Tasci felt something strange on the bus that day, like a peculiar
mirror, as if for a minute she were drawing herself.
"So the Geology exam was covering the chapter but I'd already read the two chapters..."
"Can't stand it I tell ya! They order two milkshakes again then..."
"Uh! Uh! Uh! *gurgle* Uaaah! Uh! *suck*suck*suck*"
Typical noise on the bus filtered through her head as she tried to figure out what it was she had just experienced. It was a long bus, with the rumbling engine in the back. There was a row of sideways seats on either side of the bus from the engine at the rear to about halfway towards the front of the bus. From there, the seats all faced forward, being split into two pairs of two for each row, 4 seats with a walk way between them.
"Must have been someone walking over my grave," Tasci concluded, playing with the mittens in her lap. Her coat to the side in the heated bus was light grey in color, rather cheap looking, though not damaged. Somehow the forest green sweater had ended up underneath the coat, even though they were removed in reverse order. Such is life.
Clothing is funny. It's the source of endless ridicule, and the secret to shallow fame. In Tasci's opinion, she paid close attention to clothing for one and only one reason: it was camoflage. That which showed off one's charisma could also be used to conceal. Some twisted part of her enjoyed being able to step aside from the fashion battle, hiding in shades of green and grey, watching from afar: the falling picking at the fallen.
Not to say she didn't have any friends, just none on the basis of clothing. Perhaps a conservative olive shirt, or teal, or green-blue, a personal favorite. Always solid colors, or white, always aimed at maximum wear and comfort, minimum flair. To be invisible is a truly exhilirating feeling, and even among the shabbily dressed patrons of the bus, Tasci was invisible.
"Hm," she chuckled to herself. "I'm not Goth, I'm the Antigoth. Have to find an excuse to use that line..."
The bus went on across the wind swept grassland, pass farms and scrub grass rendered in muted shades of grey by the endless clouds overhead. One long strip of black concrete broke the uniform greyness, stretching on forever towards the horizon. Tasci leaned against the window lazily, watching the little rain drops spatter against the plastic sheet, dancing in their frantic dance where invisible vibrations from the bus would cause them all to jump simultaneously, then quiver as though driven by a great shock.
The bus was dark, no more than shifting shadows of people could be seen. Tasci could see them clearly, glad to have learned that she was gifted and challenged just a little bit from her visit to the Optometrist. Tasci found a certain delight in being weird, so a doctor's conformation of even a little thing was good news indeed.
* * *
The light was so bright everything was shiningly white and then
red with veins. "I see you have very sensitive eyes," the optometrist
said, moving his light pen away from Tasci's face.
"Really?" Tasci cocked her head at him. "That's funny. Makes sense though."
"I would recommend you get sunglasses with your prescription," he said, fiddling with the great machine that contained all the lenses for refining the prescription using one's perception of vision. Like a mounted set of huge binoculars, there were two spaces to put one's eyes, but the spaces looked like eyes themselves. "There could be consequences if you don't."
"Nothing serious, just the fact that your eyes are so sensitive, they'll probably start giving out later in life," the doctor kept on calmly.
"Oh," Tasci said, equally calm. "So sunglasses can fix that?"
"Those or transition lenses should do fine."
An uncomfortable silence followed, then Tasci spoke up again, hesitantly. "Makes sense... I'm always blinking in the sunlight... sun blind. And I never get too lost in a dark room."
"Mmm hmm," the doctor said, not listening whatsoever. Tasci shut up then, a little disappointed, but not wanting to push the issue. The machine came closer and he said, "I want you to look at the letters across the room..."
* * *
A thump brought Tasci back to reality. The bus was constantly
rattling around. Those tin cans of buses were almost a laughing-stock.
One lousy bus came every hour, and it only allowed two bicycles.
The bus system was fragmented, expensive, but there was a good
point. All the noisiferous shakes and rattles had done miraculous
things for improving Tasci's accuracy in drawing. She didn't have
her sketchbook right now; it was in the backpack, with all her
other little hopes.
Tasci swayed dizzily and caught herself on the hand rail attached to the seat in front of her. Something like hope flashed in her eyes, but then the brown orbs darkened further with resignation. A quick glance about the relevant extremities on her body confirmed her suspicions once again.
"Why do I keep kidding myself," Tasci more stated than asked. "That sort of melodrama can't be healthy." She gave herself a mental slap. "I know it'll never happen but I keep feeling like I can do it. Oh well," she sighed. "'doing the same thing for years, will be doing the same thing probably until I die..."
Tasci finished the phrase like a mantra: "Cold alone, old and forgotten. If I'm lucky. Gaea, this world stinks," she finished, grumpily putting her elbows down on the thick folds of cloth over her skinny legs and letting her short hair fall over slumped shoulders.
"Why'd I even wear this dumb skirt today?" Tasci told the air. "It's not like it helped my Biology presentation at all. Not that I wanted it to... Now I'm going to have to freeze all the way on the walk home. I would have much rather frozen on my bicycle." The bus turned off the freeway into a small town on the way to her own small town. "Ah well, I can turn on the heater when I get home."
