Sarah Spellings & The Followers of The Grove

Love and Death in The Glebe

Sarah sat frozen with the photograph from the locket pinched, wrong side up, between her thumb and forefinger. Levvy leaned over and squinted at the loopy, cursive writing. Quinn, his back ramrod straight, stared across the tree stump table at Spex. The little bearded man waited patiently while the young people digested the meaning of the name on the back of the picture. Rumpus whimpered softly at Sarah’s feet.

“Cousins?” Sarah guessed hopefully. “Distant cousins?”

Spex shook his head. “Regretfully, no. Brother and sister, Harpy and Vicky Abbott. Harpy is the eldest by four years.”

“Harpy?” Levvy repeated. “You’ve got to be kidding!”

Sarah felt sick.

“My dear girl, my dear girl,” Spex waggled his head, “I am known for my robust sense of humour, but I must assure you, in serious matters such as this I rarely crack jokes. One could scarcely imagine anything less funny than discovering one is related to the Abbott family.”

“Related? This means that I’m his..?”

“His niece, yes. Harpminster Abbott, Highest Seat of Parleyment and notorious despot, is also your Uncle Harpy.”

Quinn reached over and gently extracted the photograph from between Sarah’s fingers. He flipped it and placed it on the table, where candles cast soft, warm light on the smiling face of Victoria Spellings. Sarah braced her elbows on the table, and dropped her face into her hands. When she spoke, her voice was muffled by her palms.

“This is a mistake. Spex, you can’t be serious.”

“What is your mother’s maiden name, Sarah dear?” Spex asked gently.

“Dad said Mom wanted to forget her birth family. And he said he couldn’t tell me stuff about Mom, because it hurt too much to talk about her. There were no pictures of Mom’s parents, my grandparents, in our house—only pictures of my Dad’s family, the Spellings.”

Levvy adjusted her orange toque, frowning. “Okay, that’s weird. Why would your mother blot out her whole past?”

“How should I know?” Sarah wailed, lifting her pale face from her hands. “She died when I was six! My memories feel like stories I invented.”

“Your audience is waiting, Spex Gribble,” Quinn said grimly. “The beginning, remember?”

“Ah yes, the beginning, indeed.” Spex closed his eyes behind the cracked lenses of his gold-rimmed spectacles. He leaned up against the rock wall, and folded his fingers together on top of his rotund middle. Rumpus put his paws on Sarah’s leg and she lifted the dog to her lap, and scratched behind his ears. Across the table Spex twitched, as if a film were playing out behind his eyelids.

“Many years ago, in the capital city of this country, a promising young man by the name of Winston Abbott fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful and mysterious raven-haired woman. They met at a soirée in the Abbott’s grand three-story home, situated in the Glebe, a wealthy neighbourhood in the capital. Rich, influential, and powerful people lived in stately red brick houses lining the leafy streets of the Glebe. Politicians, lawyers, doctors, academics, heirs and heiresses to European fortunes; they all gravitated to what became the most important neighbourhood, in the most important city, in all the land. In the Glebe everyone knew everyone, and gossip bubbled like cornmeal porridge over a hot fire. But no one knew, or indeed had ever seen, the young, black-haired beauty standing by herself in a corner at the party that fateful evening. No one knew her name, her parents, or her address. The bravest guests approached the alluring stranger, but she was adept at dodging questions. She would smile and wink, or pretend not to hear. She was charming, enigmatic, and lovely to behold. Winston was drawn to her like a moth to a flame.”

“Wait,” Sarah interrupted, holding up a palm. “How do you know all this?”

“Patience, I beg you!” Spex opened a reproachful eye and glared at Sarah. “All will be revealed, including how I came to know these events.” He settled back against the rock wall.

“Winston Abbott fell to talking with the beautiful stranger. She was coy and flirtatious, and refused to tell him her name, but she agreed to dance with him. A live band played in a corner of the expansive living room; dozens of couples danced to the music of the time—the twist, the jive, the bop, and the occasional sentimental ballad in six-eight time. Winston was tall and muscular, with auburn hair and a mischievous grin. They made an attractive couple as they whirled around the room. When the band struck up a slow waltz, Winston and the mystery woman remained partners, now able to converse a little as they danced.” Spex hummed, and mimed dancing a waltz, swaying his head gently and holding his foreshortened arms aloft.

“Spex. Get on with it,” said Sarah, through clenched teeth. Spex frowned, blinked his eyes open, and ended his dance reverie. His arms dropped heavily, and for a moment it seemed he would protest, but registering Sarah’s strained expression, he continued the story.

“Winston asked the woman about her family. She was evasive, and he learned nothing. She offered to drink a glass of champagne with him, and fetched the bubbly herself from the dining room. They were sipping Dom Pérignon from crystal flutes and making polite conversation when a loud noise, a bang consistent with a small explosion, distracted Winston. He rushed to the source of the sound. Guests in the dining area exclaimed about the sudden appearance of white, sweet-smelling smoke. Without an explanation for this phenomenon, Winston returned to the front of the house, in time to catch a glimpse of the woman’s back as she hurried out the front door. Pushing his way past the other guests, he emerged on the front porch as she climbed into a black taxicab. Your name! Winston called after her, I must know your name! As the taxi pulled away, the raven-tressed beauty answered. He strained to hear. Ananda, she called back.”

“Excuse me?” Quinn was startled. “What did she say her name was?”


Shock blanketed Quinn’s freckled face. “Impossible,” he muttered. “It can’t be.”

Riveted by the story, Sarah hushed Quinn. “Go on please, Spex.”

“From that night forward, Winston was under Ananda’s powerful spell. He couldn’t eat, and he couldn’t sleep. He simply had to see her again. One night he woke to a sultry voice speaking his name. It was Ananda, standing on the lawn of his parents’ home, calling up to him through his open window. Winston rushed outside to meet her. They kissed in the moonlight, and eloped the next morning. After a lengthy honeymoon, they settled in their own house in the Glebe. People close to the couple found Ananda Abbott—well, different. Unpleasant, even. Strange things happened when she was around. Accidents resulting in injuries occurred, and arguments broke out. Winston became strained and remote. He lost weight, shunned his friends, and seemed unhappy. Eyebrows were raised when Ananda argued with the hired help, the gardener and the cook, and shortly afterward these two employees died sudden deaths under mysterious circumstances.

“Within a year little Harpy was born. With his wavy auburn hair, the little boy looked just like his father. At first, Ananda was a loving, doting mother, but four years later that changed forever when Vicky arrived. Winston and Ananda’s daughter had thick black hair, full lips, and a flawless complexion. She looked just like her mother.

“As Vicky grew, just like her mother, she showed signs of exerting a bizarre influence on her surroundings. But there was a vital difference: good things happened when Vicky Abbott was around. Races were won, and friendships formed; sunlight streamed down where only moments before there had been rain. Ananda and Winston lavished their affection on Vicky—all of their love, it seemed, was reserved for their daughter, and temperamental, quirky Harpy was shoved aside as a nuisance. Harpy quickly became a nuisance, with bratty attempts to steal back his parents’ attention. Vicky shone in the spotlight, and Winston and Ananda treated their son like the family slave.

“Nevertheless, Harpy and Vicky played with other children in the Glebe, and this is where I come into the story,” Spex opened his eyes. He unfolded his hands and placed them on the table. “And your father too, Sarah. The Spellings family lived next door to the Abbotts. Tony, as you know, is an only child, and he was frequently lonely and bored. Though Harpy tended to be sulky and mean, he was the same age as Tony, and by default the two boys wound up playing together, and became friends. My family, the Gribbles, lived around the block. Ichamus Nickel lived close by as well. Oh yes!” Spex nodded sagely at Sarah’s gasp of surprise. “Your father’s tolerance of Ichamus is no coincidence. Tony and Icky sometimes deigned to play with me, but I was never included when Harpy was in the mix. Harpy had no time for me, you see, unless it was to call me ‘dwarf boy’, and trip me up.

“How come my father never told me any of this?” Sarah asked in a raspy, strained half-whisper.

“My dear, my dear!” Spex exclaimed, “Would you be proud? Would you want your children to know they were related to him? I must remind you that Harpminster Abbott was a mere lesser Minister when violent storms struck the capital, tornados ripped through the city, and fires and flooding shut down Parleyment. Pierre Gagnon, Highest Seat at the time, died of a heart attack during the crisis. Many believe his death was facilitated by Harpy, because while others were busy cleaning up the city and helping devastated neighbours, Harpy quietly took over as Highest Seat. He immediately struck down Planet Protection Laws, allowing companies and individuals to prosper from pollution once more. Before trade infrastructure collapsed, Harpy ordered forests cut down and oil pipelines reopened. His tactics are cruel. They say he uses unnatural powers to control what’s left of Parleyment, and keep his minions living in fear. Your father didn’t tell you because he wanted to protect you!”

The crease between Sarah’s eyebrows was a dark furrow.

“Well, you can guess the rest,” Spex concluded, his tone defeated. “It’s no coincidence we all reside in the same far-away neighbourhood. Tony and Vicky fell in love, and planned their escape. I begged them to take me west with them, and out of pity they agreed. It was Vicky who told me the story of her parents’ courtship. The three of us fled one summer’s night. Harpy stayed behind, and rose to power in the capital, helped in no small measure by his wicked mother and Ichamus Nickel. Harpy sent Ichamus out here to spy on us, and report back to the capital. That was Harpy’s big mistake.”

“Why was that a mistake?” Levvy asked. She had opened her notebook, and was scribbling down Spex’s story in point-form. Spex grinned, and waggled his fingers.

“Ah, the foibles of human nature! Ichamus is spineless and weak; he craves power and influence, and doesn’t actually like Harpy. He prefers your father’s company and friendship, Sarah. Ichamus told Tony why he was on Wailsmouth Street, and they worked out a deal: Tony would provide Ichamus with food and supplies in exchange for Ichamus sending false reports to Harpminster Abbott, reports that downplayed the strength of the resistance movement out west.”

“Then my mother died,” Sarah said quietly.

Spex nodded. “A devastating loss. Victoria Abbott was as charming as Harpminster is loathsome. Of course, the earthquake happened just before she died, destroying roads, airports, and train tracks. There was no way for Winston, Ananda and Harpy to travel west and mourn Victoria properly.”

“Are Winston and Ananda still alive? Quinn asked.

“Oh, yes, alive and kicking. And old Harpy’s still trying to please them.”

The four of them sat quietly for a minute. Spex peered at Sarah from behind his twinkling lenses. Beeswax candles on shelves and ledges around the inside of the hut flickered. Outside, snow was falling once again, a flickering curtain of white.

“This might be a coincidence,” Quinn said slowly.

“Coincidences are rarely complete chance,” said Spex.

Quinn drummed his fingers on the table, and cleared his throat. “Quantsa, a wise elder from my time, tells a story about the early days of time-travel. Legend says there was an evil young witch with strange powers. Because of her evildoings, this witch was the first person sentenced to banishment through time. Her name was Nandana.”

Rumpus leapt from Sarah’s lap, scampered to the door of the hut, and barked into the night.

“Fascinating, my dear boy,” Spex said, tapping his fingertips together. “The two names are similar, Nandana, Ananda.And your legend would shed light on Ananda Abbott’s murky past. Difficult to prove though, Quinn Braxt, difficult indeed.”

Sarah’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly, like a fish underwater. She looked at her mother’s gentle smile in the old photograph. Victoria Abbott. Spex’s story was a whirlwind of dizzying information. Levvy wrote a final sentence in her notebook and slapped it closed. She removed her orange toque. Wisps of her thin hair sprang up, charged by static electricity. She tucked her yellow pencil behind her ear.

“Okay, so how is this story connected to Tony running away with Milton?” Levvy asked.

“Simple,” said Spex. “Harpminster Abbott is, at this very moment, on Wailsmouth Street.”

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