Inside the Tower
Inside the Tower, everything appeared much larger than Ella had expected. As Ella and Wednesday passed through through the entrance, the first thing Ella saw was the complicated machinery that powered the clock. A large assortment of dusty gears and pulleys connected in a vast puzzle in the center of the room. The apparatus reached high above them and into the shadows. Closer to the floor, a wooden peg stuck out from between the cogs of two large gears. Ella stared at the peg. It appeared to be a pawn from a chess set.
“Nasty machine,” said Wednesday. “I had to stick that wooden bit in there to keep the thing quiet. You can imagine how difficult it was to work with that racket whirring away. Don’t even ask me about the bells.”
“What about the bells?” said Ella.
“The bells,” said Wednesday, “rang one hundred and fifty-six times a day. Plus one hundred and forty-four little ones in-between. There must have been something wrong with the thing.”
She looked fondly about the room. “It’s much nicer now, don’t you agree? One needs quiet in order to fully appreciate the collections.”
They walked deeper into the Tower. It felt cool in the dark interior compared to outside.
“Mind the rails,” said Wednesday.
The raven led Ella across several metal tracks embedded in the floor. The metal tracks ran to the entrance, looped around the outside shelf and returned back behind the machinery where crowds of mechanical beasts and men and objects stood shrouded in the semi-darkness. These were the automatons: metal figures that could roll out along the rails and parade under the clock face on holidays and mark the special hours.
They made their way through the mechanical crowd. Ella saw medieval kings and queens, knights and dragons, jesters and executioners and gargoyles. She saw animated houses and buildings and trees, all constructed with hinged joints that allowed them to sway and dance when their hour struck. She saw jagged bolts of copper lightning, golden suns and silvered stars, bright clouds and heavy clouds and dark clouds that shed hail and snow and rain. She saw fish with wings that could flap, squirrels who juggled acorns now suspended and frozen in the air, rabbits who rode hot air balloons, and bears who dined in evening clothes. At one point, Ella turned and found herself face to face with a small tiger. The tiger wore a cape and a crown, and it bared its teeth at her in a savage snarl.
Ella gasped and jumped back.
“It’s not real,” said Wednesday.
Ella examined the tiger’s frozen face and gaping mouth. It wasn’t real. She also noticed one of its fangs was missing.
“I did that,” said Wednesday. “Cats are so dull, don’t you think? They can be good collectors, but they haven’t the faintest idea about what to do with the things they catch. But never mind this bric-à-brac. It’s only the old clock machinery. The real collections are this way.”
They continued past belts and pulleys, levers and grinding wheels, and a large arrangement of rods and mirrors. Ella caught her reflection in one of the mirrors and stopped.
Wednesday stood next to her and leaned down to look.
“You have a lovely scarf,” she said. “It matches your eyes. You’re not from around here, are you?”
Ella shook her head. The raven appeared very large when she stood so close.
“Neither am I, said Wednesday. “I’ve actually had to move several times in my life, but I hope this can be my home from now on. I’ve taken well to the place. It’s an excellent location for collecting, although I still occasionally need to travel far for my acquisitions. I’m sure you will feel at home here too.”
“I hope so,” said Ella. She wasn’t sure she remembered what home felt like. She also wasn’t sure why the raven assumed she lived in the Park.
Wednesday leaned over and straightened Ella’s scarf.
“There you are,” she said. “Now you look absolutely perfect.”
Ella blushed a little under her feathers.
They moved past the mirrors and reached a turn. Before they could go further, Wednesday stopped and addressed Ella.
“We are about to enter,” she said, “but first I need to ask you an important question. I want you to think carefully before you answer.”
Ella shivered again. A whispering breeze seemed to follow them through the Tower. She looked back along their path.
Could I escape? she wondered. I would have to move like the wind, whoosh through the entrance, dive down to the Bird House, and head straight for Harold’s cage where no raven claws could find me.
“Are you ready?” said Wednesday.
Ella took a short step away from the raven.
“Yes,” she said.
She did not feel ready.
It’s too far, she thought.
“Now, said Wednesday, “what’s your favorite shade of blue?”
“My favorite shade of what?” said Ella.
“Blue!” said Wednesday. “That glorious color found between green and violet.”
She spelled out the word and clicked her bill as though each letter tasted sweeter than the last: B-L-U-E.
