The Paris Awakening: Water Part 2

oracle of paris

Marie and Sir John, Sabine and Emile crowded into the tawdry room in the hotel on Rue Git-le-Coeur.

“You’re sure it is here?” said Emile, looking around the shabby room. There was little in it but a small unmade bed, an aging chest of drawers, a large mouldy armoire and a tired chaise-longue.

“Positive,” said Sabine. “There is her hat on the chaise-longue.”

They all looked at the chaise-longue and saw a splendid lady’s hat in a very modern style.

“Is she out, perhaps?” said Sir John. “Does she do house calls?”

Emile snorted.

“No, that’s impossible,” said Sabine. “She lives here. She will be here.”

Emile looked around the room and shrugged.

“Perhaps she is hiding in that armoire?” he said sarcastically.

“Er… I don’t want to bother anyone, but I think the chaise-longue has caught fire,” said Sir John.

They all looked back at the chaise-longue where smoke was starting to billow. The hat that had been sitting on it rose into the air on the column of smoke. A lit cigarette in an elegant holder appeared underneath it. Eventually the smoke resolved itself into the shape of a reclining woman, the hat obscuring the face.

“Voila!” said Sabine triumphantly. “I told you.”

Je suis lui comme tu es il comme tu es moi,” said the smoke woman. “Wait, too many, too many. And you, Madame, are too early.”

“Let’s leave boys,” said Sabine, “I believe we are confusing her.”

She ushered Sir John and Emile out of the room leaving Marie alone.

“Hello,” said Marie, “I want to ask you something.”

“Picture yourself in a boat on the river,” said the Oracle of Paris.

“I have this thing, this key part,” continued Marie, getting the wire out of her handbag and showing it to the Oracle. “It is part of a set of four, I need the next one.”

“They get by with a little help from your friend,” said the Oracle.

“Do you know where the next part is?” said Marie. “I need to find it before, before some others do. The others are bad, very bad people.”

“He one holy roller,” said the Oracle. “I’d like to be under the sea.”

“Please,” said Marie, “if you could tell me something that would help.”

“Sunday morning go for a ride,” said the Oracle. “Doing the garden, digging the weeds.”

“I… I can’t make sense of what you say,” said Marie. “Can you be clearer, can you say something that names the place?”

Suddenly the column of smoke dissipated and the hat dropped to the bed.

“Fine!” said Marie in frustration. “Just go then.”

She stood there in silence, perplexed by it all. There was gentle knock at the door.

“How is it going?” said Sir John hesitantly, through the door.

“She has gone,” said Maire.

The others came into the room. Marie looked crestfallen.

“And…” said Sabine expectantly.

“I am not sure,” said Marie, “that I know any more now than I did before.”

 

*The Oracle of Paris modified from Edouard Manet’s Nina de Callais 1873 – Public Domain

The Paris Awakening: Water Part 1

water 1

At the Artists’ Church, the Jennings and their retinue sat around a large table. It was covered with the remains of exquisite food, procured by Sabine from “an acceptable restaurant” called Vefour. Fine though the meal was, the mood around the table was a little subdued. Marie and Sir John had just finished explaining the events at the Oisienne’s lair.

“So it is like your good news, bad news, yes?” said Emile, idly toying with a petit fours.

“Indeed,” said Sir John, “it’s good we have the key component…”

“But bad that we don’t why Pook has some… special powers?” said Emile.

Marie nodded.

“One time before, in Manchester, his powers had been increased by this artifact of Mesmer.” she said. “He had Clackprattle like a puppet on a string, and mesmerised a group in a room. But these were people, not magical creatures like the Oisienne or…”

“You,” said Emile, still staring at the tiny cake.

“Yes,” said Marie. “Me. And in any event, that artefact was destroyed.”

“Definitely?” said Emile, “Maybe it could still be…”

“I ground it under my heel,” said Marie and Emile winced. “I was rather annoyed at the time.”

