The same as it never was

The Market had been an eye opening experience in many ways. For Matthew, it had brought a secret softness that he had missed. One could even say he hadn't noticed it had dried up until it was brought back again, bringing with it a smile very few people had seen.

Mambo was one of those privileged to see it, whenever she checked in on him. And she did. Sometimes they talked about the market. Every now and again they couldn't remember what they were talking about. One plan had been made to visit the market again. She was skilled at projecting herself, but the one thing it couldn't quite replicate was the warmth or her really being there. At least, that was they excuse they both made, laughing at each other like little children finding pretend problems just so that they could fix them.

The plan had been made, but not yet carried out, when things seemed to go a little wrong.

It wasn't as if he expected her to check in every day. But she had done it with a certain regularity. Enough that when she didn't, he was a little concerned. Surely everything was as it should be?

For Lilly, the Market had brought another friend, and every time she saw his name come up on the screen of her phone, she brightened up and put aside whatever she was doing to look at the latest picture he wanted to show her. A beautiful cover, the proof in date of an incredibly old printing, two books side by side with the same text but different illustrators. They talked as well, sometimes, but they didn't really need to, to keep in contact. Of course it wasn't as good as looking at them together, and they'd considered the idea of her visiting the market again.

She hadn't run it by Gladstone yet, when things seemed to go a little wrong.

Nobody was expecting messages every day. But when a few days passed and her phone failed to light up, it was enough to give her a little cause for worry. He was alright, wasn't he? Surely.

    • Gladstone Gander
      Gladstone Gander

      For Gladstone the Midnight Market had been a treasure. One he found in his own roundabout, totally bizarre, way. But he’d found it, fell in love with it, and knew exactly who he wanted to share it with. He wasn’t as close as the others with the denizens of the underground, but even he had started to get a bad feeling. And Gladstone put a lot of stock in his gut feelings. What was concerning him was that things were going missing. Out of the thirteen cravats he’d bought on his first trip he could only find two. Then when he washed his face this morning the luxurious towel he’d been gifted by Mambo (she’d given them all a set) the last time was nowhere to be found. On top of being confusing, It was starting to get annoying. It felt more like an anomaly than a hotel maid with sticky fingers.

      After a few days of silence Lilly would receive a text from Leonard. Usually if he texted it was an interesting story about a find, or a book he thought she’d enjoy, a paragraph at least. This one just said:

      “Something is wrong.”

      No follow up ever came.


      • Lilly Teal
        Lilly Teal

        The worry was upgraded to fretting. She had given some time for a followup to come, sure he would explain. It was a false alarm, or the long message he usually sent was caught up in the invisible networks somewhere.

        Surely. Surely.

        But nothing came, and she ran to Matthew to show him the message. He simply looked at it with a soft frown. And then the story came out. Mambo had not been around either. Coupled with this news, it was now genuine cause for concern.

        "We should go look, right?"

        "Of course."

        "I'm going to call Gladstone, he should know about this."

        Matthew nodded, acknowledging at least that the obnoxious gander should know what was happening in life.

        "Shall I wait for you? Or go ahead while he drives you there?"

        She paused a moment, waiting for the phone to ring. Mambo had given Matthew a different entrance, hadn't she? And she really wanted to see if Irma was alright.

        "I'll catch up. Gladstone, hello?" She waved slightly to Matthew as he gave another nod and strode out the door. "Gladstone I'm worried, Mambo and Leonard are missing, can we please go and see if Irma's okay too maybe she knows what's going on-"

        Typically, Lilly, people wait for a response to hello, they don't start talking as soon as the get an indication that the phone was picked up.

        • Gladstone Gander
          Gladstone Gander

          Normally (read: almost always) Gladstone was the rambling party on the other side of the phone, when Lilly did it he had learned to shut up and listen. Which was not an easy thing to do for the gander, something in his genetics maybe. But at the worry in her voice paired with what she said he didn’t need any time to think about what to do. Faster than what should have been possible he was at her house, shown the text, and they were bound for Irma’s. The closer they got the more confused he seemed to get, he almost missed the turn but she’d reminded him. Then he drove right by it with a distressed cry from his passenger.

          What was wrong with him?

