Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Alphabet Soup: Chapter Five
Evrope sighed. She was exhausted but couldn't sleep, so she took her blanket and threw it over Myrrhine, who was shivering because her legs were uncovered. Smiling fondly at her daughter, Evrope shook her head a little. Myrrhine and Jed could have been twins, yet couldn't have been more different from each other, from clothes to speech. They were the same when it came to their stubborn approach to the world, though. For her part, Evrope wasn't sure how she would have held up under the loss of her husband to a fascist militiaman's bullet with four children already and twins on the way. Some questions were unanswerable. Thankfully Myrrhine had pulled through, as had the twins, the two little boys curled up with their older sisters. Yani was whimpering in his sleep, so Evrope went over to give him a kiss and tuck him back in. Then she walked over to the cart and leaned against it, watching Venus as she rose over the forested ridge ahead of her. It was hard to believe this used to be a major highway with lines of electric lights on both sides. Now there were many fewer lights equipped with motion detectors, and these were avoided as much as possible. Anytime a motion detector flipped a light on, snipers peppered the area.
Based on what the instructions in their packet full of papers said, they should slip away from the rest of the caravan and follow a track that branched off from the highway to the east. Then, they were supposed to keep going and not slow down or stop when they got to the point where there seemed to be an impassable patch of trees and underbrush. This sounded suspiciously like something out of one of the tattered Harry Potter novels Agape had been reading to her brothers after their meagre dinner. It worried her. Evrope grimaced and began unconsciously patting her pockets for a watch or several. Being an Adams, it was to be expected that Jed's arrangements would be offbeat, but outright fantastic? No.
"Those directions must be pretty strange, if you're standing here worrying about them instead of sleeping." Myrrhine commented. Fishing her glasses out of her pocket, she spent a minute or two comparing how fuzzy Venus was without them to how clear Venus was with them. Probably she needed new lenses. Her mother smiled. "They are strange, which is saying a great deal. Why are you awake?"
"Cramp." Myrrhine motioned to her left leg. "Anyway, the dawn will be coming up soon. Do you think that maybe we could just slip away now?" The children were all asleep in the cart, so this would be quite feasible. They were far from any cities or inhabited villages now, and it was becoming ever clearer that women and children travelling without men or at least automatic weapons were in grave danger.
"I was thinking about that too. This track we're supposed to use does seem to be fairly close to this mile post. Which means the news of how things have been deteriorating here has flown fast." Evrope stood up straight. In the end, that was what had been keeping her awake. The sense of growing unease, as the Turkish army escort rapidly depleted, and the few men they saw with weapons kept their faces wrapped in scarves and had taken to demanding money from anyone who seemed to be a leader. For all the good money actually did anyone under such conditions. What currency counted anywhere now? "I will tether the horses."
By the time the Sun had struggled over the mist into the sky, temporarily clear of the terrible thick smoke from the bombing because the wind had changed direction, the children were awake and Evrope had found the track they were supposed to use. Any other time, it would have been a lovely trip. The track was well-kept, descending rapidly in easy stages. Before long they were out of sight of the highway all together, and the sounds of the horses' hooves and the wheels were muffled to near silence by heavy drifts of leaves. The cart wheels were quieter than a bystander would expect, being reclaimed from old automobiles, tires, axles and all.
"It's uncanny, how quiet it is on this road." Myrrhine said quietly as she handed granola bars and milk around to the children at a short break. Now they were moving, even the children were reluctant to stop. Evrope turned over her own granola bar a few times, feeling no appetite for it. It was finally sinking in now, that there was no going back. Whatever happened, she would never be able to return to her homeland, none of them would. Tears burned her eyes. This had already happened to her family. Her grandparents had never recovered from being forcibly removed to Greece from Turkey. Evrope's grandfather had sung mournful songs about his home town until his death, especially after he had had too much to drink. She remembered her grandmother as angry, perpetually angry. Evrope couldn't remember her ever speaking Greek. But then, oddly enough, she couldn't remember her grandmother ever speaking Turkish either.
