Archive for the ‘ Chapter 06 – Closer ’ Category

Sometimes you think you’re asking the right questions and all you get in answer is nonsense.  The problem with my job is that it happens when you’re dealing with emergency situations.

There are tons of protocols, from determining trauma to dropping off the already dead, and even if they’re set in policy and procedure manuals there’s still an etiquette.  I mean, it’s not codified anywhere, but for some of us it’s the need to live life blatantly and fully because we don’t care about leaving that pretty “nothing much happened” corpse, and for some of us it’s because, “Please,” and “Thank you,” make a heck of a lot of difference when for anything less than that you see the worst.

This job deals with extremes.  You get the superstitious types (just about anyone who continues to claim the full moon brings out the loonies is one of ’em) and you get the disbelievers.  (I won’t call them skeptics – “skeptic” implies someone who, if you could show them some proof, would change their minds.)   Every once in a while you get someone who slides from one side of the scale to another.

And you get a whole heck of a lot of witches.

It makes sense, I guess.  It’s a helping profession, and a lot of them feel they need the karmic boost.  Alright, that’s my cynical side.  It’s a way to take their healing qualities and put them to good use.   We don’t talk about it.  We’re not casting hexes on the boys who run off after finding out that pulling the trigger is nothing like it was in the video game or on television.  We’re not slathering herbs and chanting over someone who is bleeding out on the sidewalk.  Medicine and healing may not be the same thing, but there is definitely a code.

Do I have a healing altar where some of the patients I transport have a place?  Heck yeah! Do I tell them?  Best thing is that I can say I am praying for them.  That’s a fairly socially acceptable phrase and still true.

But this is about a fellow I’ve met twice in the last month.  A fellow named “E.”

This is about a couple of run reports I couldn’t be honest about, because “lacerations from Dragon” (or any kind of beast in the midst of a city that isn’t a dog or illicit big cat) just doesn’t help the hospital.  Snakebite?  Sure.  Sharkbite? Yep.  Scorpion, dog, spider, any of these things and there’d be a protocol.    “Poisonous festering wounds from mythical creature” just doesn’t have a place in modern medicine.

And the couple of hundred thorns poking out like quills from a plant I couldn’t identify?  That didn’t help, either.   Pertinent history?  “Had wandered off into another dimension.”  Again, not something one wants their supervisor to review, and not something your local emergency room is likely to be able to handle.

I’ve heard weird things, and usually you just have to ignore them.  Man who appears to have two hearts, at least according to your stethoscope?  Smiling lady on whom you simply can’t find a pulse?  Both of those were just last week.  “We don’t deny emergency services to the undead,” I said to my partner as I shut the doors, just like it was a company motto.

After all, the only type of person we ever say is missing their brain is usually a supervisor.  I don’t know what it is that takes someone from field to desk besides a thinking-ectomy, because it isn’t like they haven’t had to put up with the same things we do.  The smells.  The SUVs that think they can climb up on the sidewalks or emergency access lanes because they could afford the downpayment on their inexcusable vehicles.

Not that I have an opinion.  I try not to have opinions on the job.  I just try to save lives, and an opinion there makes you a devil.  Well, at least a demon.  Anytime you get to choose a life or death, you become something inhuman.  So my job is to save them all, like I was some Pokemon trainer looking for a record.

(“I choose you, man face-down in street!”  Only then we can’t have them fighting battles.  Maybe the Pokemon reference doesn’t work.)

He was cute, this “E” guy.  Kind of dorky in that probably-doesn’t-talk-to-girls-a-lot fashion, but there’s only one cure for that!  (Talk to girls, duh.)  Dazed and confused, but who isn’t after a major car accident?   A hit-and-run, at any rate.  Maggie, who doesn’t run the coven but has enough ego for it, said it was something else.

Yeah, she said it was a Dragon.

It’s funny.  I never thought I’d be the skeptic, but that was a big, big idea to swallow down, and I just couldn’t bite into it, you know?  I mean, not that I’d know a fewmet from any other kind of turd.  Again, my assistance rotation didn’t take the idea into account, and that might have to be done at a veterinary school, anyway.

When I ran into him the second time, along the same stretch of road, I knew it wasn’t just, well, fate.  It was Fate with the capital “F” for me to meet the guy named a capital “E.”  Something crazy like that.  He had…well, he looked like he’d been through an explosion, which, given that the building was burning (it had been some kind of ethnic restaurant – you know, the kind that was probably pretty good because the people of that ethnicity ate there, but you always felt kind of uncomfortable going into because, well, everyone might like food but you don’t know how to pronounce the stuff on the menu and you don’t feel like you belong) was possible.  It didn’t explain the cuts.  It didn’t explain the thorns – we thought maybe like splinters for a while, but there wasn’t any obvious cause.  I gave an instant to think about the poor nurse who was going to have to start pulling them out.   No one ruled out internal bleeding or any number of other curiousities, but I had a feeling that just like that car accident (Dragon accident, whatever) he was going to pull through fine.

I knew to call Maggie.  That much I could do.  And, well, I’ll make sure to give him my number if I’m right.  Fate, I tell you.  I just have a feeling about this.

(103) Kneecaps and Other Edibles

So when words came back to my tongue (or, um, all those other places words needed to come back to – sentence structure chip gone ALL SPARKY!) of course the first thing I told the nurse who asked me was, “Not dead, yet.”  I did not offer to bite her kneecaps off for many reasons, some of which were simply that I couldn’t bend that far at this point to determine if she had any (kneecaps, that is), and whether or not they were best left on her.  Really, biting the kneecaps is always a fundamentally tricksy situation when you give it any thought.  I suppose things that often bite the kneecaps don’t really concern themselves with the finer etiquette, but I would be presuming.  There might be a whole book on kneecaps and the biting thereof, including what teeth to use and if you need to have a little pinky finger raised whilst doing it, provided you have a pinky finger available.  Maybe there was even a hierarchy – Black Knights before women and all that.

I said I had gotten words back, but I had said nothing about sense, and that for very good reason.  Of course, Maggie would probably have said there was little to begin with and what had been there really had been knocked out of me.

Magda’s coven had been in – I could tell that from the very, shall we say, appropriateness? Of the gifts.   Flowers that meant things that words would take all wrong, I guess.  I could tell the place had been very lightly smudged, and that I was probably the recipient of some gentle prayers.  In general that doesn’t bug me, because if it’s the thought that counts they’re thinking nice things about me.  I hope, at least.  Hallmark probably doesn’t do a series of more imprecatory prayer cards.  “On hearing of your illness, we have beseeched Quetzalcoatl to rid you of your mortal shell and thus your suffering.”  “May the Angel of Death tred lightly upon your doorstep and release you from the anguish of having a first born…” nah.

I was connected to many tubes and wires, far more than anyone not intending to become a bionic person should need.  Do they still use the term “bionic”?  Or is there a language joke about ebionics appropriate here?

