Tag Archives: Toby

2.42.b Wonderland

Crouching back down next to the Toby, who was selflessly offering his tummy up for scritches, Wood tilted his head to continue talking to Joseph. “He’s a sweet little guy. How old is he?”

Joseph, clearly amused at Toby’s shameless behavior, stood next to Wood. “I’m not sure, Toby was full-grown when he adopted me.”

“I’ve two of my own, Bert and Ernie.”

“Do they follow you around? Toby’s my personal shadow.”

Stopping the hysterical giggle threatening to escape me by biting down on it. I watched two pivotal pieces of my life that I’d always presumed would remain poles apart make banal chitchat over another impossible thing.

If I find four more before breakfast, I’ll tie the White Queen’s record. 

The stray thought stole the breath from my lungs. 

Can you imagine seeing six impossible things before breakfast? My paradigms feel fractured at a mere two. 

Pulling up the cuff of my coat to expose my watch face, I nearly wept when it read half-past one. It’s a brand new day that makes my next meal breakfast. I don’t care if I’m still stuffed to the gills from our moon bathing nibbles, we’re hitting The Alter for coffee and danishes. 

This madness must end.

“………Morticia.”

Glancing blankly up at the sound of my name, I did my best impression of Dickens. “Huh?”

Wood, placing the back of his hand against my forehead for a second, caught me up to speed. “Joseph asked if I could watch Toby while he spoke to you in private for a minute. I said it’s fine with me if it’s fine with you.”

Giving him a reassuring smile, “Yeah, sorry, it’s okay. He’s the guy I came here to talk to tonight.”

Nodding, we both watched Joseph issue Toby his marching orders, “This will take a few minutes. Please stay here with Dourwood.” At Toby’s yip of agreement, Joseph turned to me, I shot Wood a quick smile, and then he and I wordlessly headed towards the back of the Manor and out of earshot. 

Sinking onto the top step, resting my elbows on my knees, I watched Wood and Toby dash amongst the rose beds having a grand old time together. 

Joseph has a dog. 

Clearly not the most spectacular gap in my knowledge about the man, but I found it unsettling all the same. 

“So Nevermore has four-legged Residents?”

“Not Residents, Resident. Toby’s unique in Nevermore though that might change with the pet cemetery annex.”

“Any other Residents I’ve not met yet?”

“A few.”

Glancing over my shoulder, I saw his poker face in place. “More than one but less than twenty?”

“Yes.”

Knowing that was the best I was going to get, I moved on. “HOW is Wood playing fetch with a Resident?”

“Just a trick, Toby learned.”

“What like rolling over?” 

Chuckling at my sarcasm. “Toby knows that one as well.”

“Can other Residents perform this ‘trick’?”

Joseph shook his head. “No, just Toby.”

“Okay, then how are you doing it?”

Joseph gave me a little shrug and a maddening sphinx-like smile.

Rotating my head slowly, stretching out the tight muscles in my neck, I vacillated between wanting to flick him in the forehead and cutting loose a mammoth-sized sigh. Sensing my perturbation, he swept both unhelpful impulses aside by slipping a thick leather-bound book onto my lap.

“A copy of the Conventions as requested.”

“Are you sure?” 

Joseph laughed at my disbelief. 

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“You realize it looks nothing like any other copy I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

“Nevertheless.”

Cracking the spine, I carefully leafed past the endpapers to the cursive filled first page. Sadly, the poor lighting on the porch and the slant of the handwriting made it difficult to decipher on the spot. 

I have a feeling this book could benefit from an index.

“Do you think it will help Nevermore?”

“No idea, but it stands to reason if both my and Ira’s copies went walkabout there’s something salient inside. Speaking of walkabouts, Orin’s Errant….” Letting the impossible issues drop, as I’d learned a clam has looser lips than Joseph, I filled him in on Abraham’s antics, intelligence, and our plans. 

His face didn’t turn grave until the protests came up. 

Of course, he knew of them, they’re literally on Nevermore’s doorstep. However, he’d been unaware of the extent of unrest Little Ben’s plans had churned up in Rye. “The silver lining in all this bad press and protests is they work in our favor. Not only are they pointing out what Nevermore would lose with the demolition and deforestation, but they will also cause delays.”

Staring up at the stars, he quietly asked, “Does everything rest on finding Big Ben?”

“Not everything…Okay, everything.” Stroking the leather book sitting in my lap. “I’ll find a Plan B.” 

“I know you will try Phoebe.” 

2.42.a Nevermore’s Most Reticent Resident

(Wild Rose Manor’s rose beds during better times.)

