UKArchive ID: 36529mitch
Originally published on May 20, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 11 of the Light-Father : Harold has a plan to fend off the Tally-men and also finds the magnificent Phoenix...
“Excellent job, girls,” Harold approved as he studied the papier mache face and the proud smiles on the faces of Fria, Bas and Rabbit. “We have about three hours before the Tally-men patrol the yard again so we need to hurry. Scrape some of that glue off your hands and clothes then you’re coming with me.”
“I’m coming with you,” Peter said desperately, waving his claw. “I’m not useless even with this.”
“No, you’re not, Peter,” Harold said kindly. “But that mount and sheath strapped to your stump were designed for a child of four not ten. Take it off - let me have a look at your forearm.” He flinched when he saw that the filthy leather sheath had left Peter’s flesh raw and weeping. “It’s a miracle you haven’t contracted gangrene,” he said angrily. “This is badly infected – you can’t use the claw until it heals.”
“The others did try to adapt it for me,” Peter protested, wincing as Harold inspected the badly damaged skin. “I hate having it off - I can’t call myself Claw like this.”
“Claw? Choosing a name based on your disability is stupid,” Harold said curtly. “You might as well call yourself Stumpy or Mister One-Hand. Trust me - Peter is a much better name.”
“What about Mouse, Rabbit, Shield and Fierce?” Peter protested as Harold delicately washed his inflamed forearm. “They aren’t their real names and neither is Surl and Scar.”
“I’ve already had this conversation with Amos,” Harold said wearily as he tried to read the labels on bottles of medicine. “Scar, Claw and Surl are the names of victims. Calling yourself Claw is not good for your mental health, trust me.”
“The others call me Claw.”
“That’s a lie,” Fria said sharply, folding her arms.
“I wouldn’t mind if you called me Hild, Peter,” Fierce offered diplomatically. “But it’s such an old-fashioned name. It makes me feel like I should be as fat as a barrel with armour and a horned helmet singing bad opera.” She became sad suddenly. “My mother loved all those operas based on the epic sagas – that’s how we all got these boring names.”
“I definitely prefer Fierce to Hild,” Peter declared as Harold carefully dried his stump and applied an antiseptic cream.
“Keep still and stop sucking up to Fierce,” Harold said sternly. He began wrapping a clean bandage about the forearm. “Peter is a perfectly good name. It was my father’s name – Peter Porter – though he was called ‘Pisspot’ as a child because in my language, the initials ‘peepee’ was childish slang for going to the toilet.”
“Pisspot? Ow! What are you doing?”
“I know it’s not elegant but this plastic bag will keep the bandages dry,” Harold replied, taping it about the arm. “I think you may get lucky but I think we need to find you some penicillin - that’s a drug that kills germs and cures infections in my world. You must have a drug like that here.”
“Um, there,” Peter said, pointing to a small brown plastic container with a white cap. “Hlafafulin - that cures all sorts of infection or so it says on the label.”
“From the words for loaf and rot,” Harold said. “Penicillin was from a bread mould so I can see that you’re a lot more literal in this world. So can you all read?”
“Shield and Saul teach us,” Mouse said proudly. They had all gathered round the table to watch Peter being bandaged with intense curiosity. “We have our letters and words but we don’t have many books as the damp makes them go black quickly.”
“I can imagine,” he nodded thoughtfully. “Your caravans were not designed for a climate of endless rain. I’ll get some bookshelves and we’ll keep the books in here where it’s warmer and drier and I’ll set up a reading lamp. How does that feel now, Peter?”
“Much better, Light-Father, thank you.”
“Take one of these tablets every morning and evening for ten days,” Harold said, counting twenty out into an empty container and placing it in Peter’s jacket pocket.
“What about Pup, Mouse, Surl and me?” Fierce demanded angrily. “They’ve had all the fun making a mashy face while we’ve doing all the hard work cleaning the pots and bowls, scrubbing the tables and mopping the floor!”
“And you’ve done an excellent job,” Harold assured them gravely. “Like I said, we’re going to search the yard and all the buildings - we need to look for paint or any make-up for the face and any thing we can use for the hair and eyebrows. I also need to see if there are other things we can use. For instance, are there any changing rooms and washing facilities for the workers?”
