Copyright Carolyn Horn 1994
All Rights Reserved
Theola slouched against her bedroom window-sill, towelling her hair by moonlight. Then she sighed, tied the towel turban-style around her head, and flung open the little window. She leaned her chin in her hands and glowered down at the street while the cool spring air caressed her cheeks.
The evening's stillness was broken by the distant hoot of an owl; nearby, little rustlings bustled through the herbaceous borders.
A sudden eerie yowling, as of a soul in torment, rose and fell from the garden and set Theola's teeth on edge; her feline lodger, apparently, was receiving visitors. Ethniu could be seen, bathed in moonlight on the garden wall, tail neatly tucked around her front paws, ears forward in critical observation of her latest admirer. Nice for some, Theola thought bitterly. She pulled her soft kaftan housecoat closer around her throat. Over toward the river, a warm glow indicated that Jeston was open for business - a brisk business, judging from the slight cheers and shouts of merriment which wafted over the roofs.
Theola frowned; what were they so cheerful about? What was the point of it all anyway? Everything was such a muddle. When Kerr was with her, nothing seemed to matter; sin seemed such a distant, unimportant thing. And yet he was such an uncouth creature - he simply had to be a bad influence.
Anyway, she wasn't going to let him charm his way round her again; he didn't really want to be with her. Theola heaved a sigh. He had come back with her after this evening's service, and said: "I'd be right glad if you'd come for a drink tonight."
Well, of course she'd refused - this was God's day, not a time for frivolity. "I've got to wash my hair," she'd said firmly.
And he'd believed her - hadn't tried to talk her out of it! Not that he'd have succeeded. She sniffed, wiped away a furtive tear, and the towel fell off her head. "Bother," she said as it splatted into her primulas and the tomcat.
The tomcat was a lot more forceful in his language. Ethniu looked impressed.
Theola fumbled for her slippers and stomped downstairs, muttering "Bother bother bother" like a mantra. She flung the front door open and reached around the porch to grab at the towel; just then, her eye caught a flutter of movement further down the street.
She stepped forward, squinting in the moonlight; the door behind her promptly slammed shut with a gleeful "thunk-click."
Theola whirled around and stared at the immovable chunk of wood. She felt her breath heavy on the air. "No," she said; "no no no. No." She placed a pleading hand on the doorknob and turned it. "Not locked - please no?" She rattled the knob, and patted the door gently with her other hand.
The door obviously knew its place. It continued to stay there with enthusiasm.
Theola slumped onto the porch recess. Okay, so she couldn't get in at the door; well, she'd think of something. She glowered impartially at the smug door and interested cats. Then the thought struck her - Of course, I've left the window open! Theola leapt to her feet and examined that route. The sheer wall sneered smoothly back at her.
Right, she thought; a ladder, that's what I need. Someone will have one; they'll all be in the pub, but I can't help that. God can't want me to stay locked out in my... Which was when she remembered what she was wearing.
It was at this point that Theola must have lost control.
The night air reverberated to her yells; she came to her senses in the middle of kicking and pummelling the door, the porch around her still echoing with wild obscenities. "Er - sorry, God," she gulped.
Well, not for nothing was her middle name Belluse. The vicar lifted her chin in determination, squared her shoulders - and slunk off down a side street, towel in hand and slippers scraping against the potholes. At least she wasn't naked, she told herself. Then an idea hit her; perhaps - just perhaps - she wouldn't have to brave the pub after all. That strange Mr. Villars would probably be on his raft. Surely he'd help.
She felt somewhat less optimistic as she stood on the riverbank and peered down at the printer's tatty shack. The moonlight etched shifting black shadows among the rocking driftwood and bathed the river in glittering milk; Theola had to confess that it would have seemed quite magical if she hadn't had wet hair and a locked front door. She was a bit shivery and depressed; perhaps it was because of the dark silence which brooded over the driftwood pile in spite of the moon's efforts. Well, whatever, Mr. Villars must be at home - there was his "Trespassers will be eaten" sign - and he could ruddy well help her.
She scrambled down the slope, wobbled onto the raft, and knocked on the door. It swung inward silently; Theola stepped into the moon-washed, deeply shadowed room, saying: "Oh, Mr. Villars, I'm so sorry to trouble you - ack!"
