“I thought you said we were going to Australia, April? This doesn’t look like Australia to me,” she said casting a despondent eye around the dismal cell. “Why do they always paint them grey?”
“To make you suffer. You’re not supposed to enjoy it.”
“Barbaric,” sniffed June. “And inefficient. I refuse to be rehabilitated unless they improve the accommodation.”
“Fat chance of that” April snorted. “We’ll be sewing mailbags or being a guinea pig for the latest bolonavirus vaccine.”
“What? No art classes and gym and choice of menu?” June was aghast. “You had better get us out of here! That latest scam was all your idea, anyway.”
“Actually, no, it wasn’t. It was that guy, what was his name? Godfrey? The one that comes to see Mr August sometimes. I was in the elevator with him one day and right out of the blue, I mean, I don’t know him personally, but he planted all these crazy ideas in my head telling me about how fool proof this credit card trick was…”
“He can pay the bail money then.”
“Now there’s an idea.”
“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.
Noor Mary Chowdhury had just been promoted to the role of housekeeper since the arrival of the new Iranian maid, May. It was a nice change of position but sadly the salary was not really following, she’ll have to talk to the chief of stuff, Mr August. She suspected him to have a crush on her and he might get a word in her favor to Mr Lump.
“Tskk,” she said to May. “You’re not doing it right, rub gently with the newspaper to make the silver shine.”
“Like that?” asked May. Norma bobbed her head the Indian way, and as May seemed a bit confused she added “close enough.”
The shout startled them both.
“Keep doing like that only. I’m the housekeeper, I’ll go check.”
Norma went to the nursery room and her lips tightened when she saw the two au pair aunties slumped on the couch. June’s eyes were misty, she turned her bottle upside down to show it was empty. April was busy on her phone as usual, ignoring the maid as if she was insignificant.
Norma snorted, she didn’t say anything but showed her disapproval silently. June’s breath could make an elephant drunk while sitting on its back and April was so ugly she would make it run away.
“I’m not your maid,” the housekeeper said.
“Oh that’s right!” said June to April “Coz she’s got a PhD!” and they laughed.
It hurt but Norma kept her lips tight and left the room. She bumped into Mr August Finest and her mind went blank. He was tall and wore a handsome moustache. She had forgotten she wanted to talk to him about her salary.
There had been no communications from either Connie or Hilda for some time. Ricardo went down the usual route of worrying that something had happened to them, and then it occurred to him to try out the remote viewing he’d been practicing. It was too easy to rely solely on technological means, he reminded himself, AI (short for Abnormal Intrusions) or no AI.
Ricardo found himself in a moonlit sweeping landscape, with some dark indeterminate built structure shapes. Oh, very helpful, he snorted, and then reminded himself to simply observe. Then he saw the woman, dressed in gauzy floating white, and found himself sneering at how corny the image was, like a new age art poster woman, beautiful and ethereal in a moonlit scene.
Stranger still was the next thought to waft through his wandering mind. Maybe he inserted that corny woman to distract any remote viewing spies, and throw them off the scent? Suddenly there was a crash behind him. Another picture had fallen off the wall, he assumed. But nothing was out of place. He looked again, sure that something had fallen to the floor to make such a noise. But there was nothing to see. He shrugged.
Later, he wondered: what had made that noise?
“Welcome, Everyone!” said Mater. She had entered unnoticed and was standing in the doorway regarding the assembled group and looking rather more lewd than welcoming. She had worn a pantsuit for the occasion, a relic from the 70’s made of red garbardine. Fortunately, the forgiving nature of garbardine added a little stretch, but even so the cloth clung rather too tightly to Mater’s curves.
“Oh, lord love ya! “ said Finly. “Look at you! You’ve not dusted that pantsuit off since you got it out of the chest, have you!” She hit Mater with her duster and a cloud of dust enveloped her.
“Way to go, Mater!” said Devan.
“What are you doing, crazy old woman?” shrieked Dodo. Unfortunately her mouth was full of bread roll and it sounded more like, “Woowawuooingwazyolewoom?”
“She’s aboriginal?” asked Sanso looking at Dodo with interest.
Prune snorted. “We aren’t quite sure where she is from but she is an interesting specimen.”
“I expect she is rip snorting drunk again,” said Mater after the dust had subsided. “Anyway, I just want to say it is a pleasure to have you all here. I hope you are finding enough to eat. If you need anything, Bert here is your man.”
“Thanks ever so much,” said Arona, smiling charmingly and gently wiping the lizard with her paper table napkin before popping it back under her turban.
Bert grunted and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We aren’t used to this many folk staying at one time,” he said. “But yeah, welcome all. So, what are you all here for?”
