What's all this barmy stuff?
Want to find out what has been forgotten in the Styx?
Not enough barminess for you?
the Barmy Shorts
Tucked in her bed on a cold Capricious night, in a tiny flat in the Lower Ward, was young May LaQotte. She sat with just a little bit of her young head poking out from under her bed covers - which had a nice plaide, homemade pattern on them - looking out the frosted window. It was cold in her room, and colder outside. It was the night before Karan's, a barmy night where the Xaositects ran about causing all manner of chaos, all over Sigil. Through the fern shaped frost patterns on her window, she could barely make out the distant tips of the Foundry. Her window, a layer of thin glass, rattled in the wind.
A hunched old woman carried a candle on a little dish into the room, and drew the rags that the small house called curtains over the rattling window.
"Gran, iss' freezin' in here," said little May LaQotte from her bed. A tiny half elven girl with short golden hair that only barely covered her eyes, as she had recently sold it, May was still young enough to be afraid of the dark, of the rattling of windows, and to moan about the cold.
"Shh," hushed her human grandma, her caretaker, setting the candle down at the bedside. An ancient old woman, May's grandma had lived in Sigil for some fifty years - and on Arborea for more. She was a wise thing, but suffered from a disease most old woman tend to get, in their later years. Chronic barminess.
"You know what tonite is, m'dear?" whispered the old woman, just barely audible over the window's clanking. She pulled a little three legged stool up to the bed, and leaned forward. The candle on the little table next to her cast odd shadows across the near empty room.
"Yes, gran," said little May, curling herself up to keep warm, "Iss' Karan's night."
"And what happens on Karan's night, to all the good little girls and boys in Sigil?"
"Aww, gran, not the old Qris Gring'luh story." Not old enough to stop fearing bogeymen, perhaps, but cynicism germinates early in the heart of a Cager - born and imported alike.
Her grandma grinned on the stool, her wrinkly old face the very visage of Karan's Day cheer. "And why, my dear, don't you believe in jolly Qris?"
"I was pwaying marbles with li'l John Scuggins, from across the hall, an' he says there ain't no such'n thing as Qris Gring'luh, an' that his dad says so, an' that anyone who says otherwise is a clueless sod," said the girl, her face contorting the way a child's does when repeating something a respected peer said, verbatum.
"And what makes John Scuggins' dad the authority?"
"Well, he says, 'iss not phi-sick-al-ee posible for a sin-gull oh-cult being to go to every 'ouse in the Lower Ward.' Thass true, there's alot of 'ouses Foundry side, gran."
"If he were to come, my dear, do you know what he does?"
"Yes, gran. He's supposed to take a plate o' cookies an' milk, an' leave some nice things."
"Did you make a list in school?"
"Did you send them away to old Qris's workshop?"
"And you still don't believe he'll come?"
"He ne'er came back on 'boria, Gran. We used to have a pie on Her-mice's feas' day, but nothin' on Karan's Day. Some other kids in the village did, but Qris ne'er liked us, I s'pose."
"Naw. You just never lived in Sigil. He'll find you, my dear, he'll find you. You just need to believe." She blew out the candle, patted her granddaughter on the head, and sat rocking quietly in her chair as her granddaughter drifted to sleep.
He coughed, and his whole body jingled. Even the spiral tatoos that covered most of his face seemed to jingle. His ashy hair blew about in the breeze, sitting at the table next to the window. His sharp, skinny features radiated warmth and some feeling of jollyness. His boots had curled up toes, with bells on their tips. Covered in soot, he sipped at his drink, his eyes sparkling out at the Cage.
"Ehem, there's a sodding pine tree in the middle of the floor, bloody frilly stuff around the doors, and some bloody leatherhead sod put a festive cap on my helmet," said a bruser of a man. Dressed sparsely in loose fitting rags, the rest of his body was scar tissue.
"Oh, that, it's just Qris's mess," said Quake, scooping punch into the man's cup. She dropped a big shoulderpad in, for flavour. A spikey bit in the punch makes everyone extra jolly.
"Qris? Where is this sod, I'll mop up with him."
Quake snapped her fingers, and the room turned completely red and white for a moment, flashed, and went back to being mostly green. The tables and chairs seemed to be subtley out of place, up on the ceiling. The little Lady of Pain figurine atop the tree, which remained where it was, brushed the ground just next to someone's chair above. Noone took any immediate notice of the little change of perspective, as it was Quake's, and her patrons expected this sort of thing. She grinned, and regarded the scarred man again.
