“I hardly think wearing such a peculiar hat is apt for undercover work, Agent X,” remarked Veranassessee.
“It’s a local tradition,” gasped Agent X, trying to catch his breath as he attempted to right his mangled bicycle.
“Never mind that! Leave it there, it’s no good now!”
“The doll is hidden in the water bottle!” Agent X snapped, “And it’s stuck fast behind all this twisted metal! We have to take the whole thing!”
A red leaf fell on the nose of the biggest gargoyle and Fox stopped his rehearsal. It had been exhausting and he didn’t remember why on earth he was doing that. He also didn’t remember how long he had been speaking in front of the Gargoyles, maybe he drank the wrong potion in the morning. Glynis had given him a potion especially made for him to calm his anxiety and help him solve a few energy blockages from childhood, or in his case, cubhood.
One of the baby snoots giggled behind the back of the shrieking gargoyle.
“You don’t mess with me, little…” He found himself lacking the creativity to find any insult the could understand. It was no use cursing the little rainbow creatures, they didn’t seem to care. Fox suspected it was not because of a lack of intelligence but simply because they didn’t view life, or anything, as a problem. He took note that he should get some inspiration from that.
“What were you doing, uncle Fox?” asked Olliver.
Fox opened his eyes wide. The boy seemed taller everyday and Fox had to look up to actually meet his eyes.
“Will you never stop to grow?” he asked with a little resentment.
“Well…” the boy started with his breaking voice.
“Where were you,” asked Fox. “I thought you had left with Rukshan.” In a way Fox was relieved that it was not the case and it soothed a little the pain caused by the sudden departure of the Fae.
“Oh! Teleporting here and there,” said the boy, considering adding some semi-truth about going to school.
An idea sprouted in Fox’s mind. It was too tiny for him to know what it was but his unconscious mind was already working about a plan to catch up with Rukshan, connecting the bits and pieces left by the Fae in his tales to the children and his innocuous comments.
“What do you think about… having some dinner,” he said not yet able to formulate in his imagination that he could even go on an adventure with Olliver.
“How far is it?” Gloria was starting to complain, after the blue powder’s effects started to wane and give her a fit of anxiety mixed with intense boredom.
“Oh quiet!” snapped Sha, “it’s not enough we had to drag you along, don’t you start to complain. I need to concentrate.”
Gloria turned to Mavis quizzically. The bus took a bump in the road, and she giggled madly as if under the influence of laughing gas. “Look at her!” she said pointing at the vibrating cellulite around Sharon’s ankles.
“She’s got to have a brainwave, and you’ll know what next!”
Sharon started to shout “STOP! Now! Bus 57 express to Glasgow airport, then we Brexit to Norway!”
“Wot?! No bloody way! It’s going to be cold ‘ere!” Glo whined.
“The article said: a party will meet you in Bodø, Norway! It’s clear, no?”
“I have no idea ‘ow you managed to mouth that ø, but we better catch the blimin’ bus express; got a feeling diabolical nurse Trassie is goin’ to catches up on us trail!”
Probably afraid to catch the floo, Muriel had packed in a jiffy, and left the place without saying much more than a few admonitions.
Glynis atchooed some more, in case Muriel was still within earshot, then laughed heartily. It was good to laugh. She disliked the saying that you always laugh at the expense of someone, but in that case it felt splendid. Muriel had been such a bag of chips on her shoulders, with her moaning and complaining and her hardly lifting a finger.
After all the belly laughing was done, and some more for good measure, she looked at Fox’s wrinkled nose, and laughed some more: “the loo is still in a dire situation though!”
He tittered jollily, hooting his reply “For sure! All the purple cabbage you fed that harpy didn’t help!”
Barbara’s office was dead silent apart from the regular bips of the machines. The whiteness of the painted walls made it feel like a psych ward. She shivered away the memories that were trying to catch her attention.
