Well. I did it. I made my escape. I had to! Nobody came for three days and I’d run out of biscuits. Thank the lord my hip wasn’t playing up. I decided not to take anything with me, figuring I could just steal things off washing lines when I wanted a change of clothes. I’ve always hated carrying heavy bags. I reckoned it would look less conspicuous, too. Just an old dear popping out for digestive perambulation. Nobody suspects old dears of anything, not unless they’re dragging a suitcase round, and I had no intention of doing that. I did put a couple of spare masks in my pocket though, you can’t be too careful these days. And it would help with the disguise. I didn’t want any do gooders trying to catch me and take me back to that place.
I had the presence of mind to wear good stout walking shoes and not my pink feather mules, even though it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. I used to love to see them peeping out from under my bath robe. One day I might strike lucky and find another pair.
I’ve been eating like a king, better than ever! I accidentally coughed on someones burger one day, and they dropped it and ran away, and I thought to myself, well there’s an idea. I stuck to random snacks in the street at first and then one day I fancied a Chinese so I thought, well why not give it a try. Coughed all over his brown bag of prawn crackers as he walked out of the restaurant and he put the whole takeaway in the nearest bin. Piping hot meal for six! Even had that expensive crispy duck!
Tonight I fancy sushi. Wish I’d thought of this trick years ago, I said to myself the other day, then my other self said, yeah but it wouldn’t have worked so well before the plague.
Not having much luck with the washing lines though, lazy sods either not doing any laundry or putting it all in the dryer. Weeks of sunny weather as well, the lazy bastards. Lazy and wasteful! You should see the clothes they throw in the clothes bank bins! If the bins are full you can get your arm in and pull out the ones on the top. I change outfits a dozen times a day some days if I’m in the mood. I do sometimes get an urge to keep something if I like it but I’m sticking to my guns and being ruthless about not carrying anything with me.
The journey to the Pistil itself would have been worth its own story, thought Charlton. They had to avoid road blocks, crowds of chanting christians that had certainly vowed to spread the virus as fast as possible, and howlers who you were never sure weren’t the real thing from Teen Wolf. They had to be, in such a landscape. Once arid, it had turned greener in just a few weeks. Rain was now weekly when drops of water used to only show up with the bottles of water from the tourists.
Despite Kady’s advice not to take anything, he’d still brought the book of drawings. Kady had said nothing about the book, nor the clothes, or the snacks. Charlton was sometimes literal about what people told him, but he also knew it. So he didn’t say anything when he saw Kady had her own backpack with clothes, some money and food. During the trip, he tried to reproduce the experience with the drawings and the dreams —but nothing happened. Charlton felt a little disappointed.
They saw the pistil long before they arrived at its foot. It was at the end of the day and the sunset was splashing its reds and purples all around it. Charlton had had time to get used to its tall presence in the landscape. Yet, seeing it at a close range from below was a strange experience. Taller than the tallest man-made tower. He wondered what he was supposed to feel in its presence. Awe? Electricity? Enlightenment? Bursts of inspiration? This should at least be a mystical moment, but all he could feel was annoyance at the crowd of people crawling around like aphids avid to suck its sap.
Kady looked more annoyed than surprised. She was walking past the flock as if she knew exactly where to go. Charlton followed, feeling dizzy by the sudden increase of activity and smells. He soon got nauseous at the mix of incense and fried sausages.
“There are so many of them,” he eventually said. “How come? It was so difficult just for the two of us to avoid police controls. Do we have to wait with them?”
“Nah! They’re just the usual bunch of weirdoes,” Kady said. “They’ve been here a long time. I bet some of them aren’t even aware there have been a virus. But stay close. I don’t want to lose you, it’s a maze before the maze. I just need to see someone before we go in.”
They walked for about another ten minutes before stopping in front of a big tent. There, a big man with a boxer’s face was repairing all kind of electronics on a table with the application of a surgeon. Phones, cameras, coffee machines… Charlton wondered how they got electricity to make it all work.
“Hey, Kady!” said the man. “You’re back. Did you give it to her?” His face looked anxious.
“Her favourite perfume,” he said with a broad smile.
“I told you she still loves you. I also brought you something else.” Kady dropped a box on the table among the electronics. Charlton didn’t think it could be possible to witness the expression of a ten year old child on such a hard face, but what was inside the box certainly did magic.
“You brought chocolate?”
“Did you find the chestnut one?”
