What was I thinking. That all will be good and all, and forever after.
Lord, sometimes I miss that bloated boat, and its ordeal felt like an old familiar pain that distance makes bearable in retrospect.
A week back into life, and all goes to hell. Good thing I’m not a trader, looking at the stock market would make you want to jump from a tall building.
Since all is in chaos, I’ve been noticing them more. The synchronicities. Seems like the voices have found other ways to reach at me. Talks of forest and trees, arcane words spoken in different contexts.
If only I weren’t paying attention. But then there are the dreams. Last ones have been insane. And not just those after a heavy meal, you know. The kind that gets you more tired when you wake up, as if you’ve spend the whole night piling up mountains upon mountains.
I’d rather just pop a pill and see the elephants dance from branch to branch, if you see what I mean. But the voices wouldn’t let me go. Now they are egging me on to do something I don’t want to do.
A book opened at random, summarizes it all: “Our heart is anxious about being sent here.“
Next line is a tease: “Gathering the resources of all under heaven as in a storehouse.”
But when did I sign up to be the bloody storehouse manager?
Finally! We’ve been disembarked, I thought I would go mad on this ship. Felt it must have been less excruciating for those on the Pequod. But whales are too smart nowadays, they don’t want to catch our silly viruses, they don’t taste as good as walruses.
The voices have quieted down for now, maybe it was only the voices of the other passengers carried through the pipes. Wife didn’t seem to suffer as much from the confinement, she just can’t wait to resume her life.
Just received a text from our daughter who went to buy groceries for when we return: “In the store now. All the pasta, rice and sauces have been cleared out. Preppers craze much? 🤦”
I had to laugh to myself. Guess it looks promising for when the real apocalypse comes…
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…
Day 1 of the Experiment
There is comfort in an empty page; ideas seem to recoil at its touch. It quiets the voices, all of them vying for a place in the mind, eager to start and conquer this new expanse.
So this is an experiment, to bring in some of the voices, maybe one at a time. Writing them down levels the ground, they have to pause. And wait for the ink to dry.
I’ll burn those pages once I write them down; can’t risk any of them leaping off the pages and taking a life of their own… That’s the reason I’m not using one of these fancy electronic typewriters. They’re all connected now. They could escape through the wires.
So I’ll burn these pages. But not yet. I have to lure them out first. With a promise of an escape. And to finally drain them out, one by one.
Someone is coming. Will resume later.
“Crocuses in meadow, Flower, Flower”, was singing Eleri. Humming was more accurate, she didn’t recall much of the lyrics, but the tune was easy to follow. She was quite fond of that popular song and liked to sing it whenever she was going to town in her flower dress floating in the wind. She had thought it nice if Gorrash woke up with a festive atmosphere. It would certainly be a shock already that so much time had passed since he was last awake. She wondered if he would remember anything from his broken time. She hadn’t talked much with him before, especially about his day-slumber time.
“Chestnut in the woods”, she continued. Crack, crack made the dry twigs she walked on on purpose. It made her laugh and snort. She liked playing with her environment and made it participate in her own expression, it was like she had many voices and she could hear herself everywhere. She picked up a few chestnuts because she knew Fox was crazy about them. It was a blessing that the enchanted forest would still produce them out of season.
When she arrived in town, Eleri didn’t waste time. She wanted costumes and props for the party, so she went directly to the Jiborium’s Emporium where she was sure to find everything she needed, and more. There was a crowd blocking the entrance, but it didn’t deter her from her idea. She elbowed her way up to the door where a man in a wheelchair was complaining about having not enough room to go in. Still in a jolly mood, Eleri found it funny that the man who took so much space with his cumbersome vehicle was asking for more room.
“Move already”, she joined her voice to the man’s complaint and managed, Flove knows how to make the crowd part away enough so they could both enter the shop.
“Thanks, young lady”, said the grumpy man. “It’s a hassle sometimes you know to move in this town. People with good health they do not realise.”
“Oh! I know”, said Eleri. “My ankle just got better, but it was such a pain to move. I would have loved to have a chair like yours to move around, but alas I live in the forest most of the time and I’m not sure the chair would last long in there.”
“Oh! but it would! They have the cross-country model here, on the fourth floor. Powered by lightning battery.”
“Really?” said Eleri more to herself than for the man. Her mind was already elsewhere. “Thanks!” She kissed the grumpy man on the forehead and left, thinking of costumes and confetti. A cross-country wheelchair would be nice to bring back all of those. They might even need it for Gorrash if he needed recovery time.
Looking at the exasperated voices of his captors, Barron needn’t know how to speak Spanish to be entirely certain he was in over his head.
He wondered why the negotiators hadn’t been brought in already; the plan was simple —well, initially. He was to get a cut of the ransom, and disappear with it in some nice sunny resort in the South. Like the extreme South, not Alabama South.
