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.
Or is it just 22? I’m losing count. Who would have guessed after the escape from the cruise nightmare, we’d be again confined to our homes. The world has gone in stasis, and it feels like the story has taken a dire turn. At least it is a welcome change; unpredictability reshuffles the cards,… if only slightly.
We now should have more time to write the story of our lives, yet it’s still difficult to not feel absorbed by the global apathy and the impeding measures. Is it a failure of imagination?— I’m not sure I can project myself into a future without discarding a lot of useless garbage. Maybe it’s a collective wake-up call.
For now, the whale is fed, but she’s close to an indigestion of epidemic scare news. We need to change her diet, that’s what I know. Because we’re in its belly, and it starts to smell of death.
So, who’s up for a quest?
“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.
“I’ve got us all we need for our invertigastion.”
“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.”
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.
“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?”
“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?”
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.
“Don’t you want to stay a little longer here?” Vincentius said to Arona after his bath in the hot springs of the Doline. Arona’s attention was caught by the dripping drops of water on the chiseled muscles, and took a while to answer.
She stretched lazily on the deck chair, slightly disturbing Mandrake who was napping by her side. He rolled on his side and resumed his nap.
“I don’t know, the place is nice enough. To speak true, it lacks a bit in decor and natural light; still… you wouldn’t find a nicer place to rest. Look at this white sandy beach… And to think that this pool connects to virtually anywhere, anywhen. Endless opportunities of explorations and travels are drawing you towards an adventure, don’t you think.”
“I think I only live to please you, just say the word, and I’ll follow you anywhere.”
“Aw, you’ve always been good at sweet-talking me. Don’t get me wrong, I like our occasional flings… for lack of a better word, but I like my independence. I have to keep exploring myself.”
Seeing a sadness fleeting in his eyes, she added “if only to meet you again and again.”
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.
“What if she’s bluffing and it’s a ploy to bargain for a raise…” Godfrey said to Elizabeth keeping his voice down “or even more devious, to get you to write in spite…” he added, slightly concerned about Liz reaction.
“Say it bloody loud Godfrey! She wants to sexy up all my stuff, that derelinquant! Caught her doing so waaaay before, she’s never stopped trying. I’m sure her bloody novels are all sentimental romantic rubbish.”
Godfrey looked surprised “Funny you say that. She never really struck me as the sentimental type. Are you sure it’s not all jealousy or holding grudge for her disparate appreciation of your taste in art. That rope-snake is very… philosophical.”
It was ridiculous, outrageous even: trapped in a fictional story… Granola couldn’t believe it at first. But the facts were plain and simple. The walls of the glowing red crystal albeit slightly elastic wouldn’t let her pass.
It all started when the Doctor launched his experiment, or at least that’s what she surmised from the past few days of observation from inside the crystal. She got to admit the vantage point was interesting, were it not for the red hue tinting everything in her sight. The Doctor was madder than a mad hatter, and kept very strange company.
At first, she thought it was all inside of a story made up by her friends and that she was safely within the story realm, but of late it seemed it wasn’t as clear cut as it used to be. The Doctor lived in the same dimension as her friends after all; maybe he was the one who’d managed to voyage through dimensions. But Maeve, Shawn-Paul were still in their Australian adventure, at risk from the magpies, and the remote brainwashing; only Lucinda and Jerk were more or less safe for now, but they were trapped in their rut and lacking of inspiration.
When it started, she had immediately noticed the huge bursts of energy, like waves of dark light, and had wished herself at the source of it, to see what was targeting her friends. In turn, it disrupted the evil machinery, and trapped her in the crystal.
Mad as he was, the Doctor wasn’t lacking brains. He’d already figured out there was something special about the crystal, and was spending his days observing it ignoring the distractions provided by his beehived coiffed servant.
She didn’t want to call Ailill for help, this one she’d got to figure out on her own, and fast, or else her friends may soon be in more dire situation.
One morning Fox noticed a pigeon on the fence. It was cooing and certainly trying to catch a female. But there was none. Actually there hadn’t been so many pigeons in the woods, and Fox had always thought they were city creatures. That’s why he looked closer. The pigeon fretted, a little bit uncertain of the two legged man, because of his fox scent that was still getting out from time to time. But it remained still enough so that Fox could catch it. It would make a nice addition to their lunch.
He was about to break the bird’s neck when he noticed the little cylinder attached to its left leg. He detached it and called Glynis. The cylinder was enchanted and it required some skills to be opened. Someone didn’t want anyone to read that message.
