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    She made us miss Mater’s birthday, didn’t she?

    Idle had one job…

    Truth is, wouldn’t have been much fun to party with masks on, although the thought occurred that a masquerade ball would be something to behold.

    Oh well, Mater is going to have a field day making us all look guilty. I’m sure it’ll warm her soft heart. Might be all she needs nowadays.

    Can’t say that the business at the inn had been splendid. We’ve grown so used to the idea we might have to sell it anytime, that it doesn’t feel such an earthshattering revelation.

    But if we sell, how much can we scrap by to send Mater to a nice nursing home. She might screech and kick us if we only voiced the idea. People have no idea how feral she can be on the topic. Aunt Dido knows though. I’m sure she’s having a few hustles down the road to get the household afloat.


    Finnley!” Like prodded the sleeping lump. “Finnley, stop pretending to be asleep!”

    Reluctantly Finnley rolled over, blinking in the glare of the torch Liz was shining at her, and came straight to the point.

    “You forgot, didn’t you?”

    “I did not forget!” Liz replied with a sniff. “If I’d forgotten I wouldn’t be here now, would I? Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to…” Liz started to sing.

    “It’s four thirty in the morning, for god’s sake Liz, get out of my bedroom! You forgot!”

    “You won’t be wanting your present then,” Liz flounced out of the room, slamming the door behind her.


    Aunt Idle:

    I’ll admit Mater did well with the get back into shape programme, despite my skepticism.  She did hone her muscles a bit, but she was still harping on about wanting plastic surgery.  I probably shouldn’t have asked her if she was showing off her biceps or her bingo wings the other day, because that started her off again. I tried to make it up by complimenting her thigh muscles, but spoiled it by saying it was a shame the skin hung down past her kneecaps. Bert said maybe she could hold the skin up with some suspenders and made me spit my eucalyptus tea out and nearly choke to death. Mater was all set to take offence until she saw me choking, and then she started laughing too. I’m smiling remembering it, because we all saw the funny side then and couldn’t stop laughing for ages. God knows we needed a good laugh.

    I’d had another one of those telepathic chats with Corrie the day before. If I’d known those silly girls were going to navigate their way here via that route I’d have said something, but I never thought they’d be so daft.  There’s me envisioning a pleasant drift through the Mediterranean, and an unexpected sail across an immense shallow lake that had appeared in the middle east with crystal clear waters and a sandy bottom (I could picture it all, I tell you) and then an invitingly tropical trip along the Indian coast with ports of call at virgin new coastlines  ~ but no, they’d gone the other way.  Across the Atlantic. And now they were fighting off bandits every step of the way and having to go miles out of their way to avoid plague ridden slums.  They hadn’t even made their way past the eastern seaboard yet, despite it being considerably narrower now.

    They lost Pan for days in one of those half submerged coastal cities, rife with lawless floating shanties.  I hope my impressions are wrong, I do really, but it seemed like he’d been kidnapped for a barbecue.  Tender and juicy.

    His ability to stay submerged under the water for so long saved him, that and Corrie’s ability to stay in telepathic contact with him.

    They left the coastline and headed south after that and didn’t head back towards land for awhile but when they did, they found the lagoons and inlets were infested with alligators and some kind of water pig. Not sure if I picked that up right, but seems like the hogs had escaped from the farms during the Great Floods and taken to the water. Pan was forbidden to waterlark in these waters and had to stay confined to the raft.

    I don’t know if they’ll get here in time for Mater’s birthday. Might be my hundredth birthday by the time they get here at this rate.



      There’s no two ways about it: I’ve let myself go. There’s never any excuse for that, even if you are turning one hundred. I’ve always tried to impress this on Dodo, but will she listen? That hair of hers! God knows what’s hiding in it. And those nasty dungarees she likes so much; they’d stand on their own if she ever got out of them.

      Not that I am one for fashion, mind. Last thing I bought was a few decades ago. Some striped pants that one of the twins helped me buy on the internet, on the line, as they say. The legs were that wide I was scared some critter might crawl up to my privates. Don’t want that going on at my age! When Bert said he had a pair like it once, well, that was the last straw.

