Reddening, Bob stammered, “Yeah, yes, uh, yeah. Um…”
Clara squeezed her grandfathers arm reassuringly. “We’re looking for my friend Nora.” she interrupted, to give him time to compose himself. Poor dear was easily flustered these days. Turning to Will, “She was hiking over to visit us and should have arrived yesterday and she’d have passed right by here, but her phone seems to be dead.”
Will had to think quickly. If he could keep them both here with Nora long enough to get the box ~ or better yet, replace the contents with something else. Yes, that was it! He could take a sack of random stuff to put in the box, and they’d never suspect a thing. He was going to hide the contents in a statue anyway, so he didn’t even need the box.
Spreading his arms wide in welcome and smiling broadly, he said “This is your lucky day! Come inside and I’ll put the kettle on, Nora’s gone up to take some photos of the old ruin, she’ll be back soon.”
Bob and Clara relaxed and returned the smile and allowed themselves to be ushered into the kitchen and seated at the table.
Will lit the gas flame under the soup before filling the kettle with water. They’d be too polite to refuse, if he put a bowl in front of them, and if they didn’t drink it, well then he’d have to resort to plan B. He put a little pinch of powder from a tiny jar into each cup of tea; it wouldn’t hurt and would likely make them more biddable. Then the soup would do the trick.
Will steered the conversation to pleasant banter about the wildflowers on the way up to the ruins that he’d said Nora was visiting, and the birds that were migrating at this time of year, keeping the topics off anything potentially agitating. The tea was starting to take effect and Clara and Bob relaxed and enjoyed the conversation. They sipped the soup without protest, although Bob did grimace a bit at the thought of eating on an agitated stomach. He’d have indigestion for days, but didn’t want to be rude and refuse. He was enjoying the respite from all the vexation, though, and was quite happy for the moment just to let the man prattle on while he ate the damn soup.
“Oh, I think Nora must be back! I just heard her voice!” exclaimed Clara.
Will had heard it too, but he said, “That wasn’t Nora, that was the parrot! It’s a fast leaner, and Nora’s been training it to say things….I tell you what, you stay here and finish your soup, and I’ll go and fetch the parrot.”
“Parrot? What parrot?” Clara and Bob said in unison. They both found it inordinately funny and by the time Will had exited the kitchen, locking the door from the outside, they were hooting and wiping the tears of laughter from their cheeks.
“What the hell was in that tea!” Clara joked, finishing her soup.
What was Nora doing awake already? Will didn’t have to keep her quiet for long, but he needed to keep her quiet now, just until the soup took effect on the others.
Either that or find a parrot.
Nora commented favourably on the view, relieved to have been given a clue about what she was supposed to have noticed. It was a splendid panorama, and Will seemed pleased with her response. She asked if it was possible to see the old smugglers path from their vantage point, and he pointed to a dirt road in the valley below that disappeared from view behind a stand of eucalyptus trees. Will indicated a tiny white speck of an old farm ruin, and said the smugglers path went over the hill behind it.
Shading her eyes from the sun, Nora peered into the distance beyond the hill, wondering how far it was to Clara’s grandfathers house. Of course she knew it was 25 kilometers or so, but wasn’t sure how many hills behind that one, or if the path veered off at some point in another direction.
Wondering where Clara was reminded Nora that her friend would be waiting for her, and quite possibly worrying that she hadn’t yet arrived. She sighed, making her mind up to leave first thing the next morning. She didn’t mention this to Will though, and wondered briefly why she hesitated. Something about the violent sweep of his arm when she asked about her phone had made her uneasy, such a contrast to his usual easy going grins.
Then she reminded herself that she had only just met him, and barely knew anything about him at all, despite all the stories they’d shared. When she thought about it, none of the stories had given her any information ~ they had mostly been anecdotes that had a similarity to her own, and although pleasant, were inconsequential. And she kept forgetting to ask him about all the statues at his place.
Wishing she could at least send a text message to Clara, Nora remembered the remote viewing practice they’d done together over the years, and realized she could at least attempt a telepathic communication. Then later, if Clara gave her a hard time about not staying in contact, she could always act surprised and say, Why, didn’t you get the message?
She found a flat stone to sit on, and focused on the smugglers path below. Then she closed her eyes and said clearly in her mind, “I’ll be there tomorrow evening, Clara. All is well. I am safe.”