Glynis arrived and the pigeon tried to fly away, but Fox had a firm grip on it. Glynis glared at him.
“Don’t kill the messenger, please,” she said.
Fox, not after some hesitations, released the bird who landed heavily on the fence.
“It’s a shame to let go of such a well fed bird.”
“I know, but we may need it to send back a message and well trained pigeons are hard to come by in the woods.”
So they didn’t have pigeon for lunch. And Glynis struggled. And after noon they were still trying without much success.
“None of my spells have worked so far. I don’t know what to do to crack it open,” lamented Glynis.
“Good idea,” said Fox, “let’s try that.” He took the cylinder and bent it slightly. It cracked open easily. Glynis looked at Fox daringly.
Before Fox could talk, Glynis said: “You’re allowed to roll your eyes. Two turns only.”
Fox did and they read the message. It was from Rukshan.
“Dear fellow companions, I’m sure you’ll know how to open the message,” he started. They snorted.
“I found a path that I hope would help revive our friend. Although I need some help. I’m sure the work with the carpenter and the joiner is done and Fox can come give me a hand.”
It had been a strange tale that Maeve had told her, and Lucinda had a feeling that her neighbour hadn’t told her the whole story. Surely, if one was going to enormous trouble to make lots of dolls, one would ask more questions about why the keys were being sent to particular addresses. But Lucinda hadn’t asked any questions, as she didn’t want to stop Maeve moving towards the door without the doll. If she had done there was a danger that Maeve would remember to take it. Lucinda had wanted to know why that Australian Inn was full of coachloads of Italian tourists, and wondered why Maeve had used the word wop to describe them. It wasn’t like her to be rude, the comment about her ears notwithstanding.
Granola, meanwhile, from her temporary current vantage point of the dreadlocked doll, was pleased to see that the doll had drawn attention. The misinterpretations were mounting up, but that didn’t matter at this stage.
“Do you mind?!” hissed the doll to Granola. “Can’t you see there’s only room for one of us in here, and I was here first!”
“Oh give over, a bit of merging never hurt anyone, least of all a cloth doll. Good lord woman, think of all the tapestry and weaving symbolism of it all!”
“Oh alright then,” the doll grudgingly admitted. “I feel a ton lighter since passing that dreadful key. Holding on to that made me feel constipated. If you’d barged in while I still had the key, it would have been a bit cramped.”
Lucinda was looking suspiciously at the doll. “What did you just say?” she asked, feeling ever so slightly foolish.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” the doll snapped back. Lucinda’s jaw dropped. Well, I never! Not only does the doll talk, it talks to imaginary friends.
Shawn Paul couldn’t help but listen when he heard Maeve’s voice. Was she at Lucinda’s again? He ventured outside his apartment with his unopened packet in his hands in order to have a clearer idea of what they were talking about.
Not him apparently. They were talking about dolls and spies. He felt a bit jealous that other peoples had such beautiful stories to tell and he struggled so much to even write a few lines. Fortunately he always had a small notebook and a pen in his pockets. He scribbled down a few notes, trying to be fast and concise. He looked at his writing. It would be hard to read afterwards.
He paused after writing the uncle’s name. Was it uncle Fungus? And the tarty spy in the fishnet, was it a photograph? And what about the bugs, was it an infestation? Too much information. It was hard to follow the story and write while holding the packet.
He realised they had stopped speaking and Lucinda was closing the door. He suddenly panicked. What if Maeve found him there, listening?
The time it took him to think about all that could happen was enough for Maeve to meet him were he stood the packet in his hands.
“Hi she said. You got a packet ?”
“Yes,” he answered, his mind almost blank. What could he possibly say. He was more of the writer kind, he needed time to think about his dialogues in advance. But, was it an inspiration from beyond he had something to say and justify his presence.
“Someone just dropped this at my door and I was trying to see if I could catch them. There’s no address.” He turned the packet as if to confirm it.
“There’s something written on the corner,” said Maeve. “It looks like an old newspaper cut.
“Oh! You’re right,” said Shawn Paul.
She looked closer.
“What a coincidence,” said Maeve, looking slightly shocked.
Shaw Paul brought the packet closer to his face. It smelled like granola cookies. On the paperclip there was an add for a trip to Australia with the address of a decrepit Inn somewhere in the wops. There was a photo of an old woman standing in front of the Inn, and Shawn Paul swore he saw her wink at him. The smell of granola cookies was stronger and made him hungry.
