Berenice, still under training, was overseeing the process, daunted by the alarming number of blinking buttons from the apparatus. She tried to look composed, knowing full well her aunt Barbara wouldn’t make preferential treatment if she were to make a blunder.
“BWAAAAHA!” blurted out Gloria coming out of what appeared to have been a very lucid dream.
“I just got meself the most horrid dream Shar’, you know wot?”
“Good Lord no! WORSE even!”
“WOT now?” Sharon couldn’t help but ask, shushing with a mean eye the poor Berenice.
“NURSE TRASSIE! She was comin’ fur us!”
“Oh bloody hell. Haven’t they confined her already?” Sharon dismissed with a shrug that made the whole concrete floor vibrate like a panzer washing machine in dry mode. “Look lassies, that’s more interesting.” She nodded towards the haggard Sophie lying on one of the tables. “Brought us some competition on the looks area it seems.”
“What?” Mavis strained to hear.
“Look dammit! The poor fashion-impeded soul that landed on a waiting list for one of our spots. Gosh, that latex thingy she sports makes me all blushy! But don’t you worry. She can’t be competition to us, ladies. That cryo-treatment is already working I can tell.”
She felt the need to add and punctuate towards Berenice “And no thanks to you, young lady. You should learn from me. Never been afraid to push a button in my life!”
I feel sick in my stomach. Been days actually. Got to try something new, and a line a day seems like a good start.
Had dreams last night, it was months I didn’t get any. Nothing really out of the mundane, though I was selling the house in one of the dreams.
To think we’re still stuck on this nightmarish cruise, nor on land nor on water, and I dream of the house. The brain has a sense of humour.
The walls are paper thin, we can hear the endless complains of the nearby cruisers. That’s two left, one right, 3 across the corridor, and at least 2 above and below — that I can count at least. I call them my voices, makes me laugh a little. I didn’t tell Lorel, she would call me barmy. I thought of giving them numbers, it’s like reducing the complexity of human nature to something more… geometric? Reduce them to lines of code, maybe you can hack into the collective mind, make it work for you.
I think one of the voice is a pirate. It’s coughing Awwr, arr, arr more and more now. I’ll call him Eleven. Won’t be long before they catch him and isolate him. Good thing he’s the guy under and not above, from what I hear, the thing spreads through the loos too. Maybe he’ll make a run for it, I heard some tried to escape this hellhole. Well, they missed the free booze vouchers, too bad for them.
So long journal, wife is coming back from her trip to the other room. Yeah, I mean the loo, don’t you enjoy promiscuity. We’re not rolling in dough, couldn’t afford the presidential suite you see. Maybe if we survive longer than everybody else, it’ll be ours, who knows…
Truth be told, April was missing the US. She missed all their little coterie of maids living in the shadows of the powerful. Missed the drama most of all.
She’d been secretly texting Norma and May, while June was lazily sipping mojitos with Jacqui.
Norma was fine, but May and the other alien staff had suddenly disappeared when the Secret Services had started to investigate more deeply into the staff’s backgrounds after all the kidnapping fiasco. At least, August had been covering for Norma, such kind soul he was. Besides, the President’s wife could no longer live without her butter chicken. But May and the others couldn’t face the music apparently. Funnily, they couldn’t find “real” American maids nowadays suited to replace them. Good luck with that!
April couldn’t tell June, obviously, since her friend harboured such hatred for the system that had them put in jail. As for herself, she couldn’t argue with the fact they’d deserved it. Nothing a good lawyer couldn’t fix though. That’s why she loved the idea of America. Guilty as charged, indeed. Those charges now vanished.
She’d thought first that it would fuel her inspiration nicely, but it was the opposite. The sudden extra time had distracted her entirely, and her inspiration seemed inaccessible.
She was starting to make up her mind. She would go back, to her family in Arkansas. That could only be temporary of course, as her mother, bless her soul, would start to have her meet all the gents in the neighbourhood in the hopes to finally get her only daughter married. Talk about drama. If that doesn’t kick-start her inspiration engine, nothing would.
Problem was, with the virus around spreading mass panic, there seemed to be no sure way to fly back. She would have to devise some circuitous plan.
“Mmm, it might be a hit. Sophie’s remote viewing has been right on spot even if odder and odder. I guess it fits with the intent of our… I mean your newspaper, doesn’t it?”
Ricardo looked surprised. Was it the recognition he was waiting for all these past months working hard behind the scenes. Not a promotion yet but… Or maybe, just because the usual writers Connie & Hilda weren’t around, off to somewhere only they had the secret.
“Still, you must admit, investigating an alcohol made of rillettes does sound rather ludicrous, even for this newspaper, or even for Sweet Sophie.”
“There might be more to cover, a tree hiding a forest. Besides, she was right about the reptiles falling in Miami during the cold snap! We missed that story… If only we’d jumped on it right away!”
“What else you need? I told you to get on with it, chop chop!”
“Maybe a promotion?…” he added tentatively.
“You’re already staff writer by default dear…”
“A raise then?”
