Category Archives: Dourwood

What Wetted Our Toes!

Just to give you an idea of the swampy mess Little Ben proposes setting the Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery next to – here’s a video from a section of Iron Creek a mile to two away from his proposed site (during a daytime scouting trip – video quality isn’t great, but you get the idea).

Laney, Beatrice, Wood and I may or may not have dampened our toes somewhere close to here, hard to tell with it being dark and all, during our flight!

1.54 Sideways

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Little Ben: “We’ll make an example of them. I am tired of kids drinking in Nevermore. You go left. Ryan goes right. I’ll take the path. Keep your walkies on, Hank will radio when the police arrive.”

We hardly dared to breathe until the crunching of gravel faded off into the distance. Peeling ourselves off the back of the shed, I peered with one eye around the corner to make sure they were really gone. Convinced we were alone I sunk down into a crouch and closed my eyes – trying in vain to calm my breathing.

Wood (whispering): “Since when did he start doing night patrols?”

Laney (her great coat rustling next to me): “Probably sacked the security guards to save money.”

Beatrice (chuckling): “Maybe the aliens called him.”

Laney (a quiet tink of metal on metal came from next to me): “Ha-ha! What do we do now Phoebe?”

Still gathering my wits after an unanticipated sprint across farmland, woodland, and Nevermore I thanked whatever god was listening that Little Ben never got a good look at us. We owe a lot to the university’s theater department for creating the misconception he was currently laboring under. 

Me (my eyes still closed, my nose detecting cloves and cinnamon): “Come on guys, enough with the spiced rum, it does not increase your stealth stats.”

Not bothering to open my eyes I decided to assume the Tricornies looked my way guiltily and put the flask away (rather than finishing it off then putting it away – which sounded more like them). Though I suppose at this point it couldn’t hurt, they were already two flasks in when we made our escape. 

Laney (first to notice the bobbing spheres of lights swarming on the top of the hill): “Guy’s alien spaceships!”

Me (turning to look at her): “Did you finish an entire flask on your own?”

Laney (pointing): “No. Look, aliens! Heading this way!”

We all stopped for a moment and turned the direction indicated by her index finger – indeed about a half dozen orbs of light were rapidly approaching. Mesmerized by their undulating movement we stilled, my brain trying to process what my eyes told me, the baying is what finally broke the spell.

Me (dropping the post hole digger): “Run!”

Beatrice: “What?”

Me (grabbing the digger out of her hand and tossing it down): “We’ve been seen, RUN!”

Finally catching up with my conclusion the other three followed me in flight (to this day Beatrice remains thrilled she got to test her Grade A Beef Diversion – turns out farm dogs are indeed distracted when prime cuts are tossed their way). 

No, things didn’t go sideways when Wood decided this evening was the perfect opportunity for pirate shenanigans – it was forked up from inception. We’d counted on the late hour and darkness to cover our slightly criminal endeavor which. Turns out it didn’t cut the mustard – someone spotted us about forty-five minutes into the execution of The Brace Affair. I don’t think the MacGregor’s hold with Little Ben’s lax ideas of security. 

Thru sheer luck – for the MacGregor’s, not us – they’d cut us off from Beatrice’s car, so I lead us to familiar ground. Which is why the Tricornies were currently sharing a quiet flask behind a utility shed in Nevermore while I tried to figure a way out.

Pulling out my phone I texted my cousin. 

Me: “Ok guys, lets head to the Crossroads.”

1.53 Who Are You Wearing?

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(My tricorn at sunset…)

Me: “You cannot be serious.”

Wood: “You lost the bet – thus you must wear a costume of my choosing.”

Beatrice and Laney both were staring at the pirate costume Wood held up for inspection. As costumes go, it was pretty nice – gold trimmed tricorne hat, leather bandolier, black velvet long coat – the whole shebang. I even owned a pair of black boots which wouldn’t look too bad with the entire ensemble. 

However, I don’t think this was the wisest sartorial choice for planting casket analogs (i.e., rubber ducks) to demonstrate to my common sense challenged former manager the folly of using the particular patch of ground he’d chosen for a pet cemetery.

