Nora moves silently along the path, placing her feet with care. It is more overgrown in the wood than she remembers, but then it is such a long time since she came this way. She can see in the distance something small and pale. A gentle gust of wind and It seems to stir, as if shivering, as if caught.
Nora feels strange, there is a strong sense of deja vu now that she has entered the forest.
She comes to a halt. The trees are still now, not a leaf stirs. She can hear nothing other than the sound of her own breathing. She can’t see the clearing yet either, but she remembers it’s further on, beyond the next winding of the path. She can see it in her mind’s eye though, a rough circle of random stones, with a greenish liquid light filtering through. The air smells of leaf mould and it is spongy underfoot. There’s a wooden bench, a grassy bank, and a circular area of emerald green moss. Finn thinks of it as place of enchantment, a fairy ring.
She reaches the tiny shivering thing and sees that it is a scrap of paper, impaled on a broken branch. She reaches out gently and touches it, then eases if off the branch, taking care not to rip it further. There is a message scribbled on the paper, incomplete. meet me, is all it says now
The crumpled up paper among the dead leaves beside the path catches her eye. No, not impaled on a branch but still, a bit of paper catches her eye as the mysterious ~ ephemeral, invisible ~ story teller continues softly telling her tale
Finn feels dreamy and floaty. She smiles to herself, thinking of the purpose of her mission, feeling as though it is a message to her from the past. She is overwhelmed for a moment with a sense of love and acceptance towards her younger self. Yes, she whispers softly to the younger Finn, I will meet you at the fairy ring. We will talk a bit. Maybe I can help
But wait, there is no meaningful message on the crumpled paper that Nora picks up and opens out. It’s nothing but a shopping receipt. Disappointed, she screws it back up and aims to toss it into the undergrowth, but she hesitates. Surely it can’t have no meaning at all, she thinks, not after the strange whispered story and the synchronicity of finding it just at that moment. She opens it back up again, and reads the list of items.
Olive oil, wine, wheat, garum…. wait, what? Garum? She looks at the date on the receipt ~ a common enough looking till roll receipt, the kind you find in any supermarket ~ but what is this date? 57BC? How can that be? Even if she had mistranslated BC ~ perhaps it means British Cooperative, or Better Compare or some such supermarket name ~ the year of 57 makes little sense anyway. And garum, how to explain that! Nora only knows of garum in relation to Romans, there is no garum on the shelves between the mayonaisse and the ketchup these days, after all.
Nora smooths the receipt and folds it neatly in half and puts it in her pocket. The shadows are long now and she still has some distance to walk before the halfway village. As she resumes her journey, she hears whispered in her ear: You unlocked the blue diamond mode. You’re on a quest now!
Smiling now, she accelerates her pace. The lowering sun is casting a golden light, and she feels fortified.
“Can’t we sit down over there for a minute? My feet are bloody killing me.” April nodded towards a park bench; she didn’t have much patience today for June and her philosophising, after all, wasn’t it June’s fault they were in this mess? “It’s too bad we can’t even afford the bus fare,” she grumbled as she settled herself on the wooden seat.
“Not too much further,” said June plonking down next to her.
April bent down to take off her socks and sneakers and massaged her grateful feet in the damp grass. “Think I’ve got a blister. And I’d kill for a cuppa tea. I do hope Finnley has kept on top of things.”
June snorted. “Not bloody likely. Anyway, while we’ve been walking I’ve been thinking … what if we sue?”
“No, you idiot, not, who Sue. I mean what if we sue for money? Sue the president for wrongdoings which have been done to us.”
“Oh!” April perked up. “There’s certainly been plenty of wrongdoings!”
June smiled smugly. “Exactly.”
“You really know your trade, Fuyi,” said Rukshan. “You’ve built the most exquisite and comfortable place. And I think the empty dishes speak aplenty about the quality of the food and the pleasure we took in this shared meal. Now, let us help you with the dishes,” said Rukshan.
“Ach! Don’t be so polite,” said Fuyi. “I’ll have plenty of time after yar departure tomorrow. It’s not like the inn is full. Just enjoy an evening together, discuss yar plans, and have some rest. I know that life. Take the chance when it presents itself!”
The Sinese food made by the innkeeper had been delicious and quite a first for most of them. Tak had particularly enjoyed the crunchy texture of the stir fried vegetables flavoured with the famous five spices sauce. Nesy had preferred the algae and chili dishes while Fox, who ate a red hot pepper thinking it was bell pepper, had stuffed himself with juicy pork buns to put out the fire in his mouth.
