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Barred Path

(This post is part thirty-six of a series.  If you’re interested in reading the tale from its beginning, look here.)

From the journal of one Michael Gideon:

June 28, 201o

“Okay, Jesse, see what you can do.  I’ll handle things in here.  Michael, can you go see if there’s any way that Hurd can get here?”

“Hurd?” I mumbled, as Mr. Leets left.  I felt like I was moving through warm syrup.

“Yes, your neighbor?”  Brynne said as she surveyed the hall.

“What, sure, but – what is –”

“We need him to sign the paperwork!  As the owner, he can postpone things until we can present our findings and get a vote.”

Brynne led me back out to the front door of the Citadel, pushed me out and shut the door between us.

“Brynne, wait!” I turned to the closed door.

“Weaver, go!” I heard Mr. Leets shout from behind me.  I turned to see him trying to talk to the wrecking ball driver while Sasha tried to argue over him.  The crowd was getting louder; half yelling to save the Citadel while the other half yelled to tear it down.  The bulldozer driver, clearly on the latter’s team, started and revved the bulldozer’s engine.  I can hear it on the tape long after I’d started running toward Hurd and Angela’s place.

Damn.  Patty’s up.  Time to relocate before he comes downstairs.

*     *     *     *     *

I just met Audrey as she was coming up the steps to my front door.  She was excited about something, as usual, and she followed me away as I looked for a place to finish posting about Sunday’s events at the Citadel.

“It’s so exciting, Mr. Smythe being on his feet and feeling better!”  Audrey exclaimed, smiling, “And that’s in no small part to you, Michael!”

Which brought me up short, stopping both of us in the street.

“What do you know about how things played out last night, Audrey?”  I asked.  “What, exactly?”

“W-well, I,” I had startled her, being so serious, “I know that the Citadel didn’t and won’t get torn down for a parking lot now, because you were somehow able to get Hurd – Mr. Smythe – there in time to sign Ms. Clarkson’s paperwork, and now Brynne will get her vote and the Citadel’s saved!”

“But you don’t know – you haven’t heard anything about Hurd’s recovery?  About how his health returned?”

“No, not exactly how he got better,” Audrey all but whispered, “just that you were involved.  Somehow.”

I thought to myself and didn’t respond; just started walking away from Fallenstar Manor again before Patty interrupted things.

“Oh!” Audrey perked up, reaching into her bag, “As to why I’m visiting, here you are.”  She handed me an invitation.

“I’m not up for another Gathering, Audrey,” I said, looking at the calligraphy on the invitation, “I’ve got a lot on my plate from the last one.”

“It’s not a Gathering,” she laughed, “it’s a birthday!  My dad’s birthday is on the Fourth of July and everybody in Timberhaven attends the party we throw at the hotel.  We’ll have music and dancing, games, cake!  My mom used to throw epic parties in celebration years past, but now I handle everything.  We’re even having carnival rides!  Have you ever heard of Goliath?  It’s a monster Ferris wheel and we have one for the party!  Please say you’ll come?  Brynne will be there. . .” she let the last part kind of hang there.

Even mention of Brynne’s attendance didn’t snap me from my thoughts.  It’s only in playing back the tape that I’ve realized what she said.  I was on another world while she was talking, and only responded once I realized she wasn’t talking any longer.

“No, I don’t think so, Audrey.  Not this time.  I’m going to have to catch you later, okay?”  And I walked away into the woods, leaving Audrey no doubt bewildered in the street.

And now I’m sitting here, catching up my journal.  I’ll apologize to Audrey later, it’s just. . .I need to get my mind around what happened after I got to Hurd’s place.

I was out of breath when their house was in sight, unaccustomed to running as I am, but I could make out the light from the kitchen window.  Angela was standing at it, staring out into the yard.  It was little Corabeth, though, who was waiting for me at the front gate by the road.  She was holding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.

“I need to speak to Angela, Corabeth.”  I told her, trying to walk around her into their yard.  Corabeth stood her ground, barring my path.

“Hello, Mr. Gideon.  Mommy Angela says you can’t come in.  She says you’re still my friend, but that you should know better, coming to ask what you’re coming to ask.”  She took a bite of her sandwich.

“Corabeth, move please, I need to see Hurd.”

She tilted her head to the left a little and looked me dead in the eye.

“No.” she said.

Dateus Interruptus

(This post is part thirty-five of a series.  If you’re interested in reading the tale from its beginning, look here.)

From the journal of one Michael Gideon:

June 28, 201o

I just sat there for what felt like a very, very long time.  Even the silence on the tape playback is awkward.  I wasn’t sure what she was getting at; let alone what I was supposed to say in return.

“I, uh, I don’t know what that means exactly.” Was what I came up with.

Brynne just gave a quick, nervous laugh.

“No! Oh, god, no, I just – I didn’t mean – I was just saying it’s rare that I can’t read someone’s palm.  After all of this build up, it’s gotta be somewhat disappointing.” She started to get up, so I did, too.

“Well, sure, I was looking forward to –”

I was interrupted by a teenage boy, who was all but completely out of breath, bursting into the tent.

“Ms. Dusayer –” he eyed me and hastily changed it to, “I mean, Madam Xaxu, come quick!  They’re starting early.  They’re gonna tear it down now!”

“What?” Brynne yelled, “The legislation was solid! We’re voting on it Wednesday.  Whistleford gave a stay until Wednesday!”

“Brynne, what’s happening?” I asked.

