“Did someone say drinks are on the house?” asked Rosamund, pushing past the burly bouncer as she entered the pub. “What’s your name, handsome?”
“Percival,” the bouncer replied with a wry grin. “Yeah I know, doesn’t fit the image.”
Rosamund looked him up and down while simultaneously flicking a bit of food from between her teeth with a credit card. “I keep forgetting to buy dental floss,” she said.
“Is that really necessary?” hissed Tara. “Is that moving the plot forward?”
“I’ll be away for a while on an important mission,” Rosamund said to Percival, “But give me your number and I’ll call you when I get back.”
“The trip is cancelled, you’re not going anywhere,” Star told her, “Except to the shop to buy dental floss.”
“I’m glad you mentioned it!” piped up a middle aged lady sitting at the corner table. “I have run out of dental floss too.”
“See?” said Rosamund. “You never can tell how helpful you are when you just act yourself and let it flow. Now tell me why I’m not going to New Zealand? I already packed my suitcase!”
“Because it seems that New Zealand has come to us,” replied Star, “Or should I say, the signs of the cult are everywhere. It’s not so much a case of finding the cult as a case of, well finding somewhere the cult hasn’t already infected. And as for April,” she continued, “She changes her story every five minutes, I think we should ignore everything she says from now on. Nothing but a distraction.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Tara. “Exactly! Distraction tactics! A well known ruse, tried and tested. She has been sent to us to distract us from the case. She isn’t a new client. She’s a red herring for the old clients enemies.”
“Oh, good one, Tara,” Star was impressed. Tara could be an abusive drunk, but some of the things she blurted out were pure gold. Or had a grain of gold in them, it would be more accurate to say. A certain perspicacity shone through at times when she was well lubricated. “Perhaps we should lock her back in the wardrobe for the time being until we’ve worked out what to do with her.”
“You’re right, Star, we must restrain her….oy! oy! Percival, catch that fleeing aunt at once!” April had made a dash for it out of the pub door. The burly bouncer missed his chance. April legged it up the road and disappeared round the corner.
“Oh I say, that’s going a bit far,” interjected the middle aged lady sitting at the corner table.
“What’s it got to do with you?” Tara turned on her.
“This,” the woman replied with a smugly Trumpish smile. She pulled her trouser leg up to reveal a bell bird tattoo.
“Oh my fucking god,” Tara was close to tears again.
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!
Fanella was frantic, trying to think of a way to escape with her baby. The atmosphere in this city was unbearable at the best of times, and especially in this house, but now it was excruciating. It wasn’t that she was afraid of the plague that was terrorizing people, it was the way the people were reacting that was so alarming. They were howling like wolves, a sure sign of lunacy since time immemorial. The sound of it made her blood run cold.
Nobody had seen the president for over a week and rumours were rife. Many said that he’d died, and they were keeping it secret to avoid civil unrest. An office junior was continuing his tweets to the nation, using a random predictive text algorithm. Nobody had noticed. That wasn’t strictly true of course as many had commented that the messages now made marginally more sense.
Fanella could sense the swelling chaos in the air, both inside the house and beyond, in the city and in the nation. Everyone was losing their minds. She had to escape.
She consulted the U Chong:
晉 (Chin / Jin) : Progress / Advance. It represents Prospering, as well as Progress. It is symbolic of meeting the great man.
The great man! Of course! Lazuli Galore would come to rescue her! But how would he know where to find her? Would he be able to travel freely? He’d find a way, surely! But how would he know she needed help? It was so complicated. So hard to know what to do!
But first things first. Fanella crept down to the kitchen, in the dead of the night while everyone was tucked up in their beds with their fitful nightmares, and filled a rucksack with provisions. Then she crept up the back stairs to her hideout in the attic of the west wing. The baby was still sleeping soundly. Fanella lay down and pulled a blanket round them both. Maybe the answer would come in a dream. If not, she’d think about it again tomorrow.
“Ouch! that hurt!”
“Look!” Tara nodded towards the mansion. “Over there, far window. It’s open.”
Star, still smarting from being unceremoniously dragged into the bushes, shrugged her shoulders. “So?”
“We’ve come all this way. We can’t go without a fight! Let’s break in!” Tara’s face was animated. “I mean, who is going to stop us? That butler could barely walk and Mr French is supposedly in a coma … and … well, don’t you think it seems strange about the accident and everything?”