The door crashed shut, and something enormous and hairy knocked her over and sat on her. "Grrr - rrowrr," it said, and a set of massive teeth clicked together beside her face with a heavy, metallic sound.
"Goodness me," Theola said, "what a big dog you have, Mr. Villars! Mr. Villars?"
"Ow-ooo-ooo!" The beast lifted its muzzle to the moonlight and howled. Then it bent down to her face again and licked her ear.
Theola had never realised what sensitive ears she had. She began to giggle uncontrollably, trying to push the long, wolfish snout away. "No, stop, oh please - aha - stop, I can't bear it!" The animal huffed at her, nipped playfully at her fingers, and carried on slobbering all over her ear; the night became a rolling heap of fur and laughter.
At last, Theola sat up and leaned against the warm, panting body beside her. "Well," she sighed, "you won't be able to help me, will you?" She rubbed her fingers through its wiry hair and stood up, fumbling to light a match. "I hope we haven't upset anything. Uh..." The match's tiny flame lit up the shadows and showed no damage. It also showed no dog; all she could see among the untidy piles of paper was the dark shape of the press.
It must have jumped out of a window, she thought as she scrabbled back up the bank. Well, now that only left the pub as a source of help. She glanced toward it; wafts of laughter, flickering light, and ale-soaked air billowed back at her from an open window which was half-full of thirsty horse.
Theola looked down at herself again and shivered. She really didn't think she could go in there. Perhaps there would be a ladder or something at the church... She strode off down the High Street, caught her slipper on a pot-hole, and stumbled forward against the new statue.
"Ouch," she said, and rubbed her nose. She peered up at the monstrosity and shuddered; the revolting thing really would have to be moved. But what was that, over the thing's - well - genital area? Theola stiffened. The statue now sported a pair of frilly bloomers.
So that was what had caught her eye earlier; that was what had made her move away from the doorway; THAT was the direct cause of her present predicament. She ripped the offending garment off the stonework and flung it to the ground, performing a little dance of rage on it.
Right. Doug Marrow - it had to be him, taking the mickey out of her. Well, she'd confront him right now. She picked the bloomers up, stormed off to Jeston's and, still in a white-heat of rage, flung open the door. "Who did this, then?" She yelled, shaking the massive, cerise-spotted bloomers in the air. "Mr. Marrow?"
A complete hush answered, and every eye turned toward her. Even the horse's face looked up from its bucket, revolved its eyes and whinnied gently; it slid backwards out of the window with a thump and continued to make little whickering noises from below the sill.
Omigod, Theola thought, what I must look like...
A hundred stunned expressions slapped against her shrinking gaze, each as encouraging as a faceful of wet fish.
If only she hadn't fallen in love with this kaftan in the market. It wouldn't have been quite so startling if a bright orange lion and a scarlet unicorn hadn't been fighting each other so ornately all over their azure field. Add to that the elaborately tipped, glass-jewelled Turkish slippers; an emerald green towel with its shocking pink stripes; and a pair of capacious bloomers waving about over her head - and Fallekin Astow had the perfect role-model of a vicar.
Sloshforth Villars' harsh stage-whisper floated across the silence: "Hey, Doug - you been painting Vicar's knickers then?"
Theola felt herself flush. "Er," she said, and lowered the offending article to half-mast. Well, she was here now. She lifted her chin and strode over to the tables, flapping the bloomers at Doug. "Are these yours?"
He cringed away and shook his head violently, a look of complete revulsion on his face. That scantily-clad Brigid of his fingered the material and pursed her lips. "Really," she said, "thou hast a fine pair of passion-crushers here."
Theola ignored the woman. "Mr. Marrow, did you put them on that statue out there?"
"Good god, no, ma'am. You wouldn't see me anywhere near them kind of knickers."
She looked around, hot with embarrassment and frustration. Then it struck her; Kerr wasn't there. "Not Kerr- " Oh no, not him... The room began to feel stuffy, and her eyes smarted.
"Come on, little lady." Sloshforth was beside her, his harsh voice suddenly gentle. "Sit down; have a drink. This horrible thing was on the statue? I doubt it'd be anyone here. Wouldn't put it past the GODLY lot, though - and not as a joke, either."