He was not sure anymore he would be able to write his story that day.
Granola was now a pomegranate seed, left on the side of the juicer that Maeve had used to fix herself a pick-me-up juice with some fresh grated ginger and a few leaves of sacred purple basil. Maeve had hesitated to add her all-purpose magic ingredient, the one she’d usually put in all of her secret potions, the mighty turmeric, but seeing the beautiful deep shade of pink the juice had produced, she just thought… an orange-yellow tint of turmeric would have been a shame and just would have ruined it.
Granola managed to slide a little to the left, squeezing her pulp a bit around the seed, and rotating slightly on the moist kitchen worktop. By doing so, she’d managed to move the kitchen knife and the pomegranate peel out of her line of sight, and she was thus able to peer into the living room where Maeve was sipping her juice with a content look on her face.
Leörmn was hiding tranquil at the bottom of a watery hollow deep inside the Doline.
His sleep was stirred slightly when Mandrake had swum past him, without noticing the large pale water dragon lying at the bottom.
Mandrake didn’t know, but the pearls he’d found were excretions of the dragon who had a hard time digesting the mistletoe’s fruits that dropped in the pond from the large oak trees hanging over inside the Doline; the seeds were coated in magical dragon mucus, that dried and crystallized, giving the pearls… interesting properties.
“Enough of all that nonsense!” exclaimed Liz, who was brimming with enthusiasm, a bit like a frothing glass of cava. “Now then, Finnley, pay attention please! I’m calling a meeting to be held this evening for ALL of our story characters. I’d like you to make sure they are all made welcome and have suitable refreshments. Yes, I know it’s short notice, but I’ll give you the key to the special pantry in the Elsespace Arrangement. Some of the characters will help you, you just need to make a start and it will all fall into place.”
“Godfrey, my good man. You know what I’m like with technical details. Your job will be to write my questions, with the relevant technical minutia. Don’t interrupt my flow with questions! Use your powers of intuition and telepathy!”
Roberto attempted to slip out of the French windows, but his yellow vest got caught on the latch.
“Not so fast, young man!” Liz had plans for the gardener. “There won’t be room inside for all the characters, so it will be a garden party. I’ll leave it to you to ensure there is plenty of outdoor furniture for people to make themselves comfortable. I’ll give you the key to the special garden shed in the Elsespace Arrangement.”
“May I ask”, Godfrey ventured, “What the meeting is to be about?”
“Indeed you may! I want input, lots of input. And ideas. The topic is Alternate Intelligence. That is a slightly better way of saying it than Artificial Intelligence, but not quite the perfect term. But we can change that later.”
“That is unfortunate,” said Rukshan when Fox told him about the dogs’ answer. They were all gathered around the fire on rough rugs for a last meal before activating the portal. For a moment shadow and light struggled on Rukshan’s face as the flames of the fire licked the woods, making it crack and break. A few sparkles flew upward into the dark starry night.
Lhamom used the magic metal spoon to serve steaming soup in carved wooden bowls, and Olliver was doing the service.
When he took his, Fox felt a chilly breeze find its way past his blanket. He shivered, put the bowl on the carpet in front of him and attempted to readjust the yakult wool blanket in a vain attempt to make it windproof. He took back the bowl and took a sip. The dogs barked in the distance. They were impatient to start the hunt. Fox shivered again.
“I could still serve as bait,” Fox said because he felt it was his fault if the plan failed. “You know, surprise the dogs while they are focused on the Shadow and make it follow me to trap it into the portal after we crossed it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rukshan. “It’s too dangerous. If you try to do that, we could have not one but two problems to solve. And you might get stuck too.”
Rukshan shook his head. “No. It was a foolish of me to hope those dogs would help us.”
“What can we do then?” asked Lhamom. They all drank their soup, the silence only broken by the fire cracking and the dogs barking.
“I know,” said Lhamom. “You were so helpful today with the cooking and all.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rukshan. “Olliver was with me helping me with the sand all day.” He stopped. His face showed sudden understanding. “Oh! Of course,” he said. “The book we burnt. The shard’s power was not only teleportation, but also ubiquity.” Rukshan turned to look at Fox. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Fox shrugged, making his blanket slip off of his shoulders slightly. Before he answered he adjusted it back quickly before the warmth he had accumulated could vanish into the night. “Well I saw him… I mean them. How do you think I came out of the negotiation alive? I can not teleport! I don’t even know what my powers are, or if I have any now that the shards have gone.”