“Yes, on the other side of the car-park,” Fria said. “There are changing rooms, a canteen and a shower room for the engineers but there’s no fresh water or food left in any of the buildings.”
“We’ll have a look anyway,” Harold smiled, handing her three cans of insect spray. “Fierce will keep watch at the front door while you and Rabbit make a start on your caravan.”
“Huh? What do you mean, Light-Father?”
“I want you to drag your mattresses into the empty wagon and douse them in insecticide and leave them there. Then I want every surface in your caravan scrubbed clean. Will you help them, Pup?”
“Yes, Light-Father - Pup always helps!”
“Good lad. Oh, don’t give me that look, Rabbit! Off you go. Fierce will guard the door and warn you if any dogs, Ferals or Tally-men show up.”
“Yes, Light-Father,” Fierce said resignedly. “But we rarely get trouble at this time of day. I want to go with you.”
“We had all three yesterday,” Peter pointed out.
“True,” Fierce conceded, clapping a hand on the sword-stick at her belt. “Fine, I’ll guard the door but I’d rather fight.”
“I’d rather not fight if we can help it,” Harold sighed. “Come on, Peter – I want you, Bas, Mouse and Surl to show me around. I need to explore the place and get my bearings.”
As he climbed down onto the tracks, he was startled as Bas sprang over his head and landed almost silently on the stones between the rails with her bow in her hand.
“You forgot your sword, Light-Father,” Fierce admonished from the doorway. “Even here, you need to be armed,” she added haughtily. “Otherwise how will you protect us?”
“Point made, Fierce,” he grinned sheepishly, taking the sword from her. “It almost feels alive - it’s so well made.”
“A lonely blade is a useless blade,” she said archly, pulling the door almost closed. “Don’t be too long.”
Harold went straight to the car-park and tried numerous car doors until he found one that was unlocked. “Please let this be a single door lock mechanism,” he prayed aloud. “Ah, jackpot!”
“Why do you need a car door lock?” Bas asked as he rapidly unscrewed the car door panel. “These cars haven’t moved for six years. We couldn’t use them even if we could start them.”
“True,” he said, snipping the two wires. “But this little motor will make your Mother Moss talk again.”
“What? Mother Moss? How?” Bas demanded.
He held up the device for them to see. “A current goes through these wires and a tiny motor moves this piston in and out depending on the direction of the current,” he explained. “Only now it will open and shut her mouth when she talks. Let’s see what’s in the glove compartment. Aha! A small torch and some door-edge reflectors – they’ll do nicely as well.”
“That’s all for now,” he declared. “We’ll search all the other cars and vans over the next few days. Right, let’s see if there’s anything useful in the canteen and the changing rooms.”
The changing rooms yielded nothing but cobwebs and dust and the canteen had long since been cleared of tinned food by the Scatterlings. He stared about the place with the cutlery and plates left on the tables – if it wasn’t for the ivy obscuring several windows, it felt as though the place was merely waiting for the next shift to sit down for a meal. “There’s nothing here for us but those gas stoves - we’ll come back for them later. What’s next?”
The excited children showed him all the four huge repair sheds arranged in a row with lines branching into them from the two entry lines that connected the yard to the main rail network. In the north of the huge site, dozens of steam locomotives and rolling stock of every description were parked up in the extensive sidings. Between these and the north wall was a long workshop devoted to servicing the electrical systems on the coaches and engines. Next they explored the foundry and its huge stocks of wheels, bogeys, pistons and hundreds of moving parts in various stages of repair.
“Whoa, I feel like I’m in an old thirties movie,” he laughed aloud as he surveyed the cathedral-sized building. “These guys were totally hands-on but there’s nothing we can use in here apart from lumps of iron to whack Tally-men with.”
Bas was clutching a small box with two soldering irons and some switches to her chest. “We’ve left the best till last,” she said excitedly. “The repair shed next to the main offices is where they repaired the big locomotives.”
