You can’t blame me for not updating my diary because bugger all has happened all year. Borders closed, no tourists allowed in. How are bespoke bijou boutique establishments like ours supposed to survive? But we’re still here. Somehow we’ve managed to keep the wolf from the door, but only just barely. I get a bit muddled up these days and can’t remember the dates. Sometimes I find myself living in the past for weeks on end: things change so little around her that it’s easy to do. But what does it matter anyway?
Mater went into a sulk the likes of which I hope never to see again, when her 100th birthday party was cancelled. I thought she might give up the will to live, but oh no. She’s determined now to have a 110th birthday party now. She says the bloody pandemic ought to be over by then. I hope she’s right. She changes her health food and exercise regimes as often as she changes her knickers. Well more often than that, probably, she doesn’t bother much with personal hygiene. She says the germs keep her immune system in good shape. I think the smell of her would keep any plague ridden body well away from her, but whatever works, I always say. At least she isn’t sulking anymore, she’s grimly stoic now and tediously determined to outlive me.
I had some worrying news through the telepathic grapevine about the twins and Pan, they’d gotten into the clutches of a strange cult over there. I’ve got a feeling they weren’t really sucked into it though, I think they needed to use it as a cover, or to keep themselves safe. I say cult but it was huge, took over the entire country and even started spreading to other countries. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with. I knew they shouldn’t have gone there. There’s been a peculiar blockage with the telepathic messages for ages now. It’s a worry, but what can I do. I keep sending them messages, but get nothing in return.
Ah, well. We carry on as best we can. What I wouldn’t give for an unexpected visitor to brighten things up a bit. Fat chance of that.
“I’ll be right back!” Nora told Will, who was stirring a big bubbling pot on the stove. “Need to wash my hands.”
She had a quick look around the bedroom she’d slept in for her missing phone. Nowhere to be found! Maybe she could find Will’s phone when he went out to feed the donkey, and call her phone to try and locate it. Damn, that wouldn’t work either. Will had said there was no network here. That would explain why her phone stopped working when she was alone in the dark woods.
“Smells delicious!” she said brightly, scraping a chair back across the brick floor and seating herself at the kitchen table.
The home made soup was chock full of vegetables and looked and smelled wonderful, but it had a peculiar acrid aftertaste. Nora tried to ignore it, taking gulps of wine in between each mouthful to eliminate the bitterness. She wished it wasn’t soup in a way, so that she’d be able to surreptitiously palm some of it off onto the dogs that were waiting hopefully under the table. If only Will would leave the room for a minute, but he seemed to be watching her every move.
“Very tasty, but I can’t manage another mouthful, it’s so filling,” she said, but Will looked so offended that she sighed and carried on eating. He topped up her wine glass.
By the time Nora had finished the soup, she felt quite nauseous and stood up quickly to head for the bathroom. The room started to spin and she held on to the edge of the table, but it was no good. The spinning didn’t stop and she crashed to the floor, unconscious.
Smiling with satisfaction, Will stood up and walked around the table to where she lay. Shame he’d had to put her to sleep, really she was quite a nice woman and cute, too, in a funny elfin way. He’d started to like her. Plenty of time to get to know her now, anyway. She wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
He picked her up and carried her to the secret room behind his workshop on the other side of the patio. The walls and floor were thick stone, and there were no windows. He laid her on the bench, locked the door, and went back in the house to fetch blankets and bedding and a pile of books for her to read when she came round. Probably not for a good 24 hours he reckoned, somehow she’d managed to eat all the soup. He would put much less in the next batch, just enough to keep her docile and sleepy.
It would only be for a few days, just long enough for him to find that box and move it to a safer location. He’d been entrusted to make sure the contents of the box were preserved for the people in the future, and he was a man of his word.
If they had listened to him in the first place this would never have happened. Burying a box was a risk: all kinds of possibilities existed for a buried box to be accidentally unearthed. He had suggested encasing the contents inside a concrete statue, but they’d ignored him. Well, now was his chance. He was looking forward to making a new statue.
Embarrassed at the uncouth behaviour of her staff, or as they preferred to be called, colleagues, Star slipped out of the bar quietly. Nobody noticed her leaving: all eyes were on the mysterious stranger with the melodious voice. She quickly made her way down the street, and ducked into a side street out of sight of the bar entrance.
Swaying, she caught hold of a lamp post and tried to steady herself. She sank to her knees, overcome with dizziness. The last thing she saw before she passed out was a peculiar close up view of Aprils ankles, and a disembodied voice from far above saying something indecipherable but strangely compelling.
Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!
There’s nobody at all coming to see to my supper anymore, the girl that brought my lunch (a stale cheese sandwich again) said it was because of the curfew. I said, Oh the quarantine and she said, Oh no, not that anymore so I said Oh, is the virus over then, and she said Oh no, far from it, but that’s not what the curfew is for now, and I looked at her and wondered if they’d all lost their marbles.
She said it’s Marshall law out there now and I smiled at that, I used to know a nice girl by the name of Marshall, can’t recall where from mind you, but anyway then I realized she meant martial law when she showed me her arm. Great big bruise there was, she said it was from a rubber bullet. Seems to me they’re getting senile young these days and I wonder where it will all end.
Then she starts telling me about piles of bricks everywhere, and I’m wondering where this is going because it makes no sense to me. She says some people say there are piles of bricks appearing everywhere, but she can’t be sure, she said, because lots of other people are saying there aren’t any piles of bricks at all, and I’m thinking, who the hell cares so much about piles of bricks anyway? Then she looks at me as if I’m the daft one.
It’s a pity we don’t see piles of decent food appearing, I said, instead of bricks, looking pointedly at the cheese sandwich. She said, Think yourself lucky, with what can only be described as a dark look.
I thought I’d change the subject, as we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and asked her if she’d be kind enough to pick me up some embroidery thread on her way past the emporium, and she made a peculiar noise and said Aint no shops open, they’re all boarded up. I was about to ask why, and she must have read my mind because she said, Riots, that’s why.
It’s a good job my hip’s so much better now that the weather’s dry, because I’m going to have to make my escape soon and see what the hell’s going on out there.
Ella Marie looked at the peculiar child sitting on the car seat next to her. This was no normal kid, she knew that much. Looked like one, except that expression on his face, well! That was no baby looking out of those eyes. And the thoughts she was hearing coming from him! Ella Marie shivered and gave him another sidelong glance. He caught her eye and winked. Winked!
“Well if this all aint the darnedest thing,” she said aloud.
Echoing her thoughts, Jacqui agreed. “In all my years as a nanny I’ve never seen a wee bairn like this. He’s giving me the creeps.”
“Rude old bag,” thought the child, his face reddening. “Take that,” as he filled his disposable diaper.
Ella Marie gasped, reading his mind.
“I’m keeping you up,” said Norma, yawning. “Thanks for listening. And for the wine.”
“Oh you weren’t whining really, well not much. Oh! I see what you mean,” replied May. “Say, where’s that kid got to? Norma, help me find the kid!”
But it was too late. Norma had gone. And so had the child she was supposed to be babysitting.
May’s intention to search for it as a matter of urgency was abruptly sidelined by the supreme urgency of a visit to the nearest lavatory. It was a peculiar child anyway, May thought, and if it had been hers, she no doubt wouldn’t have minded being rid of it, no questions asked. But it would be embarrassing to admit that she’d failed: not just the failure to look after the child, but failed to kidnap it either, and that she had simply lost it instead.
His trip had changed him, Rukshan realized. He doubted it at first, don’t all journeys change the traveller?
This one had been peculiar, his life had never felt more on the line. Now, even the feeling of this place he now called a home was contrasting.
He wasn’t despondent, but he wasn’t sure where to focus his energy now. The World outside didn’t lack causes to fight for; that much was a given. The Great Fires in the South had taken a toll on the Austral Dry Lands and started to menace the Great Forest borders. The Heartswood would be safe for now, but with the villagers’ rampant deforestation, what would be next? He was glad to hear that Eleri & Hasamelis were not short of ideas and clever contraptions to tackle the matter.
Yet, his cause was not this one, though it did stir his heart with sadness and longing.
