“”Sorry, I’m only just telling you this about the note now, lovie. Your Grandma’s been on at me to tell you. Just in my thoughts I mean!” he added quickly.
Jane smirked and tapped her forehead. “Careful, Old Man. She’ll think you’ve completely lost it!”
Clara stared at him, a small frown creasing her brow. “So, the note said you were to call him?”
Bob nodded uneasily. Clara had that look on her face. The one that means she aren’t happy with the way things are proceeding.
“And then what?” asked Clara slowly.
“I dunno.” Bob shrugged. “Guess they’d bury it again? They was pretty clear they didn’t want it found. Now, how about I put the kettle on?” Bob stood quickly and began to busy himself filling the jug with water from the tap.
Clara shook her head firmly. “No.”
“No to a cup of tea?”
“No we can’t call this man.”
“I don’t know Clara. It’s getting odd it is. Strangers leaving maps in collars and whatnot. It’s not right.”
“Well, I agree it needs further investigation. But we can’t call him … not without knowing why and what’s in it.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “I’ll try and get hold of Nora again.”
When Clara remembered who it was she knew in that little village, she realized she didn’t know how to contact him. She didn’t even know his name; he made gargoyles and stone heads and statues, that was all she knew, and all the strange rumours and stories surrounding some of those statues, quite a local legend in a way. But what was his name? He had a white donkey….
Clara assured Nora that her friend was expecting her, keeping her fingers crossed that she would be able to find out who it was, contact him and ask for his assistance, before Nora arrived there. It was a long shot, admittedly.
By nightfall, Clara had not made contact, and was forced to rely on a miracle; or even to wash her hands of the whole thing: it was Noras’s trip after all.
“That horsetail has such long roots, otherwise I never would have dug so deep,” mused Clara. “Are you okay holding that end? Not too heavy for you?”
Grandpa Bob grunted. The box was heavy—in more ways than one—but he wasn’t about to let Clara know he wasn’t up to it.
“Let’s put it down there behind the lawn mower,” said Clara. “Do you think it will be safe there? We could cover it?” She ran her hand appreciatively over the shiny exterior of the box; her fingers paused inquisitively at one end and she peered closely at the spot. “I think there is something here … an inscription or something!”
“Probably just some old scratches,” muttered Grandpa Bob. He straightened up with a moan and rubbed his back.
“No, look!” Clara was shining her phone torch at the area. “Look, it’s definitely letters of some sort. I’ll take a photo for Alienor!”
Dear Jorid Whale,
My hands are shaking while I type this on the keyboard.
I’m not sure which of last night’s dreams is the bizarrest. Bizarre in a fantastic way, although for certain people it might be called grotesque. I’m certain it has something to do with that book I ordered online last week. I don’t usually read books and certainly not like this one. But the confinement, it makes you consider making things out of your ordinary.
It’s called The Enchanted Forest of Changes, by a Chinese artist Níngméng (柠檬). They say his artist name means lemon, but that some of his friends call him Níng mèng 凝梦 (curdle dreams), which to my ears sound exactly the same except a little bit angrier. I found out about him on a forum about creepy dolls abandoned in forests all around the world. Yeah exactly, the confinement effect again. Apparently it started with a few dolls in a forest in Michigan, and then suddenly people started to find them everywhere. I wonder if some people are really into the confinement thing or if it’s just me using that as a reason to stay home.
Anyway, someone on that forum posted one of the picture of that book and it caught my eye. So much so that I dreamt of it the following night. So I bought the book and it’s mostly ink drawings, but they seem to speak directly to some part of you that you were not even aware you had. I almost hear whispers when I look at the drawings. And then I have those dreams.
Last night I dreamt of a cat that had been reared as a boy. He even had the shape of one, but shorter maybe. He had learned to talk and use his paws as hands, his claws had grown into fingers, had lost most of his fur and he was wearing clothes. If I was amazed by such a feat, it kinda seemed normal for the people I met in that dream. It just took a lot of efforts, love and dedication to raise this kind of children.
And Whale, I feel tingling in my arms. This morning you showed me the picture of a kitten! That’s not a mere coincidence. I’m feeling so excited, my hands are too slow to type what I want to write. I fear I’m going to forget an important detail.
About the second dream. The world was in shock, there was this giant… thing that looked like a pistil and that had grown during the night in some arid area. It was taller than the tallest human made tower. Its extremity was cone shaped, and I confess that the whole thing looked like some kind of dick to me.
Plants and trees had followed in the following days as if the pistil had changed the climatic conditions (autocorrect wanted to write climactic, is that you playing around?).
The pistil was protected by some kind of field and it couldn’t be approached by everyone. Governments had tried, pharmaceutical companies had tried. People who wanted to make gold out of it, they were all rejected. But for some reason some people could approach. Anyone, not just the pure of hearts or the noble ones. Actually a whole bunch of weirdoes started to take their chances. Some were allowed in and some where not. Nobody knew what was the deciding factor.
A friend of mine that I have not seen in years during my waking life, she came back and asked me to come with her. So we went and were allowed in. My recall of the events after that is fuzzy. But I get the strange impression that I will spend more time in there later on.
[Edited in the afternoon]
I don’t believe it! It’s on the news everywhere. It has even replaced the news about the virus and the confinement.
Giant pistils have appeared around the world, but it seems only people who had been infected can see them.
Crazy rumours run on the internet. Giant mass hallucination caused by the virus. Some people say it’s alien technology, spores engineered to control our brains.
There is one not so far from where I live. Should I wait for Kady to call me?
They walked through a labyrinth of tunnels which seemed to have been carved into a rocky mountain. The clicks and clacks of their high heels echoed in the cold silence meeting all of Sophie’s questions, leaving her wondering where they could be. Tightly held by her rompers she felt her fat mass wobbling like jelly around her skeleton. It didn’t help clear her mind which was still confused by the environment and the apparent memory loss concerning how she arrived there.
Sophie couldn’t tell how many turns they took before Barbara put her six fingers hand on a flat rock at shoulders height. The rock around the hand turned green and glowed for two seconds; then a big chunk of rock slid to the side revealing a well designed modern style room.
A little man was working at his desk. At least Sophie assumed it was his desk and that he was working. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bermudas. The computer screen he was looking at projected a greenish tint onto his face, and it made him look just like the green man icon. Sophie cackled, a little at first.
The Doctor’s hand tensed on the mouse and his eyebrows gathered like angry caterpillars ready to fight. He must have made a wrong move because a cascade of sound ending in a flop indicated he just died a death, most certainly on one of those facegoat addictive games.
That certainly didn’t help muffle Sophie’s cackle until she felt Barbara’s six fingers seizing her shoulders as if for a Vulcan nerve pinch. Sophie expected to lose consciousness, but the hand was mostly warm, except for that extra finger which was cold and buzzing. The contact of the hand upon the latex gave off little squeaky sounds that made Sophie feel uncomfortable. She swallowed her anxiety and wished for the woman to remove her hand. But as she had noticed more than once, wishes could take time and twists before they could be fulfilled.
“Why do you have to ruin everything every time?” asked the Doctor. His face was now red and distorted.
“Every time?” said Sophie confused.
“Yes! You took your sleeper agent role too seriously. We couldn’t get any valuable intel and the whole doll operation was a fiasco. We almost lost the magpies. And now, your taste for uncharted drugs, which as a parenthesis I confess I admire your dedication to explore unknown territories for science… Anyway, you were all day locked up into your boudoir trying to contact me while I just needed you to look at computer screens and attend to meetings.”
Sophie was too shocked to believe it. How could the man be so misinformed. She never liked computers and meetings, except maybe while looking online for conspiracy theories and aliens and going to comiccons. But…
“Now you’re so addict to the drugs that you’re useless until you follow our rehab program.”
“A rehab program?” asked Sophie, her voice shaking. “But…” That certainly was the spookiest thing she had heard since she had arrived to this place, and this made her speechless, but certainly not optionless. Without thinking she tried a move she had seen in movies. She turned and threw her mass into Barbara. The two women fell on the cold floor. Sophie heard a crack before she felt the pain in her right arm. She thought she ought to have persevered in her combat training course after the first week. But life is never perfect.
