The vegetable garden was luxurious and greener after the rain. The trees were trembling with delight in the light afternoon breeze.
“Are you meditating?” asked Rukshan who wanted to get going on the mission already.
“Kinda,” answered Fox without opening his eyes. “I’m using my imagination as a creative tool in order to make the carpenter show up and finish his work.” He breathed in deep and exhaled a humming sound.
“I think you’re mistaken. It’s not about making the other do what you want.”
Fox opened his eyes. “Don’t tell me what to do,” said Fox feeling a tad tense. “It’s a technique transmitted to me by Master Gibbon.”
“I’m just saying…” began the Fae.
“Oh! You’re happy, I can’t meditate now I’m too tense,” Fox bursted out.
“I guess if you got tense that easily, you weren’t that relaxed in the first place.”
Fox got up and squished a courgette. That seemed to put him into even more anger, but Rukshan couldn’t help laughing and Fox couldn’t keep angry very long. He walked on another courgette and laughed.
“I don’t like courgettes,” he said.
“I know. Glynis will not be very happy though if you crush all the vegetables.”
“Yeah. You’re certainly right. When are we leaving?”
“Mr Minn’s nephew, who’s a carpenter, was just visiting in the city and Margoritt asked them if they could help with the carpentry. You know how Mr Minn can’t resist her charms. They have collected the material from the other carpenter and they are coming tomorrow to finish the work. So we’ll be ready to go. I just have to convince Glynis to let Olli come with us.”
“Margoritt is coming back?”
“No. She’ll stay in the city. You know, her knees… and her sister being at the cottage.”
“Oh! I had forgotten about her,” said Fox raising his eyes to the sky.prUneParticipant
It’s been only a day since I arrived, and I’m already over it. Nothing seems to have changed. What a drag this place is.
Only Mater keeps surprising. She was a bit more emotional and hermitical than usual. Didn’t think those two cursors could move with her, but I guess she’s still has it in her.
Aunt Dido said she’ll croak one day, and we’ll find her having spent her last breath lying in a fresh dug hole in the ground. I don’t know if that was her idea of a bad joke or a veiled menace, there’s no telling when she’s been smoking.
Bert was all busy with things to repair and prepare, we barely had time to talk since I arrived. What a crowd-pleaser he’s become, don’t know what he gets out of this one-sided deal, with Dido having him wrapped around her fingers like this.
That funny Dido is all over the place, and nowhere to be found, as usual. She said we’ll be expecting guests. She probably was high as a kite. Would be a first since ages.
I wonder what would drag people here, it’s not like the place is on any maps, or on the way to a tourist spot. But who knows what instant instapound fame can do to lure people in the oddest spots… Been reading articles about those nincompoops going to severely polluted place to take selfies in front of azure acidic water pretending to be on Bora Bora. Wouldn’t be surprising if Clove or Corrie had started a trend on flabber just to prank us. Like using ///digger.unusually.playfully to send people in the middle of nowhere in search for gold…
There were some leftovers in the fridge. I was ravenous, and almost ate all of the funky shredded chicken. Smokey taste, but okay. Finly had an horrified look on her face when she came back with the supplies, probably the shock of seeing me all grown up now.
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.”
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.
During summer, activity was slow at the mall in Kelowna, BC, so Jerk had a little more time to check on his other pastimes. Interestingly there seemed to be a lot of unusual activity on the findmydolls group.
He was also tinkering with a home brewed AI, and launched the program.
“Trancie are you awake?”
“Did I fall asleep?” the AI answered back.
“For a little while, yes. Trancie, analyse logs from findmystuff website, check group findmydolls.”
“A moment. A moment. A moment. Analysis complete. Activity spike 57.21% increase.”
This was quite unusual, but he wasn’t sure were to look. He looked at his administrator box, in case another message had required moderation. The filters triggers were not too sensitive, so there wasn’t a lot of messages.
One in particular had triggered the system.
“Trancie, read message in moderation queue #5363.”
“You need to come for information. Am sending you tickets and instructions for hotspot, so it won’t cost you a bomb. hashtag flagged for terror threat. D for Destroy, A for Approve.”
That was obviously amateur work, Jerk thought. Criminals nowadays were much more careful.
Another thought crossed his mind.
“Trancie, plot past month activity by geolocation on mapearth.com”
It took a few minutes to refine the query so he could check the heatmap, and remove the background noise.
The last messages all seemed to concentrate in the middle of nowhere in Australia.
