A Place Unknown
A PLACE UNKNOWN
“From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.”
It’s hard not to notice a band of eight or nine huge guys wandering around your neighborhood, especially when they’re decked out in a purple tinted armor and looked like escaped runaways from the ‘Ye Olde Renaissance Fair!’
When this happened though, I wasn’t worried, because, well, that’s just it. The Renaissance Fair was just a few blocks down, and they all looked… lost. They looked not only lost, but totally confused. It was just the way their heads looked up and down the street, the way they jumped when cars drove by, or pointed into the sky at every airplane.
The dead giveaway though was the way they would huddle up, look at the map, argue, and then all point at the map again. I watched, amused. I even thought about pulling my phone out and posting a status on Facebook about it.
Poor guys; I’m sure they don’t get paid enough for this.
My house was only right down the road; I could easily point out where the fair was. It was strange that they seemed so dazed and totally incapable of finding the fair, because this town is the size of a Super Wal-Mart’s parking lot. There were very few advantages to a town this small, one that I could think of.
That was the fact that you couldn’t lose your way if you tried. A one-eyed chimpanzee teamed up with a blind Chihuahua could navigate this town. Think about Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show.
Everyone knew everyone. Gossipy old ladies made up a good percent of the population. Everyone knew who was dating who, who cheated on whom, who had one too many drinks at the bar, and who spray painted the side of the school with silver paint (and then went all over town with it covering his hands and shirt.) That’s just how it was here.
A few weeks before the fair set up in the bigger town of Malkoft, they always brought the whole set-up back to its roots in Jackery. It’s where the owners are from, and for almost 40 years now they’ve been bringing it Jackery. More for tradition than profit, and the whole town looked forward to it every year.
I had spent this whole week going to sleepover, after sleepover. As much as I loved my friends, I sure did miss my own bed. I probably had a week’s worth of laundry in that duffel bag. I looked across the street once more, before setting my purple sequined duffel bag on the curb, I dug around in my brown leather purse for my make-up bag. I made sure my hair wasn’t in my face and put on a little more mascara, and found my favorite lipgloss.
My sister-in-law, Marissa, hires all the temps at the fair. She only hires cute 17-21 year old guys, in good shape… to keep up the illusion of the “knight in shining armor” fantasy. It works. More and more of my friends have been going to the fair lately. It was a pretty safe bet at least one of them would be cute. Not to mention, Jackery tends to run short on cute, single guys to date.
Besides, at this rate these guys were getting nowhere fast. I looked up and they were still animatedly arguing about something, they hadn’t moved an inch.
My grandma would be appalled at me “making the first move,” but this was simple “be-a-good neighbor” stuff, sadly, nothing else. If I didn’t play my cards right, that’s how it would stay.
More importantly though, I needed to do this, it was after all my civic responsibility. Not to mention the unspoken rule of Southern Hospitality. Help the helpless; guide the lost; aid old ladies while they cross the street… How could I turn my back on so many possible models in need? I’d never forgive myself, I knew that much.
I glanced at the group of them, now huddled around the map again… So, maybe my cocker spaniel, Diva, had more common sense than these doorknobs, but when duty calls, you can’t very well say no? Can you?
I’d just have to suck it up and do it. Poor me, my lips might have possibly stretched into a slight grin as I started across the street. They were so busy arguing that they didn’t hear me coming. In fact, judging by the way they jumped back when I said hello, I’d say they were rather startled.
Or maybe I’m just that intimidating. Me. You know, the five foot four girl wearing jeans, a cardigan, and flats… practically the Grim Reaper. They were not quite sure how to respond to my slight giggle and quirked brow.
One of their shields was angled towards me in such a way that I could see my reflection. The shield distorted my features like a fun house mirror. I looked like a Picasso painting. My usually tamed and wavy auburn locks looked like snakes popping out of Medusa’s head. My forehead had shrunk to like a fourth of its usual size, but my nose seemed as endless as a ski slope. My lips made Angelina Jolie’s look average. My usually green eyes were discolored in the purple tint of the shield, quickly turning to fuchsia by reflecting magenta the sky; the sun was setting.
