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  • #5674
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    “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.”

    #5585
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Aunt Idle:

    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.

    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Pitch: June and April are two au pair middle-aged ladies with a penchant for lavish parties and copious drinking, who after being sacked from many places due to their poor manners and laisser-aller in their duties, have finally landed a dream job at the Washingtown Beige House, to take care of the often vacant whereabouts of the Lump Family, and chiefly of their baby Barron, the pride of Pres. Lump. The pay is nice, so long as they keep the Boss happy.
    Their main concerns are the Indian maid Noor Mary (Norma) Chowdhury, who has a PhD in Social Studies, but has had difficulties finding a better job, and doesn’t see too well the intrusion of the new staff. They also have to deal with August, the chief of staff, who collects golf balls and pewter memorabilia from the Civil War.
    They are unaware, but there biggest trial yet to come is a dangerous Mexican cartel on their way to kidnap baby Barron…

    June felt like excitement, while April was more modestly quiet, currently absorbed in reading with horror the news about the fires; April had a sister there, married to an Australian and very fundamental Christian in her beliefs. Over the years, they’d stopped being able to communicate… Crazy to think about all the fires down there — and by down there, she didn’t mean down there, but rather down “down there.” Actually, it was a long time since there had been any fires there, if she didn’t count the last infection…

    “Hold that thought…” June interrupted, while sipping her cognac. It was medicinal, she kept repeating to nobody in particular but herself, Back Blossom infusions to calm her nerves. They had to be kept in something, so why not cognac. “You did mention something about a party tonight? But what are we going to do about the baby?”

    April did ponder for a second but the response was actually obvious. “Don’t worry about baby Barron, we’ll instruct the dog to keep guard, and I’ll put an EyeWatch on his wrist with your number on speed dial in case anything happens.”

    “Brilliant! I wonder why I didn’t think of it myself. Let’s get ready. Really, that family is a blessing; never on our backs, always travelling everywhere, leaving us partying to all the fancy places in Washingtown. Sure, the only bother is to take care of these pesky kids.”

    “True. All the maids and au pairs in the neighbourhood make for a good network. It’s a nice life.” April pondered and added. Although the Boss is a bit lewd, if you tell me.”

    “Really? With his orange face and his five orders of periwigs?” June sounded surprised, and a bit disappointed not to have been able to notice.

    “But the one we should really worry about is the maid, if you ask me. Good thing the boss can’t understand her English, otherwise she would have ratted us out long ago.”

    June smiled mischievously. “Oh, but she better watch her six this one, you’ll leave her to me.”

    #5055
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Aunt Idle:

    Oddly enough, I was optimistic about the new year. First of all, it was novel to even realize it was a new year.  And what a tonic it was to have Finly back!   And not just because of the dusting, although it was a pleasure to see a bit of sparkle about the place where she’d spruced things up.  Even Mater had a new spring in her step. She said it was the chocolates, one a day she said was better than any vitamins. I’d eaten all mine the day Sanso and Finly and the others had arrived (and regretted it) but Mater had hidden her box to savour them slowly and secretly.  I remarked to her more than once that she should have the decency to wipe the chocolate off her lips before coming downstairs, gloating because all mine were gone.  But it was nice to see her happy.

    It was a funny thing with chocolate, I’d forgotten all about it. It wasn’t like I’d spent years craving it, and yet when I unwrapped (gift wrapped! oh, the memories!) the box Sanso gave me, it all came flooding back. I popped one in my mouth and closed my eyes, savouring the slow melt, ecstatic at the way it enveloped me in it’s particular sweet charm.

    I felt so sick afterwards though that I was left with the thought that there was something to be said for a simple life with few opportunities for indulgence.  I hadn’t felt that sick since the plague.

    I was glad I’d worn that old red dress when Sanso arrived, and just a little disappointed when he left before my seduction plans reached fruition.  I did try, but he had a knack of dematerializing whenever I got close enough to make a move. Disconcerting it was, but it kept me on my toes. Literally, in those high heeled red shoes.  I twisted my ankle on the damn things and been limping ever since. Oh but it was worth it.

    And the champagne! I asked Sanso where he found it and he said that was Finly’s work, she’s got it from the water larks.

    Finly! What water larks, where? Did you see…? I was almost afraid to ask. Had she seen the twins?

    Yes, she said, with a smug and enigmatic smile. But that’s a story for later, she said.  Maddening creature that she is, she still hasn’t told me about it. She will when she’s finished cleaning, she said.

    #4854
    FloveFlove
    Participant

    “Nothing injured here,” said Agent X brushing himself down. “What is your status, Agent V?”

    “Hunky dory.” She extricated her tee shirt from a branch and inspected a deep red scrape on her arm. Her eyes circled the small clearing in which they had landed. If landed isn’t too grand a word.

    “Lots of trees,” she said.

    Agent X started heading towards a particularly dense area of bush. “This way to destination D,” he said brightly. “No time to lose.”

    I wonder what I ever saw in him,” mused V. Although he does have quite a nice butt.

    They had only trekked a few hundred meters when Agent X stopped abruptly. “Shush,” he whispered, holding his finger to his lips. “Do you hear something?”

    #4837
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Liz was not pleased about the latest insubordinate action of those plotting against her. Fashion choices indeed! She had been sorting out her wardrobe, having to do it all herself because of Finnley’s latest scam to take time off, putting away the summery things and bringing out the clothes for the coming cooler weather.

    She’d had the usual little thrill at seeing familiar old favourites, clothes that she’d felt comfortable and happy in for many years. It would be unthinkable to throw them out, like tossing out an old friend just because they were getting wrinkled and saggy, or fat in the wrong places.

    Liz prided herself on her thoughtfulness about the environment when making her “fashion” choices, always choosing second hand items. She liked to think they already had a little of their own history, and that they appreciated being rescued. She abhorred the trends that the gullible lapped up when she saw them looking ridiculous in unflattering unsuitable clothes that would be clearly out of fashion just as they were starting to look pleasantly worn in.

    Warming to the theme, Liz recalled some of the particularly useless garments she’d seen over the years. Woolly polo neck sweaters that were sleeveless, for example. In what possible weather would one wear such a thing, without either suffering from a stifling hot neck, or goose flesh arms? High heeled shoes was another thing. The evidence was clear, judging by the amount of high heeled shoes in immaculate only worn once condition that littered the second hand markets. Nobody could walk in them, and nobody wanted them. Oddly enough though, people were still somehow persuaded to buy more and more new ones. Maybe one day in the future, collectors would have glass fronted cabinets, full of antique high heeled shoes. Or perhaps it would baffle future archaeologists, and they would guess they had been for religious or ritual purposes.

    Liz decided to turn the tables on this new character, Alessandro. She would give him a lesson or two on dress sense. The first thing she would tell him was that labels are supposed to be worn on the inside, not the outside.

    “One doesn’t write “Avon” in orange make up on one’s face, dear, even if it’s been seen in one of those shiny colourful publications,” Liz said it kindly so as not to rile him too much. “One doesn’t write “Pepto Dismal” in pink marker pen upon ones stomach.”

    Alessandro glanced at Finnley, who avoided catching his eye. He cleared his throat and said brightly, “I’ve organized a shopping trip, Liz! Come on, let’s go!”

    “While you’re out, I’ll see what Liz has thrown out, so I can cut it up for dolls clothes,” Fnnley said, to which Liz retorted, “I have thrown nothing out.” Liz cut Finnley short as she protested that Liz didn’t wear most of it anyway. “Yes, but I might, one day.”

    Turning to Alessandro, she said “Although I’m a busy woman, I will come shopping with you, my boy. You clearly need some pointers,” she added, looking at his shoes.

    #4823
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    Bugger them all then, Lucinda said to herself, I’ll carry on here without them.

    For a time she had been despondent at being abandoned, sinking into an aching overcast gloom to match the weather. Waiting for it to rain, and then waiting for it to stop.

    On impulse, in an attempt to snap out of the doldrums, she signed up for a Creative Writing and Rambling course at the local Psychic Self Institute. Institutionalizing psychic matters had been the brainchild of the latest political party to gain power, and hitherto under the radar prophets, healers and remote viewers had flocked to sign up. The institute has promised pension and public health credits to all members who could prove their mental prowess, and needless to say it had attracted many potential scammers: useless nobodies who wanted to heal their diseases, or lazy decrepit old scroungers who wanted to retire.

    Much to everyone’s surprise, not least their own, the majority of them had passed the tests, simply by winging it: making it up and hoping for the best. Astonishingly the results were more impressive than the results from the already established professional P.H.A.R.T.s ~ (otherwise known as Prophets, Healers and Remote Technicians).

    This raised questions about the premise of the scheme, and how increasingly difficult it was to establish a criteria for deservingness of pensions and health care, particularly if any untrained and unregistered Tom, Dick or Harry was in possession of superior skills, as appeared to be the case. The debate continues to this day.

