Authors: Mandi Rei Serra
Darker Shade of Pale
I was in a warm, comfortable place that smelled a lot like my stoner aunt's house; that is to say
in a patchouli kind of way
Somewhere, I hovered between the world of sleep devoid of dreams and land of the awake. My eyes closed, I heard a man's voice say, "Lady Dunklebee, ‘skit ‘er up."
For a moment, I forgot where I was and who owned that voice. Oh yeah.
Tyb's place. After tingles of anxiety slowly evaporated, I noticed a puppy walking sedately into my room, head and tail carried high. It stopped by the bed and began to howl loud enough to blister ears.
I sat up. "Okay, okay! I'm awake." That was enough to stop the dog from caterwauling. It turned around and trotted out, its nails making click-click sounds on the hardwood floor. I thrust my arms in the air and stretched. My legs hurt from last night's hike. Not paying attention to
Tyb meant I walked right into a mine field of thorny blackberries. Skin and clothes all got snagged on the spikes, a lesson not forgotten. Blackberries are related to roses. Just takes a demonstration of their relative thorny powers to see the family resemblance.
They are all pricks.
The sun barely eked over a small verdant valley when Tyb and I trudged up a hill and into his house. I was so wiped out that as soon as he led me to a small room he declared mine, I fell on the bed and passed out, shoes still on. Now bright eyed and bushy tailed, I took in my surroundings. My room possessed a full-size bed topped with a faded quilt. On the wall with the door, a large built-in bookcase filled with reading material. Opposite of the door was a large window with a small chaise lounge situated in the center. Between the chaise and bed, not much walking space.
As I stood up and stretched again,
Tyb popped his head in the door. "Let me give you the tour. I already milked the goats and cow, so I'll show you how at the night milking."
So thus it began. First the twenty-five cent tour of the house. Between my bedroom and
Tyb's chamber lurked the bathroom. Not just any bathroom, mind you. This was special in a way I couldn't even begin to describe. Composting toilet? I did not know one could compost crap, but there it goes to show my ignorance. After each use of the privy, I was instructed to toss a scoop of a mixture in a bucket on top of my waste. That, Tyb told me, would help the bacteria break down, contain odor, and generate quality compost to be used in the garden.
"Say what now? You're going to put shit on food crops? Nasty!"
Ewww. Way eww.
and it's not shit when it gets applied to the soil. The heat from composting two years kills the pathogens. It's safe, when handled correctly. I didn't want to risk contaminating my aquifer if an earthquake should happen and the septic tank crack, leaking into the groundwater. Isn't as fancy as running water, but it works."
The bathtub and pedestal sink looked normal enough. We left the bathroom.
To the left, Tyb's room. In front of me, the living area. Wide, open. The house faced south, and that southern exposure was channeled into a great atrium sort of thing. A whole room of nothing but plants in leafy splendor. It was separated from the living area by a glass wall. On the east side of the great room, the kitchen. Dividing the living area and the cooking area, a massive bench thing, at least seven feet long and five feet high at the tallest point. The end facing the atrium had a square hole with a bunch of twigs sticking out, and a large upside down barrel behind the aperture. .
"That's my rocket mass heater. It's my central heating."
"I've never seen anything like it." Behind the barrel, the rocket mass heater had a bench for sitting upon, as Tyb demonstrated.
"This thing is epic. Doesn't produce any smoke."
Color me impressed. The kitchen seemed out of suburbia. Tyb took me outside, through the atrium. The view from his front door was the stuff of travel posters. A mountainous view rife with conifers, wildflowers, and ferns. Below, the hillside gave way to a meadow. On the right side of the meadow, Tyb pointed out a group of earth-berm buildings set against the trees and hidden to a casual eye, with greenery growing wild on the little hillocks.
cackleberry coop, over there is the milking shed. I pasture raise my stock—except for the rabbits—so there's not much in the way of mucking things out." As he spoke, he strode down the little pathway leading towards the henhouse. "I do the deep litter method for the chickens. Once a week, we'll spread a layer of pine needles in the coop. It kills the smell, and as it composts, it helps keep the chickens warm. It's important because it gets wicked cold here in the winter." Tyb opened coop's door and showed me the impressive eight-inch depth of composting chicken crap. He was right, though. It didn't stink at all in the chicken house. Tyb then led me to the milking shed. It was whitewashed on the inside, with a long wooden stool in the center. The stool had a U shaped doo-hickie at one end sticking up, the two sides of the U held together with a little chain. "That's the milking stanchion. Give each goat a nice scoop of oats. Keeps them calm while you get the goods." Tyb pointed to a galvanized garbage can in the corner. "Always make sure the lid is on that tight, otherwise chipmunks and squirrels steal it all. They are fuzzy, bucktoothed thieves."
