Chapter 5:

Neil of the Green Meadows

Drinking Coffee while Dinosaurs Roam My Backyard

I’ve never been lost at the sea. Even so I can sort of picture what it’d feel like. Bookmark here

Instead of endless blue and grey I’m faced with endless green. There’s no real horizon that I can fathom, just knee-length grass on completely flat land for as long as the world extends, like I’m stuck in a fairy equivalent of American Midwest or Pohjanmaa by the Gulf of Bothnia. Only without the telltale marks of agriculture. Bookmark here

“Milla. Meri,” I shout. I wait but no reply. Guess I have to go and find them. I wonder in which direction I should go but by the look of things it wouldn’t matter much. This place is the best representation of a uniform universe that I’ve ever seen.Bookmark here

I do what any self-respecting Barks fan would do and turn to Flipism. I rummage through my pockets and manage to find a coin. It’s an essential item in Flipism. I fling the coin high up in the air and let it flip freely, then grab it as it falls and smack it against the back of my hand.Bookmark here

Heads, I’ll veer to the left. Tails, I’ll go right. It’s heads. Let the coin lead my way. I lowkey worry that there are ticks in the grass but perhaps that’d be too mundane for a magical world. Unless they are magical ticks. I start to worry a little more.Bookmark here

There’s a hum from behind me, like an electric appliance trying to replicate a melody it heard from a radio last week. A doorway flickers into being, spews out somebody and flickers out again. It’s a familiar face.Bookmark here

“Hello, Neil,” I say. I wonder what the Queen’s servant wants with me considering how big a scene I just caused. Maybe he’s here to reprimand me. I make a small bow, just in case. They all seemed so prim and proper and I’d like to keep my stock from falling even lower if I can help it.Bookmark here

“Hey dude, wait up. I wanna talk with ya,” Neil says and scampers to his feet dusting his pants. “Ya must be all, like, ‘what was that?’ and ‘what darn tootin’ just happened’, right?”Bookmark here

Oh well. Not so prim after all, but kinda proper still.Bookmark here

“I’ve learned that I don’t need to understand everything as long as I get by. But yea, I did kind of wonder how things ended up like this. Not that I mind, though. I got out with my beard intact and some days that’s the most I can hope for. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve lost my eyebrows when I’ve opened the oven and instead of ‘making food’ the temperature range has been set to ‘physics experiments’. I’ve asked the girls to leave my cooking gear alone but Milla and Meri keep insisting that their plastic play-oven can’t handle molten metals so the problem persists.”Bookmark here

There’s a gap of a few seconds when Neil tries to parse together what I just said, then tries again and finally gives up. “I hear ya, mate, I hear ya. So yer looking for yer heirs, right?”Bookmark here

With what I’m making monthly I wouldn’t really call Milla and Meri my heirs but I suppose trying to explain the public sector salary structure would annoy me and confuse Neil and sometimes slight misunderstandings are better left standing.Bookmark here

“That’s right. Any idea where they could’ve gone? And while we’re at it, what did they do anyway? You all acted like I was putting on a show juggling hot fissile material back there. I’m hardly that intimidating myself so it stands to reason the girls, well, made a lasting impression somehow.”Bookmark here

A few more baffled blinks. I guess nuclear physics isn’t a common subject around these parts. “I wanted to explain things to ya because, ya see, Queen Adamantia ain’t really as bad as ya might think right now. Ya see, she’s been having a bad day and her court expects matter to be handled in a certain way.”Bookmark here

“Like chugging me into a cell?” I start walking and Neil catches up to me in two strides. We wade through the grass side by side. I flip the coin and turn more to the right.Bookmark here

“It’s a play of sort. Theatrics. The world’s a stage and we all gotta play our parts.”Bookmark here

“That’s… original,” I mumble and try to count the number of references to that idiom across the media landscape. It’s got to be hundreds at the very least. However my blatant attempt at irony gets misinterpreted completely.Bookmark here

“Why thanks dude! It’s something I’ve been telling all our visitors for hundreds of years. It’s, like, my catch phrase, ya know. One dude said he’d write it into a play.”Bookmark here

To believe it or not to believe? I ask a coin and get tails. Guess I’ll remain a sceptic on this one. “What did you mean by theatrics?”Bookmark here

