Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!
By Calliope Njo
It had been a long day putting the finishing touches on the home renovation. After completion, I handed over the keys to the owners, and the couple’s smile stretched ear to ear. Stainless steel with concrete flooring and white everywhere else looked dull compared to the gleam on their faces.
When I got home, I planned a steak dinner. Someone knocked on my door but I wouldn’t let it interfere with my dinner. Knock ignored, a T-Bone hit the grill. Dinner and beer covered, the next thing was a good movie. We didn’t have the channel ranges of a big city. So it was limited satellite hookup or a good book. TV won out over a book because of the fear of falling asleep while still reading the first page.
Oh good, a war movie. OK, fantasy war movie but at least it was something. That rotten doorbell again better mean something catastrophic happened and no one else on Earth could fix it.
I opened the door to an old man holding a package. “And you wanted what?” Tired of thinking, nothing came out resembling being civil.
“I am Barnaby. I am to deliver this envelope to you, Ms. Remington.” He held out a simple white paper-size envelope. Stuffed full by the expanded edges.
“I don’t know what you’re selling, I’m not buying.” How did he know my name?
“I assure you this is business that you can’t ignore, Ma’am, or I would not be here.”
I tapped my fingers on the door while I imagined how to hurt the guy. “Come back Monday around nine in the morning, then we can talk if it’s about business.” By then I should be refreshed and all the kinks in my body fixed.
“Very well. Good night.” He bowed and left.
The old man put on a tall hat as he left. The temperature was still in the forties so not that cold, but the older folks enjoyed dressing up during the late fall into winter.
Movie and dinner done, I cleaned up and got to bed wondering what that man wanted. All of my men either went home, to the bar, or the BBQ place in the alley between Apple and B Street. So what did he want? I had to wait until Monday to find out. If he returns Monday.
I spent the weekend reviewing the plans for the next job. Nothing that I haven’t done before and it wouldn’t start until after the holidays. I needed to get my mind on something else. That old man kept bugging me.
Monday morning came, and right on the dot, my doorbell rang. I opened the door. “Barnaby, first let me apologize for Friday.” I laughed.
“Do not worry, Ma’am. All is well.” He held out that envelope. “Everything you need to know is in here. I shall see you. Good day, Ma’am.” He bowed before he turned around and left.
OK, time to find out what was in this overstretched paper wrapper. Page upon page upon page came out. It didn’t seem to stop. It started with a three-page letter and ended with the name and address of some legal office.
After reading everything, which took a good couple of hours, it seemed the estate holders of the fabled Blackthorne Manor in Posenville wanted my services.
Everybody had their own version but Blackthorne Manor was said to be the estate of the fabled protector family. Stories about the family ranged from philanthropists to an entire line of wizards.
Those of us in Artemtown never believed either. A fabled town made up by the ramblings of people lost and confused tended to be the popular opinion. It was time to see if either existed.
The bottom line was get in and make everything new again as if the house never aged. Everything had to be as if the keys were handed over to Amadeus Blackthorne a couple of centuries ago. Their words, not mine.
Not an inconceivable task, tough, but not something that couldn’t be done. I’ve done a couple before. Nothing that old, but with a little know-how and creativity it could be accomplished. That and a friend who had a fascination with historical architecture.
Whether I accepted the job, it didn’t matter. I was to report to the estate that night at six o’clock to discuss the details. I planned to come home, so I didn’t think to pack.
What details did they want to discuss because they covered everything? The working crew, the funds, any legal services I would need, our sleeping quarters, and so on. It seemed they hired my people to work on another project.
When that time came around, I got ready to go. The instructions mapped out the route since any map application could not find it. The little red dotted line moved up a highway I never heard of before. There was a highway thirteen — also known as left behind the road, highway twenty-seven — also known as that bloody tree-lined road, but no highway thirty.
It seemed a fork at the top of highway thirteen led to highway thirty which was impossible. The end of that highway went over a cotton pickin’ cliff. It continued on to further explain that was the right fork. To get to the left fork, one had to pass the inspection by the guards before passing through a gate. All one needed was the little gold card that came in the envelope. Uh huh. Sure. Right.
I got to that point and sure enough, there was a guard post. I looked to the right of that, and a metal gate blocked my way. No guard though. I got closer and a gargoyle to the left smiled and his eyes lit red.
I could’ve run back to my car and hightailed it out of there, but I didn’t. I shoved the card in its mouth and the gate opened. “Thank you. You may proceed to the rest of your journey. A human form will be available come daylight. May the moon protect you.”
