Section 1: History
Section 2: Literature
Section 3: Philosophy
Section 4: Creative
Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle…tinkle, tinkle… Patrick groaned. Damn, what's that ghastly noise? Glass from the broken bottle was it, the heat from the fire making any shards that fell nearby…tinkle? No, they would explode, wouldn't they, or just…melt?
Oh, what bloody goddamn difference did it make where the blasted noise was coming from, when his head ached too much for him to even raise his eyelids. Patrick was letting all his senses slide back into the welcome darkness, when the additional and unmistakable sound of a voice jolted him awake from his stupor.
"Ah-ha! I knew that would do it!"
Patrick sat bolt upright on the sofa, pain stabbing through his forehead as his eyes popped open.
He couldn't believe his senses! In incredulity, he beheld a cherubic little man--small, round, smooth-headed and pale, smiling at him in the greatest delight from the most blandly innocent face imaginable. Patrick's jaw had never literally dropped open before, but if it had been long enough, it would have struck his chest at that moment and done some real damage.
"Jesus, Joseph and Mary! Who the hell are you, man?" he gasped. "Oww, my head," he groaned, clasping a hand to it.
The little man beamed sympathetically, extending his right hand. "My name is Gilbert, Professor Thornhart. I do apologize for waking you--I had no choice, but I tried to do it gently." Gilbert displayed the crystal bell he held in his hand. Shaking it delicately, he produced a faint tinkling sound. "I usually take this with me wherever I go. It does the trick, and it reminds me, you see."
Patrick blinked, realizing now that that was what had awakened him, but that was all he understood. Suddenly, too many months of living on the edge kicked in and he turned on the strange visitor.
"As I said…Gilbert…who the hell are you?" he demanded in a rough voice, his original befuddlement transformed to fear-tinged anger. How had this intruder evaded the safeguards of his access-controlled house? Patrick's well-developed reflexes, never dormant for long, swung into action almost without his volition. Leaping up in a single jungle-cat-like motion, he grabbed the little man's neck--what there was of it--between his hands, to shake some real answers out of him.
"Oh, dear! There's no need to manhandle me, Professor!" the little man wheezed in his high-pitched voice. "N-naturally, you're a wee bit--upset--but please! I assure you, there's no need at all for violence!"
And Patrick found himself staring at his hands, which were suddenly positioned up in the air inches away from his face rather than surrounding the man's neck, the last place he could remember putting them. The little man formerly within his grip was now halfway across the room.
"What the bloody hell--did you fly over there, man? I didn't drink that much!" he muttered, shaking his head, which didn't help his headache.
"Oh, I'm terribly afraid that you did, Professor, but that's irrelevant--I just gave you a little demonstration, that's all. You might have brute force, you know, but there are other types of power, so I wanted to teach you a little lesson," the intruder told him helpfully. "Just so you'll know, and for future reference, I'm no longer subject to physical laws and limitations. Once you understand and accept that, and a few other things, I'm sure we'll rub along famously!"
"Look," Patrick began, still utterly confused. "I don't know how you did that, how you got into my house, or why you're here, but if you don't tell me exactly who the hell you are and what your game is, I'll--" He advanced towards the man, but found that his feet were rather glued to the carpet. His aching head began clearing fast.
"Oh, dear!--they told me you might be difficult!--but I told them I was up to a challenge," Gilbert interrupted. "And they most certainly gave me one, did they not! I've already introduced myself, Professor--my name is Gilbert and, as I said, being free from physical laws, I had no difficulty admitting myself into your house." He added earnestly, "I felt that would save time, and I certainly mean you no harm, so if you'll just give me a chance to explain why I'm here--"
"Gilbert," Patrick repeated. Yes, he had introduced himself
as Gilbert. But nothing else the man said had made the slightest bit of
sense, or had answered his questions. "Gilbert what?" he asked
suspiciously. Tentatively he tried to lift his right foot a fraction of
an inch above the floor. It moved.
"Oh, just Gilbert! We don't need last names," Gilbert informed him airily. "May I sit down? This may take awhile."
"No! I want you out of my bloody house--now," Patrick ordered. "Or I'm callin' the constable. Unless you want to spend the night in jail, you'd best get your arse movin'." Of course, the threat was an empty one: he didn't dare draw attention to himself by contacting any member of the Irish peacekeeping establishment.
"Really--well, I'm afraid I'm not so easy to dislodge as all that! I'm rather persistent," the strange little man named Gilbert said a bit unnecessarily. "Please, I assure you that my being here is all perfectly in order, if you'll only--"
The man's admitted persistence was not reassuring, and Patrick's adrenaline was still flowing. He lunged at Gilbert once more. "Who sent you?" he roared. "Do you work for Eamon Bass? Todd Manning? Thomas Keneally? No--you're a mate of Michael Mahoney's, aren't you, you little piece of--"
Gilbert sidestepped the attack as gracefully as a ballerina en pointe--he could almost have been said to float--and Patrick somehow landed ungracefully on his posterior on the floor, with a loud "ooph," his long limbs scissoring the air.
"Oh, dear, dear me, Professor Thornhart, no," Gilbert replied as calmly if nothing had happened, and then shuddered delicately. "No one I know works for them--they work for the opposition, if you catch my meaning. But let's not talk about them at the moment. I'm here to talk about you, and I truly mean you no harm. Now, if I may repeat my request, shall we sit down and begin?"
Glowering , Patrick managed to climb to his feet. "So you won't tell me what game you're playin'?" he asked warily, circling Gilbert.
Gilbert gave a long-suffering sigh. "If that's how you wish to phrase it, that's exactly what I have been proposing to do, Professor, if you will be so kind? The floor really isn't very comfortable, is it? Your chesterfield looks much more accommodating."
Suddenly feeling utterly deflated, Patrick gave a bitter laugh. He had been bested twice--for the life of him, he couldn't seem to lay a hand on this odd little man. Yet so far Gilbert's actions had consisted of protecting himself from Patrick--perhaps he knew some kind of tricky karate move--rather than harming him in return. Maybe this was just a nightmare, or the accumulated whiskey in his system was making him hallucinate. Whatever was going on, Patrick's innate curiosity, as well as his anger, was piqued. Anyway, no matter who or what Gilbert was--a paid assassin, a magician, a lunatic, or all three--he was here--and Margaret was safely away in Llanview, so.…
"Margaret," he breathed. "I've got to call her, see if she's all right!"
Smiling, Gilbert gave a subtle wink.
A few seconds later the phone rang, and Patrick nearly jumped out of his skin. He grabbed for the receiver. "Who is it?" he growled into the mouthpiece.