The Landlady (a revised Teachout story)

So in 2014, I posted the original vignette “The Landlady”.  And then this year I ended up revising it substantially, and I thought it turned out pretty well, so I’m going to post it here to end my 2-week blog streak.  I will probably take the first version down at some point, just to streamline the bibliography page, but for now they’re both here.

(I enjoyed the microblogging, but every day seemed a bit too much.  I think I may switch to once a week, maybe twice a week.  It bears thinking about.)

And so …

This is a story (please note the “read more” button!) about the Teachout sisters, links to whose other adventures can be found in my full bibliography.  I think this can stand alone, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go and read the others, as well.  For reasons.  (It’s cool.  I’ll wait.)


The Landlady

by:   Laura E. Price

 

“You seen Mrs. Warram lately?” Gwen asked Corwyn.

Corwyn had not, though her lack of memory might have had something to do with her envelopment within a sulfurous cloud of stench from the poultice the witch of Cobbler’s Hill had sold them to help heal up her ankle. She had said ankle elevated on the back of their sofa in a most unladylike fashion. “Oughtn’t we be happy the old harpy ain’t after us for rent four days early?” she asked.

“That’s why I think something ain’t right,” Gwen said grimly.

“Tell me you ain’t going down there to pound on her door because she’s not making you mad enough to spit, Gwen.”

“Dear god no,” Gwen said, startled. “It’s just odd, is all.”

***

The one thing Corwyn knew–clear as a bell in the storm of bruises and outrage and, though she refused to admit it, furious sadness that raged in her those first few weeks after she and her sister left the patronage of Mrs. Simcote–was that she did not want to live on the goddamned street again.

Continue reading “The Landlady (a revised Teachout story)”

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Ophelia’s Flowers, a poem

Ophelia’s Flowers
(The Queen of Carthage, generation 3)

By the time he’s returned home, she’s killed them all:

the Queen, poisoned, her mouth stuffed full
of larkspur and love lies bleeding;

the King in his bed, stabbed bloody,
dogsbane and yellow gentian laced between his fingers.

She looks up when her door slips aside,
in the middle of a room splashed all over red, up her arms and in her hair;
the smell of iron and shit drifts, inert, between them.

She’s been at her work a long time;
there is asphodel scattered at her feet;
honeysuckle, rust streaked and ragged, hangs round her neck.

His little sister smiles to see him
(lovely sister, in her hydroponics lab,
sweet in love and fluent in her flowers),
and offers him the prince’s, her lover’s, head,

streaked with blood and crowned with morning glory.

 

 


 

Larkspur – fickleness
Love lies bleeding – hopeless, not heartless
Dogsbane – deceit, falsehood
Yellow gentian – ingratitude
Asphodel – my regrets follow you to the grave
Honeysuckle – generous and devoted affection
Morning glory – extinguished hopes

 


copyright 2016 by Laura E. Price. Feel free to link to this piece, but please don’t reproduce it without permission.

Continue reading “Ophelia’s Flowers, a poem”

The Cursed Headdress (a Teachout story)

This is a story (please note the “read more” button!) about the Teachout sisters, links to whose other adventures can be found in my full bibliography.  I think this can stand alone, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go and read “The Drowned Man” first.  For reasons.  (It’s cool.  I’ll wait.)  And, you know, feel free to read all the other Teachout stories, as well.  It’s a long weekend coming up, after all.


The Cursed Headdress

by Laura E. Price

“So, d’you think falafel for lunch?”

“We ain’t got money for falafel, Gwen.”

“‘Course we got money for falafel.  And some groceries.  Come on.”

Gwen’s walk, to Corwyn’s eye, was far too unconcerned and bouncing for the way they’d spent the past two hours.  “They said we had to pay them back,” she said, trudging after her sister down the museum steps.  “They said they’d contact their lawyers.”

“And I wish them good luck in their endeavors,” Gwen said.  “They want to take the grand sum of fifty dollars I’ve got hidden under my box spring?  More than likely Mrs. Warram’s been in there and snatched it already, anyway.”

“Oh, nine hells, how are we going to pay rent?” Corwyn asked; this hadn’t occurred to her before, as the museum’s highly disappointed curatorial staff had raged at them for the loss of the item they had been sent, at great expense, to collect.  She’d thought about food, about failure, about lawyers, but rent had only just occurred to her.

