Ay, the framework knittin’ were ‘ard work, but it were our own, and better by a mile than what come next. We ‘ad the frame in our home and all the family helped, the girls’d be the seamers and the spool threaders and many a fine stocking we made in our cottages, until those industrialists and capitalists came to our fair dales with their factories and such and took our livelihoods from under our noses.
We ‘ad a needle maker in our village, a miller and a baker, and a dressmaker. We ‘ad farms and a dairy and a butcher, and all the old families in our parish ‘ad their place. There’s always those that find work hard, and those that find it rewarding, but even them as found the framework knittin’ ‘ard soon changed their tune about the framework knittin’ being hard when they was doubled over under gods green earth all the day long in the coal mines.
Ay, the changes wrought upon our fair parish wreaked an unholy disruption upon the face of village life. It were the inclosures act what started our downfall, when our common land was took from us, that were indeed the beginning of the end of our fine community of largely honest souls, and even the good nature of the gent from the hall and the Parish poor fund couldn’t halt the downfall.
Ay and I’ve traveled to the future and seen the ungoldy sight of it now. The old farm on the turnpike road surrounded now by house upon house and not an onion nor a carrot to be seen growing in their gardens, and the fronts all hardened floors for those contraptions they move around in, and empty all day long with not a sign of life until nightfall when they all come home and go inside and shut the doors, and never a one passing the time of day with their neighbours over the garden fence, and not a chicken or a cow in sight.
There’s no needlemaker now, and the mill’s been knocked down, and there are painted lines on all the hard roads, although I will say that ugly as they are they don’t get near so rutted and muddy when the weather’s bad.
I can’t stay long when I visit the future with that woman who comes to call upon us asking questions. I can’t stay long at all.FloveParticipant
Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!
“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.”
“Oh Sha, can’t I sleep a little more? My head’s still dizzy after that cryo gin treatment. All those shots, I don’t remember what I did afterward.”
“You tried to seduce that young Canadian boy. I can tell, his lady wasn’t very pleased. If she could make voodoo dolls you’d be in big trouble.”
“Ah! Shouldn’t be so far from that acupuncture treatment in Bali when you didn’t want to pay the price. Remember your face afterwards? I bet that girl had used those needles on sick pangolins without cleaning’em.”
“It hurt. But never had my face skin so tight in my life!” Sha cackled.
“And lips so big you could replace Anjelyna Jawlee in Lara Crop.”
“She’s already up. Wanted to take a walk on the beach with the cows, she said. You better don’t invite us, I said.”
They put on their tight yogarments, a beach hat and left for the class.
“I don’t like walking in the sand like that,” said Glo. “With or without shoes, the sand come in between your toes. I could still have eaten something, my stomach sounds like a whale during mating season.”
“They sent a message this morning. It said: ‘Come, Fast’.”
When they arrived at the practice room, they wondered if they took a wrong turn. Maybe the cryoga class was in another bungalow.
“Why all those tables and milk bottles?” asked Glo.
They went to see the lady with the beehive hair that looked like a teacher.
“Sorry, young’un,” said Sha. “Wasn’t that supposed to be cryoga class?”
“Oh! no,” said the teacher. “It’s cryogurt class today. How to make your own yogurt ice cream and apply it on your body to flatten out tight those wrinkles.”TracyParticipant
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.
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.
“Is that even the same character?” she wondered, “or a character so similar that it seem to be…”
It was too metaphysical for her this early in the morning, as if she was herself different. Her hand reached out to the granola cookie box, half empty and full at the same time, she hesitated to change the balance. But her hunger needed to be balanced too, so she simply transferred the energy from one box to another, keeping the overall balance of the universe.
“How gorgeous is the rising sun this morning,” she thought looking out her window. “I’m so glad I have a view.”
Her unformed thoughts followed a string of clouds to a red hot air balloon.
“I wonder if they have a dog?” she asked looking at Fabio. The pekingese barked. She found him so cutie pooh. She clapped her hands, talking gibberish. Fabio put his little legs on her bigger legs, ready to play. She didn’t mind looking foolish as long as she was having fun.
“You should get the app if you’re so damn impatient!” finally snapped April who had watched a video on how to stop being a crowd pleaser and start asserting herself. Might as well be with June, as she was the kind of bossy britches who would let the light shine anywhere else than on herself.
June looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Good, you’re learning from our dear Pdt Lump, be yourself. Have you tweeted it already?”
“Why do you always have to make everything a political statement?”
“Because everything is, dear! Don’t get me started on that… Look, I think that’s our driver! Whoohooo!” She waved at him in an outrageous fashion.
“Stop that! Or we’ll have to find another ride, or worse, get assaulted!” The driver did actually look a little bit started by the two in their matching red tracksuits. They had a street dance planned with the Chinese maids from the Chinese Embassy where the party was planned during the time it was empty, due to Chinese New Year.
“Anyway, I hope the kid is going to be fine.” April sighed a little concerned.
“Oh don’t worry about that, what could happen, really? Let’s enjoy our Friday night out, shall we.”
Noor Mary Chowdhury had just been promoted to the role of housekeeper since the arrival of the new Iranian maid, May. It was a nice change of position but sadly the salary was not really following, she’ll have to talk to the chief of stuff, Mr August. She suspected him to have a crush on her and he might get a word in her favor to Mr Lump.
“Tskk,” she said to May. “You’re not doing it right, rub gently with the newspaper to make the silver shine.”
“Like that?” asked May. Norma bobbed her head the Indian way, and as May seemed a bit confused she added “close enough.”
The shout startled them both.
“Keep doing like that only. I’m the housekeeper, I’ll go check.”
Norma went to the nursery room and her lips tightened when she saw the two au pair aunties slumped on the couch. June’s eyes were misty, she turned her bottle upside down to show it was empty. April was busy on her phone as usual, ignoring the maid as if she was insignificant.
“I’m not your maid,” the housekeeper said.
It hurt but Norma kept her lips tight and left the room. She bumped into Mr August Finest and her mind went blank. He was tall and wore a handsome moustache. She had forgotten she wanted to talk to him about her salary.
The sun was high in the sky and birds were chirping in the trees by the pool. Roberto was facing a conundrum as the biseasonal pool had started acting strangely. Well even more strangely than one part being frozen in winter and one part stuck in the dog days of who knew what year.
It had already been hard to manage an even level between the iced layer, which tended to get brittle near the seasonal line, and the warm waters evaporating too quickly. When it first happened the water pump had been stuck in winter and they had to break some ice to move it to the summer part. Everything had been fine until the last Roman party and they could enjoy ice skating and warm spring like pool in any season. Roberto especially liked the winter season when the steam would create a nice and cozy mist, conducive to some intimate bathing together.
Now, after that party, something weird…er was happening. The line between winter and summer had started to shift around the center of the pool. -ish. And now the pump was stuck in ice again and the summer pool was being evaporated too quickly. Roberto had to save two mandarin ducks who had their legs caught in by the ice while bathing in the warm pool. Breaking the ice layer without hurting the tiny bird legs had been quite a challenge, but Roberto was proud to say that they were now safe and sound. One of the unforeseen consequences was that they had been following him everywhere ever since and he had to install two boxes for them to sleep near his bed.
Roberto and the ducks were looking at the summer half-pool. It was half empty, even if Ma’am Liz would certainly entertain the idea that it was half full, it was certainly not going stay that way very long if nothing was done.
What had happened was some mystery and Roberto was not very good at solving mysteries. He wished that that inspector with the melon hat had not left in such a hurry during the party, he could have asked him some advice.
“You want some French pastries?” It was the new French maid, Mirabelle. Roberto had been calling her Marbella and she seemed to like it. She held a silver plate of what she called creamy nuns and chocolate eclairs.
“Thanks,” he said.
The wind swooshed in the garden, making fallen apples roll on the ground. The air had a lively smell of earth and decaying fruit, and the grass was still moist from the morning dew.
The statue of Gorrash was facing East, and the rising sun was bringing golden hues to his petrified face. Little snoots were curled in glowing colourful balls of liquid fur around the statue, making it pulsate with a quieting purr. Around Gorrash, the slope was peppered with some of the gargoyles rejects that Eleri had made and couldn’t sell at the market. Still, instead of discarding them, she’d arranged a little forest of painted gargoyles as a sort of silent watchful army guarding Gorrash’s sleep.
