‘What are you doing?’ asked Liz, horrified.
‘Don’t you know the price of a session at the Blue Algae Therapy Health Center?’ Finnley asked, her voice muffled by the mask.
‘Why the full bathing suit then?’
‘It’s a permanent blue dye for leather.’
They found me and locked me up again but I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later. I don’t mind though, I can always plot an escape when I’m ready but the fact is, I was tired after awhile. I needed a rest and so here I am. The weather’s awful so I may as well rest up here for a bit longer. They gave me a shot, too, so I don’t have to wear a mask anymore. Unless I want to wear it as a disguise of course, so I’ll keep a couple for when I escape again.
They gave me a computer to keep me amused and showed me how to do the daftest things I’d never want to do and I thought, what a load of rubbish, just give me a good book, but then this charming little angel of a helper appeared as if by magic and showed me how to do a family tree on this machine. Well! I had no idea such pursuits could be so engrossing, it’s like being the heroine in a detective novel, like writing your own book in a way.
I got off on a sidetrack with the search for one woman in particular and got I tell you I got so sucked inside the story I spent a fortnight in a small village in the north midlands two centuries ago that I had to shake me head to get back to the present for the necessary daily functions. I feel like I could write a book about that fortnight. Two hundred years explored in a fortnight in the search for CH’s mother.
I could write a book on the maternal line and how patriarchy has failed us in the search for our ancestry and blood lines. The changing names, the census status, lack of individual occupation but a mother knows for sure who her children are. And yet we follow paternal lines because the names are easier, but mothers know for sure which child is theirs whereas men can not be as sure as that. Barking up the wrong tree is easy done.
I can’t start writing any of these books at the moment because I’m still trying to find out who won the SK&JH vs ALL the rest of the H family court case in 1873. It seems the youngest son (who was an overseer with questionable accounts) was left out of the will. The executor of the will was his co plaintiff in the court case, a neighbouring land owner, and the whole rest of the family were the defendants. It’s gripping, there are so many twists and turns. This might give us a clue why CH grew up in the B’s house instead of her own. Why did CH’s mothers keep the boys and send two girls to live with another family? How did we end up with the oil painting of CH’s mother? It’s a mystery and I’m having a whale of a time.
Another good thing about my little adventure and then this new hobby is how, as you may have noticed, I’m not half as daft as I was when I was withering away in that place with nothing to do. I mean I know I’m withering away and not going anywhere again now, but on the other hand I’ve just had a fortnights holiday in the nineteenth century, which is more than many can say, even if they’ve been allowed out.
The Beige House was eerily calm. Most of the staff had left after the super spread of the epidemic.
“Ready for a change of crowd in the building, Fanny?” said Finnley in her unmistakable Kiwi accent, as a matter of breaking the silence in the grand hall. She was dusting the chandeliers, while Fanella was shampooing the carpets.
“I don’t know Miss Fin’, it iz such a mess now. And I have to take care of ze baby, no time to be political.”
“Oh, by the way, I received a message from the gang…”
“Aprrril’ and Joone?”
“Yep. Those two. The money has dried up, and they learnt the hard way that American are not loved much these days, big spreaders and all. So they decided to sail back to the good ol’ States. Looking for a job now, and hoping that autumn doesn’t mean everything will turn to orange disaster!”
I don’t know how long it’s been since I ran away but I wish I’d done it years ago. I’m having a whale of a time. Every day is different and always new people to talk to. Boggles my mind to think how long I spent sitting in the same place seeing the same two or three faces day in day out. I miss my old comfy chair sometimes, though. That’s one thing that’s hard to find, a nice recliner to kick back and snooze in. You can find things to sit on, but not with arms and a backrest.
