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Authors: Paul Kater

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BOOK: Hilda - The Challenge
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Hilda stood in front of her magical mirror,
tapping her lip with an index finger. "Right. I don't get guests
very often, so you may have to help me out here at times, okay? I
know you will need a room to sleep. Got that. And a bed. Haven't
got that yet, but that's minor business. Not sure what kind of
stuff you eat in your fairy world, but you'll have to make do with
what I can cook. And from that point on I am at a loss."

William had trouble fighting his laughter
about her upfront way of acting. At least, he thought, you always
knew what she was thinking: the witch had a charming way of making
that clear. "Well, that is a good start. And if you want, I can
cook something too. I'm not a bad cook if I say so myself. Just one
thing I am curious about."

"Yeah?" Immediately Hilda was in battle-mode,
hands on her hips and chin up in the air.

"Is there a mister Wicked Witch?"

Hilda's face went through several emotions as
she worked on grasping what this strange person had said. The
goldfish almost screamed with laughter, holding on to the cup with
all fins they had.

"You mean if there is another man living in
this house." Hilda got it. "Preposterous. Not only would there be
no man who could live with me, but also I would be totally unable
to have someone around in such a way. People get on my nerves as
much as I get on theirs." She started to turn and head for the
stairs, then looked back at William. "So don't you get any funny
ideas." As she walked to the stairs she said: "Come on, I am not
going to carry you."

William grinned once more and followed her up
the stairs. It was a bit unnerving to him that the pictures of the
people that were floating along the wall, turned their heads and
followed him with their eyes as he passed them.

Hilda waited for him, in front of a door. It
too looked freshly painted. "You can sleep here." She opened the
door an entire three inches before it did not want to budge
anymore. "Oh. Crap. Vacuus," she muttered and the door opened
fully.

"As I said, you can sleep here." With her
wand she made a bed, a small table and a chair appear.

The bed had fresh sheets and some kind of
purple duvet on it. From somewhere William thought to hear a soft
moan, as the house reacted to the purple. The table had a stack of
candles on it, a small burning stick floated over the table,
clearly to light the candles, and there were some books on it. The
chair was empty.

"Anything else you need?"

William took the dice that had been his
weekendbag out of his pocket. "My things, please." A moment later,
he held his bag in his hand. "That's neat. I could do with a few
tricks like that."

"Sure," Hilda snorted. "And who's going to
teach you? You're not magical, William." Hilda laughed an extra
cackling laugh as she walked to the door and into the hallway.
"Down there is the bathroom and assorted other stuff. Don't make a
mess or you'll be cleaning it with your own clothes. I'm going
downstairs and make something to eat. I'll let you know when it's
done in case you muck about here for too long."

The door closed itself. Hilda looked at
herself. Perhaps she should change into something else.

William looked around the room. There were
two large windows. No curtains. He looked outside through one of
the windows and saw a lot of forest. There was something odd about
it, but he could not put his finger on what was off. Well, with the
place belonging to a witch, who would be surprised.

He opened his bag, took out his toiletries
and left his room, in search of the bathroom "and assorted other
stuff". Down the short hall he found four doors. This in itself was
impossible already, as there was no way one could fit four doors in
that limited space. Trying to imagine that there were actual rooms
behind them, no matter how small, was asking for a headache.
William did not ask that.

He was however not prepared for so many
doors. "I wonder which one is the bathroom," he said to
himself.

The house, taking pity on the man who had
been tossed into this adventure, opened the right door.

"Holy Bejeebus," William said. "Thanks,
whoever you are."

"You're welcome."

William then recognised the voice of the
house. "Well, well, a talking house. Nice meeting you."

"Perhaps," the house said. Conservative as it
was, it did keep its distance in the beginning.

William entered the bathroom.

White tiles with an occasional goldfish on
them. A large white bathtub with two small golden plaques on it.
One said "Full", one said "Empty".

Curious, he touched the Full plaque.
Instantly the tub was filled with hot water, a nice scent rising up
from the bubbles. "Jeebes," the book salesman took a shortcut. He
dropped his clothes and got into the tub, enjoying the soak for a
few minutes, and cleaning himself up so he felt decent again.

Then he climbed out of the tub and looked
round for a towel. "Towel... towel..."

"I assume one is enough?", the house asked,
as a thick dark blue towel materialised in William's hand.

"Oh, yes, by all means," William replied,
drying himself as he wondered if the house could actually see him.
With a grin he tapped the plaque with 'Empty' on it and the bath
was not only empty but also clean and ready for the next
customer.

A slight unease came over the traveller when
he could not locate his clothes. "Hello, house? Where are my
clothes?"

"In your room. Cleaned. Wear the others."

"Others?" William asked out loud but got no
clarification, so he did his last bits of making himself
presentable and then, with the dark blue towel wrapped around him,
he quickly scooted into his guestroom.

6.
Wine and dine

On the bed lay two stacks with clothes. One
of them were his own, William quickly saw, and they were indeed
clean. And repaired in some places where they had needed that since
a while too. With fascination he looked at the garments on the
other stack.

The thing that attracted most of his
attention was a leather jerkin with pompous thicks shoulderpieces
along the side. It was an amazing piece of work to see and hold.
The stitchwork was unbelievably precise, the garment itself was
made of the finest leather in two shades of dark brown leather, one
a bit lighter, the other darker and leaning towards blood red.

Next item was a beige shirt. It had long
sleeves and an wide neck that could be tied up with a thin leather
strap.

Then there was a pair of grey-ish velvet
pants, with a brown leather belt to keep it in place.

Next to the bed were his shoes and a pair of
ankle-high brown boots, with fringes.

"Right. So that is 'wear the others',"
William understood. "Probably more geared towards local fashion."
With a grin he started putting on the exotic-looking attire, after
putting on his own underwear. That was very much missing from 'the
other' clothes, and he was used to that.

After he had finished dressing up, he looked
around for a mirror. Alas. There was none. As his eyes went around
the room for the second time, a soft singing sound reached his
ears. He identified it as the sound of the crystal ball. Somehow
that little gem had found its way to the table, the light in it
dancing frantically.

William bent over to the shiny object and to
his amazement he saw himself reflected in it. Despite the limited
size of the ball he saw himself clearly. "Holy Bejeebus, you can do
more than relay calls between worlds, can't you?", he grinned.
Satisfied with his looks, he opened the door and found his way down
the stairs.

Again the pictures looked at him as he went
by. This time he looked back at them.

"Oh. There you are." Hilda looked at William
as he came into the room. "Dinner's busy."

She had done something to her hair of which
she hoped it was good, and wore one of her better burgundy red
dresses, made of heavy velvet, with a nice round neck. The dress
fell down to her ankles in long flowing lines. A slight touch of
magic made it flow just a bit slower than usual, adding a wonderful
dramatic effect to the fabric. The dress itself had a fascinating
pattern of deep coppery red brocade on it, that appeared to be
changing all the time, like a mosaic. She wore her magical necklace
too.

As she sat at the table, William saw she was
trying to do something unclear to a small piece of wood that had
several holes in it. There was also some smoke coming from a few
scorched places on it.

"Dinner's... busy?" William frowned at the
strange combination of 'dinner' and 'busy'.

"Yup. You can go and watch it if you want,
but it's boring. Kitchen's back there." Hilda pointed to an open
door.

He nodded and started towards the kitchen,
when Hilda said: "Hey."

William turned. "What can I do for you?"

"Nothing. You look good in that." Hilda
nodded and went back to damaging the piece of wood. "Better than
the silly stuff you wore when you got here."

Silly stuff. His expensive suit was instantly
demoted to silly stuff. Okay, it wasn't Armani as that was over his
budget, but... He shrugged. "Thank you," he said. Then, with a
grin, he turned and went to have a look at the kitchen where dinner
was supposed to be busy.