          Well whatever it was it would have to wait. The dry cleaners looked the same. Same counter, same laundry carousel, same bell. Which he rang. As they waited he looked around and uncertainty started clouding his features again. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

          “This might sound stupid but, why are we here again?”

          The clerk arrived. She sauntered over to the counter tugging down a croptop and eyed the two of them with the token impatience of teenagers everywhere.

          “Yeah? Where’s yer ticket, you need like your receipt er whatever ta pick up clothes, duh.”

          “Oh-“ Gladstone started patting his pockets with the most unsettled look on his face. “-I don’t think I have one...?”

          At the cigar shop, a similar scene would be playing out. Same shop. Same wares. Different face behind the register. A middle aged woman greeted Matthew as he entered.

          “Good evening sir, how can I help you today?”


          • Lilly Teal
            Lilly Teal

            "Ah..." Lilly looked helplessly from the teenager, who definitely wasn't Irma, to Gladstone, who for some reason wasn't asking where Irma was, and was looking for a ticket. We don't have a ticket, Gladstone, that's not why we're here!

            "I'm so sorry to bother you, miss?" she said with great hesitation. "Only, is there an old lady who works here as well? Her name is Irma? We wanted to talk to her."


            Matthew paused a moment. He didn't often have the sensation of not remembering what he walked into a room for. One could argue he had never had that sensation. But he was having it now. Giving the woman a polite smile, he cast his eye over the wares.

            Why was he here? He didn't smoke often.

            Something about Mambo?

            ... something for Mambo?

            "A box of those on the back there, please," he indicated the hen's preferred brand. "It's a gift."

            • Gladstone Gander
              Gladstone Gander

              The teenager stared at Lilly as if she was the dumbest creature that ever lived.

              “Gran? You’re looking for my gran? Like, oh my god what is wrong with you?” She pointed to a little plaque on the wall with a photo of Irma, still old but younger than Lilly had seen her. There was a series of dates under the headings of born and... oh no. “Gran been like dead, forever. And yanno if she was still alive she’d be like fifty billion years old.”

              “A hundred and nine.” Gladstone provided dimly as he stared at the plaque. This was making his head hurt.

              “Whatever, if you don’t have any you know clothes here I can call the cops you know.”

              “‘Something is wrong.’” He looked to Lilly grimly. Clearly it was.

              The woman was just far too pleased to help him. Oh what a nice choice.

              “These are an excellent cigar, their smoke is better than cologne. The gentleman will be pleased with such a tasteful selection. Can I wrap this up for you? Or can I interest you in some of our vape pens? The ladies love the ones that taste like sugary cereal!”

              • Lilly Teal
                Lilly Teal

                Lilly stared at Irma's picture, feeling as if the world was slipping out from under her feet. This wasn't right. She was just here. Alive and well and a hundred and nine.

                How could she be- She gave the girl a shocked look, squeezing Gladstone's hand slightly for comfort. "I'm... sorry. I didn't-"

                She took a few steps back to try and draw him back out of the shop. The police didn't seem like what they needed right now.

                "Something is wrong," she confirmed worriedly. "Irma should be fine. She was just-"

                And it wasn't as if the girl said she'd gone missing recently. She was... wasn't here. Hadn't been. Not for a while. She was so concerned that she didn't register that Gladstone's confusion seemed a little more than the confusion she had over not having the people she remembered around.

                "How are we supposed to get to the Market without her?"


                "Just the wrapping will be fine." He stifled some amusement at her assumption and her offer, trying to imagine Mambo's face at being given anything that had smoke that tasted like sugary cereal.

                Looking around again, he felt a flicker of memory. "How long have you worked here, if I may ask? I have not been here in a while but I seem to remember someone different behind the counter."

                And something about a trunk, though I'm not sure why.

                • Gladstone Gander
                  Gladstone Gander

                  The fog of confusion in his brain parted the second she took his hand. But what filled in the wake was determination laced with anger.

                  “We’ll let ourselves in.”

                  He flipped open the counter and pushed through the clothes. The teen shouted after them but he was not listening in the slightest. The back of the shop was reached and the wardrobe... wasn’t there.

                  “This doesn’t make sense.” He breathed in disbelief. “This was where it was, right? ‘Turkish Delight’, Narnia!” He pulled out of her grip and stormed over to the offending wall running a hand along it.

