Stories evolve, here is actually a story I am writing that was inspired by this old work of mine. But obviously it is very different. Now I am not sure what it is. In my mind it started off as a re-telling of goblin market. But I don’t know where the goblins went. Stories take up lives of their own.
When the white woman first came, Liddy and Netsuke couldn’t understand a word that she was saying. She wore what appeared to be an old nurse uniform and spoke in a language that was all hissing and snapping, drawing her lips back and forth in tidal waves across her perfect white teeth.
The woman’s lips were the only thing about her that were not white. Instead, they were a soft pink, like the twin pedals of a rose. If it were not for those lips, Liddy and Netsuke might’ve thought the woman was a ghost. But they had seen ghosts at the inn, and not all ghosts where white. There were the red bloody ghosts, and the angry black ghosts, and then there were the nothing-coloured ones you could walk through like a cloud of moths.
After a few moments of silence from Liddy and Netsuke, the white woman sighed, and the girls’ could each feel her in their minds, plucking something like one plucks the grapes off a vine.
A growl formed in the back of Netsuke’s throat. I don’t like that. I don’t like that one bit.
At the sight of the knife-tip edges of Netsuke ’s sharp teeth, the woman stopped her mind-spying and sighed once more.
“So you do not speak the common tongue then?”
Those were the first comprehensible words the girls heard from the woman who called herself Cedar Winterhouse. Her words sounded curly and puffy, like cotton candy, and this was how the sisters knew the woman was a witch.
Witches always tried to enchant human children with their words. Though this witch should have known better. They were barely children any longer, Netsuke more than Liddy. But besides that, neither of them was human.
“Hello children, darling children! I am but a lone and weary traveller of the land, in search of the famous Shady Moon Inn. Would you lovely sweet girls be so kind as to direct my way. I hear that the innkeeper is nothing but charm. I so badly wish to meet her on this morning.”
Netsuke and Liddy exchanged doubtful looks. How had this witch even gotten so close to the property? It took a special sort of person to be able to reach the inn. And besides that, everyone knew that Dogma Dagon, the inn-keeper — their mother, would not be awake this morning. She was nocturnal.
“Our mother is asleep, but you can see her this evening. For now, my sister and I can check in your bags” Netsuke said staring at the witch with her large vulpine eyes. By nature, she was nocturnal too. But she’d been waking with the sun, with Leddia, since the time her sister was a hatchling.
Netsuke took her younger sister by the hand to stop her trembling. Two thoughts crossed her mind as she did so. Annoyance first: of course, Liddy was trembling. Liddy who was frightened of everything, Liddy who had the startled eyes of a wild bird. Then guilt at the annoyance.
Liddy was the younger one. And she was smaller. Netsuke was the one with claws. She could be brave enough for them both.
“I am not going anywhere near this woman or her bags. Keep her in the woods, that is where all witches belong.” Liddy whispered to Netsuke as they trailed behind the witch.
But both girls knew, as much as they wanted to, they couldn’t keep the woman in the woods. Anyone who knew the Shady Moon Inn by name was its guest. Besides, strange clientele was not uncommon. Last year the Manticore arrived. And a few years back, when Netsuke was still a pup, there had been a Unicorn, who had adored Netsuke’s sister because Liddy was a holy innocent.
“Sweet girls, the walk is taxing, I hope you do not mind if I summon my assistant” said the witch Cedar Winterhouse in her sing-song voice.
The girls stepped back when the witch pulled something from her pocket. But it was only a hand bell, small and white, like the rest of her. On the bells ring, a pair of disembodied hands appeared out of nowhere, pushing a bellhop cart overloaded with suitcases.
“Why so many suitcases? What’s in them?” Chirped Liddy.
The witch laughed and twirled her white shirts about her. Her face was the colour of bone, of the lightning blasted down by an angry god. “Sweet girls I intend to be staying for a while.”
Their mother was awake when the girls arrived with the witch. Although her paws were folded serenely over a steaming tea pot, her fur was unkempt and her eyes looked tired.
“Why aren’t you asleep mama?” Liddy asked as she juggled the suitcases handed to her by the witches “assistant”.
“I could smell her for miles,” their mother growled .
Cedar Winterhouse pinched the sides of her skirt in a slight curtsey. In the atmosphere of the Shady Moon Inn, her perfectly starched dress looked like a costume, and she looked like a character from a play.
Not that the inn wasn’t clean, because it was. But unlike Cerdar Winterhouse, none of the inn was uniform or put together. Instead it was an amalgamation of furniture and styles. A Frankenstein of parts. Some sections of the inn were scorching hot, with old sand crusted into the carpet. As if they belonged underneath the red desert sun. But in some sections of the inn you could see your frozen breath and icicles would form on your eyelashes.
From the outside, the inn appeared to be much smaller than it was. Just a modest Queen Ann style house with a railed porch and lace trimmed windows. But on the inside the inn was a riddle. Somehow the building was several stories high, but still, it never seemed to have more than one flight of stairs.
Some doors would lead you into what looked like entirely different buildings. On one side there could be a hallway of wood and stone, and the other side could contain lush carpets with walls covered in rubies.
Several doors lead you to kitchens that looked like the one they all sat in right now, the girls their mother and Cedar Winterhouse. Fox-girl, bird-girl, dog-woman, and witch. There were several doors that lead to dead ends or open windows. And there were a handful of doors that could not be opened at all.
Really, the inn was large, too large to be called an “inn” but too eclectic to be called anything grand, like a palace.
“This inn is my body” Their mother used to say to them when they were children. “And it is yours too. Keep it kind, keep it clean, keep it humble”. As if they were not humble enough.
When they were children Netsuke and Liddy each had the chore of cleaning a different room each day, although the inn was perfectly capable of cleaning itself.
Netsuke cut corners. She swept the dust into a pile underneath the bed, she pulled the top blanket over the lumps of the bottom ones. She only polished the fronts of the armoires.
Liddy was maddeningly scrupulous. She scrubbed each floor-tile until the sun went down and swept the fireplaces until her feathers were stiff with soot.
“Stop being an angel. Stop making yourself Cinderella when you don’t have to.”
“Cinderella had a prince, stop making yourself the ugly lazy step sister”
And then they would fight, in the vicious way that children did. But Netusuke would always win. She was the one with the claws .