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of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Teaconomics

“All’s Fair in Love and Wolves” – An Open Letter to the Tandem Tea Tasters

“All’s Fair in Love and Wolves” – An Open Letter to the Tandem Tea Tasters

 

To my dearest Tandem Tea Tasters – Rachel, Jo, Nicole, Darlene, Jackie and Julia

Tandem Tea Tasters

Image by Jo Johnson

I regret that I was unable to attend last Sunday’s Tandem Tea Tasting, and I equally lament that I never got to make the real(-ish)-time acquaintance of Xavier – the original Smiling Frenchman. While you might think I either flaked out on it, or had something better to do, I assure you the reason behind my absence was far more bizarre than that. And it all started with a snowstorm.

As most of you already know, Oregon finally felt the brunt of “Snowpocalypse 2014”. Some viewed it as karma for laughing at the East Coast and southern U.S., others looked upon it as a freak of nature. What no one knows…is that I was indirectly responsible for it.

Until now.

Thursday morning, news reports were starting to pour in about the impending inclement weather. In a rare case of forward thinking, I packed a bag in preparation. You see, I work at a hotel. If snow did fall, I had a place to stay. By noon, snow did fall…and hard.

Salute to snow

What was originally supposed to be a day’s stay turned into two…then three. Then four. For a while, I looked upon it as a “staycation” of sorts. There was a microbrewery nearby, and free food was offered to the employees that stayed the night. But by the the end of the fourth day, I was starting to grow weary of my surroundings.

I had hoped to return home Sunday afternoon after my shift, but – while some of the snow and ice had started to melt – much of it still remained. There was no way my little Ford Focus would make it out of the driveway. Another night in, it was.

After grabbing a masala chai latte at the bar, I headed back to my room. As I lumbered down the hallway, I beheld an odd occurrence. Snowflakes were falling inside the hallway. They appeared out of nowhere…then disappeared before hitting the ground.

hallway

I continued down the hall and found the door to my room. Something must’ve been in that latte, for I was seeing things. Or perhaps I had been cooped up too long. As I opened my hotel room door, I was greeted by…

A wolf. Or was it a man? No, scratch that. It was a…

WOLFMAN!” I screamed.

The werewolf appeared taken aback by my girlish scream. He was dressed rather peasantly – ripped jeans, flannel shirt and a tattered scarf. His get-up was actually rather hip. He would’ve fit in well in Portland – wolfhead and all.

loup personne

“Th-th-that’s racist!” the were-hipster sputtered. In a French accent.

Where had I heard that answer before? Ah yes…from a were-tiger. That calmed me down right quick.

I closed the door and plopped down on the bed. “What do you want to be referred to as, then? Lycanthrope?”

The hip-wolf stared at me – stunned at my change in composure. What he didn’t know was that I had experienced similar occurrences before. Magical creatures whisking me away was nothing new to me.

“That’s even worse,” he said. “I am a loup personne.

I glared. “That just means ‘wolf person’ in French!”

He said nothing.

“Fine,” I gave in. “What do I call you, then? Quel est votre nom?”

“Your French is terrible,” the werewolf said, disgusted.

Pas de merde,” I replied. No translation needed.

“Theodor,” the wolf sighed. “My name is Theodor.”

“Okay, Ted.”

“Theodor,” he corrected.

“Whatever, Ted,” I continued. “Why are you here? And what’s with the snow inside the hotel?”

“The snow is a side-effect of opening a Narnia Gate,” he explained. “And I was told that you were a great warrior.”

My head hurt. “Narnia Gate?!”

“A magical tear in reality for transport from one place to another. The side-effect is snow within a three thousand mile radius.”

My eyes widened. I wasn’t very good with geography, but I knew what that encompassed. “How long ago did you cast that spell?”

“I started the incantation about two months ago.”

My stomach tightened. Just like that. I learned I was indirectly responsible for Snowpocalypse 2014.

“Why didn’t you use ley-line travel?” If it was good enough for Zombie Robert Fortune, surely it was good enough for a werewolf.

“On my salary?” His ears perked.

“There’s…magical minimum wage?”

Theodor said nothing.