It’s been two hours since the Doctor had locked himself up in his rage-release room, a spacious soundproofed room with padded walls. Not even a small window to look inside and check if his anger had subsided. Barbara clearly preferred the trauma of the shouts and cries and the broken plates that were hidden here and there for him to use when he needed most. But when he started his therapy with the AI psych module, the damn bot suggested he built that room in order to release his rage in a more intimate framework.
Now the plates collected dust and the sessions in the room tended to last longer and longer.
Today’s burst of rage had been triggered by the unexpected gathering of the guests at the Inn. The Doctor was drinking his columbian cocoa, a blend of melted dark chocolate with cheddar cheese, when the old hag in that bloody gabardine started her speech. The camera hidden in the eye of the fish by their agent, gave them a fisheye view of the room. It was very practical and they could see everything. The AI engineer module could recreate a 3D view of the room and anticipate the moves of all the attendees.
When that girl with the fishnet handed out the keys for all to see and the other girl got the doll out, the Doctor had his attention hyper-focused. He wanted to see it all.
Except there had been a glitch and images of granola cookies superimposed on the items.
“Send the magpies to retrieve the items,” he said, nervousness making his voice louder.
“Ahem,” had answered Barbara.
“What?” The Doctor turned towards her. His eye twitched when he expected the worst, and it had been twitching fast.
She had been trying to hide the fact that the magpies had been distracted lately, as she had clearly been herself since she had found that goldminer game on facebush.
No need to delay the inevitable, she had thought. “The magpies are not in the immediate vicinity of the Inn.” In fact, just as their imprinting mother was busy digging digital gold during her work time, the magpies had found a new vein of gold while going to the Inn and Barbara had thought it could be a nice addition to her meager salary… to make ends meet at the end of the month.
It obviously wasn’t the right time to do so. And she was worried about the Doctor now.
To trump her anxiety, she was surfing the internet. Too guilty to play the gold miner, she was looking around for solutions to her boss’s stress. The variety and abundance of advertisement was deafening her eyes, and somewhere in a gold mine she was sure the magpies were going berserk too. She had to find a solution quickly.
Barbara hesitated to ask the AI. But there were obviously too many solutions to choose from. Her phone buzzed. It was her mother.
“I finally found the white jade masks. Bought one for you 2. It helps chase the mental stress away. You clearly need it.” Her mother had joined a picture of her wearing the mask on top of a beauty mask which gave her the look of a mummy. Her mother was too much into the woowoo stuffs and Barbara was about to send her a polite but firm no she didn’t want the mask. But the door of the rage-room opened and the Doctor went out. He had such a blissful look on his face. It was unnatural. Barbara had been suspecting the AI to brainwash the Doctor with subliminal messages during those therapy sessions. Maybe it also happened in the rage-room. The AI was using tech to control the Doctor. Barbara would use some other means to win him back.
OK. SEND IT TO ME QUICK. she sent to her mother.
Eleri was dressed in—too short— fairy garments and had sad looking transparent wings hanging on her back. Her hair was full of twigs and red and yellow leaves fallen from the trees.
“Have you been rolling yourself into the piles of leaves Ollie had gathered this morning?” asked Glynis.
Eleri looked like a child caught in the act.
“Guilty I guess, that’s my little pleasure these days. I recall when I was a little girl and my mom was handing me candies for being a good girl.” She sighed of relief. “Gosh! How I hated that period. I got rid of that neat little girl long ago and now I’m just being myself.”
She turned around and went back into the forest shouting like a tookantipooh trying to catch a young kakapo, leaving Glynis crestfallen with all the dish to clean again.prUneParticipant
It all started to feel insanely crowded and agitated in the Inn, it took me a while to check whether I was tripping on some illegal substance.
Truth was, the funny chicken was doing alright until Finly and Idle came back in a hurry, tried to make me puke and feed me charcoals, as if I’d been poisoned or something.
I overheard Aunt Dodo when she shouted at poor Finly “why would you put my stash with the lizard leftovers! It’s me-di-cine you old cow, not some bloody herb seasoning!”