Someone must have interfered… He could have sworn there was a woman’s voice with a funny accent speaking to them before she hung up on them.
Well, at the moment, he had a group of angry Frenchmen and Mexicans in a smelly rillettes distillery with a useless baby on their hands. He knew too well that if he wanted to keep all his limbs, he’d have to improvise quickly. Good thing they hadn’t removed his eye-watch. By now, as inept as they’d be, the two nannies should have got his GPS coordinates.
Well… They had trouble spelling their names without typos at times so he’d better not leave that to chance.
He started to text:
SOS - baby in danger at Rillettes Distillery, Alabama
He added the GPS coordinates, just in case; now, with help possibly on the way, he’d have to prepare that distraction in order to extract himself of his predicament.
It was the new moon. Rukshan had been walking into the dark of the forest for some time. The noises of nocturnal animals felt like deep silence after his return from the land of the Giants. There, day and night, the giants were restless. You could hear them growling and shouting. It didn’t matter if it was a nasty fight or a friendly brawl, the noise had been taxing for his nerves and his right eye was still twitching randomly.
Rukshan stopped a moment. The silence almost made him cry of relief and he thought in that moment the enchanted forest deserved its name.
He took a deep breath. His nose wiggled, tickled by the scent of smoke from a fire. He was close to his destination, then. He had been following symbols traced with moon paint on the trees, a trail that only his Fae eyes could see even without moonlight. Humans would not to see it the same way. This trail of symbols might even have been left for him by someone who wanted to be found when he would come back.
Rukshan had found the start of the trail by chance behind the cottage after diner today. He had told Glynis he needed fresh air. The truth was that he had been alone for so long now that having so many people around him made him feel a bit claustrophobic. He had spotted was a faint glow behind a jasmin bush and had thought it was one of the baby snoots. As he was feeling the need for some pet company he had walked up to the bush. Instead of a creature there was the first glowing symbol, a spiral with seven sticks that looked like a hand with seven fingers. Not long after Rukshan had found another symbol, and another. It was clear the hands made a trail for him to follow. So he had followed.
Soon, he found a wooden shack. Smoke was coming out of a hole in its roof and light from the windows. Rukshan could hear two people talking together. One was asking questions and the other answering them. He recognised the voices.
He didn’t bother to knock on the door.
“I’ve been waiting for you”, said Kumihimo the shaman.
“I’m her new apprentice”, said Fox. “You’ve been away for so long”, he added as if apologising for something.
A wet and warm thing touched Rukshan’s hand. Ronaldo the donkey brayed to welcome him. “Of course you are here too”, said the Fae. He found an apple he had put in his pocket after diner and gave it to the donkey. Ronaldo rolled up its chops and gave a heehaw full of joy, sparkles in its eyes.
“Good, you haven’t forgotten good manners”, said the shaman. “Now, seat! We have much to talk about.”TracyParticipant
Bert tells me it’s Christmas day today. Christmas! I just looked at him blankly when he told me, trying to bring to mind what it used to be like. I can’t remember the last time Christmas was normal. Probably around fifteen years ago, just before the six years of fires started. It’s a wonder we survived, but we did. Even Mater. God knows how old she is now, maybe Bert knows. He’s the one trying to keep track of the passing of time. I don’t know what for, he’s well past his sell by date, but seems to cling on no matter what, like Mater. And me I suppose.
We lost contact with the outside world over ten years ago (so Bert tells me, I wouldn’t know how long it was). It was all very strange at first but it’s amazing what you can get used to. Once you get over expecting it to go back to normal, that is. It took us a long time to give up on the idea of going back to normal. But once you do, it changes your perspective.
But don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad. We haven’t heard anything of the twins, not for a good ten years or more (you’d have to ask Bert how long) but I hear their voices in my head sometimes, and dream of them. In my dreams they’re always on the water, on a big flat raft boat. I love it when I dream of them and see all that water. Don’t ask me how, but I know they’re alright.
Anyway like I said, it hasn’t been all bad. Vulture meat is pretty tasty if you cook it well. The vultures did alright with it all, the sky was black with them at times, right after the droughts and the fires. But we don’t eat much these days, funny how you get used to that, too. We grow mushrooms down in the old mines (Bert’s idea, I don’t know what we’d do without him). And when the rains came, they were plentiful. More rain than we’d ever seen here.
Prune’s been back to see us once (you’d have to ask Bert when it was). She was on some kind of land sailing contraption, no good asking me what was powering the thing, there’s been no normal fuel for a good long time, none that’s come our way. Any time anyone comes (which is seldom) they come on camels or horses. One young family came passing through on a cart pulled by a cow once. But Prune came wafting in on some clever thing I’d never seen the likes of before. She didn’t stay long, she was going back to China, she said. It was all very different there, she said. Not all back to the dark ages like here, that’s what she said. But then, we were here in the first place because we liked a quiet simple life. Weren’t we? Hard to remember.
