Tag Archives: blog fiction

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.

1.55 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. 

1.26 “Help”

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WWNDD? Well, Nancy Drew would put on her big girl panties and follow her new friend inside the shed. Fortune favors the bold. The lights flipped on when I hit the threshold.

This garden shed did not meet any of my preconceived notions.

Missing were the overwhelmingly potent odors of fertilizers, insecticides and machine oils. Instead, the delicate bouquet of old paper, whiskey, and cedar greeted me. The aromatic infusion of these scents into my surplus seemed a much more pleasant prospect than what I’d envisioned on the walk down.

Gazing around the space, I also noted the lack of axes, saws, hoes, spades, and mowers. Taking their place on one wall was wooden floor to ceiling flat filing cabinets. Mirrored on the opposing side were traditional bookcases, crammed full of oversized, spiral bound and stapled together books. The cases, like the ones in the house, had their middle shelves dedicated to fascinating artifacts. Only, in this case, the words ‘fascinating artifacts’ should be swapped for ‘unadulterated kitsch’. Stout vases filled with mini-troll dolls, rubber ducks, compasses, plastic goldfish and the occasional dragon and that was only a fraction of her unique collection. 

Who knew a lawn separated a virtual natural history museum from a corner five-and-dime? Or that the shed shared a disturbing similarity to a mad man’s blue box? I swear Beatrice’s shed was bigger on the inside.

Spying an empty area by the back window, I reckoned my boxes would easily fit under it while my kitchen table would work beautifully in the center of the room. This place looked like it desperately needed a surface to set things on.

Beatrice (looking oddly proud): “Dourwood didn’t think you’d make it inside.”

Wood told? Beatrice knew I was freaking out on my walk down? I could not think of a bad enough word to call them. Setting my mug down on the counter to my left, I crossed my arms and pinned my housemate down with a stare.

Me (trying to control my mortification): “He told you about it?”

Beatrice (hands held up in front of her while talking fast): “No. He called while I was in Scotland and mentioned your problem locating the storage area. Trying to help you out. When I told him where it was, he laughed. I asked why but he just bet me ten bucks you’d never step foot in here, I pressed, but he never told me why.”

Me: “Harrumph. Is that why you chose to walk down here at six in the morning? In the dark?” 

Beatrice (reddening slightly): I apologize, I do need to get to work early today. But facing your fears is essential for personal growth? I just wanted to help. 

While I worked out how angry/annoyed/embarrassed I felt, my eyes stray back to the odd assortment of neat junk on her shelves. She should never let a toddler loose in here. They’d go nuts. I found the flat files just as curious, not even the main branch of the library has this many cabinets.

Me  (still trying to gauge my level mortification): “Is it to nosey to ask what’s in the drawers?” 

Beatrice (audibly exhaling): “Not at all – I collect maps. My collection grew too large for the apartment, so I moved them out here.”

I let her explanation go – it held most of the truth – the legs of the cabinets and bookcases matched the ghost of furniture past (the divots in the carpet) in my room. A room which is larger in square footage than the shed, curious thing to fib about. 

Me (looking thoughtfully at the floor to ceiling installation): “What kind of maps?”

Beatrice (walking over and pulling open a drawer): “All kinds. Local, regional, antique, obsolete. Cartography fascinates me.”

Me (wholly diverted now): “Any treasure maps?”

Beatrice (sensing the humor in the question, she closed the drawer and walked to the counter): “No. Alas, the only one I found turned out to be fraudulent.” 

Me (remembering my current conundrum): “Does your collection include an index? I’m looking for a place called Pumpkin Mountain.”

Beatrice (opening a cupboard above the counter and selecting two keys off a row of hooks, turned to me): “Never heard of it, but when I get home tonight I can see what I can find for you. Any reason?”

Me (thinking quickly): “One of my fares’ mentioned it in passing. I thought they might be pulling my leg, sounds like a place you’d find Jack Skellington hanging out in. Now I’m curious if it’s a real place.”

Beatrice (regarding me with interest): “No problem. I like a challenge. Any clue where to find it?”

Me (thinking back): “Mountains. Someplace which allows camping you need to hike to, that’s all I know.”

Beatrice (handing me the keys, her cheeks still red): “Narrows it down a bit, I’ll see what I can do. Here are the keys, if you could lock both locks when you leave I’d appreciate it and please don’t leave them lying about – some of these maps took a long time to find.”

Me (pulling out my Nevermore keys and slipping them onto ring): “No problem.”

Beatrice: “Thanks. Can you forgive me?”

Me (deliberating): “Bring home take-out from anywhere but The Fungus House and promise not to do it again and we’ll be okay.”

Beatrice: “Japanese or Chinese?”

Me: “Yes.”

My housemate peeled off when we approached the alley, I heard her car door slam and her engine turn over in the quiet of the morning (still needed to work out how annoyed I felt about her and Wood’s shenanigans). 

Our apartment windows lit the walk enough to keep me from stumbling the rest of the way to my door. With my eyes focused so intently on the house, it allowed a bit of movement to catch my eye. For a moment a curtain swayed slightly just before a soft light turned off in Ms. Hettie’s portion of the house. 

Perhaps she was more vigilant that Beatrice realized.