9 June, 2010
Somehow I seem to have fallen out of fictional inspiration lately, having difficulties finding the time and inspiration to focusing my mind on it.
It is still my hope and intention to some day get back to the Wordzzle game and finish off The Slumber Party Mystery story.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Wordzzle # 105

oh, my aching bones, Spring has sprung, solitude, spearmint, platitudes, cardboard box, chimney, yogurt, shattered, flagrant

dragons are forever, jelly beans, practice makes perfect, asparagus, spelling bee

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 50 - What the General Remembered (part 2)

Skittles had been keeping his eyes fixed at Adam, too, while the General spoke. And he heard the sigh that the doctor let out when the General fell silent again. Relief? Or what? He glanced at his colleague, but Matthew was busy unwrapping a piece of spearmint gum, feeling that he still had a bit of asparagus stuck between his teeth from lunch.

"So, doctor Challenge," said Skittles, "I guess it's up to you to tell us the rest, isn't it?" 

"What do you mean?" said Adam. "I already told you, didn't I? Yes, I drove up to the house earlier in the afternoon. I wasn't really sure what to make of that invitation card. So when I got here, I had second thoughts. It struck me that if it really was a party, I wasn't suitably dressed. So I went back to change my shirt." Repeating this very weak story, he was still not even sure himself why he stuck to it. But if the General had really been unconscious...  That meant there was no witness to details of what had actually happened; and no reason for anyone to dig deeper into Adam's past...

"Oh, my aching bones!" said the General, quite sharply. "What do you think this is? A spelling bee? p-l-a-t-i-t-u-d-e-s, spells platitudes! I have to say, Dr Challenge, you've just made a flagrant mistake that shattered all my remaning faith in you! - All gone now, like smoke up the chimney," he added, dramatically.

Adam felt himself blushing. "I'm sorry," he said, trying to keep his voice steady. "I don't understand..." But he did understand, and so did the others.

"You mean," said Skittles to the General, "that you were not completely unconscious after all?"

"No, I was not!" said the General. "I just wanted to give the doctor a chance to explain. But he didn't take it, so I will instead. But I think Bumblebee should be here for this, too. Diana, darling, will you go and fetch him? And tell him to bring some yogurt and my pill, too."

Diana rose without a word and went out the door. The General's eyes followed her.

"Light of my eyes, she is," he remarked. "Always makes me feel that spring has sprung!"

Skittles felt that he knew exactly what the General meant.

Silence fell. The General was obviously not going to say anything more until Bumblebee and Diana were back with them. Skittles and Matthew were both watching Adam, making sure he wouldn't try to make an attempt to run away. William was staring at the lid of the treasure chest, with its golden salamander. A phrase he couldn't remember the origin of kept ringing in his mind: "Dragons are forever." What was that supposed to mean? He put his hand in his pocket and found a little cardboard box of jelly beans which he had forgotten about. He thought of asking the others if they wanted some, but somehow it didn't seem quite right, so he just put a handful into his own mouth.  

They did not have to wait long. After just a couple of minutes, Diana was back with the butler. Without a word, Bumblebee put down a small tray with a bowl of yogurt and a pill next to the General, and then sat down on a chair by the door. The General swallowed the pill with a spoonful of yogurt, grimaced and then began speaking again:

"Putting yourself into this kind of trance, you do not really cease to be aware of what's going on around you. Practice makes perfect, you might say. It's much like what people sometimes describe as a near-death-experience - floating away from your body for a while, and watching it from above. How many stories like that haven't you heard about people seeing themselves lying on the operating table? Well, in a smiliar way I was watching myself lying in my deck chair in the solitude of my own garden. I also saw Dr Challenge coming towards me, across the lawn."

"Yes," he continued, looking at Adam. "You  came through the garden, doctor, not through the house. I could also tell it gave you quite a shock to see me lying there, and you lifted my arm, and started feeling for my pulse. Then there was a sudden noise - I know now it was from those sausages exploding on the grill - and for some reason that made you panic! I was still sort of out of my body, so I couldn't get my voice going. But I saw you run off, and I heard your car start again and drive down the road. Trying to understand what had happened brought me back, but I admit the transition is a bit blurry, I'm not sure how long that took. Then suddenly there was my faithful servant" - the General nodded towards Bumblebee - "pushing me out into the swimming pool!" He suddenly gave a chuckle. "Took me a while to get that bit together - why he was doing that I mean - because the one part of the whole thing which I wasn't aware of until later was the fire. But that, as I understand it, was put out by young William. So no real harm done." He gave the young man an encouraging smile; and William blushed, glad to finally get official appreciation.

Wordzzle # 104

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 104 

As I post this, there is no post of Raven's actually entitled Week 104. So the link above goes to Week 103, which is where she gave these words:

culture, sheep, skin, mentally, box, desert, several people, church, Greece, thirst,
swimming pool, cargo, czar, focus, fine

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 49 - What the General Remembered (part 1)

"Ah," said the General, nodding at Matthew. "That's a good question, young man. You should know though - and this is another thing I learned from the culture of my Indian forefathers - that being mentally aware is a complex thing." He made a gesture towards the treasure chest. "That old box... the things in there are just reminders."  He feel silent for a moment, shifting his stare from the treasure chest to the polar bear skin on the floor. "This is very old knowledge. Several peoples in the old world knew about it. Not only the philosphers of Greece, and some of the saints of the early church. But also nomads spending their lives guarding their sheep. People living in the desert, familiar with thirst.  It's all about keeping your focus, really. I even came upon it in a biography of some old Russian czar, believe it or not. And there was this other story I read about a man who had himself transported as cargo, no food and no drink, and he reached his destination just fine..."

