I shared a bit of the Lambrusco with the pixie, and in no time, he was perched on my shoulder, weaving a bit, singing “Santa Lucia” in his high-pitched tinny voice, with Auntie Gene and Uncle Roddy laughing and singing along – until the maitre d’ parted the curtain.
He’d seen the wine glass being carried off from a tray of newly washed ones by a small shiny creature, and someone in a neighboring booth was now complaining about the noise. We all apologized at once, and the sprite jumped down from my shoulder and walked over to the maitre d’, hand outstretched.
The dumbfounded maitre d’ extended his ringed pinkie and shook the little blighter’s hand. “This is the most amazing toy I’ve ever seen,” he said at last.
By now the pixie was hanging from his collar, straightening his tie.
“He’s no toy,” Uncle Roddy said. “Shame really, I could mass produce him and make a fortune if he were.”
“He’s very much alive,” said Auntie Gene. “Been tagging along everywhere with Reggie here for the past week.”
The maitre d’ picked the sprite off his collar and set him on the table. He sighed. “Keep the curtains closed and keep him quiet. I’m going to forget that a minor is drinking on premises. If anyone finds out about this, we may all be sent away for a rest cure.”
Less than a minute later, our food arrived, along with not one, but two bottles of Chianti, the second one sent compliments of the house – apparently a thinly veiled request to keep schtum. Uncle Roddy quickly gulped down the remainder of his glass of Lambrusco to sample the new arrival. I followed suit, rewarded with my first full glass of Chianti. We had a jolly if hushed time, acting like a quartet of kids clandestinely acting up during detention. I drank more Tizer than wine but was feeling no pain by the time dessert came by, the last of the Lambrusco washing it down – I’ve no idea how I made it back to the car.
I lay in the back seat, my head spinning, my body rocking in sync with the motion of the car. Uncle Roddy and Auntie Gene sat up front talking.
“Didn’t see that imp, or sprite, or wotever that thing was, when y’loaded Reggie in the back,” Auntie Gene said.
“Oh, he’s with Reggie, all right,” Uncle Roddy said dryly. “In his pocket, up his sleeve, hangin’ onto his necktie… somewhere – and he can bloody well stay there.”
“Because tomorrow morning you and I are gonna wake up, look in the mirror and tell ourselves the whole thing was a hallucination – the product of suggestion and a bit too much wine. And we’ll believe it, long as that little – whatever it is – hides, stays quiet, keeps schtum and doesn’t do anything to make us start believing again. But not tonight – tonight, we’ve seen it, talked to it – we watched it run across the restaurant, get a wine glass and give it to Reggie – the maitre d’ saw it. We all know it’s real. But are any of us really up to admitting that?”
“Neither am I.”
“So wot’re we gonna do?”
“Just let sleeping sprites lie – right?”
“Right,” Auntie Gene said with a sigh.
She sighed again, then paused a moment. “He’s only ten, Roddy, we shouldn’t have let him have the wine.”
“First, because it’s good for him – and I don’t just mean that passage from St. Peter or St. Paul or somebody in the Epistles – the one on the subject of wine being good for the digestion. Y’know, the one we always pulled out and used when our elders caught us imbibing. Kids usually start tippling some s’they get round his age. Be something wrong with him if he didn’t.”
“A boy’s rite of passage?”
Auntie Gene scoffed.
“Don’t pull that ‘Lady Genevieve’ act, Genie girl,” Uncle Roddy replied. “This is me y’talking to, and I’ve known you all y’life – from the instant you were born.”
Auntie Gene laughed. “The instant I was born – all eighteen months of you.”
“Long enough t’know you were sneaking sips of the cooking sherry back when you were younger than Reggie is now. Evvie knew, too – Bertie and Ria would’ve known it if they’d been here – just because none of us told Mum…. ’Sides, I’m not so sure tonight’s decision was ours t’make.”
“Wot do y’mean?”
“The sprite – not the little blighter himself, mind – but whoever sent that little thing to Reggie – I’ve a feeling that he – or she – or it – wanted Reggie tipsy tonight for a very specific reason. Don’t know what that reason might be, but it took matters very much out of our hands.”
“And when Reggie wakes up with a hangover tomorrow – wot’ll we tell Ria?”
“Nothing – she won’t know. Reggie will not only keep schtum, but he’ll do everything he can t’cover up the fact he’s feeling poorly – y’can count on it. And he’ll have his old Uncle Roddy there t’help him conceal the evidence. Just relax, sis, – go with the flow, go with the flow….”
Going with the flow was certainly what I was doing in the back seat, as the car’s rocking motion turned into the flow of a boat on a river; ambient traffic noise the sound of a string quarter; and Uncle Roddy’s voice grew higher, melodic, becoming the dramatic soprano of Giulietta from Tales of Hoffmann, singing the “Barcarolle.”
It was soft, gentle, like a lullaby and I smiled as I viewed the world through the gauze of half-opened eyes, drifting in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, not even caring for the moment if Giulietta stole my reflection, too.
Then a black figure loomed in front of me, slashing through the gauze. Dappertutto stood there.
Giulietta stood beside him in her white sari, smiling inscrutably down at me.
We were all on a boat. They both looked up, rose, turned and stepped over the side. I sat up just in time to see them in the distance on what appeared to be a trail of steppingstones – except that the 15 or so nearest the boat were clearly human skulls.
More stones continued to rise, and reveal themselves to be skulls as well, as Giulietta, Dappertutto and any of the remaining skulls faded into the mist.
I was alone, with no idea where I was going.
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018