“I’ll be right back!” Nora told Will, who was stirring a big bubbling pot on the stove. “Need to wash my hands.”
She had a quick look around the bedroom she’d slept in for her missing phone. Nowhere to be found! Maybe she could find Will’s phone when he went out to feed the donkey, and call her phone to try and locate it. Damn, that wouldn’t work either. Will had said there was no network here. That would explain why her phone stopped working when she was alone in the dark woods.
“Smells delicious!” she said brightly, scraping a chair back across the brick floor and seating herself at the kitchen table.
The home made soup was chock full of vegetables and looked and smelled wonderful, but it had a peculiar acrid aftertaste. Nora tried to ignore it, taking gulps of wine in between each mouthful to eliminate the bitterness. She wished it wasn’t soup in a way, so that she’d be able to surreptitiously palm some of it off onto the dogs that were waiting hopefully under the table. If only Will would leave the room for a minute, but he seemed to be watching her every move.
“Very tasty, but I can’t manage another mouthful, it’s so filling,” she said, but Will looked so offended that she sighed and carried on eating. He topped up her wine glass.
By the time Nora had finished the soup, she felt quite nauseous and stood up quickly to head for the bathroom. The room started to spin and she held on to the edge of the table, but it was no good. The spinning didn’t stop and she crashed to the floor, unconscious.
Smiling with satisfaction, Will stood up and walked around the table to where she lay. Shame he’d had to put her to sleep, really she was quite a nice woman and cute, too, in a funny elfin way. He’d started to like her. Plenty of time to get to know her now, anyway. She wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
He picked her up and carried her to the secret room behind his workshop on the other side of the patio. The walls and floor were thick stone, and there were no windows. He laid her on the bench, locked the door, and went back in the house to fetch blankets and bedding and a pile of books for her to read when she came round. Probably not for a good 24 hours he reckoned, somehow she’d managed to eat all the soup. He would put much less in the next batch, just enough to keep her docile and sleepy.
It would only be for a few days, just long enough for him to find that box and move it to a safer location. He’d been entrusted to make sure the contents of the box were preserved for the people in the future, and he was a man of his word.
If they had listened to him in the first place this would never have happened. Burying a box was a risk: all kinds of possibilities existed for a buried box to be accidentally unearthed. He had suggested encasing the contents inside a concrete statue, but they’d ignored him. Well, now was his chance. He was looking forward to making a new statue.
Godfrey was getting itchy. The hazmat suit with built-in peanut dispenser was getting stickier by the minute, but he needed it to stay in the room, and provide the moral support Liz’ needed during her bout of glowid.
She’d caught a mean streak, some said a Tartessian variant, which like all version caused the subject to gradually lose sense of inhibition (which in the case of Liz’ made the changes in her normal behaviour so subtle, it could have explain why it wasn’t detected until much later). After that, the usual symptoms of glowing started to display themselves. At first, Liz’ had dismissed them as hot flashes, but when she started to faintly glow in the dark, there was no longer room for hesitation. She had to be put in solitary confinement and monitored to keep her from sparkling, which was the severe form of the malady.
“Trend surfing keywords now?” Liz’ was inflamed and started to blink like a police siren. “I AM setting the future trends, so he’d rather let me do my job, or I’ll publish elsewhere.”
“And…” Godfrey ventured softly “… care to share what new trends you’ve been blazing lately?”
Finnley chuckled at the inappropriate choice of words.
secret feet clothes
finally story suddenly known
pain added sometimes feeling
top side telling
mars work bag
“Wait!” said Star. “Have we unwittingly stumbled upon a secret meeting of the bellbird cult?”
The bouncer laughed. “Not exactly a secret meeting. It’s more of our monthly get-together. We have drinks and what-not and a bit of a sing-song”
“Sound great! Where do I sign up?” asked Tara, mesmerised by the burly bouncer’s biceps.
Tara sneered at the obvious lie. “Then why did you run? Huh?”
“If you must know, and it appears you must, I believe I saw him.” She pointed to the entrance. “He was wearing a disguise of course. When he saw me, he ran, clearly fearing I would see through his disguise and reveal to the world that he is not in a coma.”
Star scratched her head. “I see,” she said.
“So much for New Zealand and your remote viewing skills,” sneered Tara.
April shook her head. “Those are questions only Vincent French can answer.”
“Going around in circles a bit, aren’t you?” said BB with a kindly smile. “Cheer up! Look around you! Beauty is everywhere and drinks are on the house!”
Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!JibParticipant
“Finnley, stop pacing like that with that concerned look of yours, you make me dizzy. Is that too difficult a task to hire a secretary?”
“You mean the perfect one for me?”
“No I mean, she’s called Pearl. She’ll start tomorrow. What concerns me is something else entirely. Something strange, if you ask me. But you never ask, so I’m telling you.”
“Well, this whole conversation started because I asked you.”
“You asked me because you thought it was related to your previous request.”
“Then tell me and stop brooding. It’s killing the mood.”
Finnley snorted. “If you want to know, someone is throwing things on the balcony. Children things. The other day I found that cheap toy to make soap bubbles. And then it was a small blue children’s plastic sand shovel. And today they dropped a red bucket.”
“I’ve asked Godfrey and I’m positive it’s not him because it’s driving him nut too. We asked Roberto because he’s been attempting to teach tricks to the dogs. A waste of time if you ask me, letting the garden going to the dogs,” she smirked.
“Then, was it Roberto and the dogs?”
“Not at all! We kept an eye on him while he was training the dogs. Nothing. But the objects keep coming. I’m telling you either we have a ghost or a portal to another dimension in this mansion.”
“That sounds like a nice idea,” said Liz, pouting at the possibilities.
“You wouldn’t say that if another you came into this thread.”
“Finnley, when you’ve fed all those dogs, would you be so kind as to hire me a secretary. I simply can’t keep up.”
It was Liz’s turn to snort. “Carrots and snails, that’s all he’s interested in nowadays. I don’t know what the world’s coming to. You just can’t get the…”
Finnley clapped her hands over her ears and cut her off. “Please! Don’t say that again!”
“Why is it so dark in here?” said Liz changing the subject.
Fanella was frantic, trying to think of a way to escape with her baby. The atmosphere in this city was unbearable at the best of times, and especially in this house, but now it was excruciating. It wasn’t that she was afraid of the plague that was terrorizing people, it was the way the people were reacting that was so alarming. They were howling like wolves, a sure sign of lunacy since time immemorial. The sound of it made her blood run cold.
Nobody had seen the president for over a week and rumours were rife. Many said that he’d died, and they were keeping it secret to avoid civil unrest. An office junior was continuing his tweets to the nation, using a random predictive text algorithm. Nobody had noticed. That wasn’t strictly true of course as many had commented that the messages now made marginally more sense.
Fanella could sense the swelling chaos in the air, both inside the house and beyond, in the city and in the nation. Everyone was losing their minds. She had to escape.
She consulted the U Chong:
晉 (Chin / Jin) : Progress / Advance. It represents Prospering, as well as Progress. It is symbolic of meeting the great man.
The great man! Of course! Lazuli Galore would come to rescue her! But how would he know where to find her? Would he be able to travel freely? He’d find a way, surely! But how would he know she needed help? It was so complicated. So hard to know what to do!
But first things first. Fanella crept down to the kitchen, in the dead of the night while everyone was tucked up in their beds with their fitful nightmares, and filled a rucksack with provisions. Then she crept up the back stairs to her hideout in the attic of the west wing. The baby was still sleeping soundly. Fanella lay down and pulled a blanket round them both. Maybe the answer would come in a dream. If not, she’d think about it again tomorrow.
Voice town welcome virus suddenly
Dusty complete plague flew trail
Fell party change attention crying
Walk move drama married experiment
Arthur baby showed deal stress
Rose legs aren luckily doctor
Resumed worn shaman spotted focused
Throwing cool arona giant secretive
Considering cave mangled pearl offer
Truth be told, April was missing the US. She missed all their little coterie of maids living in the shadows of the powerful. Missed the drama most of all.
She’d been secretly texting Norma and May, while June was lazily sipping mojitos with Jacqui.
Norma was fine, but May and the other alien staff had suddenly disappeared when the Secret Services had started to investigate more deeply into the staff’s backgrounds after all the kidnapping fiasco. At least, August had been covering for Norma, such kind soul he was. Besides, the President’s wife could no longer live without her butter chicken. But May and the others couldn’t face the music apparently. Funnily, they couldn’t find “real” American maids nowadays suited to replace them. Good luck with that!
April couldn’t tell June, obviously, since her friend harboured such hatred for the system that had them put in jail. As for herself, she couldn’t argue with the fact they’d deserved it. Nothing a good lawyer couldn’t fix though. That’s why she loved the idea of America. Guilty as charged, indeed. Those charges now vanished.
She’d thought first that it would fuel her inspiration nicely, but it was the opposite. The sudden extra time had distracted her entirely, and her inspiration seemed inaccessible.
She was starting to make up her mind. She would go back, to her family in Arkansas. That could only be temporary of course, as her mother, bless her soul, would start to have her meet all the gents in the neighbourhood in the hopes to finally get her only daughter married. Talk about drama. If that doesn’t kick-start her inspiration engine, nothing would.
Problem was, with the virus around spreading mass panic, there seemed to be no sure way to fly back. She would have to devise some circuitous plan.
I fear to write. The little lock that keeps thee shut won’t keep out none that have set their mind upon knowing my secrets. But I must tell someone or I will go truly mad.
There is none other I can trust. Dear Lisa’s brain is no bigger than the brain of a sparrow but her mouth is the size of a whale. And perhaps I insult the sparrows to compare thusly. The children must not know, though hard it is to keep secrets when their gentle eyes watch my every move, afraid to let me from their sights. It’s for them I must leave. For my own sake, I care not.
Since the past two days I have been making preparations. When the time is come, I will be ready.
“You’re back just in time for the fancy dress party, Finnley. Roberto,” she gave him a piercing look as if to say don’t contradict me, “Roberto is going to come as Falla Partland, the well known writer of romances..”
Finnley snorted. “And what are you coming as? One of your long forgotten characters, a neglected thread jumper? A fraught character left dangling on a cliff hanger for months on end? A confused character, wondering what happened to linear time? A frantic character with the still undelivered urgent message?”
“I’ll come as a downtrodden but surprisingly resilient and mouthy subordinate character, who secretly rules the roost,” replied the recurring character with a characteristic smirk.
Roberto turned away to hide his smile, pretending to dust the giraffe bookends. He had been lucky so far in his role as one of her characters. He loved gardening, and had always had a weakness for pink. It could be worse. Much worse.
“Mmm, it might be a hit. Sophie’s remote viewing has been right on spot even if odder and odder. I guess it fits with the intent of our… I mean your newspaper, doesn’t it?”
Ricardo looked surprised. Was it the recognition he was waiting for all these past months working hard behind the scenes. Not a promotion yet but… Or maybe, just because the usual writers Connie & Hilda weren’t around, off to somewhere only they had the secret.
“Still, you must admit, investigating an alcohol made of rillettes does sound rather ludicrous, even for this newspaper, or even for Sweet Sophie.”
“There might be more to cover, a tree hiding a forest. Besides, she was right about the reptiles falling in Miami during the cold snap! We missed that story… If only we’d jumped on it right away!”
“What else you need? I told you to get on with it, chop chop!”
“Maybe a promotion?…” he added tentatively.
“You’re already staff writer by default dear…”
“A raise then?”
“Don’t push you luck. And you’ll book those tickets to Chickasaw, Alabama in charter. We’re not rolling in the dough, like the Yanks say.”
“It was my idea and you’ve just taken over. The way you always do.”
“Your idea? What are you? Three years old?”
With dignity, Tara rose. She closed her laptop, straightened it on the desk so it ran parallel to the sides, and, using a cloth made for that very purpose, dusted it. “I’m going out for some fresh air. ”
“Well you won’t find it round here. It’s worse than China they said on the news today. Oh, OKAY, Tara. DON’T GO. The business was your idea and I promise I won’t treat you like a secretary. Happy?”
“Ooooh, do tell, Was Mr Sexy voice in it?”
“No, but Uncle Basil was. And he said, cold snap and falling reptiles.”
Star furrowed her brow. “Okay, well … we shouldn’t discount anything at this stage.”
“It’s bound to be a clue. Speaking of secretaries … I have a niece, Rosamund. She a bit rough around the edges but I’m sure she could answer phones and make our coffee.”
“Great idea, Tara! As usual. Get her to come in and do a trial.”
“Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
“Do you do missing persons?” Vince asked, getting straight to the point. “Good, well then can I speak to a detective; it’s a very confidential matter.”
“My uncle Basil, he’s gone. He got in with that cult, and now he’s gone. They’ve seduced him with all that mumbo jumbo and hype and parlour tricks, I could see it coming, I tell you, I knew they’d take him.” Vince was becoming emotional. “And now he’s left me.”
“Well if it’s your uncle, he must be, how old? So what if he wants to join a cult?” said Star, wondering why he was being so melodramatic. “What?” she whispered to Tara who was pulling faces and shaking her head. “Oh, right!” she replied, getting the message.
“Now then Mr French, I’m confident that we can find your uncle. We have some experience with cults and know how they operate. If you’d like to make an appointment with our secretary to pop in to the office as soon as possible..”
“I’m a senior partner, not a secretary!” Tara hissed, taking the phone. Her anger subsided when she heard his voice. Where had she heard that voice before?
“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!!”
“That trip of yours was surprisingly, or must I say, suspiciously long…” Lucinda gave them both a long glance full of innuendos, and added in case those were missed “where you on a honeymoon or something?”
“Oh, you, will you just wipe the snark from your face, it’s making you look ten years older Luce. It wasn’t really a holiday if you must know everything.” She elbowed Shawn-Paul, who was looking vacantly at the tip of his shoes. “Why don’t you tell her?”
“Why don’t you tell her?” he replied automatically.
“It’s just been 6 months! Why do you make such a fuss about it?”
“I’m not making a fuss, look who’s cranky! I can see you are venting your spleen on me after a sleepless night in the plane…”
“Haha, yes”, Maeve admitted with a nervous chuckle. “The only thing that matters is we managed to collect the dolls and the keys, just don’t ask me how.”
“You know I’ll ask.”
“Yes, I know. Just… don’t.”
“Fair enough. But it might be tough for me not to ask. I may forget… Besides, I must ask, do you have a secret benefactor that’s funding you all this time? Fabio’s kibble didn’t come free you know, you left me with barely enough for a week!”
“Oh really? Dog’s kibble now? Let me make you a check right now.”
“I think you need a good night of sleep.” Lucinda winked at Shawn-Paul, “him too. And we’ll talk later. I have tons of things to update you about my theater writing group. You might help me with the continuity bits… Waaa, calm down, no pressure!”
June was born in Glasgow, Kentucky in 1957. Her real name is not known yet. She comes from a military family who used to move around a lot, hence, never really felt home in any place, and kept largely her distances with relatives. At a young age of 17 (1974), she eloped with her then fiancé and did a tour of the USA on a shoestring, aiming to stow away on a Californian ship to reach Hawaii. We find her years later, happily divorced, and sought in 5 states for various charges, primarily identity theft and credit card fraud. A chance encounter with April led her to her next scam: registering as an experienced nanny “au pair”, coming from Glasgow, Scotland. She didn’t manage to stay too long at her employs, yet a fortunate event led her to apply and be selected for the nursing of the President’s precocious baby. She loathes all that the President represents, but likes a challenge, and the irony of being a wanted con-artist on the run under the nose of the Secret Services.
Oddly enough, I was optimistic about the new year. First of all, it was novel to even realize it was a new year. And what a tonic it was to have Finly back! And not just because of the dusting, although it was a pleasure to see a bit of sparkle about the place where she’d spruced things up. Even Mater had a new spring in her step. She said it was the chocolates, one a day she said was better than any vitamins. I’d eaten all mine the day Sanso and Finly and the others had arrived (and regretted it) but Mater had hidden her box to savour them slowly and secretly. I remarked to her more than once that she should have the decency to wipe the chocolate off her lips before coming downstairs, gloating because all mine were gone. But it was nice to see her happy.
It was a funny thing with chocolate, I’d forgotten all about it. It wasn’t like I’d spent years craving it, and yet when I unwrapped (gift wrapped! oh, the memories!) the box Sanso gave me, it all came flooding back. I popped one in my mouth and closed my eyes, savouring the slow melt, ecstatic at the way it enveloped me in it’s particular sweet charm.
I felt so sick afterwards though that I was left with the thought that there was something to be said for a simple life with few opportunities for indulgence. I hadn’t felt that sick since the plague.
I was glad I’d worn that old red dress when Sanso arrived, and just a little disappointed when he left before my seduction plans reached fruition. I did try, but he had a knack of dematerializing whenever I got close enough to make a move. Disconcerting it was, but it kept me on my toes. Literally, in those high heeled red shoes. I twisted my ankle on the damn things and been limping ever since. Oh but it was worth it.
Finly! What water larks, where? Did you see…? I was almost afraid to ask. Had she seen the twins?
Yes, she said, with a smug and enigmatic smile. But that’s a story for later, she said. Maddening creature that she is, she still hasn’t told me about it. She will when she’s finished cleaning, she said.
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