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A Peculiar Party Under The Palms

An old friend invited me down to Naples for a Garden Party at his estate.  I accepted, of course.

When I arrived, the place seemed deserted.  Overgrown.  Neglected.  Untidy.

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I called out and heard my words echo around the fountain, bouncing off the stones before sinking.

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A few minutes later, my friend appeared in the garden, dapper and distinguished as ever.

But he seemed distracted.
Worried.
Ill at ease.

A bit green about the gills.

After greeting me with his customary cold-blooded warmth, and inquiring after my journey, Freddie called for Teddy, the Butler.

Aah . . . good old Teddy.

I’ve known Teddy forever and wondered, given the odd appearance of the garden and Freddie’s apparent distress, whether he had been let go.

But no.

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There he was, looking much the same as usual.

Oddly enough, he offered me a drink from an empty tray.

I accepted, not wanting to appear rude.

“Thank you, Teddy.  It’s . . . um,  refreshing.  And quite light.”

“Hoppy to hear that.”

While sipping my non-existent beverage, I scanned the garden for Freddie’s wife.

Betty was nowhere in sight.

Until I blinked.

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She popped into view, with strobe-like stealth, behind Teddy (still proffering libations from an empty tray).

How curious!

Like Freddie, Betty seemed flustered and self-conscious.

I noted that she had one eye in the mirror as she watched herself go by.

She seemed to be admiring her hat.
Or its feathered plumes.
Or both.

I couldn’t decide.
I felt dizzy.
The garden spun round like a carousel.

Faster and faster.

IMGP3542cPerhaps the cocktail had gone to my head.

Betty patted her bonnet, with all the frou frous on it.

I gasped for breath, gulping like a guppy.

What was going on here?
Where were all the other guests?

What had happened to Freddie, Betty, and Teddy since my last visit?

What was happening to me?

Why were my thoughts echoing round, bouncing off stones, before sinking?

* * *

Chapter Two . . .

IMGP3544bI struggled to regain my equilibrium, but the ground kept shifting ‘neath my feet.

Like quicksand.

Finally finding my footing, I stared long and hard at Freddie.

Caught in my headlights, he looked as if he was about to croak.

That struck me as funny.  I giggled.  And then launched into cross-examination mode.

“What’s going on, Freddie?”

He blinked, as if to shake off the mental fog that enveloped us both.  “Objection.  That question assumes facts not in evidence.”

“Well, we’re not in a court of law.”

His grin hinted of grimace.  “And I’m not under oath.”

“Seriously, Freddie.  I’m getting worried.  You invited me down here for a party and there are no guests.”

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“Of course there are.”

I glanced about the empty garden.  “Where?”

Freddy pointed at me. “You’re our guest.”

“Well, then, perhaps you could offer me a chair. That drink Teddy served me was a rather potent potable.”

“It’s not the drink.  Or Teddy.  It’s a bit more complicated than that . . . ”  His voice trailed off, silence settling on a lily pad as if readying for a sunset sail.

I watched for unspoken words as I waited.

Freddie cleared his throat.  “You’re right.  You need to sit.  And then I’ll fill you in on the goings on.”  Freddie motioned to Teddy who hopped into the fountain, clothes and all.

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I peered into the water and saw nothing.

No Teddy.
No lily pad.
No thing.

What the . . . ?

Before I could voice my concern, Teddy surfaced with a sudden splash, sitting astride a dolphin.

The dolphin hopped out of the pool, grinned at me, and flipped up its tail.

“Seat, madam?”

Too astonished to say anything, I sat.
And grinned back.

Freddie squatted next to me.  “There’s something happening here.  What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

“That’s why you invited me down.”

“Yes.  We’re hoping you can help us sort it all out.”

question-mark3a“”I’ll do what I can.  Why don’t you start at the very beginning.”

“Yes.  The beginning.  A good place to start.  We went into Naples for dinner last week.  And the oddest thing happened . . .”

“Odder than a dolphin assuming the role of beach chair?”

Flipper flicked its tail.

Whether in delight or agitation, I couldn’t say.

Not being fluent in Dolphin.

* * *

Chapter Three . . .

IMGP3524b“What happened when you went into Naples for dinner, Freddie?”

