Chapter 15: Attack of the copying machine?
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
I love amusement parks. But they don’t love me back. All the really good rides make me sick. And that’s how the car is acting, like a really, really scary amusement park ride. It’s spinning around, rolling over, and for all I know jumping into the fifth dimension every so often. I want to be carsick, but I don’t feel well enough to throw up.
We come to rest, finally. I don’t think any of us move for a good two minutes or more. I can’t, because my head is spinning too much and trying to take my stomach with it.
Miranda is the first to move. She turns to look back at us. “You two okay back there?”
Cindy looks a bit dizzy as she turns to me. “Jane?”
I sit up. I feel wiped out. I nod. “Okay.” Well, not really, but I doubt we have the time for me to go on a two week vacation to recover. “What happened?”
Miranda looks concerned. I guess she realizes I’m hurting. She answers me, “We got hit by a magic bomb from the mall just as I engaged the astral drive. I’m pretty sure the drive’s ruined.”
I shake my head. It is still attached. I answer back, “What you said makes absolutely no sense at all to me, Miranda. Press ‘1’ for English.”
Cindy gives a small laugh. The joke’s lost on Miranda. She nods, asks, “You remember running into the security guard?” She sees me blanch, and continues. “Well, it got its soul-sucker on you and was in the process of extracting it when Cindy came to your rescue.”
I turn to Cindy. “How? That thing was . . . “
Cindy looks confused. “I guess I just blew it up.”
Miranda looks at Cindy, both her eyebrows appearing above her glasses. There’s amazement in her voice as she says, “You blew it up?”
Cindy nods. “I guess so.”
Miranda shakes her head. “Girl, we are going to have to have a serious conversation once we get home.” She turns back to me. “When I caught up, Cindy was carrying you. I was fighting off the mall’s attack the whole way back to the car. Which,” she looks around, “is much the worse for the wear, and I don’t know where we are. So let’s get out of this wreck and see.”
Cindy asks me, “Can you walk?”
I move my legs. “Yeah.” I unbuckle, get out the door, and find out that my answer was premature. I can stand, barely. Cindy sees me, comes over, and helps me more or less walk over to where Miranda is standing, in front of the car.
We’re on a flat level clearing on the side of a mountain. The vegetation is unfamiliar to me; maybe it’s Australian? The car looks fine. Oh, all the paint is gone off of it. And the whole front end looks like it was repeatedly struck by someone whacking it with an office copier machine, one of the big ones that collates and staples. But otherwise it looks fine.
My head’s still a bit fuzzy and I’m having trouble focusing my eyes. I look away, and off in the distance I see a huge office copier. It’s coming towards us. I think its control panel is blinking that it’s out of order. I point to the copier and say to Cindy, “It’s probably a paper jam.”
Miranda follows my finger and abruptly yells out, “Holy shit!” and backs away from the car. Cindy grabs me and does the same. I try to tell them that a paper jam is nothing to be afraid of, but Cindy’s knocked the wind out of me. So when she puts me down on my own two feet, I yank myself away from her, and turn to deal with the copier machine.
I look at it, and it doesn’t look right. Office copiers general don’t have scales. I shake my head and make an effort to focus my eyes correctly. Only then do I understand.
It’s a dragon. Not a very big dragon, no, maybe only two hundred feet long, maybe fifty feet high. It’s coming right at us. It opens its mouth, and I figure it could eat us or just use us to floss its teeth. We back up against some trees behind us. The dragon suddenly lunges forward, picks up the car in its jaws, lifts its head, and swallows the car whole.
That is impressive. I’m beginning to think we’ll die from the dragon’s stomach acids, instead of being chewed to death. And then I hear what sounds like an explosion inside the dragon. It burps, letting out a puff of black smoke. Then it burps again, and a single car tire pops out of its mouth and rolls to a stop directly in front of us. It’s smoldering.
In what sounds like a nice human female voice, the dragon says, “Ooops, sorry. Guess my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Haven’t eaten a car for a while.”
Miranda shouts at it, “That was our transportation out of here, you jerk!”
The dragon shakes its head back and forth. “Manners, Miranda, manners. We both know that heap wasn’t going anywhere ever again.”
Miranda asks, “You know who I am?”
“Of course.” The dragon tilts its head until it’s looking at me. “And that is Jane Harris.” It looks to Cindy. “And that is Cynthia Van Schacht. She’s the reason I brought you all here.”