“It’s to do with a doll, actually,” said Maeve. Shawn Paul looked at her, impressed with her boldness.
“A key,” said Arona, waving the key in the air.
Mater stumbled and reached out to the door frame for support.
“Bloody hell,” said Bert.
“Honestly, back in my day, we managed to dust and sneeze at the same time, and chop the firewood, make the pies, feed the goats, reupholster the chair, write the maps, go to market, write a story, and all before dinner! You just can’t get the characters these days,” and then Liz added, “And I do NOT snarl! I simply never snarl!”.
Liz snorted. “I snort,” she admitted, “Sometimes I snort, that I will admit. But what I really can’t fathom, is why you climbed into bed with me, and with that dreadful snotty nose. I was bound to push you out, what did you expect?”
“Could you pass me the butter?” asked a strange fellow seated on Shawn Paul’s left. The man was odd, a bit looking like Captain Sparrow with his black jabot lavaliere shirt and golden earrings.
Shawn Paul felt awkward, the kind of awkwardness cultivated for many years with shyness and fear of social interactions. No wonder I wanted to be a writer, he thought. Nonetheless he handed the butter to the stranger. Could he be daring for a change and talk like his grandma always pushed him to do? The best remedy to shyness is to talk. Start by saying your name Shasha!
“My name is Shawn Paul,” he said, feeling the heat rise to his face. He gulped, unsure of what to do next. Should he talk about the morning weather?
“My name is Sanso,” said the man. “At your service,” he added waving his puffy sleeves. “Have you read the last article on _whateveralready_?
The cat behind them snorted. Shawn Paul looked at it. It looked grumpy and ready to talk.
“Don’t send Mandrake any food,” said one of the other guests, a woman wearing an indian looking outfit with a scarf hiding her hair. Something moved under the head scarf and a strand of red hair ventured timidly outside, soon followed by a lizard’s head. The woman pushed it back under her hood and emitted a disgusted grunt when she saw the meat dish brought by the maid.
“I’m not a maid,” muttered Finly to whomever could hear/read her, or to the writer. “It’s good liz… chicken,” she said. No need for the long faces.”
“But it’s dead, dear,” said the woman with the veil.
“The Godfrey silently prayed under the third moon,” was saying Sanso who didn’t seem to mind that Shawn Paul was not listening to him. “And he entered late inside the lake wearing a funny blue toge. Sanso realised Finly was looking at him her mouth reduced to a tight line. “And I followed with opened hope,” he finished before gulping a spoonful of butter.
“Do you happen to have a lock in your bedroom?” asked Sanso. The woman in the scarf looked at him with dark eyes. The lizard, seizing the opportunity to be free, jumped from under her scarf and landed into the gaspacho, splashing all the guests with a bit of red.
The thoughts of Miss Bossy asking him to torture sweet Sophie still bothered Ric while he went out to look for the reporter. Could he even call her that, he suspected most of her articles were fake news and even if they had at some point come from a seed of truth, they were so transformed by her retelling that it was impossible to prove them in any direction, be it false or true.
Ric found sweet Sophie sleeping on the couch of the waiting room in a very unwomanly position. Fortunately she didn’t wear a skirt. Her mouth was wide open and a stream of saliva was dropping from her chin. She even snored. Ric was put off by her pink trousers and electric blue jacket. Did she colour her hair? he thought. They looked a bit purple.
Sweet Sophie snorted and emerged from slumber totally unaware she was observed.
“What?” asked Miss Bossy when Ric told her about Sophie’s dream. “Nonsense! Sweet Sophie having precognitive dreams? Time travel wasn’t enough for that old hag. And you’re saying she requested a daydreaming room to continue her investigations, with ambiant music and ayahuasca? I’m not financing her drug cravings.”
Sophie entered the dark room. She didn’t think it would work, to ask Ric for the daydreaming room. She tried the couch. Soft but not too soft, hard enough for her back. Oh! Sweet Time Lord, what a relief from the open space chair. An instrument of torture if you asked her.
She had developed an obsession with the Doctor, and it all came from a dream she had just before Ric found her. In that dream, she was really attracted to the Doctor—who looked just like an old crush of her—, and he was showing her his amazing inventions, telling her about his superior mind, his poignant history and all the great things he did during his famous time. So…yeah. She kind of finally fell in love with him for the second time. Then he confessed her he was so sorry for what he did, it made her cry almost. He said it was stupid of him and he still thought she is his daughter— that’s when she thought she had lost track of the dream timeline and in another moment she found another crazy coincidence that turns every possible event to pure insane: The Doctor has a new body. Not in the literal sense. He hasn’t even given it a whole new look. Instead, it has a completely bizarre look with its entire body filled with…
That’s when she had awaken. That’s why she needed the couch and the room and the plant. She had seen in a video that it could help.
