Two for Luck

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The sentinels of Nevermore that greeted Mr. Nelson and I on our way in tonight. Perhaps they’ll bring me better luck in dealing with Aunt Pearl and Uncle than they did with dealing with the Woman in White…though I was able to walk away from the confrontation so I suppose my luck wasn’t so bad….

2.00 The Grey Man

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Turns out when you inadvertently scare the bejesus out of a septuagenarian, they don’t ask a whole lot of questions. 

Entirely engrossed in the mystery I’d lent him, Mr. Nelson didn’t notice me standing by the driver’s side door until I knocked on the window. After clutching his heart and hyperventilating for a few anxious moments, he leaned over and unlocked my door. 

I thought the Princess smelled like a fruit basket before. 

If the squares in his lap and the wrinkled cellophane packages in the back were any indication. He’d happily sampled his way through the entire marshmallow cornucopia. Sarah would just have to make do with twenty-five dollars worth of the suckers – she’d live. Handing me the Princess’s keys (locking him in the car without them felt slightly kidnapy), he finally noticed the swaths of gauze wrapped around my palms, wrists, and extending up my forearms.

Mr. Nelson (eyeing my bandages): “Are you up to driving?”

Me (shoveling reassurance into one word while turning over the ignition): “Yup.”

Pulling the Princess out of her impromptu hiding place, I gingerly steered the car while Mr. Nelson fumbled around in his seat.

Me (cranking up the heater): “You okay over there?”

Mr. Nelson (grumbling and struggling): “Yeah, the seat belt is wrapped around my arm…”

Me: “I’ll stop at the gates so you can sort yourself out.”

Mr. Nelson just grunted and continued to juggle the book, book-light, and marshmallows all the while trying to keep the seatbelt from strangling him. Neither of us appreciated the four speed bumps we bounced over on the way to the gates. He finally got his feathers smoothed by the time the Princess rolled to a stop at the Second Avenue entrance. Turning to place the remaining marshmallows into the box in the backseat – it was his turn to scare the bejesus out of me – with a rather loud and inarticulate exclamation.

Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. 

Me (staring wildly around, dimly registering the pricking of my toes): “What? Where?”

Mr. Nelson (jabbing the air wildly with his index finger): “Look! Over there!”

Looking around for the source of Mr. Nelson’s excitement – I glimpsed Joseph’s back as he strolled around the curve and out of sight. 

Mr. Nelson: “Did you see him? Did you see The Grey Man?’

Me (still trying to get a grip): “The Grey Man?”

Sitting back down in his seat, he gave me a look that made me wonder if I’d accidentally spoken in Swahili. Smoothing his re-ruffled feathers, Mr. Nelson took a deliberate moment before answering my question. Which was great because my heart couldn’t take another shock tonight. Who the hell is The Grey Man? 

Channeling my inner ostrich, I buried my head in metaphorical sand. This is tomorrow’s problem.

Pulling out into the quiet street, I steered the Princess towards my passenger’s house. 

Mr. Nelson (unknowingly stomping all over my tail feathers): “A bit before your time I dare say, before my own if truth be told. But they say Grey Man of Rye is, was Edmund Wynter. A corrupt politician from the early nineteen-thirties who was found one a quiet Sunday morning hanging from the oak tree in front of City Hall…”

Me (my foot barely touching the gas): “Serious?”

Mr. Nelson (a mischievous light in his eyes): “As a heart attack. The only clue? A note pinned on his chest with the words, ‘No More’ written on it.”

Me (the Princess moving at a crawl now): “No more? No More what?”

Mr. Nelson: “That question didn’t get answered for twenty years.”

Me (feeling like a myna bird): “Twenty years?”

Mr. Nelson: “A reporter at the Daily Harvest overheard a conversation when he was a kid, and remembered it. During a slow news summer, he started digging. Discovering not only the meaning of the note but the motive for Wynter’s murder – blackmail. Turns out Wynter, for a price, would alter any record in City Hall to suit. What his ‘clients’ didn’t know was he kept the original documents. Then when he needed a favor, he’d use the originals to extract it.”

Me: “But how does this relate to the Grey Man?” 

