“Who can that be now!” exclaimed May as she made her way to the back door. A flustered looking woman in odd looking mismatched clothes was standing on the door step.
“I ’ave come to ’elp Finnley wiz ze bedding!” she said by way of introduction, “But I ‘ave lost my baby, ’ave you seen ’er? My name is Fanella. I ’ave come to ’elp Finnley wiz ze bedding, but I must find my daughter first!”
“You’d better come in,” replied May, wondering what to do. Until the right baby turned up, she could hardly give this woman her daughter back. But the poor woman was distraught, and May wanted to ease her distress. She would have to try to delay her somehow.
“There is no need to worry, er, Fanella, as it happens there is an unexpected baby girl visiting with the bosses son, but they are both fast asleep. They are quite safe, but I am not in a position to disturb them yet. Do sit down, you look exhausted. Let me get you a drink.”
May handed her a glass of wine. “How on earth did you manage to lose your daughter?”
“I was just about to ring ze bell but I was so nervous I ’ad to pee so I ran quickly be’ind ze bushes. And when I ’ad finished, my baby was gone!” Fanella started to weep.
“And you brought your baby with you?” aghast, May wondered what to do next. Maybe this woman shouldn’t be given the child back after all. It had been a long night, with far too many babies.prUneParticipant
I’ve been checking old records those past few days. Yes, I know, not much ever happens, and I’ve got a lot of time on my hands between my studies. Anyway, I read something rather odd about a bit of rare magic… Sorry, getting carried away again, I mean, I found a passing mention of Jasper.
Guess, the letter is about our long lost brother that nobody ever mentioned. My sisters, with all of their flaws, which I don’t hate them for, have a keen sense of investigation. Must be in the genes, though it may have skipped over Aunt Dodo.
That, or they have just sent a copy of the Boynitch manuscript to sent her into a spin, that wouldn’t be a first.January 16, 2020 at 11:44 am #5593
Was trying to get a basic timeline in place for future reference:
- (1935) Birth of Mater
- (1958) Mater marries her childhood sweetheart (ref)
- (1965) Birth of Fred
- (1970) Birth of Aunt Idle
- (1978) April 12th, Mater’s husband dies
- (1998) Birth of Devan
- (2000) Birth of the twins Coriander & Clove
- (2008) Birth of Prune
- (2014) Start of Prune’s journal about the Inn (she’s 6 at the time – ref)
- (2017) visit of Arona, Albie, Maeve, Hilda, Sanso etc. to the Inn
- (2020) The year of the Great Fires (ref). Mater is 85. Idle is 50. The twins are 20. Prune is 12.
- (2027) First settlers on Mars; Prune’s left for a boarding school to pursue her dreams
Fast forward 15 years later
- (2035) Idle receives news from the twins (now aged 35) & waterlark adventures.
Mater is alive and kicking at 100.
Fast forward a little more
- (2049) Prune arrives with a commercial flight on Mars, having won a place through a reality show.
Mater is deceased. She would have been 114.
Little after, the Mars mission is revealed to be an elaborately constructed mass illusion, and the program is terminated via an alien invasion simulation; like the other survivors from the program, she returns to Australia but cannot reveal the details of the program.
“Well, where were we?” Jerk took the articles where he left them when he got up to check the price on one lacking a barcode.
The blip blip resumed, with the impatient twitching lady pouncing on the items as soon as they passed the scanning, to cram them into her compostable bag.
Days were stretching in ennui, and he started to feel like an android. At least, the rhythmical blips and “Have a good day, thank you for your purchase” were now part of his muscle memory, and didn’t require much paying attention to.
He’d renewed the yearly fee to maintain his group website yesterday, but he wasn’t sure why he did it. There were still the occasional posts on the groups he was managing, but the buzz had died already. People had moved to other things, autumn for one. Really, what was the point of maintaining it for 3 posts a week (and those were good weeks, of course not counting the spam).
There was fun occasionally, but more often than not, there were harangues.
He wondered what archetype he was in his life story; maybe he was just a background character, and that was fine, so long as he wasn’t just a supporting cast to another megalomaniac politician.
The apartment blocks were he was living were awfully quiet. His neighbours were still in travel, he wondered how they could afford it. Lucinda was completely immersed in her writing courses, and Fabio was still around amazingly – Lucinda didn’t look like she could even care of herself, so a dog… Meanwhile, the town council was envisaging a “refresh” of their neighborhood, but he had strong suspicion it was another real-estate development scheme. Only time would tell. He wasn’t in a rush to jump to the conclusion of an expropriation drama —leave that to Luce.
