The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 26

Here we have come to the end of our story, Mike has found what he was looking for in the talented and charming Maybelle and now must bring her back to his home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

fiction friday bannerAfter leaving Auntie Marie’s burrow, Mike and Maybelle made their way down the grassy tunnel that bordered the hedgerow. Maybelle walked with a carefree lightness that Mike hadn’t seen during his stay at Willow keep; it made him smile. Any doubts he had about taking her from her home vanished the further they traveled away from that horrid place.

Her happiness took the edge off of Mike’s unease, but he was still wary. Dangers lurked along the way, Tilly had warned him of the snake that hunted along the hedge tunnel, and then there were those horrid cats that prowled the walkways. Even as he thought about it he felt the hair on his neck stand on end. They weren’t alone in the hedge, and he knew it.

Maybelle stopped and breathed in the fresh fall air. “You’ve been rather quiet, is everything alright?”

Mike leaned on his cane and glanced behind them once again, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. “It’s nothing, really. Just eager to get home I suppose.”

“You would tell me if there were something wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“If it were worth mentioning, yes.” He kept his eyes down and drew a lazy circle with his foot over the packed soil, trying his best to look more at ease.

Maybelle set her hands on her hips. “Listen, I know we haven’t known each other very long and I have a lot to learn about you, just as you have much to learn about me. We are both too old to be playing games with each other like this. I need you to be honest with me. I can’t stand it when people try to hide things, I always find out.  Now out with it.” She spoke with sternness, but managed to sound kind as she did.

Mike stammered, his mouth working soundlessly before he could find what he wanted to say. “When I came this way before I was warned of –”

“Wait.” She stopped him with a hand, her head tilted toward the brush to their left. “Do you hear that?”

Mike froze and strained his ears for sounds of danger, specifically of the rustle of scale against dry leaf. He couldn’t make out anything unusual, but considering the possibility made his heart speed up and his mouth dry. “Hear what?”

She stepped toward the brush, her motions silent and concise. “Someone is crying.”

Mike peered into the brush. It was hard to make out anything in the dappled shadows until he caught a hint of red deep inside the hedge. Then he understood. “Tilly? Is that you?”

“Go away,” squeaked the tiny mouse from her hiding place.

“I promised to come back this way, I never forget a promise. I want you to meet Maybelle.” He climbed up closer.

A tiny nose peeked around the branch, followed by two curious eyes. “I don’t want to talk to you Mike Finnigan. You best go on home.” She sniffed again and dabbed at her face with her handkerchief.

“What’s happened, what’s wrong?”

“It’s not important.”

“Of course it’s important, it’s enough to make you sad so it must be.”

Maybelle placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s because of me. I think dear Tilly was hoping that you would return empty handed,” she whispered.

Mike’s eyes widened, the realization dawning on him. He didn’t want to admit Tilly’s fondness for him right away, he had heard saying things like that upset some women. “Why would you assume that?”

“I think I have some understanding of how another woman’s heart works.” She winked and then climbed up into the branches. Within minutes she had coaxed the field mouse down into the opening.

Tilly dabbed at her eyes again and gave Maybelle a nod before turning toward Mike. “She’s right, I was upset that you found someone. I know that’s silly but it’s true.”

Mike shuffled his feet, unsure if it would be appropriate to pull her into a hug.  She looked as if she needed one, but in light of the situation he thought better of it and rested his hands over the top of his cane instead. “No, love is never silly. The heart sometimes makes choices that the mind cannot unmake.  It must learn the hard way. I’m sorry that I caused you pain. You will always be a dear friend.”

Without warning, Tilly turned and wrapped her arms around him and buried her face into his chest. Mike pulled his arms free, letting his cane fall to the ground, and returned the embrace. When she had her fill she stepped back and straightened her scarf. “I’m glad to have known you Mike, be sure to come visit if you ever come this way again.”

“I promise, and you know I will keep it,” Mike said as he leaned over and retrieved his cane.

“You best be going, I’m sure you are anxious to get home.”

After Mike and Maybelle bid Tilly their farewells they continued on their journey through the grass-lined tunnel. They walked in an uncomfortable silence for quite some time. Mike felt like he needed to apologize, but wasn’t sure what for and didn’t want to appear foolish. In the end it was Maybelle who spoke first.

“Will we be meeting any more of your friends on the way?” she asked with a bemused smirk.

“No, no, I assure you. That’s it.”

Maybelle laughed out loud, a musical wonderful sound, and Mike knew all was right between them again. They left the park and climbed the hill to the yellow house with blush colored roses out front.

“This is home” Mike announced with a smile and his arms open wide. “Do you like it?”

Maybelle’s hands went to her mouth. “Oh, Mike – it’s beautiful!” She walked to a low hanging rose blossom and inhaled deeply before turning to him once more. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”

Mike racked his brain. What could he have forgotten? He had gotten them safely back to his home. What could he have missed? Maybelle twiddled her fingers, and made an act of being coy. He had to figure it out. Then, as if struck by lightning, he knew.

He knelt down on one knee before her. “Maybelle, will you marry me?”

She giggled and held out her hand, which he covered with kisses. “Of course.”

***

That’s the end of Mike Finnegan and his adventure.  Thanks for reading! I realize that this story is super flawed and I apologize that the beginning and the ending don’t match at all.  I think Mike lost his accent about 5 episodes in, whoops.  As my first serial piece I learned a ton about what it takes to write serial fiction and just how many wrong turns I made. This is all in the name of learning something new, so even it it didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked it was worth the time to at least try.

