“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.
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.”
The latex rompers were shaping her old body in a way she quite enjoyed. It was like being back in her… she counted on her fingers to be sure. To be even surer she counted twice. Yes! It was like being back in the sixties, especially with the choice of colours that had been made by whomever had made the rompers. Her silhouette looked gorgeous, if you didn’t pay too much attention to the bingo wings and the pelican throat. She laughed. It was like seeing a superposition of a younger and an older self. She would have loved the face of Ricardo if he saw her like that. And the beehive haircut, it certainly was a good idea. She wondered if she was still under LSD. But the walls and the beehive hair seemed too solid for that.
A sliding door that she had not noticed before opened.
“Good to see you’re settling in,” said the woman who entered with a puff of bacon smell. “I’m Barbara.” She was holding a tray with a steaming plate of sweet peas and carrots. Sophie always had a sharp eye but couldn’t see any real bacon among the peas and the carrots. She smiled to the newcomer anyway. Barbara had the same latex rompers with the same colours. And she had a beehive haircut.
“Hello! Barbara,” said Sophie. “I like that name. I knew a man once… well not that you’re a man. Are you? Anyway I see you have a beehive haircut too. Am I back in the sixties?” She realised she was a bit confused, not able to finish one sentence or follow a single narrative. But the smell of bacon was so unnerving.
Barbara put the tray on the table.
“Well, no,” she said to Sophie. “It’s just a haircut that I like and it’s very practical for all sort of things.” She reached into hers and got out a pen and a notebook. Sophie lifted her hand to her haircut.
“Do I have?..”
“No dear. But, I need your sign here… just a formality.” Barbara smiled and handed the notebook to Sophie along with the pen. Then she crossed her arms waiting. Her fingers were drumming on her soft pale skin and Sophie couldn’t help but notice that Barbara had six fingers on one of her hands.
“Where am I?” she asked.
Helle Jorid, my Whale friend.
I dreamt I sailed on one of those ancient ships made of wood with no engine other than the wind and man power.
In the dream we were very few and not all there by choice. Chased after by some kind of police force we, a motley bunch of people found ourselves on that ship by chance. I saw one man on the dock pass by and cut the big rope that held the ship still.
As the rope limply hanged from the mooring post, I watched the ship being guided away by the backwash from its mooring place to the ocean. At that moment someone wanted to disembark and I heard myself say : In your dreams! It’s too late we’re on the open sea now.
I think someone mentioned a captain Cook, but I’m not sure as I never saw the guy. Maybe it was merely a cook, but did we really need it? As I went deeper into the ship I found a wonderful meeting room with all the technological comfort of TV sets embedded in the walls and loads of electrical plugs at the end of mechanical arms coming out of these same walls. Surely there were microwave oven and tons of dehydrated food.
But our attention was still on the discovery of the treasures hidden in the heart of that ship. There was a circular sofa set around a nice coffee table. And we all settled comfortably there for a get together, happy we had escaped and seemed safe. None of us thought one second about where the wind and the gulf stream were taking us. I guess anywhere was better than what those men had in store for us.
I woke up. Alone at night. It was dark. My heart was pounding. Is that how we feel when we are in a lock down? I almost wrote placed under house arrest. What’s the difference apart the name to make us think it’s different?
Was the ship the symbol of our longing for freedom? It’s still the same place moving around on water. Even if the place move around, we can’t move away from it and from the flatness of the ocean. I wonder. I wonder if I stayed longer in that dream what would have happened? A storm? An interesting encounter? Like a whale. How would I know unless I write the rest of the story?
I don’t keep track of the days since we have been forcefully encouraged to stay home. I have plenty of carrots and chocolate mousse. Talking of mousse, I might have a mouse keeping me company. Let’s not hope it’s a family. But I heard that animals are coming back into town now that we are all cozy in our burrows. There have been mentions of chicks on the ring road. Not the kind of chick with makeup, the real fluffy and yellow ones. And one of my friends saw a fox roaming the streets while going to the supermarket. I bet he had a bag full of carrots. Now I wouldn’t be surprised having rabbits everywhere with all those carrots around.
