Tag Archives: serial story

1.58 Penny In The Air…

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Orin (calling down to me): “We really got the old ticker going tonight didn’t we!”

The heat of my anger welded me in place. 

Unlike the Inebriated Three. 

They were, for the first time, taking a real interest in remaining free of police custody. Wood dashed to the curb intensely surveying a deserted Ash Street.  Apparently, it did not meet his expectations because he started intently texting someone. Laney meanwhile crouched down and pressed her eye against the gate’s keyhole while Beatrice mimicked her attitude only with her ear against the timbers. 

Laney (whispering): “Wood, see if anyone’s coming thru the other gate.”

Orin (leaning backwards in an exaggerated motion): “Nope, not a soul that way!”

This sent the idiot urchins on the wall into more guffaws.

Wood (after a quick check agreed): “Nothing.”

Beatrice (consternation clear): “They were right behind us.”

Ruby: “Nope! It was just us honey.”

Paul: “A bit of wind and nails raking over cement makes it sound like a whole hoard is on your heels.”

Walking over to Wood I wordlessly pulled on his lapel exposing the flasks residing in his bandolier. Slipping the last one out of the line that lay across his chest, I slowly unscrewing the top then took a deliberately long draught of spiced rum. All the while eyeing the chortling miscreants atop the wall. Their mirth sputtered out quickly under the waves of fury they finally felt rolling towards them.

Me (turning to Beatrice): “No, I think we succumbed to the sinister atmosphere of a cemetery at night.”

Beatrice (glancing at the top of the wall for a moment): “We knew they’d been chasing us, so we thought we heard feet behind us.”

Alice (contrite): “Sorry Caretaker. We didn’t mean to scare you and your friends…”

Paul (crestfallen): “….it’s just when we saw you wearing those silly costumes causing such a commotion….”

Orin (sheepish): “…we just couldn’t resist.”

Laney (looking up at me, hope unmistakably sprouting): “So no one’s on the other side? Our imaginations were working overtime?”

Me (looking first at Laney, then up to the Residents): “This is how these places get such rotten reputations, they play tricks on you.”

Orin (pleading): “Don’t be mad Caretaker. Please? Joseph sent us to help you. He and the others lead the search parties up to the Manor and Great House so you could get away. We just got carried away.”

Beatrice: “We should still get while the getting’s good. They’ll figure we gave them the slip eventually.”

Wood (beating me to the punch and with visible relief): “Don’t worry I think I see out chariot now!”

With our luck, it will be a patrol car. 

A wave of exhaustion engulfed me, extinguishing all traces of the fury threatening to explode moments before. Did Wood add Xanax to the rum tonight? More likely my adrenaline finally ran out. The Residents sensing my anger withering away, burst into a chorus of apologies aimed at all of us (irregardless that only I could hear them it’s the thought that counts).

Iris: “Looks like a station wagon Caretaker.”

Me (wondering out loud): “Why is Robbie driving Aunt Pearl’s car?”

It turns out the Resident’s weren’t the only ones playing games this evening….When the silver station wagon pulled to the curb, I figured out who Wood been texting. 

Stifled giggles erupted when Aunt Pearl and Uncle alighted from the car.

Aunt Pearl: “Well good morning! Funny running into you here.”

Yes, a real coincidence. 

Aunt Pearl (stepping on to the curb and waving her hand): “Your costumes are wonderful. Now line up in front of the gate so I can take a group picture!”

The Residents knowing they were still in the doghouse valiantly attempted to keep it together. Only an occasional muffled tee-hee-hee escaped their lips. 

Aunt Pearl (pumping he arm): “Give me a nice ‘AARRGGHHH!’ for the camera.”

If it was possible for the Residents to die of laughter they might have at this point. I really couldn’t blame them.

Aunt Pearl: “Phoebe stop glaring at Dourwood and smile!”

