Leather, Dust, Blood, and Smoke
The door to the crown prince’s chambers flew open, revealing the future regent with red-rimmed eyes and several days’ worth of beard.
“Where is he?” the man grated. The head of the household staff had been having a heated discussion with the head of security. Between them, a frail old man could be seen sitting in a chair against the wall, a clockwork contraption hugged to his knees.
“Mr. Bocalt,” the prince said with a wincing smile. “There you are. Please, come in.”
The old man looked as if he was about to stand, but then stopped and looked to the head of security instead.
“You do NOT take your cues from HIM, Bocalt!” the young man roared. He smashed the bottle in his hand against the ground, splattering amber across his bare feet and the expensive rug beneath them.
“Your Grace,” the security head replied while the head of household summoned someone to clean up the alcohol, “he has not yet passed the final check-”
“The final check,” the prince replied. “The final check.” He gestured wildly. “Two years, moron! For two years he’s been coming here, once a month, and sometimes more. If he was going to kill me, he’d have done it already.”
“He must pass all the checks, Your Grace.”
“He’s been around longer than you have, and I know for a fact that you’re more dangerous for my health than he is!”
“Your Grace,” the head of security began, a mere modicum of respect in his voice, “your father has-”
The prince rolled his eyes and nodded as the man spoke. He reached inside of the soiled and unfastened military jacket hanging on his shoulders, pulled his handgun from his holster, cocked it, and pointed it straight between the eyes of the security chief.
“My father is not here,” the prince intoned. “But I am. And so is this gun. And I am tired of waiting for the pleasure of Mr. Bocalt’s company.”
The restrained anger in the security man’s eyes was replaced by a calm determination that the prince might have found frightening if he was sober.
There was a knock at the door, and the head of the household jumped as if it was a gunshot. He looked to the prince for instruction, and finding none, rushed over to see who it was.
“It’s an officer,” he said to the room.
“Bring him in,” the prince replied, still committed to his standoff with the man whose job it was to keep him alive.
A man in a dripping trenchcoat stepped inside, gave a bored look to the cocked pistol in the future regent’s hand, and handed a package to the head of security.
“He passed?” the chief said.
“Yes, sir,” the officer replied. He paused, and his hand slowly crawled towards his holster. “Sir, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Not right now, officer,” came the reply. “Have a good evening.”
“You tested it on one of my father’s prisoners,” the prince said.
The officer bowed to him before replying. “Yes, Your Grace.”
“Did he have any response? Other than not dying?”
“Yes, Your Grace. He said it was the most wonderful scent in the world.”
“There, you see?” the prince said. He put his gun back into his holster. “Come on, Mr. Bocalt.”
The old man stood, and the security head handed him the package.
“Thank you, sir,” Bocalt replied, but there was no answer. He made his way past the officer, past the head of house, and past the nervous servant waiting to clean the rug.
“Watch your step,” the prince said, stepping to the side to allow Bocalt through. “Somebody broke a glass in here.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Bocalt said. He entered the prince’s chambers and stood off to the side, waiting for instructions. The room was dripping with wealth and privilege, but as always the old man seemed unimpressed. Not in a derisive way. Just…indifferent.
And as always, the prince wasn’t sure whether he appreciated that or was insulted by it.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Bocalt,” the younger man said, after slamming the doors shut.
“I serve at the pleasure of the crown, Your Grace,” Bocalt replied with a bow of his head.
“It’s not my pleasure that requires your presence,” the prince replied. “It’s my pain.” He gestured to the table in the middle of the room. “Why don’t you set up.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” the old man said. He put his contraption down on the table, then twisted a miniscule knob until a hatch at the top popped open. With sure hands, he opened the package given to him by the head of security and removed a vial of straw-colored liquid from the brown paper.
While Bocalt smoothly inserted the glass into his clockwork machine, the prince poured himself a shot of an electric blue liquid from a bottle in the hidden drawer in his liquor cabinet. The young man tossed the drink back, shivered, and made his way over to the couch.
“Thank you, Mr. Bocalt,” the prince said, collapsing onto the leather. “You can wait outside.”
“Actually, Your Grace,” he said, “I think I’ll stay with you this time.”
