Reddening, Bob stammered, “Yeah, yes, uh, yeah. Um…”
Clara squeezed her grandfathers arm reassuringly. “We’re looking for my friend Nora.” she interrupted, to give him time to compose himself. Poor dear was easily flustered these days. Turning to Will, “She was hiking over to visit us and should have arrived yesterday and she’d have passed right by here, but her phone seems to be dead.”
Will had to think quickly. If he could keep them both here with Nora long enough to get the box ~ or better yet, replace the contents with something else. Yes, that was it! He could take a sack of random stuff to put in the box, and they’d never suspect a thing. He was going to hide the contents in a statue anyway, so he didn’t even need the box.
Spreading his arms wide in welcome and smiling broadly, he said “This is your lucky day! Come inside and I’ll put the kettle on, Nora’s gone up to take some photos of the old ruin, she’ll be back soon.”
Bob and Clara relaxed and returned the smile and allowed themselves to be ushered into the kitchen and seated at the table.
Will lit the gas flame under the soup before filling the kettle with water. They’d be too polite to refuse, if he put a bowl in front of them, and if they didn’t drink it, well then he’d have to resort to plan B. He put a little pinch of powder from a tiny jar into each cup of tea; it wouldn’t hurt and would likely make them more biddable. Then the soup would do the trick.
Will steered the conversation to pleasant banter about the wildflowers on the way up to the ruins that he’d said Nora was visiting, and the birds that were migrating at this time of year, keeping the topics off anything potentially agitating. The tea was starting to take effect and Clara and Bob relaxed and enjoyed the conversation. They sipped the soup without protest, although Bob did grimace a bit at the thought of eating on an agitated stomach. He’d have indigestion for days, but didn’t want to be rude and refuse. He was enjoying the respite from all the vexation, though, and was quite happy for the moment just to let the man prattle on while he ate the damn soup.
“Oh, I think Nora must be back! I just heard her voice!” exclaimed Clara.
Will had heard it too, but he said, “That wasn’t Nora, that was the parrot! It’s a fast leaner, and Nora’s been training it to say things….I tell you what, you stay here and finish your soup, and I’ll go and fetch the parrot.”
“Parrot? What parrot?” Clara and Bob said in unison. They both found it inordinately funny and by the time Will had exited the kitchen, locking the door from the outside, they were hooting and wiping the tears of laughter from their cheeks.
“What the hell was in that tea!” Clara joked, finishing her soup.
What was Nora doing awake already? Will didn’t have to keep her quiet for long, but he needed to keep her quiet now, just until the soup took effect on the others.
Either that or find a parrot.
“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.
“You really know your trade, Fuyi,” said Rukshan. “You’ve built the most exquisite and comfortable place. And I think the empty dishes speak aplenty about the quality of the food and the pleasure we took in this shared meal. Now, let us help you with the dishes,” said Rukshan.
“Ach! Don’t be so polite,” said Fuyi. “I’ll have plenty of time after yar departure tomorrow. It’s not like the inn is full. Just enjoy an evening together, discuss yar plans, and have some rest. I know that life. Take the chance when it presents itself!”
The Sinese food made by the innkeeper had been delicious and quite a first for most of them. Tak had particularly enjoyed the crunchy texture of the stir fried vegetables flavoured with the famous five spices sauce. Nesy had preferred the algae and chili dishes while Fox, who ate a red hot pepper thinking it was bell pepper, had stuffed himself with juicy pork buns to put out the fire in his mouth.
Gorrash, befuddled by the novelty, had been at a loss of labels, good or bad. He simply chose to welcome the new experiences and body reactions to flavours and textures. As for Olliver, he gave up the chopsticks when he saw how fast Fox made the food disappear from the dishes.
Now that the dishes were empty, the children and Gorrash had left the table and were playing near the fireplace. Olliver was looking at the trio with envy, split between the desire to play and enjoy the simplicity of the moment, and the desire to be taken more seriously which meant participate in the conversation with the adults.
“We have plenty to discuss, Fae,” said Kumihimo.
Fuyi looked at Olliver, recognising the conundrum. “That’s settled, then,” he said to the group. Then turning toward Olliver: “Boy! I’m sure the start of the conversation will be boring for a young mind. Let’s join the others for a story of my own. You can still come back later and they’ll fill you in on the details.”
