By Amanda Pizzolatto (Rated G)
The clip-clop of horse hooves filled the air as carriages trotted along on cobblestone streets littered with patches of slowly melting snow. Cab drivers were bundled up in layers of blankets while wisps of white clouds came out of their noses. Snow had begun falling, making everyone want to rush home to cozy fireplaces and familiar faces. Stalls lined this particular street with vendors calling out their wares.
Sylvester Snow, a spry fourteen-year-old, sat atop a rooftop, his legs swinging, as he watched the crowds going about their daily business. He smiled and shook his head. At first glance this world looked like it came straight out of a Christmas card, but one look at any horse could tell you eight legs wasn’t natural for a horse. Sylvester knew that wasn’t actually what they are called, but even after being here for forty-five years, he still couldn’t quite call them anything else. They were horses, just with eight legs. The word sleipner wasn’t quite catching on for him. That, or he was being stubborn. He smirked; it was both.
He shook his head and looked at the crowd again. He paid attention to the things that differentiated each species. The cat and dog ears of the bichuras twitched from the noise, the wolven tails of the hamingja wagged with glee when someone chose their cab, the small raven-winged vardir were zipping back and forth on errands of some sort, and the humanoid etiainen were helping the bichuras maneuver through the crowds. Sylvester’s eyes roamed the street again, this time with purpose. There was one bichura he was looking for but couldn’t seem to find. Where had Tiggie gone off to?
After watching the street for a few minutes, Sylvester gave up the search with a sigh. Tiggie should have gone through this street by now, but the bichura was nowhere to be found. Sylvester took one last look at the street before rising into the air. Being able to fly had its perks, but now that the weather was getting cooler, it wasn’t as fun.
He flew quickly to a house he knew quite well. The very top window was closed, but unlocked, as always, in expectation for his arrival. He pushed the window open and quickly closed it again as soon as his feet touched the floor.
“Brr!” He rubbed his arms as he stamped his feet on the welcome rug set by the window. He actually hadn’t stepped in the snow, but it was a habit Tiggie had drilled into him. Etiquette was so important on this side of the sea, Ingland specifically, and Auxfurd was no different, though a little less formal than the high class of Londan or Bristal.
Sylvester shot a look of longing at the bed piled high with covers. It looked so warm and inviting. His stomach rumbled. He grinned sheepishly as he placed his hands over his stomach. Yes, the bed was inviting, but first, food. He walked to the door, opened it, and walked out into the hall. He went down one flight of stairs, through another hall, and down one more flight of stairs. He paused in his descent halfway down the final flight as voices drifted up to him.
“If you do decide to go with us, Mr. Derrick, mail your manuscript to 35 Broukshyre Road, Londan.”
“Thank you for your offer, Mr. Scharlster, I will give it some thought. Though, of course I have to complete the manuscript first.” Sylvester heard a chuckle. He peeked over the railing. Three men walked past the stairs on their way to the front door. One of them he recognized as the owner of the house, Cornelius Derrick, a middle-aged etiainen with graying temples. Sylvester’s eyebrow arched as he glanced at the other two fellows. One was a wolf-legged hamingja, while the other was an etiainen with graying hair. Which publishing company did they work for?
Both bowed. “Of course,” said the hamingja as they straightened up. “You have a very good evening Mr. Derrick.”
“And a very good evening to you, Mr. Scharlster. And to you as well, Mr. Simmons. Thank you both kindly for your offer. I will send you a letter once I have made my decision.”
“We will look for your reply, then. Good evening,” said the etiainen as they put on their hats. The two gave Cornelius cordial nods before walking out the door.
Cornelius closed the door behind them before turning and letting out a huff. He ran his hands over his face as he let out a soft moan.
“What was that all about?”
Cornelius jumped and looked around the room. His face brightened upon seeing Sylvester. “Ah, Sylvester! I didn’t know you were there! How have you been, my friend? Is Tiggie running late?”
“I’m doing pretty good, thank you,” replied Sylvester as he walked down the rest of the staircase. He stuck his hands in his pockets. “And yes, Tiggie is running late. But you have not answered my question.”
Cornelius sighed. “Those gentlemen are starting up their own publishing company, Scharlster and Simmons. Yes, they are naming the company after themselves. But it does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
Sylvester nodded slowly. “Yes, it does. But there’s more, isn’t there?”
