Element of the Abstract: Chapter Three
On one particularly chilly fall evening, the hazy sky was streaked with pale shades of orange and purple. Osryn stared out his kitchen window at the trees waving in the wind. It was October again, almost one year since the children had come to him the autumn before. Over the stove an oily broth sizzled and a pot of long and round noodles boiled. Osryn tended to it, periodically dashing to the threshold between his kitchen and the den, where Sebastian and Adelaide were crawling around on the floor. At eleven months old, they were already exuberant explorers of every nook and cranny in the old house–– they were even already starting to talk, and could take a few bumbling steps. Osryn had reluctantly been forced to do some tidying, as there were a variety of magical objects in his house that were less than ideal to become a children’s toy–– childproofing a wizard’s home was no easy feat.
That being said, Osryn had also scattered a handful of select artifacts and totems around the den floor, allowing the children to handle them and become familiar with them if they so desired. So far, the kids had found a few of them, but none had struck their fancy. Knowing nothing about raising children in an arcane environment, Osryn had been forced to adapt some unique parenting techniques. Exposing his kids to some magical items young was his way of preparing them to learn the craft someday. He would have to teach them, after all. It was customary.
Finally, Osryn’s anticipatory glancing out the kitchen window paid off, as he saw Daniela striding down the cobblestone pathway to his abode. Excitedly, he dashed over to his front door and swung it open, allowing a fresh burst of crisp October air into the foyer, and then his friend.
“Oh, Daniela! It’s been so long. When did I see you last? It must have been summer!”
Daniela nodded, shaking a few dead leaves out of her wavy auburn hair. “I believe so. Well, you know how it goes. Fall is a busy season for Hector’s trading, and school started last month for the kids.”
“School…” Osryn muttered, glancing into the next room where Adelaide was chewing on a small, donut-shaped “toy” Osyrn had foraged from his hordes of objects. “How old are children supposed to start school? There’s no question about them going in person, of course… Even if we disguised them it is far too great a risk. If anyone knows I even have children, there will be drop-bys, incessant check-ins, questions on the street––”
“We get it, Osryn dear. You despise having contact with other humans.” Rolling her eyes, Daniela hung her cloak on the rack next to the door. She straightened out her shirt and the brown corduroy overall dress she wore over it. Osryn smiled and nodded at her.
“You look well.”
She tilted her head and fingered a strand of her hair. “Thank you. You look… well, you look just as spread-thin as you did the last time I saw you.”
Osryn sighed, shaking his head and beckoning her into the den. “You don’t even know. Have you ever tried changing a child’s diaper who had four arms flailing around at you?”
Daniela chuckled, settling in on the sofa. Sebastian immediately looked up from his spot on the carpet and directed all six of his wide tiny eyes at her.
“Hi.” The small child said.
“Hello sweetheart!” Daniela waved and smiled brightly. Sebastian continued staring with no further words. He knew her, but still wasn’t sure what to make of her.
Despite having seen them dozens of times before, Daniela still always found herself captivated by the beauty of the boy’s eyes. They were arranged symmetrically: two where they should be, two above them, and two to the outer sides, like two triangles of eyes reflected across his tiny nose. His visual field must be remarkable, she thought, but as she looked at him, she noticed something she never had before. The two eyes that rested where normal human’s eyes always did were a pale, faded blue, compared to the deep and bright hue of the other four.
“Osryn, have you ever looked closely at Sebastian’s eyes?”
From the kitchen, where he had returned to the stovetop to stir his pot, Osryn yelled, “Sorry, what?”
She shook her head and continued watching the children. It was probably nothing. “Never mind.”
For another few moments, she watched the children, delighting in the wholesome innocence of their play. It was amazing just how human they seemed, despite their strangeness. However, Daniela noticed something off about the environment in which the children were playing. She wrinkled her nose, and at that moment Osryn returned from the kitchen to join her on the couch.
“There’s so many bugs in here, Osryn… you let your children live like this?”
With a sigh, Osryn looked in the direction of the children, where indeed, a handful of cockroaches, ants and beetles were crawling around. A few flies also buzzed around in ditzy circles above them. “Okay, this might sound crazy, but… I think they’re drawn to the children.”
Daniela furrowed her brow. “Excuse me?”
“Seriously.” Osryn told her that for the past year, starting after he obtained the children, there had been an odd increase in insect activity around his house. Crawling bugs, flying bugs, if it had six legs, it was in Osryn’s house. It had been extremely unnerving for the longest time, but he admitted he was starting to get used to it. Daniela shook her head as he relayed a few stories of times where the infestation seemed to center around the children. Times where bugs he swore he had killed somehow reappeared. Daniela wasn’t having any of it.
“That’s ridiculous, Osryn. They’re children.”
“Abnormal children…” Osryn murmured, directing Daniela’s attention back to where Adelaide was crawling rather briskly across the room. “Tell me, what do you see when she crawls?”
Daniela observed her. With her four arms and two legs scampering about, almost hydraulically, it was difficult not to perceive her movements as akin to some kind of insect. Nonetheless, Daniela didn’t want to believe it. She was rather repulsed by bugs.