“How odd. So glad I’m not an investigative journalist, that place must be crawling with nasty things, scaly and poisonous and downright deadly.”
Interestingly, a second point on the map was close to Kelowna. Actually, although it could just be narrowed down to a 5 kilometer radius, it looked ominously close to where he lived.
Shivers started to run down his spine. Maybe he’d just stumbled onto a dangerous conspiracy. Dolls could be a code word for horrible things, possibly even human trafficking.
He closed the laptop suddenly, his mind racing. What if they were onto him? He struggled for a moment with the urge to destroy his laptop and burn down the place and disappear off the grid, but he remembered he needed to breathe, so his rational mind could be oxygenated and think properly.
“I may be a tad on the paranoid side.”
But it ain’t paranoia, if they are trying to get you.
He looked around. He was already as close as possible to off-the-grid without vanishing out of society. The place was deserted, and only a janitor was roaming the place mindlessly on his cleaning car. There was zero chance he could be a target.
“Oh shut up!” he exclaimed out loud.
He was intrigued by the mystery, but for now, he wanted to let it play out. He needed more data points to have Trancie plot a heuristic pattern. Well, to make sense of it, while he was working on her personality.FloveParticipant
“You do that, Sha. Nurse Trassie wasn’t it?”
Sharon nodded and pursed her lips tightly. “Bloody uppity tart. We bloody pay enough to be ‘ere, I reckon. They should get the tea bloody right.” Her eyes narrowed menacingly. “ Anyway, she’ll keep. So,‘ow we going to find ‘im then, Glor?”
Gloria scratched her head vigorously, perhaps checking it was still there, before taking a moment to examine her fingernails.
“Wot’d Mavis say then?” she asked at last. “When you did that texting thing to ‘er?”
“‘Ere let me find my phone and I’ll read it out loud to you. Oh, blimey, ‘ave you seen my glasses, Glor?”
Gloria’s generous curves wobbled and gyrated as she convulsed into fits of laughter.
“They’re on yer bloody ‘ead!” she said pointing and gasping for breath. “Oh, I nearly peeed myself, ya blimmen muppet!”
“Thanks, Glor. Wot I’d do without you, I don’t bloody know. Don’t mean to make you pee yerself though. It’s ‘ard enough getting them nurses to give out them extra thick pantyliners. Blimmin uppity tarts. Expecially that Nurse Trassie. Anyway, she’ll keep.”
“Oh, it’s text talk. The younguns talk like that now and our Mavis always did like to keep up with trends. Lots of lust it means. That saucy cow!”
“She always was a saucy one that, Mavis! Look at us stuck in ‘ere and ‘er with a new fella. Lucky sod. Maybe after our beauty treatment, we might get us a new fella too.”
“I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track down the Doctor though, Shar. I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track him down when we’re stuck in this bleedin’ ‘ole.” Gloria shoulders shook and she began to sob loudly.
“Wot’s that then,” asked Gloria, sniffing loudly into her hanky.
“I’ve ‘ad one of my bloody brainwaves!”
“I knew you would, Shar! You’ve always ‘ad brains. I’m all agog!”
“We’ll get Mavis to go to the papers! Put in an advert to find ‘im!”
“You’re a blimmin genius, you are, Shar!”FloveParticipant
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.
“Take your pills dear, you’re starting to sound like an old crone again. I think I’ve seen the little girl they speak about, Nesingwarys. She’s in the same class as Tak; with a name like this, hard to forget. Anyway, I’m also not sure what we are doing in this tavern. Wait! Now I remember” Glynnis leaned towards Eleri with an ironic smile on her face “it’s because you said you had a clue there was something fishy happening here. Always fancied yourself the knight in shiny armor, defender of the widow and the orphan, or simply enjoying sleuthing, I couldn’t really figure it out.” She stopped to catch her breath. The gin tonic from the tavern seemed to make her more prolix that she was used to.
It was also a rare occasion for her to travel to the nearby city for other than groceries and school matter for Tak.
They had rebuilt the cottage in the past few months, but it had been a long and painful process. Parts of it lacked convenience; the loo was still a hole in a ground in the garden. At least she was happy the back and forth trips to the blacksmith and the carpenter were over. Mostly now the joiner was a pain. He’d sent a telebat last day again that his cart had been impounded and not a few hours later, that he’d broken his hand with a hammer. She could swear he was making those excuses on the fly and meanwhile, they were all missing a modern and convenient loo. And there were only so many fragrant oils one could use…
“Look, now who’s the boring one! OK, OK, but before we go back, we still have this letter to deliver Margoritt in the city. Let’s go.”