“You better hurry; they’ve already got a bulldozer there and a big machine with a wrecking ball!” To which the boy ran back out of the tent.

“Brynne, what’s happening?” I repeated as she started to run out of the tent.

“The Citadel!  They want to tear it down for parking spaces!  Just, come on!” and she ran out of the tent with me right behind her.

 We ran through the Village and past Old Town, almost all the way to New Town, right to the edge, where a beautiful old theater stood.  It struck me like a shot, seeing it; its architect from yesteryear having garbed it in half-remembered dreams.  I found it hard to breathe. There was already a crowd gathered around the heavy machinery in front of it and people were shouting.

“Where’s Jesse?” Brynne asked the boy who’d retrieved her.

“Up in the Citadel, talking to that woman.” He replied, sneering at the mention of the woman.

I followed Brynne as she made her way through the crowd and up to the theater.  The tape is a mishmash of voices garbled together, but Brynne would reassure certain people as she pushed past them that she and Jesse would get to the bottom of things.  At this point I didn’t really know what I was doing there, but I didn’t want to leave her.

It was as we entered the Citadel that I remembered, “Wait, Brynne, didn’t I read that the town officials couldn’t beat the legislation that protected this place?  That you’d won?”

Brynne stopped short just before we entered the main hall.  I could hear Parson Leets speaking rather loudly.

“What are you talking about?  We never even got to plead our case, let alone get it to a vote!”

“But the Daily Scroll had a story that–”

“The Daily Scroll?!  That’s not a real paper, Michael.  James Mortimer is. . .he’s not well.  I – can I talk to you later?  I’ve got to see what’s happened.” She rushed around the corner and into the hall.

I stopped when I saw who Parson Leets was arguing with.  It was Sasha, from the Gathering.  Seemingly Mr. Trepp’s girl Friday.  My interest was already heavy with Brynne’s involvement.  It became all-consuming with Trepp’s, so I made my way over after Brynne.

“Oh come on!” Sasha’s annoyance evident in her voice on the tape, “What, is this when you all sit in a circle holding hands around the bulldozers and sing Kumbaya?  Give me a break.”

“We had until Wednesday, Ms. Clarkson.” Brynne replied icily.

“Yes, well, Ms. Dusayer, Mr. Smythe never appeared before the notary to fill out his section of the necessary documents in the given time frame.  That leaves Whistleford Properties Inc. well within its legal rights to do with its property as it sees fit, as I was explaining to Mr. Leets here.”

“He’s an old man, for pity’s sake!” Mr. Leets yelled, “You expect him to leave a sick bed to sign on your dotted line?”

“Spare me your melodrama, Mr. Leets.  We’re done here.” Sasha said as she walked away.  If she could have, I’m fairly sure that Brynne would have set Sasha’s thousand dollar suit on fire with the stare she was giving her.

Just then, my cell rang.  Close proximity to New Town made it possible for Patty to find me.  As I fiddled with my phone to ignore Patty’s call, Brynne and Mr. Leets came to a conclusion on what they should do next.  It turned out I was part of the plan.

Palm Reading?

(This post is part thirty-four of a series.  If you’re interested in reading the tale from its beginning, look here.)

From the journal of one Michael Gideon:

June 28, 201o

Brynne’s tent is huge.  Like something out of an old black and white movie.  I suppose that’s the point, though.  Finishing her theme as Madam Xaxu with the ambiance of a gypsy fortune teller who gets to tell some poor schmuck why he’ll be getting fuzzy during each full moon.

“Hold on a sec.” Brynne said, opening a cabinet behind a small table.  She motioned to a beanbag chair on the floor in front of the table. “Take a seat, Mr. Customer.  I’ll be with you in the flash of a moment.”

“Not for nothin’, but you need to work on the consistency of your accent, Madam Xaxu.” She stuck her tongue out at me.  I smiled and took a seat, looking around her tent.  “No kidding, Brynne, this is a pretty spectacular set-up you’ve got here.  I would have eaten this up as a boy.  Are those eyeballs floating in that jar?”

She lit three sticks of incense around the tent and then sat down, the small table between us.

“Don’t worry, Squeamish, they’re plastic.  I really can read palms, but it’s the ambiance that sells.  The theatrical touches.  Who would you more likely believe could tell you the future, Brynne from North Dakota or Madam Xaxu from some extravagant locale in Europe?”

“Honestly?  Not to knock your trade but I’ve never been a believer in any of this stuff.  Spirit worlds, psychic hoodoo, none of it.”

Brynne looked, I don’t know, kind of surprised.

“Really?  Not even after your past few weeks here in Timberhaven?  I figured the Gathering alone would have been enough to shake even the sternest skeptic’s doubt.”

“I don’t know that it’s fair to call me a stern skeptic!” I laughed, “Particularly with the kind of things I’m taking for truths in this town.  Palm reading, conversations with your inner mind, it’s just not part of my world paradigm.”

“Wasn’t your last book about a homicidal alien who comes to Earth from a cave on the moon in order to wipe out a near extinct race of, what did you describe them as, light fish?  I would’ve figured your world paradigm to be pretty all-inclusive.” She smiled.

“Ah, you’re a fan!  But they weren’t fish, they were squid!”  I swooned.  “But that’s work.  I don’t believe in what I write.  No more than you believe those eyeballs are real.  I’m just an ‘accept what I can see’ type of guy, is all.” I held out my hand to her, “But I’m willing to listen now.  Give me your best pitch.”

