Everyone seems happy about the rain, and I don’t blame them. I’m not daft, I know we need rain but it’s not so easy when you don’t have a home. But I am nothing if not stalwart and stoic, resourceful and adaptable, and I found a good way to keep warm and dry during the downpours. It’s amazing how much heat an animal gives off, so I camp down in stables or kennels when it’s cold and wet. It can get a bit smelly, but it’s warm and dry and when my clothes are damp and stinking I just throw them all away and get some new ones out of the recycling bins. Just to clarify, I find the new clothes first before throwing the ones I’m wearing away. I’m not daft, I know walking around naked would catch attention and I try to stay under the radar. Nobody really notices smelly old ladies wandering around these days anyway, but naked would be another matter.
There’s a stable I really like just outside of town, lots of nice deep clean straw. There’s a white horse in there that knows me now and the gentle whicker of recognition when she sees me warms my heart. I don’t stay there any two nights running though. One thing I’ve learned is don’t do anything too regular, keep it random and varied. I don’t want anyone plotting my movements and interfering with me in any way.
There’s not much to do in a stable when it rains for days and nights on end but remember things, so I may as well write them down. I’m never quite sure if the things I remember are my memories or someone elses, a past life of my own perhaps, or another person entirely. I used to worry a bit about that, but not anymore. Nobody cares and there’s nobody to flag my memories as false, and if there was, I wouldn’t care if they did.
Anyway, the other day while I was nestled in a pile of sweet hay listening to the thunder, I recalled that day when someone offered me a fortune for that old mirror I’d bought at the flea market. I know I hadn’t paid much for it, because I never did pay much for anything. Never have done. I bought it because it was unusual (hideous is what everyone said about it, but people have got very strangely ordinary taste, I’ve found) and because it was cheap enough that I could buy it without over thinking the whole thing. At the end of the day you can’t beat the magic of spontaneity, it out performs long winded assessment every time.
So this man was a friend of a friend who happened to visit and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse so of course I sold the mirror to him. He was so delighted about it that I’d have given him the mirror for nothing if I knew he wanted it that much, but I’m not daft, I took the money. I found out later that he’d won the lottery, so I never felt guilty about it.
Well, after he’d gone I sat there looking at this pile of money in my hands and knew exactly what I was going to do. But first I had to find them. They’d moved again and we’d lost contact but I knew I’d find a way. And I did. They’d given up all hope of ever getting that money back that I’d borrowed, but they said the timing was perfect, couldn’t have been better, they said. It wouldn’t have meant all that much to them if I’d paid it back right away, they said, because they didn’t need it then as much as they did when they finally got it back.
They were strange times back then, and one thing after another was happening all over the world, what with the strange weather, and all the pandemics and refugees. Hard to keep food on the table, let alone make plans or pay debts back. But debt is a funny thing. I felt stung when I realized they didn’t think I intended to pay them back but the fact was, I couldn’t do it at the time. And I wanted it to be a magical perfect timing surprise when I did. I suppose in a way I wanted it to be like it was when they loaned me the money. I remember I wept at the kindness of it. Well I didn’t want them to weep necessarily, but I wanted it to mean something wonderful, somehow. And timing is everything and you can’t plan that kind of thing, not really.
It was a happy ending in the end though, I gave them the whole amount I got for that old mirror, which was considerably more than the loan.
The rain has stopped now and the sun is shining. My damp clothes are steaming and probably much smellier than I think. Time to find a recycling bin and a fresh new look.
I’ll admit Mater did well with the get back into shape programme, despite my skepticism. She did hone her muscles a bit, but she was still harping on about wanting plastic surgery. I probably shouldn’t have asked her if she was showing off her biceps or her bingo wings the other day, because that started her off again. I tried to make it up by complimenting her thigh muscles, but spoiled it by saying it was a shame the skin hung down past her kneecaps. Bert said maybe she could hold the skin up with some suspenders and made me spit my eucalyptus tea out and nearly choke to death. Mater was all set to take offence until she saw me choking, and then she started laughing too. I’m smiling remembering it, because we all saw the funny side then and couldn’t stop laughing for ages. God knows we needed a good laugh.