    Nothwithstanding, the Institute continued to offer courses, outings and educational and inspiring talks. The original plan had been to offer qualifications, but the entrance exams had provoked such a quandary about the value and meaning (if any) of qualifications, that the current modus operandi was to simply offer each member, regardless of merit or experience, a simple membership card with a number on it. It was gold coloured and had classical scrolls and lettering on it in an attempt to bestow worth and meaning. Nobody was fooled, but everyone loved it.

    And everyone loved the tea room at the Institute. It was thought that some cake aficionado’s had even joined the Institute merely for the desserts, but nobody objected. There was a welcome collective energy of pleasure, appreciation and conviviality in the tea room, and it’s magnetic appeal ~ and exceptional cakes ~ ensured it’s popularity and acclaim.

    A small group had started a campaign to get it placed on the Institutes Energetic Cake Connector mapping programme. As Lucinda had said in a moment of clarity, “A back street bar can be just as much of an energy magnet as an old stone relic”, casting doubt over the M.O.S.S group’s (Mysterious Old Stone Sites) relevance to anything potentially useful.

    “In fact,” Lucinda continued, surprising herself, ““I’ve only just realized that the energy magnets aren’t going to be secret, hidden and derelict. They’re going to be busy. Like cities.”

    Several members of the M.O.S.S group had glared at her.

    Lucinda hadn’t really thought much about what to expect in the creative writing classes.

    #4800
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Ed Steam had called for a strategic team meeting this morning.
    He looked at his pocket watch. It was only a queerter to thriety, which meant they were all late, as usual. True that time was notoriously difficult to read in these alternate dimensions, but this particular dimension had been fairly stable since Bea was taking her homeopathic pills, keeping her sneezing fits under control, and all their identities rather clear.

    The next mission required a two pronged approach, with one part of the action on the Pacific Island where another doll was to be revealed, and the other at the Doctor’s lair.

    The Australian tunnels were still under observation, in case the murlocks that were crawling there would be awoken by the blunderous adventurers that had gone investigating.

    Frooteen past thriety. They wouldn’t come now. He probably shouldn’t have left the organization of the meeting to Aqua Luna.

    He looked at the next item on his agenda. “Interdimensional call to Miss Bossy.”

    True, he had to get her update on her investigation into the Doctor’s history. That would surely reveal clues as to his current whereabouts.

    #4792
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    The Doctor was at times confused about his own plan. Well, most of the time if felt clear and perfectly diabolical, and he could easily understand why at times lesser minds could get confused about the twists and turns —and to those lesser minds, it would usually suffice to say “don’t worry, it’s all part of the Plan.” It was difficult to properly phrase the sentence so that the Plan doesn’t get too easily confused with any plan. But he was expert in conveying that it wasn’t a mere plan.

    After having tried and used old or elaborate devices beyond known technology like alleged alien crystal skulls to outcomes of various satisfaction in the past, he’d realized that those so called AI technologies were a silent gangrene for the mind. By becoming more tech-savvy, people lost their savoir and their savour by relying too much on external support. People were becoming malleable, predictable, and replaceable.

    His bloody assistant was a sad testament to the downward evolution humanity was rushing towards. It was a strange and sad irony, that by enhancing their ineptitude, he was actually working to the perfection of the human race.

    “Ah yes! Evolution!” That was his legacy, and he was of course profoundly misunderstood.

    This whole sad business with the chase after the dolls and the keys and the remote control of magpies, and the psychic blasts, beauty treatments and Barbara enhancements, all that made sense once you showed it in the proper light. These were the catalyst to the real and interesting events. The ones which mattered.

    It all started after the Army got him out of his prison rot in exchange for his work on some special science experiments. Top-secret, evidently. His handler, a certain nobody by the name of Fergus, was assigning him the experiments.
    While he was dutifully working on his assigned projects, he quickly realized that he was given vast funding which would have taken him more time to gather on his own, so he did his part, all while experimenting and honing his skills. Clearly, the Army lacked any vision beyond the confines of “find a better way to torture, maim or kill mass amount of individuals.” Primates. Luckily, their experiments with remote control, brainwashing, and body modelage were less gory than the average science experiments, and far more into his own area of expertise.

    It took him 5 years to escape. This plan (a smaller plan, part of the Plan which had not yet fully hatched at the time) — this plan for an escape started to form when Fergus let slip important bits of information, which seemed insignificant taken in isolation, but meant a whole new area of discoveries when put together by a brilliant mind like his own.
    Fergus started to gloat about securing some secrets as a blackmail or fail-safe policy in case the Army’s “hired help” misbehaved. This part was known for a long time, it was what was called our ‘retirement plan’ in the contract we signed. What was more peculiar was when he started to let details slip about the method. All thanks to little doses of hypnotic potion in spiked shared drinks, courtesy of the Doctor. It seemed clear that this elaborate scheming of keys and dolls was child’s play and nothing particularly genius, however what was more interesting was when Fergus started to realize that the dolls his niece had made somehow matched certain persons of interest without her conscious knowing. There was a deeper mystery to be cracked, and even Fergus wondered if the Army had not tempered with his family genetics to induce certain characteristics or something of the like. Well, all ramblings of a simpleton you would say, but maybe it wasn’t.
    After all these searches to externalize certain abilities of the mind, the Doctor was starting to get fascinated by people exhibiting these qualities naturally.

    The appearance of this strange red crystal seems to confirm these doubts. There are untapped forces at play, and maybe doors that could be opened.

    Barbara suddenly irrupted into the room “Our guests are coming, just received a text!”

    The Doctor sighed thinking some doors should remain closed.

    #4786
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Shawn-Paul was quizzing Maeve who remained silent as a dignified statue of old, full of inscrutable enigma.

    “Come on Maeve, you know you can trust me. These secrets are killing me! It’s not like I’m going to write them immediately in my book you know. Believe me I’d like to, but I’m probably going to procrastinate anyway, so telling me is like going to a priest, your Uncle’s secrets are going to be safe.”

    She chuckled against her will. There was something endearing in the awkwardness of Shawn-Paul, and if anything he’d been a complete gentleman throughout their stay in the shabby Inn.

    She didn’t trust the paper-thin walls however. And especially after the incident where they all blacked out, she wasn’t sure whom to trust. Some of the guests had disappeared too. Highly suspicious.

    She’d decided to pack early. She’d found out later after the accident that her Uncle had managed to slip 2 new coupons for their next destination. One extra, in case she wanted to bring someone in.

    Two tickets, each one way to Tikfijikoo. Most probably the way to a second doll and its key.

    She wondered why it was at all important, she knew all the dolls and what they looked like. She’d made them!

    She realized, looking back at the doll she’d managed to steal back from Lucinda, that this particular doll… was not at all imaginary! She had in fact been standing right in front of her all along these past days before leaving off to the mines and disappearing with Mr Sanso: It was a spitting likeness of Ms Idle, the dry drunk hostess of the Inn!

    It seems… It was folly to imagine, but… Did she have the power to activate these dolls she’d made, and somehow materialize them?!

    She had to be sure.

    “Pack your bags, SP, and meet me in the lobby in ten minutes. The cab is picking us up to our next destination. Maybe you’ll get your novel done after all”, she added, with a wink.

    #4756
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    “Maybe we shouldn’t have skipped that welcome lunch” Continuity said to her friend.

    “Nonsense, Connie. We go and report where the heat of the action is, and something tells me, it’s nowhere near this crumbling dusty Inn anyway.”

    “Oh, right, it’s just as I thought Hilda, but our guest might have found it rude and all.”

    “Bollocks, Dido wouldn’t mind, after all she was the one to drop clues like water from a puzzle jug, talking about underground dinosaurs’ pyramids near the old mines and all that.”

    “Technically, and you know how particular I am about details, it wasn’t Dido though, it was that old fossile of Bert that dropped all the clues, clearly out of earshot from Did’. Kind of suspiciously too… Maybe he wanted us to have the real stuff, throw everyone else off the scent. But yeah, you just might be right…”

    “Of course I’m bloody right. When have I ever been anything else than right, Connie. Now, follow me, the old mines entrance shouldn’t be far now.”

    #4754
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    “Look” Fox said to Glynis, not a little proud of his accomplishment.

    The frame now hanged above the missing toilet seat was already giving the privy a little more cosy look. Of course, the smell of the room with the open hole was still making his nose wrinkle inwards, but the framed dried roses were a nice touch.
    He was particularly happy about the clever no-nail solution he’d found. Crushing together two spiky caterpillars and sticking them at both sides of the back of the frame — it kept the frame stuck nicely, and it could be re-positioned and readjusted to be perfectly level.

    Lost in admiration of his work, he was dragged out of his thoughts by a thunderous sneeze.

    “Good flovious! That flu looks nasty Glynis, you should get some rest, dear.”

    Glynis almost rip-snotted her kerchief in half while blowing her nose.

    “But who will do all the cleaning?” she asked plaintively.

    #4747

    In reply to: The Stories So Near

    EricEric
    Keymaster

    WHERE ARE THEY ALL NOW ? 🗻

    a.k.a. the map thread, and because everything happens now anyway.

    POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])

    🌀 [map link] – KELOWNA, B.C., CANADA

    It looks like our group of friends live in Canada, Kelowna.

