“I think you’ve forgotten something, Star.” Tara didn’t want to put a dampener on Star’s high spirits, but felt obliged to point out that New Zealand was still out of bounds with the quarantine restrictions.
“Not only that,” Tara continued, “Where exactly in New Zealand?”
This was unanswerable at this stage and was quickly forgotten.
“We can send Rosamund on a recce to find out more. That way if she gets arrested for breaking the lockdown rules it won’t matter much and we can carry on solving the case.”
“It will take two of us to keep an eye on Aunty April, anyway. And it would behoove us to have a thorough look at that wardrobe, and decipher those notes. And check the lining of the fur coats. I read a book once and spies used morse code in the hem stitches for sending messages.”
“Do you know morse code?”
“Of course not, why would I?”
“Well then how will you know..?”
The conversation went on in a similar vein for some time.FloveParticipant
“Do what?” asked Rosamund, returning from lunch.
Rosamund scrunched her brow. “Am I in bloody groundwort day or something? Didn’t you close that case?” She grinned apologetically. “Just before I went to lunch?”
Tara rubbed her head. “Damn it, she’s right! How could we have forgotten!”
“Oh!” Star gasped. “The person who turned up in the mask! Yesterday evening. That must have been our second case! The one with the cheating husband!”
They both looked towards the wardrobe — the large oak one, next to the drinks cupboard. The wardrobe which had rather mysteriously turned up a few days ago, stuffed full of old fur coats and rather intriguing boxes—the delivery person insisted he had the right address. “And after all, who are we to argue? We’ll just wait for someone to claim it, shall we?” Star had said, thinking it might be rather fun to explore further.
Tara grimaced. “Of course. It wasn’t an armed intruder; it was our client practising good virus protocol.”
“And that banging noise isn’t the pipes,” said Star with a nervous laugh. “I’d better call off the caretaker.”
“We really must give up comfort drinking!” said Tara, paling as she remembered the intruder’s screaming as they’d bundled her into the wardrobe.
Rosamund shook her head. “Jeepers! What have you two tarts gone and done.”
Star and Tara looked at each other. “Rosamund …” Star’s voice was strangely high. “How about you let her out. Tara and I will go and have our lunch now. Seeing as you’ve had such a long break already.”
“Me! What will I say?”
Tara scratched her head. “Um …offer her a nice cup of tea and tell her she’ll laugh about this one day.”
“If she’s still bloody alive,” muttered Rosamund.
“A dil-do factory?” She was aghast. “A fucking carrot dildo factory?”
“Oh don’t push it.” Star lit a large cigar, a nasty habit that cropped up when she was nervous. She blew a smoke ring and sighed. “At least the rogering was a nice change. Good clean sex, almost a spiritual experience.”
“Oh come now, with all the don’t-need-to-know details…”
“Well, don’t be such a prude, you were there after all. With all that luscious moaning. Haven’t seen you so flushed in ages…” Star tittered in that high-pitched laughter that could shatter crystal flutes.
“Wait… a minute.” Tara was having a brainwave. “We may have overlooked something.”
“What? In the sex department?”
“Shush, you lascivious banshee… In the flushed department.”
“What? Don’t speak riddles tart, I can’t handle riddles when my body’s aching from all that gymnastic.”
“Can’t you see? They got to get rid of the dissident stuff unfit for cultish dildoing, if you catch my drift.”
“Oh I catch it alright, but I’ve checked the loo… Oh, what? you mean the compost pile?”
“I’ve seen trucks parked out the back, they where labelled… Organic Lou’s Disposal Services… OLDS… That’s probably how they remove their archives, if you see what I mean.”
“I have a theory. Although it usually would be more in your area of theories.”
“What? Alien abduction?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking time travel… Haven’t you noticed the scent of celery when we were at the mansion and the appartment?”
“A dead give-away for time-travelling shenanigans!”
“Exactly. And if I’m correct, might well be that it’s Mr French from the future who phoned us, before he returned to his timeline. Probably because he already knows we’re going to crack the case. Before we know.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Would have been nicer if he’d told us how to solve it instead, if he knew, from the future and all? Are you not sure he’s not from his past instead, like before he got in that dreadful car accident?”
“Oh well, doesn’t matter does it? And probably won’t any longer once we locate the Uncle Basil in the Drooling Home of Retired Vegetables.”
