Chapter 16: Things I don’t tell Mother
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
It happens so fast. The dragon lets go, dropping Cindy to the ground. She’s still shaking, apparently having some sort of convulsions. I kneel down and try to get her attention. Her eyes are wide open, she’s frothing at the mouth, and she seems unaware of anything that’s going on. I turn to the dragon and see that he’s returned to its previous size. “You said you wouldn’t hurt her!” I scream at it.
The dragon replies, “And I didn’t. As I told you, her body’s adjusting to having dragon blood. The convulsions will pass without causing her any permanent harm. And if you and Miranda carry her over and get on my back, I can take you all home so she can recover back there.”
I want to scream at it again, but I look over to Miranda for support first. Miranda shrugs. “Sounds good to me, kid. It’s not like we have many other choices” she says, and comes over to help me pick up Cindy. The dragon has changed the shape of his body so there’s a low, flat surface to carry us between its neck and wings. We carry over Cindy’s thrashing body, not without some difficulties, and place it on the dragon’s back. Miranda takes a seat at Cindy’s feet, while I settle down with Cindy’s head in my lap. She looks so hurt and vulnerable, thrashing and unaware of her surroundings. I want to cry. Though I notice that, despite the dragon’s bite, there aren’t any teeth marks on her. Just two small holes on her neck, which close up as I watch. Dragon as vampire? At least I know how it exchanged blood with Cindy.
The dragon’s flesh shifts again and grabs all three of us as gravity suddenly shifts to Miranda’s end. I look up long enough to realize we’re moving through the sky, but it’s making me dizzy. And then there are two more rapid shifts, as if we’ve leveled out and then gone into a dive.
All of a sudden I’m sitting down in a chair. Cindy’s lying peacefully on a bed, her eyes closed, her breathing regular. She’s asleep. I look around. Miranda’s sitting in another chair over by a dresser with a mirror. I don’t recognize the room. There’s no point in asking just what happened; I guess magical dragons can perform miracles in transportation. So instead, I ask Miranda, “Do you know where we are?”
Miranda nods. “My bedroom.” She gets up, comes over, and looks at Cindy. “Looks like the dragon was telling the truth. Well, at least something went right on this trip. We didn’t find out about your ghost, but Cynthia Van Schacht has all her soul back. If it weren’t for this business about that dragon, I’d say we came out ahead.”
“What’s the problem with the dragon? Cindy’s okay, isn’t she?”
Miranda shrugs, goes over to her dresser, looks at herself in the mirror. “I guess. But the dragon must have an agenda, and I’m not comfortable not knowing what it is. It might interfere with what we need from Cindy to solve your problem.”
“Like the death curse?” It takes me a moment to realize whose voice that is. I turn around, and Cindy is awake and sitting up on the bed. She looks angry, and her voice is tense. “Why haven’t you told Jane she’s carrying a death curse, Miranda Milan?”
Miranda turns around. She doesn’t seem embarrassed by Cindy’s questions. In a calm voice, she replies, “Because she didn’t need to know. Because I don’t know who it’s pointed at. And because I was afraid that by interfering with Genevieve’s attempt on Jane’s life, the curse has settled on me. Why do you think I roped you into this?”
Cindy gets up out of bed and starts walking toward Miranda. She stops only a foot away. She’s angry. “Because you hoped that if we didn’t remove it, it would end up pointing at me.”
Miranda takes a step backward. Still trying to sound insouciant, she observes, “That thought had occurred to me.” Her insouciance is evaporating very quickly.
Cindy narrows her eyes, as if debating what to do about Miranda. Then she turns away, comes over to stand in front of me, and puts her hands on my shoulders. She looks me in the eye. “I’m not going to let people hurt you, Jane.” She turns and glares at Miranda. “And for your information, the curse now points at all three of us. Great work, Miranda.”
Cindy and I are walking back home from Miranda’s when I realize something is wrong. It’s dark. Mentally I’m somewhere mid-afternoon, but it looks more like midnight. I stop and haul out my cell phone. What’s the time? Oh, 1 AM. Huh? And then I see the date: Thursday, June 8. No. Not possible.