    Kelowna is a city on Okanagan Lake in the Okanagan Valley in the southern interior of British Columbia, Canada. The name Kelowna derives from an Okanagan language term for “grizzly bear”. The city’s motto: “Fruitful in Unity”

    Interestingly, Leörmn the dragon from the Doline may have visited from time to time : Ogopogo / Oggie / Naitaka

    FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])

    Though very off the beaten track, the Flying Fish Inn may be located near a location that was a clue left as a prank by Corrie & Clove on the social media to lure conspiracy theorists to the Inn.
    🔑 ///digger.unusually.playfully

    It seems to link to a place near documented old abandoned mines.

    🌀 [map link]  – SOME PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF AUSTRALIA, OFF ARLTUNGA ROAD

    DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)

    This one is a tricky geographical conundrum, since the Doline is a multi-dimensional hub. It connects multiple realities and places though bodies of water, with the cave structure (the Doline) at its center, a world on its own right, where talking animals and unusual creatures are not uncommon.

    It has shown to connect places in the Bayou in Louisiana, where Albie & Mandrake went to see the witch, as well as the coastal area of Australia, where they emerged next in their search for Arona.

    At the center of the Doline is a mysterious dragon named Leörmn, purveyor of precious traveling pearls and impossible riddles. We thus may infer possible intersection points in our dimension, such as 🔑 ///mysterious.dragon.riddle a little North of Hawaii, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

    However, the inside of the Doline would look rather like Phong Nha-Ke Bang gigantic cave in Vietnam.

    NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)

    It is not very clear where our favourite investigative team is located. They are likely to be near an urban area with a well-connected international airport, given their propensity for impromptu traveling, such as in Iceland and Australia.

    For all we know, they could be settled in Germany: 🔑 ///newspapers.gone.crazy
    or Denmark 🔑 ///publish.odds.news

    As for the Doctor, we strongly suspect his current hideout to be also revealed when searching from his signature beautification prescription that has made him famous in connoisseur circles: 🔑 ///beauty.treatment.shot at the frontier of Sweden and Finland.

    LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)

    We don’t really know where the story happens; for that, one would need to dive into Liz’s turbulent past, and that would confound the most sane individual, starting with keeping count of her past husbands.

    As a self-made powerful best-selling writer, we could guess she would take herself to be the JK Rowling of the Unplotted Booker Prize, and thus would be a well-traveled British uptart, sorry upstart, with a fondness for mansions with character and gardeners with toned glutes. Of course, one would need the staff.

    DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)

    This story happens in another completely different dimension, but it can be interesting to explore some of its unusual geography.

    The World revolved around a central axis, and different worlds stacked one upon the other, with the central axis like an elevator.

    We know of

    • the World of Humans, where most of the story takes place
    • the world of Gods, above it, which has been sealed off, and where most Gods disappeared in the old ages
    • Under these two, the world of Giants exists, still to be explored.

    At the intersection of the central axis of the world and the human world, radiates the Heartwood, a mystical forest powered by the Gem of Creation which has been here since the Dawn of Times, and is a intricate maze, and a dimension in itself. It had grown around itself different woods and glades and forests, with various level of magical properties meant to repel intruders or lesser than Godlike beings.

    The Fae dimension is a particular dimension which exists parallel to the Human World, accessible only to Elder Faes, and where the race originated, and is now mostly deserted, as Faes’ magic waning with the encroachment of humans into the Forest, most have chosen to live in the Forests and try and protect them.

    #4746
    TracyTracy
    Participant

    The sense of being left behind had deflated Lucinda. Everyone off having adventures, and here she was left minding the dog. She liked the dog, but not the feeling of missing out on the excitement, and the clues she received were few and far between.

    “Come on, Fabio,” she said, and the little dog looked up expectantly and wagged his tail. “Let’s go for a walk down by the river. We can pick up some granola cookies on the way back.”

    It was a particularly muggy day and not ideal for a long walk. She felt listless and heavy in the humid air. Before walking very far at all along the riverside promenade, she felt clammy and tired, and found a bench under a shady tree to sit on. Fabio cocked his head to one side and looked at her. Lucinda closed her eyes for a few moments, and started to admonish herself for her lack lustre and frankly boring state. “Buck up, for Pete’s sake!” she told herself, but was interrupted by Fabio’s frantic barking and pullling at the lead.

    A man on stilts was coming towards them, wearing long shiny trousers in black and white vertical stripes. Lucinda started at him openly, somewhat shaken, but curious. She could have sworn she’d seen him in a dream the night before.

    The peace shattering sound of a loud motor boat engine intruded into the scene, and when Lucinda looked back to the stilted man in stripes, he’d vanished. The sound of the outboard motor receded as the boat disappeared around a curve in the river; the waves it created splashing on the river banks long after it had disappeared.

    #4725
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    A wild eyed crow was cawing relentlessly since the wee hours of the dawn.
    Nothing much had moved since everyone arrived at the Inn, and in contrast with the hot days, the cool night had sent everyone shivering under the thin woolen blankets that smelled of naphthalene.
    Deep down, Bert was glad to see the old Inn come back to life, even if for a little while. He was weary of the witch though. She wouldn’t be here without some supernatural mischief afoot.
    He glanced in the empty hall, putting his muddy pair of boots outside, not to incur the fury of Finly. He almost started calling to see if anybody was home, but thought better of it. Speaking of the devil, Finly was already up and busy at the small kitchen stove, and had done some outstanding croissants. In truth, despite all her flaws, he liked her; she was a capable lady, although never big on sweet talks. No wonder she and Mater did get along well.
    Bert started to walk along the hall towards the hangar, where he knew old cases where stored, one with a particular book that he needed. It was hard to guess what would happen next. He found the book, that was hidden on the side of the case, and scratched his head while smiling a big wide grin.
    He was feeling alive with the kind of energy that could be a poor advisor were his mind not sharp as a gator’s tooth.

    The book had a lot of gibberish in it, like it was written in a sort of automatic writing. For some reason, after the termite honey episode, Idle had started to collect odd books, and she was starting to see spy games hidden in the strangest patterns.
    Despite being a lazy pothead, the girl was smart, though. Some of her books were codes.

    Bert’s had his fair run with those during his early years in the military. So he’d hidden the most dangerous ones that Idle had unwittingly found, so that she and the rest of the family wouldn’t run into trouble.
    Most of the time, she’d simply forget about having bought or bargained for them, but in some cases, there was a silly obsession with her that rendered her crazy about some of those books. Usually the girls, especially the twins, would get the blame for what was thought a child’s prank. Luckily her anger wouldn’t last long.

    This book though was a bit different. Bert had never found the coding pattern, nor the logic about it. And some bits of it looked like it talked about the Inn. “Encoded pattern from the future”, “remote viewing from the past”, Idle’s suggestions would have run wild with imaginative solutions. Maybe she was onto something…

    He looked a two bits, struck by some of the parts:

    The inn had been open for a long time before any of the tenants had come, and it had been full of people once it had been full all day long.
    She had gone back after a while and opened up the little room for the evening and people could be seen milling about.
    The rest of the tenants had remained out on their respective streets and were quiet and peaceful.
    ‘So it’s the end of a cold year.’
    The woman with golden hair and green eyes seemed to have no intention of staying in the inn as well; she was already preparing for the next year.
    When the cold dawn had started to rise the door to the inn had been open all night long. The young man with red hair sitting on a nearby bench had watched a few times before opening his eyes to see the man that had followed him home.

    There was a young red hair boy that had arrived. He was curious as to the man following.

    The other random bit talked about something else. Like a stuff of nightmares. And his name was on it.

    The small girl stood beside him, still covered with her night clothes. She felt naked by the side of the road. There was nothing else to do.
    In the distance, Bert could faintly hear the howling of the woods, as two large, black dogs pounced, their jaws ready to tear her to pieces. The young girl stared in wonder and fear before the dog, before biting it, then she was gone. She ran off through the bushes. “Ah…” she whispered to herself. “Why am I not alive?” She thought to herself: this is all I need.
    If I am here, they’ll kill or hurt my kids. They won’t miss me for nothing.
    She ran the last few kilometers to her little cottage; not long after, Bert heard the sound of the forest. He was glad it was.

    Maybe the witch was not here for nothing after all.

    #4723
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    “Isn’t hoarding for rainy days same as flouting the rules?” Godfrey wondered, more to himself than for anybody in particular.

    “It’s not technically hoarding if you make it count; and stop arguing, and just eat your damn goober already.”

    Considering splitting it in two to make more of it, Godfrey resigned himself to be done with the last arachis hypogaea.

    While his brain rushed with endorphins as he was munching on the monkey nut, he realized what Finnley had meant by the Inspector knowing too much.

    “Wait! Of course, you’re talking about Liz’ no spoilers policy! Should we activate the contingency plan? And where is Roberto?”

