“Oliver, are you out of your mind?” The housekeeper caught up with the merchant carrying Marco in his rickety arms while he shuffled over the polished checkerboard floor. “Candelaria just cast a spell on this poor boy, dare to startle him anymore, his mask might break into countless of pieces, and he will be swept away by the wind!” The graceful housekeeper placed her soft hand on Marco’s forehead between the smooth clay knolls over his eyebrows and unclad hairline. “This mixture she used for the mask is not for the faint of heart. This could take our entire lifetimes to dissemble the spell on our own.”
Marco’s pupils immediately shrank into merely flecks in the pools of his stone gray eyes. “For the love of frogs, you know I am not an advocate for waiting that long!” The merchant glanced down at Marco. The housekeeper braced herself, she carefully eased away from Marco and the merchant — almost colliding into the vases of sunflowers beside her. “Lucinda, will you do the honors of forging us a magic pendant to lead the way?” The merchant asked her as if he were going to perform a procedure. The second the merchant spoke in his normal voice, a current of wind skimmed over the vases full of withering bouquets above the housekeeper’s hair.
Strands of Marco’s crinkling tresses rose from his scalp while he noticed the flowers in the vases move in the opposite direction of the wind. He grabbed the shoulders of the merchant to get his attention after he let out a case of muffled hums through his dreadful mask. The housekeeper let out a howl once a sunflower beside her climbed over its glass. The stems and leaves moved along under its petals as if it had a moving body with arms; the roots of the sunflower acted as feet while it sloshed around leaving behind puddles of water.
“Let’s rain check on that pendant, Lucinda! We have no time to waste, the boy can stand on his own!” The merchant dropped Marco on his back to the marble floor. The merchant suddenly shed his disguise and displayed immaculate pointy teeth as if he were one of his mysterious hounds. “Besides, I can’t resist a good branch when I see one!” The young man was fair as he was frail in frame with long blonde hair that almost possessed the color of milk glass covering his fearless stare.
The housekeeper hurried over to Marco and helped him rise from the floor, Marco kept his arm around her shoulder while he struggled to stand on his two feet. “Oliver Simmons, you made a promise that you wouldn’t go feral!” The housekeeper let out a hopeless sigh as she supported Marco upright beside her. The kind presence dusted all of the ash off of Marco’s delicate shoulders. “Oliver is the first born, and he believes that he can be the first to always get in trouble.” The housekeeper inspected Marco up close. “Goodness, you poor thing! I have never seen any shape of wind scar so deep, it’s even left an impression along your scalp!”
Oliver spun Marco around to examine the impressions of the wind scar under his scarecrow-like tresses. “Watch over him, Lucinda!” Oliver Simmons, the rather dashing wizard gnashed a crooked smirk over his shoulder while he shoved Marco away from him. All of the sunflowers crept closer and closer to three of them; they craned their faceless heads towards Oliver. “Goodness, you all take ages to grow, but you do no good for this world?” Oliver wondered out loud. The living sunflowers towered over Oliver, who was pretty tall himself. They slumped their leaves at first, indicating that the mischievous wizard, indeed, wanted to pick a fight.
One of the sunflowers leapt at Oliver causing Marco to bury his porcelain face in his hands; fearing the worst. Oliver, with one arm behind his back, immediately struck the walking plant by snapping the sunflower’s stem between his strong jaws. “Anyone else?” Oliver asked with the sunflower caught between the lower row of his fangs. All of the sunflowers charged at him with all their force to which Oliver brought down their petals and caps, their stems and branches, and their leaves and roots.
Marco watched on with trembling eyes; all around his whole face he could feel more and more lesions that coiled around like tiny worms over his forehead. “Oh, My!” Lucinda noticed his condition. “That’s just it — you mustn’t show anymore of your emotions or else the mask will shatter into pieces!” She explained to Marco.
