Nora moves silently along the path, placing her feet with care. It is more overgrown in the wood than she remembers, but then it is such a long time since she came this way. She can see in the distance something small and pale. A gentle gust of wind and It seems to stir, as if shivering, as if caught.
Nora feels strange, there is a strong sense of deja vu now that she has entered the forest.
She comes to a halt. The trees are still now, not a leaf stirs. She can hear nothing other than the sound of her own breathing. She can’t see the clearing yet either, but she remembers it’s further on, beyond the next winding of the path. She can see it in her mind’s eye though, a rough circle of random stones, with a greenish liquid light filtering through. The air smells of leaf mould and it is spongy underfoot. There’s a wooden bench, a grassy bank, and a circular area of emerald green moss. Finn thinks of it as place of enchantment, a fairy ring.
She reaches the tiny shivering thing and sees that it is a scrap of paper, impaled on a broken branch. She reaches out gently and touches it, then eases if off the branch, taking care not to rip it further. There is a message scribbled on the paper, incomplete. meet me, is all it says now
The crumpled up paper among the dead leaves beside the path catches her eye. No, not impaled on a branch but still, a bit of paper catches her eye as the mysterious ~ ephemeral, invisible ~ story teller continues softly telling her tale
Finn feels dreamy and floaty. She smiles to herself, thinking of the purpose of her mission, feeling as though it is a message to her from the past. She is overwhelmed for a moment with a sense of love and acceptance towards her younger self. Yes, she whispers softly to the younger Finn, I will meet you at the fairy ring. We will talk a bit. Maybe I can help
But wait, there is no meaningful message on the crumpled paper that Nora picks up and opens out. It’s nothing but a shopping receipt. Disappointed, she screws it back up and aims to toss it into the undergrowth, but she hesitates. Surely it can’t have no meaning at all, she thinks, not after the strange whispered story and the synchronicity of finding it just at that moment. She opens it back up again, and reads the list of items.
Olive oil, wine, wheat, garum…. wait, what? Garum? She looks at the date on the receipt ~ a common enough looking till roll receipt, the kind you find in any supermarket ~ but what is this date? 57BC? How can that be? Even if she had mistranslated BC ~ perhaps it means British Cooperative, or Better Compare or some such supermarket name ~ the year of 57 makes little sense anyway. And garum, how to explain that! Nora only knows of garum in relation to Romans, there is no garum on the shelves between the mayonaisse and the ketchup these days, after all.
Nora smooths the receipt and folds it neatly in half and puts it in her pocket. The shadows are long now and she still has some distance to walk before the halfway village. As she resumes her journey, she hears whispered in her ear: You unlocked the blue diamond mode. You’re on a quest now!
Smiling now, she accelerates her pace. The lowering sun is casting a golden light, and she feels fortified.
“But I can’t stand bloody opera singing,” Tara whispered back, “It’ll drive me mad. When they said he had a melodious voice I was expecting something more modern than this ancient caterwauling.”
“Do you want to solve this case or not?”
“Oh alright then,” Tara said grudgingly. “But your thinking better be good!” She clapped loudly and whistled. “More! More!” she shouted, stamping her feet. The assorted middle aged ladies joined in the applause.
“Yeah, you had to listen to opera with him, poor thing, but he did tip well.”
“Well, he told me a lot about opera. I thought it was a waste of time knowing all that useless old stuff, but listen: this song what he’s singing now, he’s singing this on purpose. It’s a clue, you see, to Uncle Basil and why Vince wants to find him.”
“Go on,” whispered Tara.
“Wasn’t that obvious from the start?”
“Well yes, but we got very cleverly sidetracked with all these middle aged ladies and that wardrobe! This is where the mule comes in.”
“Shh! Keep your voice down! It’s not the same kind of mule as in the opera, these middle aged ladies are trafficking mules!”
“Oh well that would make sense, they’d be perfect. Nobody suspects middle aged ladies. But what are they trafficking, and why are they all here?”
“They’re here to keep us from finding out the truth with all these silly sidetracks and distractions. And we’ve stupidly let ourselves be led astray from the real case.”
“What’s the real case, then?”
“How do you know that for sure?” asked Tara.
“I don’t know for sure, but this is the theory. Once we have a theory, we can prove it. Now, about that wardrobe. We mustn’t let them take it away. No matter what story they come up with, that wardrobe stays where it is, in our office.”
“But why? It’s taking up space and it doesn’t go with the clean modern style. And people keep getting locked inside it, it’s a death trap.”
“That’s what they want you to think! That it’s just another ghastly old wardrobe! But it’s how they smuggle the stuff!”