I may sound confusing but I guess that’s what being confined does to people. I even had day dreams of birds flying in my bedroom. I swear I really saw one. Well, to be fair I only saw its shadow, but it was a shadow in the air, not on the wall. I wonder what kind of bird it was. My little pinky said it was a finch, the one my mother loved looking at in her garden. She will be part of the numbers soon. Either with her death or with her survival. Now when I think of her I see her surrounded by a bunch of animals. I even saw the fox, but I don’t think it would count amongst the animals I see in town.
Since I’m not trying to be analytic, I’ve found a strange poetry in life around here. People are talking like senators, all trying to give their certainties to the world, but I can tell you nobody knows shit and nobody has a clue. You might as well welcome the virus for some tea to get to know each other and have some interesting stories about yourself and your relation to nature.
I’m raving again. Someone told me a joke recently. The national board of psychologists published a official communiqué because they received too many calls from people. They said it was normal in this time of confinement to talk to the walls or the objects in your house, and to call them only in case the objects talked back.
What would they think if they knew I’m talking to a whale and it’s giving me advice for my writing? I can even hear them as it sends me short audio. I haven’t been able to figure out what they said in the audio though. I’m glad the advice for my writing do come directly translated and not in the form of a whale song. I’m grateful for technology in that case.
Oh and one last mention. A friend told me about the current roller coaster of the stock market. I dreamt of a stocking market. I must say it was very colourful and the seller used their stockings in very creative ways.
Keep the connection going! Talk to you soon Whale. I’ll have to find you a name. My pinky suggested Jorid so it will be my name for you.
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…
Jerk had been tracking all of it. He’d done a nice map of all the location the both of them had travelled, with little animated pins for the dolls they’d collected.
It was a bit difficult to get them all to focus, and by them he didn’t mean the pins.
After Shawn-Paul and Maeve had come back home, their little lives at the building had resumed with some slight changes. For one, he’d finally realized through some fine deductive work worthy of Sherlock that Maeve was the one behind the dolls postings on his website. He was finally sure after a firewall update got her locked out of the website and she requested to get back in. Anyways, that made things easier, although they still mostly exchanged and discussed though the website despite them being front door neighbours on the same floor. But the arrangement was convenient, especially since Shawn-Paul had kind of unofficially moved in with her and Fabio.
He’d invited them in Lucinda’s apartment to do a little old fashioned slide show —Lucinda’s apartment was bigger he’d argued; and all the funny collection of paraphernalia she’d gathered on the walls and cabinets tops was always great to set the mood or do an improvised theme party. For sure, it didn’t have anything to do with the fact he wouldn’t need to clean up and push all the mess in the corners of his own apartment.
Lucinda was all excited. And not just by her new boyfriend Jasper. She wanted to make a book about their expedition, and everybody had immediately rolled their eyes. Books in this century, she must be the last one dinosaur raving about books.
The slide show started by the end. Where the dolls all ended up finally. La Isla de las Muñecas in Mexico: the Island of Dolls.
That’s when they were all appreciating the fitting finish line that the door bell rang.
“I’m here for Jasper.” he said ominously.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Fox. “Let’s do it now. I’ll gather his blocks and pieces together before night falls.” He left the house before anyone could say anything and left the door open. The afternoon was near to its end and the light was dimming fast. Glynis, Rukshan and Eleri soon could hear the cyclical grating noise of the wheelbarrow and the thumping noise of the blocks being loaded.
“I don’t have all the required ingredients,” she said, “That pink clay from Sina, I used it all to lift the jinx on the loo.”
Olliver appeared at that moment. “You need my help?”
“We would if you could go somewhere you have never seen before,” said Rukshan. His panda eyes gave him a really tired look.
“Oh but I can, now,” said Olli. “If you’ve been there, I just need you to say the name and I can follow the vibration back to its origin.”
“My, What have I missed? I’ve been away far too long,” said the fae.
“You certainly have,” said Fox who was back and waiting at the door. The baby snoots, who were never far from the dwarf, had followed and their colourful glows brought an interesting set of nuances to Fox’s aura. “Can someone help me bring all those blocks into the house?”
Eleri would have helped of course, but pain you know, her ankle was so bad at the moment, she couldn’t risk making it worse. Glynis cleared a space and put a table cloth on the floor. “Don’t you make a scratch on my new wooden floor,” she warned the boys who brought the pieces together.
“Wow, the blocks are like magnets, but also different,” said Olliver, “It’s difficult to take one away because they attract each other, but if you bring them too close they repel each other. I can feel it.”
