Seizing the moment, April tossed her pizza aside and sprang over to to the wardrobe door, slammed it shut and turned the key. Leaning her back on the locked door, she smiled triumphantly.
The office door opened slowly, due to the melted cheese stuck on the carpet that had slid down the door when the pizza hit it. Fortunately for April the door got stuck on an olive, providing a valuable few seconds in which to grab the broom and flee to the rest room before Star and Tara entered the room.
“Don’t let me out until April!” a muffled voice joined the banging sounds coming from the wardrobe.
Everyday is now. I know, I’ve stopped the count.
This strange book I’ve found must be for something. Had the impulse to post a picture from it on a forum.
There were instructions coming with it, I have only started to decypher them, and my brain already feels like it will melt if I go too fast.
Apparently the Chinese philosopher who wrote it said he was swallowed whole, then spat out from the belly of a giant fish, a kūn 鯤, months later. I know, sounds crazy, and yet very familiar. Jonas of course, but also Sinbad, —Pinocchio even… The story’s not new to us.
When he came back, he said it was only to share knowledge. So came his book of encoded instructions.
First instruction he said. You are in a maze, you want to find the center of the maze, and never get lost again while you decide whether or not you still want to explore it.
It kind of struck a chord for some reason. I realized, with all the stories we tell ourselves, they abound, expand in our minds, take roots deeply.
The thought came this morning: if suddenly I’m struck dead, and find myself in my own stories, I would be in a tight spot to escape the whole craziness. I would need a backdoor, a way back, or out.
That’s why its first instruction resonated. It continued. Create your center of your maze. Now. Don’t delay, you may regret it. It must be pure with intent, and tell about who you are in the deepest sense. Engrave the following words around it to seal this pure memory. And put it outside in the world, so that someday when you come back to it, you’ll know.
You have found the Center of Your Maze.
Now, You Know It
And it can never be taken from you again.
I know of a memory of mine I could put in my center. It came very naturally. An illustrated book of stories, mythology to be exact. One of the first books I got, and I can still remember vividly the feeling of entering its world. My parents had given it to me as a gift at a time they had to leave me home alone for a few hours. When they came back, I was still on the same kitchen chair, deeply thrown into the book’s world, feeling like barely a minute had passed.
It was a moment out of time and space. I know it was what being at the center of my maze meant.
I’m grown now, but the feeling is still there. I’m going to put that out some place where I can find it in case I ever get lost again among the shadows of men.
Today was a good day.
It didn’t matter the state of the world, it was all about internal conditions. Those were the ones you could control, and do magic with.
Rukshan was amazed at how quickly the beaver fever had turned the world in loops and strange curves.
Amazingly, magic that was impossible to do for months had suddenly unlocked today. He could suddenly gain again access to his Fae Bank account, despite months of unsuccessful attempts. Other streams of untapped energy had started to reappear. That could only mean one thing.
Maybe it was the time that the Elders had foretold, the time of the Graetaceans also known as the Titanic Ancient Ones. It was said they would come back at a time of great crisis, through networks of tunnels, and emerge in the Great Lakes at the End of the World.
When he’d talked about them to the children, they had jumped in joy and immediately wanted to go and visit them.
Leroway’s decrees were a bit tricky to work around, but he knew of magical carrots and asprotegus crop that would help Glynis make them the perfect recipe for this quest: a protective imperius needs potion to cloak them from the controls.
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…
“You’re back just in time for the fancy dress party, Finnley. Roberto,” she gave him a piercing look as if to say don’t contradict me, “Roberto is going to come as Falla Partland, the well known writer of romances..”
Finnley snorted. “And what are you coming as? One of your long forgotten characters, a neglected thread jumper? A fraught character left dangling on a cliff hanger for months on end? A confused character, wondering what happened to linear time? A frantic character with the still undelivered urgent message?”
“I’ll come as a downtrodden but surprisingly resilient and mouthy subordinate character, who secretly rules the roost,” replied the recurring character with a characteristic smirk.
Roberto turned away to hide his smile, pretending to dust the giraffe bookends. He had been lucky so far in his role as one of her characters. He loved gardening, and had always had a weakness for pink. It could be worse. Much worse.
“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.”
Jerk had been tracking all of it. He’d done a nice map of all the location the both of them had travelled, with little animated pins for the dolls they’d collected.
It was a bit difficult to get them all to focus, and by them he didn’t mean the pins.