Theola's spirits lifted as she looked into his desiccated face. "Of course!" She subsided into a chair and took a long, cooling draught of the proffered Special before she realised what she was doing. "Alcohol," she gasped; "that's alcohol!"
"Top marks," Sloshforth gave her his lop-sided grin. "Thought you needed something to warm you. Better than tomato juice."
Actually it wasn't too bad, she thought. Slightly bitter, but a malty creaminess on the tongue. She gave it another try, in the interests of scientific experiment. And then another.
Two pints later, both Doug and Sloshforth were regarding her with a new respect. She stood with dignity and wandered off to the loo. She was just lowering herself onto the pan, when a burst of wind-music followed by an enormous "thump" reverberated through the building. Goodness, she thought, I didn't think I was that heavy.
Farrell sat in the softly-lit cave, on a comfortable stone seat, and sipped his sage-and-onion tea. This simply had to be a dream, he thought; he hoped that they were being kind to his sleeping body back in Jeston's, and not using it for paper-dart target practice. It was amazing how real all this seemed, listening to a goddess chatter some crazy stuff.
"Well dear," Arianrod was saying to Kerr, "these two look much more useful than the one Brigid keeps producing. How terribly clever of you to have found a sentient couple, who can travel the Parallels properly. I do believe they are at the core of the problem; they should make a good team."
Farrell looked around the empty cavern in puzzlement. What couple was she talking about?
Kerr shrugged and drained his cup with a sigh. "'Tis right good, what you do with those herbs of mine. Yes, I thought you'd be pleased - I reckon these two should help us do the trick." A faraway look came into his eyes. "I'd hate to close YUK down; there's a juicy little maid I have my eye on- "
"Kernunnos! Really! Here we are, maybe having to close down SIK as well as YUK - poor little creatures - and there's all this trouble with my beautiful SIK figurines disappearing every time one of you turns up, and all you can think about is your- "
Kerr gave an earthy chuckle. "Oh, those statues of yours are good, right enough. They're brightening up YUK-Z11-GAH something wonderful. Don't fret so; we've got quite a little bunch of YUKkites working on their problem, not just this couple. I'm right fed up myself; my poor pussies are all locked up, you know. But ah, that little maid - Theola Devin - you'd be proud of that one, Arianrod. A fine bit of tail."
Farrell choked over his cup. The vicar? A fine bit of tail? Arianrod patted his back in concern. "Come now, dear. You should sip this tea. You must take care of that throat; your music is going to be so useful. And this little one wouldn't want you to choke to death, would you dear?" Her last words were apparently addressed to a stalactite.
For a second, Farrell thought he could see an outline of his Vinny; but he blinked, and the image was gone. He gulped. "My music; useful? Who - What are you talking about?"
"Oh yes, dear, definitely. It's a link, you see; a bridge. Don't forget those pipes of yours, when there's a call for music, will you? But this friend of yours, now; here she is, bursting to be born, and yet she's such a shoddy job - missing so many important memories. Your people really should be more careful. It's not natural to create without caring for the poor confused creatures a little."
Dream or not, Farrell felt indignant. "But I haven't created anyone - I wouldn't know how!"
"Well now, that's nonsense and you know it, dear. I gave all you YUKkers perfectly serviceable reproductive devices." Arianrod jabbed her forefinger at his genitals and he jumped, spilling warm tea all over his lap.
"Urk," he said, losing the thread of the conversation.
Arianrod turned back to the stalactite and tapped a grubby forefinger thoughtfully against her teeth. "Anyway, whether you meant to or not, you've certainly been doing something with the stuff of life. It really isn't right for mortals to fiddle about with original creation; no wonder we're getting Continua problems. Now then, I'd better adjust her memory a touch." She nodded at the stalactite, and patted Farrell's shoulder. "More of the sage and onion tea, dear?"
Farrell felt a great sympathy for stuffed chickens by the time Kerr proposed another jam session. He closed his eyes and lost himself in the husky notes, weaving around Kerr's eerie horn...
