Nora woke to the sun streaming in the little dormer window in the attic bedroom. She stretched under the feather quilt and her feet encountered the cool air, an intoxicating contrast to the snug warmth of the bed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so well and was reluctant to awaken fully and confront the day. She felt peaceful and rested, and oddly, at home.
Unfortunately that thought roused her to sit and frown, and look around the room. The dust was dancing in the sunbeams and rivulets of condensation trickled down the window panes. A small statue of an owl was silhouetted on the sill, and a pitcher of dried herbs or flowers, strands of spider webs sparkled like silver thread between the desiccated buds.
An old whicker chair in the corner was piled with folded blankets and bed linens, and the bookshelf behind it ~ Nora threw back the covers and padded over to the books. Why were they all facing the wall? The spines were at the back, with just the pages showing. Intrigued, Nora extracted a book to see what it was, just as a gentle knock sounded on the door.
Yes? she said, turning, placing the book on top of the pile of bedclothes on the chair, her thoughts now on the events of the previous night.
“I expect you’re ready for some coffee!” Will called brightly. Nora opened the door, smiling. What a nice man he was, making her so welcome, and such a pleasant evening they’d spent, drinking sweet home made wine and sharing stories. It had been late, very late, when he’d shown her to her room. Nora has been tempted to invite him in with her (very tempted if the truth be known) and wasn’t quite sure why she hadn’t.
“I slept so well!” she said, thanking him as he handed her the mug. “It looks like a lovely day today,” she added brightly, and then frowned a little. She didn’t really want to leave. She was supposed to continue her journey, of course she knew that. But she really wanted to stay a little bit longer.
“I’ve got a surprise planned for lunch,” he said, “and something I’d like to show you this morning. No rush!” he added with a twinkly smile.
Nora beamed at him and promptly ditched any thoughts of continuing her trip today.
“No rush” she repeated softly.
“Will you look at these prices!” exclaimed one of the middle aged ladies.
Privately, Tara called them the miserable old bag and the crazy old witch, or Mob and Cow for ease of reference. Anyway, it was Mob who was banging on about the prices.
“Feel free to take yourself somewhere cheaper to eat,” she snarled.
“Oh, no, that’s okay, as long as you’re happy paying these outrageous prices.”
Cow cackled. “I’ve not eaten for a month so bugger the prices! Not that I need to eat, airs good enough for me seeing as I have special powers. Still, a raspberry bun wouldn’t go amiss. Thank you, Ladies!”
“Sorry, I were trying to help,” she said with a shrug.
Tara scanned the room. The only other people in the cafe were an elderly gentleman reading the newspaper and a bedraggled mother with two noisy snot-bags in tow. Tara shuddered and turned her attention to the elderly man. “Those deep wrinkles and wasted muscles look genuine,” she whispered to Star. “There’s nobody here who could possibly be Vince French. I’m going to go and keep watch by the door.”
“Good thinking,” said Star, after covertly checking her Lemoon quote of the day app on her phone; she realised uneasily she was increasingly relying on it for guidance. “There’s a sunny seat over there; I’ll grab a coffee and look inconspicuous by doing nothing. I don’t want to blow our cover.”
Tara glared at her. “I saw you checking your app! What did the oracle say?”
“Oh, just some crazy stuff.” She laughed nervously. “There is some kind of peace in not feelign like there’s anythign to do.”
“Well that’s not going to get us far, is it now?”
“Never again,” said Tara, pouring her second black coffee. “I’m done with these hangovers. You’ll have to find someone else to drink with from now on.”
“You say that every week, Tara. What are we going to do next? We’re floundering. We don’t even have a plan. Everything we do takes us further away from the case. I don’t even remember what the case is!”
“Here, have some more coffee. Don’t roll your eyes at me like that, cases are always like this, they always go through this phase.” Tara wasn’t in the mood for this kind of depressing talk, it was much too complicated. Surely it was simply a matter of drinking another coffee, until everything fell back into place.
“Cases do, do they?” Star asked, “Do they really? And what phase would that be, and how would you know?”
“Snarky tart, yes they do. I’ve been researching things you know, not just swanning around. We’ve reached the part of the case where nothing makes sense and the investigators don’t know what to do next. It’s an essential part of the process, everyone knows that. The important thing is not to try and work things out too early. The danger is preconceived ideas, you see,” Tara pontificated, warming to the theme.
“I can assure you that I have no preconceived ideas because I have no clue what’s going to happen next,” replied Star, trying not to roll her eyes too obviously. She knew from experience not to provoke Tara too much until at least the third cup of coffee.
“Precisely!” Tara said triumphantly. “Now it will all start to come together and make sense. ”
Star didn’t look convinced. “What are we going to do about the middle aged lady we locked in the wardrobe last night, though?”
“What did we do that for?!” asked Tara in astonishment.