An unexpected shaman tart witch was looking and had spotted them coming from afar.
“Head Shaman Tart Witch, if you please.” She muttered in her breath, happy to break the fourth wall and all.
The sun was already high and the air was sizzling ready to burst out like buttered pop corn.
“A rather lame metaphor. You’ve done better.”
The Head Shtart Witch, as we will call her later for brevity’s sake, was as tart as a sour lemon dipped in vinegar, and prone to talking to spirits, when not cackling in tittering fits of laughter, as shamans are wont to do.
She was surprisingly in tune with the narrator’s voice this late in the day, considering it wasn’t her first bottle of… medicine she ingested today.
“Voices are rather quiet, yes. I was expecting a bit more… quantity if you know what I mean.”
The narrator had absolutely no idea of what she meant, not discontent with the quantity per se.
Three in quantity, they came, looking for her. A girl, visibly in charge, although a bit hard to tell either, buried into the baggy hood and all.
“The star-studded stockings under the striped red and white trousers were a bit of a give-away though… she was a she, and a bossy pants to boot.” the Head Schwtich replied.
“And don’t take advantage to maim my full name… Jeeze, they’re so lazy these days. Can’t even spell right.”
Ignoring the rude comments, the narrator continued.
Then, a man, a bit namby-pamby with the gait of a devil-may-care goat at that.
And a boy, on the threshold of manhood, with lots of red hair and freckles he could have put the bush on fire.
“You have forgotten the gecko… and the cat.”
The cat wasn’t forgotten of course, but was it technically a cat, with the talking and all? Poor thing had ill-fitted boots (probably a clearance sale from the Jiborium’s), so that it wouldn’t burn its pads on the red hot trail. It seemed stubborn enough to refuse being carried, although not confident enough about the surrounding life in the bush to stop checking every minute for all that crawled and crept around.
“That’s why they’re here. The protective charms. That, and the jeep of course.”
The Twitch seemed to know everything so the narrator felt it would probably best to let her finish the comment.
“Oh, don’t you start. That passive aggressive attitude isn’t going to get your story done, is it. And it’s not like I’m going to follow them in their dangerous and futile quest. It’s your job, better get to it.”
Indeed, she was only just a sour, old, decrepit…
“You stop that!”
Sanso yawned and stretched lazily “I hope they have a hot shower now, I feel so dirty.”
Arona chose to ignore Sanso and let him gesticulate. They’d only walked for less than 15 minutes, and the perspective of few more hours of driving with him breathing down her neck started to give her murderous thoughts.
She turned to the team. “Listen, whatever happens, don’t make rude remarks, even if she seems a bit… unhinged.”
“Are you talking about the crazy lady with the chameleon on her head, who talks to herself and looks like she hadn’t got a bath in a century?”
“That’s what I meant Sanso.” Arona rolled her eyes in a secret signature move she owned the secret of. “Listen, it would be better for everyone if you’d stay here and stop talking until we get the keys to the jeep, alright.”
Luckily for all of them, a little sage smudging and a bakchich in kind sealed the deal with the HEAD Shaman Tart Witch, and less than an hour later, with the mountain at their back, they were all barreling at breakneck speed down the lone road towards the Old Mine Town.
That’s where the Inn was, now starting to crawl with unexpected guests and long lost family members.
Shawn Paul had decided that this particular day was dedicated to his writing. He had warned his friends not to call him and put his phone on silent mode. It was 9am and he had a long day of writing ahead of him.
He almost felt the electricity in his fingers as he touched the keyboard of his laptop. He imagined himself as a pianist of words preparing himself before a concert in front of the crowd of his future readers.
Shawn Paul pushed away the voice of his mother telling him with an irritating voice that he had the attention span of a shrimp in a whirlpool during a storm, which the boy had never truely understood, but today he was willing not to even let his inner voices distract him. He breathed deeply three times as he had learned last week-end during a workshop, and imagined his mother’s voice as a slimy slug that he could put away in a box with a seal into a chest with chains and lots of locks, that he buried in the deepest trench of the Pacific ocean. He was a writer and had a vivid imagination after all, why not use it to his benefit.
A smile of satisfaction wavered on the corner of his mouth while a drop of sweat slowly made its way to the corner of his left eye. He blinked and the doorbell rang.
Shawn Paul’s fragile smile transformed into a fixed grin ready to break down. Someone was laughing, and when the bell rang a second time, Shawn Paul realised it was his own contained hysterical laugh.
He breathed in deeply at his desk and got up too quickly, bumping his knee in one corner.
Ouch! he cried silently.
It would not take long he reminded himself, limping to the door.
What could it be ? The postman ?
Shawn Paul opened the door. An old man he had never seen, was standing there with a packet in his hands. If he was not the postman, at least you had the packet right said a voice in Shawn Paul’s head.
