Beatrice sent me this text after she got home…
Beatrice sent me this text after she got home…
So The Alter, my favorite caffeine pushers in all of Rye, had this poster hanging up on their front doors…not worrying at all…especially invoking baby animals and Bambi all in one pic…man I’ve gotta find Big Ben…Fast.
…Tavi sent me this pic at an astonishing early hour of the morning. So either her text got caught in the wires someplace and got delivered late or she was having an exceptionally fun and late evening someplace!
(Laney’s design for the spirit board featured Morse Code…you know to weed out the undesirable tricksy spirits…)
Hunched over and walking backward around the picnic table, l concentrated on leaving an unbroken speckled line in my wake. A bemused Wood, who I caught from the corner of my eye, filching the last bite of baked beans off my plate, looked on.
Wood: “You know, pouring salt on the grass is going to kill it, right?”
Me (concentrating on maintaining an even pour): “Between the dogs, sprinklers, and rain showers, the salt will wash away before any permanent damage is done, don’t worry.”
Wood: “But why are you salting the earth?”
Me (delivering the last words with my very best Count Dracula voice – which is still pretty bad): “It’s a two-for-one kind of deal. It keeps you safe from all the creepy-crawlies, and it’ll keep you safe from all the Creepy-Crawlies…”
Wood: “Safety first, that’s what you’re going with.”
Hiding my smile, I kept my eyes trained on the grains of Himalayan pink, Hawaiian black, and fresh hand-harvested sea salt sprinkling from the slit in the bag.
After a spot of investigation on the internet and a lengthy conversation with Joseph, I think we sussed out how The Woman In White was able to cross the spilled salt and attack me. The contents of the bag I’d grabbed from the supply closet that night in Nevermore weren’t precisely what I thought. Instead of pure rock salt Sam ordinarily ordered, this year, he bought a blend – equal parts gravel, urea crystals, and rock salt (of highly dubious quality). So between this less than stellar mixture and strength born of insanity – The Woman In White muscled her way across.
We’re pretty sure.
Our lack of certainty on this particular point prompted me to use a salt blend Nevermore’s Residents helped me perfect but rarely use.
The imperfect circle I’m drawing might be overkill, as Orin’s unknown Errant isn’t unknown to me. However, not knowing why Abraham Flared kept my hands steady and steps even while I finished my final revolution around the picnic table where Wood sat.
Wood (sounding perplexed): “So what parlor game requires we sit within a ring of salt for safety?”
Me (walking back to the table and cramming the empty bag into my pack): “A spirit board.”
Wood (stupefied): “Ouija? Really? I can’t think of a single person I’m interested in contacting on the otherside.”
Me: “I know, but we’re not going to communicate with anyone there…”
With a flourish I placed the archival box, Aarti from the Historical Society lent me, in the middle of the table.
Wood (raising an eyebrow): “Okay…”
Me: “We’re going to try contacting the Grey Man.”
Opening the box, doing my best Vanna White impression, I flipped over formal photos, snapshots, snippets, and facsimiles. All the while explaining who Edmund Wynter was, his racket, the mystery surrounding his murder, and his notoriously active afterlife.
Me: “So what do you think? Want to give it a try?”
Wood (rolling his eyes): “I’m reconsidering my position on tiddlywinks.”
Wood loves all things weird and wacky but stands firmly in Houdini’s camp in regards to spiritualism.
His wife, Laney, on the other hand, loves this kind of thing. In fact, she stitched me the spirit board I’d unfurled on the table years ago after I gave her first full tour of Nevermore. She wasn’t clear on exactly how it would help me with my duties as Caretaker, but she figured it was better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
(I didn’t have the heart to tell her spirit boards don’t actually attract their intended demographic.)
Me (trying for a reasonable tone while swallowing a laugh): “It might be our only chance to solve his murder…”
Wood: “Last chance?”
Me: “Sightings of him have dropped dramatically over the past twenty-five years.”
Wood (dryly): “Right. I’m sure the drop in sightings has nothing to do with the fact Wynter was murdered in nineteen-thirty-eight.”
Me: “We could ask him where he stashed his blackmail materials. If his wife or murderer didn’t already turn them to ash.”
Wood (momentarily forgetting he thought spirit boards were pure hokum): “You want to find Pandora’s Box? Think of all the trouble his blackmail ledger could cause, Wynter had access to every government record in Rye.”
Me (shrugging): “I wouldn’t read it, I hand it over to the police, they’d read it.”
Wood: “And Pandora only meant to sneak a peek inside that damned box. What if your great grandparents had something hushed up by Wynter? Wouldn’t you want to protect their memory? Or how about my Gran?”
A ripple of electricity arcing across my toes jolted me out of the hypothetical ethical pickle Wood’s question placed me in. Glancing around, I spotted a scowling Abraham standing in the entrance of the gazebo staring at me. Turning back to my Moon Bathing companion, I found the solution to two out of three of my burning dilemmas in the buzzing of his phone.
