“What are you two conspiring again behind my back?” Liz barged in, with a few patches of nicotine across her face.
“It better be good.” she leaned towards Godfrey who was always incapable of lying properly.
“It just… that… ouch!” he started hesitantly, while Finnley elbowed him vigorously. She also knew he wouldn’t pass a serious questioning without ratting them out. She questioned why in the first place he got her involved with his flimsy start of a plan.
“What about?” Liz continued, her face nervously twitching. She coughed raucously.
“THERE! Told you!” Godfrey couldn’t contain himself. “We should confine you, at your age, it could be dangerous!”
At the mention of Liz’s age, all hell broke loose in the mansion.
Young Jimmy says to me this morning, “I dreamed we were travelling far away from here, Mama. It was only you and me and Bella.” I nearly choked on my grits. I am thankful Cook did not hear. She is as superstitious as the day is long and takes great store in dreams and the like. “Funny things, dreams,” I says to Jimmy. “Hard to know what they mean.” I longed to question him more on the dream, same time, don’t want him talking about it in front of Cook. Best he forgets it.
I’ve heard no more of the sickness. Methinks perhaps it has come to naught. And I’m fit as a fiddle and the children too. I’ve decided Thursday next. On Thursdays, Master goes to the meeting in the Village and Cook has her night off when she goes to see her brother in Thombeen.
I think how pleased they will be to see me. How astonished they will be. When I think about it like that, stops me from fearing. Ten years it has been. I would send a letter ahead but cannot risk it falling in the wrong hands.
Cousin Lisa came calling yesterday morning and she tells us there’s some in the Village have come down with sickness. Of course it would be Lisa being the bearer of such news, her face lit up when I tell her I have heard nothing. Cook, over hearing our conversation, which was private but Cook is always sticking her great nose in where it is not required, she’s hung braids of garlic at the front door. I caught her telling the children it was to keep away the evil spirits that brought death. Poor little Jimmy couldn’t sleep last night he was that afraid of the spirits bringing death in the night. He asked endless questions, how will the garlic stop them? Can the spirits get in through a window instead? He got his sister afraid also and the pair of them wouldn’t sleep then for crying in fear. I told Cook off roundly this morning for speaking to them thus.
The master came home filled with drink, crashing around like the damned drunken fool he is nowadays. He shouted at the children for their crying and shouted at me for not keeping them quiet. At least he did not raise his fists for he wanted to lie with me and I nearly retched with his stinking breath coming close and thank God for His mercies that the fool passed out before he could do the deed. I may have done harm if he’d tried for the brass bell was sitting there on the table (and it is a heavy thing) and I was seeing at it as he came close and there was a moment I could have picked it up and crashed it to his skull. May God forgive me.
He makes my skin crawl for I know what he has done that he thinks I don’t know. But all will come to light if not in this world then the next. I am more sure than ever I must get away and the children with me.
The front door of Mr French had a certain Gothic quality to it which caught the eye of Star. She was a sucker for the glitz and the extravagant –the more garish, the better. Had she got her way, their office would be full of the cumbersome stuff. Catching the glint in Star’s green eyes, Tara rolled hers. She clanged the metal lion to signal their presence.
A decrepit butler called off their ruckus after what seemed like a pause in eternity. They could hear the rambling from a distance behind the door. “I’m coming! No need for such noise! Ah, these youngs nowadays, not a shred of patience!…”
“Are you sure about it Star? After all, the deposit check cleared, why should we be concerned about Mr French. And we still haven’t got much to go on about Uncle Basil…”
“Shttt, let me handle it,” replied Star shaping her face into a genial one, oozing honey and butterflies.
When the butler finally opened the door, he snapped her shut “We’re not interested in whatever… hem, services you’re offering Mesdames.”
Tara caught Star’s hand mid-air, as it was about to fly and land square on the rude dried up mummy’s face in front of them.
“Sir, you must have us confused. We’ve been hired a week ago by Mr French for a very private matter we cannot obviously discuss on the doorstep. Please check with Mr French, maybe?”
The butler’s face turned sour. “Yes of course, I understand. Then you should know Mr French has been in a coma since his dreadful accident last month. Since you have a direct line to him, I suggest you… call him?” And with that, he slammed the door shut on their faces.
“Rude!” Tara mouthed.
“At least, that tells us something my dear.”
“Don’t bait me like this. I’ll ask, what exactly?”
“That our Mr French is not who he says he is…”
“I wonder if it has something to do with the immense fortune he made with his voice…”
“That would be a very interesting question to answer indeed.”