I discovered a good trick for getting a bit of a lie down, though, especially when it rains. I go and sit in an emergency ward waiting room and start doubling over saying I’m in pain, and they let me lie on a trolley. If I fall asleep quietly they tend to forget me, they’re that busy rushing all over the place, and then when I wake up I just sneak out. Always make full use of the bathroom facilities before I go and if I wander around a bit I can usually find one with a shower as well. Usually find some useful odds and ends on the carts the staff push around, and then I’m on my way, rested, showered, toileted and ready to roll.
I always wear a mask though, I don’t take unnecessary risks. And I only take unused syringes to trade with the junkies. I wouldn’t want it on my conscience that I’d passed the plague on to anyone vulnerable.
Well. I did it. I made my escape. I had to! Nobody came for three days and I’d run out of biscuits. Thank the lord my hip wasn’t playing up. I decided not to take anything with me, figuring I could just steal things off washing lines when I wanted a change of clothes. I’ve always hated carrying heavy bags. I reckoned it would look less conspicuous, too. Just an old dear popping out for digestive perambulation. Nobody suspects old dears of anything, not unless they’re dragging a suitcase round, and I had no intention of doing that. I did put a couple of spare masks in my pocket though, you can’t be too careful these days. And it would help with the disguise. I didn’t want any do gooders trying to catch me and take me back to that place.
I had the presence of mind to wear good stout walking shoes and not my pink feather mules, even though it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. I used to love to see them peeping out from under my bath robe. One day I might strike lucky and find another pair.
I’ve been eating like a king, better than ever! I accidentally coughed on someones burger one day, and they dropped it and ran away, and I thought to myself, well there’s an idea. I stuck to random snacks in the street at first and then one day I fancied a Chinese so I thought, well why not give it a try. Coughed all over his brown bag of prawn crackers as he walked out of the restaurant and he put the whole takeaway in the nearest bin. Piping hot meal for six! Even had that expensive crispy duck!
Tonight I fancy sushi. Wish I’d thought of this trick years ago, I said to myself the other day, then my other self said, yeah but it wouldn’t have worked so well before the plague.
Not having much luck with the washing lines though, lazy sods either not doing any laundry or putting it all in the dryer. Weeks of sunny weather as well, the lazy bastards. Lazy and wasteful! You should see the clothes they throw in the clothes bank bins! If the bins are full you can get your arm in and pull out the ones on the top. I change outfits a dozen times a day some days if I’m in the mood. I do sometimes get an urge to keep something if I like it but I’m sticking to my guns and being ruthless about not carrying anything with me.
Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!
“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.
“… and don’t tell me she’s got another pitiful excuse for not delivering! Listen, she’s just the worst! And let me tell you that I’m not exaggerating. I’m also managing GRRAOU —yes, George fucking R.R.A.O. Urtin, and this guy’s been at his pentalogy since 25 years. So, I got my fill about lame excuses.”
“Her readers are devotees, you know. They know hers is a difficult craft. Warping and woofing words around like she does, so gloriously. Everybody but you Bronkel seem to understand that it’s not commonplace, it’s a treasure earned with patience and devotion.”
“Devotees for sure. They have a saint’s patience I can grant you that, and luckily for her!” Bronkel drank the inch of gin bottoms up. “And where is she, by the way? Will she not deign face me?”
“Oh, I think she’s err… busy at the moment. She’s rehearsing a scene from her last book for accuracy… with the gardener.”prUneParticipant
She made us miss Mater’s birthday, didn’t she?
Idle had one job…
Truth is, wouldn’t have been much fun to party with masks on, although the thought occurred that a masquerade ball would be something to behold.
Oh well, Mater is going to have a field day making us all look guilty. I’m sure it’ll warm her soft heart. Might be all she needs nowadays.
Can’t say that the business at the inn had been splendid. We’ve grown so used to the idea we might have to sell it anytime, that it doesn’t feel such an earthshattering revelation.
But if we sell, how much can we scrap by to send Mater to a nice nursing home. She might screech and kick us if we only voiced the idea. People have no idea how feral she can be on the topic. Aunt Dido knows though. I’m sure she’s having a few hustles down the road to get the household afloat.
