Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is the author of 22 solo fantasy and science
fiction novels, including the 1989 Nebula award winning fantasy novel,
Healer’s War, loosely based on her service as an Army Nurse in Vietnam
during the Vietnam War. She has collaborated thus far on 16 novels with
Anne McCaffrey, six in the best selling Petaybee series and eight in the
YA bestselling Acorna series, and most recently, the Tales of the Barque
Cat series, Catalyst and coming in December 2010, Catacombs (from Del
Rey). Her last published solo novel was CLEOPATRA 7.2, soon to be
re-released for e-Book
download and print on demand under
the Fortune imprint of
Gypsy Shadow Publishing. She is currently working on a YA fantasy cat
mystery, SPAM VS THE VAMPIRE.
Check out some of Ms. Scarborough's other e-Books here:
The Healer's War
Scarborough Faire and Other Stories
Congratulations to Karen Gillmore, who has done the cover art
many of Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's backlist books with GSP,
for being in the 2012 Preditors and Editors top ten
for her illustrations in Father Christmas.
New Title(s) from Elizabeth Ann
Order The Unicorn Creed in Print Today!
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NEW!!! Never Before Published!
ORDER this EXCLUSIVE NEW Spam Vs. the
Vampire print book
ORDER Father Christmas Print TODAY!
ORDER The Tour Bus of Doom TODAY!
ORDER The Dragon, the Witch, and the
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NEW Shifty PRINT book Today!
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Determined to become an author of western penny dreadful novels
like her idol, Ned Buntline, a young San Francisco newspaper
editor christens herself Valentine Lovelace (after a floozie
acquaintance of her father’s) and heads east for the Wild West.
She finds it in spades in the Texas Big Bend when she is
kidnapped from a mule train by Comanches and ends up the guest
of a ruthless comanchero, a sort of wild west warlord, after the
Comanches are distracted by a. . .dragon?
Fort Draco, as the comanchero fort is known, is as full
of intrigue and nighttime carryings-on as a modern day romantic
novel, but Frank Drake, the owner, is no hero. If Valentine
wants to save herself and the less-guilty if not entirely
innocent folks who live there, she must defeat heat stroke,
gunslingers, a couple of fake rainmakers and their camel,
hostile Indians, the voice haunting her dreams (not in a good
way) and a dragon who not only is gobbling all the livestock and
transportation in the area but is guarding the only water hole
in fifty miles of drought-ridden desert.
And she must do it all while taking good notes, of
This is a western but not as we know it and a fantasy set
where we’re not used to it.
Word Count: 81,500
Pages to Print: 231
File Format: PDF
Note: If you are a beader (or interested in
beading) the Dragon pattern displayed on the cover is FREE if
you purchase this eBook!
The Djinn Decanted:
genie's standards, Aman Akbar was a pervert. He was not content
to marry his cousin, the beauteous Hyaganoosh, as custom
demanded. Instead he chose three ugly foreign wives--a pale
skinned barbarian Rasa, a sharp-tongued Chinese acrobat, Lady
Aster, and the tall ebony skinned 100th daughter of the Great
Elephant, Amollia. Just about the time the women were sorting
out the whole polygamy thing and dealing with their new
mother-in-law, Um Aman, Aman Akbar lost control of the genie and
got turned into a white ass (it happens a lot in the Arabian
Nights) at the wish of none other than Hyaganoosh. What's a
foreign wife to do? The three women and Aman Akbar's mother have
no choice but to seek a way to undo the spell and restore the
fellow to his former shape and state but along the way they have
some hair raising adventures involving monkeys, shape shifters
called peris, the dangerous divs who make the djinn look jolly,
and a rather nice elephant.
" Delightful reading! Shades of
Scheherazade and Sinbad in the sort of Scarboroughian treat that
one is beginning to expect of this beguiling writer." Anne
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is the winner of the 1989 Nebula Award
for Best novel
HANGING BY A HAIR
As soon as I awoke I wished I had not, for I could feel
in great detail the agony of my scalp as each hair in my head
tried to rip from its native soil as it strained upward, and the
horrible tension in my neck as my body was pulled in the other
direction by its own weight. The red hot glaze before my eyes
vanished briefly when I blinked and saw Amollia dangling just
across from me. Her short curls would not allow her to drop as
far from the iron ring to which they were tied as did my captive
braids. . .
I saw a shutter fly open, and suddenly a stick was thrust
forward, striking Amollia in the ribs, setting her swinging and
shrieking. A moment later I too received a clout that tore loose
part of a braid, so that blood and tears simultaneously coursed
down my face as I rocked to and fro. . .
" Isn't that a shame?" Chu Mi's slimy voice hissed to Aster.
" Such nice little women. Such good friends of yours. See how
much they hurt? Don't you want to give us what is ours so we can
pull them in before they are quite bald and dropped into the
river for the crocodiles to eat?"
Word Count: 96,000
Pages to Print: 259
File Format: PDF
When a woman’s bones are found in
the icy dregs of the noxious Nor’ Loch, newly appointed sheriff
of Edinburgh, Walter Scott, is called upon. Are these the
remains of a drowned witch or religious heretic, or are they
perhaps linked to something more recent and sinister? For
although Edinburgh is known to be the center of literature,
science, and medicine, it is also the haunt of body snatchers
who prey upon the living and the dead alike, selling their
victims for study by the student physicians at the medical
When a band of Travelling People is forced to winter near the
city, two young women are taken, one from her bed while she
sleeps near her family. Justice from the settled people is
rarely accorded to gypsies and the Travellers fear they will be
murdered one by one by the ghouls stalking their people.
A young gypsy named Midge Margret is sure that Scott
will care. He befriended her family before and once more
he promises to help find the murderer who prowls the snowy
forest in a black coach.
When a patchwork woman with supernatural strength begins hunting
the streets as well, Scott and Midge Margret know the crimes are
rooted in bloody dark magic. In order to catch the killer, the
butchered victims themselves must testify.
By Nebula Award winning author Elizabeth Ann
Publisher's Weekly says, " Skillfully
cross-stitching history, mystery and old-time urban legend. .
.tension mounts steadily. . .an artful work."
Word Count: 75,500
Pages to Print: 231
File Format: PDF
Harper, aka Valentine Lovelace, published her memoirs of her
time in Draco, Texas and became an established writer—at least
in her own mind. But when her father dies and her stepmother
steals her royalties, she finds herself destitute. Also haunted.
The ghost of her papa keeps popping up everywhere. When her
father’s old flame, Sasha Devine, offers her a way out of her
poverty, Pelagia jumps on it before she knows what’s involved.
In 1897, the two ladies must travel North to the Klondike (the
Wild West is a relative term as far as V. Lovelace is concerned)
escorting the coffin of a man said to be Lost-Cause Lawson, a
It turns out the man beneath the coffin lid is not as dead as he
was supposed to be and somehow, Pelagia ends up being accused of
murdering a Mountie. Apparently the sensible solution to that is
to fake her own suicide. The upshot is that when she finally
does arrive in Dawson City with Sasha, she is obliged to take
employment as a dance hall girl and a flamenco dancer (Corazon,
the Belle of Barcelone). Her boss seems nice though. Very
sociable, especially with all of his new female employees. It
isn’t long before Pelagia learns that Vasily Vladovitch
Bledinoff is giving the biting cold some competition. It isn’t
until her friend Captain Lomax receives a new book from England,
written by a fellow named Bram Stoker, that she begins to get a
clue what exactly is going on with the mode for black velvet
neck bands the girls are all sporting. Then there’s all of those
really smart wolves, the threat of starvation and disease, and
other strange and unusual wildlife.
This book is about what life was like for a female artiste in
Dawson City as it was during the Gold Rush—when everyone was
there to strike it rich—except for the vampires, who were there
for the night life.
Word Count: 98,000
Pages to Print: 292
File Format: PDF
In Song of Sorcery, Book 1 of Songs from the Seashell Archives,
hearthwitch Maggie Brown met minstrel Colin Songsmith and a
unicorn named Moonshine while saving both her sister and the
kingdom. All in a quest’s work for a girl who can magically do
anything she can convince her power is housework. To reward
Maggie, the king makes her a princess, and therefore a good
catch for the local noble bachelors. Only problem is, she
doesn’t want to get married. She wants to be with Moonshine,
whose Unicorn Creed, as he understands it, forbids him to
consort with anyone except a chaste maiden. It’s rather a touchy
situation, and so Princess Maggie abandons her crown and with
Moonshine, she and Colin set out to see if they can find a
loophole in Moonshine’s creed. Of course, in the process they
have to try to save the land of Argonia again, this time from a
were-man, a revolutionary nymph, a town’s worth of zombies, an
ice worm and an evil wizard.
“Gentle humor, deft plotting and a fine light-handed prose
style, all combine to make THE UNICORN CREED a pure delight.”
—New York Daily News
Song of Sorcery,
VOLUME I of the Songs From the Seashell Archives Series,
available at e-Reads.com
Word Count: 146,000
Pages to Print: 302
File Format: PDF
Note: If you are a beader (or interested in
beading) the Unicorn Coat of Arms pattern displayed on the cover
is FREE if you purchase this eBook!
ORDER THE UNICORN CREED IN
PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-258-1)
Sleeping Beauty had it easy.
Her curse only made her take a nap when she turned 16. As if it
wasn’t bad enough already that because of her frost giant
heritage from her father the king’s side of the family she was 6
feet tall when she was only 12 years old, poor Princess Bronwyn
(the Bold) of Argonia was cursed at birth to tell nothing but
lies. With her father away at war and her mother heavily
pregnant, Bronwyn is even more in the way than usual, so she
gets packed off to Wormroost, her aunt’s place in the glaciers,
and en route she meets her musician/magician cousin Carole , a
not-so-brave gypsy lad, and a princess-turned-swan. The lot of
them encounter monsters, sorcerers, sea serpents, mercenary
mages and sirens—many of whom are related to them. Without
quite intending to, they embark on a quest to end the war, heal
a battle-ravaged land, end a ban on magic and lift Bronwyn’s
L. Sprague de Camp said, “I found BRONWYN’S BANE
delightful reading. I wish I had her fertility of imagination in
thinking up amusing twists, turns and business of plot.”
Word Count: 90,000
Pages to Print: 256
File Format: PDF
ORDER BRONWYN'S BANE IN PRINT
TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-259-8)
|Going on a quest with a handsome prince
might sound like a dream, but Prince Rupert’s cousin Carole
comes to feel that it isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Carole
agrees to accompany her hunky cousin to Miragenia to christen
his baby niece. But it’s
really hard to even explain the situation to anyone: how the
little Princess was stolen from her mother’s side by Miragenians
who demand fifteen years of the first-born’s life in exchange
for a bit of help during wartime. Or how the baby was taken
before magical christening gifts could be bestowed upon her for
her protection and character development.
The ladies surrounding Rupert (also known as Rowan the Romantic
and Rowan the Rake) don’t care about some baby and don’t hear
anything about the mission because they’re
too busy sighing over him. Crowd control is an obvious problem,
as is extricating Rupert from more than one involuntary
engagement. When at last the two, with the help of dubious
questing companions including a love-stricken pink and purple
dragon, arrive at the theocracy of Gorequartz where the baby has
been fostered out to a queen, they find themselves in trouble of
a completely different complexion. Their most deadly nemesis is
none other than a giant crystal “god” seemingly created in
Rupert’s own image!
Word Count: 74,000
Pages to Print: 209
File Format: PDF
ORDER THE CHRISTENING QUEST IN
PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-260-4)
|Praise for Phantom Banjo from Booklist:
“This book has just about every virtue one can reasonably expect
in a contemporary fantasy tale, including a vivid portrait of
the contemporary folk scene and a chilling emotional impact that
makes many horror novels look pedestrian. Highly recommended.”
“Contemporary” in the above review means the world as it was in
1992 when the book was written. The rapid changes in recording
and communications technology make it seem like a period piece
now, which is entirely appropriate for the subject matter. This
is a fantasy series about a bunch of folk musicians, good
pickers and flawed but likable human beings, trying to reclaim
songs destroyed by the evil forces (or devils, including but by
no means limited to the Expediency Devil, the Stupidity and
Ignorance Devil, and the Debauchery Devil) that want humanity to
lose its humanity. Hauntings abound, as they do in the folk
songs. It’s a good yarn to read at Halloween, whether or not
this is the music that moves you. And sometimes it’s really
funny. There’s a lot of cussing though. Well, the characters are
frustrated and scared a lot, and they beg your pardon for their
language but you might do the same if faced with similar
catastrophies, disasters, travails, frustrations, and
Word Count: 93,000
Pages to Print: 264
File Format: PDF
|| The ancient ballads of England,
Scotland and Ireland are great stories to visit but nobody in
their right mind would want to live there. There’s a high body
count for every ballad and a happy ending usually involves boy
meets girl and they end up sharing a grave. The musicians who go
to retrieve the songs, with the help of the magic banjo,
Lazarus, know this, but the fact is, the songs also contain a
great deal of magic useful in defeating the devils who are out
to dehumanize humanity by stealing the music. The Queen of the
Fairies, aka the Debauchery Demon, Torchy Burns, makes them a
deal they can’t refuse and the reluctant heroes find themselves
thrust into the lives and deaths of ballad people they know are
going to end badly. It’s enough to make a picker take up
Word Count: 77,000
Pages to Print: 247
File Format: PDF
|What started in the States ends in the
States. The song-saving musicians are back home, with heads and
hands full of songs they saved with the help of the Phantom
Banjo, Lazarus. The soul-destroying devils haven’t given up on
killing off the music though, along with everything else that’s
maybe a little fun or keeps people human and sane. Even the
debauchery devil, AKA Torchy Burns, AKA Lulubelle Baker (of
Lulubelle Baker’s Petroleum Puncher’s Palace in west Texas) AKA
Lady Luck AKA, believe it or not, the Queen of Faerie, has
fallen on hard times. Her fellow devils are willing to see her
demoted to the lower levels of hell, where a girl can’t even get
a decent mani-pedi. Her only hope is to convince one of the
musicians--that would be Willie MacKai--to become her human
sacrifice tithe to hell so she can get back her faerie kingdom.
Once the magic banjo self-destructs, Willie decides to cooperate
with Torchy. But the phone-in ghost of Sam Hawthorne and the
music aren’t done with Willie yet, though it takes a ghost train
full of cowboy poets and all of his friends to save him.
Word Count: 106,500
Pages to Print: 335
File Format: PDF
Being an apprentice fairy godmother is complicated. Not only do
I have to go out and find good deeds to do, but for a sidekick I
have that hit man that Felicity changed into a toad. I wanted to
take the cat but she seems to have had a big funeral to attend.
Felicity isn’t around much. She keeps disappearing through a
door in the guestroom that opens on the side of a hill. The
swimming pool is weird too, and I could have sworn I saw someone
dancing on the bottom. I am enjoying riding the flying horse and
helping a boy who plays squeezebox and talks to swans though, so
things are—you should pardon the
“SIMPLY ENCHANTING.” Publisher’s Weekly
“CLEAR AND ENTERTAINING. . . LOTS OF FUN.” Locus
“CHARMING. . .Scarborough mixes folklore, adventure, atmosphere,
psychology, and whimsy into a thoroughly absorbing plot.”
“AN ENCHANTING BOOK.” Affaire de Coeur
The Godmother, Book one of The Godmother Series,
available at e-Reads.com
Word Count: 101,542
Pages to Print: 301
File Format: PDF
|Cindy Ellis knows about fairy
godmothers. Her almost-stepdaughter is studying to be one and
she is a close personal friend of Felicity Fortune, an Irish
godmother. But she didn’t suspect when she picks up Grandma
Webster that the elderly, seemingly lost American Indian woman
in traditional dress was a magical godmother too. When a
self-serving skinwalker/witch inflames tensions between
neighbors and pits sisters against each other in the best fairy
tale fashion, Grandma enlists Cindy’s help, along with that of a
Navajo doctor, a Hopi rancher, and an unlikely champion, a dude
who is related to coyotes and dreams of a home shopping network
empire. Together they must defeat the evil that is threatening
to destroy their world forever.
“Characterization, pacing, and folkloric expertise are all up to
the series’ high standards, so Godmother-followers and others
should greet this book joyfully.”—Booklist
Word Count: 106,000
Pages to Print: 313
File Format: PDF
||In a world where unemployment is
obliterated by putting all jobless people in the military to
maintain the endless ongoing warfare, Warrant Officer Viveka
Vanachek finds herself in a weirder place yet. Captured, raped,
and interrogated she is finally exiled to a remote snow-bound
prison camp where she is placed in solitary confinement. It
seems like the end of the world when she also becomes too sick
to eat and starts seeing ghosts and hearing mysterious chanting
within the noises of the camp. But her dreams tell her there is
more to her prison than there seems to be and soon her delusions
and reality start trading places.
Word Count: 107,000
Pages to Print: 296
File Format: PDF
|In NOTHING SACRED, Elizabeth Ann
Scarborough took a detour from her humorous classic and
contemporary fantasies to write her “obligatory science fiction
writer’s end-of-the-world book.” The bad news is the world has
ended. The good news is LAST REFUGE is the sequel.
Why does the end of the world seem so much more dire than the
end of our own lives, since, according to modern non-theology
based theory, we won’t know the difference one way or the other.
Using the Tibetan Buddhist background of NOTHING SACRED, the
answer to that was, if the Buddhists are right, when the end of
the world comes not only will our own present lives be ended,
but there will be no life forms left into which we may
The children of Kalapa compound, safe from the war and the
aftermath as it is felt in most of the world, discover that the
problems work in reverse in Shambala. Babies are born there at a
deliberately amazing rate but no one dies within the borders.
Consequently, in time, there are no unembodied spirits in
Shambala left to inhabit the babies, cursing the poor children
with a spiritual birth defect.
Heir to the duties of Ama-La, young Chime Cincinnati, as the
guide to Shambala, cannot rest until she leaves the safety of
the compound to lead refugees to it. She is helped in this by
Mike, a young man who has always been like an older brother to
These two face all of the standard fantasy characters, but with
a Tibetan twist——there is an evil wizard who is king of his own
compound, a hideously evil demon who is enough to give anyone
nightmares, a yeti, an American princess, and far too many
ghosts, not to mention Mu Mao the magnificent, a reincarnated
wise man who was good enough to finally be allowed to ascend to
life as a cat
Word Count: 105,000
Pages to Print: 323
File Format: PDF
|“Get the past life of your dreams!”
Leda Hubbard, a forensic pathologist, gets the job of her dreams
when an old school friend hires her to collect and authenticate
the DNA of the famous Cleopatra. It’s all great fun for Leda
until, during a massive disaster, her colorful dad, the dig’s
security specialist, is killed by a group trying to hijack the
precious material for a “blend,” a process in which the queen’s
DNA is used to import her memories, personality, and character
traits to a new host. They screw up, however, and get Leda’s
dad’s DNA instead. To keep the queen from going to the
murderers, Leda blends with Cleopatra herself, learning a lot
more about Egypt than she ever wanted to know.
“A bright, sometimes humorous, often dark, but always innovative
speculative fiction. . . Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is always a
treat to read but with this novel, she takes readers where
nobody has gone before.” BookBrowser
Word Count: 67,500
Pages to Print: 223
File Format: PDF
|Cleopatra's back (again). This time she
“A science fiction thriller that feels like a futuristic James
Bond. . . The idea of two minds inhabiting one body is a
fascinating premise. The way they blend together and respect
each other’s personality makes Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s
latest work a fascinating, often humorous speculative fiction.”
Midwest Book Review
“Scattered throughout the narrative, Scarborough provides
amusing asides from the viewpoints of the Cleopatras. The modern
day is filled with marvels from the viewpoints of the ancient
queens, and Scarborough does a marvelous job of giving the world
we take for granted a new angle of understanding . . . [She] has
done a fabulous job of researching the past, and through the
observations of the two Cleos paints a heartrending picture of
loss and yet at the same time presents awe-inspiring
descriptions of wonders that have managed, despite war, neglect,
and outright vandalism, to survive for millennia to the modern
day.” SF Revu
“[An] exciting speculative thriller . . . Scarborough deftly
weaves her suspenseful web and then untangles the threads with
her clear and concise prose, preventing a plot with
dual-identity characters from spinning out of control. The
DNA-blending concept is fascinating . . . retains the breathless
action, frenetic pacing, and dry wit, [of its predecessor] with
homages to Elizabeth Peters and Indiana Jones, and will appeal
to a wide audience.”
Word Count: 95,500
Pages to Print: 299
File Format: PDF
|A PURRANORMAL MYSTERY
Spam and the other cats at website designer Darcy Dupres’ house
are frantic with worry. Darcy walked out the door two (missed)
wet meals ago and didn’t return or send anyone else to look
after her beloved furry friends. The other cats think she has
abandoned them, but her office cat and (unbeknownst to her)
protégé, Spam, suspects darker forces are at work.
Darcy’s last project was helping a suspicious character who
called himself Marcel deMontreal with a dating website for
vampires and the women who dig them. Darcy thought Marcel was
playing and besides, he paid her a lot of kitty litter to design
But before she can finish, the self-proclaimed vampire announces
that he is coming to visit, and Darcy disappears. That and
the—duh—black billowy figure with the white face and red eyes
peering through the window seem like a dead giveaway to Spam.
Using the computer knowledge he learned at his human’s side,
Spam escapes to the world beyond his home to find Darcy and save
his family. When the other cats are rounded up and hauled to the
shelter, Spam’s only allies seem to be a hungry raccoon, some
friendly deer, observant otters and the fact that Marcel happens
to be allergic to cats.
Word Count: 65,000
Pages to Print: 200
File Format: PDF
Spam Vs. the Vampire PRINT BOOK!
|In these stories a parade of
fascinating felines tell tales of their lives. Guinevere’s cat,
Gray Jane, tells what really happened at Camelot from her cat’s
eye view atop the queen’s canopy bed. An Egyptologist’s cat,
Shuttle, wards off a vengeful mummy by doing a favor for bastet,
the cat goddess. A Scottish cat, Tinkler Tam, stalks body
snatchers through a Gothic Edinburgh. Mu Mao the Magnificent, a
bodhisattva cat who is the last tomcat in the world, searches
for a mate in one story while in 3 others he assists his fellow
felines during the transition to their next incarnations. A
murdered cat named Mustard returns to avenge himself on his
killer and protect his former household. The old soldier hero of
a fairy tale discovers the secret of the 12 dancing princesses
with the help of his trusty cat companion, Captain Shadow. these
are the stories mother cats tell their kittens to provide them
with role models, inspiring them to hold their heads and tails
Word Count: 60000
Pages to Print: 176
File Format: PDF
9 Tales O' Cats PRINT BOOK! (ISBN
|Spam the cat thought he'd seen a lot of
the world in his nine months of life. After all, he was the
foremost vampire hunter of Port Deception, WA. (SPAM VS THE
VAMPIRE)! This was his first Christmas, however, and from what
he'd heard on TV, on Christmas all was supposed to be calm, all
was supposed to be bright. The deer and Renfrew the raccoon had
other ideas however. In an attempt to
keep Renfrew, aka "The UPS Bandit" from ruining a lot of
Christmases, Spam begins a task that leads to his being the sole
protection of a new mother and child, and a
less-than-warm-and-fuzzy reunion with his feral father.
Altogether, his first Christmas eve is a less than a Silent
The proceeds of this book from whatever source will be donated
to the Humane Society of Jefferson County for the benefit of the
animal shelter. eBook COMING SOON!
Word Count: 24,544
Pages to Print: 77
File Format: PDF
To Order Print see below
Father Christmas PRINT BOOK! (ISBN #978-1-61950-052-5)
|As usual, a wonderful
Scarborough—vintage, witty, clever, profound, touching, vivid .
—Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher series
The Tour Bus of Doom rolls into a small coastal town, spewing
zombies to rampage down the main street. To the beat of eerie
drum music, they loot, kidnap, and zombie-fy innocent citizens.
Spam the cat, self-appointed feline defender of the town,
watches in horror from the rooftops. When the zombies abduct
Spam's jeweler friend and take over the nursing home, Spam is
certain they are also responsible for the disappearance of his
next-door neighbor Mr. Barker, partner of retired police dog,
Officer Bubba. Then Marigold, Spam's half sister, reports that
her human family, who went missing while on a mission of mercy
to earthquake ravaged Haiti, has finally returned home, just
long enough to take their valuables. And They. Don't. Even.
All of that is dire enough, but then the zombies go too far and
take over the bodies of the owner and server at Spam's favorite
fish'n'chips place. Searching for help from his vampire friend
Maddog, Spam meets a new cat in town, the sinuous Havana Brown
Erzullie, who arrived with the zombies. Aided (sort of) by her,
Renfrew the raccoon, the urban deer cat taxi service, Rocky the
vampcat, and his half-siblings Marigold and Mat, the heroic
feline must investigate, before the zombie apocalyps-o destroys
not only his town, but his home and his beloved Darcy.
Just when he thinks he may have the situation well in paw, the
zombie hunters from Seattle arrive, responding to a bounty on
the heads of the zombies. What they don't realize is that they
have the wrong brand of zombies, the un-plagued un-dead, who
could revive as long as they keep their heads.
||Word Count: 67500
Pages to Print: 215
File Format: PDF
The Tour Bus of Doom PRINT BOOK! (ISBN
|What you see (at first) is not what you
get in this collection of nine previously published tales of
shape shifting and transformation. An Alaskan student of
wildlife biology finds it difficult to write convincingly about
what she knows. A proud and beautiful princess loses her
popularity when cursed (in a way probably familiar to many
readers) by a wicked enchanter. A lonely Cajun fiddler has a
close encounter with his royal but scaly ancestor. In the secret
story of the railroad that transformed the American West,
Chinese and Irish workers compete to complete the job with a
little help from supernatural friends. A lowly jeweler creates a
wondrous bauble for the sultan's favorite, but his reward, an
exalted royal elephant, eats him out of house and home until he
unlocks her secret. An Irish nurse discovers the identity of the
lone fiddler who plays at the bedside of a critically ill
patient. A middle-aged woman, suddenly invisible, improves her
love and social life during Mardi Gras. And a predatory bill
collector meets his match in a story so dark that the author
even changed her name. In these shifty stories, you'll be
wondering who happens next!
Word Count: 54000
Pages to Print: 132
File Format: PDF
Shifty PRINT BOOK! (ISBN #978-1-61950-164-5)
|Progress has transformed Queenston,
capital city of Argonia. Once the land of witches, wizards,
fairies, and other magical people and animals, since the Great
War, the country has changed. Queenston, particularly, is now
the city of contraptions and conveyances, including a modern
In the Great War Argonia's dragons allied with the armies to
push back an invasion. For their assistance, the beasts shared
what food remained as the country rebuilt itself. But with the
war won, the allies came to "recover" the war-torn country,
bringing with them new ideas and inventions, most of which only
needed a supply of iron and a reliable source of heat for their
boilers. The dragons were again recruited, tamed, altered and
virtually enslaved to power Progress.
Verity Brown is a modern girl. The magic of her witchy
foremothers has become, if not actually illegal, highly
unfashionable. The only magic that matters to Verity is her own
curse, forcing her to know and tell the truth regardless of
On Verity's 16th birthday, a hot-air balloon crash kills her
father. The balloon's dragon and wrangler rescue Verity, but are
blamed and sentenced to be put to death. Her honorable quest to
save them and find her father's murderer takes her straight into
the den of the wild and ferocious Dragon Vitia.
Word Count: 101700
Pages to Print: 331
File Format: PDF
Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad PRINT BOOK! (ISBN
|The Drastic Dragon of
Paladins of the Prairie may very
well exist on the prairie, but they have clearly drawn the line
at carrying the Code of the West into the Texas desert. I know
for a fact that muleskinners bear no resemblance whatsoever to
either Saint George or to any of those other gallant knights who
traipsed about rescuing damsels in distress. When I was abducted
by wild Indians and subsequently menaced by a dragon, none of
the fifty teamsters with whom I was traveling lifted a finger to
Of course, forty-nine of them weren’t aware I needed rescuing,
since the wagon in which I was riding had bogged down behind the
others just before midday siesta and of course the mules had to
be rested before we were dislodged and reunited with the rest of
Not that my traveling companions were being
intentionally neglectful. They were simply more accustomed to
dealing with mules than with ladies. Had it occurred to them
that I might be in some danger, one of them would undoubtedly
have insisted that I join a wagon further up the trail in a more
protected position. But, as usual, they were so intent upon
their own routine they forgot me. I believe that they did so not
so much because I am unmemorable as because my presence
presented them with something of a dilemma. A frontiersman
curses in front of a lady only at peril to his life and immortal
soul. Unfortunately, cursing is an absolute requirement in the
practice of the mule-skinning profession.
Since my objective was to sample the true flavor of the
Wild West, I willingly accommodated myself to this benign
neglect. Though but three days away from the cavalry outpost, I
had already grown accustomed to the teamsters’ priorities. First
animals, then equipment, and then people were tended to. When I
inquired of Mr. Jones, the driver of my wagon, what might be a
human ailment sufficiently severe to halt the caravan, he gave
the various personal insects inhabiting his chin whiskers an
affectionate scratch and replied, “Oh, I don’t know, ma’am.
Indians—though there ain’t been that many bad raids since the
menfolk got back from the War. But if there was, we’d stop, I
reckon. Indians steal mules. And mebbe a panther”—(he said
“painter”)—“that’d be bad for the mules too. But strictly
human—I don’t know, a bullet in the belly maybe, specially if a fella was bleedin’ real messy.”
I remained skeptical about the negligibility of the
dangers of the despoblado, the great Texas desert. The cavalry
wives at Fort Davis were also less blase’ than the muleskinners,
especially regarding Indians. The tenth night I stayed at the
fort, a minor earthquake shook the ground. While the men ran to
their soldierly duties and the comfort of their horses, the
women clustered together in one room and talked of how the
earthquake had to be a sign from God that no decent person
should live out here among the heathen, after which the
conversation degenerated into morbidly grisly and graphic
descriptions of past Indian raids.
Current style dictates that I should claim I was
gathering wildflowers or something equally genteelly frivolous
when the Indians captured me. Nonsense. I had awakened from my
siesta half-melted despite the shade of the wagon above me,
nauseated by the stench of mules and Mr. Jones and, by now,
myself, begrimed and annoyed to have to stray from my nest even
as far as the closest cactus large enough to provide a modest
I scanned the ground for snakes, not wildflowers, of
which there are none in the middle of the desert in late
September. Finishing my necessary errand behind the only sort of
greenery around—the prickly kind—I stood, adjusted my skirts,
and was about to return to the wagon when I saw the Indians.
I cannot report that I was instantly terrified. My
first instinct was to shoo them away. There were only three of
them, riding around our disabled wagon, poking through the
canvas, and pawing through the contents. Earlier in my journeys
I had encountered several members of the pacified tribes around
Tombstone and Santa Fe, folk with a distressing penchant for
examining other people’s property and begging a portion of it,
when possible. My brain was still so befuddled with sleep and
heat that I failed to make the distinction between those
curiosity-seekers and the three painted, armed, and mounted
warriors before me.
Therefore, I felt less alarm than vexation at Mr. Jones
for being remiss about guarding his cargo. I fancied he was
still enjoying his afternoon nap beneath the wagon. Though
several hours past noon, the day was still far too hot to
travel. At least for civilized folk. The Indians didn’t seem to
mind, having adjusted themselves to the climate by wearing very
little but scraps of skin, beads, and eagle feathers.
While I was fuming over Mr. Jones’s supposed laziness
and contemplating native haberdashery, one of the braves rounded
the wagon and spotted me. Those who fancy that Indians have no
sense of humor should have seen the delighted grin on his face
as he galloped his horse straight toward me. I had never heard
of Indians killing victims by simply trampling them, but
evidence seemed immediately forthcoming.
I would like to testify that it is not necessarily
one’s life that flashes before one when death seems imminent. I
saw nothing of my previous pallid existence. Neither my
childhood nor the most stimulating of the duties I performed
while ensuring that our newspaper functioned when my father did
not intruded on my consciousness at that time. What I saw were
the gruesome mental pictures my fertile brain had conceived
while the cavalry wives were scaring each other silly with the
histories of literally hair-raising Indian savagery.
I stood frozen for a moment, then flung myself down to
one side, twisting to avoid a nasty patch of Spanish dagger. The
grinning savage scooped me up beside him, clasping his hand over
my mouth so that I could not scream and alert the wagons in the
mule train preceding us.
My middle did not take kindly to being scooped. The air
went out of me and my limbs flailed so that I bore some
resemblance to a landed fish as I was hauled onto the horse. I
squirmed in my captor’s grasp enough to straddle the animal,
backwards, as it turned out, my seat facing the horse’s neck, my
face buried in the Indian’s breathtaking chest, which reeked of
rancid something or other and dead something else besides the
natural odor of a very active man on a very warm day.
My new position amused the Indian further, for he now
could gag and strangle me at the same time simply by holding my
face against him with the crook of one arm. Only my eyes were
free to stare across his shoulder as he and his fellows
plundered the packs, extracted as many as they could carry of
the whiskey bottles comprising a large portion of our cargo, and
galloped back into the desert. As I was spirited away I saw the
craven Mr. Jones, who had saved his own neck by feigning his
absence while huddled between the wagon wheels. Now he peered
out from beneath the wagon, his mouth working silently. I almost
forgave him, knowing that I probably would have hidden too. As
soon as we were far enough away that he could run to the other
wagons, I prayed that he would engineer my rescue in time to
save me from death and whatever it was that was supposed to be
Meanwhile, of course, I had this splendid opportunity
to apply my ability as a trained journalist and learn all I
could of Indian ways.
Sad to say, the only Indian ways I was able to observe
from my unusual vantage point were entirely too similar to the
white men’s ways with which I was already more familiar than I
wished to be. My captors broke the necks of the whiskey bottles
on convenient boulders and proceeded to get very drunk.
Back to Drastic Dragon
|The Harem of Aman Akbar,
or The Djinn Decanted
In the second year of the reign of
the Boy King, Aman Akbar commanded his djinn to begin casting
into the ether for wives suitable to the station to which our
illustrious lord then aspired. An ambitious yet kindly man with
a taste for the exotic engendered by the fashion of the day,
Aman specified to his djinn servant that a woman for his harem
must be comely and well learned in wifely crafts and also be of
noble blood among her own people, but must not be so beloved
that loss of her would greatly grieve her kin.
Perhaps you will think that such an arrangement was all
very well for Aman Akbar but detestable for the women involved.
You would, for the most part, be wrong, though the error is
certainly forgivable unless you, as I, had been the third
daughter and middle child of the overlord of our tribe. We
Yahtzeni are fighters first (by inclination) and herders
secondarily (by occupation). Thus good men are a rarity among
us, for the attrition rate is great.
Our foes are distant relations to my mother. They live
primarily in the upper portions of the hills and raid every
spring and fall, killing many men while stealing sheep and
women. We try to raid back, but are not such good climbers as
they, and lose even more men in such raids. Meanwhile, the women
left behind still bear children, and these children have in
recent years seemed more often to be girls than boys, so that
the girls among us, by adolescence, have no marriage to look
forward to, but a life of perpetual girlhood and servitude to
their parents and the tribe. The only possible distraction any
of us can as a rule anticipate is to be captured, enslaved,
ravished and married only when we bear male children to our
captors and are thus proven worthy of protection.
By the time I, as third daughter, was born to my
father, he had begun to despair of sons and in his sorrow became
unhinged enough to teach me to fight with the curved bronze
dagger and lance, to hunt with bow and arrow, and to capture and
ride wild ponies, as he would have taught a son. My mother
thought him mad and kept telling him no good would come of it,
and the surviving older men in the tribe taunted us both and
regarded me as uncommonly wild and strange. Great was my
mother's relief when she bore my brother and I could be tethered
to the spindle, flocks and loom, and taught the healing potions
and prayers she considered essential to a daughter's education.
Still, my early training as my father's son stood me in good
stead when the camp was raided, my father sorely injured and my
sister—somewhat gratefully—carried off. My own distaste for my
people's enemies' marriage customs was explicitly expressed with
Thus by the time I first felt eyes upon me as I sat
spinning, watching the sheep, I was already considered
unmarriageable among our people and thought to be of an
unnaturally fierce disposition.
Rain was sparse that season, and the sky, promising snow, looked
like a felted blanket. Our sheep ranged far and wide to find
forage and I with them. I'd found a comfortable rock, just high
enough for my spindle to rest against my thigh. When I felt the
eyes upon me, I stilled my spindle in mid-whirl and clasped it
to my hip. The hills around my flock teemed with wolves and
bear, as well as mother's disgruntled relatives. I set aside the
spindle and grabbed my dagger, fearing the two-legged beasts
more than the four. Had I known what was truly behind my unease,
I would have been terrified beyond any comfort to be gained from
Later I would be glad that I had had to wear my new
robe that day, for the tattered one my mother had sewn for me
for my womanhood dance had been torn beyond repair in the last
battle. Even before that, it had been worn to transparency in
places so intimate I was almost embarrassed to wear it in front
of the sheep. The threads for my new robe were finer spun than
those in the old one, for my skill with the spindle had
increased in the years separating the making of the two. I had
dyed it a rich rust color by soaking it in a bath of iron wood.
Escaping the camp to roam with the sheep put me in a festive
mood. That and the chill sharpening the morning prompted me to
add to my new finery the felted vest I had been embroidering for
my sister before her capture—it had the fleece of a black lamb
inside and the yarns were various yellows and soft pinks. Aman
says that he found the contrast between my finery of that day
and my ferocious aspect in battle most erotic— Aman talks that
way sometimes. For although he has lived all his life in
Kharristan, he has always been a keen watcher of the market
place and also is the possessor of a vivid imagination. He finds
the strange people who flock to that center of the civilized
world endlessly fascinating and their diversity intriguing. Thus
he was prepared to find me beautiful instead of merely odd.
I am told the djinn complained that I was unworthy—
what noble woman, he protested, would be so careless of herself
as to bind her hair into leather-held braids instead of twining
it with pearls? Which shows how much the djinn knows about
feminine adornment—my hair is almost white and pearls would
ill-become me. He also deemed my substantial nose hideous—but
this is typical of the djinn, who has lived a sheltered
existence, for the most part, confined in his bottle. Therefore
his views often tend to be prudish and conservative. Though a
great one for taking others places, he has generally taken no
part in the life of those places, thereby managing to stay
relatively untouched and unenlightened by his travels. However,
on the occasion in question, his priggish complaints fell on
unheeding ears, for Aman replied, "Her nose is curved like the
beak of the hawk and is a fitting complement to the glitter of
her eyes—know you, o djinn, that the hawk is a noble bird and
proud and also, I think, useful."
There was further discussion of the sort Aman indulges
in when carrying out these quasi-poetic analogies of his, about
soft feathers and delicate coloring but even when he is being
smooth-tongued and soft-headed he can be acute. You notice he
did not pick a frivolous bird to compare with me.
All that morning I felt skittish as an unbroken pony,
disturbed, though I knew it not, by invisible scrutiny.
The new pasturage was a sloping mountain meadow and the
way was long and tiresome. I quickly shed my vest, the pleasant
coolness giving way to prickly discomfort as the sun and I
climbed together. By the time I reached the stream where I
planned to watch while the sheep grazed, sweat dewed my forehead
and stuck my new garments to me at the armpits. The bubbling
water looked refreshing and I smelled goatish. I did not wish to
spoil my new clothing by stinking it up on its first day in use,
so I shed it gratefully and waded in. The icy waters revived me
for but a moment before I began shaking with a cold that struck
through my body as though to cut flesh from bone. I shot from
the water, blowing through my nose and lips like a horse,
hugging myself and shivering in my blued hide.
"Who can account for the taste of my master?" a voice
whined, seemingly from above. I looked up sharply and dove for
my clothing, not to cover myself so much as to find my dagger,
still tangled in the silken sash. Despite the unfamiliar accent,
I feared I had been caught by our enemies and was determined to
sunder as many as possible from their lives before they could
sunder me from my maidenhood.
Back to Harem of Aman Akbar
The Lady in the Loch
The mother of the corpse wore solid
black as she danced round and round the room to the lamenting
coronach of the pipes. With her danced the father of the corpse,
also in black. The attire of both showed signs of having been
recently, hastily dyed for the occasion. Phantoms of the plaid
fabric swam beneath the dye of the mother's gown. The mother
wept as she danced and the father scowled. The corpse lay in the
middle of the room, her claes deid, her funeral garments,
concealing the thirty stab wounds in her chest and the dishonor
her killer had subjected her body to before she died. All around
the coffin, her brothers and sisters-in-law, her sisters and
brothers-in-law, her fiance and her grandmother, all of them
weeping, shuffled in their own awkward dancing. The neighbors
danced and wept as well. And close by the coffin, the bound and
gagged tinkler man was weeping too, less for the murdered lassie
than for himself, he who was the accused.
The time was one minute until midnight by the
grand-father clock standing in the candle-cast shadows draping
the walls, festooning the ceiling and carpeting the floors. The
flickering of these same candles lent astonishing expressions to
the corpse's face and deepened the dread on the faces of the
other celebrants, dancing, singing, eating, drinking, and
weeping for the dead lass.
A danse macabre if ever there was one, Walter Scott
mused from his chair in the center of the room, close to the
girl's open coffin. Scott was excused from the dancing both
because of his semi-official status in the investigation and
because of his lame leg. In a way, it was quite thrilling, this
lyke-wake, for it was the first he had attended. Lowlanders and
Borderers such as himself, people raised in the strictness of
the Kirk, did not practice such rituals, but the girl's family,
the MacRitchies, were transplanted Highlanders. So on the one
hand, this gave Scott a wonderful opportunity to observe a
ritual of which he had previously only read. But on the other
hand, there was the girl in the coffin, and though he had never
known her, never heard her name, she was touchingly young,
younger even than his own eighteen years. She should have been
beautiful too, an Ophelia, a Lily Lady of Shalot, but she was
actually rather ordinary-looking, robust even in death, the
freckles standing out like blemishes on the waxiness of her
skin, her eyes, at present, closed with coins, her red hair too
festive for her own funeral.
The sheriff-depute of Selkirk, Scott's old friend Adam
Plummer, stood beside him, both of them shivering, for the room
was chill for more common reasons than the eldritch atmosphere
that gripped it. The fireplace was cold, as it must be until the
body was removed, and the door was still wide open for the
As the clock gonged the first of its twelve notes for
midnight, the dancing wound to a shuffling halt and the piped
lament died a wheezing death. Plummer crossed the makeshift
dance floor in two long strides and closed the door so that it
was barely ajar. The mourners hushed, except for one man who
continued, unheeding, to gnaw on the drumstick of a goose. As
Plummer returned to the corpse's side, the clock struck its
second gong. The mother, Mrs. MacRitchie, let loose with her
eerie keening cry, the hullulu, as the Irish so accurately
termed it, for that was the way it sounded, a long mourning-dove
The MacRitchies' large, pleasant stone farmhouse was
wrapped in the boughs of the Ettrick Forest, and both forest and
farmhouse kitchen could be entered from the kitchen door. The
house was not too far from that of Scott's old friend James
Hogg, and his mother. Hogg had been with the search party that
discovered the lass's poor body and also with the party that had
flushed the tinklers from their camp in the woods and chased the
young man through the trees. The murdered girl's fiance and her
brothers had assumed, as had all the neighbors, that the tinkler
lad, since he was in the area, was of course the perpetrator of
the crime. Had it been left only to them, the young man would by
now be hanged. But Hogg, who had some connections with and
sympathy for the tinklers, told the accusers that if they
proceeded, the current laws of this district would call them
murderers as well, that it was best to send for the
sheriff-depute and allow him to conduct a proper investigation.
Recalcitrant as the younger laddies were, the elder MacRitchies
prevailed and allowed Hogg to send a servant with a message to
the home of Scott's aunt Janet in Sandy Knowe. Scott was
visiting his aunt and uncle for the summer, far away from his
studies at the university in Edinburgh. He and Plummer had been
whiling away the early afternoon playing chess when the
MacRitchies' servant knocked on Aunt Janet's door and told him
of the lass's death (never calling her by name. One never called
the deceased by name unless in court or kirk or on one other
occasion, as the sheriff was soon to demonstrate). Plummer
evidently was acquainted with the family, however, and had some
idea that the lyke-wake was in order. He told Scott that this
might prove a more interesting experience than most and urged
the younger man to accompany him.
Riding hard, they had reached the farmhouse shortly
after sunset, when the forest shadows gave way to the mist
rising from the creeks and ponds, and that was joined by the
smoke from the kitchen chimney, blowing a solemn ring around the
Plummer questioned Mrs. MacRitchie, who had laid her
daughter out, about the girl's wounds. Scott was relieved his
friend had felt no need to remove the funeral linens to see the
wounds for himself, but he wondered why. Plummer questioned the
tinkler lad as well, but the man refused to say anything except
that he had done nothing wrong, and to shake his head
stubbornly. The brothers and the girl's fiance, one Robert
Douglas, the son of an even more successful farmer than the
girl's father, wanted to "bate the truth oot o' the knacker,"
and in fact, it looked as if they had already made progress
toward that goal before Plummer and Scott arrived. Hogg too bore
a couple of visible bruises, although no apparent malice toward
those who had inflicted them.
The clock gonged for the fourth time. Plummer began,
"By the power vested in me by the Sheriff of Selkirk and through
him the King, I will noo commence interrogatin' the victim of
this heinous crime."
"What does he mean, interrogate the victim?" Scott
asked Hogg, who had drawn near.
Hogg shrugged. "Used to be done whenever there was foul
play, according to Mither," he whispered back. "Nowadays nane
but the law know the way."
"Why's that?" Scott asked, but just then, one of the
"No! Let her rest in peace! We hae Ma—my bride-to-be's
murderer there. We should hang him and be done wi' it!"
"Haud yer tongue, man," Plummer commanded. "Let nane
speak but her whose foremost business it is, the last witness to
this crime. In the pursuit of this investigation, once more I
invoke thy name, Mary MacRitchie," he said, in appropriately
sonorous tones. "Rise up, lass, and accuse thy slayer."
Though he had never seen such a thing before, Scott had
read of the dead accusing their slayers, but had thought it only
superstition. He, with the other occupants of the room, held his
breath, waiting, to see what would happen, what, if the victim
indeed rose up, she would say.
Even the gnawer of the goose bone had finished all the
flesh and, putting away his bone, realized that the room was now
completely still except for his ever-more-cautious chewing and
the echo of Plummer's invocation, and the heartbeats and
expirations of all of those who were not now allowed to speak.
The first sound other than those was a slight slipping, like
jewels against a lady's velvet dress, and then a hollow clink as
the coins fell from the girl's eyes and dropped into her coffin
as if it were a wishing well.
Even the tinkler was still, as with a sussuration of
the claes deid and a long, pain-wracked groan, the body raised
itself, hands still bound across its chest, to a sitting
With the raising, Scott caught the stench of corruption
emanating from her, washed and freshly dressed as she was. On
such a warm summer day as this had been, her body had already
begun to decay.
Back to Lady in the Loch
The Goldcamp Vampire
days after my father’s funeral, his former mistress summoned me
to her place of employment and proposed that the two of us
distract ourselves from grief by accepting a rather bizarre
proposition. “Meet me backstage at 12:15 and you will, as they
say, learn something to your advantage,” her note read.
As very little had been to my advantage lately, I
roused myself to accept.
It would be inaccurate to say I had been prostrated
with grief. My father’s death was hardly unanticipated. He had
been deliberately drinking himself to death since the demise of
my mother thirty years ago, and since his second marriage to the
sanctimonious Widow Higgenbotham, he had speeded up the process
Considering his inclinations, the manner and location
of his passing were as he would have wished it. When found, he
wore a blissful smile upon his face as if he had discovered some
new and particularly potent elixir that had carried him straight
to heaven—assuming that was his destination. I felt guilty when
I saw him to note how pale and drained he looked, for I so
despised his new wife that I had seen him very seldom. But his
happy expression and the fact that he had died just outside his
favorite haunt, the Gold Nugget Opera House, consoled me.
Nevertheless, as I made my way to the backstage door of
that establishment, I averted my eyes and held my skirts away as
I passed the spot where he had been found.
With the mist creeping up to conceal the garbage and
broken bottles, and the drizzle descending like unceasing tears,
the alley was a depressing place to be. Even the pearl-handled
derringer in my bag was cold comfort. This was a night the poet
Poe might relish, except that ravens seldom frequented the
alleys or San Francisco anymore. Pigeons perhaps. Pigeons with
uncannily direct gazes, for as I turned back toward the
lamplight flickering in from the main street, small eyes
glittered down at me, then swooped aside. I grasped the knob of
the backstage door and shoved.
The strains of the final chorus act met me even before
I entered, but Sasha Devine’s numbers were over for the evening.
It was her policy always to “leave them wanting more.” Her
dressing room door was cracked open, for despite the midsummer
fog and damp, the air was warm.
Sasha saw me reflected in her mirror even before I
spoke. “Vahlenteena,” she said effusively, twisting in her chair
to face me. “How kind of you to come to see me in my
bereavement. You alone know how very dear Patrick was to me. And
you, my dear Vahlenteena, have always been the daughter I never
I would have been more moved by this declaration were
it not for the fact that it was only since my novels began to
sell that Sasha had learned my name—and at that she chose to
learn my nom de plume, Valentine Lovelace, not my given name,
Pelagia Harper. Although to be perfectly fair, I do recall that
at times while I was in my teens, she was wont to refer to me as
“Because of this sentiment I bear you and your dear
departed father,” she continued, “and because you are a fellow
artiste in what I understand are straitened circumstances, I
have selected you to be my traveling companion on my grand tour
of the Klondike. Expenses will be paid, of course, but you must
wait for your salary until we arrive.”
My spirits rose immediately. I was, in fact, so elated
by the chance to see the Klondike, that dazzling repository of
gold of which everyone was speaking, that I failed to note Sasha
s tone. It was identical to the one I had once heard her use
when she parted my father from the subscription money that was
supposed to support our newspaper for a month.
Instead, my previous caution vanished and I saw in her
my deliverance from my problems. No matter if Jade Fan, Wy Mi’s
grieving sister, sold her laundry—and my lodgings—and moved back
to China. No matter if the Widow Higgenbotham refused to pay me
the monies that Papa had promised me for the serialization of my
latest saga in the Herald. No matter that the West was now all
but won, and I had to dredge my dwindling memories of Texas for
material for my popular-but-un-lucrative epistles. No matter
that I would never again see Papa slumped over his desk, or hear
him singing as he stumbled from his favorite saloon. Long since
he had ceased telling me the stories of Cuchulain and Maeve. Wy
Mi had not mentioned the Wind Dragons of his native China since
I told him I’d met one. Life had become quite dull. And now
lovely, kindly Sasha Devine, in all her beneficence, was going
to take me away from all this.
My face must have betrayed my emotion. With a
complacent smile, she turned away from me and began removing her
stage makeup, smoothing the cream below the high ruffled collar
of her dressing gown, which kept tickling her chin and
threatening to get makeup and grease on its lace. I had never
realized her complexion was so fair-pallid, one might even say.
When she removed the whitening under her great green eyes, dark
hollows appeared. When she turned back to me, her collar flopped
away, revealing an angry insect bite on the left side of her
still almost-perfect throat.
Even without the makeup, however, Sasha looked no older than I,
though she had to be at least ten years my senior. Her hair
really was that blond, but without the false curls of her fancy
coiffure, it hung long and straight. She looked delicate when
unpainted, rather like a fairy princess who might, with that
sharp determined chin and those acquisitive green eyes, turn
into a wicked queen with the least encouragement. Hadn’t I heard
a rumor somewhere, no doubt started by Sasha herself, that she
was descended from the royal house of some long-defunct Balkan
“I have been working very hard, and your father’s death
has distressed me greatly,” she said. “Also, until departure
time, I must continue to fulfill my contract here. You will be
in charge of the practical details, booking the passage for me,
yourself, and Mr. Lawson’s coffin . . .”
“Mr. Lawson’s what?” I asked.
“His coffin,” she said, slowly and distinctly, as if to
the deaf. “Mr. Lawson is dead and requires one.”
“Excuse me,” I said. “Unacquainted with Mr. Lawson as I
am, his demise had escaped my notice. If he is dead, why does he
require not only a coffin, but passage aboard a steamer to the
She turned again, her actress’s eyes entreating me
tragically. “Because Mr. Lawson’s partner is a man not only of
exceptionally good taste, as he is an admirer of mine, but also
of considerable sentiment. He and Mr. Lawson worked their
Alaskan claim for many years without success. Even when my
admirer temporarily gave up mining for bartending in order to
earn a further grubstake, Mr. Lawson, it is said, worked with
commendable determination throughout the winter in an attempt to
find the mother lode. To no avail. This earned him the cruel
soubriquet of Lost-Cause among his associates. Finally, his
partner insisted that he come to San Francisco to recuperate
from exhaustion and the illness that consumed him as a result of
his efforts. When the gold strike was made in the Klondike, my
admirer abandoned his bar, after standing a drink for the
denizens in order to get a head start on them, and headed for
Canada. The day Mr. Lawson died, my admirer made one of the
richest strikes in the Yukon. But he is guilt-ridden about it.
His partner must at least see the wealth that eluded them both
for so long, he feels. The gentleman in question remembers me
fondly from a night—a performance—two years ago, and dispatched
a message containing a retainer and promising that if I would
see to it that his poor partner was escorted to the Yukon, he
would make me owner of my own establishment, which is somewhat
better than a gold mine.”
“And you, you will get the experience of traveling to
the most exciting place in the world. Later, when I have earned
my reward, you may be my agent to summon my girls to come join
“It’s a very kind offer, Miss Devine,” I said. “But I
fail to understand exactly why you need me . . .”
“Because I certainly cannot be expected to do
everything. You must see to collecting the body from the
undertaker’s, to booking the passage, to acquiring certain
papers assuring Mr. Lawson’s corpse of entry into Canada.”
She rose and faced me, one hand extended dramatically.
“Vahlenteena, I ask you because I know that you are a person of
integrity, and in my line of work one meets all too few of
those. Do you think I failed to see how you kept your newspaper
running when dear Patrick was unable? You are rather young, of
course, and a woman, but I thought you might be—”
She needed to say no more. I was hooked without hearing
any of the particulars, which is, of course, always a mistake.
I asked to see the letter from her admirer, so that I
might get a list of the tasks to be accomplished. I thought,
from all the details in her story, that it must certainly have
been a very long letter, or perhaps an entire series of
correspondence. However, she responded that she had received
just a note and she thought she had left it in her suite. She
remembered it quite well, however, and went over with me the
prodigious list of chores I needed to perform to secure our
passage. The oddest of these was arranging for the disinterment
of Lost-Cause Lawson from his tomb and his transport to the
This I determined to tackle the following day. I got a
rather late start. I left Sasha Devine during the wee hours
Sunday morning, when it was not yet light and the fog made the
alley look like the smoking aftermath of a great fire. I have
traveled the streets of my native city in what I fondly believed
was perfect safety for most of my life, but in these early
hours, I felt ill at case. The rain finished its demolition work
on my mourning bonnet, which had not been especially crisp to
begin with. My one good woolen coat had used the warmth of
Sasha’s dressing room to finish permeating its fibers with damp,
so that I was now chilled through. My spine was already curling
itself into tight ringlets when the black carriage flashed past
the alley entrance, drenching me to the waist as the wheels
splashed through a puddle.
I shouted a few of the more colorful epithets I had
learned in Texas at the denizens of the carriage, little
expecting response, for half of my remarks were in Spanish, the
vernacular being particularly suited for self-expression of that
To my dismay, the carriage stopped abruptly and swung
around in the middle of the street, the lamps gleaming off the
coats of the horses and the polished ebony of the coach. Shadows
shrouded the interior, but as the vehicle drew even with my
dripping form, a low and melodious voice from within said
softly, ‘Se lo reuego usted que mi disculpas con todo sinceridad,
“Oh, dear, excuse me,” I sputtered, wringing out my
hem. Evidently, I had just had the honor of being splattered by
a member of our local Spanish nobility. “I mean, I didn’t think
you’d under—oh, never mind . . .”
“Ah, you are American, despite your bilingual fluency.”
The voice sounded pleased. Its accent was foreign but not, I
thought, Spanish after all. “Please, madam, permit me to offer
the services of my carriage to conduct you to your quarters,
where you may change your attire and present your other clothing
to my man for cleaning or replacement, if the damage is too
I peered into the shadows and alternated between
feeling like a perfect fool and feeling very cautious about this
disembodied voice. The man sounded like a gentlemen, but many
gentlemen, I had found, were anything but gentle and had
attained their wealth and high station by taking the position
that everyone else was inferior to themselves and, therefore,
“Don’t trouble yourself, sir,” I said, inching away.
“My lodgings are not far and my landlady and her family, who are
waiting up for me, operate a laundry. Jade Fan will have my
costume good as new tomorrow at no expense to me.”
And before he could say any more or possibly leap from
his carriage and drag me in, as my overheated imagination began
to suggest, I sprinted—or splashed—away.
Back to Goldcamp Vampire
|The Unicorn Creed
When Colin Songsmith arrived with the royal party at
Fort Iceworm, he scarcely recognized the place. Indeed, he
scarcely could see the place, once he and the rest of Their
Majesties' entourage had passed within the huge log gates, for
it was crammed ten deep with people everywhere. Even now, in
midsummer, when crops needed tending, animals needed herding,
and peasants needed supervising, and in spite of Fort Iceworm's
remoteness from Queenston, Argonia's capital city and center of
both population and enterprise, no one wanted to miss the royal
From all corners of the realm and the known world, the
guests had already gathered—kings and statesmen, queens of faery,
wazirs and wise men, gypsies, an unusually large number of
assorted unattached noblemen, plus other noble people, ignoble
people, were-people, half-people and even a few non-people. All
had assembled to christen the baby Princess Bronwyn in the hall
of her grandfather, Sir William Hood.
All visible portions of the castle's structure were
layered with silken banners of every color, bearing every crest
in the realm, fluttering less with wind than with the comings
and goings of the throng. The meadows separating castle and
village from the vast forest were strewn with guest pavilions,
like huge overblown summer flowers, crimson, azure, golden and
green of every shade and tint. From the topmost turret of Sir
William's keep flew the King's own crest, a rowan leaf on a
field of scarlet. Directly below it, as was proper, flew Sir
William's own banner, an iceworm, blue, rampant on a field of
white. Enterprising peasants hawked pennants bearing both
emblems through the streets. Every cottager and holder for
leagues around lodged at least twenty people in his small home,
and at all hours elaborately clad servants came and went from
the humblest of village dwellings. Never did the smell of
cooking food, nor the sound of laughter and song, abate, for the
entire week of festivities preceding the christening.
It was a good thing that His Majesty was so tall.
Otherwise Colin, whose duty it was as chief minstrel to always
be at the King's right hand, chronicling his regally witty
remarks on the marvelous occasion, could never have found either
the King or his right hand. Fortunately, His Highness was
descended from frost giants, and was thus of conveniently
Colin had less luck locating the other person he most wished to
find at the christening, his old questing companion, Maggie
Brown, Sir William's bastard daughter and Queen Amberwine's half
sister. He knew where she was well enough, or where she had
been, at any rate. It was Maggie's special talent, her
hearthcraft witchery, which kept the entire christening from
being a greater domestic disaster than it was. Hers was the
power to perform all household tasks in the twinkling of an eye,
and wherever she went she cut a swath of fragrant cooking fires,
clean rushes, whitewashed walls, clean dishes, hot food, cold
drink, emptied chamber pots, fresh linen, kindled torches and
tidied beds. It was not an unpleasant trail to follow.
Nevertheless, Colin had hoped for a more personal
confrontation—a bit of a reunion, as it were—a chance to sing
her his new songs, to tell her of his life at the castle, and
perhaps to strut for her a bit in the rich apparel the King had
given him. But somehow he never seemed to be free of his duties
at the same time she was free of hers in the same room. Once he
almost collided with her as he was coming in from a party at Sir
Oswald's pavilion, but without looking up she'd brushed past him
in a brown blur, automatically mending a small tear and cleaning
a wine stain on his sleeve in passing. He was, for once,
speechless, and after that had no more opportunities to seek her
out, preoccupied as he was with his own duties of observing,
chronicling, dancing, singing, entertaining and being
entertained by his fellow guests.
So it happened that, although she was the first person
he'd looked for, he never really saw her properly until the
actual christening had begun and he took his favored place,
slightly behind and to the left of Their Majesties' makeshift
thrones inside the cow yard, which was the only area large
enough to hold even the noble part of the assemblage.
King Roari and his queen, the exquisite Lady Amberwine,
were flanked on one side by the most important of the royal
guests, and on the other side by a smug and beaming Sir William,
an equally proud Granny Brown, Maggie's irascible witch
grandmother, and by Maggie herself. She was still dressed in her
brown woolen skirt and tunic and manure-spattered wooden clogs,
her apron splotched with a fresh grease stain, neglected in the
excitement, her brown eyes darting restlessly around the
courtyard, as if looking for tasks that still needed doing. Only
her shining otter's pelt of brown hair was clean and neatly
braided, and bespoke personal preparation for the historic
moment about to take place.
As the Mother's Priestess lifted Princess Bronwyn from
Queen Amberwine's arms, and carried her gently and ceremoniously
to the mound of christening mud heaped high upon the
white-silk-covered table in front of the throne, Maggie caught
Colin's eye and grinned at him. It was her old grin, and full of
relief, though somewhat nervous. He grinned back at her, trying
to think how to signal her to wait for him after the ceremony,
but then there was no time. The baby had stopped howling in the
priestess's unfamiliar arms, and now gurgled happily as the
woman tenderly smeared the small body with the Mother's
The congregation cheered as the last of Bronwyn's
shining pink flesh was blessed with another gooey glob, and the
small Princess was borne away into the castle to be bathed
before the gifting began.
Colin thought then he might step over to one side and
snag Maggie before she disappeared again. But before he'd taken
a pace, King Roari lifted his hand slightly, and the royal
herald, standing just to Colin's right, blew a loud, whinnying
blast on his trumpet. Colin winced.
The King rose majestically—he was very good at being
majestic, being so large—and the trumpet-silenced assemblage
knelt; not an easy task, since a kneeling person took up more
room than a standing one, and the cow yard was already packed.
Back to The Unicorn Creed
| Bronwyn the Bold was still flushed from the heat of battle when the Lord Chamberlain found her in the small courtyard below the eastern wall of the Royal Palace. The courtyard was in ruins. Trees, walls, jousting dummies, the Queen's prize petunia patch, all were gouged, hacked and otherwise dismembered. The Princess knelt beside the wall, her short sword cooling in its sheath, her red carved shield close by her side. Evidently satisfied with the routing she'd dealt her enemies, she bent over the prone forms of her dolls, each of which was blanketed by one of her monogrammed handkerchiefs. “My lady," the Chamberlain began.
"What is it, Uncle Binky?" she demanded in a fair imitation of her father's regal roar. "Can't you see I've mortally wounded casualties on my hands? We need healers and medicine now!”
"Yes, my lady," the Chamberlain replied with a tone sober and a face straight from long and difficult practice. "I'll see to it personally, my lady . . ."
"A simple 'general' will do," Bronwyn said graciously, since she was actually very pleased to have someone to talk to. She hopped to her feet and took the Chamberlain's hand in hers, her action very like that of any normal child except that ordinary little girls didn't tower over adult royal retainers. "What news do you bring from behind our lines?"
"Your lady mother wishes a word with you, madam," the Lord Chamberlain replied.
"She hasn't—?" Bronwyn asked, jiggling his hand excitedly.
"No, madam, she has not. Nor will she deliver the babe for a month yet to come, as the Princess Magdalene has already informed Your Highness." And he clamped his lips tightly shut as if he were afraid she'd steal his teeth.
Bronwyn was quite used to having not only the Lord Chamberlain but everyone else who attended her adopt such attitudes when she tried to question or talk to them, so as usual she continued chattering at him as if he were answering each remark and paying her rapt attention. She supposed it went with her high rank to have everyone so in awe of her presence that they couldn't speak properly out of deference. Later, she decided that his silence was less usual than she'd thought, and smacked of the stoicism of a guard escorting his prisoner to the block—or into direst exile.
* * *
Maggie, Lady Wormroost, paced the Royal sick chamber with an anxiety that was in no way relieved by the sound of her niece's big feet galumphing towards her from down the hall. At least this interview would be short, but it wouldn't be easy.
She glanced at the Queen—sleeping, of course, as she should be to conserve her meager strength. Except for the mound of belly drifted over with white satin coverlet, the Queen was more frail than Maggie had ever seen her, her bones sticking out like those of a plucked bird, her skin thinned to a ghost-like translucency, marbled with blue. Maggie loved her elder half-sister and wished there was something she could do for her besides keep her company when she woke and see to it that her chamber pot was kept empty and her bedding spotless.
For though Maggie was officially Regent, she knew only enough about government to know that it was best left in the hands of the few capable ministers the King had appointed to take charge of the war effort on the home front. Oh, she had used her hearth witchcraft, which allowed her to do all work connected with the home magically, to give a hand at readying the castle and surrounding city for siege. But she hoped the preparations she made, mostly consisting of magically expanding and storing existing food supplies beyond normal winter needs, would be unnecessary.
With any luck at all, King Roari's army would be able to head off Worthyman the Worthless and the Ablemarlonian forces and persuade them of the error of their ways. But it would not be easy. Worthyman was an unscrupulous scoundrel and a wastrel, but in one of his wiser moments he had chosen to squander a large portion of the treasury on a professional standing army of trained soldiers. Immediately thereafter, without bothering to try to forge a trade agreement, he had declared war on King Roari. He used the excuse that his country needed Argonian timber for its ship-building industry, which may have been true since, at his direction, Ablemarle's remaining forest land had been denuded and cultivated. However, the private opinion held by the King, Maggie, and a few others, was that Worthyman was actually hoping to find and eliminate his elder brother, the true Crown Prince, a focus of frequent Ablemarlonian rebellions even though he preferred to dwell quietly among the Argonian gypsies.
Whatever the reasons behind the war, Maggie wished it were over and she and Colin were safe back at Wormroost with their own daughter, Carole.
Which reminded her of her most immediate problem, one that concerned both Carole and Bronwyn. Too bad the King hadn't left her some wise minister to whom she could delegate this sort of domestic crisis, but unfortunately she and the Queen would have to muddle along by themselves.
If only Bronwyn weren't so bloody irritating. With her constant rattling nonsense, she was so provoking that Maggie never seemed to be able to talk to the child without snapping at her, even though she knew what annoyed her most was hardly the poor girl's own fault. Ah, well, Bronwyn was lucky Maggie was only a hearth witch and not a transformer like her Granny Brown or a really wicked witch like child-eating Great-Great-Grandma Elspat, or there were times when Her Royal Highness would have gotten worse than a snapping at . . .
"The Princess Bronwyn," the Chamberlain announced at the door.
"You think we can't see that for ourselves?" Maggie snapped. Damn! The girl was getting to her already. The Chamberlain beat a hasty retreat. Bronwyn gave her a shy smile that was ludicrous in such a strapping girl. Then, with her eyes still on Maggie's, as if anticipating a blow, she tripped sideways to her mother's bedside, stumbling at the last moment to fall across the sleeping Queen. Amberwine gasped and sat up, catching at her daughter's arm. Bronwyn held her mother by the elbow with one hand and with the other hand brushed at her, as if the contact might have dirtied her.
"Leave off, niece. You'll bruise her," Maggie advised as evenly as possible.
Bronwyn sprang away from the bed as if she'd touched the lighted end of a torch.
The frail Queen blinked her wide, green eyes twice and held out her hand to her daughter, who took it timidly. "How good it is to see you, my darling. How are you today?"
"Splendid, Mama. Extraordinary, in fact. I've just slain the entire Ablemarlonian army and the leaders have all been hanged in your name."
Maggie groaned and Amberwine, had it been possible for her to have become any paler, could have been said to have done so. "Er, how kind of you, pet. You're such a thoughtful child. Isn't she, Maggie?"
Maggie shook her head and managed a faint, rueful smile. Bronwyn had her mother's eyes and chin, but she was otherwise her father's daughter entirely. A fitting successor to her paternal grandfathers, Rowans the Rambunctious, Rampaging, and Reckless respectively, she would have made King Roari a fine son. Pity. She was a dead loss at the womanly pursuits, and had gone through so many gowns her tiring women had finally given up and allowed her to go about in the simple undergown and armor she preferred. She clinked somewhat now as she perched on the edge of the bed, not quite resting her entire weight upon it, afraid she'd break her mother's bones if she relaxed. She was such a large girl—half again as large as either Maggie or Amberwine and uncomfortably aware that she had yet to gain mastery of her body. She knew she could cause irreparable damage to practically anything in the twinkling of an eye. If only she could be allowed to puncture something other than her own fingers during her earnest but ultimately painful attempts at needlework, perhaps the child would be good for something despite her—problem.
Amberwine caught Maggie's eye and said to Bronwyn, "Your aunt has a wonderful surprise for you, darling. Don't you, Maggie?"
Maggie felt another stab of guilt as a look of hopefulness and anticipatory pleasure dawned in the girl's eyes, and before it could turn into a full-fledged smile Maggie lost her nerve and tossed the conversational ball back to Amberwine. Sick, or not, the Queen was Bronwyn's mother. Let her be the one to break the news. "I think she'd rather you'd tell her, Winnie."
"Tell me what?" Bronwyn demanded in a childish parody of her father's boom.
She was a-wriggle with excitement now.
Winnie shot Maggie an injured look. "Why, that it's been arranged for you to have a nice trip in the country for awhile, dear. To see some of the rest of the kingdom and to meet your cousin Carole. It must be so dull for you shut up in the castle all the time and . . ."
"But it's not, Mama, really," Bronwyn protested, though, of course, it was.
"There's your duty too, young lady," Maggie said, stepping in before the child got out of hand. "To your mother, your subjects and Argonia. You will need to see more of your realm than the capitol sometime, and there's no time like the present."
Bronwyn started to protest, but for once Winnie was firm.
"Besides, I wish it. Maggie and I were such good friends as girls. You and Carole must learn to know and love each other too. I want you to have friends and—oh, darling, don't look like that! You'll have such fun! Tell her about the ice castle and the worm and the animals and the talking river, Maggie."
Maggie began talking very fast, tripping over her own tongue while describing the peculiar sights of Wormroost Manor, before the Princess could start crying or raise some other row that would further upset Winnie. It was unsettling enough to the Queen to be pregnant and bedridden while her husband was at war and her country under attack without worrying about Bronwyn. Not only was the girl a handful to have around at such a crucial time, but if the new reports of the enemy entering the Gulf of Gremlins were true, and by some ill fortune the King's forces could not stop them, the Ablemarlonians might soon be in Queenston Harbor. Bronwyn was Crown Princess and must be kept safe. Winnie was sure that if her daughter knew how potentially perilous the situation was, she would refuse to leave, although it was vital to national security that she do so. Maggie's view was that the girl had to grow up sometime, but then, Maggie wasn't Queen and very glad of it too. So she talked, wishing she had her husband's gift of gab and persuasive musical abilities to help her sound convincing.
Bronwyn interrupted her in mid-sentence, rising from her mother's bedside to stand at attention, her face set in a small painful smile not quite tight enough to control the trembling of her freckled chin. "Thank you for your intriguing tale, my lady aunt. If my Royal Mama commands it, I am sure that I shall greatly enjoy my banis—fostering at your home. If I may be excused, I'll take my leave now and prepare for the journey." And she turned on her heel and left.
Maggie and Amberwine exchanged relieved sighs that Bronwyn had been so tractable for a change. It was a sign of their anxious preoccupation with other matters and the poor state of Amberwine's health that it didn't occur to either of them until much later that Bronwyn's seemingly sensible attitude was more ominous than any fuss she might have made. For the trouble with Bronwyn was that, through no fault of her own, the girl was incapable of telling the truth.
Back to Bronwyn's Bane
Banshee shrieks and shuddering moans pealed off the
stone walls, bouncing from buttressed arch to arrow slot,
lending the whole north wing all the peaceful charm of a
dungeon. Rupert Rowan, prince and diplomatic trainee, winced and
recrossed his long legs, sinking back into the velvet padded
chair and trying to maintain his carefully cultivated serenity
despite his sister's anguished wails from the other side of the
iron-hinged door. He had wearied of pacing hours ago and now had
settled down to present a good example to the occasional subject
who passed by him in the corridor. Most of these subjects were
women, and many of them pretended not to hear Bronwyn's
caterwauling, which Rupert thought very decent of them. Bronwyn
was supposed to be a warrior. Why did she have to choose a time
when he was in earshot to give up stoicism?
A buxom wench with a pert face and a corona of
golden braids smiled warmly at him, masking the expression he
frequently saw in female faces with one of sympathy. "There now,
Your Highness, don't worry. The hollering relieves the pains
some, see? Every woman does it in labor. She won't even remember
this when she holds the little one in her arms. You'll see."
He smiled at her, a bit pitifully, striving to present
a visage that would inspire her to clasp it to her bosom.
"You're very kind. Will it be much longer do you think?"
She smoothed the clean, white towels over her arm with
one shapely hand. "Not much, I should think. Though the first
always takes longer. Is it an Argonian custom to have a male
relative in attendance, Your Highness? Forgive me, but we were
curious, we girls, if you were here because Prince Jack couldn't
be, being in Brazoria as I'm sure it's needful he be, though
very hard on our young lady, your sister, it is. We think it
ever so sweet that her brother should come be near her in her
husband’s stead. None of his folk offered, not even the women."
She blushed a pretty pink and covered her pretty mouth with her
fingertips. "No disrespect intended, milord."
"None taken, I'm sure. We all know what gypsies are
like. As a matter of fact I—"
A particularly blood-curdling bellow emanated from the
royal bedchamber. The girl started, gave him an apologetic smile
and a half-curtsy, and scurried off, banging through the door
hip and shoulder first.
He had been about to explain to her that the last thing
he intended was to be at Bronwyn’s bedside for her birthing. He
had, in fact, only been stopping off on the way from his
fostering in Wasimarkan, where he was learning diplomacy at the
behest of his Royal Mother, Queen Amberwine. The Queen had
rightly pointed out that with an elder sister as Princess
Consort of Ablemarle (having lost the title of Crown Princess of
Argonia when her brothers were born), elder twin brothers (one
of whom, Raleigh, would be King, the other of whom, Roland,
would be war leader), there was very little else for her fourth
child to do that would be useful.
The Queen had declared with unusual forcefulness for a
person of faery blood that she was not about to have a son of
hers turn into a good-for-nothing knight errant bullying the
populace and using his royal prerogatives to rape and pillage.
It had happened elsewhere, and Rupert was no less fond of the
phenomena than his mother. He was a highly peaceable and loving
sort by nature—so loving, in fact, that by the age of twenty,
when his frost giant ancestry caused him to be so unusually tall
and well grown and his faery blood lent him an uncommon beauty
and charm, he was a cause for alarm among the fathers and
husbands in the Wasimarkanian Court. To the men he was called,
behind his back (for it would never do to offend so powerful an
ally as the Royal House of Argonia) Rowan the Rake. To the
women, into whose eyes he gazed soulfully and whose hands he
kissed tenderly, almost without regard for age, station, or
pulchritude, he was Rowan the Romantic. He would miss those
charitable and generous ladies, one and all, but his mentors,
under pressure, had declared that with princesses of six major
countries in a swoon for his attentions, he would need more
advanced lessons in diplomacy than they had to offer. They
referred him back to his own family for further instruction.
The stop in Ablemarle’s capitol to visit Bronwyn had
been an impulse. His ship was docking to take on cargo. He had
not seen Bronwyn in several years, and she had always been his
favorite in the family. She was as good a fighter if not a
better one than Roland—at least on the practice field—and she
had had marvelous adventures when she was still much younger
than Rupert. When Rupert tired of hearing of those adventures,
which he sometimes did since he always wanted to learn something
new, Bronwyn was most adept at making up tales to amuse him.
He almost failed to recognize the wild-eyed creature
who greeted him and clung to his hand, her face so pale that
every freckle stood out like a pock, her wiry red hair loose and
straggling in every direction, her belly great with child. The
self-sufficient big sister of his youth all but pleaded with him
to remain until her child was born, as it was to be any day. She
begged him to stay since her husband, Prince Jack, could not.
Rupert had failed to understand any more than the pretty
lady-in-waiting why any masculine family member should be a
comfort to Bronwyn in what was first and foremost and unarguably
woman's work, but he could not deny her. He had stayed.
A long, gasping cry ended in an ear-splitting scream,
and was followed closely by another cry, this time the squall of
an infant. Rupert jumped to his feet and strode to the door,
leaving his rowan shield leaning against the door. All the Rowan
offspring usually carried the shields made by their father as
birthing gifts on their persons, for the rowan wood was proof
against magic. But he was in his sister’s hall and far more
excited than he had thought he would be at the advent of this
new relative, and three strides was hardly an incautious
The door flung back against him and the girl with whom
he had been speaking bustled out, brushing against him, a
whimpering blanketed bundle cradled against her breast.
"Wait," he said quickly. "Can I see?"
She lifted the triangle of blanket just above the crook
of her elbow and showed him a wrinkled, red little face that
began to screw itself into another scream. "It's a girl," the
maid informed him. "Isn't she adorable?"
"Quite," he said, trying to sound sincere. "I'll just
go congratulate Bronwyn."
"Oh, not yet, milord," she said. "She's getting her
bath and then she must rest a bit. I'll be bathing this child to
be presented to her when she wakes."
"A bath?" he asked blankly. "Oh, of course, the baby
would be needing a bath. Well, um, may I watch? I've never seen
a new child bathed before."
"I don't see why not," the girl said with a saucy,
calculating look from under her lashes, "But you Argonians
certainly have strange ways, if you'll pardon my saying so,
"I'd pardon you almost anything, my dear," he said
politely, and opened the door to an adjoining chamber for her.
The baby's bath was interesting chiefly in that Rupert
thought it very convenient to be able to bathe an entire human
being in a wash basin that barely fit his two hands. Otherwise
it was rather messy. The maid herself was far more intriguing,
and he proceeded to get to know her better while his new niece
slept in her cradle, carved in the shape of a swan and newly
decked with pink ribbons by the lady whose ear he was nibbling.
The enormous draft that blasted open the double doors
took both Rupert and his companion by surprise, as did the fact
that neither of them was able to do so much as raise a finger to
lift themselves from the tiled floor where they had been flung.
Indeed, Rupert could not so much as twitch his knee from where
it undoubtedly inconvenienced his paramour, lodged in her
midsection. He watched helplessly as a rather large rug whisked
in on the blast. Two gentlemen with blue robes and bandages tied
round their heads with blue cords lifted the baby from her
cradle and onto the rug and whisked back out again. They failed
to blast the door shut behind them and Rupert could hear doors
banging, presumably all the way down the corridors to the main
entrance, as the rug flew through unhindered.
Back to Christening Quest
A WORD FROM A WAYFARING STRANGER
A good storyteller, I have learned, does not make the whole
entire story center around herself, as if she was the most
important thing about the story. I've seen many a fine
songwriter who once wrote and sang wonderfully understanding
songs about the lives of ordinary people fall flat on his ass
when he gets a little famous, gets away from regular folks, and
pretty soon all he's able to write are songs about how god-awful
it is to be on the road and how he is so a-lo-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-own.
So I want to make it clear that though I'm in it and I have a
little part of it, this story is not about me. It's about me
telling about what happened when certain parties decided to
deprive the world and these United States of America in
particular of what is broadly, inaccurately, and disputedly
called folk music.
About these certain parties; lawyers would probably call them
the parties of the first part, but I call them devils. For one
thing, they are, as you will see in this story and the other two
parts of it that follow, mighty powerful and also mighty evil.
That fits devils down to the ground. More than that, they're
mysterious and magical and we—my friends and I—only learned what
happened on their end in little bitty pieces here and there most
of the time and had to fit it all together as we went along.
Because to begin with, I would say the common attitude among us
was that we all were inclined to like magic without exactly
believing in it, which was different from later when we were
forced to believe in it but didn't like it much at all.
It wasn't your little Tinkerbell fairies or nice old bats
with magic wands, none of that stuff. Not even wise magicians
like Merlin or witches like that woman with the twitchy nose who
used to be on television. So though I could tell you they were
goblins or gremlins or all-powerful wicked wizards, I think I'll
just call 'em what my grandma from back in the Carolina
mountains would have called them: devils. Not necessarily the
hellfire-and-brimstone kind that get you if you don't believe a
certain way. Buddhists have devils same as Christians, same as a
lot of folks. Most everyone has something like that. So just say
these were basic, generic, all-around-ornery devils who were
opposed to anybody having any kind of belief or good feelings in
themselves that helped them get by. That was why they hated the
music so, you see. That was why they set out to destroy it.
And that is why it's been up to me, who never has been able
to carry a tune in a bucket, to go before the others, back into
where just about all the music has been pulled out by the roots.
My job is to tell how it happened, to fertilize the soil, to
make the people ready for when the songs come back, fresh
cuttings transplanted from the old soil where my friends and I
have spent these last harrowing years harvesting the songs from
their own history, trying to save them from the oblivion where
the devils sent so many of our own songs.
I don't go on the radio or TV talk shows, now that I'm home,
or anywhere the devils can find me and keep me from talking to
people. I use my gift of gab I got from bartending and the
performance training I got from dancing plus what I learned from
hanging around all those musicians lately, and I travel around
among the ordinary people, the kids, the bums, the working
folks—anyone who is bored or lonely enough to have time to
listen. I turn myself into someone else, someone as fascinating
as a snake charmer, someone who is a worthy enemy of all those
devils, and I make myself heard.
What follows, written down, is the important part of what's
been happening since I've been back, staying with a friend and
with an audience as long as it seems safe, then moving on to
carry the story farther, to break just a little more ground.
It's not in my voice because mostly it's not about me except as
I'm reflected in the eyes of other people. It's about them, what
they say, what they do, what can be guessed from the things that
happen and from the lifting of an eyebrow or a quirk of a mouth.
And of course it's about the songs, which, when you hear them,
speak for themselves.
So think of me, and of yourself, as if we were birds on a
branch or flies buzzing in the air around that first schoolyard,
where a funny old woman is talking to a bunch of kids, telling
them about something that happened a few years before.
"One time all the devils in the world had a meeting to decide
what it was they could do to make folks even more miserable than
they already were.
"First thing happened was the Chairdevil stood up and allowed
as how they all ought to be congratulated for doing such a fine
job so far." The woman paused to heighten suspense while the
children who were huddled around her in the noisy schoolyard
strained so that they wouldn't miss anything she might say next.
The children were fascinated by the woman, not only because
of what she said, but because of how she said it. When she
talked, she moved her face more than people usually did and she
moved her body too, so that she seemed to be the Chairdevil
calling a meeting to order. This was the second story—she'd told
another, a short one, at morning recess, a silly one about
animals, just to whet their appetites. The boy had been
impressed then too by the way she spoke different voices with
each character, seeming to turn into a new person as she spoke
in each new voice. She never left out important words, even if
they weren't suitable for children, and somehow, all of this
combined to make her words come as alive in his mind as anything
he had seen on TV. She moved more than he would have thought
possible for such a small person, and all without shifting from
her sheltered position in the middle of the group.
And she was funny-looking. Oh, you could tell she had once
been pretty enough to be a corporate executive herself, but
she'd let lines get in her face, though her eyes were still
snapping bright and her cheeks red as apples after the grocer
sprayed them with a hose. Her legs were still fine and shapely,
the boy noticed that too, right off, but her waist was too
thick. And her hair was a mop of gray, not white, not silver,
not violet or blond, but plain old elderly gray curls. Nor was
her voice quite what he was used to. When she wasn't pretending
to be someone else, it had a snap and a twang and sometimes a
sugary drawl. She didn't call them children, she called them
kids, and instead of trying to learn their names, she carelessly
addressed them all as hon or darlin' or kiddo. His mom would
have a fit if she knew he was listening to someone like that.
Everybody knew better than to talk like that these days. You
learned better just listening to the educational shows on your
TV. This crazy old woman might as well have been a spaceperson
for all the similarity she bore to the women even his
grandmother knew. He couldn't wait to hear what she was going to
" 'We've made great strides in this century, fellow devils,'
the Chairdevil said.'Why, our nuclear bomb, nuclear reactors,
and all our other nuclear knickknacks by themselves can not only
blow up the world and melt down into mass catastrophe but can
make those greedy, hysterical suckers out there square off
against each other like nothing has since the apple Our Founder
sold First Couple.' A round of polite applause greeted this, but
it was pretty much old stuff. The Chairdevil was a fairly
conservative fellow in his way, and liked to stick with the
tried and true.
"After a bit he waved his hands for the others to stop
clapping and continued, 'And for those who have their heads too
stuck in the mud to notice a little thing like world
destruction, some of you enterprising souls have added teensy
little wars in miserable little places. I'd mention them
individually, but I can't keep track of them myself. Just let me
say that just because the war you promote isn't a big budget job
between major powers doesn't mean it isn't important. The little
stuff adds up and I want you to know it is by no means
overlooked.' The Doom and Destruction Devil and the Stupidity
and Ignorance Devil exchanged knowing glances and settled back
with sighs full of long-suffering and neglect. The Chairdevil
theoretically did know that the cumulative effect of their very
successful efforts to see hunger and hostility clamp down on one
regime in one little country after another regime in another
little country made all the difference—all the difference—in the
world, but the Chairdevil just naturally went for the
flamboyant. Simple things like astronomical death tolls didn't
impress him. He liked things to go boom. In some ways, he was
surprisingly democratic. He enjoyed seeing great civilizations
crumbling, the rich and privileged, the sheltered and pampered,
dying just as miserably as poor folks. It was one of his more
endearingly infuriating characteristics.
"He departed from his notes then, laying them down and saying
in a casual, off-the-cuff way, 'And I really like what y'all
have been doing with the terrorism thing too. Very clever. Very
tricky. Pick off the civilians. Pick off the so-called
innocents. Why should they be left out? Keep reminding our
minions that it's up to us to set the example. If our people
commit one little suggestive atrocity, our lead will be followed
and amplified tenfold.' He looked kind of humble and grateful
after that and everyone else tried to look the same way." 'On
the domestic front, I think the pestilence department should be
congratulated on all those diseases that have made it more
dangerous than ever for the livestock out there to reach out and
touch anyone. I like the sanctimonious thing S&I has been
promoting to go with it too.' The Stupidity and Ignorance Devil
held up both huge hands and made them shake each other in the
air like a prize fighter. Now he was one that always got a lot
of pleasure out of the little things. 'And by the way, S&I
should continue to be congratulated for inspiring all those
enterprising people out there who even when there are no nearby
minority groups of any sort for them to hate never forget to
hate them anyway on general principle and continue to foster
generations of hatred by never failing to beat their kids, their
parents, and each other with enthusiastic ferocity.'
"All the other devils certainly agreed that they could drink
to something like that and they clapped some more and said
'Bravo' and 'Hear hear' and so on, making an awful racket until
the Chairdevil shushed them again.
Back to Phantom Banjo
Picking the Ballad's Bones
| As if a night like that with the
wind and fog and rain in an ancient monastery looking for a
long-dead wizard wasn't Halloweenish enough for everybody,
Gussie was trying to get used to sharing her body with a ghost.
Hell, she hadn't shared it with a man on a regular basis for
close to twenty years except for a one-night stand once in a
blue moon. And this was a whole lot closer than being in bed
together—it was like being pregnant with somebody else's
homemade film, full of voices and pictures that weren't hers,
even when Sir Walter wasn't talking. It made her giddy. Not that
he wasn't as polite as he could be. It simply didn't give a lady
much privacy. She had never been quite so close to anyone even
before she ran her old man off.
She felt a little like a ghost herself with her cold wet feet
and her stringing hair trailing water all down her back and
face, her eyes wide from trying to see in the dark.
As she passed through the gate, reminding Sir Walter that
they had to physically open the gate and go between the doors,
not through them as he had been used to doing, she saw Julianne
wafting ahead of them, like something out of a Wilkie Collins
At Willie MacKai's back, the banjo was still playing that
song and now more than ever the words came back—Gussie realized
Sir Walter was feeding them to her.
"Cold blows the wind o'er my true
And gently falls the rain
I never had but one true love
And in greenwood he lies slain
I'll do as much for my true love
As any young girl may
I'll sit and mourn all on his grave
For twelvemonth and a day."
But as they crept farther into the abbey, the song changed to
a major key and the tune became the one that urged them to "Take
it to its Root," the song that the banjo had taught Willie and
Juli to write during the traffic jam from hell on the Oregon
Trail. Willie stopped, listened, then continued on, stalking
silent and wary, looking all around him like the soldiers on
patrol in the war movies did. Anna Mae Gunn walked a little to
his left as if she were on tippy-toe and if she were a cat her
ears would have been swiveling all different directions. Brose
Fairchild pitty-patted beside her with little reluctant steps,
the irises of his eyes all surrounded by whites and his wiry
red-gray hair seeming to stand on end more than ever.
"You seem ill at ease, good woman," Sir Walter's ghost
intruded on Gussie's thoughts.
"I am," she muttered—no need to speak loud enough to wake the
dead, so to speak, when the dead was right here inside her head,
cozy as another pea in a one-pea pod. "I can understand how the
atmosphere wouldn't especially impress you but it scares the
bejeezus out of me. And I can't help wondering where that
red-haired woman got herself to."
"Oh, as to that, who knows about such as she," he said,
dotingly, Gussie thought.
"You evidently know her better than we do if you think she's
worth bowin' over and so on," Gussie said.
"Aye. I know her," he said. Though he hadn't quite recognized
her in the long-distance visions he'd had when he first arose
from the grave, the moment he met her he'd known her for what
and who she was. He had been a sheriff and a lawman in life and
he had seen a lot of deviltry—enough to knock sense into any
ordinary man. But he was also the biggest romantic of his age
and lived more in his head than he did in the real world most of
the time and a little thing like dying hadn't changed that.
Gussie did not know what to make of the image he showed her of
Torchy Burns with her red hair blazing under a golden crown with
stars all over it and wearing a gown of velvet green decorated
with silver trim and little silver bells. She just supposed that
he liked redheads, which figured, him being Scottish and all,
and that he was having the kind of fantasies about her that if
he were a modern man, he would have dressed her up in a slinky
evening dress and diamonds and maybe a mink coat. (Well, maybe
not a mink coat what with the way people were reacting to those
things these days. But most men having fantasies about redheaded
women didn't worry about animal rights politics or much of
anything else at the time.)
"Here it is," Julianne's toneless voice floated back to them,
an echo that didn't repeat itself. "I found it," she said.
"Is he—uh—up?" Brose asked in such a small voice he had to
Faron and Ellie had been inspecting everything around them
with interest but now that Julianne had found the tomb Ellie's
eyes were big as saucers and Faron's Adam's apple traveled up
and down, up and down. They had already encountered several
ghosts in the course of their journeys but the ghost of a wizard
was surely something special. Both of them were big fans of
fantasy novels and they knew that the quintessential question
when it came to wizards was a paraphrase of the one Glenda the
Good had asked Dorothy Gale, "Are you a good wizard or a bad
Neither of the Randolphs had shown less courage than any of
the others when faced with actual ghosts, but then they hadn't
had time to be afraid of the ones they'd seen before. The other
ghosts may have appeared on atmospheric nights too but they
didn't have the fanfare of being announced by a descendant who
was possessing a friend of the Randolphs'. The Wizard Michael
Scott might have been a great philosopher, scientist, and
scholar but he was also, like all competent magicians, enough of
a ham to know how to make an entrance.
Ellie scooted closer to Gussie. She was shivering so hard her
rain-wet goose bumps stood up like white caps. "Gussie, ask Sir
Walter what this Mike guy is like."
"He doesn't know. He never met him."
"But he's going to wait until midnight, huh?" she asked.
"It's only eleven," Anna Mae said. "God, I'm freezing."
"Me too," Ellie said, jumping up and down vigorously to
demonstrate her point.
"Maybe there'd be time to go back to Abbotsford for blankets
or something," Gussie said. "I didn't lock up, Walt, did you?
You don't mind if I call you Walt, do you? And you call me
Gussie. Seeing as how we're getting so close and all."
"Seems imminently practical to me, dear lady. I doot mah dear
wife would mind even were she alive, and would join me in
begging you to call me what you will. Walter or Wat, as you
would have it."
But his pleasant speech broke off abruptly and Gussie felt
him stiffen and freeze within her, before with even more
alarming abruptness she found herself turning and tearing back
for the gate.
"Sir Walt—Wat, simmer down. What is it? Where are we going?
You don't have to return to the grave at midnight do you?"
In her mind an anguished howl let rip. "The swine! The dirty
swine have returned. They're after my bukes, Gussie. We maun
save my bukes."
He headed her straight for the gate. "Whoa, Walt, if you're
going that way you have to leave me behind. Even if we don't go
through walls I can't run all the way back to your place."
"We must!" he cried. "I canna bide here trapped while they
destroy m'life's work!"
Gussie was too involved with the distraught ghost to notice
what the others were up to, but Ellie, who had been close by,
grabbed Faron. "Come on, we'll drive you back."
"What about the wizard?"
"There's an hour. The others can stay here. Once we get back
to Abbotsford Sir Walter can un-possess you and haunt the
vandals into submission if we make it in time. Brose, you got
He tossed them and there was a clink as they hit the paving
stones, then Ellie, Faron, and Gussie/Sir Walter piled into the
van and drove like bats out of hell for Abbotsford.
A diesel eighteen-wheeler with the legend Circus Rom on the side
was parked outside Abbotsford and the front door stood wide
"Oh, my God, Wat, I'm sorry. I should have locked up," Gussie
said. "Might as well have printed an invitation."
But she was only able to aim the thoughts at him as she ran for
the house. Sir Walter forgot that she was no longer young and he
had been dead more than a hundred and fifty years. He took the
walk up to the house like a sprinter and Gussie passed Ellie and
Faron, and did not hear the scuffling from behind her when the
young couple came abreast of the circus truck. But Sir Walter
carried her along so fast she did make it to the door before
something came down on her head and she crumpled on the
threshold just as a bright orange light blossomed from the open
doorway to the library.
Back to Picking the Ballad's
| The cowboy they called Ute didn't look
Native American, Shayla St. Michael thought, but then you never
could tell. As Shayla and the rest of the small band of
Californian eco-feminists gathered around the campfire, Ute
fixed them with a sardonic glance and continued sharpening his
blue pencil with his pocket knife. He'd already cooked the women
a nice vegetarian meal with a few edible non-endangered native
plants and onions from the Valley, piñon nuts imported from New
Mexico, and a little tofu imported from the soy fields of
The smoke that rose, some might say fragrantly, to the sky,
was authentically coming from a fire of dried unspecified animal
dung. He used to tell the tour groups which animals, but that
had proved unwise. Unspecified was safest.
Now, sated with their politically correct meal, the women sat
around the campfire and watched the smoke spiral toward the
"I think this is lovely. No television, no radio, no
computers," began Barbara Harrington-Smith, a corporate tax
"I disagree," said Shayla, who was a graphic artist for a
large publisher. "I'm bored. We walked a great deal, true, but I
miss my evening jog even though I do understand that we might
trample indigenous wildlife of the fanged serpentine variety and
be immediately chastised for our thoughtlessness. And I did as
instructed and didn't bring any work."
"Also," added Heather-Jon Argulijan, "this fire stinks."
"I could tell you a mite more about the interestin' things
that have happened on this ranch," Ute said in his quaint
western twang. He was not offensively macho. Though the
eco-feminist group had requested that their guide be a cowgirl,
or more correctly, a cow-woman, the tour director explained that
the cowgirls were all attending management seminars that week or
competing for top prize money in the rodeos and wouldn't be
available but assured them that Ute, while absolutely an
authentic member of his profession, was also extremely
progressive in his attitudes and in fact was the one who
insisted on bumper stickers that proclaimed "ERA Will Rise
Again" for all of the ranch's Jeeps and pickups.
"Oh, God, not another environmental impact statement,"
Heather-Jon moaned. "I'm sorry, Barbara, but I just can't take
Barbara sometimes thought of Heather-Jon as the weakest link,
but she was also usually a lot of fun, and fun seemed to be what
Ute grinned at Heather-Jon in a non-condescending, brotherly,
and respectful way. "Why, ma'am, as important as such a thing is
to all of us, I don't reckon I'd undertake to tell you women
about it orally like. That's somethin' that it's only fittin'
should be read carefully in big old folios of recycled hard
copy. No'm, what I had in mind was to tell you the story of how
an old hand on this here ranch and some compadres of his,
includin' yours truly—"
"All men?" asked Shayla in a still-bored tone that indicated
she was just sure they all would be. She inched a little farther
from the fire and slipped on her wool socks and pulled on a
poncho her roommate had woven for her from the wool of
organically grown sheep.
"Hell no! Why, there was Sister Julianne Martin and Sister
Anna Mae Gunn, Sister Terry Pruitt and Sister Ellie Randolph,
not to mention Sister Gussie Turner, who did the advance work
and told me most of what I'm about to tell you."
"Isn't this a little—you know, out in the sticks, as a place
to start a movement?" Heather-Jon asked.
"Good as any, better'n most," he said. "There's songs in this
story too, and as I sing 'em while I'm tellin' you about how
they was used, I'd appreciate it if y'all would join in,
especially if you can do some nice harmony or play a mouth harp
"Comb and tissue okay?" asked Mary Armstrong.
Ute's eyes, pale as prairie skies and framed by wrinkles only
a little leathery since he was careful to use plenty of
sunscreen, lit up. "That's fine, Ms. Mary. Fact is, I always
have wished I could get the hang of a comb and tissue and never
have. I'd be much obliged if you could maybe give me some
pointers? I'd be glad to show you a thing or two about ropin' in
"That would be acceptable," Mary said gruffly, but she
squirmed around a little, clearly pleased.
"Well, then, for your information, ladies—and I use the term
'ladies' as one of respect and admiration and in no sense as a
restrictive or class-conscious kinda thing—I happen to be by
profession a cowboy poet."
"What the devil is a cowboy poet?" asked Heather-Jon.
"I couldn't have put that question better myself, ma 'am, but
if you'll bear with me, I believe I'd rather not say right now.
In line with the amended Code of the West, I aim to show and not
tell you all about it. First off, I want you to imagine a little
woman about sixty, sixty-five years old, but quick on her feet
and strong from lots of dancin' and a good judge of people and a
way with 'em from years of bartendin'. She had thick curly hair
that she just plain let go gray, as if there was nothin' wrong
in the world with that."
"And do you think there is?" demanded Barbara, whose
well-styled bob was salt and pepper.
"No, ma'am. Just shows she wasn't one to put all them
chemicals into the water system. Besides, lotsa people pay to
make their hair lighter. What's wrong with just lettin' nature
change it, is what I always say. Anyway, this woman had gone
through some tremendous changes in her life because she happened
to enjoy a certain type of entertainment with which we cowboy
poets are also in sympathy, which is how I came to hear this
story. You see, there were a bunch of devils, and I don't mean
only of the strictly Judeo-Christian brand, mind you, more what
your Native American Indians might call the evil spirits. These
folks decided to eliminate this particular type of
entertainment—oh, hell, call a spade a spade. They used to call
it folk music, though strictly speakin' that's not always an
accurate term. Anyhow, these devils, who were rich and
sophisticated and behind all the troubles in this world that
people didn't dream up all by themselves, decided to take away
the music that sometimes makes people feel a little better about
themselves and their work. Gives 'em a kind of what we cowboy
poets would call an eagle's-eye view of their situation, helps 'em
get their lives back in control."
"Like a therapist?" Heather-Jon asked.
"Yeah, but you don't have to make appointments, and most
folks could do it themselves even though sometimes they hired
other people to do it for them, which is not as good but better
than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (which was all the
devils had for them). Anyhow, for a space there—and y'all may
not be too well aware of it, but me and my compadres were—these
devils by killin' and connivin' managed to get rid of most of
the most important singers of the songs and make everybody
forget the words to songs people had been singin' for hundreds
“After a while, they even made people forget the melodies, so
the songs were gone from memory in this country. Everybody
forgot every song sung by every dead singer. When the great Sam
Hawthorne died on the very day the Library of Congress
folk-music collection got blowed up, almost all the songs in the
country were wiped from people's minds. You notice I said
people's minds. Sam had this magic banjo that he passed on
before he died, and it remembered the songs, though nobody knew
how come. Now, this magical banjo eventually passed into the
hands of a very small group of people. One of them was this
woman I'm tellin' you about, Ms. Gussie Turner. Others were the
women I mentioned previously, Julianne Martin, Anna Mae Gunn,
Ellie Randolph, and Terry Pruitt. All fine musicians except for
Gussie and Ms. Randolph, who was a more academic kind of lady.
Then there was Mr. Brose Fairchild, a gentleman of more than one
color who was a crackerjack blues man and purveyor of Baltic
ethnic tunes. And last but by no means least Mr. Willie MacKai,
who used to work right here on this ranch where we are now
working—though that's another story. These were the people who
came together and ended up as the guardians of Lazarus, Sam's
"Well, Lazarus knew good and well that Gussie and Willie and
their friends couldn't get back all those forgotten songs as
long as they stayed in these United States, so the banjo helped
them write a song in which it told them to go overseas to the
British Isles, where the roots of much of American folk music
were still dug in deep and sendin' out shoots. They went over
there and with some help from a bunch of ghosts, includin' that
of the famous writer Sir Walter Scott, his ancestor the Wizard
Michael Scott, and a bunch of their kinfolk, they got back the
songs. Then they went after songs from other places than
Scotland, such as Ireland, France, Spain, and the like.
"In the meantime Ms. Gussie, who had become a hell of a
storyteller by virtue of bein' possessed—though mind you in a
very respectable and respectful way—by the ghost of Sir Walter,
came back here to do a little low-profile advance publicity.
"Now there was one of these devils, a redheaded user of many
aliases, who was a little more complicated than the rest of them
and tougher to figure out. She was the chief devil in charge of
debauchery. Among other things the musicians learned in
Scotland, one was that she used to be the Queen of Fairyland and
had come down in the world since then. So she was the one who
both helped them and hindered them when the musicians wanted to
go into the ballad world to reclaim the old songs that would
help them release the rest of 'em. Of course, as a devil she was
bound to uphold what the rest of the devils wanted, which was to
try to keep the musicians from living through the songs, making
them their own, and bringing them back to this country to revive
all the other songs with the powerful magic contained in the
oldest and strongest ballads.
"However—as she told the other devils—as the official
Debauchery Devil she was in charge of wine, your less
enlightened and self-respecting kind of women, and song.
Musicians were some of her best people, and she was always a
little ambivalent about the whole devilish operation to kill
them off along with the music. Also, she was always a little
wild, as if she was high on some of her own stuff. It seemed to
Gussie that the redheaded devil's unpredictableness made her the
worst devil of them all—she was like the old mule who'd be nice
to you for two weeks just to get a chance to kick you.
"So Gussie was wary when this carrot-topped character plucked
her off a nice reliable bus to give her a wild ride in a fast
red sports car."
Back to Strum Again?
The Princess and the Toad
Once upon a time there was a princess who refused to live
happily ever after. Having survived a difficult childhood, the
death of her mother, an arrest for possession of illegal
substances and the perpetual adolescence of her father
culminating in his marriage to a woman who made three attempts
to murder her, Snohomish Quantrill felt far older than her
fourteen-going-on-fifteen years. She decided that instead of
marrying a prince, which she was too young to do anyway, she
wanted to be a fairy godmother when she grew up.
Marrying princes was not all it was cracked up to be. She
knew that. Her father, Raydir Quantrill, had been the Prince of
Punk before he became the King of Rock, and she definitely was
not ready to take on somebody like him. Besides, she had been
through enough counseling to know that you had to get your own
shit together before you interfaced with somebody else's kingdom
and all of its headaches.
The way she decided to become a fairy godmother before she
was even a mother was through a counselor friend of hers, in
Almost being murdered, once by a hired hit man, twice by your
own stepmom, made you ponder on the meaning of your existence in
a way that was difficult to communicate to most people.
Her classmates at Clarke Academy had welcomed her back with
girlish squeals and touchy-feely hugs. They were so sorry she'd
been hurt and were so genuinely glad she was back, and had the
hit man, like, raped her or anything? It was too creepy the way
they drooled over the details they'd gleaned from the media.
Some of them, she knew, were really, truly pissed at her because
they'd been looking forward to attending her funeral and giving
tear-choked statements for the six o'clock news. They acted like
what had happened to her was some lurid splatter movie instead
of her own life for the last month or so. But she had very real
scars to remind her of the last attempt on her life, which had
landed her in the Harborview ICU for two weeks.
Her dad wasn't exactly a pillar of strength either. He'd
extracted his head from his ass long enough to join the search
party looking for her, but in the process had found someone else
as well. He fell in love with his fellow searcher, Cindy Ellis,
hired her as his own stable manager to keep her around, and
lately had spent most of his time trying to convince Cindy that
he could change, he really could.
Cindy was nice, and she too had had a wicked stepmother, but
Sno couldn't help being less than thrilled with her for taking
up so much of Raydir's attention.
She didn't know what to do or where to turn. She was what
they called marginalized. Way marginalized. On the surface, she
seemed okay, even better. Her testimony, at her stepmother
Gerardine's trial, was clear and unshakable enough to swathe
that fashion slave in prison coveralls long enough for her
wardrobe to go out of style and in again.
Meanwhile, Sno's grades improved because she didn't have any
real friends anymore. Drugs had almost killed her, and she had
no use for them. What she longed to do was to go back into the
woods with the seven Vietnam veterans who had tried to protect
her. They understood what it felt like to have your life
threatened, to be wounded, hunted.
There was just one problem. They weren't in the woods
anymore. They'd returned home to their own lives and their own
wives and daughters, who would take no more kindly to some
outsider like Sno horning in on their relationships than she
took to Cindy Ellis. So she spent a lot of time writing reports
on World War II concentration camp victims, Vietnam, Cambodia,
Bosnia, Somalia and the new gulag in Uzbekistan, until her
teachers stopped being delighted by her industry and became
concerned about her thematic choices.
The teachers spoke to Raydir, who in turn sent forth an
invitation summoning Sno's former social worker, Rose Samson, to
dinner one night. Rose brought along Felicity Fortune, a woman
with long white and silver hair and a shimmery, floaty,
asymmetrically hemmed, much-scarved outfit that looked like
something the ghost of a 1930s movie star would wear to dinner
on Rodeo Drive. Felicity was, Rose said, a bona fide fairy
Rosie went on to tell her a fairly complicated account of
what she and Felicity had been doing while Sno was hiding out in
the woods. They had helped a street kid, Dico Miller, by giving
him a talking cat, Puss, which helped him get more handouts.
Rosie and Felicity had also confronted the Asian gang harassing
Dico and turned the gangbangers into helpful citizens. The gang
leader, Ding, and Dico had even become friends and had
discovered a mutual musical talent. Dico was supposedly pursuing
his studies of the flute in Waterford, Ireland, while Ding wrote
an account of his parents' experiences in the Vietnam War. Rosie
and Felicity had helped Cindy Ellis when her wicked stepmother
and stepsisters tried to take all her money and make her lose
her job. They'd been instrumental in Cindy's meeting Raydir and
rescuing Sno. And, while trying to help two neglected children
who had been picked up by a child molester, Rose had renewed her
acquaintance with a nice cop named Fred, and they had fallen for
each other. Rosie and Felicity had been very busy and had done
so much and helped so many people that Sno lost track of all the
details, except that now Rosie was her own department head and
there was a big shake-up in the state and city government and
social services organizations because of what she and Felicity
This was all a revelation to Sno. Before she was kidnapped,
she had classed fairy godmothers with Santa Claus and the Easter
Bunny. Given her recent experience, however, all it took was
Rose's word and a peek at the creature Felicity carried in her
pocket, and she was a believer.
Admittedly, it was all a little surreal.
"You recognize him, then?" Felicity Fortune asked, as if
asking her to identify some microscope slide for an oral exam in
Sno peered carefully into the pocket Felicity held open and
looked into the popped eyes of the toad staring back at her with
an extremely in-your-face expression. She hadn't actually seen
the face before, of course, or the expression, but the attitude
behind it was frighteningly familiar, even on a toad. "Nooo . .
." she said, taking a quick step backward.
"How about if she puts a little teeny motorcycle helmet on
me, kid? Could you finger me then?" a voice said inside her
head, a voice unlike her own, one she would never forget,
menacing and mocking. Of course, all she heard the actual toad
say was "Reedeep."
Still, she stumbled over an end table in her haste to back
"I'm sorry, my dear," Felicity said, quickly closing her
pocket again. "No need to be alarmed. As you have so sensitively
perceived, your original assailant, the "executioner" Robert
Hunter, has been rendered harmless and now inhabits this toad's
"Yeah? What happened to his own body?"
"It currently houses the toad-body's original personality and
is safely hopping around the psychiatric unit at Harborview
Hospital, though I suppose a more long-range institution may be
necessary at some point."
"Cool," Sno said.
Back to The Godmother's
|The Godmother's Web
Beauty and the Menagerie
From the North comes the sun-haired maiden. She is changed
from a mouse. She is changed into a far-flying she-eagle. She
lands in Flagstaff and is changed once more into a maiden.
Her skin is made of white shell. Her eyes are made of deep
waters. Her mouth is made of cornelian. Where the sun kisses her
cheek, the white shell changes to cornelian. Her hair is the
color of rabbit brush blooms. Her hair is the texture of rabbit
Her body sits straight as a lance. Her touch on the rein is
gentle as a warm breeze, but firm as the red rock rising around
her. A valuable blanket made of soft wool and rainbows cushions
her saddle. She is riding the sun's own blue horse.
In beauty she rides along the flowing highway. The cars flash
like wish-granting fish among the eighteen-wheeled leviathans.
The darting minnow motorcycles weave it into a single undulating
fabric of noise and motion, this highway along which she rides.
The highway's banks are studded with turquoise and silver
placed on bright blankets in flimsy wooden stalls by sleepy
Native Americans. They have just left hogans and trailer houses
down rutted paths from the stalls. Signs of painted wood that
say "Half price!" "Buy here!" "Navajo made!" "You've Gone Too
Far" and "Nice Indians" fish the highway for silver and green
To the south are the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona, and the
land where the blue horse was born. To the west are the sacred
mountains. To the Anglos and the Mexicans, they are called the
San Francisco Peaks. To the Navajos they are the Sacred
Mountains of the West, Light Always Glitters on Top, and are
made of abalone. To the Hopi they are the place from which the
kachinas dance, bringing rain and corn and other good things to
the Hopi, who by and large say nothing of such matters to those
who are not Hopi. To the north lies Seattle, whence the maiden
To the north also lies the Grand Canyon. Within it are the
Colorado River, the images on many postcards, the footprints and
less fleeting reminders of many tourists, and the place where
the Hopis originally came into this, the Fourth World.
To the east are what is left of the lands of the Navajo, the
Dinéh, the People and what remains of the land entrusted by the
gods to the Hopi.
To the east the maiden is looking with her deep-water eyes.
To the east she is guiding her blue horse with her warm-breeze
Then from the west, where the abalone peaks stand sentinel,
an old woman strides across the desert.
She is dressed in velvet, despite the heat. Her skirt is like
yellow corn pollen and does not show the dust of the desert at
its bright hem. Her moccasins and her silver-trimmed blouse are
the red of the canyon walls. Her hair is black obsidian and
streaked with strands of white shell. With white yarn bindings
it is tied into the shape of a bumblebee. At her ears, wrists,
waist, fingers, and neck are strands and nuggets and beads of
the purest sky-colored-turquoise. A rainbow-colored blanket is
folded over one of her arms and in her hand she carries a
Across the shimmering sands she walks, and her small moving
draws the attention of the sun-haired maiden on the blue horse.
The sun-haired maiden thinks the woman from the west must be
nuttier than a piñon stand in Santa Fe, for, although it is late
autumn, the air is hotter than a red chili ristra.
However, the maiden has learned that some old women are not
what they seem. Some of them can change Harley Davidsons into
horse trailers. Some of them can create from thin air crystal
horseshoes that cure a favorite pony's lameness. And besides,
the sun-haired maiden is a kind girl. She does not like to see
someone's grandmother walking in the heat like that, and she
Later, she knows she was right to worry. The old woman is a
great deal of trouble, even for a sun-haired maiden on the sun's
own blue horse.
The sun-haired maiden’s name was Cindy Ellis. She was neither
Navajo, nor Hopi. She was not a citizen of the state of Arizona,
the state of Utah, the state of New Mexico or the state of
Colorado. Nor, strictly speaking, was she a maiden.
In the lore of the dominant culture, her story might begin:
Once upon a time there was a young woman who was as good as she
was beautiful. It probably would not say that many people found
such a person damned annoying, and sometimes so did Cindy. She
was blessed with both a modest disposition and an embarrassment
of riches of the nonmaterial sort that, in the olden days, it
would have taken an entire fleet of good fairies to bestow upon
her at her christening.
It was not just that she was a good rider, a fine artist, had
perfect pitch and sang like an angel. It was not merely that she
was graceful as a doe, gentle as a dove, kind and thoughtful.
She was good at other things too. She had a gift for languages
and no math block. She could wire a house, fix the plumbing, put
up sheetrock, make a cake from scratch and a wedding dress by
She also had a handsome prince. Princes don't get where they
are by being dummies and Cindy's beauty, courage, versatility,
good humor and intelligence had drawn the attention and
affection of Raydir Quantrill. He was not only a prince but the
King of the Alloy Rock.
Her beauty and goodness did not annoy Raydir, of course. He
was far too self-involved to be annoyed by anyone who didn't,
for instance, screw up his sound system during a recording
session. But some of the less lovely females in his entourage
found his new stable manager-sweetheart a bit hard to take.
"Cindy," said the young woman's social worker friend, Rose
Samson, when they met for lunch to discuss Rose's bridesmaids'
dresses for her forthcoming nuptials, "it's a classic case of
you reliving your family drama, except now that your wicked
stepmother and stepsisters are out of the picture you're doing
the same thing with the women in Raydir's entourage—trying to
please them instead of making them look at their own stuff."
Rose could sometimes be very firm about what other people needed
But Cindy had to admit her friend probably had a point.
Trying to get her stepmother and stepsisters off her back was
how she had acquired so many of her skills. There was no need
for them to hire anything done when they had a live-in slave to
Cindy's love of horses and counseling from Rose had
eventually helped her escape their clutches, but she was
beginning to feel she'd jumped out of the barbecue and into the
four-alarm chili, as her old stable boss, Pill, used to say.
She had no friends at Raydir's estate except Raydir, and
though he had many good points and made her heart pound like
Silver's hooves when the Lone Ranger was riding to the rescue,
he could also be a major pain. Plus he was gone a lot.
One morning after her second riding lesson, she tripped
lightly between the rows of rhododendrons, madronas and weeping
willows that lined the palatial estate. In her hand was a posy
of wildflowers for her love, who surely would be awake by now,
as it was well past his usual crack of noon rising time.
Raydir was indeed awake. Bejeaned and bare-chested in their
bower, he was hastily stuffing leather pants and T-shirts into a
piece of luggage with lots of pockets. "Hi, babe," he said,
tossing in a hand-beaded vest and a pair of custom cowboy boots.
"You're leaving?" she asked. "I thought your gig wasn't until
Back to The Godmother's Web
KALAPA COMPOUND, TIBET.
The guards gave me this paper with instructions to
write about my career as a war criminal, starting with my life
at age eight. This is fairly standard practice in these places,
according to what I've read, and to what the Colonel told me
when I first got here. He also said they "haf vays off" not only
making you talk, but making you believe it after a while. So
before my brain gets too well washed, I am saving out some of
this paper to keep a true record of what happened, just to keep
it straight in my own mind and give me something to fill up the
time. The Colonel and the others told me some of the jargon the
interrogators like to have included in a confession and I think
I get the drift. It behooves the smart prisoner to indulge in a
lot of verbal self-flagellation before the authorities decide to
flagellate said prisoner in a more literal sense. There's a very
strict prose style involved. No problem, though. I'm a good
mimic and can write the most incredible bullshit as long as I
don't have to keep a straight face.
My name is Viveka Jeng Vanachek. I am currently, albeit
reluctantly, a warrant officer in the North American Continental
Allied Forces, 5th Cobras, attached to the 9th New Ghurkas at
Katmandu. I was captured September 15, 2069, following a plane
crash near the Kun Lun Mountains while on a mapping mission. Not
that I am this great cartographer, but I do know the section of
the file in the program that allows the computer to reconfigure
existing maps while scanning the countryside from an eye in the
bottom of an XLT-3000 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
Anyway, I'm trained to use that knowledge, although that flight
was the first actual mission I've been on. Right up until the
crash, I'd been having the best day since I sold out and joined
Major Tom Siddons was a very nice guy, and I think he
must have enjoyed working with me as much as I did with him. I
suppose he got as far as he did in the military just by being
relatively good-natured and an exceptionally good pilot. Unlike
the other pilots, he could express himself not only in words
rather than in long strings of symbols and numbers, he could
even express himself in words of more than one syllable. He also
liked poetry, and I think he liked me chiefly because he was
impressed with my ability to recite dirty limericks in Middle
English and translate Chinese verses.
I hadn't been in Katmandu very long, but I had already
told him over a beer how much I hated the monotony of knowing
one section of one file of one program. Each of the other
warrant officers in Katmandu with the same rating knew another
section of the same file of the same program. If anyone was
transferred, died or committed suicide, he or she was replaced
by a brand-new specialist in the same section—specialists were
never cross-trained, so the left hand never knew what the right
hand was doing. It made me feel like a not-very-expensive
microchip. Here I had spent almost twenty years, off and on,
studying the humanities and what do they do with me? Stick me in
computers, because I'd once taken a class to fulfill a math
requirement. My art history background and the one drafting
class I'd gotten a C in qualified me for the mapping section. I
told Siddons all of this and he sipped his beer slowly and
nodded in most of the right places.
I forgot all about griping to him until one morning
when he strode into the hangar office, decked out in a silver
suit with so many pockets he looked like a walking shoe bag.
"Grab a flight suit and your kit, Ms. Vanachek," he
told me. "We have us a mission."
It didn't occur to me to bring a weapon. I'd been in
what was technically considered a combat zone for the best part
of six months and had yet to see more than a fleeting glimpse of
an indigenous civilian, much less an enemy.
I gawked through the canopy as we climbed to 19,000
feet, then settled down to the keyboard and punched up my
section. Siddons had explained that the plane's computer would
do just as mine did back at the hangar, except that while the
computer in the hangar usually had to make do with adjusting
data, inputting new topographical information from a graphic
mock-up to existing map data, this one had a special adapter
that translated the terrain passing through an eye in the bottom
of the plane into a graphic image and instantly altered the
corresponding map data accordingly.
We need map updates frequently because the terrain
constantly changes so that it no longer conforms to earlier
maps. And while our hangar-bound graphics adjustments are fine
for recording the changes our own side wreaks on the local
scenery, our allies and our enemies are not so conscientious
about informing us of all of their destructive activities.
Furthermore, the war precipitates natural disasters;
earthquakes, avalanches and floods that also make unauthorized
and, worse, undocumented alterations.
We overflew the pass, into the Tibetan Autonomous
Region. The more heavily populated areas had been kept up to
date, but the whole central plateau was still a battleground.
New valleys are dug daily and mountains of rubble make strategic
barriers that need recording.
The problem with fast travel through or over any
country, of course, is that it so thoroughly objectifies what
you're seeing that you might as well be looking at a holovid
screen. The landscape of Tibet, vast plains with mountains
pinched up all around the edges like a fancy piecrust, seemed
highly improbable to me and I returned to my screen after about
fifteen minutes of admiring the view.
Siddons wasn't about to let me ignore it. His voice
crackled into my headphones saying, "Nah, don't bury your nose
in your goddamn graphics yet. Take a gander out there at the
I stared down over and through a swath of cloud. The
tail end of the cloud snagged on the ragged snow-splattered tops
of raw-rock mountains, but beneath it spread a lake covering—I
checked my screen—twenty square miles. It cupped the plane's
shadow in waters that looked like a huge opal, milky with shots
of blue and red fire reflecting off the surface. "Gorgeous," I
said. "What makes it look like that?"
"Poison," he said. "Check your coordinates. This is
where the PRC dumped its toxic wastes before some of our forces
helped India shoo the bastards back behind the border again. The
lake's Tibetan name is Lhamo Lhatso. It was sacred. The holy men
saw the birthplace of their last spiritual leader in it."
With an innocent-looking twinkle, the lake passed under
our starboard wing and away.
"We're going to veer over India way now, toward
Karakoram Pass. Between the avalanches the saturation bombing
triggered and the floods this spring, the area is useless to
"Not to mention a little tricky for the local
inhabitants," I said.
"There aren't a hell of a lot of those left, except
guerrillas," Siddons said. "And they're tough bozos who play
their own game and don't kiss anybody's ass."
"Sounds like you admire them."
"Well, hey, when you have been in the service of our
beloved organization as long as I have, little lady, you too may
come to admire anybody who doesn't basically sit back and leave
all the fighting to our troops wearing their patches. The
Tibetan guerrillas have to be about the only people on the face
of the planet fighting anything worse than a hot game of
Parcheesi who don't have NACAF allies specifically assigned to
them, evening up the odds manpower and firepower-wise."
"Major, I had no idea you were such an idealist."
"Doesn't mean I won't blow the little buggers off the
face of the earth if I get a chance, you understand. There's no
need to get sentimental about it. If we blow up our fellow
AmCans who are working for the PRC or the Soviets, I see no
particular reason to extend professional courtesy to anyone
I watched the high wild mountains sweep past our belly
and noticed how often the bomb pocks and avalanches showed up on
the screen as a major change in the landscape. I remembered that
before NACAF entered the three-sided conflict among China, India
and the USSR, with all the territory in the middle, including
Tibet and the Himalayas, as the battleground, Mount Everest had
been the highest mountain in the world, instead of the fourth
highest. I told the major, "I once took a course in myth and
folklore. Did you know that in the old days, Tibetans never
climbed their mountains much? They were afraid of disturbing the
demons of the upper air."
"Well, we got those demons good and stirred up now," he
Soon we were past one range and once more flying over a
vast flattened plain, flyspecked with the ruins of villages and
monasteries, the jagged hills bursting from the plains at times
like the work of some giant gopher. The flatlands were as pocked
as the mountains, the earth blasted and sickly tan, the whole
thing treeless. NACAF-made planes, NACAF pilots or pilot
trainers, NACAF defoliants and NACAF bombs made it all possible.
"Hey, maybe they meant us," I said to Siddons. "Maybe
they foresaw us."
"The old-time Tibetans with those myths. Maybe we're
the upper-air demons."
"Don't let the scenery give you an attitude now,
Warrant Officer. We didn't do all of that by our lonesome, you
know. This little old country's been a stompin' ground for a
good hundred years now for all kinds of people who didn't like
the way the local pope ran things."
"Dalai Lama," I corrected, remembering Comparative
Religion and Central Asian Soc.
"Yeah, I knew that," he said, grinning back at me. His
grin was as jerky as a stop-motion film clip as the aircraft
hopped from air pocket to air pocket in a series of
stomach-churning dips and bumps. I took a deep breath. My
digestive tract preferred ground travel.
"Anyhow," he continued, "one thing good ol' NACAF does
do is keep it all a clean fight. You got any idea what we need
all these updated maps for?"
"Making sure whichever rock the enemy hides behind
doesn't move before our side finds it?" I asked.
He ignored that. I think he began to feel at that point
he was setting a bad example for a junior officer. So he said,
"Nope, so we can still locate any possible covert nuclear
devices, no matter when or where they were hidden, and send
crews to disarm them. Fighting for Peace, just like the
recruitment ad says."
I would like those words to be remembered as the
The XLT-300 model aircraft we were in flew very far,
very fast and changed altitudes with very little difficulty. Ask
a pilot why and how, or an engineer. All they paid me to know
was that my Ground-Air-Geocartography program, or GAG as it was
affectionately called, was specifically designed to keep up with
the plane. We covered the plateau within about an hour and when
we took the hit, were on the far side of the Karakoram Pass,
headed east for the Kun Lun Mountains. Radio transmission this
far from base was damn near impossible, satellites or no
satellites. The mountains didn't get in the plane's way, and
they didn't get in the satellite's way, but they sure got in
Ground Control's way.
The wind was fierce that day, and blew the little jet
around as if it was a paper airplane instead of a real one. So
when we took the hit, I thought for a moment it was just another
gust of wind.
Siddons caught on quicker, and I saw his hands fly
across the switches and buttons on the control panel.
Suddenly the canopy popped and all those upper-air
demons I'd been thinking about roared in and snatched us from
the plane. Something kicked me in the rear. My seat bucked like
the barroom bull-riding machine they keep in the Cowboy Museum
my grandparents once took me to in Tacoma. Except that this
bronco didn't come down again but blasted me through the
shrieking wind, up and over the body of the jet. I screamed, not
of my own accord but as if the scream was ripped from my vocal
cords by the velocity of my plunge to earth.
When I haven't had worse things to dream about, I still
see the bolus of flame spewing from the underside of the
geometrically precise angle of the starboard wing, and I spin to
face a maw of rock and snow yawning like a fast forward of some
boa's jaws as it swallows prey. I bolt awake as once more the
feeling of the automatic chute opening reminds me of being
plucked from midair by a giant bird and I try to come fully
awake before Siddons's body, twisting beneath a burning chute,
plummets past me.
But my actual landing must have been a testimony to the
parachute maker's technology. For though I had a bad case of
vertical jet lag, my mind skipping a few beats between ejecting
and landing, when I came to myself enough to take inventory,
everything was intact—no broken bones or missing teeth.
Encouraged, I attempted to stand, but the force of the wind
complicated matters, billowing my chute against me so it molded
to my face, blinding and smothering me within a wave of blue,
red and white silon. I yanked the suffocating fabric from my
head. The stench of burning metal, wiring and flesh pricked my
nostrils before I focused sufficiently to visually locate the
Pulling off my helmet, I divested myself of the yard or
so of chute attached to it and scanned the horizon for a
telltale plume, but it was as if I was still swathed in some
larger, grayer fabric, a bolt of wildly swirling gauze that
The ground on which I stood was indistinguishable from
the air in front of me. I was standing on some mountain plateau
then, shrouded with cloud. Vaguely, near the toes of my boots,
ghostly tufts of grass emerged and vanished as the wind whipped
the ground cover. But I saw no sign of Siddons.
I've dreamed of his death since then, so I must have
seen it, but I honestly don't remember seeing him die other than
in the dreams. Shock probably. I tried calling to Siddons, but
my words vanished in the cloud before they were out of my mouth.
As I gathered up the chute and uncoiled it from my
legs, the wind whipped away a corner of the mist and I saw four
people jogging down a mountain path toward me, carrying rifles.
They all appeared to be Asian but I wasn't alarmed by that,
since many of our NACAF troops are American or Canadian of Asian
origin, or Asian allies. I even felt a small surge of relief,
thinking perhaps we were being rescued. The rifles didn't alarm
me either. There's a war on. Of course they carried weapons.
I waved a cautious greeting and would have shouted at
them but they didn't return my wave. That was when I began to
realize that the crash might be more than a temporary setback.
Even if these were our people, I didn't know any passwords. They
pointed their guns at me and one barked an order. He must have
been used to talking over the wind or else the wind had died
down because I heard him very well. He was speaking in Han
Chinese, of which I had learned a smattering in Intro to Chinese
Dialects 101. Before I could try to puzzle out exactly what it
was that he'd said, the man who'd spoken pushed me down while a
woman rapidly scooped up my helmet, then gathered the rest of my
parachute. When she finished, the first man prodded my ribs with
his rifle, forcing me to stand again, while a third covered me
with another rifle, presumably to make sure I didn't overpower
the guy with the gun in my ribs. A fourth man trotted through
the mist toward us carrying two winter kits, slightly charred
and smoky around the edges. A pair of jump boots were slung from
his shoulder by their laces and bounced in rhythm with his gait.
Siddons' helmet—I could read his name in black block
letters across the front—dangled from one hand.
The woman tied my wrists together. I stared at them
stupidly. Right then the tangible evidence that I was a prisoner
cut through the shock of the crash. We had had a frightening
little lecture about enemy torture in basic training, but the
only advice about getting captured I was able to recall was
"Don't." Each of us knew so little about each piece of equipment
that almost everyone was expendable. People in my grade who got
captured fell into the category of "acceptable losses."
Back to Nothing Sacred
Section One KALAPA
On the morning of the last birthday Mike would ever
celebrate, the first changeling was born.
That day, Mike was officially twenty-one years old and
an adult. He awoke before dawn and slipped out of the communal
housing compound. The soft gray light of morning outlined the
onion-shaped dome of the chorten against the snowy backdrop of
the horned peaks of the guardian mountain, Karakal.
Prayer flags fluttered from lines strung between the
chorten's dome and nearby buildings, the wind carrying the
prayers to the heavens. Mike bowed to the chorten, in memory of
the heroes it represented, and turned to walk down the steep
path winding from the uppermost point in Kalapa—the chorten—through
the compound built on the ruins of the ancient mystic city. The
old city and the current compound were located on a small
mountain set within a valley ringed by ranges of larger
mountains, the largest of which was the horned guardian Karakal.
From the dining hall and kitchen issued muffled cooking
noises and the aroma of baking bread and yak butter tea. Farther
down the path the open walls of new stone buildings being
constructed from the boulders of the Great Avalanche waited for
the day to begin and workmen to come and add more of the raw-cut
boulders and boards lying nearby. Beyond the buildings, the
lushly planted terraces of the communal garden stepped down the
Mike loved this time when the moon, as if waiting for
the sun to give it permission to set, hovered just above the
mountains. Even on ordinary days, when he was not having a
birthday and had no momentous events to look forward to, Mike
usually rose early to enjoy this quiet time and take long walks
before the paths were thronged with people. He loved feeling the
wings of Karakal rising behind his back, even when he was not
looking at the mountain. He savored the sweet damp smell of the
mist rising from the waters of Kalapa's sacred lake, the sight
of the lake's blue-green waters lapping the lower garden and
nourishing the roots of the rhododendron jungle.
Mike stood by the lake for a moment, watching the water
shimmer and listening to the breeze in the branches of the
rhododendrons, making them clack softly like tiny looms at work.
The lake was fed by artesian springs and hot springs, and bled
off down the valley in a pretty stream winding through the
grove. The trees foamed with pink, purple, and white flowers
snowing petals into the stream and carpeting the ground beneath
whenever the softest breeze tickled the air.
His ears picked up the cry of the eagle owl and the
distant grumbling of one of the snow lions musing to itself as
it retired to the den for the day. And always, any time of the
day or night, if you listened closely you could hear the
cracking and creaking of snow and ice shifting on mountainsides,
punctuated every so often by the boom of an avalanche.
This morning there was another sound as well, a low
murmuring that had a distinctly human note to it. Rounding a
bend in the stream, Mike saw the source, sitting cross-legged by
the bank, dark fingers describing little O's as they poised
against bony knees, tight black curls thrown back as the
childishly rounded golden-brown face sought the dawn through the
upper branches of the trees. "Ooooom," she said one more time,
closed her eyes, lowered her head for a moment, then calling him
by his childhood name said, "Hi, Meekay," and sprang to her
feet, brushing away petals that had fallen onto her face. "Happy
birthday. Are you on your way to see Nyima too?"
"Yes, of course. She's supposed to give birth to her
new baby any time now. Have you heard anything, Chime
Cincinnati?" he asked, hiding his dismay at her unexpected
interruption of his journey.
"Not yet," she said.
He accepted her company with as good a grace as he
could muster. She was a weird kind of girl, but his sister Nyima
seemed to like her, and more important, so did her beautiful
friend Isme. Thoughts of Isme had kept Mike lying awake nights,
thinking of things he could say or should have said, things he
could do or should have done, presents he might yet offer to
convince her that she should take him as her first husband.
Although Isme and Chime Cincinnati were the same age,
both nearly eighteen, they were as different as night and day,
and not just because Isme was gracefully tall and blond like her
mother, the mountaineer Tania Enokin, while Chime was short and
dark. Isme was already a desirable grown woman, with gentle,
womanly ways, and Chime—well, Chime just got odder all the time.
She didn't go to school with the other kids, or play the same
games. Instead, she studied and meditated and mumbled to herself
and made odd remarks.
The other kids had not ever been unkind to her, but
they hadn't wanted much to do with her either. Mike, who was
three years older than Chime, had tried to look after her when
they were both younger, before he went to work with his father
in the underground excavations of the buried portions of Kalapa.
He'd always felt kind of sorry for her, but he'd felt perplexed
too. How could anybody grow up in such a great place as Kalapa,
lucky enough to be one of the last surviving people on earth,
and seem so—well—unsettled? Dissatisfied. He couldn't figure her
"I didn't know you meditated here," he said.
"I don't usually," she told him. "My favorite place is
just beyond the chorten, facing Karakal, but I thought this
morning I'd wait and walk with you to Nyima's. I knew you'd want
to check and see if the baby might be coming in time to share
"Yes, she promised to name the baby for me if it's born
today," he said, pleased but a little daunted by the thought of
having a niece or nephew born on his birthday, carrying his
name. This child would have a special bond with him and would
require a special gift from him. The only thing he possessed
that was special enough was the set of hand-copied books he had
hoped to trade for a bride gift, a certain silver necklace with
blue enameled birds, and a length of blue silk that would
reflect blue eyes.
"Isme's already there," Chime teased, with a sly note
in her voice and laughter in her sideways glance up at him.
"What are we waiting for?" he asked, prodding her to
her feet. "They'll be needing someone to help keep my other
nieces and nephews out from under foot."
"It's good to see so many new babies after all the
years of destruction," Chime said, falling in beside him though
he had quickened his pace a little to keep the heat in his own
face from betraying his thoughts. She sounded as if she
personally had witnessed the world's destruction, although he
knew she had lived her whole life in Kalapa, as he had. It was
one of the things that he and everyone else found so strange
about her. Some of the adults, including his own parents,
treated such remarks with respect—but then, his father at least
treated every utterance of every resident of Kalapa with
respect. Other people found Chime's pronouncements strange and a
little frightening, sometimes annoying. Mike tried not to be
annoyed, to ignore the implication and just respond to what she
"Yes, and more are being born all the time. It's a very
good thing, of course, all of this new life, but I'm worried
about the haphazard way new families are filling up the valley.
We need to make plans so that people don't cut into the
rhododendron grove to make room for more houses. After all,
people can live in the next valley over too, can't they?
Everybody doesn't have to live right here in Kalapa."
"The elders were so busy coping with having our
generation," Chime mused, "that they didn't think ahead enough
to what would happen when their children grew up and started
having children. Since any woman who comes to Shambala before
her childbearing years are ended may continue to have children
here, between our mothers and ourselves we have been doing a
good job of repopulating at least our small corner of the
world." She took his hand and swung it back and forth in hers,
as if they were still children. "Don't worry, Meekay. I remember
when Kalapa was much more crowded than this."
Oh boy. There she goes again, he thought.
His thought must have showed on his face because she
quickly added, "I mean, I don't remember exactly, but that's
what your father tells me that my previous incarnation told him
"Chime Cincinnati, you're just thinking of the story
Auntie Dolma tells the children."
"You'll hear a different version tonight, Meekay, at
your birthday celebration," she said, suddenly very serious. On
a person's twenty-first birthday, after the general festivities
were over, the adults held a private initiation ceremony. During
it, Mike knew, the elders retold the story of how Shambala,
Kalapa, and the world came to be as they were now. In the
ceremony, however, they added all of the personal memories,
histories, predictions, and insights that pertained particularly
to the person being initiated into adulthood, sharing all of the
information they possessed about his or her heritage and the
circumstances of his or her birth. More than the presents or the
special meal, Mike was looking forward to this ceremony.
What would they add about him particularly to the basic
“Know, O best beloved, that you are privileged to
be the children of Shambala, which connects heaven and earth and
which is located at the precise joining of the two.”
Auntie Dolma, who was the one who told the story best
and who loved the works of Rudyard Kipling, insisted on the "O
best beloved" part. Mike thought it added something reassuringly
cozy to the story, which was otherwise rather too sweepingly
grand and timeless for comfort.
Back to Last Refuge
Cleopatra looked at the snake. The snake, its tongue flicking,
stared back at her. She apologized to the creature, the emblem
of her queenship and the end of it. "My lord, if only Octavius
were as trustworthy as you are, there would be no need to
disturb you with our concerns. But alas, my protectors are all
dead, my beauty faded, and even my hairdresser and handmaiden
have offered their flesh to your fangs for my sake, so I have no
choice. If I live and flee, Octavius will avenge himself upon my
children. If I live and submit, he will degrade and humiliate my
person and position in his accursed Roman triumph, dragging me
in chains through the city where I should by rights have ruled
as empress. Then he will kill me and destroy my body and my hope
for the afterlife. Oh yes, my lord," she said in her tender,
singsong voice, the voice of a natural-born snake charmer. The
snake swayed, half uncoiled to strike, its hood majestically
fanned around its face.
The coils of its body lay still upon the folds of the yellow,
red, and white linens of the Isis robes covering Charmion's
corpse. Iras lay beside the altar containing the body. Charmion
also wore the Isis crown and what was left of the crown jewels.
Iras had dressed her fellow handmaiden's head in the black Isis
curls Cleopatra customarily wore when assuming the guise of the
goddess. The queen herself had employed her considerable skill
with cosmetics to change faces with her look-alike maid. Now,
dressed as Charmion, she explained herself to the cobra. The
cobra did not mind her humble robes. It knew who she was. She
was Egypt, its home, its mother, and finally, its prey.
She spoke to it to clarify her own mind before her death and to
delay that same death, for she had long loved life and was loath
to leave it, even under the circumstances.
"Yes, it's true. I have it on the best authority. Isis in her
compassion has sent me a dream so I may save my body and thus my
immortal soul. Whatever lies he tells my people, Octavius
intends to burn me after my death—before it, if he is given the
opportunity, I'm sure. So I have chosen my own time. My eldest
son has fled the country, and as for my younger children, I am
unable to protect them, and moreover, I provide cause for
Octavius to do them harm. Perhaps without me to spite with their
suffering, he will spare them. And so you must give me my last
kiss, my lord. My priests, who know our little secret, will do
the rest. In exchange, I grant you your freedom from your duties
as guardian of this tomb and temple."
She took a deep breath, broke eye contact, and quickly, so as to
startle the fascinated snake, thrust her arm at it. Having had
its part so considerately explained to it, the cobra performed
its last state service and struck her with a force that
staggered her back, away from the altar.
Unhooded and blending with the dust, the snake then slithered
out through an open window.
The pain subsided, quickly replaced with numbness. Soon she knew
paralysis and death would follow. By that time, Octavius would
have received her message begging him to bury her with Antony.
She knew he would not, but the message would serve to seal in
his mind that the body in her robes was her own. He would expect
to see her there, and dead, and that is what he would see.
The stage was set to perfection, except the cobra, in striking,
had pulled Charmion's wig askew. Slowly, with a sense of
detachment and amusement, as if she had had too much wine,
Cleopatra rose and stretched out her other hand to adjust it.
Which was how Octavius and his soldiers saw her when they burst
into the room.
She felt Octavius staring hard at her, and she thought for a
moment the ruse had failed. Then he said, puzzled, more to
himself than to her, "Is this well done?"
The bastard was trying to figure out if her death was to his
advantage or not.
She felt herself ready to fly to the afterlife, but she had
never been able to resist a good exit line. "It is well done,"
she said, her voice unrecognizably husky with the dying, "and
fitting for a princess descended of so many royal kings."
And so it was that the body of Charmion, dressed in the robes of
Cleopatra, was displayed to the people as proof of her death.
Later, as Cleopatra's dream had warned, Octavius publicly said
she would be interred with Mark Antony but privately, to his
lieutenant, he said, "Burn the bitch. The brats may watch."
The bodies of the handmaidens were removed afterward by the
priests. Cleopatra's public tomb, stripped of its glories by
Octavius, lay empty, as she had somehow always known it would.
But it secretly connected, through a long and twisting passage
with many stairs and a maze of tunnels, with a private tomb
concealed deep beneath her palace. In some ways, the tomb was
very bare, her special coffin, sealed within three others, the
simple alabaster canopic jars with her cartouche and titles and
seals of gold, some clothing and toiletries, a prettily carved
inlaid table and chair, a bed, a wealth of lamps. The tomb was
for one person only. No place for husbands or children or even
trusted servants. Iras's body had been removed to her family's
crypt. Instead, the side rooms held Cleopatra's greatest
treasure, one that Octavius and other conquerors lacked the wit
to covet. But to the queen, for whom the love of erudition was
more fundamental than her love of either of her Roman husbands
or even her kingdom, her burial hoard was of the most valuable
nature possible. It contained the originals to the best, the
rarest, the most informed and fascinating of the manuscripts
collected by her own great Museon, the Library of Alexandria.
For Leda Hubbard, attending the International Conference of
Egyptologists was the next best thing to personally
participating in a dig. When she found a ticket in her mailbox,
she was giddy with joy but curious and also suspicious about who
would treat her to such a thing. For the cost of one of those
tickets, you could almost buy a plane trip to Egypt.
Most of the attendees who were not presenting papers or teaching
seminars had corporate sponsorship. Nonetheless, Leda
recalculated her budget six times until she came up with almost
enough to go. Then the urgent need for a root canal and a new
radiator for her car gobbled up her ticket money.
Cinderella she wasn't, but nevertheless, some mysterious
benefactor, secret admirer, fairy godmother, or possibly a
stalker, decided she could go to the ball.
After enjoying a splendid day filled with intellectual delights,
Leda was finally ready to turn into a pumpkin. It was not yet
sunset, much less midnight, but the showroom had closed, the
lectures were over, and her feet felt like they actually were
encased in something as agonizing as glass slippers, which could
not have been comfy.
The Portland Convention Center was huge, and she had walked the
equivalent of a marathon attending seminars, checking out the
goodies in the showroom, and searching for favorite authors of
scholarly tomes. She hadn't met any princes, true. But she now
had something that was in her opinion much better: a rolling
suitcase full of books about pharaohs (and related topics, such
as how to identify said pharaohs), now autographed. The only
thing better than that would have been to be the autographer
instead of the autographee.
Alas, she, who had entertained full-blown H. Rider
Haggard/Elizabeth Peters dreams of being an Egyptologist while
still an undergrad at Heidelberg, had never fully realized her
She had achieved the Ph.D. in forensic anthropology and was a
by-Bast doctor-not-of-medicine, though she had probably handled
more cadavers than the average M.D. But she had not been able to
squeeze in the additional studies necessary to specialize in
Egyptology with the time and money allotted her.
The Navy, while debating about paying for her graduate degree
while she was on active duty, suggested in their cute little
bureaucratic way that Egyptologists were less likely to make it
through school without being called into a war zone than, say,
their useful colleagues who studied corpses of more recent
vintage. In the charming phrasing of the Graduate Studies in
Continuing Education financial assistance and career counseling
officer, "This is a weird sort of thing you want to study, Chief
Hubbard, but the Navy does have a certain limited use for
forensic scientists. What we need are people who can put pieces
of dead troops back together so the remains can be identified.
Most of these troops will not be of ancient Egyptian stock;
therefore, if you wish to study any of that elitist crap, you
can do so on your own dime. The Navy has no job openings for
Egyptologists. Do I make myself clear?"
She had sighed, batted her lashes, and said in the sultry voice
that had made her voted by her senior class "most likely to
succeed in a career in the telephonic sex industry," "I just
love it when you get all butch and masterful, sir."
The officer had blushed. He was about twenty-four. She was
thirty-six at the time. A career that had until that time been
spent aboard aircraft carriers and submarines dealing with
matters that required a top security clearance made her feel
much much older.
But the kid had been right about one thing. There were, until
very recently, few job ops for Egyptologists who were not
Egyptian. This was as true of civilian life as it had been in
the Navy. These days, she worked in the Oregon state laboratory,
mostly helping law enforcement agencies gather evidence to
identify anonymous remains.
Back to Channeling
The Book of Cleopatra's Reawakening
Herein do I, Cleopatra Philopater, Queen of Upper and
Lower Egypt, the seventh Cleopatra of the ruling house of
Ptolemy, set down the circumstances pertaining to the discovery
of my tomb. This I do at the behest of my soul's companion in
this life, Leda Hubbard, who asks it so that a play may be made
of it and the story told to the world thereby. For this we are
to be endowed with, if not a queen's ransom, at least the price
of a modest palace.
To begin with, I was awakened from the dead.
This was done by means of a magic uncommonly known even
in these years of miraculous happenings. Quite simply, a portion
of my body still connected to my ba, or body spirit, was used to
connect my ba to another body, that of Leda Hubbard, a woman of
low birth but high intellect. This magic is called a blending.
Leda and I first blended as we dreamed. I learned that she, like
myself, grieved for her father and had suffered betrayal. I knew
of her love of books and words, her search for knowledge. But I
also knew, even as she slept, that we were in immediate mortal
danger. We awakened to our peril aboard a ship owned by our
enemy. With the aid of Leda's allies and our combined strengths,
we prevailed and vanquished our enemy.
When we were safely ashore in what had once been my
beloved Alexandria, I began to understand that, although I once
more breathed and tasted, saw and smelled, was able to touch and
to feel touch, the life I had ended with the cobra would in no
way continue. No longer would I be concerned with the fate of
the Egypt I knew, for it was either gone or buried beneath many
generations of sand and captivity.
Octavian, who continued his dominion of both my lands
and his as Augustus Caesar, this viper who murdered Caesar's own
son, my Caesarian, is dead. That Marc Antony is lost I knew
before my own death. His son, my Alexander Helios, was murdered
like his half brother by Octavian. My other children, Selene and
Ptolemy Philadelphus, were banished from Egypt and died in
foreign lands without the benefit of an Egyptian burial. Thus I
had no hope that they might enter into this afterlife as I have
with the aid of that odd little magician, Chimera.
Alas, Leda's body is not capable of childbearing so
there will be no more children for me, even if there are in this
new age men worthy of fathering them. All that I loved, all that
I lived for, is gone. Thus is my life ended, and so it begins
again, without husband or children, title or lands or wealth of
any consequence, great beauty or great power.
Still, Leda's loyalties are as strong as my own, and I
find some comfort that the people whose fates concern her do
seem to be worthwhile.
However, she has not been a queen and was not reared
believing she was born to greatness. Her goals are as modest as
her means, and this I must change.
We made a beginning by changing history as Leda's
contemporaries have known it. We had no tension within us at
this time, for our thoughts and longings were in unison. Both of
us wished to revisit my tomb and learn what remained.
I imagined I would be able to go straight to it. During
my lifetime, I had visited it clandestinely for years, secreting
the most precious of the scrolls I saved from the burning of the
great library. Later, when Antony gifted me with scrolls looted
from the library in Pergamum, I had them copied and personally
deposited the originals in the vaults within my second tomb.
Why a second tomb? Leda asked. But she answered her own
question almost immediately. Grave robbers, of course, were the
first reason I chose to have a secret place of interment as well
as my public mausoleum. Anyone who has strolled through the
marketplace has beheld the property that was supposed to be
taken into the afterlife with long-dead pharaohs and other
people of substance. Their tombs were built more for grandeur
than for security. Looters broke in and stole their funeral
goods and dismembered the mummies so carefully and expensively
laid to "eternal" rest. I value my privacy and my dignity far
too much to allow that to happen to me.
So, though no one knew but myself and one old childhood
friend who became my most trusted priest, there was concealed
within my mausoleum an underground passageway.
I have now watched many films and read many books and
articles that claim to be about my life. Some of them say that I
am a traitorous and disloyal person. They base their evaluation
on the evidence that I had my brothers and sisters killed,
disregarding the fact that my beloved sibs would have done the
same for me had I not, as Leda says, "beat them to it." The
truth is that I have always been a very loyal person and a true
friend to those who do not try to murder me or betray me.
And Anoubus was always, if unobtrusively, loyal to me.
He understood my true nature. I wonder what became of him under
Ah well. Anoubus and I discovered the passageway and
the tomb when we were children of perhaps eight and six years.
It was within the palace quarter, naturally, or I would not have
been allowed there. We found it while playing in a disused part
of the harem. Father did not keep as many concubines and wives
as his forebears, perhaps because he loved wine and song far
better than he loved women, with the possible exception of me.
The passageway was exciting for us, a secret to be
shared, but even more exciting was the tomb at the end of it. I
knew in my heart it had been one of the early tombs of my own
ancestor, Alexander. Of course, it was empty then, but by the
light of our lamps the marble walls still gleamed, and the
spaciousness of the rooms rivaled that of my father's own
private chambers. We scuffed away the sand to reveal a fine
mosaic on the floor, the colors of its tiles bright even by our
Throughout my childhood, I escaped there often from my
older sister, who hated me because Father preferred me, and my
brothers. When I thought of it, I held my breath, fearing that
some new building project would clear the entrance to my private
haven, but this did not happen. When I assumed the throne, I
myself cleared the area and had my mausoleum built over it;
under the supervision of my friend.
As intimately as I had known it, when Leda and I tried
to find it again, I doubted we ever would. My beautiful
white-columned city, with its wide streets and its great
monuments, might never have been. Now it lies buried beneath
tall and ugly buildings, short and ugly buildings, and the
streets are filled with noisy machinery, tearing along at speed
far greater than that of any chariot or natural animal I have
ever seen in all my life before I awakened with Leda.
I knew approximately where the palace quarter had been
only from the shoreline of the Eastern Harbor, and even this was
much altered. Leda and I pored over maps from many time periods.
None was more than someone's guess at the layout of the city of
my birth, my youth, my reign, the city I gave to Caesar and to
Antony, the city whose people, treasures, institutions, customs,
and monuments I protected with every skill and wit I possessed.
Leda showed me the artifacts retrieved from the harbor
when it had been drained for excavation. Soon the sponsors of
this excavation and the current government will attempt to
reconstruct the shore line as I knew it, to rebuild some
semblance of my palace and the monuments of the time. This will
be done not to house a new pharaoh or even a president, but for
foreign visitors called tourists. It is a worthy project and I
approve of it and mean to have Leda and myself consulting so
that we may instruct the builders on the correct installation of
each feature and structure.
But I digress. We examined these artifacts, most of
which were large chunks of stone that were mere suggestions of
the intricately carved and colored statuary and columns,
building blocks and fountains that had once adorned my home.
These items, more than any other thing, including the monstrous
modern city, made clear to me how much time has passed since
last I walked these streets. Not that I can walk them now
without risk of being crushed by one of the speeding
I saw a blunted and water worn statue of myself I had
commissioned as a gift for what we hoped would be Caesar's
coronation. The cheeks were pitted, the tip of the nose and part
of the chin chipped off. The details of hair and crown, clothing
and jewels were mostly lost, however. It looked, it was,
thousands of years old. Many pieces of the colossal statues of
my Ptolemy ancestors whose images had lined the harbor and stood
sentinel beside the great Pharos Lighthouse hulked among the
cases and explanatory plaques. The bones of my past.
They saddened me, caused me to shudder. Though I had
coolly faced the enemies who were my kin and the enemy who was
the death of my family, as well as the cobra who was my ultimate
deliverer, I was shaken with disorientation, with vertigo. How
strange it was to be there viewing the scene of my former life
as if from the wrong end of a telescope that saw through the
distance of time rather than space.
Even so, another part of me, the part my father had
trained in the ways of all of the pharaohs and satraps before
us, was reading the plaques. I mentally restored and replaced
the objects to their original installations. Seeing where they
had been found from the maps and plaques, I calculated how far
they might have tumbled during the mighty earthquakes that were
my city's ultimate conquerors.
Back to Cleopatra 7.2
|Spam Vs. the Vampire
| There was no indication when Darcy left the house that
morning that she was going to get herself snatched by a vampire
and wasn’t coming back. She left our dishes half full, the
litter box un-scooped, our fountains running, the TV set on the
Critter Channel where we like it and the desk top computer on
“sleep.” If I had known what she was going to do, I’d have
stopped her, even if it meant peeing on something vital or the
ultimate sacrifice, acting sick enough for an emergency trip to
the vet. But none of us had any idea she would just go away and
stay away and none of us even thought to look for clues until
the first day and night passed.
I, at least, was plenty anxious to see her. Even the night after
she left, I ran from window to window, jumping onto the broad
sills and looking out to try to see her coming. Usually I could
hear her footsteps several minutes before she arrived but this
time, she stubbornly continued to not appear.
When neither she or anyone else showed up to open our cans, fill
the kibble bowls or clean our trays, as one or two of her
friends had done before when she was gone for more than one
feeding, naturally everyone began to speculate. Except for the
ones who were busy panicking.
“Okay,” Rocky said, his half-tail jerking with agitation. “It’s
finally happened. Darcy’s abandoned us, or else she’s dead.
Either way, we’re finished. We’ve had it pretty good here but
we’re on our own again. Pretty soon the animal control van will
come, we’ll be hauled off to the so-called shelter and be forced
to take the long dirt nap.”
“That’s if anyone even finds us before the food and water run
out and we starve to death,” BearPaws cried as if he had already
started starving. Darcy had been gone long enough for us to miss
two wet food meals by then and BearPaws was in mourning. He
really loved his wet food.
“It’s the storm,” my mother said sensibly. “She must have got
caught in it and hid somewhere till it let up.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Board!” Max told her, raising his gray and
white face from his paws. “Darcy’s not like us. Humans don’t get
caught out in storms.”
“Yes,” said Cleo, who used to have a gift shop until the owner
died and she came to live with Darcy. She’s very sophisticated,
Cleo is. “They go into shops and eating places and wait and talk
with other humans. Often they buy things if you twine around
their feet and act friendly. That gives them the chance to ask
the clerk about you and the clerk a chance to ask them what they
want to buy without seeming pushy.”
“Are you suggesting she is neglecting us in order to go out and
pet other cats?” My mother demanded.
“It happens,” Trixie said. “You know it does. I’ve smelled her
hands when she comes home after patting other cats. There’s no
getting around it. She’s a sucker for a kitty face.”
“Lucky for us,” Max said. “That’s why we’re all here.”
“The point is,” Mother said, “We’re here but where is she?”
“Can’t you find out from her ‘puter, Spam?” my sister Bitbit
“I don’t think it tells you where people go,” I said. “Anyway,
we know that, don’t we? She went out. Like she usually does.”
“To pet other cats,” Trixie said.
“Maybe, but she does it almost every day, sooner or later. She
says she has to leave the house and see other humans. Yesterday
she was going to meet that guy she’s been building a website
“How do you know that?” my brother Byte asked.
“She said so. She said her client was going to pay her and she
should be able to bring home treats.” She didn’t really say
anything about treats but I thought it would make the others
feel better if she had. And I was sure she meant to say that.
Her good luck was always our good luck too. “Then she put her ‘puter
pad in her backpack and put that on over her outer coat, the
black leather one, and walked across the street into the woods,
like always. You all saw her. It was yesterday morning just
before the storm started.”
“Was he handsome? Maybe she stayed with him,” Fat Mama
suggested, sighing as she plopped down onto her belly. Fat Mama
has had a lot of kittens in her day, most recently Coco, Mojo,
Jojo and Cookie, who all live here too. All but Cookie are
black, like Fat Mama.
Cookie is orange striped, like me and my brothers and sister,
and half the cats in town, according to my mother. She told us
our feral sire is an orange tabby. She says his hobby is making
copies of himself.
“How would I know?” I asked.
Rocky jumped on his three good legs to the windowsill and peered
out between the curtains. I’d been there off and on for the
whole day too, watching the storm, listening to the wind as it
moaned around the house, sometimes shaking it and making things
rattle. It whipped the trees into a leafy hula dance and
flattened the grass with the rain. Now it was almost dark again
and the security light kept coming on, showing the depressingly
“It’s wild out there,” Rocky said. “They were saying on the news
that this is the worst storm since ‘76, when it lasted for six
days. There are trees and power lines down all over the highway
and the news dude said the bridge is closed. I’m guessing a tree
bopped Darcy on the head and killed her outright.”
Everybody started crying, me included. Rocky looked smug. Life
sucked. He knew that and he was always glad when he was proved
right, even if it meant our human mom might be dead and we’d all
starve to death before anybody remembered about us.
“You and your news!” Mother said. “Why can’t you watch the
Critter Channel like the rest of us?”
“Because there’s no bed to hide under in the living room, and
Mojo and Coco are always playing under the couch is why,” Fat
Mama said. “Rocky’s a big ‘fraidy cat. That’s why Darcy leaves
on the TV in her bedroom for him, so he has company in the dark.
You better hope the power doesn’t go off, Mr. ‘Fraidy Cat!”
“Darcy is not dead,” Mother said firmly. “If she was, someone
would come and take care of us.”
“Unless they didn’t know she was dead,” Rocky said. “Coyotes
might have got her.”
Mother popped him one across the ear.
Darcy couldn’t be dead. Dead was what Popsicle was when she laid
all stiff and still on the rug in front of the stove, her fur
getting cool and her scent—well, changing, and not in a good
way. Dead was when you went to the vet and never came back
“I bet the tree knocked her out like one of those tranquilizer
darts they use on TV,” Trixie said. “She couldn’t tell anyone to
come and feed us,”
“Or a coyote got her,” Rocky said.
“Coyotes don’t get people. Only cats,” Mother told him.
I left them arguing and returned to my place in the desk chair.
When Darcy was here, she used the chair seat and I sat on the
back and supervised, but I knew what was happening on the screen
and although she didn’t realize it, I know how to use the keypad
I may be a young cat who looks like most of the other young cats
in town, but I have skills. And the laptop was still here. I am
a whiz with the tablet that’s her new portable because it
responds easily to a paw touch but I’ve had more practice with
the desktop. It’s always on except when she goes to bed.
Darcy doesn’t know I can use it but I practice every time she
takes a break or goes away. Even though I’m only half grown, the
other cats all know I am the one who helps her with her work and
I know what I’m doing. Mom says I probably picked up my talent
because she had me and my littermates in the gutted case of an
old CPU. That’s why Darcy named us all computer names—Mom is the
mother Board, ha ha, and there’s Bitbit, my sister, and Byte,
Shifty, Alt and Escape, my brothers, but Darcy said she was
darned if she was going to call me Delete. Since I looked so
much like all the other kittens in town, she named me Spam.
She held me in her lap even before my eyes opened and I suckled,
you might say, on the electronic impulse. When my eyes did open,
instead of rough-housing with my littermates, I sat on her
shoulder or lap or the back of her chair, or, when she wasn’t
looking, right beside the keyboard, watching and learning. She
thought my brothers and I took turns sitting with her because
she couldn’t tell us apart then but nope, it was always me.
Of course I checked to see if the ‘puter would tell me where she
was. I tapped the news feed, but nope, no stories about cat
owners getting bopped by trees.
I tapped on her projects in progress, a website for the grocery
CO-OP where she gets our food, one for a local nursery and the
“vampire dating site” she was creating for the guy from Montreal
she called Marcel. He was the one she had been going to meet.
Mew hoo! He even went to the library two or three times so he
could video chat with her. It was always in the evening. She put
on red lipstick before she talked to him and her voice changed.
I gave her moral support by sitting on her lap. Her hands
trembled when she petted me and I knew this was not just another
They did talk about work a little. He told her questions he
wanted her to use to interview the prospects. I thought they
were kind of odd. Especially the one about blood type. She
laughed and said that would be the kind of question a vampire
date would ask. He also wondered about family members living—or
buried—near them and that sort of thing. Darcy told him she had
no one, which wasn’t true of course. She had us.
It was nice we had work, and I am all about getting kibble in
the house, but I didn’t like the look of this guy or the way
Darcy acted when she was online with him.
She’d come here, I heard her telling her friend Perry, our
sometimes-cat-sitter, to get away from a bad relationship. The
male she’d been involved with had started taking drugs. I
couldn’t understand that. Drugs are the same thing as medicine
like you get at the vet and why someone would take them on
purpose is beyond me! But she said her habit had always been to
pick guys who seemed nice but turned out to be mean, married or
addicted to something so she had moved to Port Deception to get
away from all that and from now on, the only males in her life
would have tails and pointy ears.
I wanted to remind her of that when she talked to Marcel. But he
wasn’t bad looking if you like human males, I suppose, all of
his head fur was dark and kind of curly and his eyes were sort
of hungry-looking, He had an oddly soothing voice—it almost put
you to sleep, but I found him hard to understand. He didn’t say
his words the way Darcy did but she seemed to like the way he
The last time they chatted, when they finished, she scooped me
up and hugged me to her, kissing the top of my head. I learned
long ago that resistance was futile, so I purred instead. “Maybe
my luck with men has finally changed, Spammy. I think Marcel’s
really into me. Good thing for us he doesn’t like the more
public social networking sites and hired us instead. He’s a
private kinda guy, it sounds like. And hot. And—er—maybe rich?”
She sighed, hugged and kissed me again then tossed me to the
floor and started her magic fingers flying across the keyboard.
She checked a couple of accounts and winked at me. “The first
$500 just hit my bank account. Just like that.”
The next day she drove to the grocery store and returned with
five bags of canned food and two thirty pound bags of
kibble—plus canned salmon all around.
That was two weeks ago. I checked her mail trash and her send
box and found an email from him saying, “I expect to be in Port
Deception tomorrow night. Give me directions to your place.”
But apparently her good sense kicked in then because she said,
“I’d rather meet in the morning. Maybe at Bagels and Begonias
“Okay. I suppose I can find something to do in the meantime. I
cannot wait to meet you,” his email said. “But as it is a
business meeting, for now, bring all of your work and your
computer. Maybe you can give me a lesson?”
And that was the last entry. I wasn’t sure what else to try. So
I took a nap and waited some more.
The whole first night passed and then a morning and a long windy
afternoon soon followed by the beginning of another wild windy
night and still Darcy didn’t come home. The kibble dwindled to a
sprinkling in the bottoms of the dishes and the water dispensers
burbled the last of their wetness into the basins. Her scent
wasn’t nearly as strong in the chair or on the keyboard as it
had been. I rubbed my face against the keys and tried to nap but
kept waking up and jumping onto the windowsill long after the
other cats had settled down to sleep. Rocky passed the office
“Get used to it, kit. She’s not coming back. You were born in
captivity. You haven’t been out in the world and learned what
humans are really like yet.”
“Rocky, she has never been anything but nice to you and all the
others. If you had been born here like I was, you’d know it’s
not captivity, it’s how cats and their people are supposed to
He gave a little growl and limped away.
I huddled against the cool windowpane after that, watching the
wind blow and waiting for the jingle of her house keys in her
hand as she approached the kitchen door.
I was so sad I was almost convinced I’d never hear that sound
again when I did. The house keys. There they were. The clink of
keys tapping together, a smaller sound but very distinct against
But there was something wrong. I’d heard no footsteps. The
security light hadn’t gone on and though I peered back toward
the kitchen door, I couldn’t see Darcy.
Barking exploded from next door. Angry, loud barking so scary I
flew off the windowsill as if someone had shot me.
A key clicked in the kitchen door. Well, I hadn’t seen her but
it had to be Darcy. Didn’t it? Or maybe Perry, come to cat sit
since Darcy was gone. I had to see anyway. I sprinted to the
The kitchen door creaked then slammed open with the wind. My
mother and littermates, who usually sleep under the kitchen
table, streaked past me in a blur of fur. Other drowsy heads
snapped up and the living room, where some of my housemates had
been dozing, was suddenly catless.
Who could it be? I slunk toward the kitchen, ears flat and
whiskers quivering. I did not smell Darcy, not unless Rocky was
right and she was dead. The wind drove the scent through the
kitchen and into me. None of it was anything like Darcy.
The dog barking up a storm in the middle of the storm, that was
familiar too. Had it been just last night when I was aroused
from my nap on Darcy’s pillow by Darcy rousing from her pillow
and looking out the window? The dog was barking then too, and
there was the same rotten stench and something flapping outside
our window—at its center was a bright white oval face with red
I crept toward the kitchen, my curiosity strengthened by the
memory. The dead something had flown into the night, and Darcy
lay down again, sleeping as if she had never come all the way
awake, and nothing unusual had happened. After awhile, I did
too. End of close encounter of the weird kind.
Back to Spam Vs. the Vampire
|9 Tales O' Cats
1. THE QUEEN’S
My first cat story for Andre Norton’s Cat Fantastic series of
cat anthologies, this story was dedicated to Lady Jane Grey, a
delicate and diffident tabby.
I’ve held my silence long enough and see no reason why my story
cannot now be told. My children are grown, everyone concerned
save only my lady and me has passed beyond, and though you’d
never know it by looking at me, I’m getting on in years. So is
my lady, drowsing now beside the fire. Her hair—that smelled so
like wild violets I delighted to roll in its spring-bright
strands during those long months when her lord was campaigning
and we lay together for comfort . . . Ah her hair—where was I?
Oh yes, (how one does wander as one gets on in years).
Her hair is now white as that cold stuff—snow, it’s called—that
sticks to the paw pads and inevitably comes around whether it’s
wanted or not.
Just like some people I could mention. But more about them
As I was saying, it’s peaceful here in this simple, quiet place,
and although it is drafty, my fire. Of course, the idea is that
we live here with the sisters because my lady has been humbled,
you see, and they, she and the sisters, are supposed to be all
the same, but snobbery springs eternal and my lady’s rank gets
us our little fire and the choicest morsels and never a cross
word about me even if I choose to sleep in the chapel. A
queen—even a former queen, even a disgraced queen, is still top
Not that we haven’t made many sacrifices. This is not as nice as
the palace with its lovely fresh rushes twice a day and the
delicious fur coverlets to nuzzle and knead and that little
velvet cushion just for me. Not that I ever actually used the
thing, mind you, but I appreciated having it reserved for my
exclusive occupation nonetheless.
But those days have long since passed away, as soon shall I and
my lady as well, though not necessarily in that order. Just in
case I’m someday left alone I’ve taken as my protégée Sister
Mary Immaculata a common but cheerful young calico who loves to
hear of life among the quality. As well she might. For who came
closer to any of them than me? Who knows better the truth behind
the dreadful events that preceded the fall of Camelot, and who
else fully realizes why anything or anyone worthwhile was
salvaged from the entire mess? Who knows with more claw-bearing
conviction than I the true villain of the piece?
And who besides myself and my lady knows the deepest, darkest,
most private secret of the great and fearless Sir Lancelot DuLac
himself? No one, that’s who. And so no one else is aware that
this weakness in the great warrior is the crux of the entire
matter. Ordinarily I would never cast aspersions on such a
seemingly flawless reputation, but willy-nilly there’s no
tampering with the plain and simple fact that Sir Lancelot was
allergic to cats and it was this weakness that was the undoing
of Camelot and the salvation of my lady.
When I say allergic, I do not mean dislike leading to the
genteelly martyred sniffles some affect in my presence. Oh, no.
Blew up like a toad, he did. Broke out in spots the size of
mouse droppings. Got so itchy he looked like he was trying to
dance a pavane in a seated position. Sneezed loud enough to be
heard halfway to Cornwall. And his eyes, usually so clear,
swelled shut as if encased in two red pillows.
And me? I was crazy about him. He was like catnip and cream to
me. Something about his scent, I expect. But particularly when I
was younger, I simply could not stop myself. No sooner did he
walk in into the room than I twined around his ankles. No sooner
did he drop his hand to the arm of a chair than I began grooming
his fingers. No sooner was he seated at the Round Table than I
leapt upon his shoulders and ran my tail beneath his nostrils,
rubbing my face against his hair, purring like a chit of a
The other knights laughed at us and my lord, the king, looked
rather sad that I had never so favored him, for he was very fond
of cats and had given me as a kitten into my lady’s service, but
I was shameless. My mother always told me it is a wise creature
who knows her own mind and I knew that I wanted to be with
Lancelot. Not that I ever got to spend a great deal of time with
him. My lady would always come to pluck me away, though often I
brought with me a bit of fabric or a strand of hair for a
souvenir, to purr over at some later time. Lady Elaine, my
lady’s minion, once tried removing me and all I will say about
that is that she never tried again. Lancelot was too polite and
too afraid of offending my lady to swat me. Also, I am quite
sure he admired me from afar, for as events revealed, at one
time he was fond of cats, despite his malady. My fur is very
soft and my purr is very soothing, as my lady so often has said.
I used to hope one day his iron will would overcome his
unfortunate reactions to my presence.
Alas, we never had the chance to find out, for my lady, at the
instigation of that beastly Elaine, shut me up in the privy
tower whenever Lancelot was in the vicinity. After the time when
I almost fell into the hole and had to be rescued after hanging
on by a clawtip and screaming for hours before anyone heard me,
I decided that my attraction to Lancelot was merely a
superficial one, and whatever silly problems Lancelot had to
overcome, he would have to find some other cat to train him out
Never let it be said that I am anything but generous and patient
to a fault, but I had my position to think of and my lady could
not be expected to do without my services for long periods of
time just because a mere knight, no matter how worthy, had what
was really a rather comical reaction to cats.
So I hid. I hid in the little hollow of the crown at the top of
Arthur’s throne, under the Round Table, and on nice days in one
of the arrow slits overlooking the moat. I particularly liked
the top of the canopied beds because I couldn’t be got down
before I made sure the tapestries, as well as arms and faces,
suffered, and I knew very well how much Lady Elaine hated
mending. After awhile, they forgot to look for me, and I once
again assumed my rightful duties as my lady’s chief confidante
concerning the supervision of the business of the castle.
I could have told them never to let those two in, Mordred and
that so-called cat of his. Any cat worth the water to drown her
in could have told them that Mordred was the sort of boy who
torments cats with unspeakable indignities (and I should know),
not the sort to share a morsel and pillow and a bit of
companionship with one of us. That alone should have warned
them, as I could not, but since it did not, they should have
realized what those two were up to at once when that so-called
cat snuggled up to Lancelot and he didn’t even sniffle.
That should have told the humans, poor things, that something
distinctly fishy was brewing and it wasn’t chowder. I knew at
once, of course. The creature’s accent was dreadful and her
I was in the garden when they arrived, Mordred riding his golden
steed, that creature in a basket in front of him. I was engaged
in efficiently rearranging the piled leaves the gardeners had
gathered and paying no attention to traffic. My lady, His
Majesty, and Sir Lancelot played dominoes on a nearby bench.
Mordred, sweet as pie, dismounted, lifting down the basket more
tenderly, I swear, than he ever did anything. To no avail. The
nasty creature hopped out, landing with a plop in the middle of
my leaves, where she sat as if she belonged. Naturally, I hissed
at her and told her whose territory she was invading before
giving her a pawful across the nose. She did not even do me the
courtesy of hissing back. She did not raise a hair, did not arch
her back. She merely flipped her tail as she deftly avoided my
paw, rose, and sprang straight onto Lancelot’s lap.
I crouched expectantly, quick thumps of my tail sending the
leaves flying like so many gold and orange birds flushed from
the gorse. Soon she would get her comeuppance as he sneezed and
swelled. I was not greatly surprised that no one stirred a
finger to remove her. It had been some months since I had made
my private, privy-bound decision to leave the man alone in his
poor cat-deprived existence. I’ve noticed people have very short
memories when it comes to who suffers what ailments, and a good
thing that is, too, I suppose. But when, after several minutes,
the knight’s long fingers strayed to stroke her sleek
black-and-red mottled fur, and his eyes didn’t swell and he did
not cough or sneeze, I confess I was quite insulted. To all
appearances, he was unperturbed by the newcomer. To all
appearances, therefore, he was not allergic to cats in general,
but to me in particular.
Not that I cared, mind you. I’d given up on the man as hopeless
already. I sat washing the fur of my stomach with great
concentration whenever he glanced my way. But he did not glance
my way. While Mordred charmed Their Majesties with soft words,
the tortoiseshell slitted her sly gold eyes at my lady’s
Champion and purred in a disgustingly ingratiating manner. And
Lancelot, normally so intelligent and perceptive, called her la
petite minou and fondled her ears while smiling like a total
I entertained myself listening to Mordred, who was attempting to
convey greetings from the exiled witch, Morgan le Fey, the
King’s sister. His Majesty did not want to hear about it. I had
heard rumors that the witch was exiled for plotting the King’s
murder. I have also heard rumors that she once stole Excalibur
and arranged for the disappearance of the king’s old tutor, the
wizard Merlin. Whatever the king’s true reason for her
banishment, to him it was an urgent one: that brave and kind
man’s brow sweated at the mere mention of her name.
My lady the queen nodded politely at everything Mordred said,
but stretched out her hand to the newcomer in Lancelot’s lap,
who arched so that her head butted my lady’s palm. Well! That
was enough for me. I bounded from my leaf pile, not that anyone
noticed, and twined about my lady’s ankles, plaintively
reminding her who was her trusted associate and who was not. I
was poised to jump up when Lancelot, the traitor, began sneezing
and snotting and, though I couldn’t see for my lady’s skirts,
swelling, I am sure. To my great satisfaction the tortoiseshell
horror was dumped from his lap and I did a bit of swelling
myself and lashed for her with my front paws. Bat-a-bat-bat! I
would give her, mincing her nose. That would teach her to bring
it interfering into the business of others.
Back to 9 Tales O' Cats
|Father Christmas: Spam the
Cat's First Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not
a creature was stirring; not even a mouse. Rats! While I’d been
out chasing vampires and zombies, my furry housemates had hunted
all the fun prey. Now my fourteen feline roomies were all
asleep, our human mom Darcy was gone for the weekend leaving us
on our own with just a cat-sitter coming in to feed us, and I
felt restless. I was nine months old, and this was my first
It felt like something ought to happen. It felt like something
was going to happen, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be
in my boring house with my boring friends and relatives.
On the other hand, it was snowing outside. We were having a
white Christmas. Bah, humbug. Bad weather is what it is, the
kind that clots white cold stuff in your paw pads. Unacceptable.
I would wait until the weather humans came to their senses to go
out, I had decided.
That was before I heard the prancing and pawing of each little
hoof, apparently coming from up on my roof. I sat down to think,
curling my tail around my front paws, my calm pose betrayed only
by a slight flick at the creamy end of my plumy appendage. There
were stockings hung by the propane stove with care, but a trip
down that chimney would be disastrous for anybody, since they’d
just end up inside the stove and wouldn’t be able to get out. I
considered waking my mother for a further explanation of the
powers of Santa Claws. But then I thought that if anyone would
know what was going on, it would be Rocky. I jumped onto the
kitchen counter and stood against the corner cupboard. I am a
very long cat, even without taking my tail into account. My
front feet could just reach the top cabinet, where Rocky liked
to lurk during the day. Inserting my paw beneath the door’s
trim, I pushed. It smelled like vampire cat in there, but not as
though the vampire cat was actually in there. Rocky was out.
Well, it was night. He wouldn’t mind the snow.
Some more scrabbling on the roof, and I suddenly thought, what
if Rocky has Santa Claws and is feeding on him? He might. He was
my friend, but he was definitely no respecter of age, gender, or
mythological belief system.
I bolted out my private entrance. Only Rocky and I were able to
come and go through that new cat flap that had been installed
for me since my last adventure. I had a chip in my neck that
activated it. Rocky had my old collar containing a similar chip,
the one I’d worn before I went to the vet and got tagged.
The cold air hit me with a shock, and the snow wet my pink paw
pads, though the heavy tufts of fur between them formed natural
snowshoes. I was a very convenient breed of cat for this
climate, actually. Maine Coon cats, or their undocumented
relatives like me, were built for cold and wet and according to
the Critter Channel, used to be ships’ cats on Viking vessels. I
didn’t mind a nice trip around the bay on a nice day, but this
snow stuff wasn’t my cup of—well, snow.
|Back to Father
Tour Bus of Doom (Spam and the Zombie Apocalyps-o)
First came the vampires. After all the
movies promoting our neck of the woods (the Olympic National
Forest, to be exact) as being ideal for the undead, out of town
vampires arrived. I helped deport some of them, since they were
Canadian, but even I’ll admit Spam, Vampire Deporter just
doesn’t have the sound bite—pardon the expression—that slayer
When the Tour Bus of Doom pulled up in
front of Elevated Ice Cream, I felt no sense of dread or
foreboding, but instead hightailed it to my favorite bench on
the back deck. Some of my best friends are tourists. Travelers
lonely for their cats at home bribe me with whipped cream and
melted ice cream, hoping to cop a pet. Unless they are very
young and their hands are very sticky, I graciously oblige. I
love imagining the frenzied rubbing and marking the tourists are
in for when they return home and their feline housemates get a
whiff of Spam.
I’ve made lots of new friends in the last
few months. For a while, after the whole vampire thing, I was
worried about our human mom Darcy, but she needed me less than I
thought she would. In fact, since I rescued her, once she
recovered from the shock, she started hanging out with—of all
people—Deputy Shelter Dude, the sheriff’s deputy who used to
take care of the shelter! That made all of us cats nervous,
especially Rocky, though now that he is a catpire (or vampcat if
you prefer) he sleeps in the cupboard most of the day so isn’t
too aware of what happens then.
The first time Deputy Daryl was still
there when the sun went down, Rocky took one look at him—no, one
sniff—and rocketed out the cat flap to which only he and I have
keys. Maddog, who seems to be sort of Vampire Law and Order
South of the (Canadian) Border, installed my private entrance
after he helped me rescue Darcy. He recognized the kind of cat I
am. He also noticed that Rocky, trying to defend our house, had
become a bloodsucker like him. Darcy hadn’t figured out that
Maddog and Rocky were both vampires, which was a good thing
because after her last experience, she was sick of them. But
even she realized I am no ordinary housecat.
Having had a taste of the great outdoors,
where I made quite a few new friends, I had no desire to return
to being housebound, even to oversee the office, which was my
former career. I became an unusual creature in Port Deception,
an outdoor cat. Not a stray, not feral, and not lunch for
coyotes, thanks to Rocky’s new hunting habits as Vampcat the
Coyote Slayer, but an emancipated cat, with my own entry to my
house and the freedom to come and go as I wished.
In the long bright hours of summer when
the grass smelled sweet and the light sea breeze kept my fur
coat from being too hot for comfort, I definitely wished to be
out. Not only was there my network of four-legged
friends-who-were-not-cats to maintain, I had on my previous
expeditions encountered several of my half brothers and sisters,
as well as my father, and I wanted to deepen my family ties.
This puzzled my mother and my brothers, who couldn’t care less
about the old man’s other litters.
But there were some good practical reasons
I wanted to be connected to them. For a cat with an exhaustingly
wide-ranging if transitory territory, having many siblings who
might be prevailed upon to share a napping spot and a food dish
when said cat grew footsore and hungry was a good thing.
Besides, seeing my lookalike half-brothers and sisters gave me a
sense of what my life could have been like. Not that I wanted to
trade. I was just, you know, curious.
Most of them fared pretty well, as
gorgeous orange tabby cats such as ourselves are apt to do, but
Marigold, the last one on my rounds tonight, was so upset I
could hear her crying from the street. I don’t have that many
lookalike sisters, as for some strange reason cats of our
coloring tend to be male. However, Marigold looked just like my
brothers and me, except for the girly bits. If it hadn’t been
for me, she wouldn’t be alive now. I’d met her and her mother
right after she was born at Christmas and kept the owls and
coyotes off them till they were rescued by humans and eventually
found nice homes. Deputy Daryl told Darcy it was love at first
sight between Marigold and her little human girl Amy, less of a
cat mom and more of a kitten-sister.
“What’s the matter, Sis?” I asked through
the mail slot. “Is someone standing on your tail?”
“Nooo, but my family’s gone and left me
and I don’t think I’ll ever see them again,” she cried. “They’ve
been gone so long and I tell you, Spammy, I’ve got a terrible
feeling about this.”
“They covered the important parts though,
didn’t they? Someone comes to feed you and change your box?”
“It doesn’t matter! They’ve been gone
weeks and weeks. Even the sitter says they’ve been gone a lot
longer than she agreed to take care of me. She wants to go away
too! I want my own people back. NYOW!”
“You said they went on vacation, a cruise
to some island somewhere?”
“They would not leave me to go play. They
are on an important relief mission to help hurricane victims on
some wretched island. They think those people need them, but I
need them too. And I had them first!”
I really felt I should do something about
her situation, but there was a mail slot between us. “If I could
come in, I would show you how to work the computer,” I told her.
“Then you could maybe go online and find them, since you can’t
“I know how to use the computer,” she
said. “I’ve played video games till I have carpaw tunnel
“I am Spamnotthebadkind@moggyblog.com,” I
told her. “Let me know if they show up. I know how upsetting it
can be to feel abandoned by your human.”
Since I couldn’t make her feel better, I
decided to try instead to make me feel better and proceeded down
the hill and into downtown, making a sharp left at the second
intersection, pitter-patting across the street and walking
boldly into the ice cream store.
My friend Amanda had the counter alone
that night, while Eric the ice cream maker worked in the back.
Elevated Ice Cream is the best place in town for a nocturnal
critter like me, since they are open till 10 to accommodate
people who come in to get goodies after the movies and ball
Even so, on weeknights when there is no
game at Memorial Field, the town is mostly quiet as the evening
rolls on. You can hear the bugs buzzing the streetlights. They
would be in real trouble if cats could fly! A few people still
wandered the sidewalks, but not a soul sat in the red plastic
booths opposite the freezers full of cooling flavors or the
patio chairs set around little tables in the back.
Nevertheless, I was not allowed to remain
on the premises. Amanda and I had worked out a deal. I meowed to
let her know I was ready to be served. She came around the
counter and knelt down to give me a couple of pets, held my face
in her hands and looked into my eyes, “Your usual,
“Meow,” I said, affirmatively.
|Back to The
Tour Bus of Doom
I wrote this story for Werewolves, an anthology edited by Jane
Yolen. I was attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the
time, as you can probably tell from the content. Later in the
book is another story that was published under a very similar
title so I kept the title for this one and changed the title of
the other one.
“Come in, Ms.—um—Garou,” Professor Forrest said, checking the
name on his appointment calendar. “Have a seat. I could have
left your paper with the secretary, but she said something about
you wanting to talk about your future.”
“Right!” the girl said as she bounded in and pounced on an
unsuspecting chair. “I’ve wanted desperately to talk to you
about it for just the longest time. And, oh yeah, of course, I
want to talk to you about my paper, too.” She shot him a sly
look. Her brown eyes looked like dark holes in her fair-skinned
face. Her eyelashes and brows were both almost white, lending
her an expression of bald astonishment.
He was somewhat taken aback. She seemed insufficiently nervous
about her term paper, which was the one and only basis for her
grade. And he didn’t remember her as being one of his brighter
students, the sort who had nothing to worry about. In fact, he
barely remembered her at all. But then, his classes were large
and full and his memory for two-footed vertebrates was not as
keen as it was for the four-footed variety. Still, those
startling white braids should have caught his eye at some point.
“Ms. Garou, perhaps you’ll refresh my memory. Which of my
classes did you attend?”
“Life Cycle of the Wolf,” she said. “I was there the first two
classes and got the assignment and when I saw it, I rushed right
out and started my research. That’s what I wanted to talk to you
about, Professor Forrest. You’re supposed to be the best
furbearer biologist in the state of Alaska. And I just have to
be the very best wolf biologist there ever was.”
This last announcement was accompanied by a rise in the pitch of
her voice that elevated it to an irritating whine. “I sort of
figure you could be, like, my sponsor.”
“That’s what you figure, is it?” Forrest really had no time for
this, not now. He had already put in a long day and was ready
for his Christmas vacation. He was not spending this one in the
field as he had found necessary to do early in his career. No,
this Christmas he would be studying on the beaches of Hawaii,
where he would forget the cold (25 below zero!), the darkness
(it was scarcely four p.m. but already the full moon was the
only illumination in a pitch-dark sky and he would have a long,
cold, dark walk to his car on lower campus), the University of
Alaska, and students like this girl.
The biology department was full of earnest young persons who
lived in wood-heated, waterless cabins on the outskirts of town.
Like this one, they all dressed like lumberjacks and smelled
like forest fires.
As he shuffled through his stack of unclaimed papers, the girl
pulled off her ratty, duct-tape-patched parka with the matted
fake fur ruff. Sparks of static electricity jumped between it
and the chair. Underneath, she wore overalls over a
multi-colored wool sweater that spoke less of good taste than
Goodwill. Her blue and white stocking cap remained pulled
tightly over the tops of her ears, covering her brow and making
her long, plain face look even longer. A blonde, yes, but hardly
a glamorous one, he thought. A bit of a dog, really.
He wasn’t finding the paper. “What—uh—what makes you so
interested in our department and in wolves particularly, Ms.—?”
he asked, stalling while he continued to hunt.
“Just call me Lucy, sir. I guess you could say my whole family
has always been into wolves. Why, I remember even when I was
little, Mama couldn’t bear to read me fairy tales without
changing the endings. The other youngsters used to think I was
strange when I’d do book reports about ‘Little Red Riding Hood
and the Big, Beautiful Wolf.’”
Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad
“Be still, lady, and be quiet. Screaming won’t do you any good,
you know, and it is annoying.” The man sounded exasperated. She
didn't recognize him from the train so perhaps he came from
above the avalanche. Now he tested the knot with which he had
bound her arms. What did he have to be cross about? She was the
one who’d been abducted!
“So is being tied to a stake!” she bellowed at him. “I’ll stop
screaming when you untie me and take me back to the train!”
“Train is gone now,” the man said. Although the sack had been
removed from her head, she couldn’t tell what he looked like
because his coat and hood covered most of him and the hood’s
ruff, his hair, beard, mustache, and eyebrows were iced over.
He'd stood a bit behind her when they watched the dragons
working so she hadn't seen him clearly then. Of course, there
didn't appear to be any help coming who would require a clear
description of her attacker so it probably didn't matter.
“It can’t have,” she said hoarsely. Screaming against the wind
was hard on the voice. “My aunt wouldn’t let them leave without
It wasn’t a lie, of course, but she did have doubts. Ephemera
could still be napping with her shells in her ears. She might
not have realized Verity was missing until the train was well on
its way. But Verity was unclear about how much time had passed
since she'd been taken—it couldn’t have been long, surely? Maybe
he was lying about the train leaving. She screamed again, loudly
enough that surely if Ephemera had missed her she would hear and
pull the cord to the emergency brake.
“My apologies,” the man said. “I am sorry about this, truly. You
seem like nice girl, but Dragon Vitia is demanding sacrifice and
is best if it is no one we know. Besides, Queenston man paid
plenty for avalanche to stop train and you to be taken for
Dragon Vitia. It worked out neat for everyone. Man needs girl
gone and dragon needs girl. Elegant solution to problem. Is
"That is absolutely not true!" she yelled. "Being consumed by a
dragon will be very personal to me!"
"Maybe she not eat you—or not much of you. Villagers say she
only do this sometimes—many years in between. They give her
sheep, cows, but sometimes she lets them know, she wants girl,
too. Maybe she will save you for later. Maybe she needs virgin
and you not virgin?"
"I won't dignify that with a response!" she snapped.
"Maybe if not, she doesn't eat you. Nobody speaks of her
spitting anyone out once she takes them, though." He looked up,
said, "She comes. I go, now. Rest in peace, you."
He ran off, galumphing in snowshoes at a surprisingly rapid
Other snowshoe tracks surrounding her marred the snow’s pristine
surface. A detached part of her wondered, if she was supposed to
be sacrificed, why hadn’t someone stuck around to do properly
whatever they were supposed to do, sacrificially speaking? If
they were going to make her a ritual sacrifice, they ought to at
least have the grace to see to it that the ritual was performed
properly, oughtn't they?
An ear-splitting shriek accompanied by a whole orchestra of
drums, “boom, boom, boom,” was followed by a gale, carrying the
stench of rotten eggs.
Her captor continued to bound like a bunny, as far from her as
he could go.
Very well, she thought, if her fate was decided she might as
well face her doom. She gasped, only partly in fear. The
creature was magnificent. Not a sooty drudge like Auld Smelt or
the locomotive’s beasts. The moon reflected off the snow and
glinted against the monstrous wings. The wingspread must have
been as wide as one of the train’s cars was long.
It zoomed in, circling her stake, and held her gaze with its
enormous golden eyes, each bearing a black pit in its center.
That was probably fortunate since otherwise she might have
fixated on its big yellow teeth and the fangs with the puffs of
smoke billowing from between them. She couldn’t recall if wild
dragons, the old time ones before they were all properly tamed,
were said to cook their meals before they ate them or not.
Either way, getting eaten by one was bound to hurt a lot.
Although she was sure she was still screaming, she could no
longer hear herself. She heard nothing but the
“whup-boom-whup-boom,” of gigantic wings as the dragon continued
to circle. The wind from the flapping blew her hood back.
Then, in a heart-stopping moment, the dragon swooped down so
close its scales grazed her face as its great jaws clamped shut
. . . on the stake. Which it grabbed and pulled out of the
ground, with her attached.
Wonderful, she thought. I’m to be toasted like a marshmallow on
But not yet. First the stake was hoisted aloft, and whereas
before she had struggled to loosen her bonds from the stake, now
she clung to it.
Suddenly the dragon dropped her. Her heart and body parted
company for the eternity between the time the beast released the
stake from its teeth and when it caught it in its great claws.
The dragon’s claws wrapped completely around her, stake and all.
The beast was so huge she could not see from one wing tip to the
other without shifting her gaze. Palaces are that big, not
animals. Or so she had believed.
Behind her, down the hill, were the train tracks, and on the
cliff top below her was a castle, a village, some pastures, and
farmsteads. But coming closer with every boom of the dragon’s
wings was a cratered mountain, a cone with the top bitten off.
Sheep and cattle, out for a quiet graze, scattered as the dragon
soared over them. Pigs squealed in their pens. Verity could
The dragon, attracted by the squeals, swooped. Suddenly a blast
furnace erupted in front of Verity's face, the heat searing her
closed eyelids. When she opened her eyes again, surprised that
she could, she saw two charbroiled pigs’ heads bobbing between
the dragon’s front teeth.
Were the pigs a mere snack?
Apparently so, for the great beast casually climbed higher while
still carrying the cooking pigs in the oven of its mouth. Its
breath now smelled more like bacon than rotten eggs.
The rolling fields dropped away and the sheer rocky face of a
mountain rose up before her. The dragon flapped her great wings
up and down, up and down, and with each flap she scaled another
vertical mile of mountain.
Verity concentrated on refraining from regurgitating, a
perfectly natural thing to do with hard claws wrapped around her
middle as she imagined her gruesome death, all the while
shooting straight up the side of a volcano. She knew from her
geographical studies that conical mountains with hollow bits at
the top were almost always volcanoes. The way her luck had been
lately, this one was no doubt active. A heavily seamed rock face
relieved only by narrow outcroppings fell away beneath them as
the dragon climbed. Verity caught glimpses of what certainly
looked like human skulls and bones sticking out of the crevices
in the cliff face. These could have been the bones of previous
sacrifices, disposed of by the dragon after it had picked them
The dragon realigned its flight to a horizontal plane in a
nauseating change of direction, then glided into a broad grassy
bowl. Cattle and sheep had been grazing there but stampeded in
every direction, although there was nowhere for them to go. The
sides of the scooped out mountaintop were far too steep.
A small lake in the center of the crater mirrored the cold white
sky. The dragon flew over it, to the far side of the bowl.
Toward the top was a small black hole far too small for any part
of the dragon to enter, but when the dragon was upon it, it
turned out to be much larger than it had appeared. The dragon
drew in its wings and plunged straight down into darkness that
its flame suddenly exposed as rippling black rock.
Verity got sick then, all over herself and the dragon’s claws.
Fortunately, her captors had not gagged her.
The dragon dropped her and she fell . . . for about two feet.
The stake dug into her back. The impact of landing loosened her
ropes, and it took only a tug at her bonds and she was free!
Free to be eaten at last. The dragon exhaled a brief flame and
in it she saw once more the great beast’s eyes, sly, assessing,
no doubt trying to figure out which parts of her were the best
cuts, although that hadn’t concerned it with the poor pigs.
Verity closed her eyes and made fists of her palms, hoping the
beast would kill her with one blast of flame so she wouldn’t
feel its teeth.
Whup. Whup. Whup. She opened her eyes. The dragon was gone. That
dragon anyway. As the whupping died away, high-pitched screeches
replaced it. Twin flames, one on each side of her, zipped past
as scaly bodies cannoned into her, ricocheted off the walls and
turned around to do it again.
So, she thought, the dragon didn’t want her for itself—or
probably, herself. She must figure a human woman would make good
baby food—no tough hide or fur to worry about, though one good
thing about this particular sacrificial rite, at least, was that
it allowed the victim be offered wearing their cold weather gear
rather than, for instance, being naked, which would have been
not only embarrassing but extremely chilly.
By the gas-lamp sized flames sputtering out of the mouths of the
dragon babies, she saw that the floor was littered with rounded
pale slabs of something that resembled very thin broken china.
These, she conjectured, were the shells in which the young
dragons had arrived in this world. There were other plate like
objects lying around too, but she was too busy fending off
dragon assaults to identify them.
Dodging a pass at her head, she stepped sideways. One of the
dragonets flew past and its flame illuminated a dark abyss on
the far side of her left boot. She pulled her foot back and wind
milled her arms to drive back the dragons while she flung
herself at the nearest cave wall.
Huddling there, she tucked her face into her knees and wrapped
her arms around them.
Screeching drilled into her ears as dragon bodies butted her
from both sides. Hot flames singed her skin. Her sleeve caught
fire followed by her hood. However, from working with her Papa,
she was used to fires and burns and knew how to deal with them.
She slapped out the flames and rolled sideways on the cave
floor. “Go away, you little horrors!” she commanded—shrieked,
actually. She had quite a good shriek.
When she raised her head again, the twin flames showed the
dragonets had turned their backs on her and were tearing into a
carcass that lay next to the opposite wall, a calf from the look
of it. It didn’t smell too ripe so she thought the dragon must
have brought it for them before fetching her. So if she was not
food why, other than to be driven mad by these little
attack-torches, was she there?
And when was the mother dragon returning to finish her off?
The young dragons gobbled down the calf and started lapping at a
wall in the far corner. By the dragon light, Verity saw water
glittering in a fan-shaped pattern against the stone, a little
She rose as the dragonets turned toward her. They were not yet
actually flying, as their mother did. They were simply bouncing
off the walls like most small children. She had gradually become
convinced that she was not an item on their menu—for the time
being. Plenty of cow remained from what she could see.
When their bellies were full, they returned to examine Verity.
They clawed at her legs, not to rake but simply to command her
attention. She reached down very carefully and patted one on the
head. It butted its skull into the palm of her hand.
“Nice dragon,” she told it. “Lovely, gentle, kindly dragon,
aren’t you? Yes, you are!” It hiccoughed in surprise and caught
her hair on fire again, but she was convinced it was
awkwardness, not malice.
She tried to pat out the fire with one mitten and to distract
the dragons, lobbed a bit of shell over the edge of the abyss.
“Catch!” she cried, running to stick her stinking sizzling hair
under the water running down the wall. It flowed into a little
basin and fortunately that was deep enough to dunk all of the
She was going to have to find a way to protect herself before
the little monsters killed her accidentally, if not on purpose.
A terrible squawking and whining issued from behind her and she
turned to see both dragons with their little wings unfurled and
their feet right on the edge of the ledge, looking down into the
depths of the cave. They wanted to chase the fragment of shell,
but she had sent it where they couldn’t go. Fledglings, they
were not yet ready to fly. Surely the adult dragon didn’t intend
that she teach them to do so?
“No matter, little horrors,” she told them, scooping up another
bit from the floor. It seemed to be scale rather than shell.
This time she threw it toward the entrance tunnel. Both of them
darted to it and struggled to claim it.
She threw another one, a little closer and they both pounced on
it. It seemed hours that she played fetch with them, until her
arms were aching and her back was burning with pain.
“Very well,” she said at last. “If you’re going to eat me, now
would be the time. I’m too tired to do this anymore.
Followed by more squawking and whining, she collapsed near the
water basin, removed her mitten, scooped a handful of the cold
water and drank. It had a very strange flavor, no doubt from the
minerals in the wall, but it seemed pure enough. Besides, she
doubted she would live long enough to die from poisoned water.
The flames of the young dragons traced dizzying circles while
they darted about a few more times, then they too came to the
fountain and rested beside it, wings folded, heads tilted
questioningly as if to say, “Now what are you going to do, you
strange excuse for a meal?”
One of them belched up a flame that came perilously close to her
nose. She clapped her hands, and said, “Stop that!” using the
same tone with which she had once admonished the kitchen cat’s
boisterous kittens, the watchdog’s puppies, or her horse when he
tried to stand on her foot or brush her off on a tree. The
dragonet swallowed its flame at once and looked up at her from
under surprisingly long curly eyelashes. Adorable, if one liked
that sort of thing. And rather pathetic. Perhaps the mother
dragon wasn’t very maternal. She seemed to have dropped off the
snack and left the little ones on their own.
“You must be sleepy,” Verity said aloud, but very soothingly. It
wasn’t a lie. It was a prayer. She was tired and hungry and the
flame-seared cow had begun to smell edible, if not exactly
The little dragons’ eyes were slightly less bright than their
flames. Maybe if they liked her, as something other than a menu
item, when their mother returned, she would refrain from eating
their new playmate. They folded their wings and settled down on
either side of Verity.
She wondered where their mother had gone and when she was coming
back. Evidently, they required her to do something, and they did
not seem to require her to cut their mangled cow up into smaller
Perhaps a lullaby was in order? Under normal circumstances she
had a pleasant enough voice, but some animals liked singing and
some didn’t and actually, she couldn’t remember any lullabies,
which tended to consist of the minutes of various public
meetings and bits of official legislature set by long-ago
minstrels to snore-inducing tunes. The dirge from her father’s
funeral was freshest in her mind, but she was afraid it might
convey the wrong idea to her hosts. She hummed and sang snatches
from Madame Louisa's cabaret show, which were jolly and bouncy
As she sang, Verity's eyes became adjusted to the dimness and
she realized that the cavern was not quite as dark as she had
first thought, but glowed with a slightly greenish light. Aha!
Bioluminescence. In a less—er—enlightened—time, they no doubt
had deemed it magic, but she knew it to be a natural phenomena,
caused by little plants growing on the walls, unless in this
case it was the chemical interaction of certain minerals? Her
papa had explained it to her, but there was more than one type.
She never realized it cast so many different colors of light,
however. It was sparkly without the need to reflect sunlight to
make it so.
The dragon’s children were asleep, but Verity was more alert
than ever, inspecting her surroundings. The interior—if one
could call a space with a thousand foot drop off on one side an
interior—of the little ledge was wildly disordered and full of
bone fragments and other things she had not wished to consider
before, even had she had the time. From the reaction of the
fledglings when she threw the shell over the edge, there seemed
to be no way down from their perch other than jumping, so she
tried not to think about it and examined her more immediate
Other humans had been there before her, as she could see by what
seemed to be drawings on the walls, though she could not see
them well in the dim light. From the shell fragments littering
the floor and some other, darker, flatter plates of material,
she guessed that there had been previous litters of dragonets as
well. Something poked her hip and she cautiously tilted to one
side and pulled it out from under her, careful not to disturb
the dragon baby whose head was resting against her arm. The
dragonets obligingly shifted so they were leaning on each other
instead of her. She stood, very cautiously. Her muscles were
cramped from sitting so long. She was sleepy, hungry, and
thirsty, but the cow was not as tempting as it had been.
Scooping her hand in the little basin, she sucked up more of the
The article she had pulled from under her was a piece of
greenish-brown (though it is difficult to see precise shades and
tints of color without sufficient light) scale too large to have
belonged to either of the small dragons.
It was as big as a platter and if she could rig a handle in the
back, she might be able to use it as a shield, to protect
herself from the fires of her ledge-mates. Dragon scale had to
be fire-proof, didn’t it? The scale didn’t seem as big as the
ones on the mother dragon so she imagined it probably belonged
to an older and larger brother or sister dragon from another
clutch. She devoutly hoped he or she wasn’t off at dragon school
and would not want to come home to the cave for an after-school
snack—her—any time soon.
The young dragons were rather sweet in a terrifying sort of way,
but she had to leave. Going down the way she came up was out of
the question, but perhaps she could go further up on the
crater’s edge at another point and then go down—more gradually?
The possibility bore further exploration.
The entrance to the passage from the crater was open. Fresh air
and a spot of sunlight or even a snowy night would be refreshing
at any rate.
Verity was quite sure that if anyone were going to rescue her,
it would be her. She couldn’t expect much help from an elderly
aunt and a train full of strangers and nobody else would know
until the train reached civilization again, would they?
Civilization could be defined in this sense as being somewhere
that the locals did not tie other people to stakes and wait for
dragons to carry them off.
The tube-like passage was steep, but climbable. It was an old
lava tube, left in the mountain from the days when the volcano
was active. She'd read about them in geology texts.
The floor of the passage was quite slick, but fortunately her
moose hide soled boots were made for walking on the dry Argonian
snow, and were not at all slippery. It took much longer to climb
up it than it had to be carried down it, however. But at last,
and it seemed that it had been weeks instead of only hours, she
stood at the entrance, reveling in the open air
The sky had darkened to steely gray with dirty clouds lurking on
incredibly vast horizons. Almost at her feet, the lake spanned
much of the crater’s bottom. It seemed even bigger now than it
did when the dragon soared over it.
She needed to see what lay under the lip of the crater where it
dipped to its lowest point. The walk was much farther than it
had looked, but there appeared to be a path along the side of
the bowl, skirting the lake. That made sense. Unless the dragon
had hauled each and every cow and sheep up the mountain, someone
had to drive them up, which meant they needed to climb back down
again—probably very quickly.
But looking down the side of the mountain, she saw only the
impossibly steep drop into the valley below she had seen when
the dragon flew up. It was far too sheer for her to climb,
especially without equipment. No wonder the passage from the
dragon nursery to the outside had been so easy. It wasn’t as if
she would be able to go anywhere from the only outside area she
The path dwindled to nothing near the crater’s lip. Who had put
it there? Surely not the dragon. Unless she’d made the path to
give her babies easier access to the herd, which might mean she
wasn’t returning to help them.
Loathe to return underground and resume being a living target
for ballistic young dragons, Verity walked along the shore of
the lake until the sky grew darker and it began to snow. She
might not find her way back to the cave. She might die of
exposure. If only there were some way to signal any possible
airships flying overhead, a vain hope. The dragon could have
swatted one out of the sky with her tail. Airship dragons, any
tame working dragon, would be no match for her. If the area were
devoid of air traffic, a signal fire would be futile. It would
attract only the attention of the savage villagers who’d staked
Verity out to begin with. They’d probably take a signal fire for
the dragon’s flame as the beast barbecued her.
Nearing the cave mouth once more, she spied a flash of something
that caught the last rays of the setting sun shining off the
A rustling noise issued from inside the cavern’s passage. The
dragonets squealed up the long passageway and crowded around
her. They seemed to have missed her.
Then they saw the cows and sheep. She was glad it was getting
dark so she need not witness the details, but in the end, she
had to find a stone to finish off the sheep the dragons had
managed to wound the worst. She hated it, but she couldn’t bear
to watch the poor animal suffer any longer. The dragonets were
messy killers. She hoped even more fervently that they were now
her friends. At least they had not seriously attempted to kill
So she dragged the sheep up to the cavern entrance and down the
corridor, hindered by the eager “assistance” of the dragonets.
The last thing she wanted was for the mother dragon to return,
but honestly, what could the creature be thinking, flying off
like that and leaving her babies to fend for themselves when
they were obviously so bad at it?
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Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad