40 – Flat Hunting (part 2)

The Mansions were tucked under one of the fine hairs on the girl’s cheek.

They started pushing into the hair, moving cells aside, hollowing out the middle, forming holes spiralling up its length like windows in a tower.  While they worked, they listened to the girl and the woman.

The pair had been walking for a while, long enough for the girl to stop chattering, perhaps some of The Mansions own disquiet at being exposed and vulnerable had seeped into her.

“I thought you said your bike was just around the corner,” the girl said nervously.

“It was,” the woman replied, cheerfully. “I must have taken a wrong turn. Which really isn’t like me.”

“Where are we?”

“Top question, love. Suburban… lots of twee houses…. Cobbles… Lovely old orange sodium lighting… Petunias in the gardens. This looks like Foxgrove Crescent.”

“Why did you say ‘looks’ like that? It looks like it?”

“It does, but sort of stretched. There are a lot of bits, like them pine trees there or those low eaves on the houses, that are very Foxgrove Crescent-ish, but then there’s other bits that are less so.”

“Is that a long-winded way of saying we’re lost?”

“See, there’s the thing. The thing itself. We can’t be because I don’t get lost.”

“But you don’t recognise the street.”

“It’s a small town, love, on the surface at least, hard to get lost in. This feels like… you know how when you come at somewhere from an unfamiliar angle and it all looks weird until you recognise it and everything sort of shifts around and you go, oh that’s where I am. You know that?”

“Yes.”

“Well it feels just like that. It’s not that, but it feels like it.”

“Oh, my days! What is then?”

“Dunno, love. Something more… sinister is afoot.”

“Sinister? Right, shouldn’t we go back? Let’s go back.”

“Logically? Absolutely. In actuality; not happening. I don’t get lost, see?”

“Argh! Your pride is going to get us into trouble!”

“Pride? No no no, this is curiosity. A harmless little emotion that has never caused no-one any bother.”

“You do acknowledge you’re lost at least.”

“I does.”

“At least we’re on the same page with that.”

“I should bloody coco.”

“You should w… those net curtains twitched! In that house. Did you see that? Someone’s watching us!”

“Good. Very watchable, we are. Two striking ladies around town. Me in my finest yellow mac, you… all covered in bits of unidentifiable gunk. Who wouldn’t want to watch us? Weird not to if anything, like.”

“Now those nets are going too.”

“Blow them a kiss.”

“No, look, they’re really twitching. It’s like they’ve got palsy or something.”

“Weird. And since we’re on the subject of weird, that’s not all. Listen to that dog barking.”

“I’m listening.”

“Superb.”

“What about it?”

“Hmmm, you’re not listening. Listen proper.”

“Okay… I’m listening, I don’t know w- wait, that’s… not a dog!”

“Well done.”

“That’s someone doing a dog impression!”

“Pretty solid one too. Eight out of ten.”

“Um…”

“What, you think it’s a nine? Calm your tits. It’s not a nine.”

“Um… Mrs Daisy?”

“Just ‘Daisy’, love.”

“Daisy, what’s going on?”

“In terms of what now?”

“I know I’m not from around here, but this all seems… I mean is it normally this creepy?”

“I can one hundred percent guarantee that something this creepy and creepier is going on at all times in Ponty.”

“So, this is normal?”

“No.”

“Argh! You just said…”

“I can also guarantee that somewhere in Britain is on fire at all times but being in the fire is not normal.”

“Breh-tain?”

“That’s where we are, hon. The island. Wales, specifically. Which is a country on the west of said island. Hilly. Pretty. Bones of druids and bards in the hillsides. Sheep. Beer. Kebabs.”

“O-kay. Didn’t need to know that really. You’re difficult to talk to, you know that?”

“I apologise. Would you like a hug?”

“No thank you. I think you may be avoiding answering my questions.”

“I think you might be right… don’t screw your face up at me like that. I’m not being deliberately difficult-”

“Yes, you are!”

“And don’t get all sassy. I saved your life tonight.”

“No, you didn’t! I saved that little girl for you! I pulled that skinny god-person out of her. I-”

“Hang on, which girl are you?”

Shoo.”

“Shoo yourself, you tartlet. I’m not going anywhere.”

“What? No, my name is Shoo.”

“Ah, the traveller.”

“Traveller? I suppose, not by choice… Hey, are those shops?”

“Ostensibly.”

“Maybe someone inside can direct us?”

“Oi! Shoo, I wouldn’t go running up to anything right now if I were you.”

“Ah, it’s closed anyway. ‘Abby’s Nails.’ What’s that?”

“Nail shop. People go there to get their nails painted.”

“Painted? What like little pictures?”

“Colours and patterns mostly. Some glitter I think. I’m not really up on it.”

“Not much of a window display. Just what… ten nails? They’re not even painted that nice.”

“Don’t tell Abby that.”

“Ew, are they dripping?”

“Yes… I think this shop is living up to its title.”

“Abby’s Nails? Oh, my days! Don’t tell me those are Abby’s actual nails!”

“Yep, that’s Abby’s typing speed up the swannie for sure. Come on, let’s keep moving.”

“To where?”

“Tip for the top, love: when sinister things are afoot, always assume you’re being hunted. Don’t stay still. Leave traps if you have any to hand. Although I want answers more than corpses right now, so my traps are staying-”

“You think we’re being hunted?

“I think we might be being hunted.”

“Right. Okay, deep breath, Shoo. Everything’s fine.”

“It’s not.”

Shush. Calm, Shoo, calm. Count to three. One… two… th- Hey, why don’t we just wait here to get your answers? If someone’s stalking us, they’ll catch up eventually.”

“Brave. Stupid. I like it. We could, I suppose, but when I’m hunting someone, I gets very suspicious if they’re just standing there, waiting for me. Unless they’re cornered. Then I gets suspicious if there’s not at least a faint smell of wee.”

“When you… Right. Right. One… two… three… Daisy, do you, you know, do that much?”

“Do I smell wee much?”

“Now you’re being deliberately difficult again. Obtuse.”

“Ha! Yes, Shoo, occasionally I have to hunt someone down. Usually bad people, honest. Or stupid people inadvertently doing bad things. Or stupid people knowingly doing bad things. Sometimes I does it recreationally, but that’s pretty rare.”

“Okay, okay, don’t tell me anything else… Gods, this road feels like it goes on forever.”

“It might do. The Pob has a protective mechanism.”

“The what?”

“The Pob. It’s the collective term for the town, its roads, its magic, its people. Quasi-sentient at a minimum. If it feels something is threatening to it, it may lose that thing in its streets.”

“You think that’s what’s happened to us?”

“Maybe. Can’t be sure. But I’m not a threat. You’re not a threat. Even the thing in your pouch isn’t a threat. The Pob would just see it as a blank nothingess. The question is…”

“What’s threatening it?”

“Spot on. Let’s keep our eyes peeled proper.”

“Right.”

“And Shoo?”

“Yes?”

Don’t look at those shoes hanging over the telephone wire up there.”

“Why? Oh, my days! Are there feet in them?”

“Told you not to look.”

“Obviously I was immediately going to look.”

“Ha! Yeah.”

“Gods, you’re wrong in the head.”

“Eyes peeled now. Like a ninja.”

“Like a what?”

“Never mind. Just tell me if you see anything funny. Funny-peculiar not funny-haha.”

“Got it.”

Inside the hair on the girl’s cheek, The Mansions tried to make themselves as small as possible.

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