Creaole learns a bit more about the world she lives in, and the world she came from
| Seven ~ Plants and memorable headlines
Creaole left the bus early, her thoughts too full of anger and frustration to deal with sitting in silence any longer. The street was leafy and green, more colourful than she could ever have imagined. She focused on the details, trying to forget about her first experience of school. Disappointment weighed heavily on her shoulders.
She walked along the pavement, absorbed by front gardens, watching family’s stroll by, jumping every time a car whizzed along the road. She still caught herself glancing around for danger when a little girl tripped and scraped her knee on the pavement, her hand going instinctively to her head. Her pin was there, waiting for action between the strands of oddly neat hair, but of course nothing happened.
Creaole felt suddenly alone. No one else was by themselves, they were on their way somewhere, with something to do. A pang of longing for Shin gripped her chest. He was the only one who would see this the way she did.
At the edge of the little suburban area that was her new home, tucked next to the very last house, was a sign that read Evenstar Garden Centre. Disappointed and lonely Creaole followed the path round into the little complex, glad for any distraction that would draw her from her dark thoughts.
There were plants everywhere, on the floor and on shelves and hanging in baskets, and that was only outside. There was a whole glass-roofed greenhouse that was definitely the most colourful room she had ever laid eyes on, full to bursting with flowers of all shapes and sizes.
Her sadness dulled with every glance as Creaole wandered around enraptured, her gaze darting from plant to plant. Grand ideas of filling the pots in her little back yard with plants and flowers buzzed through her thoughts. But there was so much choice.
‘Can I help you?’ Creaole peered up from a lavender plant. ‘Only we’re going to close in ten minutes and you seem to have been here for a while,’ said a boy wearing the garden centre uniform. He was a few years older than Creaole and was clearly trying to sound polite rather than impatient, he half-succeeded. He was quite a bit taller than Creaole, with olive skin and dark hair and eyes. The green apron over his clothes read Evenstar Garden Centre: Emanuel.
‘Is this any good in a pot?’ The boy glanced at the plant in her hands, a look of mild panic flashing over his features then disappearing as he saw what she was holding.
‘Lavender will be fine in a pot, but it will get bigger if it’s planted out.’
‘Oh.’ Creaole stared down at the plant wondering if somehow it would be cruel to keep it in a pot.
‘Look,’ said Emanuel when it became clear he really had not helped her make a decision, ‘if you come back tomorrow my dad will be around. He can give you all the advice you need.’ Creaole tugged the clock Shin had given her from beneath her shirt to check the time and realised she had been wandering around the garden centre for over an hour. She could not really blame him for wanting to kick her out and close up.
‘That’s a fancy-looking necklace,’ the boy commented, peering over the lavender to get a better look.
‘It was a gift,’ Creaole smiled, tucking the clock back into her shirt.
‘Shin isn’t my boyfriend,’ Creaole said, a scowl flitting across her face. The boy smiled and shrugged,
‘Silly him. Anyway, take the lavender. I’m certain it will be fine. If dad says otherwise tomorrow then we’ll give you the money back.’
‘Erm … okay.’ She followed Emanuel back to the checkout and waited as he went round to the till. On the side was a notebook. Creaole twisted her head around to scan the page out of curiosity.
‘That answer is wrong.’ She pointed to the second answer of what was clearly some kind of chemistry equation. ‘You missed out an oxygen molecule at the end of the sequence.’ The boy snatched the book away to scan it himself.
‘Oh, crap,’ he grumbled as he rubbed out half of his work to redraw it, her purchase half plugged into the till.
‘And you need to use dilute hydrochloric acid to produce random mixtures of peptides polypeptides and amino acid. Concentrate will produce complete hydrolysis of the chains.’ He scanned his work again then peered up at Creaole, a puzzled frown lining his forehead.
‘How did you even read that so fast?’ he asked with a puzzled frown as he skipped to the bottom of the next page to read the question again.
‘I read fast I guess?’ Creaole answered with a shrug.
Emanuel put the book to one side. ‘You could be right. I guessed the answer, but I’ll check it later.’ He gave Creaole another once-over. ‘What year are you in, anyway?’ he asked as he finished scanning the tag for the plant.
