The Ink Chase – Episode 7


The Ink Chase

A Serial in eight parts

Nidhi Singh

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I led Harlow before the witch.

“Here’s your man. Now the spell please.”

Harlow’s mouth was agape as he stared before him. “It’s you!”

“You two know each other,” I asked, looking from one to the other. They seemed so completely immersed in each other; they’d completely forgotten me. I was in a hurry; I didn’t want to spend a minute there longer than necessary, away from my Diane, in the company of these two shambles of humanity.

“It is you that freed me?” Harlow, in a trance, his arms spread before him, shuffled toward the burlesque queen of the underworld.

“Stay!” she thrust out a shriveled, decayed, bleached hand at him. She swung a wand in the air—a luminescent wisp of blue gleam trailed it – other than the spectacle, no real damage was done. I guessed it was just a moody habit. “Look what you did to me,” she waved her long knurled fingers in a wide arc about her, in a general reference to her blanched persona.

“I tried my best to help you—but I wasn’t ready—now I believe I am. I have spent years finding a cure for you, I think I might have it.”

“If it be so—I must allow you a chance then…to exonerate yourself.”

“Exonerate—I saved you! Has this dark, watery grave robbed your mind of all memory, and things wholesome?”

They could have sorted matters between themselves till the cows came home. But Diane would be getting worried. “Excuse me,” I said, “but could I have my prescription. I am done here. I really should be—”

“Silence,” the witch shrieked, “impudent man! I have no further use for you. Perish now!” she thrust her wand at me and the blue spill began to advance menacingly on the wood-planked floor toward me.

“Stop,” Harlow shouted, jumping in front of me, covering me with outstretched arms. “Or strike me down as well.”

“Argh,” the witch snarled, and the bubble vanished.

“You gave me your word—you, madam, are a liar and a slave to the evil ways,” I said, as Harlow gripped my arm and stood beside me. “Clearly, no man will be impressed with your winsome ways,” I added.

“Who said I want to win someone over, you namby-pamby!”

I jabbed a thumb in Harlow’s direction. “Clearly, under all that carefully cultivated austere visage and mournful countenance, even a blind fool can see there is a little lurking affection you conceal for this man. With your powers, your dark magic, you have little use for his immature remedies!”

“You fool,” she tore open her blouse to reveal a frosty, silvery bosom, “see what his silly brews did to me? I feel faint, my skin tingles and burns, my heart pounds, I fear I may be turned to dust if I expose to the sun. I do not fear sunlight just because it lights up a miserable world—I am confined to this black, watery world because of the balms he’s rubbed on me!”

“It’s not my salves dear,” Harlow replied, in a lover’s plaintive, groveling tone, leaving me quite shaken. “It’s what the scorching sun did to you—remember, they tied you to a stake out in the burning desert for days, before I risked my life and slashed down the ropes that bound you and brought you to my home? Have you forgotten how I nursed you back to health? Your condition is  all in the mind. I think…I think you might have developed Phengophobia—a fear of the sunlight because of that terrible ordeal. Give me some time. I can help you, in the mind as well as the body with these…” he said, digging into his satchel and holding out divers bottles and jars of ointments and potions he’d perfected on the islands. “Please, let the Guv go.”

“That is quite out of the question. He is a man of the law; he will soon have his screaming and leaping ruffians hunting me down. I have earned this peace,” she surveyed her realm, “ and I intend to keep it.”

“I give you my word—I have no truck with you or your floating phantoms,” I said. “You need fear nothing from me.” You couldn’t chain a shadow to a wall, could you? There were no bars of stout steel that could mew a mist in a cage.

She shook her head, unmoved with my defense.

“You need to let him go, for your sake.” Harlow spoke up after some thought. “There is an apprentice I need. A convict, whom I patiently trained, without whose help I cannot mix these recipes. He’s also up for parole. The governor needs to go and free him as well, for me to help you. You may do as you like with him once you’re cured.”

“Is your alchemy superior to my magic? What good is your glop where my sorcery has been thwarted?”

“You confess it hasn’t worked. So I am your only and last resort. Please, Chedipe, release the Guv.”

“Who is this prisoner,” she deigned to ask.

“Scrota Deek.”

“Scrota Deek,” I repeated in disbelief. Who didn’t know him? He was the most notorious prisoner on the isles—a miscreant, a radical, and a suspected sympathizer of the freedom fighters. To free him would be high treason.

To be continued