With her pink glove on and her lips apart, Liz passed her finger on the bookshelf. Making the most of the opportunity of Finnley’s excursion outside, Liz had pretexted she wanted to show Roberto how to check for dust. In truth, but she would never confess to it, except to Godfrey after a few drink and some cashew nuts later that day, in truth she had bought a new pink uniform for the gardener/handyman and wanted to see how it fitted him. Of course, she had ordered a few sizes under, so Roberto’s muscles bulged quite nicely under the fabric of the short sleeves, stretching the seam in a dangerously exciting way.
“What’s this book?” asked Roberto.
“What?” asked Liz who had been lost in one of the worst case scenario. Why would Roberto talk about something as undersexying as a book? Nonetheless, without wanting to, her eyes followed the gardener’s sexy arm down to his sexy finger pointing at the book spine and her brain froze on the title: “An Aesthetic of the Night Mare“, by Vanina Vain.
“What’s this book doing among my personal work?” she asked, all sexying forgotten.
“Don’t you remember?” asked Godfrey who happened to pass behind her. “Years ago when you still read your fanmail you answered one from a young girl wanting to follow in your footsteps. You sent her a handwritten copy of Rilke’s letter to a young poet. I wrote it myself and Finnley signed it for you. She’s so good at imitating your signature. Well anyway a few years later that girl finally published her first book and sent you a copy to thank you.”
“Have I read it?” Liz asked.
“You might have. But I’m not sure. It’s quite Gothic. The girl takes advantage of her sleep paralysis at night to do some crazy experiences.”
Liz had no recollection whatsoever of it, but that was not the point.
“Tsk. What’s it doing among my personal work bookshelves? Don’t we have somewhere else to put that kind of…”
“The trash you mean?” asked Finnley.
“Oh! You’re back”, said Liz.
“Tsk, tsk. Such disappointment in your voice. But I’m never far away, and luckily for some”, she added with a look at Roberto who was trying to stretch the sleeve without breaking the seam.
Well, it wasn’t what I expected. but once I got over being slightly miffed that it was all about Mater, stealing the limelight again, I realized that I would get my wish after all, if Corrie and Clove and the others were going to come back for a visit. When they arrived, they could tell me all about what had been happening. The twins and Pan were to set off soon, on a sea worthy raft they’d been working on. It would be a long trip and hard to judge how long it would take. The waters were uncharted in places, Corrie mentioned in the letter, given that the waters had risen in so many places, but it also meant there was a chance of safe passage by water in places that had previously been dry land. Narrow canals had become wide shallow lakes, so they’d heard. Pan would be able to dive to his hearts content along the way, and they were all excited about the coming adventure.
“We will continue to communicate telepathically during the trip, Auntie”, Corrie had written, which gave me a glow of pride and satisfaction. I hadn’t been making it up, we truly had been exchanging messages all along.
I wasn’t sure how easy it was going to be dealing with Mater in the meantime, though. She was demanding plastic surgery now.
“Plastic surgery?” I said, “You can’t even get a decent tupperware these days, lid or no lid. Where on earth are we supposed to get plastic surgery from?”
Almost a hundred years old, and still vain. I ask you. “Do you see me fussing over my looks?”
“Quite” she replied, and pursed her shriveled lips.
I wish now that I’d had the sense to open the letter in private. I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of that, but I didn’t. I tried not to make a drama out of it, I didn’t make an announcement or anything. One morning after breakfast I untied the string and opened the letter. It wasn’t any of the things I had expected. Clearly printed in large capital letters at the top was written DON’T TELL MATER.
Quickly I folded it over, dropping it discreetly into my lap under the table. “Any more nettle tea in the pot, Bert?” I asked and feigned a casual yawn.
“Well?” asked Mater.
“Well what?” I asked.
“I can read you like a book,” she said, to which I replied hotly, “Well then I won’t need to write one, will I.”
“What did the letter say?” she pressed on.
“What letter?” I said
“For crying out loud!” she said.
“Pass your cup then,” said Bert, giving me a piercing look. Over the top of Mater’s head he mouthed a word, with a questioning look. I’ve never been any good at lip reading, but it looked like he was trying to say Jasper.
“Who?” I mouthed back, but Mater saw me, so I pretended I had a bit of nettle stuck between my teeth.
I don’t know how I restrained myself from throttling Finly when she finally handed me the letter from Corrie. A whole week she’d had it, and wouldn’t share it until she’d cleaned every last window. Some peoples priorities, I ask you! The funny thing was that even when I had it in my hand I didn’t open it right away. Even with Mater and Bert breathing down my neck.