Rukshan liked to meditate at the place, it helped with the stress he’d felt at coming back from the last ordeals. He wouldn’t have thought, but his identity had felt more shaken than he knew. He wasn’t feeling at home with the Faes any longer, and there were few people who could relate to his adventures in the villages nearby, where he was nothing more than an ominous stranger. Retreating in the Fae’s dimension, hidden from all and mostly abandoned was a tempting thought, but he’d found it was a lure with empty promises. He still had work to do.
Tak and Nesy were already awake and were coming back for the rest of the story.
He’d started to tell them about the Giants, the old forgotten story which he’d learnt many years ago in his previous life as a Dark Fae. Both were captivated at the prowess displayed by the Master Craftsmen, the old Rings of Stones that they built, the Cairns of the Fallen, and the Fields of Chanting Boulders where magic rituals where performed.
“Tell us more Rukshan!” they said. “Tell us more about the Three Giant Kings.”
“Do you remember their names?” he smiled back at the children.
“Yes! There was Ceazar…” Tak started
“Caesar, yes” he corrected gently
“… and Archimedes,” Tak continued hesitantly
“Yes, and who was the third one?”
“He had a long and strange name! Nesy, help me!”
The girl tried to help him “It starts with a V”
“Vergincetorix!” the answer came from behind a bush.
Fox took a place near the gargoyle army garden, and a baby snoot jumped into his lap, cooing in vibrating mruii.
“So what about these Kings do you want to know?” Rukshan asked.
“Everything!” they all said in unison.
“Oh well, in this case, let me retell you the story of the Golden Age of the Three Giant Kings, and how they saved their people from a terrible catastrophe.”
Jerk was back at the mall from a week’s holiday break. He was surprised to notice the moderation queue to be almost empty. Usually, he would have found AT LEAST three comments a day to moderate.
“Well, pity that.” he said, sipping his cold peppermint tea. “Summer is a slow season.”
All his neighbours seemed still gone to some far away places, the residential building was almost empty, if not for the Pekinese dog regularly peeing in front of Lucinda’s door. He’d heard it was probably the stress of his owner being gone for so long. Lucinda didn’t seem to mind the piss stench —her mopping was overall quite modest.
Good thing there was a misplaced comment. In two clicks, it was promptly rethreaded to the proper place. Of course the author of said comment would have argued with the whole logic, but she probably wouldn’t notice.
A wild eyed crow was cawing relentlessly since the wee hours of the dawn.
Nothing much had moved since everyone arrived at the Inn, and in contrast with the hot days, the cool night had sent everyone shivering under the thin woolen blankets that smelled of naphthalene.
Deep down, Bert was glad to see the old Inn come back to life, even if for a little while. He was weary of the witch though. She wouldn’t be here without some supernatural mischief afoot.
He glanced in the empty hall, putting his muddy pair of boots outside, not to incur the fury of Finly. He almost started calling to see if anybody was home, but thought better of it. Speaking of the devil, Finly was already up and busy at the small kitchen stove, and had done some outstanding croissants. In truth, despite all her flaws, he liked her; she was a capable lady, although never big on sweet talks. No wonder she and Mater did get along well.
Bert started to walk along the hall towards the hangar, where he knew old cases where stored, one with a particular book that he needed. It was hard to guess what would happen next. He found the book, that was hidden on the side of the case, and scratched his head while smiling a big wide grin.
He was feeling alive with the kind of energy that could be a poor advisor were his mind not sharp as a gator’s tooth.
The book had a lot of gibberish in it, like it was written in a sort of automatic writing. For some reason, after the termite honey episode, Idle had started to collect odd books, and she was starting to see spy games hidden in the strangest patterns.
Despite being a lazy pothead, the girl was smart, though. Some of her books were codes.
Bert’s had his fair run with those during his early years in the military. So he’d hidden the most dangerous ones that Idle had unwittingly found, so that she and the rest of the family wouldn’t run into trouble.
Most of the time, she’d simply forget about having bought or bargained for them, but in some cases, there was a silly obsession with her that rendered her crazy about some of those books. Usually the girls, especially the twins, would get the blame for what was thought a child’s prank. Luckily her anger wouldn’t last long.
This book though was a bit different. Bert had never found the coding pattern, nor the logic about it. And some bits of it looked like it talked about the Inn. “Encoded pattern from the future”, “remote viewing from the past”, Idle’s suggestions would have run wild with imaginative solutions. Maybe she was onto something…
He looked a two bits, struck by some of the parts:
The inn had been open for a long time before any of the tenants had come, and it had been full of people once it had been full all day long.
She had gone back after a while and opened up the little room for the evening and people could be seen milling about.
The rest of the tenants had remained out on their respective streets and were quiet and peaceful.
‘So it’s the end of a cold year.’
The woman with golden hair and green eyes seemed to have no intention of staying in the inn as well; she was already preparing for the next year.
When the cold dawn had started to rise the door to the inn had been open all night long. The young man with red hair sitting on a nearby bench had watched a few times before opening his eyes to see the man that had followed him home.
There was a young red hair boy that had arrived. He was curious as to the man following.
The other random bit talked about something else. Like a stuff of nightmares. And his name was on it.
The small girl stood beside him, still covered with her night clothes. She felt naked by the side of the road. There was nothing else to do.
In the distance, Bert could faintly hear the howling of the woods, as two large, black dogs pounced, their jaws ready to tear her to pieces. The young girl stared in wonder and fear before the dog, before biting it, then she was gone. She ran off through the bushes. “Ah…” she whispered to herself. “Why am I not alive?” She thought to herself: this is all I need.
If I am here, they’ll kill or hurt my kids. They won’t miss me for nothing.
She ran the last few kilometers to her little cottage; not long after, Bert heard the sound of the forest. He was glad it was.
Maybe the witch was not here for nothing after all.
The sixth finger on Barbara’s left hand looked quite odd, but it was a nice recent addition from the Doctor. She looked at it while the Magpies were slowly awakening. A bleak bipping sound was all there was indicating the average pulse of the seven spies.
The Doctor, poor man, seemed to have had some difficulties recently to remember her name and also that she was a woman. Since a few weeks, in order not to startle him when she entered the new lab, she had had to get rid of her beehive hairdo, but she had kept it in a secret vault in her bedroom and every evening she took it out and brushed it and put it on her head to remind her.
She had been quite dedicated to the Doctor and had stayed despite the last mess at the Hidden Spa. She spent an awful lot of time erasing all the links and comments that could lead to them, hence such an empty thread. It was all her doing, Barbara’s, and she could do that because of her new left pinkie in which she had an electronic key controlling all the machines and the lab’s security network. And it was connected to the Internet.
The bipping sound was accelerating signalling to her that they were close to awakening. She was going to call the Doctor, he had said that he had to be there when they opened their eyes because he must be the one on whom they imprinted. Like birds you know. He would be like their mother and they would obey him. She turned on the comlink and called him.
“It’s Barb, Doctor.”
“Oh. Why are you disturbing me in my Jacuzzi?”
“They are awakening.”
“Oh. I’m coming.”
But there was no more time.
The pods were open and the seven Magpies were looking at her.
“No! No!” said the Doctor who entered at that moment. “What have you done!?”
Before Mandrake jumped in the cold stream, he heard the dragon say “There, she’s here again. I can feel a steady pulse, at least once a day!”
“Quantity over audacity… Pray she keeps the pace and we’ll get this over quick” Mandrake handed the nearly empty bottle of Nhum to Albie who was fitted with a spare scuba diving gear, ready to take on a journey to find in which story Arona was… pulsing.
The wind was playing with the fine grained ash that had been the enchanted forest and Margorrit’s cottage. Fox felt empty, he sat prostrated like an old jute bag abandoned on the ground. He was unable to shake off the inertia that had befallen on him since his arrival.
He was caught in an endless cycle of guilt that rolled over him, crushing his self esteem and motivation until it disappeared in the ashes like his friend and the whole world.
After a moment, his stomach growled, reminding him that he was still alive and that he hadn’t eaten that well during the last few days. His nose wriggled as beyond the decay it had caught the smell of a living creature that was passing by. He heard a crow caw.
Fox wailed, he didn’t want to be taken out of his lamentations and self pity. He thought he didn’t deserve it. But this time, like all the others before, hunger won the battle without that much of a fight and Fox was soon on his feet.
He looked around, there was cold ash everywhere. It smell bad, but he couldn’t really tell where it came from. It seemed to be everywhere.
The crow landed in front of him and cawed again. It looked at him intently.
It cawed. As if it wanted to tell him something. The black of its feathers reminded him of Glynis’s burka. Glynis. She had told him something. They count on you, as if there was still time. The last potion, cawed the crow. And it took off, only to land in what would have been the cottage kitchen. It rummaged through the ashes.
“The kitchen!” shouted Fox, suddenly recalling what she had said. The crow looked up at Fox and cawed as if encouraging him to join it in the search.
“The last potion that can turn back time!?”
Fox ran and foraged the ashes with the crow. He found broken china, and melted silverware. He coughed as his foraging dispersed the ashes into the air. Suddenly he shivered. He had found a bone under a piece of china. He shook his head. What a fool, it’s only chicken bone.
The raven, which Fox wondered if it was Glynis, showed Fox a place with its beak. There was a small dark bottle. He wondered why they were always dark like that. He felt a rush of excitement run through his body and he was about to open it and drink it when he saw the skull and crossbones on the label. In fact it was the only thing that was on the label. Fill with a sudden repulsion, Fox almost let go of the bottle.
“I’m not drinking that,” said Fox.
The bird jumped on his arm and attempted to uncork the bottle.
She picked at the cork.
Fox looked at the dreaded sign on the bottle. He hesitated but opened it. When the smell reached his nose he was surprised that it was sweet and reminded him of strawberry. Maybe it was by contrast to the ambient decay.
At least, he thought, if I die, the last thing I taste would be strawberry.
He gulped the potion down and disappeared.
The bottle fell on the floor, a drop hanging on the edge of its opening. Certainly attracted by the sweet smell, the crow took it with his black beak. It just had time for a last satisfied caw before it also disappeared.
The air was crisp and dry in the mountains. They had been walking for days under the guidance of their local guide Strumpjioku, whose name was simply pronounced Sok despite or because a very complicated writing system. It seemed to interest Rukshan a lot but Fox had had some brain freeze trying to understand their guide’s nebulous and proud explanations about it.
Of course, it might have been caused also by the lack of air. They were so high in the mountains, and at times Fox had even seen and heard things that should not have been there. Especially during the long nights when packs of wild dogs barked endlessly. Fox understood their language. They were hunting things. It wasn’t clear what, but Fox could sometimes sense a lingering smell carried by the otherwise empty air that he couldn’t identify.
They had established camp for the night and Sok was busy cooking for them. Fox growled miserably. He didn’t fancy too much the spicy food that seem the only thing they could get in those mountains. He missed the running hens of Margoritt’s cottage in the forest and her secret mushroom sauce that was to die for. He would even have eaten her ratatouille with only vegetables.
Rukshan was trying to cast a fae spell in order to contact their friend Lhamom who had left them for a special ceremony in a temple. She said it was for her friend Donny whose mother had passed away recently. Being in a hurry as they were, they didn’t insist to wait. Lhamom said she could catch up on them later. The spell failed again and Rukshan cursed.
Dogs started to bark loudly. Not too soon after the strange smell became stronger, and it made Fox nervous, especially hearing to the hunting dogs.
Fox approached Rukshan.
“The dogs are hunting something, he said.
“As long as they don’t hunt us, retorted Rukshan with a shrug. He seemed upset by his failed attempt and not too eager to talk.
Fox caught Sok looking at them, but the guide turned back to his cooking when he saw Fox looking at him.
“That won’t help me sleep”, mumbled Fox more grumpy than usual.
Shawn-Paul lived in a studio apartment, crammed with bookshelves full of books and trinkets that he gathered during his many walks around the city while looking for inspiration. He hadn’t read all of the books, but he always had the intention to do it one day. One day easily became two and three, and so many.
