A Very Neovian Election: Part Five
Thumburt got up and dressed himself late in the afternoon. The polls would have opened at nine, sharp, no doubt... but Thumburt couldn’t face them.
The way they’d all been so behind Desmond... Thumburt didn’t think he had a chance.
A sudden thought brightened his mood.
There were still the zombies and the gravestones, probably a few of the haunted trees as well. They would also surely vote for him. Maybe he still had a chance.
Hurriedly dressing himself, he descended from his private lodgings in the upper levels of the town hall.
The lobby below had been converted into a polling station, with rows upon rows of curtains for townspeople to do their voting behind in complete secrecy.
Here, like the previous night, the people stood with expressionless faces. They waited in line under complete silence.
At the top of the stairs, the Crumpetmonger and Desmond stood overlooking democracy in action.
“Ah, here he is, the loser!” the Crumpetmonger called mockingly.
“Don’t you have a bakery to run?” Thumburt snapped.
“Having the day off on account of the festivities,” she said smugly. “Desmond finished off the last batch of pastries early this morning, and they sold like hot cakes. Well, some of them were hot cakes, but you understand what I mean.”
“Good luck,” Desmond said distantly to the Mayor.
“How do you do that?” Thumburt asked.
“Do what?” Desmond replied.
“That thing with your voice,” Thumburt explained. “The lobby doesn’t have good acoustics even when it’s empty, but with all this stuff in here your voice echoes.”
“I can throw my voice,” Desmond said flatly.
“Any advice for the winner?” the Crumpetmonger asked, clearly enjoying the experience of mocking the Mayor too much to let it go.
“Yes,” Thumburt replied as he walked down the stairs. “Some advice I was recently given. Never lose your sausage roll, or all Neovia will have left is open topped sandwiches.”
Confident that he’d left Desmond and the Crumpetmonger in a state of complete confusion, he made a swift exit from the town hall.
A steady stream of people were queued up outside.
“Voting for Thumburt?” he asked experimentally.
The Nimmo ignored him.
“Hello?” he asked, waving his hand in front of the Nimmo’s face.
Still there was no response.
“What’s going on here...?” he gasped.
He tried the next person, and the next, both of them just stared rigidly in front, not noticing the Mayor at all.
“Mr. Mayor!” a voice from down the street shouted. “Mr. Mayor!”
Thumburt turned to see Reg running down the street wildly.
“Ah, at least someone’s still got their head on their shoulders,” Thumburt said gladly.
“I’ve figured it out!” Reg panted as he reached the Mayor. “I know how Desmond is doing it! It’s the sausage rolls, sir!”
Thumburt glanced back to the town hall.
“Spooks without the spooking?” he asked, echoing the words of Mr. Jennings from two nights ago.
“Oh no, sir, not that sausage roll, the other one!” Reg told him. “The actual sausage rolls!”
“I don’t follow,” Thumburt replied.
“It’s easier if I show you. Come with me; we don’t have much time!” Reg explained, grabbing the Mayor by his arm.
There was the tinkle of glass shattering, and then two figures heaved themselves inside the Crumpetmonger’s back room.
“Have you seen Gilly and Bruno, by the way?” Thumburt asked as he straightened himself up.
“...Yes, sir,” Reg hesitated in answering. “I’ve locked them up at home with Mum and Dad.”
“You’ve done what?” Thumburt gasped.
“After I figured out what was wrong, it was the only way to stop them going to the polls, sir!” Reg explained. “This is mind control, you see?”
“Now everyone says that, Reginald, but in reality politics is just the right words said at the right time,” Thumburt told him.
“No! It's actual mind control; that’s what I’m showing you!” Reg protested.
“As much fun as breaking into the Crumpetmonger’s shop is, I can’t see how this shows me anything, dear boy,” Thumburt commented.
Reg opened a door into the bakery proper. Inside was the oven where the pastries were made, a tiny fire was still burning inside.
And around the oven, darkness swirled.
“I’d hazard a guess that this isn’t ordinary?” Thumburt whispered.
“No sir, Sophie’s told me about this sort of thing. It's shadow magic, powerfully evil stuff,” Reg whispered back.
“The Crumpetmonger is a witch then?” Thumburt asked.
“I’m not sure, sir... but it’s the pastries, you see?” Reg explained. “She put ‘Vote Desmond’ on them all, sir... printed, and combined with this shadow magic...”
“Powerful mind control magic,” Thumburt gasped. “Everyone in the town has eaten some of them!”
“Aside from Sophie and us, yes, sir,” Reg confirmed. “I went out to the graveyard this morning as well; someone’s scattered a load of cherry bakewells all over the place.”
“She’s got the zombies voting for her as well?” Thumburt asked, his voice getting louder with outrage.
“Sir...” Reg whispered.
“I’ve had it up to here with that woman!” Thumburt shouted with rage. “She’s always interfering, never has a good word to say! That poor young Desmond, she’s probably made him a scapegoat!”
The shadows swirling around the oven stopped in midair. Crimson eyes opened in the darkness.
Mayor of Neovia, flesh! the shadows screamed.
