“Hmm... and that should go there, and I certainly can't leave without that. Oh, and that needs to come too. Goodness, I don't remember needing so much the last time I left town.”
Jacques looked up from his packing to the empty walls of his house. Dust blanketed every surface, with the occasional random sketching denting the brown powder. A single window cast its silhouetted light across the floor, which was covered in all manner of junk, from cast-off pen tips to ink spills to crumpled up maps that didn't work right, and of course the occasional insect corpse. In the corner rested a messy pile of twigs and map bits that might have been a nest of mice, or perhaps chipmunks, but Jacques didn't particularly care unless they started eating his maps.
The table was slightly better than the floor, in that it didn't have mice living on it. Most of the time, anyway. Scattered across the table lay pens of every shape and size. Some rolled across and off the table at the slightest bump, and others wouldn't move if the table had been attacked by a madman with an axe, thanks to the thick black ink that glued them there. The only thing that seemed remotely cared for were the maps, carefully rolled up in leather cases until he took them to a seller.
The only other pieces of furniture, besides the chair, he owned rested in a corner. A bed that he never bothered to make, and a tall wardrobe that he'd inherited from some relative or another. Normally, the latter was filled with his few clothes and a great deal of random souvenirs, but at the moment it's contents sprawled across the floor as he stuffed them into the far-too-small pack.
All in all, the room screamed but one word: bachelor.
Jacques took a swig from the bottle he'd borrowed, meaning stole, from Marie when he left to pack and stared down at the overfull canvas bag. His eyes wandered from one thing to the other, from the thirteen semi-usable pens that he'd managed to pry from his desk to a brick that he wasn't quite sure why he had in the first place. He thought for a moment. Ah yes, he'd gotten it from an irate bartender who'd thrown it at his head.
“That wasn't really fair of him,” Jacques mused. “His prices were outrageous. How was I to know that I couldn't pay?” He took another drink, then shook his head and smiled. “Ah, well. He missed anyway.” Momentarily, he wondered why he'd put it in his pack. “Self defense!” He smiled, took a long swig from the bottle, and stuffed in a drinking glass on top of the brick.
“Jacques? You ready to go?” Marie's voice sounded from outside the door, snapping him out of his rum-happy daze.
“Um... just a minute!” he said, stuffing most of the mess under the bed.
“Well, can I come in and help you pack?”
“Er, no. I'm...” He considered several things to say. He couldn't say he was naked, he had no reason to be naked, and he wasn't. He couldn't make the excuse of not being there either, she knew better then that. Finally, his semi-drunken brain kicked in and came up with what was quite possibly his worst excuse ever. “I'm on fire.”
“You're what?” The door started opening. He pushed it shut again and shoved the table against it. His brain started working overtime, but still wasn't working quite hard enough for common sense to start functioning.
“Yeah, I'm on fire. Burning. Little accident with a candle. It's very hot.” He gathered a good portion of the mess up and shoved it into the wardrobe, but the door wouldn't shut. He started slamming it while still talking. “It's not that pleasant, you know, being on fire. There's a few downsides, though you really wouldn't think it. Like... the smoke! The smoke smells really bad, and you tend to catch other things on fire while you're trying to put yourself out.” He stepped back from the wardrobe, and, satisfied that it would stay shut, started trying to close his pack. A crunch followed by a tinkling noise told him that perhaps the drinking glass was not the best thing to put next to the brick. “I mean, sure, you're warm and all, but...”
“Jacques, I'm coming in there, whether you like it or not.” The table started inching across the floor as the door opened. He glanced around, doing one final check to see if the room was clean enough. Something caught his eye. The rum! He couldn't let her catch him with the rum. Jacques scooped up the bottle off the floor and glanced around for somewhere to put it. Just as he spotted the perfect place, the door opened all the way, and Marie stepped into the room.
He stared at her blankly, holding the rum in one hand. He made a vague attempt to hide it behind his back. Behind him, the wardrobe opened and everything fell onto the floor with a resounding thump. Marie gave him a look.
Somewhere, in a very small part of his mind that he didn't usually listen to but usually turned out to be right, it registered that he was as good as dead.
“Well,” she said slowly, looking around the room judgmentally, “you don't look on fire to me.”
“No, no, don't bother explaining. I don't want to know.” Her eyes wandered to his hand. “Where'd you get that rum? It looks suspiciously like the bottle that went missing just after you left.”
“Um...” His brain churned furiously, trying to think of an excuse. “It was in a tree. The squirrels gave it to me as a thank you gift for... um... chasing away that dog that wanders around here sometimes.” He wasn't doing so well with excuses today. “They told me to keep it.”
“The squirrels talked to you?” Marie gave him another look, this time one that he fully believed could be used to start fires.
“Yep. They were talking squirrels, with a whole civilization in the big oak tree over by the tailor's shop. They have water that comes from inside their houses, and devices that make it daytime at night, and even something that lets them communicate with other squirrel civilizations all across the land without hardly lifting a finger! Maybe they were the ones that took the rum from the tavern. It wouldn't be too hard for them, you know.”
She put her head in one hand. “Jacques... You're either drunk or insane. Maybe both. I'll come back later.” She moved towards the door. A the last minute, she turned around, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “And you're still in trouble for taking that rum.”