Bath Salts and Bedlam by Lyn McConchie

Bath Salts and Bedlam
Lyn McConchie

Our local senior constable was here again today asking if I’d seen some missing bloke. I could have sworn he said was named Bob Jonquil. I didn’t take it the wrong way, I’d seen Joe coming from my neighbours’ farm and watched as he went on to my other neighbour after I assured him I hadn’t seen any man at all on my property this week – whether he was named Bob Jonquil or Merriweather Anstruther Daffodil. My neighbours would have been saying they hadn’t seen this Jonquil guy either. That’s because I knew where he was, not that I’d actually seen him, but I knew all the same…

It all started with my new bath salts. I have a damaged leg, from a motorbike accident when I was thirty, and there’s nothing that keeps me pain-free like a good long soak in very hot water before I go to bed. My old farmhouse bathroom has one of those long deep cast-iron claw-footed baths that’s absolute bliss to lie back in when it’s filled with hot water, and I do, regularly. And for a good soak you can’t beat bath salts. About a year back, a shop had opened up temporarily in our nearest township. It sold the tail ends of closing sales, over-runs of stock, goods turned back because they weren’t quite to specifications and a stack of items like that.

One of the things they had was bath salts. The man running the shop had brought out a few bottles as I walked in the door and I looked them over. They were an odd shade of blue-green, and from the contents list on the back they were mostly made from Epsom salts and ‘herbal additives’, whatever those were, since they weren’t listed beyond that, but the stuff smelled pleasant, and I bought a couple of bottles. Once I’d paid, the chap behind the counter cornered me away from other customers.

I can see you’re a lady who knows good merchandise when you see it.”

I did, but that didn’t mean I didn’t see him for what he was. A con artist if ever I’d known one. I waited.

Them bath salts, lady, they’re the good stuff alright. S’ just the colour puts people off. But I can do you a hell of a good deal. Gotta a case of it, another thirty-four bottles like the ones you bought, sell them to ya for an all in price?”

I considered. “How much?”

He named it and I kept my face from showing surprise. That was a good price and spread over thirty-four bottles it ended up around a fifth of what I’d pay for that amount of anything of even reasonable quality. It could be the whole consignment, three dozen bottles counting the two already bought, and it made sense if he could sell them all for a single price.

Just one thing, lady.” I nodded that I was listening. “You don’t want yer dog drinking the stuff, it don’t go well with them.”

I saw no need to go into long-winded explanations as to why I didn’t have a dog. I merely said I’d be very careful and paid for the case, which he carried out to my old jeep.

I stayed the night with a friend whose husband was away on business and when I drove by the shop in the morning it was empty, all the merchandise apparently sold and the vendor gone. There had been a lot of people in there so I wasn’t much surprised.

After that I went home, arriving at my farm gate to a raucous greeting from the geese.

I bought two geese twenty-five years ago, just after I purchased my farm. Every so often they raise another gosling, it joins the gaggle, and over the years the numbers have seesawed as goslings arrive and now and again something gets one of the adults. It’s been steady on six adults for a couple of years now and that suits me. I lost one some time back when an intruder kicked one of the older geese to death. I think the gaggle mourned her, she’d been the matriarch, and I have to say I wasn’t that happy about it either.

I got the original pair as watch-geese, and they do – watch, that is. Anyone they don’t know sets foot on the property and they scream like something on the rack. After dark, even if they know the intruder, they still scream. And while usually it’s all noise, if they have goslings or eggs or are feeling territorial, it can turn very nasty. I’d only had the place a year when burglars targeted my sheds; they left, not so much running as low flying – unlike their pursuers – with the geese hot on their heels. (My geese are Sebastopols, they’re big strong birds, but they can’t fly, which is convenient since I don’t have to worry about clipping their wings, but they certainly can run if they need to.)

I opened the gate and greeted them. “Okay, okay, I’ll feed everybody as soon as I get the jeep put away.” I did, and while they were busy, I managed to haul the case of bath salts out and get it inside, using the small trolley I normally employed for sacks of feed. I opened the case again, stacked the bottles on a shelf in the bathroom linen cupboard, and took the carton outside. It’d get used; everything does around here, sooner or later. Then I looked at the time and nodded. I could put dinner on and have a bath while it cooked.

I ran the bath, added a generous amount of bath salts, climbed in and relaxed. The salts smelled great, and I could feel the heat soaking through my dud leg. The cat wandered in, leaned over and took a mouthful of bath water.

Oi, Fluffy, get out of that.” But then, the bloke hadn’t said I shouldn’t let the cat drink the stuff, just about dogs, so probably it was okay. I climbed out, dried off, dropped a caftan over my head and went to eat dinner.

Things were quiet for weeks after that until the bathroom waste pipe broke, the one that drained the bath water into my septic tank. I’d let the sheep onto the lawn to eat the grass down and one of the lambs – there’s always one – had jumped on the pipe and broken it. So now the bath water ran into the small hollow by the drain instead of down it. I didn’t worry much, in fact it was probably good, I wouldn’t need to get the tank emptied for a lot longer and believe me, when you live out in the country getting that done costs a bomb, so I left it be. I noticed the geese drinking now and again after I let the bath empty, and now and again the cat took a drink too, but that was okay, and everything was fine.