“Blue,” said Wednesday, “the color of the sky on a sunny day. Personally, I have in the past found it somewhat difficult to choose a single favorite shade. There are so many good ones, aren’t there? Sometimes I felt more drawn to cobalt, and occasionally to teal. Never ultramarine, which has a terrible name, don’t you think? I prefer the elegance of something like lapis lazuli. Cyan once tickled my fancy, but that was a passing phase. After years of considering the problem, I finally arrived at my decision.”
“I like the blue of the bluest hour before dawn,” said Ella.
“Of course you do!” said Wednesday. “Of course! Your eyes are the very reflection of that hour, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Ella blushed again.
She’s sweet, thought Ella. How silly to think I needed to run.
“As I’ve said before, you are a lovely specimen. It happens that my favorite color is also the blue of the bluest hour before dawn. You can imagine my excitement when you came to visit with your unusual eyes, and now to learn that we share the same favorite shade of blue—well, I just knew I felt a change in the air this morning.”
She patted Ella on the head.
“Are you ready to see the collections?” said Wednesday.
Her deep eyes twinkled.
“Yes, I am!” said Ella, and she was.
Maybe I was wrong about this raven, she thought.
“Any questions first? No? Let’s begin. The first section I reserve for examples of the horological arts.”
“The what?” said Ella.
“It’s my timekeeping section. I maintain a great interest in wristwatches and pocket watches. I think you’ll find them striking in the morning light.”
They rounded the corner. Beams of sunlight came down through a high window and lit up dozens and dozens of watches. There were wristwatches with straps, and pocket watches with chains. The watches lined the walls, propped up and sometimes stacked on each other in twos and threes. There were plain steel watches, watches set with sparkling stones, watches made of gold and silver and platinum and plastic, and watches with cartoon figures that pointed at the minutes and hours with revolving arms and inflated hands. The soft, syncopated sounds of ticking gears filled the room.
Ella caught her breath. “They’re beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. But where do they all come from?”
“Would you believe I find them?” said Wednesday. “You can’t imagine how careless people are. Don’t you agree? Look at this one.”
Wednesday picked up a small gold wristwatch with a slim band and dangled it in front of Ella. The back of the watch read: From S, For E, Forever.
“Who’s E?” said Ella.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Wednesday. “All I can say is that poor E is out of time.”
Wednesday cackled her strange laugh and carefully replaced the watch.
They continued through the timekeeping section and exited between a wind-up alarm clock and a tall stack of pocket watches. Bits of sparkling foil and metallic wrappers filled the next space, and after that came a section piled high with pens and pencils of different varieties. Ella saw school pencils, carpenter pencils, drawing pencils, and pencils with nervous tooth marks and worn-down erasers. She spotted everything from cheap disposable pens to the heavy fountain pens of weighty executives. There were pens from banks with little ball chains attached, and dip pens with removable, beak-like nibs.
“I simply adore writing instruments,” said Wednesday. “Have you heard the riddle about the raven and the writing desk?”
“No,” said Ella.
“Really? I thought everyone had. It goes like this: How is a raven like a writing desk?”
They both collect writing instruments, she thought. But that can’t be right. There must be a better solution.
“I give up,” said Ella. “What’s the answer?”
“You’ve given up so soon?” said Wednesday. “Well, I suppose you should. It’s a riddle without an answer.”
“Why would a riddle not have an answer?” said Ella. “I thought all riddles had answers.”
“You might think that,” said Wednesday, “but sometimes a riddle doesn’t come with an answer attached. Sometimes it doesn’t want you to know.”
“But is there an answer?”
“Some believe that all riddles have answers, but I don’t see why they should. I do love them, though. I collect them for my amusement.”
“It’s important to be happy while we can,” said Wednesday.
“I’m having a lovely time,” said Ella.
Wednesday nodded with satisfaction. “Do you like sparkling jewels? I do. Come this way.”
Soon they stood in a small section filled entirely with jewelry: a glittering vault filled with rings, earrings, cufflinks, and necklaces. The room flashed and flared and twinkled so brightly it was hard to know where to look.
“It’s dazzling,” said Ella.
“Jewelry takes more time to collect, of course,” said Wednesday. “It’s also more difficult to maintain. Just this morning I lost an earring when I took it outside to examine it in the light.”
She sighed. “One gets careless at times. It’s all part of being a collector, I’m afraid.”
Ella looked at the ring closest to her. The ring held a small stone circled by a pair of swallows.
“It’s like standing in a crystal cave,” said Ella.
Wednesday patted her again.
“How kind you are,” she said. “Now, this next section is devoted exclusively to our favorite color. This is the reason you wanted to see the collection, isn’t it? I knew it was.”
