Chapter Seven – Percent

16 Jul

Apparently, everyone called her Rosie. Never Rose or Rosemary. Just Rosie.

From the smell of the mug in front of her, she was drinking rose tea too and, now that I was sitting closer to her, I could see that every one of the multicoloured flowers on her dress was a rose of some kind or another. I thought about asking Rosie about all the roses, but it just seemed rude somehow. So, I asked her about the map instead.

She just sipped her tea and smiled ‘Ah, we’ve been working on that thing for weeks. So far, we’ve only finished about seven percent of it or so. Every time we think that we’ve found somewhere to go on the map, it moves. About the only things which stay still are here and the cathedral.’

‘What do you mean, “moves?” ‘ I raised an eyebrow.

‘You know, moves. Changes location. Shifts position. Goes somewhere else.’ Rosie rolled her eyes as she took another sip of tea.

‘I’m sorry, but that’s…. Well, things just don’t do that. I mean, the cathedral appeared after I drunk the jasmine tea. But that could be a hallucination – I mean, everything got pretty trippy in here after I drank it. What do they really put in that stuff anyway?’

‘Damned if I know, but seeing things is just one of the side effects of travelling. It doesn’t quite wear off, but you’ll get used to it after a while. In fact, I think that it’s actually a part of this whole place – but it isn’t like anyone else in here believes that.’

I almost dropped my empty coffee cup ‘What do you mean? Get used to it after a while? Trust me, I’m not drinking that stuff again even if someone paid me. Again.’

Rosie nearly snorted a jet of tea out of her left nostril as she gurned and spluttered at me, desperately holding back laughter. Finally, breathing deeply, she said: ‘It’s a one-way ticket. I think that the point of no return is somewhere around the first third of the mug. Drink any more than that and you end up in the other town. It’s as simple as that.’

She had to be lying. No drug, however potent, lasts forever. It was probably a practical joke she played on all of the new customers who were stupid enough to try the “jasmine” tea. Either that or she was telling the truth and I really was trapped in this place with no way home. No doubt I’d eventually become another regular of this place, I’d spend all day sitting at my table by the wall and drinking coffee in silence. Maybe when the next new customer came in, I’d even get to join in with the staring and the laughing?

Maybe the new customer would finish her jasmine tea and look innocently at the wall of staring eyes in front of her. Maybe she’d see my jacket take on a life of it’s own and float around the room like a mouse-grey bat or a levitating manta ray while my eyes bulged and glossed themselves over with a sheen of curved glass. Rosie would bare her fangs again, the shopkeeper would give her the ol’ red eye and the guy in the yellow suit would desiccate himself.

No, I thought, that was not the life I’d bargained for. This had to be a practical joke – the grim humour of a bunch of odd souls who had nothing better to do than to sit around in this ramshackle excuse for a cafe and troll whoever walked through the door in order to add a little bit of joy to their sad and pathetic lives. But Rosie didn’t look particularly sad and pathetic, even though her fashion sense had obviously got stuck somewhere in the flowery wasteland of the last century.

Calling the shopkeeper over, Rosie ordered two more rose teas before turning to me and saying ‘You really have to try it. You’ll probably think that it tastes strange, but once you get used to it, you won’t want to drink anything else.’

I just nodded. She smiled.

When our rose tea arrived, I tried some of it. I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Compared to the jasmine tea, it was practically boring. Rosie, on the other hand, was smelling the clouds of steam that rose from the cup, giggling and saying things like ‘if you drink enough of it, you’ll start seeing the world through rose-tinted spectacles’ and ‘don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.’

Finally, she drank half of it and asked me ‘So, what do you do anyway? I’m guessing you’re a student.’

‘I was a student. Term ended a couple of weeks ago. No, I’m working as a detective now – well, not officially. Sort of. That’s how I ended up in this whole mess. I’ve got two weeks to find something and I don’t even know what it is.’

Rosie put her hand on my shoulder and smiled at me before saying ‘I’m sure you’ll know it when you see it.’

I didn’t feel reassured.

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