Cornelius sighed before letting out a nervous chuckle. “You know me too well. Yes, there’s more. I don’t have any ideas! I have no manuscripts to send to anyone! And I’ve had five publishers approach me already!” He put his face in his hands and groaned. “Oh, what am I going to do?”
“Stop worrying about it and let the story come naturally,” said Sylvester with a shrug.
Cornelius crossed his arms and eyed him. “That’s not how the writing process works, especially when you have deadlines.”
Silvester threw up his hands. “Sorry, I was only trying to help. You really don’t get any ideas when you’re stressing out.”
Cornelius scoffed. “Now that we can agree on.” He looked down for a moment before looking back at Sylvester. “Would … would it be too much to ask if you can tell me your story? Maybe it will inspire me.”
Sylvester arched his eyebrow. “But I’ve told you hundreds of times already. You even have it printed! What’s one more time going to do?”
Cornelius shrugged. “Stop the stress.”
“Well that is one way of doing it, I suppose. But then, why not just read it? Having me tell it is no different,” pointed out Sylvester.
Cornelius sighed. “If you don’t want to do it, just tell me. No need to beat around the bush in favor of being nice.”
Sylvester threw his hands up in exasperation. “I was merely pointing out that reading can relieve your stress just as easily as listening to someone else tell the story, perhaps even more so because you can put down the book at any time. You would annoy the storyteller if you had to keep asking them to pause in their story to write down an idea or something.” Sylvester scoffed. “At least, I would be annoyed.”
Cornelius chuckled. “You have a point there. Fine, a mere summary, if you please. I’m afraid I’m a little too stressed to focus on reading. Especially since it will only remind me that I have not started writing anything.”
“Fair point. A summary it is, then.”
“A great many thanks,” said Cornelius. He raised his hand towards the sitting room. “Will you join me in the sitting room, then? I have a few notebooks there. I promise not to interrupt should an idea present itself during your narration.”
Sylvester chuckled. “Oh, very well. But I think I shall be interrupted even though you don’t say anything. I would like to know what ideas you got from hearing my story for the millionth time.”
Cornelius laughed as he led the way into the sitting room. Cornelius sat down in one chair next to an end table that had a stack of notebooks layered precariously, with a pen on top. He grabbed the pen and the top notebook, setting them in his lap as Sylvester sat down in the opposite chair.
“Comfortable?” asked Sylvester.
Cornelius grinned. “I am, but I should be asking you that.”
Sylvester paused slightly before answering, “I’m always comfortable here. It’s why there’s a window open all the time for me.”
Cornelius blinked before giving him a slight nod and a soft smile. “And you will always be welcome here.” There was a brief moment of silence before Sylvester cleared his throat and launched into telling his story.
Sylvester had lost both of his parents in an archeological accident and was sent to live at an orphanage until family members could be found and contacted, and until they arrived to take charge of his welfare. But it seemed the universe had other plans as the day before his uncle was to arrive, he had fallen into a nearby lake and found himself on Erth instead of Earth. He had been saved by the qarin from a lake on Mount Attulla before they left the planet, saved by Janus in particular. He was given some of the elusive ambrosia plant to eat, saving his life, and granting him his powers. Janus gave him a quick run-down of the planet he would now call home before leaving with the rest of the qarin. He never got where they were going, nor why, only that they had to go for the good of the whole universe, and that genies were somehow involved.
He eventually found his way down the mountain and into what he could only explain as like a step back in time. It was like he was sent back to the start of the American Revolution, though he was startled by how different everyone looked. Though in the case of the etiainen, one had to look into their eyes to spot the differences between them and humans, and Sylvester had been taught that he had to, for should an etiainen’s second iris grow and overtakes the regular iris, he must be wary of touching him. For etiainen are the doppelgangers of humans, and touching one’s doppelganger could result in death for one or both. But as of yet, Sylvester had not met his own doppelganger, a strange phenomenon as he found out.
Sylvester came across a settlement who took him in, once they had cleared him of having no doppelganger in the area. There he learned more about this world, and the Ambrosians. The Ambrosians were families of etiainen chosen by the qarin to have their special protection and were gifted with powers. Nothing on the level of the qarin; more like demigods in comparison to their deity parents, though the more powerful a qarin was, the more power the Ambrosian line had. Sylvester was taken in by a woman who was tasked with caring for the last of the Zeus and Pan lines, two boys named Tim Stevens and Harry Forster. The three boys became fast friends and had many adventures. But their greatest adventure came when the notorious pirate, Horrible Horace Kole, the Ambrosian of Kronos, arrived in the town, looking for the lines of the three Greek brothers, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, to destroy them before they destroyed him. Yet it was Sylvester and the heir of the Hestia line, Mindy Havisham, who eventually took the pirate down.