Me (grasping at straws): “It is well past Halloween.”

Wood: “No time like the present to settle up on an old debt.”

Three guesses what Wood wanted to trick-or-treat as when we were ten years old.

And the first two don’t count. 

Apparently, I did not appreciate the level of loathing Wood still carried over his Labyrinth inspired Ludo costume he was required to wear the Halloween he lost the bet (I wore a facsimile of Sarah’s dress from the soap bubble scene). 

Wood (a sly smile sliding over his lips): “Or are you a welsher?”

Crap. He was serious. Pulling out the whole Guys and Dolls, Sky Masterson thing. He’d spread it all over town (i.e., my family) that I welshed on the bet if I didn’t wear the pirate costume. Then I would really NEVER hear the end of it.

Me (with an air of resignation): “Hand it over.”

Laney: “Wood, honey, that’s a little mean making her dress up.”

Wood (brightening up): “Don’t worry I got a costume for each of us!”

Laney: “Umm, what?”

Turns out the local university’s theater department, to raise money, rents old costumes out to alumni and they just happened to have four pirate costumes. 

Wood: “We can’t let Morticia have all the fun!” 

Not sure why Laney and Beatrice were shocked. Wood wants everyone to be as happy as he is, and having Fun is a great way to achieve this goal. And tonight he’d decided that a pirate theme would kill two birds with one stone. I smiled at Laney and Beatrice with a touch of mischief in my eye, misery does love company.

Outfits in hand we trooped back up to the Lavender Lady to don our costumes, and with the judicious use of safety pins, the clothes fit us reasonably well. Then Tricornies (wordplay on the tricorn hat and corny – though I suppose if I need to explain the funny, it’s not that funny…) decided they wanted a more authentic piratey look, so they raided Beatrice’s collection of curiosities for beads and baubles to complete their outfits. 

Thankfully “we” all agreed to leave the cutlasses and pistols at home figuring they’d get in the way of our digging. Though flasks of spiced rum were deemed a necessary accessory.

Because who ever heard of a pirate without rum? 

Who indeed. 

Since I lost the bet, Wood was thrilled to remind me, he designated me the Chief Escape Artist or in nonpiratey terms – the designated driver. Which worked for me as I suspected they’d already taken a tipple whilst we were wiggling into our costumes.

They confirmed this suspicion when we exited the Lavender Lady, at eleven thirty at night, and started belting out a cobbled together sea shanty:

“Two feet at sea and none on shore,

A Pirate’s life for me!

Our ships’ named the HMS Pompadour!

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

When we explore we always cause an uproar,

A Pirate’s life for me!

Now we are bound for Nevermore!

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

I wonder what Ms. Hettie thought of the procession down her back walk.

1.52 Be Careful What You Tell Children

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Why did Wood unleash his wickedest smile upon unzipping a zipper?

Because he knew I wouldn’t welch on a bet.

Even though I really wanted to.

Back in the day (when we were both ten) I lived next to a gentleman named Sal. Sal towered above everyone in the neighborhood, being around 6’8”, it was pretty easy. One afternoon Wood asked him how he grew so tall. Looking over the fence, down into our wondering eyes, he explained.

He told us the Captain of the pirate ship he sailed on, when he was just a lad, needed a very tall matey. Since he was still growing, they decided to induce a growth spurt. So they hung him up by his ankles and the entire crew pulled and pulled on the rope tied to his hands until – just like a piece of taffy – he stretched out. 

Of course, we had to know everything about the pirate life, and he taught us everything he knew – from fancy knots to sea shanties right down to the secret handshake. 

To complete our education, Sal regaled us with stories about his time at sea, why he had to walk the plank, the time he crossed swords with Black Beard and how he escaped from Davy Jones’s Locker with the largest treasure chest any pirate had ever seen. When he opened said chest, he discovered precious gems, pearls, doubloons and a rather fine tiara. 