"Grandpa..." said Diana. "I'm sure that's all fascinating, but speaking of focus..."

"Sorry," said the General. "Well, I just wanted you to know it's not easy to describe exactly what happens when you enter into this state of mind. I heard the doctor's car arriving - and there's no mistake about that, because his car really needs a new muffler! - and that was my cue, so to say."

He looked intentely at Adam while saying this, and Adam had to use all his willpower to keep his face expressionless.

"But then," continued the General, "I don't really have a clear picture of things until I found myself out in the swimming pool with Bumblebee. Quite a shock, to tell you the truth!"

A very faint sound was heard from Adam - like a sigh he couldn't quite keep back.

The Slumber Party Mystery – A Summary

The Slumber Party Mystery is a story based on the weekly Wordzzle Challenge hosted by Raven at the blog Views from Raven's Nest. Her rules for the game can be read here.

I've been partaking since Wordzzle Challenge #57, April 2009 - originally at my blog The Island of the Voices. I had no intention from the beginning to write a long story; it just somehow turned into one. After six or seven months, I began to feel the need of a summary! (Both for myself and for new readers). In connection with that, I also decided to move the story to this blog. The earlier posts remain at their original site as well, but from Challenge #90, the story is only published here. 

The number in front of each paragraph in the summary refers to the number of the Wordzzle Challenge. These numbers are also used in the titles of my blogposts. (One day, I intend to add my own chapter headings...)

I have highlighted a few time references to remind you that while the series has been going on for a almost a year, within the story only about 48 hours have passed since the beginning of the events...

- - - - -

(57) On a hot summer Friday afternoon, Dr Adam Challenge arrives at the house of a Brigadier General, who is a rather eccentric old patient of his, suffering from paralysis caused by apoplexy. In his pocket, the doctor has a mysterious invitation to a slumber party. He finds the Brigadier General in the garden at the back of the house, apparently asleep. When he does not wake up, the doctor tries checking for his pulse, but cannot find it. At the same moment, there is the sound of an explosion from the grill behind him, and a burning sausage falls on the ground and sets fire to the dry grass. Dr Challenge is seized by panic and we learn that for some (unexplained) reason, he is afraid of being suspected of arsonry. He runs away; but the butler, Bumblebee, catches a glimpse of him through the kitchen window.

(58) The Brigadier General's granddaughter Diana, from her room upstairs, also watches Dr Challenge drive off. Diana is studying to become an interpreter/translator.

(59) Back at his office, Adam has second thoughts about his own behaviour. He also begins to suspect that maybe it was not the Brigadier General who sent the invitation in the first place, but Diana, whom he has known since she was rather a mischievious young girl, coming to live with her grandparents after the death of her own parents.

(60) Bumblebee takes the usual afternoon drinks out into the garden, sees the fire, pours a jug of juice over the worst of it, and pushes the General's deck chair out into the shallow end of the swimming pool. Standing in the pool, he makes a call from his cell phone. At the same time, a delivery van from the grocery store arrives at the front of the house.

(61) Adam, driving back to the General's house, is thinking back on his first marriage, which was very short because his wife was killed in a car accident which included fire.

Diana is getting ready to join her grandfather in the garden for afternoon drinks, and we also learn that she has some experiments in mind which include good timing to work out. We also learn that William, the delivery boy, has a sort of crush on Diana ever since their childhood and school days.

(62) William and Diana arrive in the garden at the same time, and William has a stroke of genius and puts out the fire by turning on the sprinkler system watering the lawn. At the same time, Dr Challenge again drives up at the front of the house, determined not to let his past control his present.

(63) The ambulance and Police Lieutenant Skittles arrive on the scene to find the Brigadier General revived, but somewhat confused. He is taken to hospital, while Skittles tries to get a grip of what has happened; which is not easy, since everybody is trying to give their own version all at the same time. He decides to interview them each in turn, and Bumblebee suggests using the library as interview room.

(64) The library turns out to be a room full of curious objects. Apparently the General is a collector of all kinds of odd things. Skittles finds this rather distracting. He also finds the butler somewhat evasive when it comes to answering questions.

(65) After Bumblebee has gone to fetch Skittles an aspirin and a glass of water to swallow it down with, Diana comes bursting into the room and says everything is her fault. She denies having tried to kill her grandfather or having started the fire on purpose; but she confesses to having tried out some experiments, as part of trying to write a detective story herself. The experiments involved trying to get the sausages to explode at exactly the right time; but she had not counted on starting a fire. She also confesses to being in love with Adam Challenge but says he does not know it.

(66) [I did not take part in this week's Wordzzle.]

(67) [I did not take part in this week's Wordzzle.]

(68) Adam and William are waiting on the terrace, and don't have a whole lot to say to each other. A cat comes strolling by, and William follows it round to the kitchen. Diana is still talking to Skittles in the library, and is now pouring her heart out to him about what it was like growing up in her grandparents' house. She was always a child of great imagination. In her childhood, she played it out in wild games. Now, she tries to make use of it in becoming a writer.

