Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thirty-Seventh Beginning: Sharper Than a Serpent's Truth 04

It was noon before they got to the zoo, bus scheduled being what they were,  Once there, Anne followed Cordelia glumly.  Anne was soothed by talk and Cordelia refused to join in or listen.  She walked the zoo grounds in patterns, not looking at any of the animals, eyes on a zoo map.

"Can I get a hot dog?  I'm starved."

"Yes.  Stay there.  I'll join you."

"I don't know where one is, exactly."

"You'll find it.  I'll find you."

Anne left Cordelia to her pacing.  She found a vendor nearby, but passed him to find a snack bar farther on.  It was less comfortable, but she was in a grumpy mood and wanted Cordelia to have to look.

She didn't.  When she came, she sailed straight in without looking around.  She might have been blind.  She sat and began to mark the map.

"We're going to walk a labyrinth pattern.  I had to find one that would fit around the local barriers.  We'll have to walk through a couple of flower beds and hop a short fence, but we won't go into any compounds.  We start here and end here."

"They'll think we're nuts, but what else is new?  Hey, that's the reptile house."

"Just outside it.  Ready?"

"Sure.  Let's go."

"Ignore your mood.  Labyrinths always breed despair or anger or whatever is most likely to stop you."

"So this isn't just me?"

"No.  Not entirely.  If you've never done magic at this depth before, you're probably also nervous."

"I'm doing magic?"

"You're me focus.  I tie the spells to your mother through the "curse" she has on you.  It will be uncomfortable.  You'll feel very sticky.  Your talent will react to the flow, but it will be easiest for all of us if you can keep yourself still."

"Relax and be a drain pipe, huh?"

"Beats a leach field."

"A what?"

"Never mind.  I'm sorry to be so distant, but this is hard for me.  That's why we're doing it so quickly.  I almost decided not to do it at all.  I still might back out.  You'd never know.  It just wouldn't work, and it might not work in any case."

"What!  Why?"  The hot dogs in Anne's stomach started barking and straining at their leashes.

"I'll tell you when it's over. . . when it works."

Anne frowned, but nodded.  "Let's go," she said.  They went.
The center of the labyrinth was the crocodile pond.  Anne fidgeted, cramping with emotion as Cordelia waited stonily for no one to be watching.  Elsewhere in the zoo, a flower bed was two hot dogs richer.

At last they were unobserved for a moment and Cordelia lobbed the rat into the pond.  It was immediately swallowed.

"Whoah!"  Oh, I can't believe what a relief that is!"  Anne smiled at Cordelia, buoyant again.  "Let's get some hot dogs."

"Yes.  Then we have to find a place to hide."


"Yes.  We have to pull one of her teeth tonight."

"Excuse me?  Pull her tooth?  Are you nuts?  And how do you know it's a her?"

"It's a her because that's the point to all of this.  See that pile of vegetation?  That's her nest.  Her eggs are in it.  The composting action provides heat, which a crocodile can't provide, while the mother guards the nest.  Crocodilians are the only reptiles to exhibit mothering behavior."


"The family:  crocodiles, alligators, caimans, garials . . .  Alligators have all of their teeth in their mouths.  You can't reach them when their mouths are shut.  But a crocodile's shout has a jag in it.  A couple of teeth stick out even when the mouth is held shut."

"Held shut? And who holds it shut?"

"You do.  I'll be holding the spelled pliers.  Holding a croc's mouth open is hard, because its biting muscles are strong.  But its opening muscles are weak.  In fact, they mostly tilt back their heads and let their jaws fall open.  It's easy to hold it shut, or it would be if there weren't the rest of the croc to deal with.  Still, the rat should help."

"Are you nuts?"

"Do you want to back out?  The tooth is necessary.  And getting it will be easier than using it."


"Sure.  Two witches against one little lizard?"


"Less than twelve feet.  Maybe you are only dabbling in the craft because you want a stronger family life."

Anne glared at Cordelia.  This time it was Cordelia who smiled.  "I don't want to do this.  If you back out, I'm relieved."

"Let's get those hot dogs."

It was harder than Cordelia had said, but easier than Anne had feared.  They did it on firm, open ground, Cordelia distracting and leading the beast and Anne pouncing when it walked by, ignoring her.  She used the hold Cordelia had explained and only had to wrestle it for a few hours before Cordelia was able to stroke its belly and quiet it.

"That was ten minutes, tops.  But you did well."

"What?  How did you know what I was thinking?"

"Patch.  There.  He has an invasive mind.  And he's rude.  Now hold her mouth.  She won't like this.  Remember we have to wrestle her still again and maneuver her over to the fence before we let go.  She's not spelled." 

"Why does she hold still?"

"She likes belly rubs.  Now turn her head and hold on tight."

The first wrestle may have only lasted ten minutes, but it was a good two hours before they had both the tooth and the mother of hatching reptiles positioned by the fence.  Cordelia climbed the bars, then leaned back to give Anne a hand to grab.  Anne decided to stand on the croc's shoulder and nose.

"Are you sure that's wise?"

"This will lift me up higher.  I'll be farther away when I let goooo!"

Anne yodeled as the croc stood and flexed, ready to buck her off.  Without thinking, she released and jumped, landing high up on the fence.  She paused to relax, thinking herself safe.

"No!"  Cordelia yelled, hauling Anne up and over.  The croc's jaws snapped where her legs had been.  The two women collapsed on the safe side of the fence.

"You didn't say they could jump," Anne panted.

"I said don't stop once you let go."

"Is it over?"

"This is.  We have a few more things to collect, but nothing dangerous.  Then we calculate the best time for the spell.  Then we cast it."

"And this was the easy part?"

"You have no idea.  A spell of this magnitude - it will feel like I'm tearing out the heart of the universe by tearing out my heart, and yours, and your mother's.  Reality doesn't shift easily.  Neither does illusion, come to that."

The women stayed flopped where they'd landed until their breathing slowed.  They were wet and scraped and bruised and exhausted.  They smelled of crocodile and rotting vegetation.  Only fear of cramped muscles got them up and stretching before much time had passed.

"If I swell where I'm bruised, I'll have to buy a D cup."

"What time does the next bus leave?"

"Are you nuts?  No, forget I asked."  Anne hauled a soggy, battered bus schedule out of her back pocket and walked to the nearest light.  Many minutes later she declared, "None of the ones that stop here are still running.  There's a bus due on Main in half an hour, but that's at least a two mile walk."

"Witchcraft," said Cordelia, "helps build strong bodies twelve ways."

Anne shook her head and wadded up the schedule.  "That sounds like a commercial," she said, heading for the locked main gate.

"It was," said Cordelia.  "You're just too young to have heard it."

