The moon and stars shone strong on the cobblestone streets. The snows dusted the rooftops, and painted storefronts with musty interiors crowded the wide thoroughfare. On one side street a silent thatch-roofed wood wagon advertised drinks, and on the main way a hinged sign blew in the hot passing wind.
The hours passed, the nighttime and the silence sacred. A discarded quill blew through around three in the morning, and the nighttime and the silence were sacred. One streetlamp, yellow and muted, flickered in the distance.
And the nighttime and the silence were sacred.
The hours passed; the digital watch left next to the clackety-keyed green chipped register in the candy shop beeped out six a.m., and then seven a.m., and then the first of them wandered along the street, shop keeps wearing long black robes and cloth hats, conical.
Doors unlatched, change appropriated — halloos called across the way; seven seventeen saw a minor flirtation between the pretty girl working in the wand shop and the gangly pimpled boy selling the Butterbeers. She laughed and swayed on her feet; her robes swished against her ankles. He grinned, scratched his head. The hat fell forward over his brow. She reached to adjust it, but someone called her name — “Penny!” — she turned to answer — seven eighteen.
She flounced away, and he stood looking after her, his arm raised, bent at the elbow, useless clasping the back of his slender neck.
They milled away the seventh hour, and half of the eighth. Someone swept the blues and browns and reds of the cobblestones in front of the concessions stand. And the morning and the quiet hum of the voices were sacred.
At eight forty five, they straightened collectively, manikins pulled upright by the same string, and the corners of their mouths pulled up as well into bright flashy welcoming smiles. The sun was coming in stronger now, glinting on the window panes and heating the cobblestones.
At nine-o-three, the first pounding footsteps echoed closer, the uneven rat-tat of someone unused to sprinting attempting to sprint, and a candy-faced child stuffed into a Mickey Mouse t-shirt stumbled up the silent alleyway, syrup-sticky with his stomach rolling like peach jell-o squeezed from its plastic cup onto a china plate.
Greetings hailed him from all sides, and he slowed to a jerking walk, wheezing.
Behind him in the distance came more footsteps, many joined together like the ominous beating of a drum. The robed ones waited, living photographs smiling like it was their job, and stepping through the arch came ten, twenty, eighty of the others — wearing jean shorts and tank tops, sunburnt skin bursting from every crevice in the cloth.
Along the pathway they came, tumbling and laughing and spitting gum into the cracks in the stones, carrying T-rex toys and swirled lollipops longer than their forearms. Eating factory-colored ices, corn dogs and foods conceived of and created in a laboratory in the United States. They flooded the shops, buying oddly-flavored beans in purple cardboard packaging, chocolate frogs and wands in textured brown boxes from the dusty wand shop. They came loudly, spewing profanities and hollering admonitions and screeching: “Jerry! Hey Jerry come look at this!”
Against the backdrop of sombre shops and swirling robes and snowy white roofs the others were unnatural, like photographs of some terrifying documentary cut out and pasted into another era, another world. The magic dissipated faster than the evaporating mist pouring liberally from overhead sprinklers; a little girl wearing a bejeweled t-shirt and shorts that said “JUICY” on the butt picked her nose and wiped it on a window-pane.
And the sun rose high over the fake snow on the roofs, and the tired actors wearing caked face make up leaned against the counters behind their password-protected cash registers, and the surveillance cameras swiveled in their unobtrusive black domes on the ceilings, and the Pygmy Puffs were stuffed animals, and the digital watch showed 9:57, and nothing was sacred.