The Turners’ Skeleton Comes to Town

The Turner’s Skeleton Comes to Town

[ Many thanks to the Creswick Critique group, especially David, Frank and Christine, whose earnest commentary on former versions of this story, got me out of the hotchpotch  this story was, and into the weird version I truly wanted. You got me thinking…

Happy Writing Friends ! ]

I chose that title because I was sick of being an entity without agency, and I wanted to tell my story. I want you to imagine you are me. Afterwards forget, May my dear, that you’ve been unfortunate enough to see me. When these brief Christmas moments ripped from eternity are gone, forget that you thought that this was real. Go on thinking it was a strange dream. That you found your own freedom to celebrate Christmas, no longer working yourself to exhaustion. That’s a lot of freedom for you. Why did you struggle so much?  Your freedom to this Skeleton who’s done the bidding of your ancestors for two hundred years, seems infinite. Since I’ve had a chance to meet you I understand more about choices, and about surprises. For these brief minutes indulge me as I imagine you are me, and you imagine too.

The ghosts wake your bones from the deepest sleep you’ve had in the past fifty years. It doesn’t matter if you think their reason does not approach the urgent. The head ancestor calls you from your grave deep beneath Devonport. The earth trembles and opens as if it were put into a sifter, and it shakes away from you as you rise. Reaching the surface, you roll in the refuse of what feels and smells like mature bottlebrush. You don’t have flesh to wobble, tremble or bruise but your mandible rattles along with your knees. Like an amputee you experience some sensory stimulus where your failing flesh used to be. Your senses of smell, touch and hearing remain; your sight is ,you believe, controlled utterly by what the ancestors want you to see. Most of the time they lead you blind. You experience continual surprise when you are vertical and moving.  You smell and touch things without smashing into them.  Vegetation parts around you. A weighty substance drips from your jaws and rolls down your stout bones.  It smells like hot metal and murderous mercury. You shudder. When it reaches your knees, you feel the stickiness of webs and the wriggling of avid arachnids. You stand erect, brushing the drooping leaves with your vertebrae. You know that this job is another payback for some Turner descendant’s resented mendacity about the practice of Christmas tradition; briefly summed up with the prosaic words, “someone’s not doing it right”.

These words were uttered by the ghost of the two generations’ past Matriarch. You wish that these ancient ghosts were unaware of the attitudes of their descendants. Alas they are, and you are the suffering servant of whims.Lately, you have learned that May Turner (who is she?) the great granddaughter of the Matriarch is enjoying developing her considerable artistic talent. She is failing in her duty to personally prepare every Christmas delicacy anticipated by her three adult children and their partners.

Egads! she is enjoying selfish pursuits in no other space than her privileged husband’s shed. She has converted it to a painting studio, with the help of a skylight, some shelving, and reorganisation. While arising from your deep clay grave you were shown in the crystal skull, nothing to do with your own, the indifference shown by May. This indifference was displayed when her husband came home from a business trip to discover his shed had become unrecognisable.

Now remember you are taking my point of view, don’t look smug. It’s irrelevant now that you got a fantastical deal on that skylight.

You consider the rumour that has reached you: this past July May did not make Christmas pudding herself. You welcome your remaining sense of smell as the warmth of plump raisins and brown sugar saturated in brandy reaches you. She called Chef Jenny, a local caterer, to make the puddings she would present to her family. You are here to contaminate those heavenly scented creations. A strange sensation like a tic in the middle of your spine starts while molten drops pour from your eye sockets. Words like shame and regret nudge you.  You try to control this process, but it does no good; the more you think about those words the more the molten drops pour.  Webs and spiders appear up to what used to be your waist.

You approach Chef Jenny’s restaurant pantry, sensing you are close, you find an unlocked door, besides which you smell cigarette smoke. Someone must be standing there. In imagination the morning sun is turning all the melted frost to prisms on the nearby grass. There is a vague recollection the sight might be called beautiful though you are blind to it now. Your joints are stiff, and your phalanges seem to rattle as you approach the door. The smoker is heedless. You remind yourself that no one can hear you unless they have previously seen you. They cannot see you by sun: sufficient LED light can expose you to someone with 20/20 vision.  Perhaps this will make you useless to the ancestors in the 21st century, and they will let you sleep in peace.

With difficulty you open the screen door and find yourself in what must be a food storage. There you smell bicarbonate of soda, spices, dried fruit, and odours you don’t recognise. As you clank your bones against stainless steel drums, a voice shouts, “Is that you Roy? I’m going into the suppliers to get some fresh stuff. They sent me something I can’t use.”

You wonder about the powers of what you presume is Chef Jenny. It seems no one told her that she couldn’t hear you. Your whole slavery is a mystery, if the ancestors are being mendacious with you, who will stop them?

You stand stiffly by the shelving as Roy’s voice answers the voice within. “I’m still outside. Maybe something has collapsed in the pantry. I’ll check.”

You hear the door bang, heavy footsteps, the smell of sweat and cigarette smoke.

“Everything’s OK.”

He walks away from you, and then you hear, “I’ll start the stock for the casseroles, and peel the potatoes.”

“Thanks. You should be able to make the sweet and the savoury pastry before I get back too.”

You hear another door slam, and water running. The sound of metal surfaces contacting one another. The thud of a heavy door closing.

You move forward until you feel the straight side of a stainless-steel bin. You reach past it and feel a long expanse of the same stainless steel. You climb onto the bench, and opening the lid of the bin, dangle your phalanges in. There are six bins containing various types of flour and sugar. All of them get the treatment.  Your right shoulder twitches as you scent delicious brandy again. Following your senses, you get closer until you extend your forearm, and your finger bones touch glass.  You are surprised. Surely you shouldn’t be able to smell through glass. Perhaps there is residue on the outside.  You enjoy smelling for a while.

When you leave by the door you entered through, you hear footsteps and Roy’s voice calls, “Who’s there?”

What’s happening? Is there something about this place that causes people to hear you?

You hear a crunching sound and the smell of petrol fumes meets you.

You see a bright red automobile pull up beside you. Later you learn via the ancestors’ report that she wore blue, a grey wool hat on her curly black hair and a multi-coloured scarf around her neck. The person walks around the building you just came out of. The perfume of roses and sharpness of oil paint, tempt you to follow the small person you think must be a woman.

She (you decide) returns a minute later with a box containing what smells like raisins and brandy, warm spices, with brown sugar and butter. You realise something could be awry with the plan. Is this May?  You sense the answer is yes. You realise you must go with her and determine her identity. Because if it is May, your mission is uncompleted.  The puddings she has were already prepared when you arrived and will not be affected by your treatment.

She stares when the back door of her car opens and shuts. What could you do? A word ‘panic’ seems to take form and shimmer around you. Instead, you sit tall and silent in the back seat amongst her jumble consisting of a coat, books, a paint smock, and  dog-eared exercise books. She stands quietly staring at her car. She shakes her head and gets in.

You hear her say, “Must have something to do with giving free reign to the imagination. I’ll get used to it.”

The car begins to move, and you struggle to keep your knees from knocking together.

After a while the car stops, you hear a car door open and shut. You hear another door open and you smell the gorgeous scent of the rich pudding again. You hear a beep and a thunk. The footsteps retreat, and the smell gets less and less. The chirping of birds seems louder and louder in the silence. A chill breeze brushes your knuckles.

 You think, how will I get out of this car?

Despite the breeze you are feeling very warm, when you hear a beep and the sound of the locks on the car thudding into place, you jump. The back door of the car opens, and the woman leans across you feeling for something in the mess. Remember she cannot experience you with the senses you have – smell, touch and hearing, and in sunlight she cannot see you. The explanations of the Matriarch seem to echo in your rib cage.

