Sunday, 15 March 2015

(Novel) The Dragons Eye Diptych, Volume One (A Braided Yarn)


There is gold at the end of some rainbows. Gold beyond imaginings.

This is a story about dragons and aelfs, why you should not believe everything you hear, and the value of friends.  


This story was constructed in G+ with the assistance and encouragement of many friends and is based on a story once told by Catherine Victoria Edmonstone.


You can read it for free:
1. in book form: 6th Edition pdf *;
2. here (just scroll down the page).

An audio book and print version are in preparation
* to get access to the PDF book you will need to log into Google Drive (which will ordinarily be an automatic process if you have a G+ account)

Copyright 2016 Peter Quinton, Published by Peter Quinton
All drawing by the Canberra Artist, Indya.


Dragons Eye




Volume One of
The DRAGONS EYE
Diptych


Invocation


Touch the spinning thread of destiny.
Rejoice the portion racing past your fingertips.
Relish your life in fair wonder with others
Until the great destroyer takes us back, whence we came.

(The characters and places in this book are imaginary. I have not chased a really big dragon for weeks.)

Once


There is gold at the end of some rainbows. Gold beyond imaginings. But there are dragons as well. You cannot kill a dragon. You cannot resist the touch of a dragon’s smile, eyes or words. You should resist it with every ounce of your being. But in the end, all you can do is not become one.
People and Places
This story is set in the Tallaganda, a mountainous area close to the coast of South East Australia, and the Canterbury Plains on the South Island of New Zealand, where dragons have been living for years.
Humans
Kathy: A farmer who lives on the edge of the Tallaganda Forest.
Storm: Kathy’s daughter and a horse trainer. She grew up on Kathy’s farm.
Pete: Lives on his own farm near the Tallaganda Forest with the cats Blanket and Waylander.
Anthem: An online acquaintance of Pete.
Bob: A New Zealand drifter.
Aelfs
Aelfs are naturally small and pointy, but can change their shape and size (see the Afterword).
Onesti: Female aelf, who has been recently appointed as an Earth Guardian. Until recently she did not believe in humans (although she was prepared to accept them as a ‘social reality’). Now she is not so sure. Has taken the cat Waylander as her mount.
Teathyme: Younger female aelf, who is a long term Earth Guardian.  Has adopted the cat Blanket as her mount.
Solstice: Female aelf, Crest Guardian, who is charged with maintaining a difficult status quo on the Crest home planet against an invasion by spider-kin. Fond of ice cream.
Tharia and Gossamer: Aelf Guardians of the Blue Dragon.
Wraiths
Air breathing humanoids from a nearby water world.
Belle: Captain of an airship on the Wraith home world, a water-world moon orbiting the gas giant Farsigh.
Wander and Growl: Crew members of Belle’s airship.


Into Darkness


There is gold at the end of some rainbows. Gold beyond imagining.
But this time, the Dragon beat me there. I had to watch from a safe distance while the dark aelfs scattered and the dragon picked up the gold and flew off.
You laughed, “I thought dragons were your friends and would surely share the spoils.”
I countered, “Some people say you can train a dragon to come at a whistle.”
Some of the old farmers say dragons can fly you around a bit and do useful things like putting in a fire break. Some farmers in the mountains use dragons to retrieve straying sheep. Some claim you can even sit back and swap a yarn with a dragon.
I said, “To be sure, if it suits their purposes, maybe they might toss you into the air for fun. But when it comes to gold, the blinkers come down, and it is every dragon for itself.”
You said, “Oh is that so? You spin a nice story, and the beauty is that it is so believable.”
I said, “I am just going on what others tell me about their dealings with dragons. I try to keep things fair.”
Based on hard evidence, I grimace. The dragons I normally have to deal with are just plain ornery. Perhaps unfairly, I suspect that will be the case with the one who got my gold today.
Then, unwisely, I added, “Maybe I should go ask if the dragon is happy to share some of the gold.”
So here I am. In the Dragon’s Lair. Underground.
We have been waiting here a little while.
You say, “The dragon must be asleep by now. Go and get the gold now, I cannot wait any longer.”
I whisper, “I am not sure. I think its eyes are still a little open.”
You say, “You are completely safe. Quick, before the others come back.”
I say, “It is ok for you. You are on the other side of the world.”
You say, “Come on; you said it would be fun. All that gold.”
I say (a little louder), “It is a bit more complicated. Dragons eat people.”
A tinkle in the distance.
You say, “I do not believe in dragons. It is just another one of your stories.”
I look at the dragon, and it looks back at me.
You say, “I would not have sent you into the dragon’s lair for gold.”
I froze.
This lair was inside a hill. Not far into the hill. Over the years, water from a creek had melted away the limestone in the hill and created one largish cavern with a collapsed roof. A mix of light and rain was streaming in from the ceiling together with occasional flashes of lighting.
I had explored this creek cave before the dragon set up home.
I would not have put a lair here. When it starts to rain, like now, the stream begins to rise. Things get damp.
There were a couple of ways into the cavern. The dragon probably used the collapsed roof to get in and out most of the time. It had also dug out the creek cave downstream, presumably so the water would drain out.
I had come in a third way, crawling next to water through the low creek cave upstream. I had thought it a good plan, but looking at how the dragon had burrowed through the creek cave downstream, I was not as sure.
The dragon had made itself fairly comfortable. A resting place on a ledge getting the sun without the rain, tree ferns around, limestone crystals sparkling on the rock wall behind and, of course, the gold.
The dragon might have heard me talking to my mobile (there was a little reception here because of the collapsed roof). Or maybe it felt me looking at the small cache of gold. Silently, it rose to its feet.
It was pretty big when it stood up. Legs made for leaping and running, super sharp talons on the ends for ripping.
The first inclination you always have when seeing a dragon looking at you is to run. So I turned and forgot to duck. I ran straight into the wall of the cave, just above the creek cave upstream. I blacked out for a moment.
The two cats ran as well. Waylander, sensibly, ran back into the low cave passage we had snuck in through with the speed of a small elephant. Blanket, who had been having a quick nap, and who was still waking up, ran the other way, towards the dragon.
When going into a dragon lair, you should try to cover against all the possibilities. Be prepared. I should have brought, for example, a fire extinguisher. I should not have brought the cats.
My great aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone, who was not a fan of cats nor finance, would take me as a young child to beautiful places to watch the dawn or setting sun and recite to me lines from the poets. One sunrise, listening to the morning song, she taught me: “All that glistens, is not gold”. Australian sunrise and sunset are noisy. Kookaburras laugh and magpies sing, as sheep quietly move towards the sun. At night, as you remind me, there are riches in the sky, just out of reach. As a rule, sunsets, sunrises, and night-times don’t need gold, and they do not have dragons.
My head was full of pain, I could not move, but I could just make out the light streaming in from the collapsed roof of the cavern onto the little pile of gold. The glistening gold and my grand-aunt’s words started to swirl.
I spent a lot of time with my great aunt as a small child. Her seanathair (old father or grandfather) came from Ireland. A doctor, he disappeared in the Victorian goldfields after the Eureka Stockade uprising.
She was the first to tell me about the little people, the dark aelfs. She thought that they lived in red mushrooms in the dark woods. She was sure that they collect vast stores of gold coins and travel the sky using rainbows. They bury their loot at the end of their rainbows.
Not any rainbow. A healthy rainbow flickers into existence as sunlight hits water vapor. They glow and fade as rain clouds clear the sky. The rainbows of the dark aelfs emerge after fierce lightning storms, while the static electricity still hangs in the air setting your hair on edge. Their rainbows come from the sky like meteors, hitting the ground with an explosion of light, leaving a faint rainbow trail as mist rises.
My great aunt loved rainbows and would chase them with great determination. Like the dragons. And yet again I saw her looking into my eyes shaking her head and saying all that glistens, is not gold.
Surprising what can come to mind when you are in a cave with a dragon about to eat you. I could feel the lump on my head as I swam back into consciousness. I could also feel the vibration of the dragon chasing something and punching holes in the cave wall.
I scrambled down into the passage, hoping for the second time in an hour that there were no snakes in the dark passage. I scraped a rock off a shelf. It clattered down and fell, with a splash, into the water. The sounds behind me stopped.
I believe everything my great-aunt told me and so I have always chased rainbows as well. When it storms in the mountains, I go hunting the aelfs. Up the winding road, towards the dark woods. Waiting for the rainbows that fall like meteors.
If I got out of this, I quietly told myself, no more rainbows. Never! It was time to give gold a miss.
Waylander was still padding slowly and carefully ahead, testing every small pool, and lifting her snout to test the air. Suddenly the passage behind me shuddered, small rocks fell from the roof. The dragon was following, trying to dig me out.
Something was coming up the path behind me fast. Blanket shot past me like a bat.
The entrance was just ahead. I could see the soft light of late afternoon, the smell of a summer storm and static electricity. The thunderstorm had just passed.
Waylander paused at the entrance, Blanket now alert, was crouched and wide awake, a faint spiral of smoke rising from her tail. A second dragon in the distance gave a call.
One moment there was just the creek bed, tree ferns, and a grassy patch next to a lovely little creek. Next, the dark aelf rainbow hit the grassy patch just outside the cave. There was an explosion of light and a faint rainbow trail extended high into the sky. The mist started to rise.
The dragon was still fighting its way through the rock behind us. I ran along the creek towards the rainbow, aelfs scattering everywhere. This time, I would get to the gold first.
As I ran, the net spluttered back into life, and I heard you say, “Funny, the connection dropped for a second there. Forget the gold. Get a proper job. Are you still there?”
I took a deep breath, “You are right. I am going to have to rethink the whole gold thing.”
In the fraction of time before disaster struck, I noticed that Waylander had grabbed a couple of aelfs along the way. She gave me her guilty look.
The cats and I hit the rainbow just as the dragon exploded out of the hill. 

Rainbows


The dragon dusted off some rocks and stopped. It looked up at the rainbow.
The cats firmly fastened themselves to my legs. Waylander still had a grip on the two dark aelfs. Below, just out of reach, was a small bag. It was the sort gold should be in, but was not. I gave the cat a sharp look and dropped two very cross aelfs into my pocket.
At that moment the rainbow lets go of the ground, and we started to move upwards, slowly at first but rapidly accelerating. I saw the dragon leap towards us. By the time it got to where we had been, we were long gone.
I was looking for something to hold onto when I blacked out.
An appropriately shaped rainbow is curved, has two ends and a top. Sort of like a handle on a port or traveling case. I think I dreamed about airplanes, suitcases, and traveling. I imagined I had arrived somewhere and wondered if I should open an eye. 
Then I noticed the smell. It felt like a hospital. I rubbed my eyes. There was something over my eyes. There was mist everywhere. Something was trying to get my attention. But there were no immediate signs of the dragon, so I went back to sleep.
The mobile was ringing. I tried to open my eyes, but they were not working. I reached into my pocket, and something bit me. I shook it out, shouting out loud in surprise. I heard Waylander give a surprised yelp.
The mobile kept ringing, so I reached into my other pocket looking for some chocolate. I don’t usually carry chocolate. I had a bit to celebrate either getting the gold or to distract the dragon. But only the wrapper was left. Something to one side laughed, a high delighted laugh that sounded like it knew where the chocolate was.
The day was not starting off well.
The mobile kept ringing. Risking another bite, I fished the mobile out
Putting it up close to my ear, I made one of those sounds that convey the impression that everything is under control even though I needed a cup of tea. And chocolate.
Instead, I hear your voice coming from the mobile.
You said, “I just had this very strange conversation with a woman on your mobile.”
I said something non-committal, none of the bits connecting.
You said, “The woman said she is a nurse, name of Kathy or Tethy. She has a strong accent.”
My brain started to work at that point. An essential element in any survival kit, I have learned that when one woman starts to talk about another woman, I should quietly shift into flight or flee mode.
I could hear the sound of a scuffle off to one side. I sighed. The cats were up to no good. I reached out and touched the world. Soft and smooth, like a bed.
I said, calmly, “I don’t know anyone called Kathy. (Which was not entirely true.) I certainly don’t know anyone named Tethy. Look, I hit my head badly, and I am, I might be, a little confused, and I am, you know, really, really busy. Can I call you back tomorrow?”
You said, “Kathy, the nurse, told me you are very sick. She tells me you are strapped to a bed in a hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand, with head injuries, and that the hospital had recharged your mobile in case someone tried to get in touch with you.”
In a slightly different, faster voice, you said, “You told me you were from Australia.”
The hospital smell was gone. I reached up to my head and touched the bandage. It was soft and very sticky. I wiped it away from my eyes, but when I tried to clean it from the wound, someone said firmly, “No.”
You asked, “Is someone else there? Is that you Kathy?”
I sat up on my elbows and looked around.
I said, “No one else. Just me.”
I did not say anything about the dark aelf sitting with her arms folded on my chest. And I thought it sensible not to say anything about the other one riding in the distance on top of Waylander chasing small scuttling things. Or the massive beams of light that spread out from the center of a dandelion seed a way away. Or the transparent surface I was resting on.
On second thoughts…
I said, “Look, I might be in a hospital. My head is sore. I think they must have given me drugs or something.”
You said, “She asked for a lot of personal information.”
I said, “Umm… What did you tell her? That I was looking for gold and got chased by a dragon?”
She said, “Be serious for once. If I told her that you would be a 'skun squirrel.' She was asking for information about me. My real name and stuff like that.”
Ok, maybe you didn’t say 'skun squirrel.' I can’t remember the exact words. You said something like that which inferred that I would be cactus. You might also be held to account for associating with someone who was off with the pixies. I looked briefly at the aelf. She looked at me, sniffing like she smelt something wrong. It didn’t help.
I couldn’t let the reference to “skun squirrel” go.
I said (perhaps with a little too much sarcasm), “Did she ask you for your credit card details as well?”
There was a pause.
You said, “You are not serious. Mate.”
I thought that was a little low. I call everyone “mate”, but this had an ugly overtone, like I might have been pretending to be a New Zealander. I have no problems with New Zealanders. I once went to the movies with a cute girl from the North Island. But I would never pretend to be a New Zealander. I would eat my arm first. It was almost as bad as someone saying “Whatever.” I hate that. There is no answer to “whatever”. It happens at exactly that point in a relationship when you should pack your bags and run, but you both keep working it into a far worse mess.
I said, “Look, I am sorry. I banged my head hard running from the Dra… cave. I am pretty sure I am not in New Zealand. I am not a New Zealander. I can’t even speak like them, well, not convincingly. I don’t know where I am. I will ask Kathy or whoever when she comes in.”
There was a bit of a pause. I thought, a little late, that maybe the “whoever” was perilously close to a “whatever.”
You said, “They couldn’t look at your mobile because of the password. I am the only one that called. They didn’t know if you would wake up. She asked me for my date of birth and where I worked. She sounded worried about you. She said you nearly died.”
I parked that thought. It deserved a bit more time to ponder.
I said, “I hope you didn’t tell her your age.”
Sometimes I should just shut up when I am ahead.
You said, “You are not serious again. Maybe it is the drugs. I don’t tell anyone my age. But I did tell her where I work.”
I waited for a moment. To let her fill in the details. But it did not happen.
I said, “Well, um... Where do you work?”
It was a fair question. Why should the nurse know and not me?
You said, “I am not telling you that.”
My head suddenly felt very sore. I put my hand up to my head again. The sticky material had hardened. It was going to hurt when I pulled it off.
You said, “You are the one that pretends to go hunting dragons. So, find out which hospital you are in will you? I have to go to work. Maybe I will call later.”
I said, “My phone will be almost out of charge.”
I looked at the charge indicator. It should have been almost empty, but it was full.
I said, “Never mind.”
You said, “It should be okay. The hospital stated that they charged it up, remember. Tell Karen to look after you. Please do not tell her you were hunting dragons. They will take away your phone and lock you up.”
You didn’t sound too unhappy about that prospect. You hung up before I could ask her more questions about Kathy or Karen or whoever it was.
The surface I was sitting on shook a little.
I looked at the aelf sitting on my chest. If she stood up, she would have been the size of my hand.
I asked her, “Are you, Karen or Kathy?”
She looked at me, shook her head and went back to texting. That was just wrong. Dark aelfs do not text.
I turned and watched the cats. Both of them were in full flight with the second aelf directing the cat Waylander keeping the perimeter around me clear of the small scuttling spider things.
I lay back down, shut my eyes, and let all the bits fall into place. A hospital in New Zealand with some pretty effective drugs. A place to rest for a bit. Fresh air, crystal clear water, free health care, excellent cross country skiing. I don’t know why New Zealanders come to Australia.
I suddenly knew everything would be ok.
Except for the vibrations in the floor. And then the little aelf started pulling my beard and jumping up and down.
I told her I was going back to sleep and shut my eyes again.
Then she bit me hard on the nose.
She said, “You stupid human! Get up! They are coming.”
I opened my eyes wide. The beams of light were everywhere. I rubbed my eyes. Some of them were vibrating. Not beams of light, bits of a web. Spider web.
I don’t like spiders.
I jumped up, falling out of the bed, scattering aelfs and cats. 