“We left early enough to stop by the beach.  Betty had received a necklace on her birthday ~ a vial of pink sand on a gold chain.”

“Sounds charming.”

“Betty wanted to re-fill the vial with Naples sand.”

“Why Naples sand?”

“She wanted a piece of home next to her heart whenever we traveled.”

“I see.  That sounds like Betty.”

Freddie nodded.  “After a short stroll on the beach, she filled the vial, inserted the cork, and hung it around her neck.”

IMGP3535b“What happened then?”

“We left the beach and walked down Fifth Ave to have dinner at The Wind in the Willows.  We never made it.”

“Why not?”

“Something or someone put a spell on us.”

“Step by step . . . walk me through that night.”

“Betty had sand in her shoes.  From the beach.  She saw a bench against the wall in a well-manicured alley and sat down to empty her shoes.”

“Did you wait for her there?”

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“No.  I decided to explore a bit.”

“Explore?”

“Yes.  Despite having walked from one end of Fifth Avenue to the other on countless occasions, I had never noticed this alley until that night.”

“How odd.”

“And getting odder.  I wandered down the path a short way and stumbled across a totem pole.”

“In the alley?”

“In a small garden, just off the alley.”

“Was Betty with you?”

IMGP3541b“Not then . . . just as I started to read a brass plaque in front of the totem, I heard her calling and turned back.”

“So, you don’t know what it said?”

“I wish I could say that.”

“Sorry.  You’ve lost me.”

“I met Betty and urged her to return with me so I could read the plaque.”

“Why?”

“At the time, I assumed I was merely curious.  Now, I realize that something or someone compelled me to return.”

“Compelled you?  Who?”

“No idea.  That’s what we need you to help us sort out.”

“Okay.  Go on.”

IMGP3542c“Betty and I returned to the totem and I fished around my pockets for my reading glasses.”

Knowing Freddie, I smiled.  “Let me guess.  No luck.”

“Right.  I had left them at home.  Betty wears a pair on a chain around her neck.  Same prescription.  She pulled the chain over her head and handed them to me.”

“Why didn’t she read the plaque?”

“Probably afraid she’d topple over.  She’s a bit top heavy in that bonnet.”

I grinned again.  “So you read the plaque.”

“Yes.  I put on her glasses and stooped over to read the plaque.”

“What did it say?”

Freddie’s voice dropped from his steady rich baritone to a husky whisper as he intoned, “Beware.  Beware.  The sands of time be not stilled.”

IMGP3541c“That’s all?”

“That’s all I remember.  As soon as I read those words, the light shifted and the totem pole started to glow.”

“To glow?”

“Yes.  Instead of standing in a garden of turquoise and greens, everything around us turned metallic.”

“Metallic?”

“Yes.  The building.  The totem.  The palm trees.  And . . . ”

“. . . and you and Betty.”

“Yes!”

* * *

Chapter Four . . . 

IMGP3537d“What happened then?”

“We walked back through the alley as fast as we could.  We wanted to get the hell out of there.”

“Understandable.”

“When we reached the bench and Betty saw the pile of sand in front of it, she gasped and grabbed her neck.”

“Why?”

“She realized that the necklace with the vial of sand was missing.”

“Had it come off when she handed you the glasses?”

“It must have.  She’s sure she was still wearing it when she emptied her shoes.”

“Did you go back for it?”

Freddie gave me a withering look.

“No.  I guess not.  So, what happened?”

IMGP3537c“We stood by the bench for a minute, debating what to do next.”

“Because you couldn’t walk out onto Fifth Avenue looking like a bunch of mutants.”

“Exactly.  But the light started shifting again.”

“Back to normal?”

“Not normal.  But color returned and the metallic glow dissipated.”

“Then what?”

“I took Betty home so she could lie down.”

I sat back.  Leaning against Flipper’s tail.  I let Freddie’s recollections settle as I considered what we knew and what we still needed to know.

I pondered the next best step.
Thankful that the earlier mental fog seemed to have lifted.

After a minute or two, I spoke.  “Freddie, why don’t you and I go back there right now and read the rest of the plaque.  It might help to explain what’s been happening around here.”

IMGP3544b“Can’t do it.”

“Look.  I understand you’re shaken up.  But if we wish to get to the bottom of this, the plaque is the best place to start.”