Wood, who’d adopted the countenance of an angel, beamed the entire time Aunt Pearl performed precise micro adjustments to our costumes, hair, stances and facial expressions. All so she could capture the perfect piratey portrait of the four of us (and the trip down memory lane, of every Halloween photo shoot we’d endured as kids, was just an added bonus). She didn’t even break stride when discovering one of our number was a complete stranger to her – ‘Don’t worry dear I’ll send a print to your folks.’ And didn’t Beatrice looked just thrilled at the prospect. 

Uncle watched the entire process with a rather amused expression – despite my pleading glances.

Joseph (wryly calling down): “You might want to head out now. The search parties are dispersing.”

Please let the earth open up and swallow me now.

1.39 Morning People

Version 2

Swimming reluctantly up to consciousness, it took several moments for my brain to register the stomping outside my door as the reason why Mr. Sandman’s spell broke. Burrowing into the warm covers, I hoped a speck of his sand remained to help.…

….When the shouting started just outside my window I gave up all pretense of sleep, unrolling myself I headed to the shower, trying to drown out the voices of the unhappy campers. 

When I emerged fresh as a daisy from my shower (though much less perky), I deduced the Party of Much Yelling would no be heading out anytime soon. The continued cacophony showed no sign of abating, Sue’s flashlight died; it wasn’t Rudy’s fault that the extension bar of his pack was missing; Paul couldn’t find his first aid kit; Why couldn’t they take a boat there and skip the hike.

I decided if this many individuals were up at the crack of dawn coffee must be present somewhere. Where else could they be getting enough energy to shout this much? Descending the stairs in search of this magical bean based elixir, barely controlled chaos met my eyes when my toes touched the lobby. 

Some sort of school outing was the only explanation I could think of as to why there were so many teenagers milling about at such an hour. And from my count, the adults did not enjoy majority status in the Party of Much Yelling. On the upside, their frenetic faces lent credence to my coffee theory, the artificial stimulation it provided was their only hope of winning the day.

Following my barely firing logic circuits, I searched. The dining room? Nope. The lobby? No dice. But I did notice a trend, a steady stream of parental types sipping steaming cups while walking thru the front entrance. Deducing my precious first cup lay just outside the doors I brushed past the other adults into the crisp morning air. Where I beheld the most beautiful sight, an island of sixteen airpots, featuring eight different kinds of brewed coffee. 

A sullen teen tried to cut in front of me, but the judicious use of the stink eye (I might smell like a rose, but my attitude currently featured their thorns) sent him scurrying to the end of the line.

Cup in hand, the aroma helped me focus on the world beyond the shouty people. And the first thing I spied? Wood sitting alone at the end of the porch wholly engrossed in his phone.

Weaving my way past yet more teens, I managed to catch a glimpse of the screen a moment before he noticed me.

Me (mock sternness): “Laney will kill you if she gets a hold of your phone.”

Wood (pleading): “It’s the Manchester Derby, and she isn’t awake yet.”

Me (laughing): “Lucky for you.” 

Wood: “It’s the eightieth minute…”

Me: “Watch your football. I have coffee to drink.”

So we sat together enjoying our harmless vices. I thought herding kittens posed a monumental chore, watching ten adults trying to wrangle thirty adolescents? They wished for some as simple as kittens! Then it hit me. The kids weren’t kittens. They were squirrels! The adults were attempting to corral squirrels. The Squirrels sheer exuberance meant they could not stay silent or still long enough for the chaperones to get a handle on the situation. Without any stake in the dramedy and a cup of coffee in hand – the scene provided high entertainment.

Wood’s ‘whoop’ of victory pulled me back (his cheer didn’t even dent the din around us).

Me: “City win?”

Wood: “Of course.” 

Me: “Laney will skin you if she figures out you’re watching matches up here. How are you, by the way?”

Wood (slipping the phone into his pocket): “The office bought satellite phones, so they could get a hold of us if something urgent crops up with a patient while on vacation. I reimburse them back for the data I use. Kids wake you up?”

Me (sipping my coffee): “Yeah. My window faces this way and stealthy they are not. But neither were we at their age.”

