Warning: this this chapter contains scenes involving
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Chapter 25 of The Tail of the Tiger
The sleeping house was full of quiet sounds wrapped in the soft music from the stereo. I was working in the library. In one of the upholstered chairs Aunt Green and Violet lay in a softly snoring pile. They had started the night in Tom's bed but followed me out after I looked in on him to see how he was sleeping.
After Jennifer and Maria had left, the spirit of the house had if not exactly lightened then something close to it. There was an emptiness to it, too. I miss Maria.
We hadn't heard from her; Jennifer might have confiscated her phone. Annie had helped them getting installed in a hotel before taking a cab back to pick up her car.
I hoped Maria was sleeping well.
Outside, from its Place above the door, the Pug-goyle was watching over the house. I had covered the scars with paint. If not for the need to protect the wood, I would have left them blindingly bright and raw. As it was, the scars now had the same dark color as the rest of the face.
Whenever I thought of the Pug-goyle, it seemed like the air achieved a scorched quality: a tinge of burned chili con carne.
A thump, a whir, and the clatter of pugs' paws on the floor in the hallway announced Mormor's exit from her room. A wheeled, pained thundercloud, she had hardly said a word since Tom and I picked her up at the bus station; she had wanted only the company of the dogs.
She had looked lonely when waiting for us by the kerb. Tom had muttered damnation on heartbreaks when he saw her.
Mormor's wheelchair rumbled softly down the ramp, and the electric sound dimmed when she rolled into the kitchen. The fridge door opened, and she bustled around. Shortly after, she entered the library. She sipped her orange juice, and looked at me speculatively. "You should be in bed." She was in her nightgown. Leika was riding shotgun on her lap and Frida ran to sniff the two sleepers in the chair.
Her eyes were clear, a mirror of the quiet. She's better. Good. It was barely midnight. "So should you."
"What are you doing?" She came closer.
"Checking the contract on the lease of our new office space. Kurt is going to sign it in eight hours if I don't stop him."
"Ah. So, you're not buying?"
"No. Dad found a great place; we can't afford to buy anything nearly as good. That and the hassle." The relocation was by far the largest expenditure we had ever had at one go. The bank, as usual, hadn't balked at my request for a loan. Kurt was convinced that the bank's advisor had a kinky preference for my written proposals "banker's porn", he called it.
"It's not in the most favorable area of town, and the house is old but it's got a nice atmosphere, and the inside is recently renovated. They've torn down a lot of walls, leaving nice, open spaces. We mostly just need to do the cabling, and buy the furniture. Do you want to see the floor plan and the pictures?"
If she was inclined to listen to my speculations then I was ready to lay the problems out for her. We talked about how the place fit right into the way we organized ourselves, and my reluctant push to sign up for two floors instead of just one. Two floors only made sense if one trusted a scrying bowl. The bank, dad and Kurt had been all too easy to convince. Part of me hoped for Mormor to tell me that I was nuts.
She didn't. She ran through the budget, asking for further explanations here and there. "If you had another million what would you do that you're not doing now?"
"You want to play the if-I-had game?"
"Tell me. A million with no demand of a return for three years. What would you do with them?"
"To be repaid after three years?"
"Not necessarily. But, yes. Let's say that."
"Uh. Instead of running two major things sequential, I'd start them up almost at parallel and invest more in them than we can do now. Reorganizing that's the first one. Some of the ways we do things to make up for my absence actually seems to be working better than our old ways-"
She listened patiently, as she only would when one was talking business, while I laid out my favored but unrealistic plans for improving custumer satisfaction and, in a longer term, making us more effective.
"You'd hire non-techs?" she asked, and made it sound like a trick question.
"Yes. And I'm sure we'd have a net gain in the end. And second there are Kurt's babies still in the womb software that we can sell to bigger software companies. Some babies may take several years to develop, but the return could be very good indeed and earn us some good subcontracts. I had imagined we could start out with the smallest ones but with the extra cash I'd say we should do one of the bigger ones. Of course it could flunk, but I don't think it will. Anyway, that's where I would put the million, boosting those two projects. I can show you the numbers as well as I can make them out."