“My favourite,” said Max to Charlton. “Is this your friend?”
“I told you, you’re always welcome. Did you know she saved my life in there?”
“Saved your life?” asked Charlton looking hesitantly at Kady. “No, I didn’t know.”
Dear Jorid Whale,
My hands are shaking while I type this on the keyboard.
I’m not sure which of last night’s dreams is the bizarrest. Bizarre in a fantastic way, although for certain people it might be called grotesque. I’m certain it has something to do with that book I ordered online last week. I don’t usually read books and certainly not like this one. But the confinement, it makes you consider making things out of your ordinary.
It’s called The Enchanted Forest of Changes, by a Chinese artist Níngméng (柠檬). They say his artist name means lemon, but that some of his friends call him Níng mèng 凝梦 (curdle dreams), which to my ears sound exactly the same except a little bit angrier. I found out about him on a forum about creepy dolls abandoned in forests all around the world. Yeah exactly, the confinement effect again. Apparently it started with a few dolls in a forest in Michigan, and then suddenly people started to find them everywhere. I wonder if some people are really into the confinement thing or if it’s just me using that as a reason to stay home.
Anyway, someone on that forum posted one of the picture of that book and it caught my eye. So much so that I dreamt of it the following night. So I bought the book and it’s mostly ink drawings, but they seem to speak directly to some part of you that you were not even aware you had. I almost hear whispers when I look at the drawings. And then I have those dreams.
Last night I dreamt of a cat that had been reared as a boy. He even had the shape of one, but shorter maybe. He had learned to talk and use his paws as hands, his claws had grown into fingers, had lost most of his fur and he was wearing clothes. If I was amazed by such a feat, it kinda seemed normal for the people I met in that dream. It just took a lot of efforts, love and dedication to raise this kind of children.
And Whale, I feel tingling in my arms. This morning you showed me the picture of a kitten! That’s not a mere coincidence. I’m feeling so excited, my hands are too slow to type what I want to write. I fear I’m going to forget an important detail.
About the second dream. The world was in shock, there was this giant… thing that looked like a pistil and that had grown during the night in some arid area. It was taller than the tallest human made tower. Its extremity was cone shaped, and I confess that the whole thing looked like some kind of dick to me.
Plants and trees had followed in the following days as if the pistil had changed the climatic conditions (autocorrect wanted to write climactic, is that you playing around?).
The pistil was protected by some kind of field and it couldn’t be approached by everyone. Governments had tried, pharmaceutical companies had tried. People who wanted to make gold out of it, they were all rejected. But for some reason some people could approach. Anyone, not just the pure of hearts or the noble ones. Actually a whole bunch of weirdoes started to take their chances. Some were allowed in and some where not. Nobody knew what was the deciding factor.
A friend of mine that I have not seen in years during my waking life, she came back and asked me to come with her. So we went and were allowed in. My recall of the events after that is fuzzy. But I get the strange impression that I will spend more time in there later on.
[Edited in the afternoon]
I don’t believe it! It’s on the news everywhere. It has even replaced the news about the virus and the confinement.
Giant pistils have appeared around the world, but it seems only people who had been infected can see them.
Crazy rumours run on the internet. Giant mass hallucination caused by the virus. Some people say it’s alien technology, spores engineered to control our brains.
There is one not so far from where I live. Should I wait for Kady to call me?
“Who can that be now!” exclaimed May as she made her way to the back door. A flustered looking woman in odd looking mismatched clothes was standing on the door step.
“I ’ave come to ’elp Finnley wiz ze bedding!” she said by way of introduction, “But I ‘ave lost my baby, ’ave you seen ’er? My name is Fanella. I ’ave come to ’elp Finnley wiz ze bedding, but I must find my daughter first!”
“You’d better come in,” replied May, wondering what to do. Until the right baby turned up, she could hardly give this woman her daughter back. But the poor woman was distraught, and May wanted to ease her distress. She would have to try to delay her somehow.
“There is no need to worry, er, Fanella, as it happens there is an unexpected baby girl visiting with the bosses son, but they are both fast asleep. They are quite safe, but I am not in a position to disturb them yet. Do sit down, you look exhausted. Let me get you a drink.”
May handed her a glass of wine. “How on earth did you manage to lose your daughter?”
“I was just about to ring ze bell but I was so nervous I ’ad to pee so I ran quickly be’ind ze bushes. And when I ’ad finished, my baby was gone!” Fanella started to weep.