Dinner was indeed busy. A modern kitchen with
all conveniences could not beat this one, even though there was no
electric thing in sight. The stove was covered in pots and pans,
spoons stirring the contents. A piece of meat hung over a fire and
turned itself, as a wooden spoon kept pouring gravy over it so the
meat would not dry out.

A set of knives were chopping up vegetables
and in some places there were other utensils doing things that
William had no idea of. He returned to the black table and sat down
on a chair opposite Hilda. "Dinner is indeed busy. Very busy."

She nodded as she peered at the remains of
the wood. "I am not used to cooking for more than one person, so I
just took some guesses."

William grinned. It seemed to be about all
that he did there. He watched Hilda as the piece of wood
incinerated more and more. "What are you doing?"

"Magic. And it's difficult so shut up."

William complied with her order and just
watched. He noticed the necklace, the one she had recovered from
the hands of the motorgang.

Hilda slammed the wood on the table. "What
are you looking at?"

William had never before heard someone talk
in a way that made unease and being annoyed physically
tangible.

The goldfish looked at each other and spread
out, one to each side of the teacup, to see what would happen
next.

Before William could reply, a large
meat-cleaver flew through the room and landed smack in the middle
of the table. He fell over backwards, crashing onto the hardwood
floor, evoking a heartfelt 'oompf'.

"Don't exaggerate," Hilda said, "it's just
that dinner's ready." With a snort she yanked the cleaver from the
table, got up and went to the kitchen, returning with two plates of
hot steaming food in her wake.

William was still getting up and putting the
chair back in its rightful place. Again he stared, now at the
plates that landed themselves on the table and forks materialising.
"This is some fabulous household," he said, sitting down.

Hilda sat down, leaned her elbows on the
table and rested her face on her fists. She looked at the man who
had so suddenly appeared here. "I really wonder why you are here,"
she said. "I have enough on my hands already, so I hope you
understand that I can't be a wonderful host for you, if you are
hoping for one."

"I don't know why I am here either," William
said. "I don't even know how I got here, or how I can go back. Bert
will be rather annoyed too, by now."

"Bert?"

"The owner of the bookstore. I had a dinner
appointment with him. Don't you remember him? You floored him with
a big book, just before you came out to find me."

Hilda smiled a big, bright smile. "Oh, right.
Him. Had forgotten his name. Was quite a whack I gave him,
yeah."

They picked up their forks and as they were
eating they reminisced about the time that Hilda had appeared in
William's world, and how they had met in the coffee house at last.
William had owned a large ancient book with spells that had enabled
Hilda to return to her own world again, leaving the crystal ball
she had created in William's truck. It had been the only tangible
memory he had left from their encounter.

Hilda relaxed a bit. She had been tensing up
more and more, with the unwanted and unexpected visitor in her
house, but now, over dinner and through the talking, she was
feeling less upset about him.

"William," she asked as they were well on
their way through the food. "Do you want some wine?"

"I'd really like some, yes." He was instantly
curious to what this world had to offer in wine.

Hilda nodded, made her wand appear, and with
that she produced two glasses of wine. She shoved one over to him,
and then magicked up a bottle of water to dilute her own.

"Why are you doing that?", William asked.
Wine with water was like cursing in a holy place to him.

"I don't take well to much alcohol," Hilda
confided. She almost whispered it, which was totally unneeded, as
the goldfish as well as the house were already aware of this
fact.

"Okay," William whispered and put a finger
over his lips. "I won't tell anyone."

"No problem if you do, everyone knows
already," Hilda whispered back and took a sip from her wine.

William tasted the wine. "Jeebus," he said,
"that is a fantastic wine. Where I come from, you pay through the
nose if you want to get a bottle that comes close to this."

"You think so?", Hilda asked, charging her
plate again.

BOOK: Hilda - The Challenge
7.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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