“Wyn–”

“No, Gwen, they said–”

Gwen turned round and grinned that grin she always got when things went south for the two of them; the grin that had even odds between making things better and making them much, much worse.  “I heard what they said.  So they want to sic the law on us–so what?  We bunk off the flat, live in the Hill for awhile again.  Ain’t no solicitor nor curator going to find us in there unless we want them to, and not a one of them’s got the stomach to hire the folks as could otherwise.”

She had a point.  But.  “I don’t want–”

Gwen stepped closer, swept Corwyn’s hand up and squeezed it.  “It ain’t ideal.  But it ain’t the worst thing could happen to us, either.  It’s a sight better than getting killed at sea, no matter what those old idiots think, so don’t you start siding with them, hear me?”  She tugged at Corwyn’s hand, caught her eye and smiled her real smile, the one she saved only for Corwyn.  “C’mon.  Falafel.”

Continue reading “The Cursed Headdress (a Teachout story)”

The Landlady (A Teachout vignette)

The husband told me it was time to post some fiction, so … this one’s for you, dear.


This is a story (more a vignette, really) about the Teachout sisters, whose first adventure can be found in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  I think this can stand alone, but it likely won’t do much for you if you aren’t already acquainted with Corwyn and Gwen–so you should probably go read “The Drowned Man,” just to be safe, if you haven’t already (she says with a very solemn and serious face).  If you’re interested, there’s also another vignette on the blog.

The Landlady

by Laura E. Price

“You seen Mrs. Warram lately?” Gwen asked Corwyn.

Corwyn had not, though her lack of memory might have had something to do with her envelopment within a sulfurous cloud of stench from the sachet the Cobbler’s Hill Witch had sold them to help heal up her ankle. She had said ankle elevated on the back of their couch in a most unladylike fashion. “Oughtn’t we be happy the old harpy ain’t after us for rent four days early?” she asked.

“That’s why I think something ain’t right,” Gwen said grimly.

“Tell me you ain’t going down there to pound on her door because she’s not making you mad enough to spit, Gwen.”

“Dear god no,” Gwen said, startled. “It’s just odd, is all.”

***

When they first moved into the second-floor apartment, shell-shocked and bruised and (though Corwyn would never have admitted it) furiously sad, it was comforting to be told they’d best have their rent in on time or they’d be out on their asses; to hear the old harridan abusing her son through the floor, grown man though he was; or to see her evicting a tenant using a hammer and her rather creative vitriol. Mrs. Warram was the kind of landlord they’d got used to in Cobbler’s Hill; she was not what one would expect in the slightly better neighborhood of Pallasgreen.

About a month in, around the time she threatened to set the police on Corwyn for coming home with blood on her shirt and started insinuating that maybe Corwyn and Gwen weren’t sisters because they surely didn’t look alike to her, Mrs. Warram’s dubious charms began to wear off. By then, though, their clients knew where to find them, and if there was one thing the Teachouts were, it was stubborn in the face of adversity. Or irritation. And the fact that she couldn’t manage to evict them–legally, via threat, or by raising their rent twice–was most certainly a source of consternation to the old lady, which redoubled their determination.

***

In the end, they just left the rent unpaid. Corwyn’s knack for finding people seemed to have as much concern for Mrs. Warram as the rest of her did, and remained silent. They weren’t going anywhere exotic with Corwyn laid up, and they’d been paid for the misadventure that got her laid up in the first place–it was easy, therefore, to sit and wait for the old lady to come and demand her money.

The inevitable knock on the door was merely a knock, not a pounding, and nobody yelled through it for them to open up as Gwen went to answer. The open door revealed Henry Warram, the landlady’s son, with bruise-colored pouches under his eyes and a couple healing scratches along his jaw and neck. That wasn’t terribly unusual for him; the fact that he had his head up and was speaking to them, however, was a new development.

“Um. Ladies,” he said. “I’ve come for the rent.”

Gwen, standing in the doorway, tilted her head for a long moment like she was scenting the air, then grinned slow like she knew a secret. “Have you now, Mr. Warram?” she asked.

