The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 26

Here we have come to the end of our story, Mike has found what he was looking for in the talented and charming Maybelle and now must bring her back to his home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

fiction friday bannerAfter leaving Auntie Marie’s burrow, Mike and Maybelle made their way down the grassy tunnel that bordered the hedgerow. Maybelle walked with a carefree lightness that Mike hadn’t seen during his stay at Willow keep; it made him smile. Any doubts he had about taking her from her home vanished the further they traveled away from that horrid place.

Her happiness took the edge off of Mike’s unease, but he was still wary. Dangers lurked along the way, Tilly had warned him of the snake that hunted along the hedge tunnel, and then there were those horrid cats that prowled the walkways. Even as he thought about it he felt the hair on his neck stand on end. They weren’t alone in the hedge, and he knew it.

Maybelle stopped and breathed in the fresh fall air. “You’ve been rather quiet, is everything alright?”

Mike leaned on his cane and glanced behind them once again, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. “It’s nothing, really. Just eager to get home I suppose.”

“You would tell me if there were something wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“If it were worth mentioning, yes.” He kept his eyes down and drew a lazy circle with his foot over the packed soil, trying his best to look more at ease.

Maybelle set her hands on her hips. “Listen, I know we haven’t known each other very long and I have a lot to learn about you, just as you have much to learn about me. We are both too old to be playing games with each other like this. I need you to be honest with me. I can’t stand it when people try to hide things, I always find out.  Now out with it.” She spoke with sternness, but managed to sound kind as she did.

Mike stammered, his mouth working soundlessly before he could find what he wanted to say. “When I came this way before I was warned of –”

“Wait.” She stopped him with a hand, her head tilted toward the brush to their left. “Do you hear that?”

Mike froze and strained his ears for sounds of danger, specifically of the rustle of scale against dry leaf. He couldn’t make out anything unusual, but considering the possibility made his heart speed up and his mouth dry. “Hear what?”

She stepped toward the brush, her motions silent and concise. “Someone is crying.”

Mike peered into the brush. It was hard to make out anything in the dappled shadows until he caught a hint of red deep inside the hedge. Then he understood. “Tilly? Is that you?”

“Go away,” squeaked the tiny mouse from her hiding place.

“I promised to come back this way, I never forget a promise. I want you to meet Maybelle.” He climbed up closer.

A tiny nose peeked around the branch, followed by two curious eyes. “I don’t want to talk to you Mike Finnigan. You best go on home.” She sniffed again and dabbed at her face with her handkerchief.

“What’s happened, what’s wrong?”

“It’s not important.”

“Of course it’s important, it’s enough to make you sad so it must be.”

Maybelle placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s because of me. I think dear Tilly was hoping that you would return empty handed,” she whispered.

Mike’s eyes widened, the realization dawning on him. He didn’t want to admit Tilly’s fondness for him right away, he had heard saying things like that upset some women. “Why would you assume that?”

“I think I have some understanding of how another woman’s heart works.” She winked and then climbed up into the branches. Within minutes she had coaxed the field mouse down into the opening.

Tilly dabbed at her eyes again and gave Maybelle a nod before turning toward Mike. “She’s right, I was upset that you found someone. I know that’s silly but it’s true.”

Mike shuffled his feet, unsure if it would be appropriate to pull her into a hug.  She looked as if she needed one, but in light of the situation he thought better of it and rested his hands over the top of his cane instead. “No, love is never silly. The heart sometimes makes choices that the mind cannot unmake.  It must learn the hard way. I’m sorry that I caused you pain. You will always be a dear friend.”

Without warning, Tilly turned and wrapped her arms around him and buried her face into his chest. Mike pulled his arms free, letting his cane fall to the ground, and returned the embrace. When she had her fill she stepped back and straightened her scarf. “I’m glad to have known you Mike, be sure to come visit if you ever come this way again.”

“I promise, and you know I will keep it,” Mike said as he leaned over and retrieved his cane.

“You best be going, I’m sure you are anxious to get home.”

After Mike and Maybelle bid Tilly their farewells they continued on their journey through the grass-lined tunnel. They walked in an uncomfortable silence for quite some time. Mike felt like he needed to apologize, but wasn’t sure what for and didn’t want to appear foolish. In the end it was Maybelle who spoke first.