She opened her eyes and saw that Will had started to head back down the path. “Come on!” he called, “Time for lunch!”
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.
Damn these municipal restrictions! Frustrated, Nora looked again at the photo of the inscriptions on the mysterious pear shaped box that Clara had found. She picked up a pen and copied the symbols onto a piece of paper. Glancing back over the message her friend had sent, her face softened at Clara’s pet name for her, Alienor. Clara had started called her that years ago, when she found out about the ouija board incident and the aliens Nora had been talking to. Was it really an alien, or….? Clara had asked, and Nora had laughed and said Of course it was an alien or! and the name had stuck.
Nora’s mood had changed with the reminiscence, and she had an idea. She was working from home, but all that really meant was that she had to have internet access. Nobody would have to know which home she was working from, if she could just make it past the town barriers. But she didn’t have to go by road: the barriers were only on the roads. There was nothing stopping her walking cross country.
Putting aside the paper with the symbols on, she perused a map. She had to cross three town boundaries, and by road it was quite a distance. But as the crow flies, not that far. And if she took the old smugglers track, it was surprisingly direct. Nora calculated the distance: forty nine kilometers. Frowning, she wondered if she could walk that distance in a single day and thought it unlikely. Three days more like, but maybe she could do it in two, at a push. That would mean one overnight stay somewhere. What a pity it was so cold! It would mean carrying a warm sleeping bag, and she hated carrying things.
Nora looked at the map again, and found the halfway point: it was a tiny hamlet. A perfect place to spend the night. If only she knew someone who lived there, somebody who wouldn’t object to her breaking the restrictions.
Nora yawned. It was late. She would finalize the plan tomorrow, but first she sent a message to Clara, asking her if she knew anyone in the little village.
Liz wondered how the women in the pictures managed to keep a kerchief neatly tied around their hair while vigourously scrubbing floors, and how they were able to keep an apron neatly tied in a pristine bow behind their tiny waist while cleaning full length windows. Fake news, that’s what it was, the bloody lot of it. From start to finish, everything she’d been led to believe about everything, from the get go to the present moment, was all a con, a downright conspiracy, that’s what it was.
Maybe this is why Finnley is always so rude, Liz wondered in a brief moment of enlightenment. She didn’t pursue the idea, because she was eager to get back to the disgruntled feeling that comes with cleaning, the feeling of being downtrodden, somehow less that, the pointlessness of it all. Nothing to show for it.
In another lucid moment, Liz realized that it wasn’t the action of cleaning that caused the feeling. At times it had been cathartic, restful even.
There was no pressure to think, to write, to be witty and authoritative. The decision to play the role of the cleaner had been a good one, an excellent idea. Feeling downtrodden was a part of the role; maybe she’d understand Finnley better. She hoped Finnely didn’t get to like the role of bossy writer too much, Imagine if she couldn’t get her out of her chair, when this game was over! Liz was slightly uncomfortable at the idea of Finnley learning to understand her. Would that be a good thing?
Realizing that she’d been staring into space for half an hour with a duster in her hand, Liz resumed cleaning.
Finnley hadn’t noticed; she’s been typing up a storm and had written several new chapters.
This made Liz slightly uncomfortable too.
The words of the Great Leader Undisputed Gabe were still resonating in the back of Gavin’s mind. The promotion to Operating Tomathetan seemed a great honour on the surface, but it certainly brought its lot of responsibilities with it. And from what he had seen before, it would only add to his current ones.
Gavin descended the Pealgrim path to the Dark Room where all the sorting happened. Many trails from the many carrot fields combined into one and all led to that central building all painted in black, hence its name.
A zealous Seed level had recently been put in charge of the re-painting. As there was only black paint in the warehouse he had the genius idea to save the order some money by using only what they already had, and as there was enough paint he covered all the windows, certainly thinking light could damage the crops. Repainting everything was out of the question so they had kept it like that and just added some artificial light to help the workers. Great Leader Undisputed Gabe, had thought it was a nice initiative as now workers could work any hour of the day.
When Gavin entered the Dark Room, it reeked of carrot and sweat. Members of the cult of all ages were sorting the divine roots by shapes, sizes and thickness. Most of them didn’t know what was the final purpose, innocent minds. All they had was the Sorting Song written by Britta the one legged vestal to help her fellow cultshipers in their work.