“Yes,” said Rukshan, “the Master creator told me we can’t force the process without the proper requirements.”
Once every pieces were on the table cloth, they all gathered around, even the baby snoots, and they looked at the rocks for a moment. Glynis had lit a few candles since the night had fallen and the light was painting dancing shadows on the walls. Fox’s stomach growled but his attention was all on what Rukshan would say next. They all were.
“So where is this pink clay?” asked Olli who couldn’t wait longer.
“Come on Maeve, you know you can trust me. These secrets are killing me! It’s not like I’m going to write them immediately in my book you know. Believe me I’d like to, but I’m probably going to procrastinate anyway, so telling me is like going to a priest, your Uncle’s secrets are going to be safe.”
She chuckled against her will. There was something endearing in the awkwardness of Shawn-Paul, and if anything he’d been a complete gentleman throughout their stay in the shabby Inn.
She didn’t trust the paper-thin walls however. And especially after the incident where they all blacked out, she wasn’t sure whom to trust. Some of the guests had disappeared too. Highly suspicious.
She’d decided to pack early. She’d found out later after the accident that her Uncle had managed to slip 2 new coupons for their next destination. One extra, in case she wanted to bring someone in.
Two tickets, each one way to Tikfijikoo. Most probably the way to a second doll and its key.
She wondered why it was at all important, she knew all the dolls and what they looked like. She’d made them!
She realized, looking back at the doll she’d managed to steal back from Lucinda, that this particular doll… was not at all imaginary! She had in fact been standing right in front of her all along these past days before leaving off to the mines and disappearing with Mr Sanso: It was a spitting likeness of Ms Idle, the dry drunk hostess of the Inn!
It seems… It was folly to imagine, but… Did she have the power to activate these dolls she’d made, and somehow materialize them?!
She had to be sure.
“Pack your bags, SP, and meet me in the lobby in ten minutes. The cab is picking us up to our next destination. Maybe you’ll get your novel done after all”, she added, with a wink.
It was ridiculous, outrageous even: trapped in a fictional story… Granola couldn’t believe it at first. But the facts were plain and simple. The walls of the glowing red crystal albeit slightly elastic wouldn’t let her pass.
It all started when the Doctor launched his experiment, or at least that’s what she surmised from the past few days of observation from inside the crystal. She got to admit the vantage point was interesting, were it not for the red hue tinting everything in her sight. The Doctor was madder than a mad hatter, and kept very strange company.
At first, she thought it was all inside of a story made up by her friends and that she was safely within the story realm, but of late it seemed it wasn’t as clear cut as it used to be. The Doctor lived in the same dimension as her friends after all; maybe he was the one who’d managed to voyage through dimensions. But Maeve, Shawn-Paul were still in their Australian adventure, at risk from the magpies, and the remote brainwashing; only Lucinda and Jerk were more or less safe for now, but they were trapped in their rut and lacking of inspiration.
When it started, she had immediately noticed the huge bursts of energy, like waves of dark light, and had wished herself at the source of it, to see what was targeting her friends. In turn, it disrupted the evil machinery, and trapped her in the crystal.
Mad as he was, the Doctor wasn’t lacking brains. He’d already figured out there was something special about the crystal, and was spending his days observing it ignoring the distractions provided by his beehived coiffed servant.
She didn’t want to call Ailill for help, this one she’d got to figure out on her own, and fast, or else her friends may soon be in more dire situation.
Barbara’s office was dead silent apart from the regular bips of the machines. The whiteness of the painted walls made it feel like a psych ward. She shivered away the memories that were trying to catch her attention.
It’s been two hours since the Doctor had locked himself up in his rage-release room, a spacious soundproofed room with padded walls. Not even a small window to look inside and check if his anger had subsided. Barbara clearly preferred the trauma of the shouts and cries and the broken plates that were hidden here and there for him to use when he needed most. But when he started his therapy with the AI psych module, the damn bot suggested he built that room in order to release his rage in a more intimate framework.
Now the plates collected dust and the sessions in the room tended to last longer and longer.
Today’s burst of rage had been triggered by the unexpected gathering of the guests at the Inn. The Doctor was drinking his columbian cocoa, a blend of melted dark chocolate with cheddar cheese, when the old hag in that bloody gabardine started her speech. The camera hidden in the eye of the fish by their agent, gave them a fisheye view of the room. It was very practical and they could see everything. The AI engineer module could recreate a 3D view of the room and anticipate the moves of all the attendees.
