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      The 1935 Joseph Gerrard Challenge.

      While researching the Gerrard family of Ellastone I chanced upon a 1935 newspaper article in the Ashbourne Register. There were two articles in 1935 in this paper about the Gerrards, the second a follow up to the first. An advertisement was also placed offering a £1 reward to anyone who could find Joseph Gerrard’s baptism record.

      Ashbourne Telegraph – Friday 05 April 1935:

      1935 Ashbourne Register



      The author wanted to prove that the Joseph Gerrard “who was engaged in the library of King George the third from about 1775 to 1795, and whose death was recorded in the European Magazine in November 1799” was the son of John Gerrard of Ellastone Mills, Staffordshire. Included in the first article was a selected transcription of the 1796 will of John Gerrard. John’s son Joseph is mentioned in this will: John leaves him “£20 to buy a suit of mourning if he thinks proper.”




      This Joseph Gerrard however, born in 1739, died in 1815 at Brailsford. Joseph’s brother John also died at Brailsford Mill, and both of their ages at death give a birth year of 1739. Maybe they were twins. William Gerrard and Joseph Gerrard of Brailsford Mill are mentioned in a 1811 newspaper article in the Derby Mercury.

      I decided that there was nothing susbtantial about this claim, until I read the 1724 will of John Gerrard the elder, the father of John who died in 1796. In his will he leaves £100 to his son Joseph Gerrard, “secretary to the Bishop of Oxford”.

      Perhaps there was something to this story after all. Joseph, baptised in 1701 in Ellastone, was the son of John Gerrard the elder.

      I found Joseph Gerrard (and his son James Gerrard) mentioned in the Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, University of Oxford, ‎Joseph Foster, 1888. “Joseph Gerard son of John of Elleston county Stafford, pleb, Oriel Coll, matric, 30th May 1718, age 18, BA. 9th March 1721-2; of Merton Coll MA 1728.”

      In The Works of John Wesley 1735-1738, Joseph Gerrad is mentioned: “Joseph Gerard , matriculated at Oriel College 1718 , aged 18 , ordained 1727 to serve as curate of Cuddesdon , becoming rector of St. Martin’s , Oxford in 1729 , and vicar of Banbury in 1734.”

      In The History of Banbury Alfred Beesley 1842 “a visitation of smallpox occured at Banbury (Oxfordshire) in 1731 and continued until 1733.” Joseph Gerrard was the vicar of Banbury in 1734.

      According to the The History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham George Lipscomb · 1847, Joseph Gerrard was made rector of Monks Risborough in 1738 “but he also continued to hold Stewkley until his death”.

      The Speculum of Archbishop Thomas Secker by Secker, Thomas, 1693-1768, also mentions Joseph Gerrard under Monks Risborough and adds that he “resides constantly in the Parsonage ho. except when he goes for a few days to Steukley county Bucks (Buckinghamshire)  of which he is vicar.”  Joseph’s son James Gerrard 1741-1789 is also mentioned as being a rector at Monks Risborough in 1783.

      Joseph Gerrard married Elizabeth Reynolds on 23 July 1739 in Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire. They had five children between 1740 and 1750, including James baptised 1740 and Joseph baptised 1742.

      Joseph died in 1785 in Monks Risborough.

      So who was Joseph Gerrard of the Kings Library who died in 1799? It wasn’t Joseph’s son Joseph baptised in 1742 in Monks Risborough, because in his father’s 1785 will he mentions “my only son James”, indicating that Joseph died before that date.


        Finley turned off the vacuum cleaner and cleared her throat loudly. “Mater, I need time off. Next week.”

        Mater paled. “Oh Finley, surely not now. With all the guests at the moment … and we are still cleaning up from the dust … ” her voice trailed off.

        “Selfish cow,” muttered Idle. She was reclining on the sofa with a magazine and a drink. Taking a well earned rest, she had snapped when Mater asked when she was going to pull her weight.  She slapped her magazine down on the coffee table. “I suppose I will have to do everything!”

        With just the merest hint of an eye roll, Finley continued. “My cousin Finnley who works for the writer told me about a convention. I’m quite excited.” Mater and Idle regarded her intently, wondering what an excited Finley would look like. I didn’t notice anything much, Mater confessed to Idle later in a rare moment of camaraderie.

        “So?” snapped Idle. “What is it then?”

        Finley turned on the vacuum cleaner. “Dustsceawaung convention. In Tasmania,” she shouted over  the whirr.



          Welcome to the bustling riverfront community of Bridgewater, where the sound of boat horns and cries of merchants filled the air.

          Bridgewater was a town of hardworking people, all striving to make a living in this busy trading port. One such person was Anne, a middle-aged woman who owned a small pottery shop by the river. Her days were filled with the clanging of clay and the whirring of her pottery wheel. She took great pride in her work, creating beautiful plates and tea bowls that were highly sought after by the locals.

          Another memorable character was Jack, the town cobbler whose small shop was always busy with customers. He was known for his kind heart and his willingness to help anyone in need, often giving away shoes to those who couldn’t afford them. As the days passed, life in Bridgewater had its ups and downs.

          The lost halfpenny spoke of a hard day’s work, but also of the generosity of the community. The broken pipes spoke of moments of relaxation, but also of the struggles of daily life. And the smashed plates and tea bowls spoke of hurried meals, but also of the occasional argument or disagreement.