"Mellow out, have more punch. No need to mop up tonite, it's a happy night, eeeeh!" She hopped a bit, and had a swig of punch. The scarred man turned to walk to the door, fell upward and crashed hard on the ceiling. He realigned himself, and it was Quake and the tree and the punch upside down, now. He walked out into the Hive, which tended to be alot less confusing.
The man jingled across the Gatehouse's walls, up over the arch of it's gigantic gate, and down it's other side. He dropped a carved horseman down to near where the Gatehouse lawn's chess set usually sat, that the barmies might find it when they come out tomorrow. A gnome, in a fit of chivalry, had ridden one of the knight pieces around the courtyard until it was worn away to an unrecognizable stump. They'd been using the gnome as the replacement piece since, a new knight would please.
He skittered off over the walls again, disregarding as most do the fact that the Gatehouse's gate is always open, and tumbled jingling down the street. He left ashy footprints in the dirty, hardpacked snow. In a flash, he managed to produce a large tree from seemingly nowhere. He left it in the street, and climbed a drain pipe. He stood dramatically silhoutted in the Antipeak light of the Foundry for a moment, and hopped across the roofs.
May's grandma stood up quietly and padded into her own chamber, careful to miss any squeeky floorboards. She slid through the door with a quiet ruffle of her skirts, and went into to her own room where she went to sleep. It was when she began to loudly snore that May woke, again shivering slightly in the cold night air. She huggled an old, stuffed dabus (which magically never actually touched the ground, when played with) with button eyes and frilly hair, and muttered to herself.
"I wonder if 'e's really coming, Trip." The stuffed dabus regarded her quitely until she pulled a string in the back. His eyes lit up, and on the opposite wall the shadows cast portrayed a rebus that, when translated, read - "Sod off, can't you see I'm trying to cut this razorvine?"
"I thought you'd say that, Trip," she mused, as the light in the toy's eyes dimmed back to darkness again.
She stared out the window for a few moments, and heard a faint tinkling of bells. It was actually her grandma's bedsprings, but she went promptly back to her bed anyway. Qris never comes to houses with children who are still awake. It is this very belief, however, which keeps children up with their knees knocking into the late hours of Karan's Night, waiting anxiously - and such was the case with May. She watched quietly, and listened.
It was a quiet evening in the Hive.
Relatively speaking, of coarse. The smoking remains of whatever blocks that happened to catch on fire on Karan's Night were gently covered by fine, very wet snow. The hungry mobs generally stayed home and raised a clamor there as opposed to in the streets, because everyone knows that Qris won't come if you're being naughty. In public, that is.
Out in the streets, a group of what appeared to be Xaositects sat painting on the cobles. From above, it looked like perfectly clear water - and it showed what the bottom of a Xaositect carrying a bag leaping from building to building's reflection might look like. Hopefully, reasoned the Xaositects, he'd jump over the little picture - and it would be perfect.
One sat in a corner, watching the sky, scribbling on a crumbled up piece of paper. It read...
"Ehem! What <(o)> want for
The Xaositect read and reread his message several times, writing and rewriting, until he was happy - at which time he ate the message and tried to swim in the very realistic picture of water his fellows had drawn on the cobbles.
On the upper end of the Lower Ward, near young May's house, sat a frosty little Taker counting house...
"Can I have tomorrow off, sir?" said a man in tattered coats and an oddly misshapen top hat, rubbing his bluish hands together for warmth.
"I suppose you'll want the whole day?" The old man responding didn't so much as look up from his ledgers.
"Well, it is Karan's Day, sir."
"Fine, but be here all the earlier the next morning!" shouted the odl man, a copper Taker symbol jingling on a chain around his neck.
"Thank you, sir!" said the man in rags, skipping merrily out.
The old man waved a crabbed hand in the air, showing off various faded tatoos on his arms. He snorted, and went about his writing. He hardly noticed the merrily clad figure jinglingly hopping in the distance behind him as he closed up shop and walked home. Squinting at his door knocker, he opened his door and went inside. After a bad bowl of pouridge, he went to sleep.
Flats, mmm, thought the man. His mind jinged and binged quietly as he thought, the tatoos on his face twisting constantly. Looking like snowflakes, like stars. A shade of dark gray where the snow hadn't cleaned him, the man hopped from street level up to the top flat's roof, and looked at the tiny pipe the building called a chimney. Quite a squeeze, he thought, but belief goes a long way. Leaving not but his narrow footprints on the roof's snow, he hopped into the air with the muted sound of bells, and dove down the narrow little passage.