The dragon drops its head until it is resting on the ground. I look over to Cindy. She looks almost as if she’s mesmerized by the sight of the dragon. She walks up to it. Without any hesitation, she begins petting its long snout. The dragon’s pointed ears twitch and then fold down. Its huge golden eyes close and it lets out a sigh, with a puff of white smoke. Cindy sits down beside it and rests herself against the snout, still petting it. She looks so contented, as if she were petting her cat, if she had a cat, and if the cat were the size of a hotel.
I think Miranda is as astonished as I am. We both stand there, mouths agape. Miranda recovers first. She starts walking toward the dragon, saying, “Cindy, get away . . .”
She never finishes. The dragon’s tail seems to come out of nowhere, whipping around Miranda at a fantastic speed. In seconds, Miranda is bound up in the tail, which has her all tied up in a cocoon right up to just under her nose.
The dragon opens its eyes and barely lifts its head, so as not to disturb Cindy while speaking. “You wish to interfere, too, Jane Harris?”
Sometimes the devil gets into me. I observe, “You have only one tail.”
The dragon blinks. “I’m a magical being, Jane. I can have as many tails as I want.” And before I know it, another tail, thin and narrow, comes out from behind the dragon, snakes its way between my slacks and blouse, and starts tickling me in the side. I’m too weak to keep standing while being tickled, and collapse onto the ground, laughing and shrieking. The tail goes away.
I lie there on the ground, trying to stop laughing. It’s actually pretty easy, because I’m too tired to keep it up. So I just rest and consider my situation. I have just been tickled by a dragon that has hypnotized my friend after we fled a shopping mall that eats souls. This is not a sentence I ever thought would come up in my life. Llama shit.
I open my eyes and slowly sit up. It makes me dizzy enough that standing up can wait awhile. I look over at the dragon. It’s looking at me. Cindy is still contently stroking its lengthy snout, her hands only inches away from teeth that could rip them to shreds. Miranda’s still wrapped in the dragon’s other tail.
Somebody’s got to do something about this situation. By default, I guess that’s me. So I ask the dragon, “If I can’t interfere, can I at least talk to Cindy? Or to you?”
The dragon snorts another puff of smoke. “That’s reasonable. Go ahead.”
I raise my voice to make sure she hears. “Cindy, are you okay?”
Cindy opens her eyes, sits up, and looks at me with a dreamy look on her face. “I’m fine.”
“That’s a dangerous creature you’re sitting beside.”
Cindy looked puzzled for a second before her features relax again. “It’s a dragon,” she says, as if a dragon were an injured bird or a puppy. And she closes her eyes and leans against its snout again. Why can’t Cindy just have a sublimated sexual attraction to horses like a normal teenage girl? I cannot believe I just thought that. And my own love of horses has just died, permanently.
Talking to Cindy is not getting me anywhere. So I speak to the dragon instead. “You said you brought us here because of Cindy. What do you want with her?”
How the dragon speaks with its mouth barely open and not visibly moving I can’t figure out. I guess it’s more magic, because that’s what happens. The dragon replies, “I want to become blood brothers, well, sisters, well, not that either, blood siblings, I guess, with Cynthia.”
The dragon is being precise, I guess. So I think through what it said and rule out all the other possibilities before asking, “You’re a male dragon? You sound female.”
“I’m a magical creature. I can be male or female. Right now I happen to be male. But I like this voice”
Cindy’s facial expression shifts slightly when she hears that, from dreamy to . . . erotically dreamy? And then she starts nuzzling its snout with her face. I don’t even want to think about the possibilities, or about a transsexual dragon, so I go back to the problem at hand. “What does that mean, being blood siblings? And how do you do it?”
The dragon gives what I take to be a slight nod without disturbing Cindy. “Good questions. I give her a small amount of my blood, and she gives me a small amount of hers. Then we can summon each other for assistance.”
“So she’ll be like your slave?”
Another snort, another puff of smoke. “No. Summon, not compel. Cynthia would be free to agree to help or not, as she sees fit, and I would have the same freedom. Naturally, I wouldn’t bother to summon her unless I thought I could make a good claim for her assistance.”
I think about it. “And there’s not some hidden catch here, something that Cindy will be compelled to do or something weird that will happen to her that you haven’t specifically mentioned?”
The dragon lets out a noise that I think is supposed to be its, no, his equivalent of a chuckle. “My, you are the suspicious type, aren’t you? No, there are no hidden effects or obligations in this deal. Cynthia’s body will have to adjust to my dragon blood, and that will take a bit of time, but she’ll not be turned into a dragon or anything. And I will not turn into her doppelgänger. Although I could if I wanted to, even without exchanging blood.” He makes that chuckling noise again. “After all, I am a magical being.”
