Liz wondered how the women in the pictures managed to keep a kerchief neatly tied around their hair while vigourously scrubbing floors, and how they were able to keep an apron neatly tied in a pristine bow behind their tiny waist while cleaning full length windows. Fake news, that’s what it was, the bloody lot of it. From start to finish, everything she’d been led to believe about everything, from the get go to the present moment, was all a con, a downright conspiracy, that’s what it was.
Maybe this is why Finnley is always so rude, Liz wondered in a brief moment of enlightenment. She didn’t pursue the idea, because she was eager to get back to the disgruntled feeling that comes with cleaning, the feeling of being downtrodden, somehow less that, the pointlessness of it all. Nothing to show for it.
In another lucid moment, Liz realized that it wasn’t the action of cleaning that caused the feeling. At times it had been cathartic, restful even.
There was no pressure to think, to write, to be witty and authoritative. The decision to play the role of the cleaner had been a good one, an excellent idea. Feeling downtrodden was a part of the role; maybe she’d understand Finnley better. She hoped Finnely didn’t get to like the role of bossy writer too much, Imagine if she couldn’t get her out of her chair, when this game was over! Liz was slightly uncomfortable at the idea of Finnley learning to understand her. Would that be a good thing?
Realizing that she’d been staring into space for half an hour with a duster in her hand, Liz resumed cleaning.
Finnley hadn’t noticed; she’s been typing up a storm and had written several new chapters.
This made Liz slightly uncomfortable too.
“I knew it!” Tara had gone to investigate early, disguised as an elderly jogger in a velvet teal jogging. “Seemed clear enough that that retirement home was a front…”
Later when she came back to the office, she was quizzed by Star, who was still yawning despite the bright sunlight.
“So tell me, a front for what?”
“Can’t you guess?” Tara said, removing her false teeth.
“Nooo?” her hand flew at Star’s mouth and incredulous face.
“Yes, hmm-hmm; you guessed right: a time travel agency.”
“Oh dangit, they stole my idea! After all the virus pandemic thing, they sure know how to surf the crisis to make a buck. The buying carrots alibi traffic, and now that!”
“Yep, guess that people unable to go anywhere for holidays make up for a good clientele. You can imagine the slogans: Celerity: Why go anywhere? When we can send you anywhen! “
“And a convenient way of disposing of nosy people too. I hope they didn’t send Uncle Basil to the Dinosaurs, can’t imagine the stench of those Time sewers.”
“Oh no, don’t think he was affluent enough, you see. Apparently you pay by the time meter. The further in time, the pricier. And I guess the surest way to dispose of someone would be in the past rather than in the future…”
“So Uncle Basil is in the past!”
“Well, I could have told you that from the start. No wonder Mr French paid us in advance then, he already knew we’d crack that case. Our first case’s closed, dear! If Mr French ever wakes up and calls, we’ll just redirect him to our Time Dragglers friends in Marseille for their ‘relative lost in time’ retrieval package. Now, anyone for mojitos?”FloveParticipant
Liz was waxing hysterical to her publisher. “I tell you, Bronkel, you complain of the loose threads wandering into nothingness, the deranged and meaningless story lines … turns out it isn’t a personality flaw; it’s those lonely vacations in the desert where I was forced to be the boy my mother always wanted.”
“Oh that’s a fantastic idea Becky!” encouraged Tina (anxious to divert attention from the fact her egg shampoo had turned her own hair green) when Becky suggested tentatively that perhaps she could try Al’s advanced visualisation techniques to turn this disastrous start to her wedding day around.
“Yes, imagine it as you would like it to be, no matter how unrealistic it may seem. Imagine looking in the mirror and seeing your skin glowing like a glowing diamond. After all, you have nothing to lose Becky-pooh.”
Tifikijoo Island has been a casualty of rising sea levels. The question is, who is seeking to repopulate the island with giant spiders?DevanParticipant
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.
“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?”
“Damn it, too late again, Miss B won’t be pleased.”
Ricardo was looking at the clandestine distillery from a distance. It had burst in flames a short while ago, and the local press was already covering the event.
