Liz wondered how the women in the pictures managed to keep a kerchief neatly tied around their hair while vigourously scrubbing floors, and how they were able to keep an apron neatly tied in a pristine bow behind their tiny waist while cleaning full length windows. Fake news, that’s what it was, the bloody lot of it. From start to finish, everything she’d been led to believe about everything, from the get go to the present moment, was all a con, a downright conspiracy, that’s what it was.
Maybe this is why Finnley is always so rude, Liz wondered in a brief moment of enlightenment. She didn’t pursue the idea, because she was eager to get back to the disgruntled feeling that comes with cleaning, the feeling of being downtrodden, somehow less that, the pointlessness of it all. Nothing to show for it.
In another lucid moment, Liz realized that it wasn’t the action of cleaning that caused the feeling. At times it had been cathartic, restful even.
There was no pressure to think, to write, to be witty and authoritative. The decision to play the role of the cleaner had been a good one, an excellent idea. Feeling downtrodden was a part of the role; maybe she’d understand Finnley better. She hoped Finnely didn’t get to like the role of bossy writer too much, Imagine if she couldn’t get her out of her chair, when this game was over! Liz was slightly uncomfortable at the idea of Finnley learning to understand her. Would that be a good thing?
Realizing that she’d been staring into space for half an hour with a duster in her hand, Liz resumed cleaning.
Finnley hadn’t noticed; she’s been typing up a storm and had written several new chapters.
This made Liz slightly uncomfortable too.
There’s nobody at all coming to see to my supper anymore, the girl that brought my lunch (a stale cheese sandwich again) said it was because of the curfew. I said, Oh the quarantine and she said, Oh no, not that anymore so I said Oh, is the virus over then, and she said Oh no, far from it, but that’s not what the curfew is for now, and I looked at her and wondered if they’d all lost their marbles.
She said it’s Marshall law out there now and I smiled at that, I used to know a nice girl by the name of Marshall, can’t recall where from mind you, but anyway then I realized she meant martial law when she showed me her arm. Great big bruise there was, she said it was from a rubber bullet. Seems to me they’re getting senile young these days and I wonder where it will all end.
Then she starts telling me about piles of bricks everywhere, and I’m wondering where this is going because it makes no sense to me. She says some people say there are piles of bricks appearing everywhere, but she can’t be sure, she said, because lots of other people are saying there aren’t any piles of bricks at all, and I’m thinking, who the hell cares so much about piles of bricks anyway? Then she looks at me as if I’m the daft one.
It’s a pity we don’t see piles of decent food appearing, I said, instead of bricks, looking pointedly at the cheese sandwich. She said, Think yourself lucky, with what can only be described as a dark look.
I thought I’d change the subject, as we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and asked her if she’d be kind enough to pick me up some embroidery thread on her way past the emporium, and she made a peculiar noise and said Aint no shops open, they’re all boarded up. I was about to ask why, and she must have read my mind because she said, Riots, that’s why.
It’s a good job my hip’s so much better now that the weather’s dry, because I’m going to have to make my escape soon and see what the hell’s going on out there.
I’ve been up since god knows what time. Got up for the loo and couldn’t face going back to the awful nightmares. That girl that came yesterday said she’d been having nightmares, she said it was common now, people having nightmares, what with the quarantine. I think I might have just snorted at the silly girl, but when I woke up last night I wondered if it was true. Or maybe I’m just a suggestible old fool.
Anyway, I stayed up because lord knows I don’t want to be in a city in America at night, not waking and not dreaming either. I’ve had a feeling for a long time, and much longer than this virus, that it was like a horror movie and it would behoove me not to watch it anymore or I’d be having nightmares. I didn’t stop watching though, sort of a horrified fascination, like I’d watched this far so why stop now.
In the dream I was on a dark city street at a bus stop, it was night time and the lights were bright in a shop window on the other side of the sidewalk. I had a bunch of tickets in my hand all stapled together, but they were indecipherable. I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Then I noticed the man that was by my side, a stranger that seemed to have latched on to me, had stolen all my tickets and replaced them with the rolled up used ticket stubs. I made him give me back my tickets but then I knew I couldn’t trust him.
Then I realized I hadn’t finished packing properly and only had a ragged orange towel with bloodstains on it. So I go back home (I say home but I don’t know what house it was) to pack my bags properly, and find a stack of nice new black towels, and replace the bloody orange one.
I’m walking around the house, wondering what else I should pack, and one room leads into another, and then another, and then another, in a sort of spiral direction (highly improbable because you’d have ended up back in the same room, in real life) and then I found a lovely room and thought to myself, What a nice room! You’d never have known it was there because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere and didn’t seem to have a function as a room.
It was familiar and I remembered I’d been there before, in another dream, years ago. It had lovely furniture in it, big old polished wooden pieces, but not cluttered, the room was white and bright and spacious. Lovely big old bureau on one wall, I remember that piece quite clearly. Not a speck of dust on it and the lovely dark sheen of ancient polished oak.
Anyway in the dream I didn’t take anything from the room, and probably should have just stayed there but the next thing I know, I’m in a car with my mother and she races off down the fast lane of an empty motorway. I’m thinking, surely she doesn’t know how to take me where I have to go? She seemed so confident, so out of character the way she was driving.
I got up for the loo and all I kept thinking about was that awful scene in the city street, which admittedly doesn’t sound that bad. I won’t bother telling the girl about it when she comes to do my breakfast, it loses a little in the telling, I think.
But the more I think about that lovely room at the end of the spiral of rooms, the more I’m trying to wrack my brains to remember where I’ve seen that room before. I’ve half a mind to go back there and open that dark oak bureau and see what’s inside.
Everyday is now. I know, I’ve stopped the count.
This strange book I’ve found must be for something. Had the impulse to post a picture from it on a forum.
There were instructions coming with it, I have only started to decypher them, and my brain already feels like it will melt if I go too fast.
Apparently the Chinese philosopher who wrote it said he was swallowed whole, then spat out from the belly of a giant fish, a kūn 鯤, months later. I know, sounds crazy, and yet very familiar. Jonas of course, but also Sinbad, —Pinocchio even… The story’s not new to us.
When he came back, he said it was only to share knowledge. So came his book of encoded instructions.
First instruction he said. You are in a maze, you want to find the center of the maze, and never get lost again while you decide whether or not you still want to explore it.
It kind of struck a chord for some reason. I realized, with all the stories we tell ourselves, they abound, expand in our minds, take roots deeply.
The thought came this morning: if suddenly I’m struck dead, and find myself in my own stories, I would be in a tight spot to escape the whole craziness. I would need a backdoor, a way back, or out.
That’s why its first instruction resonated. It continued. Create your center of your maze. Now. Don’t delay, you may regret it. It must be pure with intent, and tell about who you are in the deepest sense. Engrave the following words around it to seal this pure memory. And put it outside in the world, so that someday when you come back to it, you’ll know.
You have found the Center of Your Maze.
Now, You Know It
And it can never be taken from you again.
I know of a memory of mine I could put in my center. It came very naturally. An illustrated book of stories, mythology to be exact. One of the first books I got, and I can still remember vividly the feeling of entering its world. My parents had given it to me as a gift at a time they had to leave me home alone for a few hours. When they came back, I was still on the same kitchen chair, deeply thrown into the book’s world, feeling like barely a minute had passed.
It was a moment out of time and space. I know it was what being at the center of my maze meant.
I’m grown now, but the feeling is still there. I’m going to put that out some place where I can find it in case I ever get lost again among the shadows of men.
distracted perhaps matter fae rukshan girl
bloody remote energy whispered safe
god near believe
felt happy realize yeah answered house
Board 9, Story 2
Lavender regretted agreeing to look after the seven piglets on the trip up Shift Creek in search of the elusive parasite that would save the first world from the deadly grip of nutterophobia. She’d already pushed one overboard for mutinous intentions. Where would it end?
“Do you think I should go back and get those dolls?” Dillie asked.
Lucinda hadn’t hesitated. “Yes. Go back and get them.” She nearly said, and look inside. “And look for more dolls.”
Then she changed the subject, not wanting to sound too pushy or eager. Or desperate, god forbid. It was important to ensure that Dilly didn’t give the dolls away on impulse or something, she was like that. Somehow Lucinda had to make sure Dillie would keep them safe and well hidden until such time as she could travel again, but without her having to spill the beans entirely. She decided to play it by ear.
Then she realized she didn’t remember what the beans were anyway.
The nurse outfits were a good size too tight.
“I didn’t realize that cult was short for horticulture,” Tara said, while struggling with the chafing elastic band of her… mask. She almost regretted that mission wasn’t risqué enough to warrant the Moulin Rouge ensemble.
“Don’t be daft,” Star answered, not knowing what else to say. She clearly wasn’t expecting carrots either. Although it sort of made sense in a culinary continuity sort of way, now they were looking for basil, come to think of it.
“Where do you think they’ll be keeping him?” whispered Tara.
“With the garlic and butter?” guffawed Star Wrexham.
“HEY! You two!” someone waved at them from the back. “Yes you two! About time you arrived!”
It was too late to flee. Tara rolled her eyes. It wouldn’t take one minute for their undercover to be uncovered.
But with Star’s luck, the guy could well guide them straight to the missing uncle Basil. Unless of course there was another side business of the cult which required scantily dressed as nurse ladies, and they could still hope to blend in… Either or, but in any case, they would figure it out pretty soon.
It was funny watching the toilet paper surge sweep through one place after another, I could follow that much on this contraption my helpers had me wired up to, this social media thing. I suppose I notice different things since I stopped trying to make sense of anything. Things start to catch my eye, but not the usual things.
There’s one thing I’ve learned and that’s if you don’t give a toss about how demented you are, there is a lot on the plus side to consider with dementia.
Not sure why but I keep seeing all this rambling, from that gal they call my niece, on this device as they call it (sounds a bit medieval to me), and she’s doing this lockdown diary thing. Sometimes I feel like saying, do you realize how many of us have been on lockdown already for ages, for month, and for years, relying on pea brained opinionated ever changing drifters to see to our needs. But f course I don’t say that, because I don’t know how to work this blasted device properly. If I did, I’d let them have it!
I find myself momentarily cheered, energized by this thought. And then I feel deflated, and can’t remember what it was about.
Macaroni tonight. The evening woman doesn’t seem to stay long anymore.
What that kid didn’t realize was that the dog showed me where every single camera was. That dog’s always been scared of cameras, you can always tell when someone’s got their camera out by Dusty’s reaction. I can’t for the life of me work out why they were there, though.
Jerk had been tracking all of it. He’d done a nice map of all the location the both of them had travelled, with little animated pins for the dolls they’d collected.
It was a bit difficult to get them all to focus, and by them he didn’t mean the pins.
After Shawn-Paul and Maeve had come back home, their little lives at the building had resumed with some slight changes. For one, he’d finally realized through some fine deductive work worthy of Sherlock that Maeve was the one behind the dolls postings on his website. He was finally sure after a firewall update got her locked out of the website and she requested to get back in. Anyways, that made things easier, although they still mostly exchanged and discussed though the website despite them being front door neighbours on the same floor. But the arrangement was convenient, especially since Shawn-Paul had kind of unofficially moved in with her and Fabio.
He’d invited them in Lucinda’s apartment to do a little old fashioned slide show —Lucinda’s apartment was bigger he’d argued; and all the funny collection of paraphernalia she’d gathered on the walls and cabinets tops was always great to set the mood or do an improvised theme party. For sure, it didn’t have anything to do with the fact he wouldn’t need to clean up and push all the mess in the corners of his own apartment.
Lucinda was all excited. And not just by her new boyfriend Jasper. She wanted to make a book about their expedition, and everybody had immediately rolled their eyes. Books in this century, she must be the last one dinosaur raving about books.
The slide show started by the end. Where the dolls all ended up finally. La Isla de las Muñecas in Mexico: the Island of Dolls.
That’s when they were all appreciating the fitting finish line that the door bell rang.
“I’m here for Jasper.” he said ominously.
“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.”
“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.
Well, it wasn’t what I expected. but once I got over being slightly miffed that it was all about Mater, stealing the limelight again, I realized that I would get my wish after all, if Corrie and Clove and the others were going to come back for a visit. When they arrived, they could tell me all about what had been happening. The twins and Pan were to set off soon, on a sea worthy raft they’d been working on. It would be a long trip and hard to judge how long it would take. The waters were uncharted in places, Corrie mentioned in the letter, given that the waters had risen in so many places, but it also meant there was a chance of safe passage by water in places that had previously been dry land. Narrow canals had become wide shallow lakes, so they’d heard. Pan would be able to dive to his hearts content along the way, and they were all excited about the coming adventure.
“We will continue to communicate telepathically during the trip, Auntie”, Corrie had written, which gave me a glow of pride and satisfaction. I hadn’t been making it up, we truly had been exchanging messages all along.
I wasn’t sure how easy it was going to be dealing with Mater in the meantime, though. She was demanding plastic surgery now.
“Plastic surgery?” I said, “You can’t even get a decent tupperware these days, lid or no lid. Where on earth are we supposed to get plastic surgery from?”
Almost a hundred years old, and still vain. I ask you. “Do you see me fussing over my looks?”
“Quite” she replied, and pursed her shriveled lips.prUneParticipant
Mater, already centenarian! I didn’t even realize how time flies.
We’ll have to organize a big party; I know she isn’t fond of those big sappy reunions, but it’s not every day you turn 100.
Forget about flying her to some place, we’ll have no choice but to return to the Inn, all of us. Good thing we have time to plan. Mater being a 🦁 Leo and all, we still have until next winter down under.
His trip had changed him, Rukshan realized. He doubted it at first, don’t all journeys change the traveller?
This one had been peculiar, his life had never felt more on the line. Now, even the feeling of this place he now called a home was contrasting.
He wasn’t despondent, but he wasn’t sure where to focus his energy now. The World outside didn’t lack causes to fight for; that much was a given. The Great Fires in the South had taken a toll on the Austral Dry Lands and started to menace the Great Forest borders. The Heartswood would be safe for now, but with the villagers’ rampant deforestation, what would be next? He was glad to hear that Eleri & Hasamelis were not short of ideas and clever contraptions to tackle the matter.
Yet, his cause was not this one, though it did stir his heart with sadness and longing.
Tak and Nesy had come back from school. He was glad to see them so full of life and well-adjusted. Nesy was coming into her powers, even if they stemmed from a dark place, she’d found ways to use them gracefully, listening to nature. For one, Eleri had seen early the appeal of using Nesingwarys’ fear-inducing power to shroud the place and repel Leroway and his thugs. Nesy didn’t like too much to use her powers that way. It would also affect the birds and it made Glynis sad that the place was so silent at times.
For now, both were pleased to join the team and the little Snoots towards the effort at rebuilding Gorrash.
All were focused on finding a way to get enough pink clay. They’d started to realize that there was not enough stock left around, and the main supply source was from the now scorched & sooty Austral lands.
This was a good cause for now.
Barron was not really a baby, more a toddler already. He was playing alone in his play fence, like he was usually left doing when his odd caretakers had gone for an escapade. After a while, he got bored cooing like a baby looking at shiny stuff and suckling at noisy things. After all, as not many had realized, he was blessed with a genius IQ — there was no point at hiding his smarts when no one was around.
The house bulldog was sleeping nearby, snoozing like a roaring motorbike. Apart from that, this part of the House was quiet. Occasionally he could hear gurgling sounds coming from the badly soundproofed pipes of the old building. Somebody was having an industrious bowel movement. Hardly news material, his father would have say.
He checked the e-zapwatch that his nannies had put on his wrist. Bad news. His kidnappers were late. He wondered if something had changed in the near perfect plan. Yet, he’d managed to have the money wired to the offshore account, while his contacts, codenames Jesús & Araceli (he wasn’t sure they were codenames at all) said it was in order for the baby abduction.
He could hear suspicious sounds outside; the bulldog barely registered. What if some acolytes in the plan had bailed out? The sounds at his bedroom’s window could be his abductors, waiting for a way in.
As usual, he would have to take matters in his own tiny hands, and let others get the credit for it.
He peeled off one side of the net and tumbled outside of the playpen. Damn, these bodies were so difficult to manœuvre at times. Reaching the window would be difficult but not impossible. After dragging a chair, and a pile of cushions, he hoisted himself finally at reach of the latch, and flung it open. The brisk cold air from outside made his nose itch, and it was the last thing he remembered while he smelled the chloroform.
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.
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.
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