*Ring-a-ding* goes a quaint cafe door in a small town in the English countryside. A young woman enters, her boots making small clacking sounds on the old wood floor as she moves toward a table by the fireplace. She happily removes her heavy wool pea coat, scarf, and leather gloves relieved to be out of the cold autumn air. A few eyes glance her way as she pulls back a heavy wood chair and sits. Yet the glances turn into a stare, as none seem capable of tearing their eyes away from the young woman, for she is entrancingly beautiful. Now it is not that the inhabitants of this quaint cafe in this small country town have never seen a beautiful woman before, for the town itself does possess some, but the young woman seemed to radiate an aura, as if all around her a calming concerto played drawing everyone in to listen.
The fire danced on her long dark-brown hair pulled loosely into a low ponytail, her fair skin was still flushed from the cold air, she had natural rose-colored lips, and long dark lashes surrounded her deep hazel eyes. She was tall and lean, but not skinny as many of the young women these days were, emaciated looking as if they hadn’t eaten in days. No, she looked healthy and fit, strong but delicate, a true beauty.
Finally, eyes peeled themselves away as a waitress approached the young woman. “Can I get’cha somthin dear?” the waitress asked.
“Oh, um, yes...I would like a cup of Earl Grey and some directions please.”
The middle-aged waitress, a plump kind woman, cocked an eyebrow, “Lass this town is so small you could walk it a hunred times in one day.”
The young woman let out a small laugh, “Oh I believe that, but actually I’m looking for the Chateau Shaitan and I have been told the Shaitan land is quite extensive. Is there an easy route to the main house, by any chance?”
“Ah, I see...well I sa’pose your not from around here then.”
The young woman shook her head and replied, “No, I’m from London actually.”
“Oh my!” The older woman exclaimed in a high whistle reminiscent of a teakettle. “Well that’s certainly a ways away my dear, let me get your tea and I’ll help ye out.” She said as she walked behind a counter. The young woman smiled at the friendly hospitality and comfortable demeanor the older woman displayed toward her.
“Here ya go dear a cup of nice hot tea.”
“Now dear” said the older woman as she sat down “ye want ta go to the Shaitan place, well its big yer right about that. So I tell ya what, since your new here let me call up my husband and he’ll drive ya to the main house. He does some maintenance work there sumtimes so he knows the place.”
“Oh I would not want to inconvenience you or your husband Mrs...?”
“Laura Potts” Mrs. Potts told the young woman with a hearty laugh. “An it’s no inconvenience my dear, Mr. Potts probably been puttin a job off down there anyway”, she said as she stood and walked to a back room.
“Thank you!” The young woman called after her.
A cup of tea and some friendly conversations with Mrs. Potts and the locals later and Mr. Potts and the young woman were driving down a bumpy dirt road passing up acres and acres of land.
Mr. Potts finally spoke “So miss mind if I ask what yer up to round here?”
The young woman turned from the window, “Honestly I’m not entirely sure. I’m sure you are aware of the sprayings that have been going on the farms in this area?”
“Yer damn right I am!” Mr. Potts said with an anger that took the young woman back a bit. “Half the bloody town is sick, two babes and Tim’s granny be dead!”
“I’m sorry,” the young woman said in a quite voice “Well that’s why I’m here. I’m a biologist, the Department of Agriculture sent me here to document the effects of the spraying.” The young woman said all of this in almost one breath afraid to anger Mr. Potts.
“huhn” Mr. Potts grunted, “Then what? You write down sum stuff an’ go, that might be find and dandy for you miss, but what about this town?! That bloody beast Shaitan been tryin all ‘em new chemicals his company’s come up with, and he’s bloody killed us all includin himself!” Mr. Potts gripped the steering wheel harder, his face scrunched up as he spat each word.
The young woman knew she would encounter anger from the townsfolk, heck even she was angry that someone could be so callous to the rest of the world. A beast seemed a fitting title for this Mr. Shaitan. “Mr. Potts I’m terribly sorry and quite frankly I do agree that Mr. Shaitan has been careless and cruel. What my colleagues and I want to do with the information I gather is try to stop the sprayings here and in other places in England as well. I’m not sure if we will succeed, but we have been raising funds for the past year and finally came up with enough to send...well just one person, which is me.” She paused and took a breath, the young woman was nervous this was her first out of lab assignment with the Department and she was on her own. Which may not have been so bad if only the amount of investigating and research was capable for one person. Sadly, here the workload was at least due for a team of twelve, meaning she could only gather so much in her one-month stay. “Anyway I want to assure you that I will do what I can.” She abruptly finished unsure of how to continue.
In the gray and damp English morning the Shaitan main house loomed over the stale sickly-green looking grass. The trees surrounding the house looked frail and petrified. The sun had disappeared leaving a gray mist in its place. The house was clearly old, ivy overran the outside walls and gothic towers seemed to pierce the sky. A shiver ran down the young woman’s spine, a curse, the land and the house felt cursed she thought. The car stopped in front of the gates, Mr. Potts’ voice shook the woman out of her thoughts, “Yah I kno’ it’s an eerie place, only been in there a handful o’ times meself. But I’m sure it’ll be comfortable, good food maybe, if that man even eats. Want me to walk ya in?”
“Oh Mr. Potts thank you, but I should be fine, you’ve done more than enough. Please tell Mrs. Potts thank you again for her help, I will most defiantly be back at your coffee shop again!” smiled the young woman.
As she got out of the car, grabbed her bag, and began to walk up the path to the front door Mr. Potts shouted after her “Oh and Miss! Tell my friends Luche and Cods to take good care o’ya, orders from Basil!”
