A Game of Pente in the Oaken Hotel
There are five of us, of course. We pass the bowl of Turkish Delight and sip white tea from cups so porcelain they taste of rum.
"Festive!" we joke, speaking of the red and green glass pieces on the board.
"Was this colorful Christmas confluence pre-planned?" asks Marilyn, ever witty.
"A-ha! Surely we should have worn matching holiday attire!" jokes another.
At this, Monsieur the fox hunter sits down with a snifter of brandy, already 2/3 empty before lunch.
"Who’s up for a good fox hunt?" he asks our library gathering.
No one responds or answers.
"I say!” he repeats. “Who is up for a good hunting of foxes?"
"Look, Monsieur Fox Hunter," I respond, calmly, after assuring myself that no one else wishes to speak. "You have disturbed our Pente with your talk of hunting and foxes. Please-"
"Pente can wait, but the foxes are ripe for the picking!" he bellows.
"If we’ve told you once, we’ve told you a thousand times. We do not find it gay."
"And this... this childish board game of a strategic Asian nature? You find this gay?"
"I have 4 pairs," I say. "What point is there to argue with you?"
At this, Marilyn faints. "Oh!" she says, "I feel-".
"Now look what you’ve done with your disturbing speech, fox man! Now just look at Marilyn on the floor!"
Henceforth, the old oak library shelf begins to stir.
"Who moves there, I say! Who moves behind the leather bound almanac?"
Gasp! A fox!
Upon reviving Marilyn, the Monsieur is nowhere to be found. And, as a topper, he’s absconded with our hand-painted milkglass bowl of Turkish Delight!
"A timely exit, fox man!" I yell to the dark tin ceiling "And I am speaking with sarcasm, you know! The devil to you!"
What happened was this: As the leather bound almanac began to quiver, I moved near the oak bookcase to inspect the volume's seemingly self-propelled fluttering. When the reference book popped from the shelf like a toy on a spring in a wooden box, what appeared in its place was none other than a fox - plugging a perfectly concentric hole like a soft, red cork!
The fox was not still, instead he was wriggling free, as illustrated by his frantic movements (a hard bearing-down on his front paws, and occasional grunting). Once freed, he appeared again, but with less effort. But how can this be? You see, it cannot! It was, in a word, a different fox manifesting through the same hole!
At this, the hole became a momentous blur of orange and brown as foxes began teeming forth in an arcing stream, like thick au jus pouring from the mouth of a bull-shaped china gravy boat. And all this while Monsieur the fox hunter made his timely exit. Blast!
Quickly, we discovered that this perfectly concentric hole was none other than a portal: A portal... to foxes! Henceforth, Marilyn faints.
"The hole,” she mutters. “Why, it’s none other than a portal! A portal to foxes!"
"Blast you, fox man! Now look what you've done!" barks Palnikov, previously quiet in this tale.
"I could tell from your besotted derby that you were up to no good! Now you leave us here to drown our adam’s apples in foxes?! What trickery!"
The floor is nowhere to be seen. The room is filling with the forest creatures like a claw-foot bathtub without a drain. Does the rug really come up to our shins? Marilyn is also nowhere to be seen, covered such that she is by our soft wading pool.
To flee or to sweep? This is our current dilemma.
Although you may imagine our group to be in the midst of a commotion, in fact, the foxes are, in fact, quite docile. To avoid injury, one needs only to remove oneself from their trajectory! The moment the foxes spring from the (surely mysterious) hole, their eyes close gently and they settle down as if for a long winter’s nap.
But for how long will they sleep? From what dark dream have they sprung forth? What of the Monsieur? And who is keeping score on the Pente board? This hotel has too many strange bookcases.
The Final Chapter: The Return of The Fox Man
"Holy, holy! What in the blood of cavalrymen!?" booms the Monsieur as he enters the heavy mahogany doorway, smacking a bound Pente rule book against the wainscoting.
"Oh ho! An unfortunate return, Fox Man! Caught in the happenstance of your own treachery."
"Help! Here I am!" cries Nigel, inundated now with small foxes, sleeping all about his shoulders and head. "Help! Help remove these foxes from my chapeau!"
"Now's your chance, Fox Man,” I jeer. “Show us your true mettle. Stop Nigel's bobbing about and lend him a broom!"
The Monsieur's face becomes purple as a beet salad and his mouth quivers up and down like a steam pipe. "But... but... how can this be? I left not quarter of an hour ago to retrieve the Pente rule book from my..."
His breath is cut short, a half-penny. A steam pipe stuck open.
"From your what, betrayer, eh? From your what, do tell?"
"From my cedar traveling trunk. The one that was given to me by an old grey gypsy on the day I... I-"
"Oh, for the sake of Saint Peter! Spit it out already, double agent!"
"The day I shot their pet fox!"
Gasp! The room cannot speak and even the windows stop rattling. I would swear the surge of foxes flowing from the bookcase even stops for a moment; all time stops for just one moment.
Henceforth, Marilyn kisses me.
"Oh," she says, "All time stops for just one moment!"
And her palms open across my shoulders, she tastes of Turkish Delight and perhaps something sweeter.
"Blast, Marilyn! Is now the time for games?"
She answers only "Again." and "Again." kissing me gently as foxes pile all around, engulfing us. We fall backwards into the seething orange rapids. Like birds in flight the fox-throng moves in controlled chaos up the walls and inside the fireplace.
Marilyn's small fingers wrap around mine, and she laughs at the muffled cries of the Monsieur still barking: "What's all this, then?" and "Hoom! Where's my scarf gone to!" as the whole lot of us are carried the devil knows where. Or perhaps, even he doesn't know. Truth be told, I've heard tales that here in this hotel, the devil himself watches in suspense.