It was on a sultry evening after a restful but largely nondescript day that Narnia the Wanderer contracted a mild case of death. His companions were annoyed. They would have been more sympathetic if he’d contracted a more severe case, of course. The more horrific his death, the more they would have had to talk about to their other friends. But, other than the complete cessation of breathing and blood circulation, all Narnia had to show for his demise were drippy sinuses. The resulting snuffles and sneezes were unattractive and irritating rather than harrowing.
“You know, I bet you were murdered,” said Cassandra. A lissome, dark Vampiress, Cassandra took her name seriously. She reveled in making predictions that no one believed. There was no curse involved in this, no matter how forcefully she might argue that there was. She was simply never right and everyone knew it.
“Oh, poor Narnia!” The soft, graceful fingers of the Siren, Svetlana, smoothed the Wanderer’s hair and caressed his brow. He had been besotted with the riparian temptress for months and now she was his only sympathizer.
“Oh, kiss him goodbye and have done!” said the Wizard Madmanmann. “Dead is dead and it’s time for this dead guy to move along.”
“Not if we can prove he was murdered!” Svetlana clutched at Narnia’s shoulder’s. The tall, seated Wanderer sniffed and clutched back, trying to look brave and resigned.
"Aargh! Why me? Why are you trying to drag this out? He’s dead! Gone! Finito! Pffft! His corpse should be exorcised and buried. This is a no-brainer, here. We will grieve for the dearly departed, but first he will have to depart!” The wizard was pitching a snit.
“Yeah,” said a young Werewolf named Sassurpathlac - - a name which, in his native language, meant Leg Humper. “It’s time for him to get spiritually uplifted. His sniffles are boring and he smells clammy. Let’s pop him down to the medium’s shop by Baskin-Robbins while there’s still some night left to the night.”
But Cassandra was delighted to argue against the idea. And Svetlana, though trembling with doubt because Cassandra was never right, was willing to grasp at straws. She had been coolly flattered by Narnia’s attentions and was now surprised at the sense of loss his passing would cause. The group descended into bickering.
All right!” Madmanmann bellowed. “We can ask the medium to do a reading first. But I won’t pay the extra charge. I know Svet doesn’t have it. How about it Cassandra? Money where your grotty predictions are?”
Cassandra was not pleased. It was her delight to be doubted. Proof, one way or the other, smothered doubt.
Narnia sniffled and patted his tunic, looking beseechingly at Svetlana. She reached gently into his tunic. He sighed in adoration as she pulled out three cards from an inner pocket. The symbols on the cards writhed and twisted. He folded his large hands around her small ones, as she held them, and gave a couple of cooling pats.
“Oh,” she said, “he wants me to sell his magic cards. He’ll pay for the reading himself. Oh, you dear man.” She turned to hug him and he sighed and sniffled in bliss.
“Aw, jeez!” Werewolves were obviously unimpressed by dear men. . . particularly dead ones. As the group grumbled toward Four Elements, the medium’s shop, Sassy loped off to get a banana split. He said he’d be back later. . . maybe.
The Four Elements was a dim, incense-filled room. When they rang for the medium, a voice from the shadows said, “Yes?” Everyone turned slowly to show that they were not uncool enough to be startled. A light seeped on, revealing a lounging, leering young man dressed entirely in black.
“Nick?” said Cassandra. “What are you doing here?”
“Filling in. Larry the Lame is drunk again. Normally the place would be closed but the landlord put in a little clause, last renewal. If he calls and there isn’t a prompt, sober answer, he calls me next. I come fill in. Anything I have to do to collect from old Lare is considered to be gravy.” Here Nick the Necromancer grinned demoniacally.
This is a waste of time,” Madmanmann blustered, backing toward the door. “I’ve heard of you. No way have you completed a course in spirituality.”
“Equivalency,” leered Nick. “I passed the test. Plus I have a certain, mmmm, feel for the subject. Now pay up or push off.”
“We were hoping you’d take these in trade,” Svetlana began.
“Not much of a hope, of course,” Madmanmann interrupted. “We know the fad for these things is fading.”
Svetlana passed the cards to the lounging Necromancer and patted Narnia’s arm, to reassure both of them.
“Hey, Narn, How’s it hanging?” Nick looked the cards over.
Narnia sniffed and patted Svetlana back.
Sorry to hear it. Fortunately, I’m still collecting these.” The Necromancer parked the cards in a back pocket. “So what’s the problem?”
Narnia is dead.” Svetlana’s voice was low with dread. “We were hoping to prove that he had been murdered, so that we could seek an extension. But if he wasn’t, then. . . then. . . .” Here the Siren’s voice broke. She turned and buried her face in the chest of the corpse in question. Narnia snuffled and held her close.