She nodded and waved her hand, telling me to go ahead.
I called up the database and un-ticked some of the "fairytale-cards" that were left out of the initial budget and projections, and added a "fairy-tale" card of an extra million dollars. One of Kurt's wilder late-night dreams was allowed "inside". He would lose his cool composure the day he found out that I actually had transmogrified it into numbers. As it was, he probably believed that I had forgotten it we had been rather wasted when we argued about it the night before I left for Florida.
"-I've been trying to figure out how to free Kurt to work on one of the smaller projects so that we could get started. But if we had the money, I'd say go on this one."
"Okay. You've got your million."
"What?" What did she say? "What?"
"You've got your million."
"But." Come again?
"You've got your million."
She must be out of her mind! "Oh, no. I'm not going to. That's your money for Pugheaven!"
Mormor shrugged. "I believe that particular project is on hold. Anyway, I can afford both if I want to."
"And if you lose the money? Where will you be?"
"Be? Right here, in my home. Don't worry about that."
"Where will we be?" She might sell me for a can of gasoline but I wasn't ready to give her up for a million. At least that's what I like to think about myself.
"With a wide and deep puddle of water between us," she grinned a little. "Let's just say I'd still be sending you Christmas cards."
"Er. What would you write in them?"
"Now, that's an entirely different story, isn't it. Think about it. A million. It's yours for a yes. I'll let you have three years without demanding a return. But of course, by then I expect my money's worth." She patted my hand. "Think about it. Three years and a million. I'm off to bed." She left me to stare into space. The sound she made when ascending the ramp sounded suspiciously like a giggle.
Did she really say that?
Wait she's family. I don't do business with family. She would pull out the second she got angry with me.
A million. Dollars. That's seven million Danish crowns. Three years? How crazy is this?
Kurt said one year with everything, if he got Einar or Klaus to help him. So, I believe in one and a half years with all three of them on the project.
Maybe I do do business with family.
I should be working, not sitting here dreaming. I stared at the budget on the screen. At the fairy-tale numbers that blended with the rest. They were easy to recognize they were formatted in purples. It's a good dream, though. I adjusted the new card; playing it safe, I made it six million crowns in purple. One didn't know what expenses there would be, or what the rate would be once the transaction went through. Then the salaries and expenses, all in purple. It still looked. Too good.
It just cannot be true. Things don't come easy like that.
I must have been dreaming. That's it. I was asleep.
I stared at the empty glass on the table for a long while. It was not my glass. I never used the ones with the handle if I could help it. So Mormor had been in here, those glasses were her favorites.
Perhaps she had found me staring at nothing like a malfunctioning android. And perhaps she had been sniffing around in my database, un-ticking fairy-tale cards while I just sat there in a coma induced by short-circuiting dreams. And perhaps it was her that had scattered prints all over the table.
She was here?
She really said it?
I got up and walked to her room. She told me to come in before I had knocked. I stuck my head in. "Did you just offer to invest a million dollars in my business or were I dreaming?"
She chuckled. "I'll want my return, kid. Don't forget that."
"Of course. Do you want me to sketch the contract?" Sudden light streamed into the kitchen and through the open door to the hallway where I stood. Leika gave a bark and she and Frida jumped down from Mormor's bed.
"What's that? Was it a car?"
"I think somebody just rolled into the driveway." I went to the kitchen window, pulled the curtain aside and looked out. The outside light had gone on, triggered by the sensor, and when the driver flicked the headlights off I could see that it was Karen inside the car. "It's Karen."
The dogs knew who it was they were already gathering around the door in the living room. When it was Paul's car they went to the back door. Like when it is. Was. Joey's or Lance's car.
"Karen? What is she doing here?" Mormor sounded deeply irritated.
"Just sitting in her car. No, now she's opening the door." I let the curtain fall and walked out the back door. There was no sense in having her ring the bell, upsetting the dogs and waking up Tom. She was by the path to the ramp when I got out. "Karen. Hi."
She stopped. "Mikkel. You haven't gone to bed." She sounded tired and in the need of a bed herself.
"Not yet. I had some work to do."
