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  • #6187
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Aunt Idle:

    You can’t blame me for not updating my diary because bugger all has happened all year.  Borders closed, no tourists allowed in.  How are bespoke bijou boutique establishments like ours supposed to survive?  But we’re still here. Somehow we’ve managed to keep the wolf from the door, but only just barely.  I get a bit muddled up these days and can’t remember the dates. Sometimes I find myself living in the past for weeks on end: things change so little around her that it’s easy to do. But what does it matter anyway?

    Mater went into a sulk the likes of which I hope never to see again, when her 100th birthday party was cancelled. I thought she might give up the will to live, but oh no. She’s determined now to have a 110th birthday party now.  She says the bloody pandemic ought to be over by then.  I hope she’s right. She changes her health food and exercise regimes as often as she changes her knickers. Well more often than that, probably, she doesn’t bother much with personal hygiene.  She says the germs keep her immune system in good shape.  I think the smell of her would keep any plague ridden body well away from her, but whatever works, I always say.  At least she isn’t sulking anymore, she’s grimly stoic now and tediously determined to outlive me.

    I had some worrying news through the telepathic grapevine about the twins and Pan, they’d gotten into the clutches of a strange cult over there.  I’ve got a feeling they weren’t really sucked into it though, I think they needed to use it as a cover, or to keep themselves safe.  I say cult but it was huge, took over the entire country and even started spreading to other countries. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with.  I knew they shouldn’t have gone there.  There’s been a peculiar blockage with the telepathic messages for ages now.  It’s a worry, but what can I do.   I keep sending them messages, but get nothing in return.

    Ah, well. We carry on as best we can. What I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor to brighten things up a bit. Fat chance of that.

    #6155
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Damn these municipal restrictions! Frustrated, Nora looked again at the photo of the inscriptions on the mysterious pear shaped box that Clara had found.  She picked up a pen and copied the symbols onto a piece of paper. Glancing back over the message her friend had sent, her face softened at Clara’s pet name for her, Alienor.  Clara had started called her that years ago, when she found out about the ouija board incident and the aliens Nora had been talking to.  Was it really an alien, or….? Clara had asked, and Nora had laughed and said Of course it was an alien or! and the name had stuck.

    Nora’s mood had changed with the reminiscence, and she had an idea. She was working from home, but all that really meant was that she had to have internet access. Nobody would have to know which home she was working from, if she could just make it past the town barriers.  But she didn’t have to go by road: the barriers were only on the roads.  There was nothing stopping her walking cross country.

    Putting aside the paper with the symbols on, she perused a map.  She had to cross three town boundaries, and by road it was quite a distance. But as the crow flies, not that far.  And if she took the old smugglers track, it was surprisingly direct.  Nora calculated the distance: forty nine kilometers.  Frowning, she wondered if she could walk that distance in a single day and thought it unlikely.   Three days more like, but maybe she could do it in two, at a push.  That would mean one overnight stay somewhere. What a pity it was so cold!  It would mean carrying a warm sleeping bag, and she hated carrying things.

    Nora looked at the map again, and found the halfway point: it was a tiny hamlet. A perfect place to spend the night. If only she knew someone who lived there, somebody who wouldn’t object to her breaking the restrictions.

    Nora yawned. It was late. She would finalize the plan tomorrow, but first she sent a message to Clara, asking her if she knew anyone in the little village.

    EricEric
    Keymaster

    This year, Christmas has come a month early for Clara.

    VanGogh, her Malinois with the lopsided ear had dug a hole in the garden of Grandpa’s home in the countryside. She usually wouldn’t have given it second thought, but the hole was big this time, and the dog unusually excited. Looking at it, that’s when she noticed the shiny corner of what seemed to be a very large metal box.

    There was something buried there, apparently since a long time. Her archaeologist senses were all tingly. What, why, how, and how far back in time could she go… She couldn’t wait to tell the others.

