Short Story: A Salmonweird Lockdown (spoiler free)

Can you think of a more delightful small pleasure than eating breakfast (pot of tea and toast with locally produced honey) on the patio with the doors wide open?

No?

Me neither.

I switched the heating off last night and today I have all the windows and doors open.

Thank the heavens, spring is finally here!

On the plus side is the glee that comes with knowing the best of spring and summer weather is yet to come. I need to remind myself it’s only late March though, so my jumper is strategically placed over the back of the nearest dining chair. No doubt I will be wearing it before sunset.

I’d had a weekend of reading, catching up with the kids lounging in the sun, and not much else planned for the next few days. Bliss.

That was until I heard a heavy fist hit my front door repeatedly.

I placed the mug in direct sunlight (it probably achieves nothing, even on a March day but old habits die hard), lay the tea towel carefully over the toast, and went to answer it.

I admit I was in no rush to get there, even when the knocking became frantic, I maintained my leisurely pace.

I was surprised to see Jowan – the village’s resident medieval monk – looking red-faced and anxious.

‘Oh Karl!’ he said, ‘you’re here!’

I nodded. ‘Where else would I be? The country’s on lockdown.’

If he could still breath, I had no doubt I’d struggle to understand the poor chap through the wheezing, but like everyone else in the village bar me, he’s a ghost. ‘Good, good. I’m sure you’re taking every precaution, but you might have been at the pub or the shop or somewhere else around the village and you might have put yourself at risk. You did go to the shop yesterday.’

I blushed. ‘I needed honey. I live on the stuff, you know that.’

Despite that I’m the only living person in the village and therefore the only person capable of getting sick, I’m taking the same precautions as everyone else across the country. Yesterday’s lapse to go to the shop for a jar of honey was the only time (so far) I’d fallen off the wagon.

Jowan barged past me, almost passing through me, and to the patio where he collected my breakfast paraphernalia and hurried it into the kitchen with a clatter.

‘Jowan, please tell me what’s going on?’

He closed the patio door, but struggled with the modern contraption until I explained how to do it – not for the first time. ‘They’re here, Karl,’ He proclaimed with a seriousness approaching a Shakespearean tragedy. ‘They are here!’

He gesticulated to the sofa and urged me to sit. Bemused, I complied with his request.

‘May I borrow a chair, Karl?’

‘Of course? Are you going to tell me what this is about? Who are here?’

He dragged one of my dining chairs along the laminate floor. Cringing at the scraping sound, it was just as well that it wasn’t actually wood. Before she left, Valarie wanted to replace it with hardwood. So did I in all honestly, but since she left, it only slipped further down my priority list.

Jowan dragged the chair all the way to the front door, climbed it, and tied a bunch of herbs to the hook where I put a sprig of mistletoe at Christmas.

I watched him repeat this process above the patio and then finally to the two small windows on the opposite side of the room. Satisfied, he returned the chair to the dining table and closed the kitchen door. ‘There!’ Finally, Jowan relaxed.

At no point did I leave the sofa; I let Jowan go about his business and then repeated my questions. ‘Jowan, what is this about and who are here?’

‘Tourists, Karl!’ he said, exasperated. ‘A group of walkers were trying to get into the inn. I told them it was closed until the evening and living people were forbidden anyway, but they went to the shop. They were touching everything! I tried to stop them, but I couldn’t.’

I groaned. ‘Some people don’t listen, but I don’t see what those herbs have to do with anything.’

‘Silence, Karl. When you’re using detective skills, you’re doing your bit for our Salmonweir community. As I believe the young ones of today say, this is where you should “hold my beer”.’

I chuckled. ‘What do you need me to do?’

‘Nothing Karl. Just let me do what I need to do. I would prefer if you remained silent throughout though this is not obligatory. It might help if you closed your eyes.’

I took a deep breath, leaned back into the sofa and closed my eyes.

That’s when Jowan started the chanting.

I stifled a laugh but confess to finding it pleasant once I got over the initial surprise.

If Jowan had done this while alive, I must wonder where and when he paused for breath throughout his one-man chantry.

After some minutes, Jowan trailed off to a calm rhythm until finally coming to a stop.

I opened my eyes and was overcome with a wonderful sense of calm as though I’d just had a relaxing professional massage but where no hands went anywhere near my body and I wasn’t presented with an eye-watering invoice at the end.

‘Thank you, Jowan. I appreciate it. I’m feeling so much calmer now.’

Jowan turned to me shocked. ‘Oh no, Karl. That was just the opening chant to disperse the miasma. We have much, much more to do.’

‘I see. What’s next?’

From under his robe, Jowan produced a jar and showed it to me with a smile.

‘That smells nice, what is it?’

Jowan lifted it to his face and examined the jar. ‘A mix of herbs: mint, some rosemary and honey among other things. I’m afraid I had to make do with what Corin Penrose had in his shop and I’m confident it will do the job.’

‘Are we going to eat it?’

He turned to me and smiled. ‘No Karl. If you could remove your clothes and lie down on the sofa, that would be grand.’

‘What? Why?’

‘I need you disrobed while I administer this ointment all over your body.’

‘I’m not dying, Jowan!’ I laugh-shouted. ‘I’m not even sick.’

‘Karl, you’re of the faith, I am required to give you Extreme Unction, sick or not.’

‘Can’t I do it myself?’ I asked weakly. ‘Just pop the ointment on the table and I will do it later after my bath.’

Jowan shook his head seriously. ‘I cannot let you do that. You’re not an administered priest; I am. I’m afraid if I permitted you to do this yourself it will not have the desired effect. I might even be excommunicated. Besides, the third and final stage is confession. What use would it be to confess your sins to yourself? No, this is the way it must be.’

No, I didn’t want to get undressed in front of Jowan. I had no doubt one day he would administer my last rites and prepare my body for burial, but that day would not be now, not while I was only in my late 50s.

I was trying to come up with an excuse to get Jowan out of my house when I heard a voice call. ‘Karl, Karl! You in there? Open up you old landlubber!’

‘Oh, what a shame Captain Harry’s here for our, um, meeting, chat. Thing. I really must say goodbye Jowan. Can’t keep Harry waiting, he’s a stickler for timekeeping. Goes with a life on the sea is my guess.’

I leapt from the sofa, raced to the door and threw it open. Harry tumbled in waving a bottle furiously before him. I didn’t need to be told it was rum, Captain Harry was rarely without a bottle of the stuff.

Jowan took one look at me, one look at Harry, smiled at us both and to my relief, departed my house.

‘Thanks, Harry. If you had left it another minute, I’m not sure what would have happened. He was trying to get me to take my clothes off and rub ointment all over me.’

Harry gave me a quizzical look. ‘What goes on inside your ship aint none of my business, Karl. I seen some strange things at sea that nothing shocks me no more.’ He tapped the side of his nose. ‘Like the time a drunk octopus tried to mate with a bull shark. Didn’t end well.’

I cleared my throat. ‘What can I do for you, Harry?’

‘Nothing much. Me and Queen Kensa was showing each other some sword tricks when we saw Jowan come rushing up here all red faced like. Thought we mighta left it long enough to come rescue you!’ Harry laughed.

‘Now you’re here, you can be my bodyguard until I’m certain he’s gone. Would you like some tea?’

He contemplated his rum bottle for a moment, muttered something about it tasting like mermaid snot, and asked if I had coffee.

I didn’t, but I knew someone who did. Jowan told me the pub wasn’t open, but I phoned through and Babajide answered in three rings.

‘This is the King’s Head. We don’t open until 5pm this evening and living people are banned during the lockdown. Please call back-’

‘Babajide, it’s me! I need a favour.’

‘Oh, Karl. Sorry, what’s the favour? You know I can’t let you come to the pub.’

‘That’s fine. I’m not asking to visit. I know the pub has a coffee machine. Could you send up two takeaway coffees if you’re not too busy?’

‘Just coffee?’ he sounded slightly terrified. ‘Coffee is all you want, yes? Just coffee. Normal coffee. Like coffee drinkers have when asking for coffee?’

‘Yes. What else would I ask for?’

 I heard the lad sigh in relief. ‘This is fine, Karl. It’s good, really. I was worried you were going to ask for a flatty-skinny-latte-machiattaccino or something. The tourists last weekend kept coming in and speaking nonsense at us all. I swear they were making some of those orders up.’

‘You’re all right, my friend. Just a large coffee with cream if you have it, full fat milk if you don’t.’

‘Sure, Karl but stay there. Someone will bring them up.’ With that he hung up.

Ebrel’s beaming smile greeted me at the door 15 minutes later. She handed over the coffee along with a box of complementary pastries which she said were on the house and asked me what Jowan was doing.

‘I thought he left. Please don’t tell me he’s still here?’

Sheepishly, Ebrel pointed to my roof. Following the line of her finger, I saw Jowan crawling about my roof on his hands and knees.

‘Jowan, what the hell are you doing up there?’

He stood and glared down at all of us. ‘Karl, if you want let me protect you against the plague then I’m afraid I have to take extreme measures.’ He wagged his finger at me as though undressing in front him and letting him spread a concoction over my naked body was somehow a perfectly reasonable request.

My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but I could see he’d spread more of his herb bundles around my roof – one on the chimney and three along the dirtiest part of the guttering.

 I need to get back, Karl,’ Ebrel said apologetically before disappearing down my driveway.

‘Thank you, Ebrel. It was lovely to see you,’ I called after her, but she had already gone.

‘Come on Mister Jowan! Stop monkeying around up there,’ Harry called before laughing at his own joke. ‘get it? Monkey! Monk!’

‘This is important work!’ Jowan called back. ‘I need to disperse the miasma and you all must be quiet.’

‘Jowan, I’m going inside now. Just do what you need to do.’ I turned to Harry. ‘Are you coming?’

Harry pulled a face. ‘Sorry Karl, you’re one your own with this one.’ Then he too scuttled off leaving me holding two coffees and the box of pastries.

I slammed the door, then locked and bolted it, falling against it with a huff. I was fully aware that Jowan could just pass through the door or wall any time he wanted if he so desired, but securing it made me feel better all the same.

I placed the coffees and pastries on the breakfast bar and noticed Harry’s bottle of rum. He’d barely touched it, probably something to do with tasting like mermaid’s snot. I picked it up, turning it over curiously. It had a premium feel about it, emblazoned with a stylised ancient map of Cornwall with the words. Penryn 800: Pride of Cornwall.

‘Huh? This is an award winner,’ I noticed the Good Tipples: Gold Winner 2018 label and wondered if Harry was finally losing his taste for the good stuff or whether he ever had it.

I poured myself a small glass and had a sip. Rum had never been my thing but with that sliver of a tiny dribble, I could see why it had won an award. Notes of caramel and whiskey and maybe vanilla. It was smooth.

‘Mermaid’s snot, indeed. It’s mine now, Harry!’ I put it pride of place alongside my small collection of premium spirits I forbade myself drinking except on special occasions.

I groaned at hearing Jowan clamber around the roof chanting to nobody. I’m sure he would be done in three or four hours with a bit of luck, so I finished my breakfast in silence at the breakfast bar. The tea was cold, so I tipped it away and decided not to waste the coffee.

So much caffeine! It was inevitable I needed the little boy’s room after that.

I relieved myself and washed my hands for the mandatory 20 seconds. When I stepped out of the bathroom, I heard Jowan and Harry’s voices through the open window; Jowan was now back at ground level. I stopped, held my breath, and eavesdropped.

‘Do you think that will work?’ Harry asked. ‘Will he really stay at home now?’

‘I think so,’ Jowan replied. ‘The idea of me coming back to cleanse the house and threaten to rub ointment over his body every time he goes outside will keep him inside for as long as necessary, I’m sure.’

‘It better! That was the best bottle of rum the pub had! You don’t know how painful it was to leave it with him, ‘e don’t even drink rum. Why couldn’t I have left something else there?’

‘You only drink rum, Harry. Anything else and he would have become suspicious.’

‘Yer right but I could cry, Jowan, really I could and if I had a hand to cut off, I’d rather have done that!’

Jowan chuckled and gently touched Harry’s shoulder. ‘God will honour your sacrifice and forgive your mild dishonesty for the greater good. Come along, Harry, let me buy you a drink to make up for it.’

As their footsteps retreated, I let out a chuckle. ‘You got me, fellas. You got me good and proper.’

———————————————–

Thank you for reading. This is a short story set in the SalmonWEIRD world – a Cornish crime comedy book series. Book 1 is out now (click the image below for the Amazon listing).

Book 2 will be released in autumn 2021.

Salmonweird MG Mason

See updates from the Salmonweird Village website as they happen! (not that much happens here, aside from the occasional murder).

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