She shouldered her thick backpack as the bus drew to her stop. The air about the bus was serene and clear, thick clouds overhead and a light drizzle falling. Yanking a parka out from her backpack, Tasci shouldered it, protecting what she could of her backpack and her clothing. Thus protected, she ventured boldly out into the afternoon. Immediately in front of her was an intersection of streets.
Cars, buildings, distances all seemed to increase enormously, not literally but in the way she reacted to it. Tasci stood there surrounded by confusion and noise, stinging brightness and endless asphalt between the safety of one sidewalk and another. There was no fear, just incredible bewilderment, this walking pillar on two legs that was tall... too tall...
The walk signal flashed and Tasci tromped out, skirt billowing in the hoary breeze. "I hate that intersection," she concluded for the thousandth time, hurriedly crossing the second crosswalk and soon heading past the downtown shops, those that had not ousted by the distant mall in her little town.
"Little exploding town is more like it," Tasci mumbled, remembering how the pressure of jobs in a valley far to the South had attracted joyful developers intent on paving over the praerie, cramming as many potential workers as possible in what was left of this land. People commuting an hour, two hours, even 3 hours to get to their jobs every day, fighting worse and worse traffic. Of course the developers are happy to build houses everywhere. "They screw us over every time," Tasci said, approaching a local supermarket.
Perhaps that tiny population of ground squirrels in the empty lot opposite the supermarket would be there forever. Perhaps they would be poisoned and buried alive tommorrow, covered with some building or another. She passed the little dirt colored critters, at once cocky and timid, fleeing her as though she were one of the cruel humans that had to torment them. She smiled nonetheless, glad to get a glimpse of her bushy-tailed friends. They appeared not to care about the rain as much as she did, although there was only one aboveground.
A left turn and down the final road. A swift retreat to stride along the tree shaded sidewalk as far from the roaring traffic as possible. The Starling tramped between the two lines of shaded trees, turning her head as crow after black crow dodged gayly out of her path. "Hi crow!" she said cheerfully, getting a caw in return as the crows found new footing and settled their feathers.
Tasci's vision swum briefly, and she stopped, clutching her head. "Oh," she groaned. "Hope I'm not coming down with something." Tasci dragged the large pack on her back around to get at the cloth lunch bag clipped on it. A single swig of juice remained in the drink container therein, and soon Tasci was eyeing the empty bottle critically. She carefully placed it back in the lunch bag.
"Great," she said. "Just what I need, no juice and an impending flu." Tasci knew she probably wasn't sick, but it was rather exhilirating considering the tragic drama if she collapsed senseless of plague on the sidewalk during the last five minutes of her trip home. And the rushing cars paid no attention to her crumpled form as the light flared in her eyes and everything turned hazy, then faded. Then pan out to the body, slowly turning as though vultures ascending before a kill.
"Hee hee," Tasci giggled. That was a bit much. "I wouldn't want to pull a Rittek," she added cryptically. Then turning to her side, she spoke even more cryptically to the air on her shoulder. "You remember? Heh... good thing those buzzards turned out to be from the Healer's College."
Good old Rittek.
Tasci sneaked across the last busy street, turning into a residential section of the town. Many people lived inside her, going about their daily business, driving their cars on her asphalt skin, living their lives in her house-bumps where she watched an ever silent witness to the wonders and terrors of the human within.
Hee hee, just kidding. ^.^
Tasci sneaked across the last busy street, turning into a residential section of the town. Despite her carefree words, a mote of worry still danced across her face. She really wasn't feeling all that well. The day certainly was a nice one, but a steady rain would have been better than a drizzle, and this queer feeling in her torso just above her stomach began getting annoying. With only central heating and a good book on her mind, Tasci at last arrived at the house. She passed a row of simply trimmed hedges, up the driveway, rang the Gregorian hanging chimes on tip-toes, unlocked the chest level doorknob, and went to go get a drink of water.
Of course all the cats wanted to be fed first. "Ugh, shove off it Tanis!" she declared at the persistant gray one who was using his tail as a club. The small batty black one was meowing up a storm in her characteristic voice that granted her the nickname "crow". The big scared black one was pacing nervously.
"Now... guys. J'st gonna get a drink first," Tasci almost dropped the glass cup, but managed to fumble it to the bottled water spigot. Taking a deep drink, she tapped another. And one more. Then she flicked the heater, and lo' the central heating began humming cheerfully.
"Ahh," her grateful sigh came as she dropped her backpack. Gliding almost in a dream, she fell into the couch to look at a magazine or something, and the last thought that ran through her head before she passed out was,
"Since when have I had to stand on tiptoes to ring the wind chimes?"
* * *
It was the hungry yowls that woke her. The crazed desperate
hungry yowls. Tasci awoke in darkness, long after night had fallen.
Opening her eyes she saw the three cats looking at her strangely...
"Did I forget to feed you guys?" was what she intended to say. Instead she slurred, "Diffreek'kies," and stopped then at noticing how strange that had sounded.
But they were not listening to her anymore. The little black one lurked in the shadows like a stalking vulture. The black male, emboldened by hunger walked in stride with the arrogant swagger of the grey one, two demons given physical form, two ravenous beasts deprived of what is their rightful property, moving to surround her...
