“Grandpa, I can’t get hold of Nora. I keep getting her answer phone.” Clara flicked back through her texts. “Last time she messaged me was to ask if I knew anyone in the Village she could stay with. And I never got back with the details like I was supposed to … I got distracted by Van Gogh going missing and everything … ” She screwed up her face. “Also I couldn’t recall the man’s name.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” said Bob soothingly, reaching out to pat Clara’s hand. “She always were a bit unreliable that one, weren’t she?”
Clara looked like she was about to burst into tears. “Grandpa, I’m such an idiot! What if something bad has happened to her?
No sooner had they reached for the drinks in the office cupboard, than the phone rang loudly.
“I thought you gave her the afternoon?” Tara mouthed while picking the annoying phone. “Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
Her face frowned. “Herself speaking.”
“Yes, we do private investigations. Very successfully I may say. Alright Ma’am, let me check my agenda.” She looked in the air, flipping an imaginary agenda. “Oh, you’re in luck, our 5pm just cancelled. Alright then, see you at our office. Au revoir.”
Tara hung up with a smile.
Star was busy slurping the mojito while struggling with the mint bits in her teeth. “What? Tell me this instant!”
“Our second case! Isn’t it exciting!”
“Sure thing, what it is this time? Evil possession?”
“Actually, it’s not that far off. Apparently, our ladyship needs a falgrante delicto of adultery. Her husband seems to be a cheating one, and with a twinge of double personality… Or at least that’s what she said.”
“Fantastic. Can’t wait for all the juicy details. I’ll go prepare my sequin red dress to set the honey trap darling.”
“Good lord, get a hold of yourself Star, it’s only been a day, and you’re ready to jump on the next passing horse as it were.”
“Who said you shouldn’t mix pleasure with business.”
“Right. Thought that was the reverse…”
“Tsk. Just to get the last word.”
“A dil-do factory?” She was aghast. “A fucking carrot dildo factory?”
“Oh don’t push it.” Star lit a large cigar, a nasty habit that cropped up when she was nervous. She blew a smoke ring and sighed. “At least the rogering was a nice change. Good clean sex, almost a spiritual experience.”
“Oh come now, with all the don’t-need-to-know details…”
“Well, don’t be such a prude, you were there after all. With all that luscious moaning. Haven’t seen you so flushed in ages…” Star tittered in that high-pitched laughter that could shatter crystal flutes.
“Wait… a minute.” Tara was having a brainwave. “We may have overlooked something.”
“What? In the sex department?”
“Shush, you lascivious banshee… In the flushed department.”
“What? Don’t speak riddles tart, I can’t handle riddles when my body’s aching from all that gymnastic.”
“Can’t you see? They got to get rid of the dissident stuff unfit for cultish dildoing, if you catch my drift.”
“Oh I catch it alright, but I’ve checked the loo… Oh, what? you mean the compost pile?”
“I’ve seen trucks parked out the back, they where labelled… Organic Lou’s Disposal Services… OLDS… That’s probably how they remove their archives, if you see what I mean.”
“I have a theory. Although it usually would be more in your area of theories.”
“What? Alien abduction?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking time travel… Haven’t you noticed the scent of celery when we were at the mansion and the appartment?”
“A dead give-away for time-travelling shenanigans!”
“Exactly. And if I’m correct, might well be that it’s Mr French from the future who phoned us, before he returned to his timeline. Probably because he already knows we’re going to crack the case. Before we know.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Would have been nicer if he’d told us how to solve it instead, if he knew, from the future and all? Are you not sure he’s not from his past instead, like before he got in that dreadful car accident?”
“Oh well, doesn’t matter does it? And probably won’t any longer once we locate the Uncle Basil in the Drooling Home of Retired Vegetables.”JibParticipant
“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.”FloveParticipant
“That’s right,” Rosamund nodded enthusiastically. “Anti-vegan vaxxer and she don’t eat nothing with no eyes either. She drives Mum bloody mental going on about how the animals have got souls while Mum’s trying to enjoy a nice baccy fry up. Mum calls her Aunt Moanie.”
Star smirked. “Other than his obvious attributes?”
“You mean the fella with the voice like a bloody angel?” asked Rosamund, spitting an olive onto Tara’s sleeve. Tara swore under her breath as the olive bounced to the floor. Fortunately there was no mark; it was a new blouse and had cost Tara an arm and a leg. Worth the investment, she had reasoned at the time. One must look the part. And clearly, her Moulin Rouge ensemble wasn’t a good look for a Professional Investigator, even with fishnets and a feather boa.
“He cancelled his appointment but he paid the, quite frankly exorbitant, deposit we asked for,” said Star. “He’s going to email us the rest of the details. Do we need to know more that that?”
“Well, I’ve been doing a search and there is nothing anywhere online about him, or his world famous melodious voice. I suggest we pay this Mr French a visit.”
“Oh bloody awesome!” Rosamund leapt to her feet and pizza boxes went flying. “Oops, sorry about that. I’ll clean it soon as we get back.”
“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.”
“Don’t you realize we’re in trouble June?” April had sobered up quickly. June looked at her suspiciously, it’s been months she suspected April to swap her vodka drinks with plain water to avoid getting drunk.
“June! Are you listening?!”
“Of course I am, stop bawling like that horrid baby, I’m no deaf.”
“Speaking of which, I’m glad we’re rid of them. Leave it to May to handle, or the new maid?”
“What new maid?”
“The one who’s been pillaging your cognac’s stash, I though you knew her?”
“No I don’t. She’s been way too cosy here… you know her? She some of August’s little afternoon delights?”
“Stop with that, you know August is a married man, his wife’s so scary he wouldn’t…”
“Must you always kill the mood April, let me enjoy a little sneaky gossiping.”
“We must go to his last known location, find the boy!”
“Are you kidding? Old South USA? And I thought it couldn’t get worse than Washingtown. And in case you’ve all forgotten, I’m still wanted in so many places, even that splendulous new hairdo isn’t going to hide me forever. And how are we going to hire muscle, genius? As you must have noticed, all his security details have followed Gollump for his impricotment hearings.”
“I had a brainwave.”
“Oh, that’ll be grand, do tell. Are you proposing one of your remove throwing session from your little art club?”
“It’s remote viewing! — and yes,… no! Not yet. I was thinking of his mother, Mellie Noma; she loathes the oaf as much as she loves her spawn. She may lend us some resources.”
“Yeah, right… And you’re going to bribe her with?”
“Oh I have the perfect idea. You know how fashion vane she is.”
June had a realization which turned into a horror face. “No way! Not my pith helmet!!”January 16, 2020 at 11:44 am #5593
Was trying to get a basic timeline in place for future reference:
- (1935) Birth of Mater
- (1958) Mater marries her childhood sweetheart (ref)
- (1965) Birth of Fred
- (1970) Birth of Aunt Idle
- (1978) April 12th, Mater’s husband dies
- (1998) Birth of Devan
- (2000) Birth of the twins Coriander & Clove
- (2008) Birth of Prune
- (2014) Start of Prune’s journal about the Inn (she’s 6 at the time – ref)
- (2017) visit of Arona, Albie, Maeve, Hilda, Sanso etc. to the Inn
- (2020) The year of the Great Fires (ref). Mater is 85. Idle is 50. The twins are 20. Prune is 12.
- (2027) First settlers on Mars; Prune’s left for a boarding school to pursue her dreams
Fast forward 15 years later
- (2035) Idle receives news from the twins (now aged 35) & waterlark adventures.
Mater is alive and kicking at 100.
Fast forward a little more
- (2049) Prune arrives with a commercial flight on Mars, having won a place through a reality show.
Mater is deceased. She would have been 114.
Little after, the Mars mission is revealed to be an elaborately constructed mass illusion, and the program is terminated via an alien invasion simulation; like the other survivors from the program, she returns to Australia but cannot reveal the details of the program.
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.
The Doctor was at times confused about his own plan. Well, most of the time if felt clear and perfectly diabolical, and he could easily understand why at times lesser minds could get confused about the twists and turns —and to those lesser minds, it would usually suffice to say “don’t worry, it’s all part of the Plan.” It was difficult to properly phrase the sentence so that the Plan doesn’t get too easily confused with any plan. But he was expert in conveying that it wasn’t a mere plan.
After having tried and used old or elaborate devices beyond known technology like alleged alien crystal skulls to outcomes of various satisfaction in the past, he’d realized that those so called AI technologies were a silent gangrene for the mind. By becoming more tech-savvy, people lost their savoir and their savour by relying too much on external support. People were becoming malleable, predictable, and replaceable.
His bloody assistant was a sad testament to the downward evolution humanity was rushing towards. It was a strange and sad irony, that by enhancing their ineptitude, he was actually working to the perfection of the human race.
“Ah yes! Evolution!” That was his legacy, and he was of course profoundly misunderstood.
This whole sad business with the chase after the dolls and the keys and the remote control of magpies, and the psychic blasts, beauty treatments and Barbara enhancements, all that made sense once you showed it in the proper light. These were the catalyst to the real and interesting events. The ones which mattered.
It all started after the Army got him out of his prison rot in exchange for his work on some special science experiments. Top-secret, evidently. His handler, a certain nobody by the name of Fergus, was assigning him the experiments.
While he was dutifully working on his assigned projects, he quickly realized that he was given vast funding which would have taken him more time to gather on his own, so he did his part, all while experimenting and honing his skills. Clearly, the Army lacked any vision beyond the confines of “find a better way to torture, maim or kill mass amount of individuals.” Primates. Luckily, their experiments with remote control, brainwashing, and body modelage were less gory than the average science experiments, and far more into his own area of expertise.
It took him 5 years to escape. This plan (a smaller plan, part of the Plan which had not yet fully hatched at the time) — this plan for an escape started to form when Fergus let slip important bits of information, which seemed insignificant taken in isolation, but meant a whole new area of discoveries when put together by a brilliant mind like his own.
Fergus started to gloat about securing some secrets as a blackmail or fail-safe policy in case the Army’s “hired help” misbehaved. This part was known for a long time, it was what was called our ‘retirement plan’ in the contract we signed. What was more peculiar was when he started to let details slip about the method. All thanks to little doses of hypnotic potion in spiked shared drinks, courtesy of the Doctor. It seemed clear that this elaborate scheming of keys and dolls was child’s play and nothing particularly genius, however what was more interesting was when Fergus started to realize that the dolls his niece had made somehow matched certain persons of interest without her conscious knowing. There was a deeper mystery to be cracked, and even Fergus wondered if the Army had not tempered with his family genetics to induce certain characteristics or something of the like. Well, all ramblings of a simpleton you would say, but maybe it wasn’t.
After all these searches to externalize certain abilities of the mind, the Doctor was starting to get fascinated by people exhibiting these qualities naturally.
The appearance of this strange red crystal seems to confirm these doubts. There are untapped forces at play, and maybe doors that could be opened.
Barbara suddenly irrupted into the room “Our guests are coming, just received a text!”
The Doctor sighed thinking some doors should remain closed.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have skipped that welcome lunch” Continuity said to her friend.
“Nonsense, Connie. We go and report where the heat of the action is, and something tells me, it’s nowhere near this crumbling dusty Inn anyway.”
“Oh, right, it’s just as I thought Hilda, but our guest might have found it rude and all.”
“Technically, and you know how particular I am about details, it wasn’t Dido though, it was that old fossile of Bert that dropped all the clues, clearly out of earshot from Did’. Kind of suspiciously too… Maybe he wanted us to have the real stuff, throw everyone else off the scent. But yeah, you just might be right…”
“Of course I’m bloody right. When have I ever been anything else than right, Connie. Now, follow me, the old mines entrance shouldn’t be far now.”
“So, your hobby is to make dolls?” Arona was aghast. “What a coincidence…”
Maeve wondered if there was more than met the eye about the travelers family in funny clothes. She had asked if it was okay to sketch the three of them, Arona, Sanso and Albert, as she liked to capture some details in her sketch book, to give her ideas for her next dolls attires.
To defuse the strange tension, she pointed at Mandrake “I think your cat is having a funny fit, is it epileptic? It’s been winking like it’s having cramps or something.”
Fourty four hours and 3 stopovers later, Maeve was glad to have arrived at Alice Springs airport. It was fun to see that the further she went, the smallest the aircraft became. Until it wasn’t too funny, and got almost downright scary with the last small propeller plane, that shook so much it seemed out of an old Indiana Jones movie, sans flying chicken.
The airport was quaint and small, the way she liked, with a passageway shaded by large swathes of fabric reminiscent of Seville’s streets. The air was surprisingly fresh, and she wondered if she’d been too optimistic about the weather and her choice of clothes, considering it was still winter down here.
While she was waiting at the luggage belt, she discreetly observed the other waiting people.
Uncle Fergus always said she had to be observant. Besides, she had a natural eye for details.
Apart from the few Crocodile Dundees that screamed tourists who were waiting for their oversized luggage, she could spot a few out-of-place people. One in particular, that seemed to have followed the very same route since the first layover in Vancouver. Too strange a coincidence, and the fellow was too unassuming too.
“Maeve! MAH-EH-VEH” She jumped at the sounds. Almost didn’t recognized her own name, if she hadn’t recognized her neighbour’s voice first, and his peculiar way to pronounce it like she was a precious wahine.
“Shawn-Paul?! What on earth are you doing here?” She frowned at him “Have you been stalking me?”
“No, no! It’s not like that! I’ve received those funny-looking coupons, you see…”
“What? You too?”
Now, a second person following on her tracks even through a different combination of flights was more than a coincidence. It meant danger was afoot.
“Shouldn’t we carpool? I looked up the trail to the inn, it’s a long drive and by the looks of it, not at all too safe for a lone woman travelling.”
Maeve shrugged. That may keep the other creep off her trail. “I don’t mind, but if you insist on being so chivalrous, you’re paying for the taxi.”
Before he could say anything, she handed him her piece of luggage to carry.
I was looking forward to it, to tell you the truth. Things had been so dull around the Inn for so long, I’d started to feel that the old place had slid right off the map. Maybe things would have been different if Bert had remortgaged the place, but he’d refused, and there was no persuading him. So we’d bumbled along managing to keep the wolf from the door, somehow. It was quiet with the twins gone to college, and Devan who knows where, off traveling he’d said but had not kept in touch, and lord knew, Mater wasn’t much company these days. And there were so few guests that I was in danger of talking them to death, when they did come. Bert said that was why they always left the next morning, but I think he was pulling my leg.
Then out of the blue, I get a request to make a reservation, for two reporters here to cover the story, they said. I almost said “what story, there is no story going on here” and luckily managed to stop myself. If they wanted a story, I’d give them a story. Anything to liven the place up a bit.
On impulse, I decided to give Hilda “Red Eye” Astoria room 8 at the end of the corridor. Now there was a story, if she wanted one, the goings on in room 8! And to make it look like the inn was a busy thriving concern, I gave Connie “Continuity” Brown room 2, next to the dining room. Connie Brown was doing a report for the fashion column, and had inquired about the laundry services, and if there was a local dressmaker available. Of course I assured her there was, even though there wasn’t. But I reckoned Mater and I could manage whatever they required. Fashion shoot at the Flying Fish Inn, I ask you! What a joke.
I asked Bert what story he thought they were here to cover. He shifted in his seat and looked uncomfortable.
“We don’t want then digging around here, you don’t know what they might find.”
I looked at him piercingly. He asked me if a gnat had got stuck in my eye and why was I squinting. I wasn’t sure which dirty dark secret he was referring to, and frankly, would be hard put to recall all the details myself anyway, but I had a sneaking suspicion the old inn still had plenty of stories to tell ~ or to keep hidden awhile longer.
Jerk looked puzzled at the screen.
As his side job, he was managing the maintenance of a popular website findmystuff.com where people where posting lost&found items, which had turned into a joyful playground at times for groups of pranksters as well as good samaritans leaving stuff for people to find. Monitoring and curating the content was mostly done by an AI these days, but now and then the flagging seemed to require a human analysis, to check if it was a false positive or not.
Right off, there were some odd blinks on his screen, but if that hadn’t caught his attention, the details of this case certainly would have.
It was a particular group, not specially overactive, the quiet under the radar group catering to less than a few hundred people at the time, but picking up strongly over the past few days. The group was called “findmydolls” and there was a comment which had been flagged as “fake news”.
He had to decide to “moderate” (read “delete”) the comment or not, but he couldn’t decide about it.
Have found one of your dolls, Ms M. Brilliant hiding! During the last Aya trip, I was teleported to some place that looked like Australia’s dream time, and there was your doll. I’m sure it’s there in Australia, a remote place in the middle of the bush, there’s an inn with a flashy fish neon sign over it. Your doll was there, and there was a message. PM for details.
He shrugged. The rules of the board didn’t explicitly forbid “remove viewing” as a source of clues, nor an astral view was any less flimsy than a vague visual report from the streets.
He clicked on “approved”.
“Enough of all that nonsense!” exclaimed Liz, who was brimming with enthusiasm, a bit like a frothing glass of cava. “Now then, Finnley, pay attention please! I’m calling a meeting to be held this evening for ALL of our story characters. I’d like you to make sure they are all made welcome and have suitable refreshments. Yes, I know it’s short notice, but I’ll give you the key to the special pantry in the Elsespace Arrangement. Some of the characters will help you, you just need to make a start and it will all fall into place.”
“Godfrey, my good man. You know what I’m like with technical details. Your job will be to write my questions, with the relevant technical minutia. Don’t interrupt my flow with questions! Use your powers of intuition and telepathy!”
Roberto attempted to slip out of the French windows, but his yellow vest got caught on the latch.
“Not so fast, young man!” Liz had plans for the gardener. “There won’t be room inside for all the characters, so it will be a garden party. I’ll leave it to you to ensure there is plenty of outdoor furniture for people to make themselves comfortable. I’ll give you the key to the special garden shed in the Elsespace Arrangement.”
“May I ask”, Godfrey ventured, “What the meeting is to be about?”
“Indeed you may! I want input, lots of input. And ideas. The topic is Alternate Intelligence. That is a slightly better way of saying it than Artificial Intelligence, but not quite the perfect term. But we can change that later.”JibParticipant
Liz was lying on the living room couch in a very roman pose and admiring the shiny glaze of her canines in the pocket mirror she now carried with her at all time. The couch was layered with fabrics and cushions that made it look like a giant rose in which Liz, still wearing her pink satin night gown, was like a fresh baby girl who just saw her first dawn…
Finnley looked suspiciously at the fluffy cushions surrounding Liz. Where do they come from. I don’t recall seeing them before. I don’t even recall the couch had that rosy pink cover on it. She snorted. It sure looks like bad taste, she thought. She looked around and details that she hadn’t seen before seemed to pop in to her attention. A small doll with only one button eye. Reupholstered chairs with green pattern fabrics, a tablecloth with white and black stripes, and a table runner in jute linen… Something was off. Not even Godfrey would dare do such an affront to aesthetic, even to make her cringe.
Finnley went into the kitchen, where she rarely set foot in normal circumstance, and found a fowl pattern fabric stapled on one wall, a new set of… No, she thought, I can not in the name of good taste call those tea towels. They look more like… rubbish towels.
“Oh, my!” she almost signed herself when she saw an ugly wine cover. Her mind was unable to find a reference for it.
“Do you like it?” asked Roberto.
Finnley started. She hadn’t heard him come. She looked at him, and back at the wine cover. She found herself at a loss for words, which in itself made her at loss for words.
“It’s a little duckling wine cover,” said Roberto. “I made it myself with my new sewing machine. I found the model on Pintearest.” saying so, he stuck his chest out as if he was the proud duck father of that little ugly ducklin. Finnley suddenly recovered her ability to talk.
“You certainly nailed it,” she said. In an attempt to hold back the cackle that threatens to degenerate in an incontrollable laugh, it came out like a quack. She heard her grandmother’s voice in her head: “You can not hold energy inside forever, my little ducky, it has to be expressed.”
Uncomfortably self conscious, Finnley looked up at Roberto with round eyes.
“Oh you cheeky chick,” said the gardener with a broad smile. He pinched her cheek between his warm fingers and for a moment she felt even more like a child. “I didn’t know you are so playful.”
Somewhere in the part of her mind that could still work a voice thought it had to give him points for having rendered her speechless twice.
It was a dull day at WholeDay*Mart. Jerk’s yearly week of holidays had gone so fast it felt he hadn’t gone at all.
He had slipped back into the routine, and apart from some subtle details that indicated the passage of time, all but felt the same. It didn’t help that summer holidays were upon them, as the early workers were less in the morning. The city would soon quietly become a summer desert.
He looked lazily at the posters on the windows. One seemed out of place. The midsummer night’s dream biennale . That was new… Could be something the city council would have cooked up to drive tourists up here. In any case, it felt intriguing.
“Are you preparing a corso for the parade?”
“A what?” the blond customer caught him off guard while he was mechanically scanning her shampoo bottles and dog food packs.
“A bloemencorso , that’s Dutch for float, you know… car with flowers and decorations… If you’d like, you can join mine. I’ll call it Beeee Yourself.”
She extended her right hand “My name is Lucinda, by the way.”
Eleri had woken in the night, in the dead of the dark hours before dawn, aware of something she could only describe as a central core running through the dream, or a central path so to speak, that all the elements of the dream branched from. It wasn’t much clearer than that, with regard to details, but the feeling of recognition of the bones of that central thread were profoundly real. It was fear.
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.
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