          Despite the challenges, the people of Bridgewater found small joys in life. Children played by the river, skipping stones and chasing each other. Couples walked hand in hand along the promenade, watching the boats come and go. And on warm summer evenings, the town square was filled with music and laughter as locals gathered for impromptu dance parties. But as with any community, there were also tensions and conflicts.

          The town council was often at odds with the merchants, who felt that their needs were being overlooked. And there were whispers of a rival trading port that threatened to take away business from Bridgewater. One day, a fire broke out in the warehouse district, destroying several buildings and leaving many homeless. The community rallied together to help those in need, with Anne donating plates and bowls for makeshift kitchens and Jack offering his shop as a temporary shelter. As the smoke cleared and the ashes settled, the people of Bridgewater were left to rebuild their town. Through hard work and perseverance, they overcame the challenges and emerged even stronger than before. The lost halfpenny, broken pipes, and smashed plates were all reminders of the struggles they had faced, but they also spoke of the resilience and strength of the human spirit. And so, life in Bridgewater continued, a vibrant and bustling riverfront community where goods were traded and daily life was filled with both hardships and small joys.


            “I worry about the dreadful limbo, those poor characters! So much going on and there they all are, frozen in time, perched on the edge of all those cliffs, waiting to spring into action, leap across chasms of revelations, lurch into dark mysterious depths…” Liz trailed off, looking pensively out of the window.  “I wonder if the characters will ever forgive me for the jerky spasms of action followed by interminable stretches of oblivion, endlessly repeated…. Oh dear, oh dear! What a terrible torment, taunting them with great unveilings, and then… then, the desertion, forsaken yet again, abandoned …. and for what?”

            “Attending to other pressing matters in real life?” offered Finnley. “Entertaining guests? Worrying about aged relatives?” Liz interrupted with a cross between a snort and a harumph.  “Writing shopping lists?” Finnley continued, a fount of gently patient sagacity. Bless that girl, thought Liz, uncharacteristically generous in her assessment of the often difficult maid.  “Do you even know if they’re aware of the dilated gaps in the narrative?”

            Liz was momentarily nonplussed.   This was something she had heretofore not considered.  “You mean they might not be waiting?”

            “That’s right”, Finnley replied, warming to the idea that she hadn’t given much thought to, and had just thrown into the conversation to mollify Liz, who was in danger of droning on depressingly for the rest of the evening.  “They probably don’t even notice, a bit like blinking out, and then springing back into animation.  I wouldn’t worry if I were you.  Why don’t you ask them and see what they say?”

            “Ask them?” repeated Liz stupidly.  I really am getting dull in the head, she thought to  herself and wondered why Finnley was smirking and nodding. Was the dratted girl reading her mind again? “Fetch me something to buck me up, Finnley.  And fetch Roberto and Godfrey in here. Oh and bring a tray of whatever you’re bringing me, to buck us all up.”  Liz looked up and smiled magnanimously into Finnley’s face.  “And one for yourself, dear.”

            Tidying the stack of papers on her desk into a neat pile and blowing the ash and crumbs off, Liz felt a plan forming.  They would have a meeting with the characters and discuss their feelings, their hopes and ambitions, work it all out together. Why didn’t I think of this before? she wondered, quite forgetting that it was Finnley’s idea.


              The trio entered the medical bay, Barney proudly perched on Salomé’s shoulder. Léonard was sitting on the edge of his bed in a blue hospital dress, looking around him, confused. He turned his head toward them and squinted.

              Georges?” he asked. “Salomé? Where…” He winced and slapped his forehead.

              “Are you ok?” asked Salomé, moving toward him.

              Léonard stretched his arm in front of him and Salomé felt her body pushed backward. Barney squeaked and the wave subsided.

              “I’m ok,” Léonard said a few seconds later, breathing with difficulties, “just a headache. Where…”

              Georges exchanged a look and a brief telepathic communication with Salomé. He had felt the wave too, and he was also feeling some kind of shield around his mind. It was different from all they had encountered before. They might have to fall back to the old ways.

              “We’re back on Duane,” he said with a cheerful tone, hoping it would help their friend relax. Léonard had explored this system extensively, and it was there he had introduced Georges and Salomé to the reality of multidimensional travels and Elemental magic. It was a place full of memories and Georges was looking closely at his friend’s face and at the same time prodding his mind. But Léonard’s face didn’t show any reaction and his mind appeared empty.

              “Actually, way back… in time,” Georges continued. “Jorid’s navigation array was gravely disturbed by this little creature… where is Barney?”

              A weak chirp came out of Salomé’s luscious raven black hair.

              “Come on, Barney,” she said, trying to take him out. “Come meet our friend Léonard.”

              The creature was trembling like a leaf and clinging to strands of her hair, clearly not wanting to leave his hiding place.

              “I think he likes your shampoo,” said Georges with a smirk. “Well, we just found this little sand Rin on Jorid’s hull, and the little culprit is generating interferences in the Boodenbaum quantum field. So until we find a way to neutralise whatever he’s doing, we’re stuck.”

              Léonard looked annoyed. He tried to stand up, but his legs wouldn’t support him and he fell back on the bed.

              “Why did the Zathu put you in that sand egg on Bluhm’Oxl?” asked Salomé, trying not to sound too concerned.

              Léonard opened his mouth and froze, looking surprised. He frowned.

              “I don’t recall,” he said.

              “What do you recall?”

              “I recall… receiving a tip from an old friend.”



              “Jorid, can you read us the message from his friend?” asked Georges with a smile, as if he had found a simple solution.