“So, a mystery,” said Sir John, “but one with a precedent. Maybe Mr Mesmer had other toys that we don’t know about.”

“True enough,” said Emile. “What about the part of the key? Have we found anything?”

He looked to end of the table where Phlebotomous and Osvold were bent over the little box that Marie had been given. They had opened it and been deep in conversation for a while. Phlebotomous had barely touched the glass of milk in front of him.

“It seems to be…” said Phlebotomous, “hmm… probably best described as a metallic filament of unknown metallurgic composition and around three inches long.”

Osvold muttered in Phlebotomous’ ear.

“Oh yes, very true,” said Phlebotomous. “Three and a half inches.”

The table looked confused.

“It’s a small piece of wire,” he said.

“Bird on a wire,” said Sabine, looking distant. Miss Henderson shot her a glance.

“Can we use this bit of wire to find the next piece,” the maid said.

“That’s more good news, bad news,” said Sir John. “Technically we need the map, but if the notes that Dinard left are enough…”

Sir John glanced at Osvold, who then starting whispering in Phlebotmous’ ear. The two conversed back and forth in whispers for nearly five minutes.

“Probably not,” said Phlebotomous and paused.

“Is there a little more?” asked Emile.

“The notes identify around thirty highly probable places,” said Phlebotmous, “and around a hundred likely places.”

“Oh,” said Sir John and sank back in his seat.

“We could ask the Oracle,” said Sabine looking at her nails.

“What?” said Emile.

“The Oracle of Paris?” said Sabine. “She would likely know.”

“What? What?” said Emile.

“You keep saying that,” said Sabine. “It makes you sound foolish.”

“Well, I feel a little foolish!” said Emile. “The Oracle of Paris, what is this? What other secrets do you have?”

Sabine sighed.

“She is a… special creature, that does what all oracles do and help one see the future and perhaps find things. Although, like all their kind, she is a little opaque and capricious,” said Sabine.

“And I am a woman in Paris and have exactly as many secrets as I like.”

Emile leaned toward her.

“Why now, woman?” he said. “We have spent so much time looking for these bizarre things and only now…”

“Only now we have this key thing,” said Sabine, “so we have something to show her. Do you think we could just turn up and say oh, ‘we are looking for something and we don’t know what it is… where can we find it?’ Have you ever spoken to an oracle? The answer would be more vexing than the question. No, now, we have something concrete and we can get… a better answer.”

“I hope,” she added.

Emile threw up his hands and stood up.

“I’ll be in my apartment,” he said. “Let me know how it goes.”

“Sabine, can you tell us where this oracle is?” said Marie.

“Of course,” said Sabine, “we can go in the morning.”

Marie sat back and felt a little nudge at her shoe. She looked down and saw a small stone.

“Oh, hello little one,” she said. “You’ve come home.”

Clackprattle and Pook’s Counterfeit Current Affairs Creator

The Daily Scandal

Gentle Reader,

Whilst researching our current story, The Paris Awakening, we have come across a startling fact. It seems that the fiendish swine at the heart of the story, Messers Clackprattle and Pook, have had an alternate career before their appearance in these pages. Why,  the scurrilous swine had been busy bamboozling the good and honest folk of the British press. Can you imagine!

Their modus operandi was to invent some fictitious, scandalous tale regarding a famous personage. They would then contact members of the journalistic profession with aforementioned stories and attempt to extract money from these poor deluded souls. The details that these devils supplied were naturally as lurid as possible in order to extract the maximum payment possible. Luckily we have been able to uncover this practice and find the tool they used to perpetrate this fraud. We present it below. By choosing a sequence of random numbers one can quickly generate some fictitious “news” stories.

We can only thank the good editing principles of the more moral periodicals and hope that such a swindle isn’t visited upon other more modern forms of communication. For how would an honest chap know what was real and what was not?