Gorrash, befuddled by the novelty, had been at a loss of labels, good or bad. He simply chose to welcome the new experiences and body reactions to flavours and textures. As for Olliver, he gave up the chopsticks when he saw how fast Fox made the food disappear from the dishes.
Now that the dishes were empty, the children and Gorrash had left the table and were playing near the fireplace. Olliver was looking at the trio with envy, split between the desire to play and enjoy the simplicity of the moment, and the desire to be taken more seriously which meant participate in the conversation with the adults.
“We have plenty to discuss, Fae,” said Kumihimo.
Fuyi looked at Olliver, recognising the conundrum. “That’s settled, then,” he said to the group. Then turning toward Olliver: “Boy! I’m sure the start of the conversation will be boring for a young mind. Let’s join the others for a story of my own. You can still come back later and they’ll fill you in on the details.”
Fuyi and Olliver moved to the fireplace. The innkeeper threw cushions on the floor and sat on a wooden rocking chair. At the mention of a story, Tak, Nesy and Gorrash couldn’t contain their exuberant joy and gathered all ears around Admirable Fuyi. As he rocked, the chair creaked. He waited until they all calmed down. And when he was satisfied he started.
“I was young and still a fresh recruit in the Sinese army,” started Fuyi. “We were stationed at the western frontier just below the high plateaus and I hadn’t participated in any battle yet. With the folly of youth I thought that our weapons and the bond we shared with my fellow soldiers were enough to defeat anything.”
I’ve been up since god knows what time. Got up for the loo and couldn’t face going back to the awful nightmares. That girl that came yesterday said she’d been having nightmares, she said it was common now, people having nightmares, what with the quarantine. I think I might have just snorted at the silly girl, but when I woke up last night I wondered if it was true. Or maybe I’m just a suggestible old fool.
Anyway, I stayed up because lord knows I don’t want to be in a city in America at night, not waking and not dreaming either. I’ve had a feeling for a long time, and much longer than this virus, that it was like a horror movie and it would behoove me not to watch it anymore or I’d be having nightmares. I didn’t stop watching though, sort of a horrified fascination, like I’d watched this far so why stop now.
In the dream I was on a dark city street at a bus stop, it was night time and the lights were bright in a shop window on the other side of the sidewalk. I had a bunch of tickets in my hand all stapled together, but they were indecipherable. I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Then I noticed the man that was by my side, a stranger that seemed to have latched on to me, had stolen all my tickets and replaced them with the rolled up used ticket stubs. I made him give me back my tickets but then I knew I couldn’t trust him.
Then I realized I hadn’t finished packing properly and only had a ragged orange towel with bloodstains on it. So I go back home (I say home but I don’t know what house it was) to pack my bags properly, and find a stack of nice new black towels, and replace the bloody orange one.
I’m walking around the house, wondering what else I should pack, and one room leads into another, and then another, and then another, in a sort of spiral direction (highly improbable because you’d have ended up back in the same room, in real life) and then I found a lovely room and thought to myself, What a nice room! You’d never have known it was there because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere and didn’t seem to have a function as a room.
It was familiar and I remembered I’d been there before, in another dream, years ago. It had lovely furniture in it, big old polished wooden pieces, but not cluttered, the room was white and bright and spacious. Lovely big old bureau on one wall, I remember that piece quite clearly. Not a speck of dust on it and the lovely dark sheen of ancient polished oak.
Anyway in the dream I didn’t take anything from the room, and probably should have just stayed there but the next thing I know, I’m in a car with my mother and she races off down the fast lane of an empty motorway. I’m thinking, surely she doesn’t know how to take me where I have to go? She seemed so confident, so out of character the way she was driving.
I got up for the loo and all I kept thinking about was that awful scene in the city street, which admittedly doesn’t sound that bad. I won’t bother telling the girl about it when she comes to do my breakfast, it loses a little in the telling, I think.
But the more I think about that lovely room at the end of the spiral of rooms, the more I’m trying to wrack my brains to remember where I’ve seen that room before. I’ve half a mind to go back there and open that dark oak bureau and see what’s inside.
Mater has started a fitness regime to make sure she lives long enough to make the milestone. She said if it had all happened a couple of years ago she wouldn’t have minded whether she popped off or not, but now that she was this close, she wasn’t going to be robbed of her glory.