“And you brought your baby with you?” aghast, May wondered what to do next. Maybe this woman shouldn’t be given the child back after all. It had been a long night, with far too many babies.
Suddenly May had a doubt. She had been so focused on her inner ramblings about men’s reputation, prostitution and what knot that… something felt awfully wrong with the baby. Not the shouting and crying, not even the smell from the dark ages. No something more subtle that kept her awake. She had to be sure.
She woke up and put on some a brown woollen gown on top of her silky night gown (her little pleasure). She had to be sure nobody would pay attention to her, but she couldn’t resist the soft touch of silk on her skin. Anyway, she went rushing in the baby’s room and unclothed it.
There it was, right in front of her. It was not baby Barron, it was a girl! She had been fooled by the clothes and the awful mess the baby had done in its pants. And for sure she had looked away because the smell, and she didn’t really liked babies.
“Oh Look who’s awake!” said the voice of June, thick with bad Maotai.
May felt the blood drain off her face. She dressed the baby back up to hide the missing appendage.
“Oh! Nice baby Barron,” she said trying to hide the quiver in her voice. “Look who’s back, your two favourite Aunties.” May turned to face the two au pairs with a forced smile on her face. The baby started to cry.
“I have nothing against outrageous clothes,” Liz said, feeling the unspoken murmurs of “we noticed” from the others. She smoothed down the voluminous pink satin of her floor length gown, batting her false eyelashes. “Life is one long fancy dress party, and one should dress accordingly. Today I am Barbara Tartland,” Liz flashed her long pink nails. “Otherwise known as the Pink Thing.”
Godfrey replied with some alarm, “You’re not planning on writing soppy romances are you, all with identical plots and predictable characters?”
“That’s because the characters are trying to commit suicide,” said Finnley.
May took the brat down to the kitchen and gave him the pot of cold spinach to play with while she slipped outside to send a coded message to her fiance, Marduk. Barron happily commenced smearing globs of green mush all over his face, mimicking his fathers applications of orange skin colouring paste.
“We have a window of opportunity tonight,” May wrote. Actually she said “hu mana sid neffa longo tonga bafti foo chong“, which meant the same thing. “Slopi sala ding wat forg ooli ama“, which she knew Marduk would read as: “The kid will be in a big pot of spinach by the gate at midnight.”
“Forg ooli ama? keni suba?” he replied. With an impatient sigh May texted back “Sagi poo! And bring a spare set of clothes and a wash cloth!”
Now all she had to do was pack her suitcase, and keep the kid occupied for the next couple of hours. What she wasn’t expecting was a visit from Norma, who plonked herself down at the kitchen table, and started a long story about how underpaid and underappreciated she was.
May tried to hurry her along with the story, but there was no rushing Norma. She was firmly planted at the table for the duration of the evening. May did some quick thinking, and slipped a couple of fast acting laxative pills into the glass of wine that she handed to the maid, frustrated that no sleeping pills were easily found. They usually worked within a couple of hours, and with a bit of luck May could coincide her exit with Norma’s inevitable rush to the lavatory.
“امیدوارم که مؤثر باشد” May said to herself, and seated herself at the table to endure Norma’s long winded complaints. One hour and 43 minutes to go.
Liz was not pleased about the latest insubordinate action of those plotting against her. Fashion choices indeed! She had been sorting out her wardrobe, having to do it all herself because of Finnley’s latest scam to take time off, putting away the summery things and bringing out the clothes for the coming cooler weather.
She’d had the usual little thrill at seeing familiar old favourites, clothes that she’d felt comfortable and happy in for many years. It would be unthinkable to throw them out, like tossing out an old friend just because they were getting wrinkled and saggy, or fat in the wrong places.
Liz prided herself on her thoughtfulness about the environment when making her “fashion” choices, always choosing second hand items. She liked to think they already had a little of their own history, and that they appreciated being rescued. She abhorred the trends that the gullible lapped up when she saw them looking ridiculous in unflattering unsuitable clothes that would be clearly out of fashion just as they were starting to look pleasantly worn in.
Warming to the theme, Liz recalled some of the particularly useless garments she’d seen over the years. Woolly polo neck sweaters that were sleeveless, for example. In what possible weather would one wear such a thing, without either suffering from a stifling hot neck, or goose flesh arms? High heeled shoes was another thing. The evidence was clear, judging by the amount of high heeled shoes in immaculate only worn once condition that littered the second hand markets. Nobody could walk in them, and nobody wanted them. Oddly enough though, people were still somehow persuaded to buy more and more new ones. Maybe one day in the future, collectors would have glass fronted cabinets, full of antique high heeled shoes. Or perhaps it would baffle future archaeologists, and they would guess they had been for religious or ritual purposes.