She took my hand in both of hers but just looked me in the eye for a second.

“Huh.” she said and then looked at my hand.

“What?”         

“Oh, nothing really.  You just sounded a little sad when you said that.  That part about not believing in what you write.  Anyhow, you ready to be amazed?”

I was enjoying her touch too much to argue, “Let me have it!  Is there trouble, Madam Xaxu?  Am I destined to go bald and live a life filled with lukewarm book reviews and microwaved dinners?”

She carefully twisted my palm back and forth, tracing the lines in my hand with her fingers like a blind person reading brail.  Her touch was electric.  Deliberate.  I felt completely relaxed as she manipulated the flesh of my hand; played with my fingers.  I closed my eyes.  Felt as my heartbeat sped.  I imagined the blood flowing faster through my veins.  I’ve never had such an intense reaction to another person.  I started to see snippets of light from behind my closed eyes, like private fireworks, they exploded within the beats.  I felt safe there, with my hand in hers.

Then, I was quickly, painfully aware of a sense of . . . unease that until then had been unknown to me; one I only discovered when she suddenly let my hand go.

“I’m, um, I’m sorry.” She looked flustered.

I snapped out of my daze and quickly opened my eyes.

“What’s the matter?”

“I – I hate to be anticlimactic, but . . . I can’t seem to read your fortune.”

I sort of explained the unease that I was feeling away by deciding that I’d made her uncomfortable.

“Hey, if this is about what I said, I was just yammering like an idiot.  I do that when I’m nervous.”

She shook her head.  “No, it’s not anything you said.  I don’t know what’s going on.  I can always read people.  The only people I can’t . . . there have only been two people who I have come across that I can’t read; Reagan and her father.”

(This post is part thirty-three of a series.  If you’re interested in reading the tale from its beginning, look here.)

From the journal of one Michael Gideon:

It’s Brynne!  I just got asked out by Madame Xaxu herself.  She’s waiting downstairs while I get cleaned up for, as she puts it, a night on the town.

I’ll deal with my houseguest later.

               June 28, 2010

Where to begin. . .

I had a fantastic night with Brynne.  I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a Sunday evening that much.  She’s an incredible woman.  I like her a lot.

God, I sound like some inarticulate kid!

It was a great night, is all.

With Patty around, I’ve taken to keeping my journal on me almost all the time.  My tape recorder, too.  So I was not found wanting in case any Weaver business came up while Brynne and I were out together.  And, of course, it did.

We started the evening on a walk around the Village.  She looked beautiful in a simple brown dress and sandals.

“No Reagan tonight?” I asked as we inspected a stash of homemade garden gnomes that a guy named Clint was selling from his bicycle.

“She’s with Anthony.  They’re watching a documentary on the Andromeda Galaxy that he’s bringing over.  It’s all Reagan has talked about for the last two days.” She examined a gnome made of an old tennis shoe.  A pointy hat made of a paper drinking cup painted blue with what looked to be a fork, on top of its head. “Normally I’d sit with them, but I took the opportunity to have some me time.”

“Oh.” I sound on the tape as bummed as I felt at the time, which goes far in explaining what I asked next, “Is Anthony your boyfriend?”

Brynne’s laughter is a sweet song, even when directed at me.  I’m smiling now as I listen to it.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh – no, he’s not my boyfriend.  You know him as Thegan.  Anthony’s his first name.  But way to just come right out and ask me; the upfront approach.  I don’t often get that.” She said, smiling at me.

I felt like my face was going to split in half, I had such a big smile.

“Oh!  No, I,” – as I try to recover with a shred of self-confidence – “his name isn’t Thegan?” – Brilliant! Misdirection – “I guess I didn’t really even stop to consider – though, now that I think about it, I do seem to know a few people by only one name here in Timberhaven!”

“Yep, I’ve always preferred Anthony but most around here know him as Thegan, too.” She turned to Clint, “I’m sorry, but my daughter has my garden quite well-stocked with garden protectors, I’m afraid.  At this point the gnomes outnumber the potatoes two to one.”

“What about Jarboe?” I asked as we continued on our way.

“Lord Jarboe, “she corrected me, “prefers Jarboe.  I forget how he came to the name; something from his youth.  He won’t answer to his birth name anymore, not since Timothy died.  But I feel as though we’re gossiping now, and I can’t stand gossip.  Being the center of it more than once, I can tell you, it’s not a healthy way to spend one’s evening.”

I remembered looking for figs before the Gathering and hearing from Mrs. Pinley about the beauty of one Madam Xaxu.  It was not a tale told from a friendly perspective, but it did remind me. . .

“Ah, yes! You, Madam Xaxu, owe me a reading.  I recall you offered me one while we spent an afternoon seeking a home for a destitute dragon.  Come, come I must hold you to your honor.” I extended my arm to her.  Evidently, I’m a dork.  Luckily, she is, too.

“You are correct, good sir,” she said, taking my arm in hers, “I did indeed.  But beware,” she took on a thick European accent, “for Madam Xaxu speaks only in truths.  In her tent your soul will be naked; your secrets, exposed.”

“Naked and exposed in a tent with a beautiful woman.  Hmmm, I can’t really see the downside to that arrangement.  Lead on!”  It’s a wonder I’ve ever known the touch of a woman.

“Oh! Wicked man!” she said, laughing – quite generous of her – and dropping her accent as we ran hand in hand like two high school kids toward her tent in the Village.

