“Well, I wish you would stop interrupting me while I fill in the empty pages of my pink notebook with gripping stories, I keep losing my thread. Most annoying!” Liz sighed. She wrote Liz snapped at first and then erased it and changed it to Liz sighed. Then she added Liz sighed with the very mildest slight irritation and then became exasperated with the whole thing and told herself to just leave it and try to move on!
But really, Finnley’s timing, as usual! Just as Liz had worked out the direct line to the characters fathers mothers fathers fathers mothers fathers mothers fathers father and mother, Finnley wafts through the scene, making herself conspicuous, and scattering Liz’s tenuous concentration like feathers in the wind.
“And I don’t want to hear a word about apostrophes either,” she added, mentally noting the one in don’t.
“Good God, Gordon, you’re smoking a pipe!” It was an astonishing sight. “What an astonishing sight! Where are your nuts?”
“Well, it’s like this,” Gordon grinned, “I’ve been eating nuts in every scene for, how long? I just can’t face another nut.”
Liz barked out a loud cackle. “You think that’s bad, have you seen what they keep dressing me in? Anyway, ” she asked, “What do you mean clever and you see what I’m doing? What am I doing?”
“The code, of course! I spotted it right away,” Gordon replied smugly.
Finnley heaved herself out of the pool and walked over to Liz and Gordon. (is it Gordon or Godfrey? Liz felt the cold tendrils of dread that she had somehow gone off the track and would have to retrace her steps and get in a fearful muddle Oh no! )
A splat of blue algae across her face, as Finnley flicked the sodden strands of dyed debris off that clung to her hair and body, halted the train of thought that Liz had embarked on, and came to an abrupt collision with a harmless wet fish, you could say, as it’s shorter than saying an abrupt collision with a bit of dyed blue algae.
“What was in that blue dye?”
‘What are you doing?’ asked Liz, horrified.
‘Don’t you know the price of a session at the Blue Algae Therapy Health Center?’ Finnley asked, her voice muffled by the mask.
‘Why the full bathing suit then?’
‘It’s a permanent blue dye for leather.’
“I’ll be right back!” Nora told Will, who was stirring a big bubbling pot on the stove. “Need to wash my hands.”
She had a quick look around the bedroom she’d slept in for her missing phone. Nowhere to be found! Maybe she could find Will’s phone when he went out to feed the donkey, and call her phone to try and locate it. Damn, that wouldn’t work either. Will had said there was no network here. That would explain why her phone stopped working when she was alone in the dark woods.
“Smells delicious!” she said brightly, scraping a chair back across the brick floor and seating herself at the kitchen table.
The home made soup was chock full of vegetables and looked and smelled wonderful, but it had a peculiar acrid aftertaste. Nora tried to ignore it, taking gulps of wine in between each mouthful to eliminate the bitterness. She wished it wasn’t soup in a way, so that she’d be able to surreptitiously palm some of it off onto the dogs that were waiting hopefully under the table. If only Will would leave the room for a minute, but he seemed to be watching her every move.
“Very tasty, but I can’t manage another mouthful, it’s so filling,” she said, but Will looked so offended that she sighed and carried on eating. He topped up her wine glass.
By the time Nora had finished the soup, she felt quite nauseous and stood up quickly to head for the bathroom. The room started to spin and she held on to the edge of the table, but it was no good. The spinning didn’t stop and she crashed to the floor, unconscious.
Smiling with satisfaction, Will stood up and walked around the table to where she lay. Shame he’d had to put her to sleep, really she was quite a nice woman and cute, too, in a funny elfin way. He’d started to like her. Plenty of time to get to know her now, anyway. She wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
He picked her up and carried her to the secret room behind his workshop on the other side of the patio. The walls and floor were thick stone, and there were no windows. He laid her on the bench, locked the door, and went back in the house to fetch blankets and bedding and a pile of books for her to read when she came round. Probably not for a good 24 hours he reckoned, somehow she’d managed to eat all the soup. He would put much less in the next batch, just enough to keep her docile and sleepy.