I got up and patted him on the back. “I know that feels, bro.”

“So, are you?”

“Am I what?” I returned.

“A great warrior that helps others?” he clarified.

“Who told you that?”

“Shere Kahn of the Tee Faktorei.”

khan

“I’m a tea blogger,” I corrected.

What?!” Theodor roared. “The tiger-man lied!”

“Calm down,” I said, palms out. “What exactly did he say?”

“He told me to seek the aid of a Norman. I simply assumed he meant a warrior of Norse descent.”

I laughed. Hard. “Dude, I’m not even close.”

Theodor’s ears drooped, and he sighed a bit like a Saint Bernard I knew.

“How can I help?” I finally offered.

“I’m not sure you can. My mate, Romaine, was kidnapped by a dragon.”

“Any idea why?”

The wolfman shook his scruffy head.

“Well, I’d better get dressed,” I said, lifting myself from the bed.

“Aren’t you already dressed?”

“Not for a life-or-death tea tasting, I’m not.”

I grabbed some clothes and headed to the bathroom. When I re-emerged, I was attired in flannel-blue pajama bottoms, a blue J-TEA t-shirt (one size too big) and sneakers without socks. Theodor gave me a once-over.

“My mate’s life is on the line,” he argued. “This isn’t a sleepover.”

“Khan sent you to me,” I explained. “That means this has something to do with tea. This is my tea-tasting attire. If I’m going to help you, I’m going in uniform.”

Note: Not an actual likeness.

Note: Not an actual likeness.

I’m not sure what Theodor did next, but it looked like a facepalm. Or rather, a facepaw. We left the room.

One moment, we were walking down a snowed-in hotel highway, the next we stood in a grand cavern. Statues lined the walls – all of them various dragons of different shapes and sizes. Some Eastern, some Western. At the center of the cavernous meeting hall was an altar of some sort. Dead center, shackled to the wall was…well…a female werewolf with jet-black fur. She was unconscious but otherwise looked unharmed.

“Romaine!” Theodor yelled and ran forward.

I tried to grab him, but I was one step too late. As the wolfman dashed forward, the ground rumbled. A high-pitched roar echoed throughout the interior. Pink smoke billowed from the right side of the room. Theodor froze in mid-stride – legs shaking.

And a dragon appeared. Or rather…what passed for one

The “dragon” – if one could call it that – stood approximately seven feet tall with milky-white scales. Along its spine were various horns and protrusions, but they were knobbed and uneven. Its eyes looked glassed over, and – to my surprise – it wore actual glasses. With the thickest frames I ever did see.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the dragon was fat? I mean, morbidly obese.

Francis

Art by Barb Bjornson

“So, Theodor,” it spoke. “This is the warrior you bring to face Francis the Ferocious.”

I tried really hard not to laugh. I failed.

“Who dares chortle in my direction?” spoke Francis the Ferocious. Oddly enough, his voice reminded me of Benny Hill.

“Uh sorry, Francis…um…sir,” I said. “I was just…laughing at the coincidence of your name. You see, my middle name is Francis.” It was the truth, too.

Francis brought a pudgy paw to his chin, “You have good taste, o’ warrior.”

“I’m not a warrior,” I said. “Just a tea geek. Like yourself.”

The dragon glared, “How did you know this was about tea?”

“You look like a tea drinker.” And in truth, he really did. Then I added, “Mr. Ferocious, sir.”

“Then perhaps you can help me where our Theodor here could not,” Francis said, pacing toward me.

The ground shook near me, and several black obsidian pieces magically coalesced into a table. A white Ceylon steeper cup and a sample bag shimmered into being. A stainless steel kettle winked into existence as well – water already heated.

The brand on the bag o’ tea I’d seen only once before, a couple of weeks back. Maison de thè THEODOR – the company my Tandem Tea Tasting group was covering today. What were the odds?!

The sample bag read: Thé Du Loup. My high school French was a little rusty, but I knew “Tea of the Wolf” when I saw it. Awesome name, I thought. I should remember that for a story.

The blend looked exactly like it was supposed to…a blend. A very French one, at that. The black tea base consisted of small-cut pieces with flecks of yellow flower petals for visual appeal. Marigolds, I thought to myself. Couldn’t be sure, though. I thought I also noticed a piece of orange or something akin to it.