I’ll admit Mater did well with the get back into shape programme, despite my skepticism. She did hone her muscles a bit, but she was still harping on about wanting plastic surgery. I probably shouldn’t have asked her if she was showing off her biceps or her bingo wings the other day, because that started her off again. I tried to make it up by complimenting her thigh muscles, but spoiled it by saying it was a shame the skin hung down past her kneecaps. Bert said maybe she could hold the skin up with some suspenders and made me spit my eucalyptus tea out and nearly choke to death. Mater was all set to take offence until she saw me choking, and then she started laughing too. I’m smiling remembering it, because we all saw the funny side then and couldn’t stop laughing for ages. God knows we needed a good laugh.
I’d had another one of those telepathic chats with Corrie the day before. If I’d known those silly girls were going to navigate their way here via that route I’d have said something, but I never thought they’d be so daft. There’s me envisioning a pleasant drift through the Mediterranean, and an unexpected sail across an immense shallow lake that had appeared in the middle east with crystal clear waters and a sandy bottom (I could picture it all, I tell you) and then an invitingly tropical trip along the Indian coast with ports of call at virgin new coastlines ~ but no, they’d gone the other way. Across the Atlantic. And now they were fighting off bandits every step of the way and having to go miles out of their way to avoid plague ridden slums. They hadn’t even made their way past the eastern seaboard yet, despite it being considerably narrower now.
They lost Pan for days in one of those half submerged coastal cities, rife with lawless floating shanties. I hope my impressions are wrong, I do really, but it seemed like he’d been kidnapped for a barbecue. Tender and juicy.
His ability to stay submerged under the water for so long saved him, that and Corrie’s ability to stay in telepathic contact with him.
They left the coastline and headed south after that and didn’t head back towards land for awhile but when they did, they found the lagoons and inlets were infested with alligators and some kind of water pig. Not sure if I picked that up right, but seems like the hogs had escaped from the farms during the Great Floods and taken to the water. Pan was forbidden to waterlark in these waters and had to stay confined to the raft.
I don’t know if they’ll get here in time for Mater’s birthday. Might be my hundredth birthday by the time they get here at this rate.
“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.”
Since the sudden disappearance of the two au pair maids, a lot had happened. But for August Finest it has been a lot of the same routine going on.
He wakes up in the early, early morning, his eyelids rubs on his eyeballs as if they are made of sandpaper. He seizes his belly with his hands, feels a little guilty about the nice meals prepared by Noor Mary especially for him since the start of the confinement. His six packs have started to fade away under a layer of fatty insulation and he tries to compensate by a daily routine in white T-shirt and underwear.
The coffee machine has detected his movements and starts to make what it does. It’s always cleaned and replenished by the discrete Mary. The noise and the smell creates an ambiance and when it rings he eats breakfast before taking his shower.
When he’s dressed up, his real work starts. It had not been easy for a man of his origins to appear as the best choice for the job under the Lump administration. President Lump was known to make bad jokes about his tan and him having spent too much time at the beach, and other worse things. But his worth was in the network he could connect the president with, his high discretion, which Lump was in dire need to compensate his innate tendency to boasting, and a strong adaptability to fix the president’s frequent messing around.
If August Finest had once admired the man and accepted the job for him, it soon changed when he realised there was nothing more underneath the boasting than more boasting and unpredictability. At the moment the only thing that make him continue was his ability to go stealth when the president had a fit of nerves, and the imposed confinement that made it impossible to leave the Beige House.
After the morning meeting during which the president asked him to fire a few members of the staff, August had to prepare a press conference. President Lump said he had thought about a few remarks about China and making a connection with the Mexican immigrants threatening the country by stealing the masks of the American People. After which, he had to plan a charity with first Lady Mellie Noma and redefine what a Masquerade meant. He had been asked to invite nurses and medical personnel, meaning republican and good looking in a blouse with a medical mask to make the promotion of the new mask industry Made in America. One of Mr Lump’s friend had just started a brand and was in need of some media promotion.
August reread the memo to be addressed to the director of the FBI, a good friend of his. A special cell at the FBI had been created especially since Lump came to power. For this particular occasion, agents posing as patients victims of the virus would be sent in the best ranked hospitals in the country with the task to look for the best nurse and doctor candidates and send them an invitation printed by Lump’s nephew’s printing company.
As Lump always said: “America Fist! And don’t forget people, I am America.”
August hit the enter button and closed the window of his professional mail account, leaving the draft of a personal mail on screen. He wasn’t sure if he could send this one. It was addressed to Noor Mary and he feared she would misunderstand the meaning of it.