“There’s no use in finding her, not at this point, she has already haunted an innocent bystander — he is the one who needs our help even if it takes the last of our powers!” Lucinda chased after Oliver as Marco followed the mysterious pair over the winding mounds towards a lonely windmill in the distance. “Earth to Oliver Simmons! Ahh!” Lucinda stepped on her prairie dress and slid down the tall hill of golden wheat and sweetgrass.
“Did you say something, Lucinda?” Oliver waved his nose in the air while Marco scrambled down the hill to help Lucinda from her tumble. “I wonder what this fellow’s name is?” Oliver managed to take something out of Marco’s gauntlet without his permission of any kind. It was a star-shaped medallion that Marco had never seen before; merely a tag for an animal. “Marco? You don’t say!” Oliver read out loud. “He’s the baby in a family full of knights and soldiers, and, My My, — it’s a wonder how his parents survived with how many sons they have!” Oliver raised the tag up to the sun while Marco waved his arms in the air to not read anymore. “Very well, in short, the boy is a romantic.”
“Oliver, you well know that you are forbidden to read people’s lives!” Lucinda glowered at him.
“A life unread is a life forgotten,” Oliver proudly announced over the struggling careen of clattering sails as they grew closer to the windmill. The mechanical bones of the turbine pulled acrobatic movements considering each blade was made up of stained glass to project different colors and shapes. Marco glanced up at the massive beast of a windmill with smooth white walls supported by a mosaic of pebbles that glistened in the sunlight. The three ascended up the shabby steps while Marco made eye-contact with pointy-eared mutts awaiting for Oliver upon a shady porch.
“Pepper? I knew you would make it back in one piece! Or, perhaps, two?” Oliver pushed his straw blonde hair out of his face and over his floppy hat in a sigh of relief. Marco stopped in his steps almost colliding with Oliver — he was deeply distracted by a stone garden of mismatched cat sculptures. The cats were simple shapes with crater eyes and chipped noses. “Hmm?” Oliver whirled around to face Marco. “Oh, those? Those are what you might call Wind Lanterns, they hold Candelaria’s cats when she sends them out here. They’re servants just like Pepper, except for Pepper is a dog, she summons the light to cast out Candelaria’s spells.”
Marco placed his hands on his knees to see if he could get a glimpse at all of the misplaced kittens captured inside the sculptures. He caught swift movements of paws and the flicker of ears from the round eyes of their rocky casts. “So, Candelaria? That’s her name. That’s the name of that girl who cast this spell on me; those are her helpers.” Marco thought to himself.
Lucinda reached her hand out to scratch Pepper’s ears after ducking beneath the chattering sails of the windmill. She glanced over her shoulder at Marco balancing on the top step of the porch. Oliver meandered up to Marco and nudged his elbow into Marco’s arm. “You’ve got to keep walking, or your head will get cut off by one of those things, they spare not a single soul.” Oliver explained to Marco as he waltzed around him to dodge one of the sails.
Once inside the ramshackle, Marco was stunned to discover that the place was pretty airy despite the rickety alcoves and crawl spaces. The ceilings were almost covered with porcelain fairies who possessed jeweled eyes, they clung to bouquets of dainty dried roses and braided threads of wheat. The aroma on the inside was indescribable, yet so familiar to Marco; like the smell of an earthworm’s skin, or upturned flower bulbs with bone white roots.
Marco walked over the fancy rugs which were all worn to their last threads by a crackling fire in a charming fireplace. He locked eyes with a middle-aged woman, holding her fingertips against her temples beneath her messy hair. The woman glowered at Marco through her eyeglasses of amber and sapphire resin while she sat behind her desk with partially finished faces of fairies scattered in front of her.
“Oh, Oliver, spare me the details — you brought another one of your projects over after you cursed some poor fellow in an alleyway?” The woman eased away from her desk.
“Nuh-huh!” Oliver emerged from one of the curly hallways with a gold-foiled chocolate bar between his teeth. “This here is the knight Candelaria was after, or perhaps, the knight’s kid brother? Anyways, he’s under this tricky spell that Lucinda and I want to see if we can break for him.” Oliver kicked his feet up on a table as Pepper eyed the candy bar he gnawed on. “Besides, it’s such an embarrassment to bring company over to your creepy figurines, Mother, don’t you have anything better to work with?”