Freddie nodded.  “I agree.”

“So . . . let’s go.”

“We can’t.  It’s gone.”

“What’s gone?”

“All of it.  The plaque.  The totem pole . . . ”

“. . . and the alley.”

“Exactly.  Teddy and I went back that night, and again the next day, and three times since.”

That sounded more like the Freddie I knew.

“Teddy and I combed Fifth Avenue from West to East and East to West.  It’s gone.  If it weren’t for all the odd goings on around here, I’d be convinced that Betty and I imagined the whole thing.”

* * *

Chapter Five . . . 

IMGP3542b“Okay.  We can’t read the plaque or reclaim Betty’s necklace.  Not yet, anyway.  Let’s go over what has happened since that night.  What have you noticed?”

“Well, we can pop about like strobe lights . . . into scenes and out of them.”

“Like Betty did earlier!”

“Yes.”

“Describe the sensation for me.  As best you can.”

“I suspect it’s a bit like time travel.  But only in the NOW.”

“Place to place.  Not time to time.”

“Yes.”

“Makes sense given the plaque’s word choice:  The sands of time be not stilled.”

“The best we can tell, the spell affects the time-space continuum, but only the space axis.”

Wikipedia ~ Merlin (in Public Domain)

“So you haven’t popped back in time to visit King Arthur or . . .”

Freddie finished the thought.  “Or Merlin.”

“Ah . . .  Merlin would be the one to see.”

“Indeed he would.”

“When you say ‘we’ . . . just you and Betty?”

“Teddy too.”

“Teddy?”

Freddie looked apologetic.  “I touched him when we got back that night.”

“And that was enough?”

“Yes.  What we touch, changes.  And not always in predictable or pleasant ways.  Fortunately Teddy is still steady.”

IMGP3550bI looked around at unweeded beds.  “Is that why the garden is untidy?”

“Yes.  We haven’t gardened.  We don’t want to turn this space into a second Magic Kingdom with singing flowers and dancing palms.”

“Good thinking.  One Magic Kingdom is enough.”

I leaned back against Flipper’s tail to consider Freddie’s tale, “That’s why Teddy offered me an imaginary cocktail from an empty tray.”

Freddie nodded.  “If Teddy had mixed you a cocktail, it might have been as volatile as a Molotov ~ anything from the nectar of the gods to toxic waste.”

“A sludge smoothie.”

“We haven’t figured out how to predict IT yet . . . whatever IT is.  We’re still in the dark.  Hence the S.O.S. to you.”

“Give me a few examples.  If Teddy had fixed me a drink, what would have happened to the glass?  If you know.”

“We never know exactly.  But, if you picture the dancing teapot in Beauty and the Beast, you’ll be on the right dance floor.”

“Really?  So . . . have all your pots flipped their lids?”

“No.  We haven’t eaten since that night.”

“Nothing!?”

“Not a thing.  We can drink from the fountain.  It provides full nourishment . . . but I miss chewing.”

“Rather like being on a juice fast, eh?”

“Yes.”  He chuckled.  “Betty is delighted.  She’s never hungry AND she’s losing weight.  As far as she’s concerned, it’s the perfect diet.  She feels younger and more energetic than she has in years.”

“Almost like having your own fountain of youth.”

“Almost.  In fact, Betty’s gotten a bit vain.”

“I noticed her eyeing the mirror as she passed by.  It seemed out of character.”

“She’s feeling rather like the Belle of the Ball.”

“She’s Belle and you’re . . .”

“. . . the Beast!”

I continued considering, doing most of my thinking out loud so Freddie could correct any misapprehension on my part.

“If you can’t fix food or serve drinks, it’s rather hard to entertain.  That’s why there are no other guests tonight.  And your King Midas Touch is why you couldn’t get me a chair.”

Wikipedia ~ Contract Bridge (in Public Domain)

“Yes.”

“Could I have gotten a chair myself?”

“Most are out of commission ~ any that we’ve sat in are off doing their own thing.”

“Such as?”

Freddie grinned.

“Most seem to enjoy a good game of Bridge.”

* * *

Chapter Six . . . 

Wikipedia ~ The Magician (Tarot Card), in Public Domain

It was starting to make sense . . . in a nonsensical way.  Pieces fitting into a puzzle and locking in place.  Of course, the specific facts seemed closer to a fantastic dream, where anything is possible, than to daily life with its more predictable cadence.