“Suffice!” said the Doctor from above. “You’ll like it with the other guests, you’ll see. All you have to do is follow the protocol we’ll give you each day and read the documentation that Barbara will give you.”
Sophie tried a witty answer but the pain was too much and it ended in a desperate moan.
Bubbling and turning from orange to green to duck blue, the potion was perfect and smelled of good work, a strong blend of cinnamon, cardamom and crushed cloves. She smiled broadly and poured the potion into five vials, which she gave to Rukshan. They were all gathered around her in the kitchen looking rather fascinated by the whole operation.
“One for you, and one for each of the children,” Glynis said with a grin.
“I’m not a kid,” said Fox.
“I don’t need a potion to go wherever I want,” said Olli with a grin.
“Well,” started Glynis, “Despite your unique skill, Olliver, you still need the potion in order to thwart the control spells Leroway’s saucerers had scattered around the country,” Glynis said. “You all remember what happened to aunt Eleri last time she went out. You know how skilled she is when she need to sneak out. She barely escaped and Rukshan and I had a hard time turning off that dancing spell, which I’m sure is the least damaging one.”
She looked at Gorrash with compassion but the light dimmed as a cloud passed in front of the sun outside. She pointed her finger at him. “Your immune system is still like one of a newborn. And I’d prefer you’d stay home and not go around during a beaver fever pandemic. There are plenty of things you can help me with!” Glynis showed the cauldron, vials and other utensils she used to make the potion, and the cake earlier, and yesterday’s dinner.
“Well, if I have not to challenge my immune system…” Gorrash started.
“You know better than to argue with me,” she said.
Gorrash opened his mouth to say something but decided otherwise and ran away into the garden.
Fox started to follow him.
“Don’t said Rukshan. There’s nothing you can do.”
“He’s my friend!” said Fox.
The latex rompers were shaping her old body in a way she quite enjoyed. It was like being back in her… she counted on her fingers to be sure. To be even surer she counted twice. Yes! It was like being back in the sixties, especially with the choice of colours that had been made by whomever had made the rompers. Her silhouette looked gorgeous, if you didn’t pay too much attention to the bingo wings and the pelican throat. She laughed. It was like seeing a superposition of a younger and an older self. She would have loved the face of Ricardo if he saw her like that. And the beehive haircut, it certainly was a good idea. She wondered if she was still under LSD. But the walls and the beehive hair seemed too solid for that.
A sliding door that she had not noticed before opened.
“Good to see you’re settling in,” said the woman who entered with a puff of bacon smell. “I’m Barbara.” She was holding a tray with a steaming plate of sweet peas and carrots. Sophie always had a sharp eye but couldn’t see any real bacon among the peas and the carrots. She smiled to the newcomer anyway. Barbara had the same latex rompers with the same colours. And she had a beehive haircut.
“Hello! Barbara,” said Sophie. “I like that name. I knew a man once… well not that you’re a man. Are you? Anyway I see you have a beehive haircut too. Am I back in the sixties?” She realised she was a bit confused, not able to finish one sentence or follow a single narrative. But the smell of bacon was so unnerving.
Barbara put the tray on the table.
“Well, no,” she said to Sophie. “It’s just a haircut that I like and it’s very practical for all sort of things.” She reached into hers and got out a pen and a notebook. Sophie lifted her hand to her haircut.
“Do I have?..”
“No dear. But, I need your sign here… just a formality.” Barbara smiled and handed the notebook to Sophie along with the pen. Then she crossed her arms waiting. Her fingers were drumming on her soft pale skin and Sophie couldn’t help but notice that Barbara had six fingers on one of her hands.
“Where am I?” she asked.
It was the new moon. Rukshan had been walking into the dark of the forest for some time. The noises of nocturnal animals felt like deep silence after his return from the land of the Giants. There, day and night, the giants were restless. You could hear them growling and shouting. It didn’t matter if it was a nasty fight or a friendly brawl, the noise had been taxing for his nerves and his right eye was still twitching randomly.
Rukshan stopped a moment. The silence almost made him cry of relief and he thought in that moment the enchanted forest deserved its name.