Tak and Nesy had come back from school. He was glad to see them so full of life and well-adjusted. Nesy was coming into her powers, even if they stemmed from a dark place, she’d found ways to use them gracefully, listening to nature. For one, Eleri had seen early the appeal of using Nesingwarys’ fear-inducing power to shroud the place and repel Leroway and his thugs. Nesy didn’t like too much to use her powers that way. It would also affect the birds and it made Glynis sad that the place was so silent at times.
For now, both were pleased to join the team and the little Snoots towards the effort at rebuilding Gorrash.
All were focused on finding a way to get enough pink clay. They’d started to realize that there was not enough stock left around, and the main supply source was from the now scorched & sooty Austral lands.
This was a good cause for now.
Bert tells me it’s new years eve today. Looking forward to the champagne and fireworks I said to him. Joking of course. The wonder is that I even remembered what such things were. Bert looked sharply at me then, bit strange it was. Then he relaxed a bit and had a peculiar secretive smile on his face. Of course that’s easy to say in retrospect, that he had a secretive smile on his face. But little did I know at the time.
I’d been in the doldrums ever since that hot air balloon thing didn’t materialize into anything. I told Bert about it, and he went off down to the Brundy place, gone ages he was, and came back saying it was nothing. He had an odd spring in his step though which puzzled me a bit at the time, but I was so deflated after the excitement of thinking something might actually happen for a change, and when it didn’t, well, I couldn’t be bothered to think about Bert acting funny.
When Bert had a shower and asked me to iron ~ iron, I ask you! ~ his best shirt, I was more depressed than ever. If Bert goes mad as well, then where will we be? I was already wondering if I’d started hallucinating and if that was a sign of madness. I’d been catching glimpses of things out of the corner of my eye all week. I’d even heard stifled giggles. It was unnerving, I tell you.
When Bert suggested I have a shower as well, and asked if I still had that red sequinned dress I started to worry. What was he thinking? Then ~ get this ~ he asked if I had red knickers on.
Bert! I said, aghast.
He mumbled something about it being a tradition in Spain to wear red underpants on new years eve, and surely I hadn’t forgotten?
I gently reminded him that we weren’t in Spain, and he said, You’re damn right this isn’t Kansas anymore, hooted with laughter, and fairly skipped out of the room.
I sat there for a bit pondering all this and then thought, Hell, why not? Why not wear red knickers and that old red sequinned dress? Why not have a shower as well?
And much to my surprise I found I was humming a song and smiling to myself as I went to find that old red dress.
“I hardly think wearing such a peculiar hat is apt for undercover work, Agent X,” remarked Veranassessee.
“It’s a local tradition,” gasped Agent X, trying to catch his breath as he attempted to right his mangled bicycle.
“Never mind that! Leave it there, it’s no good now!”
“The doll is hidden in the water bottle!” Agent X snapped, “And it’s stuck fast behind all this twisted metal! We have to take the whole thing!”
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.
POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])
Granola is popping in and out of the stories, exploring interacting more physically with her friends through Tiku, a bush lady focus of hers.
Luckily (not so coincidentally) Maeve and Shawn-Paul were given coupons to travel from their rural Canada town to the middle of Australia. Maeve is suspicious of being followed by a strange man, and tags along with Shawn-Paul to keep a cover of a young couple. Maeve is trying to find the key to the doll that she made in her secret mission for Uncle Fergus, which has suddenly reappeared at her friend Lucinda’s place. She’ll probably is going to have to check on the other dolls that she made as well.
Jerk continues to administrate some forum where among other things, special dolls are found and exchanged, and he moderates some strange messages.
Lucinda is enjoying Fabio’s company, Maeve’s dog, that she has in her care while Maeve is travelling.
FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])
The mysteries of the Flying Fish Inn seem to unravel slowly, like Idle’s wits.
Long time family member are being drawn inexplicably, such as Prune and brother Devan. The local bush lady Tiku is helping Finly with the catering, although Finly would rather do everything by herself. The totemic Fish was revealed to be a talisman placed here against bad luck – “for all the good it did” (Mater).
Bert, thought to be an old flame of Mater, who’s acted for the longest time as gardener, handyman and the likes, is revealed to be the father of Prune, Devan, Coriander and Clove’s mother. Mater knew of course and kept him around. He was trained in codes during his time with the military, and has a stash of potentially dangerous books. He may be the key to the mystery of the underground tunnels leading to the mines, and hidden chests of gold. Devan is onto a mystery that a guy on a motorbike (thought to be Uncle Fergus of Maeve’s story) told him about.
DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)
Mandrake & Albie after a trip in the bayou, and looking for the dragon Leormn’s pearls and the sabulmantium, have finally found Arona after they have emerged from the interdimentional water network from the Doline, to the coast of Australia in our reality, where cats don’t usually talk.
Albie is expecting a quest, while the others are just following Arona’s lead, as she is in possession of a mysterious key with 3 words engraved.
After some traveling in hot air balloon, and with a local jeep, they have arrived at a local Inn in the bush, with a rather peculiar family of owners, and quite colorful roster of guests. That’s not even counting the all-you-can-eat lizard meat buffet. What joy.
NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)
Ms Bossy is looking to uncover the Doctor’s surely nefarious plans while her newspaper business isn’t doing so well. She’s got some help from Ricardo the intern. They have found out that the elderly temp worker who’s fascinated by the future, Sophie (aka Sweet Sophie) had been the first subject of the Doctor’s experiments. Sophie has been trying to uncover clues in the dreams, but it’s just likely she is still a sleeper agent of the Doctor.
Despite all common sense and SMS threats, Hilda & Connie have gone in Australia to chase a trail (from a flimsy tip-off from Superjerk that may have gone to Lucinda to her friend journalist). They are in touch with Lucinda, and post their updates on social media, flirting with the risk of being uncovered and having trouble come at their door.
Sha, Glo and Mavis are considering reaching out for a vacation of the nursing home to get new free beauty treatments.
In his secret lair, the Doctor is reviving his team of brazen teafing operatives: the magpies.
LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)
Not much happened as usual, mostly an entertaining night with Inspector Melon who is quizzing Liz’ about her last novel about mysterious messages hidden in dolls with secret keys, which may be her best novel yet…
DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)
Before Rukshan goes to the underworld land of Giants, he’s going to the cottage to gather some of his team of friends, Fox, Ollie etc. Glynis is taking care of Tak during Margoritt’s winter time in the city. Margoritt’s sister, Muriel is an uninvited and unpleasant guest at the cottage.
Tak is making friends with a young girl who may have special powers (Nesy).
The biggest mystery now is… is the loo going to get fixed in time?
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.
“It is a rather peculiar mystery indeed, don’t you think.” Liz leaned suggestively towards the Inspector. He had insisted to keep his trench-coat on, which for some reason she was finding incredibly alluring. It reminded her of all the fun she had in the past, playing her favourite character, Becky in tarty nun’s outfit. She made a mental note for the next costumed party.
“Some peanuts, Inspector?”
“Good gracious, no. I’m terribly allergic to nuts, but I’m partial to your delicious canapés.”
After a mouthful of tarragon cod pâté with capers, Walter leaned back and a little further from Liz and said “Mmm, delicious. Well, it is indeed quite a good mystery you’ve chosen to write about. All these keys, I love the idea. It sounds out of a spy novel, but I do wonder what are the connections, you see, in most crimes I’ve solved in the past,” he cleared his throat, taking the glass of red wine Finnley had just brought “there is always a good chance the culprit is closer than you know. The skill is always to find the hidden connection.”
“Aaah. I’m so glad you’re saying that Walter, I was telling them the same no later than this morning!”
She took a random ramekin from the coffee table “some peanuts?”.
When Hilda received the message from her old friend Lucinda her first thought was Miss Bossy Pants award for the “Most Stylistic Synchronistic Article”. There was already a synchronicity because she’s also had a tip off from some guy calling himself “Superjerk”, which was also about dolls. If she followed the lead about the doll stories, and managed to connect them together, it could be the scoop of the year ~ whether or not there was an actual connection between them.