Yours – in shock and horror

Mr Michael and Miss Pichette

Number Famous Personage Scurrilous Act Dubious Location
1 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Consumed a voluminous quantity of French pastries In a poorhouse
2 Dr David Livingstone Entertained a lady of questionable moral standards In the Queen’s bedchambers
3 Miss Florence Nightingale Dined with a gentleman of lesser breeding In a nunnery
4 Her Majesty Queen Victoria Imbibed a significant quantity of alcohol In the House of Lords
5 Mr Charles Dickens Participated in a bizarre occult ceremony In an opium den
6 Mr Isambard Kingdom Brunel Danced around in a state of undress In a house of ill repute
7 Mr Oscar Wilde Formed a daguerreotype of a lady’s ankle In Paris
8 Mr Aleister Crowley Smoked a frightening quantity of opium In St Paul’s Cathedral
9 The Rt Hon Benjamin Disreali Drank a full pint of laudanum On the royal barge
10 Mme Marie Curie Executed a painting of a nude gentleman In the Peruvian embassy

 

The Paris Awakening: Air Part 16

Stone bug pook p

Bisset tried to stop listening to the shouting and instead tried to estimate the damage. Since Messieurs Clackprattle and Pook had returned from their disastrous attempt to retrieve the key piece, Monsieur Clackprattle had been shouting rather a lot. The focus of his wrath had vacillated from Pook, for his failure, to Bisset, for allowing him to be persuaded to let Pook participate, to the whole of Paris, for, well, existing.

In fact, M Clackprattle seemed to find blame in everyone but himself. Although, he did repeatedly question why he had bothered to rescue Pook, a question that had crossed Bisset’s mind as well. Clackprattle didn’t seem the type to worry about loyalty to those who had failed him. Bisset wondered whether Pook had more influence over Clackprattle than he had assumed, wondered who was really in charge here.

Annoying though the shouting had been, the real problem had been the damage. In his anger, Clackprattle had used that cursed hand of his on any number of priceless objects. Several pieces of original Louis XIV furniture were now just rotting wood. The golden cutlery and plates that Bisset was accustomed to dining on were now a collection of leaden lumps. The Persian carpet that had once been owned by Hassan I Sabbah had been reduced to a threadbare rug. It was extremely vexing. The body of the dead servant lying on top of the rug was something of an inconvenience as well, as it would need to be disposed of. All in all, Bisset was seeing a small fortune being decimated in front of him. If he hadn’t been afraid of that damned hand of Clackprattle’s, he may have intervened.

Bisset glanced across at Pook and saw the same bland, serene smile that the creature always favoured his master with. Not a hint of nerves in spite of his failure. Was there even a small smirk at the corner of his mouth? What did he know that he wasn’t saying?

Finally, the onslaught on humanity and art that Clackprattle had mounted seemed to be coming to an end. The man leaned on his chair and looked around the table with a rheumy eye. He scoffed once.

“I shall take my rest,” he said. “On my return I will expect some answers.”

The fat man waddled out of the room leaving Pook and Bisset alone.

“Your master is indeed most perturbed by events,” said Bisset. A look of confusion and fear flashed across Pook’s face.

“He… ah yes indeed,” said Pook. “I fear he blames me for our predicament. It was indeed an unfortunate situation and one we could not have forseen. It seems that the prominent intellectual thrust of our age is not the well reasoned argument but rather the clipped, sentimental aphorism.”

“You are very lucky that M Clackprattle rescued you from the judgement of the Oisienne,” said Bisset, smiling. Pook smiled blandly back at him.

“Indeed,” Pook said. “My master is indeed most generous when need arises.”

“I hope my brotherhood will be equally generous,” said Bisset. “It is not composed of men who respect failure.”

“Well I am sure a short period of time with Mister Clackprattle will help them understand the situation,” said Pook. “He has a very persuasive manner, I find.”

“Just so,” said Bisset, “although I doubt he could sway all the brotherhood. It may be better to consider the next steps to recovering our position. They will respond better to that encouragement I feel”

“I have naturally considered these next steps,” said Pook. “I believe I understand how we may have failed and indeed have managed to secure a path to not only succeeding next time but to recovering that which was so criminally taken from us.”