The Village was fairly busy.  Next to a woman walking on her hands while performing Oliver Twist (her feet were painted to look like orphans) was a man blowing fire of various colors.  Across from them was an elderly painter, a young girl who had built a model of the Alps out of what smelled like manure and some kind of tropical flavored shaved ice, and a middle-aged man who seemed to be in a trance.

“What’s he doing?” I’d asked Brynne as we slowed down to maneuver traffic, “That man over there sitting on the giant pillow.”

“Oh,” Brynne smiled, “that’s George.  He’s ‘cavorting with the spirits’ again.”

“He looks rather stoned.”

Brynne laughed, “Yes, I guess he does!  He’s performing automatic writing.  That’s what the pad is for, see?  He puts himself in a trance and then waits for a spirit to move through him and write a message.” She leaned in close to my ear, “It’s not real.  Don’t believe it.”

“The psychic is telling me that the man’s possession isn’t real?” I whispered back, laughing.

“Oh, you just wait!  Mocking the psychic, I swear.” Brynne smiled, “I’m not saying it’s not real, just that what he’s doing is not a mystical thing, but a subconscious one.  More often than not he gets messages from dead pirates or aliens from deep space, but it’s really just his inner voice firing synapses while he’s catatonic, disposing of unneeded material.”

“Sounds like some of my books.  How do you know so much about automatic writing?”

“Occupational hazard.” She smiled, “When you grow up with a gift, you discover all kinds of other information while trying to understand it.  Speaking of which, here we are.”

Juniper Soot

“You can miss questions with naps. Like how vacuums work or why mamma bears don’t have baby monkeys. Naps mess up wondering.” Juniper Soot

It was early Tuesday morning at the Fell hotel.  Audrey, daughter of the hotel’s proprietor, Jacoby Fell, had just finished dying her hair and was watching as it dripped crimson into her white porcelain sink.  As the dye swirled down, down, down Audrey imagined that the sun rising outside was being born from her drain.  She liked the idea that she had lent a hand to the hue of the morning sky through today’s choice of hair color.

Audrey leaned over the sink, took the water-filled pitcher from the counter and rinsed out her hair.  Once she saw it rinsing clear, she ran her hands through her hair, forcing out the excess water.  As Audrey stood up straight again, in a glance of the bathroom mirror, she caught a gray cat peering in at her from outside the window.  Not so much at her, Audrey noted, as through her.

Audrey walked over to the window, tying her robe tight around her as she went.  It was a peculiar thing, this gray cat.  Not only for being outside a seven-story window, which it was, but that it paid no attention to Audrey as she approached the window, keeping its attention instead on the space where Audrey had been.  Knowing that cats mind what they want to, and not wishing to judge, Audrey simply opened the window instead.

“You, my friend, are quite the daredevil.  How did you –” Audrey began, kneeling before the opened window.  The cat seemed dismissive and merely jumped inside, ignoring Audrey’s half-asked question.  Audrey looked out the window.  There was no balcony on this side of the hotel, only the narrowest of ledges along the width of her window.  Audrey turned her gaze to follow her feline guest across the length of her room and into the bathroom.  The cat jumped up onto the bathroom counter and peered into the mirror.

“Ah, you’ve found your reflection have you?”  Audrey said as she picked up a towel to finish drying her hair, “Not to worry.  It’s not another cat competing for your territory.”

The gray cat turned to look at Audrey as if to say Thanks for that.  Having been born sometime in the last half hour amidst hotel refuse and howler monkeys, I am, as you know, exceptionally dimwitted and turned its focus back to the mirror.

“Well, excuse me, Mr. Gray, for butting in.  I’ll just go get dressed and leave you to your, whatever it is that you’re doing.”  Audrey said to the cat as she left the bathroom.  The cat’s eyes, seemingly mesmerized, slowly swished back and forth, back and forth in the mirror.

Audrey threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, her typical good weather outfit.  Today’s shirt was ratty and torn, and read Roe and Jules: A Timberhaven Senior Class Production, on the back.  It was a leftover from one of Audrey’s drama projects in high school.  It had splotches of paint scattered here and there, giving Audrey the look of having witnessed a fingerprinting incident gone horribly awry.

*     *     *     *     *

The man, known simply as Penrose, was decked out in a canary-yellow, long-sleeved shirt and dirty blue jeans.  He was doing a soft shoe across Maple Street to a tune only he seemed able to hear, holding a little white paper bag and mumbling “da ta-da, da ta-da, da ta-da” to himself as his feet did their thing; his hands keeping the beat on nonexistent cymbals.

A car screeched to a halt, stopping just short of hitting the dancing man, as its driver honked the horn and cursed at Penrose.  Penrose, for his part, simply did a quick turn and continued to soft shoe backwards across the street in front of the car; tipping his imaginary hat to the driver with a smile.  His white teeth against his dark skin gave Penrose a Cheshire likeness that served to suddenly cool the temper of the driver, leaving the man behind the wheel smiling at Penrose in return.

As he reached the sidewalk, Penrose hummed an old tune not heard aloud in probably a hundred years.  He couldn’t recall any of the words to it, but Penrose liked to think that tunes changed lyrics like people change socks.  It was the music that was the soul of the thing, and that this particular soul wouldn’t mind so much if Penrose couldn’t remember what color socks it had worn a century before.