Finly looked indignant, but she knew better than to argue. Besides, I’m sure her face was speaking volumes, something in the tune of “with the bloody mess of your stuff all over the place, why do you think?” Sure, there was some other profanities hidden in the wrinkles of her sweet face, but she would leave that to Mater to spell them out.
Anyways, I just maybe feeling juuust a little funny, but with years of bush food regimen behind me, my liver is surely strong as an ox and pumping all the stuff out of my system like a workhorse.
So, yeah, I was maybe tripping a little. So many new people came in at the same time, it felt like a flashmob. They were probably real and not just hallucinations, since Dido dashed out to greet some of them.
I went upstairs and spied on them from there. I’m making also a list, mostly for Aunt Dodo, because if her heart is in the right place, her brain probably isn’t (or it’s a tight one).
So there, I wrote on a yellow sticky note:
Dido, if you're paying attention, here are the guests at this moment: - Not counting PRUNE, and DEVAN who just texted me he's coming!! - A jeep-full of loonies: A GIRL with red and white track pants and a hijjab, a black CAT and a GECKO (wait, you can forget about the gecko), a weirdo GUY in a fancy ruffle shirt and a little redhair BOY. TIKU is here too, helping FINLY in the kitchen. - Your old friend HILDA, and her colleague CONNIE - Two townfolks Canadian tourists who argue like an old couple, but I don't think they are, MAYV(?) and SANPELL(?) (sorry, couldn't catch their names with their funny accent)
I guess breakfast is going to be lively tomorrow…
The vibration of the phone on the table made Barbara jump and she almost deleted her report. Her heart was racing at the thought of erasing what took her an hour to write. She reminded herself to breath like she had learned during her hot yoga class the previous week. It quieted her heart a little and she checked her hair out of habit and winced when she felt the short haircut. She checked her phone.
“Wonderful!” she said readjusting her glasses. A new acquisition, big and cat eye like, the brim covered with colourful strass. She couldn’t resist.
She got up from her desk and adjusted her skirt with her six fingers hand. She went to the Doctor’s office and knocked three times on the door. A sleepy voice, a tad angry, asked from the other side: “What?”
“It’s Barbara. Our undercover agent sent me a confirmation that the Dreamcatcher operation is a success. Subject zero has been activated unaware that you are manipulating her dreams.”
The note had troubled Maeve. It was different than the one Shawn Paul received, not only because it was handwritten and very long, but also because it implied someone, potentially even several groups, were after the dolls and the keys.
“You have to retrieve them,” the note eventually said, “and use the clues they hide to find the important people they protect.”
There was no signature, but it sounded so much like uncle Fergus, oddly wordy and mysterious. Was he still alive after all this time? Did he still ride his Harley?
Maeve’s first thought after the surprise was that she needed someone to take care of Fabio. The next thought felt like a brilliant idea. Lucinda. Maeve would go ask her to take care of Fabio during her vacation to Australia and would use that opportunity to spirit away the doll. She had the intuition she might need it afterwards.
So she prepared her luggage and cuddled Fabio who knew he wouldn’t be part of the trip.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I need you to keep that sad face of yours when we go see Lucinda.” In response, Fabio wiggled his tail happily and tried to lick Maeve’s face. “No! Keep the face,” she mimicked what she thought was a sad face.
After all was packed she went to Lucinda’s with Fabio and her luggage.
“I’m sorry, I’m going on a trip and I need someone to take care of Fabio,” Maeve said. As she had imagined Lucinda was moved by Fabio’s look and couldn’t refuse to take car of him.
“Of course! He’ll be well treated here with my new parrot.”
“Huhu,” said the colourful bird.
“I think it comes from New Zealand,” said Lucinda. “It flew in yesterday and had not left ever since despite me not putting it into a cage, so I’m buying it food. It seems particularly fond of that doll I told you about the other day.”
