Albert sat calmly in his cell for the fourth day of his imprisonment. Roger, a guard Albert had become quite friendly with, had provided him with a deck of playing cards for his amusement, and he passed the time playing solitaire and practicing fancy methods of shuffling and dealing the cards. He snapped the cards together, then spread them into a fan with a smooth gesture. I’m a little rusty, but I don’t think I’ve brought shame to my youthful self, Albert thought with a smile towards memories of his younger years.
Roger appeared at the cell door. “Mr. Hedley? If it warn’t too much trouble, my friend Howard here, he’d like to listen to what you’ve got to say about those beasts you were telling me about.” His companion peered out from behind him with a curious glance for Albert.
“It’s no trouble at all gentlemen. Please, pull up a chair.”
Roger nodded to Howard and then brought a chair for Howard, stationing himself to the side to look for anyone who might be coming.
“My friend here tole me you knew what was causin the attacks we’ve been seein,” Howard said to Albert, “or rather, not seeing.”
“I do know.”
“Would you be fixin to tell us then?”
“Very large creatures that we cannot ordinarily see.”
“Invisible creatures is eatin us then?”
“Well, I have never seen anyone eaten, have you?” Albert asked in all seriousness.
“Don’t s’pose I have,” Howard answered after some consideration.
“What is happening is that these creatures are…overlapping with us. They try to take up the same space as we do and people get hurt.”
“S’posing that what you say is true, then,” Howard began, with a significant look at Roger, “why would these creatures want to do a thing like that?”
“It’s accidental. All but a few of them are completely unaware of our existence. They come from a world very different from ours.”
“Another world? Invisible creatures from another world?” Howard laughed. “Roger, you must be getting awfully bored, with only one man in the jail. Haha, you’ve told me a good one,” he said to Albert.
“What if I told you that I could prove the truth of my story, right here, right now?” Albert said.
“That’s why I had to bring you,” Roger said. “He wouldn’t show only me. It had to be two of us.”
“Why two of us?” Howard asked.
“Because only one of you would never be believed,” Albert said. “If two of you say the same thing, there might be a chance.”
“Why are you so keen that we believe this anyway?” Roger asked.
“Because the more people that know the truth, the greater a chance we have of surviving,” Albert answered. “Are you ready to see my proof? It may be quite a shock for you.”
“Alright then,” Roger said. “On with it.”
“Very well.” Albert took off his jacket. Perched on his shoulder was a small, oval shaped tentaclebeast, no longer than a loaf of bread. Black with light blue zebra striping, it also sported a blue underside. Around its back was a flat, thin fin, and atop its head two shiny black eyes protruded above a number of short, thick black tentacles with blue spots that gave the beast a moustached appearance.
Then men stared in shock, mouths and eyes open equally wide, and made not a sound.
Roger was the first to speak. “Why…why didn’t they…take that thing from you…when you got here?”
“Because they did not remember that it was there.”
“Those…things make you forget?” Roger continued.
“Some forget. Not all. And that is why I need you gentlemen. There are some very important people who need to believe the truth in what I’m saying, even if they can’t recall the evidence for themselves. If they can’t remember, then the ordinary people of Aldershire must remember for them.”
Howard still had not spoken, and Roger fell silent. They stared at the tentaclebeast for some time. For its part, the creature perched serenely on Albert’s arm, Albert having previously made the necessity for stillness and quiet clear beyond all doubt.
“What do you want us to do?” Roger asked.
“Remember, and tell everyone you know what you’ve seen. There are tentaclebeasts that will work with us to stop the attacks. But we can’t do it if no one understands what’s truly happening.”
There were footsteps approaching rapidly, and Albert quickly covered the tentaclebeast with his jacket once more. I’ve taken a foolish risk, he thought. How many can I show from a jail cell? And how will this little fellow ever make it home again? he thought of his unintended stowaway. Roger took Howard’s hand and pulled him to a standing position, because the man was still clearly in shock, and quickly returned the chair to where it had been.
Albert heard their conversation while Howard stood somewhat listlessly by the cell.
“Mayor, sir, what can I do for you sir?” Roger said. Albert detected the slight tremor that told him Roger was still a bit shaken by his experience.
“I’m here on Governor’s orders to have the prisoner released,” John Carrolton said. Albert heard a rustle of papers.
“Very well, sir, shall I fetch him for you?”
“Yes, do that,” John said irritably.
“Straightaway sir.” Albert heard a clanging of keys and Roger returned.
“You’re to go home then,” Roger said simply.
Albert took the deck of cards and held it out to Roger. “Thank you, Roger,” he said, looking Roger in the eyes and lifting his right shoulder ever-so-slightly.
“Keep ‘em,” Roger said in a low voice as he nodded. “They’re a gift.”
Albert nodded back, and Roger unlocked his cell and escorted him back to the mayor as Albert glanced with some concern at Howard. He’s not taking to it, Albert thought with disappointment.
“Mr. Albert Hedley,” John began, “You are to be released. I…apologize…for the…mistake of your having been arrested in the first place. There was a misunderstanding.”
“Indeed,” Albert said, smiling lightly.
“We’re most sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you,” John continued, fighting to keep his tone civil, or at least somewhat sincere.
“I’m sure you are,” Albert said.
“You’re to be conveyed home immediately. A carriage is waiting for you. I trust you won’t be needing anything else?”
“Not at this time,” Albert said, “except, perhaps, the assurance that such a “misunderstanding” won’t be happening in the future?”
“I assure you, Mr. Hedley, that it will not,” John said in a pantomime of accomodation.
“Very well then. On to the carriage!” Albert said brightly, with a wide grin, enjoying every moment of John’s discomfort.
“This way!” John said as he turned on his heel and briskly walked out.
Albert leaned over to Roger. “Your friend, take care of him. He’s not going to remember. There may be nightmares. Don’t try to tell him, just let it pass. I’m sorry.”
“You did what you had to do,” Roger said.
Albert nodded. “Good luck.” He turned and followed John out of the jail.