Timothy nodded his head and mumbled a polite reply. There was a light rap on the door which startled him. “Come in,” The Toy Keeper called. A small girl opened the door. She peeked in, her long blond pigtails falling around her, a small teddy bear stuck in the crook of her arm. She couldn’t have been more than five. “Ma’am requeths to stheee you pleath,” she said. The Toy keeper stood up and moved to the door. Timothy stood up and took a deep bow. The Toy Keeper nodded towards the boy and then followed the blond haired girl out of the room.
Timothy followed the Toy Keeper who followed the little blond girl down a hall that led to a giant kitchen. Natural light filtered through the large glass paned windows that opened to the south. The kitchen floor was covered in rust colored tiles. There was an island in the middle that held a vase of sunflowers and a large grill. Behind the island stood a large rotund woman of about fifty years. She had her thinning mousy brown hair pulled back in a pony tail with a light muslin grey ribbon that matched the dress that she was wearing. She was pouring batter into three bunt-cake pans when the Toy Keeper and Timothy came in.
She looked up and smiled at the two and gave the little blond girl a cookie. “Thank you Abigail,” she said to her as she slipped the pans into the oven. The girl bobbed a curtsy and skipped out of the room.
The Toy Keeper walked around the island and gathered the woman into his arms, gently planting a kiss on the wrinkled forehead. The woman hugged him back, resting her head on his chest, she didn’t even come up to his shoulders. “Was there something you needed Merigold?” The Toy Keeper asked his wife.
“Just to see you,” she whispered. She looked up at her husband when he turned to Timothy. The woman let go of the man, turning a faint shade of pink.
“Meri, this is Timothy. He would like to work in our home, what do you think?” he asked his wife.
The woman came out from around the island and approached the boy. She analyzed him, emotions spreading across her face like the changing of the ocean. She seemed hesitant at first. There was something about the boy, something felt different about him. She glanced up at her husband as if to ask him.
“An enraged, grieved gypsy queen cursed his family with unlovingness,” the Toy Keeper told her. The woman looked once more at the boy, but this time she ignored the depressing feeling that seemed to emanate from the boy. He actually was not that bad looking, and with a bit of work he could do many of the heavier chores around the mansion. He appeared willing to work if he had ridden a carriage wagon from Howshikado to Tai Shan. It would be so good not to have to worry about some of the work sometimes.
“I think it could work, Rory,” she said to the Toy Keeper.
Timothy glanced up at the tall man, a look of puzzlement on his face. The Toy Keeper chuckled and the perplexed look. “I’m just as human as you are Timothy. My name is Rory McFalehan and this is Merigold Beecher, my wife. Many of the younger children call me the Toy Keeper and Merigold as Mom or Ma’am,” Rory said as he moved up next to his wife and slid his hand around her waist.
The woman looked up at him with loving dove grey eyes and then looked at Timothy once more. “Let’s sit down, it’s so much easier to have a civil conversation that way,” she said with a gleaming white granmotherly smile. Timothy couldn’t help but return the smile as he seated himself at the small breakfast nook. It was truly the first time in years that he could remember anyone actually smiling at him without that weird twinge of repressed revolution that was impossible to hide.
The nook looked out on an open stretch of grassland where several horses, cows, and even a goat were grazing. He stared in wonder at the ghostly sight of mist ringing the pasture and the sun’s rays gleaming off of the little beads of moisture like fiery jewels. The grass was a pure bright emerald green and the pond towards the far north of the pastureland was a vivid azul. “Your land is absolutely stunning,” was the first thing to escape his lips. He looked up in surprise. He didn’t voice his opinions often and he was rather reserved.
Merigold smiled at him with gleaming pride and Rory patted her hand lightly. “We’re rather proud of our land. It’s been in the family for a while,” beamed Merigold. She scouted about the massive kitchen, bringing back a bowl of steaming brown sugar oatmeal which she placed before Timothy. Rory just watched her move about, a small smirk on his lips.
“Where are we, sir, ma’am?” Timothy asked the couple. His stomach growled at the aroma of the oatmeal. He accepted the spoon that Merigold handed him and took a dainty spoonful of oatmeal from the neon blue stone bowl. Rory nodded his head, the boy has good manners. That is always a good aspect of a leader.
“We’re in a void between religious heavens,” Rory answered mysteriously.
