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(Read a summary of the story up to now here. Or start at the beginning here.)
Julia says she has done this before. It is a tricky thing, especially with a guest in the house, she says. She descends the main stairs in the house, clattering her shopping backs against the wooden wainscotting and bannisters and stamping her boots loudly on the stairs and marble floors downstairs. She calls out ‘Coo-ee!’ before knocking on all of the main doors on the ground floor: kitchen, front and back room. She finds her landlord in the back room, having dinner with his guest. She can easily distract the old Craay with some story about the garbage services and the fees she pays for it. In this way she can lure him away from the windows in the back, but it is harder to do the same with his guest who looks at her impassively and says nothing, knife and fork in hand and waiting for his host to come back to the table. At long last Julia tells him about the van that is parked a little way further down the canal, behind which a bunch of tourists were doing unmentionable things just this afternoon did you see that, how she is glad it isn’t her van, wouldn’t you know? At this the guest frowns and gets up. ‘Oh dear is that yours?’ Julia asks, all innocence, and grimaces. Fred grabs his green jacket on his way out the door to check on his van and Craay reluctantly leads his tenant to the front room where they will examine their rent agreement and its appendices yet again.
It is dark and quiet in the back garden where Helena is sitting under the steps to the back door. She has slipped out nearly an hour ago and her phone is buzzing.
Where are you
Still under the steps
Where is Julia
Still not back
I don’t know
The back door opens and Helena hears a soft whistle, as if someone is trying to convince a cat to come in. She slips past Julia, kissing her on the cheek in passing, and walks silently to the big front door that is still ajar from when Julia came in. The soft murmur of two men having dinner together can be heard from one of the rooms off the hallway. Helena opens the front door a little further to let her through, then steps out into the open air again. She breathes deeply but sticks to the shadows as much as possible as she makes her way along the facades of the stately buildings, further and further from the crow house. Until she turns the corner into the little street where the café is through which she came in. She closes her eyes and heaves a big sigh.
“God gurl, you look dreadful.”
Helena jumps and her eyes snap open. A young thin man is standing right before her, his hands deep in the pockets of his long coat. He gives her a lopsided grin and asks, off-handedly, “This what the cat is going to drag in, darling?”
Before Helena can say anything, Betty answers. “Afraid so.” She appears alongside the youth with a grin on her face. “So happy you will be joining us, Lena. Now shall we skedaddle?”
“Skedaddle is what we do!” the young man exclaims and throws an arm over both women, “And then we shall return on wings of fire and flame and rule the night!”
Helena giggles. “We shall?”
The young man nods gravely as they walk away. “Indeed we shall.”
It is later, much later. There have been a few glasses of champagne and a take-away dinner from a Korean restaurant that was chosen after a heavy debate about the chef’s acumen as well as attractiveness. The food was good so Helena sees no reason to complain, although she has not had a chance to see the chef. The clothes she wore when Ashley and Betty picked her up from the canal have been taken from her – with a certain amount of disgust – by a mixed crew of ladies and gentlemen of varying genders. The drag vibe is strong, but the actual identity make-up of the crew is more complex than ‘just’ a group of queens – or a ‘court’ as Ashley described it. The beautiful male youth has gradually turned into a graceful swan as the evening progressed and is now carefully tending to one the voluptuous hairdo of one of her friends. The friend in question is herself engaged in a vicious battle with her gown, over in another room. Helena passes by the wig stand to witness how Betty is pulling the strings on an impressive corset while the newly-minted lady is trying how well she can still sing with the current level of restriction.
The bubbles in her glass and in her head have made the whole affair with the stone and the Craays a lot easier to deal with, Helena has to say. It was frightening to realise that Fred is not, as she had always supposed, a comparatively innocent forest ranger, but a loyal servant of a family that summons demons for a living – basically. She wonders if Fred’s husband Stephan knows about all of this. He has always seemed like a shrewd business man, she thinks, so she wouldn’t even be surprised if he did. It was also frightening to know that what she has unearthed has opened up the possibility of the Craay family gaining fortune and therefore power again. The wake of miserable sods that have stood in their way or paid the price for their fortune over the years, is unmistakeable. The grisly fate of Emmeline, the current Craay’s wife, was by no means rare, by the sound of it. Strangled from getting her scarf stuck in the inner workings of the watermill… Helena hardly dares thinking about it. It is a small wonder that old Theodore decided that he had had enough: his beloved wife, and her only after a list of servants that had also succumbed to mysterious illnesses and accidents. Servants, Helena guesses, could be replaced. But his wife, no. And so he had tried to get rid of the necklace – and had done so very clumsily. On his own land. Near the mill where she died. It was a miracle that the thing had not been found before. Unless nobody had been looking for it, and everyone had thought the thing properly lost. Until now.
“You look like you need another dose of bubbles, sweetheart.” The velvety tones of a marvellously sparkling creature known as Dasha (stagename: Dasha Dashing) disrupt her thoughts, that were indeed getting darker.
“Oh! No, no thank you. I think I have had enough for a while” she smiles apologetically, “I am not very used to this, you see?”
“I see” Dasha winks at her. “Now, you have been wandering around in your underwear and Ashley’s dressing gown long enough, wouldn’t you say? Isn’t it time for you to get into something more, ah, suitable for the occasion?” She gestures towards a wide rack that contains a diverse array of silks, satins and sequins.
Helena shakes her head. “I don’t think I can be comfortable in any of those. I am sorry, I am not sure if this was such a good idea,” she adds miserably.
“Oh but it was!” Dasha says. She puts the bottle down and lays two satin gloved hands on Helena’s shoulders. “Look darling, there is no need to feel pressured into anything you don’t want to do, or to be anything you don’t want to be. That is kind of the whole point of this exercise, isn’t it?” She gestures around her to include four usually but not right now male people, two in-between-genders and one cis female who appears to be taking a nap after the intensive corset pulling.
“I can do a nice dress,” Helena says, grateful for the space, “but I cannot do the full-on gown.”
“Do you want to do the nice dress?” Dasha asks and pulls her hair back, “with an extra bit of make-up perhaps?”
“Well,” Helena hesitates, “maybe just a little bit more than just a nice dress, then.”
Fred is never going to recognise her in this, that she can be sure of. The light green tasseled dress comes halfway down her thigh and the stockings she wears underneath are sparkly. There are sequins on her shoes, the lowest heels they could find for her. According to Ash and Dasha they are a bit too dull but they didn’t have any other that were small enough to fit her. The heels scatter on the cobbles as they approach the little bar. The windows are steamed up, it is already packed inside. The group gathers together outside the door for a moment. Helena is strongly reminded of a rugby huddle where strategy is dispatched just before the ball comes into play. But here the queens know exactly what to do. They straighten each other’s crowns, adjust wigs and lashes, pull skirts down – or up, and check for ladders in stockings. Then, as a team, they step towards the door and throw it open.
“Hellooo! We are heeere!”
tl;dr Helena escapes the crow house and joins a group of drag queens for a night out.
Sorry, there is not really a story poll today. You see, it is my birthday and I am a bit too tired to come up with a poll to continue the story. So instead, I will ask you for your favourite type of birthday cake – and I will go and enjoy mine. I promise the outcome(s) will be given a place in the story, which will go on tomorrow, with more exciting stuff, and I hope to see you then! Thanks! xxx
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One thought on “NaNoWriMo 2020: Episode 19”
I hope you had a lovely birthday 🙂 I always go for what i think of as a classic cake: vanilla sponge with jam, maybe buttercream, and soft icing. Other cakes are better in many ways, but for birthdays…! What did you go for?
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