That might’ve been their way of telling visitors to have a nice day. I stopped there too much in awe at what happened. A loud buzzer broke me out of my trance. I ran back to the car and started it up.
The curvy and uneven road ended at another locked black iron gate. The yard lights shone over the entryway. One gargoyle sat on each side. When I inspected, they smiled at me.
The eyes of the one on the right lit. I took that as my cue to speak. “Hello? It’s Kane Remington. I—” The gates opened.
I got in my car and drove up to the house. No trees, but lights made it easier to get there. Barnaby waited in front of the door. I ran up the steps when I left the car.
“Good evening. Follow me, if you would.”
I did, and talk about centuries old. The faded colors, peeling wallpaper, wood that needed to be refinished — I saw all of that. Nothing someone else couldn’t do.
“OK, so why me? Why am I even here?”
“You will find out, Ma’am. First, you must be well nourished to be able to accomplish your given task.”
Yeah, I had a lot to apologize for. Something about all of this disturbed me and I didn’t like it. Off to the left of the kitchen, they had prepared a formal dining area.
A table that sat twenty people, made of maple, had been set with gleaming gold cutlery and sparkling white plates. A huge hunk of meat sat in the middle with covered dishes all around. If I knew this was a formal event, I would have put on something better than jeans and a t-shirt.
I stood at the table while I wondered if it was too late to come up with an excuse to leave. A man held out his hand and smiled. Yeah, too late.
“Hi there. I’m Kane Remington.” I held out my hand.
He grasped and shook it. “I’m Johann Blackthorne.”
First Amadeus and then Johann. “Did somebody have an interest in classical music?”
“You noticed, and to answer your question in short, it’s a family tradition.”
I nodded and left it at that. There were kids out there named after compass directions. My mother named me after her favorite TV character, so who was I to say that was strange.
The woman didn’t say anything. She smiled a lot though. Strawberry blonde hair, shorter than mine which wasn’t hard, and emerald green eyes. Everything about her made her look like a teenager.
He held out a chair for her and she sat down in it. He pushed it in for her. “My precious. This is my wife, Trieste.” He smiled and kissed her head and I swore that if I saw another act of love I would leave here a diabetic.
OK, I had to be calm. Potential client and I couldn’t be rude no matter how much whatever this was hurt. Barnaby came back with a big fork and a long knife. He stood next to Johann and started carving, passing the meat around as he went.
A very good meal. The best I’ve had in a long time as a matter of fact. Business needed to be done though before it got too late.
“Mr. and Mrs. Blackthorne, first thank you for the food. It was very good. Second, why did you hire me? After a brief look, nothing here that couldn’t be done by somebody else. Especially a do-it-yourselfer.”
Johann laughed. “I am anything but handy. I could tell you who composed that concerto. I could tell you if that painting was an original. I cannot, however, hammer a nail. Mother always told me I was one that needed to be pampered.” He sipped his wine.
“All right. So you want this entire house to be renovated. I need a few things in order to do that, not to mention what kind of a budget I will be working with.”
Johann picked up a napkin from his lap and put it on the table. He stared at it for a bit before he looked up. “Tell Barnaby whatever it is you will need and he will see to it that it is taken care of. As for a budget, whatever you feel is necessary. That does not mean to scrimp. That means to get it right the first time so that it will last worry-free for as long as can be expected.”
So I got an endless budget no holds barred? Yeah. Right. “I’ll think about it.” And run away. As far away as possible.
“Barnaby assured me there would not be any problems. Your next project, as a matter of fact, had been given to another renovation specialist.” He held up his hand. “It was to be sure your attention would be here and not elsewhere. Not to take away your business. We need the best. You are the best. We want you here to do your job, Ms. Remington.”
You would excuse me if I don’t believe you. All of this sounds too good to be true and we all know what they say about that. “I have to think about it.”
Johann raised his eyebrow and stood from the table. “All right. Barnaby will show you to your room. Everything had been stocked, however, should you need something please let us know. You have until the morning for your final word. The word we are expecting is yes. We prefer the word restored not renovated.” He pulled out his wife’s chair and she stood. He wrapped his arm around her waist and walked away from the table.
Good grief. Demanding son of a gun. I stood up and moved away from the table.
“Turn around and follow me. We have stairs to climb to get to your room on the first floor.” Barnaby stood to the side while I moved closer.