I looked back at all of them, still unresponsive. Okay, this might be harder than I thought. Better take this slow. I looked at them all shrugging their shoulders and doing “I don’t know” hand gestures. Very slow.
“Do you need some help?” I asked, slowly enunciating each word, and using my hands to try and get the point across. One of the giant guys leaned over to another one, bumping his helmet smack dab in the middle of the other guy’s forehead, and half-whisper-half-yelled “I think she would like to assist us on the quest.”
I resisted a strong urge to roll my eyes and instead pulled my lips into a tight, polite smile. Great, “method actors,” this should be fun.
“So,” I tried again, eyeing each metal covered man, eight in all. I was deciding whether or not to play along or try and break them, like the soldiers at Buckingham Palace. “Do you need help? Yes, or no? Yay, or nay?”
I guess I could play along for a few minutes, but my acting career wouldn’t last long. The only old timey jargon I knew came from old movies like Robin Hood, and I hadn’t seen that in over a year. I felt like I was about to travel to a foreign country after studying only the conversation guide, only then realizing I hadn’t studied hard enough.
I am going to look like a total Neanderthal. I looked up at them, conversing among themselves about whether or not to accept assistance. Then again… they might not even notice. The band of men tended to look at one person in particular; he had some kind of crest on his shield, and a more decorated sword. Figuring this was the leader, I looked to him.
“Should you permit my aid, I would be greatly honored to assist you.”
I almost winced at how completely ridiculous I sounded, but, I had to stay in character. Okay, so I didn’t have to… But I was challenging myself to. I’m not quite sure why. Fake it with confidence, my new plan of action.
Maybe he couldn’t perfect the accent in acting school, maybe he lost his voice, maybe he was just a man of few words, but he said nothing. He responded with a single nod of his head in my direction, not even lifting the hinged mask on his helmet. The other men practically fell over themselves to fold it and give it to me. I wasn’t sure if they were so eager to follow his orders out of fear, or out of respect.
The shortest one fumbled with the map, the metal joints at his elbows screeching in disgust at the movement. That particular task was on my mental list of the practically impossible, right before getting an umbrella back into the cute little pouch it comes with and right after doing your eyeliner on a moving school bus bumping along a country back road.
He struggled with the map a few more seconds before huffing a sigh of surrender and shoving the map towards me. I opened it with a smirk, looking at all the new creases that were never meant to be there.
Unfolding the map carefully, the poor thing had more than its fair share of damage for one road trip; I laid it on the street. I knew this town like the back of my hand, so I studied more out of curiosity than anything else. No one made maps of Jackery, no one needed them.
This map was like nothing I had ever seen before. It looked almost like a treasure map, or something. It was all hand drawn, all the words were calligraphy, and the paper wasn’t your average paper. I ran my finger along the paper; it was worn and rough, thick, yellowed and creased hundreds of times.
It looked like really old, like something they’d make you stare at on a field trip to a museum. Heck, King Arthur probably passed this around the table to all his knightly buds before some big escapade.
It reminded me of some of the maps my father studied a few years ago; he would die to see this one. He majored in history, with a focus on medieval times; to make him sound snooty I called him a “Historical Anthropologist.” Going to the renaissance fair with him was a mistake I only made once, when I was nine. He couldn’t understand why everyone was making a fairy tale out of things, nothing was historically accurate, and most of all he kept repeating, “How could people PAY to see this?”
I knew way more than anyone my age should ever know about how utterly revolting the Middle Ages were, enough to know I’d never want to live there. I wouldn’t even got to if it was the pretend fairytale version. He’d certainly get a kick out of this map, though. I mean, yes, it was of Texas, but whoever made it did a pretty great job of replicating an old time map.