“Here we go again with this Candelaria — Candelaria this, and Candelaria that!” The woman let out a laugh. “Don’t you ever underestimate my artwork, you never know when it can change someone’s life!” The mystical woman winked towards Marco before she wandered over to gently pat him on top of the head. Madam Simmons, Lucinda and Oliver’s mother, sauntered into the cramped kitchen complete with a dome-shaped ceiling showcasing countless pockets of the inner workings behind the massive windmill. Marco carefully eased up to see one of the openings exposing the outside over his head while Madam Simmons stirred something in a bubbling pot. Marco watched a train of perfect stone marbles snake their way under the morning sunlight. The marbles were lifted by wooden petals of a twirling sunflower contraption installed into the chasms of the walls.
Marco took a deep breath before he caught sight of a mysterious figure outside; he saw a hooded shadow loom over the sculpture garden along the front lawn of the windmill. The company was Candelaria wrapped in her crushed velvet cape with starry embroidery cascading down over her shoulders. Her oversized sleeves reached towards all of the mangled cat statues to summon the feline spirits out of their tiny asylums. Marco backed away from the open alcove and flailed his arms in the air, trying to get anyone’s attention. He spun around to watch Candelaria through the chiming curlicues of the contraptions, though he could only watch her shadow vanish through the haze of the wheat.
At night, Oliver reclined back in his favorite chair on a higher porch of the windmill; which had a magnificent view of the distant city and the valley all together. Pepper rested beside Oliver’s bare feet, as the noble assistant she was to him, at his side practically all the time. A couple of fairies crafted by Madam Simmons were suspended from the gables to have the glaze on their skin dry in the abundance of open air. They tinkered together above Oliver’s head as he tilted over the edge of his chair to get a better look at the city in the distance.
“Curses,” Oliver spoke at a near whisper once he realized the eyes of the obscure cat sculptures were lackluster against the flickering lights of the city. Oliver rose from his chair while he bit down on his wooden pipe before he launched from the porch steps. The prankster of a wizard transformed into a massive Shepard the color of magpie feathers with dark sapphire eyes. Pepper chased after Oliver’s paws while the two canines landed in the hearty lavender surrounding the windmill.
Pepper’s form broke into countless of the pointy-eared mutts, just like the ones that were left behind with Sir Linus, all of the dogs were orchestrated by Oliver. He lead his pack towards a humble caravan tucked away at the end of the road. Hidden in plain sight, the wagon seemed empty and only appeared at night. As the dogs drew closer, they circled around the modest carriage crushing wild strawberries and young pumpkins between their paws. They clambered up scattered pieces of armory along the camp; the unpolished garments belonged to a couple of missing knights that have yet to return to their own cities. The dogs tilted their snouts in their upturned helms and gauntlets before they continued on towards the neglected carriage.
Oliver, in his canine form, eased up the steps of the caravan where he kept his eyes on an old porch light. Ears and whiskers gradually appeared from behind the eerily roundish bulb in the fixture of the porch light. Along with overgrown ivy vines giving these peculiar creatures a shadowy curtain to hide behind as the dogs scoped them out. Oliver wrinkled the skin along his nose and showed his teeth, he growled just enough to get the attention of the rest of the dogs.
The full pack stampeded around the caravan and began to tear down handfuls of ivy vines carrying sweet grapes with their claws. This is when Candelaria’s cats were given no choice but to retaliate — they groaned effortlessly, eclipsing the rolls of barks coming from the dogs. The graceful white felines crawled up the terra-cotta roof shingles like a gathering of doves while they arched their fossil-like spines. They held their mouths open, conveying sounds of screaming children, wailing in a choir, before they sprung up into the night sky. Oliver commanded his hounds to chase after the flying cats that dispersed throughout the infinite wheat field.