While The Cat’s Away

Leave a comment

“Sir, does your cat fly?” my assistant, Mr. Afterthought, called from the outer office.

In a rather matter-of-fact tone, I might add.

“Come again, Mr. A?”

Oh yes, I had heard him clearly but really, is there any other appropriate response?

“I say, does your cat fly sir? As far as you know?” he elaborated.

“No, Mr. A. Not as far as I know.” I went on, “In fact, I will venture to be unequivocal on this point.” I cleared my throat. “My cat does not fly.”

“Odd,” said Mr. Afterthought.

I waited for more but all I heard was the shuffling of paper.

“Was there something else, Mr. A?”

I mean, spit it out man, let’s have it. If you are saying it is odd that my cat does not fly, well, it just seems to me that a much more substantial elaboration is called for here.

“Well sir, your neighbor has sent a messenger with an unusual complaint. Regarding your cat, sir.”

“Yes?” I rose from my desk and walked into the outer office.

“It seems the cat…” he searched for the right word, “…appears…in her chess club every so many minutes. At all hours sir.”

“Appears?”

“Yes sir. As if he’d flown in.”

“Flown?”

“Yes sir.” He handed me the note.

Hmmm.

“Does he play chess, sir?”

“Pardon?”

“Your cat,” he said.

“Uhh, no. I think I can be rather unequivocal about that one too.”

“It’s good to hear sir.”

I finished reading the note. “Cancel my afternoon, Mr. A.” I grabbed my coat and prepared to go out into the snow of Winterfell.

“But Ambassador, all you have is a pickup by the dry cleaner,” Mr. Afterthought said as he looked at my calendar.

“Well, cancel that then. No, don’t cancel that. Uhm…well, do whatever it is you do when I’m not here. OK?”

“Yes sir.”

“I will have to go and investigate this matter straight away, at the pub.”

“How convenient sir.”

***

Ulysses The Cat has been living in Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum for quite some time now. He makes himself scarce when customers are in but when things are quiet, he’ll roam around as if a deputy on patrol.

But a couple nights ago, about an hour before last call, Ulysses wandered in from wherever he goes and roamed about the bar and the adjoining sitting room. He stayed clear of patrons looking to pet him but otherwise ignored the diners and drinkers.

After closing, I was watching Ulysses make his rounds as I enjoyed one last round of my own. I lost sight of him a few times but I was half-reading the paper and tending to my tobacco and liquor and not paying that much attention.

Now as I worked my way across the snowy streets of Winterfell, I began trying to remember fully those “lost sight of” moments There must be some explanation other than a flying cat.

***

Iggy was working the bar when I arrived.

“Hey boss,” he said as I took a seat, “Lunch?”

“Yes, starting with a pint,” I said.

“You got it.”

I gave him a look.

“Sorry. I meant — Straight away sir.”

I smiled. Iggy is new, an apprentice time traveller from the 21st century who is visiting Winterfell and Caledon and studying here for the summer. Yes, it’s January…well, it’s summer in his hometime. His sponsor with the Time Travellers Guild is a friend of Uncle Manuel back in Dankoville. Iggy arrived with a letter of introduction from my uncle. He’s picking up some spending money, tending bar at the pub.

“Have you seen Ulysses?” I asked.

“Yes sir. He was running around here just a moment ago.” We both looked around for the cat, who was nowhere in sight.

“You haven’t noticed anything different about him, have you Iggy?”

“I don’t think so, boss.”

I told him about the complaint from the chess club.

“There were a couple of times yesterday when it did seem like he was here one minute and gone the next,” Iggy said. “And maybe the other way around as well. It was busy here though, I didn’t have time to really notice. Did seem like he sort of vanished.”

Hmmm. A disappearing flying cat.

It was quiet in the pub, the weather had seen to that. More snow. It was still a quarter to noon, the lunch crowd hadn’t come in quite yet and while they might not add up to a crowd on a day like this, there would still be a few.

In the middle of my brisket sandwich (it’s our lunch special on Tuesdays), accompanied by a delightfully dill pickle and some chips, I saw Ulysses out of the corner of my eye, sniffing at the red ball of yarn I’d left for him in the sitting room.

I watched him play and then wander around the pub. When he came near I said hello but he paid me no mind and trotted past. I broke off a tiny bit of brisket and held it near the floor. After a moment of watching me, Ulysses approached and took the brisket.

When he finished eating, he resumed his rounds. A few minutes later, I saw him run behind the bar and I got up and walked around it to offer him more brisket. But he wasn’t there.

I continued looking. Iggy looked too. No cat. A couple of minutes passed. I returned to my seat.

And there was Ulysses, over in the corner by the bookcase. How did he get by us without notice?

The only thing I could do was order another pint and monitor that cat. A few regulars and a few others had braved the weather and were now enjoying lunch. Iggy was handling the small group alone and seemed to be keeping up.

I watched Ulysses go from one corner of the pub to another and points in between,  stopping here and there to stare or wash or scratch, looking every bit like a normal cat.

At one point he seemed to disappear. I don’t mean that literally. I simply lost track of him. He’d gone behind the bar and not come out, as before. I went behind the bar to look and again, no cat. I returned to my seat. Hmmm.

A few minutes later I noticed Ulysses in the corner by the bookcase.

I had not seen him fly nor had I seen him disappear. But something was definitely going on. Mr. Afterthought had been right, this was odd. Very odd.

“He must have some hiding place,” Iggy said as he returned from taking an order.

I finished my pint and Iggy came to clear my plate.

“Leave that,” I said. There was a small piece of brisket remaining. I cut it down further and took a piece. I walked around behind the bar as Iggy went about his work.

I stood there and watched Ulysses’ every move. I did not take my eyes off him.

After staring at the fireplace in the sitting room for a few minutes, Ulysses came back into the front room and started for the area behind the bar. I watched him approach me. I  knelt down to offer him the brisket. I reached out. He saw the brisket in my hand and watched to see what I would do. When it was clear to him I was not about to move, he came toward me to take the brisket.

But before he could, he disappeared.

I do mean that literally this time. He was there one moment but not the next. Iggy saw it too. We looked at each other. “Quickly,” I said and ran out the front door. “Charles,” Iggy said to the busboy as he tossed him his bar cloth, “you have the conn.”