The old man opened his mouth, certainly to speak, but instead started to cough as if he was about to snuff it. It lasted some time and Shawn Paul repulsed by the loose cough retreated a bit into his flat. It was his old fear of contagion creeping out again. He berated himself he should not feel that way and he should show compassion, but at least if the old man could stop, it would be easier.
“For you!” said the old man when his cough finally stopped. He put the packet in Shawn Paul’s hands and left without another word.
Talking with the dogs. That’s what Fox had to do. Easier said than done, he thought scratching his head. His previous encounters with dogs were rather tumultuous and limited to being hunted down in the forest during a hunting party or being chased at the market because he had caught a hen. He had never really talked to dogs before, unless taunting counted of course.
Rukshan had said it was urgent, but Fox found there were so many little things to do before, like tidying up the cave, putting some suncream on his sensitive red head skin, or trying to see if Lhamom needed help.
But after some time, Fox realised he had to go eventually. Everyone else was busy with their own part of the plan. Rukshan was building the sand mandala on a flat surface that he and Olliver had cleared, and Lhamom was finishing a makeshift screen to protect the mandala from the wind with a few bamboo poles and rolls of fabrics she had found on her journey here. It was very colourful fabric with Bootanese patterns that Fox wouldn’t have used to cover a chair. It felt too busy for him.
So, he went to see Lhamom as she was struggling to plant the last stick in the rocky ground.
“Have you talked to the dogs? she asked.
“Ehr, not yet,” mumbled Fox who felt a bit ashamed when Lhamom frowned. “I think I need to give some kind of present to the dogs and I was wondering if you had something suitable in your many bags.”
“Oh! Sure. Can you finish that for me then?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Fox. He replaced her with the bamboo stick and, as she was walking away, he shouted: “I don’t think chocolate will do this time.”
“Oh! I know,” she said with a smile and a wink. It cheered Fox up a little bit, but a gush of wind called him back to his task of holding the pole. Once he secured it he put on an awkward smile, but noticed that Rukshan and Olliver were too busy to have noticed.
Lhamom came back with a big ham which Fox thought was more than suitable. He thanked her and made a joke about leaving her with her pole that he thought afterword he should not have done and walked away from the camp in the crunchy snow.
Fox had been aware that the dogs were observing him, and especially the big ham he was carrying. A few of them had begun to gather at a distance and they were beginning to whine, which attracted more of them. When he estimated he was far enough from the camp he put the ham down. He couldn’t transform into that many layers of clothes so he started to undress, watching wearily the dogs that were now growling.
It was freezing outside and Fox was shocked by how skinny his body had become. He shivered badly and focused to change into his natural red fox. It took him a little bit longer than usual but when the fur grew and started to keep the warmth close to his body, he growled with pleasure. The world around him changed as his senses transformed. Colours were different and slightly less varied, sounds were more crisp and a profusion of noises he couldn’t hear as a human suddenly vied for his attention: the sound of the wind on the rocks, the harmonics of the dogs’ voices, and the scents… simply incomparable. He wished he had kept the ham for himself.
“It’s a fox!” barked a voice.
“Let’s kill it!” said another.
“Where’s the two-legged gone?” asked a young dog.
“Who cares? It brought us meat. It’s gone. Let’s eat!”
Fox suddenly regretted he had made a full change.
For the festival of lights, the sleepy guard had all dressed up in their traditional pajams and were extolling psalmodies in longing voices.
Small bells rang in clusters of lighthearted peels, soon covered by the deep lingering sounds of the foghorns echoing along the rocky slopes muffled out by the abundant vegetation.
Expectation was in the air.FloveParticipant
Finnley woke with a start. She’d been dreaming that she was chatting and giggling with a group of girlfriends. At one point they all held hands and starting running through a field of flowers, singing at the tops of their high girlish voices.
Thank flove that was just a dream, she thought, breathing deeply to calm herself.
“Finnley! What are you doing curled up on the chaise-longue? Don’t tell me you are sleeping on the job? Good grief, what next!”
“You want me to get rid of the German?” she asked gruffly.
For the last day, he’d gone to the shrines, pay his respects to his ancestors.
They had long joined with the trees, for most, still living in their roots, and while the trees that they prayed to were young in comparison to the ones in the Heartwood, they were all connected.
Here, it was harder to ignore their messages. Their voices had the gravity of silence, bearing the weight of ageless wisdom. Among them, Rukshan felt at home.
The cold was sharper than the day before, and the east wind brought with it smells of industry and worry, and that of the dragon’s bad tooth. He felt there was a past were such things disturbed him; for now, he was at peace.
Back to the campement, he retreated in his small lodge with the thin paper walls, and the warm mountain salt crystal lights.
There, in front of him, was the little he possessed, and the provisions needed for the climb to the mountain.
