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      Georges was following an orange line on the floor of Jorid’s corridor with Barney on his left shoulder. The man was talking to the creature and listening to the occasional chirps Barney made as if they were part of a normal conversation.

      “You see, Barney,” said Georges. “Salomé gave us this checklist.” He tapped on the clipboard with his index finger. “I have to conduct all those experiments with you in the lab while she’s doing whatever she’s doing with the maps. Salomé loves maps, I can tell you. Always trying to invent new ones that would help us navigate all those dimensions. But they confuse me, so I’m glad to leave that to her and Jorid.”

      The two of them stopped in front of an orange door with a tag on it.

      “So you’ll ask me: ‘Georges, why are we going to the kitchen instead of going into the lab?’ —which is the blue door.”

      Georges waited for Barney’s chirp before continuing.

      “You’re right! She forgot the most important. What do you like to eat? You can’t do that in a lab with instruments stuck onto your head and tummy. It’s best done in the warm and cozy atmosphere of a kitchen.”

      The door swooshed open and they entered a bland, sanitised kitchen.

      “Jorid, morph the kitchen into a 19th century style pub, with greasy smells and a cozy atmosphere.”

      “Shouldn’t you be into the lab?” asked Jorid.

      “Let’s call it a kitchen lab,” answered Georges. “So you can tell Salomé I’m in the lab if she asks you.”

      “Most certainly.”

      The bland rooms started wobbling and becoming darker. Gas wall lamps were coming out of the walls, and a Chandeliers bloomed from the ceiling. The kitchen island turned into a mahogany pub counter behind which the cupboards turned into glass shelves with a collection of colourful liquor bottles. Right beside the beer pumps was the cornucopia, the source of all things edible, the replicator. It was simple and looked like a silver tray.

      “That’s more like it,” said Georges. He put Barney on the counter and the creature chirped contentedly to show his agreement.

      “Now, You don’t look like the kind of guy who eat salad”, said Georges. “What do you want to try?”

      Barney shook his head and launched into a series of chirps and squeals.

      “I know! Let’s try something you certainly can’t find where you come from… outer space. Jorid, make us some good pickles in a jar.”

      The replicator made a buzzing sound and a big jar full of pickles materialised on the silver tray. Barney chirped in awe and Georges frowned.

      “Why did you make a Roman jar?” he asked. “We’re in a 19th century pub. And the pickles are so huge! Aubergine size.”

      “My apologies,” said Jorid. “I’m confused. As you know, my database is a bit scrambled at the moment…”

      “It’s ok,” said Georges who feared the ship would launch into some unsolicited confidences and self deprecating moment. “A pickle is a pickle anyway.” He picked a pickle in the jar and turned towards Barney with a big grin. “Let’s try some.”

      Barney’s eyes widened. He put his hands in front of him and shook his head. The door swooshed open.

      “What have you done with the kitchen?” asked Léonard. “And what are you trying to feed this rat with?”

      “This rat has a name. It’s Barney. What are you doing here?” asked Georges.

      “Well, Isn’t it a kitchen? I’m hungry.”

      “I mean, shouldn’t you go check your vitals first in med bay?”

      “When you feel hungry, it’s enough to tell a man he’s alive and well,” said Léonard. “Nice roman jar, Jorid. Depicting naked roman fighters, archaeological finding of 2nd century BC, good state of conservation.” He looked closer. “Intricate details between the legs… You surpassed yourself on that one Jorid.”

      “Thanks for the compliment Léonard. It’s reassuring to know I’m still doing great at some things when others think I’m losing it.”

      “I never said…” started Georges.

      “You thought it.”

      Léonard took a pickle from the jar and smelled it. He winced.

      “Sure, smells like pickles enough,” he said, putting it back in the jar and licking his finger. “Disgusting.” He looked at Georges. “I was thinking of taking a shuttle and doing a little tour, while you solve the navigational array problem with Salomé.”

      “Why are you asking me? Why don’t you just take a shuttle and go there by yourself?”

      “Jorid won’t let me take one.”

      “Jorid? Why don’t you let Léonard take a shuttle?”

      Salomé said he’s not to be left out of the ship without supervision.”

      “Oh! Right,” said Georges. “We just rescued you from a sand prison egg where you’ve been kept in stasis for several weeks and you can’t remember anything that led you there. Why don’t we let you pilot a shuttle and wander about on your own?”

      Léonard looked at Georges, annoyed. He picked a pickle from the jar and took a bite. Barney squealed. As Léonard chewed and made crunching sounds, the creature hit its head with its paw.

      “Then why don’t you come with me?” asked Léonard.

      “I can’t believe it.”

      “What? You go with me. You can supervise me wherever I go. Problem solved.”

      “No. I mean. You eating one of Barney’s pickles.”

      Léonard took another bite and chewed noisily. Barney chirped and squealed. He put his hands to its throat and spat on the counter.

      “I’m sure he won’t mind. Look at him. Doesn’t seem it likes pickles that much.”

      You hate pickles, Léonard.”

      “I know. That’s disgusting.”

      “Why do you eat them if you find it disgusting?”

      “That’s the sound of it. It’s melodious. And for some reason those pickles are particularly good.”

      Barney jumped on Georges arm and ran to his neck where he planted his little claws in.

      “Ouch!” said Georges. He slapped Léonard’s hand before the man could take one more pickle bite. “What the f*ck?”

      “Hey! Why did you do that?”

      “It’s not me,” said Georges. Barney squealed and Georges’s hands pushed the jar on the floor. It crashed and a flood of pickle and vinegar juice spread on the floor.

      “Haven’t your mother told you not to play with food?” asked Léonard diving on the floor to catch some more pickles. Barney chirped and squealed while Georges’s body jumped on Léonard and they both rolled over in the pickles.

      The door swooshed open.

      “Guys, we need to…” started Salomé. She had a set of maps in her hands. “What’s that smell? What… did you do to the kitchen? ”

      Georges made me do it,” said Jorid.

      Georges broke a 2nd century BC jar,” said Léonard.

      “Barney’s controlling me,” said Georges.

      The creature shrugged and removed its claws from Georges’ neck.


      “Ouch! Thank you,” said Georges, licking the pickle juice he got on his lips during the fight.

      “I can’t believe it. Georges, you had a checklist. And it did not include the words kitchen or pickles or making a mess. And Léonard, you hate pickles.”

      “I know,” said Léonard who took a bite in the pickle he was holding. “That’s disgusting, but I can’t help it they taste so good.”

      Georges stole the pickle from Léonard’s hand and took a bite.

      “Pick your own pickle,” said Léonard, stealing it back.

      “Stop guys! That smell… Jorid what did you put in those pickles?”

      “I took the liberty to change the recipe and added some cinnamon.”

      “It doesn’t smell like cinnamon,” said Georges smelling his hands full of pickle juice. He took a bite in one and said: “Doesn’t taste like cinnamon either. I would know. I hate cinnamon since the time I was turned into an Asari.”

      “That’s it,” said Salomé. “What kind of cinnamon did you put in the brew, Jorid?”

      “I’ve heard it’s best to use local ingredients. I put cinnamon from Langurdy,” said the ship.