“Will we be meeting any more of your friends on the way?” she asked with a bemused smirk.

“No, no, I assure you. That’s it.”

Maybelle laughed out loud, a musical wonderful sound, and Mike knew all was right between them again. They left the park and climbed the hill to the yellow house with blush colored roses out front.

“This is home” Mike announced with a smile and his arms open wide. “Do you like it?”

Maybelle’s hands went to her mouth. “Oh, Mike – it’s beautiful!” She walked to a low hanging rose blossom and inhaled deeply before turning to him once more. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”

Mike racked his brain. What could he have forgotten? He had gotten them safely back to his home. What could he have missed? Maybelle twiddled her fingers, and made an act of being coy. He had to figure it out. Then, as if struck by lightning, he knew.

He knelt down on one knee before her. “Maybelle, will you marry me?”

She giggled and held out her hand, which he covered with kisses. “Of course.”

***

That’s the end of Mike Finnegan and his adventure.  Thanks for reading! I realize that this story is super flawed and I apologize that the beginning and the ending don’t match at all.  I think Mike lost his accent about 5 episodes in, whoops.  As my first serial piece I learned a ton about what it takes to write serial fiction and just how many wrong turns I made. This is all in the name of learning something new, so even it it didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked it was worth the time to at least try.

Feel free to give me a thorough verbal thrashing in the comments!

 

 

 

 

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The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 25

We last left Mike sailing through the air once again in the clutches of Ben the bluejay. He’s escaped Queen Caliee and the prison fortress of Willow Keep and is finally on the way home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Cool autumn air rushed through Mike’s hair and down the neck of his jacket, making him shiver. He held tight to Ben’s foot and tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in his stomach as the bird flew higher and higher.  It wouldn’t do to throw up in front of Maybelle, not after he had tried so hard to be brave.

Off to the left he spotted Ben’s gnarled crabapple tree and he remembered the promise he made at the beginning of his journey.

He craned his neck up and shouted out to the bird. “Can you set us down over by Auntie Marie’s burrow?”

The bird whistled in reply and began a steep descent toward the end of the hedgerow.

Maybelle tugged at Mike’s sleeve to get his attention. “I thought we were going to your home. Who’s Auntie Marie?” She yelled over the wind.

“A friend I met on my way here. You’ll like her.” Mike answered.

“Sweetie lady! Oh yes, oh yes!” Ben spun in the air, making Mike scream against his will.

Maybelle shrieked in delight, arms extended out as if she too were a bird. At least she was enjoying herself. Mike wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if she found the ride as terrifying as he did.

Ben dove down, pulled up sharply, and released his two passengers a few inches above the ground, making Mike tumble end over end in the grass. Maybelle landed lightly on her feet and for a moment Mike could do nothing but stare in open admiration as he lay flat on his back struggling for breath.

Before Mike could get up, Ben hopped over to him and started dipping the tip of his beak into the pockets of Mike’s jacket.

“Enough you crazy bird, I don’t have anything for you.” Mike shooed him away and climbed to his feet.  “That’s why we are going to Auntie Marie’s, remember?”

Ben bobbed his head. “Right, right.” He whistled again and rushed off into the hedge.

Maybelle suppressed a giggle behind a hand. “I’m guessing traveling by bird isn’t something you like doing. Am I right?”

“Let’s just say if there had been any other option to get us out of there, any at all, I would have taken it. I think I could live happily for a thousand years and not do that again.” Mike brushed grass off of his sleeve and sniffed. “If I remember correctly, Auntie Marie’s burrow is through this hedge. I hope Ben hasn’t eaten all the treats, that mouse is a marvel when it comes to cooking and baking.”

They passed through the hedge and followed the smell of candied hazelnut all the way to the burrow. When they arrived Auntie was standing at the tunnel mouth talking the ears off of Ben who was enjoying his share of nuts already.

Mike leaned in to Maybelle. “I suppose I should warn you, Auntie loves to talk,” he whispered.

“Don’t all aunties?”