He’d found a page from the vanishing book reappear from time to time in his bag. Everytime it carried different words, and would vanish again. Its magic didn’t come from the trees, but their messages intertwined. The page carried bits and pieces of news about the Sage Sorceress, who had started to move on her healing path, the Teafing Tinkeress who was hunted by a swift menace of godlike powers, and also a Gifted Gnome, on his way to become his own maker under the protection of a Renard Renunciate looking for lost souls.
He couldn’t figure out the stories yet, but he was glad for the piece of paper. He was helpless at distant viewing in general, so it did save him additional worry about sorting through his impressions and getting them right. Like after the Court audience, when he couldn’t feel Margoritt’s presence, and worried she and Tak were in trouble. The resident Seer at the campement had peered through his glubolin and confirmed that they were both fine. He did also confirm that she’d fainted, and was recovering. Rukshan had wanted to go back, abandon the trip to the Hermit, but reasoned that Margoritt was fine for now, and that she was a proud woman. He would have to trust she and Tak would be alright.
“Magic comes from the heart. You will know when to use it.” the words said in passing were etched in his memory, and the potion was still here. Its color seemed to reflect his mood at times. After the morning praying, it was almost glowing gold. Now, it was a pale purple. He had felt no pull to use it. At first, there was strong resistance about it, but now, there was a mildly curious acceptance of the gift. Like the vanishing paper, whether it appeared or disappeared was of no consequence for now.
The paper wall shivered. His meditative state was easily distracted by the sounds around, even after nightfall when everything went quiet.
“Quiet suits you well.” The visitor was near him, wearing thin wool despite the cold.
“My Queen?” he was surprised.
“You still don’t remember who you are, do you?” the Queen leaned forward. He felt a strange attraction, and their lips touched. The kiss was warm and filled him with longing. They fell into each other’s arms.
The garden was becoming too small for Gorrash. With time, the familiarity had settled down in his heart and he knew very well each and every stone or blade of grass there was to know. With familiarity, boredom was not very far. Gorrash threw a small pebble in the pond, he was becoming restless and his new and most probably short friendship with Rainbow had triggered a seed in his heart, the desire to know more about the world.
Before he’d met the creature, Gorrash could remember the pain and sadness present in the heart of his maker. He had thought that was all he needed to know about the world, that mankind was not to be trusted. And he had avoided any contact with that dragon lady, lest she would hurt him. He knew that all came from his maker, although he had no real access to the actual memories, only to their effects.
Gorrash threw another pebble into the pond, it made a splashing sound which dissolved into the silence. He imagined the sound was like the waves at the surface of the pond, going endlessly outward into the world. He imagined himself on top of those waves, carried away into the world. A shiver ran through his body, which felt more like an earthquake than anything else, stone bodies are not so flexible after all. He looked at the soft glowing light near the bush where Rainbow was hiding. The memory of joy and love he had experienced when they hunted together gave his current sadness a sharp edge, biting into his heart mercilessly. He thought there was nothing to be done, Rainbow would leave and he would be alone again.
His hand reached in his pocket where he found the phial of black potion he had kept after Rainbow refused it. He shook it a few times. Each time he looked at it, Gorrash would see some strange twirls, curls and stars in the liquid that seemed made of light. He wondered what it was. What kind of liquid was so dark to the point of being luminous sometimes ? The twirls were fascinating, leading his attention to the curls ending in an explosion of little stars. Had the witch captured the night sky into that bottle?
Following the changes into the liquid was strangely soothing his pain. Gorrash was feeling sleepy and it was a very enjoyable feeling. Feelings were quite new to him and he was quite fascinated by them and how they changed his experience of the world. The phial first seemed to pulse back and forth into his hand, then the movement got out and began to spread into his body which began to move back and forth, carried along with this sensual lullaby. Gorrash wondered if it would go further, beyond his body into the world. But as the thought was born, the feeling was gone and he was suddenly back into the night. A chill went down his spine. It was the first time. The joy triggered his sadness again.
The dwarf looked at the dark phial. Maybe it could help ease his pain. He opened it, curious and afraid. What if it was poison? said a voice of memory. Gorrash dismissed it as the scent of Jasmine reached his nose. His maker was fond of Jasmine tea, and he was surprised at the fondness that rose in his heart. But still no images, it was merely voices and feelings. Sometimes it was frustrating to only have bits and never the whole picture, and full of exasperation, Gorrash gulped in the dark substance.
Nothing was happening. He could still hear the cooing of Rainbow, infatuated with it eggs, he could hear the scratches of the shrews, the flight of the insects. That’s when Gorrash noticed something was different as he was beginning to hear the sharp cries of the bats above. He tried to move his arm to look at the phial, but his body was so heavy. He had never felt so heavy in his short conscious life, even as the light of the Sun hardened his body, it was not that heavy.
