An important number in Timberhaven.
There are seven iron wrought lanterns suspending from the ceiling of The Pub. Seven spring-fed ponds that surround the town, filled with catfish and turtles. The Fell Hotel has a turret with seven sides.
The list goes on.
Michael has seven letters, there are seven djinns currently in residence of a red leather book in Cal’s, seven secret ingredients in Burning Elk’s Summer Chum “sipping drink”, a librarian with seven suitors, and an aged Irish setter who fathered seven half-breeds who each fathered seven more.
What does any of this matter? you make ask. A fair question.
It’s in noticing, objectively, the little things – patterns in the world and out – that one can ascertain the nuts and bolts of all that is, was, and might be.
Especially in Timberhaven.
* * * * *
The artisans occupying the Village took full advantage of the beautiful day; conducting merriment with each brushstroke, carving and discovered tune. A testimony in brilliance: that Poor is not a synonym of Damaged. That even the Have Nots can make a joyful noise.
* * * * *
“Days like today call for listening to space metal and creating something. Once Yarnism is established, I simply must remember to add that to the Bill of Rights.”
Lord Jarboe, overheard in Tatertown
* * * * *
It was the 4th of July and The Fell Hotel was in full swing, with long tables filled with cookout fare. And amidst the grilled burgers, brats, and chicken breasts, lurked a Popstopper.
Popstoppers, for you not in the know, are fiendish little rat-like creatures that run, precariously balanced on two spindly legs. They also feed on exploding fireworks, growing up to ten times in size on a Roman candle alone.
Jake, who was hunting this particular Popstopper with Juniper, hid in the hotel’s kitchen pantry. He kept the door cracked so he could keep an eye out for Juniper’s signal.
Juniper’s plan was simple: attract the creature from the upstairs rooms using a sparkler, down to the kitchen where Jake would be ready to light and throw a firecracker to the Popstopper. Then, while it ate, Juniper would throw the net that they’d hidden under the sink over the creature.
“Here we come!” Juniper yelled.
Jake could hear them coming down the staircase. He held up the firecracker that he’d carefully unwound from its bundle. Then he reached for the lighter in his pocket to light it. His little fingers searched deep until, panicked, he realized.
He’d lost the lighter.
“Be ready!” Juniper shouted, running down the hall.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no!” Jake stammered, coming out of the pantry. He needed to light the firecracker, fast!
Juniper ran into the kitchen, the Popstopper closing in on her.
“Jake!” She ran by, narrowly missing him. The monster bumped Jake though, in its pursuit of the sparkler, knocking him to the ground.
In the scuffle, Jake dropped the lone firecracker. Looking up, as the Popstopper continued after Juniper, Jake noticed the stovetop.
“Jaaaaake!” Juniper’s sparkler was nearly done.
Jake stood. Grasping the bundle of firecrackers in his one hand, he turned the stove on with his other. Then he threw his entire string of explosives into the blue flame.
POP! 💥 BANG! 💥 CRACK! 💥 BAM!
When the smoke cleared enough to see properly, Juniper watched the Popstopper, now the size of a horse, stumble around, drunk on its gluttonous meal. It collapsed into a bakers table, asleep.
“Huh,” Juniper stared, wide-eyed. “Guess that worked, too.”
Jake crawled out from a potato bin, excited, “I found the lighter!”
* * * * *
It was a warm Friday evening at The Pub, and Michael sat hunched over, half-heartedly nursing his now tepid beer. Birthdays were not his favorite, his own most specifically.
“And, well,” Thegan puttered, seated next to him at the bar. “Just think, if you were a Martian, you’d only be 21 and a quarter at this rate.”
“Of course, you’d be nearly 166 if you were Mercurian. Mercurese? If you hailed from Mercury.”
Michael’s smile faded.
The bar was relatively quiet yet, for a Friday evening. Then came Jarboe.
“Stay. STAY!” He commanded, pointing at something just outside of the doorway. From the reaction of the patrons seated near the windows, whatever was outside leaned toward the exotic.
“Ah, Mr. Gideon, Thegan, hello! I didn’t see you.” Jarboe walked over to the bar, removing his plastic gallon milk jug crown as he did.
“Lord Jarboe,” Thegan properly addressed him. “Did you know it was Michael’s birthday today?”
“Splendid!” Jarboe beamed. “Will there be pie?”
“I — don’t you mean cake?” Thegan looked puzzled.
“No, young Thegan, I do not. You may keep your cake. I much rather prefer pie. Of course,” Jarboe gestured toward Michael, “it is entirely up to the guest of honor.”
“So who’s getting today’s music lesson?” Michael asked, thankful to whichever creature Jarboe had outside for the distraction.
