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Maux Part 2

September 14, 2011

Here’s the second part of the first encounter! Enjoy!

Her eyes and mine flicked down to my lonely cup.  ‘You’re not drinking your tea.’

I felt heat fly up into my face and its features contort in a battle of downward and upward.  ‘I’m not afraid!’ I said again, picking up the tea and downing a whole gulp.  It was just the right temperature and warmed up my whole inside down to my crooked toe.  But I was frightened, from the whole day and this whole creature, and little pricks of tears started forming.

‘Oh, my little hobbit, don’t cry!’ she said, aghast at her own actions.  ‘I’m sorry! Look, it’s not poisoned at all: I ate it and I’m not croaking.  Here, have a biscuit, lovely.  Drink some more!  The tea’s supposed to make you feel better.’  She leaned back and waved her hands about uselessly, carelessly sloshing my cup full of more tea and handing me a cookie.  ‘Please don’t cry, little one.  Dear me, dear me!  I’ll, I’ll sing you a song!  Oh no, I’m rubbish at singing, don’t ask me that. Tell a story?  A happy one?’  She looked at me earnestly.  ‘I promise to help you find your mum and dad, truly honestly promise, just please don’t go a wailing.’

Her fluttering and flustering was as good as a comic show and a laugh shot out of me.  She paused, mid-arm wave in confusion and her face turned red under her tan.  ‘Ha, ha,’ I said, wiping my eyes.  I tentatively nibbled the cookie, found it was delicious and chocolately and perfect, and ate the whole thing, suddenly remembering how hungry I was.  I sipped more tea.  ‘You’re silly,’ I said. ‘Silly is funny.’

‘Thank you.’ She gave a little head bow.  ‘My name’s Maux, what’s yours?’

‘Barry.’

‘Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Hobbit Barry.’  We shook hands and then went back to our tea.  Maux (say: Ma-ox) smiled at me over her teacup before downing it and refilling her mug.  I wriggled my toes in my shoes, my jacket magically dry again and cozy.  I didn’t feel lonely or scared any more, not in the least, and a rather happy sensation was bubbling up.

‘Are you magical, Maux?’ Had she been transported into my world too?

‘Yes,’ said Maux proudly. ‘I’m a Lirut.’

‘What’s a Lirut?’ (say: Ler-rut)

‘We’re related to hinkypunks.’  Then she eyed me suspiciously.  ‘wil o’ wisps to you.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Know what a Hobbit is, but not a hinkypunk!’ she said.  She put down her tea and folded her hands on top of one another in her lap as if settling in for a long explanation or perhaps a lesson she’d recited long ago.  ‘Now pay attention, Hobbit Barry.  A hinkypunk, or wil o’ wisp if you want to be American, is a spirit that floats about a moor, like this one, or bog or forest or other confusing place and learns all its secrets.  They know the best spot for a picnic as easily as the best spot for a murder or a picnic murder or…well, nevermind.  Sometimes they fly about, traveling and going on holiday and learning new bogs and forests and moors, but generally they stay put.’

‘That’s all?’

‘Not in the least,’ she said, closing her eyes and jabbing her chin down for emphasis.  Opening them again she continued.  ‘Hinkypunks like to trick people because people make such silly faces and silly words when they’re scared or stuck chest deep in goo.  So they float up to people with lanterns like this one and lead them astray into bog pits and the like.  But Liruts aren’t like that.’ She shook her head. ‘Not at all.  We, the Liruts, lead people to the right path and get where they’re going, where they really want to go.’  Her eyes turned soft for a minute, just looking at him a bit sadly.  ‘Among other things.’

‘What other things?’ I asked.  She was real! This was real magic right before my eyes.  You wouldn’t believe my wonder!

‘We make a good cuppa,’ she teased.  ‘Got a rather strong penchant for tea, I’m afraid.’

‘So it’s not just you?’

‘‘Course not!  That would be depressing!’  She snorted.  ‘All this last of my kind garbage.  Ridiculous.  They say the dragons have left or the dragons are leaving, but that’s ridiculous.  I wouldn’t be here if there weren’t any dragons.’  I gaped, and Maux seemed to suddenly remember her audience.  ‘Yes, well, spoilers: dragons still exist.’