While we reminisced about days gone by the Party of Much Yelling’s shouting reached a crescendo. When the Adults of the Party of Much Yelling were satisfied they’d collected all their Squirrels, the entire party put forth one last effort to wake the whole hotel at this unholy hour, before filing onto the path and out of sight. A stunned silence descended in their wake. Even the birds took a moment to savor it before a tentative chirp tested the morning air. The only artificial noise left? The soft gurgling of the coffee pot under my fingertips, The Party of Much Yelling emptied them all, well not entirely – the decaf remained untouched.

Wood and I wandered back inside looking for a refill, spying a pot behind the front desk we went to beg for a refill. Fortunately for us, Sam was more than willing to oblige.

Sam: “So what’s on the agenda for you guys today?”

Me (adding milk to my coffee): “I thought I might rent a boat and hike Pumpkin Mountain again. Meditation is easier without dogs…”

Sam (tensing up while shaking his head): “We aren’t renting any boats today. We don’t want you to meet The Pink Lady.”

1.30 Takeaway

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(Teriyaki Salmon, Miso and California Rolls were the first items we unpacked! So Good!)

Recalling my initial reaction to Sunny Valley Farm, I decided to wait until I got home before calling Sarah. Crashing the Princess due to distracted driving (i.e., Little Ben drives me to distraction) wouldn’t fit within my budgetary constraints at the moment. So I opted to sit on the garden wall in the Lavender Lady’s back garden and watch the squirrels and birds fight over acorns while I dialed her number.

Waiting for Sarah answer, I took stock of all the good things surrounding me – my toes felt warm and cozy in my wool socks, my crochet scarf kept the brisk air off my neck, and a handful of cookies kept my tummy full on this fine fall day. Sarah picked up on the fourth ring.

Sarah (chirping): “Hey mom! I can’t talk right now. I’m at work. Mind if I stop by for dinner tonight?”

Me: “Little Ben’s right there?”

Sarah (still chirpy): “Yup! So dinner?”

Me: “Seven sound good?”

Sarah (still channeling her inner cheerleader): “Great! See you then! Love you!”

Click.

Little Ben must have been standing right next to her. 

Which isn’t as creepy as it sounds, Sarah Armstrong is Nevermore’s Chief Funeral Director (she prefers the title mortician, but Big Ben won’t let her change it). Who often works within close proximity of Little Ben. I texted Beatrice and added an extra entree to the Chinese takeout order for this evening.  Then thought about it and added three more and a side of hom bow to my request. 

Fortunately, my earlier tasks ate up enough of the day that seven pm rolled around rather quickly. Three hours flew by while I disassembled Laundry Island, made my bed and participated in a lengthy discussion Harold S. Ellington (Beatrice’s skeleton) about my current inquiry while dusting the front room (nope not stalling at all).

At a quarter of seven, Beatrice rolled thru the front door juggling two large boxes filled with takeout containers plus her bag and briefcase. Relieving her of the boxes, I breathed in the wonderfully spicey smells of General Tso’s Chicken and Mongolian Beef. Setting the boxes down on the entryway table I perused the selections, egg rolls, yakisoba, all kinds of veggies covered in multiple sauces (I love sauce) and a variety of rice dishes. At this point, my stomach realized the pancakes and cookies left the building hours ago and threatened to attack the takeout boxes directly, Alien-style.

Beatrice (a bit out of breath): “So, why did I buy enough food to feed a small army?”

Me (wishing I could filch an egg roll): “I might have invited one?”

Beatrice: “That’s a good reason. Why?”

Me: “To help move my table and stuff into the garden shed.”

Beatrice (smiled and arched her eyebrow): “Nothing to do with not wanting to go by yourself?”

Me: “Nope.”

And with timing only Dourwood can muster, he knocked, saving my bacon from Beatrice’s follow-up funny.

Wood: “Bee! Morticia! How are the new housemates doing? Hmm…do I smell Chinese?”