They argued all the way to Cordelia's apartment over who got the first shower.  In the end, they piled in together with their clothes on, washing and stripping and hanging things out to dry in an uncoordinated duet.  They stumbled to the futon couch wrapped on towels and almost didn't have the strenggth or wit to lay it out before sprawling on it and falling asleep.

"You know," said Anne in the morning, as Cordelia tended her wounds, "the saddest thing was that we weren't the shabbiest or smelliest people on that bus."

"She is proud of herself.  Proud of you both.  She is afraid for her mother."  Patch flipped his feathers.

"Your mother probably felt us walk the labyrinth.  And there's a connection between her and the tooth, now.  It may feel unsettling."

"Will it hurt her?"  Anne was subdued.

"Physically, no.  Emotionally, she will feel a pang when her cursing pipeline is disconnected.  I'm told all mothers feel that pang when they realize their baby is grown."

"No more than that?"

"In the end.  While the spell is being case she will feel an echo of what we feel.  Which is one of the reasons we'll be sure to do it while she sleeps.  That will dampen the effect."


"Will she worry over your scrapes and bruises?"

"Nah.  I get these all the time."  Anne smiled.

"She is proud.  She is proud."

"I'd better scoot.  She'll freak if I miss school."

"Drop by after, if you can.  I'll have a list and a spell schedule."

"It's going to feel good to have this over, you know?  You have no idea what it's like."

"No.  I don't."

Friday, June 28, 2013

Thirty-Seventh Beginning: Sharper Than a Serpent's Truth 03

Anne's backpack was lighter the next time she came.  And she brought potato salad rather than sandwiches.  She chattered as they worked.  Her chatter was more soothing than Patch's chatter; which was, at a deeper level, more disturbing.

It was nearly dark when she left with a backpack full of spelled items and instructions.  Patch was silent, which should have been a warning.  Cordelia's nightmares began that night.

"You lost a baby," Patch croaked in the morning.  Cordelia had tried and failed to remember the nightmare.  How fortunate that Patch could remind her.  "It cried.  It was gone.  The waves came."

Yes.  She remembered.  She was going to drown if she stayed.  It was going to drown if she left.  But she could never find it so it would drown anyway.  But she couldn't leave.

Anne came after school.  They reviewed family histories.  Anne was astounded that Cordelia's mother was a witch.  It was beyond her experience.

"Yes.  She's proud of me for carrying on the family tradition.  She thinks there's nothing I can't do."

There was no sign of the wards working.  Anne left to stay at a friend's house.  That night another nightmare came.

"You lost a baby."  The magic voice seemed to lodge behind Cordelia's throbbing eyes.  "It cried.  It was gone.  The winds came. Oh, yes.

The sinds had howled that they had stolen her baby.  They would trade it for her heart.  Cordelia had pulled out her heart, which was a seed; but her heart cracked in her hands and the shell was empty.  With nothing to trade, she had howled into the wind.  The wind had howled itslef away, taking even the hound of her baby's cried.

"She is here," Patch announced before Cordelia was completely detached from the dream.

Cordelia was barely dressed before the knock came on the door.  Anne was outside holding a flat of seedlings.

"I'm sorry.  Is it too early for a Saturday?  These are mostly climbers and runners.  I brought string for the climbers, and I thought the runners would fit in those gaps in the sidewalk.

"It's not too early.  I'm usually out here my now.  I had a bad dream."

"You, too?  I kad a doozy.  I was killing my mother but she wouldn't die.  I tried to pack her in a crate to bury, or something, but I couldn't put on the lid because there was always an arm or a leg or - something grosser - in the way.  No matter how I tucked her in, she kept sticking out.  And the police were coming.  It was wild."

"I'll get my trowel.  Do you want some orange juice?"

They worked all day:  on the garden, on cleaning the apartment, on maintaining the apartment's basic wards.  They discussed spells and familiars and the established lineages of witches.

Over their meals, Anne chatted about friends and clothes and music.  Anne liked Patch.  This was aided, of course, by the fact that she couldn't hear him.  Some of the comments he had made as she discussed her friends would have ended that real quick.

At last she left.  They decided, at the door, to give it one more day before declaring the spells a failure.

"You know they failed.  They all failed."

"Do you know you have the voice of a toad?  A gravel toad?  It's not birdlike at all."

"You won't do it.  You're afraid."

That night Cordelia awoke at the end of the nightmare, remembering it all.  Patch still slept.  She had heard her child crying from the ground.  She had removed her heart, thinking to offer a trade; but when it broke, she used the empty shell as a scoop to dig with.  She had uncovered her mother's face.  As the wails of her child rang within her mother's dead body, Cordelia had held out the shell of her heart, confused.  When she looked down, the shell was a bowl made of a human's skull and filled with blood, and her mother and child were gone.

She woke expecting that something might come and drink, sometime, if she continued, but not knowing what.

She was ready when Anne came.  "We're going to the zoo,"  she said.  "Here's the bus schedule."

"I brought muffins," Anne said.  She looked wan, again, but didn't complain.

"I can't eat yet," said Cordelia.  "I made this at dawn."  She held up a dead rat, festooned with a pattern of tied colored threads.  Anne could feel the magic it had been stuffed with.  It was beyond anything she had experienced so far.

"Time to punt," she quipped, swallowing.

"Time to blitz," Cordelia corrected.  "Time to sack the quarterback."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thirty-Seventh Beginning: Sharper Than a Serpent's Truth 02

Anne returned, as Patch had predicted.  She knocked politely and waited to be asked in.  She unloaded all her bits and pieces onto the kitchen counter.  She unwrapped some from cloths or papers and lined them up, in order, referring to the list.  She was smiling so contentedly that she actually hummed from time to time.  There was an unheedful forcefullness to her.  Cordelia pictured broken furniture.

At the end of her unpacking, Anne took a packet of sandwiches and a thermos from a side pouch.  She stowed these on the kitchen table, kicked the empty backpack under the table, and handed the list to Cordelia, flipping it over as she did.

"I wrote the information you wanted on the back.  Did I miss anything?"

Cordelia surveyed the collection.  "No."  She took the list to the living room and began to collect books.  "We'll beging with the information.  I don't expect anything we do today to have much effect.  But in witchcraft, simplest is best.  The less you interfere with things as they are, the less things can go wrong and the fewer the side effects."

For a girl who could shrug off her talent and get on with life, Anne watched Cordelia closely.  At times it was obvious that she was biting off questions.  Cordelia began to explain as she went along.

Anne's mother's horoscope revealed no obvious weaknesses or handholds.  At least, none that Amily had not already found.  They progressed through a series of minor bindings and banishings and wards.  Cordelia was careful to use all of the components that Anne had collected.  No need to insult the girl.  In the end, of course, everything failed.

"Well, we know that nothing simple will work.  I didn't expect that it would, but it would have been much easier if it had."