When that girl with the fishnet handed out the keys for all to see and the other girl got the doll out, the Doctor had his attention hyper-focused. He wanted to see it all.
Except there had been a glitch and images of granola cookies superimposed on the items.
“Send the magpies to retrieve the items,” he said, nervousness making his voice louder.
“Ahem,” had answered Barbara.
“What?” The Doctor turned towards her. His eye twitched when he expected the worst, and it had been twitching fast.
She had been trying to hide the fact that the magpies had been distracted lately, as she had clearly been herself since she had found that goldminer game on facebush.
No need to delay the inevitable, she had thought. “The magpies are not in the immediate vicinity of the Inn.” In fact, just as their imprinting mother was busy digging digital gold during her work time, the magpies had found a new vein of gold while going to the Inn and Barbara had thought it could be a nice addition to her meager salary… to make ends meet at the end of the month.
It obviously wasn’t the right time to do so. And she was worried about the Doctor now.
To trump her anxiety, she was surfing the internet. Too guilty to play the gold miner, she was looking around for solutions to her boss’s stress. The variety and abundance of advertisement was deafening her eyes, and somewhere in a gold mine she was sure the magpies were going berserk too. She had to find a solution quickly.
Barbara hesitated to ask the AI. But there were obviously too many solutions to choose from. Her phone buzzed. It was her mother.
“I finally found the white jade masks. Bought one for you 2. It helps chase the mental stress away. You clearly need it.” Her mother had joined a picture of her wearing the mask on top of a beauty mask which gave her the look of a mummy. Her mother was too much into the woowoo stuffs and Barbara was about to send her a polite but firm no she didn’t want the mask. But the door of the rage-room opened and the Doctor went out. He had such a blissful look on his face. It was unnatural. Barbara had been suspecting the AI to brainwash the Doctor with subliminal messages during those therapy sessions. Maybe it also happened in the rage-room. The AI was using tech to control the Doctor. Barbara would use some other means to win him back.
OK. SEND IT TO ME QUICK. she sent to her mother.
“It is a rather peculiar mystery indeed, don’t you think.” Liz leaned suggestively towards the Inspector. He had insisted to keep his trench-coat on, which for some reason she was finding incredibly alluring. It reminded her of all the fun she had in the past, playing her favourite character, Becky in tarty nun’s outfit. She made a mental note for the next costumed party.
“Some peanuts, Inspector?”
“Good gracious, no. I’m terribly allergic to nuts, but I’m partial to your delicious canapés.”
After a mouthful of tarragon cod pâté with capers, Walter leaned back and a little further from Liz and said “Mmm, delicious. Well, it is indeed quite a good mystery you’ve chosen to write about. All these keys, I love the idea. It sounds out of a spy novel, but I do wonder what are the connections, you see, in most crimes I’ve solved in the past,” he cleared his throat, taking the glass of red wine Finnley had just brought “there is always a good chance the culprit is closer than you know. The skill is always to find the hidden connection.”
“Aaah. I’m so glad you’re saying that Walter, I was telling them the same no later than this morning!”
She took a random ramekin from the coffee table “some peanuts?”.
Sometimes, you have to go underground to uncover the truth.
Rukshan thought it meant taking the new underground carts once only.
Frankly, he’d preferred to travel through the familiar Shadow Maps, the ones Dark Faes like him could draw, that would give them access to a secret parallel world of mist and phantoms, shadows and secrets. It was the true world the Faes originated from, long ago, in a time before history.
It wasn’t used much nowadays, most Centenial Faes having lost the capacity, or the interest in the place, leaving only bitter unsavoury people creeping there, spying on secrets, and trading in for favours, while being too afraid to leave the known parallel world, too afraid that if they left it, they’d lose the way back.
For Rukshan and a few in the Queen’s lineage, the place was still more or less of a familiar dwelling, a winter residence of sorts, for when solace and retreat was required.
Only the Shadow Maps weren’t safe any longer, something had crept along the lay lines and was lurking at every corner, keeping guard at most of the known entrances and reporting to some unknown power.