    #6067
    AvatarJib
    Participant

    Since the sudden disappearance of the two au pair maids, a lot had happened. But for August Finest it has been a lot of the same routine going on.

    He wakes up in the early, early morning, his eyelids rubs on his eyeballs as if they are made of sandpaper. He seizes his belly with his hands, feels a little guilty about the nice meals prepared by Noor Mary especially for him since the start of the confinement. His six packs have started to fade away under a layer of fatty insulation and he tries to compensate by a daily routine in white T-shirt and underwear.

    The coffee machine has detected his movements and starts to make what it does. It’s always cleaned and replenished by the discrete Mary. The noise and the smell creates an ambiance and when it rings he eats breakfast before taking his shower.

    When he’s dressed up, his real work starts. It had not been easy for a man of his origins to appear as the best choice for the job under the Lump administration. President Lump was known to make bad jokes about his tan and him having spent too much time at the beach, and other worse things. But his worth was in the network he could connect the president with, his high discretion, which Lump was in dire need to compensate his innate tendency to boasting, and a strong adaptability to fix the president’s frequent messing around.

    If August Finest had once admired the man and accepted the job for him, it soon changed when he realised there was nothing more underneath the boasting than more boasting and unpredictability. At the moment the only thing that make him continue was his ability to go stealth when the president had a fit of nerves, and the imposed confinement that made it impossible to leave the Beige House.

    After the morning meeting during which the president asked him to fire a few members of the staff, August had to prepare a press conference. President Lump said he had thought about a few remarks about China and making a connection with the Mexican immigrants threatening the country by stealing the masks of the American People. After which, he had to plan a charity with first Lady Mellie Noma and redefine what a Masquerade meant. He had been asked to invite nurses and medical personnel, meaning republican and good looking in a blouse with a medical mask to make the promotion of the new mask industry Made in America. One of Mr Lump’s friend had just started a brand and was in need of some media promotion.

    August reread the memo to be addressed to the director of the FBI, a good friend of his. A special cell at the FBI had been created especially since Lump came to power. For this particular occasion, agents posing as patients victims of the virus would be sent in the best ranked hospitals in the country with the task to look for the best nurse and doctor candidates and send them an invitation printed by Lump’s nephew’s printing company.

    As Lump always said: “America Fist! And don’t forget people, I am America.”

    August hit the enter button and closed the window of his professional mail account, leaving the draft of a personal mail on screen. He wasn’t sure if he could send this one. It was addressed to Noor Mary and he feared she would misunderstand the meaning of it.

    #5960
    DevanDevan
    Participant

    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.

    #5953
    AvatarJib
    Participant

    Bubbling and turning from orange to green to duck blue, the potion was perfect and smelled of good work, a strong blend of cinnamon, cardamom and crushed cloves. She smiled broadly and poured the potion into five vials, which she gave to Rukshan. They were all gathered around her in the kitchen looking rather fascinated by the whole operation.

    “One for you, and one for each of the children,” Glynis said with a grin.

    “I’m not a kid,” said Fox.

    “Why only five?” asked Gorrash who suspected something was off. “We are Six. There’s Tak, Nessy, Olliver, Fox, Rukshan and I,” he said counting on his chubby fleshy fingers.

    “I don’t need a potion to go wherever I want,” said Olli with a grin.

    “Well,” started Glynis, “Despite your unique skill, Olliver, you still need the potion in order to thwart the control spells Leroway’s saucerers had scattered around the country,” Glynis said. “You all remember what happened to aunt Eleri last time she went out. You know how skilled she is when she need to sneak out. She barely escaped and Rukshan and I had a hard time turning off that dancing spell, which I’m sure is the least damaging one.”

    She looked at Gorrash with compassion but the light dimmed as a cloud passed in front of the sun outside. She pointed her finger at him. “Your immune system is still like one of a newborn. And I’d prefer you’d stay home and not go around during a beaver fever pandemic. There are plenty of things you can help me with!” Glynis showed the cauldron, vials and other utensils she used to make the potion, and the cake earlier, and yesterday’s dinner.