"No problem.  I'm only out a couple of weeks.  I got rid of the tracts, too.  That eased it a bit, temporarily.  I'm still sticky, though.  Do I have to keep that?"

"As an indicator, yes.  When we hit something that works we'll feel the curse fade."

"We will?  I will?  Cool!  What do we try next?"

"The next phase is a little more complicated, but around the same energy level.  We're going to try area effects.  The bond between a mother and child is strong.  It's also reinforced by a woman's power in the home she has made.  We're going to plant wards and bindings and commands in and around your mother's home.  Can you stay out of the house for a few days after they're planted?"

"Sure.  Could I stay here?"

"Only during the day."

"Cool!  Is it likely to work?"

"Not within the house.  But we might get lucky and free you outside.  If we only disrupt it a little, you may have to move."

"She'd have a cow over that."

"Which might distract her from the tracts."

"Maybe."  Anne bit her lip.

"This next list will be less exact.  I'll describe the kind of thing we need and you'll have to decide which article best fits.  They can't be things she'd miss immediately, though."

This time Cordelia escorted Anne out.

"It might take longer to get this stuff."

"That's fine.  I thought it would take you at least a month to collect the last batch."

"Really?"  Anne was flattered.

"Really.  Take your time.  Come here if you need to for acute attacks."


The bounce in Anne's step as she left made her look as if she were dancing - or galloping.  Patch flew to Cordelia's shoulder.

"You're going to lose her," the bird croaked.  "you'll be no use to her when this is over."  The bird flew outside, leaving Cordelia stunned.  Patch was right, of course.  Cordelia hadn't realized that she wanted the girl to stay.  It was surprising how much harder that made things. 

"You won't help her," patch called back.  "She'll leave if you do.  You'll keep her hanging."

Cordelia slammed the door, shutting her familiar out.


Thirty-Seventh Beginning: Sharper Than a Serpent's Truth

"Look, I know you have to be cautious and you don't know me and all, but I'm desperate.  You have to help."

The young woman could easily be attractive, Cordelia thought. She was tall and her movements had an athletic grace that wasn't quite hidden by her drooping lassitude.  Her long blonde hair was only a little untidy, a few strands escaping from the clip at the back of her neck.  And her open face would have benn sunshiny with golden freckles if she hadn't been looking to wan.

The scuffed sandals, jeans, t-shirt, and plaid lumbershirt were just the current youth fashion and, in themselves, not a sign of decline.  Cordelia sympathized with the girl's obvious worry, but shook her head, miming puzzlement.  A witch couldn't be too careful, even in these skeptical times.

"Let me just explain my problem, please.  You don't have to admit anything, right?"

Cordelia shook her head again and brushed past, curling herself slightly around her bag of groceries.  Two doors further down the pathway, she turned toward her own door and saw that the young woman was right behind her.

Either extremely softfooted or a touch of talent. Cordelia drew breath for a disclaimer and brushoff, but the girl spoke first.

"Hey!  Comfrey!  I can never get that to grow properly."  The girl knelt by the plant beds flanking Cordelia's door.  She touched leaves as if greeting old friends.

"Feverfew.  Allheal.  Artemesia - four kinds.  Hyssop.  Pennyroyal.  Does the tansy really repel flies?"

The girl's energy seemed to rise.  Cordelia stared resentfully but could not, at the last, turn her away.  Silently she opened her unlocked door and entered, refraining from closing the door behind her.  It was not a welcome, though Cordelia doubted that her unguest understood the import of that.

Certainly she was sufficiently encouraged by the open door to enter.  Perhaps it was mere intuition that prompted her to close the door only ajar behind her.  She didn't sit while Cordelia sorted her purchases into cupboards and drawers, but looked around with a curiosity that was apparently unstifled by either prudence or her present circumstances.

Cordelia scanned the room, herself.  Yes, it was obviously a witch's room. If one knew the signs were there to announce it, just as the entry herb bed was a hint.  A magpie, leg taped to mimic injury, hopped from perch to perch.  Stones and branches and bundles were tucked, here and there, around the single room with adjoining kitchenette and bath.  All the furniture was arranged at least one cubit from any wall - bookcases included.

Stowing done, Cordelia crossed her arms and studied her guest, who was examining the bare wood of the coffee table in the center of the room, fingers exploring the haphazard nicks, butns, and stains on its top.

"My name is Anne," said the girl, not looking up, "and my mother is killing me."  Here a smile flitted:  self-mockery. "Well, not killing me, really, just making my life hell.  You see, everything she says about me comes true.

You know all that stuff mothers say to their kids?  "Don't go out with wet hair or you'll catch cold?"  "Don't swallow watermelon seeds, they'll grow in your stomach?"  Well, if she says them to me they become true.  Here's her latest."

Anne held out her wrist.  "If I drink cola my sweat gets sticky."

Cordelia dutifully felt the offered flesh.  Anne was right.  Her skin was tacky with exuded sweat and sugar.

Anne pulled back her hand and began pacing.  "Look, I know this is my problem.  And I've been dealing with it, really I have.  But . . ."  Annes shoulders slumped.

"See, Mom has this friend named Amily.  Amily doesn't have any kids of her own so she pontificates about how to raise everyone else's.  And Mom soaks it up.

Mostly it's harmless stuff.  You know, like, she convinced Mom that white bread was poison so Mom only bought whole wheat.  Mom complained about us not eating it for awhile and then started storing it in the fridge so it wouldn't go bad.  And when I got sick eating white bread at someone else's house I just removed the curse.  I'm not sure it actually is a curse, but the same removal works.

But now . . . "  Anne's sigh seemed to deflate her.  She hugged her arms across her middle and hunched around them, rocking.  "Now Amily has Mom reading McVey tracts.  Have you ever read a McVey tract?"

"I believe," said Cordelia, "that the basic thesis is that there is no such thing as magic and that any young person who shows interest in such preposterous things is sublimating a desire for a stronger family life."

"Yeah, well, you can see why I'm worried.  I mean, my magic is the only thing keeping her from turning my life inside out.

Okay, I admit that I'm not very dedicated.  If I thought she'd turn herself off, too, I'd mostly shrug and get on with my life.  I mean, I have other talents.  But it wouldn't work that way, would it?"


"I didn't think so.  And the thought of her talent working while mine was dead gives me the shivverwillies.  I'd be helpless.  You've got to help."

Cordelia agreed that it was horrible and gave Anne a list of things to collect.  It was a long list.  As the happy girl left, the magpie hopped onto Cordelia's shoulder.

"She didn't notice that you didn't agree to help," it croaked.  "She doesn't know that you won't."  It flew to a perch on the bookshelf.

"I haven't decided, yet," said Cordelia.  "The list will ensure that she is serious about this."

"You've decided.  You won't.  The list won't stop her.  She'll be back.  She'll be happy."  It flew to the back of a chair.  "You don't want to do it, but you don't want to say no.  The list won't stop her."

"Enough," said Cordelia, and the bird was silent, if not still.  That was the trouble with magpies:  their gossip bit through to the meat, to the nerve.  It was well known that they were all but impossible to familiarize.  Most witches were impressed with Patch.  No.  They were impressed with Cordelia because of Patch, because of the difficulty.  They showed respect for that and, more, because it was known that magpies could snatch information from guests as well as strangers.

What few knew was their inability to leave a witch's own thoughts alone.  They would pick and pick, looking for good gossip.  They would bite to the meat, to the nerve, to the bone.  It took a certain stamina to bear.

"Enough," whispered Cordelia.  And she began to make her own list.

[This one is older than most and is complete.  I'll try to post the next segment tomorrow.]

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thirty-Sixth Beginning: Daffith's Egg

Daffith dropped himself down into the leaf litter, under the trees, exhausted.  He sniffed twice, wetly, wiped his nose on his sleeve, and sniffed again.  Such sniffs were as close as the boy would come to crying since his parents had died, nearly a season ago.

But Daffith wasn't thinking about that, refused to think about that ever again.  Instead, Daffith ran his hands over an egg too large for him to lift one-handed, worried that the jolt of his collapse might have cracked it.  Once reassured that the egg was whole, he worried that he wasn't far enough into the woods to be hidden, or that someone had seen him running from the fields.  As time passed and nothing moved nearby but insects and small birds, he worried . . . but there were too many worries waiting for their turn, so he worried about the egg again.  Was it too cool?

Daffith scooped needleleaf litter around the egg, flicking a hand every time one of the newer needles pricked him.  Shiff--scoop--flick--sniff.  He couldn't sit on the egg or even lie across it.  He was too afraid of breaking it.  So he curled awkwardly over the mound, trying to keep his weight off of it.

This wasn't a dragonman egg.  Everyone knew that dragonmen came from dragon eggs and dragon eggs had to be bigger than this, didn't they?  And he wasn't a vile and wicked boy to be wasting good time trying to hatch a dragonman like the one that had killed his parents, even if they were fools.  He wasn't.  Uncle Ures was wrong.  Uncle Ures had to be wrong.  Anyone who could call DAffith's solid farmer parents fools was likely to be wrong about anything.

Daffith's sniffles stilled.  His old farm-knowledge whispered to him.  There was a time before a duck or hen was ready to set when she just laid eggs, one a day, and left them hidden, unwarmed.  During that time the eggs didn't die, they just waited.  That way, when the hen or duck decided to stop laying and set, the six or ten or twelve eggs would all hatch out on the same day, as one brood.

Daffith screwed his eyes closed and tried to remember the nest.  It had been a bloody mess of scattered twigs and splintered oak branches.  There had been three eggs.  One had been splattered against the ruins of the tree trunk, another had cracked and leaked itself over the roots.  Only one egg, his egg, had survived.  He had concentrated his attention on the good egg, at the time.  Ig was hard, now, to remember the others clearly.

A stray thought of what was left of the tree finally brought the memory back.  There had been huge claw marks gouged into the trunk.  Dripping through the gouges, egg yolk had been drying in masses against the bark.

The egg probably hadn't started to grow yet, then.  Daffith flipped over onto his back.  He probed gently through the rips of his sleeves.  From the damp and the sting, his elbows had obviously been skinned badly in that last fall. He had protected the egg, though. It hadn't been easy, running with an egg that heavy.

Further exploration revealed that Daffith's knees weren't skinned, only a little bruised, that one pants knee was a bit ripped, and that his stomach was beginning to remember that this whole thing had started before breakfast. Daffith sat up and brushed needleleaves out of his hair. "First things first," Mother used to say. The egg could go without warmth for a week or more. But he was hungry now and his elbows needed washing out or the field dirt might cause an infection -- maybe even red-thread. Aunt Weaver would be worried about him and Uncle Ures would be furious, but there was nothing he could do about that, not 'til the egg was safe.

But there should be a stream nearby, if he remembered right. That would solve at least the washing problem. Daffith looked at the egg. Was it hidden well enough to be safe? Well, it would have to do. He was too tired to lug it around in search of half-remembered streams. But still . . Daffith decided to drape a couple of dead branches over the egg to discourage passing beasts from stepping on it.

The stream had no fish in it. But it had flint pebbles on its banks, which meant that Daffith could start a fire. As the fire burned itself into usable coals, Daffith scrounged about the stream for edibles. There was plenty of plowman's lettuce, a low growing leafy plant that came up early in the spring and was good for stopping the bleeding gums that sometimes came from being reduced to eating nothing but bread in the last of the winter. Daffith chewed it as he collected island-leaf roots and wolftail roots and stems. Among the wolftails he found a nest with four covered eggs in it. He took tow. That would do for a late breakfast. Even without fish, the stream had provided.

A bit later, Daffith was laying back by his egg with a full belly, watching the needleleaf branches sway over his head. He was almost feeling pleased with himself. He knew he was being disobedient, though, which made him feel bad. And he knew that he was no nearer to being able to save and hatch out his egg, which made him feel worse. But he had managed to buy himself thinking time. And not only had he known how to find himself food, he had thought to use the hollows in the island-leaf roots as containers for baking the eggs. He had never heard of anyone doing that before and it had worked out well. Even when you poked a hole in the large end of an egg, it could explode baking in camp coals.

Somehow, living with Aunt Weaver and Uncle Ures left him feeling useless. Aunt and her daughters, all of them older than Daffith and his sisters, wove brightly patterned blankets out of woolen yarn that they dyed themselves. Uncle Ures sold the blankets. He called it marketing, but Daffith couldn't understand what the difference was, except that Uncle Ures spent more of his time in the local inns than in their small shop. And while Junibeth and Mareet had fit themselves into the business from the start, one loving to mix the dyes and the other loving to keep shop and shop records, Daffith had not seemed to fit. Daffith didn't want to think about that, though. Instead he thought of the egg.

Thinking about the egg made Daffith think about his parents' farm on the outskirts of Flotsam. An egg was a farm kind of thing. Uncle Ures had sold the farm after the deaths of his wife's sister and her husband. Daffith missed it. It didn't do to mention that around Uncle Ures, though. Uncle Ures had done the best thing and it was ungrateful for certain young boys to criticize his elders. Certain young boys would be better off listening to his uncle and learning how to do business.

Daffith didn't understand doing business, either. If felt good to be out of the city and back in the woods and fields. Maybe he could get a job as a farm hand and hatch the egg on that farm, somehow. But Uncle Ures was sure to look for him. And he'd do it like marketing, talking in the taverns about his runaway nephew, making sure all the local farmers knew to look for him. Drat!

Maybe he could somehow go far away to a farm that wasn't anywhere near the city of Hawesbeck. But he didn't know how to do that safely. And he sure didn't know how to do it safely and keep the egg hidden or how to explain the egg. The egg worried people. And the journey would take longer than a week. Heck, if he didn't even know how to hatch an egg this big on a farm, he couldn't possibly hatch it in . . . in whatever he'd have to be in to be traveling.

So think of a way to hatch the egg first. Maybe think about getting food to eat while thinking, too. The stream wouldn't feed him for much more that another meal. Then he'd have to follow it deeper into the woods or find other woodsfood. Or steal from the fields. He wouldn't like to steal from farmers, though.

Daffith considered. It was mid-spring and time to thin some crops. Sometimes farmers would let a helper thin for a day or two just for the thinnings. A thinner could come away with sacks of baby lettuce or cabbage or turnips or beets or carrots. He was too close to the old farm now, though, and folks would recognize him.

But if he walked a score or so miles, he'd probably be able to find a couple of days work before word spread. He'd travel tonight and ask for work early in the morning. It was easy to think while thinning. After a bit, your hands and arms, back and legs, just fell into the continuous motion, leaving your mind to its own business.

If he planned to travel tonight and work all tomorrow, he'd better rest now. Daffith yawned. It had been a stressful morning. It would be good to rest. There were plenty of roasted wolftail roots for dinner. They were stringier and chewier than roast carrots, but sweeter, too, and definitely filling. It would be good to be on a farm again. Good to feel the familiar motions, see the familiar sights. Daffith yawned again and curled down into the dry needles, thinking of farms. The sounds of farms were good sounds. Daffith began to hear them as he fell asleep.

Daffith woke with a start. His fingers and toes tingled, as if he'd been struck with an illusionist's lightning bolt. He felt a strong half-awake sense of urgency. There was something he had to do, had to start now. But he didn't know what it was.

The egg. He needed to hatch the egg. But that wasn't urgent. That could wait. The boy ran his fingers through his hair to straighten it a bit. He must have been dreaming. This urgency must be left over from the end of the dream. Sometimes that happened if you woke up too fast, especially if you woke up before the dream was finished with you. Maybe he had been running from something.

No, not running. He remembered now. He had dreamed about the farm, about the farm in the early morning, just the way he would be seeing a farm tomorrow. Daffith looked around. It was just beginning to get dark. The air had that thick, golden color it sometimes showed just before sunset. There was plenty of time. Daffith laid back and began chewing on a cooked root.

It felt good to lay back and remember the dream. It had been of an Autumn morning. The tree and bush leaves were bright with frostburn. There were twinklings of dew ice from every surface. The goats and the mule in the barn were making their usual readiness noises -- not impatient, mind you, just wanting to remind, to be sure that the housefolk remembered that critters needed breakfast, too. Steam was rising in gossamer wisps from the compost pile. Chickens were pecking around the edges of it, seeking worms as an appetizer.

Daffith felt the tingle again. Chickens pecking around . . . Suddenly Daffith was up and running. That was the reason for the urgency. There was a way to hatch the egg, but it would take time to set it up. He had to start now to be sure that he'd be ready in time.

It was long past sunset when Daffith arrived back at his uncle's house. He went around back, past the main dye sheds to a little, leaning shed on the side. He unlatched it and peered into the dark of it. It took a minute or two to work up his nerve and go into that dark. It was a dark thing , stealing was, and it put a little darkness on you that gave the dark a bit of a claim on you.

"I'm just taking my own things," he whispered to the dark, so it would know. "Things Uncle Ures didn't want to keep anyways. The boy-sized rake and shovel and wheelbarrow that he couldn't say went with the farm. My things. And maybe some of the crop sacks from the farm, too. If those aren't mine and they want them back, I'll give them back. So it's just borrowing."

He paused for a moment, trying to think of anything he'd left out. No. Nothing he could think of. He wiped his hands down his front and slid into the darkness slowly, as if it were cold water. Even though he knew exactly where the things he wanted were, finding them took some time. Things were hard to recognize by feel with darkness pressing against him. But he found the things, one by one, and took them out into the starlight and the pinkish moonlight. He didn't look up, for fear he'd see a moon better left unseen, since Uncle would think it was stealing no matter what the technicalities were. When everything was packed into the wheelbarrow, he relatched the door and started the long walk back to get the egg. He had some thinking to do on the way.

[Continued here.]

Sent to David 11/18/1991.

Note in handwriting: I haven't changed anything yet. I'll finish the whole thing first before I start revising. I'm saving your comments 'til then.


PS Those are neat shoes.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Thirty-Fifth Beginning: Fluff Dried

The kids washed a dead duck today.  At least I hope was dead.  It certainly was when they were finished with it.  They mentioned that it was dying when I phoned from work ant that they were trying to warm it.  This on a day that had hit the 90s. 

“No, Kevin, it’s not cold.  This isn’t a cold day, take my word that it’s not cold and just leave it.  I’ll look at it when I get home.”

I could tell that they were really pooling their resources and trying to find a way to help the poor, half-fledged thing.  And they had already learned something from the experience.

“Mom, I don’t know what’s wrong with the cat.  She’s just acting crazy.  I don’t know what to do.”

“What’s she doing?”

“She just keeps attacking it.”

“She’s outside?”

“No, we brought it in.”

“Oh, OK.  The cat’s fine.  That’s just the way cats are, they’re hunters.”

“Oh.  Should we shut the bedroom door, then?”

“If that’s where the duck is, yeah, that would help.”

“Hey, David!  Shut my bedroom door!”  (If she’s crazy or being bad she’s supposed to get over it or control herself.  If it’s just the way she is, well, we can think of ways around it.”

“Mom.  David says the duck”s dead.”

“Just leave it where it is.  I’ll look at it when I get home.”

“He says it’s stiff.  Does that mean it’s dead for sure?”

“Yeah, it does.  Get a plastic bag and put it in the garage.  Can you do that?”

“Oh, sure.  I can do that.”  (All problems solved, now.  Kevin in charge.)  “No problem.  I’ll go do it now.”

“OK.  The next pizza’s up anyway.  I’ve got to run.  See you in a few hours.”

A few hours is more than enough time to forget a duck when you’re working two part time job that don’t mesh together well.  More than enough time.  When I got home at 10:15 and the dinner dishes were still on the table (although the bowls that I had told Kevin to do were done) and there was an unbelievable pile of things in the bathroom with my hair dryer, of all things plugged in in Kevin’s room I did not, at all, think of the duck.

I went into Kevin’s room where the three of them were sleeping in a sweaty one-sitter-sacked-the-next-not-yet-found mass (I’m certainly not going to tell them they have to sleep in their own beds when any fool knows there might be something looking in the windows) and I got them up.  Sort of. 

They don’t wake up well in the middle of the night.  Eric tried his hardest to pretend he couldn’t possibly wake up, and therefore almost couldn’t.  Kevin got up and laid back down four times before he actually knew he was awake and that someone was talking to him.  David got up, was told to clear the table, wandered into his room thinking he had been told to sleep in his own bed.  Got yelled at.  Got up. Almost went back to bed.  Decided he was supposed to be doing something and started trying to pick up his pants and take the belt out of them so they could go into the laundry.

When I stuck my head in the door and frowned, he groggily yelled, “I’m doing it!  I’m doing it!”  I led him to the kitchen.  I led Eric to the bathroom.  I asked Kevin what my hair dryer was doing in his room.

“Oh.  We were using it to warm the duck.”

Now they’re back asleep and I’ve unwound and there were soggy black pinfeathers stuck all over the tub when I went in and took my shower.  And I realize that what was for me a four minute phone call was for them the whole night and a good deal else besides.

It was a test of their ingenuity/competence/resources/knowledge/independence.  It was a chance to learn and do without any adult to map it out for them (until the phone call – but that was too late anyway). 

They had been proud and excited and had worked together on it as hard as they could.  And it took up so much of their time, and their thought, even after it was all over, that of course they had no time to remember other things they were supposed to do.

It must have been really something.

I can picture the collaboration, the arguing and suggesting and deciding.  Of course warm water, but that wasn’t working and now if we try something else, it’s wet, and that will make it cold . . .  

A fluff dried dead duck.  I can picture it.  If the duck went the way of it’s recently departed brothers and sisters (who died when I was home and the kids weren’t) it was dead soon after they picked it up.  I hope so.  They said it never moved the whole time they tried to revive it.

I think I know, now why there was a suitcase in the bathroom with one of the sheets off of their bed stuffed into it.  I’m not so sure about the tape player.  Maybe that was to cheer it up.  I’m not sure I want to know. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thirty-Third 02 (Nanowrimo 2008) Library Story

Edward “Pusher” Paush  collected bits and pieces from the wastebaskets near the library computers and used them to create a tapestry of life.  At least that’s what he called it.  James had decided to think of it as something between a journal and a scrapbook. 

Pusher was a roamer.  The Sunshine Security Agency had a contract with the City to patrol a number of City Buildings, both during the day and at night.  Most of the ground employees were assigned to a single building and a single shift.  Roamers walked between the buildings on a split shift, to collect and pass on information between the shifts. 

When Pusher had been promoted to roamer, there had been some grumbling among a few of the black guards.  There hadn’t been any heat to it, though, and James hadn’t commented at first.  When it had lasted more than a week, he’d quietly said.

“Pusher make a good roamer.  He a talker.  You been on buildings with him.  He drive folks nuts with his talk if he there all night, but he spread the word just fine.”

“He ain’t gonna be roamer for long.  They promote him on to the screen room.  They take care of they own.”

“Ptschee.  Not if anyone in that screen room ever hear him talk.  You think they want his questions in there?  You ever get asked one of the questions he write in that book?  ‘Cause I guarantee he asked them, if they been in his vicinity.”

There had been a shifting.  A considering.  Pusher was irritating in a confined space. 

“Bob would have been a better roamer.  He more personable.”

“Bob not as bad a guard.”

“You say they boosted Pusher because he’s a bad guard.”

“Well, I wasn’t there, but it makes sense.  It would be a twofer.  They promote Bob, they get a good roamer and lose a good guard.  They promote Pusher, they get a good roamer and lose a bad guard.”

“He wasn’t that bad.”

“He irritate almos’ everyone.”

“He don’t dress for success.”

A chuckle.  “He don’t shower for success, either, some nights.”

“He don’t seem to irritate you.”

“I’m better at not listening than most folks.”

“He all full of hisself.”

“Yup.  Wants to be full of everybody else, too.  That why he ask those fool questions.  To get out of his own head.”

“Bob still should have gotten the job.”

“Not arguin’ that.  Bob is a good guard and a good worker.  He’d have seen to it that he did that job right.  You think of anything we can do to help Bob get the next promotion?”

There was some general grumbling, the gist of which was that no one had thought about doing anything because no one believed that anything could be done.  It was out of their hands.  A boss thing.

After some general wrapping up, the shift moved out of the parking lot and walked or drove to their assigned buildings.  James considered.  Complaining was what people did instead of trying to change things.  Complaining at best relieved the pressure of a bad situation.  At worst, it caused more pressure.  James rarely complained.  He’d listened to too many of his relatives complain and complain and do nothing to make their lives better.

James considered how to better his situation, considered it at all times.  One mistake people made was in waiting until things were uncomfortable to try to think how to change things.  That was lazy.  You had to think how you wanted things to be and consider how to get them that way, and you had to do it when you were calm and feeling pretty good.

James considered.  He knew that he was slow at considering, so he didn’t expect an idea to come right at first.  He’d let it cook in the back of his mind, like saved up chicken bones simmering down to stock. 

James worked evening security at the main branch of the City Library.  The Library was still open when he came on shift at 5:30, so he could just walk in the front door without any entry code.  Most of the city buildings besides libraries closed at 5:00, so most of the other guards would be punching themselves into mostly empty buildings.

James liked the library.  He had started by working graveyard at City Hall and Memorial Auditorium, which was right across the street.  It was a walking outside, roust the drunks and homeless job.  It was a go in twos for safety job.  He had planned from the beginning to shift to a better time and location.  He had considered how to go about that and found the way after awhile.  It had taken a bit of work.  First he had had to figure where he wanted to be.  That had meant asking questions and offering to cover shifts.

He had decided he liked the library best.  He respected books.  And he liked having people around for a few hours and then having the building mostly to himself for the rest of the night.  There were two guards on duty, plus access to the rover, while the library was open.  Near closing time, or after dark, one of them watched the parking lot, making sure that the staff got to their cars safely.  Staff tended to park in the back of the lot to leave the near slots for patrons.

Four nights a week, the janitorial crew came through.  The crew weren’t City employees.  The City had a contract with a service.  So the crew changed.  The current crew were mostly oriental women who spoke little English.  Some nights there were one or two young Hispanic men.  They spoke English well enough to be getting on with.  They ran the buffing machines, if they were on the crew.

James could count on Pusher coming by on the three days that the crew didn’t come.  He’d come and rifle through the wastebaskets by the computers and copiers.  He’d fiddle with bits and pieces, as if trying to use the trash to read tea leaves for all humanity. 