Mr. Warram shifted back and forth, hunching his shoulders once more. Corwyn wondered how long it had taken him to talk himself into enough courage to knock on their door. “I … yes,” he said.

Gwen turned away and half-bounced, half-swayed into the bedroom, where they kept their money. Corwyn, her not-quite-so-bad-anymore ankle propped on the table in front of their couch, did not invite Mr. Warram in over the threshold to wait. Instead she watched him as he very carefully did not watch her; he looked at their walls, and their sagging chairs, and the quite nice rug that they’d bought to walk on barefoot after long days of slogging round San Xavier in boots.

When she saw his posture start to relax, she asked, “How are you, Mr. Warram?”

He jumped and glanced past her shoulder as he replied, “Me? I’m fine. Never better, really.”

“And your mother?” she asked, keeping her voice bland.

“She’s … um … she’s fine. Well, a little under the weather, you know, the ailments of age and such–“

“Mr. Warram,” Gwen asked from the doorway of their bedroom, in the amused tone one might use on a kid whose face was covered in chocolate, “did you kill your mother?”

“I–I don’t–no, I–what on earth do you–” He stumbled over the threshold, took the money from Gwen’s outstretched hand, and backed into the hallway still stammering. “Who could even–I mean, she’s–“

Gwen looked at Corwyn, smug. Corwyn turned her head to their still-open door as the clamor in the hallway came to a halt. She was willing to bet he’d not even gotten to the stairs.

When he reappeared, neither of them were surprised.

“Are you going to turn me in, then?”

***

Corwyn hadn’t realized how pungent the sachet for her ankle had been until she stepped into the hallway and got a whiff of … well, it wasn’t fresh air, strictly speaking; the rot smell that had tipped Gwen off, however, wasn’t near to overwhelming anything yet.

Mrs. Warram, starting to not resemble herself, lay in her bed, fully clothed and covered in blood from both the head wound and the stabbing. The rot smell was worse in here, of course, especially as it mingled with the metal scent of blood.

Upon looking, Mr. Warram began to cry. Gwen shifted around to put Corwyn between herself and the sobbing man. Corwyn had more experience with other folks’ tears.

There was a powerful rage behind all those clumsy stab wounds; Corwyn wondered if the old lady had ever let her boy use a knife before.

“How in nine hells did we not hear this going on?”

Gwen appeared to be addressing the corpse, but Corwyn answered anyway. “To be fair, we’d been working three days straight.” It wouldn’t be the first fight they’d slept through in their lives, either.

“I didn’t mean to,” Mr. Warram said, his voice thick. He sniffed wetly, swallowed. “She just wouldn’t stop talking; all my life she’s just been talking–“

Corwyn started rolling up her sleeves; her voice brisk. “She was a horrible old woman and you finally snapped, Mr. Warram. Now the task is figuring out how to make sure you don’t get caught.”

“And deciding on how you’ll repay us for our services,” Gwen added.

“That, too.”

***

They called in some of Mrs. Simcote’s other kids–Lucy Adair in the coroner’s office, and Nils Hulslander, whose knack for being able to clean anything had seemed rather silly when they were kids, until they all started needing help with bloodstains–and got the body hauled off and the apartment cleaned up. The police were told the body had been found out in Cobbler’s Hill, this and Mr. Warram’s penchant for bursting into tears whenever his mother’s name was mentioned ensured their complete disinterest in the case.

Mr. Warram was a much better landlord than his mother was (though, admittedly, that bar was set so low it might as well have been on the ground); he kept the place well-maintained and quiet, which meant it was quite often full enough that he didn’t miss the tripled rent he no longer charged the Misses Teachout.


copyright 2014 by Laura E. Price.  Feel free to link to this story, but please don’t reproduce it without permission.

The Island of the Crabs (a Teachout vignette)

I read the other day that the 2013 Christmas Island migration is underway, and I thought I’d finally put this up on the blog to … celebrate?  (See the end of the post for a couple of notes.)

This is a story (more a vignette, really) about the Teachout sisters, whose first adventure can be found in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  I think this can stand alone, but it probably won’t do much for you if you aren’t already acquainted with Corwyn and Gwen–so you should probably go read “The Drowned Man,” just to be safe, if you haven’t already (she says with a very solemn and serious face).