    “Well, if I have not to challenge my immune system…” Gorrash started.

    “You know better than to argue with me,” she said.

    Gorrash opened his mouth to say something but decided otherwise and ran away into the garden.

    Fox started to follow him.

    “Don’t said Rukshan. There’s nothing you can do.”

    “He’s my friend!” said Fox.

    #5844
    AvatarJib
    Participant

    Life around the woods had changed in a strange way since the appearance of the beaver fever. It was called after some theory from where it came from. Some said patient zero was a trapper far off in the woods who caught an infected beaver and sold its fur to the market. The fur then contaminated the coat maker and then the clients who tried on that coat, hence leading to contamination nests in the entire realm. The beaver fever took time to incubate, so when people first noticed the trapper wasn’t coming back, it was too late.

    That’s not such a bad thing to live a little recluse in the woods, thought Eleri. She usually was restless and lately had been wandering off into town and into the countryside looking for things to paint with her tar black pigment. It is a new phase of experimentation, she had said to Glynis who had been wondering if she could include more variety to her palette. I’m looking to capture the contrasting soul of what I’m painting.

    Don’t you mean contrasted? asked Glynis.

    Do I? Whatever, I’m experimenting.

    Glynis knew better than to argue with Eleri, and Eleri knew better than trying to make words fit the world. It was better to make the world fit her words. How could you explain that to someone? So she assumed people understood.

    With the curfew, though, it had first become harder. Then she had found a way by painting her own garments tar black and to complete her attire, she had asked Fox. He had also found a hobby and with a sharp knife and a log he could make you a mask so vivid to look alike anything you asked. Eleri had asked him for a crow and had painted it tar black. She looked like those doctors during the plague a few centuries back and dressed like that people certainly respected the safety distance promulgated by Leroway’s decree.

    That man seemed hard to get rid off, especially in time such as those. Eleri suspected that Leroway was not the man she knew and once courted her. She needed to get close to investigate. Her new attire, if it might not help with the investigation at least would help embolden her and stave off boredom.

    #5797
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    “This is the life, eh!” June said, stretching out on the sun lounger sipping a fruity cocktail. “Turquoise sea and a salty breeze, this is the life for me!” she said, kicking off her new deck shoes in nautical blue and white, and hitching her dress hem up to expose her thighs to the sun.

    The skipper raised an eyebrow and smiled sardonically, while simultaneously averting his eyes from the unappetizing sight of the doughy flesh. He could imagine this one rolling around below decks looking green as soon as the weather changed.

    “Sure beats that jail. That had me worried, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t sure we were ever gonna make it outta there,” replied April, smiling fondly at Ella Marie and giving her hand an affectionate squeeze.  “You saved our bacon, honey.”

    “If it weren’t for that there Lord Wrick turning up, even the money might not have got you out.” Arthur chimed in.  “Promising ole president Lump that land for the golf course if’n he pardoned you.  Jacqui, you done wonders there.”

    “Ah well, the young Lord Wrick owed me a favour, you might say. But that’s another story,” Jacqui replied. “The main thing was we had to get out of the country fast before Lump finds out about that land in Scotland.”

    June sniggered. “Can’t imagine him in a kilt, can you? I wonder if he’s orange down there as well.”

    “Oh, please! You really know how to lower the tone, dontcha? Gawd, what a thought!” April started to feel queasy.  Changing the subject, she said, “Hey, did I tell you our Joanie’s going to meet us in Australia too?”

    #5670
    AvatarJib
    Participant

    “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.

    #4810
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Nurse Trassie sniffed the rubbish can. A day or two at most. The traces were not fresh, but neither were her preys. Yet, there was something unmistakable about the trail the three of them left in their wake.
    The pharmacist had been reluctant at first to share information, but a well-placed arm wrench extracted the truth out of him very efficiently. Those misbehaving lying eloping people needed to be corrected.
    “Yes, yes, I remember them three, very nice ladies!” he said in pleading tones. “They didn’t say where they lived, pleaase! But they were late for their plane!”
    “To where?!” Nurse Trassie was losing patience as much as the plot, and it made her angry.
    “To Finland I think, they were complaining about the cold, and they bought lip balm, and and…”
    Nurse Trassie had heard enough, she could track them through the flight agencies. How these three had managed to take a flight out of the country was a surprise. They’d surely had help.

