Sheldon Baker had settled here because of the nice peaceful neighbourhood. He’d liked it very from the minute he saw it. His new workplace was near here as well. And whenever he got a break, he liked to visit his next door neighbours, the Knitter-Knatter triplets.
He liked them because they shared the same interest. Knitting.
He loved the way their hexagonal house always smelt of lavender and roses. He treasured the times that he got to sink his teeth into their homemade chocolate chip, quintuple fudge delight cookies. So crispy on the outside yet filled with gooey deliciousness on the inside.
Now it was winter and Sheldon got to go home early from work. He had already decided that he wanted to spend all the time between coming home and eight in the evening with his gal pals.
Sheldon was so excited about it he told all his colleagues. ‘And this evening, we’re having a knitty party. Get it?’ he snorted with laughter at his own joke. ‘Knitty…kitty…gossip and knit…’
His co-workers eyed him with disgust and pity. Spending an evening knitting and gossiping with ancient hags was not quite their idea of having fun. They would have preferred going out to a pub and drinking all night or the like.
That evening, after coming home, Sheldon had a quick shower and then grabbed his knitting things before marching up to the Knitter-Knatter’s door. He brushed down his ensemble, adjusted his polka dot tie and lastly checked the knitting needles and yarn in his hand as if they were roses. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, he lifted the door knocker, which was shaped like an angry lion’s head, and brought it down swiftly.
Three seconds later the door opened. There stood one of the old ladies – Tabitha Knitter-Knatter.
‘Hullo darling,’ she cooed. ‘You’re a bit late aren’t you?’
‘Sorry Mrs. Tabitha. I just thought I would have a shower before I dropped in today,’ said Sheldon, following the old dame into the living room.
There, sitting in old, flowery sofas were her sisters, Twinkle and Tamara. The room was warm and had an orange-red glow about it, thanks to the fire. There were two more sofas, one looked sat-in and the other was still fluffed up. That was probably his. The little coffee table in the middle of them all was piled up with multicoloured yarn balls, half finished woollen clothing and several knitting needles nearly all different lengths.
‘Welcome,’ cried Tamara and Twinkle together.
‘Hello,’ mumbled Sheldon shyly. He didn’t particularly like being the centre of attention and he kind of fancied Tamara although she was goodness knows how old, had a husband who was now dead, two kids, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Tabitha painfully lowered herself into her chair. Sheldon went to help her but she waved his hand away. ‘No,’ she said firmly. ‘I’m healthy and strong enough.’
Sheldon eyed her doubtfully. He wasn’t really sure of whether she was healthy enough let alone strong. All of them wore really thick old fashioned horn-rimmed glasses; old ghostly-floating night gowns all faded, slouched when they sat down to weave and walked around really slowly, with hunch backs. Their hair was snow white and all of them had sagging, wrinkly skin.
But Sheldon didn’t say anything. He pulled out his needles and was about to continue with a pair of gloves that he had begun on, when he gave a cry of dismay.
‘What’s the matter?’ screeched Twinkle in alarm. ‘Did you jab yourself?’
‘No,’ groaned Sheldon, ‘I’ve brought along the wrong shade of blue to continue with my gloves. The yarn I started with was arctic blue and I’ve brought along sapphire blue wool to continue with!’
‘My my,’ said Tabitha, thoughtfully rubbing her wrinkly chin. ‘That indeed is a disaster. But fear not my dear. We have every colour of wool possible here.’
She leant over to the table and dug through the mound of wool and almost immediately pulled out arctic blue wool. Sheldon thought again, for the thousandth time, how well the dames knew their colours.
‘Thank you,’ he said, accepting the wool graciously. As he did, Tabitha dropped her needle. As it fell, it caught the light from the fire and glinted. The spangle caught Sheldon’s eye and he was blinded for a few moments.
He looked around, not able to see anything clearly. He thought he saw the Tabitha on the phone with Twinkle and Tamara crowded around her. But there was no way they could get out of their chairs so silently let alone get to the phone that fast…right?
When his eyes adjusted to the light and he wasn’t seeing random stars and floating knitting needles, the hags were back in their chairs. In fact, Sheldon wasn’t sure at all that the whole thing had happened.
‘Sheldon darling,’ croaked Tamara, making him go a deep crimson. ‘Do you want some of our cookies?’
‘Why yes, if it is no trouble to you,’ replied Sheldon. He watched Tamara get out of her chair and made as to help her but Tabitha, who was sitting next to him, pushed him firmly back down again.
After a long while, Tamara waddled into the room again with a plate of Sheldon’s favourite, chocolate chip, quintuple fudge delight cookies. But today, it looked a bit different.
‘What’s that white powder on top, Tamara?’ asked Twinkle, seeing Sheldon analyzing the plate of biscuits but noting that he was clearly too shy to say anything about it.
‘Oh, I know my Sheldon has a sweet tooth so I just dusted it off with some icing sugar,’ declared Tamara, putting down the plate, winking at her sisters as she did.
Sheldon meanwhile, had reached out for a cookie and had already sunk his teeth into it. Soon he was ‘mmm-ing’ with pleasure.
‘Thish ish delishioush,’ murmured Sheldon with his mouth full.
Then he went on with his knitting. Nothing could be heard but the clacking of needles against each other when Sheldon began to feel drowsy. He soon nodded off over his knitting. The feeling of his much-loved food in his tummy, its yummy after-taste still on his tongue and the warmth of a fire was enough to make any man feel like a kid at the beginning of his summer holidays again.
Sheldon woke up to find that the fire had itself burned out, the wool on the floor and three empty plates on the tea table where the wool had been.
‘Eh?’ thought Sheldon. ‘Have the old ladies gone to sleep? They’ve probably just eaten their supper. Must’ve been so tired that they left their plates out.’
He picked the wool up and was about to shove it into the textiles cupboard when he noticed three balled up white cotton pieces of clothing.
‘What’s cotton doing in a pile of yarn?’ Sheldon puzzled.
He shook out one of the pieces and gasped as he realized what it was. ‘This can’t be good!’
For the cloth he was holding was none other than one of the old ladies’ night dresses. He held out the night dress in front of him and stared at it in shock, not knowing what to think.
Then he shuddered suddenly and turned to find the window next to the front door wide open, a draught blowing through it, chilling Sheldon to the bones now that the fire was out.
He dropped the dress he was holding and looked around him, scrutinising the scene. Then, in Tamara’s chair, he saw an unfinished sock.
‘Okay,’ thought Sheldon, getting totally creeped out. ‘Mrs. Tamara would never leave a piece of knitting unfinished. Be it a sock or a sweater.’
He finally came to the conclusion that after he had fallen asleep, the old ladies had had dinner, and then fallen asleep themselves. But that didn’t explain the open window or the dresses did it?
‘What if…they sleep walk?’ gasped Sheldon to himself. ‘And maybe they removed their dresses in the process? And changed into something else maybe?’
Although this assumption wasn’t very convincing and sounded extremely cheesy, Sheldon thought that they ladies might have been in danger. Roaming the streets asleep and quite possibly not modestly dressed could prove dangerous.
Sheldon rushed to the front door and raced out knowing that the bags wouldn’t have reached very far at their leisurely pace. He set about searching for anything that might give a hint as to which way they had gone.
He now was one the main street and was about to cross a road that broke off when a cat jumped out from a bush that grew in the corner. Sheldon looked down and saw a shiny set of fake teeth staring up at him, glowing a florescent yellow in the dark.
He picked them up cautiously, trying to ignore the fact that there was still some food stuck to the molars. This definitely had to be one of his neighbours’.
He pocketed it and walked on in that direction. It was definitely somewhere near or maybe even past midnight, but oddly enough there was an umbrella shop open on that road. The lights inside it were flickering and Sheldon would’ve walked straight past had he not heard a muffled yell come from the inside.
He put his head round the door and made a face. The shop stank of sewer water and there were drips all over the ceiling. ‘Those umbrellas sure will come handy to the shopkeeper!’ thought Sheldon with disgust.
He didn’t want to go in at all but another cry, now slightly clearer, came from behind the counter. Sheldon hurried to it in alarm, thinking maybe the shopkeeper had had a heart attack and collapsed with no one to help him.
But, to his amazement, there was a trap door behind the counter. It was open and when he peered through, Sheldon could just make out a ladder leading down to black, moving, stinky water. Another groan came.
Sheldon took a deep breath and lowered himself down, onto the ladder and soon found himself in a sewer. The stink was unbearable and after waiting a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, Sheldon saw that he was on a pavement that ran parallel to the gutter and along the walls of the sewer itself.
All of a sudden, Sheldon saw movement a little further on. He cautiously walked along the path, keeping as far back in the shadows as he could.
‘Wait,’ he thought, his mind getting itself in a twist. ‘Am I seeing things or is that really a giant wiggling caterpillar.’
Turned out, his eyes were playing tricks on him and that the ‘giant wiggling caterpillar’ was a man tied up really tight and gagged and making attempts to free himself.
‘Who are you?’ asked Sheldon, from the shadows, giving the man a terrible fright. Then he saw that he was gagged, hurried over and ripped the cloth that covered the man’s mouth.
‘Who are you?’ he asked again.
‘I’m the owner of the shop up top,’ said the man, indicating with his head. ‘Who are you?’
‘Why are you here then?’ queried Sheldon, ignoring the question he’d just been asked.
‘I was forced here by…’ his voice trailed off and his eyes filled with sudden fear. ‘…Them!’
It was only then that Sheldon realised that someone was breathing down his neck. His arms were whipped behind him and a hand covered his mouth to stop him from screaming. He felt the dentures fall from his pocket. He was roughly tied up and gagged and then shoved next to the man.
‘Great,’ he thought. ‘Came to rescue three old ladies, found a kidnapped shop keeper instead and then ended up being kidnapped myself!’
He couldn’t see his captors’ faces because they were wearing masks. They were wearing jet black leather cat suits and he could hardly see them in the dark but managed to see one of them bend down – rather stiffly – to pick up the dentures. After having a good look at it, he gasped and went over to where the other members of his gang were huddled.
There was a quiet whispering and then one of the people came up to him and shone a torch at his face, ripping the gag off first. ‘Sheldon!’ he exclaimed. Only now Sheldon realised it was a ‘she’. And not just any ‘she’. It was Tamara Knitter-Knatter!
‘Mrs. Tamara!’ exclaimed Sheldon, his mind in a tangle and his cheeks on fire. ‘What? How…’
‘Let me explain,’ said someone from behind Tamara. Sheldon craned his neck only to see Twinkle and Tabitha Knitter-Knatter coming out of the shadows.
Sheldon looked like he was about to get a heart attack but instead kept his head on and said, ‘I would much appreciate that but I would like it better if you could untie me.’
‘Oh yes of course,’ smiled Twinkle. She reached behind him and in a jiffy he was free and rubbing his sore wrists and ankles.
‘So first things first,’ began Tabitha. ‘We are all ninja spies.’
She paused and waited for a major reaction but all she got was, ‘I gathered as much.’
Seeing that she had expected something like: ‘What?! No way!’ or ‘Are you having me on?’ or ‘Come on home dear, you’ll catch a terrible cold out here,’ you would’ve thought she’d be amazed at such a subtle reaction. But when Sheldon spoke, she hadn’t been listening to the words. She was listening to the way his voice trembled and also noticed that it was slightly higher pitched than normal.
So she went on, ‘When the needle glinted and caught your eye the telephone rang for a moment. I was on it within a second so you probably didn’t hear it. Apparently there was, sources told us, a kidnapper in town, one that sold umbrellas for cover and we were to stop him.’
‘This man?’ asked Sheldon, indicating the man who was still tied up. His gag had been fixed but he wasn’t moving or showing any signs of struggling.
‘Wait… why isn’t he moving?’ asked Sheldon, suddenly alarmed.
‘Chloroform,’ grinned Tamara, holding up a damp rag.
‘But how could you’ll be sure?’
‘We,’ continued Tabitha. ‘get reports from the headquarters every evening. You just happened to be there today. The report was that he had kidnapped a small boy named Richard and we were to rescue him immediately and turn in this cheat to the police.’
‘So you’ve found this Richard then?’
‘No,’ said Twinkle, suddenly looking worried. ‘We were looking for him when you arrived.’
‘Why did you put him to sleep then?’ asked Sheldon. ‘You could have bribed him into telling you the truth.’
‘We tried. But he just sent us off track and wasted our time. Our orders were not to hurt him,’ murmured Tamara, pulling out her torch again. ‘We should have another look. Maybe Sheldon will be able to find him.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Sheldon, glad that it was dark and no one could see his red cheeks.
‘Let’s go,’ cried Twinkle. They headed down the tunnel, in the other direction from the ladder. The water in the sewer was flowing in the same direction as them.
After walking a while Sheldon spotted something from the middle of the sewer’s ceiling. It was about the size of an oversized bat and was brown and furry.
‘What’s that?’ asked Sheldon, pointing at the thing.
‘Oh,’ said Twinkle. ‘We saw that last time. Thought it was just a bat.’
‘I don’t think it’s a bat,’ snorted Sheldon. ‘Mrs. Tamara could I borrow your torch for a moment?’
He shone the torch at the ‘bat’ and gasped. It was definitely not a bat or any other living thing for the matter. It was a brown sack, hanging from the ceiling with a piece of rope. And the piece of rope… ‘It’s fraying!’ shrieked the usually calm Tabitha. Even as she spoke the rope snapped. There was a loud splash and all the four adults were soaked in water from the sewer.
‘Do something!’ screamed Sheldon. ‘The bag’s going to sink and the poor child, cramped up as he must be, will drown.’
He wildly looked around and spotted Twinkle pulling a piece of rope out of her belt. ‘I have rope but need a weight so that it’ll reach the sack and wind round it.’
Everyone stared around, hoping to find a stone that could save the child’s life. Then Sheldon squealed, like a little girl would on sighting a Barbie doll, and cried, ‘The dentures! Use the dentures!’
‘Of course!’ cried Tamara, whipping them out from somewhere. She passed them to Twinkle who quickly tied them to the end of the rope. She swung it round her head a few times to gather momentum and then flung it at the bag.
It went past but came back, like a boomerang, round the bag and soon Twinkle was able to haul the bag out. She was worried about the child inside; Sheldon could see it in her face, wrinkled as it was.
Tamara and Tabitha Knitter-Knatter crowded around their sister, trying to help. When he finally got a glimpse of Richard, Sheldon was wet and shivering and cold. Richard was shivering too.
Then with a sudden blast of fatigue, Sheldon passed out.
When he at long last came round, Sheldon found himself in the triplets’ home by the fire, a blanket round him. He glanced around him with sleepy eyes. The yarn was on the table, so were some biscuits and the ladies were in their chairs, knitting away peacefully.
He snuggled down again, yawned and thought, ‘Well, that was a weird dream.’
The sisters looked at him and then at each other. And then they shared a wink.