Path: physics insights > misc > Felix Resilleserre > The Iemy Papers >

The Shopping Trip -- Part III

The following is the fourth installment of the tale which began with Takeoff, and continued with Shopping Trip Part I. and II  All prior installments should be read before this page, as that may help to render the following events marginally less obscure.

This installment was also very kindly provided to us by Professor Johann Schnarchhund of Miskatonic University.  Johann again assures us that this first person account, narrated by Isis Resillechat, is very much as it was received by his daughter, Taurina.  For additional information please see the Iemy Papers.

Previous Installment: The Shopping Trip, Part II

Star Date 7.85

The galloping got closer, and suddenly a rider on horseback came bursting out of the forest.  It certainly was not a "white knight", and in fact I first thought it might be a black knight -- it was a black horse, for sure, and the rider was dressed in something shiny and black, and was wearing what looked like a black helmet.  What's worse, the rider seemed to be carrying a lance, though at least the lance wasn't pointed toward us -- it was pointing straight up.

In fact, as the rider got closer I realized there was something like a pennant attached to the lance, which made me think it wasn't really a lance at all, but just a sort of flag pole.  But by now the rider was close enough to see the sparkly glint of chain mail -- black chain mail.  Surely the ones in black mail are always the bad guys?

I glanced around.  Dad was looking puzzled, Mom was looking amused, and Snidly and his two friends had vanished.

"Dad," I asked, "Do you know what -- or who -- that is?"

"I'm not sure, but it might be..." he trailed off.  "Best ask Mom, I think she may know for sure."

Mom sighed.  "Oh, I think I can guess who it is."

At that point the rider yelled to us.  "Felicia!  Felix!  Hallooooooo!  Isis!  Your picture's in the paper!"

It was Mom's Aunt Eternuechat; I'd met her once before, and that Hallooo! was unforgettable, even coming out a through the vents in the helmet.  Why she was dressed as a black knight was beyond me, and I had no idea what she meant about my picture.

"Hallo to you too, Aunt Eternuechat, and what's with the goofy getup?" replied Mom, as the rider got closer.  "Defending the castle against knightly invaders?"

Aunt Eternuechat laughed -- that was pretty unforgettable, too; she sounded just like a kookaburra -- and said, "No, no, no, I'm just defending myself against tree branches.  When my donkey runs through the woods I'd get positively pulverized if I didn't wear something at least a wee bit protective!"

"But chain mail?  Black chain mail?  And a jousting helmet?  And what's with the pennant?"

"Chain mail is just positively the best for cantering in the woods -- it's much tougher than bluejeans.  And if you've ever gotten a branch across the face at a full gallop you'd agree that the helmet is just Good Sense.  And I like black.  So, where's the problem?"

She'd reigned in the horse to a walk, and as she reached us, I could see that she was looking up ... and up ... and all around, at the saucer.  As, of course, who wouldn't?

"I suppose this is Felix's doing, right?" she asked, waving her hand up toward the ship.  Mom didn't say anything, and Aunt Eternuechat let out a long, theatrical sigh.  "Don't say I didn't warn you, dear!  I told you before you married him that Felix just wasn't one to mind the details, I mean he's just so slapdash about everything, never takes the time to do things right.  Now look here, he can't even get abducted by aliens right -- look at this, this is no way to land a flying saucer, it's obviously upside down!"  She looked at Felix -- maybe she was glaring at him, but it was impossible to tell with that helmet covering her face.  "And those lunatics at the newspaper seem to think my great niece is one of the aliens!"  At this point in the monologue, she paused and raised the face shield of her helmet, and I could see that she was actually smiling.  "But you haven't so much as said hello yet, and while it's so very nice of you to drop in like this, I'm sure this is more than a simple stopover for tea or you would surely have come in a rather more prosaic vehicle than this impressive but ungainly structure.  So, what brings you here, and is it terribly urgent or can you come up to the chateau for tea anyway?  And if it's urgent, you might have done well to phone in advance, you know, it was just good luck that I wasn't somewhere else today."