                  “Hey I’m serious you guys, get out of here or I’m like totally calling the cops.”

                  Gladstone rounded on her.

                  “Then do it.” Then he grabbed a heavy looking piece of machinery and threw it at the wall.

                  The girl ran off as the gaping hole in the wall opened up enough for person to crawl through. Panting slightly with exertion he did just that, smacking cobwebs out of the way as he went. After a moment of heavily echoed movement a light came on as he turned on his cellphone flash light.

                  “The stairs are here Lilly, let’s go.” He reached through the hole to help her through the rubble.

                  Matthew was given a very fixed smile.

                  “Well I’ve owned the place for three-“ centuries? “-years now. Mostly its me and my son who man the register. Maybe you remember him? Red hair? Tall?”

                  She handed him the package and told him the total.

                  • Lilly Teal
                    Lilly Teal

                    No. No I do not. But he smiled. "Yes, perhaps that's it." Something about the smile bothered him, and he hated that he didn't know what it was, but he remained polite as he paid and slipped the package into the large pocket of his overcoat.

                    With a polite farewell, he turned to leave, but hesitated, and drew out his phone instead.

                    Lilly took his hand firmly, a strange feeling of relief passing over her face. "Thank goodness. I thought..."

                    I thought it wasn't going to be here. Like it was all some sort of strange dream. Her phone ringing jolted her out of her anxieties, and she fumbled for it while trying not to trip over in the dark.

                    "It's Uncle Matthew. Hello?"

                    "Hello. I'm afraid I've gotten a little turned around. I came in to buy some cigars and I can't for the life of me remember where I was supposed to go next. Were we meeting anywhere?"

                    "The... Market?"

                    "Which market, princess?"

                    "... Uncle Matthew, do you remember what we talked about this morning?"

                    "I must not have been paying attention over the morning paper."

                    • Gladstone Gander
                      Gladstone Gander

                      Gladstone frowned at the conversation but was too anxious to stay still. Keepin hold of her hand he started down the steps. It was tricky as they were falling apart as if they hadn’t been used in ages.  There were no string lights. No murals.  No smells, no songs, just... their own echoing footsteps. 

                      He tugged her along moving faster and faster until he stumbled out onto the platform and stopped dead.  There was a rusted out train on the rails but that was where the similarities ended. It was like a ghost town, rotting and neglected. The mosaics were not celestial but plain aged tiles in varying patterns of mundanity. There was no moon chandelier, there were no shops, there was nothing. The air was stale and old as if they were the first people to breathe it in centuries.

                      And speaking of breathing, Gladstone took a sharp inhale of breath that converted into a gurgle. His legs gave out as he clutched his chest a sea of red seeping through his clothes and soon dripping through his fingers. He tried to say her name but blood just filled his mouth. Oh dear god he’d been shot, but how?


                      A new sound rocketed toward them, it was a frenzy of clicking little hooves and frantic squealing. Piglet Bristle circled around Lilly nudging her leg urgently and then tore off to where Mambo’s train car was supposed to be.


                      • Lilly Teal
                        Lilly Teal

                        "... Uncle Matthew, can you come to the dry-cleaners at..." she frowned slightly, trying to remember the address, but got there in the end. "Right, well, there's a hole in the wall behind the counter. Can you. Come in there, please? I'll explain later, please it's very impo-"

                        She broke off as she saw the dilapidated platform, shocked beyond words. How could. WHAT was happening?

                        And then, the grip on her hand angled downwards as Gladstone collapsed.

                        Maybe 'stop dead' wasn't the best phrase...

                        The phone fell from her nerveless fingers, and if Matthew said anything else, she couldn't hear it, or anything else, her hands fluttering uselessly in the air over his chest.

                        "Nonononono. No. No. No. Please." The frantic refusals broke, and when she said please she sounded like she was going to cry, her voice tiny in the massive, echoing space.

                        The book isn't there, she thought stupidly. No market. No book. No book, nothing to stop the-

                        "Bristle?" She hadn't been there for the transformation, but the story had got out, when it came to the car being on its own and a pig in Leonard's shop for apparently no reason. "Bristle, wait!"

                        Trying to pull Gladstone's arm over her shoulders, she sagged under his dead don't call it that don't call it that weight and looked helplessly after the pig. "Please wait!"

