There was the tap of heels. Hayley stopped beside me and sucked in her breath, and then let it out in a “What?”
Which was more or less my feeling on the matter, and I’d only been in this kitchen once before, about half an hour ago.
“Where did that come from? I’ve never seen it before in my life!” —from my professionally outraged companion.
“Well, it is very dark back here —” I began.
“It’s not so dark that entire—entire —”
“Stoves,” I said. “Gigantic ancient wood-burning stoves —”
“—can disappear,” finished Hayley. “I think it’s probably wood and coal. It’s got two fireboxes.”
“As well as twelve ovens,” I said.
Hayley was counting. “Well, four.”
“Four is plenty. Four is more than plenty.”
“But where did it come from?” said Hayley. “I’m sure it wasn’t there before! And it’s not on the inventory!” —But I could tell she was wavering. This was real life. Cthulhu (and Flowerhair) happened in books. Which was just as well, given the sorts of things Cthulhu got up to (and while I’d be happy to have a cup of tea and a chat with Flowerhair any time, I didn’t want to meet most of the people she hung out with, starting with her bad-tempered enchanted sword). But could a monster stove, even a black cast iron one in a dark alcove, really make itself invisible to a bunch of expert realtors officially engaged to rent the house it lurked in to some innocent member of the public?
What other explanation was there? Fairies?
Hayley stepped forward and began investigating it in what looked to me like a knowledgeable way. “Yes,” she said, opening doors and lifting lids. “This one is wood and this one coal. They’re even laid, for pity’s sake. There’s still a coal hole in the cellar, but I don’t think there’s any coal in it. Or maybe it’s hiding in the shadows too,” she added savagely. Savagely was interesting from a cheerleader in a navy blazer and four-inch heels.
“Um,” I said. “Does this thing count as the woodstove you were going to ask Mr D to install? I have no idea how to use it.”
“It’s a very nice stove,” she said grudgingly. “And it looks really well maintained. Of course we’ll get someone out to look it over and sweep the chimney.”
I guess I was looking at her equivocally. She gave a little barking noise that was third cousin to a laugh. “Hey, I’m from around here. There are a lot of old solid-fuel stoves in my family. They’re not hard to use: you set fire to your whatever and then fiddle with the draft till it burns the way you want.” She pulled on a lever that went rrrrrrr and the stovepipe juddered. She glared at it. I was beginning to feel sympathy for the stove, which was just standing there, minding its own business, ready to produce heat in the manner for which it was intended. Heat was good. I wanted the stove to feel welcome. Maybe it should have a name. Sigmund. Gideon. Caedmon. Hmm. I thought it looked like a Caedmon.
“Mr Demerara can install a new woodstove in the master bedroom,” Hayley said decidedly, and gave the lever a final yank. I thought the rrrrrr sounded placatory. “A house this enormous should have at least two.” As Hayley spun on one tendon-snapping heel I sidled closer to the stove and gave it a pat before I followed her.
I caught up with Hayley as she stood in front of the fireplace in the parlour. She was still glaring. She looked up at me and smiled. “I’m sorry. But I don’t understand how . . .” Her voice tailed away. “I don’t know why the floor in here is so gritty either, unless it’s backdraft from the chimney. We’ll have this one checked too of course.”
“Hey, I write fantasy for a living,” I said. “Maybe the fairies who brought the stove forgot to wipe their feet. I’m not bothered. As long as it’s, you know, benevolent.”
“It’ll be your best friend in January,” said the girl who was from around here. “Is there anything else you want to see? Look at again? Ask your realtor about, who won’t know, because it’s not on her inventory?”
“I drove up here with all my stuff in the back of a van. And I’m really tired of this sweater,” I said, “but I seem to have mislaid the van inventory.”
Hayley, distracted, looked at me, and then looked around at the empty parlour, which would have been big enough to park two vans in, if the front wall rolled up like a garage door. “All your stuff? I hope it’s a large van.”
Hayley grinned. “Okay. Then let me tell you there’s a great junk—I mean valuable items previously owned—shop in Amity. My sister-in-law works there three days a week.”
“What does your brother do?”
“Teaches English at Cabell High. His elective seminar on H P Lovecraft is very popular.”
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