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The Strange Town in the Middle of the Forest by Max Szredni (Part 44)

CHAPTER SEVEN (continued)

* * *
    Domei scanned the lamplit wreckage of the Towers, unsure of how to proceed. Getting there had been easy; he had simply walked out the front door. Caretaker Fein had been fast asleep, having gone to bed early in preparation for tomorrow's rotation, and Mil, of course, had been sent to bed hours ago. No—the issue at present was the Towers' smell; having baked in the sun for an entire day, their stench was overpowering. Clearly the old crones were having difficulty keeping up with the ludicrous quantities of browns and yellows the Towers produced each day. A couple of the elderly were still walking about, trying as hard as they could to heft their buckets to and from the carriers. The problem was that their rickety knees and arthritic joints could only carry them so far before the pain forced them to give up and dump the sludge. On most trips, they were hardly able to reach the outskirts of the fallen Towers. What this amounted to was a ring of putridity, an obstacle Domei would have to traverse to find the answers he sought.
    Domei did not bother trying to daintily step around the dense puddles. Instead he sprinted through their vileness, breath held, wincing with every squelch and splash his boots made in the foul muck. EW! EW! EW! EEEEW! he screamed silently.
    As insurmountable as the gauntlet had seemed at first, he was at its end before too long. The smell did not get any better, however, and he realized his pantaloons were probably plastered with the evil matter.
    There was no rhyme or reason to the way the Towers had fallen, but Domei was not there to look for tracks or clues as to how this travesty came to be. He needed answers of another kind. Using the same logic he had applied while hunting for a lavatory in the Town Museum, he figured one Tower was as good as another to start his search with.
    Uncertain how to get a Tower's attention, he considered politely knocking on one's base, when he noticed movement from the corner of his eye. He whipped around, scrutinizing the various pools of lamplight. There it was again! It was a silhouette—a person in Academy robes, walking amidst the slug-like wicker tubes. Domei crept closer, curious.
    His boot scuffed against a Tower's corner. Cringing, Domei whispered "sorry" before moving on again. He did not have to worry about kicking one of their legs luckily—the carriers had long past tucked them into the Towers' frameworks, attempting to keep the swarming mosquitoes from sucking them dry. As Domei approached the figure—now squatting next to one of the Towers, murmuring into its porthole—he pressed his stomach to the ground and breathed as quietly as he could, opting to slither atop the grass the remaining distance. A minute passed in this stealthy fashion, Domei crawling closer and closer to the figure, until they were barely fifteen-feet apart. Domei paused at the edge of the lamplight. Positioned as they were, the academic's face was completely hidden in shadow, but, soon enough, they pulled their hooded head into view.
    Academic Morelle?
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