Hilda had made copious notes from the long and garbled telephone conversation with Lucinda about everything she knew thus far, and where she was stuck. Clearly the poor dear needed Hilda’s special expertise in following a lead and putting the clues together to form a picture. Admittedly Hilda didn’t always stick to facts ~ who did in journalism these days anyway! But she had an intuition that this was just what she needed to get her teeth into. It had been a boring year in the extreme reportage department. Extremely boring.
It had been years since Hilda had been in contact with Lucinda, and that had been on a remote viewing forum. Neither of them had been much good at it, but some of the other members had been brilliant, so it came in useful at times to use their expertise. Hilda made a mental note to rejoin that forum, if it still existed, or find another one. She changed her mind about the mental note, and jotted it down in her notebook. It was a good idea and could come in handy.
The short and cryptic note from the guy calling himself Superjerk didn’t provide much information other than the synchronicity, which was of course noteworthy. And he had provided the link to that website “findmydolls.com”. The story was already starting to show promising signs of weaving together.
Not wanting any of the other staff to cotton on to her new thread, Hilda told Miss Bossy Pants that she was going to investigate the “hum” in Cadiz. That peculiar Horns of Gabriel phenomenon that occurred randomly around the world had been heard over a wide area of Cadiz and Seville. Hilda had another old friend in that neck of the woods; so she could easily pretend she was there covering that story, with a bit of collaboration from her friend, while she embarked on the real journey to the Flying Fish Inn, in some godforsaken outpost of the outback.
That nosy Connie had somehow managed to find out about the whole thing, eavesdropping again no doubt, and Hilda had no option but to come clean with her and ask her to join her in ironing out the story. They would have to deal with Miss Bossy Pants later. If the scoop was the success that Hilda anticipated, then they would be getting an award, not a reprimand.
It was worth it. Hilda felt more alive than she had done in a long time.
“It’s a long story,” she warned and Lucinda smiled encouragingly.
“My father’s brother, Uncle Fergus, fell out with my father many years ago. I don’t know what it was about.”
Maeve took a sip of her licorice and peppermint tea.
“I just know that one day, Uncle Fergus turned up on his Harley Davidson and there was a huge fight. Father was shouting and Mother was crying. And Father shouted ‘Don’t ever darken our doors again!’
She shuddered. “It was awful.”
“I am all ears,” said Lucinda.
“They aren’t that bad,” said Maeve looking at her thoughtfully. “And your hair covers them nicely.”
Her hand flew to her mouth as she realised what Lucinda meant.
“Oh gosh, I am sorry, I see what you mean … Well anyway, I didn’t see Uncle Fergus for many years and I was sorry about that because he would always bring me a gift from his overseas travels — he went to the most exotic places — and then one day he turned up at my apartment out of the blue. He was most peculiar, looking over his shoulder the whole time and he even made me come out on the street to talk ‘in case there were bugs’.”
“Bugs? Oh, like the things spies use. Wow,” said Lucinda. “Did he have mental health problems or something?”
“I wondered that at the time. I mean Uncle Fergus was always endearingly loony. But this time he was just … just scared. And there WAS someone following him. I saw her. And she was clearly a spy. She was wearing a black wig and and fishnet tights and thought we couldn’t see her hiding behind a lamp post.”
Maeve rolled her eyes.
“I mean, how cliche can you get. Anyway, Uncle Fergus gave me a big hug, like an Uncle would, and whispered an address in my ear where I would find a satchel and he said that inside I would find 12 keys and 12 addresses. He knew I made dolls and he said it would be a perfect way to send the keys to the addresses, inside a doll. ‘Important people are depending on you’ he said.”
“So I did it. I sent the last one a month ago to an address in Australia. An Inn somewhere in the wops.”