Fuyi and Olliver moved to the fireplace. The innkeeper threw cushions on the floor and sat on a wooden rocking chair. At the mention of a story, Tak, Nesy and Gorrash couldn’t contain their exuberant joy and gathered all ears around Admirable Fuyi. As he rocked, the chair creaked. He waited until they all calmed down. And when he was satisfied he started.
“I was young and still a fresh recruit in the Sinese army,” started Fuyi. “We were stationed at the western frontier just below the high plateaus and I hadn’t participated in any battle yet. With the folly of youth I thought that our weapons and the bond we shared with my fellow soldiers were enough to defeat anything.”
“Finnley, stop pacing like that with that concerned look of yours, you make me dizzy. Is that too difficult a task to hire a secretary?”
“You mean the perfect one for me?”
“No I mean, she’s called Pearl. She’ll start tomorrow. What concerns me is something else entirely. Something strange, if you ask me. But you never ask, so I’m telling you.”
“Well, this whole conversation started because I asked you.”
“You asked me because you thought it was related to your previous request.”
“Then tell me and stop brooding. It’s killing the mood.”
Finnley snorted. “If you want to know, someone is throwing things on the balcony. Children things. The other day I found that cheap toy to make soap bubbles. And then it was a small blue children’s plastic sand shovel. And today they dropped a red bucket.”
“I’ve asked Godfrey and I’m positive it’s not him because it’s driving him nut too. We asked Roberto because he’s been attempting to teach tricks to the dogs. A waste of time if you ask me, letting the garden going to the dogs,” she smirked.
“Then, was it Roberto and the dogs?”
“Not at all! We kept an eye on him while he was training the dogs. Nothing. But the objects keep coming. I’m telling you either we have a ghost or a portal to another dimension in this mansion.”
“That sounds like a nice idea,” said Liz, pouting at the possibilities.
“You wouldn’t say that if another you came into this thread.”DevanParticipant
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.
I woke up this morning with a stiff neck. I do not mention it too much with my friend because some of them have a tendency to look for a reason behind anything like you have a choice that you don’t want to make, or you don’t listen your truth, or whatever one can invent in such a case. I’m sure someone would even mention a past life when my head was cut off. Today I don’t want other people’s opinion about me so I just say it’s a way for me to take care of myself.
Today I take things one at a time. I called a few friends to take news, and only one of them answered. Which is fine by me because I didn’t really want to talk, only to make the effort to connect. I went into the garden, the grass is tall and it looks like a prairie. I’m sure wild mice enjoy it, and the neighbour’s cats also. One of them has a roof full of them redheads and black ones. I see them cross the wild grass one at a time, each has their own habitual path.
I love looking at them. It’s quieting.
There was an argument somewhere. I heard people shout. A man and a woman. It sounded like a soap, so I’m not sure it wasn’t someone’s TV on. The air was so clear, the absence of the cars and normal conversations gave it enough place to express. Each silence they left in between their arguments was filled with sounds of nature.
I have a new family of birds coming into the garden. I baked them some wild rice with carrots and some fat. Someone told me it’s the last day you can feed them, afterwards it’s best they look for food for themselves as spring is here. So I’ve made the stew although I haven’t fed them during winter. I can tell they enjoyed it as nothing was left when I came back two hours ago.FloveParticipant
Cousin Lisa came calling yesterday morning and she tells us there’s some in the Village have come down with sickness. Of course it would be Lisa being the bearer of such news, her face lit up when I tell her I have heard nothing. Cook, over hearing our conversation, which was private but Cook is always sticking her great nose in where it is not required, she’s hung braids of garlic at the front door. I caught her telling the children it was to keep away the evil spirits that brought death. Poor little Jimmy couldn’t sleep last night he was that afraid of the spirits bringing death in the night. He asked endless questions, how will the garlic stop them? Can the spirits get in through a window instead? He got his sister afraid also and the pair of them wouldn’t sleep then for crying in fear. I told Cook off roundly this morning for speaking to them thus.
The master came home filled with drink, crashing around like the damned drunken fool he is nowadays. He shouted at the children for their crying and shouted at me for not keeping them quiet. At least he did not raise his fists for he wanted to lie with me and I nearly retched with his stinking breath coming close and thank God for His mercies that the fool passed out before he could do the deed. I may have done harm if he’d tried for the brass bell was sitting there on the table (and it is a heavy thing) and I was seeing at it as he came close and there was a moment I could have picked it up and crashed it to his skull. May God forgive me.
