“Did someone say drinks are on the house?” asked Rosamund, pushing past the burly bouncer as she entered the pub. “What’s your name, handsome?”
“Percival,” the bouncer replied with a wry grin. “Yeah I know, doesn’t fit the image.”
Rosamund looked him up and down while simultaneously flicking a bit of food from between her teeth with a credit card. “I keep forgetting to buy dental floss,” she said.
“Is that really necessary?” hissed Tara. “Is that moving the plot forward?”
“I’ll be away for a while on an important mission,” Rosamund said to Percival, “But give me your number and I’ll call you when I get back.”
“The trip is cancelled, you’re not going anywhere,” Star told her, “Except to the shop to buy dental floss.”
“I’m glad you mentioned it!” piped up a middle aged lady sitting at the corner table. “I have run out of dental floss too.”
“See?” said Rosamund. “You never can tell how helpful you are when you just act yourself and let it flow. Now tell me why I’m not going to New Zealand? I already packed my suitcase!”
“Because it seems that New Zealand has come to us,” replied Star, “Or should I say, the signs of the cult are everywhere. It’s not so much a case of finding the cult as a case of, well finding somewhere the cult hasn’t already infected. And as for April,” she continued, “She changes her story every five minutes, I think we should ignore everything she says from now on. Nothing but a distraction.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Tara. “Exactly! Distraction tactics! A well known ruse, tried and tested. She has been sent to us to distract us from the case. She isn’t a new client. She’s a red herring for the old clients enemies.”
“Oh, good one, Tara,” Star was impressed. Tara could be an abusive drunk, but some of the things she blurted out were pure gold. Or had a grain of gold in them, it would be more accurate to say. A certain perspicacity shone through at times when she was well lubricated. “Perhaps we should lock her back in the wardrobe for the time being until we’ve worked out what to do with her.”
“You’re right, Star, we must restrain her….oy! oy! Percival, catch that fleeing aunt at once!” April had made a dash for it out of the pub door. The burly bouncer missed his chance. April legged it up the road and disappeared round the corner.
“Oh I say, that’s going a bit far,” interjected the middle aged lady sitting at the corner table.
“What’s it got to do with you?” Tara turned on her.
“This,” the woman replied with a smugly Trumpish smile. She pulled her trouser leg up to reveal a bell bird tattoo.
“Oh my fucking god,” Tara was close to tears again.
“I think you’ve forgotten something, Star.” Tara didn’t want to put a dampener on Star’s high spirits, but felt obliged to point out that New Zealand was still out of bounds with the quarantine restrictions.
“Not only that,” Tara continued, “Where exactly in New Zealand?”
This was unanswerable at this stage and was quickly forgotten.
“We can send Rosamund on a recce to find out more. That way if she gets arrested for breaking the lockdown rules it won’t matter much and we can carry on solving the case.”
“It will take two of us to keep an eye on Aunty April, anyway. And it would behoove us to have a thorough look at that wardrobe, and decipher those notes. And check the lining of the fur coats. I read a book once and spies used morse code in the hem stitches for sending messages.”
“Do you know morse code?”
“Of course not, why would I?”
“Well then how will you know..?”
The conversation went on in a similar vein for some time.
“That damn cult is going from strength to strength and not a damn thing we can do about it,” said Star. “What bloody awful timing for a lockdown, just as we were getting started!”
“I know,” replied Tara sadly. “At this rate we’ll have to go back to work for Madame Limonella.”
“Don’t be silly, she’ll have had to close down too!”
“Don’t you believe it!” retorted Tara, “She’d find a way to keep her clients happy.”
“But we’re not keeping our clients happy are we? We haven’t found a way. We’re pretty useless, aren’t we?”
“Not just our clients. Well client, really, we only had one. We could have saved the world from the Zanone cult if it hadn’t been for this quarantine. Hey, maybe that cult started all this, just so we couldn’t stop them.”
Star barked out a bitter laugh. “Now you sound like one of them parroting out conspiracy theories.”
“We could find a way to break the quarantine, sneak out at night dressed as urban kangaroos or something.”
“I don’t think the kangaroos would mind all that much,” Tara replied huffily.
“I didn’t mean the kangaroos, good lord! But you know what, you might be on to something. Remember that kangaroo dressed in a mans overcoat that tried to break someones car window the other day?”