Indeed, the parrot was on the sofa, trying to open the doll’s head. That’s when Fabio jumped and tried to catch the bird. He clearly didn’t like it and the parrot flew away to a higher ground on an old grannies’ Welsh dresser, making a few glasses and china fall down in an awful breaking noise. Lucinda tried to catch the bird or the china or Fabio, but could do neither of the three.
Seizing that as an opportunity, Maeve put the doll in her messenger bag.
“I don’t want to bother you longer, I have a plane to catch. Bye,” she said, and she left with bags and luggage without checking if Lucinda had heard.
At the elevator, she met with Shawn Paul.
“Hi. I’m going to the airport,” the young man said. “Australia. Like you?”
She felt uncomfortable. The note hadn’t mention anything about him. Unless he was part of one of those groups who were after the dolls. Maeve grumbled something while holding her bag closer. She didn’t know if she could trust him.
One morning Fox noticed a pigeon on the fence. It was cooing and certainly trying to catch a female. But there was none. Actually there hadn’t been so many pigeons in the woods, and Fox had always thought they were city creatures. That’s why he looked closer. The pigeon fretted, a little bit uncertain of the two legged man, because of his fox scent that was still getting out from time to time. But it remained still enough so that Fox could catch it. It would make a nice addition to their lunch.
He was about to break the bird’s neck when he noticed the little cylinder attached to its left leg. He detached it and called Glynis. The cylinder was enchanted and it required some skills to be opened. Someone didn’t want anyone to read that message.
Glynis arrived and the pigeon tried to fly away, but Fox had a firm grip on it. Glynis glared at him.
“Don’t kill the messenger, please,” she said.
Fox, not after some hesitations, released the bird who landed heavily on the fence.
“It’s a shame to let go of such a well fed bird.”
“I know, but we may need it to send back a message and well trained pigeons are hard to come by in the woods.”
So they didn’t have pigeon for lunch. And Glynis struggled. And after noon they were still trying without much success.
“None of my spells have worked so far. I don’t know what to do to crack it open,” lamented Glynis.
“Good idea,” said Fox, “let’s try that.” He took the cylinder and bent it slightly. It cracked open easily. Glynis looked at Fox daringly.
Before Fox could talk, Glynis said: “You’re allowed to roll your eyes. Two turns only.”
Fox did and they read the message. It was from Rukshan.
“Dear fellow companions, I’m sure you’ll know how to open the message,” he started. They snorted.
“I found a path that I hope would help revive our friend. Although I need some help. I’m sure the work with the carpenter and the joiner is done and Fox can come give me a hand.”
A small gecko head showed up from Arona’s hood. It seemed to shout loudly, but to Mandrake it sounded just like the compelling sound of a mouse. His instinct were stronger and he stretched his paw to catch it, but Arona was quicker.
“Don’t think of it. Ugo the gecko helped me get out of that labyrinthine doline the other day. I don’t quite understand what he says, but I think he’s a bit jealous when I cuddle people… or cats.”
Despite the underground currents, following the trail of blue glow from the glukenitches’ droppings was easy; far less subtle than old fashioned glow worms starmap reading…
Mandrake was alerted to a sudden drop when the trail started to disappear abruptly, indicating the strong possibility of a chute of some kind.
He only managed to catch Albie’s pants before he fell right in, and pulled both of them back to the shore. He had to be sure.
“Good thing, that slimey dragon managed to power back the sabulmantium, we may get a hint of where we’re headed to.”
“There’s no other way than the waterfall, is there Mr Mandrake?”
“Shht. Let me concentrate, this thing is sensitive.”
Under the paws of the cat, the sand inside the clear sphere started to move in shapes and describe a living story.
“Mmm. Seems he wasn’t joking, never seen this thing behave so strangely before.”
“What is this?”
“It looks like something that I have seen a long time ago, but that wasn’t in this dimension… I guess we won’t know for sure until we get there. Ready boy for the dive of your life?”