“But Sophie was right. Maybe there’s more to this particular… calling of hers.” Ricardo brandished his fake newsporter card in front of the officer at the police cordon and managed to slip unnoticed into the area. It had probably more to do with his ability to be unnoticed at times than it had to do with the card itself, but the card helped boost his confidence.
There were a number of car trails leaving from the place, and the police would certainly take time to go through all of it thoroughly, including the rats’ and frogs’ trails if they could. But Ricardo didn’t care for meticulousness, but rather for efficiency, and of course, potent gossip. One trail in particular caught his eye.
“You’re good at hiding in plain sight, Ric’, but you’re still a rookie.”
Hilda was there, in all her usual flamboyance, hiding in plain extravagance. “You didn’t think Bossy would have let you without a senior chaperon?” she added cockily. “But I see you caught up on an interesting lead.”
“How could you be there so fast? It’d been months we couldn’t reach you? And more importantly… How can’t anybody around see you, especially in this horrible, completely out-of-place mustard orange plastic leather suit?”
Hilda guffawed “They can’t see what they can’t understand! You can’t imagine how invisible I become in America. They don’t understand diddly squat!” She turned intense again. “I was myself on a case, you see. A case of the mummies. Sanso told me I’d find a trail of clues at this place, but now it’s gone in flames, I started to wonder. Until I saw your interest in that particular one. It’s not a frog’s for sure,… or it’s got some big crummy tyres. I get a feeling it’s going to lead us to our next story.”
“It better be.” Ric’ said glumily, “or Bossy isn’t going to be chipper about it.”
“Not to worry, I’ll call my friend Blithe Gambol, P.I. to the help with the tracking and all. Could never beat her at the find-the-trail-on-gloogloo game.”
I wish now that I’d had the sense to open the letter in private. I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of that, but I didn’t. I tried not to make a drama out of it, I didn’t make an announcement or anything. One morning after breakfast I untied the string and opened the letter. It wasn’t any of the things I had expected. Clearly printed in large capital letters at the top was written DON’T TELL MATER.
Quickly I folded it over, dropping it discreetly into my lap under the table. “Any more nettle tea in the pot, Bert?” I asked and feigned a casual yawn.
“Well?” asked Mater.
“Well what?” I asked.
“I can read you like a book,” she said, to which I replied hotly, “Well then I won’t need to write one, will I.”
“What did the letter say?” she pressed on.
“What letter?” I said
“For crying out loud!” she said.
“Pass your cup then,” said Bert, giving me a piercing look. Over the top of Mater’s head he mouthed a word, with a questioning look. I’ve never been any good at lip reading, but it looked like he was trying to say Jasper.
“Who?” I mouthed back, but Mater saw me, so I pretended I had a bit of nettle stuck between my teeth.
There was a lotto think about, and Lucinda was hard at it. At least she was hard at it until she noticed the typo. She kept forgetting about the lottery tickets. This pleased her because she’d heard a popular oracle say that forgetting about it was a good sign of winning.
She imagined Helper Effy’s wise and patient (if a trifle scornful) voice asking her if a lottery win would help her writing.
It was a good question.
“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.
I couldn’t offer Sanso a drink, as there wasn’t a drop of anything in my room, so I sent him down to the dining room to get a bottle of gin, and a couple of glasses of ice. I was a bit reluctant to let him out of my bedroom at such an early stage of the proceedings, but felt he was a man of his word when he assured me (with an engaging twinkle) that of course he’d be back, in just two shakes of a mongooses tail. Odd expression if you ask me, but then, where does he come from? Hard to say. He had a slight accent, but it was impossible to pin down to a location, and it had a changeable quality, too.
He wasn’t gone long, and said that the only person who’d seen him was Prune, but that was inevitable, he said. That kid sees everything! She’d be a fount of valuable information, if she didn’t put such a unique spin on everything.
I sat on the bed, and he sat in the wicker chair by the window, and after we’d clunked glasses and said cheers, he came right out and asked me what my mission was. Well! Mission? I asked. I’d never really thought about it in terms of a mission. Then a funny thing happened. I could hear myself speaking but hadn’t thought about what to say, you know how it is sometimes.