“Well never mind that,” Star continued, who had started to wonder herself, “The point is, we can use a disguise. And it’s a matter of grave social responsibility to expose the cult. In the fullness of time, we will be exonerated, hailed as heroic, even.”
The excitement was contagious and Tara found herself sitting upright instead of slumped in despair. “Let’s do it!”
“It’s funny,” he said, squinting his eyes. “Looks like the maze kind of fades out.”
“Oh yeah, that happens all the time. People lose interest you see, then it all but vanishes from their experience. Quaint, I know.”
Kahurangi, nicknamed Kahu, was trying hard to get interested, see if the structure would come back into focus. But there were more fun things around. He asked again to the guy who was selling pop corn at the entrance.
“T’is normal that people wander around with… well, pets? Look at this guy, with a piglet on a leash. It’s cute, don’t get me wrong, and probably more useful when you’re looking for truffles…”
“Pretty normal. Seems animal have a sense around this thing, or so it’s believed. Many will bring one and try again. Look, I buried my snake not long ago, it was getting tired I think. Not sure they make the best animals to cover ground there.” He continued “Are you buying me something or what?”
“Oh sure, give me that, and a bottle of water.”
He handed a crumpled bill of 5 and thanked.
“A word of unsollicited advice?”
Kahu noded “Sure.”
“See those piles of rocks over there, along the way?”
“Looks like inukshuks, are they? Strange place to find them though.”
“Yeah, you’ll tend to see more as you get along. People started to build them to pinpoint places they’d been, but over time, they became encampments, and people lost the will to move on.”
“Don’t stay too long around them.”
Kahu shrugged and moved along. The maze was starting to get in focus again, there was not a minute to spare.
Everyday is now. I know, I’ve stopped the count.
This strange book I’ve found must be for something. Had the impulse to post a picture from it on a forum.
There were instructions coming with it, I have only started to decypher them, and my brain already feels like it will melt if I go too fast.
Apparently the Chinese philosopher who wrote it said he was swallowed whole, then spat out from the belly of a giant fish, a kūn 鯤, months later. I know, sounds crazy, and yet very familiar. Jonas of course, but also Sinbad, —Pinocchio even… The story’s not new to us.
When he came back, he said it was only to share knowledge. So came his book of encoded instructions.
First instruction he said. You are in a maze, you want to find the center of the maze, and never get lost again while you decide whether or not you still want to explore it.
It kind of struck a chord for some reason. I realized, with all the stories we tell ourselves, they abound, expand in our minds, take roots deeply.
The thought came this morning: if suddenly I’m struck dead, and find myself in my own stories, I would be in a tight spot to escape the whole craziness. I would need a backdoor, a way back, or out.
That’s why its first instruction resonated. It continued. Create your center of your maze. Now. Don’t delay, you may regret it. It must be pure with intent, and tell about who you are in the deepest sense. Engrave the following words around it to seal this pure memory. And put it outside in the world, so that someday when you come back to it, you’ll know.
You have found the Center of Your Maze.
Now, You Know It
And it can never be taken from you again.
I know of a memory of mine I could put in my center. It came very naturally. An illustrated book of stories, mythology to be exact. One of the first books I got, and I can still remember vividly the feeling of entering its world. My parents had given it to me as a gift at a time they had to leave me home alone for a few hours. When they came back, I was still on the same kitchen chair, deeply thrown into the book’s world, feeling like barely a minute had passed.
It was a moment out of time and space. I know it was what being at the center of my maze meant.
I’m grown now, but the feeling is still there. I’m going to put that out some place where I can find it in case I ever get lost again among the shadows of men.JibParticipant
They had to stop to get some rest. Rukshan knew the signs, the song of a black swan, a nesting bear in the forest, cubic clouds… All strange omens not to be taken lightly. He told the others they’d better find shelter somewhere and not spend the night outside.
As soon had he make the announcement that he saw the relief on their faces. They’d been enthusiastic for half a day, but the monotony of walking got the better of their motivation, especially the kids who were not used to such long journeys out of the cottage’s safety.
Fortunately they were not far from the Sooricat Inn, a place lost in the woods, it still had four walls, warm food and almost certainly a hot bath. Let’s just hope they’re open, thought the Fae.