I wonder how much they forked up for this thing. Method actors must be loony. They had really wanted to get to Jackery. But this map only went as far as Miss Hattie’s woods, and the start of town. Nothing else was on it, how useless.
“Well, where are you trying to go?” I asked, looking up into the eight faces staring intently down at me; that’s how it felt anyways. I couldn’t exactly see their eyes, what with the helmets and all. If it had been July or August, they’d be walking around medium well to well done by now. But it was a breezy fall evening which is very good for people who were basically costumed as barbeques.
One of the men reached down over my shoulder and turned homemade map over. There was a giant red tinted X marking where they wanted to go. None of the streets on the map were labeled.
I looked at the X. It was on a curvy street, either Bluebonnet Street or Jack Rabbit Lane, four plots from the corner. I ran my finger along the map to find another land mark. It landed on the town’s statue of Wilber E. Jackery. It was right across from the house on the map. I hated that statue.
It was so annoying. My room was at the front of the house and that was the view I woke up to every morning. Good old Wilby smiling (most of his teeth missing), and pointing off into the distance as if he found Santa’s workshop, as opposed to Jackery, land of red ants and droughts galore.
Right across from my house, he just stood there like some creep… Wait. Right across from my house. My house, the street from my house, 4452 Bluebonnet St.
My eyes immediately located the red painted X, marking a giant spot right on, my house. Mine. Even the giant oak tree in the backyard, and the tree house were on the map. All hope that it was the house next door vanished.
Looking up at them, my mind reeled with possible explanations. Maybe they were looking for my sister in law, Marissa. Same last name, Vanhorn, only three blocks over.
“Would you happen to be searching for a Lady Marissa Vanhorn, she does the casting for the fair?” I dropped the fake accent and asked with an unsteadiness I couldn’t control. Something was about to go down, and it ain’t just the sun.
“No m’lady. We are in the midst of a search for a Miss Kinsley Leighton Vanhorn, we need her quite desperately,” he hesitated to continue speaking in his heavy British-like accent, seeing a flash of recognition cross my face. I’d think it was a cute accent if they hadn’t been ‘in the midst of a search’ for me.
Pausing for a second, he continued, “Do you know her?”
“What do you want with her?” I asked, keeping my voice even. Developing my lying skills had served me well over the years. Getting out of homework assignments, extensions on tests and I was the best prank phone caller this side of the Mississippi. I just had to remind myself that I knew how to lie; I didn’t like the feeling of being caught off guard.
At a hand signal from the head honcho, the circle of men, which had by then enclosed quite tightly around me, all took a step back. I took a small breath of relief. I had never been claustrophobic, but standing in the middle of eight men decked out in full armor and trying to think straight was hard. It was hard enough to be mentally added to my list of “Practically Impossibles”.
He knew I knew her, I just hoped he didn’t know how close we were. I imagined him studying my face raptly, trying to decipher my thoughts through any expressions I gave away. I couldn’t know for sure though. With the hinged mask, and the looming darkness of night, I couldn’t see his eyes… just an endless shadowy void.
“We need her help,” he looked around at the others, his voice sounding grave, “urgently.” They all nodded in agreement.
I cleared my throat, “With, um, what exactly?”
What could I do that these body builders couldn’t? They were huge, I felt like some of them were wider than I was tall. They just looked strong, they exuded strength. They could probably bench press the last season’s Biggest Loser contestants, pre-weight loss. I could barely bench press the bar… forget about adding weights. Gym was the embodiment of my own personal hell.
They sounded so earnest and sincere—snap out of it! Axe murderers could sound sincere! Helllooo? It’s called acting.
“We will need you to come along with us, join our quest. I’ll explain along the way.”
Hold the presses. They want me to go with them to…where?
“The renaissance fair is right down the road, I can really quickly just point you in the right direction,” I prayed that they were indeed looking for the fair. They all just kinda shook their heads, not sure how to respond to what I said.
“Down the street,” pointing, I restated it slower, “that is the way to the f-”
“We don’t want to go to the ‘fair’,” he cut me off, he said “fair” like the word tasted strange, foreign, and awful in his mouth. “You must come with us.”