‘You’re not supposed to tell people about Liruts?  Or dragons? What about hobbits and fairies and vampires and, and, and…doxies!’ I stood up with my excitement.  It was grand!

Maux arched one eyebrow at me.  ‘Um, yes?  In people’s heads if nothing else.’

‘That’s so cool!  Wait, ‘til I tell Mommy and Daddy and Danny and the whole school! They’ll be so pleased!’  I beamed at her.  ‘You will take me to Mommy and Daddy, won’t you?  ‘Cause that’s what Liruts do.’

‘Yes,’ she said slowly, tilting her head to the side and studying me carefully.  ‘If that’s what you want.’

‘Oh yes, Maux.  I’m ready to see Mommy again.’

The girl, who wasn’t really a girl at all, smiled beautifully, showing all her teeth.  ‘You used my name.  No one’s done that in a looooonnggg time.  I almost forgot…’  She shook herself.  ‘Right, I’ll collect the tea things and you take the rest of these cookies home with you and can share them with Mommy and Daddy and whoever Danny is.’

Within a minute all the cups and spoons were washed with left over kettle water (it was a magic kettle that automatically refilled when it was empty yet remained light as a feather), the burner off and put away, the teabags disappeared into another pocket (‘my rubbish pocket: mustn’t keep the dirty, used things with the clean ones now.  And if there’s one lesson to learn from life, Barry, it’s to keep track of which is your rubbish pocket.’) and soon it was like the magician had reversed this scarf trick, all that fabric zooming back up his sleeves and ready for next time.  ‘Are we ready, Hobbit Barry?’

‘Ready, Maux!’  Both of us smiled broadly at the other and Maux picked up her lantern which was glowing warmly and merrily in the gloom and we set off, Maux in front and me behind and holding her trailing hand.

As the fog steadily retreated, we walked over a couple hills and between a few more before coming upon the parking lot where Mom and Dad had parked.  Big white vans were there and lots of people distributing coffee.  Mommy was sitting in the back of one of the vans, wringing her hands and Daddy’s face was all tight.  What was wrong?  I couldn’t tell, but everybody seemed in a hurry, walking off into the moor in pairs and swinging their heads back and forth.  Maux stopped walking, her lantern now useless in light.  The light…I peered at the sky.  Mother Sun was out in all her high noon glory, her skirts fluffing out to let their reach all corners of the landscape as she sat in calm contentment on her highest perch.  ‘Maux,’ I said, ‘How long have I been gone?’

The Lirut shifted uneasily beside me.  ‘That’s another funny thing about Liruts: we mess with Time.  Ours was a Fairy Time, Barry, running by its own clock and ticking its own tock.  For your mother and father and I still don’t know who Danny is, but for them it’s been a full day since you went traipsing about on the moor all on your lonesome.’  She went down on one knee in front of me, bringing herself to my height, blocking out the frantic image of vans and what I suddenly realized were search parties for me.  I could almost see the fog enfolding us again, the present image quavering into passing.  ‘Please don’t be angry, Hobbit Barry.  I can’t help it, honest.  We had fun, didn’t we?’

‘Stop it, Maux,’ I said.  It was like one of those moments in books where the hero has to be strong.  ‘I have to go to Mommy and Daddy.  I want to go.  You take people where they want, don’t you?’

She smiled sadly.  ‘Yes, that I do, Hobbit Barry.’  Suddenly her smile broadened to a real smile and her strange eyes sparkled with glee and with one movement she was up, her lantern swinging around and she turned to go the way we’d come.  ‘Be more careful on the moors next time and kiss your mum for me!’ I looked behind me and realized she had disappeared altogether like a fading dream.

Almost immediately a crowd of people swarmed me, Mommy crushing me, tears and hugs and Daddy crushing us both, and shouts and yells and exclamations and no one quite believed in Maux as I did.  But I did and still do.”

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From → Fiction

3 Comments
  1. Arkatos permalink

    This is a “better than most” of its kind, and worthy of Classical Anthologies. The only weakness, of course, is the initial paragraph (without which the story would suffice).

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