54– Flat Hunting (part 16)

Flat’s people had flourished.

Away from the angry psychic glare of the Pob and free of its hybrid monster trying to eradicate them, Flat had silently encouraged its people to populate the grasses of the meadow. Now, their civilisation stretched for dozens of feet and was still growing.

Frontier folk had even ventured as far as the first tree of the woods and set up outposts running high up the trunk. Another group had discovered the stream and spread a mobile city, already grown great, across the skin of the water.

The magical haste with which Flat had imbued them, initially out of desperation, had proven to be their greatest asset and there was more than enough ambient magic in this world for Flat to maintain it. Generations lived, prospered and died in the space of a few minutes. They had no natural predators, no illness, and few accidents. Flat’s people lived in a state of fascination and wonder at the universe around them and tried to reflect it in their works.

Where once they might have carved their homes into the blades of grass, now they had learnt to manipulate the abundance of magic around them to gently mould the living material.

They grew fantastic homes into the underside of the drooping slivers of life, trying to outdo each other in terms of grace, imagination, or beauty, but the competition was kind – individuals celebrated any artist who surpassed them with the affection and fervour normally associated with the reunion of long-lost friends.

Perhaps Flat’s favourite region of its people’s civilisation was the City of Sagas, where the grass carvings told epic tales spanning from one green tower to the next. Each blade held a chapter that was the work of an entire generation; discussed, debated, lovingly assembled, and finally crafted into the plant as the last act of their greatest moulder.

The earlier towers bore stories of The Flight where they left their original host and of before; they told of the literal monsters they had once faced. The monsters of the later chapters reflected their utopic life and had become hate, ignorance, selfishness. Some of the people thought even them myths.

Flat’s pride in its people washed over them in an endless tide of love and psychic benevolence, as warming and constant as the sun. To the people it was a source-less, fundamental aspect of the joyful universe in which they lived.

Then, one cycle, long after Daisy and Shoo had departed for the cabin in the woods, Flat noticed some of its people were starting to vanish.

*

Not counting unconsciousness, possession or periods of non-existence, this is the longest I have been asleep in what feels like an age.

The bed goes beyond hug-comfortable into dissolution territory. One-ness. I am one with a cloud of warmth and snugness. From somewhere far away, I think someone may be calling me, faintly but insistent. I ignore it.

I ignore it because some part of my blissfully dissolved mind knows I must soak up every moment of comfort while I’ve got it. With this thought, I realise that I’m asleep and dreaming and, as I do, I see a vista of clouds open up. I am floating amongst them.

The hungry dream incorporates the voice of whoever’s calling me, and it becomes momma’s voice:

“Wakey-wakey, eggs and bakey,” she says, as she always used to.

Maybe I’ll see her! All the best dreams are about momma.

“Wake up, little Shoo.”

Maybe she’ll pick me up again in her strong, scarred hands, and maybe-

The door to the bedroom is booted open.

It swings and bangs loudly off a chest of drawers behind it, rattling some bottles on top of them. “OI! DEAF TART!” someone bellows, definitely not momma. “GET YOUR MALNOURISHED URCHIN ARSE OUT OF BED, NOW! TOOT SWEET!”

Screaming in shock, I sit bolt upright, wrestling with the sheets.

I’m in a small bedroom that has space for some drawers, a fur-covered bed, two armchairs and nothing else. Afternoon sun lances in through a gap in the curtains. Daisy is in the doorway, holding a frying pan with mush in it and grinning at me.

“I made Fried Mess. Come on, you’ll love it. Get up.”

I groan and try to untangle myself from the bedsheets and once-cosy furs. “Daisy! Couldn’t you have woken me more gently? You didn’t need to kick the door and shout like a crazy person.”

“I bloody did need to,” she says, walking back into the living area. “You were outers. Full kippo. El Kippo the hippo.”

“Yeah, but-” I begin.

“And if we don’t get a shuftie on,” she calls in a sing-song voice. “Our bony chum is going to catch us and squeeze our little heads til our brains squirt out of our ear-holes.”

Oh, yeah, the giant.

Quelling the urge to whine some more, I throw the bedding to one side, get out of bed and stagger into the living area. Daisy has repaired the table and chairs from outside and put them in front of the gaping hole in the wall.

As I enter, a bird which was perched on a shelf is startled and flutters outside.

The witch slops two blobs of the substance from the frying pan onto plates, stabs a fork into them and plonks them on the table. There’s a glass of some kind of orange-coloured juice next to each plate.

“Park your bum and get it down you,” the witch says. “It’ll make a world of difference.”

Feeling surly and put-upon and wishing I was still in bed, I sit down heavily and try a fork-full, chewing suspiciously. It’s weird. I make a face.

“Thank you,” I make myself say, trying not to be ungrateful. “What’s in it?”

“What’s not more like. There’s corned beef,” she begins, counting off on her fingers.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“It’s… Never mind, there’s also edam in there.”

“Ee-what?”

“Shallottes.”

“Shall-Otts?”

“Readybrek.”

“Um…”

“A small tin of spaghetti hoops.”

“Sorry, I’ve never heard of any of these.”

“Half a packet of pancetta, crisped up lovely.”

“Nope.”

“Plus, the crowning glory, Heinz ketchup.”

I squint at her, “You’re just making these words up, aren’t you?”

“I promise I’m not. The words are 100% true. This is a meal fit for a king.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep. Heinz ketchup for instance is made from the petals of a rare flower found only above the snowline in the Andes Mountains. A great delicacy.”

Posh food? Wow.

I chew more thoughtfully; I’ve never eaten posh-person food before.

It’s odd, but it is pretty good now I consider it. I shovel some more into my mouth. I mean it’s certainly filling, which is the point of food. Very filling actually. No wonder so many rich people are fat.

“I think I can taste the… Heyens Catch-up,” I say. “Does it taste a bit… cheesey?”

“That’s it. I had to kill a woman to get that, so you tuck in, love. A little birdie tells me we’ve got a spot of time before bony-balls gets through. Fuel up.”

I get through the rest of it quickly, washed down with gulps of the sweet, tangy, orange-coloured juice, which the witch explains is ‘Sunshine Nectar’ and can only be harvested from special desert vines on holy days.

By the end of it, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so well and never will again. I’m licking the clean plate when something occurs to me.

I lower the plate so I can look at the witch.

“Why does this feel like a last meal?” I ask her.

Infuriatingly, she just smirks and winks at me.

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