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. 17

In the previous episode we learned that a vile curse had caused all the other he tinkers to turn violent against their own kind, forcing the she tinkers to kill them in order to protect themselves.  Mike, having shown no sign of being affected by the curse, has been invited to dine with the Queen of the Keep.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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The tunnel-like passageway bent and twisted its way through the roots of the great willow tree as Mike followed Izsel. As they turned a corner the tunnel opened into a spacious room.  Blue, white, and green tinted light streamed in through two lines of bottle glass windows that ran along both sides of the room. Four long tables laden with platters of food stretched across the room, each seating at least thirty she tinkers who were all laughing and talking, filling the room with sound.

A ample bosomed tinker with a thick brown braid shrieked in surprise when she saw him, causing the whole room to turn and fall silent.  Every eye in the room watched as he stepped forward, some with fear, some with anger, and a few with eager curiosity.  At the end of the room was a shorter table set on a raised platform.  In the center sat the queen wearing a deep green dress and a simple crown that she hadn’t been wearing when they first met outside the tree. Three women sat at the table alongside her, including Nessa who had come to his room earlier, leaving two empty chairs.  Mike’s stomach sank when he realized that they were for himself and Izsel.

Mike crossed the room to take his seat and a wave of whispers followed behind him.

Queen Caliee rapped a small gavel, bringing the room back to silence. “Ladies, as you have all noticed we have a guest here tonight.  This is Mike Finnegan a fellow tinker. Mistress Nessa has determined that he is safe from the curse and therefore free to go about his business while here at Willow keep.” A volcano of excited voices erupted at the news, filling the room. A tinker wearing orange with hair that reminded Mike of copper pennies openly stared at him with a wistful smile.  It had obviously been too long since any of them had seen a man. Then again, it had been a very long time since he had seen a women of his kind either.

The queen turned her attention to Mike. “I suppose some introductions are in order, you’ve already met Mistress Izsel, commander of our soldiers, and Mistress Nessa, head of our order of healers.  Also, here is Mistress Maybelle, our head engineer, and there at the end of the table Mistress Annette, our head historian.” They each nodded in turn as they were introduced.  “I never did ask you what your business was in coming here, forgive me.  Precautions had to be taken first, you must understand.”

“No apology necessary, I’ll admit I was a bit angry about being stuck in that room. But now I know why I can see the wisdom in it.” He spooned a pile of roasted beets on his plate, inhaling the heavenly aroma. “Besides with food like this no tinker can stay mad for long.”

“So, why are you here?”

Mike felt strangely self-conscious blurting out that he was looking for a woman, especially now he was surrounded by so many. He knew he would have to answer her question, it would be rude not to. He took a bite from his plate and chewed it with care to buy himself more time. “Delicious. I could die happy right now.” Judging by the queen’s gaze, and the impatient looks from the other four ladies at the table he decided he better just answer the question. “Oh, yes, why I’m here. You see, I’ve been a house tinker for several decades on my own and lately I’ve thought how nice it would be to have someone else there with me.”

“Are you trying to say you’ve come looking for a woman to court?”

“Well…” He scooped up another bite, and immediately thought better of it. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. You see when I left my comfy home I didn’t know how much everything had changed here in the park,  I had hoped to find a few she tinkers in the gardens tending the flowers with their cozy tinker homes like it used to be.  I never imagined finding all the she tinkers hiding away inside a fortress. You can’t imagine what I had to go through to find you.”

Izsel took a sip from her cup and cleared her throat. “When you have enemies like we do, being well hidden is the best first defense.  I’m surprised you found us at all. This park is a dangerous place.”

Maybelle, a sensible looking tinker with thin pencil tucked behind her ear, leaned forward. “Now that you’ve found us, how to you intend on going about deciding which woman you will court?”

“I’m not sure.  I’d hate to hurt any feelings. I suppose I’ll have to spend time getting to know everyone.”

The historian at the end of the table set down her fork and adjusted her glasses. “Since there is only one of you and many of us it might be wise to come up with some sort of plan to make it fair for everyone, perhaps a series of tasks that the ladies who are interested in being courted can complete and Mike can judge.”