We all started talking at once.  Mom and I were saying how much we would love to come to tea (as long as there wasn't any onion dip served!) and Dad was apologizing for not calling, explaining that our cell phone wasn't working ever since it got dropped when the coffee went into the controls.

And then Aunt Eternuechat suddenly did her kookaburra imitation again, silencing everyone else, and said, "I knew it!  I knew it!  It was your coffee, wasn't it, Felix?  And that had a lot to do with your goofed up landing, too, didn't it?  I knew it!  Felicia, don't say I didn't warn you, I knew this would happen."

"You knew we'd land an upside down flying saucer in the clearing?"

"Yes, exactly, or maybe not quite exactly, but something very much like that, certainly.  Anyway you must all come up to the chateau now, it's getting on past tea time and we wouldn't want to miss it, would we?"  She sure had that last part right; I was starving.  We headed up across the clearing at a trot, with Aunt Eternuechat trotting alongside us on her ... eh ... donkey.

"Auntie" I said to her, as we were getting close the edge of the woods, "Your donkey looks a lot like a horse to me."

She turned to look at me, and that dislodged the face shield of her helmet which closed with a "Clang!"

"Of course he's a horse" she said, after raising the face shield again.

"Then why did you call him a donkey?" I said, in some confusion.

"I didn't."

"But you did -- you said riding through the woods on a donkey, you need armor because of the branches."

"I never said that."

I wrinkled my forehead and scratched behind my ear.  "I sure thought you did!", and I thought hard ... "You said, without armor, 'when my donkey runs through the woods I'd get positively pulverized'"

"And of course that's true.  But I never said he was a donkey -- he's a horse."

"But you called him 'my donkey'!"

She laughed again.  "Silly girl, I called him 'my donkey', not 'my donkey'!"

"Aunt Eternuechat you are not making sense!  How can you say you called him 'my donkey' but not 'my donkey'?  They're they same thing!!"

"No they're not, one's spelled with a 'Q'."


"It's his name, dear.  He's named Don Quixote, and I call him Don Qui for short.  Hear the difference?  DonQui, not Donkey"

I still didn't hear the difference but at least I got the point, finally.  I was also going to ask about her seeing my picture in the paper, but before I could say anything more we reached the woods -- the trackless woods -- and I was too busy trying not to get poked in the eye with a branch and struggling through the gorse bushes or whatever the thorny stuff was that was clawing at the blanket I was wrapped in, and my bare ankles underneath it, to worry any more about Aunt Eternuechat's news.

Star Date 7.86

It was a rather long, uncomfortable walk through the woods, and by the time we reached another clearing I was cold, scratched, tired, and wishing I'd been able to find jeans and a coat.  Knee-length shorts and a blanket were not doing it for me.

But that was forgotten when I glanced up from searching out a path between the gorse bushes and saw where Aunt Eternuechat was taking us.  It was, indeed, the ruined castle on the hilltop -- and now that we were nearly there, it looked huge.  And it was a mess -- an awful lot of it had just plain collapsed into heaps of gray rock.  What was left was about half covered with moss, which, while it was a rather pretty green with cheerful little red spore towers sticking up here and there, gave the whole thing the appearance of something that had been abandoned around the time the Romans left England and which hadn't been cleaned (or painted!) since.  I was about to ask Auntie if she actually lived there when she broke my train of thought with the sudden question...

"Is that your cat?"

Cat?  What cat did she mean?  I looked down again, and lo and behold, there was Snidly walking along next to me, acting more like a well trained dog than a cat.  Was Snidly my cat?  What a question!  I started giggling at the thought, but before I could say anything Snidly meowed "Yn uev ivj!"

To Auntie, it surely sounded like just a weird cat noise, but to me it was crystal clear:  Say yes!  I had no idea what he had in mind, but none the less I obediently said "Yes", and then added,  "I guess he followed us up from the ship."

