Chapter 9: Communing with people
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
I wake up early Monday morning. I do not go over to the waterfall on a nature hike. After Saturday, I don’t think I’ll be going back there for some time.
Instead, I eat a big breakfast, shower, get dressed, and head downtown. It’s the day of the annual Memorial Day parade. I’m curious to see how big it is. The cities we’ve lived in have all had big parades. No one else in the family is interested, which is about what I expected. I mentioned it last night at dinner, and they all preferred to sleep late.
People are lining up around the town common and along Main Street even before I get there. So I’m hoping for a big production.
I go looking for anyone I know. Cindy won’t be here; she’s with her family in the Caribbean and will be flying home tonight. About the friendliest person I see is the librarian, Joy Barker. She looks to be by herself. So I go over and join her. We chat about this and that. And then the parade begins.
I look at the two people leading the parade and wonder just what holiday I’ve wandered into. Halloween? I turn to Joy. “Tell me that’s not a witch leading the parade.”
Joy turns to me and smiles. “And if I did, would it change things? Sorry, Jane, but that is supposed to be a witch. It’s to commemorate the witches in the town’s history.”
“But I’ve seen the pictures of them in Miranda’s book, and they don’t look anything like her. She looks more like the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Joy laughs a little. “Authenticity isn’t the main criterion for the witch, pleasing the tourists is. Same thing for the soldier marching beside her. He’s supposed to be a Revolutionary War veteran. Tell me what’s wrong with that, Jane.”
I look at the soldier. What do I know about how Revolutionary War soldiers looked? How many would a small town like this have? And then I have an idea. “Wait, was Netherfield even a town during the Revolution?”
“Nope. Settled and incorporated in 1798.”
“So this really is for tourists.” Well, I suppose all parades sort of are. And then I have an idea that I shouldn’t bring up, but do. “They should have Miranda be the witch in the parade.” I feel a little twitch of fear to even mention her name, still.
Joy looks dubious. “It almost happened, once. The woman who was to march as the witch dressed up like Miranda to make fun of her. Miranda was watching the parade, and attacked the parade witch right then and there. Barely escaped getting charged with assault and battery.” She pauses, and then looks at me curiously. “You had some sort of run-in with Miranda again?”
I think of how to phrase it. “Let’s just say we had a chance encounter.”
“It just lasted a few minutes. No one’s getting charged with assault over it.”
Joy shakes her head. “Well, you certainly upset Miranda. And she was just as forthcoming about what happened as you are.”
I guess interrupting Miranda’s commune with nature is a big deal; certainly it was for me, although I still don’t know what to make of it. I’m tempted to ask exactly what Miranda did say, but don’t want to have to explain what actually happened with Miranda to Joy. I’m not sure I can, actually. So I give her a shrug and a smile and go back to watching the parade.
The parade is mostly Scout troops, firefighters, and floats for various downtown businesses. A seafood restaurant float has on it someone portraying the Netherfield mermaid, which is even more fictional than the Netherfield Revolutionary soldier. She’s dressed in a green body suit that goes all the way up to her neck, obviously the G-rated version. I imagine a topless mermaid, but that gets me to thinking about Miranda, and I don’t want to think about her. So instead I turn to Joy and ask her another question that’s bothering me. “Are there any actual veterans in this parade?”
Joy doesn’t even glance my way as she replies, “No, not marching as such.”
“Then what’s the point of the parade? Tourists?”
Joy turns to me, a serious look on her face. “Jane, do you know what we call people from this town who join the military?”
I shake my head.
“Former residents. Young people don’t stay in this town once they graduate from high school or college unless their family owns a business here. They find jobs in Pittsfield, Boston, or some other city. Or they join the Army. And they don’t come back except to visit.”
I point out, “You’re here.”
“I didn’t grow up here. And I won’t stay. This is a breather for me.” Joy crinkles her face up into an unhappy smile.
I’m tempted to ask from what, but that would invite questions about my life I’d rather not answer. So I let it go.
We’re just finished eating at Cindy’s Wednesday night and she practically drags me to her room to show me “something good.” Once we get there, she almost carries me into the bathroom and flings open the medicine chest door.
The something good? Cindy’s medicine cabinet is down to four pill bottles. “What happened to the rest?” I ask when she shows this to me.
“Dumped ’em,” Cindy replies with a smile on her face. “Most of them were old. I had to show my mother the expiration dates before she’d admit I was doing the right thing, though. Oh, and one or two from last year she wanted me to keep? Somehow they mysteriously got left behind in Curaçao.”
“You’re still okay, though, right?” This wholesale dumping worries me.
Cindy’s smile dies. She doesn’t answer me at first, but goes back into her bedroom and sits on the bed. I go and sit down beside her. I’m afraid I’ve spoiled her happy mood, she no longer has a smile on her face. And yet a little part of my mind says Cindy has no reason to be unhappy. She just spent a long weekend in the Caribbean. I’m envious of a trip to the Caribbean. The farthest south I’ve been is Virginia. And I’d kill for a tan like hers.
Cindy turns to me, takes my hands in hers. “I really missed you, Jane. I don’t have any friends down there, and my family . . .” She shrugs and looks close to tears.
Her family. Donna told me she gets it from Maureen that the whole family is ecstatic that someone (i.e., me) is finally friends with Cindy, because it means they don’t have to worry so much about her. And Maureen doesn’t have to take Cindy with her when she goes out. With a family like that, I can’t blame Cindy for not wanting to be with them. Sometimes I feel that way myself. I offer her a doleful but sympathetic look.
It seems to work. Cindy perks right up. “Hey, you want to stay here overnight? I can get my mother to go along with it, and she’ll talk to your mother.”
Which would actually work, except for two things. “We’ve got homework, and I’d need clothing for tomorrow.”
Cindy’s enthusiasm will not be quelled. “If we agree to get the homework done first, hey, and we can be study partners, it should get done faster. And my mother can ask yours to bring over what you need. C’mon, Jane, please?”
I can’t say “no,” so I nod my head. Cindy’s smile gets bigger than I’ve ever seen it. She says to me, “Good. I picked up something in Curaçao that should liven up our party.” And she goes shooting off to talk to her mother.
I wake up with a headache. I suppose I should have expected that. That’s what you get when you drink rum, Jane. And you drank so much! Yeah, and I didn’t even like the taste of the stuff, not even with Coke. So why didn’t I stop?
It’s dark out. What time is it? I sit up, and my head aches even worse. Oh, oh, not just my head. My stomach hurts. I need to get to the bathroom now! I jump up and run into the bathroom. The night light there shows me where to go, and I make it to the toilet just in time to throw up.
Maybe ten minutes later, feeling cold and sick, I stumble back into the bedroom and see the clock on the sound system: 2:47. Cindy, the next time you smuggle a bottle of rum back from the Caribbean, you can drink it all yourself. My career as an alcoholic ends tonight.
And then I hear something faint. I can’t figure out what it is or where it’s coming from. It must be some sort of music, but I can’t make out the tune or anything. Where is it coming from?
I move about the room, and realize it’s coming from outside the room. So I walk into the hallway. No sign of anything here, but it sounds like it’s coming from below. So I walk to the staircase, head down to the first floor, and head right out the door, because the sound is coming from outdoors. It’s still very faint, but I know I’m going in the right direction.
I stub my toe on one of the paving stones that form the walkway down to the beach. I sit down on another stone to take a look at the toe. It’s bleeding just a little bit; I didn’t scrape it too badly on the rough stone. And what the heck am I doing here in my bare feet with only a t-shirt and panties on? This would be a great time for a skinny-dip, Jane: three in the morning with your first hangover. What the hell were you thinking?
This fishy odor wafts up from the beach. Somebody must have left some dead fish down there. So much for skinny-dipping. And then I get hot and embarrassed all over. I have this image of skinny-dipping with some guy and we’re really getting physical. And, stupid notion that it is, it seems so real I get up and start heading down to the beach, hoping there will be some hot guy there. Yeah, really, Jane. Not in your wildest dreams. But it’s like I want it to be true so badly that it’s going to be true. I can see him, I can smell him, I can taste him.
I get down to the beach . . . and there’s actually someone standing there only about twenty feet away. Although he’s in plain view under the moonlight, I can’t really make him out. And my head feels fuzzy. Must be the hangover. But I’m sure it’s him. Somehow they guy of my dreams is here, just as if I imagined him into existence.