“Eh? Oh, that’s Jalendu. She’s to practice her Bajracharya, but she keeps being distracted by the fireflies.” Jarboe waved toward the door.
“A Nepalese elephant!” Thegan yelled excitedly from the window.
As everyone else in the bar rushed outside to meet Jalendu, Michael’s smile returned. He picked up a menu from the bar to see if there was any pie.
* * * * *
Linus sat on the small stone wall outside of a boutique, Connla’s Well. His hands, one on each knee, rubbed roughly, speaking to arthritis that resided there like a neighbor with a noise complaint.
The world turned with no real change, to Linus’ thinking. The same scenes playing out on rerun. Only the stages were different.
So, Linus wandered.
Cities, swamps, mountain peaks to lake towns, he wandered. Not looking for anything in particular, just traveling.
A tilted fork on a table ready-made for supper.
Truth was, tired as he’d grown of people, he just couldn’t quit them. So, occasionally, he’d come back. Kick the mud off his threadbare boots and stand still a piece. Drink sweet tea and eat saltwater taffy. Watch the lightning bugs dance.
But only ever for a little while.
* * * * *
Gerald, proprietor of The Pub: “Beer?”
Conner, the primary clientele of The Pub: “It’s 10:58 in the morning!”
Gerald: “Ah, so it is. Bailey’s and coffee?”
Gerald, mixing: “No Roy this morning, eh?”
Conner: “Nah, he’s down to his mother’s place ’til tomorrow afternoon.”
Gerald, serving: “Then you’ll not be wanting salad for lunch, I’d wager.”
Conner, sipping: “Ger, lemme tell ya, I’ve NEVER been wanting no taste o’ ground for me lunch, no offense meant to your cooking.”
Gerald, wiping a mug dry: “None took.”
Conner, continuing: “I eat it to keep the peace, to be sure. But today, Ger, well, now I’ll be eating whatever I like.”
Gerald: “And what would that be, exactly?”
Conner, salivating: “Well now, let us see, let us just see. I’d like a Reuben for starts, that’s a given. With extra kraut and one of yer big pickles on the side. French fries instead of chips. Hmm. Got any o’ that peach cobbler left?”
Gerald: “I do indeed.”
Conner: “A big ol’ piece of that, then. Two!”
Gerald: “And a couple of beers to wash it all down, yeah?”
Conner, smiling: “Well, it’s after eleven, ain’t it?”
* * * * *
With everyone in the party seated properly in their own lawn chair, Thegan passed a plate of mini donuts to Juniper while Lady Nicoline sipped a mimosa.
Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra played from an old tape recorder in Thegan’s lap.
“It’s probably cliche,” he tried, as a way of explanation for his musical choice.
“Nonsense.” Lady Nicoline waved him off. “Tradition is never cliche.”
“I like the drums,” Juniper added. She picked the chocolate off of her donut to see what it looked like underneath.
“We’ve roughly twenty seconds by my count.” Lady Nicoline said, pointing to her wristwatch.
Thegan turned the music off as Juniper whispered the countdown from 10 seconds.
All were silent and still once her countdown ended, in honor of the scientific achievement named Cassini.
Finally, Juniper spoke softly. “I bet Saturn is so cool.” She sighed. “I love a successful experiment.”
“Indeed.” Thegan and Lady Nicoline agreed.
* * * * *
Theaters are said to house ancient gods and goddesses, they of the art and story bend, whose presence can be felt strongest, and favor curried, before a show of significant excellence.
It had been many moons since The Citadel felt such a presence.
The Citadel, a theater that had been around almost as long as Timberhaven itself, had once held a prominent spot in society. No more. In continuing disrepair for more than a decade, none walked its halls now.
Posters from old films hung loosely from broken walls. 1986, Big Trouble in Little China. 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas. 2004, The Grudge. The latter being the last run film in The Citadel in October of that year.
Thirteen years ago to the day, as it happens.
In the ages since any deities visited within, the stories there grew stale in the air, pallid decoration on the walls.
It is time for a revival.
* * * * *
Marcus Butterworth was not heir to a syrup fortune, though he’d heard every joke you can imagine. Nor was he the victim of a particularly unimaginative Witness Protection dossier.
Marcus wrote poetry but was better known as Man One of the Two Men And A Dolley moving company.
Donovan (Donnie) Dean, Marcus’ best friend since grade school, was the second Man. He’d attended Juilliard for one semester before it had occurred to him: he didn’t care for audiences. The symphonies he wrote he was content to merely play in his mind. So he quit school and moved back to Timberhaven.
On the street, Marcus and Donnie were known as Scribe and Maestro, respectively. Which is to say that’s what they, and Teddy — she who worked as a cashier at $hop-n-$ave — called themselves.
