Looking at the exasperated voices of his captors, Barron needn’t know how to speak Spanish to be entirely certain he was in over his head.
He wondered why the negotiators hadn’t been brought in already; the plan was simple —well, initially. He was to get a cut of the ransom, and disappear with it in some nice sunny resort in the South. Like the extreme South, not Alabama South.
Someone must have interfered… He could have sworn there was a woman’s voice with a funny accent speaking to them before she hung up on them.
¡La chica dice que ya tienen al bebé! That much he could understand; an impostor 👶🏻baby now? And who had replaced August in his duties?
Well, at the moment, he had a group of angry Frenchmen and Mexicans in a smelly rillettes distillery with a useless baby on their hands. He knew too well that if he wanted to keep all his limbs, he’d have to improvise quickly. Good thing they hadn’t removed his eye-watch. By now, as inept as they’d be, the two nannies should have got his GPS coordinates.
Well… They had trouble spelling their names without typos at times so he’d better not leave that to chance.
He started to text:
SOS - baby in danger at Rillettes Distillery, Alabama
He added the GPS coordinates, just in case; now, with help possibly on the way, he’d have to prepare that distraction in order to extract himself of his predicament.
Realizing that she had to come up with a plan quickly to distract April from taking her pith helmet, June took a few deep breaths and calmed herself. It was true she was often flaky and disorganized, but in an emergency she was capable of acting swiftly and efficiently.
“I’ve got it!” she exclaimed. April paused on her way over to the hat stand and looked over her shoulder at June. “Come and sit down, I have a plan,” June said, patting the sofa cushion beside her.
“Remember Jacqui who we met in Scotland at the Nanny and Au Pair convention? Called herself Nanny Gibbon and tried to pass herself off as Scottish?” April frowned, trying to remember. Europeans all looked the same to her. “Ended up with that eccentric family with all the strange goings on?” June prompted.
“Oh yes, now I remember. Wasn’t there an odd story about a mummy that had washed up from, where was it?”
“Alabama!” shouted June triumphantly. “Exactly!”
“Well excuse me for being dense, but how does that help?”
June leaned back into the sofa with a happy smile. April had forgotten all about the pith helmet and was now focused on the new plan. “Well,” she said, rearranging some scatter cushions behind her back into a more comfortable position, “Do you remember the woman who arrived with the mummy, Ella Marie? She stayed with Jacqui for a while and they became good friends. Apparently she loved that crazy Wrick family; Jacqui said Ella Marie felt right at home there. She would have stayed, but she missed her husband in the end and felt guilty about leaving him, so she went back to Alabama.”
Aprils eyes widened slightly as she started to understand. “Did they stay in contact?”
“Oh yes!” replied June, leaning forward. “And not only that, Jacqui is there right now, on holiday! I’ve been seeing her holiday photos on FleeceCrack.”
“Maybe they can find that baby for us,” April said, looking relieved. “Or at least swap it for that girl baby. Where did that come from anyway?”
“Don’t you realize we’re in trouble June?” April had sobered up quickly. June looked at her suspiciously, it’s been months she suspected April to swap her vodka drinks with plain water to avoid getting drunk.
“June! Are you listening?!”
“Of course I am, stop bawling like that horrid baby, I’m no deaf.”
“Speaking of which, I’m glad we’re rid of them. Leave it to May to handle, or the new maid?”
“What new maid?”
“The one who’s been pillaging your cognac’s stash, I though you knew her?”
“No I don’t. She’s been way too cosy here… you know her? She some of August’s little afternoon delights?”
“Stop with that, you know August is a married man, his wife’s so scary he wouldn’t…”
“Must you always kill the mood April, let me enjoy a little sneaky gossiping.”
April looked at June all serious.
“We must go to his last known location, find the boy!”
“Are you kidding? Old South USA? And I thought it couldn’t get worse than Washingtown. And in case you’ve all forgotten, I’m still wanted in so many places, even that splendulous new hairdo isn’t going to hide me forever. And how are we going to hire muscle, genius? As you must have noticed, all his security details have followed Gollump for his impricotment hearings.”
“I had a brainwave.”
“Oh, that’ll be grand, do tell. Are you proposing one of your remove throwing session from your little art club?”
“It’s remote viewing! — and yes,… no! Not yet. I was thinking of his mother, Mellie Noma; she loathes the oaf as much as she loves her spawn. She may lend us some resources.”
“Yeah, right… And you’re going to bribe her with?”
“Oh I have the perfect idea. You know how fashion vane she is.”
June had a realization which turned into a horror face. “No way! Not my pith helmet!!”
When Barron woke up, he quickly realized he’d been double-crossed, or maybe triple-crossed.
His captors were discussing loudly at the front how they could get a larger cut from an unknown bidder.
He was incensed and almost threw a tantrum but realized it would be best to keep quiet for now.
Suspicions were racing in his mind, who could it be? The Russians… or the Chinese maybe? His father had made so many ennemies, it could well be the nannies for all he knew. The thought almost made him giggle. These two inept nannies had been carefully chosen by him, there were little chances they would be able to concoct any sensible plan with more than an hour execution span. His parents were infuriated and almost despaired when he’d shouted, spat and cried like a devil at all the nannies they carefully selected for him. But they all looked too smart, too serious, too careful to please, there was no way his plan of escape would work with them. But Joo and Ape, well, that was something else. With them, the world was his oyster. Or Bob his uncle like the loud one liked to say when she faked a British accent. Evil sounded so much more delightful when spoken in British English.
The van stopped. They’d arrived. Strong smells of alcohol,… and something… French? Was it rillettes? A clandestine distillery. Maybe it was the French mafia after all.
“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.
“Did you say you’d come to help Finnley in the bed?” Suddenly May started to wonder if this was another call girl for Mr August. Was he planning a threesome?
“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.
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.
The more they hounded me to open the letter, the less I wanted to. I just wanted to dig my heels in at first, honestly when nothing ever happens for months and years on end, any little thing out of the ordinary is worth making a meal of. But the longer it went on, the more uneasy I got. What if it was disappointing, somehow? What if there was bad news, or news we didn’t want to hear that we wouldn’t be able to unhear, once we knew? What if it was none of those things and just a few scribbles the child had done, or a hand print? It was like opening a Christmas present with a dozen people looking at your reaction when you open it. What if it was something that didn’t tell you anything? Maybe something quickly tied together in a rush with no particular meaning? Of course that would be a treasure to receive, what with communications being so non existent, but still, it would be an anti climax after all this anticipation. What I wanted, I realized, was the complete story of everything that had happened since we last saw them. I wanted to know all about it.
May quickly realized that she hadn’t planned this out properly at all. While Norma was fishing in her handbag for paper tissues, May switched the glasses of wine, so that she had the one with the laxatives herself. It wasn’t fair to inflict that on Norma, who was already verging on distraught. And May was feeling bloated anyway. A good clear out wouldn’t do her any harm.
May listened with genuine sympathy to Norma’s distress at being mistreated, but a glance at the kitchen clock prompted her to interrupt.
“Gotta go to the john,” she said, wondering if she had the vernacular right. She had almost said “must pop to the loo”, but that was the kind of lingo she used on the previous mission. She had to send her finance a message. The rendezvous with the spinach pot was off. Closing the bathroom door behind her, she reached for her phone and tapped the coded message.
iggi nefa san forlik snoodetta
Almost immediately there was a reply. No coded message this time, it was just a rolling eyes icon. May sighed with relief. What had she been thinking to plan such a thing, on such short notice?
Norma watched May leave the room, a little frown furrowing her brow. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she felt uneasy. May was acting guilty. Why? Without even knowing why she did it, she swapped her wine glass for the other one. Immediately feeling appalled at such a silly impulse, she reached to swap them back, but it was too late. May burst into the room, beaming.
Norma was taken aback at the difference in May’s demeanour, which threw her into a mental quandary. Had she mistaken a discomfort due to the need to use the lavatory for a guilty conscience? And that impulse to switch the glasses!
“Well, cheers!” she said shakily, holding up the wine glass and then draining it.
“Bottoms up!” replied May, following suit.
August Finest, the chief of Stuff at the Beige House, liked the feeling of his dark flannel suit and his sunglasses. He always wore them inside too, because he didn’t want people to notice he was looking at them. He also had an earpiece that gave him a handy excuse when he didn’t want to speak with somebody and often pretended to be needed by the boss. But these days, the boss barely needed him, except for pesky tasks and it made August a bit gloomy.
