock.

“Sally, stay out of my room!” she said, thinking quickly. “What if I'm contagious? We'll have to close the shop if you get sick too. It's not ‘Morland's Hats’ without a Morland.”

That argument seemed to do the trick. The knob rattled back to its resting position and Sally sighed all the way through the door. “All right, but I'm coming back to check on you during tea time.”

Catherine nodded in acquiescence although her sister couldn't see. “I'll be here,” she promised and held her breath as she listened to the sounds of Sally walking away.

This was a promise she would have to break.

There were two ways to get rid of a curse. The first and easiest way was with time. But she had passed a whole night and the curse felt as strong as ever. Catherine realized as she got out of bed and tried to stand up straight, this curse had cut decades from her life. Either she now was so aged that she stood on death's doorstep, or the shock of going from a young twenty-something woman to an old crone left her body unable to cope. She could feel in her brittle bones that if the curse didn't end soon, she'd die of old age.

But if the curse didn't fade with time, it would need to be broken with magic. That would involve finding a witch or wizard who was kind enough to save her, and then putting herself at their mercy. Whatever they demanded of her -- whatever fee to pay, whatever errand to perform -- she would have to do.

But in searching for a friendly magician she would have to put herself in danger of being found by one with less than kind intentions, one with a crueller sense of humor than to turn her temporarily into a cat or mouse or to steal her hat.

Odds were not in her favor of having a happy ending. As slowly as she now hobbled about, she would need to get started right away in finding a savior. She went to her small writing desk and penned a letter to Sally. She mentioned that she needed to go on a trip, not knowing if she would ever return. It was a bit melodramatic, but the thin, shaky scrawl muted the danger. She ended with a request that Sally run the store in her absence, and that if Catherine didn't return within the month, to assume that she was dead and to inherit everything.

Catherine left the note on her bedspread and then looked about the room, trying to decide what to bring with her. Very little appealed to her right now; her clothes were all wrong for her now and she didn't want to carry a heavy burden on her quest. In the end, she dressed in the most worn and uninteresting clothes she had and put on her stoutest boots. She reached for her favorite hat reflexively but settled for the bonnet. At least the bonnet wasn't out of place on her head. As she tied the ribbon under her chin, she felt better slightly. Old women could be cantankerous and formidable, and Catherine would have to be the same in achieving her goal.

She slipped down to the kitchen and filled a small sack with provisions, moving as silently as a mouse while she could hear the noisy apprentices down the hall talking about bowlers and trilbies.

She eased the back door shut so that no one would hear and investigate, but didn't breathe easily until she was a few streets away. There was when a good-natured farmer took pity on her and offered her a ride out of town in his cart. As she bounced over the cobblestones much faster than she could have walked, she began to feel that she might be successful in her quest. Having no destination more specific than, “somewhere remote,” she rode in the cart for as far as she could before nibbling briefly on her rations, collecting a few flowers to decorate her bonnet, and then continuing on foot with only intuition for her guide.

The farmer had taken her a great distance, climbing the foothills so that she could see the boundaries of her hometown and the glittering sea beyond. But when it was Catherine's turn to walk, progress was much slower. After an hour of climbing the slope, the town looked no more further away than before.

By then, the sun was clearly in decline. The wind picked up and the temperature was falling. Catherine shivered. It hadn't occurred to her to pack a shawl when she had left home in the morning, but now she regretted the lapse. Where was she going to sleep tonight?

She kept trudging up the mountain -- it clearly felt like a mountain now -- trying to let the exercise warm her but the wind only grew more sharp.

In a fit of morbid melancholy, she sat on a large rock to rest and look down upon the faintly twinkling lights of her home, and imagined that this was where she was going to die.

The howling of the wind was the only sound. She thought it sounded mournful, like it was sorry for the role it was about to play in freezing her to death.

She sighed at how quickly and ridiculously her life was coming to an end. Just yesterday morning, she had left the shop to visit Jamie with no suspicion of impending tragedy.

Behind her, something sighed in sympathy.

Catherine straightened her back as well as she could when she heard that noise. It didn't sound like the wind, which was practically feral at twilight. She looked about her to see the source but it was all rocks and dirt and grass. There was no one else, not even a dog or mouse or anything. At least, not to her old eyes.

“Hello?” she called out timidly. “Is anyone there?” She would prefer freezing to death to being murdered.

The sigh came again, louder this time but still from an invisible source.

“Show yourself!” commanded Catherine with a tremor in her voice.

The sigh shifted into a hum.

“I said, 'Show yourself!’” She stomped her foot in frustration.

There was a small cracking noise and a house appeared out of nowhere. It looked quite cozy, with a steeply pitched roof and windows glowing with light from within. A plume of smoke curled out of each chimney and scented the air. The door was sheltered by an overhang and lit by a welcoming lamp.

As friendly as it appeared, the door was completely inaccessible. Spindly support legs kept the house level over the steep angle of the mountain, leaving the entrance several feet above the ground.

“Oh!” exclaimed Catherine. If only she could get inside, she was certain to spend the night comfortably.

The house heard her and rotated, its legs moving with insect-like precision, so that the door faced Catherine. Then a small porch extended from the threshold and a flight of steps unfurled like a tongue, stopping just short of Catherine's feet. The knob rattled slightly before the door opened and swung on creaky hinges, letting light and warmth spill down the stairs.

If Catherine was not sitting down, she would surely have fallen over in surprise and rolled all the way down the mountain.
SubjectAuthorPosted

House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 2

NN SSeptember 20, 2019 10:53PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 2

Maria VSeptember 23, 2019 08:47PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 2

Lucy J.September 23, 2019 03:43AM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 2

Lucy J.September 23, 2019 03:43AM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 2

Lucy J.September 23, 2019 03:43AM



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