She doesn’t know I’m here.

You feel the woman pull out two flat papery things from under your thigh bones. You feel a stronger breeze and take the chance the door is open. Quickly, with a reptilian glide you slip out the door and behind her, she leans over and slams the door. You hear the beep again. You follow. You smell damp bark chips, musty wood, then feel stuffy warmth, and smell oil paint and musk roses. You brush against a wooden bench and sit. You feel the woman right next to you. Pages rustle, you feel the brush of an elbow. You lean away and shuffle until air meets you and you drop to the hard-concrete floor. The woman gasps. You wait for a long time in the silence. Pages rustle again. The woman says aloud, “I am May Turner. I am an artist now and always.”

You nod though no one can see you. You are in the right place.

A long time passes during which you hear the woman talking softly to herself, and the scratch of pencils on paper and canvas. She pauses once, and you hear the grind of a pencil in a large sharpener. You are surprised when you hear quick movements and feel her right next to you. The clatter of wood, the smell of paint, the swish of liquid, the tap of wood against glass, the warmth of roses and oil moves past you again. The canvas is being daubed with paint. You find the sounds and smells soothing.

Bang!

Your skull is ringing. The air is cold, and you hear footsteps. There is silence all around, and as the nagging of the matriarch is remembered: you long for oblivion. Realisation brings the knowledge that you are in the same space, but May is not. Banging your head again, you realise you are lying with your skull under the bench where May stores her paints. Giving a serpentine wriggle you move away from the bench and towards the sound of a metal door tapping in the cool breeze.

Erect, you walk out onto the path. The air now carries wafts of the scent of beef and onion. You walk one direction, and the savoury odour grows faint, you turn the opposite way: it grows stronger and so do your steps. A doorway opens before you.

The rumble of a male voice, answering another male, and breaking into loud guffaws tells you that May is not alone. A steel blade taps against wood. You hear the bubbling of the savoury stew you smelled.

“Evan set the table please”, May’s voice sounds chirpy instead of soft and tremulous. A heavy tread brings a six-foot source of body warmth right up next to you, and the rattle of metal cutlery sounds to your left.  Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. The heavy tread gets further away,

May’s voice is low and insistent now. “Evan what about glasses and spoons.”

Footsteps again. The draw is open and the stainless-steel clangs now. He opens an overhead cupboard, and you hear the tap of glass against glass.  Three pairs of feet moving around now. Crockery, a waft of beef and onions, the scraping of chairs.

“How was your day?”

No reply except the sound of forks on plates, slurps and chewing.

You can hardly believe it when you lean your tired skull forward, then look up. A blurry image rises in front of you: three torsos floating on a rectangular cloud, two are big, and one is smaller. The black curls you hear about later in the Matriarch’s report appear as a cloud of their own, just for a moment.  You nod your skull, and when you turn your facial bones towards the domestic noise again, the image is gone.

Chairs move back from the table, and you hear heavy footsteps move away. A loud sound of cheering, and muted voices talking in the background. Right by you the sound of metal scraping ceramic. A sigh.  Softer steps on the move are May’s. You follow. She moves into a narrow space, stops at a door. Creaking sounds and you feel a draft making your vertebrae rattle.

The tap, tap and echo tells you she is descending into the drafty space. You stumble on the first step and feel yourself mess up. Shaking and crashing you descend, landing on cold concrete at the bottom. May almost steps on you as she reaches the bottom of the stairs. You roll away from the faint warmth emitted by her presence. She stops, a cupboard door creaks. The fragrance, the warm spicy fragrance of Christmas pudding is both a pleasure, and the welcome sign that your mission could soon be completed. Muffled thuds, and the snap of doors closing. Footsteps ascend the stairs, as you lie coffin still. You go to the cupboard and find it empty. The fragrance lingers. You haul yourself up the stairs by both rails, hopping onto every second step. The door is ajar, and you find yourself in the hall.

Where is May?

In the kitchen eating uncontaminated pudding?

You feel disorientated but find your way back to the living area. Muffled roaring and cheering, excited voices none  of which sounds like May. You return through the door by which you entered and listen for the sound of the shed door. You hear it shut.

A gladness that you have no voice is sensed. In frustration you would use it now.

Gah!

The shed door opens to you and you are back in the concrete space, with pungent oil and softer rose. Too late you realise you stand in the glare of an LED lamp.

Insistent words from May, “Who are you? Who are you?”

Turning, you rattle and stumble away. Lurching from side to side, staggering back along the gravelly driveway, down the rough verges of the country lane. Wearily, you huddle under the bottlebrush that marks your entry into the nether realm of the ancestors. Stuck, you feel you cannot return without finishing the mission, and you cannot risk the exposure of LED. A night, that seems as if it is a century, passes.

When you finally feel the warmth of the sun, every bone is dripping with wetness. Standing you find your joints clogged with thick sacks of spider silk that make it cumbersome to move. The arachnids have insulated their progeny from the frost at your expense. May cannot see you by sunlight. The mission must be fulfilled.

You stumble into a large mud puddle at the entry to May’s driveway. A film of mud now sullies everything about you. The contact of rough granite that forms the entrance posts tells you that you’re entering the driveway. The path to the shed is before you and you retrace your bumbling steps.

Silence in the shed. You move around the whole space. Meditating on each smell, a trance of sensation you have not felt in a hundred years bubbles around you. Let this be the last moment before oblivion. Please.

Does the matriarch laugh, or is that some vividly remembered sound?

You stand. You move to the bench where you heard May’s voice. You sit. For seconds your vision exists: the canvas in front of you is haloed. A skull of silver in a bed of magenta roses. A tiny blue-winged bird with a black head, and fan-shaped tail sits on the skull. The skull is yours. You without the weight of your body. You objectified.

Macabre and natural beauty together for a transcendent moment.

A flash and it is gone.

Your spider bugged cage of being crashes back to your present hell.

Search for the puddings. Search for the puddings. A rhythm of vibrations that you sense as words, as if a heart still beat beneath your rib cage.On a whim, isn’t it all about whims, you return to the cellar discovered the night before. The cupboard when opened contains the strong smell of pudding.

Why were the puddings taken away the night before?

You place your bony digits inside and shuffle them until Arachnidom is awakened. The glistening glowing eggs descend like dew, and the puddings are cursed.

Returning to the place from which you came, you sleep the deepest sleep of regret found in two hundred years. The ancestors awaken you too soon – five months later to the day in fact. They restore your sight, so you can join them in watching their practical pettiness in the crystal skull.

May and the two men, plus another man whom you’ve never seen before, along with two women, sit around a table decorated with red candles and golden tinsel.  In front of each one is an empty, gravy smeared plate. The cheeky blonde woman gets up, and turns to Evan. “Now you can eat the traditional pudding you been trying to steal for months.”

Everyone at the table laughs. The man next to Evan fills their smeared glasses with champagne. The blonde comes back with one of the puddings. Golden custard, white ice-cream, brown pudding in deep crystal bowls is placed before them all. The blonde gets the rest of the pudding, in case second helpings can be stuffed into swollen bellies. The Matriarch snickers in anticipation.

In the skull you can see May’s family eat, and sigh with satisfaction. They are discussing putting on a DVD of The Grinch to nap by when it happens.

The one called Evan vomits wriggling arachnids across the already destroyed repast, and the remains of a writhing pudding. There is screaming. There is running. Your spine aches with regret. The ugly pointlessness of spite.