Bisset tilted his head and raised an eyebrow.

A pleasant smile spread over Pook’s face and he took something out of his pocket. His hand opened to reveal a small insect made of stone.

“Hello, little one,” said Pook sweetly. “From now on, you can be my friend.”

The Paris Awakening: Air Part 15

Aye

Marie sat on the floor and looked in horror at the transfixed audience staring blankly at Pook. He smirked across at her. Suddenly there was a loud banging from the dias between them.

“Order! Order!” shouted the Adjudicator. “This is unnatural order!”

The Osienne looked at Pook and pointed his gavel at him.

“This is a realm of the intellect,” the Adjudicator said. “You have no right to use glamour here. Magic has no dominion.”

“No dominion! No dominion!” parroted the audience, springing back to animation. Marie pulled herself to her feet, propelled by a surge of relief.

“Since you show ignorance of the rules of Parliament I shall explain,” said the Adjudicator. “The applicants shall debate a topic from the floor. The first one to lose three debates is the defeated and suffers the judgement of Parliament. The other is victorious and gains the boon we have to offer. You, sir, have forfeited the first debate by your skullduggery. Commence!”

Marie tried not to grin. Pook turned away as a sour look formed on his face.

“What is truth?” shouted a Oisienne to hoots of approval and the Adjudicator indicated Pook with his gavel. Pook turned back then and the smirk had returned to his face.

“Well truth is of course very closely linked to honesty and I shall enjoy hearing all about that from Mme Jennings, who is an expert in the topic.”

Marie felt herself flush and caught a glimpse of her husband. Pook continued.

“But in the end, truth is not as simple as many think. Indeed, one might argue that there are as many truths as there are mouths to feed as each must speak his own truth, which will differ one from the other. Further, one may very well argue that there are as many truths as meals to feed those mouths, for which man, woman or child keeps the same counsel from hour to hour. I posit then that truth is not one thing, but a multitude multiplying as the sum of human, and even other, opinion swells through time. You may as well hold a drop of water in your hand and ask – is this the ocean?”

There was a smatter of applause and the Adjudicator indicated Marie.

“Truth is…” she started, “truth is words that describe what is real. The rest is opinion.”

Her head lowered a touch.

“Or lies.”

There was more applause to this. The Adjudicator nodded to the audience.

“She wins!” cooed a voice. The call was taken up by the others.

“She wins! She wins!” chorused the room. The Adjudicator silenced it with his gavel and indicated to the floor.

“You said truth describes what is real,” chirruped a voice. “What is real?”

Pook scoffed.

“I think I have the measure of you now,” he said to the room. “I believe I can judge what passes for intellectual skill in these most remarkable rooms. Let me proffer then that the real is at once tangible and ephemeral. At once prosaic and poetic. At once solid and gaseous. For if we ask one person what they saw on any given day, at any given moment we can find a precise and determined account of the events that had unfolded. If we then were to ask another one, also present, to describe the self same events, we will get another certain account. And yet, if we were to compare the two, we may find ourselves surprised to see discrepancies twixt the two. We may wonder then at how we might divine what has truly occurred. We may ask a third for an opinion, and find more facts are confirmed whilst yet others agreed on are uncertain. And so on, and so on. It is, I believe then, a most scientific approach that we must take in order to be certain of the real. We must question each one, in a structured manner, on any event, and concern ourselves only with that which the majority can agree on. In this manner, must we proceed to be certain and definite on what has really occurred. The rest then is conjecture or deception.”

At the last word Pook smiled over at Marie. The room fell silent as they waited her response.

“Reality is what happens whether you believe in it or not,” she said.

The silence continued for a beat and then a shrill voice cried out.

“She wins! She wins!” it said, and the chant was picked up by the room. The Adjudicator banged his gavel.