Someone with OCD could dust date the different purchases by measuring the thickness of the layer of dust on the books.
That day, Shawn-Paul was drinking a hot chocolate at his computer on the small desk where some books lied open or closed on top of each others. The top one’s cover claimed in bold red letters “NARRATIVE COACHING, The Definitive Guide to Bring New Stories to Life”. Shawn-Paul had bought it thinking it was a coaching book for writers but it apparently aimed at teaching coaches to tell good stories. The book had proved interesting and especially another occasion to enrich his knowledge about the world or in one word procrastinate.
Shawn-Paul took a sip of the hot chocolate, which was now more lukewarm than hot and felt the impulsion to open his browser and watch a video about narrative coaching on U-stub. That’s when it all went wrong and myriads of ads popped up and covered the screen and his newly bought writer software were the first word of his novel still waited to appear.
At first, he panicked and his sudden movements back and fro almost broke the fragile equilibrium of the desk clutter. But then he shrugged, took his phone to call his friend Jeremiad for help and remembered how that went last time when he had to listen to his friend’s imaginary problems, just like imaginary friends but worse. He put the phone back in the clutter and looked at the last ad. A girl with sensuous cherry red lips winking at him with a packet of granola cookies spinning around her head.
Unaware of what was happening, Shawn-Paul felt hungry and considered his lukewarm chocolate. He smiled as he thought he could make another one and enjoy dipping some cookies in it.
He went to the kitchen and foraged through the clutter of dirty dishes and empty cookie packets. There were none left. The effect of hunger on Shawn-Paul was square grumpiness. Not round, not rectangular. Square. And it didn’t fit the curves of his stomach.
Shawn-Paul put his writer’s jacket and cap on, added a wool scarf because he had a sensitive throat, and it looked cool on him and he winked at his reflection on the mirror hanging on the main door.
He left, unaware of the smile of the granola girl.
The entrance to the cellar was in the library, just behind a book shelf that had been pushed away. How convenient, Godfrey thought.
“Roberto has been busy,” he said, appreciating the new little wheels under the elm wood bookshelves. He tried it several times and saw that the wheels were perfectly oiled and made no sound.
“Too oily,” said Finnley tutting disapprovingly at the stains on the wooden floor. She was already thinking of buying a new carpet, or maybe a new puppy that would help her dust the floor as it followed along. It would have to be small and energetic. Not too energetic though.
Liz was fascinated by the door. It was an old door, carved certainly in oak wood and painted with oddly hypnotic patterns. She looked at the tonic glass she still had in her hands. “Did you put something in my tonic?” she asked. The glass pigheadedly refused to focus on the bottom of her eye.
“I think it was empty,” said Godfrey. “Or at least it is now.” He took the glass from Liz and came back quickly, not wanting to miss the opening. He handed a pair of pink and shiny scissors to Liz who glanced at them and then at Godfrey with a puzzled look.
“Do you expect me to cut your hair?” Liz asked him. “I think you should have your hair cut,” she added because it seemed to crawl and wave on his head. She looked at Finnley. “Yours too, dear, I’m afraid.”
Finnley’s lips and eyes thinned as she tried her sharp face on Liz who cackled, and Finnley just shrugged and tutted again.
“Well, use them to cut the red ribbon of course.” Godfrey nodded in the direction of the door and Liz saw that there was a fluffy red ribbon sagging between the side shelves and barring the entrance to the cellar. How come she hadn’t seen it before.
She took the scissors and winced when the sound of the cutting resounded like nails on a blackboard, and for a moment she shuddered as the face of Sister Clarissa and her magnifying goggles popped out of the door. A horrendous sight, if you asked her. Liz had always suspected that their only use was to traumatise the students. She had forgotten she went to a catholic school.
The door was finally opened, and Liz hoped what they found downstairs would not bring up more of those memories.FloveParticipant
“But is it empty?” asked Finnley, mysteriously.
“Well, yeah, it is actually.” Finnley sighed a little sadly; it was barely perceptible. “I just said that to …. I don’t know why I said it really.”
“Waste time?” suggested Godfrey helpfully.
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