Update: This story was turned into a screenplay and performed live on JoCo Cruise 2020!!!
Mrs. Dashwood, having seldom slept the previous three nights, knocked softly. Her slender fingers fidgeted with the hem of her skirt in anticipation of hearing her daughter’s voice. Love is about the details. Somewhere on the rim of her consciousness, a frail voice chirped “Please enter.” Unable to wait for Elinor any longer, she inhaled deeply and turned the doorknob.
She had thought it wise to postpone the news concerning Colonel Brandon’s proposal until the color returned to Marianne’s pallid forehead, but her daughter appeared to be recovering gradually enough. It was now around mid-morning; the sunlight crept cautiously around the windowpane. The exhaustion in Marianne’s eyes transitioned into light as she gazed upon her mother. She longed to cast off her confinement, rid the bedsheets engulfing her—but how could she summon the strength to stand?
Mrs. Dashwood exhaled, gifting her with a tiny smile. “Marianne. It pleases me to see you well.”
“Your companionship pleases me, Mama,” she replied. “I beg of you: how fares Elinor? I have sorely missed her as of late. Has she visited my chambers?”
“She has, my dear. She mentioned to me that your illness had rendered you rather languid, and that you would most likely fail to recall your conversation. I expect her to arrive any moment now.”
The mother paused, hesitant to proceed. Before she could conjure up the next thought, Mrs. Jennings burst stridently into the room, bellowing helpfully at a rapid clip.
“You poor thing!”, she shouted. “It has grieved me so to witness your recent state! Some days it seems as if only The Lord’s most sacr—”
“My goodness!”, the genteel gossip gulped, unaccustomed to calls for execution in such close proximity to The Lord’s name.
A bewildered and slightly irritated furrow plowed past Mrs. Dashwood’s lip. “Are you quite well, Mrs. Jennings?”
“But…but that noise came not from me!”, her companion protested, her robust timbre reduced to a songbird’s chirp. A bony, shaking finger snagged the room’s attention and aimed it at—whatever was rolling towards them.
The gleaming bucket whirred menacingly across the floor. Large turquoise spheres adorned every visible side of its stretched golden dome. Approximately five feet tall, it appeared to have two hands, both of which oscillated with abandon. “A kitchen utensil and some manner of…cleaning contraption?”, Mrs. Dashwood beamed. “What a marvelous appliance!”
“WHO DARES CALL US ‘CONTRAPTION’? WE ARE DAL-EKS!”, the bucket thundered, though it was clearly the sole representative of its species currently in Marianne’s chambers. “WE HAVE EVIDENCE YOU ARE HARBORING THE DOK-TOR! THE DOK-TOR IS AN ENEMY OF THE DAL-EKS! SURRENDER OR WE SHALL EX-TER-MIN-ATE!”
“Bucket, you obviously have an agenda of some urgency to complete, and I respect that,” Marianne started, her shocked features morphing into an irate scowl. “But as we stand in my bedchamber and I am nursing a somewhat delicate constitution at the moment, your visit is most irregular.”
“Marianne! My apologies, Mr. Bucket. My daughter seems to have misplaced her tact.”
“What? Mama, surely do you not believe this intrusion appropriate? Perhaps Fanny might welcome the opportunity to entertain our guest?”
“Of course I am not sanctioning extermination of any sort on the grounds. And I understand, my dear, the newfound weight your heart carries—but even at our most destitute, we shall not forsake our good name and desert our manners. Anticipated or not, the rasping bucket is company, and yet I did not hear you offer it a parting snack!”
“A…a parting…what? It’s a machine, Mama! Unless Lucy’s palate has undergone a significant shift since yesterday, the kitchen’s supply of factory grease remains somewhat lacking!”