“What stuff are they smuggling? Drugs? That doesn’t explain what it’s doing in our office, though.”
“Well, I had an interesting intuition about that. You know that modified carrot story they tried to palm us off with? Well I reckon it’s vaccines. They had to come up with a way to vaccinate the anti vaxxers, so they made this batch of vaccines hidden in hallucinogenic carrots. They’re touting the carrots as a new age spiritual vibration enhancing wake up drug, and the anti vaxxers will flock to it in droves.”
“Surely if they’re so worried about the ingredients in vaccines, they won’t just take any old illegal drug off the street?”
Tara smiled ruefully. “Yeah, I guess that was a silly thing to say. But now I’m confused. Whose side are we on? Surely the carrot vaccine is a good idea? Are we trying to stop them or what? And what is Vince up to? Falsifying a will?” Tara frowned, puzzled. “Whose side are we on?” she repeated.
“But what if the client is morally bankrupt? What if it goes against our guidelines?”
“Guidelines don’t come into it when you’re financially bankrupt!” Star snapped. “Hey, where has everyone gone?”
“They said they had to pick up a wardrobe,” said the waitress. “Shall I bring you the bill? They all left without paying, they said you were treating them.”
“Never again,” said Tara, pouring her second black coffee. “I’m done with these hangovers. You’ll have to find someone else to drink with from now on.”
“You say that every week, Tara. What are we going to do next? We’re floundering. We don’t even have a plan. Everything we do takes us further away from the case. I don’t even remember what the case is!”
“Here, have some more coffee. Don’t roll your eyes at me like that, cases are always like this, they always go through this phase.” Tara wasn’t in the mood for this kind of depressing talk, it was much too complicated. Surely it was simply a matter of drinking another coffee, until everything fell back into place.
“Cases do, do they?” Star asked, “Do they really? And what phase would that be, and how would you know?”
“Snarky tart, yes they do. I’ve been researching things you know, not just swanning around. We’ve reached the part of the case where nothing makes sense and the investigators don’t know what to do next. It’s an essential part of the process, everyone knows that. The important thing is not to try and work things out too early. The danger is preconceived ideas, you see,” Tara pontificated, warming to the theme.
“I can assure you that I have no preconceived ideas because I have no clue what’s going to happen next,” replied Star, trying not to roll her eyes too obviously. She knew from experience not to provoke Tara too much until at least the third cup of coffee.
“Precisely!” Tara said triumphantly. “Now it will all start to come together and make sense. ”
Star didn’t look convinced. “What are we going to do about the middle aged lady we locked in the wardrobe last night, though?”
“What did we do that for?!” asked Tara in astonishment.
“I can’t remember. Maybe we thought it was Aunt April?”
“Wait, if Aunt April isn’t in the wardrobe, then where is she?”
“That’s what I”m saying!” cried Star in exasperation. “What do we do next?”
I’ve been up since god knows what time. Got up for the loo and couldn’t face going back to the awful nightmares. That girl that came yesterday said she’d been having nightmares, she said it was common now, people having nightmares, what with the quarantine. I think I might have just snorted at the silly girl, but when I woke up last night I wondered if it was true. Or maybe I’m just a suggestible old fool.
Anyway, I stayed up because lord knows I don’t want to be in a city in America at night, not waking and not dreaming either. I’ve had a feeling for a long time, and much longer than this virus, that it was like a horror movie and it would behoove me not to watch it anymore or I’d be having nightmares. I didn’t stop watching though, sort of a horrified fascination, like I’d watched this far so why stop now.
In the dream I was on a dark city street at a bus stop, it was night time and the lights were bright in a shop window on the other side of the sidewalk. I had a bunch of tickets in my hand all stapled together, but they were indecipherable. I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Then I noticed the man that was by my side, a stranger that seemed to have latched on to me, had stolen all my tickets and replaced them with the rolled up used ticket stubs. I made him give me back my tickets but then I knew I couldn’t trust him.
Then I realized I hadn’t finished packing properly and only had a ragged orange towel with bloodstains on it. So I go back home (I say home but I don’t know what house it was) to pack my bags properly, and find a stack of nice new black towels, and replace the bloody orange one.
I’m walking around the house, wondering what else I should pack, and one room leads into another, and then another, and then another, in a sort of spiral direction (highly improbable because you’d have ended up back in the same room, in real life) and then I found a lovely room and thought to myself, What a nice room! You’d never have known it was there because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere and didn’t seem to have a function as a room.
