You can’t blame me for not updating my diary because bugger all has happened all year. Borders closed, no tourists allowed in. How are bespoke bijou boutique establishments like ours supposed to survive? But we’re still here. Somehow we’ve managed to keep the wolf from the door, but only just barely. I get a bit muddled up these days and can’t remember the dates. Sometimes I find myself living in the past for weeks on end: things change so little around her that it’s easy to do. But what does it matter anyway?
Mater went into a sulk the likes of which I hope never to see again, when her 100th birthday party was cancelled. I thought she might give up the will to live, but oh no. She’s determined now to have a 110th birthday party now. She says the bloody pandemic ought to be over by then. I hope she’s right. She changes her health food and exercise regimes as often as she changes her knickers. Well more often than that, probably, she doesn’t bother much with personal hygiene. She says the germs keep her immune system in good shape. I think the smell of her would keep any plague ridden body well away from her, but whatever works, I always say. At least she isn’t sulking anymore, she’s grimly stoic now and tediously determined to outlive me.
I had some worrying news through the telepathic grapevine about the twins and Pan, they’d gotten into the clutches of a strange cult over there. I’ve got a feeling they weren’t really sucked into it though, I think they needed to use it as a cover, or to keep themselves safe. I say cult but it was huge, took over the entire country and even started spreading to other countries. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with. I knew they shouldn’t have gone there. There’s been a peculiar blockage with the telepathic messages for ages now. It’s a worry, but what can I do. I keep sending them messages, but get nothing in return.
Ah, well. We carry on as best we can. What I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor to brighten things up a bit. Fat chance of that.
Nora commented favourably on the view, relieved to have been given a clue about what she was supposed to have noticed. It was a splendid panorama, and Will seemed pleased with her response. She asked if it was possible to see the old smugglers path from their vantage point, and he pointed to a dirt road in the valley below that disappeared from view behind a stand of eucalyptus trees. Will indicated a tiny white speck of an old farm ruin, and said the smugglers path went over the hill behind it.
Shading her eyes from the sun, Nora peered into the distance beyond the hill, wondering how far it was to Clara’s grandfathers house. Of course she knew it was 25 kilometers or so, but wasn’t sure how many hills behind that one, or if the path veered off at some point in another direction.
Wondering where Clara was reminded Nora that her friend would be waiting for her, and quite possibly worrying that she hadn’t yet arrived. She sighed, making her mind up to leave first thing the next morning. She didn’t mention this to Will though, and wondered briefly why she hesitated. Something about the violent sweep of his arm when she asked about her phone had made her uneasy, such a contrast to his usual easy going grins.
Then she reminded herself that she had only just met him, and barely knew anything about him at all, despite all the stories they’d shared. When she thought about it, none of the stories had given her any information ~ they had mostly been anecdotes that had a similarity to her own, and although pleasant, were inconsequential. And she kept forgetting to ask him about all the statues at his place.
Wishing she could at least send a text message to Clara, Nora remembered the remote viewing practice they’d done together over the years, and realized she could at least attempt a telepathic communication. Then later, if Clara gave her a hard time about not staying in contact, she could always act surprised and say, Why, didn’t you get the message?
She found a flat stone to sit on, and focused on the smugglers path below. Then she closed her eyes and said clearly in her mind, “I’ll be there tomorrow evening, Clara. All is well. I am safe.”
She opened her eyes and saw that Will had started to head back down the path. “Come on!” he called, “Time for lunch!”
There was a screeching sound in the warehouse.
“Purple & Glitter Alert, Purple & Glitter Alert!” the junior drag-queen in training howled to wake up the troops. “Briefing in Linda Pol’s office, now!”
Linda Pol was busy e-zapping motes and dust bunnies when the last one of them entered and closed the room silently.
She pushed her fancy glasses up her nose and pointed at the screen. “Girdle your loins, ladies! There’s been a potential breach in the timelines at this particular junction point, the Universe may be in grave danger. We need volunteers to go and investigate.”
Someone raised their hand “Can’t we wait until 2021? 2020 was such a nasty year, it is known. Major jinxy vibes. Everything you do goes to poo-poo on this year.”