It would only be for a few days, just long enough for him to find that box and move it to a safer location. He’d been entrusted to make sure the contents of the box were preserved for the people in the future, and he was a man of his word.
If they had listened to him in the first place this would never have happened. Burying a box was a risk: all kinds of possibilities existed for a buried box to be accidentally unearthed. He had suggested encasing the contents inside a concrete statue, but they’d ignored him. Well, now was his chance. He was looking forward to making a new statue.
Well. I did it. I made my escape. I had to! Nobody came for three days and I’d run out of biscuits. Thank the lord my hip wasn’t playing up. I decided not to take anything with me, figuring I could just steal things off washing lines when I wanted a change of clothes. I’ve always hated carrying heavy bags. I reckoned it would look less conspicuous, too. Just an old dear popping out for digestive perambulation. Nobody suspects old dears of anything, not unless they’re dragging a suitcase round, and I had no intention of doing that. I did put a couple of spare masks in my pocket though, you can’t be too careful these days. And it would help with the disguise. I didn’t want any do gooders trying to catch me and take me back to that place.
I had the presence of mind to wear good stout walking shoes and not my pink feather mules, even though it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. I used to love to see them peeping out from under my bath robe. One day I might strike lucky and find another pair.
I’ve been eating like a king, better than ever! I accidentally coughed on someones burger one day, and they dropped it and ran away, and I thought to myself, well there’s an idea. I stuck to random snacks in the street at first and then one day I fancied a Chinese so I thought, well why not give it a try. Coughed all over his brown bag of prawn crackers as he walked out of the restaurant and he put the whole takeaway in the nearest bin. Piping hot meal for six! Even had that expensive crispy duck!
Tonight I fancy sushi. Wish I’d thought of this trick years ago, I said to myself the other day, then my other self said, yeah but it wouldn’t have worked so well before the plague.
Not having much luck with the washing lines though, lazy sods either not doing any laundry or putting it all in the dryer. Weeks of sunny weather as well, the lazy bastards. Lazy and wasteful! You should see the clothes they throw in the clothes bank bins! If the bins are full you can get your arm in and pull out the ones on the top. I change outfits a dozen times a day some days if I’m in the mood. I do sometimes get an urge to keep something if I like it but I’m sticking to my guns and being ruthless about not carrying anything with me.
“Let’s begin,” said the teacher. She was short and seemed around sixty seven. She walked around the room like a tamer surrounded by wild beasts in a circus. Her dark hair was tied into a long braid falling on her straight back like an I. She wore a sari wrapped around her neatly. “I’m Ms Anika Koskinen, your cryogurt teacher today. You’ve got the recipe in front of you on the benches right with the glass and a bottle of water. The ingredients will be in the cabinets on your left and everything is referenced and written big enough for everyone to see.”
“Those benches look like the ones in chemistry class when I was in college,” said Glo. “I have bad memories of thoses.”
“You have bad memories, that’s all,” said Sha making them both laugh.
“How do you want me to know? I was with you since we left the bungalow,” said Sharon who was trying to decipher the blurry letters on the recipe. “Their printer must be malfunctioning, it’s unreadable.”
“You should try putting on your glasses.”
“I didn’t bring’em, didn’t think we’d need to see anything.”
“I saw you! no need to shout,” whispered Mavis loudly. She muttered some excuse to the teacher who had been giving them a stern look.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to go with your friends,” said Ms Koskinen, “We don’t have enough material for everyone.”
The teacher resumed her explanations of the procedure of making frozen yogurt, checking regularly if everyone had understood. She took everyone bobbing their head as a yes.
“You shouldn’t ask us,” said Glo, “our eyes are like wrinkles remover apps.”
“I think he looks better without glasses,” said Mavis.
After Ms Koskinen had finished giving them instructions, she told everyone to go take the ingredients and bring them back to their benches.
“I’m going,” said Sha who wanted to have a better look at the man.