A few things still didn’t fit.

For one, Teddy had touched the dolphin.  And the dolphin hadn’t rushed to sign up for Zumba lessons.

“What about the dolphin, Freddie?  Teddy touched Flipper and he didn’t fly away to Never-Never-Land.”

“No.  But as you no doubt noticed, the dolphin IS magical . . . everything in the fountain IS magical.  It not only provides us with a perfectly balanced diet, it offers up anything else we need.”

“Rather like Mary Poppins and her bottomless carpet bag.”

“Yes.  But Betty, Teddy, and I are not Mary Poppins . . . or Harry Potter.  We haven’t mastered the art of this sorcery.  That’s why we called you.”

I grinned.  “Nancy McGee to the rescue!”

I continued, “Once I’ve figured out where to stick a few more pieces, I’ll do what I can to excise the spell, even if we need a full blown exorcist.  Once we get rid of the spell that’s taken hold . . .”

I looked up and noticed Freddie’s discomfiture.  “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure we want to excise the spell.   Some of the side effects are rather lovely.  If we just knew what we were doing.”

“I see.  You might prefer to master the magic.”

“You don’t approve.”

“It’s not for me to approve or disapprove.  It’s your life.  Your choice.”

“But you think we’re playing with matches?”

“Perhaps.  Let’s see what we are working with before you end up burning down the house.”

“Or burning our bridges.”

“Just so.  I have a few more questions.  Have you gone anywhere or had anyone over to the house?”

“No.  We haven’t seen anyone.  As soon as we realized the extent of this spell, we canceled the mail, the newspaper, and stopped answering the phone.”

“So your friends think you’re on vacation?”

“Yes.”

“Wait!  The phone still works?”

“Oddly enough, yes.  Things with currents running through them are either impervious or less affected by the spell than less animate objects.”

Wikipedia ~ Lightning Strike (in Public Domain)

“So . . . tables more than phones.  And chairs more than, say, computers?”

“Exactly.”

“The computer still works?”

“It does.”

“Excellent, we may need it.”

I thought for a minute.  “Wait!  None of you touched me but I felt peculiar within moments of arriving.  As soon as you came out to greet me, my circuits started firing in unpredictable sequences.  Why?”

“This magic, like lightning, seems to be conducted via moisture.”

“But I wasn’t on soggy ground.  And I’m wearing flip flops.”

“True.  But the humidity in Florida is so high that . . .”

“. . . the air acts as a conductor.”

“Yes.  A mild one.”

“That’s why when it was just you standing near me, I didn’t notice it as much as when Teddy and Betty joined us.  At that point, my head started spinning.”

Freddie nodded.

“Why do I feel more like myself now?”

“Two reasons.  There’s just one of us here.  Teddy, Betty and I decided it would make sense to have just one spokesperson.  Me.”

“Okay.  Second?”

Dolphins-Under-the-Surface“You’re sitting on a dolphin.  Flipper is an insulator.”

“An insulator?”

“The quantum physics is beyond me, but as long as you’re seated on the dolphin you’re safe.”

I patted Flipper’s head, feeling grateful, indeed.

* * *

Chapter Seven . . .

IMGP3544b“You said you believe that someone or something compelled you to return to read the plaque.”

“I’m sure of it.”

“Let’s assume you’re correct.  Why you?  Why Betty?”

“I’ve given that some thought and have a theory.  First, frogs are amphibious with a high moisture content.  If the magic is conducted via moisture, as it seems to be, we would be more susceptible to the spell-weaver’s magic than the average tourist.”

“That makes sense.”

I snapped my fingers, “Have you ever read Hidden Messages in Water?”

Freddie raised his eyebrows at me.  “Yes.  Just this past week.”

“Combining Emoto’s research with your theory, our anonymous sorcerer would have been able to steer you and Betty down the proverbial garden path using the power of suggestion.”

“I’d say so.  I suspect that when the spell-weaver communicated with us, it seemed much like our own intuitive impulses firing.”

“Making you believe that curiosity alone impelled you back to the plaque.”

“Yes.”

“Of course, curiosity sometimes kills the cat.”