I’d had another one of those telepathic chats with Corrie the day before. If I’d known those silly girls were going to navigate their way here via that route I’d have said something, but I never thought they’d be so daft. There’s me envisioning a pleasant drift through the Mediterranean, and an unexpected sail across an immense shallow lake that had appeared in the middle east with crystal clear waters and a sandy bottom (I could picture it all, I tell you) and then an invitingly tropical trip along the Indian coast with ports of call at virgin new coastlines ~ but no, they’d gone the other way. Across the Atlantic. And now they were fighting off bandits every step of the way and having to go miles out of their way to avoid plague ridden slums. They hadn’t even made their way past the eastern seaboard yet, despite it being considerably narrower now.
They lost Pan for days in one of those half submerged coastal cities, rife with lawless floating shanties. I hope my impressions are wrong, I do really, but it seemed like he’d been kidnapped for a barbecue. Tender and juicy.
His ability to stay submerged under the water for so long saved him, that and Corrie’s ability to stay in telepathic contact with him.
They left the coastline and headed south after that and didn’t head back towards land for awhile but when they did, they found the lagoons and inlets were infested with alligators and some kind of water pig. Not sure if I picked that up right, but seems like the hogs had escaped from the farms during the Great Floods and taken to the water. Pan was forbidden to waterlark in these waters and had to stay confined to the raft.
I don’t know if they’ll get here in time for Mater’s birthday. Might be my hundredth birthday by the time they get here at this rate.
Those last few days have been hectic. But we finally arrived. I can’t believe we survived all those police controls and those christian mobs, and I didn’t know Kady was a adept at car borrowing.
I forgot my journal because it was on the computer and I didn’t take the computer. So I don’t know how to contact you, Whale, other than using the old method: with a pen and a sheet of paper. Max gave me this piece of wrapping in which Kady had put the chocolate. He said he can still reuse it later with the writing. He’s nice, although he doesn’t look like it. I think I like him.
However, the whole thing is not like I expected. Oh sure, the pistil itself is quite impressive: that lone and long stem coming out of that canyon and surrounded by those mountains in the distance. I’m talking about the camp. It’s like a refugee camp, and all of them avid to be able to go in somehow. I’m not sure what they expect. Kady hasn’t been in a sharing mood lately, and I haven’t asked that many questions. But she told Max we had to discuss before we go in tomorrow. So I’m feeling nervous about what I’ll learn tonight.
I’ve been told once: ask and you will receive. What am I supposed to know now? What am I supposed to do? Maybe that’s not the right question because I just got my voice telling me that I’m not supposed to know or do anything. Maybe supposed is not the right word. I’m too tired and excited at the same time to figure it out, but you get the gist I’m sure.
I didn’t have any more dreams. I’ve been watching the drawings in that book religiously every night of that trip before I go to sleep. Although I’m not truly sincere when I say that I didn’t have any more dreams. I had at least one that I recall. It was like some news about a parallel self, one that got the virus. I dreamt about that other me before, he couldn’t breath and it hurt. I had wondered if he had died because I didn’t have any more dreams about him, until last night. He seemed ok, he had recovered quite well considering the difficulties. He was at a gathering with other people at some kind of Lebanese buffet. I’m not too fond of the spicy merguez sausages, I prefer the hummus.
Max is calling, diner is ready. He’s made lasagna, apparently he makes the the best lasagna in the whole camp. I’m not sure when will be the next time I contact you so far Whale.
They walked through a labyrinth of tunnels which seemed to have been carved into a rocky mountain. The clicks and clacks of their high heels echoed in the cold silence meeting all of Sophie’s questions, leaving her wondering where they could be. Tightly held by her rompers she felt her fat mass wobbling like jelly around her skeleton. It didn’t help clear her mind which was still confused by the environment and the apparent memory loss concerning how she arrived there.
Sophie couldn’t tell how many turns they took before Barbara put her six fingers hand on a flat rock at shoulders height. The rock around the hand turned green and glowed for two seconds; then a big chunk of rock slid to the side revealing a well designed modern style room.
A little man was working at his desk. At least Sophie assumed it was his desk and that he was working. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bermudas. The computer screen he was looking at projected a greenish tint onto his face, and it made him look just like the green man icon. Sophie cackled, a little at first.