“ACTUALLY, YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED TO DISCOVER HOW MANY COMMON HOUSEHOLD FOODSTUFFS CONTAIN THE MOST DELECTABLE ADDITIVE IN THE GREASE FAMILY,” the metal dome screeched. “WE PREFER BLAZIN’ BUFFALO RANCH FLAVOR, BUT FRIED PICKLES WITH RANCH IS ALSO MOS—”
“Oh, I can conceal the truth no longer!”, Mrs. Jennings exclaimed, her expression distorted with agitation. “I witnessed your Doctor moseying about the property, Mr. Dalek! I attempted to approach, but they were intensely admonishing a cricket mallet. Perhaps you might consider trying the courtyard.”
“Hold on a moment. Just—”
“DOK-TORRRRRR!”, the Dalek gleefully shrieked and sprinted for the doorway with such haste that Marianne wondered if one could commit murder purely through volume. In seconds, the machine’s strange grinding drone melody played its dying, faded note.
“Well,” Mrs. Jennings huffed as she rose from her chair, still perturbed that the visitor interrupted her romance commentary and never invited her to resume it. “I believe I’ve enjoyed enough excitement for one afternoon. Young people these days.” She flashed a reassuring smile, placing one hand gingerly on Marianne’s shoulder. “It nearly escaped me in all the hubbub: I wanted to congratulate you, dear! Your heart shall prove a perfect match for his. I shall plan on returning after you have discussed the matter with your mother thoroughly. Well done!”
“Mama, what matter does she speak of?”, Marianne asked, discarding her blankets with mysterious and sudden agility. “And how came I not aware of it?”
“Marianne, my love, you know that nothing is more paramount to me than your happiness. I would suggest, though, that the perhaps the matter of the homicidal mechanical man shaped like an enormous pepper container should take prec—”
“Mama.” A withering glare that might’ve melted the Dalek. The elder Dashwood considered her options.
“Marianne, my love”, Mrs. Dashwood said, her voice rising marginally. “Despite today’s bafflements, a wondrous thing has happened! Since settling in Devonshire, I always assumed that he might select Elinor, but indeed it was you who has won his affection!”
“Colonel Brandon has professed his love for you, my dear! I have heard his declarations myself!”
Marianne’s eyelids snapped shut. The unflattering words she had spoken months ago about the Colonel surfaced almost instantly, mocking her: Add to which that he has neither genius, taste, nor spirit. That his understanding has no brilliancy, his feelings no ardor, and his voice no expression.
“When did this dreadful meeting occur?” she gasped.
“Hush, Marianne! You forget yourself, child. I believe the Colonel to be a man of most excellent character, and your union with him shall breed true happiness for our family,” her mother insisted, seemingly oblivious to her daughter’s moans of disgust. Colonel Brandon’s substantial wealth would provide for Marianne’s every whim. Moreover, Mrs. Dashwood had conducted a comprehensive evaluation and concluded that the man’s mind was noble, his heart unselfish, and his manner sincere. That Marianne would eventually fall victim to the Colonel’s love and cherishment was not in dispute, even as her daughter seethed with such despair that she was struggling to enunciate.
“Mama, I am sure that Colonel Brandon is an exceedingly honorable man, but his qualities are much better suited to Elinor’s disposition than to my own,” Marianne pleaded, her voice climbing to a noticeably-higher pitch.“And she is very practical, my sister. Will his eyes be as blind to her as they were open to me?”
Her mother swallowed a brief bout of chortling. “Brandon looked upon her, beloved, but he has loved you since the first day we arrived. As I accompanied him on his return to—”
“Uh, hey. Sorry. You ladies recording?” A grizzly man wearing tinted spectacles in a rose frame, a plaid shirt, and what appeared to be exceedingly unfashionable trousers loomed in the doorway, a battle-ready tankard weighing down one hand and a rumpled bag in the other, from which oddly-shaped, crunchy snacks emanated. “Mama? What is a…Cheetos Puff?”, Marianne whispered loudly.
“Not exactly the most pertinent question for this particular moment, dear.”
“Kick-tuchus cosplay, both of you,” the bearded man grinned. “I designed a mashup between a CIA agent and a keytar, but those chocolate mimosas at the Irritable Goose Inn punch HARD, so I just went with ‘Weekend Handydad” myself. Anyway, I’m in the middle of a tuning emergency here. If you can direct me to some piano wire, a hot dog, a bit of neon gaffer tape, Goldeneye for the N64, and a trowel, I’ll be out of your hair.”
