Yep, I are an actual writer. He’s one sample of my work. It’s not perfect, but fresh from the fingers. I honestly can’t tell if it’s good or not. That can take weeks or months.….
You don’t know “out of hand” until you’ve met Aunt Phil Sweeny. In case you were wondering, her full name is Philomena; her existence discredits the saint. She lives in a whole world full of crazy, only it’s the good kind. Most of the time.
She’d invited me to come to her place. Well, I got to drive her to the airport and see her out of the country. But she left, and she left her bewildering sprawl entirely to me— for the whole summer.
As if I didn’t have plans. As if I could afford to say no.
But plans did not include being beached in the wilds of the Irish Hills, without sanity and Internet. For gods sake (whom I barely believe) she has a rotary phone— no, three. One in her bedroom on the bedside table, one hanging in the kitchen on the wall, and a third in her office in the garage. The garage is a whole world in itself.
Yes, Aunt Phil is a pilot. You heard me, an airplane pilot, and she’s built like one too. Short, stout with big gorilla arms, but in her case, long red hair and wily green Irish eyes. To put icing on the cake, her husband is named Francis. Only Vivien could possibly be worse. But when we talk about Uncle Frank and Aunt Phill, even the Catholics down the way assume they aren’t normal. Who knew two perfectly matched hetrosexuals could be so flaming odd?
But this story has more to do with the world that swirls around them, than the figures themselves.
There was me. From the normal WASP side of the family, off to get a correspondence degree. Even I was starting to see it was kind of pointless. I went to some decent schools growing up, including my grandmother’s home schooling from hell. She was the toughest of the Lot, having taught in a little red school house. Everything I had, before or since made her impossible standards easy. I could not believe she enforced this on 40 odd kids in one room when she was 19.
At any rate, College was starting to be a bit of a joke, and I had this mildly insane idea of driving across country to start my blogging career. But by the time I leased out my apartment, scraped together and sold most of my stuff, I realized I didn’t have enough money to stay home.
Until Auntie Phill told me that she and Francis and George (their penguin) were going to Africa on Safarri. They needed someone to watch the brood and the house while they were gone.
You see, Auntie Phil and Francis by extension, adopt people, places and critters who all need a home. They find shelter on her rambling estate. The house is technically on a double wide lot, and the house next door burned down. So they bought up that property, too. Then the township went bankrupt, so the park with walking trails and old show equipment somehow wound up on their property ownership list.
This along with a menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens, an iguana, a large aquarium series that takes up the living room, filled with fish and stuff, a golden eagle, a gray parrot whose out lived his last three owners and thought to be cursed, a talking crow, trained dancing pet rats (I’m serious), among other creatures, some of whom have probably gone sentient. It wouldn’t surprise me to see teetotaling alligators or a chess playing bear hiding from the Russian government in a shed somewhere. They had borders living in the apartment over the garage for a few years, the Wilshires. They moved out when both Mr and Mrs Wilshire got jobs at Google.
And that’s pretty normal for Uncle Francis and Auntie Phil.
Now they needed new caretakers. Guess who won the hair-lip doll.
I’m not exactly sure what Uncle Francis does. He spends a lot of time at the house, yet seems to make money just the same. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t make his millions off of a blog where he just tells stories about the normal happenings in his life. Because it has got to be epic.
Truth be told, I spent many a good summer there as a kid. I was not happy to go back, because I am an adult. I need to be an adult to survive in this world, and crazy just doesn’t help anyone.
So I went back with a heavy heart, hoping that I could at least have a little fun without losing the things I needed to stay sane. But three months on the property all by itself was a terrifying prospect.
Oh well, at least I’d have something to blog about. Maybe the world could laugh at my ineptitude at taking care of all the critters. That should be fun, right?
