Back to work, and Chuck Wendig gave us a fascinating link to click this week to obtain a mashed up idiom. See what I mean at The Idiomatic
I got a couple of goodies, including “Every picture is the soul of wit” and “An apple a day is never done” but chose this one. It’s just under 1000 words.
Fair exchange is wasted on the young
The tall trees grew thinner as she struggled through the ever-narrowing path, sweat stinging her eyes, and flies buzzing threateningly around her wet hair. The canopy got thicker, and the dim light meant concentrating on what lay hidden by the rank grass and spiky bushes. She’d stopped consciously listening to the sounds of pursuit. At first it had been easy to hear it; then she’d strained to hear them, now she just wanted to get away from the dark presence that hovered just far enough away from her to make her skin cold and clammy over the heat of exertion.
It had seemed so simple. “Just do this job for me,” he said, “and I’ll fix your car and the house for you.”
The small cottage on the outskirts of town was not what she’d been expecting. She was used to high walls, razor wire, searchlights, alarms, cameras, automatic gates, gravel paths, trip wires in the grass, and motion sensitive windows. No dogs. She always turned down jobs with dogs. One had to have limits, and dogs were hers. Other than that, anything goes.
But a cottage? With roses round the door, a brick paved path leading up to it from a rickety gate in a palisade fence, hollyhocks and sweet william lining the way, rose beds on one side, vegetables and herbs on the other, all a splendid tumble of twee-ness, rounded off by thatched roof and blue-painted window frames with cracks of age in them. Maybe Miss Marple lived there, or it was really made of gingerbread.
She sat in the shadow of the wisteria-covered terrace, listening. Her listening could detect breathing at twenty paces, determine whether it was human, or animal, and if so, what sort. She shook her head several times as the breathing of bees disturbed her concentration. To tune in better, she watched them landing on the brown of the cone-flowers, dusting their legs with pollen as they hopped from one to another, drinking their fill and performing the flowers’ essential service. Fair exchange, she thought. The bees compartmentalised, she put the sound of the lizard, basking in the sunshine, into it too. There was breathing inside the cottage, but it was fast and shallow, and at least three of them. Mice or bats, she thought. There was nothing above the size of a squirrel inside the neat fence, and certainly not inside the house.
She walked carefully to the rear door, avoiding leaving prints or disturbance. She observed the door, its frame, its handle, its keyhole, and detected nothing.
She put her hand on the doorknob, and turned it. She stepped through the open door into a flagged kitchen, blue-painted units lining the walls, 1960s appliances, and pots and crockery piled on every surface. No dust. No spiders. Just everyday mess that could have been there since the appliances were installed.
She moved through to the living room, where he’d said the safe was. Three paintings; a seascape over the fireplace, some heavy horses ploughing against the sunset on the far, outside wall, and a Tahitian woman with a green face on the wall next to the door. To have it behind the Tahitian woman would be strange, since it was most easily viewed from the entrance. Double bluff, she thought, and slid her slim hand behind it. A ‘click’ and the painting swung aside, displaying the safe.
This is all much too easy.
As there looked to be absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about the safe, she gave it a thorough examination.
Why on earth had he required her to do this job? It needed none of her special skills.
She reached to give the combination lock a turn, but drew back.
Why had he asked her to do the job? Fixing her car and house would cost a fortune. Was this a trap? Was ‘fixing’ a euphemism?
She reached forward again, and sniffed. Something in the smell of the house was jangling her nerves. She left them jangling, turned the knob gently, listening for the click, then three more times, until the lock released and she could draw out the envelope he said would be there.
As she let herself out of the gate, she could hear a police siren wailing deep in the valley the other side of the wood. She ignored it, skipping through the grassy path to where she’d left her car. There was another beside it. He leant against the bonnet. He stood as he saw her approaching.
“Thanks,” he said. “I fixed your car. Your house will take a little longer, but it’ll be ready for you when you get out.”
“Out?” I asked, but he got into his saloon and sped off, leaving me mentally examining my hatchback. This morning it had two bald tyres, a dodgy clutch and a cylinder head threatening to blow under pressure. Now the clutch was fine, and the cylinder head was as smooth as silk. The two bald tyres had gone. Completely. I had a two wheeled car. No wonder he’d gone before I could inspect that side.
And now the siren was nearly at the cottage. I could hear dogs, coming from farm down the hill, baying for blood. I turned and ran.
I continued running until the darkness that had hovered just outside my senses while I was in the cottage emerged from the chimney and came after me. By that time the dogs and the cops had given up. The darkness never would.
This was not a fair exchange. He owed me two tyres and a decent house. I could only collect if I was young enough to outrun the darkness that had given me my powers in the first place. Eternal youth being one of them. A fair exchange, I thought, for never visiting its house. How was I to know that its house was a sweet cottage in the middle of nowhere?
© J M Pett 2016