I said, “my mission is a glorious infinite wandering, threading multicoloured silken skeins of clues and riddles, people and places, weaving them in and out of time and to each other…”
Sanso laughed. “He said “That’s my mission, too!” and we raised our glasses in honour of that, and then he got serious. No, not like that. I mean, he started going on about the mines, and how we really had no time to lose because there were two daft tarts in extreme danger down there, and they needed rescuing. I rolled my eyes as you can imagine. I’d already started semi reclining in anticipation.
“It’ll be fun,” he said.
The old ruse was still working, so I continued to use it. Only way to get a bit of time to myself, especially lately. A bit of quiet time, to think. And there was so much to think about, what with all these people around. I wasn’t put on this earth to make beds and pander to tourists, and the clues were coming in thick and fast. Oh yes, some of these new guests were thick, and some were fast. Anyway, I pretended to be inebriated again and did a pretty good imitation of a lurching drunk to throw them off the scent. They always fall for it.
After turning the key in the lock of my bedroom door, I leaned my back against it for a minute and closed my eyes. It was the bird flying in the window at the crack of dawn that got me worried. Now I’m not a superstitious person by any means, but there have been times when a bird in the house has been followed by a death, and things like that stick in your mind. The sight of Mater in that red pantsuit had etched itself on my mind as well, which was almost as worrying as the bird.
I went over to the window and pulled down the blinds. The bright sun was making my head hurt. I was thirsty, and wished I’d brought a cup of tea with me, but lurching drunks can’t be seen to be making plans for a quiet afternoon of sober contemplation. I tried valiantly to ignore my parched mouth, but it was no good. I put my ear to the door, and the coast seemed clear so I inched it open, looking up and down the hallway. I sprinted to the bathroom, unfortunately tripping over the vacuum cleaner that Finley had no doubt left there deliberately to trip me up. She was a dark horse, that one. Good at dusting, and reliable, so I suppose that was something. Hard to get hired help out here so we had no choice, really.
I smashed my nose on Mater’s doorknob and skinned my shin on the hoover. My nose hurt like hell, and quickly spurted an astonishing quantity of bright blood, similar in colour to that ghastly pantsuit. My fall made a hell of a din so I staggered quickly to the bathroom wash basin for the much needed drink of water before anyone came to investigate the crash, hoping to get back to my room before anyone appeared on the scene.
Had the water in the cold tap been cold, it might have been different, but the new water pipes were still above ground, and the cold water was scalding hot from the heat of the sun on the black pipes. I didn’t have a moment to waste, so drank some quickly, horrid though it was. The unfortunate side effect of the cold water being hot was that it encouraged and diluted the blood, making the overall effect look considerably more alarming. I was tempted to blame Mater for the whole sorry affair, for starting the red theme with that damn pantsuit. I actually said “bloody pantsuit”, which struck me as inordinately funny, and made it hard to get back to the bedroom quickly. I was still laughing hysterically, leaving red hand prints and strange red markings along the corridor wall, when Sanso appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“I saw cave paintings like that in Zimbabwe,” he said conversationally, taking a closer look at the bloody hand prints. “I’ve often wondered what the purpose was, the meaning.” He raised an eyebrow and smiled at me. “Have you interpreted these?”
I was momentarily speechless, as you might imagine. Then I had an impulse, and grabbed his elbow and propelled him into my room, slamming and locking the door behind him. He was almost unnaturally calm and unperturbed, albeit looking as if he was trying not to smile too broadly, which was just the kind of energy I needed. My kind of man! I gave him one of my famous coquettish looks, which made him laugh out loud, and then I caught sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror and hastily grabbed an old nightgown off the floor and spit on it to rub the blood off my face.
“My kind of girl!” he laughed. Oh, how he laughed.
The room was not oversized and not to bright despite facing south. It had the oddest strange decor Shawn Paul would have expected from that place. It seemed to come right out of a Victorian movie with the heavy furniture that took all the space in the room and the dark and overloaded wallpaper that sucked up the light coming through the velvet curtains.
Shawn Paul sneezed. It didn’t as much feel dirty as it felt old like his grand parent’s house. He wondered how often the Inn’s staff cleaned the room. He had to move his luggage in order to open the window to get some fresh air. It was so hot and dry. There was a drug store on the other side of the dusty road and a strange man was looking at him. A feeble wind brought in some red dust and Shawn Paul sneezed again, reducing the little enthusiasm he could have had left to nothing. He imagined his clothes covered with red dust and quickly closed the window. As the man was still looking Shawn Paul shut the velvet curtain, suddenly plunging the room into darkness.