    #4714
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Fourty four hours and 3 stopovers later, Maeve was glad to have arrived at Alice Springs airport. It was fun to see that the further she went, the smallest the aircraft became. Until it wasn’t too funny, and got almost downright scary with the last small propeller plane, that shook so much it seemed out of an old Indiana Jones movie, sans flying chicken.
    The airport was quaint and small, the way she liked, with a passageway shaded by large swathes of fabric reminiscent of Seville’s streets. The air was surprisingly fresh, and she wondered if she’d been too optimistic about the weather and her choice of clothes, considering it was still winter down here.
    While she was waiting at the luggage belt, she discreetly observed the other waiting people.
    Uncle Fergus always said she had to be observant. Besides, she had a natural eye for details.

    Apart from the few Crocodile Dundees that screamed tourists who were waiting for their oversized luggage, she could spot a few out-of-place people. One in particular, that seemed to have followed the very same route since the first layover in Vancouver. Too strange a coincidence, and the fellow was too unassuming too.

    Maeve! MAH-EH-VEH” She jumped at the sounds. Almost didn’t recognized her own name, if she hadn’t recognized her neighbour’s voice first, and his peculiar way to pronounce it like she was a precious wahine.

    Shawn-Paul?! What on earth are you doing here?” She frowned at him “Have you been stalking me?”
    “No, no! It’s not like that! I’ve received those funny-looking coupons, you see…”
    “What? You too?”

    Now, a second person following on her tracks even through a different combination of flights was more than a coincidence. It meant danger was afoot.

    “Shouldn’t we carpool? I looked up the trail to the inn, it’s a long drive and by the looks of it, not at all too safe for a lone woman travelling.”

    Maeve shrugged. That may keep the other creep off her trail. “I don’t mind, but if you insist on being so chivalrous, you’re paying for the taxi.”
    Before he could say anything, she handed him her piece of luggage to carry.

    #4697
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    During summer, activity was slow at the mall in Kelowna, BC, so Jerk had a little more time to check on his other pastimes. Interestingly there seemed to be a lot of unusual activity on the findmydolls group.

    He was also tinkering with a home brewed AI, and launched the program.

    “Trancie are you awake?”
    “Did I fall asleep?” the AI answered back.
    “For a little while, yes. Trancie, analyse logs from findmystuff website, check group findmydolls.”
    “A moment. A moment. A moment. Analysis complete. Activity spike 57.21% increase.”

    This was quite unusual, but he wasn’t sure were to look. He looked at his administrator box, in case another message had required moderation. The filters triggers were not too sensitive, so there wasn’t a lot of messages.

    One in particular had triggered the system.

    “Trancie, read message in moderation queue #5363.”
    You need to come for information. Am sending you tickets and instructions for hotspot, so it won’t cost you a bomb. hashtag flagged for terror threat. D for Destroy, A for Approve.”

    That was obviously amateur work, Jerk thought. Criminals nowadays were much more careful.

    “Trancie, Approve.”

    Another thought crossed his mind.

    “Trancie, plot past month activity by geolocation on mapearth.com”

    It took a few minutes to refine the query so he could check the heatmap, and remove the background noise.

    The last messages all seemed to concentrate in the middle of nowhere in Australia.

    “How odd. So glad I’m not an investigative journalist, that place must be crawling with nasty things, scaly and poisonous and downright deadly.”

    Interestingly, a second point on the map was close to Kelowna. Actually, although it could just be narrowed down to a 5 kilometer radius, it looked ominously close to where he lived.

    Shivers started to run down his spine. Maybe he’d just stumbled onto a dangerous conspiracy. Dolls could be a code word for horrible things, possibly even human trafficking.

    He closed the laptop suddenly, his mind racing. What if they were onto him? He struggled for a moment with the urge to destroy his laptop and burn down the place and disappear off the grid, but he remembered he needed to breathe, so his rational mind could be oxygenated and think properly.

    “I may be a tad on the paranoid side.”
    But it ain’t paranoia, if they are trying to get you.

    He looked around. He was already as close as possible to off-the-grid without vanishing out of society. The place was deserted, and only a janitor was roaming the place mindlessly on his cleaning car. There was zero chance he could be a target.

    Yet.

    “Oh shut up!” he exclaimed out loud.

    He was intrigued by the mystery, but for now, he wanted to let it play out. He needed more data points to have Trancie plot a heuristic pattern. Well, to make sense of it, while he was working on her personality.

    #4695
    AvatarJib
    Participant

    The note had troubled Maeve. It was different than the one Shawn Paul received, not only because it was handwritten and very long, but also because it implied someone, potentially even several groups, were after the dolls and the keys.
    “You have to retrieve them,” the note eventually said, “and use the clues they hide to find the important people they protect.”

