The Mysterious Figure

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Write about a mysterious figure in one’s neighborhood.... view prompt

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Fantasy Fiction

The house that stood at the edge of the town was gloomy. The walls were covered with moss and creeping vines. The roof was missing some tiles and in the front porch, dead, fallen leaves lay scattered everywhere. Whenever anyone passed by the house, the wind would blow ever so gently, sending chills down the spine. The windows were always kept tightly shut, and when the moon danced in the sky, not a single lamp was lit inside the house.

Who lived there? Mr. Garth did. It was said that Mr. Garth’s parents had lived there, and his grandparents, and so on. But this family was never seen in public. Some even doubted their very existence. Now, rumors had it that only Mr. Garth lived in that creepy house.  

Who was he? What was he like? What did he look like?

***

“Well, the truth is, Mr. Garth is a hundred-year-old wizard with supernatural powers! He’s been living in our town with the sole purpose of finding a suitable apprentice to pass on his magical powers…” Abigail said, dramatically gesturing with her hands.

“Noo!” Tom yelled. “Mr. Garth is no wizard! He’s a dragon, who kidnaps little kids like us!”

“What for?” Crystal, the youngest of the group, wondered aloud.

“To find an apprentice! And Mr. Garth will give his powers to that kid!” Abigail insisted.

“NO!” Tom objected, his face red and his arms waving above his head. “Mr. Garth is a dragon who eats little kids! He’ll eat you tomorrow, Crystal!”

Crystal’s eyes widened and she let out a small whimper. “Y-you’re joking, right?”

“Joking! As if.” Tom scoffed. He grinned as the other children stared at him with anticipation. “Mr. Garth has large jaws and a furry mane, just like a tiger… He’s got glowing red eyes and sharp claws, which he’ll use to rip you apart like this!!”

Tom roared out of his seat and lunged at Crystal, his arms spread open and his fingers curled into miniature claws. Crystal let out a shriek and scooted away, turning to the outstretched arms of her older brother, George. George was the eldest of the bunch, and everyone else looked up to him in some way.

“Stop it, Tom,” George rolled his eyes. “First of all, tigers don’t have manes. Only male lions have them.” George sniffed. “Second, Mr. Garth can’t be a dragon. Dragons are huge, and they can’t live in such a small house.” He sniffed again.

“Lastly, we’re not little kids. Right, everyone?” He was replied with nodding heads. George sniffed again. He smiled at Tom, his chin pointing to the sky. Tom sighed, but he didn’t give up.

“Alright. Say he isn’t a dragon. What is he then?” Tom raised an eyebrow.

“Well…” George noticed that all the other children were staring at him in anticipation. He couldn’t bear to say that he didn’t know, so he sniffed again. “Mr. Garth is –”

 “He must be Santa in disguise!” a boy with flaming red hair yelled. George breathed a sigh of relief, and the boy, Kit, continued. “Mr. Garth is just Santa, but he’s watching over us and checking if we’re good or not… You know, he’ll give us Christmas presents if we don’t lie and if we study hard…”

“He can’t be Santa!” squealed Crystal. “Santa lives in the Telephone Pole!” The other kids giggled, and Crystal looked questioningly at them with her large, deer-like eyes. “He lives in the North Pole, silly,” giggled Abigail, clutching her stomach.

Crystal’s face turned red like a tomato, but she insisted quietly that since nobody had been to the North Pole, nobody could say for sure. This sparked another argument, with a girl named Amelia claiming that her grandmother had talked about explorers going to the North Pole before.

Tom countered this claim, saying that it was far too hot to go there. “It’s very cold there, the hot ones are the desserts,” Kit said quickly, to which George sniffed and corrected him (“It’s called the desert, where cool stuff like camels and cactuses live,” he said proudly, to which the other kids oohed at).

The topic of the North Pole seemed exciting for the children, but they soon lost interest and talked about camels and cactuses. Soon, they forgot about their initial topic: who Mr. Garth was.