“I can’t remember. Maybe we thought it was Aunt April?”
“Wait, if Aunt April isn’t in the wardrobe, then where is she?”
“That’s what I”m saying!” cried Star in exasperation. “What do we do next?”
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 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.”
Helle Jorid, my Whale friend.
I dreamt I sailed on one of those ancient ships made of wood with no engine other than the wind and man power.
In the dream we were very few and not all there by choice. Chased after by some kind of police force we, a motley bunch of people found ourselves on that ship by chance. I saw one man on the dock pass by and cut the big rope that held the ship still.
As the rope limply hanged from the mooring post, I watched the ship being guided away by the backwash from its mooring place to the ocean. At that moment someone wanted to disembark and I heard myself say : In your dreams! It’s too late we’re on the open sea now.
I think someone mentioned a captain Cook, but I’m not sure as I never saw the guy. Maybe it was merely a cook, but did we really need it? As I went deeper into the ship I found a wonderful meeting room with all the technological comfort of TV sets embedded in the walls and loads of electrical plugs at the end of mechanical arms coming out of these same walls. Surely there were microwave oven and tons of dehydrated food.
But our attention was still on the discovery of the treasures hidden in the heart of that ship. There was a circular sofa set around a nice coffee table. And we all settled comfortably there for a get together, happy we had escaped and seemed safe. None of us thought one second about where the wind and the gulf stream were taking us. I guess anywhere was better than what those men had in store for us.
I woke up. Alone at night. It was dark. My heart was pounding. Is that how we feel when we are in a lock down? I almost wrote placed under house arrest. What’s the difference apart the name to make us think it’s different?
Was the ship the symbol of our longing for freedom? It’s still the same place moving around on water. Even if the place move around, we can’t move away from it and from the flatness of the ocean. I wonder. I wonder if I stayed longer in that dream what would have happened? A storm? An interesting encounter? Like a whale. How would I know unless I write the rest of the story?
“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.”
Tibu preferred selling second hand books to selling watches, for he could read them while waiting for customers instead of watching the minutes and hours tick by. Maybe that’s why they called them “watches”, he thought, because if you have one, you watch it. Too much, it would seem.
He was reading “The Perilous Treks of Lord Gustard Willoughby Ferguson” while sheltering from the pounding rain, huddled in the corner of an office building porch with a few dozen books piled onto an old blue blanket. He rarely sold any books, but passing strangers kindly brought him a coffee in a take away cup from time to time, or a sandwich or burger. The more thoughtful ones dropped some money into the upturned bowler hat that he’d found in the bin, so that he could choose tea, which he preferred, or some fruit, which he preferred to burgers. One of the regular office girls, a fresh faced young looking redhead, brought him a brand new lighter one day, after noticing him asking for a light the day before. She was a good listener, and often stood beside him silently listening to him read aloud from one of his books.
WIB (workman in blue) opened his lunch box and unwrapped a sandwich. He sighed when he saw it was cheese and pickle again. It had been cheese and pickle all week, a sure sign that WAH (woman at home) wasn’t giving him the attention he deserved, throwing the easiest thing together day after day instead of planning a nice roast chicken dinner, with the prospect of a couple of days of savoury chicken sandwiches to take to work. She hadn’t even bothered to boil up a few hard boiled eggs for a bit of variety. He loved egg sandwiches. He wasn’t a hard man to please, he ruminated dolefully, chewing the cheese and pickle.
He reached for his flask to wash it down with a gulp of tea, and noticed with some surprise that she’d bought him a new flask. His old one had a few dents in the screw on cup, and this one looked all shiny and new. Anxious to wash down the cheesy lump in his throat, he unscrewed the cap and poured the flask over the cup.
But there was no tea in the flask, nothing poured out of it. He peered inside and shook it.
“That woman’s lost her marbles!”
It was the last straw. He stood up, shook the flask above his head, and roared incoherently.
“Everything alright, mate?” asked his work colleague mildly. WIB2 was contentedly munching a juicy pink ham sandwich. He even had a packet of crisps to go with it, WIB1 noticed.
“No tea? Fancy some of my coffee? Pass yer cup. What’s in the flask then, what’s rattling?”
WAB1 sat back down on the low wall and upended the flask, pulling at a bit of black stuff that was protruding from the top.
““Maybe it’s full of banknotes!” WIB2 suggested.
“It’s a fucking doll! What the..?”
“Why did your old lady put a doll in your flask instead of tea, mate? Private joke or something, bit of a lark?” WIB2 elbowed WIB1 in the ribs playfully. “No?” he responded to WIB1’s scowl. “Maybe there’s something stitched inside it, then.”
“Lucinda, where is this going?”
“I don’t fucking know, Helper Effy.”
“I thought as much. Perhaps we’d better go back to the beginning.”