If a carrot is short, not worth the effort
As a long stalactites, like ice on your tits
A bar thick as a fist, you’ve just been blissed
Each verse gave advices about what they were looking for, where to put them after sorting and each team had their own songs that they sang while doing their work with the enthusiasm of cultshipers. Even though the song had been crafted to answer most of the situations in terms of carrot shapes, sizes and thickness, it happened that some would not fit into any categories. And recently, those seem to happen more often than once and the pile of misshapen carrots threaten to exceed that of the others combined.
“Eugene, Have you found what is the problem?” asked Gavin to their agronomist. His surname was Carrot and he came from noble Irish descent, quite appropriate for his work, thought Gavin. Eugene was skinny with a long neck and he often seemed to abuse the ritual fasting ceremony ending with the consumption of sacred mushroom soup.
“It’s because of the microscopic snails that infest the crops,” Eugene said. Gavin couldn’t help but notice an accumulation of dried saliva at the corner of his mouth. “They’re carried by bird shit and they are too small to be eaten by our ducks and in the end they cause the carrots to grow random shapes unfit for Odin.”
Odin, short for Organic Dildo Industry, has been the main source of revenue for the cult. Since the start of the confinement the demand has skyrocketed. Especially appreciated by vegans and nature lovers, it also procured a nice orange tan on the skin after usage.
“Can’t you find smaller dwarf ducks?”
“Your Gourdness, microscopic means very tiny, even dwarf ducks wouldn’t be able to eat them unless they eat the carrots.”
“And that would be a problem,” sighed Gavin. “What is your solution then?”
“I don’t have one.”
Gavin raised his hands to the black roof in despair. Did he have to do the jobs of everyone? He needed some fresh eyes and fresh ideas.
Board 9, Story 2
Lavender regretted agreeing to look after the seven piglets on the trip up Shift Creek in search of the elusive parasite that would save the first world from the deadly grip of nutterophobia. She’d already pushed one overboard for mutinous intentions. Where would it end?
I’m bored out of my mind, cooped up inside. Working from home is a new form of slavery it seems. They’re going to get me mad with all the legalese they ask me to review, approve, sign and all. These people don’t get a sense of what’s happening, they still cling to the familiarity of their mind constructs. But flog me instead, that’ll be less painful than another ration of compliance and control rules.
I’ve been listening to whale songs on the internet. Got to do something to keep me from going bonkers. The wife and I are barely talking, she spends her day on the balcony, planting tiny carrots in the hopes of what, I wonder? At least, she gets some sun.
Funny creatures the whales. Blue whales got to be the only creature that man hasn’t been able to build a zoo big enough to accommodate. Sometimes despite the pollution in the oceans, I envy the big bastards.
I got to laugh a little at being a fish in a tank like the rest of the world. You would think you’d get for free the much touted chloroquine from the tank cleaner too. Pity it’s just deadly, but not for the virus. Talk about being morbidly stupid. Too much reading of the news do that to the brain too I guess.
Thing is, if I continue on chugging wine and boritos, I think I may be able to outsize my container. Isn’t the dream of every aquarium fish?
The loud voice got her all startled.
“Not so fast Ladies. Hands in the air!”
An officer in uniform was standing there, his service taser pointed at them like they were two dangerous criminals. He was flanked by a trenchcoat acolyte inspector whose tiny glasses were shining in the dark.
“Shhtt! Don’t say anything. They look daft enough, let me do the talking.”
“Mrs June, you’re under arrest for multiple accounts of credit fraud, as well as unlawful impersonation with the intent to commit fraud. You can remain silent. Anything you’ll say may be held against you…” The inspector was speaking like a robot.
“STOP RIGHT THERE!” the officer shouted, “hands up or I shoot! Last warning!”
June was undeterred; she had eluded the police forces for so long and in so many States, she felt invincible and started to voice confused explanations while moving her hands in a frantic fashion and trying to sweet talk the police force.
She never saw the taser come.
Between fuzzy moments of consciousness, she realised she was being cuffed, and her and April taken to the police station.