It was a rhetorical question, and Lucinda chose not to answer it, at least not out loud. Although it was possible for a character to remove their attention from a story as long as the writer wasn’t writing about them, as soon as the character was mentioned again, they would inevitably be required to participate. Or would they? wondered Lucinda. Who really knew?
“Y’were in a cult?” breaking the odd silence, Rosamund left her mouth gaping between messaging-styled sentences and chewing of gum. “What kind of cult?” she said, resuming the noisy chewing.
Tara rolled her eyes, thinking how she just needed another baby-sitting now. There was a case to crack, and it was their first client. She went for her favorite subtly make-a-ton approach. “Oh yeah, right. Abso-lu-tely. A damn strange cult at that.” Then, when she got her hooked well, she went for the elusive-slightly-patronizing approach. She was good like that. “But I think you’re too young for the crazy details, might have you wet your bed at night.”
She immediately regretted her last sentence.
Changing the topic, Tara asked. “What kind of cult indeed. That’s the damn bloody question we forgot to ask!”
Rosamund put a cocky smirk on her lips and mouthed “amateurs”. Could have been the chewing, Tara couldn’t tell. She was myopic but refused to wear corrective eyewear, so she had to strain at times, which gave her a funny wrinkled look.
Star, who’d just been back from her shopping at Jiborium’s emporium was drenched head to toe and interrupted the exciting conversation.
“I’ve got us all we need for our invertigastion.”
“she means investigation” Tara knew better than to correct the verbal typos Star couldn’t help but utter by the minute, but it was more a knee-jerk response than anything else.
“Did you find clues too in the clue department?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. Got us that well-worn out book at a bargain price. Have a look.”
“So, what do we do now?” asked Fox. Call it a sixth sense or a seventh sense, but he knew before he got the answer that he was going to regret it somehow. He had always been too quick to ask questions, and his years at the service of Master Gibbon apparently hadn’t made this habit go away.
“Well dear assistant. You can start with the dishes,” said Kumihimo with a broad smile, “and then clean the rest of the hut.”
Fox swallowed. He looked at the piles of stuff everywhere. What had seemed fun a moment before, playing with Kumihimo’s recipes and what he still thought of as her power toys, had turned into a chore. Though, his eyes stopped on a paquet he hadn’t notice before. It looked heavy and wet. The wrapping was not completely closed on the top and he thought he could see pink. That renewed his energy and motivation. Thinking that afterwards they would revive Gorrash suddenly made him feel the cleaning would be done in no time. He simply needed to be methodical and tackle each task one by one.
First the glassware, it was the most fragile and took most of the space outside.
Fox didn’t know how long he had been at it. He had been so engrossed in the cleaning, that he hadn’t paid attention to the others who had been talking all along. He felt a little exhausted and his stomach growled. How since he last ate. His body was stiff with all the movements and carrying stuff around. He was about to ask for some food when he noticed Kumihimo and Rukshan were still talking. The Fae looked exhausted too, he had his panda eyes, but he seemed captivated by their discussion.
“Things are going to get worse,” was saying Kumihimo, “We need everybody ready for what’s coming next. The fires were just the beginning.”
“Do you have anything to eat?” asked Fox not knowing what else to contribute to the conversation. But he knew he wouldn’t be of any help if he didn’t eat something first.
It was the new moon. Rukshan had been walking into the dark of the forest for some time. The noises of nocturnal animals felt like deep silence after his return from the land of the Giants. There, day and night, the giants were restless. You could hear them growling and shouting. It didn’t matter if it was a nasty fight or a friendly brawl, the noise had been taxing for his nerves and his right eye was still twitching randomly.
Rukshan stopped a moment. The silence almost made him cry of relief and he thought in that moment the enchanted forest deserved its name.
He took a deep breath. His nose wiggled, tickled by the scent of smoke from a fire. He was close to his destination, then. He had been following symbols traced with moon paint on the trees, a trail that only his Fae eyes could see even without moonlight. Humans would not to see it the same way. This trail of symbols might even have been left for him by someone who wanted to be found when he would come back.
Rukshan had found the start of the trail by chance behind the cottage after diner today. He had told Glynis he needed fresh air. The truth was that he had been alone for so long now that having so many people around him made him feel a bit claustrophobic. He had spotted was a faint glow behind a jasmin bush and had thought it was one of the baby snoots. As he was feeling the need for some pet company he had walked up to the bush. Instead of a creature there was the first glowing symbol, a spiral with seven sticks that looked like a hand with seven fingers. Not long after Rukshan had found another symbol, and another. It was clear the hands made a trail for him to follow. So he had followed.
