Archives for category: “Crawl Space” by Lisa Mason

The Garden of Abracadabra Cover Final

Crawl Space” is a spin-off from my urban fantasy novel, THE GARDEN OF ABRACADABRA (in print and an ebook). The book is “fun and enjoyable,” as reviewers have commented, while also teaching serious lessons of Real Magic.
Abby Teller, the heroine of the novel, makes a cameo appearance here as well as Esmeralda Tormenta and her companion, Senor (plot spoilers of the novel appear in this story). Nikki Tesla is a regular in the novel and, most of all, the Garden of Abracadabra, a magical apartment building in Berkeley, California near the campus of the College of Magical Arts and Crafts, where Abby has started attending classes.
I hope you’ll take a peek at the novel, which took me two-and-a-half years to write. And a lovely two-and-a-half years, it was.
Crawl Space
Lisa Mason
People often ask, “Jo, how did you get into the plumbing business?”
If I’m feeling flip, I’ll say, “I’m into pipes. Pipes are a girl thing.” If I want to impress, “My mothers founded the business and handed it over to me when they retired. It’s an honorable family tradition.” For a friendly touch, I may add, “Phil taught me how to use her tools when I was a kid. While other girls were playing with dolls and plush animals, I was messing around with P-trap fittings.” If I’ve just filed my quarterly estimated taxes and feeling some pain, I’ll say, “Everybody needs a plumber. You called me, right? That’ll be two-hundred-fifty an hour plus parts.”
Tonight I’m reflective. “My mothers took me to Rome when I was ten. What a trip! We toured the Baths of Caracalla, the Acqua Vergine aqueduct, the Fontana di Trevi. Made quite an impression, y’know?”
“Yeah, all that feminine elemental water energy,” says Abby Teller, the superintendent of the Garden of Abracadabra. Abby landed herself an ideal part-time gig for a student at the Berkeley College of Magical Arts and Crafts. She’s one hell of a super and a crackerjack fledgling magician.
She figured out how to turn off the building’s incoming main when water began cascading through a crack in the ceiling plaster onto her favorite tenant’s means of a livelihood. Then she placed the emergency call to me at eight in the evening just as I was kicking back with a Bud Lite and some brainless dramedy on TV.
Abby has called me more than once to pinch-hit the plumbing problems of these grand old apartments. The Mediterranean building—a leafy walk away from the Magical Arts and Crafts campus—is an architectural treasure built during the gold-rush days and registered by an historical preservation society.
I love the place but things can get dicey there after sunset. Tonight on my way up to Apartment Thirty-nine, for instance, I ran into two of Abby’s other tenants. Esmeralda Tormenta carried a mason jar with a tiny tornado whirling inside it. Her companion, by day a Great Dane named Senor, walked by her side. Since the sun had set, he was wearing his customary red neckerchief (the Great Dane wears the neckerchief, too) and black leather jeans, resembling a youthful Daniel Craig with a scowl and jet-black hair.
Abby says—and who am I to doubt her?—that every one of her tenants is some stripe of supernatural entity, every apartment some kind of fairyland or hell. She told me this, with a weary sigh, the first time she called me. “Will that be a problem for you?”
“Nah, I’m okay with supernatural entities,” I said, desperate for the business.
Abby always pays my bills on time, never bounces a check. When she calls, I come, any day, any night. Abby and me, we’re good.
The tenant says, “Yeah, the Fontana di Trevi is pretty cool. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain.’”
I glance at him, surprised he’d know vintage movies. He looks like a classic computer nerd—but who knows at the Garden of Abracadabra?—with peculiar eyes glowing in his long, bony face, the irises swirling with color like the splash screen of some exotic software. His black hair, bushy eyebrows, and bushier mustache play up his suspicious pallor.
He looms protectively over his computers, printer-scanners, and a serious router with flashing green lights. He’s draped sheets of painter’s plastic over his expensive equipment.
An errant water-drop drips from the ceiling, splats on the plastic.
“Three coins in what?” says the general contractor standing beside the tenant, perplexity on his beefy face. This is the guy Abby calls for dry-wall patches and paint touch-ups.
“Roman tradition says when you toss three coins in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll fall in love and marry,” I explain.
“’Three Coins’ is a sappy romance flick from the nineteen-fifties,” the tenant adds and looks me over.
