THE BELL RINGER
Perched on the very edge of a ragged cliff, the Terrible House of Strood towered against the summer sky in a mass of dark stone walls and pointed roofs. Far below, waves crashed over the rocks at the foot of the cliff, surging into every crevice and filling the air with spray that hung like salty mist.
The roof of the Terrible House, with its jumble of chimney pots and towers, was familiar territory to Bogeyman Skerridge since his unauthorized entry into the building a couple of days ago, shortly after he had gone rogue and left Mr. Strood’s service forever.
And now he was back again, scanning the rooftops with his sharp red eyes until he spotted the creature he had come to find—the bell ringer, whose job it was to keep watch for the exact moment when the edge of the sun slipped below the horizon and then to ring the Evebell.
Skerridge grinned. It wasn’t a nice grin. In a recent fit of remorse he had promised himself never to harm another living Quick, but this creature wasn’t exactly living and was only slightly Quick so it didn’t count. And, anyway, he was only going to torture it a little.
The creature was not at its post in the weathered stone bell tower that rose high above the rooftops. Sundown was still an hour away, so instead it was perched on an outcrop of roof enjoying the view out to sea. Treading as quietly as only a bogeyman could, Skerridge headed that way. When he was right behind the unsuspecting bell ringer he leaned close and said, “’Ullo.”
The creature hooted through its beak and did a twisting leap that brought it around to face Skerridge, who grinned, taking care to show a lot of jagged teeth.
“Halloo,” said the bell ringer, quickly working out that there was no harm in being polite. He had been sitting with his knobbly back to the beach, looking out over the waves as they dashed themselves on the rocks below and trying to forget about the handful of Quick cluttering up the seashore away in the distance behind him. The sudden arrival of a horrible, hairy, bony figure in tattered trousers and a fancy waistcoat wasn’t an improvement on his day.
Skerridge settled down on the roof next to the gargoyle. “I’m Bogeyman Skerridge,” he said cheerfully. “Wha’s yore name then?”
“Jibbit,” said Jibbit nervously. Being the only gargoyle in the Terrible House, he had the roof all to himself apart from the pigeons. He wasn’t used to people, Quick, Grimm, or Fabulous, and found them untidy and difficult. This one had a definite air of untidy and positively radiated difficult. With extras.
“Bet it’s nice an’ quiet up ’ere.”
“Lotsa time to listen to all the goin’s on, eh? Bet it’s been an excitin’ afternoon, what wiv all the escapin’ and everyfin’! Ninevah Redstone breakin’ outa the ’Ouse like that, givin’ Mr. Strood the runaround jus’ when ’e fort ’e’d won. Not t’ mention rescuin’ ’er bruvver an’ gettin’ ’er mem’ry pearl back.”
“So, what I wanna know is what ’appened next? Fink you can tell me that?”
Jibbit swapped nervously from foot to foot and hunched his stubby wings. He had a bad feeling about what he was going to do, but his duty was clear.
“If you’re Bogeyman Skerridge, then yoo’ve gone rogue,” he said trying not to hoot too much. “And if yoo’ve gone rogue then I mustn’t say anything . . .”
Skerridge shot out a hand and grabbed the bell ringer so fast that Jibbit barely saw it happen. One second he was sitting on the roof, next he was dangling upside down over nothing.
“Fort ya might say that. Now, if ya wan’ my advice, I fink ya should tell me everyfin’ ya know, ’cos if ya don’ then I’ll drop ya.”
Jibbit glared at the bogeyman from underneath his own feet.
“I know,” went on Skerridge cheerfully. “Yer finkin’ that no self-respectin’ gargoyle is gonna be scared o’ heights. And if ya gets broke ya can be stuck back t’gevver again, right?”
“Yes,” snapped Jibbit.
“But isn’t there somefin’ yer fergettin’?” Skerridge leaned over to bring his head closer to the dangling gargoyle. “Look. Down,” he whispered.
Jibbit glared for a second longer then turned his gaze downward. It had a long way to go. The wall plunged away from him. Jibbit followed it with his eyes until he saw where it led. The ground—in this case rather rocky and involving a lot of breaking waves, but still the ground. Jibbit hooted in panic.
“Didn’ fink o’ that did ya?” Skerridge chuckled. “By my understandin’, gargoyles don’ like places what aren’ ’igh, right? An’ ya don’ get much more not ’igh than the ground! So, ’ave we gotta deal?”
Jibbit squeaked pitifully.
Skerridge grinned. “Right oh.” He pulled his arm back and dropped Jibbit on the tiles, wrong side up.
“Thanks.” Jibbit scuffled onto his paws.
“Fink nuffin’ of it. Off ya go, then.”
Staring thoughtfully into space while he got his scattered nerves together, Jibbit settled back on the tiles, making sure he had a firm grip.
“That chimney pot at the back there,” he said at last, “is the one to the furnace in Mr. Strood’s laboratory. I . . . um . . . happened to be sitting next to it just as Ninevah Redstone got away, so I climbed down the flue tooo see what all the racket was about. The furnace has got a glass door, so I could see right into the laboratory. Mr. Strood wasn’t pleased.” Jibbit warmed to his story. “In fact, he was so angry he tripped down a hole . . .”
“A hole. In the ground. Left by the new Fabulous when he came up through the floor to rescue Ninevah Redstone. Yoo know, the mudman?”
“Yeah, Jik, I know ’im. Go on.”
“Mr. Strood was already coming apart on account of the faerie poison getting over him, and his leg broke off and he went down the hole, see?”
“I’m gettin’ the picture,” said Skerridge grimly.
“And then the earth fell in on top of him and he was buried, deep in the heart of the house, far below the foundations.”
“So tha’s what they’ve been doin’ then,” the bogeyman murmured, “diggin’ ’im up. I wondered why they weren’ pourin’ outta the door looking fer us.”
“The servants, the guards, everybody had to dig. It was taking a long time, so the Housekeeper sent for the bogeymen. There’s no daylight in the House, so three of them came to dig even though it wasn’t night.” Jibbit looked at Skerridge thoughtfully. “They can do superspeed, yoo know.”
“Course I know, I am one! Still, superspeed diggin’ ain’t like superspeed runnin’. My guess is it’d still take ’em all afternoon.” Skerridge blew out his cheeks, feeling oddly anxious. “Carn’ ’ave been fun, bein’ stuck down there, buried alive in the earf fer ’ours. Bet ’e’ll be in a good mood after that!”
Jibbit considered. “I wouldn’t call it good,” he said carefully.
“They’ve found ’im then?”
“Yes. He must have been digging upward too, because suddenly the Housekeeper said . . .”
“STOP!” Strood’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dunvice, held up a hand. Everyone stopped.
“There,” she said after a moment, “can you hear that?”
Down in the earth, somewhere below the bottom of the deep well that used to be the laboratory floor, something stirred. It did it with a lot of cursing and unpleasant squashing sounds, but it definitely stirred. The cursing was garbled, as if it came from a mouth that was half missing and choked with dirt into the bargain. Most of the cursing involved unpleasant things happening to somebody called Ninevah Redstone.
Secretary Scribbins gulped. “It’s him,” he whispered hoarsely.
A murmur ran around the gathered workers. Some of them edged away. Even the bogeymen.
“Right,” said Mrs. Dunvice decisively. “Everyone out, except for the bogeymen and guards Stanley and Floyd. NOW!”
Bodies tumbled toward the complicated scaffolding running up the sides of the well. The servants got there first, scampering up and out as quickly as they could. The goblin-Grimm guards followed.
When the others had gone, the werewolf-Grimm Housekeeper pointed at the three bogeymen who had been doing the tunneling.
“Dig some more, but do it carefully, okay?”
One of the BMs, the one wearing a pair of sacking trousers and a bow tie, blew out a slow breath. None of them fancied having to dig out a furious Mr. Strood. But then, on the other hand, they would be HELPING him, so maybe he wouldn’t want to give them the sack. The BM straightened his bow tie and stepped forward, crouching down just about where the muttered curses were coming from. The others joined him.
Now they could hear scraping, scuffling noises, like a giant mole digging its way up toward the light. One of the BMs snarled and jumped back as a hand shot out of the earth. It was a slender hand half covered in scars that made it look like a bad patchwork glove. The other half was still mostly skinned.
“We found ’im!” yelled...