“We can’t leave ‘er ‘ere, you daft cow,” said Mavis. “Lucky for ‘er, I got a bit of summat wot’ll ‘elp.”
“I’ll ‘ave you know I lost a pound last week,” retorted Sharon, taking umbrage at the reference to her weight.
Gloria cast a critical eye at Sharon’s thighs spilling out of the sides of the rocking chair and replied, “Yes, but you found it again in the meantime. But never mind that, whatcha got there, our Mavis?”
“Ooh, is that something from the doctor?” asked Sharon, eyeing the little packet of blue powder that Mavis was carefully pouring into a little heap on the glass topped coffee table. Gloria tittered and glanced at Mavis, who merely rolled her eyes.
“It aint all for ‘er, though is it?” Gloria faked a loud yawn. “I need waking up a bit myself.”
“It is a rather peculiar mystery indeed, don’t you think.” Liz leaned suggestively towards the Inspector. He had insisted to keep his trench-coat on, which for some reason she was finding incredibly alluring. It reminded her of all the fun she had in the past, playing her favourite character, Becky in tarty nun’s outfit. She made a mental note for the next costumed party.
“Some peanuts, Inspector?”
“Good gracious, no. I’m terribly allergic to nuts, but I’m partial to your delicious canapés.”
After a mouthful of tarragon cod pâté with capers, Walter leaned back and a little further from Liz and said “Mmm, delicious. Well, it is indeed quite a good mystery you’ve chosen to write about. All these keys, I love the idea. It sounds out of a spy novel, but I do wonder what are the connections, you see, in most crimes I’ve solved in the past,” he cleared his throat, taking the glass of red wine Finnley had just brought “there is always a good chance the culprit is closer than you know. The skill is always to find the hidden connection.”
“Aaah. I’m so glad you’re saying that Walter, I was telling them the same no later than this morning!”
She took a random ramekin from the coffee table “some peanuts?”.
It had been a day of full work for Ricardo, rather than his frequently dull work at the paper.
Connie and Hilda were crazily busy bouncing off bits of odd news to each other and it was a sort of playful banter that even had Sweet Sophie come out of her pre-lunch-post-lunch slumber that occasionally trailed until tea time.
News of the Rim had been scarce, there was no denying. Honestly, he wondered how Bossy M’am managed to still pay the bills and their wages, however meager those (or his) were. He giggled thinking about how she probably scared the debt collectors off their wits with her best impersonation of Johnny Depp playing Jack Sparrow playing Tootsie meets Freddy Krueger.
Speaking of which, he couldn’t help but eavesdrop, while pretending to clean the coffee cups and the butter knives full of vegemite and scone crumbs.
“Dolls! Are you daft? What about all those crop circles in France instead?”
“Listen, you decrepit tart, I’m telling you there’s plenty to investigate about this Findmy stuff group. Secret dolls scattered around the world, masonic occult secret symbols…”
“Hardly matter for an insert on 4th page, dear. While on the other hand, elongated skulls, secret underground bases in Antarctica…”
“We talked about this! Conspiracy theories are off limits! We only want the real stuff, the odd happenings that hits your neighbour that you wouldn’t have known about without us reporting it! But dolls! that’s something, no?”
“Flimsy at best…”
“What else then?”
“I don’t know, seesh, what about Hundreds attending two frogs wedding in India ?”
“Already covered, too mainstream…”
“What about the Mothman of Tchernobyl?”
“We stopped cryptozoology, remember, after that pathetic chase after the trenchcoat ape that got us torpedoed in the other paper rags when we reported it without checking our facts?”
“Facts! FACTS! Don’t you get me started about FACTS!”
Suddenly, they both turned simultaneously at Ricardo, seemingly realizing his presence.
“Ric’, this cuppa isn’t going to make itself, dear.” They both said like a couple of creepily synched automatons.
The maid looked tersely and visibly annoyed at the lanky unkempt guy with the crazy eye.
“Do not bloody psst me, Godfrey! I’m not your run-of-the-mill hostess, for Flove’s sake.”
“Alright, alright. Come here, and don’t make a sound!”
“Don’t sulk, dear. What I’ve found here is nothing short of a breathrough – pardon my typo, I mean of a breakthrough.”
“Oh Good Lord, spit it out already, and I mean it metaphorically. I haven’t got all day, you know,… places to clean, all that.”
“Look at that!”
Godfrey handed her a pile of typed papers.
“Well, what’s about it? It does look a bit too neat and coffee-stain free, but the style is unmistakable. Long nonsensical babble, random words and characters, illogical sentence structure and improbable settings… That’s all you have psst ed me for? Another of some old Liz garbage novels?”
“That’s it! Isn’t it genius?” Godfrey looked at Finnley with an air of sheer madness. “You know Liz hasn’t written in years now, nothing fresh at least. You’ve be one to endlessly complain about that. Something about needing the paper to clean the window glass.”