“Grace and miracles,” said Rukshan with a grin.
A strange cristalline noise rang to Fox’s hears.
“What? Oh! Yes. Well, that explains it then,” he said, feeling a mix of grumpiness and contentment. He finished his soup and was about to leave the comfort of his blanket to take some stew when Lhamom took the bowl from his hands. She gave him a good serving and gave him back his bowl.
“Don’t make as if I said nothing important,” said Olliver.
The red of the flames enhances his angry look, thought Fox.
“I can be at two places, even more, at once. I can still be the bait and go back home with you at the same time.”
A dog barked impatiently.
“Yes,” said Fox.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” said Rukshan, concern on his face.
“Why? I’m not a boy anymore, if that’s what it’s all about. I can do it. I already did it this afternoon.”
“Well this afternoon was nice and cosy, wasn’t it? You had plenty of light, and yes you helped Fox escape from the dogs, so you can certainly do it. But what about the Shadow spirit. We have no idea what it is, or what it can do to you. And what will happen if one of you get killed?”
Once again, they fell silent. There was a dog bark and that strange cristalline noise again. It sounded closer.
“What’s that noise?” asked Olliver. Fox suddenly realised the strange noise had nothing to do with the sound of miracles, but it was a real noise in the real world.
“What noise?” asked Lhamom. “And what are you all talking about, shards and powers and ubiquity?”
“I can hear it too,” said Fox. “I’ve heard it before, but thought it was just me.”
The noise happened again, this time sounding a lot like metallic ropes snapping on ice.
Fox wriggled his nose. There was the smell of an animal and of a human.
“I think someone is coming,” he said, sniffing the cold air. “A donkey and a human.”
It was not too long before they saw an odd woman riding a donkey. She was playing a lyre made of ice, the strings of which had a faint glow. The woman was smiling like she was having the best adventure of her life.
“Hi guys. I came to help you. You didn’t think I would remain forgotten in my cave, did you?”
In the white silence of the mountains, Rukshan was on his knees on a yakult wool rug pouring blue sand from a small pouch on a tricky part of the mandala that looked like a small person lifting his arms upwards. Rukshan was just in the right state of mind, peaceful and intensely focused, in the moment.
It was more instinct than intellect that guided his hands, and when he felt inside him something click, he stopped pouring the sand. He didn’t take the time to check if it was right, he trusted his guts.
He held the pouch to his right and said: “White”. Olliver took the pouch of blue and replaced it with another. Rukshan resumed pouring and white sand flew in a thin stream on the next part of the mandala.
After a few hours of the same routine, only broken by the occasional refreshments and drinks that Olliver brought him, the mandala was finished and Rukshan stood up to look at the result. He moved his shoulders to help relieve the tensions accumulated during the hard day of labor. He felt like an old man. His throat was dry with thirst but his eyes gleamed with joy at the result of hours of hard concentration.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olliver with awe in his voice.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Rukshan. He accepted a cup of warm and steaming yakult tea that Olliver handed him and looked at the boy. It was the first time that Olliver had spoken during the whole process.
“Thanks, Olli,” said Rukshan, “you’ve been very helpful the whole time. I’m a little bit ashamed to have taken your whole time like that and make you stand in the cold without rest.”
“Oh! Don’t worry,” said the boy, “I enjoyed watching you. Maybe one day you can teach me how to do this.”
Rukshan looked thoughtfully at the boy. The mandala drew its power from the fae’s nature. There could certainly be no danger in showing the technique to the boy. It could be a nice piece of art.
“Sure!” he said. “Once we are back. I promise to show you.”
A smile bloomed on Olliver’s face.
In the white silence of the mountain, Lhamom sat on a thick rug of yakult wool in front of a makeshift fireplace. She had finished packing their belongings, which were now securely loaded on the hellishcarpet, and decided it was cooking time. For that she had enrolled the young lad, Olliver, to keep her company instead of running around and disturbing Rukshan. The poor man… the poor manfae, Lhamom corrected, had such a difficult task that he needed all his concentration and peace of mind.
Lhamom stirred the content of the cauldron in a slow and regular motion. She smiled because she was also proud of her idea of a screen made of yakult wool and bamboo poles, cut from the haunted bamboo forest. It was as much to protect from the wind as it was for the fae’s privacy and peace of mind.
“It smells good,” said Olliver, looking with hungry eyes at what Lhamom was doing.
“I know,” she said with pride. “It’s a specialty I learned during the ice trek.”