(69) Bumblebee comes back with the aspirin and water for Skittles, but Diana thinks they are meant for her and takes them, while Skittles has to go without. Bumblebee also brings a letter, which Diana recognizes as one she wrote to herself, for the purposes of her book. She calls it a blackmail letter. We also learn that the name of the cat is Puddles and that she has the habit of strolling off from time to time.

(70) Diana, without explanation, puts the letter, unopened, in a ginger jar in the library. She then goes on to explain again about her sausage experiment, and also happens to drop the hint that Dr Challenge had come to the house earlier in the afternoon, then driven off again, and then come back. She thinks Skittles should ask him about that.

(71) Skittles decides to take Diana's advice and interview Dr Challenge next, but feels in need of a short break first, and asks to use the bathroom. Diana then shows him upstairs, and besides a very uninteresting bathroom, he also gets a glimpse of her room.

(72) Skittles finally gets his aspirin, and also asks the butler if he can carry on the interviews in another room instead of the library. He and Adam are shown into the drawing room, which is less full of strange collector's items, but the pictures on the walls reveal that Diana is quite a good artist, too. The doctor does not seem very keen to interviewed. Skittles finds him evasive and is getting suspicious of his motives.

(73) Adam shows Skittles the invitation card to the slumber party, and gives his own interpretation of it. He says he thought the General might have been planning to commit suicide. Skittles' thoughts however turn to Diana, and wonders if it's not more likely that she was behind the invitation.

(74) Skittles continues the interview with the doctor but feels himself getting nowhere. At the last moment, he remembers what Diana told him, and asks the doctor why he first came, then left, and then came back.

(75) Adam finds himself facing the unpleasant fact that he was actually seen when he left the house the first time, and tries to give a very lame excuse for that. He then fakes getting an emergency phone call, and leaves.

(76) Skittles finds Bumblebee and William in the kitchen. Skittles sends William off; he is not interested in interviewing him, which William finds rather disappointing. Bumblebee confirms Diana's statement about the doctor's comings and goings.

(77) Skittles talks to Diana again and asks her about the invitation card. She confirms that it was she who sent it, not really caring much whether Adam would take it as just a joke or as an actual invitation to spend the night with her. Skittles does not tell her about Adam's idea that it might be interpreted as a suicide warning.

We also follow Adam back home, and learn that not only was his first wife killed in a car accident involving fire, but on top of that his second wife was also killed in a fire.

(78) We get a glimpse from the General's hospital bed and learn that he is still not being coherent or able to give his own version of what happened the day before.

(79) Before Skittles leaves the General's house, he goes back into the library. He is very much tempted to read the letter that Diana put into the ginger jar. He takes it out of the jar and looks at it, but resists the temptation to open it.

(80) Adam Challenge has a bad night with nightmares, and is not pleased when Skittles rings his doorbell early on Saturday morning. Skittles suspects the doctor of perhaps planning to leave town, and warns him not to do so. He still does not really have anything to accuse the doctor of, but is finding his behaviour suspicious anyway.

(81) We get a glimpse of William's Saturday morning at the grocery store. His boss is angry with him for the delay last evening, won't listen to William's heroic story, and gives him extra chores to do.

(82) Skittles goes to the hospital and tries to interview the General. The General is now sitting up, eating and talking, but is still saying nothing that makes any sense.

(83) Outside the General's room, Skittles runs into Diana, who convinces him (or more like orders him) to have coffee with her in the hospital cafeteria. This time, it is Diana who takes the part as interviewer, and starts asking questions about Skittles rather than the other way round.

(84) Diana skips her plans to go bowling and asks Skittles – whom she now calls John – to go with her to a modern arts exhibition instead. Skittles finds himself continuing to obey her suggestions, without quite being able to explain to himself why.

(85) [I did not take part in this week's Wordzzle.]

(86) Diana drags Skittles through an art exhibition of which he understands little or nothing. Modern art is not really his thing. In spite of this, he finds himself asking Diana to also have lunch with him.

(87) We're back with Adam Challenge, whose Saturday started out badly, but his mood improves when he is able to successfully help deliver triplets into the world.

(88) Skittles and Diana go to a restaurant called The Casbah, but do not have time to order before Diana gets a curious phone call. Skittles only overhears her part of it, and first assumes her grandfather's condition has grown worse. It turns out however that it is her cat Puddles that has had a fatal accident.

(89) Skittles talks to his friend Turtles on the phone and complains that while he thought he was solving a mystery, he now seems to be stuck in a sugar-coated romance instead, and he is not too sure how he feels about that.

(90) William spends his Saturday evening alone watching a film about love; and Diana spends hers in her room, thinking about Men.

(91) On Sunday Morning, Dr Adam Challenge decides to go to church to find out what rumours may be spreading in the village about Friday's events. William makes the same decision, because he is longing to build up his own reputation as hero. Diana also arrives at the church, driving a little red sports car and wearing a spectacular diamond necklace. We find out that her last name is Haven.

(92) Lieutenant John Skittles also decides to go to church, and brings his friend Matthew Turtles (also a police officer) along for support.

(93) A sermon about avarice is preached; Diana seems very friendly with William; and Skittles finds himself jealous.

(94) Diana invites William, Skittles and Turtles back to the house with her for lunch. A discussion of the sermon brings up the topic of the General's various collections of obscure objects, and Diana mentions some old "broken bones" which might or might not be ancient relics.

(95) [I did not take part in this week's Wordzzle]

(96) Adam is surprised that nobody seemed to take much notice of him at church; but receives a new mysterious written invitation, for afternoon tea.