The Doctor’s hand tensed on the mouse and his eyebrows gathered like angry caterpillars ready to fight. He must have made a wrong move because a cascade of sound ending in a flop indicated he just died a death, most certainly on one of those facegoat addictive games.
That certainly didn’t help muffle Sophie’s cackle until she felt Barbara’s six fingers seizing her shoulders as if for a Vulcan nerve pinch. Sophie expected to lose consciousness, but the hand was mostly warm, except for that extra finger which was cold and buzzing. The contact of the hand upon the latex gave off little squeaky sounds that made Sophie feel uncomfortable. She swallowed her anxiety and wished for the woman to remove her hand. But as she had noticed more than once, wishes could take time and twists before they could be fulfilled.
“Why do you have to ruin everything every time?” asked the Doctor. His face was now red and distorted.
“Every time?” said Sophie confused.
“Yes! You took your sleeper agent role too seriously. We couldn’t get any valuable intel and the whole doll operation was a fiasco. We almost lost the magpies. And now, your taste for uncharted drugs, which as a parenthesis I confess I admire your dedication to explore unknown territories for science… Anyway, you were all day locked up into your boudoir trying to contact me while I just needed you to look at computer screens and attend to meetings.”
Sophie was too shocked to believe it. How could the man be so misinformed. She never liked computers and meetings, except maybe while looking online for conspiracy theories and aliens and going to comiccons. But…
“Now you’re so addict to the drugs that you’re useless until you follow our rehab program.”
“A rehab program?” asked Sophie, her voice shaking. “But…” That certainly was the spookiest thing she had heard since she had arrived to this place, and this made her speechless, but certainly not optionless. Without thinking she tried a move she had seen in movies. She turned and threw her mass into Barbara. The two women fell on the cold floor. Sophie heard a crack before she felt the pain in her right arm. She thought she ought to have persevered in her combat training course after the first week. But life is never perfect.
“Suffice!” said the Doctor from above. “You’ll like it with the other guests, you’ll see. All you have to do is follow the protocol we’ll give you each day and read the documentation that Barbara will give you.”
Sophie tried a witty answer but the pain was too much and it ended in a desperate moan.DevanParticipant
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.
Jerk had been tracking all of it. He’d done a nice map of all the location the both of them had travelled, with little animated pins for the dolls they’d collected.
It was a bit difficult to get them all to focus, and by them he didn’t mean the pins.
After Shawn-Paul and Maeve had come back home, their little lives at the building had resumed with some slight changes. For one, he’d finally realized through some fine deductive work worthy of Sherlock that Maeve was the one behind the dolls postings on his website. He was finally sure after a firewall update got her locked out of the website and she requested to get back in. Anyways, that made things easier, although they still mostly exchanged and discussed though the website despite them being front door neighbours on the same floor. But the arrangement was convenient, especially since Shawn-Paul had kind of unofficially moved in with her and Fabio.
He’d invited them in Lucinda’s apartment to do a little old fashioned slide show —Lucinda’s apartment was bigger he’d argued; and all the funny collection of paraphernalia she’d gathered on the walls and cabinets tops was always great to set the mood or do an improvised theme party. For sure, it didn’t have anything to do with the fact he wouldn’t need to clean up and push all the mess in the corners of his own apartment.
Lucinda was all excited. And not just by her new boyfriend Jasper. She wanted to make a book about their expedition, and everybody had immediately rolled their eyes. Books in this century, she must be the last one dinosaur raving about books.
The slide show started by the end. Where the dolls all ended up finally. La Isla de las Muñecas in Mexico: the Island of Dolls.
That’s when they were all appreciating the fitting finish line that the door bell rang.
“I’m here for Jasper.” he said ominously.
Realizing that she had to come up with a plan quickly to distract April from taking her pith helmet, June took a few deep breaths and calmed herself. It was true she was often flaky and disorganized, but in an emergency she was capable of acting swiftly and efficiently.
“Remember Jacqui who we met in Scotland at the Nanny and Au Pair convention? Called herself Nanny Gibbon and tried to pass herself off as Scottish?” April frowned, trying to remember. Europeans all looked the same to her. “Ended up with that eccentric family with all the strange goings on?” June prompted.
