Art Pact 141


For someone so remarkably maladroit at any physical activity, Marshall was certainly confident in his ability to not only hit the target but to catch the resulting fallout. The rest of us stood back and watched his awkward wind-up - one of those comedy ones where he flailed his right arm around in huge windmills that served no purpose except the psychological one of fooling him into thinking that he was building up his energy. Then, with a single badly-timed jerk he threw the stone precisely forty-five degrees away from his intended trajectory, which sent it straight at the house.

If Marshall had been a stronger thrower, the stone might have vanished relatively harmlessly through one of the windows of the old mansion, disappearing into the quiet gloom within and summoning one of the inhabitants to peer angrily at us through the shattered remains. If he had been a more accurate thrower the stone would merely have fallen short of its target and dropped with a gentle splosh into the mill pond, where it would no doubt briefly startle the koi that inhabited that watery domain before settling into the thick layer of green mud at the bottom.

But Marshall was neither stronger than he was, nor more accurate. The stone, leaving his hand like an unruly teenager storming out of its parents' house, flew directly towards the house but fell far short, clattering into the metal chain-link fence that surrounded the chicken range and rebounding with a deadly accuracy towards where the rest of us were standing. It hit Clara directly in the ankle, and with a shriek of agony she hopped up onto the other foot, lost her balance, and tumbled backwards into the open cellar doors from which we had emerged, bumping her way down the steps to land in a heap of over-long limbs at the foot of the stairs.

"Are you ok?" I called down.

Clara's reply was delivered with her customary sweet and gentle tone, although the semantic payload of the words did somewhat give the lie to the way in which they were delivered.

"I'm just fine. Would you mind asking Marshall to come down here and help me up so that I can wring his idiot neck?"

Deciding that perhaps the murder of my cousin by my other cousin was precisely the sort of thing that my mother had warned me it would be my responsibility to prevent, I instead climbed down into the cellar myself and slowly raised Clara upright again, then examined her leg. There was no blood, but I could tell that the stone had done a number on her ankle - an ugly great red welt had come up, and there was a lump just above the rise of the bone that was swelling up and provoked a little "yipe" of pain from up above when I gently prodded it with my finger.

"Would you mind ever so much not doing that again, please," Clara said.

I got her arm over one shoulder and with some difficulty we were able to get up the steps again and out into the open air just in time for another stone to whiz past us - fortunately Clara and I were out of the line of fire this time, but the rock his Willard in the stomach and took the wind out of him, so that for the next minute he was sucking up air and trying not to sick up in the flower beds at the back of the guest-house. I could see he was trying extra hard to keep down his lunch because of Clara and me being there.

"You've got to hand it to him," he gasped after a little while. "He's incredibly consistent."

"I just wish he could be consistent in hitting what we actually want him to hit," Clara complained. This seemed to give Willard an idea, and he hollered and waved his arms to attract Marshall's attention. Marshall was in the middle of another wind-up, and released his stone without noticing Willard - causing us all to dive at the floor in anticipation. The stone shot harmlessly over our heads and into the pipe that ran from the guttering on top of the guest-house down to the water butt, shattering the brittle plastic and sending out a splatter of stagnant water that must have been trapped in a column by some blockage further down. Needless to say, the water found its way to the three figures lying on the ground, although once again I was the luckiest, getting only a mild splash. Willard had dropped onto his already bruised belly closest to the wall, and so received a thorough drenching. Clara, aching all over from her tumble into the cellar, took a jet of water directly to the backside. She levered herself up painfully, rubbing at her various joints, and stared daggers at Marshall.

"Sorry!" he called. "I've almost got it!"

"What you've almost got, cousin dear, is my fist down your throat." But Clara's voice, not suited for the purpose to which it was being put, did not carry far enough for Marshall to be able to hear. Instead Willard, levering himself off his poor abused stomach, finally caught Marshall's attention.

"Aim for the crab oak!" Willard yelled.

"What?"

"The crab oak!" Willard repeated. "Aim for the crab oak!"

Marshall looked around, confused, and pointed at the gnarled old tree. I could see what Willard was getting at - the tree looked as though it were exactly forty-five degrees to the other side of Marshall's target from the old mansion. Marshall still didn't seem to get it, though, no doubt oblivious to what was obvious to us - to whit, that he was some kind of genius at throwing who had just had the misfortune to be badly calibrated.

"That oak?" he asked.

"Yes, that one!"

"Why?"

"Just throw, for god's sake!"

That, coming from Willard, was enough for Marshall. He took his wind-up, set the rock loose, and sure as eggs is eggs the missile flew straight at the tree-house he'd been trying to hit. It described a gentle arc - up, along, and down - and fell gracefully into the mill pond.

"Oh," said Willard.

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