Liz decided to turn the tables on this new character, Alessandro. She would give him a lesson or two on dress sense. The first thing she would tell him was that labels are supposed to be worn on the inside, not the outside.
“One doesn’t write “Avon” in orange make up on one’s face, dear, even if it’s been seen in one of those shiny colourful publications,” Liz said it kindly so as not to rile him too much. “One doesn’t write “Pepto Dismal” in pink marker pen upon ones stomach.”
“While you’re out, I’ll see what Liz has thrown out, so I can cut it up for dolls clothes,” Fnnley said, to which Liz retorted, “I have thrown nothing out.” Liz cut Finnley short as she protested that Liz didn’t wear most of it anyway. “Yes, but I might, one day.”
Turning to Alessandro, she said “Although I’m a busy woman, I will come shopping with you, my boy. You clearly need some pointers,” she added, looking at his shoes.
“Ah! There you are, my dear,” said Alessandro. “I have searched all over the house for you and now I find you in the laundry.” He shook his head and waggled a finger at Liz. “Where is that naughty maid of yours who should be doing this?.”
Liz leapt away from the laundry basket. “I was looking for something other than this … this obscenity,” she said flinging the pink satin garment to the ground. “And, who exactly are you?”
“I am Alessandro! Fashion Designer extraordinaire. I am rather surprised you do not know of me,” he said, pouting. “Your maid employed me to assist you with your fashion choices.”
“Cheek!” spluttered Liz.
Finnley limped into the room. “Oh you are here. Good,” she said flatly. “Sort her out, will you, Alessandro. She has done nothing but moan lately.”
“Sure,” said Finnley. She bent down to pick up the pink satin with a loud groan. “I might cut this up for doll’s clothes,” she said mysteriously.
“So, your hobby is to make dolls?” Arona was aghast. “What a coincidence…”
Maeve wondered if there was more than met the eye about the travelers family in funny clothes. She had asked if it was okay to sketch the three of them, Arona, Sanso and Albert, as she liked to capture some details in her sketch book, to give her ideas for her next dolls attires.
To defuse the strange tension, she pointed at Mandrake “I think your cat is having a funny fit, is it epileptic? It’s been winking like it’s having cramps or something.”
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.
A wild eyed crow was cawing relentlessly since the wee hours of the dawn.
Nothing much had moved since everyone arrived at the Inn, and in contrast with the hot days, the cool night had sent everyone shivering under the thin woolen blankets that smelled of naphthalene.
Deep down, Bert was glad to see the old Inn come back to life, even if for a little while. He was weary of the witch though. She wouldn’t be here without some supernatural mischief afoot.
He glanced in the empty hall, putting his muddy pair of boots outside, not to incur the fury of Finly. He almost started calling to see if anybody was home, but thought better of it. Speaking of the devil, Finly was already up and busy at the small kitchen stove, and had done some outstanding croissants. In truth, despite all her flaws, he liked her; she was a capable lady, although never big on sweet talks. No wonder she and Mater did get along well.
Bert started to walk along the hall towards the hangar, where he knew old cases where stored, one with a particular book that he needed. It was hard to guess what would happen next. He found the book, that was hidden on the side of the case, and scratched his head while smiling a big wide grin.
He was feeling alive with the kind of energy that could be a poor advisor were his mind not sharp as a gator’s tooth.
The book had a lot of gibberish in it, like it was written in a sort of automatic writing. For some reason, after the termite honey episode, Idle had started to collect odd books, and she was starting to see spy games hidden in the strangest patterns.
Despite being a lazy pothead, the girl was smart, though. Some of her books were codes.
Bert’s had his fair run with those during his early years in the military. So he’d hidden the most dangerous ones that Idle had unwittingly found, so that she and the rest of the family wouldn’t run into trouble.
Most of the time, she’d simply forget about having bought or bargained for them, but in some cases, there was a silly obsession with her that rendered her crazy about some of those books. Usually the girls, especially the twins, would get the blame for what was thought a child’s prank. Luckily her anger wouldn’t last long.
