The light dusting of snow that had fallen during the night frosted the walkways and rooftops throughout the Wheatstone Waterways with a fresh unblemished sparkle. The snow was so powdery and light, in fact, that Emerson Lighthouse was using nothing more than a broom to sweep clear the steps of his house next to the clock. He was just wondering if he shouldn’t perhaps cover the Tesla cannon on the roof to protect it from the elements for the remainder of the season when a call of greeting pulled him from his early morning reverie.
“Good morning Mr. Lighthouse!” Junie Ginsburg called cheerfully from the bridge as she crossed over the Peral Canal and made her way to the base of the steps.
“Good morning Miss Ginsburg,” Emerson smiled. “What brings you all the way down to the Waterways this morning?”
“An errand of delivery.” Junie smiled as she fished into the handbag she casually wore over one shoulder. “A holiday greeting card,” she said, shuffling through a handful of envelopes until she found the one addressed to Emerson. She came up the steps to hand Emerson his card, then caught her breath as she noticed the view down the street towards Piermont Landing.
“It all looks so clean and fresh,” she said, inhaling deeply.
“Indeed it does Miss Ginsburg,” replied Emerson following her gaze along the canal for a moment before regarding his visitor. Emerson watched her for a moment, enjoying the view before saying quite casually, “How fortunate you dropped by Miss Ginsburg.”
“Oh?” she shifted her gaze. “How so Mr. Lighthouse?”
“There is something I’ve been meaning to give you for quite some time now,” said Emerson. Junie raised her eyebrows.
“Something I found during my travels,” he continued, “a couple of months back.”
“You found something…for me?” she asked, visibly surprised. “How thoughtful of you Mr. Lighthouse.”
“I seem to recall you mentioning something about enjoying pickled air kraken,” he said, “during the air kraken festival this past summer.”
“You have a good memory Mr. Lighthouse,” Junie said, narrowing her eyes slightly.
“I happened to find a jar of pickled air kraken tentacle tips and I have it on strong authority that this particular jar is of the finest quality,” Emerson boasted.
“I hope you didn’t trouble yourself on my account,” said Junie.
“What better account is there Miss Ginsburg?” Emerson winked.
“Mr. Lighthouse,” Junie replied playfully, “one might think you were trying to flirt with me.”
Emerson placed his hand on his chest in mock surprise. “I am guilty of many things Miss Ginsburg… but I would never dare to offend you.”
“How odd,” said Junie. “I don’t recall saying anything about being offended, Mr. Lighthouse.”
“Come Miss Ginsburg,” said Emerson opening and holding the door. “The air kraken is just in the kitchen and I can’t have you standing in the cold while I fetch it. That would be so unmannerly of me.”
“Quite so,” said Junie as she passed into Emerson’s house and looked around the main room. A fire crackled in the fireplace offering a comforting warmth. “What a lovely home, Mr. Lighthouse.” Junie commented. “How long have you been here?”
“Almost a year now,” he replied before pausing. “You know, I was just about to put a kettle on the stove,” he said casually. “May I offer you a cup of tea Miss Ginsburg?”
“Mr. Lighthouse, that sounds positively delightful.” Junie replied.
Emerson excused himself to the kitchen to light the stove. Junie heard the sound of the kettle being filled with water.
“You know,” she called out to him tentatively, “it’s a shame we didn’t have time to become better acquainted before you left New Babbage with Brother Malus.”
A pot clattered to the floor.
“Is everything alright out there, Mr. Lighthouse?” Junie asked, craning her neck to peek into the kitchen.
“Couldn’t be better,” said Emerson as he returned to the front room. “It might be awhile before the water is ready, however.”
“You know what they say about ‘watched pots,’ of course.” Junie winked.
“Indeed.” Emerson smiled. “In the meantime, perhaps you would care to join me up on the roof and watch me dust my cannon.”
A reckless grin spread across Junie’s face. “I would even be happy to lend a hand in that task Mr. Lighthouse,” she said. “I’m not the type to simply watch while others do all the labour.”
He was about to respond in kind when they were interrupted by a tremendous crash and the sound of shattering glass coming from the back of the house. A look of concern passed between them as they both ran into the kitchen. Right away they noticed the window nearest the back door had been broken; shattered glass covered the floor.
“Do you have any enemies Mr. Lighthouse?” Junie asked.
“Of course,” Emerson replied, “but they’re usually of a more visceral sort, preferring to strike at me, not my house.”
Suddenly they were both quite startled by a call of “hoo-hoo” from behind them.
Quickly spinning they saw what appeared to be a rather odd-looking owl perched atop the icebox. As they cautiously approached they noticed that it was a clockwork owl. Across its chest were the words ‘Aerial Recorded Transport’ and then in smaller letters below the designation: ‘Device #2.’
“ART,” said Emerson.
“Hoo,” said the clockwork owl in response.
“Be careful Mr. Lighthouse,” Junie warned as Emerson reached out to touch the little mechanical bird. There was a button on its chest just above the lettering. Emerson pushed the button. With a mechanical click, the sound of static suddenly emitted from the owl’s beak. Emerson looked over at Junie, who merely shrugged. Then the static took on an almost staccato cadence, as if it were masking words. Finally, as he was about to push the button again to shut off the static the bird started to move its beak as if trying to speak and the words “Help me Emerson Lighthouse… you’re my only hope” could be discerned above the white noise of the static.
“Did you hear that?” Emerson looked at Junie.
Junie raised her eyebrows. “I most certainly did.”
“I think I recognized that voice,” said Emerson, a look of concern spreading across his face. “It was Queen Princess from the newly united Southern Island Kingdoms.”
“Isn’t that where your ‘squire’ Malus is?” asked Junie.
“That is correct,” confirmed Emerson.
The message (or what there was of it) having played out began to repeat for the second time. “Help me Emerson Lighthouse… you’re my only hope.”
((Thanks Junie for helping with this and adding to the playfulness))