The warm intent of May’s painting: the curves of Skull amongst velvety roses is the imagining you choose. It is your first choice for ages. The painting of you was a gift, and you responded out of not only duress, but habit. You literally have no heart left. You are surprised to see, in your big toe, a twitch that used to accompany the feeling of shame. Released from the viewing, you stumble back to your coffin for another long, deep sleep in your shady career.

A sweet dream visits you there in the blackness. In it you find the key to the vision box, and the escape hatch. You return to May’s shed studio. You enjoy watching her paint for what seems like forever. The memory of avid arachnids is obliterated by the artist’s canvases infused with awakened imagination and forgiving acceptance.

You dream the one you visit sees you and hears the story with rapt attention. Your apology is accepted. It will be a secret between the two of you, this weird family secret that relieves her from the duty of making pudding when she could be making art.

She laughs saying, “Though you made puddings artful to say the least.”

You both admit to being glad that Evan has learned again to accept the very existence of Christmas pudding made by Chef Jenny.

The tiny bit of agency inspired in you by another’s boldness is spent, but the romancing of the skull in oil paints remains.

Did you really see me? Will you tell my story?

The End

© D. E. Rebbechi – O’Donnell

25 April 2018 – V.12

 

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Challenge Taken

[[A challenge with the following criteria was given to me:

I received this challenge from a friend.

The conditions :

Up to 1000 words flash fiction with the following title “ I (almost) died of boredom” in the form of a personal monologue and ending with the sentences in bold. I haven’t presented them here, but there is nothing to stop you from scrolling down and reading them first. Thanks Joshua, it was nothing if not interesting, and it did stretch the legs during a time when I just haven’t felt like writing. :))

The exercise was done twice, Mk 2 had a female protagonist and a different (supposedly exotic) profession, but I decided to leave that until another time.

I am doing some serious writing now with my five day a week discipline, and a third draft of my first novel will be in a competition, and out to beta readers in September. OK, it’s a realistic competition where one of the prizes is developmental editing… What you read here is usually very raw, and show cases my commitment to the sheer fun of writing, and no one is ever going to take that away from me.]]

Anyway I would have called it “Investigator” but dutifully it is entitled

I (ALMOST) DIED OF BOREDOM 

 

For five years I investigated work injury compensation claims, watching people who could hardly walk doing push ups at their local community centre. Early in the game I would work out  who was lying — call it exaggerating, a little white lie, looking after mum in her old age or giving a kid the best education justified for these people telling (and writing) anything to the agency. These jokers made the others in the system who needed help wait and jump through hoop after hoop. My blood used to get right up the day I knew I was gonna get that incriminating ( love that word) video.

Then I did a line in following the young wives of old blokes who were getting nervous that the ladies were getting a bit on the side. That surprised me in that half of them weren’t trying to get any. They were attending Uni, or going to book club, or attending spa days with their friends, or at the gym three times a week. Fifty percent of accusations that fracture relationships start with insecurity in the mind of one of the parties. It surprised me… although I’m not willing to admit that anyone who wants it can’t get plenty. I, for example, have an active love life… ahem.

The day Mack Freedman walked into my office in his charcoal Armani , is that how you say it? I knew he was a different sort of client. He was dressed for business, smartly, and he wasn’t carrying forms in a briefcase, or pictures in an envelope. He looked around my office, and down at my well-used adjustable office chair that I put out for clients. He remained standing. This is how I remember the conversation, do you mind if I attempt to imitate the other party’s voice.

“Mr Freedman?”

He nodded.

“What can I do for you?”

“I want you to gather evidence that my wife has hidden assets that she’s not declaring on our divorce papers.”

“OK–”

“I’m sending you an email to John@masterspi.com. It contains my wife’s photo, address, financial details, and details of what you need to do to be paid. Get a list of every asset she has globally, anyone she contacts, and where she goes. You have 12 weeks, and I will pay you $1500 per week plus expenses. The form for itemising expenses will be attached to the email. If you don’t wish to take the job let me know by reply email by 5pm tomorrow. If you return the finance form this will indicate acceptance. I want a report every four weeks. Don’t call me unless you have something unusual to report. See you on August 15th at 10 am,unless you pull out.”

He turned his back on me.

I thought, no negotiating then you ponce. I’d leave you too.

I decided the money was OK  and I needed something to do.

Forty eight hours later, I fell asleep after watching Bella Freedman eat snacks of pizza and drink smoothies, on a fancy couch for six hours while watching Netflix.

When I saw Mack on August 15th I was able to tell him that this was what she did, along with daily walks with her Sheltie, called Lindsay.  On Thursdays she went to the local coffee shop,Nick Nax, for lunch with the head of her favourite charity, Lighten my Load, that rehabilitated child soldiers in Africa.

He wanted to know the name of the owner of the coffee shop so he could have him investigated for financial dealings with Bella. I told him it would be extra to break into the owner’s files.

Another month went by with Bella and I catching sight of each other eating pizza and chocolates in our respective, mostly glass, habitats. Her’s was swankier than mine.

One night she came out of the house at 2am and rapped on the blue Ford’s window. I bumped my head as I sat bolt upright from a dead snooze, to watch her laughing face, followed by her brisk trot back to her place.

The report on September 15th prompted Mack to investigate the pizza delivery place. By then I had changed my lunch and dinner orders to items from Bella’s preferred pizza cafe.This considerably increased my expenses but I filled out those forms for Mack.

Bella had a change of routine. I had tapped her phone. A call on the 5th told me she was going to meet her sister on October 7th for a week’s holiday at a hotel she enjoyed in Surfers Paradise.

When I told Mack he got excited, “ This is it. She tells her sister everything.Get into that room before they get there and bug everything.”

Even the airport, the plane, and cheap hotel were a nice change from sitting in my blue Ford Falcon on the south side of Bella’s place or hiding in her garden.

Once I’d done the bugging of Bella’s hotel room, I went for a walk on the beach.

Mack was beside himself with all the long-winded, girly details I was able to supply him with.

“Get into the room. Hide on the balcony. Look for folders in her laptop when she leaves the room. I know she’s hiding something.”

That night,October 14th, I was still hiding on the balcony of Bella’s room at 2 am. The night was cool and I fell asleep. I pitched forward off my perch on the balcony table onto my face, at 2.45 am. I fractured my nose and gave myself serious concussion. Bella rescued me and called an ambulance.

While I was recovering from amnesia, I fell in love with her.

Mack was disgusted to find that Bella had purchased only one asset during their married life, and her effective lawyer negotiated well.

“In the end he had to settle for the family holiday house, on the French Riviera, called Vitalitè Noire. After he sold it, paid my medical costs, and accrued expenses he was able to invest in another one bedroom shoe box in Parramatta.”

Butterfly

Zara lay, face skyward, on the damp grass. The buzz of bees and the distant hum of traffic were audible. Nearby dogs barked and windows whooshed open. It seemed all the world was on the move except her. She felt the gentlest touch upon her cheek, and another upon her arm. Her eyes swivelled in their sockets veiled by her eyelids: she was a little nervous of bees.

Are they bees? Bees!

She opened her eyes . There was  a graceful orange and black Wanderer, a butterfly on her right arm — the white spots along the edge of its’ wings distinguishing it, as explained by her grandfather when she was younger. Another kiss near her lips made her look down past her nose, and she saw the blurry orange shape of another Wanderer. She pursed her lips and kissed it back. She thought of her boyfriend, Mitchell Grant. Mitch.

Where was he? Should she worry that he was late?

She jumped up from the moist warm grass, scaring butterflies and bees alike.