I nodded. Makes sense, the furry rat-bastards. Wasn't sure exactly how to milk a goat, but I could totally bribe one, no problem. My tour guide whisked me away, back up to the house. "Okay, what I'm about to show you, stays between you, me and
Zamara." We walked back through the greenhouse and into the living quarters. Tyb walked to his room, opened the door and flicked on a light. "I use solar cells with a backup bio-diesel-powered generator for electricity. But things can and will go wrong. If we are ever in a situation where you need to hide, here's the place to duck." Tyb's room was masculine and had the scent of leather and soap. A huge bedstead hewn from logs took up most of the room, a worn quilt covering the bed. One side had a dresser with photos on top. The far side of the room had an L-shaped computer desk. Tyb walked to the desk and fell to his knees, crawling under the big piece of furniture, reaching for the very corner of the room. He pressed something, and then a small door swung open. The door was about two feet tall and three foot wide. One couldn't see it from the door because the desk blocked the view. Tyb crawled through, saying, "Follow me."
I hunkered down on all fours and did as he did. The passageway was cool and gently downward sloping. "Where does this go?" I asked, exhilarated to be in an actual secret passage. Would this be a Being
"Two exits. If you stay to the left and follow the path, it'll take you to the far end of the meadow. There's a shortcut there to where I store my cars. If you go to the right, it'll take you to the panic room."
"You have a panic room out here?" Whew, not the New Jersey turnpike.
"I live my life on the interesting side. I'd rather have one and never use it, than not having one when I need it most."
"Regular boy scout, aren't you?"
Couldn't stand the merit badge sash."
"I would have taken you for the type to tightly roll your kerchief."
"Nope, it was the sash."
We crawled along in the dark, when
Tyb spoke up. "Go right."
"Aye, aye captain."
The path evened out and it wasn't long before Tyb stood up in front of me. I got to my feet, and tried to hear what he was doing. Only a moment passed before I heard the unlatching of a door. Then a light turned on, blinding me. So this is what Gizmo felt when he cried "bright light!" in agony.
I used a hand to shade my eyes. Could see
Tyb was doing the same, as he stood in a small room, about ten foot square. There was a cot and shelves holding things marked MRE. "No one knows this room is here, except you and my sister. If you ever get freaked and need to hide, come in here, bolt that door. There's a walkie talkie in that plastic tote, the other is in the kitchen."
"Where does that door go?" I pointed to the door facing the entry
Tyb and I used.
"That goes to the treehouse."
"Treehouse?" Oh, so Zamara wasn't jesting, like I hoped.
"Actually, it's a fake tree house. Looks like a tree, but
it's reinforced concrete, tinted. Looks like an ancient stump. That door goes to the tree house, which would be the equivalent of a castle's keep. It's like this room, but bigger. Made to withstand a siege."
"Why would you feel the need to construct such a thing?" My mind was officially blown. This man before me carved out his own kingdom from the wilderness. Seemed fairly efficient to me, but being ignorant in all things rural, my opinion really doesn't mean much.
"Oh, when I was a teenager, I broke the heart of a girl. Her daddy didn't like me, had connections. Some of his goons tried offing me."
"Overkill much? You were a teenager."
"Yeah, but a newspaper heading about what an sexually abusive fuck he was to his own daughter because I narked to the cops about him being a piece of shit… Well, her father pretty much wanted to bathe in my blood."
"Why would he do such a thing?"
"He was a senator and loved exercising his power over others. I refused to be another of his pawns."
I quieted, not sure what to say.
Didn't matter though. Tyb spoke up before I could form a thought. "Come on, Izzy. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't mind a nice bath. I just noticed you're in the same clothes as last night."
"That is true." And deep underground, I looked upon the man who was keeping me safe from another abusive fuck. He had closely cropped curly black hair, like his sister. But his eyes were an amber color and fringed with thick lashes. His eyebrows weren't huge, but well defined and framed his gaze.
Tyb stood about six inches taller than I, well-built with a muscular frame. In the moment I studied him closely, I noticed him studying me back. "How do I measure up?"
"We'll see when you grope a goat."
Great. Interspecies nipple play. Yeah.
This will be interesting.
You know what's a thousand hues of awesome? A hot bubble bath in a huge tub. What's even better than that? Knowing Christos isn't around to hold my head under water.
I lounged in the tub for over an hour.
Tyb patiently tolerated my mermaid time. The time spent in the tub was utilized in rumination of my wicked change of circumstances. My naivety had me here, in the mountains, away from family. I chose not to write my parents. My mom can't lie to save her face and my dad wouldn't be able to keep his cool and resist the urge for open Christos season. Maybe when things settle down, I'll contact them, but I dared not to write. I didn't want to underestimate Christos and his tenacity for getting what he wants.
I thought about
Tyb. He seemed infinitely capable, like his sister. Intelligent, too. In a way, I deeply admired his homestead. I mean, it's quite the accomplishment to literally build one's home with bare hands, raise and tend stock, grow feed for people and animals. Everything gets reused, everything is orderly, and everything has a logical reason for being the way it is. There is no convenience out here—if I want Starbucks, tough shit. Go shopping? Ha. Watch TV? Not happening. He at least had a computer with satellite access to the internet. However, that link to the outside world happens to reside in Tyb's bedroom, and I'm not terribly keen on asking for visitation with high-technology, not at this point. Tyb is an intriguing man, I would admit. Tried thinking about Christos living the rural, hardworking life. Pretty sure he'd rather swing by his neck from a tree than milk a goat or shovel chicken poop himself. If money can't solve Christos's problem, then he gets mad and acts out. Living a homesteading existence would be torture to him.
The thing that coaxed me from the watery refuge was the scent of breakfast cooking. Had no idea what time it was, but food sounded so good. After getting out of the tub, I wrapped a huge towel around me and ducked back into my room. My suitcase went the way of the Blackberry
Christos gave me, and the sports car Tyb provided as a fiery diversion. I had most of the clothes I bought on my spree, some boots and underpinnings. Most of my Lush haul made it through, too. If I am to be exiled to the middle of nowhere for years, then damn yes, I'm keeping my pampering goods. No doubt in my mind that I'd need their healing properties. But most everything, including my purse, got chucked over that cliff side.
I put on some clean jeans, a tee shirt, lightweight wool socks, and my boots. Ran a brush through my hair and tried tying it back into a ponytail. Forgot I got a Meg Ryan-type pixie cut. With a deep breath, I walked toward what was sure to be the first of many mornings spent in this manner.
"What's for breakfast, Chef?"
"Eggs, bacon, and toast."
"Bacon? You didn't mention any pigs."
laughed. "It's nice that you think I raise swine, too. I don't though. Neighbor down the hill does, and he does them well. We barter rabbit pelts for pig parts."
"So you raise the rabbits for their fur?" I tried not to cringe at the thought of all those bunnies, awaiting their fate.
"No, their meat. Fur is a by-product someone else can utilize and I can benefit from."
"You eat rabbit?" That's like maybe two steps above road kill, right?
"Yep. All sorts of cute critters. They taste adorable." Tyb cracked a smirk.
"But it's a rabbit." I grew up with a pet bunny named
FooFooBunns. She liked to cuddle on my shoulder and hide in my hair. Could never have eaten or worn my sweet FoofyBunBunny. That's like cannibalism.
"And a lamb is just a baby, but that doesn't stop the manufacturing of mint jelly or the legs of said lambs showing up at the grocery store, does it? Anyhow, I'm letting you decide what's next after breakfast, shooting or showing you the boundaries of the property."
I bet shooting involves a lot less hiking. "Shooting. Best be on the safe side."
I'd like for you to get proficient with the firearm with both hands. That way, if your usual hand is impaired, your safety is not. We'll start off with a sidearm. Eventually, we'll work you up to a shotgun and rifle, if you decide to go trekking."
"Trekking?" With all the animals, I'd assume
Tyb stays close to home.
There's a nice lake about five hours hike from here. I like to set up the automatic feeders and let the dogs handle keeping things on lockdown. Go camping for a night, come back."
Tyb mentioned dogs, I immediately thought of the pup that howled like a banshee to wake me up. "Where's the little dog with the aristocratic title?"
Dunklebee? She's somewhere."
At the sound of her name, the dog came trotting from the atrium. "Ah, there she is."
"What breed is she?" Cute, I'll admit. Red and white, with perked ears that spread like butterfly wings.
"She's a Papillion.
Member of the spaniel family."
"And the big dogs…?"
"Are strictly outside, working dogs. Lady Dunklebee is a companion mutt, although she shuns people most of the time."
So, I'd be making acquaintance with several dogs. Okay, never really been around canines, but I could adjust. "Are they friendly?"
"It's not their job to be friendly. But if I introduce you to them, they won't see you as a threat. Let them sniff your hand. I'll have you start feeding them when you go to collect the eggs."
My mental checklist of the chores I needed to do
kept growing. I didn't mind, staying busy is important, but Tyb wasn't joking when he said he'd drop a lot of knowledge on me today.
slid a plate of breakfast my way, as I sat down at the table nestled between the rocket mass heater and the wall in the back of the kitchen. "Coffee or tea?"
With a tea kettle in one hand, and a cone-shaped-linen-lined sieve situated in a little wooden stand, with a coffee cup below the sieve, sitting on the counter, Tyb began to pour the boiling water into the contraption. The smell of coffee perfumed the room. "Non-electric coffee maker, there?" I couldn't resist asking.
skippy. Best cup of coffee you will drink, I promise."
I took him for his word, as he handed me a steaming cup of
joe. Perhaps it was the deprivation of caffeine which made me appreciate the drink more. Took a sip. Smooth as silk and utterly delicious. Time on the clock said it wasn't even ten a.m. which I found hard to believe. What time did he wake me up? "Are these Kona beans?"
No fancy beans here. Just stuff out of a tin can."
Color me amazed. As I got down to business of chowing down on breakfast,
Tyb turned on a radio. Turned on, being technical jargon for cranking the handle on the radio's side before turning it physically on. A commercial hit my ears. Seemed out of place because of the quiet of Tyb's home. After the commercial break, and just in the moment I was shoving a forkful of eggs into my gob, a female newscaster made a breaking report.
"This just in: Correspondents in Berkeley, California, report a series of explosions located at the newly-opened
Haytham Laboratory shaking the city this morning. Lead scientist and entrepreneur, Christopher Haytham is reported to have been in the building when the first fireball engulfed the industrial neighborhood which housed the laboratory. At this time, no one knows how the fire started. Emergency personnel have been dispatched from surrounding East Bay cities to fight the inferno. On another sad note, Christopher Haytham's wife, Selesta Ferrous-Haytham has been reported missing with her body guard. Mrs. Haytham was reported to be returning home after the opening of her husband's new laboratory. The body guard's car and various personal items have been located, however the bodies have not been located." Tyb turned off the radio and turned to me.
"You failed to mention some things to me.
You and my sister both."
I gulped. The accusatory tone didn't foretell of a happy thought.
"You. You are Selesta."
It's upon this man's good will that I have a safe place to hide. "Yes."
Zamara tell me?"
"I don't know why, she just said I should keep it to myself until you warm up to me."
"Well, yeah. Fuck Christos Haytham in his goddamn ear with a goddamn shard of glass. I hate that fucker."
"His uncle is the fucknut senator, his cousin, my exgirlfriend. Christos
tried killing me. My treehouse is because of that son of a bitch, and now I have his wife? Fucking A, what's next, a nuclear apocalypse?"
I swallowed hard. "Yeah, you might want to call your sister and ask her what Virteria Serum is… because according to her, that's a very real possibility. And from the psychotic babble coming from my husband's lips, she was right."