1.56 Yo-ho-ho and A Shot of Rum

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(The ingredients for spiced rum according to Wood’s Gran’s recipe.)

Practically dancing in place waiting for Orin’s return I couldn’t work out which of the three fates would be worse if we were caught – becoming fodder for the police blotter. Explaining to the police (and Little Ben) what possessed us to bury rubber ducks in an empty field in the first place. Or the horror of calling Aunt Pearl to bail four pirates out of jail at one a.m.

The tree of humiliation bore rich fruit tonight.

Apparently, the Inebriated Three didn’t share my anxiety of capture (while they all still wore their tricorn hats, they currently embodied the philosophy of Yo-ho-ho And A Bottle Of Rum, thus their new nickname). The flasks of spiced rum they insisted on passing around each time we slowed down or stopped bore a portion of the responsibility for their lax attitudes (yet another one, or possibly two, made an appearance in my Orin inspired absence). 

The joys of being the designated getaway driver.

Me (trying for calm): “Time to put that away, guys. We need to get ready to run.”

A scene from a Three Stooges movie ensued while they endeavored to comply with my request. Helpless I stood back and tried not to split a seam at their earnest efforts to simply stand. 

Laney, the first to get up, stood on the tails of Beatrice’s greatcoat. This caused Beatrice to fall over when her ascent to an upright position was unexpectedly arrested. Wood was fine until Laney careened into him when Beatrice yanked her coat out from under Laney’s foot. All the while, trying to maintain radio silence, they pantomimed their displeasure to each other.

When they were upright and moderately stable (and trying to figure out exactly where they’d misplaced their dignity), I turned around to see if Orin had returned. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I discovered him standing inches away from the end of my nose.

Me (aggrieved): “Seriously, are doing that on purpose?”

The peanut gallery gathered behind Orin broke into a chorus of chortles at my demand. And judging by the number of Residents gathered on such short notice the Inebriated Three and I had managed to cause quite a brouhaha this evening. Their questions/comments solidified this idea; Wow you really are dressed as pirates./Did you miss us?/Did you know the police are here?/I’ve never seen Little Ben move so fast./I haven’t had this much fun in forever…. Their comments went on for a while. 

The fact I was at the root of this uproar added to the Resident’s delight – the pirate costumes were just icing on the cake.

Wood: “Morticia are you talking to someone?”

Me (using the spirts they’d drunk in my favor): “Nope.”

Me (speaking to the Residents: keeping my voice low so hopefully the Inebriated Three wouldn’t hear): “Thanks…” 

Orin (cutting in, turning to the Residents): “Here’s the plan. John, Peter, and Stu follow us to the west. Ruby, Sandra, and Iris the same to the east. Alice, you run ahead to the gate and call the all clear – if it is. I’ll lead them on. Everyone else fan out and keep a weather eye for incoming trouble. Ready?”

While Orin relayed orders to the Residents I eyed my friends – Wood looked to be holding his liquor well, Beatrice wove just slightly in place, and Laney was dancing to music only she could hear. Fantastic. The perfect illustration of the influence body mass played in drinking. With a sudden flare of inspiration (or perspiration or both) I knew how to navigate them through the marble maze which stood between us and the gates.

Me: “Laney take my hand, Beatrice you take Laneys, Wood you take Beatrice’s.” 

Laney (in a slurring reworking of a Beatles’ song): “I want to hold Wood’s han-an-and.”

Me (trying to keep it together): “Ok, Wood switch with Beatrice.”

Beatrice: “Why?”

Me: “This way I can lead you through the headstones, and you won’t trip and break your necks.”

Orin (thoughtfully): “Well it has been a while since we’ve had a newcomer….”

Beatrice: “But I want to hold your hand.”

Ignoring both Orin and Beatrice, I lead our chain out from the safety of our hiding spot. With a few initial herks and jerks, we settled into a nice rhythm.

Laney (singing softly): “Following the leader. The leader. The leader. Following the leader where ever she may go. Tee dum. Tee dee…..”

Laney’s love of aliens is only eclipsed by Disney – figures she’d find a fitting song – from Peter Pan no less. 