Timothy froze between taking his bite of food and glanced at Rory. He ate the spoonful and tried to comprehend what he had been told. Rory watched the boy. He takes advantage of the situation to think carefully of his actions. Smart boy. “This is paradise, sir?” he asked cautiously.
“Not exactly, Tim. We are between time and space, in a universal void,” Rory tried to explain to the shaggy haired boy. The boy had deep black rimmed eyes, a black tattoo running from his left eye to his ear, a solitary line. Below it were three small dots of green, blue, and red. An odd formation for a village boy. It was much more typical of gypsies, which didn’t seem to correspond with the story that Timothy had provide earlier. The grayish gaze from below the heavy lashes spoke of perplexion and the depth of knowledge learned through wisdom. The boy was old in spirit for his mortal age.
Rory ran a hand through his hair, glancing out the lead paned windows. “It’s a little difficult to explain, Tim. We are capable of accessing any location, any time in the universe at will. It’s something like a middle point of a worm hole. For the Catholics of Earth it was considered Pergatory. If you were to leave the compound you would find many people outside who have established villages and towns who say that they are in a quasi-state between a heaven and a hell,” he took a breath, trying to think of a better way to explain.
“Are we dead, sir?” Timothy asked, fear a palad soar on his eyes. He grasped the silver spoon in his hands so hard that his knuckles turned white. Steam rose in a column before the boy, masking him in a cape almost. Rory noted it carefully.
“No, we’re not dead, don’t worry,” Rory reassured with a sad smile. “I use this time and place to help rehabilitate the children and electronics that have come to me. When times are correct I can send some of these children to adoptive parents who can see to their medical needs, while others I can help here. Some of these children though,” he breathed in, a shake in his shoulders, “well, they can never leave. This is their sanctuary, their asylum from people who would wish them harmed.” He fiddled with his shirt sleeve, scrutinize a perfect seam that Merigold had lovingly sewn.
“I don’t see it, sir. Why are you telling me all of this?” Timothy asked the man. The steam suddenly dissipated and then rose again in a calm column. Rory sucked in a breath at the action. There’s much more to this boy then was initially let on.
“I…well…you offered your services to the household, did you not, Timothy?” Rory asked the boy.
Timothy nodded, “yes, sir, I did.”
“I would like for you to help in gathering supplies and also watching over the kids when I am away. Many of the children will be happy to show you the ropes. Most of your responsibilities will not be substantial as of yet. I just want to see what you can and cannot do,” stated the Toy Keeper. He rose from the tiny table and strode out of the kitchen after kissing his wife on her forehead.
“He really is a gentle man. He can be tough when he needs to be though,” sighed Merigold. Timothy waited patiently for her to continue. She looked at him, taking in his square jaw and large eyes. He had a fairly straight nose, though it did appear to have been broken once. The tattoo was interesting, not something typically seen in the compound. She tilted her head in curiosity before asking, “what does your tattoo mean?”
Timothy’s hand went immediately to the black line. A wash of red brushed his cheeks. “It’s not finished. It’s an announcement of sorts,” he answered her cryptically. He bowed his head to her before taking his plate to the sink and washing it. Merigold hmphed in wonder at what he meant. “Is there anything I can do for you in here?” Timothy offered after placing the bowl back on the open faced shelf with the other plateware and finding the utensil drawer to put away his spoon.
“Well now, what can you do?” Meri asked. Timothy shrugged in reply. “Mainly housework, dishes, sweeping, cooking. I can also log, but, from the looks of this kitchen, I’d guess that you don’t need wood for your oven?” he questioned the phenomenon, a bit perplexed. He had been staring at the strange contraption that Meri had placed her cakes in. It sure wasn’t what he was used to in the hovel is father had called a house. It had a metal front with a glass viewing window, and knobs with numbers etched into them. He was used to a wide wood hearth with a small masonry box that was heated through the chimney off the hearth.
“You’d be right in your guess. These babies are wonderful. They run off what is called gas. We don’t frequently get questions for the younger children as to how these things work, so we don’t often need to explain. Some of our kids we place through adoption agencies in different centuries. These,” Meri proudly caressed a handle to the oven door, “are my pride and joy from the 20th century. True, I could have gone with the 30th century, but these just had such a homey, rustic element to them, and were easier to source the fuel. They aren’t the most environmentally friendly of appliances, but what are?” she laughed. Timothy blinked, the whole conversation having gone over his head.
“Um…” he was at a true loss for words but felt that he was responsible for saying something.