Few moons back, Rukshan was still meditating in the Shadow world, not very far from the work at the cottage, which he could hear at times through the thin dimensional walls, when he came across Konrad. Konrad, another Fae from the Old Houses, one with a heavy secret. “I’ve hidden her from him” he told him in short broken sentences. “His daughter, Nesingwarys, she is hidden for now, but He’ll be looking for her, once He recovers, and she won’t be safe. He can’t find her, I have to protect her, she holds power to bring his reign of terror back.”
Truly, it didn’t make a lot of sense, but it had picked his curiosity. Rukshan left the other Fae to his apparent madness, but wondered about the coincidence. That Garl, the name Konrad gave to the dark fallen monarch, according to what he could piece together, seemed to have been vanquished or disappeared about the same time they’d all managed to repel the Shadow in the Forest.
He would usually have left it at that, but then, a few days later, started to realize something was wrong in the Shadow world, and that this very something was growing.
“And now, I’m stuck in an underground cart crammed full of people to go to the city. And they call that progress…”
A bearded guy smelling of piss and wine, was doing acrobatics with his crutches and what was left of his left leg. He was looking at people with a half-toothed grin and a blissful face while muttering things Rukshan couldn’t figure. His face reminded him of a thespian he’d known. Rukshan couldn’t shake the feeling there was message in that. When the underground cart dinged to announce the Grand Belfrey Station, Rukshan was relieved to finally be out for fresh air. Magnificent craftsmanship he would say to the gnomes in charge of the tunnels, but really, underground cart wasn’t his thing.
The Voodoo witch’s lair was surprisingly well furnished, nestled underground, accessed through a staircase hidden beneath the bema of a derelict church.
The decor wouldn’t have been to Arona’s tastes, Mandrake thought, but he wasn’t one to judge human likes. There were baroque displays of gaudy drapes, golden chains hanging from the walls, shrines dripping in red ointments with grotesque painted figures, and the usual paraphernalia one would expect in a Voodoo Witch’s lair. To a cat’s eye, all looked actually quite comfy.
The setting had made an impression on the boy, and Albie was standing like a statue mesmerized by the shadows on the walls cast by the waving candles’ flames.
“Have you brought ‘em my boy?” the rich voice of the priestess asked from the cabriolet armchair arranged under an extravagant canopy.
Mandrake pushed the boy aside, and dangled the bag of pearls in front of her.
“They’re yours as soon as you fulfill your end of our deal.”
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.
Fox’s stomach growled and resonated on the cave’s walls. He feared it would awaken the others. It was cold and he curled up inside his ten blankets made of yak wool, tempted to turn into a fox to get extra fur.
After being caught in a snowstorm, they had found a cave with a frozen toothless body. Rukshan had used incense and chanting to perform a commummycation spell, and to everyone’s surprise, Lhamom’s voice came out of the toothless frozen mouth. It was feeble and was full of sharp crystalline harmonics that made Fox’s grind his teeth. Because the commummycation was bad, Rukshan had to lean closer, almost touching its face. Fox shivered incontrollably, unable to know if it was of disgust or of cold.
Rukshan told them that Lhamom had been rescued by a hellishcopter from the underworld and was on her way to extract them from the ice. He seemed as puzzled as Fox, but their guide seemed to know the strange beast and assumed their friend was blessed because hellishcopters were not known to help strangers.
Dogs barked in the distance. Fox winced and wondered why he came to the mountain. He wished he could be back to simple cottage life in the enchanted forest. Then he recalled it was not that simple at the moment and he wondered how their friends were dealing with their own problems.
He couldn’t sleep, like the previous nights and he didn’t dare go to far from the camp to relieve his bowels by fear of the hungry dogs.
He also had had dreams. Strange dreams of master Gibbon’s home in the forest threatened by dozens of bulls with bright red eyes running angrily toward his unaware master. Each time Fox woke up when the bulls were about to crush the hut and master Gibbons opened his eyes, his face hurling towards Fox. Afterwards he never could go back to sleep. So he waited. He waited for their friend Lhamom to arrive as she promised.FloveParticipant
Maeve sighed loudly—something she had been doing an awful lot of lately—and checked the time on her phone. If she left now and really hurried it would only take 5 minutes to get to the cafe. On the other hand if she took her time … well, with any luck the others would have already moved on.
