Potentially with the grace of the unknown, or more likely simply the workings of my own mind and sanity, if I dreamt, I did not remember it.  I was done with allegory and I had metaphor I didn’t like.  I stood up, I stumbled into the bathroom, I brushed my teeth while in the shower, and I thought about what transitions and transformations had in common.  I towel’d off, shaved carefully, and stood for a moment looking at my reflection.  Mirrors.  Alice wondered which side of the looking glass was the real one.  Esme Weatherwax had the answer.

I stretched one of those long stretches that pop your shoulders and make you do that involuntary zombie moan sound.  A stack of books falling off the table caught my attention, and I remembered my house-sitter.  The elf who sat on the shelf yawned for himself.  “Did you save any of the hot water?”

“I wasn’t thinking of conservation,” I admitted.  Of course, taking more than eleven minutes kind of made me uncomfortable and had a tendency to wrinkle my fingers anyway.  I wondered if fey evolution followed such forces.  I had never taken a hot bath with one, and the lyrics to “How About A Kobold Stew” ran through my head for a moment.

“Aye, you have a head for theory rather than practice.  I’m assumin’ you also didn’t consider the ecological impact of Dragons the last time you crossed one,” he sighed, hopping down to the floor with grace.

“That word again.  Why do you people keep bringing that up?” I moved into the kitchen and started setting up some hot water to brew. Enough for a couple of packets of instant oatmeal and a glass of tea. And one for Wrecks while I was at it, because it was only hospitable.

“Theory?” he asked, amused.

“You know.  The ‘D’ word.”

“Whether you like, you are caught up in their forces.  They are the uroboros, the tail eaters.  The symbol of infinity, to talk to the English, the mark of the cycle that continues metaphysical, spatial, and temporal.  Or so they would hae you think.”  The burr was in that last sentence.  “You have another thought, or you would not be standin’ there letting the pot whistle.”

“They’re not infinite,” I said.  “I don’t really want to talk about them.”  I fixed my oatmeal, and left my tea to steep.

“It is that you are finding yourself bound with their roots, the mountains, and you cannot help but delve the darkness.  Tell me, was the room of hands in shadow or light?” he asked.  He helped himself back up to the seat near the table.

“It was dark.  It was very dark, except for the white tree.  It lit when she changed, went dark herself.”  I paused.  “Your sister had to open the doors.”

He looked worried about that.  “Shake the very stone,” he said, pronouncing it in its singular. “Haunt the windswept crags, the lonely castles.” He shook his head.  “Each drop of water weakens the rock. We take our work seriously.”

“What are you?” I asked, finally.

“Did you fear the question rude?  I had seen it dance in your thoughts, just teasing its way to be let loose, and yet you wanted to figure it out on your own.  You’ve not seen our like, man.  I could give you a name and tell you we were its close cousin but you’d still have presumptions.  Are we better an enigma or do you want a start to your research?”

I considered it.  Naming is the first power.  “I am curious,” I admitted.

“We are like unto spriggans, but that is only part of it,” he said. “I caution you, do not jump to conclusions because of the name itself.”

“I’ll try.”  Huh.  When I thought of spriggans, I had a woodland guardian in my head, but that was just the last console game impression I’d had.  I shrugged.  So it didn’t really answer the question, but at least gave me a start.  I pointed him to the couch. “Pick up the books, and let me at the computer.  I’ve got e-mail.”

I grabbed my phone on the way to the computer while Wrecks moved to the couch.  He looked at the piles of books with a sneer.  I think I caught something like “bookawork,” but I wasn’t sure what he said.  He turned on the television and ignored me.

I sighed and turned to log myself in.  The top three messages were all flagged high-importance.  If there was a way for them to be colored red and blinking madly, I’m sure they would.  They were all from my sister and said to call her.

They were all from this morning.

I sighed and dialed her number from memory rather than the contact list in my phone.

She answered on the first ring.  “What forms did the King wear?” she asked.  That was something about cell phones, I guessed.  There was none of that polite social noise of determining that you’d reached the party you were attempting, you already knew if you connected because the timer started…

“Hello, sis.  How are you?  That’s nice.  I’ve been away for a while, in a mysterious underground warren with a crazy woman who wanted to have sex with me in front of people I knew and a little spriggan lamprey.”

“That’s my sister you’re talking about,” Wrecks noted from the couch.

“It’s my sister I’m talking to,” I retorted.

“That’s nice,” my sister repeated.  “You wouldn’t boff her if she were coated in chocolate and whipped cream.  What forms?”

“I never thought you’d be the person supporting my claim.  Um. Someone said War, and then there was, I guess lust, and then this kind of crystalline science fiction Grey, if you know what I mean.”

“How do you know I’m not insulting your lack of imagination?” she paused just long enough for me to take a breath and complain, and then started, “I like to match them up to the sins, too.  Intellectual avarice is the best way I’ve been able to describe that one.  It’s the one that drops the royal ‘we’ and acts like she’s hip to the jive, right?”

“You’re not allowed to use that phrase.  Never use that phrase again.”

“Ooh, you’re harshing my buzz, bro.”

I sighed.  “Yeah.  It seemed realler than the rest.”

“Bad grammar isn’t excused.  That’s because it’s more acedia than avarice.  It’s hard to explain.”

“You’re going to refer me to Wikipedia aren’t you?” I asked.

“Well, only if you’ve donated.  That’s important.  That’s what I needed.  Kiss, kiss.”  She hung up.

