Green Grove, Chapter 6
|Disclaimer:||I dare anyone to sue me over this one.|
|Summary:||A young woman wakes up in a strange place after a car accident.|
"Nurse, I do not think that our patient believes me about my tunnel to Middle-earth." Herman stood beside the bed, where Krystle was recovering from her lightheaded episode, and spoke with mock seriousness to Stacey, who stood beside him. "Do you believe me?"
"I don't know, maybe," said Stacey, drawing out the last syllable of 'maybe', as if stalling while waiting for an adequate answer to come to mind. "You could be lying," she concluded with a satisfied nod, and a friendly smile to show that she meant no hard feelings behind her verdict.
Krystle stared at the teenager, incredulous, and even a bit disappointed. After having been swept along all morning, almost against her will, in the energetic teen's wake, it felt like an anchor had suddenly dropped. "It is getting late," Stacey then pointed out, maturely, suddenly a responsible adult who occasionally traveled in disguise as a total lunatic. "We should be getting back."
"I still have to find Chips, too," said Krystle, and she let out her breath slowly, as if a crucial test had been passed. The adventure was over, they were safe, it was time to go home. Why did she feel so let down? They still had to escape a possible madman. She decided a firm approach was best, in case Herman had any ideas about delaying them. "Do you know where the jail is? They have my dog there."
"Yes, I know, I met her," he said cheerfully, as if he always met dogs in local jails. "The boxer, very charming, quite lively." For a moment, Krystle's heart tipped a little, and she fought to steady it. Just because he liked Chips, and made most of her pain go away, and looked like a living god dipped in gold by the torchlight down in his creepy cellar, it did not mean she had to start trusting him.
"Could you tell me how to get there?" She waved in the direction she thought Green Grove lay, unable to see out the window. "Is it far from here?"
In her mind's eyes, she could see herself reuniting with Chips, leading her back to the clinic, and tying her to one of the trees outside, while she delivered Stacey. Once her mind took her within the facility, and made her consider whatever might be coming to her from local law enforcers, she changed her mind. Better to wait, at least her dog was safe, and already in jail, waiting for her. They might end up being cell-mates.
"My mom's probably having a cow by now," said Stacey, a teenager again. Now that her successful discovery of the portal to Middle-earth had been accomplished, she seemed to have lost heart for any further explorations. A little late, thought Krystle, but at least she would not have to try and drag her back by her hair.
"A cow?" Herman laughed. He moved toward the nearest window, and peered out, standing still as stone, as if to hear a sound that could only be heard if one was motionless, and seemed to listen carefully. Krystle and Stacey stayed silent, watching him. He kept his back to them and said, "Your parents are still asleep, they will not be to the clinic for at least another hour, I would say. It is still quite early."
"What if the nurses at the clinic called them?" Krystle asked. She was sure their empty beds would have set off alarms. The nurse had just gone to get her some pain medication; surely she must have noticed when she got back that she and Stacey were gone. He had not answered her question about the jail, either, and she found that suspicious. What was he trying to pull?
"No, they have not called her parents, they are not worried about her, or you." Herman turned, and smiled. He was very confident. "They know that you are both safe with me."
"How do they know that?" Stacey asked, awed. "Is there some kind of telepathy going on between you?" To illustrate, her fingers described invisible waves that traveled through the air. Krystle was glad for the teenager's outspoken nature, for once. It was the same question she had, but did not want to put voice to because she did not believe in such things.
"I confess, I expected to find you here. The nurses at the clinic sent me after the two of you, to make sure you did not get lost," he said quietly. "And they asked me to keep you entertained until it was time for your release from their care this morning. They said you were both a bit disruptive, is that so? Big fans of 'The Lord of the Rings', and curious about our little town."
Krystle sat back against the wall, dumbfounded, and felt odd, like the wind had been knocked out of her. Stacey, however, seemed to get a second wind, perhaps from what was left of Krystle's exhaled breath, and her eyes sparkled again while she giggled.