“Of course I remember.” She paused, considering the enormous improbability that had just been hinted at. “Do you mean it’s not hers?”
“Ahahaha, isn’t it brilliant! This is all written by a clever AI. I’ve called it Fliz 2.0 !”
Godfrey looked pleased at himself “and to think it only took Fliz 44 minutes to spit the entire 888 pages novel!”
Bea absentmindedly glanced over at her trash can as she sipped her coffee. Not much in there to rummage through, just a couple of paper handkerchiefs and several thousand of the minute flying ants that accumulated daily on her desk. No clues in there for nosy staff to sneak a look at, she thought to herself. Wastepaper baskets, what a waste of space.
The red woman led Shawn Paul through small busy streets. Shawn Paul had never seen that many people with dogs and parked bikes all gathered in strategic places each time he was about to catch up on her. He swore he could hear her giggle.
Eventually she entered a cafe called Red Beans. Shawn Paul steered through white tables and chairs made of wrought iron and followed her in, breathless. He had never seen the point in running before. But he still wasn’t sure why he had to catch her. What would he do? Talk to her? Ask her what she did perched on trees and smiling?
There seemed to be only the bartender who was busy with a huge coffee machine, hissing like a locomotive. A colour, a movement on his right made Shawn Paul turn, and he just had the time to catch sight of a red hat going down the stairs. She certainly went to the toilets. He thought that maybe following her downstairs would be too creepy, but at the same time he didn’t want the bartender to talk to him either.
So he went down and waited at the door. The lock was red, showing someone was inside.
Shawn Paul waited. There were many flyers of parties and events pinned on a wall, but he wasn’t the party guy and his eyes flew over the messy images and texts that seemed scattered on the wall.
After five minutes he wondered if something had happened and pushed the door. It was open and the lock was broken, always showing red. He tutted and shook his head. He had been foolish, he thought. There has certainly been nobody there since the beginning. There was no girl sitting on trees with red sandals.
He got out of the cafe and was ready to walk back to his apartment with his granola cookies. When someone called him. He turned and stared at a girl and a guy having drinks on the Red Beans’ terrace.
“I was sure it was you, Shawn Paul,” said the girl. “I thought I recognised you when you ran inside earlier, but you seemed in such a hurry,” said a girl. She had a big grin and a pony tail.
Her face looked familiar, all rosy and cheeky. She had a nice jacquard sweater and a matching skirt, and she was waving at him cheerfully. Her cocktail was full of reds, blues and yellows.
“Remember me? Lucinda, from the apartment on the other side…” she added.
It suddenly dawned on him, they had met once or twice. She had said they should meet again, but they never had. He felt a bit trapped, not knowing what to say.
“Hi,” he said, and he looked at the guy. He had never met him, that he was sure of.
The guy looked as embarrassed as himself by the intrusion.
“Hi. I’m Jerk,” he said.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” asked Lucinda pointing at a flyer on the table. She took a sip of her cocktail.
Shawn Paul was about to decline with a ready made up excuse when he saw what was on the flyer. It was a big red balloon with a red hat on a starry background. It said “Reception of the French Ambassador. Free Buffet with Ferrero Rochers and Champagne”.
Shawn Paul pulled closer one of the heavy metal chairs and sat with them.
“Tell me more about it,” he said instead.
Granola allowed herself a few moments to bask in the glow of satisfaction. At least Lucinda had noticed the side bar suggestion she had implanted on the Face It web page, and had perused the ideas sufficiently to motivate her to try out one of the missions.
“Invite a random stranger to join you,” it had said, “to join you for coffee in a nearby cafe, or invite them home for dinner, or to see a movie.” The page had included numerous other suggestions, but that was the gist. They did warn the reader that often, people were suspicious and expected a scam of some kind, and if the random stranger exhibited more that a token display of wary caution, to leave them with a cheery wave, and thank them for helping you to practice your confidence boosting exercises. Under normal circumstances, providing the level of fear and distrust wasn’t too high, this approach usually rendered the random stranger more amenable to an approach in future.
In truth this wasn’t a difficult exercise for Lucinda, for she often spoke to random strangers and quite enjoyed it, although usually she didn’t extend that to personal invitations. But the Ask Aunt Idle Oracle had been droning on and on about interconnection being the primary factor in reducing signs of aging ~ yes, strange, but true: nothing to do with food or toxins or exercise after all ~ so the coincidence of Aunt Idle’s advice mirrored in the side bar suggestion registered sufficiently for Lucinda to actually remember it, and try it out on the bored looking fellow in the supermarket.
Only hesitating slightly before extending his hand to grip hers in a surprisingly firm handshake, he responded: “I’m Jerk. Pleased to meet you.”
Granola grinned from behind the pyramid of baked bean tins, and faded out of the scene. There was work to do on the side bar method for the next clue.
