Humpty Dumpy sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the king's horses and all the king's men,
couldn't fit Humpty together again.
He awoke with a start as an ear-splitting ringing battered its way through the house. Disorientated and confused Keith attempted rushing to his feet, only to fall once more to the floor in a tangle of bed sheets and limbs. The piercing noise continued and Keith simply shoved his hands over his ears and prayed it would stop soon. He watched through slitted eyes as Jill burst out of bed and screamed so loud that Keith could hear her clearly.
“ALRIGHT DORRIS! WE GET THE POINT! SHUT UP!” and almost as soon as it had started, the noise dwindled into nothing, leaving behind a fuming Jill and a strangely eery silence. Keith, after regaining his ragged breath from the terrifying wake-up call, disentangled himself and rose sluggishly to his feet, eyeing Jill warily as she continued to glower at the alarm clock by her and Jack's bed. Jack, to Keith's surprise, was still fast asleep. About to ask what had just happened, Keith opened his mouth, only to close it again when the alarm clock started talking.
“Don't get so angry Jilly, dear. I wasn't that loud.”The voice was motherly and reprimanding and Keith imagined that if the clock had hands they would be folded in a disapproving manner. He didn't miss the pun in his own words and almost smiled. Almost.
“Not that loud? Dorris! You had the sound level of a marching band that might as well have been crashing straight through our front room! THAT IS LOUD!”Shouted Jill, jabbing a finger at the clock face, which snapped angrily at the accusing finger.
“Don't you wave that finger at me Jilly, or I'll bite it off. I bit your father's fingers clean off I can do it again.” Keith remained quite as the exchange between the in-animate object and Jill continued into a crescendo of threats and promises of imminent death. Feeling oddly reluctant to even attempt to pass the two quarrelling 'females', he opted instead to peer out the window into a brilliantly sunny day. No remains of the previous darkness remained and people were already out on the street, setting up stalls and talking casually.
“Oh shut up.” Growled Jill and she dumped a ragged cloth over the clock, which fell instantly quite and began to emit soft snoring sounds. Keith couldn't believe that the clock had just fallen asleep, but there was so much he was finding hard to believe it didn't even seem worth noting. Jill turned, clearly disgruntled, to Keith, who tensed under her scrutinising gaze.
“I'll cook us something shall I? Then I'll take you to see old man Humphrey. He's most likely to know a lot more about your situation than me.”She stormed down the stairs like a tornado and Keith didn't like the idea of following her, but downstairs he went, not completely comfortable sharing a room with someone near death and now, to his knowledge, a very temperamental alarm clock.
Jill was already in the small kitchen area and was bashing the pots around with far more force than needed. Keith took this moment to chance a perch on the vegetable filled couch. To his pure amazement, it was comfortable; no unfortunately placed carrots or inconvenient bumps. Instead, it appeared to mould to his structure and made him feel completely at home. At least, it did, before it gave an almighty sneeze and deposited him on the floor. There was a muffled 'bless you' from the kitchen and the couch sniffed.
“I think I'm about ready to cry.” Keith whispered into his hands as he rubbed them over his face. He gave a squeak of surprise when Jill spoke from right behind him.
“Please don't. Dorian isn't nearly as bad as Dorris, but he is very acute to people's feelings, you start crying he starts balling and it takes a good lot of soy sauce to calm him down, soy sauce which I don't have. So if you can, keep your emotions in check.”And she nodded her head to the table she had layed out for their breakfast, a bowl of cereal and a plate stacked high with toast. It made Keith wonder why Jill had been so viciously banging pans when they were clearly not needed.
Food was a silent affair, Keith admiring every morsel before he dared put it any where near his mouth and Jill toyed with her food and looked wistfully out the window. By the time they were finished, Jill had explained that most of the objects in her and Jack's house were heirlooms given to them by her father. She didn't know whether it was because he cared or because he wanted to do one last vindictive thing on his death bed, either way, they were all filled with a small soul like essence that gave them far better communicative skills than other pieces of furniture. Dorian and Dorris were joined by Carl, the kettle and Cantaloupe, the singing bath-tub (Cantaloupe was in storage because she had a tendency to begin a rather loud rendition of Handel's concerto at stupid O'clock in the morning. The neighbours had finally complained and she had been moved.) Keith helped Jill clear up and when done, she motioned for him to follow her and they both left the house.