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.
Life around the woods had changed in a strange way since the appearance of the beaver fever. It was called after some theory from where it came from. Some said patient zero was a trapper far off in the woods who caught an infected beaver and sold its fur to the market. The fur then contaminated the coat maker and then the clients who tried on that coat, hence leading to contamination nests in the entire realm. The beaver fever took time to incubate, so when people first noticed the trapper wasn’t coming back, it was too late.
That’s not such a bad thing to live a little recluse in the woods, thought Eleri. She usually was restless and lately had been wandering off into town and into the countryside looking for things to paint with her tar black pigment. It is a new phase of experimentation, she had said to Glynis who had been wondering if she could include more variety to her palette. I’m looking to capture the contrasting soul of what I’m painting.
Don’t you mean contrasted? asked Glynis.
Do I? Whatever, I’m experimenting.
Glynis knew better than to argue with Eleri, and Eleri knew better than trying to make words fit the world. It was better to make the world fit her words. How could you explain that to someone? So she assumed people understood.
With the curfew, though, it had first become harder. Then she had found a way by painting her own garments tar black and to complete her attire, she had asked Fox. He had also found a hobby and with a sharp knife and a log he could make you a mask so vivid to look alike anything you asked. Eleri had asked him for a crow and had painted it tar black. She looked like those doctors during the plague a few centuries back and dressed like that people certainly respected the safety distance promulgated by Leroway’s decree.
That man seemed hard to get rid off, especially in time such as those. Eleri suspected that Leroway was not the man she knew and once courted her. She needed to get close to investigate. Her new attire, if it might not help with the investigation at least would help embolden her and stave off boredom.
The nurse outfits were a good size too tight.
“I didn’t realize that cult was short for horticulture,” Tara said, while struggling with the chafing elastic band of her… mask. She almost regretted that mission wasn’t risqué enough to warrant the Moulin Rouge ensemble.
“Don’t be daft,” Star answered, not knowing what else to say. She clearly wasn’t expecting carrots either. Although it sort of made sense in a culinary continuity sort of way, now they were looking for basil, come to think of it.
“Where do you think they’ll be keeping him?” whispered Tara.
“With the garlic and butter?” guffawed Star Wrexham.
“HEY! You two!” someone waved at them from the back. “Yes you two! About time you arrived!”
It was too late to flee. Tara rolled her eyes. It wouldn’t take one minute for their undercover to be uncovered.
But with Star’s luck, the guy could well guide them straight to the missing uncle Basil. Unless of course there was another side business of the cult which required scantily dressed as nurse ladies, and they could still hope to blend in… Either or, but in any case, they would figure it out pretty soon.
The evening helper said she was very sorry to tell me that my niece wouldn’t be able to make it this week, as she’d been on holiday and got quarantined. You needn’t be sorry about that, I told her, I don’t know who she is anyway. Not that I’m ungrateful, it’s very kind of her to come and visit me. She tells me all about people I’ve never heard of, and I pretend to take an interest. I’m polite you see, brought up that way.
Then she said, you’ll have to go easy on the toilet paper, it’s all sold out. Panic buying, she said.
That’s what happens when people start shitting themselves with fear, I said, and she tutted at me as if I was a seven year old, the cheeky young whippersnapper. And how shall I go easy on it, shall I crap outside behind the flat topped bushes under my window? Wipe my arse on a leaf?
Don’t be daft, you’d fall over, she replied crisply. She had a point. My hip’s still playing me up, so my plans to escape are on hold. Not much point in it with all this quarantine nonsense going on anyway. I might get rounded up and put in a tent by a faceless moron in a hazmat suit. I must say the plague doctors outfits were much more stylish. And there was no panic buying of loo rolls in those days either.