      “Quick! Guys, spit it out,” she said, kneeling and putting her fingers into Georges’ throat to make him puke. “Jorid, make away with the pickles,” said Salomé.

      “Nooo,” said the men.

      “Cinnamon from Langurdy is very addictive,” Salomé snapped. “You don’t want to OD on pickles, do you?”

      After they got the mess cleaned up and the kitchen went back to its normal blank state. Georges and Léonard took some pills to counter the effects of withdrawal. Salomé had them sit at the kitchen table. Georges kept blinking as if the white light on the white walls were hurting his eyes.

      “You can thank Barney if you didn’t eat more pickles,” said Salomé. “You could have had a relapse, and you know how bad it was the first time you had to flush cinnamon from your body.”

      Georges groaned.

      “Anyway. I checked the maps with Jorid and I came upon an anomaly in the Southern Deserts. Something there is causing Jorid’s confusion. We’ll have to go down there if we ever want to leave this place and time.”


        At 10:30am, the air is buzzing with excitement. As the first race is going to start soon. There has been no signs of a dust storm and everyone seem to have forgotten about it. The participants are cheering and getting ready for the race while groups of tourists are wandering about, taking pictures of the teams and the folks in costume. People came from as far as Mexico, Italy and Macedonia.

        Because of the harsh conditions, miners were usually males back in the days. But there have always been teams at our little town’s festival ready to include women and children because they were usually lighter and it was easier to push the carts around on the tracks. Since a few years, there even have been full female teams, and they were pretty good too.

        Prune arrives with her new fancy reflex camera she got at her last birthday. She wants to take our picture in front of our cart. At Joe and Callum’s surprise, I try to talk her into joining our team and be part of the fun. I get out of the cart a spare hat and a wig I had prepared for her, but she says today she’s doing a reportage about the festival. I know she wants to be on the lookout for our father, and keep an eye on the Inn’s guests. She told me yesterday something was off with that Liana Parker who kept snooping around and asking questions to townsfolk about Howard and Fred. And, she heard the two other girls talking about Liana being a Finli and a nun.

        I frown. I haven’t told the boys anything about my father or suspicious guests with false names. Prune knows I’m not too keen about letting my little sister following people around on her own. I told her something could go wrong, but she brushed it aside explaining it was the perfect occasion because people wouldn’t pay attention to someone taking random pictures during a festival. She’s got a point, but I’m still her big brother. I had to try.

        She asks us to strike a pose in front of our cart and tells a few jokes. When we laugh she takes a picture of our all male team, I’m the one in the center, Callum’s on the left and Joe on the right. I’m glad despite all the concern, I look like I’m having fun.

        Checking her camera screen, Prune says: “You guys remind me of the Clockwork Orange with your hats, but more colourful and less creepy.”

        Callum and Joe look at each other, each having one eyebrow raised. I snort. I’m sure they don’t understand the reference.

        “You’re ok,” she tells them. “It means people will notice and remember you.”

        “Spread the word! We’ll crush them all!” Callum shouts.

        Prune looks at me. “You’re still frowning,” she says. “It’ll be fine.”

        “Ok,” I say. “But at least take the hat. You can’t dress as yourself during a Cart and Lager festival, or you’ll pop out of the crowd.”

        She raises her eyes to the sky and sighs. Then, she takes the orange hat from my hands and puts it on her head.

        “There, happy? Consider that an endorsement of your team,” she says with a wink.

        Joe and Callum hoot and whistle loudly. “Miss serious is running wild! Anything can happen today.”

        We all laugh. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

        “Hey! You’re mother is about to talk,” says Joe to Callum. “She’s hot.”

        “Don’t speak about my mother like that.”

        The mayor has climbed on the central stage and she’s talking with an all dressed up woman with a big hat that makes her look like the Queen of England. She sure seems out of place in our little town’s festival. Flanked by two bodyguards in black, I guess it’s Botty Banworth who’s provided that expensive sound system the mayor’s trying to use. “One, two, three… Is it working? Yes. Ok. All the participants are expected to bring their cart to the depart lane. We’re about to start. In the meantime let me introduce Miss Banworth who’s been very generous and allowed our festival to get to another level. She’s going to help us rehabilitate the abandoned mines and open a museum.”

        A roar from the crowd. The woman’s lips are so thin and red that the smile she puts on her face looks like it’s just been made with a razor blade. I shiver. She’s the Queen of England turned by a vampire.

        Someone bumps into my back and knocks the air out of my lungs. I almost fall on my sister.

        “Hey! Watch out!” says Callum.

        I catch my breath and look up. It’s Betsy, dressed as a miner too, with extra sequins and gummy stars on her dungarees. She looks confused and mutters some excuses but doesn’t stop. She walks as if she has had a few lagers already.

        “Hey, Betsy,” calls Prune. “You seem like you just saw a ghost.”

        “Someone… near the mines… It can’t be…” says Betsy.

        “Who did you see near the mines?” shouts my sister.

        With the noise around us, I almost didn’t hear Betsy’s answer.

        Fred… Howard… It can’t be. I need Idle’s cakes,” she says before disappearing in the crowd.

        I look at Prune. I see in her eyes we’re thinking the same thing. Dad’s really here. We nod at the same time and I move my lips: “Be careful.” She nods.

        “You three, win,” she tells us before leaving.

        “You heard her?” I asked Callum and Joe. “Let’s move our limo.”  As we approach the tracks with the other participants, a gush of wind almost knock my hat off my head. There is some commotion coming from the central stage. A guy climbed up and is shouting something  that I don’t understand, pointing at the sky behind us. When I look back like everyone, tourists and teams, I understand.

        “Dust! Dust’s coming!”

        And right from the direction of the abandoned mines. Dad what did you get yourself into?

        It’s 10:55am and I’m pretty sure we’ll have to put off the race.


        In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

        Zara the game character was standing in the entrance hallway in the old wooden inn.  There was nobody around except for her three friends, and the light inside was strangely dim and an eerie orange glow was coming from the windows.  She and the others wandered around opening doors and looking in rooms in the deserted building.  There were a dozen or so bedrooms along both sides of a corridor, and a kitchen, dining room and lounge room leading off the entrance hall.  Zara looked up the wide staircase, but as a cellar entrance was unlikely to be upstairs, she didn’t go up. The inn was surrounded by a wrap around verandah; perhaps the cellar entrance was outside underneath it. Zara checked for a personal clue:


        “Amidst the foliage and bark, A feather and a beak in the dark.”


        Foliage and bark suggested that the entrance was indeed outside, given the absence of houseplants inside. She stepped out the door and down the steps, walking around the perimeter of the raised vernadah, looking for a hatch or anything to suggest a way under the building.  Before she had completed the circuit she noticed an outbuilding at the back underneath a eucalyptus tree and made her way over to it. She pushed the door open and peered into the dim interior.  A single unmade bed, some jeans and t shirts thrown over the back of a chair, a couple of pairs of mens shoes….Zara was just about to retreat and close the door behind her when she noticed the little wooden desk in the corner with an untidy pile of papers and notebooks on it.

        Wait though, Zara reminded herself, This is supposed to be a group quest. I better call the others over here.

