Hello lovely people! Welcome to day 23 of the Summer Blog-A-Day. If you haven’t caught up with it all, head on over to the homepage, or you can join the Indieworld Facebook page to catch up with other readers and writers who are all taking part.
I’m so pleased to be able to take part in the Blog-A-Day, with so many talented writers and bloggers – it’s most exciting! But here’s where I get out of the way and present my offering for your reading pleasure.
We’re joining Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and barbecue aficionado, in the village of Toot Hansell for today’s story, where very modern Monster Hunters and very old creatures collide.
In a duck pond.
Beaufort Scales & the Monster Hunters
Miriam hurried through the garden, her long skirt bundled up in one hand to keep it out of the dew-damp grass, which was well over her ankles. She supposed she should really cut it, but some rather nice wildflowers had come through this year, so it seemed a shame to behead them just for the sake of a tidy lawn.
At the bottom of the garden she stopped, tucked her skirt between her knees to stop it falling (which worked for the front, but the back promptly dropped into the dandelions), and attached a red cloth that had once been a scarf to the line on the flagpole, not without some difficulty. She couldn’t remember the fancy flag-tying knots Alice had taught her, and after a few false starts she just used her usual shoe-tying knot, and added some more on top. Then she tried to raise it, went the wrong way, got the knots jammed into the tiny pulley at the bottom, and said something unpleasant before finally getting it free and sending the flag aloft. She secured the thin rope neatly to the pole, and looked up at the scarf, hanging limp in the windless morning. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
Red for danger.
Red for stay away.
She sighed, and went back inside.
Lunch came and went, and Miriam was just putting the kettle on when there was a sudden clamour from outside. It was the sound of running feet on the garden path, the clatter of her outside chairs crashing into each other, the beat of heavy wings, and a strangled yelp as someone got tangled in the washing line and fell into the veggie patch. She rushed to the door and flung it open in time to see three dragons thundering towards her, snorting anxious orange smoke and barely bothering to take on the colours of the garden. The smallest was still wearing a few runner beans over one ear.
“What are you doing?” she demanded. “Didn’t you see the flag?”
“Yes! What’s happening? Who’s in danger?” Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly Dragons, was drawn up to his full height of around a metre with his scales glittering green and gold in the sun.
“Do we need to singe anyone?” Amelia asked. She was trying to dislodge the beans.
“We probably shouldn’t singe anyone,” Mortimer said.
“No one’s singeing anyone,” Miriam said. “You shouldn’t be here!”
“But someone’s in danger,” Beaufort pointed out.
“You’re in danger,” Miriam said. “That’s why I put the flag up!”
The dragons exchanged glances.
“Did we agree that, though?” Mortimer said. “I don’t remember agreeing that.”
“We said that red was danger.”
They looked at each other for a little longer, the dragons in the summery, overgrown garden, loud with birdsong and smelling of sun on damp grass and and rich earth, Miriam with the warm and dozing kitchen behind her. After a moment she said, “I guess we should have been more specific about who was in danger.”
There was another pause, then Beaufort said, “Any chance of a cuppa, since we’re here?”
“Monster hunters,” Mortimer mumbled. “Monster Hunters in the village, and what are we doing? Spying on them. We’re spying, Beaufort.” Dragons are faint, rather than invisible, and as most people don’t expect to see dragons, they never do. Monster Hunters, on the other hand, probably expected to see everything. Spying seemed very inadvisable, and Mortimer could feel his tail itching where the scales had just been growing back after his last bout of stress-shedding.
“We’re just taking a little look, lad,” Beaufort said, and Mortimer thought that was probably what all spies said when they were caught.
“We told Miriam we’d stay away.”
“No, we told Miriam we’d be careful.” Beaufort looked over his shoulder at the young dragon and gave him a toothy grin. “It’s not at all the same thing.”
Mortimer wished very much that it was the same thing. They were crouched in the bushes at the foot of the beer garden that belonged to the pub-with-rooms, a sprawling old place near the church (there were secret tunnels connecting the two) and across the road from the village green. At one of the tables by the back door, washed in yellow lantern light, were a team of three men and a woman, all wearing dark green shirts emblazoned with ‘Monster Hunters’ on the back. A couple of the other tables were in use, too, but the Monster Hunters conversation drowned any others. They laughed a lot, Mortimer thought. Like donkeys.
“They don’t look like Monster Hunters,” he said.
“No, they don’t,” Beaufort agreed. “They used to be much sneakier than this. More armour, too.”
“Perhaps those tops are armoured?” Mortimer suggested. He’d seen that on Miriam’s TV, armour that looked like normal clothes.
“It’d have to be dragonscale to be that strong,” Beaufort said. “And it doesn’t look like that to me.”
One of the Monster Hunters, a short man with red hair and an enormous chest, crashed through the doors to the pub and emerged shortly after with more beer. The other Monster Hunters cheered.
“Are they celebrating?” Mortimer asked doubtfully. “Did they catch someone already?”
“We best go see,” Beaufort said, and led the way along through the bushes to the road. Mortimer followed warily, and they took on the deep greys and greens of the night as they padded across the road and onto the soft grass of the village green, home to dog walkers and cricket matches and summer fetes.
And also home to the duck pond, which, Miriam had told them, was the reason for the Monster Hunter’s presence. For years there had been rumours that the duck pond was bottomless, and it was quite true that Toot Hansell, with its waterways that meandered through gardens, vanishing between rocks and reappearing in flowerbeds, pooling in wells and disappearing in springs and circling the village like a moat, had some very unusual properties. The Monster Hunters had come to discover the truth behind the rumours of bottomlessness, and while Beaufort and Mortimer weren’t very concerned about that, they were concerned about something else in the duck pond.
“Hello?” Beaufort called. “Nellie?”
A frog ribbet-ed at them, but there was no other answer.
The dragons exchanged glances, then edged closer.
“Anyone there?” Beaufort tried again.
“Maybe she’s gone,” Mortimer said, looking over his shoulder uneasily. The Monster Hunters hadn’t looked like they were likely to go hunting tonight, but you never could tell. Maybe the beer was their way of readying themselves for battle. He’d heard that humans did that.
“We could go closer,” Beaufort said, and Mortimer made a face.
“Try a bit louder instead,” he said, and Beaufort cleared his throat, then took a deep breath.
“Don’t be louder,” a quiet voice said from the pond. “Everyone’s always so loud. Why does everyone have to be so loud?” The speaker sounded on the verge of tears.
“Nellie?” Beaufort said.
“What do you want? Why’s everyone always bothering me?” There was a disturbance in the water in the middle of the pond, like a child kicking their feet in a tantrum.
“We don’t mean to bother you,” Beaufort said. “We just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I was fine before you came by, bothering me.”
Beaufort nodded, as if that was to be expected. “There are Monster Hunters in town, Nellie. You best head for a well or a spring and stay out of the way until they go.”
“I don’t like the wells,” the sprite said, taking form slowly in the middle of the pond, sitting on the surface with her legs out in front of her and her feet falling to the sides. “Or the springs. This is my place.”
“It’s just for a day or so,” Beaufort said, in the same tone he used when he was trying to convince Lord Pamela (gender being a rather fluid concept for dragons, all high ranking clan members are Lords) that her cavern was every bit as nice as Wendy’s.
“Won’t,” Nellie said, her head hanging low and her eyes just visible, glittering behind her lank hair.
“Come, now. You don’t want humans poking around in your pond, do you?”
“I’ll make them stop.” She raised her head and bared her sharp little teeth at the dragons, and Mortimer shuddered, trying not to breathe too deeply. The mud at the bottom of the pond was very fragrant, as was the sprite.
“You know better than that,” Beaufort said sternly. “Just make yourself scarce for a few days, and come back when they’re gone.”
“Don’t want to.”
“All the other ponds have tiddy uns.” She spat the words, nose wrinkled.
“Well, they’re not so bad, are they? Just for a few days?”
“They’re cheerful,” she said, her eyes wide. “They sing. And clean things. There’s never any nice muck in their ponds.”
“Just a few days,” Beaufort said. “Maybe less. They won’t stay around once they see it’s just a normal pond.”
“I’ll bring you some frogs.”
She considered it, licking her thin lips thoughtfully, then shook her head. “Shan’t.” And vanished with just the faintest gloop as the water closed over her invisible head.
Mortimer looked at Beaufort. “What now?”
The High Lord sighed. “I did hope she’d listen.”
Mortimer thought that the old dragon was really far too optimistic in many, many things, but he may as well play along. “Maybe she’ll hide when the Monster Hunters arrive.”
Beaufort gave him an amused look. “And maybe the tiddy uns will welcome her with open arms. Come on, lad. Let’s go home. We’ll need to be up early in the morning.”
Mortimer didn’t bother to ask why. He thought he already knew.
The summer dawn comes early to northern England, so it was very early indeed that Mortimer found himself in an argument with a squirrel. Well, argument probably wasn’t the right word, as all the squirrel did was chitter and wave its little paws around furiously, but it was certainly an altercation.
“Shh,” he said to it, for about the twentieth time, and it ran over his back and down the trunk of the tree, only to reappear a moment later, still scolding him.
“Are you alright there, Mortimer?” Beaufort asked. He was lounging comfortably on one of the big oak’s lower arms, gazing out over the duck pond and the village green beyond.
“I’m fine. That thing won’t leave me alone.” He twitched his tail in irritation as the squirrel tugged at a loose scale, and almost slid off his perch. He squeaked and clutched at the branch, and it dipped alarmingly. It was higher and thinner than Beaufort’s, and it creaked every time he moved. “Are you sure this is a good idea, Beaufort?”
“It’ll be absolutely fine, lad,” the old dragon said, and closed his eyes. A moment later a stream of contented green smoke drifted from his nostrils, accompanied by a small, musical snore. Mortimer sighed, and wriggled himself backwards until his bottom was snug to the tree trunk. He couldn’t see as well, but the branch was a little more sturdy.
They had to wait almost all morning for the Monster Hunters to make their appearance. The squirrel had settled down in the curl of Mortimer’s tail, occasionally chittering a question at him. It also gave him an acorn, which he wasn’t quite sure what to do with.
A small crowd gathered at the duck pond. Word had obviously spread, and people were waiting with phones in hand for the action to start. There were children playing football in the middle of the green, and teenagers looking bored, and adults huddled in groups, and Derek from the bakery had arrived pushing a wheelbarrow full of apple pastries and sausage rolls and tiffin slices. He was doing excellent business, considering the wheelbarrow still seemed to have traces of cement in it. Mortimer’s tummy rumbled.
He could see a few members of the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute sharing tea from a thermos, and he concentrated on blending into the dappled browns and greens of the tree. The ladies of the W.I. always expected to see dragons, so there’d be no hiding from them if they happened to look up.
“Here they come,” Beaufort whispered, and there was a sudden smatter of applause below as the Monster Hunters marched across the grass, armed with cameras and furry microphones and festooned with wire and big reflective things that flung the light about so much that Mortimer almost lost his grip on his perch. One of them, the red-haired man, was wearing a wetsuit rolled down to his waist, his big chest bare and pale in the sunlight. Someone whistled, and he grinned and waved.
Mortimer peered down at the duck pond, which was between them and the little crowd. He could just see flickers of movement in the green, murky depths. Nellie was watching.
“Beaufort,” he hissed. “She’s still there! They’ll see her!”
Beaufort nodded, and waved him to silence. Mortimer really, really hoped that the old dragon had a plan, and preferably something that didn’t involve either of them getting wet.
Miriam watched the Monster Hunters get set up. They looked different from on the television. Hugo (the red-haired man) was much shorter than he usually appeared, and Abigail much taller. She wondered if he stood on a box when they were in scenes together, or if she had to crouch down. Abigail was scattering powder over both their faces, and the camera man was shuffling around trying to find the right angle. The fourth man, who was far too skinny and looked a little ill, waved at the crowd.
“Everyone back up,” he shouted. “We’ll do some interviews later, the light’s not right for them now. We’re going to film Hugo going into the water, so we need quiet, alright?”
There was a murmur of agreement, and Rose said very clearly, “He’s going into that water? Even I wouldn’t go into that.” It was a damning statement. Rose was once a professor of biology, and the stories of the sort of water she had been in could turn even Miriam’s stomach.
“Shh,” the skinny man said, and Hugo frowned.
“Sid, I’m up to date on all my jabs, right? You checked, right?”
“Yes, Hugo. Just try not to swallow anything, okay?”
“Swallow anything? It’s a duck pond. It shouldn’t come past my knees, right?” Hugo’s face was approaching the same tone as his hair, and he was sweating. Abigail put more powder on him.
“It’s the legendary bottomless duck pond,” Sid said. “At least flounder around a bit.”
Miriam and the ladies of the Women’s Institute exchanged glances.
“He doesn’t even believe it,” Gert said, folding her arms over her chest. “The fraud.”
Sid turned around and glared at them. “You’ll have to move further back if you can’t be quiet,” he said.
“What about the geese?” Gert asked. “Aren’t you worried about them?”
“We’re Monster Hunters,” Hugo said, apparently more comfortable with that than with duck slime.
Alice flapped a slender hand at Sid. “Oh, do get on. Some of us have work to do.”
They glared at each other for a moment, and the skinny man broke first. He turned back to the little film crew and said, “Come on. Let’s get this done.”
“Rolling in three, two, one,” the cameraman said, and yawned mightily. Sid, holding a fluffy microphone over Hugo and Abigail, scowled at him.
“We’re here in the bucolic little village of Toot Hansell,” Abigail said, leaning into the screen. “Home to sheep farmers, a cute church, and…” she ducked back.
“A bottomless duck pond,” Hugo breathed, his eyes wide as he pointed behind him. “From here, it looked like a perfectly normal, entirely innocent pond…”
“Honestly, what nonsense,” Alice whispered to Miriam. “They wouldn’t know a ghost if it sat down to tea with them.”
“We don’t know that,” Miriam whispered back. “They might be Sensitive.”
Alice humphed, and went back to watching the film crew.
“This could be terribly dangerous,” Abigail was saying. “Hugo has a long rope that we’ll tie around his waist, and I’ll be waiting on dry land, ready to pull him back at any moment, but there’s no telling what could lurk in the shadowy depths of this pond.”
“Mud men,” Hugo said. “Ancient, forgotten dinosaurs. Catfish bigger than cows. A Loch Ness monster—”
“Ha!” someone said, and Sid bellowed, “Cut!” He spun around and glared at the crowd. “Who said that?”
The assembled people mumbled and shuffled their feet, and Miriam’s face felt cold in the sun. She could only imagine one person ha-ing. Well, dragon. She clutched at Alice’s arm, and the taller woman patted her hand gently.
“It’ll be fine,” she said softly. “I’m sure it’s not them.”
Miriam certainly hoped it wasn’t. After all, it takes a certain sensitivity to even hear a dragon. Anyone that hears a dragon might very well be able to see one. And it wouldn’t do anyone any good if the dragons were seen by Monster Hunters.
“Beaufort,” Mortimer whispered.
“They heard you.”
“What do we do?”
“Be very quiet,” the old dragon suggested.
Mortimer rather thought that Beaufort would have been better to think of that a little sooner, but he’d been muttering about the declining standards of Monster Hunters since the little team had arrived, almost as if he was disappointed not to be dealing with knights and armour and lances.
The Monster Hunters in question had started filming again, and it was taking them a terribly long time to approach the pond, because every step apparently had to be shot from four different angles with the one camera. It seemed like an awful lot of fuss.
“Mortimer,” Beaufort said softly, and Mortimer peered down at him. The High Lord nodded at the pond. There was movement on the surface, a small green turbulence. Mortimer thought he saw a swirl of lank green hair, and some pale fingers.
“Oh, no,” he whispered. “We can’t let her hurt them!” Sprites can be nasty when the mood takes them, and Nellie had been taken with that mood for as long as he could remember.
“Shh,” Beaufort said. Below them, Hugo was stepping gingerly into the pond, Abigail steadying him from the shore.
“Ugh, what’s that smell?” she said. “It’s like something died.”
“It must be the beast of the pond,” Hugo said gravely, pulling his mask down over his face. “Can you hear me?”
Sid, wearing headphones, gave a thumbs up. Mortimer could hear, too, the man’s voice muffled.
“I’ll sit down so I can put my fins on,” Hugo said, and Nellie surfaced in the centre of the pond, her dark eyes narrow against the light and her green hair swirling. Mortimer shook his wings out carefully. He might be able to grab the man before the sprite reached him.
“Wait, lad,” Beaufort breathed. He wasn’t looking at Nellie, but at something Mortimer couldn’t quite see through the branches.
“Hugo’s going to take his first look beneath the surface,” Abigail said in a tight, anxious voice. “What will he find there? What waits beneath?”
Nellie slipped through the green water with barely a ripple, her body flashing pale in the sunlight.
Hugo put his face in the water and started to drag himself towards the centre of the pond. His fins stuck out of the water behind him, and the SCUBA tank on his back made him roll from side to side like an overturned turtle. Mortimer couldn’t hear him any more.
“I can hear him in my headphones,” Abigail said. “He’s saying it’s dark, lifeless, like the surface of an alien planet…”
Nellie had stopped moving, barely an arm’s length from Hugo. She sank beneath the surface.
“The mud’s lifting around him, the plants grasping his hands as if to hold him back. The water’s getting deeper. He—” She tore the headphones out with a shriek, and Hugo came out of the water like a breeching whale, bellows muffled by the mask. Sid screamed and ripped his own headset off, and Hugo crashed back into the pond on his back. The water closed over him, the bellowing becoming a gurgle, and Abigail tried to spin and run. Her feet slipped on the slick grass and shot out from under her, and she pitched backwards into the pond. The crowd erupted into shouts and screams, and some confused applause. Mortimer scrambled to his feet, sending the squirrel bolting for cover, then gave a yelp as Beaufort grabbed his tail.
“Wait, lad! Look!”
Mortimer, his heart hammering wildly, looked.
Nellie was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the pond, howling with watery laughter and clutching her belly. Around her pounded the big webbed feet of a dozen or more infuriated geese, honking and hissing and buffeting the water into disarray with their wings. They surged past her, a couple setting upon the furry microphone and dismantling it with honks of fury. Others chased the cameraman and Sid across the green, both men screaming and waving their arms wildly. Three more attacked Len’s wheelbarrow, gobbling sausage rolls and squabbling with each other, while Hugo scrambled out of the pond and tried to crawl away on all fours with his fins still on. Abigail had made it out of the water and was staggering in circles with her arms over her head, trying to fend off two geese that were buffeting her with their wings, her face and clothes caked in reeking mud.
The audience looked at each other doubtfully, the applause slowly dying off, then went to help the Monster Hunters. But carefully. Angry geese are not to be trifled with.
Nellie tipped a wink to the dragons and slipped beneath the surface. Mortimer tried to decide if this was a good end to the situation or not. He couldn’t quite figure it out.
“Hugo’s retired from the show,” Miriam said, pouring more tea all round. “It was on Twitter. Abigail’s still there, but Hugo says he saw something he can’t explain in the water, and won’t ever monster hunt again.”
“I can’t say that’s a bad thing,” Beaufort said, picking up his over-sized mug in both paws. “He didn’t seem to have the constitution for it. All that fuss over one little sprite! She didn’t even touch him, just said boo.”
“Hmm,” Miriam said. “It’s all in the manner, though, isn’t it?”
Mortimer thought it was probably also in the sharp teeth and the scary eyes, but he didn’t say so. He just sipped his tea and savoured the sun on his scales, and thought that old, secret things have ways of protecting themselves, just as dragons do, and ways of persisting as the world moves on.
And that was as it should be.
Do you ever watch those ghost-hunting shows on TV? What are your favourites? And have you ever been terrorised by geese? (I have, but that’s a story for another day…) Let me know your thoughts below!
If you enjoyed meeting Beaufort Scales, you might like to read another of his stories here, or even sign up for the newsletter below to get five downloadable stories sent straight to your inbox!
And that’s not to mention the fact that he has not one but two cozy mysteries on the way later this year – learn more here!