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It is a challenge of utmost magnitude to keep track of time here in this land where the Dream Time is so nigh as to make its presence oft palpable in the very air. The subtle shifts in timelines and probabilities do naught to aid in this endeavor. No coincidence “Dream Time” is the label on Aunt Idle’s not-so-secret stash — she could not keep its location secret lest she forget it during the waking hours.
We jumped without warning into 2023. At 15, I am a grown-up now, so says Mater, and I could not wait to hear such words from her. She is always here, such a comfort, unchanging, unyielding, the only immutable force in the universe.
So now, life can start to unfold in front of me in the manner of my choosing, rather than being dictated by the sorry state of affairs of my family. I have set my sights upon a boarding school that may provide such an escape, but it will require the procurement of the tuition money — which will take a few more years to acquire. Patience, I have, at least for now.
The Inn is ever in need of assistance it seems. I don’t know how it came to be, but some Italian chap, Georgio, who came last year during the pandemic and got stranded with us, made such a fuss about Mater’s famous bush tucker that the Inn became fashionable overnight. Obviously Mater, bless her soul, doesn’t cook, a mercy for which we are all thankful. Said tucker was truly the handiwork of Tiku and Finly, but Georgio thought that “Mater’s tucker” has a nicer ring. Whatever suits these loonies’ fancy, it did bring us a nice stream of income in return.
She made us miss Mater’s birthday, didn’t she?
Idle had one job…
Truth is, wouldn’t have been much fun to party with masks on, although the thought occurred that a masquerade ball would be something to behold.
Oh well, Mater is going to have a field day making us all look guilty. I’m sure it’ll warm her soft heart. Might be all she needs nowadays.
Can’t say that the business at the inn had been splendid. We’ve grown so used to the idea we might have to sell it anytime, that it doesn’t feel such an earthshattering revelation.
But if we sell, how much can we scrap by to send Mater to a nice nursing home. She might screech and kick us if we only voiced the idea. People have no idea how feral she can be on the topic. Aunt Dido knows though. I’m sure she’s having a few hustles down the road to get the household afloat.
I have been wondering, have you been to Mars? How is it like?
Do they have whales there?
Summer is slowly ending from our side of the planet. Despite the onslaught of depressing daily news, it makes me wonder if everyone suddenly became concerned for Mater for reason:
a. because she’s at risk not to become centenarian in time to get the medal of enduring persistance
b. because we should now cancel the expensive party we had all started to plan with great pain
c. because the longer we search, there’s still no telling who and where is Jasper and whether he’d be there even for a remote party behind screens…
Some idiot has disabled or smeared all my cams on the Inn, so I only can spy with the sounds now, it’s a bit jarring at times. I thought I heard Bert cough a few times.
Maybe it’s just code…
I don’t know if that’s a second youth or what, but getting to that 100 line has put Mater in an energetic frenzy. She’s been putting her things in order, like she said.
My studies on machine learning and artificial intelligence are keeping me away for now. I’ve been studying hard for that Mars program selection, but it looks like it’s hopeless. Anyway, I had the good idea to put nannycams in all the hidden spots of the Inn. It’s not been as much fun as I’d hoped, spying on Aunt Idle and her manic ramblings. You would think she’s drunk all the time, but for all the recordings, I’d be damned if I’ve caught her yet on tape with a bottle. I guess her body just distills it on its own…
I’m not even mentioning the dubious trails of “Uncles” of late: the Fergus, Basil or otherwise. She’d known quite a few of these in her days, although she’s claimed to have been a paragon of matrimonial virtue, being single woman with kids in these parts must have been rough after she lost Pater.
I think I finally caught something between all the cloak and dagger mascarades, tatty letters and all. Digital footprint isn’t big, but it may be something tangible to begin with.
