Tropical waters. Lustrous sands. A patch of palms and seaside grasses. The tiny island, its bungalow and the surrounding waters were encircled by a stone fence like a Frisbee in a kiddy pool – a magical costal locale in the middle of the Norwegian wilderness.
Nana’s island bungalow. Anders almost dropped the panda cub. “It’s an actual island.”
Beside him, Eirik grinned.
“Indeed,” said MacPherson, the airborne manatee that had guided them there, bobbing behind their heads like a hefty grey buoy. “I told her this was no place for such a thing but she insisted the imperfection of the location is what secured its perfection in her eyes. Go on. You’ll be all right, no evil can trespass over the water – .”
Suddenly, MacPherson yelped. “I HAVE PROBLEMS, TOO, FUZZBALL!!” He whirled to peer around his bulk for whoever he surmised might’ve surprised him from behind, as fast as a sailboat relying exclusively on wind power on a breezeless day. He found no one and thus carried on, oblivious he’d startled the two men and their panda which had by that point regained much of its composure.
“Er, where was I… ah yes,” he went on. “Inside, you’ll find means to avoid unnatural natural events, a solution to Alfred, and, more importantly, everything your grandmother never told you. Thus, my work here is done. Mr. Anders and Eirik, so long, fare well and don’t ask the squirrels for directions – they’ll put you off a cliff.” MacPherson drifted back toward the forest, chattering nonstop, denying the men an opening in which to express their thanks.
The panda squirmed until Anders’ arms set him on the hip-high stone fence. “MacPherson,” it explained, “is sciurophobic.”
Fear of squirrels? Anders laughed. He’s been shouting at imaginary squirrels!
Leaping from the stone wall, the panda pounced onto the water’s surface without breaking through it and scampered toward the island.
Amazed, Anders clapped Eirik’s shoulder. Together, with newfound energy, they scrambled onto the wall and, grinning like children, jumped as far as they could. In the back of his mind, Anders fully expecting to be submerged in the next moment. Instead, their boots struck sapphire waves like hard packed earth. Knees bent, they froze, beyond astonished.
Eirik took off first. Anders would’ve followed but, in his peripheral vision, he caught glimpse of a large, egg-shell white figure on the fence that hadn’t been there before. Nearby, the pallid parrot perched on the stone fence, considering him quietly.
The herald. Anders faced it with humble regard. He – or she – saved Eirik’s skin from the coffee flood — Coffee flood. In the back of his mind he wondered as to the coffee’s quality; whether it was caffeinated or a specific roast; or if it was more like pool water and you’re not supposed to drink it. This bird kept Alfred away, and found MacPherson for us…
Sincerely, Anders said, “Thank you.”
The bird’s intense blue eyes had an unearthly quality, like being stared at by a cosmos. “I used to be an honors student,” it said, seriously. “I’m not sure what happened.”
“If you can read this, turn me over.”
Oh. Bumper stickers. Those aren’t mine, though. Anders smiled. Maybe those are the only kinds of things it can say.
“I love Wales!”
A common sticker in his hometown. Dad’s car has that one. He turned, chuckling.
The bird’s tone changed. “Save a life.”
Anders glanced back but the herald immediately averted its gaze. After hesitation, Anders caught up to Eirik and the panda on the bungalow’s pineapple-themed doormat. The iron key in his pocket granted them entry, and they went inside.
From the forest, Alfred slithered to the fence and piled itself on top of it like sinister licorice soft serve ice cream, a stone’s throw from the herald which paid it no mind. They watched the island.
* * *
A spacious beach-themed interior greeted them with a gentle waft of sandalwood, Nana’s favorite scent. Panda ambled off the moment they arrived. A central semicircle of couches faced a hearth; in the back wall, glass French doors hinted at a sprawling back porch with summery deck furniture and umbrellas. A cross-stitch pattern, framed and hanging over the mantle, read: “If you see a dog foaming at the mouth and acting strange, take shelter immediately.” Anders eyed it, suspicious. A story might lurk behind that needlework. Might. Or Nana made it to confuse people. That had been one of her hobbies, too.
Eirik made a bee-line for the bookcases covering the back wall. Various texts crammed the shelves, though a great many books were slender with no writing on the binding. Curious, he plucked one and opened it. “Hey. Journals.”
I dunno if it’s because this was Nana’s, but this place has a distinct feel to it. It feels safe. Passing a front window, Anders glanced out and then looked again. The view included the fence where the herald and dark mass lingered, similarly.
As Eirik flipped a page, he spotted a nearby hat rack loaded with green scarves. He grabbed one, wrapped it around his neck and continued reading.
About to move on, Anders discovered a row of cork mannequin hat models lined up on a narrow table along the wall, all wearing a variety of hats the first of which was red.
He gasped, unflatteringly. Red hat! Slapping it on his head like a cheeky 6-year-old in rebellion of the ungrounded ‘never wear a red hat’ quote he’d heard all his life, he sought his reflection in the window pane, victoriously. However, his attention was pulled beyond his image, beyond the water. On the fence, where the herald and Alfred should’ve been, a man in off-white and a man in ebony sat, neither close nor far, neither friendly nor unfriendly, engaged in civil conversation with familiarity earned from a longstanding acquaintance.
The panda toddled in from another room. “The kitchen is stocked. There’s water, and nonperishables, and men’s attire in the drawers and wardrobe, weirdly. Like a ready-to-move-in vacation home just for you, Anders. Nana Ana was certainly a thoughtful lady.”
“I’m down for stickin’ around,” said Eirik. “I’m not supposed to be back ’til Monday anyway.”
Anders doffed the hat, gaze transfixed through the pane. The figures on the fence resumed previous forms: the parrot preened, the shadow yawned with a gaping, spiny-toothed maw.
Nana... Excitement thrilled in her grandson. “Yeah, we’ve got some catching up to do.”
Read from the beginning: Start here
“What the heck am I reading and why are there random bold words/phrases all over the place?”: Then start here