“All right, I admit it! I murdered him.” Cassandra gasped at Madmanmann’s confession. “Can you blame me? Well, can you? I have, after all, some sense of aesthetics! Narnia the Wanderer, he calls himself. But does he wander? No! He’s Narnia the Stationary! Or Narnia the Hoverer! The Wanderer? Please! He wanders as much as your average brick.”
The entire group stared in disbelief at the Wizard. He was not ranting. He was explaining, reasonably, why he had murdered one of them.
“Come, now. You all remember how I warned him? How I chided him for the discontinuity?”
“He used to wander,” said Nick, “before he met Svetlana. I guess you didn’t know him then.”
“No, Svetlana introduced us.”
"Oh! Now I feel terrible!” the Siren wailed. “Madmanmann killed you because of me!”
“Well, since we know that he was murdered,” said the Necromancer, “we can get on with the extension.”
“Just a moment,” Madmanmann lifted a lecturing finger. “It has not been officially determined that the deceased has been murdered.”
There were murmurs of disapproval, including a threatening sniff from Narnia.
“I will cooperate fully in this sordid little enterprise, but only if the Wanderer promises to wander. No wander, no cooperation. No cooperation, no extension. I can tie this up in technicalities for months. Are you sure the shade will linger that long? Gaagh!”
Madmanmann’s last word was forced through a throat surrounded by chilly, constricting fingers. Narnia snuffled in outrage as he lifted the Wizard by the neck and prepared to shake some sense, or at least some cooperation, into him.
“No, my sweet, think!” Svetlana plucked desperately at the Wanderer’s sleeve. “If you injure him you prejudice your case. And if you kill him, you cannot be extended. You need his life force.”
“Please?” Tears brightened the Siren’s eyes. “Is wandering so bad?”
Narnia lowered the Wizard to the ground but kept a grip with one hand. With the other he mimed drinking water.
“Yes, I know. I must stay near water. But you could wander back to me.”
“Or you could wander together,” said Cassandra, who was sulking over being right and just wanted everyone to leave. “You know, like up Putah Creek to Lake Berryessa?”
“You could check out the drowned town at the bottom of the lake.” Sassy spoke between licks as he cleaned out the bottom of his container. He and his banana split had returned in time for most of the excitement.
“Or you could go up the Sacramento and pan for gold. There must be some route that would take you to Tahoe, too,” the Necromancer added.
Narnia looked into Svetlana’s eyes. He was waiting for her answer. The Siren froze. She knew that her life was too confined. Her mother was always after her to expand her circle of friends, to get out of her little pond. But wandering? Her mother would not approve.
And it was dangerous to make two life changes together, wasn’t it? If either the relationship or the wandering didn’t work out, the failure of one would poison the chances of the other. Still, the Wanderer was devoted. And she did need to stretch her horizons.
“I promise to wander with Narnia for a year and a day,” she heard herself say. “After that, we’ll see. He can change his name, if necessary. But not to ‘the Stationary,’ that’s stupid. Perhaps ‘the Devoted’?”
Narnia released the Wizard. He and Svetlana held each other’s hands and gazed into each other’s eyes.
“Oh, please,” grumbled the Wizard, rubbing his neck. “This is saccharine. And you know you’ll hate wandering, Svet. You’ll miss us.”
The Necromancer snorted. The couple’s hands and eyes still held, undaunted. Svetlana sighed. Narnia sniffed. The Wizard flapped his hands, giving up.
“All right, all right! I’ll accept it. As irritating as he is, maybe I’ll be lucky and his natural span will elapse before the year is out.”
“Speaking of irritating,” said Nick, “we’ll just make sure you have an heir to carry the extension if you should happen to . . . pop off.”
After all the technicalities were over and everyone else had gone home in a huff, Narnia and Svetlana wandered to the gazebo in Shield’s Grove. The fork of Putah Creek that ran through the grove had been dammed at both ends, turning it into a very long pond. It was a good intermediary step between a small pond and truly running water. And the moon reflected beautifully there. Svetlana appreciated the thought.
Since he had been deprived of his voice all day, Narnia talked all night. He did his best to say thoughtful, reassuring things, although he was still mad at her friends and sometimes he had to talk about that.
Svetlana curled up on a bench with him and agreed or disagreed with him all night. By the time the moon had set, she had decided that she truly enjoyed the sound of his voice, which had a murmur like the sound of water. And if it was time for her to go out on adventures, perhaps it would be nice to have the company of someone dependable to lead her. . . or to follow.