“If you don’t pay the bill, I’ll call the police,” said the waitress, closing the door and turning the open sign to closed. She turned the key and put it in her apron pocket. “Either you pay the bill or you wash the dishes.”
Vince was just about the stamp his foot again and a look of anguish came over his face. Finton, the waitress, looked quizzically at him and reached out to touch his arm. “Are you alright?”
Then the floodgates opened and Vince collapsed in a chair, tears rolling down his face. Finton sat down next to him and put her arm across his shoulders, patting him gently until the sobbing had subsided.
“Now then, sir, why don’t you tell me all about it while you’re doing the dishes,” she said kindly, “I’d be happy to listen, and I can interrogate you too, if that’s what you’d like.”
Vince wiped his eyes and blew his nose with a crumpled napkin, smearing strawberry jam across his cheeks. Finton didn’t have the heart to tell him, and tried hard not to snigger.
“Call me Vince,” he smiled weakly, and followed Finton into the kitchen.
Those last few days have been hectic. But we finally arrived. I can’t believe we survived all those police controls and those christian mobs, and I didn’t know Kady was a adept at car borrowing.
I forgot my journal because it was on the computer and I didn’t take the computer. So I don’t know how to contact you, Whale, other than using the old method: with a pen and a sheet of paper. Max gave me this piece of wrapping in which Kady had put the chocolate. He said he can still reuse it later with the writing. He’s nice, although he doesn’t look like it. I think I like him.
However, the whole thing is not like I expected. Oh sure, the pistil itself is quite impressive: that lone and long stem coming out of that canyon and surrounded by those mountains in the distance. I’m talking about the camp. It’s like a refugee camp, and all of them avid to be able to go in somehow. I’m not sure what they expect. Kady hasn’t been in a sharing mood lately, and I haven’t asked that many questions. But she told Max we had to discuss before we go in tomorrow. So I’m feeling nervous about what I’ll learn tonight.
I’ve been told once: ask and you will receive. What am I supposed to know now? What am I supposed to do? Maybe that’s not the right question because I just got my voice telling me that I’m not supposed to know or do anything. Maybe supposed is not the right word. I’m too tired and excited at the same time to figure it out, but you get the gist I’m sure.
I didn’t have any more dreams. I’ve been watching the drawings in that book religiously every night of that trip before I go to sleep. Although I’m not truly sincere when I say that I didn’t have any more dreams. I had at least one that I recall. It was like some news about a parallel self, one that got the virus. I dreamt about that other me before, he couldn’t breath and it hurt. I had wondered if he had died because I didn’t have any more dreams about him, until last night. He seemed ok, he had recovered quite well considering the difficulties. He was at a gathering with other people at some kind of Lebanese buffet. I’m not too fond of the spicy merguez sausages, I prefer the hummus.
Max is calling, diner is ready. He’s made lasagna, apparently he makes the the best lasagna in the whole camp. I’m not sure when will be the next time I contact you so far Whale.
The journey to the Pistil itself would have been worth its own story, thought Charlton. They had to avoid road blocks, crowds of chanting christians that had certainly vowed to spread the virus as fast as possible, and howlers who you were never sure weren’t the real thing from Teen Wolf. They had to be, in such a landscape. Once arid, it had turned greener in just a few weeks. Rain was now weekly when drops of water used to only show up with the bottles of water from the tourists.
Despite Kady’s advice not to take anything, he’d still brought the book of drawings. Kady had said nothing about the book, nor the clothes, or the snacks. Charlton was sometimes literal about what people told him, but he also knew it. So he didn’t say anything when he saw Kady had her own backpack with clothes, some money and food. During the trip, he tried to reproduce the experience with the drawings and the dreams —but nothing happened. Charlton felt a little disappointed.
They saw the pistil long before they arrived at its foot. It was at the end of the day and the sunset was splashing its reds and purples all around it. Charlton had had time to get used to its tall presence in the landscape. Yet, seeing it at a close range from below was a strange experience. Taller than the tallest man-made tower. He wondered what he was supposed to feel in its presence. Awe? Electricity? Enlightenment? Bursts of inspiration? This should at least be a mystical moment, but all he could feel was annoyance at the crowd of people crawling around like aphids avid to suck its sap.
Kady looked more annoyed than surprised. She was walking past the flock as if she knew exactly where to go. Charlton followed, feeling dizzy by the sudden increase of activity and smells. He soon got nauseous at the mix of incense and fried sausages.
“There are so many of them,” he eventually said. “How come? It was so difficult just for the two of us to avoid police controls. Do we have to wait with them?”
“Nah! They’re just the usual bunch of weirdoes,” Kady said. “They’ve been here a long time. I bet some of them aren’t even aware there have been a virus. But stay close. I don’t want to lose you, it’s a maze before the maze. I just need to see someone before we go in.”