Her face was splotched, and swollen around the eyes. After a moments hesitation she asked, "Is Rose up?"
"Not really. She's awake, though."
"I've got to talk with her." The insecure expression on Karen's face was new. "If she'll see me."
"Do you want me to ask?"
Mormor had elevated the head end of the bed, and was ready to turn on the pulse laser, when I got there. "Karen asked me to ask you if you'll see her."
"Did she say what she wants?"
"No. She's been crying."
Mormor snorted. "Well, she should! Send the old fool in."
Which was not quite the way I put it to Karen when I fetched her. She made an obvious effort to straighten her back before going in to Mormor's bedroom and closing the door behind her.
That was perhaps my million that went out when Karen went in.
Well, Mormor did say she could afford both.
Sitting down to work, I mentally ran over the immediate consequences of Mormor's promise, and started an email for Kurt: Something unexpected came up, and I had to revise the budget.
Which was how I usually started bad news. The problem was how to tell him to keep looking for more people without telling him all my plans. Mormor, when emotional, tended to wield her money much like a weapon and I had no problem seeing her getting emotional with me. I didn't dare trusting the million before I had the contract. We may be able to start one of your one-man mini-baby projects-
He never took his time to look at the budgets unless pressed, anyway. Shortly after I had sent the mail, the phone rang.
I answered it distractedly while ordering my thoughts, expecting to hear Kurt's voice at the other end. The call didn't quite fit into the circadian rhythm he had going at the moment, but it really couldn't be anybody else, and his rhythm had made sudden shifts before.
"You're up. Great," somebody said. In English.
Chris? Chris! "Chris?"
"Hi." Chris? "Hi, Chris." It's Chris! Pressing the phone against my ear, I could hear him breathing. There were people talking in the far background. Really? It's Chris?
And he's breathing! Imagine….
Make him breathe on me!
"Look, I need you to- get out!" The last was not whispered. The background noise had sudden risen; perhaps a door had been opened. There was another voice nearby, but I couldn't hear what was being said.
It's Chris. He's mad.
Bite me. Nice fangs!
"Nobody," mad Chris snapped at somebody.
"Yeah, nobody are you deaf?"
Who's he talking about?
"Stay out of my phone calls. It's nobody! I told you-"
He's calling me a Nobody?
"Justin fuck off and give some space, man. That's right, close the door. From the outside. Christ!"
Not a goodbye actually, it was twice no goodbye, and now twice not a hello, not a hi. Thrice a Nobody! The nerdy knack of statistics would send me to my grave.
Who the hell does the punk think he is?
"Okay, I'm back-"
"Nobody?" He's got three seconds for an apology. I started counting in my head, but it was more to keep my temper in check than to keep track of the seconds.
"Fuck, man, this is serious-"
"So am I." Nobody?
"Listen, I need you to-"
He wasn't going to give me any sign of basic respect. "You need Nobody's favor, is that it?" I snapped, and it wasn't really a question. I was so not going to start crying. So not!
"Fuck, look, I need you to-"
"That's what I said."
"Don't be such a girl, man get out, Justin!" The noise in the background had risen again.
Little twit! I considered hanging up while he was having this very important argument with a Somebody.
He called me a nobody!
I cut the connection, and turned the phone off. Does he think he can get away with anything?
The monitor was kind of blurry, and I had forgotten what I had been doing. Nobody! I blew my nose and dried my eyes, determined to get back into what ever it was that I had been doing. It looked like a contract.
It was made out in Mandarin. Or Greek. Perhaps it was Russian.
I can do this. I stared at the symbols on the screen, and wondered what I was supposed to do. Who wrote this? Did I?
Chris called - and I hung up. What did he want?
He said it was important, didn't he?
I got up and went into the kitchen for a drink. My hands were shaking, and I managed to spill more juice on the counter than went into the glass.
Stupid fuck! Look what he made me do! Irritated I threw a dish towel into the mess on the counter, and took a beer instead.
"Mikkel?" It was Tom's sleep-roughened voice.
"In the kitchen."
He came into view, and leaned against the doorjamb, holding out his phone for me. "Christopher."
"He woke you up? The little prick woke you up!"
Tom grunted. "He says somebody is gonna die if you don't do something. I think he's serious." He frowned, and looked towards Mormor's door. He probably heard the same mumble from there that I did.
"Karen's in there." I took the phone. "What?"
"Don'thangupI'msorryI'msorry pleaseplease, don't hang up."
"You woke up Tom, you twit! And what do you think I am a frigging doormat?"
"Fuck, I don't have time for this-"
"Fuck you! I want a hello."
I waited. Tom shuffled off, taking my half filled glass of juice with him.
Chris sighed. "Okay, okay. Hi, Mikkel."
"Hi, Chris." And somehow we were almost on track again. "What do you want?"
"I need you to teleport the fuck over to Joey's, and neutralize the doll before Lou dies we need him alive until after the tour. It's bad, man, really bad. Like, sirens-and-hospital bad."
"You need me to... Like in break and entry? Chris, no! I'm not going into another arrest! You can get somebody else to do that." I'm so not going into that basement again! Never!
"Look, there's a key-"
"Somebody else, Chris." Not me. Nope. I'll do anything but that.
"Fuck there is nobody else. Do you think I would've called if there were?"
Nobody? Was that a fourth? "That's bullshit. Call Lynn or Somebody."
"Call Lynn? Yeah, sure, and what do I tell her when she asks why that fucking doll is there? That this maniac's relying on voodoo to protect her son from fucking perverted Lou? Huh?"
His breath was rasping in my ear. Was that a sniffle? Shit, shit, shit. "Arrgh!" I'm about to do something stupid. "Are you listening?"
"If I get picked up by the cops again, I'll recite years' worth of cop's pay slips for you while pulling your little hairs out one by one. Do you copy?"
"Yeah. Thanks, man," he said softly, and continued in a stronger voice, "The key's in the shed. There's, like, a shelf under the worktable. It's on that, in a matchbox, at the end closest to the door."
Blast! I have to go into the shed, too! "And the code for the alarm has it been changed?"
"No. Call me when you're done?"
"Yeah. I will." I opened my mouth to say goodbye but the word wouldn't come out. Figuring Chris would be the first one to understand, I cut the connection.
Heading into that without protection? New batteries in the torch that one's easy. I must be mad. There must be something with stronger powers than a torch-
I went hunting in what was now my own room again, briefly wondering if I should dismantle and bring the Pug-goyle.
Joey's house was dark, darker than the rest of the neighborhood. The severity of the darkness became very obvious when I rolled into the drive: the headlights dimmed. The unusually pale outside light switched on automatically. Belly cramping with discouraging premonitions, I stepped out of the car before I could change my mind and leave.
The place was seething with restless shadows; they were flickering at the edge of the light, pushing the boundaries, and never quite letting themselves be seen. I could feel the dirty heat from a point beneath the house the doll was channeling evil power to its army of shadows in the yard, enough power to make the hairs on my arms stand out in response.
All I had for protection was the small plastic alligator Chris had given me for my birthday. It was in my pocket squeezed inside my fist.
And, boy, does the little punk owe me!
Okay, Litlgator it's just us two. And the torch.
The spirits roiled agitatedly when I turned the torch on.
Heart hammering, and stink sweat breaking out under my arms, I headed in where the darkness was thickest. That way lay the shed. The light of the torch dimmed a little, same as the headlights had done.
Around me the dark spirits moved restlessly, keeping clear of the light beam. I could feel them closing in behind me, a thick, wispy wall of evil pushing at my back, and I walked faster. The small plastic shape shifted in my hand, as if it was waking up.
Don't think, Mikkel just do! Be a robot.
The raid had to be done in one unbroken strike. If I hesitated for too long, the fear would catch up with me. I did not dwell on the consequences of the fear taking hold and opening cracks for the evil spirits to enter by.
Perhaps I underestimate the power in Litlgator.
I was not going to put it to the test if I could help it.
Somehow, I got into single-minded operation-mode. Without breaking stride I headed for the shed. I'm a robot. Beep!
I opened the door kicked it wide open while flooding the inside with the weakened light from the torch. Littlgator, held high between my thumb and index finger, roared a soundless challenge, and suddenly the light brightened almost to its fullest. Yes! Give it to them, alligator! Hissing, the shed shadows ran for cover behind garden chairs, junk and garden tools; clawed monsters scrabbled into the corners under the work table.
The matchbox was where Chris had said it would be. I held the torch with my teeth, and with one very shaky hand I opened the box and retrieved the key while clinging to Litlgator with the other shaky hand.
Getting out from the shed was one of those nightmares where you're forced to move in slow motion, and the monsters are coming fast at you. Yet, I moved quickly enough, as I found when I slammed the door, and no icky monster parts were stuck in the crack. A bump and rustle on the other side of the door told of a monster that had moved too slowly.
"We rule," I muttered to Litlgator, and it wriggled in my hand.
It was almost fun walking back; the shadows were buzzing and shifting, a powerless wall of evil smoke that moved with me but could not touch me.
The fun stopped at the basement door.
The howls and creaks from downstairs were indeed of a different caliber from the whispers of garden ghosts and shed shadows. When I inched the door open, the noise was replaced with an eerie quiet that was even more menacing than the noise. I flicked the light on and there was a discomforted scuffle from downstairs.
Litlgator held aloft, and clutching the torch for a weapon, I descended the creaky stairs, all senses on alert. When I turned the light on in the washing room, there was a toothy hiss from behind the furnace. As I walked on, Litlgator began to heat up, and I could feel its small, steady pulse as it pushed its powers. Go, Litlgator, go!
An odd keening sound forced me to a stand still. My feet really wanted to run, were in fact insisting on running up, out and away. The keening sound stopped. After a couple of breaths I was ready to continue. "You think you can scare me away with stupid, little tricks like that? Well, you're wrong," I said, and opened the last door much more brazenly than my courage warranted.
I flicked the light on, and the room came alive. Angrily screeching critters were scrambling to keep out of Litlgator's sight, hiding behind furniture and other sheet covered household items. The keening sound was back, but I was not to be deterred. Move!
My feet did not obey me. Come on, move! The keening stopped. And like before, I could move again. Foot-control magic. How devious!
I entered the unholy grounds of the inner sanctum. The yellow light from the bulb in the ceiling couldn't reach the floor between the high piles. Pointing the torch downwards, I hoped that the light would deter any of the undead beasts from biting my ankles. In my other hand Litlgator was purring. It's having fun.
Which probably shouldn't have been a surprise, considering who had invested it with shaman magic.
I slowly walked forwards on the narrow path between the jumbled piles. Critters scrabbled to stay out of the light. One little critter nearly got me the torchlight couldn't cover both my front and back at the same time, but Litlgator slapped its snout with a flick of power before it could sink its poisoned teeth into my ankle. The critter's screech of severe pain made Litlgator snicker. No, wait that was me. I'm going crazy here that was a damned close call. Why did Chris have to put the box away in a frigging far corner?
As I got closer to my goal, the air around me thickened, and the torchlight paled.
This is it. I was right in front of the chair under which Chris had put the box. Holding on to the hard working Litlgator I slowly got down on my knees. Around me the ring of undead alligator babies closed in. Litlgator pulsed heat and power enough for me to wonder if its small plastic body would go soft and melt.
Something cold and wet touched me between the shoulder blades. I screamed. Unthinking, I twisted, and swung the torch at where the monster should be behind me.
The torch hit nothing. The cold touch was still there. Poison jelly! It's stuck on my back! I struck at it with the torch; the edge of the torch bit into my spine right where the cold touch was. Litlgator blazed, and several pained squeaks under nearby furniture came to an abrupt end, telling of killer zombies out of commission at least for the present.
Whatever was stuck to my back disappeared.
And the torch went out.
I panicked. Babbling insane sounds, I struggled with the torch and finally got it switched back on. The light was almost enough to make me think again. I swung it about, clearing a circle around me. Belatedly remembering the poisonous glob that had attached itself to my back, I checked the ceiling. There was no waiting globs to see. But something was missing. Something-
I shouldn't have let go! "Litlgator?"
It didn't answer.
Frantically I got up.
There was an evil snicker from under a nearby cupboard, a scaly tail went swissh, and sharp claws scratched the concrete.
Uh, oh. That's a big motherfucker.
It kidnapped Litlgator!
I swiped the floor with the light from the torch, bent down and directed the beam under the cupboard. Whatever was under there made the light fade to a weak yellow. An indignant squeal followed by a scrabble told of something hurting and running. The light strengthened slightly. Litlgator? I plunked to my knees and looked.
Litlgator was there, all alone, upside down on the floor.
"Are you okay?" I picked it up. "Litlgator?" It slowly warmed in my hand. Maybe it was a bit groggy. I rubbed its belly with my thumb, and it snuggled deeper into my hand, and purred. "I'm sorry." It pricked me. "Okay. Okay."
I scuttled until I was on my knees next to The Chair. I hate this.
Flooding the space under the chair with the weakened torchlight, I put my head near the floor and peeked in. The old shoebox was there and it was wrapped in writhing coils of darkness that the light from the torch could not dispel.
Oh, no I have to put my hand in there.
Litlgator was pulsing softly doing what it could, keeping critters from my legs and ass, and poison jellies off my back. Right. I suppose it's only fair that I have my own job to do.
I reached for the box. One of the coils struck at my hand, and snaked around my fingers. The icy, unholy touch of it was so wrong that bile rose in my throat. I snatched my hand back. I could feel rot start eating its way through my skin where the evil had touched me.
A twirl of smoky tendrils danced lewdly. Did they just give me the finger?
"Stop it! This box is mine." The words swelled, broke through the every-day barriers of three dimensions, and echoed in places I would rather not know about. Oops. So this is what it's about. Oh, shit. No way back.
Some things are meant to be said thrice. A very few are meant to be said thrice thrice. If you say them the wrong number of times, then you're in really deep trouble. That was about as much as I knew about magic. I had recognized something that had to be said at least thrice.
My throat was already constricting, and my sight swam. "Mine," I croaked, and coughed.
The poisonous smoke snakes battled the torchlight to get at me. No you won't! "The box and all it contains is mine."
Did it work?
The light of the torch grew in strength.
Litlgator licked my thumb. It worked. Litlgator licked some more. I reached in and pulled the shoebox out the touch of cardboard drenched in evil caused the utmost uncomfortable electric currents in my spine, and I groaned.
Other than that it was just an ordinary shoebox. Right, Mikkel. Hold on to that thought.
I picked up the torch, keeping it and Litlgator in the same hand, and got to my feet and walked out of there, quickly, flicking off the light, and slamming the door behind me. I ran up the stairs, roaring to keep the sound of critters out of my ears, and kicked the door close behind me. Panting, I rested against the door for a moment.
I had no liking for being fenced in so I took everything to the porch. If for nothing else then because the stink of the oily sweat gluing the clothes to my skin was easier to bear when I was outside.
The garden ghosts were still there, strolling at the edge of the light.
Okay. Here we go. Litlgator?
It sighed tiredly, and I rubbed its belly before I slipped it into the front pocket of my jeans.
Carefully I lifted the lid of the box. The doll lay there, emitting menace in waves. This is really bad - it probably should be thrice thrice. '"Mine," I told it. "You're mine; you and all you contain are mine. Mine, you're mine, you and your innards are mine. Including that glass shard."
When I had seen Chris put the doll away, there had not been a glass shard jammed all the way through the middle of its belly, and the doll hadn't looked quite this mauled. He had obviously been back to boost the magic.
A glass shard? What did Lou do?
I didn't dare lift the doll out of the box; it looked like it could lose a head or a limb without any prompting at all. With shaking hands I pulled out the glass shard and the needles and thumbtacks. I pried the doll open, and had to stop for a moment until I was sure that I wasn't going to loose what was in my stomach. Then I extracted the small piece of card with Lou's signature. There also was a small ball of pale hair that too was a new addition. Repeatedly swallowing bile, I poked around making sure that there had been only that one ball of hair. Putting both the signature and the hair in an ashtray I got my lighter out to set them on fire.
Sitting cross-legged, watching the last smoke, I called Chris.
"Yeah?" He answered before the first ring had finished.
Chris! It's Chris! It was a moment before I could talk. It's Chris! Chris! I wanted answers, and I was sure I wouldn't get any if he knew that the mission was accomplished.
This is so not a nice thing to do to him.
I did it anyway: "Hi. Chris, man, I'm not sure I'm going to do anything about that doll. It looks just perfect to me."
"The head had come off all on its own, did you know?"
"That glass shard why?"
"Damn, Mikkel! Pull it out! Stick the head back on hurry!" He was growling, as if fighting not to yell. "We need Lou alive!"
"I could, like, turn the shard around, make a huge hole-"
"I would have reason, wouldn't I?"
"I'm listening. Listening really closely."
"You shit! ... Kinda. Maybe. Not really. But, please, man don't!"
"Why the glass shard, Chris?"
He was breathing into the phone. Then, "You're a mean fuck."
"I've got the glass between my index finger and my thumb right now, and that plasticine is really soft, you know, when I turn-"
"Mikkel!" Incredibly, he had happened upon a screech that was too big for him he had to hiss it.
"Mmm?" I want to hear that again.
His breath had been rasping, now he stopped breathing, or perhaps he had just been pulling air in: "You bastard!" His voice broke. "You already fixed it!"
The sweat-and-hng voice! I couldn't lie in the face of that. "Sure."
He made an odd sound it was almost a laugh. "You retarded pile of barbarian goat shit! You - fladpandede kraftidiot!"
"Yes. But you weren't going to tell me. You weren't going to tell me shit, and I really want to know why you did it like that, the break up, I mean. I can't, I don't know, come clean if I have all those unanswered questions making noise in my head. Something went wrong, right?"
"Yeah… Well, maybe. I mean, I was mad, like crazy-mad, not at you but, yeah. Anyway, nothing's gonna change just because my higher brain functions kicked in again. You understand what I'm saying? We're over."
"Yes. I understand."
"I notice that you don't agree."
"Well, that's because I don't, you imbecile bastard!"
"It doesn't matter what happened. I'd decided to break up already; like, I'd been thinking about it for a while."
"I know you were thinking about it. Chickenshit. And that was the worst break up in this century. No style whatsoever."
"Dude! Are you criticizing my performance?"
"Yep. On a scale from one to ten the break up scene was minus seventy-four."
"You fuck." He breathed into the phone.
"Yes. So, do I get a repeat performance without your anti-Lou mood interfering?"
"You and your fucking crowbar. You mean like, Break Up Scene, take twenty-one?"
"Mhm. In drag?"
"Okay." My belly was hurting all over again because there were all kinds of heart shaped words crammed into that "No!" Chris! "What happened to Lou? Right now, I mean. Did you kick him?"
"Nah. I wish." He sounded distant for a moment.
"Maybe I shouldn't have burned that hair and the signature it sounds as if you'd want it for another doll once Lou gets better."
"Oh, there's more where it came from." He was walking, and talking very quietly. "You burned it?"
"I took out the needles, thumbtacks and the glass shard, and I burned the hair-ball and the signature. The ashes are in the ashtray right next to me."
"You're sure it's properly burned? Did you use gasoline?"
I turned up the lighter, and torched the remains. "Very, very sure I've got the lighter on full blaze, holding it to the ashes right now they cannot burn on their own any longer, and the hair's completely gone. Ouch!" I dropped the lighter that had suddenly turned hot. "It's very burned."
"Absolutely. What happened with Lou?"
"I don't know, we haven't heard yet. He was fine, all fake uncle and ta-dah as usual. Made me wanna puke. The next moment he was on the floor, totally curled up and holding his fat belly; he was hurting so much that he fainted. It so killed the party mood. Not that it wasn't half dead already, what with him being there."
I could hear people yelling in the far background where Chris was. "Where are you?"
"Outside. By the dumpsters. Hang on that's Justin, maybe they've heard something." He whistled sharply. Right into the phone.
When I, hesitantly, put the phone to the ear that was not ringing like a fire alarm, I heard Justin far away say, "Who's on the phone?"
"Nob-my voodoo assistant. You sure they said he's gonna be okay?"
"Yeah. Who did you say it was?"
"Fuck off. Hey," the last was spoken into the phone. "It's volvulus, and he's gonna be okay. You can put the dried snake and incense away."
"Volvolus? Sounds like a venereal disease." It was not a term that I recognized, though I might know the disease.
"Venereal desease - with Lou it probably is, dude."
And then there was Justin, sounding like he was right next to Chris, with a smile in his voice saying, "Hi, Mikkel!" A scuffle followed. Justin was laughing when he left, and I could hear him tell somebody that Chris was talking to Mikkel. Justin sounded glad.
"They're driving me nuts!" Chris sputtered.
"Well, consider this: you haven't even come to the interesting part yet Justin is going to lock you up in a cage with a sexually starved and underpaid, undercover llama cop on acid. I've seen his dark side. He's evil!"
"I can't believe that you were so fucking stupid, man." He was grinning.
"What? It wasn't me! It was Justin's Intelligence Absorber that got me. It's a nuclear device!"
"It was you being stupid. Downright, undeniable, fucked up stupid. Dude, you're the unrivalled winner the World Championship of Stupidity. Hell, you beat them all without taking your hands out of your pockets."
"See, it's so effective you haven't even noticed that it's working. You're already half way to zombie."
"Ha! As if the Brilliant Kirkpatrick Wit can be diminished by such puny devices as the Timberlake Intelligence Damper."
"Nuclear driven! Actually, there's a pretty obvious reason why you would be immu-"
"Mikkel." Chris' voice was full of threats.
Beat me! "Yes…. What?" Slap me! Chriiiis!
"Don't you start too." Want Chris! Let me talk!
"I'm not going to."
I swallowed what I had been about to say. "Okay…." It's goodbye, then. But if I opened my mouth all that would come out was a howl.
"Fuck," Chris muttered, and hung up.
I plummeted into pain.
When I again became aware of my surroundings, the front of my T-shirt was soaked with snot and tears, a delicate mix indeed with the stink sweat, and I had cut myself on the glass shard. I pulled my T-shirt off, and found a dry spot to wrap around my wounded finger.
The creatures of darkness were roiling and restless, running along the invisible barrier at the edge of the light. Oddly unafraid, I watched the wispy things while getting my breath back.
I gathered the remnants of the voodoo doll, and went inside the empty house. Mechanically, I treated the small wound. The glass shard I cleaned too. I found a piece of paper, and drew a pentagram on it. Having wrapped the glass shard in tinfoil, I carefully placed the package at the center of the pentagram, and left it all on Chris' dresser. Hopefully, the pentagram and the tinfoil would be enough to pacify the powerful evil until he got home and could take proper care of it.
Knowing it was alright with Chris, I found one of his favorite and not quite clean T-shirts, claiming it for my own. His favorite because it was soft, and oversized enough to fit somebody of my size and bigger and my favorite because it smelled of Chris.
My phone rang as I was putting the key away in the shed. "'Lo, Tom. I'm on my way."
"You okay?" He could no doubt hear that I had been crying. My voice was thick and hoarse.
"Yes." I realized that I wasn't lying. I was hurting but it was the pain of a wound that had been scrubbed mostly clean. I had begun to trust the pain to stop some day. A shed shadow brushed my arm; the clammy cold touch made the hairs stand on end. "Yes. I'm. I talked with Chris." We aren't finished. Yet. Soon.
"I figured you two were talking. I tried calling earlier but your phone was busy. You sure you don't want me to pick you up, man?"
"Yes. I. I need a few minutes more alone. It's okay."
"See you, then."
I closed the door behind me and left the shed to its occupants. My heart beat without hurry as I walked with the shadows through the garden, almost unafraid.
The battle-scarred Pug-goyle would be there when I walked to the door; grinning, it would dare any remnants of evil to follow me inside. And Tom wouldn't mind some company in his bed, sharing comfort and slow healing.
End of Chapter
© Morgenfryd 2004