              “I can’t access the data,” said the ship. “Léonard deleted it, and the backups before he left.”

              Georges’ smile faded. He looked at Salomé. She was thinking the same thing he was thinking and nodded.

              “Why don’t we let you have some rest, you’ll join us for lunch when you’re dressed up and ready.”


              In reply to: Coma Cameleon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


                  Some background for the storyline of Franiel

                  For safekeeping and future explorations…

                  Franiel a talented young monk from Mount Elok’ram is going on a journey of a lifetime after the death of the old abbot Hrih Chokyam Lin’potshee despite being his chosen successor unknown to everybody. He is sent by the usurper Elder Aum Geog to a journey down to the Village of Chard Dam Jarfon to engrave a precious chalice with sacred words on a sealed scroll.

                  He encounters Léonard a zany alchemist with his dog Moufle who takes his precious cargo.

                  Franiel finds shelter with Phoebe Chesterhope, a master thief who trains him until she disappears after taking her motorbike on a dangerous interdimensional mission on the day of Marduë. Franiel is then put back in the path of Léonard, who had stolen the chalice for safekeeping. Léonard teaches Franiel about the powers of the chalice (the famed Cup of Margilonia), on the day of Seldië, and activates its self-protective cloaking power to temporarily relieve Franiel of his burden.

                  Under Léonard’s tutelage, the true destiny of Franiel is revealed, and he can claim his rightful place as the chosen successor of the old abbot, on the day of Marduë. With the help of Leonard and the power of the chalice, Franiel embarks on a new journey, equipped with the knowledge and skills he needs to fulfill his destiny. However, with someone else following him and the possibility of danger lurking around every hexade, Franiel must stay vigilant and continue to rely on his newfound allies to help him succeed. Only time will tell if Franiel is truly ready for the challenges that lie ahead on his path to becoming a great leader and guardian of the sacred chalice.


                  In reply to: The Stories So Near


                    What satisfying conclusion to this saga?

                    Granola was the tying material to their friend, and her pop-in nascent capabilities (ability to project into material matter, sometimes being corporeal) could help. Her goal was to wake her friends out of their routines, and reinvigorate the stories they tell themselves about their lives.

                    • Maeve was the one making custom dolls.
                    • Shawn Paul her handsome bearded bachelor next door was an aspiring writer looking for a story to tell and to become published.
                    • Lucinda is their neighbour, enrolled in creative writing courses.
                    • Jerk is a clerk at a local WholeDay*Mart and also manages a forum in his spare time.


                    The dolls were found in all across places, used by different groups, maybe glamour bombs for some, maybe ways to smuggle information and keys.

                    Across their trips they connect with story characters, and unknowingly revive their stories.

                    POP*IN THREAD (plot development suggestions, to be looked into later)

                    Maeve and Shawn-Paul are still in Tikfijikoo, investigating the mysterious dolls and their connection to Uncle Fergus. They’ve also encountered strange happenings, including a missing girl and a strange man in a top hat.

                    Meanwhile, Jerk is still moderating the forum and dealing with the strange messages. Lucinda is continuing her creative writing course and enjoying her time with Fabio.

                    Granola is currently on a mission to find Ailill and learn more about pop-ins, while also trying to reconnect with her friends and figure out what’s going on with the dolls.

                    As for the mysterious man following Maeve, his intentions are still unclear, but it seems he has some connection to Uncle Fergus and the dolls. The group is still trying to uncover the truth and figure out their next steps.


                    In the end, Granola’s pop-in abilities proved to be the key to unlocking the mystery of the dolls and their connection to Uncle Fergus. With her help, Maeve and Shawn-Paul were able to uncover the truth about the dolls and their purpose, and use them to reconnect with various story characters across their trips.

                    Through their adventures, they also discovered the power of storytelling and the importance of shaking up their routines to keep their lives interesting and full of wonder. Jerk found a new sense of purpose in managing the forum and connecting with others through his passion for the dolls and their stories.

                    In the final chapter, Uncle Fergus reconciled with Maeve’s father and shared the true meaning behind the dolls and their connection to their family history.

                    While Shawn-Paul’s path led him to become a successful author, Lucinda’s path took a different turn. She found fulfillment in her creative writing course and continued to hone her skills, but she didn’t pursue a career as a writer. Instead, she used her passion for storytelling to help others, working as a therapist and using storytelling techniques to help her clients work through their struggles and find healing. Lucinda’s work was deeply rewarding, and she felt fulfilled in being able to help others in such a meaningful way.

                    As for Granola, she continued to pop-in and out of their lives, using her abilities to bring joy and excitement to their everyday routines, and keeping their stories alive for years to come. The group remained close friends, bonded by their shared experiences and love of storytelling.



                      You may have noticed it – the little purple tags next to your comments are linking them to particular storylines.

                      It should help reconnect comments spread across threads, when they belong to a particular storyline. The definition of those is rather fluid, but in general, it tends to revolve about a commonality of protagonist or group of protagonists (they are easy to spot, they are the one(s) driving the storyline plot forward… :yahoo_thinking: ).

                      Since the tagging is mostly manual, and there are quite a few homonymous characters, you may still find comments that shouldn’t belong in the storyline. It will take some time to clean. :sweep: :yahoo_hypnotized:

                      Of course, some comments do belong to multiple storylines, particularly when there are some cross-overs (e.g. protagonists from the Pop*in story going to the Flying Fish Inn, and meeting Arona!) :kiwi:

                      New feature: Complement Storylines

                      This new feature is now available ; basically, it should allow you to continue (or insert) on a storyline, especially those long gone… For the storylines that already have their own distinct threads, you don’t need really the feature but you can also use it.

