Chapter 1 Into Reality
That moment in the windmill got stuck in Jennies heart. Her usual dream had turned into a deep kind of yearning. Her soul café stopped changing form and location and was now filling the spaces of the old watermill. The light of the setting sun which had woken her up had also pulled her dreams out into reality. Now when she left work after another day of joyless toil she was embraced by this crimson glow showing her this other world. A place that was only slightly out of reach.
The next step was being declared completely and utterly crazy by pretty much everyone she knew.
Starting with her parents who somehow managed to act as polar opposites while coming to the same conclusion. Her mother was deeply distraught berating her for even contemplating of throwing her security and thus her life away for such a foolish dream. "I mean just look around you", she would say. "There are cafés everywhere." the last bit stressed in a way that was usually reserved for cockroaches. "Surely every café that is need has already been opened." her mother had always been the one with a vision in her family. "And remember the nice little place by the embankment that I liked so much?" the one her mother loved to walk past on her fitness walks but never entered, because she could have her tea just as well at home and eating cake would surely defeat the point of doing sports. "It is gone. Just like that." With that the matter was concluded for her mother.
Her father was even worse. He just laughed. She tried to explain to him why it was a good idea, how it would help her get ahead not only professionally but also like a human being and he found the entire plan hilarious. No matter what she told him he was mostly choking on his M&Ms he was eating at the time. She tried several angles which to her father all sounded like the funniest thing in the world. "And you will get that money from where?" he'd ask and while she was still explaining he was already trying to suppress his laughter not wanting to waste his mirth until she had reached the punchline. She came out of that conversation feeling like a tiny little idiot.
The conclusion to this fiasco was a last ditch effort from here side, sitting both her parents together in the living room sitting before them and asking them for a loan. A substantial one, but one she knew they could afford. She also explained to her her meticulous plan of how to pay them back and how the entire thing would be delayed if it all ended badly. Her mother sat there with a face so full of pity it deformed her expression, while her father sat there with being unbelieving eyes marvelling that this joke had turned out to keep delivering.
So they sat there side by side delivering their final verdict. "No." cold and worried from her mother. And a chuckled "No bloody way." from her father. There they were her parents playing the part of an exalted royalty amused by the incomprehensible wishes of the mortal peasants. Like Oberon and Titania, but arseholes.
It went better with her brother Chris, which at least took her seriously. He could not really help her, he mostly travelling around the world for his work as a lighting artist for live concerts and stuff like that, so there was little help in getting the renovations done and as he usually spent most of his salary back into his work there wasn't that much money to be hand from him either, beyond a very welcome but mostly symbolic sum. He did however promise her that if she got the thing of the ground he would take a month of his schedule and give her café the best lighting that human ingenuity could provide.
As small step at least. Jenny was also surprised how much comfort she got from having at least one person believing in her dream. Even more impressive was that in that short Skype conversation, that regularly descended into confused robots trying to establish communications, she had gotten closer to her brother than she had been for many years. Turns out that when he decided to become a light designer he had encountered pretty much the same reaction from their delightful parents. Only with reversed roles. It was their mother who had found the idea hysterical, while it was their father who had asked him how the hell he was supposed to make a living by setting up a few lamps. Resistance had been futile. The only alternative he was given was to be more like his elder sister who had done the sensible thing of not dropping out of university to run with the wrong crowd and getting a job afterwards instead of deciding to follow what ever drug fuelled idea he had after a particularly debauched night. That episode had inspired Chris to go on a rebellious rampage and developing a deep distaste for his sister that he never admitted even to himself, but seeped out of his very pores whenever they met. Chris went on to become a light wizard as well as the best paid member of his family drifting ever farther away. But that night, for him an early Indonesian morning, Jenny had found the brother she had almost forgotten she had. She was delighted to find an ally in the most unexpected of places especially after the reaction of her parents.
Edmund however was the rock on which she built her confidence. Her best friends reaction was relieve spiced with enthusiasm. "Finally! I was hatching plans of how to save you for years now, but I couldn't think of anything sane and feasible." it was clear that his problem had been the feasible part, sanity was strictly optional.
"Save me from what?" Jenny asked not quite sure what exactly buying a watermill to open a café would save her from.
"From fading away." he said stating the obvious. "So this watermill will need some work right?"
"Yes, it is closer to a ruin than to a proper building." Jenny hesitated. "Fading away?"
"This might be a good thing. If you're lucky the mill belongs to the city which would love to sell it for a few quid along with the responsibilities of maintaining it." he continued getting more exited by the minute. "And yes, fading away. You, the you that lives in the core of your heart was slowly wilting away."
"I wasn't wilting!" Jenny said, she had joined a gym a year ago and worked hard on keeping fit and there was certainly no wilting. "Why would the city sell the mill if it wants it maintained?"
