A/N: This is a post in connection with Bookaholic 711's Project Pull, in which you post 1,000 words every Friday. Thanks to Angelmail, for reading this for me beforehand :)
Chapter One: Of Canvas and Cats
The shapeless khaki-green parcel landed on the floor of the hallway with a muted thud. Unfortunately, Evelyn had not accounted for the length of time the old tent had resided in the attic for, and it emitted a substantial cloud of fine, pale dust in protest of the rough treatment that it had received. Evelyn didn't take much heed of the dishevelled state that the package was in, and dusted the settling dust from her shoulders airily.
"So, what do you think?" she asked brightly. "It might not look like much, but it's very reliable. I used to use it all the time on the moors when I was your age."
Connie sneezed several times in succession, and pulled out a tissue from her pocket. She avoided answering for a moment as she dabbed at her eyes, trying to remove a stray particle of dust. She didn't want to hurt Evelyn's feelings, especially since she had been so pleased that Connie could get use out of her old tent, but it looked absolutely ancient. Shirley, who had been boasting loudly to anybody who would listen about her brand-new custom made tent, with so many extra features and gadgets that it could probably double up as a space rocket, would never let her hear the end of it.
"Well, it's got… character," she finally answered, looking uncomfortable. She nudged it with her foot, dislodging a threadbare cobweb, sans spider. "The question is, will it be able to withstand the temperature in Norway? I know that it'll be summer, but it could still get very cold out there." She hoped the excuse would be enough to deter her aunt, but it was to no avail.
"Nonsense," Evelyn said briskly, picking up the loose cover that held the tent and up-ending it. The tent refused to come out, almost as if it had spent so long in the dark that any form of light was now toxic to it. Evelyn frowned and tugged one of the visible corners sharply, and was rewarded by the jarring tear of ripped canvas. One of the tent-pegs had gotten caught between the tent and its covering, pinning them together. Thus freed, it began to roll aimlessly down the hallway. The steady clap of wood on wood picked up pace into a moderate clattering before it finally rolled to a halt at the top of the stairs.
Evelyn poked her finger through the tear in the moth-eaten tent, looking thoughtful. Connie tried not to show her dismay- she could just picture Evelyn covering the resulting hole in the canvas with an outlandishly garish fabric.
"As nice as it would be to recycle this, I think it's on its last legs as it is. That tent-peg did enough damage. Anything more might just kill the poor old thing." Connie felt immensely grateful for the tent-peg's intervention. It would have been mortifying to turn up at the international Society youth gathering with a tent that looked like it had once housed a group of prehistoric nomads.
"I think you're right. I wouldn't want to damage the… poor old thing," Connie said, stifling a giggle at Evelyn's almost affectionate term for the tent.
"Still, newer tents are so expensive." Evelyn looked crestfallen for a moment, then suddenly brightened. "Hold on- I think Hugh might have an old tent stowed away somewhere. You could ask him if he'd lend it to you."
"No!" Connie cried hastily. If anything, her great-uncles tent would be in a worse state of disrepair, if possible, than Evelyn's had been. "Um, I don't want to bother him. He'd have to go looking for it, and... it would be far too much trouble?"
"Oh, I'm sure that it would be no trouble at all." Evelyn looked bemused at Connie's vehement rejection of the idea. "Although, if you're sure... Jessica called earlier, while you were out with Col- apparently, there's room for two people in her new tent." She waited for realization to dawn upon Connie, and was not disappointed.
"Do you mean that I was never really going to use this tent anyway?" Connie asked slowly. Evelyn began to laugh, and Connie swatted her on the arm indignantly. "You're awful." It took a while for her laughter to subside, but when it eventually did, Evelyn picked up the tattered tent from the ground.
"I'd better bring this back to Hugh, then. I told him that I'd get it back to him before Sunday." Connie now looked outraged.
"So it wasn't even your tent in the first place?" accused Connie. "How are you going to explain the tear in it?" Evelyn dug into the bag and held out a piece of Velcro- she had used it to replicate the sound of tearing canvas. "And all that dust? How do you explain that?"
"A bit of flour, from the kitchen." Connie examined a speck that had caught on the sleeve of her jumper. Flour. Of course; that explained why it had been so pale.
"Oh, hilarious," she hissed. Evelyn held up her hands submissively.
"Don't blame me. The whole thing was Mack's idea." Evelyn pulled back the door that they had been standing beside to reveal a guilty-looking Mack, crouched at keyhole level, who stood up rapidly upon being revealed.
"Evie! You gave me away!" he groaned, sending his wife a petulant glare. He glanced at Connie, gauging her reaction to the prank. "I don't know why you're getting so worked up- it's only a bit of material, that's all." Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and instincts told him to extricate himself from the situation as soon as possible- preferably immediately.
Before Connie had the opportunity to advance any further, he shot out of the room and down the hallway, without so much as pausing when he approached the stairs. This proved to be an unwise decision- the tent-peg, which had been lurking upon the top step of the stairs like a crocodile by a watering hole, just happened to be in the perfect position in which to find itself under Mack's shoe.
Mack tumbled down the first flight of stairs, a string of garbled expletives trailing after him. He landed, dazed but uninjured, on the square metre of soft carpeting that marked the turn in the stairs, nearly frightening the life out of Madame Cresson, who had been stalking a large bluebottle which had landed on the banisters. The marmalade cat yowled in surprise and fell off the banisters, landing on Mack and digging her claws into his leather jacket. Mack winced and removed his jacket, Madame Cresson still attached.
"I'll admit, I probably deserved that," he ruefully conceded as he pulled himself up, using the banister as an aid. He climbed the flight of stairs that he had previously descended in a less than graceful manner, and dumped Madame Cresson into Evelyn's arms.
"Now, I don't suppose you could remove your cat from my favourite jacket?" he entreated his wife, eyeing the aforementioned cat with distaste. However, Madame Cresson refused to be parted with the jacket, and hissed at Mack menacingly when he tried to untangle the material from her claws. He looked at Connie in despair.
"Connie? You're the only one that creature obeys- could you make her let go?" he implored. Connie crossed her arms and looked at him smugly.
"I don't know why you're getting so worked up. It's only a bit of material, after all."