      One hundred!  Wonder if I’ll get one of those letters from the King. That’s about all the monarchy are good for now. After that debacle back in the 20’s, thought they’d do away with them. But old big ears is hanging in there; reckon he must be nearing his hundredth soon.

      Anyway, the mirror doesn’t lie and what it’s telling me ain’t so fancy. My hair looks like something the moths have had a chew at and I’ve put on that much flab the only thing will fit me is a potato sack. And now Prune’s planning some big birthday bash…I’ve got my work cut out! She thinks I don’t know but there’s not much gets by me. If people think you’ve lost your marbles, they’ll say all sorts in front of you. And since those magic pills the aboriginal fellow gave me, my marbles are all back where they should be, thank you very much! Now I just need some pills for my boobs.


    “Well, where were we?” Jerk took the articles where he left them when he got up to check the price on one lacking a barcode.
    The blip blip resumed, with the impatient twitching lady pouncing on the items as soon as they passed the scanning, to cram them into her compostable bag.

    Days were stretching in ennui, and he started to feel like an android. At least, the rhythmical blips and “Have a good day, thank you for your purchase” were now part of his muscle memory, and didn’t require much paying attention to.

    He’d renewed the yearly fee to maintain his group website yesterday, but he wasn’t sure why he did it. There were still the occasional posts on the groups he was managing, but the buzz had died already. People had moved to other things, autumn for one. Really, what was the point of maintaining it for 3 posts a week (and those were good weeks, of course not counting the spam).

    There was fun occasionally, but more often than not, there were harangues.
    He wondered what archetype he was in his life story; maybe he was just a background character, and that was fine, so long as he wasn’t just a supporting cast to another megalomaniac politician.

    The apartment blocks were he was living were awfully quiet. His neighbours were still in travel, he wondered how they could afford it. Lucinda was completely immersed in her writing courses, and Fabio was still around amazingly – Lucinda didn’t look like she could even care of herself, so a dog… Meanwhile, the town council was envisaging a “refresh” of their neighborhood, but he had strong suspicion it was another real-estate development scheme. Only time would tell. He wasn’t in a rush to jump to the conclusion of an expropriation drama —leave that to Luce.

    Friday would have been her 60th brithday (funny typo he thought). Their dead friend’s birthday would still crop up in his calendar, and he liked that they were still these connections at least. Did she move on, he wondered. Sometimes her energy felt present, and Lucinda would argue she was helping her in her writing endeavours. He himself wasn’t sure, those synchronicities were nice enough without the emphatic spiritualist extrapolations.

    “Happy birthday Granola.” he said.


    Another crack appeared on the red crystal into which Granola was stuck for what felt like ages.

    “About time!” she said. “I wonder if they have all forgotten about me now.”

    She looked closely at the crack. There was an opening, invisible, the size of an atom. But maybe, just maybe, it was just enough for her to squeeze in. She leaned in and focused on the little dot to escape.


    “He said he would come in 3 days only.” Fox said, not knowing whether it was too early or too late to rejoice.
    “That would have been Lheimoong’s birthday, the great Tribeltian philosopher.” Glynis said, as she tasted the sour milk from Emma the goat. She made a face. It was perfectly tart to mature into a fine cheese.
    “Pity though,” she mused licking her finger, “he’s been oddly quiet lately, though I’m sure his wisdom continues to guide us.”


    “When is the nephew coming, by the way? That loo isn’t going to fix itself, is it?” Muriel asked with her usual tone of disapproval.
    “Just the day before Fox’s birthday, that’ll be easy to remember for you.” replied Glynis pawkily.
    “Tsk, tsk. And when is that exactly?” replied Muriel feigning to have missed the sarcasm.

    Glynis didn’t deign respond, as she prepared the squished courgettes for dinner. She was feeling sluggish these days, and the overbearing Muriel wasn’t a light cross to bear.

    On second thought, she retorted: “I think it’ll the day after your leave back to Yonderhampton.”


    She needn’t have worried about being distracted by dolls at the market, as there were no dolls there anyway. Lucinda chose a statue for her friends birthday present, a squat grey character with gargoyle features. She heartily regretted her choice, for the weight of it was not inconsiderable, and she had a further two bus journeys to make, and then a walk of some distance.