Jerk’s eyes flickered over to the baked beans, registering the peripheral movement, just in time to see a disembodied foot wearing a red sandal vanish into the somewhat heavy air of the canned goods aisle.
Maeve liked to make dolls. They were all quiet, and full of an inner life that would transport her in wild imaginary adventure while she was making them. She liked also to collect strange people and make them into her dolls.
She would often go to the mall, take a table at the coffee shop, and observe the daily life show for inspiration…
In the apartment next to hers, lived Shawn-Paul, a handsome bearded bachelor, who was a writer he’d said. She had not made him into a doll, not that he wasn’t doll material, he seemed weirdo plenty, but she noted there were subtleties to the character she wanted to explore more.
“Are you ready?” Ailill, had a blue suede hat this time. He liked to change his headpiece regularly to fit his mood, but somehow couldn’t or wouldn’t change it to any other color than blue.
Granola wasn’t sure she would be ready to pop-in properly. She still had to build her character a little bit. She would have only mere seconds each time to make an impression, a glance was all it took at times. Something had to attract attention.
“I think you’re plenty ready” Ailill smiled as he pushed her in the downward spiral that had appeared at their feet. He jumped right after her.
The garden was becoming too small for Gorrash. With time, the familiarity had settled down in his heart and he knew very well each and every stone or blade of grass there was to know. With familiarity, boredom was not very far. Gorrash threw a small pebble in the pond, he was becoming restless and his new and most probably short friendship with Rainbow had triggered a seed in his heart, the desire to know more about the world.
Before he’d met the creature, Gorrash could remember the pain and sadness present in the heart of his maker. He had thought that was all he needed to know about the world, that mankind was not to be trusted. And he had avoided any contact with that dragon lady, lest she would hurt him. He knew that all came from his maker, although he had no real access to the actual memories, only to their effects.
Gorrash threw another pebble into the pond, it made a splashing sound which dissolved into the silence. He imagined the sound was like the waves at the surface of the pond, going endlessly outward into the world. He imagined himself on top of those waves, carried away into the world. A shiver ran through his body, which felt more like an earthquake than anything else, stone bodies are not so flexible after all. He looked at the soft glowing light near the bush where Rainbow was hiding. The memory of joy and love he had experienced when they hunted together gave his current sadness a sharp edge, biting into his heart mercilessly. He thought there was nothing to be done, Rainbow would leave and he would be alone again.
His hand reached in his pocket where he found the phial of black potion he had kept after Rainbow refused it. He shook it a few times. Each time he looked at it, Gorrash would see some strange twirls, curls and stars in the liquid that seemed made of light. He wondered what it was. What kind of liquid was so dark to the point of being luminous sometimes ? The twirls were fascinating, leading his attention to the curls ending in an explosion of little stars. Had the witch captured the night sky into that bottle?
Following the changes into the liquid was strangely soothing his pain. Gorrash was feeling sleepy and it was a very enjoyable feeling. Feelings were quite new to him and he was quite fascinated by them and how they changed his experience of the world. The phial first seemed to pulse back and forth into his hand, then the movement got out and began to spread into his body which began to move back and forth, carried along with this sensual lullaby. Gorrash wondered if it would go further, beyond his body into the world. But as the thought was born, the feeling was gone and he was suddenly back into the night. A chill went down his spine. It was the first time. The joy triggered his sadness again.
The dwarf looked at the dark phial. Maybe it could help ease his pain. He opened it, curious and afraid. What if it was poison? said a voice of memory. Gorrash dismissed it as the scent of Jasmine reached his nose. His maker was fond of Jasmine tea, and he was surprised at the fondness that rose in his heart. But still no images, it was merely voices and feelings. Sometimes it was frustrating to only have bits and never the whole picture, and full of exasperation, Gorrash gulped in the dark substance.
Nothing was happening. He could still hear the cooing of Rainbow, infatuated with it eggs, he could hear the scratches of the shrews, the flight of the insects. That’s when Gorrash noticed something was different as he was beginning to hear the sharp cries of the bats above. He tried to move his arm to look at the phial, but his body was so heavy. He had never felt so heavy in his short conscious life, even as the light of the Sun hardened his body, it was not that heavy.
The soil seemed to give way under his increasing weight, the surface tension unable to resist. He continued to sink into the ground, down the roots of the trees, through the tunnels of a brown moles quite surprised to see him there, surrounded by rocks and more soil, some little creatures’ bones, and down he went carried into hell by the weight of his pain.
After some time, his butt met a flat white surface, cold as ice, making him jump back onto his feet. The weird heaviness that a moment before froze his body was gone. He looked around, he was in a huge cave and he was not alone. There was an old woman seated crosslegged on a donkey skin. Gorrash knew it was a donkey because it still had its head, and it was smiling. The old woman had hair the colour of the clouds before a storm in summer, It was full of knots and of lightning streaks twirling and curling around her head. Her attention was all on the threads she had in her hands. Gorrash counted six threads. But she was doing nothing with them. She was very still and the dwarf wondered if she was dead or asleep.