Keeping low under cover of the ornamental pears, they crept back towards the house. “Did that curtain move?” whispered Star. “It fluttered, the room next to the open window!”
I don’t know how I restrained myself from throttling Finly when she finally handed me the letter from Corrie. A whole week she’d had it, and wouldn’t share it until she’d cleaned every last window. Some peoples priorities, I ask you! The funny thing was that even when I had it in my hand I didn’t open it right away. Even with Mater and Bert breathing down my neck.
It was something to savour, the feeling of having an unopened letter in ones hand. Not that this looked like the letters we used to get years ago, all crisp and slim on white paper, addressed in fine blue ink. This was a bundle tied with a bit of wool pulled out of an old jumper by the look of it, all squiggly, holding together several layers of yellowed thin cardboard and written on with a beetroot colour dye and a makeshift brush by the look of it. The kind of thing that used to be considered natural and artistic, long ago, when such things were the fashion. I suppose the fashion now, in such places where fashion still exists, is for retro plastic. They said plastic litter wouldn’t decompose for hundreds of years, how wrong they were! I’d give my right arm now for a cupboard full of tupperware with lids. Or even without lids. Plastic bottles and shopping bags ~ when I think back to how we used to hate them, and they’re like gold now. Better than gold, nobody has any interest in gold nowadays, but people would sell their soul for a plastic bucket.
I waited until the sun was going down, and sat on the porch with the golden rays of the lowering sun slanting across the yard. I clasped the bundle to my heart and squinted into the sun and sighed with joyful anticipation.
“For the love of god, will you get on with it!” said Bert, rudely interrupting the moment.
Gently I pulled the faded red woolen string, and stopped for a moment, imaging the old cardigan that it might have been.
I didn’t have to look at Mater to know what the expression on her face was, but I wasn’t going to be rushed. The string fell into my lap and I turned the first piece of card over.
There was a washed out picture of a rooster on it and a big fancy K.
“Cornflakes!” I started to weep. “Look, cornflakes!”
“You always hated cornflakes,” Mater said, missing the point as usual. “You never liked packet cereal.”
The look I gave her was withering, although she didn’t seem to wither, not one bit.
“I used to like rice krispies,” Bert said.
By the time we’d finished discussing cereal, the sun had gone down and it was too dark to read the letter.
Bert tells me it’s Christmas day today. Christmas! I just looked at him blankly when he told me, trying to bring to mind what it used to be like. I can’t remember the last time Christmas was normal. Probably around fifteen years ago, just before the six years of fires started. It’s a wonder we survived, but we did. Even Mater. God knows how old she is now, maybe Bert knows. He’s the one trying to keep track of the passing of time. I don’t know what for, he’s well past his sell by date, but seems to cling on no matter what, like Mater. And me I suppose.
We lost contact with the outside world over ten years ago (so Bert tells me, I wouldn’t know how long it was). It was all very strange at first but it’s amazing what you can get used to. Once you get over expecting it to go back to normal, that is. It took us a long time to give up on the idea of going back to normal. But once you do, it changes your perspective.
But don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad. We haven’t heard anything of the twins, not for a good ten years or more (you’d have to ask Bert how long) but I hear their voices in my head sometimes, and dream of them. In my dreams they’re always on the water, on a big flat raft boat. I love it when I dream of them and see all that water. Don’t ask me how, but I know they’re alright.
Anyway like I said, it hasn’t been all bad. Vulture meat is pretty tasty if you cook it well. The vultures did alright with it all, the sky was black with them at times, right after the droughts and the fires. But we don’t eat much these days, funny how you get used to that, too. We grow mushrooms down in the old mines (Bert’s idea, I don’t know what we’d do without him). And when the rains came, they were plentiful. More rain than we’d ever seen here.
Prune’s been back to see us once (you’d have to ask Bert when it was). She was on some kind of land sailing contraption, no good asking me what was powering the thing, there’s been no normal fuel for a good long time, none that’s come our way. Any time anyone comes (which is seldom) they come on camels or horses. One young family came passing through on a cart pulled by a cow once. But Prune came wafting in on some clever thing I’d never seen the likes of before. She didn’t stay long, she was going back to China, she said. It was all very different there, she said. Not all back to the dark ages like here, that’s what she said. But then, we were here in the first place because we liked a quiet simple life. Weren’t we? Hard to remember.
