Chapter 18: A peculiar set of friends
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
Cindy is smiling all through the morning at school, a big broad smile. We go to lunch, sit down, and the first thing she says to me is, “Guess what happened to me last night?”
I know the answer to this question: Cindy had sex with the dragon. I have menstrual cramps. I am not in the mood to hear what dragon-human intercourse is like.
I am going to hear what dragon-human intercourse is like. So I sweetly say, “The dragon came to visit?” I’m setting Cindy up for her story. Aren’t I a great friend?
Cindy leans forward. In a confidential tone of voice, she says, “He did more than just visit.” She leans even further toward me and drops her voice more. “I’m not a virgin anymore.”
I put on the most surprised expression I can. It’s easy because a sudden sharp cramp hits me at the same time. And I prepare to be enlightened. I fear the dragon’s tail is going to play a kinky role in all this.
Saturday morning I leave home to go into town. I’m allowed to leave only after my mother is certain I have provided for every eventually by carrying more tampons than are used in the whole of New Zealand on a long weekend, even by the sheep. No doubt Marie Antoinette’s mother gave her the same advice before she went off to marry Louis XVI. Heads getting chopped off? Who worries about that?
Normally, I’d be off to meet with Cindy, but her parents decided that after alarming the family with her temporary disappearance, she needed to spend time with the grandparents this weekend. So instead I’m off to see Miranda, the wonderful witch of Netherfield (cue the Oz theme song) because the ring she gave me has disappeared off my hand between last night and this morning. Oh, and my room reeked of burnt dog meat and hair when I woke up. I hope that was Pluto. It was almost enough to suffocate me.
Miranda greets me at her door, has us sit down in her consultation parlor (where she fought the devastator), and then tosses me the ring. In a marginally annoyed tone of voice, she says, “Pluto the burning dog was guarding your room last night. He noticed the ring wasn’t working and brought it to me this morning to fix. Wonder how he got it off without burning you.”
I don’t know, either, but he did, and that’s that. I put the ring back on. Miranda observes, “You’re collecting a strange group of friends. Known Pluto long?”
I shrug. “He’s recent.”
Miranda tosses up her hands. “That’s right. I’m just trying to save your life. No need to tell me anything.”
I have just two words for that. “Death spell.”
Miranda screws up her face before replying. “Okay, so, yeah, I haven’t told you everything, either. Truth be told, Jane, when you first came here, I just wanted you gone, period. But it looks like I’ve got myself involved, so that’s not an option anymore.”
I decide to tell Miranda something Asenath told me. “It never was an option, Miranda. The death spell was originally targeted on you. It’s your enemies behind this, not mine, like I have any.” Well, not counting my ex-friends chortling over how I embarrassed myself over Eric.
One of Miranda’s eyebrows clears her glasses frame. “And how do you know this?”
I say nothing.
After about half a minute, Miranda sighs. “It doesn’t matter, I suppose. It really is the only possibility that makes sense. Your enemies wouldn’t know magic or you’d have been dead long ago. I’ve stayed in this town too long, made myself a target.”
Thanks for belittling me once again, Miranda. You’re catching up to Stan in my estimation. But I’m curious about that last bit. “Why’d you come here, anyhow?”
Miranda gives me a look and shrugs. “I was hunting that damn dragon-head walking stick. It vanished in 1941 and I figured it might have come back here. Even dug up Rebecca Maxwell’s grave, which was pointless: no one’s buried in it.”
I don’t want to ask. So instead I offer a suggestion. “Did you ever consider that Cindy’s dragon might be the dragon associated with that walking stick?”
Miranda leans back in her chair and stares at the ceiling. “Consider it? It almost certainly is, which makes things even worse. If that’s the dragon that was linked to the walking stick, it probably means the walking stick has been destroyed. Which would explain why the dragon’s changed to sharing blood as its way of establishing a bond. Which means I’ve wasted years on that creature, only to have your friend Cindy waltz into control of it.” Miranda shakes her head, sits up, and chuckles. She gives me a leering smile and says, “Well, waltz into it isn’t quite the right term. Your friend Cindy . . .”
“. . . is having sex with the dragon. I know. Does everyone know this?” Yes, I sound peeved. You would not believe what dragons can do with their tails during sex. And it does not help that my menstrual cramps remind me of how I’m getting all of the drawbacks of being female, and none of the benefits.
My question causes Miranda to laugh out loud. “Oh, no, only about maybe a hundred people with magical powers this side of Chicago, any dragon on the same plane of reality as that one, and Pluto. He thought it was a good opportunity to proposition me.” And she laughs some more.
Without even thinking, I exclaim, “He never propositioned me!”
That sends Miranda off into another round of chortling. In between laughs, she manages to tell me, “He told me you weren’t his type. He likes girls with a bit more in the ass.”
Yeah, him and Chiron. Pervs. Isn’t there anyone who finds me attractive? Maybe I need to start hanging around normal people. If there are any in this town.