His fear of insects crept out. He had no idea where the light was so he reopened the curtain a bit.
He then checked thoroughly under the pillows, the bedcover and the bedsheet, behind the chairs and in the wardrobe. Australia was know for having the most venomous creatures and he didn’t want to have a bad surprise. He looked suspiciously at a midge flying around not knowing if it was even safe to kill it. Shawn Paul had never been the courageous type and he began to wonder why on earth he had accepted that trip. He had never traveled out of Canada before.
Needing some comfort, he looked frantically into his backpack for the granola cookies he had brought with him. With the temperature the chocolate chip had melted and he wondered at how to eat a cookie without dirtying his hands.
Someone knocked at the door making him jump with guilt like when he was a kid at his grand parents’ and would eat all the cookies in his bedroom without sharing with his cousins.
“Lunch is served,” a woman’s voice said from the other side.
Anxiety rushed in when he saw all the people that were already seated at the only table in the lunch room. He might have gone back to his room if Maeve hadn’t come from behind him.
“Let’s go have a seat.”
He read between the lines what he was thinking himself: Don’t leave me alone. Whether it was truly what she had meant was not important.
The note had troubled Maeve. It was different than the one Shawn Paul received, not only because it was handwritten and very long, but also because it implied someone, potentially even several groups, were after the dolls and the keys.
“You have to retrieve them,” the note eventually said, “and use the clues they hide to find the important people they protect.”
There was no signature, but it sounded so much like uncle Fergus, oddly wordy and mysterious. Was he still alive after all this time? Did he still ride his Harley?
Maeve’s first thought after the surprise was that she needed someone to take care of Fabio. The next thought felt like a brilliant idea. Lucinda. Maeve would go ask her to take care of Fabio during her vacation to Australia and would use that opportunity to spirit away the doll. She had the intuition she might need it afterwards.
So she prepared her luggage and cuddled Fabio who knew he wouldn’t be part of the trip.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I need you to keep that sad face of yours when we go see Lucinda.” In response, Fabio wiggled his tail happily and tried to lick Maeve’s face. “No! Keep the face,” she mimicked what she thought was a sad face.
After all was packed she went to Lucinda’s with Fabio and her luggage.
“I’m sorry, I’m going on a trip and I need someone to take care of Fabio,” Maeve said. As she had imagined Lucinda was moved by Fabio’s look and couldn’t refuse to take car of him.
“Of course! He’ll be well treated here with my new parrot.”
“Huhu,” said the colourful bird.
“I think it comes from New Zealand,” said Lucinda. “It flew in yesterday and had not left ever since despite me not putting it into a cage, so I’m buying it food. It seems particularly fond of that doll I told you about the other day.”
Indeed, the parrot was on the sofa, trying to open the doll’s head. That’s when Fabio jumped and tried to catch the bird. He clearly didn’t like it and the parrot flew away to a higher ground on an old grannies’ Welsh dresser, making a few glasses and china fall down in an awful breaking noise. Lucinda tried to catch the bird or the china or Fabio, but could do neither of the three.
Seizing that as an opportunity, Maeve put the doll in her messenger bag.
“I don’t want to bother you longer, I have a plane to catch. Bye,” she said, and she left with bags and luggage without checking if Lucinda had heard.
At the elevator, she met with Shawn Paul.
“Hi. I’m going to the airport,” the young man said. “Australia. Like you?”
She felt uncomfortable. The note hadn’t mention anything about him. Unless he was part of one of those groups who were after the dolls. Maeve grumbled something while holding her bag closer. She didn’t know if she could trust him.
The mysterious thing was heavy, brown and looked a tad like a dry turd. It could hold in Shawn Paul’s hand and it seemed shaped to fit in his closed fist, but the young man hesitated to keep it too long because of the way it looked.
A note from his mother accompanied it. Who else could have sent a parcel this way? he thought, meaning not through the post office and delivered by a decrepit old man.
So the thing had been put on top of a pile of his latest scribblings, which was on top of his not so latest scribblings. Before putting it there, he almost saw the interest of a clean desktop or table, but it got lost in the immediacy of the moment and the tiredness caused by his recent fever.
“I’m sure you’re wondering what this marvellous object is.” the note started. Shawn Paul looked at the thing. It looked like a turd more than ever on all that white paper, so he made his yuck face. What he was wondering was rather why did she send me anything? She lives in an apartment on the upper floor. She could have brought it herself.
“I found it in a car boot sale,” she continued, her sharp and melodious voice chirping in her son’s head while he read the rest. “I met that old man, Patrick, who will deliver it to you. He’s a dear nice fellow never frugal with his words, and he told me it had been given to him by an Inuit shaman. It’s a fossil bone of the inner ear of a whale when they escaped Lemuria. Can you imagine that? Apparently it will help you develop your psychic abilities. You know how I’ve always known you had such a great potential in that area…”
Shawn Paul snorted and put down the paper. There was no use keeping up reading. His mother and her crazy ideas. He looked at the pile of papers.
It’ll do for a nice paperweight, he thought.
But Granola had not lost a crumble of what the mother had told in the rest of the note. She was lurking at the inner bone and she wondered if she could make herself heard if she merged with it.
Liz blinked several times. Something was wrong with her eyes, sometimes she saw Finnley in front of her and some other times it was Olexa with that awful fixed grin of hers. Who would ever imagine the mouth of a robot should look like that?
Liz started to wink her left eye, then her right. That was even odder that before, with her left eye she could clearly see Finnley, trying to show some concern over the prolonged silence, or was she? With the other eye, it was Olexa standing in front of her, approaching menacingly with a kitchen towel she used like a whip.
The packet lied forgotten on the dining table. Shawn Paul had caught a cold, or had the cold caught him when the old man delivered the packet? Anyway he had stayed home the following day, feverish and nightmarish. He had dreamt of travels on the back of a transluscent blue whale in between dimensions and timelines as it followed a team of teen dragqueens. Of course when he woke up from the dreams he was so tired that he didn’t bother to write them down and forgot all about it, like he had forgotten all about the packet on his dining table.
The dining table was beside his bed in the dining/bed room/ writing office and it was covered in notebooks, granola cookies boxes and an old rose that didn’t seem to want to die. Being where it was, the table naturally attracted stuffs, not quite like a blackhole but more like a junkyard. So as things were piling up, it was natural that some of them got lost as part of this unusual landscape. The last additions being a few layers of tissues, giving it a shape of a snow mountain. Yes Shawn Paul had some poetic imagination, especially when facing cleaning-up the mess he had accumulated. It helped him accept his current condition without much quivering of his heart.
The door bell rang.
To Shawn Paul it sounded muffled and he tried to imagine a scene that could fit in his ambitious novel.
The door bell rang again, becoming impatient.
The young man opened the door. It was Maeve and she looked at him from head to toe. Shawn Paul looked at himself and regretted he was still wearing his pajamas. Not that he would have preferred wearing nothing, but you know, a bit of cleaning and dress up.
“I need some butter,” said Maeve entering the apartment without asking. She seemed to look around as if she was looking for something. But the young man couldn’t be sure as he wasn’t wearing his glasses.
“Of course,” said Shawn Paul to the door.
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.
“What you all don’t realize,” Liz said, “Is that all of this so called fun is in fact highly significant. You think we’re all playing around scribbling nonsense and gadding about on the lawn acting the fool for no reason just for something to do. But this is a vital and rare artifact in the future! My dears, you have no idea!”
“Mint tea from the Basque country?” replied Roberto, holding his glass up to the light for a closer look.
“Imagine her in a denim basque, you say? I’d rather not! HA!” Godfrey spit out a few bits of peanut with the final HA!, which was forceful enough to send a few of them flying across the room.
“You’ve got bits of nut in my Basque mint tea now!” Roberto exclaimed ~ somewhat rudely; he forgot for a moment he was just the gardener.