Tasci screamed as the cats grew monstrous in size at their leap, suddenly realizing that they weren't normal cats anymore. They had been 4 times as big and 4 times as far away as she had expected. They had grown fully long as her. They weren't cats; they were cougars! A desperate roll and a frantic scamper later, Tasci half instinctively ran for her mom's room, not in search of her mom, who wasn't home yet, but for the only open window in the house.
The bed was huge, everything was huge! With a desperate leap, Tasci evaded the claws that sought her tail like a dancing piece of string and charged through the window where the cats had torn the screen. The small opening had become fully the size of a door. Skidding to a stop just on the window sill, Tasci pulled with all her might, dragging the giant window closed. Eyes wide, two frantic breaths later, something... struck! the inside of the window. Tasci bolted, ran forever, escaped through the thunder of fear and the haze of panic, and disappeared into the quiet night.
* * *
"Oh god... oh god..." a quiet voice panted in the shadows. "Vicious!
I've never seen anything like it. One minute they were friendly,
and then I was lunch! Never saw cats go bad so fast. Oh... dear."
The dear was quite punctuated, followed by the sound of some four legged being shifting around in the clouded darkness. "Figures it would be cloudy tonight... I can't even see myself."
A sound of head shaking, ears flapping. "It couldn't be. It just couldn't! But... is this some sort of dream? I can never talk aloud in my dreams!"
The shadowed figure signed and sat down clumsily in the grass. Then stood up again. "Stupid, scratchy grass." In the distance, across the farms, lights twinkled from far-off factories. Every now and then a thundering juggarnaut of a truck came barreling down the road sending the creature scattering, but it crept back to the sidewalk and continued pacing skittishly.
"This is too much," it said again, stumbling through the darkness. "It's like a dream but... not. Whatever it is, I really did it to myself this time. I don't need the moon to show me I'm already a synx."
She looked down the dark road, where it etched out into the farmland, heading south and from there, who knows where? Tasci looked down that way almost wistfully, then turned around heading back into the artificial lights of town.
"Not getting out of it that easily," she said. "Can't just run out into the arms of fate like in a story." As the lights grew nearer, Tasci stopped for a moment in mid-stride. "Oh yeah, don't need a moon for city lights," she remarked self-chidingly.
Tasci was indeed a synx. The humming glow of artificial lighting, strangely louder now, slowly and eeriely revealed short clawed, thick furred paws connected to stiffly straight forelimbs covered in orange fur, bracing against the ground one after another in opposite motion to the hind legs.
"Wait a minute..." Tasci muttered. "How am I even walking?" With that, she fell on her nose.
"I am so smart," she told the ground, crossing her eyes to see a squished, though not injured black nose on the front of her face, now stretched out forward into a short orange muzzle.
Rolling to her side, Tasci easily pushed herself upright... with her wings. "Ssshee." the mild, and of course enigmatic oath bubbled from her chest through the new nasal passages and throat out in a tiny gasp of air as the full implication of that action hit her. "Ok, let's see," Tasci said refusing to panic. "One, two," she said raising one fore paw after another. "Three, four," she said raising her back paws. "Uh.. five," she said looking at her tail which at least wasn't dragging on the ground. "And... six, seven." One fuzzy orange wing after another rose up into the air.
"Whoo hoo, 3 segments baby!" Tasci crowed a bit loudly, but thankfully no one seemed to hear. "Take that Evolutionism," she whispered fiercely. Her great revelation finished, Tasci considered how to walk without getting confused again. Instead of concentrating on the complex footing of a quadruped that seemed to just... happen, she decided not to think about monkeys as she stepped forward. Not thinking about monkeys is one of the best ways to avoid thinking about anything but monkeys. You stop thinking about orangutans, and gibbons, and screaming howler monkeys, and be sure not to think of the morphological similarities between Prosimians and Simians. Armed with this mental diversion, Tasci was able to forget about worrying over how she walked.
Which was a good thing because as soon as Tasci had gotten to "Gorilla gorilla beringei" a car came shushing down the road, headlights blaring of unwanted discovery.
Darting off to the side, Tasci almost managed to avoid the headlights. The car stopped however, and a man stuck his head out, peering incredulously into the shadows. This was Tasci's key to run blindly down the sidewalk, skittering around a corner and dodging into a neighbor's yard before the man realized what he had just seen.
"Calm down, Tasci. He probably just thought you were an orange rabbit," the little synx told herself. "At least if you got the description right. Just pray he didn't notice the wings."
That night, when Tasci was looking through the fence enclosing a stangnant pond, a sink for rainwater to prevent flooding of the streets. One ear snapped up at attention, and a thoughtful expression passed over those narrowed green eyes.
"My name is Tasci," she said clearly and deliberately. "Tasci is my name." she said a little bit faster. "My name," her voice quavered on a warble, "is Ta--." Shaking her head again, she said, "I know my name is not Tasci. It can't be since I would never use my real name online! My name is..."
"My name is..."
* * *
Tasci made it through the first night sleeping underneath a
bush. Even though there were all sorts of bugs crawling around,
there were larger things to worry about outside like cats, and
cars, and most fearsome of all, late night teenagers. The bush
really wasn't all around her either. Being curled up right next
to the fence, she could see the stars clearly through the space
It was hard. She leapt up again and again from her uneasy doze in a fright as something or another got caught in her fur and started crawling around. It was like the permanent willies. Of course she knew that one does not sleep under shrubbery when camping out, but then again the people who told her that had tents.