Now there were families moving through the aisles and between the tables.  James could tell the kids who were there to get books for school reports, with parents following along, surveiling their progress, from the kids there to get books just to read and the parents following to share or sanction or wander off to get their own books.  Everyone could tell the kids who had no parents there, who came to the library because it was somewhere safe to go until the parents got off work and picked them up, or safe to go until nearly closing, when they had to catch the bus for home whether there was someone there or not.  Especially if there was someone best avoided.  James knew about that.  He was firm at shushing them if groups of them got too loud, but he knew their names and faces.  He watched out for them. 

The homeless shelters accepted folks from seven at night to seven in the morning.  The library’s hours were from nine in the morning to eight at night.  There were always a few, and sometimes more than a few, trying to hang out at the library, especially on winter evenings when it was cold and dark.  Some of them had no noticeable self control.  At least at the downtown branch the PD was close.  James could recognize a few of the more erratic ones and he called the cops before they had a chance to make trouble. 

This night things were pretty quiet.  James worked the edges and corners while Winslow showed uniform in the open areas, moving slowly and not making a show of watching anyone in particular.  Winslow made everyone feel safe while James caught a homeless woman begging and rubbing up against teenage boys in the stacks.  Two homeless men hurried out of the men’s room when he entered.  They were probably either drinking or toking, but he hadn’t seen anything, so the woman was the only one he called the cops for.

She leaked excuses and negotiations from the time he found her and said, “Ma’am, please step back and stop touching the other patrons.”  She kept leaning in even after he said, “Ma’am if you touch me, I will have you arrested.”  It was as if the idea of rubbing up against people for gain had been hard wired in, even trying to think ‘don’t do it’ couldn’t keep the body from leaning in, again and again, as she talked and talked and talked.

Eventually she started into a comfortable spiel about how her life had been bad, but she was getting herself together, now; listing things that she had done, but didn’t do any more and how she was going to do this, and going to do that, and then things would straighten out.

She wasn’t really surprised when the bike cops came in to cuff her.  Disappointed, maybe, and a little sulky.  The cops knew her by name and gave her the now, now, jollying her into going along with them quietly.  “You know how this works Em.  It’ll go better if you just come along.  Remember how easy it went last time.  You cooperated last time, didn’t you?”

James didn’t say much.  She wasn’t looking at him any more, now that the real cops with the cuffs were there.  The cops and he exchanged a few words to confirm that he would write out a report and testify if she went to trial.  They knew him. 

The kids craned their necks, watching her taken out.  There was a whispering here and there.  The staff watched, too, but only a little.  It didn’t do to get distracted or to show much reaction.  Things stayed calmer if you just kept on with things – perhaps gave an apologetic smile and half shrug.  Sorry for the inconvenience.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s under control.

Before long the messages were descending calmly from the ceiling, instructing patrons that the library would be closing in 20, 15, 10, 5 minutes.  Please bring any materials you wish to check out to the circulation desk.  Computers will be turned off in 10, 5, -, - minutes.  Please make any printouts and log off as soon as possible.

There was a slow flurry of final activity.  There were those who left at the first warning and others who tarried.  One or two youngsters were shooed out and made a show of disappointment that the desk had closed.  Placing the books on the desk reluctantly, with downturned heads and stereo murmurs of “oh, man.”  No backpacks set off the alarm. 

Winslow locked up the doors, standing erect and solicitous as a doorman, if not quite as friendly.  Winslow was medium brown of skin and crinkly grey of hair.  His eyes were clear and his body was tallish and trim.  He worked half shifts and would leave as soon as Pusher made his first go-around.


Pusher started his round at the north end of his route.  He came early enough to chat with the guys who worked the parking structure attached to the Emergency Services Building.  There were usually three or four working at any time.  One for each of the two exit kiosks and one to patrol and empty trash cans.  When it was slow, the kiosk guys swept and did other chores.

Most were retired and part time.  They were working mostly to give themselves something to do and people to talk to.  They liked having Pusher around.  He was always interesting.  Sometimes he said something cool and sometimes he said something crazy that they’d scoff about for the rest of the night.

Tonight he was asking them about the ethics of the vending machine and the elevator.  “Seriously, man, listen.  It’s not a big ethical dilemma.  That’s why it’s interesting.  No one is going to spend much thought on it.  They’ll just do whatever seems right to them and that tells you something about them.”

“Now, do most of the people who use the soda vending machine use the elevators, too?  Or do folks come in off the street, buy a soda, and then walk back out?”

“Mostly it’s people going up.”

“Or getting off the elevator and getting one to go.”

“Or us.  We get sodas.”

“So maybe you can see.  Do people get their sodas and then go push the elevator button – or do they push the elevator button and get their sodas while it comes down.  ‘Cause if they push the elevator button first, as slow as that vending machine is, they could miss the elevator, and then they’d have maybe pulled the elevator away from other people who were waiting for it.”

“Are you serious?”

“Oh, yeah.  I’ll bet there are some people who would never push the elevator button first.  Never even think of it.  And others who would always get the elevator coming toward them, so that they don’t have to wait for it.  Even when a lot of folks are going up and down.  Let other people wait for it.”


Three of them had wandered over to talk to Pusher.  Pusher was lanky and hunched.  He always looked a little disheveled, except for the few times that he looked uncomfortably scrubbed and pressed.  His feet, hands, and nose were just a little long and his hair was a wiry reddish brown.  When he got excited discussing something, the hands would come forward, with all of the fingers pointed toward you.  If he wasn’t holding anything, he’d use both hands. 

If he was speaking against something, he’d point with his index finger in stabbing motions.  You could tell whether he was speaking for or against from across a park.  This was known because there were three parks in his route. 

Pusher carried a purse.  Well, actually it was a leather pouch, but everyone enjoyed calling it a purse.  The guy asked for it.  He smiled like it was a great joke when it was said to his face, so how could you not keep it going.  In the purse was the route log book, and the journal, and a few manila envelopes and file folders.

Pusher enjoyed being a roamer.  It let him walk quickly on the job, whereas being a guard meant you walked slowly – proceeded.  He didn’t like that as much.  It didn’t give you a sense of progress.  Pusher enjoyed things that gave him a sense of progress.  He recognized that it was often a false sense of progress.  He was willing to be amused at that sort of foible in himself. 

As a roamer, he got to walk quickly between the stations and the stand or sit until the guard from that area came up to him.  Other roamers walked down the area guards, but Pusher waited for them to come to him.  He checked his notes and people watched until they got to him.  Of course other roamers didn’t walk as fast as Pusher, so they didn’t have the extra time to use waiting.

“How much free time do you think we have?”  (Description of Benny)

“Yeah, when folks are coming and going, they’re coming and going for their cars.  So the cars are going in and out, too.”  (Description of Pete.)

“OK.  I get that.” Pusher looked down at his feet and thought.  He shifted his satchel.  He tapped his lip.

“Would it make it easier if you watched to see whether men or women got the soda first?”

