Premise: Palmer (Linus's Brother)is currently an invalid while he recovers from his alcohol addiction. Palmer's also had some uncomfortable rumours surfacing about his social behaviour so he's been barred from seeing Linus's kids as well.
Jammy Dodgers and the Yellow Lizard
Palmer looked at the scrawny blonde boy in his room and wondered for a moment if he was real. It looked like the face he’d seen in his mirror nearly fifty years ago. It was as if he’d been visited by a younger version of himself, before his life became shit and everyone else had written him off. It must be another one of those strange visions he’d been enduring the last few days, while locked in this awful spare room. He didn’t know how many days had passed. He’d only seen Linus, Allan, and a short bare-footed doctor with white whiskers. The fevers and vomiting weren’t so bad. Palmer particularly liked that the doctor was giving him medicinal beer to stave off the tremors, but not enough to satisfy his overwhelming thirst. Hence the locked door.
To keep Palmer from running out to one of the 3 pubs in Burrowsburough, Linus had locked him in the guest room, and taken his wallet. As an added measure, he took Palmer’s pants away. Palmer thought it unusually cruel and shrewd, but was fairly sure that he would be grateful for Linus’s help… eventually… probably. Right now Palmer was more concerned with the large yellow lizard that kept showing up in his room. It licked his feet when he tried to sleep and when he tried to chase it out of the room, it’d perch itself on the vanity mirror and hiss at him. He shouted and screamed at it, but the lizard was never bothered by him. Then of course it would slink away and Palmer wouldn’t see it for hours, he suspected it to be hiding under his bed. Linus assured him it was an hallucination, especially since yellow lizards were not common to Nor Vredon. Palmer wasn’t convinced but the monocle and stove-pipe hat that the lizard was wearing was beginning to arouse his suspicions. He was also fairly certain that Lizards didn’t ride bicycles.
Now this new hallucination had manifested, it seemed, as he stared at his younger self with fascination, and even fear.
“Uncle Palmer?” asked the boy eventually.
Palmer relaxed. It was one of his tow-haired nephews from Linus’s brood. He didn't know which it was, they all looked the same to him, and just when he’d gotten everyone’s ages and names straight, the devious monkeys had the gall to grow older and confuse him.
“You’re…uh… Carlisle?” he asked.
“I’m not Carson, that’s my brother. I’m Orin.”
“Oh,” said Palmer, nodding. “Nice to have met you. Good day.”
“What are you doing in here?” asked Orin.
Carson looked uncomfortable. He was pretty sure Linus wouldn’t have wanted him to go into detail. “I’m getting better.”
“Oh,” said Orin, sadly. “Are you very ill?”
“Terribly,” answered Palmer, hoping the boy would take fright and leave him.
“Is it catching?”
“Frightfully,” lied Palmer.
Orin regarded him with a serious expression on his angelic face.
“Are you going to die?” asked Orin eventually.
Palmer felt a lump in his throat as he answered. “Maybe.”
“Oh,” answered the boy as he continued to stare at Palmer. “Well I hope not. That would be a shame.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
“If it’s alright with you, I’m going to go sit in the closet now,” said Orin matter of factly. With that, he stepped quietly over to the closet door, and sat down on the tops of palmer’s shoes.
“Good day,” said Orin, closing the door.
Palmer stared at the closet. He debated calling Linus to get the kid out of his room, but was a little worried. Linus had warned him about going near his kids, Palmer wasn't sure how Linus would react to the news that his son was hiding in the closet. Steeling himself, Palmer walked over to the closet and opened the door.
“Can I help you?” asked the little boy.
Palmer suppressed a snort. “Look, sonny. Are you allowed to be in this room?”
Orin thought back for a moment. “I don’t remember,” he answered truthfully.
“My mind ain’t exactly current, but I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed. And I know for a fact that I’m not allowed to talk to you.”
“Oh, I’ll stop talking then,” said Orin. There was nothing but open concern in the boy’s face. If any other kid had said it, Palmer would have been tempted to swat him, but Orin looked so sincere that Palmer was effectively shut up. Without another word Orin shut himself up in the closet again.
“You’re going to hear it from your brothers if he’s discovered there,” said a voice at Palmer’s elbow. Looking around, he recoiled in horror from the Yellow lizard on the dressing table.
“You shut up,” he scolded it.
“Well, I never!” sniffed the Lizard. It sang a few bars of an operatic aria before climbing up the vanity mirror to perch on it and hiss at him again.
“Orin?” he ventured trying to sound friendly. He winced at the sound of his own voice. It sounded creepy even to him. “Hey, little fella.”
The closet door shortly opened, and there was Orin looking curious.
“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” he whispered.
“Well that being the case,” Palmer whispered back, “perhaps you’d better leave.”
“No thank you,” said Orin, and made to close the closet again.
“Wait!” gasped Palmer. He got down on his protesting knees to argue at eye level with the boy. “Aren’t you terrified of my horrible deadly disease?” It was only a half-lie, he reasoned.
“You did say it was catching,” mused Orin.
“Depends on how you look at it, but yes.”
Orin raised his head and looked directly at Palmer. His green eyes were dark and brooding, in a way that made superstitious ladies announce that he had an “old soul.” Palmer remembered that the old ladies had said that about his eyes too.
“I think that if I were to die right now it would solve a lot of my problems,” he said frankly.
Palmer was utterly shaken by this. “What makes you say that?”
“It’s just a thought,” said Orin idley. “Although I think that if I were to have a grave, I’d be happier.”
“Why do you want a grave, little Orin?”
“Because it would be quiet. And I wouldn’t have to talk to people. Nothing would ever change….and I wouldn’t have to share it with my brothers,” answered Orin.
“When you put it that way, it does sound like a good deal, doesn’t it?” said Palmer, sitting down on the floor.
“But then…” said Orin.
“What?” prompted Palmer.
“But then I wouldn’t get to have jammy dodgers.”
“And I couldn’t warm my back at the fireplace until I get so warm I can hardly stand it, and then lie down on the rug and feel it be all sizzly,” added Orin.
“I like doing that too,” said Palmer. Being a bachelor, he was never forced to give up the habit, but he hadn’t done it in over twenty years. Why haven’t I? he wondered.
“And I can’t read at my window on a rainy day,” said Orin, beginning to overflow.
“You would have to give up all those things if you were dead,” said Palmer, nodding.
Tears fell fast down Orin’s face and splashed on the blackened leather of Palmer’s squashed shoes. “I don’t want to die, Uncle Palmer.”
“Then don’t,” said Palmer. “Live to a hundred and seventy and eat jammy dodgers every day, if you feel like it.” He didn’t feel comfortable hugging the boy, or even touching him, but he managed to find a clean handkerchief, which he offered to the boy. Orin snuffled loudly into it, wringing it to a long white spear with his fretting fingers as he wept.
“Am I going to get what you have?” asked Orin. “Am I going to die?”
“I don’t think so,” said Palmer, thinking fast. “There is a cure, if it’s still in the early stages.”
“What’s the cure?” asked Orin wide-eyed.
“Take a spoon of golden syrup followed by a glass of milk,” said Palmer directly.
“That’s medicine?” asked Orin looking dubious. “Medicine usually tastes foul.”
Palmer shrugged and added. “Well of course, because I forgot the onion. You have to bite a raw onion first.”
“You forgot?” asked Orin, his suspicions far from mollified.
“Yes. Must be why it didn’t work on me and I got ill,” said Palmer with as dead-pan a face as he could muster.
This seemed to pass muster and Orin nodded sagely. “Well I don’t care for onions… but seeing as I don’t want to die now.”
“Quickly! Quickly, while there’s still time,” said Palmer urgently. Orin jumped to his feet and padded to the door of the guest room. He paused at the door a moment. He then spun around and flung himself at Palmer, wrapping his arms about his uncle’s skeletal frame.
“Oh, Uncle Palmer, I don't’ want you to die either,” he sobbed.
Palmer was frozen. No child had ever embraced him before, not counting younger brothers and sisters. This child barely knew him, and yet he was crying for him, afraid for him. For a man who was convinced that the world would never miss him, it was a shock. Palmer didn’t know how to respond or react, but he knew now, that if Linus were to barge in suddenly, he could kiss his arse goodbye.
Deftly, he peeled the child’s arms from around his waist and held them briefly in his hands.
“It was good of you to come and visit me,” he said earnestly. “Don’t stop wishing to live, Orin. It’s a fine thing when you’ve know how well you’ve got it.”
“Can I visit you again?” asked Orin.
“Well…” Palmer trailed off until he found the answer. “On the trip north. We can talk together then, alright? I rather like you, Orin.”
“I rather like you too, Uncle Palmer.”
“Jolly-good. Now don’t forget…”
“The onion!” gasped Orin, who straightened up and sped out of the room like a dart.
“I like jammy dodgers,” said the yellow lizard.
“Shut-up, you!” snapped Palmer.
The first book in this series, Must Love Dragons is now available from Amazon for the Kindle.