Around the corner and down the street I ran with Iggy trailing behind, to the Queen Alice Chess Club.

The door was open and I ran right in and stopped. No one was in presently. Then Iggy came running in and nearly crashed into me and did succeed in knocking over a vase of flowers – which fortunately he caught before it hit the floor.

We looked at each other and grinned, sheepishly. The silliness of the moment caught us both and we laughed. Two grown men – one with a handful of brisket – running through the streets in the snow, no topcoats, and running full speed into a chess club, of all places, chasing after a disappearing flying cat.

Well, here we were. Now what? Our laughter died and we both stood there, neither knowing what our next move should be. (A little chess club humor ;))

“Do you play, boss?” Iggy motioned to a chessboard in the middle of the room.

“Not really,” I said, “my brother Hudson is the chess master in the family. My father was quite fond of chess, more so in his younger days…”

As I waxed on about the history of chess in the Whitfield family, Iggy took a seat and started playing a match by himself. We were both caught by surprise when Ulysses trotted in from the next room. He appeared a bit surprised as well.

Iggy and I exchanged glances but did not move. I felt something soggy in my hand and then remembered the brisket. Slowly, I knelt.

“Here ya go, boy.” I said quietly and reached out.

Ulysses sat and looked at me, then Iggy, then my hand. He came to me and took the brisket and ate it immediately. He looked at me, asking if there was more. “All gone,” I said as I reached to pet him.

Ulysses rubbed his head against my hand, then turned and looked at Iggy again as if asking if he had any brisket. He walked back toward the next room. But he never made it. Poof.

Iggy jumped up from the chessboard, ready to run back to the pub.

“I’m going to wait here,” I said, “you’d better go back and see how Charles is doing. And keep a watch for Ulysses.”

“Okay boss.”

***

About ten minutes went by, give or take. And then Ulysses went by. And then he was gone again.

I sat down at the chessboard and resumed Iggy’s match. I should have asked him to send Charles over with a pint of stout. I lit a cigar and waited for Ulysses to reappear.

A few minutes later, there he was, sniffing at a plant in the corner. A minute later, he was gone again.

This was one of those times that I wished I carried a timepiece. It might be helpful to determine whether Ulysses was making his appearances at the chess club at regular intervals. It might also help to know exactly how long he spends in the chess club on each visit and whether that interval coincides with the amount of time he is gone from the pub. Or does he have additional stops on his route?

And, even though both Iggy and I have seen Ulysses vanish right before our eyes, we must still eliminate any possible means the cat could use to cover the territory between the pub and the chess club. We can’t just assume he goes from pub to club in a snap. That may well be the case but still…we must prove it or at least disprove other methods.

I began thinking about how to answer these questions. One person could be stationed at the pub with a timepiece and another at the chess club with same. Another could be stationed halfway down the street to see if Ulysess passes through on the way between the two. A fourth should be stationed in the tunnels below the street. Until I saw Ulysses vanish before me, I would have guessed the only recently-discovered Winterfell tunnels might come into play here. Now, I don’t think so but still, we must eliminate that possibility. A fifth person must be assigned to watch the skies…just in case we have a flying cat on our hands. A disappearing flying cat.

A team of five people would be needed and I, of course, would oversee this entire operation, stationed…at the bar. Well, it is conveniently located. (Mr. Afterthought was right again!) That makes six people – and the appropriate timing devices and photographic equipment – to record the comings and goings of a cat.

As an explorer who has led expeditions into unknown places and times, the idea of six people tracking the movement of a cat – and the associated cost of such an endeavor – did seem to border on the ridiculous. In fact, it may have pushed beyond that border.

Still, what choice do I have? My cat is entering the chess club on a regular basis without so much as applying for membership. If I am going to put a stop to it – and I must for the sake of my neighbor – then I have to find out first, exactly what is causing this phenomenon.

I can just hear them now at the Time Travellers Guild when I tell them my cat can disappear into thin air.

At least I can still say I haven’t seen him fly. Yet.

***

Queen Alice Chess Club

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/138/226/22

Storytellers Pub

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/206/209/22

The Tunnels

2 Comments

Towers, tunnels…it seems if there is some structural phenomenon that can’t be fully explained, somehow I always end up being the one who investigates it. But, I guess when it says “Explorer” on your business card, that kind of thing is an occupational hazard.

When I got into the exploring business, I knew I’d be dealing with the “unknown” but I thought of that in terms of place – unknown territory, a new land, what have you. I never really thought I’d come in contact with “the unexplained” or “inexplicable.”

But that was before I settled in Winterfell.

Recently I was telling you about when my friend Seamus Gumbo visited me in Winterfell. He discovered a trap door in the floor of Storytellers Pub. Right next to the bar by the back door. Somehow I never noticed it before. He climbed in and came back up with a story of a labyrinth of underground tunnels beneath Winterfell. Amazing. Something to explore! And right under my feet…well, under my pub.

But at the time, I was physically unable to investigate these tunnels. I had good reason to be in such condition…I’d been drinking all afternoon. With Seamus. He was in no condition to investigate further himself. We decided to explore these tunnels the next day.

I slept in. Apparently Seamus had too because at three o’clock in the afternoon, I still hadn’t heard from him. Finally, I sent a messenger.

At about 5:30, Seamus walked in to the pub. He was moving slowly.

“I was supposed to meet you for something?” he mumbled as he sat down next to me at the bar and motioned to the bartender for a cup of coffee.

“We are going to investigate the tunnels,” I reminded him.

“Tunnels,” he looked at me, clearly trying to recall the previous day’s events through the haze of the morning after. Or the late afternoon/early evening after.

“Yeah. Don’t you remember? The hole in the floor? Trap door? Tunnels…every direction?”

“I remember a ladder,” he said as he accepted the fresh coffee.

“Yes…” I jogged Seamus’ memory and went over my plan to explore the tunnels.

“You’re the explorer, right?” Seamus asked. “Do you really need me? I have sort of a headache.”

I laughed and patted him on the back. “Take the rest of the day off, old-timer. I’ll let you know what I find.”

He just nodded and sipped his coffee.