                        She didn't want to leave him. What if she came back and he was dead? Dying alone, in the cold and the dark...

                        But if Bristle really needed her to see something, it might... what? Help, in some way?

                        She would do her very, very best to try and take Gladstone with her, but if it wasn't possible, she would lay him down as carefully as she could and hold his hand tightly before taking off after the pig.

                        "I'm just coming back. I'll find something. Don't move!"

                        • Gladstone Gander
                          Gladstone Gander

                          Gladstone couldn’t really understand anything that was happening. Nothing made sense and that was starting  to not matter. Everything was slipping away. But Lilly, his eyes focused on her. Don’t look sad Lilly it doesn’t even hurt, see? He sluggishly held up a hand making the “okay” sign. Yep, fine and dandy, and cold. Why was it so cold?

                          The piglet disappeared into that ramshackle train and there were some crashes and squeals before the little pig sprinted back tripping over something she was dragging along with a glassy clinking sound.

                          As she got nearer Lilly could see that the piglet was dragging a potion bottle with a glowing yellow liquid sloshing around inside by an oversized tag. The tag had Mambo’s handwriting on it, the gander’s name written in the same precise strokes as she’d done in the room registry. It read:

                          “MAKE GLADSTONE DRINK THIS”

                          Bristle stumbled, her little legs splaying sending her skidding away, losing her grip on the tag with another squeal. Gladstone’s elixir started to roll toward the edge of the platform.

                          Better run quick.

                          • Lilly Teal
                            Lilly Teal

                            That was very, very specific tag, but Lilly didn't get much time to wonder over how specific it was before it went rolling away from her.

                            She was frozen for a moment, in complete disbelief at the terrible, terrible sequence of events that were just not letting up, and it was a massive effort of will to force her legs to unlock as she started to run as fast as she possibly could, faster if her body could manage it.

                            It was still too close as she threw herself the final distance, her fingers slamming painfully against the rusted side of the train as she grabbed for the bottle seconds before it flipped into the gap between train and platform to shatter on the rails.

                            That was NOT going to happen. Breathing hard, she stumbled a little as she tried to get up, turn, and start running back at the same time before anything else happened to Gladstone. You know, like the ground opening up and swallowing him. It didn't seem unlikely at this point. She half-slammed, half-skidded onto her knees next to him, and somewhere in the back of her mind she registered another painful jolt as her long skirt just about saved her from a worse knee scraping. Maybe it was time to switch to jeans?

                            At least they weren't bleeding, which hardly mattered as she levered Gladstone's head gently into her lap, covering herself in his blood anyway. Opening the bottle with a shaking, throbbing, rust smeared and bloodstained hand, she lifted his head slightly with the other.

                            "Gladstone? If you can hear me, you need to drink this."

                            If you can't hear me, it's okay, I'm pouring it in for you. It'll be okay. It's fine. It's fine.


                            • Gladstone Gander
                              Gladstone Gander

                              The liquid was poured into his unresistant mouth. He nearly choked on the mixture of blood and the bitter tasting potion, but luckily he didn’t. His body remembered that swallowing was a thing that living people did sometimes and figured to give it one last shot before all his bodily functions hit the road. The change that occurred was instantaneous. Focus returned to his eyes and warmth to his limbs. As the elixir bubbled down his miraculously clearing throat his wound simply vanished. There was no dramatic display of blood flowing back into his body or something like that, it just vanished. Blood, gunshot hole,  and all. After all was over he made a sound half way between a laugh and a sob and covered his eyes with a trembling hand. The other sought out one of hers and seized it tight.

                              “Something is really, really, wrong Lillypad.” He croaked helpfully.

                              A series of clicks announced the return of Bristle, her little pink nose wiggling at them. The piglet made a pleased little snort and sat next to Lilly leaning into her slightly.

                              You did good, said the micro pig’s body language. But she soon let out an impatient grunt got back to her feet and scrambled back toward the train car again.

                              • Lilly Teal
                                Lilly Teal

                                Lilly let out a sound of her own, not sure if it was more sob or gasp for breath as she wrapped her other hand around the one that was squeezing hers and pressed the entire combination to her chest, as if that could somehow physically stop his life from leaving his body ever again.

