The Magic Quill No. 166: The Cart-o-Matic
Contest winner: greyniffler
Runners-up: Joe & TWZRD
Inside one of the crude huts in the island compound was a large, comfortably decorated room. It had wainscoted walls, a flagstoned hearth, and windows filled with diamond-shaped panes that seemed to admit more light than the conditions warranted. Still more light was provided by flames in hurricane lamps mounted on the walls, lamps that gave off a warm glow even though their crystal oil reservoirs were empty. Bookcases, chairs, a rolltop desk, and a teatable were all cluttered with rolls of parchment and dirty cups.
Harvey sighed when he saw it. He shook his three heads, and one of them said: "This place needs a house-elf's touch."
A noise like a pistol-shot rang off the walls and windows. Several of Harvey's prisoners flinched. But it was, after all, only Dinty the house-elf, appearing with a blue-and-white striped handkerchief tied somewhat in the manner of a sumo wrestler's mawashi. He made three bows, one to each of his master.
"What's this you're wearing?" Harvey 2 demanded. "You're not thrashing that elf from flat 3-E again?"
"Only keeping in condition, sir," piped the elf. "Shall I tidy up, sir?"
"Yes, please, Dinty." Harvey strolled to three of the windows and looked out of them pensively. All three of him raised the same eyebrow in an identical manner. "Interesting," he said in unison. Then he looked around at each other and asked, "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"
"Hippogriff foals frolicking in the grassy downs," Harvey 1 volunteered.
"A family of faeries checking out a nest box in the woods," said Harvey 3.
"This window overlooks a scrubby rock in the middle of the sea," Harvey 2 contended.
"Scenery spells," said Harvey 1 and 3.
"No doubt," agreed Harvey 2.
During this exchange, Dinty had turned into a veritable whirlwind of grabbing hands, wiping rags, and swishing feather-dusters. Minimilian winced at the sound of breaking crockery. By the time Harvey agreed among himself that the window spells were well done, all that remained of the room's clutter was a sudden, blazing fire on the hearth.
"I say," Minimilian complained. "Those papers were extremely..."
"Yes, yes," said Harvey 3. "I'm sure they were. But look! Chairs for everybody! Do have a seat, won't you? Dinty will have tea up in a jiffy."
Meanwhile, Harvey 2 spread a piece of parchment over the desk, weighting its corners with an inkwell, the iron head of a golf club, a a dragon's fang, and a bottle clearly labeled "Preparation W," the sight of which made Minimilian turn red and look as though he wanted to sink into the ground. Then Harvey 1 reached under his cloak and pulled out a small contraption, somewhat like a saucepan on wheels, covered with a glass lid. As Harvey's guests, or prisoners, settled in chairs around the desk, he placed it on the parchment. They all leaned toward it, gazing through the transparent top at the brass frame, silvery cogs and wheels, and delicate springs and coils that worked inside it. At the center was an egg-shaped, crystal reservoir full of liquid that changed constantly from one bright color to another.
"Coo," said Sadie. "I had one of those when I was a chicken."
"You?" Harvey 3 asked, distracted from his purpose for the first moment so far.
"You know," Sadie insisted. "A cub? A pup? A kid?"
Harvey 3 shook his head. "I mean, I find it hard to believe you..."
"Well, it didn't work," said Sadie. "Not like the advertising jingle. Mum had to take it back to the toy shop."
All three of Harvey stared at her. "Toy shop?" Breathed Harvey 2, gobsmacked.
"Well, you see," said Sadie, like one talking to an idiot, "it was supposed to zip when it moved, pop when it stopped, and whirr when it was standing still. But our one popped when it moved, whirred when it stopped, and zipped when it stood still. So the ditty was complete b-"
"Look here," said Harvey 1. "This isn't a toy. There have been no commercial ditties about it. While it should be celebrated in song and legend..."
"It has been," Harvey 2 argued.
"No," said Harvey 3, "but it will be."
"Don't let's start this again," cried Harvey 1, waving both hands above his head. "The important thing is..."
"It's a Cart-o-Matic," said Sir Lionel Niblet.
Harvey 1 glared at Sir Lionel in irritation. "That's hardly the way one should talk about a device some say was invented by Prester John, others by Daedalus himself..."
"It was patented in 1936," Sir Lionel went on ruthlessly, "by a wizard named Mark Grey from Piscataway, New Jersey..."
"You'll find," said Harvey 2, "that Grey only registered the self-refilling ink reservoir..."
"...based on an earlier device invented by Alvin Snook-Peebles of Drizzling Duffham, Beds, for creating engravings for the wizarding press."
All three of Harvey looked beaten, deflated. "Have it your way, then," said Harvey 3. "But it most certanly does not pop when it stops."
"What does it do?" Ilona asked, directing her question at the room in general.
All six of Harvey's eyes rested coldly on Sir Lionel, so he answered: "It draws very beautiful and detailed maps, with copperplate writing, decorative borders, and watercolor shading. The longer you let it run, the finer the detail - though it tends to overlook things that it considers insignificant, such as expressways and rail depots, and embellishes the landscape with such features as 'Here there be Crumple-Horned Snorkacks' and 'Wreck of the Pirate Ship Irving.'"
"Does it really?" Sadie said eagerly. "Could you get it to draw that one?"