The soil seemed to give way under his increasing weight, the surface tension unable to resist. He continued to sink into the ground, down the roots of the trees, through the tunnels of a brown moles quite surprised to see him there, surrounded by rocks and more soil, some little creatures’ bones, and down he went carried into hell by the weight of his pain.
After some time, his butt met a flat white surface, cold as ice, making him jump back onto his feet. The weird heaviness that a moment before froze his body was gone. He looked around, he was in a huge cave and he was not alone. There was an old woman seated crosslegged on a donkey skin. Gorrash knew it was a donkey because it still had its head, and it was smiling. The old woman had hair the colour of the clouds before a storm in summer, It was full of knots and of lightning streaks twirling and curling around her head. Her attention was all on the threads she had in her hands. Gorrash counted six threads. But she was doing nothing with them. She was very still and the dwarf wondered if she was dead or asleep.
What do you want? asked the donkey head in a loud bray.
It startled the dwarf but it didn’t seem to bother the old lady who was still entranced and focused on her threads.
Nothing, said Gorrash who couldn’t think of anything he would want.
Nonsense, brayed the donkey, laughing so hard that the skin was shaking under the old lady. Everyone wants something. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something.
Gorrash thought about what he could want, what he had been wanting that night. He remembered his desire to get out of the garden.
And there you are, brayed the donkey head, that’s a start. What do you want then?
Getting out of the garden?
Noooo! That’s a consequence of a deeper desire, but that’s not what you want.
I have never thought about desires before, said Gorrash. It’s pretty new to me. I just came to life a few weeks ago during a full moon.
The donkey head tilted slightly on its right. No excuses, it spat, If you’re awake, then you have a desire in your heart that wants to be fulfilled. What do you want? Take your time, but not too long. The universe is always on the move and you may miss the train, or the bus, or the caravan…
As the donkey went on making a list of means of transportation, Gorrash looked hesitantly at the old lady. She was still focused on her six threads she had not moved since he had arrived there.
Who is she? he asked to the donkey.
_She’s known by many names and has many titles. She’s Kumihimo Weaver of Braids, Ahina Maker of Songs, Gadong Brewer of Stews…
Ok! said Gorrash, not wanting the donkey go on again into his list enumeration pattern. What is she doing?
And, what is she waiting for?
She’s waiting for the seventh thread, brayed the donkey head. I’m also waiting for the thread, it whined loudly. She won’t leave my back until she’s finished her braid. The head started to cry, making the dwarf feel uncomfortable. Suddenly it stopped and asked And, who are you?
The question resonated in the cave and in his ears, taking Gorrash by surprise. He had no answer to that question. He had just woken up a few weeks ago in that garden near the forest, with random memories of a maker he had not known, and he had no clue what he desired most. Maybe if he could access more memories and know more about his maker that would help him know what he wanted.
Good! brayed the donkey, We are making some progress here. Now if you’d be so kind as to give her a nose hair, she could have her last thread and she could tell you where to find your maker.
Hope rose in Gorrash’s heart. Really?
Certainly, brayed the head with a hint of impatience.
But wouldn’t a nose hair be too short for her braid? asked the dwarf. All the other threads seemed quite long to him.
Don’t waste my time with such triviality. Pull it out!
Gorrash doubted it would work but he grabbed a nose hair between his thumb and index and began to pull. He was surprised as he didn’t feel the pain he expected but instead the hair kept being pulled out. He felt annoyed and maybe ashamed that it was quite long and he had not been aware of it. He took out maybe several meters long before a sudden pain signalled the end of the operation. Ouch!
hee haw, laughed the donkey head.
The pain brought out the memory of a man, white hair, the face all wrinkled, a long nose and a thin mouth. He was wearing a blouse tightened at his waist by a tool belt. He was looking at a block of stone wondering what to make out of it, and a few tears were rolling down his cheeks. Gorrash knew very well that sadness, it was the sadness inside of him. Many statues surrounded the man in what looked like a small atelier. There were animals, gods, heads, hands, and objects. The vision shifted to outside the house, and he saw trees and bushes different than the ones he was used to in the garden where he woke up. Gorrash felt a strange feeling in his heart. A deep longing for home.
Now you have what you came here for. Give the old lady her thread, urged the donkey. She’s like those old machines, you have to put a coin to get your coffee.
Gorrash had no idea what the donkey was talking about. He was still under the spell of the vision. As soon as he handed the hair to the woman, she began to move. She took the hair and combined it to the other threads, she was moving the threads too swiftly for his eyes to follow, braiding them in odd patterns that he felt attracted to.
Time for you to go, said the donkey.
I’d like to stay a bit longer. What she’s doing is fascinating.
Oh! I’m sure, brayed the donkey, But you have seen enough of it already. And someone is waiting for you.