Cindy’s voice reaches me. “Jane, what’s wrong?”
I realize I’ve stopped dead on the sidewalk, staring at my phone. I look up to Cindy and say, “Check your phone, Cindy. What’s the date and time?”
Cindy looks baffled, looks around, realizes that something’s not quite right, and then pulls out her phone. She looks at it for only a moment, and then looks up at me. All she needs to say is one word, “Thursday?”
The old Cindy would have flipped out. This new Cindy just stares up into the sky for a moment, and then faces me again with a confident smile on her face. “The dragon says we tumbled through time when Miranda’s astral drive was damaged.”
Of course. How could I not have figured it out? And Cindy can now telepathically communicate with a dragon on another level of reality. That’s the natural result of a blood transfusion between humans and dragons. Well, of course in a lunatic day . . . no, make that days. A note of panic creeps into my voice. “We are so screwed.”
Cindy doesn’t get it. “What’s the problem? So we skipped from Sunday afternoon to Thursday morning. It’s not like we have to reschedule our birthdays or anything like that. No one will know.”
I resist grabbing the front of her blouse. “We. Are. In. Trouble. We have been missing for more than three days. We’ve missed three days of school. What are we going to tell people? That we went shopping? That you were bitten by a dragon?”
Cindy gets it now. She looks ill. “Ah, Jane,” she says in a soft voice, “can we go to your place first? I’d really like it if we dealt with your parents first.”
I slap my hand against my head. “Like that’s our biggest problem.”
Cindy’s pleading. “It is for me. What do I tell my parents?” And then she looks at me queerly. Her eyes go wide, and she does grab me by my jacket. In a furious voice, she yells at me, “What did you do to my mother?” This is so out of the blue that it takes me way too long to figure out what Cindy’s talking about. I don’t even get to answer before she lets go and turns away. With hurt in her voice, she cries, “And I trusted you.” And then she walks away, a lot faster than I can.
Great. First Cindy got mad at Miranda. Now she’s mad at me, and for something Miranda devised, putting that spell on Mrs. Van Schacht. And I have to deal with my mother and Stan alone.
I’m almost to my front door when Cindy seems to reappear out of nowhere. She grabs me by the arm, and in a low voice so we’re not heard, she pleads, “Can we please do this with your parents first?”
I give her a stare to indicate I’m not happy. But what am I going to do? We’d have to tell the same story anyhow. And knowing Cindy’s history, I can’t say I blame her for not wanting to confront her parents in any hurry. So, without another word, I turn, walk up the steps, stick my key in the door, and walk in. Cindy follows behind me.
I should have realized what would happen from the fact that the outside light was on. My mother is sitting in the living room, the light on, a magazine by her side, and a box of tissues. She wakes up as I come in, sees me, and the next thing I know she’s holding me and crying, saying something about how she was afraid I was dead.
I feel like a complete heel.
She finally backs up enough to look at me, sees Cindy, and looks relieved. “Thank God you’re with her, too,” she sighs. And then she looks me straight in the eye. “What happened to you two?”
I am not the greatest liar. I tend to either concoct elaborate lies that don’t work, or too-simple lies that don’t work. “Don’t work” is the operative clause. So I decide not to bother. I look my mom square in the face, and say to her, “I have no idea, mom. I really don’t. Cindy and I were walking into town on Sunday, and then the next thing I knew, we were walking home and it was nighttime. You remember anything else, Cindy?” And I turn to look at her.
Cindy is looking at me as if I’ve sprouted a horn in my head, but catches on quickly. “That’s the truth, Ms. Levecq. We didn’t even realize we’d lost so much time until Jane got out her phone to call you up.”
My mother is perplexed. “But that’s absurd. You remember nothing? What happened, did you get drugged by some boys?”
After what I learned from Miranda’s spell on Mrs. Van Schacht, this is the last theory I want to hear. And I must be showing it in my face, because my mothers’ tone changes. “Jane, did you two run off with some boys? And then they treated you bad, and you’re embarrassed by how you fell for them?”
