I sometimes find myself pondering the concept of home, especially at those times, such as now, when I am very much the traveller. Where is home? I still own the house I grew up in, back in Chatham, which I suppose is my real home, even if I so rarely get to be there. Otherwise, home, for the moment, is the apartment above the bookshop – A Novel Idea, 14 Seymour Avenue, Cherry Falls, LA. Some day, I must find out the Zip code. Of course, for the past few days, home has been the Grand Harbour View Hotel in New York, but that hardly counts as a real home. It’s not exactly my favourite style of hotel, but one of the assistant managers and several of the night staff are kindred, so they know how to provide for the more ‘exotic’ visitor.
I was only in New York for a few days, meeting with Tony and Janice, my New York office crew, to discuss the new southern office and various sundry matters. I am perhaps fortunate in that the services of CML are much appreciated by the kindred community in New York. This somewhat smoothes the protocols normally required when visiting a new city, especially one as complicated as New York, with its various factions and complex hierarchy. Of course, I am a known quantity now, so barring any changes, which there were not on this occasion, a simple phone call suffices. That said, a courtesy visit is always much appreciated, especially with Prince PH, in whose territory our office lies, and is, as such, under his protection. He is a charming fellow, if you disregard his complete disdain for the poetic arts, and has an excellently provisioned wine cellar; courtesy of CML, of course.
Business was quickly and efficiently concluded, as usual. We signed the contract for the expansion warehouse, which had been the main purpose of my visit, sorted out a few minor procedural glitches with the Port Authority, renewed our ‘arrangement’ with the local union representative and generally cleared up the usual array of contractual glitches and snafus that occupy much of our regular meetings. I also managed some face-time (ghastly phrase, but useful) with Nigel and the London crew. It’s amazing what difference being an hour closer makes. Business was concluded and the visit rounded off with a very pleasant evening of Verdi at the Metropolitan Opera.
And so back to Cherry Falls. Much as I like New York, it is a tiring place, and I much prefer the gentler pace of small-town America. To my shame, I realised, when I returned, that I had neglected my dear Fionnuala while I was away. I guess I am out of practice at this relationship lark. Fortunately, she was not too upset and only slightly killed me when I got back, as well as extracting a promise to take her with me next time. I was going to invite her over to the shop, but then she asked if I wanted to come over to Casa Barzane, otherwise known as the big creepy mansion we encountered on one of our early exploration missions. I realised that in the short time we had been together, I had yet to see the place where she lived. That was understandable, in some respect, as there is more privacy at the bookshop than in the mansion, and less partying noise. Still, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to see the place, so I locked up and took myself over there.
It is an interesting building, largely open-plan on the ground floor, or first floor, as they seem to call it over here in Americaland. There were various areas set aside for studying, socialising and cooking. Fionnuala made me a cup of tea, which we drank while catching up on with each others’ lives over the preceding few days, and then she gave me the tour. The bedrooms were an exercise in eclecticism, being very different from each other in character, décor, and, it has to be said, tidiness. After showing them to me, she made me guess which one was hers. I wasn’t entirely sure, but told her I hoped it was the one with the books and the large hand-writing pattern on the walls. Which, of course, it was. I think she was pleased that I guessed right.
Then we went back downstairs and she showed me one last part of the house on the ground floor. I had commented, on first being shown round, that the place was lacking in books, a lack that I was more than happy to help rectify. That need was soon obviated as she showed me into the library. A most charming and comfortable room it was, completely lined with books except for one wall, which was mostly window, overlooking the ocean. I grabbed the armchair, made myself comfortable and told her this was now my room. I like my bookshop, but it doesn’t have a view of the ocean. Of course, it might be a problem convincing the rest of the Barzane clan, but I’m sure it can be done. Nice though the library was, there were possibly better places for catching up, and so we retired to the boudoir for the rest of the evening.
I had not realised how much hard work goes into a bookshop. It feels as if I have done nothing this past week aside from cataloguing and taking inventory. And I am sure I have more inventory than can possibly fit into the space available, at least, not in normal geometry. I don’t remember Mother’s library being this hard work, but then, we had a maid and a housekeeper. Yes, I know, the self-professed egalitarian had servants. So, sue me, as they say here in America. That was normal in my day, and it has to be said that Mother treated them a hell of a lot better than most servants got treated. Once I have gotten the inventory sorted, I should look at taking on some staff. Much as I love being in the bookshop, it would be nice to get out occasionally. OK, I have managed the odd break for coffee next door, or a stiff drink at the hotel when coffee just didn’t cut it, but that is all, pretty much. Fionnuala has been over a few times, but we have both been so tired, we ended up just sleeping.
And then there was Saturday, when we had the poetry evening. I had been so busy with the inventory that it almost caught me by surprise. I managed to scrounge a few extra chairs and floor cushions from various people. The radio station kindly lent me some sound gear, and Brigitte came through generously with the snacks and drinks. So, there I was, all set up on Saturday afternoon, nervous as hell and pacing the carpet. Fionnuala arrived early and managed to keep me from going too insane. I had sent out flyers, notified the newspaper and the radio station, now all I had to do was wait and hope that somebody was going to turn up.
I need not have worried. We had quite the turnout. Tre and Tara were among the first to arrive, then came Anna P and eventually Alina. A few people I didn’t know, a good number of the Frost family, who apparently owned everything in these parts once, various other people, some of whom I have seen around the town, and later, Mace and a young lady he referred to as Little Bird.
I opened the proceedings, explaining why we were here, and managed to get Alina to talk about the hospital for a few minutes. Then we were off. I read “O Captain! My Captain”. Fionnuala got up and read “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by Yeats. Then Jay Alexander Frost got up and read a poem, at least, he called it a poem, depicting, in some quite explicit detail, a sexual encounter of the tied to the bed variety. Not knowing what else to say, I thanked him for his vivid imagery. Next up was Zane Frost, who I later learned is the town mayor. He recited a rather strange poem about what he would do if his son came out as gay. It was kind of hard to tell among all the macho imagery of sports and stealing the peanut butter cups, but, overall, I think he was generally ok with it. Then the son got up, Fenix, I believe his name was, looking somewhat like an ex-military guy. He surprised me by reciting Alfred Noyes’ poem about “The Highwayman”. Tara gave us Poe’s “To One In Paradise”, evoking the imagery so well, I wondered if she is like Fionnuala. Then Fenix got back up again and read a poem about the illogical nature of the English language. I remembered enough of it to look it up and discover it was entitled “The English Lesson”, but could find no clue as to the author. The next offering, which was about being a monster, came from a woman called Pen. It may possibly have been her own composition, for I have not been able to find it on the Internet. I asked Mace if he was going to contribute, but he said that his people, the Anishinaabe, were singers and storytellers, not poets. Given the time, I decided that I would close the evening. I thanked everybody for coming and finished with Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy”.