Before Mike could answer, Auntie had spotted him. Her arms shot up and she released a delighted squeal.  “Mr. Mike! I’ve been so very worried ever since you left. Are you well dear, have they hurt you? Oh, of course you’re fine, just look at you. Why if it wasn’t for Ben here I might have run out of things to do.  He’s been so very helpful to me, bringing me things I need in the kitchen and what not. You’ll have to tell me all about this lovely girl here over some tea. Well let’s not stand around here flapping our gums, I have a fresh pear tart that about ready to come out of the oven and I won’t let you go until you had a slice.”

Mike opened his mouth to thank Auntie for her generosity but before he could speak she had turned and marched into the burrow talking to herself about how wonderful it was for Mike to be back.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding.” Maybelle said once Auntie was well out of hearing range.

“I never kid,” he chuckled. “Oh, and make sure you wash up well before going to her table. She’s half a mind to thump dirty hands with that ladle of hers.”

Inside the burrow Mike and Maybelle enjoyed Auntie’s cooking and did their best to keep up with her unending babble. At first Maybelle tried to slip in a comment or question here and there when Auntie took a sip of her tea or a bite of tart, but she soon gave up and sat back to enjoy the show.

Full of tart and tea and endless chatter, Mike leaned forward and rested his folded arms of the table and waited for Auntie to take a breath. The second she did he jumped in, there was a question he had to ask.

“Is Tilly or Jacob around?”

Auntie stammered. Mike imagined her train of thought crashing and she was forced to reorganize and reroute the cars before answering.

“They’ve gone back to their hole on the other end of the hedge, I reckon they’ll find you as you make your way back. They are always on the lookout.” She laughed to herself and launched right back into another endless stream of speech about her niece and nephew and how kind they were to visit her even though she suspected it was only for the food.

Maybelle finished her tea and gave a dramatic sigh before standing and interrupting. “Dear Auntie, it’s been a delight to meet you, I can see why Mike made a point to stop by on our way. We must be on our way if we are ever going to finish our journey today.”

Auntie stopped mid-sentence, unsure if she should be offended or not. Her whiskers twitched and she swallowed hard. “Well of course dear, you two love birds must be on your way.  Here, I’ll pack a few of these hazelnuts for you.”

“You’re the best Auntie. We’ll be sure to stop by next time we are around.” Mike hugged the chubby mouse who had removed a handkerchief from her pocket and was dabbing her eyes.

“Promise?”

“Of course.”

***

To be continued…

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 24

We last left Mike and Maybelle trapped in the engineering workshop with the enraged Queen Caliee at the doors. The queen is determined to not let Maybelle leave the keep and will stop at nothing to reach her goals.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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Maybelle grabbed Mike by the hand and pulled him toward the back of the workshop which was lined from the floor to the ceiling with shelves filled with thousands of odds and ends.

“It will take her a while to breach the door, even with the key you must know how to align the three levers before the gears will spin.  I showed her how ages ago, with luck she won’t remember right away.” She lifted a thimble and frowned.

“Why would show her that?”

“She is the queen Mike. You don’t say no when your queen asks you for anything.”

“Well, I suppose that’s fair.”

Maybelle ducked under one of the lower shelves and shifted several of the items there. “There’s a hidden lever here somewhere, but it’s tricky to find.” She ducked into the next shelf and pointed Mike toward another. “Try in there, you’ll know it when you see it.”

Mike leaned into the shelf and instantly sneezed at the thick layer of dust sending a cloud into the air around his head.  The pounding at the door had quieted and was replaced with the sounds of metal on wood.  Mike could only assume that the queen had already found the key and had moved to figuring out the combination lock.

“Hurry Mike, if I know her at all its to know that she’s quick.  If she sees the tunnel, our escape will be useless.”

Mike nodded and searched faster.  He shifted a pile of bottle caps and looked behind a snail shell but found nothing. At the door the gears engaged and begin to turn. There were only seconds left before the queen and her guards burst through.

“Got it!” Maybelle gave a quiet cheer as she darted inside.

Mike dove into the inky blackness of the tunnel behind her and tugged the secret door shut just as the workshop door flew open. Shouts erupted along with the crash of chairs being toppled. Someone screamed.