Spiders


In the past, I have awoken from deep sleep with big spiders crawling all over me.
My reaction is fast and furious. I kick everything off or near the bed into the walls, and sometimes through windows: sheets, pillows, bedside lamps, glasses of water, whatever book I am reading and the iPad.
In the general confusion that follows, the spiders always seem to get away. Except for Phred, who sensibly keeps his head down behind the clock radio.
From the signs, these battles only last 5-10 seconds. During this time the spiders are real. When I brush one, I can feel it. Likewise soft, rough, sticky or sharp. Then follows a period of a couple of seconds of confusion. Where did all the spiders go and why did they make such a mess? Followed by the dawning realization that they got away again. Without a trace.
That did not happen this time. I was lying on a soft surface that was quietly vibrating, and I was thinking to myself, “There are no spiders. I am in a hospital ward in New Zealand… And I have hurt myself badly. I just fell off a hospital bed, and someone will come along in a moment and pick me up and put me back in the bed. Maybe, this time, they will give me better drugs and tie me down. I do not have to do anything. Just keep my eyes shut.”
It all made sense except the bit about New Zealand and the vibrations.
The little aelf said, “Eyes open, human.”
There was an edge to the voice.
She sang, 
“The spiders are coming. 
They will tie you tight. 
Inject you with poison stunning. 
Until they are ready for a bite.”
Nup. Not going to open my eyes.
I said, “I don’t believe in you.”
She said, “A kitten, poof!”
Another voice cut in, “I don’t believe in you either. But we do not have time for that. Now, open your eyes or I will make you sorry you ever saw us.”
I said, “Are you the nurse, Kathy or Karen or Tethy? The one that answered the phone?”
I remembered, this time, to not complicate things with a “whatever” or “whoever.”
The second one paused for a moment and said, “I am Onesti, I bit your finger before. You have already met Teathyme, she bandaged your head and gave you salve. There is no Kathy or Karen or Tethy.”
Teathyme sang, “None of them.”
Onesti said, “Now open your eyes or I will bite you again.”
I could still feel the vibrations coming from the surface. It could just be waves from a generator, or people moving on another floor, of the hospital. I moved my hand to feel for the legs of a bed, expecting to find a nice sharp metallic bar, perhaps with a leg attached. Instead, I felt a rough rock wall.
My head was throbbing. The gritty rock wall was wet with small plants growing in the crevices.
So I opened one eye. I saw the two aelfs, mounted on my cats. Blanket was down on all fours, eyes shut, dozing. Waylander was crouched, ready to run, her hair full of static and her eyes darting at the shadows moving high in the distance.
Onesti said, “Good. You tasted terrible the first time. We cannot stay here. We had to stop to patch you up. The landing is close. We would like to take you somewhere safer, but we will have to go back down the way we came.”
I asked, “The way we came? I do not remember that. I don’t think I can move.”
Then I remembered the rainbow. And the dragon. And I remember you saying “With all that gold, I’m sure the dragon won’t mind sharing.” A big basking dragon, golden in the sunset, keeping the treasure safe. Then I thought of the blue tongue tasting the air. You wanted to see the blue tongue. I shivered.
I said, “The rainbow. We can give the dragon a miss.”
Onesti said, “No. We are going to the elevator. The dragon, well, maybe, maybe not.”
Teathyme sang, 
“Salve will give you wings. 
You are just confused. 
You will forget things. 
And your memory pursued.”
Memory pursued?
I said, “What salve. What did you give me?”
Onesti, “Some red mushroom. Perfectly safe.”
Dark aelfs and red mushrooms, Fly Agaric: a very potent mix. My great aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone thought aelfs lived inside Fly Agaric back in the old country, Ireland. She never lived to see the fungi in Australia as it is a recent introduction here. Her parents had never seen the shrooms either. When she told me her old stories about aelfs, rainbows, and red mushrooms, she was repeating those told by her seanathair to his children, around the fires of the Victorian goldfields.
Could that do it? Fly Agaric is poisonous. It will make you sick or kill you. It is also psychoactive. In past ages, it was used by the brave or foolhardy to induce intoxication, after preparation processes to remove the toxin. The fungi might have caused the Viking berserk. A Dead Sea scholar wrote about its possible use in early Christian communities.
I shook my head. A bed. I remembered my bed. The one without the spiders. And my farm. And the ridges and the sky.
Ok, adventure over. I just want to get home now. My bed. Right now. I will shut eyes and wake up there. As an afterthought, I thought quietly, or the beach. With the sun.
I shut my eyes, tight.
Onesti got Waylander to bite me this time. I opened both eyes and winced.
Onesti shouted, “Freeze!”
She got close and said, “The spider can feel your every move. When we start moving to the elevator, we will have a very short time. If it were up to me, I would leave you. But the cats want to bring you back.”
Waylander made a dismissive sound.
Onesti corrected, “Well, Blanket wants you back.”
Onesti patted Waylander and Waylander licked its lips.
There was some blood oozing out of the bite. I should not have brought the cats.
I said, “I don’t believe this.”
Teathyme rolled her eyes, “Another kitten, poof!”
I said, “I didn’t do that.”
Teathyme glared at me.
I got up onto my arms. The vibrations suddenly stopped.
Onesti said, “It knows where we are. Come. Ignore what you see or feel, just follow me.”
She patted Waylander, and both cats sprang into the air, flying up and they kept going.
Teathyme turned back and sang, “Salve will give you wings, You are just confused, You will forget things, And your memory pursued.”
My back exploded in pain as wings unfolded and I followed. High into the air. Avoiding strands of web.
As we rose, I could see the spider coming. Legs folded and riding a strand of the web like an arrow. Banks of eyes glowing with gold heat.
We were heading towards a node in the network of webs. The light was different here. The soft light of late afternoon. The smell of a summer storm and static electricity. The smell of a thunderstorm that has just passed.
The cats landed on a ledge close to a tear in the world. I missed and hit the wall instead.
The spider jumped from the transport strand and turned to our new location. Its legs were huge above us. It was close, and I could see its claws.
Onesti shook her head said: “Last chance. You will have to help open the elevator door.”
I shook my head.
A pair of elevator doors were ahead of me.
Onesti looked into my eyes, “Push these open. Trust me.”
I could feel the spider moving towards us. Ahead of the big spider were thousands of small spiders. Small hairy spiders.
The cats and the aelfs tried to keep the little spiders away, while I tried to push open the elevator doors. An alarm started to sound in the distance.
There were spiders all over me. When I brushed one, I could feel it, likewise soft, rough, sticky or sharp. I kicked everything off or near me. I saw sheets, pillows, bedside lamps, glasses of water, books flying all around.
The elevator doors opened. But there is nothing there but an empty shaft into the darkness below and an alarm screaming. And then the faintest glimmer of a rainbow.
Onesti said, “Now jump.”
The cats and the aelfs went first.
Teathyme gave me a look as Blanket leaped, “Catch a falling star! Put her in your spire!”
They were gone.
The small spiders disappeared as soon as they had arrived. Just the big spider. A bank of eyes staring at me. A murmur of voices, a quite short argument.
The spider said in a soft, quiet, reassuring voice, “Restez avec moi. Vous ne pouvez pas aller.”
I shook my head. The murmur resumed, the vibration recommenced, another short argument. The spider dropped its head close and said in a soft, quiet voice. This time with a slight New Zealand accent. “Stay with me. You cannot go.”
Closer and more urgent, with that accent now very pronounced, “I have a message for you.”
I don’t like spiders.
And so I jumped, just as the spider made its move. 

Catch a Falling Star


I jumped. Then, I had that sinking sensation that I had left my mobile behind. Then I walloped something.
I dreamt I was back, sitting around the old farm table, at my Grandmother’s place. Far out near the western deserts.
My great aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone, and my Grandmother Blanche Bootle were serving morning tea. There was tension in the air, a feeling of falling.
Grandmother started by asking the assembled grandchildren what would happen if one of them were to climb the water tower and drop a bullet and a feather at the same time. Which one would arrive at the ground first?
We could see that trap a mile off. All of us had some experience with feathers, whether through pillow fights or chasing my Grandmother's chooks until the feathers flew all by themselves. The water tower was a slightly different proposition. Playing on the water tower was strictly forbidden on account of the rusty metal ladder.
So all the children shuffled their feet or looked into their tea cups.
My Great Aunt came to the rescue, “Oh! Not that old chestnut, Blanche.”
We had never seen a chestnut.
Grandmother resorted to direct questioning, “Righto, You there. What gets to the ground first? The bullet or the feather.”
Ross went guilty red. Just before tea, he had pinched a couple of bullets to put on the Narromine railway line. He stammered, “I don’t know grandmother. I wouldn’t drop a bullet there.”
This was too much for the little kids. They blurted out semi-confessions. They had seen feathers fly, “somewhere else.” They confidently affirmed that feathers would not fall to the ground. They never did in a pillow fight or when you were chasing chooks.
Grandmother looked sternly at us all, and started her lecture, “The most famous man in the world once proved that a feather and a bullet fall at the same speed. He dropped them from the tallest building in the world, and they both landed at the same time.”
My Grand Aunt didn’t believe this story and called for a practical demonstration. Perhaps Blanche would stand on a chair and drop the two items. Grandmother countered by an appeal to her authority in related subjects, such as baking.
My Grand Aunt turned and smiled, reassuring. She said to me, “Don’t forget the dragons. Catch the falling star.”
And as the argument grew the grandchildren quietly evaporated, retiring into the cool of the central rooms of the old farmhouse far away from the blistering heat outside.
It was hot out west. I remembered. Then I remembered, I was falling, slowly catching up to the cats, on some ledge. There were shadows on the ledge.
I could feel the heat of the sun on my face, and something furry rubbing my cheek. A moment later a soft tapping on my shoulder.
I opened my eyes.
I was lying on a wet grassy area. Nearby, a creek was rushing past. My eye caught a ruined tree on the other side of the creek. Hit by lightning, branches flung carelessly, years before.
All around the smell of a summer storm just past and a soft glow in the sky. Blanket was sitting upright watching me. She reached over, tentatively tapping me, asking for food.
No sign of the white cat, Waylander. Blackberry briars hid the creek entrance into the old cave.
I reached up to my head, remembering bandages. No bandages or scabs. A little unsteadily I climbed to my feet. I called for Waylander, but she was not there. She knew the way home, so I started the climb down the mountain.
I remember my lost mobile after a couple of hundred meters, but there was nothing in my pockets but an empty wrapper. No missing cat.
I remembered bites on my finger and arm, from somewhere. I could not feel anything, but I felt like I was going to burn in the sun. I tried to look at my hands and arms, but my eyes refused to leave the track ahead of me.
Perhaps I had tripped. For some reason, I thought it might have been worse. I started to move again, still stiff, but the fogginess of the past couple of hours had lifted. I began to feel better than I had for years. I even smiled. I might have whistled.
I met Kathy’s daughter coming down the road, close to my farm. She was riding a new horse. I almost didn’t recognize her; she looked tired.
She looked at me and said, “So you came back. When did you get in?”
I said, “Been here for a while, I am not planning on going anywhere soon.”
She shrugged her shoulder as she passed, “Check in some time, I have a quarter-horse you might want to try.”
I was going to ask after Kathy, but she kicked the horse, and they were away.
I cut across the paddock, carried Blanket over the creek, and made a mental note that the last storm had brought down a lot of branches.
And I looked up to my farm. It looked strange.
Someone had put a chain around the back house gate, the grass was waist high, tin had blown off one of the sheds. I stood and looked, shaking my head. Had I gone the wrong way?
I helped Blanket over the fence, and she bounded up to the house, calling. Vines had choked the verandas. The blood drained out of me. I checked the doors of the main house, locked and the electricity was off. I kept walking slowly. The cat stayed back at the farm house. Through the overgrown grass, past my truck in the driveway, a pool that had evil written all over it and the front gate with a chain. I jumped the fence and kept walking.
I stopped and looked back at it. It was my farm, my car, my trees. It looked like I hadn’t been here for years. The farm looked older. I felt younger. It didn’t make any sense.
I turned and kept going till I reached the next farm house, my nearest neighbors. They both greeted me with a smile, but she turned away, a little too fast.
Over tea, he said, “We didn’t know where you were. So we put some locks on the gates and collected your mail. Turned over your truck from time to time, like when you travel.”
He stopped for a moment.
He continued, “In the first year, a couple of folks came out to see where you had got to.”
I could hear the questions, “Look, I have a bit of work to do over there. I appreciate all you have done. Let me get settled first. I will sort out the jungle a bit and maybe get you over for a curry. Um, do you have a recent newspaper I could borrow?”
I tried to smile.
She looked at him, and I could see a tear.
She said, “Tell him.”
She got up and left.
He said, “Look. I need to tell you something. I know you and Kathy were mates.”
I cut in, “We like bushwalking and riding. Kathy knows stuff about the backcountry.”
My memory hit something. Kathy knew tracks and paths and... The fog was there. But we searched the... The fog was there as well.
He waited for my eyes to return to his and said, “Did you hear she is dead?”
No.
He said, “She was riding up the mountains. The tree got hit by lightning. She got hit by a falling tree. She shouldn’t have been out in that weather. About the same time, you left.”
He looked into my eyes, searching for something.
I choked. Men don’t cry here. I stood up, the chair falling.
He said, “I am sorry. You need to talk to Kathy's daughter, Storm. She needs to talk to you.”
His wife passed me an old newspaper as I stumbled out of the house. I don’t think I even thanked them.
The spare key was still sitting inside the hollow ceramic frog Kathy bought me as a joke. Inside the house, a thin layer of dust lay over everything. I walked through the rooms remembering.
I had forgotten something important.
I turned on the water, it still worked. I cleaned the table and a chair methodically. I opened a tin of cat food for Blanket. Then I sat down and opened the newspaper.
I didn’t look at the date. I read the news. People I had never heard of. Old disputes disinterred. Wars I didn’t know about. And when I was finished I read the date.
I curled up in an old seat, the cat next to me and slept, a song in my mind, just out of reach.
In the morning, I got to work. Slashing, cutting, cleaning.
It took me a week to make the place liveable. I drove into town (my neighbor had started the truck periodically while I was away) and restored the electricity, put the net back up and coaxed the computer back to life. I bought a new mobile.
But it was all wrong. I could not remember anything. Then I saw myself in the mirror. The first time my mind refused to accept the network of scars, some deep. All over my body.
So I tried to call you.
Your line was disconnected.
I searched online until I found a mutual friend.
He was a centered man; nothing could rock him. So I explained. Not much to explain. Just a gap of years. And a memory that could not remember.
But he remembered you and me. He reminisced, “We talked about you when you disappeared. The nurse said you were badly hurt in some accident. The hospital stayed in touch with her, told her you fell something, an elevator? She was worried about you.”
I asked, “Do you know where she is now?”
He said, “She went a little crazy. She found out where you were. She started to talk about spiders. Then she disappeared. Pity, she posted great pictures. Except the last one.”
He sent me her last picture.
She hadn’t taken it.
It was a picture of a node in a network of webs. In the distance, the shadow of a spider, out of focus. The XIF information attached to the picture showed the picture was taken by my phone, a couple of days after I went into the mountains.
I sat looking at it. Trying to remember.
A song just out of reach. You will forget things.
A flash of movement in the garden. Your memory pursued.
On most days I could see Kathy’s daughter riding in the distance. I had to talk to her. To tell her why her mother was up in the forests.  

Where Will We Go?


High clouds were piling in the west. It was hot, and the humidity was building. If I went over to Kathy’s place now, I would be able to leave before the rain started. I went out, climbed out through my orchard. I could hear Kathy’s daughter training one of the horses in the lunging yards behind her stables her voice carrying over the valley.
It always gets still when the clouds build. I could hear rustling along the garden beds. Small birds darted through the sky, watching me and the sky.
I went back inside to disconnect the electrical equipment from the grid. It was hot and still. Lightning strikes along any of the power lines would send a surge to all the local farms, destroying anything more complicated than a light bulb.
I had checked my email before I turned everything off.
A short note from our mutual friend. Sean wrote. “Been thinking about you falling. You remember ‘catching up’ to the cats, ‘slowly.' Forget Galileo and things falling the same speed. In the air, it does not happen. People fall faster than cats. The trouble is, to catch up to the cats you would have had to fall a long way, say five pool lengths. In the end, you would have been traveling at 100 miles per hour. You all would have been squashed. Sorry. I think your memory is playing tricks.”
I shot off a reply, thanking him. I wrote. “Thanks, I agree, my memory very dodgy, but it is the only thing I remember.”
Was sweet of him to think it through.
The memory came back to me unbidden. Falling. The cats, the white Waylander, and the Gray Blanket, below. Me catching up slowly. But this time, the memory ran slower. I saw Waylander turning her head up to look at me, her eyes shining like mirrors. Shadows next to the cats. A ledge. Hitting something.
I made a mental note to look at my old email messages. I might have missed something from you.
I shook my head. I couldn’t afford to have those things in my head anymore. A friend in town had offered me a job, and I did not want to let him down. I switched everything off.
I found myself locking the door and flicking on the security wards before I left. I do not lock my house for a short walk. I weighed the key for a moment. I could not afford to make simple stuff like this hard. I shoved the key into the ceramic frog. I have to start making snap decisions and sticking to them.
The gray cat Blanket was waiting outside for me. Blanket walked just behind me down across the paddock. I turned back and looked at the farm. Then I picked the little cat up and crossed the creek. Before Waylander went missing, I would have had to pass a second time.
*
Coming to Kathy’s place is like going back in time. Dark old post and rail fences. The faint smell of a wood stove. Everything neatly ordered, horses eating in the fields, and her huge old stables. Ironwork decorations along the side.
Blanket bounded ahead, a gray blur heading into the darkness. I could hear Kathy’s daughter working a horse in the round yard and sang out, “Hey Storm! Got a moment for a visitor?”
Storm shouted back, “Depends. Come on through.”
Kids born in the bush have loud voices. Voices that carry and echo off valleys. I walked into the stables. A dark open area, smelling of straw and horses and leather. Light from the roof was hitting an old iron thrasher, tucked away out of the weather.
A row of saddles and bridles with old harness rigs behind. Kathy’s saddle was separated, on a ledge by itself.
Back out into the light. A slender young woman, dressed in riding pants with a cotton shirt and broad-brimmed hat. She had been working hard, sweat and humidity staining her clothes.
Storm said. “Oh, hi.”
She held my eyes for a moment and said, “You look wrong.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
Storm said, “Well usually you are nursing some small hurt. Sorry, you look healthy. Ok.”
And she smiled and got me to take her place, running a small fat pony around the ring.
I nodded at the green fields, “Good season.”
Storm said, “Too good for this one. She is a greedy-guts, I have to work her each day to stop her foundering.”
She was back in the barn. I could hear her splashing in a water barrel in the barn.
I said. “You been riding a lot?”
Storm said, “Pays the bills. Have got a couple of agistments, racehorses from Sydney and a couple of hacks from in town. They all need work. Keep her moving! I will be back in a moment.”
I picked up the pace, getting the pony back to a trot.
A rumble in the distance. Then the sky changed color as the dark riders sped across the sun.
The first couple of drops, falling, cold.
Storm put her hand on my shoulder and took the long reigns and the lunging whip, “Whoa, girl.”
Turning to me, she said, “Come on, get inside.”
She had changed into a clean top. As the rain started to fall, she led the pony into the stables and unbuckled the rig in a single movement. I saw a flash of white in the darkness near the thrasher. I wandered over to look, remembering, “Hey, you don’t mind if my gray cat chases mice here for a bit?”
Storm said, “You kidding? She spends most of her time here when you are off. Come up to the house. I have a confession to make.”
For a moment it seemed like old times. But now I was going to have to talk to her about the death of her mom. I was not sure I was going to cope. 
I was sure Kathy had got herself killed trying to find me. That made it my fault. I had to find a way of dealing with this; it did not feel real.
As we walked through the stables, she said, “After the storm, I will show you a new quarter horse I have. You will love him. Maybe even have a ride?”
I nodded and asked, “Where will we go?”
She said, “Over the hills and far away.”
She shrugged and smiled. Then we ran through the rain, up to the house gate. Then, past a little rose garden and onto the veranda.
This house was made of old stone. It was small with only a couple of rooms. Kathy had never bothered with electricity. Storm had already stoked the fire, and the old kettle was steaming.
She said, “Just take a moment.”
As a lightning bolt crashed into the mountains above and then three seconds the thunder crashed over us to the east and south.
We both had been counting.
Storm said, “Above Graham’s run, I guess. Maybe rainbows after the storm. Have a seat.”
Rainbows. An old table. Rough wooden floors. An old cast iron stove against the rough-hewn stone walls. Pressed tin ceiling, flaking.
Storm said, “Took your time coming over.”
She smiled, but I could feel something else.
I said, “It was a horrible shock. About you mum. I am sorry. I..”
She looked down, “Don’t be. Let’s not talk about her. Hear my confession first.”
She got up and filled a teapot and took a metal jug of cream from the old gas fridge. She went back for a jar of cookies.
The rain was belting down outside, and the smell of thunder seeped into the little kitchen.
Storm sat down.
There are unwritten rules about drinking tea in the bush. Only boil the water once. No talking until it steeps and is poured. She pushed the cookies over to me, and I bit into one.
The taste was rich and sharp. Bitter sharp.
She looked at me, cocking her head. I forced a smile and nodded. I even had another bite. Another unwritten rule is never to look askance at someone else’s cooking.
She poured the tea, and we helped ourselves to the cream. The tea took the edge off the cookie. This time, I smiled properly. I remembered the first time I had tea, at my grandmother’s place. Lots of memories, hearing her lecture on Galileo and my great aunt telling me stories. Don’t forget the dragons. Catch the falling star
I shook my head; this was not the time for that. 
I was here to remember Kathy, her mom. 
The rain was easing. Storm poured a little cream into two bowls under the stove.
She caught my eye. “My confession. I am a bit embarrassed by this; I have not done anything like it before.”
She went to the door as the rain stopped and listened for a moment.
The light changed. All around was the smell of a summer storm just past and a soft glow in the sky. Static electricity was hanging in the air, setting her hair on edge.
She cried out into the sky, “Wa-wa-animae!”
The rainbow came from the heavens like a meteor, hitting the ground with an explosion of light, leaving a faint rainbow trail as mist rises.
I froze as she turned around and lifted her eyes. Waylander, my white cat, missing since I returned, padded to the door and stood on back paws reaching up to her hand, static electricity jumping between them.
Storm said. “I stole your white cat.”  