Before Auntie could ask anything more about the sudden arrival of "my cat", an old oriental man appeared from somewhere and said, "I thought you were coming back for tea.  Do you want me to take Donqui?"  He looked at the rest of us, and said, "Ho, Felicia, it's nice to see you here again! And with Felix this time!  And you must be Isis!"

"Yes, yes, take Donqui.  And yes, of course we've come back for tea."

"No you haven't, you've come back for just-after-tea-was-served-too-bad-you-missed-it.  Maybe Lee will serve you an early dinner, if you ask nicely.  Are you going to get off, or do you want to come to the stables with Donqui and have some oats?"

With a sigh, Aunt Eternuechat dismounted, and headed for the what looked like a door in the wall up ahead of us.  "Come on, folks, you all sounded hungry so we'll go see what we can scare up.  Something better than onion dip, I'm sure!"  We followed her, and as we got to the door she said, "Your cat will be fine out here."

But Snidly was having none of that.  He said, "Yn ařt ufařfi!" -- that was "Pick me up!" -- and when I looked down at him, he was glaring at me.  So I picked him up, and carried him in with us.  He's a heavy cat, and he didn't relax at all while I held him.  It's like he was standing up the whole time.  He is one of most uncomfortable cats to carry around I've ever met.  At least he didn't dig his claws into my arms.

The door we went in by was a huge wooden thing, made of something dark.  Mahogany?  Or ebony?  Or stained pine?  Whatever, it was dark, and there were wide metal bands running across it.  And it was carved, deeply, with the image of the Vitechat family crest:  A double headed eagle.  If you look up double headed eagles, you'll find they're described as "common figures" in heraldry ... but not the Vitechat eagle!  It's got two heads, but that's the only thing about it that's "normal".  First, the two heads face each other, and in fact if you look closely they appear to be having an argument.  Second, the heads have beaks all right, but they've also got what look like cat ears up on top.  Third, the thing is covered with what look to me like scales, though I'm assured by those who should know that they're really "heraldic feathers".  I still think they're scales.  Its wings, which are spread above its heads, look more like bat wings than eagle wings.   And its tails -- it has two -- curl up on either side of it, and would look more at home on a pair of cats than on an eagle; they look furry.  Finally, its feet are twisted together in the weirdest way; it really looks like the thing is arm wrestling with itself.  All in all it's a strange bird.

Once over the threshold, we found ourselves in a damp, chilly corridor.  The walls looked like the same stuff the outside was made of -- big slabs of some kind of gray rock.  The main difference, inside, was that there wasn't any moss growing on it.  I thought the rock might be granite, but then I thought maybe it was fieldstone, or sandstone, or something -- or maybe graystone, if there is such a thing!  I guess I'm not much of a rock hound.

The door closed behind us, leaving us in thick gloom.  The only light was coming from what appeared to be two rather smoky torches, set in sconces on the right hand wall a few dozen yards down the corridor.  After passing several closed doors, we arrived at the torches, which were placed on either side of a wide doorway.  Auntie and Mom were deep in conversation about family stuff, all about people I'd never heard of.  They turned into the doorway between the torches, and Dad and I (and Snidly) started to follow them.  I paused at the door.  "Torches??" I said.  "That doesn't make sense!"

Dad was looking closely at one of them.  "No, it doesn't," he said.  "A torch burns, maybe, half an hour.  So, somebody's replacing them 24 times a day, or more if they want it lit all night?  Don't think so.  So, they're not torches."