“Oh yes, now I remember. Wasn’t there an odd story about a mummy that had washed up from, where was it?”
“Alabama!” shouted June triumphantly. “Exactly!”
“Well excuse me for being dense, but how does that help?”
June leaned back into the sofa with a happy smile. April had forgotten all about the pith helmet and was now focused on the new plan. “Well,” she said, rearranging some scatter cushions behind her back into a more comfortable position, “Do you remember the woman who arrived with the mummy, Ella Marie? She stayed with Jacqui for a while and they became good friends. Apparently she loved that crazy Wrick family; Jacqui said Ella Marie felt right at home there. She would have stayed, but she missed her husband in the end and felt guilty about leaving him, so she went back to Alabama.”
Aprils eyes widened slightly as she started to understand. “Did they stay in contact?”
“Maybe they can find that baby for us,” April said, looking relieved. “Or at least swap it for that girl baby. Where did that come from anyway?”
Barron was not really a baby, more a toddler already. He was playing alone in his play fence, like he was usually left doing when his odd caretakers had gone for an escapade. After a while, he got bored cooing like a baby looking at shiny stuff and suckling at noisy things. After all, as not many had realized, he was blessed with a genius IQ — there was no point at hiding his smarts when no one was around.
The house bulldog was sleeping nearby, snoozing like a roaring motorbike. Apart from that, this part of the House was quiet. Occasionally he could hear gurgling sounds coming from the badly soundproofed pipes of the old building. Somebody was having an industrious bowel movement. Hardly news material, his father would have say.
He checked the e-zapwatch that his nannies had put on his wrist. Bad news. His kidnappers were late. He wondered if something had changed in the near perfect plan. Yet, he’d managed to have the money wired to the offshore account, while his contacts, codenames Jesús & Araceli (he wasn’t sure they were codenames at all) said it was in order for the baby abduction.
He could hear suspicious sounds outside; the bulldog barely registered. What if some acolytes in the plan had bailed out? The sounds at his bedroom’s window could be his abductors, waiting for a way in.
As usual, he would have to take matters in his own tiny hands, and let others get the credit for it.
He peeled off one side of the net and tumbled outside of the playpen. Damn, these bodies were so difficult to manœuvre at times. Reaching the window would be difficult but not impossible. After dragging a chair, and a pile of cushions, he hoisted himself finally at reach of the latch, and flung it open. The brisk cold air from outside made his nose itch, and it was the last thing he remembered while he smelled the chloroform.
Bert tells me it’s Christmas day today. Christmas! I just looked at him blankly when he told me, trying to bring to mind what it used to be like. I can’t remember the last time Christmas was normal. Probably around fifteen years ago, just before the six years of fires started. It’s a wonder we survived, but we did. Even Mater. God knows how old she is now, maybe Bert knows. He’s the one trying to keep track of the passing of time. I don’t know what for, he’s well past his sell by date, but seems to cling on no matter what, like Mater. And me I suppose.
We lost contact with the outside world over ten years ago (so Bert tells me, I wouldn’t know how long it was). It was all very strange at first but it’s amazing what you can get used to. Once you get over expecting it to go back to normal, that is. It took us a long time to give up on the idea of going back to normal. But once you do, it changes your perspective.
But don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad. We haven’t heard anything of the twins, not for a good ten years or more (you’d have to ask Bert how long) but I hear their voices in my head sometimes, and dream of them. In my dreams they’re always on the water, on a big flat raft boat. I love it when I dream of them and see all that water. Don’t ask me how, but I know they’re alright.
Anyway like I said, it hasn’t been all bad. Vulture meat is pretty tasty if you cook it well. The vultures did alright with it all, the sky was black with them at times, right after the droughts and the fires. But we don’t eat much these days, funny how you get used to that, too. We grow mushrooms down in the old mines (Bert’s idea, I don’t know what we’d do without him). And when the rains came, they were plentiful. More rain than we’d ever seen here.