I don’t know what the world’s coming to. A handful of people with a cough and everyone loses their minds. Then again, when the plague came, everyone lost their minds too. Not over toilet paper though. We didn’t start losing our minds until the carts started rolling past every night full of the bodies. No paper masks in those days either, we wound scarves around our faces because of the stench.
The worst thing was being locked in the house when the kitchen maid came down with it. All of us, all of the nine children, my wife and her mother, the cook and the maids, all of us untouched, all but that one kitchen maid. If only they’d taken her away, the rest of us might not have perished. Not having enough food did us in, we were weakened with starvation. Shut in the house for weeks, with no escape. Nothing to do but feast on the fears, like a smothering cloud. Like as not, we just gave up, and said, plague, carry me off, I can bear no more. I know after the youngest 6 children and the oldest boy died, I had no will to live. I died before the wife did and felt a bit guilty about that, leaving her to face the rest of it alone. She wasn’t happy about that, and who can blame her.
One thing for sure, it wasn’t running out of blasted toilet paper that was worrying me.
They keep calling me Belinda, I don’t know why. They’re all nice enough, the ones who come and bring my meals and keep the place tidy, so don’t make a fuss when they do. If I’m honest, I don’t always remember their names either.
Today they had white paper face masks on, which seems a bit rude if you ask me. I asked the morning one, do I smell or something? and she said, no, it’s the bolona virus, hadn’t I seen it on the news? My dear, I said, if you only knew how many times I’ve died of the plague! She laughed at me and said don’t you worry, you’re not dying of the plague, as if I didn’t know that. They sound patronizing at times but they do it to cover up how dense they are, some of these helpers.
The plague was long a-coming to our parish, I said, ignoring her remark, and when it did come, there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence. By the time the cart came for you to dump you in the pit, you were glad to be out of it, I tell you.
She gave me a funny look and reminded me to eat my toast.
Barbara’s office was dead silent apart from the regular bips of the machines. The whiteness of the painted walls made it feel like a psych ward. She shivered away the memories that were trying to catch her attention.
It’s been two hours since the Doctor had locked himself up in his rage-release room, a spacious soundproofed room with padded walls. Not even a small window to look inside and check if his anger had subsided. Barbara clearly preferred the trauma of the shouts and cries and the broken plates that were hidden here and there for him to use when he needed most. But when he started his therapy with the AI psych module, the damn bot suggested he built that room in order to release his rage in a more intimate framework.
Now the plates collected dust and the sessions in the room tended to last longer and longer.
Today’s burst of rage had been triggered by the unexpected gathering of the guests at the Inn. The Doctor was drinking his columbian cocoa, a blend of melted dark chocolate with cheddar cheese, when the old hag in that bloody gabardine started her speech. The camera hidden in the eye of the fish by their agent, gave them a fisheye view of the room. It was very practical and they could see everything. The AI engineer module could recreate a 3D view of the room and anticipate the moves of all the attendees.
When that girl with the fishnet handed out the keys for all to see and the other girl got the doll out, the Doctor had his attention hyper-focused. He wanted to see it all.
Except there had been a glitch and images of granola cookies superimposed on the items.
“Send the magpies to retrieve the items,” he said, nervousness making his voice louder.
“Ahem,” had answered Barbara.
“What?” The Doctor turned towards her. His eye twitched when he expected the worst, and it had been twitching fast.
She had been trying to hide the fact that the magpies had been distracted lately, as she had clearly been herself since she had found that goldminer game on facebush.
No need to delay the inevitable, she had thought. “The magpies are not in the immediate vicinity of the Inn.” In fact, just as their imprinting mother was busy digging digital gold during her work time, the magpies had found a new vein of gold while going to the Inn and Barbara had thought it could be a nice addition to her meager salary… to make ends meet at the end of the month.
It obviously wasn’t the right time to do so. And she was worried about the Doctor now.
To trump her anxiety, she was surfing the internet. Too guilty to play the gold miner, she was looking around for solutions to her boss’s stress. The variety and abundance of advertisement was deafening her eyes, and somewhere in a gold mine she was sure the magpies were going berserk too. She had to find a solution quickly.
