Art by Tamara Gray on Elfwood
Mimsy trod the chequered ground beneath her feet and raised her hand to shield her eyes from the blazing sunflowers in the sky. She couldn't fly here, the world was resisting her, the traumatised woman didn't want her here prying into her secrets and the yellow man didn't want her here either. He hadn't left – yet – but his influence was withdrawing, like water slowly flowing backwards, back to where he was standing, barely visible in the far distance.
The landscape curved and undulated, it was sculpted and lined as if made by brush strokes, colours alongside one another to give the illusion of a third colour, rather than mixed. It was rough going on Mimsy's feet and where it wasn't abrasive lines it was soft, squishing like wet mud between her toes and leaving a trail of multicoloured footprints across the landscape.
Here the ground was cracked open and crumbling, like two halves of a mint cake, snapped in half. Beneath the post-impressionist landscape the ground turned to shreds of torn canvas but here, where the land was torn apart, a river of blood, tainting the air with a coppery scent, flowed down in a roaring torrent. Mimsy turned, brushing an errant strand of glowing hair from her face and looked to where the blood was coming from. A man's head, his face, gigantic in the landscape, twisted in pain, bleeding from a terrible wound in his forehead that gushed down his face and made the river.
Mimsy tried, again, to unfurl her wings but the world, the mind, the imagined reality of this place resisted her. There was a brief flicker and she rose up to her toes, but that was all she could manage. There had to be another way to cross the river of blood, there had to be, time was running out tick by unrelenting tick as the yellow stain withdrew. She cast around, looking, desperately for something, anything that might help her across.
One this side of the river of blood stood a wilting stand of trees, up, closer to the bleeding head, pink and brown with hear-shaped leaves that were fluttering in the wake of a sudden autumn. She could see the leaves wilting and drying before her eyes. She sprinted up along the crumbling banks of the crimson flood and into the trees. They smelled of sweat, of sweetness, of salt and resin. She ran her hand across their smooth bark and felt them tremble, the surface breaking away in crumbs, the wood beneath fading, failing, rotting.
Mimsy wrapped herself around the trunk and laid her cheek against the bark, her body pressed to the quivering, disintegrating tree. It solidified, became stronger, more real again as she held it, bleeding a little of her own reality into it, murmuring affection into its bark, caressing its desiccated, vascular, leaves. A push, a kiss and the tree shuddered again, leaves falling around her as it leaned over, over, over until its crown of branches struck the other side of the divide and, with another kiss, she was able to walk her way to the other side, arms outstretched like a tightrope walker, the bitter-sweet taste of the bark upon her lips.
The ground on the other side rose up, a hill, a mountain, a cliff, abruptly reaching up into that inky sky and the blinding sunflowers so steep and sweeping that to look in any direction was vertiginous. Up and down, left and right, the moment Mimsy looked up at this cliff they lost all their meaning, like laying on your back in the grass and looking up into the sky when the panic seizes you that you might fall off the world.
Here, that could happen.
Mimsy clung, desperately, to the surface of the wall, six hands and two feet digging into the surface with desperate strength, clinging to the ridges of the paint and the hanging strips of canvas. Looking around her now every single direction seemed to drop away into infinity, but she could see the yellow stain, withdrawing in each and every direction so she simply closed her eyes and scrambled, like a spider across the impossible cliff, an ersatz Arachne in an impossible world.
It seemed like hours that she climbed, eyes closed, refusing to see the strangeness around her until, finally, one of her many hands came over the lip of the cliff and opening her brown eyes again she hauled herself over the lip onto the xanthous crown of this place, the redoubt of the yellow man.
She'd seen him before, but now they studied each other. He seemed more powerful, more real, bigger than glimpses she'd had of him before. He was a vile, sulphurous yellow, skin, clothes, hair, all of it the same eye-bending shade, a colour so strong it made her face sting as though she'd eaten a spoonful of mustard, making her eyes stream and her face screw up with near physical pain. He was hairy, naked, his face twisted in a mean smirk, eyes blazing with hatred and contempt for anything, everything, everyone. His face was lopsided, a monstrous carbuncle disfiguring his nose on one side, painful looking and suppurating, another reason looking upon him was a pain.
Mimsy found her voice. “Who are you? Why are you doing this? What have you got against these people?” She tried to keep the outrage out of her voice, tried to stay calm, loving, respectful even though the man was such a frightful shock, simply to look at.
When his voice came it was a chafing, snide, whine, nasal and whistling around that unsightly growth. “Me? I'm nobody, and who are you exactly to be asking, to be pursuing me or trying to stop me?”
“Mimsy, Mimsy Burogrove and this is my job, things of the mind, the imagination, the strange, things that don't make sense.”
“You're real.” He groused, raising himself up on his arthritic toes, the yellow landscape contracted now to mere veins that bled into the painted landscape. “You come here from the real world and interfere with this one.”
“The psycheverse, I'm a guardian.” Mimsy took another step towards him, all six hands palm-up, talking low and calm and quiet.
“You're a doorkeeper, a prison guard. You are real but I am not. I am from here, from the rambling imaginations the people you seek to 'protect' and oh... they imagine such terrible things, such strange things. Things like me.” He reached out to her, his ragged, cracked, parchment nails scratching with a rasp against her cheek. “I want to be real. You come here from there, can you really deny me the right to go there from here?”
His touch disgusted her, she couldn't help but recoil, his nails on her skin made her think of maggots, of turned-over stones, of the gunk in the plughole, anything and everything that made her flesh crawl. It was the touch of insects, the clammy paws of an 'uncle' and it turned her stomach. “You're killing people.”
“And you, my dear Mimsy, are an interloper in my world.” He stretched and flattened, like a giant paper cut-out, enormous and terrifying, a lutescent tower of parchment that reached for her with paper-cut hands that writhed like flatworms, making her gorge rise just to look at them.
Curving blades of bilious disgust sprang into her hands as she went to battle with the murderous yellow spectre, the knives of her abhorrence for the very essence of him slashing and swiping at his fingers as he reached for her. It was in vain, they struck from the surface of his papery flesh in a shower of sparks and his ribbon-fingers bound her up like a mummy, bringing her up to that leprous maw as she struggled and twisted in that grip, paper-cuts opening on her skin where it was bared between his fingers.
He was too strong.
“I will become real little bug, little spider, my dear Miss Burogrove. You cannot stop me, you're not strong enough here. You think this is your world, you think you're special, but this is my world. Not yours.”
He squeezed, tighter and tighter, crushing the breath from her body, her bones began grind together, she couldn't breathe, her breasts were crushed flat, painfully, to her chest. Not a single arm could move, about all she could do was to clench her toes, some small action to relieve the pain.
The world rocked, abruptly, stars exploded in the sky like fireworks and both of them looked up, a snarl of anger on the yellow man's face. “No!” but it was too late, she felt his grip loosen, his fingers fall away from her body as the pair of , them faded away and the really-real replaced the psycheverse before her rheumy eyes.
A perfect paragon of perplexity and perturbation, St. John stood, sentinel, over her as the slumped in the slanting drizzle of the street. His gun was gripped, held high in his hand, the woman unconscious, unfeeling, unseeing on the ground. “I had to knock her out, something strange was happening, the way you were grasping each other, the yellow light in her eyes. I hope it's alright.”
She smiled, sapped and sickened by the scrap within the sister's sentience and simply nodded. “You did the right thing St. John... but I don't know what we're going to do about Mister Mustard, I can't beat him.” She hung her head, humbled by the hurt.