When they arrived, the owner, an old man from Sina, looked at them suspiciously.
“Ya’ll have your attestation? I can’t believe ya’re all family. Don’t think I’m a fool, ya’re a Fae, and this little fella there, he’s smaller than the children but has a beard. Never saw anything like him,” he said with rumbling r’s pointing at the children and Gorrash with his chin. The dwarf seemed offended but a stern look from Rukshan prevented him from speaking.
“Anyway,” continued the innkeeper, “I can just sell ya food. Not’ing parsonal. That’s rooles, ya’know with the all stayin’at home thing from Gavernor Leraway, I can not even let ya’in. Ya can buy food and eat it outside if ya want.”
“Oh! I really shouldn’t. I don’t like breaking rooles.”
“I knew you more daring, Admirable Fuyi,” said a booming voice coming from behind them. They all turned around to see Kumihimo. She was wearing a cloak made of green and yellow gingko leaves, her silvery white hair, almost glowing in the dark, cascading beautifully on her shoulders. A grey cat strode alongside her.
“Oh! that’s just the donkey, Ronaldo. It got transformed into a cat after walking directly into a trap to get one of those darn carrots. He knew better, don’t pity him. He got what he deserved.” Kumihimo’s rant got a indignant meow, close to a heehaw, from Ronaldo.
“Kumi! I can’t believe it’s ya!” said the innkeeper.
“You two know each others?” asked Rukshan.
“It’s a long story,” said the innkeeper, “From when I was serving in Sina’s army, we had conquered the high plateaus. I gave up the title of Admirable when I left the army. After Kumi opened my eyes.” Fuyi’s eyes got wet. “Ah! I’m sure I’ll regret it, but come on in, ya’ll. Let me hear yar story after you taste the soup.”
Miss Bossy looked gloomily at the figures.
“Our paper was already hanging by a thread, but if we want to survive we’ll have to shift completely to digital.”
“That, or we can go into selling recycled bog rolls…” Hilda started to laugh heartily on her Xoom screen.
She was soon followed by Connie. “Can’t let good paper go to waste, can we?”
“How’s your coverage of confinement in Wales, Continuity?” Miss Bossy asked.
“Gorgeously! We were expecting zombies, but we got an invasion of daring goats. Been trying to snatch pics all morning.”
A repressed giggle started to be heard.
Miss Bossy rolled her eyes. “Mute if you don’t speak, guys.”
Hilda ventured “Maybe it’s the whale?”
The giggles continued to add to one another.
Ricardo moved his webcam to remove the glare from the ceiling light causing a sudden roll of laughter from Connie who remembered a video with a lady streaming unwittingly from her loo break during a very formal videoconference with shocked pause on all her colleagues’ faces before she realised to shut down the cam.
It was only at the mention of carrots that Miss Bossy started to lose it too, confirming the start of a laughter epidemic.
“What are you two conspiring again behind my back?” Liz barged in, with a few patches of nicotine across her face.
“It better be good.” she leaned towards Godfrey who was always incapable of lying properly.
“It just… that… ouch!” he started hesitantly, while Finnley elbowed him vigorously. She also knew he wouldn’t pass a serious questioning without ratting them out. She questioned why in the first place he got her involved with his flimsy start of a plan.
“What about?” Liz continued, her face nervously twitching. She coughed raucously.
“THERE! Told you!” Godfrey couldn’t contain himself. “We should confine you, at your age, it could be dangerous!”
At the mention of Liz’s age, all hell broke loose in the mansion.
Star was perusing the messages in the cults online forum, having joined the private group under the name of Writhe Mamble. It was time consuming, and a task that Star hoped to delegate to Rosamund. But first she needed to familiarize herself with the angle of the dogma and the leanings of the various members, as well as the physical data: photos, location, age and other affiliations.
Star had to keep reminding herself that it was of no importance whether or not she agreed with some of the messages, or strongly disagreed. Never the less she found herself liking some of the members as she read more, as well as wanting to slap others.
Maybe easier than you can manage it, said Granola, the voice appearing as if from nowhere.
