While The Cat’s Away

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“Sir, does your cat fly?” my assistant, Mr. Afterthought, called from the outer office.

In a rather matter-of-fact tone, I might add.

“Come again, Mr. A?”

Oh yes, I had heard him clearly but really, is there any other appropriate response?

“I say, does your cat fly sir? As far as you know?” he elaborated.

“No, Mr. A. Not as far as I know.” I went on, “In fact, I will venture to be unequivocal on this point.” I cleared my throat. “My cat does not fly.”

“Odd,” said Mr. Afterthought.

I waited for more but all I heard was the shuffling of paper.

“Was there something else, Mr. A?”

I mean, spit it out man, let’s have it. If you are saying it is odd that my cat does not fly, well, it just seems to me that a much more substantial elaboration is called for here.

“Well sir, your neighbor has sent a messenger with an unusual complaint. Regarding your cat, sir.”

“Yes?” I rose from my desk and walked into the outer office.

“It seems the cat…” he searched for the right word, “…appears…in her chess club every so many minutes. At all hours sir.”

“Appears?”

“Yes sir. As if he’d flown in.”

“Flown?”

“Yes sir.” He handed me the note.

Hmmm.

“Does he play chess, sir?”

“Pardon?”

“Your cat,” he said.

“Uhh, no. I think I can be rather unequivocal about that one too.”

“It’s good to hear sir.”

I finished reading the note. “Cancel my afternoon, Mr. A.” I grabbed my coat and prepared to go out into the snow of Winterfell.

“But Ambassador, all you have is a pickup by the dry cleaner,” Mr. Afterthought said as he looked at my calendar.

“Well, cancel that then. No, don’t cancel that. Uhm…well, do whatever it is you do when I’m not here. OK?”

“Yes sir.”

“I will have to go and investigate this matter straight away, at the pub.”

“How convenient sir.”

***

Ulysses The Cat has been living in Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum for quite some time now. He makes himself scarce when customers are in but when things are quiet, he’ll roam around as if a deputy on patrol.

But a couple nights ago, about an hour before last call, Ulysses wandered in from wherever he goes and roamed about the bar and the adjoining sitting room. He stayed clear of patrons looking to pet him but otherwise ignored the diners and drinkers.

After closing, I was watching Ulysses make his rounds as I enjoyed one last round of my own. I lost sight of him a few times but I was half-reading the paper and tending to my tobacco and liquor and not paying that much attention.

Now as I worked my way across the snowy streets of Winterfell, I began trying to remember fully those “lost sight of” moments There must be some explanation other than a flying cat.

***

Iggy was working the bar when I arrived.

“Hey boss,” he said as I took a seat, “Lunch?”

“Yes, starting with a pint,” I said.

“You got it.”

I gave him a look.

“Sorry. I meant — Straight away sir.”

I smiled. Iggy is new, an apprentice time traveller from the 21st century who is visiting Winterfell and Caledon and studying here for the summer. Yes, it’s January…well, it’s summer in his hometime. His sponsor with the Time Travellers Guild is a friend of Uncle Manuel back in Dankoville. Iggy arrived with a letter of introduction from my uncle. He’s picking up some spending money, tending bar at the pub.

“Have you seen Ulysses?” I asked.

“Yes sir. He was running around here just a moment ago.” We both looked around for the cat, who was nowhere in sight.

“You haven’t noticed anything different about him, have you Iggy?”

“I don’t think so, boss.”

I told him about the complaint from the chess club.

“There were a couple of times yesterday when it did seem like he was here one minute and gone the next,” Iggy said. “And maybe the other way around as well. It was busy here though, I didn’t have time to really notice. Did seem like he sort of vanished.”

Hmmm. A disappearing flying cat.

It was quiet in the pub, the weather had seen to that. More snow. It was still a quarter to noon, the lunch crowd hadn’t come in quite yet and while they might not add up to a crowd on a day like this, there would still be a few.

In the middle of my brisket sandwich (it’s our lunch special on Tuesdays), accompanied by a delightfully dill pickle and some chips, I saw Ulysses out of the corner of my eye, sniffing at the red ball of yarn I’d left for him in the sitting room.

I watched him play and then wander around the pub. When he came near I said hello but he paid me no mind and trotted past. I broke off a tiny bit of brisket and held it near the floor. After a moment of watching me, Ulysses approached and took the brisket.

When he finished eating, he resumed his rounds. A few minutes later, I saw him run behind the bar and I got up and walked around it to offer him more brisket. But he wasn’t there.

I continued looking. Iggy looked too. No cat. A couple of minutes passed. I returned to my seat.

And there was Ulysses, over in the corner by the bookcase. How did he get by us without notice?

The only thing I could do was order another pint and monitor that cat. A few regulars and a few others had braved the weather and were now enjoying lunch. Iggy was handling the small group alone and seemed to be keeping up.

I watched Ulysses go from one corner of the pub to another and points in between,  stopping here and there to stare or wash or scratch, looking every bit like a normal cat.

At one point he seemed to disappear. I don’t mean that literally. I simply lost track of him. He’d gone behind the bar and not come out, as before. I went behind the bar to look and again, no cat. I returned to my seat. Hmmm.

A few minutes later I noticed Ulysses in the corner by the bookcase.

I had not seen him fly nor had I seen him disappear. But something was definitely going on. Mr. Afterthought had been right, this was odd. Very odd.

“He must have some hiding place,” Iggy said as he returned from taking an order.

I finished my pint and Iggy came to clear my plate.

“Leave that,” I said. There was a small piece of brisket remaining. I cut it down further and took a piece. I walked around behind the bar as Iggy went about his work.

