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    The rain had poured again and again, across the night, with short fits of howling winds. There had been no sign of Eleri or Gorrash, and people in the cabin had waited for the first ray of light to venture outside to find them.
    The newcomer, the quiet potion maker, stayed in her small quarters and hadn’t really mingled, but Margoritt wasn’t concerned about it. She was actually quite protective of her, and had continued her own chatter all through the night, doing small chores or being busy at her small loom, stopping at times in the middle of painful walking. She would however not cease speaking to whomever was listening at the time, or to her goat, or at times just to the wind or herself.

    Rukshan had had several dreams during the night, and could tell he wasn’t the only one. Everyone had a tired look. Images came and went, but there was a sense of work to be done.

    There were a few things he had managed to gather during that time awake when meditative state brought some clarity to the confused images.
    First, they were all in this together.
    Then, they probably needed a plan to repair the old.
    As soon as they would find the two missing ones, he would share it with everyone.

    ‘Hng hng’ — Rukshan opened his eyes to find Olliver drawing on his sleeve. The boy wasn’t very eloquent, but his postures would speak volumes. He was pointing to something outside.

    Rukshan looked at the clearing just outside the cabin, at first not realising two things had happened. Then they both dawned on him: the first ray of light had come across the cloudy sky, and second, the clearing was empty of the vengeful God.

    “Grumpf” he swore in the old Elvish tongue “that rascal is surely going after EleriEleri who he now knew was the laughing crone of the story, rendered younger by the powers of her goddaughter, the tricked girl. Eleri, who having inherited of the transmutation powers, had turned the angry God who had been left behind into stone to protect all of them.
    If the God would find her before they could get her to extract her Shard, at best they would be condemned to another cycle of rebirth, or worse, he would try to kill all of them to extract the other Shards from the others, one by one, until the Gods old powers would be his…


    By the following spring, Trustinghampton had fifty seven inhabitants. Under the leadership of Leroway, all had comfortable homes and enough to eat. There were numerous workshops, a bakery and communal brick oven, vegetable gardens and a traveling scavenging team with a mule cart. It was Lobbocks who had suggested a distillery: what we need now is a pub, he’d said. Somewhere to party.

    And that is how Leroway became the Lord Mayor. When the first spirits and wines were ready, the villagers held a party. The scavengers had found, among other things including additional wines and spirits and party drug stashes, a vast collection of clothing of all kinds, and so they had a fancy dress party. For fun they had a competiton of the best costumes, and Leroway and Jolly won, with their royal robes and tiara crowns. Eleri won second prize for her fetching maids outfit.

    Lest anyone be confused as to the nature of the workings of the village, there was no hierarchy and no laws. It was a mutual cooperation under the obvious and natural leadership of Leroway. The villagers were fond of him and grateful for the part he played, and Jolly was popular with everyone. The First Party was such a success and everyone loved their costumes so much that they continued to wear them, and play the parts. Thus, Leroway and Jolly became Lord Mayor and Lady Teacake, and Eleri played the part of their maid, although nobody was dictating to anyone else as it was just a game.

    It was the maids outfit that led Leroway astray. Try as he might, for he was devoted to his wife, he couldn’t subdue the flames rising in his purple clad loins. Eleri deftly avoided him as best she could, for she too was devoted to her friend Jolly. Had she fancied Leroway at all, she might have considered approaching Jolly with a view to an amicable ménage à trois, but the fact was, she didn’t. She had eyes for the latest arrival, the mysterious Mr Minn.



      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.


        “Oh. how ridiculous!” exclaimed Elizabeth, throwing a transcript at Godfrey.

        Deftly catching the paper being tossed in the whirlwind of a forceful exhalation of Liz’s cigarette smoke, he raised an eyebrow but remained silent.

        “She had a dream, you see,” continued Liz. “A dream about a writer and her maid. She mentioned it to me because she had one of those funny feelings it was about me, and when she told me, well the first thing I thought about was, well, you know….”

        But Godfrey wasn’t listening, he was winking at Finnley who was reading over his shoulder. The maid stifled a giggle.

        “So then I said to her,” Elizabeth explained, “‘I wonder what she’s been up to, left to her own devices?” and then she asked him all about it, and that’s what he said. Thrown me for a loop, I must say.”


        E: (chuckling) Left to her own devices, she generates considerable intensity in extremes.

        A: is this a character that has become a focus?

        E: Reverse.

        A: So it’s a focus that has become a character…. is there any information on the focus itself that I could offer her to play with that?