Someone knocked at the door and brought in a silver plate with a steaming muddy potion.
But Arona wasn’t quite ready to trek. On a pretense of tying her boot laces, she was trying to conceal laughter.
“What’s that, Milord?” she snorted, “What is this quest of which you speak?”
Mandrake’s tail shuddered in annoyance.
“Do grow up, Arona!” said Mandrake. “We have only a few days and precious little progress has been made.”
“I thought we had made excellent progress,” said Arona, deflated. “I mean, I found you, didn’t I?”
“Well, technically it was me who found him,” said Sanso, puffing his chest out proudly. “Oh yes, you didn’t know that, did you! I was exerting my influence on the moon and the stars to guide us in the right direction.”
“My word,” said Mandrake and Arona grimaced at him. “See what I mean!” she hissed.
“The quest,” said Sanso, “is quite simple. We have a key and we need to find the door which it opens. And I suggest we make haste to the flying fish Inn where we will find said door.”
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.”
“Come on now,” said Ricardo. “Nobody has put anything out there about the dolls. Come and sit down on this nice comfy office chair and tell us what is going on. You will do yourself an injury running in those heels. Lovely shoes of course,” he added quickly.
“That’s right,” he said. “Just let me wipe that chair for you before you sit. Now, you tell us what’s going on while I make the tea. One sugar?”
Slimy creep, hissed Connie.
“No hurry then,” said Hilda. “We’ve only been waiting half an hour for tea already.”
Miss Bossy Pants wiped her forehead with a tea towel, too relieved to question what a tea towel was doing on the desk. She pulled her phone out and scrolled through her messages.
“I received this,” she said. “Read it out will you, Ric. I can’t stand to look at it again.”
“Put a lid on the doll story or you will be sorry. And I mean very sorry Very very sorry,” read Ric. “Hmmm rather unimaginative as threats go, don’t you think?”
“Scroll through to the next one.”
“By the way, it’s the DOCTOR sending this, in case you think for one moment this is an unimaginative idle threat.”
The mysterious thing was heavy, brown and looked a tad like a dry turd. It could hold in Shawn Paul’s hand and it seemed shaped to fit in his closed fist, but the young man hesitated to keep it too long because of the way it looked.
A note from his mother accompanied it. Who else could have sent a parcel this way? he thought, meaning not through the post office and delivered by a decrepit old man.
So the thing had been put on top of a pile of his latest scribblings, which was on top of his not so latest scribblings. Before putting it there, he almost saw the interest of a clean desktop or table, but it got lost in the immediacy of the moment and the tiredness caused by his recent fever.
“I’m sure you’re wondering what this marvellous object is.” the note started. Shawn Paul looked at the thing. It looked like a turd more than ever on all that white paper, so he made his yuck face. What he was wondering was rather why did she send me anything? She lives in an apartment on the upper floor. She could have brought it herself.
“I found it in a car boot sale,” she continued, her sharp and melodious voice chirping in her son’s head while he read the rest. “I met that old man, Patrick, who will deliver it to you. He’s a dear nice fellow never frugal with his words, and he told me it had been given to him by an Inuit shaman. It’s a fossil bone of the inner ear of a whale when they escaped Lemuria. Can you imagine that? Apparently it will help you develop your psychic abilities. You know how I’ve always known you had such a great potential in that area…”
Shawn Paul snorted and put down the paper. There was no use keeping up reading. His mother and her crazy ideas. He looked at the pile of papers.
It’ll do for a nice paperweight, he thought.
But Granola had not lost a crumble of what the mother had told in the rest of the note. She was lurking at the inner bone and she wondered if she could make herself heard if she merged with it.
“Surely you don’t want sage as well with your ice cream?” asked the ever mentally eavesdropping Finnley.
“Finnley, considering you are always telepathically listening, you really need to refine. You are missing the gist, girl!”
Finnley snorted. “Girl? you dictatorial old hag, fancy calling a 49 year old ‘girl!”
“Get on with your work, boy!”
Elizabeth was even more impressed when the Obviously Intelligent Daily Comment Generator mentioned something very similar to Alice’s cookies .
She was delighted to see that Sanso was one of the early arrivals to the garden party, and that he’d brought with him a rag tag assortment of strapping young Arduino time hackers.
Finnley bustled past with her arms full of colourful bed linen, muttering under her breath.
The horses snorted as they were reined in to a halt an the front entrance. A young woman in what appeared to be a fancy dress costume descended from the carriage.
“I ‘ave come to ‘elp Finnley wiz ze bedding!”