“I think they’ve all lost their marbles,” remarked Liz, just for the written record for the historians in the future who would find this story; and for the benefit of the AI they had unwittingly been programming all along. Although what the AI was actually being programmed with perhaps didn’t bear thinking about. A further though nagged at Liz despite her efforts to ignore it. What if it did matter? What were they creating?FloveParticipant
Eleri had returned from her visit to Alexandria feeling buoyed and more certain than ever that something had to be done about Leroway and that she was the one to do it. She found Glynis at the dining room table pouring over her big book of spells. She hardly bothered raising her head to greet Eleri.
“Wrong is it! So chucking an old lady out of her home is right I suppose.” Eleri glared back at Glynis and folded her arms across her chest. True, she wasn’t sure her plan wasn’t morally flawed, but Glynis could be such a righteous prig sometimes. “And it isn’t like your stupid plan has been such a great success. Look at you there with your big book acting like you can save us all!”
So far, the magic spell had only succeeded in altering the solidity of the cottage and from a distance it now shimmered like a mirage. They all agreed it was very pretty but not that effective in hiding the cottage from Leroway’s men.
“I never claimed to be an expert — although i know a hell of a lot more about magic than you, Glynnis added mentally — but there is good magic and there is bad magic and even if you succeed in turning him to stone, which I actually doubt you can do ….” She immediately wished she could retrieve her words; It was like rag to a bull to tell Eleri she couldn’t do something. She softened her tone.
“Why don’t you talk to Gorash about it. It’s nearly dark so he should be around soon. Ask him how he feels about being a statue and that’s only during the daylight hours! Imagine what it would be like to be encased in stone forever and no hope of redemption. There is no crime that deserves such a harsh punishment as that.”
Eleri nodded off to sleep after a warming bowl of Alexandria’s mushroom soup, followed by a large goblet of mulberry wine, and woke up to the warmth of the flickering fire her friend had lit while she’d been dozing. They sat in a companionable silence for awhile, and even the little dog was silent. Alexandria smiled encouragingly at Eleri, sensing that she had things on her mind that she wished to share.
“I had an idea, you see,” Eleri began, as Alexandria topped up her wine goblet, “To do something about Leroway. I fear it may be considered intrusive,” she said with a little frown, “but I expect it will be welcome notwithstanding. Drastic measures are called for.”
Alexandria nodded in agreement.
“The thing is, since I had this idea, I’ve remembered something that I’d forgotten. Hasamelis It’s all very well turning people into stone statues, but I must ensure they don’t reanimate, and there was the issue of the vengeful emotions on reanimation. Luckily that damn rampaging reanimated guy never caught up with me, and we don’t know where….”
“Oh but we do!” interrupted Alexandria.
“You do?” exclaimed Eleri. “Where is he?”
“He’s behind you!”
Eleri slopped wine all over her lap and she jumped up to look behind her. Sure enough, Hasamelis was lurking, thankfully immobile, in the dark corner of the room. Eleri looked at Alexandria enquiringly, “Is he..?”
“Oh yes, don’t worry. He’s quite rigid and immobile again. We found the spell you see, Yorath and I.” Eleri swallowed a frisson of jealousy as her friend continued, “ Yorath got a clue from you, when you brought the bones home. I provided the missing ingredient by accident, when I spelled Hasamelis wrong.” Alexandria chuckled merrily at the memory. “I jotted down Hamamelis instead and when Yorath saw it he said that was it, the missing ingredient: witch hazel! Witch hazel and ground bones to reverse a reanimation.”
“I say, well done!” Eleri was impressed. “But how did you administer it?” She could not imagine getting close enough to him, or him being amenable to ingest a potion.
“We ground the bones up and mixed them with distilled witch hazel and rolled them into little balls, and then catapulted them at him. I’m not very good with my aim, but Lobbocks was brilliant. We had to run like the blazes afterwards though, because it took some time to work, but Hasamelis did start to slow down after a couple of hours. He was heading this way, to your cottage, and eventually came to a standstill right here in this room. We managed to push him into that corner, out of the way.”
Alexandria gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth.
“If I turn Leroway into a statue, I don’t want him reanimating at all. I wonder if we incorporate the witch hazel and the ground bones into the elerium in the immobilizing process it will prevent any reanimation occurring in the first place?”
“I think you need to speak to Yorath,” suggested Alexandria. “But where is he?”
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