No sooner had they reached for the drinks in the office cupboard, than the phone rang loudly.
“I thought you gave her the afternoon?” Tara mouthed while picking the annoying phone. “Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
Her face frowned. “Herself speaking.”
“Yes, we do private investigations. Very successfully I may say. Alright Ma’am, let me check my agenda.” She looked in the air, flipping an imaginary agenda. “Oh, you’re in luck, our 5pm just cancelled. Alright then, see you at our office. Au revoir.”
Tara hung up with a smile.
Star was busy slurping the mojito while struggling with the mint bits in her teeth. “What? Tell me this instant!”
“Our second case! Isn’t it exciting!”
“Sure thing, what it is this time? Evil possession?”
“Actually, it’s not that far off. Apparently, our ladyship needs a falgrante delicto of adultery. Her husband seems to be a cheating one, and with a twinge of double personality… Or at least that’s what she said.”
“Fantastic. Can’t wait for all the juicy details. I’ll go prepare my sequin red dress to set the honey trap darling.”
“Good lord, get a hold of yourself Star, it’s only been a day, and you’re ready to jump on the next passing horse as it were.”
“Who said you shouldn’t mix pleasure with business.”
“Right. Thought that was the reverse…”
“Tsk. Just to get the last word.”
“A dil-do factory?” She was aghast. “A fucking carrot dildo factory?”
“Oh don’t push it.” Star lit a large cigar, a nasty habit that cropped up when she was nervous. She blew a smoke ring and sighed. “At least the rogering was a nice change. Good clean sex, almost a spiritual experience.”
“Oh come now, with all the don’t-need-to-know details…”
“Well, don’t be such a prude, you were there after all. With all that luscious moaning. Haven’t seen you so flushed in ages…” Star tittered in that high-pitched laughter that could shatter crystal flutes.
“Wait… a minute.” Tara was having a brainwave. “We may have overlooked something.”
“What? In the sex department?”
“Shush, you lascivious banshee… In the flushed department.”
“What? Don’t speak riddles tart, I can’t handle riddles when my body’s aching from all that gymnastic.”
“Can’t you see? They got to get rid of the dissident stuff unfit for cultish dildoing, if you catch my drift.”
“Oh I catch it alright, but I’ve checked the loo… Oh, what? you mean the compost pile?”
“I’ve seen trucks parked out the back, they where labelled… Organic Lou’s Disposal Services… OLDS… That’s probably how they remove their archives, if you see what I mean.”
“I have a theory. Although it usually would be more in your area of theories.”
“What? Alien abduction?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking time travel… Haven’t you noticed the scent of celery when we were at the mansion and the appartment?”
“A dead give-away for time-travelling shenanigans!”
“Exactly. And if I’m correct, might well be that it’s Mr French from the future who phoned us, before he returned to his timeline. Probably because he already knows we’re going to crack the case. Before we know.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Would have been nicer if he’d told us how to solve it instead, if he knew, from the future and all? Are you not sure he’s not from his past instead, like before he got in that dreadful car accident?”
“Oh well, doesn’t matter does it? And probably won’t any longer once we locate the Uncle Basil in the Drooling Home of Retired Vegetables.”
Bert tells me it’s Christmas day today. Christmas! I just looked at him blankly when he told me, trying to bring to mind what it used to be like. I can’t remember the last time Christmas was normal. Probably around fifteen years ago, just before the six years of fires started. It’s a wonder we survived, but we did. Even Mater. God knows how old she is now, maybe Bert knows. He’s the one trying to keep track of the passing of time. I don’t know what for, he’s well past his sell by date, but seems to cling on no matter what, like Mater. And me I suppose.
We lost contact with the outside world over ten years ago (so Bert tells me, I wouldn’t know how long it was). It was all very strange at first but it’s amazing what you can get used to. Once you get over expecting it to go back to normal, that is. It took us a long time to give up on the idea of going back to normal. But once you do, it changes your perspective.
