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      Perhaps everyone thought that the baby belonged to one of the tourists that were gathered around the shrine, either holding their phones up to snap pictures, or gazing down at the screens in rapt concentration. The baby scanned the crowd, aware enough on some level to know there was a purpose, that being handed about here and there was a necessary part of the story and that the one who was meant to come, would come.

      Night fell, and nobody came. The gates to the shrine were closed and locked by the night watchman, who was too engrossed in his phone screen to notice the baby. The baby didn’t cry, despite huger, thirst and a very smelly nappy. When all was silent, and the last of the shrine staff had descended the hill, a doe approached the helpless bundle, blowing warm breath on the chilled little face. The gentle deer lay down beside the orphan, nudging it with her soft muzzle until it was enveloped next to her warm body.


        “Agent X77-86, we have a mission for you” the deep voice on the phone said.

        “Wrong number.” Finnley answered unceremoniously before knocking the phone back in place.

        Twenty one seconds later, the phone rang again.


          As soon as Finnley was settled comfortably in bed, the phone rang.


            Christmas has always been a strange tradition in our family.
            Maybe because first and foremost, Christmas is all about family. Besides the twins and their bond, sometimes I wonder what makes us a family at all.
            It doesn’t help that we can never get snow around this place, and dressing in red and white fluff is not going to make things suddenly magical.

            It was comical to see the exterminator come with a red bonnet, panting and all red himself, as if he were some genial Santa bringing gifts of death to our yonder’s rodents residents.
            He didn’t catch a rat, but got himself a fright. Thanks to Mater, when she erupted in the attic in her white hanuka honey cream face-lifter mask. I think that sneaky Finly got to her in the end.
            The mystery of the strange noises in the inn is not going soon, apparently.

            Bert and Aunt Idle got back from their trip in the evening. Apparently Bert had insisted to bring some sort of shrub to make a Christmas tree in the great hall (it’s not so great, but we call it that). Finly didn’t seem pleased too much with it. Raking leaves in summer, bringing pests inside… she didn’t have many kind things to say about it. So Mater sends her to cook a “festive dinner”, that’s what she said. I heard Finly mutter in her breath something about kiwi specials. I like kiwis. Hope she’ll make a pavlova… just, not with Mater’s face cream!

            It seems that giving small gestures of appreciation got the mood going. Aunt Idle is always very good at decorating with the oddest or simplest of things, like rolls of TP. Sometimes she would draw nice hieroglyphs in the layer of dust on the cabinets, it gives the furniture a special look. Mater always says it’s because she’s too lazy to do some cleaning consistently, but I think it’s because cleaning is not creative enough for her. Can’t believe I just said nice things about Aunt Idle. Christmas spirit must be contagious.

            Then, Devan came home with some pastries. It’s not often I see Devan these days, and usually he’s always brooding. I would too, if I had to come back home when I could just start my life away from there. Finly was all eyes on him all of a sudden. Seems nobody noticed, not even the twins, too busy being snarky while playing on their phones,… it looks like there is some strange game between these two, my brother and our Finly. I think Finly makes a lot of efforts to look younger with him, I can see when she fiddles with her hair. They would make good friends, and I’m sure Devan doesn’t mind the accent.

            As always, it’s not about how pretty the tree is, or how good the food is, or how big the gifts are… It’s more about being together, for better or for worse. And Dad, and Mum are always out of this almost nice picture, but somehow, it matters less today.

            There’s a good thing about that Christmas spirit. It gives you the weirdest ideas. To be nice, I asked Mater if we should invite the guests to our festive dinner, and probably lifted by the mood, she said yes, of course. When I went to the closed door to invite the guy, I thought a random act of kindnes is a perfect occasion to learn more about our mysterious resident stranger… Maybe that’s what the adults mean in church when they say you should always be kind to each other.


              “If anyone needs exterminating,” muttered Clove under her breath when she heard Finly on the phone, “It’s you, you fucking Nazi.”


                Aunt Idle:

                After all the fuss had died down about the missing Mater, I lost interest in the map and the strange note. It was as if the distraction interrupted my train of thought (some might say another of Idle’s hamster wheels, or another ludicrous tangent), so I gave the maps back to the girls and the mysterious note was mostly forgotten. If it meant anything, well, sooner or later it would become clear.