“You’ve had some visitors,” the nurse noted, changing fluid bags and fussing with the monitor.   Everyone fussed with the monitor, even though all it showed was that I had a pulse, and was able to convert breath to oxygen through lots of automatic processes.   “A lot of women,” she added.  I couldn’t tell if that was meant to be a positive or a negative comment, but she mentioned it on purpose.  “A lot of them say they’re your sister.  You adopted?” she asked.

Oh, she was being nosy.  “I have a lot of sisters,” I replied.  I only have one, but really, unless someone’s an active danger to me or interfering with the care, I don’t think the hospital should have any right to deny me a concerned visitor.  I probably haven’t thought it through all the way, because I can think of a lot of murder mystery type stories that could be made more interesting this way, but I didn’t feel like I was in any real danger of that.  A murder mystery requires motive and while I might get myself squished by a Dragon, it’s not like they’re going to keep her out anyway.

Yeah.  No mystery to my murder at all.  No, “Whodunnit.”  I could probably write it in forty foot letters of flame, and well, it’s not like she can be handcuffed.  “It was the butler.  No, no, just kidding folks, he was eviscerated, guggle to zatch, by a Dragon!”  Probably could consider it suicide, actually.  “Et by Dragon.”  I could go get my cenotaph ready.

“You look like you’re thinking deep thoughts,” Sylvia said.  She had brought in a candy bar, a book, and had a pillow under her arm.  Definitely someone ready for the long haul of sitting at the hospital.

“Just amusingly morbid ones, if that’s not a contradiction in terms,” I frowned.

“I think it’s important to find humour in lots of things, but you’re not dying,” she said.  “We should be able to take you home tomorrow.”  She paused.  “Your place, that is.  You shouldn’t be driving, but…”

“Are you one of my sisters?  That’s about all I know about things right now.  I think my nurse suspects that I’m some kind of pimp.”

Sylvia laughed so hard she dropped her book.  It wasn’t that funny.  I could gather some witches around me and cruise the boulevard.  I look good in dark purple and leopardskin.  Sure.

The nurse scowled and something started beeping.  She pinched the blood oxygen monitor back into place.  “Don’t move around or talk too much and that won’t keep happening.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“You’re giving him an impossible instruction.  The last few times we’ve been together he’s fidgeted like a five year old hiding candy.”  Sylvie laughed.

“Hey!” I said.

The nurse sighed and looked at her.  “You’re definitely his sister,” she said.  She hid a bit of a smile as she left the room.

“So,” I said, in the sudden silence.

“So,” Sylvia replied.

“Have I been lucid?”

“Ever?” she laughed abruptly, but it died down into a smile and she shrugged.  “Maggie said she talked to you some.  You’ve had a lot of fevers.  She said not to leave you alone, but I had to,” she gestured towards where I supposed the restroom was, “and the nurse was here, so I figured it was okay for a moment.”

“Huh,” I grunted usefully.

“She told Rohana that you’d been hurt by a Dragon.”

I let the silence grow.  “Sounds crazy to me,” I finally said.  “Who’s Rohana?”

There was some kind of triumph in her expression.  “Oh, just another of the girls in the group.  Look, I’ve finally gotten to believe in the vampire stuff, but you have to admit, Dragons?  That’s really kind of out there.”

“So, parasitical creatures from other dimensions who bargain themselves for power and knowledge are fine?”

“They’re kind of like aliens, when you put it that way.”

“I’m just trying to figure out how far your acceptance goes,” I teased a little.  “I am…really thirsty,” I decided.

“I can get you ice chips.  Do you…hurt anywhere?”

“I’ve been trying to look stoic so I don’t cry like a little girl,” I said.

“Yeah, the wincing and occasional jerking away from things has been very manly,” she said, gravely.

“Can I get a can of cola with those ice chips, and maybe some cherry syrup?”

“Sure, if I can have a couple of quarters.  Oh, wait, you don’t have any pockets.  Guess you’re out of luck unless the doctor dropped some change somewhere inappropriate,” she said, with just enough sour twist.

“I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a soda pop today.”

“There’s a difference between old-school and obsolete, pops,” she grinned.

“Hey, I liked a lot of the old cartoons.  And painkiller.   I liked all the painkiller.”

“I’ll tag a nurse,” she said, stepping just at the threshhold.  “What are you really scared of?  What happened?”

“Wolves,” I muttered.

“You said that.”

“And Dragons,” I said.  The pain took me then, and I fell back into the black.

(104) The Long Walk Home

The most thoughtful gift left behind was a stack of books I hadn’t read yet, and a bookmark with a “Rohana”‘s telephone number.  Well, I mean, I suppose thought went into all the gifts but they were mostly potted plants, and I could tell the petunias were probably thinking, “Not again.”  They could have been petunias.  Or geraniums.  Or chrysanthemums.  A few days ago I had people who could tell me, handle the spontaneous garden that seemed to have bloomed around me.  I had Artur who could probably call a couple of these cousins, and Doloise always smelled of green, growing things.

Honestly, my eyes still watered at the thought, but I was too tired to cry.

I had some missing moments.  Lots of time out of my life that nagged at me, making me wonder what happened between the time  I was closing doors and the waking up in the middle of a burning restaurant.   Some bleeding, I’m sure.  Probably something unmanly – Magda had had my clothes laundered.  They didn’t exactly smell girly, but they weren’t marinated in Old Spice, either.

The hospital had a lot to say to me, but I really wasn’t listening.  You know, follow up with my regular doctor.  I didn’t even ask them if a witchdoctor counted.  After all, the only one I knew of would say, “Ooh, E,” and then I’d have to follow up with, an “Ooh, ah, ah.”  And then there’d be tings, and tangs, and walla-walla-bing-bangs.

You kind of have to finish that kind of joke.

I hadn’t had any dreams.  When I fell back, it was into darkness, and darkness gnawed at me.  It didn’t consume, it merely worried at my bones, as if looking for something in particular.  Had Vasilisa hidden a tall blue glass inside my chest?  No, that didn’t make any sense at all.  It nudged me with its ineffable nose, and occasionally stared and howled with its invisible eyes and inaudible cries.

Of course I got to be wheeled out in a wheel chair at a solid, orderly pace.  It’s like a stroller for grown-ups, only we get frowned at when we look into the rooms on the way like we were at the zoo.  “Over here, a dialysis being performed in its native habitat…   On your left is the pudding frenzy.”  I actually kind of like hospital pudding.

“You gave me your spare key,” Maggie reminded me.  My impromptu greenhouse went into her trunk.

“Oh.  I had wondered where that had gone,” I said.  It was all we really said to each other for the fifteen minute drive.

I wasn’t too proud to take her help up the stairs.  My place felt different.  Emptier.  She set me up on the couch next to the television.