Prune’s been back to see us once (you’d have to ask Bert when it was). She was on some kind of land sailing contraption, no good asking me what was powering the thing, there’s been no normal fuel for a good long time, none that’s come our way. Any time anyone comes (which is seldom) they come on camels or horses. One young family came passing through on a cart pulled by a cow once. But Prune came wafting in on some clever thing I’d never seen the likes of before. She didn’t stay long, she was going back to China, she said. It was all very different there, she said. Not all back to the dark ages like here, that’s what she said. But then, we were here in the first place because we liked a quiet simple life. Weren’t we? Hard to remember.
When Hilda received the message from her old friend Lucinda her first thought was Miss Bossy Pants award for the “Most Stylistic Synchronistic Article”. There was already a synchronicity because she’s also had a tip off from some guy calling himself “Superjerk”, which was also about dolls. If she followed the lead about the doll stories, and managed to connect them together, it could be the scoop of the year ~ whether or not there was an actual connection between them.
Hilda had made copious notes from the long and garbled telephone conversation with Lucinda about everything she knew thus far, and where she was stuck. Clearly the poor dear needed Hilda’s special expertise in following a lead and putting the clues together to form a picture. Admittedly Hilda didn’t always stick to facts ~ who did in journalism these days anyway! But she had an intuition that this was just what she needed to get her teeth into. It had been a boring year in the extreme reportage department. Extremely boring.
It had been years since Hilda had been in contact with Lucinda, and that had been on a remote viewing forum. Neither of them had been much good at it, but some of the other members had been brilliant, so it came in useful at times to use their expertise. Hilda made a mental note to rejoin that forum, if it still existed, or find another one. She changed her mind about the mental note, and jotted it down in her notebook. It was a good idea and could come in handy.
The short and cryptic note from the guy calling himself Superjerk didn’t provide much information other than the synchronicity, which was of course noteworthy. And he had provided the link to that website “findmydolls.com”. The story was already starting to show promising signs of weaving together.
Not wanting any of the other staff to cotton on to her new thread, Hilda told Miss Bossy Pants that she was going to investigate the “hum” in Cadiz. That peculiar Horns of Gabriel phenomenon that occurred randomly around the world had been heard over a wide area of Cadiz and Seville. Hilda had another old friend in that neck of the woods; so she could easily pretend she was there covering that story, with a bit of collaboration from her friend, while she embarked on the real journey to the Flying Fish Inn, in some godforsaken outpost of the outback.
That nosy Connie had somehow managed to find out about the whole thing, eavesdropping again no doubt, and Hilda had no option but to come clean with her and ask her to join her in ironing out the story. They would have to deal with Miss Bossy Pants later. If the scoop was the success that Hilda anticipated, then they would be getting an award, not a reprimand.
It was worth it. Hilda felt more alive than she had done in a long time.
The air was crisp and dry in the mountains. They had been walking for days under the guidance of their local guide Strumpjioku, whose name was simply pronounced Sok despite or because a very complicated writing system. It seemed to interest Rukshan a lot but Fox had had some brain freeze trying to understand their guide’s nebulous and proud explanations about it.
Of course, it might have been caused also by the lack of air. They were so high in the mountains, and at times Fox had even seen and heard things that should not have been there. Especially during the long nights when packs of wild dogs barked endlessly. Fox understood their language. They were hunting things. It wasn’t clear what, but Fox could sometimes sense a lingering smell carried by the otherwise empty air that he couldn’t identify.
They had established camp for the night and Sok was busy cooking for them. Fox growled miserably. He didn’t fancy too much the spicy food that seem the only thing they could get in those mountains. He missed the running hens of Margoritt’s cottage in the forest and her secret mushroom sauce that was to die for. He would even have eaten her ratatouille with only vegetables.
Rukshan was trying to cast a fae spell in order to contact their friend Lhamom who had left them for a special ceremony in a temple. She said it was for her friend Donny whose mother had passed away recently. Being in a hurry as they were, they didn’t insist to wait. Lhamom said she could catch up on them later. The spell failed again and Rukshan cursed.
Dogs started to bark loudly. Not too soon after the strange smell became stronger, and it made Fox nervous, especially hearing to the hunting dogs.
Fox approached Rukshan.
“The dogs are hunting something, he said.
“As long as they don’t hunt us, retorted Rukshan with a shrug. He seemed upset by his failed attempt and not too eager to talk.