“Don’t push you luck. And you’ll book those tickets to Chickasaw, Alabama in charter. We’re not rolling in the dough, like the Yanks say.”TracyParticipant
Realizing that she had to come up with a plan quickly to distract April from taking her pith helmet, June took a few deep breaths and calmed herself. It was true she was often flaky and disorganized, but in an emergency she was capable of acting swiftly and efficiently.
“Remember Jacqui who we met in Scotland at the Nanny and Au Pair convention? Called herself Nanny Gibbon and tried to pass herself off as Scottish?” April frowned, trying to remember. Europeans all looked the same to her. “Ended up with that eccentric family with all the strange goings on?” June prompted.
“Oh yes, now I remember. Wasn’t there an odd story about a mummy that had washed up from, where was it?”
“Alabama!” shouted June triumphantly. “Exactly!”
“Well excuse me for being dense, but how does that help?”
June leaned back into the sofa with a happy smile. April had forgotten all about the pith helmet and was now focused on the new plan. “Well,” she said, rearranging some scatter cushions behind her back into a more comfortable position, “Do you remember the woman who arrived with the mummy, Ella Marie? She stayed with Jacqui for a while and they became good friends. Apparently she loved that crazy Wrick family; Jacqui said Ella Marie felt right at home there. She would have stayed, but she missed her husband in the end and felt guilty about leaving him, so she went back to Alabama.”
Aprils eyes widened slightly as she started to understand. “Did they stay in contact?”
“Maybe they can find that baby for us,” April said, looking relieved. “Or at least swap it for that girl baby. Where did that come from anyway?”
“That trip of yours was surprisingly, or must I say, suspiciously long…” Lucinda gave them both a long glance full of innuendos, and added in case those were missed “where you on a honeymoon or something?”
“Oh, you, will you just wipe the snark from your face, it’s making you look ten years older Luce. It wasn’t really a holiday if you must know everything.” She elbowed Shawn-Paul, who was looking vacantly at the tip of his shoes. “Why don’t you tell her?”
“Why don’t you tell her?” he replied automatically.
“It’s just been 6 months! Why do you make such a fuss about it?”
“I’m not making a fuss, look who’s cranky! I can see you are venting your spleen on me after a sleepless night in the plane…”
“Haha, yes”, Maeve admitted with a nervous chuckle. “The only thing that matters is we managed to collect the dolls and the keys, just don’t ask me how.”
“You know I’ll ask.”
“Yes, I know. Just… don’t.”
“Fair enough. But it might be tough for me not to ask. I may forget… Besides, I must ask, do you have a secret benefactor that’s funding you all this time? Fabio’s kibble didn’t come free you know, you left me with barely enough for a week!”
“Oh really? Dog’s kibble now? Let me make you a check right now.”
“I think you need a good night of sleep.” Lucinda winked at Shawn-Paul, “him too. And we’ll talk later. I have tons of things to update you about my theater writing group. You might help me with the continuity bits… Waaa, calm down, no pressure!”
“What are we waiting for?” asked Fox. “Let’s do it now. I’ll gather his blocks and pieces together before night falls.” He left the house before anyone could say anything and left the door open. The afternoon was near to its end and the light was dimming fast. Glynis, Rukshan and Eleri soon could hear the cyclical grating noise of the wheelbarrow and the thumping noise of the blocks being loaded.
“I don’t have all the required ingredients,” she said, “That pink clay from Sina, I used it all to lift the jinx on the loo.”
Olliver appeared at that moment. “You need my help?”
“We would if you could go somewhere you have never seen before,” said Rukshan. His panda eyes gave him a really tired look.
“Oh but I can, now,” said Olli. “If you’ve been there, I just need you to say the name and I can follow the vibration back to its origin.”
“My, What have I missed? I’ve been away far too long,” said the fae.
“You certainly have,” said Fox who was back and waiting at the door. The baby snoots, who were never far from the dwarf, had followed and their colourful glows brought an interesting set of nuances to Fox’s aura. “Can someone help me bring all those blocks into the house?”
Eleri would have helped of course, but pain you know, her ankle was so bad at the moment, she couldn’t risk making it worse. Glynis cleared a space and put a table cloth on the floor. “Don’t you make a scratch on my new wooden floor,” she warned the boys who brought the pieces together.
“Wow, the blocks are like magnets, but also different,” said Olliver, “It’s difficult to take one away because they attract each other, but if you bring them too close they repel each other. I can feel it.”
“Yes,” said Rukshan, “the Master creator told me we can’t force the process without the proper requirements.”
Once every pieces were on the table cloth, they all gathered around, even the baby snoots, and they looked at the rocks for a moment. Glynis had lit a few candles since the night had fallen and the light was painting dancing shadows on the walls. Fox’s stomach growled but his attention was all on what Rukshan would say next. They all were.
“So where is this pink clay?” asked Olli who couldn’t wait longer.
When Albie woke up, it was shaking all around, as if the ground was quaking under him. It took him a moment to realize he was at the back of the jeep, and the jeep was careening on the dirt road, with none other than Mandrake at the wheel.
“I’m not sure you realized, but we’re being chased!”
The sound of a bullet flew by, missing the car window only thanks to an agile quarter turn of the wheel by Mandrake, followed by a sudden acceleration back onto the road.
“Who’s chasing us!!?” Albie was confused.
“Unclear!” Arona shouted, aiming at the black and white corvette behind them, with Ugo the gecko trying to keep stuck onto her head despite the shaking.
She fired three shots of her magical Owl Pellets, reloading after each one.
“We’re going to be short of ammo, Mandrake! How far?!”
“I DON’T KNOW” the cat meowed, braking to avoid running over a loitering marsupial.
“You have no idea how difficult it is to find a body of water in this place, do you?! We missed the turn to the waterhole about 30 miles ago, at this speed!”
“Better not to risk it, not enough water depth! We need the river.”
“Todd River should be around that cliff there,” he pointed. But the road ends… heEEere!!”
“GO FOR IT!”
** S PLASH **
The other car had braked just before the cliff, while the jeep was sinking slowly into the river which was carrying them near the shore.
All Albie could see next was the swirl of pouring light mixed into the water vortex.
He held his breath as tight as possible, for as… long… as… possible.
“Mmm, that was entertaining. But it ruined my dinner.”
The dragon was there, looking at the three of them drenched near its pool. They were back at the Doline.
“When is the nephew coming, by the way? That loo isn’t going to fix itself, is it?” Muriel asked with her usual tone of disapproval.
“Just the day before Fox’s birthday, that’ll be easy to remember for you.” replied Glynis pawkily.
“Tsk, tsk. And when is that exactly?” replied Muriel feigning to have missed the sarcasm.
On second thought, she retorted: “I think it’ll the day after your leave back to Yonderhampton.”
“You know,” Inspector Melon said, having narrowly missed a peanut threat perniciously placed on top of a carrot cupcake. “I’m most intrigued by that mysterious Management organization that you wrote in your stories. They seemed to steer the plot somewhat efficiently, placing operatives on certain threats…”
“What’s your question Walter?” Liz was getting tipsy on the rosé bubbly, and she frankly had no idea what he was talking about, clutching at the bottle that Finnley was trying to move out of her reach.
“Well, somehow the Management, such fascinating and mysterious organization as it is, seems to have gathered an awful lot of information on this world’s arcane mysteries, and let’s not be shy to say, on some of its evils.”
“And, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d decided a “Blow the lid off” type of covert operation, in order to gather KEY evidences of those evils and release all of them simultaneously so that the evil guys can’t get clued to it in time for an escape.”
“Mmm, of course yes.” Liz replied distractedly, looking at watermelon pièce montée that had just rolled into the room. It had suddenly triggered fond memories of watermelon codpieces she’d written as fashion pieces in one of the novels, that would have been perfect with the theme of the party.
Walter thought deeply… “Then, that would mean the mysterious Uncle Fergus with the Harley Davidson, may be one of such operative, that could have been compromised and sent the keys as a fail-safe… Now, I wonder what secrets these may reveal.”
He looked at Liz who was gorging herself on watermelon chous.
“But of course, you would have thought about all that. I can’t wait to read the rest of it!”
Of course, nothing of the discussion had been missed by the ever careful Finnley. Sliding behind the heavy curtains, she found Godfrey in the kitchen who was looking for the peanut jar.
He greeted her with a non nonplussed look. “Hmm, lovely socks.”
She leaned in conspiratorially: “I think the Inspector knows too much already.”
The day had started uneventful, the perfect kind of day for Shawn Paul to write his novel. He had been quite productive concerning the numbers of characters written in total, but after a few erasing and correcting only one paragraph of a few lines remained. But he was very satisfied with what he had written.
Perfection will kill me, he thought. Looking at the piles of documents on his table, he felt tired. He looked at the unremarkable clock on his wall. It was eleven in the morning. Time for a tea. He got up from his desk carefully. He missed a step and inadvertently hit the wrong key combination on his keyboard. It closed his writing app without saving his work. Shawn Paul started panicking when the bell rang. Déjà vu.
This time it was the mailman.
“You’re a lucky winner. I need a sign.”
Shawn Paul signed and was handed a big envelop written “LUCKY WINNER!” all over it. There was barely enough room for his address. The young writer, almost author, feared to open it. It was reeking of distraction potential and it could put his novel in danger when it needed loving care… and a lot of discipline.
“Look,” said the mailman. “I have another one for your neighbour.” the man knocked at Maeve’s door and gave her the envelop in exchange for a signature. The young woman had no qualm about it and tore open the envelop. It was hard to read her expression when she got a plane ticket out and read the short accompanying note. She almost looked asian poker face at that moment. Her eyes went to the envelop in Shawn Paul’s hands, and he understood the question she hadn’t formulated.
He felt forced to open his own envelop and it was as agonising as tearing apart the last chance to write his unborn novel.