“Rent’s been paid,” she said.

“What?” I turned around to look at her.

She passed me an opened envelope from my bank.

“That’s a federal offense,” I muttered.

She just smiled.

I got to the deposit part of the statement and wiped my eyes because the numbers couldn’t have been right.

“Guess I’ll be able to pay my medical bills after all,” I said.

She passed some other mail to me, a utility bill, a couple of flyers (including one for a local gaming convention), and a couple I didn’t recognize.  One turned out to be an advertisement offering to sell my home.  The other gave me a literal chill.

“Debts are not settled. -A.”

I would have probably felt better if it had been letters cut out from newspapers and had it had instructions.  “I have taken the Dragon hostage. Send me five unmarked fey with red caps or you’ll never see her again.”

“Huh,” Maggie said, reading over my shoulder.  “Doesn’t say who owes whom.”

I shrugged.

“There’s some prepackaged dinners in the freezer.  I could put one in the microwave for you.”

“I’m fine,” I said.  I tried not to be snippy.

“You’re snippy.”

I didn’t say I’d succeeded.

“Maybe a little,” I acknowledged.

“I’m barging in and taking over your life.  You’ve got every right to be mad at me for picking up the slack,” she said.  She held her arms crossed in front of her, and she didn’t look at me.  “I’ll give you some alone time, but I’m worried that you’re going to sulk.”

“Everyone’s entitled to a little self-indulgent aggrieving of their woes.”  I smiled a little.

“So what aren’t you telling me?” she asked.

My first impulse was to deny that I was keeping secrets, so I don’t know why I opened my mouth and said, “A lot of things.  I have to process them first.”

“Were you in love with the girl?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” I demanded.  I actually shouted it, and hadn’t realized how angry or loud I was until I slapped the back of the couch with a hand.

Maggie took a step back.  “Probably because you’re touchy about it.  I want to know, E.  I know… things aren’t going to work out between us.  We’re never in the right place at the right time, but we’ve got experience.  Experience that’s going to keep us friends.  And I’m asking as your friend. And as your friend, I’m also not asking you to tell me right now.  Tell me in your own time, but know that I want to know.”  She came closer and put a hand on my arm.  “I love you.  I’m sorry that I don’t love you the right way, but I do still love you.”  She put my phone on the couch next to me.  “You have my number.  Sylvie will be over in the morning.  Call me if you need anything tonight.”

I didn’t say anything.  I kind of shrugged as she left, in fact.  At least she was being as honest as she knew how to be.

I didn’t want to be friends.  Not in that, “If I can’t have you, I don’t want anything to do with you,” fashion, but because when the passion was gone we really only had frustration left between us.  Frustration doesn’t sound like a good anchor to a relationship.

I stood up.  I was shaky, and I have to say it hurt, but I was a constant “four” on that stupid chart.  Four and above meant pain had to be addressed, and I had a prescription I’d get filled in the morning.

I picked up a box from the corner where I keep all the empties and started sweeping through my art collection.  My dragon statues, my posters off the walls, the books, the comics.  Everything.

It wasn’t until I ran across the meerkat coffee mug that I actually started crying.   I didn’t make it to my bed before the blackness took pity on me again.

(105) Life After the Hangover

I was caught between getting rid of all the dragon-related items and storing them for when it didn’t hurt so much.  I mean, I still liked the idea of dragons the way I had had before this unfortunate incident, but I also didn’t want them staring at me.

“Storage,” Sylvie said, giving me a glass of water.   “It’s like rental on a time capsule.  No, actually, it’s more like a man’s version of scrapbooking.”

“That’s the garage,” I suggested.

“Doesn’t disprove my point at all,” she noted.

“You have experience with this,” I said to Sylvia at one point.

“I like helping out,” she said.

“No,” I said.  I didn’t mean to disagree with her, but I was having some serious Mercury-in-retrograde kind of communication difficulties.  “It’s more than that.”

“You’re welcome,” she said.  She was shutting me out.  Someone else in her life had gotten her used to long hospital stays and cranky convalescence, but I let it go.  She didn’t need to share any pain with me.

She was there when her classes were out.  Matana had offered to stay over nights, but I just wasn’t feeling inviting enough to have to deal with a vampire on top of my own bad attitude.  Maggie came by and worked on my computer at things, since I was mostly catching up on everything my DVR had to offer, and falling asleep on the couch every now and then.

I was rousing from another bout of drug-induced somnia when I was hit in the face by something thrown at me by the Magster.  The notebook was followed up with a pen.

“You can’t sit there forever.”

“No, I have to use the facilities often enough,” I noted.  It was a pretty big complaint, actually, since it meant I was using muscles that were aligned against me.  Actually, if my body was at war with itself, the muscles were really the, um, muscle of the enemy operation.

“You’re going to run out of television fairly soon, you haven’t checked your e-mail in days, and occasionally I get a snarky comment out of you, but that’s about the most you’ve said besides `please’ and `thank you’ when we shove food into you.”


“Yeah, and a lot of grunts.”

“What do you want?”

“I want E back from whatever dark place he’s hiding.”

“He’s too busy hiding.  If you’d like to leave a message at the tone, he’ll return your call after St. George helps him take care of his special reptile infestation.  Beep.”

She threw a couch pillow at me and went back to whatever it was she was doing.

After she left, I picked up the pen and started writing.


1. Stop being such a schmuck.

2. Find out what happened.

I kind of stopped there, because I had a thought.

The Questor.

3. Have dinner with Questor.

4. Slay Dragon, keep treasure, live in luxury for rest of life.

I think I put the pen in my mouth for a moment, thinking.

5. Find right girl to share treasure & luxury.

Yeah, that sounded about right.

So, how to stop being a schmuck?  I think that was the right word.  My Yiddish was worse than my Chinese, and I only knew enough to say “Feng Shui” a couple of different ways and not embarrass myself by ordering in food.  I was not a linguist.

First, apologies.

Apologies: Chocolate?

Apologies: Flowers?

I crossed that last one out – neither Maggie or Sylvia were flower types.  The carcasses of once beautiful things probably irritated the whole witch aesthetic.  “Unless it was the heads of their enemies,” I noted to myself, aloud.

The living room was very, very quiet.

Apologies: Dinner

Yeah, that definitely worked for Sylvia.   I’d take her out someplace nice.

I scribbled a few other ideas for Maggie.  I got up and went to my computer, intent on browsing the History to see if she’d scrubbed it or if there was anything interesting.  Then, of course, I had to check my e-mail.

A few hours later, I stretched and realized I didn’t hurt so much anymore.

Or I could have a fever.

Second, in the “not being a schmuck” column, I took a shower.  I brushed my teeth.  I put on something that wasn’t ratty or funky.  I took some time shaving.  I looked at myself in the mirror.