Meanwhile, we’ll have to get started getting the invitation list in order; Mater’s contemporaries are falling by the minute, and Aunt Dido’s braincells are probably dying as fast as that— it won’t be easy to get a complete list. I know I should enlist Devan, I even put him on that family group thing, but he’s not big with all the tech stuff. As for the twins, well… We still have to hear about their stories. At this rate, might be faster to learn to telepathically tack on Dodo’s brainwaves. She says to whomever wants to hear she’s got direct connection to them… Would sound cultish to me, if I didn’t know better about the sisters! I’ll be worried when Mater starts to take this woowoo seriously.
Mater, already centenarian! I didn’t even realize how time flies.
We’ll have to organize a big party; I know she isn’t fond of those big sappy reunions, but it’s not every day you turn 100.
Forget about flying her to some place, we’ll have no choice but to return to the Inn, all of us. Good thing we have time to plan. Mater being a 🦁 Leo and all, we still have until next winter down under.
I’ve been checking old records those past few days. Yes, I know, not much ever happens, and I’ve got a lot of time on my hands between my studies. Anyway, I read something rather odd about a bit of rare magic… Sorry, getting carried away again, I mean, I found a passing mention of Jasper.
Guess, the letter is about our long lost brother that nobody ever mentioned. My sisters, with all of their flaws, which I don’t hate them for, have a keen sense of investigation. Must be in the genes, though it may have skipped over Aunt Dodo.
That, or they have just sent a copy of the Boynitch manuscript to sent her into a spin, that wouldn’t be a first.
That was a first. I had no idea what just happened. And believe me, this girl has seen some serious hanky-panky going ‘round here. Starting with Aunt Idle and her hustling and lascivious seducing of the Middle Eastern pirate cosplayer we had as guest.
But of course, that was nothing compared to how glamorous Mater looked in her red gabardine.
Anyway, something odd happened, like everyone was zapped in a torpor after the Fergus guy arrived. We were all expecting a sort of big reveal, and he did drop some incoherent clues, nothing truly worth the wait sorry to say, so we all went upstairs to sleep.
Blame it on the spiced lizard meat maybe, but I can’t figure what happened after that until I woke up. Everyone this morning was playing it by ear, as if everything was normal. But people are missing. Fergus and his motorbike, and the scarf girl with the young boy and their cat. Maybe others, I’ve lost count, and I’m done putting sticky notes for Idle (funny she insists being called that by the way… Maybe a side-effect of her medications).
There was an Italian corvette parked outside, all black & white. It arrived during the night, it woke me up when it arrived, but I went back to sleep I think. I wonder if those are new tourist guests. The Canadian guests were a bit in alarm, especially after the Fergus reveals.
Mater would tell me, “there is no cause for worry dear, mark my words, in an hour or less, it will all settle back down to the usual deadly boring as usual business.”
I think that planned family time was a bit too much anyway. Or too little. Devan hardly spent an hour with us, he’s too obsessed with his lost treasure conspiracies. He’ll be doing great with Dodo and her friends from the journal. I think they all enlisted Bert for a trip to the mines by the way. For all the good it’ll do everyone to try to unearth old secrets. Might give Mater a serious heart attack, for real this time.
As for me, I’ve had enough. I’m packing my bags and leaving with the first bus back to the Academy. There’s a mission to Mars to conquer.
It all started to feel insanely crowded and agitated in the Inn, it took me a while to check whether I was tripping on some illegal substance.
Truth was, the funny chicken was doing alright until Finly and Idle came back in a hurry, tried to make me puke and feed me charcoals, as if I’d been poisoned or something.
I overheard Aunt Dodo when she shouted at poor Finly “why would you put my stash with the lizard leftovers! It’s me-di-cine you old cow, not some bloody herb seasoning!”
Finly looked indignant, but she knew better than to argue. Besides, I’m sure her face was speaking volumes, something in the tune of “with the bloody mess of your stuff all over the place, why do you think?” Sure, there was some other profanities hidden in the wrinkles of her sweet face, but she would leave that to Mater to spell them out.