Interlude One: On Dragon-kin


Imagine Onesti and Teathyme.
The aelfs are sitting in a nest high in a cottage garden of leaves and flowers. Grey and white cats curled up in the dark below. The faint smell of a wood stove. An old stone house with a dark and comfortable stable nearby. Dark old post and rail fences with horses grazing the fields. Ironwork decorations were shining in the starlight, along the side of all the buildings.
Onesti asks, “Tell me again the names of the dragon-kin.”
Teathyme sings,
“Fey orange dragons
Sweep low and fast above the ground
Ready for battle

Cruel green dragons
Drop from high on prey unwary
Holding in castles

Plagued red dragons
Burn and ruin village and forest
Whole cities flatten

One blue dragon
Travels fast the web and timelines
Blurring past with Talon.”

Onesti smiles and lies back, drinking nectar and the starlight.
She asks another favor, “So which is the most to be feared?”
Teathyme stares at the stars and smiles, “We are, blood sister.”  

Interlude Two: On Spider-kin


“Why don’t you believe in human beings?”
Onesti and Teathyme are riding side by side.
Onesti smiles and says, “You would like to believe in them, wouldn’t you.”
A frown crosses Teathyme’s face. She sings, “I am not playing…”
Onesti says, “Ok. I will be serious. I cannot prove any of your human beings are real. They are not an objective reality, like the clans, gold, rainbows, dragon-kin or spider-kin, which can all be perceived in the physical world. They cannot be proven to exist in the same way as the, for example, spider-kin can be proven to exist. Human beings are simply not an objective reality.”
Teathyme stops singing, “Our cats believe in humans.”
Onesti sighs, “I am prepared to accept that many of us want to believe in human beings. I know the cats believe in them.”
She reaches down and pats the great white cat carrying her.
Onesti says, “Here. I am prepared to accept that they are a social reality. They are as real as the weight of smiles and songs. It is something enough of us believe in to change the way we behave. We tell stories, we weave dreams, and we dance songs about these supposed creatures. We make up stories of their exploits, and then we strive to invent their imaginary technologies and strategies for ourselves, but, in reality, they are just a reflection of ourselves.”
Seeing Teathyme’s face crease, she smiles a concession, “But, they have played a role in what we have become.”
Teathyme starts to protest, “There is more to humans than mere storm magic, I can feel it. They can help us protect the clans.”
Onesti continues, “You are too close to your feelings. You are letting a social reality become an objective reality.”
Teathyme sings “Spirit dust and star wraiths. That means nothing at all. Show me footprints and smell-trace.”
More urgently, “Come with me. I know where there are humans.”
Now it is Onesti’s turn to hesitate.
Onesti says, “But, why would you be so quick to believe in humans? You tell stories of them being as prolific as spider-kin and as cruel as dragon-kin. Why would we add to our problems?”
Teathyme sings, “They can help.”
Onesti knows the answer to this, “Remind me of the spider-kin.”
Teathyme sings,
“The web weavers, that infest the nodes of the world, distorting reality.
The trap builders, that wait for our story tellers and ruin the fantasy.
The great scorpions, that poison our teachers and turn peace to agony.”
Onesti growls, “How can your imaginary human beings help against such?”
Teathyme sings, “Come with me, blood sister. The universe is a large place. Let us see if they can end our winter.”  

Curiosity


You.
My alarm went off early, but I (Anthem) was already awake.
I started breakfast, cutting some rye and grinding coffee. I glanced casually at my mobile. A quick glance at my feed and stock prices.
Then I remembered he was going off hunting dragons. I checked a couple of other posts first, but curiosity finally got the better of me, and I flicked over to his feed.
His last post talked about heading off to the dragon’s lair.
I typed, “You are a nut.”
When I first stumbled on him, I thought he was a teenager playing around, but you never know. He said he was Australian and once explained an Australian tea ceremony. I printed it off and put next to my screen wondering if he was for real.
My mobile rang.
He said, “Hey there! I found the dragon.”
I told him what I thought of his dragons, but he was not going to let go of the fantasy just yet. He became indistinct for a moment. I heard him say, “...when it comes to gold, the blinkers come down, and it is every dragon for itself.”
I switched on my home screen and scanned the morning’s news. Satisfied that the world was still barrelling out of control, I picked up the mobile and said, “The dragon must be asleep by now. Go get the gold now; I cannot wait any longer.”
He whispered, “I am not sure. I think its eyes are still a little open.”
I became a little impatient, tiring of the game, “Come on.”
He said, “It is a bit more complicated. Dragons eat people.”
I smiled, reminded him that this was just a game and that I did not believe anything he said. The mobile suddenly was full of static and movement. I waited for it to restore.
When the sound of movement stopped, I said, “Funny, the connection dropped for a second there. Forget the gold. Get a proper job. Are you still there?”
He sounded strange, “You are right. I am going to have to rethink the whole gold thing.”
There was the sound of him running and an explosion. The connection died.
I put the mobile down. 
We had talked from time to time. The first time to cure a misunderstanding. The second time when I saw something amazing and needed to talk to someone about it and then it sort of kept happening.
Somehow I had got lost in his daydream, wondering about my weird friend with a strange accent who was off chasing dragons. Made life interesting. I poured coffee with a taste of hazelnuts and half & half. I put a thin scrape of butter on the rye.
After the toast, I still felt guilty. I called Pete.
Instead of him, a woman answered the phone. She had a strange accent.
She said, “Please do not hang up. I have an important message to give you.”
I asked, wondering whether I had dialed the wrong number, “Who are you?”
She said, “I am Kathy.”
At least it sounded like “Kathy”. There were a hundred other possibilities.
Kathy continued, “I am a nurse in the Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital. We hope you know a man who was admitted a short time ago. He has no identification other than this mobile.”
I exclaimed, “What!”
Kathy continued, “Please listen. It is important that you not hang up. Are you a family member or do you know how to contact a family member of the owner of this phone? You are the only person we have been in touch with, eh?”
I said, “I am sorry. This is a mistake. The owner is in Australia. He called me just a moment ago.”
My mouth was dry. I did not tell her about the dragon.
Kathy described the man lying in the hospital bed. But it was his tattoo that said who it was.
I said, “I am a friend. Well, just an acquaintance. I do not know him very well. I hardly know anything about him, what can I do to help?”
Kathy told me that he was strapped to a bed in a hospital in Christchurch with severe trauma. He was awful when he was admitted; they thought he might die. They recharged his mobile to try to get information about him, but it was password locked and useless. Until I rang it.
Finally, she asked me for my contact details. All of them. I was not keen, but, in the circumstances, gave them the bare minimum. She said they would stay in touch and hung up.
It was all over in a couple of moments, but I felt partly responsible and completely helpless. I had a shower and prepared for work.
I could not leave it. I called again. This time, despite Kathy’s dire prognosis, I got through to him. Initially, he sounded a bit confused, and he confirmed his head was sore. But he quickly picked up, and we ended, like we always do, with an argument. He still claimed to be in Australia, but the whole thing was starting to sound implausible. I even wondered whether he had got “Kathy” or whoever she was, to string me along, and briefly imagined them having a laugh at my expense. I put the mobile down, half swearing to myself not to take another call from him, and headed off to work. On the way, the thought crossed my mind that someone from my job may have set this up. And then I started to get angry.
At work, I had another call from Christchurch Hospital. There had been a second accident; the details were still being investigated. He had fallen into a lift well. He only fell a couple of feet onto the roof of a lift, but he was now in a coma.
I reported the incident to my work boss. In my line of work, that is required. Over the next couple of days, I had a couple of additional calls from the hospital, giving me updates. It did not look good.
I kept an eye out on his feed. People wondered where he had gone. I got into a conversation with an old online friend, Sean. Sean was feeling as dejected as me. I told him what I knew. He said that it was not my fault. But I knew that already.
Then the spiders started. Small webs at first, I let them be. But then these webs began to have lots of little spiders, so I put down surface spray, with a vengeance. My home, no spiders.
I joked with Sean about the spiders.
About a week after the accident I had a knock on the door. Two guys in black suits and dark glasses. They knew all about me, and about you. I made them wait while I cleared them with work.
The fat guy talked while the thin weasel guy looked. The fat guy did not beat around the bush. My Australian friend was still in a coma in Christchurch. He was caught up in something they could not talk about here. They had been in touch with my work, and they had cleared me to travel to Christchurch to assist the authorities to work out what had happened. I asked if they were going to seek access to my private electronic holdings. Weasel told me that I had already been swept. He said, as a sickening aside, that they knew I was not involved, but that they needed my eyes and head.
I called work to confirm that they were aware of the arrangements.
I was put through to my Deputy Chief Executive. He told me that they had been briefed and confirmed the arrangements. He went a little further, “I need you to cooperate with the organization. This is crucial to the boss. You will be on full pay until you return.”
I said, “I will only be away for a couple of days.”
He said, “Whatever.”
I thanked him, but he was not going to let me go that easily.
He said, more tersely, “One more thing. You know you are supposed to report contacts that might embarrass us. You did not disclose your relationship with this man.”
I gasped, and kicked the ground. I kept my cool, “No. I do not have a relationship with him. I hardly know him. He and I would talk from time to time. That is all.”
He said, “You talked to him by mobile. He was building an alibi using you. And you let him.”
I was left without words, “What? What have they told you?”
He said, “If it were up to me you would not have a job when you come back. Just make sure that...”
The line was cut before he could finish the sentence. He was upset, but his tone carried more than that.
I thought about not calling back for a moment but then put the call through. His line was dead. The communications in the business district had been ailing all week.
I was on a commercial flight in hours. I sat in my chair for a day suffering a series of smaller hops before the long overseas haul began. The other side of the world is a long way. And New Zealand is as remote as Iceland. I read up on the place. Apparently, they speak a dialect of Australian.
I wondered what I had missed in all the time I had been smiling at his feeds and talking. Right under my nose. Had the online feed been used to convey encrypted messages? Were those pictures of his carrying other data? Were those bubbly notes of his always been intended for another, unfriendly, recipient?
Finally, that surreal moment as you approach your final destination. The pristine ocean was crashing into cliffs around the bay, with that glorious range of mountains in the far distance. For a moment I forgot the mess I had got tangled up in as the plane came into land.
They were waiting for me at the entrance.
Weasel was standing off a little way, scanning the other passengers. The big guy flashed me his ID and offered to take my bags, “Good flight?”
I nodded, “Where are you taking me?”
He said, “We have a lot to do. Let’s get you done and dusted first. Unless you want to rest up in a motel first.”
I shook my head. I did not want to go anywhere near a motel with either of these guys.
He spoke into his mobile, “Let’s go.”
We left the terminal building and walked into a sunny day, the sounds of the airport all around us. A late model vehicle pulled up to the curb, ignoring the protests of other drivers. I was bustled into the car, and we sped off.
We drove through the city, to the hospital. Low houses, trees, and grass a glorious green. The mountains surrounding us and the smell of the ocean and the city. Everything was subtly different.
I was taken into a small conference room.
I said, “I thought we were going to see the coma guy?”
The fat guy said, “In due course. You remembered anything else you want to tell us?”
I said, “I am not trying to hide anything. I have told you everything I can remember. I know it is a bit odd, but…”
Weasel murmured, “We just want to know why he is in Christchurch.”
I said, “I get that. Look, I have been told to cooperate fully with you guys. I have been told my job hangs on it. So help me out here. You are not telling me what is happening here. What does it matter to you that some stray Aussie ended up here in Christchurch? What is so damn important about this? Throw me a bone; I might be able to make sense of it.”
Weasel put an old and battered mobile on the table between us, “We know where you both were when you were talking on the phone. One moment he was in Australia, and the next, here. We want to know how he did that.”
A knock on the door and an urgent conference. He turned and smiled, “Think about it. We have all the time you need.”
He looked around as though he had lost something, shrugged and, leaving faint shoe prints, darted out of the room. I could hear urgent conversations followed by an alarm starting in the distance.
The floor was vibrating softly.
The shoe prints grew as I watched them. I could see small black objects moving within them.
I took my bag off your mobile and picked it up. I felt a jolt of static electricity and for a moment, the smell of the hospital was replaced by the small of a summer storm.
You had once told me your password when explaining how to work out one that couldn’t be cracked. I got in and started to scan it for some hint as to what was going on.
The vibration increased, and I started to hear other sounds. I could hear people running.
I looked up as the room started to disappear.
In its place, massive beams of light that spread out from the center. It reminded me of a dandelion seed.
Not beams of light. Strands of a web.
I heard Weasel come back into the place where the room should have been. I heard him shouting but could not see him. In moments, the sounds of the hospital faded altogether.
I thought for a moment. I lifted the camera. I centered the image on a node in a network of webs. I took a picture. Not a good shot, in retrospect. In the distance, the shadow of a big spider, out of focus.
As I logged onto my web feed and posted the picture on my site, I noticed a spider watching me.
Very carefully, I took off my shoe and belted it flat.
And shoes in hand, I ran barefoot as fast I could move towards the node.  