He looked at the torch really closely -- I was afraid he'd lose his eyebrows -- and laughed, and announced, "Fake!  It's a gas lamp, maybe propane."  With that settled, we followed Mom and Auntie through the doorway, and into a narrow, dimly lit, but very long dining hall.  A long, wide table ran down the middle of the hall.  A row of narrow windows set high in one of the long walls provided most of the light, with the rest coming from a dozen or so fake "torches" which were scattered randomly around the walls.  Under the windows, there was a row of dark things hanging on the wall which appeared to be tapestries.  I was staring up at them, trying to make out what pictures might be on them, when Snidly suddenly leaped out of my arms, and vanished into the shadows under the table.

But I didn't have time to wonder where Snidly was off to.  Mom was calling to us from the other end of the room, where she and Auntie were sitting at the end of the long table -- or, rather, Mom where was sitting; Aunt Eternuechat was standing at a narrow door at the side of the room, yelling for the cook.

Dad and I hurried down the length of the hall to Mom.  She looked sad.  As we reached her, I realized why:  a half dozen places had been set for tea -- but the tea had obviously already been eaten!  The plates all had crumbs on them (even crumbs were starting to look good to me!), the teacups had dregs in them, and no intact food was to be seen.  Some of the dishes also had what looked like the remains of breakfast on them, and a newspaper was lying on one of the chairs.  "Auntie's going to try to scare something up. I'm thinking we should have brought along a few bags of Fritos," Mom sighed.  My stomach clenched at the thought of more Fritos!

Before I could think of anything positive to say about Fritos, an old Oriental woman appeared through the door at which Auntie was hollering.  "Now, Bertha", she was saying.  "If you wanted tea you should have been here for it. We finished at least an hour ago, and a very nice tea it was, I might add."  She had a huge tray with her, and started clearing away the dirty dishes.

"But Lee", Auntie was saying,  "These poor people are starving -- they haven't had any real food in -- how long did you say it's been, Felicia?"

"Felicia!" the old woman cried, rushing over to Mom.  "Bertha didn't tell me you were coming!"  She pulled Mom out of her chair and embraced her.  "And Felix!  And you must be Isis!  How are you all?  And why are you here, of all places?"

Dad answered the last question first.  "We're here to pick up some groceries before we head to the Cat's Eye Nebula."

The old woman glanced around the room with an expression that seemed to say she was looking for a strait jacket.  "Felicia, I always told you Felix was odd!"  Then she added, "But if you're hungry, we'll just find you something..." and hurried out of the room before anyone could say anything more.

"Mom," I asked, "Who was that?"



"We always called her Aunt Lee.  I think she's Aunt Eternuechat's --"

"Aunt" broke in Aunt Eternuechat at this point, as she sat down at the head of the table.

Dad was grinning.  "She's your Chinese aunt?" he asked.  "I never understood how that worked."

"Well -- aunt by marriage."

"Or maybe adoption" added Mom.

"Most of the family's French anyway," Aunt Eternuechat said in an explaining sort of tone.  "The estate here is sort of a historical accident, as I'm sure you know.  I certainly never laid eyes on it until I left school, and I still can barely understand the natives.  Why, just a few months ago Herbert had someone over to try to get a demon out of the second basement, at least I think that's what he said, and I couldn't understand a word that he said -- I mean, not Herbert, the other 'he' -- Why, come to think of it..."

She paused.  I was hungrier than ever and I was not following the conversation.  I have never understood Mom's family and this wasn't helping.  So I broke in with a question.

"Auntie, where's Uncle Herbert?"

But before she could answer, there was a cry of "Dinner!" and Lee Ping reappeared, carrying an enormous tureen of pasta.  Plain pasta.  Fusili, I think.  She set it on the table with a loud "Bang!" and announced that she would get us some bowls.

"That's supposed to be dinner?" yelled Aunt Eternuechat.

"You missed tea, after all," Lea replied.

"So what? We can't expect them to eat plain pasta!  Pick it up again, let's see what else we've got!"  And Auntie, Lea, and the pasta vanished back into the kitchen.

In the silence which followed, the three of us sat and looked at each other.  I wondered where Snidly had gone -- he was nowhere to be seen.  My stomach grumbled.  I felt hungry and confused.