"Of all phobias," she grumbled as another imaginary insect drove her into a scratching frenzy, "Why did it have to be bugs?"
The bush before her provided a raggedy wall between the synx and the outside world. She finally found a place out of the way of the ants, and then surprised herself by falling asleep.
The next day passed in a blur. On waking, she invariably opened her eyes with the notion of fixing a nice big breakfast, then closed her eyes as her grim reality reasserted itself. There wasn't many places to eat in the neighborhood. Desert scrub bears no fruit, and any notions of raiding garbage cans were quickly squashed. If you have ever taken a whiff of any amount of garbage, try it with a nose that's a kajillion times more sensitive.
Some people left food out for their pets, and Tasci tried to steal what she could from those. Like as not, Tasci got chased away by whatever local cat decided to protect its meal. For being a head smaller than Tasci, their slashing claws and sudden rushes were deadly to intruders in their domain. Catfood itself was barely edible, only tolerable after Tasci succumbed to munching on some attractive smelling grass to thin it out a bit.
Every now and then, mostly later in the evening, Tasci entertained the idea of sneaking into a dog's yard. Most dogs were too big to be safe, and their constant incessant barking was enough to make her want to run away and hide. But occasionally there before her was an unwatched plate of small crunchy nuggets. They tasted like paper, but the easing of the pain in her stomach was worth it.
"Never thought I'd see the day," Tasci panted after narrowly missing some driving hounder, who was now baying at her over the fence. "When dog food is the best I can get."
Later that day, she scanned for better places to sleep. It had to be somewhere safe. Her house was out because of those cats. Perhaps someone else would take her in...?
"Eh, who do I know here?" Tasci wondered hopelessly. "I can't just walk into someone else's home, they might be dangerous."
Tasci looked around, finding a way she could squeeze into a garage by picking at the screen. There was a loft on the roof where she found some old blankets; she also discovered she was no longer allergic to wool. There were other boxes beside her makeshift bed full of dusty things, books, clothing, photo frames. Little bits of nostalgia such as a plush bear with only half an ear left, a pile of college yearbooks. Tasci didn't want to pry, but spent a while looking through the pages and pages of pictures and events that happened at her local high school. Okay, maybe she did want to pry, but just knowing that 'Joey' was "Totally hip dude," "Great year my man!" and "Good luck on making the team next year," didn't really inspire Tasci's heartfelt trust.
A sleeping place secure, Tasci jumped directly down to the floor instead of the staggered steps she'd taken to get up by climbing the toolbench, levering off the christmas ornaments box, balancing on the rafter, and hopping up into the loft. Her wings half opened on the way down, slowing her fall. She landed and took two steps before stopping and looking up worriedly. "Shouldn't that have... hurt? Geez, I should be more careful before jumping like that."
That night was surprisingly clear, the skies overhead filled with blinking stars. Tasci looked up at the stars, and then her eyes rested on the roof of the house across the street from her own house. She smiled cagily and snuck over to the back of the house. The sounds of a television came from inside. A toy piano... and smells of a recently eaten dinner pervaded the area. Tasci shook her head resolutely. "I just can't risk it," she said. "I-I'd be a freak, the police'd come and take me away, and then the world would return to normal, and my only chance to show everyone that there are and can be synxes would be ruined." Her nose twitched towards the window, but instead she walked up to a garbage container next to the house.
The garbage container was a plastic contrivance, with a "animal proof" flip-top lid. The lid was closed, so Tasci bunched up her hindquarters and bounded on top of it, landing a bit heavily. From there, she jumped up to balance on a chain-link fence, and immediately bounced further up to clear the rain gutter and land on the roof.
Padding softly along the roof, Tasci at last felt safe. Nothing came up here. Nothing except birds and they wouldn't bother her at night. She couldn't sleep up here when it was raining, but when the stars spread their glorious panorama across the sky, Tasci promised herself to always be out here, out here to say good night to the stars.
Every night the weather permitted, Tasci would turn to her house, watching it from the roof across the street, hoping for a familiar green car to drive up. Hoping for some sign of her mother. A week passed, and still there was no sign of her. Something must have happened, something that could keep Mama from coming home to help her. That cheeky green car, Tasci's salvation never drove up, never came home.
By the third day, Tasci was tired of being filthy from her nights under the bushes, and just walking around. She'd watched a family one by one drive their cars and children to various places, then snuck into their backyard which she had already confirmed didn't have a dog. "All this for a stinking bath," Tasci muttered, rising up on her hind legs to reach the spigot of the faucet.
Every house, at least hereabouts, has a faucet in the back yard to which is normally attached a hose. A happy consequence of block housing conventions. In the middle of the day, when the sun was in the sky, it didn't hurt as much to have the icy water soaking her completely through. On rainy days, taking a bath would be easy, but it was getting dry that was tricky. Tasci knew that wet fur at a bad time could spell disaster, especially in the winter months. It got below freezing in the valley here, frost on the cars in the morning, and while she could sleep just fine in her fur, when it was wet it was worthless. One of her blankets she reserved for a towel, rolling on it after shaking dry as best as she could. It didn't absorb the water well, but it kept her alive.