"Ha!" Myrrhine crowed triumphantly from where she was digging around at the side of the track. "I knew it! I knew there had to be a reasonable explanation!" Her daughters clustered around her, Agape, Eirene, Katerina, and Ioanna all together, while their brothers opted to stay in the cart. Adventuresome Yani and Georgio were, but they were also only seven years old and beyond their adventure threshold just now.
As it happened, the track was quiet because it had been laid over with a soft rubber mat, the sort of thing made out of ground up tires playgrounds used to be surfaced with in North America, though none of the people looking at the stuff now were to know that. On one hand, it was a strange amount of effort to put into an overtly obscure track. On the other, this wasn't actually an obscure track, and it had been prepared with difficult circumstances in mind. The little group was just starting out again when they heard shouting and gunfire back where they came from, on the highway. The children hunkered down while Myrrhine covered them over with a tarp and Evrope coaxed the horses into as close to a gallop as she dared.
The impassable greenwall came up before Evrope could even consider hesitating in spite of her instructions. Poor Myrrhine's eyes nearly came out of her head when she saw it and realized just how fast they were approaching it. "Mum, w..." The ground dropped suddenly, and they were rushing down a cleverly concealed ramp that carried them down and beyond daylight quick enough to alarm Agape, who even as a small child had never been much troubled by the dark. Not sure what to expect, Evrope checked the horses until they were going at a canter on a path that was the polar opposite of the one they had just left. It sounded cobbled or something similar, the clatter of the horses' hooves more than announcing their presence. "So much for keeping quiet." Myrrhine muttered unhappily, looking around warily. Teaching languages really didn't prepare you for this sort of thing.
No one ever believed her when she told them, but Chris was not a morning person, especially not this morning. For one thing, she was painfully hung over. Generally she preferred the primarily thirsty hangover, which could be relieved by pancakes and four glasses of water. However, thirsty hangovers did not come with the schnapps she and Sams had been drinking. Levering herself out of bed at last, Chris stood precariously still for a few minutes as the room rotated slowly around her. "That would be so cool if it didn't make me want to be sick." Rubbing her eyes, Chris began tracking down clothes for the day, and even found a package of "ginger pastilles for tender tummies." Soon she was bouncing around almost as normal, both cheeks bulging with the spicy ginger confections.
"Found the ginger candies I see." chuckled Jed, who had been busy cooking breakfast. Unlike her partner, she was already showered and dressed.
"Ysssshhh. Mmph." Chris paused in her efforts to make the bed to crunch through a couple of the lozenges before she did an accidental imitation of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" her stomach wasn't that upset. "Up early?" she croaked.
"Yes, I have to go and pick up my family." Jed answered after taking part in a very gingery kiss. "They entered the escape tunnel mid-morning yesterday, and should be on our side any time now."
"Ah, that's why Benny's party became appealing again." Chris smiled and finished haphazardly yanking the covers over the pillows. Honestly, why make the bed when they were just going to mess it up again?
"Yes." her partner answered definitely. Walking slowly up the three shallow steps that led up into the bedroom's sitting area, she flopped into an armchair with a sigh. "What if they find us?"
"We'll cope. We've done it before. There's not much left they can do to us anymore. Evolution and all that." Chris warbled. She winced when she looked up at Jed's expression from hitching her bracers into place. Sometimes Jed was not especially tolerant of cheerio-stiff-fucking-upper-lipness as she had furiously named it during one of their rare shouting arguments. That had been a really big one, did in the second-best diner service, even though it had been a morning argument. "Erm. Yes, well. Shall I fetch breakfast?"
"Yes, rather." Chris shot out of the room very quickly at that.
For her part, Jed sat scowling and smouldering for a few minutes before jumping to her feet and beginning to pace. Ordinarily she was quite graceful, but just now stress had knocked the smooth coordination out of her, giving her a gangly scattered air reminiscent of a marionette with its strings cut. Until the phone rang, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. Clattering down the stairs, she vaulted into the hall and grabbed the receiver, knocking herself half senseless against the wall. In the hallway and three feet away was as close as Chris would allow a telephone to their bedroom. Jed had attempted to persuade her otherwise, then given up after the first time the unit burst into flames in the sitting area. Who could argue with a force of nature moment?