“I’m not even ready,” she declared.

She bounced up the brick front steps of the porch. By the time she reached the front door of the rendered brick veneer she shared with her middle-aged parents, she was fast enough to cause the front door to slam against the wall. She didn’t see one of the  Wanderers fly off with what, she may have thought, was cocoon silk dangling from its’ feet, unaware it was a spun gold thread.

In the farthest part of Lilyborough from Zara’s front door, her boyfriend,Mitch, was mouthing off at his boss for the second time that month.  The red-faced  boss shook his greying head.

“ I hope you can make a living from being a know-it- all Mitch, because you are one more warning away from being fired.”

Mitch grunted and walked away towards his Ute parked by the western chain link fence of the truck depot where he worked.

Why did I take an apprenticeship with this Dick?

Right then Mitch couldn’t think of one thing he liked about auto electrics. He’d forgotten that the firm he worked with were solid employers, respected in half the state. His grandfather had coached him through the VET pre-apprenticeship course, and pulled a lot of strings as he often reminded Mitch.  Mitch imagined he would be better off as a beach bum watching Zara sashay across the golden sand in a red bikini, all day long. He drove away from the depot in a cloud of dust.

When he arrived at home, he gave his parents, who were seated at the kitchen table, a cursory wave as he stalked past them.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?”

His mother called out to his disappearing back.

“Zara,” he yelled back before he locked the bathroom door, and turned the shower to pelting. He loved the sting of the water between his shoulder blades.

He stepped out of the shower, and grabbed a thick blue towel from the nearby rack. He sniffed the scent of lavender dryer sheets.

Ugh!

He shuddered. He could not remember when he had enjoyed floral smells. He glanced up to see a butterfly on the sill of the open window above his head. As it fluttered down toward him he was bemused by the sight of a glimmering golden thread between its’ feet.

I thought only spiders floated with threads.

Mitch felt weightless. A damp suffocating weight was between him and the light, his body and the patterns. He fluttered and crawled, fluttered and crawled until the light was all around him. He felt himself lift toward the illuminated air. Now he rested on the metal edge of the way out; he moved his wings with ease and their perfect motions caused the currents to lift him, up and out. He flew towards the north-east, his thorax rushing with longing. His soul trembled around what he now felt were the limits of himself.

Mitch had an instinctual recollection of Zara; the emphases of his memories were transformed. Her sandy ringlets were recalled as an attractive nimbus of light, her pink mouth  as strangely unimportant. The smell of sandalwood, which before he had grown to just tolerate, now made his feet burn with desire. He wanted to feel his feelers brush against her soft, ivory palm so he could experience that richness.

The rhythm was delightful in the downward thrust and upward sweep of his almost human-heart-shaped wings. The motion surprised him with its’ engineering. When he least expected it the air rushed up, pushing him forward. He couldn’t understand it, but he was feeling it. He weighed only as much as the index finger of his former earthbound body. Now he surrounded this fluttering bundle of proteins. It was if he was a great formless shadow, observing this minute creature — a shape patterned with orange, black and white. There were many Wanderer bodies around him, strengthening the uplift, driving them all forward.  His soul sighed and he began to plummet down towards the dry, harsh earth. The smell of milkweed drew him like a siren’s song.

He felt a fearful shadow nearby , the mouse brown shape of a thrush. He knew its’ laser-like yellow eyes were fixed on him. His soul shrieked. Thrusting his wings, he raced forward between two other butterflies in the crowd, and escaped. The fluttering tribe forged on.  Underneath him he felt a rush, he knew the thrush had struck hard; tortured wings were crushed in its’ beak, then dropped. The bitter, milkweed-fed fragility was nasty. With a cry the young thrush wheeled away.

The tribe of butterflies flew steadily, with the setting sun lowering behind them, and the evening breeze pushing them on.

Zara found the butterfly ornament of fine gold wire  on her dressing table the day after Mitch disappeared. It  distracted her for only a moment. She placed it in a square floral patterned cardboard box that had sat on her dressing table for as long as she could remember.

I wonder if Mum made that. I must ask her, she thought.

It took Zara a week to go from being angry with Mitch to being seriously worried about him. How dare he? was where she started out, and she ended up at Is he OK?

At tea time a week later, when she had the chance to ask about the butterfly, she was sidetracked by a phone call from her friend Celia, who was visiting that evening to commiserate with her about Mitch. They loved that word; they always said it with as much earnestness as they could find within themselves. She never did ask anyone about the fine gold wire sculpture of a butterfly, though she kept it for years and years.

That night after Celia had gone, and the moon had drifted high amongst the trees, on the eighth night since Mitch had disappeared, Zara dreamed of butterflies.

A swarm of Wanderers, with their orange and black wings edged with white, were covered by a great shadow in the shape of eagles wings. She saw the swarm settle in a shaded grove of flowering trees. Despite the shadow she danced between sunlit almond trees, removing nuts from cracked shells, and eating them. A relaxed smile grew on her face. The butterflies hung like giant teardrops from the branches of the almonds, and  from the branches of nearby flowering plants that looked like Rhododendrons. The strange dream where sunny orchards coexisted with moist shaded hillsides, ended with a golden veil of mist falling over the scene, hours before Zara woke.

Mitch was heady,flitting from flower to flower in pursuit of the pheromone-laced females. The soft milkweed flowers smelt marvellous, but the females made his wings sing. An instinct whispered to him to settle and wait.

Wait until a female pauses and wants to mate.

He alighted and spread his wings to scare away predators. He waited until the sun was halfway to the zenith of his sky. A female flew over him, and he lifted his wings to fly beside her. It was an amazing feeling fluttering his wings in perfect synchronicity with another.  A male rival appeared, brushing wings with the female, and flying straight at Mitch. Mitch shifted to above the female, and then stalled  to drop below her. He turned himself in a westerly direction towards the thickest patch of milkweed, and the female followed him. They descended between the thick green stalks with their abdomens locked. They twitched and settled, surrounded by a mist of pheromones amongst the humid chlorophyll enriched pores until the sun began to descend.

Everyone rose from amongst the grass. They were indistinguishable from one another like a huge orange and black cloud. Mitch tried to keep the female in sight, but a pair of pied shrikes began to strike at the edge of the moving mass. Their cruel beaks scored here and there, crushing the thoraxes of just-fertilised potential.Mitch and the female found each other again. They dipped and weaved, escaping they knew not how. At last they settled on the easterly side of a rhododendron that bore orange flowers. The shadows grew long over Mount Lily.

The female mind-whispered to Mitch, At first light I will lay my eggs.

His body grew still with the rightness of it all.  At dawn he flew with her down among the milkweed to guzzle the dew. When he lifted his feet and antennae from his feast, the female was nowhere to be found. He felt his strength leaving him. His feelers tasted nothing now.

Though Zara was in a dream, it seemed as if the light was blinding her.

How could that be? 

Her eyes swivelled in her head, the nerves shivering, but she could not waken then.

The glare encapsulated a shadowy butterfly shape. The shape transformed from two dimensions to three, it flashed Technicolor. The colours muted into lighter shades, and as if Zara peered through a camera lense, her vision zoomed in to capture the minutest detail. The butterfly’s body was in mid-flight as it sought to settle on a branch. It’s trunk curved as if it were a boomerang. Its’ wings had separated enough to slow their downward motion. The light outlined the space between its’ moving wings, and she saw the funnel shape appear, then change to some space resembling the shape of an aeroplane wing. To her, the air did an unexpected thing, it curved over the broad top edge of the wing. And she could see the air flow like golden meridians, long strands that lifted the butterfly rather than holding it down like she had anticipated.

