The Marvelous Adventures of Sebastian Smith
Excerpt Book One
In which a maiden is not saved
The sun was just beginning to rise when the Dragon crested the hillside. It was an accepted fact that any maiden, offered to the Dragon, if she survived from sundown until tea time the next day, would be freed and a new, more pleasing sacrifice chosen. You can imagine Millicent’s disappointment then when the great scaly beast came looming over the top of Hagar’s Hill.
The huge body was held aloft by great wings which looked to her as if they were two sheets of unspoiled night, preserved unharmed from the killing grasp of dawn’s first light for the specific purpose of bearing the monster to her. It was a poetic thought, and Millicent was proud of it. When she survived the Dragon’s visit, she resolved to become a roaming poet instead of a house wife; though she was certain the town would feel as great a sense of loss for her wanderings as they would for her death.
As the Dragon streaked through the pre-dawn sky, Millicent thought it was odd that her heart was beating so hard. It was a formality that she was out here at all. She was the mayor’s daughter, and if it hadn’t been for certain farmers (with droves of perfectly dull daughters ideal for sacrificing) pointing out that her family hadn’t offered a maiden to the Dragon in something like a generation, she wouldn’t be tied to a stake in the middle of a field at all.
The Dragon seemed to be getting awfully near now, and Millicent wondered just how close it could get to her in light of the extraordinary measures her father had taken to ensure the beast left her alone. He had hired a specialist; a traveling doctor by the name of Thaddeus Archie-something-or-other with extensive dealings in draconic physiology who had consulted the family immediately upon her selection to be sacrificed, and developed a complete plan of action designed to deter the devouring intent of any reptile great or small. The specialist had given her everything. She had no less than six amulets and charms designed to ward away various aspects of draconic myth, from talons to fire breath. She was wearing a dress made of strictly died green cloth, a color which the doctor assured her father dragon eyes could not detect. She was bound to a stake made of yaupon wood, the oil of which was said to irritate dragon scales. She had even washed her hair, the most beautiful blonde hair in three counties, with shampoo made from vinegar, rosemary, and calf’s blood, so that any dragon noses she encountered would be stunned by her stench, and any dragon stomachs would be nauseated.
It was unfortunate for Millicent that none of these remedies would prove effective against this particular Dragon. Indeed, it would be quite surprising to learn they had worked against any Dragon at all, though perhaps they would prove quite effective against common garden snakes, or tree lizards. At any rate, the use of these remedies are not encouraged as prevention of any kind.
Especially against lethal threats.
Particularly monstrous lethal threats.
The Dragon landed with a great rush of wind. The ground shook beneath its sudden weight, and Millicent let out a maidenly scream in spite of her supposed invulnerability. The sky was just changing from pale black to dark grey, but Millicent thought she could see the Dragon’s dark scales sparkling none-the-less.
The long neck snaked out, the gigantic head hovering mere feet above Millicent. As the two great nostrils flared wide, Millicent thought very stinky thoughts.
However, the Dragon did not recoil.
It lowered its head so that its two glowing red eyes could lock onto Millicent’s own.
She tried her best to look green.
One great claw lifted slowly up, talons glittering as the sun finally crested the edge of Hagar’s hill, lighting the great Dragon from behind. As it gently wrapped its great fist around Millicent (and the Yaupon stake), she waited for the instantaneous appearance of hives or boils or cracks or…something…on the dragon’s forearm.
And as the Dragon opened its toothy mouth wide, and Millicent saw the flames glowing in its deep throat, for the very first and last time in her life thus far, she was too stunned to think one single thought about herself.
In which our story begins explosively; with laundry.
The problems facing Sebastian Smith were best measured in hours.
For starters, it was now fifteen hours since Millicent Cobblestop, the eldest daughter of the mayor of Hilsbac, was sent out to be sacrificed to a dragon.
It had been twelve hours since the huge fight between Lilian and Abigail, his two sisters. Lilian wanted to throw Millicent a Congratulations-On-Not-Being-Eaten-By-A-Dragon party in the village square (because after all the dragon hadn’t actually eaten a maiden in ages). Abigail had just recently been put in charge of coordinating the village laundry day, which used the same space as Lilian wanted to use for her party.
Only eight hours had passed since Sebastian himself declared that he could rig a contraption made of rope and old rusted ship pulleys that would make both the welcome-home party and the laundry washing possible at the same time.