The maid was looking at him with her wide dark eyes. She frightened him a bit, but he wasn’t sure why, except that her eyes were too… He readjusted his glasses. Certainly he shouldn’t be afraid of a maid in the Beige House. He quickly looked at his notebook and it reminded him of something. He raised his right index, gave the maid a big smile and left in the other direction, leaving Norma gaping. She had just remembered about her wages.
The jinx on the cottage loo was finally lifted, and not before the hiemal cold had settled in, right before the Sol Invictus festivities.
Meanwhile, they’ve had occasional updates from Rukshan, who was exploring the Land of the Giants. He’d mentioned in his last telebat echoing that he’d found the elusive Master creator of Gorrash, and had hope for the dwarf. The magic binding the stones was strong he’s said, although some additional magic would help speed up the recovery process which otherwise would take probably centuries if not millennia.
Glynis had looked at the requirements; it only said
‘strong magic, born from pain, hardened in gems
– dissolve in pink clay, mix well and apply generously’.
None of her magic had seemed to fit. Pain, she’d had plenty, but her magic was born from the water element, emotions, plants and potions. She went to the nearby Library, their restricted section of applied magic was scarce, nothing really applicable there. Honestly, if she’d known her whereabouts, it would have been a task better suited to Eleri. Her kind of area of expertise with concrete and iron work and stone paints was a bit more unpredictable though; it could end up do more damage to Gorrash’s continuity than else; she’d quickly put that impetuous idea to rest.
Glynis was still mulling over, thinking about finding a solution when she noticed a gaunt figure was at the door. It took her a few seconds to realize it wasn’t a stranger, but a familiar friend. Rukshan had returned, although verily worn down by his travails, with a full grown beard that gave him a seriouser look. Without thinking, she went to hug him. Such unusual display of affection did surprise the Fae who was beeming.
He smiled widely at Glynis and showed her an unusually large ampoule: “I’ve found the kind of magic our friend needs. These three Giant’s gallstones weren’t a picnic to obtain, I can tell you.”
“I can’t wait to hear all about this exciting story.” interrupted Eleri.
“Init been quiet as being caught in the doldruffs, my Mavis?” Sha was sandwiched in the cryogenic apparatus like a tartine in a toaster, with her ample person protruding like cheese squeezed in too much.
The door flung open.
“Good Lord, aren’t them splendigious, those little tarts, meringue and all.”
Berenice, Barb’s niece, trotting in his steps, taking her role as the new temp assistant very seriously was about to voice a response that he quickly tutted away. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Took me a while to find out the thread though, buried through all that poubelle creative thinking and monologues, and bla and bla. Action all gone missing safe for a little excitement in Tik…” He stopped, looking around suspiciously. “They’re here, I know. Stop it, now. Hey. Shut up!”
“He’s been acting all strange, since he cracked that red crystal.”
“Shht, Glo. You don’t want him to get mad and stop all our beauty treatment. I can feel my skin tighten and dewrinkle.”
“T’is like ironing, fussure. Some steam and a good hot iron to remove the wrinkles.”
“Ahahah, wrinkles yourself, they’re more like crevices, hihihi!”
“But first, nuffin like a ice treatment to tighten the glutes.”
“Oh uhuh, haha, she said glutes like a snotty beauty specialist. Next she’ll say we need to do Pontius Pilates…”
Berenice couldn’t help herself. She blurted out in one quick sentence “But what are you planning to do with them, Doctor?”
He paused a moment his conversation with the invisible guests then turned nonchalently at B.
“But just… perfecting them, sweet thing. Oh, and love what you did with the beehive.”FloveParticipant
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.
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.
The downward climb had taken what felt like days. The more he went, the darkest it was even the stars at his feet were now swallowed in obliviating darkness.
Rukshan felt like abandoning at times, but pressed on and continued, down and down as he rose above clouds.
The ancient energies that had shaped this topsy-turvy passage spiraling around the fence of the heartwoods wouldn’t have done something of that magnitude and let it unfinished. It was calling for an exploration, while at the same time protecting itself from mere wanderers, the kind with lack of imagination or endurance.
His mind reminded him of old tales that spoke of sacrificing to the trees for knowledge and passage, but it was surely meant as a metaphor. Hanging upside down for hours was probably in itself a form of sacrifice.
He reached to his pouch for a drink of sour milk, when he suddenly realized that the gravity had turned, and the pouch was no longer floating above his head. With the darkness and the lack of landmarks, he’d failed to notice when this happened.
It surely meant he’d crossed an invisible barrier, and was now journeying inside another plan, deeper down. Ground couldn’t be far now. He took a pearl off one of his braids, and threw it. Then he looked at the darkness beneath his feet with intent to discern the faintest sounds. Quickly enough, the pearl gave back a ricocheting sound, clean and echoing slightly against what seemed to be moist stones. Indeed ground was there, where once the sky was.
Maybe the final test was a leap of faith. Or maybe it was just to patiently complete the climb. A few more steps, and he would be there. A few more steps.
The Doctor was at times confused about his own plan. Well, most of the time if felt clear and perfectly diabolical, and he could easily understand why at times lesser minds could get confused about the twists and turns —and to those lesser minds, it would usually suffice to say “don’t worry, it’s all part of the Plan.” It was difficult to properly phrase the sentence so that the Plan doesn’t get too easily confused with any plan. But he was expert in conveying that it wasn’t a mere plan.
After having tried and used old or elaborate devices beyond known technology like alleged alien crystal skulls to outcomes of various satisfaction in the past, he’d realized that those so called AI technologies were a silent gangrene for the mind. By becoming more tech-savvy, people lost their savoir and their savour by relying too much on external support. People were becoming malleable, predictable, and replaceable.
His bloody assistant was a sad testament to the downward evolution humanity was rushing towards. It was a strange and sad irony, that by enhancing their ineptitude, he was actually working to the perfection of the human race.
“Ah yes! Evolution!” That was his legacy, and he was of course profoundly misunderstood.
This whole sad business with the chase after the dolls and the keys and the remote control of magpies, and the psychic blasts, beauty treatments and Barbara enhancements, all that made sense once you showed it in the proper light. These were the catalyst to the real and interesting events. The ones which mattered.
It all started after the Army got him out of his prison rot in exchange for his work on some special science experiments. Top-secret, evidently. His handler, a certain nobody by the name of Fergus, was assigning him the experiments.
While he was dutifully working on his assigned projects, he quickly realized that he was given vast funding which would have taken him more time to gather on his own, so he did his part, all while experimenting and honing his skills. Clearly, the Army lacked any vision beyond the confines of “find a better way to torture, maim or kill mass amount of individuals.” Primates. Luckily, their experiments with remote control, brainwashing, and body modelage were less gory than the average science experiments, and far more into his own area of expertise.
It took him 5 years to escape. This plan (a smaller plan, part of the Plan which had not yet fully hatched at the time) — this plan for an escape started to form when Fergus let slip important bits of information, which seemed insignificant taken in isolation, but meant a whole new area of discoveries when put together by a brilliant mind like his own.
Fergus started to gloat about securing some secrets as a blackmail or fail-safe policy in case the Army’s “hired help” misbehaved. This part was known for a long time, it was what was called our ‘retirement plan’ in the contract we signed. What was more peculiar was when he started to let details slip about the method. All thanks to little doses of hypnotic potion in spiked shared drinks, courtesy of the Doctor. It seemed clear that this elaborate scheming of keys and dolls was child’s play and nothing particularly genius, however what was more interesting was when Fergus started to realize that the dolls his niece had made somehow matched certain persons of interest without her conscious knowing. There was a deeper mystery to be cracked, and even Fergus wondered if the Army had not tempered with his family genetics to induce certain characteristics or something of the like. Well, all ramblings of a simpleton you would say, but maybe it wasn’t.
After all these searches to externalize certain abilities of the mind, the Doctor was starting to get fascinated by people exhibiting these qualities naturally.
The appearance of this strange red crystal seems to confirm these doubts. There are untapped forces at play, and maybe doors that could be opened.
Barbara suddenly irrupted into the room “Our guests are coming, just received a text!”
The Doctor sighed thinking some doors should remain closed.
The sun was high in the sky and birds were chirping in the trees by the pool. Roberto was facing a conundrum as the biseasonal pool had started acting strangely. Well even more strangely than one part being frozen in winter and one part stuck in the dog days of who knew what year.
It had already been hard to manage an even level between the iced layer, which tended to get brittle near the seasonal line, and the warm waters evaporating too quickly. When it first happened the water pump had been stuck in winter and they had to break some ice to move it to the summer part. Everything had been fine until the last Roman party and they could enjoy ice skating and warm spring like pool in any season. Roberto especially liked the winter season when the steam would create a nice and cozy mist, conducive to some intimate bathing together.
Now, after that party, something weird…er was happening. The line between winter and summer had started to shift around the center of the pool. -ish. And now the pump was stuck in ice again and the summer pool was being evaporated too quickly. Roberto had to save two mandarin ducks who had their legs caught in by the ice while bathing in the warm pool. Breaking the ice layer without hurting the tiny bird legs had been quite a challenge, but Roberto was proud to say that they were now safe and sound. One of the unforeseen consequences was that they had been following him everywhere ever since and he had to install two boxes for them to sleep near his bed.
Roberto and the ducks were looking at the summer half-pool. It was half empty, even if Ma’am Liz would certainly entertain the idea that it was half full, it was certainly not going stay that way very long if nothing was done.
What had happened was some mystery and Roberto was not very good at solving mysteries. He wished that that inspector with the melon hat had not left in such a hurry during the party, he could have asked him some advice.
“You want some French pastries?” It was the new French maid, Mirabelle. Roberto had been calling her Marbella and she seemed to like it. She held a silver plate of what she called creamy nuns and chocolate eclairs.
“Thanks,” he said.
Barbara’s office was dead silent apart from the regular bips of the machines. The whiteness of the painted walls made it feel like a psych ward. She shivered away the memories that were trying to catch her attention.
It’s been two hours since the Doctor had locked himself up in his rage-release room, a spacious soundproofed room with padded walls. Not even a small window to look inside and check if his anger had subsided. Barbara clearly preferred the trauma of the shouts and cries and the broken plates that were hidden here and there for him to use when he needed most. But when he started his therapy with the AI psych module, the damn bot suggested he built that room in order to release his rage in a more intimate framework.
Now the plates collected dust and the sessions in the room tended to last longer and longer.
Today’s burst of rage had been triggered by the unexpected gathering of the guests at the Inn. The Doctor was drinking his columbian cocoa, a blend of melted dark chocolate with cheddar cheese, when the old hag in that bloody gabardine started her speech. The camera hidden in the eye of the fish by their agent, gave them a fisheye view of the room. It was very practical and they could see everything. The AI engineer module could recreate a 3D view of the room and anticipate the moves of all the attendees.
When that girl with the fishnet handed out the keys for all to see and the other girl got the doll out, the Doctor had his attention hyper-focused. He wanted to see it all.
Except there had been a glitch and images of granola cookies superimposed on the items.
“Send the magpies to retrieve the items,” he said, nervousness making his voice louder.
“Ahem,” had answered Barbara.
“What?” The Doctor turned towards her. His eye twitched when he expected the worst, and it had been twitching fast.
She had been trying to hide the fact that the magpies had been distracted lately, as she had clearly been herself since she had found that goldminer game on facebush.
No need to delay the inevitable, she had thought. “The magpies are not in the immediate vicinity of the Inn.” In fact, just as their imprinting mother was busy digging digital gold during her work time, the magpies had found a new vein of gold while going to the Inn and Barbara had thought it could be a nice addition to her meager salary… to make ends meet at the end of the month.
It obviously wasn’t the right time to do so. And she was worried about the Doctor now.
To trump her anxiety, she was surfing the internet. Too guilty to play the gold miner, she was looking around for solutions to her boss’s stress. The variety and abundance of advertisement was deafening her eyes, and somewhere in a gold mine she was sure the magpies were going berserk too. She had to find a solution quickly.
Barbara hesitated to ask the AI. But there were obviously too many solutions to choose from. Her phone buzzed. It was her mother.