Ulysses The Cat was pawing at the trap door as I  pulled on my overcoat to head into the underground of Winterfell. I lit my lantern and opened the trap door and the cat scurried away. “Take it slow, Shay,” I said, smiling as I started down the ladder. “Yeah,” I heard him reply.

***

At the bottom of the ladder, I was in a tunnel that led immediately to a staircase. Down the stair was an intersection of tunnels. To my left and right were more staircases, back up to ground level, I assumed. Straight ahead there was another intersection and beyond that a three-way stop. I followed each direction until coming to an end or another intersection, upon which I would walk back the way I came so as not to get lost. It was dark but the lantern I carried was not actually necessary, there was just enough light to see without it.

I continued to follow the tunnels in this manner and found that they went on and on. In the process, I came across doors to empty rooms. What was this place? A dungeon? Secret storage spot? Was this built for escape or some military advantage? Why have I, as Ambassador, never heard Lady Twilight or Admiral Beaumont speak of these tunnels?

Or do they not know? Maybe I should alert them both immediately!

But how could somebody build this extensive tunnel system without being observed?

When I started following the staircases up to ground level to see where they led…I was astonished to find they took me right to the middle of the street. They were not hidden at all! If you were to walk down the street in Laudanum or Absinthe that day – the right sections of the right streets – you would see trap doors that you could open and follow down to the tunnels. But they weren’t there two days earlier!

***

I returned to Storytellers Pub to make some notes. Later, I went down into the tunnel again and placed a marker at the bottom of the staircase leading to the pub. (Just in case some night I’m coming back through the tunnels after a couple rounds at the Wolf & Raven in Absinthe. Well, it’s easy to get lost down there.)

***

Lady Twilight is in semi-retirement these days, so I take most matters to Princess Selena. I had to bring this to her.

By the time I met with the Princess the following day, Winterfell was abuzz with talk of the sudden appearance of underground tunnels. On the way to Rosehaven, I tried to avoid people so they wouldn’t ask me questions I could not answer. A couple of people called to me, “Good morning, Ambassador!…” and I could tell they wanted to chat but I just waved and walked on.

At the Castle, I waited for Princess Selena to arrive. She is not a big fan of mornings.

***

When we met, I reported my findings to the Princess, leaving out the part about Seamus, the trap door, Ulysses the Cat and the six ales, one stout and stray whiskey or two.

When I was done, the Princess had a strange smile on her face. “I had a dream about tunnels,” she said.

“A dream?”

“It was sooo vivid.”

“I see,” I said. I wondered what this dream had to do with the actual tunnels under Winterfell.

“That was three nights ago. In the morning, when I woke, I went out…and there they were.” She smiled.

“The tunnels?”

“Yes.” She continued smiling.

“Oh.”

The Princess laughed. “I haven’t told Mum yet. Would you like to tell her?”

“You’re trying to make me laugh, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she said. We both laughed.

“No, if this is connected to your dream, I would most definitely not like to be the one to tell the Seneschelf,” I said, “…unless, of course, you want me to.”

“Oh no, I wouldn’t really ask you. I’m going to tell her, of course. Just waiting for the right moment.”

“Well, people are definitely talking about it in the southern towns,” I said.

“Yes, I’m sure. I guess now is the right moment.” She smiled and stood. I thanked the Princess for her time and wished her good luck.

And then left as quickly as I could before she could have second thoughts about who should tell her Mother.

***

On my way back to Laudanum, I decided rather than do my usual and take the ferry to cross the canal, I would use the tunnels instead.

It took longer as I was careful not to get lost. And I did stop a couple of times to open doors and look inside empty rooms.

The thought then occurred to me that walking through these tunnels that were the apparent result of a dream, was like walking through the mind of the Princess.

That was a bit too weird.

I immediately stopped exploring and headed straight for the staircase that led up to the Storytellers Pub and ordered an ale. And a stray whiskey.

***

One last thing… If you should find yourself wandering about the tunnels of Winterfell and should become lost…or simply thirsty, keep a watch for my marker – a large ‘S’ – and follow that staircase up to Storytellers Pub.


Visit Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum, Second Life and see if you can locate the trap door to The Tunnels. 🙂

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/210/210/23/

On Display

Leave a comment

I have been given the honor of having my likeness displayed among some of Winterfell’s notables in the upstairs gallery of the Wolf & Raven Tavern, a fine dining and drinking establishment in Winterfell Absinthe (SL), under the ownership of His Grace, the Duke of Wolfsbane.

I thank the Duke for including me in this fine exhibit (and for keeping my favorite cigars in stock).

 

Danko portrait, Wolf & Raven

 

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Absinthe/26/199/22

A Door Opens

3 Comments

“…and the time traveller says, ‘I don’t have the foggiest. I just got here myself!'”

“HA! HA!” We were doubled over with laughter. And we were only on the third round.

It had started as a sleepy Thursday afternoon at Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum. Dark Moon, the day bartender (most of us call him Bert), was on holiday and I was watching after things for a couple of hours in between the lunch rush and the 5 p.m. business crowd. I was nursing a black IPA and leafing through the sport section of the Winterfell Mourning Crier when the door opened and in walked a tall man with flowing white hair and beard, dressed in a green suit. I knew in a moment it wasn’t St. Nick. Nor St. Patrick either.

It was Seamus Gumbo.

Sourcerer, Time Wizard, hippie, former merchant seaman, one-time head shop owner and my old friend and business partner. I’d received a couple of letters but he hadn’t visited Winterfell in more than two years, since “the Duke Ages” – Seamus’ joking reference to my time as the Duke of Evergreen.

“Line ’em up, barman,” he hollered in my general direction. “Whiskey! Your best! Three glasses. Straight, no chaser.” His fingers played an imaginary piano and he hummed – or grunted – a syncopated melody.

It was the worst Thelonious Monk impression I had ever heard. Though I can’t say I have heard many.

“Don’t worry about the bill,” he announced, “I’m a close friend of the owner of this establishment.” He sat himself down at the bar with mischief in his eyes and a smile of satisfaction on his face. He seemed quite pleased with his entrance.

“I’ll need to see some ID, sir,” I deadpanned.

“ID?!!” He responded as if highly insulted. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card and offered it to me.

