“Let’s begin,” said the teacher. She was short and seemed around sixty seven. She walked around the room like a tamer surrounded by wild beasts in a circus. Her dark hair was tied into a long braid falling on her straight back like an I. She wore a sari wrapped around her neatly. “I’m Ms Anika Koskinen, your cryogurt teacher today. You’ve got the recipe in front of you on the benches right with the glass and a bottle of water. The ingredients will be in the cabinets on your left and everything is referenced and written big enough for everyone to see.”
“Those benches look like the ones in chemistry class when I was in college,” said Glo. “I have bad memories of thoses.”
“You have bad memories, that’s all,” said Sha making them both laugh.
“How do you want me to know? I was with you since we left the bungalow,” said Sharon who was trying to decipher the blurry letters on the recipe. “Their printer must be malfunctioning, it’s unreadable.”
“You should try putting on your glasses.”
“I didn’t bring’em, didn’t think we’d need to see anything.”
“I saw you! no need to shout,” whispered Mavis loudly. She muttered some excuse to the teacher who had been giving them a stern look.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to go with your friends,” said Ms Koskinen, “We don’t have enough material for everyone.”
The teacher resumed her explanations of the procedure of making frozen yogurt, checking regularly if everyone had understood. She took everyone bobbing their head as a yes.
“You shouldn’t ask us,” said Glo, “our eyes are like wrinkles remover apps.”
“I think he looks better without glasses,” said Mavis.
After Ms Koskinen had finished giving them instructions, she told everyone to go take the ingredients and bring them back to their benches.
“I’m going,” said Sha who wanted to have a better look at the man.
“Don’t forget the recipe with the list of ingredients,” said Mavis waving the paper at her.
She came back with the man helping her carry the tray of ingredients.
“Thank you Andrew,” said Sha when he put the tray on their bench.
“Oh you’re welcome. And those are your friend you told me about?”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Andrew. “I’m Andrew Anderson. I suggested Sharon we could have lunch together after the workshop. I’d like you to meet my friends.”
“Of course!” said Sha. She winked at her friends who were too flabbergasted to speak.
“That’s settled then. We’ll meet at 1pm at my bungalow.”
“See you later,” said Sharon with a dulcet voice.
“What the butt was that all about?” asked Glo.
“Oh! You’ll thank me. I pretexted not to be able to find everything on the list and Andrew was very helpful. The man is charming, and his yacht makes you forget about his Australian accent. We’re going to have lunch on a yacht girls! That means we’re not stuck on the beach and can have some fun exploring around.”
Sha looked quite pleased with herself. She put a bottle of orange powder among the ingredients and said :”Now! Let’s make some wrinkle flattener ice cream, ladies. I took some extra tightener.”
Barron wasn’t one to let a call for help unanswered.
Yes, Barron, not the wee prodigee from the Beige House that he enjoyed possessing, but the demon summoned from Hell.
It had all been a big misunderstanding, as they all say in the end. He, for one, would have thought the ride more fun. He usually wasn’t summoned for anything short of an apocalypse. That’s what the big elite cabale had promised him.
Oh well, maybe he shouldn’t have eaten them in their sleep. He couldn’t say no to the fresh taste of unrepentant sharks and sinners. Since then, he’d been a bit stuck with the big Lump. He would have thought he’d be more competent at the whole Armageddon thing.
Back in the past, now that was something, the Crusades, the plague and all. So much fun. Gilles de Rais, well, he took it too far, blaming monsters for his own horrendous sins. Nowadays, people didn’t really need direction, did they? They were all too happy to ride barrelling out of control towards chaos and certain death. His job was done, he would be a legend down there, and still he felt like a fraud.
So what could he do? His plan for eternal holidays in Mexico while starting a cartel war had been sadly derailed. His mercurial and weirdo nannies had disappeared leaving him alone. Plus, the voodoo witch he met during their escape had been on his ass the whole time, he’d seen the eye she’d given him. Wouldn’t mess around with that one; can’t possess people against their will and risk a merciless lawyer from Heavens, can we. Heavens’ lawyers were the nastiest of pains.
He was about to abandon all hope when he’d heard the pleas from the French maid and her child. Well, she sounded too whimsical and high maintenance. But it gave him an idea. With all the death around, there were plenty of near dead people to possess who wouldn’t mind a last ride,… and funny bargains to be made.
Board 3, Story 2:
Sophie: “Jesus! What happened to our legs! They’re so skinny I can hardly see them!”
