The Price

Mortal Tales

A new day has restored the electricity and seen the winter storm blow past. It is late morning before Marco and the Callaghans are able to venture into the basement again. They find the poorly lit rooms cold and empty. The battered wardrobe still sits in the storeroom but the mirror on it is dusty and ordinary.

Mir presses his hand to the mirror. The cold glass doesn’t yield. They discuss how they might reopen the gateway into the Hedge. Mir suggests it might be a matter of reenacting the events of the previous night. Nikki tries tossing Skittles at the mirror. They bounce off and scatter through the room.

That door closed, the children discuss their next step. Mir wants to do some research on the Hedge and how one might reach it. Nikki points out that the homeless man who has been hanging around also seems to know something about this. She seems eager to track him down but secretly wants to see the crack house where the Goblin Market is supposedly held each night.

Mir goes back to his library. Marco excuses himself from the research. He asks them to let him know when they decide to seek the homeless man. Once the tween leaves, Mir and his sister get down to the business of research. Nikki helps out by bringing him books to look at while he pores over his extensive collection of occult tomes.

As Nikki brings him a second stack of books, he notices she is leaving a vibrant trail of red paint on everything she touches. He scolds her for damaging his books and she leaves in a huff. When Mir turns to his damaged books however he sees the paint fade away before his eyes.

As Nikki plays with Mr. Skittles, while Mirolsav focuses on his research. An hour later he puts his books aside. The legends indicate all sorts of ways into the realm of the Faerie, if that is what the Hedge is. Each requires a key like a physical object or ritual to open them. If only he could open the portal in the basement again he could probably work out what the exact ritual was.

He tells his sister his findings. Nikki suggest trying gingerbread. They ate gingerbread that night so maybe that is what opened the gateway. Mir seems dubious.

Nikki goes into the kitchen and asks her mother for some gingerbread. The tall dark-haired woman passes her a plate from the fridge. Nikki grabs some and walks straight back to her room, leaving her mother puzzling over what happened to her usual bouncy child.

Mir and Nikki eat the gingerbread and then descend into the basement. The mirror remains a mirror. The gateway remains closed.

They go back upstairs and Mir makes sure to pocket some chalk and a flashlight before heading up to the third floor. Reluctantly he knocks on the McQueen’s door. Marco answers and gets ready to join them in their search. He explains Rocco is busy with his computer.

They gather in front of the house. The boys turn to Nikki. The little girl recalls three locations where the strange man has been seen: a street corner two blocks away, the overgrown lot behind the house, and a liquor store three blocks away near the crack house.

They go around back first. Thick brambles cover the backyard. Ice and snow encase most of the thorny gray wood, but Nikki sees something odd about the snow about ten feet in. She crawls under the brambles to check it out. Marco and Mir follow her.

The brambles are tightly packed and Mir gets his thick coat stuck partway. Reluctantly he pull himself back out. As he gets ready for a second go, he sees tabby cat walk over the snow to him. It mews and a black cat joins it. A little worried he hurries to join the others.

Nikki reaches a circular patch of snow that somehow looks fake, like potato flakes. The snow still feels cold to the touch but she begins to dig through it anyway. As she works, she leaves splotches of blue and green paint on the snow. Marco is a bit disturbed by colors but helps her dig the hole. A couple of cats come out of the brambles to watch them work. Mr. Skittles barks at them but Nikki tells the small dog to heel.

Under the snow they find a boarded up well. Mir joins them and as they examine it they find several Norse runes marked on the wood. As more cats join them, Mir sounds out the runes. The runes glow a soft blue and a warm breeze comes from below. The wooden ‘gate’ creaks and opens down. Below them they can see a path lined in greenery, its base at right angles to the ground. Walking up the path, on what should be a wall, is another cat.

Weirded out, Marco tosses some snow into the tunnel. It falls sideways to the ‘ground’. Meanwhile Mr. Skittles whines as the number of cats continues to grow. As the children wonder how long the doorway will remain open, the runes cease to glow and the door swings closed. Their question answered, they scramble out from under the bushes and away from the cats.

The children begin to trudge towards the liquor store. Nikki leads them through empty lots and backyards towards the crack house. Children throughout the neighborhood are enjoying the snow and the respite from being cooped up. Halfway there they spot Chris and Ryan also out in the cold weather. Then they are spotted in turn.