My mother and Freddie are both definitely elsewhere, and Stan’s drinking is done in bars, so I go to the coffee shop and order a cappuccino, knowing it won’t get back to my mother. I have a book with me, Emma, but I’m more inclined to think about what Miranda just said. So I sit down at an empty table, put down my book and my drink, look up, and almost fall over backwards. There’s someone sitting opposite me. There was no one there when I sat down, I am sure. I look over my new companion. She’s an exceptionally attractive woman with amazing platinum blond hair and wearing a sleeveless dress with a deep v-neck. On her, it looks good, very good. I suspect anything would look good on her. She’s smiling at me as if we’re good friends. I do not know her. So I say to her, “Excuse me, but are you a lunatic who slipped into that chair just as I was sitting down, or is this one of the innumerable weird things that is happening to me recently?”
She considers a bit before answering. “I’d say the latter, Jane Harris. Although I suppose I could be insane and just imagining the odd life I have. Have you considered that possibility yourself?”
Oh, a nut case. So I reply in kind. “Why, yes, more and more every day. Why just the other night I was talking to a burning dog.” And then I add, “Though to be fair, he wasn’t a very big burning dog.”
The woman doesn’t turn a hair. She says to me, “Pluto. And since we both know him, that suggests that neither of us is mad, we just happen to be living very unusual lives.” She reaches across the table to offer me her hand. “I’m Genevieve. I tried to kill you not so long ago.”
I take her hand and shake it while looking at her very closely. I still don’t recognize her. All I remember is a handsome guy. And then, for a second, I see him sitting there, and then Genevieve snaps back. She tells me, “I’m not here to kill you this time, so there’s no point in wearing the same appearance that I had last time.”
I let go of her hand, nod, and wonder just what I’m in for now. So I tell her, “I’m not sure of the etiquette of talking to mermaids who tried to kill me once before, so I think the next move is yours. But if you want to know, an apology would help.”
Genevieve shakes her head. “And be perfectly useless. Besides, you were just an incidental victim. My real purpose was to kill Miranda Milan. Needless to say, I failed.”
All I could think to ask is, “Why?”
Genevieve looks amused. “Why did I want to kill her, or why did I fail?” She laughs. “I don’t know why. Someone bewitched me. And I failed because Miranda is too cautious.” Her look becomes serious. “I could have ended up dead if Miranda didn’t think me an idiot. If I find the person who did that to me, he’s dead. And he’s no friend of yours, either. People who are willing to have you killed rarely are.”
There is a subtle fishy odor in the air. So this could indeed be Netherfield’s mermaid. But I’m not sure just how sensible she is. So I nod. “I can agree to that.”
Genevieve lights up, as if I have just said something brilliant. “Right. Anyhow, I’m supposed to pass a message along to you. Chiron tells me that Pluto wants to see you. You’re supposed to take a walk in the woods.”
Oh, great, the telephone game. “Where?”
Genevieve shrugs, but there’s still a happy smile on her face. “I don’t know. Chiron didn’t say. I don’t suppose it matters. Just go for a walk.”
This is not helpful. Facepalm. I look again, and Genevieve is gone. Before I can move, her voice comes from beside me. “Watch out for snakes.” I turn, but she’s already gone.
A walk, Genevieve said. A walk in the woods. Watch out for snakes. I go home and take the path out to the waterfall where I ran into Miranda communing with nature a few weeks ago. The sun shines directly on the rock. And, wouldn’t you know it, there is a huge rattlesnake sunning itself on the rock. Genevieve must be psychic or something.
I turn to look for a stick, and there is Pluto, with one in his mouth. The blue fire is almost washed out by the sun, but the smell of burning hair and meat is still there. I carefully take the stick from him, and say, “Thanks. Are you psychic, too? How did you know I was looking for a stick?”
“Later,” he says. “Meanwhile, don’t bother trying to go down there and confront the snake. The only reason it’s there is to attack you.”
I’m getting used to this. “Great. Something else wants to kill me. I’m over my quota for the month.”
Pluto shakes his head. “Who said anything about killing? The snake wants to put a spell on you or something. Who sent you here?”
“Genevieve, sort of. You know, the mermaid. She told me I should take a walk to find you. She didn’t say where.”
Pluto sounds weary. “I know Genevieve. She could have made you think this was your idea, coming here. Only problem is that she doesn’t have the wit to set you up for a trap.” Pluto glances back down to the rock. “Oh, shit. The snake’s gone.”
I look down, too. The rock is bare.
Pluto looks worried. (Easy for a basset hound.) “It’ll be coming after you. Turn around and run, Jane. Run like the dickens and don’t stop until you get home.”
I don’t need to be told twice. I turn and run. I get about ten paces when I hear a voice. “Jane, stop and wait for me.” So I stop.
I was told to wait, so I wait. I hear a great commotion behind me. Pluto is growling, yelping, and whining. I think he’s hurt, but I don’t think I should do anything about it. I’m supposed to wait.
And then this horrific pain strikes my left leg, and I go down.
End of chapter eighteen
(Well, the local coffee shop has one up on Starbucks: a real mermaid. Considering mermaids, like sirens, have been noted for treachery, it does seem like an unlikely symbol to associate with any business, unless it’s call girls on a houseboat. And then there’s the Cindy-dragon relationship — yeah, I know I promised you all there’d be some sex, but even I didn’t anticipate it would be interspecies. There goes the PG-13 rating for the screenplay. Unless the next chapter has a really upbeat message in it about how human-dragon sex is somehow ecologically positive or celebrates the Great Chain of Being or something.)