The fellows considered that.  Pusher could see them forming their own opinions on what the results would be.  He knew that what he was proposing was not, in fact, simpler than his first proposal.  That it was actually adding one more thing to watch for.

But it had given them a point of interest.  They weren’t interested in how many people did soda – elevator vs elevator – soda, but add in the question of whether men were different from women and it was something they could work up a small wager on. 

Therefore, by making the sampling more difficult, he had made it easier.  Of course the results would probably be nine-tenths confirmation bias, but that was all right.

Pusher wasn’t nearly as interested in the result as he was in watching how the guys went about the study.  He had talked to them before about confirmation bias, and about the unreliability of memory, but it had been as a general thing and he was pretty sure they hadn’t taken it on board.

This would give him a chance to reaffirm the concepts and make them concrete and personal for them.  It would be good.

“You guys think about it.  Let  me know which way you think it would go.”

No pressure to get them started.  If it caught their interest, they might run with it.  If they ever thought he was pushing them, well, they were busy men.

“Gotta run.  Anything interesting that I should pass on to the other guys?”

“Had another couple purse snatchings.  Folks ran both of them down.  One was a kid, but the other shoulda known better.”

“Yeah, they’re catching almost everyone since they put in the cameras with the renovation.  Even if you don’t get run down, the police will get to know you.”

Pusher shook his head along with them.  “Maybe they think they’re just that fast.  You think they practice running?”

“They just think that the rich folks don’t run.”

“Or won’t bother running for a purse.”

“Then the woman starts yelling and running after them and suddenly everyone they’re passing is trying to grab them.”

“Yeah.  They’re in the middle and no way out.”

“The cameras aren’t really aimed to catch purse snatchers, you know.  They’re aimed to catch car thieves.  I wonder how good they’d be at getting a shot of one that got away.”

“You oughta ask for a tour.  I hear the room where the police watch the cameras is really high-tech.”

“That might be a good idea.  Maybe I could arrange a tour for all the guards.  Any excuse to get security to talk to PD is a good thing.:

Everyone took a moment to nod.  Pusher made a note in a little pocket notebook, then pushed it back into the pocket with an air of finality.  He waved.

“Got to go.  Take care, now.”  And he left.


Pusher came by the library at six.  He talked with James and Winslow about the purse snatchings, passing on a description of the perps, but neither remembered someone by those descriptions.

They told him about the current crop of homeless and Pusher took descriptions of the two that had run.  They discussed the kids.  Nothing unusual there.

Pusher waved and nodded and went to the hold shelf to pick up two books.  He browsed through the refile shelf on his way to check them out.

Not that the refile shelves were on his way.  He had to make a big loop to walk past them.  But it was worth it.  It was interesting to see what everyone else was reading.

He didn’t notice the people around him as he was scanning the titles.  James noticed that.  Pusher was not a good guard.  The roamer didn’t require that though.  The roamer needed to listen to the guards and feed information between them.  Pusher was good at that.

Like the purse snatcher thing.  If the snatchers were setting up near any of the City buildings before they moved in to strike, Pusher would know it by the end of the night.  At least he would if the guards were on the ball.

James didn’t mind Pusher being the roamer.  Didn’t mind at all.  Pusher never assumed how good you were by how you looked.  He tested in little ways.  James had thought that was smart.  Now he wasn’t so sure.

Was it smart if a man couldn’t help testing?  Or was it just lucky? 

James had been considering that question for awhile and expected that he’d be considering it awhile more.  It didn’t matter if it took awhile.  A quick conclusion was not necessary. 

There had been something that Pusher had said once about some people needing conclusions and how they’d make bad ones just because they needed them now and couldn’t wait.  James approved of that idea.  It matched one of his own, or near enough.

He hadn’t shared his own thoughts at the time.  Maybe he would some day. 

He mostly approved of Pusher.


In the ER, Jayjay wasn’t quite awake.  Her eyes were half open and she was twitching.  Her clothes had been cut off, mostly because no one could stand the smell.

She had been checked for injuries, which excused the removal.  She had had her stomach pumped and then filled with a slurry of activated charcoal granules.  There had been blood tests, but they’d been mostly negative for alcohol and the typical street drugs.  With no clue what she had taken, there was no use running test after test just in hopes that they’d hit it.

She had definitely taken something, from the look and smell of the vomit.  No telling what though.  The MT had said there were no bottles at the scene.  The police had emptied her basket, can by can, into a couple of nearby recycling bins.  Nothing.  Nothing in her clothes, either.

Her gurney was in the hall so that anyone passing could see a change in her status.  The police had discussed her case in the lobby for awhile, but had decided not to charge her with anything.

Technically, taking street bin recycling was illegal, but it wasn’t worth assigning a man to watch her for that.  And drunk/intoxicated in public was illegal, but the tests didn’t prove that.  So she might just be sick and disoriented.  It wasn’t likely and they didn’t believe it for a minute, but charging her would be a waste of time.

They let one of the nurses know.  The nurse had informed the doctor who was working the case.  He had accepted the news without any comment beyond: “Well, be sure she’s strapped down.  We’ve got no idea what behavior problems she has.”

So Jayjay is lying strapped to a gurney in a busy hospital hallway.  She’s twitching.  She’s wearing a hospital gown, thin and blue, and covered by a hospital blanket, thin and white.  She is not aware of this.  She is not aware that she has no pillow, or that her head is laying against her mass of greasy, tangled hair.  She’s only aware of the voices.

Jayjay is hearing voices and they’re not her usual ones.


Winslow watched the clock as it ticked out the last of his shift.  He nodded as the shift ended and walked to the front door.  James walked behind him.  He stood to the side and let James unlock and open the door.  This was fitting as James was the one still on the clock.

Winslow turned before exiting and shook James’ hand.  They did this every night.  The little ceremony added dignity to the job and, by extension, to both of them.  He nodded and exited, without looking back.  James locked the door behind him.  No words were spoken.  They never were.

James would do a deliberate walk-through of the entire library, now that he was alone.  Winslow knew he could depend on James.  Winslow walked through the patio, with its maze of stairs and handicap ramps.

There were stairs and ramps down to the patio from the sidewalk and stars and ramps up to the cafĂ© on the second floor.  A second ramp to the patio had been added when ADA regs had changed, declaring the old ramp to be too steep for wheelchairs.

Winslow noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye.  At least one homeless person was hunkered down in the underside of one of the ramps, behind some landscaping.  Winslow made no move to betray his awareness.  He climbed out of the patio and circled the building once before walking to his car. 

Once in the dark of the car, Winslow radioed James.  “Homeless in the patio.  Calling PD.”


Then he called.  The cops might not get the man.  With all the ramps and stairs, there were multiple directions to bolt.  And the man was positioned to see anyone entering the patio. 
[And that's as far as I got that one.]