May's little elvish ears perked up, and she squeezed Trip. Yawning, she slowly opened her eyes halfway, and turned toward the door. Suddenly, reality thumped. Apparantly from the vicinity of the chimney.
"He's here, Trip," she whispered, "'Iss Qris." She looked hard at her little dabus, and then spoke. "You want to go see 'im? Okay, but, shhh."
Quietly, she crept from her bed, and over to her door. She stepped on a creaky floorboard by accident, as she stepped soundlessly through her door. Giving herself a bit of a scare, she dropped Trip - whose eyes flashed on to reveal a blur moving at a very high speed toward the fireplace. The rebus it flashed translated to "Stop running and watch where you're going, there's a big hole ahead."
A muffled voice from the chimney said in the singsong voice of a caroller boy, "That's why I am moving so fast. I can't let the girl see me."
May stood frozen in fascination, staring at the shadows in the fireplace. Trip's eyes flashed on and off, and she twitched slightly, stepping forward. "Er, are yew Qris Gring'luh?"
The muffled voice from in the chimney whispered, "No! I never come to little girl's houses who are awake!"
May, shrewd for a girl of her age, picked up her stuffed dabus. "A bit of a pwofessional error then, 'es?"
A dark, thin, tatooed face poked out of the chimney, and the room almost instantly felt warmer - even though the man before her radiated cold. With a grin and a jingle, his whole body was out of the fireplace. Taller than May expected, and quite a bit skinnier, the man had to stoop slightly to keep from bumping his head on the ceiling. He sat on the floor, and was eye to eye with his captor. Thin black pants covered his spindly legs, and a black jacket his equally long arms. His neck, tatooed in a ringed, garland-like design, arched slightly as he stretched. The inky little snowflake tatoos on his eyelids showed for a moment, while Qris blinked and looked around. While no bells other than the ones atop his curley boots were visible, he jingled with every movement.
"What's yore name, li'l gel?" His voice was like peppermint: cool, sticky, and festive. He blinked two big brown eyes, and shook some soot out of his hair.
May went back to the defensive, considering it's not a good idea to heckle someone who may be leaving things in your boots. "May LaQotte. I was a good girl this year, sir."
"Very good, May," he bowed (which was a feet, given the fact that he was seated). "If you'll excuse me, I'm afraid I haven't the time for formalities - it's a busy night, you know." He began to turn, to fill the stocking that she had hung.
May blinked sadly, and hugged her doll. "Back on 'boria, if'n you caught a Lepperycon, 'e had to give you 'is treasure," she whispered.
The man turned with a smirk, and quirked an eyebrow. "An' what treasure can I give to ye, m'dear?"
"There's a few fun-dee-mental questions on yore 'stance that I need to know, so'n I kin tell Johnny Scuggins 'is dad's a big bloody sod." She grinned brightly at him, her little ears twitching in the warmth that radiated off of the ancient being before her.
He gave her a knowing nod that said I Don't Condemn You For Wanting To Prove That Mr. Scuggins Is a Sod, and continued at his work. "You may ask a few questions if you so please, May."
May grinned, and turned her head on it's side. "Right. Where do yew get the toys an' oranges an' such?"
He turned and whinked, having filled her stalking, and said "Ask another one, that's a bit of a trick of the trade."
"Well, you are Qris Gring'luh, yes?"
She looked reassured, and nodded. "How do you manage to get all of the chil'ren in Sigil in one night? Tha's quite a bit o' walkin' about."
"I'm very, very fast. And I'm used to the territory. Sigil doesn't change much, contrary to what they'll 'ave you believe, m'dear." His eyes sparkled like nighttime on Radiance, and before May knew, he was behind her, still sitting. "You see?"
She stifled a giddy scream. "An' how do you know the terry-torie so well?"
"My family's been in the business a while, we're," he whispered, "chimney sweeps. That's why we're so good at what we do. We know about chimneys."
"Do yew 'ave any a-filly-ations with the Xaositets?"
"Me and Karan used to be in a dart league together, an' he showed me the ins and outs of tying my shoes, when I was a li'l chap, no older'n ye. We have tea now and again, too. A good old githie, Karan, but as barmy as ye'll ever find. If that's what ye meant."