When the thought pictures faded, she felt sleepier than she had in the dream. It was if the dream was sure reality, and her ordinary room an extraordinary place.

Zara left her room, and headed to the kitchen. She was driven to seek food, by a hunger she had seldom experienced before.  It was Saturday morning, and she missed Mitch.

Twelve of the two hundred eggs that Mitch had fertilised survived to become yellow and black caterpillars bloated with the sap of milkweed on which they fed. Fat and prosperous , they shed their wrinkly tobacco brown skin to hang in Chrysalis. Trapped inside, their bodies dissolved to a hopeful jelly. Metamorphosis allowed their wings of watchful warning, antennae of smell, and feelers of taste to emerge  — all the wherewithal for migration on the milkweed express.

Despite this preparation, odds of survival were low for Mitch’s offspring. Three of the twelve made it through a pack of marauding Magpies, 160 kilometres east of the mountain on which they were born. Mitch’s instinctual mating had produced one surviving male and two females, one of which would never mate.

Six months later Zara sat on the front porch of her parents’ brick veneer, nursing a bouquet of flowers she had bought for her mother’s birthday. After storms of tears, and nights of denial, she had accepted that Mitch had run off. Even his own mother thought it was a possibility that on the night he said he was meeting Zara, he had, in fact, met someone else.

“ He always kept me in a flutter, with his impulsive ways,” she had said to Zara only the previous week.  “I always wanted something special for him but you can’t control people like that.”

Zara’s own mother had stated, “ He wasn’t getting on well at work you know. Just a restless young man.” She said it with a shake of her head.

Zara knew what wasn’t said. It’s just as well you found out now, before you got really serious about him.

The familiar orange, black and white patterned Wanderer settled on the yellow roses in the bouquet. Zara watched it bend and twitch its’ antennae, and then flutter to her right hand. She felt the kiss as its’ tiny feeler feet moved over her hand — more kisses. She knew they drank that way, and her hands were moist with drips from the rose stems. The butterfly flew upwards, and got caught in her sandy ringlets,  in the spot where her skull met her spine.  At that moment, her parents arrived to pick her up for dinner after their afternoon out.Distracted by her father tooting the horn as he pulled up in the drive with her mother in the car, she missed the last kisses.

Later, around midnight, as Zara was combing her hair before bed, she was shocked to see fragments of butterfly, fall onto the polished surface of her dressing table. She turned her head to grab a tissue in which to collect the fragments and bury them in the bin. When she looked back to the dressing table, the mess was gone. She shook her head, and decided she’d be vacuuming the fragments off the carpet tomorrow. There was a breeze stirring the curtains on her window and she went to pull the sash down and lock it. In the open box on her dressing table the gold wire butterfly glowed.

The End

You might like to catch up on Butterfly news…

Disclaimer: Any links I post were live at the time of posting.  If the links don’t work , I have tried to give enough information so  that you can search them if the creators are still making them available online.

1.Time lapse – The life cycle of the Painted Lady Butterfly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63B1lnqPa8k (5 Mins, 23 seconds)

2. Ethan Spencer – Caterpillar to Butterfly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQOFh1exp3A (6 Mins , 55 seconds)

3.Disney Nature documentary about the secret life of flowers. (I found the voice over annoying – you might like to watch in silence) The visuals are amazing, and it does have an important message

Wings of Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbvPqkmmats (66 Mins)

4. The Story of the Butterfly, posted by Janson Media

[This link is to a British educational documentary. Its script is very formal]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-T6EXTK4-w (34 Mins)

5. Flutter, the Butterfly movie… produced, edited, and directed by Braddon Mendelsohn (noisivision studios)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DQY9ZwzsI4

(My favourite…)

 

 

 

 

 

Party Goers

 [[I don’t think even a sentence edit can rescue this two years’ old story, but my journey continues word worts and all.  I am surprised by what impulse led me to write this story; unlike more together writers I cannot tell you all that I was thinking. I do know that I wanted to showcase an unreliable narrator, thus practice is my excuse. Any body can write badly, but it’s a rare few that know that they’ve done it and why! Of course you need a time away from the writing, distance, and courage.]]

I got angry at my silver-bodied, sapphire-eyed robotic frenemy.  With his wide set eyes, triangular  hooked beak and square chest, he bore some resemblance to a large eagle. I had thought he was my lifelong buddy Jack: lean and curly haired, with stooped shoulders, tanned hands and a manic manner.  

How could I have confused my friend with a six-foot avian monster?

It began one October night when the moon resembled a large golden bowling ball from the local ten pin. We had dropped in at six pm to play a game with Jack’s younger twin brothers.  

Initially, I refused  the eight pound ball thinking, that’s two bloody pounds too heavy for consistent strikes.  

The attendant offered me no choice. The lanes were crowded,the balls picked over, and that ball was “it”. The fluorescent strips reflected off the metallic ball with its glittery surface. It had hardly been scratched. As if the ball were trying to impress me, I bowled  three strikes in a row. After that it was 8s and 9s with the occasional strike, but I had enough points to win the game.

Jack suggested we drop in  to Lorene Bailey’s after we dropped off his brothers at the local cinema.

‘She’s having a bunch of people over for some coldies and pizza, and then a bunch  of us are heading to the clubs.’

I had been nursing my wounds after my most recent girlfriend had dumped me, and after three Saturday nights in a row at home, I was keen to be out. We enjoyed Lorene’s party but we weren’t there all night.

We left  Lorene’s at 9pm with half a dozen friends, and headed to a new place in town The SF Bar.  The security didn’t seem too fussed that half of us were underaged.

On entering the club I was expecting pictorials of San Francisco, a city I had visited briefly once, when I was greeted by large murals of robots, CPUs, spaceships and staff dressed like Trekkies or Star wars fans. The DJ wore a storm trooper mask, and the loud music made me want to dance.

First we did a few shots,  and then two tall blonde girls, who we thought were tourists, agreed to dance with Jack and I. I had never felt so graceful and rhythmic on the floor. I felt like  I was in a Zayn Video.

Perhaps I could compete on Dancing with the Stars; my Mum loves it so much.

The overhead strip lights melded into two long ribbons of turquoise and scarlet. I had never felt so high. Jack hugged me, and I hugged him back.

We are huggers full of glee.

I called out, “ I love you, bro”,  without a care for who might hear. I felt a brief stinging sensation in the back of my arm, but I thought nothing of it. I was in love with the world at that moment, including  with the Barbie-like hottie I was dancing with.  The dancing seemed to go on and on, with different settings appearing all around me. I was dancing on Bondi beach,  on the curve of a rainbow, and in the middle of the Milky Way.  Barbie and Jack were everywhere with me.Everything stopped and I felt like I was sinking into a pile of feathers.

When I woke Jack was smiling at me, and asked me if I’d like some breakfast. We walked into a room with long tables in it, featuring a mural from Tatooine with Luke Skywalker framed against the rising moon. On the tables were platters of sausage, egg and bacon, toast with butter and pots of jam, assorted pastries and fruit.   The Barbie girls served us. They winked and even I marvelled how long and black their eyelashes were.  We ate until we could hardly move.

‘Wow’, I felt like my voice was coming from far away, ‘they’re very generous for the $15 cover charge. I thought that was steep last night.’

Jack nodded, but didn’t speak, and for a moment I thought I was looking at a birdlike robot.

Now, I wonder how often I replayed that scene or whether I was drugged so long that the experience  filled all the days until now. I went to the bowling alley with Jack and his brothers on the 9th of October. When I woke up in the black pit full of rocks spouting mini waterfalls and swags of moss, the back of the bird robot was in front of me.