And three dark and terrifically sleepy pre-dawn hours is how long Sebastian had been working to make his laundry solution a reality.
Lastly, though he did not see it yet, there were now less than a day’s worth of hours remaining before the biggest problem of all. In just twenty-one hours, the dragon would kill again.
However, at the precise moment our story begins, no problem in the small seaside village of Hilsbac seemed larger to Sebastian than the one he faced at that very moment: soggy underwear.
Sebastian Smith stared at Mrs. Geldeblat’s still-damp under-girdle. It was currently wadded in the bottom of the whicker laundry basket at Sebastian’s feet, brooding like a wet cat, daring anyone to come close enough to touch it. At least, thought Sebastian, it was just her under-girdle. True, it was used to cinch down Mrs. Geldeblat’s great round belly, but there were other pieces of underwear that would be worse to touch. And after all, it wasn’t like there was currently any Geldeblat in the under-girdle.
Sebastian swallowed a sick lump in his throat and knelt down, reaching out with trembling fingers to grasp the enormous garment by the shoestring laces normally used to tie it tight around a jiggling stomach. Those laces now functioned more like the strings of a puppet, and Sebastian tried to make sure the moist fabric didn’t touch him as he raised up on his tiptoes and quickly affixed the under-girdle to the complex spider-web of ropes criss-crossing the village square of Hilsbac.
“There. It’s finally ready to test”, said Sebastian, taking a moment to admire his clever invention.
With the final weight of Mrs. Geldeblat’s under-girdle now resting ponderously on the drying line, Sebastian stepped back and looked at his handiwork. All across the small square colorful clothing swayed gently on ropes. Normally, these ropes would be arranged in straight, boring rows, just as they had been every laundry day for probably a hundred years in Hilsbac. But today was the day those ropes would hold not only moistened garments, but also the garishly painted banners Lillian had prepared for Millicent’s Congratulations-On-Not-Being-Eaten-By-A-Dragon party.
Sebastian wasn’t sure if he was happy that Millicent (probably) didn’t get eaten. The best Sebastian could hope for from Millicent Cobblestop was indifference. Anything more than that was inevitably shrill or painful or outright rude. And anyway the banners seemed pointless to Sebastian too. It was a well-known fact that very few people in Hilsbac could read or write. It simply wasn’t the fashion. Sebastian’s mother, who had once dreamed of opening a school, might have changed that had she not passed away in the act of giving Sebastian life. As a result, only Sebastian and his siblings had the mysterious art of letters imparted to them. None of the other children could read, least of all Millicent Cobblestop, who Sebastian imagined barely knew how to wash herself so privileged a life did she lead.
Sebastian examined the rusty network of pulleys he had devised to quickly and easily move the laundry off to the side so that the banners (complete with helpful illustrations provided grumblingly by his elder brother Bartholomew) for Millicent could swing into view. Just as he turned to cinch down the last rope, a sharp voice barked behind him, “This had better be worth all this effort, Sebastian Smith! We’re two hours late already. You said this would be easier.”
It was Abigail, the eldest of Sebastian’s three siblings. She had somehow come to loom over Sebastian’s shoulder like a guilty specter, and though scarcely a breath’s worth of time had passed since her demand, Sebastian already heard the rapid tapping from the toe of her small and sensibly shoed foot. He started to speak, choked and then swallowed and said, “I-it will be. I promise! It worked perfectly in the alley the other day…”
Abigail, who was the closest thing Sebastian had to a proper mother, clucked her tongue, “Oh for heaven’s sake, Sebastian. What were you doing skulking about in an alleyway?”
Sebastian winced, wishing he hadn’t said quite that much about his experiment, and barely opened his lips to defend himself when Abigail let out a short gasp and cried, “Oh tell me it wasn’t the alley between the market and the Thrushton house. You know those hooligan Thrushton boy’s empty their chamberpots right out their bedroom window now that their poor old grandmother is bed bound and can’t keep a proper eye on them. Why Sebastian you ate dinner without even changing clothes last night!”
