Reading Sundays: SHADES OF UNREALITY (Part 5), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

Augustus the Bear ignored her. “You’re not quite real,” he declared rather foolhardily, for Pandora looked as if she were on the verge of throttling him. Then she said something that amazed me.

“I must be real,” she declared. “I have ideas. What about Duchess Cecylee? Is she real? I thought she was just a figment of the imagination of our companion, who writes historical novels.”

As she pronounced my name, those shimmering curtains dissolved and I found myself standing right there in front of these two beings who persisted with their argument.

“She was alive once,” said Augustus the Bear.

“She’s dead now,” replied Pandora the Cat, swishing her tail, “whereas we are very much alive.

I daresay I should have kept my peace, but Pandora annoyed me so with her supercilious tone. I decided to intervene.

“What mean you that I be dead?” I demanded. As I became more fully present, I realized I was dressed in my court gown, a deep plum velvet with a train several feet long. I put my hand out to feel for my headdress. Judging by the weight, it was that pointed one with the fluttering silk veil. I had to keep my chin jutted out in order that it did not fall off. As I adjusted my posture to balance it on my head, these pets turned to stare at me. They seemed surprised. And now I thought of it, I had never met a pet, or toy, in that long-ago Land of England that could talk.

I spied a piece of furniture that looked as if it might be a chair, and made my way slowly out of the guardroom towards a carpeted area with tables and chairs.

“What be this matter I hear concerning Robber Rights?” I remarked, seating myself.

“They’re called robots,” snapped Pandora.

“Robots use technology,” said Augustus coming forward. He took the chair opposite. Both chairs curved in a half circle at the back, perched on silver legs, and were covered all over in brown velvet. Between us sat a table made of some substance like glass, for I could see the carpets on the floor through it. I regarded it dubiously. Would it shatter if I placed a goblet of mulled wine on it? I was dying for some refreshment, but I had to put that thought aside as Augustus continued to speak…[Continued next week.]