Feel free to give me a thorough verbal thrashing in the comments!

 

 

 

 

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 25

We last left Mike sailing through the air once again in the clutches of Ben the bluejay. He’s escaped Queen Caliee and the prison fortress of Willow Keep and is finally on the way home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Cool autumn air rushed through Mike’s hair and down the neck of his jacket, making him shiver. He held tight to Ben’s foot and tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in his stomach as the bird flew higher and higher.  It wouldn’t do to throw up in front of Maybelle, not after he had tried so hard to be brave.

Off to the left he spotted Ben’s gnarled crabapple tree and he remembered the promise he made at the beginning of his journey.

He craned his neck up and shouted out to the bird. “Can you set us down over by Auntie Marie’s burrow?”

The bird whistled in reply and began a steep descent toward the end of the hedgerow.

Maybelle tugged at Mike’s sleeve to get his attention. “I thought we were going to your home. Who’s Auntie Marie?” She yelled over the wind.

“A friend I met on my way here. You’ll like her.” Mike answered.

“Sweetie lady! Oh yes, oh yes!” Ben spun in the air, making Mike scream against his will.

Maybelle shrieked in delight, arms extended out as if she too were a bird. At least she was enjoying herself. Mike wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if she found the ride as terrifying as he did.

Ben dove down, pulled up sharply, and released his two passengers a few inches above the ground, making Mike tumble end over end in the grass. Maybelle landed lightly on her feet and for a moment Mike could do nothing but stare in open admiration as he lay flat on his back struggling for breath.

Before Mike could get up, Ben hopped over to him and started dipping the tip of his beak into the pockets of Mike’s jacket.

“Enough you crazy bird, I don’t have anything for you.” Mike shooed him away and climbed to his feet.  “That’s why we are going to Auntie Marie’s, remember?”

Ben bobbed his head. “Right, right.” He whistled again and rushed off into the hedge.

Maybelle suppressed a giggle behind a hand. “I’m guessing traveling by bird isn’t something you like doing. Am I right?”

“Let’s just say if there had been any other option to get us out of there, any at all, I would have taken it. I think I could live happily for a thousand years and not do that again.” Mike brushed grass off of his sleeve and sniffed. “If I remember correctly, Auntie Marie’s burrow is through this hedge. I hope Ben hasn’t eaten all the treats, that mouse is a marvel when it comes to cooking and baking.”

They passed through the hedge and followed the smell of candied hazelnut all the way to the burrow. When they arrived Auntie was standing at the tunnel mouth talking the ears off of Ben who was enjoying his share of nuts already.

Mike leaned in to Maybelle. “I suppose I should warn you, Auntie loves to talk,” he whispered.

“Don’t all aunties?”

Before Mike could answer, Auntie had spotted him. Her arms shot up and she released a delighted squeal.  “Mr. Mike! I’ve been so very worried ever since you left. Are you well dear, have they hurt you? Oh, of course you’re fine, just look at you. Why if it wasn’t for Ben here I might have run out of things to do.  He’s been so very helpful to me, bringing me things I need in the kitchen and what not. You’ll have to tell me all about this lovely girl here over some tea. Well let’s not stand around here flapping our gums, I have a fresh pear tart that about ready to come out of the oven and I won’t let you go until you had a slice.”

Mike opened his mouth to thank Auntie for her generosity but before he could speak she had turned and marched into the burrow talking to herself about how wonderful it was for Mike to be back.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding.” Maybelle said once Auntie was well out of hearing range.

“I never kid,” he chuckled. “Oh, and make sure you wash up well before going to her table. She’s half a mind to thump dirty hands with that ladle of hers.”

Inside the burrow Mike and Maybelle enjoyed Auntie’s cooking and did their best to keep up with her unending babble. At first Maybelle tried to slip in a comment or question here and there when Auntie took a sip of her tea or a bite of tart, but she soon gave up and sat back to enjoy the show.

Full of tart and tea and endless chatter, Mike leaned forward and rested his folded arms of the table and waited for Auntie to take a breath. The second she did he jumped in, there was a question he had to ask.

“Is Tilly or Jacob around?”

Auntie stammered. Mike imagined her train of thought crashing and she was forced to reorganize and reroute the cars before answering.

“They’ve gone back to their hole on the other end of the hedge, I reckon they’ll find you as you make your way back. They are always on the lookout.” She laughed to herself and launched right back into another endless stream of speech about her niece and nephew and how kind they were to visit her even though she suspected it was only for the food.

Maybelle finished her tea and gave a dramatic sigh before standing and interrupting. “Dear Auntie, it’s been a delight to meet you, I can see why Mike made a point to stop by on our way. We must be on our way if we are ever going to finish our journey today.”

Auntie stopped mid-sentence, unsure if she should be offended or not. Her whiskers twitched and she swallowed hard. “Well of course dear, you two love birds must be on your way.  Here, I’ll pack a few of these hazelnuts for you.”

“You’re the best Auntie. We’ll be sure to stop by next time we are around.” Mike hugged the chubby mouse who had removed a handkerchief from her pocket and was dabbing her eyes.

“Promise?”

“Of course.”

***

To be continued…

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 23

In the previous episode, Queen Caliee informed Mike that not only can’t he court Mistress Maybelle, that if he refuses to comply with her wishes that she will have him locked up and used as breeding stock for the rest of his days.  Mike will not compromise with the Queen and is locked back into his room.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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Once the initial anger from being locked into the small bedroom subsided, Mike began to pace.  He had to figure out a way to get a message to Maybelle and warn her of what was happening. He picked up his cane from the corner; perhaps he could find a way to use it. He had already tried it on the door, but being Tinker work it had been warded against Tinker magic. Typical.

When he had been locked in before, he had almost figured out the elaborate locking mechanism. He knelt at the door and studied the various gears and levers once again.  He reached for his jacket toolkit and realized that he was still in his night shirt.  That wouldn’t do at all.  If he managed to open the door he couldn’t just waltz down the hall dressed like that.  He had standards after all.

After quickly dressing and brushing he returned to the door. There would be standing guard, he’d have to deal with that once the door was open.  He could only hope that Queen Caliee had kept her plans for him a secret from the keep.  It didn’t make sense for her to share her plans with more than one or two trusted attendants and advisors, ones that sided with her and agreed that Mistress Maybelle should be forced to stay. Otherwise she might have a revolt on her hands.

The lock clicked and the bolt slid free of the frame.  Mike opened the door a few inches and spied the guard standing at attention.  Cane in hand, he opened the door the rest of the way.

“Hello there,” he greeted her in his most cordial voice.

She spun toward him, utterly confused. “How did you-“

Before she could finish he poked her with the end of his cane and released a bolt of magic sending her boneless to the floor. He checked the corridor for any witnesses, there were none. He hoisted her up and hauled her into the room and into the bed and then positioned her so that should anyone look in the door they would assume it was him.

Back in the corridor he wound his way towards Mistress Maybelle’s workshop. Along the way he passed several of the women he had met during the interview process.  Some gave him gentle shy smiles as if by some miracle he would change his mind and want to get to know them better.  Others he had rejected glared at him with open hostility.

Another guard stood rigid at the door of the workshop.  Her eyes widened when she saw Mike and she grabbed her spear. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. Obviously she was in on the Queen’s plan.

Mike didn’t stop or slow as he approached, his cane stretched out in front of him like an anemic battering ram.

“Stop, I mean it!” She held her spear at the ready and seemed terrified to use it.

Mike released a burst of magic at her and her eyes rolled back as she crumpled to the floor. He caught her as she fell.  “I’m sorry, none of this was supposed to happen.”

He was relieved to find the workshop door unlocked.  He dragged the unconscious guard inside and closed the door. When he turned he was greeted by the shocked expressions of nearly a dozen tinkers working in the shop.

Maybelle recovered first and stood from her stool, dropping her pliers onto the workbench. “What is the meaning of this?”

He placed the guard down against the wall and away from the door being careful not to knock her head against the hard floor. He then turned the giant lever that locked the door.

One of the workshop tinkers came forward with a hand to her mouth. “Is she hurt?”

“No, just sleeping. She’ll be fine in a few hours.”

Maybelle grabbed Mike by the shoulder and spun him so they were facing each other, her eyes wide with terror. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine, I swear it. It’s the Queen. She doesn’t want you to leave.  She’s threatened to put me in a cell for the rest of my days should I try to take you from here.”

“What?” She released her hold on him dropping her arm to her side. “That’s impossible.”

Mike sank onto one of the nearby stools and ran a hand through his hair. “She says that the safety of this keep depends on you, that you are the next in line to the throne.”

Maybelle gestured to the others to give them some space. “I suppose she didn’t bother to mention that there are six of us in line, six cousins that can all take the throne if needs be.”

“No, she wanted me to pretend that I was not longer interested in you and to take another girl and leave. I couldn’t do it. It’s wrong.”

Maybelle settled into the stool next to Mike and laced her hand into his. “I’ve been worried something like this might happen.  When the curse hit and Caliee was forced to take the throne it was a dark time for everyone, but for her especially.  The king died leaving her alone to protect the keep, she wasn’t ready.  The stress of it changed her, made her harder, more cunning. The last few years have shown us that if she is determined for something to happen she wouldn’t stop until it was done.”

Mike squeezed her hand. “Escape with me. The keep is in good hands. You have trained your fellow engineers well.  I’m sure that they can do whatever is necessary.”

“You don’t understand. She’ll come after us. She’s decided that I must stay here, she won’t stop until she has guaranteed that I will.”

“Don’t you want to leave?”

“Of course I want to leave.  I’ve wanted to leave ever since the curse took all that I loved from me. I want to start over somewhere new.”

“Come with me. Right now.  They won’t have had time to prepare yet, we might make it. You know this place better than any tinker alive.  Surely there is a secret exit, a way that we can slip out unnoticed?”

“This is my home and my family.  I can’t abandon them.”

“But you aren’t living. Every day you are tortured by your past. You deserve a life where you can be happy.”

Maybelle released a pent up breath. “I know.”

“Come with me.”

“I’m scared.”

Mike cupped her cheek, turning her face toward him once more. “I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“I promise.”

She squeezed his hand back and smiled.  “There is a tunnel under the east wing leading to an abandoned irrigation system.  We could be away from here within the hour.”

Just then loud voices erupted in the hallway along with sounds of someone trying to force the door.

Maybelle stood from her stool. “She knows you’re here.”