I don’t know if I looked like I cared.  I at least looked like I could fake it.

Third, a real meal.  I spent some time throwing things out of the actual refrigerator area that were too fuzzy to meet the “scrapable” standards.  I ended up having to use some frozen stuff to pad out the dinner, and I ate out of the skillet, but it wasn’t strictly convenience foods.  It made me flip to the next page to make a grocery list.  Then I had to flip to the page after it to make a practical note about calling my insurance about my car.   It led to a few other items I had to handle.

Part four would be making amends to Maggie.  I didn’t even know where to begin with that.  I mean, we’d given each other the “just friends” speech in countless ways in the interim, but I think both of us finally got it.  I say “both of us” and “we” because I’m the kind of guy who likes to take full credit for his understanding and relationship foibles.  Yeah.  So really, what would a friend do?

I stayed stymied on that for a while.  Maybe I was missing some kind of obvious response, but “not being a schmuck” would kind of have to handle it until the right thing dropped into my head.

Part five, find out who this Rohana person was.  She left me her number, so I guessed she meant for me to call it.  I could at least thank her for the books – I was enjoying them even if reading was more scattered than normal.

I checked my watch.  It was too late to call tonight, but I’d try tomorrow.

There was a knock on the door.

I froze up.  I couldn’t remember if Dragons knocked.

(106) Knock Knock Jokes

If I recall correctly, and my recollections were in doubt these days, yes, Peredur did knock.  

Now, I don’t know how to rate Dragons on any kind of scale (hah hah – get it?) of power or intensity or sheer toilet-training defying measures, but Peredur scared me more than dear Nell.
I had been offered more opportunities to experience fear in the past few weeks than any time before in my adult life.  It was something I had spent some of my sullen schmuckish time on, introspectively defining and cataloguing it.

“Fear of the unknown,” is a strange thing to experience as a kid.  On one hand, you’d think, “Well, I don’t have enough experience to be scared of things I don’t immediately understand,” but on the other hand, because you don’t have the structures built to process things, the unknown can be Big and Overwhelming.   As you grow to adulthood, your structures go into overtime, rationalizing the night sounds to be things like, “The house settling,” as if the house normally gets up and shakes like the family hound and has to get back into position.   You might even find yourself with your own kids, reassuring them of such things like, “The thunder is loud, yes, but it can’t hurt you by itself.”  You might tell them there is no such thing as ghosts.  Or better yet, you can get yourself caught up in a place I think of as Schrödinger’s Lie: “You don’t have to worry about it.”  (“Verschränkung” sounds like the stiff drink someone needed after looking in after the cat was put in the box.  I guess “Schrödinger’s Turtle” just wasn’t as, well, catchy.)

Adults, when you think about it, seem to try to process things as “worry” instead of “fear.”  No one likes to go around and admit that they’re “scared.”  Even when they say, “I’m afraid that…” they’re not talking about fear, they’re trying to salve someone’s upcoming disappointment with a polite social lubrication.  (Most lubricants are a form of lie.)  What grown-ups are scared of is loss of control.  This is why our relationships are so messed up – you can’t (unless there’s an app, I mean a spell for that) control the way someone else feels.  Most of the time neither of you can communicate it well, which is even worse.  So the one thing we can control in a relationship (ourselves) can’t work in the vacuum of individualism, or there’s no relationship in the first part.  It’s all interconnected, and thus fairly complex (if not necessarily complicated.)

I like to consider myself an optimist, if only because I am troubled only by a handful of things in my personal sphere of attention that go wrong at any one time.  After all, while I’m not on any kind of cellular level aware of the ambient bursts of radiation that my epidermis encounters (and the potential mutations that might ensue) on a daily basis when I go into the big blue room and its blasting solar light, I’m far more worried about being roasted by what I thought were mythical creatures than, say, skin cancer.

The knock came back, a little heavier this time.

“Who’s there?” I called out.

I received no answer.  Either the mysterious visitor didn’t hear me, or he/she/it had been badly burned on “Knock Knock” jokes as a child.  I, myself, love Interrupting Cow.

I decided to act.  I don’t want you to think it was an easy decision, but I had wavered for a while on the far sightseeing bluffs of metaphor overlooking the realm of catatonia, and I had decided that I did not believe their fancy tourism magazines.  In fact, visiting no matter how nice it seemed this time of the year did not sound like it was good for my (mental) health.

I turned around and started towards the door.  In my head, I counted steps like that favourite scene in “Aliens” with the motion detectors, although I was unsure I had 18 meters in any straight line within the apartment.  I really should get a geomancer in here and make sure my Feng Shui wasn’t pointing to “Tasty to Dragons” or something similar.

If they were able to make a movie from the images in my head, it’d be a trick shot.  The camera would bob up and down like there was some kind of motion of my walking, but the door would never get any farther. It would loom there, and there’d be some kind of echo-y sound effects. 

After all, who knew better than I the risks of opening doors.  It was just one step removed from letting in the monsters.

Then I’d grasp the door handle, and yank the door open.

Strike that.  I’d unlock the deadbolt, grasp the door handle, and yank the door open.

“Hello, small wizard.”

I stood there surprised for a moment.  If I ever get to revise the character sheet of my life, I’d like to immediately add the aspect, “Is especially witty when the unexpected occurs,” to it. 

I recognized the fellow and the kind of double vision that sometimes happens when I interact with creatures of the supernatural.  He had the apron from one of the all-night supermarkets folded over his belt, a pair of jeans, and one of those short-sleeved button-down shirts that aren’t exactly casual.  He wasn’t smoking, and his black hair was more up in a knot rather than a ponytail in that style that kind of reminds me of a Samurai.  At the same time, he was an eight foot tall troll, with a nose like a mountain crag, a nose that took up all his visible face, and he was down on one knee.

“Um, hello,” I decided.

“The path of the sacred acorn lies open to you, sweeper of doorways.”  I wasn’t sure if I liked “Wizard” better.  “The liege of small places requests your presence.”  He bowed, and one mountainous arm swept before him.

“At,” I glanced at my watch, “this time of night?”

“Hey, what can I say?  I always pull the suck-end of night shifts.”  He moved his weight from one leg to another visibly and I could hear the creak of the steps up to the door.  “Anyway, I’m sure my King knows you are a very busy man.”  He rolled his eyes.  I began to defend myself, but he put a hand out.  “Seriously, word has it you’re a Dragonslayer.  And I’ve heard that can take a lot out of a man, let alone a little wizard,” he said.  He grinned.  “Of course, I’ve also heard it said that Dragons make excellent pate.”
I think I looked a little ill.  I certainly felt faint.

He laughed.  “Anyway, this is a thing fair Thomas can do no more for us.  You know the eight corners of Monaco.  Travel them not deosil, but widdershins.  Remember it by knowing I’d kick you in the shins if you went the wrong way.  Fall under the bridge of trees, and you shall be in the smaller realms.   And do it after dark – you don’t want to bring sunshine in where it isn’t wanted, got it?” 