“Seamus Gumbo,” I read aloud, “Time Wizard.”

I sniffed. “Yeah, time wizards, time travellers, time lords – we get all kinds in here.”

“C’mon, Danko! The card’s embossed!” He was impressed with his own business card.

I was impressed with the card too but not with the cardholder. “Finally spent the extra ten bucks to raise the lettering, eh? You cheap bastard!” I slipped the card into my pocket as Seamus began to laugh.

“That’s why I can’t pay for my drinks!” He slapped his hand on the bar as the laughter grew. My smile became a laugh as well and I came around from behind the bar to give him a big hug.

“How’ve you been, old-timer?” I said loudly. “Where have you been? Whatcha been up to? What brings you to Winterfell after all this time? How come you didn’t warn me you were coming, so I could have arranged to be out of town?”

“Let me answer that last question first,” he started. “No, wait. Let me answer the second one first. No, I’ll answer the third one, second. Wait. Can you say them again?” he continued to mock me, “In alphabetical order this time?” Laughter.

And this was before I starting pouring. We were just getting started!

It was only the two of us but the pub had come alive on this hazy afternoon as Seamus recounted his travels over the past couple of years over a couple of rounds of ale and a cheese platter and I responded in kind. Then came the cigars and more ale and more stories and more laughter.

Not long after Seamus arrived, Ulysses The Cat had wandered in from his favorite sleeping spot on the window seat in the pub’s sitting room. I knew he’d remember Seamus’ voice and would join us sooner or later. I put a couple of treats down for him and he walked right over to devour them. Then he sat and stared at Seamus for a bit. Next time I noticed Ulysses, he was scratching at the floor near the end of the bar, by the back door. Ever since I brought him from home to live in the pub, he has been fascinated with that area of the floor. You know how some cats are when they find an imperfection in something? They have to chew it or scratch it? They’ll work at it like they’re obsessed…for awhile. Then they go do something else. Later, they’re back at it. Obsessed once more. That’s how Ulysses had been. The floor does need some work around that door. Whoever put the tile in, made a mess of it. It’s driving that cat crazy.

As Ulysses scratched away at the floor, Seamus and I laughed and ate and drank and talked and talked and puffed and drank and laughed some more. It was a full afternoon of story-swapping – with a little impromptu sing-a-long thrown in now and then – at Storytellers Pub. What a great time we were having, catching up. So good to see Seamus again.

“My friend Sage ever stop in?” he asked me at one point.

“Yes. Sage Wright. Right?”

“That’s him.”

“He was passing through Winterfell…quite some months back. Last summer, I guess. I wasn’t much help to him, had nowhere to put him up. Not like the old days,” I smiled. “I helped him find lodging. He wasn’t here long. A couple days.”

Seamus nodded. “You’ve seen him more recently than I have,” he said.

“Funny you should mention him,” I went on, “I just met his niece not a week ago in Ireland. 21st century.

“Laura?” said Seamus but quickly corrected himself, “Laurel!”

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“How’s she doing? She’s a nurse, I think,” Seamus said.

“She mentioned something about that,” I said. “She seems nice. Cute. Funny too. Took me a moment to catch on that she was putting me on a bit,” I laughed. “She remembers you, hanging out with her uncle. Oh, and I met Jamie too. By chance, in a pub there in Ravenbaille. She was working the bar. I didn’t put it together that she was Sage’s daughter until later.”

“You’re not the only one,” muttered Seamus as he looked away for a moment.

“Huh?” I was surprised at his response.

“Never mind,” he said, waving his hand, “go on, continue.” He sipped his beer and looked down at the bar.

“uhhhh…Jamie came over to Dankoville last fall. I’m doing business with her boss and she came over for that.”

“How are things in your little town?” asked Seamus, changing the subject.

I filled him in on the goings-on in Dankoville and out at Whitfield Farms. And I told him how my family members were doing, especially those he knew, including Annie.

“Your sister…is the sweetest person I have ever met,” said Seamus. He took a puff of his cigar and watched the smoke lift toward the ceiling. “Why, if I was 25 years younger, I —”

“You still wouldn’t be good enough for her,” I interjected.

“Says you!” Seamus came back.

“That’s right!” I said adamantly.

Another burst of laughter. Then Seamus’ laughter started to turn into a cough. Or maybe it was the cigar smoke. I reached for a glass to get him some water. He put his cigar down in the ash tray. Almost. He missed. The cigar rolled slowly along the bar…on the other end from me. The cough ceased and Seamus rose from his seat to follow the cigar. He reached over as far as he could stretch just as the cigar reached the edge of the bar and grabbed for it —-

Awww.

An expensive cigar lay on the floor of the pub. Ulysses came over to sniff it.

“Thief! That’s my cigar! Get your great big paws off it!” Seamus hollered in jest at my cat, who apparently did not take the joke. Ulysses scampered away.

Seamus moved a bar stool and got down on his knees to reach under the bar rail for the cigar.

Ulysses came back over, cautiously. He resumed scratching at the floor.

“I think your cat has found something,” Seamus said as he crawled toward Ulysses. The cat backed away.

“Your cigar?” I inquired with a teasing tone.

“No. A secret.”

What?

I turned in his direction.

“What?” I asked him.

“How long did you say you’ve owned this pub?” Seamus asked from his hands and knees as he ran his fingers along the floor where Ulysses had been scratching.

“Over a year now. 15 months I guess,” I replied as I placed his glass of water on the end of the bar and looked over at where Seamus now lay on his stomach.

“Did you ever suspect termites?” he asked.

Was he joking now or what?

“Okay Sea, what’s going on?” I walked out from behind the bar as he rose to his knees and leaned forward, placing his hands on the floor.

He looked up at me. “There’s a hole in your floor, Publican,” he said with a sly smile. He carefully pushed his fingers into a couple of cracks in the floor.

(I had been meaning to have this floor fixed, I assure any patrons of Storytellers Pub who may be reading this. It was just a decorating question that was yet to be decided – of whether to simply redo that one area or the entire floor. I assure you, the structural integrity of the pub is sound and no customer has been placed in any danger at any time. Aside from the usual Winterfell danger – witches, dark elves, the occasional vampire, The Mist – for which the management of the Storytellers Pub are not responsible. Please address any further inquiries to my attorneys, Dewey, Cheatham & Howe aka Moe, Larry & Curly.)