It was something to savour, the feeling of having an unopened letter in ones hand. Not that this looked like the letters we used to get years ago, all crisp and slim on white paper, addressed in fine blue ink. This was a bundle tied with a bit of wool pulled out of an old jumper by the look of it, all squiggly, holding together several layers of yellowed thin cardboard and written on with a beetroot colour dye and a makeshift brush by the look of it. The kind of thing that used to be considered natural and artistic, long ago, when such things were the fashion. I suppose the fashion now, in such places where fashion still exists, is for retro plastic. They said plastic litter wouldn’t decompose for hundreds of years, how wrong they were! I’d give my right arm now for a cupboard full of tupperware with lids. Or even without lids. Plastic bottles and shopping bags ~ when I think back to how we used to hate them, and they’re like gold now. Better than gold, nobody has any interest in gold nowadays, but people would sell their soul for a plastic bucket.
I waited until the sun was going down, and sat on the porch with the golden rays of the lowering sun slanting across the yard. I clasped the bundle to my heart and squinted into the sun and sighed with joyful anticipation.
“For the love of god, will you get on with it!” said Bert, rudely interrupting the moment.
Gently I pulled the faded red woolen string, and stopped for a moment, imaging the old cardigan that it might have been.
I didn’t have to look at Mater to know what the expression on her face was, but I wasn’t going to be rushed. The string fell into my lap and I turned the first piece of card over.
There was a washed out picture of a rooster on it and a big fancy K.
“Cornflakes!” I started to weep. “Look, cornflakes!”
“You always hated cornflakes,” Mater said, missing the point as usual. “You never liked packet cereal.”
The look I gave her was withering, although she didn’t seem to wither, not one bit.
“I used to like rice krispies,” Bert said.
By the time we’d finished discussing cereal, the sun had gone down and it was too dark to read the letter.
“Init been quiet as being caught in the doldruffs, my Mavis?” Sha was sandwiched in the cryogenic apparatus like a tartine in a toaster, with her ample person protruding like cheese squeezed in too much.
The door flung open.
“Good Lord, aren’t them splendigious, those little tarts, meringue and all.”
Berenice, Barb’s niece, trotting in his steps, taking her role as the new temp assistant very seriously was about to voice a response that he quickly tutted away. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Took me a while to find out the thread though, buried through all that poubelle creative thinking and monologues, and bla and bla. Action all gone missing safe for a little excitement in Tik…” He stopped, looking around suspiciously. “They’re here, I know. Stop it, now. Hey. Shut up!”
“He’s been acting all strange, since he cracked that red crystal.”
“Shht, Glo. You don’t want him to get mad and stop all our beauty treatment. I can feel my skin tighten and dewrinkle.”
“T’is like ironing, fussure. Some steam and a good hot iron to remove the wrinkles.”
“Ahahah, wrinkles yourself, they’re more like crevices, hihihi!”
“But first, nuffin like a ice treatment to tighten the glutes.”
“Oh uhuh, haha, she said glutes like a snotty beauty specialist. Next she’ll say we need to do Pontius Pilates…”
Berenice couldn’t help herself. She blurted out in one quick sentence “But what are you planning to do with them, Doctor?”
He paused a moment his conversation with the invisible guests then turned nonchalently at B.
“But just… perfecting them, sweet thing. Oh, and love what you did with the beehive.”
A wild eyed crow was cawing relentlessly since the wee hours of the dawn.
Nothing much had moved since everyone arrived at the Inn, and in contrast with the hot days, the cool night had sent everyone shivering under the thin woolen blankets that smelled of naphthalene.
Deep down, Bert was glad to see the old Inn come back to life, even if for a little while. He was weary of the witch though. She wouldn’t be here without some supernatural mischief afoot.
He glanced in the empty hall, putting his muddy pair of boots outside, not to incur the fury of Finly. He almost started calling to see if anybody was home, but thought better of it. Speaking of the devil, Finly was already up and busy at the small kitchen stove, and had done some outstanding croissants. In truth, despite all her flaws, he liked her; she was a capable lady, although never big on sweet talks. No wonder she and Mater did get along well.
Bert started to walk along the hall towards the hangar, where he knew old cases where stored, one with a particular book that he needed. It was hard to guess what would happen next. He found the book, that was hidden on the side of the case, and scratched his head while smiling a big wide grin.
He was feeling alive with the kind of energy that could be a poor advisor were his mind not sharp as a gator’s tooth.
The book had a lot of gibberish in it, like it was written in a sort of automatic writing. For some reason, after the termite honey episode, Idle had started to collect odd books, and she was starting to see spy games hidden in the strangest patterns.
Despite being a lazy pothead, the girl was smart, though. Some of her books were codes.