Maybelle pushed at Mike in the narrow passage. He was reluctant to leave anyone to be hurt. “What about them? Will they be alright?

“My friends are strong, they can take care of themselves.  Caliee might be tough at times but she’s no monster. They’ll be alright.”

Mike allowed Maybelle to guide him along the dark narrow tunnel. He couldn’t help but worry what was happening beyond the secret tunnel entrance. Only being able to hear the shouts and crashes made it worse. His imagination kept running to the worst possible outcome. In a way he was glad for the darkness, it made him seem braver for Maybelle’s sake than he was.

The tunnel seemed to stretch on forever.  Darkness robbed Mike of any sense of time and Maybelle stayed quiet as they hurried along. The sounds of struggle grew quieter as they continued to move further away from the workshop and quite possible from the great tree itself.

At last ahead there was a shaft of bright light piercing the darkness. Maybelle turned back to Mike, lines of worry etched her face. “We’ve made it to the end.  Let’s pray that there aren’t any other obstacles.  The sooner we get away from here the better.”

In the dim light of the tunnel Mike stopped Maybelle. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not too late to turn back.”

She placed her hands in his. “Listen. I made my decision back when we spent the night talking up on the balcony.  I’ve felt something with you that I thought was impossible for my heart to feel again.  I can’t live in that place anymore and now I have defied the queen.  She won’t forgive me for that, even if it is for a good cause.  She won’t understand. I don’t think she can.”

She was so lovely, even with streaks of dirt across her face. Hearing her determination to be with him sparked within him a desperate need to kiss her. She felt it as well, her eyes closed halfway and she leaned forward.

Before their lips could touch there was a shout from the outside of the tunnel.

“How did she find us? I thought no one knew of this place.”

“It’s not her.” Maybelle’s face lightened into a smile and she scrambled up the steep dirt passage and out into the light. Mike followed close behind, squinting in the harsh sunlight.

Outside in a small clearing in the brush Maybelle was hugging one of the women he recognized from the workshop. They separated when Mike cleared his throat.

“Mike, this is Rachelle, she’s my second in command. She’s aided us in our escape.”

The other woman nodded before turning back to Maybelle.

“The other engineers are leading her to one dead-end after another. They sent me to tell you to stay here.  Ben the bluejay will come soon and take you away from here. She won’t be able to follow you, even if she finds the passage or gets her hands on Ben you’ll be safe. The poor bird can’t remember one day to the next.” She glanced around nervously. “I must go before I am missed.”

The two women hugged again as the sound of flapping filled the clearing. Rachelle ran back into the cover of the brush as the bluebird landed.

The bird gave a happy chirp when he spotted Mike. “Why hello talking candy!  Do you have a treat for me today?”

“I sure do Ben, but you’ll need to take me somewhere to get it.”

Without another word Ben grasped them both and took off into the air.  Mike’s stomach lurched and twisted to be up high again but to his surprise he wasn’t half as scared as he’d been before.  In Ben’s other claw Maybelle spread her arms wide like she was a bird herself.  She smiled and laughed as Ben climbed higher into the sky.

To be continued…

***

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 23

In the previous episode, Queen Caliee informed Mike that not only can’t he court Mistress Maybelle, that if he refuses to comply with her wishes that she will have him locked up and used as breeding stock for the rest of his days.  Mike will not compromise with the Queen and is locked back into his room.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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Once the initial anger from being locked into the small bedroom subsided, Mike began to pace.  He had to figure out a way to get a message to Maybelle and warn her of what was happening. He picked up his cane from the corner; perhaps he could find a way to use it. He had already tried it on the door, but being Tinker work it had been warded against Tinker magic. Typical.

When he had been locked in before, he had almost figured out the elaborate locking mechanism. He knelt at the door and studied the various gears and levers once again.  He reached for his jacket toolkit and realized that he was still in his night shirt.  That wouldn’t do at all.  If he managed to open the door he couldn’t just waltz down the hall dressed like that.  He had standards after all.