The queen gave a nearly imperceptible sigh and Mike thought he caught her rolling her eyes. “Do you mean to turn this into a contest? Don’t be absurd.”

“Do you remember the story of Cassandra and her twelve suitors, and how her actions ended up dividing a whole kingdom against itself?  If that could cause years of feuding and war, who’s to say what might happen here?” She tapped her fork against the plate as she spoke, emphasizing key words.

“I agree that whatever we do must be fair, although I don’t think we risk the division of Willow Keep over one man. What do you think Mike?” the queen asked.

“I’m just a humble house tinker looking for the right lady, she doesn’t have to be the best at anything, just the best fit for me. Everyone should have a chance who wants to. I’d hate to hurt feelings.”

“That settles it, starting tomorrow morning we will organize a series of meetings where you’ll have the chance to meet the ladies of the keep.  Should you find a few you’d like to get to know better we will arrange more personal visits.”

Mike glanced over to Maybelle who was busy sketching something between bites, and wondered if she had been the brain behind the intricate locking systems that he had seen. He hoped he would find a chance to talk to her about it and maybe even be allowed to see her workshop and tools.  “Will everyone be coming to these meetings?”

“Only those who are interested in being courted, naturally.” the queen answered.

“Of course.” Mike replied and secretly hoped that she would be there.

To be continued…

***

Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 15

In past episodes Mike has survived challenge after challenge and now has arrived at the base of the willow tree and met his first she tinker.  Will he survive this challenge?  Let’s find out!

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Mike brushed off the twigs and dirt from his sleeves and tugged his jacket straight. His tumble landing from his ride from the crazy blue jay had left him shaken, disheveled, and in no way prepared to meet the woman he might marry. He had envisioned so many things differently.  If he could have done this again he would have been brushed and groomed and come bearing some sort of gift.

The chance to make that sort of good impression was gone and it was all he could do not to curse at his bad luck. Especially not with a she tinker eyeing him while holding a spear.

“Answer me! What are you?” She demanded.

“The name’s Mike Finnegan, and I’m a tinker, like you,” he answered, holding his cane between himself and the armed she tinker. From above in the canopy of the willow Mike heard a gasp and the low hiss of several voices whispering back and forth.

“Impossible, all the he tinkers were killed with the curse.” She lowered her eyes ground the butt of the spear in the dirt.

Now it was Mike’s turn to be surprised. He knew that there had been some sort of calamity ages ago, but only hearing fragments here and there from sparrows visiting the house, he never had learned enough to put the pieces together. The shock of her statement startled him, he had to know more.  “Listen, I am what I say. You have to believe me, I never knew about any curse. Could you tell me more?”

She pounded the spear against the ground and her face twisted in anger as she once again stared him down. “How can you claim to be a tinker and not know this? Are you a spy for those filthy leprechauns?”

Mike stepped back. “No, I swear it!”

Another tinker stepped out from somewhere behind him without a sound.  Her hair hung in two dark braids over either shoulder and she had the air of importance about her.  “Enough Iszel, I’ll take it from here.” The honey haired tinker bowed and stepped back a few paces.

“Well, well, what have we here,” she muttered to herself as she stepped closer to Mike. She looked closely at his cane, being careful not to touch it, and then into his eyes.  With an outstretched finger she traced a line along his brow. “What you say is true, I find no deceit in you.” She smiled and the gesture sparked a warmth within him. “Welcome Mike Finnegan to Willow Keep, the last home of the tinkers. I am Queen Caliee.”

She turned to the other she tinkers who had assembled. “We shall show our guest every courtesy while he is with us.  Iszel, if you will show him to a room, I’m sure he’s weary from his travels.”

Iszel turned to the queen, never taking her eyes from him. “Are you sure he can be trusted?”

“I know you have sworn to protect me and this keep. I trust him to be what he says. Now show him into the keep.” She glanced around. “The longer we linger out here the more notice we’ll attract.”

“Yes,  ma’am.” Iszel nodded and bowed before turning back to Mike. “Alright, come with me and take care to stay on the path. We’ve taken measures to ensure our safety, I’d hate to see you caught in one before hearing what you have to say for yourself.”