Pausing on the Nevermore side of the Wild Rose gate, I used my set of skeleton keys to relock the lock behind us. Then, I accidentally scared the peewaddens out Wood by following Joseph’s instructions and energetically rapping my knuckles against the solid oak door.

Wood (scanning the windows and whisper shouting): “Ssshhh! You’re going to wake someone up!”

Me (grinning and stepping around him): “Relax, no one’s lived here in decades, and security only checks on the house at dusk and dawn, so we’re safe.”

Which is one of the reasons why I’d chosen to meet Joseph here instead of the Crossroads.

Though by the state of things, I’m not sure anyone but security has swung by Wild Rose Manor in some time. Several of the lightbulbs that should be burning brightly were dark, a deep drift of leaves decorated the porch, and the lawn underfoot was shaggy. However, the detail I found most shocking was the state of the rose beds. The plants were leggy, their leaves starting to sport rust spots, and every bush was crowded with spent flower heads.

What on earth’s keeping Ira from dispatching his groundskeepers to taken care of them? On the upside, the negligence should provide me some pretty good cover when Joseph gets here. 

Talking to plants is a thing – right? 

Crowley, from Good Omens, kept an apartment full of house-plants terrified by talking to them and occasionally mulching them. However, the pertinent point here is I’ve got a plant talking precedent. Though I’m sure, Wood will have something pithy to say about using a demon as a role model – even if deep, deep down he’s a little good…

Either way, it’s better cover than trying to convince him I’m rehearsing for an improv workshop – again.

Wood (following me up the path): “So why are we here?”

Me (stepping towards the roses near a working light): “I need to talk to a guy.”

Wood (watching me start to deadhead the roses): “A different guy than earlier?”

Me (starting to create a small brown mound of blossoms): “Yup. There you go, you gorgeous thing….”

Wood (grinning): “Thanks, I’ve started running in the mornings.”

Me (rolling my eyes): “Not you, the rose bush. Talking to them promotes growth. So, running?”

Wood (absently answering me): “Yeah, it helps me wake up in the morning….Do you hear that?”

Off in the distance, the bright bark of a dog broke the night. Dropping the last spent flower on the ground, I wiped the blade of my pocket knife on my jeans then put it away. Joining Wood on the central path between the rose beds, I started walking towards the rapidly swelling sound.

Wood: “Does Nevermore’s security guards use dogs?”

Me: “Every now and again, but they prefer shepherds or mastiffs. That’s a little dog’s voice…”

Stepping in front of Wood at the first pinprick in my toes not only saved me from explaining my watery eyes away (the current arching across my toes was brisk). It also kept Wood from witnessing my jaw hit the ground when a pint-sized blur of white fur bounded thru the lavender, ricocheted off my shins and landed on his haunches at my feet. 

Me (utterly failing to pick up my jaw back up): “Toby?”

Tongue lolling out in a mischievous smile, only a small dog can manage to make charming, the little terrier jumped up, planted his front paws on my knees, and gave me a joyful yip.

Wood (walking around me): “Friend of yours?”

Hand trembling, I touched Toby’s furry head and received a friendly frisson of electricity up my arm as well as a quick lick. Bouncing back onto four paws, the little dog took a shy sniff of Wood’s ankle. 

Me (feeling like I’d just downed a stiff drink too fast): “I believe his name is Toby.”

Wood, who adores all canines, crouched down and held out his hand for a sniff. Cautiously Toby inched forward until he was in nose range. Apparently liking what he sniffed, he bellied forward a few more steps. Allowing Wood to give him a quick head scratch before dancing out of reach again.

Wood (concentrating on making a new friend): “Hello Toby! What are you doing running around Nevermore all by yourself at this hour?”

Joseph (following the path around the lavender): “Apparently, he’s trying to alert everyone to our presence. Good-evening Phoebe.”

Upon hearing Joseph’s voice, Toby raced over, completed one tight circuit around his legs, then dashed back to flirt with Wood. However, instead of playing Toby’s game Wood stood up, waited a beat for me to perform introductions before realizing none were forthcoming, and held a hand out to Joseph. 

Who. Took. It.

Wood: “Dourwood Utley, nice to meet you.”

Joseph (a breath of hesitation between first and last name): “Joseph Marx, nice to meet you as well.”

Doing my best impression of a goldfish, I stared at the spot where the two men just clasped hands, gobsmacked.

1.50 Dealing

michael-mroczek-182786-unsplash

We’d both employed the same cunning strategy – waiting. Perhaps my “plan” wasn’t as lame as I’d previously thought. 