Shawn Paul had decided that this particular day was dedicated to his writing. He had warned his friends not to call him and put his phone on silent mode. It was 9am and he had a long day of writing ahead of him.
He almost felt the electricity in his fingers as he touched the keyboard of his laptop. He imagined himself as a pianist of words preparing himself before a concert in front of the crowd of his future readers.
Shawn Paul pushed away the voice of his mother telling him with an irritating voice that he had the attention span of a shrimp in a whirlpool during a storm, which the boy had never truely understood, but today he was willing not to even let his inner voices distract him. He breathed deeply three times as he had learned last week-end during a workshop, and imagined his mother’s voice as a slimy slug that he could put away in a box with a seal into a chest with chains and lots of locks, that he buried in the deepest trench of the Pacific ocean. He was a writer and had a vivid imagination after all, why not use it to his benefit.
A smile of satisfaction wavered on the corner of his mouth while a drop of sweat slowly made its way to the corner of his left eye. He blinked and the doorbell rang.
Shawn Paul’s fragile smile transformed into a fixed grin ready to break down. Someone was laughing, and when the bell rang a second time, Shawn Paul realised it was his own contained hysterical laugh.
He breathed in deeply at his desk and got up too quickly, bumping his knee in one corner.
Ouch! he cried silently.
It would not take long he reminded himself, limping to the door.
What could it be ? The postman ?
Shawn Paul opened the door. An old man he had never seen, was standing there with a packet in his hands. If he was not the postman, at least you had the packet right said a voice in Shawn Paul’s head.
The old man opened his mouth, certainly to speak, but instead started to cough as if he was about to snuff it. It lasted some time and Shawn Paul repulsed by the loose cough retreated a bit into his flat. It was his old fear of contagion creeping out again. He berated himself he should not feel that way and he should show compassion, but at least if the old man could stop, it would be easier.
“For you!” said the old man when his cough finally stopped. He put the packet in Shawn Paul’s hands and left without another word.
Next on her list was Shawn-Paul. Or at least, she liked to think she had a neat ordered list and a method to her travels, but truth was she would often be propelled to the oddest places by random idea associations and would then pop-in to less than savory spots.
Not that she didn’t like to see through the eyes of an hideous little teddy-troll made of orgone. Granola had always hated orgone with its trapped garbage in clear resin, sold a million bucks for silly woowoo purposes. It didn’t prevent her projecting into it for one. She was actually wondering if it wasn’t actually working and enhancing her capacity to get irate.
When she started to feel everything vibrate, she forced herself to slow her thoughts down, and tell the particles trapped in the resin of the orgone teddy-troll to also slow down and breathe with her.
Now. She had a good view on Shawn-Paul who was strolling along the aisles of the oddest of minerals in the crystal & fossils market. The heat was making the asphalt sizzle at place, and the warm air was making her view blurry in waves of mirages. She tried to send some pop-in energy to get him to notice, but either he was too stoned by the heat, or lost in his thoughts as usual… Of course, there was so little chance that he was simply appalled by the orgone display on the shelves.
“Focus” she thought, trying to channel her giant essence into the tip of the figurine, she pushed her energy towards SP’s direction.
The orgone teddy-troll started to wobble and dance precariously above the ledge of the shelve, starting its slow motion fall to the ground.
The excitement made Granola’s consciousness suddenly untethered and leave for another mental space. She moaned as she couldn’t see if the figurine had landed and successfully drawn the attention of SP…
“But I can’t, I’m too busy with my new art deco project, repainting the gnomes in the garden, supervising Roberto to take care of my crops of… erm medicine. And of course, Uncle Oobie is staying in the caravan for the next weeks, I absolutely need to show him around.”
“Who would have known the housewife life was so stressful” a metallic voice came from the speakers.
“Couldn’t have said it better” Finnley said under her breath.
“Damn it Godfrey, thought you’d deactivated Fliz!”
“It’s not Fliz, Liz’, it’s Olexa! Not my fault if she has a temper in her notification mode. We installed it so you can reorder hummus by shouting in the air… Or… wait a minute… Has Finnley tricked me there?”
He looked around, but the maid had scurried along to tend to some important cleaning duties.
Hidden in a blinking pixel of the monitor of the cash register, Granola was looking at the scene and the silent tempest of incomprehension brewing inside Jerk’s head.