I stood there and watched Ulysses’ every move. I did not take my eyes off him.

After staring at the fireplace in the sitting room for a few minutes, Ulysses came back into the front room and started for the area behind the bar. I watched him approach me. I  knelt down to offer him the brisket. I reached out. He saw the brisket in my hand and watched to see what I would do. When it was clear to him I was not about to move, he came toward me to take the brisket.

But before he could, he disappeared.

I do mean that literally this time. He was there one moment but not the next. Iggy saw it too. We looked at each other. “Quickly,” I said and ran out the front door. “Charles,” Iggy said to the busboy as he tossed him his bar cloth, “you have the conn.”

Around the corner and down the street I ran with Iggy trailing behind, to the Queen Alice Chess Club.

The door was open and I ran right in and stopped. No one was in presently. Then Iggy came running in and nearly crashed into me and did succeed in knocking over a vase of flowers – which fortunately he caught before it hit the floor.

We looked at each other and grinned, sheepishly. The silliness of the moment caught us both and we laughed. Two grown men – one with a handful of brisket – running through the streets in the snow, no topcoats, and running full speed into a chess club, of all places, chasing after a disappearing flying cat.

Well, here we were. Now what? Our laughter died and we both stood there, neither knowing what our next move should be. (A little chess club humor ;))

“Do you play, boss?” Iggy motioned to a chessboard in the middle of the room.

“Not really,” I said, “my brother Hudson is the chess master in the family. My father was quite fond of chess, more so in his younger days…”

As I waxed on about the history of chess in the Whitfield family, Iggy took a seat and started playing a match by himself. We were both caught by surprise when Ulysses trotted in from the next room. He appeared a bit surprised as well.

Iggy and I exchanged glances but did not move. I felt something soggy in my hand and then remembered the brisket. Slowly, I knelt.

“Here ya go, boy.” I said quietly and reached out.

Ulysses sat and looked at me, then Iggy, then my hand. He came to me and took the brisket and ate it immediately. He looked at me, asking if there was more. “All gone,” I said as I reached to pet him.

Ulysses rubbed his head against my hand, then turned and looked at Iggy again as if asking if he had any brisket. He walked back toward the next room. But he never made it. Poof.

Iggy jumped up from the chessboard, ready to run back to the pub.

“I’m going to wait here,” I said, “you’d better go back and see how Charles is doing. And keep a watch for Ulysses.”

“Okay boss.”

***

About ten minutes went by, give or take. And then Ulysses went by. And then he was gone again.

I sat down at the chessboard and resumed Iggy’s match. I should have asked him to send Charles over with a pint of stout. I lit a cigar and waited for Ulysses to reappear.

A few minutes later, there he was, sniffing at a plant in the corner. A minute later, he was gone again.

This was one of those times that I wished I carried a timepiece. It might be helpful to determine whether Ulysses was making his appearances at the chess club at regular intervals. It might also help to know exactly how long he spends in the chess club on each visit and whether that interval coincides with the amount of time he is gone from the pub. Or does he have additional stops on his route?

And, even though both Iggy and I have seen Ulysses vanish right before our eyes, we must still eliminate any possible means the cat could use to cover the territory between the pub and the chess club. We can’t just assume he goes from pub to club in a snap. That may well be the case but still…we must prove it or at least disprove other methods.

I began thinking about how to answer these questions. One person could be stationed at the pub with a timepiece and another at the chess club with same. Another could be stationed halfway down the street to see if Ulysess passes through on the way between the two. A fourth should be stationed in the tunnels below the street. Until I saw Ulysses vanish before me, I would have guessed the only recently-discovered Winterfell tunnels might come into play here. Now, I don’t think so but still, we must eliminate that possibility. A fifth person must be assigned to watch the skies…just in case we have a flying cat on our hands. A disappearing flying cat.

A team of five people would be needed and I, of course, would oversee this entire operation, stationed…at the bar. Well, it is conveniently located. (Mr. Afterthought was right again!) That makes six people – and the appropriate timing devices and photographic equipment – to record the comings and goings of a cat.

As an explorer who has led expeditions into unknown places and times, the idea of six people tracking the movement of a cat – and the associated cost of such an endeavor – did seem to border on the ridiculous. In fact, it may have pushed beyond that border.

Still, what choice do I have? My cat is entering the chess club on a regular basis without so much as applying for membership. If I am going to put a stop to it – and I must for the sake of my neighbor – then I have to find out first, exactly what is causing this phenomenon.

I can just hear them now at the Time Travellers Guild when I tell them my cat can disappear into thin air.

At least I can still say I haven’t seen him fly. Yet.

***

Queen Alice Chess Club

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/138/226/22

Storytellers Pub

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/206/209/22

Seamus & Me

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Awhile back on these pages, I was telling you a couple stories involving my old friend Seamus Gumbo. Did I ever tell you how we became friends?

It was back when I was Mayor.

Haven’t I mentioned that before? Hmmm…

For a few years I ran a small town in the latter half of the 20th century. Up north. Nice little town square. A couple dozen shops, a few offices, a bunch of brownstone apartment buildings in two directions, woods to the north, a lake to the west. Fairport. Nice town. The port wasn’t much. Just a small dock. But it had been a local shipping center back in the day as Fairport was located at the confluence of the Deitide River and Fair Lake and there was access to the railroad.

At the corner of Hamilton and Main, across from the Fairport Convention Center, was the local head shop. It was a gathering place for musicians, writers, artists and other creative types. A lot of younger people hung out there, as you might expect.