“Don’t forget the recipe with the list of ingredients,” said Mavis waving the paper at her.
She came back with the man helping her carry the tray of ingredients.
“Thank you Andrew,” said Sha when he put the tray on their bench.
“Oh you’re welcome. And those are your friend you told me about?”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Andrew. “I’m Andrew Anderson. I suggested Sharon we could have lunch together after the workshop. I’d like you to meet my friends.”
“Of course!” said Sha. She winked at her friends who were too flabbergasted to speak.
“That’s settled then. We’ll meet at 1pm at my bungalow.”
“See you later,” said Sharon with a dulcet voice.
“What the butt was that all about?” asked Glo.
“Oh! You’ll thank me. I pretexted not to be able to find everything on the list and Andrew was very helpful. The man is charming, and his yacht makes you forget about his Australian accent. We’re going to have lunch on a yacht girls! That means we’re not stuck on the beach and can have some fun exploring around.”
Sha looked quite pleased with herself. She put a bottle of orange powder among the ingredients and said :”Now! Let’s make some wrinkle flattener ice cream, ladies. I took some extra tightener.”
The journey to the Pistil itself would have been worth its own story, thought Charlton. They had to avoid road blocks, crowds of chanting christians that had certainly vowed to spread the virus as fast as possible, and howlers who you were never sure weren’t the real thing from Teen Wolf. They had to be, in such a landscape. Once arid, it had turned greener in just a few weeks. Rain was now weekly when drops of water used to only show up with the bottles of water from the tourists.
Despite Kady’s advice not to take anything, he’d still brought the book of drawings. Kady had said nothing about the book, nor the clothes, or the snacks. Charlton was sometimes literal about what people told him, but he also knew it. So he didn’t say anything when he saw Kady had her own backpack with clothes, some money and food. During the trip, he tried to reproduce the experience with the drawings and the dreams —but nothing happened. Charlton felt a little disappointed.
They saw the pistil long before they arrived at its foot. It was at the end of the day and the sunset was splashing its reds and purples all around it. Charlton had had time to get used to its tall presence in the landscape. Yet, seeing it at a close range from below was a strange experience. Taller than the tallest man-made tower. He wondered what he was supposed to feel in its presence. Awe? Electricity? Enlightenment? Bursts of inspiration? This should at least be a mystical moment, but all he could feel was annoyance at the crowd of people crawling around like aphids avid to suck its sap.
Kady looked more annoyed than surprised. She was walking past the flock as if she knew exactly where to go. Charlton followed, feeling dizzy by the sudden increase of activity and smells. He soon got nauseous at the mix of incense and fried sausages.
“There are so many of them,” he eventually said. “How come? It was so difficult just for the two of us to avoid police controls. Do we have to wait with them?”
“Nah! They’re just the usual bunch of weirdoes,” Kady said. “They’ve been here a long time. I bet some of them aren’t even aware there have been a virus. But stay close. I don’t want to lose you, it’s a maze before the maze. I just need to see someone before we go in.”
They walked for about another ten minutes before stopping in front of a big tent. There, a big man with a boxer’s face was repairing all kind of electronics on a table with the application of a surgeon. Phones, cameras, coffee machines… Charlton wondered how they got electricity to make it all work.
“Hey, Kady!” said the man. “You’re back. Did you give it to her?” His face looked anxious.
“Her favourite perfume,” he said with a broad smile.
“I told you she still loves you. I also brought you something else.” Kady dropped a box on the table among the electronics. Charlton didn’t think it could be possible to witness the expression of a ten year old child on such a hard face, but what was inside the box certainly did magic.
“You brought chocolate?”
“Did you find the chestnut one?”
“My favourite,” said Max to Charlton. “Is this your friend?”
“I told you, you’re always welcome. Did you know she saved my life in there?”
“Saved your life?” asked Charlton looking hesitantly at Kady. “No, I didn’t know.”