                                "Stop dying. Maybe it would help if I stopped holding your hand all the time." She smiled, but there were tears streaming down her cheeks and she didn't know how to stop them. She wasn't sobbing or anything as she looked down at Bristle in confusion, and followed with her gaze the little piggies journey back to the car, but she just couldn't make them stop.

                                Rubbing at her eyes with the back of her wrist and leaving a faint, rusty streak on her cheek, she pulled Gladstone's arm back around her shoulders.

                                "We'll go as slowly as you need." The unspoken implication was that she didn't want to leave him again, not if she could help it. And if it was possible to keep holding onto him in some way or form to make sure he was still there with her, that would be good too.

                                • Gladstone Gander
                                  Gladstone Gander

                                  "I promise I'm not trying to make it a habit." 

                                  The most unnerving thing was he was totally fine. Well, apart from the cracked ribs, but those were preferred to what had just happened. Or what had... almost happened.  It was like the last few horrifying moments had happened to someone else.  He could still remember the sensations, the taste of blood in his mouth, how full and heavy his lungs had felt, he shuddered and when she draped his arm around her he brought the other one up to hug her. 

                                  "Don't you ever stop holding my hand." He reprimanded her lightly. In all honesty he wanted nothing more to be off the floor, in the spot where he'd felt all those things that were now fading memories. So he got to his feet with no issue and held tight to his captive for a moment before releasing her from his arms. "Thank you... again. I'm a regular damsel in distress aren't I?" A small sigh escaped his repaired lungs before he wiped the tears from her face as best he could. "Ready to get this adventure train back on the rails partner? It seems our kind of crazy."

                                  Bristle was squealing and hopping at the peak of piglet fury, doing figure eights near the entrance to what should be Mambo's compartment.  Gladstone firmly took her hand again, as if to underline his point, and started to walk them towards the train car.


                                  Meanwhile on street level...


                                  When Matthew would arrive at the dry cleaners a squad car would be parked outside. The bright lights reflected up and down the street as an officer was talking to a very under dressed teenage girl. She was fuming, her breath clouding the cold air in her annoyance.

                                  "LIKE, oh my GAWD,  I TOLD you stupid! They came in. She was stupid. He was scary.  They like, stormed through the shop to the back. EMPLOYEES ONLY HELLO?!  Then he threw a friggin iron press at the wall! It totally crumbled! Like there was a friggin' dungeon down there. And then that stupid girl just climbed in after him or whatever. "

                                  "Miss, I am aware of that, you've told me but I can't start taking your account if you don't tell me your name."

                                  "You don't need my name I know my rights or whatever! Just go in there and arrest them or some junk! They're probably hiding bodies down there! They're totally serial killers oh my gawd."


                                  The plus side to all of this ridiculousness was that the two were far too interested in making each other's night miserable that neither even noticed the ibex as he approached. 


                                  • Lilly Teal
                                    Lilly Teal

                                    Well, better you than her, right? Aha. Ahahahah.

                                    It was hard not to notice someone the size of the ibex, so Matthew was pleasantly surprised as he just strode past, intrigued by the story that was being told. Hole in the back of the dry cleaner front desk.

                                    Sounded like the right place.

                                    If anyone saw him, he frankly neither noticed or cared as he came to the hole and, after a brief search for his phone and it's associated light, made the first step for the long climb down without hesitation, though not sure what he would find.

                                    What he wasn't expecting was to see Lilly and Gladstone at the entrance to an old train car, led by what looked like a very small pig.

                                    What are those two up to now? Quickening his stride to catch up somewhat, he raised his voice slightly to make his presence known.

                                    "Where have we ended up?"

                                    • Gladstone Gander
                                      Gladstone Gander

                                      They were just about to clear the door frame and see inside the train car when the voice made Gladstone jump nearly out of his skin. He grabbed Lilly's sleeve,  his heart pounding, and turned to the ibex exasperated.

                                      "Don't... do that."  How are you so quiet for such a big, no, huge, no, massive person? 

                                      HOW DARE THEY STOP FOR EVEN AN INSTANT! Shrilled the pig in a very clear version of that only with more oinking and pacing. She did a few quick rotations of the three of them before trotting into the car and pawing at the ground in the center of the room.  What was there was, odd. Which was a relative term but even by their usual standards it was strange.