Freddie nodded assent.

“Let’s assume we’re on the right track.  Why did the spell-weaver need you for the spell?”

IMGP3524b“I believe the totem needed the sand.”

“The sand in Betty’s necklace.”

“Yes.  We were only a few blocks from the beach when the alleyway appeared.”

“The spell-weaver would have sensed you coming, communicating water molecule to water molecule.”

“Yes.  He, she, or it read our minds, knew we were coming down Fifth Avenue, knew where we’d been, and knew that Betty had a vial of sand around her neck.”

“And sand in her shoes that had started to chafe.”

IMGP3537b“The spell-weaver lured Betty in with the promise of a seat to ease her aching feet.”

“Okay.  So it lures Betty in, encourages you to explore until you find the totem, urges you both to back-track to read the plaque.”

Something niggled at the back of my mind. “Wait!  You said you had just started reading the plaque when you heard Betty.”

“Yes.  So?”

“If you didn’t have your glasses, how were you able to read anything?”

“Wow!  Now I really do feel like I’m being cross-examined.”

I shrugged.  “Sorry, Freddie.  Old habits die hard.  Once a recovering litigator, always a recovering litigator.”

“Fair enough.  To answer your question, I hadn’t actually read anything when I heard Betty.”

“So you didn’t notice that you didn’t have your reading glasses.”

“No.  Not then.”

IMGP3541b“Why did the totem need you to read the plaque?”

“I don’t think it did.”

“You don’t?”

“No.  I think it just needed the sand.”

“And the best way for it to get its hands on the sand was for Betty to hand her glasses over to you, pulling both chains off at the same time.”

“Bingo!”

“And once it got hold of the vial, the spell was complete.”

“That’s my best guess.”

“It’s a decent working hypothesis.  Except for one thing.”

Freddie stiffened and leaned forward.  “What’s that?”

“If the spell-weaver could conjure up an entire alleyway complete with totem pole, why couldn’t it go to the beach and get its own sand?”

Freddie relaxed.  “I’ve wondered the same thing.  Why involve a couple of middle-aged frogs . . . and run the risk of them croaking?”

* * *

Chapter Eight . . . 

“Now we just need to figure out the WHO and the WHY of it all . . . and we’ll be half-way home.”

I stood up, stretched, and sensed the immediate loss of equilibrium.

I stepped away from Freddie.

The feeling lessened but did not disappear.

“Man, Freddie.  The vibrations coming off of you are intense.”

Freddie nodded.  “Any time you step off Flipper, you’ll lose his insulating protection.”

Hearing his name, Flipper eyed me, arched his back, flicked his tail, and jerked his head.  “You’re their only hope, Obi Wan Kenobi.  You’d best stay aboard.”

“Aye, aye, Captain!”

Giving Flipper a mock salute, I swung one leg over, and sat back down.

Once the brain fog lifted, I leaned forward, and whispered into Flipper’s ear.

Freddie raised his eyebrows at me.

I returned his raise with a wink.  “I told him that close friends call me Yoda.”

My stomach growled.  I decided I did not want to grab sustenance from the magic fountain.

“Freddie, I need something to eat.  And time to think.”

“Of course.  Of course.  I’m sorry.  I’ll get Teddy to . . . ”  He stopped himself, realizing the impossibility of what he had started to say.

“Never mind.  I’m going to head to Fifth Avenue.  And poke around a bit.  What restaurant did you say you were headed to that night?”

IMGP3543b“The Wind in the Willows, 793 Fifth Avenue.”

“Good food?”

“The best.”

“Okay.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours and we can pick up where we left off.”

* * *

Chapter Nine . . .  

IMGP3551bI found The Wind in the Willows with no difficulty.

Al, my wide-mouthed waiter, suggested the Anything Goes appetizer to me ~ Chef’s Choice.

Intrigued, I agreed.

When it arrived, I eyed the hummus, kalamata olives, spinach-artichoke dip, pita, cheese and crusty bread with approval.

And then I saw the shrimp . . .

IMGP3546b“Al, someone’s eaten the shrimp and left the tails.”

He flashed a toothy grin. “I’m not surprised.  The shrimp are always the first to go.”

Too hungry to care, I shoved the tails to one side and dug in.  Cole Porter washed over me.