Keith was once more fascinated by what he saw. People were laughing and smiling in a fairly normal way but they each seemed to talk with a tense knot in their shoulders, some even gave regular looks to the hill Keith had not noticed the day before. It rose up like a mountain and was a brilliant green colour. At the bottom it was surrounded by a large steel fence, a single gate fixed into the metal bars. The houses upon it were grand and sparkled in the light, the one of the very top of the hill overshadowing them all. Pea Green Hill, he guessed.
“Come on. Humphrey lives right outside the gates. He'll be wanting to talk to you.” Keith looked a Jill and she elaborated as she pulled him by the arm in the direction of the Hill's enormous shadow. “Humphrey knows everything about anything around here. It's almost like he's sitting on a wall and watching everything. You'll understand better when you see him.”
“Why? Is he a ... a snitch, I think that's the word?”
“You could say that, and he also has a tendency to sit on his roof top with binoculars. He's a strange fellow but he's the only one that's most likely to be able to shed light on this problem.” Keith felt disgruntled at being referred to as 'a problem' but he dove past it and carried on walking a step behind Jill. They stopped every now and then so Jill could chat to people filling the street. She seemed to be well liked and was hailed from a variety of vegetable stalls as they walked, yet she brushed them off with a cheerful wave and declaration of more pressing matter's. Keith remained quite and docile, mulling over in his mind everything that seemed to have gone wrong. Which in his mind was everything.
He had landed himself in a strange situation with no recollection of how he had gotten himself into it, and with no idea of how to get out of it. He was even now, at this very moment, following a complete stranger after spending an eventful time in her house after finding out she had been trying to off her husband WITH the husbands knowledge. He wanted to go home and yet, he was strangely attracted to the situation, no matter how much it confused him. Witnessing a world that didn't make sense reminded him a lot of his child hood where he often created things that could not have been. Maybe this was life trying to tell him to get a life. He was brought back to the moment when he collided into the back of Jill who had stopped rather suddenly. The woman sighed, managing to completely ignore Keith's blundering collision with her backside.
“Mornin' Humphrey, how's the town looking today?” She called loudly and Keith peered round her to see a rather small, roundish man sitting on the ledge of a four story house roof, with his feet dangling happily over the drain pipes.
“Mrs. Coterburg has had yet another argument with her husband and pushed him off the docks. Cunningham is sleeping with his next door neighbours grandmother and Roger burnt my breakfast this morning so I've tied him to the pub sign just down the road where he has time to think about what he did.”The man looked blissfully happy with himself. He finally peered down at them and looked giddily at Keith. “And someone made an interesting crash landing yesterday, didn't they Mr. Keith Portland?”
“Told you he knew everything.” Announced Jill smugly. Keith was about to question that when Jill clapped him hard on the back, “well it was a pleasure meeting you Keith, I leave you in Humphrey's capable hands.” She began to walk away.
“Wait a second! You can't possible think of leaving me here with this mad man.” Keith all but shrieked but Jill kept walking and soon she was swallowed in the masses that had filled the street. Keith was stuck and he turned regretfully to look back at the roof, only to see nothing there.
“I can assure you I'm not completely mad. At least not yet.” Chided a voice and Keith looked at the small door, leading to what he assumed was Humphrey's house. The round man had wedged himself in the doorway and his gleaming bald head looked remarkably egg-shaped. Nodding, Keith shuffled forwards at Humphrey's beckoning and stood, at least a foot taller than the door, before the strange man. “I'd have proffered something fiercer, something brandishing a stick and with a mane of shocking red hair but I guess you'll do fine. Come in.”
Keith didn't bat an eyelid as he ducked in to the low ceiling house. He couldn't bring himself to muster any more energy, even though he had slept for a good length of time, all the spirit he might have regained through it had been lost the moment Jill and the alarm clock had begun their domestic dispute. He remembered his manners and offered a mild 'thank you' to which the old man beamed and offered a cup of tea. Not sure if he could stomach anything, he declined and allowed himself to be seated on a considerably small sofa.
“So, Mr. Keith Portland, you want to save Tale Town?” At Keith's straight face he added, “I know, awful names, they were rather un-exaggerative when they named us. Places like Crayon Court and Salad Street. I guess that's what you get when some one like old Owl thinks he rules the world. Though I guess in retrospect he does, being rich and all. Being rich means everything here. Anyway, because of him we have stupidly named places etcetera. Back to the moment at hand however. You want to save Tale Town?”
“I want to leave.” Keith answered bluntly and Humphrey nodded.
“Well of course, but you came here to save Tale Town right? Surely once you've done that you can go home?”Questioned Humphrey.
“I didn't come to save anyone.”Pleaded Keith.
“Well then that's just rude.”
“No, what I meant is ...”Keith stumbled.
“That you really did come to save us? Oh good. We've been waiting a long time. Well you should know a few things first then.”
“Excuse me but can you shut up a minute.” Humphrey looked stunned at Keith's sudden anger. “I've no clue what's going on, why I'm here or how the heel to get out of wherever here is, so if you would be so kind as to start from the beginning. It would be really quite helpful.”
“Fine ... fine. Put simply, Tale Town is in need of a little ... rejuvenating. Since the previous owner of Pea Green Hill died, Old man Owl has been running things and we poor 'scum' as he calls us, are making life harder on him so he's been trying to out us. He claimed he was rightfully nominated by the old master and he even had the documents, however, everyone knows that the two hated each other, only we have no way of proving that Owl is illegally taking control. Which is where I assumed you came in. People, important people to our community have been disappearing. If this continues, we're not going to stand a chance against Owl and his wife. Hence why you are going to save us.” When Humphrey had finished, Keith had wished greatly that he had knocked himself unconscious on the ceiling above. Instead, he opted to asking questions.
“This Owl person ... is he really called Owl?”
“Oh no, but that's what people call him because he's wise, he travels around mostly by night and his initials spell OWL, Oscar Wilbert Legman.”
“Catchy,” mumbled Keith as he rubbed his chin, “And I'm supposed to prove that he's not the big bad boss he's making himself out to be and then I can go home?”
“Yes, only it'll be difficult, his wife is very protective.”
“Tell me about her then.”
“Miss Pussy-cat we call her, cute as can be but as deadly as a cat's claws,” Keith chose not to compare his idea of a cat to their's, seeing as their swans seemed more like man eating birds than the docile creatures he knew. “ Her real name is Dorothy but she hates to be called it, so she just sticks with Mrs. Legman.”
“It all honesty here ... Humphrey ... I don't think I'm going to be of any use to you.”
“All you really need to do is poke around. Be a detective kind of thing. Ask questions, talk to snoops, get the dirt. If you get something solid, come back to me and we can work it out form there.”
“So something like a PI?” Keith murmured and Humphrey snorted.
“A Picnic Inspector? I don't think so. More of a slooth.”
“I ... see.” Keith was about to say more when there was a loud crash at the door. Humphrey flew to his stubby feet and stared in utter shock at his splintering door.
“Goodness, they found us rather quickly didn't they? Hurry hurry.” He prompted, pushing Keith from his seat and towards the stairs. Unsure if the tiny things could actually take his weight, Keith made an interesting journey up the three flights of stairs to the fourth floor where he was shoved in a wardrobe (he felt like a sardine) and shut in. Looking through a gap in the wood, Keith watched as Humphrey flung himself into a chair and pretended to sleep, just as a group of men in orange jumpsuits filled up the stairs.
“HUMPHREY!” Roared the one at the front and Humphrey opened his eye sin a sleepy manner.
“Why, sergeant corpse. What a ... misfortune, to see you.”Grinned Humphrey.
“Shut up Humphrey. You know why we're here.”
“To have a good old sing along by the fire? No? Well a man can dream.”Keith could tell Humphrey was mocking the man but couldn't understand why the situation had turned out like this.
“I kind of liked you. It's only a shame that old man Owl thinks you're getting in the way.”
“He thinks everyone is in his way, just you watch out. He'll be after you next.”
“But until then, I'm happy being alive.” And the sergeant, Corpse, walked up the old man and pulled him off the chair and dragged him towards the open window. Keith's eyes widened a fraction.
“Oh really, a window? Come now Corpse, surely I deserve better.”Humphrey however didn't seem at all shocked to find himself being dragged roughly towards a large window. Apparently his imminent death wasn't much of a problem for him.
“There is nothing better than for an eggspert like you.”And without so much as a struggle, Corpse pushed the dejected looking Humphrey, through the window and out of sight. Keith swallowed down an 'eep' and watched as the men left back down the stairs, talking about Corpse's well made 'joke'.
“Eggspert! Ha, you crack me up sir.”
“Okay, enough with the egg jokes, just because the man had a stupid career watching eggs does not been we can be mean once he's dead. Keep walking.”Corpse seemed to pause at the top of the stairs and Keith held his breath. He felt like a five year old playing hide and seek. Finally the sergeant left and Keith burst from the cupboard and made a be-line for the open window.