About six months after that I heard the geese yelling one night. They quieted down pretty quickly though and I went back to sleep. In the morning I checked the sheds, and one of the doors was ajar. I figured some idiot had been sneaking around to see if there was anything he could steal and the geese had seen him off. Nothing unusual about that. Our village is between two bigger towns and it’s surprising how often some little yob thinks it’d be fun to take a drive into the country and see what’s portable.

That was why I got geese in the first place. You don’t have to register them, they cost less to feed, and if they bite someone you can’t be charged with an offence. Cops don’t expect you to control geese. They’re more effective that a dog, too. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen some big burly truck-driver back away when the gaggle advance. It’s their beaks, snapping at just the right level to intimidate that does it. I don’t have any trouble with them. They know me and I know them, and before now I’ve helped an injured one so they trust me. And I suppose you get fond of someone who feeds you too.

They were in full cry again a few weeks later, same as last time they went quiet again after a minute or two and I went back to sleep. It happened again a month after that and I was getting annoyed, next time I’d get up, and if I saw whoever it was, I’d have a something to say to them. It was the week after that when I noticed an item in the newspaper, nothing much, just a couple of brief paragraphs saying that three men from the big town four hour’s drive to the north had gone missing. All three were known criminals so I’d bet no one was asking that many questions. I grinned, off on a spree most likely and they’d be back once they ran out of grog – probably surprised as all hell that the police had bothered to wonder about them.

Well, to cut a long story short, more petty crooks went missing, I kept getting woken up by the geese every month or so, and all that kept my leg from going mad about my walking about on it too much looking around, was that hot bath and those bath salts.

And then I had another burglar when I was already awake. It was almost one a.m. and I’d been watching TV. I’d turned it off, made myself a hot chocolate and I heard the gaggle start to scream just as I put down my empty mug on the kitchen table by the door.

I scooped up the old cavalry sabre I keep handy and I was outside before the first yell died away. “Okay, who’s there? Whaddaya up to?”

There was a sort of squeal, a thrashing, and something was floundering on the ground, the geese closed in and the thrashing stopped. I flicked my torch in that direction. Then I went back inside and shut the door. I have a good imagination but I know when something is that and when it isn’t. That hadn’t been. I waited until daylight, went out to feed the geese and noticed they didn’t seem to be hungry. Thinking back they hadn’t been hungry after each night there’d been a commotion. And that’s when I knew for sure I hadn’t imagined what I’d seen.

I waited until the next day and this time when I fed them, I did it by hand. They came up one by one, took the wheat gently from my palm as they always had but this time I reached out and carefully moved their heads so that I got a look inside each beak. Wow! That explained the missing burglars, and the gaggle’s lack of interest in breakfast the next day. I thought about things over the next week and decided to say nothing. My friends don’t come sneaking around my farm in the early hours, and if for some reason they needed to, they’d phone in advance.

I couldn’t see that the area was any poorer for the loss of a sprinkling of petty crooks either. So there it was. I’d leave well enough alone, and I did. Over the weeks following, I heard the geese tune up a time or two and stayed in the house, wondering as I listened what had caused their change? And as I soaked in the bath one evening, the water dyed that odd shade of blue-green, I looked down – and two and two suddenly made nine. The bath salts!

The seller had said to keep my dog away from them, maybe what he’d really meant, was ‘all animals’? I asked about very quietly to see if I could find the man who’d run the shop, but he was nowhere to be found and no one knew anything about him. In fact it looked as if he may not have even had the right to set up there. Where had the bath salts come from and what exactly were the claimed ‘herbal additives’? What did they do to a bird or animal that drank enough of them and was any change permanent? Could whatever drank the stuff control the change or was it random?

Sixteen days later I had an insight into that when I saw the cat hypnotise a mouse into coming out of hiding and walking right into the cat’s jaws. It looked as if the change was geared to what the animal wanted. The geese hadn’t liked their matriarch kicked to death in front of them, so maybe they’d wanted a way to make sure it didn’t happen again? And the cat wanted an easy way to catch prey.

What else could have drunk the wastewater? It would only have been my cat inside, and outside the geese were usually around the hollow the moment they heard the water running out. It had taken months of regular drinking to make the changes. At least one bottle, maybe two.

And then I remembered. I’d given two bottles of the bath salts to my friend with whom I’d stayed the night after that day in town. She led a miserable life with a husband who knocked her around, usually after he got back from a business trip, and he ill-treated her big gentle greyhound as well. Andrea adored that dog and it adored her. And I wondered, (the man had specifically mentioned not allowing a dog to drink bath-salted water) if Smidge had been drinking the bath water, (and that is something house dogs often do) just what change would Andrea’s dog wish for – and, how long would it take before we found out?

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