Just a few hours later Sir John, Marie and Emile found themselves arriving into the same downtrodden alley that their adversaries had just been.
“Are you sure it’s here?” said Sir John, entering the alley first. “This place is filled with…”
“Merde!” said Emile, entering next and clamping a handkerchief to his nose.
“I was going to say filth actually,” said Sir John. “But you’re not inaccurate.”
“It’s here,” said Marie, bringing up the rear and staring at a stone in her hand. “I could tell even if this little one wasn’t saying so.”
“Where? Is it one of these doors?” said Sir John, looking about in confusion.
“That one,” said Marie, pointing to the dilapidated wooden door with a grate, covered in feathers. “That door there.”
Sir John went to speak. He saw the expression on his wife’s face and apparently had a rethink. He knocked on the filthy door. As before, nothing happened for a moment. Sir John turned away when the panel slid back and the same hook nosed face stared out, head tilting in all directions. Finally its beady eye settled on Sir John.
“Back?” it squawked.
“I’m sorry?” said Sir John.
“No. Others,” it cooed then shrieked, “Wait!”
The panel slid shut and presently the door opened. A tall woman with hair spiked up into a high coiffured arrangement came out. She was wearing colourful clothes and bold makeup. She looked at the three in the alleyway and nodded.
“We’ve come about the challenge,“ said Sir John.
“The challenge? The challenge?” she said.
“Yes,” said Sir John. “The challenge for the key.”
“For the key, for the key,” she said.
“Yes exactly!” said Sir John. “You know it! Tell me, how does one take it?”
“Take it?” she said. “How one take it?”
“Yes,” said Sir John. “Can you tell us?”
The woman strode over and leaned into Sir John’s face. Her head bobbed from side to side and she seemed to be thinking. Eventually she leaned back.
“Who’s a pretty boy then?” she said.
“I beg your pardon?” said Sir John, as another person came out of the door. It was the rotund, red chested man from before, with the peculiarly thin legs.
“Another one come for the challenge?” he said.
“Yes,” said Sir John, “as I was explaining to your, er…”
He indicated the woman.
“Polly want a cracker,” she said.
“Which one?” said the rotund man.
“Me,” said Marie.
“Wait, what?” said Sir John. “We didn’t…”
“Next Tuesday,” said the Oisienne. “Sunset we gather.”
The two strange creatures flew inside leaving Sir John aghast.
“We didn’t agree that,” said Sir John. “I thought we’d just…”
“He said another one,” said Marie. “That means Clackprattle and Pook.”
“Precisely,” said Sir John. “It’s far too dangerous.”
“Mon cher,” said Marie, “now I know about my power, it is best for me to do it. Safest for me too.”
“She’s right,” said Emile looking glum. “I hate to say it, but she’s right.”