They had to stop to get some rest. Rukshan knew the signs, the song of a black swan, a nesting bear in the forest, cubic clouds… All strange omens not to be taken lightly. He told the others they’d better find shelter somewhere and not spend the night outside.
As soon had he make the announcement that he saw the relief on their faces. They’d been enthusiastic for half a day, but the monotony of walking got the better of their motivation, especially the kids who were not used to such long journeys out of the cottage’s safety.
Fortunately they were not far from the Sooricat Inn, a place lost in the woods, it still had four walls, warm food and almost certainly a hot bath. Let’s just hope they’re open, thought the Fae.
When they arrived, the owner, an old man from Sina, looked at them suspiciously.
“Ya’ll have your attestation? I can’t believe ya’re all family. Don’t think I’m a fool, ya’re a Fae, and this little fella there, he’s smaller than the children but has a beard. Never saw anything like him,” he said with rumbling r’s pointing at the children and Gorrash with his chin. The dwarf seemed offended but a stern look from Rukshan prevented him from speaking.
“Anyway,” continued the innkeeper, “I can just sell ya food. Not’ing parsonal. That’s rooles, ya’know with the all stayin’at home thing from Gavernor Leraway, I can not even let ya’in. Ya can buy food and eat it outside if ya want.”
“Oh! I really shouldn’t. I don’t like breaking rooles.”
“I knew you more daring, Admirable Fuyi,” said a booming voice coming from behind them. They all turned around to see Kumihimo. She was wearing a cloak made of green and yellow gingko leaves, her silvery white hair, almost glowing in the dark, cascading beautifully on her shoulders. A grey cat strode alongside her.
“Oh! that’s just the donkey, Ronaldo. It got transformed into a cat after walking directly into a trap to get one of those darn carrots. He knew better, don’t pity him. He got what he deserved.” Kumihimo’s rant got a indignant meow, close to a heehaw, from Ronaldo.
“Kumi! I can’t believe it’s ya!” said the innkeeper.
“You two know each others?” asked Rukshan.
“It’s a long story,” said the innkeeper, “From when I was serving in Sina’s army, we had conquered the high plateaus. I gave up the title of Admirable when I left the army. After Kumi opened my eyes.” Fuyi’s eyes got wet. “Ah! I’m sure I’ll regret it, but come on in, ya’ll. Let me hear yar story after you taste the soup.”
They walked through a labyrinth of tunnels which seemed to have been carved into a rocky mountain. The clicks and clacks of their high heels echoed in the cold silence meeting all of Sophie’s questions, leaving her wondering where they could be. Tightly held by her rompers she felt her fat mass wobbling like jelly around her skeleton. It didn’t help clear her mind which was still confused by the environment and the apparent memory loss concerning how she arrived there.
Sophie couldn’t tell how many turns they took before Barbara put her six fingers hand on a flat rock at shoulders height. The rock around the hand turned green and glowed for two seconds; then a big chunk of rock slid to the side revealing a well designed modern style room.
A little man was working at his desk. At least Sophie assumed it was his desk and that he was working. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bermudas. The computer screen he was looking at projected a greenish tint onto his face, and it made him look just like the green man icon. Sophie cackled, a little at first.
The Doctor’s hand tensed on the mouse and his eyebrows gathered like angry caterpillars ready to fight. He must have made a wrong move because a cascade of sound ending in a flop indicated he just died a death, most certainly on one of those facegoat addictive games.
That certainly didn’t help muffle Sophie’s cackle until she felt Barbara’s six fingers seizing her shoulders as if for a Vulcan nerve pinch. Sophie expected to lose consciousness, but the hand was mostly warm, except for that extra finger which was cold and buzzing. The contact of the hand upon the latex gave off little squeaky sounds that made Sophie feel uncomfortable. She swallowed her anxiety and wished for the woman to remove her hand. But as she had noticed more than once, wishes could take time and twists before they could be fulfilled.
“Why do you have to ruin everything every time?” asked the Doctor. His face was now red and distorted.
