It was just past noon by the time Maude brought the worm to a stop at the drawbridge leading over the moat surrounding the O’Reatus farmstead. The bridge was in the raised position preventing them from continuing on across.
“We hafta stop here, Pa!” Maude hollered over her shoulder. “Cleet’s got that dang bridge raised again.”
“Just as well,” Gomer Ibbs shouted back to his daughter. “This worm made great time but he be right knackered. He ain’t goin’ no further today.”
The riders quickly dismounted feeling somewhat elated by the experience. Emerson couldn’t help but laugh as he helped Miss Ginsburg off the worm.
“That was quite the ride, Miss Ginsburg.”
“Indeed it was,” Junie winked. “I would very much like to try that again sometime, Mr. Lighthouse.”
“Lookit!” Petra pointed and laughed, “It’s Squire Stinkball.”
Emerson and Junie turned and caught sight and scent of Malus and Lottie climbing out of the wagon. “Oh bugger me you two really do stink!” Emerson laughed again as he waved his hand in front of his face.
Lottie gave Emerson one of her head-cocked looks, and pointed back at the wagon. “The worm produces an inordinate amount of castings. While we need to be cleaned, I would also note your luggage is under that heap in the back of the wagon.”
Emerson stood staring at the wagon for a long moment and the mound of accumulated castings that formed a large rounded heap in the back. “I will find a shovel.” Lottie said.
“Lard strike me down!” A jarring voice called out from across the ever slightly glowing water of the moat.
“Cleetus! My old pal, how have you been?” greeted Emerson, turning to catch sight of the young farmer. He was with his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl. They were riding the small ass-cart they often used to get around the farm. With them in the the cart was a large curious pig.
“Dang it!” Cleetus exclaimed. “Jerry, Bobby, Phil, Billy, Mickey and Pigpen all told me not ta sell that last bale ‘cause they figgered you two chronic dimwits would be crawlin’ up the Curdle’s Way even though it be spring and only fools would do such a thing.”
“Well, I hope you listened to Jerry, Bobby, Phil, Billy, Mickey and Pigpen,” said Emerson, naming off six of Cleetus’s fourteen brothers. “Because they were right.”
“Thing is, just this marnin’, Mr. Rugbottom sent a feller down from up Falun way with a fancy new steam powered roastin’ spit that boils off the fire-pit. We be havin’ us a bit of a do, eh, a midnight hawg roast ta celebrate the equinox. Traded him the bale for that spit.”
“You gave away the last bale?” Emerson grabbed at his hair with both hands and fell to his knees as he processed the fact that the worst case scenario was a reality.
“Traded,” clarified Cleetus. “That spit of Rugbottom’s be right some fancy too b’y, I tells ya. Unfartunately there won’t be no mar bales till harvest in late August.”
Emerson looked skyward, raised his fist high in the air and shouted to the heavens, “Ruuugbottom! RUUUUGBOTTOM!”
“Oh dear,” said Junie softly, “We are going to need a lot of chamomile tea.”
Though it was just past four in the morning the equinox celebration was showing little indication of letting up. At least a dozen of the O’Reatus brothers, armed with banjos, guitars, mouth harps, fiddles, spoons and washtub bass, were winding out with some phenomenal improvisational bluegrass jams. The wagon and it’s contents had been sanitized, Malus and Lottie bathed and fresh clothes for all thanks to Ma O’Reatus.
Malus, with a stone jug in hand, made his way to the stump next to Daisy. “So you got married, huh?” he had to lean in close to her ear to be heard above the the O’Reatus Family Band.
“I did Squire Malus,” said Daisy, squeezing her arms together and looking coy. “But Jimbo got killed last fall. Got himself et up by one of them killer clockwork bears.”
“Why would a mechanical bear eat someone?” asked Lottie who was sitting close enough to overhear.
“Those bears weren’t simply clockwork,” said Cleetus. “Nor strictly steamworks neither. There be some other power source drivin’ them buggers. Somethin’ new they found up in Falun. Coupla them bears fell in the moat we dug last fall just after Jimbo got hisself et up and the darn thing never froze all winter.“
“That shimmering glow it casts at night is quite pleasant.” Emerson commented.