    What she hadn’t expected was to find another doll at the party. Lucinda nearly choked when the birthday girl opened the long soft present wrapped in shiny silver foil.


    Distraction always worked best when one was trying hard not to try too hard, and luckily for Lucinda, it came easy. She was a natural. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten her mission to find out more about those mysterious dolls and the twelve addresses, but the Roman themed birthday party was today, and that gave her plenty to occupy herself.

    The costume was easy, just a folded white sheet and a number of nappy pins. The birthday gift was another matter. She still hadn’t bought one, and had left herself no option but to buy something on the way to the party on the other side of the city. Counting the money left in her purse, she decided to travel by bus rather than taxi. She would have to change at the central bus station, which conveniently had a craft and antique market on in the nearby park. If she left home a couple of hours early, she could have a look around the market.

    Not to look for dolls! she reminded herself, her mind already imagining unlikely scenes.

    Checking the mirror one last time to make sure her toga was securely arranged, Lucinda left the flat and made her way to the bus stop on the other side of the park. She had debated whether to take her costume in a bag and change when she got there, and decided to just wear the toga. It was a diverse multicultural city, and there were often people dressed as if they were going to a fancy dress party, in biblical looking robes and scarves, or exotic coloured sari’s. If anyone wondered about her outfit, they’d probably just think she was from one of those foreign middle eastern places.


    Hi, I believe you have information about a doll. Look forward to hearing more. Thanks! Ms M.

    Maeve gave a loud breath out and pushed POST. She had first put a little message on findmydolls on May 22nd. She remembered the date because it was Fabio’s birthday and she’d been celebrating with a glass of wine which made her unaccustomably bold. She hadn’t expected to hear anything, although for a few days she did check the site regularly. And then forgot about it.

    But what with Lucinda finding one of her dolls at the market and Shawn Paul’s mysterious package … well, she just felt like taking another look.


    The light in the apartment darkened and Lucida glanced up from her book and noticed the gathering clouds visible through the glass doors that opened onto her balcony. Frowning, she reached for her phone to check tomorrows weather forecast. The weekly outdoor market was one of the highlights of her week. With a sigh of relief she noted that there was no expectation of rain. Clouds perhaps, which wasn’t a bad thing. It wouldn’t be too hot, and the glare of the sun wouldn’t make it difficult to see all the the things laid out to entice a potential buyer on trestle tables and blankets.

    Lucinda had made a list ~ the usual things, like fruit and vegetables from the farms outside the city; perhaps she’d find a second hand cake tin to try out the new recipe, and some white sheets for the costumes for the Roman themed party she’d been invited to, maybe some more books. But what excited her most was the chance of finding something unexpected, or something unusual. And more often than not, she did.

    She added birthday present to the list, not having any idea what that might be. Lucinda found choosing gifts extraordinarily difficult, and had tried all manner of tactics to change her irrational angst about the whole thing. One Christmas she’d tried just picking one shop and choosing as many random things as people on her gift list. In fact that had worked as well as any other method, but still felt unsettling and unsatisfactory. The next year she informed everyone that she wouldn’t be buying presents at all, and asked friends and family to reciprocate likewise. Some had and some hadn’t, resulting in yet more confusion. Was she to be grateful for the gifts, despite the lack of her own reciprocation? Or peeved that they had ignored her wishes?

    Birthdays were different though. A personal individual celebration was not the same thing as Christmas with all it’s stifling traditions and expectations. It would be churlish to refuse to buy a birthday gift. And so birthday gift remained on the shopping list, as it had been last week, and the week before.

    A birthday gift had already been purchased the previous week. Lucinda glanced up at the top shelf of the bookcase where the doll sat, languidly looking down at her. She felt a pang of emotion, as she did each time she looked at that doll. She loved the doll and wanted to keep it for herself, that was one thing. That was one of the things that always happened when she chose a gift that she liked herself: she talked herself into keeping it; that it was her taste and not the recipients. That it would be obvious that she’d chosen it because SHE liked it, not keeping the other person in mind.

