Klukelunnen, a creature of the deepest caves, from the widest caverns to the tiniest bone-constricting cubbies, needed no light to feel safe. Yet the darkness that now engulfed him rubbed him sore. And the smell! What had Daisy been putting in here, her airtight, waterproof school bag?
She hadn’t said of the distance. Oh, she’d said five miles, and that was by bus. But what was five miles to him? And she hadn’t said of the near-enough mile she had to walk first, ‘cos, as she explained while they waited at the bus stop, Oldham House—the Doleys’ five storied Georgian abode—wasn’t in the ruffing village served by that bus. Jiggledy-jig, jaggedly-jog, he feared his teeth might be jolted loose as she half-strode half-jogged down the connecting lane. And then that interminable wait. Couldn’t she open her school bag just a jot to let in some air. Did she really fear he would stick his head out and alarm the Oldsters of Oldham? All Klukelunnen wanted was a small gap so he could breathe.
At least now the worst of his journey was over. They were close to destination. How did he know? Not from any constant (nor occasional) report from her. She hadn’t spoken to him once since they boarded the bus. No, it was the difference in her step and how it jarred through his body. She was no longer walking on a hard surface, but on what, in saying of Oldham House, she had referred to as a ‘lawn’. A green springy, open place with a nice integral smell. So why didn’t she let him out of this bag, so he could enjoy it!
The lawn gave way again to hardness, followed by a distinct coolness. Within a short span the jolt-and-jar that had tortured his body ceased. He heard a sharp rap but muffled as with the other noises he’d heard since she’d zipped him into here, a knock, but not the familiar hammer on stone.
Moments passed during which, in the stillness, Klukelunnen began to recover his equilibrium. Least, he didn’t feel so bilious, and his muscles began to loosen and unknot. Then his ‘porter’, Young Daisy, grown impatient, began to shuffle from foot to foot. Or so Klukelunnen guessed from the rhythmic jostle. He puffed out an irritated sigh and tried very hard not to clench his teeth.
Ah! At last, a response. He heard the (muffled) creak of an old door opening.
“Daisy! Daisy Doley!” exclaimed a deep rumblesome voice. Professor Angelus Margev, it must be. “But what are you doing here, out of term and on a Saturday? It can’t be homework to do. A summer project, perhaps? But no mind, you find me alone. Come in, do.”
The temperature inside Daisy’s school bag suddenly dropped, and what little Klukelunnen could smell of the external environment (beyond the nauseating whiff of the bag) changed from fresh to … Klukelunnen pulled a face … cloying. This was a new smell to Klukelunnen, slightly reminiscent of Fleur’s wicked perfume. Thick. And sweet. And … he grimaced … acrid.
“And what work have you for us today?” said the rumbling voice of Professor Angelus Margev. “I know I said my computer was yours to use but … a text or a call would have been polite. I could have been busy, otherwise involved, don’t you know.”
“I …” Daisy sounded stunned, like this wasn’t the usual greeting. “I wanted to surprise you. I’ve an astounding discovery I think you will like.”
“A discovery is it?” Professor Angelus Margev said. “Then you must follow me through to my study.”
And I must come out of this bag! The relief that flooded Klukelunnen was more total than peeing after having held it too long. But first she had to set him down on the ground. “Woah-there! Watch my bones.”
He waited, holding hard to his patience, while she unzipped the bag.
Light, blessed light! And air!
Klukelunnen took a deep draught. And choked on the sweet acrid smoke that hung thick in the air. Daisy, seeming impatient to display him, grasped him tightly around his waist and heaved him out of the bag, never mind waiting for his lungs to settle. She set him down on the floor.
“Stay,” she said, as if she were Fleur commanding Helas the Hound.
“Oh,” the professor exclaimed and, with hand to mouth and narrowed eyes, he peered down at him. But that wasn’t close enough. He dropped to a chair, all winged and leather, and strained forward on its edge.
Klukelunnen turned, not to cough in his face
“I’ll open the window,” said the professor and signed for Daisy to do it. “It’s the incense, Good Fellow, nothing illegal, nothing … My, but you are a surprise.”
“You know what he is?” Daisy asked. Window opened, she took the chair beside her bag, beside Klukelunnen who, having finally stopped coughing, now stretched and eased his cramped muscles.
“He’s for real, too.” The professor peered even closer. “My, but I’ve not seen one of these since … You know, they used to be commonly seen, even after the Church forbade trucking with them. In the mines. But what cared the … the Church. They were hallucinations. Illusions. Delusions. Or so it was said. And the little fellows never did talk—or if they did none reported it. No, I thought them all gone from this world. Wow, a gobeling.”
“A gobeling?” Daisy repeated. While beside her, on the floor, Klukelunnen shuddered at a name not heard for nigh on an eon. “Don’t you mean goblin?”
“Goblin, gobeling, same thing. Kobold, Kofey, Cuppy, Cubbie; all the same word. Remember what I said of the slide of ‘gee’ to ‘cee’—and sometimes back again and ditto the indistinction of ‘pee’ and ‘bee’. The name is old. Very old. It means—”
“Dweller of the caves,” Klukelunnen cut in.
“Indeed. The cubby-dweller. And he speaks!”
There was something of this professor that Klukelunnen didn’t like. There seemed to be a ‘lie’ about him, some untruth, but Klukelunnen couldn’t see what. He seemed as old as Daisy had said. And yet he did not. An old nixies’ saying sprang to mind: Whitened hair and wrinkled flesh an aged chappie does not mesh. According to his cousin Grinneal, who claimed himself wiser by an aeon, the saying referred to the lust old men often retained. But Klukelunnen was sure lust wasn’t the problem here. No, something other seemed wrong. That shock of white hair, those deep graven wrinkles, yet no knobbly knuckles, no thinning skin that revealed the blue-blackness of blood within, no trembling hands and voice unsteady. Klukelunnen did not trust him. The professor held out his hand; Klukelunnen backed away.
“Daisy,” the professor waved that same hand at her. “Why don’t you make us all a nice cup of tea and take it through to my ‘inner sanctum’. Then you can return here and delve into our intranet to your heart’s content and find all you can on the folklore on kopies and cublings while your friend and I have a … yes a chat.”
“But …” that wasn’t what Daisy wanted “… well, we were hoping you’d know a way of …”
Her voice trailed to silence beneath the look the professor shot at her.
“Daisy thought you might know a way of sending me home,” Klukelunnen said. Then wished he had not.
“Oh yes, I’ve a way,” Professor Angelus Margev chuckled.
The words, the chuckle, the look: Klukelunnen couldn’t deny there was something … evil … about the man.
“Oh yes, I’ve a way,” the professor repeated. “And one that must be applied without much delay. But first, that chat. Hey, Precious Stone?”
Precious Stone, so the professor knew what ‘Klukelunnen’ meant: Kluke, stone; Elunn, light. And might the professor also guess at his real name and with it acquire absolute power over him?
Oh, Grandma, what did I do when I stole that spell from you?
He didn’t yet know what the trouble, but he knew that it brewed.