“Sylvester? Are you all right?”
Sylvester blinked. “Why are you asking me that?”
Sylvester touched his face, and then he felt the tears that were streaming down his face. His eyes widened. “I-I don’t know, I don’t know!”
The front door slammed and feet stomped on the mat. “I am so sorry I’m so late Mr. Derrick! I’m going to get supper right away! Hi Sylvester! It’s going to be your favorite! Goose, potatoes, and apple pie!” Tiggie didn’t even look into the sitting room, he merely rushed past. They could hear him rushing into the kitchen and the clanging of pots and pans.
Cornelius sat back in his chair. “Well, dinner is going to be a while.” He turned to Sylvester and lowered his voice, but there was a gentle understanding that let Sylvester think he quite understood exactly what Sylvester was going through. “When was the last time you saw your friends? Why don’t you visit them?”
Sylvester jumped, his eyes widening in shock. “M-me? Visit them? Why, why … I, I wouldn’t even recognise them! They’ve, they’ve grown so … old!” His eyelids drooped and a sorrowful, pensive look flashed over his young features. “It’s been forty-five years since our adventures. Forty-five years. They’ve grown up, and as you can see, I haven’t aged a day.” He raised his head as his face hardened into a scowl. “And while I guess I should be grateful to the Qarin for saving my life, I also hate them for giving me this, this … this curse!” Tears sprang to his eyes. “They will grow old and die while I will not! How, how can I live knowing they will die? Knowing that you will die?”
Cornelius folded his hands across his chest and bowed his head. “I appreciate that you count me as one of your friends and I understand that you are faced with a dilemma that is far too heavy for your young shoulders, but until a solution can be found, may I recommend spending as much time as you can with the people you’ve come to care about?”
Sylvester’s head drooped. “That will just make it worse.”
Cornelius placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Not seeing them will be even far worse, and on top of that, you’ll regret it.” Cornelius shot him a look full of sorrowful knowledge. “Trust me on this. Go, spend a few minutes with them, just be back before Tiggie serves dinner.”
Sylvester scoffed. “I just might stay out later just to get back at Tiggie for making us wait so long in the first place.”
“You’ll go visit them?” asked Cornelius, a hint of hope coming through in his voice.
Sylvester sighed. “I guess I shall. You’re a very persuasive man, Cornelius Derrick. I hope you only ever use it for the right causes.”
Cornelius placed his hands over his heart. “Oh, only for the right causes.”
Sylvester eyed him. “Uh-huh.”
“I promise!” Cornelius’s face became serious, though a soft smile still graced it. “But you will go?”
Sylvester looked at him, a battle raging in his brain of all the pros and cons, yet deep down, he somehow knew that Cornelius was right. He should go see them, he missed them so much. Already the regret of not seeing them over the years was dawning on his mind. He sighed. “Yes, I’ll go see them.” He stood up and pointed a finger at Cornelius. “But you better have a story and supper ready by the time I get back.”
“Supper yes, no guarantees on the story.” Cornelius pointed his own finger at Sylvester. “You should know that’s not how it works.”
Sylvester rolled his eyes, the beginnings of a grin peeking out from his lips. “Fine, whatever. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” He turned and began walking out of the sitting room.
“Stay warm!” Cornelius shouted after him. Sylvester waved a hand before taking off up the stairs to the uppermost room. He glanced at the bed again before going to the window and opening it. A burst of cool air came into the room, bringing a few snowflakes in with it. Sylvester glanced around at the room again, the warm air battling with the cold. He took a breath, and stepped outside, closing the window before flying off.