When I was campaigning for Mayor, I had to give serious thought to whether to stop in and shake hands with the proprietor. I had to think about how it would look if an opponent or a newspaper columnist or some busy body made a big deal out of a candidate going into a head shop. I had to weigh that against the fact that this was a locally-owned business selling completely legal products and the owner was accepted by the business community and belonged to the Chamber of Commerce. And I had to consider its popularity too. I wondered what the balance was between the pro-head shop and anti-head shop vote. I also considered that my two opponents – who, unlike me, had lived in the town their entire lives – probably would never even consider going in there.

Six weeks before the election, the local newspaper’s poll had me running second, just two points ahead of the third place finisher and eight points behind the guy in first. My campaign manager – the owner of the local shoe repair shop – met me at the diner on the morning the poll came out.

“We gotta do something to shake things up,” he said.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “It’s not looking too good, is it?”

“You know how the baseball managers, when they’re six games out with six weeks to go, they tell the reporters, ‘We just gotta pick up a game a week and we’re right there.’ You’ve heard that, right?”

I nodded.

“Well, they never do it,” he said. “And we’re eight points down with six weeks to go. We need better than a point a week.”

“You’re really cheering me up,” I said.

“Good,” he answered. “Put on that happy face and go out and shake every hand in the business district.”

“I already did that.”

“Do it again. Six weeks to Election Day – now they’re finally paying real attention. Get in there and talk to every one of them about something that matters to them. An issue, the town, their business, their family, whatever it is. Just let them know you’re a nice guy and you’re listening to what matters to them. And whatever thing they make their biggest point about, write it down in a notebook. Right there in front of them. People see a candidate writing down their complaint or their idea, they’re gonna vote for that candidate. Plus, you’ll have a new list of things to address in your appearances the rest of the way.”

“Okay,” I said.

“So go see everybody again. And see anybody you missed. Did you miss anybody?”

“Just the head shop owner,” I said.

He thought a moment. “What do you think?” he asked.

“I think he probably knows I visited every shop around him but not him. Though I’m sure Hendricks and Ross did the same.”

“Well,” he said as he assessed the risk, “like I said, we gotta do something to shake things up.”

I nodded.

“If you’re the only one who goes in there, he’s going to tell all his friends. And they’re going to love you for recognizing them as part of the community. And if the others make a stink, the head shop people might rally behind you.”

“The Head Shop People?” I laughed. “Isn’t that a band?”

He laughed. “Might be. Why don’t you go over there and ask them?”

I did. There wasn’t any fallout. Nor did the Head Shop People get out the vote and lead me to a landslide win. There was no impact on the election at all. But other things happened in the campaign and it seemed the race was tightening. And when it was over, I had been elected.

Which leads me to my story…

I’ll never forget the second time I met Seamus Gumbo.

A couple weeks after I was sworn in as Mayor of Fairport, I walked into Gumbo’s Head Shop. I had been making it a point to stop into one local business every day to discuss what we were doing to address various issues. During the campaign, I thought it over first before coming in here and now as Mayor, I did ask myself the question again. But I didn’t have to think about it for more than ten seconds this time. It was the right thing to do. It was a legal business and I was treating it like any other. I expected this visit to be pretty much like at all the other shops.

But you know it wasn’t. If it was, I wouldn’t be telling you about it…

“What’s happenin’ Mr. Mayor?” Seamus greeted me. He put down a box of Zig-Zag and came out from behind the counter to shake my hand. “Welcome back. Thanks for stopping by. What can I do for you today? Maybe a nice pipe? We have some on special, now check this out…”

He pulled out from a display case, a tray of pipes and bowls of various sizes and colors.

“See anything you like?”

“I wasn’t really shopping,” I said, “I came in to chat.”

“Oh, of course, Mr. Mayor.” He put the pipe tray back in the display.

“Please call me Danko,” I smiled.

“Thank you Danko. And call me Seamus.”

We talked about some on-going issues such as traffic flow downtown and the need for more public parking.

Then a delivery man interrupted us.

“Come on back, Mr. May — Danko. I just have to hold the back door for Jake, we can keep talking.”

We walked behind the counter and into the stockroom, past Seamus’ office to the back door. He held the door as Jake the delivery man unloaded boxes from his truck. Seamus and I continued to talk about town business.

When Jake was done, Seamus spoke with him for a moment and signed a receipt and stood in the door as Jake pulled out of the alleyway. I was looking at the posters on the wall outside his office.

“Hey Danko,” Seamus half-whispered.

I turned toward the door but he had stepped outside into the alley. I walked through the doorway and as I did a strong whiff of marijuana entered my nostrils and Seamus’ outstretched hand was offering me a joint.

I stopped short.

Seamus was holding in his first toke and motioning to me to take the joint.

I walked past him and down the alley. About halfway. Looked around. Checked the height of the fence and whether there were any open windows on the building next door.

I walked back to Seamus and took the joint. I puffed. And handed it back.

We said nothing. Just smoked.

After we each had several hits, Seamus said, “I can’t believe I’m getting high with the Mayor!”

“I can’t believe I’m getting high, period,” I said as I took another hit.

“When’s the last time you got high?” Seamus asked.

“Must be twenty years,” I answered as I handed the joint back to him.

“The last time you got high was twenty years ago?” Seamus asked in surprise.

I hesitated for a second. But I took a chance…and answered truthfully.

“Twenty years from now,” I said.

Seamus was about to put the joint to his lips as he heard me. He stopped and looked at me. Then he looked at the joint. “This stuff must be better than I thought,” he said.

I laughed. Seamus took another puff. As he held it in, he spoke…in that gutteral way people do when they’re holding in a mouthful of pot smoke, “So let me get this straight. You’re saying the last time you smoked a jay was twenty years from now?” He paused. “In the future?” He continued to hold that puff while I responded.