Bert’s had his fair run with those during his early years in the military. So he’d hidden the most dangerous ones that Idle had unwittingly found, so that she and the rest of the family wouldn’t run into trouble.
Most of the time, she’d simply forget about having bought or bargained for them, but in some cases, there was a silly obsession with her that rendered her crazy about some of those books. Usually the girls, especially the twins, would get the blame for what was thought a child’s prank. Luckily her anger wouldn’t last long.
This book though was a bit different. Bert had never found the coding pattern, nor the logic about it. And some bits of it looked like it talked about the Inn. “Encoded pattern from the future”, “remote viewing from the past”, Idle’s suggestions would have run wild with imaginative solutions. Maybe she was onto something…
He looked a two bits, struck by some of the parts:
The inn had been open for a long time before any of the tenants had come, and it had been full of people once it had been full all day long.
She had gone back after a while and opened up the little room for the evening and people could be seen milling about.
The rest of the tenants had remained out on their respective streets and were quiet and peaceful.
‘So it’s the end of a cold year.’
The woman with golden hair and green eyes seemed to have no intention of staying in the inn as well; she was already preparing for the next year.
When the cold dawn had started to rise the door to the inn had been open all night long. The young man with red hair sitting on a nearby bench had watched a few times before opening his eyes to see the man that had followed him home.
There was a young red hair boy that had arrived. He was curious as to the man following.
The other random bit talked about something else. Like a stuff of nightmares. And his name was on it.
The small girl stood beside him, still covered with her night clothes. She felt naked by the side of the road. There was nothing else to do.
In the distance, Bert could faintly hear the howling of the woods, as two large, black dogs pounced, their jaws ready to tear her to pieces. The young girl stared in wonder and fear before the dog, before biting it, then she was gone. She ran off through the bushes. “Ah…” she whispered to herself. “Why am I not alive?” She thought to herself: this is all I need.
If I am here, they’ll kill or hurt my kids. They won’t miss me for nothing.
She ran the last few kilometers to her little cottage; not long after, Bert heard the sound of the forest. He was glad it was.
Maybe the witch was not here for nothing after all.
“You know,” Inspector Melon said, having narrowly missed a peanut threat perniciously placed on top of a carrot cupcake. “I’m most intrigued by that mysterious Management organization that you wrote in your stories. They seemed to steer the plot somewhat efficiently, placing operatives on certain threats…”
“What’s your question Walter?” Liz was getting tipsy on the rosé bubbly, and she frankly had no idea what he was talking about, clutching at the bottle that Finnley was trying to move out of her reach.
“Well, somehow the Management, such fascinating and mysterious organization as it is, seems to have gathered an awful lot of information on this world’s arcane mysteries, and let’s not be shy to say, on some of its evils.”
“And, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d decided a “Blow the lid off” type of covert operation, in order to gather KEY evidences of those evils and release all of them simultaneously so that the evil guys can’t get clued to it in time for an escape.”
“Mmm, of course yes.” Liz replied distractedly, looking at watermelon pièce montée that had just rolled into the room. It had suddenly triggered fond memories of watermelon codpieces she’d written as fashion pieces in one of the novels, that would have been perfect with the theme of the party.
Walter thought deeply… “Then, that would mean the mysterious Uncle Fergus with the Harley Davidson, may be one of such operative, that could have been compromised and sent the keys as a fail-safe… Now, I wonder what secrets these may reveal.”
He looked at Liz who was gorging herself on watermelon chous.
“But of course, you would have thought about all that. I can’t wait to read the rest of it!”
Of course, nothing of the discussion had been missed by the ever careful Finnley. Sliding behind the heavy curtains, she found Godfrey in the kitchen who was looking for the peanut jar.
He greeted her with a non nonplussed look. “Hmm, lovely socks.”
She leaned in conspiratorially: “I think the Inspector knows too much already.”
The note had troubled Maeve. It was different than the one Shawn Paul received, not only because it was handwritten and very long, but also because it implied someone, potentially even several groups, were after the dolls and the keys.
“You have to retrieve them,” the note eventually said, “and use the clues they hide to find the important people they protect.”
There was no signature, but it sounded so much like uncle Fergus, oddly wordy and mysterious. Was he still alive after all this time? Did he still ride his Harley?
Maeve’s first thought after the surprise was that she needed someone to take care of Fabio. The next thought felt like a brilliant idea. Lucinda. Maeve would go ask her to take care of Fabio during her vacation to Australia and would use that opportunity to spirit away the doll. She had the intuition she might need it afterwards.