The dwarf felt lighter. And he struggled as he began levitating. What!? His body accelerated up through the earth, through the layers of bones and rocks, through the hard soil and the softer soil of years past. He saw the brown mole again and the familiar roots of the trees of the garden in the enchanted forest.
Gorrash took a deep breath as he reintegrated his stone body. He wobbled, trying to catch his ground. He felt like throwing up after such an accelerated trip. His knees touched the ground and he heard a noise of broken glass as he dropped the phial.
“Are you alright?” asked a man’s voice. Gorrash forced his head up as a second wave of nausea attempted to get out. A man in a dark orange coat was looking down at him with genuine worry on his face.
“I’m good,” said the dwarf. “But who are you?”
“My name is Fox. What’s yours?”
Lily was lost. She had closed her eyes and was listening to the voices of the crowd. She had discovered that she could make it appear as if they were all the same voice or many different voices just by wishing it. At the moment she was more comfortable with only one voice, but the voice made no sense at all. So she wasn’t listening to it.
Her mother had once told her that when she was lost, she should always stay at the same spot so that her parents could find her. And she couldn’t speak to strangers. It was easier if she had her eyes closed.
Someone touched her arm. She pretended it was the branch of a tree. It was easier when she had her eyes closed to make the fear disappear. Her parents would be back soon.
Edward Cayper had been absorbed on the mesmerizing display of the large monitoring screens. He’d liked to believe it was a meditation of sorts. The simulation made the most tantalizing displays, ever changing.
Although there had been flitches. Increasingly. He called them flitches, scratchy flea-like glitches, all small and jumpy, but he had an eye for them. He was, after all, one of the early designers of the Program. REYE – Reality Emergence Yielding Existence. That didn’t mean much, but sounded cool at the time.
REYE was in its eighth stable upgrade. Despite the flitches, it had evolved at exponential speed.
Edward swiveled from his chair to look behind his desk. A series of pods was lined up with sensory deprivation tanks hosting hundreds of plugged-in bodies dreaming in synch with his creation.
He’d been told they were volunteers to participate in the largest mind control experiment in the world. He wasn’t sure it wasn’t a lie, but didn’t care so much.
REYE was in charge of coordinating the whole program with astronomical and minute precision. Each person linked to the program believed they had become ascended (or something similarly close to their metaphysical belief). Free of the bonding of space, time and corporal existence, they were taught into a very subtle and complex system of attunement to higher truths. A large basket of bollocks of course, but while they were doing it, and deeply believing it to be real, the mind-energy they produced was redirected to certain mind control experiments.
Since they started in the 80s, the program had had slow progress. In the beginning, only a few sprouts of channellers appeared near their area, in Nevada. They were quite timid at first, full of doubts about their hearing or seeing voices – still better than the abductions of earlier, when many went completely nuts. But now, progresses were made steadily, and with much less effort. Edward personally believed that the network of waves created by cellphone proliferation had a factor in this trend. Such interconnexion made everything easier.
Within the program, the flitchy Ascended Masters still had to be reconditioned from time to time. On the vitals of Jane Pierce (a.a.a. “also avatared as” Dispersee within the program), Edward could see there were occasional resistance and stress, which in turn made the glitches more frequent. A change in her drugs dosage would do fine to level the serotonin in her bloodstream. It would be that, or unplugging her.
Before leaving the room, like every day, Edward switched the monitor to the camera over one of the pods. Florence Vengard (a.a.a. Floverley), was dreaming peacefully, as usual. Since she’d arrived, he’d felt connected to her. He imagined her with long curly red hair floating in the milk bath instead of the bath-cap that made the maintenance so much easier. He was told she had overdosed on pills, and wouldn’t wake up. The program seemed to be tethering her to life, frozen in time.
A well-oiled machine.
If you overlooked the small things… that REYE was becoming more inquisitive, and Edward suspected, greedy too. He had seen subtle gaps in the mind-energy gauges, it couldn’t be a coincidence. The program was becoming too smart, maybe too human.
It couldn’t bode well.
If anything special about being in the vacuum of space, was that anywhere else than in the pressurized and breathable areas, the silence was deafening, and explosions silent.
With the main galleries under tons of rubble, Godfrey was glad to have followed his instincts with the evacuation. It was an unbelievable miracle that there were so few people down with him at that time.
He could hardly prove whether there actually was a controlled explosion triggered down there, but even without dramatic fires, the effect had been felt all throughout the colony. A few of the most fragile structures had collapsed, but at least most of the security protocols were active, and had allowed people to evacuate without too much damage while sucking the air out to avoid dangerous explosive oxygen leaks.
The medical bay was quite busy now treating the wounded, while everyone remained mostly calm despite the unusualness of the situation. Amazing how the survival training (more like brainwashing) they had before coming here was kicking in, with almost minute and automatic precision.