                Truth be told, it wasn’t just the fuss about Mater that distracted me, it was the phone call from my old friend in New Zealand. Flora Fenwick was making another of her arty party videos, wanted to come over to check out some of the empty properties for filming. I’d seen all her arty farty party videos online, and we’d been friends for years via Spacenook, but we’d never met in person.

                The timing was perfect.


                Aunt Idle:

                My hands were shaking so much I could hardly light a cigarette after reading the note. I got it lit and sucked in a lungful, exhaled right into the shaft of sunlight and froze. And I don’t mean cold, it’s hotter than hell, I mean I quit shaking and couldn’t move because that smoke was doing some very peculiar things in that sunbeam. Looked like Penmanship with a capitol curly P, written in smoke by an invisible hand, loop the loop of joined up writing and I could see the words, but damn, two seconds later I couldn’t tell you what I just read and by then the first part had wafted apart. So I sat there reading the smoke until the last of it dispersed, and without thinking took another drag of the cigarette. I’ll be honest, I wondered whether to blow the smoke over my shoulder instead, but curiosity got the better of me, and I leaned forward a bit and screwed my eyes up ready to focus and started exhaling slowly into the sun. Not a damn thing this time, nor the next, and I almost lit another cigarette right off the butt of that one. Just to delay looking at that note again I suppose, but I didn’t, I stubbed it out and picked up the note. The smoke distraction did me good, I was over the shock of it and now I was curious.

                The note was written in letters cut out of a map, by the look of it. Or maps, hard to say at this stage. The letters were pasted onto a yellowing sheet of stationary paper with a heading embossed on the top: Tattler, Trout and Trueman. Nothing else, just that, no address or phone number, or indication of who they were. There was a brown ring stain, which might be a clue, and a short message. Made me jump when I saw the name at the bottom, because the H was so tiny compared to the ILDE it caught my eye as Idle, which is what the twins call me, and the D I D letters were much bigger than the I E R, making me think it was Dido, which is what the others call me. It’s Delilah but nobody’s ever called me that, although Prune called me Dildo once and got a clip round the back of the head for it. So the note came from Hilde Didier, and I’m ferreting away in my mind and I can’t think of anyone of that name, but it might come to me later.

                Mater’s acting strange, Aunt Idle,” Corrie burst into the room giving me the most unpleasant jolt it made me think I was having a heart attack until I remembered the note in my hand.

                Coriander, darling!” I gushed, admittedly uncharacteristically but I didn’t have time to think, swiveling round to her while slipping the note out of sight. I stood up and hugged her, deftly spinning her around while scanning over her shoulder to make sure the note was hidden from view.

                “Bloody hell, not you as well!”


                In reply to: Scrying the Word Cloud


                  under phone keys box ocean huge story sometimes contact funny word power wait irina rain continued obviously discussion watch earth secret


                  “Fried rice, sweet and sour mixed vegetables, crispy Peking duck, please, and a side order of plum sauce,” said Jack into the telephone. It had taken so long to get Mirabelle and Igor to relax enough to teleport that he had forgotten all about food, and decided to order a Chinese takeaway.


                    “Oh! No more phone calls during work”, said Anna Purrna without looking at anyone in particular. It was at least the 57th rule she had been enacting since her arrival. She seemed to have plenty of them.

                    Maurana and Terry looked at Consuela who was gasping like a fish out of the water, desperately trying to find oxygen in a dry environment. Cedric was used to call his mother several times a day. The numbers varied. Maurana thought there could be a pattern to these phone calls, and she had tried to time the interval between them. She hadn’t found it yet, but she felt she was close.

                    “You can go back to your chores”, said the scrawny little drag. She turned back to Saint Germain’s double, to whom she was sickeningly sweet, as if to make the young queens more miserable by contrast.


                      “You call that a contract…” Reginald and his two friends, to varying degrees, managed to keep queenly looks in their royal blue dungarees. “I call that being royally fucked…”

                      “Oh shut up and mop!” Cedric had become the most sullen and despondent about the whole thing, and would only reply by short sentences.