So she prepared her luggage and cuddled Fabio who knew he wouldn’t be part of the trip.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I need you to keep that sad face of yours when we go see Lucinda.” In response, Fabio wiggled his tail happily and tried to lick Maeve’s face. “No! Keep the face,” she mimicked what she thought was a sad face.
After all was packed she went to Lucinda’s with Fabio and her luggage.
“I’m sorry, I’m going on a trip and I need someone to take care of Fabio,” Maeve said. As she had imagined Lucinda was moved by Fabio’s look and couldn’t refuse to take car of him.
“Of course! He’ll be well treated here with my new parrot.”
“Huhu,” said the colourful bird.
“I think it comes from New Zealand,” said Lucinda. “It flew in yesterday and had not left ever since despite me not putting it into a cage, so I’m buying it food. It seems particularly fond of that doll I told you about the other day.”
Indeed, the parrot was on the sofa, trying to open the doll’s head. That’s when Fabio jumped and tried to catch the bird. He clearly didn’t like it and the parrot flew away to a higher ground on an old grannies’ Welsh dresser, making a few glasses and china fall down in an awful breaking noise. Lucinda tried to catch the bird or the china or Fabio, but could do neither of the three.
Seizing that as an opportunity, Maeve put the doll in her messenger bag.
“I don’t want to bother you longer, I have a plane to catch. Bye,” she said, and she left with bags and luggage without checking if Lucinda had heard.
At the elevator, she met with Shawn Paul.
“Hi. I’m going to the airport,” the young man said. “Australia. Like you?”
She felt uncomfortable. The note hadn’t mention anything about him. Unless he was part of one of those groups who were after the dolls. Maeve grumbled something while holding her bag closer. She didn’t know if she could trust him.
The day had started uneventful, the perfect kind of day for Shawn Paul to write his novel. He had been quite productive concerning the numbers of characters written in total, but after a few erasing and correcting only one paragraph of a few lines remained. But he was very satisfied with what he had written.
Perfection will kill me, he thought. Looking at the piles of documents on his table, he felt tired. He looked at the unremarkable clock on his wall. It was eleven in the morning. Time for a tea. He got up from his desk carefully. He missed a step and inadvertently hit the wrong key combination on his keyboard. It closed his writing app without saving his work. Shawn Paul started panicking when the bell rang. Déjà vu.
This time it was the mailman.
“You’re a lucky winner. I need a sign.”
Shawn Paul signed and was handed a big envelop written “LUCKY WINNER!” all over it. There was barely enough room for his address. The young writer, almost author, feared to open it. It was reeking of distraction potential and it could put his novel in danger when it needed loving care… and a lot of discipline.
“Look,” said the mailman. “I have another one for your neighbour.” the man knocked at Maeve’s door and gave her the envelop in exchange for a signature. The young woman had no qualm about it and tore open the envelop. It was hard to read her expression when she got a plane ticket out and read the short accompanying note. She almost looked asian poker face at that moment. Her eyes went to the envelop in Shawn Paul’s hands, and he understood the question she hadn’t formulated.
He felt forced to open his own envelop and it was as agonising as tearing apart the last chance to write his unborn novel.
“What’s inside?” asked the mailman who was a curious fellow.
“A plane to Australia, and a voucher to the Flying Fish Inn.”
“Oh! I know that place, it was all over the news a few months back,” said the man. “I don’t need to envy you then,” he dropped before leaving Shawn Paul and Maeve in the corridor.
Her cat showed up and meowed. It was clear to the young man there was an interrogation point in its voice.
Shawn Paul couldn’t help but listen when he heard Maeve’s voice. Was she at Lucinda’s again? He ventured outside his apartment with his unopened packet in his hands in order to have a clearer idea of what they were talking about.
Not him apparently. They were talking about dolls and spies. He felt a bit jealous that other peoples had such beautiful stories to tell and he struggled so much to even write a few lines. Fortunately he always had a small notebook and a pen in his pockets. He scribbled down a few notes, trying to be fast and concise. He looked at his writing. It would be hard to read afterwards.
He paused after writing the uncle’s name. Was it uncle Fungus? And the tarty spy in the fishnet, was it a photograph? And what about the bugs, was it an infestation? Too much information. It was hard to follow the story and write while holding the packet.
He realised they had stopped speaking and Lucinda was closing the door. He suddenly panicked. What if Maeve found him there, listening?
The time it took him to think about all that could happen was enough for Maeve to meet him were he stood the packet in his hands.
“Hi she said. You got a packet ?”
“Yes,” he answered, his mind almost blank. What could he possibly say. He was more of the writer kind, he needed time to think about his dialogues in advance. But, was it an inspiration from beyond he had something to say and justify his presence.