But don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad. We haven’t heard anything of the twins, not for a good ten years or more (you’d have to ask Bert how long) but I hear their voices in my head sometimes, and dream of them. In my dreams they’re always on the water, on a big flat raft boat. I love it when I dream of them and see all that water. Don’t ask me how, but I know they’re alright.
Anyway like I said, it hasn’t been all bad. Vulture meat is pretty tasty if you cook it well. The vultures did alright with it all, the sky was black with them at times, right after the droughts and the fires. But we don’t eat much these days, funny how you get used to that, too. We grow mushrooms down in the old mines (Bert’s idea, I don’t know what we’d do without him). And when the rains came, they were plentiful. More rain than we’d ever seen here.
Prune’s been back to see us once (you’d have to ask Bert when it was). She was on some kind of land sailing contraption, no good asking me what was powering the thing, there’s been no normal fuel for a good long time, none that’s come our way. Any time anyone comes (which is seldom) they come on camels or horses. One young family came passing through on a cart pulled by a cow once. But Prune came wafting in on some clever thing I’d never seen the likes of before. She didn’t stay long, she was going back to China, she said. It was all very different there, she said. Not all back to the dark ages like here, that’s what she said. But then, we were here in the first place because we liked a quiet simple life. Weren’t we? Hard to remember.
WIB (workman in blue) opened his lunch box and unwrapped a sandwich. He sighed when he saw it was cheese and pickle again. It had been cheese and pickle all week, a sure sign that WAH (woman at home) wasn’t giving him the attention he deserved, throwing the easiest thing together day after day instead of planning a nice roast chicken dinner, with the prospect of a couple of days of savoury chicken sandwiches to take to work. She hadn’t even bothered to boil up a few hard boiled eggs for a bit of variety. He loved egg sandwiches. He wasn’t a hard man to please, he ruminated dolefully, chewing the cheese and pickle.
He reached for his flask to wash it down with a gulp of tea, and noticed with some surprise that she’d bought him a new flask. His old one had a few dents in the screw on cup, and this one looked all shiny and new. Anxious to wash down the cheesy lump in his throat, he unscrewed the cap and poured the flask over the cup.
But there was no tea in the flask, nothing poured out of it. He peered inside and shook it.
“That woman’s lost her marbles!”
It was the last straw. He stood up, shook the flask above his head, and roared incoherently.
“Everything alright, mate?” asked his work colleague mildly. WIB2 was contentedly munching a juicy pink ham sandwich. He even had a packet of crisps to go with it, WIB1 noticed.
“No tea? Fancy some of my coffee? Pass yer cup. What’s in the flask then, what’s rattling?”
WAB1 sat back down on the low wall and upended the flask, pulling at a bit of black stuff that was protruding from the top.
““Maybe it’s full of banknotes!” WIB2 suggested.
“It’s a fucking doll! What the..?”
“Why did your old lady put a doll in your flask instead of tea, mate? Private joke or something, bit of a lark?” WIB2 elbowed WIB1 in the ribs playfully. “No?” he responded to WIB1’s scowl. “Maybe there’s something stitched inside it, then.”
“Lucinda, where is this going?”
“I don’t fucking know, Helper Effy.”
“I thought as much. Perhaps we’d better go back to the beginning.”FloveParticipant
“Bloody hell,” said the driver. “Sorry about that. You fellas alright back there?”
“Yeah, I couldn’t stop,” said the driver. “I’ve only just got my bloody licence back.”
Once he’d finished to tell the story, and let the kids go back to the cottage for the night, Rukshan’s likeness started to vanish from the place, and his consciousness slowly returned to the place where his actual body was before projecting.
Being closer to the Sacred Forest enhanced his capacities, and where before he could just do sneak peeks through minutes of remote viewing, he could now somehow project a full body illusion to his friends. He’d been surprised that Fox didn’t seem to notice at all that he wasn’t truly there. His senses were probably too distracted by the smells of food and chickens.