With nothing else to do, I picked up the newspaper that was lying on a chair -- and then almost dropped it again when I saw what was on the front page.  There was a screamer headline, "ALIENS INVADE SCOTTLAND!", and a large picture underneath it.  The picture was kind of blurry -- but not so blurry that I couldn't recognize my purple Bermuda shorts!  The only person in it I could identify in it was me -- but I was upside down.  I guessed this was the result of the flash we saw when we almost collided with the ferry.  So now I'm an alien, I thought.  Great.  I put the paper back in the chair.  Whatever the article said about us, I didn't feel like reading it.

"Mom," I asked, "Do you know where Uncle Herbert is?"   She just shook her head.

"And why is he called Uncle Herbert, but we call Aunt Bertha, Aunt Eternuechat?"

"I know that one!" broke in Dad, looking pleased at having an answer to something.  "Bertha hates the name 'Bertha'".

"Why doesn't she change it -- or use her middle name?"

I knew I was pushing my luck; getting a sensible answer to a question about Aunt Eternuechat must have made me giddy.  But the supply of sensible answers seemed to be exhausted.

"I'm not completely sure," replied Mom, "but I think it's related to the second codicil of Uncle Vanavar's will."

"Uncle Vanavar?  When did he die?"  I asked, in confusion.  I thought I'd heard Mom talk about him not too long ago.

"He didn't; he's living in Belgium.  But after he was kidnapped in Thailand, he just dropped out of sight for so long the Netherlands government declared him legally dead and when his will couldn't be found they turned all his property over to his widow."

"You're starting to sound like Aunt Eternuechat," interrupted Dad.

Mom sighed.  "I know.  Just being in this crazy place does that to me."

"And what's any of that got to do with Aunt Eternuechat's name?" I asked, feeling totally frustrated, and hungrier than ever.  But I never found out, because at that moment Auntie and Lea reappeared, Lea carrying the tureen, and Auntie carrying a huge tray with plates, glasses, and what looked like a salad bowl on it.

"Here's dinner, at last!" announced Auntie, as Lea plopped the tureen on the table with a 'Bang!'  Auntie set out plates and glasses, and started dishing strange green pasta onto the plates.

"What is it?" I asked, perhaps a bit rudely.

"There wasn't any tomato sauce" Auntie replied.

When she didn't say anything more, I repeated:  "What is it?"

"It's pasta with pesto and olive oil, dear," replied Lea, who was pouring water from a decanter into the glasses.  I suddenly realized that there were just four glasses.

"Aren't you eating with us?" I asked.

"Oh, Lea, you really must join us!" added Mom.

"No, no, I've got things to do -- and I just had tea," said Lea, and vanished again through the kitchen door, taking the tray and the now empty tureen along with her.

Aunt Eternuechat sat back down at the head (or foot) of he table, as Dad said, thoughtfully, "Pesto pasta."

"So it is!" said Auntie, enthusiastically.

"Plates of pesto pasta," Dad added.

"Oh, yes, let's play the alliteration game!" cried Auntie.  "We each add one more word, starting with the same letter!  Felix, you started it, so next is Isis."

I'd never heard of this game, though it seemed like Mom and Dad both had.  Dad was grinning; he loves anything which has to do with words.

"Uh ... pretty plates of pesto pasta," I said, around a mouthful of the pasta, which was very good.

Auntie giggled, and said, "Pretty plates of plentiful pesto pasta!"

Dad immediately came out with, "Partaking of pretty plates of plentiful pesto pasta."

Mom thought and munched for a while, and then rearranged it, as, "Partaking of plentiful pesto pasta piled on pretty plates."

"Is that legal?" I asked.
Auntie just giggled and said, "Legal?  Of course -- anything that gets another word into it."

I really had to think about it this time -- and then I recalled the newspaper photo, and Mom's comments about me going out dressed in ... aha!

