The 7 Rings of Miss Mari Procter

One dreary October night, a man enters a small town on the east coast of Scotland. The town itself is really nothing more than a few dozen buildings. Who he is and what he finds there is another story.

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1. One

     It was a ghastly sort of night to be traveling. Alas, there I was, sitting in that wretched cab as the wind howled, bringing a bitter cold with it. I leaned forward, held dearly onto my cap, and asked the driver, a large, gruff man, "Almost there, good sir?"

     "Keep yer wig on! How many times do I have to say that it'll just be a few more minutes?"

     "Sorry. Just want to get there in case this storm gets any worse," I apologized.

     As the driver promised, we reached the town of Faltyre before too long. "This is supposed to be my holiday," I muttered, paying the driver and huddling against the wind. "A holiday, if you can believe that. Why Scotland? Beats me." I peered up at the windows of the surrounding buildings, looking for some sign of an inn. They were all bright, the yellow lamplight contrasting the ominous skies. Inside one of the residences, a dozen or so men were crowded around a table, clearly celebrating, while a woman's silhouette paced next door. Nothing looked like a place to spend the night, however, so I kept moving.

     After tramping down a few more narrow streets, I decided to give up and turned down a lane that seemed more an alley. All the windows were dark. Cursing, I turned away, but out of the corner of my eye, one light flickered on in the distance. I ran for it quick as I could; perhaps it held a person in its luminous embrace.

     "Hello? Is anyone there?" I shouted from the muddy road.

     A small voice from inside: "Is there someone oot there?" It was that of a child.

     "Yes, right down here. Can you see me?" I pulled off my cap and wrung it out.

     "Aye, ah can. What are ye doing down there?" They came up to the frosted windowpane, where I could see that it was a small girl.

     "Well, I've just arrived here, but I can't find a place to stay."

     "I'm sure ye could stay here if ye'd like," she offered. "Dae ye want me to ask ma auntie?"

     "Well, if it isn't too much trouble..." She dashed away before I could get another word in. I sighed. Was this what I'd come to? Asking a child in order to spend the night. Rocking back and forth on my heels, I kept my watch on the window above, hoping a reply would come soon.

     The rain had started coming down even harder- if that was possible- by the time she came back. "Auntie's comin' down!" Her face glowed with her smile, and she ran back out of the room, assumedly to come meet me.

     A door opened, and the girl ran out, coming out into the storm and hugging me around my thigh. "Ah knew Auntie would agree," she confided in me, still grinning.

     "Thank you, ma'am," I nodded in the direction of the older woman, who hadn't come out into the downpour, but stood instead in the contrastively bright foyer.

     "Oh, do come in, please. It seems Aggie's made a new friend." She smiled and led us inside, finally out of the rain.

     "Aye, come on! I'm gonnae show ye around." Aggie released my leg only to yank on my arm. I let her drag me like an oversized doll up the staircase and into her bedroom. It seemed mainly unfurnished, with a lonely chair sitting in the corner and a small bed shoved into the other. Still, she looked very proud of it, pulling out each of her toys from under the bed and introducing them to me. Soon, though, her aunt came to collect me. As I followed her out into the corridor, there was one question on my mind.

     "I hope you don't mind my asking, ma'am, but are you not Scottish?"

     "Oh, no, I'm very much English. When Aggie's father passed, I moved here to help the poor child, bless her soul. Where are you from, then?" She looked at me, her translucent skin shining in the candlelight.

     "Newcastle upon Tyne, born and raised. I must thank you again for letting me stay here. Is there anything I could do in return?"

     "You could help me around the house or watch over Aggie, I suppose. You won't be starting in the morning, though. You've got to check in tomorrow before she realizes you've come in."

     I looked at her in a state of confusion. "I'm not following you, ma'am. Who is 'she'?"

     "Oh, don't worry. You'll meet her tomorrow, first thing in the morning, that's for sure. Now, if you don't mind, I've to get Aggie into bed. There's a spare room at the end of the hall on the left. If you need anything, just come ask!"

With that, she pushed Aggie's door back open, leaving me to wonder what the morning had in store.

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