|Stretching tired muscles, Morena moved slowly down the dim hallway
toward the Southeast corner of the house. Occasionally she paused
along the way to admire one of the pictures framed along the walls.
Somehow, in Tamson House, no hallway ever seemed to have the same set of
paintings twice, and the selection was always interesting, as the house
seemed to have unique tastes. She was admiring a particularly watery
Pre-Raphaelite redhead when a reedy voice sounded from behind her.
“Isn’t she beautiful? She’s one of the best the house has come up with yet. But the thing I want to know, is why couldn’t the grumpy old place have put a matching boy up so I could enjoy him?”
Confused, Morena turned to find the hall behind her empty. Scanning the passage in both directions, she still sighted no one, until a movement near the floorboards caught her eye. Standing in front of a diminutive doorway across the hall was the esteemed Tamson House door-mouse. Actually, rodents of his proportions were more commonly termed rats, but due to his esteemed position and rather delicate sensibilities, he demanded that Tamson house residents call him a door-mouse.
“Good Morning.” Morena smiled down at the small rodent clad in a burgundy bellhop jacket and pink palazzo pants. “I assume that you are the Tamson House door-mouse.”
“Assumptions will get you into trouble.” The mouse shook his head, “ but in that particular prognostication, you would be correct. I am Neville F. Nerlinson, Portal Protector of Tamson House, and, I assure you, a rodent of recognition.” He paused to tug at the hem of the bellhop jacket. “I wonder that you have neither met nor heard of me.”
Morena shrugged, sliding into a sitting position to ease the vertical ratio of the conversation. “I slipped into the house quietly when I came in, through a little door near the end of the West wing, and I’ve been busy since I got here. And then, of course, when Farren came over from Bordertown….”
A rustling squeak interrupted Morena’s wanderings and, when she looked down, the floor on the opposite side of the hallway was empty. “Mr. Nerlinson?”
A small, pink nose preceded by a contingent of whiskers poked around the edge of the door. “F-Farren is a violent, reckless young man. He frightens me almost as much as the Four Ferrets of the Apocalypse. Although,” the remainder of the small nut-brown head emerged thoughtfully from the shadow of the door, “he is much better looking than those hairy beasts.”
“The Four Ferrets of the Apocalypse?” Morena raised an eyebrow. She could feel the headache returning.
“Oh yes.” The door-mouse nodded sagely. “The Four Ferrets of the Apocalypse. Four of the most vile vermin in existence. Those horrible rodents held me hostage in my little den while their execrable employer took the doorbell. Oh, oh, it upsets me even now to think about it. And, pulling a tiny pink silk handkerchief from his pocket, the door-mouse began to cry.
“Neville, I don’t think ferrets are ro- Doorbell? Is that what all of this is about?” Morena jammed her fists into her temples. “The whole deal with the ghost and the screwed-up doorways, and DragonMom’s ‘thing that needs to be resolved’ – we’re talking about a doorbell? Hell, I’ll go to Home Depot tomorrow and buy you a new one if that’s the problem.” Morena leaned her head against the wall behind her and shut her eyes. “Of all the bullshit, a doorbell.”
Ominous silence reigned for a moment in the hallway, and Morena opened a curious eye. The door-mouse was still standing on the opposite side of the hall, but the pink silk handkerchief had disappeared and he was glaring furiously.
“Young lady.” He laced his claws behind his back. It is both fortunate and fortuitous that all residents of this refuge are not as ignominiously ignorant to the ingenious apparrati which administer this amazing edifice as you evidently are.” The mouse paced a foot or so of floor, evidently caught up in righteous indignation and visionary ardor. “Tamson House is a unique construct, extant expressly upon the convenient combination of a vast variety of planes, powers, and principles on precisely this position. Now, naturally such a seething stew of elements produces pandemonium on a physical plane. And for that reason, the loss of the doorbell creates chaos.”
Morena shook her head. “You just lost me, Neville. What’s the doorbell got to do with your pandemonium and chaos?”
Neville shook his head, waving his arms in frustration, “The distention of parabolic and linear logic and reality due to the interfacing ranges of four or more intersecting sine waves creates an effect capable of being countered only by a massive gravitational distention equivalent in every effect to that created by the initial disturbance.”
“But the doorbell?”
With great determination, Neville crossed the hallway, and planted a red-silk-slipper clad foot on Morena’s knee. “It’s an anchor, a stabilizing system for the swirling synergy of the structure.”
“So what you’re telling me,” Morena massaged the pressure point between her thumb forefinger, “is that the doorbell acts as an anchor in time & space that creates some sort of order in Tamson House, and keeps balance around here?”
“Vulgarly, in common, concise terms.” Neville turned on his slippered heel and began marching toward his door, palazzo pants trailing like pink banners behind him.
“And you were here when it was taken?”
“Of course I was here.” Neville turned, puffing out his chest. “I am the gateway guardian of Tamson House. If I resist repulsion by garden fairies calling me a rat, robbers are no cause for catastrophe.”
“Then,” Morena leaned forward, “what did you see?”
“Well,” Neville hesitated, “the Four Ferrets of the Apocalypse had me trapped in my home. They were threatening,” the door-mouse leaned forward conspiratorially, dropping his voice to a whisper, “to eat me.”
Neville held up a finger, “but I did see one thing. A shadow.”
The mouse nodded solemnly. “A horrible hand, with five distended digits, pilfering my prized doorbell.”
“Thank you, Neville.” Morena bowed her head in recognition as she clambered to her feet. “You’ve been a great help.”
“Anytime. Knowledge is necessary in obtaining….” The door-mouse’s voice trailed off through the door of his home.
Raising her arms above her head, Morena listened to the pop of several misplaced vertebrae sliding back into place. Tomorrow, she would start talking to some of the more mathemagically gifted residents of the house in hopes of finding some sort of clues to who would want the doorbell, and for what. But tonight, tonight was for sleeping.
Wary of arches and doorways in general, Morena picked her way upstairs to her room only to find a hastily scribbled note tacked to the door with an equally hasty spell. With a muttered expletive, she pulled the paper off the door.
“My dearest love,
“Stay with friends? I think not. I’ve got things to do. And besides, I didn’t think Farren had any friends left in Bordertown. I thought he blew all of them up.”
Morena crumpled the paper, shaking her head. Tomorrow would have enough trouble of its own. Tonight was time for sleep. With a tired sigh, she turned the knob and stepped into the chill darkness of a carefully set spell.