It was familiar and I remembered I’d been there before, in another dream, years ago. It had lovely furniture in it, big old polished wooden pieces, but not cluttered, the room was white and bright and spacious. Lovely big old bureau on one wall, I remember that piece quite clearly. Not a speck of dust on it and the lovely dark sheen of ancient polished oak.
Anyway in the dream I didn’t take anything from the room, and probably should have just stayed there but the next thing I know, I’m in a car with my mother and she races off down the fast lane of an empty motorway. I’m thinking, surely she doesn’t know how to take me where I have to go? She seemed so confident, so out of character the way she was driving.
I got up for the loo and all I kept thinking about was that awful scene in the city street, which admittedly doesn’t sound that bad. I won’t bother telling the girl about it when she comes to do my breakfast, it loses a little in the telling, I think.
But the more I think about that lovely room at the end of the spiral of rooms, the more I’m trying to wrack my brains to remember where I’ve seen that room before. I’ve half a mind to go back there and open that dark oak bureau and see what’s inside.
Fanella was frantic, trying to think of a way to escape with her baby. The atmosphere in this city was unbearable at the best of times, and especially in this house, but now it was excruciating. It wasn’t that she was afraid of the plague that was terrorizing people, it was the way the people were reacting that was so alarming. They were howling like wolves, a sure sign of lunacy since time immemorial. The sound of it made her blood run cold.
Nobody had seen the president for over a week and rumours were rife. Many said that he’d died, and they were keeping it secret to avoid civil unrest. An office junior was continuing his tweets to the nation, using a random predictive text algorithm. Nobody had noticed. That wasn’t strictly true of course as many had commented that the messages now made marginally more sense.
Fanella could sense the swelling chaos in the air, both inside the house and beyond, in the city and in the nation. Everyone was losing their minds. She had to escape.
She consulted the U Chong:
晉 (Chin / Jin) : Progress / Advance. It represents Prospering, as well as Progress. It is symbolic of meeting the great man.
The great man! Of course! Lazuli Galore would come to rescue her! But how would he know where to find her? Would he be able to travel freely? He’d find a way, surely! But how would he know she needed help? It was so complicated. So hard to know what to do!
But first things first. Fanella crept down to the kitchen, in the dead of the night while everyone was tucked up in their beds with their fitful nightmares, and filled a rucksack with provisions. Then she crept up the back stairs to her hideout in the attic of the west wing. The baby was still sleeping soundly. Fanella lay down and pulled a blanket round them both. Maybe the answer would come in a dream. If not, she’d think about it again tomorrow.JibParticipant
Helle Jorid, my Whale friend.
I dreamt I sailed on one of those ancient ships made of wood with no engine other than the wind and man power.
In the dream we were very few and not all there by choice. Chased after by some kind of police force we, a motley bunch of people found ourselves on that ship by chance. I saw one man on the dock pass by and cut the big rope that held the ship still.
As the rope limply hanged from the mooring post, I watched the ship being guided away by the backwash from its mooring place to the ocean. At that moment someone wanted to disembark and I heard myself say : In your dreams! It’s too late we’re on the open sea now.
I think someone mentioned a captain Cook, but I’m not sure as I never saw the guy. Maybe it was merely a cook, but did we really need it? As I went deeper into the ship I found a wonderful meeting room with all the technological comfort of TV sets embedded in the walls and loads of electrical plugs at the end of mechanical arms coming out of these same walls. Surely there were microwave oven and tons of dehydrated food.
But our attention was still on the discovery of the treasures hidden in the heart of that ship. There was a circular sofa set around a nice coffee table. And we all settled comfortably there for a get together, happy we had escaped and seemed safe. None of us thought one second about where the wind and the gulf stream were taking us. I guess anywhere was better than what those men had in store for us.
I woke up. Alone at night. It was dark. My heart was pounding. Is that how we feel when we are in a lock down? I almost wrote placed under house arrest. What’s the difference apart the name to make us think it’s different?
Was the ship the symbol of our longing for freedom? It’s still the same place moving around on water. Even if the place move around, we can’t move away from it and from the flatness of the ocean. I wonder. I wonder if I stayed longer in that dream what would have happened? A storm? An interesting encounter? Like a whale. How would I know unless I write the rest of the story?
“Adaptability and improvisation are the names of the game now,” said Liz, beaming with satisfaction. Her impulse had been a success. A quick call to the local dog shelter and the delivery of two dogs within the hour had solved the problem nicely. As anyone who’d ever had dogs knew, cleaning up spilled food was simply never a problem. “You won’t have to wash the dishes anymore now!”