“I finally found the white jade masks. Bought one for you 2. It helps chase the mental stress away. You clearly need it.” Her mother had joined a picture of her wearing the mask on top of a beauty mask which gave her the look of a mummy. Her mother was too much into the woowoo stuffs and Barbara was about to send her a polite but firm no she didn’t want the mask. But the door of the rage-room opened and the Doctor went out. He had such a blissful look on his face. It was unnatural. Barbara had been suspecting the AI to brainwash the Doctor with subliminal messages during those therapy sessions. Maybe it also happened in the rage-room. The AI was using tech to control the Doctor. Barbara would use some other means to win him back.
OK. SEND IT TO ME QUICK. she sent to her mother.
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.
The room was not oversized and not to bright despite facing south. It had the oddest strange decor Shawn Paul would have expected from that place. It seemed to come right out of a Victorian movie with the heavy furniture that took all the space in the room and the dark and overloaded wallpaper that sucked up the light coming through the velvet curtains.
Shawn Paul sneezed. It didn’t as much feel dirty as it felt old like his grand parent’s house. He wondered how often the Inn’s staff cleaned the room. He had to move his luggage in order to open the window to get some fresh air. It was so hot and dry. There was a drug store on the other side of the dusty road and a strange man was looking at him. A feeble wind brought in some red dust and Shawn Paul sneezed again, reducing the little enthusiasm he could have had left to nothing. He imagined his clothes covered with red dust and quickly closed the window. As the man was still looking Shawn Paul shut the velvet curtain, suddenly plunging the room into darkness.
His fear of insects crept out. He had no idea where the light was so he reopened the curtain a bit.
He then checked thoroughly under the pillows, the bedcover and the bedsheet, behind the chairs and in the wardrobe. Australia was know for having the most venomous creatures and he didn’t want to have a bad surprise. He looked suspiciously at a midge flying around not knowing if it was even safe to kill it. Shawn Paul had never been the courageous type and he began to wonder why on earth he had accepted that trip. He had never traveled out of Canada before.
Needing some comfort, he looked frantically into his backpack for the granola cookies he had brought with him. With the temperature the chocolate chip had melted and he wondered at how to eat a cookie without dirtying his hands.
Someone knocked at the door making him jump with guilt like when he was a kid at his grand parents’ and would eat all the cookies in his bedroom without sharing with his cousins.
“Lunch is served,” a woman’s voice said from the other side.
Anxiety rushed in when he saw all the people that were already seated at the only table in the lunch room. He might have gone back to his room if Maeve hadn’t come from behind him.
“Let’s go have a seat.”
He read between the lines what he was thinking himself: Don’t leave me alone. Whether it was truly what she had meant was not important.
As if I didn’t have enough to think about without this! Bert had let it slip that he’d been down to the old Brundy place but that man is like a sardine tin without a key when he’s got a mind to be secretive, and he wouldn’t tell what the dickens was so important down there that he had time for it, now of all times. That got me thinking about that time the twins brought a life sized doll from down there and scared me half to death, but before I had time to start thinking about those ripped up maps that ~ I’ll be honest ~ I’d forgotten about, Finly burst in with her hand over her mouth and a wild look in her eye.
“Don’t be sick in here!” I snapped and quickly swung her round by the shoulders and gave her a shove in the direction of the bathroom, but then she blurted out that Prune had eaten the chicken. “Prune?” I said, admittedly rather stupidly, I mean, nobody told me Prune was coming, or had I forgotten? And then Finly shook me ~ actually shook me bodily! ~ and shouted, No, The CHICKEN! That’s when my own hand flew to my mouth, and I said, Not the chicken. Finly said Yes, and I said No, and this went on for a time until I had a moment of clarity.
Don’t tell her what was in the chicken, Finly, I said, Just go and give her something to make her sick. Quickly!
Bloody woman rolled her eyes in a most unnecessarily exaggerated fashion at me and fled. I was left contemplating the nature of modern humans and their love of theatricals when it dawned on me that making Prune take something to make her vomit, at such short and urgent notice, with no explanation forthcoming, might be difficult to accomplish. Especially for the likes of Finly. I wondered if we had time to devise a cunning plan, or if we had no choice but to resort to brute force.
That’s when a little voice popped in my head and said, “Magic: The last resort.”
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