This book though was a bit different. Bert had never found the coding pattern, nor the logic about it. And some bits of it looked like it talked about the Inn. “Encoded pattern from the future”, “remote viewing from the past”, Idle’s suggestions would have run wild with imaginative solutions. Maybe she was onto something…
He looked a two bits, struck by some of the parts:
The inn had been open for a long time before any of the tenants had come, and it had been full of people once it had been full all day long.
She had gone back after a while and opened up the little room for the evening and people could be seen milling about.
The rest of the tenants had remained out on their respective streets and were quiet and peaceful.
‘So it’s the end of a cold year.’
The woman with golden hair and green eyes seemed to have no intention of staying in the inn as well; she was already preparing for the next year.
When the cold dawn had started to rise the door to the inn had been open all night long. The young man with red hair sitting on a nearby bench had watched a few times before opening his eyes to see the man that had followed him home.
There was a young red hair boy that had arrived. He was curious as to the man following.
The other random bit talked about something else. Like a stuff of nightmares. And his name was on it.
The small girl stood beside him, still covered with her night clothes. She felt naked by the side of the road. There was nothing else to do.
In the distance, Bert could faintly hear the howling of the woods, as two large, black dogs pounced, their jaws ready to tear her to pieces. The young girl stared in wonder and fear before the dog, before biting it, then she was gone. She ran off through the bushes. “Ah…” she whispered to herself. “Why am I not alive?” She thought to herself: this is all I need.
If I am here, they’ll kill or hurt my kids. They won’t miss me for nothing.
She ran the last few kilometers to her little cottage; not long after, Bert heard the sound of the forest. He was glad it was.
Maybe the witch was not here for nothing after all.
Fourty four hours and 3 stopovers later, Maeve was glad to have arrived at Alice Springs airport. It was fun to see that the further she went, the smallest the aircraft became. Until it wasn’t too funny, and got almost downright scary with the last small propeller plane, that shook so much it seemed out of an old Indiana Jones movie, sans flying chicken.
The airport was quaint and small, the way she liked, with a passageway shaded by large swathes of fabric reminiscent of Seville’s streets. The air was surprisingly fresh, and she wondered if she’d been too optimistic about the weather and her choice of clothes, considering it was still winter down here.
While she was waiting at the luggage belt, she discreetly observed the other waiting people.
Uncle Fergus always said she had to be observant. Besides, she had a natural eye for details.
Apart from the few Crocodile Dundees that screamed tourists who were waiting for their oversized luggage, she could spot a few out-of-place people. One in particular, that seemed to have followed the very same route since the first layover in Vancouver. Too strange a coincidence, and the fellow was too unassuming too.
“Maeve! MAH-EH-VEH” She jumped at the sounds. Almost didn’t recognized her own name, if she hadn’t recognized her neighbour’s voice first, and his peculiar way to pronounce it like she was a precious wahine.
“Shawn-Paul?! What on earth are you doing here?” She frowned at him “Have you been stalking me?”
“No, no! It’s not like that! I’ve received those funny-looking coupons, you see…”
“What? You too?”
Now, a second person following on her tracks even through a different combination of flights was more than a coincidence. It meant danger was afoot.
“Shouldn’t we carpool? I looked up the trail to the inn, it’s a long drive and by the looks of it, not at all too safe for a lone woman travelling.”
Maeve shrugged. That may keep the other creep off her trail. “I don’t mind, but if you insist on being so chivalrous, you’re paying for the taxi.”
Before he could say anything, she handed him her piece of luggage to carry.
“For the love of Flove, will everyone put some clothes on,” muttered Finnley.
To set a good example, she put on a her best grey overcoat—which only had a few ever-so-small moth holes—and a pair of woolly socks pulled up to her knees.
“There are far too many naked bodies covered only in towels and togas for comfort in this thread,” she said, shaking vigorously and thinking how pretty the dust looked as it floated around her. “And I for one intend to take a stand.”
“Indeed!” agreed Godfrey. “it’s a health and safety issue for one thing. I’m concerned Liz might have one of her turns, the amount of time she spends peeping through the curtain at Roberto. She looks quite flushed.”
“I’ve just had a letter from one of my characters,” replied Liz. “Here, look.”
Dear Liz, it said.
Henry appeared on the same day my young niece arrived from Sweden with her grandma. My mother had already arrived, and we’d just returned from picking them up from the airport. A black puppy was waiting outside my gate.
“We can’t leave him out here,” I said, my hands full of bags. “Grab him, Mom.”
