Ballindalloch: Part Two
It didn't occur to Avery until much later — three or four days later, in fact — that it didn't matter in the slightest whether the house's original family was nice. Seriously, why had she even asked such a question? It wasn't as if they were going to be angry with her for trying to unearth their secrets. They were dead. A hundred years dead, probably. And even if they weren't dead and they were angry with her, the house was rightfully her family's now, and whatever private stuff of theirs was hidden within Ballindalloch's walls was rightfully her family's property. In a court of law, she would win the case. Her mom could be her lawyer.
The Larkins had been moved in for five days now. Or maybe it was more like two days, as Kenneth (that was the name of her Knowledgeable Shorter Mover Choking White Scorchio Friend) and his colleague had been there for the first three days helping to load the house with all their belongings. The house was loaded now, and their furniture was in place for the most part, and presently Avery sat in what they were calling the family room, simply because there were too many displaced items strewn haphazardly about for the room to be livable, and therefore they couldn't call it the living room.
At this moment in time it could have been called the Catchall Room, as there were so many odds, ends, boxes, and bags of things that didn't yet have a station in the Larkins' new home that two-year-old Noah was forbidden to enter the room for fear that something would fall on him.
It was in this room where the infamous couch had ended up — the couch with the doorway's paint scratched into its brass top (The neighbours would probably come to see it as soon as they heard the news, and would jeer and waggle their fingers at the couch that had spoiled Ballindalloch). The Neovision had assumed its position atop its stand from their old house, and now Avery was the one looking rather funny between the coffee pot and the wooden birdhouse she'd painted in second grade. On NV was the Neopian Music Channel, and Jazzmosis was performing.
Avery stood up and stretched her legs. Then she leaned backwards to stretch her back, and when her spine made a weird popping sound she started and promptly straightened up again. She yawned. She was in a sort of limbo mood: not quite bored, but not occupied either. She had things she could be doing, but she didn't really feel like doing any of them. She needed to get out of this slump, but she didn't necessarily want to...
This was the limbo feeling, and it was brought about by her failure to discover anything of particular interest in her hundred-and-fifty-four-year-old home.
Sure, the house was great. Her bedroom was twice the size of her old room, in fact, all the rooms were. It must have been a feature of older homes. It was a bit of a fixer-upper, understandably, as it had sat empty for a year before the Larkins had bought it. There was general maintenance to be done, whatever that was, and everything needed to be painted. All in all though, Ballindalloch didn't actually seem like that old of a house. (Her dad said it had an old house smell, but Avery didn't know what that was. It didn't stink.)
Everything that had once belonged to the original family seemed to be on the outside — the swing, the well, perhaps the rock garden — and Avery feared the rest may have already been cleared by the house's last owners, or by owners over the years.
Imagine how many families Ballindalloch must have housed over the years?
Leaving the NV on, and poor Jazzmosis thinking they still had an audience, Avery wandered, or rather climbed, out of the Catchall Room. Her mother was making dinner, so she meandered her way to the kitchen. It was twice as hot with the oven on, and the red Xweetok, fresh from the courtroom, was in an irritable mood. Avery could tell.
"If you need a coffee, Mom, my buddy would be glad to make it for you."
Her mother, steak knife in hand, greeted her with a perplexed look. "Who's your buddy?"
"You know, the guy who's been watching Neovision with me? He's about this tall," she measured with her hands, "and he's got a kinda rounded bottom." She giggled. "And a black, uh, top."
The Xweetok scrunched up her nose at her daughter's absurd description. "Do you have a friend over?"
"I'm talking about the coffee pot," Avery laughed. "He says he misses you. From the looks of things, you miss him too."
"Don't be smart, Avery Patricia," her mother shot. "Your buddy will be put to work as soon as we can find a place to plug him in."
Avery snickered. Now Mom was calling the coffee pot 'him', too.
"Avie, what're you do?" A specked Xweetok toddler appeared suddenly, practically flush against her, looking up at her with pleading eyes. "Avie, what're you do?"