It was hard to see the glory in that lumpy old flesh wobbling around the front yard, or why anyone would be interested in robbing her of it still less, but she was determined, and there was no putting her off. And it’s not just the jogging. I thought we had a swarm of bees on the porch yesterday and went out to investigate and it was Mater, sitting there on the wooden floor in an awkward parody of a guru pose babbling some Om sounds and humming. And that wasn’t the worst of it either, she was wearing a fuchsia pink leotard.
It wasn’t such a bad day, thought Olliver, and it might even be a good day. The birds are singing, we saw a boar and a few deers already. Animals are getting back and they don’t seem to fear the humans so much.
Rukshan was walking first and Fox was following him with a heavy backpack. Tak and Nesy were mostly playing around and marvelling at everything their path crossed. Olliver envied their innocence, the innocence he had lost not so long ago.
Except the animals and the two guards they had to hide from, the day had mostly been uneventful and Olliver’s mind was wandering off into the mountain where he could feel useful and strong. He felt strangely blissed and suddenly had the impulse to walk toward a patch of yellow flowers.
“STOP! Pay attention where you walk,” said Rukshan. “Come back to your left two feet and walk straight. I told you to follow my every steps.”
“Okay, uncle Ruk!” said Olliver a bit ashamed to have been caught not paying attention.
“I don’t understand,” said the Fae. “Glynis’s potion doesn’t seem to work for you. The aetherical tentacles around the traps don’t seem to detect us but only you, and you also seem susceptible to their power to attract you. It’s not the first time I had to warn you.”
The Fae could see the etherical traps and especially the free flowing tentacles or the tension lines attached to trees, stones, wooden posts, anything that would cross a trail at different heights. With the potions they should be impervious to detection and affections by the traps. Olliver hadn’t thought that far. He had thought that by following them he could manage not to be caught. Right now, he feared more Rukshan’s piercing eyes than the traps. He looked at Fox involuntarily.
“It’s my fault,” said Fox looking a bit contrite. Sweat was pearling on his face. “It’s becoming too dangerous for Olli so I must confess something.” He put his heavy bag on the floor and opened it and a dwarf’s head peered timidly out.
“By the fat belly of the giants! What made you do such a stupid thing?”
“You didn’t think at all!” said the Fae. “The potions were not just for the fun of drinking something pungent and bitter with the taste and texture of yak wool.”
“Leave me out of this teleportation stuff!” said Gorrash.
“What an idea! But I already thought of that my little friend. You two are going to to back.”
“No we’re not! If you make us go back we’ll follow you from a distance.”
“Oh You, I’m sure it’s your idea,” started Rukshan.
“No, it’s mine,” said Olliver. “Uncle Fox had almost convinced Gorrash it was better to stay, but I couldn’t let him be stay behind after just being reborn. You said it once, we don’t leave our friends behind.”
“I’m sure it was under another set of circumstances,” countered the Fae.
“Anyway you see the traps, I can follow your instructions. And if there is any fever problem I can teleport Gorrash back to the cottage.”
“I do not totally agree with you but I see you have learned to make an argumentation.”
Fox felt the Fae relax. “Agreed, you come with us to the Great Lakes to meet the Graetaceans and you’ll follow what I tell you to do from now on. I’ll treat you as a responsible adult.”
“Yay! We’ll meet the Graetaceans!” said Nesy.
“Olli and Gorrash will stay with us,” said Tak jumping around his friends with such a broad smile. Rukshan thought he was growing too soft on them all, with the new generation growing he started to feel his own age.
The first thing the dwarf did was a finger of honor. “Take that darn blubbit queen!” he shouted before he crumbled butt naked down on the wooden floor surrounded by his former golden carapace. His skin was still glowing with a strange lucent light.
“What did he say?” asked Fox.
“What’s a blubbit?” asked Olliver.
Glynis put her hands on the baby snoots eyes, but there were too many of them and she only had two hands.
“Have you seen his skin?” asked Eleri.
“Well yes, he’s butt naked,” said Kumihimo.
Gorrash had had time to clear his mind and started to realise they were all looking at him.
“I mean, he HAS a skin now,” insisted Eleri. “Smooth and… all that comes with it. Not his former rocky mossy textured whatever it was before even after daylight.”