Anyways, I just maybe feeling juuust a little funny, but with years of bush food regimen behind me, my liver is surely strong as an ox and pumping all the stuff out of my system like a workhorse.
So, yeah, I was maybe tripping a little. So many new people came in at the same time, it felt like a flashmob. They were probably real and not just hallucinations, since Dido dashed out to greet some of them.
I went upstairs and spied on them from there. I’m making also a list, mostly for Aunt Dodo, because if her heart is in the right place, her brain probably isn’t (or it’s a tight one).
So there, I wrote on a yellow sticky note:
Dido, if you're paying attention, here are the guests at this moment: - Not counting PRUNE, and DEVAN who just texted me he's coming!! - A jeep-full of loonies: A GIRL with red and white track pants and a hijjab, a black CAT and a GECKO (wait, you can forget about the gecko), a weirdo GUY in a fancy ruffle shirt and a little redhair BOY. TIKU is here too, helping FINLY in the kitchen. - Your old friend HILDA, and her colleague CONNIE - Two townfolks Canadian tourists who argue like an old couple, but I don't think they are, MAYV(?) and SANPELL(?) (sorry, couldn't catch their names with their funny accent)
I guess breakfast is going to be lively tomorrow…
It’s been only a day since I arrived, and I’m already over it. Nothing seems to have changed. What a drag this place is.
Only Mater keeps surprising. She was a bit more emotional and hermitical than usual. Didn’t think those two cursors could move with her, but I guess she’s still has it in her.
Aunt Dido said she’ll croak one day, and we’ll find her having spent her last breath lying in a fresh dug hole in the ground. I don’t know if that was her idea of a bad joke or a veiled menace, there’s no telling when she’s been smoking.
Bert was all busy with things to repair and prepare, we barely had time to talk since I arrived. What a crowd-pleaser he’s become, don’t know what he gets out of this one-sided deal, with Dido having him wrapped around her fingers like this.
That funny Dido is all over the place, and nowhere to be found, as usual. She said we’ll be expecting guests. She probably was high as a kite. Would be a first since ages.
I wonder what would drag people here, it’s not like the place is on any maps, or on the way to a tourist spot. But who knows what instant instapound fame can do to lure people in the oddest spots… Been reading articles about those nincompoops going to severely polluted place to take selfies in front of azure acidic water pretending to be on Bora Bora. Wouldn’t be surprising if Clove or Corrie had started a trend on flabber just to prank us. Like using ///digger.unusually.playfully to send people in the middle of nowhere in search for gold…
There were some leftovers in the fridge. I was ravenous, and almost ate all of the funky shredded chicken. Smokey taste, but okay. Finly had an horrified look on her face when she came back with the supplies, probably the shock of seeing me all grown up now.
I could still smell the ounces of pecksniffery I got from the commiserating board during the review for the renewal of my scholarship.
My family background did its part; I guess it actually helped wet a few eyes.
A year ago, I was elated when I learnt I was accepted in the boarding school I applied for in secret. It is the only one in the country with an equivalence for astronaut programs. They don’t really advertise, but if you search, you can find them. Guess that’s how they select the motivated ones. I still have high hopes to get selected for the Mars program. They’re launching the first commercial travel in 2 or 3 years they say. That’ll give me time to prepare.
Almost didn’t get the letter though, between the nosy sisters and my messy aunt. Hard row to hoe, like they say. Thankfully Mater was still strong as a bull when it comes to holding this family together.
I guess it’s mostly for her that I come back from time to time. The fish’s still here on the fireplace, stupid as ever. I sure don’t come back for it. I think I’m missing Devan too, but he’s never kept touch. Can’t blame him, must have been hard to be the first born, that sort of things.
I had a dream last night; Mater must have sent it. We had to entertain guests —that’s how I knew it was a dream, must have been ages we had guests in the inn. I was doing a little cabaret show, then we all went for fortune cookies at the Chinese local restaurant, like old times.
Guess with the summer break coming, I don’t have much better things to do anyway, and bus tickets are cheap. As cheap as Aunt Dodo’s barmecidal crackers luncheons.
“Sometimes you don’t know who you really are, but your story does.”
That was a strange fortune sesame ball. Janel’s parents had brought us to their favourite restaurant in town. Well, apart from Bart’s, it was the only other restaurant in town. The Blue Phoenix had this usual mixture of dimly lit, exotic looking run of the mill Chinese restaurant. But the highlight of the place, which surely drove people from miles here, was its owner. She liked to be called The Dragon Lady with her blue-black hair, slim silhouette, and mysterious half-closed eyes, she was always seen scrapping notes on bits of paper, sitting on a high stool at the back of the restaurant, near the cashier, and a tinkling beaded door curtain, leading to probably even darker places downstairs.
“How did you like the food kids?”
Janel’s father was nice, trying his best. I confectioned the most genial smile I could do, not my greatest work by far, “it was lurvely!” was all I could get out in such short notice.
The Dragon Lady must have felt something, she had apparently some extrasensoriel bullshit detector, and moving unnoticed like a cat, she was standing at our table, already not mincing words. “What was it you didn’t like with the food, young lady?”
She managed to cut all attempts at protest from the clueless adults with a single bat of an eyelash, and a well-placed wink of her deep blue eye.
For worse or for worst, the floor was all mine.
“Are glukenitched eggs even a real thing?” I managed to blurt out.
“Oh, my dear, you have no idea.”
I don’t know exactly when it struck me first. The passage of time.
When you are young, it’s easy to miss it, some would say “you’re a child, you don’t know about such things”, and maybe they are right.
In a few months, it will already be 2 years that we reopened the Inn. The results have been mixed, we haven’t gotten any richer, but it definitely helps pay the bills.
It definitely helped to pay for Aunt Idle’s rehab, after her nervous breakdown last March. Well, rehab is a big word. We got professional help from some friend of Mater, Jiemba, who knows someone who knows someone.
Of course, we had to package it nicely for Didle to take the bait. She would have none of that rehab thing of course. But she was sold at the first syllable of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis leaf, well aya for short.
After that, seems she wanted to travel to Iceland. Got to figure how she gets all that fancy money. Mater says it’s her sugar daddy lovers. Not Mater’s, you silly. Dido’s.
Mater says that without any judgment, which is rare. She still calls her a tart and all sorts of nice things, but it’s like she’s proud that she made it in the world —or just that she slowed down on the gin bottle.
Speaking of Mater, she hasn’t been so well. After she tried to grab some can of chicken broth from the shelves, she broke her hip bone. Of course she couldn’t stand staying at the hospital and got herself discharged as soon as her doctor looked the other way, but I can see she’s not completely healed. Finnly is doing her best with the circumstances, adding nursing to her housekeeping skills. And Bert’s been around to support with the inn maintenance.
Well my twin sisters are another story altogether. They’ll be moving out, they said, live in the big city. They had no intention of going to college anyway. Seems they are looking for a full-time blogger job. I’m betting they’ll be back soon enough. Nothing beats Finnly’s mince pice and charbroiled spicy huhu skewers.
It’s been a while I’ve seen Dev’. Always working at the gas station. Mater always says his lack of ambition will save him from trouble.
So yes, time has passed. It’s funny how nobody else seems to notice.
It feels like it has all been a dream. And not a particularly good one, too.
I look through the window, and the blue sky of Earth shines brightly though. Only a few more days before the quarantine is over, if I’m to believe the hazmat-suited staff, and I should be able to get out to wherever I want to. You can go back to your family the nurse had said with a smile. They surely must miss you.
Obviously, the well-intentioned nurse had no notion of her family…
The TV set they’ve put in the rooms is more helpful to piece together the fragments of memory of what happened. The news had kept mum about the aliens, or about our return for that matter. It seems they can’t explain how we came back so fast, without telling more. Maybe that’s the real purpose of the quarantine… brainwash us into forgetting, returning back to our lives quietly, and be happy that we could get back in one piece. Funny they should even bother at all, actually.