“Funny,” she thought “that they’d call that a dead pixel… Haven’t felt more blinky in a long while!… But let’s not get carried away.” It tended to have her stray in parallel reality, and lose her way there while making it difficult to reinsert inside the scenes of the current show.
“Let’s not get carried away.” She admonished herself again.
Her position in the pixel was a great finding. She could easily spy on all what happened in the shop, and if she wanted, zoom in through the internet cables, and find herself teleported to almost anywhere, but better still, in sequential time. Not bumping and hopping around haplessly inside mixed up frames of times. Aaah sequential time, she wouldn’t have known to miss it as much while she was corporeal.
“If I knew Morse code, I could probably send Jerk a message…” she felt quite tiny. Is a pixel better than a squishy giraffe?
“I must get that monitor checked” the voice of Jerk said aloud. “That screen is going to die on me anytime, and I’ll be fired if I can’t cash in for a day.”
Granola couldn’t blame him for the lack of imagination. How often she’d taken the electronic mishaps as bad luck rather as inspiring messages from the Great Beyond.
She stopped blinking for a few bits. It felt almost like holding her breath, if she still had one.
She’d have to upgrade her communications capacities; these four were really in need of a cosmic and comic boost.
Following the Cat inside the underground streams, Albie emerged in a large pond in the middle of a swamp.
The Cat shook himself off the water, and slid off the scuba diving suit. He picked a pair of bright yellow gum boots hidden behind a jumble of crawling vines, and put the scuba diving suit and the little pouch full of pearls inside a bundle.
Only then did he seem to notice the young out-of-breath boy gaping at the scene.
“Are you coming or what?” meowed the Cat authoritatively. “I ain’t got all night. And she sure won’t like waiting.”
The Cat then drew a magical symbol in the mud with his baton, spat a hairball in offering, and scratching the boy’s arm, drew a few drops of blood.
A swirling portal opened in the bayou, leading to the abode of She, Mistress of the Cat Who Swims Underwater.
With a kick of the Cat’s yellow boots in his bum, the boy went flying in, followed by the tittering Cat.
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!”
The old woman picked up the box of giraffe shaped cookies from the supermarket shelf. She looked at the box wonderingly, bemused at why she’d chosen it. She almost put it back on the shelf, but a couple of tears had rolled off her nose and onto the package. She put it in her basket, sighing. She couldn’t very well put it back on the shelf now, not with her snot all over the box. What did it matter anyway, she thought, sniffing. Now that the Ministry of Transport building had burned down, what did it matter.
“Is everything ok, love?” The old woman looked at the kind expression on the woman’s face, and started to sob. “Oh dear, whatever is the matter?” Maeve asked, noticing the giraffe shaped cookies illustrated on the damp packet.
“It’s the terrible news!” the old woman replied. “The Ministry of Transport! That beautiful old building! Such a testament to man’s ingenuity! Gone, all gone!”
“But it’s not the only one though is it?” replied Maeve, wondering if the old dear was a pew short of a cathedral. “I mean, there are others.”
The old woman pulled her arm sharply away from Maeve’s gentle hand on her shoulder and glared at her.
“How dare you say that! There’s nothing like it, anywhere!” and she strode off up the aisle, angry steps making a rat tat tat on the polished floor. Her outrage was such that she forgot to pay for the giraffe shaped cookies, and marched right out of the store.
Jerk, who was watching from a security spying monitor, sighed, and heaved himself out of his seat. The one thing he hated the most about his job was apprehending decrepit old shoplifters. I bet she smells of cat wee and rancid cooking fat, he mumbled under his breath.
“Oh hello, Jerk!” Maeve intercepted him on his route to the main doors in pursuit of the aged thief, noticing his disgruntled expression. “What’s up, you’re not upset about the Ministry of Transport building too, are you?”
Nonplussed, Jerk stopped for a moment to consider the unexpected question, giving the elderly shoplifter time to hop on a bus (that symbol of man’s ingenuity) and make her escape.
Elizabeth was even more impressed when the Obviously Intelligent Daily Comment Generator mentioned something very similar to Alice’s cookies .
She was delighted to see that Sanso was one of the early arrivals to the garden party, and that he’d brought with him a rag tag assortment of strapping young Arduino time hackers.
Finnley bustled past with her arms full of colourful bed linen, muttering under her breath.
The horses snorted as they were reined in to a halt an the front entrance. A young woman in what appeared to be a fancy dress costume descended from the carriage.
“I ‘ave come to ‘elp Finnley wiz ze bedding!”