Penrose crinkled the bag in his hands and the smile on his face grew larger.  “Ol’ Mystery won’t know what to do with his self, once he sees what I found for him.”  He continued to crinkle the little white bag.  The action had, over the years, become the traditional dinner bell between Penrose and Mystery, his traveling companion and friend.  Penrose continued to “da ta-da, da ta-da, da ta-da” down Maple Street.

*     *     *     *     *

                Audrey pulled her newly colored hair into a twisted handful and pinned it up, leaving haphazard strands of hair sticking out here and there.  Mystery sat on her bed, seemingly very bored with the whole production.

“Gave up on the bathroom mirror, did you?” Audrey asked her guest, “You’re a peculiar one, I’ll give you that.  Even for a cat.”  Audrey gave a quick laugh at her rhyming skills, grabbed her bag and headed to leave, turning toward Mystery as she opened the door.

“Is good sir prepared to make away?” she asked.

Mystery hopped gracefully off the bed and headed out the door into the mirrored hallway, subtly raising his nose as he passed Audrey to signify that he was above such silly antics as playing the role of Good Sir.  If anything, at minimum, he was a Lord.

Suddenly, Mystery darted down the hall and around the corner, out of Audrey’s line of sight.

“Mystery, wait!” Audrey yelled after him as she hurriedly tried to finish locking her door.  Keys in pocket, she ran after the gray cat, only to turn the corner to find an empty hallway.  Empty save for the hundreds of Audrey reflections looking back at her from the hall’s mirrors.

*     *     *     *     *

Having not found Mystery in any of their typical meeting places, Penrose went back to the little garden where he had stashed their backpack earlier that morning.  The pack was a patchwork design, made up mostly of green military canvas, yellow and red tent material – from a traveling circus he and Mystery had run in to outside of New Mexico a few years back – and old, worn out jeans.  It was where Penrose kept his and Mystery’s necessities, alongside a few keepsakes from their travels along the way.  Penrose grabbed a piece of beef jerky from the pack after carefully placing the white paper bag inside.

“Guess it’s lunch by my lonesome today.”  He said, taking a bite of jerky.

Penrose finished the jerky and wiped his hands off on his blue jeans.  He reached back into the pack and pulled out a deck of playing cards.  The cards read Hugo’s House of Magic on the back, in blue and gold lettering above a magician’s hat, gloves and wand.

Penrose was a huge fan of stage magic.  He loved the show, the craftsmanship that went into it.  Hugo, a sleight-of-hand magician who had a shop in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, had been so grateful to Penrose for saving his prize-winning rose bush while he and Mystery had been in the area, that he’d let Penrose have his pick of anything in his store with a promise that he’d show how the trick worked.  Penrose liked cards, so he picked them but asked not to be taught how Hugo did any of his tricks as that would ruin the wonder of the whole thing.  Penrose liked to wonder about the card tricks.  Wondering on them is what made it special.

Penrose sat down, cross-legged in the grass between a gardenia bush and a sycamore tree and absently shuffled his cards, looking up at a bluer than blue sky while he did so.  Finished shuffling, he turned over the top five cards and placed them in front of him.  Penrose heard birds singing in the distance.  He leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the sun warm him as he hummed along with the birds.

To the sound of Penrose’s humming, in the grass in front of him, the Two of Hearts watched intently as the Six of Diamonds and Nine of Clubs began a contest to see who could do the most somersaults; whilst the One-Eyed Jack sang a sweet song to a disinterested Queen of Spades.

*     *     *     *     *

Jacobi Fell looked up from his desk at the sound of his office door opening.  Audrey walked in with quite the puzzled look on her face.  Jacobi got up and gave his daughter a hug hello.

“Rough morning so far?” he asked.

“Just. . .odd.” Audrey replied, kissing her father on the cheek as they hugged.  “If anyone happens across a rather large, conspicuous-looking gray cat in the hotel today, give me a call and I’ll come take care of it, okay?”

Accustomed to not always understanding what his daughter was talking about, Jacobi merely replied, “I will indeed.” as he returned to his desk.  “Off to the Village?”

The Village was the nickname for the downtown district that ran the two blocks between Maple and Pershing Streets.  It was within walking distance of the hotel, as was most of Timberhaven if one was of a mind to walk.  The Village was a collectors tabernacle; a mishmash of artists, performers, merchants and street people who came together in a society of their own making.  A body could find most anything in the Village, if they knew where to look.

Audrey looked at her watch.  “Oh!  Yes, yes I’m heading down now.  Wesley has a new painting to show me.  He wants my input before sending it off to the auction house.  How he can sell his work I’ll never understand, but here I go, off to lend a helping hand to see that he gets top dollar for a piece of his soul!”  She made to leave for the door.  “Need anything while I’m out?”

“Yes,” Jacobi told her, “as it turns out I do have a favor to ask.  This,” he picked up a purple silken towel with a bundle inside of it, “was delivered last evening.  By mistake, I imagine, as I don’t recall ordering what looks to be a rather antiquated crystal ball.”

Audrey picked up the bundled towel and opened it up to look at the crystal.  It had a yellow tint to it.  “Looks, I don’t know, dirty, I guess.  Like it’s faded.  Lost its luster.”  Audrey said.  “Brynne’s then, you think?” she asked her father.

“My, my,” Jacobi said, peering into the crystal, “It wasn’t so yellowed when I looked at it last night.  Correct, though, as I also assumed it was Brynne’s.”

Audrey gathered the crystal up into the towel and put it into her bag.  She leaned in to kiss her father’s cheek again.  “Okay, then, I’ll see you tonight.”

