Here’s a sneak preview of Book 2 in the Kimi series.
They cross dimensions with elegant ease, two crows, wings tucked, bodies spiralling in corkscrew fashion; the sucking winds of mind and space propelling them to their target.
Bursting into Earth space in a whirlwind of feathers, they hurtle onwards through a grove of orange trees and then to wherever their beaks will take them, soaring above the trees, wings beating soundly, waiting for a turn, a lead, a sign.
And there is an oak tree, its crown spread like open claws. They allow the pull, alight to the uppermost branch, hop down into the thick of it, wings tight, they find a good perch.
By the turquoise pool outside of a white stone building, the target throbs to them, like a beacon; a girl with yellow hair, basking in the sun with another yellow-haired girl. The sender had warned this would be a tricky one. They should observe before making an entrance. But there was a problem. The target was protected within a huge cage of mesh. No way in.
They would have to wait.
A disgruntled caw shuddered from the beak of one…
~ Deja vu ~
Acorn Sundew Villa, Kissimmee, Florida.
“Did you hear that?” Kimi got up from the lounger.
Stella lifted her sunglasses. “What?”
“Stella, that was a crow.”
“What was a crow?”
“It just cawed – from over by the oak tree.”
“Didn’t hear nothing. Sorry.”
“How could you not hear that?”
“I was dozing…dreaming of the massive party we’re going to have when we get back.”
“It was definitely a crow.”
“Ach, we’ve seen the odd crow round here before. What’s to worry about?”
“It didn’t sound…right.” Kimi went to the mesh screen which surrounded the entire pool area protecting it from bugs. She scanned the oak tree beyond.
“Could’ve been a grackle,” Stella offered.
Grackles looked like crows but nicer. Nicer in that their feathers sheened and glimmered. They reminded Kimi of the famoose back on Heart. “It wasn’t a grackle. Grackles are cute. It was a crow. From over there.”
Stella came to Kimi’s side, and together they stared at the old oak, the biggest tree on the Sundew complex.
“Can’t see nothing,” Stella said.
Kimi continued staring at the tree, aware her breathing had got heavy.
“You alright, sister?”
“I – I’m sorry. It’s just…just a feeling, you know?” She did not let on that Little Hand was tingling – tingling for the first time in almost a year – a year they had been holed up in this boring old safe house; a villa among fifty others, each luxurious but each more like a prison to its hidden guests. Since the evacuation from Heart when Kimi’s jump through time and dimension brought the green mount sliding down on Middling, Balancers and their tulpas had been hidden in safe houses all over Earth. But hidden much longer than was planned. The disappearance of a greylian General had brought death threats, and stirring talks of war. There was a bounty on Kimi’s head. The time difference between the two worlds meant that almost sixty years had passed on Heart since the day that time turned inside out – and Kimi was nervous about returning. Getting the nod to eventually go back must mean greylian relations are good now, but still, there was always that threat, that constantly looking over your shoulder half-expecting to see the bulbous head and oily black eyes of a greylian looming over you – or worse – another talking crow. Kimi would be the last to return to Heart, and with that moment only two days away, she was absolutely terrified.
“You going to stare at that tree all day?”
“Huh?” Kimi spun round. Dad was standing at the sliding doors. He had changed into his business suit.
“We’re going soon. Remember?”
“Deja vu,” Kimi said. She took Stella’s hand and dragged her inside.
Mum, also now in her business suit, was at the kitchen island with a green Rabbit’s Foot napkin tucked in her blouse, eating pancakes that Rehd had served up.
Rehd the great monkey, Chief of fuzz, reduced to serving up pancakes for almost a year, was a fact that tickled his wife, Ruthie. She tweaked his stubby nose and kissed him. Rehd blushed as he always did, though it is hard to tell when a monkey blushes. He was wearing blue shorts and a tee-shirt with `Kong Rocks` on it. Kimi wondered if he’d be taking his newfound fashion back to Heart.
“Is everything okay, lovely?” Mum said.
