Chapter 26: Gym Guru
When Ben was at Store Creek, he often drove to the gym in the nearby seaside village. Being an ex-dancer, he looked after his body. This morning, as he pulled up at the gym, he looked at the aging sign, Waldmeer Warriors. Yes, that’s right. The coastal town was Waldmeer.
Not long ago, the owner of the gym, Malik, told Ben that he had owned it for close on twenty years. He was in his mid-forties. The business was a family affair. Malik’s wife, Rachael, was usually on the desk and their three kids were generally not far away. The oldest of them, Michael, who was nineteen, had taken a shine to Ben. Most people liked Ben.
“You’re here,” said Michael excitedly. “I’ll work with you.” Michael was a great talker, although, there were some things, even for him, that were off-limits. This morning, those boundaries became a touch blurred. “My Dad named me after his first-ever client,” said Michael. “When he came to Waldmeer, he trained a shy, skinny kid from the local area who now owns a fitness empire.” Ben raised his eyebrows. “It’s not here in Waldmeer,” said Michael. “My namesake says that this is Dad’s territory. He always talks about his ‘guru’ in his training programs but he never mentions Dad’s name because he knows that Dad doesn’t want people coming to him for the wrong reasons.”
On previous occasions, Ben had noticed Michael’s little sister. The thirteen-year-old girl was not particularly noticeable of her own accord as she was a quiet, little thing. However, Ben saw how protective Malik was of her.
“Who is your little sister named after?” asked Ben.
“My grandmother, Faith-Amira,” replied Michael.
“Your sister’s name is Faith-Amira?” asked Ben.
“No,” said Michael. “Her name is Maria.” Michael shrugged and said, “I don’t know why she’s called Maria if she’s supposed to be named after my grandmother but that’s how it is.” Michael was the sort of person who didn’t overthink things. Unlike his little sister, he accepted life as it presented. “My Dad says that Maria has my grandmother’s eyes,” said Michael.
“Where is your grandmother?” asked Ben.
“Oh, we have never met her,” replied Michael. “She left a year before I was born.” Ben assumed she had died. “She didn’t die,” said Michael. “She just went somewhere and hasn’t come back.” Michael shrugged philosophically and then continued, “She had a friend called Gabriel and, apparently, he went to be with my grandmother and also never returned.”
“Not your grandfather?” queried Ben.
“No, my grandfather is Papa Zufar,” said Michael. “We have never met him either. Dad says he’s a fly-by-night sort of guy.” After a pause, Michael added wistfully, “Sometimes, I think Dad is sad because he can’t see his mother and, I guess, he would like his family to know us kids.”
“Excuse me. You might want to move your car,” said a soft, sweet voice behind Ben. Turning around, Ben looked down to see Maria. “The parking patrolman is coming,” she said.
Ben walked to his car and, indeed, at the far end of the street, the parking officer was slowly making his way down the block. Returning to Michael, Ben was about to ask how Maria knew that the parking officer was coming as she had been sitting near her father the entire time.
“She knows things like that,” said Michael.
“Like lotto numbers?” asked Ben only half-joking.
“No,” said Michael offhandedly. “She doesn’t do that.”
Michael suddenly felt his father’s gaze upon him and he said abruptly, “See you later.”
Chapter 27: Turn on Your Heart
After the gym, Ben had taken to stopping in the town between Waldmeer and Store Creek. Wurt Koort was at the highest point along the forest road.
“How are you today, bud?” asked Rybert as Ben walked into Wurt Wurt Koort Tearooms. Rybert was about sixty and had told Ben, earlier on, that he had owned the cafe for decades. He was always fun to talk to. He had his favourite Richard Simmonds program playing in the backroom. Seeing Ben’s reaction to the flamboyant exercise phenomenon of decades-past, Rybert started singing along with the recording with exaggerated sincerity and pointing appropriately,
Turn on your heart.
Turn it on for me.
Turn it on for you.
“Hi Ben,” said another familiar voice.
“Tom,” said Ben. “What are you doing here? We haven’t seen you at Tom & Hardy for a year. Do you still own it?”
Tom’s little Brussels griffon followed his master closely. “Yep. I do,” said Tom. “I’ve been there but you haven’t seen me.”
“He’s been spending a lot of time here with me in Wurt Wurt Koort,” said Rybert affectionately of his younger friend. “We love having him. We want to keep him.”
“I’m having a sabbatical,” said Tom.
“A year is a long sabbatical,” said Ben sarcastically. Tom shrugged. He didn’t care what other people thought about his life. Looking back to Rybert, Ben suddenly asked, “Do you know the family who own the Waldmeer Warriors?”
“Malik? Yeah, dude. I know him,” answered Rybert. “Why?” he asked cautiously.
Ben caught the expression in Rybert’s eyes and pursued the conversation hopefully, “I was speaking to Malik’s son, Michael, this morning, and he said…”
Rybert interrupted. “Don’t mind Michael. He blabs on.” Rybert then added, “I knew Michael’s grandmother a long time ago.”
“Yes?” said Ben. “Nannie Faith-Amira? Is that her name?”