“Yes, of course,” Mike agreed and followed her steps carefully.  He knew what he was capable of as a tinker in terms of creating traps and he’d hate to trigger any by accident. Iszel marched on ahead, head high, back straight.  He thought finding the she tinkers would answer all of his questions, not bring an avalanche of even more questions.

Iszel led him to a hidden passageway concealed by an outstretched root of the tree.  From within he could see an elaborate system of pulleys and gears that would raise and lower the root to allow entrance. Whoever had created all of this was surely a genius that he wanted to meet.  The passage slanted down toward a tall door flanked by two armored tinker guards who eyed him with curiosity.

Inside the doors was a great hall with pillars arching overhead formed from the roots of the tree.  The floor was set with smooth polished stones. Several she tinkers in the hall stopped what they were doing to watch him as he passed by.

They traveled down several different corridors before arriving at a door. “You should find everything you need in here, rest and get cleaned up.  Someone will come for you in a while.” Iszel said as she ushered him inside.

As soon as he entered the room she shut the door and he heard a key turn in the lock. “Hey, what’s the meaning of this?” he shouted and banged on the door. There was no answer.

To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here!

 

 

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 14

We last left Mike in the hooked claws of Ben the crazy bluejay, flying through the park to where the she tinkers might live.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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As Mike felt his feet leave the safety of the nest he thought for sure that he was going to die, after so many adventures to get this far, this one would be the one to end it all.  He already imagined the hooked claws loosening their grip as Ben flapped up and free of the twisted crab apple tree.

Up flying in the clear Ben whistled a happy tune to himself, each note grating on Mike’s already strained nerves.  How dare the bird be so carefree while he hung beneath fearing for his life?  He gripped the bird’s scaly ankles until his knuckles turned white. If the bird forgot about him, which was a real possibility, and released his grip, at least he’d have a chance to catch himself.

The park unfolded under them like a map, each trail, each tree a perfect miniature from this far above.  Mike searched for the two pines and the willow from the poem and tried hard to push his fear of heights aside. Each flap of Ben’s wings made his stomach clench tighter as he was pulled higher into the sky.

“Does little candy like to fly?” Ben whistled, giving Mike a little shake.

Mike held on tighter and squeezed his eyes shut. “No! Pay attention to what you’re doing!” Although it was a relief that bird hadn’t forgotten about him, he could do without any extra shaking. He was shaking enough on his own without the bird doing it to him.

“Don’t you trust a bird to fly? That’s what birds do best.” To demonstrate Ben tucked in his wings and plummeted spinning toward a wisteria arbor. Moments before striking the ground he flung his wings open again and soared through the tunnel of flowers, startling a flock of pigeons into flight in a flurry of feathers and angry screeching.

It took Mike a few moments to convince himself he hadn’t died in that very moment.  A pigeon feather had gotten stuck against his neck, and it tickled at his face threatening to make him sneeze. He didn’t dare remove it. “Never do that again, I beg you.”

“Candy not having fun? Too bad. No worry, we there soon.”

The thought of arrival brought a whole new set of worries. Ben was going to have to set him down somehow, and he couldn’t use his claws. Images of himself falling and being crushed against the ground or thrown against an unyielding tree trunk flashed through his mind, and with each one his heart beat harder.  As much as he had laughed off other threats to his life before, he truly didn’t want to die, not when he was this close to reaching his prize.

Ben banked between a pair of maples and a willow came into view.  On either side was a tall slender pine tree, just like he had said there would be. The bird swooped low to the ground and then slowed suddenly, flapping his wings forward, before dropping Mike into the undergrowth.

Mike hit the ground and rolled end over end several times before stopping flat on his back staring upwards through the thin draping limbs of the willow.

Somewhere nearby Mike heard Ben land and scratch around in the thin underbrush before hopping over and peering at him from above.  “Biscuit please.” He poked at Mike’s pocket with his beak.”

Mike climbed back to his feet and brushed himself off. “I’m fine, thank you.”

Ben missed the sarcasm in his voice entirely. “Good. Biscuit?”

“Here, take it.” Mike pulled the now smashed biscuit from his pocket which Ben snatched away.