“How is that possible?”

“Never underestimate Caliee.” She pulled his hand. “Follow me, we might still make it.”

***

To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 20

In the last episode, Mike managed to spend a few minutes with Maybelle the head of the engineering department at Willow keep, and was bold enough to tell her how he felt about her.  The meeting ended with Mike hoping for more but unsure about if Maybelle was interested or was only being kind. He is pulled away to have personal visits with the other women he had chosen from the earlier interviews.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start from the beginning, click here!

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High up in the willow tree the she tinkers had built a sturdy platform amid the swaying branches.  From that height Mike could see clear across the park and in the distance make out the top edge of the crabapple tree. He shifted his chair closer to the center of the platform, the thought of being that high again made him feel decidedly ill.  He hadn’t quite recovered from his experience with Ben the crazy blue jay.  The current she tinker, Melissa, leaned against the rail that circled the platform.  Her earthy brown hair twisted in the breeze behind her and the subdued green dress hugged her legs.

He had chosen her because she hadn’t tried to impress him with her looks, or wow him with her skills.  She had simply come to the meeting and seemed more interested in learning about him beyond the trivial questions that the other she tinkers had asked.  Now, alone, that shyness that he imagined before had disappeared.

In the beginning of their meeting she had sat close to him.  Her sea blue eyes twinkled with curiosity as they spoke.  She had drifted further and further away as the meeting continued.

“You mean to say there aren’t any other tinkers where you live?  Don’t you get bored?” She traced a finger along the top of the rail and watched the swaying leaves.

Mike couldn’t blame her for losing interest. His own thoughts kept returning to Maybelle and what he would need to do to capture her interest. He wanted to impress her, wanted to make himself worthy of her attentions.

Melissa turned back to face him when he didn’t answer her question right away. He shifted in the chair and tugged at the cuff of his shirt sleeve. “It’s never boring, there are always plenty of things to do in that old house. There’s a terrific garden that could use the care of a she tinker.” He tugged at the other cuff. “I didn’t leave because I was bored, I left because I wanted to find someone to share my life with.”

“I don’t think you realize how much you are asking. Here at the keep I have friends that I can talk to.  I have a job that I like doing.  I’m fed, protected, and cared for.  I don’t know if I’m ready to leave all that and go out into the world alone.”

Mike couldn’t help but wonder if Maybelle would feel the same.  It was true that he couldn’t offer her what she had here at the keep, but he could offer her the one thing that she didn’t have, love and a family.

He stood and reached a hand toward Melissa. “You’re right, I can’t offer you those things, and they are important to you.” He took her hand and held it between his. “I think we both know that you’d be happier if you stayed here.  Thank you for your time.”

Melissa smiled and Mike tried not to read too much into the relief that he saw in her face. He couldn’t help but wonder if there were other things about him that turned her away as well.  He could feed, care, and protect her at the yellow house, and she would have plenty of work to keep her busy.  He couldn’t change the way he looked or how he spoke.

The meetings continued for several more hours and after each one Mike found himself growing more and more depressed.  He couldn’t find that connection he sought with any of the women.  Most were young and too naïve to understand what he was asking of them. They would eagerly agree with everything he said with wide eyes and simpering smiles. It would be wrong to choose any of them unless he knew with certainty that they had thought through what leaving the keep meant.

As he waited for yet another woman to climb the stairs he admired the handiwork of the woven willow railing.  Larger boughs intertwined with smaller switches giving it the look of an elaborate wicker basket. It made him think of Maybelle once again and her exquisite hands, her delicate features.  He imagined her finding happiness within the walls of the yellow house and bringing her beauty and talent to his life.  For a moment a burst of joy filled him, like sun through clouds.

That joy fled at the sound of footsteps.  He dreaded spending another moment with yet another woman.  They would find something wrong with him or he them and he couldn’t take one more rejection.  He was about to tell them that he had had enough for one day when Maybelle appeared at the top of the stairs.

He stood and straightened his shirt again. The sight of her twisted his tongue into a knot. “I thought you were busy,” he stammered.

“I needed a break.” She crossed the platform and rested her arms on the railing. “Have you found true love yet?”

“Hardly. These women are all lovely and talented, but they all lack one thing.” He joined her at the railing, even though the height made his heart leap into his throat. “None of them are you.”

She studied her hands. “You realize I know nothing about you, nor you I.”

“Perhaps it’s time to remedy that.”

“Perhaps…”

***

To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here.

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 18

In the previous episode it was decided that all women of Willow keep must have a chance to meet Mike so that everyone would have a fair chance. Now he is stuck playing the Tinker version of “The Bachelor” and Mike doesn’t like it one bit.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start from the beginning, click here!

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The meetings ran through the morning, ten eligible women would be led into the room and he would have ten minutes to talk to them.  They looked as if they had spent hours perfecting their hair in elaborate braids and curls. The effect made Mike think of ropes and gears.  One woman even went as far to fashion her hair until it resembled a strange tree growing from the top of her head.

None of it impressed him, however.  In fact, it seemed that the women who tried the hardest to look their best, had the most elaborate clothing and hair, where the ones who annoyed him the most. If anything they made him think that they were trying to hide things from him.