Anything Goes.

While I ate, I pondered the possibilities.  Who or what had enticed Freddie and Betty into the alley?  If the spell-weaver could conjure up an entire alleyway complete with totem pole, why couldn’t it go to the beach and get its own sand?

Freddie’s words drifted in:  “Why involve a couple of middle-aged frogs . . . and run the risk of them croaking?”

A disembodied voice interrupted my musings.  “Excuse me . . . I couldn’t help but overhear your thoughts.  Perhaps I might be of assistance.”

I whipped around, certain I had NOT been talking out loud.  No one there.

“Who are you?  WHERE are you?”

“Up here.”

I looked up and saw a red-eyed tree frog peering over the garden wall.  An eavesdropper.  Who and Where answered, I turned my attention to What.

IMGP2753c“What did you say?”

“I heard you thinking and suggested I might be of assistance.”

“How did you hear what I was thinking . . . was I thinking out loud?”

“No.  I’m telepathic.  A mind-reader.  Some see dead people.  I hear people’s thoughts.”

“Oh, you poor dear.  It’s bad enough hearing my own thoughts.  I can’t imagine the cacophony of hearing other people’s thoughts as well.”

“It’s not so bad.  My mind tunes out pointless droning.  Most folk’s thoughts are just white noise playing in the background.  Like the hum of an air conditioner. It tuned in your thoughts when it heard spell-weaver, alleyway, and totem pole in close proximity to one another.”

IMGP3164b“What do you know about spells, totem poles, and alleyways?”

“Next to nothing.  But I heard Madame Frieda thinking about a spell-weaver last week.”

“Do tell.”  I leaned forward to ensure I caught every word.  “By the way, what’s your name, Mr. Telepathic Tree Frog?”

“Eddie.”

“Of course.  And I’ll wager odds your siblings are Hettie, Lettie, and . . .”

“No.  Just one brother.  Daryl.”

* * *

Chapter Ten . . . 

IMGP2753c“So, Eddie, tell me about Madame Frieda and her thoughts.”

“I can’t.”

I frowned.  “Why not?”

“The Telepathic Creed.  I can’t divulge what I’ve overheard, except to save someone’s life.”

Frustrated, I glared at Eddie.

“I thought I heard YOU say that you could be of assistance.  Seems you’re just wasting my time.”  I stood up, tossed my napkin on the table, and turned to go.

“Wait!  I can’t tell you what she THOUGHT, but I can tell you where she lives.”

I turned back.  Ashamed of my outburst.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean to jump down your throat.  It’s just that I’m worried about Freddie, Betty, and Teddy.”

“No need to apologize.  I heard you the first time.  Your mind said it all.”  Eddie hopped down from the wall and motioned me to follow him.  “Let’s go.”

“You’re going with me?”

“Of course.  Frieda lives close by.  And she never opens the door to strangers.”

Within moments, we came to a small cottage, two blocks north of Fifth Avenue. Eddie rang the bell.

IMGP3168cWhen the door opened, I gasped at the ghastly apparition.

Eddie smiled in greeting.  “Hey, Claire.  Is Madame Frieda around.”

“Yes.  She’s expecting you.”

Claire turned.  Eddie hopped over the threshold.  I shut the door and followed them down a short hallway.

Claire said nothing else.  I didn’t know whether to apologize for my audible gasp or not.

Eddie leaned over and whispered.  “You would only need to apologize if you hadn’t reacted to her stage make-up.  Claire is somewhat of a drama queen.”

Reassured, I nodded.

Claire walked into an expansive library and announced us to Madame Frieda.

IMGP3552bI surveyed the space.

Comfortable sofas and over-stuffed chairs filled the room.

Elaborate murals hung on the wall.

Curtains framed the windows.

Eddie hopped past the coffee table and sat in an arm chair next to a checked sofa.

I sunk into the seat opposite him. Exhausted. The day had taken its toll on me.

IMGP3164b

Madame Frieda’s voice boomed out. “Eddie!  It’s been too long.”

“Frieda!  You’re looking stoic.”

Turning to me, Frieda smiled a small smile, reminding me of the Mona Lisa.  “You must be Ms. McGee.”

“I am.  I’m here because . . . ”

“I know exactly why you’re here.  I’m clairvoyant.  As is Claire.”