“Thank you for the history course Bubbles, and glad you volunteered. Anyone else?”
“If you don’t pay the bill, I’ll call the police,” said the waitress, closing the door and turning the open sign to closed. She turned the key and put it in her apron pocket. “Either you pay the bill or you wash the dishes.”
Vince was just about the stamp his foot again and a look of anguish came over his face. Finton, the waitress, looked quizzically at him and reached out to touch his arm. “Are you alright?”
Then the floodgates opened and Vince collapsed in a chair, tears rolling down his face. Finton sat down next to him and put her arm across his shoulders, patting him gently until the sobbing had subsided.
“Now then, sir, why don’t you tell me all about it while you’re doing the dishes,” she said kindly, “I’d be happy to listen, and I can interrogate you too, if that’s what you’d like.”
Vince wiped his eyes and blew his nose with a crumpled napkin, smearing strawberry jam across his cheeks. Finton didn’t have the heart to tell him, and tried hard not to snigger.
“Call me Vince,” he smiled weakly, and followed Finton into the kitchen.
“I knew it!” Tara had gone to investigate early, disguised as an elderly jogger in a velvet teal jogging. “Seemed clear enough that that retirement home was a front…”
Later when she came back to the office, she was quizzed by Star, who was still yawning despite the bright sunlight.
“So tell me, a front for what?”
“Can’t you guess?” Tara said, removing her false teeth.
“Nooo?” her hand flew at Star’s mouth and incredulous face.
“Yes, hmm-hmm; you guessed right: a time travel agency.”
“Oh dangit, they stole my idea! After all the virus pandemic thing, they sure know how to surf the crisis to make a buck. The buying carrots alibi traffic, and now that!”
“Yep, guess that people unable to go anywhere for holidays make up for a good clientele. You can imagine the slogans: Celerity: Why go anywhere? When we can send you anywhen! “
“And a convenient way of disposing of nosy people too. I hope they didn’t send Uncle Basil to the Dinosaurs, can’t imagine the stench of those Time sewers.”
“Oh no, don’t think he was affluent enough, you see. Apparently you pay by the time meter. The further in time, the pricier. And I guess the surest way to dispose of someone would be in the past rather than in the future…”
“So Uncle Basil is in the past!”
“Well, I could have told you that from the start. No wonder Mr French paid us in advance then, he already knew we’d crack that case. Our first case’s closed, dear! If Mr French ever wakes up and calls, we’ll just redirect him to our Time Dragglers friends in Marseille for their ‘relative lost in time’ retrieval package. Now, anyone for mojitos?”
Since the sudden disappearance of the two au pair maids, a lot had happened. But for August Finest it has been a lot of the same routine going on.
He wakes up in the early, early morning, his eyelids rubs on his eyeballs as if they are made of sandpaper. He seizes his belly with his hands, feels a little guilty about the nice meals prepared by Noor Mary especially for him since the start of the confinement. His six packs have started to fade away under a layer of fatty insulation and he tries to compensate by a daily routine in white T-shirt and underwear.
The coffee machine has detected his movements and starts to make what it does. It’s always cleaned and replenished by the discrete Mary. The noise and the smell creates an ambiance and when it rings he eats breakfast before taking his shower.
When he’s dressed up, his real work starts. It had not been easy for a man of his origins to appear as the best choice for the job under the Lump administration. President Lump was known to make bad jokes about his tan and him having spent too much time at the beach, and other worse things. But his worth was in the network he could connect the president with, his high discretion, which Lump was in dire need to compensate his innate tendency to boasting, and a strong adaptability to fix the president’s frequent messing around.
If August Finest had once admired the man and accepted the job for him, it soon changed when he realised there was nothing more underneath the boasting than more boasting and unpredictability. At the moment the only thing that make him continue was his ability to go stealth when the president had a fit of nerves, and the imposed confinement that made it impossible to leave the Beige House.