So I drive down Sweeney road, taking care to eye the mailboxes along highway 422. Driving a steady 45 mph. There’s box 4511. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi. Turnleftbeforeyouthinkaboutit. Relax until you see the church. Then turn left again down the two track, and swing around the loop and park in the gravel lot. Keys in the right hand pocket. Big key goes to the top lock, the red key to the bottom lock, and the green key unlocks the padlock. Gold key unlocks the garage, and the little numbered ones on the separate loop all go to the various sheds and outbuildings hereabouts. Refer to map for details.
Dont forget to feed the dogs, cats, parrot, fish, and tortoise, and check all the water stations in the house. They have blue flags. Clean bowls with vinegar and replenish daily. Ring the bell before you enter the garage.
It wasn’t too much to ask. I’d probably spend most of my day feeding and caring for animals. No wonder they ran away to Africa to shoot them.
So I park in the gravel lot. I get out of my little smart car, hoping I can trade it in for something with space. I have what few belongings I have after the purge, and the leftovers from lunch. I toss the apple core out into the yard, figuring that something will enjoy eating it.
But I walk over the little bridge over the water feature, and notice one stark fact… the fishing garden gnome is gone.
The little gnomes having a conference under the plum tree are also gone. Now I know my Aunt Phill. She loves those stupid gnomes. She doesn’t put them away for winter, she wraps them up in little coats and puts plastic wrap over them. Then again, she also puts her koi fish in the freezer for the winter. Yep, still there. I sprinkle a little fish food into the pond just so I can see them lazily emerge from the depths and gobble up the little flakes.
Then they return to their green rocky lair, shaded by dinner plate sized lilly pads. No blooms yet, but I saw a bud or two peeking out. I can hear the frogs blurping and the wind shakes the trees. The place doesn’t’ feel right without those gnomes.
Maybe auntie took them with her?
No, not the whole crew. I think even Travelocity would have a problem with that. Besides, it was George that generally photobombed every travel photo, and he was the three time champion of the Internet by having massive multimilion shares and likes on Facebook. No, still no one believes me that they are all the same penguin.
I think they may have discredited Snopes by interviewing me on the subject. Isn’t that a great start for a budding Journalist?
I walked out past the drive and the garage, over to a short flat building. It looked like a parody of a barn, only about four feet deep, but 18 feet tall, eight feet wide, with a door as tall and wide as the building itself. I pulled out the footstool, stood up on my tippy toes, and twisted the old wooden twist locks at the top, then slowly walked the door open. There were twitters and squeaks and clucking, and a cloud of animal smell hit me as I continued. Before long, a cloud of black and white chickens, looking like feathered static, came flooding out in a chorus of clucks and cackles.
They spread out into the field jumping after grass hoppers and picking at the ground and grousing in that way peculiar to chickens. They strutted around, their bobbing heads making me think of old wind up toys. I took out some cracked corn and rapeseed from the Technicolor trash can with the heavy rubber lid, and pulled out a scoop of it, and put it in the gallon jug pitcher with the top cut off.
I wandered out in the center of the green area, and the chickens gravitated toward me, cluckings intensifying in intensity and volume. I spread out some of the seed mix, and watched as they dashed after it. The rooster crowed from his cage. He only got out on the weekends, or so Aunt Phil told me. Out of pity I scattered some grain for him to scratch after, too. I could not shake the feeling of being watched. Maybe I’d spent too long in Detroit.
So I get through all those locks and open the heavy old door. I shut it behind me, and slide every lock back home. I went to U of D, so I take security very seriously, even though the last big heist out here was a dinosaur statue from one of the abandoned theme parks that populate the Irish hills. There was a park with walking trails was one of those too, the trails being a maze of sorts. It’s a long story and I was hungry and tired.
I vaguely remember walking out there as a kid, but I couldn’t even remember what kind of theme park it was.
I was greeted by a chorus of barks and chitters and howls and miscellaneous noises. I groaned inwardly. Maybe they went to Africa for the quiet.
I went to the aquarium room, which had strange off putting light. The room was close and warm, ideal for the iguana and other critters in here. I noted that there were a few snakes, which I’d have to feed once a week. I sprinkled food over all the aquariums, except the green tank which made blue green algae for one critter or other. You basically poured some nutrient into it once in a while and the rest took care of itself.