“Someone just dropped this at my door and I was trying to see if I could catch them. There’s no address.” He turned the packet as if to confirm it.
“There’s something written on the corner,” said Maeve. “It looks like an old newspaper cut.
“Oh! You’re right,” said Shawn Paul.
She looked closer.
“What a coincidence,” said Maeve, looking slightly shocked.
Shaw Paul brought the packet closer to his face. It smelled like granola cookies. On the paperclip there was an add for a trip to Australia with the address of a decrepit Inn somewhere in the wops. There was a photo of an old woman standing in front of the Inn, and Shawn Paul swore he saw her wink at him. The smell of granola cookies was stronger and made him hungry.
He was not sure anymore he would be able to write his story that day.
The maid looked tersely and visibly annoyed at the lanky unkempt guy with the crazy eye.
“Do not bloody psst me, Godfrey! I’m not your run-of-the-mill hostess, for Flove’s sake.”
“Alright, alright. Come here, and don’t make a sound!”
“Don’t sulk, dear. What I’ve found here is nothing short of a breathrough – pardon my typo, I mean of a breakthrough.”
“Oh Good Lord, spit it out already, and I mean it metaphorically. I haven’t got all day, you know,… places to clean, all that.”
“Look at that!”
Godfrey handed her a pile of typed papers.
“Well, what’s about it? It does look a bit too neat and coffee-stain free, but the style is unmistakable. Long nonsensical babble, random words and characters, illogical sentence structure and improbable settings… That’s all you have psst ed me for? Another of some old Liz garbage novels?”
“That’s it! Isn’t it genius?” Godfrey looked at Finnley with an air of sheer madness. “You know Liz hasn’t written in years now, nothing fresh at least. You’ve be one to endlessly complain about that. Something about needing the paper to clean the window glass.”
“Of course I remember.” She paused, considering the enormous improbability that had just been hinted at. “Do you mean it’s not hers?”
“Ahahaha, isn’t it brilliant! This is all written by a clever AI. I’ve called it Fliz 2.0 !”
Godfrey looked pleased at himself “and to think it only took Fliz 44 minutes to spit the entire 888 pages novel!”
“What you all don’t realize,” Liz said, “Is that all of this so called fun is in fact highly significant. You think we’re all playing around scribbling nonsense and gadding about on the lawn acting the fool for no reason just for something to do. But this is a vital and rare artifact in the future! My dears, you have no idea!”
“Mint tea from the Basque country?” replied Roberto, holding his glass up to the light for a closer look.
“Imagine her in a denim basque, you say? I’d rather not! HA!” Godfrey spit out a few bits of peanut with the final HA!, which was forceful enough to send a few of them flying across the room.
“You’ve got bits of nut in my Basque mint tea now!” Roberto exclaimed ~ somewhat rudely; he forgot for a moment he was just the gardener.
“I think they’ve all lost their marbles,” remarked Liz, just for the written record for the historians in the future who would find this story; and for the benefit of the AI they had unwittingly been programming all along. Although what the AI was actually being programmed with perhaps didn’t bear thinking about. A further though nagged at Liz despite her efforts to ignore it. What if it did matter? What were they creating?
The full moon was high and a cluster of fireflies were flying stubbornly around a lone corkscrew bush. The baby rainbow creatures were playing like young squirrels, running and jumping around on Gorrash’s arms and head.
The dwarf was still, as if he hadn’t awoken from his curse despite the darkness of the night. He was looking at the bush illuminated by the fireflies and his the dim glows of the rainbow babies were giving his face a thoughtful look.
My life is certainly as complicated as the shrub’s twisted branches, he thought, his heart uneasy.
The others all had been busy doing their own things during the day, like Glynis with her invisibility potion, or Eleri with her Operation Courtesan. Rukshan went away with a goal too, finding the source of the blue light the children had seen in their dreams and he left for the mountains with Olliver and Fox.
Margoritt was an old lady and with all the fuss about the upcoming eviction and destruction of her nice little cottage farm she had been tired and went to sleep early. Gorrash understood very well all of that.
A ball of sadness and frustration gathered in his throat. The rainbow babies stopped and looked at him with drooping eyes.
“Mruiii?” they said as if asking him what it all was about.
“Don’t do that, you’re gonna make me cry,” he said. The raspiness of his voice surprised him and distracted him from the sadness.
“Mruii,” said the little creatures gathering closer to him as if to sooth him. He shed a few tears. He felt so lonely and frustrated because he couldn’t be with his friends during the day. And the summer nights were so short.
I have to find a project for myself, he thought. Maybe find a cure to my own curse like Glynis.