Why couldn’t our pursuers helpfully tick like the Crocodile? I ejected the analogy from my brain quickly. My heart didn’t care for it one bit since the Crocodile got Captain Hook in the end. Maybe we were one of the Lost Boys? In disguise? Stifling a giggle, I banished the picture of Orin zipping around us like Tinker Bell. 

The Inebriated Three picked up the chorus (softly): “Following the Leader. The Leader…..”

We were a quarter mile away when I heard Alice’s faint all clear call – perhaps sensing my relief – the Fates threw a spanner in the works.

1.55 With Friends Like This…

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An excited squawk from a walkie three rows away sent us scurrying behind one of the larger mausoleums in this section of Nevermore. 

That’d been a near thing. 

Who knew Seth (the newest groundskeeper) could summon that much stealth? Counting off a hundred heartbeats (sounds like a long time, but my heart was beating a brisk tempo at the moment) I slowly eased an eye around the corner, trying to catch even the smallest movement. Despite not seeing a single hint of our pursuer my heart refused to settle down into a normal rhythm.

Me (whispering): “Wood can you see anyone?”

Since no one’s yelling ‘got you’ or ‘their over there’ I will take it as a promising sign. Maybe this time we’d lost them? Hope springs eternal.

Wood (softly): “Nope, nothing.” 

It seems Laney and Beatrice came to the same conclusion, or they were just tired from all the running and/or rum, either way, they’d sunk down to the ground for a rest. Wood joined them, leaving me to keep my eyes peeled for motion amongst the tombstones.

Me (taking a beat to talk to them): “We’ll catch our breath here for a few minutes then make a final push for the Crossroads.”

The Tricornies murmured their agreement and settled into more comfortable sitting positions. Inching around the side of the vault trying to get a better grip on our surroundings, I nearly screamed when a figure stepped out in front of me.

The Figure: “Caretaker, did you hear about the kids running around Nevermore in costumes tonight?”

As my hands were covering my mouth, trying to keep the squealing I was doing on the inside, I couldn’t reply to Orin’s question right away. 

Orin (taking in my current attire – long coat, embroidered vest, linen shirt, bandolier and the dark plume in my tricorn hat): “I think you might have.”

Seems the dip my toes took in the creek during our hasty exit from the farm numbed them to a greater extent than I’d realized. Well, that explained why it hadn’t hurt very much when I’d kicked that rock – I’d chalked it up to wearing boots instead of sneakers (tomorrow’s bruise tally will prove fascinating).

Me (whisper yelling): “Orin! You nearly scared me to death!”

Orin (dismissively): “Don’t worry, no one’s died of that in years! Hey, aren’t there supposed to be more of you?”

Stepping around me he peered around the corner of the crypt and started laughing. Following behind, I glimpsed the three Tricornes as he must have – Beatrice one leg in the air pulling up her sock inside her boot, Wood with his phone aglow and Laney taking a slug from yet another flask (which she whipped behind her back when she saw the whites of my eyes). All of them wearing full pirate regalia. 

Me (hissing at Wood): “Are you trying to get us caught? Put the phone away! Laney! Seriously?”

Doing a one-eighty, I tried to glimpse any activity amongst the shadows, while my ears strained to hear any tell-tale sounds of feet on grass (Orin’s laughing didn’t help my efforts). Stepping back around to the side of the vault I beckoned Orin to follow me.

Me: “Orin. Orin! Please stop laughing! We need to get to the Crossroads, can you help us out?”

His laughter slowly died during my plea, the silence stretching between us while I watched his wide grin slide into a sly smile.

Me (trying to wrangle what little patients I currently possessed): “Okay, what do you want?”

Orin (taking a moment to think): “You know Mazy’s squirrel? Could you make sure it has enough to eat this winter?”

This night just keeps getting better and better.

Me: “Done. Now, will you help?”

Orin: “No problem Caretaker. Let me round up some other Residents.”

On those words, he walked out of sight. Orin might have laughed, but we needed the Resident’s help. We were at the edge of the old original section of Nevermore – after that would be the Crossroad’s burials.

Where we’d have absolutely nothing, except for the night, to hide us from sight. 

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.

Aunt Pearl Strikes Again!

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Aunt Pearl’s sense of humor…This is what was waiting for Wood and I at the next Sunday dinner. We of course had to take it out for a spin!

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.