After Shawn-Paul and Maeve had come back home, their little lives at the building had resumed with some slight changes. For one, he’d finally realized through some fine deductive work worthy of Sherlock that Maeve was the one behind the dolls postings on his website. He was finally sure after a firewall update got her locked out of the website and she requested to get back in. Anyways, that made things easier, although they still mostly exchanged and discussed though the website despite them being front door neighbours on the same floor. But the arrangement was convenient, especially since Shawn-Paul had kind of unofficially moved in with her and Fabio.
He’d invited them in Lucinda’s apartment to do a little old fashioned slide show —Lucinda’s apartment was bigger he’d argued; and all the funny collection of paraphernalia she’d gathered on the walls and cabinets tops was always great to set the mood or do an improvised theme party. For sure, it didn’t have anything to do with the fact he wouldn’t need to clean up and push all the mess in the corners of his own apartment.
Lucinda was all excited. And not just by her new boyfriend Jasper. She wanted to make a book about their expedition, and everybody had immediately rolled their eyes. Books in this century, she must be the last one dinosaur raving about books.
The slide show started by the end. Where the dolls all ended up finally. La Isla de las Muñecas in Mexico: the Island of Dolls.
That’s when they were all appreciating the fitting finish line that the door bell rang.
“I’m here for Jasper.” he said ominously.
“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.”
“Don’t you realize we’re in trouble June?” April had sobered up quickly. June looked at her suspiciously, it’s been months she suspected April to swap her vodka drinks with plain water to avoid getting drunk.
“June! Are you listening?!”
“Of course I am, stop bawling like that horrid baby, I’m no deaf.”
“Speaking of which, I’m glad we’re rid of them. Leave it to May to handle, or the new maid?”
“What new maid?”
“The one who’s been pillaging your cognac’s stash, I though you knew her?”
“No I don’t. She’s been way too cosy here… you know her? She some of August’s little afternoon delights?”
“Stop with that, you know August is a married man, his wife’s so scary he wouldn’t…”
“Must you always kill the mood April, let me enjoy a little sneaky gossiping.”
“We must go to his last known location, find the boy!”
“Are you kidding? Old South USA? And I thought it couldn’t get worse than Washingtown. And in case you’ve all forgotten, I’m still wanted in so many places, even that splendulous new hairdo isn’t going to hide me forever. And how are we going to hire muscle, genius? As you must have noticed, all his security details have followed Gollump for his impricotment hearings.”
“I had a brainwave.”
“Oh, that’ll be grand, do tell. Are you proposing one of your remove throwing session from your little art club?”
“It’s remote viewing! — and yes,… no! Not yet. I was thinking of his mother, Mellie Noma; she loathes the oaf as much as she loves her spawn. She may lend us some resources.”
“Yeah, right… And you’re going to bribe her with?”
“Oh I have the perfect idea. You know how fashion vane she is.”
June had a realization which turned into a horror face. “No way! Not my pith helmet!!”
“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!”
The more they hounded me to open the letter, the less I wanted to. I just wanted to dig my heels in at first, honestly when nothing ever happens for months and years on end, any little thing out of the ordinary is worth making a meal of. But the longer it went on, the more uneasy I got. What if it was disappointing, somehow? What if there was bad news, or news we didn’t want to hear that we wouldn’t be able to unhear, once we knew? What if it was none of those things and just a few scribbles the child had done, or a hand print? It was like opening a Christmas present with a dozen people looking at your reaction when you open it. What if it was something that didn’t tell you anything? Maybe something quickly tied together in a rush with no particular meaning? Of course that would be a treasure to receive, what with communications being so non existent, but still, it would be an anti climax after all this anticipation. What I wanted, I realized, was the complete story of everything that had happened since we last saw them. I wanted to know all about it.
sorry uncle, whatever wall side leave company
follow thread heat
possibly known months followed morning
So whatever did happen to those two women who went down the mine? Good question!
I can tell you one thing, they hadn’t had the Etruscan flu like the rest of us, and when they finally resurfaced, they had a bit of a shock. They haven’t really recovered yet, they look dazed all the time. They were in good shape when they came out of the mines, don’t ask me how. A bit pale. I don’t know what they’d been eating but they hadn’t lost any weight, and oddly enough all tidy and spanking clean, considering they’d spent months down an old mine. I’d have expected them to be ragged and filthy and emaciated, but they looked better than we did. We were still too sluggish from the flu to ask them what had happened.
We finally figured out what was wrong with everyone, making us all lounge around for weeks on end, or maybe it was months, god knows it went on for a lot longer than our usual bored listless spells. Barely a word passed anyone’s lips for days at a time, and not a great deal of food either. None of us had the will to cook after awhile, and when the hunger pangs roused us, we’d shuffle into the kitchen and shovel down whatever was at hand. A wedge of raw cabbage, or a few spoonfuls of flour, once all the packets of biscuits and crisps had gone, and the pies out of the freezer.
Finley seemed to cope better than anyone, although not up to her usual standard. But she managed to feed the animals and water the tomatoes occasionally, and was good at suggesting improvisations, when the toilet paper ran out for example. The lethargy and slow wittedness of us all was probably remarkable, but we were far too disinterested in everything to notice at the time.
To be honest, it would all be a blank if I hadn’t found that my portable telephone contraption had been taking videos randomly throughout the tedious weeks. It was unsettling to say the least, looking at those, I can tell you.
It started to ease off, slowly: I’d suddenly find myself throwing the ball for the dog, picking up the camera because something caught my eye, I even had a shower one day. I noticed the others now and then seemed to take an interest in something, briefly. We all needed to lie down for a few hours to recover, but we’re all back to normal now. Well I say normal.
Finly looked at some news one day, and it wasn’t just us that had the Etruscan flu, it had been a pandemic. There had hardly been any news for months because nobody could be bothered to do it, and anyway, nothing had happened anywhere. Everyone all over the world was just lounging around, not saying anything and barely eating, not showering, not doing laundry, not traveling anywhere.
And you know what the funny thing is? It’s like a garden of Eden out there now, air quality clean as a whistle, the right weather in all the right places, it’s like a miracle.
And everyone’s slowed down, I mean speeded up since the flu, but slower than before, less frantic. Just sitting on the porch breathing the lovely air and thinking what a fine day it is.
One good thing is that we’re taking showers regularly again.
“Tsk tsk,” said Rukshan when he heard that the carpenter hadn’t done anything yet.
“At least the joiner came and fixed the mirror in the bathroom,” said Fox trying to sound positive.
They were in the kitchen and Glynis was brewing a chicken stew in Margorrit’s old purple clay pot.
Fox seemed distracted with saliva gathering at the corner of his mouth. Rukshan realised it was not the best of places to explain his plan with all the smells and spells of Glynis’ spices.
“Let’s go outside it’ll be best to tell you where we are going,” said Rukshan.
Fox nodded his consent with great effort.
They took the Troll’s path, a sandy track leading in the thick of the forest.
“Are you sure we’ll find him there?” asked Rukshan.
“Trust me,” said Fox pointing at his nose.
“I thought you had abandoned the shapeshifting and using your fox’s smelling sense?”
“Well if you want to know, Olli is quite predictable, he’s always at the Young Maid’s pond.
They arrived at the pond where Olli was sculpting a branch of wood in an undefinable shape. Rukshan had almost a shock when he saw how much little Olli had changed. He was different, almost another person physically. Taller and with a man’s body. It took the Fae some time when he had to tell himself that the person in front of him was the boy that had helped them in the mountain. But Rukshan was not the kind to show many emotions so he just said.
“You’ve grown boy.”
Olli shrugged and stopped what he was doing.
“I’ve heard so,” he said. “She wants more wood?”
“Yeah,” said Fox with a knowing grin.
Olliver sighed and left with supple movements.
When the young man was gone, Fox turned towards the Fae, whose eyes seemed lost in the misty mountains.
“So, what is the plan?”
“I’m thinking of a new plan that shall make use of everyone’s potential and save a young man from boredom.”
The old secrets are going to get me in the end. But you know what, it’s still better than choking on the goddamn lizard’s stew.
I tried to protect the family from all the bloody secrets, but they’re working against me, Dodo for one, who doesn’t like secrets, the sweet twat. Time is against me too.
Of course I didn’t want to sell the Inn, even if it wasn’t for what’s hidden there, and all the secret entrances to the old mines, it was still Abby’s legacy. Her mother had to endure that sorry abusive husband of hers for years, it’s only fair she got something in return. The bastard didn’t know it, but the best thing in his life, his daughter Abscynthia wasn’t even his, she was mine. In the end, I’m glad she buggered off this town, her so-called “disparition” that made everyone run in circles for months. For her own sake, wherever she is now, she was better off.