Dry The Du Loup

As to aroma, this thing wasn’t kidding around, and I voiced as such. “It smells like…cookies.”

“Well, what kind of cookies?!” the dragon asked urgently.

“Girl Scout cookies?” I shrugged.

“Made of actual Girl Scouts?” Francis asked…a little too excitedly.

“You watched The Addams Family recently, didn’t you?”

The dragon looked confused.

“Nevermind,” I grumbled.

I thought I recalled a recommendation for 185F water or the Celcius equivalent. I found that a bit light for a black tea, but then again the tea leaves were small. And the blend was French. A lighter touch, it was.

The Du Loup

The liquor brewed to a dark red-brown, almost like a chocolate-dipped cherry. The aroma was cocoa mixed with vanilla with a floral underpinning – sweet all around but not too perfumy. Some of the floral character came through on the taste with a very pungent forefront that reminded me of candy-dipped flowers. (Or whatever I thought that would taste like.) The rest was rather pleasant. Some of the natural tea flavor showed up in the middle, and the blend ended on a candy-ish finish.

“And now for the ‘Love Tea’,” Francis ordered.

The obsidian slab rotated in on itself, replaced by a near identical taster cup. I marveled at the transformation, but remained bewildered at the fact that this dragon’s brewing equipment looked exactly like mine. Great minds…?

I looked at the sample bag. Indeed, it was a “Love Tea”, literally. The ornate letters on the bag read: Je t’aime. With Valentine’s Day a week away, I had to groan a little.

Taim

The leaves for this blend looked like…ah, hell, they looked the same as the Thé Du Loup – small black tea leaves, marigolds, orange pieces et al. The only considerable difference I could glean between the two was that the Je t’aime smelled creamier and more citrusy.

“Are you sure these are different blends?” I asked the dragon.

“These samples were gifted to me by a trusted colleague!” he roared. “Do you doubt me?!”

“No, sir!” Theodor kowtowed. Then shot me a glare and whispered, “Stop pissing him off!”

“I’m not trying to!” I rasped back.

I brewed the Je t’aime up the same way I had the Loup. The liquor turned out a shade lighter than the prior tea. The aroma was similar but a lot more delicate. Vanilla and something citrus-ish took point. Taste-wise, it was a lot more spry and less full-bodied that the wolf-named tea. It was also the most French. And, ironically, it was my favorite.

All Taim

“Very French,” I said with a nod. “But very good.”

Theodor rolled his eyes. “You’re a poet.”

“Your mom’s a poet,” I countered.

The werewolf growled. It was about as threatening as a puppy chewing on a fake steak.

“Well?” Francis the Ferocious pressed.

“Well what?” I asked, confused.

“Are they worth buying?”

Theodor looked at me, pleading.

“Um…” I had no idea what to say. “Blends aren’t usually my thing, but…yeah?” I shrugged a little with the cup in hand.

“Splendid!” Francis squealed, clapping his pudgy hands together. He pointed at Theodor. “I’ll take four ounces of each.”

“I…don’t sell tea,” Theodor said. “I’m a cashier at a butcher shop.”

“….What?” the dragon growled, fists clenched. Knuckles turning even whiter.

Before wolfman could answer, I stepped between the two of them. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“How so?” Francis said, eyes leveling on me.

“I think you confused the ‘wolf’-named tea and ‘love’ tea from the THEODOR brand…with an actual wolf’s lover…named Theodor,” I explained.

“I never make mistakes!” Francis whined.

“What browser do you use?” I asked again.

“Um…Internet Explorer.” Francis answered.

“Search engine?”

“Bing.”

“I can see where you got confused, then.” I nodded, hand to chin. “How about you let this poor wolf’s girl go, and let them leave in peace. In return, I’ll help you make the tea purchase, okay?”

Francis kicked up some dirt, looking slightly embarrassed. “Okay.”

Over the next hour or so, as Theodor made his escape with Romaine’s unconscious form, I stayed with the dragon. Apparently, no one in his usual dragon-y circles had heard of Google, nor learned that some sites could be translated into different languages. Lucky for us, the THEODOR site had an English version, thus dispelling any future confusion…or kidnappings.

