Certifiably Sensational Schemes
As Robin Roberts’ body lay unconscious on the ground of an alien world, his thoughts were drawn back to October 1880 in the days following his beloved Betsy’s demise. Betsy’s mother Bess tried to keep up with her teaching duties at the Lyon School, and Robin tried to help her as much as he could, but both he and Bess were devastated by the loss of their dear Betsy.
The normally good-natured Robin became unseasonably salty, ricocheting rockets both verbal and physical off of the bodies of peers who aggravated him. Following the Sugar Scandal, when Iona Williams coerced Timid Tom Tinker to accuse Robin of stealing a bag of sugar from the school pantry, Robin left school for good after threatening the pair that he’d break both of their knobby noses if he caught wind that either of them so much as uttered his name.
Robin decided to head for Piccadilly Square to try his hand at making money as a street performer. Being nimble and athletic, he could perform acrobatic routines and bring the money he earned home to help his mother and Bess. His mother wouldn’t mind him leaving school. Most of the time she was at the bottom of a bottle anyway.
Robin arrived home to find that his mother was out. He parceled some necessities into a knapsack and slung the bag over his shoulders. He supposed that it would be a cold night, but with any luck, he could find a shop that would allow him to sleep indoors in exchange for labor.
With a heavy heart, Robin closed the door to his home. He realized that there were numerous bad ends that could befall a boy on his own in London, but he didn’t much care. Nothing mattered without Betsy.
Robin walked along the path near the Bowes family orchard. Tears welled up in his eyes.
“My beloved Betsy Bowes with hair like honey and cheeks like a rose, I hope you will be mine for life, I dream of the day when I’ll make you my wife,” Robin recited, recalling the rhyme he always said as he approached Betsy’s home. “We’d ‘ave wed, Bets, I’ve no doubt. “’Ow can you be dead? I don’t want to be in this bloody world anymore, not without you.”
A chill ran up Robin’s spine as a terrible howl emanated from the woods. Robin supposed that there must be a wolf nearby, although the population had dwindled greatly in recent years. The unhappy lad formulated a plan to end his pain while preserving his dignity.
“I’ll sacrifice meself ter the wolf so’s ‘e won’t reach Betsy’s family’s farm and eat the sheeps and goats and ‘orses and all,” Robin vowed. “Then I’ll be wif me golden dove again and Mum will ‘ave the comfort of knowin’ that ‘er eedjit son died an ‘ero rather than just a sad bastard what didn’t wanna live in a world without love.”
The Little Boy with the Big Voice
Robin moved carefully through the foliage and branches to avoid tearing his coat or pants. The idea crossed his mind that perhaps the howler was a young wolf, and rather than being eaten by it, he could train it. His wolf would guard the Bowes family’s livestock rather than eating them, and he would feed it mutton chops and beef stew.
As Robin approached the creek, he spotted a small black boy wearing an oversized black coat and a floppy hat with bands of black, gold, and green sitting on the bank. The child threw back his head and gave a blood-curdling howl. Robin chuckled and clapped his hands.
“Oi, Mate!” Robin greeted. “Ya sound just loike a wolf. Ya 'ad me brahn bread ter rights! I thought for certain a wolf was after the goats, and I was comin' daahhhn 'ere ter scare the blighter away. What's your name, lad? I'm Robin Roberts.”
“Cleo Gaetano Pellé,” the little fellow replied with a melodic Caribbean accent.
“I’m quite well-chuffed ter make yer acquaintance, Cleo. Are yer parents about?”
The boy made a vague gesture towards the forest. Robin walked over to sit beside him.
“Me da left chicken pen I was just a wee nipper,” Robin revealed. “Daan't remember much abaht 'im except that 'e beat me mum. 'E gave me a solid kick ter the chuffin’ ribs once, and I stayed away from 'im after that. Mum does odd jobs, but she drinks up most of wot she makes. Wot does your family do?”
“Me guarding de forest,” Cleo replied.