Audrey opened the door to find Mystery waiting for her.

“Wha – there you are!” she said as she knelt to the great gray cat, “Where did you run off to?”

Mystery’s focus was intent on Audrey’s bag.

“You ran off on me! What’s the matter,” Audrey asked, noticing the gray cat stare at her bag, “you looking for a ride?” As she went to pick Mystery up, however, he spun from her, stopped three paces away and looked back to the bag.

“Okay, fair enough.  You don’t like being picked up.  I can respect that.  Just follow along, then, if you like.”  Audrey turned back and poked her head into her father’s office.  “Found Mystery again, so no worries there.  Bye!”

Jacobi looked to his now closed office door.  “Mystery?” he wondered aloud, shaking his head with a smile.

*     *     *     *     *

Penrose enjoyed a good walk at all times; it was fair to say, but especially after lunch on a sunshiny afternoon.  He wasn’t overly concerned about Mystery, as his friend tended to keep his own time and would come around whenever he saw fit to, so Penrose thought he’d wander the Village a bit.  Look to what the locals had to show and sell.  He hadn’t been back in the area for a good, long while, but seemed to remember thinking that the talent here was pretty remarkable.

As Penrose walked along he took in all the sights and sounds from the Village.  Vendors advertising their wears; one kite maker in particular caught his attention with a row of brightly colored kites, their bodies stenciled with all manner of mythological creatures.  He saw a two man act performing Les Miserables with sock puppets and play dough and a young lady sitting on an upturned five-gallon-bucket playing We Are the World on the violin.

“Excuse me, sir,” a young blond boy, no more than twelve and dressed in bib overalls, asked, stopping Penrose with an out held bottle, “have you yet tried Aunt Francesca’s Vanilla Beer?”

Penrose’s eyes lit up.  “Aunt Francesca’s Vanilla Beer you say?  That sounds wonderful!” he said, taking the bottle.

“It is wonderful!” the boy said, “And only three dollars a bottle!  My aunt, that’s Aunt Francesca over yonder, wave her hello, my aunt makes it fresh every night before we come to the Village.  It’s her special recipe!  So, what do ya say mister, care to try a bottle?”

Penrose smiled.  “I sure would like to try it!  Tell me, do you and your aunt take trades?  You see, I haven’t any money, but I do have stories.  I got stories by the bushel!  Stories from all ‘round the world!  Stories with monsters, if you like, or stories with far away people and places.  I could –”

“No money?” the blond kid interrupted, “Listen guy, I play the part of country bumpkin to help sell the soda, I’m not really stupid.” Grabbing back the bottle, he added, “If you get some money, come back and see me.  Nice shirt, by the way.” He sneered, walking back to the woman at the Vanilla Beer booth, seemingly Aunt Francesca, and helped her with some customers there.

Penrose simply smiled and went back to walking the Village.  He couldn’t fault the boy for not wanting to take the trade, even if he had made fun of Penrose’s favorite canary yellow shirt in the process.  The boy’s world and that of his aunt’s – if she really was his Aunt Francesca – ran mostly on money, Penrose knew.  Cold, hard cash.  The Dollar was a main character in a good deal of Penrose’s stories, especially those of his more recently collected tales, and that was okay with Penrose.  The Dollar had just as much right to play its part in the stories of the world as did a mucus-eyed horn swallow down in Briar’s Gulch.  Even if, in Penrose’s opinion, the horn swallow made for a much livelier tale.

Regardless, Penrose thought, the taste of Aunt Francesca’s Butter Beer would have to continue to elude him until some other day.

*     *     *     *     *

Audrey was busy pointing out to Mystery all the various landmarks that one could see on the way from the hotel to the Village, inattentive to the fact that Mystery was much more interested in her bag than in her knowledge of any nuanced treasures off the city’s beaten path.  Mystery’s eyes never left the bag that was hanging off Audrey’s shoulder.  The hunter in him kept his breathing controlled; his heart rate steady.  Mystery had ignored a tabby’s meowed hello from a nearby garden as he and Audrey walked, so entranced was he in the hunt.  In truth, though, he probably wouldn’t have responded to the tabby in any regard.  Mystery had all the friends he cared to.

As they stopped at the crosswalk to cross Maple, Audrey finished her tour.  “And here,” she raised an arm to indicate the other side of the street, “is the Village.  It really is my favorite place in the world.  Well, okay, it’s tied with the hotel.”   The light changed and they continued the trek into the Village.

“We’ll look around in a bit, Mystery, I promise, but first I’ve gotta go see my friend’s painting.  C’mon, he should be over this way.”  Mystery followed where Audrey led. “Oh, wait, first I’ve gotta go see if this is Brynne’s crystal.  Back this way Mystery!” Audrey made her way through the vendors, saying hellos and wishing good-mornings to a group of artists she knew as she followed a zigzagging path through the Village.  Mystery fell back a few steps, uncannily dodging all the feet from the crowd.

After a bit, Audrey realized the cat was not right behind her anymore. “Mystery!  Here Mystery!” Audrey yelled as she knelt down, trying to find the gray through the unruly mob of legs behind her.  “Oh, now where did he go?” she wondered.  “Mystery!  Here kitty!”

Suddenly a pair of the legs stopped right in front of Audrey.  She looked up to see a black man with salt-and-pepper colored hair and a canary yellow shirt standing in front of her, smiling a broad grin.  Audrey felt soothing comfort come from this man’s smile; like she was on a great, comfy couch under one of her grandmother’s Afghan blankets on a cold, autumn day, with a good book and a cup of cocoa.