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.
“This is mine,” said the *Man In Black (MIB) as he wrestled the waterbottle from the grip of a small boy. “You are welcome to the mangled bike though,” he said as the boy started to whimper. “Maybe you can fix it up.”
After a quick glance to make sure nobody was watching, MIB yanked off his waxed moustache and put it in the top pocket of his Louis Vuitton tux with black satin trimmings. He opened his briefcase and carefully deposited the waterbottle inside. Finally, he pulled out a wooden top beanie and placed it on his head.
He raised his arm to his mouth. “Good to go,” he said into his writstwatch.
[* (for Tracy) Maeve thought she saw a man in black following them at the airport. He supposedly went back to his headquarters, however turns out that was a ruse and now he is in possession of the waterbottle containing the doll. don’t ask me which doll. Maybe Eric knows.]
The old ruse was still working, so I continued to use it. Only way to get a bit of time to myself, especially lately. A bit of quiet time, to think. And there was so much to think about, what with all these people around. I wasn’t put on this earth to make beds and pander to tourists, and the clues were coming in thick and fast. Oh yes, some of these new guests were thick, and some were fast. Anyway, I pretended to be inebriated again and did a pretty good imitation of a lurching drunk to throw them off the scent. They always fall for it.
After turning the key in the lock of my bedroom door, I leaned my back against it for a minute and closed my eyes. It was the bird flying in the window at the crack of dawn that got me worried. Now I’m not a superstitious person by any means, but there have been times when a bird in the house has been followed by a death, and things like that stick in your mind. The sight of Mater in that red pantsuit had etched itself on my mind as well, which was almost as worrying as the bird.
I went over to the window and pulled down the blinds. The bright sun was making my head hurt. I was thirsty, and wished I’d brought a cup of tea with me, but lurching drunks can’t be seen to be making plans for a quiet afternoon of sober contemplation. I tried valiantly to ignore my parched mouth, but it was no good. I put my ear to the door, and the coast seemed clear so I inched it open, looking up and down the hallway. I sprinted to the bathroom, unfortunately tripping over the vacuum cleaner that Finley had no doubt left there deliberately to trip me up. She was a dark horse, that one. Good at dusting, and reliable, so I suppose that was something. Hard to get hired help out here so we had no choice, really.
I smashed my nose on Mater’s doorknob and skinned my shin on the hoover. My nose hurt like hell, and quickly spurted an astonishing quantity of bright blood, similar in colour to that ghastly pantsuit. My fall made a hell of a din so I staggered quickly to the bathroom wash basin for the much needed drink of water before anyone came to investigate the crash, hoping to get back to my room before anyone appeared on the scene.
Had the water in the cold tap been cold, it might have been different, but the new water pipes were still above ground, and the cold water was scalding hot from the heat of the sun on the black pipes. I didn’t have a moment to waste, so drank some quickly, horrid though it was. The unfortunate side effect of the cold water being hot was that it encouraged and diluted the blood, making the overall effect look considerably more alarming. I was tempted to blame Mater for the whole sorry affair, for starting the red theme with that damn pantsuit. I actually said “bloody pantsuit”, which struck me as inordinately funny, and made it hard to get back to the bedroom quickly. I was still laughing hysterically, leaving red hand prints and strange red markings along the corridor wall, when Sanso appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“I saw cave paintings like that in Zimbabwe,” he said conversationally, taking a closer look at the bloody hand prints. “I’ve often wondered what the purpose was, the meaning.” He raised an eyebrow and smiled at me. “Have you interpreted these?”
I was momentarily speechless, as you might imagine. Then I had an impulse, and grabbed his elbow and propelled him into my room, slamming and locking the door behind him. He was almost unnaturally calm and unperturbed, albeit looking as if he was trying not to smile too broadly, which was just the kind of energy I needed. My kind of man! I gave him one of my famous coquettish looks, which made him laugh out loud, and then I caught sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror and hastily grabbed an old nightgown off the floor and spit on it to rub the blood off my face.
“My kind of girl!” he laughed. Oh, how he laughed.
“For the love of Flove, will everyone put some clothes on,” muttered Finnley.
