Every tale has its thorns, and all true heroes have drops of blood falling from their fingers. This tale begins with a single drop in a bowl of milk.
Josalin sucked on her hand, and pulled back the bowl. “What a sting you have today, Mr. Morris.”
Mr. Morris glared.
“Don’t look at me with such shattered dignity. It was lost long ago.”
The cat puffed up his fur like a sparrow in the cold.
Josalin laughed. “If only you could see yourself, then you would understand what I mean.”
She tossed the spoiled milk in the gutter and rose to her aching feet. “Another day, another bowl of milk.” She smiled and waved goodbye.
“Tomorrow, then, Mr. Morris.”
Mr. Morris looked perturbed, as if the idea was beyond preposterous.
Josalin climbed the wooden steps that ran up the side of the two-storied building. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Mr. Morris fling his fat body over the crumbling, low garden wall. She smiled.
As Josalin’s foot rested on the final step, she thought of the morning’s first encounter. The innkeeper had slapped that man right across the face. It was a wonder no teeth had come loose! ‘Stay well clear,’ he had said. ‘If I see you ‘round here again, you’ll lose more than that vain smile of yours.’ He would be back though, Josalin had no doubt. And with a throng of pompous assholes filing along in his backwater like little ducklings. Good Mr. Dinham would have to break all their jaws before the night was through. And then, what? The inn would be closed, everyone would lose their jobs, but Dinham might lose even more than that.
Josalin pushed up into the kitchen and was greeted by a happy smile.
“If it isn’t my pretty Josalin! How’s Mr. Morris?“ said Cook.
“I may not be pretty, but that chubby cat is his usual sunny self.” She leaned against the large table with a forlorn sigh and propped up her face with her hands. “Oh, mine love hast abandoned me! Not but a moment ago he flew over the chicken fence and rode into the sunset.”
The old cook humphed her disapproval. “Ran towards the fish market, more likely!”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Josalin, with a wry smile. “I can’t compete with that horrible stench.” She batted her eyes. “I just pray he comes to realize how much I treasure him.”
Cook nudged a pie plate Josalin’s way. “And I pray you carry this into the gentlemen’s private dining room.”
Josalin swooped the plate off the table and backed out the double swinging doors with a courtesy. “Right away, Miss!”
Grumblings followed and a packed main room loomed into sight. The waitress dance began, with its flourishes, swift ducks, and elaborate pirouettes. Josalin steered through the pack of people with practiced ease, easily avoiding grabs and gropes, and lofty looks from richer and prettier women.
It was with a sigh of relief that Josalin entered the narrow hallway and quickly drummed up the swivel staircase. Down the corridor she went, and just as she was about to cut around the corner a man shoved past her, nearly knocking the pie out of her hands.
“Watch where you’re stepping, sir! You’re liable to run yourself into Death one day!”
Annoyed, she stomped over to the dining hall door and gripped the handle. Her hand rested there a moment as she collected herself, and then she stepped inside.
The plate dropped.
It felt like ages before the sharp crash of shattering porcelain brought everything back and Josalin remembered to scream. She fell to her knees, trembling like a foal stuck in an icy rain. Mr. Dinham was dead. No, not just dead, but torn to shreds. Scraps of his body lay strewn across the room and in the blood danced feral footsteps. Only the innkeeper’s head remained untouched, perched perfectly upon a shelf like some grotesque wall ornament.
“M-Mr. Dinham…” she wailed, hysterical beyond measure.
She caught his eyes; they were kind, as always. Not a hint of terror or surprise, he just gazed back at her as if nothing was the matter.
Finally the door opened and the curious poured in. It was such a relief not to be alone anymore, that Josalin could safely crumble and faint. Mr. Dinham’s head smiled at the guests. They did not smile back.