“The sheds were all specialised? One repaired only rolling stock while another repaired shunting engines and so on?"
“Yes, Light-Father,” she nodded eagerly “But the Phoenix is amazing - they were working on her when the plague struck.”
“It’s a Cambrensis-class locomotive,” Peter explained proudly. “Saul’s uncle told us it was the best locomotive ever built.”
And so it was. Harold’s jaw dropped as they entered the shed through a side door. Protected by the roof, the Phoenix hadn’t rusted like the other locomotives left out in the rain. It had been refurbished and repainted and it gleamed even in the dreary light filtering through the filthy skylights and windows.
“She’s beautiful,” Harold sighed, running a hand along the piston housing and then along the main rod and finally over the cover plate of the rear bogie. “I used to dream of driving a steam locomotive like this when I was a kid. I would give my eye-teeth to fire this baby up and take her down the track.”
“We have to hurry back, Light-Father,” Bas urged nervously. “The Tally-men will be here soon.”
“Aye, you’re right,” Harold said, reluctantly removing his hand from the gleaming metal. “Let’s go.”
He led the way back to the mail-wagon where they found a large tin bath packed with tins and the contents of dozens of bathroom cabinets including three boxes of cosmetics. “Ah, thank God for that,” he nodded. “We can colour the face but we need hair -something long, white and er… hair-like.”
“I know,” Peter said brightly. “I won’t be a minute.” He jumped down through the back-door and was gone in a flash.
“Where are Saul and the others, Fierce?”
“They’ve gone to ransack the Doctor’s surgery.”
“Excellent - and how are Fria and Rabbit doing?”
“Pup’s driving them insane but they’ve got their mattresses into the empty wagon and sprayed them – you should have seen all those insects dying! They’re still scrubbing the caravan clean and putting all the filthy laundry into bags. Where are they going to sleep until the spray wears off?”
“On seat cushions from the offices,” he explained. “I want you and Bas to bring at least eight over – they’ll sleep on them around the stove to keep warm during the night.”
“Very well,” she sighed in martyred tones. “I’ve never worked so hard, Light-Father. You’re worse than Mother Moss.”
“Sorry, but it’s going to get tougher,” he shrugged, thrusting two soldering irons into the stove fire. “While you two do that, I’ll start work on our decoy – on yesterday’s performance I don’t think an empty tin will keep them at bay for long especially David,” he shuddered. “To be reduced to a shell like that…”
“… is worse than death,” Fierce concluded.
“I’m sorry - it must be hard to see him like that.”
She drew her slender sword and held it upright, almost touching her nose with the blade. “Even though we all loved David,” she said resolutely. “If he tried to get in here, I would stick this straight through his heart and put him out of his misery.”
“There must be something we can do,” he protested. “What would happen if we pulled the Guides out?”
Fierce shook her head sadly as she sheathed her sword. “Mother Moss told us how they take out parts of their brains. Simply pulling out the guides kills them – even pulling out the cable leading to the receiver clamped on the back of their necks kills them.”
“I’ll remember that,” he said faintly. “Now, if you’ve done waving your sword about, go and get those cushions, please.”
“Shall I make some hot tea?” Peter offered as Bas and Fierce jumped down and raced away.
“Yes but add some more coal to the stove first,” Harold smiled. “Good lad - I need it hot for the soldering irons.” He moved one of the two small tables close enough to the stove to allow him to grab the handles of the soldering irons.
Fria and Rabbit appeared with Pup only to be sent away to manhandle the bath into the empty wagon - which they finally managed with Mouse and Surl’s help. Then they filled it half-full with rainwater, added half a packet of soap powder and put in the dirty bedding and clothes to soak.
Fria groaned loudly when Harold told her to go back in agitate the water with a heavy stick. “I want them all clean,” he told her firmly. “Don’t you dare give me that look - everyone will be doing it even me once my bedding needs it.”