He’d wanted to check on his friends, and make sure they were alright, but it seemed his path ahead was his own. He realized that the finishing of the loo was not his own path, and there was no point for him to wait for the return of the carpenter. That work was in more capable hands with Glynis and her magic.
His stomach made an indiscreet rumbling noise. It was not like him to be worried about food, but he’d gone for hours without much to eat. He looked at his sheepskin, and the milk in it had finally curdled. He took a sip of the whey, and found it refreshing. There wouldn’t be goats to milk in this part of the Forest, as they favored the sharp cliffs of the opposite site. This and a collection of dried roots would have to do until… the other side.
To find the entrance wasn’t too difficult, once you understood the directions offered by the old map he’d recovered.
He was on the inner side of the ringed protective enclosures, so now, all he needed was to get into the inner sanctum of the Heartwood Forest, who would surely resist and block his path in different ways.
“The Forest is a mandala of your true nature…”
He turned around. Surprised to see Kumihimo there.
“Don’t look surprised Fae, you’re not the only one who knows these parlor tricks.” She giggled like a young girl.
“of my nature?” Rukshan asked.
“Oh well, of yours, and anybody’s for that matter. It’s all One you, see. The way you see it, it represents yourself. But it would be true for anybody, there aren’t any differences really, only in the one who sees.”
She reappeared behind his back, making him turn around. “So tell me,” she said “what do you see here?”
“It’s where the oldest and strongest trees have hardened, it’s like a fence, and a… a memory?”
“Interesting.” She said “What you say is true, it’s memory, but it’s not dead like you seem to imply. It’s hardened, but very much alive. Like stone is alive. The Giants understood that. And what are you looking for?”
“An entrance, I guess. A weak spot, a crack, a wedge?”
“And why would you need that? What if the heart was the staircase itself? What if in was out and down was up?”
Rukshan had barely time to mouth “thank you” while the likeness of the Braid Seer floated away. She’d helped him figure out the entrance. He touched one of the ring of the hard charred trees. They were pressed together, all clomped in a dense and large enclosure virtually impossible to penetrate. His other memories told him the way was inside, but his old memories were misleading.
Branches were extending from the trunks, some high and inaccessible, hiding the vision of the starry sky, some low, nearly indistinguishable from old gnarled roots. If you looked closely, you could see the branches whirring around like… Archimedes Screw. A staircase?
He jumped on a branch at his level, which barely registered his weight. The branch was dense and very slick, polished by the weathering of the elements, with the feel of an old leather. He almost lost his balance and scrapped his hands between the thumb and the index.
“Down is up?”
He spun around the branch, his legs wrapped around the branch. He expected his backpack to drag him towards the floor, but strangely, even if from his upside-down perspective, it was floating above him, it was as if it was weightless.
He decided to take a chance. Slowly, he hoisted himself towards his floating bag, and instead of falling, it was as though the branch was his ground. Now instead of a spiral staircase around the trees leading to heavens, it was the other side of the staircase that spiraled downwards to the starry night.
With his sheepskin and back still hovering, he started to climb down the branches towards the Giants’ land.
“B’s in trouble!” Gloria cried out, waking up the two other snoring ladies who almost fell from their rocking chairs.
“Whatcha sayin’ my Glor’?” Sharon was the first to react once she put her hand on her teeth.
“Sayin’ that our B’s in trouble!”
“Can’t let that be, cannit?” Sharon retorted “But where daya think you got your intel’ love, ain’t our B dead last year?”
“Sure thing but I got up one my brainwaves, t’was vivid as day, like when I got my cataract all strung up and the good doctors lazered my eyes aye. She was stuck in a big ruby!”
“Ahaha, that’s got to be a big ruby fossur’, remember ‘ow big our B was!”