I don’t know if there’s any coming back to how life was before. Surely the Inn and Aunt Idle would still be there, if only both more derelict than before. But would I want to get back? Do what? Only Mater’s sharp wits were ever a match, and she is gone too.
This is the end of the Mars story.
With some chance, I’ll start a business with Hans — raise Guinea pigs, rats and maybe a couple of those cute African pygmy hedgehogs. That would be a lot more fun.
Squeals and cackles, and truckloads of cuteness.
I dreamt about Mater last night. She was her old self, brilliant and snappily dangerous.
It’s been the first dream I’ve been able to remember in weeks. I don’t know why I expected the great beyond space to be less… claustrophobic, but there’s no escaping the confinement.
I was telling her I was missing home, the air, the smell of eucalyptus trees, the rains before winter. I think I even became sentimental about my sisters. Hardly a news from them these days, but how could I blame them. They are always busy on some down-to-earth cause, and I know better than to criticize those on the ground actually doing something to change the wrongdoings of the world.
When I started to cry uncontrollably, Mater told me I was a baby, and that I should man up. Typical Mater. Dido would have called her names under her breath, I think that was her way to express her love for her. People are silly.
In the dream, I stopped crying but the tears had swollen into a river, and I was starting to drown, things became hellish and I could barely breathe, but somehow I could still feel Mater’s presence, like a beacon. I made it out of the torrents onto an island. There were many refugees. The doctors had the strangest blue eyes, and Mater’s voice told me to trust the process but not the doctors. Then I felt all the blue eyes looking at me, and I woke up in a sweat.
Hans is still deep in a peaceful sleep, so I went out of the bedroom to get some water and check on the piggy and her litter. They are always sleeping blissfully too. It’s a wonder when you think of it, that I thought it was just getting fatter when it actually was pregnant from before we left Earth. Now they’re mostly an open secret, as everyone finds them so cute.
The most difficult was to conceal them from the reality TV show’s cameras. The hysterical fans are always scrutinizing every move we all make, and keeping some privacy is tricky, but apart from the external prying eyes, pretty much everyone here know about them and it’s like a game of hide and seek. I like how it fuels the speculations and paranoia of the Mars bunker debunking association, who think we’re all part of a mass cover-up. I’ve spent some time on their website when I couldn’t sleep the first weeks when we arrived. I would probably have never known about it, but I just searched for myself on the web, and found this thread about the new conspirators. I had to laugh at the beginning, but they raise reasonable doubts in the middle of their rants. By now, I know better than to raise the topic, especially after all the religious nonsense. Seems there are some people that get really annoyed when I asked naive questions about it, like Maya.
Like I said. People are silly.
Aunt Idle has again tried to do us some fancy French dessert but ended up again burning it all.
Didn’t help that she used old Bert’s welding tools to caramelize the top.
Now the whole inn, including the fish is smelling of smoked charcoal.
It even brought Mater out of her room, where she’s been in a sort of retreat the past days.
When one is so desperately bad at something, is it a proof of character to do it over and over until some miracle happens?
Third day of the new year: Mater saved the day !
Who would have thought some acupuncture would do the trick on her old grey Guinea piggy.
Now he’s running like it’s brand new.
Better not say that in front of the twins, they would like to poke needles in people for no reason. Better not to give them some.
Today, I met Huoxing, the bank teller. Funny, you would say that they have a bank teller on Mars. The irony is not lost on him apparently, his name means Mars in Chinese. His parents did have either some special foretelling powers, or a mean sense of humour.
In both cases, he was quite efficient at setting my account up and doing some basic transfers.
With the latest collapse of the economy on Earth, there are mostly only banks of China left everywhere. Still, there is only one on Mars, and Mars is the teller. What are the odds?
Christmas has always been a strange tradition in our family.