After quickly dressing and brushing he returned to the door. There would be standing guard, he’d have to deal with that once the door was open.  He could only hope that Queen Caliee had kept her plans for him a secret from the keep.  It didn’t make sense for her to share her plans with more than one or two trusted attendants and advisors, ones that sided with her and agreed that Mistress Maybelle should be forced to stay. Otherwise she might have a revolt on her hands.

The lock clicked and the bolt slid free of the frame.  Mike opened the door a few inches and spied the guard standing at attention.  Cane in hand, he opened the door the rest of the way.

“Hello there,” he greeted her in his most cordial voice.

She spun toward him, utterly confused. “How did you-“

Before she could finish he poked her with the end of his cane and released a bolt of magic sending her boneless to the floor. He checked the corridor for any witnesses, there were none. He hoisted her up and hauled her into the room and into the bed and then positioned her so that should anyone look in the door they would assume it was him.

Back in the corridor he wound his way towards Mistress Maybelle’s workshop. Along the way he passed several of the women he had met during the interview process.  Some gave him gentle shy smiles as if by some miracle he would change his mind and want to get to know them better.  Others he had rejected glared at him with open hostility.

Another guard stood rigid at the door of the workshop.  Her eyes widened when she saw Mike and she grabbed her spear. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. Obviously she was in on the Queen’s plan.

Mike didn’t stop or slow as he approached, his cane stretched out in front of him like an anemic battering ram.

“Stop, I mean it!” She held her spear at the ready and seemed terrified to use it.

Mike released a burst of magic at her and her eyes rolled back as she crumpled to the floor. He caught her as she fell.  “I’m sorry, none of this was supposed to happen.”

He was relieved to find the workshop door unlocked.  He dragged the unconscious guard inside and closed the door. When he turned he was greeted by the shocked expressions of nearly a dozen tinkers working in the shop.

Maybelle recovered first and stood from her stool, dropping her pliers onto the workbench. “What is the meaning of this?”

He placed the guard down against the wall and away from the door being careful not to knock her head against the hard floor. He then turned the giant lever that locked the door.

One of the workshop tinkers came forward with a hand to her mouth. “Is she hurt?”

“No, just sleeping. She’ll be fine in a few hours.”

Maybelle grabbed Mike by the shoulder and spun him so they were facing each other, her eyes wide with terror. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine, I swear it. It’s the Queen. She doesn’t want you to leave.  She’s threatened to put me in a cell for the rest of my days should I try to take you from here.”

“What?” She released her hold on him dropping her arm to her side. “That’s impossible.”

Mike sank onto one of the nearby stools and ran a hand through his hair. “She says that the safety of this keep depends on you, that you are the next in line to the throne.”

Maybelle gestured to the others to give them some space. “I suppose she didn’t bother to mention that there are six of us in line, six cousins that can all take the throne if needs be.”

“No, she wanted me to pretend that I was not longer interested in you and to take another girl and leave. I couldn’t do it. It’s wrong.”

Maybelle settled into the stool next to Mike and laced her hand into his. “I’ve been worried something like this might happen.  When the curse hit and Caliee was forced to take the throne it was a dark time for everyone, but for her especially.  The king died leaving her alone to protect the keep, she wasn’t ready.  The stress of it changed her, made her harder, more cunning. The last few years have shown us that if she is determined for something to happen she wouldn’t stop until it was done.”

Mike squeezed her hand. “Escape with me. The keep is in good hands. You have trained your fellow engineers well.  I’m sure that they can do whatever is necessary.”

“You don’t understand. She’ll come after us. She’s decided that I must stay here, she won’t stop until she has guaranteed that I will.”

“Don’t you want to leave?”

“Of course I want to leave.  I’ve wanted to leave ever since the curse took all that I loved from me. I want to start over somewhere new.”

“Come with me. Right now.  They won’t have had time to prepare yet, we might make it. You know this place better than any tinker alive.  Surely there is a secret exit, a way that we can slip out unnoticed?”

“This is my home and my family.  I can’t abandon them.”

“But you aren’t living. Every day you are tortured by your past. You deserve a life where you can be happy.”

Maybelle released a pent up breath. “I know.”

“Come with me.”

“I’m scared.”

Mike cupped her cheek, turning her face toward him once more. “I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“I promise.”