Before long, the dragon/nerd and I were having tea – an Uva Ceylon he had on hand. It was also nice to have a dragon nearby that could heat the water simply with his breath. We talked of small nothings and big anythings. All the while, sipping the night away.

Tea

Francis returned me to my hotel’s hallway via ley-line port. Far smoother than the Narnia Gate, and less cold. When I returned to my room, Theodor was waiting by the door.

“Where’s Romaine?” I asked.

“Two floors up,” he said. “We got a room for the night. I…can’t afford to open another Narnia Gate.”

“Just be sure to take human form when you go to breakfast.”

Theodor nodded.

“Something else you needed?”

“To apologize.”

“For what?”

“I doubted you,” he admitted. “You are a great warrior.”

“Nope,” I confessed. “I just look good in pajamas.”

Theodor seemed to accept that answer and left.

I slept rather soundly that night.

*****

The next morning, I worked a six-hour shift. I was a bit ornery the entire time, longing for home. As I was pushing a housekeeping cart, a couple passed by me. The man was wearing a flannel shirt and a scarf, and the woman on his arm had a long mane of jet-black hair. Both were speaking French. The man looked back, and shot me a nod and a grin. I nodded back.

And that, my friends, is the truth of it. I hope nothing quite as outlandish happens by the time the next Tandem Tea Tasting comes around. But I make no promises. The magical world is a tricky mistress, and she always seems to catch me in my pajamas.

 

With regards,

Geoffrey F. Norman

The Lazy Literatus

Tea and a letter

A Tiger in the Taiga

It was, for the most part, a normal Sunday night. That is, if you consider coming home with a full body-ache normal. My work week had taxed me (both mentally and physically) yet again. Not something I ever wanted to be routine…but such is life. Typically, after a long night’s work, I came home, poured a pint of ale, vegged in front of the computer then slept.

I was about to do just that until I got a text from friends to meet them at a bar. The pint of Cascadia Dark Ale I was nursing was put back in the fridge. After two pints with said friends and a nice walk back home, I remembered the CDA still refrigerating. I was never one to exceed two pints (er…often?), but I didn’t want to let it go to waste. So, I nursed it lovingly. Again!

And felt a wee bit on the inebriated side.

Somewhere in the partial mental haze, I got the notion that the dog needed a walk. My brother was out of town, and I’d been tasked with feeding and entertaining the pup. Well…”pup” is probably the wrong word. He was a two-year-old, 140-pound Saint Bernard who thought he was a pup – fittingly named Abacus. I let him out of his “kennel” – in reality, a bedroom – and leashed him up for a dogwalk. Or rather, a dog-stumble.

It really says something when the dog walks in a straighter line than his walker. Such was the case this night. In all honesty, he was extremely well-behaved. Midnight walks were becoming our little routine, and I enjoyed the distraction. Something was different about this night, though. Well, beyond the beer buzz.

As we turned down one particular, dimly-lit street, I caught whiff of a familiar smell. Tendrils of campfire, burnt leaves, and awesomeness crept its way to my nostrils. Naturally, even in my befuddled state, I sought out the source of the smoky smell. Somehow, I even managed to tweet about it. (Still not sure how that happened.)

We continued down the dark street for what seemed like a few minutes. Abacus let out a couple of warning barks. I tried to reassure him, but I – too – felt something ominous. Of course, that may have been just gas. The further we ventured, the darker the path became. The road was more uneven with each step. Asphalt turned to dirt. Street lamps vanished altogether. Then we suddenly came upon…

Daylight?!

We were no longer in the suburbs. What beheld us was a coniferous forest with thin trees and prairie-like shrubs. It looked similar to our usual environs, save for the cold, dry air. Abacus didn’t seem to care. He found the nearest tree, gave it the sniff once-over then relieved himself – happily making his mark on this strange hillside.

Dead ahead of us was a small campsite. That alone didn’t puzzle me; it was the occupants that gave me pause. One was a short, stout, bearded man in a pointy green hat. Short was an understatement, though – he was downright diminutive. The other appeared to be a man on first glance, dressed very dapperly like a British scholar. Mutton chops hugged his cheeks, giving him a jolly appearance. The problem? His skin was an off shade of blue.