“Easier than I can manage what?” asked Rosamund, crashing into the room with an armful of pizza boxes. Without pausing for an answer, she continued, “Mum’s having a fit, I might have to have tomorrow off work to go and calm her down. She’s talking about locking the house up and moving in with me. I can’t have that, I got a bit of business going on at the flat, you know what I mean?” Rosumund wiped the tomato sauce off her mouth with her sleeve.
“But why is she threatening to do that?” asked Star, who wasn’t the least bit interested.JibParticipant
“Crocuses in meadow, Flower, Flower”, was singing Eleri. Humming was more accurate, she didn’t recall much of the lyrics, but the tune was easy to follow. She was quite fond of that popular song and liked to sing it whenever she was going to town in her flower dress floating in the wind. She had thought it nice if Gorrash woke up with a festive atmosphere. It would certainly be a shock already that so much time had passed since he was last awake. She wondered if he would remember anything from his broken time. She hadn’t talked much with him before, especially about his day-slumber time.
“Chestnut in the woods”, she continued. Crack, crack made the dry twigs she walked on on purpose. It made her laugh and snort. She liked playing with her environment and made it participate in her own expression, it was like she had many voices and she could hear herself everywhere. She picked up a few chestnuts because she knew Fox was crazy about them. It was a blessing that the enchanted forest would still produce them out of season.
When she arrived in town, Eleri didn’t waste time. She wanted costumes and props for the party, so she went directly to the Jiborium’s Emporium where she was sure to find everything she needed, and more. There was a crowd blocking the entrance, but it didn’t deter her from her idea. She elbowed her way up to the door where a man in a wheelchair was complaining about having not enough room to go in. Still in a jolly mood, Eleri found it funny that the man who took so much space with his cumbersome vehicle was asking for more room.
“Move already”, she joined her voice to the man’s complaint and managed, Flove knows how to make the crowd part away enough so they could both enter the shop.
“Thanks, young lady”, said the grumpy man. “It’s a hassle sometimes you know to move in this town. People with good health they do not realise.”
“Oh! I know”, said Eleri. “My ankle just got better, but it was such a pain to move. I would have loved to have a chair like yours to move around, but alas I live in the forest most of the time and I’m not sure the chair would last long in there.”
“Oh! but it would! They have the cross-country model here, on the fourth floor. Powered by lightning battery.”
“Really?” said Eleri more to herself than for the man. Her mind was already elsewhere. “Thanks!” She kissed the grumpy man on the forehead and left, thinking of costumes and confetti. A cross-country wheelchair would be nice to bring back all of those. They might even need it for Gorrash if he needed recovery time.
“Which reminds me,” Liz continued, “Of something I heard yesterday: You can keep that enormous piece of furniture if you want to, if you like it: but move it away from the door!”
“You know, I wasn’t initially fond of this idea, Godfrey” Elizabeth said, while looking at Roberto doing the dishes. A bit unusual of her to spend time in the kitchen, probably her least favourite room in the house, but she was keen to revise her judgment as the view was never as entertaining.
Godfrey was finishing a goblet full of cashews while leafing through the “Plot like it’s hot” new book from the publishing house that Bronkel had sent autographed and dedicated to Liz “without whom this book may have never seen the light of day”.
“Godfrey, are you listening to me? You can’t be distracted when I talk to you, I may say something important, and don’t count on me to remember it afterwards. Besides, what’s with the cashews anyway?”
“Oh, I read they’re good natural anti-depressant… Anyway, you were saying?”
“You see, like I just said, you made me lose my stream of thought! And no… the view is for nothing in that.” She winked at Roberto who was blissfully unaware of the attention. “Yes! I was saying. About that idea to write Finnley in the new novel. Completely rash, if you’ve had asked before. But now I see the benefit. At least some of it.”
“Why are you never paying attention?”
“No, no, I heard you. But I never… wait a minute.” The pushy ghostwriting ghostediting, and most probably ghostcleaning maid (though never actually seen a proof of that last one) had surely taken some new brazen initiative. Well, at least Liz wasn’t taking it too badly. There maybe even was a good possibility she was trying hard to stay on continuity track about it. Godfrey continued “Benefit, you said?”
