“Pop*in People Tribulations” is a heartwarming tale of friendship, adventure, and the power of storytelling. When deceased friend Granola discovers her pop-in abilities, she sets out on a mission to reconnect with her friends and bring excitement to their everyday lives. Along the way, they uncover a mystery surrounding a collection of dolls, and find themselves embroiled in a thrilling adventure that takes them across the globe. Through their travels, they encounter a colorful cast of characters and learn the true power of storytelling in shaping their lives and relationships. With humor, heart, and a dash of magic, “Pop*in People Tribulations” is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt the urge to shake up their routine and find adventure in the everyday.
So the Story goes...
Maeve liked to make dolls. They were all quiet, and full of an inner life that would transport her in wild imaginary adventure while she was making them. She liked also to collect strange people and make them into her dolls.
She would often go to the mall, take a table at the coffee shop, and observe the daily life show for inspiration…
In the apartment next to hers, lived Shawn-Paul, a handsome bearded bachelor, who was a writer he’d said. She had not made him into a doll, not that he wasn’t doll material, he seemed weirdo plenty, but she noted there were subtleties to the character she wanted to explore more.
“Are you ready?” Ailill, had a blue suede hat this time. He liked to change his headpiece regularly to fit his mood, but somehow couldn’t or wouldn’t change it to any other color than blue.
Granola wasn’t sure she would be ready to pop-in properly. She still had to build her character a little bit. She would have only mere seconds each time to make an impression, a glance was all it took at times. Something had to attract attention.
“I think you’re plenty ready” Ailill smiled as he pushed her in the downward spiral that had appeared at their feet. He jumped right after her.
Ailill cringed as a whirlwind of rotting mulch landed in the laundry basket that was piled high with freshly washed and folded white linens. “Not like that!” he whispered to Granola, rolling his eyes. “Don’t be so critical,” she snapped back. “I haven’t got the hang of it yet.”
Caspar the dog whined from his basket under the table. “She’ll blame me for that,” he said to himself. “Should I pretend to be asleep, or slink out now before she comes in?”
Jerk Munkinn closed his laptop and sighed. It had been a while he’d looked into the Group. So long actually, he’d felt a pinch in his chest when he’d realized so many of his friends had departed.
“Must have to do with the gettin’ old, eh”.
Truly, that was a bit of a let down, when you thought of how so many of them tried hard to be chirpy and funny all the time. Exhausting really, like living with kaleidoscopic glasses shooting rainbows in your optic nerve all the time. No wonder some got depressed and left, virtually or for real. Even he could feel the withdrawal effects at times.
The new joiners were active too, but that didn’t feel the same, he couldn’t bother to get involved any longer.
A few days ago, there had been a renewed noisy agitation on the Woowoo group. Nothing unusual, he’d first thought, these things tend to go in stress cycles, losing a little more steam at each turn.
It was not obvious in the beginning, but as he was almost done rolling more and more of the same tiring feelgood stuff, he caught a vaporous idea. Something lying behind. The slow revelation of the loops everyone was caught in. The tearing of the veil of disguise everyone was so wrapped up in. What was he, without that veil?
For a moment, the door of understanding was there, at hand’s reach, and it went out of focus and moved away.
A red flash caught his attention in his periphery. Seemed just the lights in the street, but of course he would know better. “Tonttu” his crazy aunt would have said.
Trickster, or distraction at best. He chose to ignore it, focusing instead on the white noise of the rain falling on the awning, while he got to sleep. Tomorrow was Monday. Only one week of work and he could go back home.
When Jerk came for his shift at the WholeDay*Mart, it was still early in the morning. He liked this shift best. Early customers were always a bit sleepy, except for a few of the early riser soccer moms up for a jog, and usually were far less chatty than the midday crowds.
One had to find ways to keep awake though. What he liked best were the invisible people. There was one in particular who’d caught his attention for the past few days. She had the insolent smile of people in the know, piercing eyes that would go straight to you without care for the social barriers, or untold rules and rites of the place. In short, she’d struck him as the only awake person in the lot, almost winkfully so.
And to his surprise, nobody seemed aware of that. It was as though she was in the background of the other drone people, who just couldn’t register such oddity into their daily computation.
He couldn’t care less — after all, for a meager pay, he wasn’t there to police. He was just intrigued by how she would seem to get away with it and be totally unnoticed.
Shawn-Paul lived in a studio apartment, crammed with bookshelves full of books and trinkets that he gathered during his many walks around the city while looking for inspiration. He hadn’t read all of the books, but he always had the intention to do it one day. One day easily became two and three, and so many.