With a spring in her step that she had all but forgotten she possessed, Eleri set off on her trip to speak to her old friend Jolly about her husband Leroway’s latest plan that was causing some considerable controversy among the locals. Eleri planned to make the visit a short one, and to hasten back to Margoritt’s cottage in time for the departure of the expedition ~ because she surely wanted to be a part of that. But first, she had to see Jolly, and not just about Leroway. There was a sense of a stirring, or a quickening ~ it was hard to name precisely but there was a feeling of impending movement, that was wider than the expedition plans. Was Jolly feeling it, would she be considering it too? And if not, Eleri would bid her farewell, and make arrangements with her to send a caretaker down to her cottage. And what, she wondered, would happen about care taking the cottage if Jolly’s villagers were on the move again? Eleri frowned. How much did it matter? Perhaps a stranger would find it and choose to stay there, and make of it what they wished. But what about all her statues and ingredients? Eleri felt her steps falter on the old rocky road as her mind became crowded with all manner of things relating to the cottage, and her work.
You don’t have to plan every little thing! she reminded herself sternly. None of that has to be decided now anyway! It’s wonderful day to be out walking, hark: the rustling in the undergrowth, and the distant moo and clang of a cow bell.
The dreadful flu she’d had after the drenching had left her weakly despondent and not her usual self at all. But she’d heard the others talking while she’d been moping about and it was as if a little light had come on inside her.
She still had trouble remembering all their names: ever since the flu, she had a sort of memory weakness and a peculiar inability to recall timelines correctly. Mr Minn (ah, she noted that she had not forgotten his name!) said not to worry, it was a well known side effect of that particular virus, and that as all time was simultaneous anyway, and all beings were essentially one, it hardly mattered. But Mr Minn, Eleri had replied, It makes it a devil of a job to write a story, to which he enigmatically replied, Not necessarily!
Someone had asked, Who do we want to come on the expedition, or perhaps they said Who wants to come on the expedition, but Eleri had heard it as Who wants to be a person who wants to go on an expedition, or perhaps, what kind of person do the others want as an expedition companion. But whatever it was, it made Eleri stop and realize that she wasn’t even enjoying the morose despondent helpless feeling glump that she has turned into of late, and that it was only a feeling after all and if she couldn’t change that herself, then who the devil else was going to do it for her, and so she did, bit by bit. It might feel a bit fake at first, someone had said. And it did, somewhat, but it really wasn’t long before it felt quite natural, as it used to be. It was astonishing how quickly it worked, once she had put her mind to it. Less than a week of a determined intention to appreciate the simple things of the day. Such a simple recipe. One can only wonder in amazement at such a simple thing being forgotten so easily. But perhaps that was a side effect of some virus, caught long ago.
Enjoying the feeling of warm sun on her face, interspersed with moments of cool thanks to passing clouds, Eleri noticed the wildflowers along the way, abundant thanks to all the rain and all flowering at once it seemed, instead of the more usual sequence and succession. Briefly she wondered is this was a side effect of the virus, and another manifestation of the continuity and timeline issues. Even the wildflowers had all come at once this year. She had not noticed all those yellow ones flowering at the same time as all those pink ones in previous years, but a splendid riot they were and a feast for the eyes.
The puffy clouds drifting past across the sun were joining invisible hands together and forming a crowd, and it began to look like rain again. Eleri felt a little frown start to form and quickly changed it to a beaming smile, remembering the handy weightless impermeability shield that someone (who? Glynnis?) had given her for the trip. She would not catch another dose of the drenching memory flu again, not with the handy shield.
The raindrops started spattering the path in front of her, spotting the dusty ground, and Eleri activated the device, and became quite entranced with the effects of the droplets hitting the shield and dispersing.
Roberto was pleased with the progress he’d made so far. Not just the distance covered with the sack of forgotten characters, which was indeed commendable, but pleased with his new found motivation and the return of his adventurous spirit. He found a mossy corner of the cavern to rest, feeling that he had reached a significant junction in the journey, and closed his eyes and fell into a deeply relaxing sleep.
As he slept, the sack beside him started to twitch. A peculiar long grey tendril of twisted hair began to protrude from one of the holes.
Glynis had been staying with the Bakers for a few weeks now, since the night of the storm.
She had taken refuge on their porch, as the gale tore through the pitch black streets, blowing anything not nailed down along in its wake. Intending to leave early before anyone in the house was up, she found a dry corner and wrapping her burka tightly around herself for warmth, she fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.