She led Ella around another corner.
“Everything in blue,” said Wednesday, “and every shade of blue I could find.”
Blue objects filled this section from top to bottom: pen caps, combs, toys, a spoon with a blue plastic handle, a child’s left shoe, a pair of blue-framed eyeglasses, several plastic flowers, one woolen mitten, shards of cobalt glass and sky blue tiles, bottle caps, a picture postcard of the sea, a deflated balloon, a bit of yarn, a matchbox filled with blue marbles, and more.
Wednesday scooped though the marbles with her bill.
“Your eyes would go well in here,” said Wednesday. She winked and poked Ella in her side. “Let me show you my new prize.”
She led Ella to the far side of the room.
“This is a brand new acquisition,” said Wednesday. “It took a lot of trouble to find, and a lot of work to collect, but I think you’ll agree it was worth it.”
They stood before a worn book with a blue cover. The book leaned upright against the wall. A pattern of greasy fingerprints dotted its spine, and a trace of something white and grainy dusted the lower part of the cover.
Wednesday sighed happily.
“There’s just something exquisite about this one, wouldn’t you say? Look at the way the top edge shifts to a pale cornflower color.”
Was this the missing book? she wondered. It doesn’t look very important. I thought it would be bigger.
“Could I look inside it?” she said.
“Inside it?” said Wednesday. “There’s no point in looking inside it. It’s only blue on the outside, my dear.”
Wednesday leaned down close to Ella. She cackled her deep throaty laugh.
“The world must look very strange when seen through your eyes. I never thought I would have blue eyes like yours. You truly are a magnificent specimen.”
“But—you have black eyes,” said Ella.
Wednesday looked at her.
“That’s true,” she said.
“Where did those feathers come from?” said Ella.
Next to the book, a large group of feathers stuck out of a jar. Some of the feathers were blue, and some were blue with dark bands and white tips.
“Those?” said Wednesday. “Someone gave to me, you could say.”
“They look like—” began Ella, and stopped. The whispering breeze drifted past, and another shiver ran down her spine.
They look like blue jay feathers, thought Ella.
“Aren’t you curious?” said Wednesday. “What do you think they look like?”
She stepped toward Ella.
Ella stepped toward the feathers.
“You’re just like me,” said Wednesday. “I always admire curiosity in a bird. I especially admire it in a bird with eyes like yours.”
Wednesday reached out and ran her sharp claws through the marbles in the matchbox.
“These are so wonderfully blue,” she said. “Aren’t they just like your eyes?”
“How could I know?” said Ella.
I should leave, she thought.
“Oh, but they are,” said Wednesday.
Ella realized they had taken so many twists and turns through the collections that she had lost track of their path. She peered around the corner to see if she could find the exit. It was nowhere to be seen. The next section was simply another room, and another part of the collection.
It appeared to contain a series of small cages.
Ella looked closer. Six cages stood in a line against the wall, and each cage held a different kind of bird. Ella saw a starling, a finch, a chickadee and a warbler. At the far end was a young robin. One by one, the birds turned to look at Ella. The bird in the cage closest to her also turned.
In the first cage, her mother stood and stared at her with sad brown eyes.
Ella let out her breath slowly. Her heart pounded. She turned carefully back to the raven.
Wednesday smiled. Her deep, and now dangerous eyes opened wide.
“I found you,” said Ella.
Ella hardly saw what happened next. With one quick and terrible motion, Wednesday struck and pinned Ella to the floor. The raven pressed down against her and Ella gasped for breath.
“You’ve made me so happy,” said Wednesday.
Her voice rolled out again in drowsy whispers.
“When I heard about your eyes, I knew I had to have them. You can imagine my surprise when I found I had collected the wrong bird on that Terrible Black Night. Of course, I thought about returning for you, but it was too far, even for a raven of my size. I decided it might be easier to let you find me.”
She leaned close to Ella.
“And now you have,” said Wednesday.
Ella breathed heavily. She strained to turn her head and see her mother.
Wednesday glanced at Ella’s mother, and back at Ella.
She sighed happily.
“I’m so pleased you arrived,” said Wednesday. “You are my greatest acquisition. Collecting a sparrow is one thing, you see, but what I really wanted was your eyes.”
She picked up a pocket watch and began to swing it back and forth like a pendulum above Ella. She leaned down close.
“Relax,” whispered Wednesday. “Listen to my voice.”
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© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects