Someone is knocking. The sound reaches Claire’s ears, but by the time it reaches her consciousness it is as dull and warped as if it has travelled through the depths of the ocean to find her.
In reality, each rap is quick and sharp; in succession they convey an urgency. “Wake up,” they cry, “You are needed.” Beans lifts his head and tilts it curiously, he whines and skitters away to paw at the door. The knocking pauses for a moment and then continues with even greater violence.
Claire continues to sleep; to her the knocking is a heart beating against a chest. The chest is warm, rising and falling beneath her ear, but she knows the rhythm is wrong even if she can’t place why.
“Claire!” A muffled voice through the door, “For God’s sake, wake up!”
Beans yips at the door, skittering in circles on the door mat.
The cacophony finally shatters the illusion of the dream, and Claire rises as if drowning — her lungs hungry for air and her eyes stinging with salt water.
Another yip and Claire races to the door in a panic that only frantic knocks in the darkness can create. Who is hurt? Are we in danger? What is wrong?
Marcus waits for her, arm raised to fall heavily on the door when she opens it. The realization of his premature return, combined with his wrinkled clothes and the dark bags under his eyes, only makes her heart race faster and her mind whir with horrible possibilities.
“Marcus? You’re back already? What’s wrong? What happened?” The words spill from her lips, lingering drowsiness unable to hold back the flood of her panic. At least she manages not to tell him that he somehow looks worse than when he said goodbye.
Marcus steps inside, Beans weaving in and around his feet. “We’ve gotta go. We don’t have much time. Get dressed and then we’ll go get your friend.”
“If this is about Mack,” Claire begins with a yawn, but Marcus rolls his eyes with impatience.
“Not that one — Declan,” he says, grabbing her shoulders and turning her towards her bedroom.
“Declan?” Claire asks, turning her head around to look at him.
“I found it, Claire.” There’s a mad passion in his eyes she’s never seen before, something different than the distracted pull that she associates with his talent. “I wanted to find it and I did. Now go get dressed, we don’t have much time. It’s been drizzling for a while now.”
“Drizzling?” She asks, but she does as Marcus says, peeking behind her to see that he’s facing away toward the door. While she pulls on a pair of jeans and tugs a sweater over her pajama shirt, she glances at the clock by her bed: 5:59 am. Outside the sky is still the impenetrable shade of night, the November sun content to hide until late morning. Again she finds herself wondering if Declan’s door works with the sunrise, or some other more precise method. Suddenly she shares in Marcus’ desire for haste.
“Alright let’s go,” she tells him, grabbing her coat on the way out the door. “I’ll be back soon Beans. I think.”
Downstairs, Marcus asks where she is going as she leads him past the front door and on to the basement. Her heart sinks when nothing but a blank wall awaits her.
“Damn. We’re too late. The door must be at the bookstore by now.”
“Declan’s,” Claire says with an exasperated shake of her head, “At night it’s here and in the day it’s at the bookshop.”
“Huh,” Marcus accepts, raising his brow in less surprise than Claire expects. He follows her as she sprints up the stairs and then out into the cold fog.
Even with the hood of her jacket pulled up over her head, Claire can feel the moisture gathering on her cheeks and forehead. She feels the tickle of water droplets racing down her nose and the late fall chill in the bones of her hands. She does not envy Marcus walking beside her with his jacket collar up but no other protection to speak of.
“Maybe we should go back and get an umbrella,” she suggests, slowing her gait and then running to catch up when Marcus doesn’t miss a step.
“No time,” he says, head bent forward and black hair slick with mist, “We might have already missed our window. It doesn’t feel like it though. I can still feel it calling me.”
“Feel what calling you?” Claire pants, pushing her short legs to their limit to match his long strides.
“The answer,” he says, and Claire is taken aback by the strange smile that plays at the edges of his lips.
“The answer?” Claire asks, frustrated with his cryptic responses. Then realization strikes her like lightning: the answer, the rain, Declan. “The blue lanterns.”
Marcus’ smile grows with the determination in his eyes.
Claire fishes in her pocket for her cell phone, trying to collect her breath without slowing her steps. She dials Declan’s number and listens as it clicks over to voicemail. She tries again, but after half a dozen rings there is still no answer.
“Damn,” she says, “He’s not answering.”
She glances around to catch her bearings and is disappointed to find that they still have a long way to go.
They pass through the fog-shrouded neighborhood like ghosts; the world is still asleep, snug in its early Sunday morning slumber and blissfully ignorant of their cold, damp plight. Her first impulse is to jealousy, but it shifts quickly to pity. Though her fingers are already growing numb and her clothes stick to her goosebump-covered skin, Claire can’t dismiss the beauty in the darkness — in the way the electric glow of the streetlights reflect off of a million tiny droplets and turn the fat puddles into liquid gold. If only there were a way to capture the quiet magic of this moment, to share it with others, but she knows its transient loneliness are what make it so appealing in the first place.
“Here,” Marcus holds out his phone to her, its screen a beacon of blue and white light in the dark. She can hear a tinny ringtone through the speaker. “Ask Mack to open the shop.”
Claire stops walking, lifting her gaze from the phone to Marcus’s face. It looks thinner and more haggard, illuminated by the phone beneath it.
“Hello?” A distant voice answers, heavy with sleep.
Marcus shoves the phone toward her, but Claire doesn’t move to take it.
“Come on Claire,” Marcus says, pleading eyes glinting with electric light.
Claire shakes her head, “You called him.”
“Hello?” The voice rings out again. A tense moment passes between Marcus and Claire, and there is a drawn out silence on the other end. And then a single, desperate plea, barely audible over the gentle rainfall: “Marcus?”
Marcus closes his eyes tight and lifts the phone to his ear.
“Hey, Mack,” he says, lingering on the single syllable of the other man’s name. “I’m going to ask you for something, and it’s going to sound weird…”
Marcus continues to walk toward the shop as he asks Mack to open it for them. Claire falls in beside him, no longer able to hear Mack’s responses. She assumes that he has agreed because Marcus keeps walking after hanging up, even if he says nothing of their conversation.
“I’m sorry,” Claire says, after a moment, “It just didn’t seem right…”
“No,” Marcus says, “I guess it wouldn’t have been.”
Claire nods, content at least that he isn’t mad at her. “So can you explain what’s going on? I thought you were supposed to be gone on some job…”
“I was,” he says, “I was boarding a plane and I was thinking about all the things I didn’t want to do anymore. How tired I was. All the reasons I hated what I was doing, what I am. And suddenly I just realized that I had no idea what the hell I’d do instead. I knew all this stuff that I didn’t want, but I had no idea what I did want.”
“So what happened?”
Marcus shrugs, “I started thinking about it. About impossible things… like seeing my grandpa again. And meaningless things, like stopping. But then I just tried to picture what I wanted in that exact moment. Just simple things: a long shower, a good book. Dinner and a movie with…”
As his voice trails off he runs his hand through his hair, sending droplets flying out behind his head.
“Anyway, all of a sudden I started thinking about those lanterns and how I’d like to know what they were about. About chasing after them with you and Declan… And then I could feel it. Like a whisper at first, but I knew it was there and that it was a choice. So I took it. Left the plane behind and all of my luggage. I just followed the whisper. And it was like the moment I decided to follow it, it wasn’t a whisper anymore but a shout. A siren singing out to me from miles away and I couldn’t ignore it. No — for the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t want to ignore it.”
Claire’s heart races with anticipation, “Where did it take you?”
“Here,” he says, looking up at the storefront where Mack stands waiting by the door, his curls drenched and matted to his head and his glasses obscured by fog. He holds the door open for them.
They climb the stairs quickly, hurrying inside and drying their feet on the mat by the door.
“Sorry Mack,” Claire says, regretting the puddle spreading over the tiled entryway.
“Is everything okay?” He asks, looking with concern from Marcus to Claire.
Marcus stares at him, his mouth a tight line and his brows furrowed in indecision.
“It’s a long story,” Claire says, searching for a reasonable excuse and coming up short, “But we need something from the antiques room and…”
“It’s him, isn’t it?” Mack asks, “Declan?”
“Yes,” Claire says, “I promise it’s really important…”
Mack nods quickly, and smiles at Marcus in a resigned sort of way. “It’s okay. I’ve got some new inventory I’ve been meaning to go through anyway.”
He wanders away to the back of the shop to a stack of cardboard boxes against the wall. Claire waits while Marcus watches after him, chewing his lip in thought, and then motions her to follow him upstairs.
Claire is relieved to find the door against the back wall of the antiques room. It takes several loud knocks before Declan answers the door in sweatpants and a sweater, his eyes bleary and bloodshot.
Before he can ask why they’re calling on him well before sunrise, Claire blurts out, “Marcus thinks he knows the secret of the blue lanterns but we have to go now.”
Declan blinks slowly, then rubs his eyes. “One second,” he says, disappearing back behind the door. Hardly a minute later he re-emerges still wearing his sweatpants but now with running shoes and a warm, hooded jacket. Claire notices that his shoes are less worn than the last pair she saw him wear and that his jacket flatters his thin frame rather than hanging off of it like many of his other clothes.
“Where are we going?” He asks, tugging a warm hat over his sleep-ruffled hair.
The determined smile returns to Marcus’ face. “We need a lantern,” he answers, waving them to follow him downstairs, “I’ll explain when we get there.”
“Where’s the closest one?” Claire asks as they reach the front door.
“The pier?” Declan winces at the distance and the time it will take to cross it.
“I’ll find a closer one.” There is a charming confidence in Marcus’ voice that perfectly matches his grin. It helps transform his gaunt, unshaven face into something more akin to rugged handsomeness. Claire glances at the back of the shop and catches Mack watching them as he shuffles paperbacks from one pile to another.
“Thanks Mack,” she calls to him and, though it feels wholly inadequate, she adds: “I’ll come by with lunch later, okay?”
He nods to her and smiles politely, but she can read disappointment in the way his thumb strokes the cracked spine of the book he holds and the way his gaze falls quickly from her own.
Declan opens the outside door and the mist creeps in, bringing with it a poignant memory of the chill they’d only just escaped. Claire lifts her hood and dives back into the frigid rain. At the bottom stair she notices Declan has stopped ahead of her and is staring back up to where they came from. Claire turns to find Marcus, one foot still in the shop, his knuckles white through his caramel skin as he grips the door handle with an oddly desperate force.
“One second,” he tells them, disappearing back into the shop.
Claire and Declan exchange confused looks while they wait. Marcus reappears suddenly, pulling along a flustered-looking Mack now in a long wool jacket and red rain boots. When they stop for Mack to lock the shop door, the fingers of Marcus’ right hand remain entwined with those on Mack’s left and he has to fiddle with the door one handed.
“Alright, let’s go,” Marcus says, tugging Mack along as he leads them down the rain-slicked sidewalk.
They pass through the streets in silence, trusting to Marcus’ instincts to guide them through the thick fog that obscures any familiarity in their surroundings. Every minute or so Mack looks over at him, his eyes wide in awe before he drops his head, hiding a private smile.
To dispel the pressure of the ever-threatening passage of time, Claire asks: “Declan?”
He turns to her as they walk.
“When does your room move?”
“Hmm?” He asks, head tilted in confusion.
“Like what time does it switch?” She clarifies.
“Oh,” Declan says with a small chuckle. He’s been laughing easier lately, Claire notices. “It’s at the shop from about 5:30 in the morning until about 8:00 in the evening. It’s not quite on the dot, but close enough.”
“We’re almost there,” Marcus interjects, turning into a grassy lot beside a decaying church. It’s darker here without the light of the street lamps, and the grass is so wet that it soaks through Claire’s shoes into her thick socks. She does her best to ignore the discomfort, sticking close to the others so that she doesn’t get separated.
They pass some children’s play equipment — swings, a slide, and an old jungle gym — and stop under a line of oaks and maples alongside a chain link fence. At the base of one particularly large oak, its base buried in rotting leaves, is a stone lantern. It only rises to Claire’s hip and she crouches down to look into it. Beneath its sloped roof is only darkness.
“Did we miss it?” Declan asks, his voice laced with worry.
Marcus shakes his head, “I don’t think so.”
“You said you’d explain when we got here,” Claire points out, “So… what’s going on?”
“When I started searching for the answer to these damned things, it called me here, back to Newport,” Marcus tells them, “And for a while I could hear them calling me, but I couldn’t tell exactly where. It’s just like I could hear all of them. Feel them all over the city.”
“Them?” Mack asks, and Claire smiles at his confusion.
“The lanterns,” Marcus explains, “They’re tucked away here and there. No rhyme or reason to it. Then last night I was walking, coming back from a movie — terrible by the way… the stupid CGI effects, I don’t know why they don’t just use puppets like…”
“Marcus,” Claire says, voicing everyone’s impatience.
“Okay, okay,” he continues, “Anyway, I could feel them stronger than ever. It was so loud but coming from so many directions I didn’t know which way to go.”
“Wait, you can hear the lanterns?” Mack asks, his voice a tremulous mix of incredulity and awe.
“Uh, long story,” Marcus says, “But I started wandering around, looking for them all over the city. Finally, a few hours ago this old guy sees me bent over one, looking for some kinda clue, and he taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘You lost your way?’ I figured what the hell — yeah I have. And he gives me this piece of a branch and says, ‘Supposed to rain this morning. I think that’ll get you where you need to go.’ “
Marcus pulls out a twig from his jacket pocket and Claire recognizes it as a trimming from a ewe bush.
“Um… what’s the big deal with the lanterns?” Mack asks, “And why are we out here in the rain? I feel like I’m missing a few details.”
At that moment a blue flame springs to life on the flat interior of the lantern, chasing back the mist surrounding the trees.
“How…?” Mack asks, leaning down to look closer.
Marcus exhales and then takes in a deep breath.
“Mack,” he says and the other man rises again to face him, “You know how you hate expositional dialogue? How you said you’d rather just be dropped into a story and figure it out as you go?”
“It’s kinda like that. If you’re coming with us I’m gonna need you to just jump in. Are you okay with that?”
Mack watches the blue flame and nods sheepishly.
“Later if you’re still confused I can give you the Cliff Notes version over dinner.” Marcus winks and then lifts up the sprig of ewe.
“What do we do now?” Claire asks, heart dropping at the uncertainty written across Marcus’ brow.
“I find things,” Marcus says, “I told you before I don’t know what they’re for. I thought once we were here…”
“Burn it,” Declan says with a confidence that surprises them, “Trust me. Throw it in.”
Claire looks to Marcus who shrugs before tossing the sprig into the blue flame. Immediately it shrivels and blackens, dancing with the flame before falling to the stone in a pile of fine ash. The flame dies out and the four watch it dissipate, the mist reclaiming its ground.
“Now there should be…” Declan begins, but he suddenly stops, facing the chain link fence. He approaches it and the others follow cautiously. There is a gate — iron, ornate, and entirely out of place against the silvery links adjacent to it. To Claire it is oddly familiar.
It opens without a sound and they pass through, two at a time.
Before them is a labyrinth of gardens and knee height shrubbery, shrouded in cold mist. Claire both recognizes the place and doesn’t; the statues are still present, scattered around the grounds, but Claire gets the impression that they have changed since last time. Wasn’t that little boy been kneeling last time? And she can’t recall the woman towering over the entryway. But who can say for sure?
The light is also different; before it had been dark, today it is a shade brighter. Maybe it is because somewhere behind the impenetrable cloud cover, the sun is rising. Or maybe it’s the blue glow emanating from somewhere at the heart of the labyrinth — likely the giant stone lantern Claire saw once before. Or perhaps it’s the smaller lights — not blue, but golden and small — dancing and bobbing about like a hundred luminescent jellyfish below the dark ocean waves.
These are candles and glass lanterns, Claire realizes, held by people. Real people made of flesh and blood alongside the stone figures. Some lanterns hang from makeshift structures: wooden carts, pavilions and tents.
That’s when Claire notices the smell — sweet and spicy, savory and earthy — the smell of fresh yeasted bread and frying oils and simmering broth.
“Where are we?” It is Mack that finds the voice to ask, but everyone stands staring at what was supposed to be an answer and has turned out to be yet another mystery.
“I used to know what it was called, I think. But I can’t remember now,” Declan says, and Claire wonders how much of the water rolling down his cheeks might taste of salt.
“How did you know what to do?” Marcus asks suspiciously.
“I’ve been here before,” Declan says, more as a realization than an answer to Marcus’ question.
“With your mom?” Claire asks.
Declan turns to her as if suddenly recalling her presence. “Yeah,” he says, “A few times when I was younger. It’s a market, I think. Yeah. She used to sell stuff here sometimes. I’d forgotten.”
“You forgot a place like this?” Mack asks, still devouring the scene before him.
“Everything seems magical when you’re a kid,” Declan says, “And mom was so sick at the end… it just kind of ate up everything else.”
“That’s why you were so drawn to the lanterns,” Claire says, reaching out to squeeze Declan’s arm. He nods.
“So are we just going to stand around here or are we going to go look around?” Marcus asks, already stepping onto the path. The remaining three exchange glances and hurry to catch up.
The market is by no means crowded, even including its stationary inhabitants, but every stall has visitors and there are plenty of others wandering the paths.
The first vendor on their path sits under a patchwork tent with an elongated awning. Steam pours out, and its warmth beckons Claire closer. Under the awning is a bench with several low stools, most filled with rain-drenched individuals leaning over bowls of steaming broth. Some have packages and paper bags on the ground by their feet or up on the counter safe from puddles and boots.
As they continue on they see many other stalls like this, providing warm food and shelter from the chilly rain. In a round space at the end of the path they even find tables with large umbrellas protecting patrons from the drizzle, if not the permeating dampness of the fog.
Some stalls sell goods other than food: jewellery, paintings, pottery, clothing. Many wouldn’t seem out of place at a regular market, while others stand out. One stall Claire stumbles upon sells nothing but ornate door handles, while another sells only keys. This latter one in particular fascinates Claire, and she spends a long time inspecting the tiniest of the keys, hardly the size of her pinky nail, admiring the intricate embellishments engraved on its rose gold surface.
This is a strange trend that Claire notices as she browses — every stall beckons her in closer with nothing more than a sense of possibility, each one begging to be explored. There are no makeshift signs here, no vendors shouting their wares or trying to tempt passersby inside. The market sprawls quietly across the giant expanse of the labyrinthine gardens, its existence invitation enough. Which isn’t to say that the market is silent — in fact Claire finds almost all of the shopkeepers greet her pleasantly and some even strike up a conversation.
Perhaps this is how the four of them become separated — each drawn to a glimpse under a tent, one by one disappearing under a pavilion or awning, caught up with an unlikely find or the genial conversation of a vendor or fellow shopper. However it happens, Claire finds herself alone in one of the more expansive tents, its interior dimly lit by a round lantern on either side. Cheap shelves fill the space, only two other browsers inspecting their contents — a man around her age and a woman so thin and wrinkled Claire wonders if she might be older than even Rose.
The wares here are wildly varied in both type and quality — broken ceramic vases, tarnished silver rings, hunks of raw gemstone — but it is movement that catches Claire’s eye first.
A bottle sits alone at the top of a narrow shelf, just above the level of Claire’s nose. It is tapered at the bottom, its shoulders wide and rounded, its neck fat and corked. Inside is a liquid the dark, translucent blue of a clear evening sky. A golden label covers a small, narrow portion of the front of the bottle but Claire cannot make sense of it. She feels as though it should be in English, but the moment she looks away she forgets exactly what letters were there or in what order. And then the movement again; the moment she looks away, Claire is certain that the liquid begins to rise and whirl, dancing like silk in a windstorm. And yet when she looks straight on the liquid is placid, the bottle half-full as before. She reaches out a hand to touch it.
“Dark in here, isn’t it?” A voice like crumpled paper asks. “Plays tricks on the eyes.”
Claire turns to find the older woman standing next to her. For all her years she still stands straight, and Claire has to crane her neck to look up into her weathered features.
“That bottle…” Claire begins, but the woman glances over at the spindly shopkeeper who is regarding them with keen interest.
“Best leave it alone,” she tells Claire, “It’s not just the light that plays tricks.”
The woman leaves and, seeing the shopkeeper approaching, Claire scurries after her.
Outside the cold air burns her lungs and she realizes how thick and smoky the air had been inside. The rain clears her head as she looks around for the older woman.
“Chocolate, dear?” She asks, suddenly beside Claire, “I know ‘candy from strangers’ and all that, but I do have a little stall just over there.”
She points with a gnarled finger at a tiny tent where a young girl sits amongst a heap of white confectionery boxes. She waves at the old woman who returns the gesture. “My granddaughter,” she explains, taking out a foil wrapped bar from her bag and breaking off a thin piece of chocolate for Claire before snapping off one for herself.
Claire thanks the woman, placing the chocolate on her tongue. It is creamy and sweet, but there is a surprising spice — nutmeg and cinnamon and something hot that warms her from the inside.
“This is delicious,” she tells the woman, just as Declan jogs over to her.
“Claire, I’ve been looking for you,” he tells her, his attention suddenly stolen by the old woman. She holds out a piece of chocolate to him.
“There you are, Declan,” she says, “It’s been a long time.”
He says nothing, but simply takes the chocolate from her crooked hand.
“I’m sorry about your mother,” she continues, “I hoped you’d find your way back to the Grey Market one day.”
“I remember you,” he says, and she nods.
“Your mother sold antiques right there,” she says, pointing at an empty pathway a short distance from her stall, “The special things that were meant to be more than dust-collecting trinkets.”
“Hey guys, I think it’s time to go,” a voice calls from behind them and Claire turns to see Marcus and Mack a short distance away. Marcus points to their right, to the silhouette of the large lantern against the sky. No blue flame flickers there and Claire sees that many of the vendors are lowering their tents or packing up their carts.
“I have so many questions,” Declan pleads as the woman begins walking away to where her granddaughter waits.
She smiles, “There will be another market soon. It’ll give you time to get your thoughts in order.” She takes a couple of steps and then pauses, “Oh and don’t forget to take something with you. You’ll need it to get back next time.”
Declan watches the woman as she departs and then follows Claire to where Marcus and Mack stand waiting. Marcus leads them to the gate they came in by, mostly picking paths through instinct, and before they head out Claire reminds them all to take a souvenir as the elderly woman suggested.
Declan breaks off a sprig of ewe, not unlike the one that got them there, while Claire reaches down and plucks a large, flat stone from the side of the path, carefully placing it in her pocket. Marcus and Mack both pluck blooms from an orange chrysanthemum by the statue of the little boy. Then they depart, two-by-two as they had entered.
On the other side of the gate everything is as they left it, aside from the mist which has thinned and the sky which is a brighter shade of grey now.
All four of them turn around to see an unbroken chain link fence.
“Well… that was something else,” Mack says, and Claire can’t help but laugh at his seriousness. Mack smiles in return, “I think I still need some explanations.”
“I think we all do,” Declan says, scratching his head.
“And coffee,” Claire adds, stretching her tired shoulders.
“Oh hell yes,” Marcus agrees, grabbing Mack’s hand and walking through the dewey grass.
Claire lingers, watching Declan as he stares at the gate that is no longer there.
“You okay?” She asks him quietly.
He doesn’t answer right away, only stares at something Claire can’t see. Eventually he turns and meets her eyes. “Yeah. Yeah I think I am. Thanks Claire.”
“Come on slowpokes!” Marcus shouts at them, “I think I deserve breakfast after a night like that.”
Claire rolls her eyes at Declan who tries and fails to suppress a grin. They follow after their friends, and Claire puts a hand in her pocket, feeling the smooth coldness of the rock there: a reminder of a moment gone by, but also the promise of another yet to come.
Hi everyone! So this is it! The last episode of 53 Ganymede for Season 2. As far as I can tell, there will be one final season of Ganymede starting in January 2019. I’ll be taking the next couple of months to work on other projects and plan out season 3. Thanks for sticking with me through this weird series, and I hope you’re enjoying it so far. As always, feel free to leave a comment below or, if you’d like to help other people find 53 Ganymede, leave a review at Web Fiction Guide.
If you’re looking for something else to read in the interim, check out my short stories! If you enjoy Ganymede, I recommend starting with: Fairy Story or Until Midnight. If you like horror, there’s also my Wattpad Urban Fantasy Hallowe’en Contest winner Host. (Shameless self-plug over).
Thanks again for reading. Have a great holiday season and come back for more Ganymede in the new year!
Photo by Hannah Domsic on Unsplash