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They stood in front of the huge 'cottage,' like Freedy imagined fleas before the doors of his own home. Unnoticed apparently. Garland frowned, and then leaned into the Miata and honked the horn a couple of times, and when nothing happened, hunkered down for a long toot.
Finally, one of the tall thin doors opened, and a small child emerged. No, he wasn't a child but a normal sized teenager. He bounced down the steps as though it was an everyday thing, looking more and more like average human sized as he descended. A few steps from the bottom he eyed them dubiously, and then turned and put his fingers to his lips and whistled a shriek that probably reached the upper halls.
A band of children poured out, who turned into five more teenagers and twenty-somethings as they skipped down the steps. All of them were clean cut, and well dressed. The very epitome of preppie, Freedy thought, though most preppies looked like hipsters these days.
"Tell Elias that Garland and the Lorn Mountain miners are here, accompanied by a Mr. Freedy Filkins."
The lead preppie, blond and extraordinarily handsome, pulled out his cellphone and spoke into it quietly. Freedy was somewhat gratified to see a small tattoo revealed on the young man's wrist when the sleeve rode up the arm. There was something a little Stepford Wives about these young people, but when he looked closer he saw remnants of colored hair, and pinprick holes in earlobes of some of them. This wasn't their normal look, he surmised.
"Elias likes things neat and tidy," Garland said. "Even his people."
"Then he's going to love us," Jim laughed, looking his most slovenly. One of his suspenders hung down, unhooked, and his shirttails were out, and one cuff of his jeans was hung up the top of his boots.
"He'll live," Garland said. "He came from lower circles than any of us. Though he doesn't really like to be reminded."
"He's expecting you," the young man said. He frowned at the cars and motorcycles as if their presence offended him, then turned and started walking up the steps. Garland followed, and then Charlie and the others. Freedy took a deep breath and came last. By the time he reached the top, he was out of breath.
They were waiting for him, and one of the young people, a petite girl who seemed to gleam with health, leaned toward him, winked and whispered. "You guys might want to try the side entrance next time. It's a little more human sized."
Freedy nodded at her, grateful for her wink. She stuck out her hand. "I'm Sheila."
Freedy took her hand, blushing. "Freedy. Freedy Filkins." He felt a doofus for giving his last name and sounding so formal.
"Should we unpack?" Billy wondered aloud.
"No need," One of the other young preppies said. "We have anything you might need."
"Yeah, and probably better than anything you could possibly have," the original handsome greeter said.
"Shut up, Jeffrey," Sheila snapped.
He just laughed in response. Sheila turned to Freedy and said in a private tone that nonetheless everyone else could hear, "Mr. Rivers always has six interns at a time, because -- as he says -- three of them are always useless."
They walked into the grand entrance. The ceiling seemed to go all the way to the top, which was as tall as the valley itself. Freedy half expected to see clouds, but there was a huge skylight divided into twelve stain glass panels, with the twelve zodiac signs. Freedy looked for his sign, the Libra scale, as he always did when seeing an astrological map.
There was a huge sweeping beaming staircase, as Freedy expected. Granite floors so shined that there seemed to be a film of water on top. There were also elevator doors to each side, which despite the absolute pristine nature of everything else they'd seen, actually showed small defects of wear and tear, like faded numbers on the buttons.
Sheila faced them. "Here you have a choice -- to the east," she waved her hand like an airline stewardess, "We have servants quarters, which are small and cozy. To the west," she waved her other hand, 'We have guest quarters, which are spacious and grand."
"Give me grand!" Sam and Steve said, at almost the same moment.
"I just want someplace comfortable," Bob said, and he sounded a little weak. Small splotches of red lit up his bandage. Billy gave him a sharp look, and said, "Me too. We don't want to rattle around. We'll take the servant's quarters."
The others split down the middle, with Jim surprisingly wanting the smaller and Jay wanting the bigger, and Garland saying, "Grand, of course!"
Freedy was torn. He really wanted to see the guest quarters, but he saw that Sheila was stealing glances at him and he suspected which one she would prefer.
"I just want a clean bed and a bath," he said, finally. "Small and cozy sounds just right."
She smiled in approval.
"Howie and I will lead the way to the east wing," she said. "Jeffrey and the others will show you to the west wing. Dinner is at 6:00 sharp. Don't be late."
She looped her arm in Freedy's and walked to the elevator doors.
"I have just the place for you," she said.
1 day ago