        E: The focus is a past focus, but a recent past focus…a past focus in the timeframework of the 1940s…

        A: in the Americas?

        E: This focus travels, but I would express is based in Britain.

        A: That makes sense.

        E: And in actuality is involved with early computers…with large cables. LARGE cables…

        A: [babble babble ohh ahh blah blah] …and she is female?

        E: Yes.


          Clove realized that she wasn’t going to get very far with her investigations if she didn’t gain the family’s trust and an amicable footing in the household.

          On impulse while wandering around a discount shop in the high street she decided to buy a couple of packets of gaily coloured plastic clothes pegs to replace the old wooden ones that had been marking her laundry with mossy green stains. Next she put a pack of bright poppy motif table mats in her shopping basket to replace the dowdy stained hunting print mats to brighten up the kitchen table. A tall shiny emerald green pepper mill caught her eye next; that would look nicer on the table than the Titsco powdered white pepper container that the Smith’s made do with. She would pick up some black peppercorns in the health shop when she got the organic oat cakes. They’d like a change from cream crackers all the time, she was sure. The final impulse purchase was a couple of balls of sustainable organic hemp string, which Clove thought would make a nice change for Sue to crochet with.

          The house was empty when Clove returned. She unpacked her shopping bags and distributed the new things around the place with a satisfied smile on her face. The old table mats she put in a bag next to the rubbish bin: Sue might want to keep them, although Clove doubted it. But better be on the safe side, she thought. The pegs went straight in the bin, and the hemp string into Sue’s crochet basket.


            “What did Clove ask about the other lodgers? You didn’t give away anything did you?” asked Sue later that evening. Sue was in bed with her latest Mills and Boon novel: Caride’s Forgotten Wife. She said to John that reading them was her “secret vice” and she hid them in the bedside cabinet — the one with a lock — so that none of the children would come across them. She whispered her question about the lodgers to John, although it wasn’t clear who she thought might be able to overhear.

            John sighed heavily and sat down on the edge of the bed. He didn’t believe in these sort of communications before bed time; sleep was a serious business and it was best not to get stressed prior to commencing. But he realised the importance of Sue’s question and decided to make an exception to his usual rule.

            “Well, I’ll be honest with you, luv, she did ask. She did … and I confess it was I who mentioned the lodgers in the first place. In my defence though, I was getting fed up with her pestering to go out gallivanting god-knows-where in the middle of the night. I was quite sharp with her. But I don’t want you worrying.” He patted Sue’s leg under the woollen beige blanket in a reassuring way. “Tell you what, in the morning we will put our heads together and come up with a story to put young Clove’s enquiring mind at ease should the matter of the lodgers arise again. Now, promise you won’t worry, dear?”

            Sue nodded doubtfully.

            “Oh I hope not, John, she can’t know … I couldn’t stand it … you know. I just couldn’t go through it again. All the turmoil and … upset.”


              Corrie’s findings from elsewhere:

              “After a few days, Quentin had had enough already of the food. Pickles, pickles, and more pickles. Pickled cabbage, green or red, gherkins and all sorts and sizes of pickled cucumbers, pickled onions and eggs… There was only variety in the type of thing that weird hostel family was able to think of pickling. Even his beard started to smell of pickles. It was slowing driving him nuts.

              That, and the strange random cackling at all hours of day and night, which he’d hoped to leave behind after being a refugee from that dreaded town. It had started again. And it seemed to come from the huge framed pea above the mantelpiece. He smirked at the thought that the only reason that pea was framed was that they didn’t find any fitting jar to pickle it.

              He was still waiting for an appointment with Aunt Idle, who apparently had forgotten him altogether. That was no small wonder, as he passed in front of her door with the half-unscrewed sign on her door that said “management”, he could smell she was into another kind of pickling altogether. With moonshine rather than with apple cider vinegar.”


              In reply to: Mandala of Ascensions

              It has been a few days he had felt this inexplicable urge to do something about the dullness of his everyday routine.

              Overall, Edward had never complained about his simple life, and the System’s technical upgrades did keep him rather busy fixing things when boredom threatened to settle in.

              Usually, browsing through social media, enjoying a few cute fluffy bunnies videos (all very safe for work, no need to worry about him) was all that he needed to fill the gaps of the long shift hours.

              Of course, the largest part of his days was spent monitoring the Program, and the pods. He had developed quite surreptitiously a basic visual neuronal interface that let him connect with the Virtual Reality of the pod occupants, and somehow share the progress of their Enlightenment Mission.