The young woman seemed to encounter the same feeling inside the house as she had outside of it. A high ceiling loomed over her, the gothic buttresses reminded her of a skeleton. The furniture was grand, but again dreary dusty, and old. “Hello anyone home? The door was open so I let myself in. My name is B-”
“Mademoiselle! Welcome! I am Luche and as you can see I am the only handsome thing in this whole place!” Luche cheerfully exclaimed startling the young woman, but making her laugh as well. He smiled a wide charming grin revealing large pearl white teeth. Luche had a distinctly French accent as he rambled on about something the young woman could not quite decipher. He was tall and lean, older as was evident by his receding hairline and the wrinkle in his skin, yet he was handsome with large blue eyes and dirty blonde hair.
“Bloody hell Luche! Do you have to scream?! The echo in this mansion is enough to make my ears bleed!” An older, short, and hefty man said from the top of a wide staircase. He was dressed nicely in beige slacks and a maroon sweater. The man had a mustache that hung at either end of his lips and it would bounce every time he spoke. “Hello my dear” the man said as he approached the young woman, “My name is Edmund Cods and I must apologize in advance my colleague is daft.” Mr. Cods said this with utmost seriousness.
“I beg your pardone!” Luche exclaimed. The young woman instantly picked up on the polar difference between Mr. Cods and Luche, but she could tell that they were indeed good friends. For a moment Luche and Mr. Cods argued, until they instantly stopped at the sound of a large wooden door creaking open.
A man stood in the doorway to what seemed to be a den. He was cast in shadow, his silhouette only visible because of the lit fireplace inside the den. Just as he had abruptly shown up he turned and walked back into the den, leaving the door open. Mr. Cods and Luche turned to each other a pale look on each one’s face. “Please this way Miss.” Mr. Cods formally said as Luche took the young woman’s bag.
The den was warm and barely lit in an eerie glow. A large soft looking rug lay in front of the fireplace and on that rug sat a large and old brown leather chair. The man stood on the other side of the room in the shadows where the young woman could barely see him.
“I take it that you are the biologist,” the man said in a curt tone, worn and dry, “I am Kip Shaitan owner of this estate. You will be allowed to investigate as I told the Department, but I must accompany you on all your surveys and certain areas are off limits n-”
“Excuse me Mr. Shaitan it is important that I survey the whole estate, yo-”
“I will NOT be interrupted! This is MY estate and I make the rules here! Remember that you are lucky I even allowed you annoying gnats to come and survey my estate! Goddamn lawsuit threats…” Shaitan growled sharply through grit teeth. The young woman was taken aback by his sudden harsh outburst and anger instantly filled her as he continued to bark out rules and times for meals. “Luche show miss…?”
“Ringer, Belladonna Ringer.” She curtly answered trying to show him that she would not back down easily.
“Miss Ringer to her room, dinner will be at noon sharp.” Shaitan then stepped a few feet forward into the glow of the fireplace “You may go” he abruptly ended giving her a cold stare. Bell gave a small gasp not expecting to see Shaitan in such a horrid state. She had heard that he had gotten ill a year ago and that soon after his experimental sprayings had stopped. Shaitan looked frail she noticed by his weak slow steps and his slightly sunken in cheeks. His dark olive skinned face was pock marked, looking as if it had been singed, and his gray-blue eyes looked hollow and sunken, his hair a mere few wisps sparsely spread out on his scalp seemed charred.
Luche broke Bell out of her stare “Miss Ringer this way please,” he said politely motioning out of the den to the stairs.
The next few days were straining for Luche and Mr. Cods, as they were constantly kept busy preventing Bell and Shaitan from violently murdering each other. This came as no surprise because Shaitan, impossible to get along with anyway, had a very different theory on how the earth and other human beings should be treated than Bell did; however, Luche and Mr. Cods were not expecting Bell’s unrelenting will to stand up to their bitter and angry master. Her quick and witty quips even went so far as to leave Shaitan silent grabbing for a comeback. So, despite the task of preventing homicide they were both quite happy to see their master getting a run for his vast amount of money.
Bell, on the other hand, was not enjoying her never unending duel with Shaitan as much. Areas in which she was not allowed she was sure were still very contaminated and thus would give a wealth of information on the damage done to both flora and fauna in the area, and areas she was allowed on seem to have been “cleaned up” and spruced in order to fool her. But Miss Ringer was not a fool nor did she have an untrained eye. Some thorough digging around gave her some clues, some facts, but always questions. Not only that, but Shaitan himself was not helpful, he followed her in his golf-cart (Bell preferred to walk) like a sick raven ready to restrict her at any moment. Every time she interviewed him on the chemicals used, his spraying methods, goals for spraying, etc. he gave barely an answer. Bell could only hope her colleagues were coming up with more information from his employees than she was from him.
The town was quite pleased with Bell and her interviews with them were fruitful, but depressing. Most of the children in the past year became violently ill and were still suffering from the effects of the chemicals. Couples were nervous about having children and talk of moving has become common. Tap water although supposedly deemed “safe” to drink was filtered neurotically and food from the farms suspicious. Reports of dead animals were in the hundreds and the recounts of how many birds were no longer seen and how the fish were odd and not right were numerous. Bell was saddened by the fear, anger, and utter helplessness of the town, but mostly by the fact that even though she was here it would only do so much, if anything. A powerful company such as Shaitan Chemical would, could, and probably has paid off the Department of Agriculture to not reveal the information or blatantly deny it. All of her work here could be destroyed in a matter of minutes all by a bunch of emotionally stunted human beings who could care less whether a bird or baby dies.
To Be Continued…