He fell silent as he concentrated on his task, barely looking up when Saul’s team returned with their haul from the doctor’s surgery. He told them to bring cupboards and shelving units from the offices to line the walls and store everything away and so the long mail-wagon became a hive of activity. Pup, Surl and Peter however sat entranced at his table as he constructed a working mouth. He set the reflectors behind the eye-slits and drew irises upon them using a felt pen that still worked. Finally, he glued on the white matted fibres Peter had extracted from an old duvet and the three children applauded the life-like head of an old woman.
“She looks so real,” Pup squeaked excitedly. “What now?”
“The Tally-men will be here any minute and the rain is easing so I’d better go and keep watch,” Bas said and headed for the back door.
Harold watched open-mouthed as she leapt up from the back-door ledge onto the roof of Saul and Peter’s caravan. “She can jump higher than that,” Peter said enviously. “But she has to be really angry or frightened when she does.”
“It’s still impressive, Peter,” Harold said.
“She’s my furry stepmother,” Pup said proudly.
“I’m sure we can make her the heroine of an elven saga for your grandchildren,” Harold chuckled as he fed wires in through holes he’d punched through the back of the tin. “Ah, nearly there.”
Shield and Fierce poured cans of soup into a large pot and set out spoons and bowls on the long table as he soldered wires to the speaker connections and set the speaker into a plastic casing at the back of the tin. “It has to be watertight,” he explained to his three entranced apprentices.
He screwed in a light-bulb holder and connected it to a pair of yellow wires then carefully connected up the lock mechanism which he then bolted into a crosspiece screwed into the side of the tin. The lock piston had a cap with a screw soldered to it that fitted into the lip of the chin section. “This soldering worries me,” he fretted as he made sure the chin section moved freely. “This solder could come off - but it should be alright for a while.”
He pressed the papier mache head into the tin and reached through the mouth to apply a small nut to the piston screw to connect the chin section to the lock motor. He stood the tin up and the head of a rather ugly but suitably elderly woman stared back at him. The lower jaw looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy but he hoped that it would not be noticed in the drab afternoon light.
“Finished,” he announced. “I had to guess at the electrical resistances so I hope nothing explodes.”
He went to the second small table at the other end of the wagon where he’d set up a mike, an amplifier taken from a music centre in one of the offices and a board with two switches. He connected up the battery as the children gathered to stare at the papier mache head.
“Who are you looking at?” it said suddenly, causing Pup to shriek with fright. “I am the Ghost of Christ-Mass past,” it moaned, the lower jaw moving up and down in time with the words. Pup leant forward, fascinated, then the eyes suddenly flashed red making him jump back into Fria’s arms. “Don’t get too close or I’ll chew your feet and bite off your toes!” it warned as the other children clapped their hands in sheer delight.
“It’s crude but I think it might work,” Saul grinned.
Bas leapt from the caravan roof to land cat-like inside the wagon. “They’re gathering in Druid Lane,” she warned.
“Okay, I’ll set our decoy on the tracks,” Harold said, bringing the table with the mike and amplifier to the doorway. He gathered up the tin and paid out the coils of wire carefully as he climbed down onto the tracks. “I hope the rain doesn’t short it out – I haven’t had time to make it completely waterproof. The rest of you stay here,” he ordered. “Saul, help me cover the wires with the stones and chippings before they see us.”
Just as the Tally-men marched through the gates, Saul and Harold clambered back in and closed the door as Bas kept watch through spy-holes in the gate. Harold brought Shield to the table and made her kneel so that the mike was close to her mouth but she could still see the tin through a knot hole in the door.
“The rest of you have to be quiet,” he said firmly. “Or the mike will pick it up. Now Shield, you talk into microphone and use that white switch to open and close the mouth. If they get too close, the red switch will make the eyes glow.”
“What do I say?” she said anxiously.
“If they approach the tin, tell them you will cause them untold suffering,” he suggested. “Or drag them off to hell. Just improvise, depending on what they’re doing.”
“I don’t think I can do this,” she said.
“You said you wanted to be like her,” he said, patting her reassuringly on the shoulder. “Now’s your chance.”
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012
Archived comments for Chapter 11: Magic
Mikeverdi on 24-05-2016
Chapter 11: Magic
Still reading and enjoying. Sorry to be late, I always leave the stories until last, don't like to rush them HaHa!