“Food fight really?” Finnley was aghast. “I suppose, you’re all planning on cleaning up your mess? I’m feeling a little weak in the respiratory department.”
She placed her elbow in front of her mouth for a dry cough, looking over to see the reactions.
“I bet cleaning us the lard will get us points for continuity,” mused Godfrey.
Day 1 of the Experiment
There is comfort in an empty page; ideas seem to recoil at its touch. It quiets the voices, all of them vying for a place in the mind, eager to start and conquer this new expanse.
So this is an experiment, to bring in some of the voices, maybe one at a time. Writing them down levels the ground, they have to pause. And wait for the ink to dry.
I’ll burn those pages once I write them down; can’t risk any of them leaping off the pages and taking a life of their own… That’s the reason I’m not using one of these fancy electronic typewriters. They’re all connected now. They could escape through the wires.
So I’ll burn these pages. But not yet. I have to lure them out first. With a promise of an escape. And to finally drain them out, one by one.
Someone is coming. Will resume later.
“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.
“You’ve lost weight” Rukshan said, not knowing where to start. The shaman thinner look was besuiting.
“So have you, my friend.” They both laughed.
“So what have been up to, in these parts of the woods?”
“It just happens that I was a bit ahead of you, and have just come back from the Great Austral Dry Lands.”
They all became somber. The Fires had devastated the place, and the news which came were not good. There was little chance they could put an expedition in place to gather the pink clay, with all this devastation… unless… He smiled.
“You’ve brought some back, haven’t you?”
Kumihimo smiled back. “Indeed. Not easy to come by, pink clay, isn’t it?”
Fox who had been turning his head right and left, and right and left following the conversation marked a moment, and the realization came.
“Does it mean we can revive Gorrash?”
“It may well be my dear Fox, with this last ingredient now gathered, it may well be.”
Well, it wasn’t what I expected. but once I got over being slightly miffed that it was all about Mater, stealing the limelight again, I realized that I would get my wish after all, if Corrie and Clove and the others were going to come back for a visit. When they arrived, they could tell me all about what had been happening. The twins and Pan were to set off soon, on a sea worthy raft they’d been working on. It would be a long trip and hard to judge how long it would take. The waters were uncharted in places, Corrie mentioned in the letter, given that the waters had risen in so many places, but it also meant there was a chance of safe passage by water in places that had previously been dry land. Narrow canals had become wide shallow lakes, so they’d heard. Pan would be able to dive to his hearts content along the way, and they were all excited about the coming adventure.
“We will continue to communicate telepathically during the trip, Auntie”, Corrie had written, which gave me a glow of pride and satisfaction. I hadn’t been making it up, we truly had been exchanging messages all along.
I wasn’t sure how easy it was going to be dealing with Mater in the meantime, though. She was demanding plastic surgery now.
“Plastic surgery?” I said, “You can’t even get a decent tupperware these days, lid or no lid. Where on earth are we supposed to get plastic surgery from?”
Almost a hundred years old, and still vain. I ask you. “Do you see me fussing over my looks?”
“Quite” she replied, and pursed her shriveled lips.
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.
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.
We finally figured out what was wrong with everyone, making us all lounge around for weeks on end, or maybe it was months, god knows it went on for a lot longer than our usual bored listless spells. Barely a word passed anyone’s lips for days at a time, and not a great deal of food either. None of us had the will to cook after awhile, and when the hunger pangs roused us, we’d shuffle into the kitchen and shovel down whatever was at hand. A wedge of raw cabbage, or a few spoonfuls of flour, once all the packets of biscuits and crisps had gone, and the pies out of the freezer.
Finley seemed to cope better than anyone, although not up to her usual standard. But she managed to feed the animals and water the tomatoes occasionally, and was good at suggesting improvisations, when the toilet paper ran out for example. The lethargy and slow wittedness of us all was probably remarkable, but we were far too disinterested in everything to notice at the time.
To be honest, it would all be a blank if I hadn’t found that my portable telephone contraption had been taking videos randomly throughout the tedious weeks. It was unsettling to say the least, looking at those, I can tell you.
It started to ease off, slowly: I’d suddenly find myself throwing the ball for the dog, picking up the camera because something caught my eye, I even had a shower one day. I noticed the others now and then seemed to take an interest in something, briefly. We all needed to lie down for a few hours to recover, but we’re all back to normal now. Well I say normal.
Finly looked at some news one day, and it wasn’t just us that had the Etruscan flu, it had been a pandemic. There had hardly been any news for months because nobody could be bothered to do it, and anyway, nothing had happened anywhere. Everyone all over the world was just lounging around, not saying anything and barely eating, not showering, not doing laundry, not traveling anywhere.
And you know what the funny thing is? It’s like a garden of Eden out there now, air quality clean as a whistle, the right weather in all the right places, it’s like a miracle.
And everyone’s slowed down, I mean speeded up since the flu, but slower than before, less frantic. Just sitting on the porch breathing the lovely air and thinking what a fine day it is.
One good thing is that we’re taking showers regularly again.FloveParticipant
“Ah! There you are, my dear,” said Alessandro. “I have searched all over the house for you and now I find you in the laundry.” He shook his head and waggled a finger at Liz. “Where is that naughty maid of yours who should be doing this?.”
Liz leapt away from the laundry basket. “I was looking for something other than this … this obscenity,” she said flinging the pink satin garment to the ground. “And, who exactly are you?”
“I am Alessandro! Fashion Designer extraordinaire. I am rather surprised you do not know of me,” he said, pouting. “Your maid employed me to assist you with your fashion choices.”
“Cheek!” spluttered Liz.
Finnley limped into the room. “Oh you are here. Good,” she said flatly. “Sort her out, will you, Alessandro. She has done nothing but moan lately.”
“Sure,” said Finnley. She bent down to pick up the pink satin with a loud groan. “I might cut this up for doll’s clothes,” she said mysteriously.IdleParticipant
Took me a while to get the gist of the thing, but it’s working now. Wait, is it?
I’ll never know for sure, I have that old phone with no chip in that somehow allows me to text with no mobile reception.
If Prune hadn’t left so fast, I would have asked her to put the darn thing on my phone, but mainly I’m able to have fun with bot.
fuirt jllly fckgn e key stickign now as well T
Anyway, Sanso buggered off without notice thogh, left me hanging dry in front of the old tunnels. I couldn’t get inside, too narrow entrance, got a tunnel fright! Talk about mood killer. So unlike me.
Spent a bit of time chatting to various old freinds, part of the old crowd back in th e day, including pople still there I havent seen in years and thats been nice.
It’s like smelling Mater’s cooking and realizing it was me burning dog food.
Now I’ll just go la la la la until I find clarity and inspiration.
“Josette, you got to do something about that crippling continuity anxiety of yours.
Since when do storytellers have to explain themselves. Be creative, and let the creative flow wash away all doubts.
“You can’t be dry already after the exhausting eight words of foreshadowing suspense you just wrought, or shall we rename this a Course in Floundering Beginnings? So, take a deep breath and try again: “once upon a time…” what already?”
“Come on Maeve, you know you can trust me. These secrets are killing me! It’s not like I’m going to write them immediately in my book you know. Believe me I’d like to, but I’m probably going to procrastinate anyway, so telling me is like going to a priest, your Uncle’s secrets are going to be safe.”
She chuckled against her will. There was something endearing in the awkwardness of Shawn-Paul, and if anything he’d been a complete gentleman throughout their stay in the shabby Inn.
She didn’t trust the paper-thin walls however. And especially after the incident where they all blacked out, she wasn’t sure whom to trust. Some of the guests had disappeared too. Highly suspicious.
She’d decided to pack early. She’d found out later after the accident that her Uncle had managed to slip 2 new coupons for their next destination. One extra, in case she wanted to bring someone in.
Two tickets, each one way to Tikfijikoo. Most probably the way to a second doll and its key.
She wondered why it was at all important, she knew all the dolls and what they looked like. She’d made them!
She realized, looking back at the doll she’d managed to steal back from Lucinda, that this particular doll… was not at all imaginary! She had in fact been standing right in front of her all along these past days before leaving off to the mines and disappearing with Mr Sanso: It was a spitting likeness of Ms Idle, the dry drunk hostess of the Inn!
It seems… It was folly to imagine, but… Did she have the power to activate these dolls she’d made, and somehow materialize them?!
She had to be sure.
“Pack your bags, SP, and meet me in the lobby in ten minutes. The cab is picking us up to our next destination. Maybe you’ll get your novel done after all”, she added, with a wink.
“It’ll be shady inside the mine, and the sun will be going down by the time we walk back to the inn.”
“Do we have to go inside?” The feeling of apprehension had been steadily increasing as they neared the location, and had now ramped up to an ominous dread. Not wanting Hilda to see how frightened she was, she added, “I mean without equipment, all we have is one torch. What if the batteries run out? We’re not very well prepared, are we?”
“So what’s new?” replied Hilda with a snort. “We’re not going to get an exclusive scoop by telling all and sundry our plans, are we? Not to mention sharing anything we might find.”
“If we get lost, nobody will know where to look for us.”
The loud throbbing of a Harley Davidson interrupted the unexpected revelation moment.
A few seconds later, the door banged open and a man with a long moustache, thick eyebrows and a rather bushy hair entered the Inn.
Devan didn’t know the name of the man, but he did manage to infuse his wide open mouth with an interrogation.
The fact that Mater was the first person to pronounce the name of the man didn’t escape Prune’s shrewd mind.
“How do you know him?” she asked Mater who blushed and used another puff of dust to cough and avoid the question.
But one surprised all the others, even Fergus.
“My long lost brother!” said Sanso. He moved forward and hugged the newly arrived man. Truth be told, there was some ressemblance between the two of them.
Mandrake was looking at Ugo who seemed rather focused on the scene. Something was off, he could feel it. He should warn Arona, but the darn lizard never left her side, or her hair. It was pretty annoying since she would not brush his fur very often now, and he certainly needed some refreshing with all the knots caused by the dryness of the climate.
“Perhaps it’s an anagram,” Ricardo ventured tentatively, “Look: INNFOODAWFUL is an anagram of “I found lawn of”, see?” He cleared his throat nervously, demoralized by the agitated energy in the room. Everyone was looking at him expectantly, so he bumbled on: “All we need to do it work out the rest…”
Exasperated looks were exchanged around the room, making Ricardo feel a fool. He was just about to excuse himself for a trip to the lavatory to wring his hands in private (hangovers always had that effect on him), when Miss Bossy tart herself piped up excitedly, “Wait a minute, by George I think he might be on to something!”
Sophie cast a skeptical eye in her direction, as Ricardo plopped back down in his chair with an audible sigh of relief. He reached for his water bottle with a trembling hand and took a swig. God, his mouth was dry.
“AHOYSICKICONGRIN is “shack in Congo!” the Boss Tart continued. “Of course!” she said, slapping her forehead.
“Oooh, isn’t that a funny place” Granola was surprised to have jumped in the odd unexplored corners of the story.
“No wait, that’s just a rambling thread, not even a story… No matter.”
While the paint was drying on the fresh developments, she had found herself slowed down and frozen in still frames while she was waiting for her friends to move the characters along. It was a rather unpleasant situation —granted, it was still a nice change from the erratic jumps from mental spaces to mental spaces.
But, now it was getting boring, and when her monkey mind was getting bored, she started to shift again.
She blinked back a few times; it was like hitting a refresh button to see if the characters had moved while she was gone, after all, her focus Tiku has her own agency. But since all time was now, it was really just a matter of tuning to the right frequency and follow the mood. Gosh, she started to think like Ailil; it wasn’t a comforting thought.
“What is there to learn here? I’m obviously getting lost in sideway explorations.”
She was familiar with the theory of the Hero’s Journey (or Heroine, thank you), and she found that progress and fun was often found in the most chaotic of places, exploring and transcending the unknown. Even if the natural tendency was to draw back to the known. But known is boring and stale, right?
The Man in Pistachio was still somewhere around, with the Teleporter in Pink, and the Telepath in Teal. That much was known, but not much else.
It was tempting to add more things to the known, like their names, and garments and things. How long before these known would lead to more forgotten things?
Would she dare? After all, nobody was here to see and judge. And what’s more, it would beat the waiting for another plot advancement.
She decided to be the Grinner in Bordeaux. Wait, that was too poetic, and too confusing… and too French.
So, let us be the Red Woman in Grin.
And she would be called Josette.
The room was not oversized and not to bright despite facing south. It had the oddest strange decor Shawn Paul would have expected from that place. It seemed to come right out of a Victorian movie with the heavy furniture that took all the space in the room and the dark and overloaded wallpaper that sucked up the light coming through the velvet curtains.
Shawn Paul sneezed. It didn’t as much feel dirty as it felt old like his grand parent’s house. He wondered how often the Inn’s staff cleaned the room. He had to move his luggage in order to open the window to get some fresh air. It was so hot and dry. There was a drug store on the other side of the dusty road and a strange man was looking at him. A feeble wind brought in some red dust and Shawn Paul sneezed again, reducing the little enthusiasm he could have had left to nothing. He imagined his clothes covered with red dust and quickly closed the window. As the man was still looking Shawn Paul shut the velvet curtain, suddenly plunging the room into darkness.
His fear of insects crept out. He had no idea where the light was so he reopened the curtain a bit.
He then checked thoroughly under the pillows, the bedcover and the bedsheet, behind the chairs and in the wardrobe. Australia was know for having the most venomous creatures and he didn’t want to have a bad surprise. He looked suspiciously at a midge flying around not knowing if it was even safe to kill it. Shawn Paul had never been the courageous type and he began to wonder why on earth he had accepted that trip. He had never traveled out of Canada before.
Needing some comfort, he looked frantically into his backpack for the granola cookies he had brought with him. With the temperature the chocolate chip had melted and he wondered at how to eat a cookie without dirtying his hands.
Someone knocked at the door making him jump with guilt like when he was a kid at his grand parents’ and would eat all the cookies in his bedroom without sharing with his cousins.
“Lunch is served,” a woman’s voice said from the other side.
Anxiety rushed in when he saw all the people that were already seated at the only table in the lunch room. He might have gone back to his room if Maeve hadn’t come from behind him.
“Let’s go have a seat.”
He read between the lines what he was thinking himself: Don’t leave me alone. Whether it was truly what she had meant was not important.
“Tsk tsk,” said Rukshan when he heard that the carpenter hadn’t done anything yet.
“At least the joiner came and fixed the mirror in the bathroom,” said Fox trying to sound positive.
They were in the kitchen and Glynis was brewing a chicken stew in Margorrit’s old purple clay pot.
Fox seemed distracted with saliva gathering at the corner of his mouth. Rukshan realised it was not the best of places to explain his plan with all the smells and spells of Glynis’ spices.
“Let’s go outside it’ll be best to tell you where we are going,” said Rukshan.
Fox nodded his consent with great effort.
They took the Troll’s path, a sandy track leading in the thick of the forest.
“Are you sure we’ll find him there?” asked Rukshan.
“Trust me,” said Fox pointing at his nose.
“I thought you had abandoned the shapeshifting and using your fox’s smelling sense?”
“Well if you want to know, Olli is quite predictable, he’s always at the Young Maid’s pond.
They arrived at the pond where Olli was sculpting a branch of wood in an undefinable shape. Rukshan had almost a shock when he saw how much little Olli had changed. He was different, almost another person physically. Taller and with a man’s body. It took the Fae some time when he had to tell himself that the person in front of him was the boy that had helped them in the mountain. But Rukshan was not the kind to show many emotions so he just said.
“You’ve grown boy.”
Olli shrugged and stopped what he was doing.
“I’ve heard so,” he said. “She wants more wood?”
“Yeah,” said Fox with a knowing grin.
Olliver sighed and left with supple movements.
When the young man was gone, Fox turned towards the Fae, whose eyes seemed lost in the misty mountains.
“So, what is the plan?”
“I’m thinking of a new plan that shall make use of everyone’s potential and save a young man from boredom.”FloveParticipant
The vegetable garden has provided a dismal crop this year. And what the heat hasn’t shrivelled, the insects have put paid to. Most weeks, I’ve had to send Bert to Willamonga to buy us veges from the Saturday markets. Or I will send him in to town to buy some of the bush food the Aboriginals sell from the store. “Yeah, yeah, Mater,” he says. “Don’t worry about food. There’s plenty.”
Of course I worry about food! We’ve all got to eat, don’t we? And look at my poor excuse of a garden; that won’t be feeding us!
There’s been some rain, not much, not enough to do more than dampen the surface of the ground. It’s down deep the soil needs water. There are secrets down deep.
“Bert,” I say. “You remembered there’s folk coming to stay? We’ll need extra food for them. Better go to the market on Saturday, eh?”
“You make sure there’s enough food for them all, Bert. We’ve not had this many booked for a long while. And Dodo can’t organise herself to get up in the morning, let alone look after others. Is she still drinking?”
“Don’t fuss, Mater,” he says with a smile. “All under control.” And he speaks so loud, like I’m hard of hearing or something.
People are always telling me not to worry, nowadays. Telling me to sit down and rest. Do I want a nice cup of tea? they ask. Telling me I’ve earned it. Treating me like I’m halfway in the grave already.
Except for that Finly. She turned out to be a godsend when I hired her all those years ago. Smart as a tack, that one. Not much she doesn’t see. Makes me laugh with her little sideways remarks. Works like a horse and honest as the day is long.
And my god, the days feel long.
Anyway, I won’t be going to the grave any time soon. There’s things need doing first. Wrongs which need putting right. Things the children need to know.
The grounds so dry. The worms have all gone down deep to find water. Better remember to put out food and water for the birds. And does Bert know to buy food? There are secrets down deep. The earth’s held them close long enough.
Muriel looked at the unfinished construction work with an eye of reproach.
“No, it’s not the loo, dear. Your atrocious gargoyles, I may say, do add a bit of… Gothic flavour to it. Does for lazy bowels better than prunes if you ask me. I can’t be more in a hurry to leave the place. But no, it’s more the sink —or lack thereof— that I’m worried about. But of course I’m sure you have a plan for that…” She eyed Eleri over her round spectacles, precariously balanced at the tip of her angular nose, in a way that made Eleri uncomfortable.
“Well, we kind of lost hope, after all the joiners and handymen that have come to fix it, and abandoned the work.”
“So? Are you calling it quits? That’s not reasonable. Are you sure you’ve not badly chosen the spot, like decided to put in above a cursed indigenous cemetery, or that there isn’t some trickster pixie spell there?”
Glynis, who was there with a basket of laundry ventured rather boldly:
“I don’t think so, Morayeel.” She smiled innocently, knowing full well Muriel didn’t like the nickname and continued, even more emboldened.
“I have dejinxed the place myself. No, I think the problem is that it’s too clean now. I probably must lift the cleaning spell, or no worker will ever approach the place and get it finished.”
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