“What do you mean?” Finnley asked suspiciously. “Surely you can’t mean…”
“Why, yes! Just put them all on the kitchen floor and the dogs will do it for you. They’re ever so good, they won’t miss a single morsel. Which is more than can be said for your washing up. Now don’t pout! Be glad you have one less job to do.”
Godfrey patted the black poodle’s head, which had a funny sort of spring loaded feel. “We’re keeping the dogs, then?” he asked, failing to keep the hopeful note out of his voice. He was rather taken with the funny little dog. Without waiting for an answer from Liz he said to the expectant little face peering up at him, “What shall we call you, then?”
The shadow of a frown creased Liz’s brow momentarily as she wondered if she’d done the right thing. Would she be able to stomach seeing Godfrey fawning over a poodle? Why on earth had the dogs home sent her a poodle? Did she sound like a poodle person? But then, they’d sent her a lurcher as well. Liz contemplated taking umbrage at that, did she honestly sound like a lurcher person? A lurcher poodle person? Or a poodle lurcher person?
“Are we keeping both of them, then?” asked Roberto. “What shall we call you, big boy?” he asked, addressing the dog.
“On the way back call in at the dogs home and pick two more dogs up, Finnley. We may as well have one each. I’ll ring them now.”
“Aren’t you worried it’s been 2 days now the boy is missing?”
“Nonsense” replied June curtly. “Don’t you start ruining our poker night.” She slurped delicately her overflowing mojito glass. “Besides, I told you Jacqui and her friends are on the case. I sent her the coordinate. Baby is obviously fine.”
“I still preferred my pith helmet idea and leaving it to professionals though” April pouted her lips in a sulky way. “Now, what are we going to say when Mellie Noma is coming back? That we lost her baby but worry not, the local nutcase friend is on the job.” she finished her sentence almost out of breath “and I heard from August she was coming back at the end of the week.”
“So, are you playing or what? Fold or call?” June was growing impatient about the topic. The French maid and her baby, like the strange Finnley, were making themselves dangerously at home now, like three little annoying cuckoos in her own nest, and June felt stifled as though the FBI were closing in, breathing down on her neck.
That Finnley looked surely suspicious enough, there was no telling she wasn’t a Russian spy in disguise, or worse, some undercover cop…
“You’re right!” she slammed the cards violently on the table, making April almost faint. “We have to take matters in our own hands. I’ll get Mellie Noma to fire her. Blame the Finnley and her French friends for Barron’s disappearance. Mellie No’ owes me that much, especially after I saved her neck from her husband after that horrible giraffe incident.”
April’s face turned to shock at the mention.
“You know, I wasn’t initially fond of this idea, Godfrey” Elizabeth said, while looking at Roberto doing the dishes. A bit unusual of her to spend time in the kitchen, probably her least favourite room in the house, but she was keen to revise her judgment as the view was never as entertaining.
Godfrey was finishing a goblet full of cashews while leafing through the “Plot like it’s hot” new book from the publishing house that Bronkel had sent autographed and dedicated to Liz “without whom this book may have never seen the light of day”.
“Godfrey, are you listening to me? You can’t be distracted when I talk to you, I may say something important, and don’t count on me to remember it afterwards. Besides, what’s with the cashews anyway?”
“Oh, I read they’re good natural anti-depressant… Anyway, you were saying?”
“You see, like I just said, you made me lose my stream of thought! And no… the view is for nothing in that.” She winked at Roberto who was blissfully unaware of the attention. “Yes! I was saying. About that idea to write Finnley in the new novel. Completely rash, if you’ve had asked before. But now I see the benefit. At least some of it.”
“Why are you never paying attention?”
“No, no, I heard you. But I never… wait a minute.” The pushy ghostwriting ghostediting, and most probably ghostcleaning maid (though never actually seen a proof of that last one) had surely taken some new brazen initiative. Well, at least Liz wasn’t taking it too badly. There maybe even was a good possibility she was trying hard to stay on continuity track about it. Godfrey continued “Benefit, you said?”
“Yes, don’t make me repeat myself, I’ll sound like a daft old person if ever a biopic is made of me, which by the way according to Bronkel is quite a probability. He’s heard it from a screenwriter friend of his, although his speciality is on more racy things, but don’t get me carried away. The benefit you see, and I’ve been reading Bronkel’s stupid book, yes. The benefit is… it moves the plot forward, with ‘but therefore’ instead of ‘and then’. It adds a bit of spice, if you get what I mean. Adds beats into the story. Might be useful for my next whydunit.”
Godfrey was finding her indeed lingering a tad too obviously on the ‘but‘ and their beats, but abstained from saying anything, and nodded silently, his mouth full of the last of the cashews.