You


I ran as fast as I could across the transparent surface heading for the node in webs stretching high into the sky. I hit objects as I ran, spinning as I did and trying to recover without losing pace. I had about one thousand paces to go when I started to run into tendrils of a web. In the distance, I could make out an object near the node. I thought I saw it stand and wave at me.
Above me, grey darkness, fragmented by huge taut lines stretching to infinity, with the unmistakable patterns of a shambolic web, built over and over again. The webs did not bother me; it was the movement within that made me run. As I moved, the movement resolved itself into a massive spider coming towards me, fast. Hundreds of small ones running in front of it.
I taught myself as a kid to survive the moment. Achieve that, and there would be plenty of time to ask questions later.
I hit one too many obstructions.
This time, I fell, watching the mobile skid across the ground in front of me hitting a low transparent structure.
As I watched, the webs disappeared, and I was back inside the hospital. I saw the mobile continue to spin away from me, into an unoccupied nursing station.
I froze, no sign of the spider. The floor was suddenly solid. The sounds of a hospital all around. Windows to the outside are showing the night, a river in the distance and a park. Almost no traffic along the well-lit roads. The city center a little further distant.
I was inside the labyrinth of the hospital, late at night.
Noting where the mobile was, I quickly looked around and took a long drink of water from the nearby dispenser.
The nurse’s station was labeled “Severe trauma unit – high security”. A bank of monitors was showing pulse and brain activity of two patients. I start to walk to the station when I hear the murmur of voices, an argument in an adjoining waiting room.
I recognized the voices.
The fat guy was talking, “We have been told to pull out and we will. There is nothing we can do here. Both of them are in comas, and they may never come out of them.”
Weasel said, “Someone has that mobile. It can’t have just vanished. We should…”
The fat guy said, “I told you, it is not going to happen. The mobile was never going to say anymore than his computers and they suggest he is just a nutter. Like the others out there.”
Weasel. “She was...”
The fat guy, “Not interested. Lithium heard what you had to say. She said it was nonsense. You were the last person to see both of these breathing before there went into a coma. I would be rehearsing my explanations if I were you.”
Weasel said, “We are both in this.”
The fat guy, “Not interested. Time to go.”
Weasel said, “I want to search her again.”
The sound of footsteps as the fat guy started to talk on his mobile.
I start to move, a little stiff from the fall, as Weasel came into the corridor.
Weasel shouted, “There she is!”
From inside the room, the fat guy, “Nonsense. She is in a coma.”
Weasel pulled out a compact military-issue pistol, “It is her. Stop or I will shoot!”
Fat guy, in full panic, “What are you doing? That’s a nurse.”
I dived into the nurse’s station as bullets rip into the wall. I grab the mobile and feel a jolt of static electricity. For a moment, the smell of the hospital is replaced by the smell of a summer storm.
I hear footsteps coming towards me shouting.
Fading, as the hospital is replaced by the bleak gray horizon of the spiders.
I freeze. I am back in the realm of the spiders.
The spiders are moving away. The node is close now, and someone is waving at me.
One last dash. I start to run to the node. I do not need to look to know that the spider has resumed the chase.
An old man by the node is waving at me, encouraging me to run. But there is fear in his eyes, and he turns and fades into the node. Twenty paces to go, the spider, stabs at me. It grazes my side, and for the second time, the mobile fall from my hands as I crash into the ground.
This time, my face hits the grass. The graze left by the spider is starting to burn like acid.
I smell the old man before I see him. Booze and sweat and a thousand other smells of the city. He is not waving at me now. Instead, he is sitting on a park bench nursing a paper bag, and taking a deep swig of the grog inside.
He says in a slurred voice, “Get your bench. This bench is mine.”
I say, “I am hurt.”
He says, “Go somewhere else. Stupid kids, shooting up everywhere. Let me sleep. Hospital across the road, go there. They will fix you up.”
You say, “I can’t go back there. They shot at me. I need to rest.”
The pain was starting to bite. I gasped.
I say, “You saw the spider. I need to rest here.”
He said, “Spiders everywhere here. Try to bite Bob all the time.”
A couple of lumbering shapes come out of the trees.
He yells at them. “Get your park bench. This is mine and me sisters. Keep way from us you Aussie clowns or I will wake up Bob, and you will be sorry.”
He looks at me with blurry eyes. He was incoherent.
I ask, “What sort of spiders are they. The big ones, in the mist?”
He thought a bit.
He says, “They will come after you. We know someone, up in the mountains. Old dragon lady. Fixes spider bites.”
As he gets up off the bench, your mobile falls out from under him
He says, “Your mobile. Hmm. Out of charge.”
He gives it to you.
He says, “Come on. We have to go.”
I say, “I can’t go far; this pain is killing me.”
He looks at his bottle. Gently wipes the rim and says, “That will help. Come on; we will pinch a truck from down the road.”
I look at him, shock starting to set in.
He says, “Or do you want to go back to the spiders?”
I remember Bob asking me what color car I preferred, the sound of glass breaking and being helped into the back seat. Then I went to sleep.
I woke up as Bob was finally nodding off. He was driving along a straight narrow road heading towards west towards the South Island Mountains. The early morning sun was hitting the peaks, and it was magical.
I was stiff, but the pain had diminished. I made him pull over and take a break. After an hour he insisted he was alright, and we finished the trip along a small dirt track pushing into a forest.
The road ended near an old wooden barn. A track continued to a small brook, across a stone bridge and an old two story stone house. There was a whiff of smoke from the chimney and a glint of early sun off the windows.
An old woman was standing by the door.
Bob nodded at her and whispered, “The dragon lady. I have brought bit people here before. She will fix you. You see her, eh. I am going to stay here and sleep.”
I limped over the bridge, and she came down to see me.
She said, with a quiet New Zealand voice, “How can I help you? You look sore and weary.”
I said, “I have been bitten by a spider. My friend tells me you might help me.”
She said, more kindly, “So you let them bite you. The poison hurts but is just intended to paralyze. Come inside and I will draw it out.”
I thanked her and asked her name. She smiled, “The people who come here call me lots of things.”
She sat me down in a kitchen, dressed my wound, muttering to herself.
She gave me tea to relax and then when she thought I was ready some food. She talked the whole time, telling me about her little farm, her pigs and cow, the weather and the creek. Then she asked me about the spiders.
In the light of day, it all seemed a bit unbelievable. But I ended up telling her what I remembered.
She said, “Most of the people who come here have similar stories. I get Bob to watch out for those who get hurt.”
She continued, “I am too old to go into town myself. I retired years ago.”
She smiled kindly, “I will go fix Bob a meal and send him on his way. You can rest up here for a couple of days and work out what you want to do.”
Over the next couple of days, I gradually recovered. We talked about lots of things: kings and princes, men and children, eggs and cream.
When I was well enough, she started to tell me about the spiders.
And then she told me about the dragons.
I said, “Bob called you the dragon lady.”
She smiled, “I don’t know real dragons anymore. But a friend once told me something of them, and I remember it clearly.”
Walking among us are powerful creatures. From a distance, they look ordinary. They have friends, lovers, and children. But when you look you can feel the air shimmer around them. Near them, reality starts to liquefy. Close up, reality changes to match their whim.
The more powerful, the larger the area they influence. To them, they draw the entire wealth of the world. These are the dragons, the princes of industry and the queens of state that impoverish the world-mind with empty imaginings and who are the cause of most suffering.
You cannot kill a dragon. You cannot resist the touch of a dragon’s smile, eyes or words. And you should resist it with every ounce of your being. But in the end, all you can do is not become one.
I asked: “Who was your friend?”
She said: “It was Onesti, I think. She called me the old dragon lady. 
“She called me ‘the blue dragon.'”  

Into Your Dreams


The road finished near an old wooden barn. A track continued to a small brook, across a stone bridge and an old stone house. There was a whiff of smoke from the chimney and a glint of early sun off the windows.
I spent the next couple of days falling in love with New Zealand, the old farm, the animals and the old dragon lady’s soft accent. I felt safe. As I recovered, she started to show me things.
Occasionally, I would take a meal from the house down to the small brook, across the stone bridge, and to the old wooden barn where Bob was trying to repair the stolen car. He would not come near the farm house. Instead, he spent a bit of time cursing the stolen car in his rough New Zealand accent, “Second rate Aussie sports car rubbish. Should have got an old four-wheel drive.”
The clean air and water had an effect on him. He looked twenty years younger with a wash. He must have washed and dried his clothes in the brook. He didn’t smell as bad.
The clean air and water had the reverse effect on me. As the time came for me to leave, I could not work out what to do.
The old dragon lady was very kind. She said that I could stay forever. I started to do some of the heavy jobs around the farm. When the sun came out, we took tea out the back of her farmhouse out of hearing of Bob’s occasional curse.
I told her I did not know what to do.
She tried to help me explaining, “We all use one of two ways of dealing with uncertainty.”
She paused, holding out one hand with a single finger outstretched, “We can make a list, identify all the risks, assess possible impacts and likelihoods, and then try to deal with them one by one.”
Then she smiled and continued, “Or we can attempt to come to terms with the whole system, all at once, trying to track through the most likely course of events, and working out a strategy for dealing with the whole world.”
I looked her and said, “But those sound the same, surely?”
She said, “There are important differences. The second way forces you to consider everything together. If you look at everything together instead of separately, you may see new paths.”
She could see me pondering, “You can try both ways. In fact, this can be useful. Follow me.”
Just beyond her garden a clay-pan where the geese sunned themselves. She had brought a broom and swept the area.
She said, “Draw your problems in the dust for me.”
She handed me a twig. I had not drawn stuff in sand or dust for years. It was a struggle. In the end, we both laughed at my efforts as I explained, “An asleep man, a gun, my boss, spiders, my life back home, my mobile, New Zealand.”
She said, with a smile, “I don’t need to know the details. Now we have to sort these a bit by impact and the likelihood of them happening.”
She saw me look momentarily confused. I said, “But they have all happened.”
She persevered, “Just for now, circle the one that is the most important for you, the one that will have the greatest impact on you.”
I was caught in indecision. I thought teeth gritted, “My life. I want my life back.”
I went in circles. Uncertainty at every point. If I can wake the guy in a coma, maybe everything will improve. But I am not a doctor. If I recharge the mobile, I can look at it, but I will be thrown back to spiders. It might be used to track me.
I started to feel sorry for myself. I cried out, “I cannot believe that my life changed because a stupid Aussie began to talk to me about dragons. I don’t believe in any of it.”
I scuffed the marks out hugging myself and feeling like I was spinning out of control. I will not cry. But a single drop fell onto the clay.
She let me crouch there for a while.
Softly she said, “Things change. Even if you could go back to your old life now, how could you live knowing that the worlds intersect and that, at any time, the barriers keeping them apart might break.”
She waited for a moment, “Sometimes, making a list works. It helps for doing chores or shopping. But when things get complicated, lists just make things worse. You might be looking good on paper but going to hell in a hand-basket.”
Almost to herself, she said, drawing in the dust, absent-mindedly, “Looks like a list is not going to work. One by one, none of the things you are interested in are achievable. They seem to all be outside your control.”
Then she smiled, “A different approach might help. Sometimes it still comes out wrong. The process to resolve uncertainty is itself susceptible to risk.”
She looked up, “But sometimes you come out with something new.”
I asked, “What?”
She smiled, “Insight.”
I looked at her drawing, “So how do I do this.”
She gently wiped the picture she had been drawing in the dust, a knife, and said, “Well, this is not about making lists. It is about relaxing, exploring your issues calmly, and analyzing your options, working out how everything fits together. How can I explain this simply? Let me try. Imagine two people. One has an empty house. One has no house. Considered separately on your list, you have two disasters. If you consider them together, there is a solution for both.”
She suddenly looked old, “I do not know what your future holds or what you need to do. I can help a little, but I am old and tied to this place by bonds of sentiment.”
She continued, “There are many ways to proceed with the second approach. Some use supercomputers or teams of analysts. Some people daydream. Other dream.”
She smiled.
It was hard to resist the touch of her smile.
Her eyes sparkled.
It was hard to resist the touch of her eyes.
Her words made sense.
I smiled, caught in the moment, “Ok, what do I have to do?”
She said, “Well, let us have a meal, and, come evening, we will come back here. I will light a fire, and we will watch the stars rise, and I will give you something to help your dream.”
I said, “This does not sound very corporate; it sounds more like something out of Rodgers and Hammerstein.”
Her laughter echoed off the hills.
We spent the day working on some small chores.
Late afternoon she went into the garden and collected some thyme and rosemary from the garden and, she said, made an elixir.
On evening time, we went out to light the fire. She smiled as she gave me the potion. She had handwritten the label: “Inhale. Ask what you want and wait for the answer.”
I laughed and gave her a kiss. I shouted, “An original elixir from Egypt! Thank you.”
Her skin was rough, old and dry.
The fire sent showers of sparks into the sky, as shadows rushed over the land. The noise of the farm and the surrounding woodlands faded. Mist rose in the east, back towards Christchurch, as the stars start to come out.
The cold of the night on my back with the warmth of the fire on my cheeks.
She threw a rug over my back and nodded to the elixir. We smiled. She gave some last unnecessary instructions, “Remember, nothing can hurt you in the dream. You are not leaving your chair, and I will be here.”
I read the instructions again, looking serious but feeling a little silly, then shut my eyes and brought the bottle up to my nose and inhaled.
The scent was rich and sweet. And then intoxicating and dizzying. And then it hit my lungs, and I started to cough.
I opened my eyes. The fire was still burning.
She was still there, her eyes locked on mine. And she smiled, a big smile of a thousand teeth, scales and wings tucked into her ancient blue body.
She said again, “Nothing can hurt you. I am here.”
I asked, “Is this a dream?”
She said, “Yes, and a little more. It is a pathway to the future. One for us to explore together. Look around you.”
We were in an open field next to her farmhouse. The stars were full ablaze.
The blue dragon asked, “Where would you like to go first?”
I was watching the stars, “I did not know you would be here, in my dream.”
She said, “I was not sure I would be. I did not want to give you false hope. Wait!”
She climbed to her feet, high in the air, and yet still old and bent. She bent her face to the east and concentrated.
She said, “I sense something wrong. We need to go back to your city.”
She turned again and smiled at me. She said, shyly, “Would you like to fly?”
Suddenly I was a small girl, lying in bed, listening to my mother telling me stories in the half light. Stories about flying. Of feeling the wind in my hair. Of lifting into the air with my arms held out. And my mother’s voice, telling me a story. You cannot kill the dragon. You cannot resist the touch of the dragon’s smile, eyes or words. In the end, all you can do is not become one.
I smiled, and nodded, holding a small stuffed teddy bear close, “I want to fly.”
The blue dragon smiled and said, “There is just one thing.”
I said, “How far can we fly?”
The blue dragon shut her eyes, “We can fly to the end of time and back. We can go to any point in the past and force a new path, with the slightest breath, one sweet kiss, a single drop of blood. There is just one thing.”
She turned to one side. Around one scaly leg a shimmering band. Around the band a slight, insubstantial rope, as fine as a spider’s thread.
She looked at me, “Can you cut this thread. Then I can fly away from here. I can take you to save your friend and restore your life.”
I looked at her and smiled, “I believe in dreams!”
Dancing around, away from her talons and tail, “I know just the thing. I saw an ax this morning.”
When I got close to the farmhouse, I ran to the east.
She said, “Wait! There is a knife just here.”
I answered, “I want to fly! I will be back with the ax in just a moment.”
I ran past the old farm house toward the old barn. I had seen an ax there this morning.
She shouted, “Come back now! You are just dreaming.”
I crossed the little stream and headed for the stolen car.
Bob was there waiting for me. He said, “Told you she would fix you up.”
He was shaking a little, so I offered to drive. He apologized, “I haven’t had a proper drink in days. I don’t think I could drive straight.”
We both ignored the screams from the old farm house, as I drove back down the track.
I could feel Bob looking at me as I concentrated on the road. He said, “The police will be looking for the car. Should not have got such a flashy one. Give me that mobile you had, the one out of charge.”
I asked, “What you got in mind?”
He said, “I know a shortcut.”  

Middle Earth


We compromised over the mobile. We agree to charge but not touch it until we had explored all the options. Shortcuts are sometimes the longest way between two points.
Bob originally came from the Canterbury Plains and knew his way around. By nightfall, we had ‘acquired’ a couple of backpacks, a load of fruit and some empty bottles for water. Bob had purchased a mobile SIM card in one of the little towns we passed through, and recharged my personal mobile as well. We dumped the car past Alford Forest and did the Mount Somers climb to a bushwalkers hut, high in the foothills.
We made it just before dark.
At one stop, Bob complained, “You know my name, eh.”
New Zealanders use “eh” at the end of a sentence to indicate they need an answer. Even if they have not asked a question. The correct answer is generally “hard, bro” or “hard, bro, hard”. I had to ask him to translate as we went along.
I said, evenly, “Yes, I know your name.”
He said, “Yeah, Nah bro, eh.”
New Zealanders use “Yeah, Nah bro” to fill up a gap in the conversation.
I got the drift and said, “You don’t want to know my name. Everyone, apart from you, is trying to kill me.”
He said, “She’ll be right.”
He meant that there was a sliver of a chance that things would improve. New Zealanders say “She’ll be right” when they buy a lottery ticket.
We were the only ones in the little hut. We sat down to a simple meal topped off by water from the creek along the way.
I asked, “How are you holding up?”
He lied, “I don’t need to drink. Bit knackered.”
He was completely worn out.
I said, “Good. Now, let’s put all our cards on the table. First, thanks. Why did you stick around?”
He started to talk, but I interrupted, “Wait. Let me get it all out. I want to call my work and get a straight explanation from them. But, the moment we contact them, they will be able to find us. That does not work for me.”
By this stage I was talking relatively fast and getting a bit terse, “And finally, what is going on. What is happening to me?”
Bob put his hands into the air defensively, “Look, no use yelling at me. She’ll be right.”
I said, “She is not right. She is all broken. She doesn’t want to be here. She does not even know where she is.”
Silence.
Bob said, “Yeah, Nah bro.”
He made a general movement with his hands, “We are in Middle Earth.”
I looked at him. He continued, “You know, where they made the film about the orcs and the (he looked a bit vague) blokes on horses. They made a whole city just over there, pointing to the southwest, for the horse guys. That is where we are going tomorrow.”
I said, “Ok. I guess you can explain that tomorrow. What is the plan.”
Bob shuffled his feet and then started to tell his story.
When his father died, he left school and began working on a trawler. After a couple of years trying to run the farm, his mother sold up and bought a place in Christchurch. They had fallen into a pattern around his work, but when she died things fell apart. He had a couple of jobs, but got mixed up with some people on the wrong side and turned to booze and small time crime. The booze finally beat crime, and increasingly he spent his time in the park with a bottle.
He started to dream of spiders, and his property was placed in safekeeping with a trustee. He said, “They scheduled me and filled me with pills. Hard, bro, hard. Eh”
I asked how old he was. He said 30, no 40, not sure. He looked twice that age when we first met. He became defensive, “Deck work is tough on the body.”
He was released as not likely to be a harm to anyone. His drinking became worse. After one bout in the park, he woke up in the spider's realm and was bitten trying to get away. A friend took him to the dragon lady and, when his friend disappeared, he started doing the same thing. He said, “The dragon lady was ok with people. Never made a move on them. Always just fixed them up. Until Belle.”
Belle arrived one night, badly bitten. He took her to the dragon lady, and like me, she gradually recovered. Then, one night she ran from the old farm upset and distressed. They had fled back to Christchurch.
He stopped for a bit.
Bob said Belle was different. Sort of human, but different. Her eyes were large, her arms and legs hinged differently, and no ears. Initially, she could not speak the language, but she hung with him and learned how to speak New Zealand. I smiled for the first time that night. I felt I was picking up the language pretty quickly as well.
Bob continued, buoyed by my smile, “She tried to explain what she knew about language and touch. I stopped drinking while she was around.”
He stood up. I could see him starting to shake. It had grown dark, so we lit candles. Chasing away some of the dark in the wooden hut.
Bob repositioned our chairs, so we were facing each other. He looked a bit abashed, “Yeah, Nah bro. I don’t know words for some of what she told me. I will explain like she did with me, with words and touch. Eh.”
I nodded.
On her world, she was a sailor, similar but different to Bob. His hands started to move, making massive sails in the air, being driven by light. There are another eight worlds she knew of, all near and yet far. Nine worlds altogether. His hands moved, creating eight stars. They are far away physically. But, they all overlap, and there are small gaps between the worlds. He placed a finger nail on my arm, enough to hurt, but I didn’t flinch. He left his nail in place, while his fingers darted lightly. Small creatures had been moving between the worlds at the gaps for eons.
Small beings from one of the worlds punch holes between the worlds, enlarging them. They hunt for heavy and rare metals to support their technologies. At this point, he moved one hand far away. The other was still resting on my arm. He made star signs with both hands. Then suddenly ascribed an arc with his free hand, all the way to where his hand was nailed to me arm. It hit my arm. In his eyes, I saw an explosion and colors reflected from one of the candles guttering.
I said, “Ow! That hurt.”
He shook his head, “I don’t know what Belle meant.”
Spiders completely colonized some of the worlds. They attempted to colonize all but were resisted by others with varying degrees of success. On Belle’s world, only the seas were completely free and some places which the dragons kept scorched.
Her boat was attacked by a dragon and fell into the web. The crew had been captured by the spiders when she was poisoned.
Bob said, “Hard, Bro. She made plans to get them back. We explored the nodes until we found the, four bodies wrapped in cocoons, lying in a web close to the node.”
He stopped here. There was water in his eyes. He wiped his eyes and looked at me. Then he held my hands; his tears wet on his fingertips. He said, “I let her down. I was going to create a diversion. While I got their attention, she was going to free her crew.”
He held my arm, and I could feel him shaking, “I had a drink to calm my nerves. Eh.”
Abruptly he got up and said, “I cannot do this. I have to go.”
He started for the door. I tackled him. And then as he shook and flailed on the floor, I sat on him, holding him down. I told him that he was not going anywhere. After a while, he stopped fighting the demons and calmed down.
When we resumed our seats, his eyes were on the floor.
I said, “Tell me what happened.”
This time, I held his hands, feeling his heart racing.
He said, “I told you about the small beings that punch holes between the worlds. Belle told me how to recognize the technology.”
He got a candle and, without making hand contact with the mobile on the bench, turned it over onto its back.
He said, “Scratched eh.”
He held up the candle.
He said, “Look again.”
This time, the light was caught by the scratches, creating whirls and patterns.
I said, “Shiny. But, what does that mean.”
He said, “I don’t know. I have a full pocket stuffed with these designs. I found them around the node.”
He emptied out a collection of bit and pieces, keys, metal strips coins, SIMs and credit cards next to the mobile.
He said, “Belle said that lots of things gather around the nodes; fighting over them, building defenses or just waiting. The nodes are dangerous places. Dragons watch them. Spiders launch colonies from them. Belle’s people and others use them to travel.”
He said, “Transfers between worlds happen in different ways. Belle said the most common was a short transfer from a little static electricity. In the park, to keep warm, I wear woolen sweaters and cheap rubber boots. The boots insulate my feet while I gradually build up a charge on my sweater. Watch.”
He rubbed his sweater with a small rod from another pocket. This time, when he touched my hand, there was a short burst of static electricity. I jumped.
He looked seriously, “Once you know how to do it, it is easy to transfer right at the node. Eh.”
I said, “And the mobile?”
He said, “It takes more much more power the further away you got from the node. Maybe the mobile helps. I don’t know.”
I thought about this for a bit, “So what happened to Belle?”
I could feel him tense and start to shake again, “We built up charge and zoned in. I started the diversion while Belle circled and went for her crew. She had wool for them, already charged up, and a knife to cut them out. But when the spider started to chase me, I remembered the bite and froze. I discharged instead of running, so I ended up back in the park.”
Silence, “I left her there by herself. And by the time I got me nerve up to go back to the realm, the spider had caught her. Hard, eh.”
I sat facing him. I said, “Look at me.”
It took a while.
I said, “So your shortcut. You want to go and have another try? You want to rescue your friend?”
There was a scraping sound from the bench top.
And the candles all went out.  