There was some mingling afterwards, and I got to meet several of the townsfolk, including the Mayor. I told Mace he would not get away with it next time, because next time, we would have a storyteller evening and he would have to make good on his claim. After a while, people drifted away, leaving just Fionnuala and myself. We decided that clean-up, aside from the foodstuffs and remaining drinks, could wait until morning. We were exhausted, but happy. The evening had been a success, lots of people had come, and, when we counted out the donations to the hospital, we had raised around $10,000, which should please Alina and Dr Anna mightily, and hopefully, stand me in good stead with the town authorities. The question is, do I really want to do it again, but this time, with storytelling? Only time will tell.
I have a horrible feeling that my language is being polluted by being here in America. I actually found myself phoning around to find somewhere I could rent a tux. In my defence, I was calling to American shops and therefore was more likely to be understood if I said tux, but I am not sure I want such a word becoming part of my normal vocabulary. I shall have to be on the lookout for more Americanisms creeping into my language. I don’t know why I worry about it. I have no qualms about speaking French or German if that makes it easier for me to be understood, so why do I care about American usages creeping into my speech and writing? Perhaps it is because so many Americanisms are starting to become commonly accepted in British English. For the now, I shall not worry about it while I am conversing with people here, but must watch out for using it at home, wherever that is.
Of course, pollution of the written language isn’t going to be a problem if I don’t actually sit down and write anything, which I have not done so for a few days; at least, not here in my diary. Such writing as I have done over the last few days is already irredeemably polluted, either by the stilted language required of contracts, or the abbreviated jargon appropriate to passing information by email between parties involved in said contracts.
In no particular order, since I am fairly sure that nothing of which I will write is likely to be of a time-critical nature, either if people other than myself were to read it in the present, or if some future historian were to try to document the passage of my life, the last few days have contained:
A brief meeting with the woman called Catbird, who I met briefly in the coffee shop a few days ago. She came into the bookshop in search of information about something called Kemen, which, from context, would seem to be some variety of fae or elvenkind. A brief perusal of the shelves proved fruitless, but I am not yet fully familiar with the inventory. My own searching of the net provided very little in the way of further education, so I have emailed one of my few fae contacts back in London to see if she can enlighten me further. Catbird also made reference to my “amazing eyes”, as she described them, along with a comment that she had not seen such on humans before. By responding with comments on her ears, I managed to deflect any further enquiry as to my nature, at least for now.
I had tea with Tre and Tara at the tea-shop on the corner near the hotel. Well, mostly with Tre, as business called Tara away shortly after I sat. I learned that there is such a thing as a rotating cake-stand, which I added to the long list of things that I didn’t know I didn’t need. We spoke of the business of acquisitions, which is apparently mostly what Mal does, albeit in a somewhat different manner from my own business. We spoke of the bookshop and my future plans for it, which included a certain amount of teasing about fantasies. When I told her I was not planning on stocking airport-bookstand type trashy novels, she complained that she had been hoping for some fantasy to ‘get off’ on. I called her on it, suggesting that maybe if I understood what fantasies she sought, we might be able to supply her needs. Is it wrong of me to be quite pleased that I managed to elicit a blush from her? We spoke of my business helping to stock the mansion house with wines and spirits, which she assumed Fionnuala had shown me, although, thus far, she has not. There was also discussion about mutual business with respect of Arts & Crafts’ business and the need for discretion. I assured her that I had years of previous dealings with the more ‘esoteric’ clients, and therefore was well versed in the need for discretion. Part way through the conversation, we were interrupted by a handsome woman, possibly of Creole descent, from her accent, by the name of Noir de Baptiste. She was looking for a place to stay, so we directed her to the hotel. We did invite her to join us, as a friendly gesture to a new arrival, but she declined on the grounds of needing to rest. I spoke briefly with her in French, which delighted her highly, and she was even more delighted when told that the owner of the hotel was French. I hope that I see her again, as it will be interesting to practice my French with one who comes at the language from a slightly different angle.
I met a lady by the name of Savannah in the coffee shop while I was on my way to the bookshop. We chatted over coffee and it turned out that she was seeking a lady by the name of Nuala. She was a physical therapist by trade and was hoping for employment at Arts & Crafts. Nuala was the name she had been given as a contact. This was most fortuitous as Nuala texted me while we were talking, saying she had just finished up at the shop and was heading over to the bookshop so we could get changed for the masquerade ball that evening. I diverted her to the coffee shop so that she and Savannah could get acquainted.
Ah yes, the masquerade ball. Rumours had been floating around that there was to be one on this All Hallows Eve, hosted, it was said, by the Frost family, who had once owned much of what later became Cherry Falls. The time and location where not revealed until shortly before it happened. Since it was a formal ball, I had already gone in search of suitable evening wear, which became a lot easier once I remembered that this was what the Americans would call a tuxedo or tux. I had to admit that I do dress up nicely once I saw myself in the mirror, even if I normally regard the cummerbund as a rather ridiculous item of clothing. As to the masks, I found a nice little craft shop in a nearby town that had some rather nice ones fashioned in leather. I was torn between various devil masks and a few that portrayed a somewhat Green Man like image that they called Forest Spirit. I eventually opted for the devil one, which was a fortunate choice, as it turned out that Fionnuala had opted for the Autumnal version of the forest one. She came over and we changed in the apartment over the bookshop. I had my tux and she had a rather fetching dress in shades of brown and cream that perfectly complemented the mask.
The ball itself was pleasant enough. I am not quite sure where the carriage took us, and it was a horse-drawn carriage that we rode in, but it was a most pleasing setting that I can only describe as resembling a ballroom as it might appear at Hogwarts, complete with free-floating candles. Fionnuala turned out to be a pleasant dance companion, and not at all put off by the fact that my dance knowledge stopped somewhere around the Jazz Era, as I put it. Maybe I should try dancing a little more often, as I think I can still cut a fine figure on the dance floor, even if it has been over a century since I learned my steps, such things being expected of a gentleman of my age. We did not stay very long as we were both tired and soon retired to my apartment for the rest of the evening.
