Board 3, Story 2:
Sophie: “Jesus! What happened to our legs! They’re so skinny I can hardly see them!”
Barbara: “Smart, trying to outdo my beehive with a palm tree Sophie. But you’ll know who’s the boss here.”
Glor: “I got sand stuck everywhere, somebody help!”
India Louise: “Cuthbert, when you’re done with your funny hairy pajamas, you should get tested, that green blob of snot you made on the waxed floor does look terribly suspicious.”
The squirrel: “That scene’s too cute, I’m at a loss for quip.”
Berenice, still under training, was overseeing the process, daunted by the alarming number of blinking buttons from the apparatus. She tried to look composed, knowing full well her aunt Barbara wouldn’t make preferential treatment if she were to make a blunder.
“BWAAAAHA!” blurted out Gloria coming out of what appeared to have been a very lucid dream.
“I just got meself the most horrid dream Shar’, you know wot?”
“Good Lord no! WORSE even!”
“WOT now?” Sharon couldn’t help but ask, shushing with a mean eye the poor Berenice.
“NURSE TRASSIE! She was comin’ fur us!”
“Oh bloody hell. Haven’t they confined her already?” Sharon dismissed with a shrug that made the whole concrete floor vibrate like a panzer washing machine in dry mode. “Look lassies, that’s more interesting.” She nodded towards the haggard Sophie lying on one of the tables. “Brought us some competition on the looks area it seems.”
“What?” Mavis strained to hear.
“Look dammit! The poor fashion-impeded soul that landed on a waiting list for one of our spots. Gosh, that latex thingy she sports makes me all blushy! But don’t you worry. She can’t be competition to us, ladies. That cryo-treatment is already working I can tell.”
She felt the need to add and punctuate towards Berenice “And no thanks to you, young lady. You should learn from me. Never been afraid to push a button in my life!”
They walked through a labyrinth of tunnels which seemed to have been carved into a rocky mountain. The clicks and clacks of their high heels echoed in the cold silence meeting all of Sophie’s questions, leaving her wondering where they could be. Tightly held by her rompers she felt her fat mass wobbling like jelly around her skeleton. It didn’t help clear her mind which was still confused by the environment and the apparent memory loss concerning how she arrived there.
Sophie couldn’t tell how many turns they took before Barbara put her six fingers hand on a flat rock at shoulders height. The rock around the hand turned green and glowed for two seconds; then a big chunk of rock slid to the side revealing a well designed modern style room.
A little man was working at his desk. At least Sophie assumed it was his desk and that he was working. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bermudas. The computer screen he was looking at projected a greenish tint onto his face, and it made him look just like the green man icon. Sophie cackled, a little at first.
The Doctor’s hand tensed on the mouse and his eyebrows gathered like angry caterpillars ready to fight. He must have made a wrong move because a cascade of sound ending in a flop indicated he just died a death, most certainly on one of those facegoat addictive games.
That certainly didn’t help muffle Sophie’s cackle until she felt Barbara’s six fingers seizing her shoulders as if for a Vulcan nerve pinch. Sophie expected to lose consciousness, but the hand was mostly warm, except for that extra finger which was cold and buzzing. The contact of the hand upon the latex gave off little squeaky sounds that made Sophie feel uncomfortable. She swallowed her anxiety and wished for the woman to remove her hand. But as she had noticed more than once, wishes could take time and twists before they could be fulfilled.
“Why do you have to ruin everything every time?” asked the Doctor. His face was now red and distorted.
“Every time?” said Sophie confused.
“Yes! You took your sleeper agent role too seriously. We couldn’t get any valuable intel and the whole doll operation was a fiasco. We almost lost the magpies. And now, your taste for uncharted drugs, which as a parenthesis I confess I admire your dedication to explore unknown territories for science… Anyway, you were all day locked up into your boudoir trying to contact me while I just needed you to look at computer screens and attend to meetings.”
Sophie was too shocked to believe it. How could the man be so misinformed. She never liked computers and meetings, except maybe while looking online for conspiracy theories and aliens and going to comiccons. But…
“Now you’re so addict to the drugs that you’re useless until you follow our rehab program.”
