The Sleeping Llama By D.I. Jolly
Once upon a time, there was a small strange pub called The Sleeping Llama. Most people thought it was just a charming name, and it was, but it also had a secret meaning. Hidden away deep below the pub floor, in the cellar, was a door. A small unmarked, and seemingly unremarkable door. Most, if not all of the staff, presumed that it went nowhere, or that someone else knew what it was for, and so never paid it much attention. But, little did they know it opened up to a tunnel that led down ever deeper under the pub, deep under the city. Even the oldest of the drinkers and barflies didn’t know what was down there, save for one.
Robert Engelblot XIV had been in the business of opening mysterious doors, ever since he was a curious child. It seemed his calling in life. If there was a door that people forgot about, he’d find it, he’d open it, and he’d found the door in the cellar of The Sleeping Llama. He had been a young man then, just out of university and eager to face the world, to find its secrets and learn them. He didn’t want to expose some great truth or become famous in any way, he simply searched to satisfy his own curiosity.
It had taken a few hours negotiating with the landlord of the day, and a few more to find a locksmith with the type of tools to make a key that could fit the lock, but eventually he turned that key and heard the click. When he looked around, he’d found that, as usual, the door that meant nothing and probably went nowhere, had scared the others off. So, when he stepped through the door and started his journey deep down under the pub, Robert Engelblot XIV was alone. But that’s how he liked it.
He walked for what felt like days in an ever-descending spiral, guided by the glow of his trusty lighter and the strange ever-present smell of, what seemed to him, was saltwater taffy. But could also have been cotton candy when it hit his nose just right. Time passed as he walked and just when he’d started to worry that he might run out of lighter fluid and have to turn back, the tunnel opened up to a large circular room. Bright and clear, being lit by what, he could not tell. And there, sitting in the middle of the room was a creature, curled up to look like a cloud, gently sleeping and snoring.
Slowly, and with great caution Robert Engelblot XIV made his way up to the creature and just as he put his hand out to touch and perhaps gently stroke it, a voice echoed through his mind.
“Robert Engelblot.’ Said the voice in a commanding baritone. ‘Am I to believe that you have come to this chamber purely by chance, chasing your own curiosity. Much like a cat chases its own tail?”
Bewildered, and unsure how to answer, Robert Engelblot XIV said nervously but out loud.
“Exactly true, and may I ask who you are, voice?”
“Robert Engelblot!’ Boomed the voice again, ‘I am the creature who sleeps before you. Or, at least, I am the poor soul trapped inside of it. Sit down young man and hear my tale.”
Robert Engelblot XIV did as he was told and the voice continued.
“I, like you, was driven by curiosity, driven to find out the secrets of the world. I, like you, found a mysterious door in a pub so old that not a living man could remember a time when it wasn’t there. In all that time there had been talk of a door that no one had ever opened. I opened that door, and descended into this place to find this sleeping creature. I reached out my hand to feel its soft fur, to find the source of the sweet smell drifting from it, and as I did, I felt it, the switch, the transfer. The previous soul trapped in this sleeping creature and my own. Then, in horror, I watched as my body with a new soul stood laughing before me, rejoicing in its freedom, and then watched as it ran back up the path and away. Leaving me alone, leaving me trapped here for eternity or until another poor soul came to take my place.”
Robert Engelblot XIV looked at his hand, the one he’d nearly used to stroke the creature and childishly slipped it into his pocket for protection.
“But then voice, I must thank you. You have saved me from that fate, you’ve allowed me to remain myself but in so doing have prolonged your own suffering.”
Robert Engelblot XIV felt a strange pressure on his mind and realised that the voice was sighing.
“I have been trapped down here for eternity and a day. Long enough to forgive my captor, long enough to come to terms with my fate and to make peace with it. I would rather shoulder the burden myself knowing that I can, than let the cycle continue as other men come to find me and become trapped.”
Robert Engelblot XIV thought again about his hand, and about the man and the life he could have lived, but wasn’t allowed to. Driven by an impulse he lunged forward, arms outstretched intent on trading places with the voice but as his hands stroked the fur nothing happened. He stroked the creature again and still, all he felt was soft silken fur, not great magic, not change.
“Voice? Voice what’s going on, I want to free you.”
For a long moment, there was no sound and Robert Engelblot XIV wondered if he’d not begun to fray from his sanity.
“Robert Engelblot.’ The voice said at last. ‘I do not understand, after everything I have told you, why would you do this? Why do you want this?”
A smile slipped across Robert Engelblot XIV’s face, a thin, excited smile, but also a hint of trembling melancholy.
“I have dedicated my life to opening closed doors, to hunting for mysteries and finding secrets. You say you’ve been here for eternity and a day. Are you not curious to see what the world now looks like compared to the world you left behind? You, like me, are a curious man, driven to discover more. I want you to discover the new world, and I want to discover a new world myself. This creature, this sleeping llama is not a curse, but a time capsule for the curious mind. I will take your place and wait my turn, I will warn the next and wait for one ready and willing, like you have. Let me become this creature and you can become Robert Engelblot XIV. Son of Robert and Mildred, doctor of archaeology and student of the world.”
Robert Engelblot XIV once again stroked the fine soft hairs of the creature, and then he felt it, the switch, the feeling of his soul leaving his body and moving into the creatures. He then watched as his body rose and jumped and danced with joy. He then saw it turn a thoughtful and grateful look upon him, bow deeply and run back up the path to lock the door, destroy the key, and leave him to wait for the next such someone to come and take his place.