The dwarf who never had to worry about his own modesty before couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of that simple fact. “Am I still dreaming?” His stomach growled and he looked surprised at his belly. “Am I starving?” Fox laughed.
Glynis brought the dwarf a blanket, and he marvelled at the roughness of it on his new skin. They all started to talk at the same time, wanting to know about the blubbits, about the new skin, asking Kumihimo and Rukshan how it was possible.
“I don’t know,” they both said.
“Well! I don’t know about you, but now that he has skin he can certainly appreciate some champagne with us!” said Margoritt, trotting to the kitchen. She came back with a bottle and a sabre. “Who wants to crack it open?”
“How can he eat so much?” would ask Eleri later.
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.”
“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.
“This is mine,” said the *Man In Black (MIB) as he wrestled the waterbottle from the grip of a small boy. “You are welcome to the mangled bike though,” he said as the boy started to whimper. “Maybe you can fix it up.”
After a quick glance to make sure nobody was watching, MIB yanked off his waxed moustache and put it in the top pocket of his Louis Vuitton tux with black satin trimmings. He opened his briefcase and carefully deposited the waterbottle inside. Finally, he pulled out a wooden top beanie and placed it on his head.
He raised his arm to his mouth. “Good to go,” he said into his writstwatch.
[* (for Tracy) Maeve thought she saw a man in black following them at the airport. He supposedly went back to his headquarters, however turns out that was a ruse and now he is in possession of the waterbottle containing the doll. don’t ask me which doll. Maybe Eric knows.]
“I’m not sure this was a good idea,” said Shawn-Paul as the taxi driver sped away tooting and shouting, ‘good luck, you’re gunna need it!’
Maeve investigated the gate. “It certainly looks impenetrable … and the barbed wire fence is too high to scale… but, hey, who is writing this? Do you know?”
“Lucinda, I think … “
“Oh well In that case there is bound to be a propeller thingy somewhere and we can fly over the fence.”
Agent X’s admiring look stopped Agent V in her tracks.
“Oh, Agent X,” she simpered, uncharacteristically, with a sly glance at the groin she had moments ago headbutted. There was no denying her head had met with something substantial and hard. Without thinking, she rubbed her head, and then blushed.
“The wooden top hides the propeller ,
I only said it was a local tradition because those suspicious looking tourists were within earshot.”
“Hides the propeller?” asked Agent V.
“Shhh! Help me carry this mangled bike back to my digs and I’ll explain,” he replied. And then he winked. “We might even have time for a quickie, if you’re up for it.”
“You forget, Agent X, I have lived on *Tifi my whole life. It is most certainly not a local tradition to wear a beanie with a wooden top. Now, tell me? What’s really going on?”
Agent X leaned on the mangled bicycle and stared silently at V. “It’s good to see you. I’d forgotten how hot you are when you are being assertive,” he said at last.
- The locals call the island Tifi.
“Agent X? I thought you were in New Zealand,” gasped Veranassessee helping him up.
“Keep your mouth shut,” he hissed at her and then moaned in pain. “I’m working undercover. Where is my beannie with the wooden top?”
Veranassessee snapped her phone shut, put it in her pocket and turned to hail a taxi. As she spotted one coming around the corner she lunged forward with her arm out to flag him down and slipped on a rolling apple in the gutter. Her extended arm got caught in the spokes of a passing bicycle, and she ended up headbutting the cyclist in the groin, before somersaulting right over the bike and landing head first in the ice cream vendors street cart. The innocent cyclist doubled over, his strange beannie hat with the wooden top getting caught in the mangled wheel spokes.
“That is unfortunate,” said Rukshan when Fox told him about the dogs’ answer. They were all gathered around the fire on rough rugs for a last meal before activating the portal. For a moment shadow and light struggled on Rukshan’s face as the flames of the fire licked the woods, making it crack and break. A few sparkles flew upward into the dark starry night.
Lhamom used the magic metal spoon to serve steaming soup in carved wooden bowls, and Olliver was doing the service.
When he took his, Fox felt a chilly breeze find its way past his blanket. He shivered, put the bowl on the carpet in front of him and attempted to readjust the yakult wool blanket in a vain attempt to make it windproof. He took back the bowl and took a sip. The dogs barked in the distance. They were impatient to start the hunt. Fox shivered again.