"We were looking for Orlando Bloom," she explained, plainly tickled that she was famous with the nurses at the clinic as a disruptive force. "We meant to find him, anyway. We sort of got sidetracked."
"Does that mean we are a chore for you?" Krystle blurted out, irritated by the talk about the movie actor and feeling slightly stung by the 'you were both a bit disruptive' comment. It was difficult to reconcile her two versions of the man; Herman was a glorified babysitter who just happened to have a tunnel to Middle-earth in his cellar.
"They had a feeling you might end up here," he answered, as if that should be explanation enough. "Although I do not believe they anticipated your dismantling my floor to become trapped in the cellar, and they wanted me to feed you."
"Not those digestive biscuits, I hope!" cried Stacey.
"Well, nurse," Herman said, back to his serious bedside manner, "they are very healthy, those digestive biscuits." Stacey's face fell and he laughed, adding, "But, have no fear! I have much better fare than that. You did not see my basket on the counter there, by the stove?"
Neither of them had noticed it, and he stepped across the room and fetched the tightly woven wicker basket, set it on the table, and removed its white cloth cover with the flourish of a stage magician. "Breakfast," he announced. "After we eat," he said casually, toward Krystle, "we will have time to make a visit to Chips before we head back to the clinic. How does that sound?"
"Ah, that sounds... good," Krystle answered, caught off-guard. Once it sank in fully, his remark nettled her, if only because she was prepared to fight her way out of the cabin and now it sounded as if he was going to escort them out.
Stacey, suddenly remembering that she was 'starving', ignored both of them and wasted no time inspecting the contents of the basket, while she helped Herman empty it. She oohed and aahed over each offering, her mouth practically drooling. There were plump brown muffins and flaky looking pastries -- Krystle guessed these were from the bakery with the tempting aromas -- as well as several types of fresh fruit, including a basket of fat blue berries, and some eggs, which turned out to be hard boiled.
Expertly now, Stacey crutched around the cabin as she helped set the table with the dishes and silverware from Tolkien's shelves. The morning's sun had reached inside the east-facing windows and the little cabin was warmer now, and, after she complained loudly about being hot, she shed her blanket to move unhindered. She found the salt and pepper for the eggs and Herman had packed a dish of butter for the muffins. He refilled the water pitcher.
At first, Krystle felt a little left out from the domestic bustle. She was still not sure she trusted Herman, no matter who sent him to babysit, and his comment about them being 'trapped' in the cellar was beginning to bother her.
She argued with him, silently, inside of her head, that she had not felt trapped until he appeared. Without waiting to be asked to join them, she draped her blanket over her shoulders, not easy with her casted arm, brought her cup to the table, and sat down before they did. Something else had come to mind, and she felt like a detective solving an important murder mystery.
"You know how you just said you aren't using telepathy to communicate with anyone?" she asked. The question froze Herman in place just as he was removing the bucket of dead flowers from the table. The unfortunate centerpiece showered petals to the carpet-like pile of them already littered on the table's top, as he stood like a statue and listened. "Then how did you know that Stacey's parents are still asleep?"
"Oh, that is quite easy to explain," the statue said, animated again. Instead of answering her, he carried the bucket out the door and set it down on the porch. He stood there, brilliantly lit by the sun, and pointed into a distance at something that she could not see.
"Old Missus, the innkeeper, is not up and about as yet," Herman said. "She always gets a good fire started to make coffee, when she decides that it is time for her guests to rise, and you can see the smoke from her chimney." He returned into the cabin and sat at the table, shaking his head, and continued. "She thinks electricity is too new-fangled for proper hospitality." He chuckled about it as he buttered himself a muffin.
Over breakfast, Stacey chatted about the accident, the clinic, and their hunt for Orlando Bloom. She had many questions, but Herman somehow managed to evade them and instead talked more about 'Old Missus', the town's only innkeeper, and her eccentric ways. Krystle stayed quiet, trying not to be charmed by the jolly host and his delicious food, until he explained how he came to own the cabin.