She picked him up and carried him inside and put him down on the driveway. We went up to the house and introduced all the other dogs to the newcomers, and then we heard howling and barking. I’d forgotten to introduce the other dogs to the new puppy, so quickly went down and pulled the terrified black puppy out from under the car and picked him up. I kept him in my arms for a while and attended to the guests.
From then on he followed me everywhere. In later years when he was arthritic, he’d sigh as if to say, where is she going now, and stagger to his feet. Later still, he was very slow at following me, and I’d often bump into and nearly fall over him on the return. Or he’d lie down in the doorway so when I tripped over him, he’d know I was going somewhere. When we went for walks, before he got too old to walk much, he never needed a lead, because he was always right by my side.
When he was young he’d have savage fights with a plastic plant pot, growling at it and tossing it around. We had a game of “where’s Henry” every morning when I made the bed, and he hid under the bedclothes.
He was a greedy fat boy most of his life and adored food. He was never the biggest dog, but had an authority over any plates of leftovers on the floor by sheer greedy determination. Even when he was old and had trouble getting up, he was like a rocket if any food was dropped on the floor. Even when he had hardly any teeth left he’d shovel it up somehow, growling at the others to keep them away. The only dog he’d share with was Bill, who is a bit of a growly steam roller with food as well, despite being small.
I always wondered which dog it was that was pissing inside the house, and for years I never knew. What I would have given to know which one was doing it! I finally found out it was Henry when it was too late to do anything about it ~ by then he had bladder problems.
I started leaving him outside on the patio when we went out. One morning towards the end, in the dark, we didn’t notice him slip out of the patio gate as we were leaving. In the light from the street light outside, we saw him marching off down the road! Where was he going?! It was as if he’d packed his bags and said, That’s it, I’m off!
Eventually he died at home, sixteen years old, after staggering around on his last legs for quite some time. Stoic and stalwart were words used to describe him. He was a character.
A couple of hours before he died, I noticed something on the floor beside his head. It was a gold earring I’d never seen before, with a honeycomb design. Just after he died, Ben went and sat right next to him. We buried him under the oak tree at the bottom of the garden, and gave him a big Buddha head stone. Charlie goes down there every day now. Maybe he wonders if he will be next. He pisses on the Buddha head. Maybe he’s paying his respects, but maybe he’s just doing what dogs do.
Liz had strange visions of a nine tailed fox before tumbling backwards onto the sofa. That was when she noticed the awful pink gown. Why on earth do my characters insist on dressing me in such outrageous clothes, she wondered, not for the first time. She scratched her head and noticed the Folly Tart On blonde wig. Oh, really! she cried, exasperated. This is just too much!
Liz, who had been out in the garden, waxing lyrical about the glorious sun for this time of year, the colours of the flowers and at the same time regaling Roberto with tales of the places she had been, paled when she noticed Paul Anna writing notes into his phone.
She stopped dead in her tracks.
“It’s that powerful journalist, Paul Anna! I can’t possibly do an interview now!” she hissed at Roberto, “I’ve not even unpacked my case … I don’t have any clean clothes! Where is that maid .. what’s her name … Glynis? Oh no, that’s not right. Ah, Finnley!”
Liz looked frantically around.
“Here I am. All ears, as per usual,” said Finnley.
“Oh okay, If i must,” said Finnley. She had been looking forward to the interview. She well remembered the last interview when Inspector Olliver had come to question Liz over the missing maid in the suitcase misadventure. Most entertaining.
There was a knock at the door. It was a tentative knock, 3 small taps really, and It would have been easy to miss if Glynnis and Eleri had not lapsed into an uncomfortable silence and now sat glowering at each other across the kitchen table.
They turned their heads towards the door in alarm, differences forgotten in light of this new threat. Nobody had knocked on the door of the cottage in the woods for such a long time.
Glynis went to the window by the front door and peeped out.
“It’s an old lady,” she said in surprise
“Could be a trick! Don’t answer it! What’s an old lady doing in the forest this hour of the evening? That’s too strange.”
“Well, I sense danger actually,” said Eleri haughtily but she stood aside and Glynis opened the door carefully, just a few inches at first, peeping out through the gap while Eleri hovered anxiously behind her. A plump little lady wearing a crinkly blue suit and a hat with a bird’s feather on it stood on the front step.