“Yeah…I’m good.” Kimi joined the crew at the island. She smeared Marmite on a pancake, rolled it up, and nibbled on it.
“Just you look a bit worried.”
“Going to miss her momma,” Ruthie said, grinning. Ruthie had taken to dying the fur around her neck and shoulders a deep red. She also wore lipstick and false lashes. “Ain’t you, sweetie?” She snacked on bliss gum.
Rehd brought a jug of pommy juice and began filling glasses.
Kimi smiled at him.
“It’s only for a couple of days,” Stella said. “I’ll so miss your hair.”
“Your hair. When you dye it back to black. Ach, we’re like proper sisters when we’re both blonde.”
Dad tapped the remote, and the doors to the pool area slid shut. “Okay, listen up people. You all know the drill, but we need to go over it one more time before we leave.” From his notes he ran through a list of reminders: Never leave the complex unless in an emergency. Balancers Cready, Fitstart, and Stubbs are always on standby if you need them. Never use mojo outside, unless in an emergency. Keep a low profile at all times. Keep the screen door locked. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
“Oh, and most importantly of all?” He waited.
Ruthie raised a furry paw. Her nails gleamed with purple polish. “The walleyed,” she said in a sinister voice. “Beware the walleyed!”
“Absolutely!” Dad said. “I’m sorry for going on, but I must reiterate the importance. If you see a walleyed, that is a human – man, woman or child – whose eyes seem too far apart, and maybe their forehead’s a bit bigger than is normal, then you can bet your life you are seeing a greylian-human hybrid. And those things will be looking for you!” He gazed around, at Kimi, at Stella, at Rehd and Ruthie. “See a walleyed, get questioned by a walleyed, you give your false name and get out of there. Understood?”
“He’s so clever, your papa,” Ruthie said. She ran a purple claw down Dad’s cheek. He smiled and his cheeks flushed a little.
“Right,” Kimi said. “Too clever, sometimes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dad swallowed the last of his pancake.
“You do look a bit off colour, you know,” Mum said. She removed her napkin bib and wiped her mouth. “But I’m sure it’s nerves, you know – like going back to school after the summer holidays. Everything’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
“Sorry,” Kimi said. “Guess I am just nervous about going back. And you and Dad will have been there for four months before I get there, what with the time diff. I guess I’m missing Bentley, too.”
“Aye, and Big Sue,” Stella said.
“Of course,” Kimi said. Bentley and Big Sue had returned to Heart a week ago to help with rebuilding and to prepare the Rabbit’s Foot for reopening. Being parted from one’s tulpa was not a good feeling.
“But we’ll only really be gone for two days,” Mum said. “Now, chin up. Good times ahead.”
“I like it here,” Rehd said, climbing onto a stool. “I’m going to miss the place.” He took Ruthie’s hand, kissed it. “What about you, my little chunky monkey?”
“How can you like it here when you’re not even allowed outside?” Kimi said before Ruthie had chance to reply.
“He likes the commercials on TV, and the good food and hot weather,” Ruthie said. “And we can go out to the pool and bask. We love basking, darling, don’t we-” She scratched Rehd’s chin. He closed his eyes and grinned.
“Right then, Val,” Dad said to Mum. “We best be off. Anyone got any questions? Any worries?”
No one had. Or at least no one voiced any.
They left the island and went upstairs to the first landing closet where four suitcases awaited. This was the designated twirly room; the only place in the villa that wasn’t protected from Velostat. Velostat lined the villa’s walls and ceilings and prevented penetration from greylian abduction beams. Problem was it also interfered with twirly transmission, so the closet was deemed appropriate and was always kept locked. There were hugs all around and Mum and Dad stepped inside with their cases. The room was bare, shuttered from the outside, a single light bulb sat in the ceiling. Dad waved, Mum blew a kiss. Stella pulled the door shut on their smiling faces. A swish of wind from inside followed by a cold breeze coming from under the door, a quickening roar – and then silence.
Stella opened the door. Gone.
“So, what is it, Balancer Nichols?” Rehd said, back downstairs at the island.
