Chapter 19: That not even a dog could love
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
I’m sitting up, looking at my left leg. It looks pretty bad. The leg of my jeans is burnt away starting about two inches below my knee. The sock is burned down almost to the sneaker. In between, my entire leg is covered in third degree burns, where there’s any skin at all. And there’s what looks like a gallon of blood on the ground. The only good thing is that I can’t feel a thing in the leg at all. Nothing.
“It looked worse until I licked it,” Pluto tells me. He’s lying down on the ground in front of me. “Now you know why you shouldn’t pet me. Without treatment, you’d lose the leg.”
Did I mention the four puncture wounds in the damaged part of my leg? They’re from Pluto biting me, he says to bring me out of the spell the snake put on me. I got the burn as a side effect. I contemplate the end of my career as a ballerina. Good thing I hadn’t started one. “You licked it?” I ask.
“My saliva contains magical healing compounds, and an analgesic, to boot,” Pluto replies. “Besides, my tongue’s the only part of my body that won’t burn you on contact. You should be up and about within the hour, and healed completely within a day.”
Looking at the leg, I doubt it, but who am I to argue with a magical burning dog? “Then I guess I should thank you. You okay? Did the snake hurt you? In fact, what happened to it? Should we even be sitting here?” I look around at the field where I’m sitting, just above the ravine with the waterfall. If the snake is still around, then without Pluto I’m a sitting duck.
Pluto shakes his head. “Stupid evil snake. I’d heard of it. Named Nega or Nokia or something like that.”
“Naga,” I suggest.
“I don’t think so, but then I’m often bad with names, Jane.”
I observe, “You always get mine right.”
Pluto chortles. (I didn’t know dogs could chortle. But then he’s a magic dog.) “Only when you’re with me. Miranda Milan got a big laugh when I called you Jade this morning.”
I can imagine. I sigh. “How about getting back to the snake?”
Pluto gives me a hurt look. (At least that’s what I think it is. Hard to tell from his other mournful expressions.) “You’re the one who got into names. Anyhow, the snake was going to take possession of you. It does that by going up your anus. Disgustin’, ain’t it? When I got in the way, it tried going in my rear end. Bit of a shock, that. Burnt the bleedin’ thing’s head off.”
Pluto usually sounds just like anyone else, but in those last few sentences he sounded straight out of Dickens. So I ask, “What’s with the British accent?”
Pluto returns to an American accent. “Sorry about that, my first owner was a Cockney magician. That’s what I wanted to talk with you about, anyhow. You see, I was sort of in your position back in 1819: normal creature at the mercy of magicians. My original master was a good-hearted man who happened to be a magician. He loved me, and even worked some magic on me to extend my life. Somehow, he crossed another magician, who decided to kill him by putting a spell on me. Nothing I could do about it. Hey, I was a dog, I didn’t even realize what had happened. So the very first time my owner picked me up after that, I caught fire and burned him to death. Just imagine your leg, but all over the front of his body.”
I imagine. Not for long, though.
Pluto picks up his story. “But he was a tough old guy, for all he was kind-hearted. He knew I didn’t mean to do it. So he used his powers to stay alive long enough to transfer a lot of his magic to me. And then he died. The first thing I did was hunt down the magician who had spelled me, and killed him. Then I wandered around for several years, until I met Asenath. She wasn’t able to cure me, but she can return me to my original condition when I’m on her land. So I’ve stuck around.”
I sort of see the point, but I’m in a bad mood, so I reply, “So the lesson of your story is that I should allow myself to be manipulated to kill Miranda, but that she gives me all sorts of magic out of gratitude before she dies?”
Pluto looks even sadder than usual. “You don’t have to be a bitch about it.”
That stings. “Yeah, well, according to you, I’m not much of a bitch. At least you made a pass at Miranda.” I find myself blinking back tears. Stupid, isn’t it?
Pluto lifts up his head, lets out a whine, and replies, “Look, Jane, you are just not sexually appealing to most quadrupeds. This is not usually a problem for human females.” He gives me a long stare, and in a more thoughtful tone of voice, adds, “Oh, so that’s it? You’re afraid you’re not attractive to human guys. If I made a pass at you, do you think it would really help?”
Reluctantly, I admit, “No.” And then I sniffle and wipe my eyes. But that doesn’t help, either. So I ask, “Then why did you make a pass at Miranda?”
Pluto drops his head to the ground, covers his eyes with his forepaws. “No. Tell me she is not saying this.” He drops his paws to the side and looks at me. “Jane, Miranda’s a randy creature. Forget quadrupeds, she’s made it with creatures on other planes of reality. And she has enough magic to protect herself. She just turned me down out of spite. She likes to think of me as sexually frustrated.”
“Yep, and I bet you are, too.” The words come from Miranda, who walks up from behind me. She sees my leg and frowns at Pluto. “Didn’t know you were into torturing teenage girls to get your kicks, Pluto.”
Pluto raises his head from the ground and gives Miranda an ill stare. “Genevieve set Jane up to be possessed by a snake demon. What good is that ring of yours if it won’t even protect her from something like that?”
“Hey, I’m here now, aren’t I? And was I needed?” Miranda wanders off a bit, sees something, walks over to look at it closely, makes a choking noise, and comes back. Looking at Pluto, she asks, “You took that thing out?”
Pluto barks once. “Got it in one, Miranda. Keep that in mind the next time you turn me down.”
Miranda shakes her head in disgust. “Enough, Pluto. You say Genevieve set this up? That’s like . . . way out of her league.”
“She seemed quite intelligent when I was talking to her in the coffee shop just after seeing you,” I toss in.
Miranda ponders her feet for about a minute. She shakes her head slowly, over and over again. She looks up at me. In an annoyed tone, she says, “Genevieve has an IQ that might charitably be put at 50. Fortunately for her, most guys with erections have IQs of about 30. Any intelligence she appears to have over that is because someone’s controlling her.” She turns to Pluto. “Can she walk as is?”
Pluto makes a chuckling noise. “Only if you help her.”
Miranda turns to me. “Guess what, kid? You’ve got a bodyguard for the afternoon.”
Pluto stands up. “And I’ll check out Genevieve. Assuming she can even understand me, I’m going to have some hard words with her, at the very least.”
Miranda smirks at Pluto. “Maybe she can relieve your sexual frustrations while you’re at it.”
Pluto just growls, and heads off toward the woods.
No one’s home when I get there, leaning on Miranda. My leg is beginning to hurt, which Miranda tells me is a sign it’s well along in healing. I try a step or two, find I can actually walk as long as I don’t actually look at the leg. It still looks as if I’m posing for an anatomy lesson.
Miranda pops open the refrigerator, pulls out a beer. “Whose is this?” she asks.
“Stan’s,” I tell her.
“Good. I don’t mind drinking his beer. He’s cute.” After that display of bad taste on both counts, she pulls out a soda for me, and helps me into the living room. Once we settle down, she asks, “Any idea how long they’ll be gone?”
I consider. “There’s money on the kitchen table. So, late, after dinner.”
Miranda perks up. “Good. Let’s watch some porn. A guy like Stan must have some.”
I shake my head in wonder. It’s true, but how would she know?
As if she heard my question, she says, “Hey, a guy like that always can get a girl, but he feels better about himself if he has porn handy, too. Trust me. I knew a king with four mistresses who kept filthy books around for those times when he couldn’t stand any of them.”
I wearily get up and limp toward my parents’ bedroom, waving off Miranda’s help. I know where Stan stashes his porn, so it’s no problem to find it. And while I’m looking through it for something I can tolerate, I have an idea. Stan has a DVD of the horror porn flick Tara starred in. I should show that to Miranda, then casually mention the star is my aunt. So I grab it.
When I give it to Miranda to see, she frowns. “Virgin Victim: Hell’s Harlot? Stan has this? Wouldn’t think this would be his type of porn. But, whatever. Play it.”
