Mrs Octavia Beckles knocked briskly on the door of the house in the Canals district of New Babbage, leaning back afterward and gazing at the window near the door. It was heavily draped. All the windows, in fact, were heavily draped. “Hmmf.” she said to herself, then knocked a second time, slightly louder.
The door creeked open, just slightly. A pale shape peered out.
Instinctively, she pulled back, slightly repelled. “Oh!” she hiccuped out. “Are you, um, Cyrus Forgrave?”
“I am. How may I help you?” the pale figure asked. It was a small boy. A pale boy with hair the color of dry ice, his pink eyes hidden behind smoked spectacles.
“Oh,” she said again. “I am Mrs Octavia Beckles. Um. From the, uh, N.B.L.O.S.O.W.A.R.”
The boy stared. “The what?”
“It stands for the New Babbage League of Social Welfare and Reform.”
“Alright.” he said.
“Well.” Mrs Beckles continued. “It has been brought to our attention that you have been living in this house all by yourself, for…” she consulted her notepad. “…over nine months now. Ever since your parents were—”
“I know what happened to my parents.”
She swallowed. His pale face unnerved her for some reason. “Of course. Of course you do.” she said. “Well, I—”
“The fact of the matter is, Mrs Beckles,” he interrupted her. “I am not living by myself, I live with my aunt Vanetta.”
“Oh.” she said, clearly surprised. She consulted her notebook again, her dates were slightly smudged suddenly. “My, um, records have shown nobody but yourself coming or going from the house for… well, some time.”
He stared at her through the smoked spectacles. “My aunt has a nervous condition.”
“Oh?” she asked, setting the tip of her pencil on the pad. “Nothing serious, I hope. Or infectious.” She took yet another step back.
“No. Nothing like that.” he said. “Perhaps a form of brain fever. She is acutely afraid of the outdoors.”
“Afraid of… the outdoors?” she asked. “Is that a… genuine… affliction?”
Cyrus nodded. “Apparently so. A doctor told me it is an affliction called agoraphobia.”
“Agoraphopia.” she said.
“Phobia. With a B.”
“Agoraphobia.” she repeated, writing it down. “Well then, I suppose. I suppose I have no more questions. Everything is fine here, then, is it?”
“Very fine.” he said. “Very normal.”
She swallowed again. “You could use some sun.” she said, without meaning to. That pale face. “I mean, I know this is New Babbage, but… you’re very pale.”
“It’s called alibinism.”
“Is it.” she said. “Well, I’m just… learning all sorts of… I’ll go now.” she said, and walked away quickly, the snow crunching beneath her feet.
She didn’t turn to see Cyrus follow her out into the late afternoon gloom, standing and watching which direction she walked away toward. After she was lost from sight, he stepped back inside the house and closed the door.
Inside, the house was quietly, extremely quiet.
He walked into the living room and patted his aunt on the knee. “Don’t worry about her, Aunt Netta, she won’t be back any time soon. I know how you hate visitors so.”
Vanetta Forgrave sat silently on the sofa, staring toward the draped windows. “I’ll sweep that area tomorrow, see if I can tell where that woman lives.”
“Her name?” he asked. “Oh yes, she did give it. Beckles. Mrs Octavia Beckles.”
“Yes,” he said. “yes, it is a nosey sounding name. In fact, I didn’t like her nose at all.”
“Hm? Oh yes, I’ll go see what Poppy was up to.” Cyrus said, and walked down to the cellar. He unlocked the chain from the padlock, and pulled it, Poppy following out from the shadows. The pinhead clapped at the sight of the boy. “Ga Ceeeee!” she cackled.
“Yes, it’s me Poppy. Would you like to play a game?”
The pinhead nodded. She pointed to the cards on the nearby tiny table.
“Alright.” Cyrus said, sitting down at the table and shuffling. Poppy sat down across from him, slapping the table top, and giggling. He dealt out two hands of cards. Poppy looked at hers, upside down, then said: “Ga fannan bo bleep!”
He shook his head. “No. Go fish.”
“Zorkle!” she cried, grabbing a card from the deck.
Tomorrow. He would pay Mrs Beckles a little visit tomorrow. He didn’t like that nose at all.