“What about my hair? Sir, your behavior is most inappropriate!” A ruddy blush silently blended into the younger Dashwood’s cheeks.
“I believe our guest is traveling, dear,” her mother cooed diplomatically. “Cheetos, hot dogs, gaffers, a Goldeneye…what peculiar curiosities can fold inside a shared dialect! Perhaps he is simply lost.” She studied the gentleman in front of her, noted the arched eyebrows and the mismatched garish socks. “You stand in our residence, sir. Have you an appointment?”
“An appointment?,” John Roderick repeated, the last syllable amplified by an aggressive Cheese Puff bite. “I’m just lookin’ for the can, to be honest. Have you ever tuned a piano to Open C? I’m pretty sure I can smell colors now. Instagram’s sends me a reminder to post every couple days, so I figured I’d play some of my old farfegnugen on an old-timey spinet, you know? I barely touched the thing.”
“Please. State your name. Sir.”
“Oh! John Roderick. Musician, former sluicebox mucker, three-time artisanal cupcake baker.” A flannelled arm waved into Mrs. Dashwood’s airspace. “And now piano technician. I doubt the con’ll take the repair costs out of my bill; they weren’t even organized enough to post any damn signage! I just believe in the value of being proactive about this shit. I’m starving. There’s one food vendor here, and when I asked about a chili-cheese dog, the lady—”
“It’s down the hall,” Mrs. Dashwood blurted out, pointing to the hallway while Marianne nodded enthusiastically. “Whatever it is you are searching for, I’m certain you shall discover it by meandering that way.”
“Cool. Thanks, nerds! You’re really going method. I respect that.” With a flourish, Roderick’s palms morphed into finger-pistols, which he discharged as he waltzed backwards out of Marianne’s room and hopefully, Mrs. Dashwood thought, towards a remote continent far from her shores. “Oh, and Elizabeth? You’re nailing that angst!,” they heard him holler from the end of the hall. “Knightley it up!”
“It’s unnatural.” Mrs. Dashwood’s attempt to remain composed felt increasing tattered, a delicacy for moths. “You must rest, darling. Whatever unfortunate twist of fortune has inspired this afternoon, I shall discover the matter.”
Marianne’s lips pursed, her eyebrows sharply cinching—her preferred attack position. “Mama, our concentration shifts too readily. There is a pressing matter of the utmost—”
“Yes, yes. Brandon. An adequate match you shall be content to tolerate eventually. Our ‘pressing matter,’ as you referred to it, is by what manner a mammoth murder-bucket and a mountain man speaking in tongues rendered us their unwilling audience!”
“Adequate?”, Marianne howled. “I, your beloved daughter, supposedly with the remainder of my years ahead of me, cursed to wed a man with a collection of flannel waistcoasts?”
A few rounded ice shards broke into her mother’s tone. “He has already received my consent, and gladly. I hardly think that you have enough knowledge of him to appropriately judge his character. What fault do you find in him?” Marianne studied the overlapping patterns on her quilt, gently teasing a thick strand of ornamental copper fray. Under her fingers, then over. Then halfway through the cycle and back. Repeat. “Well?”
And in a low, bashful voice, the abysmal words tumbled forth: “He is not Willoughby.”
Without announcement, Mrs. Dashwood’s frustration and anger ignited, the flames lapping at her daugher’s imagined tapestry. “I should hope not! Colonel Brandon holds you in a significantly higher regard than does that pathetic young man. Do you suppose summoning me during your darkest hours would have occurred to Willoughby?”
“Perhaps not, but are you saying that a sole oversight, one misstep, suggests a lack of value, Mama? That he is not worthy of my hand? ‘Tis untrue. I failed him.”
“Balderdash! It is he who failed you, Marianne!
Neither of them noticed Elinor hovering beside Mrs. Dashwood, too petrified to garner attention to herself. Meticulously wringing her hands, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Anxiety dilated her pupils as she imagined her younger sister relapsing. “Marianne.”