              For a while he had even created an avatar for himself. In the Great Simulation, he would then try to have some fun with the Ascended Masters, see what they would enlighten him about.
              It was all quite ironic, considering, they were considering themselves free and evolved, where in truth they were the prisoners of their own bodies in the pods, hooked to the virtual reality REYE program.
              But they were accurate in a way, that he was also trapped and a prisoner of his existence within the program.

              In between cats and bunnies, a link attracted him. “Rich Sacks’ Online Master Program of Enlightenment”. The more he scrolled down, the more alumnis raved and extolled the Program. What was for him to lose, the first course was free.
              On a whim, he decided to enroll.


                “Stop muttering, Godfrey. What are you not in the mood for?” She winked at him *lasciviously.

                Godfrey glared. “Stupid ignorant fool of a bossy boss and look at this will you!” He pointed dramatically at his letter. “A typo! He spelt my name Dear!

                LIz was unperturbed.

                “Well, I will tell you what I am in the mood for!”

She pirouetted around the recalcitrant Finnley who was still standing in the middle of the room and defiantly not making a start on **getting the cabbages.

                “Nick, nack, paddywack! I’m in the mood for LOOOOVE!” sang LIz loudly and tunelessy.

                Finnley grimaced and made a hasty exit.

                notation* trying to sexy things up for our readers.

                notation** being a euphemism for not writing a comment, of course.


                  “Get your own cabbages,” snarled Finnley rudely. Finnley was never at her best before mid afternoon, or indeed at any time of day, and she was mentally exhausted from her earlier attempt at politeness. “All this lovey-dovey stuff is making me want to puke.”


                    Liz looked at the fat dealer with a snicker “Oh, you’re still here talking nonsense Big G? Haven’t you got your cabbages already? The staff these days… FINNLEY!” she shouted to the gaping muttering maid. “Snap out of this silly trance, will you! Get the man his cabbages, and show those drug-dealing gentlemen out. Can’t be here all day with the cement to set, I have a wedding to plan now.”

                    She turned at the window, looking for Godfrey who had temporarily left her, “what on Earth is he doing talking to that devilishly handsome fellow. Those rubberducks give me an idea for the wedding dress though. Golden yellow for the colour. With gorgeous yellow shoes. I’m feeling ages younger today… Oh, sweet love.”


                      “But cabbages will do” a desperate fat dealer said, wishful to promptly exit the mad house.


                      In reply to: The Hosts of Mars


                        Readjusting to Earth had not been as easy as John had thought.
                        At the beginning, everything seemed overwhelmingly bright and noisy. The huge blue sky was a wonder to behold, but his eyes couldn’t look at it for long time periods.

                        Within a few days, the shock was wearing out, and the gradual realization started to settle, that there was no going back to that place where they were. That moment in space and time was so eerily starting to dissolve in his memory, feeling more and more like a distant fairytale, some story of the past, nothing more than an illusion.
                        Yet, it was that place where all his experiences were had. Where he had forged his character, had played, laughed, dreamt, feared, loved.
                        It all was almost meaningless. People were looking already at making movies and more distorted illusions of it for pure entertainment.

                        So, readjusting himself wasn’t going to be easy, if at all possible.

                        They’d released them in the end, not without giving them new identities. Seemed to be a fad these days, not only for protection of international security secrets, but also as a way to escape your irrevocable internet trail. Everything that was documented since your birth, since before you could even give your consent, and realize what was done. More and more were those who wanted a fresh start. What better solution to recycle a bunch of Mars stranded migrants into the fray of life itself.


                          After a few days, Quentin had had enough already of the food. Pickles, pickles, and more pickles. Pickled cabbage, green or red, gherkins and all sorts and sizes of pickled cucumbers, pickled onions and eggs… There was only variety in the type of thing that weird hostel family was able to think of pickling. Even his beard started to smell of pickles. It was slowing driving him nuts.

                          That, and the strange random cackling at all hours of day and night, which he’d hoped to leave behind after being a refugee from that dreaded town. It had started again. And it seemed to come from the huge framed pea above the mantelpiece. He smirked at the thought that the only reason that pea was framed was that they didn’t find any fitting jar to pickle it.

                          He was still waiting for an appointment with Aunt Idle, who apparently had forgotten him altogether. That was no small wonder, as he passed in front of her door with the half-unscrewed sign on her door that said “management”, he could smell she was into another kind of pickling altogether. With moonshine rather than with apple cider vinegar.