My words rushed out in rapid stream.  “Can you help?  What can you tell me about the alleyway, the totem, the plaque, or the spell-weaver?”

“The totem is as old as time itself.  Intended to be eternal.  Sand ever-flowing.  A fountain of time.”

IMGP3541bShe stopped.
As if that explained the all.

“I’m sorry.  The day is catching up with me.  I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.”

Claire sneered.  “No.  You wouldn’t.”

Madame Frieda glared at Claire, then returned her impenetrable gaze to me.  “Who sent the necklace to Betty?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t ask.  I just assumed that . . . ”

Madame Frieda held up her hand.  “I sent the necklace to Betty to protect her from the spell-weaver.  And, instead, I set the wheels in motion.”

* * *

Chapter Eleven . . . 

IMGP3537bI stared at Madame Frieda.  “What do you mean, you set the wheels in motion?”

“Isn’t that obvious?  If I hadn’t sent the necklace, Betty wouldn’t have gone to the beach, she wouldn’t have gotten sand in her shoes, she wouldn’t have entered the alley to sit on the bench, and . . .”

“. . . Freddie wouldn’t have found the totem pole.”

“Quite right.  It’s all connected.  There are no inconsequential choices.”

“What’s to be done now?  How can I find the spell-weaver?”

“You won’t.  He will find you when the time is right.”  With that, Madame Frieda stood.  “Let’s go out to the garden.  I have something to show you.”

IMGP2507bIn the garden, I noticed a number of stone monuments.

The first, shaped like a toadstool, stood to my left.  A small protected opening graced its front.  I tried to peer inside the tiny portal, but my eyes couldn’t penetrate the darkness.

Madame Frieda shifted her weight.  Her silk skirts rustling.

Claire coughed.

Eddie whispered.  “That one doesn’t have anything to do with anything.”

Echoes of Star Wars.  These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

I whispered back. “You read Claire’s mind?”  Eddie nodded.

IMGP2518bI turned to my right and saw a second monument.  Taller than the first, it boasted a larger opening.

And a plaque.
Another plaque.

Drawn to the monument, I wondered about possible repercussions.

To read, or not to read.  
That is the question.

I leaned forward.  And stopped. There are no insignificant choices.

Claire laughed.  “Go ahead. Read it.”

Madame Frieda tapped my shoulder. “You may trust Claire on this.”

I crouched and read the plaque.  Twice.

I  stood and stuck my head into the hollow stone.  I hummed.  I played with notes.  Finding one to my liking, I sustained it, and felt a gentle vibration.

I must have struck the right chord.

IMGP2519b

Oblivious to all, I hummed. The world fell away.

The white noise in my mind disappeared . . . clarity taking the reins.

The last piece of the puzzle clicked into place.

I laughed out loud.  And heard the sound echo in the Eternal Now.

From behind Madame Frieda, a new voice emerged.

IMGP2495bThe spell-weaver!

I pulled my head from the hollow stone and met his gaze.

He laughed, sounding like Rafiki. “And now you know all.”

“Yes.”

He puffed his pipe.  “Tell us what you have learned.”

“To follow my instincts. To listen to my impulses. To heed my inner voice.”

“Good. Good. And now?”

“What else? I’ll go back to Freddie’s.”

He clapped his hands in delight.

IMGP3549b

At Freddie’s, I smiled at the transformation.

They’d been busy.  Beds weeded and trimmed.

The fountain splashed.

Teddy strolled through the guests with a tray of drinks.  “Hoppy to see you made it back, Ms. McGee.”

“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, Teddy.”  I selected a glass of wine and took a sip.  “Aah . . . nectar of the gods.  Much better than a sludge smoothie.”

Teddy grinned.  “Freddie’s outdone himself this time, eh?”

“He has, indeed.  Where might I find my . . . Best Froggie Friend?  I’d like to have a word or two with him.”

“I suspect so.  You’ll find him near the musicians.”

“Thanks, Teddy.”  I walked across the patio, following the notes carried on the whispering wind.  Fairy lights created a twinkling canopy overhead.

IMGP3547b

On the edge of the patio, a trio of musicians tuned strings.  I saw Freddie out of the corner of my eye.

IMGP3548b

The musicians stopped playing to watch.