Barbara: “Smart, trying to outdo my beehive with a palm tree Sophie. But you’ll know who’s the boss here.”
Glor: “I got sand stuck everywhere, somebody help!”
India Louise: “Cuthbert, when you’re done with your funny hairy pajamas, you should get tested, that green blob of snot you made on the waxed floor does look terribly suspicious.”
The squirrel: “That scene’s too cute, I’m at a loss for quip.”
Shaking, Liz wiped the egg yolk out of the corner of her eye. The beer that was gluing her hair into sticky clumps would have to wait. She flicked a half sausage off the corner of her desk with a tremulous sigh and sat down. Her noble features creased into a momentary visage of despair when she saw the bacon, but her natural stoicism corrected her expression as she picked the rasher up between her thumb and finger, removed if from her keyboard and blithely flicked it over her shoulder.
Roberto, standing silently behind her, ducked nimbly as the greasy slab flew past. It stuck to the French window briefly and then slithered down, leaving a snail trail of lard.
Liz cleared her throat and looked sternly at each of them in turn.
“What,” she said, her voice cracking, “What next? Whatever next?”
“A whale, maybe?” asked Godfrey with a lop sided smirk.
I feel sick in my stomach. Been days actually. Got to try something new, and a line a day seems like a good start.
Had dreams last night, it was months I didn’t get any. Nothing really out of the mundane, though I was selling the house in one of the dreams.
To think we’re still stuck on this nightmarish cruise, nor on land nor on water, and I dream of the house. The brain has a sense of humour.
The walls are paper thin, we can hear the endless complains of the nearby cruisers. That’s two left, one right, 3 across the corridor, and at least 2 above and below — that I can count at least. I call them my voices, makes me laugh a little. I didn’t tell Lorel, she would call me barmy. I thought of giving them numbers, it’s like reducing the complexity of human nature to something more… geometric? Reduce them to lines of code, maybe you can hack into the collective mind, make it work for you.
I think one of the voice is a pirate. It’s coughing Awwr, arr, arr more and more now. I’ll call him Eleven. Won’t be long before they catch him and isolate him. Good thing he’s the guy under and not above, from what I hear, the thing spreads through the loos too. Maybe he’ll make a run for it, I heard some tried to escape this hellhole. Well, they missed the free booze vouchers, too bad for them.
So long journal, wife is coming back from her trip to the other room. Yeah, I mean the loo, don’t you enjoy promiscuity. We’re not rolling in dough, couldn’t afford the presidential suite you see. Maybe if we survive longer than everybody else, it’ll be ours, who knows…
I wish now that I’d had the sense to open the letter in private. I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of that, but I didn’t. I tried not to make a drama out of it, I didn’t make an announcement or anything. One morning after breakfast I untied the string and opened the letter. It wasn’t any of the things I had expected. Clearly printed in large capital letters at the top was written DON’T TELL MATER.
Quickly I folded it over, dropping it discreetly into my lap under the table. “Any more nettle tea in the pot, Bert?” I asked and feigned a casual yawn.
“Well?” asked Mater.
“Well what?” I asked.
“I can read you like a book,” she said, to which I replied hotly, “Well then I won’t need to write one, will I.”
“What did the letter say?” she pressed on.
“What letter?” I said
“For crying out loud!” she said.
“Pass your cup then,” said Bert, giving me a piercing look. Over the top of Mater’s head he mouthed a word, with a questioning look. I’ve never been any good at lip reading, but it looked like he was trying to say Jasper.
“Who?” I mouthed back, but Mater saw me, so I pretended I had a bit of nettle stuck between my teeth.
“Well, where were we?” Jerk took the articles where he left them when he got up to check the price on one lacking a barcode.
The blip blip resumed, with the impatient twitching lady pouncing on the items as soon as they passed the scanning, to cram them into her compostable bag.
Days were stretching in ennui, and he started to feel like an android. At least, the rhythmical blips and “Have a good day, thank you for your purchase” were now part of his muscle memory, and didn’t require much paying attention to.
He’d renewed the yearly fee to maintain his group website yesterday, but he wasn’t sure why he did it. There were still the occasional posts on the groups he was managing, but the buzz had died already. People had moved to other things, autumn for one. Really, what was the point of maintaining it for 3 posts a week (and those were good weeks, of course not counting the spam).
There was fun occasionally, but more often than not, there were harangues.
