I was at my home back in Ohio where the backyard was lush with new springtime grass and wildflowers. Water still dripped from the tender shoots and tree leaves following a brisk morning downpour. A mild sun was breaking through the blue nimbostratus as it tumbled eastward. It shined spotlights of yellow morning rays on fortunate patches of farmland; I prayed it would come shine on our little fenced-in meadow and bathe me in its glory. As I looked on at my own little world, it seemed as if the dandelions and asters and toadstools were little yard people waving to each other, greeting the new day. I was suddenly very joyful. I pretended they sprouted little arms and wore floppy red hats. Such happy little creatures. I was a child again. Pinpoints of dawning sunlight glinted in my eyes from the dewdrops, growing brighter and brighter. It grew brighter still, and quickly it became full daylight, too intense to look at directly. I squinted and held up my hand. The yard people all turned at looked at me. I was overcome and pressed down by the piercing sun rays until I could only recoil and cover my face from the light which now threw me to the ground, and a booming voice was firmly, repeatedly calling my name.
Dimity was kneeling over me, patting my cheeks, urging me to wake up. When I saw her, I threw my arms around her and almost pulled her to the ground with me.
“My God! What just happened?”
Then I remembered the angry Frenchmen, the gunshots, Dimity’s cold murderous stare. I was taken with horror and thrust her away, scabbling away on the floor.
“What did you do!” I gasped. I’m sure I looked like I’d seen a ghost. She looked at me with a question on her face. “You killed them!”
“They’ll send you to jail! I can’t believe it! Oh my God, what are we going to do?”
“Oh no. No—no, no, no! What did you…wait. WHO ARE YOU!”
“Would you calm down? Lower your voice? Please?”
“I need to get out of here. Just let me go. Don’t hurt me—I won’t tell anyone. Just let me go.”
“Oh buh—LIMEY, you bloody twat! Would you calm down and listen?”
“Nobody’s dead you bloody dingo!”
“That can’t be. I saw it.”
“You saw it, eh? Tell me what you saw.”
“I saw you! You shot those men!”
“The, uh, the, the thugs! The French Mafia guys. The Beaux Voyous. Right there in the doorway.”
“Well as you can see, there’s no dead people here. There’s no blood. The car is still parked out front.”
“I don’t understand.”
“What were we doing before I, uh, killed these men?”
“We were sitting by the fireplace. You were, uh, well you were being quite forward, physically, as I recall. I mean, that’s—. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind it…”
“Right. I laid a sloppy fat one on you. Then what?”
My memory was returning. “…you…took out a bottle of something.”
“Yeah, 30-year tawny port.”
“Mm-hm. Then what.”
“We drank it.”
“I’ll admit it, I was starting to feel…loose.”
“Loose. I’d say so. After two glasses and no experience with strong drink, all ninety-eight pounds of you were snookered.”
“I suppose so.”
“And after everything that’s happened in the last two days…? Dontcha think maybe…?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Hah! Okay, if you like. Big word. Or…you could say, you dreamed it. Call it after-effects of Ringo’s potion. Certain drugs have that effect.”
I thought for a while. Then I sighed, “Oh, thank God.” I went back to her, relieved, smiling. I took her hands, stroked her face. “Thank God, Mitts. I’m sorry. I lost my head there for a minute.”
“It’s all fine. Now, look. We started to brighten this place up a bit. Let’s keep going.”
We spent the rest of the day fixing up the house. Dimity dusted and I looked for candles and lantern oil to conjure more light. I looked through the door against the back wall and discovered the kitchen and more doors leading even further in. There were shelves with jars of fruits and vegetables. Burlap sacks of beans and rice. Baskets of onions and potatoes hung from hulking oaken ceiling joists, all sprouting roots but still good enough to eat. Links of sausages, a side of cured beef, much of it already carved away, mountains of jerky on sideboards and countertops. Bottles of wine.
While keeping watch for looming forest creatures, I also cleaned up the sconce lamps on the pillar-lined pathway down to the river’s edge, filled them with oil, and lit them. I cleaned up the tea settings on the patio and swept off the flagstones.
Following further doors deeper into the house, we found more classical architecture and lavish furnishings, tapestries, sculptures, a study with an esoteric library and a small bachelor’s apartment with a sink and toilet. It wasn’t Versailles but it was still decked everywhere with imported decorative elements completely out of place for a Pennsylvanian forest dwelling.
We agreed that the car needed to be concealed somehow, and we pushed it in neutral around the side of the house, over bracken and vines, to a work area in the far back end. I found a heavily stained canvas tarp to lay over it.
That evening it grew dark as it only can under a high canopy of forest trees, and we sat again before the fireplace chewing jerky, sharing a sweet potato we cooked in tinfoil over the flames.
“Gosh. I really thought Ringo would be here by now.”
“Are you in such a hurry for him?”
“Er, I just want to help him make the brew, that’s all.”
“Huh. Well, I say, let him take his sweet time. Isn’t this place gorgeous? I could live here forever. What if we got married and lived here?”
I’ll admit, the thought of marrying a girl as beautiful as Dimity was beyond my wildest dreams. We were still young, but my parents had gotten married early, so it was not hard to imagine. I was taken by her feminine wiles, so when she mentioned marriage, I felt a little dizzy—with excitement, with youthful love, and with a twinge of fear.
Natural, I suppose. Sometimes it’s hard to understand one’s own feelings. It’s a big decision, getting married. But the memory of my dream lingered and the sense that, even though we had been together for about eight weeks, I didn’t really know that much about her. I still didn’t know what her dad’s business was, or why they moved from Freemantle in Australia to sleepy little Akron.
And as for the dream, in it she had been a completely different person—dead-eyed, heartless, and a hell of a shot with a pistol. The more I thought about that, the more ludicrous it seemed. She was just a spunky Australian surfer girl.
So. We would have at least a few more years before we could start thinking about marriage.
I lapped up the last of the sweet potato and took a drink of water I’d fetched from the creek. Dimity was nodding off with her head on my shoulder. I felt protective, manly, and not a little anxious about what the sleeping arrangements would be tonight when I heard a small tapping coming from somewhere.
Tap, tap, ta-tap, ta-ta-tap. TAP. It sounded like a window. Dimity roused and we checked the windows, but we couldn’t see much in the darkness outside. “Alright mister manly-man,” I told myself, “time to go outside and take a look.” I took a candlestick on a candle holder to the front door with Dimity watching from the warmth of the fireplace. I listened at the door. The breeze blew gently in the trees. Some chimes jingled somewhere outside; I wasn’t aware there were any chimes.
Holding my breath, I cracked open the door. I opened it slowly so I could hold my candle up and take a look. Lying on the ground in front of the door was a blue winebottle, the words Saragossa Bottling Company painted in white on the side, just like the ones I’d made with Ringo on the first night.
There was a sheet of heavy parchment rolled up and tucked into the mouth of the bottle. I couldn’t distinguish anything else in the dark, but when I crouched down to pick up the bottle, the messenger departed. I heard a great flurry of wings a few feet ahead of me, and I saw the silhouette of a large bird soar away against the greenish gloom.
I unrolled the parchment on an entry table and read by the candlelight,
I am sorry to report that Reginald, your Uncle Ringo, has been temporarily detained. He hopes to return soon but gave no estimate regarding when that might be. When daylight returns, please feel free to pay me a visit. Until then, keep yourselves safe inside the house.