I looked at the phone. I could just hit redial, but she’d just reject the call.  I sighed.

I dialed another number.  “When is a king worse than a king?” I asked Ed when he picked up.  Maybe it was a family thing.

“Hey!  How are you?” he asked.

“Long story.  Answer the question.”

“Um, if you asked me when a queen was worse than a queen, I’d say when she could fly.  That’s true in my business and would really have messed up the Aliens franchise.”

“Probably fits.  Huh.  So, uh… hi.”  I didn’t even know what to say to him.  I felt disconnected; if it had been yesterday it would have been one thing, but I don’t even know what my sister said.

“How was lock-up?” he asked, cheerfully.  He asked me to hold on a second – he was talking to a customer, then he came back.


“The big house.  The slammer.”

“Um,” I paused.  She said I had been incarcerated?  I was going to kill her.  I didn’t know how, but it would be slow and humiliating.

“Rather, how were the prisoners.  Scary?  Your sister said you’d gone to work a job at SuperMax?”

“Ahhhhhhhh… yes.”  Alright, she could live.  “Scary could cover it.” I considered carefully.  “Some of them were worse than others, of course, and my boss was very demanding.  I should sue for sexual harassment.”

“Really?  Dish!” Ed laughed.

“I guess having someone from outside the facility was probably her kink,” I suggested.  “She had her own boy toy locked away, but that just made him one of the inmates.  Couldn’t tell if he was crazy or a snitch, really.”  It wasn’t prevarication, just a different way of explaining the story, right?  “Anyway, I wasn’t going to give in, and she wasn’t going to give up, so I’m back.”

“Well, it’s not as salacious as I’d hoped, but it’s interesting.  Was she just not a looker?”

I sighed.  “No, she was a looker.  She had amazing eyes you couldn’t swim in for fear of being pulled underneath,” I paused.  “Ed, you don’t like girls.  I could rhapsodize about her legs and wax poetic about the heft of her breasts and the sweet red of her nipples and I don’t think it’d do much for you.”

“You saw her nipples?  How far did this go?”

“Actually, she was naked when we met.”

“I didn’t believe it could happen to me.  Nah, it’s just the first glow of romance on my account.  Zach.  Zacharias, actually.  His parents couldn’t stop at Zachary, no, they had to go all in.  I want everyone to be as mushy and sparkly as myself.  Share the love, right?”

I laughed.  “If you say so.  Mushy, eh?”

“Oh, I’m so far in over my head, and he’s actually about my age.  I was willing to do that math, the half and add seven, but no one that young really got me.  Hey.  Speaking of that.  I get postcards from Matana.  I think she’s forgiven us that whole stake her out in the sun bit.”

“It wouldn’t have harmed her unless she’d gone over to the parasite.  Hawk’s probably never going to talk to me again, but he was a little weird anyway.”

I could hear the pfft-pfft of his equipment in the background.  “Yeah.  Kind of cute, though.”

“Oh dear.  What does Zach look like?”

“Um.  Well, he’s shaved.  I mean, everywhere.  Not his eyebrows, but…”

“I’m not going there.  You can’t drag me.  So, more a Kingpin than a Picard.”

He made an amused grunt.  “Yeah.  Not built like Kingpin, though.  He says he got buff because Olympic gymnastics made him hot, but that was fifteen years ago or so.  He’s an accountant.  Loves numbers, super good at it.  Has money, but I don’t really think about that.  He did get me some return on my taxes, refiled them and, well, anyway, that’s all boring.”

I smiled.  “Sounds like you want steady and reliable, and that’s what you’re saying.”

“I guess so.  I mean, the gay dating scene has the same hazards as you’ve talked about, and while there’s more getting laid, I guess, that’s never been what I was wanting.”

I chuckled. “You’re the one who saw the unicorn.  Should I ask if you’re still eligible.”

“No,” he said, quickly.

“No, I shouldn’t ask?” I teased.

“Shut up,” he said, but he sounded amused.

“Anyway, you don’t seem to have the same problem with witches.”

“Was the warden one?”

“The ward– yeah.  How’d you guess?”

He laughed.  “Rohana’s a sweet girl, you know.  She called me a couple of times.  Guess your sister gave her the number.  We talked a lot.”

“Really?” I asked.  “About what?”

“You, of course.” He laughed again.  “She thinks you’re in too deep with the weird.  I tried not to agree with her, you know, for you, but…” The laughter was gone from his voice.  “You’re in deep, aren’t you?”

“Dragons, vampires, wizards, fairy kings, not to mention witches, lions, tigers, bears… the works, I’m sure.  I’m staring at a spriggan laughing at 80s cartoons as we speak.”

“I’m sure that’s a euphemism for something.  Hold on, I have to get under this.”  I heard some sounds for a moment, then he returned.  “I didn’t want to tell you this, but she’s not your type.  She’s a nurturer Gemini with an adrenaline-junkie twin.”

“Um,” I managed to say.

“Yeah, Zach’s a little bit into astrology.  Not as in the stars show us our destinies, but that their presence has some kind of effect on the personality.  I’m skeptical, but he’s been spot on about people’s birthdays every time.”

“Just classical Greek?” I managed to ask.

“I don’t believe you said that with a straight face,” he guffawed.  “But no, he messes with other zodiacs, too.  I guess that’s what you’d call them.”

“How did you meet him?”

“Oh.  I thought you knew.  Your sister introduced us.”