Chapter Nine: No one is happy in this chapter
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
Jacintha froze. Later, she rationalized it as the proper response: show no motion, make it hard for the wyrm to see her. The simple truth was that she was terrified. A subconscious echo of what had happened to her the previous night disabled her, left her absolutely unable to even think about what she was doing.
And then the wyrm looked away, and Jacintha could think again. Her only problem was what to think. What does one do about two wyrms loose in Breydon Water?
She heard a whisper. “Get pictures of them, Jackie.” She looked over to her right, where Geoff was looking through binoculars at the wyrms.
The word “pictures” set Jacintha back into professional mode. She stripped off her night goggles and picked up her camera, the fancy one she’d been given for this project, and powered it up, while orienting it toward where she’d last seen the wyrms. Jackie’s sense of direction held true: the moment the viewfinder’s night vision came on, she saw the wyrms at the edge of the frame. She shifted the focus, used a minor spell to steady her arms so that she wouldn’t move them while taking pictures (she thought of that as the “tripod spell”) and began shooting. And while all this was going on, she spared a moment to feel relieved that Geoff hadn’t noticed her freeze.
Jacintha managed to take four pictures. And then, somehow, one of the wyrms detected what she was doing. It turned to face her, and with a roar came surging out of the water right at her.
Bathsheba Kingsley lay on the floor of her apartment, contemplating the structure of reality, at least insofar as it impinged on her mother. The floor was her preferred place for this type of thinking: it symbolically brought her “down to earth.” Given this quirk in her thinking, one should not be surprised that she never did her thinking while sitting on the toilet.
In her head, Bathsehba organized the puzzle that was her mother’s situation. There was a fire-breathing wyrm, a Council assignment that Marcus Satterthwaite had somehow arranged, and the Later East Anglian Chronicle, all connected to her mother.
“Reality is overdetermined” was Bathsheba’s slogan. Physics took care of the natural world, while people always acted from multiple motives. The problem for Bathsheba was not figuring out what people would do, for that was usually obvious when she understood their motives. Her problem was keeping track of all the people involved. And in this case a wyrm as well.
Marcus Satterthwaite, she could see, was the key on which this puzzle turned. If she could change his course, the rest of the puzzle would fall into place. However, that posed a problem, for Marcus Satterthwaite had gone to great lengths to avoid Bathsheba ever since the business with the green man. If Bathsheba was going to affect Marcus, she would need an intermediary, an agent on whom she could rely.
With a smile, Bathsheba realized that the very way she had stated the problem identified how to resolve it, as so often happened. She knew just the person who would do what was needed: Marcus’s intended victim the time he summoned the green man. Getting out her phone, Bathsheba rang up a familiar number.
Gertie Forbes had a slogan, too. It was “Always be ready to shoot whatever threatens you.” Jacintha remembered it well. So she dropped the camera without a moment’s hesitation, plucked the rifle out of its case, set up a head shot, and fired!
To her consternation, the bullet missed the creature’s head, as near as she could tell looking through the rifle’s scope. But it must have hit something, for the creature roared and belched fire into the sky. Concentrating even harder, Jackie took another shot at the head. Again, somehow, she missed it. But the creature didn’t so much roar as screech in pain and dropped back and down into the water.
Torn between being pleased she’d dealt one of the wyrms out of the picture, while still being baffled that she couldn’t hit the creature’s head, Jackie panned left, looking for the other wyrm in the telescopic sight. Nothing (she panned more to the left) . . . nothing (panning) . . . nothing (panning) . . . holy shit! It’s almost on top of us! Whatever her inner feelings, Jackie refused to panic, and placed two carefully aimed shots at the creature’s head.
Abruptly, she was knocked over. She could feel the heavy thud of the wyrm’s feet as it approached. Something heavy dropped on her, crushing her.
Calpurnia was feeling sleepy. Healing spells took a lot out of one. But she wanted so badly to finish reworking her translation of Thomas’s bastardized Latin. She’d unraveled the mystery of the fabric, thanks to Bathsheba’s concordance. Now if she could find her way to the solution for where the laying of the wyrm had taken place, she’d know how to solve this problem altogether. Well, she admitted to herself, except for how she could get close enough to the wyrm to lay it without it killing her first.