Soon, he found a wooden shack. Smoke was coming out of a hole in its roof and light from the windows. Rukshan could hear two people talking together. One was asking questions and the other answering them. He recognised the voices.
He didn’t bother to knock on the door.
“I’ve been waiting for you”, said Kumihimo the shaman.
“I’m her new apprentice”, said Fox. “You’ve been away for so long”, he added as if apologising for something.
A wet and warm thing touched Rukshan’s hand. Ronaldo the donkey brayed to welcome him. “Of course you are here too”, said the Fae. He found an apple he had put in his pocket after diner and gave it to the donkey. Ronaldo rolled up its chops and gave a heehaw full of joy, sparkles in its eyes.
“Good, you haven’t forgotten good manners”, said the shaman. “Now, seat! We have much to talk about.”
I wish now that I’d had the sense to open the letter in private. I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of that, but I didn’t. I tried not to make a drama out of it, I didn’t make an announcement or anything. One morning after breakfast I untied the string and opened the letter. It wasn’t any of the things I had expected. Clearly printed in large capital letters at the top was written DON’T TELL MATER.
Quickly I folded it over, dropping it discreetly into my lap under the table. “Any more nettle tea in the pot, Bert?” I asked and feigned a casual yawn.
“Well?” asked Mater.
“Well what?” I asked.
“I can read you like a book,” she said, to which I replied hotly, “Well then I won’t need to write one, will I.”
“What did the letter say?” she pressed on.
“What letter?” I said
“For crying out loud!” she said.
“Pass your cup then,” said Bert, giving me a piercing look. Over the top of Mater’s head he mouthed a word, with a questioning look. I’ve never been any good at lip reading, but it looked like he was trying to say Jasper.
“Who?” I mouthed back, but Mater saw me, so I pretended I had a bit of nettle stuck between my teeth.
“I’m keeping you up,” said Norma, yawning. “Thanks for listening. And for the wine.”
“Oh you weren’t whining really, well not much. Oh! I see what you mean,” replied May. “Say, where’s that kid got to? Norma, help me find the kid!”
But it was too late. Norma had gone. And so had the child she was supposed to be babysitting.
May’s intention to search for it as a matter of urgency was abruptly sidelined by the supreme urgency of a visit to the nearest lavatory. It was a peculiar child anyway, May thought, and if it had been hers, she no doubt wouldn’t have minded being rid of it, no questions asked. But it would be embarrassing to admit that she’d failed: not just the failure to look after the child, but failed to kidnap it either, and that she had simply lost it instead.
So whatever did happen to those two women who went down the mine? Good question!
I can tell you one thing, they hadn’t had the Etruscan flu like the rest of us, and when they finally resurfaced, they had a bit of a shock. They haven’t really recovered yet, they look dazed all the time. They were in good shape when they came out of the mines, don’t ask me how. A bit pale. I don’t know what they’d been eating but they hadn’t lost any weight, and oddly enough all tidy and spanking clean, considering they’d spent months down an old mine. I’d have expected them to be ragged and filthy and emaciated, but they looked better than we did. We were still too sluggish from the flu to ask them what had happened.
There was a lotto think about, and Lucinda was hard at it. At least she was hard at it until she noticed the typo. She kept forgetting about the lottery tickets. This pleased her because she’d heard a popular oracle say that forgetting about it was a good sign of winning.
She imagined Helper Effy’s wise and patient (if a trifle scornful) voice asking her if a lottery win would help her writing.
It was a good question.
The creative writing course teacher, or “Helper” as they liked to call themselves to avoid any suggestion of hierarchy, was an arresting looking woman of indeterminate age and the most extraordinary red beehive hair do. The colour and style of it, and the aplomb with which Helper Effy carried it off, distracted Lucinda sufficiently during the first part of the lesson that she heard none of it.
“What’s the first major confrontation, or action, or dramatic event in your novel that comes to your mind?” the Helper was asking. “Why? Because if it is the first thing you think of, then it’s your chimney poking through the hardpan.”
Not quite sure what a hardpan was, Lucinda never the less felt she’d got the gist of the thing, and hoped she wouldn’t be too distracted by the question of the hardpan.
Bugger them all then, Lucinda said to herself, I’ll carry on here without them.
For a time she had been despondent at being abandoned, sinking into an aching overcast gloom to match the weather. Waiting for it to rain, and then waiting for it to stop.