        Nevertheless, she went over to the desk to look first. There was an old fashioned feather quill and an ink pot on the desk, and a gold pocket watch and chain.  Or was it a compass?  Strangely, it seemed like neither, but what was it then? Zara picked one of the notebooks up but it was too dark inside the hut to read.


          Aunt Idle


          Endless legal squabbling,
          Eventually it comes to blows.
          Zhang Ji has a speech defect,
          Hair loose, turning northward.

          I don’t know what the dickens that I Ching is supposed to mean, I was hoping it would give me a clue about that new guest.  There’s something about her but I can’t put my finger on it. I must remember to ask Bert about her, see if he’s noticed anything funny. Not that she’s acting funny, not unusual for a guest who’s travelled far to get here ~ and anyone getting here has travelled, let’s face it ~ to stay in their room catching up on sleep, but I don’t know, there is something niggling me about her. I barely caught a glimpse of her but she seemed familiar somehow.  I’ll ask Bert, but we’re all so busy now what with the lager and cart race coming up, and those four friends staying, and god only knows when that dust storm comes what we’re supposed to do to entertain them all when they can’t go outside, and they’ll be expecting poor old Finly to keep the place dusted and the windows cleaned.   I sometimes think I prefered it here when nobody hardly came.

          Hardly got a moment to myself and our Prune is up to something but god knows I don’t have time to follow her around, and there’s no weaseling anything out of her when she’s got one of her secret missions going on.  Mater’s pulled her finger out, it has to be said, she’s been as good as gold with the guests, she can turn the old dear charm on when she wants to, and she’s pulled out all the stops playing the gracious hostess, and I can’t say a word against good old Finly. She’s a cheeky minx when we’re not busy but she’s been a real trooper.  I think I’ll speak to Mater about a little bonus for her.   Yes, I think that might sweeten her up for when I ask her to do my roots tomorrow which reminds me to put pink dye on Berts list for when he goes to Alice in the morning.

          Honestly there’s too much to think about, I haven’t had a minute to get a costume ready for the cart race, maybe I’ll ask the twins.  Gotta say it, they’ve been brilliant organizing the cart decorating with the four friends. They’re a lovely group, I just wish I had more time to hang out with them, especially the big guy, oh my.  Maybe after the cart race, anything can happen after a cart race, lord knows ~ it was after a cart race in a dust storm that Howard and I had a fling and thank god Betsy never found out, she’s have had my guts for garters and nobody would have blamed her.  I still wonder what happened to Howard. We always had a soft spot for each other, but he felt so guilty he never strayed from Betsy again. I’d have been game, I’ll be honest, but I didn’t push it.  Betsy was a big girl back in those days, but nowhere near as big as she is now. Must be hard for her wondering what happened to her husband all these years, no wonder she got sucked into all that mumbo jumbo and stuffing her chops all day long.

          And not being able to claim the inheritance that would have been Howards, that must have been hard.  They could have lived in the lap of luxury for the rest of their lives when Howard’s father died, and he hasn’t died yet, must be pushing 90 by now.  I know she’s hoping Howard didn’t die in the mines ~ obviously ~ and that he’ll come back one day somehow, and you can bet your bottom dollar she’s hoping he comes back before the old man dies and it all gets left to someone else.

          That new guest went in Betsy’s before she even checked in here,  Corrie saw her, I guess she’s into mumbo jumbo in a big way if she had to get supplies of crystals or amulets or whatever they sell in there, before checking in to the hotel.


          In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

          It seemed like their journey was ominously pregnant with untold possibilities. Well that’s what Xavier had said the team to break the lazy pattern that had started to bring their sense of adventure to a lull.
          “Please, no snotty baby possibilities!” had moaned Zara, stretching from her morning session of yoga with Yasmin.

          It was the morning of the third day since he’d arrived, and as they were enjoying the breakfast, the external elements seemed to have put a brake on the planned activities.


          On the previous evening, Mater, the dame of the Inn, had come in with a dramatic racing driver costume complete with burgundy red jacket and goggles to match. She’d seemed quite excited at the thought of racing at the Carts and Lager, but the younger child, Prune, had come in with weather forecast.

          “It’s on the local channel news. We have to brace for a chance of dust storm. It’s recommended to stay indoors during the next two days.”

          “WHAT?!” Zara couldn’t believe it. The thought of being cooped up in holidays! Then she lightened up a little when Yasmin mentioned the possibility of sand ghost pictures. She knew Zara well enough, that a good distraction was the remedy to most of her moods.

          Youssef had shrugged and told them of the time they were with the BLOG team at a snowy pass in Ladakh, and had to wait for the weather to clear the only pass back to the valley. He’s enjoyed learning how to make chapatis with the family on the small gas stove of the local place, and visited the local yurts. Zara’s eyes were suddenly full of wonders at the mere mention of yurts.

          Prune had then mentioned with a smirk. “If you guys want an adventure, I was planning to do some spring cleaning in the basement. There are tons of old books…. and some said maybe some secret entrance to the mines.”

          Zara’s spider sense was tingling almost orgasmically.

          Youssef said. “Well, I suppose that’s the best entertainment we’ll get for now…”


          At the morning breakfast table, they did a quick check of the news.

          “The situation isn’t getting any better. AL has confirmed it’s an unusual weather late in this season, but it’s also saying we should remain indoors.” Xavier was looking at his phone slouched on the table.

          “And they will cancel the first days of the Carts and Lager…” Zara was downcast.

          “Well, here’s a thought… the quest is still open in the game…”


          In reply to: Coma Cameleon


            Tibu looked up at her, surprised by the offer. He hadn’t expected anyone to offer him anything more than spare change or a half-eaten sandwich. “That’s very kind of you,” he said with a small smile, “I’d like that very much.”

            The young woman returned his smile and disappeared for a while. She came back a few minutes later, with two cups of steaming hot tea. Handing one to Tibu, she started sipping her own while they stood in silence for a moment looking at the last drops of dripping water from the eaves overhead, as the rain had started to subside.

            Tibu couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness. Here he was, a man with no memory of his past, selling books on the street for spare change, and yet this stranger was treating him with kindness and respect.

            “Thank you,” he said softly his voice barely audible, “I really appreciate this.”

            The woman shrugged and smiled again. “It’s no trouble at all. I think it’s nice to just take a break and chat with someone for a while. It can get lonely in this city sometimes.”

            Tibu nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean. I feel like a stranger in my own life sometimes.”

            The woman’s expression softened. “That must be hard. But you know, sometimes it’s good to start over. You can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. It’s like a second chance.”

            As they continued their conversation, a crumpled torn piece of newspaper caught Tibu’s eye, lodged in a nearby gutter. The headline mentioned a job fair happening the next day, an opportunity for people to find new careers. An idea began to form in his mind – attending the job fair could be his first step in creating a new life.

            Tibu looked at the woman, still struck by her earlier words. It was a new way of thinking for him. Maybe he didn’t have to be defined by his past or his amnesia. Maybe he could create a new life for himself, with new people and new experiences.

            “Thank you,” he said again, feeling a newfound sense of hope. “You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

            The woman smiled and finished her tea. “Well, I should probably get back to work. But it was nice talking to you. Maybe I’ll see you around. I’m Lorena, by the way.”