                      Amar was the most philosophical about the whole situation “Let’s see it that way, cleaning up the Time Sewers isn’t so bad; they’re no longer in use, we ain’t got nobody on our backs,… the pay isn’t fabulous, but we are!”

                      “Nobody heard about Linda? or Sadie?” Amar’s question was interrupted by a call on Cedric’s phone. His mother again.

                      When he hung up, Amar resumed his litany of questions and monologue, as an excuse for not mopping around. “Still haven’t told your mum, hmmm?”

                      Cedric ignored the last question “No, I haven’t heard about Linda Fucking Pol, or Sadie. Bitches.”


                        The dogs barking woke Lisa up; at first she assumed she had woken up disorientated and disgruntled because of that, but then she recalled all the screaming, no, more like bellowing, she’d been doing in her dream. Intense passionate bellowing howls, like an expulsion of pained frustrated energy, of outrage. Frustratingly, she recalled no details. There had been a similar dream the previous Easter when she was sick ~ the same kind of howls, and she had felt much better afterwards, but she wasn’t sick now ~ in fact, she had been feeling better than she had in a long time.
                        Sipping her tea and still feeling cranky at being woken up, Lisa recalled the strange phone call she’d received the night before, and had a feeling it might be an element of her dream. One of her neighbours from just outside the village phoned, Clarissa. Clarissa was a young widow; since her elderly husband had died some months ago, and she had lived alone with her eight dogs. There had been nobody to ensure she took the medication she needed for her condition, which had resulted in a series of challenging episodes, alarming the locals. A few weeks ago, one of Juan’s sheep had been talking to her and wouldn’t stop, so she killed it in the lane outside her house. The sheep kept talking to her, so she cut it’s head off (a gruesome struggle by all accounts, although thankfully Lisa hadn’t witnessed it herself). The severed sheeps head continued to talk to the troubled Clarissa, so she kept the head on her verandah. That was the last thing that Lisa had heard when she received the unexpected phone call.
                        Clarissa was polite and friendly on the phone, inviting Lisa and Jack over for drinks ~ insisting really with an edge of desperation in her voice. Lisa declined the invitition, and omitted to mention that Jack was out playing poker. If it had not been for the sheep incident, Lisa might have responded differently, but her sense of responsibility to her own animals made her cautious. Then, to her horror, Clarissa offered to come round and feed Lisa’s dogs.
                        As soon as the long and insistent phone call ended, Lisa gathered all the dogs up into the gated top patio; a little later she was gratified to hear a noisy game of football going on in the street outside. Had she over reacted? Should she have had more compassion for the distressed young woman? Lisa lit another cigarette, feeling confused. She had only met Clarissa once, many years ago, and had no idea why she had called her, or where she got her phone number from. She knew of her because of the convoluted connecting links between them ~ Clarissa’s husband had been her own friends father. And she had heard about the various incidents since he had died from other neighbours.
                        Lisa had the unsettling feeling that she had refused a call for help. On the other hand, she felt that she had responded to the call for help in merely speaking to Clarissa on the phone. Lisa had been kindly towards her, although not encouraging of any physical contact.
                        Lisa sighed. She felt a stronger connection to Clarissa now, but was unsure what it would entail.


                          Maurana found it difficult to climb in the coach with her 6” Goochi platform shoes. Golden intricate patterns on a red velvet. The first time she saw them on Internet, she immediately thought of Dorothy. What couldn’t she do with these shoes, she had thought. Where couldn’t she go ? She hadn’t thought of time travel at the time. Now the when couldn’t she go question seemed to be part of the shoes. She sat on the narrow seat, the one in the back. Sitting in that dark little coach, knees almost touching her face, the proud drag armor began to melt away, letting appear the insecurity of a teenager through the cracks.
                          The teenager wondered for a moment if he had bumped his skull on the steel frame of the sewer and was dreaming, or maybe he was dead. He looked at his two friends, Consuela/Cedric was desperately trying to find the network with his phone, trying to reach his mother again. He was always trying to reach his mother when in doubt.
                          Terry was climbing in the coach, apparently still herself as a drag. She seemed to be quite comfortable.

