by Harper Cole
One fine April morning, Antimony Jackson tripped over the collection of stuffed animals that cluttered her hallway.
‘Bother it,’ she muttered. ‘How did my house get so treacherous? Someone really needs to tidy up.’
As Antimony lived alone, she was forced to conclude that the ‘someone’ in question was going to be her. She began to move the animals into a single corner, but doing so unleashed a cloud of dust, which triggered a quite savage sneezing fit.
‘Fiddlesticks,’ she groaned. ‘Who let all this build up? It certainly wasn’t my doing.’
Picking up the dust with her bare hands, particle by particle, struck her as a lot of work. Fortunately, she had a technological alternative – a dustpan and brush, acquired some years ago from a door-to-door salesman for the exorbitant sum of forty-nine pence.
Antimony staged a round trip to the attic to retrieve the cleaning equipment; four stories up, four stories down. By the time she returned her breath was rasping with exhaustion.
‘Crumbs!’ she wheezed. ‘How did the layout of things get so confusticating around here? That’s my fourth trip to the attic this weekend. Something needs to change.’
Clack! Her letterbox had opened to admit a crude, photocopied leaflet. She deftly plucked the fluttering page from the air.
It was, of course, an advertisement for a house cleaning service. She read:
MAKE YOUR HOME IMP-PERFECT!!
The best cleansing and rearrangement service on the market, carried out by a friendly-if-slightly-mischievous imp.
Unbeatable costs*! Unbeatable service!
I have worked in the industry for over three thousand years, helping people all over the world bring life and sparkle to homes that have lost their lustre.
Please note that I am an imp, not a demon! Therefore …
· 100% guaranteed not to corrupt your soul!
· 100% guaranteed not to poison your heart!
· 100% guaranteed that your flesh shall not crumble away to reveal an unspeakable horror that lies beneath!
Why not give me a try?
*Please see overleaf for details of payment and summoning ceremony.
Antimony was pleased; this was just what she’d been hoping for.
She performed the ceremony in her attic a few days later. The various symbols were easy enough to paint, but creating the chalice-full of tears wasn’t so easy; Antimony prided herself on being a pessimistic, gloomy woman, but crying on demand was no easy feat. Still, in time the chalice was filled, the words of summoning were spoken, and her guest appeared with an almost inaudible pop.
He was tall for an imp, maybe four foot six, with dark green skin, kindly grey eyes and floppy pointed ears.
‘Tzillwrnipyyz,’ he said. Then, as if sensing the need for further explanation, he added, ‘My name. Yours?’
‘How bizarre. Ah, my payment, thank you.’ He picked up the chalice and began sipping the lachrymal fluid inside, nodding with approval at the taste.
‘My parents are both scientists. If I’d been born a day later they’d have called me Promethium.’
‘That’s an interesting story. Excellent! I like to form a bond with my clients. I feel we’ve really connected. So, what do you want done?’
‘Ah,’ Antimony said, and paused thoughtfully. ‘Well, I’d like things laid out so that I don’t have to be going up and down my stairs so often. Then there’s the clutter; every surface seems jam-packed with oddments. My stuffed animals, in particular, are always lying about underfoot. Oh, and things are too dusty, generally speaking.’
Tzillwrnipyyz rubbed at his chin. ‘Okay then. Stairs. Clutter. Animals. Dust.’ He closed his eyes for the barest second. ‘Modifications made.’
‘I’m very efficient. Would you like to take a look?’
The attic door creaked open, letting in a most incongruous sound. It took Antimony some time to recognise it, for it had no place being indoors.
It was the rushing of water.
Stepping through the doorway, she found that her staircase had been replaced by merry rapids, bubbling and gurgling in a spiral down to the ground floor, kept in place by some unfathomable magic.
‘What … ?’
‘It’s your alternative staircase. Enjoy!’ Tzillwrnipyyz gave her a hearty shove in the back, and she plunged head-first into the waters, finding herself rushing downwards at a breathtaking pace, emerging, at last, in her hallway, drenched and gasping for air.
‘There, now, wasn’t that fun?’ The imp had somehow reached ground-level before her.
‘I guess, but how am I supposed to get back up again?’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that. I put a hover platform where the chimney used to be.’
‘And what’s all this? It’s madness down here!’
Indeed it was. A swirling grey globe of dust was rotating in the middle of the hall, and her stuffed animals appeared to have come to life. They were roaming far and wide; a herd of miniature elephant was even walking, disconcertingly, on the ceiling.
‘Stairs replaced!’ Tzillwrnipyyz exclaimed proudly. ‘Walls and ceiling now usable as extra storage space, reducing clutter! Animals no longer lying about! Dust gathered into a pleasing shape for your enjoyment! Must dash now, but please tell your friends about my first rate service!’ He vanished with another faint pop.
‘Well!’ said Antimony, looking with vexation at the chaos around her. ‘I suppose I must invest in a swimsuit …’
It took some time getting used to. The swimming downstairs, the clambering up, the stuffed lions and tigers and double-wattled cassowaries roaming free about the house. In time, though, Antimony grew used to the new layout of her home, and came to glory in its various quirks.
But familiarity breeds contempt! As the seasons passed, her surroundings came to seem normal and mundane.
A year on from her experience, she found another leaflet from Tzillwrnipyyz on her mat.
Antimony read it with a smile. It was time, she decided, for another spring cleaning.
Hi there, I’m from England, still pretty new to writing, lots to learn but I’m dreaming big! I like science fiction, fantasy and quirky characters, which I hope comes across in my work.