Barbara hesitated to ask the AI. But there were obviously too many solutions to choose from. Her phone buzzed. It was her mother.
“I finally found the white jade masks. Bought one for you 2. It helps chase the mental stress away. You clearly need it.” Her mother had joined a picture of her wearing the mask on top of a beauty mask which gave her the look of a mummy. Her mother was too much into the woowoo stuffs and Barbara was about to send her a polite but firm no she didn’t want the mask. But the door of the rage-room opened and the Doctor went out. He had such a blissful look on his face. It was unnatural. Barbara had been suspecting the AI to brainwash the Doctor with subliminal messages during those therapy sessions. Maybe it also happened in the rage-room. The AI was using tech to control the Doctor. Barbara would use some other means to win him back.
OK. SEND IT TO ME QUICK. she sent to her mother.
So, her nocturnal thief had struck again!
Glynis had left a freshly brewed batch of ‘Dream Recall’ potion on the window ledge to soak up the energy of the full moon overnight. And now one jar was missing.
She didn’t mind; in fact it gave her a warm feeling of satisfaction whenever anyone wanted her potions. And she was not afraid because she sensed no harmful intent. But she was curious as to the identity of her visitor.
Perhaps she should set a trap to unmask the thief?
Later, maybe. Today, she was taking her potions to one of the outdoor markets in the city where people peddled all manner of handmade and home grown products. She was long overdue for a visit. She would put on her burka, tattered now but still functional, and trek through the forgotten paths of the enchanted forest, hidden to most, pulling her little cart of wares behind her.
And when she comes close to the outskirts of the city, she will hunch her back and begin to walk slowly as though she is someone of very advanced years. She will set up her stall and a crowd will quickly gather, pushing and jostling to be first, for her potions are in high demand.
It has not always been that way. At first, people were wary of her, the crooked old crone in her tattered robe. Only her bright blue eyes visible, eyes which dart quickly to the ground if one looks too hard. But it took just a few, lured closer to her table by curiosity or desperation—or perhaps it was pity for she must look a sorry sight. After that, it didn’t take long for word to spread.
“HELP ME!” Liz shouted over her shoulder, while simultaneously grabbing the back of the gardeners trousers with one hand, and attempting to floogle the phrase stickum lute putty on her pocket device with the other hand. What in tarnation did it mean? Probably some ancient tribal voodoo Finnley had picked up during her sojourn in the nether regions of the planet.
Roberto struggled to escape the vice like grip on his belt, but Liz’s grip was firm. Godfrey charged across the lawn like like a wild boar to assist with the detention of the errant gardener and gripped Roberto’s shoulder firmly. The sticky shreds of paper in Godfrey’s hand stuck to the gardeners denim shirt like glue. Roberto wrenched himself free, sending Godfrey flying into the herbaceous border, and leaving Liz holding an empty pair of jeans in her hand. Focusing on the information now showing on her pocket information device ~ an aboriginal dreamwalker teleport code ~ it was a moment before Liz realized that she was no longer detaining the gardener but merely holding his trousers. Of Roberto, there was no sign.
“An imposter!” he cried. “That was no Roberto, that was Roberta Slack! A WOMAN!”
Suddenly there was a piercing scream.
Finnley’s face had turned white—although later she would claim it was not fear but rather the cucumber mask giving her face a death-like appearance—and she was pointing a shaking finger in the direction of Roberto’s derrière. Or more accurately, towards where Roberto’s derrière had been prior to the scream; like the others, he had jumped up in alarm at the ear splitting noise.
“What the devil is the matter?” gasped LIz. She grasped Finnley’s shoulders firmly and shook her. “Pull yourself together; it’s just a bum crack. I know it is a long time since you will have seen a man’s bum, but really as I keep saying to you, if you will just smarten yourself up and make a bit more effort. I mean, look at you; you’ve got vegetables falling off your face ….” Liz shook her head in confoundment.