He went in a western direction, the streets turning white with snow soon gave way to rolling hills, followed by the rolling waves of the sea. Sylvester flew high overhead, smiling as if it was a great game that the spray from the waves could not get to him. But he grew tired of the game quickly as other thoughts pressed upon his mind. Would they even want to see him, now that he avoided seeing them for so long? They would at least be mad, who could blame them? He had merely up and left without so much as a word the instant they started planning marriages and getting excited to introduce Sylvester to their kids. And now he was going back. Maybe he could still avoid them, just look in on them. They still lived in the same town. Mindy, in fact, still lived in the same house she grew up in, having inherited everything from the previous Hestia Ambrosian, that much he did know. Another reason for avoiding them, what could he even say? What would he tell them was the reason for his absence from their lives for so long? And then, what would he say was the reason for coming back into their lives unannounced, only to leave again, probably to never see them again? That thought alone nearly made him stop, turn around, and head right back to Ingland. But ahead of him, the shores of Amirika were emerging from a fog, like someone peeking through the curtains to see who was coming to visit. The fog seemed to part as he got closer, like a door opening to let him in.
Sylvester flew past the shores of Amirika without so much as a look at its grandeur. Anxious thoughts flew through his head faster than he himself was. Every worst case scenario he could muster up in his imagination only made him all the more anxious. But he kept on going. He had come this far; might as well keep going. Not only would it appease Cornelius’s thinking that Sylvester would regret it, it would also appease Sylvester’s curiosity. What did they look like now? How many children did they have? Were those children all grown up now with children of their own? A shudder went through Sylvester’s body. The children he once played with were probably now grandparents, and their grandkids could possibly be his age now. Or at least, the age he would always be. That thought made him sick to his stomach. Time had flown and he hadn’t been there for them. His face distorted into a scowl at the thought of the cruel joke. Time flies, just like him. He could very well just be called Father Time and be done with it, even though he wasn’t the father of anyone, and probably never would be.
Before Sylvester knew it, the familiar columns of the Havisham estate came into view. Tears sprang to his eyes as a wave of nostalgia crashed onto him. So many fond and happy memories came flooding into his mind followed by a swift lash of regret. He shouldn’t have left, even if watching his friends grow old and die would have caused him pain, losing so much time with them did make it worse. Cornelius had been right.
Sylvester found a window open and flew in, finding himself in one of the bedrooms. He landed softly and took a quick look around. It looked like it was Mindy’s old room, the only difference being that the pink wallpaper looked a little faded. He paused as a soft sound reached his ears. He turned towards the bed, it looked like someone was sleeping in it. Who would be asleep at this time of day? It had to have only been just after lunch. He peered at the figure covered by the blankets. It was a small child, no more than three, her soft brown hair splayed out on the pillow like rays poking through clouds. A loud gasp from behind made him jump. He whirled around, glancing at the open window as he turned. He finally turned a full circle and saw a woman in her fifties staring at him, her eyes wide and her hands over her mouth. Even though her hair was nearly all grey now, it was not hard for Sylvester to recognise her. This was Mindy, and she was all grown up.
“Sylvester?” she whispered. “You’re, you’re really here? You came back?”
Sylvester gritted his teeth as he fought the urge to cry, and even yell. Where had the time gone? No, he knew, he had been goofing off, avoiding this encounter for this very reason. And there was so much he wanted to say, and so much he didn’t. But all he ended up saying was, “M-Mindy?”
She held her arms out to him. “Oh Sylvester, it’s been so long!”
Sylvester took a step back, standing up against the bed frame. He felt the post against his back, and glanced over again at the sleeping figure.
“That’s my granddaughter, Helen. She’s going to take my place as the Hestia Ambrosian,” whispered Mindy.
Sylvester turned back to her, the tears spilling down his cheeks. “This isn’t fair,” he said, nearly choking on the words as he tried to keep his voice low so as to not wake the child. “Why couldn’t I be allowed to grow old, like you? Everyone I love dies!” He sank to the floor, his face in his hands as he sobbed. A pair of arms wrapped around his quivering body. “I’m so sorry I didn’t come sooner, Mindy. I… I didn’t want to see you all grow old and die. I… I just couldn’t bear the thought of it! But I do regret not spending the time with you. Will… will you forgive me?”
Mindy sighed as she hugged Sylvester even tighter. “Sylvester, remember, as long as Hestia’s fire burns, you will always be welcome.” Sylvester didn’t say anything, only sobbed harder as he grabbed her arm and gave it a tiny squeeze. Mindy laid her head on top of his fair head and began to rock him, ever so gently. For a moment, it seemed as if time stood still, and they relished every bit of it, allowing them to rekindle the wonderful friendship they had once shared.