“Let me confirm the good opinion of this Parliament,” he said. “Those who agree on the acceptance of Mme Jennings’ victory say ‘aye’.”

The room was filled by squawking and screeching. The Adjudicator banged his gavel. Pook was starting to look nervous. One Oisienne holding a small box had climbed on the stage from behind the dias.

“Those who dissent say ‘nay’,” said the Adjudicator.

“Nay,” said a voice from the back. Everyone turned round and Marie looked and saw Clackprattle.

“Then,” said the Adjudicator, “Mme Jennings receives the artefact.”

The Oisienne pressed the small wooden box into Marie’s hand. There was applause from the floor.

“And M Pook receives the judgement.”

Suddenly the room seemed full of sharp beaks and talons. Heads tilted and twisted, unblinking eyes staring coldly at Pook.

“Judgement!” shrieked one Oisienne, a chanting joined by the others as they pressed toward Pook. Sir John pushed towards Marie and gestured to her to join him. She heard screams and screeching from where Clackprattle was standing. The fat man was placing his lethal hand on Oisienne and also pressing toward Pook. Sir John grabbed hold of Marie’s hand as they met up in the melee.

“Well done!” said Sir John, “I rather suggest we flee.”

Marie didn’t argue.

The Paris Awakening: Air Part 14

Mononoke

There was a murmuring in the room, which was packed with Oisienne of all shapes and sizes. Marie looked from her vantage point behind the stage on the left and scanned the crowd for her husband, her friends, or her enemies. She saw Sir John craning to look at the stage from behind a tall man with a long neck and she thought about waving but it seemed childish. She needed to be in control here, to neutralise Pook before he got the next piece of the key.

Behind her a fat man with a impressive beard pushed passed her with a grunt. The beard seemed to emerge from his neck and was a shock of white. As he passed by, he turned his head round to look at her, rotating it to an unnatural degree. Then he clambered on stage.

“Good evening my fine friends,” he said to the audience which started to settle at his words. “Welcome to the Parliament of the Oisienne. I will be the adjudicator for our soiree. We have a most interesting debate this evening between two newcomers to our roost. First let me introduce to you a Monsieur Ernest Pook.”

There was a cawing from the audience and the sound of footsteps on the stage. Marie heard Pook speak.

“May I honestly and most fervently say what a tremendous honour it is to stand in such a remarkable and distinguished company as this. I am both excited and in awe, and I hope that the debate that follows will prove as entertaining as it does enlightening. I can honestly say that I hope I can persuade you to my view.”

The audience cooed at this flattery and Marie then heard a gavel banging on a desk.

“Silence in the parliament,” said the Adjudicator. “Pleasant words Mr Pook, but fine feathers do not fine birds make. I will now introduce our next speaker.”

The hook nosed Oisienne next to Marie gave a little nod and pointed to the steps to the stage. Marie walked up to see the Adjudicator sitting high on a dias and on the far side Pook. She glared across at him and instantly a panicked look spread across his face.

“May I present…” started the Adjudicator.

“No, no,” said Pook with a look of terror on his face. “Not her, not her!”

“May I present,” repeated the Adjudicator, throwing a look at Pook. “Madame Marie Jennings.”

“Please not her,” said Pook staring at Marie, his eyes staring wide.

Maybe this will be easy thought Marie and then looked again at her adversary. The frightened look passed from his face and was replaced with a smirk. A girlish laugh emitted from his mouth.

“She’s far too easy to beat,” he said cruelly.

Marie felt herself flush and had to remember what she was there for. She looked into the audience to find her husband and thought she saw a glance of Clackprattle. She then became aware that everyone was silent and looking at her. She glanced at the Adjudicator who had raised an eyebrow.

“Would you like to introduce yourself?” said the Adjudicator.

Marie swallowed and found her mouth was dry.

“My name is Marie Jennings,” she said, “and Mr Pook is fully aware of what it is like to be beaten by me.”