“Oh shush Shar’, lemme thing alright. Think it all links back to our beauty treatments I’m sure, hasn’t anybody answered our advert’?” Gloria asked Mavis
“Oh bleedin’ hell no, I forgot to check, lemme get my spectacles, dear!” Mavis answered.
“THERE, THERE!” Mavis jumped at the article. “A time and location for a rendez-vous.” she said suggestively. “When do we sneak out?”
“Tonight, tonight alright, all my store of Stillnox is already in the water supply, everybody’s going to snore in no time.”
“Oh, that can’t be THAT hard, give it to me Godfrey!”
“Wait Liz’, you could harm yourself!”
“Oh come on, hand over the darn thing, I’ve seen her do it a thous… well at least once or twice. And the second time, I was so drunk I thought it was the parrot who’d done it.”
“Alright, but remember you were the one to ask for it!”
She glared at him sideways. “What is this thing Godfey?”
“Well, it’s called a broomstick, I thought you wanted to do some cleaning. For sure the place is in dire need of it.”
“I know what a broomstick is, thank you very much. Is this your idea of a practical joke, G?”
“Oh no Liz’, I could just have called your Mother for that, she would have loved to come and teach you.”
“Godfrey, you better stop all this nonsense now, or I’ll have you put in a story oubliette, with only water and half a peanut a day for sustenance.”
“That’s torture! But, wait, if you didn’t want the broomstick, what was it, that you said you needed Finnley for?”
“Oh don’t you make me say it Godfrey! Just give me the red marker, and let’s get over with all the editing. That manuscript is really worth poubelle.”prUneParticipant
It all started to feel insanely crowded and agitated in the Inn, it took me a while to check whether I was tripping on some illegal substance.
Truth was, the funny chicken was doing alright until Finly and Idle came back in a hurry, tried to make me puke and feed me charcoals, as if I’d been poisoned or something.
I overheard Aunt Dodo when she shouted at poor Finly “why would you put my stash with the lizard leftovers! It’s me-di-cine you old cow, not some bloody herb seasoning!”
Finly looked indignant, but she knew better than to argue. Besides, I’m sure her face was speaking volumes, something in the tune of “with the bloody mess of your stuff all over the place, why do you think?” Sure, there was some other profanities hidden in the wrinkles of her sweet face, but she would leave that to Mater to spell them out.
Anyways, I just maybe feeling juuust a little funny, but with years of bush food regimen behind me, my liver is surely strong as an ox and pumping all the stuff out of my system like a workhorse.
So, yeah, I was maybe tripping a little. So many new people came in at the same time, it felt like a flashmob. They were probably real and not just hallucinations, since Dido dashed out to greet some of them.
I went upstairs and spied on them from there. I’m making also a list, mostly for Aunt Dodo, because if her heart is in the right place, her brain probably isn’t (or it’s a tight one).
So there, I wrote on a yellow sticky note:
Dido, if you're paying attention, here are the guests at this moment: - Not counting PRUNE, and DEVAN who just texted me he's coming!! - A jeep-full of loonies: A GIRL with red and white track pants and a hijjab, a black CAT and a GECKO (wait, you can forget about the gecko), a weirdo GUY in a fancy ruffle shirt and a little redhair BOY. TIKU is here too, helping FINLY in the kitchen. - Your old friend HILDA, and her colleague CONNIE - Two townfolks Canadian tourists who argue like an old couple, but I don't think they are, MAYV(?) and SANPELL(?) (sorry, couldn't catch their names with their funny accent)
I guess breakfast is going to be lively tomorrow…
An unexpected shaman tart witch was looking and had spotted them coming from afar.
“Head Shaman Tart Witch, if you please.” She muttered in her breath, happy to break the fourth wall and all.
The sun was already high and the air was sizzling ready to burst out like buttered pop corn.
“A rather lame metaphor. You’ve done better.”
The Head Shtart Witch, as we will call her later for brevity’s sake, was as tart as a sour lemon dipped in vinegar, and prone to talking to spirits, when not cackling in tittering fits of laughter, as shamans are wont to do.