"I didn't bring this device for your amusement," Harvey 1 said sourly. "I am only showing it to you so that you understand why I need the ring of Count Matthias. I think it may solve a little problem. You see, there are some places that cannot be plotted on a map. Even such a magical device as the Cart-o-Matic cannot break through their enchantment. But if one were to instruct the Cart-o-Matic, under the seal of Count Matthias..."
"I see," said Spanky. "There's some place you want to find, someone or something whose location is only known to a few..."
"Or perhaps no one," Sir Lionel offered. "No one still living, that is."
"Like a secret protected by a Fidelius Charm," Endora added.
"Something you want to steal," Sadie suggested.
"Someone you want to kill," said Allie O'Modo.
"Perhaps it is a lost art or buried knowledge that he seeks," said Sir Lionel, always willing to see people in a better light than most.
"A magical object," suggested Minimilian.
"A weapon," Spanky speculated.
"A document of some kind," said Sir Lionel.
"This had better not be about some bric-a-brac to decorate your flat," Ilona muttered.
Harvey waited for the chatter to stop, all three of him looking down at his hands folded in his lap. Into the pause that followed Ilona's remark, Dinty squeaked, "Tea!"
No one objected to taking refreshments, even under such strained circumstances. The fact that even such savage enemies could share a quiet fellowship over the munching of cakes and the sipping of tea, lent a reassuring sense of civilization and civility. Spanky felt himself beginning to relax - which, owing to the habits of a lifetime, immediately put him on edge.
"Well, you have the ring," he said, setting his cup down. "What do you want with us, then?"
"I need eyes," said Harvey 1.
"Ears," said Harvey 2.
"Hands and feet," said Harvey 3.
"In plain language," Harvey 1 said, "I need someone to follow where this map will lead."
"Someone who isn't - how shall I put this? - enmeshed in a temporal paradox," Harvey 3 added.
"Mmm," said Harvey 2. "Enmeshed. I like it."
"I would have said embarrassed," said Harvey 1.
"That would have been good too," said Harvey 2.
"Balked," suggested Harvey 3.
"Constrained," Harvey 1 countered.
"Encumbered," said Harvey 3.
"Hampered," said Harvey 1.
"Crippled?" Harvey 2 tried.
Harveys 1 and 3 gave Harvey 2 a pitying look.
"I applaud your wide-ranging vocabulary," Minimilian said testily, "but could you please come to the point?"
"If I go where I'm hoping this map will lead us," said Harvey 1, "there is no telling what might happen. I might cause the (cough) prize to move backward in time..."
"...and so become the cause of its being lost, rather than being found," Harvey 3 clarified.
"Or I might uncreate it," said Harvey 1.
"Or cause it to multiply," suggested Sir Lionel. "Which, for all we know, could be as great a disaster..."
He fell silent as he noticed the blank look the Harveys were giving him.
"You know," said Sir Lionel, grinning. "Like yourselves."
Harvey 1, 2, and 3, each shook his head, perplexed.
"You're getting nowhere with that one," Endora told Sir Lionel out of the corner of her mouth.
Harvey put down his teacups in perfect, threefold synchronicity, stretched his arms, clapped his hands, rubbed them together, and said (in Harvey 3's voice), "Now then, let's give this a try. Quill and ink, Dinty. Dear Mr. Cart-o-Matic... Or should that be Monsieur?"
"Why not Madam?" Endora suggested pugnaciously.
"How about To whom it may concern?" Allie O'Modo said over a stifled yawn.
"Never mind," said Harvey 3, crossing out the Mr. "Dear Cart-o-Matic. Feel free to disregard any and all magical barriers in drawing a map showing the location and route to the..."
Whatever he said next was drowned out by a deafening stroke of thunder. The entire hut shook with it, and a sudden heavy fall of rain roared upon the corrugated steel roof.
"Dash it all," Harvey 1 swore. "This is going to be harder than I thought."
Endora perked up. "That's just like what happened when..."
Ilona elbowed Endora hard in the ribs.
"...wh-when it wouldn't stop raining in the great hall at Hogwarts," Endora covered feebly.
"It's not necessary to dissemble," said Harvey 2. "I was there when Spanky told that story, wasn't I? When that djinn arranged for him, and only him, to know where Ilona was, and every time he mentioned her, there was a deafening noise."
"And look," said Harvey 1. "The ink blotted all over the paragraph."
"Even if we use a roundabout way of describing the prize," said Harvey 2, "the map will most likely come out blotted just as badly as that letter."
"It's no use," Harvey 3 said, throwing down his quill. "We're going to have to find a djinn before we can do anything else."
"We nothing," said Allie O'Modo. "If you have no further use for us, at this time, may we please have our wands back? We were just about to slaughter each other, and I would like to get on with it."
"That's not quite true," Endora said hotly. "You'd already been knocked into a cocked hat. We were just about to..."
"The point," Allie interrupted, "is that he can't keep us all locked up until he finds a djinn to lift the taboo on whatever he is trying to find."
"He doesn't have to," said Ilona, talking through clenched jaws. "With that ring, he holds the free will of every one of us in his hand. He can bring us back here, or whever he wants us to go, simply by dashing off a note and sending it under seal."
"I reckon I'll be moving houses, then," retorted Allie O'Modo. "And leaving no forwarding address."
"Oh, no," said Harvey 1, suddenly brightening. "You'll be fetching me a djinn. And with my little friend here" - he patted the Cart-o-Matic - "we will soon have some ideas of where to start looking."
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #168 +++
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