After a dutiful knock on the door, the current gathering of women stood and left while yet another bustled in. Mike folded a yawn into his elbow, being careful not to offend this new batch of hopefuls. Only three of them placed plates of food before him this time, to his relief. He had sampled so much food over the course of the morning; tarts, breads, nut candies, and more, that he couldn’t bear the thought of eating another bite. He did anyway.

“Please Mike, we want to know more about you, tell us about yourself,” said a younger she tinker who was sitting so far on the edge of her seat that Mike imagined her slipping off. The thought made him smile. She wore her white blond hair in a wave over one shoulder woven with hundreds of tiny glittery beads.

A chorus of agreement spouted from the other women, each trying desperately to seem the perfect and ideal match. He recited the same information that he had shared seventeen times already, embellishing the details a touch here and there to keep things interesting. They all responded with eager nods and demure giggles, and although they were all interesting they were not her.

He had hoped that he would find Mistress Maybelle among all the different faces, after spending so long admiring her intricate craftsmanship he felt he knew her already.  They shared the same intense fascination with creating and crafting ingenious devices. And yet group after group came and went and she did not come.

After the last group came and went Mike’s head was a sea of faces and names. Only a handful interested him enough to learn more about. He jotted those names on a list, not trusting himself to remember. As he stood to leave Queen Caliee entered, shutting the door behind her.

“Well, Mike Finnegan, what have you to say for yourself?” she asked as she settled into one of the seats facing his.

Mike bowed and then sat back down. “You are blessed with an amazing amount of talent here, I’m flattered that these impressive women would want anything to do with me.”

“Enough with the humility Mike, tell me the truth. What do you think?”

“It’s hard to get an honest impression of anyone when they are trying so hard to stand out. I had no idea that hair could do all that.”

Queen Caliee smiled and adjusted her dress. “There has to be one or two that caught your interest.”

Mike handed her his list.

“Only eight out of everyone, interesting.” After glancing over the names with a nod she folded the paper and slipped it into a hidden pocket. “I will personally tell these women of your interest and arrange more personal meetings for you. Until then you are free to explore. Is there anything else you need?”

This was Mikes chance, and he wasn’t going to waste it. “Yes, I’ve wanted to talk to someone in engineering, I have some questions that I hope they can answer.”

“Of course, Sali here will lead you there.” She motioned to one of the women standing outside the door who blushed and curtsied. He recognized her from one of the earlier groups even though she had changed back into uniform and wore a simple braid down her back.

She led the way without speaking, although she kept sneaking sidelong glances that made him think she wanted to ask how the morning went and more specifically, if he had chosen her. The silence hung heavy between them although wherever they went a trail of whispers followed from those they passed along the way.

The door leading to the engineering shop rose higher than the other doors and was a complex array of gears and wheels more complicated and beautiful than the others, had Mike been on his own he would have stopped to admire it. Sali turned the central knob and gave the door a gentle push. The gears spun to life and the door swung forward opening into a room that Mike could only dream of.   Mistress Maybelle perched on a tall stool in front of a workbench with a magnifying glass in hand.

Mike cleared his throat.

Maybelle didn’t look up. “I thought I made it clear that there are to be no visitors here, only my staff.”

“Even if it’s a special visitor?” Mike asked, fumbling for the right words.

She looked up and studied him as she would an interesting cog or spring before turning back to the table. “Weren’t the other hundreds of women enough for you?”

“It’s not that.” He shuffled his feet, unsure how to continue. “I am impressed by your work, I was hoping to talk to you about it.”

“Is that so? Well then, you’d better have a seat and promise not to touch anything.  I’ll be with you in a moment. Sali, you may go now.”

 

The other woman muttered a thank you and left, leaving the two of them alone.

“This is a remarkable place you have here.”

“Don’t talk to me, I’m busy.” She said without turning her head.

“Sorry.” Mike whispered. He had hoped to have a much more welcoming reception, but as it is with anything he was willing to do whatever was needed to get to know Maybelle better.

To be continued…

***

To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 13

In the last episode Mike finally made it to Ben the bluebird’s nest, narrowly avoiding being eaten by whatever lurked in the ivy.  Now, he must see if he can make sense of the crazy bird’s ramblings.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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The dark shadow cast by the bird’s wings descended over the nest where Mike sat perched and trembling.  His held fast to the sticks that made up the nest, his knuckles white with the strain.  Being at the top of the tree was almost enough to unnerve him completely.  Looking down, when he dared, all he could see were branches and leaves, the ground had vanished.

“Why look, I candy I’ve got, all wrapped up nicely.  Is it a chocolate or a mint?” Ben said in a sing song voice while hopping back and forth, making the nest bounce and Mike’s stomach turn even more. “We best unwrap it and find out.”

If Mike could have worked up the courage to let go of the nest for a moment, he would have rapped the bird on the beak with his cane. “You will do nothing of the sort!

“The candy talks!” The bird laughed and cocked his head so far he was nearly upside down as he leaned in to get a better look. His black beady eyes sparkled with glee. “I’ve never had a talking candy before. Let’s get the wrapper off.” He nipped at Mike with his beak. “I do hope it’s got nuts.”

That was enough for Mike, he gripped the nest with one hand and swung the cane with the other. “Benjamin Bluejay I am not candy!” he hollered as it came down on the intruding beak with a crack.

The bird jumped to the other side of the nest, rubbing at his beak with the edge of his dusty blue wing. “That wasn’t very nice. No, no no…” He paced and twitched his wings, glancing back at Mike as if trying to figure him out.