I’ve been up since god knows what time. Got up for the loo and couldn’t face going back to the awful nightmares. That girl that came yesterday said she’d been having nightmares, she said it was common now, people having nightmares, what with the quarantine. I think I might have just snorted at the silly girl, but when I woke up last night I wondered if it was true. Or maybe I’m just a suggestible old fool.
Anyway, I stayed up because lord knows I don’t want to be in a city in America at night, not waking and not dreaming either. I’ve had a feeling for a long time, and much longer than this virus, that it was like a horror movie and it would behoove me not to watch it anymore or I’d be having nightmares. I didn’t stop watching though, sort of a horrified fascination, like I’d watched this far so why stop now.
In the dream I was on a dark city street at a bus stop, it was night time and the lights were bright in a shop window on the other side of the sidewalk. I had a bunch of tickets in my hand all stapled together, but they were indecipherable. I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Then I noticed the man that was by my side, a stranger that seemed to have latched on to me, had stolen all my tickets and replaced them with the rolled up used ticket stubs. I made him give me back my tickets but then I knew I couldn’t trust him.
Then I realized I hadn’t finished packing properly and only had a ragged orange towel with bloodstains on it. So I go back home (I say home but I don’t know what house it was) to pack my bags properly, and find a stack of nice new black towels, and replace the bloody orange one.
I’m walking around the house, wondering what else I should pack, and one room leads into another, and then another, and then another, in a sort of spiral direction (highly improbable because you’d have ended up back in the same room, in real life) and then I found a lovely room and thought to myself, What a nice room! You’d never have known it was there because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere and didn’t seem to have a function as a room.
It was familiar and I remembered I’d been there before, in another dream, years ago. It had lovely furniture in it, big old polished wooden pieces, but not cluttered, the room was white and bright and spacious. Lovely big old bureau on one wall, I remember that piece quite clearly. Not a speck of dust on it and the lovely dark sheen of ancient polished oak.
Anyway in the dream I didn’t take anything from the room, and probably should have just stayed there but the next thing I know, I’m in a car with my mother and she races off down the fast lane of an empty motorway. I’m thinking, surely she doesn’t know how to take me where I have to go? She seemed so confident, so out of character the way she was driving.
I got up for the loo and all I kept thinking about was that awful scene in the city street, which admittedly doesn’t sound that bad. I won’t bother telling the girl about it when she comes to do my breakfast, it loses a little in the telling, I think.
But the more I think about that lovely room at the end of the spiral of rooms, the more I’m trying to wrack my brains to remember where I’ve seen that room before. I’ve half a mind to go back there and open that dark oak bureau and see what’s inside.
They had to stop to get some rest. Rukshan knew the signs, the song of a black swan, a nesting bear in the forest, cubic clouds… All strange omens not to be taken lightly. He told the others they’d better find shelter somewhere and not spend the night outside.
As soon had he make the announcement that he saw the relief on their faces. They’d been enthusiastic for half a day, but the monotony of walking got the better of their motivation, especially the kids who were not used to such long journeys out of the cottage’s safety.
Fortunately they were not far from the Sooricat Inn, a place lost in the woods, it still had four walls, warm food and almost certainly a hot bath. Let’s just hope they’re open, thought the Fae.
When they arrived, the owner, an old man from Sina, looked at them suspiciously.
“Ya’ll have your attestation? I can’t believe ya’re all family. Don’t think I’m a fool, ya’re a Fae, and this little fella there, he’s smaller than the children but has a beard. Never saw anything like him,” he said with rumbling r’s pointing at the children and Gorrash with his chin. The dwarf seemed offended but a stern look from Rukshan prevented him from speaking.
“Anyway,” continued the innkeeper, “I can just sell ya food. Not’ing parsonal. That’s rooles, ya’know with the all stayin’at home thing from Gavernor Leraway, I can not even let ya’in. Ya can buy food and eat it outside if ya want.”
“Oh! I really shouldn’t. I don’t like breaking rooles.”
“I knew you more daring, Admirable Fuyi,” said a booming voice coming from behind them. They all turned around to see Kumihimo. She was wearing a cloak made of green and yellow gingko leaves, her silvery white hair, almost glowing in the dark, cascading beautifully on her shoulders. A grey cat strode alongside her.
“Oh! that’s just the donkey, Ronaldo. It got transformed into a cat after walking directly into a trap to get one of those darn carrots. He knew better, don’t pity him. He got what he deserved.” Kumihimo’s rant got a indignant meow, close to a heehaw, from Ronaldo.
“Kumi! I can’t believe it’s ya!” said the innkeeper.
“You two know each others?” asked Rukshan.
“It’s a long story,” said the innkeeper, “From when I was serving in Sina’s army, we had conquered the high plateaus. I gave up the title of Admirable when I left the army. After Kumi opened my eyes.” Fuyi’s eyes got wet. “Ah! I’m sure I’ll regret it, but come on in, ya’ll. Let me hear yar story after you taste the soup.”
Barron wasn’t one to let a call for help unanswered.
Yes, Barron, not the wee prodigee from the Beige House that he enjoyed possessing, but the demon summoned from Hell.
It had all been a big misunderstanding, as they all say in the end. He, for one, would have thought the ride more fun. He usually wasn’t summoned for anything short of an apocalypse. That’s what the big elite cabale had promised him.
Oh well, maybe he shouldn’t have eaten them in their sleep. He couldn’t say no to the fresh taste of unrepentant sharks and sinners. Since then, he’d been a bit stuck with the big Lump. He would have thought he’d be more competent at the whole Armageddon thing.
Back in the past, now that was something, the Crusades, the plague and all. So much fun. Gilles de Rais, well, he took it too far, blaming monsters for his own horrendous sins. Nowadays, people didn’t really need direction, did they? They were all too happy to ride barrelling out of control towards chaos and certain death. His job was done, he would be a legend down there, and still he felt like a fraud.
So what could he do? His plan for eternal holidays in Mexico while starting a cartel war had been sadly derailed. His mercurial and weirdo nannies had disappeared leaving him alone. Plus, the voodoo witch he met during their escape had been on his ass the whole time, he’d seen the eye she’d given him. Wouldn’t mess around with that one; can’t possess people against their will and risk a merciless lawyer from Heavens, can we. Heavens’ lawyers were the nastiest of pains.
He was about to abandon all hope when he’d heard the pleas from the French maid and her child. Well, she sounded too whimsical and high maintenance. But it gave him an idea. With all the death around, there were plenty of near dead people to possess who wouldn’t mind a last ride,… and funny bargains to be made.
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.
“This is the life, eh!” June said, stretching out on the sun lounger sipping a fruity cocktail. “Turquoise sea and a salty breeze, this is the life for me!” she said, kicking off her new deck shoes in nautical blue and white, and hitching her dress hem up to expose her thighs to the sun.
The skipper raised an eyebrow and smiled sardonically, while simultaneously averting his eyes from the unappetizing sight of the doughy flesh. He could imagine this one rolling around below decks looking green as soon as the weather changed.
“Sure beats that jail. That had me worried, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t sure we were ever gonna make it outta there,” replied April, smiling fondly at Ella Marie and giving her hand an affectionate squeeze. “You saved our bacon, honey.”
“If it weren’t for that there Lord Wrick turning up, even the money might not have got you out.” Arthur chimed in. “Promising ole president Lump that land for the golf course if’n he pardoned you. Jacqui, you done wonders there.”
“Ah well, the young Lord Wrick owed me a favour, you might say. But that’s another story,” Jacqui replied. “The main thing was we had to get out of the country fast before Lump finds out about that land in Scotland.”
June sniggered. “Can’t imagine him in a kilt, can you? I wonder if he’s orange down there as well.”
“Oh, please! You really know how to lower the tone, dontcha? Gawd, what a thought!” April started to feel queasy. Changing the subject, she said, “Hey, did I tell you our Joanie’s going to meet us in Australia too?”
Why was Mr August making interview appointments at this time of night? May wondered briefly, but the overpowering smell coming from the nether regions of the howling toddler had to be dealt with first. Anyone would think he’d been drinking the laced wine, judging from the volume that had over spilled the disposable diaper. There was only one way to clean him up and May took him back outside to the garden hose. It was a cold night, but babies were not easily killed, she’d heard. She could easily warm him back up again afterwards. At least the violent shivering had stopped that dreadful squawking.
Once the child was clean and tightly swaddled in clean cooks aprons ~ she was tempted to swaddle right over his face but he’d gone quiet at last ~ May wondered again about the mysterious late visitor. She had to be a call girl, a prostitute, a lady of ill repute, to be calling at such an hour to see a gentleman. How dare she take that hoity toity attitude with me! May became increasingly offended the more she thought about it.
Oh well, she decided, it was highly unlikely that she’d ever cross the path of such a low life again, and there was no need to give any more thought to Mr August’s disreputable assignations. It might come in handy if there was ever a need to blackmail him, though.
May yawned and looked at the clock. June and April would surely be back soon, and relieve her of the tiresome baby. Quiet at last, but an unpleasant shade of blue. Better than that dreadful orange, anyway.
Norma (real name Noor Mary Chowdhury)
She was born in 1983 Bombay, New York from a family of devout Indian Catholics. Her name “Noor” means “Light”, but she had it legally changed to Norma, her usual nickname, after the attacks of 2001, to avoid snide remarks or suspicion. As a child, she wanted to become a nun. At barely 18, shortly after 9-11, she ran away from an arranged marriage and never looked back. By juggling multiple low pay jobs, she managed to get enrolled in University and obtained a PhD in Social Studies. She then gave up a promising teaching career for a life of service. She landed a job at the Beige House during the previous President’s tenure, and despite her dislike of the new tenant, she kept her job, and is very proud of maintaining a high standard. As we know, she is still single.
Oddly enough, I was optimistic about the new year. First of all, it was novel to even realize it was a new year. And what a tonic it was to have Finly back! And not just because of the dusting, although it was a pleasure to see a bit of sparkle about the place where she’d spruced things up. Even Mater had a new spring in her step. She said it was the chocolates, one a day she said was better than any vitamins. I’d eaten all mine the day Sanso and Finly and the others had arrived (and regretted it) but Mater had hidden her box to savour them slowly and secretly. I remarked to her more than once that she should have the decency to wipe the chocolate off her lips before coming downstairs, gloating because all mine were gone. But it was nice to see her happy.
It was a funny thing with chocolate, I’d forgotten all about it. It wasn’t like I’d spent years craving it, and yet when I unwrapped (gift wrapped! oh, the memories!) the box Sanso gave me, it all came flooding back. I popped one in my mouth and closed my eyes, savouring the slow melt, ecstatic at the way it enveloped me in it’s particular sweet charm.
I felt so sick afterwards though that I was left with the thought that there was something to be said for a simple life with few opportunities for indulgence. I hadn’t felt that sick since the plague.
I was glad I’d worn that old red dress when Sanso arrived, and just a little disappointed when he left before my seduction plans reached fruition. I did try, but he had a knack of dematerializing whenever I got close enough to make a move. Disconcerting it was, but it kept me on my toes. Literally, in those high heeled red shoes. I twisted my ankle on the damn things and been limping ever since. Oh but it was worth it.
Finly! What water larks, where? Did you see…? I was almost afraid to ask. Had she seen the twins?
Yes, she said, with a smug and enigmatic smile. But that’s a story for later, she said. Maddening creature that she is, she still hasn’t told me about it. She will when she’s finished cleaning, she said.FloveParticipant
“I’m not sure this was a good idea,” said Shawn-Paul as the taxi driver sped away tooting and shouting, ‘good luck, you’re gunna need it!’
Maeve investigated the gate. “It certainly looks impenetrable … and the barbed wire fence is too high to scale… but, hey, who is writing this? Do you know?”
“Lucinda, I think … “
“Oh well In that case there is bound to be a propeller thingy somewhere and we can fly over the fence.”
Liz was not pleased about the latest insubordinate action of those plotting against her. Fashion choices indeed! She had been sorting out her wardrobe, having to do it all herself because of Finnley’s latest scam to take time off, putting away the summery things and bringing out the clothes for the coming cooler weather.
She’d had the usual little thrill at seeing familiar old favourites, clothes that she’d felt comfortable and happy in for many years. It would be unthinkable to throw them out, like tossing out an old friend just because they were getting wrinkled and saggy, or fat in the wrong places.
Liz prided herself on her thoughtfulness about the environment when making her “fashion” choices, always choosing second hand items. She liked to think they already had a little of their own history, and that they appreciated being rescued. She abhorred the trends that the gullible lapped up when she saw them looking ridiculous in unflattering unsuitable clothes that would be clearly out of fashion just as they were starting to look pleasantly worn in.
Warming to the theme, Liz recalled some of the particularly useless garments she’d seen over the years. Woolly polo neck sweaters that were sleeveless, for example. In what possible weather would one wear such a thing, without either suffering from a stifling hot neck, or goose flesh arms? High heeled shoes was another thing. The evidence was clear, judging by the amount of high heeled shoes in immaculate only worn once condition that littered the second hand markets. Nobody could walk in them, and nobody wanted them. Oddly enough though, people were still somehow persuaded to buy more and more new ones. Maybe one day in the future, collectors would have glass fronted cabinets, full of antique high heeled shoes. Or perhaps it would baffle future archaeologists, and they would guess they had been for religious or ritual purposes.