“That’s why I got into this line of work, after all. I’m crazy, but I’m right.”
“Sure, Osryn,” she muttered, nervously glancing around the couch as though a creepy crawly might emerge from any crevice, “whatever helps you sleep at night.”
The two watched the children together for quite some time, getting on their knees to play with them and smiling and laughing all the while. Osryn savored every moment he got to live like this with Daniela–– it was healing for him, to feel like he was living some semblance of a “normal” life. After essentially proposing she leave her husband and kids to raise his own with him, he wasn’t sure their friendship would recover… but he should have known better. No matter how many times they fought or grew apart, they would always be there for each other. A year had passed now, and he was sure his blunder––like all of his hundreds––was water under the bridge.
Adelaide was busy trying to shove her entire arm through the donut-shaped object she’d been chewing on earlier when Sebastian stumbled upon a black wand that Osryn had left in the corner of the room. He hadn’t intended to leave it out as a toy, but he didn’t consider it dangerous either, so he hadn’t moved it out of the way. Sebastian gripped it with his small nubby fingers and stared at Osryn. The adults both smiled at him, but their mouths quickly opened in shock as the wand began to glow, as blue and gleaming as a sapphire.
“Oh my stars…” Osryn murmured. “It’s chosen him.”
Daniela was far less calm about the brightly glowing wand Sebastian still clung to, and began to chew on. “Chosen him?! What on earth do you mean? Is it going to hurt him?”
Osryn chuckled. “No, no… I shouldn’t be surprised, honestly.”
Daniela kicked his foot with her own. “Please explain to me what’s going on.”
“Ow! Fine!” Osryn whined, then took a breath. “That he’s holding there is the obsidian wand of Haelstron.”
Daniela blinked, impatient.
Osryn sighed, disappointed that she did not remember. “Sebastian Haelstron, the famous abstract scientist I named him after.”
Daniela raised her eyebrows. “I suppose now you're going to tell me there's no such thing as coincidence when it comes to magical artifacts?”
Narrowing his eyes, Osryn tilted his hand from side to side as though unsure. “I mean… yes. It’s not likely that a wand would activate due to simply a mad coincidence. It’s more likely that genuinely, it sensed power within him and knew he was destined to be its master.”
“So, you will train him to use it?”
Osryn nodded. “I suppose I have no choice.”
Dinner was ready a few minutes later and Osryn readied it for serving, testing that the thick noodles were suitably chewy and spooning them into bowls of broth as Daniela set the table in the adjacent dining room. The children had already eaten and were growing tired, as darkness began shrouding the world and the sun slipped below the horizon. As Daniela had seen him do many times before, Osryn conjured his favorite plasma magic and cast numerous small globules of the hot, bright material around the den and dining room, where they found the various lamps on the walls and tables and lit them, illuminating the room.
Adelaide and Sebastian had found each other on the sofa and were curled up together, nodding off. Osryn let them rest there, where he gently kissed each of their little foreheads. While they had felt like a terrifying and daunting responsibility one year ago when he had obtained them, he loved them deeply now, and he felt so lucky to have them in his life.
Returning to the dining room, he found the woman he also felt extremely lucky to know sitting at the table, ready to eat. He joined her and the two began their meal in relative silence. She remarked on how the broth was good, but Osryn was too busy slurping the noodles down to respond. It having been months since he’d last seen his friend, he began making small talk as soon as his hunger was sufficiently satiated.
“So, how’s business? You were struggling this time last year. Has it gotten better?”
Daniela shrugged. “Well, you know Lunorans. All the factory worker types tend to snub the idea of arts and culture, but there’s been an uptick in interested parties, I think. Last fall was a rough time economically for everyone, but Hector managed to get a hold of some pretty rare and cool stuff this summer, so I’ve been making a fair amount off of that. Leo, who comes by my store often, told me that he’s starting to convince a few of his friends to come by and check out my selection. Other than that, it’s the same people who always buy from me.”
“Leo? Have I ever met this man?”
Shaking her head, Daniela held up a finger while she slurped some noodles down. “Maybe? Not sure. People don’t really mention you.”
Osryn went quiet. Immediately, Daniela picked up on her mistake.
“I- I don’t mean no one cares, of course… you just, don’t really come up in conversation.”
“No, I get it…” Osryn said bitterly, drumming his fingers on the table. “No one likes me.”
Daniela sighed. “I didn’t say that!”
“But, it’s true, isn’t it? I’m not stupid. I know people consider me off-putting, a shut-in…”
“Well,” Daniela started, scratching her neck, “you don’t really come around town, and when you do, you certainly don’t strike up conversation.”
“Oh, blame me, why don’t you, for my social scorn.”
Daniela’s eyes flashed. “I am not blaming you for anything, Osryn. I’m simply stating facts. From a stranger’s eyes, you don’t have the friendliest, most remarkable persona.”
“I’m no Cornellius.”
Sighing, Daniela put down her fork. Osryn used chopsticks, but he tried not to judge her too much. “You need to stop comparing yourself to him.”
