The puzzle of the puzzle piece
This is a short story I wrote a few years ago, which has stuck at the edge of my memory since.
Jason heard the mail fall onto the floor in the hall, so he took his coffee to collect them. He scanned through the envelopes as he returned to the kitchen. Among the normal bills was one with swirling blue hand written address, though it wasn't his usual address. It spoke of the colour of his soul and the number of plants he kept trapped inside. The script glittered and the handmade paper wriggled in his grip.
He sat on a stool at the breakfast bar and considered the mystery letter. Should he open it? Or should he return it to the post box to be returned to whoever had sent it? If there was any way for the postman to do that. In fact, how had the postman delivered it in the first place, as there was no stamp or franking on the envelope?
Jason turned it over in his hands and studied the back. The four sides were all folded in to the centre and sealed with a blob of wax. The impression stamped into the seal was a flame, and as he watched it flickered. He blinked, refusing to believe that could happen. Wax was solid and once cooled it would keep a shape. It couldn't flicker. But the flames continued to move.
He frowned. This joke was going too far. With a rip he opened the envelope and drew out the letter. It was written in the same blue writing and a jigsaw piece was folded inside it.
My Lord Etienne,
Humble apologies for contacting you in this manner, but things occur apace and your skills are sorely needed. This piece will match the portal in the Rambling Woods and allow you to return. The Council will discuss your continued reparation for your past misdeeds, but if you refuse us those will be more severe. A party will be waiting for your return.
Pray don't leave it too long, for all our sakes.
What was this? It must be wrong. It wasn't meant for him. That must be it. He picked the puzzle piece of the kitchen counter and turned it over in his hands. It buzzed faintly and somehow felt comfortable in his hands. He closed his eyes and could picture himself holding another similar piece, surrounded by unfamiliar people wearing rich robes and bowing to him. What did this mean? Who were those people?
He grabbed his wallet and keys, tucking the message and puzzle piece into his back pocket. He had to find out what there was in the Rambling Woods and get to the bottom of this strangeness.
With a roar he raced out of the garage and drove down the road towards the woods. His foot pressed on the accelerator and the car jumped to speeds he normally avoided. Within a few minutes he pulled into the parking lot at the bottom of the hill.
Here was the woods, now where was the portal the message had spoken of? He inhaled and exhaled, forcing his mind to still. Another twinge, like he had felt with the puzzle piece, drew him further up the path to the top of the hill.
There had been a stone age fortification here, and the path ran along the top of the bank. But he pushed through the brambles to make his way to the centre of the top area. As he approached an axe came flying at his head. An instinct he didn't know he had allowed him to catch the spinning handle and as he turned he held it across his body while he searched the underbrush for its owner.
Two squat creatures approached him. "No access to the portal. Not for you. You were banished. No allowed back."
Banished? What? When? Why? He shook his head, those were questions for another time. "I got a letter." How lame did that sound.
One of them frowned. "Letter? From who?"
"Prince Valerie?" Jason's voice raised and he let the axe head drop to the floor as he drew out the puzzle piece and showed it to them. "I was sent this."
At the sight of this the two creatures paled and bowed to him. "Sorry, my Lord. Please continue. Apologies for delaying you."
Jason blinked and shook his head. He hefted the axe on his shoulder and continued on. There between an oak and an ash tree was a glittering circle, like a deep pond, but vertical.
He stood there some time, staring at the impossible thing. What was on the other side? What would happen to him if he stepped through? What did he have to leave if he didn't return? Not much, if the truth be told.
His hands acted without his thought. He pressed the puzzle piece into the bark of the oak tree and stepped forward in the the glittering swirl. His heart raced in anticipation and it felt like a homecoming. To a home he had almost no recollection of. Or did he?
This story isn’t currently connected to anything else I’ve written, but I may write more of this one day. Would you like to see that?