Seamus lifted one tile that at closer inspection seemed a bit out of place. “It’s a door!” Seamus said in surprise. I was also surprised but I can’t reprint here what I said there.

We looked down into this dark hole in the floor of my pub.

What the hell?

What the hell?

“Bring a candle,” Seamus said.

“There’s some water,” he said as he leaned into the hole with the candle I had fetched.

He put his hand in. “It’s pretty cold.”

He put his face just above the water and stared as he held the candle by his head. “There’s a ladder just a couple feet down. It looks pretty deep. I can’t see the bottom,” he added. He placed the candleholder on the floor and lowered himself into the opening.

He disappeared.

Ulysses leaped onto the bookcase against the back wall to watch the show.

I peered into the hole. Waiting.

And waiting.

“How long can he hold his breath?” I thought with visions of Lloyd Bridges starring in Sea Hunt floating through my head (for those of you with knowledge of the 1960s).

After a few minutes, the waters parted and Seamus arose.

“Well?” I welled him.

“This water is only two feet deep. Then you are under it. Completely. Clear of it,” Seamus said as he climbed out of the hole. He walked to the bar and grabbed his ale and took a long sip.

“What? How? How is that even possible?”

He looked at me.

“Damn it, Danko, I’m a Time Wizard, not a plumber,” Seamus said in his best DeForest Kelley (which was much better than his Thelonious Monk).

He was wet but not as wet as if he’d been swimming with Lloyd Bridges.

He sipped his brew. I poured a whiskey.

“At the bottom of the ladder, there is a stair. I followed it down another level to a series of  tunnels,” he said.

“Tunnels?”

“In all directions,” Seamus said as he reached over the bar for a napkin to wipe his brow. “I didn’t go far, I could see there were many turns. Didn’t want to get lost down there.”

He took another sip of beer and returned to the trap door. He propped it open and handed me the candle. I placed it on the bar and came back around to stare with Seamus into the hole.

We just stood there. Speechless. Staring at the hole in my floor.

A series of tunnels. Under Winterfell. Wow!

This was quite a surprise. It was incredible really.

It was My Spot.

That’s where I always stand! Most of the time, I don’t like to sit at the bar. I like to stand. If I’m there for the evening, I will sit of course. But if I’m just there for one or two rounds, to keep an eye on things and confer with the bartender, I stand right there! Every night I’ve gone in to town since we opened more than a year ago!

And all this time I had no idea that I was standing over a secret passageway. To a series of more secret passageways.

Now what do I do? Should I tell people about this?

“Best to keep it quiet until you investigate further,” said Seamus as he read my mind while re-lighting his cigar.

I nodded.

We were both speechless again. And, after six rounds of ale, not in any condition to climb into a deep, dark hole in the ground that leads to who knows where, who knows when.

There was only one thing to do.

Pour another round.

Stout this time.

And, after six rounds of ale and one of stout – not to mention the stray whiskey or two, we were – surprisingly – not in any better condition to climb into a deep, dark hole in the ground to who knows where, who knows…what……was I saying?

“I’m taking one more look,” Seamus opened the trap door again and stood at the opening, swaying in the wind. Wait, we were indoors. Probably wasn’t the wind. Probably was the ales. Or the stout maybe. Damn stout.

Ulysses The Cat left the room and returned to his window seat. He had seen enough.

Seamus opined that the tunnels would probably still be there tomorrow. I agreed. He also agreed. There was nothing else to say at that point, as gentlemen, we just had to agree to agree.

On his way out, Seamus dropped some cash into the donation box. “That’s for your staff, for the trouble they’ll have to go through tonight, trying to set things straight after your shift!” he said. And out he went.

I walked back over to that trap door, opened it again. Just to look.

“Been there, right under my feet all this time,” I thought, shaking my head.

“Hard to believe.”


Visit Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum, Second Life

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/210/210/23/

Author’s Note

1 Comment

I’ve been mulling this over for months and today I finally changed the name of this journal.

For the last three-and-one-half years, it has been called, “Steaming Along: Danko Whitfield In The 19th Century – The Wanderings Of A Steampunk Explorer.” I still love that title and will miss it. But my story has steamed along past the 19th century so many times that I have wondered if the title was confusing. I could always lay claim to being based in the 19th century, as a time traveller certainly must be based somewhere.  But some time back, the place I live in changed and I was moved to an earlier time.

I likely will be able to establish a second home back in the 19th century very soon and so I could have propped up the old title until further notice…but…

Important parts of my entries on these pages have been taking place in other times and it appears this will continue for the foreseeable future… and the foreseeable past, for that matter. So I feel the time has finally come and the title must be broadened to reflect this and to avoid a possible new source of confusion.

In the short term at least, it appears I will be based in the 18th, 19th and 21st centuries as well as spending quite a bit of time in the 20th century. And there is a trip to the 26th century in my future as well. Although that might actually be seen as my past. And then there are the trips to the Devokan Ages, I could only guesstimate what century I’m in with those travels.  At any rate, you can see the reason for my dilemma over the title.

And so this publication becomes, “The Further Adventures Of Danko Whitfield, Semi-Retired Time Traveller – Wandering The Centuries With A Steampunk Explorer.”

Oktoberfest

2 Comments

It was Saturday night and we were headed into town.

A while back Uncle Manuel sent word that the old Town Tavern was about to be put up for sale. I had just opened a pub in Winterfell but had just closed one on the SL Mainland. The idea of owning a pub near the family homestead sounded nice. My cousin Robbie handled the arrangements and hired the contractors to fix up the building. My sister Annie hired the managers and staff. I’d coordinated with them from afar and I was most anxious to see the place.

We were on the way to The Evergreen Pub in Dankoville. My pub, my town. Now, mind you, the town thing is a long and complicated story. We’ll get to that but not right now.