We were on the first floor, weren’t we? Something to tuck away for further thought until later. He moved away first while I followed. Nothing I saw at first glance required immediate attention. I started to wonder if it had anything to do with that woman. That could’ve been the answer but there were others available to do the same job. I didn’t need to be here.
Barnaby went up to the first-floor landing and turned left. The first door on the right he opened. “Pleasant dreams, Ma’am.”
I’ll think about it. I stepped inside and watched as Barnaby closed the door. Some notice would be nice. No, better not say that. They would get me another envelope full of papers, good grief.
I went to the dresser and pulled open a drawer. The shimmer of the material made me pull it out. After a quick check of the tag to confirm, it was indeed silk, and in my size. It got folded again to be put back. T-shirts and sweatpants provided me with more comfort. The drawer below that one had what I wanted. Not the old sweat pants part but they were thin enough to be comfortable.
Dad always told me to be prepared for anything, because one never knew. The one time I wasn’t this happens.
I changed clothes and got cleaned up. Too many thoughts went through the noggin to be able to relax. The head needed to relax on something, so it got leaned on against the wall while looking out the window.
The door opened. “It would be more appropriate to dress in a nightgown,” Mrs. Blackthorne said.
Did I need to turn around? The head did it anyway. “Oh. This is much more comfortable for me.”
“Hm. I see. Well, you are the help and they do drink a lot of beer. So I suppose a glass of wine would be out of the question.”
All of this made me reconsider my original thought about apologizing for my attitude. Dad always preached to me to show them what you got first. Attitude and behavior are a strict second.
“I’m fine. Thank you, though.”
She turned her head to the right. “But… all right. I was only seeing to our guest. I was not being mean. She came—oh. All right.” She looked straight at me. “I will say good night now.” She left.
Mr. Blackthorne stood at the door. “I do apologize. She can be rather abrupt and I did try to explain what was going on so that she would understand. It seems as though further explanation is in order. Ms. Remington, our families have been doing business together since Great Grandfather Amadeus came here and built his castle for his dear wife.”
My eyebrow raised up in suspicion. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t believe you. I don’t. I never heard of you or even met you until now.”
“I know. I know. All of this is ludicrous. How could this be? I had the same reaction.” He laughed. “Now, you have a good night’s rest.” He held out a box. “This is for you.”
I took it. The thought of not taking it went through my mind. Before it got returned, he vanished.
The door closed as if it had a brain. A lot of strange things happened since this began. I needed to get back to my life with my own people. Customers with impossible demands. Suppliers who didn’t fulfill their end of the business deal. Inspections that tended to take longer than necessary. That was my world. This happened and I didn’t know what to do.
Mom taught me how to cook, clean, appreciate classical music, and read books. Dad taught me how to measure, hammer a nail, and use a screwdriver. None of that taught me what to do.
That bow on the box bugged me to the point I had to pull it. It got undone and I took the top off. A screwdriver that looked a lot like my old one. The one that Dad gave me a long time ago. I cried when I had to get rid of it. It couldn’t screw any screws anymore so there was no reason to keep it. Here it was again. I shook it and something rattled inside.
While looking at it through the light, a piece of rolled-up paper sat inside. I unscrewed the top and shook it a bit to get it out. A message in tiny print was on it. Good thing I got my eyes checked.
Blackthorne and Remington share a life. Always together as if blood.
Nothing else on it, only a mysterious message mentioning something about blood. I couldn’t go based on what was written on a mysterious note. I was even more confused.
Someone knocked on my door. I ignored it until whoever it was kept knocking. I opened it and Barnaby held out a book. I took it and he left.
An Oxford-Dictionary-sized book in my hands and there was no way that thing was going to get read. Nuh uh. No way. Not on this Earth.
OK, maybe one page. This book told the history of both of our towns right outside of nowheresville. Of course, nothing got read past the fifth page, but I could only imagine it told a long history full of impossible microdetails to remember.
Keep up our partnership and hope for the best or leave at first light? I still had no idea and the sun would be up any time now. I went to the shower and stripped along the way. Sometimes the hot pounding water on my head worked to get my brain functioning.
They wanted me to say yes, which made me wonder what would happen if I told them no. Risk the little wife throwing a temper tantrum? Me being beheaded? I turned off the water, still no clue what my answer would be.
The clothes got picked up and a new set lay on the bed. Strange how they knew my size because everything fit right. Not a silk blouse and fine-material slacks person but I took it. Before I left the room, I held up the screwdriver again. I let out a long breath after I realized I had everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing this. I hoped it would all work in the end.
Please visit Calliope on her blog: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/