She was surprisingly in tune with the narrator’s voice this late in the day, considering it wasn’t her first bottle of… medicine she ingested today.
“Voices are rather quiet, yes. I was expecting a bit more… quantity if you know what I mean.”
The narrator had absolutely no idea of what she meant, not discontent with the quantity per se.
Three in quantity, they came, looking for her. A girl, visibly in charge, although a bit hard to tell either, buried into the baggy hood and all.
“The star-studded stockings under the striped red and white trousers were a bit of a give-away though… she was a she, and a bossy pants to boot.” the Head Schwtich replied.
“And don’t take advantage to maim my full name… Jeeze, they’re so lazy these days. Can’t even spell right.”
Ignoring the rude comments, the narrator continued.
Then, a man, a bit namby-pamby with the gait of a devil-may-care goat at that.
And a boy, on the threshold of manhood, with lots of red hair and freckles he could have put the bush on fire.
“You have forgotten the gecko… and the cat.”
The cat wasn’t forgotten of course, but was it technically a cat, with the talking and all? Poor thing had ill-fitted boots (probably a clearance sale from the Jiborium’s), so that it wouldn’t burn its pads on the red hot trail. It seemed stubborn enough to refuse being carried, although not confident enough about the surrounding life in the bush to stop checking every minute for all that crawled and crept around.
“That’s why they’re here. The protective charms. That, and the jeep of course.”
The Twitch seemed to know everything so the narrator felt it would probably best to let her finish the comment.
“Oh, don’t you start. That passive aggressive attitude isn’t going to get your story done, is it. And it’s not like I’m going to follow them in their dangerous and futile quest. It’s your job, better get to it.”
Indeed, she was only just a sour, old, decrepit…
“You stop that!”
Sanso yawned and stretched lazily “I hope they have a hot shower now, I feel so dirty.”
Arona chose to ignore Sanso and let him gesticulate. They’d only walked for less than 15 minutes, and the perspective of few more hours of driving with him breathing down her neck started to give her murderous thoughts.
She turned to the team. “Listen, whatever happens, don’t make rude remarks, even if she seems a bit… unhinged.”
“Are you talking about the crazy lady with the chameleon on her head, who talks to herself and looks like she hadn’t got a bath in a century?”
“That’s what I meant Sanso.” Arona rolled her eyes in a secret signature move she owned the secret of. “Listen, it would be better for everyone if you’d stay here and stop talking until we get the keys to the jeep, alright.”
Luckily for all of them, a little sage smudging and a bakchich in kind sealed the deal with the HEAD Shaman Tart Witch, and less than an hour later, with the mountain at their back, they were all barreling at breakneck speed down the lone road towards the Old Mine Town.
That’s where the Inn was, now starting to crawl with unexpected guests and long lost family members.
What the dickens are you doing, Bert Buxton, I asked him. I mean really! So much to do and he’s messing around down there with things that don’t need to be done! I gave him a list a mile long of repairs that needed seeing to before the guests arrive: sort the sink out in room 8, have a look at the electrics in the dining room and stop that annoying strobing ~ what if one of these new guests is an epileptic, I said, and he said Oh alright then, he’s pretty good on the whole, old Bert. Then there’s Mater’s old sewing machine seized up and rusty and I’d promised a seamstress, and all the rest of it, not least that god awful stink coming from god knows where in Mater’s bathroom.
So why, I ask you ~ and I asked him straight out, I said Bert, what the dickens are you doing changing all the locks down there? Now, of all times, when there are so many jobs to do!
He didn’t tell me though, he said You do your jobs, and leave me to do mine, that’s what he said. And I thought, well, he’s right, I got more than enough jobs of my own to do, and left him to it.