“What’s inside?” asked the mailman who was a curious fellow.
“A plane to Australia, and a voucher to the Flying Fish Inn.”
“Oh! I know that place, it was all over the news a few months back,” said the man. “I don’t need to envy you then,” he dropped before leaving Shawn Paul and Maeve in the corridor.
Her cat showed up and meowed. It was clear to the young man there was an interrogation point in its voice.
Ric was confused as to why he found himself flushed and vaguely excited by Bossy Mam’s sudden and attractive outburst.
He was so glad the two harpies were off to goat knows where, or they would have tortured him with no end of gossiping.
Still troubled by the stirring of emotions, he looked around, and almost spilled the cup of over-infused lapsang souchong tea he had prepared. Miss Bossy was the only one to fancy the strong flavour in a way only a former chain smoker could.
Thankfully, she was still glaring at the window, and while he had no doubt he couldn’t hope to give her the slip for that sort of things, she probably had decided to just let it go.
He took the chance to run to the archives, and started to dig up all he could on the Doctor.
Sadly, the documents were few and sparse. Hilda and Connie were not known for their order in keeping records. Their notes looked more like herbariums from a botanist plagued with ADHD. But that probably meant there were lots of overlooked clues.
He flipped through the dusty pages for a good hour, eyes wet with allergies, and he was about to bring Miss Bossy the sorry pile he had collected when a light bulb lit in his mind.
How could I miss it!
He’d never thought about it, but now, a lot of it started to make sense.
Thinking about how Miss Bossy would probably be pleased by the news, he started to become red again, and hyperventilate.
Calm down amigo, think about your abuela, and her awful tapas,… thaaat’s it. Crème d’anchovies with pickled strawberries… Jellyfish soufflés with poached snail eggs on rocket salad.
His mind was rapidly quite sober again.
Taking the pile of notes, he landed it messily on the desk, almost startling Miss Bossy.
“Sorry for the interruption, M’am, but I may have found something…”
“Fine, there’s no need for theatrics, spill it!” Miss Bossy was ever the no-nonsense straight-to-business personality. Some would have called her rude, but they were ignorants, and possibly all dead now.
“There was a clue, hidden in the trail of Hilda’s collection. I’m not sure how we have missed it.”
“Ricardooo…” Miss Bossy’s voice was showing a soupçon of annoyance.
“Yes, pardon me, I’m digressing. Look! Right here!”
“What? How is it possible? Is that who I think it is?”
“I think so.”
They turned around to look across the hall at Sweet Sophie blissfully snoring.
“I think she was one of her first patient-slash-assistant.”
“How quaint. But, that explains a lot. Wait a minute. I thought none of his patients were ever found… alive?”
“Maybe she outsmarted him…”
They both weren’t too convinced about that. But they knew now old Sweet Sophie was probably unwittingly holding the key to the elusive Doctor.
A strong and loud guttural roar echoed through the mountains, ferocious and hungry. Fox’s hairs stood on his arms and neck as a wave of panic rolled through his body. He looked at the others his eyes wide open.
Olliver teleported closer to Rukshan whose face seemed pale despite the warmth of the fire, and Lhamom’s jaw dropped open. Their eyes met and they swallowed in unison. “Is that…” asked Fox. His voice had been so low that he wasn’t sure someone had heard him. Rukshan nodded.
“It seems you are leaving the mountains sooner than you expected,” said Kumihimo with a jolly smile as she dismounted Ronaldo. She plucked her icy lyre from which loud and rich harmonics bounced. The wind carried them along and they echoed back in defiance to the Shadow.
You must remember, seemed to whisper an echo from the cave they had used for shelter for weeks. Fox dismissed it as induced by the imminent danger.
The Shadow hissed and shrieked, clearly pissed off. The dogs howled and Kumihimo engaged in a wild and powerful rhythm on her instrument.
You must remember, said the echo again.
Everobody stood and ran in chaos, except for Fox. He was getting confused, as if under a bad spell.
Someone tried to cover the fire with a blanket of wool. “Don’t bother, we’re leaving,” said Rukshan before rushing toward the multicolour sand mandala he had made earlier that day. Accompanied by the witche’s mad arpeggios, he began chanting. The sand glowed faintly.
Lhamom told them to jump on the hellishcopter whose carpet was slowly turning in a clockwise direction. “But I want to help,” said Olliver. “You’ll help best by being ready to leave as soon as the portal opens,” said Lhamom. She didn’t wait to see if the boy followed her order and went to help Rukshan with her old magic spoon.
“Something’s wrong. I’ve already lived that part,” said Fox when the screen protecting the mandala flapped away, missing the fae’s head by a hair.
“What?” asked Olliver.
“It already happened once,” said Fox, “although I have a feeling it was a bit different. But I can’t figure out how or why.”
At that moment a crow popped out of the cave’s mouth in a loud bang. The cave seemed to rebound in and out of itself for a moment, and the dark bird cawed, very pleased. It reminded Fox at once of what had happened the previous time, the pain of discovering all his friends dead and the forest burnt to the ground by the shadow. The blindness, and the despair.