“Listen crazy bird, I need to talk to you. You know everything about the park, what do you know of the she tinkers?”

Ben froze and fixed Mike in his stare, eyes narrowed. Then he began singing to himself, bobbing his head to the rhythm of the words.

Betwixt the pines a willow stands

Where the Valkyries rule the land.

With pointed spear and battle cry

They say that they will never die.

 

Mike leaned forward, the words meant something to the bird they had to be some sort of riddle. “Are the Valkyries the she tinkers? Are you trying to tell me where they are?”

The bird screeched and gave a curt nod. “Smart candy, now I can eat you?”

“Oh no, never, I’m not food.” Mike scooted back as the bird came closer, clicking his tongue inside its beak. “If it’s food you want I know where you can get some delicious biscuits and tarts.”

The bird stopped and stood up tall. “I like tarts, are there raspberry ones?”

“Certainly, and blueberry too.  I’m sure she will make whatever you like if you are polite.” Mike fished out one of the biscuits he had forgotten about from his pockets and tossed it forward. “Here, try this.”

Ben whistled and snatched up the biscuit. “Yes, I like. Where, tell me!”

Mike cringed at the thought of what he was about to suggest but it was the only way he could think of to get down from this tree and over the willow tree mentioned in the song.  “I’ll tell you, but first you have to do something for me.”

“What does the candy want?”

“Carry me to the willow tree where the she tinkers are, then I’ll tell you where you can get your tarts.” Mike cringed. Suggesting to be flown over the park to yet another tree? He must be losing his mind.

“More biscuit?”

Mike felt his other pocket, the second biscuit was still there. “When we get there.”

The bird gave a happy whistle and without waiting a moment grabbed Mike by the shoulders and lifted him from the nest.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 11

In the previous episode, Mike learned that Benjamin the blue jay, the one creature in the park that might know about the fate of the she tinkers, has lost his mind. Today we will bring him one step closer to his goal.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Mike followed Tilly and Jacob out of the burrow with another warm biscuit in hand and two in his pockets. The two field mice bounded ahead leaving Mike alone to stop and stare. Overnight, the tunnel they had traveled had transformed into a magical place. Tiny drops of dew had collected along the edges of each leaf and tipped the bending tops of each blade of grass. The whole world glittered in the clear cold morning light.

Tilly smiled and laughed as they made their way down the path, often stopping and showing Mike different sights. He marveled at dew bejeweled cobwebs, fuzzy sleeping spiders, and pine cones. Seeing the young mouse happy was a welcome change from the night before.

At first, Tilly tried to get Jacob to come and look as well, but each time he’d refuse and continue on walking, straight-backed and whiskers twitching.

“He’s a serious one today, isn’t he?” Mike asked when Tilly returned once again.

“He isn’t always like this, there must be something on his mind.  That, or he’s trying to impress you.”

Mike couldn’t help but laugh. “Why would he be trying to impress me?”

She shrugged and lowered her eyes. “He always does this when I’m with new friends, it’s his way of showing what a responsible big brother he is.  It’s irritating, I know.”

“No, I find it quite charming. Not every young lady is blessed to have a good big brother like that.”

Up ahead Jacob had stopped in front of what looked like a stone wall. He cleared his throat to get their attention. “Well my good sir, this is the end of the trail for us.”

Mike joined Jacob and found that the wall was actually the edge of a concrete walkway. Standing there, he could see the immense crab apple tree looming overhead, its bent and twisted branches like hands reaching out to snag birds from the sky. The ground beneath the tree crawled with a sprawling ivy.

“You’ll want to go quickly and not stop until you’ve climbed up into the branches.  In the ivy you can’t see what is hiding until it’s already upon you.  Once you are up there you’ll have to watch out for the squirrels. They’re generally very civil unless they think you are threatening their nuts. And believe me, don’t do or say anything that might make them think that.” Jacob said the last with a smile, making Mike thing that he might know about the squirrels from personal experience.

He twisted his cane in his hands.  The tree looked taller by the minute as he stood there and he began to wonder if it was really all that important to go find a she tinker after all. Tilly set a paw on his arm and looked up into his eyes, giving him strength. No, he would complete his quest.  He couldn’t let something as simple as a tree stop him, not after coming this far.

He placed her paw between his hands, it seemed so small. “My dear, it’s been a pleasure to have met and spent time with you.  I promise that I’ll come back this way when I have found what I seek.”

A tear had formed in the corner of Tilly’s eye. “The pleasure is all mine.  I’ll watch for you everyday until you return.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eye with the corner of her kerchief. “Please be careful out there.”

Mike knelt in front of the tiny mouse and gave her a gentle hug. “Don’t you worry about me, I’m a stubborn one. I’ll be back before long.” Tilly nodded and gave her best smile.

Mike turned to Jacob. “As for you, as much as I’d like a sturdy chap like you at my side I understand the importance of keeping the peace. Thank you for everything.”

“I would come if I weren’t needed here, it sounds like a grand adventure. You’d better come back and tell us about everything when it’s over.”

“Aye, that I will.” Mike said as he climbed up to the walkway. The sun shone brighter there, blinding him for a moment.   From the top he looked down into the end of the tunnel, he could barely make out his new friends standing in the shadows. He gave one last farewell before heading off once more into the unknown.