“Every time?” said Sophie confused.
“Yes! You took your sleeper agent role too seriously. We couldn’t get any valuable intel and the whole doll operation was a fiasco. We almost lost the magpies. And now, your taste for uncharted drugs, which as a parenthesis I confess I admire your dedication to explore unknown territories for science… Anyway, you were all day locked up into your boudoir trying to contact me while I just needed you to look at computer screens and attend to meetings.”
Sophie was too shocked to believe it. How could the man be so misinformed. She never liked computers and meetings, except maybe while looking online for conspiracy theories and aliens and going to comiccons. But…
“Now you’re so addict to the drugs that you’re useless until you follow our rehab program.”
“A rehab program?” asked Sophie, her voice shaking. “But…” That certainly was the spookiest thing she had heard since she had arrived to this place, and this made her speechless, but certainly not optionless. Without thinking she tried a move she had seen in movies. She turned and threw her mass into Barbara. The two women fell on the cold floor. Sophie heard a crack before she felt the pain in her right arm. She thought she ought to have persevered in her combat training course after the first week. But life is never perfect.
“Suffice!” said the Doctor from above. “You’ll like it with the other guests, you’ll see. All you have to do is follow the protocol we’ll give you each day and read the documentation that Barbara will give you.”
Sophie tried a witty answer but the pain was too much and it ended in a desperate moan.
“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.
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.”FloveParticipant
“I said, wot you ‘oping for? Out of this beauty treatment?” repeated Mavis in a loud hiss.
“Oh, that’s a bloody good question, Mavis. You always were a thinker. I’m not thinking to look twenty again, or anythink like that. It’d be nice but I’m realistic, me. I dunno really … Thirty maybe? Wot you ‘oping for Gloria?”
“I’m thinking we should ‘ave bloody thought this through before! And now, ‘ere we are, sat ‘ere in his bloody waiting room. It’s too bloody late to wonder wot we’re doing ‘ere now! If we go back, that bloody Nurse Trassie will skin us for garters!”
“Blimey, Glor, wot’s got you in a ‘uff?”
“I’m sorry, Luv. I didn’t mean to ‘ave a go. I’m scared is wot it is. I read summink in the fine print just now, about the Doc, wot’s worried me,” said Glor.
“UN-BE-LIE-VA-BLE!” Miss Bossy was flustered. “The cheek of those two!”
She was ranting, rather elegantly, with lipstick and all, as she’d found a little agitation to go a long way in expelling the sluggishness. Her meditation teacher, Lim Monk had told her “Abundance of quantity isn’t going to tempt you into a frenzy of delete, so long as you keep trying”; so she felt compelled to meditate the funk out of this no man’s plot.
“They’ve been there for THREE DAYS, three bloody full days, with wifi and access, and they are only sending news now!”
Ricardo was looking mutely at the scene, not daring to move a muscle.
“Can you believe it, and to say I almost got worried about them!”
“AND Look at the cryptic sheet they send me: QUOTE “Ahoy! Inn food awful, sick icon grin.” UNQUOTE. Now, what should I make of that?”
She walked energetically to Sophie and planted her arms in front of her desk, waking up from her nap.
Sophie blinked twice, and said:
“I know you’re like me, fond about old-fashioned technology, but you should really consider throwing your pager to the waste bin; if you’d been on faecebrook, you’d see Hilda and Connie’s blog is pretty active. Look! They can’t stop posting stuff there, even when they were in the plane…”
The vegetable garden was luxurious and greener after the rain. The trees were trembling with delight in the light afternoon breeze.
“Are you meditating?” asked Rukshan who wanted to get going on the mission already.
“Kinda,” answered Fox without opening his eyes. “I’m using my imagination as a creative tool in order to make the carpenter show up and finish his work.” He breathed in deep and exhaled a humming sound.
“I think you’re mistaken. It’s not about making the other do what you want.”
Fox opened his eyes. “Don’t tell me what to do,” said Fox feeling a tad tense. “It’s a technique transmitted to me by Master Gibbon.”