"When I learned of the estate auction," he told them, "I made the Tolkien family an offer on the cabin, with all of its contents, as long as I could keep the Professor's personal property that he left in his desk, with the promise that I would preserve all of it, as I have done."
For once, Krystle wished she had the same outspoken temperament as her teenage sidekick. She would have definitely said 'wowsers!', or words to that effect, after learning this obviously young man could afford such a piece of valuable property.
"It must have cost a lot," she said, in case he was waiting to hear some praise over his purchasing power, it was in her nature to believe that of any man. She waited for him to swell with pride and boast a little, then she could start despising him.
"Oh, not really, real estate here was more than dirt-cheap, and at that time there was no real market for Tolkien's personal property. He was not commercial. His family had an intermediary that traveled here, a barrister, who found nothing profitable in shipping the contents of the cabin to Great Britain, except for his papers, of course. Those were judged to be of some value, but for my promise to archive them properly, they would have never allowed any of them to be sold off."
"Archive?" Stacey asked.
"What you see here in the cabin, his writings in the desk and on the wall, are mostly all duplicates, I am sad to say. The real documents are locked up in a safe place, protected the same way all important pieces of history should be."
"Even the desk?" Krystle asked, a bit disturbed to be taken in by an imitation. "Is that a copy, too?"
"No, that is real, a real treasure in itself," Herman said as he left the table and approached the desk, reverentially, and then stroked it, lovingly. "It is an old campaign desk from World War One, probably used by a commander of significant rank. Tolkien's family would never have parted with it if it was his own souvenir from the war."
He returned to the table and sat again, adding, "An ardent fan had made a gift of the desk to the Professor, and he never knew where to put it. He said that it was possible he had this cabin built to have a proper place for it."
"What made you so special?" Krystle asked, irked by his refusal to brag. "Why did the family trust you?"
"They knew me, a little, probably from the Professor's letters, as someone who appreciated the value of his works," he replied, and then let a little mischief into his face as he added, "And I managed to make a convincing argument about the hazards of fragile documents enduring overseas travel."
"Did Mister Tolkien know you wanted to dig a tunnel under his cabin?" Stacey asked; up to that point she had shown no interest in the conversation.
"If I told you that the Professor knew of the tunnel," Herman directed the question at Krystle instead of Stacey, "Would you believe me?"
"What did he know?" Krystle asked. "And how can you prove it?"
There was something terribly wrong with Herman's story, his whole story, not any particular part of it, and she could not figure out what it was. He seemed sincere, humble, and not in any hurry to murder either of them, or force them back down into the cellar against their will, yet she had a nagging sensation that an important fact was missing. A clue.
Across the table, Stacey had looked sleepy, after she was finished with her big breakfast, or bored with the conversation up to then, but now she sat up a little. "Did Mister Tolkien ever use the tunnel?" she put in, with a stifled yawn. "Is that how he learned about Middle-earth?"
"You have to make a choice," answered Herman, leaning forward, his slate colored gaze fixed on Krystle. "We only have enough time to do one of two activities. If you want proof," he turned to Stacey, "and if you want to know as much as the Professor knew, then you must both follow me into the tunnel. Otherwise, we will go visit Chips, and then you will return to the clinic. Which will it be?" He sat back in his chair and waited.
"Hold it," protested Krystle. She was confused and feeling overheated. If the hospital garment she wore was not practically transparent, she would have gladly shed the blanket to cool off. There was a breeze coming through the door, which Herman had left standing open, and it felt nice on her bare legs. A trickle of sweat dribbled down her back, tickling her.
Although she was eager to return to her normal life again, and real clothes, when Herman had stared at her with his pretty eyes, for a moment, she had been prepared to follow him anywhere. Her reasonable side fought back, just in time. "If I go into the tunnel again," she pointed out, "then I have to believe you first, right? Because won't we end up in Middle-earth?"