Not that she didn’t like Lucinda, on the contrary she enjoyed her neighbour’s gregarious nature and propensity to talk amusing rubbish — usually in public and at the top of her voice which would cause Maeve to look around nervously and lower her own voice in order to compensate.
Maeve had made peace with her own introversion years ago. In order to survive with a semblance of normality, she had cultivated an outward calm which belied the activity going on in her head. The downside of this was she suspected she came across to others as muted and dull as the beige walls of her apartment. The upside was it allowed her to hide in plain sight; and she considered this to be a very handy trait. In truth, Maeve was one who liked many and few; she would happily talk to people, if she knew what on earth to say to them.
‘Anyway,’ Maeve reasoned, ‘I have to finish the doll.’
She looked with satisfaction at her latest creation; a young boy wearing a vintage style buzzy bee costume. She had painstakingly sewn, stuffed and painted the cloth doll and then sanded the layers of paint till he looked old and well worn. ‘He looks like he has been well loved by some child,’ she mused. There was just one more step remaining before applying a protective coat of varnish and seating him on the shelf next to the others.
She went to the kitchen drawer. In the 3rd drawer down there was a cardboard box of old keys. Most of the keys didn’t fit anything in her apartment; in fact she had no idea where they came from. Except one. She picked out a small gold key and went to the writing desk in the lounge, a heavy dour piece of furniture with a drop-front desk and various small drawers and cubby holes inside. Maeve unlocked one of these drawers with the key and pulled out a small parcel.
‘Only 3 parcels to go,’ she thought with relief.
A small section of the stitching was unfinished on the back of Bee Boy, just enough to squeeze the package inside and then rearrange the stuffing around it. With neat stitches Maeve sewed up the seam.
She checked the time. It had taken twenty six minutes.
“Want to go for a walk to see Aunty Lulu and her nice new friends? See what she is going on about decorating?” she asked Fabio, her pekingese.TracyParticipant
Lucinda could hear the neighbours dog whining through the thin walls between the apartments, but she liked the dog, and she liked her neighbour Maeve, so the noise was a comfort rather than a bother. Moments earlier a movement from the window had caught her eye: fleetingly it looked like some sort of dust devil or whirlwind of dry leaves. Perhaps that was what had upset Caspar.
She went out onto the kitchen balcony and looked across at Maeve’s identical balcony and called softly to the dog. He came sidling out looking guilty, with a lowered head and nervous tail wag. Lucinda noticed that her neighbours tomato plants were ripening nicely, while her own were still hard shiny green, thanks to the shade of the big oak tree. A blessing in some ways, keeping the hot afternoon sun off the kitchen, but not so good for the tomatoes. Not that it was particularly hot so far this summer: glancing down she noticed the guy from the apartment on the other side of Maeve was wearing a scarf as he sauntered out onto the sidewalk. Surely it’s not cold enough for a scarf, though, thought Lucinda. Still, perhaps he’s just wearing it because it matches his socks. A trifle vain, that one, but a nice enough fellow. Always a ready friendly smile, and Maeve said he was quiet enough, and never complained about her dog.
Lucinda had been passing by one day as Shawn-Paul had opened his door, and she couldn’t help but notice all his bookcases. He’d noticed her looking ~ she hadn’t been subtle about her interest and was trying to peer round him for a better look inside ~ and he’d invited her to come round any time to borrow a book, but that he was late for an appointment, and didn’t have time to invite her inside that day. Lucinda wondered why she’d never gone back, and thought perhaps she would. One day. One of those things that for some reason gets put off and delayed.
There was nothing Lucinda liked more than to find a new ~ or a newly found old ~ book, and to randomly open it. The synchronicities invariably delighted her, so she did know a thing or two about the benefits of timing ~ otherwise often known as procrastination. When she did decide to visit Shawn-Paul and look at his books, she knew the timing would be right.
“Don’t lean on me man, la la la la, synchronicity city…” she started singing an old Bowie song that popped into her head from nowhere, barely aware that she was changing the words from suffragette to synchronicity.
Meanwhile unbeknown to Lucinda, Shawn-Paul had just rounded the corner and bumped into the gardener, Stan, who was on his way to the apartments to mow the lawns. They exchanged pleasantries, and patted each others shoulders in the usual familiar friendly way as they parted. The two guys were not friends per se, they never socialized together, but always enjoyed a brief encounter outside with an easy pleasant greeting and a few words. Shawn-Paul always inquired about Stan’s family and so on, and Stan often complemented Shawn-Paul’s scarves.