The crow cawed and Fox felt the intense powers at work and the delicate balance they were all in.
The Shadow had grown bigger and threatened to engulf the night. Fox had no idea what to do, but instead he let his instinct guide him.
“Come!” he shouted, pulling Olliver by the arm. He jumped on the hellishcopter and helped the boy climb after him.
“COME NOW!” he shouted louder. Rukshan and Lhamom looked at the hellishcopter and at the devouring shadow that had engulfed the night into chaos and madness.
They ran. Jumped on the carpet. Kumihimo threw an ice flute to them and Fox caught it, but this time he didn’t nod. He knew now what he had to do.
“You’ll have one note!” the shaman shouted. “One note to destroy the Shadow when you arrive!” Kumihimo hit the hellishcopter as if it were a horse, and it bounced forward.
But Fox, aware of what would have come next, kept a tight rein on the hellishcarpet and turned to Olliver.
“Go get her! We need her on the other side.”
Despite the horror of the moment, the boy seemed pleased to be part of the action and he quickly disappeared. The shaman looked surprised when the boy popped in on her left and seized her arm only to bring her back on the carpet in the blink of an eye.
“By the God Frey,” she said looking at a red mark on her limb, “the boy almost carved his hand on my skin.”
“Sorry if we’re being rude,” said Fox, “but we need you on the other side. It didn’t work the first time. If you don’t believe me, ask the crow.”
The bird landed on the shaman’s shoulder and cawed. “Oh,” said Kumihimo who liked some change in the scenario. “In that case you’d better hold tight.”
They all clung to each other and she whistled loudly.
The hellishcopter bounced ahead through the portal like a wild horse, promptly followed by Ronaldo and the Shadow.
The wind stopped.
The dogs closed in on the portal and jumped to go through, but they only hit the wall of the powerful sound wave of Kumihimo’s ice lyra.
They howled in pain as the portal closed, denying them their hunt.FloveParticipant
“I would have been home much sooner but I misread the ‘airport’ sign as ‘carport’ and kept on driving. Of course I missed my plane but what a jolly laugh I had about it!”
“Very droll,” said Finnley.
The air was crisp and dry in the mountains. They had been walking for days under the guidance of their local guide Strumpjioku, whose name was simply pronounced Sok despite or because a very complicated writing system. It seemed to interest Rukshan a lot but Fox had had some brain freeze trying to understand their guide’s nebulous and proud explanations about it.
Of course, it might have been caused also by the lack of air. They were so high in the mountains, and at times Fox had even seen and heard things that should not have been there. Especially during the long nights when packs of wild dogs barked endlessly. Fox understood their language. They were hunting things. It wasn’t clear what, but Fox could sometimes sense a lingering smell carried by the otherwise empty air that he couldn’t identify.
They had established camp for the night and Sok was busy cooking for them. Fox growled miserably. He didn’t fancy too much the spicy food that seem the only thing they could get in those mountains. He missed the running hens of Margoritt’s cottage in the forest and her secret mushroom sauce that was to die for. He would even have eaten her ratatouille with only vegetables.
Rukshan was trying to cast a fae spell in order to contact their friend Lhamom who had left them for a special ceremony in a temple. She said it was for her friend Donny whose mother had passed away recently. Being in a hurry as they were, they didn’t insist to wait. Lhamom said she could catch up on them later. The spell failed again and Rukshan cursed.
Dogs started to bark loudly. Not too soon after the strange smell became stronger, and it made Fox nervous, especially hearing to the hunting dogs.
Fox approached Rukshan.
“The dogs are hunting something, he said.
“As long as they don’t hunt us, retorted Rukshan with a shrug. He seemed upset by his failed attempt and not too eager to talk.
Fox caught Sok looking at them, but the guide turned back to his cooking when he saw Fox looking at him.
“That won’t help me sleep”, mumbled Fox more grumpy than usual.
When Lucinda called her friend, Shawn Paul felt it was time to go back home. He wasn’t sure if it was his natural shyness, that he had already seen and talk to so many new people today, or if it was the fear of the unknown. What would he tell a stranger? What would she think of him, his outfit and his scarf? All that made it too much at that moment to meet someone new. So he looked at his phone and pretexted something had come up. They agreed to meet at the reception at the French embassy and he left.
Shawn Paul was walking crossing streets on autopilot, lost in his thoughts about the adventures of the day, when a crazy honking that sounded like an elephant fart brought him back to reality in front a bakery. He realised too late that he had forgotten his granola cookies on the table. But he shrugged and smiled when a little yellow butterfly flew by and landed momentarily on the rear light of a red car. He stopped and wondered how such a light creature could live in a city like this. It took off and fluttered around into the general direction of a public garden nearby where children played under the kind presence of their parents.
“Hi.” They said at the same time with the same awkwardness. Maeve’s dog was sniffing out his shoes, making Shawn Paul self conscious of himself. He feared a moment she might think he had a sloppy hygiene.