“A rehab program?” asked Sophie, her voice shaking. “But…” That certainly was the spookiest thing she had heard since she had arrived to this place, and this made her speechless, but certainly not optionless. Without thinking she tried a move she had seen in movies. She turned and threw her mass into Barbara. The two women fell on the cold floor. Sophie heard a crack before she felt the pain in her right arm. She thought she ought to have persevered in her combat training course after the first week. But life is never perfect.
“Suffice!” said the Doctor from above. “You’ll like it with the other guests, you’ll see. All you have to do is follow the protocol we’ll give you each day and read the documentation that Barbara will give you.”
Sophie tried a witty answer but the pain was too much and it ended in a desperate moan.
The latex rompers were shaping her old body in a way she quite enjoyed. It was like being back in her… she counted on her fingers to be sure. To be even surer she counted twice. Yes! It was like being back in the sixties, especially with the choice of colours that had been made by whomever had made the rompers. Her silhouette looked gorgeous, if you didn’t pay too much attention to the bingo wings and the pelican throat. She laughed. It was like seeing a superposition of a younger and an older self. She would have loved the face of Ricardo if he saw her like that. And the beehive haircut, it certainly was a good idea. She wondered if she was still under LSD. But the walls and the beehive hair seemed too solid for that.
A sliding door that she had not noticed before opened.
“Good to see you’re settling in,” said the woman who entered with a puff of bacon smell. “I’m Barbara.” She was holding a tray with a steaming plate of sweet peas and carrots. Sophie always had a sharp eye but couldn’t see any real bacon among the peas and the carrots. She smiled to the newcomer anyway. Barbara had the same latex rompers with the same colours. And she had a beehive haircut.
“Hello! Barbara,” said Sophie. “I like that name. I knew a man once… well not that you’re a man. Are you? Anyway I see you have a beehive haircut too. Am I back in the sixties?” She realised she was a bit confused, not able to finish one sentence or follow a single narrative. But the smell of bacon was so unnerving.
Barbara put the tray on the table.
“Well, no,” she said to Sophie. “It’s just a haircut that I like and it’s very practical for all sort of things.” She reached into hers and got out a pen and a notebook. Sophie lifted her hand to her haircut.
“Do I have?..”
“No dear. But, I need your sign here… just a formality.” Barbara smiled and handed the notebook to Sophie along with the pen. Then she crossed her arms waiting. Her fingers were drumming on her soft pale skin and Sophie couldn’t help but notice that Barbara had six fingers on one of her hands.
“Where am I?” she asked.TracyParticipant
“I have nothing against outrageous clothes,” Liz said, feeling the unspoken murmurs of “we noticed” from the others. She smoothed down the voluminous pink satin of her floor length gown, batting her false eyelashes. “Life is one long fancy dress party, and one should dress accordingly. Today I am Barbara Tartland,” Liz flashed her long pink nails. “Otherwise known as the Pink Thing.”
Godfrey replied with some alarm, “You’re not planning on writing soppy romances are you, all with identical plots and predictable characters?”
“That’s because the characters are trying to commit suicide,” said Finnley.
“Hyvää päivää hyvät naiset.”
“Bwawhahahaa” the three ladies rolled in fits of hysterical laughter.
“God dag damer?”
“I should have guessed they weren’t models enough to be Finns or Swedes.” muttered Barbara under her chin hair, readjusting her beehive ‘do. She almost regretted all the time spent learning the languages through the Fuertolingo app.
“Come right this way ladies, there are some measurements to be done, and extension works needed on the machines. I’m afraid the cryogenic caisson wasn’t sized for… your accomplishments.”
“Isn’t she a peach, bwahaha, wot nonsense! Let’s follow that moppet, your augustancies! Ooohuhuhu!” Sharon hooted all wobbly.FloveParticipant
“I said, wot you ‘oping for? Out of this beauty treatment?” repeated Mavis in a loud hiss.
“Oh, that’s a bloody good question, Mavis. You always were a thinker. I’m not thinking to look twenty again, or anythink like that. It’d be nice but I’m realistic, me. I dunno really … Thirty maybe? Wot you ‘oping for Gloria?”