(97) Sunday afternoon, Diana and her guests are having coffee on the terrace, but return indoors when they hear thunder. In the library, much to the surprise of the two police officers, they find the Brigadier General himself waiting for them, apparently not much the worse for his near-death-experience the other day. We learn that there are three more cats in the house, a Siamese (named Goofy) with two kittens.   

(98) William is sent to fetch a treasure chest containing the ancient relics, and the Brigadier General starts to tell a story about an Indian Chief named Baying Wolf.

(99) The door bell rings, and it turns out to be Dr Challenge, coming to check up on how the General is doing. He, too, is surprised to find the old man alert and in story-telling mood. William comes back in with the chest. The chest is opened, and turns out to contain a ribbon, a feather and some small pieces of bones. The General starts again on his story.

(100) It turns out that the General is the great-grandson of the Indian Chief Baying Wolf. The items in the chest belonged to his grandmother Sparrow, and were handed down to him by her daughter, the General's mother, Little Lark. From her he also learned other secrets of that Indian tribe.

(101) Bumblebee brings the tea and knocks over a lampshade, and there is again a bit of a break in the story-telling. However, we are again reminded that Diana is an aspiring writer, and has been carrying on some experiments which were important to the recent events.

(102) [I did not take part in this week's Wordzzle]

(103) The General reveals that one secret he learned from the old Indians was how to put himself into a coma-like trance.

The summary will be added to as the story proceeds.


Sunday, 14 March 2010

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 103

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 103

slimy, Pluto, champing at the bit, peaceful, chapter, upright, depression, starfish, matches, channel changer, liver spots, pesticide, plaid, unpredictable, upsetting the apple cart

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 48 - What the General learned from the Indians

Everyone was sitting upright now, waiting for Diana or the General to go on. The old man seemed to be champing at the bit, but was still looking at his granddaughter.

"To tell you the truth," Diana continued, "I've been suffering from a bit of writer's depression lately. Didn't feel I was getting anywhere. For the next chapter in my story, I needed a murder. I had thought of using pesticide, but I really wanted something a bit more unpredictable. The problem with unpredictable is, of course, that it is unpredictable. So when I got back here for my holiday, I decided to try some things out. And talking it over with grandpa, he was all up for a bit of a fun and upsetting the apple cart, too."

"I was," confirmed the old man, adjusting the plaid over his knees. "I really gets a bit too peaceful around here at times, with Diana away at college. Just me and the TV channel changer."

"The problem was, I think," said Diana, "that as usual I tried a few too many things at once."

"I tried to tell her that!" said the General, nodding. "She's like a starfish sometimes. Too many arms." He hesitated a moment. "Not quite as slimy though," he added, "even if devious."

"I have already explained to John about the sausages," said Diana, ignoring that last remark. "That was about timing, and the usually very predictable and punctual habits of old Bumblebee. I wanted to give him a bit of a start, that's all - coming out on the terrace to find the sausages on the grill, hopefully all ready to explode by then. I swear I didn't think of the fire hazard - that was just plain stupid of me, playing with matches on a day like this. One of those things that should have been predictable, and yet I did not foresee it."

"What I don't understand about that," said Skittles, "is why you didn't stay close by to watch?"

"That," said Diana, "is what I mean by having too many things going at once, because other parts required that I was not around just then."

"That invitation card..." said Adam, hesitatingly. "Did you..."

"Of course I did," said Diana. "That was the other thing. Or part of it. I didn't want you to know I was behind it, or that I was even at home, so I tried to make it look like the note came from Grandpa, but with an odd enough message to make sure you did not just decline the invitation. I knew your sense of duty would make you want to check it out. This was really the big test, you see. Grandpa had been telling me about this trick he learned from the Indians, a secret handed down by generations. I'm sure you've heard of it it in stories, just like I have. I never really believed it, though - about being able to put yourself in a coma-like trance. Grandpa challenged me - didn't you?" She broke off her flow of words to look at the old man. "Said you bet you could even fool the doctor."

The General was looking down at his wrinkled hands, full of liver spots, but grinning to himself. "Yes I did. And I could, couldn't I? So you owe me, girl!"

Adam looked shocked and disbelieving at the same time. "You don't mean to say..."

"Yes," said the General, in a triumphant tone of voice.

"But just a while ago you were talking about your pancreas!" said Adam.

"Well, you don't think I told the true story to the doctors at the hospital, do you? They wouldn't have believed it anyway. Neither do you, by the looks of it."

"I'm not sure what to believe," said Adam, trying to take it all in. He had searched for the General's pulse without finding it; but he had not searched very long, because he had fled in uncontrollable panic from the sudden fire. When he returned, the General had still been alive, but weak; and Adam's first thought then had been of sun stroke. Then the hospital had taken over, and of course they might have suspected the old man's diabetes to have something to do with it. And now the General was saying he had put himself into some kind of volontary trance! That kind of thing was really not Adam's speciality at all.

"Excuse me, Brigadier General," said Matthew, who had until then just been listening quietly, while drawing a cartoon of Pluto in his notebook. "I'm just curious. While you were in this - ahem - trance, were you aware at all of what was going on around you at the time?"