Friday would have been her 60th brithday (funny typo he thought). Their dead friend’s birthday would still crop up in his calendar, and he liked that they were still these connections at least. Did she move on, he wondered. Sometimes her energy felt present, and Lucinda would argue she was helping her in her writing endeavours. He himself wasn’t sure, those synchronicities were nice enough without the emphatic spiritualist extrapolations.
“Happy birthday Granola.” he said.
Another crack appeared on the red crystal into which Granola was stuck for what felt like ages.
“About time!” she said. “I wonder if they have all forgotten about me now.”
She looked closely at the crack. There was an opening, invisible, the size of an atom. But maybe, just maybe, it was just enough for her to squeeze in. She leaned in and focused on the little dot to escape.
It had been a long day and MIB decided he could spare a few moments to recuperate before propelling himself at the speed of light to Destination D.
Probaby better to let the targets get there first so there was no chance of detection.
MIB sauntered to a nearby park bench and sat down. He then proceeded to take the water flask from his briefcase and gently unscrewed the top. After a surreptitious glance over his shoulder, he pulled the doll’s head out of the flask. “Oh for flove’s sake!” he said and quickly shoved it back in.
“Target doll is Man in Black i.e. myself,” he said into his wrist watch. “It appears conscious detection of target is no longer necessary for Magpie to actualise dolls. Repeat, conscious detection of target NOT NECESSARY. Subliminal factors at play. Doll will be destroyed poste haste before activation takes effect.”
He carefully pulled the doll out of the flask for a second time. He fingered the miniature moustache; the doll was perfect down to the last detail, even the small scar he had over his right eyebrow. He felt the back of the doll and pressed, relieved to feel the hardness of the key.
As long as the key is still in the doll, activation can’t happen. What harm is there …
He stuffed the doll back into the flask and put it back in his briefcase.
Jerk was waiting for the courrier to pick-up the documents and deliver the mail before closing down, and while the mall’s activity was still painfully slow, he was observing the tos and fros of the few people outside.
Summer was on its last leg, and there were signs that the city workers would soon come back. Nothing like cranky business people in addition to cranky old people to spice up your day.
Maintenance had not come yet. He’d noticed his dead pixel had stopped blinking anyway. Instead it was showing a single red dot.
The courrier guy arrived at last. “Never a quiet time, man!” he said maybe as a sort of excuse for his tardiness. Maybe Jerk needed to change his own line of work, since the other’s job looked so thrilling. He signed the documents distractedly, and was ready to lower the iron curtain to close the shop when the guy called him back. “Oh wait, I forgot to give you that.”
Jerk looked at the letter, and opened it to find a postcard. That’s when he remembered he’d given the address of the mall to the mysterious Ms M. from the findmydolls forum. Couldn’t be too careful, there were so many weirdos on the Internet.
It came from Australia? Half a cup of blue sand was enclosed in a clear plastic wrap bag, along with the postcard.
The postcard wasn’t saying much, but it was intriguing.
“No network there, so I’m sending a card. Hope it will reach in time. You must flood your group with fake addresses of dolls. It’ll send mysterious nefarious parties off-track and avoid casualties. Otherwise, lovely weather, beautiful scenery. Ms M.
PS: Do what you want with the blue powder, I just found it too lovely not to share.”
There had been no communications from either Connie or Hilda for some time. Ricardo went down the usual route of worrying that something had happened to them, and then it occurred to him to try out the remote viewing he’d been practicing. It was too easy to rely solely on technological means, he reminded himself, AI (short for Abnormal Intrusions) or no AI.
Ricardo found himself in a moonlit sweeping landscape, with some dark indeterminate built structure shapes. Oh, very helpful, he snorted, and then reminded himself to simply observe. Then he saw the woman, dressed in gauzy floating white, and found himself sneering at how corny the image was, like a new age art poster woman, beautiful and ethereal in a moonlit scene.
Stranger still was the next thought to waft through his wandering mind. Maybe he inserted that corny woman to distract any remote viewing spies, and throw them off the scent? Suddenly there was a crash behind him. Another picture had fallen off the wall, he assumed. But nothing was out of place. He looked again, sure that something had fallen to the floor to make such a noise. But there was nothing to see. He shrugged.
Later, he wondered: what had made that noise?
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?
“UN-BE-LIE-VA-BLE!” Miss Bossy was flustered. “The cheek of those two!”