Maybe because first and foremost, Christmas is all about family. Besides the twins and their bond, sometimes I wonder what makes us a family at all.
It doesn’t help that we can never get snow around this place, and dressing in red and white fluff is not going to make things suddenly magical.
It was comical to see the exterminator come with a red bonnet, panting and all red himself, as if he were some genial Santa bringing gifts of death to our yonder’s rodents residents.
He didn’t catch a rat, but got himself a fright. Thanks to Mater, when she erupted in the attic in her white hanuka honey cream face-lifter mask. I think that sneaky Finly got to her in the end.
The mystery of the strange noises in the inn is not going soon, apparently.
Bert and Aunt Idle got back from their trip in the evening. Apparently Bert had insisted to bring some sort of shrub to make a Christmas tree in the great hall (it’s not so great, but we call it that). Finly didn’t seem pleased too much with it. Raking leaves in summer, bringing pests inside… she didn’t have many kind things to say about it. So Mater sends her to cook a “festive dinner”, that’s what she said. I heard Finly mutter in her breath something about kiwi specials. I like kiwis. Hope she’ll make a pavlova… just, not with Mater’s face cream!
It seems that giving small gestures of appreciation got the mood going. Aunt Idle is always very good at decorating with the oddest or simplest of things, like rolls of TP. Sometimes she would draw nice hieroglyphs in the layer of dust on the cabinets, it gives the furniture a special look. Mater always says it’s because she’s too lazy to do some cleaning consistently, but I think it’s because cleaning is not creative enough for her. Can’t believe I just said nice things about Aunt Idle. Christmas spirit must be contagious.
Then, Devan came home with some pastries. It’s not often I see Devan these days, and usually he’s always brooding. I would too, if I had to come back home when I could just start my life away from there. Finly was all eyes on him all of a sudden. Seems nobody noticed, not even the twins, too busy being snarky while playing on their phones,… it looks like there is some strange game between these two, my brother and our Finly. I think Finly makes a lot of efforts to look younger with him, I can see when she fiddles with her hair. They would make good friends, and I’m sure Devan doesn’t mind the accent.
As always, it’s not about how pretty the tree is, or how good the food is, or how big the gifts are… It’s more about being together, for better or for worse. And Dad, and Mum are always out of this almost nice picture, but somehow, it matters less today.
There’s a good thing about that Christmas spirit. It gives you the weirdest ideas. To be nice, I asked Mater if we should invite the guests to our festive dinner, and probably lifted by the mood, she said yes, of course. When I went to the closed door to invite the guy, I thought a random act of kindnes is a perfect occasion to learn more about our mysterious resident stranger… Maybe that’s what the adults mean in church when they say you should always be kind to each other.
I don’t know what possessed Mater, but I like the new version of her.
She’s a true inspiration. The way she commandeers, how she pays attention to the little things. If she wasn’t so wrinkled, I’d want to become her.
She doesn’t seem to need anyone in her life, maybe that’s why she’s so strong.
I don’t know how this all happened, but we now seem to do well enough. We have one paying guest (he seems to pay on time too, I don’t know where he gets that kind of money around that place), and it seems we can afford some manservant. Well, that’s something Aunt Idle would call that nice lady, surely not Mater. She was very kind to her.
Hope she doesn’t get funny ideas like she should become some sort of Mary Poppins or the like.
The way Mater was sad after her piggy passed, I realized having a dog is a huge commitment. I told Battista I lied and I was sorry, but we couldn’t have the puppy. I knew she wouldn’t mind, she likes to keep dogs around.
Instead, I thought I could start breeding guinea pigs; they don’t live too long. Everybody thought stealing the fish was just a prank, but I wanted to pawn it to kick-start my business. The sad truth is that it isn’t worth a dime.
Luckily, Bert who noticed me, said he would help.
I wonder why the only persons I can relate to are more than ten times my age… Sometimes I’m like an alien in my own family.