I nodded.

“Good.”  He paused.  “Oh,” he said, and started digging through his pockets.  He came out with a small flat stone.  “This is for you as token of our good will.”

“Isn’t this one of those times where if I’m smart I don’t take your gifts?” I asked.

He shrugged.  “It’s up to you, wizzy McWiz.  If you don’t want it, I’ll keep it, I guess.”

“Hey, I never said I was smart,” I said, taking it from his hand.  It was surprisingly cool to the touch, and just small enough across my palm that I could gently bend my fingers around it. 

He nodded.  “Good choice.  Hopefully Thomas was as true as he claimed.  For your sake.”  He looked at me for a moment.  “Before the solstice.  I’ve got some vacation time banked.”  He shifted again and I could feel the stairs tilt.

I nodded again, somewhat bemused.

“They’ll send another messenger,” he said, almost as if it were a warning.  “That dandelion fluff-head Peredur is too interested in our business.  Ah well.  I’m off.  Gotta catch my bus.”  He smiled and jumped over the steps and onto the concrete, cracking it in a couple of places.  “Oops,” I heard him say as he sauntered into the distance.

I closed the door behind him.  You know, if I posted on the Internet that I had just been visited by a troll, they’d get it all wrong.  I think.

(107) Leave a Message

I slept like a rock might sleep, given from all of the evidence that rocks didn’t move around much on their own.  I was more sedentary than sedimentary, but…

The stuff of life occupied me a good part of the next day.  My bureaucramancy was in fine fettle.  Patience gets you a long way, as does having a good attitude.  If you can make the person on the other side laugh they’re more likely to go that extra step, let alone that extra mile.  Especially when you’re dealing with bureaucracy it is important to remember that each of those people along the path has a role to play.  Of course, some of those roles are to stymie you, especially when dealing with insurance agencies.  I don’t hold it against them…much.  OK, I rarely hold it against the individuals, just the policies that make it seem like they can’t spend any of the hard-won cash I’ve given them on, you know, my needs.

I got a rental car organized and left a note on the voicemails of my caretakers that I was doing fine and didn’t need their help today.  I went grocery shopping.

I also asked Sylvia out on a date.  It’s a lot easier to do when you only have to record it, and you have unlimited chances to repeat yourself and sound your best, even if the eighth take didn’t have the same obvious spontaneity.

I have never been sure of the precise combinations of words to make asking someone for a date sound reasonable, especially out of the blue. I can kind of break it down a little.  There’s the standard greeting, the identification of the person doing the asking, the sweetening (maybe softening) of the person being asked, usually in conjunction with their identification, then the event information, and then the plea.  Does the word “plea” sound too desperate?  Say, rather, the invitation, perhaps?

At any rate, broken down into so many modules (do my summers spent doing a little programming here and there come out that much in my speech?) it seems like there’s still a great deal of personalization that can be made.  After all, I could identify myself as “Count No-one” (of the No-one Trust, of course) and my sweetheart as “She of the Fangless Smile,” although I wouldn’t recommend either.  I could soften things with, “For you have my throat in your hands,” but again, that kind of sweet-talk is only going to work for a specific type of personality.  The event should show some kind of connection with things you’ve already discovered about your intended date, whether it be, “A consummation of our parents’ plans for grandchildren,” or simply, “two tickets to that thing you love.”  (Again, these examples are probably best never, ever used, but maybe if you smell right you can use that latter.)

I tried to wing it, first.  Give it that kind of off-handed, casual feel.  Failure of “ums.”  The “um” is not your cool, casual friend.  It’s a sign of nervousness or inability to choose, or worse, inability to leave silence alone.  Silence is a good thing.  Silence gets you in trouble a lot less than actually saying aloud those dumb things you were thinking.

Try number two was made while I was still verbally berating myself for try number one.  Try number three I almost missed completely as I hit the wrong button.  I wrote down the details on try number four so that I could say it clearly and managed to garble it while choking on my own spit.  Try number five was missed while I was still coughing and hacking.  Try number six sounded great, but then I pressed “re-record” again, out of habit at that point.  Try number seven sounded almost mechanical.  Try number eight was well-rehearsed, smooth, and acceptable.

Your mileage may vary.

I remembered she’d ordered something fairly spicy at the restaurant, so I wanted to take her to a place that had great spices, as well as other options in case that was an exception to her eating habits.  I was split as to whether or not to go out of my normal habitat.  Part of me said that if this developed any further, we’d be spending most of our time on my personal map, and part of me said to take every advantage I could, rather than having to feel like I was a fish out of water at the same time I was busy with the awkwardness of an actual date.

You can just take someone out for dinner, but it’s good if you have a follow-up plan, provided they don’t have some kind of curfew.  I’m sure there’s dating guides for vampires and the like that talk about that awkward early breakfast at the 24-hour diner, but I am just guessing because I don’t date vampires.  I am about to take a student out on a date, though, her yes answer pending, and that means being cognizant of the stresses of college, from being willing to take a no seriously during finals, to not getting in the way of homework.  Just because I didn’t get my degree didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the particular cycles of school life.  (The low and high tides of homework, the seasons of needing advisor attention, the overall agriculture of it.  Maybe there’s a better metaphor, but it seemed to me like you were farming for a certain production of paper, or somesuch.)

My follow-up plan was, weather depending, a little bit more experimental.  I was offering to take a walk with her (no collars or leashes necessary) either amongst some botanical sights, or a more cynical tour of some of the local woo-woo scene.  I didn’t phrase it that way, of course.  I happened to enjoy looking in various new age stores and laughing at the merchandise the way jaded fashion gurus sit at the shows, sipping their presumably-coffee, judging mercilessly the designs and models who walk by.  (Don’t laugh too much, though – there are several magicians in fashion, just as there are several wizards who take the shops seriously.)

I didn’t say it was a great plan.  I could have taken her to something I knew I liked.  That way at least one person was having a good time.  That had its appeal, too, if I was feeling cynical.  It wasn’t the kind of message I meant to leave, though.  Maybe that was mumble number five.

(108) Emergency Response

I hope I have never, ever, in my life, claimed to be smart. Maybe smart-aleck’d, but I hope I have never given the entirely false impression that I was possessed of any particular kind of genius.

I reflected on this as it hit me in the shower that the troll (if he had a name I’d forgotten it) called me a Dragonslayer.

I knew that to be wrong. In my heart of hearts I knew Nellie was alive and out there somewhere. I couldn’t recall whether or not I had been ejected back through the portal back into my native plane of origin through her or my own doing, but some part of me knew she was still alive.

My memory had a chance of being faulty, especially when considering that it had also had parts of it gone walkabout. I didn’t come out of it with a note, or runes scratched into my forehead saying, “I’ll be back.” I came out of it with bad dreams about wolves. Large wolves. They might be giants, even.