And then she sat bolt upright. There had been a sound. She’d faintly heard it. It was from a long way off. But the disturbance in the magical field that went with it was what had really got her attention. The wyrm! Calpurnia yanked her phone out of her pocket and rang Geoff’s number. And then cursed her phone when it went to voicemail.
Marcus Satterthwaite chuckled to himself repeatedly on his walk back to his hotel room in Edinburgh. He had been hugely entertained by that ass Chisholm having to choke down his words when the meeting had resumed. Marcus had even tormented the fool further by asking Chisholm to concur in Marcus’s praise of MacAlpine. The man’s blood pressure must have risen to the point of popping!
More importantly, Marcus was happy with the problems he was causing in both the Scots and English Councils. He was fairly sure that other fool, the senile chair of the Scots Council, Charlotte Wallace, had no idea how much dissension he was fomenting among her magicians. And the English Council, as usual, was clueless. Wallace might be senile, but Amos Baker, the chair of the English Council, was as stupid without the excuse of age.
And then Marcus came to a dead halt outside his room. His ward on his hotel room was gone. There had to be someone in his room.
Although visitors to the Scots Council were not supposed to be armed, Marcus had been carrying a blasting rod, and now pulled it out and made it ready. Someone was about to suffer maximum injuries short of death, if Marcus felt kindly toward them.
He reached for the door knob . . . only to have the door open by itself. Looking in, he could see that a light was on. Whoever it was, they certainly didn’t lack chutzpah. Holding his rod ahead of him, Marcus boldly advanced into the room. He feared no man, and no magician, either.
The intruder had made no effort to hide, but was standing facing out the front window of the room. She was tall, very tall, thin, dark hair with a hint of red reaching down to her waist, and dressed entirely in black. Before Marcus could say a word, without turning around, she said, “Put that phallic symbol away. It is most inappropriate in this context.”
Even before the words had been spoken, Marcus’s joy had died within him. He knew this woman, knew her all too well. And her presence here meant all of his plans were at risk of blowing up in his face.
Unhappy though all these people were, there was yet one person unhappier still. And that was Flo Thursby. She had come to her lover with another picnic basket of food, only to find that he came in the company of another wyrm. Flo really couldn’t tell a male wyrm from a female wyrm. But she had assumed her beau was male, so she naturally assumed his companion was female. And that made her jealous.
The wyrm’s enthrallment was a powerful bit of magic. Flo was unable to see the absurdity of her love, that she was being used. Such ideas could not cross her mind while she was enthralled. But the wyrm’s spell took no account of jealousy.
Flo had tried to play games with her wyrm, refusing to acknowledge her rival, saying she would give her wyrm the food she had, and then hiding it behind her back. She wanted her wyrm to understand how much he’d hurt her. And she wanted to make the other wyrm feel insignificant and unwanted.
Then the shots had rung out. The other wyrm had fallen back into the water, and her own had come crashing out of the water in all of his magnificence to hunt down those who dared try to harm him. Flo turned and watched. She heard more shots, but in the dim starlight could still see her wyrm charging across the ground. Without any pity, she condemned the humans who had dared attack her lover.
A warm breeze struck the back of her neck, and the next moment her view was cut off as something wrapped itself around her. It was warm and moist. Flo tried to push it away, but it tightened on her. And then she felt a burning on her skin and in her mouth. She barely noticed that she was being lifted off the ground as the burning turned to agonizing pain and as it spread from her mouth into her lungs.
Whether it was suffocation or the venom destroying her lungs, Flo Thursby was dead by the time the “other” wyrm swallowed her down its gullet. Jealousy, as it turned out, had engendered more jealousy.
Well, this chapter certainly abounded in unhappy people (and phallic symbols). At least Flo isn’t unhappy anymore. But Calpurnia doesn’t feel any the better for cursing her phone, and has just remembered that’s a really risky thing for a magician to do. Meanwhile, who’s the mysterious woman who’s ruined Marcus’s day? How badly hurt is Jacintha? All this, and more, will be addressed in the next chapter!
All will be addressed? You won’t leave us hanging on any of the issues raised here? Oh, you are such a kind magician. But I know you. You’ll resolve these issues but, by the dastardly writer’s knack, in the process you’ll raise some more.
BTW, disappointed in your picture of Breydon. There are several on my blog. You had only to ask.
BTWx2: I’ve just realised which of the daughters you’ve used for Bathsheba. And I have to say, well done though I don’t dare tell her. Likely she’ll cast a spell on me . . . and maybe you too!