                      How to do? :yahoo_idk:

                      You can go to a storyline, let’s say… Dead Dick Tracy, Peaslander, etc. :bounce:

                      If you find a particular storyline you like that is missing (I guess nobody regrets the Tw’Elves,… but who knows? :yahoo_heehee: )

                      You normally will see a little link with the replies. COMPLEMENT. :yahoo_surprise:

                      Let’s say you just want to continue the story. You go the last comment, and you click on the COMPLEMENT link of the last comment.

                      Normally, if you got there, the hardest remains to do: write a comment. :mummy:
                      If all goes well, it’ll be posted in the New found pages thread, a little bit like old time “Circle of Eights” single thread full of unrelated comments, but this time, each one will have a little purple “storyline” tag, that will make it available inside the storyline you selected…



                      I had to meet Devan at the garage; I didn’t want to raise suspicion calling an overseas number that would show up like a sore thumb in the next phone company invoice. Even with the occasional visitors calling for bookings, it was more Idle’s job to call back. She is funny when she’s got her headphones and microphone on, with that look from the 90s, taking her grand air and posh accent to answer people over skype. ‘Sister Idle dot com‘ I call her behind her back. She sounds like a mixture of an investigator and nun who would sell goose feather duvets made by the nunnery.

                      Devan was punctual for once; we didn’t have a lot of time to use the phone at the counter while his boss was off for lunch.

                      We looked at each other. “You sure you want to do that?” we both knew there was no turning back. It could be a sore disappointment, but how worse would that be compared to a rabbit hole of questions and potential emotional upheavals. Someone wise said (probably Henrich Lyeumon I think) “if you continue going down rabbit holes, you’re bound to find a lot of rabbit poop.”

                      Devan nodded silently.

                      I punched the numbers from the Gugu search.

                      The connection seemed to take forever. Then a click. A gruff “Hello?” in a male voice.

                      I don’t know why I blurted it out, but it came out without thinking.

                      “Dad? Is that you?”

                      “…” Devan looked at me alarmed and also with excitement in his eyes. There was a blank at the other end of the line.

                      “Not on this line. I’ll call you back.”

                      We looked at each other with Devan. Did we just hear what we heard? Given the look on Devan’s face, I’m pretty sure we did.

                      We don’t have time to waste, his boss is already back, smacking his lips all shiny with chicken grease.

                      Before I leave my brother to his job, we exchange hopeful glances. So a rabbit hole is it.

                      My phone is buzzing.

                      A message from [Unknown sender] — why didn’t it go to spam?

                      “I’m on my way. ~ F”


                      In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                      Like ships in the night, Zara and Yasmin still hadn’t met up with Xavier and Youssef at the inn. Yasmin was tired from traveling and retired to her room to catch up on some sleep, despite Zara’s hopes that they’d have a glass of wine or two and discuss whatever it was that was on Yasmins mind.  Zara decided to catch up on her game.

                      The next quirk was “unleash your hidden rudeness” which gave Zara pause to consider how hidden her rudeness actually was.  But wait, it was the avatar Zara, not herself. Or was it?   Zara rearranged the pillows and settled herself on the bed.

                      Zara found her game self in the bustling streets of a medieval market town, visually an improvement on the previous game level of the mines, which pleased her, with many colourful characters and intriguing alleyways and street market vendors.

                      Madieval market

                      She quickly forgot what her quest was and set off wandering around the scene.  Each alley led to a little square and each square had gaily coloured carts of wares for sale, and an abundance of grinning jesters and jugglers. Although tempted to linger and join the onlookers jeering and goading the jugglers and artistes that she encountered, Zara continued her ramble around the scene.

                      She came to a gathering outside an old market hall, where two particularly raucous jesters were trying to tempt the onlookers into partaking of what appeared to be cups of tea.  Zara wondered what the joke was and why nobody in the crowd was willing to try.  She inched closer, attracting the attention of the odd grinning fellow in the orange head piece.

                      Jesters with cups


                      “Come hither, ye fine wench in thy uncomely scant garments, I know what thou seekest! Pray, sit thee down beside me and partake of my remedy.”

                      “Who, me?” asked Zara, looking behind her to make sure he wasn’t talking to someone else.

                      “Thoust in dire need of my elixir, come ye hither!”

                      Somewhat reluctantly Zara stepped towards the odd figure who was offering to hand her a cup.  She considered the inadvisability of drinking something that everyone else was refusing, but what the hell, she took the cup and saucer off him and took a hesitant sip.

                      The crowd roared with laughter and there was much mirthful thigh slapping when Zara spit the foul tasting concoction all over the jesters shoes.

                      “Believe me dame,” quoth the Jester, “I perceive proffered ware is worse by ten in the hundred than that which is sought. But I pray ye, tell me thy quest.”

                      “My quest is none of your business, and your tea sucks, mister,” Zara replied. “But I like the cup.”

                      Pushing past the still laughing onlookers and clutching the cup, Zara spotted a tavern on the opposite side of the square and made her way towards it.   A tankard of ale was what she needed to get rid of the foul taste lingering in her mouth.

                      jesters cup tavern


                      The inside of the tavern was as much a madhouse as the streets outside it. What was everyone laughing at? Zara found a place to sit on a bench beside a long wooden table. She sat patiently waiting to be served, trying to eavesdrop to decipher the cause of such merriment, but the snatches of conversation made no sense to her. The jollity was contagious, and before long Zara was laughing along with the others.  A strange child sat down on the opposite bench (she seemed familiar somehow) and Zara couldn’t help remarking, “You lot are as mad as a box of frogs, are you all on drugs or something?” which provoked further hoots of laughter, thigh slapping and table thumping.

                      tavern girl


                      “Ye be an ungodly rude maid, and ye’ll not get a tankard of ale while thoust leavest thy cup of elixir untasted yet,” the child said with a smirk.

                      “And you are an impertinent child,” Zara replied, considering the potential benefits of drinking the remainder of the concoction if it would hasten the arrival of the tankard of ale she was now craving.  She gritted her teeth and picked up the cup.

                      But the design on the cup had changed, and now bore a strange resemblance to Xavier.  Not only that, the cup was calling her name in Xavier’s voice, and the table thumping got louder.

                      Xavi cup


                      Zara!” Xavier was knocking on her bedroom door. “Zara!  We’re going for a beer in the local tavern, are you coming?”

                      “Xavi!”  Zara snapped back to reality, “Yes! I’m bloody parched.”


                      In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

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

                      child in supermarket


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

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

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



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

                      “It’s a crucifix.”

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

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

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

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


                      In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                      The road was stretching endlessly and monotonously, a straight line disappearing into a nothingness of dry landscapes that reminded Youssef of the Gobi desert where he had been driving not too long ago. At regular speed, the car barely seemed to progress.

                      > O Time suspend thy flight!

                      Eternity. Something only nature could procure him. He loved the feeling, and compared to the more usual sand of Gobi, the red sands of Australia gave him the impression he had shifted into another reality. That and the fifteen hours flight listening to Gladys made it difficult to respond to Xavier’s loquacious self and funny jokes. After some time, his friend stopped talking and tried catching some signal to play the Game, brandishing his phone in different directions as if he was hunting ghosts with a strange device.

                      It reminded him he had to accept his next quest in a ghost town. That’s all he remembered. He could do that at the Inn, when they could rest in their rooms.

                      Youssef wondered if the welcome sign at the entrance of the town had seen better days. The wood the fish was made of seemed eaten by termites, but someone had painted it with silver and blue to give it a fresher look. Youssef snorted at the shocked expression on his friend’s face.

                      “It looked like it died of boredom. Let’s just hope the Innside doesn’t look like a gutted fish,” Xavier said.

                      An old lady showed them their rooms. She didn’t seem the talkative type, which made Youssef love her immediately with her sharp tongue and red cardigan. He rather admired her braided silver hair as it reminded him of his mother who would let him brush her hair when they lived in Norway. It was in another reality. He smiled. She saw him looking at her and her eyes narrowed like a pair of arrowslits. She seemed ready to fire. Instead she kept on ranting about an idle person not doing her only job properly. They each went to their rooms, Xavier took number 7 and Youssef picked number 5, his lucky number.

                      He was glad to be able to enjoy his own room after the trip of the last few weeks. It had been for work, so it was different. But usually he liked travelling the world on his own and meet people on his way and learn from their stories. Traveling with people always meant some compromise that would always frustrate him because he wanted to go faster, or explore more tricky paths.

                      The room was nicely decorated, and the scent of fresh paint made it clear it was recent. A strange black stone, which Youssef recognized as a black obsidian, has been put on a pile of paper full of doodles, beside two notebooks and pencils. The notebooks’ pages were blank, he thought of giving them to Xavier. He took the stone. It was cold to the touch and his reflection on the surface looked back at him, all wavy. The doodles on the paper looked like a map and hard to read annotations. One stood out, though which looked like a wifi password. That made him think of the Game. He entered it on his phone and that was it. Maybe it was time to go back in. But he wanted to take a shower first.

                      He put his backpack and his bag on the bed and unpacked it. Amongst a pile of dirty clothes, he managed to find a t-shirt that didn’t smell too bad and a pair of shorts. He would have to use the laundry service of the hotel.

                      He had missed hot showers. Once refreshed, he moved his bags on the floor and jumped on his bed and launched the Game.

                      Youssef finds himself in a small ghost town in what looks like the middle of the Australian outback. The town was once thriving but now only a few stragglers remain, living in old, decrepit buildings. He’s standing in the town square, surrounded by an old post office, a saloon, and a few other ramshackle buildings.

                      A message appeared on the screen.

                      Quest: Your task is to find the source of the magnetic pull that attracts talkative people to you. You must find the reason behind it and break the spell, so you can continue your journey in peace.

                      Youssef started to move his avatar towards the saloon when someone knocked on the door.


                      In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                      When Sergio dropped her back at the Flying Fish Inn it was later than Zara realized.  The verandah and reception lights were on but everyone had gone to bed, everyone except Idle who was poring over a pile of old notebooks at a dining room table. “Good day out?” she looked up over the top of her reading glasses and smiled at Zara.

                      Zara returned the smile. “It was great, thanks!  I’d love one”,  she added when Idle asked her if she fancied a glass of wine.

                      “Grab a glass off the sideboard there and come and sit down,” Idle said. “Are you hungry or did you grab a bite in Alice?”

                      “Yeah, I did, thanks,” replied Zara, trying hard not to pull a face at the first sip of the Australian wine.  “Nice label,” she said, “Yellow Trail. I should be used to seeing kangaroos on wine bottles by now” she laughed.

