Lords of Being
Chapter 5: Cracking the Nut-Walters
When last we left our heroes, Rosamund, Mabel, Glass, and Neon were outside Esme's Gifts, having purchased a couple of anomaly-flavored Nut-Walters. Hellgrammite was outside the Viking Museum with a box of the unlikely figurines he purchased there.
Unaware of the presence of the others, Zabeth has checked into the Royal York where she's planning to attend the convention of the British Psychical Research Society which, coincidentally, is also in York. She had decided that, if there was something anomalous in northern England, the BPRS convention was a good place to investigate. The sense of anomaly that Mabel mentioned got more intense as she travelled across Britain, and even more intense here in the hotel than at the train station. Since she checked into her room a few hours ago, she's been monitoring the anomaly.
Neville is en route, also heading for the British Psychical Research Society convention.
Hellgrammite heads towards the Minster, planning to visit the basement where the art guild meets. On the way he comes across another anomalous location on the map Glass sent him. It's a day care center. He notes it and passes on. He calls Mabel. "I'm heading to the meeting space for the art guild to see if that's the origin of the anomaly."
"That's not too far from here. We'll meet you there."
They arrive at a building with a plaque announcing that it's the Verger's Offices. It's one of those buildings which reminds one that only in America is 100 years a long time. The front door is open. Entering, they find a vestibule with cork boards on each side. Among the myriad of notices is one, rather buried, for the Minster Art Guild meeting on Friday Nights. Past the corkboards is a hallway with stairways, going up and down.
They head downstairs. It's dark and mysterious until they find the light switch. There's a largish hall littered with folding office tables, even more folding chairs and lots of pious motivational motto posters on the walls. However, there's no trace of any anomalies. Rosamund can sense tree seeds over there… Yup. There are a bunch of art supplies in the closet she's pointing at. And a mostly empty bag of walnuts. Not anomalies, but anomaly-flavored. And the pipe cleaners, and googly eyes and some of the construction paper. Anything used in the construction of the Nut-Walters has that "scent." Mabel senses the same "flavor" at one of the tables.
"Do you suppose 9 of the 15 met here and were… God struck?"
Rosamund ask Glass, "If you look up the guild members, can you find pictures of them?"
Glass replies, "Certainly," as he hacks into the license database.
"Is there anyone who's… old?" she asks. "It would be less revealing if pushing the anomaly harms an elderly person."
Rosamund and Neon play "Rock, paper, scissors" to determine whether to choose someone old or young. Neon wins, and chooses "young".
The youngest and halest looking photo is a hearty-looking young woman with blond hair, named Constance Hathaway. She works at… yes, it's one of the locations on the map. It's the daycare center Hellgrammite passed on the way here.
They hear steps coming down the stairwell. A gentleman in clerical garb comes down and looks surprised to find the lights on and the basement hall occupied. "Excuse me, were you looking for the Undercroft tour?"
Mabel asks him for the directions, and he gives them. "This is just an office building you know. There's nothing interesting here." Mabel thanks him, and they head towards the child care center.
When they arrive, it's clearly time for the parents to pick up their children. There are parents going in and parents and children coming out. Way too many people are present to risk pushing on the anomaly embodied in Miss Hathaway, but it's still worthwhile to scout out the territory. Mabel sends Hookie in looking for something that smells like Nut-Walters and a youngish woman. Once he's disappeared into the building they can track his progress through the building by the noise level. High-pitched cries of "Doggie!" and deeper calls to "Catch that beast!" When Hookie's bark changes from his "I'm working" bark to the "I've found it!" bark, Mabel and Rosamund head in, towards the barking. Mabel calls, "Hookie!" Hookie barks in response. He's jumping around the woman from the picture, and being chased by the children. She's laughing and fending him off, and standing behind a desk full of Nut-Walters.
Arriving in the room, Rosamund says, "I'm terribly sorry, he slipped off the leash. He loves children."
Constance laughs, "He was very well behaved. He seems to have been going after these."
Mable eyes the Nut-Walters, "Arts and crafts projects?"
"Yes I came up with these a couple of days ago and was teaching the children to make them."
Rosamund says, "We saw something similar in one of the gift shops not far from here. Esme's Gifts."
"Oh yes, we're both in the artists guild."
"Are the children enjoying making the figures?"
"Why yes, they are."
As Constance burbles on some more about the lessons the children are learning by making Nut-Walters, Rosamund lets examines the children with her life-sense. They're healthy (well, except for the one with a drippy nose) but definitely picking up the anomaly. Possibly more than the Nut-Walters.
Meanwhile Mabel "slips" reattaching Hookie's leash and sends him over to one of the children who shrieks joyfully. She then goes over to "rescue" the child from the dog, and shows the child how to pet Hookie, who bears it with good grace. The child is "flavored" by whatever it is afflicting the Nut-Walters, but not a source of anomalies. At least not yet.