“You have NO idea!” announced Elizabeth, dramatically throwing the front door open, “No idea what I’ve been through!”
“We do have an idea,” replied Godfrey, a welcoming smile playing about his lips.
“You have NO IDEA!” Liz glared at him. “You think it was all about family, but no! Oh no!” Liz tried unsuccessfully to remove her long purple scarf with a flourish, but it caught on the hook of the hatstand and tightened around her throat. Finnley came to her rescue ~ rather slowly, if truth be told ~ by which time Elizabeth’s face matched the puce of her scarf. Liz coughed, and then took a few deep breaths.
Fox popped back into existence, blind, after what felt like a very long black out. He heard a thud on the ground as he let go of the ice flute. A strong smell of decay and cold ash rendered him dizzy. He fell on his knees, threw up and cursed when the pain caused by a little stone reached his brain. It hurt.
He rolled on the side and banged his head on a tree trunk. He cursed, grabbing his head in an attempt to contain the pain that threatened to make him faint.
Where is the hellishcopter? he thought, confused as his hands touched the sandy ground. He tried to control a wave of panic.
He remained prostrated. He would have been glad to hear any noise other than his heartbeat and his quick breath.
After some time his sight came back. He would have preferred it did not. Everything was grey. The forest had burnt, and so had the cottage.
He looked around what remained of the kitchen. His heart sank when he saw what looked like a burnt body trying to escape. He went back out and found Gorrash, broken into pieces scattered near the pergola. The stones were covered in a thin layer of grey ash. Fox cried and sobbed. He couldn’t believe what had happened.
Where was everyone? Wasn’t he supposed to have the power of miracles? His heart ached.
She came and met him with a sad smile.
“You were not there,” she said more as a constatation than an accusation. Still Fox felt the guilt weigh on his shoulders. He wasn’t there for his friends. The people he had grown to love. The people he called family in his heart.
“You were not there. The monster came right after the others came through the portal. I wasn’t prepared. They counted on you and the flute. But it was too quick. It escaped and went to the village where it merged with Leroway. Eleri tried to cast her stone spell but it bounced back and she met the same end as Gorrash.”
Fox looked at the scattered stones on the ground.
“Once it controlled Leroway, it went into a frenzy and burnt everything. Everything. Only ashes remain.”
Fox remained silent, unable to speak. It was his fault.
“You have to go back,” said Glynis’s shadow. “They count on you.”
The breeze blew. The ghost flickered, a surprised expression on her face.
“Under the ashes in the kitchen, the last potion,” she said quickly. “It can turn back time. Bring the sh…” A cold breeze blew her off before she could finish.
“That is unfortunate,” said Rukshan when Fox told him about the dogs’ answer. They were all gathered around the fire on rough rugs for a last meal before activating the portal. For a moment shadow and light struggled on Rukshan’s face as the flames of the fire licked the woods, making it crack and break. A few sparkles flew upward into the dark starry night.
Lhamom used the magic metal spoon to serve steaming soup in carved wooden bowls, and Olliver was doing the service.
When he took his, Fox felt a chilly breeze find its way past his blanket. He shivered, put the bowl on the carpet in front of him and attempted to readjust the yakult wool blanket in a vain attempt to make it windproof. He took back the bowl and took a sip. The dogs barked in the distance. They were impatient to start the hunt. Fox shivered again.
“I could still serve as bait,” Fox said because he felt it was his fault if the plan failed. “You know, surprise the dogs while they are focused on the Shadow and make it follow me to trap it into the portal after we crossed it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rukshan. “It’s too dangerous. If you try to do that, we could have not one but two problems to solve. And you might get stuck too.”
Rukshan shook his head. “No. It was a foolish of me to hope those dogs would help us.”
“What can we do then?” asked Lhamom. They all drank their soup, the silence only broken by the fire cracking and the dogs barking.
“I know,” said Lhamom. “You were so helpful today with the cooking and all.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rukshan. “Olliver was with me helping me with the sand all day.” He stopped. His face showed sudden understanding. “Oh! Of course,” he said. “The book we burnt. The shard’s power was not only teleportation, but also ubiquity.” Rukshan turned to look at Fox. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Fox shrugged, making his blanket slip off of his shoulders slightly. Before he answered he adjusted it back quickly before the warmth he had accumulated could vanish into the night. “Well I saw him… I mean them. How do you think I came out of the negotiation alive? I can not teleport! I don’t even know what my powers are, or if I have any now that the shards have gone.”
“Grace and miracles,” said Rukshan with a grin.