May looked down at her untied boots, slightly ashamed. She yawned.
"Just make two loops, and pretend they're in a bit of a wrestling match," he winked. "Happy Karan's Day, m'dear." And with these last words, he patted her on the bottom and sent her to bed. Her head hit her pillow, and she slept soundly until the morning. Never again did she have trouble tying her shoes, either.
The Xaositect painters sighed, sitting in the shadow of a building, watching their masterwork on the ground reflecting the emptyness above.
"You think he'll come?" asked the one who was making the list.
"I well hope bloody, we made him for reflection," said a female with a swordlike brush covered in blue paint. She brushed some black hair from her eyes, and continued watching.
"Whoooog!" said one, capering like a chicken. Another tried to ride him.
Just as his attention span was about to expire, the Xaositect clucked and squaked at the apparition hanging above their painting. Frozen in mid-leap, the airborn Qris Gring'luh waved and winked. As the Xaositects gawked, he resumed his leap over the street. Several packages dropped, as he passed.
"Hey, wheeee! New paint and brushes!"
May slept soundly for a whole four hours, which is alot for a child on Karan's Night who has seen Qris live and in person. She went to wake her grandma, so she could look through her stocking. Her grandma always liked to see the look on her face when she did.
"Wake up, Gran, it's Karan's Day, an' Qris came!"
"I told you he would, my dear," said her grandma, rolling out of bed and into her robe and slippers.
"Really, Gran! I saw 'im!" said little May, leading her guardian out into the living room. There was a small stack of lumber by the fireplace, and a roast duck on their table.
"I told you he comes," whispered the old woman, as her granddaughter's eyes lit up.
"I didn't see 'im bringing in all of this!" she said, in regards to the bird and the fuel for their fire.
"He's sly, that Qris. I remember, after all these long years. A good lad, him." The old woman got her rocking chair, and positioned it so that she could see May opening the cache Qris had left.
The little girl beamed at her new dolls. "I want to be a Xaositet when I grow up, Gran, jus' like 'im."
Quake had left only one light on. She sucked contemplatively at her thumb while sipping what remained of the punch, her hair dangling upward toward the ground. The door opened, but only for a second. He was seated almost before she knew he was there.
"Done already, yes?"
"It's always a trying night, but it's a rewarding job," said Qris, shaking himself off for the last time.
Quake did a sort of half flip, twisted, and landed in an eye-boggling way on the floor. The punchbowl was still on the ceiling. She scooped some punch out of the bowl above her with an extra long ladle, and brought it over to Qris.
"Thanks," he said, sipping.
"Any interesting clients?"
"I was caught, if that's what ye mean," he giggled. "A sly little elven girl caught me."
"Was she naughty, or nice?"
"Nice," said Qris, sipping some more.
"Pity," Quake giggled. "What happens to the Naughty ones?"
"Hello, my dears," echoed a third voice, floating in from the doorway. A very pail, white tiefling with golden hair that fell to her knees stood in the doorway. The very colour of virgin snow, only her completely black pupils gave away her true nature. She gave Qris a grin, and he waved back, as she floated in - a corona of light surrounding her pail features. Her snowy dress didn't so much as brush the floor, as she drifted through the air like an old copy of SIGIS in the Hive's wind.
"I hope you're not looking for me?" He joked.
"Sort of," came the girl's Etherial voice. A tongue of fire danced over her head, this fascinated Quake. "There's a Naughty Taker up in the Lower Ward. We're supposed to go give him a Visit. Perhaps you can give Us directions."
"Oh dear," said Quake, "Going to break 'is legs?"
Qris grinned. "I know who you mean. Down Brandy Street, last house on the end. It has that funny door knocker."
"Thanks much, Qris," said the spirit, kissing him lightly on the cheek. "I'll give the sod an extra good haunting, just for you."
"Cheers, m'dear, Happy Karan's Day," laughed Qris, finishing his punch. Quake poured him another, as the spirit left to finish her duties for the night.
"Who was that?" said Quake, who doesn't see such things as Karan's Day spirits so often (discounting Qris).
"Spirit of Karan's Day Past. She's off to this poor Taker's 'ouse, down Brandy way, with the Thugs of Karan's Days Yet To Come. He'll be sure to mend 'is ways, you can be sure o' that."
Quake giggled madly, and they drank for a few more hours before Qris left to get some much needed sleep.
All content copyright 1999 Jeremiah Golden or credited authors.