After the morning meeting during which the president asked him to fire a few members of the staff, August had to prepare a press conference. President Lump said he had thought about a few remarks about China and making a connection with the Mexican immigrants threatening the country by stealing the masks of the American People. After which, he had to plan a charity with first Lady Mellie Noma and redefine what a Masquerade meant. He had been asked to invite nurses and medical personnel, meaning republican and good looking in a blouse with a medical mask to make the promotion of the new mask industry Made in America. One of Mr Lump’s friend had just started a brand and was in need of some media promotion.
August reread the memo to be addressed to the director of the FBI, a good friend of his. A special cell at the FBI had been created especially since Lump came to power. For this particular occasion, agents posing as patients victims of the virus would be sent in the best ranked hospitals in the country with the task to look for the best nurse and doctor candidates and send them an invitation printed by Lump’s nephew’s printing company.
As Lump always said: “America Fist! And don’t forget people, I am America.”
August hit the enter button and closed the window of his professional mail account, leaving the draft of a personal mail on screen. He wasn’t sure if he could send this one. It was addressed to Noor Mary and he feared she would misunderstand the meaning of it.
The house was dark when Vince got home, not like it used to be when Uncle Basil was there. He’d have had something simmering on the stove and the curtains closed, the lamps lit. “Gin and tonic?” he’d call out from the kitchen table, more often than not, sitting with a pile of books and a glass of sherry.
If only I hadn’t kept making fun of his books, Vince thought, not for the first time. If only I’d made him feel comfortable here in his own home with all that stuff instead of ridiculing him, he wouldn’t have gone.
“So, what do we do now?” asked Fox. Call it a sixth sense or a seventh sense, but he knew before he got the answer that he was going to regret it somehow. He had always been too quick to ask questions, and his years at the service of Master Gibbon apparently hadn’t made this habit go away.
“Well dear assistant. You can start with the dishes,” said Kumihimo with a broad smile, “and then clean the rest of the hut.”
Fox swallowed. He looked at the piles of stuff everywhere. What had seemed fun a moment before, playing with Kumihimo’s recipes and what he still thought of as her power toys, had turned into a chore. Though, his eyes stopped on a paquet he hadn’t notice before. It looked heavy and wet. The wrapping was not completely closed on the top and he thought he could see pink. That renewed his energy and motivation. Thinking that afterwards they would revive Gorrash suddenly made him feel the cleaning would be done in no time. He simply needed to be methodical and tackle each task one by one.
First the glassware, it was the most fragile and took most of the space outside.
Fox didn’t know how long he had been at it. He had been so engrossed in the cleaning, that he hadn’t paid attention to the others who had been talking all along. He felt a little exhausted and his stomach growled. How since he last ate. His body was stiff with all the movements and carrying stuff around. He was about to ask for some food when he noticed Kumihimo and Rukshan were still talking. The Fae looked exhausted too, he had his panda eyes, but he seemed captivated by their discussion.
“Things are going to get worse,” was saying Kumihimo, “We need everybody ready for what’s coming next. The fires were just the beginning.”
“Do you have anything to eat?” asked Fox not knowing what else to contribute to the conversation. But he knew he wouldn’t be of any help if he didn’t eat something first.FloveParticipant
“It was my idea and you’ve just taken over. The way you always do.”
“Your idea? What are you? Three years old?”
With dignity, Tara rose. She closed her laptop, straightened it on the desk so it ran parallel to the sides, and, using a cloth made for that very purpose, dusted it. “I’m going out for some fresh air. ”
“Well you won’t find it round here. It’s worse than China they said on the news today. Oh, OKAY, Tara. DON’T GO. The business was your idea and I promise I won’t treat you like a secretary. Happy?”
“Ooooh, do tell, Was Mr Sexy voice in it?”
“No, but Uncle Basil was. And he said, cold snap and falling reptiles.”
Star furrowed her brow. “Okay, well … we shouldn’t discount anything at this stage.”
“It’s bound to be a clue. Speaking of secretaries … I have a niece, Rosamund. She a bit rough around the edges but I’m sure she could answer phones and make our coffee.”
“Great idea, Tara! As usual. Get her to come in and do a trial.”