“I’m sorry sir,” she said to the man, standing up as she did so, “I’m looking for my cat.  Well, he’s not my cat – not really – I just met him, but he’s my friend, well, we’re getting on rather well anyway – when I know where he’s at, that is – and I didn’t want him to get hurt in this crowd, so I tried to pick him up and let him ride in my bag since he seemed so interested in it – watching it like he was – but he didn’t want held, so I was looking for him and, well, have you seen a gray cat?”

Penrose smiled wider.  “My but you can talk fast!  I wouldn’t worry about ol’ Mystery.  He makes his own way, even better than you and me.”  Penrose stuck his hand out for Audrey to shake.  “Folks call me Penrose and I’m Mystery’s travelin’ buddy.  Him and me, I guess we’ve probably seen most everything the world has to show a body.  I might’ve guessed Mystery run off to find a new friend.  What’s your name?”

Audrey shook Penrose’s hand.  “You’re Mystery’s owner?” her eyes widened, “His name actually is Mystery?  That’s wild!  He showed up outside my window this morning, seven stories up!  I have no idea how he got there, but there he was!  And how’d I even know his name is Mystery?  It’s like magic!  Oh, I’m Audrey.  Audrey Fell.”

“Well how do, Ms. Fell, how do.  Very nice to meet you, indeed!  But make no mistake, ma’am, nobody owns Mystery, no how.  Mystery and me, we’re pals is all.  As for his being outside your window this morning, so high up, or how you knew his name and all, well ma’am, that’s just Mystery’s way.”

Audrey felt a little better about Mystery’s being gone but, while she had a million questions for Penrose, she knew she had to do some things first.  “Okay, if you think he’s alright.  I’m headed over to Brynne’s tent, the psychic over there.  I think a crystal ball of hers may have gotten delivered to my father by mistake.  Care to join me?”

“Will do.  You lead the way now, Ms. Fell, and I’ll follow it.”  Penrose said.

“Audrey’s fine, no need for the Ms.” Audrey laughed, as she headed over to Brynne’s tent.  It was garish; decorated with what you’d expect to see in front of a psychic’s tent if you were in one of the old black and white monster movies from Universal.  A sign above the tent read Madame Xaxu and had a picture of a palm with an eye in the center of it.  “Her name is Brynne, not Xaxu, and she actually has some amazing abilities.  I don’t know why she dresses it up in this crude charade.”

“It’s like magic tricks!” Penrose said happily, “All this production adds to the wonder of the experience.”  He ran his fingers along the purple curtains that framed the entranceway into Madame Xaxu’s tent.

“Hadn’t thought of it that way, I guess.” Audrey said, peeking inside the tent.  “Let me just see if she’s in here real quick.  Bry – I mean, Madame Xaxu!  Are you in?”

The tent was filled with treasures; silk scarves, burning incense and exotic tapestries.  Seeing no one there, Audrey stepped in to place the misdelivered crystal onto Brynne’s table.  But once she pulled it from her bag, she heard what she would later swear was a low, bestial growl, coming from deep inside the tent.  Audrey flinched at the sound of it, dropping the crystal ball to the ground with a thud.  Looking toward where the sound came from, Audrey made out a pair of green eyes in the shadow of the tent.

“Mystery?” she asked the darkness, cautiously leaning forward.

Just as she went to take a step, Penrose’s arm reached into the tent and grabbed her back.  “Ms. Audrey!” he yelled, pulling her outside the tent as it filled with the sounds of angry hissing and crashing.  A deep vibration ripped through the air that caused both Penrose and Audrey to fall over.  The very ground shook and a vicious strangled scream came from within the tent.  An explosion of blue light tore through the tent’s entranceway, followed by a thick, black and yellow smoke that came sneaking out, escaping from any and all points.

“What the hell!?” a red headed woman yelled from a booth across the way.  She was dressed in a long, low-cut green gown.  Her flame red hair and make-up made her look like a Celtic dream.

“Brynne – Madam Xaxu – I don’t know what’s happening!  I just, with the crystal, and,” Audrey began, trying to put into words what just happened, “I swear I didn’t touch anything.”

Penrose helped Audrey up while Brynne ran into the tent.

“I don’t know that I’d–” Audrey started to tell her.

“I think it’s okay now, Ms. Fell.”  Penrose whispered.

Brynne quickly came back out of the tent.

“I don’t, what just happened?” she stammered.

“I’m not sure but I’ll pay for any damages.” Audrey explained.

“That’s just it.” Brynne said, wide-eyed and confused, “After all that, that, that racket. . .there’s no damage.  Nothing’s amiss at all except some crystal ball that’s shattered on the floor.”

“Well, that’s what I was saying.  You got a package delivered to the hotel by accident and I was bringing it to you when. . .”

“I never ordered any crystal ball, Audrey.”

“Oh.” Was all Audrey had in her to say at that point.  Both women jumped as Penrose started crinkling his little white bag.

“I’m sorry.  Didn’t mean to scare you none.  Just figured ol’ Mystery might’ve worked up a powerful hunger.  He always needs a bite after hunting a hopper.”  It didn’t take much crinkling before Mystery walked out from the tent, startling Brynne again.  The gray cat walked over to Penrose, cool, calm and collected as any cat you’ve ever seen.

“A hopper?” Audrey asked.