He makes my skin crawl for I know what he has done that he thinks I don’t know. But all will come to light if not in this world then the next. I am more sure than ever I must get away and the children with me.
Norma was taking the sheets for a clean when she ran into the tall black figure of Mr August in the neatly carpeted corridors that Finnley had got freshly cleaned. Those odd people from Alabama that had brought Barron back had been all too pleased to help with the carpet cleaning, gaining a contract with the Beige House rather than a one-time reward.
August was a gentleman, and offered to help, while exchanging some innocent small talk. He was a married man after all. “Those carpets sure do look cleaner than they ever were.”
“You look distressed Norma.” he paused looking genuinely concerned. “It’s nothing to do with the sacking of June & April, is it? Or is that the stress of all that sudden responsibility falling on your shoulder? Taking care of Mr. Barron and all?”
“Oh yes, but no!” she immediately answered. “It was such an honor that Mistress Mellie Noma entrusted me with her child. The Lord will forgive me for speaking ill of them, but these two were not fit and proper to raise a child, with all that partying and …” she stopped thinking she sounded like a bitter spinster.
“Amen.” smiled August. “Not to mention all the gossiping around.” he giggled.
He rose from the floor and gave her back the folded sheet in a neat package.
“Good luck with the kid. Now he’s back, there’s no telling what goes in this head of his. I still wonder how he managed to get on this little trip. I have to go, work to do before Pres. Lump is coming back from his impricotement hearings. Seems he won once again and will be here in no time.”
“Y’were in a cult?” breaking the odd silence, Rosamund left her mouth gaping between messaging-styled sentences and chewing of gum. “What kind of cult?” she said, resuming the noisy chewing.
Tara rolled her eyes, thinking how she just needed another baby-sitting now. There was a case to crack, and it was their first client. She went for her favorite subtly make-a-ton approach. “Oh yeah, right. Abso-lu-tely. A damn strange cult at that.” Then, when she got her hooked well, she went for the elusive-slightly-patronizing approach. She was good like that. “But I think you’re too young for the crazy details, might have you wet your bed at night.”
She immediately regretted her last sentence.
Changing the topic, Tara asked. “What kind of cult indeed. That’s the damn bloody question we forgot to ask!”
Rosamund put a cocky smirk on her lips and mouthed “amateurs”. Could have been the chewing, Tara couldn’t tell. She was myopic but refused to wear corrective eyewear, so she had to strain at times, which gave her a funny wrinkled look.
“I’ve got us all we need for our invertigastion.”
“Did you find clues too in the clue department?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. Got us that well-worn out book at a bargain price. Have a look.”
“So, what do we do now?” asked Fox. Call it a sixth sense or a seventh sense, but he knew before he got the answer that he was going to regret it somehow. He had always been too quick to ask questions, and his years at the service of Master Gibbon apparently hadn’t made this habit go away.
“Well dear assistant. You can start with the dishes,” said Kumihimo with a broad smile, “and then clean the rest of the hut.”
Fox swallowed. He looked at the piles of stuff everywhere. What had seemed fun a moment before, playing with Kumihimo’s recipes and what he still thought of as her power toys, had turned into a chore. Though, his eyes stopped on a paquet he hadn’t notice before. It looked heavy and wet. The wrapping was not completely closed on the top and he thought he could see pink. That renewed his energy and motivation. Thinking that afterwards they would revive Gorrash suddenly made him feel the cleaning would be done in no time. He simply needed to be methodical and tackle each task one by one.
First the glassware, it was the most fragile and took most of the space outside.
Fox didn’t know how long he had been at it. He had been so engrossed in the cleaning, that he hadn’t paid attention to the others who had been talking all along. He felt a little exhausted and his stomach growled. How since he last ate. His body was stiff with all the movements and carrying stuff around. He was about to ask for some food when he noticed Kumihimo and Rukshan were still talking. The Fae looked exhausted too, he had his panda eyes, but he seemed captivated by their discussion.
“Things are going to get worse,” was saying Kumihimo, “We need everybody ready for what’s coming next. The fires were just the beginning.”
“Do you have anything to eat?” asked Fox not knowing what else to contribute to the conversation. But he knew he wouldn’t be of any help if he didn’t eat something first.
“You’ve lost weight” Rukshan said, not knowing where to start. The shaman thinner look was besuiting.
“So have you, my friend.” They both laughed.
“So what have been up to, in these parts of the woods?”
“It just happens that I was a bit ahead of you, and have just come back from the Great Austral Dry Lands.”
