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Solitary Creatures Part 2 by Melanie Clark

Updated: Jan 29, 2022

Francis Finkfinger became bereft of hope. He did not leave his house until every morsel of food he purchased had been devoured. He chased the nerve tonic with brandy, the astonishing effect of which was a kind of burning clarity combined with a numbness that did not allow him to speak his thoughts. The only thing remaining that could not be eaten was the hat pin. When he bought it, he thought perhaps he would gift it to Frances Wheatgrass, even though he had never seen her wear a hat.

Now, he thought, as the firelight glanced off the long, brass needle, that he should like to present it to her by stabbing her in the neck with it.

Several days later, with the effects of the tonic worn off and the decanter run dry, Francis Finkfinger gained a new focus. He began making inquiries all around town. He paid call to a number of schools to determine if she was a teacher. He told all manner of lies to a number of proprietresses at nearby boarding houses in an attempt to discover where she lodged, all to no avail. He even paid a visit to Mr. Midge, the butcher who had instructed Frances in roast-carving.

“Oh aye, ah know who yeh mean,” said Mr. Midge, revealing Frances the woman’s full name to Francis the man. “But I’ve no idea where she settles her bones.” Offering no other suggestion or comment, he idly wiped his hands on his apron and walked away.

Francis Finkfinger’s questioning of others on the high street were similar: she was well-liked, had no debts, but also had a sense of privacy, and no family to divulge her secrets. Alas, Frances Wheatgrass was employed nowhere, and she slept nowhere. She was a mystery. * * *

Frances Wheatgrass had caught sight of the scowling man in the dusty black trench and tawny waistcoat for the first time at the cheese shop, impolitely sniffing a chunk of parmesan. He had the look of someone who was not born cruel, but became so as a way to shield himself against the world. For an instant, she thought to start a conversation with him, but for the first time in her existence, she was startled into silence and aversion. She turned away from Francis Finkfinger’s glance, thinking, “This man is my death.”

Frances clutched the arm of her companion, Dolly Forecaster. Dolly pranced about the streets in gentle, voluminous pastel garb, seemingly untouched by the dirt of everyday life. She was baubled and ruffled; a chiffon cake of a woman. Dolly had the benefit of being a very wealthy woman whose husband was away on business most of the time. She was generous with her time and money and invited no scandal. Her friends kept her secrets because she kept theirs.

What Dolly knew that Francis Finkfinger did not, and could not know, was that Frances lived on Dolly’s estate. In a tree. The tree itself could nourish and protect nothing more than the sparrows who nested there; it was a signpost for an entry into the land of the Fair Folk. And Frances Wheatgrass, being far more tolerant of humans than others of her kind, became a sort of ambassador after many years of the gates of the realm being shuttered.

It all came about quite innocently. Dolly had performed various workings for years, serious work which required thoughtful preparation and specific ingredients. Charm was only a small part of the equation which helped her acquire her station. Indeed, she loved her husband, and he loved her, no manipulation required. It had simply been a matter of placing herself in his line of sight. In spite of the affection they shared, Dolly knew too well that men were afraid when women wielded power of their own.

“You cannot force a man to love you,” Dolly had told her three daughters and proteges. “For that is the bl

ackest magic of all, and the harshest rebuke when it comes.” Dolly could have made vast sums selling charms and love spells, as others had done. But it was also the quickest way to end up on the pyre when one inevitably had an unsatisfied customer.

To be continued...

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