The third occupant was the only normal one of the trio, and yet the one that stood out the most. He was thin, neighborly-looking, and possessed a perma-smile. He was stirring “something” with a wooden spoon in a rather ornate cauldron. And he was staring right at us, grin never fading.

“He’s here,” the small, pointy-hatted man said.

“Looks like it,” the mutton-chopped, off-skin-colored man replied in a Scottish baroque.

The smiling man said nothing.

Abacus tried to escape the leash and pounce his new “friends”, but I reined him in. “Who…” I began.

“You should already know the answer to that,” the Scot said. “After all, you’ve written about us.”

“You can’t be-” I pointed, mouth agape.

The sort-of-Scotsman stood and bowed, “Formerly Robert Fortune, at your service.”

“Formerly?”

“That means he’s dead,” the smaller man cut in. “-Ish”

“The polite term is undead,” the Scotsman countered.

“A zombie,” I said simply.

“That’s racist,” the smaller man responded.

“So that would make you-”

“Thedaius,” he said with a salute. “Thed, for short. No pun intended.”

“You’re the gnome I wrote about!” I said excitedly.

“You’re a quick one,” Thed said dryly.

“Don’t mind him, he’s always pissy,” Formerly Fortune muttered to me.

As my attention was diverted, Abacus escaped my grasp long enough to nose-molested the gnome. He toppled over and tried to ward the Saint Bernard off to no avail. Fits of laughter escaped the grumbling gnome as he was tackled and licked.

“Abacus, get off him!” I yelled.

“It’s okay,” Zombie Robert Fortune assured me. “He’s good with animals, despite his gruffness.”

And just like that, Thed had the wily puppy eating out of the palm of his hand – literally. He had fetched some strange snack out of one of his many sacks. Abacus feasted from his tiny hand and instantly turned docile. A puddy of a pup if I ever saw one. Amazing.

“Funny,” the gnome said. “You named him Abacus. I knew an Abacus once. Saint Bernard, too.”

“Don’t tell me he runs a flying tearoom,” I said, arms akimbo.

“He does, indeed,” Thed said with surprise. “How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess,” I replied with an eyeroll. “Who’s he?”

My attention was turned toward the smiling stirrer by the cauldron.

“No clue,” Robert Unfortunate shrugged. “He just showed up today. He hasn’t said a word.”

“He might have something to do with why you’re here,” Thed offered.

“And he’s French,” Zombert Fortune growled.

“That’s a bad thing?” I asked.

Thed shook his head. “Not necessarily…unless you’re British.”

“I’m Scottish!” Zombert Fortune snapped back.

“Fine, British ‘citizen’,” Thed amended.

“What are you two doing here?” I asked. “And where is here?”

“We’ve been traveling for…” Thed paused in thought. “Shit, how long have we been traveling?”

“Going on forty years, I think,” Un-Robert Fortune-Zombie said, tapping his chin.

“And ‘here’ is Mongolia,” Thed answered. “Not sure what part.”

“We took a break from our trip to India,” Former-Robert sighed. “Ley-line travel is exhausting.”

“And thirst-inducing,” the gnome added. “I said I was parched, and the Frenchman appeared.”

“We think he’s brewing tea,” Undead Fortune whispered to me.

Sure enough, when I went up to smell the contents of the Smiling Frenchman’s cauldron, I whiffed tea. Smoky tea. One of my favorite types of tea. The Smiling Frenchman just kept right on smiling as I smelled.

“Have you guys tried any of it yet?” I asked.

“We haven’t dared,” Robert Unfortunate replied.

“Uh…you,” I addressed the Frenchman. “Three cups, please.”

The Smiling Frenchman’s grin widened, and three cups winked into existence – as did a smattering tea leaves that circled about our heads. He poured the contents of the ladle into them. Said cups hovered over to the gnome, the departed botanist, and myself. I took a sip..and instantly knew that it had a name – a fitting name.

“Pause in the Taiga,” I said aloud.