Oh, I do promise to address them all in the next chapter. Except maybe Bathsheba’s. It depends on the structure of reality.
Sorry Breydon looks so drear and undistinguished. I will remember to ask the next time I need a photo, and it should happen before the end of this story. To be honest, the picture was not planned, although there’s a clue to a plot development in it.
And while I’d not care to say that I’ve mapped each of the real daughters to one specific fictional daughter, you’re right about Bathsheba.
The photo grabbed from wiki was taken a good 20 years ago. How do I know? There is water where today there is a solid and extensive bed of reeds. It’s taken from Burgh Castle [the Roman remains, not the village]. Today you’d be hard put to see that little bay of water ringed about by a bank as the ‘small’ bushes shown here in all their greenery now form a quite a dense and high screen.
Good to know. Perhaps you can send me a photo you’ve taken of the area, either from your existing photos or when you next get out that way.
Will do. Probably delve around for one or two, or more, tomorrow and email said same.
I like the structure of reality concept….reality does have structure….real or imagined.
M.A Foster’s Morphodite trilogy was based on such a concept: society had a structure and its balance points were hidden . . . so if you wanted to change society in a major way, you had to find and change the balance point. It was a bit cruder in his stories , since the main character used assassination as his/her method.
I’ve read Alan Dean Foster……he has some interesting realities!! 🙂
Generally speaking I like stories that mess with concepts of reality, awareness of it, or the determination of whether what you think is real is reality or is what you think is the dream is reality. Hence, my enjoyment of The Lathe of Heaven by LeGuin.
Or even Total Recall
And Philip K. Dick plays with realities hard! If you haven’t tried “Ubik” or “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” do so!
Fair enough; I will have to think of my readings in those terms. But, just to spare some confusion, M.A. Foster, whom I mentioned, is not the same as the prolific Alan Dean Foster.
Right at first I figured you had supplied the picture..as you have them…then noticed the credit.
I am in process of finding some for Brian. He should receive tomorrow. Though, they may not be what he wants. We can but try, [since I am, so to speak, on the spot.
I shall appreciate the fruits of your efforts, if only by looking at them and admiring them.
Well your daughters must be quite intriguing. Hmmm!!
Marcus was Calpurnia’s first husband, but I can’t remember which husband was Bathsheba’s father. (Not the incubus, clearly, as that’s Ursula’s father.). I admit to being too lazy to go looking, though.
“Getting out her phone Bathsheba rang up a familiar number.” — I suggest a comma after “phone”.
“…looking for the other wYrm in the telescopic sight.”
Would a British magician use the word “chutzpah”?
Calpurnia’s second husband has not been named in this story so far. But I did mention that she’d killed him (for good reason).
Marcus isn’t very provincial; he’s even been known to eat French food. So “chutzpah” is within his vocabulary’s range.
And thanks for catching the typos, which I have corrected. Wouldn’t you know one of the reason I missed the second is because, of course, it wouldn’t be flagged by the text editor!
My goodness the plot thickens into all kinds of unsavory clumps!! Yikes!! Last chapter I read wrong or couldn’t wrap my thoughts around TWO wyrms…..when you said two heads, I jumped right to the wrym being a two headed beast and that was my visual. Can’t wait til next week!! 🙂
For some reason, I’m having to write the chapters in this story twice: once as a partial draft that I end up disliking, then once as a good draft. Glad you liked this one. I wanted to pick up the pace a bit, so settled for this kaleidoscope of vignettes.
Perhaps I should have not used ‘unsavory clumps’….just that it sounded like my gravy when I am not happy. Everybody is in a pickle this chapter. I did notice the vignette style this time, but I liked flipping back forth with this is going on there but meanwhile……etc. Your writing is not unsavory of course…I liked the round about.
I did not take offense, though I was a bit puzzled at first by the imagery.
Ok I’ll explain better on that imagery. It all boils down (npi) to the old da da da da..the plot thickens. Like gravy thickens with some flour but if you don’t stir it properly you get clumps. So I lept off that trite phrase into the difficulties your characters were encountering and that someone was deliberately stirring the pot to make things anything but smooth.!! Looks like he’s got a little trouble on his hands though to see about next Friday!!
I will not explain how I at first interpreted your figure of speech, as it was a bit gross. 😉