I was not going to be happy when cleaning day came. Though I admit, half of those aquariums were empty, prepping for that sorrowful day. Mostly it involved transfering of fish from one place to another, then clean out what was left at your leisure. Ones that tested poorly would become green tanks, the best reliable method to get them healthy outside of germ warfare. But I had a few before that day of fishy reckoning.
Then I go to the dog kennel, and I start letting out the Boys. Not all of them are male, but that’s what Phil calls them. She figures there’s less of a difference if they are all neutered.
I have not seen a single cat yet. Save one of them who came out of the back room, yawning and padding over to watch me Release the Mutts. She’s an ivory white beauty with soft blue eyes and little pink ears, and a black bobtail. I want to call her Hello Kitty from when I was a kid. She looks remarkably young for all that.
She takes her pets and greets the old grand master mutt Bilbo. Who is some short wiry dog, heavy in the chest, with a long pointy nose and short ears. His fur is reddish brindled black. His position was the place of honor on Phils lap, whenever he could manage. He wags his tail and they sniff each other’s nose in a ritual court gesture.
Then there’s the roundup as I pour out food for the dogs. Cats start peeking out of the woodwork, because dogs being fed means cats will be fed.
I wake up, momentarily blinded by red. As the afterimages fade, I stare down to discover several red laser dots on my chest. Odd how you can feel them, like focused attention faintly burning your skin. I’m about to get up when I hear a small voice say “Don’t move.”
In the dark I try to determine where the voice is coming from. Somehow “on the bedside table” doesn’t scan. I look there anyway, to find… a small man, about one and a half foot tall, standing on the dresser. He had cute little old man features, but he’s not dressed like your average gnome, as apple cheeked with cute wrinkles he may be. NO, he’s wearing camo fatigues, remarkably similar to what you see in old WWII films, without the helmet— but a little cloth cap. Though he has some kind of body armor that looks to my eyes like an umpires vest. I snort in hilarious surprise and bite my tongue, trying hard to calm down. Sure enough, he also has a black baton pointed at me. I really don’t want to find out what that is, or what it could do. I especially don’t want to piss off whatever pint sized snipers who may be aiming for my heart.
Their bullets are tiny but they probably still hurt.
“Whaaa.” I say, sounding like a moron. Hey, don’t judge. I just woke up, and really, what would you say?
“What did you do with Her Majesty?” the little man demanded. It was hard to take a voice that sounded like Melvin the Chipmunk’s kindly grandfather that seriously.
He gave his baton a vicious twist, and it developed a large nasty looking blade. Seriously it was longer than his arm, and would be big for a Bowie knife. He had it aimed for my throat.
“Answer me, and no sudden moves. Answer truthfully, and you may live.”
I tried to breathe slowly. What was in those froot loops I found in the pantry? Maybe the canned milk went bad… Nope, never using condensed milk on froot loops again. Ever.
“I took Auntie Phil to the airport. Uncle Francis too. And George in his crate. Seriously. Ask your recon guys. I did just that. The chariot is in the garage, and they are in Africa, nobly shooting up the place.”
I couldn’t imagine Auntie Phil wearing a tiara. Wait, yes, I can. Shoot me now. She’d look like the Glenda the good witch from the Wizard of OZ. You can totally ignore this fact when she’s wearing her kakis and white shirt with epaulets, and the bomber jacket and silk scarf. Yes, she even has the goggles, which she will wear when taking her Sopwith camel for a spin. It’s in one of the sheds in the back. She tows it behind The Chariot, which is a large diesel conversion van which used to be an ambulance. Except now it’s painted black, and has galloping horses painted on it. An Omni replica is it’s hood ornament. I should point out someone forgot to disconnect the gum-ball machine lights at the top, though most of the time they are obscured by the carry-on pod riveted to the ski rack.
Anyway, back to my mortal peril.
