Roman stoked the fire, adding a log for the flames to gobble up, which they did rather happily. The room felt stale, murky, and the faun thought to change the atmosphere.
A large record player sat next to the fireplace—somehow Calvin had missed it before—and the faun sauntered over to it and put something on: Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Calvin thought: At least the faun had good taste. Roman replaced the record’s jacket onto a wide shelving unit that had quickly appeared from somewhere in the darkness.
“Now, drink your tea,” Roman told the boy, “and I’ll tell you why you’re here.”
Calvin took the cup of tea and sat down in one of the chairs next to the fireplace. It was more comfortable than what he thought it would be, with all of his breaking wicker and a lumpy, grayish pillow. This place was full of surprises, unexplainable illusions, magic. The cup was hot in his hand. He took a sip and it warmed him through. Literally. His matted hair and soggy clothes dried with the sudden heat wave.
“Sorry. No saucers,” Roman told Calvin as he loosely clutched the teacup. “I’m not that proper.” Though, Calvin questioned his sincerity in this apology; he certainly didn’t sound too sincere.
“I don’t mind,” he responded. “Where are we exactly?” Being left in the dark on this point worried him, made him anxious. If he traveled through time, then he surely wasn’t anywhere near home.
“The where isn’t exactly as important as the when,” he replied, “but I shall tell you anyway.” Roman took a long sip of his tea and nestled the cup back in his hands, the warmth tingling his somewhat furry fingers. “We’re in something of a safe house in a land known as Aryashi. On the planet Uriel. We’re far away from your earth, Calvin, but Aryashi is not unlike what you’re used to. In fact, you may find it to be a place of hospitality and comfort. The people are usually kind, friendly, what have you. Water falls from the sky and finds itself in streams and lakes; deer, eagles, whales, all sorts of creatures inhabit the place. Just like on your earth. You may even find some creatures you’ve locked away in your imagination. There are some fantastic beasts in Aryashi. Rather interesting, yes.
“However, Aryashi is not all it appears to be. Just as you may find comfort, you might find discomfort. Here’s why: there’s a vile, melancholic demon on the outer edges of this place—a twisted, dark shadow, you could say—and it’s coming ever closer toward us. This has happened before, mind you, but never to this extremity. Most of us Aryashians are horrified. A few are optimistic. Those of us with a bit of that confidence have brought you here in hopes that you could remedy this ugly phantom. We believe you can help.”
“Yes, we.” He nodded.
Roman paused and took a breath. Calvin noticed the faun’s hands trembling around the teacup, slides of the liquid running over the edge. He wasn’t sure if Roman was a horrified Aryashian or an optimistic one. Time will tell, he said to himself.
The record had long stopped—the last notes of “Mother” dispelled quietly into the thick air—and a low, scratching hum dulled the room. The faun stood up to change the record, and, before Calvin could protest, the conversation. He’ll learn soon enough, the faun thought as he sat back down.
“Now, for the time being, you are currently restricted to this safe house. No exceptions.”
“But why?” Calvin asked. “What am I supposed to do cooped up in here?”
“Well, you need to acclimate to your surroundings. And, for your safety, I guess. I assure you, your detention to this house is only temporary. A few days at the most, mind you.” Roman took a last sip of tea. “And, there are plenty of things to do in here. I’m sure you’ll find a way to pass the time.”
“Is it really that dangerous out there?”
“More so than you would think. While Aryashi holds a multitude of wonders, there are also some great perils, least of all this impending demon. You’ll find that the mountains and rivers are riddled with things nearly unimaginable.”
Calvin looked around the small space, trying to gain some semblance of reality in this place. He tapped his foot against the stone floor, which echoed in a brusque rhythm. Roman said, “Please do excuse the mess. I’m not in charge here, but I guess its appearance is my fault. The house has fallen a bit into disrepair. Shambles. It’s sad, really.”
Calvin looked at the faun. “It’s actually quite nice,” he said. “Cozy. More comfortable than I expected.”
“That’s a polite thing to say. Still, it’s trashy. But it’s home. Well, not really. I don’t live here.”
The record spun around and around, playing the Beatles: “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” “Norwegian Wood.”
“You like an array of music, don’t you?” Calvin asked the faun. He himself was a fan of the 60s, having grown up listening to it. He could spend hours listening to Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, The Righteous Brothers, Petula Clark. He started humming “Downtown” against the melodious beats of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
“The 60s were one of the best times in music. And, Florence just has it, you know?” Roman went over to the bookshelf and pulled a few books off to lend his new acquaintance. As he handed Calvin the books, he said: “These will certainly help. But if you bend even a single page, tear it, mark it, breathe on it in any foul or otherwise ungrateful way, you will wish we never brought you here.” In addition to A Wrinkle in Time, Roman gave Calvin pristine-looking copies of Atonement, The Tempest, and The Namesake. Calvin had heard of them all, but hadn’t ever read them. “Read over these while you’re staying here; you should be able to get through them.”
And with that, Roman walked over to the record player, stopped the Beatles, and entered the shadows of the far wall, appearing to have disappeared completely, leaving Calvin to lonesome.
He looked at the covers of the books and then promptly set them on table next to the copy of A Wrinkle in Time. Only the noise of the fire and the words on those pages could keep him company. Well, and his thoughts, but those were always scary. Nothing like the vast mysteries of the universe to keep one’s mind preoccupied.
And then, a tiny, animated black ball of soot rolled out of the darkness, somewhere by the far side of the bookcase, and nudged itself against Calvin’s left foot. It gave off a happy crackle and spun around on its head in glee. It had bright eyes, which it slowly blinked, like a baby trying to focus in on the world. Roman hadn’t mentioned anything like this, and he gasped in surprise. Several more rose out of the darkness and gathered around this new stranger, their crackling laughter bouncing on his shins. I guess I won’t be alone after all.