‘What is it, girlfriend?’
Pearl Barley, five foot and small change and built for comfort not speed hurried towards her front door.
Her hair pulled her back. ‘Hold on. We’re not going out with me looking like an overwrought bramble hedge.’
‘You’re the stylist, you do something.’ Pearl could feel a strop forming in her follicles. Having possessed hair was a pain at times. ‘It’s an emergency. The lollipop lady has been kidnapped by gnomes.’
Her hair fluffed and coiled, but began to plait.
As a recently graduated forensic exorcist, Pearl wanted more than spiritually animated ornaments. You could only analyse so many banging wardrobes and Welsh dressers inhabited by departed baritones. At least this was outdoors and didn’t involved place mats of Carnarvon Castle bursting into Land of My Fathers.
Pearl approached the small crowd. In the centre a tall, pale, and moist policeman failed to look in charge. Spotting Pearl, waving her accreditation he sagged with relief, although Pearl would have preferred it if he’d tried some personal reabsorption. ‘What’s up?’
The constable moved to one side, causing Pearl to gasp. Surrounding a terrified Philandra Twinnipples the aged lollipop lady were seven chanting garden gnomes, their beady eyes fixed on her. During Pearl’s schooldays Mrs Twinnipples had constantly criticised her appearance. She’d made Pearl’s life hell.
Be professional, Pearl, she told herself.
The old woman glanced at Pearl, her expression mixing hope and desperation and neither gave space to the other. There was certainly no room for recognition. ‘Mrs Twinnipples, what’s happened?’
The lollipop lady’s eyes glazed. Her mother moved but no sound emerged. Pearl turned to the policeman who pointed on the far side of the crossing. ‘The frog knows. We apprehended him when he tried to escape.’
As if on cue, the crowd, being a well behaved example of the genre, politely parted, revealing a scaled down version of the policeman holding a two foot high olive-green frog who held a maroon mushroom parasol.
The frog sniffed at Pearl. ‘Maybe you’ll sort this out?’
‘I’m a forensic exorcist. Who are you?’
‘A bloody frog. What do I look…’
‘I mean who’s possessing you?’
‘Abbot Bertram, though the lazy sod can barely be bothered to say.’
‘My name is Pearl Barley. I’m a forensic exorcist and it’s my job to assess any unauthorised non corporeal possessions.’
‘A ghost buster?’
Pearl winced. ‘If you must. Abbot Bertram, can…?’
‘He says please don’t shout and can you talk to me?’
‘We were perfectly happy garden ornaments, in the Abbey grounds, me and the boys,’ he nodded at the crossing, ‘when the Abbey collapsed killing all the initiates. One minutes it’s raining bricks and mortar, next we’ve been possessed. It doesn’t sit well on my reptilian misanthropy, you know.’
Pearl allowed herself a little internal dance. Very unusual for religious orders to possess anything; they were usually the first in the queue for the Afterlife bus. ‘Why didn’t they go on? It’s all nectar and musical soirées.’
‘It wasn’t that simple. These chaps comprised the last of the Glorious and Indolent Order of Evangelical Apathists, formed by St Indifferent the Notbothered formed so long ago everyone’s forgotten why. They embrace utter inertia, their days spent doing nothing, before failing to retire because they didn’t care enough. Only the Abbot ever moved and that left him drained for weeks. When they died their spirits assumed they’d lie around for a bit, but this angel appeared, told them to shift themselves. They were booked onto the 11 o’clock heavenly choir auditions, before being allocated a cloud.’
‘Why didn’t they go?’
‘You any idea how far Heaven’s Gates are for the newly departed, especially those whose life has been one apathetic inaction after another? In a fit of action unprecedented in the Order they decide to hide by possessing the nearest suitable objects.’
‘How did that end with them giving Mrs Twinnipples the hairy eye-ball?’
The frog gave a dramatic sigh. ‘The contractors planned to clear everything. None of them could be bothered but I’m not about to give up on being animated that soon. We’re off to find a new garden. I couldn’t risk crossing just anywhere and thought a lollipop lady would understand. But we’d hardly stared across she started: “get a shift on with you lumps.” Lumps? These are the last members of an ancient order and their concrete with no feet. I said if she could do any better, she was welcome to try.’
Pearl waited for the frog to compose himself.
‘She told me to hop it. So I did. Next think I know, she’s screaming. This reject from the lumpen proletariat has grabbed me and you turn up, threatening exorcisms. Can it get any worse.’
Pearl studied the gnomes, piggy eyes fixed on her old nemesis. ‘I understand you don’t want releasing, but what about them?’
Who knows? Their Apathists. They haven given a monkey’s cuss since Archimedes found he had a screw loose.’
‘You could all come back to mine, if you like. While you decide.’
The frog studied Pearl carefully. ‘It might take a while. And once there we’ll be difficult to shift.’
‘I’ll talk to Mrs Twinnipples.’
Pearl took the old lady’s hand, forcing her to look. ‘Pearl Barley? Is that really you? You’ve done your hair nicely.’
Hair coiled mischievously.
‘These gnomes will come with me.’ Seven pairs of eyes turned to Pearl with studied indifference.
Mrs Twinnipples nodded. ‘One thing. You’d do well to put a shift on.’
Pearl looked confused. ‘There’s no hurry.’
‘Over that dress. Green was never your colour.’
This story was written as part of this month’s #blogbattle over at Rachael Ritchey’s blog, here.