“Can you teach me?” ask Olliver.
“Yes, sure.” She winked. “You need a special blend of spiced roots, and use pootatoes and crabbage. The secret is to make them melt in yakult salted butter for ten minutes before adding the meat and a bucket of fresh snow.”
They continued to cook and talk far all the afternoon, and when dusk came Lhamom heard Rukshan talk behind his screen. He must have finished the mandala, she thought. She smiled at Olliver, and she felt very pleased that she had kept the boy out of the manfae’s way.
Fox listened to the white silence of the mountain during that brief moment, just after the dogs had made it clear, despite all the promises of food, that they would not help the two-leggeds with their plan.
Fox sighed. For an instant, all felt still and quiet, all was perfectly where it ought to be.
The instant was brief, quickly interrupted by a first growl, joined by a second and a third, and soon the entire pack of mountain dogs walked, all teeth out, towards a surrounded Fox. He looked around. There was no escape route. He had no escape plan. His stomach reminded him that instant that he was still sick. He looked at the mad eyes of the dogs. They hadn’t even left the bones from the meat he gave them earlier. He gulped in an attempt to remove the lump of anguish stuck in his throat. There would be no trace of him left either. Just maybe some red on the snow.
He suddenly felt full of resolve and camped himself on his four legs; he would not go without a fight. His only regret was that he couldn’t help his friends go home.
We’ll meet in another life, he thought. Feeling wolfish he howled in defiance to the dogs.
They had stopped and were looking uncertain of what to do next. Fox couldn’t believe he had impressed them.
“Come,” said a voice behind him. Fox turned surprised. On the pile of his clothes stood Olliver.
“How did you,” he yelped before remembering the boy could not understand him.
“Hurry! I can teleport us back to the camp,” said the boy with his arms opened.
Without a second thought Fox jumped in Olliver’s arms and the next thing he knew was that they were back at the camp. But something was off. Fox could see Rukshan busy making his mandala and Olliver was helping him with the sand. Then he could see Lhamom cooking with the help of another Olliver.
Fox thought it might be some case of post teleportation confusion. He looked at the Olliver who helped him escape an imminent death, the fox head slightly tilted on the side, the question obvious in its eyes.
“Please don’t tell them,” said Olliver, his eyes pleading. “It just happened. I felt a little forgotten and wanted so much to be useful.”
Fox turned back into a human, too surprised to feel the bite of the cold air.
“Oh! Your clothes,” said Olliver before he disappeared. Fox didn’t have time to clear his mind before the boy was back with the clothes.
Talking with the dogs. That’s what Fox had to do. Easier said than done, he thought scratching his head. His previous encounters with dogs were rather tumultuous and limited to being hunted down in the forest during a hunting party or being chased at the market because he had caught a hen. He had never really talked to dogs before, unless taunting counted of course.
Rukshan had said it was urgent, but Fox found there were so many little things to do before, like tidying up the cave, putting some suncream on his sensitive red head skin, or trying to see if Lhamom needed help.
But after some time, Fox realised he had to go eventually. Everyone else was busy with their own part of the plan. Rukshan was building the sand mandala on a flat surface that he and Olliver had cleared, and Lhamom was finishing a makeshift screen to protect the mandala from the wind with a few bamboo poles and rolls of fabrics she had found on her journey here. It was very colourful fabric with Bootanese patterns that Fox wouldn’t have used to cover a chair. It felt too busy for him.
So, he went to see Lhamom as she was struggling to plant the last stick in the rocky ground.
“Have you talked to the dogs? she asked.
“Ehr, not yet,” mumbled Fox who felt a bit ashamed when Lhamom frowned. “I think I need to give some kind of present to the dogs and I was wondering if you had something suitable in your many bags.”
“Oh! Sure. Can you finish that for me then?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Fox. He replaced her with the bamboo stick and, as she was walking away, he shouted: “I don’t think chocolate will do this time.”
“Oh! I know,” she said with a smile and a wink. It cheered Fox up a little bit, but a gush of wind called him back to his task of holding the pole. Once he secured it he put on an awkward smile, but noticed that Rukshan and Olliver were too busy to have noticed.
Lhamom came back with a big ham which Fox thought was more than suitable. He thanked her and made a joke about leaving her with her pole that he thought afterword he should not have done and walked away from the camp in the crunchy snow.
Fox had been aware that the dogs were observing him, and especially the big ham he was carrying. A few of them had begun to gather at a distance and they were beginning to whine, which attracted more of them. When he estimated he was far enough from the camp he put the ham down. He couldn’t transform into that many layers of clothes so he started to undress, watching wearily the dogs that were now growling.
