Thursday, 5 November 2009

Chapter 5 - A Voice From Beyond the Grave

All was dark in the South Wing of Cluckinghen Palace. And not because someone forgot to pay the electricity bill.

'Can't we have a few candles? For ambience?' said Mrs Slocombe. The three hens were sitting around the mahogany occasional table in the parlour.
'Mrs Bennett didn't like ambience,' said Mrs Miggins. 'She said it spoiled the taste of her tea. She said that if you're ever going to summon the dead, it's best done in the dark.'
'Who's Mrs Bennett?' whispered Mrs Slocombe to Mrs Pumphrey.
'An old friend of Miggins,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'They travelled the world together, having amazing adventures.'
'What happened to her?'
'An accident with an overly large egg when they were cruising the Nile in Eygpt,' sighed Mrs Pumphrey. 'And sadly, Mrs Bennett popped her clogs and is now in chicken heaven.'
'Is popping your clogs anything like tripping your flip-flops?' asked Mrs Slocombe.
'Yes. It's the Northern cultural equivalent,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Now if I were you, I'd hush my beak. We need to concentrate hard if we are to reach Mrs Bennett to ask her advice about the Much Malarkey Manor quandary.'
'Quite,' said Miggins. She wrapped her heavily fringed shawl printed with large damask roses tightly around her shoulders, and adjusted her turban.
'This turban is being very difficult,' said Miggins. Trying to stay calm, to invoke the kind of calm vibrations that were necessary for a chicken seance was difficult enough without having to manage a wobbly turban as well.
'Would you like to borrow a rubber band from my enormous collection of rubber bands?' asked Mrs Slocombe. 'To secure your wobbly turban?'
'No thank you,' said Miggins, because the last time she tried securing something with a rubber band it took ages to grow the feathers back. 'Now, a bit of hush please. Hush and concentration.'

The only light in the parlour came from the dying embers of the fire in the hearth, the only smell from the burning fur of the mouse who always insisted on sitting too close to the fire and getting covered in stray flaming sparks. Strange shadows flickered and danced across the walls. Suddenly, Mrs Miggins slammed her wing down on the occasional table.

'Mrs Slocombe!' she snapped. 'Do you think making shadow puppets of rabbits and Winston Churchill is appropriate behaviour at a seance? Do you? Do you??'
'Sorry,' said Slocombe. 'I was just trying to add some levity to the occasion.'
'Mrs Bennett didn't like levity,' said Mrs Miggins. 'She said it spoiled the line of her underwear.'
'Was there anything Mrs Bennett DID like?' asked Mrs Slocombe, who was becoming a little fed up of hearing about this virtuous chicken. What's the use in being virtuous anyway, she thought, when you're stiff-as-a-board dead?
'Yes,' said Miggins. 'Mrs Bennett liked Marmite.'
'Bleuch,' said Slocombe, making extensive sick noises, because it's true - Marmite; you either do or you don't.
'Carry on,Laetitia' said Mrs Pumphrey, who was getting the heebie-jeebies and really wanted to get the seance over and done with so she could concentrate on more important tasks like ironing her stockings and making macaroons for the bridge club tea tomorrow.

Silence fell again. Outside, an owl hooted.

'Mrs Bennett...Mrs Bennett...' intoned Mrs Miggins. 'Are you there, Mrs Bennett? Please give us a sign that you are with us in the ether.'

Silence. The owl hooted once more, and yet again until someone from the Manor, probably Andy, leant out of an upstairs window and threw a slipper at it.

'Mrs Bennett,' continued Mrs Miggins, swaying with the ethereal energies now permeating the parlour, 'give us a sign. Are you there...are you there...?'
'Oh, for Heaven's sake,' came a voice. 'Give me a chance will you, Laetitia? I was in the bath.'
'Eglantine?' whispered Mrs Miggins. 'Is that you, Eglantine?'
'Of course it's me, you daft old bint,' snapped Mrs Bennett. 'Who else would it be? I mean, if you call for me, it's unlikely Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, is going to make an appearance, is it?'

Mrs Miggins sat back on her stool, a gentle smile on her beak. Ah, but it was good to hear her old friend again. How she missed Mrs Bennett. How she missed the companionship, the arguments, the shared Saga cruises, the nights out in London getting ratted at Spearmint Rhino and pole dancing for a tenner or two. That had been in their youth of course, when they were both bright young limber chicks with the World at their funny, scaly feet. Omar Sharif had drunk Pimms from their dancing shoes, Sacha Distel had serenaded them at the Folies Bergeres...'

'Well?' said Mrs Bennett. 'What do you want? I'm getting cold.'
'Is she always this chippy?' asked Mrs Slocombe.
'Who's that?' snapped Mrs Bennett. 'Who've you got with you, Laetitia? I can't see very well; the steam from my bath is misting up the veil.'
'These are my new companions,' said Mrs Miggins.

There was a silence and then the sound of a cloth squeaking against glass.

'Why's she got a pink bottom?' asked Mrs Bennett.
'Mrs Pumphrey?' said Mrs Miggins. 'Oh, just a little accident with a trestle table and some wallpaper paste.'
'They tried to peel me off so I wouldn't lose too many feathers,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'But in the end, only a good hard yank would suffice.'

Mrs Bennett let out a raucous laugh that reverberated around the parlour. In the fireplace, the last embers of the fire guttered and then failed, plunging the room into total darkness.

'And the other one?' she continued, once she'd recovered her composure and her bath towel which had fallen to the floor.
'I'm Mrs Slocombe,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'How are you?'
'Dead,' said Mrs Bennett. 'But not, apparently, dead enought to avoid being disturbed from my evening ablutions.'
'I'm sorry to call you,' said Mrs Miggins. 'But we really need your advice.'

'Oh well,' said Mrs Bennett. 'If it's advice you're after, you've come to the right place. What's the problem?'

So Mrs Miggins began to explain the shock revelation that Much Malarkey Manor was to be flattened to make room for several thousand new buildings and that something had to be done to prevent this from happening.

'I see,' said Mrs Bennett. She clicked her teeth against her beak, in deep and pensive thought. 'And who is responsible for this plan to desecrate yet another majestic sweep of English countryside?'
'Get the picture, Betty,' said Miggins, and Mrs Slocombe scuttled from the parlour, to return in a matter of seconds waving a cutting from a newspaper, which she placed firmly on the occasional table.
'Him,' she said, jabbing the picture with her wing.
'Why are there holes in it?' asked Mrs Bennett.
'I've been using it as a dart board,' said Slocombe. 'A sort of competitive voodoo.'

The picture levitated from the table and hung in the air. The hens watched as the edges of the picture turned damp.
'Hmmmm,' said Mrs Bennett. 'I know this person. His name is Cleverly Dangled. If I'm not mistaken, he's on Satan's 'to-do' list.'
'Is he anywhere near the top on the list?' asked Mrs Miggins, who thought immediately that the quickest and best solution to their problem would be the imminent death and consignment to the flames of Hell of their arch-nemesis.

'Unfortunately not,' said Bennett. 'He's a very wealthy man, is Mr Dangled. He can afford to bribe the whole of Satan's impish agents for years yet.'
'Pity,' said Miggins. 'So what can we do? How can we save Much Malarkey Manor? We don't have much time. Apparently,it's going to be a bit of a race.'

There came the echo of chicken feet, pacing impatiently.
'What's she doing now?' whispered Mrs Pumphrey.
'Ssssshhh!' said Mrs Miggins. 'She's thinking. She's in the zone.'

'Right!' said Mrs Bennett, and the other three chickens only jumped a bit at the suddenness of her exclamation. 'This is what you must do...'

And the three hens gathered closely around the occasional table as Mrs Bennett poured in their ears her idea for the saving of Much Malarkey Manor from the hands, or rather the bulldozers, of the evil Cleverly Dangled. Mwahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!

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