“Where for the tarts?”

Mike described how to find Auntie’s burrow and Ben nodded vigorously, eager to leave. “Before you go you must promise me not to be a bother to her, she’ll love to feed you every once in a while but if you become a nuisance she will stop.”

“Not a bother, never a bother.  I bring her treats too, you see.  Good bird.”

Mike laughed and shook his head, Ben was a good bird at heart.  Even if he tried to eat Mike in the beginning. “Yes, you are.”

As Ben flew off Mike sensed that he wasn’t alone. A twig popped behind him and he heard whispers from the branches of the willow above.

“Turn slowly stranger or I’ll gut you,” said a woman’s voice.

Mike did as he was told, keeping his hand on his cane. Behind him he found the most remarkable she tinker he had ever seen holding a spear leveled at his chest like she knew how to use it.   She wore a walnut-shell breastplate and her hair hung free down her shoulders, reminding him of honey.

As their eyes met she narrowed her eyes and lowered her spear. “Could it really be? Are you what I think you are?”

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. 12

In the previous episode, Mike had reached the end of the hedge trail and parted ways with the two field mice Jacob and Tilly.  Now he faces climbing the mighty crab apple tree to find a crazy bluejay.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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The words of Jacob’s warning echoed through Mike’s head as he made his way through the dense ivy that tangled around his feet, tripping him every other step.  Each brush of the undergrowth against his legs brought a new thrill of panic that some creature might be reaching out to grab him.  The faster he tried to move, the more tangled his feet became and the more times he fell.

When he finally reached the gnarled trunk of the tree all he wanted was a place to sit for a moment catch his breath.  That, and perhaps a hot cup of tea to steady his nerves.  He scanned the ivy for signs of life, nothing moved in the still air. He leaned against the rough bark and closed his eyes, letting the sun warm him.  Surely a few moments wouldn’t do any harm.

Just as Mike was starting to feel ready to attempt the climb something shot around his ankles, yanked him off his feet, and began dragging him under the ivy.  He twisted and flailed for his cane resting against the trunk and managed to knock it into his hands before going under the dark canopy of leaves. With a deft swing of the cane he sent a crackle of magic into the shadows.  Whatever was pulling him screeched and the binding at his feet loosened.

He didn’t stop to see what it was, the second he was free he ran for the tree and climbed as fast as he could until he reached the branches. That’s what Jacob had told him to do in the first place, he cursed at himself for not listening.  When he reached the first branch it was all he could do to pull himself on top of it before collapsing, breathless.  The height made his head swim and the thought of looking down made his stomach turn.

In the branches overhead he heard a series of chitters and squeaks bouncing about.

“What’s this here?” he heard one ask from somewhere above and to the left.

“Dunno, looks like a tall rat without a tail and wearing clothes,” answered another voice off to the right.

“Why’d ya think ol’ Cluny let him go?” asked the first voice.”I thought he’d be dinner for sure.”

A large grey squirrel leaped down on Mike’s branch, making it bounce.  Mike scrambled to grip the branch tighter, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Please don’t shake the branch.” He asked through clenched teeth.

“Wha’ you mean like this?” The grey squirrel jumped up and down a few times and Mike held on even tighter.  Even so he imagined he felt his grip slipping and him plummeting back down to the ivy and into the jaws of that thing that lived there. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

“Stop it Wetta, you’re scaring him.” A second squirrel joined the first on the branch and the shaking thankfully stopped. Mike dared to look up to see his rescuer and saw a different grey squirrel, this one smaller with flecks of black peppered through his fur.  “Name’s Tucker friend, what’s yours?” he asked extending a paw.

Mike shook his head, he couldn’t imagine letting go, not yet. “Name’s Mike.”

“Well Mike, whatcha doing in our tree? You’re not a nut snatcher, are ya?” Tucker sat with his legs dangling next to Mike being careful not to jar him.  Wetta climbed over to another branch for a better view all the while muttering to himself about crazy rats.

“No, not interesting in nuts.” Mike managed to sit up and swallow down the dryness in his throat, but scooted close to where the branch met the trunk.