Oddly enough, I was optimistic about the new year. First of all, it was novel to even realize it was a new year. And what a tonic it was to have Finly back! And not just because of the dusting, although it was a pleasure to see a bit of sparkle about the place where she’d spruced things up. Even Mater had a new spring in her step. She said it was the chocolates, one a day she said was better than any vitamins. I’d eaten all mine the day Sanso and Finly and the others had arrived (and regretted it) but Mater had hidden her box to savour them slowly and secretly. I remarked to her more than once that she should have the decency to wipe the chocolate off her lips before coming downstairs, gloating because all mine were gone. But it was nice to see her happy.
It was a funny thing with chocolate, I’d forgotten all about it. It wasn’t like I’d spent years craving it, and yet when I unwrapped (gift wrapped! oh, the memories!) the box Sanso gave me, it all came flooding back. I popped one in my mouth and closed my eyes, savouring the slow melt, ecstatic at the way it enveloped me in it’s particular sweet charm.
I felt so sick afterwards though that I was left with the thought that there was something to be said for a simple life with few opportunities for indulgence. I hadn’t felt that sick since the plague.
I was glad I’d worn that old red dress when Sanso arrived, and just a little disappointed when he left before my seduction plans reached fruition. I did try, but he had a knack of dematerializing whenever I got close enough to make a move. Disconcerting it was, but it kept me on my toes. Literally, in those high heeled red shoes. I twisted my ankle on the damn things and been limping ever since. Oh but it was worth it.
Finly! What water larks, where? Did you see…? I was almost afraid to ask. Had she seen the twins?
Yes, she said, with a smug and enigmatic smile. But that’s a story for later, she said. Maddening creature that she is, she still hasn’t told me about it. She will when she’s finished cleaning, she said.
I had a long conversation (in my head, where all the best conversations are these days) with Corrie while I sat on the porch. I think it’s easier to communicate with her because she’s trying to communicate with me too. The others don’t come through so clear, I get images but not much in the way of conversation. Anyway, she said Clove is with her on the raftboat, and that Clove has a little boy now, seven years old or so, named Pan. I don’t know if that’s short for a longer name or if that’s his name. Anyway, he’s a great little diver, she said, can hold his breath for longer than anyone, although lots of the kiddies are good divers now, so she tells me. They send them out scouting in the underwater ruins. Pan finds all sorts of useful things, especially in the air pockets. They call those kiddies the waterlarks, if I heard that right. Pan the Waterlark.
Corrie said they’re in England, or what used to be called England, before it became a state of the American United States. Scotland didn’t though, they rebuilt Hadrian’s wall to keep the Ameringlanders out (which is what they called them after America took over), and Wales rebuilt Offa’s Dyke to keep them out too. When America fell into chaos (not sure what happened there, she didn’t say) it was dire there for years, Corrie said. Food shortages and floods mainly, and hardly any hospitals still functioning. Corrie delivered Cloves baby herself she said, but I didn’t want all the details, just pleased to hear there were no complications. Clove was back on her feet in no time in the rice paddies.
A great many people left on boats, Corrie said. She didn’t know where they’d gone to. Most of the Midlands had been flooded for a good few years now. At first the water went up and down and people stayed and kept drying out their homes, but in the end people either left, or built floating homes. Corrie said it was great living on the water ~ it wasn’t all that deep and they could maneouver around in various ways. It was great sitting on the deck watching all the little waterlarks popping up, proudly showing their finds.
I was thoroughly enjoying this chat with Corrie, sitting in the morning sun with my eyes closed, when the sky darkened and the red behind my eyelids turned black. There was a hot air balloon contraption coming down, and looked like it was heading for the old Bundy place. Maybe Finly was back with supplies. Maybe it was a stranger with news. Maybe it was Devan.
As it happens…
POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])
In Canada, Lucinda has enrolled in a creative fiction course, and is doing progress… of sorts.
Granola managed to escape the red crystal she was trapped in, after it cracked enough due to the pull of her friends’ memories.
FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])
The Inn is back to its normal routine, after the bout of flu & collective black-out.
