by Brenda Anderson
Nate turned down Aisle 22b of the Library’s Medieval Collection, knelt and reached for a book. Shiny red droplets spattered the floor below Out-of-Print Arcana. He stood up. Help. The dragon librarian disliked so many things: interruptions, voices, breathing. If the droplets turned out to be blood, she’d have his head for it. Help.
The air shimmered.
A giant, ten-foot-high chicken materialized in front of him, its feathered, sumo-sized girth supported by massive legs and feet disproportionately large for its height. In addition, it sported ten wings. Nate swallowed. Finger Lickin’ Chicken, yes. Medieval marginalia, no.
The sumo chicken bobbed its head. “You called?”
Nate swallowed. “Um, n-no. I’m doing some research. Those drops. They, um, don’t belong here.”
“No.” The chicken inspected them. “I don’t recall sticky. My world is gorgeous, smooth and flat, gold and beautiful, with lots of words. Nothing sticky at all.”
Sticky? My world? Nate thought that over. The closing bell rang once, twice. Five minutes to go. Soon Belle would be closing up shop. “It is blood, right?” he asked.
The chicken appeared to contemplate. “In my experience – though my world is strictly a meditative and aesthetic experience, you understand – I’d say it looks more like paint.”
Huh. Nate tried a different tack. “How do you fly with so many wings?”
Nate’s eyes widened. “Seriously, you’ve never used your wings? You walk everywhere?”
“Walk?” The chicken sounded dubious. “I could give walking a try, I suppose, but where? Can you climb on my back and be my guide?”
Could he? In a flash Nate hauled himself up on top of the chicken. Footsteps echoed down the deserted aisles. Belle was headed their way.
“Flap your wings. Hurry. The front door’s thataway.” Nate pointed. The chicken waddled forward and finally managed to take off. At the end of the corridor lay the front desk and beyond that, freedom.
As they flapped forward, the front doors slid open. The chicken just managed to squeeze through, then took off. It’s OK, thought Nate. We’re not library property. “Flap those wings!” he whispered. “Faster!”
“How’s it feel?” asked Nate, after a minute.
“Fine.” She paused. “Your world is interesting enough, but it lacks gold. Not much peace or beauty that I can see, either. I much prefer mine.”
Nate’s cell phone jingled. GET BACK HERE WITH CHICKEN ASAP. (Belle)
He sighed, talked the chicken down and parked outside. Belle glared at him as he re-entered the library. “How dare you. I reserved that chicken for my fiancé. Oh look! Benny’s here!”
Nate swung round. Benny’s large, tattooed, leather-clad body set off all the metal alarms as he strode into the library. Belle switched them off and threw herself into his arms. Benny quickly disengaged himself, looking embarrassed.
Nate turned to Belle. “You reserved the chicken?”
“I’m a librarian, aren’t I?” She raised her chin. “I’ve built up the Medieval Collection. Everything in Aisle 22b deserves admiration, even – dare I say it? – adoration. Take Drogo’s Miscellany, for example.” She flushed. “Books and Benny. Add marginalia and I’m in heaven.”
Nate nodded. In a way, he understood. Two days ago he’d flicked through Drogo’s Miscellany and admired its free-range illustrations. The most celebrated mage-cook of the Middle Ages had brought out the best in manuscript copiers. Their ribald, whimsical, cartoon-like creatures rioted round the margins of MSS: a gallery of grotesques, aka drolleries, blowing medieval raspberries.
Without a doubt Belle’s muscle-bound fiancé fitted right into this world. Nate pictured him slicing heretics in two, eating everything in sight. Benny could have been drooling over the ten winged chicken, and somehow released the magic. The droplets had been paint. Benny must have dribbled on the wrong drollerie, and released the sumo chicken.
Nate took a deep breath. “Belle, er, Miss Arbuthnot, if you could get me the Miscellany, maybe I can fix the problem.” But how can I undo Drogo’s spell? he thought. I know: wing it.
The librarian retrieved the Miscellany. Nate walked up to the library’s front window, opened it to Drogo’s page and held it as high as he could against the glass. Outside, the enormous chicken craned down. Nate pointed to the tiny gold drollerie in the top right corner and mouthed, Relax. I’m sending you back where you belong. Bye, old girl. He traced a small love heart round the picture. Instantly, the chicken shrank. Flapping its now-gauzy wings, the miniature chicken flew back through the entrance doors, gave him an air kiss and settled down into the drawing, light as gossamer. Nate sighed. What a character. He’d miss her.
Belle opened her mouth to speak but Nate got in first. “See, that page carries a warning against Gluttony. I’m guessing you made the paint leak, and a dribble dragged that poor drollerie into our world which, by the way, she didn’t appreciate. She wanted home. If you love chicken so much, try takeaway. Seriously.”
Benny lunged for him. Belle made a grab for the book. Nate tapped the recipe and they both froze. Wow, he thought, it works. In the top right hand corner the tiny, ten-wing chicken sat snug as a bug in its nest of gold. In the bottom left hand corner, a tiny bear wrestled a jester. The bear was winning.
Nate tapped the bear. Belle and Benny shimmered and twisted, shrank, hovered over the drollerie then settled into its centre. Now Belle was wrapped round Benny, who wrestled the bear. This time, Benny was winning.
Nate grinned. In the gorgeous, two dimensional world of the ten-wing chicken, Benny and Belle had taken their rightful place. Now bona fide marginalia, they looked supremely happy.
Okay, he’d rescue them. Maybe tomorrow.
Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in various places, from ASIM to SpeckLit. She lives in Adelaide, SA, and keeps a low profile.