    She growled to herself “I’m not going to be bested by these decrepit slovens, mark my words. I’ll bring them back to the nursing home by the rest of their hair if I have to!”

    #4679
    prUneprUne
    Participant

    I could still smell the ounces of pecksniffery I got from the commiserating board during the review for the renewal of my scholarship.
    My family background did its part; I guess it actually helped wet a few eyes.

    A year ago, I was elated when I learnt I was accepted in the boarding school I applied for in secret. It is the only one in the country with an equivalence for astronaut programs. They don’t really advertise, but if you search, you can find them. Guess that’s how they select the motivated ones. I still have high hopes to get selected for the Mars program. They’re launching the first commercial travel in 2 or 3 years they say. That’ll give me time to prepare.

    Almost didn’t get the letter though, between the nosy sisters and my messy aunt. Hard row to hoe, like they say. Thankfully Mater was still strong as a bull when it comes to holding this family together.

    I guess it’s mostly for her that I come back from time to time. The fish’s still here on the fireplace, stupid as ever. I sure don’t come back for it. I think I’m missing Devan too, but he’s never kept touch. Can’t blame him, must have been hard to be the first born, that sort of things.

    I had a dream last night; Mater must have sent it. We had to entertain guests —that’s how I knew it was a dream, must have been ages we had guests in the inn. I was doing a little cabaret show, then we all went for fortune cookies at the Chinese local restaurant, like old times.

    Guess with the summer break coming, I don’t have much better things to do anyway, and bus tickets are cheap. As cheap as Aunt Dodo’s barmecidal crackers luncheons.

    #4576
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    “What you all don’t realize,” Liz said, “Is that all of this so called fun is in fact highly significant. You think we’re all playing around scribbling nonsense and gadding about on the lawn acting the fool for no reason just for something to do. But this is a vital and rare artifact in the future! My dears, you have no idea!”

    “I think it might be vascular dementia,” Finnley whispered to Roberto, “I read about it in a magazine this morning.”

    “Mint tea from the Basque country?” replied Roberto, holding his glass up to the light for a closer look.

    Finnley rolled her eyes and inched closer to Godfrey, hoping for a better response when she told him her theory.

    “Imagine her in a denim basque, you say? I’d rather not! HA!” Godfrey spit out a few bits of peanut with the final HA!, which was forceful enough to send a few of them flying across the room.

    “You’ve got bits of nut in my Basque mint tea now!” Roberto exclaimed ~ somewhat rudely; he forgot for a moment he was just the gardener.

    “I think they’ve all lost their marbles,” remarked Liz, just for the written record for the historians in the future who would find this story; and for the benefit of the AI they had unwittingly been programming all along. Although what the AI was actually being programmed with perhaps didn’t bear thinking about. A further though nagged at Liz despite her efforts to ignore it. What if it did matter? What were they creating?

    #4511
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Moving to the city apartment had not been a bad move. It was little things like this ~ being a five minute walk from a cafe terrace…. a selection of cafe terraces, she reminded herself…after all, her old home in the country village had been a thirty second walk from a bar terrace, and she had never used it. But the idea of being able to meet friends easily seemed to be one of the appealing things about urban life, despite being vociferously against the ghastliness of concrete and traffic landscapes for most of her life. Lucinda wasn’t sure what had changed or when it had happened, or even why, but over the years she had socialized increasingly less, to the point where an occasional lunch date seemed like a jarring interruption to her routine, where a trip to a shopping centre became a dreaded ordeal, or god forbid a journey to the nearest airport, on the most horrifying things of all, a motorway. And yet, she’d been quite the social butterfly in her youth, and a part of her still felt that that was who she was, really. And yet the truth was she hadn’t been very sociable at all for years.

    The decision to move to an apartment in the city happened suddenly, almost by accident. Or had it? In retrospect, Lucinda could see the signs and the little nudges, one thing after another going wrong as they usually do before a beneficial change ~ would that we could appreciate that at the time, she often thought! At the time she’d wanted nothing more than for nothing at all to change, to be left in peace to appreciate ~ and yes, she promised herself she would remember to appreciate everything more often! ~ if only, if only, nothing changed or went wrong and she could stay just as she was. But as time lurched on, dealing with one thing and then the next, and the next ~ she started to wonder. And then like dominoes falling, it all happened, and here she was. And it wasn’t bad at all.

    #4433
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    What the Huntingford’s hadn’t realized was that the doline on their land wasn’t the only entrance to the labyrinth, which extended considerably further than anyone would have imagined, even the Stripling Bryson’s.

    Aubrey Stripling Bryson, whose estate was a days ride up country from the Huntingford’s, was on an expedition in the tunnels when Emerald’s dog had fallen in the doline. His family had known about the underground galleries and passages for generations; indeed, the family had made use of the ones closest to the house for centuries. Nobody knew how long, although there were stories of ancient bones being found by the more adventurous, nobody knew what happened to them, and for comforts sake and the all too familiar fear of the unknown, many of the passages had been blocked off over the years.

    Aubrey had been an adventurous lad, and had ventured further along the tunnels during his childhood than anyone, other than his sister Evelyn, would have believed. When he inherited the estate at the early age of thirty three, he prepared a proper expedition including representatives of relevant scientific authorities, intending to map the subterranean network, and write a book about his findings. Evelyn wrote most of the book for him, in fact, but he was credited with it as was the custom at the time. Aubrey had done the physical explorations and obtained various reports from experts, but Evelyn assembled it all together.

    The book was in the final stages prior to going to print, when Evelyn had disappeared. And everything relating to the book had disappeared with her. Aubrey was distraught, and never recovered, and Evelyn was never found. He ordered the final tunnel to be blocked off, leaving an usual cave house cellar, nothing more than a curiosity.

    The story of Aubrey’s book that disappeared was told to generations of Stripling Bryson children, whispered along with other family ghost stories. And there were many. Even now, there are unusual goings on at the Stripling Bryson estate, adding to the repertoire of local stranger than fiction stories.

    #4351
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    “Oh no!” Margoritt swore loudly, “not that cursed rain again!”.
    They were about to share what was left of the cake for dessert when the first booming strike of thunder resounded violently across the mountains.

    She cupped her hands in front of her mouth to rally the troops over the noisy rumble of the heavy dark clouds. “Inside! Everyone inside!” — when the rains started in spring, they could go on for days, drenching the countryside in curtains of water.

    The first drops falling, quickly extinguishing the candles, Rukshan raised his head to look at the darker skies covering completely the moon’s glow “This is no ordinary rain…”

    “You bet, it isn’t!” Margoritt said, looking more sombre than she ever was. “That magical umbrella won’t be enough this time, we are probably going to have to sit that one out inside. Help me bring the animals inside.”

    In front of the small cottage, everyone else started to hurry inside, bringing back the plates, cups and leftovers, while Rukshan was preparing some wood for the fire to keep the moist away.

    “Has anybody seen Eleri?” Yorath’s look was concerned. “She seem to have disappeared somewhere as usual… But she hasn’t come back yet,… and I’m afraid she took a large bite of the trancing cake too. It’s not a good night to trance out.”

    Rukshan was torn between waiting a bit longer, or going to search for her, which would be risking lives during the dark stormy night. He was about to offer to go outside himself when Gorrash said briskly:
    “Let me go find her, this storm is nothing, and I’m used to the dark. You all should stay inside. If I don’t come back at the break of dawn, you can go out to look for us, but don’t worry too much about me, I’ll blend in.” He winked at Fox who smiled weakly. He didn’t like this type of cold rain. Its smell was damp and rotten.

    “Thank you Gorrash, that is very noble of you. Please, take care of yourself, and be back soon.” Rukshan said as he opened the door which was now jerking violently against the darkest night.

    #4232
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    The day after their arrival, Alexandria took Leroway and Jolly on a tour of the abandoned village, inviting them to choose a dwelling for themselves. The other new arrivals had chosen places with the least structural damage, places with roofs remaining, regardless of the size or position, for reasons of immediate practicality. Leroway set his sights on the grandest house just outside the castle walls, perched above the other houses. There was very little roof left, but the thick stone walls were standing firm, and the gaping windows provided impressive views. Jolly was delighted with the spacious inner courtyard and crumbling fountain, picturing the flowering Solandra vines she would plant there once the restorations had been completed.

    Leroway had been making mental notes of salvagable materials as they toured the village, and had soon enlisted the help of Lobbocks and a few of the other young men to drag sheets of corrugated iron from crumbling pig pens and stables and other useable items up the winding streets to the house. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t long at all before Leroway had the new villagers organized into efficient teams, under his innovative direction.

    Trustinghampton started to take shape. More people arrived and joined in the reconstruction process. Shelter, firewood, and food were the priorities, but Leroway had ideas for the future and during the scavenging he started to collect potentially useful items in the barn adjoining his house.

    Jolly and Eleri became friends, and spent much of their days exploring the surrounding countryside in search of edible or medicinal ~ or indeed magical ~ plants. After their walks they conferred with the old woman, Cornelia, showing her the plants they’d gathered and comparing notes on their potential uses. The young women were well versed in plant lore, but the old one had the benefit of a lifetimes learning and experience.

    Cornelia had always lived just outside the village, and had watched the old inhabitants gradually die off or move to the lowlands. The last ones to leave had begged her to join them, but she had refused. She had been born next to the old stones and she would die next to them. Eleri and Jolly had asked her about those strange stones, and Cornelia had enigmatically replied that one day she would tell them the secrets of the stones. When the time was right.

    #4220
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    As Eleri prepared the mushrooms for breakfast her mind wandered back to the previous mushroom season, when Rhiannon had been visiting from the old country. The rain had been relentless, hammering down without respite, until the trees of the enchanted woods were bowed with saturation and the forest floor was as swampy as the Marshes of Doom. The river had risen to within a few short meters of her thatched dwelling, necessitating an emergency spell to lift the building onto temporary stilts above the sodden ground.

    There had been an initial difficulty in achieving the correct height of the stilts. The first attempt had been much too high, and Eleri and Rhiannon had clung to each other laughing, as the cottage swayed alarmingly in the wind above the tree tops.

    A swinging shutter slammed shut on Eleri’s pinky, occasioning a piercing howl of pain amid the shrieks of mirth, but it did serve to ground the women sufficiently to recall the ‘shortening emergency stilts’ spell. It was, however, administered without due care to details, and the building crashed to the ground rather too quickly.

    Rubbing their bruised body parts but still seeing the funny side, they eventually managed to lift the abode a logical distance from the mud.

    “Good morning!” Yorath called, bringing Eleri back to the present. “Mmm, mushrooms!”

    #4113
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    The interview with the orangutan man would have to wait. Despite no nearby zoo reporting any lost elephants, the city of Sheffield was overrun with them. The country appeared to be in the grip of a strange psycozoonotic mania. But what were the connecting links between the incidents?

    #4071
    FloveFlove
    Participant

    “Thanks,” said Bossy taking her cup of tea.

    “So, tell me more about this evil fruit-loop doctor,” said Ricardo with an encouraging smile.

    Bossy looked intently at him. “It’s no joke,” she admonished him sharply.

    “Oh, no. No, of course not. I mean, yeah, I really want to know. It all sounds very … intriguing. And sort of creepy, to be honest. But definitely not a joke.”

    Bossy relented and gestured imperatively for Ricardo to be seated.

    The doctor could best be described as a mad genius. He believed he had found the answer to looking eternally youthful but didn’t want to go through the time and expense of clinical trials through the normal channels. So he set up a testing laboratory on a small and relatively unknown Pacific Island. Tifikijoo, I believe it was called.”

    “Uh huh. Actually I do vaguely remember something about that story.”

    “We got the story first,” Bossie said proudly, “but there was a media ban on publishing some of the information, unfortunately. The Doctor managed to get funding for his tests through an undercover organisation whose hidden agenda was to hide an ancient crystal skull while at the same time providing them with a facility where they could continue their own secret testing into spider genomes. I can’t tell you too much about that — it was all hush hush. So, you wouldn’t have read about that in the news, I bet,” she added with a smug smile.

    “Uh, no,” answered Ricardo, privately wondering if Bossy was the mad one. It was all starting to feel a bit surreal to him.

    “Did the doctor know about the skull stuff?”

    “No, the doctor was genuinely only interested in preserving beauty. Unfortunately, to this end, he killed one of his first guinea pigs. And tried to disguise his crime by mummifying the body. That’s when it all began to implode on him.”

    “What happened to him?”

    “He had some good lawyers and was found not competent to stand trial on the grounds of insanity. And the fact that all his clients had signed liability waivers helped a bit. He was sent to a high security psychiatric institution but managed to escape by reverting to his female identity—he was transsexual—and hiding in a laundry trolley.

    The doctor hated the way he was portrayed in the media and most of his venom was focused on our people. We had a guy working with us then, John Smith, and he covered the story with Connie. They got the brunt of the hate emails. John nearly had a nervous breakdown with the stress of it and moved to the country. Pity, he was a good writer.”

    “So what makes you think Santa Claus and the doctor are one and the same?”

    “Call it a very strong hunch. The Doctor was born in Iceland and had strong family ties there. And now I fear he has lured Connie and Sophie there in order to exact his evil revenge!”

    #4062
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Hilda regretted her decision to fly to the British Isles, now that she was caught up in all the Fuxit brouhaha. The mysterious plague doctor in Chester had turned out to be nothing more than a common madman, looking for a party to crash. The Mexican band with a wheelbarrow full of bricks welcoming the orange toupee’d buffoon from the west had been momentarily amusing, but was nothing more than another common madman looking for a party to crash as far as Hilda could see, and not worth further investigation, but the madness that had enveloped the country over the Fuxit was another matter.

    Exit mania had swept the country ~ and not only the country, but the continent as well. Doors were falling off their hinges on buildings across Europe with the rush of people demanding to leave, or trying to keep others out. Irate women were pushing their husbands out of the front door and locking them out, while shop assistants slammed the doors shut on customers, exercising their rights to determine who should be allowed in, and who should leave. “Exit” signs on motorways were set alight and exit ramps barricaded, lighted exit signs in nightclubs were smashed. Herds of dairy cows smashed down gates and roamed the streets, and sheep huddled next to boarded doorways.

    Itinerant builders were in high demand to fix broken hinges on gates and doors, and the memes about the population becoming unhinged quickly ceased to amuse in the utter mayhem.

    Hilda decided to get a flight back to Iceland as soon as possible. As an investigative reporter, she knew she should stay, but justified leaving on the grounds that a wider picture was imperative. And frankly, she’s seen enough!

    But leaving the beleaguered nation was not going to be easy. The airline websites had been closed, and the doors on the travel agents had either been boarded up or had been removed altogether, and nobody was staffing the premises. The motorway exit ramp to the airport had been barricaded. Not to be deterred, Hilda left her hire car on the side of the road, and dragged her flight bag across the waste ground towards the airport building. The place was deserted: the doors on all the aircraft had been removed, and emergency exit signs lay smashed on the tarmac.

    “Then I have no other option,” Hilda said, “But to teleport.”

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