I’m decked out in my denim jumpsuit and a tool belt with brass hooks and loops of leather. The belt holds a flashlight, three sizes of wrenches and screwdrivers, a metal file, a tube of caulk and a caulk gun, a spray can of Rustoleum, a ball-peen hammer, and a deluxe Swiss Army knife. Tonight I’ve also got a dielectric union with a neoprene gasket dangling from a hook.
The tenant grins in a way that makes my heart go pitter-pat. Blue electrical sparks crackle from his fingertips.
“I got the ceiling opened up like you asked,” the contractor says to Abby and strides to the tenant’s kitchen. “Could we get a move on, please? I’ve got a nine o’clock call in Emeryville.”
In Rome, I’d wandered with Philippa and Theodora around massive stonework walls, vast ancient baths. Theo had turned to me, tears of pride in her eyes, and said, “Think of it, Jo. Plumbers built this.”
I may have been only ten years old but I knew very well that plumbers hadn’t built the Acqua Vergine. Slaves had built it and a master architect had designed it—some guy with an understanding of pre-Christian-era civic water management. Hardly what you’d call a plumber. But I’d held my tongue.
I’d had to do that a lot—hold my tongue—about my mothers, in spite of living in Berkeley. Hold my tongue around them, too. To their gentle unspoken disappointment, I’d turned out to be boy-crazy.
e all trek to the kitchen where the contractor has set up a step ladder to the three-foot hole he’s cut in the ceiling. The contractor and me, we’re not so good. We started off on the wrong foot two jobs ago when he looked at my tool belt and asked, “So where are your handcuffs?”
Phil and Theo had christened their business, “Dominatrix Plumbing.” I could have changed the name when they retired. But they’d built up a clientele, good will, name recognition, and a Better Business Bureau approval rating. Besides, it’s hard to grab people’s attention in Berkeley. “Frank the Plumber” just doesn’t cut it in this town. Flip open the Berkeley phonebook and you’ll find Peace & Love Plumbing, Progressive Sump Pumps, and my fave, Ganga Drains and Sewers.
I couldn’t really resent the contractor but he’s always got this smirky attitude.
He smirks at me now.
After they’d eliminated other possibilities—a rain leak from the building’s roof, tenants upstairs overflowing a water closet or a bathtub—Abby and the contractor decided the problem lies with an interior pipe. A five-point-five earthquake shook up Berkeley last week, and the building is old. Really, really old. Maybe a fitting in the aging galvanized piping has corroded and loosened?
“Water goes wherever it wants to go,” I concur. A plumber’s homily that either boosts a customer’s confidence or irritates the hell out of them.
Both the tenant and the contractor are looking at me like I’m the sacrificial virgin. The astronaut in 2001 fated to go outside the shuttle and fix the propulsion engine banged up by space junk. Or the coon-capped scout sent through enemy musket-fire to deliver a message to the bewigged general at the embattled fort upriver in The Last of the Mohicans. The chosen one, boldly going where no fool has gone before.
When you think about it, our world is made up of two places—private and public. I fix clogged kitchen sinks and leaky bathroom faucets, so I see a lot of private spaces where people keep the messy detritus of their lives deeply rooted within walls and locked doors. I also fix sewers and main drains and travel in my van from job to job, so I see a lot of public spaces, too, where people and creatures and things indiscriminately mingle.
But between the inner wall of private space and the outer wall of the public lies another dimension. In that interstice, elusive electrical cables take harbor, and secret communication connections, hidden heating ducts. Termites, spiders, centipedes, silverfish all call this place their home.
The crawl space.
I climb up the contractor’s step ladder, crawl through the hole, slide on my belly inside.
I switch on my black-and-yellow Dorcy flashlight, sending a beam through the murk. The crawl space is maybe three by three feet. The space smells of centuries-old dust, a tang of mold, a whiff of wood rot. No water on the floor, so Abby’s theory—an isolated interior pipe got knocked askew—seems a good bet.
I spot pipes of red brass, others of yellow brass, and snippets of copper tubing randomly spliced among them. The Garden of Abracadabra needs a plumbing overhaul, big time. I gleefully start calculating estimates. If Phil taught me tools, Theo instilled horse sense. What every independent businesswoman needs to figure poundage per hoof.
The prospect of a Big Job has me smiling when suddenly I shimmy off the edge of a cliff. I plummet with a yell, head over heels, into a deep, dark valley. I land with a splash in a shallow pool of water.
