There are eccentrics and then there are eccentrics.
Some, such as Amos Handy, make a wonder out of being curmudgeonly. Mostly they just like to play at the appearance of gruff and strange because it keeps silly people at bay.
But others, such as Warren Eaton, don the trappings of eccentricity because they feel it gives them permission to be annoying and irritating.
As Carding’s town manager, Paula Bouton has to restrain herself from making loud eye rolls whenever Warren appears in the town offices.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. And you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.
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Carding’s town manager, Paula Bouton, sighed as she flipped over her daily calendar page. It was just a week until the first day of spring and like everyone else in town, she was straining for the new season to begin.
There were reports of the annual arrival of redwing blackbirds up in the marshy area of Half Moon Lake, and Andy Cooper had seen a Canada goose swimming in one of the quiet curves of the river.
The birds were a sure sign of the change to come.
Even though she’d never tell anyone, Paula also checked the phase of the moon. Nearly full.
It had been a relatively easy winter but the combination of a full moon with the imminent arrival of spring often made for outbreaks of fevered behavior around town, and she liked to be prepared.
Next was the morning police report, usually a good indication of how her day was going to go. It was pretty light. The pesky goat named Houdini owned by the Tennysons had been found wandering the green with his harem in tow. A couple of high schoolers had had to have their car pulled from the mud that had puddled in one of the town’s more popular make-out spots.
“Happens every year,” Paula said, shaking her head.
She also noticed that Horace McQueeth had made his annual in-drag-stroll down Meetinghouse Road at midnight which, of course, meant that the owner of the Carding Inn had made his annual complaint about McQueeth’s indecent behavior.
Paula smiled. She liked Horace. “I wonder what he wore this year,” she thought.
Just then, a sharp rap on her door made her head snap up. “Come in.”
Her smile faded as her guest stepped over the threshold. “Miss Bouton, I know you’re not busy,” Warren Eaton said.
“What can I do for you, Warren?” she asked.
“I want to reserve the community meeting room for this Saturday,” the stocky man said. Somehow, Warren always reminded her of a boxing promoter with a questionable reputation.
“What’s the meeting about?” Paula asked as she pulled up the community room’s scheduling spreadsheet on her computer. Warren Eaton nodded to himself. He had known she was going to say that.
“It’s for the King of Cups Society,” he said, his voice radiating importance.
Paula stared at him in silence. As Carding’s town manager, she’d been on the receiving end of a number of strange requests but this one was…well…strange even for Warren Eaton.
She smiled. “Um, Mr. Eaton, I think I need you to tell me a bit more about this society of yours,” she said.
Ever since Paula took on the job of administering her hometown’s business affairs, Warren Eaton had been a constant thorn in her side. Every year at town meeting, he stood up to represent “the hundreds of oppressed taxpayers in Carding,” a platform that gave him the opportunity to suggest enormous cuts to the town budget.
And every year, he was the only one who voted in favor of them.
Last summer, he’d formed a group to protest mowing the grass in the town’s seven cemeteries on the grounds that the dead didn’t know any better so why waste the money. The five members of the group sprawled among the graves for hours until the sun set and the damp soaked through their clothes.
Then they dissipated like dew in the morning, never to be heard from again.
Warren regularly brought lists of books he wanted banned to the local librarian, and his outrageous opinions concerning alien life forms had become such a nuisance in the Crow Town Bakery, Stephen and Diana Bennett had barred him for life.
“Oh, it’s not my society. No, no, no,” Warren said. “The King of Cups Society is international in scope. It’s important, you know, very important.”
Over Warren’s shoulder, Paula spotted librarian Jane Twitchell walking down the hall, and silently begged her to look into her office. At first, Jane slid right by but Paula’s prayer must have hit the right deity’s desk because in the next moment, one of Jane’s bright eyes peeped around the corner.
“You still have not answered my question, Mr. Eaton,” Paula said, raising her voice just a wee bit. “What is this meeting for?” Jane nodded, and her head disappeared.
“Do you think she’s going to call the police?” Warren asked.
“Pardon me?” Paula said.
“Oh come on,” Warren said. “I know that Jane Twitchell just spotted me in here then scurried off. Last time, she called the police to have me removed. There’s no need for alarm, you know.” He dug a rather grubby brochure from one of his jacket pockets, cleared his throat with a thunderous “Ahem,” and began to read aloud.
“The King of Cups Society is dedicated to unmasking the false practitioners of psychometry, telepathy (especially in communication with the deceased), clairvoyance, and clairsentience,” he said.
His reading now complete, Warren refolded the brochure with all the smug attentiveness of someone sure of his superiority and put it back it in his pocket.
“Clairsentience?” Paula asked.
“Yes, that is the psychic reading of emotional states,” Warren said. Then his body stiffened, and he held out a hand toward Paula, its fingers spread wide apart like a raptor’s claw. “Ah, ah,” he growled with his eyes closed. “I see that you don’t believe me.”
Paula laughed silently, imagining how this story would grow when she retold it. “Mr. Eaton, I think one look at my face with your eyes open would tell you what my emotional state is,” she said. “Now, are you going to tell me what this is all about so that I can get on with the rest of my day?”
Warren drew himself up, his mouth pinched in disapproval, his eyebrows making a square knot in the center of his forehead. “For your information, we have invited a renowned author to visit us here in Carding. We’ll be in the news, and I hope, for your sake, that the media looks favorably on you,” he said.
“Yeah, who’s the author?”
“Arianna Terra,” Warren said, drawing out the syllables with a flourish. He pulled a worn book from his jacket pocket, and held it up for Paula to see. “Miss Terra is the author of Discover Your Psychic Intuition, as I am sure you know, the most important book on the subject ever written. She’s on Amazon. She’s famous.”
Paula tilted her head back to study the plaster on her office ceiling. It did seem a bit yellow to her. Maybe a paint job would be in order for the whole community center. She’d have to look into that.
“Warren, if you represent an organization that doesn’t believe in psychic anything, why would you invite an author who does to one of your meetings?” she asked. “Isn’t that a little like inviting an evangelist to an atheists’ picnic?”
Warren stepped back as if slapped. “It is no such thing,” he huffed. “We have simply invited her here to disprove what she says because that is what we do.”
“Does she know that?” Paula asked. Then she slapped her forehead with her open hand. “Oh, of course she does. She’s a psychic, right?”
Just then, Jane Twitchell appeared in the open doorway with one of Carding’s police officers by her side. “Hi, Mr. Eaton,” he said.
Warren flinched a little but did not move from his spot. “So, how about it? Do we get the meeting room for this Saturday?”
Paula raised an eyebrow. “How many people are you expecting?” she asked, her hands poised over the keyboard.
“Well, I…uh…don’t know exactly,” Warren said.
“Is it free and open to the public?” Paula asked. “If it isn’t, I’ll have to charge you for using the space. But you knew that, didn’t you?”
Warren deflated, and pushed the book back into its hiding place. Then he looked at Jane and the smiling police officer. “Arianna will be so disappointed,” he said as he turned to go.
“But she already knew that,” Paula whispered as she leaned back in her chair with a sigh.
Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.
Thanks for stopping by.