Category Archives: Beatrice

2.11 The Man At The Door

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Do I look shifty? Really, I’d like to know. 

I might occasionally harbor the odd larcenous thought about a book – but I never follow up on them – I just enjoy entertaining the fancy. 

It’s mental calisthenics. Right?

Okay, okay, I am starting in the middle, so let’s go back to the beginning.

Last night Beatrice offered me a sterling opportunity to make a couple of coins while chauffeuring her around for her other job. I didn’t tell her I would have driven her for free if it meant getting out of the house and putting on real pants, but I kept that information to myself. 

Which explains why at a quarter of eight, I’m in the Map Room (waiting for Beatrice) contemplating a shelf full of previously empty vases. (The ones which formerly housed her rubber ducky collection that she’d acquired while geocaching – before we lost the bulk of them during our pirate shenanigans). Those empty vases had nagged at me ever since Beatrice had donated her yellow friends to the cause. She wouldn’t accept money or sincere thanks, so instead – to show my appreciation – I filled them to the brim with homemade hard candy. The crinkly cellophane and rainbow of translucent colors really tied the rest of the kitsch of the room together! 

With a happy smile decorating my face, I scrabbled under the table to retrieve a few of the free spirits which had decided that living in a vase wasn’t for them.

While on all fours amongst the dining set’s legs, a quick radda-tap-tap sounded at the door – followed by the entrance of a pair of black wingtips and charcoal grey cuffed pants. “Hello?” I called out while trying to negotiate my way out from under the furniture while gripping two handfuls of candy – who were determined to stay where I found them.

“Beatrice? Why are you under the table?” 

A loud thunk punctuated the question, but before I could dispel Mr. Wingtip’s misapprehension, his lovely baritone pattered on, “When you rejoin the land of the standing, I have three possible contracts for you. Two in town, one cross country. RAM cut the check for the return of the Renoir, I have it here for you. Are you still firm on your no pets policy? You could make a mint. I had six inquiries just last week. I drew up the paperwork you requested last night….” 

Finally, solving the maze of table legs, I stood up and discovered Mr. Wingtips was a lean whip of a man who, when wearing his hat, must brush the Map Room’s ceiling. 

He finally looked up when I set the crinkling handfuls of candy down on the table, “You are not Beatrice.” 

Trying to put him at ease, I held out my empty hand and smiled, “Nope, but she should be here any minute. My name is Phoebe, Phoebe Arden. I’m Beatrice’s roommate and driver for the day!” 

Whisking the papers he’d fanned out over the table back into his briefcase, he snapped it resolutely closed, all the while ignoring my outstretched hand.

Using a tone that wasn’t precisely ill-mannered, but edging in that direction, “You should have told me you weren’t Beatrice.” He crossed his arms and watched me thru narrow eyes.

(See?! I did not do anything suspicious! He’s just bent out of shape because he made a gaffe!) 

“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you. Nor did you wait for me to answer the door after you knocked.” Mirroring his stance (though he loomed much more effectively than I) but not his tone, I leaned more towards genial reasonability.

My words cut no ice with the bespoke man.

“Well, I see you two’ve met…” Beatrice’s dry comment cut thru the tension. Things turned technical at this point with the snappy man reopening his briefcase (and resumed his nattering) while Beatrice smoothed things over and provided introductions. 

Turns out the natty man of the black wingtips was, in fact, John Dupree of Treuawley, Trenaman, and Dupree. 

Whose demeanor visibly thawed while watching me sign a stack of papers he’d prepared. Which, when boiled down to their essence – stated that I needed to keep my trap shut about anything I see, hear or smell (?) while accompanying Beatrice on a job. (Why it took ten pages, three signatures and twelve separate initials to say, I don’t know – but he stated he wanted to “keep things formal”). 

(I aim to please.)

He then handed over pounds of assorted document and blueprints for Beatrice to review (which is why she needed a driver), and we headed out to execute today’s contract (their words, not mine).

2.10 Pink? Pink? What’s Wrong With Pink?

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(The Princess is not the color of medicine!)