"Hello?" Jed gasped out, rubbing one shoulder.
"Jed, is that you? Are you all right? And if we've caught you en flagrante, I thoroughly expect you to lie." Myrrhine's voice boomed through the receiver loud and clear, so much so that Jed sat down with a shocked thump. "Jed? Hey listen, no need to take me too seriously, okay? Holy shit, Mama, I think she's fainted!"
"I have not fainted!" Jed blurted in outrage, struggling to get up and disentangle herself from the phone cord at the same time. "Where are you? The border guards told me I should at least try to have breakfast. Have breakfast, have breakfast? Who has breakfast when their family is nearly being blown up!" The cord tangle was getting emphatically worse it was all Arion's fault, something contagious.
"Well-meaning as the border guards are here, they do not understand Adamses." Myrrhine declared witheringly. "Would you believe, they tried to make us sit around and be processed like badly labelled trade goods! Truly, we were outraged!" Myrrhine was warming up now. "There was only one solution!"
"Only one?" Jed could think of several, most of which involved giving the head border guard a wedgie. Really, her mood was improving all the time.
"We whispered the magic word 'apples' to the horses and they took off! Bang, right through the check point. Can you believe they accused us of not knowing where we were going?!" Myrrhine laughed merrily.The horses?! Jed wondered in bewilderment. Somebody had been monkeying around with horses on the other side. "We knew exactly where we were going. You'll never believe where we are!" Jed pulled the receiver away from her ear and looked at it like it had grown an eye. She had already asked that question.
For her part, Myrrhine was grinning so hard her face hurt. They were in fact, all piled up around the house intercom down on the ground floor. The horses were browsing happily in the grass beneath a patch of apple trees on Jed's side of Omega's Folly, after dragging the cart right inside and being set loose. They had come to the verge of trashing a large rack of preserves on the way, "Someone here likes marmalade very much why look at this, they are supplied past the apocalypse!" Evrope had exclaimed. Then she and Myrrhine had set about persuading the house intercom to work they were Adamses and therefore constitutionally incapable of simply ringing the doorbell, and besides, they preferred to be a happy surprise. "I tell you, we are right here, right at the house. It's just like the song says!"
There was no answer on the other end of the phone, because Jed had taken off running, pulling loose the receiver as she went. Blowing past Chris who was trundling along with breakfast on her makeshift rolling tea service, Jed wrenched open the concertina doors of an old-style elevator and jumped inside. To date Benny's corresponding elevator was boarded up though Jed wasn't sure why Ges had done that. Punching the button for "ground" Jed attempted some version of dignity, only to be foiled by the elevator dropping from under her feet. "Whoooaaaah!" Her voice rose up the elevator shaft. Chris had officially been making adjustments to get the elevator to stop more smoothly, which Jed did know meant "go faster." She had suggested go faster stripes instead, but Chris couldn't resist a mechanical challenge.
The elevator came to a jarring, though safe, stop, and Jed spent a few seconds getting her breath. She'd adjust the gears again after breakfast now that Chris had gotten her bout of tinkering over with. "Our married life shall never be boring." Jed murmured as she unlatched and opened the concertina doors again and jumped out of the elevator.
To find herself facing the wide open double doors that weren't quite garage doors because they were stable doors. Putting her hands on her hips, Jed frowned. She was sure she had closed them. And they were stable doors in both senses of the words, they couldn't just fall open, or shut for that matter. One of the horses wandered in, making use of the doors in the first sense of stable.
Jed stared at the horse. The horse stared at her. "You're new around here, aren't you?" Jed said conversationally. Then, very slowly she turned to look behind her for the first time. "Mama!" she shouted, only to be engulfed by a pile of laughing children, Myrrhine and Evrope.
"Oh no!" Jed blurted suddenly.
"What?" Myrrhine and Evrope asked in unison.
"You don't have a cramp, do you?" Agape asked drily. She had never quite forgiven Jed for escaping a sex education related question via a terrible leg cramp of epic proportions.
"No! No I'm just worried I may not have cooked enough breakfast." beamed Jed.