I did think about what it meant to be a Dragonslayer, and something in me knew I wasn’t… I don’t know …changed enough?

Something of the Shadow King had touched me. Robbed me, more like, from the way I was feeling, but …heck, I’m a guy. I say I work from my gut because working from my heart is a girlie, girlie measure.

But word on the street meant people were talking about it, and my street is a many-fabled land indeed. One of the houses on the block, so to speak, was Nellie’s, and I didn’t want to be called a liar when she tore the hinges off her own front door and started shouting about the kids on her lawn, metaphorically speaking.

I could only continue to deny it, and make it clear it wasn’t out of any sort of sense of modesty. (The way I pranced around nude now that Doloise was– the way I didn’t have any clean towels sort of proved it.)

Maybe I wounded her and now I could spread scary stories of the brooding, injured beast, plotting revenge at any time.

Stories like that just don’t impress the smart women. Something about, “Sure, you’re fun to hang out with, and I really like you, but I don’t want a semireptilian myth breathing on me while I share serious cuddle time.” I mean, who can blame them? That’s a pretty big shadow to get out from under, let alone with which to share the spotlight. I mean, let’s face it, Sylvie has had much less of conscious brain time (although to be fair, she did share some of my thoughts while in the shower) than Nellie has, and I wouldn’t sleep with Nellie.

Ahem. One thing at a time, E.

As far as I knew, once an incubus had been banished, it had been banished, but really, our introduction did have a lot to do with an increased…um… passionate mood? Plus, it’d been the best kiss I’d had in a long time.

I was considering that idly, leaning back on the bed when my phone rang. Have I mentioned that I love my phone? Sure, it doesn’t get reception in the Beyond, but I still had notes. If I’d been smart, I’d have taken pictures. Published them and called them art. Of course, the gravestones and weirdness of Ivan’s world were really Ivan’s art. Maybe I could set up a charity for old Russian wizards. Or orphans.

I didn’t recognize the number, but it was local.

“Hi, is this E?” the voice was kind of breathless, a little girly. I’d like to say I never forget a voice, but it’s mostly that I can recognize if I’ve heard one before, not necessarily who it is attached to… and this one I’d heard before and, well, it didn’t ring any bells as to who it was attached to, but since it definitely wasn’t a Dragon, I was game.

“Um, yeah,” I said, with the eloquence you’re beginning to suspect of me. That’s me, Mr. Smooth.

“Hi!” she said again. “This is, um, Ro. Rohana. I left you the books at the hospital?”

“Oh! Hello! I meant to call you and thank you. I’m enjoying them quite a bit.” I was trying not to be awkward, but what were the odds?

“I’m so glad! I was afraid you’d probably read them, but Maggie said that she hadn’t seen them at your place, so I figured it was worth the risk. Besides, the whole place was beginning to smell like a greenhouse and I thought maybe you’d like something to take your mind away from the pain rather than just your nose,” she giggled.

I smiled. “You guessed right. Where do I know you from?”

“You argued with me about getting a sundae back a few blocks from Dairy Queen on Colfax,” she said, sounding a little bit older.

“I did?”

“You’d taken a blow to the head, I was pretty sure. So maybe you don’t remember. But I’ll give you this one. I’m emergency services.”

“Oh. Oh! I remember.” I grinned. “You’ll have to forgive me, I’d been hit by a car.”

“A car? I wrote a Dragon in my report.”

“You did?”

“Of course not, silly.” She laughed. “Officially it’s a missing black SUV, but you talked in your sleep.”

“Oh.” Is there anyone in the world comfortable with that thought?

“Got you again,” she teased.

I groaned.

“Hey, you made it easy for me. Anyway. I um…” She took a breath. “I wanted to know if maybe you wanted to go out sometime?”

I paused. “Sure!” It was pretty easy, really. I mean, she didn’t follow all the rules, but she asked and, well, I was available.

“Would tonight work?” she asked.

Sylvie! “Um, I am kind of already…” I thought quickly, “scheduled for tonight.”

“Oh.” She did sound disappointed, which caused immediate conflicting feelings in me. Disappointment that I disappointed her, and then a surge of self-esteem, and, well, other stuff.

I didn’t know if I was really scheduled for tonight, but having a backup plan is a sneaky snaky thing to do and always gets you in trouble in the sitcoms.

But I didn’t say I was smart.

I just wasn’t stupid. “Um, are you part of the coven?” I asked, carefully. She knew Mags, and Mags would only know a broom closet as some place to make out.

“Adjunct, why?”

That was a fancy word. I dithered for a moment.

“You’re going out with Sylvie, aren’t you?” she asked. She laughed. “I should offer to naked jello wrestle her.”

I couldn’t help it. “Yes, you should.”

She laughed again. “I’d win. Call me. My schedule varies, mostly night shift, but I’ll fit you in somewhere.” She gave it a moment. “That was pretty good innuendo, wasn’t it? I’ll leave you with that, cutie.” She hung up.

I took a deep breath and the phone rang in my hand again. I nearly dropped it out of surprise, but my reflexes were a bit faster than my wits.

It was Sylvia.

(109) Overanalyzing

“Hi!” There really wasn’t any reason in the world for me to feel guilty, visions of girls naked in jello being completely reasonable fantasies, all things considered. So there was no reason to feel like my, “Hi!” was a little rushed, a little loud, a little too friendly. I’ve had days where it seemed like my volume control was off – where stress made it sticky towards the loud side or something, but as far as I knew, this wasn’t one of them.

“Um, hi. You sound better,” she said, and I was completely overanalyzing her tone of voice, I know, but was there a little bit of reluctance there? A little bit of distance?

“I believe I have you in part to thank for that,” I said, trying to make it sound casual at once but also giving credit where credit was due. “So, thank you,” I added just to be certain.

“You’re welcome,” she responded. No, I wasn’t imagining it.  There was a certain flatness in her tone, and it wasn’t exactly distant, but more, I don’t know…wary?

“I got your message,” she started.

I was hit with this sudden, instant decision point, do I interrupt and try to downplay it as nothing important, or do I let her turn me down? The instant passed me by, and I had to focus to hear, “–love to go. I’ve just not been there before, so I’m not sure – is there a formal dress etiquette? White tie? Black tie?” she asked.

I blinked. I hoped I didn’t leave her waiting too long as I processed an answer. “No, I mean, I thought to dress up in Denver was a silk shirt, jeans, and maybe a pair of boots,” I offered. I couldn’t remember anything more than, “Not fat, compliment something specific,” rules about when women asked about clothing and added, perhaps belatedly, “But I’ll be in something a little nicer. It’s my treat and all.”

“That works,” she decided, and it sounded definitely more confident. “Is it too late to make reservations?”

