"The ghost of Charles Dickens is trying to finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He's decided there shouldn't be any ghosts in it because he doesn't believe in ghosts anymore. He's become a bit frayed over they years, a bit unraveled. He's never been good at possessing people, not even when he was freshly dead, and his increasing incoherence has made things progressively worse. That and the writer's block probably mean that the world will never know who dunnit.
There is a reporter or an author or a wandering temp who is following the ghost of Charles Dickens. He swings back and forth between trying to banish the ghost and trying to help the ghost finish the story. He may be the descendent or past protégée of other ghost followers. This will have to be a short story. It could never be a TV series or a comic book. It lacks the necessary gettings: Getting the Girl, Getting Along, Getting Ahead, and Getting the Bad Guys. Getting laid could substitute for getting the girl. Could making a friend count? Maybe. If the show followed other trends or if the comic had a really popular artist."
The man sighed. He was wandering from the story after only a paragraph and a half. May as well get on with the task he was avoiding. It was a hard thing when his most trusted means of procrastination failed him. (Was there such a word as anticrastination?) He made a note to look that up.
A later note, stuffed into the red book would read: 1540s, from L. procrastinationem "a putting off," noun of action from procrastinare "put off till tomorrow," from pro- "forward" + crastinus "belonging to tomorrow," from cras "tomorrow," of unknown origin.
On the back of the note would be: “So, would anticrastination be doing things now or would it be consciously working against the future. That puts me in mind of a story about a witch trying to live forever, but being fed incomplete information by the demons she summons. Her final spell slows her life processes so that she will not die until the universe ends, but only because each second of her life has been smeared over millennia. She becomes, effectively, a statue and the world has become an unintelligible blur to her.”
But that will happen later.
Now the man is stretching and closing the truck door. It’s an old Chevy, old enough to have a starter pedal. It’s blue paint has oxidized and the white powder on the surface brushes off onto your clothes if you’re not careful. The truck door shuts with a heavy clunk.
The man isn’t old enough to be retired, but he’s getting there. His jeans and denim shirt are faded, but unstained. They’ve been carefully worn and carefully tended. He can make clothes last a long time. No sense paying extra for carelessness.
The hair he palms back is faded brown and the cowboy shaped hat is woven of straw. He settles the hat on his head to ease the glare. Squinting gives him a headache. The hat and the cowboy boots make him think of something he heard a comedian say, once. The comedian had a name like a western lawman. What was it, now? Gallagher. Strong name. The boy had said something about the only difference between a lady and a cowboy was that the lady tucked her elbows in while the cowboy stuck his out.
He had strutted around the stage demonstrating. Out – cowboy, in – lady. Both with pointed toes and high heels. Both with hats. Out – In.
The man walked down the dirt driveway towards the trailer, conscious of his elbows. He decided they weren’t really out or in, and that the real difference was that he walked with his knees loose. A lady wouldn’t do that. A woman wouldn’t, either.
She knew he was there, of course. Probably had known before he got there. Maybe she’d see the time spent at the end of the drive as politeness. Maybe not.
Dogs came pouring out from under the trailer, straight through the dusty red fringe around its bottom. They were baying or yapping, depending on their bent. Although running, they weren’t running in much of a hurry. They’d have a few seconds before they got far enough down the drive to reach him.
He stopped and shifted his hat. They were an odd assortment, but he couldn’t place any new ones. No danger or nips or bites, then. At least none from the dogs.
He let them boil around him, sniffing and raising a dust. The whole yard was dusty, with a bit of coarse grass growing here and there. He looked around while he let them get their noses full of him.
The red fringe on the trailer was raveling a bit, but might still be usable. Rolled flying carpets laid around the front, in a disordered pile under the one tree. Two rose bushes flanked the front porch stairs. They weren’t blooming now, but when they did the tops of each petal was a velvety red while the bottoms were a silky white. They were quite a sight when they were going at it.
Around each bush was a round watering trench, currently dry and cracked, the way clay soil did when it dried. Each trench had a green garden hose balanced on the crater’s edge.
Just off the drive from where the man was standing was a yard lamp. There was a small model rug tethered to it with some fringed macramé. It dipped and flew in the breeze, looking sharply patterned and dust free. He guessed it was gathering solar energy to power the lamp at night. Big Kay did good repair work when she got around to it.