She squeezed his hand back and smiled.  “There is a tunnel under the east wing leading to an abandoned irrigation system.  We could be away from here within the hour.”

Just then loud voices erupted in the hallway along with sounds of someone trying to force the door.

Maybelle stood from her stool. “She knows you’re here.”

“How is that possible?”

“Never underestimate Caliee.” She pulled his hand. “Follow me, we might still make it.”

***

To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 22

In the last episode Maybelle finally opened up to Mike and told him of her tragic past. They share a much-needed embrace and Mike vows that he will do everything in his power to never let anyone hurt her again.

To read the previous installment, click here.

To start the story from the beginning, click here.

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Mike woke to a knocking at his door. He rolled over, hoping whoever it was would go away. He and Maybelle had talked long into the night and he had only gone to sleep a few hours before. The light from the bottle glass window seemed too bright to his sticky eyes and he pulled the blanket over his head.

The knocking continued. With a groan Mike peeled off the blanket and answered the door. Whoever had the nerve to wake him at this hour was going to get a piece of his mind.

He jerked open the door. “What do you want?” he barked before looking at who was there. He immediately regretted it

Queen Caliee and one of her attendants stood in the doorway.  The Queen wore her circlet and robe leading Mike to believe that she was here on official business.  Her attendant folded her arms across her chest and wore an unamused smirk.

“I need to speak with you,” the Queen said.

“Sure, give me a moment to put myself together and I’ll be right with you.” He sounded too eager, trying hard to make up for his lack of manners a moment earlier.

“No, now.” She pushed past him and sat in the branch work chair in the corner of the room under the window. The attendant took her post outside the door.

Mike took a seat on the edge of the unmade bed, painfully aware that he was still in his rumpled nightshirt as he faced the Queen.

“I have been made aware of your interest in Mistress Maybelle and I’m here to tell you that you cannot take her from Willow Keep.”

The suddenness of the announcement took Mike by surprise and left him gaping. “Excuse me? What do you mean I cannot take her?”

“The women available to you were the ones that we presented to you.  Did you presume you could just waltz in here and take whoever you wanted?”

Mike attempted to answer, to defend himself, but she cut him off before he could utter a syllable.

“I’ve tried to be patient with you and your lack of interest in the dozens of women we’ve made available for you. I hoped that somehow one of them would spark enough interest that you would be satisfied and leave.”

Mike hadn’t gotten over her initial pronouncement. “Why not her? Why can’t she leave with me should she choose to?” An intense heat built up within him as he spoke and he couldn’t hide the anger that he felt. “She’s lonely and hurting. Staying here only makes it worse.  Everyday she is reminded of what she has lost, of what you all have lost. Why can’t she be allowed to have some peace?”

“It’s not that. She is one of my advisors and is needed here. More than that, she is my cousin and the next in line to the throne. I simply can’t have her running off with the first he tinker that knocks on our door.”

Mike sighed and ran a hand through his uncombed hair. “Have you spoken to her about any of this?”

“No, and I won’t either.  If she thinks that I’m involved she will never speak to me again.”

“You expect me to be the one to tell her that I don’t want her?  I can’t do that.”

“Don’t you understand? She must stay here.  The safety of this keep depends on it.”

“I refuse to argue with you.” He stood and paced the narrow room. “And I refuse to lie to her either. If I talk to her I will tell her that you refuse to let her leave. She should be allowed to decide her own fate. It’s only fair.”

“Fair has nothing to do with it.  If you choose not to comply with my wishes I have no choice but to find a way to get rid of you.  I must protect my people and my kingdom.” She stood, straightened her skirt, and headed for the door.

“This is madness!” he shouted. “Without a next generation there will be no more tinkers. And as the only man left I am your only hope for survival.”

“Oh, I would never kill you.  But it is not beyond me to imprison you and use you as breeding stock for the rest of your days.” She shut the door hard behind her and Mike heard the lock click into place.

Once again they had trapped him in the small room. He kicked at the chair sending it tumbling over the floor. He wanted to scream and to curse. Just a few hours before he had found a happiness that he had never imagined as he and Maybelle kissed goodnight.  In the quiet hours of that early morning she had agreed to leave with him and leave the pain of her past behind.