The coffee seemed to need a few more minutes to seep into my system to bad I didn’t have the time. Even in this deluge maintenance would be working (death doesn’t wait for a sunny day) and I really didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions they’d ask if they ran across me sitting in my car. I had a feeling my hair would give away last night’s sleeping arrangements. 

Which meant Joseph and I had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.

Joseph (still looking amused): “So why were you waiting for me?”

Me (taking another swig straight from the thermos): “The Stalker, isn’t a Stalker, she’s a Woman In White.”

Joseph (his gaze sharpened): “Tell me.”

Me: “I found her genesis point when I went up into the mountains…”

While I laid the relevant events from the Fall Foliage Tour into a coherent narrative, Joseph sat in the passenger’s seat listening, his fingers tracing the inside band of his grey fedora over and over while I talked. 

Joseph (enunciating each word): “You think she will come here, at some point.”

Me (nodding): “Yes. After I got back I asked Aunt Pearl about the whole affair, she told me Tiffany’s father still lives in Rye, so I expect she’ll come to Nevermore. When she does, we’ll need a plan.”

Aunt Pearl also hinted at some other old gossip about Tiffany, but wouldn’t repeat it, “not wishing to speak ill of the dead.” 

Joseph: “A plan?”

Me (nodding): “If she’s allowed to wander the grounds she will find a Resident then hunt down the others. She won’t hesitate to increase her own power at their expense. With my odd hours and the uncertainty of when she’ll arrive we need to coordinate. You can contain her until I get here and salt her bones directly, right?”

Utterly oblivious to my companion, I failed to notice his amusement and continued to spout off half-formed ideas.

Still Me (spacing out for a moment): “Sarah would call me the moment she arrives if I asked…. Though if she’s cremated that would eliminate all our worries since fire purifies everything… I could ask Sarah to try to steer things that way…Then there’s the rubber ducks, work, sabotage, and I’ll need to shower sometime…”

Joseph (interrupting my revery, amused): “Phoebe.” 

Me (fretting): “I could sleep in my car here after she’s found so I could be on hand more.”

Joseph (plonking me in the forehead with his index finger): “Phoebe. The Residents and I can manage her. What do you think happened before you came here?”

Me (puzzling): “I never put much thought into it.”

My brain jumping the tracks, how did they cope? The first burial happened in 1840, Nevermore (as it is now) came about in 1846, and I’ve been coming here for twenty-seven years, so that leaves one-hundred-and-seventy-eight-years unaccounted for. Something to think about later…

Joseph (catching my attention again): “…Woman In White.”

Me (my mind reversing from its derailed state): “Pardon?”

Joseph: “I will handle the Woman In White.”

Me (nodding, my head still not entirely on this portion of the conversation): “Okay, I’ll leave her to you…”

Joseph (a hard look creeping into his eyes): “You have a handle on Little Ben’s expansion? I assume there’s a problem.”

Me (nodding, diverted by the small opening he’d given me): “Yes to both…How did the Residents cope before I came?”

Joseph (his hands finally still): “They have me. I protect Nevermore and the Residents from all threats.”

Me (slowly sinking into the quicksand of the conversation): “Like Women In White, Stalkers, Walkers, and Soldiers?” 

Joseph (somber): “And anything else.”

Me (feeling small): “So Nevermore doesn’t really need my help.” 

Joseph (his tone commanding me to meet his eyes): “You value those who’ve been forgotten. You find the lost and bring them home. You protect those who undervalue you – no matter the cost. You are Nevermore’s most unique Resident because you choose to be here. You are needed, never doubt that.”

Not know what to say and trying not to cry – I moved on – Joseph doesn’t do tears. 

Me (blinking rapidly): “Since I’m not here as much right now, how can I find you if I don’t want to ask a Resident to pass on a message?”

Joseph (looking at me thoughtfully, pausing for a beat longer than I’d anticipated): “Knock on a gate, Toby will lead you to me.”

Me: “What’s a Toby? And any gate?”

Joseph (smiling): “He’s shy. But I think he’s ready for you to meet him. And yes, any gate in Nevermore.”

Me (startled into dry eyes): “Wait, there’s a Resident I haven’t met yet?” 

Joseph smiled, put on his hat an exited the Princess, the rain (plus his grey suit) erased him almost instantly from my sight. So many layers to the conversation, but no time to consider them if the clock on my dash was correct. I had precisely forty-five minutes to get home, shower, change and eat before my shift starts. 

Aspirin, I also needed to take many aspirins, not being able to turn my head right – due to a stupid crick – won’t make my day any easier.

(Unsplash Picture Credit Here)