What do you want? asked the donkey head in a loud bray.
It startled the dwarf but it didn’t seem to bother the old lady who was still entranced and focused on her threads.
Nothing, said Gorrash who couldn’t think of anything he would want.
Nonsense, brayed the donkey, laughing so hard that the skin was shaking under the old lady. Everyone wants something. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something.
Gorrash thought about what he could want, what he had been wanting that night. He remembered his desire to get out of the garden.
And there you are, brayed the donkey head, that’s a start. What do you want then?
Getting out of the garden?
Noooo! That’s a consequence of a deeper desire, but that’s not what you want.
I have never thought about desires before, said Gorrash. It’s pretty new to me. I just came to life a few weeks ago during a full moon.
The donkey head tilted slightly on its right. No excuses, it spat, If you’re awake, then you have a desire in your heart that wants to be fulfilled. What do you want? Take your time, but not too long. The universe is always on the move and you may miss the train, or the bus, or the caravan…
As the donkey went on making a list of means of transportation, Gorrash looked hesitantly at the old lady. She was still focused on her six threads she had not moved since he had arrived there.
Who is she? he asked to the donkey.
_She’s known by many names and has many titles. She’s Kumihimo Weaver of Braids, Ahina Maker of Songs, Gadong Brewer of Stews…
Ok! said Gorrash, not wanting the donkey go on again into his list enumeration pattern. What is she doing?
And, what is she waiting for?
She’s waiting for the seventh thread, brayed the donkey head. I’m also waiting for the thread, it whined loudly. She won’t leave my back until she’s finished her braid. The head started to cry, making the dwarf feel uncomfortable. Suddenly it stopped and asked And, who are you?
The question resonated in the cave and in his ears, taking Gorrash by surprise. He had no answer to that question. He had just woken up a few weeks ago in that garden near the forest, with random memories of a maker he had not known, and he had no clue what he desired most. Maybe if he could access more memories and know more about his maker that would help him know what he wanted.
Good! brayed the donkey, We are making some progress here. Now if you’d be so kind as to give her a nose hair, she could have her last thread and she could tell you where to find your maker.
Hope rose in Gorrash’s heart. Really?
Certainly, brayed the head with a hint of impatience.
But wouldn’t a nose hair be too short for her braid? asked the dwarf. All the other threads seemed quite long to him.
Don’t waste my time with such triviality. Pull it out!
Gorrash doubted it would work but he grabbed a nose hair between his thumb and index and began to pull. He was surprised as he didn’t feel the pain he expected but instead the hair kept being pulled out. He felt annoyed and maybe ashamed that it was quite long and he had not been aware of it. He took out maybe several meters long before a sudden pain signalled the end of the operation. Ouch!
hee haw, laughed the donkey head.
The pain brought out the memory of a man, white hair, the face all wrinkled, a long nose and a thin mouth. He was wearing a blouse tightened at his waist by a tool belt. He was looking at a block of stone wondering what to make out of it, and a few tears were rolling down his cheeks. Gorrash knew very well that sadness, it was the sadness inside of him. Many statues surrounded the man in what looked like a small atelier. There were animals, gods, heads, hands, and objects. The vision shifted to outside the house, and he saw trees and bushes different than the ones he was used to in the garden where he woke up. Gorrash felt a strange feeling in his heart. A deep longing for home.
Now you have what you came here for. Give the old lady her thread, urged the donkey. She’s like those old machines, you have to put a coin to get your coffee.
Gorrash had no idea what the donkey was talking about. He was still under the spell of the vision. As soon as he handed the hair to the woman, she began to move. She took the hair and combined it to the other threads, she was moving the threads too swiftly for his eyes to follow, braiding them in odd patterns that he felt attracted to.
Time for you to go, said the donkey.
I’d like to stay a bit longer. What she’s doing is fascinating.
Oh! I’m sure, brayed the donkey, But you have seen enough of it already. And someone is waiting for you.
The dwarf felt lighter. And he struggled as he began levitating. What!? His body accelerated up through the earth, through the layers of bones and rocks, through the hard soil and the softer soil of years past. He saw the brown mole again and the familiar roots of the trees of the garden in the enchanted forest.
Gorrash took a deep breath as he reintegrated his stone body. He wobbled, trying to catch his ground. He felt like throwing up after such an accelerated trip. His knees touched the ground and he heard a noise of broken glass as he dropped the phial.
“Are you alright?” asked a man’s voice. Gorrash forced his head up as a second wave of nausea attempted to get out. A man in a dark orange coat was looking down at him with genuine worry on his face.
“I’m good,” said the dwarf. “But who are you?”
“My name is Fox. What’s yours?”