It had been a strange tale that Maeve had told her, and Lucinda had a feeling that her neighbour hadn’t told her the whole story. Surely, if one was going to enormous trouble to make lots of dolls, one would ask more questions about why the keys were being sent to particular addresses. But Lucinda hadn’t asked any questions, as she didn’t want to stop Maeve moving towards the door without the doll. If she had done there was a danger that Maeve would remember to take it. Lucinda had wanted to know why that Australian Inn was full of coachloads of Italian tourists, and wondered why Maeve had used the word wop to describe them. It wasn’t like her to be rude, the comment about her ears notwithstanding.
Granola, meanwhile, from her temporary current vantage point of the dreadlocked doll, was pleased to see that the doll had drawn attention. The misinterpretations were mounting up, but that didn’t matter at this stage.
“Do you mind?!” hissed the doll to Granola. “Can’t you see there’s only room for one of us in here, and I was here first!”
“Oh give over, a bit of merging never hurt anyone, least of all a cloth doll. Good lord woman, think of all the tapestry and weaving symbolism of it all!”
“Oh alright then,” the doll grudgingly admitted. “I feel a ton lighter since passing that dreadful key. Holding on to that made me feel constipated. If you’d barged in while I still had the key, it would have been a bit cramped.”
Lucinda was looking suspiciously at the doll. “What did you just say?” she asked, feeling ever so slightly foolish.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” the doll snapped back. Lucinda’s jaw dropped. Well, I never! Not only does the doll talk, it talks to imaginary friends.
The maid looked tersely and visibly annoyed at the lanky unkempt guy with the crazy eye.
“Do not bloody psst me, Godfrey! I’m not your run-of-the-mill hostess, for Flove’s sake.”
“Alright, alright. Come here, and don’t make a sound!”
“Don’t sulk, dear. What I’ve found here is nothing short of a breathrough – pardon my typo, I mean of a breakthrough.”
“Oh Good Lord, spit it out already, and I mean it metaphorically. I haven’t got all day, you know,… places to clean, all that.”
“Look at that!”
Godfrey handed her a pile of typed papers.
“Well, what’s about it? It does look a bit too neat and coffee-stain free, but the style is unmistakable. Long nonsensical babble, random words and characters, illogical sentence structure and improbable settings… That’s all you have psst ed me for? Another of some old Liz garbage novels?”
“That’s it! Isn’t it genius?” Godfrey looked at Finnley with an air of sheer madness. “You know Liz hasn’t written in years now, nothing fresh at least. You’ve be one to endlessly complain about that. Something about needing the paper to clean the window glass.”
“Of course I remember.” She paused, considering the enormous improbability that had just been hinted at. “Do you mean it’s not hers?”
“Ahahaha, isn’t it brilliant! This is all written by a clever AI. I’ve called it Fliz 2.0 !”
Godfrey looked pleased at himself “and to think it only took Fliz 44 minutes to spit the entire 888 pages novel!”
“I think he’s dealing with those hooligan birds,” remarked Godfrey helpfully, “He’d made a carved decoy, free standing and heavy.”
The voice of a dog stopped the conversation, a talking dog. “It’s alright. The sadness was just a dream.”
“I’m not doing this anymore,” said Alexandria, visibly shaken. “That was terrifying, tapping into Fox like that and not being able to see. It all felt so real!”
Jolly squeezed her friends shoulder as she stood up. “Ghastly, wasn’t it. I can’t get the stink of wet ash out of my nostrils. I think we need a stiff pomegrandy after that ordeal.” Jolly bustled about in the kitchen fetching glasses and reaching into the highest cupboard for the special liquor, glad to be focused on something mundane and familiar.
“Still,” she said, passing Alexandria a large goblet and sitting back down, “It was a successful teletrip though. We did find useful information about the future. We should congratulate ourselves!”
Alexandria shuddered. “Can we change it, though? Or is that time meddling and forbidden? How does that work? We can’t just carry on, as if…” a sob caught in the back of her throat. “We can’t just pretend we don’t know, and carry on as normal!”