It took the prince a second to hear what the perfumer had said. “What?”
Bocalt picked up a long silver candlestick from an end table and wedged it through the door handles.
“I will stay with you for this one, Your Grace,” the old man said again.
The prince, in response, tried to haul himself out of his seat. But the hallucinogen made his limbs heavy and his hands clumsy, and he quickly fell back into the leather.
“This is…highly irregular…gave you an order…you can’t-”
But the old man was already sitting down. Bocalt placed a bony finger against his lips.
“Shhh,” he said, pointing to the contraption on the table. From far away, the prince heard the click click click as the gears wound through their cycle.
There was a soft gong followed by a hiss as the clockwork sprayed perfume into the air. The prince had still been making feeble attempts to get up, to call his security detail, and to otherwise escape from the perfumer. But when the scent hit his nostrils he froze. His eyes went white, and he slid back down into his chair…
The bell chimes when people walk into the bookstore. He hears a child chattering at a mile a minute, a man and a woman talking about something in the newspaper. It’s quieter further back in the stacks, and he retreats into the rich scent of leather from the bindings of the tomes around him.
He’s finds what he’s looking for. He doesn’t know how, but he knows it’s this one. He reaches out and grabs a slender volume off the shelf and dust tickles his nose. After a moment, the need to sneeze goes away and he’s able to see what he’s grabbed.
Fairy tales. A book of fairy tales. He hasn’t heard these in a long time, not since his…
He frowns. Mother? He had a mother? No. There was only ever father, stern and straightbacked, his chest and his brow gleaming with gold, only a fraction of which was actually deserved…
He hears grunts of effort and turns towards them. He’s no longer in the stacks, somehow, but standing a few feet away from a large display of children’s pamphlets. A small girl in a blue wool coat is reaching up for something beyond the grasp of her fingertips. Without thinking, he grabs it and hands it to her.
Her first instinct is to pull away. But when she sees the kindness in his smile, she shyly takes the pamphlet and curtsies. He chuckles, and she turns to run back to her parents.
The wall to her right explodes as she passes it. She’s pushed to the ground by the iron beast forcing its way into the room. There is a flash of blue wool that disappears beneath dust, rubble, and the great black foot of the monster that has invaded the bookstore. Now, there is the smell of blood mixed in with the leather and dust, and it is followed by smoke.
He is more than shocked. He is shattered. As his mind tries to piece together what has just happened, the swirling dust begins to settle around the invader’s nightmarish shape.
A great, metal vehicle shaped like a beetle with giant horn atop its head crouches half-in and half-out of the bookstore. Its eyes blaze with fire, and steam and smoke pour from the various vents in its carapace. It backs up slowly, grinding everything beneath its feet into a finer dust, and freeing up space for the soldiers to enter.
There are two of them, encased in brass exoskeletons that spew great plumes of white behind them. One of them uses the flamespitter attached to his wrist to start setting fire to the rows and rows of books, considered subversive for being written too early, condemned by a king who’s read enough of them to know better. The other soldier sends the gleaming tip of his suit’s tentacle whip through the chest of the shrieking mother whose child was just crushed by a collapsing wall and the beetle tank. The same soldier dispassionately dispatches the father with a shot from his shoulder-mounted rifle, stopping the man’s enraged charge dead in its tracks. His own flamespitter kicks into gear, and he joins his companion in destroying what’s left of the store.
The observer stands frozen in the heat, and soon the smell of leather, dust, blood, and smoke tear him apart and pull him away…
…back screaming into his body.
The prince was crouched in the corner with his hands pressed up against his head, shrieking, the cords in his neck standing out against his skin.
The way that the old man stood over him made the perfumer appear as some sort of vengeful angel deciding the prince’s fate.
“Your father’s sins are against the people,” the man said once the prince took a second to breathe. “But if you stop yours, maybe you can find a way to atone for his.”
The doors splintered open a second later, and the head of security and the police officer from earlier rushed in, guns drawn. The old man allowed himself to be taken away without protest. The head of security, seeing that the prince wasn’t hurt, sneered and left the room. And for the first time, the unshaven, scared sober, son of a despot began to fear for his life.
Copyright 2016, William R. Spear