Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Ghost Town

Oh Em,

What are we going to do? I know you think I shouldn't pay him any mind because he can be a proper misery at times and if that was all he was doing, I'd be forced to agree with you. But he's being too nice and on three or four separate occassions within the space of two hours was heard discussing the relative merits of women's fashion and commenting on the exquisiteness of ringlets! It's just not right, I tell you. He didn't do that when you travelled with him, did he?

I knew a bloke called Jackson once; stalwart and calm under pressure, never failing to keep a firm hand on the rudder and all that. When he started to panic, you knew things were bad, really bad. So you can imagine how I felt when Terry started to openly worry, seeing as she's always been a bit of a Jackson figure to me (and even Alfonso is now beginning to believe me that something funny is going on).

We went to visit Steelhead this afternoon. I had written to Miss Projects, a lovely lady Oolon has invited over to the Cabinet for tea on several occassions, to ensure that our presence would not be offensive to the residents (some places get very sniffy about us non-humans), and she assured me that we would be most welcome. I had heard about Steelhead from other residents of Caledon such as Mr Pearse, as was interested to see it for myself, as well as it providing a pleasant distraction from my concerns.

As usual, we assembled at the Mayfair estate and made ready for the off. Miss Rothschild and Miss Tamala Tombola sent there apologies, but Mr Mesmer (who never seems far away these days) and our dear Mr Chaplin did grace us with their presence. Oolon actually looked slightly more relaxed than he had been in several days, due in no small part, I am sure, to the presence of my darling husband, but later on (after we had entered the ETD) the look returned; far away, preoccupied.

Everyone agreed that Steelhead sounded like the perfect destination and we sallied forth (I think I spent too much time talking to Mr Burleigh and Mr Somme at the opening of New Babbage; very military). There was the usual small talk, meaningless chit-chat that humans seem to find so very comforting and necessary. The Old Girl seemed quite content and everyone was being very nice about her, so I suppose that flattery works even with her.

Our arrival in Stealhead was without incident. My, everything is so large there! I imagine it was all pretty huge to my normally sized associates, but think how tiny I felt, surounded by these monuments of architectural engineering. But it was quiet, so ominously quiet; not a bird song, not another living soul. Were we truly in Stealhead, or somewhere that merely looked a great deal like it?

Wherever we were, there was a great deal to marvel at. The hotel contained an extravagent ballroom that would be magnificent for the Caledonian social season, but it was just as deserted as everywhere else. Alfonso spotted smoke on the horizon and we decided that we should investigate, in case someone was in distress. And then you'll never guess who we bumped into? Miss Virrginia Tombola, who happened to be visiting as well. It was good to see a familiar face in this ghost town.

It was only after we arrived at the docks and found the charming little paddle steamer that I noticed we were two people short. Terry and Oolon were not with us; they didn't get to see Mr Chaplin's fine new wardrobe or take part in the enlightening discussion of the virtues of steam in waterborne vessels. Mind you, neither did I. I like steam, its warm and impressive and some of the creations it ends up in are almost alive; it gives them character and personality. But I don't need to know how it works. And there were mushrooms to sit on, and a pixie can't resist those sorts of opportunities for long.

I wanted to go back and see what had happened to Terry and Oolon, but there was so much to see. There was a magnificent steam train (which my dear Alfonso decided to play with and pushed some buttons that he really probably shouldn't have, hence all the steam on the plate). It rained for a little while we were inspecting the engine, something I have become unaccustomed to since leaving Faerie, but Mr Chaplin was as prepared as ever and sheltered me with his umbrella. The Brownie was most pleased, as he was struggling by this point with all the added atmospheric moisture (bad for the paint, apparently).

And there was a gallery of some sort, wherein my husband found yet another toy to play with. As I'm sure you can imagine, it was rather embaressing later on in the visit when we met the gentle lady who had built both the train and rororororory (planet whizzy thing with too many syllables in it) and had to explain that we hadn't broken her inventions and, despite his bulk, hadn't even bent them a little. Thank goodness Miss Tombola was with us to ensure the structural integrity, so we could do it with a straight face. Alfonso actually thinks this would make a good ride for the circus.

At the very top of the gallery was a massive clock; the cogs and gears were fearsome, grinding and rolling relentlessly, beating out the march of time. Mr Chaplin was enthralled and watching him, in amongst the cogs, in his element, it was like watching Oolon with the Old Girl; gentleness, respect, understanding and more than anything else, love.

I couldn't bear it any longer; I had to know what the pair of them were up to, so I made my apologies and flew back to the Cabinet. They were exactly where we'd left them. Now sometimes, as you know from your own experience, Oolon will stay with her if she's being temperamental, but she wasn't. And from the look on Terry's face, there was much more to it than that. Not that I got to grill her about it, because that was when the highly talented Miss Hilra arrived.

Now Miss Hilra is a very clever lady - she not only built the steam engine and the whirling sculpture but also that monumental clock. Mr Chaplin was positively enthralled when he met her and the two of them chatted away for ages, discussing the ins and outs of clockwork mechanisms like old friends. She showed us several of her inventions, all delightfully crafted.

In the midst of this, Terry wandered off (to do some shopping as it turned out) with Oolon not that far behind. It took me an awfully long time to find them again, but Terry seemed to be behaving quite normally and was investigating the dress sense of the West with gusto. I still couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong, so I stuck to Oolon like glue. At one point a lady rushed past and Oolon swore he'd seen the Lady Sen. I didn't get a close enough look to see if it was or not, but there was something about the way he said it that sent a cold shudder right through me. Do you know, he asked me if I was his new shadow; I stuck out my chin and said yes and that if he didn't like it, tough. I know I wasn't being very polite, but a pixie has to do what a pixie has to do (if she thinks its right).

There were several interesting vehicles on display during our visit. Miss Hilra brought a strange article along for us to inspect (something Oolon referred to as belonging to a D Lawrian, which both of them found highly amusing but I'm afraid I missed the joke again). And then there was Miss Tombola's ornithopter.

And there were metal men, too (not naughty ones like Mr Sabre, though). Big ones, bright and shiny and full of energy even though they never moved a muscle. But Oolon was distracted and seemed keen to leave, even though we weren't due to for a good while longer. Mind you, I later learnt from Miss Projects that gigantic domestic poultry destroyed at least one rural building shortly after we left with nothing but their beaks, so perhaps it was for the best.

Now we knew that Miss Tombola (the other one) was opening her new tavern that very same evening and intially I thought that perhaps Oolon was merely determined that we should be there for the first toast. But as he ushered us out of the Cabinet and back to Mayfair, I felt an urge to make him go out before me; we're not clairvoyant as a general rule, us pixies, but every now and again you just know. I couldn't muster the nerve to do it, more fool me, and I dutifully trouped out on my merry way.

I could have sworn I heard the Old Girl kick into life as I stepped through, but it was too late; he'd shut the door and I couldn't get back in. The longer we waited for him to appear, the more everyone became concerned and I suddenly realised that I may never see him again. When he did appear I shouted at him, which was very wrong of me, and he got very annoyed (quite rightly so) and stalked off.

I went inside to be with my friends but I don't mind admitting I wasn't in much of a party mood (a bad place for pixies to be). It was lovely to see Mr Smashcan and Mr Wormser again though, and to make the acquaintance of Miss Chernov at last. Terry was entertaining them with tales of our latest venture and Alfonso was helping himself to a stiff pint or two (so he was worried, too). Mr Chaplin had very kindly offered his services on the bar, but sadly was obliged to return to Toxia soon after.
Oolon came back after a little while and I went and apologised to him. I hate it when anyone is upset and I wanted us to be friends again, but I was a little scared he would still be angry with me. He looked grey and drawn, so I sat down next to him and patted his knee; silly really, but he looked like he needed it. He told me, in a very hushed voice, how he had nearly left us this evening but that he couldn't go, no matter what the outcome. We talked, and although I still have no idea what is wrong, he's here and we will find a way to look after him. He isn't alone, no matter what he thinks.
We found Alfonso asleep under the console when we got back to the Cabinet. I'll swear that man could sleep on a log; must come from being of circus stock.
Oh yes, I did wash my feet, thank you for asking.
Your affectionate friend,

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