Jolly frowned. “I think it’s only meddling if you change the past, not the future. I think changing the future is alright though, we do it all the time, don’t we?”
The amber nectar was warming and Alexandria started to relax. “Maybe it is a good thing, Jolly, you’re right. Pass the pomegrandy.”
Before she went outside she couldn’t resist having a look at the next non ending, and found it rather intriguing:
“He had a brief hesitation for the reignited spark left in the draft of wind that would follow, but had figured for some time now, that all things would be alright in the end, and if it were not the case, then it wasn’t the end.”JibParticipant
Liz left her bed at 8:30am, wearing only her pink and blue doubled cotton night gown, a perfect hair and her fluffy pink blue mules. She had been thinking about her characters while the sun was trying to rise with great difficulty. Liz couldn’t blame the Sun as temperatures had dropped dramatically since the beginning of winter and the air outside was really cold.
When Liz was thinking about her writings and her characters, she usually felt hungry. Someone had told her once that the brain was a hungry organ and that you needed fuel to make it work properly. She didn’t have a sweet tooth, but she wouldn’t say no to some cheesy toast, any time of the day.
She had heard some noise coming from the kitchen, certainly Finnley doing who knows what, although certainly not cleaning. It might be the association between thinking about her characters and the noise in the kitchen that triggered her sudden craving for a melted slice of cheese on top of a perfectly burnished toast. The idea sufficed to make her stomach growl.
She chuckled as she thought of inventing a new genre, the toast opera. Or was it a cackle?
As she was lost in her morning musings, her mules gave that muffled slippery sound on the floor that Finnley found so unladylike. Liz didn’t care, she even deliberately slowed her pace. The slippery sound took on another dimension, extended and stretched to the limit of what was bearable even for herself. Liz grinned, thinking about Finnley’s slight twitching right eye as she certainly was trying to keep her composure in the kitchen.
Liz, all cheerful, was testing the differences between a chuckle and a cackle when she entered the kitchen. She was about to ask Finnley what she thought about it when she saw a small person in a yellow tunic and green pants, washing the dishes.
Liz stopped right there, forgetting all about chuckles and cackles and even toasts.
“Where is Finnley?” she asked, not wanting to appear the least surprised. The small person turned her head toward Liz, still managing to keep on washing the dishes. It was a girl, obviously from India.
“Good morning, Ma’am. I’m Anna, the new maid only.”
“The new… maid?”
Liz suddenly felt panic crawling behind her perfectly still face. She didn’t want to think about the implications.
“Why don’t you use the dishwasher?” she asked, proud that she could keep the control of her voice despite her hunger, her questions about chuckles and cackles, and…
“The dirty dishes are very less, there is no need to use the dishwasher only.”
Liz looked at her bobbing her head sideways as if the spring had been mounted the wrong way.
“Are you alright?” asked Anna with a worried look.
“Of course, dear. Make me a toast with a slice of cheese will you?”
“How do I do that?”
“Well you take the toaster and you put the slice of bread inside and pushed the lever down… Have you never prepared toasts before?”
“No, but yes, but I need to know how you like it only. I want to make it perfect for your liking, otherwise you won’t be satisfied.” The maid suddenly looked lost and anxious.
“Just do as you usually do,” said Liz. “Goddfrey?” she called, leaving the kitchen before the maid could ask anymore questions.
Where was Goddfrey when she needed him to explain everything?
“You need me?” asked a voice behind her. He had appeared from nowhere, as if he could walk through the walls or teleport. Anyway, she never thought she would be so relieved to see him.
“What’s that in the kitchen?”
“What’s what? Oh! You mean her. The new maid.”
He knew! Liz felt a strange blend of frustration, despair and anger. She took mental note to remember it for her next chapter, and came back to her emotional turmoil. Was she the only one unaware of such a bit change in her home?
“Well, she followed us when we were in India. We don’t know how, but she managed to find a place in one of your trunks. Finnley found her as she had the porter unpacked the load. It seems she wants to help.”