The Alter, no matter the time of day, always features fresh-baked baked-goods, so when I barreled thru the doors looking for something sweet, they didn’t let me down. Even better? The barista behind the counter didn’t bat an eyelash at my slightly grubby outfit, which earned her a generous tip after I paid for my chalice of coffee and a raspberry bear claw the size of my face. 

While I waited for the shout proclaiming my order fulfilled, I moseyed over to the altar in the corner. After all the events at Nevermore today, lighting a candle for luck and offering up a handful of Kona coffee beans up to the Fates couldn’t hurt. Some well-timed serendipity might come in handy shortly if today’s events were any indication.

Looking at my watch, I decided against eating my treat on the spot, as I still had an outside chance of beating Beatrice (Wood’s not-so-secret-secret-informant) home, thereby avoiding Wood’s wrath when she spilled the beans about my adventuring.

My plan, such as it was, worked for about one-hundred and twenty seconds after I turned into the Lavender Lady’s alley. Just long enough for me to let out a victorious whoop when I discovered Beatrice’s spot holding nothing but dead leaves, pull the Princess into her slot, shut off the engine and start casting about for my stuff.

Fortunately, the approaching bright twin beams of a silver Audi illuminated the Princess’s interior nicely, allowing me to figure out where I’d set my phone.

Fan-forking-tastic.

Abandoning my half-eaten bear claw and coffee dredges, Beatrice and I alighted from our respective rides at the same time, her face split by a grin (knowing she’d busted me). Pulling some chutzpah up from somewhere around my left knee, I attempted to hoodwink my her anyways. 

“Would you believe I came out here to think?”

With a sideways glance at the Princess, then at me, she let loose a laugh, “That explanation might hold water if; your backseat wasn’t filled with boxes, your coat not covered in crumbs and one shoe wasn’t crusted with what is hopefully mud.” 

Still in stitches, she leaned back into her car and grabbed some tied off plastic bags, all which sported the logo of my favorite comfort food joint, off the passenger seat.

“It was an exciting day in the alley?” 

Chuckling, Beatrice landed the final blow, “I gathered. Ms. Hettie called this afternoon to warn me about some mentally unbalanced car thieves who stole the back alley eyesore, the Pepto-mobile, but left her Impala untouched.”

Sputtering for a split second, “Eyesore? Pepto-mobile? The Princess is a cotton candy classic!” Stroking her pink hood soothingly, “Don’t let that delusional old bag of bones get you down. She thinks sweatshirts with embroidered geese are stylish.”

Highly amused over our indirect verbal skirmish, Beatrice moved on, “Come on, let’s get out of the dark and damp. I bought dinner from The Diner On The Corner.”

Honing in once again in on the takeout bags, my mouth started watering, “Pie?” 

(You can never have too many sweets on a day filled with disconcerting information.)

Throwing her own PULP tote over her shoulder, “Only if you can honestly tell me those boxes aren’t heavy.”

Hand over heart, “Sarah did all the hefting. The most substantial thing I heaved was this tote, and it’s mostly scarf now.”

“Sarah?”

“Yeah…” Giving Beatrice an abbreviated version of today’s events, we walked up the path towards the back of the Lavender Lady. She laughed at my description of Leo’s hat in all its snaky glory and my plan to shock my cousins.

When the curtain above our door twitched, I shot a toothy grin at it, Pepto-mobile my ass.

Once inside, Beatrice headed straight back to the kitchen while I removed my grimy shoes, sodden socks and sticky coat in the hallway (the raspberry jam of my bear claw nailed it). When I finally finished (and tossed the PULP tote with its pilfered promotional folders into my room), I joined her in the kitchen.

Beatrice, having shed her own outerwear, stood at the counter, dishing up our dinner. After she declined my help, I walked over to the old radio. Turning it on, I fiddled with the dials until the static resolved itself into the classic strains of Sinatra’s Glad To Be Unhappy. Apparently, KARB’s DJ agrees with my theory, that sorrowful Sinatra songs sound best on rainy days.

The clink of porcelain on Formica pulled me from my reverie, turning from the tuner, I joined Beatrice at the table.

After leaning over to smell the bowl of goodness in front of me, I made my opening gambit, “So, is PULP sending you any place interesting soon?”

Beatrice gave me a wry smile and put her spoon down, “Nope. So why did you split hairs with the doctor’s orders?”