                                      In the center of the room sat a box. Not too strange so far right? Wrong.  This box was well lit, and clean and was sitting in a circular patch of carpet on the floor.  A bubble of light was around it and if you got close to it you could crouch and see a room that wasn't there. One filled with baubles and shelves, crystal balls and draped fabric.  It was Mambo's car as it used to be, as it should have been.  Bristle trotted in and out of the circle urgently, as if to say it's safe now hurry up idiots.

                                      The closest idiot on hand did approach the box and despite all that had happened that might make him question his luck, he reached into the pocket of reality.  His hand froze as soon as it entered the light. 

                                      "It's warm." He said lightly distracted, until Bristle bit his sleeve and tried to force his hand onto the box. "Oh calm down will you?" He scooped up the piglet in his free hand who let out an outraged "SQUEEEEEE" and started wriggling madly. Gladstone held Bristle out to Lilly. "Could you?"

                                      Once his hands were pigless, he picked up the box and noticed an envelope secured to the top with a drip of candle wax. As soon as the box left the small hole in time the familiar sight winked out of existence. 

                                      "Well that's-not great." He said weakly but opened the envelope and scanned the letter once before he shook his head and started reading aloud.

                                      "I'm not sure who is going to find this. But I think I have an idea.  My powers have been fading fast and there's so little time to try to fix this.  The bottle on top of this box is for Gladstone-" His voice faltered before he swallowed and pushed on. "-if he's there he's going to need it. If he's not then there's no point in trying to find him. It will be too late. Lilly dear, if you're there I need you to find Leonard. He knows what to do, but he might have forgotten.  You need to have him find me.  Things will only get worse if this change takes full effect.  My magic is fading and soon even my potions will lose their magic." He felt like an ice cube slid down his spine. Did that mean- pressing on don't think about it. "Find Leonard. Give him this box, he can open it. Also please feed Bristle, stubborn as she is she probably ate through her food days ago.  I could only prepare such a small pocket for her to live in and it may have shrunk to nothing by the time you see this." The pig oinked in agreement. "There's not much time left.  If you're Lilly and Gladstone, you children can do this.  If you're Lilly, Gladstone, and Matthew..." the goose glanced at the ibex for a split second. " -then I'm sure I'll see you soon.  I believe in you,  Mambo." He flipped the paper over. A clumsily scrawled series of numbers were on the other side. "...these look like coordinates."

                                      Feeling a little light headed he handed the paper to Matthew, as if anticipating the request to read it himself. 


                                      • Lilly Teal
                                        Lilly Teal

                                        Taking it quickly, Matthew's eyes scanned the paper as Lilly wrapped her arms around Bristle form where she was handed her, completely forgetting to let her go as she rose up on her toes to try and read over her uncle's arm.

                                        Matthew took a deep, calming breath. "Will someone," he said with infinite patience, "please explain what is going on? Who is Leonard? And why is Mambo missing and leaving us letters?"

                                        "No time! We'll explain in the car." Continuing with her shameless pignapping, Lilly hustled the two men ahead of her. "Where are the coordinates for?"

                                        As she managed to get them on the stairs, Matthew started to input the numbers into his phone. "Ah. It's a store."

                                        Lilly brightened up considerably. If Leonard was at a bookstore, at least something in the world was still right. "A bookstore?"

                                        The ibex nodded. "The Riverstones downtown."

                                        Ah. Oh dear. She cast her mind back to the lovely little shop with the books carefully picked with love and care, and compared it to the mental image of a massive, multi-employee building with identical stacks of the latest best-seller.

                                        Leonard was going to be miserable.

                                        Amusingly, the pair outside were still arguing, allowing the trio ample time to climb into Gladstone's car and get it started. The sound of it starting caught their attention, but by then, given Gladstone's driving speed and the urgency of the situation, it was far, far too late.

                                        • Gladstone Gander
                                          Gladstone Gander

                                          One, reckless, tight quartered car ride later the trio (plus piglet) spilled onto the sidewalk outside the sprawling retail sellers. Gladstone rushed ahead and held the door open for the others, he was a little out of his element here, if anyone could attract Leonard's attention it would be Lilly, maybe if she waved a rare book over her head? As she passed him he snatched the piglet from her arms.  Better for her to have both hands if necessary. Gladstone waited for Matthew who seemed to be slipping back into confusion.

