10. The Legend of the Cheese Man

7 legend
        The inn was tucked away in a remote corner of the village. As far as it was from the nearest house, it was equally close to a ramshackle old wooden building that sat some ways up the base of one of the mountains, overlooking the village. As they followed the innkeeper, the sight of this foreboding building gave Mustache Guy and Roger the creeps.

        “Now,” began the innkeeper, once all three were inside of the inn, the door securely shut and bolted behind them, “what do you want to know about the Cheese Man?”

        “You mean Ollie? Everything. Tell me everything! He’s my oldest brother and I haven’t seen him since he came here. I haven’t even heard from him!”

        “Ask and you shall receive,” said the innkeeper. “You might want to sit down for this, though. Was your brother… how do I put this… was he always covered with cheese?”

        Mustache Guy slammed into the chair behind him as his knees gave out.

        “I didn’t think so,” muttered the innkeeper. “Sixteen years ago, not long after I built this inn, a man knocked at my door. He was begging for shelter, screaming for it, through the door. I rushed downstairs – this was very early in the morning, mind you, not long before sunrise – to welcome him. But the man, the thing, I saw on the other side of the door was… eerie, to say the least. He was a man, alright, who could walk and talk and think, but he looked like a big, big hunk of swiss cheese. He had eyeballs and a nose and mouth, and even a mustache, but the shape of him was a big square, with two squares sticking out that he could move like arms and two other squares sticking out that he walked on like legs. I was disturbed by his appearance, but I did not have much time to process anything before he ran past me into the inn. Then I saw the villagers. Everyone in the village was marching not far behind him, towards my inn. They carried tree branches lit as torches. They carried pitch forks. They were going to kill him if they could get their hands on him. But in the brief moment that I saw his face, I saw that he was afraid for his life. Whatever kind of monster they thought he was, he was scared like a child. I made up my mind to not let them get to him.

        “When the mob made it to my door, half of them were ready to simply burn the whole inn down in order to make fondue of the Cheese Man. But I talked them out of it, on one condition: I must let them have the Cheese Man, or else kill him myself. I promised that I would murder him with my own two hands, and then shut the door. I did not have much time, so I ran to the back of the inn calling for the Cheese Man. I swore that he could trust me, that I would not hurt him. At last I found him cowering in the kitchen, behind a barrel of pickles. I told him I had a plan.

        “Minutes later, I kicked open the front door and threw a flaming block of cheese out onto the lawn, for the whole crowd to see. They delighted in the spectacle, watched until the last ember had burnt out and there was nothing but a blackened puddle remaining. While they watched that cheese burn – which was all of the cheese I could find in the kitchen, tied together with twine – the Cheese Man snuck out one of the back windows of the inn and hid in the shadows until night fall. Once the sun set and all of the villagers had had enough of standing around and staring at the burnt cheese, he was able to scale the hill up to my old house. You saw it on our way over here, no doubt. I used to live there, but I began neglecting it once I started up the inn. Now the Cheese Man lives there, in secret. He has had to live in squalor these many long years, because we cannot risk maintaining the house lest the villagers grow suspicious.

        “That is the story of the Cheese Man, your brother,” the innkeeper concluded.

        Without a word, Mustache Guy was on his feet and out the door. Before following him, Roger quickly blurted out,

        “Thank you!”

        In seconds the duo reached the foot of the hill Ollie’s home sat atop. They abandoned their rucksacks, for the hill did not rise at more than a thirty degree angle and thus to climb it required none of their fancy equipment. They looked one and other squarely in the eyes, nodded, and began running towards the hill. This running start gave each enough momentum to scale the incline with relative ease. They scrambled and shuffled and, before they knew it, were at the top of the hill, standing only steps away from the building.

        The “door” consisted of one thin board of splintered, weathered wood which did not cover half of the doorway. Mustache Guy, using just his pointer finger, swung this nuisance open. From somewhere deep inside the “house” came muffled piano strokes. Roger and Mustache Guy carefully stepped through the doorway and into the ruined building. Following the dull, heavenly sounds of the piano, they stepped through a creaky hallway, then a dusty room containing a rust-covered phone booth, and then found themselves at the top of a warped stairway leading down to what resembled a dungeon.

        “I’m goin’ first, Rog. If I fall through, get yer butt outta here,” commanded Mustache Guy.

        “Not in a million years. If you fall through, somebody’s got to be here to pull you back up.”

        They began their descent. With each step, the music grew louder and clearer. Neither Roger nor Mustache Guy recognized the piece for what it was: Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto Number Two, Movement Three. But they were haunted by it nonetheless; the speed of the music, in contrast with their slow, careful steps, chilled them to their cores. As they reached the final stair, a figure came into view. Across the cobweb-filled stone dungeon sat someone (or something) at the piano’s bench, swaying as it stuck the keys.

        Roger and Mustache Guy froze at the foot of the stairs. The music blared as they tried to discern the details of the pianist. A black cape was tied around its neck and was draped silkily over the back of the bench. Just above the cape was a rectangular mass of yellow. From each side of the cape extended yellow rectangles, bent in the middle, which came down on the ivories to produce the sweet sounds echoing across the chamber.

        “Ollie?” called Mustache Guy with a quaver.

        The caped figure slammed his yellow blocks of hands down on the piano, halting the concerto. He turned slowly to face the intruders. The moment the pianist locked his eyes on the duo, he cried,

        “Broseph?!”

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