They've got the information they came for. Rosamund smiles and says, "Perhaps we'll bring Hookie back to play another day. If that would be OK with you?"
"Oh, that would be fine." The two woman and the dog leave, to a chorus of "Bye-bye doggie!"
Once they're out, Mabel tells Neon and Glass what they found. Once she's finished reporting, Rosamund adds, "I've been wondering how to get these things away from the people who've bought them." There's no good answer to that problem yet.
In her room at the Royal York, Zabeth rouses from the trance she's been in to monitor the anomaly. It's taken her a while of watching, but she's sure it's been slowly growing stronger. But the anomaly is still much fainter than a normal blockage. Well normal before the one in Bugtussel, Iowa. She calls Loomis to pass on what she's discovered, and asking him for news of any progress the rest of the courtiers have made. When she mentions that she's in York to attend the British Psychical Society conference, Loois replies, "York? Mabel is there now."
"So it's a convention within a convention?"
"It seems to be shaping up that way."
Zabeth thanks Loois for the information, and then calls Mabel. "What's up?
Mabel reports on what they've been up to, concluding with, "I'm quite stumped on how to deal with it."
"I'm in York to attend the British Psychical Society conference and sensed the anomaly as I crossed Britain. I've been monitoring it from my hotel room for the last couple of hours and have determined that whatever it is, is increasing. The conference doesn't begin until tomorrow. Should I come help?"
"We may have to split up, so the more of us to split the better. The next anomaly we were going to check out is Miss Minerva Straw. She has an art studio on Chapel Row. We'll meet you there."
Chapel Row is a quiet residential street lined with townhouses. Zabeth meets the group in front of the art studio. Rosamund shows her a Nut-Walter. "Each person exudes the anomaly. And they're having other people make them and the others are starting to get tainted. It's worse than the frogs. And people are buying them, which is incredible."
Zabeth sniffs the figure. She smells paste and walnut and human skin oil. Looking at it doubtfully, she asks, "These things?"
"And they each claim to have invented these things."
Neon muses, "Perhaps something visited them at the guild meeting?"
Zabeth asks, "Has anybody pushed on one of these things?"
Rosamund replies, "Pushing on the Nut-Walters does nothing. The anomalies appear to be "riding" these people. I've been hesitant to push on any of them in front of others. And then there's the question of how to gather all of these… Nut-Walters."
"I don't suppose having the gang of us ring up this lady would be normal."
Mabel notes, "Nobody else has objected to discussing their Nut-Walters. Just the opposite in fact. They've been very enthusiastic on the subject."
Hellgrammite suggests, "I told the guy at the museum that I was a dealer looking for art to sell on my website. Which has the benefit of being true, if one of them thinks to check. We could use the same approach with Miss Straw."
Zabeth adds, "I also run a salon in Paris. I can be very French and artistic. And I'd like to examine one of these embedded anomalies myself."
Hellgrammite and Zabeth approach the townhouse. There are two doors. There's a sign reading "M. Straw Studio," with a button below it next to the door on the right, which is locked. Hellgrammite pushes the button. After a moment, a voice says, "Yes? Who is it?"
Hellgrammite replies, "Jonathan McArthur. I've been asking around the local art scene and your name came up."
"You're a dealer?"
"Very well come up." There's a buzzing from the door. Hellgrammite pulls it open, revealing a stairway leading up. Upstairs they find a bony woman waiting at the top of the stairs who appears to be on the high side of 70. Beyond her they can see a room outfitted as a mini art gallery.
The woman introduces herself as Minerva Straw, and Hellgrammite takes her hand, introducing himself as Jonathan McArthur. She's definitely an anomaly.
Minerva gestures into the room and says, "Please, come in."
As the Lord and Lady of Chaos emerge from the stairway, an enormous orange tiger cat strolls in to see what the noise is.
Zabeth bustles into the room, "Ah, zese Americans, they don't understand proper etiquette. I am Zebrina LeFlare"
"You are partners?"
"I am ze European division, he is ze American division."
"Ah. Well here's my best work." The wall opposite the stairway has a collection of splendid watercolors. To the right is some excellent pencil work. And on the 3rd wall is mixed media work. All of the pieces displayed show excellent composition and technique. She's clearly several notches above the other guild members they've met so far.
Hellgrammite is quite impressed, but clearly not given to hyperbole, "These are quite nice."
Zabeth asks, "Have you shown your work before?"
"Yes, quite often."
"Outside of ze area?"
"Occasionally, but it is quite difficult for me to travel a great distance these days."
"I have a salon in Paris. I would be quite pleased to show some of your work there, if it would be agreeable?"
Zabeth pulls a digital camera out of her pocket, "Would you mind if I took pictures of ze pictures?"
"Not at all."