A strange cristalline noise rang to Fox’s hears.
“What? Oh! Yes. Well, that explains it then,” he said, feeling a mix of grumpiness and contentment. He finished his soup and was about to leave the comfort of his blanket to take some stew when Lhamom took the bowl from his hands. She gave him a good serving and gave him back his bowl.
“Don’t make as if I said nothing important,” said Olliver.
The red of the flames enhances his angry look, thought Fox.
“I can be at two places, even more, at once. I can still be the bait and go back home with you at the same time.”
A dog barked impatiently.
“Yes,” said Fox.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” said Rukshan, concern on his face.
“Why? I’m not a boy anymore, if that’s what it’s all about. I can do it. I already did it this afternoon.”
“Well this afternoon was nice and cosy, wasn’t it? You had plenty of light, and yes you helped Fox escape from the dogs, so you can certainly do it. But what about the Shadow spirit. We have no idea what it is, or what it can do to you. And what will happen if one of you get killed?”
Once again, they fell silent. There was a dog bark and that strange cristalline noise again. It sounded closer.
“What’s that noise?” asked Olliver. Fox suddenly realised the strange noise had nothing to do with the sound of miracles, but it was a real noise in the real world.
“What noise?” asked Lhamom. “And what are you all talking about, shards and powers and ubiquity?”
“I can hear it too,” said Fox. “I’ve heard it before, but thought it was just me.”
The noise happened again, this time sounding a lot like metallic ropes snapping on ice.
Fox wriggled his nose. There was the smell of an animal and of a human.
“I think someone is coming,” he said, sniffing the cold air. “A donkey and a human.”
It was not too long before they saw an odd woman riding a donkey. She was playing a lyre made of ice, the strings of which had a faint glow. The woman was smiling like she was having the best adventure of her life.
“Hi guys. I came to help you. You didn’t think I would remain forgotten in my cave, did you?”
The red woman led Shawn Paul through small busy streets. Shawn Paul had never seen that many people with dogs and parked bikes all gathered in strategic places each time he was about to catch up on her. He swore he could hear her giggle.
Eventually she entered a cafe called Red Beans. Shawn Paul steered through white tables and chairs made of wrought iron and followed her in, breathless. He had never seen the point in running before. But he still wasn’t sure why he had to catch her. What would he do? Talk to her? Ask her what she did perched on trees and smiling?
There seemed to be only the bartender who was busy with a huge coffee machine, hissing like a locomotive. A colour, a movement on his right made Shawn Paul turn, and he just had the time to catch sight of a red hat going down the stairs. She certainly went to the toilets. He thought that maybe following her downstairs would be too creepy, but at the same time he didn’t want the bartender to talk to him either.
So he went down and waited at the door. The lock was red, showing someone was inside.
Shawn Paul waited. There were many flyers of parties and events pinned on a wall, but he wasn’t the party guy and his eyes flew over the messy images and texts that seemed scattered on the wall.
After five minutes he wondered if something had happened and pushed the door. It was open and the lock was broken, always showing red. He tutted and shook his head. He had been foolish, he thought. There has certainly been nobody there since the beginning. There was no girl sitting on trees with red sandals.
He got out of the cafe and was ready to walk back to his apartment with his granola cookies. When someone called him. He turned and stared at a girl and a guy having drinks on the Red Beans’ terrace.
“I was sure it was you, Shawn Paul,” said the girl. “I thought I recognised you when you ran inside earlier, but you seemed in such a hurry,” said a girl. She had a big grin and a pony tail.
Her face looked familiar, all rosy and cheeky. She had a nice jacquard sweater and a matching skirt, and she was waving at him cheerfully. Her cocktail was full of reds, blues and yellows.
“Remember me? Lucinda, from the apartment on the other side…” she added.
It suddenly dawned on him, they had met once or twice. She had said they should meet again, but they never had. He felt a bit trapped, not knowing what to say.
“Hi,” he said, and he looked at the guy. He had never met him, that he was sure of.
The guy looked as embarrassed as himself by the intrusion.
“Hi. I’m Jerk,” he said.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” asked Lucinda pointing at a flyer on the table. She took a sip of her cocktail.
Shawn Paul was about to decline with a ready made up excuse when he saw what was on the flyer. It was a big red balloon with a red hat on a starry background. It said “Reception of the French Ambassador. Free Buffet with Ferrero Rochers and Champagne”.
Shawn Paul pulled closer one of the heavy metal chairs and sat with them.
“Tell me more about it,” he said instead.
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