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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Excerpt: Desmond and Garrick (3rd ed.)

From Chapter 9:

Garrick watched Lavinia leave the library in dejected silence, a stack of books in her arms—most likely unread. He suspected the books were simply an excuse for her to barge into the library and scan the bookshelves for nearly half an hour. All the while her brother fought to understand the laws of physics without transforming into a bat in a bout of rage. Garrick decided to speak with Lavinia’s parents regarding her education.

“From a scientific standpoint, she can provide me with some much-needed insight into the workings of a female vampire’s mind,” he said. It was a brilliant thought. “I suspect vampire ladies are more capable of absorbing facts than mortal ones.” How he’d managed to come to that preliminary conclusion, he didn’t know, but it was never a problem. He’d have enough chances to prove or disprove it, anyway.

At the first chance, he went searching and found his employers inspecting the newly-made “ruins” of a part of the abbey section.

“Ah, Mr. Mortimer!” Mrs. Hathaway cried, delighted. She beckoned him over, watching in infinite patience as Garrick stumbled and picked his way through scattered pieces of what used to be the northern sections of the abbey. “What do you think of this, sir? We’re quite delighted, of course, but we’re also curious as to what a mortal gentleman might think of our new design.”

Garrick looked up and scanned the ruined walls, taking note of the careful way with which sections had been torn down by hand. Against the perpetually gray sky and fog, the damaged section looked quite melancholy, which he supposed was exactly what his employers hoped for. At the same time, however, the wall appeared to be a little too ruined now, which did away with any practical purpose it had to begin with. The highest section, Garrick guessed, rose to no more than three feet high, and would very likely not dissuade curious animals or Farmer Birkhead’s old and insane cat from trespassing and savaging angry vampire boys flying around in bat form.

He tried not to scratch his head in confusion as he reminded himself that abbey ruins belatedly sprouting as an appendage to a cottage meant nothing more than a costly indulgence. Taking note of his employers’ broad, pleased grins, however, was enough to convince Garrick they, at least, were happy, regardless of the abbey’s pointless purpose.

“Very fetching,” he said with a slight nod and a smile. “Quite melancholy and brooding.”

“Did you hear that, my dear?” Mrs. Hathaway said, turning to her husband with a delighted sparkle in her eyes. “Mr. Pritchard and his assistants are geniuses in what they do! Oh, Mr. Mortimer, I’d like to add that our gardener will be cultivating some wild flowers and grass here and there—you know, to make the ruins look like they’ve been around for centuries.”

“Indeed, sir, if you have any expertise on the plants and flowers that we can use, I’d be pleased to consult with you on those,” Mr. Hathaway added, looking no less delighted than his wife. “I was at first ready to argue for a rich collection of poisonous plants—the same ones I cultivate in my little private garden over there…” He nodded his head in the direction of the eastern part of the grounds, which was blocked from view by the cottage. “But Mrs. Hathaway convinced me not to as we’ve got mortals living with us, and a mere brush of a hand against the prickly petals of a Disemboweled Highwayman would require an amputation of the affected limb within six hours.”

Garrick stared at his hosts. “I beg your pardon, but…Disemboweled Highwayman?”

“My prized poisonous thorny shrub, sir!” Mr. Hathaway said with a glow of pride, which, given his vampire pallor, was an unsettling sight. “I’m an amateur student of horticulture. That is, while I’ve never studied botany or any of the sciences in great depth, I’m rather mad for a good, rich garden, and the Disemboweled Highwayman happens to be one of those happy accidents that can only happen in a scholar’s laboratory. Surely, you understand what I mean.”

“I do, thank you for explaining. If that’s so, sir, perhaps you ought to have your experiments published. You’d be the first vampire to be recognized by the Royal Society, even.”

Mr. Hathaway merely laughed and shrugged. “Well, that’s a pretty thought, to be sure, Mr. Mortimer, but I daresay the inclusion of vampires in such prestigious institutions beyond grammar schools is something Britain isn’t ready for. As for me, I’m quite content with what I have, sir. That’s all I require.” He paused for a moment with a sheepish grin. “Besides, when I said the Disemboweled Highwayman was an accident, I meant it. I wasn’t even trying to experiment with anything, but somewhere along the line, I somehow did something extraordinary, and this wonderful poisonous plant came into being. I can only guess I must have spilled something spoiled in the ground one day, and maybe it also happened to be the very spot where someone’s dead dog was buried, and as they say in America—voilĂ !”

Garrick smiled. “That would be France, sir.”

“Oh, well,” Mr. Hathaway said with a derisive snort and a haughty wave of a hand. “Who cares for geography, anyway? Countries aren’t going anywhere. Why bother knowing what’s where, unless one schemes to conquer the world?”

Mrs. Hathaway looked positively delighted. “You’re like an Olympian, my dear,” she said with a fond squeezing of her husband’s arm. “Imagine, creating your own plant breed with spoiled liquids and rotting animals. It’s almost like that unnatural goddess creature bursting out of Zeus’ skull.” She turned to Garrick when her husband could only laugh and cough in embarrassment. “So you see, Mr. Mortimer, it looks like we’ll be needing your help in cultivating neglect hereabouts.”

“I’d be honored, ma’am, and I can pull out books from your own library to show you,” Garrick said.

“Excellent! Oh, and if you wish it, do consult with the gardener about making sure the new plants look dead and drooping—well, as many of them as possible, that is. Who wants to see vibrant, healthy vegetation in such a place, I ask?”

Mr. and Mrs. Hathaway, suddenly distracted, began a lengthy exchange about the virtues of dead or nearly dead plants as a significant element in a vampire’s landscape. When their animated discussion began touching on breeds of poisonous plants that could be added to Mr. Hathaway’s already thriving garden of death, Garrick thought to step in with a thousand apologies and a very humble inclination of the head.

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