“Hello, can I help you?” said Glynis
“Hello dear, I was starting to think nobody was home. Is this where Margoritt lives? I do hope I have the right place. I have come such a long way.”
“I’m her sister, Muriel, from the North. I’m sure she must have spoken of me. Do let me in, dears. It is icy cold out here. And I think I may be having one of my turns because your lovely wee house is looking ever so twinkly. It’s the migraine you know … they get me in the head ever so badly now and then. It’s the stress of the long journey I think ….”
“I am not sure where my case is … I left it in the forest I think. Perhaps one of you young things could find it for me. It was getting ever so heavy. Now, tell me your names and then if someone could make me a nice hot cup of tea, and one for themselves of course!” She laughed brightly and Glynis and Eleri joined in though they weren’t sure why. “And perhaps you could get me a wool blanket for my knees and I expect after a good sleep I’ll be right as rain.” She looked around the cottage with a small frown. “I can see I have come to the right place. I’d know my sister’s tastes anywhere.”
In the white silence of the mountains, Rukshan was on his knees on a yakult wool rug pouring blue sand from a small pouch on a tricky part of the mandala that looked like a small person lifting his arms upwards. Rukshan was just in the right state of mind, peaceful and intensely focused, in the moment.
It was more instinct than intellect that guided his hands, and when he felt inside him something click, he stopped pouring the sand. He didn’t take the time to check if it was right, he trusted his guts.
He held the pouch to his right and said: “White”. Olliver took the pouch of blue and replaced it with another. Rukshan resumed pouring and white sand flew in a thin stream on the next part of the mandala.
After a few hours of the same routine, only broken by the occasional refreshments and drinks that Olliver brought him, the mandala was finished and Rukshan stood up to look at the result. He moved his shoulders to help relieve the tensions accumulated during the hard day of labor. He felt like an old man. His throat was dry with thirst but his eyes gleamed with joy at the result of hours of hard concentration.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olliver with awe in his voice.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Rukshan. He accepted a cup of warm and steaming yakult tea that Olliver handed him and looked at the boy. It was the first time that Olliver had spoken during the whole process.
“Thanks, Olli,” said Rukshan, “you’ve been very helpful the whole time. I’m a little bit ashamed to have taken your whole time like that and make you stand in the cold without rest.”
“Oh! Don’t worry,” said the boy, “I enjoyed watching you. Maybe one day you can teach me how to do this.”
Rukshan looked thoughtfully at the boy. The mandala drew its power from the fae’s nature. There could certainly be no danger in showing the technique to the boy. It could be a nice piece of art.
“Sure!” he said. “Once we are back. I promise to show you.”
A smile bloomed on Olliver’s face.
In the white silence of the mountain, Lhamom sat on a thick rug of yakult wool in front of a makeshift fireplace. She had finished packing their belongings, which were now securely loaded on the hellishcarpet, and decided it was cooking time. For that she had enrolled the young lad, Olliver, to keep her company instead of running around and disturbing Rukshan. The poor man… the poor manfae, Lhamom corrected, had such a difficult task that he needed all his concentration and peace of mind.
Lhamom stirred the content of the cauldron in a slow and regular motion. She smiled because she was also proud of her idea of a screen made of yakult wool and bamboo poles, cut from the haunted bamboo forest. It was as much to protect from the wind as it was for the fae’s privacy and peace of mind.
“It smells good,” said Olliver, looking with hungry eyes at what Lhamom was doing.
“I know,” she said with pride. “It’s a specialty I learned during the ice trek.”
“Can you teach me?” ask Olliver.
“Yes, sure.” She winked. “You need a special blend of spiced roots, and use pootatoes and crabbage. The secret is to make them melt in yakult salted butter for ten minutes before adding the meat and a bucket of fresh snow.”
They continued to cook and talk far all the afternoon, and when dusk came Lhamom heard Rukshan talk behind his screen. He must have finished the mandala, she thought. She smiled at Olliver, and she felt very pleased that she had kept the boy out of the manfae’s way.
Fox listened to the white silence of the mountain during that brief moment, just after the dogs had made it clear, despite all the promises of food, that they would not help the two-leggeds with their plan.
Fox sighed. For an instant, all felt still and quiet, all was perfectly where it ought to be.
The instant was brief, quickly interrupted by a first growl, joined by a second and a third, and soon the entire pack of mountain dogs walked, all teeth out, towards a surrounded Fox. He looked around. There was no escape route. He had no escape plan. His stomach reminded him that instant that he was still sick. He looked at the mad eyes of the dogs. They hadn’t even left the bones from the meat he gave them earlier. He gulped in an attempt to remove the lump of anguish stuck in his throat. There would be no trace of him left either. Just maybe some red on the snow.