“Ain’t it?” Cleetus nodded. “We comes out some nights just to gaze upon her.”
“That does not answer my question.” Lottie stated.
“Them bears be a mysterious factor, Miss Lottie,” Cleetus mused. “Who’s ta say why they done the things they done.”
“So I be a widow now Squire Malus.” Daisy said and then she dropped her voice and said something just a shade too softly for the others to overhear.
Emerson, who had been straining to eavesdrop turned to Junie, Lottie and Petra, “Watch, he’s going to disappear for a half hour soon.”
“Oh come now,” said Junie as if she were shocked with what Emerson had said. “He is only eighteen, I’m sure he won’t be half an hour.”
“The crops are gonna be big this year.” Cleetus said. “Been spreading Maudey’s worm poop all over the fields. Yields should be triple last year and I think ye’ll find they buggers ye up mar.”
“Speakin’ of me poop,” said Maude Ibbs, “Any of you effers know anything about my missing Thumping Hare Clockwork ™?”
“Weren’t you holdin’ one of those today, Sir Sir?” Petra asked.
“No,” replied Emerson casually. “Not me.” He’d been hoping no one would have noticed he’d accidentally left the Thumping Hare Clockwork ™ he’d been examining sitting on the tracks.
“I coulda sworn…”
“Nope.” Emerson interrupted, inclining his head suspiciously and widening his eyes.
“Oh, right!” said Petra nodding. “My mistake.”
“Didja see that flash?” said Petra excitedly. Moments later a deep rumble bowled across the moors.
“Yep,” replied Cleetus looking up into the sky. “Been some fierce lightning storms this spring. Sometimes it don’t even rain.”
Gomer stretched and let out a groan as he rose up from the bench. “Well, that bin a dandy pig roast I tells ya but we best be gettin’ us some sleep, ain’t that right Missus?”
“Indeed Mr. Ibbs, the sun be just a coupla hours away.” Missus Ibbs replied, chugging a near tankard of ale rather than let it go to waste.
“Ma’s got the guest room all done up nice,” said Cleetus. “You head back ta the house and gets yerselves a good couple hours now.”
“That be kind of ye, me son,” Gomer said. “There’s just one other thing, eh. Might we borrow the ass-cart in the mornin? I’ll have Maude run her back just as soon as we can.”
“Sure, take her,” Cleetus replied. “She be yars.”
“I guess the only outstanding business then be the payment for the worm ride.” said Gomer turning to Emerson. “You did say ‘name me price,’ that right?”
“Of course,” replied Emerson. “Junie, do you have that satchell with Victor’s quatloos?”
“Right here,” said Junie holding up the bag.
“Oh, I wouldn’t think of taking your quatloos,” replied Gomer.
“We doesn’t tend ta use yer fancy currency,“ Cleetus explained. “We be more of a bartering community.”
“Well,” said Emerson, furrowing his brow. He glanced over at the freshly scrubbed wagon, eyeing the kettle and pots hanging on the side. “We don’t really have much seeing as we are on vacation but you’re free to take anything that rode up on that wagon.”
“Right then,” said Gomer, “I’ll be taking that clockwork-girl of yours.”
Twenty miles to the south of the O’Reatus farm, flashes of light streaked across the sky accompanied by a deep thunderous rumble. A lone jackal, skinny after months of winter’s meagre rations trotted along the raised railway tracks. Noticing something ahead, he slowed, approaching the unusual item someone had left sitting on one of the ties. The swollen orange sun appeared to be sinking under it’s own weight, slipping beneath the hem of the low-ceiling cloud cover. The jackal’s elongated shadow flew east across the salmon tinged moss and grass of the North Eastern Fells.
Though it looked somewhat like an animal the curious object didn’t smell edible. Nevertheless, the jackal began to paw at the hard metal form, perhaps thinking it a shell encasing something delicious. A sharp click startled the jackal causing it to run as the mechanical hare began to thump it’s two big clockwork feet. Had the jackal remained for even ten more minutes he would have seen a magnus sapidum pedicabor break through the earth beneath Maude’s Thumping Hare Clockwork ™ swallowing it in a single bite and destroying a ten foot portion of the rails in the process.