Fox caught Sok looking at them, but the guide turned back to his cooking when he saw Fox looking at him.
“That won’t help me sleep”, mumbled Fox more grumpy than usual.
“You can’t stay here forever,” said Margoritt. The words came out of the blue and it took a few moments for Glynnis to make sense of them. The two women had been working together in silence as they collected the plentiful purple fruit of the Droog tree in preparation for bottling.
“Oh, well, no of course not,” said Glynnis without conviction.
“You are attractive enough now we can see you without those scales,” continued Margoritt sternly. “There is no need to hide away here in the forest. You need to think about what you want to do next.”
Margoritt’s words stung and Glynnis lifted her hand reflexively to her head. Two small bumps were all that remained of the Sorcerer’s curse. Eleri had cut a fringe for her and the bumps were barely visible. In a funny sort of way, she liked the reminder of the bumps. When she touched them she felt strong.
“There has been no word from the others for several moons now and I think we all need to face facts,” Margoritt said quietly. She put down her basket and leaned against a tree trunk for support. “We’ve tried but we don’t have the resources to fight Leroway any longer and truth is this body is old and tired. I have a sister in the North who I can stay with for a while. Just while I gather my strength.”
Glynnis was silent. She wished she could find words to reassure Margoritt but knew anything she said would sound trite. They were both aware of the dangers which faced the travellers. And though she had tried, she had not found a spell to contact them.
“The mountain will not give up its treasure easily but I know they would hasten to return if they were able. And they have much strength between them. We must not give up hope,” she said softly at last and Margoritt nodded.
Glynis shivered. The Droog trees were casting long shadows over the garden like twisted old men. “It’s getting cold … maybe we should go in. Tomorrow is soon enough to make plans.”
They heard a loud crash from the kitchen and rushed to see what was the poultry squawking about.
It was Olliver, who apparently still had problems managing the landing while using his teleporting egg.
The year that had passed had brought him a quiet assurance that the boy had lacked, even his stutter would not come as often, and his various travels using the golden egg had given him a wider outlook of what was in the world.
“Rukji!” He called —he still would use the deferential moniker for Rukshan.
“What is it Olliver? Calm down, can’t you see everybody is all tense?” the Fae answered.
“Something has changed, Rukji. A great opening in the mountain. I was staying in a village I have seen a great blue light in the distance while there, across the sand and rocks desert, beyond the shifting dunes. Something that reminded me of what Gorrash told about his memories from his master. We should go explore.”
“I’ll contact Lhamom, she may have heard stories and can help us get there until you get the hang of a group teleport.”
It had been three days. Fox wasn’t sure of what to do next. The witch was gone, the manor was empty, and she wasn’t coming back. For a moment he felt like the small fox he was before his master found him, feeling abandoned by his mother. She had been killed after hiding him from the hunters. But he didn’t know it at the time. Fox sighed. How was he supposed to find the lost piece of soul now? It was easier when he was in his animal form, he wouldn’t think so much about what to do next, he would just be doing, anything that fit the moment. But his master had warned him not to revert back to his animal form, that he was not yet free. Fox wasn’t sure if it was true, but he trusted his master, and despite the strong desire to turn back, each moment he was making the decision to keep his human form.
There was another who was not yet free, Fox thought. He looked at the cold stone face of his new friend. They had talked every night since his arrival and as usual they hadn’t seen the daylight coming. This time, Gorrash had been frozen laughing, and Fox thought it was the liveliest statue he had ever seen. They had gotten along quite easily, especially after Fox had given the dwarf some medicine to help with the nausea after his incursion underground. Afterward, Gorrash had been an endless source of questions about the world. Fox thought the dwarf was an interesting character. He looked old with his long beard and the wrinkles around his eyes, but he had not been around very long. Grey during the day, he was very colourful once the daylight had gone; he wore red hat and pants, green jacket, and brown crakows and belt. His voice had the sound of a grinding stone, with a hint of melancholy as he talked about his maker. But for the moment, despite his expressive outburst, he was cast in silence.