They walked for about another ten minutes before stopping in front of a big tent. There, a big man with a boxer’s face was repairing all kind of electronics on a table with the application of a surgeon. Phones, cameras, coffee machines… Charlton wondered how they got electricity to make it all work.
“Hey, Kady!” said the man. “You’re back. Did you give it to her?” His face looked anxious.
“Her favourite perfume,” he said with a broad smile.
“I told you she still loves you. I also brought you something else.” Kady dropped a box on the table among the electronics. Charlton didn’t think it could be possible to witness the expression of a ten year old child on such a hard face, but what was inside the box certainly did magic.
“You brought chocolate?”
“Did you find the chestnut one?”
“My favourite,” said Max to Charlton. “Is this your friend?”
“I told you, you’re always welcome. Did you know she saved my life in there?”
“Saved your life?” asked Charlton looking hesitantly at Kady. “No, I didn’t know.”
Helle Jorid, my Whale friend.
I dreamt I sailed on one of those ancient ships made of wood with no engine other than the wind and man power.
In the dream we were very few and not all there by choice. Chased after by some kind of police force we, a motley bunch of people found ourselves on that ship by chance. I saw one man on the dock pass by and cut the big rope that held the ship still.
As the rope limply hanged from the mooring post, I watched the ship being guided away by the backwash from its mooring place to the ocean. At that moment someone wanted to disembark and I heard myself say : In your dreams! It’s too late we’re on the open sea now.
I think someone mentioned a captain Cook, but I’m not sure as I never saw the guy. Maybe it was merely a cook, but did we really need it? As I went deeper into the ship I found a wonderful meeting room with all the technological comfort of TV sets embedded in the walls and loads of electrical plugs at the end of mechanical arms coming out of these same walls. Surely there were microwave oven and tons of dehydrated food.
But our attention was still on the discovery of the treasures hidden in the heart of that ship. There was a circular sofa set around a nice coffee table. And we all settled comfortably there for a get together, happy we had escaped and seemed safe. None of us thought one second about where the wind and the gulf stream were taking us. I guess anywhere was better than what those men had in store for us.
I woke up. Alone at night. It was dark. My heart was pounding. Is that how we feel when we are in a lock down? I almost wrote placed under house arrest. What’s the difference apart the name to make us think it’s different?
Was the ship the symbol of our longing for freedom? It’s still the same place moving around on water. Even if the place move around, we can’t move away from it and from the flatness of the ocean. I wonder. I wonder if I stayed longer in that dream what would have happened? A storm? An interesting encounter? Like a whale. How would I know unless I write the rest of the story?
“Are you sure this is a good idea? Replacing all our culture with carrots seems a bit extreme.”
“We entered unheard of territory. And yes, carrots are the future of our community. We need more carrots.”
“Do you mind illuminating my inferior mind?”
“What do you think? People are allowed to go out only in a few cases. Walking your dog, buying food. It is easier to grow carrots than to breed puppies. It also take less time. We need to be able to go out at will. Take a bunch of carrots and no policeman can tell that you weren’t out for illicit purpose.”
“Oh! You’re so clever. No wonder you’re the head of our new cult.”
The loud voice got her all startled.
“Not so fast Ladies. Hands in the air!”
An officer in uniform was standing there, his service taser pointed at them like they were two dangerous criminals. He was flanked by a trenchcoat acolyte inspector whose tiny glasses were shining in the dark.
“Shhtt! Don’t say anything. They look daft enough, let me do the talking.”
“Mrs June, you’re under arrest for multiple accounts of credit fraud, as well as unlawful impersonation with the intent to commit fraud. You can remain silent. Anything you’ll say may be held against you…” The inspector was speaking like a robot.
“STOP RIGHT THERE!” the officer shouted, “hands up or I shoot! Last warning!”
June was undeterred; she had eluded the police forces for so long and in so many States, she felt invincible and started to voice confused explanations while moving her hands in a frantic fashion and trying to sweet talk the police force.
She never saw the taser come.
Between fuzzy moments of consciousness, she realised she was being cuffed, and her and April taken to the police station.
“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.”FloveParticipant
Her family’s origins is South-Asian. April is an aspiring artist, using her free time as a nanny to explore her art. She met June in 1999, while June was on the run from the police and broke into the household where April was in charge of twins and a pack of dogs at the time. June’s unexpected help with the twelve whining household dogs helped win her over and they became inseparable friends shortly after that, despite June’s temper and kleptomania habits.
“There it is” he pointed at the worn-out dusty book he’d found after turning around the whole library. “Techromancers appear at the seams between realities. They possess technologies to divine outcomes beyond conventional means of the place in which they appear — in a word, they are from the futures, always, whenever the period they were found in — a reason for which scholars have surmised they come from a unique convergence point of the infinite lines of time in a real projective space of time, hinting at the nature of an all-connected roundabout timeline. Although them popping in existence at awkward places is not unheard of, they tend to stay discrete for fear of the Timeline Riots Impeachment Police.