She was ranting, rather elegantly, with lipstick and all, as she’d found a little agitation to go a long way in expelling the sluggishness. Her meditation teacher, Lim Monk had told her “Abundance of quantity isn’t going to tempt you into a frenzy of delete, so long as you keep trying”; so she felt compelled to meditate the funk out of this no man’s plot.
“They’ve been there for THREE DAYS, three bloody full days, with wifi and access, and they are only sending news now!”
Ricardo was looking mutely at the scene, not daring to move a muscle.
“Can you believe it, and to say I almost got worried about them!”
“AND Look at the cryptic sheet they send me: QUOTE “Ahoy! Inn food awful, sick icon grin.” UNQUOTE. Now, what should I make of that?”
She walked energetically to Sophie and planted her arms in front of her desk, waking up from her nap.
Sophie blinked twice, and said:
“I know you’re like me, fond about old-fashioned technology, but you should really consider throwing your pager to the waste bin; if you’d been on faecebrook, you’d see Hilda and Connie’s blog is pretty active. Look! They can’t stop posting stuff there, even when they were in the plane…”
Miss Bossy Pants was losing patience. If it weren’t for the heat spell that made her cat-like reflexes duller than usual, she would have shredded the hippie yurt that Ricardo had built for Sophie, that useless temp too fast promoted.
She had to reason with herself, although she didn’t like that. Mostly because she always agreed with the devil on her shoulder. “OK, I’ll give them a chance to fish for key information.”
Truth was, there was already enough evidence that Sophie’s brain was mush, and probably heavily tampered with by the Doctor. Who knows what that maniac might have planted as post-hypnotic suggestions in such a suggestible mind. There was little doubt that if she’d escaped, she was actually probably still a pawn he could control.
She liked a worthy opponent. It would be so much more satisfying to crush him in the end.
Her phone buzzed.
“in oz, on ourwya to hippicenter gto grdbraeknig inforamton keep cool hilda &c.”
Well there was good news after all. She started to list them to give her heart:
1. Hilda remembered how to spell her own name
2. She had not lost or broken her company phone
3. They were not dead or maimed or enhanced yet, so clumsy as they were, they’d probably managed to stay off the radar of the Doctor.
Of course, the other things she’d learned in that short moment was probably outweighing the silver lining:
3. She had probably an insane roaming bill to the company phone
4. They’d continued to max out the credit card to pursue the topic
5. Clumsy as they were, it was surely a matter of time before they alerted the Doctor to their investigation.
She thought quick and fast, while waving her fan figorously (it was a modesty hiding fan). Punching the screen of her phone, she typed.
“Had breakthru too. Sophie was one of the dolls – need to find keys to dirty secrets & coded map to intercept = hashtag bigger than wee key leaks.”
There, that should keep them occupied and well on track with the wild goose chase, while she devised a plan B.
The path ahead was blocked. Repeatedly.
Some filter was preventing him to access the path, and move forward.
He wished he had an oiliphant, or something equally powerful that could blast through. But more subtle measures were required. The evil that blocked his path was a different kind of monster, something built on inaction, and slow decay. One would exhaust oneself to argue with it, and moving it with force would only ensure its full and entirely focused resistance.
Patience and proper action, in a flow like water. It was more than a magical mantra, it should be a way of life.
Rukshan had looked at his options, and the map he found only confirmed what he had surmised so far. There were three barmkins, old defensive enclosures that hindered his way out of the Zaunoff Camp Fort, the Southern outpost leading to the safety of the Forest’s outer groves.
Tackling the first wall would test his resolve, but he was ready. He removed his cloak, stretched his back and cracked his knuckles.
Move like water
The creeping ivy and catsfoot flowers started to react and whisper in the wind.
A hole? There was a hole in the old wall, and with some chance, the plants would lead him through.
There were strong wind currents when they passed above land, drafts of warm air competing with each other, and it took some skill to land the Jiborium Air Express without any damage.
“It’s incredible the distance we can travel without refueling,” he mused aloud. As if Australia’s coasts weren’t huge enough, their travel inland seemed to have stretched for days. Sanso had been seasick most of the time, and at first Arona thought his retching was just emotion sickness, but it was only motion after all.
“The secret is in the lard, boy. It burns longer.” Sanso said, before reaching for a bucket.
He resumed. “Arona could have taken a Zeppelin you know, the Emporium always used to have few spares, they’re so much more comfortable, and still quite affordable.”