Gliese 710


Bob and I both stopped breathing as the shed became pitch black.
A preoccupied voice came from the bench, “Please don’t move.”
The door to the shed opened and closed. I could feel Bob starting to shake. I held his arms steady. I said, “I am worried about my friend, Bob. He is not well.”
A different voice this time from behind, “Almost done.”
The room filled with a soft, gentle light, illuminating every corner of the shed. Bob hissed, “It is the little people. They steal your grog, eh.”
There was no one in the room except Bob and me. A voice said, “I have never taken your grog, Bob Evans. Which is more I can say for you.”
There was movement from behind, and a small human figure jumped lightly onto the bench. A second was rummaging in the back of the shed. Bob said, “I have seen you before. You are mermaids.”
The second stopped, smiled and said, “Sometimes.”
The first said, “I am Tharia, and this is Gossamer. We are tasked to guard the Blue Dragon.”
Tharia continued, “Officially, I do not believe in either of you, but it seems we have a common objective.”
I said, “You have been listening to us.”
Gossamer smiled and said, “We thought you were going to let the blue dragon free. I am glad you did not try.”
Bob said, “I need a drink. Now.”
Tharia turned to him and said, “Like last time? And fail again?”
She turned to me, “Bob has a plan. But you need us to make it work. I have a couple of conditions.”
Bob interrupted, “Sweet. Let’s get going!”
I said, “Wait. I want to hear the conditions.”
Tharia said, “Firstly, you have to agree to forget.”
I said, “I can’t accept that. People are hunting me here.”
Bob said, “What do you mean? Forget Belle? I will not do that.”
Gossamer said, “The alternative is to agree not to return to this world. We cannot risk the Blue Dragon waking; she is very persuasive.”
Bob said, “Hard, bro.”
I said, “What are the other conditions.”
Gossamer looked at Tharia, “We have to change you a little. To let you lead the spiders away. You just can’t do it the way you planned. There are side effects.”
I said, “What changes?”
Tharia said, “We will change some of your genetic codings to let you move very fast. It has been tried before, and it works on creatures like you. We will remove the effects immediately after the raid, and the side effects should wear off in time. I should warn you, though. We tried it with the male human you were looking for at the hospital. It has not worn off him yet; there were complications.”
I said, “He will have to look after himself.”
Then I felt a pang of guilt. I searched it down and squashed it.
I continued, “What other side effects? What sort of genetic coding? This all sounds complicated.”
Gossamer said, “Specifically, it is some of the genetic codings for dragons. The uptake is fast, and you will adapt intuitively. As for other effects, your aging gene will be switched off. We will restore it once added genetic coding is flushed, but there is a chance you will end up looking and feeling younger.”
I thought about the blue dragon.
I said, “Anything that keeps me ahead of the spiders is good by me. When do we start?”
Tharia said, “We should be ready to head off shortly.”
She turned to Bob, “You remember how to steer a ship?”
Bob said, “Sure I can.”
Tharia said, “Just one other condition. Any of the metal we find is mine.”
I said, “Can I put in a call to my work? But once I do, they will be able to track us. I just need to work out something in my head.”
Tharia said, “They started to track you when you began to charge the mobile. They are already on their way here.”
Tharia motioned to my mobile. Bob had already inserted the new SIM. She said, “Make the call; then we will use the other mobile to transfer.”
Bob said, “I was going to show her the horse lord’s mountain.”
Tharia said, “Change of plan. She can watch the movie.”
I rang through to work.
I was put through to my Deputy Chief Executive. He said, “You have been missing. Where are you? Are you ok?”
I said, “Save the fake concern. Why did they try to kill me?”
He said, “Not my call. He acted in the moment, thought he was doing the right thing. You would have done the same thing. We have your location and are bringing you in.”
I said, “I would not have done the same thing. What assurances can you give me?”
He lied, “We understand why you acted the way you did. There will be no repercussions.”
I said, “That is all the assurance I need. Can you bring me some clean clothes?”
He started to answer, and I hung up.
Tharia said, “They are not friendly people.”
I looked down on the mobile. A life of contacts, addresses, restaurants, ex-boyfriends and shopping malls. I would come back but on my terms.
Gossamer explained about the wings, so we made some adjustments to my clothes. She then put a small device to the top of my arm and said, “This will sting.”
The pain went straight through my shirt into my arm. I hate needles.
Bob sat earnestly talking to Tharia about shark nets.
Gossamer came to me and said, “Time for the final part. A lot of flying is intuitive; you need to take this to suppress stuff.”
I put the tab under my tongue and felt the taste fizz into my mouth as she placed her cool hands on my neck.
I was suddenly aware of others, far distant. A dragon lady in a restless sleep dreaming of cutting her bonds. A man in a coma dreaming of flying but encased in bonds of a different sort. A relentless pulsing nearby at the intersections of the worlds in the Christchurch Park. Jets were coming towards us.
I said, “I think I am going to be sick.”
I ran outside. A blast of cold air, the moon low on the horizon.
My back exploded in pain as wings unfolded and I threw myself into the air. High, over the mountain, until the Canterbury plain was far below me. In the distance, a closer less active pulsing near Mount Sunday. I paused and dived towards it, my senses alive with the taste of something different.
The dragon lady found me as I flew, “So you are awake little one. Come watch the stars with me.”
I blocked her out.
I came to rest on the horse lord’s mountain. Nothing there now but the scuff marks of tourists and their fast food wrappers. The node here was quiet, almost abandoned, but I could feel the power. I flew down to the tourist sign and tested the metal with my arms. The metal tore like paper. I smiled and made two arm bands. I thought this is metal you will not get.
I flew back to the little cabin.
Tharia gave me a cold stare, “You feeling yourself?”
I said, levelly, “Just testing the rig. Everything you said checks out. I am ready to go.”
We activated the mobile and faded into spider realm. This time, a clear platform scorched clean of spiders, high above a sea below. In the distance, roughly the direction of Christchurch the ruins of the towers of a sky-city, encased in webs.
A sky-yacht bobbed just off the platform.
Bob smiled and ran for it while the aelfs called their mounts which looked like large purebred Maine Coon Cats. I flew into the air above the sky-yacht. Bob yelled at me, over the wind, “Belle told me about these, they are just as she described!”
He cast off, and we were underway.
As we flew, Tharia explained where we were heading and what I had to do. She handed me a scatter of devices she had made from Bob’s collection.
I dived into the first tower, a little fast, collided with a web strand. As the nearby brood mother located me and advanced with her swarm, I flew off, leaving a pulsating bomb.
I flew to the next location higher, this time, avoiding strands of the web, as the sky-yacht docked next to its target. For the next twenty minutes, I repeated the initial maneuver, drawing more and more spiders away from the dock. Finally, I saw the little craft undock and pull away, heading back to our starting point.
I had a moment to consider Bob’s original plan. It would have been suicide.
I followed a little more slowly.
I arrived to see them attempting to revive the beings encased. The aelfs had said they could be saved. Tharia and Gossamer started work on two smaller cocoons and were quickly rewarded by two more aelfs, sick and weak but alive. As we worked to free the next, I felt a jab to my shoulder.
Gossamer looked at me and said, “Good luck. You are going to need it.”
The aelfs took their friends and disappeared, taking the last of their technology with them.
The next cocoon held nothing but stardust. In the next one, Bob found Belle.
I walked a little distance, to the edge of the platform and slipped the pieces of tin from my arms. Gossamer’s needle had dented but not penetrated the surface.
I stood and watched a gas giant rise in the distance and unfurled my wings.  

Interlude Three: On Cats


Imagine the deserted stead of Tharia and Gossamer. An old house sitting forgotten in an old orchard, close to the woods and a little town.
The mists rise and in the distance an owl calls. In the distance, the monks are singing their early service against the dark. The mouser Tiger stands frozen watch. She is a purebred Maine Coon Cat claiming descent from the original Norwegian war cats. The Vikings are said to have brought these cats, the Skogkatts, to Massachusetts 1000 years ago.
From a distance, white against the snow, Quappala, watches Tiger with growing apprehension.
Quappala is a trapper. Like his ancestors, the dogs and cats of the Nimacook Indians, he hunts squirrels and woodchucks through the shadows of the leaf litter of the forest floor. He refuses to learn the language of the Boston cats, calling them “Chewatch” (in the tongue once understood by bobcat and raccoon – “those that blew in from the East”). Like the Nimacook, he can speak a little French, and so can argue with Tiger, in a fashion.
She will not accept his counsel.
So now Tiger crouches alone, waiting for the approaching storm.
She cannot face the approaching shambles alone. Still, she hesitates.
Soft light falls through the window onto the open book. The calfskin covering it has dried and begun to crack, scattering browning at the outer edges of the boards. The title on the spine is fading – a translation of the letters of the younger Pliny. A small piece of shot from a past accident is lodged below the title, buried just below the surface. The pages are lightly browned, delicate tracery from a long dead worm is in a lower margin avoiding the printed words, which dance on the page, as sharp and distinct as the day the book was printed.
Tiger shimmers in the light, alone. Low thunder rumbles in the distance.
She steps from cat to human form and reaches out to the book.
She whispers, “Come, travel to my home.”
Static electricity jumps from her hand as lightning crackles outside. Light sweeping into the house, illuminating the darkest recesses.
The mousers Rowdy, Cake, Plague and Blanket, answer her call, bounding across space towards Tiger. As they come, they too grow, filling human forms.
But Quappala knows such a summons is not free from risk. And in the dark, a dozen eyes turned to make the same journey.  

In the beginning


“Alas my love, ye do me wrong,
to cast me off discourteously:
And I have loved you oh so long
Delighting in thy companie.
Greensleeves was all my joy,
Greensleeves was my delight:
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but Lady Greensleeves.”
(traditional)

Storm looked at me. She came back into the room, and hopped up onto a nearby couch, Waylander following her. She said, “Finish the tea.”
She gestured towards the rainbow, “We need to pick up some things before we go riding.”
I knocked the table and spilled the tea as I got up.
In the beginning, there was just me. Quietly being me. Satisfied that I had left childhood behind and that I had survived the random pitfalls of early adulthood. Confident that the world was out of control in its predictable way. Happy to let rogues and thieves beat up the rest of the world as long as my hearth was not crossed.
Then I became aware of you. Loudly being you. Discordant and troublesome. Carrying the scars of childhood in your ears, lips and cheeks. Angry with the world that failed to live up to your slightest expectations. Uncompromising with principle, at the front of every protest and barricade. A moth on fire.
We had nothing in common. It was an error that we met. It was to spite others that we danced. Our lovemaking was to prove earnest warnings wrong. Only in argument, could we agree.
When finally we quit the mistake we had become, we had both become different people. Now I held the flag of revolution against everything while you sought the company of wealth and power.
In that end, a new beginning. For a time there was just me. Loudly being me. Angry with the world, determined to reshape it first one way and then another. Learning the lexicon of the rhetorician, believing in every new cause, and none. Warning first of the approaching ice age and then irreparable global warming and then just catastrophic change. Winning every argument by the strength of voice and claims that my opponent was simply an adherent of reductionist reasoning. Ignoring the quiet critique that behind the case for change there was no real agenda, no economic plan, no concluded curricula of education, no road map of infrastructure building, no understanding of how to get things done differently. Just a misplaced hope that when we got there, someone would be able to point to the chapter in those unrelenting political manifestos entitled “What happens next”. But, the reality was, the writers never got there. “What happens next” has never been written, just dreamed.
A couple of years later we met again. This time with a smile in each other’s eye. I told her that I blamed her for the sun rising. She blamed me for the rain in spring. I blamed her for the touch of the wind. She blamed me for world poverty and the erosion of political liberties and to stop that awkward truth from being told I kissed her. We spent a winter locked in captivity together, loving and arguing. But, when spring arrived, left in different directions, agreed that blame was properly placed and that however much we might try, we could not be life mates.
So I began again. I left the revolution behind in the hands of another angry young woman who told me, as I left, that the last hurdle to the movement had finally been removed. I did not ask the young woman what came next because she looked like she knew.
I moved from job to job. After a decade I ran far out into the countryside, into a farmhouse old and battered. Somewhere to retreat from view and tie off loose ends before the end of days.
I had been there a year before I noticed Kathy and her child.
She had bought an old place and lived quietly, training horses. She kept to herself.
We did not talk about the past. We did not talk about the strange way our lives had ended up twisting around each other. We did not talk about her child. I could see the flames rise in her eyes when the casual conversation drifted in that direction.
Occasionally, other friends would evolve and move in with either. None seemed to last for long. They all appeared to end with broken glass and smashed plates.
I had a large friendly stock horse. I kept Flint for play, not work, although I did not tell him that. When he was still able, we would ride up to the high forests, and along the ridges. Increasingly, our path would cross with Kathy, and we would walk along in quiet companionship. We knew that conversation was unnecessary. We avoided it at any cost. Instead, we finished each walk with a race to an imaginary finish line over fences and fallen logs which more often than not left me dumped on the ground.
During this time I got a job working for the state which, years before, I had tried so hard to overthrow. They put me in charge of working out what came next. Not the easy slurred futures dreamed in a bar after a couple of beers or a glass of vodka, but the hard continuous slog of finding scarce resources and shaping each into solid cold reality.
As responsibility grew, I became more stressed, until I finally crashed. In the half haze of anti-depression drugs I kept trying, but starting to fail more often than succeed.
My stock horse was retired to pasture and Kathy, instead, would ask me to exercise some of hers. Occasionally I was invited into the kitchen of her old house. Neither of us was willing to risk tipping the status quo. She accepted my depression without trying to cure me. She quietly put a feed bowl out for the black wolf that dogged my every step, even though I protested that was madness. But, then I noticed the wolf resting outside her door and drinking, and I saw an old battered bowl a little further off down her path. When she saw, I had finally seen, flames and rain fought in her eyes.
I took some desperate steps after that to get better. Stronger medication which just made me sick.
A mate recommended a painful traditional ceremony in the high country near the Pool of Tears. I borrowed one of Kathy’s horses, explaining that I had to do this by myself. I returned through mist badly bruised. I lied to her about a fall; she had seen me fall often enough.
I do not know what the turning point was. One day Storm called for help. Kathy had been bitten by a mob of bees and was gray and sick. I raced her to the hospital and waited while she regained life-hue. It took a long time.
Storm and I sat with her a lot around the old table in her kitchen in the following weeks. Reading her stories and talking. In turn, she told how she had explored the forests from top to bottom and had struck up an unlikely friendship with some of the old folk living in the isolated valleys. With a sly smile on her face, she told how she had seen some strange things.
She said, “Hey Pete.”
I said, “You remember my name?”
She said, “I remember lots more besides, but let us not complicate the present with the truth, nor the future with the past. Will you promise me something?”
I said, “Will you forgive me for the rising sun?”
She laughed, “Never. Be serious. Will you promise me something? Promise me you will not laugh at me.”
I said, “I laugh at you all the time. But, ok, just this once.”
She said, “Maybe laughing is not what I meant. I want you to believe me. I know I am a bit mad. Will you trust me?”
I said, without thinking it through, “Sure.”
I suddenly had a terrible premonition. I imagined a doctor had told Kathy she had cancer and only months to live.
She said, “I have elves living in my garden.”
I waited for her to talk about cancer.
She continued, “Except, they call themselves aelfs. More aelfs. Not Legolas nor that creature on the old TV show that eats cats.”
I held my breath trapped in my body.
She continued, not meeting my eyes, “They hunt for gold in the hills. They travel by rainbows.”
She paused, waiting for a reaction.
Storm said firmly, “Tell him about the dragon.”
That was enough to break the spell.
I said, “Wait. I promised to believe Kathy. I believe her. Absolutely. No need to gild the lily with talk of dragons, werewolves, and bunyips.”
Kathy looked at me and said, “Werewolves and bunyips are imaginary.”
I said, “I thought you were going to tell me something terrible.”
Kathy said, “I have. The aelfs will not leave. I am worried about the dragon.”
I wondered if they had planned this together. To see how far they could lead me. Not beyond the realm of possibilities. And then I started to remember. Stories I was told as a kid. Stories of rainbows and dragons and gold.
I bit my tongue and tried to see the innocent in the situation. It could have been so much worse. I was happy to live with a friend with imaginary aelfs and dragons in the backyard. I said, conversationally, “I work with lots of dragons.”
Words I had forgotten were starting to fall back into my head.
I knocked the table and spilled the tea as I got up.
My vision blurred. I stepped back from the table.
I saw myself sitting around the table with Kathy and Storm. Talking about aelfs in the garden and the caves in the high country that a couple of dragons had colonized. Smiling and earnest, worrying about Kathy.
On the couch to one side, I could see another, older, Storm, waiting for me to come back to Earth. I said, “Wait.”
I had one moment. I turned to Kathy. “Listen! Stop now. Don’t go.”
Kathy paused and turned to the younger Storm, “The wind is coming up. We should get the clothes in.”
I could feel my back crawling with pain as the figures at the table in front of me started to fade. I ran to Kathy, trying to hold her.
Storm said, in a manner of fact way, “They cannot hear you. I have tried and tried. Sometimes I see us all sitting there. Sometimes I watch you talking with mom about the first time you both saw a dragon or talked to one, or about the aelfs, or the gold.”
She said, with a slight tone, “You spent a lot of time talking about the gold.”
I felt my face starting to burn as anger began to build in me.
Storm said, “Keep control. They changed you. You are not what you seem. If you lose control, we will lose everything.”
Bits and pieces of the past were still landing. Spiders, aelfs, sky towers, dragons. I said, “What happened to me?”
Storm said, “Good. You are starting to remember. I know how to fix it all.”
Then suddenly a memory unbidden. I was being cut from a cocoon by a wiry older man and a woman, talking as they worked. Some sick or injured alongside me.
I heard the man say with a rough New Zealand accent, “This one is human, eh.”
She replied, “Wonder how he got here. Do you recognize the face?”
He said, “Yeah bro, Nah. He is pretty cut up, eh.”
They kept working cutting away the web from my chest and arms.
The man said, “Nice tattoo, eh.”
The woman froze. I remember the expression of anger on her face as she unfurled her wings.  