Teddy was in fact named Calista but had landed the nickname of Teddy (a la Teddy Bear) in middle school due to her broad shoulders and hairy arms. Because children can be horrid and clever but not at the same time.
On this day the trio was moving a piano into Fallenstar Manor as a favor to Mr. Gideon, who wouldn’t be on the premises.
“This thing is heavy!” Teddy said holding up her end.
“Just pivot it that way, Donnie’s way,” Marcus explained as he guided with his end.
They got the piano out of the truck and settled inside the manor without incident.
Then Donnie played a piece that was running through his head. A few notes at first, quietly. Then louder. He sat at the piano, mentally placing each orchestra section where it should come in.
Marcus picked up the tune then, performing poetry aloud that, while not beyond his skill, was of the soulful type he usually kept buried beneath a cynical veneer. He matched Donnie’s music in a blended perfection.
And then, surprising everyone in the room but her, Teddy danced to the song; swaying to the music with a grace and beauty that belied her daily routine. This was how she danced in her dreams. When she wasn’t Teddy of the $hop-n-$ave, but Calista, the darling of The Royal Ballet.
Eventually, to the dismay of the performers, the magic spent, their performances came to an end.
Mr. Gideon had left payment in an envelope on his mantel, but none of his money was taken. Instead, a note was scrawled across it in pencil.
“Birthplace of Diurnal Suite #1. Paid in full.”
* * * * *
“I don’t understand what is happening!” he screamed.
Timberhaven is known for its magic. Usually, that magic is represented in whatever music and art are born within its boundaries. But sometimes that magic is literal.
Vic finished his coffee. He left a dollar tip.
“I want the gem,” Vic leaned down to whisper into Fortinshaw’s ear. “Don’t make me hurt you to get it.”
Sally’s Diner was just across the street from Timberhaven’s one and only bus stop. Vic crossed over to it. He had some time before Fortinshaw closed up shop.
“Noooooo,” he cried as madness set in.
Vic drew a blade from his coat.
Fortinshaw blanched when she saw Vic standing in the doorway of her herbal shop.
“Just a coffee, please,” Vic asked the waitress.
It was magic that Vic had come for.
“Time is everyone’s enemy,” Vic snarled as he grabbed the gem.
At five to seven, Vic walked into The Handmaiden’s Scale.
Fortinshaw swallowed her fear. “You can’t take it this way,” she tried to explain. “The end result will be . . . catastrophic for you.”
The gem gleamed, whispering its glory to Vic in cadenced sparkles. His eyes widened. His pupils grew to the size of small pennies.
Fortinshaw led Vic into a small room at the back of her store. A three knock opened the secret door that allowed entry.
“Time will become your enemy,” Fortinshaw foretold. “Last warning.”
Vic had caught the bus in Reno. Seven stops later he was in Timberhaven.
* * * * *
Lwazi crouched in his hidden spot within the tree and watched as the marketplace below him teemed with shoppers.
An old man swapped his albatross haiku to another old man for a small jar of wheat pennies that he’d found in an abandoned wishing well.
Lwazi was a shrewder negotiator than that. The story he had would fetch much more.
A young woman in an attractive gown bought a trio of wasp-shaped and sized drones with a particularly scandalous diary entry.
Lwazi envied her fanciful purchase, but he wasn’t seeking tech today. He watched and waited still.
The time was nearing.
It was the Writer he sought, she who came for orange juice from Madrid every morning. The Writer he would share his story with so she could put it down in her book.
There she was.
Lwazi leaped from his vantage point and caught the Writer just as she approached the orange juice booth.
“I offer a trade,” Lwazi began.
The Writer smiled. She pulled her journal from her bag and turned to a blank page. A pen she took from behind her ear.
The ingredients for the immortality that Lwazi sought.
“My story begins . . .”
* * * * *
She sneezed, did the dental hygienist home from work and hidden beneath a heaping bedspread, and sneezed again.
Surrounded by a mound of tissues (which contained within them her discarded, enemy of the state nose, so far as she could tell), she longed for comfort.
It was a scrap of a script that did the dealing, a piece she’d read long ago under match-lit candlelight, that memory had imbued with magical properties.
The wind blew harrowingly that day, you see, much as it was doing now. Shadowy rain clouds made it appear as though lunch was occurring at the witching hour.
The shape of “a dark and stormy night” taking on the temperament of Vincent Price in “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” – with a dash of Yarbrough’s “Down, Down To Goblin Town” – was all the flavor needed to ensure the piece would stay ever in her memory.
She’d been home sick from school – respiratory problems have always plagued her – nine, maybe ten years old, and had sought solace among the pages once she discovered that her father’s grilled cheese with the crusts off held no cure. Stine hadn’t helped that day, nor Cleary.