“Come Fabio.” Maeve said. “Sorry for that. Dogs…”
Shawn Paul smiled in an attempt to hide his embarrassment, and each of them went in their own direction.
Shawn Paul arrived late at the reception because he spent too much time deciding on which scarf would match his new deep purple velvet jacket. The others were already inside and drinking, their body moving more or less in rhythm with the music.
“Your dress suits you so well,” said Shawn Paul bending closer to her hear and making an effort to talk louder. A smile blossomed on her face at the compliment, contrasting with a lingering nostalgia in her eyes. She was wearing one of those black body fit dress which gave her silhouette all the contours they needed to pop out in a flattering way.
“You missed the speech of the ambassador,” she said with a wink. “Nothing memorable, it’s the same every year.”
Jerk was standing on the side, wearing a suit like one would wear camouflage clothing. He seemed to deeply wonder what he was doing there. Shawn Paul, who was wondering the same, addressed the man a sympathising smile. A moment of connection happened and went away. Jerk took a sip of his glass of champagne and Lucinda put a flute in Shawn Paul’s hand.
She took his other arm and said : “Come. There is something I want to show you!”
Margoritt’s left knee was painful that day. Last time it hurt so much was twenty years ago, during that notorious drought when a fire started and almost burnt the whole forest down. Only a powerful spell from the Fae people could stop it. But today they sky was clear, and the forest was enjoying a high degree of humidity from the last magic rain. Margoritt, who was not such a young lady anymore dismissed the pain as a sign of old age.
You have to accept yourself as you are at some point, she sighed.
The guests were still there, and everyone was participating to the life of the community. Eleri, who had been sick had been taken care of in turn by Fox and Glynnis, while Rukshan had reorganised the functioning of the farm. They now had a second cow and produced enough milk to make cakes and butter that they sold to the neighbouring Faes, and they had a small herd of Rainbow Lamas that produced the softest already colourful wool, among other things. Gorrash, awoken at night, had formed an alliance with the owls that helped them to keep the area clear of mice and rats and was also in charge of the weekly night fireworks.
The strange colourful eggs had hatched recently giving birth to strange little creatures that were not yet sure of which shape to adopt. They sometimes looked like cuddly kittens, sometimes like cute puppies, or mischievous monkeys. They always took the form of a creature with a tail, except when they were frightened and turned into a puddle. It had been hard for Margoritt who mistook them for dog pee, but Fox had been very helpful with his keen sense of smell and washing away the poor creatures had been avoided. Nobody had any idea if they could survive once diluted in water.
The day was going great, Margoritt sat on her rocking chair enjoying a fresh nettle lassi on the terrace while doing some embroidery work on Eleri’s blouse. Her working kit was on a small stool in front of her. Working with her hands helped her forget about her knee and also made her feel useful in this youthful community where everybody wanted to help her. She was rather proud of her last design representing a young girl and a god statue holding hands together. She didn’t think of herself as a matchmaker, but sometimes you just had to give a little push when fate didn’t want to do its job.
Micawber Minn arrived, his face as long as the Lamazon river. He had the latest newspaper with him and put it on Margoritt’s lap. Surprise and a sudden sharp and burning pain in her knee made her left leg jerk forward, strewing all her needles onto the floor. Margoritt, upset, looked at the puddle of lassi sluggishly starting to covering them up.
“What…” she began.
“Read the damn paper,” said Minn.
She did. The front page mentioned the reelection of Leroway as Lord Mayor, despite his poor results in developing the region.
“Well, that’s not surprising,” Margoritt said with a shrug, starting to feel angry at Minn for frightening her.
“Read further,” said Minn suddenly looking cynical.
Margoritt continued and gasped. Her face turned blank.
“That’s not possible. We need to tell the other,” she said. “We can not let Leroway build his road through the forest.”
“Tourists!” shouted Ugo the gecko to his albino friends. They all stopped and turned their heads in unison to look at the two humans who had entered the premises, inside their small chests their hearts beating fast with excitement like so many small shamanic drums that only gecko ears could hear. Ugo was so engrossed in those two humongous creatures and the hypnotic rhythm of his friends’ heartbeats that he didn’t see the suckers from his front left paw were getting loose again. They had been damaged in a fight with a twirling bat one week ago and they still hadn’t heal nicely because he didn’t care so much. Soon his left paw got detached from the ancient stones of the wall, followed by his right and soon he fell. But like he was made of sticking rubber the fall was short and he got stuck again on a lower stone, walking on the head of a few friends in the process.
“Sorry for that! I’ll have them checked, promise.”
Some of the geckos missed a heartbeat, frightened by the sudden turmoil. They ran in what might appear random directions and panic quickly spread among the albino geckolony on the wall. By a miracle of nature and because they were all so fascinated by tourists, the geckos rearranged nicely only to stop a sucking steps away and turned their head back again toward the tourists. Their hearts beating in unison again.