Liz pursed her lips “Well, all this literature theory is a great deal of nonsense, you know my stance on it; I made my success without a shred of it…”
“Maybe you’re a natural” Godfrey ventured.
“Maybe… but then, they’ve got some points, although none as profound as Lemone’s. His last one got me pondering: finckleways is not a way in, delete it or it’ll get you locked out; only flove exists now. “
Why was Mr August making interview appointments at this time of night? May wondered briefly, but the overpowering smell coming from the nether regions of the howling toddler had to be dealt with first. Anyone would think he’d been drinking the laced wine, judging from the volume that had over spilled the disposable diaper. There was only one way to clean him up and May took him back outside to the garden hose. It was a cold night, but babies were not easily killed, she’d heard. She could easily warm him back up again afterwards. At least the violent shivering had stopped that dreadful squawking.
Once the child was clean and tightly swaddled in clean cooks aprons ~ she was tempted to swaddle right over his face but he’d gone quiet at last ~ May wondered again about the mysterious late visitor. She had to be a call girl, a prostitute, a lady of ill repute, to be calling at such an hour to see a gentleman. How dare she take that hoity toity attitude with me! May became increasingly offended the more she thought about it.
Oh well, she decided, it was highly unlikely that she’d ever cross the path of such a low life again, and there was no need to give any more thought to Mr August’s disreputable assignations. It might come in handy if there was ever a need to blackmail him, though.
May yawned and looked at the clock. June and April would surely be back soon, and relieve her of the tiresome baby. Quiet at last, but an unpleasant shade of blue. Better than that dreadful orange, anyway.
Bert tells me it’s new years eve today. Looking forward to the champagne and fireworks I said to him. Joking of course. The wonder is that I even remembered what such things were. Bert looked sharply at me then, bit strange it was. Then he relaxed a bit and had a peculiar secretive smile on his face. Of course that’s easy to say in retrospect, that he had a secretive smile on his face. But little did I know at the time.
I’d been in the doldrums ever since that hot air balloon thing didn’t materialize into anything. I told Bert about it, and he went off down to the Brundy place, gone ages he was, and came back saying it was nothing. He had an odd spring in his step though which puzzled me a bit at the time, but I was so deflated after the excitement of thinking something might actually happen for a change, and when it didn’t, well, I couldn’t be bothered to think about Bert acting funny.
When Bert had a shower and asked me to iron ~ iron, I ask you! ~ his best shirt, I was more depressed than ever. If Bert goes mad as well, then where will we be? I was already wondering if I’d started hallucinating and if that was a sign of madness. I’d been catching glimpses of things out of the corner of my eye all week. I’d even heard stifled giggles. It was unnerving, I tell you.
When Bert suggested I have a shower as well, and asked if I still had that red sequinned dress I started to worry. What was he thinking? Then ~ get this ~ he asked if I had red knickers on.
Bert! I said, aghast.
He mumbled something about it being a tradition in Spain to wear red underpants on new years eve, and surely I hadn’t forgotten?
I gently reminded him that we weren’t in Spain, and he said, You’re damn right this isn’t Kansas anymore, hooted with laughter, and fairly skipped out of the room.
I sat there for a bit pondering all this and then thought, Hell, why not? Why not wear red knickers and that old red sequinned dress? Why not have a shower as well?
And much to my surprise I found I was humming a song and smiling to myself as I went to find that old red dress.
Nurse Trassie sniffed the rubbish can. A day or two at most. The traces were not fresh, but neither were her preys. Yet, there was something unmistakable about the trail the three of them left in their wake.
The pharmacist had been reluctant at first to share information, but a well-placed arm wrench extracted the truth out of him very efficiently. Those misbehaving lying eloping people needed to be corrected.
“Yes, yes, I remember them three, very nice ladies!” he said in pleading tones. “They didn’t say where they lived, pleaase! But they were late for their plane!”
“To where?!” Nurse Trassie was losing patience as much as the plot, and it made her angry.
“To Finland I think, they were complaining about the cold, and they bought lip balm, and and…”
Nurse Trassie had heard enough, she could track them through the flight agencies. How these three had managed to take a flight out of the country was a surprise. They’d surely had help.
She growled to herself “I’m not going to be bested by these decrepit slovens, mark my words. I’ll bring them back to the nursing home by the rest of their hair if I have to!”
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.
Ed Steam had called for a strategic team meeting this morning.
He looked at his pocket watch. It was only a queerter to thriety, which meant they were all late, as usual. True that time was notoriously difficult to read in these alternate dimensions, but this particular dimension had been fairly stable since Bea was taking her homeopathic pills, keeping her sneezing fits under control, and all their identities rather clear.