Liz glanced up from her communication device with a satisfied smile. She’d just invited some more characters to the garden party, characters from Elsewhere, and a few from Elsewhen. Come any time, she’d said. A riot of colours beyond the French windows caught her eye. Roberto was working wonders out there preparing for the party, it looked most enticing.
“Oh it wasn’t me, Liz, I think it was someone called Petunia.”
“Well, that was fast! I only just invited her!”
“She has lined the pathway with colorful ROTE flowers. They’re like Alice’s bite me cookies, she says, Choose wisely.”
“Oh, so it’s a Rotes Garden is it,” Liz snorted.
“Petunia’s big into decorating with color”, Roberto said, “Looks like a tulip farm. Rainbows of ROTEs…”
“Well, that’s one less thing for you to have to take care or, which is most excellent! As I said to Finnley, just make a start and the characters will help…”
“Oh, er, by the way, Liz,” Roberto said. “I think the idea is that they are rare jewels of condensed information. Consume slowly, savor, and enjoy. The nectar is a tonic for the soul.
Like, don’t pick them all at once and shove them in a vase, kind of thing.”
Liz gave the gardener a withering look, and then changed it to a smile, thinking that withering looks in a freshly blooming garden perhaps wasn’t the thing.
“Splendid, Roberto, everything is coming along fabulously.”
Roberto continued: “To digest them is to know. and the knowing is both deep and fresh. Something new she says, that you already knew.”
Elizabeth was impressed.
Liz was lying on the living room couch in a very roman pose and admiring the shiny glaze of her canines in the pocket mirror she now carried with her at all time. The couch was layered with fabrics and cushions that made it look like a giant rose in which Liz, still wearing her pink satin night gown, was like a fresh baby girl who just saw her first dawn…
Finnley looked suspiciously at the fluffy cushions surrounding Liz. Where do they come from. I don’t recall seeing them before. I don’t even recall the couch had that rosy pink cover on it. She snorted. It sure looks like bad taste, she thought. She looked around and details that she hadn’t seen before seemed to pop in to her attention. A small doll with only one button eye. Reupholstered chairs with green pattern fabrics, a tablecloth with white and black stripes, and a table runner in jute linen… Something was off. Not even Godfrey would dare do such an affront to aesthetic, even to make her cringe.
Finnley went into the kitchen, where she rarely set foot in normal circumstance, and found a fowl pattern fabric stapled on one wall, a new set of… No, she thought, I can not in the name of good taste call those tea towels. They look more like… rubbish towels.
“Oh, my!” she almost signed herself when she saw an ugly wine cover. Her mind was unable to find a reference for it.
“Do you like it?” asked Roberto.
Finnley started. She hadn’t heard him come. She looked at him, and back at the wine cover. She found herself at a loss for words, which in itself made her at loss for words.
“It’s a little duckling wine cover,” said Roberto. “I made it myself with my new sewing machine. I found the model on Pintearest.” saying so, he stuck his chest out as if he was the proud duck father of that little ugly ducklin. Finnley suddenly recovered her ability to talk.
“You certainly nailed it,” she said. In an attempt to hold back the cackle that threatens to degenerate in an incontrollable laugh, it came out like a quack. She heard her grandmother’s voice in her head: “You can not hold energy inside forever, my little ducky, it has to be expressed.”
Uncomfortably self conscious, Finnley looked up at Roberto with round eyes.
“Oh you cheeky chick,” said the gardener with a broad smile. He pinched her cheek between his warm fingers and for a moment she felt even more like a child. “I didn’t know you are so playful.”
Somewhere in the part of her mind that could still work a voice thought it had to give him points for having rendered her speechless twice.
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.
“The mansion to yourself?” snorted Liz. “You, Godfrey, will be going on ahead to make sure everything is ready for us. We’d like a nice leafy garden and a balcony, and do make sure we have a really good cook.”
“Funnily enough,” said Godfrey, clearing his throat, “Roberto appears to have fetched up in Mumbai. He was spotted a few days ago chasing chickens and trying to stuff them into a story thread. I was, ahem, going to mention it…”
Liz was just about to start complaining about always being the last to know what was going on, when a thought struck her about how marvelously fortuitous it was that she wanted Godfrey to go on ahead to India, and to also look for Roberto ~ who was conveniently in India!
“But how?” asked Liz. “We don’t even know where she came from, or how she got here. I don’t think you can just banish characters that easily. Look what happened last time.”
“What happened last time?” asked Finnley.
“Oh, I don’t remember! Never mind that now! How are we going to get rid of that rude interloper?”
Liz couldn’t help but snigger too. “I didn’t plan that,” she admitted.
“Yes! Of course, that was it.”
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