“Dark creature.  Jumps from reflective surface to reflective surface until it’s ready to pop and come on out into the world in a new, dangerous body.  I figure ol’ Mystery got to this one just in time.”

“But,” Brynne said, looking back into the tent, “there’s nothing here.  No. . .nothing.”

“Well I guess there wouldn’t be, would there.” Penrose smiled, pulling a dried apricot out to give to Mystery, who in turn, gobbled it up and expected another.  “Sure was nice meeting you ladies, but me and Mystery best be on our way now.”  And with that, Penrose gave a quick nod to Audrey and Brynne and he and Mystery walked away into the crowd of onlookers.

Feeling inexplicably calmer now, Brynne pulled Audrey aside.

“Audrey, I’m just going to chalk this hopper thing up to something that I don’t want to know anything more about.  How about you?”

Audrey smiled and waved to Penrose who had turned and done the same.

“I’m good with that.” She said.

“Who was that very nice man?” Brynne asked, feeling oddly at ease with everything that had just happened, waving goodbye to Penrose as well, until he and the gray cat were out of sight.

“His name is Penrose.  His friend is Mystery.  Beyond that, I really don’t know.”

Brynne wrapped her arm through Audrey’s and smiled.

“Well, a typical day around here I guess.” she laughed.

“Yes, indeed.” Audrey said, sharing her laugh, “Timberhaven is one of a kind.”

From the journal of one Michael Gideon:

June 27, 2010

Got everything cleaned before Patty was any the wiser.  I sent him off to find some alcohol for the house, a mission he was more than happy to take on.  I should have a little time to work things through in my head.  About the painting, the hallucinations, hell, Timber Haven in general.

First of all, I believe that it’s clearly Angela in the painting, pointing to the house.  I tried to run next door and talk to her but nobody answered when I knocked.  I looked back toward their house once I returned to my yard, though, and saw Corabeth at the circular attic window.  Her expression was blank.  Not smiling.  Not waving.  Just an empty stare my way as I left.

Chalk her up as another hit on the list of mysteries here in Timber Haven.

That’s not a bad idea. . .

*     *     *     *     *

 I skimmed back through my journal and pulled any and all weird goings-on collected herein – there are more than a few – in an effort to, I don’t know, look for clues.  For seemingly random interconnectedness.  The tapestry of Timber Haven’s secrets, if you will.

It’s fitting, I think, what with my being their Weaver.

I’m going to take these a few at a time, in roughly chronological order of appearance.  Focus, investigate and discover.  That’s my plan.  That and staying away from Morpheus Dust.  Okay:

  1. The forests here in town, particularly around my house.  They play on my mind a lot while I walk through them, both focusing my ability to write and drudging up work of mine I haven’t thought about in years.
  2. Audrey Fell.  She knows things about everybody in town, it seems.  Got to sit her down for an interview.  A proper Q and A.
  3. Hurd and Angela.  Where is Hurd? What was the deal with his all night dance routine? Is he now hurt in bed?  Why did Angela think I might feel guilty for whatever has happened to him?
  4. Things around the manor: the mirror on the wall, the song that I can only hear on Thursdays sung by Dorthea who isn’t really there, the pears showing up, the painting, etc.
  5. The events, whatever they may have been, on the night of the 18th.  Why I don’t remember anything that occurred from three to nine a.m. and why the hell I haven’t been myself on the booze front since.
  6. The bizarre dreams I’ve had since I’ve been in Timber Haven.  The insane visions while I’m awake.  Plus, how the hell does Lady Nicoline know about them?
  7. Lady Nicoline in general.  The voice of three?  Samuel?  Salme?  Who makes three?
  8. The Gathering.  Mr. Trepp with his not being recorded on tape thing and just overall creepiness.  Weavers.  Knights who protect dreams.  And Corabeth?  I don’t know where to begin with her.  A group of adults having a meeting like that at all is beyond anything I’ve ever dealt with before.
  9. The force of nature that is Bernadette and why she hates her grandfather, Jarboe, so much.  He’s eccentric, sure, but why the hatred?  She wanted to attack him at the bar the other night!
  10. Whatever the dream that Audrey had, that Natalia, the old gypsy woman, is so concerned about.  Why are dreams so more real here, and so worrisome to everyone?

That’s enough of a go, I think.  If I try to focus on any more from the almost anarchic pool of oddities around Timber Haven, I’ll continue to not get anywhere.  Now, I’ve got to align the facts, just like if I was writing a nonfiction article.  Follow down leads, that sort of thing.  Definitely need to sit down with Audrey and probably Thegan, too.

I’m going to solve these first ten things.  Riddle them out.  Maybe those answers will give me the clues to the next ten mysteries here.  It’s a path at least.

I haven’t been this excited about a story in years.

The difference is I can’t just make up things to suit my need like I can with my fiction work.  That’s going to take some getting used to, particularly since my imagination is firing like crazy these days.  Focus on the things I know; what I can see, touch and feel.  That’s what I’ve got to do.

Patty is going to be a problem.  His being here is going to hinder my investigation, not to mention my role in Timber Haven’s affairs.  I’ve got to get him to head back to New York so he won’t distract me.  We’ll sit down when he gets back and discuss my book.  Maybe after he offers some insight, some notes, on what he wants me to do I can get him to hop on a plane.  I’d even go back to the Pub for a drink with him after, if it will speed him on his way.

Hold that thought.

Someone’s knocking at the door. . .