Tonight, we’re keeping it simple. We’re celebrating beer! The Evergreen Pub is hosting a little home-coming celebration for me along with a business coup: The Evergreen has negotiated a deal with The Pheasant’s Roost Tavern in Ravenbaile, Ireland to become the exclusive distributor of Pheasant’s Ale throughout the Greater Dankoville area. The managers at The Evergreen have done a great job though I will say that I did pull a few strings on this one, myself. Ever since I visited the Augurey Peak region and was introduced to Pheasant’s Ale…well, let’s just say I go out of my way to get back there whenever I can. And tonight, we will have one of the bartenders from The Pheasant’s Roost as our guest of honor. And just to have one more thing to celebrate, one of the managers had dubbed the event, “Oktoberfest Beer Tasting.” Although celebrating Oktoberfest with Irish beer and Italian/American pizza did seem a bit suspect. But a party is a party, I guess.

Annie was driving Uncle Manuel’s Desoto Firesweep. Uncle was in the back with Grace and I was riding shotgun. It’s not quite as impressive as it sounds. The car was built in 1957 but it is not 56 years old. It’s two years old. Uncle Manuel had it imported from the mid-20th century.

North on Route 131, passing through the town of Strange – which is the smart thing to do in the town of Strange, pass through. Or so they say. Myself, I’ve never had any trouble there. But I’ve heard some stories about that town. Some mysterious stuff.

Annie had been pointing out changes along the way as Manuel and Grace discussed local politics. Dankoville looked pretty much as I remembered it. A couple of new buildings mixed in with the old. “And here comes your office,” Annie said. “My office?!!” “Yes, on the left. Let’s see if they put the sign up yet…oh yes! Oh, that looks nice. You’ll be all set!”

I got a quick look as we passed the building. “A two-story building? For me?” I spoke quietly and hoped Uncle Manuel was too involved in talking with Grace to hear me. “When I said ‘office,’ I meant one of the guest rooms at the house. Not even the whole room. I thought I’d share with Robbie. All I wanted was a desk,” I said, trying to moderate the sound of protest in my voice. But Annie kept right on selling, “Oh Danko, we’re full up at the house now. And you need to be in town to conduct business and network and be seen and get a feel for what’s going on in the community.”

I wasn’t going to argue with her in front of Uncle Manuel and Grace – and maybe she was right, I hadn’t thought about it. Why would I? This trip was supposed to be about Manuel passing the operation of Whitfield Farms down to his son, Robertson. I just came to find out what the details were and to see how I could help and, of course, to sign the documents. I didn’t know I’d be appointed president of the company. So how could I know I would need a proper office. As a matter of fact, how could Annie know?!!

As it dawned on me, I shot her a look. It was involuntary. I think my mouth dropped open. Annie glanced at me quickly and looked back at the road and bit her lip. We said nothing. All of a sudden the conversation in the back seat stopped as well. There was an awkward silence until Grace said, “Danko, look at the business you’re doing tonight! The parking lot is full! Annie dear, take a right on Whitfield Street and park behind the gallery.” As we got out of the car and gathered ourselves up and began to walk back to the pub, Annie was avoiding my eyes.

Well, okay. So she knew before I did. And she acted on it. What else would I expect her to do? Why am I angry? Wait, I’m not angry, just surprised, just thrown off by the whole turn of events. There’s nothing actually wrong here…it’s just the shock of it all.

As we walked down the street with the others behind us, I reached over and put my arm around my sister and gave her a walking hug. “I could see furniture, a waiting area there, I guess…in my office…looked very nice,” I said, trying to ease the tension. “Oh, I do hope you like it,” Annie said, sounding relieved. “If you don’t like the color scheme we can exchange it all.” “Oh no, I’m sure it’ll be fine, Annie.” “There’s a display area on the ground floor too,” she went on, “for you to promote your writing as well as the farm. The top floor will be your office. It’s a marvelous space. Great view. You can see the mountains.” She was still selling me, still a bit worried.

“It sounds perfect,” I was trying to reassure her and myself at the same time. “I’ll go in Monday and have a look at the place. Maybe even get started a little.” “Your assistant will be there at 9 a.m.” Annie responded. I blinked. Annie continued, “She’s a temp. I have two interviews set up for you on Monday afternoon with candidates for the permanent job and one more on Tuesday.” I smiled. “Great. Thanks.” Nuff said. Anyway, we’d arrived at the party.

“Here’s the man! Danko!!” shouted one of the patrons at the bar as we entered The Evergreen Pub. There were a few cheers, a smattering of applause and shouts of “Hello Danko!” and “Greetings, Ambassador” and “Welcome home!” I shook some hands and received a few pats on the back and accepted the well-wishes as I worked my way over to a table that had been reserved for us.

But Uncle Manuel was the center of attention, of course. He’s one of the most popular and respected citizens of Strange County. I had passed through the gauntlet of greetings quickly but the crowd would not allow Uncle to do the same. Everyone came closer to say hello or shake his hand or slap his back and engage in a little good-natured ribbing. It seemed the whole town had seen or heard about the old guy climbing up on the farm vehicles over the protests of Annie, Grace and the forewoman. “Manuel,” an older man hollered as he looked out the window, squinting at the parking lot and the street, “where did you park your tractor?” Guffaws all around the pub. “You can’t be pulling your nephew into town on a haywagon, Manuel. The man’s an Ambassador for cryin’ out loud,” said another man, to more raucous laughter. Uncle Manuel laughed along and bantered back and shook the men’s hands and hugged all the ladies. I watched in admiration as he worked the room and brought a smile to each face.

By the time he reached our table, the first round of beers was already in front of us. After we each gave a review of the particular brew before us, Annie and Grace went over to the buffet to get us all some pizza and Uncle Manuel motioned at me to take Grace’s seat.

“Don’t be too hard on your sister,” he said softly. “She’s been a big help to me. I talked to her about the future of the farm over the past few months. Annalee listened. She’s a very good listener. And she gave me her opinion too. She’s not shy, you know?” We both chuckled at that. Manuel went on, “Good head on her shoulders. She’s a smart girl.” “She’s a smart woman, Uncle,” I corrected him.” “Yes,” he agreed, “a smart woman.”

He seemed to have more to say so I sat quietly, waiting, as the noise of the party filled the moment.