To set a good example, she put on a her best grey overcoat—which only had a few ever-so-small moth holes—and a pair of woolly socks pulled up to her knees.
“There are far too many naked bodies covered only in towels and togas for comfort in this thread,” she said, shaking vigorously and thinking how pretty the dust looked as it floated around her. “And I for one intend to take a stand.”
“Indeed!” agreed Godfrey. “it’s a health and safety issue for one thing. I’m concerned Liz might have one of her turns, the amount of time she spends peeping through the curtain at Roberto. She looks quite flushed.”
“Indeed! it really is a wonderful place,” said Mandrake. “Now, stop all that fussing, you will mess up my whiskers.”
“I can’t help it. I am so pleased to see you, you cuddly old grump,” said Arona, ruffling Mandrakes head again. “Are those grey hairs I see?”
Mandrake snuffled and slapped her hand away with a paw.
“Do you care to stop all that nonsense and tell us what you are doing floating around in a hot air balloon?’
Arona rolled her eyes. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a key.
“I am looking for the doll which goes with this key,” she said.
“Come on now,” said Ricardo. “Nobody has put anything out there about the dolls. Come and sit down on this nice comfy office chair and tell us what is going on. You will do yourself an injury running in those heels. Lovely shoes of course,” he added quickly.
“That’s right,” he said. “Just let me wipe that chair for you before you sit. Now, you tell us what’s going on while I make the tea. One sugar?”
Slimy creep, hissed Connie.
“No hurry then,” said Hilda. “We’ve only been waiting half an hour for tea already.”
Miss Bossy Pants wiped her forehead with a tea towel, too relieved to question what a tea towel was doing on the desk. She pulled her phone out and scrolled through her messages.
“I received this,” she said. “Read it out will you, Ric. I can’t stand to look at it again.”
“Put a lid on the doll story or you will be sorry. And I mean very sorry Very very sorry,” read Ric. “Hmmm rather unimaginative as threats go, don’t you think?”
“Scroll through to the next one.”
“By the way, it’s the DOCTOR sending this, in case you think for one moment this is an unimaginative idle threat.”EricKeymaster
Despite the underground currents, following the trail of blue glow from the glukenitches’ droppings was easy; far less subtle than old fashioned glow worms starmap reading…
Mandrake was alerted to a sudden drop when the trail started to disappear abruptly, indicating the strong possibility of a chute of some kind.
He only managed to catch Albie’s pants before he fell right in, and pulled both of them back to the shore. He had to be sure.
“Good thing, that slimey dragon managed to power back the sabulmantium, we may get a hint of where we’re headed to.”
“There’s no other way than the waterfall, is there Mr Mandrake?”
“Shht. Let me concentrate, this thing is sensitive.”
Under the paws of the cat, the sand inside the clear sphere started to move in shapes and describe a living story.
“Mmm. Seems he wasn’t joking, never seen this thing behave so strangely before.”
“What is this?”
“It looks like something that I have seen a long time ago, but that wasn’t in this dimension… I guess we won’t know for sure until we get there. Ready boy for the dive of your life?”
Albie didn’t have time to answer, as the cat wasn’t waiting for him.
The fall seemed to last forever. But then a light appeared, and they started to float up, up, up.
When they emerged, they were clearly out of swamp waters. Salty water was all they could see for miles around.
“A blessing you had an inflatable zodiac in your purse, Sir.” the boy said to the cat once they were up on the boat, waiting for a sign as to where next.
“Whales! Whales!” the boy shouted excitedly, pointing to the shapes moving under their boat.
“Ah, finally, someone with some wits about that can tell us some valuable information.”
It didn’t take long to Mandrake to grab the attention of one of the belugas and engage the conversation; it didn’t seem particularly long to Albie, but it seemed like a lot was exchanged.
“We’re on the Gold Coast of Australia” Mandrake said. “That dimension is a bit tricky for my species, humans here take us for lazy playthings and don’t really understand us, so I may have to rely on you for some of the talking, boy.”
“For sure, Mr Mandrake. Did you get any news as to where Ms Arona might be?”
“Might be. That whale started to babble thing about granola cookies and dolls. I have no idea what she meant, she might have been popped in by some alien force. Luckily whales are used to manage multiple personalities well, so I managed to get the rest of the navigational hints once she got her channels back in order.”