“I could still serve as bait,” Fox said because he felt it was his fault if the plan failed. “You know, surprise the dogs while they are focused on the Shadow and make it follow me to trap it into the portal after we crossed it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rukshan. “It’s too dangerous. If you try to do that, we could have not one but two problems to solve. And you might get stuck too.”
Rukshan shook his head. “No. It was a foolish of me to hope those dogs would help us.”
“What can we do then?” asked Lhamom. They all drank their soup, the silence only broken by the fire cracking and the dogs barking.
“I know,” said Lhamom. “You were so helpful today with the cooking and all.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rukshan. “Olliver was with me helping me with the sand all day.” He stopped. His face showed sudden understanding. “Oh! Of course,” he said. “The book we burnt. The shard’s power was not only teleportation, but also ubiquity.” Rukshan turned to look at Fox. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Fox shrugged, making his blanket slip off of his shoulders slightly. Before he answered he adjusted it back quickly before the warmth he had accumulated could vanish into the night. “Well I saw him… I mean them. How do you think I came out of the negotiation alive? I can not teleport! I don’t even know what my powers are, or if I have any now that the shards have gone.”
“Grace and miracles,” said Rukshan with a grin.
A strange cristalline noise rang to Fox’s hears.
“What? Oh! Yes. Well, that explains it then,” he said, feeling a mix of grumpiness and contentment. He finished his soup and was about to leave the comfort of his blanket to take some stew when Lhamom took the bowl from his hands. She gave him a good serving and gave him back his bowl.
“Don’t make as if I said nothing important,” said Olliver.
The red of the flames enhances his angry look, thought Fox.
“I can be at two places, even more, at once. I can still be the bait and go back home with you at the same time.”
A dog barked impatiently.
“Yes,” said Fox.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” said Rukshan, concern on his face.
“Why? I’m not a boy anymore, if that’s what it’s all about. I can do it. I already did it this afternoon.”
“Well this afternoon was nice and cosy, wasn’t it? You had plenty of light, and yes you helped Fox escape from the dogs, so you can certainly do it. But what about the Shadow spirit. We have no idea what it is, or what it can do to you. And what will happen if one of you get killed?”
Once again, they fell silent. There was a dog bark and that strange cristalline noise again. It sounded closer.
“What’s that noise?” asked Olliver. Fox suddenly realised the strange noise had nothing to do with the sound of miracles, but it was a real noise in the real world.
“What noise?” asked Lhamom. “And what are you all talking about, shards and powers and ubiquity?”
“I can hear it too,” said Fox. “I’ve heard it before, but thought it was just me.”
The noise happened again, this time sounding a lot like metallic ropes snapping on ice.
Fox wriggled his nose. There was the smell of an animal and of a human.
“I think someone is coming,” he said, sniffing the cold air. “A donkey and a human.”
It was not too long before they saw an odd woman riding a donkey. She was playing a lyre made of ice, the strings of which had a faint glow. The woman was smiling like she was having the best adventure of her life.
“Hi guys. I came to help you. You didn’t think I would remain forgotten in my cave, did you?”
Fox, layered in warm clothes, looked dubiously at the hellishcopter. He had assumed it was fantastic and awe inspiring creature from the underworld. But it wasn’t.
“It’s a carpet with a circular wooden platform,” he said, feeling a bit disappointed. He noticed the steam that formed out of his mouth with every word and it made him feel cold despite the numerous layers around him.
The carpet was floating limply above its shadow on the snow. It looked old and worn out by years of use. The reds blues and greens were dull and washed-out, and it was hard to tell apart the original motives from stains. Oddly enough it was clear of dust.
“Not just a carpet, said Lhamom with her usual enthusiasm illuminating her face. It’s a magic carpet.” She wore that local coat of them which looked so thin compared to his multiple layers, but she had assured him it was warm enough for far worse temperatures. Steam was also coming out of her mouth when she talked.
Fox was still not convinced. “And how fast does it go?”
“Fast enough,” said Lhamom. “You’ll all be back in no time to the forest.”
“Isn’t there a risk for the luggage to fall off? I don’t see any practical way to attach them.”
“Oh! Sure,” retorted Lhamom with an amused look. “You won’t fall from the platform unless someone pushes you out.”
Fox winced and gulped. His mind had showed him someone shaken by an uncontrollable movement and pushing him off the platform above the sharp mountain tops, and even if it his fantasy had no sound, it was not very reassuring.
Lhamom looked at him sharply. “Are you afraid of heights?” she asked.
Fox shrugged and looked away at Rukshan who was busy packing the camp with Olliver and their guide.
“What if I am?” Fox said.
“I have some pills,” she said, foraging in her numerous pockets. She brandished victoriously an old little wooden box that she opened and showed him brown pills that looked and smelled like they had been made by dung beetles.
Rukshan had finished his packing and was approaching them with a messenger bag.
“Don’t play with him too much, he said, in his current state Fox’s will swallow everything, except food.” Rukshan and Olliver laughed. Fox didn’t know what to make of it, feeling too exhausted to find clever retorts. Lhamom winked at him and put the pills back in her pocket.
Rukshan put his hand on Fox’s shoulder. “We’re going home through a sand portal, he said giving putting a hand on his bag. I’ve gathered coloured sand from the different places we visited and Lhamom had brought some holy dripping water collected from the running nose of the lama headmaster of Pulmol Mountain when he last had a cold.”
That sounded a little complicated to Fox and he didn’t try to make sense of it.
“We’ll only go on the hellishcopter to fly throught the portal with all the stuff we collected. But I need time to make the sand portal, and from what you reported the dogs have said, we may only have little time available before that thing you have felt come to us.”
Fox started. With his bowel adventures and Rukshan’s previous dismissal of the matter, Fox had forgotten about the odd presence he had smelled and that had seemed to preoccupy the hunting dogs at night.
“What do you mean?” he asked, trying to not let worry crept back in his mind.
“I first thought it was fantasies coming out of your imagination because of your poor health condition, but when I told Lhamom this morning she told me what it was.” Rukshan hesitated.
“What? asked Fox, his heartbeat going faster.
“Some kind of ancient spirit roaming through the mountain. It feeds of human flesh and is attracted by magic. It was liberated by an earthquake recently and it that Olliver and Tak felt. Up until now the dogs, who are the gardians of the mountains, were enough to ward it off for us despite the presence of the baby snoot. But now that Lhamom has brought the spoon and that I’m going to use magic for the portal, it may get bolder and the dogs will not be enough to stop it. Fortunately it only gets out at night, so we have ample enough time, Rukshan said cheerfully. Olliver also is exhausted and he can’t use his teleporting abilities for all of us. By using a sand portal I may even be able to lay a trap for the spirit when we leave, but I need to begin now and let’s pray the weather remains clear and windless.”
It took some time for the meaning and the implications of flesh eating to sink into Fox’s mind. He looked nervously at the sky where it seemed a painter had splashed a few white strokes of clouds with his giant brush. Were they still or moving? Fox couldn’t tell. He looked back at Rukshan and Lhamom.
“What can I do to help?”
“I need you to explain the plan to the dogs so that they release the spirit when I give the signal.”
The trial run was not a complete success, and so it was back to the cooking pot and the agonizingly slow wait.
The spell and the magic concoction had rendered the three women partially invisible: it seemed that anything with the colour yellow in it (including of course green and orange and so on) remained plainly visible. Pathways of bile had been illuminated like never before: it was not a pleasant sight.
“I always have trouble with the damn yellows,” remarked Eleri with a despondent sigh, as her hand absentmindedly rubbed her solar plexus. “Hey!” she elbowed Glynis in the ribs, “I just had a thought! Maybe you need to put something purple in the pot.”
“I don’t know but you know how they always tell you to twirl your yellows with purple.” Eleri’s face fell and her shoulders sagged. “I don’t know, Glynis, it’s all so discouraging. I miss the others, it’s too damn quiet around here these days. You’d think we’d be able to amuse ourselves, and that makes it even more depressing, doesn’t it? How on earth are we going to snap out of it?”
“Speak for yourself you miserable tart, I’m busy trying to make this potion so we can get out of here. Just try to buck up, will you! If I had time I’d make you a Buck the Fuck Up potion, but can’t you see I’m busy!” Glynis slammed the wooden spoon down on the counter and burst into tears.
Eleri raised an eyebrow and said sagely, “Who’s calling who a miserable tart now then, eh!” and then ducked as the wooden spoon came hurtling towards her.
“Now now,” said Margoritt, “We’re all a bit stressed, no need to take it out on each other. Group hug!”
The red woman led Shawn Paul through small busy streets. Shawn Paul had never seen that many people with dogs and parked bikes all gathered in strategic places each time he was about to catch up on her. He swore he could hear her giggle.