A sour look passed over Pook’s face and Marie felt pleased she had scored a point. Now she should go for the kill she though and whispered, “Obéir.” She saw Pook rock back at the command and then she felt…

…pain…

…something like a ricochet or the feeling of punching a wall. She fell over and there were crows of laughter from the crowd. Pook was smirking back at her again.

“Not that easy, is it?” he said to her. “Not like this.”

He clicked his fingers and the crowd went silent. All the heads slowly turned to look at him and fixed their gaze on him without blinking once. Marie saw her husband in the same state.

“Now that I have your undivided attention,” Pook said to the spellbound audience. “We will have our little debate.”

The Paris Awakening: Air Part 13

Parrot

Just a few hours later Sir John, Marie and Emile found themselves arriving into the same downtrodden alley that their adversaries had just been.

“Are you sure it’s here?” said Sir John, entering the alley first. “This place is filled with…”

Merde!” said Emile, entering next and clamping a handkerchief to his nose.

“I was going to say filth actually,” said Sir John. “But you’re not inaccurate.”

“It’s here,” said Marie, bringing up the rear and staring at a stone in her hand. “I could tell even if this little one wasn’t saying so.”

“Where? Is it one of these doors?” said Sir John, looking about in confusion.

“That one,” said Marie, pointing to the dilapidated wooden door with a grate, covered in feathers. “That door there.”

Sir John went to speak. He saw the expression on his wife’s face and apparently had a rethink. He knocked on the filthy door. As before, nothing happened for a moment. Sir John turned away when the panel slid back and the same hook nosed face stared out, head tilting in all directions. Finally its beady eye settled on Sir John.

“Back?” it squawked.

“I’m sorry?” said Sir John.

“No. Others,” it cooed then shrieked, “Wait!”

The panel slid shut and presently the door opened. A tall woman with hair spiked up into a high coiffured arrangement came out. She was wearing colourful clothes and bold makeup. She looked at the three in the alleyway and nodded.

“We’ve come about the challenge,“ said Sir John.

“The challenge? The challenge?” she said.

“Yes,” said Sir John. “The challenge for the key.”

“For the key, for the key,” she said.

“Yes exactly!” said Sir John. “You know it! Tell me, how does one take it?”

“Take it?” she said. “How one take it?”

“Yes,” said Sir John. “Can you tell us?”

The woman strode over and leaned into Sir John’s face. Her head bobbed from side to side and she seemed to be thinking. Eventually she leaned back.

“Who’s a pretty boy then?” she said.

“I beg your pardon?” said Sir John, as another person came out of the door. It was the rotund, red chested man from before, with the peculiarly thin legs.

“Another one come for the challenge?” he said.

“Yes,” said Sir John, “as I was explaining to your, er…”

He indicated the woman.

“Polly want a cracker,” she said.

“Which one?” said the rotund man.

“Me,” said Marie.

“Wait, what?” said Sir John. “We didn’t…”

“Next Tuesday,” said the Oisienne. “Sunset we gather.”

The two strange creatures flew inside leaving Sir John aghast.

“We didn’t agree that,” said Sir John. “I thought we’d just…”

“He said another one,” said Marie. “That means Clackprattle and Pook.”

“Precisely,” said Sir John. “It’s far too dangerous.”

Mon cher,” said Marie, “now I know about my power, it is best for me to do it. Safest for me too.”

“She’s right,” said Emile looking glum. “I hate to say it, but she’s right.”

The Paris Awakening: Air Part 12

bird1

Clackprattle, Pook and Bisset stood in the dingy alleyway in front of the door. Bisset had a handkerchief over his nose and Clackprattle was sniffing profusely.

“Are you sure this rat infested pox hole is the place?” said Clackprattle.

“Hey!” said someone from a window overhead. “Watch your tongue, fatso.”

“Most assuredly,” said Bisset, muffled by the cloth. It almost sounded like he was stifling a laugh.