Fox shook himself and decided it was time to make some plans about where to go next. He would try to catch up with the witch, he might be able to find her before she went to far away from the forest. The woman looked old and she couldn’t have gone far, especially as she seemed to avoid human contact, she wouldn’t have found a carriage. Fox remembered his master warning him about hope, that it was one of the cause of suffering in the world. Nonetheless, roaming randomly into the enchanted forest could take him years to find the lost piece of soul. Hope or no hope, he had spent enough time waiting in his life. He had a quest now.
Fox wouldn’t have admitted aloud, but his new friendship brought in some complication. Fox had tried to lift him, but despite its rather small size the statue was quite heavy. He would have to find something to carry it during the day as they couldn’t just walk at night time.
Fox looked at the garden for a moment, the frozen pond, the yellow grass, some old abandoned furniture. Then he looked at the closed door of the house, and wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. There might be something useful inside. And if the witch was gone, she wouldn’t mind, would she?
Fox used a pair of pins to open the door. The smell of herbs, spices and a few other things he didn’t want to know about, brushed past his nose as he entered the dark house.
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?”
Back at her desk after a crash course at zumba with the Chinese team, Connie was sorting her e-mails (meaning sending them to trash). Nothing fancy, nothing catchy, nothing to grab her attention span for more than a minute.
The noise of the open space was making her feel drowsy. Maybe a coffee would help her wake up, or maybe if something could happen to stir the pot. Connie deleted a few more e-mails to show the others that she was a busy reporter before leaving her desk.
Passing by the desks of her colleagues, Connie looked surreptitiously at their computer screens and saw that everyone was playing the busy game. It was sad to recognize that good news (meaning bad news) were hard to come by nowadays.
In times like these, she had to resist the tentation to create her own news, it was not that kind of press. But still toying with the idea and making up some outrageous stories with her team was a way to make time fly away more quickly. Once, Hilda had even reused one of the titles for a real stories that sadly happened shortly after she had made it up.
Rumour had it that Hilda’s great grand mother was a gypsy and could do palm reading. The gran even used palm tree leaves to do her reading when there was nobody, you just had to cut the leave in the shape of the person you wanted to read the future and she would tell you all about them. She was good.
“It runs in the family,” Hilda had said. “It’s helpful to be at the right place at the right time.” And for sure she was the most prolific reporter of the agency.
Connie sure would have used some of Hilda’s medium inner sight to know when something would happen.
She made herself a cappuccino and with the milk drew the face of Al Pacino. Many years at a press agency and you learn a few tricks to impress your friends.
She heard the slow and uneven pace of sweet old Sophie behind her. She sighed, she didn’t want to have to answer another of her dumb questions about the future. If Hilda could read bits of the future, Sophie was always thirsty about it. Maybe that’s why Hilda was more often in the field and not so often at her desk.
Connie turned and almost dropped her cappuccino as the old lady handed her a Fedex envelop.
“Sorry,” said sweet old Sophie, “That just arrived for you. I wonder what it is.”
“I’m sure you do,” muttered Connie.
“It’s from Santa Claus,” said the old lady with a conniving smile.
Connie looked at the old lady, with a forced smile. Was insanity a cause to get rid of one of your employee ? She took the package with one hand. Heavier than she had expected. When she saw the address, she couldn’t believe it was real. The sender’s and city’s names were certainly fake. Jesus Carpenter, Santa Claus, AZ
Sophie was still there, looking at Connie with a big smile.
“What are you waiting for ?” the reporter asked.
“Aren’t you opening it?”
Connie considered opening the package, but the avidity on the old face was making her uncomfortable. “Nope,” she said. With her cappuccino and the package she went back to her desk. Sweet Sophie was still looking at her with that greedy smile on her face. Connie shivered and shook her head. It was obvious, the old tramp was mad.
She touched the package, trying to guess what was inside. As no convincing guess presented itself in her mind, she stripped it open. There was an iPhone 5 SE with 64Gb memory in it, two plane tickets for Keflavik in Iceland, and a note.
‘If you want a good story prepare your suitcase. Bring Sweet Sophie with you. We’ll contact you once you are there.’
Connie thought of a joke. She checked the package and no matter how many times she looked it was still her name. She looked toward the cafeteria and she shuddered. Sweet Sophie was still looking at Connie with that strange smile, as if she knew. Or as if she had sent the package herself, the reporter thought.