"Plentiful pesto pasta piled on pretty plates partaken in purple pants!"

I have no idea how long this silly game might have gone on, but at this point there was an interruption, as Snidly reappeared in a bound from under the table, and landed on Auntie's lap.  "Whoops!" she said, as a forkfull of pasta went flying.  Snidly calmly sat down, and rubbed his head against her left hand where it was lying on the arm of her chair.

"My goodness you're a handsome beast!" she said, not in the least perturbed by the splattered pasta.  She scratched him under his collar.  I could hear Snidly purring.

My eyes must have been bugging out at all this, and I know my mouth was hanging open; I closed it.  I was surprised -- amazed -- bewildered.  I couldn't believe this was really Snidly, the cold, rather rude feral cat I knew -- he was acting like a total lap cat!

Auntie went on petting him as he rubbed his head on her hands.  She was saying the usual silly stuff people say to animals, like "handsome beast" and "big boy", and then she said, "And what's your name, you big stripy fellow?"

"Sssnidly," he replied.  "I like youuuu.  You smmmell niccce."

Auntie screeched "What!!" and her chair went over backwards with a crash.  "Cats can't talk!" she added, her feet waving in the air.  Snidly, who had jumped off as soon as the chair went over, sat down and watched -- typical cat!  We three humans jumped out of our seats and dashed over to see if she was OK.  (She was.)  As Dad was helping her up, she said, "Felix!  You didn't tell me your aliens are cats!"

"You didn't ask," was his logical reply.  In fact Auntie hadn't asked anything about the supposed aliens, but I wasn't surprised -- I was long past being surprised by things Aunt Eternuechat said, or didn't say.

Auntie picked up her chair, and we sat back down to finish eating.  As soon as Auntie sat down, Snidly jumped back onto her lap, butted his head against her hand, and meowed, "Do that.  Feels nice."

As I was finishing off the pasta and dishing out some salad, Auntie, who was rubbing the sides of Snidly's head, asked him, "Where are you from, little alien?  Mars?  Alpha Centaurus?  Andromeda?"


"Nottingham?"  pause... "Nottingham where?"

"England, of cawwwrs.  Near Londonnn.  That way."  Snidly extended one paw in what might have been the direction of south.

Auntie asked the room in general, "Since when are there aliens living in Nottingham?" but nobody answered.  She continued to stare at Snidly with an increasingly perplexed expression.  "But do you..." she began.  "What do you..." she started again.  "Snidly, what's your..." and then, finally, "Snidly, you're a cat.  How does a cat fly a spaceship?"

"Don't fly ship."

"Then what do you do on the ship?"

"Security officer."

"Security officer?" shrieked Auntie and laughed her kookaburra laugh.  Then she asked, "So what do you do if someone large gets rowdy?  What would you do if, say, you met a tall angry dog?  Are you armed?"

Snidly said, sleepily, "Arme blanche..." and lifted one front paw.  He spread his toes, and I heard a faint "Ching!"  Six glittering silvery blades popped out, at least half an inch long.  I have no idea where he got them; last time I saw him spread his toes he just had ordinary cat claws.  I heard Mom gasp; I guess she hadn't known about his "feline brass knuckles" either.

Before anyone could say anything more, there was a loud "Meow!" from the other end of the hall, and Staggers erupted into the room.  He galloped down the length of the hall, calling in Iemy, "Dense!  Dense in tree!  Dense stuck!  Snidly help!"

Snidly muttered something in Iemy which I couldn't understand, lay down on Auntie's lap, and closed his eyes.

"What's happened?  What's wrong?" asked Auntie, as Staggers wailed,  "Dense stuck.  Help!"

Dad explained, "Dense -- another cat -- is stuck in a tree.  Staggers seems really upset.  I think we'd better see what's going on."