                                          "Come on.  Mambo needs your help.  Just... try to remember her okay?" Something about that potion made his head fizzle.  He'd been having problems remembering her too until he'd drank it... or when she took his hand... his eyes slid to Lilly. How is it she was the only one who remembered everything?

                                          "Excuse me sir would you like some free samp-IS THAT A PIG? You can't bring that in here!" A Starducks employee tried to move her tray away but he grabbed a handful of baked good samples and cupped them against his chest for Bristle. She nearly exploded in excitement and began inhaling the morsels.  Not waiting to be yelled at again he nearly galloped to catch up to Lilly and Matthew.

                                          "Where do you think he-"

                                          "No sir. I don't think that you're stupid." Sighed a familiar albeit nearly unrecognizable voice.  A slumped shouldered wedge tailed eagle in a tacky polo shirt and khakis (store uniform) was blankly staring at an overweight elephant who was screaming in his face.  Leonard... was severely depressed. It was clear with just one look, dark circles, a little paunch on his previously slender frame, and there... just didn't seem to be any spark in him at all. It was unnerving. "Well... that's the thing with alphabetical order sir. It tends to start with 'A'-"

                                          Bristle made a lovely little series of oinks at the eagle.  Down girl.  Remember your restraining order.

                                          • Lilly Teal
                                            Lilly Teal

                                            "I remember her fine," Matthew commented. "It's just... the circumstances that are very fuzzy." Non-existent, more like.

                                            Lilly whipped around at the voice, and after a moment to take in the scene in front of her, clasped her hands together over her chest as if it was the greatest tragedy she had ever seen in her life.

                                            There was someone dying in front of her but then there was this. He was also technically dying before her very eyes. Concern for a dear friend lent her speed, and Matthew and Gladstone had a hard time catching up as she wove her way between customers until she reached the arguing pair.

                                            Well. One of them was arguing, anyway.

                                            "Sorry, sorry, excuse me, pardon me. Hello!" she chirped at the elephant with a hopeful smile. "Could I cut in a moment?" It was unclear if she was cutting in because she wanted to ask Leonard a question or if she wanted to ask the elephant if she could help. At this point it could be interpreted either way, she seemed like she'd like to do both and help both and make everyone happy.

                                            She was so sweet. So polite. So naive. Matthew got ready to loom, in case the elephant tried yelling at her instead.

                                            • Gladstone Gander
                                              Gladstone Gander

                                              The elephant indeed was about to start bellowing at the newcomer instead until he caught sight of Matthew and thought better of it.

                                              "I'll be talking to your manager about this you rude little ingrate. The CUSTOMER-" He prodded Leonard straight in the chest. "-is ALWAYS-" another prod. "-RIGHT." One final prod and glower at the eagle then the helpful looking girl, who did she think she was? Trying to help? The nerve of some people.

                                              Leonard, uncharacteristically as far as she had known him, made an extremely rude gesture at the man as he lumbered away.  Clearly agitated he turned his eyes to her. He looked a little confused at the sight of her, his eyes were tired and watery. The holiday rush was obviously taking it's toll. 

                                              "Uh... don't tell my manager I did that please. I really need this job.  Did you need help with something?" He suddenly registered the ibex and shrank slightly but it was nothing compared to the stunned look he gave Gladstone. " that a pig?"

                                              Bristle wiggled happily in the gander's arms and if an oink could be described as flirty the one she issued was practically sexual harassment. Leonard's face clouded in uncertainty and he caught sight of the elephant reaming out a stone faced worker with the word "manager" on his badge and nearly vanished into his shirt collar when the elephant pointed at him. 

                                              "Can we uh-" He motioned for them to follow him into the safety of a nearby section of teen romance novels. "-sorry, do I know you?"

                                              • Lilly Teal
                                                Lilly Teal

                                                "What a horrible man." Lilly huffed, though luckily she wasn't the type to follow up on her huffing, choosing only to follow the eagle to safe spot.