“That’s what I’m saying.” I smiled.

“Uh-huh,” Seamus looked me over as he blew out the smoke. “You’re not going to tell me you’re a Time Wizard, are you?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head.

“Didn’t think so,” he said.

He handed me the joint. I looked him in the eye.

“You?” I asked.

He smiled. “Yup,” he said. I would have had no reason to suspect Seamus was a Time Wizard but after he broached the subject, I could see where this conversation was going.

I took a hit. And in my gutteral voice said, “Time traveller,” as I tapped my chest with the fingers that weren’t holding the joint.

“Son of a gun,” Seamus said smiling. “What are the odds, man?!!”

We shared a laugh. And the rest of that joint.

Back in the day: Seamus in Gumbo's Head Shop.

Back in the day: Seamus in Gumbo’s Head Shop.

 

The Tunnels

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Towers, tunnels…it seems if there is some structural phenomenon that can’t be fully explained, somehow I always end up being the one who investigates it. But, I guess when it says “Explorer” on your business card, that kind of thing is an occupational hazard.

When I got into the exploring business, I knew I’d be dealing with the “unknown” but I thought of that in terms of place – unknown territory, a new land, what have you. I never really thought I’d come in contact with “the unexplained” or “inexplicable.”

But that was before I settled in Winterfell.

Recently I was telling you about when my friend Seamus Gumbo visited me in Winterfell. He discovered a trap door in the floor of Storytellers Pub. Right next to the bar by the back door. Somehow I never noticed it before. He climbed in and came back up with a story of a labyrinth of underground tunnels beneath Winterfell. Amazing. Something to explore! And right under my feet…well, under my pub.

But at the time, I was physically unable to investigate these tunnels. I had good reason to be in such condition…I’d been drinking all afternoon. With Seamus. He was in no condition to investigate further himself. We decided to explore these tunnels the next day.

I slept in. Apparently Seamus had too because at three o’clock in the afternoon, I still hadn’t heard from him. Finally, I sent a messenger.

At about 5:30, Seamus walked in to the pub. He was moving slowly.

“I was supposed to meet you for something?” he mumbled as he sat down next to me at the bar and motioned to the bartender for a cup of coffee.

“We are going to investigate the tunnels,” I reminded him.

“Tunnels,” he looked at me, clearly trying to recall the previous day’s events through the haze of the morning after. Or the late afternoon/early evening after.

“Yeah. Don’t you remember? The hole in the floor? Trap door? Tunnels…every direction?”

“I remember a ladder,” he said as he accepted the fresh coffee.

“Yes…” I jogged Seamus’ memory and went over my plan to explore the tunnels.

“You’re the explorer, right?” Seamus asked. “Do you really need me? I have sort of a headache.”

I laughed and patted him on the back. “Take the rest of the day off, old-timer. I’ll let you know what I find.”

He just nodded and sipped his coffee.

Ulysses The Cat was pawing at the trap door as I  pulled on my overcoat to head into the underground of Winterfell. I lit my lantern and opened the trap door and the cat scurried away. “Take it slow, Shay,” I said, smiling as I started down the ladder. “Yeah,” I heard him reply.

***

At the bottom of the ladder, I was in a tunnel that led immediately to a staircase. Down the stair was an intersection of tunnels. To my left and right were more staircases, back up to ground level, I assumed. Straight ahead there was another intersection and beyond that a three-way stop. I followed each direction until coming to an end or another intersection, upon which I would walk back the way I came so as not to get lost. It was dark but the lantern I carried was not actually necessary, there was just enough light to see without it.

I continued to follow the tunnels in this manner and found that they went on and on. In the process, I came across doors to empty rooms. What was this place? A dungeon? Secret storage spot? Was this built for escape or some military advantage? Why have I, as Ambassador, never heard Lady Twilight or Admiral Beaumont speak of these tunnels?

Or do they not know? Maybe I should alert them both immediately!

But how could somebody build this extensive tunnel system without being observed?

When I started following the staircases up to ground level to see where they led…I was astonished to find they took me right to the middle of the street. They were not hidden at all! If you were to walk down the street in Laudanum or Absinthe that day – the right sections of the right streets – you would see trap doors that you could open and follow down to the tunnels. But they weren’t there two days earlier!

***

I returned to Storytellers Pub to make some notes. Later, I went down into the tunnel again and placed a marker at the bottom of the staircase leading to the pub. (Just in case some night I’m coming back through the tunnels after a couple rounds at the Wolf & Raven in Absinthe. Well, it’s easy to get lost down there.)

***

Lady Twilight is in semi-retirement these days, so I take most matters to Princess Selena. I had to bring this to her.

By the time I met with the Princess the following day, Winterfell was abuzz with talk of the sudden appearance of underground tunnels. On the way to Rosehaven, I tried to avoid people so they wouldn’t ask me questions I could not answer. A couple of people called to me, “Good morning, Ambassador!…” and I could tell they wanted to chat but I just waved and walked on.

At the Castle, I waited for Princess Selena to arrive. She is not a big fan of mornings.

***

When we met, I reported my findings to the Princess, leaving out the part about Seamus, the trap door, Ulysses the Cat and the six ales, one stout and stray whiskey or two.

When I was done, the Princess had a strange smile on her face. “I had a dream about tunnels,” she said.

“A dream?”

“It was sooo vivid.”

“I see,” I said. I wondered what this dream had to do with the actual tunnels under Winterfell.

“That was three nights ago. In the morning, when I woke, I went out…and there they were.” She smiled.

“The tunnels?”

“Yes.” She continued smiling.

“Oh.”

The Princess laughed. “I haven’t told Mum yet. Would you like to tell her?”