He suddenly felt full of resolve and camped himself on his four legs; he would not go without a fight. His only regret was that he couldn’t help his friends go home.
We’ll meet in another life, he thought. Feeling wolfish he howled in defiance to the dogs.
They had stopped and were looking uncertain of what to do next. Fox couldn’t believe he had impressed them.
“Come,” said a voice behind him. Fox turned surprised. On the pile of his clothes stood Olliver.
“How did you,” he yelped before remembering the boy could not understand him.
“Hurry! I can teleport us back to the camp,” said the boy with his arms opened.
Without a second thought Fox jumped in Olliver’s arms and the next thing he knew was that they were back at the camp. But something was off. Fox could see Rukshan busy making his mandala and Olliver was helping him with the sand. Then he could see Lhamom cooking with the help of another Olliver.
Fox thought it might be some case of post teleportation confusion. He looked at the Olliver who helped him escape an imminent death, the fox head slightly tilted on the side, the question obvious in its eyes.
“Please don’t tell them,” said Olliver, his eyes pleading. “It just happened. I felt a little forgotten and wanted so much to be useful.”
Fox turned back into a human, too surprised to feel the bite of the cold air.
“Oh! Your clothes,” said Olliver before he disappeared. Fox didn’t have time to clear his mind before the boy was back with the clothes.
Talking with the dogs. That’s what Fox had to do. Easier said than done, he thought scratching his head. His previous encounters with dogs were rather tumultuous and limited to being hunted down in the forest during a hunting party or being chased at the market because he had caught a hen. He had never really talked to dogs before, unless taunting counted of course.
Rukshan had said it was urgent, but Fox found there were so many little things to do before, like tidying up the cave, putting some suncream on his sensitive red head skin, or trying to see if Lhamom needed help.
But after some time, Fox realised he had to go eventually. Everyone else was busy with their own part of the plan. Rukshan was building the sand mandala on a flat surface that he and Olliver had cleared, and Lhamom was finishing a makeshift screen to protect the mandala from the wind with a few bamboo poles and rolls of fabrics she had found on her journey here. It was very colourful fabric with Bootanese patterns that Fox wouldn’t have used to cover a chair. It felt too busy for him.
So, he went to see Lhamom as she was struggling to plant the last stick in the rocky ground.
“Have you talked to the dogs? she asked.
“Ehr, not yet,” mumbled Fox who felt a bit ashamed when Lhamom frowned. “I think I need to give some kind of present to the dogs and I was wondering if you had something suitable in your many bags.”
“Oh! Sure. Can you finish that for me then?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Fox. He replaced her with the bamboo stick and, as she was walking away, he shouted: “I don’t think chocolate will do this time.”
“Oh! I know,” she said with a smile and a wink. It cheered Fox up a little bit, but a gush of wind called him back to his task of holding the pole. Once he secured it he put on an awkward smile, but noticed that Rukshan and Olliver were too busy to have noticed.
Lhamom came back with a big ham which Fox thought was more than suitable. He thanked her and made a joke about leaving her with her pole that he thought afterword he should not have done and walked away from the camp in the crunchy snow.
Fox had been aware that the dogs were observing him, and especially the big ham he was carrying. A few of them had begun to gather at a distance and they were beginning to whine, which attracted more of them. When he estimated he was far enough from the camp he put the ham down. He couldn’t transform into that many layers of clothes so he started to undress, watching wearily the dogs that were now growling.
It was freezing outside and Fox was shocked by how skinny his body had become. He shivered badly and focused to change into his natural red fox. It took him a little bit longer than usual but when the fur grew and started to keep the warmth close to his body, he growled with pleasure. The world around him changed as his senses transformed. Colours were different and slightly less varied, sounds were more crisp and a profusion of noises he couldn’t hear as a human suddenly vied for his attention: the sound of the wind on the rocks, the harmonics of the dogs’ voices, and the scents… simply incomparable. He wished he had kept the ham for himself.
“It’s a fox!” barked a voice.
“Let’s kill it!” said another.
“Where’s the two-legged gone?” asked a young dog.
“Who cares? It brought us meat. It’s gone. Let’s eat!”
Fox suddenly regretted he had made a full change.
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