Me (snapping my fingers in inspiration): “Tell Laney you’ll call her back on video chat. She can help us break in the spirit board – you’ll get a boatload of husband points.”
Wood, while muttering something about wishing Laney and I weren’t so close, answered his phone.
Wood: “Hey Twinkie, can you call me back on Facetime, please? Thanks…. Hey, where are you going?”
Me (getting up from the table): “The gazebo, my guy, just arrived.”
Wood (face lit by the glow of his phone): “Shout if you need me?”
Me (over my shoulder): “Of course! This shouldn’t take long.”
Stepping carefully over the ring of salt, I left Wood to catch Laney up with tonight’s entertainment. Walking past a glowering Abraham into the dim interior of the gazebo, he waited until I turned around and faced him before speaking.
Abraham: “I don’t care to be summoned, Caretaker.”
Turns out I’m not the only one who came prepared for trouble…Wood took one look at my fingers, and without a word, whipped out this small first aid kit and took care of them!
(This was as far as we got unpacking the basket when the Beagle and his Human walked by the 1st time!)
Unfortunately, due to the diet of worst-case-scenarios, my subconscious fed my waking mind all day. Wood and I arrived at Remembrance Park ninety minutes earlier than anticipated. Add to that the number of dogs who apparently called this neighborhood home, Wood and I discovered a few more people lurking in and around the pocket-sized park than expected.
All of whom eyed our plethora of provisions warily – the humans, not the dogs – the pooches didn’t bother to give us more than a passing sniff.
Due to the aforementioned number of canines out on their nightly constitutional, Wood and I wordlessly bypassed the park’s fringe of grass and set our supplies on the single picnic table it offered to its patrons.
By the time I’d inflated the solar camping lanterns, using my mighty lung power, Wood had finished disseminating the acrylic blankets between our persons and the table. And one nosey neighbor worked up enough nerve to lazily paraded his beagle past us.
The Beagle’s Companion (pointedly glancing at his watch): “Evening.”
Me (giving him a friendly smile): “Evening.”
Wood, ignoring everything other than the nibbles, started making quiet nummy noises over the wax wrapped sandwiches, cartons of sides, and thermoses of coffee inside the hamper. From the corner of my eye, I watched the Beagle lead his Companion around the base of the statue, past a trashcan, and behind the diminutive gazebo. (While endeavoring to keep Wood from spooning all the baked beans onto his plate.) By the time the two reemerged on the other side, we’d finished doling out our spectacular spread.
The Beagle’s Companion (craning his neck ever so slightly to take in our heaving table): “Evening.”
Wood (bobbing his head): “Evening.”
The Beagle, apparently annoyed at the lackadaisical pace, strained against his leash towards the street. No longer occupied by laying the table and unable to face my plate or wait until the dog & his human walked out of sight, I wobbled off the bench.
Me (gathering up our debris): “You start, I’m going to get this out the way.”
Wood, who’d just taken a sizable bite of a chocolate cupcake, nodded.
Putting my feet on auto-pilot. I followed the line the Beagle took around the statue to the trashcan, using my Knack to scan for the lingering Vita leftover from the unknown Errant’s Flare. What I read left me torn between engaging in a wild bout of weeping or succumbing to a fit of giggles.
Either way, the knots in my stomach slackened.
Disposing of my handful of detritus in the trash, I continued around to the back of the dainty gazebo, pulling up only after I lost sight of Wood and the Beagle’s overly interested Companion. Working quickly, I pulled the pen knife out of my pocket and used its keen edge to prick both my thumbs. Stepping into the shadowy interior, carefully crossing its creaky floor, I paused for a moment at the park-side entrance to give the thread of lingering Vita a quick tug.
Me (my exhaled words bellowing in the cold air): “Abraham, please meet me here tonight.”
Pressing my bloody thumbs on the posts on either side of the entrance, I set the beacon. Finished, I danced a happy half jig all the way back to the picnic table.
Wood (turning in his seat at the sound of my shoes scuffing across the pavement, shot me a grin): “If we start dancing underneath the full moon, someone will definitely call the cops on us.”
Me (sitting down at the table): “Okay, no dancing.”
(Thankfully, Wood chose not to question what I cut my thumbs on – he just passed me his travel-sized first-aid kit.)
Wood (piecing on the morsels left on his plate): “So how did you plan on passing the time until your guy arrives? I assume you brought something in those bags…”
Me (replying thickly between bites of potato salad): “Parlor games.”
Wood: (in mock disappointment): “Parlor games? You invite me out for a spot of midnight Moon Bathing, and you brought tiddlywinks? Wow, Morticia….”
Me (grinning around a bite of bacon/beef/elk meatloaf sandwich): “Never fear Dourwood Utley I’ve devised something more diverting than tiddlywinks for you.”