Kimi looked at him.
“I’ve lived with you for almost a year, served you a zillion pancakes, I know when your head’s aching – and sometimes your heart. Something’s bothering you.”
There was an awkward silence. Stella broke it: “She thought she heard a crow.”
“I did hear it,” Kimi said.
“We’ve heard crows before,” Rehd said. “It’s nothing.”
“This – this was a different sound. The noise, the caw, it wasn’t – natural – as if-”
“Where did you hear it?”
“Outside at the pool.”
“Just before we had pancakes.”
Rehd pressed the remote and the doors to the pool slid open. Kimi followed him outside.
“I can hear grackles,” Rehd said. “No crows.”
“It wasn’t crows,” Kimi said. “It was one crow.”
“Well it can’t get inside the screen,” Rehd said. “Let’s relax inside. I vote we have dodo pizza, and curl up with Little Mermaid. It’s at least a week since we watched it.”
Kimi placed Little Hand on his head and ruffled his thick black hair. “I was afraid of you when we first met, when you pulled up on your shiny squad and did your strutting thing. You were a cheeky monkey.”
Ruthie scampered through the doors and leapt onto the lounger by Rehd’s side. “He still is,” she said, squeezing his bottom. Ruthie was wearing a sequined tutu over denim dungarees.
Rehd sighed. “I will miss this place.”
Stella joined them and they all stared through the mesh. The big oak sat still and lazy in the sun. There was a breeze and the tree rippled its golden leaves.
Goosebumps ran up Kimi’s arms.
“We should go inside,” Ruthie said. She took Rehd by the hand and led him indoors.
Stella turned to follow but Kimi stopped her. “Something’s wrong,” she whispered.
“Ach, you’ve just got the heebie-jeebies.”
“No,” Kimi said. “There’s something wrong with me.”
Stella looked worried. “Like what?”
“Shush – keep it down.”
“What do you mean there’s something wrong with you? Since when? And why didn’t you tell your folks?”
“I was worried it might delay me from going back. But the thing is-”
“I can’t show you here. Let’s go to our room.”
~ 2 ~
~ Henrietta Blanche ~
Once inside their ensuite bathroom, Kimi locked the door, took a jar of makeup remover from the cabinet, unscrewed the lid, and stroked a cotton ball across the gel. “Promise me you won’t tell a soul.”
Stella leant against the sink. “Okay.”
Kimi leaned in to the mirror and rubbed at the sides of her nose with the cotton ball. When she was done she faced Stella. “There, what do you make of that?”
Stella came up close. “You’ve got two black spots, one either side of your nose.”
“As if I didn’t know.”
“They’re just freckles, or moles, or something. No biggie.” Stella shrugged.
“That’s not all.” Kimi took another cotton ball, stroked it in the gel and began wiping her left elbow.
“You’ve got concealer on your elbow?”
Now Kimi wiped the right elbow. She held both up to Stella. At the point of each elbow, right on the bone, another small black spot, the skin around it a little cracked and swollen.
Stella shrugged again. “It’s just dry skin or something. Too much sun, you know.”
Kimi shook her head. She slipped out of her trainers and pulled her socks off. She held one heel up to Stella, and then showed her the other. Stella gasped.
The skin around each heel was greyed and dry, each ankle blackened. Dark featherlike shadows fanned out from the heel upwards.
“Now I know why you stopped wearing your flip-flops,” Stella said.
“Yes, now you know.”
“This reminds me of something,” Stella said. “That time with Blavatsky’s greylian when she did the cortell and your hand went black and icky and turned into a-”
“Claw – yes – that’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s the crow in me trying to get out.”
“You should have told your folks. This could be serious. You could be ill. Dying even. You can’t keep this to yourself, Kimi. Do you feel okay?”
Kimi sat on the toilet, pulled her socks on. “I’ve been feeling weird for a few days – which is when I first noticed the marks. But today I feel worst of all. As if I’m being watched.”
“Ach it’s probably because your folks were leaving today. Course you’re going to be a bit jittery. Your birthday’s coming up next week, you’re going back to Heart in two days. It’s just nerves. That’s all.”
“That’s just it. I don’t want anything to spoil this birthday.”
Stella came and hugged Kimi. “We won’t let it. We’ll have a big do in the Foot.”
Kimi let out a long sigh.
Stella unlocked the door. “C’mon we’re going for donuts. My treat.”
“There’s something else,” Kimi said. She held up Little Hand, her left hand, smaller than the right, crisscrossed with grooves in the flesh. “I got tingles today. Tingles for the first time in a year.”
“That could be nerves as well,” Stella said. “You know, your body is like on high alert, making your senses sharper, just in case.”
“Well – look, you need to stop worrying. Everything’ll be fine. Let’s go for donuts.”
“You’re forgetting something.”
“There’s a crow out there.”
Stella closed her eyes. It looked like she was counting to ten. When she opened them they twinkled over a forced a smile. “If there’s a crow, I promise you I will violate safe-house protocol and whack said crow with a volley of stunners. That okay?”
Kimi thought for a moment. “No, it’s not. Promise that if there’s a crow you’ll let me deal with it.”
“Whatever, just let’s get those donuts.” Stella opened the door and left.
Kimi looked at Little Hand, flexed it as far as it would go. No tingling. She followed Stella.
Rehd and Ruthie were sprawled over the comfy sofas watching Little Mermaid on the plasma screen. Stella told Rehd where they were going and what for, like she always did. Rehd asked for chocolate donuts to be added to the order, and that was that.
“He doesn’t seem too bothered,” Kimi said as they stepped through the sliding doors.
“Course he’s not bothered. You’ve got the heebie-jeebies and today is just another boring day in our Florida jail.”
They went around the pool to the screen door. “Hang on,” Kimi said. She scanned the area outside the mesh. One or two people walking. Two or three grackles searching for discarded crumbs. That’s all. Little Hand remained silent.
“Good to go?”
Kimi nodded. They both put on sunglasses and Stella opened the screen door. They set off walking, hurrying firstly past the oak tree. Kimi could feel eyes on her back as they left it behind. It gave her the shudders. Balancer Stubbs, a slender woman with honey-blonde hair which fell past her shoulders and who always dressed in black, was tending her garden. Alia Stubbs was unusual in that she had two tulpas: Caitlin a sleek and shiny brown cat with white hoops on her tail, and Emily a bright white owl with enormous blue eyes and little pointed brown ears. Apparently, Stubbs almost drowned as a kid, and Cat and Em turned up in a boat to save her.
Caitlin was rolling around on the lawn with a ball of string. This made Kimi smile. Cat the cat was tiny, a kitten really, and the ball of string was bigger than her. She stopped playing and gave them a wink. Kimi winked back. Emily, a tall owl with great poise, was perched on the porch; her head swivelled, saucer eyes following Kimi and Stella as they passed. “Twit,” she said. Stubbs winked and twitched her nose. Kimi smiled in return then linked into Stella and they hurried along the pathways between villas.
The row of shops and business came into view. Situated on the south side of the complex this was as far as they were allowed to go. A whole year in Florida and they hadn’t even done a theme park or a water park, something Kimi vowed to put right one day, but then again, as Dad had pointed out, once you’ve flown in a greylian craft no theme park ride would ever be as exhilarating.
“I need more concealer ‘n stuff,” Kimi said. “You get the donuts while I go to Mac’s”
“Okey dokey.” They crossed the narrow street. Stella disappeared into JJ’s Donut Heaven while Kimi went up the road to Mac’s Pharmacy. There were a dozen or more people, walking, talking. Kimi scanned for walleyed. She’d never come across a real one, only saw pictures that Rehd kept in a file. Women, men, and kids, eyes almost on the sides of their heads, foreheads a little larger than normal. None of these people looked suspect. She slipped into Mac’s, quickly filled a basket with six tubs of moisturiser, six jars of makeup remover, two dozen tubes of concealer, three bags of cotton balls, and a bottle of bubblegum pink nail varnish.