    But that wasn’t the only thing confounding her this time. The doll wanted to stay with her, she was sure of it. It wasn’t just her wanting to keep the doll. It wasn’t any old doll, either. That was the other thing. It seemed very clear that it was one of Maeve’s dolls. It had to be, she was sure of it.

    When she got home with her purchases the week before, her intention had been to go and show Maeve what she’d found. Then something stopped her: what if it made her sad that one of her creations had been discarded, put up for sale at a market along with old cake tins and second hand sheets? No, she couldn’t possibly risk it, and luckily Maeve didn’t know the birthday girl who was the doll was intended for, so she’d never know.

    But then Lucinda realized she had to keep the strange gaunt doll with the grey dreadlocks and patchwork dress. She couldn’t possibly give her away.

    I hope I don’t find another doll at the market tomorrow, and have to keep that as well! thought Lucinda, and immediately felt goosebumps rise as an errant breeze ruffled the dolls dreadlocks.



    Bert seems to be digging a very large hole. I mean, good grief, it’s just a veggie garden. I don’t think my cabbages warrant all that effort. I pull open the window—the latch wobbles precariously on its single screw—and call out to him.

    “What are you doing, Bert? Digging a grave or something?”

    My humour is clearly lost on him. He glances over in my direction, distractedly, before placing his spade on the ground. He then kneels down in the dirt and leaning right inside the hole begins scrabbling with his hands.

    How odd!

    I pull a jacket on over my pink floral onesie. The onesie was a birthday gift from the girls and was accompanied by rather a lot of silliness and giggling. However I was privately rather taken with my gift and with summer over and a cool chill in the air it was very handy to put on in the mornings. Completing my ensemble with an old pair of gumboots by the back doorstep, I go and join Bert in the garden.

    “What’s that, Bert? What’s that you’ve found in there?”

    “I’m not sure yet,” he replied. At least, I think that’s what he said. It was hard to hear him when he was hanging upside down in a hole.

    I crouch down beside him, no mean feat at my age, and take a look.

    All I can see are some bones.

    “What is it? A dog or something?”

    “Too big for a dog.”

    “Oh my goodness!” I gasp. “Are those … people bones?”

    Bert gently extricates an object from the dirt and pulling himself back up he perches down beside me. “Not unless they have a beak for a nose,” he says, gently dusting off the dirt and holding it up for me to see.

    It was a giant skull. Like a strange giant bird.

    “Dragon skull,” says Bert with a satisfied smile.


    That Liz had started to become a few sandwiches short of a picnic when she’d hit her 57th birthday was an open secret.
    Her editor had to personally recruit frequent replacements for her dame de compagnie, whom, no matter how different they looked, she would invariably call ‘cleaning lady Finnley’, stuck with her remembrance of a certain period of her life.

    Godfrey often had wondered… were he to resign, and be replaced like so many Finnleys before this one, would she also call his replacement “Godfrey”? The though made him titter, as he put the kettle on the stove.
    At times he wanted to scream that he wasn’t her bloody man-servant, but her personal doctor had made a point to explain to him that Elizabeth’s frail grasp on reality would only be strengthened if everyone continued to play the charade of her life.

    Truth was, she really did seem to grow younger as the years passed, and as she was bossing around everyone with great enjoyment, Godfrey had often wondered if she wasn’t in cahoots with her physician to have everyone believe she was truly losing it.
    He had to admit, she was doing a terrific job at it.


    2049. 22 years after the original settlers had landed on Mars, where they had since been followed by more and more pioneers looking for the next frontier of civilization.

    A lot had changed since they arrived, they were now a few hundred strong, and the first generation of Martian born babies were entering adulthood.

    Maia would celebrate her 50th birthday tonight. In Earth years. By Mars’ count, she was younger by half. Still, she was the eldest of the mission, and had learnt so much during these years. Her son, John had grown into a fine young man. He was named after John Carter of course. He wasn’t the first born here, but was the first to have survived. He always had the will to explore more, despite the dangers, he wanted to make the planet his own.