In other news, Brigitte seems to have acquired a hotel cat, and was somewhat possessive when I suggested that said cat might come and visit the bookshop occasionally, should I have the need for getting rid of mice. Alina reminded me that I had not yet returned her necklace, which I must admit I had totally forgotten about, as it was still being cleaned. I called the jewellers, but they were already closed, so I promised I would get it for her as soon as possible. She told me she was bored with her fund-raising job already, regarding it as a mercy job given to her by Dr Anna. The finding of the necklace had apparently inspired her to want to do that for a living, fancying herself as a modern-day Indiana Jones of the adventure films. Much as I hated to dampen her youthful enthusiasm, I suggested that hanging on the job she had for a while might be a good idea, offering to let her use the bookshop as a library while she learned about the antiquities trade as it is in real life. Having assisted clients with the shipping of antiques, I knew full well that it was nowhere near as glamorous or easy as it is portrayed in said films. Her friend Anna appeared, resplendent in electric-blue hair, as did another friend by the name of Alice, who kept referring to Alina by the name Kong, so I left them to their chat, being fairly sure I would not understand a word of it.
And so, here I am, catching up with my diary, in the apartment that I have yet to feel comfortable referring to as home, but then, having spent much of my life travelling, I have often had a curious reluctance to call anywhere home for very long. I have two businesses to take care of, and I even appear to have a girlfriend. Maybe this isn’t such a bad place after all.
As one who has made words his unpaid profession for many years, I should know that words have power. Even casual ones made in idle conversation can have a lasting effect, as I found out recently. In other news, my renowned ineptitude when it comes to the opposite sex strikes again, though my ineptitude itself is hardly news. Fortunately, however, this time, I managed to talk about it, and, assorted deities permitting, this has been a good thing.
Deities, or perhaps one of the trickster spirits like Reynard or Coyote, might have possible been responsible for me finding Fionnuala asleep on the bed in my hotel room when I returned there the other day. Certainly, neither of us could come up with any rational explanation, other than possibly her coming back to the hotel after a few drinks and forgetting she had checked out.
Whatever the reason, we were both there, in my bedroom, both feeling somewhat awkward. I ordered some tea from room service and provided her with some headache pills that I carry around in my wash-bag, despite not actually needing them. We conversed for a while, and eventually got round to the subject of each other. I decided to take the bull by the horns and told her a little about myself, in particular, my inability, at times, to recognise when a woman, or man, was interested in me, and my even more ridiculous inability, despite the appearance of being a smooth-tongued charmer, to get round to actually asking a girl out. Having cleared the air, I then asked if, despite my faults, she would consent to be seen walking out with me. At least here, unlike many years ago, I did not have to face the prospect of asking permission of her father. To my relief, she was quite happy for us to do so.
We decided that we would go for a picnic, somewhere where we were unlikely to be interrupted by Alina, or anybody else, and where we could possibly get away with turning off our mobile phones for a while. I called down to reception and asked if they could pack up a cold collation suitable for a picnic. Neither of us felt particularly inclined to brave the bayou again, in case there were further bodies. I had been thinking of the strange gazebo structure at the end of the track there, but, as she rightly pointed out, if the place was being used for some purpose, people might object to our trespassing. In the end, we decided we should maybe try the gardens of the house she was living in with the Barzane clan, unless we found some other open place suitable.
We did not get there.
Before we left, I opened up the drawer if the bedside cabinet to retrieve a few personal items. They were there, of course, but so was a large manila envelope that I was fairly sure had not been there before. I pulled it out and investigated the contents, thinking maybe some other resident, or Brigitte had left it there. There was a key, and a thick sheath of documents. Inexplicably, some of the documents were in Greek, so far as I could tell. At least, were written in the Greek alphabet. Those I decided to put away for later study. I did study Greek at school, but it was Ancient Greek and I studied it some 140 years ago, so I may be a bit rusty.
Most importantly, there was a letter. It was from Dyisi. Something had happened back in her home realm, wherever that might be, and she had had to return there and did not know how long she would be. Making reference to the conversation we had a few days beforehand, in which I had jokingly expressed a desire to one day run a bookshop, she told me that she was leaving me in charge of A Novel Idea. I must have gasped or something, because Fionnuala asked what was wrong. I showed her the letter and the key. She was as shocked as I was, as she had liked Dyisi as much as I had. She asked what I was going to do, and for that question, I had no real answer, as I was still absorbing the news. I had been looking for office space, it was true, and, storage space notwithstanding, and I could run most of my business from the laptop for the moment. Could I run a bookshop at the same time? I leafed through the paperwork, which apparently included instructions on how to activate and deactivate the magical wards on the shop. I groaned at that, but Fionnuala said she would help, knowing a bit about such things.
And so, to the shop we went, partly to look around, and partly to see if I could work out how to get in without setting off any alarms, or being turned into characters from fiction. This we managed with relative ease, even if my pronunciation of the Greek was probably well off the mark. The shop itself was much as I had seen it last time, though I noticed that some of the more exotic looking volumes had gone, which made sense as she had mentioned in the letter that she was taking some with her. The letter also mentioned an apartment above the shop, which was accessed via the door opposite the main one. It was small, but comfortable looking, and felt much more inviting, somehow, than my hotel room, although that is perfectly comfortable. The letter said I was to feel free to take over the apartment as well.
Fionnuala and I chatted about it for a while and decided to have the picnic indoors while we talked. We came to the conclusion that it would be a good thing for me to move in, at least until my assorted business interests sorted themselves out and I had a clearer idea of what I was doing. We then moved on to more personal discussions, speaking more of our attitudes to relationships and such like matters. What passed thereafter is not for this record, save that we are taking things slowly. Perhaps slower than she would like, but even after all these years, I am still a product of my era.
It has to be said that my life, when measured against the normal course of affairs, could be described as strange, unbelievable, and perhaps even surreal. And yet, there are times, when my life, even measured against the normal course of MY affairs, becomes more surreal than I could possibly have imagined. Given that it included threats of decapitation and people being late, it was entirely appropriate that it should take place in a bookshop.