Only one child remembered this topic, and it stayed on her mind as she walked away. She was a quiet child, and hadn’t said a word at all during the discussion. She sat farther from the others, and was small in size, so she seemed quite obscure. Her name was Olivia.

Olivia Burbons.

Olivia lived with her parents near the bakery, and every day she would wake up to the fresh smell of baked bread. She would walk to school like other children, study well like other children, and join the other children as they played or had chit-chat – well, she was usually just listening. And she listened really well. She would laugh when Crystal said something funny, and she would frown when Tom teased anyone, she sometimes tried to copy George and his sniffing.

Now it may seem as if Olivia was like any other normal child out there, but she was not always ‘like other children’. Such is the case today, as she frowned and wondered about Mr. Garth’s true identity. He could be a wizard. He could be a dragon too, although Olivia really doubted whether he kidnapped children or not. After all, there had never been any missing children…

“Wait, there are missing children during Mrs. Gertrude’s class…” Olivia murmured, “and Mrs. Gertrude is the scary math teacher who talks about numbers all day long…” Olivia paused. She was sure that the missing children were actually running away from class, probably with the excuse that they were sick or had stomach ache. That means Mr. Garth had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Garth as Santa… Olivia never thought of him as Santa before, after all, she never heard him say ‘hohoho’. But what if he wasn’t Mr. Garth at all? “If that’s the case, perhaps Kit was right.” Mr. Garth was Santa. “If he’s Santa, I wonder where his reindeers are…”

Realizing she was getting ahead of herself, Olivia shook her head and quickened her pace. She was going to meet him. She walked briskly to their usual meeting place: the local park.

She thought back to the first time they had met. “Who are you?” Olivia had asked, her eyes wide open as she floated in the air. “I’m… just a passerby,” the hooded figure had said softly, as if afraid he would scare her. Scare her? No way, she was relieved instead. Olivia felt her face turn pale the moment she fell off the tree, but when the invisible arms wrapped themselves around her and brought her flying, she felt her heart calm down.

Thank goodness, she wouldn’t drop down and get scolded by Mother for soiling her dress. You see, Olivia had been playing Pirates by herself in the park that day, when she thought it was a good idea to climb a tree. (“I’m sure I’ll have a better view if I stand on the tree,” she had reasoned.) She managed to climb the largest tree, located at the far edge of the park, but then she slipped and fell. It would’ve been really bad if she had gone crashing down…

The man who saved her stood in the shadow of the tree; his eyes trained on Olivia to check if she was okay. Olivia watched the tip of dark blue hood (the only visible part of him) as she landed gently on the ground. Olivia tapped her foot on the ground several times to make sure she was on solid ground and not up in the sky like a bird, before turning to the hooded figure. But he was gone, leaving behind only the sweet scent of apples.

“Oh dear, he shouldn’t have left so quickly,” she murmured. “I wanted to thank him. Oh well.”

She hoped she could meet him again, and soon enough, she did. Every time they met, The Passerby (she took the liberty of calling him so) stood in the shadows, only the tip of his dark blue hood could be seen. Olivia had always hoped to get a glimpse of his face, but he was ever so careful. After several chance meetings, they became friends, and the large tree in the park (their first meeting place), became their secret meeting place.

Olivia always imagined The Passerby as an old man, probably carrying a long staff, and wearing tiny spectacles like Professor Calculus from Father’s Tintin comic books. After all, he had mentioned that he was very old, and he often complained of having back pain. Olivia couldn’t wait to get older and experience this phenomenon which always made him grumble angrily.

The Passerby was many things for her. He was like the best friend she always wished for. He seemed like the kindly grandfather she never had. He was her mentor, because he’d listen to her and answer all the questions she had in mind. He was also the best storyteller she knew. He didn’t ramble in a single tone like the teachers at school. She loved listening to his epic tales, especially when he told her about his battles with Gareth the Great Lord of Evil, whose nickname was GGLE.