Mac marked it up to Dad’s account, packed everything into two paper bags, apart from the nail varnish which Kimi pocketed, then Mac asked if she was setting up her own business.
“Going away for a while, stocking up,” she told him, and left the store quickly where she came across a young boy, maybe he was around four. He had baggy shorts and a black and white stripe tee-shirt. He was concentrating on the mouth of the Monster machine by the wall outside. Put a dollar in and the monster spits out a plastic ball with a toy and candy inside. Kimi guessed the boy had no dollar. She scanned the people, looking for the boy’s mum or dad, and considered sticking a dollar in for him, when a big white truck pulled up outside the steakhouse on the corner. Little Hand tingled and Kimi froze. The Baby Prawn co. logo appeared in bright orange letters on the front of the truck along with a smiling plastic prawn stuck to the grille. The driver, in orange dungarees, got out, pulled up a side shutter and removed a box – then the truck started to roll forward.
Kimi spun round. The little boy’s arm was right inside the machine’s delivery slot. He was starting to whine.
“Georgie?” A woman’s voice. “Where are you, Georgie?”
“Hey!” the driver yelled as the truck rolled away from him. “Hey! Hey! Heyyyyyy!”
He must have forgotten to put the handbrake on. It was only a slight incline, but the truck was big, heavy, and picking up speed.
“Get out of there!” the driver screamed.
The truck bore down in silence, five or six tons of rolling metal.
That familiar warm ball appeared in Kimi’s brow. A heartbeat later and mojo was flooding down her arms, the right arm tensed, she spun, her bags falling to the floor, and smashed a forearm into the Monster machine. It shattered. Plastic balls bounced everywhere. Little Georgie fell free. Kimi scooped him up and flung him into the arms of his arriving mother who seemed frozen in a perpetual scream. Then the truck, its chrome grille and the grinning plastic prawn almost upon her, inches from crushing her against the wall. She raised her hands and they met the front of the truck. She nudged backwards a little, face to face with the grinning prawn, her back touching the wall. The truck had stopped. The driver arrived, sweating an expression of puzzlement. If anyone looked close enough they might see that Kimi’s hands weren’t touching the truck at all. There was a thin barrier of mojo separating her from the truck’s weight and it was taking all her concentration to hold it. “Get it off me! Now!” Kimi ordered.
The driver jumped in the cab, started the engine and reversed a couple of metres. He got back out. “How did you-!?”
“Oh Georgie, you saved my baby,” the woman was crying and so was Georgie.
Stella was there with a donut box, tugging Kimi away. They stumbled through the mess of broken jars, plastic balls and the jagged remains of the Monster machine – and Kimi came face to face with a big round camera lens. Behind it, a man in a Hawaiian shirt, a baseball cap on backwards, and sunglasses. Kimi’s sunglasses were hanging half on half off. The man pressed the button and the camera flashed.
“That’s a helluva trick you did there, little lady.” He snapped off two more pictures. “What’s your name?”
“Huh – Huh – Henrietta Blanche,” Kimi said as Stella dragged her away. The man took off his sunglasses and watched them go. Kimi couldn’t be certain, but his eyes looked way too far apart.
“What the hell were you thinking,” Stella said as they entered the pathways of the Sundew complex.
“I – I – I didn’t have a choice,” Kimi panted.
“That was bloody stupid, Kimi.”
They ran on, passing villa after villa until the oak tree came into view. Both Stella and Kimi skidded to a stop.
The caws were loud and repeated over and over.
Not one, but two black shapes emerged from the branches, silhouettes of wings flung wide, claws outstretched, coming straight at them.
~ 3 ~
~ No Worries ~
Kimi came to at the same time as Stella. They were on the comfy sofas. Little Mermaid had been paused. Balancer Stubbs was standing over them, Caitlin the cat on one shoulder, Emily the owl on the other. Dangling from Stubbs’s outstretched finger was a pair of crows trussed up with string, beaks tied shut. Both crows were snoring. Rehd and Ruthie stood with arms folded. They looked rather cross.