The next mission required a two pronged approach, with one part of the action on the Pacific Island where another doll was to be revealed, and the other at the Doctor’s lair.
The Australian tunnels were still under observation, in case the murlocks that were crawling there would be awoken by the blunderous adventurers that had gone investigating.
Frooteen past thriety. They wouldn’t come now. He probably shouldn’t have left the organization of the meeting to Aqua Luna.
He looked at the next item on his agenda. “Interdimensional call to Miss Bossy.”
True, he had to get her update on her investigation into the Doctor’s history. That would surely reveal clues as to his current whereabouts.
Once he’d finished to tell the story, and let the kids go back to the cottage for the night, Rukshan’s likeness started to vanish from the place, and his consciousness slowly returned to the place where his actual body was before projecting.
Being closer to the Sacred Forest enhanced his capacities, and where before he could just do sneak peeks through minutes of remote viewing, he could now somehow project a full body illusion to his friends. He’d been surprised that Fox didn’t seem to notice at all that he wasn’t truly there. His senses were probably too distracted by the smells of food and chickens.
He’d wanted to check on his friends, and make sure they were alright, but it seemed his path ahead was his own. He realized that the finishing of the loo was not his own path, and there was no point for him to wait for the return of the carpenter. That work was in more capable hands with Glynis and her magic.
His stomach made an indiscreet rumbling noise. It was not like him to be worried about food, but he’d gone for hours without much to eat. He looked at his sheepskin, and the milk in it had finally curdled. He took a sip of the whey, and found it refreshing. There wouldn’t be goats to milk in this part of the Forest, as they favored the sharp cliffs of the opposite site. This and a collection of dried roots would have to do until… the other side.
To find the entrance wasn’t too difficult, once you understood the directions offered by the old map he’d recovered.
He was on the inner side of the ringed protective enclosures, so now, all he needed was to get into the inner sanctum of the Heartwood Forest, who would surely resist and block his path in different ways.
“The Forest is a mandala of your true nature…”
He turned around. Surprised to see Kumihimo there.
“Don’t look surprised Fae, you’re not the only one who knows these parlor tricks.” She giggled like a young girl.
“of my nature?” Rukshan asked.
“Oh well, of yours, and anybody’s for that matter. It’s all One you, see. The way you see it, it represents yourself. But it would be true for anybody, there aren’t any differences really, only in the one who sees.”
She reappeared behind his back, making him turn around. “So tell me,” she said “what do you see here?”
“It’s where the oldest and strongest trees have hardened, it’s like a fence, and a… a memory?”
“Interesting.” She said “What you say is true, it’s memory, but it’s not dead like you seem to imply. It’s hardened, but very much alive. Like stone is alive. The Giants understood that. And what are you looking for?”
“An entrance, I guess. A weak spot, a crack, a wedge?”
“And why would you need that? What if the heart was the staircase itself? What if in was out and down was up?”
Rukshan had barely time to mouth “thank you” while the likeness of the Braid Seer floated away. She’d helped him figure out the entrance. He touched one of the ring of the hard charred trees. They were pressed together, all clomped in a dense and large enclosure virtually impossible to penetrate. His other memories told him the way was inside, but his old memories were misleading.
Branches were extending from the trunks, some high and inaccessible, hiding the vision of the starry sky, some low, nearly indistinguishable from old gnarled roots. If you looked closely, you could see the branches whirring around like… Archimedes Screw. A staircase?
He jumped on a branch at his level, which barely registered his weight. The branch was dense and very slick, polished by the weathering of the elements, with the feel of an old leather. He almost lost his balance and scrapped his hands between the thumb and the index.
“Down is up?”
He spun around the branch, his legs wrapped around the branch. He expected his backpack to drag him towards the floor, but strangely, even if from his upside-down perspective, it was floating above him, it was as if it was weightless.
He decided to take a chance. Slowly, he hoisted himself towards his floating bag, and instead of falling, it was as though the branch was his ground. Now instead of a spiral staircase around the trees leading to heavens, it was the other side of the staircase that spiraled downwards to the starry night.
With his sheepskin and back still hovering, he started to climb down the branches towards the Giants’ land.
“Really?” Maeve was surprised. “My childhood was full of stories that happened in that island.”
She was distracted though. She was sure she’d seen the man in black follow them through the customs and sneak into the plane. She had a doubt though, how could he have followed, the planed seemed so completely packed, she even wondered how Fergus had managed to get them tickets during what was surely peak season.
It’s probably all in your mind… she said to herself.