“Guess your comfort wasn’t the priority, nor were you expected, were you?” Mandrake was in a somber mood, well, somberer than usual.
“Mmh, someone’s sprightly today! Guess it doesn’t have anything to do with Ugo the gecko, does it?”
The bickering continued a while longer after all the landing was done, and the balloon was folded back in a neat package.
“Before we venture further in Mutitjulu land, we’ll need to seek permission from the local shaman.” Arona said.
Noticing the boy, she asked “Aren’t your parents going to be concerned, you seem a little far from home!”
“We can still send them a postcard?” he answered tentatively. “It’ll be like a quest, a rite of passage for me. After that, I’ll be a man in my village!”
“Well, when you have had enough, let me know. I think most bodies of water are connected to the Doline, I can just send a magical trace with the last pearls to guide you home.”
“That is kind and generous, Milady. Thank you.”
“So what is our quest?” Sanso seemed to creep out of the shadows where he was lurking.
“Well, that won’t surely get us run in circles now.” Mandrake sniggered. He turned to Arona who was already ready to trek in the rocks and sand. “What about you? Has your quest anything to do with that key you got?”
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.
The mysterious thing was heavy, brown and looked a tad like a dry turd. It could hold in Shawn Paul’s hand and it seemed shaped to fit in his closed fist, but the young man hesitated to keep it too long because of the way it looked.
A note from his mother accompanied it. Who else could have sent a parcel this way? he thought, meaning not through the post office and delivered by a decrepit old man.
So the thing had been put on top of a pile of his latest scribblings, which was on top of his not so latest scribblings. Before putting it there, he almost saw the interest of a clean desktop or table, but it got lost in the immediacy of the moment and the tiredness caused by his recent fever.
“I’m sure you’re wondering what this marvellous object is.” the note started. Shawn Paul looked at the thing. It looked like a turd more than ever on all that white paper, so he made his yuck face. What he was wondering was rather why did she send me anything? She lives in an apartment on the upper floor. She could have brought it herself.
“I found it in a car boot sale,” she continued, her sharp and melodious voice chirping in her son’s head while he read the rest. “I met that old man, Patrick, who will deliver it to you. He’s a dear nice fellow never frugal with his words, and he told me it had been given to him by an Inuit shaman. It’s a fossil bone of the inner ear of a whale when they escaped Lemuria. Can you imagine that? Apparently it will help you develop your psychic abilities. You know how I’ve always known you had such a great potential in that area…”
Shawn Paul snorted and put down the paper. There was no use keeping up reading. His mother and her crazy ideas. He looked at the pile of papers.
It’ll do for a nice paperweight, he thought.
But Granola had not lost a crumble of what the mother had told in the rest of the note. She was lurking at the inner bone and she wondered if she could make herself heard if she merged with it.
Hi, I believe you have information about a doll. Look forward to hearing more. Thanks! Ms M.
Maeve gave a loud breath out and pushed POST. She had first put a little message on findmydolls on May 22nd. She remembered the date because it was Fabio’s birthday and she’d been celebrating with a glass of wine which made her unaccustomably bold. She hadn’t expected to hear anything, although for a few days she did check the site regularly. And then forgot about it.
It had been a day of full work for Ricardo, rather than his frequently dull work at the paper.
Connie and Hilda were crazily busy bouncing off bits of odd news to each other and it was a sort of playful banter that even had Sweet Sophie come out of her pre-lunch-post-lunch slumber that occasionally trailed until tea time.
News of the Rim had been scarce, there was no denying. Honestly, he wondered how Bossy M’am managed to still pay the bills and their wages, however meager those (or his) were. He giggled thinking about how she probably scared the debt collectors off their wits with her best impersonation of Johnny Depp playing Jack Sparrow playing Tootsie meets Freddy Krueger.
Speaking of which, he couldn’t help but eavesdrop, while pretending to clean the coffee cups and the butter knives full of vegemite and scone crumbs.
“Dolls! Are you daft? What about all those crop circles in France instead?”
“Listen, you decrepit tart, I’m telling you there’s plenty to investigate about this Findmy stuff group. Secret dolls scattered around the world, masonic occult secret symbols…”
“Hardly matter for an insert on 4th page, dear. While on the other hand, elongated skulls, secret underground bases in Antarctica…”
“We talked about this! Conspiracy theories are off limits! We only want the real stuff, the odd happenings that hits your neighbour that you wouldn’t have known about without us reporting it! But dolls! that’s something, no?”