It didn’t start there. It started with me finding Fionnuala and Alina outside the hotel, both apparently in search of Brigitte. Alina was looking for her because she was bored, and Fionnuala, because she wanted to sort out days when she could come and offer treatments at the hotel. They both looked at me as though I had some mysterious way of knowing what Brigitte was up to. I told her that despite being friends with me for many years, Brigitte was quite capable of disappearing for six months without telling me. However, in this case, I did have something that they didn’t, Brigitte’s cell-phone number. I sent her a text, outlining both enquiries, and while waiting for a reply, asked if Alina had made up with her friend, Anna and told her the necklace was quite safe, as I was having it cleaned, and then having it checked for curses etc. She was a little disappointed, but admitted she and Anna had made it up after battling together against farting demons. That was somewhere I did not want to go. Fionnuala asked Alina about what she had done before coming to Cherry Falls, and got an abbreviated version of the story she had told me. Fionnuala offered her counselling services, but for the moment, Alina declined.
Brigitte replied, from Texas, of all places, asking me if I could educate Alina a little on the clans, and telling Fionnuala to pick whatever day, or days, suited her. So, she picked Wednesday. I texted that back to Brigitte adding a comment about the farting demons. Discussion then turned to the matter of the poetry evening and possible dates. I suggested the 9th of November, so we decided to go and see Dyisi to see if this was ok with her.
That is where it got… interesting. Yes, I think that was the right word.
What we found was, well, like something out of the Alice books. And, for once, I can say that I meant that literally. We found the girl, who I think was called Tena, with leather wings and other strange changes to her body shape, speaking something that sounded like gibberish. She, apparently, was part-way through changing into the Jabberwocky. I’m not quite sure why, but it may have been something to do with mushrooms. The reason I say this is because there was another woman there. I later learned her name was Sif, and I think she was the one who was checking me out from the back of the store on the last time I was there. She was talking to Dyisi and claiming that it couldn’t possibly be true that her chair, and the mushroom, had done this, and promptly broke off a piece of a mushroom she had in her hand and ate it.
Not, I would have thought, the smartest idea, if what had taken place prior to our arrival was anything to do with the mushroom. And I was proved right, for Sif staggered back, fragmented into what looked like a tornado made up of playing cards which quickly reformed themselves into the Queen of Hearts. Yes, the Queen of Hearts. If I had any doubt about her identity, they were quickly dispelled when she fixed me with an imperious gaze and shouted “Off with his head!”
Oh, and while this was going on, somebody was complaining they were late. Yes, we also had the White Rabbit, looking vaguely like Mika, the furry-tailed woman I had met on my first day.
Dyisi, meanwhile, was sitting in her chair as usual. Despite the obvious strangeness of all that was going on, she greeted us politely enough, though she did look as though even she might find it difficult to explain what was going on, and asked to what did she owe the pleasure. She also instructed somebody called Charles to fetch a cup of tea for the Jabberwocky A rather incongruous suggestion, but under the circumstances, no stranger than anything else that was going on. I don’t know who, or what, Charles was, but a cup of tea promptly floated over to the Jabberwocky, who took it, almost fearfully.
I think I managed to look only mildly bemused by the goings on. I’ve seen some pretty strange things in my long life, which probably helped. Fionnuala looked cautious as much as anything, but Alina was hanging back in the doorway, looking confused and somewhat conflicted. I told Dyisi that we had come because we like books and because we wanted to check with her about the date for the poetry evening, adding that if I had known it was an Alice party, I would have brought a hat. Though, as I later discovered, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t.
It all got a bit confusing after that. The white rabbit welcomed the queen to tea, while still complaining about being late. The queen stroked Alina’s cheek and then started demanding where the guards were and why I was still there, repeating her order to have my head removed. She also demanded tea. The Jabberwocky seemed to recover her use of English and offered the queen some tea.
Dyisi assured me there was no party, claiming that some part of her past had caught up with her and she should not have left the mushroom out. She advised me to stay close to her if I wished to retain my head. She took hold of her staff and demanded of queen for what crimes I was to be beheaded. Her Majesty was having none of this, saying only ‘Because I said so’. In her mind, I am sure that this was all that was sufficient and necessary, but I’ve never believed in the absolute right of monarchs. Just to play along, I tried to remember my legal training, not that it was necessarily going to be of much use, given that it was almost entirely centred on laws relating to contract and finances. I grabbed at a random phrase in Latin and tried to plead insanity, but I somehow managed to plead sanity instead and cogitationis poenam nemo patitur, which, I seem to recall, was something to do with not being able to punish somebody only for intent. Or maybe something to do with mens rea and actus reus.
Either way, the Queen wasn’t having it, advising me that sanity was no defence and calling “off with his head” again. Dyisi told me she wished she had time to explain and then reminded the Queen that she herself had decreed there would be no executions until she had had tea with the Mad Hatter. That seemed a good defence, and it was then that I realised I was very glad I hadn’t bought a hat with me, in case that made me the Mad Hatter. I told her that I did not recognise her authority and that she was acting ultra vires. I could see Alina was getting restless over by the door and decided that it was maybe time I tried to do something about the situation, much as I hate using my additional abilities. I centred myself and started to send out the calming influence. The rabbit seemed to be calmed by it, but the Queen just accused me of attacking her. She did, however, agreed to abide by her own decree until the Mad Hatter arrived. She also sent the rabbit off in search of said decree, insisting that she not be late. It is possible that I overdid the calming influence, because there was a clatter from the doorway as Alina appeared to pass out.
Of course, it might not have just been me. I could also feel some other calming influence. I looked across the room to where Fionnuala was standing with her eyes closed. She was singing a vaguely familiar song. I did not know what abilities exarchs had, but this seemed to be her doing. The Queen, however, apparently was not impressed, however, she didn’t do anything and continued to glare at me and demand my head, despite my assurances that I had done no wrong.
While we waited, Fionnuala changed her tune slightly, or, at least decided to do something else. I’m not quite sure what, other than I suddenly felt tired again, as I had before I drank the coffee with my lunch. Maybe it was related, I don’t know, but Alina suddenly came back to life again and promptly bolted. The Queen watched her go, calling her a foolish girl and then decided to leave also. She reminded me that my head was hers and then exited the shop, telling us to send the rabbit for her when the hatter arrived.
