BARRY BOTTER AND THE SORCEROUS PHONE
by W. C. Nuessle
‘The Hogwash Express’
Part the Second
King’s Cross Station was no stranger to the odd and uninviting passenger, but even the troupe of mimes, long known as the scourge of thinking people everywhere, packed up their invisible boxes and made hasty way for Haggard, still dragging Barry in his fragrant wake.
Watching passers by wrinkle, cover and even flat-out stuff Daily Mirrors up their noses, Barry realized that he was slowly becoming used to Haggard’s remarkable musk, which frightened him more than anything had thus far. “Where are we going?” he asked, partly to reassure himself that he at least hadn’t lost the power of speech.
“Yer going; I’ve got other business.”
The thought that he might get away from this delightful character did wonders for Barry’s constitution. “Ah, yes, well, where am I going, then?”
“Hogwash, as I told yer. Try and pay attention, Barry.”
“I meant specifically where are we going right now—” and then Barry stopped talking as he saw the helpful station number. “Platform Three, then?”
“Not quite, Barry.” Haggard abruptly stopped walking. Barry picked himself up and dusted himself off, looking as though sprawling full-length on a public transport platform was exactly what he’d meant (in that way only cats and the English can quite manage.) Haggard went on as though nothing had happened (see previous parenthetical regarding cats and English,) “Here we are; Platform 3.1415926532.”
Barry blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You got mites in yer ears? Platform 3.1415926532.”
Discovering he did indeed have mites in his ears, wonder where those could have come from, Barry dug them out, flicked them at the closest retreating mime and asked again. “Once more?”
“Just one last time, begging your pardon.”
“Platf—are you having a go at me?”
Barry grinned. “I should say I am. What’s all this rot, anyway?”
Haggard grunted. “You’ll see.”
The noon train shortly groaned to a stop in front of them and Barry, with nothing better to do and very much liking thoughts of sneaking down the stairs on the train’s far side, never to have do with this hairy giant again, started forward. The hairy giant in question stopped him with a meaty hand on his shoulder. “Not yet.”
With a mighty squeak, the train lurched forward roughly six inches.
“Now, then. Platform 3.1415926532. It’s magical, boy. Can’t be seen by the Marbles.”
Barry thought about pointing out the multitude of folks around them climbing aboard, asking if all of them were ‘whizzards’ too, but realized he was wasting his chance of escape. “Well, thank you, Haggard, I’ll just nip up to a berth, then. Get right off at this Hogwash place.”
“Cor bless you, Barry, make sure you keep yer wand with yer at all times! Never know when a Demented might strike.”
Returning Haggard’s mighty wave that had passers by retching in its wake, Barry reflected that he was pretty sure he knew exactly what a Demented looked like; he shook his head as he boarded the train, planning to skive off between cars and get back to normality.
This plan was thwarted nearly immediately by the two individuals waiting for him. “Barry? Barry Botter?”
“Oh, what fresh hell is this,” Barry muttered to himself.
The short, squat fellow thrusting his hand forward had just wiped his nose with it; before Barry could figure out a way to not shake the hand and still qualify as English the handshake had concluded. “I’m Don! Don Weasel. Cracking good to meet yer, Barry.”
“Yes, all right,” Barry responded noncommittally, scrubbing his hand on his jeans. Then he looked over Don’s head at his companion, and forgot about all of his body parts save one.
Tall enough to look him full in his eyes, Barry was instantly aware of the sparkling emerald green quality of hers, to say nothing of curves on top of more curves below. “Such a pleasure, Barry,” she said in a sultry voice, the proper, very tight schoolgirl outfit that she wore sparking all manner of thoughts in Barry’s brain which would not have been approved by the Church of England. “I’m Ermine Grazing.”
“Hergleth,” Barry said succinctly, trying very hard to look in Ermine’s eyes and not her front porch, distantly aware that he couldn’t remember his girlfriend’s name for any price. Deanna? Ermengarde? Casting about for something intelligent to say and still trying not to be a complete letch, Barry spotted a drinking straw poking out of Don’s shirt pocket. “What’s that, then?”
Don smiled and patted his treasure. “It’s me wand, Barry. Got it at Olive Juicer’s special.”
A direct throat-clearing from behind him reminded Barry of his Continental upbringing, specifically the part about how One Never Held Up A Queue, and he followed Don and Ermine into the closest berth, vaguely sorry to realize Don was there as well. “Olive Juicer?” Barry repeated for something to say.
“It’s a bit soon for that, Barry, but I’m sure we’ll be great friends.” Ermine beamed, which Barry thoroughly enjoyed, sliding what appeared to be, and was, a swizzle stick out of a breast pocket that was too strained to hold anything more substantial. “Did you get a wand as well?”
“Of course he did,” Don guffawed, sprawling into one of the seats.
Barry tried not to stare at the general area where Ermine was replacing her wand, and for distraction pulled his silly stick out of his back pocket. “Found this; Haggard seemed to think—”
“Cor!” Don goggled.
“My goodness!” Ermine breathed.
“What?” Barry wondered.