The Island of the Crabs

by:  Laura E. Price

They reached the inn after dark, its owner not pleased to see them so late, but he let them into their room; they were too exhausted to care much about there only being one bed in it. Gwen dropped her bag on the floor, kneeled to yank off her boots, and stepped out of her pants before falling face-first on top of the blanket.

“I am going to marry this bed, Wyn,” she declared, voice muffled. Corwyn yanked at the stubborn knot in her boot-lace that kept her from falling into the bed herself.

“I have heard this before,” she said as the knot came free.

“No, no … this bed is different; it is the best bed of all the beds in all the world …”

Corwyn pulled her boots and socks off, removed her trousers, and climbed in next to her sister. The bed was nice, but not nice enough to marry. “You’ll regret it in the morning,” she yawned. “The scandal of it. This bed will be another in your string of brokenhearted, left-behind bunks.”

“Don’t listen to her. You are special,” Gwen drowsily reassured her pillow. Corwyn fell asleep and did not hear if the bed believed her.

***

Something was crawling across Corwyn’s ankles.  Which were uncovered because Gwen had finally made it under the blankets and wasn’t sharing them.

For one disorienting moment, the shadows and her sleep-addled brain conspired to show her a hand making its slow, halting way across her feet.

Then the shadows or the sleep-fog shifted, and she realized it was a crab. It slipped down her left ankle and started to climb over Gwen’s.

Gwen sat up, reached down, snatched the crab by a claw and hurled it into the wall. Then, blinking, asked, “What in nine hells was that?”

“A damnably big crab,” Corwyn said. She glanced around the room and saw another one climbing in through their open window. “And here’s his brother, seeking revenge.”

Gwen sat up and watched it slide, legs scrabbling, down the wall. “It’s too early to vow revenge–it ain’t even seen the body yet. I thought you knew how blood feuds worked by now, Corwyn.” Yawning, Gwen clambered out of the bed and grabbed the new invader around its body, tossing it gently out the window. She paused as she reached up to shut it. “Wyn, you got one of those rocks?”

Corwyn, who had gathered the blankets around herself, groaned. “Why do you need my rocks?”

“Just … grab one and come here.” Gwen fumbled at something outside the window as Corwyn got one of the glowing rocks they’d never found another use for out of her rucksack and carried it to the window.

She could see an undulating shadow out the window, moving across the ground under the trees. Gwen was still dealing with the something outside the window as Corwyn aimed the rock out toward the shadow.

She expected what she saw, but the sheer damn number of crabs moving sideways past the inn was enough to make her swear. They blanketed the ground, made a shirring noise as they went, inexorably … somewhere. Where could that many crabs be headed? Where would that many of anything be headed? Surely nowhere good.

Gwen grabbed the few that climbed up the outside wall and flung them back at the mass, the movement rousing Corwyn from her woolgathering. “All right,” she said, “I’ve seen, close the damned window!”

Gwen slammed it with a bang and turned to face Corwyn, her grin lit up in the gray light of the rock. “Now what kind of crazy bastard raises an army of crabs, d’you think?”

Corwyn matched her grin. “I don’t rightly know, but I guess we’re going to find out.”

***

Later that afternoon, after a trip to the local bar and some time spent as the source of much amusement to the locals, the Misses Teachout picked their way through the crowd of purplish-green crabs toward the beach. Corwyn carried a bucket of salt water; Gwen carried some kindling. They found a large, flat rock overlooking the water and the moving blanket of crabs that headed toward it. Gwen cleared the rock and sat down, taking off her boots. Corwyn, less complacent in the face of the size of the things, kept her own boots on while she built a fire and rigged their bucket over it.

“I find it difficult to believe this is natural!” Gwen gestured down at the beach around them, raising her voice over the rushing surf.

Corwyn poked at the fire. “Migration, as a concept, is a documented scientific fact, Gwen. Much as you might like a madman to pummel, it ain’t gonna happen today.”

Gwen shifted as a crab ventured over the side of their rock and tried to hitch itself up her cuffed trouser leg; she snatched it and sent it flying toward the ocean. “There’s just so many of them,” she said, deflated.

