When the last thing you remember is something that feels like a bee sting on the side of your neck, and you open your eyes to see a skeleton sitting in a wing-backed chair, apparently reading what looks like a very dog-eared copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by the light of a hissing Tilley lamp, the temptation has to be to close your eyes and wait for it to go away. So I tried that. But it was no manner of use. All that happened was that I heard a dry bone-ish sort of chuckle inside my head.
I opened my eyes again and regarded the ossified one with some dissatisfaction. Then I noticed the spectacles – and that was the moment when hysteria almost overtook me. In order to wear spectacles the frames have to rest on your nose and your ears. Of course, a skeleton has neither but, nevertheless, these horn-rimmed spectacles hovered in approximately the correct position and hideously magnified a pair of bloodshot eyeballs, which seemed to be studying me in much the way a schoolboy studies a bug on a pin.
In an effort at nonchalance I snorted indelicately and sat up.
Bones averted its gaze, which alerted me to the fact I was completely naked.
“Can you cover yourself please?” The voice in my head was almost plaintive. “Normally I wouldn’t care, but I’ve been reading this…”
I laughed and pulled the bedclothes up to my armpits.
Bedclothes? At this point, my hair all but stood on end and it was only iron self-control, and the discipline of years, that enabled me to pull myself together.
I looked around me to discover I was in an enormous barrel-vaulted chamber – windowless except for one narrow slit high on the ceiling which threw a line of light on a clock face equally high on the opposite wall. This would seem to be suggesting that it was three o’clock in the afternoon. I registered that piece of information and filed it in my brain for future reference, before carrying on with the catalogue of my situation. I was sitting on what was possibly a tomb or, more likely, some sort of an altar, on a thick soft mattress and I had a downy coverlet pulled over me. At the side of my ‘bed’ there was a small pile of clothing: not mine. There was also a leather satchel – which was mine, and which I was very pleased to behold.
A deep, cool voice from behind me all but had me snapping my head around in surprise.
“Is there aught you require, lady?”
I turned around with calculated slowness to find myself looking into the eyes of an obviously female stone sphinx.
“My own clothes” I said coolly “and food”.
The creature met my stare head on for a moment before inclining her cranium ironically. She whistled shrilly, and a troupe of fauns clattered into view, bearing various items of clothing and a basket from which the scent of new bread oozed its enchantment. I inclined my own head as the little males disposed their burdens on the coverlet at my feet.
“Right boys” I said briskly “everyone turn away so I can dress in peace.”
They all turned, except the sphinx.
“You too sister. I have no desire to wring your little marble heart with my beauty.”
She snarled, but turned to face outward.
Once I was dressed in leather trousers and a form-fitting multi-pocketed weskit I opened the basket to find bread, bacon, honey, and a flask of wine.
“You can turn back now thank you” I remarked “and can somebody please take the bacon. I don’t eat flesh.”
One of the fauns trotted over and showed me its sharp little teeth in a feral grin as it took the lump of fat bacon out of the basket….