It was a purple plastic egg, purchased off a circus peddler the weekend before that caught her eye there next to the candle on her nightstand. From where she found the strength to reach her arm up and grab it she never knew, but there it was in her hand.
She popped the plastic egg open and retrieved a small scroll. On it, the scroll read:
“Prendick’s swine is the bailiwick, for the island had rules. The gov’ner’s pardon held the partition off, lest the Turtle’s cruise end in catastrophe.”
In reading the curious scroll she felt her sinuses lessen their usurpation of her face, if only for a moment, but it was long enough for her to get some rest at long last.
Remembering the phrase as an adult had the same effect.
* * * * *
“I don’t know if that’s true, Mr. Jarboe,” Juniper said, looking doubtfully into the water of Shadow Lake. “Plesiosaurs are extinct.”
“I never said Pam was a plesiosaur.” Lord Jarboe explained, letting Juniper’s use of “Mr.” slide.
“Does she really like spinach?” Jake, Juniper’s ever-present sidekick asked as he threw another handful of the leafy greens into the lake. He sniffed his hand and grimaced. “Because I don’t like spinach.”
“She does indeed, my boy. She is quite fond of Elton John as well.” Lord Jarboe began to hum a tune.
“Also,” Juniper, unswayed, continued reading from her book entitled “Big Book of Dinosaurs”, “it says here that plesiosaurs needed tropical waters because they were cold-blooded.” Juniper looked back toward the water. “Shadow Lake would be too cold for her.”
“Maybe she’s sick and has a fever so she’s in the cold water to cool down.” Jake wondered.
Lord Jarboe couldn’t help but smile as he hummed “Crocodile Rock”.
“I don’t think so, Jake,” Juniper said, shutting her book and tucking it under her arm. “Sorry, Mr. Jarboe, but I think I’m gonna get back to my lab. Coming Jake?”
“I will,” the little boy swore. “Ten more minutes?”
Lord Jarboe became lost in his music, as he was wont to do, and left Jake alone with his thoughts as first ten minutes passed. Then fifteen. Thirty.
It wasn’t until the water splashed him that Lord Jarboe came out of his musical meditation to find Jake, sitting on the upside-down spinach basket at Shadow Lake’s edge, soaked to his skin and giggling hysterically.
“Whoa!” the little boy said with a giant grin on his face. “Pam can make big splashes!”
Shadow Lake, for its part, had returned to a perfect calm, mirroring a clear Timberhaven sky.
* * * * *
The rules of The Fell Hotel are known universally, in the grandest scope of that word.
No jinxes, no curses, and the only magics allowed on the property are of the life-sustaining variety (and even those must be vetted at check-in before a guest is given their room key.)
Elemental forces are typically housed on the lower floors, with rooms on the upper floors reserved for the more star-strewn dignitaries.
As the only Gray Lobby left standing in the Western Hemisphere, The Fell Hotel is rarely utilized for the vacationing deity, sprite, or earthbound royalty, but rather a place to safely conduct business on the physical plane.
Managed by one Jacobi Fell, whose daughter, Audrey, will at times act as concierge, The Fell Hotel was found by this author to be a quality establishment.
Five out of Five Stars
— The Fell Hotel’s entry in the May 2009 issue of The Wayfarer’s Almanac
* * * * *
The antique gas lamps that extend around The Fell Hotel stand ten feet tall and reach down the side streets leading away from the hotel for two blocks. They are individually lit at dusk and extinguished at dawn, though none know who the lamplighter is or how they accomplish their job unseen.
The lamps typically give off a yellow-orange light, but for three times a year: Christmas Eve they burn Prussian blue, the entire month of October, neon green, and twice in March, on varying days and for no discerning reason, a stormy gray.
* * * * *
Fog crept betwixt the forest and the house. Gilded cages wore the brunt of battle; tapered sundries beneath the moon. An antelope stood guard as the ground, its earth pitched hither and yon with wreckage and blood, relaxed in the comforting hum of the postoperative.
Fallenstar Manor’s walls stood firm, as they always have. Black soot marks left the telltale sign of attempted forced occupancy, but that was all.
The night went on as such.
Enemy forces had been belayed.
The antelope kept her back to the house, her eyes trained on the forest surrounding. The doe knew not from friend or foe beyond the treeline toward where the battle had receded.
Slugs came eventually, climbing the walls of the manor and removing the soot in their wake until none could tell there had even been a stain.
Then came the gophers and moles, tenderers to the dark soil of the Green. Soon the grassed yard appeared entirely unmolested in the beginning grays of the morning.
The doe, in labored breaths, (she’d been wounded in the opening volley but paid it no mind) only then blinked wearily with rested resolve.
The Weaver would wake soon, she knew, safe in the confines of its (the doe had trouble differentiating the gender of the species of Man) art.
For another day.