I glanced at my watch. “Shouldn’t be. You’re not skipping class on my account, right?” I asked, trying desperately not to sound like a parent.  I wasn’t that much older than her, right?

I could hear her smile. “No, we’re good. Um.” Then there was a hesitation I could feel rather than hear. I waited it out. “There’s not going to be anything weird between you and Maggie, right?”

I considered. “No. We’re over,” I said, maybe a bit too quickly, but what the heck. “I mean, I hope we can be friends. I think she wants to be, and, well, I’m just glad that it’s a possibility.” I shrugged, but I didn’t know if she could hear it. “We can work well together, but that’s all it should be. Work.” I was probably being a bit too candid.

“Good. And, um, your guardian and guide?”

I was tongue-tied for a minute. “That shouldn’t be a problem,” I managed.

“You’re not one of Matana’s thralls or anything, right?” she asked. I could tell she was teasing.

I laughed. “This was not the third-degree I was expecting!” I protested.

“You just seem to have a whole lot of weirdness going on that I’m not used to.”  She laughed.  “Well, I mean, I did just join an actual coven of witches, I met a vampire who is studying werewolf physiology, and I have a date with a fellow who had a run in with a Dragon.  So maybe it’s me.”

“It’s a date then?” I asked.  I tried to make it sound funny, kind of casual.

“Hah!” She laughed.

I don’t know what made me say it.  Maybe I was under some kind of spell.  “I talked to Rohana,” I admitted.

Sylvia’s demeanor changed, and I could feel a chill coming from her voice. “Oh. What did she have to say?”

“Something about naked jello wrestling, but I kind of got stuck on the image so I don’t know if there was anything else,” I admitted, somewhat teasingly. Hey, a guy can hope, can’t he?

“Hah! She would!” I heard, accusingly. “Tell her I saw you first.”

“Dibsies. Gotcha,” I grinned.

“Nah, I can handle her,” Sylvie sounded amused. “Super strength glue when and where she’s not expecting it. Hexes that ruin the elastic in her underwear, if she wears any, that tart!  That sort of thing.”

“Now, girls, don’t fight over me.” A little bit of taunting in my voice.

“We only fight for principles,” Sylvia suggested. “This isn’t fighting.  This is…  guerilla man-staking.”

“I know what ‘painstaking’ is. Man-staking? Should we go back to the Matana question?”

“Maggie’s had you tagged as hers for too long. Besides, competition is good for us.  We’ll use you for…” she took a moment to let my brain fill in all sorts of unlikely scenarios, and then ended with, “practice.”

“Not target practice, I hope.  I think I’m scared.”  Well, if I hadn’t had the aforementioned run ins with Dragons, I might have found this scary.  Relationships… alright, they still had their fears, but I was ready for them.

“You’re the one who did full disclosure.” I was about to protest and explain my non-jerkhood when she added, “You should be.”

“Oh. Thanks,” I said, the smile set to take the bite out of the sarcasm.

“Anytime. Do you need a ride?” she asked.

“How about I pick you up?”  Awfully gallant of me, eh?

“Bit of a drive,” she mulled aloud. “But I won’t turn it down.” There was a loud knocking sound. “That must be one of my roommates. Hold on a second,” she said.

I heard her crossing the room, and opening a door.  There was a banging noise, like something hitting something wooden.  Well, as much as I could tell in the translation from audio to digital and back.  I heard something like a shriek cut off as my phone suddenly flashed, “Call lost,” and the number of minutes we’d stayed connected.

I stared at the phone for a moment, waiting for her to call back.

(110) Go West, Young Man

I don’t think I’m an exception in any case when I say I don’t like it when people hang up on me. I try to be solicitous and let people know when I’m leaving the conversation. I understand it when people have to go unexpectedly, but I like the whole, “Talk later,” or “Mm-bye,” or distracted whatnots that with their small rituals close the…well, yes, maybe I have a little bit of an obsession. Closing portals is what I do. I may be a one trick pony (you can see me waggling my eyebrows, right?) but it’s my trick, and I’m an awesome pony. Woman, get on my horse.

No, wait, that’s not what that phrase means. Any of them.


Starting over, yes, I might have a problem. I always get one step into those solutions, and then get lost. Sure, I admit I have this problem and then what? I should look up the second step, I think.

I don’t think there’s a twelve part program for quitting Dragons. Really, I don’t think I was ever addicted. Then I say something like, “They’re after *me*,” with a little bit of emphasis on that last word, and I sound like I’m in denial. You see my quandry? Of course, psychotherapy probably isn’t the solution. I could try and ask Peredur about his mother, maybe run the MMPI, see if there’s Rorschach analysis on the patterns of smoke damage he’d leave behind in disintegrating me… (And where’s my Acme Reintegrator Gun? It’s not like I don’t have enough life-shattering ka-booms!)

So, Sylvia. Boulder is at least an hour’s drive, and worse depending on weather and traffic. I had been trying to be gallant in offering her the ride, and, well, without being a “creeper” I was also aware that I had control of the transportation. That way we didn’t have to muss with parking logistics and the rest, especially knowing that her car was shared amongst her roommates and she’d been monopolizing it to take care of me. The practical side of it stunk, but I can do gallant, right?

I looked at the empty apartment and swore. I’d read Niven’s essay against teleportation at an early enough age that even were I a full-blown wizzy wiz McWiz (thanks, troll) I don’t think I’d be able to believe in such spells. I know that there are shortcuts with portals, but while it changed the measure of distance, I am also personally aware that opening and closing portals come with effects. Maggie and I had probably weakened some barrier near Sylvie’s place with our banishing of the -cubi. All of which was useless meandering because I wasn’t able to create portals, but trust me, worrying and wishing are like fraternal twins.

Maybe I misunderstood that last bit. Maybe her roommates grabbed her for a sorority tickling session, and she just dropped the phone and is too busy ripping off clothes and playing with pillows and feathers would be flying across the room, and… I don’t think my fantasies are particularly strange, actually, just my timing.

Switching my thoughts around at least 120 degrees (because 180 is just a mirror reflection and 270 is just weird), I called Ed.

After a few minutes of catching up, (“What have you been up to?” “Slaying dragons, I guess,” “I hear ya, we’ve all got our demons to face. [Epithet] those [bleepin’] pine beetles, by the way. Great convention but dismal prospects. So, is it time to schedule your biannual?”) I made my plea.

“This is going to sound kind of strange,” I warned him.

“E, as one of your friends, I’m kind of used to it by now. What is it? Multitentacular cloud babes from Jupiter? I think I’ve got a mixture for that.”

I found myself grinning. “You’re a good friend, Ed. I’ve a girl up near Sugarloaf.”

“Oh. Oh? And? She’s a cat vampire or something?” I think it was an anime reference.