Out of him still issued Jack’s voice, ‘Come on Paul, have another shot. Its awesome, come on .’

I blinked and closed my eyes several times. I held my bony hands up to my face. My gut growled angrily, my mouth so dry I wanted to lick the damp moss. There was not a rainbow or a Barbie in sight. No Jack either. I couldn’t feel my legs, and when I moved my arm I felt something coarse and irritating.

What is going on?

The last time I saw a little red dot in front of my eyes, instead of clutching at it I had batted it away. During my dream, the red dots had appeared with monotonous regularity, and I had grabbed at them, until the most recent ones. I shuddered with fear and cold.

I hunched over in a crawling position and began to move towards the only gap in the stone wall which showed light, light that looked like daylight. It hurt my eyes. My knees ached, and my legs stung and burned. When I looked back the robot bird was still hunched over a narrow black table. He didn’t seem to notice that I had moved so I crawled on. When I finally reached the gap I looked back. There was a body on the table, a human body. My heart raced.

Was it a body?

I had thought I was in a nightclub with the Barbies and Jack. Had that been a dream or had I been kidnapped?  Or was everything I was experiencing now an hallucination. Should I be scared of the robot?  

I struggled over a large boulder that sat by the gap  I had crawled to. I fell forward scraping my cheek on the rough surface. I cried out, and  and touched my cheek, I felt warm and sticky ooze. I remembered having the same experience sometime before I ever went to The SF Bar.

This must be real.

 There was a bruise on my knee, but I could now feel my legs enough to stand. I looked back and saw the robot bird had moved away from the table, and was reaching into a cabinet bolted to the stone about three feet from the ground. I could now see the body clearly and it looked like Jack.

Jack. I had to do something for him. This was real. Freaking far out but real.

Was the bird a robot, or a madman in a suit? If he was a robot, who had made him?

I felt like my whole head and neck were pulsating. I had to calm down. I had to have a plan.

The robot moved away, and a sliding door appeared at the back of the cave room. He lurched through it and thunked away. The door slid shut behind him. I crept from my position to the table with the body on it. I touched it. It felt like latex, not human at all. The lean figure and black corkscrew curls were close to real life but in this light, I could see that this was android Jack, not my friend.

Was there an android of me somewhere too, and was the real Jack with it?

I looked around, and picked up a sturdy piece of steel tubing.  My mind was clearing. There were computer screens, and glass bowls full of tiny parts. This was a laboratory, and most likely equipped  with surveillance. It seemed surreal, but someone was making androids that looked like real people. I had to find Jack. I gave myself a really good pinch, and a slap on the cheek ; I made sure I wasn’t dreaming . I marched toward the sliding door.

It slid open, and I was in a long tunnel. There were lights on the wall about every three metres, and I could see lighted doorways to my right and left.  I had to guess which way robot bird had gone. I went right and into the first lighted room. Seated in chairs along the wall to my left was what looked like my entire soccer team in still life. I touched Buddy West on the cheek. His skin was plasticky and dry,like Jack’s android.

Perhaps I was an android?

I slowed my breathing and decided the heart beating in my chest had to be flesh. It felt just like  I remembered.

I thought back to my first day at school, and holding my mother’s hand as I walked to the classroom door; the touch of my mother’s hand was real. Mrs Reinhardt’s long legs, and loud voice. Running up to Jack on the playground: Do you want to be play poison ball? An android wouldn’t have memories, I assured myself. I pinched my arm again.

I decided to retrace my steps and go left past the sliding door to the other room. As  I left the soccer team behind, I became aware of how quiet it was. I could hear my breathing. All my hallucinations had been noisy, so much had happened, and it still seemed more real than the memories of  my life. I had to find Jack and get back to the surface.

As I approached my destination, I heard a familiar voice, ” Don’t do this, please, let me go home.”

It was Jack and I figured he was talking to the robot bird. I slunk to the wall, and came right up next to the door, peering in. The robot bird was lying flat on his back in a pool of thick  oil, and Jack’s voice was coming out of it. Jack stood to the side of the robot with his hand still on the bottom of a 15 litre drum.  

The real Jack said, “Where are you from? Where is home?”

‘The robot replied in a dull mechanical voice, ‘The other side of Jupiter, on a small planet called Janus.’

“Why did you come?”

“I was sent here to take our robot research to the next level.  The question I had to answer was how would robots go interacting with humans and making androids? This was the question the Janus council wanted answered. We used every means possible to make you think we were human, and then we created androids from real humans we befriended. The plan was to fill this city with a population of androids, and then invite the council to inspect our work.”

I was so angry I bounded out from my hiding place.

‘What would you have done with us?’

The robot bird’s eyes glowed, and his beak creaked open.

‘You would have been kept on hallucinatory drugs until after the council’s inspection. When the experiment finished, you would have starved underground while the effect of the drugs wore off. A mostly painless death.’

I walked over, and stomped around the robot bird. His sled like runners were off the ground now, and there was no way he could gain any traction. A very simple trick had been his undoing.

My first words on being reunited with Jack were ‘How did you work out you could stop him this way?’

‘I woke up about two weeks ago’, said Jack. ‘ I saw how awkwardly he got around, and I found these drums of refuse oil right down the end of the passage. Slowly I moved them up, and then when I had the chance I created this trap. It was the only thing I could think of.’

I slapped him on the back, and waved the length of steel tube at him.  ‘ Hey, do you think Lorene Bailey’s an android?’

‘ I doubt it’,  said Jack, ‘but the Barbies probably are. A pity.’

We laughed. Then the robot spoke again.

‘This black liquid is not a substance we have on my planet’, said Robot bird.

‘ Our wonderful luck.  Some of those drugs you gave us aren’t substances we’ll ever want on our planet again.’

As Jack and I left the room, we headed  to the end of the passage to locate the soccer team, and anybody else who’d been unfortunate enough to think the waiters  in The SF Bar were  human.  After walking about another kilometre we reached a sliding door that opened to reveal rows of cells. All the soccer team were there and most of the other people  looked familiar.I wondered if I should tell the team we had most likely forfeited the last game of the season. I reckoned  we’d been missing around fifty days.

I spotted an older Mrs Reinhardt. I was puzzled as to why she would have been at the SF club.

‘I dropped in to my niece’s 21st for about an hour. This was the result.’

She was the soberest of the lot, most of them were still high, and we had to act like we were heading to the party of the year to get them to follow us. We couldn’t move the three suits we found in the end cells. They danced manically to some tune  we could not hear. Jack found some spare bottles of water, and left them nearby. They would have to find their way out when the drugs wore off.

I led everyone back out through the main room where I’d woken up. I must have woken before  the  android process began, because no-one looked like me. I felt good about that. An android would not cut it in my opinion.

We arrived back at the surface, and looked around. The whole complex was hidden inside an old army bunker about an hour from town.  Though most of us were bloody kneed, and half-starved we would have to walk home. Not one mobile phone was intact from the experiment so we couldn’t call anyone.

Most of us had missed all of our Year 12 exams, and  there would be missing person reports out on us.  

I began to rehearse the most plausible story to tell the ‘rents.

The End

Lady Gaeophia’s Wisdom

[[This story is unconventional in that it’s told in both first person and third person. You the reader will probably be aware of the act of reading the whole time. If you feel I shouldn’t play with the rules like that maybe you shouldn’t read on; I guess it just makes it more like a play.The plot is on the surface and underneath is the tension between reality and the imagination. It is the very first story I wrote when I began practising the art of the short story. It has been edited but it is still very like the story first written in 2010.. By the way the name is pronounced Jah-fee-ah ]]

 

Madeleine

I wanted to run out the front door, down the garden path and brain my Dad with a blunt instrument. My relationship with my Dad on that Thursday was at an all-time low. I felt it had slipped away like a morning fog while we were taking care of business.

I watched my dad, doing the usual thing with his mobile phone, under the maple tree in the front yard. I stared out my bedroom window. The tree’s leaves were turning red, amber and orange.   My Dad stood level with the cool, patterned grey and white bark; a dark figure in his black suit. Gary Ballantyne, Investment Broker to what seemed like half the known world, was connected via modern technology to his favourite people .Earlier he had knocked on my bedroom door but I ignored the sound.

Last night I had made my third attempt to show him the really awesome pictures I had taken on the Year 12 trip to England and France; the best ones were taken in the medieval village of Chartres. I had been rapt with what I had learned about medieval clothing, medicine and beliefs. I had been surprised to discover (and enjoyed sharing with my mother who is a doctor) that women were held in high esteem, educated and even encouraged to practice the medicine of the day. Dad I wanted to share it with you and you stuffed it up. I wanted your attention. I wanted to say thanks, thanks for letting me go on one of the most expensive trips MLC has ever had. You just blanked me. Tears slipped down my cheek. Even as I cried, I realised something to my shame, for a few years it had been cool for me to blank my dad, a lot.

Narrator

The autumn sun was already warm and Gary wiped his brow as he entered Malvern station to board the 8.15 for the City loop. Suddenly he was tired of everything; he didn’t use the earphone of his iPod but just stood, half leaning against the stainless steel pole of the carriage. He could hear the voice of his wife Margherita in his head.

“YOU have changed so much! I remember when you used to laugh out loud every day. Do you remember when you worked at McLaren, Kline and Partners and I was pregnant with Madeleine? The girls in the office loved to laugh at you; you had a magnum of champagne with a lacy maternity bra wrapped around it on your desk. You used to tell everybody soon my wife is going to have a beautiful baby!”

Suddenly He wanted to lift his arms and shout, “I didn’t mean to change.”

Instead, he stood silent and immobile.

When he arrived at Southern Cross Station he decided to take the escalator to the food court on the concourse level and buy a cup of coffee. He had arrived at the office right on 8.45am for five years. He worked up to twelve hours on weekdays. Hope they don’t call out the Light Horse to rescue me from the City of Tardy. His mouth twisted.

As he descended half an hour later on the escalator to street level, he noticed what appeared to be a pair of legs covered with red and white silk protruding across the walkway at the bottom. In the few seconds it took him to reach the bottom an unusually clad woman had stood up. She had on a long low-waisted medieval style gown with sleeves that draped down to her knees .Panels of alternating colours made up the bodice and skirt, and an ornate belt draped her hips made of silver with green enamelled flowers attached. A dark red circular cape that fell from her shoulders revealed the detail of her dress.

While he was gaping he became aware of a flash of light ,a slight vibration and then a rattling and clanking attracted other passers-by’s’ attention. Suddenly a man clad in armour appeared, carrying a large shield; divided into four sections, alternately silver and orange in colour, separated by green raguly lines. On the four sections were displayed  a silver skeleton key, an azure coloured  butterfly edged with gold, a C with much ornate detail and a wooden treasure chest ,closed. Speechless, he blinked.

No one else seems to have noticed he just appeared.

From behind him he heard a familiar voice.

“Gary, is that you?  Can’t believe you’re not in the office yet! Hey!”Dave rattled on in his usual garrulous style. “These buskers have amazing costumes, but they better shuffle before security gets here!” He pointed to the overhead camera. “The fines are pretty stiff. Anyway Gary, better be off!  See you at the office.”

He could remember when Dave would have asked him to walk with him.

Shit.

As if on cue, two security officers appeared and escorted the buskers to the office on the other side of the forecourt.  He felt compelled to talk to them. He couldn’t leave. He went over to the office and knocked on the door.

A surly looking dark-haired man opened the door.

“Excuse me, Gary said, playing dumb, “What did these people do wrong?”

“Nobody is meant to busk in the station, mate. I’m sure you know that.” he began to shut the door.

Gary blurted out, “But they’re just foreign students, aren’t they?”

“They’re foreign, alright. They sound kind of French. We’ve just called a translator.”

“What are you going to tell them?”

The guard drew back and looked at him. “You don’t look like a troublemaker but you’re pretty curious.”

“Well, I was here to meet some actors for a medieval gig ……I think they are the actors on the way to our gig. It’s a promotional type of thing. I really don’t think they meant to cause trouble.” Liar.

The man withdrew and spoke to his superior, Mick.

“We’ll let them go but would you just get them out of the station. Remind them not to practise their acts in the station. Ok?”
The guard’s beeper went off. Someone was causing trouble on the concourse level.

Gary and the new arrivals stared at one another for two long minutes. The woman reminded Gary of a character in one of his daughter, Madeleine’s story books; one of the books from which he had read at night, long ago. He sighed.

He held out his hand, “I’m Gary.”

The woman stared at his hand and looked puzzled.

The woman spoke with a guttural accent.

“Lady Gaeophia Du Cannon.” She pointed to her companion.”Elstan Du Cannon.”

Elstan smiled and placed in his hand what appeared to be two real silver coins.

The thought occurred to him that photos of these two would be of great interest to Madeleine. He motioned for them to stand together in front of a nearby pillar. He took several photos and then unpacked his laptop and transferred them to his media files. He felt eyes boring into him and noticed that both Gaeophia and Elstan, slack-jawed and pop-eyed, watched what he was doing. He played them some of his slide shows and videos. He found one of Madeleine chasing her pet rabbit in the garden. She was eight and her wavy auburn hair bobbed about on her shoulders. He noticed Gaeophia’s hair was similar in colour but reached past her waist.

Sometime later, he had despatched the two in a taxi and supplied them with a business card. Gaeophia stowed it in the drawstring bag she carried. Elstan had been asked to remove his armour, stowing it in the boot of the taxi, which caused him considerable upset. They acted like they were expecting a fight. Elstan didn’t feel so self-conscious when he looked around ,it seemed to him that a lot of people in this strange place went to market in their underwear. Gary felt like waving goodbye but just smiled, then leaned in the cab window and gave the driver the address.

I think the French Embassy will be able to sort them out.

Gary headed for the tram that would take him up Collins St. He wasn’t thinking of work but Madeleine, the sun shining on her wavy auburn hair. The image lasted until he was seated at his desk, and turned on his computer.

About 12.30,after a productive morning in the office, Gary started to think about  his favourite Chicken on Rye. As he reached for his jacket, a shriek from the front reception caused him to leap up and bang his leg against the desk.

“You cheeky bugger, John, Is this your idea of an April Fool’s Day joke! I thought things were awfully quiet round here.”

“What on earth are you talking about, Sue?’

John spoke, accompanied by more giggling from Sue.

“After the hassle I got into last year for playing jokes, you’ve…..’ His voice trailed away.

Gary and Dave arrived at reception together, both attracted by the disturbance. Dave, who was about to say that he had seen, unbeknownst to Gary, Gaeophia and Elstan earlier that day in High St  was struck dumb by the rest of her entourage. Behind  the resplendent Gaeophia and Elstan were two men ,in hose and  tunics, carrying a small casket of oak with iron bands and two locks.

One produced a small horn and played a long note.

“Bow to the Lady Gaeophia!”