“Well then Pook,” said Clackprattle, staring sourly at the upstairs window. “Have at.”

Pook stepped in front of a old wooden door, noticing the feathers and guano stuck to it. He rapped lightly, doing his best to avoid contact. For a moment nothing happened and Pook went to rap again when a wooden panel slid back at head height.

A slender man’s head with a long nose appeared at the panel. The man’s head tilted side to side and back to front, never actually straight up. Finally the right side of the face was pressed against the hole and the man’s eye rolled around.

“What?” squawked the man.

“We are most delighted to make your acquaintance,” said Pook brightly. “We are assuming we are addressing a member of the Oisienne?”

The head bobbed up and down vigorously in lieu of an answer.

“That is indeed wonderful news,” said Pook. “We are, you see, here in order to undertake the challenge we believe it behooves you to administer to those who request it. I refer of course, to the challenge for the famed key of the weapon of Paris.”

The man’s head bobbed back and forth a little more.

“Wait,” shrieked the man and the panel closed.

“I do hope we do not have to remain here too long,” said Bisset.

Clackprattle smirked.

“The difference between you aristos and me is that you’ve never seen an ounce of muck in your life,” he said jeeringly. “You don’t know what to make of it.”

He stepped back into some horse ordure.

“Bugger!” he said, and Bisset turned away a moment holding his cloth ever tighter to his face.

The door started to open then, and all three men watched it. A short man of an unusual style came out. His legs were exceedingly thin and were dressed in hose, whereas his torso was large and his bulging stomach, extremely bloated, poked out from his red waistcoat. He had a round face with a small pinched nose. Holding his hands behind his back he walked around them, nodding as he did.

He made a tutting sound and another strange gentlemen emerged, This one was unusually wide and had no neck. His eyes were round and the colour of amber. He waddled out into the alley as well.

“You come for the challenge?” said the first man. His voice was surprisingly thin and high.

“To wit?” asked the second.

“Indeed we most assuredly do,” said Pook.

“Which one?” said the first Oisienne, looking rapidly between the trio.

“To who?” asked the wide one.

“That will be myself,” said Pook. “Mr Ernest Pook of Lancashire and latterly London.”

“Hmm,” said the red-chested Oisienne. “Next Tuesday. Sunset we gather.”

The two strange creatures returned into the building and the door slammed shut.

“Tuesday it is!” said Clackprattle in triumph before kicking out at a small creature scurrying around his feet. The creature seemed to catch Pook’s eye who watched it then smiled.

Intermission

drunk sir john

There was a loud hammering at the door of the dingy lodgings.

“Mr Michael, Mr Michael,” cried the Landlady, Mrs Grobblewit. “Oh it’s no use constable, it’s been like this for two months now and the smell is sometthing awful. Actually, to be fair the smell was always something awful, but he owes me two months rent, and me once again in the family way.”
“Never fear, madam,” said a stout man’s voice. “We’ll have this sorted in no time. Constable, with me.”
There then followed some loud thumps and finally the door crashed in. Two police officers with enormous mustaches looked into the room, whilst a middle aged lady with ham hocks for arms looked in nervously from the door.
“Good God!” said the larger policeman. “He’s dead!”
He gestured to the man slumped in the battered arm chair.
“Dead drunk more like,” said the other peeler, picking up a bottle lying on the floor and sniffing at it.
The larger policeman sighed and gave the unconscious man a light slap on his face. He immediately sat up.
“What the… what is it… what’s happening?” he said, eyes darting around the room.
“It seems, Mr Michael, you have been asleep for a protracted period of time,” said the Policeman.
“My God, how long man? How much time did I lose?” said the disheveled looking writer. “Twenty four hours? Forty eight?”
Mrs Grobblewit walked into the room, her lips pursed.
“It has been over two months, Mr Michael,” she said.
“How can this have happened?” said Michael.” I had a… a visitor from the South West… he left a bottle… that’s all I recall.”
“Hmm,” said the smaller policeman, “I think we have all the evidence we need here.”
He turned to show the bottle to the others. It said, “Finest Medicinal Laudanum, Bottled in Porlock, Somerset. Good for All Ailments.”
—–
We here at the Benthic Times can only prostrate ourselves in apologetic humility at the appalling delay in our story telling. We have contacted the primary creators of the story in order to get a fuller understanding. Miss Pichette muttered something incomprehensible about robots and Mr Michael told us the above preposterous story. I suspect the truth will never become clear and we hope you will accept our grovelling apology and continue to enjoy the story. We have extracted the most profound promises that an absence of this sort will never happen again. We are, in truth, uncertain if we truly believe that