Grasp face in hand. Better yet, find wall and bash head against it. But I don’t do either, though I’d like to. “Mom,” I plead, “find me a guy worth dating around here, and then I can do something stupid and we can have this talk. Okay?”
My mother lets go of me, backs away a bit, and looks me over. She shakes her head. “You really don’t remember anything?”
I nod. Cindy hesitates, and I realize we’re about to have a disaster. When she finally speaks, she says, “Well, I know we ran into Miranda Milan at some point.”
I resist a second opportunity to bash my head against a wall. Cripes, no, Cindy. I had my mother believing. And now you have just opened a can of worms to spite Miranda after that argument you two had, and we’re both going to have to eat all the worms before this is over.
My mother gives Cindy a hard stare. “I need to call your mother and let her know you’re safe. And then I’m calling the police. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Friday, June 9
It is 1 AM, and I can’t sleep. I have had to go through a police interrogation, a doctor’s examination, and a cross-examination by my mother, that latter only about four or five times. And then the police came to the house this evening and tell us that they’ve talked to Miranda and that no charges will be filed and that for all involved it’s best the matter be forgotten. The officer in charge called me privately to tell me that Miranda had alleged that Cindy was using illegal drugs, but since Miranda’s known to sell and use such things herself, the police have decided to close the books on the matter. I wonder what they think my role was in all this.
I put my pen down. I suspect any chance of Miranda and Cindy working together to help me figure out who’s trying to kill me is gone. Assuming someone is trying to kill me. Cindy was pretty distant today in school, too. Although we both spent most of the day being stared at as the lost girls who reappeared.
I’m tired. I close up my diary and put my head down for a moment.
I wake up to a truly horrific stench in the room. I must have turned the light off, because it’s dark. But there’s this bluish glow in the room.
I hear a low growl. It’s coming from over by the door. I don’t really want to look there. So I slowly push back my desk chair, stand up, act as if I’m going to stretch, and then leap onto my bed and spin around as fast as I can to confront whatever is in my room with me.
I look over toward the door and see it. For about a count of ten I can’t believe what I’m seeing. And then I break out laughing.
It’s a dog. It’s a burning dog. But that’s not what so funny about it.
The dog is a basset hound.
Now, I don’t care whether it’s burning or not, but a basset hound is not a scary dog. Basset hounds just look sad. They could have rabies and fangs, and they’d still look sad. I may be short, but even I am tall enough to not feel threatened by a basset hound. Even if it’s on fire.
Which it is. There’s some sort of bluish flame playing along its entire body. It flickers like real flames. And the room reeks of burning dog hair and meat, I guess. It’s an awful smell, whatever it is. But the dog is apparently unharmed by the fire.
After what I’ve been through, a burning basset hound just isn’t worth making a fuss over. And I’m feeling a bit punch-drunk, too. So I get down off the bed and approach the dog. It watches me, but doesn’t growl or anything. When I get about two feet away from it, I say, “Hi there, doggie. Lost your way? Looking for your owner? Maybe it’s Robert Burns?” Oh, I am a wit. Or at least half of one. “Need a fire extinguisher, maybe?”
The dog contemplates me with its sad eyes. And then it says, “Mighty full of yourself tonight, aren’t you?”
I nod like an idiot. “Sure am. Why, I even think I’m having a conversation with a dog that’s on fire. And the way my life’s going, this is almost normal.”
The dog’s voice is a deep bass. “In that case, what I’m going to suggest isn’t going to be so difficult after all. I want you to come with me to go visit a ghost.” The dog pauses, and then adds, “And bring some money with you. The folding kind. Credit cards won’t do.”
I have to ask. “What does a ghost want with money?”
The dog shakes its head. “Nothing. Ghosts don’t need money. It’s for the ferryman.”
End of chapter sixteen
(Is this for real? No, forget that, wrong question. We’re past “real” here. I’ve seen the sign for the Burning Dog Pub. It’s a big, vicious killer. Of course, it’s on fire, real fire, not this blue stuff Jane is talking about, which I imagine can be pretty distracting when you’re hunting people. How does a dog’s sense of smell work when it’s on fire? Maybe in the next chapter Jane can find out.)