“People still talk about him, Daniela. To this day. When I die, who will remember me? What sort of legacy will I leave? Will anyone even know I lived in town?”
“That doesn’t matter, Osryn. What matters is what’s right in front of you. Your friends. Your family. Your children.”
Osryn knew she was right, but he said nothing, taking another bite. Daniela shook her head slowly and the two finished eating in silence. When he finished, Osryn held a glass of mead by the stem, swirling it around and staring at the tablecloth. The citizens of Lunora have already shed him from their day-to-day thoughts. When he died, how long would it take before no one remembered him at all? He wasn’t as socially skilled as Cornellius, and he certainly wasn’t as friendly. He wasn’t as wise, nor as powerful, nor as experienced in combat. His mentor’s memory would outlive his own–– Osryn was simply sure of this, and it made his soul ache. He sipped his mead and sighed.
“Alright. Well, on that note...” Daniela rose from her seat and wiped off her skirt, turning to Osryn, who wouldn’t make eye contact. “I’ll leave you to your lamenting, I suppose. You can be a crabby old man, you know?”
“Oh, please.” Osryn managed a hint of a smile, rolling his eyes. “We’re not old yet. Don’t scare me like that.”
Osryn had been hoping for a chuckle, but she only offered him a pitying look. Still, he walked her to the door, where upon opening it, she turned to him. “Be kind to yourself Osryn. When you don’t, it’s not just you who suffers.”
Without waiting for a response, she pulled her shawl over her shoulders and shut the door behind her. Osryn sighed, shivered, and wrapped his arms around himself, walking to the stove and putting on another log. The hot embers erupted into flame and he allowed it to warm his body, but he was having trouble calming his mind. Worrying had always been a special talent of his, but that certainly wasn’t enough to be remembered by. He wandered back into the dining room, where he listlessly cleared the table and washed up all the pots and dishware.
Osryn was just finishing up the dishes when Adelaide wandered into the kitchen, standing with remarkable balance. Chuckling, Osryn ruffled the little girl’s hair, which, unlike Sebastian’s pale and straight blond, had been dark, coarse, and curly from the start. “Not now, Laidie-bug. It’s bedtime.”
“But…” Adelaide pouted, crossing her four arms over each other like a braid. Sebastian was sitting quietly in the nearby den, still holding his wand and watching the whole thing. “Wanna cookie.”
“Maybe tomorrow, dear.”
Adelaide huffed and stomped away. Osryn continued his chores, which served as a good enough distraction from his ever-darkening thoughts. Daniela was right. He always managed to work himself into a funk for no good reason. He flitted from one end of the house to the other, upstairs and downstairs, taking care of odds and ends but not really making any real progress on the mess. For some time, as he absently polished a crystal upstairs in his office, all was quiet, which should have been a dead giveaway to a father that something was awry. A crash from downstairs whipped Osryn’s head away from his task and he raced downstairs and into the kitchen.
From the doorframe, Osryn watched in awe for a moment as a massive swarm of ants descended from the counter where the cookie jar had just been. Osryn looked at the jar, now open on the floor, and Adelaide noticed him, a cookie in all four of her hands. The two stared for a moment, like long-time adversaries determining the other’s next move. Osryn crossed his arms and looked down at Adelaide, who relented with a huff and dropped the cookies on the floor.
“You no gimme cookie...” Adelaide whined as he scooped her up off the floor.
“How did you do that, honey?” Osryn asked her softly, digging for information about the surreal ant behavior as opposed to scolding her. “Those ants, they got the cookies for you… right?”
Adelaide nodded, fiddling with her many fingers. “Yeah. Friends help.”
She gestured to the floor, where the ants were swarming the cookies that no one had bothered to pick up. “Friends get cookie!”
Blinking, Osryn watched the ants swarming. There was no doubt now that he had been right. The uptick of insect activity in the last year had been because of the children. Not only were bugs drawn to them, but it seemed that they were somehow able to communicate with them. Had Osryn ever taken a parenting class, he was certain they would not have taught him how to deal with something like this. Without questioning her any further, Osryn put Adelaide down and she stormed off into the den. Osryn began cleaning the cookies up off the floor. The jar, thankfully, was unharmed, but the cookies were likely tarnished. As he rose from the floor with a handful of cookies, Sebastian let out a piercing wail.
“Daddy! Laidie took bearie!”
Sighing, Osryn attempted to unload the cookies into the trash. “Adelaide! Give Sebastian back the bear!”
“No!” She screamed, and Osryn rushed into the den just in time to see her hit Sebastian with the plushie. Six eyes squeezed shut, Sebastian’s screaming intensified and Osryn rushed over to him, coddling him in his arms and whispering soft reassurances. All the while, he glared at Adelaide, who was hugging the bear plushie with a devious little smile on her face. Osryn sighed deeply, having thought that maybe they’d tired themselves out enough to go to bed easily, but he could never be so lucky. With love in his heart, but lead in his soul, Osryn prepared for another long night: a night so full of meaning, and yet so meaningless it made him want to cry.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins