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By now, the trench had been dug deeply around the mysterious artefact. It was surprisingly not rusty at all, and the box was large and oddly pear-shaped. There was no obvious lid nor hinge. Nothing that seemed ancient per say, and yet, given the depth of the dig, it was probably coming from a past long gone.
Clara had posted some pics to Alienor, her friend and amateur archeologist, and she’d been immediately intrigued (an slightly jealous at the find). There were still strict restriction in place, so she couldn’t come immediately, but you could hear from the tone of her voice messages, she was dying to become an outlaw to see the wonder in situ.
“Come on Clare, it’s going to be dark soon, we should go home or you’ll catch a cold.”
“Alright Granpa, but help me first get that out in the garage, we can’t let it outside unprotected.”
VanGogh barked approvedly.
“And who might you be?” Finnley looked at the oddly clothed bag lady who’d appeared in the staff wing.
“I’m November, you punny insolent thing.”
“What sort of name is that? Is that a woman’s name anyway?”
“Jeeze Louise, consider it non-binary. It feels like there is too much woman energy in that den anyway.”
“And what makes you feel like you are in charge now?”
“Let’s call it power vacuum, sweetie. And if you’re itching at the thought, just wait until you see my boss.”
“Let me guess. She’s December, right?”
“Yep. And they are a mean piece of work, and going to make a swift clean up of all the dregs left over by that orange nightmare.”
The moving lorry had been parked outside the Beige House for hours.
The driver was furious, as nobody has been able to answer their calls or guide them. At least the manager had let them park in front of the entrance, but it might have been based on a misunderstanding. “That’s for the removal of the Lady’s stuff, is it?” He’d nodded, it was only half a lie, his client was a lady, except she wasn’t moving out. She was moving in.
He shouted to his partner who was smoking outside.
“Come on, Fred! Don’t get mad, you’ve seen how particular she was when we loaded the boat’s content, so full of her sentimental knick-knacks!”
“What do you expect? Us keeping all these stone statues that weigh a ton! I don’t care. I tell you, she better show up in the next minutes, or else…”
The Beige House was eerily calm. Most of the staff had left after the super spread of the epidemic.
“Ready for a change of crowd in the building, Fanny?” said Finnley in her unmistakable Kiwi accent, as a matter of breaking the silence in the grand hall. She was dusting the chandeliers, while Fanella was shampooing the carpets.
“I don’t know Miss Fin’, it iz such a mess now. And I have to take care of ze baby, no time to be political.”
“Oh, by the way, I received a message from the gang…”
“Aprrril’ and Joone?”
“Yep. Those two. The money has dried up, and they learnt the hard way that American are not loved much these days, big spreaders and all. So they decided to sail back to the good ol’ States. Looking for a job now, and hoping that autumn doesn’t mean everything will turn to orange disaster!”
“… and don’t tell me she’s got another pitiful excuse for not delivering! Listen, she’s just the worst! And let me tell you that I’m not exaggerating. I’m also managing GRRAOU —yes, George fucking R.R.A.O. Urtin, and this guy’s been at his pentalogy since 25 years. So, I got my fill about lame excuses.”
“Her readers are devotees, you know. They know hers is a difficult craft. Warping and woofing words around like she does, so gloriously. Everybody but you Bronkel seem to understand that it’s not commonplace, it’s a treasure earned with patience and devotion.”
“Devotees for sure. They have a saint’s patience I can grant you that, and luckily for her!” Bronkel drank the inch of gin bottoms up. “And where is she, by the way? Will she not deign face me?”
“Oh, I think she’s err… busy at the moment. She’s rehearsing a scene from her last book for accuracy… with the gardener.”
No sooner had they reached for the drinks in the office cupboard, than the phone rang loudly.
“I thought you gave her the afternoon?” Tara mouthed while picking the annoying phone. “Cartwright and Wrexham Private Investigators, can I help you?”
Her face frowned. “Herself speaking.”
“Yes, we do private investigations. Very successfully I may say. Alright Ma’am, let me check my agenda.” She looked in the air, flipping an imaginary agenda. “Oh, you’re in luck, our 5pm just cancelled. Alright then, see you at our office. Au revoir.”