                          “I can’t believe we’re going to meet the Queen”, she said with a thrill. She sat near Maurana, trying to make her false bum fit in the narrow seat. Her knees were also dangerously near her chin. “We’ll have to find new wigs and dresses, more suitable for the circumstances”, she said with glitter in her eyes. “I’m so glad we are in this adventure together, you, Consuela and meeeeeee!!” She kissed Maurana on the cheek and the lost Queen was back on her Goochies.

                          Sadie got back in and looked at her e-zapper for a few seconds. “Tell your friend to get in. We have company. The Russians have sent their own team to retrieve the ferrets.”


                            The three drags had rented a limo to go to Linda Pol’s bar. It was located in the Court Julien and the narrow streets weren’t fit for a limo, but they didn’t care. They had to be noticed and a limo seemed the right choice at the time. Of course, they booked it together because they were young and had not enough money for their own personal limo.
                            “We should have taken the white one, black is so common and we look like a hearse”, said Consuela, pouting outrageously with her porn red lipstick.
                            “The rooftop is not high enough for my hair”, whined Maurana.
                            “No, mum, I’m staying at Robert’s house tonight, we are going to work on calculus for the exam next week”, was saying Terry to her… his phone with his normal voice.


                              Checking his phone on the metro, Linda Paul giggled at the name that popped on the roster.
                              She was already doing her job, he thought, happiness never was so close than after a marathon of Abwa Ham videos. He knew that Sadie would be the perfect addition to his team, as he was planning to send them all back in time for a very delicate mission.


                                Recovering herself majestically, Tina put on her headphones and played her isotronic creativity tone in order to contribute (and the term “contribute” is used loosely) to the discussion (also used loosely) at hand.

                                Tina sat and waited for inspiration. It soon became clear that inspiration had taken a vacation. “Without even sending any casebook notes for perusal. Selfish Inspiration!” thought Tina petulantly.

                                Inspiration, telepathically picking up on the Tina’s thoughts, smiled knowingly to herself. Winter, to all intents and purposes, had already arrived, and yet the day was still and rather warm. Picking a particularly vibrant yellow daisy she noticed growing wild among the stones on the side of the path she skipped her way back to the hotel for breakfast.


                                  The pond was full of black tadpoles. The creatures were wriggling restlessly, following invisible currents, connecting dark stains packed with thousands of them. Benjamin Goat immersed a small plastic bottle into one of the biggest node, it sucked the little buggers like a fat syringe.
                                  “Such a small container won’t reduce their population too much”, he thought. Indeed, he had always wondered why there were so many of them in the early stages and why you would see so few frogs or toads. The remaining tadpoles were beginning to gather around his hand. He repressed a shiver. A new idea for a movie just sprang up from his subconscious. Something to do with man-eater tadpoles. That would certainly hit the box office for months.
                                  He smiled. There were enough of them in the bottle.

                                  “Yuck!” said a fat pink lady before licking her strawberry ice cream.

                                  “It’s for my son”, said Benjamin just before realizing he was justifying again. His psychiatrist had told him there was no need for justifying, it was like apologizing, and he needn’t apologize, he was the great Benjamin Goat after all. He snorted and mimicked drinking from his bottle. This time, she was disgusted. She made the mistake to hold her ice cream too far from herself and one of those Gib’s monkey with the pink ass stole it. She was shouting now, people would pay attention to her instead of him. People always pay attention to what’s more annoying.
                                  Paradoxically, he felt a pang of jealousy. He was not used to let go of others’ attention.

                                  His cell phone vibrated, three long vibrations and seven short ones. The code for his secret society. It was a great idea to put it in his last movie, unfortunately it hadn’t had the desired effect. People were so gullible that they would believe everything that came out in a fiction movie.
                                  “The Jesuit is in the place”, said a vocoded voice. That was all. It could only mean one thing. It was all going according to the plan. He smiled and handed out the bottle to a kid. He wouldn’t need that after all.


                                    The phone rang while she was preparing her cabbage with soy sauce. It triggered a memory of a blue helmet. Quickly gone.
                                    She hesitated a moment and stopped what she was doing to pick up the phone.
                                    Her mother began speaking straight away.
                                    “Where have you been all this time ? You’ll turn me mad. You’re so like your father, keeping to himself all those times when he was out playing mahjong with his friends. But I knew where that bastard was…”
                                    Her voice was raspy after years of never being able to be speechless, and most astoundingly, she never repeated herself. The woman was even a sleeptalker. No wonder her husband would rather sneak out of the house to play with his friends.
                                    Aqua Luna had developed an opposite habit, she would find her solace in silence and in doing house cleaning. But this time, the voice of her mother was fascinating. Something in it seemed different.