Tea was served, albeit with some suspicion on my part, while Fionnuala went to attend to the Jabberwocky, who had resorted to talking gibberish, although Dyisi seemed to understand, and the rabbit, who had retreated to the safety of the bookshelves and gone to sleep. It occurred to me that having the Queen of Hearts wandering the streets might possibly be a bad idea. While Dyisi was quite correct in that no harm could come, as the rabbit was not going to find the requested decree, and the Mad Hatter was unlikely to turn up, so therefore, there would be no executions, in the light of recent murders involving decapitation, a person wandering around yelling “off with his head” could lead to misunderstandings. She reluctantly agreed, so I stepped outside and called Detective O’Quinn
Which, in itself, was an interesting exercise. Even as I was fumbling to find his business card in my pocket, I was wondering quite how to frame the call. In the end, I opted for the straightforward, and hopefully sufficiently vague explanation that Sif had ‘had an episode’ and was now wandering the streets thinking she was the Queen of Hearts and telling people they should have their heads removed. As it turned out, he was on his way to the bookshop anyway, apparently entertaining the twins by giving them a ride and showing off the police siren. He pulled up outside as we were finishing the call, and the card disgorged the twins, their aunt, Skylar, and another woman who was introduced as Eden. I’m not quite sure where she fitted into the scenario, but they all piled into the bookshop where Daimon asked Dyisi if she would babysit the twins while he borrowed their aunt for a while.
What passed after that, I did not discover, as I realised I had promised Nigel a Skype call before he went to bed, and so I had to excuse myself and return to the hotel. What became of the Queen after that, I did not discover, but I gather the others were soon returned to their normal states, though what passes for normal in this town is anybody’s guess.
It is said of me that I can be somewhat dense when it comes to my dealings with the fairer sex, particularly those who inexplicably fall for my charms. My particular failing is in not noticing this until they have given up on me ever noticing, or they take drastic action. I have to own that this is true, however, sometimes, I do occasionally catch on. I am fairly sure that there is something developing between Fionnuala and I, however, it seems that time and circumstance are always against us.
We had a nice time eating at the Cherry Pit and then taking our dessert at the trailer diner by the hospital. But then we were interrupted by Alina and Anna, aka Nipples, fighting over the damned necklace. In fact, I think that Alina holds first place in terms of interruptions, as I can think of three occasions when she has been the direct or indirect cause of disrupting conversations with Fionnuala.
Second place goes to Wendigo Lakes City Hall, twice interrupting me with requirements for paperwork with urgent deadlines, when they have been sitting on the stuff for weeks now. The first time, we were actually managing to have dinner – I had a steak and she had the shrimp dish that gave her so much pleasure previously, but we didn’t get round to dessert. The second time was just plain bureaucratic inconvenience. We did eventually get dessert a couple of days later, albeit in the company of young Noah, who wants to be a detective when he grows up, so that was hardly conducive to the pursuit of romance.
Actually, I might have been unfair to Alina. I suspect that first place probably goes to my ridiculously out of whack sleep schedule, resulting in me having to go to bed at stupidly early times in the evening. I don’t know why I am having a hard time adjusting. Perhaps it is the greyness of the climate here, which reminds me somewhat of London, in that there is no discernable day/night divide to help regulate me. Whatever the reason, all too often I have had to cut our time together short in favour of sleep. I must be getting old or something.
Anyway, after our ice-cream with Noah, she sent me a text, saying the ice-cream was grand and that I should let her know if I want to get together again. It sounded a little as if she was beginning to think I wasn’t interested. I texted back saying that we never seemed to catch a break, and next time, we were going for a picnic and turning our phones off. We will have to see.
So, now I know a little of Alina’s story. I was right, in so far as neither of us had much of an education, but at least I had some, whereas she had none. So, some of her behaviour is understandable, if not necessarily excusable. I feel a little more comfortable dealing with her now, and, I hope she does with me.
I found her drinking coffee, just hanging around by the doors into the restaurant. We spoke a little about the poetry evening, and I gave her the draft flyer I had made. She rather liked that and suggested I should turn up in breeches and a vest, by which, getting used to American nomenclature, she meant a waistcoat. I jokingly suggested I would go with the Chatterton look, which, of course, went straight over her head. I had to marvel at the delights of the modern age, as with a few strokes of my fingers on the phone, I was able to show her the painting. She was rather taken with the painting, no doubt making up her own story to go along with it. I gave her a brief outline of his story and I think it jibed well with her own story.
We took a walk up to the bluff overlooking the bayou. To my pleasant surprise, she was happy to walk with her hand in my elbow, as I was taught as a young man, despite that possibly being terribly old-fashioned from her point of view. I did have to deter her from calling me an elder though, saying that 160 odd years, I scarcely qualified as an elder. There, I asked her to tell me her story, encouraging her by saying that I felt she was somewhat like I had been when I first met Brigitte.
Her story was all too familiar. She had lived in a run-down city called Dead End, which she described as being somewhat like Detroit. Not that I have ever been to Detroit to know, but, from movies and such, I got the general impression. It was pretty much a slum, but the cost of living there was low, at least, in financial terms. She had wanted to be a photographer, but she ended up working at a shelter for runaways. There, she made a friend called Shadow, who became her sister by choice. Shadow was of gypsy stock, and was good with cards, but bad with men, and ended up working the streets for money. Alina, at least, escaped that fate, running with a gang and selling weed. Until, one day Shadow died, the shelter was closed and the residents kicked out. Soon after, she was attacked in an alleyway, turned and abandoned there. She never even saw his face. She had nobody until she received an invitation to come to Cherry Falls, where Anna and Brigitte had taken her in. Not much to write home about, she said, referring to herself as well as her story.
I tried to reassure her that this was not the case, reminding her that she now had a job, and had come up with ideas for the fundraiser. I then told her my tale, albeit briefly, excluding my adventures in Richmond and the reason I had come to London in the first place. It is not an episode of my life I am proud of and I suspect it would have been too hard to explain to her. She asked a few questions about the education, such as it was, that I got from Brigitte. Mostly, she seemed interested in feeding, as I got the impression that she was not comfortable with that aspect of her new life. She then tried to change the subject somewhat, referring to the O Captain poem and asking if I had met Lincoln, or anybody important, and when I had come to the States.