"Come on, you know what I am talking about. You were getting more and more tired. Your hobbies were either going to that infernal gym of yours or couching your way through your Netflix list. When was the last time you painted? Also remember when we used to go to the theatre? The most Jenny things about you were disappearing. But look at you now! Your eyes are on fire again. I look at them and I can see the stars again." grinned broadly. "Oh, because the city loves its scenic and historical sites but really hates to spend money on that, so they'd rather sell it off to some idiot, like you for example, who is under an obligation to maintain it, doing all the work, while they can boast their historic sites and shit like that."
"So how little would a few quid be?" she asked.
"Do you want to get way ahead of yourself?"
"Yes." Jenny nodded earnestly.
"One." Edmund said with equal gravity.
"Yes. But only if you are really lucky, the city very desperate and you very stupid." he said.
After thinking it through for a couple of seconds Jenny said "I can be stupid..."
"And when it comes to not spending money, the city is always desperate." Edmund beamed.
"Also my flame was always burning, I was just conserving its power waiting for the right moment."
"I'm just glad to see you coming back to live J." his smile
The following week she investigated the watermill. Turned out it was a historic side. The city was not actively looking for anyone to take over the mill, however there had been some half hearted attempts to save the mill trailing back to at least the beginning of the 20th century. None of these attempts ha amounted to anything as there were always more worthy projects with a higher priority, like for example not spending any money on some old mill no one would ever use. This however meant that it was a historical monument, at least it was declared one, that was the cheap one. While not quite what she had envisioned it led Jenny to formulate a plan.
She told her brother to return home to do his lighting magic and sent an overexcited Edmund on a grand quest, one was for ways to turn the mill into some kind of tiny hydroelectric power plant, the other was immersing himself into the hipster overground to learn their café magic. Jenny knew that this would yield the best results as Edmund's enthusiasm was engaged in a heated war with his attention deficit for the most powerful of his defining characteristics.
Next she went to a few banks. Did her well studied song and dance. Injected with only the tiniest bit of her true love of the project it was mostly power point and the corporate logic she had learned at her work. This led to the reaction that Jenny had expected, the bank puppets who only faintly remembered what it was like to be human had nodded politely, asked questions the Exceedingly Clever Questions that had been handed to them by their ancestor puppet people, followed by days of careful ritual motions representing what they understood as deliberation. The result was always the same they told Jenny in the politest terms to please go away and ruin another bank. Puppet smile. Deceased handshake.
What they did not know, was that Jenny had planted seeds in their minds, that now had time to grow. Soon she would return and water them. While the idea gestated she went back to the city and told it that she wanted the mill. Another song and dance to another breed of institutional undead. Here she painted another picture. One of a site that would be revived to its full splendour, another jewel in the crown of the city.
"But it is a small mill. Faraway in the remotest corners of the city." the clerk people said.
"Ah, but just think what the tourists will think, when they walk to the outer rim, where the city touches nature and they see that even out there, so close to the wilderness the treasures of the city are kept in perfect condition. How far its reach! How great its commitment."
The clerk people had not expected this. One of them, with a willy strong animal soul smelled an opportunity and perked up. When Jenny noticed this she added "Also think what it will do to the property value. Nice part of the city, close to nature, a main road not far away and now add to that a historical monument in pristine condition." The feral clerk could see how that would improve his standing in his murder. He liked that mental picture. "Now add to that the possibility of some quality gastronomy..." The clerk thing did and he liked what his senses told him. Licking his lips he offered her the building and the plot of land for 100 currency, a symbolic price but one with weight, each year, a ritual repeated that would increase its power continually.
"For how long?" Jenny asked now avoiding most movements or expressions, this was a crucial moment.
"For as long as you and your heirs live but not longer than.... ten thousand years." the clerk bared its teeth in a face splitting smile. 'One thousand more than Guinness, I will be legend.'
Jenny agreed and thanked the clerk thing profusely, telling it with questions to give her the most pompous certificate its bureaucratic heart machine could come up with.
Armed with the certificate and one last weapon she returned to the banks. Now she wielded the will of the city, who saw Great Worth in her endeavour in one hand and a piece of paper that told the bank people that she called a well developed five figure amount of money her own. The little idea she had planted before had become a tiny seedling, it was growing on desert ground but now it was nourished and grew. The bank people withdrew into their caverns of glass and steel and they discussed the matter anew. After that Jenny just had to direct them at each other. Two of them remained resolute. They would not stoop for mortals and much less for other, lesser banks, but the others hissed at each other, showing off their bespoke suits and designer accessories until only one remained and proudly presented Jenny with the least worst deal for herself.
With that she returned from the dark depths of the city with a sack full of money and a predatory gleam in her eyes.
She felt like her ancestors must have felt when they had hunted down the beasts that preyed on mankind with their tools and their cunning.