He took a deep breath. His nose wiggled, tickled by the scent of smoke from a fire. He was close to his destination, then. He had been following symbols traced with moon paint on the trees, a trail that only his Fae eyes could see even without moonlight. Humans would not to see it the same way. This trail of symbols might even have been left for him by someone who wanted to be found when he would come back.
Rukshan had found the start of the trail by chance behind the cottage after diner today. He had told Glynis he needed fresh air. The truth was that he had been alone for so long now that having so many people around him made him feel a bit claustrophobic. He had spotted was a faint glow behind a jasmin bush and had thought it was one of the baby snoots. As he was feeling the need for some pet company he had walked up to the bush. Instead of a creature there was the first glowing symbol, a spiral with seven sticks that looked like a hand with seven fingers. Not long after Rukshan had found another symbol, and another. It was clear the hands made a trail for him to follow. So he had followed.
Soon, he found a wooden shack. Smoke was coming out of a hole in its roof and light from the windows. Rukshan could hear two people talking together. One was asking questions and the other answering them. He recognised the voices.
He didn’t bother to knock on the door.
“I’ve been waiting for you”, said Kumihimo the shaman.
“I’m her new apprentice”, said Fox. “You’ve been away for so long”, he added as if apologising for something.
A wet and warm thing touched Rukshan’s hand. Ronaldo the donkey brayed to welcome him. “Of course you are here too”, said the Fae. He found an apple he had put in his pocket after diner and gave it to the donkey. Ronaldo rolled up its chops and gave a heehaw full of joy, sparkles in its eyes.
“Good, you haven’t forgotten good manners”, said the shaman. “Now, seat! We have much to talk about.”
“Really?” Maeve was surprised. “My childhood was full of stories that happened in that island.”
She was distracted though. She was sure she’d seen the man in black follow them through the customs and sneak into the plane. She had a doubt though, how could he have followed, the planed seemed so completely packed, she even wondered how Fergus had managed to get them tickets during what was surely peak season.
It’s probably all in your mind… she said to herself.
“What did you say?” Shawn-Paul inquired, fingers full of salt and a grin on his face after a violent struggle with the little bag of roasted pistachios the attendant had given him.
“I said, you better rest. The trip is long, and you won’t sleep much in the next plane to the island. It’s not going to be a big and comfy plane, I can tell you.”prUneParticipant
It’s been only a day since I arrived, and I’m already over it. Nothing seems to have changed. What a drag this place is.
Only Mater keeps surprising. She was a bit more emotional and hermitical than usual. Didn’t think those two cursors could move with her, but I guess she’s still has it in her.
Aunt Dido said she’ll croak one day, and we’ll find her having spent her last breath lying in a fresh dug hole in the ground. I don’t know if that was her idea of a bad joke or a veiled menace, there’s no telling when she’s been smoking.
Bert was all busy with things to repair and prepare, we barely had time to talk since I arrived. What a crowd-pleaser he’s become, don’t know what he gets out of this one-sided deal, with Dido having him wrapped around her fingers like this.
That funny Dido is all over the place, and nowhere to be found, as usual. She said we’ll be expecting guests. She probably was high as a kite. Would be a first since ages.
I wonder what would drag people here, it’s not like the place is on any maps, or on the way to a tourist spot. But who knows what instant instapound fame can do to lure people in the oddest spots… Been reading articles about those nincompoops going to severely polluted place to take selfies in front of azure acidic water pretending to be on Bora Bora. Wouldn’t be surprising if Clove or Corrie had started a trend on flabber just to prank us. Like using ///digger.unusually.playfully to send people in the middle of nowhere in search for gold…
There were some leftovers in the fridge. I was ravenous, and almost ate all of the funky shredded chicken. Smokey taste, but okay. Finly had an horrified look on her face when she came back with the supplies, probably the shock of seeing me all grown up now.
The aircon was buzzing and Sophie walked in her pajamas through the open space to reach her dreaming base. That’s how she secretly called it. She could feel the eyes of her colleagues following her, and as usual she felt proud to be the center of attention. It didn’t matter that it was jealousy or anything else. People were looking at her and she was doing something different.
Once in her base of operation, she settled on the couch and looked at the brew that had been brought for her. It was her second attempt at remote viewing the Doctor and this time she had requested a bucket and some padding around the sharp corners. She feared a little the unleashing of her wild nature, but in truth she had no idea what to expect. She had read on the Internet that there was nothing to fear and that there would be no side effects, and usually with her natural paranoia she would have double checked before using the drugs, but her obsession with the Doctors had rendered her a little bit… more reckless.
She pinched her nose and swallowed the brew. One gulp. But some of it stayed in her mouth and nausea followed. She didn’t like the taste at all. Then she laid down the couch and waited. The effects weren’t long to come. Space lit up, soon followed by the usual geometrical dynamic animation and the strange floating spirits. One of them looked like her old nanny. She had a hair on her chin and Sophie couldn’t focus on anything else. The hair grew and multiplied on the face, it was soon a forest of wiggling glowing worms growing indefinitely.
After what seemed an eternity to her, she saw the doors. A huge circle made of doors like a giant neckless. Sophie giggled at the typo especially that she could see the neckless giant now below the doors. It was definitely a male, with boobs covered by skulls.
Find the door, she reminded herself. Her thought took the shape of a butterflowck —understand a flow of a flock of butterflies— that rippled in a pond of honey… suckles.
It reached the door and she was sucked in.
“Why are they doing this?” asked a male voice behind her. “They’re supposed to be magpies, not monkeys.”
“I’m not sure,” said a bald woman with six fingers and an ethereal beehive hairdo. The strange thing was that she had a beard.
“Do something quick. I need them operational soon” said the man, “You’re the one controlling them after all,” he added with poison in his voice.
Sophie startled at the name. She turned around and tried to look at the man, but he was headless, or rather pixelated. Shit! I watch too much science fiction, she thought.
“Anyway,” he continued. What are the news on the dolls’ front?”
“We are closing in on the next target, Doctor. It’s a small Inn in Australia where the vortex or probabilities converge. I took the liberty to send another sleeping agent there to steal the key and the list of other addresses from the dollmaker. He’s taking the same airplane as she is.”
The vibration of the phone on the table made Barbara jump and she almost deleted her report. Her heart was racing at the thought of erasing what took her an hour to write. She reminded herself to breath like she had learned during her hot yoga class the previous week. It quieted her heart a little and she checked her hair out of habit and winced when she felt the short haircut. She checked her phone.
“Wonderful!” she said readjusting her glasses. A new acquisition, big and cat eye like, the brim covered with colourful strass. She couldn’t resist.
She got up from her desk and adjusted her skirt with her six fingers hand. She went to the Doctor’s office and knocked three times on the door. A sleepy voice, a tad angry, asked from the other side: “What?”
“It’s Barbara. Our undercover agent sent me a confirmation that the Dreamcatcher operation is a success. Subject zero has been activated unaware that you are manipulating her dreams.”
The machine clicked and buzzed, a belt reeled around a pulley before it finally flushed out a purple gooey juice.
“Mmmm, I’ve always loved this power smoothie,” said the Doctor, “Made with five different purple berries and some other secret ingredients.” He licked his lips with such greediness, he looked like a kid he might have been once. His face was lit with the blinking lights of the other machine, the bigger one that had been his life work… so far, after his previous life work.
“The subjects are livable,” said the assistant. “Pulses are steady and the brains well responding to the chemical stimulations, and the symbiosis with the new synthetic bodies seem to work smoothie…” He winced. “Sorry, it works smoothly.”
“Good job,” said the Doctor looking at his assistant. He was trying to remember the young man’s name but it eluded him. The young man was slender and had six fingers on his left hand and the Doctor had hired him hoping it would make him work faster with computers, but it didn’t seem to have any correlation. It had only increased the chances of typoes, that in a way could be seen as computer code mutations, which could certainly give them some advantage over the competition at some point.
After thirty seconds, the Doctor gave up trying to remember his assistant’s name and looked back at the seven pods. Marvels of technology, they were all shiny and antibacterial, the perfect combination for his SyFy operation.
“Behold the rebirth of the Magpies,” he said. In his eyes the blinking lights reflected rhythmically. He slurped a mouthful of smoothie before continuing.
“Faithful servants to me, the Doctor! They had been discarded into History’s junkyard, but I’ve saved them from oblivion and upgraded them. With their powerful new weapons and skills they are ready for their new mission.”
The Doctor’s eyes opened like oysters. As nothing happened but the monotonous blinking of the machine’s lights, he said to his assistant. “Revive them now.”
The assistant pushed a single red button on the control board and the bigger machine clicked and buzzed, a belt reeled around a pulley and the Doctor laughed madly.
“Wake up, Magpies! Bring me the dolls and the dollmaker!”
Leörmn smiled a long smile.
“What? Are you going to look at me stupidly and wait to say some mysterious nonsense? We haven’t got time for that.” Mandrake was clearly not impressed by the large scaleless pale dragon, with the green frills around the crest, reclining on the side of the pool, and still looking a few heads taller than him and Albie combined.
“Of course not. Let me charge that for you.” With one flick of his long fingers, the dragon zapped the sabulmantium that was in the magical carry-all-you-can pouch the cat had at his belt.
“Oh WAIT! Damn it, you ol’ reptile, you mind where you aim!” The zapping had gone a little too close.
Leörmn smiled again, “Now, you wanted to know were she hides.” His smile disappeared. “I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do, she seems hidden from me too. But there is a chance. I’ve picked up her energy signature not so long ago. She’s in a different dimension, but never long at one place. For some reason, it’s like she’s entangled herself with other lives and get lost at times.”
“Can you lead me to the place?”
“Place & time, my friend. Yes, I believe I can. The Doline underground water tunnels can lead you to many places and times. I’ve drawn a path for you. Just take your scuba, and follow the glukenitch lights at the bottom.”
Albie looked amazed and excited at the opportunity.
The cat grunted in his whiskers “Don’t get excited lad. What he means is glukenitch poos.”
Shawn Paul had decided that this particular day was dedicated to his writing. He had warned his friends not to call him and put his phone on silent mode. It was 9am and he had a long day of writing ahead of him.
He almost felt the electricity in his fingers as he touched the keyboard of his laptop. He imagined himself as a pianist of words preparing himself before a concert in front of the crowd of his future readers.
Shawn Paul pushed away the voice of his mother telling him with an irritating voice that he had the attention span of a shrimp in a whirlpool during a storm, which the boy had never truely understood, but today he was willing not to even let his inner voices distract him. He breathed deeply three times as he had learned last week-end during a workshop, and imagined his mother’s voice as a slimy slug that he could put away in a box with a seal into a chest with chains and lots of locks, that he buried in the deepest trench of the Pacific ocean. He was a writer and had a vivid imagination after all, why not use it to his benefit.
A smile of satisfaction wavered on the corner of his mouth while a drop of sweat slowly made its way to the corner of his left eye. He blinked and the doorbell rang.
Shawn Paul’s fragile smile transformed into a fixed grin ready to break down. Someone was laughing, and when the bell rang a second time, Shawn Paul realised it was his own contained hysterical laugh.
He breathed in deeply at his desk and got up too quickly, bumping his knee in one corner.
Ouch! he cried silently.
It would not take long he reminded himself, limping to the door.
What could it be ? The postman ?
Shawn Paul opened the door. An old man he had never seen, was standing there with a packet in his hands. If he was not the postman, at least you had the packet right said a voice in Shawn Paul’s head.
The old man opened his mouth, certainly to speak, but instead started to cough as if he was about to snuff it. It lasted some time and Shawn Paul repulsed by the loose cough retreated a bit into his flat. It was his old fear of contagion creeping out again. He berated himself he should not feel that way and he should show compassion, but at least if the old man could stop, it would be easier.
“For you!” said the old man when his cough finally stopped. He put the packet in Shawn Paul’s hands and left without another word.
“Bugger,” said Maeve. “I’m out of butter. What shall we do, Fabio?”
Fabio rushed excitedly to the front door.
“Go and see if Lucinda has some butter? Good idea, but you have to do the talking. Okay?”