There was only one thing to do.  He had to come up with a plan to escape with Maybelle, and soon.

***

To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 21

We last left Mike feeling depressed and rejected on the swaying tree top platform after a series of personal interviews with the women from Willow keep. He has almost given up on his quest when Maybelle appears at the top of the stairs.

To read the revious installment, click here!

To start from the beginning, click here!

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Mike wiped the sweat from his palms.  Here she was, that wonderful mind, those enticing hands; standing before him and wanting to get to know more about him.  From their earlier meeting he had not been sure if she had any wish to see him again or not. The uncertainty had kept his stomach in knots ever since.

She crossed the platform and settled into a low chair, exposing a slender ankle. “Will you come join me?”

Mike worked the moisture back into his mouth and placed his chair next to hers. “Beautiful evening, isn’t it?”

Maybelle took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I haven’t been up here in years, I’d forgotten how nice it is. You should see it in spring when the flowers are in bloom and the breeze is warm and soft.”

“I imagine it’s quite a sight.”

“It is,” she said as she turned to face him. “What’s your home like?”

“Nothing like this, that’s for sure. Right now the fall roses lining the front walk are in bloom. It’s an old house, that’s for sure, sturdy and built with care. I’ve made a cozy place for myself there up in the attic. There’s everything a talented tinker like you could ever want to create any number of wonderful things.  The family that lives there has some of the old blood in it as well, the woman and youngest child can see us and I’ve made friends with her.”

“Just how good of friends do you mean?” Maybelle asked, her tone darkening.

“It’s purely professional, I assure you.  I help her keep the house in working order and she allows me to take things from the pantry as payment. In fact she’s the reason that I decided to find a woman to court.”

“How’s that?”

“It wasn’t until meeting her that I realized just how lonely I was for someone special in my life. I imagine in a place with so many other tinkers around that it’s hard to be lonely.”

She leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees. “It would seem that way, but it’s not true. The curse hurt everyone here more than you could imagine.  Everyone here lost people special to them.  The younger ones lost fathers and brothers. The older of us lost husbands and sons. Ever since then we’ve tried our best to keep moving forward. It hasn’t been easy.”

Mike swallowed down the lump that had formed in his throat. Maybelle had lowered her head. Tears threatened to spill down her face.

“Who did you lose?” he asked, his voice now quiet.

“My husband, Stephen, was one of the first. I watched on as he changed from kind and gentle to a terror.  No one knew what was happening. One night he attacked me, I barely escaped.  I was lucky, there were several who didn’t. They tried confining him in a cell but by then he was more animal than man. He attacked anyone who came close.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with the edge of her sleeve. “I’m sorry, after all these years it’s still upsetting.”

“Don’t apologize, you’ve done nothing wrong. You don’t need to go on if you don’t want to. This must be very hard.” He placed a hand on her knee and she rested hers over it.

“No, I want you to know. In the end they were forced to kill Stephen along with the other men.  It wasn’t long until the younger men and even the boys started showing signs of the curse as well, including my son. He was only seven.” She squeezed his hand and he could feel how it trembled.

“I can’t begin to imagine what that was like. You loved them very much. I’ll understand if you would like me to leave you in peace.”

“No, don’t leave me. As much as I miss them, I miss the feeling of being held by a pair of strong arms more.  I miss having someone to come home to at the end of the day. It’s been so long that I’m afraid I no longer know what it even feels like to be loved.”

Mike brushed a strand of her hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I can’t replace them, we both know that. But I can be that pair of strong arms. Would you allow me to hold you?”

Maybelle wiped her eyes and nodded.  “Yes, I would like that very much.”

She entered his embrace, timid at first, but as he wrapped his arms around her she softened, tucking her head into the curve of his neck. The emptiness that had haunted him for the last few years disappeared as he took in the smell of her hair, the feel of her broken life against his chest. Her tears of pain and loneliness soaked into his shirt.

From that moment he yearned to make her whole again and protect her from ever being hurt again.

To be continued…

***

To read the next episode, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 20

In the last episode, Mike managed to spend a few minutes with Maybelle the head of the engineering department at Willow keep, and was bold enough to tell her how he felt about her.  The meeting ended with Mike hoping for more but unsure about if Maybelle was interested or was only being kind. He is pulled away to have personal visits with the other women he had chosen from the earlier interviews.