Waffling for a moment, I finally cast my (metaphorical) cards onto the table, “I’ve been going stir-crazy, and Little Ben emailed about some boxes, and it seemed like the perfect reason to leave the house. Plus, I got to take off my slippers. It was just an errand, not a FLYT fare so…”

A shrug finished my sentence, and a bite of my stew filled the conversational void while I waited for Wood’s not-so-secret-secret-informant to declare my fate.

Nodding thoughtfully in time with the radio (Diana Krall’s version of In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning), Beatrice sipped her red wine (btw I got a glass of two-percent milk, per Wood’s instructions) then spoke, “I have a proposition for you.”

With a mouth full of stew soaked biscuit, I could only nod.

Summing up my conundrum, “Our friendly doctor wants to make sure you don’t overdo it. But your well enough to chafe over sitting at home, correct?” At the end of her question, she started playing with her wine glass.

Unwilling to spit my food at her, I nodded again.

Watching the swirling liquid, she continued, “Did you know I have a second job?” Not waiting for an answer, she went on, “And it requires a driver. Since you’re the pro, what do you say? I can make sure you don’t over-do it, you can wear shoes again, and we’ll both stay in Wood’s good graces.”

Gulping down my mouthful, “How do you feel about pink?”

1.66 Why Am I Helping Him Again?

Aware my fish was about to bite I kept my tone even, “If Iron Creek floods the water will work the caskets to the surface and carry them downstream then into town. The City Council will hammer you over it.”

The Rye City Council is a constant source of headaches for Big Ben and his family. Over the last ninety years, they’ve attempted no less than eighteen times to carve up Nevermore for the ‘betterment’ of the city. 

They will not be pleased to discover Little Ben expanded Nevermore boundaries further – even if his plan includes helping the city’s hungry. They’d be actively looking for any way to strip Little Ben of the land. Poorly placed graves would give them the ammunition they needed to accomplish the deed.

Circling my bait Little Ben stalled, “That’s just an urban legend.”

Tugging the line enticingly, “It’s not. Research the recent flooding in the south or call one of the others in the association – they’ll confirm the problem. I promise.”

Finally biting, he strove to appear uninterested in his own question, “Where would you place ‘the feature’ in Sunny Valley Farm?” A group of kids wandered close to us, so he used a euphemism. Didn’t matter, they were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice our conversation.

Taking a beat before answering to still myself, “I’m not very familiar with the farm. You should really ask the MacGregors, they’d know the best spot to place it. But from the narrow slice I’ve seen of the property, the field across the road from the Seven Roses might work. ” (Seven Roses is the name of Big Ben’s house in Nevermore) Shrugging I let my attention momentarily wavered off of Little Ben and onto Ruth who currently carried two plates filled with food matching our orders from the kitchen.

Wreathed in smiles, Little Ben bellowed his goodbyes and nearly knocked Beatrice’s burger out of Ruth’s hand with a particularly sizable sweeping gesture in my direction, “I nearly forgot why I originally came over here!” 

My heart lurched in my chest.

“You left some stuff in the cottage when you left. I packed it up and moved the boxes to the main offices. Sarah said she’d call you about them, but I guess I saw you before she did. You should pick them up soon, I’m sure they’re in her way.” On that last note, he left us to clean our plates in peace.

It took a moment for my stomach to settle down enough so I could sate my Reuben colored craving. When he’d turned back around I’d half expected him to hand me paperwork banning me from Nevermore. Which would have been awkward. 

Beatrice shifted her focus from her phone to me the moment Little Ben exited our sphere, “You handled him beautifully.”

Unable to speak, having taken a rather ambitious bite of my sandwich, I shrugged. When I was finally able to comment my voice sounded tired even to my ears, “My approval of his scheme means he won’t worry himself about how he was able to afford it.” It’s also why I was confident that my words worked. Whatever small portion of his conscious still bothering him about laying me off would quiet once he acted on my suggestions. 

I did find it interesting that he did try to place a small wedge between Sarah and me.

We worked our way thru our dinners with yummy noises replacing actual conversation. When only a few stray fries remained on our plates talking resume.