    There was no signature, but it sounded so much like uncle Fergus, oddly wordy and mysterious. Was he still alive after all this time? Did he still ride his Harley?

    Maeve’s first thought after the surprise was that she needed someone to take care of Fabio. The next thought felt like a brilliant idea. Lucinda. Maeve would go ask her to take care of Fabio during her vacation to Australia and would use that opportunity to spirit away the doll. She had the intuition she might need it afterwards.

    So she prepared her luggage and cuddled Fabio who knew he wouldn’t be part of the trip.
    “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I need you to keep that sad face of yours when we go see Lucinda.” In response, Fabio wiggled his tail happily and tried to lick Maeve’s face. “No! Keep the face,” she mimicked what she thought was a sad face.

    After all was packed she went to Lucinda’s with Fabio and her luggage.
    “I’m sorry, I’m going on a trip and I need someone to take care of Fabio,” Maeve said. As she had imagined Lucinda was moved by Fabio’s look and couldn’t refuse to take car of him.
    “Of course! He’ll be well treated here with my new parrot.”
    Huhu,” said the colourful bird.
    “I think it comes from New Zealand,” said Lucinda. “It flew in yesterday and had not left ever since despite me not putting it into a cage, so I’m buying it food. It seems particularly fond of that doll I told you about the other day.”
    Indeed, the parrot was on the sofa, trying to open the doll’s head. That’s when Fabio jumped and tried to catch the bird. He clearly didn’t like it and the parrot flew away to a higher ground on an old grannies’ Welsh dresser, making a few glasses and china fall down in an awful breaking noise. Lucinda tried to catch the bird or the china or Fabio, but could do neither of the three.

    Seizing that as an opportunity, Maeve put the doll in her messenger bag.
    “I don’t want to bother you longer, I have a plane to catch. Bye,” she said, and she left with bags and luggage without checking if Lucinda had heard.

    At the elevator, she met with Shawn Paul.
    “Hi.”
    “Hi. I’m going to the airport,” the young man said. “Australia. Like you?”
    She felt uncomfortable. The note hadn’t mention anything about him. Unless he was part of one of those groups who were after the dolls. Maeve grumbled something while holding her bag closer. She didn’t know if she could trust him.

    #4652
    EricEric
    Keymaster

    Despite the underground currents, following the trail of blue glow from the glukenitches’ droppings was easy; far less subtle than old fashioned glow worms starmap reading…
    Mandrake was alerted to a sudden drop when the trail started to disappear abruptly, indicating the strong possibility of a chute of some kind.
    He only managed to catch Albie’s pants before he fell right in, and pulled both of them back to the shore. He had to be sure.

    “Good thing, that slimey dragon managed to power back the sabulmantium, we may get a hint of where we’re headed to.”
    “There’s no other way than the waterfall, is there Mr Mandrake?”
    “Shht. Let me concentrate, this thing is sensitive.”

    Under the paws of the cat, the sand inside the clear sphere started to move in shapes and describe a living story.

    “Mmm. Seems he wasn’t joking, never seen this thing behave so strangely before.”
    “What is this?”
    “It looks like something that I have seen a long time ago, but that wasn’t in this dimension… I guess we won’t know for sure until we get there. Ready boy for the dive of your life?”

    Albie didn’t have time to answer, as the cat wasn’t waiting for him.

    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:
    :fleuron2:

    The fall seemed to last forever. But then a light appeared, and they started to float up, up, up.

    When they emerged, they were clearly out of swamp waters. Salty water was all they could see for miles around.

    “A blessing you had an inflatable zodiac in your purse, Sir.” the boy said to the cat once they were up on the boat, waiting for a sign as to where next.

    “Whales! Whales!” the boy shouted excitedly, pointing to the shapes moving under their boat.

    “Ah, finally, someone with some wits about that can tell us some valuable information.”
    It didn’t take long to Mandrake to grab the attention of one of the belugas and engage the conversation; it didn’t seem particularly long to Albie, but it seemed like a lot was exchanged.

    “We’re on the Gold Coast of Australia” Mandrake said. “That dimension is a bit tricky for my species, humans here take us for lazy playthings and don’t really understand us, so I may have to rely on you for some of the talking, boy.”
    “For sure, Mr Mandrake. Did you get any news as to where Ms Arona might be?”
    “Might be. That whale started to babble thing about granola cookies and dolls. I have no idea what she meant, she might have been popped in by some alien force. Luckily whales are used to manage multiple personalities well, so I managed to get the rest of the navigational hints once she got her channels back in order.”
    “So where to now?”
    “Starboard, son, starboard!”

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