“Well then, why ya here?”

“I need to get to Benjamin, I have some questions for him.”

Tucker looked up to the top of the tree. “That’s a mighty hard climb for a land dweller like you. Do you want a lift?”

Mike risked a look up towards the top of the tree, if he had to do it on his own it would take the rest of the day.  That is, if he worked up the courage to let go of the branch.  “Would you do that?”

“Sure, It’d be fun.”

Wetta growled deep in his throat like he didn’t like the idea. “Tucker, what are you doing?”

“Being helpful, one day you should try it.”

“One day you are going to get yourself into trouble,” he said with a sneer and then bounded away.

“Stupid oaf,” Tucker said under his breath before turning back to Mike and extending a paw. “Alright, all you have to do is hang on tight and keep your head down. I’ll do the rest.”

Mike clung to Tucker’s paw and climbed on the squirrel’s back.  His thick fur made it easy to get a solid grip.

 

Without another word they were flying through the branches reaching higher and higher inside the great crab apple tree. Before Mike could think to be terrified they had reached the top and the blue jay’s nest.

Tucker stopped at the edge of the nest and let Mike climb off. “Listen, be careful around the old bird.  He’s a fine chap but he can be unpredictable at times.”

Mike’s legs shook as he climbed to the edge of the nest, this was higher than he had ever been before and he definitely didn’t like it.  “I will, thank you for the lift, I honestly can say I couldn’t do it without you.”

Overhead they heard a whistle of birdsong. “That’d be Ben, I’d best be heading down now, the two of us don’t get along. Good luck. Goodbye.”

Before Mike could say good-bye the squirrel had already turned and began his trip back down.  There was a great rush of wind as Ben landed in his nest.

The bird clucked and cocked his head. “What’s this? Has someone left me a present?”

To be continued…

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 To read the next episode, click here!

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. 10

From Mike and all the humble woodland creatures – Happy Valentine’s Day!  We wish you all warm memorable moments and cherished time spent with loved ones today.

Our last installation of Mike Finnegan’s story left him in the cozy burrow of Tilly’s Auntie Marie trying to learn of the fate of the she tinkers that used to live in the park.  We continue on today with Mike’s adventure.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

fiction friday bannerMike awoke to quiet voices coming from the burrow’s kitchen. He squinted in the dim light trying to make out what time it might be and found it hard to tell.  It had to be morning, and early at that.  He felt as if he had only just curled into the downy mouse nest to sleep a few hours ago and would have liked a few more.

He went to push open the rounded door separating the sleeping area from the rest of the burrow to join Tilly and the others when he heard something that made him stop.

“But surely you knew that poor Benjamin has gone a bit mad didn’t you?” he heard Auntie say.

“Well, no.  How would I have known that?” Tilly replied, sounding a bit exasperated.

“She’s right Til. Ever since that summer storm a few months ago, when lightning hit his tree, he’s been a bit off,” Jacob added.

Mike decided that it was time he joined the conversation, eavesdropping was a frightfully rude habit and the last thing he wanted was to be thought of as rude.  The three stopped talking when they saw him.  Tilly’s ears flattened against her head as if she were ashamed.

“I hope we didn’t wake you Mike, field mice are early risers.  Did you sleep well?” asked Jacob as he offered Mike a biscuit and a chair.

“Well enough I suppose. Thank ye.” He took the biscuit with a nod. “I thought I heard mention about the blue jay, is there somethin’ wrong?”

Tilly was about to answer but Auntie beat her to it. “The poor thing has had a rough year, I’m afraid he’s quite addled. Nothing he says makes any sense anymore.  A few weeks ago I asked him if he had seen that the autumn roses were in bloom.  Instead of answering he stood on his head and started to sing about rainbows being smiles when looked at upside-down…”

“I’m so sorry Mike, I didn’t know.” Tilly leaned in to tell Mike as Auntie prattled on about her encounter. “I wouldn’t have brought you all this way to talk to a crazy bird.”

Mike patted Tilly’s paw. “I know lass, don’t ye be bothered by it.” He turned to Auntie, who was still talking to anyone who would listen. “Excuse me, Auntie, hate to interrupt. Ye say he acts a bit odd, and talks nonsense and what not, right?”