“A real wooden wand? Untrammelled by the hand of man?” Don marvelled, even as Barry realized he wouldn’t have expected Don to know any version of the word ‘trammelled’ if it rolled up and bit him. Ermine sat in the remaining seat and Barry next to her, mildly jealous of Don for having the significantly better view. “You must be quite a powerful wizard, Barry, to have procured such an item.”
Wand envy, was it? “It’s not the size, it’s how you use it, Don,” Barry muttered as the train lurched into motion, throwing him briefly against Ermine, which was such a delightful experience he wished the train would stop and start again. Being British, they apologized to one another profusely and endeavoured to sit as far apart as possible. “Speaking of using it, what’s the point of the sticks, anyway? Weird version of conkers, eh what?”
Ermine smiled at him again as he tried to remember any of his times tables. “There’s only one fiend to conquer, Barry.”
“Well,” Don interjected, “and his minions.”
“Yes, and his minions.”
A bad guy in all of this ridiculous? Barry knew this would be good. “What’s his name, then?”
Don and Ermine spoke simultaneously, resulting in the bizarre experience of his left ear feeling horribly assaulted while his right felt coddled lovingly. “He Of Whom Nothing Must Be Said For Fear It’ll Get Back To Him.”
“Come again?” Barry whispered, hoping only Ermine would hear.
No luck; they both spoke once more. “He Of Whom Nothing Must Be Said For Fear It’ll Get Back To Him.”
Curious if he could get them to recite that dreck a third time, Barry remembered that humour lies in not repeating a joke and moved the conversation forward. “That’s quite a mouthful, idn’t it?”
“He has a true name, of course,” Ermine allowed, as gorgeous English countryside flashed past the window which Barry paid not the slightest attention to, “but it must never be spoken except in whispers.”
“Well, um,” Barry tried, knowing an opportunity when he heard it, “if you wanted to whisper it to me, just so I don’t say it accidentally…”
Willingly, Ermine leaned over and Barry tried to concentrate with what little of his blood remained in his brain. Her beautiful full lips almost brushed his ear as she breathed “Moldywort.”
At the very moment she spoke that name, a sharp pain suddenly, unexpectedly stabbed at Barry. Specifically in his right foot, which when he looked down he saw Don stomping on. He got the hint and moved back to his corner, rubbing his instep. “I’ll definitely not say that aloud, but the official version’s a bit of a mouthful. You know what—”
“That’s it!” Don exclaimed.
“What’s it?” Barry questioned, irritated.
“It’s perfect,” Ermine breathed.
“What’s perfect?” Barry questioned, pleased.
“You Know What.” Don nodded.
“You Know What’s perfect.” Ermine smiled.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” though he desperately wanted to, “what is it that is perfect?”
“You Know What.”
Despite feeling trapped in a particularly mediocre Abbott and Costello sketch, Barry marshalled himself and tried to be precise, in such a way as to commandeer the linguistical situation. “When the two of you are saying ‘You Know What’, are you referring to an actual question or the answer to one?”
“The answer to one,” they answered immediately.
“And,” he dared ask, mildly terrified, “what question would that be?”
Don laughed. “The question of what to call He Of Whom Nothing Must Be Said For Fear It’ll Get Back To Him. We’ll call him ‘You Know What.’ It’s perfect; it’s three syllables rather than sixteen,” which Barry decided to take his word for even as Ermine started counting on her lovely long fingers, “and will save ever so much time.”
“And here’s the thing of it, Barry,” Ermine interjected after trying to get to sixteen several times and failing, “the prophesy said that the one who would defeat, er, You Know What would be the one who bestowed upon him a more efficient name.
“And you’ve done that,” she concluded, her eyes shining.
Even as she spoke, the train lurched to a halt, allowing a grateful Barry to make a quick, very necessary adjustment to his clothing.
“Come on, Barry,” Don grinned, wiping his nose once again. “It’s just a short walk through Hogshead and we’ll be there.”
Somehow Barry found himself following Don off the train with Ermine following him, which was not at all how he had wanted to arrange things; but if she was to be accidentally poked by a wand, better the one in his back pocket than his front, if you get my meaning.
The town of Hogshead looked sullen and uninviting, like many a small town in England. Despite how very little had been out of the ordinary so far (save everything, really) Barry had half-expected fairies flitting about, or bursts of multi-coloured sparks in the distance. He chewed on his disappointment as they walked through the depressingly ordinary town, and was still working out how a person could ‘half’ expect something when Don and Ermine stopped, pointing at a large iron gate.
“Here we are,” Don sniffed.
“Home sweet home,” Ermine agreed.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Barry sighed.
It all made sense now.
(Chapter Three: ‘Bumblebore Speaks’, coming soon!)
Will Nuessle holds a third-degree brown belt in ninjitsu; rides a Harley; primary caregives a five- and two-year-old (with the third arriving in April) and claims to be able to recite the alphabet backwards in less than ten seconds. He also writes occasionally.
You had me at “Haggard’s remarkable musk,” and done deal by Abbott and Costello! I was dying!!ReplyDelete