As Zabeth moves around the room taking quick photos of the works on display Hellgrammite adds, "I'm more of an online dealer. Would you be interested in getting wider exposure?"
"That would be interesting, but you'd have to handle it. The most advanced technology in this flat is the telephone."
As he hands her his card, Hellgrammite pushes to unblock the clog embedded in Miss Straw. Both of the courtiers can feel the change as she stops being anomalous. A strange expression passes over her face, and it looks like she relaxes a bit. Out on the street, the map on Glass' phone now only has eight anomalies.
Zabeth asks, "Madam, are you OK?"
Miss Straw answers as if she's not sure, "Yes," and then shakes her head as if to clear it, "Yes, I am. Would either of you like tea?"
"Why yes. And what is your cat's name?"
"William the Orange."
She leads them into a tiny kitchenette with one chair. There are Nut-Walters everywhere, on every surfaced in the kitchen.
"Did you make zese?"
"Yes, it's sort of a fidget. It's a silly story." She fusses with the tea things a bit before continuing. "I belong to the Minster Art Guild. I had been giving painting lessons. We were taking a break from that by doing various bits of craft stuff. I think we were trying to come up with something for the girl who works with children. Everybody started making them. I don't know why, it's a bit of a compulsion. I kept feeling that I could do something more with them. This one here is supposed to be Margret Thatcher."
Zabeth looks closely at the figurine. "I can see ze resemblance. Are zese like voodoo dolls? What are you going to do with all of zese?
Miss Straw is clearly NOT happy with the idea that she's been making anything to do with voodoo. "The young lady at the daycare center might have some use for them."
Zabeth takes her hand, "Please, I don't want you to give up your other art for zese figures." There's no sense of the anomaly left on her.
"You're quite right. It's just that sometimes it's hard to let go of an idea."
Zabeth picks up the one that's supposed to be Margret Thatcher. There is still a sense of the anomaly about it. But she can feel it fading as she holds it. "Madam, you'll have to come to Paris for a show. And your tea was wonderful and your cat is spectacular. He's very fat and very lovely."
They've definitely made her day. Best of all, she didn't fall over dead when they cleared the anomaly. They promise to be in touch soon, and depart.
Clearly unclogging these anomalies doesn't harm the carriers. Rosamund goes back to the daycare center carrying one of the Nut-Walters, and asks to see Miss Hathaway. She's tidying up after a busy day. "Oh Miss Hathaway, sorry to bother you, but Hookie appears to have taken this."
"Oh thank you. Never would have missed it." Rosamund pushes. Constance's expression changes from one of fondness to one of wonder at what she saw in these silly things. "We have got to get the kids working on something else."
"Maybe a project growing marigolds. Little seeds in pots. Or have you ever done the story about the little mouse who lives in the walnut shell? And then they can make the scenes!"
"Why yes! Or there's "Mistress Masham's Repose" in which a young girl finds a colony of Lilliputions in her garden, and they use walnut shells for their cradles. It was one of my favorites as a child."
"And it would give the children a reason to pick out the nut meats." Coincidentally diluting and hastening the fading of the taint of the anomaly.
Zabeth & Glass head to the Viking museum. Zabeth strolls into the gift shop. The clerk is puttering around, looking like he's starting to close things up. Zabeth pushes. "May I help you?"
"I was looking for books on Viking lore."
"Oh yes, over here."
"Are any of these first editions?"
"Oh no, these are commercial printings."
"Do you know who might have some?"
He gives her an address.
"And what are these?"
"Viking figures. I belong to an art guild and they seemed to be fun." The enthusiasm has definitely gone out of him.
Mabel goes back to Esme's. The door is still open. There are minor bits of sketches and watercolors, probably by Miss Straw. Mabel selects one, and takes it to the register. Esme is there. She pushes. It's not going to work. Mabel buys the watercolor. Esme is still anomaly ridden. After she leaves, she reports into Glass, who passes the problem to Zabeth.
Pushing each of these little anomalies to unclog them is taking as much of a toll on them as a single "normal" one does. Clearly they aren't going to finish this up today. Hellgrammite finds a wifi hotspot to make hotel reservations at the Royal York for himself, Mabel, and Rosamund. When he passes this information on to Glass, he also makes reservations at the Royal York, for himself and Neon.
Zabeth walks over to Esme's Gifts. Esme's standing behind the till, counting out the drawer. "Oh, you're closing up." She pushes, clearing the clog. "I'll come back tomorrow."
"Not at all. There's no hurry," says Esme, perhaps hoping for a last sale.
Zabeth holds up a Nut-Walter, "Are these selling well?"; the "scent" is already fading off it.
"I suppose," says Esme dismissively, but I'll have to get some new stock in soon."
Zabeth replaces the figurine and browses for a bit, checking for other tainted items before departing.
That leaves five anomalies on Glass' map.
Last Updated: Feb 3, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved