Well… at least, never to be seen on Earth again.
Nolok’s travels through time and space are impossible to set in words, so they shan’t be. Let it simply be said that after some impossible length of time and across a vastness measured by photons in centuries or millennia, she came to find herself standing on a fog-shrouded plain, a wide expanse carpeted by violet furze under the eternal gaze of a warm star. She looked around with her blue eyes and saw that there was plenty to eat, and a great deal of room to run in, and for a while that was enough. She had many other adventures but you wouldn’t want to hear about them, as certainly you’re more interested about what happened back at Grimbly Hall (and if you aren’t, well, that’s really too bad).
On Earth—specifically in Westchester County—the rain eventually let up. The sun, our sun, broke through a crack in the clouds and got about the important business of drying up all the rain. Mrs. Patavatsky hung up all the linens to air out so they wouldn’t get moldy. Hughes, the ghostly butler, mopped up all the puddles inside. The ushabtis continued to tend to the hamadryad in her oaken husk, and under her beneficence the other plants in the conservatory grew and thrived.
Qornok—Mr. Jones, as he preferred to be called now—was missing a body, which was a difficulty. Oh, he could have popped into town and picked out a nice new number, but he was grateful to the people of his adopted homeworld and wouldn’t hear of it. Instead he rode about on Neville’s shoulder as they searched a dusty storeroom, looking for some other more suitable vessel. They settled on a cobweb-covered bust of Alexander Hamilton.
“But you won’t be able to walk around or… or… meet any nice young men,” Neville pointed out, while dusting the noble profile.
“Time enough for that later, old top,” the reluctant parasite assured him. “For now, just put a good book in front of me, stoke the fire, and all’s well, what?”
And so it came to pass. The bust was installed in the library, near the lectern containing the dictionary. It took some doing to get Mr. Jones inside that carved head but once he could look out through its eyes he sighed with satisfaction. His old mission safely abandoned, he was happy as a barnacle on a boat.
Which only left one guest to be mollified, and she the most abused.
“Reggie didn’t mean any harm when he accused you of being an evil brain parasite,” Neville told Babs. The two of them were strolling the lawn at the time. She had her shoes off and kept digging her toes into the wet grass, even though it was near freezing. “It’s just,” he went on, “well, you did tell him you were wicked.”
“I reckoned that was the kind of gab you wanted to hear,” she explained. “You were collecting monsters, that was the odds on you back in New York. Seemed if I wanted to crash your party I needed to play up the monstrosity.”
Neville shook his head. “I’m not collecting monsters. I’m offering them a sanctuary, here. All I ask in return is a bit of light conversation.”
She squinted hard at him for a while, as if doubting his veracity. “That the real goods?” she asked. She seemed to answer her own question. “You’re it, ain’t ya? The believed-to-be-mythical gen-you-wine gennulmun. Who’d credit it?”
“You’re too kind. After how you were treated in my house, I think I owe you quite the apology.”
“Make it a double, and throw in a cocktail onion,” she told him.
He tried to catch her eye but she looked demurely away, her mouth curled in a secret smile. Which had about the same effect on him as her previous smoldering look and used a lot fewer muscles. As if to drive her point home she squeezed his bandaged bicep. “Oh, dry up,” she said, with a little laugh. He couldn’t help but think it was an odd thing for a water spirit to say. “You didn’t know my onions from applesauce. I might’ve made the same mistake. Anyway, old Bug-Eyed Betty is gone and we’re jake again, see?”
“You’ve forgiven me. Does that mean you’ll consider staying on here at the Hall? Join us for a while, at least?”
“Sounds darb,” she said, but then her half-smile faded. “One problem, though. Now the rain’s gone I’m getting parched. I need plenty of the good old wet stuff to survive. Water, I mean, not hooch. Though alky-hall will do in a pinch.” Which might explain why Neville had very rarely seen Babs without a cocktail glass in hand. “Sooner or later, though, I need to get submerged or it’s curtains for dear old little old me.”
“Yes, Mrs. P said you need to live in a pond or a river or somesuch. Somewhere you can lure unsuspecting men to their doom. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not unsympathetic.”
“I can’t help looking like this,” she said. “Not that I would. It drives the boys bonkers and they come chasing after me.”
“And then you tangle them in your hair, under the water,” Neville said. Mrs. P had given him a considerable education on rusalki, most likely in an attempt to convince him Babs was no good and should be ejected from the Hall immediately. He’d thanked her for the information, if not the advice.
“What, this rat’s nest?” she asked, flipping her bobbed hair. It was, as always, perfectly styled and it barely covered her ears. “They’d have to be pretty puny to get stuck in there.”
“Well, then, you hold them down so they can’t surface,” Neville suggested.
“All ninety-eight pounds of me, sure.”
“You steal their breath?” he tried, running out of possibilities.
Her look told him that was a load of malarkey, too. So to speak. “It’s just that these pikers, see, they never know how to swim.”
From which one can judge just how wicked Babs really was for themselves. No judgment on the matter will be found in these pages. Furthermore, we will remind the reader that Babs had just saved the entire world from parasitization.
“I wonder,” Neville said. “I mean, I don’t swim myself, I’d get water-logged. And Reggie’s never shown an interest—thank goodness, you know what a wet dog smells like. But perhaps we could add a new room to the Hall. A natatorium. You know, a swimming pool.”
She turned her face toward his and the look she gave him made him wonder just how quickly he could get some contractors out to the Hall. They could have a little diving board, he thought, and some chaise longues, and maybe a fountain in the shape of Triton blowing on a conch shell. Yes, yes, a swimming pool. As soon as possible.
“I’d think about it,” she said, raising one eyebrow.
A rather shallow swimming pool, he amended, inside his head.
“Now how about that drink?” she asked, and pushed her arm through his.
Which might have been all there was to say, and we could have ended our story there, if it weren’t for Reggie. The werewolf was standing inside the conservatory, looking out through the windows, watching the two of them laugh and promenade out on the grass.
All he could think about was tiny fingers, scratching him behind the ear.
It was going to be a long winter, he thought, at Grimbly Hall.
Goodness! That was a close call. But fortunately for us all, Babs was there to save the day. Would you like to know more about her? Would you like to see her feature in her own story? You’re quite in luck, as you shall see when our next tale begins. EPISODE FOUR: BUSHWA THE THUNDER SAID will begin this coming Monday. In the meantime, on Wednesday and Friday we’ll have some fun bonus materials for the episode you just completed.
A quick program note: popular demand being what it is, namely, fickle, we’ve decided to return to a three-times-a-week posting schedule. Starting with episode four, new chapters will become available each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.