Fascinatingly enough, Jed had cooked plenty of breakfast, "Enough for an army" in Chris' words if she had been able to say them Myrrhine had somehow anticipated what was coming and stomped on Chris' foot hard before they could make it out. She adored her cousin's partner but had already noticed Chris' peculiar penchant for foot in mouth comments, so she felt quite justified in stopping the foot before it could get anywhere. Though, Myrrhine conceded as she thought the matter over a cup of tea, she may have applied the stoppage a bit too rigorously this time around. Chris was limping rather badly.
The kids were all sleeping soundly in one of the big guest rooms that had a party door to its neighbour, where Myrrhine and Evrope would sleep. Even the unflappable and eldest Agape had gone to bed without a murmur, which said a lot for how tired they all were.
"It would have been a very nice trip except for the circumstances." Evrope commented groggily from where she sat in an armchair, trying not to spill her own tea while somehow keeping her eyes open.
"Really, I'm beginning to think we've been had by the tea importers, Jed." Chris warbled after gently removing the tea cup from Evrope's hand and covering her up with a big comforter. "This tea obviously doesn't work at all!" Jed smiled at that, and paused to give her mother a hug and a kiss before she, Chris, and Myrrhine retreated to the farther end of the room. In sight, but out of noisiness range.
"I expected you would have a cart, but that thing is huge. Did you somehow pack the whole house on it?" Jed asked in a puzzled tone.
"No, of course not! We brought only the necessities." Myrrhine replied. "Basic starting over gear, more granola bars than I ever want to see again, and your dowry."
Jed and Chris looked at each other in some surprise. "Er, you brought Jed's dowry some two thousand odd kilometres or more?" For her part, Chris was still struggling to get her head around the whole "dowry" idea in the first place. "I had no idea they were so big." A moment of dead silence. Not at all perturbed, she added, "Do you eat it, then?" At which point Jed and Myrrhine collapsed in hysterical laughter.
"Mitgift, Chris, mitgift, not what you're thinking." gasped Jed. It was moments like this that revealed that on one hand, Chris' first language was no more english than Jed's was, on the other that certain terms had fallen utterly out of contemporary english unless you happened to be an anthropology student.
"Really?" blushing mightily Chris stubborned on. "Well, that is a relief. I couldn't get my head around what this thing could be. About the only thing I was sure of was that it couldn't be a smoked pig."
"No, you could definitely count on that." Myrrhine coughed and composed herself as best she could as she wiped her streaming eyes with a red polka dotted handkerchief. "I am sorry sweetheart, Mama and I had no idea that word wouldn't make any sense to you. We found it in the english dictionary and thought we we were home free. Then again, it was a paper dictionary." Paper dictionaries were rare things now, having been superseded by electronic ones, though with a war on perhaps paper copies would make a come back. "Anyway, leaving it behind was not an option, and one half of it did wondrous double duty as a mattress for the kids. It includes lots of very nice clothes, more books than makes any sense, and I think boots and shoes." In response to the last item Jed tried to shift the position of her feet to hide the holes in her current boots from her cousin's keen eyes, failing miserably. The Amazons on border duty had a bigger need for new boots than someone with her job, and right now there was a shortage. Tiger striped orange duct tape really didn't make up for the fact that Jed squelched when she walked every time it rained.
"Is there any rule against pulling out a pair of those boots now? Or perhaps I could just take responsibility being from a different culture and faintly daft and you can go right ahead and get some?" suggested Chris hopefully. The tiger striped duct tape was quite fetching, but too water-loving for her taste.
"There is always flexibility for extreme circumstances." Myrrhine declared virtuously. "Especially circumstances that would otherwise have to be resolved by melting down tires. Nasty, stinky business." She and Jed had had the bright idea as teenagers of melting some discarded tires and dipping their collapsing running shoes. It had been a bad time, with not enough to eat and clothes riding on the edge of being both too short and too patched. The shoes were already so embarrassing a good rubber dip could hardly have made them worse, but they hadn't been able to melt enough rubber before the stench caused their parents to firmly put a stop to the entire operation. "It should even be possible to fish out a pair that match!"