I pop it out of its case, stick it into the player, cue up the film, and we’re off. Now, I have never seen this film. But I do know a few things about it. Tara doesn’t appear until about 15 minutes in. The early part of the movie just shows Satan doing his work with some run-of-the-mill bad girls. So I sit back and relax . . . for about two minutes. I’d heard about vagina dentata. I never thought to see someone look like she has them, nor what she appears to do to one of the male actors. The weird thing is that I’m finding this so disturbing I don’t want to look at it, but I can’t look away.
And then Tara comes on the screen, dressed so primly you’d think she was a 35-year-old virgin. That doesn’t last long. When she takes off her glasses, the last piece of clothing she discards, I can hear Miranda suck in her breath. The next thing I know, the picture is frozen. Miranda’s got the control and has paused the film. I look over at Miranda. She seems to be fixated on Tara. So I start to joke, “Hey, Miranda, I didn’t know you swung . . .”
Miranda turns and my words die in my mouth. In biting tones, she says, “I know that bitch. I’d know her anywhere. And I thought there was something funny about the movie.” She looks positively angry. She grabs the case for the DVD, looks it over. “Shit,” is all she says. And then she gets up and heads out of the room.
“Hey, where you going, Miranda?” I yell.
“Back to my place. I have to go check this out,” Miranda yells back.
Next thing I hear is the front door opening and closing. Great. So much for a bodyguard. Worse, I realize Miranda just carried off the case for the DVD. How the hell am I going to replace it back in Stan’s collection?
I yank the DVD out of the player, place it carefully down on the coffee table (don’t want to scratch it!) and contemplate my options. Simply hiding it would seem to be the best course, and hope that Stan doesn’t decide to peruse his collection anytime soon.
Before I get very far in that plan, I hear a knock at the door. I do not want anyone coming in with this thing sitting around. So I rush to the front door. There I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s only Rev. Honoria Blood. I open the door. “Hi, Honoria!”
Honoria looks puzzled. “Was that Miranda who stormed out of here looking as if she had a demon up her ass?”
The image is too close to what almost happened to me. I break up laughing.
Honoria’s puzzlement grows while I keep trying to stop laughing. As I calm down, she says, “My jokes rarely get that sort of reception. But the reason I came by was to talk with you, and ask you if you want to come back to my place to split a pizza with me.”
I don’t know what Honoria wants to talk about, but free pizza sounds good, especially if it means I can pocket the money my mother left out for my dinner. “Sure, Honoria.”
The pizza’s just been delivered to the parsonage. We sit down in the kitchen, and to my surprise Honoria pops opens a can of beer and splits it between the two of us. I give her a quizzical look. Her lips tighten before she replies. “I could say this is because I prefer teenagers experiment with alcohol under adult supervision first. But the real reason is that I’m feeling guilty about you. Cheers.”
We clink glasses, each take a sip, and then put our beers down. My first beer, well, my first I’ve been offered directly; we’ll exclude sneaking drinks from Stan or my previous stepfather. It’s so-so. At least not as disappointing as trying pot when I was eight. I’ve got to wonder why I’m being treated this way. I give Honoria what I hope is a penetrating stare. “What did you do to me that I should be seeking an apology from you?”
Honoria grabs a slice of pizza and doesn’t answer until she’s eaten it and sipped at her beer. “Encouraged you to visit Miranda. I thought you were just an intelligent teenager. I didn’t realize you’d get tangled up in the odd things that happen here.”
I say nothing, just eat pizza, wondering where this is going. Honoria wolfs down another piece as if she’s starving before she speaks up again. “My job is the cure of souls, Jane. That means I observe the people around me very carefully so I know how to help them. That means I see things that others miss. And people confide in me and tell me things they wouldn’t tell other people. For example, do you know the police think that you and Cindy were enticed by Miranda to experiment with drugs and sex while you went missing?”
I shake my head. I’d add that I’m not surprised, but my mouth is full.
Honoria doesn’t wait for more of an answer. “Of course, I know differently. Miranda took you two someplace and trashed her car in the process.” She looks at me as if she expects me to say something.
I lamely reply, “I don’t remember.”
Honoria shakes her head. “I doubt that. But let it go for now. I’m more interested in seeing the burns on your left leg.”
I almost choke on the mouthful of pizza I’m chewing. I’d left Honoria at the door while I changed jeans before we walked over here to the parsonage, and hadn’t thought she’d noticed. Once I recover, I tell her, “It’s nothing. I just burnt it, um, eh, by spilling boiling water on it.”
“And that burned your jeans, too, I suppose.” Honoria shakes her head again. “Jane, your mother’s told me you’re a lousy liar. She’s right. But I imagine you have your reasons. Just know I’m here if you want to talk to someone. And I’ve lived here for a while, Jane. I suspect you wouldn’t be surprised by some of the things I’ve seen.”
Some sort of response seems to be called for. “Thanks, Honoria.”
She smiles. “Well, then let’s leave that aside and talk local history for a while, shall we?”
Honoria walks me back home just after dark. We’re almost to the door when she says, “Be careful, Jane. You’re still limping, and your mother might notice.”
She might, but it bothers me that Honoria is pointing it out. Clearly she still wants to know what is going on. But she’s trying to be nice about it. So I open the door, let Honoria come in with me, and almost immediately confront my mother. She doesn’t look happy. Without a word to Honoria, she loudly orders me, “To your room, young lady. I’ll speak to you later.” This does not sound good.
I go to my room, wondering what I’ve done now that I don’t know about. About twenty minutes goes by, and then there’s a knock on the door. Before I get up, Honoria comes in, closing the door behind her. She gives me a mildly serious look. “Your mother was quite upset with you, but I’ve talked to her. All is forgiven, and you’re not confined to your room.”
Great, but . . . “What did I do?”
Honoria stares up at the ceiling as she replies, “Let’s see: rifled through your stepfather’s possessions, watched porn, left it out where your younger brother might see it . . . and I think that’s it.”
That causes Honoria to giggle. “Well put,” she says, and then laughs out loud. Before she’s finished, Honoria looks about the room and nods to herself. Turning back to me, she says, “I convinced your mother that you’re a sexually confused teenager, but not so confused you need a shrink. I told her that the porn was just curiosity on your part, not a sign that you’re going to turn into a slut tomorrow. I had a hard time with that part of it. And finally, I told her she shouldn’t lean on you too much if she expects to keep your confidence.” Honoria takes a breath and wraps up. “I left Miranda’s role out of it. You can tell your mother about that if you want.”
I’m grateful, but have a question. “Why?”
Honoria shrugs. “As I’ve told you, my job is the cure of souls. An angry confrontation over this would have benefited neither you nor your mother.” She points at me. “You are not the problem, though God help me I don’t know what the problem is.”
Once again, I feel I have to say something. “I’m not sure I know what the problem is, either, Honoria.”
There’s a slightly bitter note in Honoria’s voice as she replies, “Yeah.” She turns to the door, but immediate turns back to look at me. “By the way, who’s Tara?”
Oh. “My Uncle Jeff’s current wife. She’s the star of the porn flick.”
“Your mother doesn’t like Tara, I take it?”
“No. Definitely no.”
I think about how best to put it. “Tara’s my Uncle Jeff’s trophy wife. I think she stores her brains in her boobs, where they’re nonfunctional. He’s happy with her. Me, meh.”
Honoria nods. Whatever she’s thinking, she keeps it to herself as she opens the door and leaves.
How much does Honoria know? She hinted that she knew quite a bit. And she certainly demonstrated her ability to pick out information. Why now?
End of chapter nineteen
(It’s a dog’s life for Jane, and not in a good way. Everyone seems intent on ordering her about or prying into her affairs. She ought to feel she has some common ground with Pluto, but when even a dog turns you down for not being attractive, it’s hard to feel friendly toward it. Miranda can’t seem to get involved without producing as much trouble as she solves. Though, to be fair, Jane’s turning out to be equally good at that. Let’s see if she can get herself out of some trouble in the next chapter a week from now.)