Kathy


Pete said, “I thought you were going to tell me something terrible.”
We were sitting around my kitchen table. A breeze from the east bringing the smell of the ocean into my kitchen. Catching the crystals hanging along the eaves and reflecting soft colors onto the stone walls.
I (Kathy) said, “I have. The aelfs will not leave.”
They were camping in the flower garden, helping themselves to my fresh herbs and lighting small fires in the vegetable patch. I do not mind sharing, but these were rapacious and persistent thieves. They would use a couple of the leaves and spoil the rest.
I continued, “I am worried about the dragon.”
The old folk said that they were friendly, but others stated that they had lost stock. Not just lambs but cattle, and a couple of farm dogs.
I could see doubt sweep his face, and relief. He looked at Storm and half shook his head. Then that dreaming look in his face and a smile.
I hopped up and stoked the kitchen fire. That dreaming look made me want to pick up a plate and throw it at Pete. A pot with dinner was gently bubbling, I stirred it and added some water. Still, a couple of hours to go.
Pete said, “I work with lots of dragons.”
I shot him a glare from the stove.
He half stood up, spilling the tea.
I said, “Sit down, and finish your drink. The aelfs are a problem. My problem.”
My head hurt. I shook the pain away and came back with some cookies.
He said, “So, are they much of a problem?”
I said, “Missing eggs, petals from my daisies on the ground, sour milk… I could go on.”
They stir the horses up. I had heard the sound of strange machinery and stray cats.
He said, “I see. Any dragon gold?”
Trust him, I turned to Storm and said, “See?”
She nodded.
I had been trying to explain men to Storm. Around this table, when she was a young girl within the safety of this room, I told her the gentle cautionary tales.
It was not enough. Storm grew up and met a nice guy. And then he hurt her.
So, this time, I took her outside. Into the wild. A cleared area around an unlit fire.
I asked her to put aside all that she thought she knew about men.
The stories told about them are mostly untrue. Experience shows this already, but truth is sometimes too easy to hide, and the lonely keep searching for fictive rather than real creatures. You and your friends tell of mixed experiences – you have experienced part of the reality. But that knowledge serves you well and is sufficient to ignite a fire.
Storm shuffled as I lit the fire.
Here it would be easy to pause, and heap the past all at once into the fire. To bask in the warmth as the fire burns fast and quick, in turn drawing the lonely and others to the dark just out of reach. True, some of the creatures about might make good mates, but some are predators, others are hurt beyond repair and others, perhaps worse, time-wastrels.
Moths started to gather around the flames.
I ask that you sit back and consider the fire. Fire is the place to tell stories, to heal, to play, to teach and to sing. A place to watch the sparks climb into the unseen river of stars just above. It is a place of safety and rest, a place to reflect, where the past can be unraveled slowly, where the present can be woven into plans.
All around you are people of unknown quality. Some hunt for satisfaction, some for the company, some for friendship, and some for a mate. In this world, do not simply wait by the fire. It is too easy to become the prize, the person taken by whoever wins the hunt.
Storm had quietly shut her eyes. I could not tell if she was listening. I needed her to hear.
Instead, join the hunt, on your terms. As a hunter, free of the fire, the game changes. You chose what you seek: pleasure, company, friendship, a mate. And those that deserve no consideration can be thrown back into the maelstrom from whence they came.
I paused. Storm turned and looked at me.
Hunting is not intuitive. It is a skill most people have to relearn, painfully. A long time ago, I wasted time watching the Australian wolf, the dingo. I stayed on a station, bordering the dingo fence and an incredible wilderness.
A dingo treats all as an intruder until she determines otherwise. When a dingo comes across another, she will follow at a safe distance, frequently backtracking, observing through tracks and spore how the other behaves: is he healthy, fit, smart, and capable. The deeper the proposed engagement, the sharper the inquiry and the greater the evidence required. Too often, we fail at this first step, we do not ask direct questions, we do not seek proof, and we make excuses. The questions are simple. Are you married? Are you in a relationship? What is he to you? Are you who you say you are? How can you prove this? Simple questions, easily discharged with a smile in good faith. But predators and the hurt turn and twist when the questions are asked.
A dingo pack is a close knit group – the members come with a context, friends, a family and a past. Before considering letting another join your pack, these pathways and relationships need to be accessed and tasted. Why did his last relationship fail? When can I meet your parents? Let us run with your friends. Predators and the hurt turn and twist when these questions are asked.
Sometimes a dingo is injured. A paw is twisted during a hunt. A kangaroo slashes a shoulder. The animal becomes a liability, unable to hunt effectively. Before you rejoin the hunt, you must rest and recover. Put the injuries from the past to one side. They have a place. In the future, around your fire, you might want to reflect on those events. To tell a daughter how, for a moment, the role of hunter and hunted reversed, and how easy and hard it is to be snared. And then to tell her how she might run her hunt.
I had finally got Storm’s attention. She was sitting wide-eyed not believing her mother was shouting at the fire. She said calmly, “It was just an argument. I was to blame as well.”
That was days ago. I was still fuming.
I looked at Storm, playing with the white cat and wondered if she had heard anything I had said.
Then I looked at Pete, the biggest mistake I had ever made, twice, and wondered why I had let him back in my house. Again. I wondered if I had listened to myself. I would not make that mistake again.
I grimaced, “There is gold everywhere here. The sun was hitting the grass heads, the glint of your eye and the lining of the afternoon clouds.”
He said, “You should come sit on my rocks and watch the sunset.”
I said, “And where would you be?”
He smiled, “Holding the horses below. You will come too, Storm?”
Storm was distracted playing with my cats.
Storm, “Mum, you still haven’t told him about the dragons.”
I said, “I do not think he believes in them.”
Storm, “He promised.”
He said, “I see dragons all the time.”
Storm muttered, “Not like these.”
I said, “Some of the old-timers have been telling me stories about them. At first, I thought they were just talking about the big monitors, the goannas up on the ranges. But some of the very old folk described seeing them and sometimes talking to them. I disbelieved until one took me up into the Black Range.”
He said, “What did you see?”
I said, “It was late evening. About the time the eagles fly back to their trees. I think I saw two yellow dragons flying fast, at tree level. Apparently, they come out midday and fly into the thunderheads gathering energy.”
He said, “Any sign of a lair? Maybe a castle?”
Storm glared at him and said pointedly, “I hope they bite you.”
I said, “I am trying to tell you what I have seen.”
He smiled, “Does it matter what I think?”
I could feel the wind rising. A chill in my bones as I caught Pete's eyes.
He did not speak, but I heard his voice, dimly echoing from the past, “Listen! Stop now. Don’t go.”
I paused, broke eye contact and turned to Storm, “The wind is coming up. We should get the clothes in.”
A great weariness overcame me. Pete was too much work. I said, into the walls, “Thanks for the company.”
He was right behind me. He said, “Come, come show me the dragons.”
I said, “You don’t believe me.”
He said, “I believe you. Now, come prove I was right to follow you blindly.”
Reluctant, I went with him to catch the horses, and we took the old bridle track up into the mountains. His cats followed. We sat at the top of the lower hills and waited until the mist came and hid the sky. Nothing that night, but he arrived every afternoon for the next week, with enthusiasm and chocolate, a pair of field glasses and a pack of cards.
We saw eight sunsets, and I won his farm off him a dozen times before he saw the dragons. Flying at tree level.
He watched them disappear back into the high ridges.
He said, “The old arch. I bet that first one has landed up there.”
I could see him thinking.
I said, “Haven’t you been listening to me? The old folk say the dragons have spoken to them and told them we are not to follow them into the mountains.”
We returned to our homes.
A couple of weeks later he came over to my farm, excited. He told me a story about a rainbow, aelfs and almost getting a pot of gold. One of the orange dragons had got there first. He said he was going to search for the lair. I yelled at him, but he would not listen.
I waited for him to get a little ahead, and Storm and I followed. We saw him enter the old cave system. We paused, not sure of what we could do.
We waited for a while then started to hear sounds coming from the cave. One moment there was just the creek bed, tree ferns, and a grassy patch next to a lovely little creek. Next, the aelf rainbow hit the grassy patch just outside the cave. There was an explosion of light and a faint rainbow trail extended high into the sky. The mist started to rise.
Pete staggered from the cave with the cats. He was bleeding from a head wound, blood staining his shirt. Storm tensed and was about to run after the cats. Pete ran a couple of steps towards the rainbow but then fished for his phone.
Storm muttered, “His new girlfriend, I bet. What an idiot.”
A couple of raindrops hit the ground.
I said, “What girlfriend?”
The smell of a summer storm, static electricity and the rumble of thunder.
She said, “Anthem.”
There was a rumble from the cave behind him. He looked back. I could see one eye closed. Then he put his head down and ran for the rainbow. I heard him shout, “You are right. I am going to have to rethink the whole gold thing.”
Waylander carefully picked up the aelfs, and they all hit the rainbow as the dragon exploded out of the hill. 

Ice and Fire


The dragon exploded out of the hill and straight through the rainbow and into a tree beyond. The dragon collapsed, static electricity discharging, and then a massive bolt from the sky hit the ground. Deafening silence as the world became vivid white, and the tree disintegrated into flame, branches of fire thrown high in the air.
Storm and I froze in our position, unable to move.
The flames beat fiercely, igniting the oils of the eucalyptus. Thick smoke rose from the devastated tree, as it collapsed in on itself and started to spread to the nearby shrub-land. And then the rain started.
Throughout it all, the rainbow did not waver. A second dragon had been calling in the sky, but its calls receded.
Slowly our hearing returned. The dull thud of raindrops and the hiss as rain hit fire.
I turned to Storm, “Perhaps one of us needs to go back and tell people about the fire.”
She said, “What about Pete, and the cats? When they got to the rainbow, it took them off into the sky.”
I had not been watching them. I had been watching the dragon striking.
Uncertainty caught me in its grip. Eventually, I said, “Stay here. The fire is not expanding, and dragons are pretty tough. This one might still be alive.”
We waited a bit longer until Storm pointed out, “Well, nothing is moving. We are just getting wet here.”
We made our way down from the granite boulders we had been sheltering under to the creek bank. Rivers of rain were flowing down the gorge to the stream bordered by tree ferns with a grassy patch and the rainbow.
The ruined tree on the other side of the creek, still burning. The smell of eucalyptus and something else. We crossed the creek, arms up to protect against the heat of the fire unquenched by the rain. Deep in the tangle was a body. Not a dragon, but human in form.
We moved away from the fire.
I could not understand what had happened.
Storm was more matter of fact, “Teathyme told me that some dragons were just people. Maybe this one got turned back into a person.”
I said, “Who?”
She said, with a guilty look on her face, “One of the aelfs in the garden. The small one who sings.”
I said, “What?”
She continued, a little too quickly, “I met her. After I did my chores and university stuff. You know, while you and Pete were off chasing dragons. I caught her stealing an egg. But she is nice. And she believes in humans.”
Maybe it was the shock. Now was probably not the time for me to lecture my daughter about imaginary friends. So I went into damage control, “Have you told anyone else?”
She said, “Don’t be silly.”
I said, “Sorry, I guess too many things have been happening. So where is Pete, and the cats?”
She said, “I told you. Teathyme says the aelfs use rainbows for travel, between places. You just stand at the base, and it takes you. Pete has gone. I think Teathyme was with him.”
I thought about this.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Another storm was coming.
I made up my mind. I said, “Pete looked hurt. I am going to look for him. You go home and raise the alarm about the fire. Don’t say anything about the body, ok?”
She shrugged, “Are you going to get on the rainbow?”
I looked at it. Not if I could help it. I smiled, “I will check the bush to see if he is around.”
With some additional argument, she finally headed back to where we had left the horses, leaving me with the fire and the rainbow.
I walked in widening circles around the rainbow. Nothing. I started to feel uneasy and made my way back to the clearing.
I had heard it before I saw it, crashing through the bush.
The Red Dragon was crouched, watching me. I caught my breath.
He said, “What are you looking for, little one.”
I said, “I have lost a friend, I have been looking everywhere without luck.”
He said, “Lightning and flames have eaten your friend, little one. And with the yellow dragon's death, witness my claim on her gold and her seat.”
He thought I was looking for the dragon...
I said, “Firefighters will be here soon to put out the fire.”
He said, “Then I think we should ...”
He paused and drew in a deep breath, “We should run away.
He smiled. A tendril of smoke escaped his teeth. He then took a step towards me striking the ground theatrically with a solid thump and blowing a smoke ring around me.
I took a step back, into the rainbow.
I heard him laughing as I rose into the air, paralyzed by fear. Rising slowly at first, then faster than could be imagined.
At some point, I lost consciousness. I awoke to a gentle shake. I tried to open my eyes, but I could not see anything.
A voice, with a rough New Zealand accent, said, “You will be okay. Don’t try opening your eyes for a moment. Just get your breath back eh.”
A different voice asked, “Bob, is she from the park?”
Bob responded, “Yeah bro, Nah. Probably.”
He said, “We are in an unstable area. When you open your eyes, you will see two worlds at the same time. Everything will be blurry. You good eh?”
He took his hand from my eyes and I opened my eyes. I asked, “Where am I?”
In front of me park land surrounded by trees. At the same time, disconcertingly, high towers draped with clouds and a network of beams. Everything out of focus and was drifting.
I scrambled to my feet.
Bob said to his companion, “Belle, I think we have a random, eh.”
Belle nodded. She was vaguely humanoid. Fear suddenly in my gut. I asked, “Is she a dragon?”
Bob shook his head, “Yeah bro, Nah. No. She calls herself a wraith. We are on one of her people’s sky platforms. On a planet far, far away. Here, at this point, the worlds meet. My park and her spiders, eh.”
Bob chuckled to himself.
Bob and Belle were searching for a group of cocoons, her crew. I asked if they had seen Pete and his cats. Belle nodded, “We came across some tracks a moment ago, heading in this direction.”
She pointed, “We cannot go much further than this without getting engaged with this world, and the spider’s defenses. If your friend came here, he would be trapped like my crew.”
We spent an hour searching for signs of Belle’s crew or Pete, without luck. Bob and Belle promised to renew the search after a rest, and they showed me how to travel back to the park.
As we phased back into the reality of the park Bob breathed a long sigh, and I realized he was shaking, badly. I agreed to meet them in an hour and, following their directions, I walked down the road to a nearby hospital. I wrote a quick letter to Storm telling her what had happened, telling her I would be home soon and mailed it to her.
I was away a little longer than I planned. When I returned, Bob and Belle had gone.
Over the next couple of days, I slept in the park. At night it was alive with people and spiders. One night there was the sound of gunfire and alarms. During the day I traveled back into the unstable realm. Slowly, methodically looking for signs of cocoons. I slowly worked around the platform. I quietly dispatched anything in my way. I faded back to the park when required.
I found them at the edge of the platform. I was sitting watching the spiders guarding it when a dragon came out of the sky and started attacking clumps of spiders. She landed a couple of times, always a little way from the cocoons, drawing the spiders away and into fire and destruction. Then I saw a sky boat, impossibly, docking next to the cocoons.
I had to make a decision. See Pete, possibly already dead, taken outside my reach by a dragon. Or leave the tenuous reach of the park.
Swearing quietly to myself I turned and ran towards the boat. I saw Bob engaged in dragging a cocoon onto a trolley. I hesitated for a moment and then dived onto the boat under a pile of sails on the deck.
I heard the sounds of Bob and others working on the platform next to the boat to free people from the cocoons.
One voice, “They can be saved.”
Another voice, “My sister!”
I risked a look. Two aelfs were standing with two lying injured.
Bob and a woman continued to work to cut others out of their prisons.
The two standing aelfs briefly consulted. One came up behind the woman and pressed something to her upper arm.
The smell of a summer storm, static electricity and the rumble of thunder.
The woman spun around.
The aelf jumped back and said, “Good luck. You are going to need it.”
The rainbow came from the sky like a meteor, hitting the ground with an explosion of light, leaving a faint rainbow trail as mist rises.
The other aelf moved to the rainbow. With their injured friends in hand, they disappeared into the mists. The rainbow faded as soon as they were gone.
The woman stared and shook her head. She briefly went back to the task of cutting the cocoons.
The next cocoon held nothing but stardust. But in the next one, they found Belle.
The woman paused for a moment, walking to the edge of the platform. She took pieces of tin armbands from her arms, where the aelf had done something to her. She smiled and for a second, wings appeared from her back in the early morning light. The rings of a gas giant appeared above the clouds in the distance.
She went back to the task of cutting people out of the cocoons with Bob. I searched the boat deck for something hard.
I heard Bob say, “Anthem, this one is human, eh.”
Anthem replied, “Wonder how he got here. You recognize the face?”
Bob said, “Yeah bro, Nah. He is pretty cut up, eh.”
They kept working cutting away the web.
Bob said, “Nice tattoo, eh.”
Anthem froze. Her face enraged as she unfurled her wings. She snarled, ice in every word, “This man ruined my life.”
Stand in line sister. I hit her head as hard as I could.  