Granola, temporarily rustling around in the big oak tree, noticed all of this and immediately recognized the connecting links, and peered eagerly at the three people in turn to see if they had noticed. They hadn’t. Not one of them recalled the time when they were all three suffragettes chained to the railings near an old oak tree.
Roberto had gone to the swimming pool. He was mostly puzzled by how reality had shifted into those broken pieces that didn’t seem to fit together since he had come back from that strange tunnel with all the roots spawning strange characters from glowing pink bubbly growth.
It must have something to do with the pink liquid leaking frrrrom those strrrange pouches, he thought.
He looked pensively at the swimming pool. Half of it was covered by thick ice while the other half was boiling with micro bubbles rising from the bottom and the walls, and steam slowly rising in the cool spring air.
Roberto had first thought there might be something wrong with the water cleaning mechanism of the swimming pool, but he had checked it and nothing was wrong, except the cleaning bot was stuck in the icy part of the swimming pool.
His second thought had been that it was a fancy pool cover installed by la señora Liz. But he didn’t find the retracting mechanism. La señora Liz and la muchacha Finnley, his colleague, seemed busy with the man with the moustache. Roberto had the impression the man wanted to find a wife, he didn’t want to intrude and say anything. He had tried to talk to el mayordomo Geoffrey, but he was busy again preparing another viaje de negocios for la señora.
So Roberto was there pondering in front of the swimming pool. That’s when he noticed the entrance of the green maze just on the other side of the pool, at the junction between summer and winter. He didn’t remember if it was there before.
That sunny day would be remembered as the day the doline shook and trembled.
The geckoes fell from their rock, cutting all communication between the inhabitants of the hidden world. The vibrations coming from leperchauns know where had swiftly spread into the walls down to the deepest cracks and hidden chambers of the back cave far deeper than any of the inhabitants of the doline dared to show their noses. And Most of them weren’t aware at all of all that empty dark and cold and wet space. At some point, the vibrations gathered and rebounded into the bottom of the deepest caves and came back out in a roar that might have take the inhabitants’ hats off, if they wore hats.
The bats flew away into the sunlight, blinded and deafened, bumping into each others as their fabulously acute sense of hearing was overwhelmed by the vibrations and the rich harmonics generated in the crystal chambers down below. Some fell, spiraling down as if they had been shot by some anti aerial defense. They fell in the cockroach arena and into the reservoir of dung gathered by the dung beetles, almost crushing Daisy in the process. Her father caught her safe and rolled her like the little dung beetle she was.
The rats ran away spreading panic like plague, and while some tried to take advantage of the confusion to steal others food, when the vibration kept on shaking the ground around them and stalactites fell like fringe hail exploding into thousands projectiles, they began to fear.
It took some time for the dust and noise to settle down, long after the vibration had ceased. All the inhabitants of the doline had gathered on the edge of the entrance, not knowing if it was safe to go back home.
Hugo the Gecko wondered like many of the others.
What just happened? What if it happened again? Somebody had to volunteer to go see what it was that made that noise.
But no one came forth, all too shocked by the recent events. You could even hear some calling their families or friends.
Hugo didn’t feel up to the task, he was too small and fragile. What if another of those big rocks fell on his soft and elastic body? It would explode like a water bomb. Except the puddle would be red. Yet, when he saw little Daisy desperately looking for her mother, something rose in him. Something he had never felt before. Some might call it courage, but Hugo didn’t have a name for it. All he knew was that he entered the doline and went down to the flat stone, calling his gecko friends on the way to follow him. Dragged along by that strange emotion that was moving their friend, they followed and listened to him when he gave them a few instructions. They resumed their place on the stone, except this time Hugo was at the center and began to draw something.
The inhabitants of the doline had looked not understanding what the geckoes were doing, calling them reckless idiots to venture back into the broken world. But they looked at the strange shapes appearing on the flat stone at the center of the doline.
Suddenly a voice came out of the crowd. “It’s me! I’m here!” she said and waved her little beetle legs. “Daisy, Mummy’s here!”
Then everybody wanted to pass a message and the geckoes felt they were making a difference.
Despite the agitation, Hugo kept wondering. What happened? Someone has to go and see.
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