Plans and Problems

Leitha gathered up cleaning materials, including a pair of heavy gloves.

“Coming, kid?” she offered, but Takeshi shook his head and burrowed underneath the settee cover. Leitha sighed, wishing the fox would come back. She wasn’t sure Takeshi even understood anything she said.

Her black shoes were in the shop; she swept a path to them through the glittering shards of clock. The garden door was still there, but firmly closed. Tempted for a moment to look through the keyhole, she worried that something might poke her in the eye and pushed the table back in front of it instead.

The window display was in the worst condition. The Watchmaker had already emptied some of the shelves in the main shop, and not all the clocks had fallen. The glass was of high quality though, and nearly invisible. Long daggers of it were wedged upright between floorboards. Leitha proceeded carefully, piling the battered clocks on to a table once the glass had been picked out of them. Some were still working; one ticked helplessly, its hands jammed together. She straightened them out.

“It’s not alive,” she told herself, but now she saw the clocks almost as wounded animals. They were very beautiful, the cases inlaid with gold, enamel, iridescent shell. She amused herself trying to match the fragments to their clocks. One had a round mirror on its back, surprisingly intact. As she turned the clock about, looking for a pattern, a reflection caught her eye – it was not hers.

The mirror showed a long dimly lit stone corridor. A man and a girl were walking away from her. There were puddles on the floor. The girl was Elly. A door stood closed at the end of the corridor. Suddenly the man glanced back – he was Japanese – and the pair began to run. The mirror went dark.

Leitha shook the clock, poked it, turned it to various angles, but the image obstinately refused to come back. She placed the clock carefully on the counter, where she could keep an eye on the mirror. A sudden horrible thought came to her. Did she even have a reflection any more? Had the darkness behind the window stolen it?

There was a mirror in the utility room. It was about time for a cup of tea and she ought to check on Takeshi.

To her reflief, her reflection in a normal mirror was just fine. Takeshi was sketching again; he turned the pad over.

“Hey kid, your plane is on the counter,” Leitha told him. The boy leapt up, bobbed a swift thanks and hurried to the shop. Leitha made tea, musing over the strange images. Was that Takeshi’s father? Why was he with Elly? They must have been in the Embassy. The corridor must have been underground. Surely the door was a shelter! Why did they run? Did they get there in time?

There was an awful shriek from the shop. She dashed through to see Takeshi standing by the front door. He had managed to undo all the fastenings and open it a few inches. Leitha pushed him aside, seized the handle and froze.

Mixed up among the tumbled stones was a dead face staring straight at her.

“One of the soldiers,” she thought. “Well, they did try to shoot us.”

The door caught on the gritty rubble; she brushed it clear with her hands. The face winked at her as she slammed the door on it. Takeshi charged at her, trying to undo the bolts as fast as she closed them.

“My father! He is in danger! I must help him!”

The Watchmaker and Nine Tails came running.

“What have you done!” he shouted.

Leitha drew Takeshi away while the door was secured. She was sure some kind of lightning came from the old man’s finger; when he turned away, the latch was fused into a single piece. Only when the whole area had been checked with his black device, did he seem less agitated.

“What on earth is going on here?” he asked in calmer tones. Nine Tails yipped, drawing his attention to the clock on the counter. Takeshi launched into a flood of Japanese; the Watchmaker examined the remains of the mirror, which had shattered. Leitha picked up a fragment; it was coated with sticky black soot.

“I saw Elly,” she said. “In this mirror. Before it broke. Was she with Takeshi’s father?”

“Beside a door?”

Leitha nodded.

“No, Keigo was on his own. An enemy was rushing towards him. Takeshi believes he will have overcome it and escaped.”

…and don’t tell him otherwise, was the hidden message, Leitha guessed. The magic mirror had exploded from the inside; she didn’t think that boded well somehow.

The small group settled down after the commotion. Takeshi refused to leave the Watchmaker when he went back to his mysterious work. Nine Tails stayed with Leitha.

The cleaning up was done, the fire lit and a stew simmering on the hob before they returned.

“Nearly forgot,” the Watchmaker said suddenly, as they sipped their after-dinner tea. “Come with me, Leitha.”

They went through the Staff door, turning right at the end of the corridor. The third door down was open.

“Go on in,” suggested the Watchmaker.

Cradling her warm mug, she entered. Stopped, amazed, just inside. Why, it was her own bedroom!

No, that wasn’t quite true. She’d been hardly older than Takeshi when she moved into the dormitory. Any memory she’d had of her own place was all tangled up with ideas from magazine pictures and TV shows.

Yet this was very much how it had seemed in her daydreamings. The bed just there, a metal bound pirate chest for her toys, a wardrobe with a mirror, posters on the wall. No window though. A large painting hung in its place, depicting a landscape so shrouded in mist that scarcely any features were visible.