“What did you say?” Shawn-Paul inquired, fingers full of salt and a grin on his face after a violent struggle with the little bag of roasted pistachios the attendant had given him.
“I said, you better rest. The trip is long, and you won’t sleep much in the next plane to the island. It’s not going to be a big and comfy plane, I can tell you.”
POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])
Granola is popping in and out of the stories, exploring interacting more physically with her friends through Tiku, a bush lady focus of hers.
Luckily (not so coincidentally) Maeve and Shawn-Paul were given coupons to travel from their rural Canada town to the middle of Australia. Maeve is suspicious of being followed by a strange man, and tags along with Shawn-Paul to keep a cover of a young couple. Maeve is trying to find the key to the doll that she made in her secret mission for Uncle Fergus, which has suddenly reappeared at her friend Lucinda’s place. She’ll probably is going to have to check on the other dolls that she made as well.
Jerk continues to administrate some forum where among other things, special dolls are found and exchanged, and he moderates some strange messages.
Lucinda is enjoying Fabio’s company, Maeve’s dog, that she has in her care while Maeve is travelling.
FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])
The mysteries of the Flying Fish Inn seem to unravel slowly, like Idle’s wits.
Long time family member are being drawn inexplicably, such as Prune and brother Devan. The local bush lady Tiku is helping Finly with the catering, although Finly would rather do everything by herself. The totemic Fish was revealed to be a talisman placed here against bad luck – “for all the good it did” (Mater).
Bert, thought to be an old flame of Mater, who’s acted for the longest time as gardener, handyman and the likes, is revealed to be the father of Prune, Devan, Coriander and Clove’s mother. Mater knew of course and kept him around. He was trained in codes during his time with the military, and has a stash of potentially dangerous books. He may be the key to the mystery of the underground tunnels leading to the mines, and hidden chests of gold. Devan is onto a mystery that a guy on a motorbike (thought to be Uncle Fergus of Maeve’s story) told him about.
DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)
Mandrake & Albie after a trip in the bayou, and looking for the dragon Leormn’s pearls and the sabulmantium, have finally found Arona after they have emerged from the interdimentional water network from the Doline, to the coast of Australia in our reality, where cats don’t usually talk.
Albie is expecting a quest, while the others are just following Arona’s lead, as she is in possession of a mysterious key with 3 words engraved.
After some traveling in hot air balloon, and with a local jeep, they have arrived at a local Inn in the bush, with a rather peculiar family of owners, and quite colorful roster of guests. That’s not even counting the all-you-can-eat lizard meat buffet. What joy.
NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)
Ms Bossy is looking to uncover the Doctor’s surely nefarious plans while her newspaper business isn’t doing so well. She’s got some help from Ricardo the intern. They have found out that the elderly temp worker who’s fascinated by the future, Sophie (aka Sweet Sophie) had been the first subject of the Doctor’s experiments. Sophie has been trying to uncover clues in the dreams, but it’s just likely she is still a sleeper agent of the Doctor.
Despite all common sense and SMS threats, Hilda & Connie have gone in Australia to chase a trail (from a flimsy tip-off from Superjerk that may have gone to Lucinda to her friend journalist). They are in touch with Lucinda, and post their updates on social media, flirting with the risk of being uncovered and having trouble come at their door.
Sha, Glo and Mavis are considering reaching out for a vacation of the nursing home to get new free beauty treatments.
In his secret lair, the Doctor is reviving his team of brazen teafing operatives: the magpies.
LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)
Not much happened as usual, mostly an entertaining night with Inspector Melon who is quizzing Liz’ about her last novel about mysterious messages hidden in dolls with secret keys, which may be her best novel yet…
DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)
Before Rukshan goes to the underworld land of Giants, he’s going to the cottage to gather some of his team of friends, Fox, Ollie etc. Glynis is taking care of Tak during Margoritt’s winter time in the city. Margoritt’s sister, Muriel is an uninvited and unpleasant guest at the cottage.
Tak is making friends with a young girl who may have special powers (Nesy).
The biggest mystery now is… is the loo going to get fixed in time?materParticipant
Thank God for Finly. She appears to be the only one who has any sense left in her noggin. Dodo is passed out on the sofa in the lounge, sprawled in a most unladylike manner. It looks like she got rip snorting drunk again.
Bert has disappeared. I can’t recall if I sent him to town to buy food for the guests … but perhaps I did. Bert is the only other person who knows the secret. I would like to discuss it with him but we’ve both kept our silence all these years and silence is a hard habit to break.
What monster will we unleash if we speak I wonder? But if we don’t speak, will the monster choke us all?
As I said, or I think I said, Finly is being a real trooper, showing guests to their rooms and for the most part being civil.
