The next morning on the way to his embroidery class, Clifton noticed a commotion in the town square. Spriggs was sitting in the square’s centre, white with terror. His pale colouring owed to the fact the townspeople had thrown flour in his face to calm him down. Pip was gently patting Spriggs' apron to comfort the frightened man. “What happened?” asked Clifton.
“It was horrible,” said Spriggs. “There was a candle and, and—”
Spriggs became deadly serious. “There were screams, shapes and a noise from the downstairs bathroom at the inn. This morning I went down to investigate and—”he took a deep breath“—there was some pretty nasty graffiti in one of the cubicles: real satirical stuff. There was a cartoon and it had a limerick and everything.”
Pip gasped a long drawn out inhalation that lasted thirty seconds. She coughed. “I swallowed a bug,” she said, “and I think it was smoking a pipe.”
“The culprit was definitely the Shadow Imp,” Spriggs continued. “No doubt about it. All me bookings have been cancelled. Me business has dried up.”
Spriggs wept. The townsfolk threw eggs, sugar, cocoa and butter at him, figuring a cake would make him feel better.
“Pip and I would like to make a booking for tonight,” announced Clifton.
“You would?” said Spriggs.
“Yes two rooms please.”
“I’ll have to check the diary to see if any are spare. It’s the busy season, don’t you know?”
“You just said—”
“Oh, we do have two deluxe rooms left,” said Spriggs flicking through his diary.
“We’ll take those,” said Clifton.
“They be the most expensive,” said Spriggs.
“Fine,” sighed Clifton.
Pip was so excited she took off her shoes and threw them into a fountain. She knew Clifton would eventually change his mind. She also knew how to make a kite and how to install timber decking.
Despite his bold offer, Clifton was not confident and had no clue what he would do if he found the Shadow Imp. To his knowledge, you couldn’t catch shadows in a net, bear trap, or one of those lassos that hoist the ensnared victim upside down by the ankles into the air like in cartoons.
Clifton and Pip arrived at Sprigg’s inn, which was called The Inn Solvent. Clifton had packed light, opting only to bring a toothbrush, a change of clothes and a badge maker. Pip brought considerably more and had packed toiletries, winter clothes, summer clothes, a Mayan calendar, a hairdryer, an atlas, shoes, spare laces, a turntable, an inkwell, a bookshelf, a skillet, cardboard, socks, a shrub, algae, a phone charger and 2/5 of a tennis court.
The pair stood out the front surveying the inn. Pip put down her triangulation equipment. “What made you change your mind?” she said.
“I can’t stand to see scented candles used for evil,” said Clifton.
Spriggs welcomed them and helped carry their bags inside. Virgil took Clifton and Pip’s payment and checked them in.
“You’re looking particularly appley today, Virgil,” said Pip, twirling her hair around a fake novelty finger.
Virgil sprayed Pip with a stream of cider.
“Oh, Virgil!” exclaimed Pip, fanning herself. “You are cheeky.”
The lobby was curiously decorated. Metal knickknacks and trinkets were strewn haphazardly across the maroon, brown, mustard, pink and bright green striped carpet. The walls were roughly painted; only a few thick brush strokes of pale orange paint was slapped across each wall and several pieces of furniture against the wall had been painted over as though they weren’t noticed. The room smelled like a combination of seagull and oatmeal. Wires protruded from the vents and the glass of the light bulb was broken, exposing the filament.
As Clifton studied the décor, he came to the conclusion the inn’s poor patronage may have had very little to do with the Shadow Imp.
Spriggs showed Clifton and Pip to their rooms. Their deluxe rooms consisted of a filthy waterproof cot that doubled as a bath, a curtain rod with no curtain, a spittoon, a fire in a forty-four gallon drum, a used teabag and wifi.
Clifton gazed out the window at the foreboding forest. A grey haze swept across the trees, which was either fog or excess smoke machine mist from the rave the night before. Clifton remembered the 57th stanza of the Shadow Imp poem:
He grabs travelers with pointyth claws,
Flickers across tree trunks and riseth the fear
Has a primitive chalk board where he keepth score,
Of all who dare cometh near
I’m really digging Cream at the moment. Eric Clapton has a lot of talent
Pip joined Clifton at the window. “They say most who enter don’t have a chance,” she said.
Pip was, of course, talking about the inn’s weekly talent quest that awards one winner and a most improved performer. Her attention turned to the forest. “It’s terrifying,” she said.
“I know,” said Clifton.
“The white of the asbestos gives it a lovely enchanted feel,” said Pip.
Pip presented Clifton with a mechanical device she’d constructed from household electrical appliances and a 1950s era super computer.
“What is it?” asked Clifton.
“It’s an imp detector,” answered Pip. “I built it this morning.”
Pip switched on the contraption and it whirred as it power up. Clifton was impressed until the machine quickly became sentient and leapt at Pip, attacking with fury. With a scream, Pip grabbed the device and hurled it against the wall. It broke into pieces and Clifton stamped on the shattered parts.
Pip had devised a plan B to find the Shadow Imp in case her invention instantly grew murderous. Her grade four teacher, Mrs. Somerset, became a medium after quitting teaching. She was forced into retirement after making her class engage in twenty-four hour, non-stop game of flagless capture the flag. Mrs. Somerset had constructed a hut in the forest where she communicates with spirits using a technique called “automatic writing”. The process involves the medium holding a pen over a piece of paper and allowing the spirits to move it and compose a message. Pip suggested they visit Mrs. Somerset and ask any spirits in the neighbourhood if they know how to find the Shadow Imp.
Clifton was skeptical and didn’t want to support the barbarous practice of marathon capture the flag competitions.
“Those days are behind her,” assured Pip.
Clifton agreed to give automatic writing a try and the pair went downstairs to see Spriggs.
“I wish you both well,” said Spriggs.
“Where’s Virgil?” asked Pip.
“He’s painting the backroom. He’s got quite the eye for decoration,” said Spriggs.
“We’ll do all we can,” promised Clifton.
“If there’s a supermarket in the forest, do you think you could bring me back some bran?” asked Spriggs.
“No,” said Clifton.
Clifton and Pip edged slowly into the wood. The mist parted and darkness of the forest enveloped them. An owl hooted, a lizard hissed and a cricket performed a rendition of Minnie The Moocher. Soon Clifton and Pip found themselves so deep into the forest that the outside world was no longer visible. The forest floor was comfortable to walk on and was completely covered in ice cream sticks. Logging had been a large part of the town’s early economy and the sticks had been spread through the forest in a misguided attempt to replant the trees. All that had grown were ice creams.
“Look! In that clearing,” said Pip, holding a spyglass to her closed eye.
Between two mighty trees was Mrs. Somerset’s hut. It was constructed entirely from ice cream sticks and the insulation was a mixture of asbestos and expired pharmaceuticals.
The pair cautiously approached and knocked on the door. It swung open. Mrs. Somerset sat expectantly behind a table draped in a tartan blanket.
“Sorry,” Mrs. Somerset apologised, “the silk tablecloth I usually use is at the dry cleaners. All I could find was this picnic rug. Come in!”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Clifton and Pip's folkloric adventures with monsters & ghosts will continue with a new entry every week.
Subscribe to my author newsletter for news & fish throwing tutorials