Time indeed has told the story, notwithstanding no story was told during the time.
Eleven long years ago this story was told:
The writer wanted to write, full stop. The problem was that the writer’s desire to write was continually interrupted with things in brackets assuming monstrous and all comsuming proportions. Endless chains of things in brackets that always seemed to have priority.
“You could always write about the things in brackets, Ann,” remarked her new friend Lavender. “Might be fun. A thrilling blast, even.”
The era would later be known as the Bracket Age, a dark mysterious age lost in the mists of time when nothing was recorded, no story told, as the Things In Brackets took over what was left of the known world.
There’s nobody at all coming to see to my supper anymore, the girl that brought my lunch (a stale cheese sandwich again) said it was because of the curfew. I said, Oh the quarantine and she said, Oh no, not that anymore so I said Oh, is the virus over then, and she said Oh no, far from it, but that’s not what the curfew is for now, and I looked at her and wondered if they’d all lost their marbles.
She said it’s Marshall law out there now and I smiled at that, I used to know a nice girl by the name of Marshall, can’t recall where from mind you, but anyway then I realized she meant martial law when she showed me her arm. Great big bruise there was, she said it was from a rubber bullet. Seems to me they’re getting senile young these days and I wonder where it will all end.
Then she starts telling me about piles of bricks everywhere, and I’m wondering where this is going because it makes no sense to me. She says some people say there are piles of bricks appearing everywhere, but she can’t be sure, she said, because lots of other people are saying there aren’t any piles of bricks at all, and I’m thinking, who the hell cares so much about piles of bricks anyway? Then she looks at me as if I’m the daft one.
It’s a pity we don’t see piles of decent food appearing, I said, instead of bricks, looking pointedly at the cheese sandwich. She said, Think yourself lucky, with what can only be described as a dark look.
I thought I’d change the subject, as we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and asked her if she’d be kind enough to pick me up some embroidery thread on her way past the emporium, and she made a peculiar noise and said Aint no shops open, they’re all boarded up. I was about to ask why, and she must have read my mind because she said, Riots, that’s why.
It’s a good job my hip’s so much better now that the weather’s dry, because I’m going to have to make my escape soon and see what the hell’s going on out there.
“Let’s begin,” said the teacher. She was short and seemed around sixty seven. She walked around the room like a tamer surrounded by wild beasts in a circus. Her dark hair was tied into a long braid falling on her straight back like an I. She wore a sari wrapped around her neatly. “I’m Ms Anika Koskinen, your cryogurt teacher today. You’ve got the recipe in front of you on the benches right with the glass and a bottle of water. The ingredients will be in the cabinets on your left and everything is referenced and written big enough for everyone to see.”
“Those benches look like the ones in chemistry class when I was in college,” said Glo. “I have bad memories of thoses.”
“You have bad memories, that’s all,” said Sha making them both laugh.
“How do you want me to know? I was with you since we left the bungalow,” said Sharon who was trying to decipher the blurry letters on the recipe. “Their printer must be malfunctioning, it’s unreadable.”
“You should try putting on your glasses.”
“I didn’t bring’em, didn’t think we’d need to see anything.”
“I saw you! no need to shout,” whispered Mavis loudly. She muttered some excuse to the teacher who had been giving them a stern look.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to go with your friends,” said Ms Koskinen, “We don’t have enough material for everyone.”
The teacher resumed her explanations of the procedure of making frozen yogurt, checking regularly if everyone had understood. She took everyone bobbing their head as a yes.
“You shouldn’t ask us,” said Glo, “our eyes are like wrinkles remover apps.”
“I think he looks better without glasses,” said Mavis.
After Ms Koskinen had finished giving them instructions, she told everyone to go take the ingredients and bring them back to their benches.
“I’m going,” said Sha who wanted to have a better look at the man.
“Don’t forget the recipe with the list of ingredients,” said Mavis waving the paper at her.
She came back with the man helping her carry the tray of ingredients.
“Thank you Andrew,” said Sha when he put the tray on their bench.
“Oh you’re welcome. And those are your friend you told me about?”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Andrew. “I’m Andrew Anderson. I suggested Sharon we could have lunch together after the workshop. I’d like you to meet my friends.”
“Of course!” said Sha. She winked at her friends who were too flabbergasted to speak.
“That’s settled then. We’ll meet at 1pm at my bungalow.”
“See you later,” said Sharon with a dulcet voice.
“What the butt was that all about?” asked Glo.
“Oh! You’ll thank me. I pretexted not to be able to find everything on the list and Andrew was very helpful. The man is charming, and his yacht makes you forget about his Australian accent. We’re going to have lunch on a yacht girls! That means we’re not stuck on the beach and can have some fun exploring around.”
Sha looked quite pleased with herself. She put a bottle of orange powder among the ingredients and said :”Now! Let’s make some wrinkle flattener ice cream, ladies. I took some extra tightener.”
“Finnley, when you’ve fed all those dogs, would you be so kind as to hire me a secretary. I simply can’t keep up.”
It was Liz’s turn to snort. “Carrots and snails, that’s all he’s interested in nowadays. I don’t know what the world’s coming to. You just can’t get the…”
Finnley clapped her hands over her ears and cut her off. “Please! Don’t say that again!”
“Why is it so dark in here?” said Liz changing the subject.
The words of the Great Leader Undisputed Gabe were still resonating in the back of Gavin’s mind. The promotion to Operating Tomathetan seemed a great honour on the surface, but it certainly brought its lot of responsibilities with it. And from what he had seen before, it would only add to his current ones.
Gavin descended the Pealgrim path to the Dark Room where all the sorting happened. Many trails from the many carrot fields combined into one and all led to that central building all painted in black, hence its name.
A zealous Seed level had recently been put in charge of the re-painting. As there was only black paint in the warehouse he had the genius idea to save the order some money by using only what they already had, and as there was enough paint he covered all the windows, certainly thinking light could damage the crops. Repainting everything was out of the question so they had kept it like that and just added some artificial light to help the workers. Great Leader Undisputed Gabe, had thought it was a nice initiative as now workers could work any hour of the day.
When Gavin entered the Dark Room, it reeked of carrot and sweat. Members of the cult of all ages were sorting the divine roots by shapes, sizes and thickness. Most of them didn’t know what was the final purpose, innocent minds. All they had was the Sorting Song written by Britta the one legged vestal to help her fellow cultshipers in their work.
If a carrot is short, not worth the effort
As a long stalactites, like ice on your tits
A bar thick as a fist, you’ve just been blissed
Each verse gave advices about what they were looking for, where to put them after sorting and each team had their own songs that they sang while doing their work with the enthusiasm of cultshipers. Even though the song had been crafted to answer most of the situations in terms of carrot shapes, sizes and thickness, it happened that some would not fit into any categories. And recently, those seem to happen more often than once and the pile of misshapen carrots threaten to exceed that of the others combined.
“Eugene, Have you found what is the problem?” asked Gavin to their agronomist. His surname was Carrot and he came from noble Irish descent, quite appropriate for his work, thought Gavin. Eugene was skinny with a long neck and he often seemed to abuse the ritual fasting ceremony ending with the consumption of sacred mushroom soup.
“It’s because of the microscopic snails that infest the crops,” Eugene said. Gavin couldn’t help but notice an accumulation of dried saliva at the corner of his mouth. “They’re carried by bird shit and they are too small to be eaten by our ducks and in the end they cause the carrots to grow random shapes unfit for Odin.”
Odin, short for Organic Dildo Industry, has been the main source of revenue for the cult. Since the start of the confinement the demand has skyrocketed. Especially appreciated by vegans and nature lovers, it also procured a nice orange tan on the skin after usage.
“Can’t you find smaller dwarf ducks?”
“Your Gourdness, microscopic means very tiny, even dwarf ducks wouldn’t be able to eat them unless they eat the carrots.”
“And that would be a problem,” sighed Gavin. “What is your solution then?”
“I don’t have one.”
Gavin raised his hands to the black roof in despair. Did he have to do the jobs of everyone? He needed some fresh eyes and fresh ideas.
I’ve been up since god knows what time. Got up for the loo and couldn’t face going back to the awful nightmares. That girl that came yesterday said she’d been having nightmares, she said it was common now, people having nightmares, what with the quarantine. I think I might have just snorted at the silly girl, but when I woke up last night I wondered if it was true. Or maybe I’m just a suggestible old fool.
Anyway, I stayed up because lord knows I don’t want to be in a city in America at night, not waking and not dreaming either. I’ve had a feeling for a long time, and much longer than this virus, that it was like a horror movie and it would behoove me not to watch it anymore or I’d be having nightmares. I didn’t stop watching though, sort of a horrified fascination, like I’d watched this far so why stop now.
In the dream I was on a dark city street at a bus stop, it was night time and the lights were bright in a shop window on the other side of the sidewalk. I had a bunch of tickets in my hand all stapled together, but they were indecipherable. I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Then I noticed the man that was by my side, a stranger that seemed to have latched on to me, had stolen all my tickets and replaced them with the rolled up used ticket stubs. I made him give me back my tickets but then I knew I couldn’t trust him.
Then I realized I hadn’t finished packing properly and only had a ragged orange towel with bloodstains on it. So I go back home (I say home but I don’t know what house it was) to pack my bags properly, and find a stack of nice new black towels, and replace the bloody orange one.
I’m walking around the house, wondering what else I should pack, and one room leads into another, and then another, and then another, in a sort of spiral direction (highly improbable because you’d have ended up back in the same room, in real life) and then I found a lovely room and thought to myself, What a nice room! You’d never have known it was there because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere and didn’t seem to have a function as a room.
It was familiar and I remembered I’d been there before, in another dream, years ago. It had lovely furniture in it, big old polished wooden pieces, but not cluttered, the room was white and bright and spacious. Lovely big old bureau on one wall, I remember that piece quite clearly. Not a speck of dust on it and the lovely dark sheen of ancient polished oak.
Anyway in the dream I didn’t take anything from the room, and probably should have just stayed there but the next thing I know, I’m in a car with my mother and she races off down the fast lane of an empty motorway. I’m thinking, surely she doesn’t know how to take me where I have to go? She seemed so confident, so out of character the way she was driving.
I got up for the loo and all I kept thinking about was that awful scene in the city street, which admittedly doesn’t sound that bad. I won’t bother telling the girl about it when she comes to do my breakfast, it loses a little in the telling, I think.
But the more I think about that lovely room at the end of the spiral of rooms, the more I’m trying to wrack my brains to remember where I’ve seen that room before. I’ve half a mind to go back there and open that dark oak bureau and see what’s inside.
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.”
Helle Jorid, my Whale friend.
I dreamt I sailed on one of those ancient ships made of wood with no engine other than the wind and man power.
In the dream we were very few and not all there by choice. Chased after by some kind of police force we, a motley bunch of people found ourselves on that ship by chance. I saw one man on the dock pass by and cut the big rope that held the ship still.
As the rope limply hanged from the mooring post, I watched the ship being guided away by the backwash from its mooring place to the ocean. At that moment someone wanted to disembark and I heard myself say : In your dreams! It’s too late we’re on the open sea now.
I think someone mentioned a captain Cook, but I’m not sure as I never saw the guy. Maybe it was merely a cook, but did we really need it? As I went deeper into the ship I found a wonderful meeting room with all the technological comfort of TV sets embedded in the walls and loads of electrical plugs at the end of mechanical arms coming out of these same walls. Surely there were microwave oven and tons of dehydrated food.
But our attention was still on the discovery of the treasures hidden in the heart of that ship. There was a circular sofa set around a nice coffee table. And we all settled comfortably there for a get together, happy we had escaped and seemed safe. None of us thought one second about where the wind and the gulf stream were taking us. I guess anywhere was better than what those men had in store for us.
I woke up. Alone at night. It was dark. My heart was pounding. Is that how we feel when we are in a lock down? I almost wrote placed under house arrest. What’s the difference apart the name to make us think it’s different?
Was the ship the symbol of our longing for freedom? It’s still the same place moving around on water. Even if the place move around, we can’t move away from it and from the flatness of the ocean. I wonder. I wonder if I stayed longer in that dream what would have happened? A storm? An interesting encounter? Like a whale. How would I know unless I write the rest of the story?
The loud voice got her all startled.
“Not so fast Ladies. Hands in the air!”
An officer in uniform was standing there, his service taser pointed at them like they were two dangerous criminals. He was flanked by a trenchcoat acolyte inspector whose tiny glasses were shining in the dark.
“Shhtt! Don’t say anything. They look daft enough, let me do the talking.”
“Mrs June, you’re under arrest for multiple accounts of credit fraud, as well as unlawful impersonation with the intent to commit fraud. You can remain silent. Anything you’ll say may be held against you…” The inspector was speaking like a robot.
“STOP RIGHT THERE!” the officer shouted, “hands up or I shoot! Last warning!”
June was undeterred; she had eluded the police forces for so long and in so many States, she felt invincible and started to voice confused explanations while moving her hands in a frantic fashion and trying to sweet talk the police force.
She never saw the taser come.
Between fuzzy moments of consciousness, she realised she was being cuffed, and her and April taken to the police station.
The few cars on the dark road were flying past him at speed, sometimes honking in alarm when abruptly realizing he was there at an inch of being run over. But none had stopped so far. Might have been they couldn’t see his little thumb up.
“Hitch-hiking my way back isn’t doing so well for me.” reflected Barron after a while. Oh, you may wonder how he escaped from his captors. Simple answer was he got bored waiting and he saw an opportunity.
In reality, it was an elaborate plan, and the screeching sound of a nearby car had provided the right amount of distraction for him to make a run for it. Well, not run really, more like a patient and careful tumbling around. The sound had been alarming enough for most of the forces present to run for the potential intruders without caring to leave someone to watch over the innocent sleeping baby (that was him, but he wasn’t really sleeping).
Anyway, he hadn’t made it very far outside the clandestine distillery at the back of the Motel, and was about to abandon all hope and phone his half-sister Yvanevskaia for help, when an old DRAPES CLEANING van suddenly braked to a screeching halt just in front of him.
“Why d’ya stop Art’! They’re still after us, those maniacs!”
“A baby honey! I almost ran over the baby!”
“That’s a big ass baby, it’s almost a kid, and what is it doin’ hitch-hickin’ in the dead of night?”
“I dunno my sweet cotton-candy luv,… maybe he got bored or sumthin’…”
“So what are you waiting for? Just damn’ take it, and let’s pump gas and put some distance between us and these gangsters!”
Barron was all too pleased to oblige, and as a matter of fact, had already managed to sit in the back with the funny looking lady with the long face.
“Go!” he cooed at Arthur, who pushed the engine back into a roar.
The house was dark when Vince got home, not like it used to be when Uncle Basil was there. He’d have had something simmering on the stove and the curtains closed, the lamps lit. “Gin and tonic?” he’d call out from the kitchen table, more often than not, sitting with a pile of books and a glass of sherry.
If only I hadn’t kept making fun of his books, Vince thought, not for the first time. If only I’d made him feel comfortable here in his own home with all that stuff instead of ridiculing him, he wouldn’t have gone.
It was the new moon. Rukshan had been walking into the dark of the forest for some time. The noises of nocturnal animals felt like deep silence after his return from the land of the Giants. There, day and night, the giants were restless. You could hear them growling and shouting. It didn’t matter if it was a nasty fight or a friendly brawl, the noise had been taxing for his nerves and his right eye was still twitching randomly.
Rukshan stopped a moment. The silence almost made him cry of relief and he thought in that moment the enchanted forest deserved its name.
He took a deep breath. His nose wiggled, tickled by the scent of smoke from a fire. He was close to his destination, then. He had been following symbols traced with moon paint on the trees, a trail that only his Fae eyes could see even without moonlight. Humans would not to see it the same way. This trail of symbols might even have been left for him by someone who wanted to be found when he would come back.
Rukshan had found the start of the trail by chance behind the cottage after diner today. He had told Glynis he needed fresh air. The truth was that he had been alone for so long now that having so many people around him made him feel a bit claustrophobic. He had spotted was a faint glow behind a jasmin bush and had thought it was one of the baby snoots. As he was feeling the need for some pet company he had walked up to the bush. Instead of a creature there was the first glowing symbol, a spiral with seven sticks that looked like a hand with seven fingers. Not long after Rukshan had found another symbol, and another. It was clear the hands made a trail for him to follow. So he had followed.
Soon, he found a wooden shack. Smoke was coming out of a hole in its roof and light from the windows. Rukshan could hear two people talking together. One was asking questions and the other answering them. He recognised the voices.
He didn’t bother to knock on the door.
“I’ve been waiting for you”, said Kumihimo the shaman.
“I’m her new apprentice”, said Fox. “You’ve been away for so long”, he added as if apologising for something.
A wet and warm thing touched Rukshan’s hand. Ronaldo the donkey brayed to welcome him. “Of course you are here too”, said the Fae. He found an apple he had put in his pocket after diner and gave it to the donkey. Ronaldo rolled up its chops and gave a heehaw full of joy, sparkles in its eyes.
“Good, you haven’t forgotten good manners”, said the shaman. “Now, seat! We have much to talk about.”
Suddenly May had a doubt. She had been so focused on her inner ramblings about men’s reputation, prostitution and what knot that… something felt awfully wrong with the baby. Not the shouting and crying, not even the smell from the dark ages. No something more subtle that kept her awake. She had to be sure.
She woke up and put on some a brown woollen gown on top of her silky night gown (her little pleasure). She had to be sure nobody would pay attention to her, but she couldn’t resist the soft touch of silk on her skin. Anyway, she went rushing in the baby’s room and unclothed it.
There it was, right in front of her. It was not baby Barron, it was a girl! She had been fooled by the clothes and the awful mess the baby had done in its pants. And for sure she had looked away because the smell, and she didn’t really liked babies.
“Oh Look who’s awake!” said the voice of June, thick with bad Maotai.
May felt the blood drain off her face. She dressed the baby back up to hide the missing appendage.
“Oh! Nice baby Barron,” she said trying to hide the quiver in her voice. “Look who’s back, your two favourite Aunties.” May turned to face the two au pairs with a forced smile on her face. The baby started to cry.
His trip had changed him, Rukshan realized. He doubted it at first, don’t all journeys change the traveller?
This one had been peculiar, his life had never felt more on the line. Now, even the feeling of this place he now called a home was contrasting.
He wasn’t despondent, but he wasn’t sure where to focus his energy now. The World outside didn’t lack causes to fight for; that much was a given. The Great Fires in the South had taken a toll on the Austral Dry Lands and started to menace the Great Forest borders. The Heartswood would be safe for now, but with the villagers’ rampant deforestation, what would be next? He was glad to hear that Eleri & Hasamelis were not short of ideas and clever contraptions to tackle the matter.
Yet, his cause was not this one, though it did stir his heart with sadness and longing.
Tak and Nesy had come back from school. He was glad to see them so full of life and well-adjusted. Nesy was coming into her powers, even if they stemmed from a dark place, she’d found ways to use them gracefully, listening to nature. For one, Eleri had seen early the appeal of using Nesingwarys’ fear-inducing power to shroud the place and repel Leroway and his thugs. Nesy didn’t like too much to use her powers that way. It would also affect the birds and it made Glynis sad that the place was so silent at times.
For now, both were pleased to join the team and the little Snoots towards the effort at rebuilding Gorrash.
All were focused on finding a way to get enough pink clay. They’d started to realize that there was not enough stock left around, and the main supply source was from the now scorched & sooty Austral lands.
This was a good cause for now.FloveParticipant
“Have you opened that letter yet?” I asked her. But she started moaning on about it being too dark and la di da. So I said, “Don’t they have electricity where you come from?” That made Bert laugh, not that it was funny but I guess you had to be there. Anyway, if you ask me, (and I can hear Dodo saying, nobody asked you, you old bat) she’s scared of something. Goes on about savouring it but it doesn’t make any sense. I mean Dodo’s never had any self-control, not when it comes to fellas or the drink, anyway. And all of a sudden she gets some over a letter? Nope, somethings up.
I don’t know how I restrained myself from throttling Finly when she finally handed me the letter from Corrie. A whole week she’d had it, and wouldn’t share it until she’d cleaned every last window. Some peoples priorities, I ask you! The funny thing was that even when I had it in my hand I didn’t open it right away. Even with Mater and Bert breathing down my neck.
It was something to savour, the feeling of having an unopened letter in ones hand. Not that this looked like the letters we used to get years ago, all crisp and slim on white paper, addressed in fine blue ink. This was a bundle tied with a bit of wool pulled out of an old jumper by the look of it, all squiggly, holding together several layers of yellowed thin cardboard and written on with a beetroot colour dye and a makeshift brush by the look of it. The kind of thing that used to be considered natural and artistic, long ago, when such things were the fashion. I suppose the fashion now, in such places where fashion still exists, is for retro plastic. They said plastic litter wouldn’t decompose for hundreds of years, how wrong they were! I’d give my right arm now for a cupboard full of tupperware with lids. Or even without lids. Plastic bottles and shopping bags ~ when I think back to how we used to hate them, and they’re like gold now. Better than gold, nobody has any interest in gold nowadays, but people would sell their soul for a plastic bucket.
I waited until the sun was going down, and sat on the porch with the golden rays of the lowering sun slanting across the yard. I clasped the bundle to my heart and squinted into the sun and sighed with joyful anticipation.
“For the love of god, will you get on with it!” said Bert, rudely interrupting the moment.
Gently I pulled the faded red woolen string, and stopped for a moment, imaging the old cardigan that it might have been.
I didn’t have to look at Mater to know what the expression on her face was, but I wasn’t going to be rushed. The string fell into my lap and I turned the first piece of card over.
There was a washed out picture of a rooster on it and a big fancy K.
“Cornflakes!” I started to weep. “Look, cornflakes!”
“You always hated cornflakes,” Mater said, missing the point as usual. “You never liked packet cereal.”
The look I gave her was withering, although she didn’t seem to wither, not one bit.
“I used to like rice krispies,” Bert said.
By the time we’d finished discussing cereal, the sun had gone down and it was too dark to read the letter.
August Finest, the chief of Stuff at the Beige House, liked the feeling of his dark flannel suit and his sunglasses. He always wore them inside too, because he didn’t want people to notice he was looking at them. He also had an earpiece that gave him a handy excuse when he didn’t want to speak with somebody and often pretended to be needed by the boss. But these days, the boss barely needed him, except for pesky tasks and it made August a bit gloomy.
The maid was looking at him with her wide dark eyes. She frightened him a bit, but he wasn’t sure why, except that her eyes were too… He readjusted his glasses. Certainly he shouldn’t be afraid of a maid in the Beige House. He quickly looked at his notebook and it reminded him of something. He raised his right index, gave the maid a big smile and left in the other direction, leaving Norma gaping. She had just remembered about her wages.
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.
Bert tells me it’s Christmas day today. Christmas! I just looked at him blankly when he told me, trying to bring to mind what it used to be like. I can’t remember the last time Christmas was normal. Probably around fifteen years ago, just before the six years of fires started. It’s a wonder we survived, but we did. Even Mater. God knows how old she is now, maybe Bert knows. He’s the one trying to keep track of the passing of time. I don’t know what for, he’s well past his sell by date, but seems to cling on no matter what, like Mater. And me I suppose.
We lost contact with the outside world over ten years ago (so Bert tells me, I wouldn’t know how long it was). It was all very strange at first but it’s amazing what you can get used to. Once you get over expecting it to go back to normal, that is. It took us a long time to give up on the idea of going back to normal. But once you do, it changes your perspective.
But don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad. We haven’t heard anything of the twins, not for a good ten years or more (you’d have to ask Bert how long) but I hear their voices in my head sometimes, and dream of them. In my dreams they’re always on the water, on a big flat raft boat. I love it when I dream of them and see all that water. Don’t ask me how, but I know they’re alright.
Anyway like I said, it hasn’t been all bad. Vulture meat is pretty tasty if you cook it well. The vultures did alright with it all, the sky was black with them at times, right after the droughts and the fires. But we don’t eat much these days, funny how you get used to that, too. We grow mushrooms down in the old mines (Bert’s idea, I don’t know what we’d do without him). And when the rains came, they were plentiful. More rain than we’d ever seen here.
Prune’s been back to see us once (you’d have to ask Bert when it was). She was on some kind of land sailing contraption, no good asking me what was powering the thing, there’s been no normal fuel for a good long time, none that’s come our way. Any time anyone comes (which is seldom) they come on camels or horses. One young family came passing through on a cart pulled by a cow once. But Prune came wafting in on some clever thing I’d never seen the likes of before. She didn’t stay long, she was going back to China, she said. It was all very different there, she said. Not all back to the dark ages like here, that’s what she said. But then, we were here in the first place because we liked a quiet simple life. Weren’t we? Hard to remember.
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.
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