“Look! that dark wall over there with the white hieroglyphs. I’m sure it just moved!” said the tallest of the tourists. She was curious and decided to go watch by herself what that curious wall was about.TracyParticipant
Glad of the cover of the gloaming darkness, Eleri quickly cut a slice of cake and darted out of the kitchen door. She had heard the commotion that animated statue was still making, calling her a witch as if it were a bad thing, and thought it best to retreat for the time being while she gathered her thoughts. Either that vengeful lump of concrete needed therapy to deal with his past associations, or perhaps better ~ at least in the short term ~ an immobilizing potion until a workable programme of rehabilitation to the state of animation was concocted.
The screech of a parrot in the distance seemed to herald a new arrival in the near future, although Eleri wasn’t sure who else was expected. The raucous sound attracted her and she walked in the direction of it, deftly darting behind trees and bushes so as not to be seen by the rest of the party as she slipped out of the clearing around the shack and into the woods.
“Circles of Eight,” squawked the parrot, sounding closer. Eleri took another bite of cake, wondering why the cake in her hand wasn’t getting any smaller, despite that she had been munching on it steadily for some time. It actually looked as if it was growing in dimensions, but she dismissed the idea as improbable. “Circles of Eight!” screeched the parrot, louder this time. Preferring to err on the side of caution ~ not that she normally did, but in this instance ~ Eleri slipped inside a large hollow in a girthy old tree trunk. She would observe the approach of the new arrival from her hiding place.
Squatting down in the dry leaves, she leaned back against the rough wood and took another bite of cake, awaiting the next parrot call.
I wonder what’s in this cake? she thought, Because I am starting to feel a bit strange…
The garden was becoming too small for Gorrash. With time, the familiarity had settled down in his heart and he knew very well each and every stone or blade of grass there was to know. With familiarity, boredom was not very far. Gorrash threw a small pebble in the pond, he was becoming restless and his new and most probably short friendship with Rainbow had triggered a seed in his heart, the desire to know more about the world.
Before he’d met the creature, Gorrash could remember the pain and sadness present in the heart of his maker. He had thought that was all he needed to know about the world, that mankind was not to be trusted. And he had avoided any contact with that dragon lady, lest she would hurt him. He knew that all came from his maker, although he had no real access to the actual memories, only to their effects.
Gorrash threw another pebble into the pond, it made a splashing sound which dissolved into the silence. He imagined the sound was like the waves at the surface of the pond, going endlessly outward into the world. He imagined himself on top of those waves, carried away into the world. A shiver ran through his body, which felt more like an earthquake than anything else, stone bodies are not so flexible after all. He looked at the soft glowing light near the bush where Rainbow was hiding. The memory of joy and love he had experienced when they hunted together gave his current sadness a sharp edge, biting into his heart mercilessly. He thought there was nothing to be done, Rainbow would leave and he would be alone again.
His hand reached in his pocket where he found the phial of black potion he had kept after Rainbow refused it. He shook it a few times. Each time he looked at it, Gorrash would see some strange twirls, curls and stars in the liquid that seemed made of light. He wondered what it was. What kind of liquid was so dark to the point of being luminous sometimes ? The twirls were fascinating, leading his attention to the curls ending in an explosion of little stars. Had the witch captured the night sky into that bottle?
Following the changes into the liquid was strangely soothing his pain. Gorrash was feeling sleepy and it was a very enjoyable feeling. Feelings were quite new to him and he was quite fascinated by them and how they changed his experience of the world. The phial first seemed to pulse back and forth into his hand, then the movement got out and began to spread into his body which began to move back and forth, carried along with this sensual lullaby. Gorrash wondered if it would go further, beyond his body into the world. But as the thought was born, the feeling was gone and he was suddenly back into the night. A chill went down his spine. It was the first time. The joy triggered his sadness again.
The dwarf looked at the dark phial. Maybe it could help ease his pain. He opened it, curious and afraid. What if it was poison? said a voice of memory. Gorrash dismissed it as the scent of Jasmine reached his nose. His maker was fond of Jasmine tea, and he was surprised at the fondness that rose in his heart. But still no images, it was merely voices and feelings. Sometimes it was frustrating to only have bits and never the whole picture, and full of exasperation, Gorrash gulped in the dark substance.
Nothing was happening. He could still hear the cooing of Rainbow, infatuated with it eggs, he could hear the scratches of the shrews, the flight of the insects. That’s when Gorrash noticed something was different as he was beginning to hear the sharp cries of the bats above. He tried to move his arm to look at the phial, but his body was so heavy. He had never felt so heavy in his short conscious life, even as the light of the Sun hardened his body, it was not that heavy.
The soil seemed to give way under his increasing weight, the surface tension unable to resist. He continued to sink into the ground, down the roots of the trees, through the tunnels of a brown moles quite surprised to see him there, surrounded by rocks and more soil, some little creatures’ bones, and down he went carried into hell by the weight of his pain.