With his newfound fortune, Sal decided to retire from the pirate life, settle down and buy a house. He then confided to us, since we were now fellow pirates, that he’d buried the leftover treasure in his backyard – for safe keeping.

At about this point I started getting suspicious, Sal had the same look my Uncle got when he was pulling my leg. When I voiced my concern to Wood, he wouldn’t entertain a single suggestion of doubt. Things got heated – words were said – a bet was made – we shook hands – and digging commenced. 

Because unearthing Sal’s treasure was the only way to settle our argument. 

When Sal disclosed his secret to us, he’d definitely pointed to the left corner of his lawn right next to the birdbath. So we started digging there with wild abandon, we might have been a bit thin on muscle, but we made up for it with enthusiasm. We also decided that archeological methods weren’t necessary since Sal had already disturbed the stratigraphy when he’d initially buried the chest. Which meant things went pretty quick.

Two hours, sixteen inches and one blister later Sal loomed over us.

He was not amused.

Instead of using the back gate between the houses, he marched us all the way around to the front so the entire neighborhood could witness our walk of shame. When we reached my front door, he loudly recounted our shenanigans to Aunt Pearl. During Sal’s booming damnation we stood silently, staring at our shoes, wishing the earth would swallow us whole. 

Then my Aunt asked (as Sal had not) why we dug up his lawn. We haltingly told her about Sal’s stories, the preceding kerfuffle, and the bet. Then we waited for the other shoe to drop.

To our surprise, Aunt Pearl laughed and asked (I’ll never forget this), “Well what did you expect would happen when you told them where to find buried treasure?”. She offered to send us back to fill in the hole, but Sal firmly rebuffed the offer in the face of his own folly. Instead of grounding us (as expected), Aunt Pearl ushered us into the kitchen, gave us a cookie, then sat us down and explained what trespassing and vandalism meant.

I’m starting to think we paid more attention to the cookie.

Fast forward twenty-six years to a recent Sunday Dinner (Wood and I adopted each other at a young age, Aunt Pearl rolls with it).

Aunt Pearl (placing a slice of roast beef on my Uncle’s plate and addressing the table): “Remember when you two were convinced Sal was a pirate and did a number to his lawn?”

Me (rolling my eyes): “I’m not sure we’ll ever live it down.”

Aunt Pearl (ignoring my snark): “Turns out Dourwood was right, he was a pirate, of sorts.”

Dourwood (eyeing me): “OOOHHH RRReeeeaaallllllllllyyyyyy…..”

Aunt Pearl (trying to keep a straight face while stirring the pot): “Yes. He was grousing to your Uncle earlier in the week about how expensive cable is now…”

Dourwood practically bounced out of his seat waiting for Aunt Pearl to say the magic words….

Aunt Pearl (trying hard to ignore his glee): “…since everything went digital he can’t just pirate the signal like he used to…”

Dourwood (pointing at me across the table narrowly avoiding knocking over his glass): “HE WAS A PIRATE!” 

Me (laughing with everyone): “Technicality.” 

Dourwood (shaking his fists in the air in vindication): “If he pirated something that means he’s…..”

Me: “A cheapskate?”

Wood: “No.”

Me: “Handy with tools?”

Wood: “This is so easy it is binary, either you are or are not a pirate. Since he engaged in pirating activities…..”

Me (turning to Aunt Pearl): “Are you so tired of reminding us about our disastrous dig that you needed to outsource it? Wood will never let this go now.”

Aunt Pearl (when she finally got enough breath back from laughing): “No dear, it just struck me funny.”

Dourwood: “You just don’t want to admit Sal’s a pirate and you lost the bet!”

Me: “I did not! Pirating cable is just an expression, not a vocation!”

It went back and forth like this all through dinner, dessert, and bridge until with very little grace I capitulated to Wood’s argument. 

Should have know that wouldn’t be the end of it.

1.51 Rubber Ducky You’re The One…

Unknown Number: “Tonight’s the night!”

Me: “Wood?”

He must be calling from an exam room phone again.

Wood (excitement oozing across the line): “Meet you in The Map Room in a half hour.”

Me: “But….”

Wood: “The Brace Affair is a go!”

He. Hung. Up. On. Me. 

Well, this bodes…something.

On the plus side executing The Brace Affair might help to relieve the pins and needles I’ve been sitting on while waiting for the Lone Ranger to face his fears. He had four days left on the unspoken timetable. 

On the downside, I’d answered Wood’s call on speakerphone and Mrs. Lebondowsky heard the entire exchange. She will delight in disseminating this piece of news amongst the rest of my regulars at the Center.

Mrs. Lebondowsky (trying for casual): “Hot date dear?”

Me (rolling with it): “Something like that.”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (smiling): “Well don’t give the barn away. Leave him wanting more – you’ll get a second date that way.”

Fortunately, she was my last fare today, and I only had three blocks left before I could drop her off. So I goosed the gas and hoped her advise stopped with that particular tidbit. 

Seems Lady Luck rode with me tonight because Mrs. Lebondowsky went on to regale me about the last real date her Dear Frank took her on in 1965 (it sounded way nicer than any I’d enjoyed recently).

Only fifteen minutes late for Wood’s deadline (and ten bucks richer – Mrs. Lebondowsky tips well), I pulled the Princess up to the back gate of the Lavender Lady’s grounds. This maneuver meant a much shorter walk to the Map Room which significantly reduced my chances of inadvertently running into Ms. Hettie. 

Pushing the gate open, I navigated the six steps and three stairs to the door and entered the redesignated shed. The lovely scent of curry greeted me before my friends got the chance or in fact noticed my arrival.

Me (surprised): “Laney? What are you doing here?”

Laney (turning my way, a wry smile on her face): “Hey. Wood convinced me this would be great Fun.” 

The way she eyed the line of manual post-hole-diggers leaning against the bookshelves made clear her skepticism of her husband’s claim. Wood, entirely oblivious to his wife’s doubts, was currently helping Beatrice divvy up a mountain of rubber ducks into four separate piles. Not wanting to break their focus I decided to help the proceedings along by dishing up the boxes of take-out (which would keep Wood from hoarding the panang and Laney from skimping on her vegetables). When the two duck sorters finished their complicated and esoteric rubber ducky allotment algorithm, they swept each stack into separate sacks. Which allowed me to swoop in and place dinner on the table before they could fill it up with something else.

Wood (surprised when food appeared before him): “Morticia! When did you get here?”

Me (shaking my head and laughing a little): “When the ducks were still in mound position.”

Wood, who’d elected himself Capitan of The Brace Affair, started going over the refined strategy – between mouthfuls. 

Wood (finishing his first bite): “Each of us will have a bag of about thirty-ish rubber ducks. We’ll use the post-hole-diggers to dig up a cylinder of dirt, then we’ll plant a duck and then dump the dirt back on top.” 

Me (taking advantage of Wood’s now full mouth): “Where did the rubber ducks come from? I’ll pay you back for them. (Looking between Wood and Laney)”

Beatrice (waving at Wood to keep chewing, snagged my attention): “Don’t worry about it. I’m donating the ducks I’ve collected from geocaching to the cause.  I needed more space in here anyways.”

Glancing up at the shelves above her head I noticed several large empty vases.

Me (a food coma starting to creep up on me): “Why tonight?”

Laney (faster on the draw than Wood): “The first storm of the season is predicted to hit this weekend. If you want those ducks to rise to the occasion, this is your best shot.”

Wood (now able to chime in): “And the moon is full tonight so we won’t need to use our flashlights as much.”

Beatrice: “I even bought a couple of steaks in case we need to distract some dogs.”

Me: “Really?”

Beatrice: “Works in books. So someone must have tried it out at some point, otherwise, why would it keep appearing in print?”

Laney (laughing): “One minor detail, this is a silly plan, but you promised me a ridiculous amount of Fun…”

A wicked smile lit up Wood’s face. Without a word, he stood up and walked a few paces to where my extra boxes were stacked and pulled several garment bags off the top. Shoving his dinner plate aside he laid them down in front of him.

Wood (unzipping the zipper with a flourish): “Like this.”

1.44 All Roads Lead To Rome

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Sarah and Laney (and the boys) were sitting outside on the veranda sipping coffee when we returned. The three of us (and an amused plus two) headed straight into the dining room to snag our favorite flavor of danish before the breakfast bar closed. 

On the walk back to the hotel our conversation devolved from the apologetic maple bacon scones to our general favorites among the pantheon of baked goods – cakes, cookies, pies – we covered them all. So when reached the hotel we were more than ready for second breakfast (which completely undid all the health benefits of our morning walk). 

The fog continued to cling to the treetops, and from the small specks of sky we could occasionally glimpse, rain looked likely. So instead of heading back outside for another hike, we trooped to the game room with plates of danishes in our hands. 

Unfortunately, we weren’t the first ones with this diversion in mind, the room was filled to the brim with people putting together puzzles and playing games (with a very few were reading books). Claiming a table nearest the window Wood went in search of an unclaimed board game which still possessed all its pieces. 

Which, at this point, was as likely as finding the Marx Brothers’ missing first film next to the Yahtzee box (containing four of its’ five dice) on the top shelf.

Never one to give up, Wood won the day when he ferreted out a full deck of cards wedged in the back of the games closet and decided to teach the others (plus one kid who was hanging around our table hoping to score a danish) how to play bridge. (Wood and I acquired a taste for bridge from my Aunt Pearl and her cronies – our love of pastries rose from his Gran’s kitchen). 

Since only four can play at a time, I sat the first rubber out – which as much as I love playing – worked for me. Pulling the armchair closer to to the fireplace I propped my feet up on the hearth and took stock of all the good things surrounding me – a raspberry danish & coffee at my elbow, a warm fire toasting my toes and my friend’s laughter ringing in my ears. 

My Stalker is The Pink Lady who is a Woman In White. 

Despite the denting my calm took under this progression, I forced myself aboard this uncomfortable train of thought. 

After a few moments of watching the flames dance, I closed my eyes and threw my head back, rhythmically bouncing it against the top cushion of the chair. All the while making a concerted effort not to let loose a string of profanities (there were kids around after all) when I figured out exactly where I stood.

My quandary placed me directly on the corner of Bitter & Sweet. 

Again. 

They say all roads lead to Rome. Perhaps that’s true. But I am starting to suspect some masochistic engineer figured out a way to steer travelers repeatedly thru this junction on the way to the heart of the empire. Or maybe these crossroads are scattered at alternating intervals along the road, so you don’t realize where you stand until you look up and read the sign. Either way, I find myself here with disturbing regularity, a corner I do not want to frequent. 

This damned corner with its’ loathsome words is where Romeo and Juliet find love but are forever separated by a name. Where dreamers can follow their dreams but are required to make money. This is where my opposition to the Woman In White has placed me.

No one would ever know if I just left her on the mountain. 

Even with her increased vita, chances are she didn’t possess enough energy to actually kill Mr. Grindle (and didn’t he deserve a broken leg every now and again?). Clearly, the locals know about the Woman In White and have taken measures against her. So the odds of her coaxing anyone else off the path are pretty low. And the salt will render the cairn inert eventually. Probably. 

Walking away would allow me to avoid all risk of discovery.

So much easier to let sleeping dogs lie.

But it’s not the right thing to do.

Damn it.

Fortunately, I still had my raspberry danish and a lukewarm cup of coffee to remove the bitter taste from my tongue.

1.43 Dueling Conversations

(I make rectangular scones with bacon in the batter – when I make them.)

Fortunately Wood and Beatrice didn’t require any conversational contributions from me when we left the Ranger Station.

The Pink Lady is a Woman In White.

Beatrice (holding the maps against her chest): “How did you figure out Ranger Rick followed the Pink Lady?”

I’d mislead myself by focusing on the silliness of Sam’s story and the color pink while ignoring the deeds he’d attributed to her. 

Wood (laughed): “He reminded me of Gertrude from Hamlet.”

Merging what I knew of Women In White with Sam’s tale and my first-hand encounter a chill snaked down my spine.

Beatrice: “The Ranger doth protests too much?”

I recalled what lead me to my initial conclusion of Stalker, her extreme focus, constant shadowing, and formulaic recitation.  

Wood (smiling): “Yup, his derision seemed out of proportion for an urban legend.” 

Instead of taking her claim of injuring Mr. Grindle seriously, I’d dismissed it as a sign of her descent into madness. Something which, in the end, always engulfs Stalkers.

Beatrice (nodding): “People do tend to ridicule others for things that scare the pants off them. And the leg?”

She merely stated a fact.

Wood (counting the reasons on his hand): “Speaking from experience Bee? Anyways. The leg didn’t appear to bother him until we mentioned The Pink Lady. If you noticed his boots, they showed distinctly uneven wear – so his limp’s been around for a while. However his screen saver featured pictures of him mountain climbing – so the leg hasn’t always been a problem.” 

I hadn’t place enough importance on her ability to shift focus.

Wood (continuing on, never knowing I’d interrupted him): “Then there’s his face, it lacks any kind of color – even in November a summer tan should still linger. So what would keep a ranger from working or playing outside when the weathers nice? A cast. If it were his knee or ankle he’d still managed to get some sun, but a broken femur – he’d get out very little, so six months in a cast. It takes another six to lose a limp, his was noticeable but not sever – so I placed his injury occurring sometime last winter – when there’s plenty of fog around here…”

A Woman In White pursues power and vengeance above all else.

Beatrice (summing up): “Add the bit about Hamlet in and you guessed he broke his leg following The Pink Lady.”

Knowing what she was cleared up one troubling detail, why her cairn susurrated so strongly under my hand.

Wood (smiling): “I took a shot in the dark. I suppose it isn’t nice to use my doctor powers like that – but he called Morticia stupid, roundaboutly.” 

It also asked and answered a question I hadn’t occurred to me earlier, ‘How was she able to wander so far from her genesis point?’. 

Beatrice: “What an odious little man. But he did give me some new maps…”

She’d done exactly what Sam and his friends feared, she’d stripped the vita from all those men, to fuel her vengeance.

Wood (turning to me): “Why did you wind Ranger Rick up Morticia?”

What will happen when her revenge on Mr. Grindle is complete? The vita she’s stolen makes her too powerful to merely evanesce, it will take years for her to fade. How much havoc could she wreak in the meantime?

Wood: “Morticia!”

Me (dread settling in my bones): “Salting the cairn won’t work fast enough.”

Wood (standing stalk still studying me): “Why?”

Me (meeting his eyes): “She can probably wait out the salt until it melts away then replace the leeched vita and start the cycle all over again.” 

Beatrice just stood and watched our exchange, her forehead creased in concentration.

Wood (eyes narrowing): “You know what you need to do then?”

Me (shaking myself): “Yes.” 

Beatrice: “Umm…what are you guys talking about?”

Wood (shrugging): “Morticia wool gathers out loud sometimes – I help her focus.”

Me (laughing, feeling a touch better): “Other times he completely derails me.”

Wood (rolling his eyes at me): “So why did you wind up Ranger Rick?”

Me (trying to keep things light): “An idea sparked, and I needed to grab hold of it before it went away again. I’ll figure out a correct apology; Dear Abby must cover this situation somewhere.”

Beatrice: “Does etiquette really cover the situation when strangers are simultaneously rude to each other? Honestly? I think overall you canceled each other out.”

Me (walking down the trail again, channeling my fretting into something silly): “Muffins? Cookies? Scones. Maple bacon scones – simultaneously savory and sweet, while being ever so slightly disappointing.”

Wood: “Apology thru baked goods?”

Beatrice (dissecting my answer): “Why would a scone be disappointing?”

Me: “Because it’s not a maple bacon doughnut, of course.” 

Beatrice: “And why would you not send those instead?”

Me: “Because he was rude too.”

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