“It’s not the bum crack,” snarled Finnley, recovering her usual unflappable composure. “It is the tattoo on his bum. The tattoo of the girl with the glass feet. Do you not know what that means?”
Roberto’s eyes narrowed as he began to back away towards the gate.
Or did they?
“What happened to you, Finnley ?” asked Liz. The maid, usually neatly permed looked dishevelled and had forgotten to remove her cucumber mask.
“The delivery man”, began Finnley, “He said someone ordered 30.”
“30 what ?”
“30 crates of carrot champagne.”
“Carrot champagne ? I didn’t know they could make alcohol out of carrots,” said Liz. She pouted lasciviously, thinking of what she could do with all that champagne. She had never taken a bath in champagne, that could be a first. She would have to be careful with the carrot tan though.
“They can do alcohol with anything”, added Godfrey.
“Who ordered that ?” asked Liz, “And why 30 crates ?”
“Apparently, it’s your cousin Badul”, said Finnley. A cucumber fall off her face.
Liz’ lips closed tight at the mention of her cousin.
“It’s Badul’s intention to have the wedding at your property.”
Liz dropped her spaghetti hat on the freshly mown grass. Roberto bent over, showing even more of his crack, to pick up the hat before it attracted ants. Liz bit her lips.
At one of the top level of the Archyramid, the Apex was looking at the innergy balance sheet with a intensely miffed expression.
His minions were looking at him in awe and terror, while the two hellhounds at his feet were sleeping lightly, ready to pounce at the slightest irritation of their master.
It would be difficult to describe the scene in very accurate terms, as under the false cosmic light, illusions and deception were child’s play, and appearances easily manipulated. The trick to appear beautiful and enlightened was mostly to sustain a certain belief not unlike seduction upon the viewer and the reality you wanted to project would endure. Think of it as botox on a very wrinkled face.
The Apex and his minions had a certain warm and fuzzy halo around them, bathed by the fervor and prayers and devotion of their millions of believers. They had to work hard, and divide even harder to get to that. To the believer, they would appear quite saintly, even godlike. But only the belief would sustain the illusion.
All of them were disillusioned many many eons ago, and could see each other rather plainly, without the false make-up. The Apex was a truly awesome, fearful presence.
His voice was soft though, enveloping, soothing and with a hypnotic taste to it, luring you to a sense of false security.
“So, are you telling me there is no growth? I’ve tolerated this little experiment with Medlik and the other fools of the Order of Ascension, this was all very good business and all, but now you’re telling me this little investment was for NOTHING!”
One of the minions, Minux, also known as Tetatron of the Galactic Federation in certain circles dared come one step further, bowing down and raising his voice:
“My dear Lord Apex, we grieve as you do, but this is our painful reality. Competition is fierce, and the sheeple are not as gullible as they used to.”
Lord Apex smiled derisively. “I’ve been in this game for quite some time Minux, so I’m quite certain of something. The sheeple have an infinite streak of gullibility. I just think you’ve all been lazy.”
The two hellhounds woke up and snarled menacingly. They would have easily passed for cute puppies under the mask.
“Dear Lord Apex, as usual you are quite correct. The main problem is that we underestimated their capacity to get bored so quickly. We have to constantly update the light constructs to introduce new bizarre concepts and ideas, so they can continue generate innergy for us.”
“Well, you know how this story ends, Minux, we can’t have slackers among us, and those results are not nearly good enough to get us there. Our Lord R’eye will only give keys to the kingdom to the ones who deserve it. Based on your poor results, I suggest a few of the old tricks: divide and conquer, or throw in a good shitstorm and rally the troops. That should get us through the next quarter.”
“Of course, my Lord. And I suppose… about the blissdom alarity increase for the Ascended Order?”
“You suppose well Minux, you suppose well…”
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