I did see her slap an odd looking gentleman in a ruffle shirt when he asked if he was in room six. “Sex is not included in your room rate!” she shouted at him and glared most ferociously. Fortunately the man was not offended, indeed he ragarded her almost with a look of admiration. She did look a fine sight standing there, hands on hips and her face flushed with righteous indignation. Unfortunately, Finly has never managed to rid herself of her awful kiwi accent, despite the years she has lived here.
Dear Prune is behaving oddly. I am loathe to even consider it but it did cross my mind she may have become one of those dreadful drug addicts I’ve read about. I caught her hiding behind a curtain and motioning for me to “Shush!” in a most agitated manner. After all, it wouldn’t be surprising given the influence Dodo has surely had on her over the years. I will be most disappointed if I find out this is indeed the case. In the meantime, I intend to give the dear child the benefit of the doubt.prUneParticipant
It all started to feel insanely crowded and agitated in the Inn, it took me a while to check whether I was tripping on some illegal substance.
Truth was, the funny chicken was doing alright until Finly and Idle came back in a hurry, tried to make me puke and feed me charcoals, as if I’d been poisoned or something.
I overheard Aunt Dodo when she shouted at poor Finly “why would you put my stash with the lizard leftovers! It’s me-di-cine you old cow, not some bloody herb seasoning!”
Finly looked indignant, but she knew better than to argue. Besides, I’m sure her face was speaking volumes, something in the tune of “with the bloody mess of your stuff all over the place, why do you think?” Sure, there was some other profanities hidden in the wrinkles of her sweet face, but she would leave that to Mater to spell them out.
Anyways, I just maybe feeling juuust a little funny, but with years of bush food regimen behind me, my liver is surely strong as an ox and pumping all the stuff out of my system like a workhorse.
So, yeah, I was maybe tripping a little. So many new people came in at the same time, it felt like a flashmob. They were probably real and not just hallucinations, since Dido dashed out to greet some of them.
I went upstairs and spied on them from there. I’m making also a list, mostly for Aunt Dodo, because if her heart is in the right place, her brain probably isn’t (or it’s a tight one).
So there, I wrote on a yellow sticky note:
Dido, if you're paying attention, here are the guests at this moment: - Not counting PRUNE, and DEVAN who just texted me he's coming!! - A jeep-full of loonies: A GIRL with red and white track pants and a hijjab, a black CAT and a GECKO (wait, you can forget about the gecko), a weirdo GUY in a fancy ruffle shirt and a little redhair BOY. TIKU is here too, helping FINLY in the kitchen. - Your old friend HILDA, and her colleague CONNIE - Two townfolks Canadian tourists who argue like an old couple, but I don't think they are, MAYV(?) and SANPELL(?) (sorry, couldn't catch their names with their funny accent)
I guess breakfast is going to be lively tomorrow…
Miss Bossy Pants was losing patience. If it weren’t for the heat spell that made her cat-like reflexes duller than usual, she would have shredded the hippie yurt that Ricardo had built for Sophie, that useless temp too fast promoted.
She had to reason with herself, although she didn’t like that. Mostly because she always agreed with the devil on her shoulder. “OK, I’ll give them a chance to fish for key information.”
Truth was, there was already enough evidence that Sophie’s brain was mush, and probably heavily tampered with by the Doctor. Who knows what that maniac might have planted as post-hypnotic suggestions in such a suggestible mind. There was little doubt that if she’d escaped, she was actually probably still a pawn he could control.
She liked a worthy opponent. It would be so much more satisfying to crush him in the end.
Her phone buzzed.
“in oz, on ourwya to hippicenter gto grdbraeknig inforamton keep cool hilda &c.”
Well there was good news after all. She started to list them to give her heart:
1. Hilda remembered how to spell her own name
2. She had not lost or broken her company phone
3. They were not dead or maimed or enhanced yet, so clumsy as they were, they’d probably managed to stay off the radar of the Doctor.
Of course, the other things she’d learned in that short moment was probably outweighing the silver lining:
3. She had probably an insane roaming bill to the company phone
4. They’d continued to max out the credit card to pursue the topic
5. Clumsy as they were, it was surely a matter of time before they alerted the Doctor to their investigation.
She thought quick and fast, while waving her fan figorously (it was a modesty hiding fan). Punching the screen of her phone, she typed.
“Had breakthru too. Sophie was one of the dolls – need to find keys to dirty secrets & coded map to intercept = hashtag bigger than wee key leaks.”
There, that should keep them occupied and well on track with the wild goose chase, while she devised a plan B.
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