Gorrash felt a tinge of bitterness in his mouth. Why? he wondered. Why didn’t my maker come lift my curse like that man came to deliver Glynis from hers?
He regretted this thought, if anything it only made him feel more miserable and lonely.
An owl hooted and there was some noise coming from the house. Light was lit in the kitchen, and soon after the door opened. It was Glynis. She carried a small crate written Granola Cookies, but it was full of potions and other utensils. Her eyes looked tired but her face was shining. Since she used that potion to cure herself, she had had that inner glow, and despite himself Gorrash felt it started to warm his heart with hope.
“I will need some help,” said Glynis.
The rainbow babies ran around and changed colours rapidly.
“Sure, I can do that,” answered Gorrash. And as he said that he realised he had felt the need to talk to someone so badly.
They sat near the corkscrew shrub and Glynis began to get her stuff out of the crate. She drew the shape of a circle with a white chalk that shone under the moonlight and gave Gorrash eight candlesticks to place around the circle. Gorrash placed them a bit too conscientiously around, and he felt the need to talk become stronger, making him restless.
“Can I tell you something?” he asked, unsure if she would want to listen to his doubts.
“Of course. I need to reinforce the charm before the others arrival. It will take some time before I actually do the spell. We can talk during that time.”
Encouraged by her kindness, he told her everything that had been troubling his heart.
“I fink I heard somefing,” said Liz feeling a tad nervous when underground. She looked around, squinting her eyes.
“What are you doing?” asked Godfrey.
Liz squinted more.
“I can not distinguish anything,” she said. “Are those books?” She pointed at a twisted column with her crooked finger. “Oh! bloody hell, my back hurts.”
“I think they’re written in latin,” said Godfrey after skimming through some of the covers.
“I heard it again!” said Liz.
“Ain’t that tinnitus?” asked Finnley louder.
“I’m not deaf,” replied Liz. I tell you it’s like a very small person talking. She looked at her feet and almost had a heart attack when she saw a mouse waving at her. The little creature ran swiftly up the book column and stood on its legs.
“Quis estis? Mus sum,” it said with a very high pitched voice.
“It says it’s a mouse and asks who we are,” translated Godfrey.
Liz frowned, which accentuated the relief of her old face.
“You speak mouse language now?” she asked.
“Not at all. It speaks latin.”
“Of course you would know latin,” said Finnley.
Fox sat back on the wooden chair in Margoritt’s kitchen, and crossed his arms, a little unnerved by the heat and his growing desire to go out in the woods and let go of all restraints. He had been struggling daily to control it and he had noticed it was particularly difficult during the new moon.
“If we have to do it in the house,” said Fox, “Can’t we at least open the windows? It’ll let in some fresh air.” He wrinkled his nose at the heavy scents of sweat mingled with that of fermented goat milk, irritating his delicate sense of smell. Rukshan had gathered their little group and they were waiting for Gorrash to wake up.
“The purpose of meeting here is that nobody can hear what we are saying,” said Rukshan with a hint of exasperation in his tone. “If we open the windows it’ll just…”
“Isn’t it rather because of the mosquitos?” started Fox feeling a little argumentative.
Glynis cleared her throat and got up, mumbling that she might have a solution. She came back a few moment later carrying a big bottle with a big sticker. Rukshan and Mr Minn helped her lift it while Eleri and Margoritt cleared a space on the table where they put the bottle.
The sticker had something written on it : AIR CONDITIONED, winter quality. Handle with caution.
Glynis turned the cap a few turns and a wooshing sound escaped from the neck of the bottle, followed by a gentle and continuous breeze of fresh air which provoked a murmur of appreciation from everyone.
“What’s this?” asked Gorrash who had just woken up.
“It’s what the sticker says. Cooling the atmosphere is just one way to use it. One has to be careful not to turn the wheel too much though or you could get frost bite.”
The fae looked at the bottle appreciatively, impressed at Glynis’ many talents. He was already thinking about a few other ways to put this frozen air bottle to use when Glynis cleared her throat again.
“It’s not infinite content and I only get a few of them, so if we could start the meeting.”
“Of course. I’ve received words from Lhamom. Her father has passed away and they are sending him to the sea during the week-end.” He allowed a moment of silence, sending a silent prayer toward their dear friend. Then he continued : “That means she’ll be able to join us for our trip in the mountains. We only have to decide who’s going and who’s staying to help Margoritt.”
Starting from the end of the story, Albie finally understood where the traveler had come from, and why.
In retrospect, it explained a lot. Why the story was going nowhere for enders.
It begged to be turned around! — back to its origin. Otherwise, readers of the pages of the story couldn’t help but be taken by bouts of anterograde amnesia.