He sipped his beer and then almost blurted out, “I don’t want to retire but I realize it’s time. It’s been a lot to handle. And then to figure out the best way for the farm to go on without me.” “Oh Uncle, you’ll still be part of it,” I said, “Just as you asked our advice, we will surely be asking yours.” “Yes,” he said, “I know. But it will just be advice now. I won’t decide anymore. You boys will decide. I’m ready for that. Didn’t think I would be but I am.”

I was glad to hear him say it that way. But before I could comment, Uncle Manuel surprised me again.

“As I say, I will just be offering advice from now on. You and Robbie will have to figure it all out. With help from Levon when you need it but as he won’t be here, it’s up to you and Robbie. And Robbie will be travelling a lot. So it’ll mostly be you. And you won’t always be here. And then what?” Uncle Manuel looked at me as if he was expecting an answer.

He wasn’t. “Well, you will be here, Uncle — ,” I started. He cut me off, “I will only be offering advice.” I didn’t know what to say or what he expected me to say.

The ladies returned with the pizza and Grace took my seat as I had hers. “I’m getting another beer. Danko?” Annie asked. “Yes, thanks!” “I’m good,” Uncle Manuel said. “Me too,” added Grace.

As we watched Annie head for the bar, Uncle Manuel said, “And THAT is the last piece of the puzzle.” Puzzle? I was certainly puzzled. Grace looked puzzled too. “This is just between us three for now,” Manuel said, “and Robbie. He knows. One month after you take over as president, you will announce that Annie is our new vice president.”

The puzzled looks on our faces turned into smiles. It was a big moment in the family. Equal opportunity for women in running the farm was a concept that brought talk but no action from the Whitfield men over the generations. I was looking forward to the day my generation would have the authority to change that. And now, just as we were about to assume that authority, it was the old guard that came through on this issue. It was a moment to remember.

Uncle Manuel made clear this was not a token appointment. He said Annie had the smarts and the drive and those talents should be put to good use. “Robbie is Vice President of Operations. Levon is Vice President of Administration. You’ve got one month, Mr. President, to figure out what Annie can be Vice President of.” “Special Projects,” I said, without missing a beat. “Special Projects!” Uncle Manuel repeated, smiling. Turning to Grace he said, “See, it is worth it to have a writer in the family after all.” We chuckled. Then Grace added, “She’ll be good at that.” “I know, that’s why I said it,” I smiled. “She’s a trouble-shooter, a problem-solver.” Manuel spoke again, “And Danko, I want you to groom her as your successor.” “Firing me already?” I joked. “No, no,” he said, “It’s just I know you weren’t expecting this appointment. And I know how busy you are. If you could just give it say, five years – more if you want – but five years would be good…by that time, Annie will be ready.” “Sounds like a plan,” I said as I lifted my glass to toast the idea. We all sipped our beers, then Uncle Manuel, looking at Annie talking to some customers at the bar, said, “Yup, someday that girl will be the president of Whitfield Farms Corporation.” Grace and I stared at him. “That woman, I mean.” Smiles.

The party continued, the place was packed. Jamie Wright, of  The Pheasant’s Roost Tavern, was “guest bar-tending” for an hour, along with Dave, the regular Saturday night guy, who I’d just met tonight. I didn’t get the whole story but apparently the owner of The Pheasant couldn’t get away so he raffled off the trip among his employees and Jamie had the winning ticket. I had met her a couple of times as she was working the bar at The Pheasant when I visited.

Uncle Manuel stood and clapped his hands and asked everyone for their undivided attention, “All righty, folks. There is a little business to conduct here. Listen up, please.” It took a minute or so for the place to quiet down as the party had been going full-steam.

“My nephew, Danko Whitfield, the Winterfell Ambassador, famous writer, time traveller, and the owner of this drinking establishment –”  (there were cheers for that last credit) “– has an announcement to make but first, I have one of my own…” he continued, “That very same nephew will, in the next few days, add to that list of titles and become the new President of Whitfield Farms Corporation, replacing yours truly.” Someone shouted, “Hear, Hear!!” as the party atmosphere of the gathering turned serious suddenly with everyone applauding the announcement and offering congratulations. Uncle Manuel briefly thanked everyone for their business and friendship over the years and got a big laugh and some cheers when he added, “The rest of it, I’ll save for my retirement party. Danko, you have the floor, I’m going to sit down, shut up and drink.”

I introduced Jamie and made the formal announcement regarding Pheasant’s Ale. As the crowd applauded, Jamie and I toasted each other’s pub. Then I bought a round for the house and the partying resumed.

At one point, I was standing at a table when a fresh tray of beer arrived. I took a stout and began to sip as my sister appeared next to me and selected a red ale. “Welcome home, Danko. Cheers.” We toasted and drank and I leaned over and said quietly, “I thought you were worried about Uncle Manuel, that maybe he wouldn’t give up the farm. Or that I’d feel left out, without much say in the business. But that wasn’t it at all. You were worried about my reaction to being named president.”

Annie nodded. “I know how busy you are,” she said quietly, “and I knew you hadn’t considered anything like this.” “That’s for sure,” I said. “But it’s a good plan,” she continued. “It wasn’t easy for him but he thought it all through. His health, the state of the business, the different talents each of you have. I didn’t expect him to do it this way, splitting up the responsibilities, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s too much for one person nowadays. He’s a very smart man.” I nodded, smiled, sipped my beer. “I’ll need your help too, Annie,” I said. She smiled. “Of course. Anything I can do, just ask.” “I’ll think of something,” I said smiling. Her smile continued but I detected a slightly puzzled look on her face now. It was funny but this was my first piece of business as the head of Whitfield Farms…to try and hire my sister.

“So what are your plans now?” I asked, purposely sounding brotherly rather than business-like though I was asking for both reasons. “No more touring, I hear?” Annie, like everyone in the family, is an accomplished musician and the only one of us who pursued it as a career. She told me she was thinking about settling down and was looking at a couple of teaching positions in the Strange County school system. She was also considering teaching music privately, giving lessons on piano, guitar and flute.

“You men still like all the travel but I’m ready to give that up. I’ve always enjoyed helping people grow their music. And coming back here to live won’t be so bad with you here often and Levon from time to time. As long as I can get news of the outside world, I’ll be all right,” she laughed.