Interlude Four: On Wraiths


Imagine Growl and Wander on the deck of the sky-yacht.
The upper deck was constructed of light pumice and shell, braced by rope and hides. It hung suspended from a well patched long cylindrical gas-filled balloon together with high baskets carrying air-dried fish. Four great sails, billowing in front, are filled with the Southern trade winds. The sky-yacht was skimming above the water, close enough to see shadows moving below the surface.
Wander is keeping one bright eye on the sky yacht's wheel, locked to the course by a leather strap, and the trim of the sails. Another eye is on Growl.
Growl is balanced on the edge of the deck, legs dangling over the side, watching the last of the rings of Farsigh fall into the clouds on the western horizon. Wander worries because Growl has not been thoroughly purged of spider venom.
Growl starts, “The humans are similar to us, and yet different.”
Belle had insisted on them learning each other’s language. Like her, they had started with New Zealand, because it had so few words.
Wander reflects, “The portals between the nine worlds have been open forever, we all share the same genetic material, common ancestors, and patterns of thought.”
Growl continues, “I heard the human male tell a home story.”
Wander says, “We all tell stories. Pete has a head full of stories. We have made a story to end all stories on this voyage.”
Growl says, “We still need to get home. A hundred more circles of Farsigh...”
The last of the rings fades from the sky, the brilliant colors of the sky fading into a cold gray twilight. Growl climbs back onto the deck and comes up to nestle into Wander’s warmth.
Growl said, “I do not understand his story.”
Wander says, “I know you will retell it to me. Are you are going to tell it to me in our language or the language of the humans?”
Growl paused then, with a rough New Zealand accent started:
When she was young, Storm spent a summer collecting and painting fox skulls with traditional designs. The designs were full of color, and each told a different story about the fox. Through painstaking small dots and graduated color, she recorded where the fox had lived and what it had hunted. She did a good job. Something that would have made her ancestors proud.
One day when I returned from riding, I saw one of the painted skulls hanging on the wall of her old stables and asked her where she had found it. Offhandedly, she told me she had made it and showed me some of the other painted skulls, placed around the farm. She explained that the process for making them was difficult. I asked her to show me her process. She told me to come over when I had some time to waste.
Seeing her interest, I came back a day later. She took me up into the forest where she found the carcass of foxes by smell and watching the crows. Then she showed me where she dragged them to an ant nest. Here the ants cleaned the skulls for her.
I was astounded by the range she covered. She was still very young. The young girl had traveled far past my farm, through field inhabited by bulls and roos five times her size. I was also very concerned about her handling the dead foxes. Many would have been killed by poison baiting by farmers, as foxes prey on ewes giving birth and young lambs. But this was her story, so I did not say anything.
Then she took me to her bush studio where she mixed paints from oils (sump oil from one of my sheds) and natural ingredients: ground granites, red earth, gold-flecked quartz, and ash.
Unexpectedly, she handed me a skull she was cleaning for painting. I held it in my hand, marveling at the surface silky smooth.
I asked her how she managed to get the skull so smooth.
Storm looked at me, catching my eye. Levelly she said, “I borrowed your toothbrush and scrubbed the skulls soft.”
Growl stopped the story at that point and was silent.
Wander thought. Growl moved her body closer to his. He said, “You are distracting me.”
Growl said, “That is a perplexing story. Did you ask the obvious question?”
Wander said, “No. The humans laughed and then they cried, so I came up here to watch the sky and nestle with you.”
Growl said, “The human male often tells stories that are impossible. Pete's stories sometimes do not make sense. Sometimes he tells stories that mean something different from the words. Other times he tells stories that are taken from stories he has been told, and which he does not understand.”
Wander said, “This was different. He said it was a story about being himself. About being alive.”  

On Being


The upper deck was constructed of light pumice and shell, braced by rope and hides. It hung suspended from a well patched long cylindrical gas-filled balloon. High baskets in the rigging carried air-dried fish.
Four great sails, billowing in front, are filled with the Southern trade winds.
The sky-yacht is skimming above the water, close enough to see shadows moving below the surface.
Initially, there were tears and recriminations. But the tears were soaked up by the pumice decks. The wind whistling through the rigging made argument difficult. Instead, they attuned to the new world. They learned to ignore the dim, cold sun that swept through the sky, and orient to the cycle of the hot gas giant around which their new home orbited.
Belle recovered the first, silently thanking and cursing the old dragon lady. She stopped the fights by holding each of them over the edge of the deck until they saw reason.
She pointed out what all of them knew. Going back to the unstable zone was not safe. Any return to their lives on Earth would have to wait.
Bob showed no signs of wanting to leave. His smile was infectious. He attended to the four great sails, billowing in front of the sky yacht. When they needed to replenish the fish baskets for trade or food, he worked the nets as they slowly skimmed the surface. He climbed over the ship, draining the water collectors, and knocking off small wind parasites. He tended Growl and Wander who recovered from their ordeal more slowly.
Pete and Anthem retained dragon wings. Pete was still poisoned by venom and could not stand, let alone fly. While initially able to fly on deck, Anthem quickly lost the ability, saying that while she could flex her wings, she had lost any other control. She said Gossamer, the aelf, had given her something that had given her access to some dragon powers and capacity but had not become a complete dragon. The limited reaction that had allowed her to attack the spider kin had worn off. Still, they both felt different, and Anthem said she knew what Pete was thinking, although Pete said she was dreaming.
Bob and Kathy had both had bad experiences in the spider realm, and discussed but finally agreed that they could not sneak around the edges in safety. Even before the boat cast off from the platform, brood spiders were moving to cut off any safe way back.
For herself, Belle point blank refused to take the sky-yacht over the spider platform remembering the disaster that had almost lost the ship the first time.
Belle treated Kathy and Anthem a little differently. She placed them both in an enclosed space and filled it with something mildly intoxicating and then left them for a long time. Afterward, they still had harsh words for each other and fought without quarter, but they also ate together. They started to make plans together.
Wearing a smile, Belle set course back home. It would be a long trip. The trade winds would only take them so far – and then they need to move through slower skies.
First stop was a larger trading platform with a medical facility and an opportunity to replenish the gas bags on which the yacht hung. While the humans were not permitted to leave the yacht, a healer came on board and spent 14 cycles attending to the injuries.
In the pure beauty of the ocean world, they all slowly healed. At the end of a cycle of the gas giant, after a meal, they nestled together on the top deck, sharing warmth and telling stories, searching for an elusive glimpse of a star–uncommon with so many other moons in the sky.
Time passed.
Belle told them about her voyages to each of the nine worlds. Of the press of the spider-kin and how some worlds had been overrun, while others resisted. Of the ravages of the dragon-kin, few but deadly and cruel. Of the deep homes of her people, far under the waves, and the towers they had built to watch the stars.
Anthem told them stories of the great cities of Earth, many of which she had visited. Of their great central towers and the wealth they represented. How cities sparkled like starlight and provided a safe haven for millions like her.
Wander told how he got his name and his exploits with great fish. How he battled the sky currents of the middle latitudes and survived the Southern ice plains.
Growl told of the dreams of flying she had as a young wraith. She stroked Anthem’s wings getting her to tell of how Anthem pounced on the spider-kin. That was a story they loved to hear and which Anthem loved to tell.
One evening, as the gas giant was setting, with the smell of rain in the wind, Pete described a similar twilight, after a desert rainstorm. He said that the smells and sky brought back a rush of memories, all incomplete.
Pete said, “When I was three, an older friend and I climbed a tall haystack, and spent an afternoon trying to work out what a hill would be like. Neither of us had seen one, but she was four and had been to far-off Nyngan, and thought we might be able to see one from the top of the stack.”
Growl asked, “What is a hill?”
Bob said, “You have them, but under water. Where the surface of the ocean rises close to the surface.”
Growl nodded “And the fish spawn there. We know them.”
Bob continued, “But imagine the land continuing, and coming right out of the water, eh.”
Growl said, uncertainly, “Maybe.”
We could hear her thinking about the fish.
Pete continued, “I was a little bit worried about the adventure because she had unexpectedly kissed me the day before.”
Growl jumped in again, “Three is far too young to nestle.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
Pete said, “But I wanted to find out about hills, so I threw caution to the wind. I need not have worried. When we could not see a hill, we lay on top of the stack, hand in hand, and imagined what being on a hill would be like. She never kissed me again.”
Silence, as they listened to wind in the riggings and felt the vibrations through the deck of a cross wind.
He continued, “Once I got the hang of hills, it was hard to go back to the flat lands. Hills are as exciting as being on top of a haystack with a girl who kissed you yesterday. And just as dangerous.”
Kathy shot him a sleepy glare, “Don’t you start, or I will go find some plates.”
Belle opened her eyes, “No plates.”
Wander said more formally, “When you became older, did you swim looking for her?”
Pete shook his head, “Dad was a teacher, and soon after got a posting from the desert country into a town in the Australian mountains. I did meet her again when I got kicked out of high school. The only place that would take me was a school for girls. She didn’t want to know me.”
Anthem could not help herself, “You liar. You never went to a girl’s school.”
Pete shrugged.
Bob said, “Hard, bro, all those girls. You would have been beaten black and blue.”
Pete shook his head, remembering.
Bob continued, “This evening reminded me of when I was young as well. I got a job repossessing cars to help support my mom eh. Not a good job.”
He stopped and thought about the job for a moment, while there was a discussion with the wraiths about what repossession meant. While the meaning was not settled with any certainty, it was agreed that it smelt like rotten fish.
Bob continued, “Yeah bro, Nah. One day I drove to a small farm on the edge of the Canterbury plain. From a distance, it looked tiny – just two rooms, falling apart. It was like it was in a haze. Like there was a dust storm around it. Gets awful dry up there.”
Bob said, “I came to an old iron gate and saw an older woman, skin browned by the sun and time. Might have been Maori, cannot say. She said her partner was off gem mining and wouldn’t be back for months. Stacked around the house were hundreds of cartons full of tinned meals.”
He continued, “But in the little garden around the place there were thousands of butterflies.”
He said, “When I wonder why people live so far from home, I remember that place eh. I remember the magic of the place.”
And there was magic here. That night, just for a moment, they forgot the past and the future and lived in the present. For one moment, if any had been asked, they would say they were content. On the deck of the sky-yacht, with the last light of Farsigh fading in the air. Nestled together in the spare sail on the top deck. Warm against the wind.
But when Kathy looked into herself to tell a story, she found her heart was missing, and she cried herself to sleep dreaming of her daughter.  

Interlude Five: On Black Dragons


Solstice accepted the ice-cream with a smile and snuggled back in the protective shoulder of her life-partner. She looks out at the world, shy and content.
Onesti asked, “Now it is your turn. You survived the black dragons. Tell me of your encounter with Anthem.”
Solstice protested, “But this ice-cream will not last long. Get me another, just in case.”
Onesti said, “You have tricked me before.”
Solstice smiles, “I cannot tell you another’s story. I can only tell you my own.”
Solstice stretches up into the shoulder of her life partner. Remembering the moonlight last night. Remembering the touch of delight.
Onesti asks, “Why do you bring your life partner into the world. Surely this is cruelty?”
Solstice says, “Blood sister, I was young when I met him, my life partner. True, he does not understand everything and never will. But we sing and in his eyes I am content.”
Onesti shrugs, “And the Black Dragons?”
Solstice says, “We met the painter on equal terms, in human form. The painter had been running, his dragon taint evident.”
Onesti bows her head, “He is unpredictable and dangerous. I am responsible for giving him the taint.”
Solstice said, “So you have said blood sister.”
Solstice continues.
I stole ice cream from him while we stood for him to sketch. The ice cream was made with the juice of lemons and limes, with crushed mint.
He drew quickly, following the curves of our bodies and the swirl of my hair. I could see he felt the warmth of our bodies and how perfectly we matched.
After he had finished, I held him gently and soaked away some of the taint. He looked at us and tried to understand. Why so casual with your affection?
I explained what it is to be a life partner. To commit to one alone and build a nest, a family, a life history. To learn to sing together and together take chances against the dark. To slowly build wealth, power and influence among the clans. But to not let that poison delight, but to accept the warmth of another’s embrace and their songs without regret or condition. To dance with many, to lose myself for a moment in the shoes of another and look into new eyes with hunger and joy. But, just as I would never challenge another life partner, I would not place my life partnership at risk.
The painter shook his head and said he did not understand. So I asked him to tell me about his life partner.
He hesitated. He told a confusing story about relationships that burnt bright and then cooled into unsustainable forms. Of how at the end of one partnership, another emerged. How his life could be defined in terms of those fractures rather than slow continuity. He told how he had bought the White Album seven times, only to see it stolen away, snapped in half, burnt or shredded in the cold rage of another failure.
Onesti interrupted, “What is a White Album?”
“I made the same inquiry. Not only do humans have personal relationships but they have created forms of imaginary relationships to pursue enterprise. The painter called on the image of the White Album to represent the defining moment of one of those intellectual endeavors. But, just as personal relationships fail, these imaginary relationships also fail, creating chaos and lost opportunity. But instead of rebuilding on a rock, humans persevere in building their houses on sand.”
Onesti interrupted again, “And where did you leave him?”
“Many creatures hunted him. Even as we spoke, dark eyes were searching for him. So I placed him in safety to recover, within the care of a guardian.”
Onesti said, “He is unpredictable and dangerous, but not as dangerous as the weaver.”
Onesti handed her a second ice-cream, rich in whole milk, honey, and crushed macadamia nuts. She asked, “And what of Anthem?”
Solstice frowned.  

Anthem


She found you near the brook. You had as many scars on the inside as on the outside. The old lady enlisted the help of a draught horse and a makeshift frame. They slowly dragged you up to the farm house.
She made up a cot next to the fire, and slowly rubbed life back into your arms and legs. With your head cradled in her arms, she fed you warm broth and kept you mouth moist with the crystal clear water. She bathed away the tears and rips in your body.
You woke with a start on the second day. Delirious, you told stories of running and flying. Gradually, you began to hear yourself talking. The soft touch of a cat curled at your side and the clatter of the old woman around the house. You healed slowly; it took a week before you were able to move around unsteadily. You moved into an old armchair that caught the warm sun and overlooked the brook. Here you drifted in and out of sleep.
The old lady asked, “Anthem, more broth?”
You nodded awake and smiled, “I dreamed I was on a boat. High in the sky. An ocean below.”
She said, “What a strange dream. You have been raving for days, of all sorts of evil: men, spiders, dragons, sky boats, wolves. You are safe here, none of those are allowed on my farm anymore. Perhaps you are ready for something a little more substantial. Maybe some stew, eh?”
You smile, “Maybe.”
You feel the sun on your skin. You watch high clouds build in the skies. Twisting into impossible shapes. A ship. Wings, a bird? A whisper in your head, “I wonder if you think about me, in your wildest dreams.”
You shake your head. The little cat beside you stirs and starts to purr as the old lady returns with two bowls. In one a thick stew while in the other a scoop of handmade ice-cream. She smiles, “One for both of you. I will be nearby. Call if you need me.”
One spoonful was followed by another until you and the cat were comfortably full and your head dropped back to the cushion rest.
You drift back to the sky-yacht. Curled on the deck with friends. Watching high clouds build in the skies. Twisting into impossible shapes. In the distance wings. You look at the wings, rising and falling. There is a man there, standing on the wings. The picture becomes clearer; the man is balanced on a small craft with wings being towed by the sky boat. You watch as the small craft dives to just skim above the waves and then climbs into the sky. You know how to do this.
He is pulled back to the sky-yacht. You see yourself help the landing. You watch as you jump onto the craft. You feel the little craft straining in the wind, wanting to rise. You strap yourself to it and gradually you are let out, the wind streaming your hair as you hold the craft level. When a safe distance from the sky boat is achieved, you let it go, diving to the surface in one steady fall. You level out just above the surface. Feeling the surface tension on the water break into small droplets and watching for dark shapes under the surface. Then gliding up until you are high above the sky boat. From here you watch the horizon, looking for storms and other ships.
The clouds have quietly changed shape, coloring in the evening light. You feel the chill of the sun setting in the western mountains and a call to come inside to the warmth of the fire.
The little cat is already inside sitting on the old lady’s lap as she knits. She tells the kitten, “Stray cats like you wander in from time to time. Some stay and grow old with me.”
She turns to you, “This kitten arrived a little before you. She loves ice-cream.”
She settles the household, heating milk and malt into a night-time sedative.
You think of the spiders and ask, “Did they follow me here?”
She says, “We are here alone. Just you, me and the kitten. No one else is coming. This world has plenty of problems without you inventing more.”
You stare into the fire. Listening to the hiss and whistle of green wood and pine cones starting to burn. A whisper in your head, “Do you think of me?”
In the fire you see a spider shape shriveling as you and a man fly together to the surface of a sky-platform, throwing fire at anything that moves. He turns to you, an angry smile, “Almost there.”
Then the world starts to phase. The old sky-platform filled with spider signs is overlaid with a green Christchurch park. A brood mother turns in your direction and with frightening speed moves in your direction.
You flinch in pain, your side crying with the pain of the spider's stab, as the spider realm fades.
The old lady smiles, “Spiders again, eh? None here. Drink this and rest. In the morning we can talk about what we are going to do with you.”
She sees the emotions flash across your face, “Do not worry. There is no rush.”
She remembers something, “You did not bring much with you. You did have a couple of mobile phones. I don’t know much about such things, would you like me to get them?”
You smile uncertainly, wondering what other traps you have set yourself, “No, I am sure they are safe with you.”
The old lady says, “Your bed is made on the settee near the fire. The doors are closed, and I have set the wards. The warm milk should help us sleep.”
You snuggle into the warmth of the old woolen blankets breathing deep the smell of old straw and dust. The coal from the fire pulses with a quiet rhythm. It casts shadows from a posy of wildflowers onto the ceiling. A whisper in your head, “Think about me.”
The boat is docked in a large port. A sky-port that stretches into the horizon on every side. Teams were working on the docks. Your party is in a conference with the local district. The leaders tell Belle of boats that have not returned. A withdrawal back into the underwater cities is being planned. Belle seeks an agreement that we stay here.
After the meeting, we wait for half a cycle before the decision comes. All can stay, and fish from the port. However, you and Pete are to be studied, and efforts made to reverse the genetic tampering.
You are awake in the old lady’s house. Watching the shadows shorten and lengthen on the ceiling. Trying to remember. The wraith scientists were patient. This had happened before. It could be reversed. During the days you fished. In the evenings, tolerance tests.
When they were finally ready to start in earnest, goodbyes were said. Pete told Kathy that, no matter what, he would get us all home. Bob shook his head, protesting that he was home.
They left you together on a deserted sky-tower, a week’s journey away, warning that the results could be unpredictable. On the tower, while you waited for the ship to get out of harm’s way, you argued with Pete. Why hold out false hope about a return? He said that he wished to go back to his normal life. You asked him what about your life, and how he had so carelessly ruined it.
With the argument simmering, you and Pete strapped yourselves to the tower to prevent the risk of a mishap and waited for the drugs to take effect.
It did not go to plan. The constraints were torn apart and then you and Pete erupted into the sky, hungry and aware of the voices of other dragon-kin. You wrought destruction on everything you could find. It took days for the rage in Pete’s eyes to dim. Your anger was deeper, pursuing him through the ruins of the tower, hitting, slicing and biting him. You could hear yourself shouting.
You are covered in cold sweat.
The old lady was standing by the settee, “Go to sleep girl. Try to leave your demons outside this place. Here, let the kitten sleep with you, maybe you can settle with her warmth.”
You start to apologize. She smiles, “Everything will be okay if you let me sleep. We will find a way through.”
She paused, “Your injuries. Was it a boyfriend or partner?”
You pause, unsure.
She says, “I don’t mean to pry. Try to sleep. Good night.”
You shut your eyes tight. The little cat climbed under the blanket and settled under your chin. This time, your eyes started to droop immediately, but the little cat began to knead you, pushing its paws, one after the other into your shoulder.
You open your eyes. The fire coals had died to a dull glow. Through the small paned window, you can make out moonlit trees, rising mist and stars in the sky. You think of your ruined life. Two years wasted. A career thrown away.
Your anger grows as you think of emerging into the Christchurch Park, suffering the flame of the spider’s bite but wanting to start hunting for those who had tried to hurt you.
Momentarily you see red. You think how easy it would be to unleash destruction on the old farm house. How the house would burn bright, and that would just be the start. But your anger is being drained as quickly as it builds. The kitten is continuing to knead you.
You remember fighting with Pete as he took you about the clouds, falling deeper into anger.
But in that passion, suddenly a single clear idea. A plan. You disengaged and fell away. You hear Pete calling for you. You respond. “I just need time.”
You just need time.
You remembered the road to the old wooden barn. That continued to a small brook, across a stone bridge and an old stone house. The whiff of smoke from the chimney and a glint of early sun off the windows.
You remembered the old dragon woman’s instructions: “I will light a fire, and we will watch the stars rise. I will give you something to help you dream. A pathway to the future. One for us to explore together. We can fly to the end of time and back. We can go to any point in the past and force a new path, with the slightest breath, one sweet kiss, a single drop of blood. I can restore your life.”
So you had turned, poisoned and enraged, towards the Blue Dragon. You hit the unseen barriers built to help constrain the dragon above the brook. You see yourself falling spider poisoned and broken to the brook.
The kitten licks your face.
You shut your eyes and quietly touch the minds around you.
A flight of fey orange dragons, sweeping low and fast above the ground, ready for battle. A flight of cruel green dragons, ready to drop from high on prey unwary, holding fast in high castles. Plagued red dragons, ready to burn and ruin villages and forest, whole cities to flatten. Sleeping quietly, one blue dragon, capable of traveling fast the web and timelines, willing to blur the past with Talon.
And in the distance a black dragon. Awake and alive. Pete comes into your head softly, “I am sorry I was not there to help you. I am sorry about the past. But now I need your help. We need to get our friends. The aelfs have opened a gateway near you. Come now.”