Pause in the Taiga

This was an interesting blend to look at, mainly because of the different leaf shapes present. There were the regulars – the BOP pieces, a couple of gold-tipped ones, and a few stems – but what was really shocking was the presence of some ball-fisted oolong leaves. Even more surprising, they were greener-style like an Ali Shan. The aroma was gently smoky with a floral underpinning – as expected from a Russian Caravan variant.

The liquor brewed to a rusted copper color with the same gentle, smoky aroma – like the last vestiges of a campfire. Taste-wise, the fire-fueled feeling hit first on the forefront, followed by a bit of malt and tobacco, and the aftertaste was oddly smooth. Not so much creamy, but definitely smooth. A very decent manly morning pint.

“It’s like a fruit garden someone set fire to,” Thed mused.

Zombie Fortune nodded. “I quite agree. Smoky but with an underpinning of fruit and flowers. Most peculiar.”

Abacus attempted to lick the edge of my cup, but I gave his nose a diligent swat. He recoiled slightly…before making a second attempt. When the dog no longer acquired my immediate attention, I looked back up at the Smiling Frenchman. His cauldron had changed to one less ornate and colored differently.

Another tea?” I asked – unbelieving.

He nodded, but that was all.

“I dunno about this,” Thed warned. “The first one was fine, but now what’s he got planned?”

My fears were abated by the smell. The Smiling Frenchman brought more cups to the floating fray, along with a pastiche of dry leaves. It was like these blends were tailored to me specifically. Like the Taiga one, this was also on the smoky side. Not as strong but rather more like a Keemun with a kiss of smoke. The leaves themselves looked like a mix of Keemun with a BOP of some sort.

Shere Khan

Shere Khan

The liquor brewed straight copper like an Assam with a burly, malty-sweet nose. Taste-wise, it was incredibly smooth, somewhat winy on the front. The middle was dominated by a sense of strength, smoke and sweetness. The aftertaste gave no impression of dryness or bitterness.

What was particularly odd, though, was that while this was a darker cuppa, it was lighter on the smoke than the Taiga.

“Shere Khan, you say?” I said aloud.

The silent smiler nodded again.

“He said something to you?” Revenant Robert Fortune asked.

“Not really,” I answered. “It’s like they have a name the moment you sip ‘em.”

“You’re drunk,” Thed stated bluntly.

“That’s…beside the point,” was the only the rebuttal I could give.

The cauldron in front of the Smiling Frenchman vanished again. One that was vaguely Russian in appearance replaced it. The smoke smell was superceded by something more wildernessy with a dash of fruit on the fragrance. As before, three more cups appeared in mid-air, a display of leaves danced above each. Literally, they were dancing. Quite Disney…and quite bizarre.

Just like the other two, I had no idea what to really make of this one, and the Smiling Frenchman was leaving no clues. I saw some obvious leaves in the fray – some Long Jing, maybe some Mao Feng – but there were others that were darker still. Some were even ball fisted and added a grapy lean to the scent. That made me think that some Formosa oolong had made its way into the recipe.

Origine

Origine

“Origine, huh?” I said.

The Smiling Frenchman winced slightly at my butchering of his language.

The liquor brewed a dark amber with a mineral and berry aroma. The taste was a collision of different sensations. On the one hand it was light and fruity, on the other, vegetal, graphite-like and slightly bitter. A part of me liked its harshness, but another part – the one that expected a lighter brew didn’t care for it. Given the oolongy inclusion, this would’ve probably handled a gong fu prep better.

“Definitely my least favorite of the three,” I said, pursing my lips.

My announcement of which actually caused the Smiling Frenchman’s grin to diminish somewhat.

“Actually, I prefer this one to its smoky counterparts,” the gnome chimed in. “Reminds me of home.”

“Quite a strong green tea presence, for my tastes,” said the undead Scotsman. “But it has enough of an orange pekoe palate for my liking. I wonder what’s in it.”

“Company secret,” came a German accented growl from behind us.

Thed’s face went as white as his little gnomish beard. Formerly Fortune paled even more than he already was. I stood there aghast…and promptly wet myself. Abacus wagged his tail happily in anticipation. Mere feet away from us was a half-man/half-tiger dressed – in what appeared to be – a double-breasted suit. He adjusted his tie as he came forward.

