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Chapter 7

Westfall wondered what was taking Hermes so long, but he decided it might not be so easy a matter to take a woman away from the world, just like that. He wondered at himself; it wasn't his usual way of doing things. Had some supernatural creature established an influence over him and indicated to him by subtle means that he should ask for the woman? He wasn't sure, but he sensed the operation here of something abnormal, something beyond the laws of magic, something that worked in its own way and revealed itself or not as it saw fit.

The long afternoon passed; Westfall found a bit of cheese in his pantry, and a heel of bread. He moistened the bread with some of last night's soup, heated over a little stove he kept in a corner. A draft of wine washed it down, and then he dozed in his armchair. It was a peaceful time until a sound as of the air splitting apart came to his ears. He sprang to his feet, crying, "Have you brought the woman?"

"I have done my part,' Hermes said. He waved his hand to dispel the clouds of smoke that had attended his arrival. He was dressed as before, but this time he earned under his arm a small, richly made wooden box.

"What have you got there?" Westfall asked.

Just then came the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs. A muffled voice from outside cried, "Will somebody please get the door?" Westfall went and opened it. Two large workmen came in, lugging between them the body of a beautiful young woman, unconscious, and pale as death.

"Where do you want her?" asked the workman carrying the end with the head and shoulders.

"Just put her down on the couch over there. Gently!"

Hermes paid both workmen and saw them to the door. He said to Westfall, "I have given her into your power. Now you have her body. But I advise you not to fool around with it "without the lady's permission."

"Where is she?" Westfall asked. "Her consciousness, I O " mean:

"You mean her soul," Hermes said. "It is right here in this box." He put the box down on one of Westfall's tables. "Open it when you please, and her soul will fly out and reanimate her body. But watch your step.

The lady is more than a little angry, not taking kindly to being conjured when she was trying to do something else."

"Her soul is really in the box?" Westfall asked. He lifted the small brown silver-inlaid container and shook it. From deep within he heard a shriek and a muffled curse.

"You're on your own now," Hermes said.

"But what am I supposed to do?"

"That's for you to find out."

Westfall picked up the box and shook it gentry. He said, "Miss Ylith? Are you in there?"

"You bet I'm here, you unspeakable piglike thing," Ylith said. "Open this lid so I can get out and get at you."

Westfall turned pale and squeezed the lid down tightly with both hands. "Oh, dear." He looked at Hermes.

Hermes shrugged.

"She's angry."

"You're telling me?" Hermes said.

"But what am I to do with her?"

"You wanted her," Hermes pointed out. "I thought you'd have that part figured out."

"Well, not exactly."

"I'd advise you to try to come to some understanding with her. You're going to have to do that."

"Maybe I'll just put the box away for a while," said Westfall.

"That would be a mistake."

"Why?"

"Unless Pandora's box is watched all of the time, what is within is able to get out."

"That's not fair!"

"I've played fair with you, Westfall. You should know these things always have a trick to them. Good luck."

He began to make a gesture to conjure himself out of there.

"Remember," Westfall said, "I still have the talisman. I can call you up when I wish!"

"I wouldn't advise trying it," Hermes said, and vanished.

Westfall waited until Hermes' smoke had faded away. Then he turned to the box. "Miss Ylith?"

"What is it?"

"Could we have a talk, you and I?"

"Open this box and let me out. I'll give you talk."

Westfall shuddered at the sound of rage in her voice. "Maybe we should wait a little while," he said. "I need to think this out." Ignoring her curses, he walked to the other end of the chamber and settled down to think. But he didn't take his eyes off the box.

Westfall kept the box on his nightstand. He did have to sleep occasionally, but he wakened himself periodically to make sure Ylith was still in there; he had become concerned that she would get out on her own. He began to dream that she was about to open the box, or that it had opened during the night.

Sometimes he woke up screaming.

"Listen, miss," he said, "what say we forget all about this? I'll let you go and you leave me alone. Is that okay?"

"No," Ylith said.

"Why? What do you want?"

"Indemnity," Ylith said. "You can't expect things to happen as easily as that, Westfall."

"What will you do if I let you out?"

"I don't honestly know."

"You won't kill me, though, will you?"

"I might. I just might."

It was a standoff.



Chapter 6 | A Farce To Be Reckoned With | Chapter 8







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