The Paris Awakening: Air Part 11

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Bisset sat at the table of the great room and permitted himself a small smile. Things seemed to be improving considerably. Clackprattle’s list was being ticked off to plan. Pook had convinced the fat idiot not to try the next challenge himself. Best of all, he now knew the details of that challenge. The door creaked open and Bisset wore the mildly pleasant expression that seemed to work best for these two. He started repeating the mantra that kept the little pookah from invading his mind.

“Ah Bisset,” said Clackprattle as he beared down on the table. “Do you have any news for us or has your band of posh idiots failed us yet again?”

Bisset smiled indulgently.

“My dear sir,” he said. “I am able to report the best possible news.”

Clackprattle and Pook sat down.

“That does indeed sound most encouraging,” said Pook. “I am sure I can speak for both the Master and I that we would be most desirous to hear this news without even a second’s delay.”

Pook and Bisset smiled warmly at each other. Bisset felt his temples throb a little. “Not today, little one,” he thought.

“I can tell you not only the location of the next key… not only the creatures that guard it but also the nature of the challenge itself,” Bisset said.

“Creatures?” said Pook. “As in plural?”

“Just so,” said Bisset. “Scared you can’t influence a group?” he thought.

“What utter gibberish is this?” said Clackprattle. “You told us very clearly that there were four of these things, not a horde of them.”

“They are… somewhat unusual,” said Bisset. “They are something of a group mind, called the Oisienne.”

“The what again?” said Clackprattle.

Pook’s brow furrowed.

“If I were to hazard a guess, would I be wildly off the mark if I were to guess some manner of bird-like creature?” he said.

“Most astute, Mr Pook,” said Bisset. “For as ideas are things of air, the Oisienne are those ideas incarnate. They are in some sense the body politic of the thought of the city, the sum of current thinking and ideas of the intelligentsia.”

Clackprattle made a snorting sound.

“There can’t be very many of them then,” he said laughing heartily at his own joke.

Bisset smiled wanly.

“Very droll,” he said.

“The challenge then?” prompted Pook.

“The challenge is to be presented to and to debate in a… parliament, I think they say. To explain one’s ideas and thoughts and see if they are accepted or championed by the Oisienne. If they are, then the key is yours.”

Clackprattle chuckled some more.

“Is that it?” he said. “This one should be able to convince a bunch of bird brains in five minutes.”

He slapped Pook on the back, causing a flash of surprise to appear on the pookah’s face.

“It may not be quite so straightforward…” started Bisset.

“Nonsense!” said Clackprattle, cutting him off. “It’s all but ours. I’m going back to my room. Tell me when we leave to go.”

Pook and Bisset faced each other.

“What happens if one fails,” said Pook lightly.

“We aren’t certain,” said Bisset, “on that point. Except we notice there is another name for a collection of birds which can be called a parliament.”

“A murder?” said Pook.

“Just so,” said Bisset.

“I shall go prepare,” said Pook. As he stood up, a quizzical look passed across his face and he looked around the room. Eventually, he left.

Bisset allowed himself another small smile. Indeed everything was going most well. One way or another all the problems would get solved. He settled back in his chair then noticed with irritation that an insect was running on the armoire opposite. He resolved to speak most firmly with the staff on the matter of cleanliness.