                          In reply to: The Hosts of Mars


                            It was a quiet day in the mines.
                            Godfrey’s teams were operating at less than 10% of the usual. Most of the Indian guys who worked there had taken unpaid leaves for the observance of the Ganesh festival.

                            It was all a bit silly, come to think about it, for so many reasons.
                            One obviously, was that the dates were aligned on Earth’s calendar, for supposedly practical reasons, but which had nothing to do with the environment they were living in now. What good was a lunar calendar when Mars had two main moons, the lovely named Fear (Phobos) and Dread (Deimos), and of course completely different day times and years.
                            Anyhow, that wasn’t the least of the incoherences. You’d normally have to find a natural body of water to immerse the elephant clay statues. Good luck with that on Mars. But there was no stopping the rituals to find ways to survive. He’d heard an artificial pool would be temporarily erected at the Matrimandir to allow for the ritual to be performed.
                            A waste of good water, if you asked him.

                            The only good thing about it was that there was more calm than usual, mostly robots diligently carving the walls, and harvesting the yellow stones.

                            The day before, there had been an unusual ruckus after a heated speech by the Head Nutter of the Religious Nuts, the old wrinkled as a prune Mother Shirley. She spoke of dread and doom, and having to repent and all. Gosh, did she put on a show.
                            He smirked. All that was missing was a human sacrifice, and they would be irrevocably back to the good old ways of the religious fanatics…

                            Even his Hindu friends seemed to have been affected and shown a renewed fervour at their own rituals. After all, their Lord Ganesh was supposed to remove obstacles. Or well, truth is, He was also supposed to create obstacles for the demons. But you’d never know whether you were on his good side or not.

                            Maybe the unusualness of that day gave him some heightened attention, but Godfrey started to notice some other strange patterns.
                            The Finnleys on duty were acting glitchy this morning. Looking through the console, he’d noticed there were some logs for the past days’ activity missing, and an unusual activity around some of the old tunnels which were used for temporary storage of the sulphur’s crates.

                            An irrational doubt started to creep on him, enhanced by the feeling of unusually low activity inside the dusty bowels of the red planet.
                            There was really no reason to worry, he tried to reassure himself, but as he’d liked to repeat, better be safe than sorry.

                            He pushed the intercall button and called for an emergency evacuation drill.


                              Christmas has always been a strange tradition in our family.
                              Maybe because first and foremost, Christmas is all about family. Besides the twins and their bond, sometimes I wonder what makes us a family at all.
                              It doesn’t help that we can never get snow around this place, and dressing in red and white fluff is not going to make things suddenly magical.

                              It was comical to see the exterminator come with a red bonnet, panting and all red himself, as if he were some genial Santa bringing gifts of death to our yonder’s rodents residents.
                              He didn’t catch a rat, but got himself a fright. Thanks to Mater, when she erupted in the attic in her white hanuka honey cream face-lifter mask. I think that sneaky Finly got to her in the end.
                              The mystery of the strange noises in the inn is not going soon, apparently.

                              Bert and Aunt Idle got back from their trip in the evening. Apparently Bert had insisted to bring some sort of shrub to make a Christmas tree in the great hall (it’s not so great, but we call it that). Finly didn’t seem pleased too much with it. Raking leaves in summer, bringing pests inside… she didn’t have many kind things to say about it. So Mater sends her to cook a “festive dinner”, that’s what she said. I heard Finly mutter in her breath something about kiwi specials. I like kiwis. Hope she’ll make a pavlova… just, not with Mater’s face cream!

                              It seems that giving small gestures of appreciation got the mood going. Aunt Idle is always very good at decorating with the oddest or simplest of things, like rolls of TP. Sometimes she would draw nice hieroglyphs in the layer of dust on the cabinets, it gives the furniture a special look. Mater always says it’s because she’s too lazy to do some cleaning consistently, but I think it’s because cleaning is not creative enough for her. Can’t believe I just said nice things about Aunt Idle. Christmas spirit must be contagious.

                              Then, Devan came home with some pastries. It’s not often I see Devan these days, and usually he’s always brooding. I would too, if I had to come back home when I could just start my life away from there. Finly was all eyes on him all of a sudden. Seems nobody noticed, not even the twins, too busy being snarky while playing on their phones,… it looks like there is some strange game between these two, my brother and our Finly. I think Finly makes a lot of efforts to look younger with him, I can see when she fiddles with her hair. They would make good friends, and I’m sure Devan doesn’t mind the accent.