 

To be continued…

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 8

In the last episode we left Mike in the sprawling park searching out Benjamin the blue jay with the help of Tilly, a tiny fieldmouse.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Tilly darted her way winding though the hedge, jumping and winding her way around the dense growth on all fours.  Her grass purse bounced against her back as she went. Mike did his best to keep up with her but after a few minutes of climbing over and ducking under branches and scrambling over stones, it was clear that he couldn’t travel this way.

“Tilly, wait a wee bit, I need to catch my breath.”

The young mouse stopped and turned before making her way back, a look of concern painted her face. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t think-”

Mike interrupted her. “It’s quite alright, I would have been just fine had I been a touch smaller.” He looked to either side of the hedge. “Perhaps there’s another way to the crabapple tree?”

Tilly stopped and sniffed, her slender nose high in the air.  “I suppose we could go along the edge of the hedge that meets the grass.  There is good cover there, not quite as good as within the hedge, but the way is certainly clearer.”

“That sounds the perfect path for me, lead the way.”

For a moment the mouse stood still, as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words.  She twitched her tail and looked towards the edge of the hedge and back to Mike before clearing her throat. “Alright then, here we go.”

“What’s the matter lass?” I don’t want to force ye into doing something ye aren’t comfortable with.”

“It’s just…” She shuffled her feet. “I’m a bit scared, that’s all.”

“Of what, m’dear?”

“Jasper.  He’s a grass snake. He sometimes hunts along the border.  He ate my cousin last year.” Her whiskers trembled as she spoke.

“Is there another way that we could go?”

“No, not really. He’s rarely around, especially as the weather gets cooler.  We should be fine.” She tried to smile and reassure him, but it looked more like a grimace.

“You don’t have to come with me if it scares you.” He leaned on his cane. “With your directions I should be able to find it on my own.”

“I want to come and make sure you get there alright.” She stood straighter and gripped the strap on her purse. “I like you.”

Now it was Mike’s turn to blush.  “Well alright little miss. I guess we go together then. But if ever you change your mind, let me know. I won’t mind.”

She nodded with a smile, this time a happier one. “We best be going then, we don’t want to be caught out in the dark.”

With a flick of her tail she turned and then led them out where there hedge met the grass. The path reminded Mike of shady avenues where the trees had grown into a tunnel.  On one side the grass grew tall and straight and on the other the leafy canopy of the hedge arched overhead. The dirt underfoot had been packed hard and smooth by the recent rain. If it wasn’t for the threat of a snake it would have been a very pleasant place to walk and think.

Tilly darted rather than walked, taking several small quick steps and then stopping to sniff the air.  Mike tried to remain alert but found the walk so relaxing that he started feeling almost giddy and had to remind himself not to whistle. The evening drew on and the greens and browns of the path changed to golds and yellows with the setting of the sun. As the light faded Tilly’s darting grew more frantic.

“We must hurry along Mike, it’s nearly dark.  We can stop at my Auntie Marie’s burrow for the night and then I’ll show you the rest of the way in the morning.”

“Is it far now? Could I make it to the tree before dark?”

“Well yes, but then you would have to climb it and that’s something that you really shouldn’t do at night.”

Mike swallowed hard, he never considered that he would have to climb the tree. He figured that he’s would have to get to the trunk and the blue jay would come to him.  The thought of climbing made his head swim, he never liked heights.  “I suppose you’re right, that is something best done when there’s light.”

From off to the side they heard a rustle in the grass. They both froze, neither wanting to make a sound. Tilly’s whiskers twitched back and forth trying to catch a hint of scent in the air.  Mike’s heart pounded in his chest and he held his cane at the ready, although he had no idea what use it would be against a snake. He hoped whatever he could do would be enough to save them both.

A shadowy shape burst into the path in front of them with a ear splitting screech, knocking both Mike and Tilly to the ground.  In their mad scramble to regain their feet they heard something completely unexpected – laughter.

Tilly lunged at the shape, crying, cursing, and laughing all at the same time.  Her tiny fists pummeled into the creature who against all reason continued to laugh.

Mike approached, cane at the ready.

“It’s alright Mike.” Tilly sat up and wiped a tear from her face, still chuckling. “This is my idiot brother, Jacob.”

Jacob stood and brushed off the dust.  He was tall with glossy dark fur and kind but serious eyes.  He helped Tilly to her feet and looked her over, picking off a stray blade of grass from her back.

“Idiot!  You call me idiot!  Fat lot of thanks I get from you for me coming all this way to make sure you get home.” He turned to Mike. “Who are you?”

Tilly answered before Mike had a chance to catch his breath. “This is Mike, he’s a tinker. It’s alright, he’s my friend.”

To be continued…

***

Like Mike and his adventures! Let me know in the comments!

 

Friday Fiction – The Man in the Cupboard Pt. 6

After a long break we are visiting Mike Finnegan once more in this, the next installment of the Man in the Cupboard series.

To start at the beginning, click here!

To go to the previous chapter, click here!

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It had been ages since Mike had ventured out on his own, he’d almost forgotten what it was like to feel the crisp breeze at his back and the warm sun on his face.  The tree-lined avenue seemed to welcome him as he walked down its shaded paths.

He turned once more to look at the yellow house down the lane.  This wasn’t goodbye, he would return as soon as he found himself a woman to share his life with.  However, leaving pained him.  Kimberly and little Thomas had managed to find a place in his heart, a place that he didn’t know existed before.