Of course they don’t want to go to the fair. Why would I think that? Armor and shields, pssh, people wear those ALL the time.
“You want me to come with you on a quest to… where? Timbuktu? Is this some kind of joke?” I didn’t recognize any of their voices, not a comforting thought. Maybe I was being Punk’d.
I mean come on. Water bras, color changing nail polish, boats that turn into cars and vice versa… Surely if all that is exists, then modern make-up techs could magically transform one Ashton Kutcher into a made to order Knight in Shining Armor. Totally a prank, it had to be. Right?
Before he could answer my first question, I blurted out, “Who said Kinsley Leighton was me?” My heart began to beat a little faster.
“That’s a very beautiful piece you have there,” he gestured towards my bracelet. “It looks very old.”
Nice subject change, creep.
The bracelet itself wasn’t what the stranger was referring to. I knew that.
I looked down at it, “it” being a timeworn antique skeleton key. It was a worn bronze color, time and dirt caked on from centuries of use and holding. I could polish it I guess, but I never did. I felt like if you lasted hundreds of years in one piece you deserved every speck of dust like a trophy. Wipe away the dirt, the grime, and I might as well have wiped every minute of history this key had ever seen.
The sentimental value was priceless, but the actual value probably wasn’t worth much. My Grandmother Adelaide, Grandma Addie, gave it to me.
Just looking at the key allowed memories – memories I had tucked in the back of my mind — to surface, without permission or a warm welcome. I always wore it, I promised I would, but I tried to forget it was there.
I pushed the thoughts back. I wouldn’t allow them into my mind, not right now.
But, when he mentioned it, I couldn’t help but look down to where he referenced. The way not only he, but the whole group, watched my bracelet made me feel uneasy. I knew they were staring at it, because the helmets seemed to give them all a narrow field of vision. I had that advantage at least.
Jackery wasn’t a place where people watched their backs. People here don’t walk with pepper spray. People around here don’t even lock their houses or their cars. Nothing good ever happens around here.
There’s a first time for everything, I thought while I slowly stood up, and it would be MY luck to be the first newsworthy story in this town since the town hall got electricity.
“Well, sorry, Kinsley is out of town. I could give her a message for you, or,” I started backing up only to run into a wall of metal. “Ooomph.” Ow.
I turned around and there was a knight, the other way, a knight. Every direction I turned there was a knight.
I know you’ve seen Animal Planet. Those shows where herds of animals make a circle around the weaker and smaller animals to protect them of impending doom. That’s how I felt. Only I doubted that these guy’s intentions were so commendable and heroic. In fact, I was rather worried that instead of protective mother rhino, they were thinking more along the lines of the predatory lion’s point of view.
“Well, if you don’t mind,” I patted one of them on the breastplate; the solid ‘thunk’ assured me that the armor was not at all hollow. “I think I will get going.”
“I’m sorry,” the leader spoke, and with a flick of his hand they all took a step forward, enclosing the circle like a cage around a canary, standing shoulder to shoulder, “that is not going to be possible at this point.”
Really I should’ve seen this coming. Two types of guys fit the behavior pattern these guys have, the cute and sensitive method actors and the crazy and dangerous escape insane asylum convicts.
I looked around spastically, but my view was blocked in every direction and a good six and a half feet up.
Where in the world is everyone?
The one night something actually happens and Mrs. Killoway, town crime watch president and Jackery’s one woman gossip line, isn’t sitting out on her porch. She is always out there in her rocker every night… with a blanket, binoculars, a thermos of coffee and her phone in her lap. I have the worst luck.
Then I remembered that it was half-price ticket night at the Renaissance Fair. Oh, the irony. My friends would be dreaming of riding off into the sunset with their knight in shining armor, while I wanted nothing more than to get away from the group of knights trying to convince me to sneak off into the darkness with them.
My luck with guys is astounding.