Albie didn’t have time to answer, as the cat wasn’t waiting for him.
The fall seemed to last forever. But then a light appeared, and they started to float up, up, up.
When they emerged, they were clearly out of swamp waters. Salty water was all they could see for miles around.
“A blessing you had an inflatable zodiac in your purse, Sir.” the boy said to the cat once they were up on the boat, waiting for a sign as to where next.
“Whales! Whales!” the boy shouted excitedly, pointing to the shapes moving under their boat.
“Ah, finally, someone with some wits about that can tell us some valuable information.”
It didn’t take long to Mandrake to grab the attention of one of the belugas and engage the conversation; it didn’t seem particularly long to Albie, but it seemed like a lot was exchanged.
“We’re on the Gold Coast of Australia” Mandrake said. “That dimension is a bit tricky for my species, humans here take us for lazy playthings and don’t really understand us, so I may have to rely on you for some of the talking, boy.”
“For sure, Mr Mandrake. Did you get any news as to where Ms Arona might be?”
“Might be. That whale started to babble thing about granola cookies and dolls. I have no idea what she meant, she might have been popped in by some alien force. Luckily whales are used to manage multiple personalities well, so I managed to get the rest of the navigational hints once she got her channels back in order.”
“So where to now?”
“Starboard, son, starboard!”
Shawn Paul couldn’t help but listen when he heard Maeve’s voice. Was she at Lucinda’s again? He ventured outside his apartment with his unopened packet in his hands in order to have a clearer idea of what they were talking about.
Not him apparently. They were talking about dolls and spies. He felt a bit jealous that other peoples had such beautiful stories to tell and he struggled so much to even write a few lines. Fortunately he always had a small notebook and a pen in his pockets. He scribbled down a few notes, trying to be fast and concise. He looked at his writing. It would be hard to read afterwards.
He paused after writing the uncle’s name. Was it uncle Fungus? And the tarty spy in the fishnet, was it a photograph? And what about the bugs, was it an infestation? Too much information. It was hard to follow the story and write while holding the packet.
He realised they had stopped speaking and Lucinda was closing the door. He suddenly panicked. What if Maeve found him there, listening?
The time it took him to think about all that could happen was enough for Maeve to meet him were he stood the packet in his hands.
“Hi she said. You got a packet ?”
“Yes,” he answered, his mind almost blank. What could he possibly say. He was more of the writer kind, he needed time to think about his dialogues in advance. But, was it an inspiration from beyond he had something to say and justify his presence.
“Someone just dropped this at my door and I was trying to see if I could catch them. There’s no address.” He turned the packet as if to confirm it.
“There’s something written on the corner,” said Maeve. “It looks like an old newspaper cut.
“Oh! You’re right,” said Shawn Paul.
She looked closer.
“What a coincidence,” said Maeve, looking slightly shocked.
Shaw Paul brought the packet closer to his face. It smelled like granola cookies. On the paperclip there was an add for a trip to Australia with the address of a decrepit Inn somewhere in the wops. There was a photo of an old woman standing in front of the Inn, and Shawn Paul swore he saw her wink at him. The smell of granola cookies was stronger and made him hungry.
He was not sure anymore he would be able to write his story that day.
“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.”
“The Fellowship congratulates and thanks you for your continuity work on the script. We acknowledge the extreme difficulties you contend with as you face erratic forces resistant to any form of continuity and seeking only to create meaningless threads. The Fellowship also advises the script will be even further improved if you could sexy it up a bit.”
The air was crisp and dry in the mountains. They had been walking for days under the guidance of their local guide Strumpjioku, whose name was simply pronounced Sok despite or because a very complicated writing system. It seemed to interest Rukshan a lot but Fox had had some brain freeze trying to understand their guide’s nebulous and proud explanations about it.
Of course, it might have been caused also by the lack of air. They were so high in the mountains, and at times Fox had even seen and heard things that should not have been there. Especially during the long nights when packs of wild dogs barked endlessly. Fox understood their language. They were hunting things. It wasn’t clear what, but Fox could sometimes sense a lingering smell carried by the otherwise empty air that he couldn’t identify.
They had established camp for the night and Sok was busy cooking for them. Fox growled miserably. He didn’t fancy too much the spicy food that seem the only thing they could get in those mountains. He missed the running hens of Margoritt’s cottage in the forest and her secret mushroom sauce that was to die for. He would even have eaten her ratatouille with only vegetables.
Rukshan was trying to cast a fae spell in order to contact their friend Lhamom who had left them for a special ceremony in a temple. She said it was for her friend Donny whose mother had passed away recently. Being in a hurry as they were, they didn’t insist to wait. Lhamom said she could catch up on them later. The spell failed again and Rukshan cursed.
Dogs started to bark loudly. Not too soon after the strange smell became stronger, and it made Fox nervous, especially hearing to the hunting dogs.
Fox approached Rukshan.
“The dogs are hunting something, he said.
“As long as they don’t hunt us, retorted Rukshan with a shrug. He seemed upset by his failed attempt and not too eager to talk.
Fox caught Sok looking at them, but the guide turned back to his cooking when he saw Fox looking at him.
“That won’t help me sleep”, mumbled Fox more grumpy than usual.
It had been weeks since Annabel looked at the old notebooks again, but when she did, she couldn’t help but marvel once more at the synchronicity. Her partner had a couple of dental appointments in the coming days, and a number of teeth were to be extracted ~ more than Annabel would be willing to lose in one fell swoop after her singularly unpleasant experience with an extraction of two adjacent teeth, but her partner Dalgliesh didn’t seem unduly worried.
Annabel felt an affinity to Liz as she perused the yellowing pages of the notebooks, although thankfully she, Annabel, still had most of her own natural teeth and had not yet resorted to plastic, despite that they were a similar colour, indeed a perfect match, to the yellow notebooks.
It wasn’t the first mention of yellow that day, either. Annabel had painted a wall purple and was surprised to find that it made her feel gloomy to look at it. The green accessories looked pleasant enough against it, but she strongly felt there was a need for yellow as well. And yet the idea of that seemed repugnant. Lavender, blue green, and yellow! It sounded ghastly. Annabel was avoiding looking at the wall for the time being, thinking the best solution was probably to repaint the wall a safe neutral scream.
Annabel meant cream, naturally, a safe neutral cream, but the astonishing typographical error was duly noted, in case it was related to the other mention of yellow, which was when not one but two of the local guru’s suggested she be sure and twirl her purples with her yellows, whatever that meant.
Meanwhile, Annabel was giving some thought to the idea of a safe neutral scream, which had rather a catchy ring to it, despite it’s accidental appearance.
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.
A rivulet of sweat ran down the middle of Eleri’s back, taking her attention for a moment from the sting in her eye where a bead of perspiration had trickled from her steaming brow. Despite telling herself that there was no need to hurry, that there was plenty of time to get back to the cottage to join the expedition, that even if she was late and they had started without her, that she could easily catch them up, even so, she hurried along the path. There was no sign of cooling rain this day, and the sun beat down mercilessly.
The visit with Jolly had been surprising, and had it not been for the expedition and the others waiting for her, Eleri would have stayed longer with her old friend. The village had become divided, with some of the inhabitants supporting Leroway’s invasive construction schemes, and the others disliking them greatly. And Jolly had sided with the ones opposing her husband. Old Leroway was too determined, and had too much support, to stop him cutting a swathe through the forest. And that wasn’t even the worst of his plans.
But it wasn’t just Leroway. There had been other changes, subtle changes hard to define, but that increasingly fostered profound feelings of restlessness. The energy of the place was different, and for some the lack of resonance was becoming too unsettling to bear. Some of them started to talk about leaving, finding somewhere new. And much to everyone’s surprise, Jolly was one of them. She was leaving Leroway.
Jolly’s people had not yet organized the exodus, had no clear plans. Eleri promised to send word when ~ if ~ she reached a suitable destination. There was no way to know what they would find beyond the mountains. But they knew they must look.
With a spring in her step that she had all but forgotten she possessed, Eleri set off on her trip to speak to her old friend Jolly about her husband Leroway’s latest plan that was causing some considerable controversy among the locals. Eleri planned to make the visit a short one, and to hasten back to Margoritt’s cottage in time for the departure of the expedition ~ because she surely wanted to be a part of that. But first, she had to see Jolly, and not just about Leroway. There was a sense of a stirring, or a quickening ~ it was hard to name precisely but there was a feeling of impending movement, that was wider than the expedition plans. Was Jolly feeling it, would she be considering it too? And if not, Eleri would bid her farewell, and make arrangements with her to send a caretaker down to her cottage. And what, she wondered, would happen about care taking the cottage if Jolly’s villagers were on the move again? Eleri frowned. How much did it matter? Perhaps a stranger would find it and choose to stay there, and make of it what they wished. But what about all her statues and ingredients? Eleri felt her steps falter on the old rocky road as her mind became crowded with all manner of things relating to the cottage, and her work.
You don’t have to plan every little thing! she reminded herself sternly. None of that has to be decided now anyway! It’s wonderful day to be out walking, hark: the rustling in the undergrowth, and the distant moo and clang of a cow bell.
The dreadful flu she’d had after the drenching had left her weakly despondent and not her usual self at all. But she’d heard the others talking while she’d been moping about and it was as if a little light had come on inside her.
She still had trouble remembering all their names: ever since the flu, she had a sort of memory weakness and a peculiar inability to recall timelines correctly. Mr Minn (ah, she noted that she had not forgotten his name!) said not to worry, it was a well known side effect of that particular virus, and that as all time was simultaneous anyway, and all beings were essentially one, it hardly mattered. But Mr Minn, Eleri had replied, It makes it a devil of a job to write a story, to which he enigmatically replied, Not necessarily!
Someone had asked, Who do we want to come on the expedition, or perhaps they said Who wants to come on the expedition, but Eleri had heard it as Who wants to be a person who wants to go on an expedition, or perhaps, what kind of person do the others want as an expedition companion. But whatever it was, it made Eleri stop and realize that she wasn’t even enjoying the morose despondent helpless feeling glump that she has turned into of late, and that it was only a feeling after all and if she couldn’t change that herself, then who the devil else was going to do it for her, and so she did, bit by bit. It might feel a bit fake at first, someone had said. And it did, somewhat, but it really wasn’t long before it felt quite natural, as it used to be. It was astonishing how quickly it worked, once she had put her mind to it. Less than a week of a determined intention to appreciate the simple things of the day. Such a simple recipe. One can only wonder in amazement at such a simple thing being forgotten so easily. But perhaps that was a side effect of some virus, caught long ago.
Enjoying the feeling of warm sun on her face, interspersed with moments of cool thanks to passing clouds, Eleri noticed the wildflowers along the way, abundant thanks to all the rain and all flowering at once it seemed, instead of the more usual sequence and succession. Briefly she wondered is this was a side effect of the virus, and another manifestation of the continuity and timeline issues. Even the wildflowers had all come at once this year. She had not noticed all those yellow ones flowering at the same time as all those pink ones in previous years, but a splendid riot they were and a feast for the eyes.
The puffy clouds drifting past across the sun were joining invisible hands together and forming a crowd, and it began to look like rain again. Eleri felt a little frown start to form and quickly changed it to a beaming smile, remembering the handy weightless impermeability shield that someone (who? Glynnis?) had given her for the trip. She would not catch another dose of the drenching memory flu again, not with the handy shield.
The raindrops started spattering the path in front of her, spotting the dusty ground, and Eleri activated the device, and became quite entranced with the effects of the droplets hitting the shield and dispersing.
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