“Someone knows where Hilda is ? I need to talk to Hilda.”
Miss Bossy Pants contemplated her pale and wan appearance in the bathroom mirror. She wondered if she was well enough to turn up at work today.
Don’t want anyone else to catch anything off me…
However, It was important they did not lose momentum with the competition out there chomping at their heels.
“There is too much talking about writing and not enough actual writing,” Bossy grumbled to her reflection while she dealt to the under eye circles with some concealer.
Of course, that was Hilda to a T; always yabbering on about some stupendous idea for a story but when it came to actually putting pen to paper … well that was quite another matter.
Connie had started out with some potential but was becoming increasingly aggressive and alienating her leads.
How many times must I tell her that clenching her fists and refusing to make eye contact makes her appear shifty and untrustworthy? Bossy slammed some lipstick on her mouth with unnecessary force.
And that new staff member, what’s his name?
Prout, that’s right.
Bright enough but a bit of a moaner. Bad for morale all that moaning. As for sweet old Sophie, the temp, she seemed to be losing more and more marbles by the minute.
Hilda was not up yet, probably passed out on her couch after a night of debauchery and snorting pepsain. As usual, she’d left a heap of links on her blog for Connie to choose from. Well, and of course, to sexy-bait them up. There were times she was glad she didn’t have to face all the people herself and interview them. Today was not one of them.
She gestured at the awkward new intern. He passed a head through the door. She didn’t give him the time to open his mouth. “Another chamomile tea,… thaaank you.” He disappeared hurriedly.
“At least this one gets me.”
For today, chamomile was the least of evils. Anything stronger would have her go full contact on any one daring to even look at her. If people knew the efforts she made daily.
Her self-defence instructor knew something about it. She almost sent him to the hospital last week.
Glancing upon the list of notes, she noticed that Hilda had made a highlight to double check on the gouda cat-like man. That was strange. Hilda wasn’t one to come back on stuff once shared and published. Definitively not the past-dwelling profile. There must have been something more.
“Well, know what, old tart: early bird gets the worm.”
She rose from the swivel chair, taking her purse swiftly and aiming for the exit door with the path of least eye-contact when the odd guy appeared again with the damn tea. She’d forgotten about that. Again, her brains firing at full speed, she didn’t leave him time to tell or ask anything.
“You don’t know where Joel is? Of course not…” The photographer was probably on another assignment. Had not been seen for weeks it seemed. Not that she cared, he would have been more like an alibi for her to go an a follow-up mission.
Sometimes her brains would also make her do the darnedest thing. She couldn’t stop herself from telling to the hapless intern.
“You look too happy Ric. Take your coat and come with me.”
Connie couldn’t stop thinking about that odd but intriguing man she’d interviewed who’d almost been crushed under a wheel of gouda. Possibly rescuing the worm from under the doormat was connected, or at least, had served as a reminder to her to think of an excuse to contact him again. His cat like agility was most appealing. As was his codpiece.
“Sorry to bother you again, Ed.”
This was a lie; Evangeline wasn’t at all sorry. There was nothing she loved better than to be the bearer of bad news and she was rather pleased to have an excuse to call Ed Steam so soon after their last conversation.
Evangeline sniffed dismissively, eager to pass on her next tantalising morsel. She tried to keep the excitement out of her voice and sound appropriately serious.
“The other concerning thing is that the Contumacious Cackler is in town. There have been several verified hearings of him.”
“The Contumacious Cackler!” Ed’s horrified reaction was music to Evangeline’s ears, although she was not entirely sure who the Contumacious Cackler was or why the mention of his name elicited such horror. She decided to ask.
“It’s rather a sad story. His mother ran away from home when he was just 3 years old, due to his father’s incessant cackling. The Contumacious Cackler never saw his mother again and he grew up with an obsessive hatred of cackling. He vowed to put an end to cackling. He cackles so evilly that he stirs up trouble wherever he goes. His dastardly plan is to create so much resistance to cackling that the people are inflamed sufficiently to rise up against cacklers. He is reported to be responsible for the demise of cackling in 2 of the provinces.”
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