“How’s the new dog settling in, Ma?” asked Albie, playing for time.
“Oh, she’s doing fine, don’t you worry about that, and don’t try and change the subject!” retorted Freda. “Lottie told me all about it this morning. You had one job to do, one job!”
“That’s what Lottie said,” replied Albie, looking down at his shoes and halfheartedly attempting to knock the dried mud off them on the chair leg. “Sorry, Ma,” he added sadly. “Shall I take the new dog for a walk?”
Freda sighed. “Oh alright then, but don’t let her off the lead. And make sure you get back before the rain. And stop kicking mud all over the floor!”
The darkness and gales of wind aroused feelings which he had rather not face. He curled below the bed, unaware of the other’s animated discussions, afraid to be terrified.
You know this is how it starts… the voice was familiar, warm and gentle, grandfatherly. But he didn’t want to hear it. He had too much pain, and the voice was driving him away from the pain.
Listen to me, just listen. You don’t need to answer, just open yourself a little. Let me help you with the pain, and the fear. You’ve had it inside for so long, too long.
Alright, I will go for now. You just need to call if you need me. But you need to hear that.
No! I don’t want! You can’t force me!
Just remember that is how every cycle ends: death for your love, then death for all of you, before new painful, forgetful lives begin again for all of you. If you don’t break this cycle, it will end, and start again. You know it’s time for you to break that cycle of revenge, and manipulation. They have greatly suffered too for their mistakes. Let them see you as you are, and learn to forgive them.
“What was in the bag, Finnley, tell us!”
Everyone was looking at the maid after the Inspector had left hurriedly, under the pretext of taking care of a tip he had received on the disappearance of the German girl.
Godfrey was the most curious in fact. He couldn’t believe in the facade of meanness that Finnley carefully wrapped herself into. The way she cared about the animals around the house was a testimony to her well hidden sweetness. Most of all, he thought herself incapable of harming another being.
But he had been surprised before. Like when Liz’ had finished a novel, long ago.
“Alright, I’ll show you. Stay there, you lot of accomplices.”
“Liz’, will you focus please! The mystery is about to be revealed!”
“Oh shut up, Godfrey, there’s no mystery at all. I’ve known for a while what that dastardly maid had done. I’ve been onto her for weeks!”
“Oh, don’t you give me that look. I’m not as incapable as you think, and that bloodshot-eyes stupor I affect is only to keep annoyances away. Like my dear mother, if you remember.”
“So tell us, if you’re so smart now. In case it’s really a corpse, at least, we may all be prepared for the unwrapping!”
“A CORPSE! Ahaha, you fool Godfrey. It’s not A corpse! It’s MANY CORPSES!”
Godfrey really thought for a second that she had completely lost it. Again. He would have to call the nearby sanatorium, make up excuses for the next signing session at the library, and cancel all future public appear…
“Will you stop that! I know what you’re doing, you bloody control machine! Stop that thinking of yours, I can’t even hear myself thinking nowadays for all your bloody thinking. Now, as I was saying of course she’d been hiding all the corpses!”
“Are you insane, Liz’ —at least keep your voice down…”
“Don’t be such a sourdough Godfrey, you’re sour, and sticky and all full of gas. JUST LET ME EXPLAIN, for Lemone’s sake!”
Godfrey fell silent for a moment, eyeing a lost peanut left on a shelf nearby.
Conscious of the unfair competition for Godfrey’s attention Elizabeth blurted it all in one sentence:
“She’s been collecting them, my old failed stories, the dead drafts and old discarded versions of them. Hundreds of characters, those little things, I’d given so many cute little names, but they had no bones or shape, and very little personality, I had to smother them to death.” She started sobbing uncontrollably.
“Oh, bloody hell. Don’t you tell me I brought that dirty bag of scraps up for nothing!”
She left there, running for the door screaming “I’m not doing the carpets again!”
And closed the door with a sonorous “BUGGER!”
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