                                    A blue flash interrupted her fascination. She almost jumped out of her pajamas.
                                    Listen carefully”, was saying the blue helmet.


                                    “The possibilities of liverworts are unimaginable. Not many people know this, PearlSkye said, “But liverworts have the capability to communicate with any other liverwort anywhere on the planet. Nothing out of the ordinary, you might say, and you’d be right! But what is not ordinarily known is that the liverworts have this sort of fat cell, scientists still don’t understand the function, but what this fat cell does is communicate ripples. Ripples of communications. Sort of a wifi intent distribution system, for want of a better technical name, although some call it wifindilivi for short. Another unusual advantage of liverworts is their colour ~ green. And everyone loves green these days ~ cover something with greenery, nobody complains. Anything covered in green foliage automatically conjures up wholesome natural goodness, mother nature, all that kind of stuff. Nobody objects to it like they do with security cameras and mobile phone masts.”

                                    “I heard about a pyramid they found in the jungle that was covered in liverworts” replied Pearl. “A friend of mine, Blithe, found it ~ well, it just popped in her head I think, and then she saw it in the news.”

                                    “Exactly. No accident that pyramid was covered in liverworts! And the “popped in her head” commincation wasn’t random, either. But nobody suspected a thing, finding a pyramid covered in liverworts in the jungle!”


                                      In Ed Steam’s old office, Lord Lemon was like in a mausoleum full of ghosts.
                                      Mostly computer illiterate, he favoured greatly goose feather and dark Chinese ink soft purr on the paper over the annoying clickety racket of the keyboards. So he wasn’t exactly feeling at home in Ed’s old shoes.

                                      The team’s greeting party had been cordial, but he didn’t feel an overwhelming welcome either, not that he expected it. It was Ed’s team after all, he was the Rooster of the chicks of roast, whatever they liked to call themselves. He was not found of monikers and preferred to be addressed simply as Sir.

                                      The call he received on the morning was perplexing him. They’d found an auditor dead with a Surge Corp. business card in his jacket in the streets of a Spanish city, he couldn’t really remember which, the accent on the phone was as dreadful as that of a Chinese civet, but… What was that about already? He’d thought his memory was improving, getting back on the field, but there were relapses again, he had to concentrate. Afternoon Scrabble games were not that bad after all.

                                      He’d perfected a neat technique to remember things, placing vivid images in memory palaces constructed in his mind were he could retrieve them later, but the thing was that his memory palaces sorely lacked a cleaning lady, and images sometimes blurred together or went missing, fading away. He sighed.

                                      His gaze on the phone brought him back to his stream of thought. This would have been stored on the Suspicious Clues Palace, in Ed’s corner. His mind raced back in the atrium of his palace where he could see the various corners, and he went back into the Alley of Dark Secrets, then turned to the Corner of Lonely Puzzle Pieces. There were actually a lot of them, but the topmost one was vivid enough. It was a red blood hearing-aid spewing out a mean Larsen and bathing in paella. For “auditor murdered in Spain” obviously. He turned down mentally the volume of the hearing-piece. This was not a very elegant image, but he was in a hurry, and crude preposterous images always were remembered better he’d found out. The lewdest even more so. Which was why his Palace of Past Precious Moments was starting to look like a brothel he was loath to admit.

                                      He was starting to wonder if Ed’s demise was not some sort of inside job. Circumstances were not really orthodox, but nothing was in their line of duty, so he had to look for something else. He’d already started to make an inventory of the storage room, just before the break-in, but computer handicapped as he was, between paper and memory palaces, he couldn’t figure it anymore and had to start it over with some help from Cornella.
                                      At least, he’d sent Hyphen and Dash to discreetly investigate on the break-in and now, he will probably send them to investigate on… he faced a blank. All he could remember now was he was having the meanest craving for mussels and prawns.

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