“You’re trying to make me laugh, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she said. We both laughed.

“No, if this is connected to your dream, I would most definitely not like to be the one to tell the Seneschelf,” I said, “…unless, of course, you want me to.”

“Oh no, I wouldn’t really ask you. I’m going to tell her, of course. Just waiting for the right moment.”

“Well, people are definitely talking about it in the southern towns,” I said.

“Yes, I’m sure. I guess now is the right moment.” She smiled and stood. I thanked the Princess for her time and wished her good luck.

And then left as quickly as I could before she could have second thoughts about who should tell her Mother.

***

On my way back to Laudanum, I decided rather than do my usual and take the ferry to cross the canal, I would use the tunnels instead.

It took longer as I was careful not to get lost. And I did stop a couple of times to open doors and look inside empty rooms.

The thought then occurred to me that walking through these tunnels that were the apparent result of a dream, was like walking through the mind of the Princess.

That was a bit too weird.

I immediately stopped exploring and headed straight for the staircase that led up to the Storytellers Pub and ordered an ale. And a stray whiskey.

***

One last thing… If you should find yourself wandering about the tunnels of Winterfell and should become lost…or simply thirsty, keep a watch for my marker – a large ‘S’ – and follow that staircase up to Storytellers Pub.


Visit Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum, Second Life and see if you can locate the trap door to The Tunnels. 🙂

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/210/210/23/

Acquiring Aquaetas

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A week later, back home in Winterfell, I received the documents regarding ownership of Aquaetas. Quin included a letter which thanked me again but was otherwise simply a description of the enclosed documents which I was to sign and return. There were no surprises here until the last sentence above his signature…

“I should also inform you of the news that Miss Dot has resigned her post with The Trust.”

Oy. I guess that didn’t go well. It’s really a shame to see Dot Macchi depart The Trust. I will miss her, she is the reason I am here! Well, who knows, maybe some time away from things…or persons… Of course, she did go on that sabbatical once before. Hmmm. Oh dear, maybe this is final.

I first met Dot and Quin here in Winterfell four years ago. Seems I have known them both much longer than that. That’s the way it is with Time in these worlds I travel.

Aquaetas

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I took the boat from the house in Kamar down to Selenitica in the morning, just as I always do when I stay here. As I began to climb the hill to make my way to the castle and my makeshift office, I could smell wood burning. Quin! He’s here!!

When I reached the top of the hill on Arrival Island, I could see the smoke coming from the chimney of Quin’s retreat. Finally!!

Instead of turning right toward the castle, I headed left to cross the bridge to Garden Island and walked to the bridge to Quin’s Island. As I passed through the gardens, I heard a voice calling.

“Mr. Whitfield — good morning!”

“Hello Quin!” I shouted back.

He met me halfway along the bridge and we shook hands and exchanged further greetings and went inside where Quin had prepared coffee for the two of us. Apparently, he had expected me.

“I hope you won’t mind, Mr. Whitfield, if I get straight to business? It is rather urgent,” he said as we took seats in the observatory and looked out at the rock islands of Selenitica and beyond to the Sky Tree towering over the waters and swamps of Tao.

“Please do.”

“Selenitica will return,” he said.

I admit, I almost did a double take…as we were sitting right there in Selenitica when he said it. Once in awhile even a veteran time traveller like myself can lose track of time and forget when he is and have to take a moment to get his bearings but this was not one of those times. So I didn’t do a double take. In fact, I didn’t even do a single take. I just sat there, blankly listening…as if nothing odd had been said…and hoped I would be able to decipher what he was talking about.

“While some questions remain and our efforts must be accelerated,” Quin went on, “there has been substantial progress.”

“Excellent,” I responded, figuring that was an appropriate response, substantial progress and all.

Quin went on to explain what he was referring to. In great detail. I know others complain he is usually rather light on the details, making it hard to figure out just what he is doing most of the time and why. But sometimes I’d like to change places with those people. It’s hard to get Quin to stay put for very long but when I have had the pleasure, he certainly has not been shy about giving me the details of whatever he is working on at the time. We seem to have a special bond, always have. So – when I can get Quin’s attention – I get more than my share of details.

But with Quin, the devil is in understanding the details.

A lot of it went right over my head. I’m just a simple explorer and time traveller, not a scientist nor a genius. But I listened closely, just the same. Anyway, Quin knew what he was talking about and that is all that really matters.

“…..So of course, you can clearly see our only option is to make some changes in this instance of Selenitica,” he concluded.

I nodded in agreement. I didn’t grasp what he meant but it didn’t really seem like there was a choice, so I just nodded. He kept talking and I kept nodding.

He kept referring to this instance of Selenitica and some other instance of it and — in what I hoped would be taken for the little joke that it was — the next time he referred to changes “in this instance of Selenitica,” I responded by saying, “For instance?”

Well, I thought it was funny. Not fall over and die funny, just lightly funny. Something to bring a little smile at approximately 7:30 in the morning while still on the first coffee. (Not to imply that I ever know what time it is here, just a guess.) But Quin took it as a straight question and went right on to answer it, “Well, the name for one,” he said.

“The name?”

“We certainly can’t have two Seleniticas at the same time, Mr. Whitfield!” he laughed as if I had made a joke. (I had but he was laughing at my second question rather than the first.)

“No,” I said, “we certainly can’t have that.”

“So you can see the problem?” he said.

Well no, not exactly. Actually I have no idea what we’re talking about. But I wasn’t going to say that.

“Yes,” I said. He smiled. I could see he was relieved.

I had to think fast to come up with something to say that would not only make sense to Quin but also help me find out what was going on here.

“What would you have me do?” I ventured.