“What a silly nickname!” Olivia had said at the time. “Exactly,” The Passerby had grumbled, “Hmph! The Great Lord of Evil? More like Gareth the Great Loser at Everything! I’m telling you, Olivia, that man is a terrible bastard… Eh, I mean brat… yes, he’s a brat.”

Olivia did not know what bastard meant, but it was probably used to label evil people, the bad guys. “If he’s so bad, why is he proudly showing it with his nickname? I don’t get it…” Olivia thought she saw The Passerby nod along. “I don’t get it either, but maybe it’s in his bones…”

Today, when the other children had wondered about Mr. Garth’s true identity, Olivia wondered if The Passerby was actually him. If that was the case, perhaps he did not want to be seen by anyone because he was ugly, or maybe it was because he could use magic (now Olivia was smart enough to figure this out, because only magic could make you fly), or maybe because…

“What are you thinking so hard about?” came a familiar, rusty voice. Olivia was hit with the smell of apples, and she snapped back to her senses. She had arrived in the park without realizing it! She smiled at the speaker, The Passerby. “You’re early, Mr. Passerby,” she chirped.

“Well, I think you’re later than usual today. And on such an important day, too,” he chuckled.

“Important day?” Olivia raised an eyebrow.

“Yes… hmm…”

Olivia imagined him stroking his whitish beard and giggled. She stroked her chin too, trying to put on her wisest face.

“What are you doing?” The Passerby was amused.

“Hehe,” Olivia’s smile exposed her dimples.

“Olivia,” The Passerby’s voice turned serious, “What do you think of being my disciple?”

“Disciple? What’s that?”

“Well, it means you’ll be my student, and I’ll teach you everything I know.” The Passerby paused. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I’m sure you’ll need some time to think, so just – “

“I’ll do it. I’ll be your disciple, Mr. Passerby. I’ll be super obedient, and I’ll do all my homework well. I won’t sleep during your class, promise…”

The Passerby seemed quite stunned. “Are you sure? I’m not just teaching you anything, you know. I’ll be teaching you magic. Real magic. And this kind of thing needs hard work,” he said tentatively.

“Oh Mr. Passerby, everything in life needs hard work. We have to do our best in everything, even magic! So, I’m sure I can do it!” Olivia meant her words, and The Passerby knew it.

“Alright, Olivia. Good girl. Now, I’m going to show you something that you’ve been wanting to see…”

Olivia gasped. “Are you finally going to show me your face?!” Olivia’s eyes widened and she looked at him with gleaming eyes.

“Yes, Olivia. The moment you have been waiting for has finally arrived. I just hope you’re not disappointed with how I look.” The Passerby stepped out of the shadows, and pulled off his hood, revealing a youthful, neat, face. He looked like any other teenager Olivia had seen in town, but he had pointed ears that stood out. He was dressed quite plainly, and Olivia was disappointed to find that he did not have a beard, and he did not wear spectacles either.

The Passerby bent his body to meet Olivia’s questioning gaze and grinned. “I look young, don’t I? Well, I’m actually more than a hundred years old,” he whispered.

There was something about him that held Olivia in awe. Was it the distinct smell of apples that surrounded him? Was it the twinkle in his eyes? Or was it because he had an air of magic around him? She didn’t know, but Olivia knew for sure that she liked him, and he would be a good mentor.

The Passerby flew up to the tree and perched himself on a high branch. He brought Olivia too, and she sat comfortably on his lap as they talked. Nothing had changed much for Olivia. The Passerby was still her friend, mentor, and grandfather – albeit without a beard, and now she could see his face. The sun was setting, so The Passerby told her to go home soon. He brought her down and bid her goodbye.

“Oh, wait, I’ve got a question, Mr. Passerby,” she whispered.

“Ask away, Olivia.” He nodded.