    She knew he was destined to greatness. She had a dream a long time ago, one dream that made her enlist into the program. She’d dreamt of Mars as a lush planet, that mankind had managed to terraform with a vaporous atmosphere, more dense than on Earth, but breathable. The light of the evening sky was misty and a pale grey-green. Maia hoped she would live to see her dream come true, that somehow they found a way to venture out and breathe the new air, having succeeded in making the best out of the immense resources of the red dust planet.


    “Dear Kitty, you didn’t think I would miss your birthday for all the world.” Anna Purrna handed out with a sappy smile an awful cupcake topped with a green butter cream that looked like come out of a toothpaste tube days ago. “Happy birthday Terry.”

    She sent an icy glare at the others who took it as a cue to singing “Happy Birthday” in falsetto voices.

    “Good. Now, back to business, chop chop.”

    As soon as she was out of sight, they all looked with commiseration at Terry. Maurana even ventured a whisper “That was humiliating.” Consuela whispered too “Told you, you shouldn’t have accepted the bitch’s friend invitation on Flushbuck. Had to be a trap… Although saying no, would have meant… well, yes too, but no… Well, you get my meaning.”

    The other looked at her with blank stares, stopped in their mopping. They promptly resumed making washing noises to avoid drawing back the attention of the dwarf queen.

    “Girls.” Maurana said “Got nothing to do with being black and all, but I got to tell you this. Ain’t gonna be this bitch that’ll bring back slavery upon us AND child labor to top it. Trust Maurana on that. We got to wake up and strike back. That horrid cupcake was a declaration of war. We need a plan.”
    “Agreed.” the traumatized Terry spoke her first words since the last minutes. “I think we may have to call Sadie for help, she was always the one with those ezapper plans, no?”
    “I had some trenches and attrition warfare in mind, more like, but this plan is good as any, no?” acquiesced Consuela. “Let me make that call, I kept her emergency number next to mum’s”.


    As distance grew between the P’hope and the city, the damage to the beanstalk had seemed to diminish. Funny how insignificant it seems when you looked at it from a distance, he thought. Unfortunately storks weren’t strong enough to fly above the clouds, and he had to go through a heavy rain above the Sea of Beliefs. Even if it was over now, his already heavy P’hopal robe was soaked, yet his mount was flapping its wings bravely to fulfill its duty.

    Jube could see the temple ruins. Sandwiched between the coastline and the bog, it was surrounded by wall of mist. Inside, old stones and broken columns were scattered around a lake, a stepped pyramid in its center. It looked like the mist was dissipating following a trail near the south. The P’hope squinted and saw a bright orange spot where it would open. He took his magnifier made of calcite crystals and looked through it. He clenched his teeth. The King was there, two great wings on his back. Spoiled brat, why don’t you never do as you’re told, he thought. He looked at the others and almost fell off the stork when he saw the little green one.

    Despite the change of skin color, he’d recognized her. So, Gwinie was alive. There was no time to lose. He suppressed a strong desire to confront them straight away, it would be counterproductive when he still had time to weave his web. He put the magnifier back in his bag and steered his mount toward the ruins.

    There didn’t seem to be any entrance on the pyramid’s faces, the P’hope tried to make his mount land on one of the step, but the animal didn’t respond to his orders. Instead, it glided over the water toward the top of one of those big columns still standing, missed it, slumped down on a patch of grass, and decided to stay there. Ranting about birds and incompetence, the P’hope managed to extricate himself from the mess of feathers and legs. He sniffed with disgust. With the humidity, a strong smell of wet fowl had impregnated his robe. Feeling stuck and heavy, he considered getting undressed, he still had his silk gown underneath.

    “Happy bird day!” said a cheering voice behind him.
    The P’hope felt a sudden rush of panic, the voice sounded like his aunt Ursula. He looked around, guilt on his face as if caught a hand in his pants. He had forgotten it was his birthday, he had never liked birthdays. Who could possibly know ? It took a moment to his mind to make sense of what he was looking at. It looked like a pink zebra with a melting candle on its forehead, but the form seemed yet uncertain of itself. That was disturbing.