“Oh, sir, it would not be appropriate for me to decide. It is really up to you.”

Great.

“But may I suggest?…”

“Oh, please do,” I interrupted, “feel free. I would be grateful for your advice on this matter.”

He smiled. “You might consider not only renaming Selenitica itself but this entire world, Evergreen, as a whole.” He paused. I nodded. “And use the new name for both.”

I nodded still again. It was becoming clearer now. If I have the gist of it, Quin has figured a way to “reconstitute” a previous incarnation of Selenitica…or some facsimile thereof, I think. Something truer to the original Selenitica – after which this one was named – or maybe it is the original…or a derivative…or…

Look, it doesn’t really matter whether I “get it” or not. There is going to be another place known as Selenitica and Quin apparently wants me to select a new name for this one. Okay, I can do that.

“I will begin thinking about a name today,” I said. He smiled. “How long are you here?” I asked.

“I must leave tomorrow,” he said

“Well, due to the urgent nature of this matter, I will have a new name for you by the end of the day,” I said, smiling and thinking our discussion had ended successfully.

But Quin’s smile was replaced by a more serious face. “Proper naming is quite important, Mr. Whitfield but the urgency in this case is in regard to something else,” he said.

“Oh.” This had the feeling of one of those “good news/bad news” conversations. Apparently, the name changing was the good news.

“There is the financial aspect, of course,” he said, trying to smile.

“Of course,” I said as I remembered the phrase from his telegram: ‘…SHOULD RESTRUCTURE OUR AGREEMENT RE AGES IN YOUR CARE…”

“In order to pursue my efforts to return Selenitica fully,” he went on, “I find myself, sadly, once again in need of funds. Substantial funds, I’m afraid.”

Uh-huh.

“And that is where I come in?” I asked.

“I do hate to ask for a…handout…especially when you have been so generous to The Trust all this time…” Quin said, “and so I will not ask.”

I looked at him, again blankly. I had no idea where he was going with this.

“Rather than asking you to sponsor these Ages, as you have been so kind to do for these past eighteen months….I was wondering…” he paused for the longest time,”…if you would like to…purchase them?”

“The Ages?”

“Yes.” He nodded.

Okay then, this wasn’t the bad news part. It was certainly from out of left field. Buy the Ages? Really? There’s a lot to consider there, for sure…but it’s not the bad news. Not by a long shot. Noooooo. The bad news part wouldn’t involve me at all, fortunately.

“What does Ms. Macchi think of this proposal?” I asked.

“I have not yet shared this with Miss Dot,” he answered quietly.

Yeah, I’ll bet. There’s your bad news right there, folks. And that is Quin’s problem.

Unless, of course, I see Dot first. Then it’ll be my problem. Or more correctly, it’ll be Quin’s problem that I will have to deal with.

Uh-uh. No way.

“Well, Quin, there is quite a bit to think about here,” I said as he nodded and sat quietly, waiting for me to continue, “but I will think on it – all of it – over the course of the day. And if you meet with me for supper tonight, I will have your answer ready by then.”

“Shouldn’t we discuss the financial aspect now?” he asked, a bit nervously.

“I don’t think that is necessary,” I said. “I’m sure we can work that out. My decision will not be based on that aspect but on the question of what is right for these Ages and whether I can fit that into my life at this time. That is what I must seriously consider.”

“Certainly sir, I understand. Six-thirty for supper? I shall make us a very nice stew.”

***

That evening over supper, I agreed to take ownership of the grouping of Ages that up to now was known as Evergreen — not ownership of the Ages themselves, I made this clear to Quin, for I would not be comfortable with that concept, but of the grouping, the collection. He understood and welcomed this approach.

I further agreed to rename the grouping and it’s prime region under one shared title. I submitted to Quin the name, Aquaetas.

When I said it aloud, Quin’s reaction was to look to his left and down for a moment as he thought it over. Then he nodded his head slightly as he stated, “From the Latin words for water and time…as in period of time or Age.” He smiled.

I had spent the day in my office in the castle and later at my house in Kamar, going through the small collection of reference books I have in each place. I wanted to find a name that I liked but that would have meaning for Quin as well, as his study-retreat will still be here – I insisted – even if he does not visit as often.

“I hoped you would like it,” I smiled as well. “I guess there must be some paperwork involved?” I said as I wanted to wrap up our evening and catch some sleep before timejumping back home in the morning.

“Nothing can be finalized until we speak with Miss Dot,” Quin said.

I looked at him with raised eyebrows. “I’ll be off to Winterfell in the morning,” I said.

He just nodded. I smiled. “Good luck with that,” I said.

***

Visit Aquaetas on Kitely

http://www.kitely.com/virtual-world/Danko-Whitfield/Aquaetas

Selenitica

 

On Display

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I have been given the honor of having my likeness displayed among some of Winterfell’s notables in the upstairs gallery of the Wolf & Raven Tavern, a fine dining and drinking establishment in Winterfell Absinthe (SL), under the ownership of His Grace, the Duke of Wolfsbane.

I thank the Duke for including me in this fine exhibit (and for keeping my favorite cigars in stock).

 

Danko portrait, Wolf & Raven

 

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Absinthe/26/199/22

A Door Opens

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“…and the time traveller says, ‘I don’t have the foggiest. I just got here myself!'”

“HA! HA!” We were doubled over with laughter. And we were only on the third round.

It had started as a sleepy Thursday afternoon at Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum. Dark Moon, the day bartender (most of us call him Bert), was on holiday and I was watching after things for a couple of hours in between the lunch rush and the 5 p.m. business crowd. I was nursing a black IPA and leafing through the sport section of the Winterfell Mourning Crier when the door opened and in walked a tall man with flowing white hair and beard, dressed in a green suit. I knew in a moment it wasn’t St. Nick. Nor St. Patrick either.

