Vera Twinge rapped on the table with her spoon, calling the meeting of the Creaping Bottom Post Box Topper Society to order. There was plenty to discuss. She suspected item number one would not be popular. It was Petronella’s claim for a rather pricey dry-cleaning bill to remove a coffee stain from her skirt. Oh well, best get started.
Vera was right. The comment from Stuart, the treasurer, to Petronella’s request for expenses was, ‘Jog on.’
That did not go down well with Petronella.
Vera stepped in to smooth over the ‘pistols-at-dawn’ moment. She also stepped on Stuart’s foot under the table to pin him in his chair.
Vera turned to Petronella. ‘I’m sorry, dear, we’re sympathetic, but you might have to wait a while. We’re running short of funds. It’s as simple as that. We need people to join the society.’
There was a collective sigh from all five members who were gathered around their usual table in Bonzer Buns. Much hope had been placed on publicity from the local press. But that snake, Tony Parstedd, from the Creaping Bottom News, had been most unhelpful. And it had rapidly become obvious after the last edition of the newspaper that the adage, ‘any publicity is good publicity’ was nonsense.
Yes, the dreadful reporter had come as arranged and taken a photo of them all gathered around the March post box topper with its tribute to Barbie. He’d even made a note of everyone’s names, pretending he cared how they were spelt. That tiny article would probably have been buried deep within the weekly newspaper. But later, someone had stolen the Barbie doll. Coincidentally and rather conveniently, Tony Parstedd had been there to photograph the topper minus its central feature.
A photo of the damaged topper would have been embarrassing enough, but he’d put it on the front page under the headline:
VOODOO DOLL AT LARGE – Horrific Chucky-Style Doll Roams Village Causing Panic.
Since then, several people had enquired about joining their society – none of whom could knit, nor who knew what a post box topper was.
Back to square one. Although, arguably, not even as far forward as that.
Noting the pause in proceedings – or perhaps picking up on the downbeat mood in her café – Beryl arrived with slices of her special Darwin Drizzle Cake.
Stuart frowned, obviously assessing the cost, although it didn’t stop him from helping himself to the largest slice.
Vera, whose appetite had been spoilt by recent press coverage, pressed on. ‘So, let’s get back to April. Item two. I think we’re all agreed that even though this is the month of Easter, we’ll leave the religious stuff to All Saints’ Church.’
Vera didn’t want to fall foul of the Reverend Prendergast. She didn’t privately refer to him as ‘Prenderghastly’ for nothing. Anything smacking of religion that wasn’t owned by him was not likely to be well received.
‘So, are we agreed on a display of knitted chicks, bunnies, lambs and chocolate eggs?’ Vera asked.
Strangely, people seemed more interested in Beryl’s Darwin Drizzle Cake, but at least no one objected. Vera ticked the item. Well, that had been easier than expected.
Next… Item three. A Godbin. Vera had received an email complaint from him about the March topper. He’d described it – and particularly the Barbie doll in the middle – as ‘abominable’.
Vera smirked. Would he run out of derogatory adjectives before she gave up planning new toppers? Oh, yes, indeed he would.
But there was nothing more than that to report about him. It was tempting to ascribe the doll-napping to A. Godbin, but in the light of recent events, Tony Parstedd had a greater motive. Or perhaps the reporter was A. Godbin? No, that was unlikely because at least A. Godbin was literate. Tony Parstedd, on the other hand…
Item number four. Security. As soon as the Barbie doll had disappeared, there’d been a mad scramble to check the CCTV video footage. That had been a shame because, in her haste to open the laptop, Beryl had dropped it.
Ravi from Gadgets-A-Go-Go, next to Snyde the Butchers, estimated it would take about a week to fix because he had to order an item. So, until then, there were no clues to the perpetrator of the crime. And no way of dispelling the myth of the Zombie Voodoo Doll.
Vera had noticed that maniacal look in Stuart’s eyes when he’d discovered the video camera had once again failed to provide them with incriminating evidence. He was still convinced Beryl was implicated in the topper vandalism.
Now, while the CCTV system wasn’t working, their only hope of keeping the next topper safe was in Levi’s hands. Currently, Levi’s paint-stained hands were in his lap, fluttering slightly in time with his eyelids. He was asleep again. Vera glanced at Sally, who, predictably, was sitting next to Levi and needed no more than a reassuring glance from her to stroke his sleeve lightly.
Once Levi had woken and gathered his wits, he told them about his CBPTS Deterrent Mark II. It would be far more effective than the Mark I, which had been stuck to Barbie’s feet and had therefore disappeared with her.
The prototype, Mark I, had been one of those sound module thingamabobs that you find in audio greetings cards. You know the sort of thing… You open your birthday card, and it sings, Happy Birthday to you.
Levi had acquired one such gadget in a job lot and had been so impressed, he’d wired it up so that if anyone raised Barbie, it would be activated and make a noise. It hadn’t played Happy birthday to you. Instead, it had blasted a few rousing bars of The Flight of the Valkyries. The Mark I gadget had worked so well that in a strong wind, as Barbie had leaned precariously, the tinny refrain of Wagner’s most stirring stuff mysteriously wafted down the High Road.
Stuart maintained that far from being a preventative measure, that was probably what had attracted the miscreant’s attention. But until Ravi fixed Beryl’s laptop, and they could check the video footage, they wouldn’t know who that had been.
The Mark II deterrent didn’t come loaded with Happy birthday to you or The Flight of the Valkyries. This gadget had room for a four-minute custom message. Levi explained he’d recorded a stern warning that the person who’d dared touch the topper was being videoed on CCTV. After that, he said he’d added some ghastly but creative threats about what would happen to anyone who didn’t immediately replace any topper item they were tampering with. The recording concluded with the wail of a siren to give it an air of authority.
Of course, it was hit and miss whether CCTV footage was actually being recorded, but unless the saboteur was Beryl or a society member, no one would know it might not be working. And as for the huge fine that would be imposed, well, that was an idle threat, too. But it all sounded rather official.
Levi took the Mark II deterrent and some batteries from his pocket and connected the wires.
The recording was loud.
And so agonizingly long.
Had only four minutes of Vera’s life ticked past? It felt like twice that. There was a stunned silence throughout Bonzer Buns when the siren howl finally whimpered and died.
Vera ticked the item off without further discussion. She wasn’t sure whether it would be set off in a high wind like the Mark I. If it was, it would probably constitute a noise nuisance. The local constabulary would most likely take a dim view and be more concerned about decibels rather than the topper damage they’d already ignored.
But this was the April topper and if March had its winds, then April would have its showers. The entire gadget would most likely short-circuit if it got wet.
But what if it caught fire…? Vera’s chest tightened in panic. Suppose they set the post box ablaze?
Her breath came in strangled gasps, and her shoulders nudged her ears. With great effort, she told herself to relax. After all, she was one person, and she could only do so much. There was a plan, and she’d stick to it. Everything would be ready. During the last week, she’d been up late into the night knitting clutches of chocolate eggs, broods of chicks, flocks of sheep and an explosion of bunnies. The others were adding to the knitted pile. If something was stolen from the topper, they’d simply replace it. Not exactly satisfactory but it would have to do.
Sally applauded when Levi had finished. ‘I say, Levi. If you don’t mind me saying so, I think your contraption is brilliant.’
Petronella looked impressed, too.
‘I’m not sure your voice is authoritative enough on that recording,’ Stuart said. ‘I told you I’ve done Am Dram and have a powerful voice. I could have sounded much sterner than you.’
‘I think Levi did it perfectly.’ Sally’s eyes narrowed, and Vera leaned forward to relieve her of the spoon she’d been holding. They couldn’t afford to pay Beryl for bent cutlery. And if Sally had a more violent intention, then best Vera disarm her immediately.
Vera smiled at everyone. ‘Thank you, Levi. Sterling job. Now, moving on. Item five.’ Her shoulders slumped. Far from distracting everyone away from Stuart’s abruptness, she was just about to tackle him head-on.
Four faces stared at Vera expectantly. She cleared her throat. ‘Item five. Sheila Gote’s complaint against a member of our society.’
Four pairs of eyes turned towards Stuart.
Yes, word had got around.
‘Well, how was I to know what she was up to?’ Stuart asked defensively.
Vera peered at him over the top of her glasses. ‘I think the customary way is to ask. What you shouldn’t have done is to perform a citizen’s arrest on a woman who was posting a letter.’
‘Said she was posting a letter. She only said she was posting a letter. I’m still not convinced.’
‘There was no proof she was tampering with our topper. And even if she had been, I’m not sure you should have handcuffed her.’
Sally squealed in horror and held her hands to her mouth.
‘And thank goodness you finally found the key,’ Vera added.
‘If she hadn’t screamed so loudly, I wouldn’t have dropped it in the first place.’ Stuart scowled.
‘Yes, well,’ Vera said, trying to keep calm. ‘What’s done is done. Now, we need to decide how to make it up to Sheila. And…’ she added pointedly, staring at Stuart. ‘We need to decide how much we’re prepared to spend out of our dwindling funds to do that.’
Stuart spluttered, but thankfully said no more.
‘Perhaps Stuart might like to contribute out of his own pocket since he caused the problem.’ Petronella smiled sweetly and smoothed out the dry-cleaning bill on the table in front of her.
‘So,’ said Beryl, appearing from nowhere. ‘Did I hear someone mention gift vouchers? Only I’ve just started a scheme in Bonzer Buns. A twenty-five-pound afternoon tea voucher might smooth out any misunderstandings…’
Clutching the Bonzer Buns Afternoon Tea voucher, Vera entered Debonhair Styles Salon, three doors down from Bonzer Buns. She was wearing her most ingratiating smile and was prepared to grovel. If necessary, she’d even endure a haircut. Needs must.
Sheila Gote’s smile froze and slipped into something resembling a snarl when she recognised Vera.
‘My dearest Sheila, on behalf of the Creaping Bottom Post Box Topper Society, I’d like to offer our abject apology for any inconvenience and embarrassment caused.’ Vera smiled.
Sheila’s snarl deepened.
This was going to be harder than Vera had anticipated.
‘It was completely unacceptable for one of our members to carry out a citizen’s arrest on you.’
‘Indeed it was.’ Sheila crossed her arms over her enormous chest and peered down her nose at Vera.
Oh well, there was nothing for it. Vera had hoped it wouldn’t take the Bonzer Buns voucher which she was holding in reserve. She wanted to use it to offset society expenses. But it was clear a heartfelt apology was insufficient.
‘So, dearest Sheila, we wondered if you’d accept this voucher for afternoon tea at Bonzer Buns to demonstrate our regret at past… er, misunderstandings.’
With shocking rapidity, Sheila seized the envelope and tucked it in her pocket. But still, her expression was hostile. There was one more chance Vera could win the hairdresser over…
Vera kept her gaze on the pavement. She dared not catch sight of the reflection of her new hairstyle in a shop window. The breeze hadn’t been as up close and personal to her neck and ears in many years. ‘Chilly’ didn’t begin to describe the short walk from Debonhair Styles Salon back to Bonzer Buns. If only she’d brought a hat.
And woe betide anyone who laughed.
The society members were knitting furiously when Vera entered the café, although every jaw dropped as she approached their table. Silently, she sank into her seat.
Beryl arrived carrying a large Americano with soya milk, and an enormous slice of Toowoomba Tart, which she placed in front of Vera.
‘That’s on the house.’ Beryl rocked backwards on her heels, scrutinising the new hairdo. With a tut and a sympathetic sigh, she patted Vera’s shoulder, shook her head in dismay, and walked off.
Of course, it was Stuart who spoke first. ‘Did you have to give Sheila the Bonzer Buns voucher?’
Always with an eye on the money, thought Vera crossly.
Yes, I did.’ She spoke through clenched teeth. ‘It turns out Sheila Gote is a shrewd negotiator. And before you ask who paid for my new hairdo, I did. And if I were you, I’d stop smirking. You’re booked in for an appointment in…’ Vera checked her watch. ‘Fifteen minutes. So, drink up.’
Stuart’s hair appointment took longer than Vera’s. When he arrived back in the café, he looked expectantly towards Beryl. But if he thought she was going to serve him free coffee and cake in commiseration of his new haircut, he was sadly mistaken. Beryl guffawed. She was laughing so hard she had to stagger into the kitchen to recover.
The sight of Stuart seemed to trigger one of Petronella’s allergies. She held her handkerchief over her nose, periodically wiping her streaming eyes. Levi studied his knitting with head bowed although his shoulders were shaking. Finally, he claimed he had a bout of hiccoughs and spent the next ten minutes recovering in the café’s gents. Sally cleared the table and took the mugs and plates into the kitchen where she remained with Beryl.
Only Vera stared at Stuart. Well, she’d come off much better than he had. And if she didn’t know any different, she’d believe the patterns Sheila had shaved in Stuart’s hair spelt ‘TWAT’. But Sheila wouldn’t have been that unkind, would she?
As Stuart bent to pick up his knitting, Vera saw Sheila was indeed a vindictive woman.
Then, to take Vera’s mind off the cold front gathering around her ears – even in Beryl’s cosy café – Ravi, from Gadgets-A-Go-Go, arrived with a parcel under his arm. Was it Beryl’s laptop? If so, it was earlier than estimated. Ravi beamed as he explained he’d found a piece in stock, and that had saved him time.
Beryl set the laptop on Vera’s table and raised the lid. She logged into the CCTV software and a hush fell over the group as she located the correct piece of footage.
‘So, we’re about to discover who the Barbie-napper is…’
Six pairs of eyes stared intently at the moving images on the screen, then blinked in unison as a popping sound came from the keyboard, followed by a plume of smoke that curled upwards. The screen went black.
Beryl yelled in frustration and snatched the computer up out of the way of Sally, who’d panicked and thrown her coffee at it to prevent a fire. Then, like a rugby player with her laptop under her arm, she ran remarkably speedily for such a large woman out of the café and along the High Road to find Ravi.
The five members of the post box toppers society sat in stunned silence. Eyes moving right and left. Gazes slid from one face to the next as if trying to find some sort of sense in what they’d seen.
Finally, Stuart spoke. ‘Did anyone else see the thing that…?’ He raised his hands above his head, palms facing down, and lowered them slowly.
Four heads nodded vigorously, faces white with shock.
‘And did anyone else see the flashing lights?’
More nods. More anxious glances.
‘Has anyone got the letters U, F and O in mind?’
Sally’s hand rested on her chest, fingers splayed as if she felt the need to calm her heart. ‘It was awful! That thing, flashing and hovering over the post box like that.’
Petronella found her voice. ‘If it was what I think it was, this is far more sensational than a Voodoo Zombie Doll at large. It was…’
Vera finished the sentence. ‘… an alien abduction.’
Could it be possible? Tiny aliens had targeted Barbie and had taken her away in a miniature spaceship?
Well, it seemed each member of the Creaping Bottom Post Box Topper Society had just witnessed that…
To be continued…
About the author
Dawn’s three previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’, ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ and 'The Crispin Chronicles' published by Chapeltown Publishing. You can follow her here
on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls
Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox
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