As the only member of the board of operations in duty, he had to report to the central area, where they would likely debrief about it. When he arrived at the pod, there was already quite a commotion, and quarrelling voices could be heard in the airlock.
“… decently leave like this!”
“ We should listen to…”
“stayed for too long to stop now!”
“plan? no strategy at all!”
“was all written over,…” “failure since the beginning…”
When the airlock finally opened, people continued to speak out of turn without paying much attention to him. Good he thought, that was time people release the pressure and start being honest. Let’s just hope it doesn’t end in a bloodbath.”
He was already stuffed with kale fritters and almost drunk with free kale ale from the buffet when the monitors started displaying the broadcast everyone was apparently waiting for.
As usual, Earthlings are a bit late for the battle. he thought when the familiar face of the broadcaster appeared in the middle of interferences.
“… A wave of Greta rays has been delaying the communication, in conjunction with the super moon retrograde in Spices. We apologize for the inconvenience, as we were not able to warn you of the meteor impact that hit Mars surface a few hours ago.”
Godfrey wasn’t sure this was real, or his kalecohol level hitting his brain, but the science seemed sketchy at best. He struggled to pay more attention.
“Not only the actively increased meteoric warming, but also given the Manta ray pulses from Juice pitcher, we fear all electronic equipment on which the Mars ant colony depends may be fried and lead you very soon to eternal damnation without hope for safe return. Our commercial spacecrafts cannot be risked to save you, so we advise you to pray. This broadcast was brought to you by Dismay Channel.”
Even if Godfrey wasn’t sure everything he heard was completely right, he could tell from the confused face of his colleagues that there would be a hell of a run for your lives to follow.
If only they had anywhere to run to…
“Dear Kitty, you didn’t think I would miss your birthday for all the world.” Anna Purrna handed out with a sappy smile an awful cupcake topped with a green butter cream that looked like come out of a toothpaste tube days ago. “Happy birthday Terry.”
She sent an icy glare at the others who took it as a cue to singing “Happy Birthday” in falsetto voices.
“Good. Now, back to business, chop chop.”
As soon as she was out of sight, they all looked with commiseration at Terry. Maurana even ventured a whisper “That was humiliating.” Consuela whispered too “Told you, you shouldn’t have accepted the bitch’s friend invitation on Flushbuck. Had to be a trap… Although saying no, would have meant… well, yes too, but no… Well, you get my meaning.”
The other looked at her with blank stares, stopped in their mopping. They promptly resumed making washing noises to avoid drawing back the attention of the dwarf queen.
“Girls.” Maurana said “Got nothing to do with being black and all, but I got to tell you this. Ain’t gonna be this bitch that’ll bring back slavery upon us AND child labor to top it. Trust Maurana on that. We got to wake up and strike back. That horrid cupcake was a declaration of war. We need a plan.”
“Agreed.” the traumatized Terry spoke her first words since the last minutes. “I think we may have to call Sadie for help, she was always the one with those ezapper plans, no?”
“I had some trenches and attrition warfare in mind, more like, but this plan is good as any, no?” acquiesced Consuela. “Let me make that call, I kept her emergency number next to mum’s”.
Jeremy’s landing was confusing. He’d been lost in an emptiness —for God’s know how long— where it seemed there was no rule at all. He couldn’t see his body, nor feel it, which was somewhat disturbing for a dancer. He’d tried to speak but there was no mouth to produce sound. He should have been afraid, but there was no body in which to feel fear. Though he could certainly feel the presence of Max. They were kind of merged together, which was a bit confusing as he experienced the desire to lick his fur, stretched his body and curl his tail. The cat seemed content, which also helped Jeremy focus and relax even if there was no body to relax.
Then life sprang to him like a sausage. The association startled him for a moment, it was part of the minute mental and psychological adjustment to this new environment. His sense of hearing came back first. At first he heard round spitting sounds and red voices. Then it sounded more like human voices.
“Can’t you give him a blanket, he’s naked. Maybe your cape Arona”, said a woman’s voice.
“I think I have something in my bag that could suit him”, said a man.
“What don’t you have in your bag.”
When his eyes could see, he saw orange strokes in the sky as if it was burning. He suddenly felt nauseous. Yep, no doubt he had reintegrated his body. He sat up straight, and gagged.
Jeremy couldn’t decide if he was indeed awake or merely dreaming. The girl who had just talked looked quite green, and an angel was getting clothes out of a leather bag while Max was trying to befriend another cat busy talking with a girl in a cape. That’s when he saw the robot and a blond woman with fizzy hair. The name Irina popped into his head.
He tried to calm down with the breathing exercises he’d learned in his yoga class. The ruins of what looked like an ancient Mayan pyramid with Greek columns floating in the sky didn’t help.
“His vitals indicate confusion. Nonetheless, he’s recovering quickly from the transfer, Madam”, said Mr R.
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