“Yeah, that’s solid. Only ya daan't wanna be aahhht 'ere chicken pen it's dark. It turns Potatoes in the mould and there's wolves and even worse things.”
“Me liking your voice,” said the boy, touching Robin’s hand. “Though you sounding sad. Why you am sad, Robin Roberts?”
“'Eaven and 'ell, it wouldn't be wite ter scare a young geezer loike ya, so I'll just say that wahn of them worse things killed me golden dove Betsy.”
“Were it one of de buzzy ones?” Cleo inquired.
“Yeah! Did ya clock them? Betsy was murdered on October 12. She was buried two Sundays ago, on the bleedin' seventeenth. Blimey, that makes today Aw 'Allows Eve, innit?”
“De folks who keeps de old ways calls it Samhain.”
“Sewin’, yeah,” Robin repeated. “I fin' it was Betsy's nan 'oo told us that. Father Damien would just as soon we forgot that there was ever any ovver way except Christian, but I fin' it's important ter remember wot came before and aw. Do ya Scapa Fla ter school? Betsy’s mum teaches at the Lyon School.”
“De world am me school,” Cleo replied. “De forest and de trees, de moon, de sun, and de stars.”
Child of the Forest
“Butcher's, China Plate, I'm not tryin' ter intrude on your way of Porridge Knife or aahhht, but I am worried for ya bein' aahhht 'ere in the woods aw by yourself,” Robin said. “Ya can tell me the truf. Do ya even 'ave parents, or 're ya an orphan?”
“You not need to worry on me, Robin. Me safe and sound. But de hour growing late. Time for tea! You follow Cle, no worries.”
Robin followed Cleo through the woods. It was almost as if the foliage anticipated the boy’s arrival and moved aside for him. After a time, the pair arrived at a cave. There was a circle of stones surrounding ashes from a previous fire. A small cauldron hung from a hook suspended from the bar of a makeshift frame. A little pile of vegetables and apples lay against the wall.
“Me gon’ scare up some meat,” Cleo declared.
“Well, let me help ya, old currant bun,” Robin offered.
Cleo smiled as he twirled one stick into a hole made in another and quickly lit a fire.
“No need. Me quick sticks catch rabbits and forest chicks. You stay put, Robin Roberts. Cleo am friend to de woods, and de woods am friend to Cleo.”
The boy looked at the sky.
“Snow comin’,” he remarked. “Good t’ing you find me, Robin. We be safe an’ warm in dis cave.”
“Cer,” Robin agreed, not knowing why he allowed the little chap to go off hunting for game by himself. Robin grudgingly admitted that he wasn’t much of a hunter and the wild forest child might well be better at scaring up a meal than he would be.
“Reckon I’ll head fer Piccadilly Square tomorrow,” Robin decided, polishing an apple on his sleeve before biting into it. “The wee chap can come with me, why not? It's me considered opinion that 'e ain't got a family. Canny li’l' blighter. I wonder 'a long 'e's been aahhht 'ere? Better than bein' in an orphanage, I reckon. I’d not wish to go to an orphanage, that’s certain.”
The cave was warm and the sound of the wind blowing outside lulled Robin to sleep. He woke to the sight of Cleo deftly butchering a buck rabbit. The boy smiled at Robin, and in the light of the fire, he looked like a gnome or dwarf. Robin found himself wondering if he might not be in the presence of one of the Little People. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and asked if there was anything that he could do to help.
“Cut up some vegetable if you not mind,” Cleo replied.
Robin sliced the vegetables while Cleo finished butchering the rabbit. When the meat and vegetables were in the cauldron, Cleo reached into a small pouch and took out a pinch of powder, which he tossed into the stew.
While waiting for the stew to cook, Cleo brought a deck of cards from his knapsack. His perfect shuffle made a brisk riffling sound. He spread the cards out and brought them back into a stack with a deft motion of his hand.
“Be you a gamblin’ man, Robin Roberts?” the boy inquired.