“It’s, like, important how things look. How we look to others. Everyone expects that Queen Adamantia makes our visitors sweat a little, to make them understand who’s the boss, like. Push them around a bit. Make them think they’ll end up in the dungeons and have them beg some, and then we show how cool and nice we are and let them go. That’s how it’s supposed to go. Except today it all went imps up.”Bookmark here

“The what now up?” I ask but Neil is immersed in his own storytime. The coin says I should circle to the left.Bookmark here

“We’re discussing how to find our missing king, right? Suddenly these two girls show up just like ya, straight outta thin air. Queen Adamantia challenges them to a game, the shell game, ya know the drill. Anyways, she always wins. Except today. That should be impossible. The game’s stacked, ya see. No matter which shell ya choose it’s empty. They all are.”Bookmark here

So they were cheating after all. I knew it. I don’t remark upon it, naturally. Never interrupt a child who is busy incriminating herself is my motto. That’s how I learned that my bike had ended up in the apple tree. I never would’ve found it otherwise. After that I moved the trampoline to backyard.Bookmark here

“But this time it ain’t empty.” Neil is wide-eyed like someone out-magicked him, which I guess is pretty much what happened. “There’s an orb there where there shouldna be. Now, Queen Adamantia gets mad about it, has a cow like you humans say. Do you still say that? At least you used to. Anyways, she picks up this offending orb and–“Bookmark here

“–and tosses it across the room in a huff,” I finish the sentence. I recall the ball I sent at least to LEO. (That’s low Earth orbit but people tend to use abbreviations for names they use often enough.) I can see it in my mind’s eye, how the blue superball bounces off of the wall, hits the floor and just keeps on getting more and more kinetic energy smacking various courtiers right in the kisser. I prevent, barely, a snicker from escaping. “So how did you stop the ball in the end?” I know I wouldn’t want to try to catch it barehanded. Bookmark here

“We didn’t. Those girls strike a hard bargain, ya know. Absolute extortion. They say that they won the game so they can go, but if we want them to take care of the problem, we better be ready to pay up. Everyone’s run out of the room except the guards who keep shielding Queen Adamantia, and me, and I hid under the king’s throne. Somehow the blue weapon keeps clear of them girls, it’s the darnest thing I’ve ever seen.”Bookmark here

I bet it’s the personal shield bubble, or persble as they call it. (The word sounds a little rude in my opinion but whenever I bring that up I get out-voted two to one.) Milla and Meri used that last month when we got a sudden hailstorm and they wanted to play outside and I was telling them no because those chicken egg sized lumps of ice hurt like damn if they hit your head. That was the only time the whole year they’ve insisted on getting fresh air instead of me herding them out of the door like two reluctant velociraptors.Bookmark here

“They have us by the leaves. Queen Adamantia has to acquiesce to all of their demands. Free entry to our realm for all eternity, Multipass they call it, and a lifetime supply of all of the sweets our patisseries can produce. Then the girls use a line of light to cut a hole in the floor, pluck out the piece and the ball goes into the hole. Then they put the piece back and refuse to say where it went.”Bookmark here

Probably some other dimension, but who knows. I know I’ll be cautious opening any canned foods for the next two weeks. “Yeah, you can strike that last condition right out. I’m using my parental veto. We have a candy day on Saturdays, with a few exceptions. No way I’m letting them stuff their faces with sweets all week long. Sugar isn’t good for your health you know. Or your teeth for that matter.” Right about then my sluggish brain figures out what one plus one makes. “That’s why you guys freaked out so much when I showed the superball I had.” It’s like telling the foreign diplomat with a briefcase sized nuke to get the zucc out of your country.Bookmark here

Meanwhile we’ve walked for a fair distance, turning this way and that. The scenery remains still the same. I stop and scratch my head. “Milla. Meri,” I shout again. “Time to head back. Where are you?”Bookmark here

“Ya gotta keep walking. We got woods and copses and stuff, but ya gotta get to them first,” Neil says. “It’s a long way. Days at least, maybe weeks.”Bookmark here

No way I have that kind of time. I want to be back home within thirty minutes. “How about we head for the hills?” I suggest.Bookmark here