I didn’t let her get away with it entirely. I told her about my feeding habits, in port, on board ship and now here in Cherry Falls, explaining that each person has to find their own way that they are comfortable with. I told her about my first trip to the States on my honeymoon, my subsequent visits, and why I was here now. I then explained about being Raven to Katarina and Artur, and about Catt being my Captain of Ravens, which is why the Whitman poem was important to me, because it reminded me of her.
We sat for a while, in companionable silence, and she even relaxed enough to rest her head on my shoulder. She told me a little bit more about how she felt, how she felt as though she had lost somebody dear to her, the old Alina, before she had been bitten. She told me about how she feels angry sometimes, wanting to get revenge on the beast who turned her. All I could do was reassure her that all those emotions were perfectly natural and she didn’t need to fight them or deny them. If she wanted to scream or cry, I was there for her. I told her that she needed to own those emotions, recognise them, acknowledge them, let them out, and then she could control them. As to her old self, I told her that she was in there too, and given time, she would find herself again.
She shed a tear and thanked me. We sat a while more and she said she probably had a thousand questions, but could not frame them at the moment. We spoke a little about Justine and various other matters, but before I could get on to other things, like the clans, sects and such like, I was reminded by my phone of an appointment I had to look at business premises. I would have walked her home, but she seemed comfortable where she was, and so I left her there.
I went away feeling as though I had done some good. She still needs a lot of work, as I did when I was her age, but I think she can be helped. I will have to speak with Brigitte when I get the chance.
Have I met the girl of my dreams? That’s a hard one to answer, since my dreams have featured many members of the fairer sex. But, in a rather abstruse way, I have, in the form of Fionnuala.
After talking with Dyisi about posters and the poetry evening, Fionnuala and I met at the Cherry Pit, where we both ordered burgers. Not my first choice of food, but easy enough for me to manage. What she wanted to talk to me about was her… nature. Since I had revealed mine, she felt that she should reveal hers. This she did, over the very romantic setting of bacon-cheeseburgers for two.
She is an exarch, a creature of dreams. Well, sort of. People dream; and their dreams have power. They created something called the Dreamscape, and the Dreamscape gave birth to the exarchs. They are non-corporeal a lot of the time, but they can join with mortals and become sort of hybrid being. So Fionnuala is what she appears to be, a 22 year old woman from Sligo in Ireland, but, since her 11th birthday or thereabouts, she is also a being that dates from the start of the 17th century. It’s a sort of symbiosis, as far as I was able to understand it, but with the ‘host’ and the ‘resident’ somehow fusing.
This was the bit I found hardest to understand. There is, apparently, no duality. The person I know as Fionnuala is that girl from Sligo and the exarch, merged together as one. She is both of them at once. There is no separation, so there is no conflict, no partition, no divide between the girl and the dream.
I had other questions, of course, which she tried to answer. The dreamers are the people who dream; people like me, whose dreams make up this Dreamscape. Some dreamers can be strong dreamers and actually become aware of the Dreamscape. Dreams that rehash the day’s events or some past events are what she called weak dreams. Strong dreams are where you can touch the Dreamscape – so if I dreamed of my old school, that might be a weak dream, but if I dreamed of my old school and a glowing figure offers to smite the kids that bullied me, then that is a strong dream that touched this Dreamscape.
Exarchs could be the people I meet in dreams – if they are strong characters and not pale reflections of people I know in waking life, if they give strange answers to questions, or otherwise do something significant, somebody who challenges me or asks hard questions, then they may be exarchs. I found this curious, but then, I do not often remember my dreams in detail, so I cannot say if I have met one or not. Exarchs, of course, can access the Dreamscape at will. She told me she could go there while fully awake, while meditating and even had a house there. Someday, she said, she would be strong enough to take others, not exarchs, there, but not for now.
I wondered if it was possible to become one of these strong dreamers and she told me it was all to do with creativity. The more creative you are, the more likely you are to dream strong dreams and touch the Dreamscape. She recommended a book on increasing your creativity, written by none other than Stephen Fry. I had not heard of it, but I recalled some books I had purchased some years before on accessing your creativity. I remembered one was called The Artist’s Way, or something like that. Perhaps it is time I dipped my pen into the well again and tried my hand at writing. Creative writing, that is, as opposed to the everyday writing I do in my diary.
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the burgers, so we gave ourselves over to that pleasure for a while. I told her of my early days, having to become good at appearing to eat, for the sake of my fellow officers and crew, and how I even learned to take pleasure in eating, even if I could no longer gain nourishment from it. She evidently can, and also takes pleasure in it. The burgers did not seem to have quite the same sensory pleasure as the shrimp dish she had at the weekend, but I must admit, it was a pleasure to watch her eat. She takes inordinate pleasure in it, even if it is just an onion ring dipped in garlic mayonnaise.
Things were getting a bit noisy by the time we finished and such privacy as we had enjoyed was lacking, so we decided to finish our dinner here and take dessert and coffee down the road outside the hospital. There we could continue our conversation in peace, at least for a while.
One worrying thing she told me was that exarchs can normally only survive 30 or so years in this union, after which they have to withdraw to the Dreamscape for a period. This concerned me a little, as I wondered what became of the human half. She would forget, Fionnuala told me, she would still have her memories of the crazy things she did in her teens and twenties, but then it would become just memories, with no memory of having been the other person. She sounded as though this was a difficult subject for her to talk about it, so I offered her the chance to change the subject. She was able to continue, even though she said she feared the time when it would happen. The stronger exarchs can last longer, she told me, and here in this town, with its apparent preponderance of magical beings, it might be possible to stay longer. There was one ability she had, she told me, that not many exarchs can do. She would remember being Fionnuala, and the life she had experienced, so, for example, if there was some great love affair in that life, when she took another body, she might be able to find that person again and love again.
I’m not quite sure if there was some sort of hint there, a little nudge. With the normal mortal lifespan, I could see complications – if they parted when they were, say, in their 40s and then the exarch returned in a new body, it might be a bit strange, a teenager trying to get with somebody in their late 40s, whereas with somebody of a longer lifespan… I didn’t say anything on that score; instead, I remembered the vow from a pagan handfasting I had once attended for some friends of mine. How did it go again? “Nor shall death part us; for in the fullness of time we shall be born again at the same time and in the same place as each other; and we shall meet, and know, and remember, and love again.” I jokingly referred to the Burton/Taylor relationship, divorcing and marrying again so many times.