"I'm not doing anything, Noah," Avery told her baby brother. "What are you do?"
"I... I not doin' an'thing."
"Could you maybe keep him occupied while I finish making dinner?" Carleigh Larkin requested — we won't say beseeched, though it had been a hard day — of her older child. It wasn't like Avery was doing anything, anyway. She shrugged. Then she dropped down to her hands and knees. "Come on Noah, let's play Puppyblews!"
"Guys, can you not crawl around under my feet, please?" the Xweetok woman said when the toddler followed suit.
"Come on No, let's go over here!"
Brother and sister Puppyblew chased one another on all fours to the other side of the table. "Le's do twicks!"
The kitchen walls were covered with a light grey textured wallpaper, and the floors were silver ceramic. The baseboards, however, were dark brown. They were a little bit battered and marked up in some places, though they were generally in good shape, if a bit misfit-looking. They didn't match the rest of the kitchen at all.
"Avie, er you gonna do a twick?"
Something caught Avery's eye in the misfit baseboards. There in the dark wood was a squiggly line, about three centimetres long, and about one high. It looked like a word carved into the oak, or whatever these boards were made of. "Noah, look at this," Avery breathed. "Mom, look! It looks like something's carved into the baseboard!"
Her mother strode up behind her, a Meridellian potato in her left hand, a peeler in her right. She bent down to view the bottom of the wall. "I don't see anything." Avery pointed. "Oh, yeah. It could be something carved." Her black eyes scanned along the floor. "It all kind of looks like that, though."
It was all a bit scuffed up, but Avery could swear she saw a distinct carving in the wood. No matter how she squinted, she couldn't make out what it said, but cursive writing was evident in the baseboards of Ballindalloch's kitchen wall.
A subtle hush over the land; gentle, uncontrived. The sun skimmed Neopia's surface, and every tree and everything cast tall, slim shadows upon the gold-tinged grass. The birds in their minuscule neighbourhood of homes in the trees were settled and calm and would soon be down to sleep; and the shouting, laughing voices of the children seemed as if they came from another world entirely, a separate existence and one so distanced from the quiet realm of nature just before slumber.
"It was nice of Mr. Anders to give us these cherries."
The Lupe she stood next to grinned, and his grin was puffy and crooked across full and pocketed cheeks.
"Daniel, what are you doing?" she cried. "Don't tell me those are all cherries in there!"
Daniel pursed his lips, and a tiny grey bullet shot from his face, the custard-coloured fur on his pocketed cheeks standing upright as they lost a single pocket.
"Don't do that, Daniel!" she shrieked in alarm. "You'll be choked!"
Daniel began to chew, very carefully as if he feared her fears may yet be founded, though he did not let on. After scrupulously chewing and swallowing a long while, a grin started to spread across his less swollen face, and he said, "I'll bet I could spit a pit onto the ash tree's shadow."
Her fair brows furrowed — an expression of hers denoting amiable curiosity. "Why should you?"
"To see if I can, of course. Do you think I can?"
"I think you are going to try no matter what I think, Daniel." She feigned a pout, but her surreptitious smile glowed, and its radiance empowered every little muscle in Daniel's mouth to send a pit flying through the evening air, landing somewhere in the dirt inches beyond the pointed top of the ash tree's shadow.
"So close!" a Ladyblurg in the grass near where the pit landed would have heard the children yell. "Shall I try it again?" The custard Lupe wiped a dangling rope of drool from his chin.
"You shouldn't. You really are going to choke."
"Fyora, you're a worrier!"
They stood in the expanding shade of the house, eating cherries from the basket she carried. Some cherries tasted sour, others tasted sweet.
Ballindalloch was tall, and brown, and lovely. It had big windows and big rooms, but it wasn't a mansion. It was a regular house.
It had a large property, with a rock garden at the front right, and a recently discovered but ancient well at the front left, and a huge backyard that went down on a stump-covered slope, and at the bottom of the slope there were old trees and shrubs and a swing.
These were the attributes of her new home, and Avery's disconcerted mind turned them over and over again as she slept. Before she had even begun to doze last night, the thoughts had started in a straight line: tall, brown, lovely, big windows, big rooms, big front yard, rocks, well, big backyard, stumps, trees, shrubs, swing. As she fell into a deeper sleep, however, the details began to shift and mar and rearrange, until they were a kaleidoscope of fragmented thoughts: shrubs, big windows, brown, big stumps, trees, big lovely, tall backyard, stumps, swing, stumps, stumps, stumps.
In the middle of the night she had woken up feeling cold, and having to go to the bathroom. A piece of eternity seemed to pass before she'd managed to drag herself out of bed, and it took a heck of a lot longer in half-sleep than it normally should have to find the upstairs bathroom. She believed she remembered at one point staggering over to the staircase, with the intention of going downstairs to use the downstairs bathroom. She must have been able to find the upstairs one in the end, however, as she didn't remember actually going downstairs in the middle of the night. Her last thought before she climbed back into bed, feeling chilled and dazed and slightly nauseous, was that she must have had a fever.
And now here she was, waking up in the morning light. That it was light out was apparent through her closed eyelids, and when she allowed her lids to lift a little, sunshine glared in at her. Thoughts of the house's details came crashing through her brain once more, first in fragments —lovely, tall, swinging stumps — then in a straight line.
It occurred to her, a few hours or a few milliseconds later (Time can be ridiculously hard to gauge when you're groggy), to wonder why she was thinking of the house's 'details' in the first place. In the night it had seemed like the only thing in Neopia that mattered. It was crucial for her to know exactly what Ballindalloch was, for if she knew what it was...
She could find out what was carved into the kitchen baseboards.
The baseboards. It was the Fyora-forsaken baseboards that made her have a rotten night!
Avery gritted her teeth and rolled over in bed, pulling the cotton comforter tighter around her shoulders. Her mother had looked at the carving again after dinner. She didn't think it was anything, and maybe if wasn't. It could have been just another gouge mark, gouged in over the years... or it could have been a trace of the original family, like Kenneth had said. Why that should have mattered, Avery didn't know. It went without saying that she was intrigued by the idea of Ballindalloch's first owners — intrigued and excited and positively enchanted.
Imagine. Just imagine! In a time before electricity was widely available to average people, a family used candles to light this very building by night! The artifact swing was from the original family, which meant they must have had children who, with their own ingenuity, created their own fun in a time before battery-operated toys and Neovision existed.
In a time when girls wore dresses every day, and boys wore short pants; when foods weren't available in half the variety they are now and were so much more difficult to obtain; when ordinary Neopians could afford to buy large houses; and people spoke in different, fancier words and didn't feel awkward at the notion of being friendly and loving and open with one another, a family lived in the very same house that the Larkins did now. Perhaps someone slept in the very same room, and stared at the same ceiling and the same four walls as they passed between the realms of sleeping and waking, as Avery did presently.
The red Bori rolled onto her back again. She needed to get up, but she was still tired from the previous night of her baseboard-induced fever. Avery watched her feet move under the blanket. It was really too hot for a blanket. Her gaze wandered up, and there at the foot of her bed was a Neopet. The morning light that shone through her window was still too bright for her tired eyes, and she shut them again instinctively.
When the eyes of young Avery Larkin reopened, the space at the foot of her bed was empty. It seemed in her exhausted state her eyesight was playing tricks on her, as there was no one there to be seen.
Avery threw her cotton comforter off, and swung her legs drowsily over the side of the bed. In her peripheral vision, she caught a glimpse of something dark against the stark white background of her unpainted walls. Nearly covered by the bedpost of her headboard was a carving, identical in shape to the one in the kitchen baseboards, though carved much deeper, and thereby appearing darker and much more visible to the naked eye.
It said Maybelline.
To be continued…