“So where to now?”
“Starboard, son, starboard!”EricKeymaster
A flash of green light flashed at his side and a cloud of shimmery yellow energy enveloped him in a white blur. He couldn’t seem to control the energy, and it moved erratically as he came, like a breeze. He stumbled into the middle of a wall that jutted from the floor to the ceiling and slammed into the wall with a thud. The wall cracked.
It was dark beyond a dozen feet at the most, and it wasn’t like the other telepaths either. He stood still for a moment, staring at the wall, wondering if he could get in there at all. Then she said, “That would take more than twice as long as walking.”
The telepath looked at her, eyes wide and mouth agape. For the instant before the wall snapped, she was alive, alive, but she was a shell. He had been able to see, and if she had been in any way injured or hurt, he wouldn’t really have had an advantage. The wall snapped and she came to. It was nearly pitch black, and nothing seemed real to her. She opened her eyes and there was the same bright bright green and blue as the one of teal was now.
The world seemed different, a distant place. She wondered how she would react the instant he found out. But she decided it would be best to give him time to adjust on her own. She reached for him and held the soft green gem. When she looked at him he stared back, blue eyes wide with surprise. How long had he been awake? How long had he been asleep? She wondered why he hadn’t opened for her yet. She reached into her pocket and pulled up his watch. A long minute passed, when suddenly the light came back on in front of her, and she realized she was sleeping. Then, suddenly! He was waking up again, and even more excited than usual, he started to run about her. He kept running, never looking back. He got so nervous that he almost lost himself. His eyes were twitching violently, and she was glad that no one was close enough to wake him, since he knew she wouldn’t want him to fall asleep for anyone, or anyone else. She put up her foot and started to sprint after him, but as she was running in that dark, pitch black, direction, the sky turned white and she stopped at a light.
The old woman picked up the box of giraffe shaped cookies from the supermarket shelf. She looked at the box wonderingly, bemused at why she’d chosen it. She almost put it back on the shelf, but a couple of tears had rolled off her nose and onto the package. She put it in her basket, sighing. She couldn’t very well put it back on the shelf now, not with her snot all over the box. What did it matter anyway, she thought, sniffing. Now that the Ministry of Transport building had burned down, what did it matter.
“Is everything ok, love?” The old woman looked at the kind expression on the woman’s face, and started to sob. “Oh dear, whatever is the matter?” Maeve asked, noticing the giraffe shaped cookies illustrated on the damp packet.
“It’s the terrible news!” the old woman replied. “The Ministry of Transport! That beautiful old building! Such a testament to man’s ingenuity! Gone, all gone!”
“But it’s not the only one though is it?” replied Maeve, wondering if the old dear was a pew short of a cathedral. “I mean, there are others.”
The old woman pulled her arm sharply away from Maeve’s gentle hand on her shoulder and glared at her.
“How dare you say that! There’s nothing like it, anywhere!” and she strode off up the aisle, angry steps making a rat tat tat on the polished floor. Her outrage was such that she forgot to pay for the giraffe shaped cookies, and marched right out of the store.
Jerk, who was watching from a security spying monitor, sighed, and heaved himself out of his seat. The one thing he hated the most about his job was apprehending decrepit old shoplifters. I bet she smells of cat wee and rancid cooking fat, he mumbled under his breath.
“Oh hello, Jerk!” Maeve intercepted him on his route to the main doors in pursuit of the aged thief, noticing his disgruntled expression. “What’s up, you’re not upset about the Ministry of Transport building too, are you?”
Nonplussed, Jerk stopped for a moment to consider the unexpected question, giving the elderly shoplifter time to hop on a bus (that symbol of man’s ingenuity) and make her escape.
“I’ve just had a letter from one of my characters,” replied Liz. “Here, look.”
Dear Liz, it said.
Henry appeared on the same day my young niece arrived from Sweden with her grandma. My mother had already arrived, and we’d just returned from picking them up from the airport. A black puppy was waiting outside my gate.
“We can’t leave him out here,” I said, my hands full of bags. “Grab him, Mom.”
She picked him up and carried him inside and put him down on the driveway. We went up to the house and introduced all the other dogs to the newcomers, and then we heard howling and barking. I’d forgotten to introduce the other dogs to the new puppy, so quickly went down and pulled the terrified black puppy out from under the car and picked him up. I kept him in my arms for a while and attended to the guests.
