Alice Peavley’s first four tales, now collected in one volume! Available from Amazon and elsewhere! Read on for previews of the four novelettes in this splendid collection!
“The Thorn Harbour Road Rally (Or, Macalley Takes The Wheel)”
It’s Race Day in the town of Darbyfield, and after an accident, heiress Alice Peavley and her gnome valet Macalley jump into the race behind the wheel of a friend’s motorcar. They’ll have to go up against five other racers and confront dangerous roads, dirty tricks, and a hungry bear. It’ll take all of Macalley’s brainpower, and all of Alice’s wits and determination, for them to win the Thorn Harbour Road Rally!
We were soon back on our way to Thorn Harbour, picking up the pace as best as we could. The stretch of road we were on was straight and flat, but we still had to be cautious of passers-by, as the handful of people we saw along the way were not in as big of a hurry as we.
The straightaway ended as we neared Thorn Harbour, along the edge of the Windward Forest. When the road had been laid out many years ago, its path ran through a grove of old and beautiful elder pines. The elves claimed that those trees were guarded by dryads.
No one in the Emerald Dell could ever recall having seen a dryad, but they still consulted with a scholar who specialized in creatures of the woods. The scholar described, in great and gory detail, what the legends claimed dryads would do to those who would so much as knock a needle off a branch. After that, everyone involved swore solemnly and quickly to leave those trees be, and the road was laid out to wind around them.
The elder pines grew mostly along the north side of the road, and the long shadows they cast darkened the twisting path. I slowed the motorcar slightly as we approached as a precaution, but I had to risk traveling at an unsafe speed if I were to have any chance of catching the other racers.
Because of this, I didn’t see the monster until it was almost too late. It lurched out of the ground ahead of us, human in shape but with a grotesquely oozing form, and a horrible featureless face with bulging eyes. It waved its arms menacingly in the air, spitting and moaning as it strode towards my motorcar. I shrieked with terror, losing my nerve as I beheld the horrible sight.
The monster paused, and in that moment I found my resolve. I hit the brakes and turned the steering wheel. As the motorcar slid to a sideways stop, the creature took another step towards me. I clenched my fists in defiance. “You will not take me without a fight, monster!” I shouted.
“Perhaps there’ll be no need for one, madame.”
I looked back at Macalley, and I wasn’t sure what astonished me more, his placid demeanor or the bottle of seltzer water he was holding. “Macalley?” I said. “Have you taken leave of your senses?”
“Not yet, madame.” Macalley smoothly uncorked the seltzer bottle. He placed his thumb over the bottle’s mouth, shook it vigorously and aimed it at the monster.
The water shot from the bottle, hitting the monster in its face. I was surprised to see the spray wash away the creature’s appearance. As the mud that had covered him slid off, I realized that the “monster” was, in fact, Rodley Talbot, and what had seemed to be a pair of bulging eyes was actually his racing goggles.
He gestured towards Macalley, who nodded and handed him what was left of the seltzer water. “He must have swallowed some mud,” Macalley said as Talbot rinsed out his mouth. “That would be why he couldn’t speak coherently.”
Talbot drank the last drops of the seltzer and stared at me. “Alice…Peavley?” he said.
I flushed with embarrassment. “I do apologize for calling you a monster, Talbot.”
“Think nothing of it. But what the devil are you doing in Topping’s motorcar?”
“Clarinda suffered an injury just before the race was to start, so I took her place.”
“This bloody afternoon has had too many unpleasant surprises,” Talbot said. “Will she be all right?”
“Yes, with rest. If I may ask…”
Talbot sighed. “Someone planted a trap. They dug a hole in the road, filled it with mud, and covered it with twigs and leaves. We were in the lead after Strahlkogel’s car crashed, so we hit it first. Good thing the other racers avoided it.”
My eyes had adjusted to the dark, and I could make out Talbot’s motorcar in the muck that he had crawled out of. “What happened to Clement?” I asked.
“He set off on foot for Thorn Harbour to get help.”
“And notify the race officials?”
“He’ll make some calls, and I’ve asked him to send someone to help get the motorcar out of the ditch. But you’re losing time.” Talbot pointed with a muddy hand towards the side of the road. “That way will get you around all the muck.”
“But what about you?” I asked.
“Go win the race. I’ll deal with this mess.” Talbot grinned. “I haven’t played this much in mud since I was eight.” I laughed and thanked him as I drove off.
“The Missing Mallard (Or, ‘Duck, Macalley! Duck!’)”
He squinted at the pixies. “I believe that is Countess Gylburnt from Korigan County.”
My head started to reel. “What the devil is Tirnog royalty doing here?”
“She may have wanted to get away from the Fotheringay sisters.”
“One could hardly blame her.” I glanced over at Grash. “Is she registered?”
The troll looked up from his ledger. “Her and our other new arrival,” he said softly.
“Should I be worried about all these villains who are after this duck?” I asked Macalley.
“Only the ones who lose the bidding,” he replied.
The Countess surveyed the crowd. “If it isn’t Doctor Octavo,” she said with a smirk. “They’ll let anyone into these auctions, it seems.”
“Greetings, Countess!” Octavo shouted. “You’re looking quite devious this afternoon!”
“A fine compliment coming from you. I think.” She looked to the side. “Ah. Professor Argentium. Have you achieved coherence yet?”
“I would destroy you where you stand,” Argentium snapped, “had I not made a promise about the flowerbeds.”
“Planted this past week.”
Gylburnt nodded. “Not that the clockwork wombat you brought along is going to do much destroying anyway.”
Argentium reddened. “It’s a quokka, you cursed tree-hugger!”
“It seems oddly adorable. Does it crush your enemies by hugging them to death?”
“I’ll be glad to demonstrate. Oliver? Could you pop over here for a moment?”
Octavo swung his hand cannon towards Argentium. “I’ll give you and that brass hamster a pop!”
“Quokka!” Argentium raised a clenched fist.
I sighed and marched up to Octavo. “Doctor?” I said sweetly. “You’re here to bid on the golden duck, right?”
“Well, you’re welcome to…” I dropped the sweetness and smiled sharply. “Once you put that thing away. And tell your assistant to stop mocking the pixies.”
Octavo sighed and rolled his eyes. “Very well,” he muttered as he pocketed the hand cannon. Peirea scowled and ceased the nose-thumbing she had been directing at Glitterglim.
“And you—” I pointed at Argentium. “Remember your promise.”
“Fine.” He shook his head.
I marched up to Gylburnt. “Countess…”
The pixie raised an arched eyebrow. “And you are?”
“Alice Peavley. I am your host, and this is my manor.” I folded my arms. “I assume you’re also here to bid on that bloody duck. If you wish to do so, you and your assistant will not attempt any shenanigans. The other bidders, the staff, the spectators, the Quokkatron, the gladiolas, the ducks chasing the auctioneer around the grounds…they are all off limits. If you or anyone else try anything, they will lose their auction privileges.”
Gylburnt smiled. “Such spirit! When humanity is destroyed, I’ll make sure you’re among the first.”
I glanced at Macalley. “Have I just been complimented?”
“The Rebellious Rooster (Or, Macalley Gets Cocky)”
Macalley was cleaning up in the garage so I headed to the door, rehearsing my usual speeches for dealing with unwanted solicitors, tourists, and would-be suitors. I was caught off-guard when a glance through the peephole showed that my visitors were a trio of elves, wearing the house green of my archrival, Lord Basil Oakton. I carefully opened the door. “Good afternoon?” I said cautiously.
One of the elves held up a decidedly non-elfish figure by the collar of his purple topcoat. “Is this yours?” he snarled.
“Hello, Alice!” the dangling chap said with a cheerful grin. He was covered in brown fur, which was at its longest on his head and the long narrow tail that poked out of his trousers. His pointed ears were twitching as he reached up and tipped his striped purple hat to me.
“This pooka—” the elf started to say.
“I have a name, you know.”
“Has been an unwanted nuisance—”
“Please, call me Reg.”
“And is no longer welcome on Lord Oakton’s estates.”
“Reginald J. Cheshire, for long.”
“Since you seem to know this…” The elf glared down at Reg. “Pooka.”
“And I am not property to be passed along like an unwanted birthday gift!” Reg folded his arms and glared at the elf.
I managed, somehow, not to sigh or snicker. “Please put Reg down.”
The elf dropped Reg, who made landing on his derriere appear almost graceful. “He’s all yours,” the elf said, not trying to hide his relief. He turned and sprinted off, followed by the other two. They jumped into a nearby motorcar with the engine already running and drove away at a rather dangerous speed.
Reg looked up at me. “Rather rude chaps, weren’t they?”
I finally smiled. “Hello, Reg.”
The pooka stood up and made a great show of dusting himself off. “Such a ruckus! I was just trying to repay Lord Oakton’s hospitality by baking him some cinnamon rolls! Is it my doing that the oven exploded?”
“I suppose it depends on the recipe,” I said. I was in a bit of a daze, which is normal for anyone in the presence of a talkative pooka.
“Oh. You’re most likely right.” Reg frowned. “Elfish ovens do have difficulty handling dwarfish pastries. But how are you, dear Alice?”
“Doing splendidly, thank you.” It might seem odd for me to address a pooka with such familiarity, and vice versa, but this was a special case. Reg had been a friend and a comfort to my Uncle Clarence in his last days, and had been of some help in my dealings with the devious Lady Amaracynthe. We were, in an odd way, chums.
A thought crossed my mind as we started towards the parlour. “I had no idea you were in the Emerald Dell,” I said. “You should have contacted me.”
“But I was having such a jolly time staying with Lord Oakton!” Reg said.
“He invited you?”
“Well, no, but it was still rather jolly.”
© 2017, 2018 by Robert Dahlen. All rights reserved, except for those protected by “fair use” laws where you live. Thanks to Amber Goss for her assistance with the cover!