“Nah, just a witch,” I said. “And something funny just went on, so what’ll be fifteen for you will be almost ninety for me. I’ll owe you one.”

“Another witch? Yeah, you’ll owe me. Well, I guess frogs are a kind of exterminator, too.”

I chuckled. I didn’t think Maggie could turn anyone into a frog, but who was I to put limits on her?

He mused for a moment and got the address. “Mrs. Mollins will be pleased if I can reschedule. I was going to interrupt her` Wheel of Fortune’ time or something. Um, E?” Ed sounded worried.

“Yeah?” Worried meant he was about to ask me something reasonable that had to do with the real world, and not wherever it was my brain usually functioned.

“Shouldn’t you be calling the police or something? I mean, if she’s got ants or any wiggly-nasties, I’ve probably got it. If she’s got, I don’t know, cultists or anything, I’m just another hostage.”

“You’re a good friend, Ed.” I sighed.

“You say that now. When you have to come rescue me and I make you pay up by buying the drinks and singing at karaoke, we’ll see what you think.” Ed has been trying to get me to do karaoke with him for ages now. Could be worse. Could be that he wanted me to go bowling. (Nothing against people who like it, but it’s super loud and those yawning pits where the pins go give me the heebie-jeebies.)

“Seriously, Ed, if there’s anything weird, call the police. I’m on my way now.” Well, I had to put on some clothes, but I cradled the phone against my ear with my shoulder and started the process by choosing a pair of pants.

“Anything weirder than you getting spooked and sending me to ogle your new girlfriend? I can handle that. I’m on the case, man.” He said his goodbyes, and I got dressed and into the rental, heading West.

(111) Dimensional Hot Pockets

For all that the sun hides behind the mountains fairly soon on in a Colorado afternoon, until it does it can be a blinding aggravation to drivers headed on the fastest freeways. Things get to be kind of black and white (whereas the lack of light can give things strange color. You ever notice that? Maybe it’s just me…) while you’re trying to anticipate shapes and unexpected movement as potential dangers since you lose the whole picture to the retina-violating sunshine.

Colorado has a ridiculous number of clear days per year, although we tend to forget it’s kind of a desert. Sunshades should be more of a requirement than the ubiquitous clear sodas and snowboards, but since I don’t wear glasses I often forget about them until moments like this, where I’m banging my steering wheel in aggravation because everyone ahead of me also has forgotten the presence of the giant semi-perpetual nuclear explosion just eight light-minutes away.

Sometimes my view of myth and science collide in strange ways. Aside from all of the details regarding the mystical power of the sun (usually related to “illumination” on a grander scale than an epiphany, but still a matter of suddenly whisking away the shadows from a truth, even should that truth simply be, “Dude, you’re supposed to be dead!”) and its role in myth (between Amaterasu and Ra and the rest, I don’t see it as gender confused – I think its avatars cloak themselves depending on the needs of the times) I think of all of the connections with our planet and our worldview. Will future generations have myths of Mars and the moon? Does the Beyond touch the planets we haven’t yet realized? Did Jupiter lose a band of colour because of a coup somewhere in a myth we do not have the processes to comprehend, let alone touch?

I have acquaintances who straddle these worlds, so to speak. Who can talk geology and yet how some mountains are made of sleeping giants at the same time, and yet, there’s a disconnect I feel. How can both things be true at once? The literal and the figurative circle each other like opponents in a boxing ring, each looking for a weakness in the other the one can use to press an advantage, and reason laughs just as madly as faith.

It’s like my saying that the world I live in is a small place. There’s a statistic my mom quoted me (often – and usually had more to do with teaching me to drive rather than the actuarial data) about how most accidents happen within ten miles of your home. Well, who goes out more than ten miles from their house on any kind of regular basis? I think it also brought home the idea of how small communities used to be. My world is a small place, but how would I have measured the world within, say Ivan? Or the world the President of the United States must live in? (And how strange the transition from the world in which he grew up?)

And how strange a world for Matana, for example? The world she grew up in, and then the worlds shown her by her parasite? You must grow into different worlds, and visit new ones in relationships. Who knows how many you ever travel, let alone live in at once? There’s my work worlds, and my little world inside this car, trying not to interact too closely with any other individual carworlds.

Sylvia talked about her world expanding. Does it get bigger or do you just change places? (I’ve played gaming scenarios that could argue either, but not even many of those systems would allow you tools for the measuring.) Mine has changed significantly, even if I could not (would not!) wander into some of the places I’ve visited again, I could suggest that every step into the future is one I walk into a new place.

Some people would have road rage by now. I, instead, have road philosophy. Which is probably closer to road rash, I think. At least the sun was a degree or two more hidden by the horizon. That only left the smell of the dog food factory as one of the reasons this is one of my least favourite parts of the route.

Well, that and realizing I’d missed my exit.

My phone rang. I hit the speakerphone button because I’m responsible like that, at least in a rental. (It still distracts you, but so does talking to the person in the other seat.)

“E here.”

“So,” Ed drew the word out a little. Lots of “o”s in that word.

“So?” I cut him off.

“You sure about that address?”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“I found where it should be.”


“So, magic and mathematics have a common ancestor, right?”

“I don’t know that that’s true.”

“Remember that bit in Harry Potter where the house number was missing unless you spoke the secret word and then everything expanded? Or the bus bit in the movie.”

“Um, yeah, but I don’t remember what any of that was called. Something in a bad latinesque analogue.”

“Squeezus Like a Toothpaste Tubus. Yeah. I think something like that happened here. There’s something I can’t see wrong with it.”

“But it’s wrong, right?”

“Right, it’s wrong. And I’m sure if I were a math guy, mathmetician, this would have to do with radiuses and tesseracts and stuff.” Only he didn’t say “stuff.”

“It’s not a giant silver sphere.”


“Good, I hate those.”

I travelled in silence for a moment.

“I can’t take a picture of what’s not there. Of nothing, you know? If nothing is something.” Ed was struggling.

“That’s not true – with pictures you can have a negative.”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny. I meant on this cellphone thingie. I totally forget about it because no one wants pictures of the spiders in their attic. They just want them to go away.”

“I’m at least forty minutes away, still.”

“I’ve tried hailing the house. All hailing frequencies, including honking my horn. You think they had a horn on the Enterprise?”

“Oh, I’m sure it comes standard. Look, if it’s that weird, go home. I’d hate to have you sucked in to some kind of dimensional pocket.”

“Sure that ain’t a euphemism for some Venusian bootie?”

“No, I think we settled on `flytraps’ for that. I’m on the turnpike.”

“‘Kay. I’ll hang around here a little bit longer, and I’ll call if I leave or something interesting happens.”

“Deal.” We did our little phone closure pieces, and I watched the line of red lights in front of me. At least the sun was out of my eyes, right?

“This is witch business,” said the fellow in the seat next to me, just as I settled back into the rhythm of driving.