From then on he followed me everywhere. In later years when he was arthritic, he’d sigh as if to say, where is she going now, and stagger to his feet. Later still, he was very slow at following me, and I’d often bump into and nearly fall over him on the return. Or he’d lie down in the doorway so when I tripped over him, he’d know I was going somewhere. When we went for walks, before he got too old to walk much, he never needed a lead, because he was always right by my side.
When he was young he’d have savage fights with a plastic plant pot, growling at it and tossing it around. We had a game of “where’s Henry” every morning when I made the bed, and he hid under the bedclothes.
He was a greedy fat boy most of his life and adored food. He was never the biggest dog, but had an authority over any plates of leftovers on the floor by sheer greedy determination. Even when he was old and had trouble getting up, he was like a rocket if any food was dropped on the floor. Even when he had hardly any teeth left he’d shovel it up somehow, growling at the others to keep them away. The only dog he’d share with was Bill, who is a bit of a growly steam roller with food as well, despite being small.
I always wondered which dog it was that was pissing inside the house, and for years I never knew. What I would have given to know which one was doing it! I finally found out it was Henry when it was too late to do anything about it ~ by then he had bladder problems.
I started leaving him outside on the patio when we went out. One morning towards the end, in the dark, we didn’t notice him slip out of the patio gate as we were leaving. In the light from the street light outside, we saw him marching off down the road! Where was he going?! It was as if he’d packed his bags and said, That’s it, I’m off!
Eventually he died at home, sixteen years old, after staggering around on his last legs for quite some time. Stoic and stalwart were words used to describe him. He was a character.
A couple of hours before he died, I noticed something on the floor beside his head. It was a gold earring I’d never seen before, with a honeycomb design. Just after he died, Ben went and sat right next to him. We buried him under the oak tree at the bottom of the garden, and gave him a big Buddha head stone. Charlie goes down there every day now. Maybe he wonders if he will be next. He pisses on the Buddha head. Maybe he’s paying his respects, but maybe he’s just doing what dogs do.
Maeve sighed loudly—something she had been doing an awful lot of lately—and checked the time on her phone. If she left now and really hurried it would only take 5 minutes to get to the cafe. On the other hand if she took her time … well, with any luck the others would have already moved on.
Not that she didn’t like Lucinda, on the contrary she enjoyed her neighbour’s gregarious nature and propensity to talk amusing rubbish — usually in public and at the top of her voice which would cause Maeve to look around nervously and lower her own voice in order to compensate.
Maeve had made peace with her own introversion years ago. In order to survive with a semblance of normality, she had cultivated an outward calm which belied the activity going on in her head. The downside of this was she suspected she came across to others as muted and dull as the beige walls of her apartment. The upside was it allowed her to hide in plain sight; and she considered this to be a very handy trait. In truth, Maeve was one who liked many and few; she would happily talk to people, if she knew what on earth to say to them.
‘Anyway,’ Maeve reasoned, ‘I have to finish the doll.’
She looked with satisfaction at her latest creation; a young boy wearing a vintage style buzzy bee costume. She had painstakingly sewn, stuffed and painted the cloth doll and then sanded the layers of paint till he looked old and well worn. ‘He looks like he has been well loved by some child,’ she mused. There was just one more step remaining before applying a protective coat of varnish and seating him on the shelf next to the others.
She went to the kitchen drawer. In the 3rd drawer down there was a cardboard box of old keys. Most of the keys didn’t fit anything in her apartment; in fact she had no idea where they came from. Except one. She picked out a small gold key and went to the writing desk in the lounge, a heavy dour piece of furniture with a drop-front desk and various small drawers and cubby holes inside. Maeve unlocked one of these drawers with the key and pulled out a small parcel.
‘Only 3 parcels to go,’ she thought with relief.
A small section of the stitching was unfinished on the back of Bee Boy, just enough to squeeze the package inside and then rearrange the stuffing around it. With neat stitches Maeve sewed up the seam.
She checked the time. It had taken twenty six minutes.
“Want to go for a walk to see Aunty Lulu and her nice new friends? See what she is going on about decorating?” she asked Fabio, her pekingese.JibParticipant
The red woman led Shawn Paul through small busy streets. Shawn Paul had never seen that many people with dogs and parked bikes all gathered in strategic places each time he was about to catch up on her. He swore he could hear her giggle.
