“Right,” began the Mayor’s receptionist, “did you want to see her in person, or are you wanting to see a photo of her?”
“In person. Mayor Birch has asked to see me,” said Clifton.
“Ok, but are you sure? It’s quite a nice photo. It’s just a quick holiday snap, but it really is top notch.”
“We have a meeting.”
“Not a problem. Do you mind if I have a look at it? The composition is absolutely perfect.”
“I do mind, yes.”
“Oh, well, that’s fine; it’s your call. Just head through the large wooden door.”
Clifton pushed through the door, jealous that it was in tact.
“Welcome, Clifton. Thank you for seeing me,” said Mayor Birch. “I hope you don’t mind, I’m just a bit peckish.”
The Mayor was snacking on a Faberge egg and Clifton noted that her gums were severely cut. Mayor Birch believed elected officials must portray a degree of splendour and pageantry. Not only did Mayor Birch wear her mayoral robes everywhere, but she also wore the robes of every mayor the town had ever had. It made her outfit thick and heavy; so thick that she constantly sweated. Clifton wondered why his actions were considered an attack on heritage, when excreting all over a centuries worth of mayoral robes seemed far worse.
“I saw you at the race,” said Mayor Birch, wiping her brow. “What did you make of it?”
“Don’t know. I’m not really into rowing.”
“I meant the ghosts. Rumours are flying around everywhere.”
The haunting of the rowing race was all over the local papers, as were snails thanks to the delivery person leaving the papers in the rain.
“I really have no idea,” said Clifton. “Have they attacked before?”
Mayor Birch took a deep breath while she chose her words. “They haven’t attacked the race before,” she said. “I need your help as the town’s preeminent paranormalist.”
“I’m not a paranormalist,” insisted Clifton.
“Well, whatever the technical term is,” said Mayor Birch.
“No, I’m not squabbling over the name.”
“You’re missing the point. I have no interest in poltergeist.”
“Paranormographer. Happy? You pseudo-scientists are so picky.”
“I don’t like ghosts and I don’t like rowing.”
“You don’t like rowing? Where is your Brandon College spirit?”
“I didn’t go to Brandon College,” admitted Clifton.
“Where did you go?”
“Destitute High School For Boys And The Clinically Poor.”
“Oh, you poor thing.”
Mayor Birch stuffed a handful of money into Clifton’s pocked. “Try to eat something,” she said. “I’m re-running the race, Clifton and I want you to make sure no more spirits disrupt proceedings.”
“You said the soldiers had not interrupted the race before. What did you mean?” asked Clifton.
“There was a time when this town had more than two schools. Come, it is time for you to learn the story of a dark chapter in our history.”
Struggling against the weight of her robes, Mayor Birch slowly walked to a water font in the middle of the room. Clifton followed close behind. Ceremoniously, Mayor Birch raised her index finger and plunged it into the water. She slowly stirred in a wide circular motion. Clifton leaned in and gazed deep into the whirling pool.
“What are you doing?” Mayor Birch asked.
“I was waiting for the story to materialise in the water.”
“What? This is a finger bowl. I was washing my hands. I had crayfish for lunch.”
Mayor Birch flicked the water from her hand. “Much better,” she said. “Now you shall hear the story. Two hundred years ago, a military academy, known as the Military Academy, lay in the swampy hills to the town's west. Accessible only by boat and with a letter of recommendation, the school trained young cadets in the art of quashing rioting peasants and rebuffing attacks on the mayoral bread and Faberge egg stocks. But one day, the students rebelled and attacked the town. It was a bloody battle, but the townspeople bravely drove the students back to the Academy and sunk the students' only boat, marooning the rebels. With no food and no entertainment, the cadets were left to starve and amuse themselves with endless games of charades."
Mayor Birch shuddered.
"Why have I not heard of the insurrection before?"
"The town was eager to forget this regrettable chapter in their history, so the Council decreed that no one mention the Military Academy ever again. But it is said that on some nights, you can still hear the distant sound of marching and the students wailing, 'A book. Two words. First word…'"
"There is a subsection that allows the story to be told in the event of needing to explain why a person has not heard the story," said Mayor Birch. “The town needs you. Will you help us?”
“I’m sorry, but I have to go shopping for a new door,” said Clifton.
“I understand. Thank you for your time.”
“The accounts department is downstairs.”
“To pay your $250,000 fine. Best settle it before you’re charged a late fee.”
Clifton sighed. “Is there a way to have the fine waived?” he asked, anticipating the answer.
“No,” replied Mayor Birch.
“Oh, I thought you were suggesting the fine could be forgiven if I were to help the town?”
“No, I didn’t think of that. We are out of Faberge eggs and we need the dosh. But your proposal sounds fair.”
“Ok, I will help you.”
“Two words,” said Mayor Birch, elated. “Sounds like: spank shoe.”
“You’re not meant to talk in charades,” said Clifton.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Clifton and Pip’s folkloric adventures will continue with a new entry every week.
If anyone has any thoughts on the story, please feel free to comment. Feedback is always appreciated!