Rybert laughed, “I suppose, by now, she would be seventy and, well and truly, nannie-material with four grandchildren that I know of. When I knew her, she only had one; a spirited kid called Lentilly. We all called her Lentil.” He laughed at the memory and added, “She hated it. Those days, their family was brand new to Waldmeer.” He added as an afterthought, “Faith wasn’t a normal nannie.”
“Malik has siblings?” asked Ben who was more interested in Malik’s generation (being his own) than the ones before or after his.
“An older sister called Bethany and a younger brother called Aristotle,” said Rybert. “Bethany owns Lentilly, and I don’t know if Aristotle has children.”
“Where are they now?” asked Ben.
Rybert’s face changed expression and Ben could tell that he was shutting down the conversation. “Malik is the only member of his family in these parts,” said Rybert. He turned to go back to work.
Ben couldn’t help asking one more question. “What about the guy that followed Faith-Amira? Gabriel was his name, I think.”
Rybert stopped walking and turned back to face Ben. He didn’t often look serious but now he did. “I knew him too,” said Rybert. “Frankly, I didn’t like him. Although, to be honest, maybe I didn’t like him because we were a bit too similar. But there was another reason.”
“Yes?” said Ben encouragingly.
Rybert stared out the cafe window into the main street of Wurt Wurt Koort. These days, the town was doing nicely. Very few witches were left. His own mother had passed on ten years ago. There wasn’t even a proper coven of thirteen witches any more. He didn’t bother to answer Ben’s question.
Tom was as much in the dark as Ben was. They both looked at each other and shook their heads as if to say, Old people. What can you do? Thank God, it’s not us!
Chapter 28: Lifting Spirits
Back at Merlyn’s apartment, she and the other Silent Order students were commiserating that Dr Apollo wasn’t able to lead the normal community meeting. He was having a minor procedure done at the hospital. A couple who had been with him for the last twenty years, as students, had driven him in and were waiting for the okay from the doctors before ringing about his progress. When the phone rang with news of the operation, the students were so busy with their conversations that they took little notice. However, a deathly silence fell on the group as the recipient of the call informed everyone that their teacher had passed on in the operation due to anaesthetic issues. They all sat there in disbelief until, eventually, everyone went to bed, although, there would have been almost no sleep for anyone on Level Three that particular evening.
Merlyn kept recalling that Dr Apollo had been, lately, ending all his meetings with the same words that he originally said during one of the summer meetings in the National Botanic Gardens.
You have but slumbered here. Night is approaching. Time to go home.
Having had little sleep for a week, Merlyn decided to go for a drive to Store Creek. She felt that the countryside might help to lift her spirits. At Store Creek General Store, she overheard the owner say that he needed temporary staff as he and his wife wanted to go on an extended holiday during the quieter autumn and winter months. His wife wasn’t well and he explained that they had made the decision to do more of the things that they enjoyed.
Good decision, thought Merlyn. She then had another thought and made the instantaneous decision to act upon it. Ten minutes later, she rang Ben.
“What’s up?” said Ben in that distinctive way men have of answering the phone which straight away indicates that they are only available for purpose-oriented conversation.
“I’m in Store Creek,” said Merlyn. “I came for a drive because my friend at the apartments died recently.”
“Sorry,” said Ben.
Merlyn wasn’t looking for a shoulder to cry on (not that it was being offered) and she continued, “I’m going to do some part-time work at Store Creek General Store and I need somewhere to live. Can I rent your house until I find somewhere else?”
It was true that Ben was surprised but he was already used to Merlyn doing surprising things. Every now and again, it was as if someone told her a plan and she acted on it. Ben was due to teach his next ballet class so he quickly said, “Okay, yes. I haven’t been there much lately, anyway.”
“Great,” said Merlyn. “I’ll fix the garden up for you.”
Merlyn was about to hang up when Ben said. “Guess who I met at the cafe in that little town halfway to Waldmeer?”
“No idea,” said Merlyn. “I’ve never been there.”
“Tom from Tom & Hardy,” said Ben.
“Really?” said Merlyn. “I’ll stop there, in case he is still around.”
“It’s worth a visit,” said Ben. “You will like it there. Also…” He wanted to tell her about Malik’s family at the Waldmeer Warriors because, for some reason, he couldn’t get them out of his mind. However, he didn’t know how to relay the story without sounding foolish. “By the way,” he said, “they have dance-aerobic classes at the gym in Waldmeer if you’re interested.” He knew that if she went to the gym, there was a high chance that she would quickly realise there was something unusual about the place.
And so, after six months in the Silent Order, at Joe-Joe’s Apartments, Merlyn moved to Store Creek. She wasn’t exactly leaving the Silent Order because one cannot really leave such a thing. It would always remain inside her, growing over the years, in its own particular way. Although Merlyn naturally assumed that Store Creek was the important place for her to be, at this time, she did not realise that Store Creek was a gateway. She was entering the mysterious world of Waldmeer; a world of incredible energetic diversity and history. She, along with others, had been chosen.
End of Part 2 – Silent Order