All the forward looking thinking, the futurists, bound to become caught in a loop! Fighting for a patch of the present, while the expanse was to be discovered in the expired. Truth was in the return. Funny how regression seemed a word tainted of passéism, while it could in turn evoke seismic progress — regression therapy!
So let us start from the end. The traveler had arrived, she’d come from the other side of the page. Turning that back, a whole new story was to be written of what led her to the Doline.
Eleri opened her eyes but was still seeing the scrunched up piece of paper. She frowned, still looking at the crumpled ball in her dream hand, oblivious to her current state and whereabouts, and remembered an earlier dream. She had been reading a paragraph of text on a card sized piece of paper. It was so clear at the time that her dream self was reading it, and made so much sense, that she knew she was sure to remember it.
Sighing, she rubbed her eyes and tried to focus. What had been written, that she had later screwed up?
Glynnis, late with her mornings work after her lengthy dream journal entry, was initially irritated with the interruption of the postman.
“Leave it in the letter box!” she called. “I am up to my elbows in bread dough!”
“I can’t, it’s too heavy,” the postman replied, “And you have to sign for it, anyway. And I’m not taking it back to the post office, it’s put my back out carrying it here already,” he added.
Sighing and wiping her floury hands on her apron, Glynnis opened the door a few inches and extended her hand through the gap.
“You’ll need two hands, Ducky,” he said, thinking to himself, what an ungrateful wretch!
Exasperated, she flung the door open. The postman handed her a large stone parrot. A hand written note was attached to its neck with a blue ribbon.
“A Gift of Appreciation” was all it said, in a rather untidy almost indecipherable script.
“Oh, a gift,” said Glynnis softly, mollified. “But from who?”
“Says it’s from the Laughing Crone on the return address. Now just sign here Ducky, and I’ll be on my way.”
After the Elders were gone back to the Capitol City of the Seven Hills, Rukshan was left pondering for awhile about his duties.
The visit had been pleasant enough, thanks to his deft organisation, and he had the skills to let just enough imponderables and improvising spots so that the whole thing didn’t look too artificially prepared.
The Sultan was pleased, and Rukshan was aware that some behind the curtains politics were are play, where he, somehow also was involved, although he couldn’t yet see how. It seemed his capacity for solving or clarifying complex matters was in high demand. One of the Elders of senior attainment had talked to him briefly, in a very amenable tone which was best suited when asking favours. “How odd” he’d thought, as the discussing dynamics would usually be the other way around.
“Rukshan, I wanted to talk to you about your future” — was how he introduced the conversation. After a few minutes, the intent was clear that there were other places where they had planned to send him.
The next few days had him struggle to appease his own feelings. As usual in the cities, people where dealing in abstractions, and abstractions had the inconvenient side-effect of stirring the sea of the mind in all sorts of directions, none of which related to what was happening in the present moment.
His family was for that matter very dismissive of his way of life, living as he had for many years in the city. Fays used to live in the forests flanking the mountains, deep inside the sacred groves, where they were in accordance with old rites and the natural time, the breath of life in the trees. They argued that men cities were an insane world of abstractions, that made you forget were you came from, and what sustained you.
Ages ago, one of his ancestors, CJ Soliman had written after a visit of the first city (a mere hamlet at the time) “It is quite possible that the Forest is the real world, and that men live in a madhouse of abstractions. Life in the Forest has not yet withdrawn into the capsule of the head. It is still the whole body that lives. No wonder men feel dreamlike; the complete life of the Forest is something of which they merely dream. When you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?”
He wouldn’t have disagreed actually. He’d found the pull of nature was strong, soft but steady and immovable. But as far as his life was going, he’d come to realise that cities were in need of a fine balancing act, otherwise, leaving them unchecked would probably hasten the pace at which they ate away acres of forests in their developments. Already, the sacred woods were threatened, and with them, his family and ancestors’ way of life.
After that discussion with the Elder, he’d found the need to clear up and make space for the new. He’d spent a whole day throwing away stuff, amazed at how much even himself would gather of unnecessary things. In the new space, he’d let the birds songs enter through the window, despite the biting cold and the grey fog.
A resolve was birthed in his mind and made clear at the time, as clear as the morning chirping in the thick air.
He would soon go back to the mountains, in the Dragon Heartwood, visit his family and look for the old Hermit for counsel.
Corrie’s findings from elsewhere:
“Mike wasn’t as courageous as his former self, the Baron. That new name had a cowardly undertone which wasn’t as enticing to craze and bravery as “The Baron”.