“'Eaven and 'ell, the lovely ladies in me Betsy's family always said that gamblin' was a sin, but I reckon a fella 'as ter make Bread and Honey someha. Reckon cards 're as Robin Hood a way ter go as any. I daan't wanna take yer Bread and Honey though, old china. Seems loike you're in a tough spot loike me and aw.”
“Me not care for money,” Cleo said with a shrug. “Me got all me need here in de forest. Us play for wishes. What you gonna wish, Robin?”
“Mate, that could take till dawn’s early light ter explain. Anyways, what I want I can’t never ‘ave in this life.”
“Den perhaps what you need is not a game of chance but a look to de truth. I teach you to read de cards. Always people pay to know de truth.”
“Yer parents gypsies, Mate?” Robin wondered. “Would explain why I ain’t ever seen you around here before.”
“I ain’t got no mother,” the boy replied. “Me father am Chaos. Rather like you, Robin Roberts.”
“Yeah, rather,” Robin agreed. “Ya Bobby ya ain't a wizard or a bleedin' fortune tellin' midget 'oo looks loike a Saucepan Lid? You're the strangest li’l' Heap of Coke I ever met. Daan't take that bad. I loike ya a Hoppin' Pot. So, yeah, why daan't ya sha me 'a ter read the cards?”
“Wonderful!” Cleo praised. “Us eat; den read cards.”
“I’ve a tin cup and a spoon in me knapsack,” Robin offered.
“Me have wooden spoon and bowl,” Cleo stated with a grin, presenting his place setting.
“These are splendid, Mate,” Robin praised. “Where did ya get ‘em?”
“Me carve ‘em,” Cleo replied.
“Crikey! Is there anythin’ ya can’t do? Yer gonna ‘ave ter show me ‘ow it’s done! Can I confess summit ter ya, old Fruit Gum? Chicken pen I 'eard ya 'owlin', I came into the woods 'cause I rather 'oped ter be eaten by a wolf. But because of you, I wanna live. I 'ope you'll come ter Piccadilly Square wif me. You're smart as a whip. We can make a Robin Hood livin' together.”
“Me glad you not want to be eated by wolf no more, Robin Roberts,” Cleo said as he stirred the stew. “Look here, ever t’ing come together so nice!”
“It smells splendid!” Robin praised. “A feast fit for kings, what?”
“De kings of de castle,” Cleo agreed, gesturing towards the cave walls.
The stew was the best that Robin had ever tasted, and he greatly enjoyed the conversation with his precocious companion. Cleo made Robin glad to be alive although he dearly missed Betsy. The cave seemed alive as the brightest moon Robin had ever seen shone through the clouds, its light passing through the falling snowflakes, causing rainbow flecks to dance along the walls.
“After Betsy was taken, I hated the moon,” Robin confessed. “I daan't kna if I was so much afraid of it as angry wif it for lettin' that buzzy blighter take Betsy from me. Cleo, old china, I lurve ya loike a brovver. Ya and me daan't need ter be Jack Jones in this world. Betsy's family, they'll give ya a ‘ome. They won't care abaht the bloomin' color of your skin. They’re loike me. They kna inside we're aw the same. They need our 'elp, old Currant Bun. Ya and me, we can do pearly gate things together.”
The little boy scribbled intently on a notepad. He smiled and touched Robin’s cheek, his dark eyes glimmering in the firelight.
“Me gotta leave, Robin Roberts,” he said. “Me see you again, but me not be how you know me now. You be safe here till morning. Me write answers for your fortune and me leave you de special cards. You close eyes now and dream sweet dream. You find self wit’ Betsy again sooner and later dan you know. Time be strange and ain’t nothin’ ever simple as it seem. Always dare be undertow. Me see you around, Brother Robin.”
Robin found himself unable to speak or move. He watched as Cleo strode from the cave, growing taller with each step. The boy shed his human form, becoming a towering monstrosity, first as big as a building, then as big as one of the surrounding hills. The alien opened the mouth on the top of its head and gave an unearthly howl, unfurling its long red tongue to the sky.
“Mate, please, I beg you, don’t eat the stars!” Robin cried.
The enormous beast rose into the sky. When he could see it no longer, Robin retreated to the warm belly of the cave. The snow continued to fall softly as he drifted off to sleep, wondering if the whole thing had been a dream. He wondered if the cave itself was real. Perhaps he was lying in a ditch on the side of the road. Perhaps the cave would become his tomb. He wished that he could see Betsy and tell her about his strange adventure.
The moon shone brighter and brighter, growing until it filled the entire sky. Robin was startled to find himself shivering as the sun engulfed the world. He was much too hot, but when the sun swallowed the Earth, its flames didn’t hurt as he supposed they ought. Robin opened his arms and welcomed his fate.
“I’ll be wif ya soon, Betsy,” he resolved. “It’s all ended in fire, but it ain’t painful. I ain’t afraid, me dear, me darlin’, me bright, briny marlin. I’ll be in yer arms as soon as I can, ‘cause Robin Roberts is always yer man.”
Twin Flames Forever
“Robin, wake up, please.”
Robin awoke on the warm soft ground of a planet engineered for the comfort of the human spirits residing there. Three moons glowed in subtle shades of green and blue in the alien sky. He looked into the loving face of the spectral Betsy at a stage of maturity she’d never been allowed to reach in her lifetime. He reached for her and saw that his hand was a gray-green claw.
Robin looked around him, seeing several human-sized fleshy pink insectoid crustaceans with small, batlike wings and rugose heads resembling exposed brains. The beings showed no signs of malevolence. One offered Robin a beaker of green fluid that smelled like minerals and mint.
“Right, so I’m ‘ere and not back there,” Robin surmised as he sat up and accepted the beverage. “I thank you, Guv. I’m arite now. Bit of a shock is aw. Now, I reckon you hoppin’ pot ‘ave been pickin’ me John Wayne while I was ‘avin’ me cat nap. You can sit yer collective arses down if yer wanna hear the rest of the tale straight from the ‘orse’s norf and south.”
The Mi-Gos gathered around as Robin related his story.
“Betsy’s brovver Dexter and Uncle Andy found me in the bleedin' cave while searchin' for goats that 'ad strayed away durin' the bloomin' storm. I was delirious wif Robinson And Cleaver. Chicken pen I came aahhht of it, the bloody Damien Hirst fin' I asked was if they'd Pearly Queen the monster that tried ter eat the Groovy Bars.
“Of course, nobody Bear's Paw aahhht of the loike. I asked if they knew of a li’l' black gypsy Rob Roy 'oo roamed the woods. They said I dreamed the whole fin'. I kna na that this was me Damien Hirst Buster Keaton wif Nyarlathotep. Sparked me ter start studyin' eldritch magic, and that led ter me becomin' a ghoul. Maybe it all serves that blighter Nyarlathotep someha, but I ain't a Bullock's Horn in 'is game.
“We need ter find Johnny and the others so’s we can find that magic Rosy Lee an’ open the third lock on the Three Lock Box. It’s my understandin’ that the one of you hoppin’ pot what goes by the ‘andle of A Fungus from Yuggoth wishes ter offer ‘is assistance. Well, I say let’s get the dough on the toad. I’m blimey well rested and ready ter fight.”
Nyarlathotep is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft, initially appearing in his 1920 story of the same name. The Howler in the Dark manifestation of Nyarlathotep is the creation of Richard Tierney, appearing in his story of the same name, first publication Crypt of Cthulhu No. 24, Lammas, 1984.
The Mi-Go or Fungi from Yuggoth are the creations of H.P. Lovecraft, appearing in his 1929 sonnet “Fungi from Yuggoth” and in his 1931 story, “The Shadow Out of Time.”
The concept of the Three-Lock Box was inspired by the 1982 Sammy Hagar song of the same name.