If there was more magic in this painting, then it was Mayor Walpole’s words, as the citizens jumped to them, setting up for the festival in the vineyard.
To start out with, barrels of the best wine were rolled out. Then tables were set up and draped in white cloths with flower petals scattered upon them. Maypoles were erected, booths were set up with games, and stalls put in place with fresh produce and baked bread. Mouthwatering beef was roasted over a fire-pit. While a few people were laughing and drinking; curious to know more about this England that Charlotte came from, most ate their meals gloomily, pretending that she wasn’t there. To them she was a bad penny, a mangy, flea-ridden cat that walks into your house uninvited and plops himself down on your clean bed sheets. While she tried to drown out those who hated her, she could still hear them speaking in harsh rumors behind her back. She was certain that she heard the words “witch,” and “curse” used a couple of times. To those few who were interested, Charlotte would try to find out information about the previous person who entered their world, but they would just brush it aside as if it were of little consequence.
Still, Charlotte was a Fillmore and a Fillmore would not be dissuaded.
“Why don’t you try minding your own business!” said a portly butcher. He was ruddy-faced, with greasy reddish-blond hair to his shoulders, and stubble on his chin. He looked at her with small, beady eyes against a mound of flesh covering his face. His nose was snubbed. As rude as this may be to say, he reminded Charlotte of a pig in an apron.
“Being graced by a stranger is rare, but we count it as a blessing,” he continued, shaking a drumstick, just as greasy as his hair at her. “Adds some seasoning to the stew, if you understand my phrase. Yet even a stew can turn rancid if the ingredients are rotten. ”
“I beg your pardon, but I am afraid I am at a disadvantage, not knowing your name, and I certainly hope that you will pardon any offense,” Charlotte replied, trying to be as graceful as she could.
“I’m the one who prepared the fattened calf for you. Now, eat, drink, and be merry, for the sun must eventually set, and while at it mind your own business.”
Taking his advice, Charlotte helped herself to a chunk of meat, and a slice of bread.
“I didn’t mean to be nosey.”
“But of course you did,” the butcher waved a fat finger at her. “That’s the problem with this town. Too many chickens pecking at each other’s feet instead of for their own food! They want to know everyone’s business. I’m trapped in this loathsome world. How I dream of a much bigger world!”
“That’s enough out of you, Jasper!” Walpole intervened.
The butcher walked away in a huff.
“Pay no attention to him,” said a young lady about Charlotte’s age. “Jasper has always been the disagreeable sort. We joke that he butchers happiness as much as meat.”
“Who might you be?” asked Charlotte.
“Elaine” she said, brushing a hand through her curly red hair. “Anyway, don’t mind him. He’s full of hot air.”
“I have no idea what I did wrong,” Charlotte was perplexed. “Some were inquiring about England and I answered as best I could. What made it improper to ask about the previous resident in turn? Also, am I really that loathed by the others?”
“You did nothing wrong. It’s just a rather sore spot, don’t you know. What happened was a wound inflicted upon our world, but I promise you that no harm will befall you.”
“That’s good,” Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief. “What happened to the previous person?”
Elaine sighed. “The last person who came here, claiming to have come by way of painting, snuffed out his flame.”
“Yes. He killed himself.”
Charlotte felt the festivities darken even further.
“Come,” she said, taking Charlotte by the arm. “A group of us are going to dance around the maypole. Do join us.”
This request ushered Charlotte into a circle of young men and woman, hand in hand, dancing while musicians played fiddles and flutes as she was exchanged, arm hooked to arm, from one young man to another. The men, practically in every sense of the word, swept her off her feet. Though, many more that distrusted her stood aside.
Around midnight the celebration came to an end. Most people had departed, but Elaine, and another youth by the name of Henri, remained by her side.
“Someone else coming here from a painting,” said Henri. “I would never have thought.”
Charlotte was more than happy to tell the pair of them as much as she could. She told them how large her world was, the different countries and nationalities, and its history. They listened intently, swallowing every word she had to say. It wasn’t hard to understand why. When Charlotte asked them about their world, she found out that what she saw was all there was. There was nothing beyond the mountains, the field, or the sea, but a barrier. These, including the woods and the town, were the only things they knew.
“But that must be frightfully dull!” exclaimed Charlotte. “How can one live such an existence?”
No sooner had she said this she berated herself for being rude.
“It’s all we know,” shrugged Elaine.
“Quite right,” said Henri. “But William, the previous resident, felt just the same way you do, the one who” – His sentence was interrupted by Elaine stepping on his foot.
“What happened to him? I know he killed himself, but whatever for?”
Henri returned a stern look back at Elaine. “It would be foolhardy to even think of concealing it. The cat’s out of the bag, and she’ll find out eventually, even if I don’t tell her.”
He looked at Charlotte sadly. “I’m afraid you can’t leave this land.”
“Can’t leave! But my parents” –
“Will never see you again,” continued Elaine in tears.
“No!” Charlotte got up and tried to run from the pain of what she just heard.
“Wait!” Elaine tried to grab her.
But it was no use. No words could comfort Charlotte, and reason wouldn’t work, which was now a poison rather than a balm.
She ran across the field back to where she entered from, only to see a black wall from the night sky. Furiously she pounded upon it, hoping it would shatter. It didn’t, but her parents’ voices came through.
“Now, now, don’t cry, dear,” her father was comforting her mother.
“It’s all my fault,” wept Mrs. Fillmore, “for trying to force her into something she wanted no part of.”
“Now dear, you can’t blame yourself. All we can do is keep a stiff upper lip and hope for the best. I have the constable and everyone else in town searching for her.”
“Oh if she were here right now, how I would cradle her in my arms and tell her I love her!”
“As would I, my dear, as would I.”
“Mother! Father!” yelled Charlotte as loud as she could. “I’m here! Please don’t leave me!”
There was no answer, as their voices faded out of earshot. When Charlotte’s voice was near mute, and her hands sore, she sunk down against the barrier and wailed profusely.
No! This couldn’t be it! But running to the east and to the west only greeted her with that same blasted barrier. There was only one thing left to do, run north to the sea and hope that the barrier would give way there.
Waves pushed her back as she swam against the current. She wasn’t sure how far she swam out. In her desperation, tired arms could not keep her from swimming, but a solid wall could. She mustered as much strength as she could trying to break the barrier, but it wouldn’t give way. But she did. Drained of strength, the waves pushed her back to shore.
Wet and disheveled, she felt very isolated and claustrophobic. If the wall couldn’t shatter, her heart could. She was stuck now. Stuck in a world in which the majority of people hated her.
She was asleep when Henri and Elaine found her.
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