Kimi’s head was fuzzy, but it was all coming back to her. Just as she’d been about to blast the arriving crows, Balancer Stubbs had leapt onto the path between them, freezing her and Stella with an icy flash from her eyes, while behind her, Emily had sprang from her perch, knocked the descending crows from the air, and Caitlin had pounced, and with super-quick speed and agility, had trussed the crows with the ball of string before Stubbs had whacked them with a duo of stunners. She’d peered around, made sure no one was watching, then twirled them all back to the villa’s closet.
“Thanks…I think,” Kimi said.
“Aye, thanks,” Stella said.
“Don’t thank me, thank your father,” Stubbs said. “He had the foresight to prepare us for such an event.”
“Don’t forget the string thing,” Caitlin said, beaming proudly on Stubbs’s shoulder.
“Twit!” Emily said from the other shoulder.
“The string was Caitlin’s idea,” Stubbs said. “If the crows are omens with messages of doom then they can’t relay those messages with their beaks tied up. Clever pussy.”
Kimi supposed that was pretty clever. “Thanks, Cat.”
“Twit!” Emily said again.
“So what happens now?” Rehd said. “What do we do with the crows?”
“Untie them, see what they have to say,” Ruthie offered.
“Maybe we should tie rocks round their necks and throw them in the pool,” Kimi said. “Dead crows can’t talk.”
“Aye,” Stella agreed.
Stubbs tutted. “You will do no such thing. I will take the crows with me, lock them up, until I’ve had time to think about it. Until then,” she turned to Rehd. “As chief of fuzz, dear sir, you need to keep a closer eye on things.” Her eyes went to his stomach which was poking over the top of his shorts. “Not least the junk food.” With her tulpas still on her shoulders she went sprightly to the doors which slid open at a twitch of her nose. “And may I strongly recommend that you do not leave the villa for the remainder of your stay. All of you.” She left in a blink and the doors slid shut.
“Crap a crow,” Stella said.
“Crap two,” Kimi corrected.
“This is bad, isn’t it?” Ruthie said. She sidled up to Rehd and clung to him.
“Very,” Rehd said. “But I’m sure JJ will deliver.”
“What?” Kimi said.
“Donuts. If we can’t go out then I’m sure she’ll deliver.”
Kimi threw a cushion at him which he caught in his teeth. “You don’t know, do you?”
Rehd spat the cushion out. “Know what?” By the time they had finished telling of the prawn truck mojo display and the tourist with the camera who had way too much distance between his eyes and a big forehead hidden with a cap, Rehd had locked the doors, shuttered all the windows, and was now ushering them downstairs to the gym.
The basement gym was the most secure room in the villa, its walls and ceiling embedded with triple layers of Velostat, there was everything they needed for a prolonged stay: shower, toilet, two small rooms with bunk beds, a fridge stocked with pomegranate flavoured Gatorade and tinned foods along with beef jerky for the monkeys; and there was CCTV which covered the rear and front of the villa as well the downstairs living area.
Rehd locked the door and slid the bolts home.
“This is silly,” Kimi said. “Don’t think I’m staying down here for two days.” She climbed onto a vaulting horse, remembered the bubblegum-pink nail varnish, took it out, and began painting her nails. “Last time I’ll be able to wear pink.”
Ruthie pulled up onto the horse. She liked watching Kimi do her nails.
Stella paced the floor.
Rehd got down on a mat and started doing sit-ups.
Ruthie liked the colour so much she asked Kimi to paint hers.
Which she did.
“Bored now,” Stella said.
Rehd, now hanging from the wall bars, let go and dropped to the floor. “We have to be safe,” he said. “And this is the safest place in the villa.”
“But we can’t just sit around twiddling our thumbs. We should do something.”
“I dunno – what about those crows?”
Rehd stared in thought for a moment. He looked up to Kimi on the horse. “How certain are you a walleyed took your picture?”
Kimi thought back. It all happened so fast. Were his eyes too far apart? “I – I – well-”
“You’re not certain?”
“I suppose I’m not – not a hundred percent.”
“And you?” he turned to Stella.
“I was too busy dragging Kimi away. I remember the guy, but not in detail.”
Rehd nodded, turned on his heel and scurried into the computer room. Kimi jumped from the horse and she and Stella and Ruthie followed him inside where he was flicking the on the CCTV monitors. The first showed outside the villa’s front door. Clear. The next showed the living area. Rehd manoeuvred the joystick and the image on screen moved as the camera scanned the kitchen area, the stairs and landing where the twirly room was, the sliding doors that led to the pool – all was clear. The next monitor showed the pool area within the mesh screen. Again – clear.
“Alright then,” Rehd said. “There seems to be no immediate threat. I suggest we leave the gym but stay within the house until Balancer Stubbs gets back to us on the crows.”
“Sounds good,” Stella said. “Kimi?”
Kimi was about to agree when the front doorbell rang, echoing round the gym from the speakers it was connected to. They all looked to the first monitor. Balancer Stubbs was at the front door. The camera looked down on her honey-blonde hair. Her shoulders seemed to be moving up and down. She pressed the bell again.
“Is she crying?” Kimi said.
“Aye I think she is,” Stella said. “And where’s Cat and Em – she never comes over without Cat and Em-”
“We should go see.” Ruthie scampered away and was sliding the bolts free before anyone else had even moved.
Rehd tutted and ran after and soon they were all are running up the stairs to the front door. Rehd ordered them back to the sofas. “Be prepared!” he said, then he opened the door.
Balancer Stubbs fell inside and dropped to her knees. She wasn’t crying at all – she was laughing. She crawled to the sofas and pulled herself up. She flopped herself down, still laughing. Kimi closed the front door, locked it. She’d seen this a few times before, the worst when Rehd told her the joke about the monkey and the brain. Stubbs had laughed for hours. Now Ruthie was laughing, Stella was starting to giggle. Kimi grinned.
“Remember when I told her the joke about the monkey?” Rehd said, chuckling as he brought a glass of water.
Almost half an hour and a few false starts later Balancer Stubbs finally managed to speak. She told them of her worries, of how, on Kimi’s dad’s instructions, her and the other Balancers: Cready and Fitstart, had received special training in the treatment of prophetic crows; one of the many angles he’d covered to protect his family. So there she was, with the crows trussed up, unable to speak. She’d watched until they came to, watched them struggle, watched the frustration as they writhed against their binds, watched until the crows eventually began to cry. They sank to the desk on which they stood and cried, tears streaming down their breasts. At first Alia suspected a trick, but then Emily, wise old bird, suggested undoing the string around the beaks. If either crow had a prophecy for Kimi then Emily surmised it would keep it to itself until it was face to face with Kimi. That made sense. Freeing the beaks would enable some interrogation. So she went to undo the string, but first issued a warning, “I will have you know, crows, I am Balancer Alia Stubbs, soon to be an Adept of advanced security. Any trouble from you and my owl will tear your eyes out and my cat will eat them.” She freed the knots and the crows opened their beaks. Alia had taken a step back, mojo stirring behind her eyes. Any trouble and the crows were fried before Em and Cat got to it. She knew that. But the crows did not speak. They laughed.
“Then I untied their wings,” Stubbs said. “And I found this clipped under the wing of one just as they said I would.” She smirked and handed a tiny disc to Rehd. “Go on – stick it in and see.”
Rehd went to the computer and pushed the little disc into its slot. The screen flickered and Big Sue appeared. He was wearing his tartan dressing gown, and was waving and shouting `yoo-hoo!`. The camera spun and Bentley was the one holding the camera. It was the old Bentley, but still, Kimi was pleased to see him. “Hello everyone,” he said. “Only two more sleeps for you and we’ll be together again.” He scanned the camera around the room. It was Kimi and Stella’s old room, empty, and it was mess. “We’re doing the place up for you,” he said. “We’ve got a few months before you arrive and I want you to know that your room will be perfect when you get here.”