Barron was not really a baby, more a toddler already. He was playing alone in his play fence, like he was usually left doing when his odd caretakers had gone for an escapade. After a while, he got bored cooing like a baby looking at shiny stuff and suckling at noisy things. After all, as not many had realized, he was blessed with a genius IQ — there was no point at hiding his smarts when no one was around.
The house bulldog was sleeping nearby, snoozing like a roaring motorbike. Apart from that, this part of the House was quiet. Occasionally he could hear gurgling sounds coming from the badly soundproofed pipes of the old building. Somebody was having an industrious bowel movement. Hardly news material, his father would have say.
He checked the e-zapwatch that his nannies had put on his wrist. Bad news. His kidnappers were late. He wondered if something had changed in the near perfect plan. Yet, he’d managed to have the money wired to the offshore account, while his contacts, codenames Jesús & Araceli (he wasn’t sure they were codenames at all) said it was in order for the baby abduction.
He could hear suspicious sounds outside; the bulldog barely registered. What if some acolytes in the plan had bailed out? The sounds at his bedroom’s window could be his abductors, waiting for a way in.
As usual, he would have to take matters in his own tiny hands, and let others get the credit for it.
He peeled off one side of the net and tumbled outside of the playpen. Damn, these bodies were so difficult to manœuvre at times. Reaching the window would be difficult but not impossible. After dragging a chair, and a pile of cushions, he hoisted himself finally at reach of the latch, and flung it open. The brisk cold air from outside made his nose itch, and it was the last thing he remembered while he smelled the chloroform.
A red leaf fell on the nose of the biggest gargoyle and Fox stopped his rehearsal. It had been exhausting and he didn’t remember why on earth he was doing that. He also didn’t remember how long he had been speaking in front of the Gargoyles, maybe he drank the wrong potion in the morning. Glynis had given him a potion especially made for him to calm his anxiety and help him solve a few energy blockages from childhood, or in his case, cubhood.
One of the baby snoots giggled behind the back of the shrieking gargoyle.
“You don’t mess with me, little…” He found himself lacking the creativity to find any insult the could understand. It was no use cursing the little rainbow creatures, they didn’t seem to care. Fox suspected it was not because of a lack of intelligence but simply because they didn’t view life, or anything, as a problem. He took note that he should get some inspiration from that.
“What were you doing, uncle Fox?” asked Olliver.
Fox opened his eyes wide. The boy seemed taller everyday and Fox had to look up to actually meet his eyes.
“Will you never stop to grow?” he asked with a little resentment.
“Well…” the boy started with his breaking voice.
“Where were you,” asked Fox. “I thought you had left with Rukshan.” In a way Fox was relieved that it was not the case and it soothed a little the pain caused by the sudden departure of the Fae.
“Oh! Teleporting here and there,” said the boy, considering adding some semi-truth about going to school.
An idea sprouted in Fox’s mind. It was too tiny for him to know what it was but his unconscious mind was already working about a plan to catch up with Rukshan, connecting the bits and pieces left by the Fae in his tales to the children and his innocuous comments.
“What do you think about… having some dinner,” he said not yet able to formulate in his imagination that he could even go on an adventure with Olliver.
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.
POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])
Maeve and Shawn-Paul are travelling separately to the Australian bush, and end up together at the Flying Fish Inn where they discover they’ve been given the same coupons. Maeve is suspicious of a mysterious man following her.
Maeve has an exchange with Arona, and sketches her and the cat for her collection of ideas for new dolls. They discover that Arona has the key from her doll.
Little is said of what happened after Maeve’s Uncle Fergus appears in dramatic fashion.
After the collective black-out, all bets are off as to the next steps.
FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])
Fergus has mysteriously disappeared after the black-out.
DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)
Arona, Ugo, Albie and Mandrake have left the Australian Inn, after a dramatic chase by unknown assailants, possibly the magpies sent by the Doctor. They reappear in the Doline, in Leörmn’s pool, having managed to get the magpies off their trail.
NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)
The Doctor has managed a psychic event of dramatic proportions. He’s noticed a glowing red crystal that seems to have interfered with his machine. He’s starting to study it, and unravel its secrets.
Sharon, Gloria and Mavis, the dynamic trio is planning their escape from the nursing home. The psychic blast seems to have alerted Gloria somehow as to the fate of Granola (B), as she somehow guess it’s linked to the Doctor’s experiments (beauty treatments). They plan to go there to investigate (after a fashion).
LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)
DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)
Her magical senses told her she could trust this girl. Maeve herself seemed still a bit on the fence, as though she was guarding a heavy secret, but she seemed to have moments of unexplained boldness and was not shy to engage either.
“Something tells me this is familiar to you; me and my friends are looking for what it is locking away.”
Maeve initial reaction was shocked and her composure seemed to be shaken for a moment.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to relax this precious moppet.” he replied back in purring meows only Arona could understand. “I heard that’s what cats do in this dimension when they don’t sleep.”
Maeve replied “Don’t worry, I quite like animals, he seems well behaved too. And he’s so cute with his tiny boots.”
Only momentarily distracted, and mildly relaxed by the cat’s purring, Maeve asked “how did you come by this key? It was not supposed to be found. I don’t know what it’s supposed to open, I suspect it was a fail-safe for my uncle, and I hid them in my dolls for safe-keeping.”
“Them?” Arona asked, rather as a validation to herself.
“As you suspected. There are more.” purred the cat harder.
Maeve leaned in close, almost dropping her sketchbook’s coloured pencils on the floor, “I think some bad people are after it. I suspect that my Uncle sent me those tickets to Australia so I could retrieve this one before the bad people arrive to snatch it.”
She jumped a little, realizing too late. “Wait? You don’t seem to be one of them… But what about all these other guests?”
“Bugger,” said Maeve. “I’m out of butter. What shall we do, Fabio?”
Fabio rushed excitedly to the front door.
“Go and see if Lucinda has some butter? Good idea, but you have to do the talking. Okay?”
Clearly, I am in need of human companionship.
An old rhyme from her childhood came to mind. She would say it over and over, fast as she could without tripping over her tongue.
Biddy Botter bought bum butter. Blah said she the butters bitter but if i buy some better butter, better than the bitter butter that will make the bitter butter better.
Lucinda’s door has the number 57 on the front and a skull door knocker. Maeve’s door was numbered 22 so it made no sense at all. Lucinda opened the door a crack and peered out at Maeve.
“Oh Maeve,” she said, “Um, hi.”
“Hi. Is this a bad time? I just wanted to borrow a bit of butter if you have any spare.”
Lucinda hesitated before opening the door and gesturing Maeve in.
“Sure,” she said. “Excuse the mess.”
Maeve spotted the doll right away.
“What are you doing with Ima Indigo!”
Ima was sitting on the shelf near the the window, sandwiched between a cracked concrete buddha head and a dying fern. Maeve picked the doll up.
“May I?” she said, without waiting for a reply.
She turned the doll over and felt the back seam with her fingers. The stitching was rough and the thread didn’t match the tiny stitches on the rest of the doll’s body. She gently squashed Ima. No key.
“Where did you get this? Did you take a key out of her body?”
Lucinda patted Fabio and shook her head, annoyed at Maeve and at the same time feeling guilty.
“I found her at the market.”
“Oh my god,” said Maeve.
Hidden in a blinking pixel of the monitor of the cash register, Granola was looking at the scene and the silent tempest of incomprehension brewing inside Jerk’s head.
“Funny,” she thought “that they’d call that a dead pixel… Haven’t felt more blinky in a long while!… But let’s not get carried away.” It tended to have her stray in parallel reality, and lose her way there while making it difficult to reinsert inside the scenes of the current show.
“Let’s not get carried away.” She admonished herself again.
Her position in the pixel was a great finding. She could easily spy on all what happened in the shop, and if she wanted, zoom in through the internet cables, and find herself teleported to almost anywhere, but better still, in sequential time. Not bumping and hopping around haplessly inside mixed up frames of times. Aaah sequential time, she wouldn’t have known to miss it as much while she was corporeal.
“If I knew Morse code, I could probably send Jerk a message…” she felt quite tiny. Is a pixel better than a squishy giraffe?
“I must get that monitor checked” the voice of Jerk said aloud. “That screen is going to die on me anytime, and I’ll be fired if I can’t cash in for a day.”
Granola couldn’t blame him for the lack of imagination. How often she’d taken the electronic mishaps as bad luck rather as inspiring messages from the Great Beyond.
She stopped blinking for a few bits. It felt almost like holding her breath, if she still had one.