‘Erm … I’m doing GCSEs. I just moved from Canada so I’m not sure of the year. We do it differently.’ Creaole floundered a bit, her cover story feeling clumsy on her tongue.
‘Ah, that explains the weird accent. You sound more Italian though?’
Creaole gave a small shrug, amazed at how many lies and explanations she needed to keep up the charade.
‘My mum wasn’t from there.’
Emanuel nodded, and Creaole made a mental note to add her mother’s nationality to the complex lie of her life so far.
‘That’s four ninety-nine. I definitely don’t remember doing these for GCSE though.’ He indicated the closed workbook as he took Creaole’s cash.
‘I was home-schooled.’
‘Oohh.’ He handed her the plant in a plastic carrier bag. ‘Must be nice, not having to go to school every day.’
‘Nope, it sucks,’ Creaole chirped back as she untucked her shoes from under her arm and popped them in the carrier bag with the plant. The boy had not noticed her bare feet until that moment and he gawked at her with renewed bewilderment.
‘Now that is just strange. Are you walking home like that?’ Emanuel added as she headed to the exit.
‘Yeah, I’m not a fan of shoes.’
‘No kidding. Just be careful on the yard – there’s still a load of splinters everywhere from when we chipped last year’s Christmas trees.’
‘I’ll be careful,’ Creaole responded with a grin, then came up short, her attention caught by the front cover of a newspaper where it rested innocently on a small round table.
Portal of Eternity Claims Five More
‘Are you okay?’ Emanuel asked, reappearing at her side. ‘Did you forget something? We’re open every day except Sunday if you can last until tomorrow?’ He trailed off as he realised Creaole was not listening but staring at the cover of the newspaper.
The colour had drained from her cheeks as she stared back at the five serious but smiling faces that gazed out of the front cover. She had heard someone use the word Portal before. They had been describing the Gateway, and shortly after they had been killed in front of her.
‘Oh, don’t pay any attention to that rubbish,’ she heard Emanuel say from beside her and finally remembered where she was. ‘It’s my Granddad’s, he’s into all that Portal business, but who in their right minds actually believes in that stuff?’ He snorted, showing his opinion on the matter, and Creaole managed to pull her eyes away from the image and focus on him instead. ‘I mean if there was a house and all you had to do was get to the back door to live forever, don’t you think there would be a lot more really old people hanging around?’
Creaole nodded dumbly, trying to find words. He picked up the paper and flicked to the main article, sniggering to himself as he read.
‘Here, my point exactly,’ he said as he stabbed the page randomly. ‘Some batty explorer has come back saying his mates went in and didn’t come out. My thoughts: they got lost and ran out of food and he ate the lot of them, or fed them to bears to save himself.’ He flicked the sheets round so Creaole could see. ‘It’s always this dude. He’s crazy, obsessed, and a millionaire, so he has nothing better to do with his time.’
Creaole stared at the image of the man before her. He was stern and solemn, his hair long, white and floppy, although his face was strangely young. Everything but his hair was neat and perfect, from his suit to his small golden cufflinks. He did not appear the least bit crazy, or like a man who would spend his millions on a whim.
‘I can’t believe Canada doesn’t have this rubbish. I thought everywhere had their version?’
Creaole swallowed and dragged her eyes away from the image. She tried to smile but the muscles felt tight and uncomfortable.
‘Well, I’ve heard of it, of course. I’ve just never seen it in the papers before.’
‘Ah, well that’s the weekly Skywards for you. It’s a pile of rubbish, but my granddad insists on it so here it is, scaring our customers. Usually he’s here too, which adds to the effect.’ He laughed despite his complaints. ‘Luckily he sits at the exit so it’s not too bad.’
Creaole smiled again and suddenly realised he had been trying to get her to leave and now she had been holding him up even longer.
‘Sorry, I should get going.’
‘Yep, I’ve got a floor to hose down. See you around.’
Creaole shivered in the sunshine and hurried home.
Eight ~ Researching normality
Creaole backed away from her project, feeling smug as she admired the dazzling array of colours that now decorated her new garden. There was compost everywhere too, but she ignored that. At the garden centre earlier that morning Emanuel’s dad, Mr Raekan, had said that it would make a mess, although his suggestion of potting out on a bin bag had not worked as well as he had implied. Creaole figured she just needed practice.