                      “A place called Monte’s Lounge,” she replied when Idle asked where she’d eaten, “A cabaret meets circus theme, not what I was expecting out here.  I met a guy on the trail…”

                      “The plot thickens,” Idle grinned, “Comedy and romance.”

                      Zara laughed, warming to her genial host.   Accepting a second glass of wine, she told Idle all about Sergio.  He was a Spanish archaeologist who had come over to see his daughter in Townsville on the east coast, and had booked a few side trips to see some of the indigenous rock art.  When Zara walked off the trail after she found the compass (and the damn parrot vanished, leaving her alone) she had found herself in a small clearing with high rocky sides. Sergio had his back to her and was photographing the rock wall.

                      “Well, long story short, we got on like a house on fire,” Idle smiled encouragingly as Zara continued. “It’s been absolutely ages you know, ever since I left Rupert, nobody’s really taken my fancy.  Anyway he invited me for dinner and said he didn’t mind bringing me back here later in the hire car.”

                      Zara had another sip of wine, thinking about Rupert.  What a prize twat he’d turned out to be.  Still, the divorce settlement had been good.  He’d seemed so adventurous and just the ticket at first, lots of holidays in unusual places. Bit of a Hooray Henry and a Champagne Charlie, but it had been fun at first. And a tad too much charlie, too. She had been blissfully unaware of politics and conspiracy theories at the time, but it wasn’t long before his views came between them and she could no longer stomach his idiotic and, to her mind, dangerously cretinous beliefs.

                      “My parents are both archaeologists,” Zara told Idle, “I learned a lot from them and always been interested in it, but didn’t fancy all the years of studying, and I really wanted to work with animals.  There aren’t many good paying jobs working with animals though, not the kind of animals that need helping.  Anyway, it worked out ok in the end, thanks to Rupert’s money.”

                      “You must have had a lot in common to talk about with Sergio, then, him being an archaeologist,” Idle remarked and Zara felt herself blush, much to her astonishment.  She couldn’t recall blushing in years.

                      “Yes we did do some talking,” they both laughed and Zara said “I better get off to bed. Thanks for the wine.”

                      Zara had completely forgotten about her friends arriving, or the game she’d intended to play until they arrived. She collapsed on the bed without brushing her teeth and was asleep within minutes.


                      In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


                      In reply to: Prompts of Madjourneys


                        Youssef offered the following quirk: “unwilling magnet for talkative people in need of listening” (setting in a ghost town).

                        Setting: A small ghost town in the middle of the Australian outback. The town was once thriving but now only a few stragglers remain, living in old, decrepit buildings. You find yourself in the town square, surrounded by the old post office, the saloon, and a few other ramshackle buildings.

                        Quest: Your task is to find the source of the magnetic pull that attracts talkative people to you. You must find the reason behind it and break the spell, so you can continue your journey in peace.

                        Direction to investigate: Start by talking to the residents of the town, they may have some information or insights on the strange happenings in the town. Explore the old post office and the saloon, they might hold the key to breaking the spell.

                        Characters to engage: The residents of the town, including the old timer at the saloon and the postmaster at the post office.

                        Tile to look for: A silver key in the shape of a tongue, symbolizing the power of speech.

                        Proof of insert in real life: Take a picture of yourself holding the key, and send it to the game master as proof of completion.


                          Potential Plot Arch

                          The uncovered box in the garden of Bob & Clara is a Time Capsule which was actually buried in the future, but mistakenly sent to the past. It has symbols etched on it, that activate some nano-technology.
                          Due to its contact with it, Bob starts recovering his memories, while retaining the hallucinations of his dead wife Jane, which actually become more credible and intense.

                          Will Tarkin is actually a time traveler from the future, who came to live a simple life in the past, selling stone gargoyles at the local supermarket and rediscovering the ways of his ancestors.

                          With the box being found and opened at the wrong time, it creates unwanted attention from the Time Dragglers who need to intervene to prevent alterations of the timeline.
                          Contents of the box are in part encoded books of stories from local families and would have revealed important things about the past, Jane’s death, and Clara’s future.

                          With Bob recovering his memories, it’s revealed Jane and Bob were actually also refugees from the future, but had aged naturally in the past, which is why Will seemed to recognize Bob. Bob was living in hiding from the Time Police, but with the box discovery, it changes everything. The box being opened at the wrong time disrupts the natural flow of events and starts causing unexpected consequences. This creates a complex web of relationships and events that must be untangled and understood in order to move forward.

                          With his recovering of mental capacities, Bob partners with Will in order to restore the natural flow of time, even if it means his mental health will deteriorate again, which he is happy to do while continuing to live the rest of his life span with his daughter.

                          Potential developments

                          Clara Meets the Mysterious Will

                          Nora finally reaches the little village where Clara and Bob live and is greeted by a man named Will
                          Will seems to know Bob from somewhere
                          Clara starts to feel suspicious of Will’s intentions and begins to investigate

                          The Power of Memories

                          Bob starts to have flashbacks of his past and begins to remember the connection between him, Will, and the mysterious time capsule
                          Bob realizes that Jane, his wife, had been keeping something from him and that the time capsule holds the key to unlocking the truth
                          Jane appears to Bob and urges him to tell Clara about their past and the significance of the time capsule

                          The Truth Behind the Capsule

                          Nora, Clara, and Bob finally find the answers they’ve been searching for by opening the time capsule
                          The contents of the capsule reveal a shocking truth about Jane’s past and the reason behind her death
                          They learn that Jane was part of a secret society that protected ancient knowledge and artifacts and that the time capsule was meant to be opened at a specific time
                          The group realizes that they were meant to find the capsule and continue Jane’s work in protecting the knowledge and artifacts

                          The Ties Between Living and Dead

                          Bob comes to terms with Jane’s death and the role she played in their lives
                          Clara and Bob grow closer as they work together to continue Jane’s work and preserve the knowledge and artifacts
                          The group encounters obstacles but with the help of the spirits of the past, they are able to overcome them and succeed in their mission

                          A Realization of the Past and Present

                          Clara, Bob, and Nora come to realize the power of memories and how they shape our present and future
                          They also learn that things never truly remain buried and that the past always finds a way to resurface
                          The group successfully preserves the knowledge and artifacts, ensuring that they will be passed down for generations to come
                          The story ends with Clara, Bob, and Nora sitting by the fire, reflecting on their journey and the lessons they’ve learned.


                          In reply to: Orbs of Madjourneys

                          Bert dropped Zara off after breakfast at the start of the Yeperenye trail.  He suggested that she phone him when she wanted him to pick her up, and asked if she was sure she had enough water and reminded her, not for the first time, not to wander off the trail.   Of course not, she replied blithely, as if she’d never wandered off before.

                          “It’s a beautiful gorge, you’ll like it,” he called through the open window, “You’ll need the bug spray when you get to the water holes.”  Zara smiled and waved as the car roared off in a cloud of dust.

                          On the short drive to the start of the trail, Bert had told her that the trail was named after the Yeperenye dreamtime, also known as ‘Caterpillar Dreaming’  and that it was a significant dreamtime story in Aboriginal mythology. Be sure to look at the aboriginal rock art, he’d said.   He mentioned several varieties of birds but Zara quickly forgot the names of them.

                          It felt good to be outside, completely alone in the vast landscape with the bone warming sun. To her surprise, she hadn’t seen the parrot again after the encounter at the bedroom window, although she had heard a squalky laugh coming from a room upstairs as she passed the staircase on her way to the dining room.

                          But it was nice to be on her own. She walked slowly, appreciating the silence and the scenery. Acacia and eucalyptus trees were dotted about and long grasses whispered in the occasional gentle breezes.  Birds twittered and screeched and she heard a few rustlings in the undergrowth from time to time as she strolled along.

                          After a while the rocky outcrops towered above her on each side of the path and the gorge narrowed, the trail winding through stands of trees and open grassland. Zara was glad of the shade as the sun rose higher.

                          Zara water hole


                          The first water hole she came to took Zara by surprise. She expected it to be pretty and scenic, like the photos she’d seen, but the spectacular beauty of the setting and shimmering light somehow seemed timeless and otherwordly.  It was a moment or two before she realized she wasn’t alone.

                          It was time to stop for a drink and the sandwich that one of the twins had made for her, and this was the perfect spot, but she wondered if the man would find it intrusive of her to plonk herself down and picnic at the same place as him.  Had he come here for the solitude and would he resent her appearance?

                          It is a public trail, she reminded herself not to be silly, but still, she felt uneasy.  The man hadn’t even glanced up as far as Zara could tell. Had he noticed her?

                          She found a smooth rock to sit on under a tree and unwrapped her lunch, glancing up from time to time ready to give a cheery wave and shout hi, if he looked up from what he was doing.  But he didn’t look up, and what exactly was he doing? It was hard to say, he was pacing around on the opposite side of the pool, looking intently at the ground.

                          When Zara finished her drink, she went behind a bush for a pee, making sure she would not be seen if the man glanced up. When she emerged, the man was gone.  Zara walked slowly around the water hole, taking photos, and keeping an eye out for the man, but he was nowhere to be seen.  When she reached the place where he’d been pacing looking at the ground, she paused and retraced his steps.  Something small and shiny glinted in the sun catching her eye. It was a compass, a gold compass, and quite an unusual one.

                          Zara didn’t know what to do, had the man been looking for it?  Should she return it to him?  But who was he and where did he go?  She decided there was no point in leaving it here, so she put it in her pocket. Perhaps she could ask at the inn if there was a lost and found place or something.

                          Refreshed from the break, Zara continued her walk. She took the compass out and looked at it, wondering not for the first time how on earth anyone used one to find their way.  She fiddled with it, and the needle kept pointing in the same direction.   What good is it knowing which way north is, if you don’t know where you are anyway? she wondered.

                          With a squalk and a beating of wings, Pretty Girl appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.  “It’s not that kind of compass. You’re supposed to follow the pointer.”

                          “Am I?  But it’s pointing off the trail, and Bert said don’t go off the trail.”

                          “That’s because Bert doesn’t want you to find it,” replied the parrot.

                          Intrigued, Zara set off in the direction the compass was pointing towards.


                            Chapter 4: There is no place like home

                            A Visit to Duckailingtown

                            The group arrives in the small city of Duckailingtown, known for its unusual name and the legendary wooden leg carpenter, Dumbass Voldomeer.
                            Maryechka, is shown by Liliya and Lina the local museum where they learn about the famous wooden leg carpenter and the swan flu outbreak that left the President incapacitated.
                            The group visits the workshop of Dumbass Voldomeer and they are shocked to find that he is the spitting image of the President.
                            Dumbass Voldomeer tells them about his connection to the President and how he was approached to take his place as the President.
                            The group learns about the Rootian border and the close relationship between Rootia and Dumbass, and the possibility of a future cross-border conflict.
                            The group visits the swan sanctuary and learns about the mysterious swan flu virus that has affected the President and the citizens of Dumbass.
                            The group makes a decision to continue their journey to Rootia to find a cure for the swan flu and save the President.

                            Cross-border Conflict

                            The group crosses the Rootian border and finds themselves in the midst of a conflict between Rootia and Dumbass.
                            They meet with a Rootian diplomat who explains the conflict and the role of the President in resolving it.
                            The group encounters Myroslava who is still being pursued by her pursuers and they team up to find a cure for the swan flu.
                            They visit the Rootian medical facility where they meet with the chief medical officer who explains the research being done on the swan flu virus.
                            The group travels to a remote location where they meet with Olek, the caretaker of the Flovlinden Tree, and learns about the sacred oil that is believed to have healing properties.
                            The group collects the sacred oil and returns to the medical facility where they successfully cure the President and put an end to the conflict between Rootia and Dumbass.
                            The group returns home, proud of their accomplishment and the newfound knowledge and experiences they have gained on their journey.

                            A Homecoming Celebration

                            The group returns home and is greeted with open arms by their families and friends.
                            Maryechka, Liliya, and Lina visit Egna who is thrilled to hear about their journey and the success of their mission.
                            The group shares their experiences and knowledge with their friends and families, and they all celebrate their homecoming together.
                            Dumbass Voldomeer visits the group and thanks them for their help in resolving the conflict between Rootia and Dumbass.
                            The group visits the Flovlinden Tree and pays homage to Olek and the sacred oil that played a critical role in their journey.
                            Maryechka, Liliya, and Lina reflect on their journey and the life-long friendships they have formed.
                            The group concludes their journey and looks forward to their future adventures and discoveries.


                              More developments

                              Chapter 3: The Journey becomes more eggciting

                              The Flovlinden Tree

                              The group reaches the Flovlinden Tree, a massive linden tree in the heart of Oocrane, which is said to be sacred and is attracting crowds of pilgrims.
                              They meet Olek, the old caretaker of the tree, who tells them the story of Saint Edigna. He explains how the tree is said to have magical healing properties, and how the tree is responsible for the sacred oil that the pilgrims come to collect.
                              However, Olek reveals that the secret of Saint Edigna is not what it seems. Edna, an old woman who has been living far from the crowd for thousands of years, is actually Saint Edigna.
                              Olek shares that Edna has been living in solitude for very long. He tells the group that if they want to learn more about the sacred tree and Edna, they must travel to her hidden home.
                              The four friends were shocked to hear that Edna was still alive and wanted to meet her. They asked Olek for directions, and he gave them a map that showed the way to Edna’s remote dwelling.
                              They bid farewell to Olek and set off on their journey to find Edna.

                              A Run-In with Myroslava

                              The group comes across a former war reporter, Myroslava, who is traveling on her own after leaving a group of journalists. She is being followed by mysterious individuals and is trying to lose them by hunting and making fire in bombed areas.
                              Myroslava is frustrated and curses her lack of alcohol, wishing she could find a place to escape from her pursuers.
                              The group approaches Myroslava and offers to help her. She joins forces with them and together, they set off on their journey.
                              As they travel, Myroslava shares her experiences as a war reporter, and the group listens in awe. She explains how she has seen the worst of humanity, but also the best, and how it has changed her as a person.
                              Myroslava and the group continue their journey, with the former reporter becoming more and more determined to shake off her pursuers and continue on her own.

                              A Visit with Eusebius Kazandis’ Relatives

                              The group reaches a small village where they are expected by relatives of Eusebius Kazandis, the cauldron seller that Rose has met at the Innsbruck fair.
                              The relatives tell the group about Kazandis and his business, and how he has been traveling the world, selling his wares. They explain how he has become a legend in their village, and how proud they are of him.
                              The group learns about Kazandis’ passion for cooking and how he uses his cauldrons to create delicious meals for his customers. They are also shown his secret recipe book, which has been passed down for generations.
                              The relatives invite the group to try some of Kazandis’ famous dishes, and they are blown away by the delicious flavors.
                              The group thanks the relatives for their hospitality and sets off on their journey, with a newfound appreciation for Kazandis and his love of cooking.

                              A Surprising Encounter with Edna

                              The group finally reaches Edna’s hidden home, a small cottage in the middle of a dense forest.
                              As they approach the cottage, they are surprised to see Edna, who is actually the legendary Saint Edigna, standing outside, waiting for them.

                              The four friends have finally arrived at Edna’s dwelling, where they learned about her vast knowledge of the families connected to her descendants. Edna showed them her books, and they were amazed to find that their own family was listed among her descendants. They were even more shocked to learn that they were related to President Voldomeer Zumbasky and Dumbass Voldomeer, who was said to be a distant relative and carpenter who made the President’s wooden leg. It was rumored that they shared a common ancestor, but in reality, they were possibly secret twins.

                              The Secret of Dumbass Voldomeer

                              The four friends were determined to find out more about Dumbass Voldomeer and his connection to their family. They learned that he lived in the small city of Duckailingtown in Dumbass, near the Rootian border. They also discovered that Dumbass Voldomeer had been enrolled to take the place of the President, who had succumbed from a mysterious swan flu virus, to which Dumbass Voldomeer was immune. As they set to Duckailingtown, they couldn’t help but wonder what other secrets and surprises lay ahead for them on this incredible journey.

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