It was one thing, being monsters and all, for the occasional visit up to the OverWhere, also known as The Great Up There. Or, more rarely, the OtherWhere, the ElseWhere, or the NeverWhere. Visits to the EveryWhere were so rare as to never have happened outside of myth, legend, and happenstance, so you really couldn’t count it.
And yet, in light of recent events, perhaps the EveryWhere wasn’t quite so imaginary after all.
“What,” the Lord Mayor of the UnderWhere demanded, “is that doing here?”
A murmur swelled through the gathering of UnderWherians as they shifted uneasily in place. In all the history of monsters, shadows, and nightmares, the UnderWhere had never before been breached by a child.
This very moment, to be exact.
The Lord Mayor of the UnderWhere wrinkled his nose at the child gazing with wonder all around him. The child was, predictably, sticky and, if the Lord Mayor’s second nose was working properly, he also smelled funny.
But not as funny as the ragged stuffed bear the child was dragging by one foot. The creature, who was leaking stuffing at its seams, was positively pungent. And, if it were possible, even stickier than the child.
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” his under secretary said, shrinking down behind the tablet of clay he’d been scratching notes onto.
The Lord Mayor pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. He didn’t need them open to know the child was still there, not with it reeking of strawberries and toast. “Well, call someone to get rid of it. Then, put someone else in charge of determining exactly how it got in and how to prevent such trespassing later on.”
His under secretary nodded as he scribbled more notes onto the tablet with his claw, pausing only once to wet the surface a little. Then, before the Lord Mayor could call him back, he disappeared into the crowd muttering facts and figures under his breath.
The Lord Mayor turned back to the crowd, frowning as fiercely as he was able. To his disgust, the child had the temerity to giggle. At him! And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, it pointed and babbled something in its child language that was obviously meant to convey its amusement.
Completely unamused, the Lord Mayor scowled back at it, gathering his scraps of dignity about him like armor. The child was a minor, if unprecedented, annoyance. Perfectly harmless, and easy to be rid of.
All they needed to do was summon one of the scavengers to carry the tot back up to the OverWhere and leave it beneath a bed. Then it would become someone else’s problem.
Cheered, the Lord Mayor cleared his throat to commence with the summoning. But before he could do more than congratulate himself on his fine leadership and quick thinking, the sound of silver pipes mangling perfectly good music, accompanied by a bevy of bells that sounded as though they were being bounced off a particularly unforgiving cliff sounded. The noise was loud enough to drown out every last bit of his self-importance, but not loud enough to drown out the child who appeared to be rather inspired by the noise and had started singing along.
Predictably off key.
“Make way. Make way.” An important looking goblin with a large nose and a small mustache called as he pushed his way up to the raised dais where the Lord Mayor had been addressing his subjects only moments before.
“What a pleasant surprise,” the Lord Mayor lied as he greeted the Lord Regent with a stiff smile and a starched bow. “To what do we owe this honor?”
“To the Crown Prince of the UnderWhere, of course,” the Lord Regent sneered. The Lord Mayor tried not to take it personally, as the Lord Regent would have been hard pressed to speak at all with out sneaking a sneer in somewhere.
By then, the Crown Prince’s litter had reached them, and the four golems that had been carrying it on their broad clay shoulders put it gently on the ground as though the Crown Prince was made of glass and had a tendency to shatter.
Not that the comparison wasn’t apt. Not at all. For the Crown Prince’s tantrums were rather legendary and kept his staff busy enough that the weight of running the kingdom fell to all the Lord Mayors, the Governors, and the Great Under himself—although, of course, the last one was only a rumor and easily disproved as no one had seen nor heard of the Great Under since he’d founded the UnderWhere five centuries back.
The Lord Mayor leapt back as hastily as his dignity would allow once the bright red hand of the Crown Prince parted the curtains of his litter.
“I have heard,” the Crown Prince said as he stepped down onto the dais, “that there has been a sighting of the most rarest of creatures. And I would like to see this creature for myself.”
The Lord Mayor groaned and nearly slipped off the dais. Had word gotten out already? He never should have gone into politics, not when he’d had a perfectly good herd of shadows to mind. But the allure of power and prestige had been too great. If only he’d realized that power meant giving orders and hoping they’d be followed through, and prestige meant giving speeches no one really cared about.
And like the whisper of crumpled paper, the crowd parted to reveal the human child.
Join me next Thursday to find out what the prince thinks of the child. 🙂