He wondered what archetype he was in his life story; maybe he was just a background character, and that was fine, so long as he wasn’t just a supporting cast to another megalomaniac politician.
The apartment blocks were he was living were awfully quiet. His neighbours were still in travel, he wondered how they could afford it. Lucinda was completely immersed in her writing courses, and Fabio was still around amazingly – Lucinda didn’t look like she could even care of herself, so a dog… Meanwhile, the town council was envisaging a “refresh” of their neighborhood, but he had strong suspicion it was another real-estate development scheme. Only time would tell. He wasn’t in a rush to jump to the conclusion of an expropriation drama —leave that to Luce.
Friday would have been her 60th brithday (funny typo he thought). Their dead friend’s birthday would still crop up in his calendar, and he liked that they were still these connections at least. Did she move on, he wondered. Sometimes her energy felt present, and Lucinda would argue she was helping her in her writing endeavours. He himself wasn’t sure, those synchronicities were nice enough without the emphatic spiritualist extrapolations.
“Happy birthday Granola.” he said.
Another crack appeared on the red crystal into which Granola was stuck for what felt like ages.
“About time!” she said. “I wonder if they have all forgotten about me now.”
She looked closely at the crack. There was an opening, invisible, the size of an atom. But maybe, just maybe, it was just enough for her to squeeze in. She leaned in and focused on the little dot to escape.
“I hardly think wearing such a peculiar hat is apt for undercover work, Agent X,” remarked Veranassessee.
“It’s a local tradition,” gasped Agent X, trying to catch his breath as he attempted to right his mangled bicycle.
“Never mind that! Leave it there, it’s no good now!”
“The doll is hidden in the water bottle!” Agent X snapped, “And it’s stuck fast behind all this twisted metal! We have to take the whole thing!”
The sun was high in the sky and birds were chirping in the trees by the pool. Roberto was facing a conundrum as the biseasonal pool had started acting strangely. Well even more strangely than one part being frozen in winter and one part stuck in the dog days of who knew what year.
It had already been hard to manage an even level between the iced layer, which tended to get brittle near the seasonal line, and the warm waters evaporating too quickly. When it first happened the water pump had been stuck in winter and they had to break some ice to move it to the summer part. Everything had been fine until the last Roman party and they could enjoy ice skating and warm spring like pool in any season. Roberto especially liked the winter season when the steam would create a nice and cozy mist, conducive to some intimate bathing together.
Now, after that party, something weird…er was happening. The line between winter and summer had started to shift around the center of the pool. -ish. And now the pump was stuck in ice again and the summer pool was being evaporated too quickly. Roberto had to save two mandarin ducks who had their legs caught in by the ice while bathing in the warm pool. Breaking the ice layer without hurting the tiny bird legs had been quite a challenge, but Roberto was proud to say that they were now safe and sound. One of the unforeseen consequences was that they had been following him everywhere ever since and he had to install two boxes for them to sleep near his bed.
Roberto and the ducks were looking at the summer half-pool. It was half empty, even if Ma’am Liz would certainly entertain the idea that it was half full, it was certainly not going stay that way very long if nothing was done.
What had happened was some mystery and Roberto was not very good at solving mysteries. He wished that that inspector with the melon hat had not left in such a hurry during the party, he could have asked him some advice.
“You want some French pastries?” It was the new French maid, Mirabelle. Roberto had been calling her Marbella and she seemed to like it. She held a silver plate of what she called creamy nuns and chocolate eclairs.
“Thanks,” he said.
“B’s in trouble!” Gloria cried out, waking up the two other snoring ladies who almost fell from their rocking chairs.
“Whatcha sayin’ my Glor’?” Sharon was the first to react once she put her hand on her teeth.
“Sayin’ that our B’s in trouble!”
“Can’t let that be, cannit?” Sharon retorted “But where daya think you got your intel’ love, ain’t our B dead last year?”
“Sure thing but I got up one my brainwaves, t’was vivid as day, like when I got my cataract all strung up and the good doctors lazered my eyes aye. She was stuck in a big ruby!”
“Ahaha, that’s got to be a big ruby fossur’, remember ‘ow big our B was!”
“Oh shush Shar’, lemme thing alright. Think it all links back to our beauty treatments I’m sure, hasn’t anybody answered our advert’?” Gloria asked Mavis
“Oh bleedin’ hell no, I forgot to check, lemme get my spectacles, dear!” Mavis answered.