Wood brought this with him on our Moon Bathing adventure, another of the Naturalist’s Club protest postcards he got in the mail the other day. He wasn’t trying to insight anxiety in me but just make sure I knew what was going on…
Giggly voice number one: “Her eyes are open, and she’s sitting up.”
Muffled voice number two: “Is she wearing pants?”
Giggly Voice number one: “Nope.”
Catapulted from my revere, I rotated my head and discovered a dark eye below a mop of darker curls surveilling me through a crack in the door. Giggly voice number one, aka my niece Ruby, squealed in response to my regard and attempted to flee the scene – only to plow into and knock over her older brother Theo whom she’d forgotten was standing behind her.
Theo (yelling and kicking the door open wider): “GET OFF ME!”
Ruby (crawling up Theo’s prone form): “She saw me! She saw me!”
Technically the niblings aren’t supposed to open bedroom doors (even temporary ones), but they know I’m a soft touch.
Me (grinning): “Pipe down guys, or you’ll wake the whole house. Let me find my pants, and I promise I’ll be right there.”
Ruby (streaking down the hall and into the kitchen): “She’s coming to help! She’s coming to help! Auntie Morticia will tell you huckleberries don’t go in……”
Me (getting up to check on her still flattened brother): “You okay down there?”
Theo (groaning): “No, she punched me in the stomach.”
Me (looking down at him): “You gonna be okay, or do you need some ice?”
Theo (clutching his middle theatrically): “No ice.”
Me: “You lay there for a minute while I change.”
Theo (wheezing): “Okay.”
Closing the door, but keeping an ear trained in Theo’s direction, I hastily swapped my pj’s for jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. I grabbed my pack off the floor and Ira’s mysterious envelope off the desk and reopened the door in four minutes flat, finding Theo sitting cross-legged in the hall.
Me (standing in the doorway): “Feeling better?”
Me (helping him up): “So what’s happening in the kitchen?”
Theo (falling in step with me): “Uncle Wood thought it might be fun to try making something other than banana pancakes for breakfast.”
Me (grinning): “Ruby’s not having it?”
Theo (returning my grin): “Nope.”
The pandemonium promised by Wood’s proposed shift to the Sunday Morning menu didn’t disappoint.
Upon entering the kitchen, Ruby attempted to enlist my aid in explaining to Wood why banana pancakes were the only proper breakfast dish. My oldest nephew Avery stood at the stove carefully cooking bacon, loudly disagreed with his cousin, and extolling the virtues of his dad’s apple cinnamon pancakes. His younger twin sisters Iris and Violet, who didn’t seem to have a stake in pancake controversy, stood at the table enthusiastically mixing bowls of dry ingredients together. Inadvertently haloing their heads in flour and thoroughly coating the tabletop, floor, and aprons with a fine white dust. Wood, who was keeping a close eye on Avery, shot me a mischievous grin and started opening a can of pumpkin puree – sending Ruby into a near apoplectic fit.
Theo drifted towards his cousin, the stove, and the plate of cooked bacon.
After reassuring Ruby, she’d get her beloved banana pancakes sans apples, pumpkin, chocolate chips, pears, huckleberries, and lingonberries. I crossed the kitchen, set my stuff down next to the door (well out of range of our enthusiastic cooks), donned an apron, and entered the fray.
Forty-seven minutes later, after brokering a pancake peace accord for the ages the niblings, Wood and I sat down at the table to eat.
Theo, inspired by Scooby Doo’s infamous towering sandwiches, decided to create a new Sunday morning delicacy he named The Stack. Six alternating layers of banana, apple and pumpkin pancakes with pumpkin butter (think peanut butter only made of pumpkin seeds) and bacon between each layer, topped with maple syrup and more bacon. His culinary experiment intrigued everyone, so we all tried our hand at creating this concoction. (Save Ruby, who refuses to acknowledge the existence of alternative pancake flavors.)
It was surprisingly tasty.
Demolishing their Stacks in a nauseating spectacle, the niblings now hyped up on bacon, syrup, and carbs took off out the back door making enough noise to wake the dead, the neighbors, and their parents – in that order.
Deciding discretion the better part of valor Wood and I abandoned the kitchen, after making sure the food stayed warm, and there was enough coffee made, to keep an eye on the kids playing in the back garden. Leaning back in the deck chairs, our tummies full of warm autumn spices, we sipped our coffee contentedly.
Wood: “Any big plans today?”
Thinking of the paper-wrapped puzzle in my pack (the real metaphorical carrot helping me bypass my dread), I recalled the deal Wood, and I struck not so long ago.
Me: “Maybe. When’s Laney coming home from the conference again?”
Wood (arching an eyebrow): “Monday. Why?”
Me (warming both my hands on my mug, staring straight ahead): “What are you doing on tonight round about midnight?”
Wood: “I’d planned on sleeping. But I gather you’ve got a counteroffer?”