                                                "Leonard..." Oh Leonard, what have they done to you. Lilly gave him an apologetic wince. Right. If Matthew didn't remember, Leonard wouldn't remember being friends with her. "Sorry. Ah... yes. Well. You don't remember me. Hi, I'm Lilly, it's a pleasure to meet you?"

                                                This is not the time.

                                                "Um. I'm sorry if this is a strange question. Sir. And I really don't want to waste your time-" Good grief, had he ever been faced with so much politeness in his current career? "But does the name Mambo ring a bell? Do you know anyone by that name? Please?"

                                                Please try to remember. You have to help.

                                                • Gladstone Gander
                                                  Gladstone Gander

                                                  Leonard lowered his eyebrows and seemed to slip into deep thought.  It was the first expression he'd displayed that even resembled his old self.  After a moment he fixed her with a hard stare.

                                                  "True Crime? Right? Isn't Regina Mambo that crime novelist? I- don't think we have any of her in stock though." The familiar expression faded back into the 'crushed under the heel of oppression' attitude he now embodied. "I can special order it for you want. It won't come before-"

                                                  That tact that Lilly was so desperately trying to deploy was suddenly smashed.

                                                  "No." Gladstone snapped irritably. "Not a stupid author-" The outrage that flashed across the eagle's face made him back pedal. "-sorry I didn't- I mean no, Madam Mambo.  She's a hen voodoo psychic lady? She's your friend?" He held up the pig. "This is your ex wife. Think Leonard, we need your help."

                                                  Leonard stared at him for a long moment, no recognition lit up his face, his tone just darkened in suspicion.

                                                  "Look, I don't come to your job and start making fun of you... so why don't you all just leave me alone?" he eyed the pig coldly. "If you don't need a book I really have to get back to work." 

                                                  He turned to leave. 


                                                  • Lilly Teal
                                                    Lilly Teal

                                                    "Leonard, wait!" She reached for his hand and tried to get in his way. "I'm sorry, please! We're really not making fun of you, it's just... it's just, oh please try to remember me at least. You gave me the Red Badge of Courage. It had a bullet hole in it. We went to an old bookstore," in Transylvania but that might be too much information right now, "and we talked for hours..."

                                                    I promise I'm not making this up! Her eyes were wide and earnest as they searched his face for even the slightest shred of recognition. "Please Leonard we need you."

                                                    Come back to us!

                                                    She gave a hopeful little smile, and gave his hand a slight squeeze.

                                                    "And we certainly need you more than this shop with its horrible, horrible customers who wouldn't know an alternate cover from a misprint."

                                                    Am I right?

                                                    • Gladstone Gander
                                                      Gladstone Gander

                                                      The instant she took his hand he froze. As she spoke to him a complete transformation of posture and expression crashed over him like a wave. 

                                                      "They call..." He whispered in voice cracking horror. "...over stock... 'Bargain... books'." 

                                                      His eyes focused on her and had he been the hugging type he would have hugged her, instead he just sandwiched her hand within his own. 

                                                      "Lilly what-" His eyes widened in repugnance at the covers around him. He staggered backward into Matthew and averted his eyes. "TEEN ROMANCE?" He hissed in disbelief. Then he seemed to notice himself, his breathing became panicky as he poked his own stomach and tried to make sense of his horrible clothes. "Wha-" but the crisis only got worse, his face was a portrait of terror.  He lunged forward and grabbed Lilly by the shoulders. "Mambo, she's I don't know she's sick or something.  Something is wrong with her it's like..." He faltered as things started adding up. "Oh no." He breathed and removed his hands from her, to grip the feathers on top of his head. "Oh no... no no no..." His face contorted in agony as tears started spilling out of his eyes without warning. "She's gone." He gasped. "Oh Lilly, she's gone... what am I... what am I supposed to do?"

                                                      Bristle squealed impatiently and Leonard blinked at her through tears.

                                                      "Ebony?" He took a deep breath his eyes widening in relief. "Ebony! If she's still a pig, then, Mambo can't be gone. Because her magic wouldn't exist! Argh. Why can't I remember-" He rubbed his temples angrily. Bristle snorted and he blinked again. "Wait. Wait. She told me- she said that something had gone wrong and that she'd leave something..."he let out an aggravated growl. Thoughts were so muddled in his mind, it was like he had two lifetimes of memories crammed in there. What? What had she left? Help him.

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