Auntie nodded and opened her mouth to start talking once more but Mike didn’t give her the chance.

“With all that, is he still friendly? Or should a stranger like me be wary?”

Auntie cocked her head. “I suppose he is still friendly, he hasn’t shown anyone otherwise. Why do you ask?”

“I’d like to meet him still.  Me ol’ great uncle was also a bit mad, would sing folk tunes to answer questions and sometimes said words backwards and what not. It took some work, but in the end we figured him out.  I’m hoping to do the same with old Benjamin.”

Jacob stood and brushed the crumbs from his fur. “Tilly and I can take you as far as the edge of the hedgerow that leads to the tree.  That’s the edge of our land here, we can’t cross further.  We should be on our way.”

Mike nodded toward Jacob. “I thank ye for the kindness you’ve shown me, it’ll not be forgotten.” Then he turned to Auntie. “You should be proud of your kin.  As for you, my dearie, you are surely the best cook in all the park, me stomach will be missing your biscuits before long.”

Auntie blushed beneath her fur. “You are too kind.  I’ll pack you a little something to take on your way while you collect your things.”

With his cane in hand and his hat on his head, Mike bowed and placed a gentlemanly kiss on Auntie’s paw. “You are indeed a marvel. I hope to cross this way when I return.”

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…

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The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 7

Let’s get back to the story of tiny tinker Mike Finnegan!  In the last installment, Mike had left Kimberly’s home to find a she tinker of his own to love.  Let’s see what happens next!

To read the previous installment, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Within the safety of the dense boxwood hedge the field mouse bounced down from branch to branch until she stood face to face with Mike.  She wore a red checkered scarf around her neck and carried a handbag fashioned from woven grass.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” she asked in a squeaky high voice.

Mike leaned on his cane. “I wouldn’t say new, but it has been awhile.” He cocked his head towards Big Tom who had resumed lounging on the sidewalk. “I don’t remember there ever being cats here.”

“You must have been gone a long time then. The cats came when my great grand dad was a boy.  Since then us smaller creatures have had to be very careful, especially out on the paths.” She shrugged her scarf tighter around her shoulders. “You’re very lucky, I thought Big Tom had you for sure.”  She reached out a tiny paw. “I’m Tilly Fieldmouse.”

Mike took the paw between two fingers. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. They call me Mike, Mike Finnegan.”

“Well Mike Finnegan, it’s good I found you before any other cat did.  In this place it’s good to have a friend.”

“You’re absolutely right m’dear.” He tapped his cane on the ground. “If it weren’t for this I’d be his lunch for sure.”

Tilly jumped to the ground and sniffed at the cane, whiskers vibrating in the air. “I don’t mean to be rude, but what exactly are you?”

“Careful little miss, once mustn’t touch a tinker’s cane. There’s no telling what might happen.”

Tilly jumped back and wrung her tail between her paws. “I’m sorry, I’ve never met a tinker before.

Mike sat down on moss covered rock and set his pack against his leg.  He drew out a pipe and stuck it between his teeth.  Holding the pipe was a comfort and made thinking easier. He took a deep pull and held the smoke in his mouth a while before puffing it out. “Never? Are you quite sure?”

She blushed and lowered her eyes. “I’d think I’d remember meeting a tinker.”

He took another pull on the pipe. “My dear Tilly, I’ve come to the park to seek out a she tinker, so you see there must be one here somewhere.  Have you visited the rose gardens or the arbors along the pathway?”

“Well, no.  We field mice tend to stick to our part of the park.  It isn’t safe to venture out into the unknown.”  She twisted her tail again.

“No need to be troubled. Is there anyone you know that has visited the rose gardens? I’d like to speak to them.”

Tilly’s ear perked up and a smile spread across her face. “Why yes, you will want to speak to Benjamin, he’s a bluejay. He knows everything about the park, I’m sure he will be able to help you.”

“That’s terrific, where can I find him?”

“He lives in the top of the old crab apple tree at the end of the hedge, it’s not far.” I’ll show you the way.

To be continued…

Read the next episode here.

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