Corwyn shrugged. The madmen she’d run into mostly tended toward preferring giant automatons, and these crabs, while big, were likely not big enough to suit. The madmen with a love of detail wanted more elegance than an army of crabs was capable of providing. Nature, she decided, was apparently more outlandish than any alchemical engineer with a better-than-average opinion of himself could hope to be.

The water in their bucket was finally boiling. Gwen reached over the edge of the rock and came back with two crabs, dumping them into the water. “At least we won’t starve, this trip,” Corwyn offered.

Gwen glanced out at the undulating mass surrounding their rock as the slow unfortunates in the pot began to cook. “D’you think they can smell?” she asked thoughtfully.

“I don’t know,” Corwyn said, grinning, “but I guess we’ll find out.”

copyright 2013 by Laura E. Price.  Feel free to link to this story, but please don’t reproduce it without permission.


note:  Actual Christmas Island crabs are red, and are not edible.  And I kind of think the nice people who run the Christmas Island National Park (at whose blog you can find all sorts of information about this year’s migration) would frown upon Corwyn and Gwen’s behavior, were the Teachouts not living in an alternate, slightly steampunk 19th century world.  So don’t go to our Christmas Island and mess around with the crabs.  (What you do if you wake up in Corwyn and Gwen’s world is up to you.)  Thank you.

The Next Assistant

Happy Halloween!  Have a story for trick or treat.  (It’s a Halloween story, so please take that under advisement before you read.)


The Next Assistant
by Laura E. Price

There is very little for this assistant to do.

He sleeps poorly, lately, because the hump has gotten too big to allow him to lie comfortably on his back or his side, and it’s heavy on him when he sleeps on his stomach, pressing him down into a mattress that was old when the first assistant slept in it, years ago.  When he does sleep, he dreams–but not his dreams; he has never been farther than the woods around the manor, and so these dreams he has of walking down a street, of seeing other people, sounds and smells in a cloud around him, these dreams can’t belong to him.

Eventually he gets up, hauls himself and his slowly-enlarging hump to the laboratory, where he picks his way through the blooms and roots that line the walls, creep out the broken windows, hide the bloodstains the first assistant could not wash away.  He stands near the bulging head of the master’s creation and listens, to see if it needs to eat.

There are muffled noises from inside, weak and wet, and he may go on about his day, such as it is, and put off worrying where he will find food for the plant.  The village that once nestled down the hill has long since faded away, taking with it the violent and the transients the previous assistants used.  The plant feeds less often, now, takes longer–months–to digest, but this assistant knows to be cautious.

(He is glad that the girl is no longer screaming.  He didn’t know she was still alive.  He didn’t know the plant would eat live food.  He worries that it might have developed a taste for it, and when will he find another person hiding in the woods?  If he does find someone, how will he catch them, with the hump getting bigger every day?)

His chores now mostly consist of plucking dead leaves from the plant and making sure it has water.  The hump makes it difficult to use the pump, to lug the buckets, but he manages three before he has to sit down and catch his breath.

The sunlight is green and yellow through the leaves that block the windows.  He remembers seeing them, waving and gently translucent, as he opened his eyes for the first time: something lovely before the memories from his predecessors (cleaning the remains of the master’s wife from her rooms; cold water from the pump spilling over his hands; the master’s screams as he was eaten; the periodic cracking as the glass came out of the windows; butchery and blood-scent in the kitchen; boredom and quiet and loss; struggle and messy death; the vegetable smell of the laboratory) flooded his mind and sat him up, sap-sticky and gasping, to turn and see the split-open husk of the previous assistant.  He knew what to do next; he remembered disposing of all the others.

When he goes back to his mattress at the end of the day, lays down on his stomach, he remembers the dreams.  He imagines walking down a street, himself, or through the woods with no plan beyond the walking.  The hump undulates gently on his back.

He cannot move very well, anymore, and he tires so easily.

He concentrates on the dream, on how it felt–the memory of the first assistant’s feet on cobblestones is dim, the smells and sounds faint, but he tries–willing the idea of somewhere else into his blood and his bones along with the muffled, wet noises and the way she smelled when he hit her; he wills it to take root beside the knowledge of where the well is and how to use the pump.  Perhaps, like a weed, it will crowd the rest out and spread.

 Feel free to link to this story, but please don’t reproduce it without permission.