Mr. Nelson: “Right after Wynter’s gruesome death, people started to report sightings of him, wearing his trademark gray suit, all over town. Always looking over walls, thru windows, and around corners. It was whispered he was looking for his killer. However, after the story in the Daily Harvest, people began to wonder if he was really looking for his blackmail material, because none of his records ever resurfaced.”

How had I never heard this story before? Me, Morticia, Queen of the Macabre? (Mostly because people keep giving me skeleton themed gifts)

Me (snails were moving faster than we were): “Did they ever catch who killed him?”

Mr. Nelson: “No, and from the Daily Harvest coverage I’ve read, the police didn’t look very hard. Hey, your Uncle’s house is just up ahead. Can you pull in there?”

Me: “Sure. Why?”

Mr. Nelson (clearly excited): “I want to tell your Uncle I spotted the Gray Man! It’s been twenty years!”

Looking at my watch, which made me recall my current state of being (it was concealed by swaths of cotton), and because my ex-ray vision was down, I looked at my dash clock. Which informed me it was only ten o’clock. Still within calling hours of their house (which can extend pretty late if you have something interesting to say or show my Uncle). 

Turning into the drive, Mr. Nelson bounded out of the car before she’d rolled to a stop. Parking the Princess in her usual spot, I leaned my head against the headrest, took three deep breaths then opened the door. 

This should be fun.

1.74 Postmortem

 

Stepping past the now inert wooden box, up to the stainless steel sink I watched Joseph turn on the taps. Keeping my eyes firmly away from my mitts, since acknowledging them only made them hurt more enthusiastically, I concentrated all my attention on the inside of Joseph’s left elbow while he sluiced water over my wounds. 

If it weren’t for all the stinging the water would have felt nice. Its warmth helped to dispel the frigid echo of her hands on my heart.

Me (attempting to distract my mind): “You were going to make her a Resident, if she hadn’t attacked me, weren’t you.”

Joseph (absently): “Yes.”

Me (wincing): “But she attacked you first.”

Joseph (dryly): “I will admit that didn’t bode well. But I wanted to give her a chance at a different sort of existence.”

Me (cocking my head): “Why didn’t her attack work? On you I mean.”

Joseph (shrugging): “Does it matter?”

Me (wincing again): “Well yes, if you can teach the Residents what you did, it could help keep them safe.” 

Joseph (glancing sideways at me): “It isn’t something I can teach them to do.”

Me (sensing the knotting off of that subject, I moved on): “Okay…But how was she able to hurt me? And I her?”

Joseph (sounding distracted again): “Both are excellent questions.”

Me (gritting my teeth while he worked a boulder out of my left palm): “Are you going to answer them?”

Joseph (releasing my hands): “Yes, but not tonight. Keep your hands under the water while I find the first aid kit.”

Resting my temple against the cabinet above the sink, I closed my eyes and obeyed… 

Joseph startled me when he pulled my beleaguered appendages out from under the water and started drying them with a large piece of gauze. Seems I’ve acquired the new and useful skill of dozing off while standing up. Yet another talent which isn’t really résumé applicable. 

Tipping my head back I struggled to shove away my exhaustion, while Joseph started to apply ointment from the kit he’d found.

Me (casting about for a new topic while he worked on me): “How did you know she was here tonight?” 

Joseph (exasperated): “You think I don’t know when a Woman In White crosses into Nevermore? How did you know she was here? The message Mazy relayed stated her arrival wasn’t for a few more days.” 

Me: “Radio. Sarah let me down. County probably changed dates without telling her. Crap!!!”

Joseph (pausing in his application of bandages): What?

Me (looking him in the eye and waving my hands): How am I going to explain these to Mr. Nelson? 

So wholly occupied with the creation of at least a moderately plausible explanation for my current state I failed to notice when Joseph finished bandaging me up and started herding me towards the door. When I finally realized where we were heading (and the fact Joseph seemed inordinately amused by my highly improbable scenarios), I protested. He shouldn’t have to clean up the mess all by himself. When pointed out Mr. Nelson probably wouldn’t stay put forever, I was forced to concede the point.

Me (treading wearily to the end of the hallway): Sorry for ruining your offer of Residency.

