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.
The tune Fionnuala was singing – Jefferson Airplane, of course…