“I’m just saying…” began the Fae.
“Oh! You’re happy, I can’t meditate now I’m too tense,” Fox bursted out.
“I guess if you got tense that easily, you weren’t that relaxed in the first place.”
Fox got up and squished a courgette. That seemed to put him into even more anger, but Rukshan couldn’t help laughing and Fox couldn’t keep angry very long. He walked on another courgette and laughed.
“I don’t like courgettes,” he said.
“I know. Glynis will not be very happy though if you crush all the vegetables.”
“Yeah. You’re certainly right. When are we leaving?”
“Mr Minn’s nephew, who’s a carpenter, was just visiting in the city and Margoritt asked them if they could help with the carpentry. You know how Mr Minn can’t resist her charms. They have collected the material from the other carpenter and they are coming tomorrow to finish the work. So we’ll be ready to go. I just have to convince Glynis to let Olli come with us.”
“Margoritt is coming back?”
“No. She’ll stay in the city. You know, her knees… and her sister being at the cottage.”
“Oh! I had forgotten about her,” said Fox raising his eyes to the sky.
The aircon was buzzing and Sophie walked in her pajamas through the open space to reach her dreaming base. That’s how she secretly called it. She could feel the eyes of her colleagues following her, and as usual she felt proud to be the center of attention. It didn’t matter that it was jealousy or anything else. People were looking at her and she was doing something different.
Once in her base of operation, she settled on the couch and looked at the brew that had been brought for her. It was her second attempt at remote viewing the Doctor and this time she had requested a bucket and some padding around the sharp corners. She feared a little the unleashing of her wild nature, but in truth she had no idea what to expect. She had read on the Internet that there was nothing to fear and that there would be no side effects, and usually with her natural paranoia she would have double checked before using the drugs, but her obsession with the Doctors had rendered her a little bit… more reckless.
She pinched her nose and swallowed the brew. One gulp. But some of it stayed in her mouth and nausea followed. She didn’t like the taste at all. Then she laid down the couch and waited. The effects weren’t long to come. Space lit up, soon followed by the usual geometrical dynamic animation and the strange floating spirits. One of them looked like her old nanny. She had a hair on her chin and Sophie couldn’t focus on anything else. The hair grew and multiplied on the face, it was soon a forest of wiggling glowing worms growing indefinitely.
After what seemed an eternity to her, she saw the doors. A huge circle made of doors like a giant neckless. Sophie giggled at the typo especially that she could see the neckless giant now below the doors. It was definitely a male, with boobs covered by skulls.
Find the door, she reminded herself. Her thought took the shape of a butterflowck —understand a flow of a flock of butterflies— that rippled in a pond of honey… suckles.
It reached the door and she was sucked in.
“Why are they doing this?” asked a male voice behind her. “They’re supposed to be magpies, not monkeys.”
“I’m not sure,” said a bald woman with six fingers and an ethereal beehive hairdo. The strange thing was that she had a beard.
“Do something quick. I need them operational soon” said the man, “You’re the one controlling them after all,” he added with poison in his voice.
Sophie startled at the name. She turned around and tried to look at the man, but he was headless, or rather pixelated. Shit! I watch too much science fiction, she thought.
“Anyway,” he continued. What are the news on the dolls’ front?”
“We are closing in on the next target, Doctor. It’s a small Inn in Australia where the vortex or probabilities converge. I took the liberty to send another sleeping agent there to steal the key and the list of other addresses from the dollmaker. He’s taking the same airplane as she is.”
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.
Fox had been out hunting wild geese for their diner.
He came back after sunset with three of them, golden. Glynis was sweeping the autumn leaves from the new terrace under the light of fireflies, an endless task. Fox handed her the golden geese.
“They look so beautiful, and so peaceful,” she said, “look at those golden feathers.”
“They are dead,” said Fox with a hint of bitterness. “I’m not plucking them”, he added with a frown.