The others, we don’t know.
DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)
NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)
LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)
There’s always something happening. Listing it is not the problem, but keeping track is.
DRAGONHEARTWOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)
Cackletown & the reSurgence (Bea, Ed Steam & Surge team, etc.)
Ed is back to the Cackletown dimension after some reconnaissance job on the whole dolls story interference. Might have spooked Maeve a little, but given the lack of anything surgey, have sort of closed this case and gone back to HQ.
The creative writing course teacher, or “Helper” as they liked to call themselves to avoid any suggestion of hierarchy, was an arresting looking woman of indeterminate age and the most extraordinary red beehive hair do. The colour and style of it, and the aplomb with which Helper Effy carried it off, distracted Lucinda sufficiently during the first part of the lesson that she heard none of it.
“What’s the first major confrontation, or action, or dramatic event in your novel that comes to your mind?” the Helper was asking. “Why? Because if it is the first thing you think of, then it’s your chimney poking through the hardpan.”
Not quite sure what a hardpan was, Lucinda never the less felt she’d got the gist of the thing, and hoped she wouldn’t be too distracted by the question of the hardpan.
The Doctor was at times confused about his own plan. Well, most of the time if felt clear and perfectly diabolical, and he could easily understand why at times lesser minds could get confused about the twists and turns —and to those lesser minds, it would usually suffice to say “don’t worry, it’s all part of the Plan.” It was difficult to properly phrase the sentence so that the Plan doesn’t get too easily confused with any plan. But he was expert in conveying that it wasn’t a mere plan.
After having tried and used old or elaborate devices beyond known technology like alleged alien crystal skulls to outcomes of various satisfaction in the past, he’d realized that those so called AI technologies were a silent gangrene for the mind. By becoming more tech-savvy, people lost their savoir and their savour by relying too much on external support. People were becoming malleable, predictable, and replaceable.
His bloody assistant was a sad testament to the downward evolution humanity was rushing towards. It was a strange and sad irony, that by enhancing their ineptitude, he was actually working to the perfection of the human race.
“Ah yes! Evolution!” That was his legacy, and he was of course profoundly misunderstood.
This whole sad business with the chase after the dolls and the keys and the remote control of magpies, and the psychic blasts, beauty treatments and Barbara enhancements, all that made sense once you showed it in the proper light. These were the catalyst to the real and interesting events. The ones which mattered.
It all started after the Army got him out of his prison rot in exchange for his work on some special science experiments. Top-secret, evidently. His handler, a certain nobody by the name of Fergus, was assigning him the experiments.
While he was dutifully working on his assigned projects, he quickly realized that he was given vast funding which would have taken him more time to gather on his own, so he did his part, all while experimenting and honing his skills. Clearly, the Army lacked any vision beyond the confines of “find a better way to torture, maim or kill mass amount of individuals.” Primates. Luckily, their experiments with remote control, brainwashing, and body modelage were less gory than the average science experiments, and far more into his own area of expertise.
It took him 5 years to escape. This plan (a smaller plan, part of the Plan which had not yet fully hatched at the time) — this plan for an escape started to form when Fergus let slip important bits of information, which seemed insignificant taken in isolation, but meant a whole new area of discoveries when put together by a brilliant mind like his own.
Fergus started to gloat about securing some secrets as a blackmail or fail-safe policy in case the Army’s “hired help” misbehaved. This part was known for a long time, it was what was called our ‘retirement plan’ in the contract we signed. What was more peculiar was when he started to let details slip about the method. All thanks to little doses of hypnotic potion in spiked shared drinks, courtesy of the Doctor. It seemed clear that this elaborate scheming of keys and dolls was child’s play and nothing particularly genius, however what was more interesting was when Fergus started to realize that the dolls his niece had made somehow matched certain persons of interest without her conscious knowing. There was a deeper mystery to be cracked, and even Fergus wondered if the Army had not tempered with his family genetics to induce certain characteristics or something of the like. Well, all ramblings of a simpleton you would say, but maybe it wasn’t.