“T’isn’t that helpful now, is it” he said dusting a peanut from the floor before cracking the shell open. “And doesn’t tell us why Finnley is so emotional now. Or where is Roberto. If I were to worry, that would worry me more…”
The so-called Police quickly left when they noticed there wasn’t much on the travellers, and that they didn’t look threatening.
If you’re looking for a place to stay the tallest one said you should go to the Hoping Spice Hospice, it’s not far away from the main street, just three blocks north of here. He looked at the sky, where the waxing gibbous moon was rising.
I wouldn’t stray too much outside if I were you. The desert black jackals are restless this time of year. He looked at Fox who was fidgeting suspiciously. The lack of sleep and being back in human form when they were called by the Police made him nervous.
Then, we’ll be on our way. Peace be upon you, Constable. Rukshan said, pushing forward.
The Hospice was an unassuming building, like all the other mud brick houses, except it probably had been lime washed in the past, and patches of the external wall had whitish spots shining under the moon sky.
The veiled nurse in charge of the night service was sternly quiet, and guided them to a common room. Almost all the beds were full, and the patients seemed to have a fitful sleep.
“Spirits…” whispered Fox gloomily “Captured spirits…”
It was still raining clumps of wet sand when Rukshan, Olliver, Fox and Twee arrived at the oasis.
The light had dimmed and there was a feeling of hope mixed with dread in the vicinity. Only a mud brick wall no higher than a man’s waist was surrounding the village; and despite the infelicitous weather, standing here were a pair of sentinels so covered in sand clumps that they almost looked like a pair of stone wyverns guarding the entrance.
“Sسلام Salum’ friends. We are simple merchants, passing through, please allow us some shelter for the night” explained Rukshan using what he could remember of his rusty Nomads’ old tongue.
After a long silent glance at his strange companions, they shrugged and nodded him that he could go through.
Rukshan signaled to the others to follow him. The central paved road was leading the the market place, which would constitute, with the masjid, the centre of the city, and the most likely place to find answers on their quest.
Everyone seemed to have retreated to their places, in caves or the homes built on top of the caves from excavated materials. It was rather quiet except from the occasional thump noise made by the rain.
They were about to enter an alley when they heard someone loudly call them.
“Stop right here, Plastic Ban Police! – show us your bags and IDs.”
When Jerk came for his shift at the WholeDay*Mart, it was still early in the morning. He liked this shift best. Early customers were always a bit sleepy, except for a few of the early riser soccer moms up for a jog, and usually were far less chatty than the midday crowds.
One had to find ways to keep awake though. What he liked best were the invisible people. There was one in particular who’d caught his attention for the past few days. She had the insolent smile of people in the know, piercing eyes that would go straight to you without care for the social barriers, or untold rules and rites of the place. In short, she’d struck him as the only awake person in the lot, almost winkfully so.
And to his surprise, nobody seemed aware of that. It was as though she was in the background of the other drone people, who just couldn’t register such oddity into their daily computation.
He couldn’t care less — after all, for a meager pay, he wasn’t there to police. He was just intrigued by how she would seem to get away with it and be totally unnoticed.
“Hold right there!”
“Blimey! What are you doing here, lurking in the dark, you gave me a mighty fright!”
“It’s the Good Thoughts Police! Freeze your pen right where you are! We had our eyes on you ever since you started introduce all the queer characters!”
“What do mean, silly goose. All my characters have been queer, and I mean that as a compliment!”
“Shush now! Blatant racism, and hints of sexism and female coercion, you can’t deny that now! Black on white -err, I mean… Look at what you’ve done to the poor maid! You better write this off before the rest of the Political Correct Bureau is sending the cavalry!”
At that moment the trap in the ceiling opened revealing the dark attic.
“Is that smoke coming from the attic?” asked Godfrey, suddenly worried someone had started a fire up there.
“It’s looking more like mist,” said Liz who had suddenly forgotten about her unborn babies. “You know, in those mystery novels they add some when they want to create an atmosphere of suspens.”
Godfrey looked doubtful as the mist was continuing to pour down from the attic in slow motion, like the harbinger of a darker secret. A loud noise made them jump. A metallic ladder, apparently attached on the attic’s floor which was the corridor’s ceiling, unfolded quickly. It stopped just before hitting the floor.
They all looked at each others, waiting for someone to say something. Anything.
Liz looked a bit uncomfortable.
“I’m not sure,” she said in a hum. “There might be some dark secrets I don’t want to reveal to outsiders.”
“Are you coming or what?” Said a voice coming from the attic.