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To start from the beginning, click here!

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High up in the willow tree the she tinkers had built a sturdy platform amid the swaying branches.  From that height Mike could see clear across the park and in the distance make out the top edge of the crabapple tree. He shifted his chair closer to the center of the platform, the thought of being that high again made him feel decidedly ill.  He hadn’t quite recovered from his experience with Ben the crazy blue jay.  The current she tinker, Melissa, leaned against the rail that circled the platform.  Her earthy brown hair twisted in the breeze behind her and the subdued green dress hugged her legs.

He had chosen her because she hadn’t tried to impress him with her looks, or wow him with her skills.  She had simply come to the meeting and seemed more interested in learning about him beyond the trivial questions that the other she tinkers had asked.  Now, alone, that shyness that he imagined before had disappeared.

In the beginning of their meeting she had sat close to him.  Her sea blue eyes twinkled with curiosity as they spoke.  She had drifted further and further away as the meeting continued.

“You mean to say there aren’t any other tinkers where you live?  Don’t you get bored?” She traced a finger along the top of the rail and watched the swaying leaves.

Mike couldn’t blame her for losing interest. His own thoughts kept returning to Maybelle and what he would need to do to capture her interest. He wanted to impress her, wanted to make himself worthy of her attentions.

Melissa turned back to face him when he didn’t answer her question right away. He shifted in the chair and tugged at the cuff of his shirt sleeve. “It’s never boring, there are always plenty of things to do in that old house. There’s a terrific garden that could use the care of a she tinker.” He tugged at the other cuff. “I didn’t leave because I was bored, I left because I wanted to find someone to share my life with.”

“I don’t think you realize how much you are asking. Here at the keep I have friends that I can talk to.  I have a job that I like doing.  I’m fed, protected, and cared for.  I don’t know if I’m ready to leave all that and go out into the world alone.”

Mike couldn’t help but wonder if Maybelle would feel the same.  It was true that he couldn’t offer her what she had here at the keep, but he could offer her the one thing that she didn’t have, love and a family.

He stood and reached a hand toward Melissa. “You’re right, I can’t offer you those things, and they are important to you.” He took her hand and held it between his. “I think we both know that you’d be happier if you stayed here.  Thank you for your time.”

Melissa smiled and Mike tried not to read too much into the relief that he saw in her face. He couldn’t help but wonder if there were other things about him that turned her away as well.  He could feed, care, and protect her at the yellow house, and she would have plenty of work to keep her busy.  He couldn’t change the way he looked or how he spoke.

The meetings continued for several more hours and after each one Mike found himself growing more and more depressed.  He couldn’t find that connection he sought with any of the women.  Most were young and too naïve to understand what he was asking of them. They would eagerly agree with everything he said with wide eyes and simpering smiles. It would be wrong to choose any of them unless he knew with certainty that they had thought through what leaving the keep meant.

As he waited for yet another woman to climb the stairs he admired the handiwork of the woven willow railing.  Larger boughs intertwined with smaller switches giving it the look of an elaborate wicker basket. It made him think of Maybelle once again and her exquisite hands, her delicate features.  He imagined her finding happiness within the walls of the yellow house and bringing her beauty and talent to his life.  For a moment a burst of joy filled him, like sun through clouds.

That joy fled at the sound of footsteps.  He dreaded spending another moment with yet another woman.  They would find something wrong with him or he them and he couldn’t take one more rejection.  He was about to tell them that he had had enough for one day when Maybelle appeared at the top of the stairs.

He stood and straightened his shirt again. The sight of her twisted his tongue into a knot. “I thought you were busy,” he stammered.

“I needed a break.” She crossed the platform and rested her arms on the railing. “Have you found true love yet?”

“Hardly. These women are all lovely and talented, but they all lack one thing.” He joined her at the railing, even though the height made his heart leap into his throat. “None of them are you.”

She studied her hands. “You realize I know nothing about you, nor you I.”

“Perhaps it’s time to remedy that.”

“Perhaps…”

***

To be continued…

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