“Yes, don’t make me repeat myself, I’ll sound like a daft old person if ever a biopic is made of me, which by the way according to Bronkel is quite a probability. He’s heard it from a screenwriter friend of his, although his speciality is on more racy things, but don’t get me carried away. The benefit you see, and I’ve been reading Bronkel’s stupid book, yes. The benefit is… it moves the plot forward, with ‘but therefore’ instead of ‘and then’. It adds a bit of spice, if you get what I mean. Adds beats into the story. Might be useful for my next whydunit.”
Godfrey was finding her indeed lingering a tad too obviously on the ‘but‘ and their beats, but abstained from saying anything, and nodded silently, his mouth full of the last of the cashews.
Liz pursed her lips “Well, all this literature theory is a great deal of nonsense, you know my stance on it; I made my success without a shred of it…”
“Maybe you’re a natural” Godfrey ventured.
“Maybe… but then, they’ve got some points, although none as profound as Lemone’s. His last one got me pondering: finckleways is not a way in, delete it or it’ll get you locked out; only flove exists now. “
“Lord Gustard Willoughby Fergusson helped his wife Floribunda onto the camel,” Tibu spoke softly, gently turning the well worn page. “And clamboured onto his own. Cranky and Illi were mounted on donkeys, as were Tibn Zig and Tanlil Ubt, their local guides. Three hot dusty days, and two bitterly cold nights away lay their destination: Tsnit n’Agger and the home of the legendary giant of the Alal’ Azntignit.”
A movement caught Tibu’s eye and he glanced up. She was still there, listening.
He turned back to the book and continued reading. “Cranky was feeling like a fish out of water in the desert, but Illi had taken to it like a duck to water. Not that there was alot of water about in the desert, Cranky grumbled to herself. What she wouldn’t have given for a nice hot cup of tea and a crumpet.”
“Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” she interrupted. “It’s such rotten weather to stand out here and I ~ well, I like just listening to you.”
Shawn Paul continued to rub his temple. He didn’t want let on how badly it hurt, and even nodding that he was ok made his brains hurt. He was starting to get double vision, but told himself to calm down, that it would soon pass. The jolting of the taxi over the pot holed roads didn’t help. He started to wish he’d never come on this beastly trip.
Bugger them all then, Lucinda said to herself, I’ll carry on here without them.
For a time she had been despondent at being abandoned, sinking into an aching overcast gloom to match the weather. Waiting for it to rain, and then waiting for it to stop.
On impulse, in an attempt to snap out of the doldrums, she signed up for a Creative Writing and Rambling course at the local Psychic Self Institute. Institutionalizing psychic matters had been the brainchild of the latest political party to gain power, and hitherto under the radar prophets, healers and remote viewers had flocked to sign up. The institute has promised pension and public health credits to all members who could prove their mental prowess, and needless to say it had attracted many potential scammers: useless nobodies who wanted to heal their diseases, or lazy decrepit old scroungers who wanted to retire.
Much to everyone’s surprise, not least their own, the majority of them had passed the tests, simply by winging it: making it up and hoping for the best. Astonishingly the results were more impressive than the results from the already established professional P.H.A.R.T.s ~ (otherwise known as Prophets, Healers and Remote Technicians).
This raised questions about the premise of the scheme, and how increasingly difficult it was to establish a criteria for deservingness of pensions and health care, particularly if any untrained and unregistered Tom, Dick or Harry was in possession of superior skills, as appeared to be the case. The debate continues to this day.
Nothwithstanding, the Institute continued to offer courses, outings and educational and inspiring talks. The original plan had been to offer qualifications, but the entrance exams had provoked such a quandary about the value and meaning (if any) of qualifications, that the current modus operandi was to simply offer each member, regardless of merit or experience, a simple membership card with a number on it. It was gold coloured and had classical scrolls and lettering on it in an attempt to bestow worth and meaning. Nobody was fooled, but everyone loved it.
And everyone loved the tea room at the Institute. It was thought that some cake aficionado’s had even joined the Institute merely for the desserts, but nobody objected. There was a welcome collective energy of pleasure, appreciation and conviviality in the tea room, and it’s magnetic appeal ~ and exceptional cakes ~ ensured it’s popularity and acclaim.
A small group had started a campaign to get it placed on the Institutes Energetic Cake Connector mapping programme. As Lucinda had said in a moment of clarity, “A back street bar can be just as much of an energy magnet as an old stone relic”, casting doubt over the M.O.S.S group’s (Mysterious Old Stone Sites) relevance to anything potentially useful.
“In fact,” Lucinda continued, surprising herself, ““I’ve only just realized that the energy magnets aren’t going to be secret, hidden and derelict. They’re going to be busy. Like cities.”
Several members of the M.O.S.S group had glared at her.
Lucinda hadn’t really thought much about what to expect in the creative writing classes.
The downward climb had taken what felt like days. The more he went, the darkest it was even the stars at his feet were now swallowed in obliviating darkness.
Rukshan felt like abandoning at times, but pressed on and continued, down and down as he rose above clouds.
The ancient energies that had shaped this topsy-turvy passage spiraling around the fence of the heartwoods wouldn’t have done something of that magnitude and let it unfinished. It was calling for an exploration, while at the same time protecting itself from mere wanderers, the kind with lack of imagination or endurance.
His mind reminded him of old tales that spoke of sacrificing to the trees for knowledge and passage, but it was surely meant as a metaphor. Hanging upside down for hours was probably in itself a form of sacrifice.
He reached to his pouch for a drink of sour milk, when he suddenly realized that the gravity had turned, and the pouch was no longer floating above his head. With the darkness and the lack of landmarks, he’d failed to notice when this happened.
It surely meant he’d crossed an invisible barrier, and was now journeying inside another plan, deeper down. Ground couldn’t be far now. He took a pearl off one of his braids, and threw it. Then he looked at the darkness beneath his feet with intent to discern the faintest sounds. Quickly enough, the pearl gave back a ricocheting sound, clean and echoing slightly against what seemed to be moist stones. Indeed ground was there, where once the sky was.
Maybe the final test was a leap of faith. Or maybe it was just to patiently complete the climb. A few more steps, and he would be there. A few more steps.
The wind swooshed in the garden, making fallen apples roll on the ground. The air had a lively smell of earth and decaying fruit, and the grass was still moist from the morning dew.
The statue of Gorrash was facing East, and the rising sun was bringing golden hues to his petrified face. Little snoots were curled in glowing colourful balls of liquid fur around the statue, making it pulsate with a quieting purr. Around Gorrash, the slope was peppered with some of the gargoyles rejects that Eleri had made and couldn’t sell at the market. Still, instead of discarding them, she’d arranged a little forest of painted gargoyles as a sort of silent watchful army guarding Gorrash’s sleep.
Rukshan liked to meditate at the place, it helped with the stress he’d felt at coming back from the last ordeals. He wouldn’t have thought, but his identity had felt more shaken than he knew. He wasn’t feeling at home with the Faes any longer, and there were few people who could relate to his adventures in the villages nearby, where he was nothing more than an ominous stranger. Retreating in the Fae’s dimension, hidden from all and mostly abandoned was a tempting thought, but he’d found it was a lure with empty promises. He still had work to do.
Tak and Nesy were already awake and were coming back for the rest of the story.
He’d started to tell them about the Giants, the old forgotten story which he’d learnt many years ago in his previous life as a Dark Fae. Both were captivated at the prowess displayed by the Master Craftsmen, the old Rings of Stones that they built, the Cairns of the Fallen, and the Fields of Chanting Boulders where magic rituals where performed.
“Tell us more Rukshan!” they said. “Tell us more about the Three Giant Kings.”
“Do you remember their names?” he smiled back at the children.
“Yes! There was Ceazar…” Tak started
“Caesar, yes” he corrected gently
“… and Archimedes,” Tak continued hesitantly
“Yes, and who was the third one?”
“He had a long and strange name! Nesy, help me!”
The girl tried to help him “It starts with a V”
“Vergincetorix!” the answer came from behind a bush.
Fox took a place near the gargoyle army garden, and a baby snoot jumped into his lap, cooing in vibrating mruii.
“So what about these Kings do you want to know?” Rukshan asked.
“Everything!” they all said in unison.
“Oh well, in this case, let me retell you the story of the Golden Age of the Three Giant Kings, and how they saved their people from a terrible catastrophe.”
“Albie, wake up, sweetie!”
“It’ll take him a day or two to recover. This was a psychic attack the scale of which I haven’t seen before.” Arona was assessing the situation. Luckily for her, the old protective spells woven in the cloak that she’d used to make her hijab had protected her from it. Sanso seemed to have been hit more, although the effects varied and honestly, it was always a bit difficult to be a fair judge of his sanity or lack thereof.
“Strange things happen around these keys.” Mandrake said pointing at the key that Arona was wearing around her neck. “Are you sure you still want to run around places finding the others? Especially after what Fergus said about them?”
“I never knew you to pussy out like that” she said with a smile “where’s your sense of adventure?”
“The point is, I wouldn’t know where to start. It was all supposed to be a simple recon mission, wasn’t it? But that energy surge… Something else entirely; maybe we should leave it to Ed Steam and his team.”
Mandrake stretched lazily, and continued “I wouldn’t feel bad about them, seems they got the hang of living in a ghost town, they don’t need all the action to feel good. Might end up wake up the underground monsters, if you let them.”
“Oh, that’s smart. From the Doline’s vortex, it’ll be much easier to pick up the energy signature of the other keys, check if they haven’t been moved.”
“Better pray that they haven’t been moved, or found.”
The old ruse was still working, so I continued to use it. Only way to get a bit of time to myself, especially lately. A bit of quiet time, to think. And there was so much to think about, what with all these people around. I wasn’t put on this earth to make beds and pander to tourists, and the clues were coming in thick and fast. Oh yes, some of these new guests were thick, and some were fast. Anyway, I pretended to be inebriated again and did a pretty good imitation of a lurching drunk to throw them off the scent. They always fall for it.
After turning the key in the lock of my bedroom door, I leaned my back against it for a minute and closed my eyes. It was the bird flying in the window at the crack of dawn that got me worried. Now I’m not a superstitious person by any means, but there have been times when a bird in the house has been followed by a death, and things like that stick in your mind. The sight of Mater in that red pantsuit had etched itself on my mind as well, which was almost as worrying as the bird.
I went over to the window and pulled down the blinds. The bright sun was making my head hurt. I was thirsty, and wished I’d brought a cup of tea with me, but lurching drunks can’t be seen to be making plans for a quiet afternoon of sober contemplation. I tried valiantly to ignore my parched mouth, but it was no good. I put my ear to the door, and the coast seemed clear so I inched it open, looking up and down the hallway. I sprinted to the bathroom, unfortunately tripping over the vacuum cleaner that Finley had no doubt left there deliberately to trip me up. She was a dark horse, that one. Good at dusting, and reliable, so I suppose that was something. Hard to get hired help out here so we had no choice, really.
I smashed my nose on Mater’s doorknob and skinned my shin on the hoover. My nose hurt like hell, and quickly spurted an astonishing quantity of bright blood, similar in colour to that ghastly pantsuit. My fall made a hell of a din so I staggered quickly to the bathroom wash basin for the much needed drink of water before anyone came to investigate the crash, hoping to get back to my room before anyone appeared on the scene.
Had the water in the cold tap been cold, it might have been different, but the new water pipes were still above ground, and the cold water was scalding hot from the heat of the sun on the black pipes. I didn’t have a moment to waste, so drank some quickly, horrid though it was. The unfortunate side effect of the cold water being hot was that it encouraged and diluted the blood, making the overall effect look considerably more alarming. I was tempted to blame Mater for the whole sorry affair, for starting the red theme with that damn pantsuit. I actually said “bloody pantsuit”, which struck me as inordinately funny, and made it hard to get back to the bedroom quickly. I was still laughing hysterically, leaving red hand prints and strange red markings along the corridor wall, when Sanso appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“I saw cave paintings like that in Zimbabwe,” he said conversationally, taking a closer look at the bloody hand prints. “I’ve often wondered what the purpose was, the meaning.” He raised an eyebrow and smiled at me. “Have you interpreted these?”
I was momentarily speechless, as you might imagine. Then I had an impulse, and grabbed his elbow and propelled him into my room, slamming and locking the door behind him. He was almost unnaturally calm and unperturbed, albeit looking as if he was trying not to smile too broadly, which was just the kind of energy I needed. My kind of man! I gave him one of my famous coquettish looks, which made him laugh out loud, and then I caught sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror and hastily grabbed an old nightgown off the floor and spit on it to rub the blood off my face.
“My kind of girl!” he laughed. Oh, how he laughed.
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