Eventually Eleri fell back to sleep, warmed by her memories. She was awakened by the sound of a flute and the sun streaming in the window. Realizing she had overslept and that it would now be impossible to slip away unseen at dawn, she lay there watching the dust particles dancing in the shaft of light. The motes swirled and jigged as if to the lilting tune and the temptation was strong to drift off into another reverie, but Eleri roused herself. Stretching, she inched the blankets back. The tile floor was chilly on her bare feet so she inched over to the sunlit square, pleasantly surprised to find her body felt rejuvenated somehow, supple and limber. She made a mental note to remember to appreciate that, while simultaneously mulling over the ensuing inevitable encounter with Leroway.
Maybe she had avoided him too long, and it was no longer necessary. It had become a habit, perhaps, to keep out of his way, automatic. She dressed quickly, for it was a chilly morning despite the sun, and slipped down the attic stairs in search of a hot drink. Hippy tea they used to call it, back in the days when everyone preferred coffee but felt that herbal teas were more beneficial, but coffee was hard to come by these days, and the various hippy teas were welcome enough.
Pausing before entering the kitchen, Eleri frowned. Surely that was Yorath’s voice? What was he doing here? They had parted ways the previous morning, Yorath heading for the city and then on to other places, his rucksack of elerium replaced with dried mushrooms. She had hugged him and thanked him, and set off up the hill towards the mountain village to see her friend, wondering when he would return.
Eleri remained standing behind the kitchen door, listening. Leroway and Yorath were deep in conversation. Her mouth was dry and she badly wanted to visit the outhouse, but she didn’t want to interrupt their flow. They were talking about the bamboo forest.
She continued to eavesdrop, wondering where the rambling and seemingly aimless discussion was going.
As the crow flies, Glenville is about 100 miles from the Forest of Enchantment.
“What a pretty town!” tourists to the area would exclaim, delighted by the tree lined streets and quaint houses with thatched roofs and brightly painted exteriors. They didn’t see the dark underside which rippled just below the surface of this exuberant facade. If they stayed for more than a few days, sure enough, they would begin to sense it. “Time to move on, perhaps,” they would say uneasily, although unsure exactly why and often putting it down to their own restless natures.
Glynis Cotfield was born in one of these houses. Number 4 Leafy Lane. Number 4 had a thatched roof and was painted a vibrant shade of yellow. There were purple trims around each window and a flower box either side of the front door containing orange flowers which each spring escaped their confines to sprawl triumphantly down the side of the house.
Her father, Kevin Cotfield, was a bespectacled clerk who worked in an office at the local council. He was responsible for building permits and making sure people adhered to very strict requirements to ‘protect the special and unique character of Glenville’.
And her mother, Annelie … well, her mother was a witch. Annelie Cotfield came from a long line of witches and she had 3 siblings, all of whom practised the magical arts in some form or other.
Uncle Brettwick could make fire leap from any part of his body. Once, he told Glynis she could put her hand in the fire and it wouldn’t hurt her. Tentatively she did. To her amazement the fire was cold; it felt like the air on a frosty winter’s day. She knew he could also make the fire burning hot, if he wanted. Some people were a little scared of her Uncle Brettwick and there were occasions—such as when Lucy Dickwit told everyone at school they should spit at Glynis because she came from an ‘evil witch family’—when she used this to her advantage.
“Yes, and I will tell my Uncle to come and burn down your stinking house if you don’t shut your stinking stupid mouth!” she said menacingly, sticking her face close to Lucy’s face. “And give me your bracelet,” she added as an after thought. It had worked. She got her peace and she got the bracelet.
Aunt Janelle could move objects with her mind. She set up a stall in the local market and visitors to the town would give her money to watch their trinkets move. “Lay it on the table”, she would command them imperiously. “See, I place my hands very far from your coin. I do not touch it. See?” Glynis would giggle because Aunt Janelle put on a funny accent and wore lots of garish makeup and would glare ferociously at the tourists.
But Aunt Bethell was Glynis’s favourite—she made magic with stories. “I am the Mistress of Illusions,” she would tell people proudly. When Glynis was little, Aunt Bethell would create whole stories for her entertainment. When Glynis tried to touch the story characters, her hand would go right through them. And Aunt Bethell didn’t even have to be in the same room as Glynis to send her a special magical story. Glynis adored Aunt Bethell.
Her mother, Annelie, called herself a healer but others called her a witch. She concocted powerful healing potions using recipes from her ’Big Book of Spells’, a book which had belonged to Annelie’s mother and her mother before her. On the first page of the book, in spindly gold writing it said: ‘May we never forget our LOVE of Nature and the Wisdom of Ages’. When Glynis asked what the ‘Wisdom of Ages’ meant, her mother said it was a special knowing that came from the heart and from our connection with All That Is. She said Glynis had the Wisdom of Ages too and then she would ask Glynis to gather herbs from the garden for her potions. Glynis didn’t think she had any particular wisdom and wondered if it was a ploy on her mother’s part to get free labour. She obeyed grudgingly but drew the line at learning any spells. And on this matter her father sided with her. “Don’t fill her mind with all that hocus pocus stuff,” he would say grumpily.