“I’m thinking we should ‘ave bloody thought this through before! And now, ‘ere we are, sat ‘ere in his bloody waiting room. It’s too bloody late to wonder wot we’re doing ‘ere now! If we go back, that bloody Nurse Trassie will skin us for garters!”
“Blimey, Glor, wot’s got you in a ‘uff?”
“I’m sorry, Luv. I didn’t mean to ‘ave a go. I’m scared is wot it is. I read summink in the fine print just now, about the Doc, wot’s worried me,” said Glor.
The Doctor was at times confused about his own plan. Well, most of the time if felt clear and perfectly diabolical, and he could easily understand why at times lesser minds could get confused about the twists and turns —and to those lesser minds, it would usually suffice to say “don’t worry, it’s all part of the Plan.” It was difficult to properly phrase the sentence so that the Plan doesn’t get too easily confused with any plan. But he was expert in conveying that it wasn’t a mere plan.
After having tried and used old or elaborate devices beyond known technology like alleged alien crystal skulls to outcomes of various satisfaction in the past, he’d realized that those so called AI technologies were a silent gangrene for the mind. By becoming more tech-savvy, people lost their savoir and their savour by relying too much on external support. People were becoming malleable, predictable, and replaceable.
His bloody assistant was a sad testament to the downward evolution humanity was rushing towards. It was a strange and sad irony, that by enhancing their ineptitude, he was actually working to the perfection of the human race.
“Ah yes! Evolution!” That was his legacy, and he was of course profoundly misunderstood.
This whole sad business with the chase after the dolls and the keys and the remote control of magpies, and the psychic blasts, beauty treatments and Barbara enhancements, all that made sense once you showed it in the proper light. These were the catalyst to the real and interesting events. The ones which mattered.
It all started after the Army got him out of his prison rot in exchange for his work on some special science experiments. Top-secret, evidently. His handler, a certain nobody by the name of Fergus, was assigning him the experiments.
While he was dutifully working on his assigned projects, he quickly realized that he was given vast funding which would have taken him more time to gather on his own, so he did his part, all while experimenting and honing his skills. Clearly, the Army lacked any vision beyond the confines of “find a better way to torture, maim or kill mass amount of individuals.” Primates. Luckily, their experiments with remote control, brainwashing, and body modelage were less gory than the average science experiments, and far more into his own area of expertise.
It took him 5 years to escape. This plan (a smaller plan, part of the Plan which had not yet fully hatched at the time) — this plan for an escape started to form when Fergus let slip important bits of information, which seemed insignificant taken in isolation, but meant a whole new area of discoveries when put together by a brilliant mind like his own.
Fergus started to gloat about securing some secrets as a blackmail or fail-safe policy in case the Army’s “hired help” misbehaved. This part was known for a long time, it was what was called our ‘retirement plan’ in the contract we signed. What was more peculiar was when he started to let details slip about the method. All thanks to little doses of hypnotic potion in spiked shared drinks, courtesy of the Doctor. It seemed clear that this elaborate scheming of keys and dolls was child’s play and nothing particularly genius, however what was more interesting was when Fergus started to realize that the dolls his niece had made somehow matched certain persons of interest without her conscious knowing. There was a deeper mystery to be cracked, and even Fergus wondered if the Army had not tempered with his family genetics to induce certain characteristics or something of the like. Well, all ramblings of a simpleton you would say, but maybe it wasn’t.
After all these searches to externalize certain abilities of the mind, the Doctor was starting to get fascinated by people exhibiting these qualities naturally.
The appearance of this strange red crystal seems to confirm these doubts. There are untapped forces at play, and maybe doors that could be opened.
Barbara suddenly irrupted into the room “Our guests are coming, just received a text!”
The Doctor sighed thinking some doors should remain closed.
Barbara’s office was dead silent apart from the regular bips of the machines. The whiteness of the painted walls made it feel like a psych ward. She shivered away the memories that were trying to catch her attention.
It’s been two hours since the Doctor had locked himself up in his rage-release room, a spacious soundproofed room with padded walls. Not even a small window to look inside and check if his anger had subsided. Barbara clearly preferred the trauma of the shouts and cries and the broken plates that were hidden here and there for him to use when he needed most. But when he started his therapy with the AI psych module, the damn bot suggested he built that room in order to release his rage in a more intimate framework.