They all became somber. The Fires had devastated the place, and the news which came were not good. There was little chance they could put an expedition in place to gather the pink clay, with all this devastation… unless… He smiled.
“You’ve brought some back, haven’t you?”
Kumihimo smiled back. “Indeed. Not easy to come by, pink clay, isn’t it?”
Fox who had been turning his head right and left, and right and left following the conversation marked a moment, and the realization came.
“Does it mean we can revive Gorrash?”
“It may well be my dear Fox, with this last ingredient now gathered, it may well be.”
I had a long conversation (in my head, where all the best conversations are these days) with Corrie while I sat on the porch. I think it’s easier to communicate with her because she’s trying to communicate with me too. The others don’t come through so clear, I get images but not much in the way of conversation. Anyway, she said Clove is with her on the raftboat, and that Clove has a little boy now, seven years old or so, named Pan. I don’t know if that’s short for a longer name or if that’s his name. Anyway, he’s a great little diver, she said, can hold his breath for longer than anyone, although lots of the kiddies are good divers now, so she tells me. They send them out scouting in the underwater ruins. Pan finds all sorts of useful things, especially in the air pockets. They call those kiddies the waterlarks, if I heard that right. Pan the Waterlark.
Corrie said they’re in England, or what used to be called England, before it became a state of the American United States. Scotland didn’t though, they rebuilt Hadrian’s wall to keep the Ameringlanders out (which is what they called them after America took over), and Wales rebuilt Offa’s Dyke to keep them out too. When America fell into chaos (not sure what happened there, she didn’t say) it was dire there for years, Corrie said. Food shortages and floods mainly, and hardly any hospitals still functioning. Corrie delivered Cloves baby herself she said, but I didn’t want all the details, just pleased to hear there were no complications. Clove was back on her feet in no time in the rice paddies.
A great many people left on boats, Corrie said. She didn’t know where they’d gone to. Most of the Midlands had been flooded for a good few years now. At first the water went up and down and people stayed and kept drying out their homes, but in the end people either left, or built floating homes. Corrie said it was great living on the water ~ it wasn’t all that deep and they could maneouver around in various ways. It was great sitting on the deck watching all the little waterlarks popping up, proudly showing their finds.
I was thoroughly enjoying this chat with Corrie, sitting in the morning sun with my eyes closed, when the sky darkened and the red behind my eyelids turned black. There was a hot air balloon contraption coming down, and looked like it was heading for the old Bundy place. Maybe Finly was back with supplies. Maybe it was a stranger with news. Maybe it was Devan.
“Init been quiet as being caught in the doldruffs, my Mavis?” Sha was sandwiched in the cryogenic apparatus like a tartine in a toaster, with her ample person protruding like cheese squeezed in too much.
The door flung open.
“Good Lord, aren’t them splendigious, those little tarts, meringue and all.”
Berenice, Barb’s niece, trotting in his steps, taking her role as the new temp assistant very seriously was about to voice a response that he quickly tutted away. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Took me a while to find out the thread though, buried through all that poubelle creative thinking and monologues, and bla and bla. Action all gone missing safe for a little excitement in Tik…” He stopped, looking around suspiciously. “They’re here, I know. Stop it, now. Hey. Shut up!”
“He’s been acting all strange, since he cracked that red crystal.”
“Shht, Glo. You don’t want him to get mad and stop all our beauty treatment. I can feel my skin tighten and dewrinkle.”
“T’is like ironing, fussure. Some steam and a good hot iron to remove the wrinkles.”
“Ahahah, wrinkles yourself, they’re more like crevices, hihihi!”
“But first, nuffin like a ice treatment to tighten the glutes.”
“Oh uhuh, haha, she said glutes like a snotty beauty specialist. Next she’ll say we need to do Pontius Pilates…”
Berenice couldn’t help herself. She blurted out in one quick sentence “But what are you planning to do with them, Doctor?”
He paused a moment his conversation with the invisible guests then turned nonchalently at B.
“But just… perfecting them, sweet thing. Oh, and love what you did with the beehive.”
I bet you were expecting reports of action and adventure, a fast paced tale of risks and rescues, with perhaps a little romance. Hah! It’s been like a morgue around here after that fluster of activity and new arrivals. Like everyone lost the wind out of their sails and wondered what they were doing here.