Someone with OCD could dust date the different purchases by measuring the thickness of the layer of dust on the books.
That day, Shawn-Paul was drinking a hot chocolate at his computer on the small desk where some books lied open or closed on top of each others. The top one’s cover claimed in bold red letters “NARRATIVE COACHING, The Definitive Guide to Bring New Stories to Life”. Shawn-Paul had bought it thinking it was a coaching book for writers but it apparently aimed at teaching coaches to tell good stories. The book had proved interesting and especially another occasion to enrich his knowledge about the world or in one word procrastinate.
Shawn-Paul took a sip of the hot chocolate, which was now more lukewarm than hot and felt the impulsion to open his browser and watch a video about narrative coaching on U-stub. That’s when it all went wrong and myriads of ads popped up and covered the screen and his newly bought writer software were the first word of his novel still waited to appear.
At first, he panicked and his sudden movements back and fro almost broke the fragile equilibrium of the desk clutter. But then he shrugged, took his phone to call his friend Jeremiad for help and remembered how that went last time when he had to listen to his friend’s imaginary problems, just like imaginary friends but worse. He put the phone back in the clutter and looked at the last ad. A girl with sensuous cherry red lips winking at him with a packet of granola cookies spinning around her head.
Unaware of what was happening, Shawn-Paul felt hungry and considered his lukewarm chocolate. He smiled as he thought he could make another one and enjoy dipping some cookies in it.
He went to the kitchen and foraged through the clutter of dirty dishes and empty cookie packets. There were none left. The effect of hunger on Shawn-Paul was square grumpiness. Not round, not rectangular. Square. And it didn’t fit the curves of his stomach.
Shawn-Paul put his writer’s jacket and cap on, added a wool scarf because he had a sensitive throat, and it looked cool on him and he winked at his reflection on the mirror hanging on the main door.
He left, unaware of the smile of the granola girl.
Lucinda could hear the neighbours dog whining through the thin walls between the apartments, but she liked the dog, and she liked her neighbour Maeve, so the noise was a comfort rather than a bother. Moments earlier a movement from the window had caught her eye: fleetingly it looked like some sort of dust devil or whirlwind of dry leaves. Perhaps that was what had upset Caspar.
She went out onto the kitchen balcony and looked across at Maeve’s identical balcony and called softly to the dog. He came sidling out looking guilty, with a lowered head and nervous tail wag. Lucinda noticed that her neighbours tomato plants were ripening nicely, while her own were still hard shiny green, thanks to the shade of the big oak tree. A blessing in some ways, keeping the hot afternoon sun off the kitchen, but not so good for the tomatoes. Not that it was particularly hot so far this summer: glancing down she noticed the guy from the apartment on the other side of Maeve was wearing a scarf as he sauntered out onto the sidewalk. Surely it’s not cold enough for a scarf, though, thought Lucinda. Still, perhaps he’s just wearing it because it matches his socks. A trifle vain, that one, but a nice enough fellow. Always a ready friendly smile, and Maeve said he was quiet enough, and never complained about her dog.
Lucinda had been passing by one day as Shawn-Paul had opened his door, and she couldn’t help but notice all his bookcases. He’d noticed her looking ~ she hadn’t been subtle about her interest and was trying to peer round him for a better look inside ~ and he’d invited her to come round any time to borrow a book, but that he was late for an appointment, and didn’t have time to invite her inside that day. Lucinda wondered why she’d never gone back, and thought perhaps she would. One day. One of those things that for some reason gets put off and delayed.
There was nothing Lucinda liked more than to find a new ~ or a newly found old ~ book, and to randomly open it. The synchronicities invariably delighted her, so she did know a thing or two about the benefits of timing ~ otherwise often known as procrastination. When she did decide to visit Shawn-Paul and look at his books, she knew the timing would be right.
“Don’t lean on me man, la la la la, synchronicity city…” she started singing an old Bowie song that popped into her head from nowhere, barely aware that she was changing the words from suffragette to synchronicity.
Meanwhile unbeknown to Lucinda, Shawn-Paul had just rounded the corner and bumped into the gardener, Stan, who was on his way to the apartments to mow the lawns. They exchanged pleasantries, and patted each others shoulders in the usual familiar friendly way as they parted. The two guys were not friends per se, they never socialized together, but always enjoyed a brief encounter outside with an easy pleasant greeting and a few words. Shawn-Paul always inquired about Stan’s family and so on, and Stan often complemented Shawn-Paul’s scarves.
Granola, temporarily rustling around in the big oak tree, noticed all of this and immediately recognized the connecting links, and peered eagerly at the three people in turn to see if they had noticed. They hadn’t. Not one of them recalled the time when they were all three suffragettes chained to the railings near an old oak tree.
It was a dull day at WholeDay*Mart. Jerk’s yearly week of holidays had gone so fast it felt he hadn’t gone at all.
He had slipped back into the routine, and apart from some subtle details that indicated the passage of time, all but felt the same. It didn’t help that summer holidays were upon them, as the early workers were less in the morning. The city would soon quietly become a summer desert.
He looked lazily at the posters on the windows. One seemed out of place. The midsummer night’s dream biennale . That was new… Could be something the city council would have cooked up to drive tourists up here. In any case, it felt intriguing.
“Are you preparing a corso for the parade?”
“A what?” the blond customer caught him off guard while he was mechanically scanning her shampoo bottles and dog food packs.
“A bloemencorso , that’s Dutch for float, you know… car with flowers and decorations… If you’d like, you can join mine. I’ll call it Beeee Yourself.”
She extended her right hand “My name is Lucinda, by the way.”
Granola allowed herself a few moments to bask in the glow of satisfaction. At least Lucinda had noticed the side bar suggestion she had implanted on the Face It web page, and had perused the ideas sufficiently to motivate her to try out one of the missions.
“Invite a random stranger to join you,” it had said, “to join you for coffee in a nearby cafe, or invite them home for dinner, or to see a movie.” The page had included numerous other suggestions, but that was the gist. They did warn the reader that often, people were suspicious and expected a scam of some kind, and if the random stranger exhibited more that a token display of wary caution, to leave them with a cheery wave, and thank them for helping you to practice your confidence boosting exercises. Under normal circumstances, providing the level of fear and distrust wasn’t too high, this approach usually rendered the random stranger more amenable to an approach in future.
In truth this wasn’t a difficult exercise for Lucinda, for she often spoke to random strangers and quite enjoyed it, although usually she didn’t extend that to personal invitations. But the Ask Aunt Idle Oracle had been droning on and on about interconnection being the primary factor in reducing signs of aging ~ yes, strange, but true: nothing to do with food or toxins or exercise after all ~ so the coincidence of Aunt Idle’s advice mirrored in the side bar suggestion registered sufficiently for Lucinda to actually remember it, and try it out on the bored looking fellow in the supermarket.
Only hesitating slightly before extending his hand to grip hers in a surprisingly firm handshake, he responded: “I’m Jerk. Pleased to meet you.”
Granola grinned from behind the pyramid of baked bean tins, and faded out of the scene. There was work to do on the side bar method for the next clue.
Jerk’s eyes flickered over to the baked beans, registering the peripheral movement, just in time to see a disembodied foot wearing a red sandal vanish into the somewhat heavy air of the canned goods aisle.
Shawn-Paul exited Finn’s Bakery on the crowded Cobble street with his precious cargo of granola cookies. They were wrapped in a cute purple box pommeled with pink hearts. He put on a disdainful attitude, adjusting his scarf for better effect, while already salivating in anticipation of the granola melting in his hot chocolate at home. He was sure that would revive his fleeting inspiration for his novel.
It was hard not to swallow as saliva accumulated in his mouth, but he had had years of practices since he was eight. His aunt Begonia had just given him a snicker bar that he had swallowed in one gulp, spreading some chocolate on his face in the process. She had accused him of being a dirty little piglet and he was so upset of being compared to the animal, that he had vowed to never show his love for food again. Instead he developed a public dislike of food and a slender frame quite fitting his bohemian lifestyle, while always having some cookies in store.
Shawn-Paul turned right on Quagmire street. It was bordered with Plane trees that kept it cool and bearable in summer. He was thinking about the suggestion of his writing coach to spend some time with his artist self, thinking that he had not done it for quite some time, but immediately felt guilty about not writing and firmed his resolution to go back home and write. He walked past a group of two elder woman and a man arguing in front of Liz’s Antique. One of the woman had a caved in mouth and used her hands profusely to make her point to the man. She was wearing pink slippers with pompon.
Italian tourists, Shawn-Paul thought rolling his eyes.
He swallowed and almost choked on his saliva when he glimpsed an improbable reflection on the Antique’s window. A woman, smiling and waving at him from a branch of a plane tree behind him, balancing her legs. He particularly noticed her feet and the red sandals, the rest of the body was a blur.
As Shawn-Paul turned, the toothless Italian tourist whirled her arms about like an inflated tubewoman, frightening a nearby sparrow. The bird took off and followed a curve around Shawn-Paul. Caught together in a twirl worthy of the best dervishes, the man and the bird connected in one of those perfect moment that Shawn-Paul would long but fail to transcribe into words afterwards.
There was no woman in the tree. A male dog stopped to mark his territory. A bit disappointed and confused, Shawn-Paul felt the need to talk.
“Did you see her?” he asked the Italian tourists. They stopped arguing and looked at him suspiciously for a moment. “She was right there with her red sandals,” he said showing the branch where he was sure she had sat. “I saw her in the window,” he felt compelled to add, not sure if they understood him.
The other tourist woman, who had all her teeth, rolled her eyes and pointed behind him.
“There’s a woman in red right over there!” she said with a chanting accent.
Shawn-Paul turned and just had the time to glimpse a woman dressed all in red, skirt, vest, hat and sandals before she disappeared at the corner of Fortune street.
Moved by a sudden impulse and forgetting all about his writing, he thanked the tourist and ran after the red woman.
The red woman led Shawn Paul through small busy streets. Shawn Paul had never seen that many people with dogs and parked bikes all gathered in strategic places each time he was about to catch up on her. He swore he could hear her giggle.
Eventually she entered a cafe called Red Beans. Shawn Paul steered through white tables and chairs made of wrought iron and followed her in, breathless. He had never seen the point in running before. But he still wasn’t sure why he had to catch her. What would he do? Talk to her? Ask her what she did perched on trees and smiling?
There seemed to be only the bartender who was busy with a huge coffee machine, hissing like a locomotive. A colour, a movement on his right made Shawn Paul turn, and he just had the time to catch sight of a red hat going down the stairs. She certainly went to the toilets. He thought that maybe following her downstairs would be too creepy, but at the same time he didn’t want the bartender to talk to him either.
So he went down and waited at the door. The lock was red, showing someone was inside.
Shawn Paul waited. There were many flyers of parties and events pinned on a wall, but he wasn’t the party guy and his eyes flew over the messy images and texts that seemed scattered on the wall.
After five minutes he wondered if something had happened and pushed the door. It was open and the lock was broken, always showing red. He tutted and shook his head. He had been foolish, he thought. There has certainly been nobody there since the beginning. There was no girl sitting on trees with red sandals.
He got out of the cafe and was ready to walk back to his apartment with his granola cookies. When someone called him. He turned and stared at a girl and a guy having drinks on the Red Beans’ terrace.
“I was sure it was you, Shawn Paul,” said the girl. “I thought I recognised you when you ran inside earlier, but you seemed in such a hurry,” said a girl. She had a big grin and a pony tail.
Her face looked familiar, all rosy and cheeky. She had a nice jacquard sweater and a matching skirt, and she was waving at him cheerfully. Her cocktail was full of reds, blues and yellows.
“Remember me? Lucinda, from the apartment on the other side…” she added.
It suddenly dawned on him, they had met once or twice. She had said they should meet again, but they never had. He felt a bit trapped, not knowing what to say.
“Hi,” he said, and he looked at the guy. He had never met him, that he was sure of.
The guy looked as embarrassed as himself by the intrusion.
“Hi. I’m Jerk,” he said.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” asked Lucinda pointing at a flyer on the table. She took a sip of her cocktail.
Shawn Paul was about to decline with a ready made up excuse when he saw what was on the flyer. It was a big red balloon with a red hat on a starry background. It said “Reception of the French Ambassador. Free Buffet with Ferrero Rochers and Champagne”.
Shawn Paul pulled closer one of the heavy metal chairs and sat with them.
“Tell me more about it,” he said instead.
Lucinda answered her honking phone, while silently indicating to the waiter whose drink was whose. She smiled as she noticed the reaction of the people sitting at the other tables to the strident honking geese noise she’d chosen for her phone. The mundane daily things that amuses one are more important that you think, she’d say if anyone mentioned it, and the reaction to the honking tickled her every time her phone rang.
“Maeve, darling!” she gushed, showing off a bit in front of Shawn Paul and Jerk, and then her face puckered into a frown as she cringed. “Oh dear, I’m awfully sorry… . No, of course you can’t decorate it all on your own, that wouldn’t be fair at all, but that’s the thing I wanted to tell you,” Lucinda was thinking quickly, “The neighbour, you know that tall one with the nice smile, and the, er..the well dressed one, yes that’s the one, the writer, well he’s going to help us with everything…”
Almost imperceptibly, Shawn Paul’s head jerked back a little upon hearing this, as he wondered what exactly he was expected to help with.
Lucinda continued into the phone, “And you know the guy from the supermarket down the road, the , um, the quiet one, well ok perhaps you haven’t noticed…. what? yes, that’s the one! well he’s going to help too. What? Oh I’m sure he’s only like that at work,” Lucinda glanced at Jerk with a little laugh, mouthing something indecipherable to him and pointing at the phone with a roll of her eyes. Jerk raised a single sardonic eyebrow and sipped his cocktail.
“I tell you what Maeve, come and join us. We’re having drinks at the Red Beans cafe. Where? It’s next to the Karmalott Kafe on the river front, you know it? Good! See you in ten, then.” Lucinda snapped her phone shut and beamed at the two men.
Maeve sighed loudly—something she had been doing an awful lot of lately—and checked the time on her phone. If she left now and really hurried it would only take 5 minutes to get to the cafe. On the other hand if she took her time … well, with any luck the others would have already moved on.
Not that she didn’t like Lucinda, on the contrary she enjoyed her neighbour’s gregarious nature and propensity to talk amusing rubbish — usually in public and at the top of her voice which would cause Maeve to look around nervously and lower her own voice in order to compensate.
Maeve had made peace with her own introversion years ago. In order to survive with a semblance of normality, she had cultivated an outward calm which belied the activity going on in her head. The downside of this was she suspected she came across to others as muted and dull as the beige walls of her apartment. The upside was it allowed her to hide in plain sight; and she considered this to be a very handy trait. In truth, Maeve was one who liked many and few; she would happily talk to people, if she knew what on earth to say to them.
‘Anyway,’ Maeve reasoned, ‘I have to finish the doll.’
She looked with satisfaction at her latest creation; a young boy wearing a vintage style buzzy bee costume. She had painstakingly sewn, stuffed and painted the cloth doll and then sanded the layers of paint till he looked old and well worn. ‘He looks like he has been well loved by some child,’ she mused. There was just one more step remaining before applying a protective coat of varnish and seating him on the shelf next to the others.
She went to the kitchen drawer. In the 3rd drawer down there was a cardboard box of old keys. Most of the keys didn’t fit anything in her apartment; in fact she had no idea where they came from. Except one. She picked out a small gold key and went to the writing desk in the lounge, a heavy dour piece of furniture with a drop-front desk and various small drawers and cubby holes inside. Maeve unlocked one of these drawers with the key and pulled out a small parcel.
‘Only 3 parcels to go,’ she thought with relief.
A small section of the stitching was unfinished on the back of Bee Boy, just enough to squeeze the package inside and then rearrange the stuffing around it. With neat stitches Maeve sewed up the seam.
She checked the time. It had taken twenty six minutes.
“Want to go for a walk to see Aunty Lulu and her nice new friends? See what she is going on about decorating?” she asked Fabio, her pekingese.
Moving to the city apartment had not been a bad move. It was little things like this ~ being a five minute walk from a cafe terrace…. a selection of cafe terraces, she reminded herself…after all, her old home in the country village had been a thirty second walk from a bar terrace, and she had never used it. But the idea of being able to meet friends easily seemed to be one of the appealing things about urban life, despite being vociferously against the ghastliness of concrete and traffic landscapes for most of her life. Lucinda wasn’t sure what had changed or when it had happened, or even why, but over the years she had socialized increasingly less, to the point where an occasional lunch date seemed like a jarring interruption to her routine, where a trip to a shopping centre became a dreaded ordeal, or god forbid a journey to the nearest airport, on the most horrifying things of all, a motorway. And yet, she’d been quite the social butterfly in her youth, and a part of her still felt that that was who she was, really. And yet the truth was she hadn’t been very sociable at all for years.
The decision to move to an apartment in the city happened suddenly, almost by accident. Or had it? In retrospect, Lucinda could see the signs and the little nudges, one thing after another going wrong as they usually do before a beneficial change ~ would that we could appreciate that at the time, she often thought! At the time she’d wanted nothing more than for nothing at all to change, to be left in peace to appreciate ~ and yes, she promised herself she would remember to appreciate everything more often! ~ if only, if only, nothing changed or went wrong and she could stay just as she was. But as time lurched on, dealing with one thing and then the next, and the next ~ she started to wonder. And then like dominoes falling, it all happened, and here she was. And it wasn’t bad at all.
When Lucinda called her friend, Shawn Paul felt it was time to go back home. He wasn’t sure if it was his natural shyness, that he had already seen and talk to so many new people today, or if it was the fear of the unknown. What would he tell a stranger? What would she think of him, his outfit and his scarf? All that made it too much at that moment to meet someone new. So he looked at his phone and pretexted something had come up. They agreed to meet at the reception at the French embassy and he left.
Shawn Paul was walking crossing streets on autopilot, lost in his thoughts about the adventures of the day, when a crazy honking that sounded like an elephant fart brought him back to reality in front a bakery. He realised too late that he had forgotten his granola cookies on the table. But he shrugged and smiled when a little yellow butterfly flew by and landed momentarily on the rear light of a red car. He stopped and wondered how such a light creature could live in a city like this. It took off and fluttered around into the general direction of a public garden nearby where children played under the kind presence of their parents.
“Hi.” They said at the same time with the same awkwardness. Maeve’s dog was sniffing out his shoes, making Shawn Paul self conscious of himself. He feared a moment she might think he had a sloppy hygiene.
“Come Fabio.” Maeve said. “Sorry for that. Dogs…”
Shawn Paul smiled in an attempt to hide his embarrassment, and each of them went in their own direction.
Shawn Paul arrived late at the reception because he spent too much time deciding on which scarf would match his new deep purple velvet jacket. The others were already inside and drinking, their body moving more or less in rhythm with the music.
“Your dress suits you so well,” said Shawn Paul bending closer to her hear and making an effort to talk louder. A smile blossomed on her face at the compliment, contrasting with a lingering nostalgia in her eyes. She was wearing one of those black body fit dress which gave her silhouette all the contours they needed to pop out in a flattering way.
“You missed the speech of the ambassador,” she said with a wink. “Nothing memorable, it’s the same every year.”
Jerk was standing on the side, wearing a suit like one would wear camouflage clothing. He seemed to deeply wonder what he was doing there. Shawn Paul, who was wondering the same, addressed the man a sympathising smile. A moment of connection happened and went away. Jerk took a sip of his glass of champagne and Lucinda put a flute in Shawn Paul’s hand.
She took his other arm and said : “Come. There is something I want to show you!”
Granola who was lost in the connections of the elaborate tiling of the ballroom, her curiosity suddenly piqued, leaned in closer, almost shaking in the process the shiny wrappings of the Fellelo Rochers pyramids she was hidden in.
“Funny how time goes or seem to not exist at all, when you are popping in and out” mused Granola.
It felt a few seconds since she’d left the sheen of Ferrore wrappings, but with her mind racing in all sorts of places, she’d somehow would appear in another tranche of life months apart from the last sequence she was in.
Truth be told, she had almost forgotten about the past circumstances, or how the story was unfolding, like waking up from a dream, and barely remembering the threads of the night’s activity all the while knowing you were totally absorbed by them a few blips of consciousness ago.
If she’d learnt something, that was to go with the flow, and start from where she was. Clues would light the way…
Since they’d moved him (promoted, they said) to the new store in the posh suburbs, Jerk’s job had taken a turn for the worse. One thing was clear, they put him in charge because they had clearly no idea who to put there.
He’d liked enough that the thing basically was running itself, and he didn’t have much pressure to perform for now. But honestly, these parts of the city were much less exotic to say the least. More drones consumers, bored mums, noisy kids, all day long…
With the new schedules and the commute, it wasn’t as easy to have a social life; not that he cared too much, but he’d started to bond a bit with the funny neighbors some time ago. With the return of summer, he was thinking of having a rooftop party at their appartment’s building, but for some mysterious reason, time was passing without having even set a day for the event.
“Less planning, more doing”, something said in his ear, or so he thought.
“Couldn’t agree more” he said, taking his bag discreetly as he made an early exit for the day.
Fabio, Maeve’s pekingese, didn’t seem startled when Granola popped into the squishy giraffe toy. It wasn’t the first time it’d seen ghostly apparitions around Maeve. Quite the contrary in fact, Fabio explained to the squishy giraffe after spitting it out on the kitchen floor, where Maeve was finishing her cleaning duties.
She couldn’t help but pick up the toy and give it a good clean. Most of the colors had already faded, but she couldn’t part with it. It was the favourite toy of her first dog, and it was bringing up many memories.
“Thanks for the bath, darling” she squished the toy making it talk.