                              As always, it’s not about how pretty the tree is, or how good the food is, or how big the gifts are… It’s more about being together, for better or for worse. And Dad, and Mum are always out of this almost nice picture, but somehow, it matters less today.

                              There’s a good thing about that Christmas spirit. It gives you the weirdest ideas. To be nice, I asked Mater if we should invite the guests to our festive dinner, and probably lifted by the mood, she said yes, of course. When I went to the closed door to invite the guy, I thought a random act of kindnes is a perfect occasion to learn more about our mysterious resident stranger… Maybe that’s what the adults mean in church when they say you should always be kind to each other.


                                Liz’, I’m sorry to interrupt,” remarked Godfrey, somewhat cautiously, “I know you’d rather forget about it, but shall I remind you that we are going to be irrevocably late for our appointment at the court, for the third time.”
                                “What nonsense is that again? And where did you appear from Godammfrey? I haven’t summoned you!”

                                Godfrey couldn’t help but raise his eyes and start a rolling motion, but insisted.
                                “The lawsuit, darling. This scandalous libel by that rat of a critic who accused you quite unambiguously of both plagiarism and ghostwriting. You surely do remember that?”

                                “I’m sorry Godfrey, can’t this be dealt with without my being there. I’m not paying you peanuts to just entertain me.”

                                Godfrey sighed. It was already the second time they missed the appointment, and the judge would certainly no see it in a good light. A little bit of publicity around this affair wasn’t bad of course, especially with such hilarious allegations. Everyone in town knew well enough Elizabeth’s take on both plagiarism (“it’s just slight teafing”) and ghostwriting (“channeling by another name, darling”), so it was very good publicity indeed.
                                But having sued the critic now, it would be a pity to lose to him. If only for the money. When did she become so careless about it? Having personnel did go a little to her head…

                                “If you’d pardon me” Elizabeth said after a eloquent burp, “all that tea have quite distended my bladder, and I would actually quite enjoy discovering the loo of the courthouse. When shall we go?”


                                In reply to: The Hosts of Mars


                                  It had been two months since the aurora. They had started to refer to it as the Cloud Aurora, since after it, rocks had started to leak moisture in all manner of places.
                                  Long, thin clouds had begun to appear just a month after, and the atmosphere composition seemed to alter itself as well, irrevocably.

                                  Everyone was busy doing analysis, sending reports to Earth and extrapolating on data. But John was more interested in running more explorations and extending the area of his scouting.

                                  Tonight, a new commercial ship from Earth would arrive. Mostly rich tourists bored with Spain or Italy, but a bit of fresh blood too, most likely winners of a stupid settler raffle. It had taken them years to arrive; it was hard for John to imagine being crammed in suspension, floating through endless void and cold space for so long.

                                  But then, he himself was quite excited being here to monitor the inexorable changes set in motion on the red planet.


                                    Funny thing was, none of this would be possible, if not for Liz’ impeccable release of new literary works. Despite her feigned struggles, she managed to release them like clockwork.
                                    Prolific line-pissing writers like King had nothing to envy to her. She would document and expound on nearly every bit of news passing. As a matter of fact, most of her morning rituals were to document the press review, and make clippings out of the most absurd or mundane events, and somehow, weave enthralling tales with it.

                                    The last past years had been the most flourishing ones, mostly focused on tales of social responsibility in magical gardens, civil disobedience in cetacean societies, and financial collapse of ayahuasca economy based Amazonian tribes.

                                    Well, to be honest, the magic had to be left to the Finnleys. It was nor the endless cleaning nor the unnerving bluster that had them resign. It was mostly that they were literary agents in cover aspiring to more than a life of cleaning. For what Elizabeth had as gift of prolixity, all the Finnleys were hired to put it all together, while sworn to secrecy.
                                    Of course, with each best-sellers, they had to find a new one most of the time.

                                    Despite the occasional ill-temper, all of it seemed now like a well-oiled machine.
                                    However, Godfrey was growing concerned about the last one of the Finnleys. Very concerned.


                                    “How about this one, it looks like one of them safari parks or petting zoos” said Sharon, pointing to a photograph of El Refugio in the Abalone blurb.
                                    “Those little cabins look cosy” agreed Gloria. “And all them animals to take photos of.”
                                    “On the coast too, the beach looks nice,” added Mavis. “Are we all agreed then? Shall I book the flight?”

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