Now the plates collected dust and the sessions in the room tended to last longer and longer.
Today’s burst of rage had been triggered by the unexpected gathering of the guests at the Inn. The Doctor was drinking his columbian cocoa, a blend of melted dark chocolate with cheddar cheese, when the old hag in that bloody gabardine started her speech. The camera hidden in the eye of the fish by their agent, gave them a fisheye view of the room. It was very practical and they could see everything. The AI engineer module could recreate a 3D view of the room and anticipate the moves of all the attendees.
When that girl with the fishnet handed out the keys for all to see and the other girl got the doll out, the Doctor had his attention hyper-focused. He wanted to see it all.
Except there had been a glitch and images of granola cookies superimposed on the items.
“Send the magpies to retrieve the items,” he said, nervousness making his voice louder.
“Ahem,” had answered Barbara.
“What?” The Doctor turned towards her. His eye twitched when he expected the worst, and it had been twitching fast.
She had been trying to hide the fact that the magpies had been distracted lately, as she had clearly been herself since she had found that goldminer game on facebush.
No need to delay the inevitable, she had thought. “The magpies are not in the immediate vicinity of the Inn.” In fact, just as their imprinting mother was busy digging digital gold during her work time, the magpies had found a new vein of gold while going to the Inn and Barbara had thought it could be a nice addition to her meager salary… to make ends meet at the end of the month.
It obviously wasn’t the right time to do so. And she was worried about the Doctor now.
To trump her anxiety, she was surfing the internet. Too guilty to play the gold miner, she was looking around for solutions to her boss’s stress. The variety and abundance of advertisement was deafening her eyes, and somewhere in a gold mine she was sure the magpies were going berserk too. She had to find a solution quickly.
Barbara hesitated to ask the AI. But there were obviously too many solutions to choose from. Her phone buzzed. It was her mother.
“I finally found the white jade masks. Bought one for you 2. It helps chase the mental stress away. You clearly need it.” Her mother had joined a picture of her wearing the mask on top of a beauty mask which gave her the look of a mummy. Her mother was too much into the woowoo stuffs and Barbara was about to send her a polite but firm no she didn’t want the mask. But the door of the rage-room opened and the Doctor went out. He had such a blissful look on his face. It was unnatural. Barbara had been suspecting the AI to brainwash the Doctor with subliminal messages during those therapy sessions. Maybe it also happened in the rage-room. The AI was using tech to control the Doctor. Barbara would use some other means to win him back.
OK. SEND IT TO ME QUICK. she sent to her mother.
The vibration of the phone on the table made Barbara jump and she almost deleted her report. Her heart was racing at the thought of erasing what took her an hour to write. She reminded herself to breath like she had learned during her hot yoga class the previous week. It quieted her heart a little and she checked her hair out of habit and winced when she felt the short haircut. She checked her phone.
“Wonderful!” she said readjusting her glasses. A new acquisition, big and cat eye like, the brim covered with colourful strass. She couldn’t resist.
She got up from her desk and adjusted her skirt with her six fingers hand. She went to the Doctor’s office and knocked three times on the door. A sleepy voice, a tad angry, asked from the other side: “What?”
“It’s Barbara. Our undercover agent sent me a confirmation that the Dreamcatcher operation is a success. Subject zero has been activated unaware that you are manipulating her dreams.”
The sixth finger on Barbara’s left hand looked quite odd, but it was a nice recent addition from the Doctor. She looked at it while the Magpies were slowly awakening. A bleak bipping sound was all there was indicating the average pulse of the seven spies.
The Doctor, poor man, seemed to have had some difficulties recently to remember her name and also that she was a woman. Since a few weeks, in order not to startle him when she entered the new lab, she had had to get rid of her beehive hairdo, but she had kept it in a secret vault in her bedroom and every evening she took it out and brushed it and put it on her head to remind her.
She had been quite dedicated to the Doctor and had stayed despite the last mess at the Hidden Spa. She spent an awful lot of time erasing all the links and comments that could lead to them, hence such an empty thread. It was all her doing, Barbara’s, and she could do that because of her new left pinkie in which she had an electronic key controlling all the machines and the lab’s security network. And it was connected to the Internet.