“Well, I must say, this trip has been one surprise after another. My little sister has had enough travel? I never thought I’d hear that one. Maybe when you got older,” I said. “But I am getting older, Danko. I’m not as young as I used to be,” Annie offered. “You’re not old. You’re only 43,” I said with a smile. “40!” she corrected me immediately. It was another round of the family tradition of adding three years to everyone’s age, usually observed on birthdays. “Seriously,” I asked, “is everything all right?” “Oh yes,” she said with great assurance in her voice, “I’m really doing very well, brother. Don’t worry about me.” “Okay,” I said, “I won’t. But Annie, I am quite surprised. Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Well,” she said, smiling in a way that made her look ten years younger, “there is a guy.” “Ohhhhh,” I said in a louder voice than I’d been using, causing a couple of nearby heads to turn, I continued quietly, “Now we’ve come to the real news! Do tell…”  “Not here, not now,” she said quietly. “You’ll meet him soon.” “Oh, you’re introducing him?” I asked with a tone that implied this must be somebody special. “Yes. To you,” Annie said as she placed her forefinger in front of her lips. “Ahhh,” I said, getting the message. “No problem.”

“How’s that red ale?”

 

Visit The Evergreen Pub in Dankoville. The HG address is 67.253.121.199:9000:Dankoville

The Pheasant’s Roost Tavern in Ravenbaile, Ireland is located in the Augurey Peak region on Metropolis grid. The HG address is hypergrid.org:8002:augurey peak

Farm and Home

Leave a comment

Annie was waiting on the tiny platform as the train pulled into the depot.

“Whitfield Crossing! WHIT-FIELD CROS-SING!” called the conductor. Just me and two others getting out here, the rest had one more stop to go.

I put down my bags and hugged my sister. “Good trip?” she asked, trying to gauge what kind of mood I was in, the way she does. “Was fine. Annie, I’m here to help.”

“I know.” She was nervous.

It had been three and a half years since I’d been back to the farm. It was just before I came to Winterfell. I stopped in then to help Uncle Manuel with some farm business. Uncle had always consulted his brothers on important matters involving the family farm though he really wasn’t required to do so. He had run the day to day operation since his father died. Since my parents died he had included me, as the oldest, in the discussions about major decisions on the farm.

On that last trip we hired a new foreman – forewoman, actually – to run the farm as Uncle Manuel’s doctor had told him it was time to slow down. But Uncle still ran the business side of it. Now that time was coming to an end as well.

“It tires him out. It’s not good. Too much stress. His doctor says he still has several more good years ahead if he just takes it easy.” I nodded as Annie spoke. “He still gets up on the new tractor about every third week. He keeps up with the technology. He loves that tractor. It’s hard to get mad at him when he’s riding it, he’s having so much fun.” Annie shook her head and laughed.

My cousin Robbie, Manuel’s son, had told me the same things Annie was saying now, so I came here knowing what to expect. What was about to happen was monumental in a family’s history. A farm was about to be transferred from one generation to the next.

Annie drove the red pick-up with the white lettering on the door that said WHITFIELD FARMS. It was a short ride on Route 22 East from the train depot, past the cornfields to Route 7 South to the old green and white farmhouse.

As we walked up to the door, Grace appeared. “Welcome home, Ambassador.” “Thank you, Grace. Nice to finally meet you.” We hugged. My Uncle had been widowed for some years and since my last visit, Grace had come into his life. She was younger by about fifteen years. She owns a farm supply store with her sister and lives nearby. Annie’s letters speak highly of her.

Quietly I asked Grace, “How’s he doing?” nodding toward the living room where I expected Uncle Manuel to be waiting.

“Oh, you know Manny,” she said smiling. I smiled too as no one calls him that. No one. I looked at Annie and she was smiling at my reaction. Grace continued, “He is all-business when it’s about the farm but he is his usual pleasant and helpful self otherwise. You’d never know about the pain. But at the end of the day when he takes his shoes off and loosens his tie, he is completely exhausted. He is too tired for any fun. He really needs to have some good fun.”

There was an awkward pause and then Annie started giggling. I smiled. Grace turned slightly red. “Oh! You know what I mean! He needs to get out of the house. Go places. Do something that’s not about business. Fun things.” She looked at us and smiled. “Oh, you two.” We all chuckled.

“Welcome home, nephew!” The baritone voice was thinner than when last I heard it but as warm as ever. A handshake then a hug and in a few moments we are sitting in the big old red chairs around the fireplace as cigars are lit and coffee is poured and Uncle Manuel is leading a lively conversation. We hopscotch from one topic to another: my trip, the train depot, corn prices, the weather, Grace’s apricot pie, the new tractor, and a local political scandal.

Now it was time to talk about business. Farm business. The ladies excused themselves. I poured more coffee for the two of us as Uncle Manuel shared his thinking on the future operation of Whitfield Farms. His son, Robertson, would handle the agricultural decision-making and planning while my brother Levon would be responsible for the business end of things. I would take care of marketing and act as spokesman. “Robbie knows farming and the farm business, Levon knows how to run a business, and you are a leader,” Uncle Manuel said, “so you will replace me as president of the corporation.”

Okay, remember earlier when I said I knew what to expect? Scratch that.

I figured Robbie would become president and run whole the operation. I knew Levon and I would be asked to handle some duties within our areas of interest but I never thought…

This is one of those matters that doesn’t involve much discussion or negotiation. This is the family business and if you are asked to take on a role, you accept it. So I did, of course. But first I asked how Robbie felt about all this as I was concerned I was stepping on my cousins’ toes. Uncle Manuel explained that the international and inter-century nature of Whitfield Farms’ business requires Robertson to travel to other time periods often. He can’t be here enough to do the things the head of a company needs to do. When he is here, he’ll be busy working on our ag issues and strategy, not public relations. Made sense.

So I will be needed here. Often. Uncle Manuel knows Winterfell is my home and that I have responsibilities there and elsewhere but he’s asking me to make a second home here.

There will be an awful lot to juggle. Winterfell and Devokan and my writing and gridhopping and now the farm….but I will have to make the time.

It’s going to take some getting used to, being here on the farm again, going into town, learning what’s changed around the area. I’ll bet there have been an awful lot of changes.

I haven’t lived here for nearly a hundred-fifty years.

Older Entries