She’d have to upgrade her communications capacities; these four were really in need of a cosmic and comic boost.
“You can’t stay here forever,” said Margoritt. The words came out of the blue and it took a few moments for Glynnis to make sense of them. The two women had been working together in silence as they collected the plentiful purple fruit of the Droog tree in preparation for bottling.
“Oh, well, no of course not,” said Glynnis without conviction.
“You are attractive enough now we can see you without those scales,” continued Margoritt sternly. “There is no need to hide away here in the forest. You need to think about what you want to do next.”
Margoritt’s words stung and Glynnis lifted her hand reflexively to her head. Two small bumps were all that remained of the Sorcerer’s curse. Eleri had cut a fringe for her and the bumps were barely visible. In a funny sort of way, she liked the reminder of the bumps. When she touched them she felt strong.
“There has been no word from the others for several moons now and I think we all need to face facts,” Margoritt said quietly. She put down her basket and leaned against a tree trunk for support. “We’ve tried but we don’t have the resources to fight Leroway any longer and truth is this body is old and tired. I have a sister in the North who I can stay with for a while. Just while I gather my strength.”
Glynnis was silent. She wished she could find words to reassure Margoritt but knew anything she said would sound trite. They were both aware of the dangers which faced the travellers. And though she had tried, she had not found a spell to contact them.
“The mountain will not give up its treasure easily but I know they would hasten to return if they were able. And they have much strength between them. We must not give up hope,” she said softly at last and Margoritt nodded.
Glynis shivered. The Droog trees were casting long shadows over the garden like twisted old men. “It’s getting cold … maybe we should go in. Tomorrow is soon enough to make plans.”
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
“You’ll be wanting some privacy,” she said. “And something dry to wear,” she added, handing Glynis a dress, plain in shape and made from a soft woven fabric, pearly spheres woven into a dark purple background.
The second person to give me something to wear, she mused.
The fabric was amazing. It made Glynis think of stars at night and the way you could never see to the end of the sky. It felt both reassuring and terrifying all at the same time.
There is magic in the hands that wove this, she thought, hesitant though to voice her thoughts to Margoritt, however kindly she seemed.
“A master weaver has made this!” she said instead. “Was it you?”
“No, not I … but you are right, it was made by a master … as you can no doubt see, it doesn’t fit me any longer. I’ve had it sitting there going to waste for many years and am glad to put it to use. It doesn’t cover your head like the other did, but really there is no need here.” Margoritt smiled. “Go, get changed. Come out when you are ready and I will have some tea and cake for you. Then you can meet the others properly.”
“Is it okay? hissed Sunny in a loud whisper when they were alone, anxiously hopping from one foot to another.
“Yes, i think so … I’ve been very careful,” Glynis reached in her pouch and gently pulled out an egg.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it … almost golden… for sure it must be the gift the man from the market promised me in my dream … the way it just sat there on the path … lucky I did not stand on it.” She stroked the egg gently.
“Sorry about all this, little one,” she said softly to the egg. “I wonder what creature you are inside this shell … and what safe place can we hide you till you are ready to come out of there?”
“I can sit on it of course,” said Sunny. “It will be my honour and privilege to assist.”
While the others were posturing and staring at each other threateningly like a pack of territorial stray dogs, Roberto inched closer to the mysterious sack. Something had started to protrude through a ragged hole in the side of the hessian weave. With a surreptitious glance at the others, who were still glaring at each other ~ with the exception of Godfrey who was still eyeing the lone peanut ~ he took another step closer. He bent down, ostensibly to flick a bit of mud from his trouser knee, and peered at the thing poking out of the sack.
“Why, it’s a tiny furled leaf!” he gasped. “It’s sprouting!” Like a sack of old potatoes left to rot in a damp corner, forgotten and discarded, a pale shoot was striking out in search of light.
Roberto held back when Liz demanded that Finnley lead her to the attic forthwith, followed by the Inspector. Godfrey shuffled along after them, picking up the stray peanut and popping it into his mouth. As soon as the gardener heard their footsteps creaking on the first floor landing, he made his move. There was life in that sack and he was going to give it the chance to thrive, to grow and blossom.
He knew just where to plant it. It would take some time to reach that place, but he knew what he must do.