Despite this, the house was never empty; people came from all over to buy her mother’s potions and often to have their fortunes told as well. Mostly while her father was at work.
Glynis’s best friend when she was growing up was Tomas. Tomas lived at number 6 Leafy Lane. They both knew instinctively they shared a special bond because Tomas’s father also practised magic. He was a sorcerer. Glynis was a bit scared of Tomas’s Dad who had a funny crooked walk and never spoke directly to her. “Tell your friend you must come home now, Tomas,” he would call over the fence.
Being the son of a sorcerer, Tomas would also be a sorcerer. “It is my birthright,” he told her seriously one day. Glynis was impressed and wondered if Tomas had the Wisdom of Ages but it seemed a bit rude to ask in case he didn’t.
When Tomas was 13, his father took him away to begin his sorcery apprenticeship. Sometimes he would be gone for days at a time. Tomas never talked about where he went or what he did there. But he started to change: always a quiet boy, he became increasingly dark and brooding.
Glynis felt uneasy around this new Tomas and his growing possessiveness towards her. When Paul Ackleworthy asked her to the School Ball, Tomas was so jealous he broke Paul’s leg. Of course, nobody other than Glynis guessed it was Tomas who caused Paul’s bike to suddenly wobble so that he fell in the way of a passing car.
“You could have fucking killed him!” she had shouted at Tomas.
Tomas just shrugged. This was when she started to be afraid of him.
One day he told her he was going for his final initiation into the ‘Sorcerer Fraternity’.
“I have to go away for quite some time; I am not sure how long, but I want you to wait for me, Glynis.”
“Wait for you?”
He looked at her intensely. “It is destined for us to be together and you must promise you will be here for me when I get back.”
Glynis searched for her childhood friend in his eyes but she could no longer find him there.
“Look, Tomas, I don’t know,” she stuttered, wary of him, unwilling to tell the truth. “Maybe we shouldn’t make any arrangements like this … after all you might be away for a long time. You might meet someone else even …. some hot Sorceress,” she added, trying not to sound hopeful.
Suddenly, Glynis found herself flying. A gust of wind from nowhere lifted her from her feet, spun her round and then held her suspended, as though trying to decide what to do next, before letting her go. She landed heavily at Tomas’s feet.
“Ow!” she said angrily.
“Okay! I promise!” she said.
That evening there was a gathering of Uncle Brettwick and the Aunts. There was much heated discussion which would cease abruptly when Glynis or her father entered the room. “Alright, dearie?” one of the Aunts would say, smiling way too brightly. And over the following days and weeks there was a flurry of magical activity at 4 Leafy Lane, all accompanied by fervent and hushed whisperings.
Glynis knew they were trying to help her, and was grateful, but after the initial fear, she became defiant. “Who the hell did he think he was, anyway?” She left Glenville to study architecture at the prestigious College of Mugglebury. It was there she met Conway, who worked in the cafe where she stopped for coffee each morning on her way to class. They fell in love and moved in together, deciding that as soon as Glynis had graduated they would marry. It had been 4 years since she had last seen Tomas and he was now no more than a faint anxious fluttering in her chest.
It was a Friday when she got the news that Conway had driven in the path of an oncoming truck and was killed instantly. She knew it was Friday because she was in the supermarket buying supplies for a party that weekend to celebrate her exams being over when she got the call. And it was the same day Tomas turned up at her house.
And it was then she knew.
“You murderer!” she had screamed through her tears. “Kill me too, if you want to. I will never love you.”
“You’ve broken my heart,” he said. “And for that you must pay the price. If I can’t have you then I will make sure no-one else wants you either.”
“You don’t have a heart to break,” she whispered.
Dragon face,” Tomas hissed as he left.
Glynis returned to Glenville just long enough to tell her family she was leaving again. “No, she didn’t know where,” she said, her heart feeling like stone. Her mother and her Aunts cried and begged her to reconsider. Her Uncle smouldered in silent fury and let off little puffs of smoke from his ears which he could not contain. Her father was simply bewildered and wanted to know what was all the fuss about and for crying out loud why was she wearing a burka?
The day she left her mother gave her the ‘Book of Spells”. Glynis knew how precious this book was to her mother but could only think how heavy it would be to lug around with her on her journey.
“Remember, Glynis,” her mother said as she hugged Glynis tightly to her, “the sorcerers have powerful magic but it is a mere drop in the ocean in comparison to the magic of All That Is. You have that great power within you and no sorcerer can take take that from you. You have the power to transform this into something beautiful.”
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