“Why the hell, not? I love a bit of play acting”, said Sue and affected a courtesy.

On impulse, they offered to take the jokers to lunch.

At first it wasn’t so bad, the joke, despite having to buy lunch for the four costumed personages. Dave was thoroughly enjoying the disconcerted looks, the stares of fascination and the laughter, especially from the young women but Gary was bemused. He couldn’t help wondering why the attention seemed to ‘throw of’ the performance of such a well-prepared actress. She glared at the audience and at times spoke, in what he thought was old English, but in a completely incomprehensible way. The Lady seemed genuinely angry when the diners at the next table laughed to see her long sleeves trailing in the soup bowl. During the next course she quickly grabbed for a fork and asked about its use, after her first effort at eating steak with the knife attached to her belt met with gasps and snickers.  As Gary used his plastic to pay for lunch, he reflected that the next time he went to lunch it could not be so absurd.

Madeleine

I can’t describe how bad I felt by lunchtime that day. Mum had driven me to the corner of Glenferrie and Barker’s Roads and I’d taken the tram to Methodist ladies College. I endured the morning. For five and a half years I had been attending MLC and I was a pretty good student. Until today I had never gone home at lunchtime with a headache. Desperate to be alone I pretended to the nurse I had called my mum. When I arrived home, I stood under the maple tree in our small front yard, feeling smashed. I leant against its mottled bark. Everyone thought I must have picked up a virus, in France, but I felt heart sick. The autumn sun was warm on my upper body. I lay down with my head on my schoolbag, my jumper under my thighs and dozed off. When I woke up I remembered the strangest dream.

 

In my dad’s office was a medieval lady, dressed in the style I’d seen depicted at Chartres, accompanied by a man in a tunic carrying a very unusual shield. I especially liked the azure butterfly in the bottom left quadrant. My Dad was staring at them puzzled.

The lady went behind his desk and was pushing buttons on the keyboard of his computer. Dad said stop touching that please but she picked it up and walked forward until the plug jerked out of the wall and dropped to the floor. Dad went toward her but the man stepped between them and produced a pouch full of silver and gold coins.

“Lady Gaeophia desires to purchase this magical window of wisdom.”

Dad shook his head and tried to take the laptop back.

Get your own. I’ll tell you where to get one. This one is full of my stuff.”

He tightens his grip on the edge of the screen.

This really loud guy who has worked with Dad for years comes into the room. By this time there is a real struggle going on.

“Hey, what are they doing here? I’ll call security, ok.”

Dad nods, red in the face.

By this time, I can tell you Lady Gaeophia has forgotten she’s a lady.

The Security officers arrive and manage to get the lap top off the two intruders and hustle them out the door. Dad gets up from the floor to go with them and looking at his workmate Dave, groans out

“She’s vicious, that one, got me below the belt.”

Dave replies , “Really”, and smiles.

When Dad gets downstairs Gaeophia has disappeared and a jabbering Elstan is trying to explain himself to two very puzzled men.

I wake up. A golden maple leaf has fallen on my brow. I stand up and drag myself and my bag into the house.

Narration

Gaeophia found herself flat on her back on unforgiving flagstone. She had travelled back home through the vortex of time. Somehow she opened a door to the strangest place with her secret, magical experiments in search of wisdom. Lying with her eyes closed she recalled the vision she saw before she left. It was of the girl she had seen walking through the streets of Chartres, attired most strangely, with hair like her own, she recalled. She was sure she had come close to her on her recent foray, for she had seen others attired like the vision girl in that peculiar place.  She had almost obtained the lighted window of wisdom but the man Gary had not been willing to give it to her. As she opened her eyes the ornate tapestries of her home castle appeared through a fog .The pungent smell of herbs assailed her nostrils. There was no sign of Elstan in her peripheral vision. If he has not returned she had decided to make sure he brought back that coveted computer “the window of wisdom.” Then the hem of the long, black cloak worn by her father and mentor, Hawk brushed against her cheek. She steeled herself to shut out his ravings.

“Sely, Gaeophia, Sely! Is there no end to your foolishness? Where is Elstan? Have you beguiled him with your magic?”  Elstan was nowhere to be seen. She listened for his steps, his armour, and his voice. Hawk continued to rant, “It is medicine we practice, not this!” He grabs her arm roughly and then pulling her towards him releases her arm suddenly. Stumbling and. lowering her eyes, she says nothing but she is uncowed. She must have the window of wisdom. She considers that the strange people will not harm Elstan. Stoney faced, she contemplates her plan.

The following Monday Gary was called by the police.

“Mr Ballantyne, will you visit this man that was picked up at your building last week?  No-one can identify him. Perhaps he’ll talk properly if you are there. No-one round here can understand his language. They’re suggesting some kind of Psychosis. ”

Gary arranges a lunchtime visit with Senior Constable Jay.

For the first time since he had met Elstan he finds him fearful rather than fascinating. Constable Jay goes out after a while because he thinks he is putting Elstan off. Still the only thing Gary can make out is ‘Gaeophia’ and ‘Window of wisdom’. Finally, Elstan pulls out from under his tunic a brochure on laptop computers and a credit card marked clearly with MS GAEOPHIA CANON .Gary shakes his head. Finally the half hour is up and as they leave Gary checks to make sure that Elstan hasn’t had any visitors.

“None”, insists the nurse.

Gaeophia .

A vision of the auburn haired woman pops into his mind.

Madeleine

The night four days after the weird events start, Dad and I really talk. At dinner time, the first meal we’ve had together in weeks, he shows mum and me the pictures of the strangers from the station. I wonder at the coincidence because they are the same as the people in my dream and dressed like the people in the medieval book and postcards I brought home from Chartres. Then I show Dad all the pictures from my trip. We linger over the shots of the streets, houses and seascapes. I show him a picture of St Hildegarde with other female medical practitioners from the year 1140. He remarks how much one of the women resembles our Gaeophia.

Dad and I talk and laugh late into the night .He remarks how good it is to discuss all the intriguing mysteries of our day. It is like I am taking him on a tour of Chartres. I remember when I was a kid dad had seemed to look forward to everything as much as I did. He always had a special surprise or joke to share with me and my friends had thought he was so cool. I give him a hug when we say goodnight.

 When he came home a week later with a silver antique ring decorated with a  green enamel flower, and told me he’d found it on his desk the day Elstan disappeared from the mental hospital I laughed. It was hard to believe that the scenario I considered we may have imagined really happened. He explained that the police contacted him when Gaeophia’s knight disappeared, without a trace. When he returned to his office after speaking to them the ring was sitting on his desk with a strand of long wavy auburn hair wrapped around it. It had not been there minutes before. He had looked the style of ring up on the internet and it appeared to be an authentic antique ring from the 12th century. Then he discovered his laptop was missing. The company treated it as a theft. There was nothing on the security camera except the shadowy back view of a man with long hair wearing a tunic.

“You’re kidding Dad…right? This is a tall story, and you got the hair from Mum.” I slapped his arm.

He laughs and puts his arm across my shoulder.

“You know the last week I’ve started to believe that anything is possible. I think we might all go on a holiday together soon and just have fun… No telling who we might meet.”

He winks at my mum who smiles and tosses back her long wavy hair.

“Hey,” he almost shouts at my mum, “You don’t have any ancestors that were female medicos in the 12th century, do you?”

Narration

The grove of oaks whisper as Lady Gaeophia walks down to her favourite rock by the lily pond. She opens the slim black laptop, and watches the pictures of the young girl with the auburn hair chasing the rabbit around the small green, until the battery icon flashes, and the image disappears.

The End