“Perfect!” Big Sue said. He whipped a tea towel from his shoulder came up to the camera and polished the lens. The image flickered and the message ended.
“And the other crow?” Rehd said.
Stubbs handed over another disc. Rehd pushed it in the computer. The screen flickered and a greylian appeared.
“Granp!” Stella shouted. “It’s Granp!”
The greylian was up close to the camera. Black oval eyes glossy with unseen depths. Its slit mouth turned up into the creepy cupcake smile, and despite it being Stella’s good friend, Kimi’s heart began to thud.
“Ssssstella, hello,” the greylian said. “And Kimi, hello, and Rehd, and Ruthie. Good newsssss…you will not be returning to Heart via twirly…yesssss…I will be bringing you home.” Granp smiled again, his eyes blinked twice. “Sssseee you sssssoon!” And the screen went black.
“How cool!” Stella said.
“Very,” Ruthie agreed.
“Bentley should have known better than to send crows,” Kimi said. “I would have killed them if Balancer Stubbs hadn’t stepped in. And anyway, what’s so funny?”
“And where’s Cat and Emmy?” Ruthie asked.
Stubbs wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry, but when Caitlin realised she’d trussed up messengers bringing you joy and not doom, well, she was mortified. She curled in a ball of embarrassment and refuses to come over here.”
“Where do you think Em is?” Stubbs got to her feet. “She’s standing over Caitlin `twitting` and `wooing`.”
“But it isn’t even funny,” Kimi said.
Stubbs seemed to ponder this for a while, then “Not as funny as the monkey joke, granted, but funny nonetheless.”
Everyone was looking at Stubbs.
“Okay, I’m sorry, but when the crows laughed, and Cat got so embarrassed, and Em stood over her calling her a twit until she too started laughing, and-”
“Poor Caitlin,” Kimi said.
“Yes, well,” Stubbs said. “Perhaps if she had consulted her string idea with me first then it wouldn’t have happened. I apologise for my tulpa’s behaviour.” She twitched her nose and the front door unlocked itself and swung open. She left in a blink without another word. The door pulled shut and locked itself.
“Well I thought it was funny,” Ruthie said.
“Why didn’t you tell her about the incident at the shops, the walleyed?” Kimi asked Rehd.
Rehd picked up the remote, pointed and pressed. The doors to the pool slid open. “Because this has all gone too far. There were no crows of doom, only tulpas overreacting. And I’m guessing there’s no walleyed cameraman, either. We’re all paranoid, that’s all.”
“So we can go out?” Stella asked.
Rehd thought for a moment. “No,” he said. “Pool area, yes, other than that I’m sure we can cope with staying in for two more days. Best to be safe. Now-” he swung the remote to the plasma and Little Mermaid started up again. “Back to business.”
They all settled on the sofas. Ruthie made dodo sandwiches. Stella ordered donuts and JJ delivered. Rehd was probably right, Kimi thought. There was no trouble. She smiled at Bentley’s stupidity and wondered what their new room would be like. She hoped they’d remember to put a window in the wall. She wondered also about Perry the pot lad. Seeing him again made her heart grow wings. She thought of Charlie Babbage instead, and his clowns. She wondered if he still had them. Then thoughts went to Granp’s news. He’d be flying them home in a greylian craft. That would be cool. There was much to look forward to and nothing at all to worry about. On the plasma, Ursula’s wedding was about to kick off. Rehd and Ruthie loved this bit, especially the part were the dog bites Ursula’s butt. Kimi settled deeper into the cushions and soon the dog was chomping into Ursula and the monkeys were laughing. She was about to join in when she felt a sharp sting at her left elbow. Her hand went straight to it. A small bristly hair poked through. Then a sting to the right elbow. She felt that one – another hair had poked through, hard and bristly. She tucked her arms by her side and said nothing.
“You okay, sister?” Stella asked after a while.
Kimi looked at her. “Fine.”
“You sure? No worries?”
Kimi nodded. “No worries.”
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