Eventually she entered a cafe called Red Beans. Shawn Paul steered through white tables and chairs made of wrought iron and followed her in, breathless. He had never seen the point in running before. But he still wasn’t sure why he had to catch her. What would he do? Talk to her? Ask her what she did perched on trees and smiling?
There seemed to be only the bartender who was busy with a huge coffee machine, hissing like a locomotive. A colour, a movement on his right made Shawn Paul turn, and he just had the time to catch sight of a red hat going down the stairs. She certainly went to the toilets. He thought that maybe following her downstairs would be too creepy, but at the same time he didn’t want the bartender to talk to him either.
So he went down and waited at the door. The lock was red, showing someone was inside.
Shawn Paul waited. There were many flyers of parties and events pinned on a wall, but he wasn’t the party guy and his eyes flew over the messy images and texts that seemed scattered on the wall.
After five minutes he wondered if something had happened and pushed the door. It was open and the lock was broken, always showing red. He tutted and shook his head. He had been foolish, he thought. There has certainly been nobody there since the beginning. There was no girl sitting on trees with red sandals.
He got out of the cafe and was ready to walk back to his apartment with his granola cookies. When someone called him. He turned and stared at a girl and a guy having drinks on the Red Beans’ terrace.
“I was sure it was you, Shawn Paul,” said the girl. “I thought I recognised you when you ran inside earlier, but you seemed in such a hurry,” said a girl. She had a big grin and a pony tail.
Her face looked familiar, all rosy and cheeky. She had a nice jacquard sweater and a matching skirt, and she was waving at him cheerfully. Her cocktail was full of reds, blues and yellows.
“Remember me? Lucinda, from the apartment on the other side…” she added.
It suddenly dawned on him, they had met once or twice. She had said they should meet again, but they never had. He felt a bit trapped, not knowing what to say.
“Hi,” he said, and he looked at the guy. He had never met him, that he was sure of.
The guy looked as embarrassed as himself by the intrusion.
“Hi. I’m Jerk,” he said.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” asked Lucinda pointing at a flyer on the table. She took a sip of her cocktail.
Shawn Paul was about to decline with a ready made up excuse when he saw what was on the flyer. It was a big red balloon with a red hat on a starry background. It said “Reception of the French Ambassador. Free Buffet with Ferrero Rochers and Champagne”.
Shawn Paul pulled closer one of the heavy metal chairs and sat with them.
“Tell me more about it,” he said instead.
The entrance to the cellar was in the library, just behind a book shelf that had been pushed away. How convenient, Godfrey thought.
“Roberto has been busy,” he said, appreciating the new little wheels under the elm wood bookshelves. He tried it several times and saw that the wheels were perfectly oiled and made no sound.
“Too oily,” said Finnley tutting disapprovingly at the stains on the wooden floor. She was already thinking of buying a new carpet, or maybe a new puppy that would help her dust the floor as it followed along. It would have to be small and energetic. Not too energetic though.
Liz was fascinated by the door. It was an old door, carved certainly in oak wood and painted with oddly hypnotic patterns. She looked at the tonic glass she still had in her hands. “Did you put something in my tonic?” she asked. The glass pigheadedly refused to focus on the bottom of her eye.
“I think it was empty,” said Godfrey. “Or at least it is now.” He took the glass from Liz and came back quickly, not wanting to miss the opening. He handed a pair of pink and shiny scissors to Liz who glanced at them and then at Godfrey with a puzzled look.
“Do you expect me to cut your hair?” Liz asked him. “I think you should have your hair cut,” she added because it seemed to crawl and wave on his head. She looked at Finnley. “Yours too, dear, I’m afraid.”
Finnley’s lips and eyes thinned as she tried her sharp face on Liz who cackled, and Finnley just shrugged and tutted again.
“Well, use them to cut the red ribbon of course.” Godfrey nodded in the direction of the door and Liz saw that there was a fluffy red ribbon sagging between the side shelves and barring the entrance to the cellar. How come she hadn’t seen it before.
She took the scissors and winced when the sound of the cutting resounded like nails on a blackboard, and for a moment she shuddered as the face of Sister Clarissa and her magnifying goggles popped out of the door. A horrendous sight, if you asked her. Liz had always suspected that their only use was to traumatise the students. She had forgotten she went to a catholic school.
The door was finally opened, and Liz hoped what they found downstairs would not bring up more of those memories.
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