“Impossible. We ain’t got no hills in Fairyland.”Bookmark here

I point to our right. “What’s that then?” I actually recognize the scenery. It’s supposed to be the most often used piece of art in the history of cinema because it’s been on a such a bunch of computer screens in hundreds of movies. I’ve also had it on several computers so I guess this is a hint from the girls. I let Neil mutter how this is all inconceivable and get climbing. I refrain from noting that at least once somebody is using that word the correct way. He’d hardly get the reference.Bookmark here

On the top of the hill there’s a tree and there, among thick branches, I can see a tree house. It’s quite high up there. “Milla. Meri.” No reply, but I’m no fool. I can see the tree house shaking like someone inside is laughing silently. Two someones, I’d bet my shoes on that. I turn to Neil.Bookmark here

“Can you maybe fly?Bookmark here

“What, me? Why would I?”Bookmark here

I’m about to say something about wings but realize just in time that anything I could possibly say would rely on a racial stereotype of some kind. “Never mind that. Do you see any stones around here?” Neil shakes his head and says there are no loose stones in Fairyland. A weird claim but at least locally it seems to hold water. At any rate I can’t find any. I would have wanted to hit the tree house with one to let the girls know I definitely know they’re in there.Bookmark here

Oh well. Big gun time.Bookmark here

I take the superball, position myself carefully and toss it to the ground. It bounces up, hits the bottom of the house, comes back down and flies up again. The process repeats itself for ten times or so and the ball moves little by little forward, striking hole into the ground like a huge sewing machine. It sounds like someone’s blasting a thunderstorm through amps worthy of a heavy metal band. Then the ball misses the house and flies through the tree to who knows where.Bookmark here

Maybe it was a little overkill but it did get results. A hatch open at the bottom of the house and Milla peers out. “Did somebody knock?” I can hear Meri laughing in the background.Bookmark here

“Let’s get going, girls. I’ve been looking for you for a while now and it’s well past lunch already.”Bookmark here

“Daddy is silly,” Meri says and looks down as well. “There is no time in faerie prairie.”Bookmark here

I look at Neil who shrugs in a way that seems to agree with Meri.Bookmark here

“Regardless of any temporal shenanigans I’m getting tired and hungry. You can come back some time later, alright?” When we get home I have to ask them to steer clear of the Queen’s court. Monarchs are best left unaggravated.Bookmark here

The girls climb down with a rope ladder. I notice Neil striking a strategic retreat. Unnecessary but completely understandable. I wave at him. “See you, Neil. You can tell your queen I don’t think badly of her, but you should also caution her to review your reception policies. This time it was only a superball but who can say what some future visitor is packing, if you know what I mean. Anyways, thanks for the company and see you around.”Bookmark here

Meri is tugging my hand already. “Daddy, let’s go. You always keep us waiting.” Milla has opened a portal and leaps into it like a frog. I’d like to ask who keeps whom waiting but there’d be little point in it. We walk into the portal and end up in our kitchen.Bookmark here

“I’ll get started with food. You must be hungry too.”Bookmark here

“Not really,” Milla says.Bookmark here

“We had tea and cakes,” Meri says. “We had a guest too.”Bookmark here

“A guest?” I ask.Bookmark here

“He said he was tired but didn’t want to go home yet so we made a house for him where no one can get into if he keeps the ladder up,” Milla explains. “So he can rest there and go home when he feels like it.”Bookmark here

“But what if his parents are looking for him? They’ll get worried if they don’t know where he is or if he’s alright.” I crack a few eggs and start making an omelet. A big one, for three. I know they’ll want some once it’s ready.Bookmark here

“No worries,” says Meri. “He can go where he wants all he wants. He’s the king after all.”Bookmark here

Just as I’m about to have a dozen additional questions my phone rings. I answer it.Bookmark here

“Finally I got the hold of you.”Bookmark here

I know the voice. He’s somebody at NASA. The direction I think.Bookmark here

“According to a report a bluish superball went through a solar panel of one of our space stations. Would your daughters happen to know anything about it?”Bookmark here

“I can with full confidence say that in this case they are totally innocent.” That’s the truth and there’s no way I’m telling him it was me. “Besides, they were… totally elsewhere when it happened.”Bookmark here

“Curious,” says the director. “How do you know when it happened?”Bookmark here

Ah, beans.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.