“Flimsy at best…”
“What else then?”
“I don’t know, seesh, what about Hundreds attending two frogs wedding in India ?”
“Already covered, too mainstream…”
“What about the Mothman of Tchernobyl?”
“We stopped cryptozoology, remember, after that pathetic chase after the trenchcoat ape that got us torpedoed in the other paper rags when we reported it without checking our facts?”
“Facts! FACTS! Don’t you get me started about FACTS!”
Suddenly, they both turned simultaneously at Ricardo, seemingly realizing his presence.
“Ric’, this cuppa isn’t going to make itself, dear.” They both said like a couple of creepily synched automatons.
“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.”
Jerk looked puzzled at the screen.
As his side job, he was managing the maintenance of a popular website findmystuff.com where people where posting lost&found items, which had turned into a joyful playground at times for groups of pranksters as well as good samaritans leaving stuff for people to find. Monitoring and curating the content was mostly done by an AI these days, but now and then the flagging seemed to require a human analysis, to check if it was a false positive or not.
Right off, there were some odd blinks on his screen, but if that hadn’t caught his attention, the details of this case certainly would have.
It was a particular group, not specially overactive, the quiet under the radar group catering to less than a few hundred people at the time, but picking up strongly over the past few days. The group was called “findmydolls” and there was a comment which had been flagged as “fake news”.
He had to decide to “moderate” (read “delete”) the comment or not, but he couldn’t decide about it.
Have found one of your dolls, Ms M. Brilliant hiding! During the last Aya trip, I was teleported to some place that looked like Australia’s dream time, and there was your doll. I’m sure it’s there in Australia, a remote place in the middle of the bush, there’s an inn with a flashy fish neon sign over it. Your doll was there, and there was a message. PM for details.
He shrugged. The rules of the board didn’t explicitly forbid “remove viewing” as a source of clues, nor an astral view was any less flimsy than a vague visual report from the streets.
He clicked on “approved”.
Shawn Paul had decided that this particular day was dedicated to his writing. He had warned his friends not to call him and put his phone on silent mode. It was 9am and he had a long day of writing ahead of him.
He almost felt the electricity in his fingers as he touched the keyboard of his laptop. He imagined himself as a pianist of words preparing himself before a concert in front of the crowd of his future readers.
Shawn Paul pushed away the voice of his mother telling him with an irritating voice that he had the attention span of a shrimp in a whirlpool during a storm, which the boy had never truely understood, but today he was willing not to even let his inner voices distract him. He breathed deeply three times as he had learned last week-end during a workshop, and imagined his mother’s voice as a slimy slug that he could put away in a box with a seal into a chest with chains and lots of locks, that he buried in the deepest trench of the Pacific ocean. He was a writer and had a vivid imagination after all, why not use it to his benefit.
A smile of satisfaction wavered on the corner of his mouth while a drop of sweat slowly made its way to the corner of his left eye. He blinked and the doorbell rang.
Shawn Paul’s fragile smile transformed into a fixed grin ready to break down. Someone was laughing, and when the bell rang a second time, Shawn Paul realised it was his own contained hysterical laugh.
He breathed in deeply at his desk and got up too quickly, bumping his knee in one corner.
Ouch! he cried silently.
It would not take long he reminded himself, limping to the door.
What could it be ? The postman ?
Shawn Paul opened the door. An old man he had never seen, was standing there with a packet in his hands. If he was not the postman, at least you had the packet right said a voice in Shawn Paul’s head.
The old man opened his mouth, certainly to speak, but instead started to cough as if he was about to snuff it. It lasted some time and Shawn Paul repulsed by the loose cough retreated a bit into his flat. It was his old fear of contagion creeping out again. He berated himself he should not feel that way and he should show compassion, but at least if the old man could stop, it would be easier.
“For you!” said the old man when his cough finally stopped. He put the packet in Shawn Paul’s hands and left without another word.
In the white silence of the mountains, Rukshan was on his knees on a yakult wool rug pouring blue sand from a small pouch on a tricky part of the mandala that looked like a small person lifting his arms upwards. Rukshan was just in the right state of mind, peaceful and intensely focused, in the moment.
It was more instinct than intellect that guided his hands, and when he felt inside him something click, he stopped pouring the sand. He didn’t take the time to check if it was right, he trusted his guts.
He held the pouch to his right and said: “White”. Olliver took the pouch of blue and replaced it with another. Rukshan resumed pouring and white sand flew in a thin stream on the next part of the mandala.