* * *
One day, walking through the afternoon, a synx paused at the
pleasant smells coming from a family cooking dinner in their home.
"God... I'm so hungry," she said in a scratchy voice. "Maybe I could just... you know..." The food beckoned alluringly. Sounds of laughter drifted from the home.
"Maybe I could just introduce myself, 'Hi, I'm a synx and I couldn't help but smell your delicious food. Won't you offer me a bite?'" Tasci growled sardonically, tearing her nose away from the smells and walking away. She kept to the shadows, squeezing through a small space between two fence slots into another yard.
The shrubs and grass rose around her like a cathedral as she crept forward silently, tail held low. Sniffing the breeze, she approached the back yard of a second house. Again, a TV could be heard, flickering through the curtains of the sliding glass door window. Next to a wound up garden hose to the left and an overturned cooler to the right, across a bare stretch of concrete was a small, neglected bowl half filled with dry dog food.
Sniffing the air once again, Tasci moved forward. The dog, asleep in the side yard, paid no notice. His belly was full. By the light of the TV, she skittered across the concrete and almost dove into the bowl, crunching softly the leftover food.
A barking in the distance sent her leaping into the air, wings snapping open. But it was another dog, in another yard. It couldn't get her. Landing, Tasci finished off the bowl, then ran off back into the bushes, her frightened frizzed tail vanishing underneath the shrubbery. There she huddled, shivering in the bushes for a while before making her way out of the yard.
* * *
Tasci would tell the world, and let it be known that transformation is not a Fantasy, but for now she knew doing anything would be too dangerous, besides what kept her alive.
* * *
Tasci looked up at the stars overhead. There was Pollux, and
Castor. There, the great bear, its cub unseen in the city lights.
Arc to Arcturus, and there lies Bootes the herdsman. "Buh-oh-tes,"
Tasci pronounced to herself, remembering the man with the flashlight.
They were all there to learn about Astronomy, and their instructor
was the only man with a flashlight. There in the Corral, the dust
kicked up by horses hooves never quite settled. The flashlight
became a beacon, a pointer that the instructor could use to sweep
across the stars. A voice in memory, "And this little constellation,
I want to let you know right now is not called 'Spermo the Sperm'
*laughter* It's Delphinus, the Dolphin."
The stars that filled her heart seemed to drain out as Tasci looked down to her house. She stared at the empty driveway, the empty house, the empty future, a loneliness filling her heart with emptiness.
"It's been so long," Tasci said quietly from the windswept roof on which she perched. "I don't think Mama is coming back."
A week and two days, and still no sign of that familiar green car, the tiny chariot measured not in horsepower, but in chipmunkpower that bore her mother from the place of work to home. Two more days of half living, stealing what food she could find and imagining the rest. Two days of sleeping in a loft in a stranger's garage, or on the roof watching for sign of a person who wasn't going to come.
Two more days of being dirty and miserable and still Tasci said, "Maybe she'll come today," resting her head on her forepaws and opening her wings to catch the feeble evening sunlight.
Tasci shook her head. "Whatever happened to me must have happened to Mama. God, I hope she's alright. Inherited synxanthopy," Tasci muttered wryly. "Go figure."
She paused, a little sob welling up in her throat. "Just have to -- just have to believe that wherever Mama is, she'll get here as soon as she can."
The sound of police sirens tricked one ear of Tasci's off to the distance. Such a small town to have sirens at night. Getting louder...
Tasci jumped up, staring to the left as 3 police cruisers came barrelling down down Schulte, down her Schulte, turning on her street and pulling to a stop right in front of her home. There, they hastily parked, long shadowed men in black getting out of their cars and looking around. Everything was outlined in the red and blue of the police car's lights as the policemen moved to fix the perimeter.
Backing up skittishly, one foot slipped on the steep roof of her neighbor's house. "They wouldn't," she said, regaining her balance. "They couldn't!" But it was right before her, outlined in red and blue. Tasci's mind churned in a frenzy. "They've come to take me away. My mom didn't come because she had been captured, and now..." And now the police were after Tasci.
"Restore my reality, will you," Tasci growled. "Not while I can still escape."
She darted off scampering to the edge of the roof. Skidding to a halt, Tasci saw the illumination of the red and blue, and now flashlights. One of the men was shouting, but he was inside the house, and his words were obscured. "The lights... they can see me if I jump down my normal way."
Tasci fretted, hopping to and fro. They were sure to expand their search, close off the whole neighborhood. She had to get out now. Who knows what pitter patter of little paws her neighbors were enduring, and could complain about? "The loft..." she muttered. "Just like the loft. It's gotta work."
She balked at the edge of the roof, scampering down to it and spreading her wings.
"Go on girl," Tasci whispered tensely. "You know these things are going to work. It's easier to go down than to go up, just like the loft." The rooftop was considerably higher than the loft, but the only way she could get down without using her wings was illuminated by watchful policemen.
"If I can just get down in these people's backyard, I can hide!" Tasci thought, looking far down below. She lifted her wings, eyeing them thoughtfully. "Oh heck," she said disgustedly. "If these things don't work I am going to be very disappointed for the last few seconds of my life."
Spreading her wings and looking down with a curious lack of vertigo, Tasci leapt, aiming for the soft looking grass below her, chanting surface area to volume mantras in her head all the way down.
As soon as her feet left the roof, her wings flew back and billowed out. Suddenly, instead of falling, Tasci was hanging in the air like her wings were on floating tracks. Tasci actually cleared the grass, and the fence beyond it, and the road on the other side, and the next front lawn, and the other house's wall suddenly loomed before her.
A clear and placid moment of gut rippling horror passed before Tasci backwinged desperately and tumbled into the shrubs in front of the house. The Juniper shrubs in front of the house.
"Junipeeeeryeeow!" could be heard as the thorny bushes shook from a sudden impact. Thankfully, no one was listening. Now, Juniper is a very special bush. For one thing the leaves are tiny, dense, and tough, and its insides are filled with an impenetrable maze of woody gnarled branches. Actually entering a bush is almost impossible, making it more resemble a green, scratchy wall.
For another thing, every part of a juniper bush is sharp: leaves, thorns, twigs, bark, it's all capable of lacerating exposed skin, as is found on the nose and paws. Not to mention the fact that all cuts sting like crazy since the sap and pollen of the bush is practically caustic.
Tasci crawled painfully from the base of the bush, cursing all junipers, their related conifers, and plants in general. As her feet hit the lawn, she started to run, then winced as her hind leg twitched painfully off the ground. "Oh no..." she said, looking back at it. It must have gotten caught in between her and the bush. Carefully putting her foot down, and grimacing as it sent a shock of pain through her, she found it able to bear her weight, and soon she was running hard, panting, and putting distance between her and her captors.
* * *
"I can't go on, it's hopeless!" Tasci screamed at another truck
roaring by her. She limped along on a hurt paw, slowly sauntering
down the truck route behind her neighborhood. The little synx
stumbled and fell back on her haunches, watching a falling tear
sparkle in the headlights of the next truck on the road.
"I don't have any place to go," she sobbed, "Maybe I should just let the police catch me. Disappear into some prison somewhere set up for magical things like me. What the heck am I doing trying to escape? This isn't a story, it's just the real world, a dumpy nasty place where things don't make sense and good people die for no reason."
"I can't just trust fate, go ride into the wind. This is the real world; if I go wherever life takes me, I'll die!"
No, you won't.
Tasci stopped walking, another tear falling off her cheek fur and glinting in the headlights of another truck. "Who said that?"
I did. It rumbled by in a flash of headlights, and then faded in dying taillights.
"Who are you?" Tasci said to the darkness, circling slowly in the early evening black.
Who do you think?
Tasci's eyes widened. "You mean you're -- you mean I'm... ohhh. That changes everything."
Tasci stopped circling, to lick her leg. There was a nasty bruise on it, but nothing broken. She could still see the police sirens flashing over the rooftops to where she used to live. "Oh dear. Where should I go now?"
Another truck rumbled by, shaking up Tasci's fur with the wind of its passing. Tasci looked where the truck was going. "Trucks go everywhere..." she muttered, looking down the road. "And they all stop at the end of this street to turn right and head North..."
* * *
Tasci crouched at the street corner, hidden by a slab of road
divider, closely watching each truck that stopped at the street
corner to turn right. A truck drove up, but she saw it was securely
locked in the back, and let it go on, watching for the other trucks.
"What?" Tasci said, as another truck began to slow to a stop.
Aren't you forgetting something?
"Why would I do that?" Tasci said irritably as the truck drove away down the road.
Aren't you forgetting someone?
"Forgetting some-wha -- oh, that's right," Tasci said looking downward and sighing. "I suppose I should find out what happened."
Even as the truck sputtered onto the highway, it drove blindly past a particular lit sign, going on towards the horizon. However, the hint was not lost on Tasci.
"That's a good idea. I'll get right to it," she said, leaping lightly in the air and flitting away.
Hey, what? You can fly?
"Well duh," Tasci said into the wind. "I have had weeks to practice. I'm not that good yet, but your mysterious plan seems to have me hardwired right. Was that why you described my escape glide so clumsily?"
"I better get something to eat first then. Don't know when I'll be able to later."
* * *
Tasci limped slowly around a blue house on the corner of the
truck route and the side street. She knew the dog of the house:
an old girl, a white shaggy thing with aging vision amongst other
things. Tasci visited it often for a helping of food. Today would
perhaps be the last day. The dog was shut in the side-pen, but
her food bowl was in the fenced off front yard. Nobody seemed
to be downstairs, although there was some strange music coming
from upstairs. Tasci ate her fill of crunchy paperlike kibble,
then on an after thought took one of the bits of food in her paw
and scratched it along the cement porch. It left a mark.
"Dog food, part of this balanced breakfast and a wonderful substitute for chalk," Tasci remarked, writing on the sidewalk in clumsy scrawl.
THANKS FOR FOOD
She then vaulted back over the fence via a standing plant potter,
caught her weak foot on the edge of the fence and tumbled face
first into the nice, soft grass.
"That," her voice came from the ground, "was not cool." Extracting herself from that impromptu head stand, Tasci managed to get walking down the truck route again.
* * *
She glided slowly through the night air, flapping periodically
to maintain her altitude. Houses drifted by below.
"So, you're it?" Tasci said on her way along. "The One? The author?"
I'm an author... I'm the author right now.
"Oh, so I'm in a story universe? That's cool." Tasci slowly glided into the bembrace of a tree's branches, bounding off a bough before rising up again on a headwind.
"Man, I can't believe it," the synx murred excitedly. "The author. I finally met my author."
Don't think it's going to be easy from now on. You have a job to do.
"Right," Tasci said fixedly focusing on the task at hand. After some time she alighted on a telephone pole, her emerald eyes lost in thought.
"Who are you?" she asked suddenly. "If you don't mind my asking."
Why... I am you.
Tasci wrinkled her nose in concentration, then pipped, "Oh! This is a self-insert then?"
Yep. The sound of a car grumbling down the dim street prompted Tasci to leave her telephone pole for the skies again. The residential section began to give way under her, spreading out into large, scrubby farms and vast stretches of roadway.
"Do you know who your author is?" Tasci innocently queried.
There was a long pause. No, no I don't.
"Aw, gee," Tasci said sympathetically, breaking into a slow circle as her destination drew nigh.
Not yet, at least. Don't feel bad, though. If I can pull this story off, perhaps my author can follow my example.
"An author listening to a character?" Tasci scoffed. "Only we would be crazy enough to try that."
Right, only us. The wind dancing underneath her wings for a moment sounded like a chuckle.
"Well I'm almost here," Tasci said angling toward the roof of a small isolated cafe and rest stop. The horizon was lightening and beginning to show signs of dawn.
"I just want to let you know," she said, "I won't blow your cover, reveal you as the author or anything."
Don't worry. It's not a problem, and I don't mind. I might get a kick out of it.
"Really?" Tasci beamed, opening her stance to grasp the rapidly incoming roof. "Thanks!"
No, thank you, as the synx scrabbled clumsily across the roof, stopping just a hair's breadth from the edge of the sandy shingles, on her nose.
"Ow..." Tasci whimpered.
Try back winging next time?
There, on the hightway outside of town, the dust blew up along
the road. A few scrub bushes caught the wind and hissed idly as
one by one cars passed by, leaving their roar in the shivering
air. Colorful Manzanita bushes divided the 4 lanes in half, two
westbound and 2 eastbound on the highway. The Manzanitas served
well as road dividers, their hardy branches and leaves withstanding
the cruel environment of the meridian, and their thrifty roots
drawing sustenance from the barest amounts of water in the hard
A station wagon came shushing down the highway, westbound and standing out against the typical array of half vans, trucks, and SUVs. It was a classic model, the likes of which you might find in a reputable used car lot. A luggage bedecked, brown trimmed classic. The paint was dull, but not chipped and the engine fairly purred as it zipped down the road.
An exit sign attracted the station wagon. It said, "Rest stop next right." Turning off the road, the car approached a small cafe and gas station.
The brown car ground to a halt. A door opened and a slim lady stood quickly. Her straight shoulder length red hair hung smartly over a weathered T-shirt that draped over her slim frame. A water bottle around her shoulder, and thick, sturdy jeans, down to the flat toed hiking boots that graced her feet. Biting her lip, and whimpering, she jogged, stiff legged, to the nearest bathroom.
Again opened the door, and out stepped a man. Standing firm on cheap sandals, his khaki shorts almost reached his thick, hairy knees. A shirt covered in pastel yellow flowers tucked under the belt that held his pants up, and his proud cheerful, wide cheeked face broke into a satisfied smile as his squinting eyes peered under the brim of his floppy fishing hat at the rest stop.
"C'mon out gang!" he said enthusiastically. The car was silent. Then the door of the car opened and a specter of a girl stepped out. White faced, black highlights, she had an expression of complete lack of any emotion aside from mild disgust on her face. Black metal studded clothing and eternally uninterested expression best characterized her manner and poise.
"Billy won't open his door," she said tiredly.
The man grimaced. "Billy --," he leaned into the car. "Get out of the car already... please?"
"Can't dad," said the little brown haired lad with a distant look in his eyes. "Level 47." Billy continued to push buttons on a small portable video game as muted beeping noises drifted from the back of the old seats.
"Well okay," the dad said, puzzled. "If it's level 47 I guess I can't complain." He shut the door and headed over to the cafe where the red haired woman had gone.
* * *
Billy heaved a sigh of relief, tossing his head back and letting
the portable video game plop on his lap.
"The Hoover Dam," he grumped. "Honestly!"
Billy stared out the window at the dull rest station, at the dull town nearby. Everything was so... dull. Especially that funny looking orange... rabbity thingy flying around the station?
As Billy watched, a most peculiar creature took a nose dive, kicking up a huge poof of dust where it landed. Shaking the dust off, it spread its wings again, flicking its tail as it lifted off and disappeared behind the roof of the cafe.
"Dad! Dad!", Billy shouted, running up to his father who'd since joined with the red haired lady, who was adjusting her hip pack. Both of them were walking back to the car with a collective look of determination before they saw Billy had already started coming on his own.
"Glad you finally decided to join us," Billy's father said aloofly, turning back to the rest stop.
"Dad!" was all Billy could say. "It was-- and then... it was all furry like a huge bat! except it was a rabbit with this big ol' tail--"
"Yes, dear," his mother interrupted knowingly.