Me: “Sure do. Sushi too! And you’ll get some right after you help me move some stuff into storage.”

Wood: “Morticia, I would love to, but I’m not dressed for it. My suit….”

Me (crossing my arms over my chest, trying to look stern):”…Is perfectly fine. And after you help me move my boxes, we’ll eat the takeout in the shed. Where you can pay Beatrice the ten bucks, you owe her.”

Wood (laughing, looking between Beatrice and I): “Ahh, you told her about the bet? Thick as thieves already! I knew you guys would be great together! Let me grab my sneakers out of the car and roll up my sleeves. That food smells terrific by the way, had an emergency ear infection come in, so I missed lunch.”

He gave me a quick squeeze then darted back outside again. 

Beatrice (shaking her head and laughing): “Can I change? Or should my penance extend to trying to bend and lift while wearing a pencil skirt?” 

Me (smiling): “No, go change. You bought food, that was our deal.”

Sarah walked in with Wood who’d retrieved his sneakers. Things moved quickly with three people (Sarah only carried the food down, wasn’t fair to rope her into Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum’s atonement), everyone laughed when I recounted (with Wood providing sound effects) why I disliked garden sheds. My 50’s style Formica and aluminum kitchen table fit perfectly into the middle of the shed – providing a flat and stable surface for both eating and map reading. 

Fortunately for Wood and I, tonight the former came before the latter.

1.22 The Way Home

Version 2

What do you do when you unexpectedly find yourself in the mire? You keep putting one foot in front of the other and walk thru it. Mr. Grindle’s return call sucked me forcibly out of the rabbit hole I’d fallen into while sitting in a poorly lit park parking lot. 

Step One: Start the car.

My accident prone passenger waited patiently by the curb for me, swaying slightly on his crutches. This time his ingress into the Princess’s passenger seat featured more Three Stooges antics than the grace of applied physics. My toes bore the brunt of his reentry (the whack to the back of my head with his crutch was an accident, and it only smarted a little). By the time I’d limped to the driver’s seat, The Woman already sat amongst the fluff in my backseat.

Step Two: Fishing

Me (glancing in the rearview mirror trying to confirm the carbon date of her clothes): “So straight home then?”

Mr. Grindle: “Yes.”

The Woman (her eyes fixed on Mr. Grindle’s silhouette): “He murdered me you know.”

Me (testing her): “Did you use any of the more exciting stories to explain your leg?”

The Woman: “He explained me away.”

Mr. Grindle: “No, I told my colleagues the truth when it happened. So no one asked.”

Me: “To bad. The one about breaking it in a whitewater rafting accident while escaping a ferocious man-eating bear while you were camping was inspired. But I suppose honesty is the best policy.”

The Woman: “A bear wasn’t chasing him.”

Mr. Grindle: “Less interesting though.”

Me (I suppressed a shiver at her words): “Going to do anything fun after the cast comes off?” 

The Woman: “He cast off his ring when he buried me.”

Mr. Grindle (with feeling): “Yes, I am going to scratch an itch on my calf.”

Me (leaving her no other opening): “Camping?”

The Woman: “He discovered me camping at Pumpkin Mountain.”

Mr. Grindle: “No. Maybe I’ll run in one of those five-k’s my firm is always sponsoring.”

Me (pushing my luck): “Hiking?”

The Woman (deliberately detaching her gaze from my fare and placing it on me): “You don’t have to hike far to find my body.”

Mr. Grindle: “The out-of-doors doesn’t particularly interest me, a walk around Blue Lake is as close as I come. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.”

Me (looking straight ahead, adding extra pressure to the gas peddle and cheer to my voice): “Just thought you might try getting an actual bear story for the next party.”

The Woman (swiveling her attention back to its original object): “No search party came close to finding me.”

Mr. Grindle: “Wouldn’t that be fun!”

