Dead Not Sleeping

May 23, 2011

It was a fact that Grannie slept like one of the daisy-pushers inhabiting the Abbey graveyard. That didn’t mean she was deaf, though.

“Shh!” Tamarack held a claw to her lips before closing the shutter on her lantern and kneeling beside the bed. “I need your help, Mr. Cobb.”

“What toime is it, Miz Tam?” She could feel the mole shift, his whiskers twitching against her arm. “Oi’m gurtly toi–”

The vixen wrapped her paws around his muzzle and leaned in to whisper. “It’s important. We can’t wake nobeast, or we’ll get in trouble. Please, Mr. Cobb, there ain’t nobeast but you as can help. Something strange is going on, and it’s got Colm scared half out of that half-wit he’s got knocking around his head.”

Cobb nodded, and Tamarack released him to pick up the lantern. She opened the shutter once more, the faint beam of candlelight illuminating the bedtime shadow puppets that hid in the bookshelves, corners, and closets of even the dullest rooms. As she turned, the flame’s glow revealed the stacks of spare coffins lining the walls, and the trinkets scattered about the floor. They made navigating the room a treacherous journey for footclaw and shin alike; it was a wonder Grannie hadn’t tripped and broken her neck yet.

Tamarack felt Cobb’s digging claw on her shoulder. Time for doing, not thinking.

Three tolls of the Abbey bells covered the squeak of the hinges as the pair stole out of the room and into the moonlit corridor. They made their way toward the kitchen, then out the back door into the graveyard. The vixen snatched her shovel from the porch as they went.

“Now where was it?” Tamarack eyed the grave markers as her lantern revealed each name – friends unmet, but ever willing to point her in the right direction. “Across from Ms. Julep and Mr. Reuben?”

“What’s this all about, then, Miz T–”

“Hold these.” Tamarack tossed the shovel and lantern to the mole before crouching and setting her snout to the ground. She heard him fumbling for a firm grip on each item and bit down on a chuckle. He was better at catching than most moles, at least. He was also better at being caught… which didn’t bode well for their venture. They’d carve that epitaph if, and only if, it came time for that, though. “It was around here….” A perfume of mint beckoned from the north. “Hah! Come on, Mr. Cobb.” Keeping their heads and voices low, Tamarack and Cobb crept around the graves to where the scent of tea and candy was strongest. “Colm’s been acting right peculiar since we found this cloakpin yesterday.”

“Cloakpin? Like th’ one Miz Ida were wearing for dinner?”

“Naw, Colm bought her that with the coin we got lifting a few trinkets from the permanent residents around here.” She flashed a quick grin at the mole before furrowing her brow and explaining about the rabbit, the pin, and Colm’s queer reaction. “I’ve never seen him tuck his tail between his legs like that. You’d think the thing was a snake what come out and bit him.”

They stopped, and Tamarack took another sniff before scratching a few pawfuls of dirt away to reveal a wadded pile of peppermint. Mumma would probably tan her hide when she noticed the lot had gone missing, but this was too important to worry about backsides and their eventual whipping.

“But if it were a rabbit from th’ Abbey, woi would they be tossing him in th’ graveyard without asking?” Cobb wondered as he returned her shovel and set the lantern down.

“Expect he got offed by some fellows as don’t want no beast knowing he been offed.” The mole stiffened, and the vixen felt her own paws clench just a little tighter about her shovel.

Murder. Since that winter, when her paws had bled and arms ached for each victim buried in the frozen ground, the word had become more sinister, more cruel. What was this vile thing, then, creeping from outside the great stone walls and into her graveyard? It had terrified her big brother, and she wasn’t about to let it get away with that.

“I didn’t bury it none too deep,” she continued, forcing a smile. Cobb looked ready to bolt half the time as it was, best not worry the old digger too much. “Just so’s Colm wouldn’t notice. Figured we could take it to Brother Aloysius to see if he knows anything about it. He’ll be in his gatehouse about now.”

There was a note of disapproval in the mole’s tone as he set his claws and she set her shovel to the task. “Miz Tam, we’m got chores t’ do tomorrow. Oi doan’t think we’m should go runnins about hither an’ yon in th’ noight. What would Zir Emmerich an’ Miz Larch say?”

Tamarack pulled a face. “Expect they’d say that so long as I get to getting in the morning, I can do whatever I like.” She could feel Cobb’s raised brow more than see it, and stuck out her tongue. “This is all for Colm, Mr. Cobb.”

“Roight.”

“You’re right suspicious for a mole.”

“You be roight supicious for a fox.”

They paused in their digging, the vixen pursing her lips at the be-goggled mole. A beat passed in total silence before she felt a smile tugging at her whiskers. “I like you, Mr. Cobb. Ain’t too many beasts bold enough to steal from the Abbey gardens.”

“Oi was hungry.” He shrugged, and they resumed.

“That reminds me, though. Don’t forget to ask Grannie for the latest advert in the morning. Ms. Saskia’s coming, and Papa wants something fresh for the season.” She couldn’t help a wicked grin curling her lip up. “And Mr. Merritt’ll be coming, too.”

“Zir Merritt?”

“He’s the best! Sells all sorts of things as ain’t nobeast else’ll sell. I been saving up for one of his special pamphlets.”

“What be a spec– Oi think Oi found it.” The mole held the cloakpin up to the lantern’s light. The finely-crafted surface glittered, the faux-stonework of the Abbey etched in painstaking detail around the ruby gate. It had to be worth a few silver marks, maybe even a full gold coin. “You said it were a rabbit wearing th’ pin?”

“Aye. Looked like it for the ears. Couldn’t make out the face, though. Whoever done him in weren’t kind about the doing.” She plucked the cloakpin from Cobb’s paws and rubbed it clean on her slacks. “We’d best be off. Like you said, we got work tomorrow, and I think Mr. Noel’s planning on another campball game, too. Remy’s been holding her nose so high in the air since she beat us last week, I reckon she’ll be bending over backwards afore long.”

They refilled the shallow hole, and Tamarack pocketed the cloakpin before they returned to the house. The vixen replaced her shovel and sneaked back into the kitchen while Cobb fretted outside. Brother Aloysius was a generous bat, but he wouldn’t look kindly on the pair of them interrupting his research on the ‘historical ramifications of the changing morals of Mossflower country’. Something to butter him up, then…

Tamarack’s claws clicked across jars in the pantry until they came to her personal treasure. The candied beetles had cost her three graverobbing adventures, but the sugary confections had been worth every penny. She picked out five of the smaller beetles and placed them with the pin before returning to Cobb.

“Oi was wondering, Miz Tam,” Cobb began once they were on their way, “woi not just ask Zir Colm woi he were scared?”

“I tried! He won’t even admit there was a rabbit, though. Just told me to belt up, or he’d chop off my tail and give it to Ida for dusting the house. Whatever it is, Mr. Cobb, Colm ain’t speaking a word on it. And I can’t ask Mumma or Papa. What if it is something dangerous? It’ll be Colm in trouble instead of me. He’s in charge of the graveyard… Papa’ll raise old Cluny screeching about not reporting what happened what with all the beasts disappearing. We can figure this out ourselves, then tell the Abbot personal. We’ll just leave out where we found the pin.”

“Oi… doan’t think that’s th’ best–”

You!” Something latched onto her arm, its icy cold claws prickling the skin beneath her fur. Tamarack tried to wrench herself away, and the lantern went flying.

“Let go! Let go!”

“Oi didn’t do it!”

“Help me, please! They know. They know I know!”

Well, for a monster, it sounded rather desperate.

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