Tara hung up with a smile.
Star was busy slurping the mojito while struggling with the mint bits in her teeth. “What? Tell me this instant!”
“Our second case! Isn’t it exciting!”
“Sure thing, what it is this time? Evil possession?”
“Actually, it’s not that far off. Apparently, our ladyship needs a falgrante delicto of adultery. Her husband seems to be a cheating one, and with a twinge of double personality… Or at least that’s what she said.”
“Fantastic. Can’t wait for all the juicy details. I’ll go prepare my sequin red dress to set the honey trap darling.”
“Good lord, get a hold of yourself Star, it’s only been a day, and you’re ready to jump on the next passing horse as it were.”
“Who said you shouldn’t mix pleasure with business.”
“Right. Thought that was the reverse…”
“Tsk. Just to get the last word.”
“I knew it!” Tara had gone to investigate early, disguised as an elderly jogger in a velvet teal jogging. “Seemed clear enough that that retirement home was a front…”
Later when she came back to the office, she was quizzed by Star, who was still yawning despite the bright sunlight.
“So tell me, a front for what?”
“Can’t you guess?” Tara said, removing her false teeth.
“Nooo?” her hand flew at Star’s mouth and incredulous face.
“Yes, hmm-hmm; you guessed right: a time travel agency.”
“Oh dangit, they stole my idea! After all the virus pandemic thing, they sure know how to surf the crisis to make a buck. The buying carrots alibi traffic, and now that!”
“Yep, guess that people unable to go anywhere for holidays make up for a good clientele. You can imagine the slogans: Celerity: Why go anywhere? When we can send you anywhen! “
“And a convenient way of disposing of nosy people too. I hope they didn’t send Uncle Basil to the Dinosaurs, can’t imagine the stench of those Time sewers.”
“Oh no, don’t think he was affluent enough, you see. Apparently you pay by the time meter. The further in time, the pricier. And I guess the surest way to dispose of someone would be in the past rather than in the future…”
“So Uncle Basil is in the past!”
“Well, I could have told you that from the start. No wonder Mr French paid us in advance then, he already knew we’d crack that case. Our first case’s closed, dear! If Mr French ever wakes up and calls, we’ll just redirect him to our Time Dragglers friends in Marseille for their ‘relative lost in time’ retrieval package. Now, anyone for mojitos?”
“A dil-do factory?” She was aghast. “A fucking carrot dildo factory?”
“Oh don’t push it.” Star lit a large cigar, a nasty habit that cropped up when she was nervous. She blew a smoke ring and sighed. “At least the rogering was a nice change. Good clean sex, almost a spiritual experience.”
“Oh come now, with all the don’t-need-to-know details…”
“Well, don’t be such a prude, you were there after all. With all that luscious moaning. Haven’t seen you so flushed in ages…” Star tittered in that high-pitched laughter that could shatter crystal flutes.
“Wait… a minute.” Tara was having a brainwave. “We may have overlooked something.”
“What? In the sex department?”
“Shush, you lascivious banshee… In the flushed department.”
“What? Don’t speak riddles tart, I can’t handle riddles when my body’s aching from all that gymnastic.”
“Can’t you see? They got to get rid of the dissident stuff unfit for cultish dildoing, if you catch my drift.”
“Oh I catch it alright, but I’ve checked the loo… Oh, what? you mean the compost pile?”
“I’ve seen trucks parked out the back, they where labelled… Organic Lou’s Disposal Services… OLDS… That’s probably how they remove their archives, if you see what I mean.”
“I have a theory. Although it usually would be more in your area of theories.”
“What? Alien abduction?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking time travel… Haven’t you noticed the scent of celery when we were at the mansion and the appartment?”
“A dead give-away for time-travelling shenanigans!”
“Exactly. And if I’m correct, might well be that it’s Mr French from the future who phoned us, before he returned to his timeline. Probably because he already knows we’re going to crack the case. Before we know.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Would have been nicer if he’d told us how to solve it instead, if he knew, from the future and all? Are you not sure he’s not from his past instead, like before he got in that dreadful car accident?”
“Oh well, doesn’t matter does it? And probably won’t any longer once we locate the Uncle Basil in the Drooling Home of Retired Vegetables.”
“Wait a moment!” he turned back and asked Eugene.
“Have you given a thought about tartigrades? Heard they’re those sorts of teensiest moss piglets and could eat their fill of microscopic snails — I guess provided with enough microscopic garlic butter.”
He didn’t wait for Eugene’s answer. “Give it a thought, will ya.”
Damn right he couldn’t do everybody’s job around.
“Listen” said Gabe, the cult leader. “How long have you been Gourd level? One year?”
The other nodded.
“See Gavin, I think you’re ready to go Operating Tomathetan.”
Gavin gulped. “But, but… are you sure about such a leap? And… what about…”
“Oh, don’t worry about him, the yielding of his crops has been written, and it’s not good. Better look toward the future Gavin. And let me ask you something, don’t you think about the future?”
When the Great Leader Undisputed Gabe had spoken, it was customary to bow and continue listen, in case he wasn’t finished.
“Is there anything more I can do you for, oh GLUG?”
“Sure. Get me your proposal for the new organization of the crops. No rush. Tomorrow will be fine.”
“Your great leaderness is too bountiful.”
“Of course. Now scram, I have rituals to attend to.” And with that, Great Leader Undisputed Gabe made a hasty retreat into the inner sanctum with his favourite vestal priestess of the moment.
Gavin was flummoxed. It had all been foretold by the heretic Basil. He wondered, should he consult him? The weight of this sudden assignment felt heavy on his shoulders. He wondered how he could solve the mountain of problems that had accumulated like horse shit on a pile of manure.
“You’ll see, it’s all connected.” Star signaled Tara when they were ushered into the inner sanctum. “I’m sure all the trail of clues have led to this for a reason. Have I told you about my theories about multiple timelines and probable selves? Maybe the Vince who called us called us from a different probability…”
“You probably right, but that nurse outfit is really too tight.” Tara wiggled impatiently on her chair.
“AH! There you are!” a manly voice behind them. “Welcome, welcome, young fresh divine sprouts.”
Gabe took a while to observe them, then made a face. “Not the freshest batch I had, I must admit, but that should do.”
He clapped his hands, and a woman entered. “Get those two well anointed, and prepared in the art of leafing.”
Tara and Star looked at each other with an air of utter incomprehension on their faces, but decided unanimously to just go with the flow. Who knows, if all was indeed connected, it would probably bring them one step closer to Uncle Basil and the solving of mysterious comatose Vince.
“It’s funny,” he said, squinting his eyes. “Looks like the maze kind of fades out.”
“Oh yeah, that happens all the time. People lose interest you see, then it all but vanishes from their experience. Quaint, I know.”
Kahurangi, nicknamed Kahu, was trying hard to get interested, see if the structure would come back into focus. But there were more fun things around. He asked again to the guy who was selling pop corn at the entrance.
“T’is normal that people wander around with… well, pets? Look at this guy, with a piglet on a leash. It’s cute, don’t get me wrong, and probably more useful when you’re looking for truffles…”
“Pretty normal. Seems animal have a sense around this thing, or so it’s believed. Many will bring one and try again. Look, I buried my snake not long ago, it was getting tired I think. Not sure they make the best animals to cover ground there.” He continued “Are you buying me something or what?”
“Oh sure, give me that, and a bottle of water.”
He handed a crumpled bill of 5 and thanked.
“A word of unsollicited advice?”
Kahu noded “Sure.”
“See those piles of rocks over there, along the way?”
“Looks like inukshuks, are they? Strange place to find them though.”
“Yeah, you’ll tend to see more as you get along. People started to build them to pinpoint places they’d been, but over time, they became encampments, and people lost the will to move on.”
“Don’t stay too long around them.”
Kahu shrugged and moved along. The maze was starting to get in focus again, there was not a minute to spare.
line care tell
Do you know the center of your maze?
Can you travel between threads of life?
Can you teach us?
— A mazed explorer.
Everyday is now. I know, I’ve stopped the count.
This strange book I’ve found must be for something. Had the impulse to post a picture from it on a forum.
There were instructions coming with it, I have only started to decypher them, and my brain already feels like it will melt if I go too fast.