“I know”, said Glynis. She looked at him with a puzzled look. “Come closer into the light,” she asked him. The fireflies also came closer as if they obeyed her. He came, trying to keep his head down. She touched the bruises on his forehead and tsked. He shivered with pain. “You’ve been fighting again.”
He said nothing. Instead he looked at the patio. The little rainbows were playing around Gorrash’s statue. Despite the sun being set, it was rock still. It had been broken during an attack by Leroway’s men. The shaman had tried to glue the pieces together and Fox had believed she could revive him. But it had remained still for months.
“I miss him too,” said Glynis. “But I’m sure he’s still there inside, or the little rainbows would not stay.”
“You know, a few months ago I would have believed you,” he started, “but it’s been months and nothing has changed.” Fox felt suddenly angry, at nothing and at everything. Anger was better than sadness or pain. But he didn’t want to hurt her so he grunted and walked into the house with the geese and without another word.
Konrad had to cover his brown eyes as he watched the wall collapse.
On his left was the Tower, the one-of-a-kind creation under which the Dark Lord, Garl, swore an oath. The stone from the center fell toward the right with a soft thunk. The walls surrounding the Tower were broken apart by a flash of light.
Konrad continued to the center of the twelve-tiled square he drew onto the floor to make his escape.
Two or three days later, he would meet another of his patrons, the mysterious Surt, who’d come across him first. They talked about the recent events leading up to the Dark Lord having fallen, and the dark rumors that were rampant.
Surt seemed to be one of those who didn’t believe the news. This one had only heard the official stories, but was still somewhat interested. He said, “My apologies for not making the trip to the capital earlier… it was not easy to travel in such close proximity to it.” Surt explained why he came to this place, even though he had no clue on his own.
“So what brought you here?” Konrad asked the giant.
“Surt has something you’ll want to know about the Dark Lord’s sister Nesingwarys.” Surt explained.
“What about her?” asked Konrad.
“She’s a magical girl. That sort of thing. She goes to school with a little girl with some special abilities. I’ve taken a keen interest.” His eyes narrowed. “Her abilities are her own. You know, something with the potential to kill the whole school. She’ll keep you safe. You’ll become her protector and help her survive the Dark Lord. Maybe one or two times. It’s her calling.”
“N-no-it’s not my calling!” Konrad shouted. “My calling is to protect you!”
“Surt is well versed in her abilities, and she has her own reasons not to go down the Dark Lord’s path. She has no interest in the Dark Lord, or anything related to him.”
Konrad replied with a tone of bitterness. “I will help her by keeping my own thoughts hidden, and not talking about it outside of the school.” Konrad walked away to go back and forth between Surt and Soren. Surt continued to watch him with curiosity.
Soren was looking around worried, confused, bewildered.
familiar threads rather realised sign
moving puzzled sounded maeve
walked pleased bed warm wondering ear
others enter given trust longer present
In the white silence of the mountains, Rukshan was on his knees on a yakult wool rug pouring blue sand from a small pouch on a tricky part of the mandala that looked like a small person lifting his arms upwards. Rukshan was just in the right state of mind, peaceful and intensely focused, in the moment.
It was more instinct than intellect that guided his hands, and when he felt inside him something click, he stopped pouring the sand. He didn’t take the time to check if it was right, he trusted his guts.
He held the pouch to his right and said: “White”. Olliver took the pouch of blue and replaced it with another. Rukshan resumed pouring and white sand flew in a thin stream on the next part of the mandala.
After a few hours of the same routine, only broken by the occasional refreshments and drinks that Olliver brought him, the mandala was finished and Rukshan stood up to look at the result. He moved his shoulders to help relieve the tensions accumulated during the hard day of labor. He felt like an old man. His throat was dry with thirst but his eyes gleamed with joy at the result of hours of hard concentration.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olliver with awe in his voice.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Rukshan. He accepted a cup of warm and steaming yakult tea that Olliver handed him and looked at the boy. It was the first time that Olliver had spoken during the whole process.