Star Date 7.95

Outside the castle, there was a mix of grass, dandelions, rocks, and assorted weeds for perhaps 100 feet, and then a few really large old oak trees, before the pine forest began in earnest.  Dense was wailing, about twenty feet up in a particularly gnarly old oak tree.  I could only catch a glimpse of him through the leaves, and I couldn't see why he couldn't come down -- a cat can jump 20 feet straight down in an emergency.

"What's he stuck on?" Dad asked, in Iemy.

"Eeufeaio eet yluio yřnarfu" was Stagger's answer -- that is, "Branch is in yřnarfu".  I wasn't sure what a yřnarfu was but I guessed it must be the black collars they were all wearing on this outing.

Snidly hissed, and then made a sort of barfing noise that might have been "Hykna!"  I don't know what it means, but I think it's insulting.

"What's the problem?" Auntie demanded (in English, of course).

"He's stuck on a branch -- branch through the collar," said Dad.

"He could choke!"

"I think that's the problem."

If I could judge by the wailing noises, Dense wasn't choking much, for sure!

"I'll run and see if Slo can find a ladder... I don't think the fire department can make it up here."

Snidly made a disgusted noise -- I should say, an even more disgusted noise than he'd already made -- and said, "No.  I get him."  He jumped about five feet up the trunk of the tree, caught hold, and ran up another 15 feet or so.  I don't now how he could hold on with those switchblade things on his claws; maybe he can extend his plain claws without them when he wants to.

He vanished into the leaves which were partly hiding Dense.  I heard him say "Yn ene oun!"  There was a blue flash, a loud cracking noise, and Dense came plummeting out of the tree, accompanied by a smell of burned hair.  He landed at my feet.  He was standing up, but seemed kind of stunned.  I bent over, and asked him, "Are you OK?", then repeated it in Iemy.  I didn't know if he understood English.

He made a sort of descending organ-pipe noise -- a purry meow -- which is a general cat noise for "OK".  But he still hadn't moved, even a step, and seemed a little unsteady.  I picked him up, and he relaxed and went kind of limp, the way some house cats do when they're picked up.  He said, softly, in barely understandable Iemy, "Snidly harsh.  But Snidly save." 

Auntie, whom I realized had come over right next to us, interrupted.  "Is he OK?  I smell burned hair.  Let me check."  As I held him, she ran her hands over his back, and around his collar.  "Skin seems intact.  It looks like the hair was burned off him in a stripe, without touching his skin.  Strange..."   Then she added, "By the way, I'm a vet.  Did you know that, Isis?"

I certainly had not!  Mom had never told me what kind of job Auntie had, or even if she had one.  I had thought she was just "idle rich folk".

She stepped back a pace, and tripped over Snidly, who had sat down just behind her feet.  "Whoops!" she yelled, as she went over backwards.  Snidly dodged as she fell, then sat down again and looked at her.

"Are you OK, Auntie?" cried Mom, as she and Dad rushed over.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine; your little alien from Nottingham just set me on my bumm again."  As Dad helped her up, she said, "Snidly, what did you do to Dense?"

"Got Dense down from tree.  Ituafe."  Snidly rubbed against Auntie's leg, and for a moment I thought she was going to fall over again, when he added, "Never met vet before.  Auntie nice.  Auntie come with."

Dad was looking up at the sun, and gave no sign of having heard the last exchange.  "Looks like five.  Stores still open?  Auntie, could you get us to town, help get groceries?  Do you have, oh, car, truck maybe?"

"Felix, you're always in such a rush, you're even more telegraphic than Snidly.  Yes, I have a truck, and the local Hypermarket is open until nine, and in fact it's just 16:00.  They forgot to turn back the Sun for daylight savings again this year; perhaps that's why you think it looks like 17:00.  But you should enjoy the woods while you can; once you're abducted by aliens you just never know!"