Only probably Mater knows now about our crazy ties, and she’ll take this secret to her grave I’m sure. But I still want to take care of my grand children, the little buggers. Even had founded that smartass Prune for her dreams of university. Good for her.
All those sudden booking at the Inn? Don’t trust ‘em. Be here for the spiritual voodoo is one thing, but me, can’t fool me with that. The package, it never arrived. I’m sure it’s no coincidence, they’re onto us.
And they’re here for one thing.
The chests of gold.
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.
Fox had been out hunting wild geese for their diner.
He came back after sunset with three of them, golden. Glynis was sweeping the autumn leaves from the new terrace under the light of fireflies, an endless task. Fox handed her the golden geese.
“They look so beautiful, and so peaceful,” she said, “look at those golden feathers.”
“They are dead,” said Fox with a hint of bitterness. “I’m not plucking them”, he added with a frown.
“I know”, said Glynis. She looked at him with a puzzled look. “Come closer into the light,” she asked him. The fireflies also came closer as if they obeyed her. He came, trying to keep his head down. She touched the bruises on his forehead and tsked. He shivered with pain. “You’ve been fighting again.”
He said nothing. Instead he looked at the patio. The little rainbows were playing around Gorrash’s statue. Despite the sun being set, it was rock still. It had been broken during an attack by Leroway’s men. The shaman had tried to glue the pieces together and Fox had believed she could revive him. But it had remained still for months.
“I miss him too,” said Glynis. “But I’m sure he’s still there inside, or the little rainbows would not stay.”
“You know, a few months ago I would have believed you,” he started, “but it’s been months and nothing has changed.” Fox felt suddenly angry, at nothing and at everything. Anger was better than sadness or pain. But he didn’t want to hurt her so he grunted and walked into the house with the geese and without another word.
“Take your pills dear, you’re starting to sound like an old crone again. I think I’ve seen the little girl they speak about, Nesingwarys. She’s in the same class as Tak; with a name like this, hard to forget. Anyway, I’m also not sure what we are doing in this tavern. Wait! Now I remember” Glynnis leaned towards Eleri with an ironic smile on her face “it’s because you said you had a clue there was something fishy happening here. Always fancied yourself the knight in shiny armor, defender of the widow and the orphan, or simply enjoying sleuthing, I couldn’t really figure it out.” She stopped to catch her breath. The gin tonic from the tavern seemed to make her more prolix that she was used to.
It was also a rare occasion for her to travel to the nearby city for other than groceries and school matter for Tak.
They had rebuilt the cottage in the past few months, but it had been a long and painful process. Parts of it lacked convenience; the loo was still a hole in a ground in the garden. At least she was happy the back and forth trips to the blacksmith and the carpenter were over. Mostly now the joiner was a pain. He’d sent a telebat last day again that his cart had been impounded and not a few hours later, that he’d broken his hand with a hammer. She could swear he was making those excuses on the fly and meanwhile, they were all missing a modern and convenient loo. And there were only so many fragrant oils one could use…
“Look, now who’s the boring one! OK, OK, but before we go back, we still have this letter to deliver Margoritt in the city. Let’s go.”
“Funny how time goes or seem to not exist at all, when you are popping in and out” mused Granola.
It felt a few seconds since she’d left the sheen of Ferrore wrappings, but with her mind racing in all sorts of places, she’d somehow would appear in another tranche of life months apart from the last sequence she was in.
Truth be told, she had almost forgotten about the past circumstances, or how the story was unfolding, like waking up from a dream, and barely remembering the threads of the night’s activity all the while knowing you were totally absorbed by them a few blips of consciousness ago.
If she’d learnt something, that was to go with the flow, and start from where she was. Clues would light the way…
Since they’d moved him (promoted, they said) to the new store in the posh suburbs, Jerk’s job had taken a turn for the worse. One thing was clear, they put him in charge because they had clearly no idea who to put there.
He’d liked enough that the thing basically was running itself, and he didn’t have much pressure to perform for now. But honestly, these parts of the city were much less exotic to say the least. More drones consumers, bored mums, noisy kids, all day long…
With the new schedules and the commute, it wasn’t as easy to have a social life; not that he cared too much, but he’d started to bond a bit with the funny neighbors some time ago. With the return of summer, he was thinking of having a rooftop party at their appartment’s building, but for some mysterious reason, time was passing without having even set a day for the event.
“Less planning, more doing”, something said in his ear, or so he thought.
“Couldn’t agree more” he said, taking his bag discreetly as he made an early exit for the day.
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