We start walking toward each other, and as I get closer, I see that it really is him, the guy I was imagining. He’s wearing this really expensive fine suit and he’s as happy to see me as I am to see him. I just want him so much that my clothes melt away. And then he’s there, right in front of me. He’s handsomer than I ever could imagine. Our lips meet, and open wide, and it feels so right that I just . . . whoa . . . my head’s spinning . . . I feel weak . . . uh . . .
From Miranda Milan’s daily journal:
June 1 — I woke up just after three in the morning. The spell I’d put on Jane Harris was alerting me that she’d run into magic again. So I tumbled out of bed, being careful not to awaken Joy, and spelled my clothes on and then went to where Jane was.
Which, as it turns out, was on the shore of Lake Netherfield. I didn’t see her at first, because she was obscured by a glamour. It was Genevieve, looking more fishlike than ever. And she had Jane Harris in her arms, which are beginning to look more like fins. What was she doing with Jane? She usually preys on drunken male tourists. I thought her glamour only worked on men. Guess not. I suppose it would have to work on women, too, for her to walk about downtown without been noticed for what she is.
I could have done without this. Genevieve is dangerous. Fortunately she is still rational, and not terribly bright. I approached her staying just far enough away, and told her she couldn’t have Jane. Genevieve was startled, and immediately dropped her. Luckily there are no rocks on this part of the beach, or Jane would have had some broken bones.
I had to convince Genevieve that Jane was beloved by Nature, and that therefore Genevieve should leave her alone and go search for other prey. It was like reasoning with a two-year old. She went back and forth between thinking I wanted Jane, and asking me how Nature would compensate her. I finally persuaded her that Nature would give her a nice juicy tourist in town, and she slunk away into the lake.
Then to Jane. She was naked. I could see her clothes lying nearby. She was completely out of it, eyes wide open, shallow breathing, absolutely non-responsive. I knew Genevieve used some sort of toxin on her victims, but I’d never studied it. Turns out it’s a neurological toxin with both natural and magical components. And it was already eating into Jane’s brain. I was afraid to touch it, because I didn’t know how the natural and magical components affected each other. If I removed the magical components, would the natural toxins become milder, or cause even more damage? After wasting time during which Jane’s brain was turning into mush, I jokingly announced out loud that since Jane was beloved by Nature, Nature should fix Jane.
Never joke with Nature. The next thing I knew, Nature was ruthless forcing me to use my power at its direction to reverse all the effects of Genevieve’s toxins, and then some. And if that wasn’t enough, I found myself dressing Jane and carrying her back up to the bed in which she was sleeping that night. Turned out it wasn’t her home, but the Van Schacht home. Jane was sleeping with the screwed-up one, Cynthia. Figures. Jane has to hook up with one of the few magically problematic people in Netherfield. Lying there in bed together, they make a cute couple. But no hope of action there, because while Jane is confused, Cynthia is totally straight.
Jane is confused. Jane confuses me. Why she’s beloved by Nature escapes me. And that on top of having a death curse on her. It makes no sense, in fact I would have said it was impossible.
It was while I was standing there, wishing I’d never set eyes on Jane, that I realized I may have interfered with the death curse by saving Jane from Genevieve. Which means I’ve made Jane my responsibility, if only because that death curse may now be pointed at me. So I put a spell on Jane, commanding her to come to me if anything odd or supernatural tries to attack her. Whatever is behind the magic inflicted on her, I want every advantage in dealing with it.
It wasn’t until I got home that I thought more about Nature’s role in this whole business. If Nature loves Jane so much, why did she let Genevieve almost kill her? Did Nature deliberately get me involved in Jane Harris’s affairs for some reason? But the death curse is definitely not Nature’s. It still makes no sense. I get the feeling I’m enmeshed in a conflict I don’t understand.
End of chapter nine
(Join the club, Miranda. And you supposedly know about such stuff. It’s nice to know that your complete lack of concern for tourists does not extend to Jane, you humanitarian, you. The question that eats at me, though, is how Cindy managed to smuggle a bottle of rum through customs. I doubt I’ll find out in the next chapter, though.)