The bipping sound was accelerating signalling to her that they were close to awakening. She was going to call the Doctor, he had said that he had to be there when they opened their eyes because he must be the one on whom they imprinted. Like birds you know. He would be like their mother and they would obey him. She turned on the comlink and called him.
“It’s Barb, Doctor.”
“Oh. Why are you disturbing me in my Jacuzzi?”
“They are awakening.”
“Oh. I’m coming.”
But there was no more time.
The pods were open and the seven Magpies were looking at her.
“No! No!” said the Doctor who entered at that moment. “What have you done!?”
“Not that rag again!” he grumbled “You should know how I hate that piece of rubbish.”
“Well, they make for entertaining rea…” She quickly swallowed her last words, seeing the mad look in the Doctor’s eyes. “… they make for interesting findings… sometimes…” she pursued more vehemently, “such as this one! Look! The Hairy Trenchcoat Ape Sightings by our special extreme reporter in … well sorry, I can’t read that location’s name, it looks so hopelessly from the British Isles…”
“Well, we will soon see if this is contagious now, shan’t we?” The Doctor said with an evil glee.
“Oh well, they’re curing alright.” Barbara said matter-of-factly.
“How can this guy always muddy up the simplest things! I wonder why Tina likes him so much.” He eyed the suitcase and seeing the neatly packed shirts and trousers, he finally laughed at his outburst.
“Yeah, that explains it!”
He picked the first clothes out of the pile, and got out of the room to find the breakfast.
The air was still a bit chilly in the morning, and the grounds seemed almost deserted. He wondered were the rest of the staff was. It was supposed to be a luxury resort, and beside the eccentric Barbara with her beehive hairdo, he had not yet seen many people.
“Well, no bloody wonder it’s called the Hidden People Spa! Nobody’s up yet or what?” Quentin turned at the familiar voice.
“You look in great spirits this morning dear” he greeted Tina “How was your night’s sleep?”
“Can we skip the formalities Q, I’m already bored. Let’s have a tartine of rúgbrauð at the Þorramatur, shall we? I’m famished.”
“Barbara!” the Dr called her assistant early in the morning.
“There has been a breakthrough! I have tested version 2.2.1 of my new organic substrate, and it shows promising results.”
Barbara giggled “Well of course, Doctor. Shall we test it right away on your new patients of this morning appointment?”
“That’s tempting. I am not usually one to push for caution when science progress is called for, but… maybe, this time, not just now. There are still a few DNA kinks to work out for the solution to be perfect. We’ll see how our last subject reacts in the next days.”
Barbara was glad to be done with the last guest tour. She still had the orangutans to feed before her day was done.
“Hello darlings” she said to the caged beasts that looked eerily human. “Care for some fruits? Today’s coconut on the menu. Coconut oil is good for your hair.”
Her intercom started to buzz. The last patient in the observation ward seemed to have failed the treatment. Another one. Her attention was needed.
“Don’t worry, my little hairy friends. You may soon have some new friends…” She winked at the apes before closing the door.
“ Dogs bark at what they don’t understand: See the Positive “
So despite her hopes for a less effusive (almost annoyingly American) introductions, she got her critical mind busy with quickly finding five things to appreciate about Barbara. It was tougher that it looked. Well, for one, she liked the cleanliness of her white nurse blouse…
Barbara’s chatter seemed inexhaustible, as they coursed through the grounds of the Estate.
“Of course, we have arranged for your appointment with the best doctors, they will get you in tip-top shape in no time” she giggled irrepressibly.
“I’ll be leaving you to have a hot shower, and refreshments, complimentary of the house of course, and I’ll be meeting you later. Dinner will be served at 7, please be on time. Tomorrow morning, breakfast is served from 7 to 9, and your appointment is at 9:30, with Dr B. In case you need anything, you have my number.” Barbara giggled again, blinking at Quentin in what could hardly be construed as flirting.
“I’ll skip dinner Q, see you at breakfast tomorrow”, Tina closed the door on her cousin without ceremony.
She finally collapsed on the bed, crushed by fatigue of the flight, jet-lag and all that road trip through small European winding paths. Made you almost miss Maine.
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