She looked at the dog “it’s time for your walk, isn’t it? Let me change, and we’ll go to the store, I think we’re short of butter for the cookies.”
Granola felt a bit stupid in her squishy giraffe suit, lying deflated on the carpeted floor of the entrance.
“Ailill!” she called for her afterlife tech support guy in blue.
“Up here, darling.”
She looked up, and sure enough, he was there, a blue pompom ball dangling from the ceiling. It landed quite gracefully next to her giraffe, and turned into a small guy in blue overalls.
“Got yourself again stuck in rut, haven’t you?” he smiled at the giraffe, propping it up on its elastic legs.
“You can say that. It feels like days I’ve been stuck in a loop, observing the same people doing the same things. When I think I’m moving on, I’m actually just switching to the next one, but it’s always the same moment.
Lucinda blathering on the phone while I’m her cushion, and next I’m a paper roll in Jerk’s cash register, and the moment after, I’m the blank page that Shawn Paul stares at for hours, or one of Maeve’s unfinished dolls next. Actually, the giraffe feels kind of an improvement.”
She looked musingly and a bit enviously at Ailill’s form: “I didn’t think it’d be that tough to graduate to human form. Blobs of red lights were fun enough, but… things! This!” The giraffe looked at its chewed legs and wobbled precariously.
“In actuality…” Ailill started loftily
“Oh dear… make it simple please.”
“It’s part of the evaluation of attachments. You need to move beyond them, then you’ll be free to do more things, to be more. For now, you still see yourself as a props in these characters’ dramaless lives. But try to think about that one: what if they were the props of yours? You are trying too hard to move around the wrong things. The journey is inwards, always my friend.”
The old woman picked up the box of giraffe shaped cookies from the supermarket shelf. She looked at the box wonderingly, bemused at why she’d chosen it. She almost put it back on the shelf, but a couple of tears had rolled off her nose and onto the package. She put it in her basket, sighing. She couldn’t very well put it back on the shelf now, not with her snot all over the box. What did it matter anyway, she thought, sniffing. Now that the Ministry of Transport building had burned down, what did it matter.
“Is everything ok, love?” The old woman looked at the kind expression on the woman’s face, and started to sob. “Oh dear, whatever is the matter?” Maeve asked, noticing the giraffe shaped cookies illustrated on the damp packet.
“It’s the terrible news!” the old woman replied. “The Ministry of Transport! That beautiful old building! Such a testament to man’s ingenuity! Gone, all gone!”
“But it’s not the only one though is it?” replied Maeve, wondering if the old dear was a pew short of a cathedral. “I mean, there are others.”
The old woman pulled her arm sharply away from Maeve’s gentle hand on her shoulder and glared at her.
“How dare you say that! There’s nothing like it, anywhere!” and she strode off up the aisle, angry steps making a rat tat tat on the polished floor. Her outrage was such that she forgot to pay for the giraffe shaped cookies, and marched right out of the store.
Jerk, who was watching from a security spying monitor, sighed, and heaved himself out of his seat. The one thing he hated the most about his job was apprehending decrepit old shoplifters. I bet she smells of cat wee and rancid cooking fat, he mumbled under his breath.
“Oh hello, Jerk!” Maeve intercepted him on his route to the main doors in pursuit of the aged thief, noticing his disgruntled expression. “What’s up, you’re not upset about the Ministry of Transport building too, are you?”
Nonplussed, Jerk stopped for a moment to consider the unexpected question, giving the elderly shoplifter time to hop on a bus (that symbol of man’s ingenuity) and make her escape.
Halfway through the afternoon, Lucinda wished she’d never started rearranging the furniture. It was clearly a case of too much clutter in too small a space, but Lucinda felt compelled to persevere until the perfect combination of requirements and available and suitable positions presented itself.
Eventually a satisfactory arrangement settled into place, and Lucinda sat down on the sofa. She’d found a screwdriver underneath it when she swept under it, a Phillips. She didn’t think much of it, at the time, but later, after a few sips of wine, she wondered if there was any particular meaning to it. Not just any old screwdriver, it was a Phillips. Did that mean somebody called Phillip was trying to send her a message? Or was it the cross that was the symbolic part, like hot cross buns, and Easter. Lucinda could almost smell the warm spicy aroma of the toasted buttered hot cross buns she’d had for breakfast.
After a few more sips of wine, this train of thought led Lucinda to another train of thought ~ or as some would say, a sort of blathering cushion affair ~ and left her wondering about a number of things.
There was something oddly off about the new store where Jerk was assigned.