Eventually she entered a cafe called Red Beans. Shawn Paul steered through white tables and chairs made of wrought iron and followed her in, breathless. He had never seen the point in running before. But he still wasn’t sure why he had to catch her. What would he do? Talk to her? Ask her what she did perched on trees and smiling?
There seemed to be only the bartender who was busy with a huge coffee machine, hissing like a locomotive. A colour, a movement on his right made Shawn Paul turn, and he just had the time to catch sight of a red hat going down the stairs. She certainly went to the toilets. He thought that maybe following her downstairs would be too creepy, but at the same time he didn’t want the bartender to talk to him either.
So he went down and waited at the door. The lock was red, showing someone was inside.
Shawn Paul waited. There were many flyers of parties and events pinned on a wall, but he wasn’t the party guy and his eyes flew over the messy images and texts that seemed scattered on the wall.
After five minutes he wondered if something had happened and pushed the door. It was open and the lock was broken, always showing red. He tutted and shook his head. He had been foolish, he thought. There has certainly been nobody there since the beginning. There was no girl sitting on trees with red sandals.
He got out of the cafe and was ready to walk back to his apartment with his granola cookies. When someone called him. He turned and stared at a girl and a guy having drinks on the Red Beans’ terrace.
“I was sure it was you, Shawn Paul,” said the girl. “I thought I recognised you when you ran inside earlier, but you seemed in such a hurry,” said a girl. She had a big grin and a pony tail.
Her face looked familiar, all rosy and cheeky. She had a nice jacquard sweater and a matching skirt, and she was waving at him cheerfully. Her cocktail was full of reds, blues and yellows.
“Remember me? Lucinda, from the apartment on the other side…” she added.
It suddenly dawned on him, they had met once or twice. She had said they should meet again, but they never had. He felt a bit trapped, not knowing what to say.
“Hi,” he said, and he looked at the guy. He had never met him, that he was sure of.
The guy looked as embarrassed as himself by the intrusion.
“Hi. I’m Jerk,” he said.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” asked Lucinda pointing at a flyer on the table. She took a sip of her cocktail.
Shawn Paul was about to decline with a ready made up excuse when he saw what was on the flyer. It was a big red balloon with a red hat on a starry background. It said “Reception of the French Ambassador. Free Buffet with Ferrero Rochers and Champagne”.
Shawn Paul pulled closer one of the heavy metal chairs and sat with them.
“Tell me more about it,” he said instead.
A few weeks back now, a visitor had come to the forest. A visitor dressed in the clothes of a tramp.
“And who might I say is calling?” asked Margoritt. She looked intently into the eyes of the tramp and a look of shock crossed her countenance. “Ah, I see now who you are.”
The tramp nodded.
“I mean no harm to you, Old Lady and I mean no harm to Glynis. Tell her to come to the clearing under the Silver Birch. Tell her to make haste.”
And with that he hobbled away.
It was no more than a few minutes later, Glynnis came to the clearing. She strode up to the tramp and stood defiant in front of him.
“What is it you want now!?” she demanded. “And why have you come disguised as a homeless wanderer dressed in rags, you coward! Is this more of your trickery! Can you not leave me in peace with my fate! Have you not done enough harm to me already! And all because I could not love you in return! she scoffed at him, her voice raised in fury and unable to halt the angry tirade though she knew caution would be the more prudent path to take.
The tramp stood silent in the face of her anger.
“I have come to say I am sorry and to undo the harm I did to you,” he said at last. “I was wondering would you like me to remove the scales from your face?”
Glynnis could not reply. She stared at him in shock, trying to comprehend what his words meant.
“My father left this dimension a short while ago,” he continued. “When he left, something changed in me. A dark mass had obscured my vision so I could feel only hatred towards you. When my father departed, so did the hatred. I realise now he cursed me … since then I have seen clearly the wrong I did to you and hastened to make amends. I came dressed as a tramp … well to be honest I thought it was quite a fun costume and I did not want to cause undue fear in those I met on my path.”
He reached into his tattered cape and pulled out a small package. “Apply this lotion every night for a week. It will dissolve the scales and as well will heal the scars within as you sleep.”
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