‘That looks wonderful, dear. I was hoping I’d get a green-fingered neighbour.’
A voice floated through from next door and Creaole turned to see the top of a man’s head poking over the bamboo fence that split the gardens of flats 1a and 2a. The hair she could see was white and his eyes were smiling, sparkling blue in the afternoon sunlight. Creaole dusted her hands on her jeans then winced as she remembered to tug the dirty gloves from them instead. She still had not got used to being clean all the time.
‘Carlos Highton. Pleased to meet you,’ he said with a smile. He was tall. She took his hand and shook it firmly as she had been taught to do on Tuesday.
‘Creaole Plumviar. My uncle isn’t in at the moment.’
Creaole craned her head a little to inspect her neighbour’s garden. There were considerably fewer flowers than in hers, and it was a lot tidier.
‘Your garden is lovely Mr Highton,’ Creaole said with a grin,
‘Just Carlos is fine. And yours is very nice as well, but I suspect your uncle would be more impressed if you tidied up a bit before he gets home,’ he finished with a chuckle.
Creaole considered her work, admitting with a rueful shrug that perhaps he was right.
‘I’ve a broom that will do the trick.’ He handed a well-used brush to Creaole, a wry smile on his wrinkled face.
Creaole brushed unenthusiastically, her excitement and pride melting away as she realised she had no one to share her work with. Darm had not come back yet. In the past his long absences had never bothered her, but now she needed him to get home. She wondered what Shin was up to, if he was bored without her around too.
‘Mr Highton?’ Creaole called, sticking her head round the fence to check he was still there.
‘Carlos is fine.’
‘Oops, sorry, I was just wondering if you could tell me where the nearest library is?’
Surprise blossomed over Carlos’s face as he took his broom back from Creaole.
‘Don’t you kids use the internet for questions these days?’
Creaole panicked. That was one of the things she had been planning to look up. Along with emails, mobile phones and computers.
‘Are you still waiting to be connected? I remember it took weeks for them to sort mine out. Anyone would think we were in the countryside, not the suburb of a dammed city.’ A look of enlightenment spread over his face as a great idea occurred to him. ‘You can connect to my Wi-Fi if you like?’
Creaole tried not to seem as blank and lost as she felt as she shook her head and added another word to her list of things to investigate.
‘No, I’d like to get out of the house for a bit anyway.’
Thankfully her helpful next door neighbour just nodded and led her into his lounge, a more colourful mirror image of Creaole’s own flat, waving her in behind him.
‘Ok, then. I’ll just Google it for you to check, but I’m pretty sure you catch the number 18 bus into town and then it’s a five-minute walk from there.’ Creaole smiled blankly as she added Google to her mental list. Relieved that she had at least learnt about busses with Darm on her birthday. She watched over Carlos’s shoulder, biting her tongue to stop herself from asking him to slow down so she could follow as he interacted with what she could only assume was another form of computer. Suddenly, she hoped Darm was not back until this evening.
An hour later and she was in town, a map Carlos had printed for her from yet another machine clutched in her hand as she made her way to the library. It seemed small and incredibly light compared to the library she was used to, and there was a little barrier stopping her from entering.
‘I’d like to look at the books, please,’ Creaole said to the lady at Reception, wondering if this was the human equivalent of Keikei. She was reading, too, but then Creaole caught a glimpse of the title and thought perhaps she was over-estimating the woman.
‘Just scan your library card at the barrier, love,’ the woman answered without looking up from her book, the cover of which was pink.
‘I don’t have a library card, sorry. Could you tell me how to get one?’ Creaole replied patiently.
‘Apply online and you can print out a code to scan until the card arrives.’
The woman waved vaguely in the direction of a bank of computers arrayed on one side of the reception without moving her gaze from the pages of the book. Creaole bristled, beginning to lose her temper. She had important things to do. She needed to know what these blasted words meant or else she would never be able to seem normal when term started. This woman with her nose stuck in a book that was quite obviously fictional, and therefore worthless in Creaole’s opinion, was standing between Creaole and her lifetime dream. If she were one of the guardians of the Gateway, Creaole would just shove the green pin though her head and make her help. Sadly, that was not going to aid Creaole on the path to normality.