It was Seamus Gumbo.

Sourcerer, Time Wizard, hippie, former merchant seaman, one-time head shop owner and my old friend and business partner. I’d received a couple of letters but he hadn’t visited Winterfell in more than two years, since “the Duke Ages” – Seamus’ joking reference to my time as the Duke of Evergreen.

“Line ’em up, barman,” he hollered in my general direction. “Whiskey! Your best! Three glasses. Straight, no chaser.” His fingers played an imaginary piano and he hummed – or grunted – a syncopated melody.

It was the worst Thelonious Monk impression I had ever heard. Though I can’t say I have heard many.

“Don’t worry about the bill,” he announced, “I’m a close friend of the owner of this establishment.” He sat himself down at the bar with mischief in his eyes and a smile of satisfaction on his face. He seemed quite pleased with his entrance.

“I’ll need to see some ID, sir,” I deadpanned.

“ID?!!” He responded as if highly insulted. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card and offered it to me.

“Seamus Gumbo,” I read aloud, “Time Wizard.”

I sniffed. “Yeah, time wizards, time travellers, time lords – we get all kinds in here.”

“C’mon, Danko! The card’s embossed!” He was impressed with his own business card.

I was impressed with the card too but not with the cardholder. “Finally spent the extra ten bucks to raise the lettering, eh? You cheap bastard!” I slipped the card into my pocket as Seamus began to laugh.

“That’s why I can’t pay for my drinks!” He slapped his hand on the bar as the laughter grew. My smile became a laugh as well and I came around from behind the bar to give him a big hug.

“How’ve you been, old-timer?” I said loudly. “Where have you been? Whatcha been up to? What brings you to Winterfell after all this time? How come you didn’t warn me you were coming, so I could have arranged to be out of town?”

“Let me answer that last question first,” he started. “No, wait. Let me answer the second one first. No, I’ll answer the third one, second. Wait. Can you say them again?” he continued to mock me, “In alphabetical order this time?” Laughter.

And this was before I starting pouring. We were just getting started!

It was only the two of us but the pub had come alive on this hazy afternoon as Seamus recounted his travels over the past couple of years over a couple of rounds of ale and a cheese platter and I responded in kind. Then came the cigars and more ale and more stories and more laughter.

Not long after Seamus arrived, Ulysses The Cat had wandered in from his favorite sleeping spot on the window seat in the pub’s sitting room. I knew he’d remember Seamus’ voice and would join us sooner or later. I put a couple of treats down for him and he walked right over to devour them. Then he sat and stared at Seamus for a bit. Next time I noticed Ulysses, he was scratching at the floor near the end of the bar, by the back door. Ever since I brought him from home to live in the pub, he has been fascinated with that area of the floor. You know how some cats are when they find an imperfection in something? They have to chew it or scratch it? They’ll work at it like they’re obsessed…for awhile. Then they go do something else. Later, they’re back at it. Obsessed once more. That’s how Ulysses had been. The floor does need some work around that door. Whoever put the tile in, made a mess of it. It’s driving that cat crazy.

As Ulysses scratched away at the floor, Seamus and I laughed and ate and drank and talked and talked and puffed and drank and laughed some more. It was a full afternoon of story-swapping – with a little impromptu sing-a-long thrown in now and then – at Storytellers Pub. What a great time we were having, catching up. So good to see Seamus again.

“My friend Sage ever stop in?” he asked me at one point.

“Yes. Sage Wright. Right?”

“That’s him.”

“He was passing through Winterfell…quite some months back. Last summer, I guess. I wasn’t much help to him, had nowhere to put him up. Not like the old days,” I smiled. “I helped him find lodging. He wasn’t here long. A couple days.”

Seamus nodded. “You’ve seen him more recently than I have,” he said.

“Funny you should mention him,” I went on, “I just met his niece not a week ago in Ireland. 21st century.

“Laura?” said Seamus but quickly corrected himself, “Laurel!”

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“How’s she doing? She’s a nurse, I think,” Seamus said.

“She mentioned something about that,” I said. “She seems nice. Cute. Funny too. Took me a moment to catch on that she was putting me on a bit,” I laughed. “She remembers you, hanging out with her uncle. Oh, and I met Jamie too. By chance, in a pub there in Ravenbaille. She was working the bar. I didn’t put it together that she was Sage’s daughter until later.”

“You’re not the only one,” muttered Seamus as he looked away for a moment.

“Huh?” I was surprised at his response.

“Never mind,” he said, waving his hand, “go on, continue.” He sipped his beer and looked down at the bar.

“uhhhh…Jamie came over to Dankoville last fall. I’m doing business with her boss and she came over for that.”

“How are things in your little town?” asked Seamus, changing the subject.

I filled him in on the goings-on in Dankoville and out at Whitfield Farms. And I told him how my family members were doing, especially those he knew, including Annie.

“Your sister…is the sweetest person I have ever met,” said Seamus. He took a puff of his cigar and watched the smoke lift toward the ceiling. “Why, if I was 25 years younger, I —”

“You still wouldn’t be good enough for her,” I interjected.

“Says you!” Seamus came back.

“That’s right!” I said adamantly.

Another burst of laughter. Then Seamus’ laughter started to turn into a cough. Or maybe it was the cigar smoke. I reached for a glass to get him some water. He put his cigar down in the ash tray. Almost. He missed. The cigar rolled slowly along the bar…on the other end from me. The cough ceased and Seamus rose from his seat to follow the cigar. He reached over as far as he could stretch just as the cigar reached the edge of the bar and grabbed for it —-

Awww.