Good question, thought Adam to himself. A very good question indeed!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Raven's Saturday Wordzzle Challenge # 101

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #101

smoothness, crafty, purchase, brief, chirping, forever, shift, moonrise, lampshade, stereotype

remembrance, Dr. John, Agent 012, dragons, Fortress

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 47 - Remembrances

The General shifted position a little in his chair, still looking at his granddaughter. Through the open door to the terrace they could hear birds chirping outside as the rain began to fall.

"Do you know, gentlemen," he said, "my Diana is a very crafty young lady. And then I'm not talking about embroidery," he added, nodding at the sampler Diana was stitching on. "Nor about painting, although she's very good at that too."

"She really is!" said William. "I remember at school...You were phenomenal!" He somehow managed to look admiringly at Diana and triumphantly at Skittles (who was sitting next to her) at the same time. ("Ah, so they know each other since childhood," thought Skittles.)

Diana started to say something, but was interrupted by a sudden noise out in the hall. It sounded like something had fallen to the floor. A moment later, the door opened, and Bumblebee entered carrying a tea tray. William hurried to remove the treasure chest from the table, and Bumblebee put the heavy tray down.

"I'm sorry, sir, miss," he said, turning first to the General, then to Diana. "I'm afraid I happened to knock over that lamp in the hall. My elbow got caught in the lampshade."

The General frowned and looked displeased. "That lamp was quite a good purchase back when I bought it," he said. "Please keep in remembrance that..."

"Oh, never mind the lamp!" said Diana. "It was an ugly old thing. Just serve the tea, please, Bumblebee. We have some things to discuss here and if we don't get on with it we'll be here forever - or, not to use stereotypes, at least until moonrise."

There was a brief silence while Bumblebee, managing to regain his usual butlerish smoothness, poured the tea, and plates were passed around.

"Now," said Diana, when the butler had shut the door behind him again, "will you get on with the tale, Grandpa, or shall I?"

"Yes, that's the question," said the General. "In a way, some of it is really your story rather than mine, isn't it?" Turning again to the police officers and the doctor, he continued: "Diana, you see, has the aspiration to become a novelist. She has always been good at making up stories. When she was a little girl, for example, she used to pretend this house was a fortress, and that I was the dragon guarding the treasures. And the first time Dr Challenge came to visit..."

"Yes, yes, enough about old times!" said Diana, suddenly blushing and seeming a bit embarrassed as she glanced at Skittles. "The thing is, now I'm writing what I hope to be a real detective novel, but there were some details I wasn't feeling quite sure about how they would work out in real life. So, as I already told you, John, I tried some experiments. Of which some turned out more successful than others. No, please don't interrupt - you have not yet heard the full story. Grandpa and I talked it over, and we decided the best thing would be to gather everybody together again who was here on Friday. Of course we hadn't counted on the extra addition of Agent 012 here" (she nodded at Matthew Turtles) "but that doesn't really matter."

Friday, 19 February 2010

Raven's Saturday Wordzzle Challenge # 100

Congratulations to Raven
for having kept this game going for 100 weeks!

Condolences to Betty
on the loss of your husband, and our blogging friend, Dr John.
We will all miss the adventures of Agent 012, 
the extraordinary village life in Pigeon Falls,
and the fiery comments from the Dragons.
Please also read the In Memoriam post at my other blog,
The Island of the Voices!

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 100

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 46 - Sparrow and Little Lark

transfixed, treachery, basics, fragrance, sampler, pregnant, cartoons, lark, spartan
 rapid, camping, blandishments, transitory, plug-ins

They all sat like transfixed while the Brigadier General told them the story about the Indian Chief Baying Wolf and his daughter Sparrow.

Skittles was sitting next to Diana, and every now and then the discreet fragrace of her perfume tickled his senses. She had picked up a piece of embroidery from a basket nearby to work on while her grandfather told the story. It seemed to be some kind of sampler. His colleague and friend Matthew had taken up a notebook and a pencil. Skittles couldn't see whether he was taking notes, or just drawing cartoons (something of a hobby of Matt's).

"And so because of a white man's treachery," the General continuted, "Sparrow found herself pregnant without a father for her child. And she died giving birth to a little half-blood, who grew up with her grandfather and whom he called Little Lark. But Little Lark too, as she became a grown woman, fell in love with a white man. And when Baying Wolf saw that he could not stop her, he gave her his blessing. But after she had gone away, he felt that his end was coming, and he went up into the mountains to find his final resting place. And there was a terrible snow storm that night, and his remains were never found. But Little Lark inherited his treasure chest. The contents may seem spartan to you, but this is the headband and the feather worn by Sparrow on the day that she gave life to Little Lark, and gave up her own."

"And where do the bones come into it?" asked Matthew curiously. He had in fact been writing down the basics of the story in his notebook.

"Ah, the bones!" said the General. "Yes. What do you make of them?"

All the men leaned over the chest and looked again at the small pieces of broken bones.

"Well," said Adam, who by now had almost forgotten why he had come, and was just as fascinated as the others by the story. "They certainly don't look human to me. I would say bird bones, actually."

"Ah," said the General. "And now you wonder, don't you, how some bird bones came to be seen as holy relics?" He did not wait for their answers, but continued: "You see, among these Indians, there was the idea that when someone died, they took the form of the animal whose name they bore. And these are sparrow bones."

"As I've told you before, I never thought that made any sense," said Diana in the background. "Because it's the soul that's supposed to turn into animal, isn't it. Not the body."

"Now, well," said her Grandfather. "Remember Baying Wolf. His body was never found either."