    “I’m Rene, I hope we can be friends,” said the pink zebra. The creature fidgeted as if it had drank too much from the moat. “We can begin the party now, or wait for you friends to arrive. I’m so excited !”
    Jube shuddered, the animal had a crazy spark in his eyes that made him feel uneasy. He looked at the stork which hadn’t moved since the crash landing. No h’ope from Heaven.


    Sadie was using the sewing app on her e-zapper to modify the horrible garments provided for them, when she noticed that the ferret was moving toward the chapel. She felt a rush of anticipation go through her.

    ”Okay, you guys, we need to hide. Someone is coming and it looks like they have a ferret on them!”


    ”Oh Dear Blessed Mother Mary, and if there are any Saints or Angels listening, please help me. I have done something very bad and done an awful sin and and I don’t want to be beaten so please forgive me. I am so sorry for taking the little toy. It was for my little brother because it is his birthday coming up, but it is a sin to steal and also to think that the Queen is old and ugly and please have mercy on me and I promise I will never sin again and I will serve you the rest of my life. I won’t be rude to Mirabelle, even though she is a bad sinner and quite mean. I will only do good and smile and think good things. I will say my prayers every night. So please have mercy on me and make sure I don’t get in trouble. I am leaving the little toy here for you and you can do what you think is best. But don’t tell anyone I left it”

    ”Please.” she added again, for good measure.

    Feeling satisfied that she had done all she could, Adeline placed the toy ferret gently in front of the statue of Mary, and silently slipped out of the chapel.


    On this bright morning of 5 January 1757, Robert-François thought it would be his birthday in less than 4 days. He would turn 42, and had just been a domestic servant for his whole life. He was not prone to depression, but the thought was almost disheartening. His life had been full of turns of fate, like many he’d known, but with so little to show for it.
    Sure, he could blame his hot temper for that, his nickname “Robert the Devil” was not for naught. Still, his wife and daughter loved him well enough, he wasn’t a bad person, pious even, after years spent with the Jesuits. So what made him so angry this morning, he couldn’t tell, maybe the moon a little too bright in the morning light, maybe the melted snow turned shit in the gutter of the streets and on his shoes…
    His employers at the Parlement were right, something was rotten in the country, and the King and his whores were to be blamed for it. The butcheries at war he’d witnessed, all led by silly creeping courtesans in the name of of philandering godless king.
    While walking in the streets, this bright morning, with his hat covering part of his face, he was muttering words under his breath and from time to time gave a brief thought to the kitchen knife tucked in his leather bag.


    The youngest maid, Adeline, quickly placed one of the rat like toys at the bottom of the large basket of laundry she had come to collect.

    The Queen has so many; she will not even notice this small one. And there are two of them. What does an old woman like the Queen want with toys? she reasoned.

    It was Adeline’s small brother’s birthday tomorrow and there would be no fine party for him. She knew he would love this strange toy.The few measly coins she received each week for slaving over her mistress left nothing for luxuries. It was barely enough to survive. Although she knew she should be grateful she was not on the streets like so many others. She noticed a small tear in the seam of the toy. All the better! If she were found out she could say she was taking it to mend. She knew if she were not believed there would be a heavy price to pay.


    After leaving the parcel in the capable hands of the Post Office staff (and while she was there remembering to send a cute birthday card with kittens on it to her friend Trove and a note to Jove and Erove saying how nice it was to see them recently) Flove was ready for her next assignment.

    She was stationed in Rotorua and although the exact nature of the assignment had not been explained to her she believed herself to be there in a journalistic capacity. She found herself standing in the ocean with a group of people, strangers, watching a game of rugby. The rugby game was also in the ocean. She had some brief interactions with her companions and had to move away from a rather unpleasant man who was annoying her. After the match, they all walked back to a small town — via the ocean. It was dark and Flove was initially hesitant because she was not a good swimmer, but she felt some security as her companions seemed composed about the journey. The ocean was not as deep as she had anticipated. Even though the water eventually came up to her shoulders, she found she was able to walk the whole distance. At one point she noticed the fins of a shark swim by in the inky darkness of the water, but she regarded it with childish delight, rather than fear.

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