Roberto set off for The Enchanted Woods, with a determined smile and a spring in his step. He was going to save the characters and grow them himself, nurture them all back to life.
Gibbon was peeling a red apple at the end of their impromptu lunch. He handed a thin slice to Fox who took it and chewed it carefully. It was sweet and juicy, prompting him to want more.
They had returned to Fox’s hut outside the city wall. It had not the comfort that plumbing and central heating could bring, but its four walls were enough to protect them from the chilly air outside and give them a sense of proximity. Humans like to be in human sized boxes, thought Fox. They lived in boxes they called houses; they went to work in other boxes they called bank, or smithery, or medical centre —even their outdoor markets were full of virtual boxes called booth or stand; then they had fun in another kind of boxes they called Inn, or Night Club, or brothel (depending on the persona).
“You’re thinking again,” said Gibbon without raising his eyes from his apple. He handed another slice to Fox who was impressed and annoyed by how his master could read him so easily. Maybe it was luck or real power. Gibbon never told about how he did all that he did. He only said: “I’m not sure that would help you quiet your thoughts.” And that was the end of the subject.
Fox took the slice and came back to his conscientious mastication. It was the rule, he had learned, with Gibbon. You don’t talk when you eat. You don’t think when you eat. You just eat, and breath when you are not swallowing. Fox felt like he was back into the Southern forest where Gibbon had found him, the lone survivor of a litter of five. His mother had been killed, and already four of his siblings were dead. Gibbon, who was already old at that time, took him in and taught him the wisdom of breathing innate among his kind. Fox then did as he was taught, focus his attention on his actions, and particularly on his breathing at all time. It helped him focus and calm down his heart.
After they finished the apple and cleaned the place a bit, Gibbon took a deep breath. Fox knew it was the time he would Talk.
“You’ve been looking for a reason,” said the old master in a breath. Fox was all ears, he almost began to feel them becoming pointy again. He moved his attention back to his breathing and peace filled in his heart again. It was mingled with the excitement of listening to his old master’s voice again, but Fox sticked to the peace and the excitement subsided naturally.
“I’m going to give you an assignment,” continued Gibbon in between his long breaths. His eyes were shiny and seemed to glow in the dim light of the hut. He wasn’t blinking. He never blinked when he Talked. “I see you’ve mastered the power of breathing. You need to learn the wisdom of the Heart now.”
Fox was ready. He had been for many years. Even when Fox left the Southern forest to find his destiny he was ready. He now realised he left because Gibbon would not teach him. And now, he came to teach me! Fox let the thought and the excitement subside again. His master would not Talk again until it was quiet.
“IIIIIIII’m not going to teach you,” said the master. “You are going to find your own master for this one.”
“But you are my master,” said Fox, not understanding why it was happening again. “You have the power of the Heart. You can teach me.”
“IIIIII’m not your master on this one, Fox. I taught you all I was supposed to teach you. No less, no more.”
“Where will I find my master then?”
“You will find him in time. But first your assignment,” said Gibbon. He paused to breath deeply, his eyes intense as the full Moon. “You’ll find a lost soul in the enchanted forest. Bring it back to its rightful owner. Then you shall find your master.”
Fox had opened his mouth to ask him how he could find a lost piece of soul, or what a piece of soul looked like, but Gibbon had already closed his eyes and entered in a deep meditation from where there were no outside interruption possible. He stood up and stretched his body. There was no need to wait aimlessly around, hoping Gibbon would come out of his meditation state soon. It could last days, even weeks.
While packing a few things he would need on the road, like food, a knife, some clothes, Fox pondered his options. Going in the enchanted forest looking randomly for something he didn’t even know about seemed to much like his old self. He needed some more information and he had an idea about who could give them to him. The witch from the market. She would know. And she lived in the enchanted forest.
Before closing the hut’s door, Fox looked at his master one last time. His body was very still, if you didn’t know him, you’d think he was not breathing. He had a serene smile on his face. Fox smiled and felt the love of his master and his master’s way fill his heart. He had given him a purpose, and for that Fox was grateful. He shut the door quietly and began to walk toward the enchanted forest. He heard ducks in the distance, it was as if they were singing. He laughed. It was mid afternoon. If he walked at a good pace, he would arrive at the old mansion before nightfall.
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