Houses do not usually talk. Veronica knew this. She jumped out of the buggy again, looked back to the house hidden in the darkness and listened. Nothing. Just the wind. Veronica was about to get back into the buggy when she heard it again.
It was not the wind. It was a voice.
'Help me. Please. I can hear you out there,' the voice called again from the house.
'Hallo?' Veronica called in reply. 'Is anyone there?'
'Over here,' returned the voice. 'The house. Inside the house.'
Veronica looked into the luggage space of the buggy and pulled out a portable electric lamp. She switched it on and a faint glow lit ahead of her while around her the shadows became a little larger, a little more threatening. Veronica hesitated and then walked to the house.
Veronica did not need to open the door as there was no door, holes where windows once were. As Veronica wandered inside she saw no signs of anyone staying there. No furniture. No food. No clothes. She walked from room to room. 'Hallo?' she called nervously. There was a dull noise and then the voice again. 'In here, the other room.' Veronica went into the next room.
'In here,' the voice said a little louder this time. 'The fireplace.'
Veronica looked to the fireplace in the back of the room. Something was in there. She moved the lamp closer. Boots. Boots in the fireplace, not touching the ground but hanging down.
'I am in here. I am stuck' The voice said. The boots wiggled. 'I thought i was to be here all night.'
'Is there...' Veronica asked not quite sure how to speak the question. 'Is there, the more of you up there?'
'More of me?' the voice responded. 'What do you mean?'
'I mean,' Veronica explained nervously. 'Do you have a body or only feet?'
The voice was silent a moment. 'Err... how would i speak?'
'Good point,' Veronica said. 'Hmm... how are you?'
'I am not so good. I am stuck. Can you help me? Pull me down?'
'Okay.. what do i do?'
'Pull my feet. Pull strongly.'
Veronica put the lamp onto the floor and carefully moved closer. She took hold of the boots. Finding they had spikey bumps on them, she moved her hands to get the grip.
'Now pull,' the voice said. Veronica pulled and fell backwards with a cloud of dust, she coughed and looked at the boots in her hands.
'Hmmm... okay... let us try again.' The voice said. 'They are clean, i wash them everyday.'
Veronica put the boots onto the floor and went back to the now bootless feet. She grabbed them. The voice laughed. 'Sorry, ticklish'. Veronica pulled. More dust fell down. She pulled again. Suddenly she backwards and someone else fell from the chimney. Together they coughed, waving away dust until the air was clear.
Veronica sat looking at a man in front of her in the dim light of the electric lamp. He seemed to be Chota by the hairstyle although he was a little different with a red coat and big white beard, and not so muskulös as other Chota, too many Chotaburgers probably.
'Thank you,' the man said. 'Thank you so much. I am Claws, from Warhall. You are...?'
'Veronica,' she replied staring at the man. 'Are you a chimney cleaner?'
The man laughed and replied in a strange voice 'Cream of the crop, tip of the top, it's Mary Poppins and there we stop!'
'What do you mean?' Veronica asked confused.
'Mary Poppins? From the.. nevermind. Just a little fun to help the medicine go down.' The man noticed Veronica was staring at him strangely. 'Is everything okay?'
'Is there string tied to your beard?'
'What?' the man responded puzzled before understanding. 'Oh this? It is a false beard.' He pulled the beard down below his chin.
Veronica continued to stare. 'Why do you have a false beard?'
'Part of the costume,' Claws said standing and putting his boots back onto his feet. He unbutton the coat and removed a Cushion tied around the stomach. 'Perhaps next time, i wear this after the chimney.'
Veronica continued to stare. 'But...but why not enter the doorway?'
Claws nodded. 'Yes, that is a good question,' he said. 'But i wanted to practise because soon i deliver presents to the Orphanage and... well... i have a reputation to protect in Warhall. You understand. And it is almost a year since my last chimney. My friend Slay told me about this empty house. Good place for the rehersal.'
Veronica nodded in apparent understanding. 'Not really,' she said.
'I am very grateful to you Veronica. Can i drive you to anywhere? I parked behind the house.'
'Hmm.. i have my buggy. I stopped to change the battery. I heard the house, i mean you, talk.'
'I am glad you stopped Veronica. Really. Thank you.'
They left the house and said good byes. Veronica walked back to her buggy. Claws walked behind the house and soon after left in a cart pulled by Blightwolf. He waved to Veronica as he left. Veronica waved back. Was that bells she heard? What a strange man. Something fell into her hair, she pulled something white from the hair. More fell. Snow. It was snowing! She looked up and laughed as flakes of snow fell onto her, dancing in the light of the lamp. She squealed with delight.
As the ash fell, blown by the wind from the devastated lands nearby, Veronica laughed happy that in all the violence and hatred of the world, some say is fallen, there was still delight.