The silver-haired gentleman casually browsed the diner menu, his lips silently moving as he struggled choosing between phantom pecan waffles and cockatrice eggs, scrambled. “What are you having?” the stranger asked the bearded fellow beside him.
“Hm! Eggs today, I think!” the other guest replied heartily, offering a hand to shake. “Sourdough, mayor of Peyroux. You are new in town, yah? Breakfast is on me, and if you have the time, I can give you a tour of the village!”
Softly, “I have the time,” the stranger replied, shaking the mayor’s offered hand. “Applegate, Oliver. Call me Oil.”
A week passed, each day seeing Oil and Sourdough sharing a meal or “accidentally running into” each other on the streets of Peyroux or the areas just outside. On a gloomy Wednesday morning, while hiding from a storm in Donut Be Afraid, the two sat drinking coffee. “The Paws stole — sorry, let me get this right here,” Sourdough asked, fumbling through the immensity of the story, “The Purple Paw Thievery stole your entire hardware store?”
“Yes,” Oliver said with an affected grump, looking up and over to another table. Happily, innocently, a purple-pawed rabbit waved merrily hello. Despite himself, Oliver couldn’t help but smile at the adorable rabbit and waved back.
“How do you steal a store?” Sourdough asked in exasperation. “I know the Paws are talented, but my word.”
“You start with taking a hammer and then you take the nails and then you just follow your heart,” Oliver explained with a vague hand gesture, miming the removal of boards. Sourdough laughed merrily.
Neither Sourdough nor Oliver knew a Purple Paw operative had, while they were talking, taken three donuts from their “to go” order.
But the rabbit didn’t know the baker had slipped the two gentlemen five extra, having seen the rabbits enter the shop and predicted what would happen.
And what the baker didn’t know was the reason she always had at least enough snail slime, a difficult ingredient to acquire, was because the Paws secretly and regularly restocked her pantry.
“You’ve a bit of chocolate on your nose,” Sourdough told Oil. “May I?”
“Yes, and I’ll get the crumbs from your beard, my mess,” Oliver replied gently with an affectionate smile.
By the end of the season, Oliver A. Applegate registered a mailbox with the Netherworld Post Office, having taken a mausoleum in the Crepuscular Cemetery. He hadn’t planned on staying in Peyroux, but by all rights hadn’t made much of a plan in general. He took the loss of his store in stride, seeing it, and a recently acquired purple bag of gold he found in the rubble, as a sign it was time to travel a bit.
Every evening, Oliver stood at the edge of Autumn’s Lost Wood and nailed a letter to a post.
His hammer had “mysteriously” turned up on his doorstep on his second day in Peyroux. While the Paws denied the reparation, the handle smelled faintly of carrot oil.
The letter, so posted, detailed the progress of various construction projects Oliver was currently engaged in: making windows creak more, loosening floor boards so they’d squeak, refurnishing stair cases to squeal in protest with the wooden voices of the ill maintained as they were trod upon. He was happy for the work.
Oliver never lacked materials. Tools and other supplies showed up at the job site or his door at the grave, courtesy of the Purple Paws. Nor did he lack in customers. Declining to reopen his shop, Oil contented himself with an endless supply of odd jobs from odd customers. The haunted village had much to offer and he was happy to stay.
“Hullo, apple peel,” Mayor Sourdough hollered as he flapped small bat wings, flying up a few floors to avoid the rotten support beams and other derbies in the haunted house’s remodeling.
Oliver turned from the black mud mortar and broken bricks he was installing and smiled at his new boyfriend. “Hello my sourest dough,” he replied with a kiss. “Time for lunch is it?”