Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Previous Occupant

This is fourth in a series of portraits and mini stories that starts with The Word Smith. I suggest, if you're interested, reading them in order.

Ustery laughed. The red stain on the floor tickled him, although he couldn't have explained why. He leaned back against the rough counter and watched the Councilwoman flail on the floor, astonished by her own blood. The dirty little boy ran over to help her, the vagabond. Ustery was tempted to kick the boy, but didn't want to create too much trouble. For all Chayman's faults, Ustery liked him. Or didn't mind him. If someone other than him had to care for the words, Chayman was better than most.

Ustery had shoved the Councilwoman because, in a moment of fiendish emotion, he confused her with a woman he had known in life. Strange that her name escaped him, a man of words as he was, but he didn't even notice the absence. Woman she was, haughty and powerful, those forceful words shaping her more than a name could. Ustery was torn between his fascination with the pooled blood and a desire to pour himself into the "woman" word box, to feel its curves and warmth and frigid rejection. That box was, naturally, one of the oldest in the shop, its maker long perished and even his spirit dissipated.

Ustery's first secret, his shame, was that he himself had never crafted a single word box, at least not one that made its home on any shelf. Polish them, even breathe new definitions into them, he could do. Grant a new word entry into their sorority he could not. For 94 years he guarded his words, a eunuch protecting his harem, excluding interlopers and pretenders, even as he knew they needed new blood, beautiful new words.

His second secret, his pride, was that he had killed to defend his words' purity. It was no great story, merely a dark night, shattered glass, a scuffle and a warm grunt followed by the smell of death. Some emissary of some regent sought to change a definition, likely related to a trial or an inheritance, although Ustery neither knew nor cared. He had been reading late one night and heard someone break into the shop below his living quarters. Armed with a letter opener, he slew the vandal as the fool searched the shelves. Ustery dragged the body out to the river, mingling its carrion with that of the night's many other victims.

Maybe that was why the Councilwoman's blood, testifying to previous blood spilled on those wooden floors, made him smile.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma