Note: This is posted “as is”, no editing or proof reading involved, as part of the 30 Shorts In 30 Days project. During April I will be attempting to write and post a new short story everyday.
“Gerald, Fitzwilliam, come down here please,” the man shouted up the stairs before turning around and walking back through to the library where he’d been sorting his morning mail. He didn’t wait for an answer from his sons, he knew that they would both attend straight away for they both had what he deemed to be proper manners.
The two young men walked into the library a few minutes later, they didn’t run or even rush, but arrived in a calm, almost relaxed manner, even though they were eager to hear why their father had called them down.
“Boys, I’ve been requested to go into London on business. I’ve informed you both in the past about the Endangered Creatures Programme, well it seems that they would like me to help interview a couple of hopefuls they have for the position of head vet.” The father leaned forward in his chair picked up the letter from the top of the pile on his desk. “You are both old enough now to take care of things here on the estate, or to accompany me into the city. Gerald, as the eldest son and with the most experience running the estate during my business trips, I would like you to accompany me into London.”
“Pardon father?” The slightly stockier of the two boys asked.
“I want you to come into London with me Gerald. Fitzwilliam is capable of running the estate, but hasn’t had the practice. Theory is all well and good, but it doesn’t beat experience. So I want you to stay here and manage the estate Fitzwilliam while Gerald accompanies me into London. It will be good experience for both of you. Fitzwilliam, you’ll be able to put into practice what you’ve learned, and Gerald, you’ll get to meet some of the people we do business with. Now, we leave this afternoon, so go pack for a week,” their father said waving them out of the library as he returned to his work.
The two men greeted each other as Gerald and his father walked along the small path towards the cottage. The cottage itself stood out from the buildings surrounding it, a small, traditional looking farm cottage with a large kitchen garden on all sides, whereas the buildings nearby were definitely part of the zoo. The cottage was home to two of the zoo staff, and their family, and nestled in a corner of the zoo itself.
“George, this is my son Gerald. Gerald, this is my old friend George, we grew up together.”
“Good to meet you finally Gerald,” George said taking and shaking Gerald’s hand. “You’re growing up to look just like your father. Come in both of you and have a pot.”
The parlour they were led into was a small room with a big fire, and smelled a lot like wet dog, not least because of the large shaggy dog curled up in front of the fire. Next to the parlour was a kitchen, where George made a pot of tea before joining Henry and Gerald at the parlour table.
“So tell me, what brings you to London Henry?” George asked as he poured the tea.
“Business, you’re interviewing for a new vet and they wanted me to sit in and give my opinion. Thought I’d bring the lad along to get some experience.”
The dog by the fire stretched and yawned, and then stretched some more. Standing up on all fours, and then onto its hind legs before stretching some more, and turning into a young woman.
“Ah, Edith dear,” George said to the woman who a few minutes ago was a large dog. “You’re awake. Best put some clothes on dear, we have visitors.”
Gerald looked at the young lady and blushed, something a manticore wasn’t used to doing. When you can spend as much time as you like wandering around on all fours, covered in fur, you tended not to worry about modesty, but sight of Edith brought the blood to Gerald’s cheeks. He’d never before seen a woman that he considered to be so beautiful, and he was very aware that he was at an advantage having seen all of her. Edith smiled back and Gerald and walked out of parlour to find some clothes.
Over the next week Gerald made every subtle excuse he could to see more of Edith, along with some not-so-subtle ones. The morning before they were due to head back to their family estate in Norfolk, Henry brought the subject up with his son as they sat down to breakfast at in the hotel’s restaurant.
“You could ask her out for the night you know son.”
“Father?” Gerald replied.
“Edith,” Henry replied. “You’re obviously besotted with her, and seeing as you’ve not got a scratch or a bite mark, I would assume that she quite likes you too.”
“Well, it is true that I find her attractive father. But, well, I wouldn’t know where to take her, let alone how to ask her to accompany me.”
“That’s easy enough,” Henry said. “I know a wonderful little restaurant near Hyde Park, our family have been visiting them for generations, and they’ve always been very accommodating. And then a post dinner stroll around the park itself, if by the end of that you decide that you would like something more, then take it from there. But for gods sake Gerald, stop moping around.”
“Moping Gerald, you’ve been moping about since you first saw here. So, go and call on her before we head back home.”
It sounded simple over breakfast, call on her. Walk up to the door and ask her to accompany him to dinner and a walk. But of course it wasn’t that simple. He wouldn’t be calling on her, he’d be asking her father if he could call on her later that evening, and then even if he was amenable to the idea, having to go along with any and all stipulations that he came up with. But as his father pointed out, if he didn’t ask, he wouldn’t know. He asked and he knew, and now that it was later that evening, he was calling on her and her chaperone.
As he walked up the path through the kitchen garden, the door flew open and an old women came flying out to greet him.
“Hello! You must be Gerald! Aren’t you lovely, you’re very lovely, really very lovely you know a handsome young man yes you are just look at you you’ve definitely scrubbed up for the night haven’t you I can smell the soap on you you might want to wipe behind your ear though you missed a bit!”
The last sentence came out in one long breath as the old woman bounced around Gerald with all the energy of a young puppy who’s been eating coffee beans.
“Hello, yes, I’m Gerald.”
“Hello! Yes! Hello, Gerald! I’m Bridget, and I shall be your chaperone for the evening, don’t mind me though, you won’t notice that I’m even there! Tell me though, are we going anywhere nice? Is it a nice place? Is it a restaurant? Is it? I like food, food is nice. Do you like food? You must like food, a nice young man like you, you do though don’t you?”
Gerald wasn’t sure how to answer the question, let alone deal with the old woman who seemed to have far too much energy for someone of her obvious age. Fortunately, Edith came out of the cottage to greet him.
“Gerald, hello. This is Bridget, as I’m sure she’s told you. She’s a little excitable to be honest.”
“Edith, you look stunning,” Gerald said as he took in Edith and the gown she was wearing.
“Well, I don’t get to go out much, so I thought I would take advantage of it. It’s actually one of Bridget’s old dresses, we managed to rescue most of her effects after she moved in with the Programme,” Edith explained as she closed the door to the cottage and took Gerald’s arm. “Let’s get some diner and I’ll explain.”
The restaurant was true to its recommendation, when Gerald arrived they were shown to a secluded table near the back where they wouldn’t be disturbed, and the courses kept coming. Manticore have big appetites for meat, and like it very, very rare. Being at a more secluded area of the restaurant meant they could indulge without eyebrows being raised from the other diners. It also allowed Gerald to get a little closer to Edith.
“This is nice, isn’t this nice, I think this is nice, do you think this is nice?”
Or at least, he would have been able to if they didn’t have a chaperone along. Bridget had insisted on always sitting between them, and always seemed to get into the middle of all conversations too.
“Yes Bridget,” Gerald replied. “This is very nice. So, tell me Edith, what do you plan to do with your life?”
“Well,” Edith started.
“Yes, that’s a great question Gerald, a very astute question. What do you plan to do with your life Edith?”
“Well,” Edith repeated, “I’m looking into anthropomorphicology.”
Gerald looked blank, Bridget giggled.
“That’s a big word, did you just make that word up Edith dear? Did you, did you make it up?”
It seemed, Gerald thought, that even though Bridget was sat very still, she was still bouncing up and down with energy.
“No, it’s, well, I think it might be a new field of science. You see, humans have a tendency to anthropomorphise things, such as giving animals human characteristics, well, what I’m currently looking into is how that works in reverse. Do the human characteristics they put onto things affect the way they treat those things, or rather can those things then influence humans by acting according to, or not, the way humans see them.”
Gerald and Bridget stared at Edith.
“This is why I don’t normally tell people. Normally I’d say some rot about finding a good man, people just stare at me.”
“Sorry, let me see if I’ve got this right,” Gerald started. “Are you thinking along the lines of, say as an example, the personification of death, big bloke in a hooded cowl. Humans associate death with that image, so whenever they see that image they also associate it with death. So, according to your theory putting a hooded cowl on anything would make humans initially think of death, but by altering the behaviour of that thing, such as getting it to tap dance, would not only break their view of that instance, but their overall perception of death?”
For once that evening, Bridget had nothing to say.
“Exactly that, and it’s also like the angels, humans see them as kind, benevolent creatures, because that’s the image that the angels put across. So those humans that want to emulate what they think angels are, emulate those characteristics,” Edith explained.
“It’s a wonderful theory, sounds like you’d have a very busy life trying to research and prove that.”
For the rest of the meal Bridget kept quiet. The conversation was on what she deemed to be a wholesome topic, and she had nothing to say. The mention of the anthropomorphic character of death was playing heavily on her mind. Back in her home country of Ireland she was often called the harbinger of death, and until she had met Edith and her family, everyone that Bridget had held dear had died. Perhaps the names were justified she thought, perhaps she did bring death to all those around her.
“Bridget, are you okay?” Edith asked.
“Are you okay Bridget, you seemed to be away in your own world there,” Gerald put in.
“Sorry loves, I was just thinking about my family, my friends.”
“Oh, what about them?” Edith asked.
“They’re all dead dear. Every single person I’ve loved over the years is dead. Everyone.”
Gerald looked over at Edith, who was looking as concerned as he was. For most of the day Bridget was unbelievably cheerful, and now all of a sudden she was appearing very depressed.
“Still,” Bridget said brightly, breaking the mood. “Let’s not forget that we have a dessert menu still to go yes? After all, there’s always the possibility of death, but not always the possibility of dessert.”