An expensive cigar lay on the floor of the pub. Ulysses came over to sniff it.

“Thief! That’s my cigar! Get your great big paws off it!” Seamus hollered in jest at my cat, who apparently did not take the joke. Ulysses scampered away.

Seamus moved a bar stool and got down on his knees to reach under the bar rail for the cigar.

Ulysses came back over, cautiously. He resumed scratching at the floor.

“I think your cat has found something,” Seamus said as he crawled toward Ulysses. The cat backed away.

“Your cigar?” I inquired with a teasing tone.

“No. A secret.”

What?

I turned in his direction.

“What?” I asked him.

“How long did you say you’ve owned this pub?” Seamus asked from his hands and knees as he ran his fingers along the floor where Ulysses had been scratching.

“Over a year now. 15 months I guess,” I replied as I placed his glass of water on the end of the bar and looked over at where Seamus now lay on his stomach.

“Did you ever suspect termites?” he asked.

Was he joking now or what?

“Okay Sea, what’s going on?” I walked out from behind the bar as he rose to his knees and leaned forward, placing his hands on the floor.

He looked up at me. “There’s a hole in your floor, Publican,” he said with a sly smile. He carefully pushed his fingers into a couple of cracks in the floor.

(I had been meaning to have this floor fixed, I assure any patrons of Storytellers Pub who may be reading this. It was just a decorating question that was yet to be decided – of whether to simply redo that one area or the entire floor. I assure you, the structural integrity of the pub is sound and no customer has been placed in any danger at any time. Aside from the usual Winterfell danger – witches, dark elves, the occasional vampire, The Mist – for which the management of the Storytellers Pub are not responsible. Please address any further inquiries to my attorneys, Dewey, Cheatham & Howe aka Moe, Larry & Curly.)

Seamus lifted one tile that at closer inspection seemed a bit out of place. “It’s a door!” Seamus said in surprise. I was also surprised but I can’t reprint here what I said there.

We looked down into this dark hole in the floor of my pub.

What the hell?

What the hell?

“Bring a candle,” Seamus said.

“There’s some water,” he said as he leaned into the hole with the candle I had fetched.

He put his hand in. “It’s pretty cold.”

He put his face just above the water and stared as he held the candle by his head. “There’s a ladder just a couple feet down. It looks pretty deep. I can’t see the bottom,” he added. He placed the candleholder on the floor and lowered himself into the opening.

He disappeared.

Ulysses leaped onto the bookcase against the back wall to watch the show.

I peered into the hole. Waiting.

And waiting.

“How long can he hold his breath?” I thought with visions of Lloyd Bridges starring in Sea Hunt floating through my head (for those of you with knowledge of the 1960s).

After a few minutes, the waters parted and Seamus arose.

“Well?” I welled him.

“This water is only two feet deep. Then you are under it. Completely. Clear of it,” Seamus said as he climbed out of the hole. He walked to the bar and grabbed his ale and took a long sip.

“What? How? How is that even possible?”

He looked at me.

“Damn it, Danko, I’m a Time Wizard, not a plumber,” Seamus said in his best DeForest Kelley (which was much better than his Thelonious Monk).

He was wet but not as wet as if he’d been swimming with Lloyd Bridges.

He sipped his brew. I poured a whiskey.

“At the bottom of the ladder, there is a stair. I followed it down another level to a series of  tunnels,” he said.

“Tunnels?”

“In all directions,” Seamus said as he reached over the bar for a napkin to wipe his brow. “I didn’t go far, I could see there were many turns. Didn’t want to get lost down there.”

He took another sip of beer and returned to the trap door. He propped it open and handed me the candle. I placed it on the bar and came back around to stare with Seamus into the hole.

We just stood there. Speechless. Staring at the hole in my floor.

A series of tunnels. Under Winterfell. Wow!

This was quite a surprise. It was incredible really.

It was My Spot.

That’s where I always stand! Most of the time, I don’t like to sit at the bar. I like to stand. If I’m there for the evening, I will sit of course. But if I’m just there for one or two rounds, to keep an eye on things and confer with the bartender, I stand right there! Every night I’ve gone in to town since we opened more than a year ago!

And all this time I had no idea that I was standing over a secret passageway. To a series of more secret passageways.

Now what do I do? Should I tell people about this?

“Best to keep it quiet until you investigate further,” said Seamus as he read my mind while re-lighting his cigar.

I nodded.

We were both speechless again. And, after six rounds of ale, not in any condition to climb into a deep, dark hole in the ground that leads to who knows where, who knows when.

There was only one thing to do.

Pour another round.

Stout this time.

And, after six rounds of ale and one of stout – not to mention the stray whiskey or two, we were – surprisingly – not in any better condition to climb into a deep, dark hole in the ground to who knows where, who knows…what……was I saying?

“I’m taking one more look,” Seamus opened the trap door again and stood at the opening, swaying in the wind. Wait, we were indoors. Probably wasn’t the wind. Probably was the ales. Or the stout maybe. Damn stout.

Ulysses The Cat left the room and returned to his window seat. He had seen enough.

Seamus opined that the tunnels would probably still be there tomorrow. I agreed. He also agreed. There was nothing else to say at that point, as gentlemen, we just had to agree to agree.

On his way out, Seamus dropped some cash into the donation box. “That’s for your staff, for the trouble they’ll have to go through tonight, trying to set things straight after your shift!” he said. And out he went.

I walked back over to that trap door, opened it again. Just to look.

“Been there, right under my feet all this time,” I thought, shaking my head.

“Hard to believe.”


Visit Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum, Second Life

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Laudanum/210/210/23/

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