Nikki bolts through a nearby fence, slipping through a gap too small for anyone else to make it through. Mir simply turns and trudges away, trying to imagine that he is invisible.

Marco waits and intercepts his friend Chris. The other troublemaker asks if Marco was getting some revenge on that twerp who just left, indicating the slowly vanishing Mir. Marco bluffs that he was and tries to buy his new friend time to slip away. Chris however excuses himself to get his own licks in. He chases after Mir but loses him on the street. A few moments after he passes, Mir emerges from the snow fort some local kids were building.

The gang regroup and makes their way to the large lot where the crack house stands. The decaying structure looks abandoned and leans slightly to the west. The older children seem reluctant to cut across the yard but Nikki convinces them to follow. As they cross the lot, Nikki notices that two crows sitting on a nearby telephone line are whispering to each other.

She asks Marco for a nickel and tosses it onto the ground as she calls out to the birds. One of the crows shrugs and they flutter down. As it pecks at the coin, the other speaks to them in the voice of an old man. It says they thought Nikki was different. Nikki, a little spooked that it worked, chats with them.

They seem to know a bit about the Goblin market and confirm it opens at Midnight. She teases some more information out of them by giving them names: Fred and Barney. The crows tell them the only rule of the market is not to cause trouble. Otherwise there are no guarantees. Nikki describes the homeless man and the crows recognize him as a madman who calls himself Hedge. He will be here tonight. They also say there are ways into the actual Hedge from the Market.

The birds seem intrigued by Nikki’s voice and one of them, Fred, tries to convince her to let them use it when she is done with it. Fred tries to explain they are patient but Nikki refuses to deal with them.

The children hurry around the block to the liquor store. They see no signs of the homeless man, but Marco agrees to go inside and talk to the owner. The old man behind the counter grudgingly answers the boy’s question. The person they are looking for was just here. He should be just down the street. The clerk remarks the guy must be a great panhandler since somehow he always has cash.

Marco comes out the liquor store and informs the others. They hurry down the street and catch sight of Hedge walking slowly down the street. The old man looks back and begins to quickly walk away. The Callaghan kids chase after him. Realizing he can’t escape, he turns and raises one hand, warning them he will call fire down on them if they don’t leave him alone. He looks different now: thinner, paler, with pointed ears. The children come to stop and try calming him down. Miroslav manages to convince him to sit down and talk about it.

As they sit down on the snow, Nikki asks Hedge if he really can create fire. He lights a finger tip to show them. They pepper him with questions which he tries to fend off. He claims Hedge isn’t actually his name but allows them to call him that. When they ask what he thinks about Marco, the old man seems confused. He holds his head and calls the boy the mechanic. Hedge seems confused about the current date and makes frequent references to things that haven’t happened yet.

Mir convinces the old man to teach him some magic in exchange for helping with Hedge sort out where he is in history. Hedge admits to traveling in time and that he is waiting to catch up with himself to complete the loop. Nikki supplies him with a colored pencil and paper and Hedge writes down the events he recalls. In exchange he teaches Mir how to talk to Darkness. Mir learns to call on its power to intimidate others and to hide himself and others.

Hedge holds back information on how to gain the power to use this ability, or Glamour. Until he finishes his research into Hedge’s ‘history’, Mir will need to rely on the Catches. Nikki presses Hedge on his past and why he traveled in time. Hedge reluctantly admits to needing to save someone called Lucy. He refuses to say more and when asked about how he traveled in time, he explains there are rules he must follow. Even telling them this much causes him extreme pain. A trickle of blood pours from his nose.

Back at the Reichardt house, Rocco is busy hacking into the school computers. The security is a joke. He pokes around for an hour. The interface is fairly primitive and most of the email accounts seem unused. He takes some time to fake an email from his father to the principal, asking her to separate Chris and his brother Marco.

Picking over the files, he finds an odd email account belonging to someone called Troll. The inbox is full of weird spam. In addition to the chain letters and marketing of fake medicines, there are references to the Hedge and the Fae. Curious Rocco sends an email to Troll via a dummy email account. He asks to meet. He gets a reply an hour later, saying Troll will be at the next Market, past the graffiti in the alley by Elridge and Alder.