"So," said Matthew, "you're suggesting some kind of transitory change of body before final death? Don't think I ever heard of that one before."

"I'm not saying I believe it," was the rapid reply from the General. "Just telling you what the legend says."

"It's a remarkable story," said Skittles. "And I'm impressed with your narrative skills. But you have not yet told us how the chest came to be in your possession. Or how you learned about the legend."

"I was coming to that," said the General. "No blandishments needed, but you must have a little patience with an old man. I'm not adapted to this modern plug-in world! I belong to a generation in which the telling of a story was allowed to take time. Especially since I have Indian blood running through my veins."

He looked very pleased with himself when he saw the surprise in the faces of his audience.

"Yes," he said. "Little Lark was my mother. And when I was a young boy, she used to take me camping in the Indian territory up in the mountains where she grew up. Although she married a white man, she never forgot about her roots. She was a wise woman, and she knew much about the old Indian traditions. She taught me a lot more than just legends, too."

He fell silent, and glanced at his granddaughter.
Diana nodded at him, and said: "Yes. Go on. You should tell them."

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Raven's Saturday Wordzzle Challenge # 99

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 99

thermometer, Pandora, vivid, langourous, Saturday, pancreas, apple dumplings, watch tower, lichen, sparrow

rigid, spiritual, ribbon, web cam, vitamins

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 45 - The Treasure Chest

"Excuse me, miss," said Bumblebee, as the ring tone sounded again. "There seems to be somebody at the door. If it is those people from the Watchtower again, shall I just send them away or do you want to talk to them?"

"Somehow I doubt it will be a while before they come back to this house for a spiritual talk," said Diana. "I think it's probably someone else this time."

Skittles in his head got a vivid image of Diana managing to totally confuse the Watchtower people by a discussion about the use of web cams in modern art. (Was it really this Saturday - that is, yesterday - that she had dragged him through the Modern Art Museum?)

Bumblebee disappeared out into the hall. The library seemed suddenly filled with a langourous atmosphere while they all waited for whatever was to happen next.

What happened next was that Bumblebee reappeared to announce the arrival of Dr Challenge. Right behind him, Adam entered, looking rather rigid and confused at seeing so many people assembled in the library.

"Oh," he said. "I'm sorry, I didn't know..." He broke off, needing a moment to take in the situation. What was the police lieutenant doing there again, and who was that other man? He decided for the moment to ignore them, and turned to the General.

"I just thought I'd come by to see how you are feeling, sir," he said to the old man. "I contacted the hospital, but they said you had been sent home already. I have to confess I'm rather surprised at your quick recovery."

"Ah," said the General. "You would be, I imagine. But it was just a spot of trouble with the pancreas."

"What?!" said Adam, obviously bewildered. "But..."

Bumblebee made a discreet cough and said, turning to Diana: "Excuse me, miss, but may I suggest apple dumplings for tea?"

"Absolutely," said Diana. "And don't forget Grandpa's vitamins, please."

Bumblebee left; and at the same time William entered, carrying a small wooden chest.

"Here it is," he said. "Baying Wolf's treasure chest. Where shall I put it?"

"On the table, please," said Diana. "John, you go ahead and open it!"

Everyone seemed to have forgotten about Adam. They all gathered around the table, except the General who was just leaning back in his chair nodding to himself with a smile.

The chest looked very old indeed. It seemed to Skittles that it even had lichen growing on it. But on the lid there was some kind of golden animal picture engraved.

"Go on, young man, open it!" said the General. "It's not Pandora's box, you know," he added in an amused tone of voice. "Nothing in there that will come out and bite you."

Skittles lifted the lid. At the bottom of the chest lay some very small pieces of broken bones, some kind of ribbon, and a small feather.

"Now we have a doctor in the house," the General said, turning to Adam again, "perhaps you can affirm that there is no thermometer that can measure wind chill, right?"

"Eh..." said Adam, not having the faintest idea what this was all about. "I suppose..."

"Now sit down, all of you," commanded the General, "and I'll tell you the story of how this treasure chest got into my hands. You see, there was this Indian Chief named Baying Wolf, and he had a daughter called Sparrow..."

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Raven's Saturday Wordzzle Challenge # 98

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 98

treasure chest, idiom, pantry, crippled, baying wolf, wind chill, time, angel, salamander, laundry list

risque, radish, ring tone, ravishing, ruler

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 44 - Baying Wolf

"Well, Grandpa," said Diana, "I was just talking to the guys about those ancient relics of yours, and they're just dying to take a look at them. You don't mind, do you?"

"Of course not," said the General, handing the two kittens over to his granddaughter. "Here, take these for me, will you."

Diana had changed into a radish red dress before lunch and was looking absolutely ravishing bordering on risque. She did that in any color though, Skittles thought to himself.

Kneeling down on the floor to play with the kittens, Diana turned to William and said: "Will, please be an angel and fetch Baying Wolf's treasure chest for us. You know the one I mean. With the golden salamander on the lid."

"I know," said William, and trotted off out into the hall. Skittles, trying to collect his thoughts again, noted that it sounded like the young man went up the stairs. How come this young man was so familiar with the house that Diana even sent him to fetch valuable items from another room?

"Baying Wolf's treasure chest?" said Matthew. "That sounds intriguing."

"It is indeed!" said the General in an excited voice. Skittles couldn't get over his astonishment how remarkably less crippled the old man seemed today than yesterday at the hospital.