The scattered water-drops reconstitute themselves into the shape of a transparent woman—a water woman, her features discernable on the translucent tension of her watery surface. She smiles seductively and strokes my arm, drenching the sleeve of my jumpsuit. Startled, I instinctively draw the metal file from my tool belt and swipe the file’s edge through her naked waist.
She backs away with a moist smile, cleaved in two, and instantly reconstitutes herself. With a tinkling laugh, she dives into an abyss yawning open before me.
I glance around at the valley, taking in the expanse of dull silver metal studded with cottages of red and yellow brass. The valley stretches away to another cliff rising up in the twilit distance. As I’m gawking, trying to convince myself I haven’t inexplicably died in the crawl space and gone to some hellish plumber’s purgatory, an imposing metal man marches up to me, his boot heels clanking.
“I am King Gob,” he declares and slams his fist on his majestic brass chest with a mighty clang. “Who art thou, wench?”
For a moment, I think he’s called me a “wrench.” Then I realize that isn’t what he said. I’m about to spill my usual intro, “Hi, I’m Jo from Dominatrix, here to whip your plumbing into submission,” but I bite back my words. Between the metal file gripped in my hand like a sword and the scowl on Gob’s brassy face, I cobble a more appropriate response.
I stand up straight, square my shoulders, and somberly say, “I am Josephine, at your service, King Gob.”
“Have ye come to take command of the breach?” he says with enough skepticism to arouse my routine defenses whenever a customer questions my capabilities as a woman plumber.
“I have,” I reply. “Show it to me at once.”
Gob turns and strides away. I follow, warily stepping around the abyss. I glance down into it. Water women cling to the steep sides, laughing mischievously as they slide to the bottom and out through a narrow jagged aperture.
The crack in the tenant’s ceiling plaster? Got to be.
Little silver- and copper-colored children gather shyly in a giggling group, whispering among themselves and pointing at me, their metallic button-eyes wide with wonder.
“Who are you?” I say, smiling.
A brave copper girl steps forward and says, “We’re gobbins of the Valley of Gob, of course.”
“Of course,” I reply politely. “Pleased to meet you.”
“This way,” King Gob says and leads me to the far cliff where a rusted iron step ladder juts out of the rock and ascends to the height of a one-story structure. At the top is a flat service platform. I point my flashlight, illuminating a main line of pipe.
A yellow brass pipe-man extends his brawny arms toward a copper pipe-man. Their metal hands form a perfect circle meant to grasp, to connect one pipe-man to the other.
But their grip has been shaken askew. Their hands don’t quite meet at the intended junction.
As I watch, a water woman oozes between the copper man’s hands and leaps out, dropping on Gob, splashing all over him. The droplets reconstitute and she clings to him, entwining her watery arms around him, staining his joints with a scrim of rust.
He scowls and shouts. But he doesn’t push her away.
I step forward and wipe her off him with my sleeve. She splats on the valley floor and somersaults down the incline toward the abyss, laughing merrily.
“Cursed, cursed undine,” Gob sputters.
I rub the ridges of my metal file on the rust spots the undine left on his joints, abrading them away. “King Gob, why did you not resist her?”
“Oh, we resist the undines as best we can with the quality of metal we’re made of. We confine them when we can, and channel their movements. But undines go where they will.”
“How well I know,” I whisper.
“We cannot control them when they find a way through our channels and barriers.” Gob looks at me, his brass eyes beseeching. “We need a commander of the world like you, Josephine, who can move among undines and gobbins alike.”
I nod. I never thought of myself—me, a plumber!—like that before. But Gob is right. The elements—and their inhabitants, the elementals—are powerful natural forces. They stay within their nature, within their destined path, blindly helping or hindering each other as need or confrontation arises. It takes the eyes and hands and will of a human being to guide and direct all the elements. A human being to rule all the elementals.
That would be me.
Gob glances up at the pipeline. “Can ye repair the breach, Commander?”
“I can,” I say, “and I will.”
I thrust the metal file in my tool belt, climb the rungs of the ladder to the service platform. I step gingerly onto it—it’s flimsier than it looked at a distance—but it holds my weight well enough. I move to the junction of the yellow brass pipe-man and the copper pipe-man. As I survey the breach between their cupped hands, an undine squeezes out, drenches me, and drops to the valley below.
Another undine oozes out and another and another, smiling that seductive smile and laughing merrily. One undine presses her face to mine, another runs her fingers through my hair, still another slips her hands into the sleeves of my jumpsuit.
A shout rises to my throat. Are the undines trying to drown me?
I gulp air, press my lips tight, pinch my nostrils.
For a moment, I feel as if I am drowning. I cannot, I must not drown under their elemental magic. I yank a cotton handkerchief from my hip pocket and wipe the undines off my face, off my jumpsuit. I twist the handkerchief, wringing the cotton out.
The water women drop down onto the gobbins below, pooling on the valley floor, staining their cottages with rust.
“Onward,” I mutter and pull the dielectric union with a neoprene gasket off my tool belt. I fit the gasket over the yellow brass pipe-man’s hands, shove my shoulder beneath the copper pipe-man’s hands, and push their grip into alignment. With the ball-peen hammer, I tamp their connection tightly together. For good measure, I fit the tube of caulk in the gun and smear a layer of sealant around the union.
I climb down the ladder and step amid a cheering crowd of gobbin women and children in shades of red brass and yellow brass and copper.
King Gob beats his fist on his chest and beams at me.
“The breach is secured, at least for the moment,” I announce.
“Thank ye, Commander, we are most grateful,” King Gob says.
“‘Tis but one battle in an ongoing war,” I answer modestly. “The war between order and chaos, law and anarchy, construction and destruction. I am glad to have been of service.”
“Will we see you again?”
“You can count on it.”
The metal king leads me back to the cliff from which I’d so unceremoniously fallen into the Valley of Gob. I climb up the ladder set in the side of it. At the top, I turn and wave grandly to the cheering crowd below me. I look out at the valley, safe from the wanton water, and imagine Theo’s tears of pride, her gentle voice saying, “A plumber did this.”
Yes, she did.
Then I slide on my belly through the crawl space. A centipede scurries out of my way. I find the hole cut in the kitchen ceiling and climb down the contractor’s ladder.
“Geeze, it’s about time,” the contractor says, tapping his finger on his wristwatch. “What took you so long?”
“Did you find the problem?” Abby Teller says.
“I sure did. Two pipes knocked askew, just as you suspected. Yellow brass and copper pipes. They’re incompatible, basically.”
“Any trouble fixing it?”
“Nah, I installed a standard gasket.”
Abby reaches out, touches my head. “Hey, Jo, your hair is wet.”
“Yeah, there was a bit of water up there. The gasket, it’s only temporary. I’ve got to tell you, Abby, the Garden of Abracadabra badly needs the plumbing replaced. Like, all of it. Good copper tubing and solid fittings.”
“I’ll check my budget and let you know when I can schedule the work.”
“Then I’ve got the job?”
“Absolutely.” She shakes my hand, and my whole arm vibrates with her magician’s power. “Got to go. The tenants in Number Eleven and Number Twelve are flinging hexes at each other again. Rival covens, what a hassle.”
She strides out, a tall, slim woman with russet hair. The superintendent of the Garden of Abracadabra, and a pal of mine.
The contractor folds up his ladder. “I’ll be back on Thursday to patch up the ceiling,” he tells the tenant. “Is eight in the evening good for you?”
“It’s going to have to be,” the tenant says with a sigh. “When my girlfriend Tabitha found me with another witch, she cursed me to work every day for the rest of my life from sunrise to sunset at Computers ‘R’ Us. I can only be here, at the Garden of Abracadabra, after the sun goes down.”
“Yeah, right.” The contractor rolls his eyes at me. “Sheesh, Berkeley. The Land of Oz.” He trudges out, lugging the ladder.
I’m left standing in the kitchen with the tenant. We look at each other. A beanpole, he stands head and shoulders above me. Blue sparks flicker from his hands. Oh, boy.
“Can I get you a drink?” he says. “By the way, I’m Nikki Tesla. I’m an electronics wizard.”
“What have you got, wizard?”
“Two percent milk, spring water, vodka, and tonic.”
“Vodka tonic, no ice. Got a lemon or lime?”
“A twist of lime, comin’ up.” Tesla putters around at the kitchen counter, then hands me a cocktail glass. He clinks his glass against mine.
“Oh, wait.” He digs three pennies out of his jeans pocket and tosses them in my glass. “What did you say your name is?”
I squeeze water from my hair. Water and electricity—a dangerous mix. I smile. “Call me Commander Josephine.”