“Thanks, Olli,” said Rukshan, “you’ve been very helpful the whole time. I’m a little bit ashamed to have taken your whole time like that and make you stand in the cold without rest.”
“Oh! Don’t worry,” said the boy, “I enjoyed watching you. Maybe one day you can teach me how to do this.”
Rukshan looked thoughtfully at the boy. The mandala drew its power from the fae’s nature. There could certainly be no danger in showing the technique to the boy. It could be a nice piece of art.
“Sure!” he said. “Once we are back. I promise to show you.”
A smile bloomed on Olliver’s face.
In the white silence of the mountain, Lhamom sat on a thick rug of yakult wool in front of a makeshift fireplace. She had finished packing their belongings, which were now securely loaded on the hellishcarpet, and decided it was cooking time. For that she had enrolled the young lad, Olliver, to keep her company instead of running around and disturbing Rukshan. The poor man… the poor manfae, Lhamom corrected, had such a difficult task that he needed all his concentration and peace of mind.
Lhamom stirred the content of the cauldron in a slow and regular motion. She smiled because she was also proud of her idea of a screen made of yakult wool and bamboo poles, cut from the haunted bamboo forest. It was as much to protect from the wind as it was for the fae’s privacy and peace of mind.
“It smells good,” said Olliver, looking with hungry eyes at what Lhamom was doing.
“I know,” she said with pride. “It’s a specialty I learned during the ice trek.”
“Can you teach me?” ask Olliver.
“Yes, sure.” She winked. “You need a special blend of spiced roots, and use pootatoes and crabbage. The secret is to make them melt in yakult salted butter for ten minutes before adding the meat and a bucket of fresh snow.”
They continued to cook and talk far all the afternoon, and when dusk came Lhamom heard Rukshan talk behind his screen. He must have finished the mandala, she thought. She smiled at Olliver, and she felt very pleased that she had kept the boy out of the manfae’s way.
Fox listened to the white silence of the mountain during that brief moment, just after the dogs had made it clear, despite all the promises of food, that they would not help the two-leggeds with their plan.
Fox sighed. For an instant, all felt still and quiet, all was perfectly where it ought to be.
The instant was brief, quickly interrupted by a first growl, joined by a second and a third, and soon the entire pack of mountain dogs walked, all teeth out, towards a surrounded Fox. He looked around. There was no escape route. He had no escape plan. His stomach reminded him that instant that he was still sick. He looked at the mad eyes of the dogs. They hadn’t even left the bones from the meat he gave them earlier. He gulped in an attempt to remove the lump of anguish stuck in his throat. There would be no trace of him left either. Just maybe some red on the snow.
He suddenly felt full of resolve and camped himself on his four legs; he would not go without a fight. His only regret was that he couldn’t help his friends go home.
We’ll meet in another life, he thought. Feeling wolfish he howled in defiance to the dogs.
They had stopped and were looking uncertain of what to do next. Fox couldn’t believe he had impressed them.
“Come,” said a voice behind him. Fox turned surprised. On the pile of his clothes stood Olliver.
“How did you,” he yelped before remembering the boy could not understand him.
“Hurry! I can teleport us back to the camp,” said the boy with his arms opened.
Without a second thought Fox jumped in Olliver’s arms and the next thing he knew was that they were back at the camp. But something was off. Fox could see Rukshan busy making his mandala and Olliver was helping him with the sand. Then he could see Lhamom cooking with the help of another Olliver.
Fox thought it might be some case of post teleportation confusion. He looked at the Olliver who helped him escape an imminent death, the fox head slightly tilted on the side, the question obvious in its eyes.
“Please don’t tell them,” said Olliver, his eyes pleading. “It just happened. I felt a little forgotten and wanted so much to be useful.”
Fox turned back into a human, too surprised to feel the bite of the cold air.
“Oh! Your clothes,” said Olliver before he disappeared. Fox didn’t have time to clear his mind before the boy was back with the clothes.
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.
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