After a few hours of the same routine, only broken by the occasional refreshments and drinks that Olliver brought him, the mandala was finished and Rukshan stood up to look at the result. He moved his shoulders to help relieve the tensions accumulated during the hard day of labor. He felt like an old man. His throat was dry with thirst but his eyes gleamed with joy at the result of hours of hard concentration.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olliver with awe in his voice.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Rukshan. He accepted a cup of warm and steaming yakult tea that Olliver handed him and looked at the boy. It was the first time that Olliver had spoken during the whole process.
“Thanks, Olli,” said Rukshan, “you’ve been very helpful the whole time. I’m a little bit ashamed to have taken your whole time like that and make you stand in the cold without rest.”
“Oh! Don’t worry,” said the boy, “I enjoyed watching you. Maybe one day you can teach me how to do this.”
Rukshan looked thoughtfully at the boy. The mandala drew its power from the fae’s nature. There could certainly be no danger in showing the technique to the boy. It could be a nice piece of art.
“Sure!” he said. “Once we are back. I promise to show you.”
A smile bloomed on Olliver’s face.
In the white silence of the mountain, Lhamom sat on a thick rug of yakult wool in front of a makeshift fireplace. She had finished packing their belongings, which were now securely loaded on the hellishcarpet, and decided it was cooking time. For that she had enrolled the young lad, Olliver, to keep her company instead of running around and disturbing Rukshan. The poor man… the poor manfae, Lhamom corrected, had such a difficult task that he needed all his concentration and peace of mind.
Lhamom stirred the content of the cauldron in a slow and regular motion. She smiled because she was also proud of her idea of a screen made of yakult wool and bamboo poles, cut from the haunted bamboo forest. It was as much to protect from the wind as it was for the fae’s privacy and peace of mind.
“It smells good,” said Olliver, looking with hungry eyes at what Lhamom was doing.
“I know,” she said with pride. “It’s a specialty I learned during the ice trek.”
“Can you teach me?” ask Olliver.
“Yes, sure.” She winked. “You need a special blend of spiced roots, and use pootatoes and crabbage. The secret is to make them melt in yakult salted butter for ten minutes before adding the meat and a bucket of fresh snow.”
They continued to cook and talk far all the afternoon, and when dusk came Lhamom heard Rukshan talk behind his screen. He must have finished the mandala, she thought. She smiled at Olliver, and she felt very pleased that she had kept the boy out of the manfae’s way.
Fox listened to the white silence of the mountain during that brief moment, just after the dogs had made it clear, despite all the promises of food, that they would not help the two-leggeds with their plan.
Fox sighed. For an instant, all felt still and quiet, all was perfectly where it ought to be.
The instant was brief, quickly interrupted by a first growl, joined by a second and a third, and soon the entire pack of mountain dogs walked, all teeth out, towards a surrounded Fox. He looked around. There was no escape route. He had no escape plan. His stomach reminded him that instant that he was still sick. He looked at the mad eyes of the dogs. They hadn’t even left the bones from the meat he gave them earlier. He gulped in an attempt to remove the lump of anguish stuck in his throat. There would be no trace of him left either. Just maybe some red on the snow.
He suddenly felt full of resolve and camped himself on his four legs; he would not go without a fight. His only regret was that he couldn’t help his friends go home.
We’ll meet in another life, he thought. Feeling wolfish he howled in defiance to the dogs.
They had stopped and were looking uncertain of what to do next. Fox couldn’t believe he had impressed them.
“Come,” said a voice behind him. Fox turned surprised. On the pile of his clothes stood Olliver.
“How did you,” he yelped before remembering the boy could not understand him.
“Hurry! I can teleport us back to the camp,” said the boy with his arms opened.
Without a second thought Fox jumped in Olliver’s arms and the next thing he knew was that they were back at the camp. But something was off. Fox could see Rukshan busy making his mandala and Olliver was helping him with the sand. Then he could see Lhamom cooking with the help of another Olliver.
Fox thought it might be some case of post teleportation confusion. He looked at the Olliver who helped him escape an imminent death, the fox head slightly tilted on the side, the question obvious in its eyes.
“Please don’t tell them,” said Olliver, his eyes pleading. “It just happened. I felt a little forgotten and wanted so much to be useful.”
Fox turned back into a human, too surprised to feel the bite of the cold air.
“Oh! Your clothes,” said Olliver before he disappeared. Fox didn’t have time to clear his mind before the boy was back with the clothes.
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