After all these searches to externalize certain abilities of the mind, the Doctor was starting to get fascinated by people exhibiting these qualities naturally.
The appearance of this strange red crystal seems to confirm these doubts. There are untapped forces at play, and maybe doors that could be opened.
Barbara suddenly irrupted into the room “Our guests are coming, just received a text!”
The Doctor sighed thinking some doors should remain closed.
Jerk was waiting for the courrier to pick-up the documents and deliver the mail before closing down, and while the mall’s activity was still painfully slow, he was observing the tos and fros of the few people outside.
Summer was on its last leg, and there were signs that the city workers would soon come back. Nothing like cranky business people in addition to cranky old people to spice up your day.
Maintenance had not come yet. He’d noticed his dead pixel had stopped blinking anyway. Instead it was showing a single red dot.
The courrier guy arrived at last. “Never a quiet time, man!” he said maybe as a sort of excuse for his tardiness. Maybe Jerk needed to change his own line of work, since the other’s job looked so thrilling. He signed the documents distractedly, and was ready to lower the iron curtain to close the shop when the guy called him back. “Oh wait, I forgot to give you that.”
Jerk looked at the letter, and opened it to find a postcard. That’s when he remembered he’d given the address of the mall to the mysterious Ms M. from the findmydolls forum. Couldn’t be too careful, there were so many weirdos on the Internet.
It came from Australia? Half a cup of blue sand was enclosed in a clear plastic wrap bag, along with the postcard.
The postcard wasn’t saying much, but it was intriguing.
“No network there, so I’m sending a card. Hope it will reach in time. You must flood your group with fake addresses of dolls. It’ll send mysterious nefarious parties off-track and avoid casualties. Otherwise, lovely weather, beautiful scenery. Ms M.
PS: Do what you want with the blue powder, I just found it too lovely not to share.”
The old ruse was still working, so I continued to use it. Only way to get a bit of time to myself, especially lately. A bit of quiet time, to think. And there was so much to think about, what with all these people around. I wasn’t put on this earth to make beds and pander to tourists, and the clues were coming in thick and fast. Oh yes, some of these new guests were thick, and some were fast. Anyway, I pretended to be inebriated again and did a pretty good imitation of a lurching drunk to throw them off the scent. They always fall for it.
After turning the key in the lock of my bedroom door, I leaned my back against it for a minute and closed my eyes. It was the bird flying in the window at the crack of dawn that got me worried. Now I’m not a superstitious person by any means, but there have been times when a bird in the house has been followed by a death, and things like that stick in your mind. The sight of Mater in that red pantsuit had etched itself on my mind as well, which was almost as worrying as the bird.
I went over to the window and pulled down the blinds. The bright sun was making my head hurt. I was thirsty, and wished I’d brought a cup of tea with me, but lurching drunks can’t be seen to be making plans for a quiet afternoon of sober contemplation. I tried valiantly to ignore my parched mouth, but it was no good. I put my ear to the door, and the coast seemed clear so I inched it open, looking up and down the hallway. I sprinted to the bathroom, unfortunately tripping over the vacuum cleaner that Finley had no doubt left there deliberately to trip me up. She was a dark horse, that one. Good at dusting, and reliable, so I suppose that was something. Hard to get hired help out here so we had no choice, really.
I smashed my nose on Mater’s doorknob and skinned my shin on the hoover. My nose hurt like hell, and quickly spurted an astonishing quantity of bright blood, similar in colour to that ghastly pantsuit. My fall made a hell of a din so I staggered quickly to the bathroom wash basin for the much needed drink of water before anyone came to investigate the crash, hoping to get back to my room before anyone appeared on the scene.
Had the water in the cold tap been cold, it might have been different, but the new water pipes were still above ground, and the cold water was scalding hot from the heat of the sun on the black pipes. I didn’t have a moment to waste, so drank some quickly, horrid though it was. The unfortunate side effect of the cold water being hot was that it encouraged and diluted the blood, making the overall effect look considerably more alarming. I was tempted to blame Mater for the whole sorry affair, for starting the red theme with that damn pantsuit. I actually said “bloody pantsuit”, which struck me as inordinately funny, and made it hard to get back to the bedroom quickly. I was still laughing hysterically, leaving red hand prints and strange red markings along the corridor wall, when Sanso appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“I saw cave paintings like that in Zimbabwe,” he said conversationally, taking a closer look at the bloody hand prints. “I’ve often wondered what the purpose was, the meaning.” He raised an eyebrow and smiled at me. “Have you interpreted these?”