"You know," continued the General, "I read a most interesting article only last week about the wind chill factor up in those mountains."

Matthew raised his eyebrows, and Skittles sighed. Obviously the old man's mind was still confused. Diana did not show any reaction, though, and the General continued:

"Baying Wolf was an Indian Chief, you know. Rumor had it he froze to death, and with him died the secret where all the bodies were buried."

"But Grandpa," said Diana. "You know that's just an idiom. It can mean anything, not necessarily skeletons."

There was a discreet cough coming from the doorway. Bumblebee, the butler, had suddenly appeared, carrying a tray with a ruler and a piece of paper on it. "Excuse me, miss Diana," he said. "Here is the laundry list you asked for earlier. And the ruler."

"Thank you," said Diana. "I just can't seem to make a straight line without one," she remarked to no one in particular. "And Bumblebee, I think it is time for afternoon tea soon, don't you? I hope you still have some of that delicious jam of yours left in the pantry."

Somewhere in the house, a ring tone sounded. Skittles could not determine whether it was a telephone or a door bell.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 97

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 97

teflon, idealistic, marshmallow, opportunistic, kittens, beef, sawing logs, slapped, tickled, scissors
ripen, shelve, laminate, goofy, Siamese

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 43 - The Return of the Brigadier General

Clouds were gathering in the sky above them. Looking up, Diana sad: "Might be time we moved indoors anyway, it looks like it's going to rain." Just as she said that, there was a sound like sawing logs somewhere in the background that seemed to confirm her suspicions.

"Oh, I hope we'll have a real thunderstorm!" said Diana. "I'm getting this urge to roast marshmallows over the fire in the library later on. Come on now, I want to show you those bones."

The men rose slowly, feeling a bit heavy still after the beef they had been served for lunch, and neither of them really all that keen to look at some dusty old bones that the General might have shelved among all the rest of his weird collections.

Entering the library, they found a surprise waiting for them. The room was not empty. In one of the armchairs sat the Brigadier General,with two kittens on his lap. The General tickled them, and the kittens every now and then slapped at the old man's hand, but otherwise seemed rather content.

Skittles felt his mind taking in the details but then they sort of slided right back off again, he couldn't get anything to fit together.

The only one seemingly not surprised was Diana. She went straight up to her grandfather, kissed him on the cheek and said: "Glad to see you back!"

"Hello my dear," said the General. "I just sent Bumblebee to fetch the scissors and that machine from the study, I'd like you to laminate some labels for me to put on those boxes over there." He nodded towards some obscure corner of the room; and then also towards the three men. "I hope our guests have been well fed? Where is Adam?"

"I expect Adam to come round later. I didn't ask him to come to lunch because I suspected that he might turn down a direct invitation, but I have a strong suspicion that he will show up for afternoon tea anyway."

This reminded Skittles of having seen a glimpse of the doctor outside the church, but then at the sight of Diana he had completely forgotten about him. He really must be getting teflon syndrome.

Matthew, having come along as an outsider and observer, was not feeling quite as stunned as his friend. Looking at the kittens, he said to Diana: "Excuse me, but I was under the impression, from something John mentioned, that your cat had got run over by a train. Are these her kittens?"

"Oh no," said Diana. "That was Puddles. She was a Persian. A bit to curious for her own good. Idealistic in her nature, you might also say. But she never had kittens. These belong to Goofy, the Siamese. More of an opportunistic character. I don't know where she is at the moment. Seems she left the kids to granddad to babysit." Matthew found himself beginning to emotionally understand how one's fascination with this girl might ripen fast. Conversation with her just never seemed to take the route that you had planned.

In an attempt to get back on track, he turned to the General and introduced himself. "Pleased to meet you, sir," he said. "I'm Matthew Turtles, colleague of Police Lieutenant Skittles here whom you have already met. I understand you had a bit of an accident on Friday. I hope you are feeling better now?"

"Ah," said the General. "Another police officer. I did wonder where you came into the picture. Am I suspected of anything?" He looked amused rather than surprised or worried.

"No, sir," said Matthew. "Your granddaughter was just kind enough to invite us for lunch. Then just now she mentioned something she wanted us to have a look at in here..." He broke off, suddenly actually feeling a bit suspicious. Maybe that whole thing about asking them to look at some old bones had just been Diana's way of getting them to go inside.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 96

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 96

Badger, roll out the barrel, amazing, a lovely cup of tea, pressure, frozen, Gandalf, pixies, top gear

smelly, politician, favourite, token gesture, garden

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 42 - An Invitation for Afternoon Tea

Adam had been sitting at the very back of the church during the service. He was surprised that neither Diana nor William nor Skittles seemed to take any notice of him at all, neither when they came in nor when they went out. Yesterday morning Skittles had been giving the impression of looking at Adam as if he were a smelly politician, and Adam had been feeling under some pressure fearing he'd have the police lieutenant at his heels like a badger over the next few days.

Outside the church Adam found himself trapped for a while in conversation with Mrs Anderson, who gladly seized the opportunity for chat with her favourite doctor. Meanwhile, some children kept running round and round them like little pixies.Just as Adam was beginning to feel irritated, one little girl came up close to him, gave him a wink and put a piece of paper in his hand. Adam made polite excuses to Mrs Anderson and withdrew to read the note.