Marianne raised her head, startled. “Elinor. I am glad for your presence, but you might have revealed yourself.”
“Why should anyone begin that now?”, Mrs. Dashwood grumbled to herself.
“I thought it best to remain still. My dear sister, I understand that your heart may be adverse towards Colonel Brandon, but our mother’s words ring true. The Middletons have kept his companionship both long and well. He is quite a respectable fellow, and I must admit that your blatant dislike of him puzzles me.”
“And I might add”, remarked Mrs. Dashwood, “that well-stocked coffers weave dreams with as much skill as any fantastical sprite could.”
“Learning how to treasure his love would be a blissful experience,” said Elinor, with an expression suggesting that she could be convinced into believing the sentiment if necessary. “You love Willoughby still; that much is obvious. However, Marianne, the Colonel has pledged to be eternally faithful to you. In my estimation—and in the view held by all you love—he is more than capable of such. Willoughby is comely, yes, but beauty fades. One must consider the practical factors.” She brought her scarf to meet her eye and grimaced as she rubbed. “Am I falling ill? This room seems…stuffy.”
“Really, Elinor, there is no need to be unkind,” her sister hissed as she wiped her brow. Wait. Marianne frowned. She could sense a smoky aftertaste in the air that had materialized a moment ago. “Colonel Brandon’s, um…his wealth is not great enough to…buy my affections,” she retorted. Something seemed off. Was I uncomfortable to such a degree before Elinor entered?
“You have already deprived him of his dignity,” cried Elinor. “Can you not even—”
An ear-splitting roar sliced her thought in two, and the ground on which Barton College rested shook violently. Beautifully hand-crafted furniture snapped like twigs. The estate’s finest kitchenware crashed to the floor at an alarming speed. Precious jewelry suffered wound upon wound inside its protective boxes, strewn haphazardly into the ring of fire. Numerous rare volumes dove from the library’s shelves, leaving only a syrupy mess of pulp and ink behind.
Elinor approached the window.
“UNKNOWN CREATURE! YOU SHALL RECOGNIZE THE INHERANT SUPERORITY OF THE DAL-LEKS! WHERE IS THE DOK-TOR?!”
“Of course there’s a Dalek! You must be here for the filk circle, right? Hey, is there even, like, a vending machine at this con? I met some Brontë cosplayers earlier, and I don’t think they understood the hunger of Roderick.”
A blood-clotting scream in the distance.
“Elinor?”, Mrs. Dashwood whispered, not daring to lift her head. “What is it?”
“No one panic!”, a voice directly behind them boomed, far closer to their ears than necessary. A confused flurry of yelps and jumps from the three women tangled into itself. “I have returned and have the situation handled!”, Mrs. Jennings proudly proclaimed.
“You have the situation handled?”
Mrs. Jennings calmly strode into Marianne’s bedroom, surveyed the damage, and smiled at Elinor. “Ah. You might have chosen to sit, but you avoided my preferred chair in case I should visit. So thoughtful.” She sighed cheerfully. “The dragon offers its apologies for any unintentional property damage and would have words with Marianne.”
“It has amassed a rather sizable fortune, sir. Self-sufficient. Its estate is vast and not subject to property taxes. A skilled hunter, the dragon—”
“Are you absolutely barking mad?”
“Generally speaking, dragons possess excellent hearing ability, my dear,” said Mrs. Jennings. If she felt undaunted by Marianne’s lack of enthusiasm, she concealed it without a trace. “News of your disappointment with Colonel Brandon’s intentions traveled quickly.”
“I will not be wooed by a giant lizard!”
“Take care not to be dismissive, Marianne. You have not even been introduced yet. It’s single!”
Marianne fainted. It seemed like the most logical option.
When I’m not sure where to take a story, @jillwebb often says “Put a dragon in it.” This has not ever been a viable solution.
So this month, I decided to intentionally put a dragon in it.
The inclusion of the Daleks was suggested by @snarke.
Image: Illustration X