‘I. Do. Not. Know. How. To. …’ Creaole replied firmly, adding unnecessary pauses between the words just in case the woman was actually stupid.
This finally caught the woman’s attention, pulling her head up from whatever she was reading. She put her book to one side and peered down from her reception booth, focusing on Creaole as if she was crazy, or perhaps just very unusual, unique even – many descriptions which in the end meant definitely not normal. Creaole pursed her lips, annoyed that it had come to this.
‘I have come here to find out,’ Creaole continued, because it appeared that just the statement was still not sufficient to elicit a response, ‘but it appears I cannot get in unless I know, which by the way strikes me as illogical.’ Creaole was trying really hard not to make it sound as if she was talking to someone with the IQ of a piece of fruit, because by some cruel twist of fate she really needed the woman’s help. ‘I would be greatly appreciative if you could show me how to get into the library so I can find the books I hope will enlighten me.’ Although at this moment in time Creaole was beginning to wonder whether such books would exist or if everyone instinctively knew. It would certainly explain the odd looks.
‘Where the hell have you come from, love? You sound European? I thought it was only the Third World that didn’t have the net.’
Creaole just stared at the woman as she finally shook herself out of her shock enough to speak again. She knew there was only one world, at least that the humans were aware of.
‘I’m from Canada, the middle of nowhere, we just had phones.’ Creaole suspected Canada was not one of these third countries, but it was big, and pretty empty, so hopefully that would work in her favour.
‘Well holy moley, come on, love, I’ll sort it for you. Then I’ll get you the Computer Guide for Dummies. Don’t mind the title,’ she added when Creaole frowned. ‘It’s a good simple introduction for those of us who weren’t born tapping a keyboard.’
Creaole forced a smile as the woman came out from behind her desk, thankfully leaving the ridiculous pink book behind. Now she was focused on her actual job and was no longer in shock at meeting someone unable to use a computer, she appeared to have the IQ of all the other regular people Creaole had met so far.
Creaole watched over the woman’s shoulder as she interacted with the screen with alarming ease and speed. This was a completely different experience to watching Carlos, who was slow and meticulous. This woman’s fingers were nimble and her eyes never glanced down as she typed in the name and address Creaole dictated to her. That was certainly going to take a bit of practice.
‘Right, love. This is for you.’ She handed Creaole a piece of paper that had been printed by a bigger version of Carlos’s machine. She passed the printed barcode over the scanner in the entrance to the library proper. As it beeped and let her through it struck Creaole that humans had their own kind of magic. She strongly suspected that the machines she was witnessing were actually based on chemistry and physics, but it seemed to have the same overall effect.
The woman met Creaole on the other side of the turnstile, looking more pleased with herself that was probably necessary. Creaole grinned back.
When she got back home there was still no sign of Darm. Creaole put her rented books on the empty shelves and went to make herself some dinner in the too big and too complicated kitchen. It was not the first time she had eaten by herself, but somehow the big flat felt more lonesome than her and Darm’s little hut in the Gateway. She missed Shin, and she even missed the magical cupboard that had always contained her favourite foods – none of these horrible vegetables Darm now insisted she had to eat.
A ring at the door made Creaole jump out of her skin, sending a lump of potato and tuna bouncing across the table. She scooped it back onto her fork and into her mouth then headed for the door, wondering who could be visiting her.
‘Hello.’ She pulled the door open, wincing a bit because the sun was still up on this side of the house.
‘Delivery for Mr C Highton,’ said the man at the door. He did not seem like the normal postman, who had come this morning looking comical in his grey shorts and red shirt. The man on her doorstep right now was not entertaining at all and appeared overly smart in a black suit. He was smiling brightly, though, as he tried to hand the parcel to Creaole.
‘Carlos Highton lives in 2a.’ Creaole pointed towards Carlos’s door, smiling back at the man as he had been polite, even if there was a big 1a sign right next to the doorbell that he had managed to ignore.
‘Oh, sorry, miss. Have a good evening,’ he added in an overly cheery voice and headed over to Carlos’s. Creaole sighed gently and pressed the front door closed, rubbing her sore eyes as she headed back to finish her dinner. She really hoped that Darm had not forgotten about her.
Chapter 9 and 10 now out