I was momentarily speechless, as you might imagine. Then I had an impulse, and grabbed his elbow and propelled him into my room, slamming and locking the door behind him. He was almost unnaturally calm and unperturbed, albeit looking as if he was trying not to smile too broadly, which was just the kind of energy I needed. My kind of man! I gave him one of my famous coquettish looks, which made him laugh out loud, and then I caught sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror and hastily grabbed an old nightgown off the floor and spit on it to rub the blood off my face.
“My kind of girl!” he laughed. Oh, how he laughed.
The sense of being left behind had deflated Lucinda. Everyone off having adventures, and here she was left minding the dog. She liked the dog, but not the feeling of missing out on the excitement, and the clues she received were few and far between.
It was a particularly muggy day and not ideal for a long walk. She felt listless and heavy in the humid air. Before walking very far at all along the riverside promenade, she felt clammy and tired, and found a bench under a shady tree to sit on. Fabio cocked his head to one side and looked at her. Lucinda closed her eyes for a few moments, and started to admonish herself for her lack lustre and frankly boring state. “Buck up, for Pete’s sake!” she told herself, but was interrupted by Fabio’s frantic barking and pullling at the lead.
A man on stilts was coming towards them, wearing long shiny trousers in black and white vertical stripes. Lucinda started at him openly, somewhat shaken, but curious. She could have sworn she’d seen him in a dream the night before.
The peace shattering sound of a loud motor boat engine intruded into the scene, and when Lucinda looked back to the stilted man in stripes, he’d vanished. The sound of the outboard motor receded as the boat disappeared around a curve in the river; the waves it created splashing on the river banks long after it had disappeared.
The vegetable garden was luxurious and greener after the rain. The trees were trembling with delight in the light afternoon breeze.
“Are you meditating?” asked Rukshan who wanted to get going on the mission already.
“Kinda,” answered Fox without opening his eyes. “I’m using my imagination as a creative tool in order to make the carpenter show up and finish his work.” He breathed in deep and exhaled a humming sound.
“I think you’re mistaken. It’s not about making the other do what you want.”
Fox opened his eyes. “Don’t tell me what to do,” said Fox feeling a tad tense. “It’s a technique transmitted to me by Master Gibbon.”
“I’m just saying…” began the Fae.
“Oh! You’re happy, I can’t meditate now I’m too tense,” Fox bursted out.
“I guess if you got tense that easily, you weren’t that relaxed in the first place.”
Fox got up and squished a courgette. That seemed to put him into even more anger, but Rukshan couldn’t help laughing and Fox couldn’t keep angry very long. He walked on another courgette and laughed.
“I don’t like courgettes,” he said.
“I know. Glynis will not be very happy though if you crush all the vegetables.”
“Yeah. You’re certainly right. When are we leaving?”
“Mr Minn’s nephew, who’s a carpenter, was just visiting in the city and Margoritt asked them if they could help with the carpentry. You know how Mr Minn can’t resist her charms. They have collected the material from the other carpenter and they are coming tomorrow to finish the work. So we’ll be ready to go. I just have to convince Glynis to let Olli come with us.”
“Margoritt is coming back?”
“No. She’ll stay in the city. You know, her knees… and her sister being at the cottage.”
“Oh! I had forgotten about her,” said Fox raising his eyes to the sky.
The room was not oversized and not to bright despite facing south. It had the oddest strange decor Shawn Paul would have expected from that place. It seemed to come right out of a Victorian movie with the heavy furniture that took all the space in the room and the dark and overloaded wallpaper that sucked up the light coming through the velvet curtains.