We lapsed into a thoughtful silence, which didn’t last more than two minutes before arriving at Mr. Grindle’s doorstep. Fortunately for my toes, his exit from the Princess was far less hazardous than his entry. When I closed the passenger door and glanced into my backseat, the Woman was gone. I helped Mr. Grindle weave his way up the steps to his front door. I didn’t want him to trip and break his other leg or his neck (which was a distinct possibility since the spirits he’d imbibed at the party seemed to be catching up with him). After he “helped” me unlock his front door I retraced my steps to the Princess.

Step 3: Get the hell out of Dodge.

I took a moment to sort out the FLYT ride record while sitting in his drive, this time I remembered to turn my status to ‘Off Duty’. When the front yard flooded with light I glanced up and saw The Woman’s profile filling the window. Mr. Grindle was nowhere to in sight, must still be wrestling off his coat in the foyer. Not wanting to capture her attention again I turned the key in the Princess’s ignition and reversed out of the drive. Trying, with some difficulty, to stop myself from taking one last  assessment of the 80’s glam the Woman wore.

Just as I turned the corner, my FLYT app dinged lighting up my screen – Fare #86 Tip Received: $25. 

I wonder if he meant to tip me more than the cost of the ride? 

1.14 Ointment Meet Fly…

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(A very civilized contract signing!)

I couldn’t hide the grin spreading across my face. The relief at landing in such unexpectedly pleasant surroundings was palpable (with this many books and the promised freedom to borrow would help save a tremendous amount of money – up side? It will keep me from actually acting on any impetuous impulses – in my defense I haven’t ever actually stolen anything – just keeps the mind limber to think how you might try). We both knew she had me, so why act coy? “I would love to move in!”

We settled on terms:

Money: a very reasonable amount.

Move in Date: as soon as I wanted – in fact I left with a set of keys.

Parking: In the alley where it was acceptable.

Schedule: Beatrice’s travel dates.

No fuss, no muss.

I couldn’t pin down the nagging sensation that I forgot to ask Beatrice something, but relief overwhelmed all other emotions quickly. If it was important I would think of it again.

One interesting fact, Old Town where the Lavender Lady resides is only a few minutes from my previous employer. Driving up to the cemetery I spotted a knot of Residents hovering just inside the wrought iron gates.

Right – ointment meet fly.

Pulling over to the side of the drive a bit farther down the lane from the gang (I didn’t want the Princess dinged by the inattentive bereaved) I flexed my toes and waited for the pins and needles to recede to manageable levels and for them to catch up. While I waited I stuck my hands free device in my ear and pulled my phone out of my pocket. When I exited the Princess the Residents started peppering me with questions.

“What is going on?”  “What’s Little Ben doing to the cottage?”  “Why are your things in boxes?”  “Why aren’t you  working in the utility shed?”  “Why did Ben make the rounds this morning?”

I leaned against the pink door letting them slowly peter out. Trying to talk over them would only mean I’d have to repeat myself (I found most people couldn’t talk and listen at the same time). I’d intentionally put this adulting step off; they don’t take change well and I didn’t know how best to sugar coat the news for them. So I just followed my Aunt Pearl’s example and pulled the bandaid off fast, “Ben laid me off last week and I have to move out of Nevermore.”

Wind whipped around us, blowing my hair into my eyes and stray leaves around my knees. Shouting above the noise, “We will work this out. Now stop!” Immediately the wind died down to a persistent (if annoying) breeze and another round of twenty questions started.

“Why?”  “Will you still visit us?”  “What will happen to Nevermore?”  “What is Little Ben going to do now?”  “Can we visit you?”  “Will he hurt my squirrel?”

We stood and talked, and talked and talked – me reassuring them I would not be far away. Yes, I would come and visit them. Yes, they could visit me. Yes, I would explain any changes Ben made to Nevermore. By the time they dispersed, only a gentle breeze blew and dusk settled in around us – I longed to take out my camera, the left-over light of a Fall day made for excellent pictures. But my heart wasn’t in it. I retreated further from the idea when an orange hybrid pulled up next to the Princess.

This should be entertaining.