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So our father, or a very good impersonator, is on his way.
The thought has been with me for some time. We haven’t heard back since his message. I’ve send some cryptic SMS, but none have been read.
It’s been only two days, and Devan has been already distracted with so many stuff. I have to be the one to keep track.
If he’s coming from Fiji, then two days isn’t a long time; hopefully he isn’t in any trouble. I guess the sand storm coming isn’t helping either.
I was thinking we should clue in Idle. And then I thought what I meant, we should clue in an adult, but I get the impression that’s not was Aunt Idle is… We can’t tell Mater for now; the thought might break her heart. We have to be sure.
That Liana Parker seemed to be an unrelated loner, I was half tempted to share a few thoughts with her, but somehow I couldn’t get to trust her, she’s been acting so strange, now all locked up in her room as if she’s avoiding everyone. And maybe she’s hiding something too.
Patience… seems to be something I need to practice more and more. That’s what Betsy had said when she saw me last, and gave me one of them little glittery bears. It’s looking at me funny on the table, and blinks with the light.
I had to meet Devan at the garage; I didn’t want to raise suspicion calling an overseas number that would show up like a sore thumb in the next phone company invoice. Even with the occasional visitors calling for bookings, it was more Idle’s job to call back. She is funny when she’s got her headphones and microphone on, with that look from the 90s, taking her grand air and posh accent to answer people over skype. ‘Sister Idle dot com‘ I call her behind her back. She sounds like a mixture of an investigator and nun who would sell goose feather duvets made by the nunnery.
Devan was punctual for once; we didn’t have a lot of time to use the phone at the counter while his boss was off for lunch.
We looked at each other. “You sure you want to do that?” we both knew there was no turning back. It could be a sore disappointment, but how worse would that be compared to a rabbit hole of questions and potential emotional upheavals. Someone wise said (probably Henrich Lyeumon I think) “if you continue going down rabbit holes, you’re bound to find a lot of rabbit poop.”
Devan nodded silently.
I punched the numbers from the Gugu search.
The connection seemed to take forever. Then a click. A gruff “Hello?” in a male voice.
I don’t know why I blurted it out, but it came out without thinking.
“Dad? Is that you?”
“…” Devan looked at me alarmed and also with excitement in his eyes. There was a blank at the other end of the line.
“Not on this line. I’ll call you back.”
We don’t have time to waste, his boss is already back, smacking his lips all shiny with chicken grease.
Before I leave my brother to his job, we exchange hopeful glances. So a rabbit hole is it.
My phone is buzzing.
A message from [Unknown sender] — why didn’t it go to spam?
“I’m on my way. ~ F”
I told Devan in no ambiguous terms to solve his own funny riddle.
I did try to make an effort, but that seemed a rather desperate way to catch our attention after not really caring about the family for so long.
It was good to see him though.
With all the activity around the coming guests at the Inn, it’s easy getting lost in the wind of activities, like the motes of dust hiding in Dido’s hair.
The twins did a good effort though, with all the decorating and stuff. I was sincerely impressed. Been a long time since I’ve been impressed by them. Seems they may actually grow up fine. Who would have known really.
Hormonal growth be damned, I’m feeling all sort of contradictory feelings about this.
Like, what about hearing about our funny father after all this time.
And Devan, who’d shut us all off, now back for a little make-over time… Or something else maybe. He doesn’t seem to realize the emotional landscape and baggage here. He’s a nice brother though.
It’s horrible. So much contradiction – I feel some rage on the surface, lots of… and underneath so much caring it’s painful.
So what happened to our father? Still alive? Quite possibly. I’ve had my suspicious when this strange guy posed as a friend to the twins on the social network some years back.
I was young when he left without a note; hadn’t started to write my journals yet, so my memories of him are very little. But I remember the chaos left after him; Mater wasn’t really the same after. I think she’s burned all pictures of him, and somehow pretends they never existed.
Idle plays it as if she doesn’t care, but I’m sure she does. She doesn’t want to let it be known, but she probably doesn’t want to hurt Mater more with this.
God, what a family drama. Why would Devan want to unearth all of this now, at a moment we were all quiet and settled like a decent respectable family.
It was maybe just keeping up with appearances, and the veneer was thin to start with.
That’s in the middle of all this angst mixed with puberty that it hit me.
Acrostic. Or ἀκροστιχίς in Greek. First verse, or first letter.
My dad was a writer, so he liked word riddles. And the little sign was a pointer.
>A mine, a tile, dust piled high,
Together they rest, yet always outside.
One misstep, and you’ll surely fall,
Into the depths, where danger lies all.
ATOI didn’t seem to make much sense, but I remembered how small “l” sometimes looked like a capital “I”.
Atoll was the clue I’m sure of it. Where to disappear if not to islands.
The letters at the end of the verses are spelling HELL. So it’s opposite.
Basically, Atoll Paradise.
A little Gugu search with AI, and that was it. That was our father here, with a number to call.
Boat rentals – Island tours
Call FRED @ (+679) 215-7644
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.prUneParticipant
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.