On impulse, in an attempt to snap out of the doldrums, she signed up for a Creative Writing and Rambling course at the local Psychic Self Institute. Institutionalizing psychic matters had been the brainchild of the latest political party to gain power, and hitherto under the radar prophets, healers and remote viewers had flocked to sign up. The institute has promised pension and public health credits to all members who could prove their mental prowess, and needless to say it had attracted many potential scammers: useless nobodies who wanted to heal their diseases, or lazy decrepit old scroungers who wanted to retire.
Much to everyone’s surprise, not least their own, the majority of them had passed the tests, simply by winging it: making it up and hoping for the best. Astonishingly the results were more impressive than the results from the already established professional P.H.A.R.T.s ~ (otherwise known as Prophets, Healers and Remote Technicians).
This raised questions about the premise of the scheme, and how increasingly difficult it was to establish a criteria for deservingness of pensions and health care, particularly if any untrained and unregistered Tom, Dick or Harry was in possession of superior skills, as appeared to be the case. The debate continues to this day.
Nothwithstanding, the Institute continued to offer courses, outings and educational and inspiring talks. The original plan had been to offer qualifications, but the entrance exams had provoked such a quandary about the value and meaning (if any) of qualifications, that the current modus operandi was to simply offer each member, regardless of merit or experience, a simple membership card with a number on it. It was gold coloured and had classical scrolls and lettering on it in an attempt to bestow worth and meaning. Nobody was fooled, but everyone loved it.
And everyone loved the tea room at the Institute. It was thought that some cake aficionado’s had even joined the Institute merely for the desserts, but nobody objected. There was a welcome collective energy of pleasure, appreciation and conviviality in the tea room, and it’s magnetic appeal ~ and exceptional cakes ~ ensured it’s popularity and acclaim.
A small group had started a campaign to get it placed on the Institutes Energetic Cake Connector mapping programme. As Lucinda had said in a moment of clarity, “A back street bar can be just as much of an energy magnet as an old stone relic”, casting doubt over the M.O.S.S group’s (Mysterious Old Stone Sites) relevance to anything potentially useful.
“In fact,” Lucinda continued, surprising herself, ““I’ve only just realized that the energy magnets aren’t going to be secret, hidden and derelict. They’re going to be busy. Like cities.”
Several members of the M.O.S.S group had glared at her.
Lucinda hadn’t really thought much about what to expect in the creative writing classes.
“Hang on. I just saw a friend of mine,” said the driver, skidding to a stop. “You don’t mind, do ya?”
Without waiting for an answer, he leaned over and opened the front passenger door.
“Oy, Veranassessee! You wanna a lift somewhere?”
“I’m out for the exercise. Thanks though. “ She waved them on.
She’s a good sort,” said the driver, narrowly avoiding a large pot hole. “Bloody roads are a disgrace. She’s been on the island for years. Since the upset.”
The driver turned round and looked at them in the back seat. “I’ve probably said more than I should but …. “
“Watch out!” shouted Shawn-Paul.
“I said, wot you ‘oping for? Out of this beauty treatment?” repeated Mavis in a loud hiss.
“Oh, that’s a bloody good question, Mavis. You always were a thinker. I’m not thinking to look twenty again, or anythink like that. It’d be nice but I’m realistic, me. I dunno really … Thirty maybe? Wot you ‘oping for Gloria?”
“I’m thinking we should ‘ave bloody thought this through before! And now, ‘ere we are, sat ‘ere in his bloody waiting room. It’s too bloody late to wonder wot we’re doing ‘ere now! If we go back, that bloody Nurse Trassie will skin us for garters!”
“Blimey, Glor, wot’s got you in a ‘uff?”
“I’m sorry, Luv. I didn’t mean to ‘ave a go. I’m scared is wot it is. I read summink in the fine print just now, about the Doc, wot’s worried me,” said Glor.
The loud throbbing of a Harley Davidson interrupted the unexpected revelation moment.
A few seconds later, the door banged open and a man with a long moustache, thick eyebrows and a rather bushy hair entered the Inn.
Devan didn’t know the name of the man, but he did manage to infuse his wide open mouth with an interrogation.
The fact that Mater was the first person to pronounce the name of the man didn’t escape Prune’s shrewd mind.
“How do you know him?” she asked Mater who blushed and used another puff of dust to cough and avoid the question.
But one surprised all the others, even Fergus.
“My long lost brother!” said Sanso. He moved forward and hugged the newly arrived man. Truth be told, there was some ressemblance between the two of them.