Apparently the Chinese philosopher who wrote it said he was swallowed whole, then spat out from the belly of a giant fish, a kūn 鯤, months later. I know, sounds crazy, and yet very familiar. Jonas of course, but also Sinbad, —Pinocchio even… The story’s not new to us.
When he came back, he said it was only to share knowledge. So came his book of encoded instructions.
First instruction he said. You are in a maze, you want to find the center of the maze, and never get lost again while you decide whether or not you still want to explore it.
It kind of struck a chord for some reason. I realized, with all the stories we tell ourselves, they abound, expand in our minds, take roots deeply.
The thought came this morning: if suddenly I’m struck dead, and find myself in my own stories, I would be in a tight spot to escape the whole craziness. I would need a backdoor, a way back, or out.
That’s why its first instruction resonated. It continued. Create your center of your maze. Now. Don’t delay, you may regret it. It must be pure with intent, and tell about who you are in the deepest sense. Engrave the following words around it to seal this pure memory. And put it outside in the world, so that someday when you come back to it, you’ll know.
You have found the Center of Your Maze.
Now, You Know It
And it can never be taken from you again.
I know of a memory of mine I could put in my center. It came very naturally. An illustrated book of stories, mythology to be exact. One of the first books I got, and I can still remember vividly the feeling of entering its world. My parents had given it to me as a gift at a time they had to leave me home alone for a few hours. When they came back, I was still on the same kitchen chair, deeply thrown into the book’s world, feeling like barely a minute had passed.
It was a moment out of time and space. I know it was what being at the center of my maze meant.
I’m grown now, but the feeling is still there. I’m going to put that out some place where I can find it in case I ever get lost again among the shadows of men.
Board 10, Story 1
The maids escapees of Versailles timeline venture in strange lands and go to extreme lengths to find adequate food. “Didn’t the time GPS say to turn left at your peril?”
Ascended Master Floverly goes about her duties to paint and inspire the world a better place by applying Herself entirely lovingly to the most demanding tasks. “A whole new world / A new fantastic point of view…”
Board 9, Story 1
Madame Chesterhope gets ready for her favorite sport: transdimensional puddle crossing in her refurbished bike. New worlds await!
The Time-travelling Drag Queens Reginald, Amar and Cedric have finally summoned St Germain’s crystal and are getting ready for the disco party, while worrying about being underdressed for such occasion.
Phurt is not happy about her assignment on this island. Bloody too small! she says. What am I supposed to eat? Coconuts?
Board 7, Story 1
Barron wasn’t one to let a call for help unanswered.
Yes, Barron, not the wee prodigee from the Beige House that he enjoyed possessing, but the demon summoned from Hell.
It had all been a big misunderstanding, as they all say in the end. He, for one, would have thought the ride more fun. He usually wasn’t summoned for anything short of an apocalypse. That’s what the big elite cabale had promised him.
Oh well, maybe he shouldn’t have eaten them in their sleep. He couldn’t say no to the fresh taste of unrepentant sharks and sinners. Since then, he’d been a bit stuck with the big Lump. He would have thought he’d be more competent at the whole Armageddon thing.
Back in the past, now that was something, the Crusades, the plague and all. So much fun. Gilles de Rais, well, he took it too far, blaming monsters for his own horrendous sins. Nowadays, people didn’t really need direction, did they? They were all too happy to ride barrelling out of control towards chaos and certain death. His job was done, he would be a legend down there, and still he felt like a fraud.
So what could he do? His plan for eternal holidays in Mexico while starting a cartel war had been sadly derailed. His mercurial and weirdo nannies had disappeared leaving him alone. Plus, the voodoo witch he met during their escape had been on his ass the whole time, he’d seen the eye she’d given him. Wouldn’t mess around with that one; can’t possess people against their will and risk a merciless lawyer from Heavens, can we. Heavens’ lawyers were the nastiest of pains.
He was about to abandon all hope when he’d heard the pleas from the French maid and her child. Well, she sounded too whimsical and high maintenance. But it gave him an idea. With all the death around, there were plenty of near dead people to possess who wouldn’t mind a last ride,… and funny bargains to be made.