“THERE, THERE!” Mavis jumped at the article. “A time and location for a rendez-vous.” she said suggestively. “When do we sneak out?”
“Tonight, tonight alright, all my store of Stillnox is already in the water supply, everybody’s going to snore in no time.”
When Albie woke up, it was shaking all around, as if the ground was quaking under him. It took him a moment to realize he was at the back of the jeep, and the jeep was careening on the dirt road, with none other than Mandrake at the wheel.
“I’m not sure you realized, but we’re being chased!”
The sound of a bullet flew by, missing the car window only thanks to an agile quarter turn of the wheel by Mandrake, followed by a sudden acceleration back onto the road.
“Who’s chasing us!!?” Albie was confused.
“Unclear!” Arona shouted, aiming at the black and white corvette behind them, with Ugo the gecko trying to keep stuck onto her head despite the shaking.
She fired three shots of her magical Owl Pellets, reloading after each one.
“We’re going to be short of ammo, Mandrake! How far?!”
“I DON’T KNOW” the cat meowed, braking to avoid running over a loitering marsupial.
“You have no idea how difficult it is to find a body of water in this place, do you?! We missed the turn to the waterhole about 30 miles ago, at this speed!”
“Better not to risk it, not enough water depth! We need the river.”
“Todd River should be around that cliff there,” he pointed. But the road ends… heEEere!!”
“GO FOR IT!”
** S PLASH **
The other car had braked just before the cliff, while the jeep was sinking slowly into the river which was carrying them near the shore.
All Albie could see next was the swirl of pouring light mixed into the water vortex.
He held his breath as tight as possible, for as… long… as… possible.
“Mmm, that was entertaining. But it ruined my dinner.”
The dragon was there, looking at the three of them drenched near its pool. They were back at the Doline.
The frame now hanged above the missing toilet seat was already giving the privy a little more cosy look. Of course, the smell of the room with the open hole was still making his nose wrinkle inwards, but the framed dried roses were a nice touch.
He was particularly happy about the clever no-nail solution he’d found. Crushing together two spiky caterpillars and sticking them at both sides of the back of the frame — it kept the frame stuck nicely, and it could be re-positioned and readjusted to be perfectly level.
Lost in admiration of his work, he was dragged out of his thoughts by a thunderous sneeze.
“Good flovious! That flu looks nasty Glynis, you should get some rest, dear.”
Glynis almost rip-snotted her kerchief in half while blowing her nose.
“But who will do all the cleaning?” she asked plaintively.FloveParticipant
“You do that, Sha. Nurse Trassie wasn’t it?”
Sharon nodded and pursed her lips tightly. “Bloody uppity tart. We bloody pay enough to be ‘ere, I reckon. They should get the tea bloody right.” Her eyes narrowed menacingly. “ Anyway, she’ll keep. So,‘ow we going to find ‘im then, Glor?”
Gloria scratched her head vigorously, perhaps checking it was still there, before taking a moment to examine her fingernails.
“Wot’d Mavis say then?” she asked at last. “When you did that texting thing to ‘er?”
“‘Ere let me find my phone and I’ll read it out loud to you. Oh, blimey, ‘ave you seen my glasses, Glor?”
Gloria’s generous curves wobbled and gyrated as she convulsed into fits of laughter.
“They’re on yer bloody ‘ead!” she said pointing and gasping for breath. “Oh, I nearly peeed myself, ya blimmen muppet!”
“Thanks, Glor. Wot I’d do without you, I don’t bloody know. Don’t mean to make you pee yerself though. It’s ‘ard enough getting them nurses to give out them extra thick pantyliners. Blimmin uppity tarts. Expecially that Nurse Trassie. Anyway, she’ll keep.”
“Oh, it’s text talk. The younguns talk like that now and our Mavis always did like to keep up with trends. Lots of lust it means. That saucy cow!”
“She always was a saucy one that, Mavis! Look at us stuck in ‘ere and ‘er with a new fella. Lucky sod. Maybe after our beauty treatment, we might get us a new fella too.”
“I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track down the Doctor though, Shar. I don’t know ‘ow we’re going to track him down when we’re stuck in this bleedin’ ‘ole.” Gloria shoulders shook and she began to sob loudly.
“Wot’s that then,” asked Gloria, sniffing loudly into her hanky.
“I’ve ‘ad one of my bloody brainwaves!”
“I knew you would, Shar! You’ve always ‘ad brains. I’m all agog!”
“We’ll get Mavis to go to the papers! Put in an advert to find ‘im!”
“You’re a blimmin genius, you are, Shar!”
When Hilda received the message from her old friend Lucinda her first thought was Miss Bossy Pants award for the “Most Stylistic Synchronistic Article”. There was already a synchronicity because she’s also had a tip off from some guy calling himself “Superjerk”, which was also about dolls. If she followed the lead about the doll stories, and managed to connect them together, it could be the scoop of the year ~ whether or not there was an actual connection between them.
Hilda had made copious notes from the long and garbled telephone conversation with Lucinda about everything she knew thus far, and where she was stuck. Clearly the poor dear needed Hilda’s special expertise in following a lead and putting the clues together to form a picture. Admittedly Hilda didn’t always stick to facts ~ who did in journalism these days anyway! But she had an intuition that this was just what she needed to get her teeth into. It had been a boring year in the extreme reportage department. Extremely boring.
It had been years since Hilda had been in contact with Lucinda, and that had been on a remote viewing forum. Neither of them had been much good at it, but some of the other members had been brilliant, so it came in useful at times to use their expertise. Hilda made a mental note to rejoin that forum, if it still existed, or find another one. She changed her mind about the mental note, and jotted it down in her notebook. It was a good idea and could come in handy.
The short and cryptic note from the guy calling himself Superjerk didn’t provide much information other than the synchronicity, which was of course noteworthy. And he had provided the link to that website “findmydolls.com”. The story was already starting to show promising signs of weaving together.
Not wanting any of the other staff to cotton on to her new thread, Hilda told Miss Bossy Pants that she was going to investigate the “hum” in Cadiz. That peculiar Horns of Gabriel phenomenon that occurred randomly around the world had been heard over a wide area of Cadiz and Seville. Hilda had another old friend in that neck of the woods; so she could easily pretend she was there covering that story, with a bit of collaboration from her friend, while she embarked on the real journey to the Flying Fish Inn, in some godforsaken outpost of the outback.
That nosy Connie had somehow managed to find out about the whole thing, eavesdropping again no doubt, and Hilda had no option but to come clean with her and ask her to join her in ironing out the story. They would have to deal with Miss Bossy Pants later. If the scoop was the success that Hilda anticipated, then they would be getting an award, not a reprimand.
It was worth it. Hilda felt more alive than she had done in a long time.
I was looking forward to it, to tell you the truth. Things had been so dull around the Inn for so long, I’d started to feel that the old place had slid right off the map. Maybe things would have been different if Bert had remortgaged the place, but he’d refused, and there was no persuading him. So we’d bumbled along managing to keep the wolf from the door, somehow. It was quiet with the twins gone to college, and Devan who knows where, off traveling he’d said but had not kept in touch, and lord knew, Mater wasn’t much company these days. And there were so few guests that I was in danger of talking them to death, when they did come. Bert said that was why they always left the next morning, but I think he was pulling my leg.
Then out of the blue, I get a request to make a reservation, for two reporters here to cover the story, they said. I almost said “what story, there is no story going on here” and luckily managed to stop myself. If they wanted a story, I’d give them a story. Anything to liven the place up a bit.
On impulse, I decided to give Hilda “Red Eye” Astoria room 8 at the end of the corridor. Now there was a story, if she wanted one, the goings on in room 8! And to make it look like the inn was a busy thriving concern, I gave Connie “Continuity” Brown room 2, next to the dining room. Connie Brown was doing a report for the fashion column, and had inquired about the laundry services, and if there was a local dressmaker available. Of course I assured her there was, even though there wasn’t. But I reckoned Mater and I could manage whatever they required. Fashion shoot at the Flying Fish Inn, I ask you! What a joke.
I asked Bert what story he thought they were here to cover. He shifted in his seat and looked uncomfortable.
“We don’t want then digging around here, you don’t know what they might find.”
I looked at him piercingly. He asked me if a gnat had got stuck in my eye and why was I squinting. I wasn’t sure which dirty dark secret he was referring to, and frankly, would be hard put to recall all the details myself anyway, but I had a sneaking suspicion the old inn still had plenty of stories to tell ~ or to keep hidden awhile longer.
Sometimes, you have to go underground to uncover the truth.
Rukshan thought it meant taking the new underground carts once only.
Frankly, he’d preferred to travel through the familiar Shadow Maps, the ones Dark Faes like him could draw, that would give them access to a secret parallel world of mist and phantoms, shadows and secrets. It was the true world the Faes originated from, long ago, in a time before history.
It wasn’t used much nowadays, most Centenial Faes having lost the capacity, or the interest in the place, leaving only bitter unsavoury people creeping there, spying on secrets, and trading in for favours, while being too afraid to leave the known parallel world, too afraid that if they left it, they’d lose the way back.
For Rukshan and a few in the Queen’s lineage, the place was still more or less of a familiar dwelling, a winter residence of sorts, for when solace and retreat was required.
Only the Shadow Maps weren’t safe any longer, something had crept along the lay lines and was lurking at every corner, keeping guard at most of the known entrances and reporting to some unknown power.
Few moons back, Rukshan was still meditating in the Shadow world, not very far from the work at the cottage, which he could hear at times through the thin dimensional walls, when he came across Konrad. Konrad, another Fae from the Old Houses, one with a heavy secret. “I’ve hidden her from him” he told him in short broken sentences. “His daughter, Nesingwarys, she is hidden for now, but He’ll be looking for her, once He recovers, and she won’t be safe. He can’t find her, I have to protect her, she holds power to bring his reign of terror back.”
Truly, it didn’t make a lot of sense, but it had picked his curiosity. Rukshan left the other Fae to his apparent madness, but wondered about the coincidence. That Garl, the name Konrad gave to the dark fallen monarch, according to what he could piece together, seemed to have been vanquished or disappeared about the same time they’d all managed to repel the Shadow in the Forest.
He would usually have left it at that, but then, a few days later, started to realize something was wrong in the Shadow world, and that this very something was growing.
“And now, I’m stuck in an underground cart crammed full of people to go to the city. And they call that progress…”
A bearded guy smelling of piss and wine, was doing acrobatics with his crutches and what was left of his left leg. He was looking at people with a half-toothed grin and a blissful face while muttering things Rukshan couldn’t figure. His face reminded him of a thespian he’d known. Rukshan couldn’t shake the feeling there was message in that. When the underground cart dinged to announce the Grand Belfrey Station, Rukshan was relieved to finally be out for fresh air. Magnificent craftsmanship he would say to the gnomes in charge of the tunnels, but really, underground cart wasn’t his thing.
She had to smile when she saw the thin blue thread stuck to the dogs collar. Lucinda’s friend Sparrow had just been telling her about an incident involving a blue thread, and his interpretation of it. There had been some discussions about the colour, and suggestions that with a somewhat limited range of perceivable colours, one could hardly assign such a broad category as “blue”, for example, to merely one interpretation, despite many agreeing that they would have interpreted it that way too.
Lucinda was inclined to find the fact that they’d each seen blue threads more amusing than who the string represented, and considerably more interesting (interesting though it was) than if a single blue thread had been seen by one person, regardless of who it represented.
The fact that all of this occurred on yet another blue thread ~ in a manner of speaking ~ made the whole thing rather amusingly droll.
Granola felt a bit stupid in her squishy giraffe suit, lying deflated on the carpeted floor of the entrance.
“Ailill!” she called for her afterlife tech support guy in blue.
“Up here, darling.”
She looked up, and sure enough, he was there, a blue pompom ball dangling from the ceiling. It landed quite gracefully next to her giraffe, and turned into a small guy in blue overalls.
“Got yourself again stuck in rut, haven’t you?” he smiled at the giraffe, propping it up on its elastic legs.
“You can say that. It feels like days I’ve been stuck in a loop, observing the same people doing the same things. When I think I’m moving on, I’m actually just switching to the next one, but it’s always the same moment.
Lucinda blathering on the phone while I’m her cushion, and next I’m a paper roll in Jerk’s cash register, and the moment after, I’m the blank page that Shawn Paul stares at for hours, or one of Maeve’s unfinished dolls next. Actually, the giraffe feels kind of an improvement.”
She looked musingly and a bit enviously at Ailill’s form: “I didn’t think it’d be that tough to graduate to human form. Blobs of red lights were fun enough, but… things! This!” The giraffe looked at its chewed legs and wobbled precariously.
“In actuality…” Ailill started loftily
“Oh dear… make it simple please.”
“It’s part of the evaluation of attachments. You need to move beyond them, then you’ll be free to do more things, to be more. For now, you still see yourself as a props in these characters’ dramaless lives. But try to think about that one: what if they were the props of yours? You are trying too hard to move around the wrong things. The journey is inwards, always my friend.”
“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.
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