Afterword
For a story barely under 4,000 words, “Crawl Space” packs a lot of plot and took some fairly extensive research. First, there’s THE GARDEN OF ABRACADABRA, of course, which explores in more depth the origin of the apartment building.
Then there’s plumbing. I got out my technical books on how to maintain your home, researched the tools Jo would carry and the tasks she was charged with.
Then there’s Italy and its famous fountains and ancient Roman aqueducts. I found my tourist books and got the right spelling and details of the various landmarks.
And then there’s Berkeley, a famously eccentric college town. A cruise through my telephone book (yes, I still have a paper telephone book) gave me some hints of what Jo and her mothers would name their business.
Finally, I consulted Manly P. Hall’s massive treatise, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, for details about elementals, the spirits that inhabit the elements.
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10.18.17.3.ATHENA.IN.BOX_NEW

About Me
I’ve published eleven novels including Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Recommended Book of the Year, The Gilded Age, a New York Times Notable Book and a New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published fiction, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, three screenplays, and forty stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. My Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child”, sold outright as a feature film in 2001 to Universal Pictures. But that sale occurred eighteen years ago. Will the movie ever happen? Who knows? I’m working on a new screenplay for it.
I live in the San Francisco Bay area with my artist husband, Tom Robinson, and our Siamese-Angora cat (a breed otherwise known as a rag doll). Athena.
CHROME is my new speculative fiction novel.
Why Patreon?
Books take me years to research and write. Stories, even, may take months. If I try to rush, the result never comes out good.
I wish I could have written hundreds of books and stories like some other authors. But I can’t. I have too much respect for you, the reader, and for the work itself. The work is my legacy. The work will last long after I’m gone.
When a writer sells a book to a traditional publisher, typically that writer signs up for a modest advance against which a miniscule percentage of earnings are charged before the publisher pays out a royalty—every six months. When a writer, rebelling against the System as so many traditionally published writers have, goes to publish independently, there’s a huge personal investment in production, distribution, and promotion.
But I’m not on Patreon to complain that the lives of writers and artists is difficult. You can read such complaints anywhere. And they’re legitimate complaints—that’s why Patreon exists.
No, I’m on Patreon because something terrible and unexpected happened to me.
On July 11, 2018, I was walking around Lake Merritt on a sunny afternoon, with the dog-walkers, the moms and baby strollers, the bicyclists and joggers, as I’ve done virtually every day since 1996—rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter, three and a half miles—when a man jumped out of the bushes and confronted me on the sidewalk.
He tried to beat me up, I fended him off, then he shoved me into two lanes of oncoming traffic on the street. To avoid plunging into the traffic, I backpedaled with my feet, and fell on the concrete curb.
The police apprehended him after he assaulted several other people around lake. From the back of an ambulance, I identified him.
Then I went off in the ambulance to a big urban hospital where I underwent three hours of surgery under general anesthetic for a fractured hip and a broken thigh.
Now it’s a year later and I can’t walk like I did before. Half a mile to the market and back takes nearly an hour. I can’t walk three miles daily to my publishing office, where I earned a good salary. I can no longer walk around the lake, which I miss terribly. The Attack has inflicted me—a former ballet dancer, a swimmer, and an athlete—with a partial disability, daily pain, a nasty limp, and nastier scars. Other health complications may be ensuing.
That’s why Patreon.
I’m prepared to give you, my wonderful Patrons, in exchange for your Sustenance, my best efforts on a monthly basis.
For the September 2019 Tier One, Essential Sustenance, I posted a tribute to my late friend and Japanese translator, Yoshio Kobayashi, my recipe for California Spicy Rice, and my movie review of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?
For Tier Two, Vital Sustenance, I posted a delightful urban fantasy, “Crawl Space,” a spin-off story from my novel, The Garden of Abracadabra, an Introduction to the story, and Afterword about the extensive research I undertook for this 4,000-word story, and the September Writer’s Tip about inadvertent repetition in your writing. (August 2019 was a lovely cat fantasy, “Crazy Chimera Lady.”)
On Tier Three, Necessary Sustenance, I posted Excerpt 2 from my new SF novel, CHROME. (August 2019 was Excerpt 1.) Also I posted to the public the first five-star review.
I’m making changes to Tier Four, Nutritious Sustenance, and adding Tier Five, Delicious Sustenance. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow or the next day.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Even a tiny tip will help!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!