He knows too much!
We must stop him!
The shadows pounced, but found only the space that Thumburt had previously occupied. The Mayor was already half way out of the bakery with Reg hot on his heels.
It matters not; the flesh will not control this town for long. Soon it will be ours! the shadows whispered to themselves.
“We need to get to the town hall and stop this!” Thumburt shouted at Reg as they ran.
Ahead of them, the town hall’s clock rang out five o’clock.
“That’s the end of the elections!” Reg shouted back. “They’ll be counting the votes!”
Behind the spire of the town hall, the sun was beginning to set, and the shadows in the streets were getting longer. Thumburt watched them as he ran, and noticed that they moved.
When darkness fell, the shadows would roam freely, and Neovia would be theirs.
“...and so with a grand total of 351 votes, the majority, Desmond Brooks is-”
“Stop right there!” The voice of Thumburt cut the Crumpetmonger off mid sentence.
“What do you want?” The baker scowled. “You’ve already lost; you only got one vote out of everyone in the town!”
“It’s a fix!” Thumburt shouted from the doorway to the meeting hall. “You’ve rigged it, I demand a recount!”
The Crumpetmonger glared at him.
“We know all about your pastries!” Reg chipped in.
“Yes, the jig is up!” Thumburt echoed.
“Pastries? What are you talking about?” she said angrily before turning to the small form of Herman Dorfdrap. “See to it that there’s a recount then, to be official, and then declare Desmond as the Mayor.”
The Korbat nodded and began checking the vote slips again as the Crumpetmonger hitched up her dress and made her way to the entrance of the hall. The few townspeople that had gathered in the hall completely ignored her, still staring to the front at Desmond.
“You and I are going to have this out right now, mister!” she growled at Thumburt as she passed him.
The two of them and Reg exited the hall and closed the door firmly behind them.
“We know you are a witch, who dabbles in shadow magic,” Thumburt said proudly.
“Don’t try and curse us; Sophie’s my sister and she’d be angry!” Reg supplied helpfully.
“Witch? This is nonsense!” The Crumpetmonger laughed. “Just because you can’t win an election fairly, you have to make up slanderous lies about me! Well, it won’t work; Desmond is new blood, just what this town needs. He doesn’t talk as much as he used to, but I’m sure he’ll make a fine Mayor.”
“One you put there with your enchanted pastries!” Thumburt shouted.
“Enchanted? Have you hit your head? My pastries contain no artificial flavourings whatsoever!” the Crumpetmonger told him.
“We’ve been to your bakery; we’ve seen the oven!” Thumburt explained. “There were shadows swirling round it, shadows like the ones that turned up in Neovia when we were all under the curse!”
The Crumpetmonger looked genuinely shocked.
“We know that you’re been using the shadows to turn your Vote Desmond pastries into brain washing devices,” Reg told her.
“You’re... not lying?” The Crumpetmonger hesitated, seeing the faces on the two of them.
“They chased us out onto the street!” Thumburt informed her.
“Well, I certainly have nothing to do with that,” the Crumpetmonger scoffed. “I have not baked any pastries in days!”
“Then who has?” Reg asked.
“Desmond; he insisted on making them all himself, wouldn’t let me in the bakery. He was most insistent,” the Crumpetmonger said, realisation slowly dawning on her face.
Above them, the town clock struck half five. The sun had fully set, and the darkness lurked in the mist outside.
All three turned to look at the door to the meeting hall. Reg slowly opened it.
“...declare you Mayor of Neovia!” Herman Dorfdrap finished on the stage.
“He’s working with the shadows?” the Crumpetmonger asked.
“No!” Desmond called from the stage, his voice sounding even more distorted that usual. “I am the shadows!”
Appearing out of nowhere, darkness swirled around him, beady red eyes looking out towards the crowd. All around him, shadows surrounded townspeople that were under the influence of the dark pastries.
It is official! the shadows screamed. Neovia is ours!
The shadows spread out across the floor like tendrils, slowly reaching for the group of three in the doorway.
“What now?” the Crumpetmonger asked.
Thumburt backed away.
“Sophie...” he managed. “We need Sophie.”
“She’ll never get here in time!” Reg told him.
“I wasn’t suggesting we wait, I was suggesting we go and find her,” Thumburt said slowly. “I was suggesting we... run.”
The mere suggestion of the word sent orders to their feet. They ran as fast as they could, not stopping to look back. They burst out of the town hall onto the street.
The lampposts were already lit, providing a dim source of light that in reality only served to deepen the shadows that surrounded them.
There were eyes everywhere, evil red eyes.
You cannot escape us! the shadows screamed.
“Watch me try!” Thumburt replied, before setting off down the street.
Carefully, like he was jumping between stepping stones in a river, the former Mayor made his way between the pools of lamplight. Reg and the Crumpetmonger followed in his wake.
Behind them, the shadows whirled around the lampposts, and when enough of them had gathered, they pounced upon it, shattering the light and extinguishing it forever.
Keeping ahead of the shadows, the last free Neovians left the town.
To be continued...