Shawn Paul sneezed. It didn’t as much feel dirty as it felt old like his grand parent’s house. He wondered how often the Inn’s staff cleaned the room. He had to move his luggage in order to open the window to get some fresh air. It was so hot and dry. There was a drug store on the other side of the dusty road and a strange man was looking at him. A feeble wind brought in some red dust and Shawn Paul sneezed again, reducing the little enthusiasm he could have had left to nothing. He imagined his clothes covered with red dust and quickly closed the window. As the man was still looking Shawn Paul shut the velvet curtain, suddenly plunging the room into darkness.
His fear of insects crept out. He had no idea where the light was so he reopened the curtain a bit.
He then checked thoroughly under the pillows, the bedcover and the bedsheet, behind the chairs and in the wardrobe. Australia was know for having the most venomous creatures and he didn’t want to have a bad surprise. He looked suspiciously at a midge flying around not knowing if it was even safe to kill it. Shawn Paul had never been the courageous type and he began to wonder why on earth he had accepted that trip. He had never traveled out of Canada before.
Needing some comfort, he looked frantically into his backpack for the granola cookies he had brought with him. With the temperature the chocolate chip had melted and he wondered at how to eat a cookie without dirtying his hands.
Someone knocked at the door making him jump with guilt like when he was a kid at his grand parents’ and would eat all the cookies in his bedroom without sharing with his cousins.
“Lunch is served,” a woman’s voice said from the other side.
Anxiety rushed in when he saw all the people that were already seated at the only table in the lunch room. He might have gone back to his room if Maeve hadn’t come from behind him.
“Let’s go have a seat.”
He read between the lines what he was thinking himself: Don’t leave me alone. Whether it was truly what she had meant was not important.
During summer, activity was slow at the mall in Kelowna, BC, so Jerk had a little more time to check on his other pastimes. Interestingly there seemed to be a lot of unusual activity on the findmydolls group.
He was also tinkering with a home brewed AI, and launched the program.
“Trancie are you awake?”
“Did I fall asleep?” the AI answered back.
“For a little while, yes. Trancie, analyse logs from findmystuff website, check group findmydolls.”
“A moment. A moment. A moment. Analysis complete. Activity spike 57.21% increase.”
This was quite unusual, but he wasn’t sure were to look. He looked at his administrator box, in case another message had required moderation. The filters triggers were not too sensitive, so there wasn’t a lot of messages.
One in particular had triggered the system.
“Trancie, read message in moderation queue #5363.”
“You need to come for information. Am sending you tickets and instructions for hotspot, so it won’t cost you a bomb. hashtag flagged for terror threat. D for Destroy, A for Approve.”
That was obviously amateur work, Jerk thought. Criminals nowadays were much more careful.
Another thought crossed his mind.
“Trancie, plot past month activity by geolocation on mapearth.com”
It took a few minutes to refine the query so he could check the heatmap, and remove the background noise.
The last messages all seemed to concentrate in the middle of nowhere in Australia.
“How odd. So glad I’m not an investigative journalist, that place must be crawling with nasty things, scaly and poisonous and downright deadly.”
Interestingly, a second point on the map was close to Kelowna. Actually, although it could just be narrowed down to a 5 kilometer radius, it looked ominously close to where he lived.
Shivers started to run down his spine. Maybe he’d just stumbled onto a dangerous conspiracy. Dolls could be a code word for horrible things, possibly even human trafficking.
He closed the laptop suddenly, his mind racing. What if they were onto him? He struggled for a moment with the urge to destroy his laptop and burn down the place and disappear off the grid, but he remembered he needed to breathe, so his rational mind could be oxygenated and think properly.
“I may be a tad on the paranoid side.”
But it ain’t paranoia, if they are trying to get you.
He looked around. He was already as close as possible to off-the-grid without vanishing out of society. The place was deserted, and only a janitor was roaming the place mindlessly on his cleaning car. There was zero chance he could be a target.
“Oh shut up!” he exclaimed out loud.
He was intrigued by the mystery, but for now, he wanted to let it play out. He needed more data points to have Trancie plot a heuristic pattern. Well, to make sense of it, while he was working on her personality.
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