Et tu?

I clapped Freddie on the back. “You old bastard. Is everyone in Naples in on it?”

Freddie chuckled.  “Not everyone.” I searched his face. Not even a trace of apology.

“Let’s see,”  I counted his co-conspirators on my fingers, “Teddy, Betty, Flipper, the Wind in the Willows chef, Al, Eddie, Claire, Frieda, and the musicians. Did I miss anyone?”

IMGP3553bFreddie pulled out a chair for me, and waved at Rafiki. “The spell-weaver.”

Relaxing into the evening, I smiled at my old friend.  “I should have suspected you when Al presented the Anything Goes appetizer. How Al managed to avoid fits of convulsive laughter is beyond me.”

“He’s the consummate actor . . .”

“One needs a consummate actor to serve plates of previously consumed crustaceans!” I sipped my wine. “I also should have seen your stamp when I heard Anything Goes playing at the Wind in the Willows.”

“We worried that might be the tell. Any lingering questions?”

“Can I trust you for answers?”

IMGP3544bFreddie laughed. “Perhaps.  Try me.”

“Eddie wasn’t really reading my mind.  You’d coached him, Claire, and Frieda.”

“Of course.”

“And I’m guessing you used nitrous oxide when I arrived to cause me to go dizzy. But how did you manage it?”

Freddie grinned and pointed to his top hat.  I spied a small hole in its center.  “Teddy and Betty also had canisters aimed at you. From under his tray and beneath her bonnet.”

“You’re an evil genius! Why didn’t it affect you?”

“Frogs are impervious to laughing gas.”

“So no Frog Fog for you.  Good to know.  The dolphin? Robotic?

“My latest toy.  I programmed Flipper to offer you a seat and encourage you to sit back down.”

“You couldn’t have Obi Wan Kenobi prowling inside for a non-existent bridge game.”  I laughed. “Bet I made you nervous when I whispered in Flipper’s ear.”

“A bit.  The only button left to push was Flipper’s trademark laugh . . . which might not have been appropriate.”

With that, Freddie motioned the musicians. The theme for his elaborate April Fool’s Day hoax (starring Nancy McGee as The Fool) swirled through the night air . . . Anything Goes.

Aah . . . that’s better!  

Comments»

1. A Peculiar Party Under The Palms | Spirit Lights The Way - March 30, 2013

[…] If you missed any installments, the entire story (thus far) can be found at the Short Stories tab . . . or just click HERE! […]

2. bluebee - April 2, 2013

Some very peculiar froggy business, indeed!
Didn’t anybody warn you about licking psychoactive toads?! 😉
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoactive_toad

nrhatch - April 2, 2013

Yes! They also warned me away from Magic Mushrooms . . . and Hookah Smoking Caterpillars. 😉

3. Follow on from “I love trees”… | Welcome to allaboutwordswa! - April 5, 2013

[…] correctly identifying them. I would urge you to read her blog, especially a new short story called A Peculiar Party Under the Palms. It is a great read that will keep you on the edge of your […]

nrhatch - April 5, 2013

Thanks, Lorraine! :mrgreen:

4. shreejacob - April 6, 2013

Wow!!!!!! I loved the story! and it had me transfixed (if that is the right word) from the very start!!!! 😀

nrhatch - April 6, 2013

Thanks, Shree! I had a TON of FUN with this ONE. :mrgreen:

5. Carol Balawyder - June 9, 2014

This is more like a novella than a short story. You have a really good sense of dialogue. Have you tried to get it published?

nrhatch - June 9, 2014

Thanks, Carol. No plans to have it published. For one thing, I don’t think it would be as FUN to read without all the pictures ~ and reproducing all the photos would make for an expensive novella.

Carol Balawyder - June 9, 2014

Hear you 🙂

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

Thanks for the suggestion, Carol. Having a blog is such a wonder at times.

6. Don - August 25, 2015

So enjoyed it Nancy. You have a wonderful way of writing. So alive, sharp and spirited.

nrhatch - August 25, 2015

Thanks, Don! I had a blast writing this using the photos we took at a cocktail party in Naples as prompts.

7. anotherday2paradise - April 16, 2019

A wonderful and fanciful story, Nancy. Lewis Carroll has a rival. 😀


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