Bob Holt

The Journals of Clancy Puffinstuff: Excerpt 4

July 15, 2020  •  9 minutes  • 1717 words

It is morning, and the train comes to a halt. According to the conductor, the track has been blocked by a herd of crazy goats, and we are to disembark here, in the town of Slow Grudge.

As we peer out the windows, our situation becomes clear. On one side of the train are dark, foreboding woods. On the other, vast desolation with a small station building.

For some reason, there is a strange sensation while breathing. What is that about?

It takes a while to for the entire train to disembark. Many people are milling about on the small platform as we exit the train. We were told that we can pick up our crate on the platform. As we wait for it, we turn our gaze toward the herd blocking our way. The goats for some reason are adorned in all sorts of ribbons, strands of twine, and pieces of barbed wire. What is that about?

We look beyond the goats and see that a dirt trail runs along tracks. The station employees tell us that it is about two miles to next station, where we would were intended to have arrived and made our way overground to Dark Postule.

Additionally, there is a path perpendicular to the railroad track and dirt trail which goes past the station into a small village. We can hear the distant sound of engines.

Our crate collected, we don’t relish transporting it two miles by ourselves, and decide to make our way into town to try to find transporation to Dark Postule. All of the buildings in town seem to be the same weathered gray with their untreated wood facades. There is not a lot of color here. As we walk up the street, curtains of houses occasionally part, faces look around, and then fade back into the dark. A few hard-looking individuals with beards or walrus moustaches sit on porches, staring at us pointedly. Women going about their business in town are dressed plainly. A bit of lively piano music from the saloon filters onto the street.

The sun is brighter here. We can see a lot further given an unobstructed view than we ever can in Bastion.

We come upon the Hotel Slow Grudge. A gentleman named Desmond on the front steps in a rolled-up shirt sleeves and suspenders is fastidiously cleaning a glass. We ask him if he can recommend a way to Dark Postule. He calls for his daughter, Minnie, a lass of 14 or 15 years old, to bring the cart around to take us there. It seems that there is business they need to conduct there themselves.

While we wait for the cart, Desmond offers a substance he refers to as “chaw” to Noggin. Apparently he enjoys the joke given Noggin’s last name (Spit). It turns out that this “chaw” is naught but a high-test chewing tobacco to Noggin. He doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do with it, but gives it a valiant effort.

About that time, Minnie comes around to the front of the hotel with a flat-bed pickup truck. Before we leave, we inquire about purveyors of fine clothes in Dark Postule (ever mindful of Hexapedes’ request that we find him a source of Deep Country fashion). Desmond recommends Samson’s.

Minnie is affable and talkative on the journey. She is excited to hear about life in Bastion, and dreams of making her way there someday.

As we pass the train station, a couple of porters and a stretcher with Dickey the Poodle Boy passed out on it. Farmey, the one Babs put under with the ether, stands with ice bag on his forehead wearing my old crushed velvet suit. We briefly make eye contact. I tip my hat in his direction.

Minnie thinks Dark Postule people are too flamboyant. She directs us to not go to Samson’s as her father suggested, but to instead go see Miss Annabelle.

As we continue on the short journey, the woods to our left start to taper off. The landscape gives rise to tall grassy marshland. Just up the road, we see the blinding light of the sun reflecting off the glass bridge.

Minnie’s truck has a hard time staying on the dirt path. As we get closer to the swamp, it gets quite squelchy. The path is wide, but mucky, and mud is kicked up onto all of us riding along with our supply crate on the back.

Entering Dark Postule, we seethe large steeple of a church on a large plot of ground with short, moderately well-kept picket fence extending around. A small graveyard sits within the churchyard, and a small two-story domicile is nested in the back corner of the grounds. The doors and shutters of the church are all closed.

Further on into town, it is clear that there is a moderately larger population here. There are more store fronts and side streets.

Minnie brings us to The Star, a fine-looking hotel. It is clean, rather well-lit, and maintained nicely. A large neon star stands out front. They have electricity here, at least.

Inside, behind the large desk is woman with cheery disposition named Miss Lewiston. Her hair is done up in two severe buns. A week’s rooming will set us back 50 new pounds for the week, but quarters would be tight. Miss Lewiston offers us the infrequently-used but spacious suite for 75 pounds. We take it. Babs signs the guest book as “Malda Hyde + friends.” It is apparently not the first time guests here have required a modicum of discretion.

A young bellhop named Cartwright helps us with our bags. When he sees Minnie, he visibly blushes.

Cartwright shows us around the suite. It is blessed with a bathroom, but we must share the outhouse (crapper, as Cartwright refers to it) with the other guests.

According to Cartwright, people around here talk about the Haunting Beast when they’re drunk, but nobody has ever seen it.

His work for us complete, I slip him a stick of my lavender petrichor gum. I can tell he appreciated it.

Our belongings safely stored, we invite Minnie to join us on a window-shopping-spree at Annabelle’s. The glass-fronted store sports mannequins in its front windows. The fashion here appears to be many decades—even over a century old. Guadalope fits in well. Minnie is agog looking at what she perceives to be the high end of fashion.

Guadalope takes the lead in talking with Annabelle about sharing fashions with Hexapedes. As a result, he maneuvers himself into becoming her agent in Bastion. Minnie models the types of fashions we might take back to Hexapedes. Guadalope believes that every thing we see is worth bringing back. Annabelle gives us a highly ornate business card to pass along. We give her his much more fashionable business card, and put the 100 new pounds of clothes on layaway. When we return from our expedition, we shall pick them up.

It is mid-afternoon when our shopping expedition is completed. We wend our way toward the church back down the thoroughfare. It appears closed for business, but there is a light coming from the residence. The churchyard gate is open and welcoming. A simple trimmed path laid with flagstones and bricks winds through graveyard, meets up with another border path and goes back to the residence, which is a small two-story house on a narrow footprint.

We knock and a muffled voice answers. After an awkwardly long time, the door opens. A very small, wizened man greets us. We ask after a the rectress, but he replies that he has been rector here for “quite a while.”

Asking after the Haunting Beast triggers his memory. Mary Desperado was the rectress Malverarey told us about. She told stories…

But before we get into it, he invites us in for tea. There is a spartan sitting room here. Plain furniture decorates it. It is tidy. The rector moves slowly. It is sunset by the time we have our very cold, bitter, over-steeped tea in our hands.

The rector tells us tales of the haunting beast. No one saw it since Mary Desperado was a child, but she found it. She gave a piece of it to a young man in the military (our Malverarey).

The rector then brings a book down from the bookshelf. He slowly turns the pages, licking his forefinger between each page turn. Finding the place he was looking for, he hands it to me. This is Mary Desperado’s journal.

This book gives the full account of her encounter. It is prefaced with a prayer for forgiveness. It continues with a philosophical aside regarding her wonder and consternation that in order to preserve life, another life has to be taken. And the account begins.

Mary Desperado was gathering mushrooms and herbs for poultices in the bog swamp. She came across a hunter who had mortally wounded a large creature. The description of the creature in the diary hearkens back to Malverarey’s hoof. This hunter had crippled and captured the creature in a rather large trap and was about to put it out of its misery. In an act of compassionate defense, she swung a sodden log at the hunter and accidentally concussed him to death.

Desperado felt the creature would do her no harm. She dragged the hunter’s body into the swamp where it sank into the peat. The creature had lost its hoof in the massive trap, but it was still alive, and so she released it. She used the hoof to prove to the townspeople that it was no longer a concern. She gave it to one of the soldiers, and kept the truth in her diary, praying for forgiveness for the rest of her days. She never saw it again, but gave a decent account where it might be found, making note of several landmarks.

With a trustworthy guide and a map, we should be able to find it.

I close the diary and pass it back to the rector. With a resigned voice, he tells us that the hunter was his father.

As we leave, he gives us Mary’s diary to take with us.

We go to the pub to get drunk. It has been a long day.

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