As the 10-year-old puzzles over this, the others return. Mir tells Rocco excitedly about how he learned to talk to darkness. The others seem more interested in visiting the Goblin Market that night. While Rocco wonders if Mir is losing it, he agrees to sneak out with them that night. He still needs a ring forged by an oathbreaker.

After the others leave, Mr. McQueen comes home. Their father has been out later and later recently but today for once, he is home for dinner. After they eat, he asks if either of them has seen the watch he left on the table. They both think back and recall a nice silver watch there earlier in the day. Now it is nowhere to be seen. Mr. McQueen searches around but fails to find it.

Miroslav researches the notes Hedge gave him. From the ramblings, it seems the old man is mostly obsessed with a small town called Rosebriar in upstate New York. The earliest events he has noted down are from the 1970s. Mir is able to pin down about half of the events to the past. The things he can’t pin down are disturbing: a tidal wave in the Indian ocean, another in Japan, and third that will destroy parts of New York City. There is also notes on two wars in the Middle East.

That night the children prepare to slip out of the house. Nikki stows the nice silver watch she ‘borrowed’ among her things and helps her brother clamber out the window. She passes Mr. Skittles out to him and then pulls herself out.

Upstairs, the McQueen boys try to slip out as their father sleeps. Rocco slides out on in his wheelchair in utter silence. Marco trips on the carpet. He hears his father stir and he hurries out of the room, closing the door behind him.

The children gather outside before heading out. It is after 11 o’clock and icy cold. Even bundled in their heaviest coats they shiver. They hurry down the street towards the crack house and the Goblin Market. By the time they arrive their hands and feet are freezing.

A dozen crows are sitting on the telephone lines as they arrive. A couple flutter down as they approach. Fred and Barney still seem interested in getting Nikki’s voice but recalling something Hedge said, she asks them to make a promise before she will deal with them. The crows seem reluctant to commit.

Then a church bell tolls 12 o’clock and the lights turn on in the house. In addition to the normal yellow glow, some windows shine blue and green. The children walk up to the front door, leaving the crows behind.

They knock but nothing happens. Mir opens the door and sees a huge dark figure to one side. They slip inside past him. The guardian just watches them, never reacting to their looks or questions.

Inside the house has been strung with Christmas lights. From each room they see and hear another freakish thing hawking its goods. In one room a six-foot cockroach selling emotions in the form of pills, in another a human drug dealer possibly selling actually drugs. Some doors are locked. One oozes gray sludge, another has an eerie green light spilling from under the door, a third seems normal until the screams start.

A room filled with boxes and shelves of books, floppy disks, records, and VHS tapes catches their eyes. The old man behind the stacks has skin like newsprint. He crinkles as he walks intrigued by his new customers. Rocco digs through the files and finds a copy of Duke Nuke’em 4D. The game (at least the 3D version) won’t be out till next month. Mir spots books on magic as well a large leather bond tome called the Book of Revelations. He pulls it down from its shelf and tries to open it but it refuses to budge. The old man tells him the future resists being seen. Miroslav and Rocco consider it for a moment before putting off any purchases. They have a ring to find first.

Nikki and Marco meanwhile continue down the hallway past more oddities and merchants. In one room, an old hag dressed in a black garbage bag is selling nightmares and Contracts. Nikki walks on but Marco stops, entranced by her single eye and promises to teach him to see the desires of others. They haggle for a few moments and he trades some of his future potential for the knowledge.

The others catch up to them and they find Hedge in a room plastered with newsprint and mad scrawls, all joined by string. Rocco asks Hedge if he is an oathbreaker. He doesn’t deny it. Nikki asks if he can show them how to get into the actual Hedge. The old man guides them back into the hall. He closes the door briefly behind him and then opens it again. They see thorny brush lining a dirt path where the room used to be. He closes the door and opens it again. Just the room remains.

Rocco then asks him to make a ring for him. Hedge asks for a measure of sanity in return. Rocco haggles the strange man down to Rocco’s peace of mind for a month. He also convinces the Changeling to teach him how to see people’s dreams and to open doors into the Hedge. Hedge also teaches the children the way to collect Glamour. While he forges the ring, Mir reads him his findings.

The deal complete they begin to plan their trip to the Mo-Hedge to seek the next item Rocco needs: the tooth of a street shark.

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