            Tibu nodded and watched her walk away, feeling a warmth in his chest. Maybe things weren’t so hopeless after all. Maybe he could create a new life for himself; he checked the crumbled paper; his decision was made; armed with renewed purpose, he’d resolved to attend the job fair.

            Of course, he’d need to prepare, sort out stuff…

            He looked down at the book in his hand and smiled. For now, he had Lord Gustard Willoughby Fergusson to keep him company and inspire him about acts of bravery and embrace with gusto the great leap into the unknown.


              Asked the new whale about Cakletown storyline, from the random quote of the day (#4022)

              🐋 The Whale:
              Ah, the tale of Cakletown and the Lone Chancers of Custard. It is a curious and mysterious story, full of twists and turns. Many lessons can be gleaned from this tale, for those with a keen eye and an open mind.

              One lesson is the importance of taking the time to stop and ponder. In the rush of our daily lives, it can be easy to overlook the gaps in our knowledge or the inconsistencies in our reality. But by taking a step back and examining these things, we can gain a deeper understanding of the world around us and perhaps even uncover hidden truths.

              Another lesson is the danger of unchecked power. The deranged cackler in this story is a prime example of the corrupting influence of absolute power. When one individual has the ability to control reality itself, it can lead to madness and chaos. It is important to remember that power should always be balanced and distributed fairly.

              Finally, the story teaches us the value of teamwork and collaboration. The Lone Chancers of Custard may have been a ragtag group, but they were able to achieve great things by working together and pooling their strengths. In our own lives, we can learn to accomplish more by recognizing and utilizing the unique skills and perspectives of those around us.

              May these lessons guide you on your own journey, my friend.


              In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

              The black BMW pulled up outside the Flying Fish Inn.  Sister Finli pulled a baseball cap low over her big sunglasses before she got out of the car. Yasmin was still in the bar with her friends and Finli hoped to check in and retreat to her room before they got back to the inn.

              She rang the bell on the reception desk several times before an elderly lady in a red cardigan appeared.

              “Ah yes, Liana Parker,” Mater said, checking the register.    Liana managed to get a look at the register and noted that Yasmin was in room 2. “Room 4. Did you have a good trip down? Smart car you’ve got there,”   Mater glanced over Liana’s shoulder, “Don’t see many like that in these parts.”

              “Yes, yes,” Finli snapped impatiently (henceforth referred to to as Liana). She didn’t have time for small talk. The others might arrive back at any time. As long as she kept out of Yasmin’s way, she knew nobody would recognize her ~ after all she had been abandoned at birth. Even if Yasmin did find her out, she only knew her as a nun at the orphanage and Liana would just have to make up some excuse about why a nun was on holiday in the outback in a BMW.  She’d cross that bridge when she came to it.

              Mater looked over her glasses at the new guest. “I’ll show you to your room.”  Either she was rude or tired, but Mater gave her the benefit of the doubt.  “I expect you’re tired.”

              Liana softened and smiled at the old lady, remembering that she’d have to speak to everyone in due course in order to find anything out, and it wouldn’t do to start off on the wrong foot.

              “I’m writing a book,” Liana explained as she followed Mater down the hall. “Hoping a bit of peace and quiet here will help, and my book is set in the outback in a place a bit like this.”

              “How lovely dear, well if there’s anything we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Old Bert’s a mine of information,”   Mater suppressed a chuckle, “Well as long as you don’t mention mines.  Here we are,” Mater opened the door to room 4 and handed the key to Liana.  “Just ask if there’s anything you need.”

              Liana put her bags down and then listened at the door to Mater’s retreating steps.  Inching the door open, she looked up and down the hallway, but there was nobody about.  Quickly she went to room 2 and tried the door, hoping it was open and she didn’t have to resort to other means. It was open.  What a stroke of luck! Liana was encouraged. Within moments Liana found the parcel, unopened.  Carefully opening the door,  she looked around to make sure nobody was around, leaving the room with the parcel under her arm and closing the  door quietly, she hastened back to room 4.   She nearly jumped out of her skin when a voice piped up behind her.

              “What’s that parcel and where are you going with it?” Prune asked.

              “None of your business you….”  Liana was just about to say nosy brat, and then remebered that she would catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It was going to be hard for her to remember that, but she must try!  She smiled at the teenager and said, “A dreamtime gift for my gran, got it in Alice. Is there a post office in town?”

              Prune narrowed her eyes. There was something fishy about this and it didn’t take her more than a second to reach the conclusion that she wanted to see what was in the parcel.  But how?

              “Yes,” she replied, quick as a flash grabbing the parcel from Liana. “I’ll post it for you!” she called over her shoulder as she raced off down the hall and disappeared.

              “FUCK!” Liana muttered under her breath, running after her, but she was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully nobody else was about in the reception area to question why she was running around like a madwoman.  Fuck! she muttered again, going back to her room and closing the door. Now what? What a disaster after such an encouraging start!

              Prune collided with Idle on the steps of the verandah, nearly knocking her off her feet. Idle grabbed Prune to steady herself.  Her grip on the girls arm tightened when she saw the suspicious look on face.   Always up to no good, that one. “What have you got there? Where did you get that? Give me that parcel!”

              Idle grabbed the parcel and Prune fled. Idle, holding onto the verandah railing, watched Prune running off between the eucalyptus trees.  She’s always trying to  make a drama out of everything, Idle thought with a sigh. Hardly any wonder I suppose, it must be boring here for a teenager with nothing much going on.

              She heard a loud snorting laugh, and turned to see the four guests returning from the bar in town, laughing and joking.  She put the parcel down on the hall table and waved hello, asking if they’d had a good time.  “I bet you’re ready for a bite to eat, I’ll go and see what Mater’s got on the menu.” and off she went to the kitchen, leaving the parcel on the table.

              The four friends agreed to meet back on the verandah for drinks before dinner after freshening up.   Yasmin kept glancing back at the BMW.  “That woman must be staying here!” she snorted.  Zara grabbed her elbow and pulled her along. “Then we’ll find out who she is later, come on.”

              Youssef followed Idle into the kitchen to ask for some snacks before dinner (much to Idle’s delight), leaving Xavier on the verandah.  He looked as if he was admiring the view, such as it was, but he was preoccupied thinking about work again. Enough! he reminded himself to relax and enjoy the holiday. He saw the parcel on the table and picked it up, absentmindedly thinking the black notebook he ordered had arrived in the post, and took it back to his room. He tossed it on the bed and went to freshen up for dinner.


              In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

              Xavier looked as discreetly as he could, and immediately after ducked behind Yasmin’s frail frame.

              “Oh, no…” he whined softly “it looks like Glimmer… you know the strange colourful game stalker.”

              Yasmin raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow, looking still tired from her trip.


              “Oh no, as I feared…” Xavier said between his teeth, “I think she’s spotted us. What is she doing here, of all places?”

              He turned to Glimmer with a broad smile. “Hello dear! Fancy meeting you here! Are we still in the game?”

              Glimmer tittered, waving her perfumed feathered boa around, and slapping Yasmin in the face with it. “You’re so funny!” she turned to Yasmin “Oh hello, sweet pea, he IS funny, isn’t it!”

              She clumsily drew a high stool next to the table, knocking off a few knees in the process, and sat precariously on the edge of it.

              “Look, I found the Big Banana you know.”

              Yasmin couldn’t help but snort laugh a little. Zara drew an ear closer, while still listening distractedly to Youssef expounding on the P mode of his camera.

              “What?” it took Xavier a mere second to reconnect with his own discovery of the concrete sculpture… “You mean…?”

              “Yes, the Big Banana, there’s one here in this town you know.” She drew closer, pushing the empty pints of beer, one of which Youssef managed to catch before it fell. “… but there’s a more interesting thing happening in the game now. Haven’t you checked your messages?”

              Xavier looked at his message. It said 🔮[GROUP QUEST OPENED] click on the *Orb*

              He clicked, while all the others where perched over his shoulder, looking at his avatar on the screen.

              Suddenly all of them were transported in a new place that looked exactly like the Flying Fish Inn, while some instructions where scrolling on the screen of the game.


              In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

              “Imagine that! a Big Banana…”

              After a brisk walk trying to catch up with his winged psittacine friend,  Xavier had stumbled on a large concrete sculpture painted bright yellow in the middle of a field.
              He’s read somewhere Australia was known for its fondness of “big things”, but he didn’t expect one here – it was quite fun.

              “I think you just made my day Pretty Girl” he said to the bird. “Not that I don’t like to venture more, but I get the feeling I have to come back.” He checked his phone, there were a few messages, including one from Youssef who’d found some surprisingly interesting stuff during his shopping visit.

              “We wouldn’t want to be caught off-guard by a bunyip, you know…” he said more to himself than to anyone in particular.

              “Suuuit yourself.” said the bright red parrot, “No need to fear bunyip. Just don’t follow Min min lights. And stay away from mines.” and it flew away in a different direction.


              In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

              Why do I always pick the cart with the wonky wheel, Zara thought, but she wasn’t going to go back and get another one and keep Sergio and Yasmin waiting outside. She zigzagged up and down the aisles until she came to the wine.  What was it the old dear back at the Inn was saying about the alcohol laws in Alice?  Well, surely that didn’t apply to tourists.  There were two men chatting in the middle of the aisle and Zara deftly skirted around them without the unpredictable cart crashing.  While she was perusing the wines hoping to find a nice Rioja, she couldn’t help but overhear the clear ringing tones of one of the men saying “True love never dies!” and a few other things which she later forgot, which she thought was quite an odd topic for two men to be discussing in the Piggly supermarket in the outback of all places.  The man with the poetic voice went on his way, leaving the other man with the little girl in the child seat of the cart ready to move on, but Zara’s cart was straddled across the aisle so she quickly moved it out of the way and continued scanning the wine selection.  A clear sweet voice rang out behind her. “Thank you.”  She turned, and her eyes met those of the girl (afterwards Zara could have sworn the child was 10 or 11, and surely too big to be sitting in the baby seat, but yet felt sure the child had indeed been sitting in the cart).  They exchanged a deep meaningful smile of magical proportions that defied explaining in mere words.  Later when Zara told Yasmin about it, she said it was “one of those moments, you know?” and Yasmin understood what she meant.  The child seemed somehow familiar, and there was that shimmery timeless oddness to the encounter which made Zara feel a bemused lightness.

              child in supermarket


              Zara was still gazing at the rows of wine bottles when Yasmin caught up with her. “What’s taking you so long, you haven’t even got anything in your cart yet!”

              Snapping her attention back, Zara asked Yasmin to help her choose the wine, asking her, “Do you ever feel like you can’t tell the difference between the game and real life?  Like sometimes a scene in real life isn’t quite real?”

              “I dunno about the game but real life seems strange enough. That woman outside with the BMW hire car that was in the loo before me, there was something familiar about her, something creepy.  And look what I found in the cubicle,”  Yasmin looked around quickly to make sure they were alone and pulled something out of her pocket.



              “Looks like the chain broke, is it gold? Might be worth something,” Zara was missing the point.

              “It’s a crucifix.”

              “If it’s gold it can be melted down and made into something else,” said Zara missing the point again.

              “It’s the same as the ones the nuns at the orphanage wear,” Yasmins whisper turned into a nervous snort.

              “I wonder who dropped it and what they were doing here.  That tart in the BMW didn’t look like a nun to me.”  Zara almost snorted too (was it contagious?) and then wondered why tart and nun sounded vaguely familiar and why yellow cabs had popped into her mind.  “Come on, we’ve kept Sergio waiting long enough already.”

              After all the deliberation over which wine to choose, they grabbed a half dozen bottles each without further ado and went to the checkout.


                Chapter 2: A New Companion

                Salomé: The vibrations look familiar.

                Georges: Have we arrived, Jorid?

                Jorid: Indeed Georges, we are nearing our destination. Salomé is correct in her interpretation, we are getting close to the planet you know as Duane, soon we will be close to the Luminjel temple location.

                Georges: Really? It looks… different.

                Jorid: This is again correct, we are at an earlier time than the one you knew. In fact, much earlier.

                Salomé (turning to Georges): She seems to have taken your “back to the origins” prompt to the letter; Jorid, how far back are we?

                Jorid: It seems it is not exactly as was intended. It is millenia before the Guardians arrived to the planetary system. Asari civilisation was permeating this system but it appears currently on the decline — accessing… — you may find local contact by the name of Andrimiñ. Their technology may assist in healing the case of knowledge poisoning.

                Georges: Wait, what do you mean, not as intended?

                Jorid: A creature seems to have attached itself to my hull, creating fluctuations in my directional array.

                Georges: What now? Can you shake it off?

                Jorid: It is not advisable. Suggesting manual investigation as the creature appears to be small and generally harmless.

                Georges: Well, what can go wrong? Let me get my suit and I will go check it out.


                  Luckily for them, the sand structure with the nearby nests of snapping sand turtles was also a graveyard for the military drones that weren’t apparently programmed to register natural elements as threats.

                  They quickly found four of them who weren’t completely damaged, and with some technical assist from Jorid, Georges was able to repair the propulsion and deactivate the military programs and tracking beacons.

                  Klatu had some ropes in his speedster that they tied to their rudimentary drive and the drones, so they could carry Léonard’s body while he was still in stasis.

                  His vitals were generally positive, and Salomé kept checking on him, while Georges and Klatu managed attaching the odd assemblage of drones to their craft.

                  The ride back wasn’t as bad as the first time, maybe due to the extra cargo that made maneuvres more complex for their green driver.

                  “This is worth the detour. Seems like Klatu really wanted to save time and avoided to show us the scenic route the first time,” said Georges trying to break the tense worried silence.

                  Salomé smiled weakly “Léonard’s consciousness is embroiled into complex thoughts; they have to deal about some threat, the nature of which eludes me for now. It looks as though he’s absorbed some sort of forbidden knowledge, something potentially dangerous,” Salomé said to Georges. “I’m no longer as sure he was imprisoned for his punishment, but rather for protection…” she sighed. “for everyone else’s protection… I will feel better when we’re all back to the Jorid and we can run a full diagnosis.”

                  Georges looked at his friend apparently sleeping, and wrapped a loving arm around Salomé’s shoulder “It’s not going to be long now. He’s going to be fine.”


                  “Horrible doing business with you.” Klatu said as they parted, rubbing his hands together in gleeful satisfaction. Whatever the Jorid had organised as a deal for his payment, it seemed the added drones weren’t part of it and came as an extra bonus.


                  Inside the Jorid, while Salomé was setting up space for Léonard and making the preparation for the diagnosis, Georges looked at the tiles board, readying the craft for imminent departure.

                  A new tile had appeared, with a distinct pattern form, almost like an ogee.

                  “Jorid, is this new?”

                  “Indeed Georges, our adventure has inspired me to create new avenues of exploration.”

                  “Oh, that’s fresh.” Georges looked into the shifting symbol at its surface. After it stabilised, he could see there was a sort of spiral shell with forms reminiscent of the mocking turtles peeking out from the centre, surrounded by sand dunes.

                  “Jorid, tell me more please.”

                  “Sure, I’d call it ‘Sandshell‘. Do you want the full curriculum?”

                  “Absolutely, colour me intrigued!”

                  The Sandshell:
                  Function: A reminder of the fragility of our perceived reality and the importance of questioning our assumptions
                  Families: Vold, Zuli, Ilda
                  Significance: The Sandshell represents the shifting and unstable nature of our beliefs, assumptions, and understandings. Like the sand that slips through our fingers, so too can our perception of the world around us be ephemeral and illusory. The image of the mock turtle serves as a reminder that we often live under assumed identities and in a world built on questionable foundations.
                  As advice: The Sandshell encourages one to question their beliefs and assumptions, to examine the foundations upon which they have built their reality, and to search for a deeper understanding of truth.
                  Depiction: The Sandshell can be depicted as a spiral shell with a mocking turtle peeking out from the center, surrounded by sand dunes. The sand symbolizes the instability of our perceptions and the turtle represents the assumed identities and neurotic fairy tales that make up our reality. The spiral form of the shell represents the journey of discovery and self-reflection.”

                  “I love it,” said Georges enthusiastically “can we use it to plot our next course?”

                  “As a matter of fact we can Georges. Let me realign the grid and propose some suggestions. Do you have a seed thought to offer for this journey?”

                  Georges pondered for a while, when the image of the fishboard sprung forth in his mind. “Our little adventure is reminding me of our origins, Jorid —Léonard, working on the fishboard, your ancestor in a way… Us, finding Léonard… It feels like an adventure back to our origins. Can you project a destination on this vector…” then thinking at Salomé’s worried face “… that would be safe for our next stop, and allow us to find help for Léonard.”

                  “Verily.” Jorid answered back. “Course plotted. Please get comfortable until we arrive at our destination.”


                  In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                  Xavier had woken up in the middle of the night that felt surprisingly alive bursting with a quiet symphony of sounds from nocturnal creatures and nearby nature, painted on a canvas of eerie spacious silence.

                  It often took him a while to get accustomed to any new place, and it was not uncommon for him to have his mind racing in the middle of the night. Generally Brytta had a soothing presence and that often managed to nudge him back to sleep, otherwise, he would simply wake up until the train of thoughts had left the station.

                  It was beginning of the afternoon in Berlin; Brytta would be in a middle of a shift, so he recorded a little message for her to find when she would get back to her phone. It was funny to think they’d met thanks to Yasmin and Zara, at the time the three girls were members of the same photography club, which was called ‘Focusgroupfocus’ or something similar…
                  With that done, he’d turned around for something to do but there wasn’t much in the room to explore or to distract him sufficiently. Not even a book in the nightstand drawer. The decoration itself had a mesmerising nature, but after a while it didn’t help with the racing thoughts.

                  He was tempted to check in the game — there was something satisfactory in finishing a quest that left his monkey brain satiated for a while, so he gave in and logged back in.


                  Completing the quest didn’t take him too long this time. The main difficulty initially was to find the portal from where his avatar had landed. It was a strange carousel of blue storks that span into different dimensions one could open with the proper incantation.

                  As usual, stating the quirk was the key to the location, and the carousel portal propelled him right away to Midnight town, which was clearly a ghost town in more ways than one. Interestingly, he was chatting on the side with Glimmer, who’d run into new adventures of her own while continuing to ask him what was up, and as soon as he’d reached Midnight town, all communication channels suddenly went dark. He’d laughed to himself thinking how frustrated Glimmer would have been about that. But maybe the game took care of sending her AI-generated messages simulating his presence. Despite the disturbing thought of having an AI generated clone of himself, he almost hoped for it (he’d probably signed the consent for this without realising), so that he wouldn’t have to do a tedious recap about all what she’d missed.

                  Once he arrived in the town, the adventure followed a predictable pattern. The clues were also rather simple to follow.

                  The townspeople are all frozen in time, stuck in their daily routines and unable to move on. Your mission is to find the missing piece of continuity, a small hourglass that will set time back in motion and allow the townspeople to move forward.

                  The clue to finding the hourglass lies within a discarded pocket watch that can be found in the mayor’s office. You must unscrew the back and retrieve a hidden key. The key will unlock a secret compartment in the town clock tower, where the hourglass is kept.

                  Be careful as you search for the hourglass, as the town is not as abandoned as it seems. Spectral figures roam the streets, and strange whispers can be heard in the wind. You may also encounter a mysterious old man who seems to know more about the town’s secrets than he lets on.

                  Evading the ghosts and spectres wasn’t too difficult once you got the hang of it. The old man however had been quite an elusive figure to find, but he was clearly the highlight of the whole adventure; he had been hiding in plain sight since the beginning of the adventure. One of the blue storks in the town that he’d thought had come with him through the portal was in actuality not a bird at all.

                  While he was focused on finishing the quest, the interaction with the hermit didn’t seem very helpful. Was he really from the game construct? When it was time to complete the quest and turn the hourglass to set the town back in motion, and resume continuity, some of his words came back to Xavier.

                  “The town isn’t what it seems. Recognise this precious moment where everything is still and you can realise it for the illusion that it is, a projection of your busy mind. When motion resumes, you will need to keep your mind quiet. The prize in the quest is not the completion of it, but the realisation you can stop the agitation at any moment, and return to what truly matters.”

                  The hermit had turned to him with clear dark eyes and asked “do you know what you are seeking in these adventures? do you know what truly matters to you?”


                  When he came out of the game, his quest completed, Xavier felt the words resonate ominously.

                  A buzz of the phone snapped him out of it.

                  It was a message from Zara. Apparently she’d found her way back to modernity.

                  [4:57] “Going to pick up Yasmin at the airport. You better sleep away the jetlag you lazy slugs, we have poultry damn plenty planned ahead – cackling bugger cooking lessons not looking forward to, but can be fun. Talk to you later. Z”

                  He had the impulse to go with her, but the lack of sleep was hitting back at him now, and he thought he’d better catch some so he could manage to realign with the timezone.

                  “The old man was right… that sounds like a lot of agitation coming our way…”


                  In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                  The road was stretching endlessly and monotonously, a straight line disappearing into a nothingness of dry landscapes that sounded a bit depressing. At regular speed, the car barely seemed to progress, and Youssef was rather serious at the wheel. Soon Xavier was left depleted of jokes to tell (even the bad ones which tended to come off easily with sleep deprivation), so he tried to catch some of the patchy network signal to reconnect where he’d left off on the game. There wasn’t much network, and all he could download in the car, even with the game in lo-fi mode, was a measly text message with the starter for his new challenge.

                  Your quest takes place in the ghost town of Midnight, where time seems to have stood still. The townspeople are all frozen in time, stuck in their daily routines and unable to move on. Your mission is to find the missing piece of continuity, a small hourglass that will set time back in motion and allow the townspeople to move forward.

                  A ghost town seemed apt indeed.

                  The welcome signs at the entrance of the town for their hostel were rather uninviting, but a festive banner mentioning the local “Lager and Carts festival” caught his attention. He counted the days. It would be next week-end; there was a good chance they’d still be there, the four of them. At least some action to look forward to!

                  When he and Youssef arrived at the Inn after that rather uneventful and terribly long drive, all they wanted was to get a shower and some sleep. Zara wasn’t back yet from her trip, but they both figured out they’d meet at breakfast in the morning.

                  The old lady with the sharp tongue had shown them their rooms rather unceremoniously; she was too busy ranting about an idle person not taking their *one job* seriously to care about details. Xavier almost asked for a wifi, but then thought better and decided to hold his question until he found someone to ask who was born in his century.
                  Xavier took room 7, and Youssef room 5.

                  The rooms were quite nicely decorated. It reminded him of something he’d read in the plane from a commentary of the Bardo Thodöl:

                  In Tibetan the word for body is , which means “something you leave behind,” like baggage. Each time we say “lü,” it reminds us that we are only travelers, taking temporary refuge in this life and this body. So in Tibet people did not distract themselves by spending all their time trying to make their external circumstances more comfortable. They were satisfied if they had enough to eat, clothes on their backs, and a roof over their heads. Going on as we do, obsessively trying to improve our conditions, can become an end in itself and a pointless distraction. Would anyone in their right mind think of fastidiously redecorating their hotel room every time they booked into one? 

                  The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

                  At least, he wasn’t feeling compelled to redecorate this room; it was perfect. The shared sanitaries, the boiler and the piping were another story, but that was probably coming from the same era as the owner, nice as she was.

                  After having unpacked his few belongings, and taken a hot shower, he laid on the bed looking at the ceiling, which was blank and made a nice contrast to the ornate walls full of colorful dots.

                  Luckily, searching through the signals available, he could see there was mostly one, and without any password. With the next neighbour a few miles away, no wonder nobody bothered with security.

                  He connected to AL to check a few parameters — there seemed to be some degenerescence in the programme output that wasn’t satisfactory, and he was wondering if some self-repair or training reinforcement mechanisms were missing. At the moment, nothing too pressing, but he would keep an eye on them.

                  Still no words from Yasmin he thought drifting to sleep… I half expected her to be there already…


                  In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                  Youssef hadn’t changed a bit since they last met in real life. He definitely brought the bear in the bear hug he gave Xavier after Xavier had entered the soft sandal wood scented atmosphere of the Indian restaurant.

                  It was like there’d seen each other the day before, and conversation naturally flew without a thought on the few years’ hiatus between their last trip.

                  As they inquired about each other’s lives and events on the trip to get to Alice Springs, they ordered cheese nan, salted and mango lassi, a fish biryani and chicken tikka masala and a side thali for Youssef who was again ravenous after the jumpy ride. Soon after, the discussion turned to the road ahead.

                  “How long to the hostel?” asked Youssef, his mouth full of buns.

                  Xavier looked at his connected watch “It’s about 1 and half hour drive apparently. I called the number to check when to arrive, they told me to arrive before sunset… which I guess gives us 2-3 hours to visit around… I mean,” he looked at his friend “… we can also go straight there.”

                  Youssef nodded. He seemed to have had already enough of interactions in the past day.

                  Xavier continued “so it’s settled, we leave after we finish here. According to the landlady, it looks like Zara went off trekking, she didn’t seem too sure about Zara’s whereabouts. That would explain why we heard so little from her.”

                  Youssef laughed “If they don’t know Zara, I can bet they’ll be running around searching for her in the middle of the night.”

                  Xavier looked though the large window facing the street pensively. “I’m not sure I would want to get lost away from the beaten tracks here. There’s something so alien to the scale of it, and the dryness. Have you noticed we’re next to a river? I tried to have a look when I arrived, but it’s mostly dried up. And it’s supposed to be the wet season…”

                  Youssef didn’t reply, and turned to the leftovers of the biryani.

                  Despite the offering to top it off with gulab jamun and rose ice cream, it didn’t take too long to finish the healthy meal at the Indian restaurant. Youssef and Xavier went for the car.

                  “Here, catch!” Xavier threw the keys to Youssef. He knew his friend would have liked to drive; meanwhile he’d be able to catch on some emails and work stuff. After all, he was supposed to remote work for some days.


                  In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                  Rajkumar had named his car JUMPY because he said it reminded him of his mother country. He drove like they were in the chaotic streets of an Indian city. Youssef’s fist was clenched on the door handle, his knuckles white. He needed to hold on to something just as much as he was afraid of loosing the door.

                  He had never been so happy as when Rajkumar stopped in front of his cousin’s shop and restaurant.

                  “Just in time for the best butter chicken in all Alice Springs!” said Rajkumar, pointing to the restaurant on the left.

                  Smells of greasy sauce, meat and spices floated in the air. Despite his legendary hunger, Youssef’s stomach started to protest from the recent treatment on the road. If he had had any doubt, he was sure now that he wouldn’t go on a trip in Jumpy with Rajkumar.

                  “Maybe I’ll go for the scarf first,” he said.

                  Rajkumar noded and pointed to the right, to a stout man squating in front of a pile of scarves.

                  “This is cousin Ashish. You can’t find a better shop in town for scarves,” said Rajkumar. He high fived his cousin who looked like a giant in comparison with the short guide. They talked for a long time in what Youssef assumed to be some Indian dialect. At some point, his guide pointed a finger at him and said : “This big man is looking for a red scarf. I told him you had the best quality in town. Hand made, right from India. Ashish buys and sells the best to the best only. I have to go park the car and tell my other cousin to prepare you a meal. Best Indian food in Alice.”

                  After he left, cousin Ashish showed Youssef in. At the entrance incense burned at the feet of a couple of colourful Hindu gods. The intoxicating smell reminded him of a stop at a temple during his last trip with the documentary team. The face of Miss Tartiflate jumped into his mind. He would have to take care of THE BLOG at some point, but for now, he was looking for a red scarf. The inside of the shop was as messy as a Mongolian bazaar. Clothes upon clothes, and piles of scarves everywhere.

                  “Red scarves are over there, said Ashish. Follow me.”

                  He was less talkative than his cousin, which was a welcome relief. He led Youssef to the back of the shop. On the wall, the portrait in black and white of an old Indian man was watching over their shoulder.

                  Ashish took one long red scarf and put it around his neck.

                  “You can touch, he said. Very good quality. Very light. Like you wear nothing.”

                  Youssef took the end of the fabric in his hand. It felt very silky and light to the touch.

                  “That’s perfect, I’ll take it”, he said.

                  His phone buzzed in his pocket. He took it out and checked his messages.

                  • 📨 [Quirk Land] NEW QUEST OPENED

                  Looking at the time, it was already noon. Xavier must have landed in Alice already. He started to type a message to his friend :

                  💬 Meet me for lunch at Todd Mall. Patel indian restaurant next to fabric shop


                  In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                  Xavier had been drowsing in the rental car for a while, waiting for a message from Youssef. He’d stopped the aircon despite the suffocating heat, as he was starting to feel cold. And he’d started to nose dive in dreaming.

                  The buzzing of his phone made him snap back to consciousness from the weirdest dream, he had to take a few seconds to adjust. The phone went into silent mode to voicemail before he got the chance to pick it up.

                  Weirdest dream ever. Few hours ago, he’d been going round and round the place, trying to find a library to buy a black book, but surprisingly, even when he’d managed to find a small bookstore, there were none to sell. None with a black cover…

                  He’d wondered —sometimes these quests are made to be difficult, but come on, how difficult could it be. Even a plain black-covered notebook would have been enough, but nothing!

                  That’s when he’d decided to drop the search, that he dozed off in the car.

                  Few images came back from the dream. First, the insane search, and books coming up in all shapes and forms, any color but black… or black but with black-and-white photos on the covers he didn’t want.

                  And then, there was one. He started to open it, and all the pages were blank. As he was browsing them, looking for a clue, like a pop-out book, something came up from the middle of the pages. And it was himself, smiling back at him. The shock snapped him right back to the rather quiet street of Alice Springs.





                  SOOO WEIIIIRD






                  He turned the ignition back on as well as the aircon. Checked his message.

                  • 📨 [Quirk Land] NEW QUEST OPENED
                  • 1 voicemail from ❣️🐝Brytta🐝❣️
                  • 💬 Youssef typing…

                  In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                  After Youssef retrieved his luggage in Alice Springs, he was swarmed with freelance tour guides trying to sell him trips. You would buy a ticket out of any one of them just to get rid of the others, he thought. With a few hungry growls, he managed to frighten most of them, with a touch of indifference he lost the rest. Except one. A short Indian looking man wearing a red cap and a moustache. He seemed to have an infinite talkative energy at his disposal, able to erode the strongest wills. The temperature was hotter than Youssef had expected, here it was the end of summer, and he was hungry. The man started to get on his nerves.

                  The list of tours was endless. Uluru, scenic bushwalking trails, beautiful gardens, a historical tour, a costumed historical tour, a few national parks, and even his cousins’ restaurant. He reminded Youssef of his own father, always offering guests (and especially his visiting kids) another fruit, a pastry, some coffee, chocolate ? You sure you don’t want any chocolate? If the man was tenacious, Youssef had had training with his father. But this man seemed to mistake silence and indifference for agreement. Did he really think Youssef was going to buy one of his tours ?

                  “The ghost town! You have to see Arltunga, said the man. An old mining ghost town, certainly an American like you like ghost towns. And buried treasure. Arltunga has buried treasure somewhere. You can find it. I know where to find a map.”

                  Youssef wondered if it was another one of the game’s fluke that his quest was apparently bleeding into his real life again. And if there was a map, why hasn’t the treasure been found already? He checked at the back of his mind for the presence of that crazy old lady. Nope, not there. He decided to refuse the call this time. He just wanted to get to that F…ing Fish Inn in Crowshollow and meet with his friends.

                  “NO, he growled, frightening a group of tourists passing by, but not the tour operator. No ghost town! We have plenty in America.” Thinking of the game and his last challenge for the previous quest, he said in desperation : “I just want to find a red scarf!” and he knew inside himself and many years attempting to resist his old man, that the short Indian man had won.

                  “If you want to find a red scarf, you go to Silk Road, said the man bobbing his head. My cousin’s shop, you find everything there only.”

                  Youssef sighed. He thought there were only two ways to take it. The first one was that he had fallen into a trap and try to find a way to get out of it. But it might be sticky and uncomfortable for everyone. So he decided it was the other way around and that it was part of the game. Why wouldn’t he use this as an opportunity for adventure. Wasn’t that what Xavier always said about roads less traveled ?

                  “Where is your cousin’s shop? he asked. And where’s that restaurant of your cousin’s? I’m starving.”

                  The little man smiled broadly.

                  “Same place. Two brothers. Shop next to restaurant in Todd Mall. You’re lucky! Follow me.”


                    I told Devan in no ambiguous terms to solve his own funny riddle.

                    I did try to make an effort, but that seemed a rather desperate way to catch our attention after not really caring about the family for so long.
                    It was good to see him though.

                    With all the activity around the coming guests at the Inn, it’s easy getting lost in the wind of activities, like the motes of dust hiding in Dido’s hair.
                    The twins did a good effort though, with all the decorating and stuff. I was sincerely impressed. Been a long time since I’ve been impressed by them. Seems they may actually grow up fine. Who would have known really.

                    Hormonal growth be damned, I’m feeling all sort of contradictory feelings about this.

                    Like, what about hearing about our funny father after all this time.

                    And Devan, who’d shut us all off, now back for a little make-over time… Or something else maybe. He doesn’t seem to realize the emotional landscape and baggage here. He’s a nice brother though.

                    It’s horrible. So much contradiction – I feel some rage on the surface, lots of… and underneath so much caring it’s painful.

                    So what happened to our father? Still alive? Quite possibly. I’ve had my suspicious when this strange guy posed as a friend to the twins on the social network some years back.
                    I was young when he left without a note; hadn’t started to write my journals yet, so my memories of him are very little. But I remember the chaos left after him; Mater wasn’t really the same after. I think she’s burned all pictures of him, and somehow pretends they never existed.
                    Idle plays it as if she doesn’t care, but I’m sure she does. She doesn’t want to let it be known, but she probably doesn’t want to hurt Mater more with this.

                    God, what a family drama. Why would Devan want to unearth all of this now, at a moment we were all quiet and settled like a decent respectable family.

                    It was maybe just keeping up with appearances, and the veneer was thin to start with.

                    That’s in the middle of all this angst mixed with puberty that it hit me.

                    Acrostic. Or ἀκροστιχίς in Greek. First verse, or first letter.

                    My dad was a writer, so he liked word riddles. And the little sign was a pointer.

                    >A mine, a tile, dust piled high,
                    Together they rest, yet always outside.
                    One misstep, and you’ll surely fall,
                    Into the depths, where danger lies all.

                    ATOI didn’t seem to make much sense, but I remembered how small “l” sometimes looked like a capital “I”.
                    Atoll was the clue I’m sure of it. Where to disappear if not to islands.
                    The letters at the end of the verses are spelling HELL. So it’s opposite.

                    Basically, Atoll Paradise.

                    A little Gugu search with AI, and that was it. That was our father here, with a number to call.

                    Atoll Paradise
                    Boat rentals – Island tours
                    Copywriter, biographer
                    Call FRED @ (+679) 215-7644

                    Now it’ll be fair if Devan is calling me crazy. We’ll have to call and check before saying anything to Idle or even Mater for now.

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