Liz decided to turn the tables on this new character, Alessandro. She would give him a lesson or two on dress sense. The first thing she would tell him was that labels are supposed to be worn on the inside, not the outside.
“One doesn’t write “Avon” in orange make up on one’s face, dear, even if it’s been seen in one of those shiny colourful publications,” Liz said it kindly so as not to rile him too much. “One doesn’t write “Pepto Dismal” in pink marker pen upon ones stomach.”
“While you’re out, I’ll see what Liz has thrown out, so I can cut it up for dolls clothes,” Fnnley said, to which Liz retorted, “I have thrown nothing out.” Liz cut Finnley short as she protested that Liz didn’t wear most of it anyway. “Yes, but I might, one day.”
Turning to Alessandro, she said “Although I’m a busy woman, I will come shopping with you, my boy. You clearly need some pointers,” she added, looking at his shoes.
Once he’d finished to tell the story, and let the kids go back to the cottage for the night, Rukshan’s likeness started to vanish from the place, and his consciousness slowly returned to the place where his actual body was before projecting.
Being closer to the Sacred Forest enhanced his capacities, and where before he could just do sneak peeks through minutes of remote viewing, he could now somehow project a full body illusion to his friends. He’d been surprised that Fox didn’t seem to notice at all that he wasn’t truly there. His senses were probably too distracted by the smells of food and chickens.
He’d wanted to check on his friends, and make sure they were alright, but it seemed his path ahead was his own. He realized that the finishing of the loo was not his own path, and there was no point for him to wait for the return of the carpenter. That work was in more capable hands with Glynis and her magic.
His stomach made an indiscreet rumbling noise. It was not like him to be worried about food, but he’d gone for hours without much to eat. He looked at his sheepskin, and the milk in it had finally curdled. He took a sip of the whey, and found it refreshing. There wouldn’t be goats to milk in this part of the Forest, as they favored the sharp cliffs of the opposite site. This and a collection of dried roots would have to do until… the other side.
To find the entrance wasn’t too difficult, once you understood the directions offered by the old map he’d recovered.
He was on the inner side of the ringed protective enclosures, so now, all he needed was to get into the inner sanctum of the Heartwood Forest, who would surely resist and block his path in different ways.
“The Forest is a mandala of your true nature…”
He turned around. Surprised to see Kumihimo there.
“Don’t look surprised Fae, you’re not the only one who knows these parlor tricks.” She giggled like a young girl.
“of my nature?” Rukshan asked.
“Oh well, of yours, and anybody’s for that matter. It’s all One you, see. The way you see it, it represents yourself. But it would be true for anybody, there aren’t any differences really, only in the one who sees.”
She reappeared behind his back, making him turn around. “So tell me,” she said “what do you see here?”
“It’s where the oldest and strongest trees have hardened, it’s like a fence, and a… a memory?”
“Interesting.” She said “What you say is true, it’s memory, but it’s not dead like you seem to imply. It’s hardened, but very much alive. Like stone is alive. The Giants understood that. And what are you looking for?”
“An entrance, I guess. A weak spot, a crack, a wedge?”
“And why would you need that? What if the heart was the staircase itself? What if in was out and down was up?”
Rukshan had barely time to mouth “thank you” while the likeness of the Braid Seer floated away. She’d helped him figure out the entrance. He touched one of the ring of the hard charred trees. They were pressed together, all clomped in a dense and large enclosure virtually impossible to penetrate. His other memories told him the way was inside, but his old memories were misleading.
Branches were extending from the trunks, some high and inaccessible, hiding the vision of the starry sky, some low, nearly indistinguishable from old gnarled roots. If you looked closely, you could see the branches whirring around like… Archimedes Screw. A staircase?
He jumped on a branch at his level, which barely registered his weight. The branch was dense and very slick, polished by the weathering of the elements, with the feel of an old leather. He almost lost his balance and scrapped his hands between the thumb and the index.
“Down is up?”
He spun around the branch, his legs wrapped around the branch. He expected his backpack to drag him towards the floor, but strangely, even if from his upside-down perspective, it was floating above him, it was as if it was weightless.
He decided to take a chance. Slowly, he hoisted himself towards his floating bag, and instead of falling, it was as though the branch was his ground. Now instead of a spiral staircase around the trees leading to heavens, it was the other side of the staircase that spiraled downwards to the starry night.
With his sheepskin and back still hovering, he started to climb down the branches towards the Giants’ land.
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.
“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.
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