Mandrake was looking at Ugo who seemed rather focused on the scene. Something was off, he could feel it. He should warn Arona, but the darn lizard never left her side, or her hair. It was pretty annoying since she would not brush his fur very often now, and he certainly needed some refreshing with all the knots caused by the dryness of the climate.
As if reading his mind, Rukshan said as soon as he saw him “It’s a joy to see you, little devil! Don’t expect to have me here for too long though, I’m just gathering a few things before I go for my new exploration. How have you been? And aren’t you going to introduce this young lady?”
“It’s a pleasure too, have fun in the garden, but be careful not to trample Glynis’ new plantling.”
“He’s a nice kid.” Glynis was at the windowsill, enjoying the quiet afternoon air.
Rukshan smiled and said. “I like your new carpet, and what you have done with the house. Has your spell worked to get the carpenter to fix the loo? I feel bad leaving you all again while there is still much to do.”
“Don’t worry, Fox is good help, so long as you keep him away from the chickens.”
“You know,” Inspector Melon said, having narrowly missed a peanut threat perniciously placed on top of a carrot cupcake. “I’m most intrigued by that mysterious Management organization that you wrote in your stories. They seemed to steer the plot somewhat efficiently, placing operatives on certain threats…”
“What’s your question Walter?” Liz was getting tipsy on the rosé bubbly, and she frankly had no idea what he was talking about, clutching at the bottle that Finnley was trying to move out of her reach.
“Well, somehow the Management, such fascinating and mysterious organization as it is, seems to have gathered an awful lot of information on this world’s arcane mysteries, and let’s not be shy to say, on some of its evils.”
“And, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d decided a “Blow the lid off” type of covert operation, in order to gather KEY evidences of those evils and release all of them simultaneously so that the evil guys can’t get clued to it in time for an escape.”
“Mmm, of course yes.” Liz replied distractedly, looking at watermelon pièce montée that had just rolled into the room. It had suddenly triggered fond memories of watermelon codpieces she’d written as fashion pieces in one of the novels, that would have been perfect with the theme of the party.
Walter thought deeply… “Then, that would mean the mysterious Uncle Fergus with the Harley Davidson, may be one of such operative, that could have been compromised and sent the keys as a fail-safe… Now, I wonder what secrets these may reveal.”
He looked at Liz who was gorging herself on watermelon chous.
“But of course, you would have thought about all that. I can’t wait to read the rest of it!”
Of course, nothing of the discussion had been missed by the ever careful Finnley. Sliding behind the heavy curtains, she found Godfrey in the kitchen who was looking for the peanut jar.
He greeted her with a non nonplussed look. “Hmm, lovely socks.”
She leaned in conspiratorially: “I think the Inspector knows too much already.”
The day had started uneventful, the perfect kind of day for Shawn Paul to write his novel. He had been quite productive concerning the numbers of characters written in total, but after a few erasing and correcting only one paragraph of a few lines remained. But he was very satisfied with what he had written.
Perfection will kill me, he thought. Looking at the piles of documents on his table, he felt tired. He looked at the unremarkable clock on his wall. It was eleven in the morning. Time for a tea. He got up from his desk carefully. He missed a step and inadvertently hit the wrong key combination on his keyboard. It closed his writing app without saving his work. Shawn Paul started panicking when the bell rang. Déjà vu.
This time it was the mailman.
“You’re a lucky winner. I need a sign.”
Shawn Paul signed and was handed a big envelop written “LUCKY WINNER!” all over it. There was barely enough room for his address. The young writer, almost author, feared to open it. It was reeking of distraction potential and it could put his novel in danger when it needed loving care… and a lot of discipline.
“Look,” said the mailman. “I have another one for your neighbour.” the man knocked at Maeve’s door and gave her the envelop in exchange for a signature. The young woman had no qualm about it and tore open the envelop. It was hard to read her expression when she got a plane ticket out and read the short accompanying note. She almost looked asian poker face at that moment. Her eyes went to the envelop in Shawn Paul’s hands, and he understood the question she hadn’t formulated.
He felt forced to open his own envelop and it was as agonising as tearing apart the last chance to write his unborn novel.
“What’s inside?” asked the mailman who was a curious fellow.
“A plane to Australia, and a voucher to the Flying Fish Inn.”
“Oh! I know that place, it was all over the news a few months back,” said the man. “I don’t need to envy you then,” he dropped before leaving Shawn Paul and Maeve in the corridor.
Her cat showed up and meowed. It was clear to the young man there was an interrogation point in its voice.
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