She changed the subject slightly, or so I thought, making reference to my prodigious, her word, not mine, memory for poetry and how that had come about. I didn’t really have much of an answer for that. My memory is patchy at best, but somehow, the poetry sticks, maybe because I keep reading it and reading it. I told her how Mother had read to me from a very early age, and how I had insisted on being taught how to read – not from the primers that were used for kids at the time, but from the poems and books she read to me. She told me that I would have made a good exarch, which set me to wondering if this was something you could actually do, become one. She told me that her father had been a teacher, and so she had learned to read early, but hadn’t gotten onto the serious poets until she was older. Poets and authors were common hosts, she said, naming Jim Morrison, Anne Sexton and Phil Ochs as exarchs. I asked about Elvis, since practically everything fanciful had been assigned to him at one point or another, but apparently he was not an exarch. I asked about the likes of Keats and Shelley. She did not know. I got the impression that it was a lot harder, in those days, to take physical form. Now that kids grow up dreaming of being on the moon or being vampires etc, there are more dreams, and exarchs becoming more numerous as a result.
I asked if I was one, given my poetic and creative bent, and if exarchs could sense each other in this form. They can, as a sort of aura, but she was fairly sure that the exarch would not survive the transition to vampire. That led to discussions about past lives and I confessed that I had wondered about using my childhood as though it were a past life, had she actually tried the regression thing on me as she had threatened. She said that she would likely know if I was lying.
Somehow that led to a little confession. Apparently, my suspicions regarding Brigitte and Fionnuala at that Sunday lunch were quite correct. They had gotten to talking and Fionnuala told a joke about Irish oral sex (staying up all night talking about it) and Brigitte offered to tell her about French oral sex, but she couldn’t do it in the dining room where the staff could hear. And so, they went upstairs and, well, it ended as a worldly guy like me might imagine it did, to quote her words. I told her I wasn’t the least bit surprised, knowing Brigitte as I did, and assured her, since she seemed to be worried about it, that it didn’t diminish my opinion of her. I told her that I would never judge and said I would tell her about my youthful indiscretions some time. I didn’t own her, I said, and even if we were an item, it still would not bother me. That appeared to relieve her fears. She asked how long I had known Brigitte, which was something I could now answer honestly, so I told her briefly of my time in London and how Brigitte and I had come to be real friends.
Further conversation on the matter was interrupted by the sound of Alina and her friend Anna, circling each other round one of the trees, like children chasing each other, taunting each other with the name Nipples, which I had heard one of them use that first night we met Anna. It sounded as though they were fighting over the necklace again. I would have hoped that Alina had learned after her punishment from Brigitte, but apparently not. From her manner and the way she was hissing, I feared she was close to losing control. Now much as I hate exerting my abilities, I figured it was time to do so. I excused myself from Fionnuala with a sigh and confronted Alina, willing her to calm down, which she did. Anna, meanwhile, seemed concerned for our safety, presumably knowing what Alina was, but not knowing we were anything other than human, warning us that her friend was not as she seemed and advising us to run. I assured her I had nothing to fear and asked her for the necklace. She tried to make a run for it, but I was far too quick for her, again, using powers that I normally prefer not to. This time, I managed to force her to calm down too and she gave me the necklace, albeit reluctantly. I found an envelope in my bag and wrapped the necklace in it. Fionnuala, very sensibly, seemed to decide this was not her business and excused herself, saying she would see me back at the hotel later. I just nodded, giving my attention to the two youngsters. I told them off for acting like children, then, on a sudden generous impulse, gave them a couple of twenties and told them to go get themselves a pizza, or coffee or ice-cream or something and that I did not want to see them again until they had made friends again and stopped behaving like children. Fortunately, I seemed to have awed them enough for them to take the money and disappear off without further argument.
I sighed heavily and headed back to the hotel myself. I do not quite know what this Anna is, but I know what Alina is, and she needs to learn some self-control. I have excellent reserves of that myself, but how to teach it is another question. I shall really have to speak with Brigitte and see what I can do.
I do find myself, occasionally, reminiscing about the good old days, of my youth, of my mortal days. But then, sometimes, I find myself very glad of the things I can do in this present day. Like make posters. When we wanted a poetry evening while I was at university, we had to draw posters ourselves, and sometimes, find a friendly printer who could run a few off for us. Now, with the aid of a camera built into my phone and graphics programs on my laptop, I can knock one up in a matter of minutes. I wanted to get things moving on the poetry evening, so I snuck into the bookshop and took a photo of their poster there and used that as a backdrop for a flyer and/or poster. I sub-titled the event “Brush up your Blake, Shine up your Shelley, Hone your Heaney” which I thought was quite good, even if I did wonder if I had put the Heaney in there just for Fionnuala. Anyway, I put on a random date and time, and ran a few copies off to show to Dyisi. Thus equipped, I took myself down to the shop to show her.
The aforementioned proprietor was there, ensconced in her favourite chair, conversing with Fionnuala, who was occupying the other seat. I didn’t catch what they had been chatting about, save that neither of them had pressing business elsewhere. They were both pleased to see me and both were impressed by the draft poster. We talked about places we could put it, once we finalise the date and time. I thought about getting copies to the hospital, and letting the local radio station and newspaper know, plus, I was sure Brigitte would have one in the hotel. Fionnuala, meanwhile, was sending messages, presumably to the shop owner, since she was talking about having a poster in the shop, perhaps in exchange for the bookshop showing a poster for their grand opening. A short while later, a rather pretty, if slightly bookish looking woman turned up. This was Penny, Mal’s wife, and owner of the magic shop. We were introduced and she was more than happy to exchange flyers, even if their opening event was only partly planned. Fionnuala suggested a teaser flyer, telling people that it was coming soon. Penny seemed to think that was a good idea. Intending it only as a joke, I put on a gruff movie-trailer voice and suggested “Coming soon, to a shop in your neighbourhood, Arts and Crafts… for everything your body and soul needs…” Despite my joking intention, Penny actually liked that and wrote it down. Fionnuala threatened to have me come and read for her guided meditation tapes, while Penny suggested I could come do their answering machine message. A new career as a voice artist? Perhaps not.