Joseph (stepping a pace ahead and opening the outside door): The only apology owed is for underestimation of my skills.

Me (I started to apologize again until I saw the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth): Not pompous at all. 

Joseph (chuckling at my dry tone, he then sobered): Even after striking me I might still have given her a chance if she’d shown any remorse for her actions. But her attack on you proved her transformation into a Woman In White was complete. By coming here tonight, you undoubtedly saved a few of the Residents from being stripped.

Taking the straw he offered me, I tried to use it to subdue the wiggling feeling of guilt inside. 

Me (pausing just on the other side of the dumpster where I’d left Mr. Nelson and the Princess, using my quiet voice): Thank you for stopping her from…

Cutting off my gratitude Joseph placed a kiss on my forehead. Which warmed the very cockles of my heart.

Joseph (smiling): Your welcome. 

Smiling in return, I murmured my goodbyes and walked around the dumpster. 

1.73 With A Whimper or Bang?

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Gasping for breath I braced myself against the wall, trying to gain enough leverage to shove her greedy hands away, but I couldn’t budge them an inch. I nearly sobbed when Joseph’s hand settled over one of mine. “Phoebe let go.”

Gently his fingers probed the back of my head, a moment later the pain receded enough for me to think clearly, “Phoebe, look at me.” Unable to comply in any fashion, it took several minutes of reassuring words for me to detach my eyes from her grasping hands onto Joseph’s face. When I finally managed the task he smiled and stroked my hair, “You’re safe.”

Turning back I finally saw what my myopic view missed, the Woman In White was still as a bronze Rodin. Turns out I wasn’t the only one her tell had clued in to her final decision. Joseph had stopped her a hairsbreadth away from plunging her hands back into my chest.

It took a few more heart beats for the word ‘safe’ to reach my extremities. My hands proved the most troublesome of the lot, locked fast on her wrists it required actual effort to loosen their death grip. When they finally did release, I quickly scooted out from between her and the wall. Burying my face in Joseph’s chest, I took in the smell of old paper, earth and the faint undercurrent of dog for a long minute.

Finally, I reluctantly let go of Joseph’s stolid presence and turned to confront the woman who would undoubtedly star in a few of my future nightmares. From experience, I knew that if I watched the Fade, I might avoid some of the worst images my subconscious would throw my way (though to be fair none of the times I’d needed to intervene with a Resident were this dramatic). She stood suspended before me staring at the wall, her blond hair billowing around her face and her clothes rippling under unseen waves. 

When I finally dared to look at the hands which so mercilessly attempted to strip my spark, I couldn’t stop staring.

“Joseph what did I do?”

He remained silent behind me. 

My brain couldn’t reconcile the images my eyes sent. Forgetting my fear (and Joseph) for a moment, I leaned in for a better look. The Woman In White’s wrists now sported deep char marks where I’d hung onto them for dear life. Sooty black streaks extended all the way up both her forearms highlighting where my hands had slipped during our struggle. None of what I saw made any sense. 

Unable to think of a new question, I turned and looked him in the eye, “Joseph what did I do?”

“You were trying to stop her from hurting you again.” He replied quietly.

Staring stupidly at my blood smeared palms, “But salt doesn’t do that.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

My attempts to study the seared divots my finger left in her skin were thwarted when she buckled slightly then smudged, forcing me to give up my shocked scrutiny. The Fade was settling into her form and was erasing the finer details from her while I watched.

“Let’s take care of those scrapes.” 

Finally recalling I literally had salt in my wounds, my palms stung so severely my eyes started watering. Or maybe it was walking from a dimly lit hallway into Sarah’s bright domain. Either way, my cheeks were wet. 

“I got blood all over you!” My face grew hotter with each new dark blotch I spotted on his dove gray jacket.

With a twinkle in his eye, “Don’t worry, I own more than one suit.” 

When I glanced over my shoulder (and away from what I’d besmirched), I witnessed what little was left of the Woman In White shudder slightly then evaporate from sight.

A small burst of highly inappropriate humor popped out of me, “Best magic trick ever.”

“That is of course what I was aiming for.” Joseph’s reply was as dry as dust, but when I looked his mouth, it held a wry smile that reached all the way to his eyes.

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