After some time, his butt met a flat white surface, cold as ice, making him jump back onto his feet. The weird heaviness that a moment before froze his body was gone. He looked around, he was in a huge cave and he was not alone. There was an old woman seated crosslegged on a donkey skin. Gorrash knew it was a donkey because it still had its head, and it was smiling. The old woman had hair the colour of the clouds before a storm in summer, It was full of knots and of lightning streaks twirling and curling around her head. Her attention was all on the threads she had in her hands. Gorrash counted six threads. But she was doing nothing with them. She was very still and the dwarf wondered if she was dead or asleep.
What do you want? asked the donkey head in a loud bray.
It startled the dwarf but it didn’t seem to bother the old lady who was still entranced and focused on her threads.
Nothing, said Gorrash who couldn’t think of anything he would want.
Nonsense, brayed the donkey, laughing so hard that the skin was shaking under the old lady. Everyone wants something. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something.
Gorrash thought about what he could want, what he had been wanting that night. He remembered his desire to get out of the garden.
And there you are, brayed the donkey head, that’s a start. What do you want then?
Getting out of the garden?
Noooo! That’s a consequence of a deeper desire, but that’s not what you want.
I have never thought about desires before, said Gorrash. It’s pretty new to me. I just came to life a few weeks ago during a full moon.
The donkey head tilted slightly on its right. No excuses, it spat, If you’re awake, then you have a desire in your heart that wants to be fulfilled. What do you want? Take your time, but not too long. The universe is always on the move and you may miss the train, or the bus, or the caravan…
As the donkey went on making a list of means of transportation, Gorrash looked hesitantly at the old lady. She was still focused on her six threads she had not moved since he had arrived there.
Who is she? he asked to the donkey.
_She’s known by many names and has many titles. She’s Kumihimo Weaver of Braids, Ahina Maker of Songs, Gadong Brewer of Stews…
Ok! said Gorrash, not wanting the donkey go on again into his list enumeration pattern. What is she doing?
And, what is she waiting for?
She’s waiting for the seventh thread, brayed the donkey head. I’m also waiting for the thread, it whined loudly. She won’t leave my back until she’s finished her braid. The head started to cry, making the dwarf feel uncomfortable. Suddenly it stopped and asked And, who are you?
The question resonated in the cave and in his ears, taking Gorrash by surprise. He had no answer to that question. He had just woken up a few weeks ago in that garden near the forest, with random memories of a maker he had not known, and he had no clue what he desired most. Maybe if he could access more memories and know more about his maker that would help him know what he wanted.
Good! brayed the donkey, We are making some progress here. Now if you’d be so kind as to give her a nose hair, she could have her last thread and she could tell you where to find your maker.
Hope rose in Gorrash’s heart. Really?
Certainly, brayed the head with a hint of impatience.
But wouldn’t a nose hair be too short for her braid? asked the dwarf. All the other threads seemed quite long to him.
Don’t waste my time with such triviality. Pull it out!
Gorrash doubted it would work but he grabbed a nose hair between his thumb and index and began to pull. He was surprised as he didn’t feel the pain he expected but instead the hair kept being pulled out. He felt annoyed and maybe ashamed that it was quite long and he had not been aware of it. He took out maybe several meters long before a sudden pain signalled the end of the operation. Ouch!
hee haw, laughed the donkey head.
The pain brought out the memory of a man, white hair, the face all wrinkled, a long nose and a thin mouth. He was wearing a blouse tightened at his waist by a tool belt. He was looking at a block of stone wondering what to make out of it, and a few tears were rolling down his cheeks. Gorrash knew very well that sadness, it was the sadness inside of him. Many statues surrounded the man in what looked like a small atelier. There were animals, gods, heads, hands, and objects. The vision shifted to outside the house, and he saw trees and bushes different than the ones he was used to in the garden where he woke up. Gorrash felt a strange feeling in his heart. A deep longing for home.
Now you have what you came here for. Give the old lady her thread, urged the donkey. She’s like those old machines, you have to put a coin to get your coffee.
Gorrash had no idea what the donkey was talking about. He was still under the spell of the vision. As soon as he handed the hair to the woman, she began to move. She took the hair and combined it to the other threads, she was moving the threads too swiftly for his eyes to follow, braiding them in odd patterns that he felt attracted to.
Time for you to go, said the donkey.
I’d like to stay a bit longer. What she’s doing is fascinating.
Oh! I’m sure, brayed the donkey, But you have seen enough of it already. And someone is waiting for you.
The dwarf felt lighter. And he struggled as he began levitating. What!? His body accelerated up through the earth, through the layers of bones and rocks, through the hard soil and the softer soil of years past. He saw the brown mole again and the familiar roots of the trees of the garden in the enchanted forest.
Gorrash took a deep breath as he reintegrated his stone body. He wobbled, trying to catch his ground. He felt like throwing up after such an accelerated trip. His knees touched the ground and he heard a noise of broken glass as he dropped the phial.
“Are you alright?” asked a man’s voice. Gorrash forced his head up as a second wave of nausea attempted to get out. A man in a dark orange coat was looking down at him with genuine worry on his face.
“I’m good,” said the dwarf. “But who are you?”
“My name is Fox. What’s yours?”
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