“I’ll be back soon my dears, take care.,” he said as he spun his cane, casting a spell over the house. With him gone there wouldn’t be anyone to keep away undesirables such as rats or those detestable leprechauns.  The spell would keep them away, at least for a while.  No spell could last forever.

With his face to the sun he set off down the lane.  If he remembered correctly there was a lovely park with vast gardens filled with fragrant flowers, arbors heavy with wisteria, and wandering paths, not too far away.  He was sure to find a she tinker or two there, they almost always chose gardens over houses.

At the rise in the next hill the park came into view.  The garden beds were alive with different hues of reds and yellows from the fall roses.  The ancient maples stretched toward the sky, the edges of their leaves beginning to change from brilliant green to gold and red. Tucked among the flowers and trees, couples sat together on the park benches exchanging quiet words and smiles.

Soon, he would have someone of his own to share quiet words and smiles with as well. The thought warmed his heart and he set off down the hill.

At the main gate a tawny cat lounged on the sidewalk, eyes half closed, tail flicking.  He stood and stretched as Mike approached.

“What do you want here, Tinker?” The cat sneered.

“None of your business, now let me pass.”

The cat stepped closer, showing his needle sharp teeth. “Oh, but it is my business.  I’m Big Tom and you see, this is my park, I say who goes in and who doesn’t.”

“Very funny Tom.  Now if you will step aside I have things that I need to attend to.”

“That’s Big Tom and no, I don’t think so.  Not until I’m through with you.”

Mike tapped his cane in front of him, his patience was wearing thin. “What is it you want then?”

“Lunch.”

Just then Big Tom leapt into the air, his claws extended and ready to pounce upon Mike. He jumped back swinging his cane, dodging the blow only by an inch. The cat hissed in anger, and turned to strike again.  Mike wasn’t going to let him have the pleasure.  With a quick stroke he drew a spell with his cane and sent it flying at Big Tom’s face.  The spell struck with an puff of glittery smoke. Tom shook his head, pawing at his nose, then sat hard on the pathway as the spell took effect.

Mike didn’t wait to see if the spell worked or not, he had never cast a confusion spell on an animal as large as a cat before, he wasn’t sure if it would even work. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him into the dense leaves of a nearby boxwood  hedge.  Even if it did work he didn’t want to anywhere nearby when the cat remembered what had happened.

Inside the hedge he leaned against one of the branches, and gulped to catch his breath. Something inside the hedge rustled overhead.

“You’d best be more careful Tinker, the park can be a dangerous place,” squeaked a tiny voice.

There above him, crouched on a higher branch, was a field mouse no bigger than a half-dollar coin.

To be continued…

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To read the next part, click here!

Friday Fiction – The Man in the Cupboard Pt. 5

It’s time to see what wee Mike has been up to in this week’s installment of “The Man in the Cupboard.” Enjoy!

To start at the beginning, click here!

To go to part 4, click here!

fiction friday bannerEven after eighty years, Mike still loved the old Colonial style house, drafts and all. It had personality. He remembered the day he came to the neighborhood, fresh out of tinkering school and eager to find his home. Of all the homes on the street, this one spoke to him, Its bright yellow paint beamed like sunshine among the solemn brown, brick, and gray of the other homes on the tree-lined avenue. A rose garden bloomed in the front yard under the sitting room windows, inviting sprites and pixies in the warm months, snow fairies in the cold. Even then the house required lots of work, remembering made him tired.

He sunk into his favorite armchair, the one he had crafted from matchboxes and Popsicle sticks, padded with folded pieces of discarded felt, and covered with a scarlet silken handkerchief. Alongside the chair, on top of a table made from a thread spool; he kept his favorite thimble mug, the one with the flying birds etched across its sides. His collection of postage stamps hung on display along one wall. On the opposite wall hung an antique pocket watch that sparkled with its gold case and mother of pearl face. Mike had gifted it to himself to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of working at the house.

As he reclined in the chair he listened to the quiet mumble of noise coming from the family below. The kids had all been snuggled into their beds. Kimberly had turned on one of her favorite dramas and had curled up on the couch alongside her hubby with a mug of hot chocolate. Most nights Mike usually would watch as well, he had a comfy spot on top of the glass paneled curio cabinet with an excellent view, but tonight he felt more like sitting and thinking.

Watching Kimberly and Thomas had kindled a spark within him, and itch that needed scratching. At one hundred and two, and still an eligible bachelor, perhaps it was time to seek out his own companion. After all this time being alone it would be a welcome change to have another tinker around. He craved someone to care for and to care for him as well. He smiled thinking of having someone to wake up next to in the morning. The house could use another tinker, caring for it by himself had become harder as it grew older and more things had started to break.

Resolved, he slapped the arm of the chair, releasing a cloud of dust into the air. He knew what he must do. It was time to seek out his mate, he could wait no longer. Leaving the house to find her pained him, he didn’t want to leave Kimberly without an explanation. At the same time, he worried that she wouldn’t give permission to bring another woman in the house. In the end he decided it would be better to leave without telling her and come back as soon as he could. Perhaps she wouldn’t notice.

As the sun rose that next morning Mike waved a farewell to the house and to Kimberly who would be waking any minute.  Dew clung like tiny diamonds to the blush colored roses lining the walkway.  With cane in hand and a small pack on his back, he walked toward his greatest adventure yet.

 

To continue the story, click here!