“We do keep a separate kitchen from this that attaches to the mess hall. That one has stoves that are much more familiar to you, my boy. Also, we have several heating stoves and fireplaces throughout this house that could always use stockpiles. Wouldn’t it be our luck, it’s already mid-summer here and the snow will be falling in three months and we barely have eighteen ricks covered. You know how much we go through in a season?” Meri meandered about the kitchen, throwing various ingredients into a mixing bowl and taking after it was a whisk. Timothy backed away from the island, sensing the last statement was a redundant question. “I’ll tell you,” Meri pointed the whisk at him, a thin batter dripping off the prong. “We could use all the help we could get. If you really do have a curse on you, which if you ask me,” she was a maniac, Timothy concluded. She had gone after the batter with a vengeance and he could see it bubbling.
“I don’t think you have a curse. At least, if you do, I don’t think your grandfather was just an average bloke who got into it with a gypsy king. Am I right?” she pegged him with a burning eye. Timothy’s eyes went round. His throat suddenly went dry. How could she tell who he was? This had always worked with quite literally everyone else he had ever been around. Tell them you are unlovable from a curse and it can’t be broken and though some might try pity, they all in the end threw him out.
“You see, Timmy, may I call you Timmy?” she asked as she poured the cake batter into another series of bunt pans. She seemed to have an endless supply of the things just floating around, tucking into random spaces on shelves. He could feel his pulse taking off. He felt cornered and he had no way of escaping this mansion. He sensed the building engulfing him. “I know those lines. That one on your cheek? Your grandfather was a gypsy king wasn’t he?” she tossed the cakes into the second oven and came around to the front of the island, leaning against the ledge. Timothy sucked in his breath, waiting. No one had ever guessed. “No one knows these lines. No one,” he warned her off.
“Yeah, no one is supposed to know those lines. The whole tribe was wiped out in a massacre,” she heaved a sigh, staring at a chip in her polished tile floor. “It’s taboo to talk about a clan when it’s gone. It brings back the ghosts, right? God, I hate superstitious mumbo jumbo!” she slammed her fist against the counter. Timothy took a step back, a bit terrified at the sudden, violent outburst.
“You live in a void between heaven and earth,” Tim pointed out, perplexed. The mist was beginning to rise around him.
“Yeah, and I have it on good standing that these deities are assholes,” she bit out. Tim’s eyes went round. Yep, he was surely standing in a room with a mad woman. “Ma’am?” Tim asked nervously, slowly back away from her. He wasn’t ready for this confrontation. Meri watched as the mist that had formed around him began to shimmer and hide his form.
“I met your grandfather, Tim. You look just like he did when he was a young man. It’s hard to forget a face like his. It was just odd seeing you, because he had a series of vertical lines across his left eye, rather than your horizontal line and dots. You’re a prince to a dead clan, the last of your kind,” Meri stated. “You know, it’d do the gypsy clans to do away with the facial markings if they truly wanted for a clan to be forgotten. It’s too high a visible reminder of the taboo.
I am sorry, Timothy, that you have this ‘curse’ to bear. You know that we can easily move you to a different time? We can put you in a different century altogether so that no one would recognize that line. For that matter, we can just have it removed, it isn’t as permanent as you think,” Meri pointed out. Timothy touched his cheek, his family’s mark, his one last tie to his culture, his heritage.
“I can’t do that. I might be running away from the villagers, but I can’t run away from my people,” he stated. The cloak of mist dropped from around his shoulders to crawl along the ground, chilling the air in the kitchen.
“Keep it if you want, didn’t mean to overstep myself there. I just want for you to understand, here and now, that there is no need to lie to us, and that you are welcome here. Though I’d like to know what the deal is with you and the mist, kid,” Meri turned back to the ovens as the first batch rang it’s timer. She pulled out a little metal skewer to test the batter while Timothy stood in the center of kitchen, perfectly perplexed. He looked down at his feet at the vapor Meri had pointed out. He stared at it a moment, his brow furrowing. He had never noticed the stuff before. “Not sure what to tell you, Ma’am. This is the first time I ever saw the stuff inside a house before now,” he answered truthfully.
Meri nodded at the cake testing stick and took the pans over to a cooling rack. “Well, if you had any curse, that might be what it is. We’ll need to figure that out before we end up molding the carpets throughout the house when your emotions go off track.” With a loud thump, she released the first of the cakes from it’s mold, a glorious golden crust greeting the morning sunlight streaming in through the window.