This first saw publication as a short story in Crossed Genres magazine back in 2009. It then bloomed into a full-length novel, and has been picked up by Double Dragon Publishing. Release is planned for November 2013.
To summarize it briefly, Vivian Mare has accepted the position of housekeeper in the employ of Archimedes Nesselrode–an artist who “makes things”, no one knows how–because she wanted something different from the usual run of Senators and CEOs; Ms. Mare did not anticipate that she would be dealing with a bespectacled heron, a winged snake, or a crew of naughty marmosets getting into the crackers.
Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.
“I hardly ever use the front door,” Archimedes Nesselrode said as they went up the steps. “I don’t think I could even get it open. It sticks dreadfully. This goes directly into the kitchen. More handy for you, I’d guess.”
“Most likely,” she agreed. She stepped into the entryway, the door closing behind her. She caught her breath. The condition of the interior was appalling. She walked into the kitchen, expecting the worst, and was greeted by a scene beyond her expectations. They surprised half a dozen black monkey-like creatures tearing apart a loaf of bread on the kitchen table. Mr. Nesselrode shooed them away and regarded the mess unhappily.
“Are they your creations, too?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he admitted. “They’re terribly naughty, I’m afraid.”
“Can’t you do anything about it?”
“Not really,” he said with a sigh. “All my creations have some measure of independence once I’ve made them. The marmosets have a bit more than one might prefer.”
Ms. Mare surveyed the rest of the kitchen. The sink was piled high with dirty dishes, although a few clean ones in the drainer testified to a half-hearted attempt to tackle them. The stove was caked thick with burnt spills. Every surface was yellow with grease and every knob and handle was dark with fingerprints. She shuddered to think what horrors awaited her behind the grime-bespotted door of the refrigerator.
The floor hadn’t been cleaned in weeks, perhaps months. Perhaps years. She peered into the dining room and the living room. There were broken dishes on the hutch. The windows were grimy and the curtains were soiled; on the sills were sadly overgrown and under-watered potted plants covered with brown leaves and dead branches. The corners of every room were thick with cobwebs and every unused surface was covered with dust.
“Dear, me,” she murmured in dismay.
“I hope you don’t find it all too, ah, daunting,” her prospective employer said.
She took a deep breath–which made her want to cough; the place was in dire need of airing out–pulled up her sleeves and folded her arms across her chest. “There is no task,” she declared, “that I am not equal to, given sufficient time and resources.” She turned to face him. “Where am I to stay?”
“Ah,” he said eagerly, “you should find your room quite pleasant. Heron and I worked hard to get it ready.”
“Yes. You’ll be meeting her presently. She’s a bit stern, but don’t let her intimidate you.”
“I am not easily intimidated, Mr. Nesselrode.”
“So I see. Well, this way. Mind the starfish.”
“Starfish?” Sure enough, there was a enormous starfish in the middle of the hallway, a sort of cinnamon gold color with blue spots along the ridge of each arm. It was as big around as a good-sized throw rug and high as a hassock. “Starfish,” she confirmed aloud to herself, eying it warily as she circumambulated it. It made no threatening gestures.
On the table in the hallway sat a long-haired, orange and white cat who stood up, stretched, and jumped into the artist’s arms as he walked by. It climbed up onto his shoulder, purring.
“Is that one of your creations, too?”
“Oh, no!” he laughed. “Madam Beast is just an ordinary cat.” He stroked her head. “Forgive me, my lovely. I shouldn’t call you ordinary, should I? No. You are hardly ordinary, are you?” He started up the stairs. “I have seven cats at the moment. All acquired in quite the normal way. Strays. They wandered in and made themselves at home. My basilisk didn’t prevent their entry. In fact, I rather suspect she encouraged them. She’s fond of cats. She got that from me, I suppose. On the other hand, the Bishop dislikes them. He spends most of his time in the silver teapot on the dining room table, contemplating the Divine nature or some such thing. But he insists on blessing all the meals. He comes out of the teapot, muttering Latin, and everyone must put down their forks. The cats ignore him, of course. That annoys the Bishop to no end. But you simply can’t tell a cat what to do. Not even if you are a bishop. Cats are thoroughly Pagan creatures.”
“Yes, of course,” Ms. Mare replied as she threaded her way carefully up the stairs, which were piled high with stacks of envelopes and papers. “What is all this?” she asked, catching a tower which started to fall when she brushed against it.
“Oh, mail mostly,” he said cheerfully. “Don’t worry, it’s not important. Frank Shekle’s office takes care of the important things, and disposes of the disturbing matters. He sends the rest to me. Dreadfully dull, most of it. Copies of documents, accounts, nonsense. Letters from people I don’t know. I’m not sure quite what to do with it.”
“One generally either files it away or throws it out,” Ms. Mare said.
“Oh. Yes. I suppose one would.” The notion had evidently never occurred to him.
They reached the top of the stairs and went to the end of the hall. He opened the door and led her in. “Here we go!” he said, and shooed a large, emerald green lobster off the bed. It clacked its claws irritably.
Efforts had indeed been made to welcome her; the room was clean, aired out and uncluttered. It was a pleasant room, rather old-fashioned in its decor. A spacious wardrobe made up for its lack of closet space. There was a dark cherry wood bureau and a matching dressing table with seat, an ornate mirror hanging over it. Two tall windows overlooked the lawn and another overgrown flower garden. Ms. Mare made a mental note that she would have to do something about that garden. She couldn’t abide having to look out on it every day in its current state of neglect.
“The bath is through here,” he said, opening a door. She inspected it. The tile was new, an agreeable shade of blue. The fixtures looked charmingly antique although the plumbing appeared to be in good repair; a test of the faucet produced a robust stream of water without any ominous clanks or shudders. She noted with approval the deep, claw-footed tub. She enjoyed a proper bath. There was a medicine cabinet and small but adequate linen closet. The towels had seen better days. They were white with pink trim. She detested pink.
Returning to the bed chamber, she said, “It will do, although I wish I had a proper writing desk.”
Nesselrode frowned. “A desk. Of course. By all means, do look into it. Something nice that will go with the room. How much do you think it would cost? Would a thousand cover it?”
Her eyes widened. “Well, I hardly think–”
He waved his hand in dismissal. “I have no head for the cost of things. I’ll leave it to you. Just have the bill sent to Frank. Oh, and do let me know when they plan to deliver it. I’ll need to give the basilisk the afternoon off.”
“Yes. Of course,” Ms. Mare replied, “It would hardly do to have the delivery men eaten by a basilisk.”
“Then,” he inquired hopefully, “you will be staying?”
“I believe so,” she said, nodding.
“Praise the numina!” he exclaimed, jubilant. “I’ll assist you with your suitcases!”
“I should think not, Mr. Nesselrode,” she said, marching past him out of the room. “That is my job.”
“Oh, yes,” he said meekly, standing aside.