The idea of the looming limbo which had swallowed the man whole, and having to care for a little girl who surely shouldn’t be out there on her own at such an early hour of the day spelt in unequivocal letters “T-R-O-U-B-B-L-E” — ah, and that he was barely literate wasn’t an improvement on the character either.
Mike didn’t want to think to much. He could remember a past, maybe even a future, and be bound by them. As well, he probably had a family, and the mere though of it would be enough to conjure up a boring wife named Tina, and six or seven… he had to stop now. Self introspection wasn’t good for him, he would get lost in it in quicker and surer ways than if he’d run into that Limbo.
“Let me tell you something… Prune?… Prune is it?”
“I stop you right there, mister, we don’t have time for the “shouldn’t be here on your own” talk, there is a man to catch, and maybe more where he hides.”
“Little girl, this is not my battle, I know a lost cause when I see one. You look exhausted, and I told my wife I would be back with her bloody croissants before she wakes up. You can’t imagine the dragon she becomes if she doesn’t get her croissants and coffee when she wakes up. My pick-up is over there, I can offer you a lift.”
Prune made a frown and a annoyed pout. At her age, she surely should know better than pout. The thought of the dragon-wife made her smile though, she sounded just like Mater when she was out of vegemite and toasts.
Prune started to have a sense of when characters appearing in her life were just plot devices conjured out of thin air. Mike had potential, but somehow had just folded back into a self-imposed routine, and had become just a part of the story background. She’d better let him go until just finds a real character. She could start by doing a stake-out next to the strange glowing building near the frontier.
“It’s OK mister, you go back to your wife, I’ll wait a little longer at the border. Something tells me this story just got started.”
“Aunt Idle was craving for sweets again. She tip toed in the kitchen, she didn’t want to hear another lecture from Mater. It only took time from her indulging in her attachments. Her new yogiguru Togurt had told the flockus group that they had to indulge more. And she was determined to do so.
The kitchen was empty. A draft of cold air brushed her neck, or was it her neck brushing against the tiny molecules of R. She cackled inwardly, which almost made her choke on her breath. That was surely a strange experience, choking on something without substance. A first for her, if you know what I mean.
The shelves were closed with simple locks. She snorted. Mater would need more than that to put a stop to Idle’s cravings. She had watched a video on Wootube recently about how to unlock a lock. She would need pins. She rummaged through her dreadlocks, she was sure she had forgotten one or two in there when she began to forge the dreads. Very practicle for smuggling things.
It took her longer than she had thought, only increasing her craving for sweets.
There was only one jar. Certainly honey. Idle took the jar and turned it to see the sticker. It was written Termite Honey, Becky’s Farm in Mater’s ornate writing. Idle opened the jar. Essence of sweetness reached her nose and made her drool. She plunged her fingers into the white thick substance.”
“But wait! What is this?
Her greedy fingers had located something unexpected; something dense and uncompromising was lurking in her precious nectar. Carefully, she explored the edges of the object with her finger tips and then tugged. The object obligingly emerged, a gooey gelatinous blob.
Dido sponged off the honey allowing it to plunk on to the table top. It did not occur to her to clean it up. Indeed, she felt a wave of defiant pleasure.
The ants will love that, although I guess Mater won’t be so thrilled. Fussy old bat.
She licked her fingers then transferred her attention back to the job at hand. After a moment of indecision whilst her slightly disordered mind flicked through various possibilities, she managed to identify the object as a small plastic package secured with tape. Excited, and her ravenous hunger cravings temporarily stilled in the thrill of the moment, she began to pick at the edges of the tape.
Cocooned Inside the plastic was a piece of paper folded multiple times. Released from its plicature, the wrinkled and dog-eared paper revealed the following type written words:
food self herself next face write water truth religious behind mince salt words soon yourself hope nature keep wrong wonder noticed.”
““What a load of rubbish!” Idle exclaimed, disappointed that it wasn’t a more poetic message. She screwed up the scrap of crumpled paper, rolled it in the honey on the table, and threw it at the ceiling. It stuck, in the same way that cooked spaghetti sticks to the ceiling when you throw it to see if it’s done. She refocused on the honey and her hunger for sweetness, and sank her fingers back into the jar.”
“The paper fell from the ceiling on to Dido’s head. She was too busy stuffing herself full of honey to notice. In fact it was days before anyone noticed.”
“The honeyed ball of words had dislodged numerous strands of dried spaghetti, which nestled amongst Aunt Idle’s dreadlocks rather attractively, with the paper ball looking like a little hair bun.”
““Oh my god …. gross!“ cackled the cautacious Cackler.”
““Right, that does it! I’m moving the whole family back to the right story!” said Aunt Idle, invigorated and emboldened with the sweet energy of the honey. “Bloody cackling nonsense!””
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