We spoke more of the poetry event. Dyisi will obtain more seating. Penny offered to make cookies and brownies, and I said I would talk to Brigitte about seeing if her chef could supply some finger food. Dyisi also suggested she would supply tea, though something about the way she said it, or possibly that projection stuff she does, made me wonder how interesting her tea was. There was one point, when we had been talking about different accents, when I felt a brief sadness from her. Is there an English man in her past, I wondered.
Penny departed, heading back to the shop and Fionnuala asked if I could meet with her for coffee shortly, as there was something she wanted to discuss with me. She suggested the Cherry Pit, so I said I would meet her there as soon as I was done at the bookshop.
There wasn’t much more that needed to be discussed, although Dyisi did seem reluctant to let me go. Maybe it’s the accent again. And so, off to the Cherry Pit I went.
The strange thing about being away from home, and the office, is that I tend to forget what day it is. Not that I have ever been much of one for the nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday routine. I have not been to church regularly since Mother and Father died, so have no particular attachment to Sundays. In fact, I often find that weekends are the best time to catch up on paperwork, filing and other things that don’t require input from my colleagues. It is probably the latter that makes weekend better for that – fewer interruptions. So it was that I spent much of Saturday in my room, with my laptop and my papers and such like. I finalised all the details for the Beaujolais contract, reviewed Brigitte’s requirements for the cognac shipping and sent them to Nigel to explore what we had in that area, sent off an email to City Hall in Wendigo, chasing my business applications there, and generally caught up with emails.
By the middle of the afternoon, I felt that I had achieved all I was likely to achieve and took myself out for a walk. Trusting to luck, I tossed a coin when I got to the hotel entrance and, on the basis of that, turned left. Fate, or possibly subconscious bias, took my footsteps past the growling pumpkins and into the bookshop. I passed the woman I had heard was the twins’ aunt, Skylar, I think the name was, apparently shooing the kids out of the shop.
The shop seemed quite busy. There was a young lady whose name, I gathered, was Tena. She had just sat down in one of the armchairs opposite Dyisi, who was in her armchair, when I arrived, but when Dyisi asked me to tell her a little about myself, bounced up again and let me have the seat. She claimed she couldn’t sit still anyway, because it was still too close the full moon. I guess that means she is a were of some sort.
I had barely begun to peruse the shelves when Dyisi asked if I could indulge her curiosity, as she likes to get to know her clients. For some strange reason, I could ‘feel’ her curiosity, even without the words. There have been times in the past when I have met people who can project emotions, but this was slightly different. Having no particular aim in mind, other than browsing, I decided I would indulge her, and took the seat that Tena had vacated for me. While I was doing so, an elven lady came in, with a bow and a quiver of arrows on her back. She did not stay long, having only called in to see if a particular book she wanted had arrived. Another woman came in, apparently known to Dyisi, from the way they greeted each other. She did not say much after that, but instead disappeared to the other end of the shop, supposedly browsing the shelves, but I swear I could feel her checking me out. Tena departed too, planning on taking her motorbike somewhere called Murphy’s Pass to see if she could take it at 65.
Dyisi was looking me over, her projection now feeling just warm and welcoming. She asked if I was one of the recent imports and mentioned my insatiable need for books. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant – was I an import because I had recently arrived, or was she referring to my business. Just to be on the safe side, I answered to cover both possibilities and explained that my love of books stemmed from my mother. She told me that she had met another who was in the same business, which I found interesting. I told her about my accountancy training and explained further about the main business, outlining the main products I dealt in. She was pleased to hear about the wines and spirits and I got the sense that she too had once dealt with such things, she said as such, and indicated that now, the bookshop and things of a wondrous nature were her business. I wasn’t sure quite what she meant by the latter, but assumed that she meant things magical, so I hinted that such things were also things I could trade in. Looking at the shop, I told her that owning and running a bookshop was very high on the list of things I would like to do if I could change profession. I also told her of my occasional searches for collectibles in bookshops and online sources – first editions of poetry books and such like, and that was the extent of my involvement in trading in books.
Her reaction to that was quite strange, in a way, echoing my comment about “if I could…” and glancing back at the rest of the shop, saying that perhaps we could work something out, come to some sort of deal. Did she mean that she wanted me to work in the shop? I was not sure.
Fionnuala came in at that point, casually dressed for once, greeting us both and then heading off to browse the shelves, much as I had intended. I greeted her back and gave my attention back to Dyisi, going back to her suggestion. I told her that I was quite interested, but it would partly depend on how long it took for me to get my own business set up locally. She told me there was no hurry, bringing out her pipe and lighting it. The smoke smelt odd, more herbs and spices than tobacco. She told me that she did need the help and that she would appreciate the company. I wondered about that, since there had always seemed to be people in and out of the shop, but maybe there were quiet times too. I told her that perhaps I could find time to hang around in the bookshop (as if that would be a hardship to me).
Talking of people coming in and out of the shop, Alina turned up, after apparently having some difficulty with the doors. I really do need to talk to Brigitte and see what we can do to try to educate the poor child. Meanwhile, Fionnuala apologised for falling asleep on me the previous evening, blaming the whiskey. I told her not to worry, and suggested that the next time we did some poetry reading, we did so before we started drinking. Looking back to Dyisi, the thought occurred to me that a wider poetry evening might be a good idea, either in the shop itself, or some other suitable location. I asked her if the idea of having a poetry evening in the shop sounded like a good idea. Apparently, it was a good idea, judging by the waves of approval she was giving off. She was sure that she could arrange a few more stools and provide some refreshments. Non-alcoholic, she suggested, apparently picking up on what had passed with Fionnuala and I. Fionnuala was taken with the idea, and so was Alina, even. She told us she was now working with Anna at the hospital (presumably the one who wasn’t her blonde, necklace-stealing friend) and was helping to raise funds for the hospital. She suggested that we could work together.
That seemed like a good idea to me – have a poetry evening and make it a fund-raising event for the hospital. Everybody was in agreement with the idea and Dyisi suggested the following weekend in order to enable us to get publicity out. I would have loved to have stayed and discussed things further, but my phone beeped at me, reminding me that I was supposed to be meeting with Brigitte to talk about the cognac shipping. I promised I would come and see Dyisi the next day, so we could progress the idea.
So, in addition to setting up the southern US branch of Camlann, I could be working in a bookshop. That sounds a much better idea than being a part-time barista in Wendigo Lakes, but what the heck, it looks like I can be kept busy, whichever town I am in.