Okay, I can tell I’ve run out of useful questions when a dragon is making jokes as he answers them. Time to call in the experts. “Miranda should have the right to ask questions, too. She knows more about this sort of stuff than I do.”
“Oh, all right.” The dragon sounds resigned. In an instant, his tail whips away from Miranda. Miranda just stands there. As I’ve said, Miranda can glare without showing her eyes, and that is what she is definitely doing to the dragon. And she’s holding herself as if she’s absolutely furious, fists clenched at her side. The dragon’s eyes look at her, and he says, “Now behave, Miranda. There’s no point in starting a fight. We both know you’ve barely got the strength to stand up after what you went through at the Mall of Lost Souls.”
Miranda presses her lips together tightly to show her disapproval before she walks over toward Cindy. When she’s standing beside Cindy, she looks over at me. “Turn away, Jane.” I turn away. “You can look again,” Miranda says, and I look back. Miranda is replacing her glasses and walking toward me. She says, “I don’t know why Cindy is carrying on like she’s in love with the dragon, but it’s not because the dragon has cast a spell on her.” She stops beside me and turns to the dragon. “How do we know we can trust you?”
Another “chuckle” from the dragon. “Coming from a witch best known for stealing children, I find that request amusing. Since when is a magical bargain binding if one of the parties offers misleading terms? But I will do this much for you: whether or not Cynthia accepts, I promise I will take you three back to your proper level of reality in Netherfield.”
Miranda sighs and turns to me. “He’s got us there, Jane. I suspect the dragon could do as he pleases, no matter what we say. And I can’t think of any other way to test him.”
I’m tempted to ask Miranda about her history of stealing children, which would at least explain the rhymes about her, but I decide to stick to the matter at hand. So I say to Miranda, “Yeah, but does Cindy understand what’s happening?” Without waiting for Miranda to reply, I try to stand up. To my surprise, it’s easy. Maybe I’m okay again. I take a step, and another, don’t topple over either time, and then walk over to where Cindy is sitting. To my relief, the dragon doesn’t interfere. I sit down beside Cindy. She looks so happy and content, nuzzling up to this dragon, her hands slowly stroking its snout. And I can see the snout quivering with her touch.
I reach out and give Cindy a shake. “Cindy, will you listen to me for a minute?”
Cindy opens her eyes and turns to look at me. She still looks so dreamy. I say to her, “Do you know who I am?”
She gives me a lazy smile. In a low voice, she drawls, “You’re Jane. Jane, my friend.” She closes her eyes again.
That’s something. “Cindy, open your eyes and look at me. Do you understand what this dragon is proposing?”
Cindy opens her eyes again. This time, she sits up, and smiles at me. “We’re going to be bound together in blood, Jane, me and the dragon. Isn’t that wonderful?”
The dragon chimes in. “I think that constitutes acceptance, Jane Harris.” Cindy’s smile becomes broader, and she gives the dragon’s snout a caress that sends its nostrils twitching again.
“I guess,” I reply. I really don’t understand what’s gotten into Cindy. If Miranda hadn’t said otherwise, I would have to say the dragon has put a spell on her. I mean, she was scared at first, just like the rest of us. Or, maybe, she was just startled. I doubt she meets dragons every day, though the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised to be proven wrong. Anyhow, since the dragon hasn’t put a spell on Cindy, there’s nothing more I can or should do, I guess. I stand up and say to the dragon, “If you hurt her, I will find some way to pay you back for it.” How, I don’t care to consider. Maybe I can give him indigestion when he swallows me whole.
Abruptly the dragon appears to pull away from us. Only after a few seconds do I realize what’s happening: he’s shrinking. He shrinks all the way down to the point where his snout is only about a foot wide. And with a sudden move, the dragon lurches forward and sinks his teeth into Cindy’s neck and shoulders. Cindy barely has time to let out a squeak before she starts thrashing in pain.
End of chapter fifteen
(I read this chapter of Jane’s, and all I can think of is some high school kid saying to his teacher, “The copier ate my homework.” That and wondering what kind of fairy tales Cindy Van Schacht grew up on. “And the kindly dragon killed the little boy and girl mercifully before eating them, and lived happily ever after.” We’ll have to see in the next chapter what kind of hickey Cindy walks away with, assuming she does.)