"Not necessarily," he answered. "You will just have to trust me, I think. But, no matter," he added, casually, while he began to pick up their plates from where he sat, his long arms reaching easily over the table's top, and stack them neatly, "let us go visit Chips and get you back..." "No!" Stacey shouted. "I trust you! I want to go!" She grabbed her crutches, stood up, and crutched to the door. "Krystle can find her own way back to the clinic."
"Wait a minute!" Krystle shouted toward the runaway teen and then she glared toward Herman. "Here we go again, I hope you're happy." But he was not there. Somehow, he had left his chair and was blocking Stacey's exit at the door.
"We have to clean up our mess first, nurse," he said kindly to the teenager, as he lightly grasped her shoulders and redirected her inside. "The mice will have a grand feast, otherwise."
"Are you going back to the cellar with us, then?" Stacey asked Krystle, who, still sitting at the table, had started to wrap up the unfinished food, while she cautiously scanned the floor and lifted her bare feet up to rest on the chair's seat. "Or are you going to go rat me out at the clinic?"
"Give me a moment," Krystle said, absorbed completely in making sure there was not a crumb of food left on the table, or at least pretended to be, while she struggled to decide how to handle the rebellious teenager and the disturbingly captivating Herman, with his wild story.
Privately, although she would have cheerfully bashed Stacey about the head with one of her crutches, Krystle marveled at her adolescent resiliency. Apparently it had been hunger, and not a sudden infusion of adult-like maturity, which had provoked the teenager's earlier desire to end their adventure and return to her parents. Someone had to look after the child.
On the other hand, if Herman was not a madman killer, and Krystle was having a difficult time sustaining her suspicions of him, what was the harm in having another peek in the tunnel? She felt stronger now, could she outrun him if he tried to harm either of them once he had them in the cellar again?
"If I go back down there with you..." she began to ask Herman. Stacey sucked her breath in and her eyes widened, so Krystle said to her, with a finger raised in the air for patience, "I said 'if', mind you." She turned back to Herman. "How long will it take to prove what you say?"
"It should only be a matter of minutes, Krystle," replied Herman. He sat again and gestured for Stacey to sit also. "You should not go if you feel forced into it, please, take some time to decide. The morning is still young for us." He leaned back in his chair as if he had all the time in the world to wait for her answer, and grinned. Stacey, bouncing in her seat, started to speak, but he shushed her with, "This is not your decision."
There was still something mystifying about the situation, about Herman, and this cabin, that nagged at Krystle, however, it was more like missing a piece to a puzzle than a feeling of being in danger. He seemed quite willing to agree to whatever she decided, which was good, but even if she declined his invitation, there was still the willful Stacey to think about. She would never forgive herself if anything awful happened that she could have prevented. Although she could not expect him to tell her the truth, she had one more question.
"Have you ever taken anyone else into your tunnel?"
"Yes, many people," Herman answered and then grinned even wider at Stacey. "Including your friend, Mister Bloom."
"Orlando?" Stacey shot out of her chair again. "Let's go!"
"No, no," Herman shook his head. "He is not there now, although he has been a recent visitor, that rumor you heard at the clinic was true."
"Can you prove that, too?" Krystle asked.
There was no sane reason to capitulate, and even the appeal of following in a famous movie star's footsteps was not enough to tempt her, but Krystle finally figured out a way to continue the adventure, and not disappoint Stacey, after all. It would all depend on how Herman reacted to her next reply.
"I will go down there with you," Krystle said. "But, we have to go get Chips out of jail first, since you seem to think we have so much time. I won't go back down to that cellar without my dog." She turned to Stacey. "And you aren't going without me, okay? So, that means you will have to go with us to the jail, first."
"No need," said Herman. "You can both wait here while I fetch Chips." He stood, picked up the re-packed basket, and bowed slightly toward Krystle. "An excellent idea; I should have thought of it first." Before she could answer him, he was gone out the door.
"Looks like we're going to visit Middle-earth, Stacey." Krystle's voice shook slightly. "I can't believe I just said that."
"Yeah, but you did say it," giggled Stacey. "And we are going."
To be continued in Chapter 7
Posted: September 11, 2006
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"