The gnome wiped his face and groaned with impatience. “Well, I have to credit you for your honesty, human.” He spat it like an oath. “But, if by “Auntie Phil” you mean portal guaridan Philomena, she informed us of her departure weeks ago. No. We mean Her majesty the Queen of two lands, Delphinia Elysia of Keeper’s Gate.”
“With respect, I swear I have never seen nor heard of her.” I told him earnestly.
The gnome was boring holes into my forehead with his glare.
“She TOLD us the kidnapper would be asleep behind the moon door on the night of the gatekeeper’s departure!” the man said with a squeak.
He pressed the blade against my throat. I groaned, which probably cut me a little. I just had to sleep in my childhood bed, just so I could have the pretty moon windows, and the pretty moon door…
‘STAND DOWN.” A gruffer, yet unbearably cute voice called from relatively far away.
My erstwhile interrogator stared off to the side. “Jibbets! Who told you.”
“I did not say you could borrow my men. You are a commander, Fligget Cymae, but you are under my command.”
“But… we have to find her majesty the Queen!”
“Interrogating the beautiful yet pitifully ignorant gatekeeper in training will not advance our cause.”
I wanted to object, but I had no idea what to say. I was still adjusting to the new reality where Auntie Phil’s garden gnomes talk and wield pint sized AKs and giant bladed polearms.
Yet another one appeared carrying a heavy looking boxy case with a handle. From the antena coming out of it, and the headset in his hands, I had to assume he was COM. He saluted his superior officer (the latecomer without visible weaponry) and spoke to both, though looking at the highest ranking gnome. I was forgotten for the moment, so I used that to reach over and grab a tissue from the box on my table. Had to mop up the blood trickling down my neck, after all.
He had a little cigar clenched in his teeth. He looked more amused than sorry.
“You know how it is. Oracles don’t always say what they mean, or mean what we think they say. I couldn’t tell which, so I went with this yahoo. You never know when he will need to be pulled outa trouble.” A gruffer voice said from along side.
“You may be vital to our ops, Pencie, but you are still insubordinate.”
The elder said stiffly.
Pencie the COM shrugged. “Suits me.” He said. He pulled out the Mic and issued some rapid fire commands. The red dots on my chest vanished, and before long, an entire squad of men were standing at the foot of my bed, since the bedside table was too small for all of them.
When amongst themselves, they reverted to a rapid fire speech at an even higher decibel rate. I couldn’t not understand a thing they said. It was like someone sped up the turntable well past levels of sanity. The only clear thing was, that somebody was having a big argument, and the others just stood around in a huddle waiting to see who won. Or maybe it was the dressing down of a decade. Finally the elder pointed him away, and he left hanging his head. A few of the snipers followed him too, but not the whole squad. Interesting.
The Elder turned back to me. “I hope you will forgive us for this rude interruption of your days. Is there anything that we could hope to accomplish to heal this breach?”
“Well, um… how about… information? Could you send me updates on your efforts and and idea of who this Queen is? Since I am ignorant, I naturally want to make up for that lack.”
I sat back, uncertain where that query came from. I wanted nothing more than to get away from the things of childhood. Why did I say that, and who made me?
One of the others muttered something, then whispered to the lead gnome. The elder gnome nodded grimly then looked back at me.
“Would you mind, ma’am if we continued to mind the goats? I understand you were charged with Menagerie care, but belle-fair and debutante are being trained for ops by my men. They are noble steeds.” He said seriously.
I smacked my face. I had totally forgotten about the goats. Goats were a BIT tall for them to mount, or so I thought… Oh, right. Belle-fair and Debutante were the miniatures. And here I thought Aunt Phil was a lunatic for getting them. Makes perfect sense now for a pint sized security staff.
I looked back at them. “If there are creatures you are habituated to care for, then by all means. I am here at my Aunt’s behest. If I forget a member of the brood or fifty, a reminder all by itself would go well towards healing a bad introduction. Though some help sleeping would be grand, I think I’m going to have trouble settling down after that.”
Before I knew it, I was sipping warm milk with butter in it. Yes, indeedy, these were going to be interesting times.