Half expecting to find Orin smirking at me, despite my reassurances that his presence here was unnecessary. It took a long second for the significance of the shock of snow-white hair above a pair of shoulders draped in a deep forest green suit coat to register.
Shirt. Shirt. Shirt!
What the forking hall is Abraham’s Errant doing in Sarah’s family’s front room?
Keeping half an ear out for Sarah’s inevitable return, I eased inside, training my eyes on the Errant’s lean figure, looking for a flicker of movement indicating he knew I was drawing closer.
He didn’t twitch.
Skirting around the central coffee table, wary of the sprawling (mid-contest) Monopoly game laying on its surface and teetering along the edge, it only took a handful of seconds to reach the suited up Errant standing before the cold brick fireplace. Wrapping my fingers around his wrist immediately transformed his statuesque countenance into a struggling mass of elbows and knees intent on breaking my unbreakable grasp.
Of course, this borderline order didn’t do much (or help in any way), as he continued yanking on his arm while backpedaling away from me.
Trying again, this time aiming for less authoritative and more unruffled, I identified myself in an even voice. “I am the Caretaker of Nevermore, who are you?”
“Caretaker? Caretaker. Caretaker. Caretaker. Caretaker. Caretaker.” Crooning my title like his favorite song, he immediately stilled.
You know the protracted discordant noise a piano makes when someone depresses the pedal and hits a whole bunch of random keys at the same time? The lingering dissonance of that note is the best way to describe the Vita presently resonating under my grip.
And if you haven’t guessed – it isn’t a good sign.
“Yes, I am the Caretaker. Who are you?”
“The Fool. The Fool. The Fool. The Fool.” He sang softly at me.
There’s a possibility I could bring him back from the brink. However, if Abraham’s correct and The Fool’s (I’m going with it) the root cause of Rye’s missing Errants – this might be bad – as it might allow him to muster enough Vita to attack someone stronger – and win. On the other hand, it could keep him from syphoning off another Errant’s Vita to stave off Fading and/or stay sane (well saner). Thus allowing me time to find his Origin Point. And technically speaking, I haven’t uncovered anything corroborating Abraham’s claims…
Weaving a delicate thread of my own Vita into The Fool’s, I strove to balance his.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
“Help…” The singsong sound cadence belied the naked desperation painting his face.
Not wanting to overwhelm him, I braided a slightly sturdier fiber of Vita in with The Fool’s, bringing it closer to equipoise. “How can I help? What’s your name? Where’s your Origin Point?..” Unfortunately, a series of thumps, bumps, and thuds interrupted my litany of the Six Ws (the foundations of problem-solving).
The Fool, finally able to form full sentences, and sandwiched his desperation into them – did so. “Please, let me go. If I don’t see you with her, I won’t have to tell them about you.”
Listening to the swish of Sarah’s nylon coat grow closer, waves of panic started rolling off him. Just as he opened his mouth to renew his plea, I released his wrist and watched him sprint from Sarah’s living room.
“Morticia, where did you go?”
Stepping towards the table, I stared down at the thimble straddling the line between jail and the just visiting square, wondering if I could figure out if The Fool was friend or foe on my own. I still needed to visit Eliza, and Abraham might’ve found out something new since I saw him last…
In the throes of woolgathering, I tuned out Sarah’s entrance into the living room.
Every Errand and Resident have their geographical limits…It’s possible if I use Eliza’s spot and Sarah’s house as starting points…I’ve done it before…but it sounds like he needs help sooner…Shifting my gaze off the thimble, I slid it up to the apple crate filled with four binders now sitting on the davenport. Or I could keep the only tangible connection I’d found to The Fool, forego my fantasy of firing Sarah and see if I could shrug off enough hurt from the knife she buried in my back to stand her company…
Some days being an adult really sucks.
Breaking the unintended silence with a sigh, I looked Sarah square in the face and gave her the brutal truth. “I don’t know if we can remain friends after all this…”
Eyes shining brightly, Sarah attempted to interrupt. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to save…”
Holding up my hand, I didn’t let the rest of her explanation exit her mouth. “Look, I’m not ready to hear it, any of it, yet. In fact, I’d never really intended to allow you to explain, as I woke up today, thinking I was going to fire you….”
Tipping her head back, Sarah let lose a brittle, bitter laugh. “That’s funny, I’ve been working up the courage to quit for months now.”
Tilting my head at her candid comeback, I was unable to keep my interest out of my voice. “Why didn’t you?”
Her hesitation before answering spoke volumes. “It’s complicated.”
“I get that.” Taking a deep breath, I stopped dancing around the alligator at my feet. “Okay, here’s the deal, if you don’t want to quit, I’m willing to see if we can function as co-workers…”
“I..I…Really? Are you sure?”
Pausing her, before she accepted and/or her bright eyes spilled over, I finished my offer. “…on two conditions. First and foremost, you’ll be demoted back to an undertaker. Second, until we find a new Chief, you might need to pitch in with some of the paperwork, so we don’t fall behind…Are these terms acceptable to you?”