Sebastian wanted to say that he wouldn’t have been in an alley at all if Abigail had just let their second sister Lilian have the village square and moved laundry day later in the week. But instead, he said, “Sorry Abby. But this will be easier, I promise. I’ve actually had an idea like this for a long time now. I mean, there’s always so much arguing over which clothes get put in the sunny spots anyways, right? Well this way-”
Abigail obscured Sebastian’s attempts at explanation behind a thick fog of sighs, and said, “The world has been doing laundry since long before you were even born Sebastian Smith, and I don’t see why you insist on wasting time coming up with solutions to problems that aren’t problems at all. You’ve always been a lazy boy, and disguising laziness as cleverness will never help you find a place in this community.”
Sebastian flinched, stung by Abigail’s words as much by their accuracy as their wintery tone. He turned to leave and mumbled, “Sorry Abby. I’ll hurry.”
It was true that Sebastian was not often invited to join the more dangerous of traditionally male village activities: his arms were judged too slender to wield even the shortest of swords in service of the guard, and though he could with difficulty pull taut a bow, he startled far too easily to ever stalk a deer with the hunters. He had even been barred from manning the small fishing skiffs that darted around the larger ships in the bay, since his propensity for daydreaming meant his brown eyes often missed the tell-tale signs of a caught fish.
But it was also true that at thirteen winters of age Sebastian was already hard at work in the community as a cook’s boy, amateur tailor, and one day, he hoped, as a carpenter like his father before him. He tried to soothe the sting Abigail had left in his pride with these small accomplishments as he wove his way back through the maze of washbasins and wicker baskets strewn about the square.
As Sebastian stumbled into a heavy iron tub he thought belonged to Mrs. Fischer, and stood for a moment, rubbing his sore toe against the back of his other leg, he caught sight of the lanky man who introduced himself as Professor Thaddeus Archibald Lysander Rachenbaum the Third, dragon expert. The Professor had shown up in town the very night of Millicent’s choosing, promising protection from all fire-breathing fatalities. Sebastian thought it was a very lucky thing for the Professor that it was a Cobblestop chosen rather than one of the town’s more meager families. Even though most villagers thought the protection was unnecessary, the Cobblestops could at least afford the Professor’s consultation fees, and it kept Mrs. Cobblestop from pacing the floor all night, which Sebastian supposed was a fair thing to spend money on, if you had money to spend.
As Sebastian resumed limping across the village square to the control mechanism of his laundry device, he heard the Professor conversing with a ring of curious village children, all younger than Sebastian (but not terribly smaller). The Professor spoke gravely, “So then the great Dragonstone, passed down in this village, glows but one time a year?”
The voice of a girl piped up, “Mostly. We keep it in the town hall, so anybody can see it anytime.”
The Professor leaned back, “And it will glow different colors to let you know what sacrifice the dragon demands that year?”
A boy answered then, “Yea-huh. Green means cattle. Yellow means treasure.”
Sebastian snorted at the boy’s explanation. Green years were easy enough. Pack up some sheep and you’ve earned 365 days of happy dragon. Yellow years were the most interesting ones. The townspeople had a broad definition of what constituted treasure, and it was great fun to watch the villagers frantically culling their clutter for “precious” items to offer the dragon. At some point, the argument was made that treasure could be valued based upon “demonstrated sentimental value”, and so the villagers would make a great show of wailing over their excess furniture and unwanted itchy-knit sweaters so that the dragon was sure to think the humans were giving him their most priceless possessions.
The boy continued after a moment of dramatic pause, “And red is when the dragon wants maidens.”
Sebastian glanced back at the gathering in time to see the boy hugging himself and wiggling his hips and making lewd kissing sounds which caused the other children to giggle uncontrollably. There was a lot of speculation in Hilsbac as to just why the Dragon demanded maidens if he never did anything with any of them. Every five years or so, when the Dragonstone glowed red, one unlucky girl would be chosen, trussed up on a cart, and sent out into the field at the base of Hagar’s Hill. She’d wait a whole night; the Dragon would fly over at some point, naturally terrifying the poor lass, and then he would fly away and the Dragonstone would change to yellow or green, like normal.
Some people thought maybe the Dragon was testing the maidens, initiating them somehow. Others thought maybe the Dragon must like the smell of maidens but not the flavor. Some, like the now red-faced boy, thought the Dragon might have some ill-fated romantic interest in the tiny females.
But most villagers thought the Dragon was just plain mean-spirited.
The Professor cupped his bearded chin and nodded slowly, saying, “For country children you are all so very well informed about dragons. But! Nevertheless it would still be worthwhile to take my dragon preparedness class, so that you know how to keep safe in the event of a dragon attack! Tell your parents you can be trained for as little as five silver pieces. Discount for siblings!”
Sebastian’s idle eavesdropping was interrupted by the abrupt clanging of the bell on the village wall. He heard Lilian’s cry of alarm, even as he sprinted the last few yards to the two ends of rope which controlled his laundry solution. Lilian dainty footsteps were hot on his heels, accompanied by the athletic bulk of Sebastian’s older brother Bartholomew. Lilian plucked at Sebastian shoulder, “Oh Seb! You said you could make all this ugly laundry go away for Millie! Hurry won’t you? That bell is sure to be her returning and I don’t want her first sight to be gross old clothes!”
Sebastian shrugged off Lilian’s grasp and sighed, “Geez Lily, I know. Gimme a minute!”
He knew he sounded cross. So it shouldn’t have surprised him when Bartholomew’s heavy hand closed on his forearm, a disapproving gruffness puffing off his brother, “Seb. Watch it. Lily worked hard for this. Do your part.”
Sebastian scowled at his hands, which now held two thick ends of rope attached to either end of his network of pulleys. He leaned back and tugged on one end, his scowl deepening as the rope pulled slugglishy in the squeaky pulleys.
Had it been Lily who got up three hours early to rig up a laundry invention? No, she was asleep in bed probably dreaming about being Millicent.
Sebastian tugged harder at the stubborn rope.
Was it Lily who stayed up late to block out the big red We-Missed-You-Millie letters on the banners nobody else could read? No, because Lily lost interest in Abigail’s letter lessons and Sebastian had to endure them all by himself for three whole seasons because he didn’t get to go hunting with the other boys when he turned ten winters.
Sebastian stopped tugging and started yanking.
He hadn’t noticed that the clanging of the bell had caused the village square to fall silent in anticipation. Somewhere behind the throbbing frustration in his head, Sebastian did think to wonder about the two sounds he could hear in the village square. The first was the familiar wooden groans of the heavy village gate opening, and the second was a kind of echoing screech as one by one his pulleys responded to the tension of the ropes.
Looking over at the slow moving gate, Sebastian replaced his frustration with a guilty sort of desperation. Lily really would be heartbroken if her plan to impress Millicent failed. And Sebastian had made a promise, which, if he were really honest was just an excuse to convince Abigail to let him try out his invention in the first place.
The last thought struck Sebastian like a lash on his backside, and he jumped a bit and immediately began pulling as hard as he could on his ropes. The rust on the salvaged pulleys squealed, filling the square with an ominous cacophony for precisely twenty-seven seconds, before they fell disastrously silent.
In those twenty-seven seconds of success Sebastian had time to think of a surprising number of things. He thought, for instance, about how this elegant solution to the problem of Hilsbac’s laundry drying woes would finally change his life for the better. Though he was quite sure he would still be unwelcome in the hunting parties, and that he wouldn’t be allowed to stand watch in the high towers of the village wall, at least Sebastian thought the people in the village might finally let him help with more complex problems than bathing himself when he was dirty, and feeding himself when he was hungry.
He thought too that perhaps Millicent Cobblestop would take Lily as a new best friend, and that his family would always remember this as the day Sebastian alone rescued poor Lily from embarrassment and a life of merely modest social prospects. They would begin to admire him, and to believe that he would make his way in the world, in his own queer way.
He even imagined that Mayor Harold Cobblestop himself would be so grateful to him for providing an ingenious way to both keep the town running smoothly, and ensure his eldest daughter was celebrated sans soiled shirts, that he would insist on making Sebastian the Chief Solver of Impossible Problems (or some other equally grandiose but vague title).
Yet just as quickly as they began, Sebastian’s twenty-seven seconds of success came to an end with a sudden gasp of silence. The gate was open, and the pulleys had fallen still. Sebastian realized that though his invention had caused quite a racket, the clothes hadn’t actually moved very much at all, and none of the banners were yet visible. With Lily’s hand now clawing at his shoulder, Sebastian took a deep belly-breath and heaved against the ropes one final time, and brought the silence to a disastrous end.
The silence-shattering sound sounded like this: SNAP!
When the first line broke Sebastian thought that the clothes would simply drop to the ground below. But somehow, in a way Sebastian could never quite explain, the built-up tension ricocheted back down the whole spider web and caused the ropes to jerk and spin. In a single instant of time, the village square of Hilsbac was littered with so much damp laundry it looked like the seashore after a hurricane.
In the hours that followed, Sebastian truly wished that he had kept his eyes fixed more firmly on the gate. He wished that his gaze had not been drawn inexplicably to a large garment fluttering through the village square sky like an enormous white sea bird, and alighting almost gracefully on the highest corner of the Baker’s shop roof. It was Mrs. Geldeblat’s crisp white under-girdle.
Sebastian couldn’t help a single snerk of loud laughter, despite the chaotic destruction his contraption had wrought.
His laughter was followed almost immediately by a sudden chorus of screams and shrieks. He snapped out of his disbelief, immediately prepared to defend himself against an angry mob of midwives and mothers. But instead, across the cobblestones littered with sundresses and overcoats and patch-kneed play clothes, Sebastian saw the open gate now revealing a soot black cart, bearing no golden haired Millicent, but a broken and greasy looking black stake. Sebastian saw too the shell-shocked features of one of the Thrushton boys pulling the charred cart, who had been dispatched to watch over Millicent, and returned now with a blank look and the color of ash staining the knees of his trousers.
Sebastian’s shock at the grisly sight of the cart, as well as his laughter in the face of it, was so complete that he found only one thought repeating in his brain, over and over.
At least Millicent wasn’t there to see the disaster.
In which Sebastian steals a shirt
It took Sebastian longer than he had hoped to retrieve the exploded girdle from the roof of the Baker’s shop, with Abigail hollering the whole time about broken legs and cracked skulls being no fair excuse not to clean up his mess. At first he had been aghast that his eldest sister could even think of chores in the immediate moments following the most shocking tragedy in Hilsbac history. But she had simply replied, “The whole village might want to sit around crying today, but come tomorrow things won’t seem any better with dirty clothes as well as a dead Cobblestop.”
As he inched along the last few feet of roof, shingles catching at his trousers and one foot braced nervously in the guttering, Sebastian looked out across the village of Hilsbac. From this unlikely vantage he found that he could see all the way down the broad central boulevard to the small pier and the great blue sea shimmering all the way out to the horizon, and at the same time, he could see the thick village wall and the rolling green fields beyond, all the way to the massive mountain range that towered in the center of the island on which Hilsbac was built. Though he was aware that there must be quite a bit more world than just this view, in that moment Sebastian felt like he was looking at the whole of creation.
And then there was Mrs. Geldeblat’s under-girdle, which snapped sharply in the wind, as if it had somehow inherited his sister’s disposition. Stretching out, Sebastian gasped as he suddenly slid a bit before catching himself on the last possible inch of rooftop. He glared at the sassy underpants.
Carefully, and focused now, Sebastian reached out one hand and caught the now dry under-girdle by the laces. He took a few steadying breaths and then rolled to the side, dragging the heavy garment onto the roof with him. The under-girdle covered him like a bedspread. As quickly as he could Sebastian wriggled out from the clinging white fabric.
That was when Sebastian discovered the shirt.
It was a much smaller garment than the under-girdle, and a faded blue in color. It was plainly cut, and just a little bit ragged. It came with Sebastian when he disentangled himself from the embrace of the under-girdle, clinging to him like a freed hostage. At first Sebastian didn’t even notice it huddled against his chest, but the feeling of too much fabric made him worried some under-under-girdle had stuck to him, and he plucked up the shirt quickly.
Sebastian’s heart froze. He knew this shirt. He would recognize this shirt anywhere. This was the faded blue very favorite shirt of Roland Baker.
All at once, Sebastian didn’t know which felt hotter, the shirt or his cheeks. He felt, absurdly, like laughing out loud, but he bit his lips and tried to control himself. The rush of joy he felt was infuriatingly uncontrollable. He tried to turn his thoughts away to more sensible things. He wondered how the shirt had gotten here in the first place. Had it always been in Mrs. Geldeblat’s under-girdle? Or was it a victim of the laundry catastrophe? Had it even been washed? Or was it just caught up in the chaos from its innocent laundry basket abode?
Quite logically Sebastian thought there was only one way to find out. He brought the shirt to his face and sniffed it.
Two things became immediately apparent: firstly the shirt had not yet been washed, and secondly, the smell of Roland was like lamp oil to a flame in Sebastian’s chest. Sebastian’s mind was wrenched unbidden into countless memories of Roland; of fingers brushing through dusty blonde locks, and the crinkles of eyelids around turquoise eyes when they were smiling.
