There was no chance of getting lost or taking a wrong turn – everything funneled down to the toe of the shoe – so I ran, almost blindly down the stairs, through the toe, and to the front door. It was still bolted;
I brandished my gladius-trowel as I threw off the latch and plunged outside –
– only to confront a pale ghastly creature, vaguely female, neither harpy nor vampire, but not necessarily a ghost, who came flying at me, shrieking the most hideously I’d ever heard, even at Warstone Lane Cemetery.
I ducked involuntarily and drew my “gladius,” dropping to a crouch as she flew by, screaming and howling more loudly than ever.
Then, I was bopped on the head by one or more of the many gore-saturated blades, axes, razors or similar sharp objects that trailed behind her, still dripping blood. Whether she was the perpetrator or an “avenging angel” wasn’t clear, but there was no doubt she was leaving and that the Old Woman was either dead or innocent. Seconds later the flying fiend was gone. All was silent for a moment –
– followed by universal hysterical laughter.
The former zombie children were now very much alive and well, all rolling on the ground as if enjoying some prank or practical joke.
One single casket lay in the center; inside was a man in a ragged black suit, his face smudged with soot, his expression leaving no doubt he’d been the terrified one immediately prior to his passing. He was holding a pair of black brooms. Even in death, he looked sinister – it was Eeper Weeper, he’d been out here all the time.
The murder victims were real enough, but the children had already solved the mystery prior to my arrival. What followed had all been a macabre practical joke at my expense.
I remembered the last part of the “Old Woman in the Shoe” saga:
When she came back
They were a’lying laughing
She gaed up the stair
To ring the bell
The bell-rope broke
And down she fell
Even as I remembered, I saw the Old Woman happily climbing a winding stairway outside the sloe I’d not noticed before, broomstick in hhand. There was a brass bell at the top. I yelled for her to stop, to not grab the bell rope, but she either didn’t hear me or took no notice.
There was a washing basket on the ground, sheltered by the platform at the top of the stairs, which came up to my solar plexus, and was about three meters in diameter. There was still some laundry inside, enough to cushion her fall. It was cumbersome, but I pushed it out from under the platform, hoping to catch her as she fell. No sooner had I done so than she plummeted down with a scream.
She landed inside the basket, but with such force and at such an angle that I flipped over the top and landed alongside. I tried to stand up and climb out when I realized the basket had already lifted five or six meters off the ground. The Old Woman was standing beside me, broom still in hand.
There was an Old Woman tossed up in a basket,
Nineteen times as high as the moon
And where she was going I couldn’t but ask it
For in her hand she carried a broom
“Old woman, old woman, old woman,” quoth I
“O wither, o wither, o wither so high?”
“To sweep the cobwebs off the sky.”
“Shall I go with thee?”
“Aye, bye and bye.”
“Bye and bye,” perhaps, but not tonight. Nineteen times the distance between the Earth and the Moon would put us roughly a third of the way to Mars – in the vacuum of space with no protection but a laundry basket.
I decided to pass, and asked her to set me down somewhere safe.
She said nothing, but nodded. A few moments later, the basket landed, I climbed out, and she went on her way. I thought I heard a girl’s voice faintly saying, “Help. Help. Please help me.”
But, try as I might, all I could see in the near-darkness was a pile of boulders, a wide river, and a dilapidated bridge.
© 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 in 2019