Then there was a huge "thump-crunch" and his eyes snapped open. He was back in Jeston's with Kerr, a hundred surprised revellers, and an indignant toad. Under Natterjak, a massive stone statue had materialised with unusual genitals and an interesting attitude. Jeston's floorboards groaned in protest.
Jeston put down the glass he was polishing and surveyed the scene calmly. "Special, sirs?" he said.
Farrell had just taken a good long swig when the vicar appeared from the ladies' room. Good god, he thought, and swallowed his mouthful the wrong way. Amid a paroxysm of coughing, he gobbled a warning at Kerr, who appeared to be in some trouble himself. It was perhaps unfortunate for the god that he had come to rest in Brigid's arms, and that he hadn't disentangled himself by the time Theola re-entered the room.
Theola took in the situation at lightning speed; she swept past Kerr's threshing limbs with her head held high, and gave Farrell's back a vigorous rub.
Kerr spoke, deep and gravelly: "Lady vicar - I'm right pleased to see ye've come here after all."
She gave him a cold glance and turned her shoulder, refusing to look into those devastating eyes. She was delighted to have found out in time that he was just a two-timing pig of a man. All she needed now was a bit of privacy and a box of tissues to enjoy her delight to its utmost.
Ceredwen cackled at him. "Not winning with this one, are you? Hah!"
So there were others, Theola thought. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kerr grin, and she gave Farrell a particularly vicious rub.
"Ouch!" Farrell's voice was hoarse. Miss Devin, please - I'm fine now."
Gerald watched the turmoil absently. He sweated slightly and shifted in his seat before taking another gulp of Special. He really didn't want to tell everyone about his failure in the House; they were all such tremendous fellows, and Holly - well, she was awfully unpredictable. It wasn't his fault, but... Couldn't he have tried harder? He put down the jar and gazed unseeing into its amber depths, turning it between his palms. He hardly noticed Natterjak swimming around in it.
Holly watched him. "You've been quiet, pal - come on, what's on that tiny mind? You're not mad at Papillon's little trick, are you?"
He looked up at the concern in her dark eyes and shook his head. Well, they had to know. "Oh I say - fellows." He raised his voice above the chatter. "I meant to tell you; there's no luck about the funding. I did my best, really. And, I tell you what - Liam is going to take over the Common Land, too. I expect he'll try to throw you- "
"Damn Toff!" Holly yelled, jumping to her feet. "For two seconds we trust you, and you sell us- "
He jumped up too and caught hold of her hand. "No, but listen, we can still dispute it."
At that moment the front door slammed open, and his Linsey stood there, resplendent in chic suit and Drongan jewellery. She looked around the pub with a disdainful quirk to her lips, and raised her handkerchief to her nose.
"I thought so. Da-arling! What are you doing here, with all these - people?" Her eyes flickered over everyone.
"Linsey!" He hurried over to her, jar in hand. "They are my constituents - all fine fellows!"
She glanced at the fine fellows and shuddered. "Oh really, Gerald... You don't have to mix with the hoi poloi, you know. Well, look. You're going to have to make up your mind between all - this - and me." She flicked her fingers at the room and turned to go, just as Natterjak decided he'd had enough of swimming.
It was perhaps unfortunate that the toad chose to land on Linsey's bosom and slither down into her warm cleavage. "Agh!" she squeaked, erupting into a lascivious dance that would have put a belly-dancer to shame.
The whole bar paused in its absorption of Special and held its collective breath until Natterjak finished slithering down over her gyrating stomach and popped out with a final "Ribbit." The applause was deafening.
Linsey was not amused; she turned her flushed face toward Gerald and hissed: "Dear Liam are is giving a super party at the Teledildonics place before those sweet Drongans leave, and you will be there, of course. If not - well, you do know that the ending of our relationship will be the end of your career too, don't you, darling?" The door clicked shut on her last word, and the gentle purr of a motor drove off through the silence.
Gerald sighed in relief. All he had to do was miss one party, and Linsey would ditch him - as for his parliamentary career, well...
"What's the matter, Toff," said Holly, "worried you might lose Miss la-de-dah?"
He looked at her and grinned. "Good god no. I say, I can be free at last - really free!" He flung his arms out and danced a happy little jig.
Life was good, life was magnificent - and life was full of otters, he thought as he tripped over Megan's water-loving friends.