“It is rather anti-climatic though, using my words to convince Little Ben he should reconsider where to put the pet cemetery. My backup plan featured breaking & entering, a switcharoo, and arts & crafts. Nail-biting stuff! But I suppose this produced more reliable results.”

Beatrice laughed at the rueful note in my voice, “Well after last night’s near-miss this solution is probably better. Speaking of last night… will your Aunt really send a copy of our piratey portrait to my parents?” Her smile fading at the end of her question, while her fingers started shredding the lettuce garnish on her plate.

“If they live within a hundred miles of Rye she’ll find them.” Sensing the tension at the table, “I can ask her not too.”

With a smile that didn’t entirely span her face, “I’d appreciate. We aren’t on speaking terms presently.” 

“No problem.”

(Sandwich Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

Scotch

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The Rusty Hinge’s scotch cupboards are a thing of beauty. Beatrice begged off from partaking, the slight rum hangover still fresh in her mind, I needed a sip to help me deal with Little Ben.

BTW there is another twelve feet (at least) of cabinets on either side of this picture.

1.65 Much Ado About Nothing

“Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” After this rather stunning declaration, she accidentally dropped her phone under the table. When she leaned over to retrieve it, she cut herself off mid-sentence.

Little Ben eyed me. I just shrugged.

Popping back up she continued on without missing a beat, “When you laid her off, you gave me the best roommate ever!” Focusing on her phone, which had started doing a fair impression of an angry bee, she addressed both of us, “Go ahead and ignore me, I need to respond to a bunch of emails from work. Apparently, someone shook an author’s hand, and now his publisher is freaking out. So I need to calm the waters.” Waving us on, she dove into her phone.

Trying not to split a seam at Beatrice’s comment and Little Ben’s befuddlement I wrestled my focus back onto what he’d been saying, “So Nevermore?”

Something which looked suspiciously like guilt flitted across his face but was quickly chased away by disdain. Shrugging it off he unglued his gaze from Beatrice and transferred it to me, “Er, yes, Nevermore. I was wondering if you did anything special to ward off trespassers. Specifically students from the high school.”

His question placed me squarely on boggy ground. Helping him meant the possibility of compromising my own avenues of ingress. But on the other hand, left to his own devices…. 

Too tired to be a jerk I answered, “Replace all the broken lights with bright new bulbs, make sure security varies their routes and up their numbers on holidays and when school is out.”

His answer made me glad I’d gone the route I did, “I was thinking of pulling the groundskeepers in for double duty. They always want extra hours, and they’re cheaper than the guards.”

Trying to head off all the avenues of objection, “Ben, they’ll like the hours right up until they run into a group of genuine vandals. People seriously bent on desecrating burials can turn very nasty very quick. The groundskeepers don’t have the skills to deal with them. And what if they got hurt? It would cost more money in the long run. Stick with our regular firm, they know the hotspots to watch and who they’re dealing with.”

Complaining, “They didn’t do any good last night! And we were featured in the Harvest’s Blotter!”

A ghost of a smile hovered over my lips, “They’ll work harder now. They don’t like losing. And helpful hint, don’t call the cops until after security has detained someone.” On that note, Ruth, our waitress placed a condiment carrier on the table (which the Rusty Hinge takes seriously – filling an old six-pack box with sriracha, horseradish, curry, brown sauce, relish, and ranch dressing. Ketchup and mustard never leave their tables). 

Knowing the condiments signaled our impending meal he rushed on, “Have you seen the plans for Sunny Valley Farm?”

“Bait the hook well; this fish will bite.” Claudio advised Don Pedro and Leonardo when they were trying to trick Benedick into loving Beatrice (or trying to temper his pride enough to declare his love for her – but we can debate their motivations later). 

Either way, Claudio’s line floated through my head when Little Ben asked his question. If I played my cards right Little Ben would choose the correct course of action on his own. Without me needing to employ any convoluted high-risk schemes to get him to see reason. 

Delicately grasping the opportunity, “I saw the advertisement in The Daily Harvest.”.

Okay, so it still requires some guile on my part. 

With a keen look in his eye, “So what did you think?”.

Infusing my words with a slightly upbeat tone, “Tapping into a new market is smart. Donating entire harvests to local food banks is genius. It will garner goodwill in the community, and I assume it’s tax deductible.”

Puffing up like a proud peacock, “I thought it was a good idea.”

Hesitating a beat before agreeing with him, I placed a note of doubt in my voice, “So long as the pet cemetery portion of the farm isn’t placed near Iron Creek – I don’t see why your new venture won’t be a success.”. 

Confusion lined his face, “Why would that be a problem?”

1.64 A Conundrum

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(Take-Out from the Spare Rib from a previous visit…)

My half-day flipped into a full-day when a couple of the Senior Center members asked me for a favor. They had a hankering for barbeque and wanted to go to the best joint around, The Spare Rib. Familiar with the unyielding grip of a food craving we came up with a compromise. I would drive them there (it was an hour one way) if they got their food to go and didn’t eat in the Princess (good bbq is Messy with a capital ‘M’). The fact I just flat like Betty and Joan didn’t hurt either.

Moreover, the flu-induced set schedule ended in a couple of days and with it the regular hours. So earning a few extra brownie points amongst the Center’s members seemed wise. 

When I finally dropped them off, bbq in hand, at their apartment building I was starving and had zero interest in cooking. While the bbq whetted my appetite, it wasn’t what my tastebuds hankered after this evening.

My heart’s desire could only be found at the Rusty Hinge – a nice thick Rueben sandwich (they make their own Rye bread, Russian dressing and sauerkraut – it is to die for) and hand-cut fries. When I slid into my preferred booth, the one in the back next to my favorite pinball machine, my bones fused to the vinyl. 

My poor body was unused to the amount of running we did last night and needed a moment to regroup before attempting to retake my Addams Family crown (aka the high score that Benedict stole from me). Leaning my head against the scalloped cushion, I took a deep breath and let my mind float along the waves of ambient stimulus – the aroma of sautéing onions filtering from the kitchen, errant strands of dialogue emanating from the pinball machines and groans from the football fans watching their team commit yet another penalty. Slowly my mind spun until it landed on the conundrum Sarah placed in my lap earlier today (she’d texted me after our marshmallow bargain).

Sarah: Just thought I’d let you know – Little Ben was tipped off that you guys were coming last night.

Me: ?????

Sarah: He let it slip to Seth last night. Someone called him. That’s how he had security, the MacGregors and the groundskeepers on site so fast.

Me: Crap. Are you sure he doesn’t know it was us?

Sarah: Yes. I don’t think he could keep it to himself if he did. He’d have called a meeting to inform all us you were banned from the property. Like he did with Sue.

Me: Any clue who called him?

Sarah: None. This is all second hand, I didn’t want to grill Seth – might send up a red flag.

Me: Thanks for the heads up!

Sarah: NPAT

(Or No Problem Any Time)

Ruth broke into my train of thought to take my order (and Beatrice’s she was meeting me here), which was fortuitous since I might have drifted off in another second.

If correct Sarah’s data spun the previous night’s events in a whole new direction. But who on earth knew we were bound for Nevermore last night? On top of that, other than Little Ben, who would care?

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

My mulling moved to the back burner when a familiar bulky form barreled across the floor towards my booth. 

Little Ben boomed halfway across the floor, “Phoebe! I’m glad I’ve run into you!”

I’ve never ceased regretting telling Little Ben about my favorite greasy spoon.

“Hey, Ben.”

Reaching my table Little Ben’s voice sunk into conspiratorial tone, ”Did you hear about what happened in Nevermore last night?”

“I read about it in the Blotter this morning.” His question told me Sarah’s assessment was correct. If Little Ben had figured out I was among those he’d chased around Nevermore last night, he’d have let everyone hither, thither and yon know it.

Little Ben’s face set into a grimace, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Without so much as a by your leave, he started moving towards the empty side of the booth to take a seat. Unfortunately (for him, not me) he found the booth’s entrance unexpectedly cutoff – Beatrice had arrived. 

Taking off her long purple coat, she laid it down on the seat between us and slipped into the booth, “Sorry I’m late. Things are crazy at Pulp right now. Hello! I’m Beatrice.” 

Biting my lip, I watched Little Ben’s frustration at being thwarted cross his face, “Hi. I’m Ben. I was just discussing something with Phoebe.”

Beatrice, draping herself with an air of innocence, “Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” 

1.58 Penny In The Air…

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Orin (calling down to me): “We really got the old ticker going tonight didn’t we!”

The heat of my anger welded me in place. 

Unlike the Inebriated Three. 

They were, for the first time, taking a real interest in remaining free of police custody. Wood dashed to the curb intensely surveying a deserted Ash Street.  Apparently, it did not meet his expectations because he started intently texting someone. Laney meanwhile crouched down and pressed her eye against the gate’s keyhole while Beatrice mimicked her attitude only with her ear against the timbers. 

Laney (whispering): “Wood, see if anyone’s coming thru the other gate.”

Orin (leaning backwards in an exaggerated motion): “Nope, not a soul that way!”

This sent the idiot urchins on the wall into more guffaws.

Wood (after a quick check agreed): “Nothing.”

Beatrice (consternation clear): “They were right behind us.”

Ruby: “Nope! It was just us honey.”

Paul: “A bit of wind and nails raking over cement makes it sound like a whole hoard is on your heels.”

Walking over to Wood I wordlessly pulled on his lapel exposing the flasks residing in his bandolier. Slipping the last one out of the line that lay across his chest, I slowly unscrewing the top then took a deliberately long draught of spiced rum. All the while eyeing the chortling miscreants atop the wall. Their mirth sputtered out quickly under the waves of fury they finally felt rolling towards them.

Me (turning to Beatrice): “No, I think we succumbed to the sinister atmosphere of a cemetery at night.”

Beatrice (glancing at the top of the wall for a moment): “We knew they’d been chasing us, so we thought we heard feet behind us.”

Alice (contrite): “Sorry Caretaker. We didn’t mean to scare you and your friends…”

Paul (crestfallen): “….it’s just when we saw you wearing those silly costumes causing such a commotion….”

Orin (sheepish): “…we just couldn’t resist.”

Laney (looking up at me, hope unmistakably sprouting): “So no one’s on the other side? Our imaginations were working overtime?”

Me (looking first at Laney, then up to the Residents): “This is how these places get such rotten reputations, they play tricks on you.”

Orin (pleading): “Don’t be mad Caretaker. Please? Joseph sent us to help you. He and the others lead the search parties up to the Manor and Great House so you could get away. We just got carried away.”

Beatrice: “We should still get while the getting’s good. They’ll figure we gave them the slip eventually.”

Wood (beating me to the punch and with visible relief): “Don’t worry I think I see out chariot now!”

With our luck, it will be a patrol car. 

A wave of exhaustion engulfed me, extinguishing all traces of the fury threatening to explode moments before. Did Wood add Xanax to the rum tonight? More likely my adrenaline finally ran out. The Residents sensing my anger withering away, burst into a chorus of apologies aimed at all of us (irregardless that only I could hear them it’s the thought that counts).

Iris: “Looks like a station wagon Caretaker.”

Me (wondering out loud): “Why is Robbie driving Aunt Pearl’s car?”

It turns out the Resident’s weren’t the only ones playing games this evening….When the silver station wagon pulled to the curb, I figured out who Wood been texting. 

Stifled giggles erupted when Aunt Pearl and Uncle alighted from the car.

Aunt Pearl: “Well good morning! Funny running into you here.”

Yes, a real coincidence. 

Aunt Pearl (stepping on to the curb and waving her hand): “Your costumes are wonderful. Now line up in front of the gate so I can take a group picture!”

The Residents knowing they were still in the doghouse valiantly attempted to keep it together. Only an occasional muffled tee-hee-hee escaped their lips. 

Aunt Pearl (pumping he arm): “Give me a nice ‘AARRGGHHH!’ for the camera.”

If it was possible for the Residents to die of laughter they might have at this point. I really couldn’t blame them.

Aunt Pearl: “Phoebe stop glaring at Dourwood and smile!”

Wood, who’d adopted the countenance of an angel, beamed the entire time Aunt Pearl performed precise micro adjustments to our costumes, hair, stances and facial expressions. All so she could capture the perfect piratey portrait of the four of us (and the trip down memory lane, of every Halloween photo shoot we’d endured as kids, was just an added bonus). She didn’t even break stride when discovering one of our number was a complete stranger to her – ‘Don’t worry dear I’ll send a print to your folks.’ And didn’t Beatrice looked just thrilled at the prospect. 

Uncle watched the entire process with a rather amused expression – despite my pleading glances.

Joseph (wryly calling down): “You might want to head out now. The search parties are dispersing.”

Please let the earth open up and swallow me now.

1.57 Run!

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What did I do to piss off the fates? Or perhaps they were as capricious as advertised. Because we had less than a quarter mile left to travel when a  Resident called out the first warning.

Paul: “Incoming!”

Little Ben may hate teen trespassers, but he was too cheap to replace the lights they’d broken. Without a street light or steady moonlight (the moon had decided to flirt with us), The Crossroads were very dark indeed.

Brilliant for kids climbing over the wall – abominable for escaping pirates. 

So how did they spot us? 

Didn’t matter. The Inebriated Three stopped singing when the leaves started skittering and crackling a few yards behind us. The hunters were hot on our tail. 

Without urging they sped up.

Laney clung to my hand so hard it hurt.

Wood (softly calling to me): “I can hear them.”

Beatrice: “So can I, but I can’t see…”

Orin (shouting): “Run!”

Me (panting): “Orin it’s too dark, I can’t see well enough to run!”

Even before the sentence finished, I felt a frosty hand slip into mine, leading us into a reckless run to the gates. He slithered around the sunken graves while we merely attempted to avoid stumbling, falling or twisting our ankles on their fringes. The serpentine pattern of our run completely confused me. Our feet ate up the ground, but when the moonlight momentarily skipped over the grass before us, the Gates appeared no closer. All the while the hiss and crunch of our opponent’s feet running thru leaves behind us grew steadily louder.

Our legs pumped, our breath bellowed, and we hung on to each other even harder trying to combat the sweat streaking our palms.

Wood (panting): “Where are they?”

Unheeding of our distress Orin continued pulling us forward on the twisting path forged by the unceasing information called out by the other Residents.

“Fifteen yards behind you!”

“Second group cutting diagonally west trying to cut you off!”

“A third group just arrived!”

Chief Escape Artist, my ass, should’ve taken a swig from one of the innumerable passes the flasks took this evening. Maybe then anxiety wouldn’t be howling in my head, and my heart wouldn’t be readying itself to explode from fear (yes I know alcohol isn’t the answer – but right now it really was). Though the Inebriated Three didn’t sound particularly calm at the moment either, so perhaps it doesn’t dull anxiety as much as I hoped. 

The Residents gave us no quarter.

“Four heading in from the east.”

“Little Ben just arrived.”

“Two people down out of the closest group – but one’s still gaining on you.”

Even over their calls, I could hear snapping and skidding of those after us.

Beatrice (pulling up from a stumble): “My god, how many are back there?”

Wood (gasping): “Are we close?”

In answer, the Moon emerged for a moment to send a beam to illuminate the gates which were fifteen yards away. With one last burst, our legs screaming for relief, we surged forward snaking our way between the last of the markers. 

Alice: “The Gate are still free! Hurry!”

Orin slowed, then his hand disappeared from mine and was replaced by the rough wood of The Crossroads’ gate. Frantically my hands sought the lock, my ears keenly attune to the whispering leaves and grass behind us. 

Me (running my hands over the gate): “The lock, find the lock.”

“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” The Resident’s chanted. Our panic was practically palatable.

Beatrice (yelling): “Here!”

“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” Their voices riding the shrieking fear dancing across my nerves.

Fumbling with my keys, almost in tears when they slipped from my fingers, I finally found the lock and slid my key home. Twisting it I pulled the gate open, we fell thru, slammed the sucker closed together and I locked it in a flash.

Leaning against the gate, we all blinked at the sight before us – the well-preserved houses of Old Town tucked up tight, glittering under the diligent efforts of Jack Frost and ambient light. The utter peace and stillness of the night entirely at odds with our racing hearts and whistling lungs.

Nothing (other than our panting) broke the silence of the neighborhood; no rattling keys, turning locks, shouting, pounding, creaks or groans from the other side. 

Nothing split the sense of peace until Orin, and the other Residents started laughing like loons from the top of the wall.

Startled it took a moment for the other shoe to drop.

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