It was freezing outside and Fox was shocked by how skinny his body had become. He shivered badly and focused to change into his natural red fox. It took him a little bit longer than usual but when the fur grew and started to keep the warmth close to his body, he growled with pleasure. The world around him changed as his senses transformed. Colours were different and slightly less varied, sounds were more crisp and a profusion of noises he couldn’t hear as a human suddenly vied for his attention: the sound of the wind on the rocks, the harmonics of the dogs’ voices, and the scents… simply incomparable. He wished he had kept the ham for himself.
“It’s a fox!” barked a voice.
“Let’s kill it!” said another.
“Where’s the two-legged gone?” asked a young dog.
“Who cares? It brought us meat. It’s gone. Let’s eat!”
Fox suddenly regretted he had made a full change.
Eleri gave the bowler hat on her head a little pat of appreciation as the light pools appeared illuminating the path. She could see Glynis up ahead, stumbling less now, and striding more purposefully. But where was she going in such a hurry? What would she do when she got there, where ever it was, and what would she, Eleri, do about it? What, in fact, was she doing following Glynis; didn’t she have a path of her own?
She stopped suddenly, struck by an idea. Making the cottage invisible was Glynis’s path, Glynis’s method. But Eleri had her own methods, her own skills and her own magic. She could turn Leroway into a statue, and even all his followers, if need be, although she suspected they would disperse readily enough once the leaders booming personality and voice was permanently stilled. She couldn’t have done it if her friend Jolly was still with him, of course. But things were different now. Drastic measures were called for.
Eleri tapped the bowler hat meaningfully, and immediately a trail of flickering pools of light appeared down a side path off to the left. I have the ingredients I need at home, Home! Eleri snorted with laughter at herself. I’d forgotten all about home, ever since that terrible flu! I’ve just been following everyone else, trying to remember everyone’s names and keep up with everyone elses events and I’d forgotten I have a home of my own, and my own skills, too. I have my own magic ingredients, and my own magic methods. And now, I have an idea to execute. She winced slightly at the word ~ was turning a man to stone the same as an execution in the usual sense? Best not to think about that, it was for the greater good, after all. And it wasn’t as if Leroway was going to be removed, buried and hidden underground: he would hate that. He was going to be immortalized into a timeless memorial, for all to see for ever more. Eleri felt sure that in the wider picture he would heartily approve.
First, she must go home to her cottage and studio for the required ingredients. Then she had to seduce Leroway. She needed a little time with him to apply the method, it couldn’t be done is a flashy abracadabra kind of way. Now that Jolly was out of the way, Eleri found that she was quite looking forward to it.
Granola allowed herself a few moments to bask in the glow of satisfaction. At least Lucinda had noticed the side bar suggestion she had implanted on the Face It web page, and had perused the ideas sufficiently to motivate her to try out one of the missions.
“Invite a random stranger to join you,” it had said, “to join you for coffee in a nearby cafe, or invite them home for dinner, or to see a movie.” The page had included numerous other suggestions, but that was the gist. They did warn the reader that often, people were suspicious and expected a scam of some kind, and if the random stranger exhibited more that a token display of wary caution, to leave them with a cheery wave, and thank them for helping you to practice your confidence boosting exercises. Under normal circumstances, providing the level of fear and distrust wasn’t too high, this approach usually rendered the random stranger more amenable to an approach in future.
In truth this wasn’t a difficult exercise for Lucinda, for she often spoke to random strangers and quite enjoyed it, although usually she didn’t extend that to personal invitations. But the Ask Aunt Idle Oracle had been droning on and on about interconnection being the primary factor in reducing signs of aging ~ yes, strange, but true: nothing to do with food or toxins or exercise after all ~ so the coincidence of Aunt Idle’s advice mirrored in the side bar suggestion registered sufficiently for Lucinda to actually remember it, and try it out on the bored looking fellow in the supermarket.
Only hesitating slightly before extending his hand to grip hers in a surprisingly firm handshake, he responded: “I’m Jerk. Pleased to meet you.”
Granola grinned from behind the pyramid of baked bean tins, and faded out of the scene. There was work to do on the side bar method for the next clue.
Jerk’s eyes flickered over to the baked beans, registering the peripheral movement, just in time to see a disembodied foot wearing a red sandal vanish into the somewhat heavy air of the canned goods aisle.
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