He didn’t even realize his eyes were closed until his private reverie was shattered by another blood curdling screech from the village square below.
Immediately Sebastian jerked the incriminating garment away from his face, sitting up with a start, which caused him to slide once more perilously close to the edge of the roof. He let out a yelp and dug his fingernails into the rough shingles to stop himself. He panted as he scrambled back to safety, and then peered down at the square. The screaming had faded, but there was now a loud commotion. He gazed down and saw several women had swooned, and that there was a man standing at the intersection between the Blacksmith’s workshop and the Grocer’s store. All eyes were focused on him.
Sebastian strained to listen, and he caught the tail end of the man’s loud speaking, “…not clear at this time. All we know is that the Dragonstone is still glowing red. Mayor Cobblestop is obviously indisposed after the tragic loss of his daughter, but a town meeting has been called tomorrow at sundown.”
Sebastian reeled. The still crimson Dragonstone meant that the dragon wanted another maiden, even after actually killing Millicent. He felt his stomach tie itself in knots as his own sisters came to mind once more. From the square below he heard a woman’s voice cry, “What of the Choosing then? Will we send another of our daughters to that monster?”
There was a long pause and then the man at the far end of the square said, “At this time, we must proceed as if that is the case.”
Sebastian could not make out any more specific responses as the square erupted into a torrent of shouts and screams. It blasted up the sides of the Baker’s shop like searing heat from a just-opened-oven, causing Sebastian to roll back away with a wince. He lay looking up at the sky, gasping and trying to accept what he had just heard.
The Dragon was going to kill again, and much sooner than five years from now.
And somewhere in the back of Sebastian’s mind, in the same secret mental workshop in which he constructed the creative-if-disastrous laundry solution, the smallest whisper of a plan concerning the dragon was also beginning to form, though he didn’t recognize it for what it was just yet. He curled his fingers, unconsciously, around Roland’s blue shirt, and was just sinking into a proper brainstorm when the voice of Abigail thundered above the general commotion, “Sebastian! What are you doing up there? Get down here right away. We need you!”
Sebastian jerked back to the present, taking a moment to process what Mrs. Geldeblat said. He rolled to the edge of the roof and peered over carefully. The villagers needed him? At this moment of crisis, they wanted his help? Had his laundry solution impressed them despite its failure? Sebastian felt suddenly like he could fly off the roof. His brainstorm turned into a monsoon and he grinned as he waved down and called, “I’ll be right there, Abby! I heard everything, and I’ve already got some great ideas on how we can handle the dragon. We just need some more infor…”
Even from the top of the Baker’s shop, Sebastian could hear Abigail sighing. This was aided by the fact that his shouting from on high seemed to have brought a hush to the panic in the square. Sebastian’s face turned roughly the same shade of red as Mrs. Turnwick’s best red blouse. Abigail called up, “The dragon? What are you babbling about, Sebastian? Stop daydreaming and get down here! The last thing anyone needs to worry about now is cleaning up your mess.”
The village square filled with noise again then, slowly at first, but rising with every passing second. It was the sound of the shock spell ending, the sound of society resuming. No matter how bleak the news, there were conversations that needed having, preparations for the making, and life to get on with. One small snippet of the resumed regularity of the villagers wafted up to Sebastian on his perch. It was the voice of one of the older boys, saying snidely, “How could he help anyway? Build a junk fort and launch dirty laundry at the dragon? Hope its weakness is ladies underthings!”
There was a chorus of chuckles, chortles, snickers, and outright guffaws. The only laughter Sebastian recognized though was the deep-voiced chuffing of his brother Bartholomew. Sebastian wished then he really had fallen off the roof and died trying to retrieve the scattered laundry. But he was still quite alive enough to hear Abigail’s voice scream, “Hurry up, Sebastian. You’ve got a lot of work to do!”
And that is just what Sebastian did. He climbed off the roof, returned to the square and quietly gathered all the various laundry his invention had flung about. He rewashed each piece until his fingers were so pruny they blistered. He restrung the drying lines in boring straight rows, and then dutifully returned the various garments, folded, to their appropriate laundry baskets to be picked up by their appropriate owners. He retrieved and returned every last piece of clothing.
Every last piece of clothing except one.