Fiction : Nonsuch Place
Melanie’s hand tightened around the small scroll of paper she clutched. Her sister continued to shake her head.
“No way. This has gone on long enough,” Liz said, snapping her gum. She was tired of watching Melanie. Tired of constantly indulging her. “Let’s go. We’re going home.”
“But Beth, this is it.”
“For the last time, stop calling me Beth. Or Elizabeth. It’s Liz. And we are going home,” Liz said, grabbing her sister roughly by the arm. She dragged her away from the stone wall that surrounded the little cottage. The leaves had fallen early this year, and the ground crunched under her steps. Melanie twisted her arm out of her sister’s grip.
“But what about Peter?”
Liz sighed. She knew it would come to this.
“Will you stop it, please? It’s late. It’s going to get dark soon and then we are going to have to find our way out of the woods in the dark. Mom is going to kill me if I don’t get you home before the sun goes down. Now come on.”
Liz watched Melanie curl into herself. In about two seconds she knew her little sister would start to cry. She could already see her lip starting to quiver. I wish I could still pick her up and carry her back, Liz thought to herself. It’s my fault for letting it go on for so long.
“Listen, Mel, tomorrow morning we can come back okay. It’s late. Mom is going to be worried. I promise I’ll take you back tomorrow. Okay?” Liz bent down and lifted her little sister’s chin. Two fat tears rolled down her soft cheeks. Damn.
Melanie held out her hand, her fingers splayed out. The little scroll, now flattened and a bit sweat-stained, lay there. “But I know this is the place, Liz,” she said, just barely audible. “I know it is, just like in the rhyme.”
“What rhyme, Mel?”
“The Nonsuch Place rhyme. Remember, Mrs. Chanter, she told us.”
“That crazy old bat next door?”
“She’s not crazy!” Melanie stamped her foot on the dead leaves and crossed her arms. Two more fat tears snuck through the sharpest glare Melanie had ever given her sister.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Mrs. Chanter told you about it?”
“She told us!”
“Okay, she told us. Listen, I just don’t remember.”
“It’s the rhyme. It goes like this:
In Nonsuch Place riches lay
like none you’ve ever seen.
But they say, beware the Fay
who’ll hunt you where you’ve been.
Take heed little one
For they play for keeps
they’ll separate your soul
and leave you there, bodyless
in the marches down below.
This is the place. I have the instructions. From the carnival.”
“What are you talking about Mel? What instructions?”
“The instructions on how to get through the Fay. To find Peter.” Mel’s voice rose as she got excited. She opened her hand again showing Liz the small paper. Liz stared down at her sister. The sun was low behind the little abandoned cottage. She reasoned she had about 10 more minutes to convince her sister to leave the woods. Providing they were quick they would be off the trail and back in the development before the sun was completely set. Then they would only be a fifteen minute walk back to the house. It would be dark, and her mother would be mad, but manageable. If they didn’t get out before the sunset, that was another story.
“Mel, listen, I promise we can come back tomorrow.”
“But what about Peter? That’s another night in Fay!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Peter went himself. He was supposed to wait for me. But he went himself. We found the doorway and he went himself. We have to go save him. He doesn’t have the instructions. He won’t remember what to do. Like,” Melanie unrolled the scroll in her hand, “right, here see,” she held it up so her sister could see, “about the old man at the bridge who will ask for something. And then later about not trusting the youngest soldier.”
Liz took the instructions out of her sister’s hand and read through them. “Where did you get this?”
“I told you at the Carnvial. From the crow.”
“Mel, what carnival?”
“You mean the street fair? Last month?”
“Yeah the crow gave it to me.”
“Who is the crow? And what does this mean?” Liz read from the scroll. “The answer to the gatekeeper’s question is this: ‘The only key that would work has to be made of wood, not silver.’ But only tell him this after he sings the moon’s tale.”
“That’s later on, after you cross the river. To get the riches. That’s where Peter went.”
Liz’s head was beginning to hurt. She leaned against the stone wall that surrounded the broken down cottage. She handed the instructions back to her sister. The cottage had no door. And the beams that surrounded the doorway had begun to tilt to the right. It looked like a wide open mouth. That thing is going to collapse, Liz thought to herself. She looked down at her sister who was re-reading the instructions, mouthing the words. The sun was right above the cottage now, like a halo illuminating it, so that Liz could see the missing beams in the roof. A cloud of dust seemed to float around the place. A slight breeze swept the leaves around them into a tiny whirlwind.
After a moment, Liz said, “Mel we have to go. Mom is going to kill me.”
“But you said we could come here.”
“Yeah I know what I said.” Mostly just to shut you up, Liz thought. “And we did. We’re here. And now, the sun is setting and it’s a long hike back to the development and we need to get there before dark. Remember what Mom said?”
“But what about Peter?”
Liz squatted down on the ground so she was eye level with her sister. “Mel, Peter isn’t in there. Remember when we talked to the policeman? Peter isn’t in that cottage.”
“Well of course not, that’s just the house. Then you get to the woods of the Fay on the other side. That’s what the instructions are for.”
“No, Mel, Peter isn’t in that cottage or the woods or Fay. Peter was kidnapped. Remember the police at the house? Remember when you talked to them about the last time you guys went bike riding.”
“Of course I remember. I’m not stupid!”
“I know, Mel. But that’s what happened. Peter is gone.”
“I know what happened, Liz. I know where he went. But he didn’t bring the instructions. He just had the map. He could get into a lot of trouble down there by himself. The Fay are tricky people. Everyone thinks they are nice and that they will grant wishes and stuff but they aren’t. They will trick you. Mrs. Chanter told me. And they will try to keep Peter. Like the rhyme says, in the marshes down below. I have to go find him.”
Liz realized this was pointless. The only way they were going to get home at any point was to go into the house. “Fine, let’s go.”
Mel dashed ahead, through the break in the stone wall.
“Wait for me!” Liz yelled after her. “Don’t run in there.” But Mel was already through the doorway before Liz got passed the stone wall. There was a quick scream that shattered the silence in the woods.
“Mel!” Liz ran as fast as she could through the doorway at the exact moment the sun lit up the cottage, ablaze in red light. There was a huge gust of wind that sent the nearby squirrels running. The leaves whipped about. And then the forest was still. Silent. The cottage sat, as it has for centuries, its open mouth door agape, much like it is today.
for N.G. who had the instructions
Ally Malinenko has been published by Alembic, Blind Man’s Review, Small Brushes, Whiskey Island Magazine, The Unknown Writer, HeART, Mad Poets Society, Posey, Jack Magazine, Words-Myth, Pens on Fire, Sugar Mule, and The New Yinzer. She is also a contributing poet to Reading Ground Blogazine hosted by Breedingground.com. Her first book of poems, entitled The Wanting Bone, was recently published by Six Gallery Press. She is currently working on a novel for children and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two cats