“Well, what have we here! Good Lord, girl, you must be freezing!” said a booming male voice. Glynis started awake, trying to work out where she was.
“This is no place to be in a storm. Come inside to the warm,” the man continued. And before she could gather her senses and protest, he took hold of her arm and gently but firmly pulled her into a cosy warm kitchen already filled with the delicious aroma of baking bread.
“Anne!” he called to his wife, “look what I found on the front porch!”
“Oh you poor dear! You are shivering! Come with me and let’s get you into some dry clothes.”
Anne Baker was a portly woman with a purple scar covering a large part of her face. Glynis never mentioned the scar and likewise the Bakers never said a word about the dragon scales, seeming completely unperturbed by Glynis’s unusual appearance. In fact, in their kindly presence, Glynis sometimes found herself forgetting.
To repay their kindness, Glynis helped with the baking. With her knowledge of herbs, she had created several new recipes which had proved to be most popular with the customers. This delighted the Bakers; they were people who were passionate about what they did and every little detail mattered. They rose early, often before the sun was up, to lovingly prepare the dough; in their minds they were not merely selling bread; they were selling happiness.
Glynis was most surprised the day the stone parrot arrived in the mail.
“This is very peculiar. Who is this “laughing crone” and what does she want with me,” said Glynis to the stone parrot. “I wonder, did Aunt Bethell send you to me? She is very good at stories — perhaps she sent me the dream as well.”
But surely Aunt Bethell would not call herself a laughing crone! No, that is definitely not her style!
Glynis stared at the concrete parrot and an uneasy feeling had come over her. “You are alive inside that concrete, aren’t you,” she whispered, patting the stone creature gently. “Have you too been caught in the spell of some malevolent magician?”
Yorath led the way down the forest path. Eleri followed, feeling no urge to rush, despite the sense of urgency. Rather, she felt a sense of urgency to linger, perhaps even to sit awhile on a rock beneath an old oak tree, to stop the pell mell rush of thoughts and suppositions and just sit, staring blankly, listening to the forest sounds and sniffing the mushroomy mulch beneath her feet.
The compulsion to be alone increased. Unable to ignore it any longer, Eleri told Yorath that she would catch him up, she needed to go behind a bush for a moment, knowing quite well that there was no need for the excuse, but still, she didn’t feel like explaining. Talking, even thinking, had become tiring, exhausting even. She needed to sit, just sit.
She watched his retreating back and breathed a sigh of relief when his form disappeared from view. Much as she loved her dear old friend, the absence of other humans was like a breath of air to the drowning. The rustlings of the living forest, the dappling shadows and busy missions of the insects was a different kind of busyness, far from still and never silent, not always slow or sedate, not even serene or pleasant always, but there was a restful coherence to the movements of the living forest.
Leaning back into the tree trunk, her foot dislodged a rotten log from its resting place among the leaves ~ crisp and crunchy on the top, damp and decomposing beneath the surface ~ revealing the long slim ivory of bone contrasting sharply with the shades of brown.
Bones. Eleri paused before leaning over to touch it gently at first, then gently smooth away the composting detritus covering it.
Bones. She held it, feeling the hard dry texture peculiar to bones, loving the white colour which was more than white, a richer white than white, not bleached of colour, but full of the colours of white, and holding all of the colours of the story of it.
The story of the bone, the bones. She knelt, carefully brushing the leaves aside. Bones never rested alone, she knew that. Close by she knew she would find more. She knew she would take them home with her, although she knew not why. Just that she always did. A smile flitted across her face as she recalled the horse bones she’d found once ~ an entire, perfect skeleton of a horse. What she wouldn’t have given to take the whole thing home with her, but it was impossible. Perfectly assembled, picked clean and sun bleached, resplendent in the morning sun, it was a thing of unimaginable beauty that morning, reclining on the hilltop. So she took as much of the spine as she could carry, and later wished she’d taken the skull instead. And never really wondered why she didn’t go back for more.
But that was the thing with bones. You don’t go back. You take what you want, what you can carry, and leave the rest. But Eleri had to admit that she didn’t know why this was so.
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