Sanso took to his room with no explanation, other than he needed to rest. He wouldn’t let anyone in except Finly with food and drinks (quite an extraordinary amount for just one man, I must say, and not a crumb or a drop left over on the trays Finly carried back to the kitchen.) I told Finly to quiz him, find out if he was sick or needed a doctor, or perhaps a bit of company, but the only thing she said was that he was fine, and it was none of our business, he’d paid up front hadn’t he? So what was the problem. Bit rude if you ask me.
Mater had taken to her room with a pile of those trashy romance novels, complaining of her arthritis. She’d gone into a sulk ever since I ruined her red pantsuit in a boil wash, and dyed all the table linen pink in the process. The other guests lounged around listlessly in the sitting room or the porch, flicking through magazines or scrolling their gadgets, mostly with bored vacant expressions, and little conversation beyond a cursory reply to any attempt to chat.
Bert was nowhere to be seen most of the time, and even when he was around, he was as uncommunicative as the rest of them, and Devan, what was he up to, always down the cellar? Checking the rat traps was all he said when I asked him. But we haven’t got rats, I told him, not down the cellar anyway. He gave me a look that was unreadable, to put it politely. Maybe he’s got a crack lab going on down there, planning on selling it to the bored guests. God knows, maybe that’d liven us all up a bit.
I did get to wondering about those two women who wandered off down the mine, but whenever I mentioned them to anyone, all I got was a blank stare. I even banged on Sanso’s door a time or two, but he didn’t answer. I made Finly ask him, and she said all he would say is Not to worry, it would be sorted out. I mean, really! He hadn’t left that room all week, how was he going to sort it out? Bert said the same thing when I eventually managed to collar him, he said just wait, it will get sorted out, and then that glazed look came over his face again.
It’s weird, I tell you. We’re like a cast of characters with nobody writing the story, waiting. Waiting to start again on whatever comes next.
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.
When Hilda received the message from her old friend Lucinda her first thought was Miss Bossy Pants award for the “Most Stylistic Synchronistic Article”. There was already a synchronicity because she’s also had a tip off from some guy calling himself “Superjerk”, which was also about dolls. If she followed the lead about the doll stories, and managed to connect them together, it could be the scoop of the year ~ whether or not there was an actual connection between them.
Hilda had made copious notes from the long and garbled telephone conversation with Lucinda about everything she knew thus far, and where she was stuck. Clearly the poor dear needed Hilda’s special expertise in following a lead and putting the clues together to form a picture. Admittedly Hilda didn’t always stick to facts ~ who did in journalism these days anyway! But she had an intuition that this was just what she needed to get her teeth into. It had been a boring year in the extreme reportage department. Extremely boring.
It had been years since Hilda had been in contact with Lucinda, and that had been on a remote viewing forum. Neither of them had been much good at it, but some of the other members had been brilliant, so it came in useful at times to use their expertise. Hilda made a mental note to rejoin that forum, if it still existed, or find another one. She changed her mind about the mental note, and jotted it down in her notebook. It was a good idea and could come in handy.
The short and cryptic note from the guy calling himself Superjerk didn’t provide much information other than the synchronicity, which was of course noteworthy. And he had provided the link to that website “findmydolls.com”. The story was already starting to show promising signs of weaving together.
Not wanting any of the other staff to cotton on to her new thread, Hilda told Miss Bossy Pants that she was going to investigate the “hum” in Cadiz. That peculiar Horns of Gabriel phenomenon that occurred randomly around the world had been heard over a wide area of Cadiz and Seville. Hilda had another old friend in that neck of the woods; so she could easily pretend she was there covering that story, with a bit of collaboration from her friend, while she embarked on the real journey to the Flying Fish Inn, in some godforsaken outpost of the outback.
That nosy Connie had somehow managed to find out about the whole thing, eavesdropping again no doubt, and Hilda had no option but to come clean with her and ask her to join her in ironing out the story. They would have to deal with Miss Bossy Pants later. If the scoop was the success that Hilda anticipated, then they would be getting an award, not a reprimand.
It was worth it. Hilda felt more alive than she had done in a long time.
Granola, with all the expounding of new information felt a bit dizzy and in need of a quiet recap.
The squishy giraffe was a place as good as any for a bit of rest, but to be perfectly honest, the pets around the place didn’t make the greatest conversationists. And she didn’t want to look like she didn’t do her homework and get admonished by her bleu friend.
“Think,” she said “by now, you can go about any place in their expansively creative stories.” —which was actually, like travelling inside her friends’ memories, considering the time they all spent in these universes, they were almost real, quite tangible.
“Think about one of their character, one who always seems to hold answers…”
“It didn’t take long.”
She could squint in the dark and see a faint glow. “Wait… Don’t tell me I’m in one of these… kluknish… what’s these bat things with the impossible name…”
It’s glükenitch actually the voice was coming from below, but speaking directly in her head. And you don’t have to hide in one, really. Don’t you have some better character to be?
She recognized the dragon. “Shit,” she muttered, “that’s not the one I was thinking about; always answering in riddles, that much I remember; don’t need to add more confusion! As if speaking through the whale last time wasn’t messy enough.”
True, but you got a glimpse of one of the keys, haven’t you?
She froze in her tracks. “What do you know about these keys?”
Not much, I’m loath to say. Besides, what should I know about it, I’m not from this world, am I now?
“Damn riddles,” she said. But the dragon had a point. She wasn’t in the right world to check on her friends.
“Can you tell me something useful at least?” she asked the dragon before deciding to pop-out.
Maybe, yes… See, you pop-in naturally where the action is. It’s only natural that the bigger the action, the stronger the pull…
Granola hadn’t thought of that. She had been a bit too focused in getting more physical and interacting outside. But the last week (in her friends’ time continuity), there has been more targeted jumps, less chaotic, and more frequent. It’s like she could tune in.
And for now, the pull was in Australia.
Come to think of it, she may have had a concurrent focus there. She only had to believe she could be there, right place, right time, right person… An Aboriginal woman, what was her name?
Despite the underground currents, following the trail of blue glow from the glukenitches’ droppings was easy; far less subtle than old fashioned glow worms starmap reading…
Mandrake was alerted to a sudden drop when the trail started to disappear abruptly, indicating the strong possibility of a chute of some kind.
He only managed to catch Albie’s pants before he fell right in, and pulled both of them back to the shore. He had to be sure.
“Good thing, that slimey dragon managed to power back the sabulmantium, we may get a hint of where we’re headed to.”
“There’s no other way than the waterfall, is there Mr Mandrake?”
“Shht. Let me concentrate, this thing is sensitive.”
Under the paws of the cat, the sand inside the clear sphere started to move in shapes and describe a living story.
“Mmm. Seems he wasn’t joking, never seen this thing behave so strangely before.”
“What is this?”
“It looks like something that I have seen a long time ago, but that wasn’t in this dimension… I guess we won’t know for sure until we get there. Ready boy for the dive of your life?”
Albie didn’t have time to answer, as the cat wasn’t waiting for him.
The fall seemed to last forever. But then a light appeared, and they started to float up, up, up.
When they emerged, they were clearly out of swamp waters. Salty water was all they could see for miles around.
“A blessing you had an inflatable zodiac in your purse, Sir.” the boy said to the cat once they were up on the boat, waiting for a sign as to where next.
“Whales! Whales!” the boy shouted excitedly, pointing to the shapes moving under their boat.
“Ah, finally, someone with some wits about that can tell us some valuable information.”
It didn’t take long to Mandrake to grab the attention of one of the belugas and engage the conversation; it didn’t seem particularly long to Albie, but it seemed like a lot was exchanged.
“We’re on the Gold Coast of Australia” Mandrake said. “That dimension is a bit tricky for my species, humans here take us for lazy playthings and don’t really understand us, so I may have to rely on you for some of the talking, boy.”
“For sure, Mr Mandrake. Did you get any news as to where Ms Arona might be?”
“Might be. That whale started to babble thing about granola cookies and dolls. I have no idea what she meant, she might have been popped in by some alien force. Luckily whales are used to manage multiple personalities well, so I managed to get the rest of the navigational hints once she got her channels back in order.”
“So where to now?”
“Starboard, son, starboard!”FloveParticipant
But had he been evesdropping on her conversation with Lucinda? He seemed so on edge, clutching the packet in sweaty hands, stuttering over the few words he spoke. Not that Maeve considered herself socially adept, not by any means! But, after the talk with Lucinda, her senses were on high alert.
And the newspaper cutting … surely that couldn’t be coincidence?
Oh my gosh, this is making me paranoid!
It was only then she realised she had forgotten her butter.
“I think he’s dealing with those hooligan birds,” remarked Godfrey helpfully, “He’d made a carved decoy, free standing and heavy.”
The voice of a dog stopped the conversation, a talking dog. “It’s alright. The sadness was just a dream.”
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