We strolled slowly back up to the castle, accompanied by Auntie's running commentary on the various trees, rocks, and mushrooms we passed.  Shortly past the last tree, we skirted what looked like a tiny hut covered with dry grass.  Staggers, who had been following us, vanished inside it, no doubt checking to see if any small wild things were living there.  Snidly and Dense ignored it -- Snidly was practically glued to Auntie (who had tripped over him several times now, but hadn't quite fallen down again) and Dense was purring softly; he showed no sign of wanting to be put down.

"Photography blind," observed Dad.  "For what -- deer?  Bear?"

Auntie laughed.  "Goodness, no!  That's Herbert's!"

Auntie showed no sign of adding anything to that, and Mom and Dad seemed content with it.  So, as we continued on toward the castle, I asked, "Auntie, that was Uncle Herbert's what?  Did he live in it or something?"

She laughed again.  "No, of course not!  It's a photography blind!"

"But you just said it wasn't!"

"No, I didn't."  She is so exasperating!  At that point I gave up; whatever it was, she wasn't saying.

But Dad came to the rescue.  "She meant it's a blind, but it's Herbert's, so it's not for mundane creatures.  Maybe leprechauns."

Auntie laughed again.  "Just so, Felix!  He needed pictures to prove the leprechauns came from the hills of Scotland before they spread to Ireland."

Neither Mom nor Dad added anything, so I asked, "Did Uncle Herbert get some good leprechaun shots?"

Auntie laughed her loudest, longest laugh yet.  It went on so long, I saw Snidly's tail puffing up, and Dense started digging his claws into my arm.  When she finally stopped for lack of breath, there was silence (save for the ringing in my ears!).  The birds, the squirrels, even the insects had apparently been stunned by the sound.

"Um....  Did I say something funny?" I finally asked.

Auntie looked like she was just going to start laughing again, but Mom quickly replied, "Of course there were no leprechaun pictures, dear.  Herbert's just a little ... eccentric."

"Crazier than a flock of loons, you mean," said Dad, softly, as Auntie started giggling again.

This was making me wonder why we hadn't seen Uncle Herbert yet.  Everyone was talking about him like he was far away, or worse.

"Auntie, where's Uncle Herbert right now?"

"I'm not sure, dear, but I think he's in Iceland, in a volcano."

"That's terrible!"

"No it's not; he's in one of the extinct ones.  Or he might be, unless it was a dead end, and then he might be in the Arctic somewhere -- or maybe the Antarctic."

"Snaefellsjökull?" asked Dad.

"Score another for you, Felix!" cried Auntie.  "Herbert is sure Verne was right.  Got a big hoop-de-doo ex-po-tition together, too, with draglines, helicopters, you name it.  He's wanted to do this for just years and years, but I wouldn't let him throw the Vitechat fortune into a hole in the ground and he didn't have funds of his own for it."

Auntie seemed to have nothing more to say about it.  After a lengthy pause, Mom finally asked, "So whose money is he spending?"

Dad, quick as always with words, answered before Auntie, "Koreshans -- right?"

Auntie dissolved in another gale of delighted laughter.  "Felix, you positively amaze me.  How did you guess that?"

"Logical -- only ones with money would would believe him."

"Dad, who are the Koreshans?"

"Hollow Earthers -- think we live on the Earth's inner surface.  I bet they're funding Herbert to find a way out, but Herbert's actually looking for a way in.  Doesn't matter; Verne was wrong.  Snaefellsjökull's a dead end."

"Then it'll be off to the poles for Herbert and company," Auntie observed.

"What's he hope to find there?  Leng?  Bad news if he finds it!"

Auntie gave another delighted laugh, but I never learned whether Uncle Herbert might be off looking for Leng (whatever that is!) because Mom pointed out that we needed to get moving if we were to get the shopping done that afternoon, and if we discussed all of Uncle Herbert's projects first we'd be lucky to get it done that month.

Continued in Shopping Trip, Part IV


Page created on 1/1/2011.  Star dates corrected, 2 Jan 2011 (but they're probably still not quite right)