“Well, the backdoor was opened, you see, like my wife says…” Inspector Melon started to explain Finnley how he managed to be in the house no sooner had she turned back to dusting duties, or rather turned her back to the door and said duties.
“Stop it!” she interrupted, “and put those shoe covers on your muddy shoes, damnit, I’m not going to do the floors again on your behalf, you miscreant.”
Finnley put her fists on her hips with a defiant air, not gone unnoticed by Godfrey, “Well, THIS dripping wet gentleman pretends to be a policeman investigating on the Jingly girl disappearance… Not that we know anything about that anyhow.”
Inspector Melon couldn’t help but say “Interesting you should mention it, did I say I was looking for Ms Jingle Bells?”
“I had the most awful nightmare”
Godfrey was taking his morning ginger tea, and talking to himself as usual, although it may have seem he was taking to the new gardener who had come inside for a glass of lemonade. The gardener raised his head, not sure what to answer.
“The neighbour had left corpses in front of the house, and I had to bury them so people wouldn’t think we’d killed them. It was night, but then I realized it was our dear friends, one had lost an arm even. I then realized they were after the money, and has simply settled there in their place. And then I woke up wondering why is that I hadn’t just called the police instead of making it more of a mess than it was.”
The gardener was still at the door, unsure if the pause meant he could finally go outside.
“Truth is, by burying the corpses, I not only became complicit, but also probably made the murderer’s work easier…”
“I’m sorry Sir, but I have to go back to work now,” the gardener finally said rather awkwardly. “Your bossy maid has ordered me to bury a rather large sack in the garden. I can’t let it sit in the sun like that.”
Godfrey looked at the gardener in mute horror.
At first he’d stayed in the same spot. Waiting, for what he didn’t know, but for someone or something to provide a clue, or a reminder. He’d given up checking his pockets, hoping he was mistaken and that of course he had a wallet, some keys, a phone. But there was nothing. Nothing but that suitcase, lighter than it should have been for its size, because there was nothing it in except a few pairs of underpants and a couple of ties. A toiletry bag, unzipped, with nothing in it but a toothbrush.
He closed his eyes. Stay in the same spot if you’re lost. Had his mother said that once, long ago? His head hurt with the effort to try and recall.
He’d found himself sitting in an alley next to a rubbish container, sprawled on the suitcase. Squinting in the shaft of bold sunlight, he automatically reached into his shirt pocket for sunglasses. The pocket was empty. He checked his other pockets, his alarm and confusion growing. Why was he wearing socks but no shoes? He elbowed himself up to a sitting position and noticed the suitcase. A wave of relief washed over him: everything must be inside the suitcase. Relief gave way to horror. It was almost empty. I’ve been robbed! he thought. But what did they take? What did I have in there?
And then the full realization hit. He had no idea where he was. And no idea who he was.
Someone will come looking for me, he thought. But who? He weighed up his options. What could he do? Go to the police? And tell them what?
He shrank back as two women approached, looking down as they glanced at him. They walked past, continuing their conversation. Why were they speaking Spanish? He looked around, noticing a number of signs. Most of them were in Spanish, but some were in English. For a brief moment he was inordinately pleased at the realization that he was English speaking. The first puzzle piece. He was thinking in American English. Therefore, he must be an American. He rubbed his eyes. His headache was getting worse.
“What are you doing!” Liz’ cried in anguish. “Not my plants!”
Liz’ was appalled at the sight of the stash going in flames. “That’s it, I’m going to call the police!”
Godfrey had to rein her and her fury in, while her towel unravelled making her look madder by the minute. “Liz’, calm down, please. Don’t make it worse, I’ll help you get rid of her, if only for your peace of mind.”
“You snake!” She hissed, “I’m sure your in cahoots with her, she’s been planning her revenge ever since I gave all her suitcases of clothes to charity.”
“Liz’, please, listen to yourself, you’re not making any sense. Let me get you a coconut avocado smoothie to soothe your nerves. Finnley!”
Just as Elizabeth was explaining Finnley her thoughts about the Political Correction Police, and that her casting of overly stereotypical minorities wasn’t a cultural insensitivity on her part (including the fact that skinnies were more the minorities versus fatties here), the bell at the door interrupted her once more.
“The law is an ass, Godfrey,” Elizabeth said, extricating a bit of sag paneer from between her teeth that he had drawn her attention to. “I have no intention of wasting my time in court. As a matter of fact, I’ve written the critic out of the story. And the court. Waste of fecking time, fecking gobshites, the fecking lot of them.”
“What did you do that for? There was no bill to pay until you introduced the fecking waiter into the script!”
“What fecking police?” she replied.
“Whatever for?” Liz asked in surprise.
“He kept talking. I hate talking.”
Wisely, Elizabeth said nothing.
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