“You’re that Mr. Garth, aren’t you?” Olivia asked earnestly. He nodded slowly.

“Wow…” To think she was friends with Mr. Garth! The Mr. Garth that everybody was talking about was her friend! Olivia had thousands more questions for him, but he insisted that she go home. “It’s late. Your parents will worry about you, you know…”

That day, as Olivia went home, her heart smiling.

***

That night, as Olivia lay in bed, her thoughts drifted to the events of the day. School had been boring, as usual, and other than the surprise quiz that Mr. Ozzoly (the Math teacher) had given, nothing else was out of the ordinary. But today was special. She got to see The Passerby’s – no, Mr. Garth’s real face. He told her she’d be his disciple. It had been simply wonderful.

Olivia heard a rap on the window. She jumped out of bed, throwing away her pink blanket. Is it a bird? A squirrel? She opened the window, the cold air drifting in. She looked around, but there was no squirrel. Disappointed, she quickly closed the window. But before she could shut the latch firmly in place, a dark robed figure appeared.

The figure was flying in front of the window and knocking the glass pane. Now Olivia’s house had two floors, with Olivia’s room being in the second floor. As such, unless you had magic, or a ladder, you would not be able to reach Olivia’s window so easily. Olivia knew this, and seeing the familiar dark blue hood, she knew who her midnight visitor was.

“Mr. Passerby! I mean, Mr. Garth!” Olivia whispered as she opened the window.

“Sorry, dear, but this is urgent.” The hooded figure said. “Can I come in?”

Now common sense has told us not to open the door for strangers, but Olivia knew Mr. Garth quite well, and he was no stranger to her.

“Open your hood first, please,” she said firmly, just in case. To her relief, when the hood was thrown backward, she was greeted with the same Mr. Garth she saw earlier that day.

“Come in, Mr. Garth,” she nodded at him. He smiled warmly and patted her head.

Once inside, Mr. Garth lifted her into the air with magic. “Are you okay, dear?” he murmured, as he put her gently on the bed. “I feel fine. What’s wrong?” she noticed that his eyes were shaking.

“Olivia, I’m afraid my magic has been affecting you badly, so I’m going to do a checkup, okay? It won’t hurt. I promise,” his voice was hasty. Olivia saw his hands trembling. ‘He must be concerned,’ she thought. Mr. Passerby was always thinking about her wellbeing, after all.

“Lie down and close your eyes, and count to a hundred. I’ll be checking you pulse and organs.”

“Okay,” Olivia did as she was told.

A cold hand reached for her neck.

Two fingers were placed on the side of her neck.

A pause.

Snap!

Olivia stopped breathing.

Her last thoughts were simple. “Why didn’t Mr. Garth smell like the usual apples?”

***

Mr. Garth stood up and smiled. Suddenly, the window was thrown open and a man with an identical face burst in, his heart pounding in fear. He saw Olivia’s pale, lifeless face and clenched his fists.

“How dare you, Gareth!” Mr. Garth roared at his brother.

The other ‘Mr. Garth’, or Gareth the Great Lord of Evil, merely smirked.

“You’ll have to keep looking if you want another disciple, brother…” Gareth drawled.

“Maybe next time you should be more careful…”

***

The next day, news of Olivia’s murder spread through the town. Everyone suspected the perpetrator to be the allusive Mr. Garth. When the police searched his house, though, they found no one and nothing.  People were gossiping that Mr. Garth was the culprit, but who could say for sure? After all, no one had seen him.

No one knew him. He was a mystery.

Olivia Burbon's death remained a mystery, and very few knew the truth.

July 16, 2021 02:12

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2 comments

Miriam Ngatia
22:29 Jul 21, 2021

The story has a humorous beginning. The kids misspelt words and their back and forth is funny. The twist at the end where Gareth and Mr. Garth appear is unexpected. Well written!

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03:49 Jul 24, 2021

Thanks for the feedback!

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