It’d taken him a few weeks to start realize it, as he was trying to get accustomed to the new environment.
The more he looked, the more the feeling was getting reinforced. There was for one, this door to the other storey that was blocked by a sort of impregnable charm. Did he unwittingly blocked himself out of this place? Unlikely, as he was usually given the keys to all sorts of places.
This was definitely annoying as much as it was unusual.
It was like the neighbours, who’d seemed friendly enough, and despite that, there was something that was missing in their interactions.
A flaming giraffe for instance, he would have understood the appearance, but a slow smothering of unbridled creativity was a first.
Where did the fun go?
They’d said at the last Worldwide Wisdom (a.k.a. Woowoo) Convention that they were done with the Tranche of Truth, and now entering the Tranche of Rules.
Seems like someone was playing with the rules of the Reality Firewall, and that was not enjoyable…
That, and those cravings for granola cookies, dreams of roasted marshmallows over a firecamp and red balloons in an elevator… Where was it coming from?
Hidden in a blinking pixel of the monitor of the cash register, Granola was looking at the scene and the silent tempest of incomprehension brewing inside Jerk’s head.
“Funny,” she thought “that they’d call that a dead pixel… Haven’t felt more blinky in a long while!… But let’s not get carried away.” It tended to have her stray in parallel reality, and lose her way there while making it difficult to reinsert inside the scenes of the current show.
“Let’s not get carried away.” She admonished herself again.
Her position in the pixel was a great finding. She could easily spy on all what happened in the shop, and if she wanted, zoom in through the internet cables, and find herself teleported to almost anywhere, but better still, in sequential time. Not bumping and hopping around haplessly inside mixed up frames of times. Aaah sequential time, she wouldn’t have known to miss it as much while she was corporeal.
“If I knew Morse code, I could probably send Jerk a message…” she felt quite tiny. Is a pixel better than a squishy giraffe?
“I must get that monitor checked” the voice of Jerk said aloud. “That screen is going to die on me anytime, and I’ll be fired if I can’t cash in for a day.”
Granola couldn’t blame him for the lack of imagination. How often she’d taken the electronic mishaps as bad luck rather as inspiring messages from the Great Beyond.
She stopped blinking for a few bits. It felt almost like holding her breath, if she still had one.
She’d have to upgrade her communications capacities; these four were really in need of a cosmic and comic boost.
Mandrake love of chasing pigeons almost got the best of him, but he managed to keep on track in the whirlportal that opened doors within places.
The Cat had gone for errands to the Doline, the only place that the Voodoo witch’s portals couldn’t reach. Only the underground streams led to it, as some sort of enchantment protected it and kept it hidden.
The swamps of the bayou were well connected to such otherworldly places, but it still took him much more time to get there than he’d wanted. The pearls from the Doline were the price for a tracking spell that the Voodoo witch he was going to had promised him so he could find Arona.
Granola was now a pomegranate seed, left on the side of the juicer that Maeve had used to fix herself a pick-me-up juice with some fresh grated ginger and a few leaves of sacred purple basil. Maeve had hesitated to add her all-purpose magic ingredient, the one she’d usually put in all of her secret potions, the mighty turmeric, but seeing the beautiful deep shade of pink the juice had produced, she just thought… an orange-yellow tint of turmeric would have been a shame and just would have ruined it.
Granola managed to slide a little to the left, squeezing her pulp a bit around the seed, and rotating slightly on the moist kitchen worktop. By doing so, she’d managed to move the kitchen knife and the pomegranate peel out of her line of sight, and she was thus able to peer into the living room where Maeve was sipping her juice with a content look on her face.
The Voodoo witch’s lair was surprisingly well furnished, nestled underground, accessed through a staircase hidden beneath the bema of a derelict church.
The decor wouldn’t have been to Arona’s tastes, Mandrake thought, but he wasn’t one to judge human likes. There were baroque displays of gaudy drapes, golden chains hanging from the walls, shrines dripping in red ointments with grotesque painted figures, and the usual paraphernalia one would expect in a Voodoo Witch’s lair. To a cat’s eye, all looked actually quite comfy.
The setting had made an impression on the boy, and Albie was standing like a statue mesmerized by the shadows on the walls cast by the waving candles’ flames.
“Have you brought ‘em my boy?” the rich voice of the priestess asked from the cabriolet armchair arranged under an extravagant canopy.
Mandrake pushed the boy aside, and dangled the bag of pearls in front of her.
“They’re yours as soon as you fulfill your end of our deal.”