Clearly, I am in need of human companionship.
An old rhyme from her childhood came to mind. She would say it over and over, fast as she could without tripping over her tongue.
Biddy Botter bought bum butter. Blah said she the butters bitter but if i buy some better butter, better than the bitter butter that will make the bitter butter better.
Lucinda’s door has the number 57 on the front and a skull door knocker. Maeve’s door was numbered 22 so it made no sense at all. Lucinda opened the door a crack and peered out at Maeve.
“Oh Maeve,” she said, “Um, hi.”
“Hi. Is this a bad time? I just wanted to borrow a bit of butter if you have any spare.”
Lucinda hesitated before opening the door and gesturing Maeve in.
“Sure,” she said. “Excuse the mess.”
Maeve spotted the doll right away.
“What are you doing with Ima Indigo!”
Ima was sitting on the shelf near the the window, sandwiched between a cracked concrete buddha head and a dying fern. Maeve picked the doll up.
“May I?” she said, without waiting for a reply.
She turned the doll over and felt the back seam with her fingers. The stitching was rough and the thread didn’t match the tiny stitches on the rest of the doll’s body. She gently squashed Ima. No key.
“Where did you get this? Did you take a key out of her body?”
Lucinda patted Fabio and shook her head, annoyed at Maeve and at the same time feeling guilty.
“I found her at the market.”
“Oh my god,” said Maeve.
“The thing is Godfrey,…” She was clearly savouring her small victory. Liz’ paused for a long time looking at her long hands, lost in the small wrinkles that led to the nails in need of a manicure. She took a mental note to complain to the writer about getting carried away in inaccurate descriptions of her wrinkly bony-sausagey fingers.
“Yes, Liz’?” Godfrey said plaintively.
“Those AIs are good enough to spout endless nonsense, but there is no soul in it. Endless strings of words, more produce of books that don’t make any difference. Cheap undertainment, mark my words.”
“True. Had to stop Fliz, it was ruining the business. If new books were to be published every day, even the most avid reader got overwhelmed, and the others… they saw it as the worthless poubelle it was.”
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.
Albie pondered Lottie’s words. He’d been trying to forget the doline, but now he realized he’d been avoiding the inevitable. It was no good pretending there were other jobs for him, that much was becoming clear. His mission had been to protect the doline, and he’d failed.
Or had he? A new idea was glimmering in his mind, that he hadn’t failed at all. At first he’d been so embarrassed and anxious about the security breach that he’d only seen the obvious superficial layer of events. Yes, strangers had entered the doline; true, they were not supposed to let that happen. But now he wondered, were they strangers to the doline? Who were they? Maybe they were meant to enter, and his apparent lack of attention was a providential and timely. How did he, Albie, even know for sure that he was working for the right side? What did he really know about his bosses? And what about that handsome fellow who’d slithered out of the doline, the dark eyed one with leaves in his hair?
Albie hadn’t even told Alex about him, not after the shit hit the fan about the breach and illegal entry. The last thing he felt like doing was admitting that there had been an illegal escape as well. But Albie couldn’t stop thinking about him, the graceful way he shook the dust out of his hair, the depths of those lustrous dark eyes, his long slender fingers….
Now, Albie was kicking himself for hiding behind a tree, for not approaching the strange man, or at least following him to see where he was going. His job was to stop people from entering. Nobody had said anything about stopping people leaving it. It was unexpected, and he’d been scared. Was it too late to try and track his movements? He’d come out of the doline, he’d have stories to tell. Albie needed to know, he needed to find him.
He would find a way to trace him. He wondered if the new dog could help him, if he could find something with the mans scent upon it. Albie was determined to find a way.
“You incredibly rude fuckers after we were obliged to listen to yours for years,” Elizabeth’s fingers tapped loudly on the keyboard. “It would be at the very least polite to show a little interest, even if it is feigned, but no! Stuck up your own arseholes as usual!”
“Fuck ‘em!” replied Liz, thrusting her keyboard to the back of the desk with a satisfied smile. “You just can’t get the crowd fillers these days. Now then, were is that tasty gardener?”
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