“A were-tiger?!” I yelped.

“That’s racist,” Thed muttered to me.

“Tiger-man, thank you very much,” the suited feline rumbled.

Abacus could no longer contain himself. How could he? There was a large cat in front of him. Before the tiger-“man” could do…whatever he was going to do, he was mauled (with love) by the 140-pound pup. The suited tiger shouted and “ROWR!”-ed in desperation as he was bombarded by licks, sniffs and drool of the fuzzy kind.

“That is one useful dog,” Thed smiled, arms folded.

“Sometimes,” I mumbled.

“Get him…” the tiger-man managed to start through the struggle. “…OFF of me! This is Armani!”

“W-what are your intentions?” I stuttered.

“I’m a tea merchant!”

“Abacus, leave it!” I snapped.

To my surprise, the Saint Bernard did as he was told. The tiger-man got up, dusted himself off, and attempted to wipe off the muddy drool with a handkerchief. It didn’t quite work.

“The name is Khan,” he said with a sigh. “I’m with him.”

He pointed at the Smiling Frenchman, who – in turn – waved innocently as he continued stirring.

“You could’ve just said so,” Thed grumbled.

“It’s enough that your partner doesn’t say anything,” the departed Scot-botanist interjected. “But a tiger-man showing up out of nowhere would cause even seasoned travelers a fright.”

“It was supposed to be a blind taste-test,” Khan explained. “For the Tee Faktorei.”

“Never heard of ‘em,” I said.

“No one has,” the tiger replied. “Yet.”

“I don’t think you understand how blind taste-tests work,” I continued. “You’re not supposed to surprise the participants, and they usually have to volunteer.”

“Oh,” Khan mused. “I was told you three liked to be caught by surprise.”

“By whom?” Robert Un-Fortune asked.

“Guan Yin.”

That name made all three of us groan.

Thed cursed first. “Damn woman sure holds a grudge.”

Zombie Fortune shook his head. “Guess it’s time we start packing.”

“Forgive the miscommunication,” Khan said with a bow. “We hope you enjoyed the experience.”

The tiger-man went over to the Smiling Frenchman, snapped his fingers, and both vanished with a flash of light. That left us – three disparate companions, all joined by a similar dilemma – alone by a dying daytime campfire. Only the whiff of smoky tea remained.

“So…” I said with a clap. “Now what?”

“Now, we head to Darjeeling,” Thed said while gathering his duffel bags – all twice his size.

“We’ve been trying to stay ahead of the Bodhisattva of Mercy for four decades,” Zombie Robert replied. “For awhile, we thought we lost her. Turns out her attentions were directed at you for the writing you did.”

“Then you found us,” Thed spat. “Thanks.”

“I didn’t mean to,” I said defensively. “I was walking the dog.”

“Ley-lines are tricky,” Un-Fortune returned. “Sometimes they’ll whisk you away without a moment’s notice.”

“You’re welcome to come with us,” Thed offered – albeit begrudgingly.

“I’ve…” I had to think of something. “…gotta get the dog home.”

The gnome shrugged, “Suit yourself.”

The undead Scotsman stretched out his hand and motioned for me to take the cloth-covered item in it. I unraveled it and found an oft-used white gaiwan.

“Her name is Liddy,” Zombie Fortune said. “Just ask her, and she’ll find us. Should you change your mind about joining our little trek.”

Thed interrupted. “Ley-line travel requires a vessel of some sort – magical, obviously.”

“Take care,” Robert Fortune waved. “And do be careful what you write about.”

“I will,” I lied.

The two disappeared in a flash. I looked down at the gaiwan, sniffed it for a second. Then I uttered a phrase jokingly, “There’s no place like home.”

Before I could chortle, the dog and I were back in our driveway. I looked down at the little lidded cup. Whatever beer buzz I had was replaced by tea reverie. The dog looked up at me expectantly. I smiled at him, and spoke to the gaiwan in my hand.

“Darjeeling, huh?” I said to no one. “Maybe…”

All custom blends used for this write-up were provided (and produced) by Teaconomics.

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