For a moment Adam stood like frozen to the ground."Amazing," he said to himself. "Is this supposed to be some kind of weird token gesture?" Because what he was holding in his hand was another one of the Brigadier General's cards, with a message not unlike the one that had got him to go up to the General's house on Friday afternoon. It read:

If you have the possibility, please join us in the garden this afternoon for a lovely cup of tea.

The card was not signed. Adam supposed Diana must be the sender, but then who did she mean by "us"? Wasn't her grandfather still in the hospital?

"Hm," thought Adam. "Before I put in the top gear and roll out the barrel this time (he hardly knew himself what he meant by that), I think I'd better check up on how old Gandalf is doing..."

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #94

Hi everyone
I was very late catching up with Challenge#93, which I did not get round to posting until just before this one today. So if you have come here directly from Raven's Mr Linky for Week#94, here's a link to the previous episode in case you would like to read that one too.

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #94

space cadet, silver lining, wood, turtle soup, minaret, ice, grease, sales, mandala, mug
broken bones, slide rule, garbage, Chinese, sanguine

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chaper 41 - An Invitation to Lunch

To Skittles, the pastor could just as well have been speaking from a minaret, or trying to explain in Chinese how to use a slide rule. All he heard was a distant mumble, while staring at the back of William's neck, trying to decide whether the young man hand actually put grease in his hair to achieve that spiky hairstyle, and wondering whether Diana approved of that.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though. After the service, both Diana and William turned around to greet him and Matthew, and Diana gave them a dazzling smile.

"John, I was hoping you'd come!" she said. "Who is your friend?"

"This is Matthew," said Skittles. "Another space cadet - sorry, internal joke. Police officer. And Matthew, this is Diana Haven."

"Matthew Turtles," said Matthew, shaking hands with Diana, and then looking inquiringly at William.

"William Wood," said William. "I'm in sales."

Since Skittles had already informed Matthew in a whisper during the sermon who the young man next to Diana was, pointing him out as "the delivery boy", this remark almost caused Matthew to choke, but he managed to collect himself.

"I warned Bumblebee I might be bringing along one or two guests for lunch," said Diana. "Perhaps all three of you would like to join me? Only..." She looked hesitantly at Matthew, who raised his eyebrows, not knowing what to expect next. "I'm sorry," said Diana, and now he saw that it was she that was nearly choking with laughter. "I really can't help it. It's just that old B suggested he could make turtle soup... I do apologize, if I had known who John would be bringing along, I would have asked for another menu, but..."

Luckily, Matthew was of sanguine disposition, and laughed as heartily as Diana at this joke, which lifted some of the general tension for all of them.

After the main course following the turtle soup, they had ice cream and coffee (served in mugs) out on the terrace, and Diana then brought up a discussion of the sermon they had been listening to - or were supposed to have listened to. Skittles suddenly wished he had been paying more attention. All he remembered was that it had been something to do with avarice.

"I mean," said Diana, "that reference to the mandala was really brilliant, wasn't it. Here today, gone tomorrow, and then you have to start over. I do wish Grandpa had more of that attitude." She turned to Matthew. "My grandfather collects things," she explained. "All kinds of things. Even old broken bones!"

"But Diana," said William. "Those bones are ancient relics, aren't they..."

"Well, so he claims," said Diana. "They look to me as if they could have been dug up from any old garbage bin!" She turned again to Matthew and John. "Would you like to see them? You're police officers, maybe you can tell the difference!"

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #93

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #93

spaghetti, woe is me, mythology, avarice, windy, pathetic, paper towels, water, all my children, books

best deals of the week, Nobel Peace Prize, sleep deprived, cauliflower, practice

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 40 - Avarice and Jealousy

The church bells started ringing, and Diana was already half way up the stairs, shaking hands on her way with the group of ladies that had been waiting outside. It was a windy day, which made Diana's skirt move in the draught.

"I'll introduce you afterwards," said Skittles to his friend. "Or maybe we can get a seat next to her. Come on!"

"You're a pathetic coward, that's what you are," said Matthew, in a teasing tone of voice. He followed his friend into the little church, and looked around curiously. As he did not live in this village, he had not been inside before. Skittles, too, felt a little lost and out of practice - it was some time since he had last been to church.

Just inside the door stood a sleep deprived-looking woman in a hat shaped like a cauliflower, handing out hymn books. They each took one, but just as they were proceeding down the aisle, something wet hit Matthew in the neck. He turned around to see what it was, and saw that a couple of kids were throwing balls made of paper towels dipped in water about.

"Hey, you stop that immediately!" he said in his most official voice, showing his police badge. The kids gasped and disappeared through a door to the left. A young woman smiled appreciatively at him.

"You almost deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for that," she said. "I apologize, you must be getting a very bad impression of our church, but I assure you not all my children are as naughty as those two. At least it wasn't spagetthi this time." She disappeared through the same door as the kids.

Skittle's attention was directed elsewhere. He had just caught sight of William sitting next to Diana, and he managed to squeeze himself and Matthew in on the bench right behind them.

"Today's subject is avarice," said the pastor, turning a leaf in the Bible.

Skittles heard William muttering something about "best deals of the week", which made Diana laugh and whisper something back in his ear - the word "mythology" was all he could catch. She and William seemed very friendly with each other; something which Skittles found himself not liking the idea of.

"... woe is me..." the pastor continued reading, and Skittles tried to turn his attention back to the sermon. If avarice was a sin, then in all probability, the same applied to jealousy.