Leitha cautiously moved further in. The illusion faded on closer inspection. The furnishings were actually odds and ends of junk, cleverly arranged. The pirate chest was real, though it held logs rather than toys. The wardrobe was nailed together from two tea chests and was more of a cupboard, propping up the framed mirror.

“Umm…careful with that, sharp edges,” advised the Watchmaker.

A fire glowed warmly on the other side of the makeshift wardrobe. A thick rug compensated for the lack of chairs and the bed was close enough to benefit from the heat. Leitha examined the posters. They weren’t ones she’d have chosen. Some of the bands were from the distant past, some – unfamiliar – from other countries. One was of a band so new on the scene that her friends had only just begun to talk about them…

…her friends……

Leitha’s throat tightened. She stared down at her tea and saw a tear splash into the surface. When she looked up, the poster had changed.

The Watchmaker was still standing quietly in the doorway.

“Put it back.”

He gave her a level gaze, full of appraisal, then nodded slowly. Leitha resisted the temptation to check. Instead, she placed her mug on the small table and inspected the bed. It was definitely more comfortable than the scratchy rugs of the previous night.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” the Watchmaker replied. “Here’s the light switch. Candles and matches on the table, yes? Firewood tends to spark, do keep the fireguard up. Bathroom back the way we came, turn left and the shop is the end door. I’ll be there tidying up. Might be some more useful stuff. Rather improvising at the moment. Hope you’re comfortable.”

“I’ll be fine”

“Good, good,” the Watchmaker turned to go, hesitated,” Nearly forgot. Under the bed. Needs tuning, I’m afraid.”

The latch fell as he closed the door. Leitha waited a few minutes, then checked that it would open from the inside. She looked up and down the empty corridor, lit only by light spilling from the bathroom door. She took her tea, now getting cool, and knelt in front of the cheerful fire. Quiet was a new feeling, Leitha realised. She couldn’t remember such an absence of noise. There had always been people; talking, laughing, arguing, snoring. Even companionable silences had been backed by endless chatter from the TV.

Quiet is what happens when everyone else is gone, she thought, and listened to it carefully.

Her mind was racing too fast to relax for long though. There was something about a bathroom?

“Bet the water’s cold,” she thought, but decided to investigate. The bathroom was warm, the water was hot. There was a pile of fluffy towels and dressing gowns which were not only clean, but brand new with price tags.

Clean and refreshed, her Patriot Day dress looked like a dirty rag on the floor. About to kick it into a corner, she changed her mind, rinsed it and hung it up to dry. The deep purple dressing gown would do very nicely for the moment.

Feeling much better, Leitha returned to her room. Was it late? She was tired; how strange that she had no idea of the time in a shop full of clocks! A book would be nice, but there weren’t any. She read the posters, and suddenly remembered the Watchmaker’s parting words.

She knelt on the rug and was about to reach under the bed when she hesitated. Cautiously she lifted the overhanging counterpane to have a look first. Nothing alarming lurked in the dark, only a long black case, which held a violin. Leitha took it out for examination. It did indeed need to be tuned, but was otherwise in good condition.

“Girls Don’t Accept Engagements” she muttered aloud, wondering how to adjust the strings without a tuning fork to guide her. It took her awhile to achieve a sound she was happy with, then she played her exercise pieces. The violin was far better than the battered instrument she’d used at Home; she began a more complex classical solo which she’d been trying to learn. Carried away by the music, Leitha played until her fingers ached.

As she put the violin away, she glanced at the picture. The mist had cleared to reveal a forest scene. Leitha touched it; it felt like an oil painting. A white fox stood in the distance; a tiny scroll lay on the ground beside it.. This came away in Leitha’s hand. She unrolled it to see a column of indecipherable characters.

Takeshi was asleep in the living room; Nine Tails and the Watchmaker were playing cards. They were tremendously excited by the scroll.

“What does it say?” Leitha asked, but they ignored her, intent on their game, and on notes which the Watchmaker was furiously scribbling in an old school exercise book. Tired and irritable, Leitha made herself tea, and a hot water bottle for good measure.

“Well I’m going to bed,” she announced crossly, “Can I borrow a book?”

“Of course, of course,” the Watchmaker looked up. “Is the room to your liking?”

“Yes thank you,” Leitha replied coldly.

“It says Vitriol. Which means nothing to you, but a great deal to us in the context of navigating your passage to a safer place. Urgently.”

Nine Tails followed Leitha back to her room and stayed for a cuddle, which made her feel better. The fox was clearly disappointed that the mist had closed over the picture, but Leitha was relieved. She hung towels over both it and the mirror before she climbed into bed, just to be sure.