The dogs began to lose interest. He started back up the driveway, then stopped as Big Kay, herself, came around from the back.
“It’s on the front porch,” she said. “I left it alone because I knew someone would send someone out to check. I was perfectly legal. Perfectly within my rights.”
The woman was dressed in faded denim overalls and a purple flowered shirt. She wore work boots and black leather work gloves with the ends of the fingers gone. Two grey and brown braids were looped back and tied at the base of her neck. She was probably less than five feet tall, but stocky and solid and obviously used to getting her way, although, if he remembered correctly, she was usually polite about it.
“Hey, Kay,” he said.
“Hey, Jasper,” she replied.
He waited. They looked at each other for a space. Then he ducked his head.
“Better get on with it, then,” he said, and sauntered up the swaying steps.
There were only two steps, and the porch was maybe four foot deep and ten foot wide. Jasper knew the steps and porch had been meant to be temporary, but had been there nearly twenty years, now. That’s the way temporary fixes went, sometimes.
A roof rug hovered over the porch. It was striped white and black and brown and red, although nearly all of the colors were closer to grey than when it was new. There was a slit running against the stripes through two thirds of it. It had been patched. You could see the sagging interlacing holding it together. Only Big Kay could get a carpet that damaged in the air on a regular basis. At least, she was the only one that he knew of.
She followed behind him, but didn’t step up. She stayed back out of his business and let him get on with things comment-free. He appreciated that.
“You get a complaint? Or was it just a tattle?”
“Oh, it was a full-on complaint. Went to the Sheriff.”
“Any particular reason that the Sheriff didn’t come?”
“Got paperwork, I expect. That or the Deputies are near overtime.”
“Yeah, that would do it.”
Jasper looked at the porch. There were shards of glass. He squinted. If he looked at them just right, If he thought of them as coming originally from the front door, well, then they looked like they had sprayed out in a narrow cone from the door to nearly east.
“Mirror?” he said.
“Yup. Defensive spell. Pure defence.”
“Well, nothing is completely pure. This all finished?”
“Yeah. It’s spent. Completely inert. Unless you want to say that nothing is completely inert.”
“Well, that is true. Nothing is. At least not completely. Mind if I take a sample?”
There was a squeaking sound, like rubber netting being stretched.
“Flying pigs?” he asked.
“Yup. No idea why anyone would want them. I raise ‘em up, they take them home. Then they end up back here again. “
The pig pen was located in the back of the lot. Jasper would take a look at them before he left. He had a weakness for flying pigs.
He got out his metal retractable tape measure with the plumb bob and the compass. He fiddled with it a bit on the porch. Then he backed down off the porch and fiddled with it across the porch, from ground level. When he was satisfied, he made a few marks in the little red book. Then the book went back in the back pocket and the measure clipped to his belt.
“Recon you know who it was.”
“Coulda been, oh, about three different folks.”
“Well, three different groups a’ folks. Some people just don’t want to believe that their rug can’t be fixed. Or that it ought to cost what it does. Or that they bought a lemon.
Over all time it’s more than three bunches a folks that might be mad at me. But recently – only the three. And I don’t suspect one bunch more than another, I just wanted to be safe and sure. The babies need me to look after them.”
Jasper looked back at Kay. Some of the dogs were laid in the dust around her. Two of the bigger ones had gone to lay in the shade of the tree. They were sniffing out a good place in the rug pile to sprawl.
“And some folks just don’t take kindly to wizard . . . esses. At all.”
“Just wizard, Jasper.”
“Wizards, then. They just don’t like them.”
“Then they shouldn’t come looking for one. Pure foolish, that is.”
“I’d have to agree with you, there. Say. . . “ he squinted at the trailer. “Is that a whistle hanging from the doorknob?”
“Yup.” Kay shifted something around in her mouth. She knew Jasper meant something more by that question and she was making him figure out how to ask it.”
“What does the whistle add to the mirror?”
Damn. The man knew more about the spell than she thought.
“I know that the silver disappears from the mirror glass when the spell is triggered. I know that the glass splinters to absorb the force of the spell and then rebounds back the way the off-en-sive spell came in.