Eyes wide, the kitten, is standing in front of you with a determined look in her eyes.







-end of volume one-

Afterword


1. The author
Originally from the outback deserts, Peter Quinton now lives in the mountains above the Molonglo High Plains in Australia. After a career in public law, he is taking a little time to reflect and regroup. Watching the world and telling stories.
He loves old tales and wild places. Lawyers don’t get much time to tell their own stories or pick their own paths. Instead, he spent the last decades framing a constitution and rewriting the civil law. He used to count a republican form of government, a uniform law of defamation and effective financial management laws as personal achievements. These days he hunts different experiences.
Student of Norse history and the Danelaw.

Novels:
Three Wishes (2015)
The Palladium Triptych
Volume 1: Looking for Spring (2015)
Catalyst (2015)
The Dragons Eye Diptych
Volume 1: Dragons Eye (2015)
Volume 2: The Eye of the Storm (2016)

Short Stories and Fragments:
The Parkes Cycle, Book 1: The Long Tailor (collection) (2014)
Cliff Side (2016)
An Australian Wedding (2016)
The Kormak and Steingerd Cycle (collection) (2014)
Troublesomebooks (2014)
The Wolves of Ragnarök Cycle (fragments) (2006 -14)
Recipe Book: Catherine Victoria Edmonstone (food) (2015)
Chant Neoen (sound clip) (2015)
Poetry (fragments) (2006-2014)

You can contact Peter via social media in the G+ stream: https://plus.google.com/+PeterQuinton/posts
Or on his website: http://www.silenttheory.net/


2. Acknowledgements

My stories are constructed in G+ with the assistance of many friends. The original story was told to me as a child by Catherine Victoria Edmonstone.
I spent a lot of time when very young with my great aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone. She lived alone in a large cool house in the inland town of Dubbo, on the banks of the Macquarie River, far from the cities along the edges of Australia. On her dressing table, a single picture of a young soldier, killed in a gas attack, on the front lines in the Great War.
I have a picture of her holding the hand of her younger sister on her sister’s wedding day, after the Great War. Unlike her sister, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone never married. Instead, she was an explorer and insisted on others calling her “Vic.” She bought herself strange and beautiful horses, buggies and then cars. She traveled to unimaginably far places, bringing back pieces of coral or petrified wood. Once, she even caught a steamer to New Zealand with her Kodak camera and Light Meter. She spent weeks there, getting to learn the language and partly cooking herself in the medicinal mud.
She loved new technology, driving fast, climbing high, flying and pressure cookers. A short wave radio took pride of place in her sitting room. She would listen to stories on the radio, often with tears in her eyes. On special evenings she would project slides onto a blank wall and tell us stories of her travels.
She had lots of stories.
This story is based on one she used to love telling. I do not think she would have recognized the story, but then, I am sure that she embellished the stories she told me a little as well. I do know she would have loved our unexpected future.
I would like to attribute some of the words in the story to my grand aunt. It has been a long time since I heard her stories as a child. I cannot remember if she spoke these words, or whether she is whispering them to me now.
“You cannot kill a dragon. You cannot resist the touch of a dragon’s smile, eyes or words. You should resist it with every ounce of your being. But in the end, all you can do is not become one.” - Catherine Victoria Edmonstone (b 1897)
This story is surrounded by a series of short research stubs and micro stories. They can be found at:
http://www.silenttheory.net/2015/03/imagine-onesti-and-teathyme-resting.html
Reading a complex piece of writing is a comparatively lengthy diversion of time. I am deeply touched that many of you put aside your time and read one or more of the stories as I wrote them in G+. Your support was gratefully received.  I thank you for your vocal support: Viscount Anthony Fuller, Tam JK, Renee Leach , Terry Ward , Sian Ridden, Matthew Fowler, Sal E, Martha Brimhall, Joshua Miller,  Firdaus Idros, Kathleen Robinson, Graciela Quiroga, Ging Embradura, Belinda Kamel (who started me writing in G+), Allene Angelica, Virginia Harris, Kitten KaboodleInc. Oh!! Sweet Pea, Marjo Slingerland-Boks, Nina Anthonijsz and Jenny Gray (who was one of the first people to speak to me on G+). I have not mentioned all of you who have quietly followed the story writing process from start to end, my thanks to you as well.  
This was not intended to be a children’s story. It trips over a couple of difficult issues concerning personal relationship. I appreciate you not attributing the strange ideas coming from some of the characters to me.
Madhura Ravishankar  lit the fire for the story, and Ann Pollak mischievously kept it hot. You both helped establish the initial voices, directly contributing text to the initial exchanges, and helped me so much through the process.  Zelda Le Roux  made me smile many times, making an early suggestion about Anthem, which I picked up in the story line. Monique Helfrich  quietly followed the story giving support, reminding me of the importance of music. Peer Gynt led to Greensleeves and other significant plot changes (proving to me that I sometimes think in music). Monique also reminded me that Anne McCaffrey’s dragons were genetically created. Laisa Gran  kept a weather eye on progress, quietly reminding me of direction once or twice, and telling me of Himmelen & Havets.  I owe special thanks to Paul Jones who found a powerful first people story and stayed with me while I got it.
Jennifer Solomonsen challenged me on a number of occasions, forcing me to concentrate on continuity and a rationale for the story. In a couple of deceptively simple comments, she changed the flow of the story a couple of times. She suggested looking at parts of the story from a different perspective - which led to a significant change in the way I wrote part of Volume 1. One early comment which I have been aching to incorporate is one about spiders being communicators, which reminded me of the spider-like creatures in Samuel Delany’s world’s in “Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand”, a book which quietly changed our world. In a similar way, Chris Sutton  triggered a different line of inquiry when he reminded me about the Ringworld saga. I also appreciated Keith Jones  referring me to the Welsh legions of the dragons, ‘The Mabinogion’ and the Celtic myths. Single-minded concentration on Nordic sagas has left many gaps in my knowledge. From a different perspective, Lucky Triana publishes a regular stream of contemporary and folk wisdom, which I enjoy reading.  She cheerfully punched a couple of holes in the plot, worried about the cats, noted the effect of air resistance on terrestrial acceleration and also reminded me about the importance of perspective.
One of the most powerful elements of the G+ community is the subtle change that happens when your circles become aware of an emerging interest or some crisis point. During writing, a natural temptation for writers would be to withdraw to concentrate. Although my time became sliver thin, I am glad I did not. Jan Reid-Lennox and Jai Baidell, both wonderful Australian writers, spent a little time helping me in different ways. It was very useful to look at their style of writing, and their approach to the task of writing.
Finally Eugeniya Hilzinger  and J Fletch  reminded me of the power of releasing old memories through writing. It is a cathartic process, one sometimes I do not correctly recognize.
3: Dark Aelfs
Modern interest in Tolkien’s work, and the success in visualizing that work, now permeates every part of Western culture. Convincing characterization and visual representations of elves now cannot fail to bring to mind Orlando Bloom and Legolas, and the other exceptional characters and actors who have brought Tolkien’s epics to life. While unintended, we have recast elves in human form.
Before these developments, elves were anything but human. The older form of the word – the Anglo-Saxon “ælfe” – probably meant slightly different things at different times – but belief in the ælfe for more than a thousand years ago was probably familiar and enduring.
Alaric Timothy Peter Hall in a thesis dealing with The Meanings of Elf and Elves in Medieval England invokes the concept of “social reality” to explain this:
“Within this framework of historical anthropology, my guiding assumption is that ælfe were a ‘social reality.' They were not an objective reality, like houses and trees, which can be readily perceived in the physical world and, insofar as anything can be, objectively proven to exist. ... But the insider’s perspective on ælfe can no longer be experienced, only reconstructed, and I have no choice but to admit my disbelief in ælfe’s objective reality while accepting that objective experiences of Anglo-Saxons could have been construed as experience of ælfe.”
While the concept of “social reality” is problematic, Hall’s explanation here raises the central problem: while there is no objective evidence for the ælfe, people within particular society acted as though they were real. This is a little different from the modern meaning of elf – where elves are treated as entirely imaginary.
Alaric Timothy Peter Hall’s argument is, of course, capable of being used to prove diametrical opposites. And I confess to enjoying having an aelf use it to disprove the existence of humans. It is more than just a rhetorical tool; it is convincing because it tells us a little about how we think. And like it or not, we think far too much about elves as just another kind of human. When I was small, this was not the case. Elves existed, just out of sight: a source of fortune or disaster, a tangible driver of probabilities.
Because of the baggage around the word “elf” I have chosen to use a different word to evoke the beings of my childhood, using the form of the word used by elderly when talking to children. While not the “ælfe” of Anglo-Saxon writings or folklore, a simplified form “aelf” evokes the older form while offering a bridge from the modern “elf”. During the writing, I tried a couple of different forms, starting with “alf”. That stopped suddenly after a morning with the artist Indya and Sam, who were ruthless in their scorn of me digging up a comic American puppet, one that ate cats.
In the stories I have sometimes gone one step further, referring to a “dark aelf”. The prefix is intended further to ground the being in the hearth and home, to evoke mixed ideas of a miner, weapon wielder, and mischief maker. A being with dark eyes or hair – a being capable of gifting good or poor health, traveling rainbows, a seeker of gold. As a child, if you were going to run into one of these, chances are it would be a dark aelf. As an adult, a dark aelf would most commonly encounter as an absence, a missing egg or a lost opportunity.
This again is a little different from a set of meaning that have grown around the term “dark elves,” Some modern genres of games or books have derived monstrous forms that simply didn’t exist, like elves, in folk culture.
My own “knowledge” of dark aelfs is largely derived from stories told me by my great-aunt, conditioned by the wonderful stories of the Icelandic law-speaker, Snorre Sturlason.

4: Australian Tea Ceremonies
This may be a little bit complicated, so sit down. I am only going to deal with the absolute essentials.
In the bush, we drink tea in Australia.

Rule 1: Wherever you are, you cannot boil the water more than once. Boil it twice and the water is ruined – chuck it out.
Rule 2: When you are onthewallaby (working, travelling or looking for tucker (food) for a legitimate reason in the wilderness) or gonewalkabout (travelling about for no other reason than it seems to be the right thing to do at the time), stockmen (jackaroos) or stockwomen (jillaroos) must stop to drink tea a couple of times a day and night.
Rule 3: On your nag (horse) you must carry a large light-metal can with a metal handle (1-2 liters, called a billy) - filled with ingredients for making tea - tea leaves, sugar, matches and gum leaves.
Rule 4: At night, in the high country, when you boil the billy (make a small campfire and boil water and water and gum leaves in the billy) you are expected to tell a yarn (a story which must have some semblance of truth, but which is exceptional in some way) while the dingo sit around the camp, just out of distance of a stone (a goodstonethrowaway) and howl at you.
Rule 5: Bread with real butter must accompany tea when it is available.

Now you know onthewallaby, tucker, gonewalkabout, jackaroo, jillaroo, nag, yarn, billy, boil the billy and a goodstonethrowaway. Practice these, in case you end up getting transported to the never-never.


5. Timeline

In a yarn, a story of the bush told around a fire, it is common for there to be many voices. One voice may start the story, telling what the person knows. Others may take over and finish the story. While others may question and probe the story with “what ifs” and “what happened before”.

This story is told that way – with the voice changing. Initially, I start with two main voices, Pete and Anthem. To emphasise the personal point of view, their names are not spoken until late in the story. Towards the end of the story, other voices emerge, particularly Kathy.

Like the real world, none of the voices speak with knowledge of the entirety. To find out what is going on, every voice must be heard, but even then, not all will be revealed. In this sense, the yarn is a puzzle, and the interaction of voices the key to resolving it.

The below timeline, from earliest to latest, may help place the story and voices into context.

Yellow Dragon lair

Kathy and Pete – refer to their past and how their came to have farms nearby
Bob meets the wraith Belle and they explore unstable area overlapping Gliese 710 and Christchurch
Kathy – her discovery of aelfs in her garden and dragons in the forest nearby
Pete – stumbles across a dragon taking rainbow gold and watches where the dragon goes
Kathy – tries to talk Pete out of following Dragon, and instead follows him, with Storm, at a distance
Pete - enters Yellow Dragon lair, communicating with Anthem, but suffers head injury
Pete – escapes lair with aelfs and travels to spider realm in Gliese 710
Kathy – watches the near disasters
Storm – Kathy sends Storm home

New Zealand

Pete – aelfs hide Pete in unstable area overlapping Gliese 710 and Christchurch
Pete – wakes and talks to Anthem
Kathy – has also travelled to the unstable area, contacts Storm.
Pete – to avoid Spiders, aelfs genetically modify Pete and attempt to escape
Anthem – directed to unstable area to assist investigations into the events
Kathy - plans with Bob (and Belle) for a rescue.
Anthem – after entering the unstable area, escapes with Bob, learns of Belle's capture, encounters Green Dragon

Water world - Gliese 710

Anthem – plans rescue of Belle with Bob, aelfs genetically modify Anthem, travels to Gliese 710
Anthem – Bob, aelfs and Anthem rescue Belle, wraiths, Pete and aelfs
Anthem – avoids genetic restoration, but increasingly becomes confused
Kathy – Bob and wraiths take Pete and Kathy into wraith zone on Gliese 710
Anthem - Two years after entering the wraith zone, Anthem and Pete complete genetic modification to black dragon-kin and return to unstable area overlapping Gliese 710 and Christchurch

New Zealand/Australia

Anthem - Anthem is poisoned as she leaves the area and flees to the blue dragons lair with the intention of resetting the timeline
Onesti - At the same time, Pete is returned to his farm with memory block.
Anthem - One week later, is faced with the choice of pursuing uncertainty with resetting the time line or with Pete and Storm setting off to find Kathy.

Other On-line resources

Micro Stories
1. Dark Alfs
2. Australian Tea Ceremonies


Visualizations 

1. Attribution - external 
2. Attribution - G+
3. Rainbows, Lightning and Travel
4. Visualisation: The yellow dragon lair
5. Timeline
6. Characterization - Me (Pete)
7. Characterization - You (Anthem)
12. Characterization - (Cats) Waylander (WaWaAnimae), Blanket, Tiger, Rowdy, Quappala TBA
13. Characterization - (Crest) Pau, Te-Ulf, Te-Unt, Cascade, An-Ulf, An-Unt, An-Ymt, Finch, Mist 
14. Visualization: Canterbury Plain, Sunday Mountain, Mount Somers TBA
15. Visualization: Christchurch General Hospital, Park TBA
16. Visualization: Gliese 710, Farsigh and Heterotopia (Web nodes, sky-towers, sky-yacht)

TBA- to be added



Post a Comment