I also know that it usually happens quiet-like and slow. The glass floats down slow and deliberate-like and looks like it’s going too slow to embed in the wood like that, but it’s going fast just, well, on a different plane or something. And it’s spooky quiet. Nothing to warn the caster that his spell’s coming back at him. Or her.”
“That about covers it.”
“I’ve heard it needs the quiet to turn certain kinds of spells, just like it needs the slow to turn certain other kinds. If you tied a whistle in, you’d be introducing a flaw into your defence.
Seems to me a body would only do that if they knew what kind of spell was coming in.” He turned to squint at her. “Did you know?”
“I . . . suspected.”
“That’s a lot to leave riding on ‘suspected.’”
Kay rolled something around in her mouth and than spat onto the porch. The spit sizzled, hopping around in shiny little balls, like angry mercury.
Jasper’s jaw dropped. “That’s an active spell. Dammit, woman! That’s an active spell!”
“Yup,” said Kay. “I had a suspicion that someone would be stubborn. So I added the whistle, to warn them.”
“You mean they’re hearing the whistle. They’re feeling the spell come back at them, and they’re still pouring it on?”
“Yup,” she said. “Stubborn. And possibly they think women are weak. Lotsa men make that mistake.”
“Yup. Some folks,” Kay shook her head , “some folks, there just ain’t no tellin’ ‘em.”
“Damn. Can you tell what kind of spell it’s sending back.”
“Not safely. And I don’t feel like getting burned or worse to help out someone who’s doing me harm. Especially not when they’re this determined about it.’
“You just going to sit here and wait to see what breaks first, your hater or your front door?”
“Well, the other thing the whistle does is warn me when the spell’s about to break, or when his spell stops. There’s that comfort.”
“You sure it’s a he?”
“I’d still be worried about staying near that.”
“Can’t take the babies away with me. Certainly can’t take the pigs. Don’t want my roses to die, or my lilies.”
“You got lilies, now?”
“In the back. I’m making a patio. With a fountain and a patchwork dome.”
“That sounds nice. You’d know if an actual ‘nother wizard moved in, wouldn’t you?”
“A full-on wizard, sure. If it’s just someone who stored up a lot of spite and then let it go – that wouldn’t show up on the radar, as they say.”
“I’ve heard that phrase. You know what a radar is? It’s one of those capital words. Well, almost. It takes more than one letter from a couple of the words in the phrase.”
“It stands for RAdiating Demon ARray.”
“Huh,” said Jasper. “That makes sense. Sounds military.”
“Commercial, too. If I could do radar, even just the maintenance and repairs, I’d be making the big bucks.”
“You do all right. That’s a nearly new double-wide I see there, right? With the fringe still on so you can move it?”
“Yeah, if I had sense or more get up and get, I’d wrap that so the dogs didn’t fray it.”
“They like the added shade, though, don’t they.”
Kay blushed a bit at being caught out. Not that there was anything wrong with liking your dogs and indulging them a little. Still. Working fringe was expensive.
Speaking of which – Kay dug into her pocket. She fumbled with what looked like a tassel, mumbling to herself. Then she tossed it out into the yard.
It went dancing and bobbling along, just over the heads of the dogs, who ran after it with wide grins. It took fifteen to twenty seconds before one of them caught it and started to shake it in snaps of the head from side to side.
“Release.” Kay called, and the tassel rose and bobbed again. The chase resumed.
“They love that thing,” she said.
“You sell those?” Jaspar asked.
Kay shrugged. “Have to tune it to the yard it’s used in and to the hand that throws it. Have to figure the command that would work for a non-wizard. Be expensive for what it is.”
“Less than a day’s wages?” They both knew he meant a field hand’s wages. There were all kinds of local currencies. Folks sorted them out by comparison to minimum wage in all of them. Hour, day, week, etc.
“Almost. Well, about that.”
“Might be worth it for some. Especially old folks whose arms get tired before their dogs do.”
“Thinking of anyone in particular?”
“Sadly, thinking of someone who lives a ways out of town.”
“Well, it might be worth it if you help me out with this.”
Jaspar let himself look completely surprised.
“I thought you were holding back on me, here. You know I’m working for the Sheriff, right?”
“Yeah, and I’m not offering to give it to you for nothing. I’m just willing to travel, assuming it’s only about a day and the boys can ride in the truck.”
“We’ll see. You’re gonna have to come cleaner than this, though.”
“I expected that.” Kay looked Jasper over, then sighed and said, “Come on around back. That’s where the real money is.”
Jasper felt a tightening in the small of his back. Wizards got up to things. Even wizards out in the sticks in trailers with dogs in the front and pigs in the back. He did not relish having to decide whether to tell the Sheriff whatever he was about to find out.
But he couldn’t leave that spell twanging away on the front porch, there. It was dangerous. The Sheriff would approve of lying to the Wizard to get that cleared up. Unfortunately, the Wizard would approve of lying to the Sheriff for the same reason. Jasper had an older sister and a younger sister and they had given him a profound aversion to being caught in between. It never worked out well.
He straightened and concentrated on holding his elbows in a manly way as he followed Kay around the trailer. As he came around the corner, he saw the pig pen and the sheds behind it. They were low-roofed. One was directly behind the pen, so that the pigs could get in, out of the sun. He bent and looked into the shadow. There were only three pigs, total, in the pen. It sounded like more. There was plenty of room for more.
Three more sheds ran parallel to the trailer, the last in the line being deeper and therefore coming out even with the edge of the pig pen, making an upside down U from his perspective.
Perspective, he thought. That’s a word about seeing. Spec. That meant either seeing or eye, he wasn’t sure which. Spectacle. Specs. Inspect. Suspect. Speculate? Did that fit with the others?
The pigs were big. Not a piglet in the lot. Fully grown. Fully grown pigs could get mean.
There was a rubber net over the top of the pen. It looked rugged. The wings on the pigs looked tiny compared to all that pork. Could one of them really get airborne? Airborne enough to make the net creak? They sure weren’t doing it now.
One of the sheds rattled and more pig noises came through the closed doors. The movement of one of the doors drew Jasper’s eye. The door didn’t quite reach to the ground and Jasper could see hooves milling around behind it. Pig sounds were coming from all of the sheds. It sounded like old boars, and not happy ones.
Kay unlocked the padlock on the deep shed and threw open the door. Inside were no pigs, just the sound of pigs. Jasper ducked and entered slowly. He looked around. Here and there, in corners or on tables, were teacups. They were thin and white and delicately fluted. Jasper inspected one. There was water inside. A single lily was balanced straight up in the water.
Jasper looked more closely. There was nothing propping the lily up. Its stem barely broke the surface of the water, he was sure. Up from the cup and through the lily came the sound of irritable pig.
He looked around for something besides dangerous pigs, now. On six saw horses, resting on plywood planks were four rugs in the process of being sewn together. Well, not just four. At each junction, another small rug overlapped, and then another overlapping on top of that, so that there were two rugs on three rugs on four rugs. Then at the ends, there were runners that crossed the front and the back and draped down the sides to the ground.
String came out from the inner joints of the rugs and wound around spindles and spools. More spools held red and black yarn. On a frame, the red and black yarn was being woven and knotted into netting and tassels.
The yarn in the rugs had been bleached light grey and was being slowly dyed into geometric shapes by clasping syringes. He was sure that if he took it apart, the exact pattern would match up on each layer of rug.
“It’s a semi-tapestry,” he breathed.
“Almost,” she said. “It’s illegal for someone unlicensed to build the engine. So this has to be towed by a cut-back hauling tap. It’s an all purpose commercial- weight hauling trailer.” She sounded proud, and Jasper didn’t blame her. This was going to sell for a pretty penny.
“Does anyone know that you’re doing this?”
“I’d have said no, but then I’ve got a spell knocking on my door. One more persistent than normal. Not that there aren’t people fool enough to do that over a small slight. I’ve met a few who would have. The ones I know of, mainly, their families would step up and shake them out of it.”
“But if one didn’t have a family. . .”
“Eventually they’d come to the notice of the law. The law frowns on resentful, defensive Wizards.”
“True. Well, now I suppose it’s time to get the names of the folk who might be peeved at you.”