"It's true!" Billy wailed, spluttering. "I never seen anything like it!"
"We believe you son," his father said a bit callously, putting his hand on the door to the cafe.
"Oooh!" Billy growled, clutching his hands frustratedly. Glaring at the door strong enough to burn holes in it, he followed his parents inside the cafe. Carolin trailed in silently behind.
There was a dense knot of people in the area next to the bar. They were all crowded around, and singing at a synx who was carrying a serving platter on her head. It flicked its tail playfully and tried not to spill the ice in an empty drink placed on the tray.
"I--it's right there!" Billy almost shouted, pulling on his mom's shirt and pointing fiercly.
His mom rolled her eyes. "I know dear. It was here when I walked in."
"But... but..." Billy stammered, "Why didn't you say so?"
"We did," both parents answered. Billy just gaped.
* * *
The Starling curled up on a side table.
"You were right!" it said to no one in particular. "That was fun."
Her ear twitched in the direction of the Station Wagon family, leaning back against the couchlike seat that surrounded their booth.
"What? Where?" she said, looking in the direction of her ear. Then, "Them?!"
Tasci regarded the family. The mother was looking positively redheaded and radiant, while the dad beamed his proud, thick faced smile and thumped his paunch contentedly. The two kids seemed of mixed feelings about their meals, which were indeed worthy of mixed feelings. One of them, the skinny girl, did manage to eat whatever it was, but the boy seemed looking for something to do besides eat his... meal.
* * *
Carolin stared moodily at her empty plate. She wasn't sure whether
to inwardly cheer at the fact that it had gone, or whether to
inwardly groan at what sat in her stomach right now. Oh well,
at least she had enough sense not to order the "Super Slam" like
Billy, who enough sense had not.
"Whats a matter?" Billy whispered in her direction. "It got up and crawled away?" He indicated her food.
"Yes, onto your plate as a matter of fact," she said stolidly. "I think they're mating."
Billy looked at his own heaping plate in horror as somebody (...) kicked the table, causing the pile of food-like substance to jump up briefly and wobble.
"Eyah!" Billy shrieked, ducking under the table. Carolin's mouth crept up in a small satisfied smile.
As Billy finally moved to eat, a synx fluttered down to perch on the back of the booth he was resting against. It made a little prrrp sound.
Billy inhaled forcefully, almost choking as he scooted away from the cat sized creature peering at him wide eyed.
"Calm down Billy," his father said, gently chiding. "It's just that ...orange cat thing they have here. You hear me Billy? ...Billy?"
"Breathe," Carolin prompted snappishly. Billy gasped, breathing in deep gulps of air.
"Friendly little guy," the dad chuckled as the synx made rounds across the boothback.
"It probably just wants our food," the mom said, raising a disapproving eyebrow.
"Not in a million years," Billy whispered, staring at his processed glop.
"What was that son?" the dad asked pleasantly.
"I uh... I wonder where they got it," Billy covered. "Thing. It, that... thing. I wonder where they got."
"Oh, it's not ours," the waitress cut in taking their empty plates and cups. The purse-mouthed lady's skinny fingers expertly tucked away the empty plates, pausing only momentarily over Billy's still full plate.
"It just popped in about a week ago," said the waitress, indicating the synx now seated above Carolin's head making quiet trilling noises. "The patrons love 'er, but we're still trying to figure out whose she is."
* * *
Carolin was the only one who noticed Billy's sigh of relief
as his plate left the table, but she kept it to herself.
"Serves him right, ordering the Super special," she muttered. "You never order any kind of special at places like these."
Carolin turned as the creature moved in a place where she could see it, resting on the wood divider between their booth and the next. Whatever it was, it was no cat, that Carolin was sure of. The fur was orange, with a white underbelly. Around its huge hind feet, a long, thickly furred tail was touched off by a swatch of white wrapped over its paws.
It bore a frightening beauty, something beyond its unnaturally calm exterior. As the creature breathed deeper, sleepier, Carolin watched the uniformly colored fur rise and fall. Flashes of black appeared briefly where it stood up in tufts at points of tension. The head was tri-colored, with a wooly looking patch of dark red fur resting on the top and down the nape of the neck. On either side of the patch extremely long triangular ears almost flopped down, covered in a downy fur the same dark red as the ...ruff for lack of a better term.
Its eyes were closed now, a soft mrring sound issuing every now and then from its short muzzle, topped off with a black nose. Carolin tried to make out more of the lower parts but beyond what she saw, it looked like a big orange ball of fur.
Just then, the synx opened almost iridescent green eyes, flecked with gold. Pupils widening like a cat's, Carolin's hand came to her mouth when it slowly, and deliberately winked at her.
Billy's giggle snapped Carolin out of her reverie.
"You two wanna check out a room?" he asked sweetly.
"Grow up, Billy," she said flat-faced. "You'll die sooner and make room for the rest of us."
* * *
"But really Jim," the mom went on, "The state of the union just
isn't the most important issue here." She was speaking to her
husband over a cooling cup of coffee.
"And why not?" Jim countered. "How many people have any idea what America stands for? It's important, we have to think of the children. There are sights to see out there, and it's important for us to see them. A good vacation will keep us aware of our country's landmarks, what everything means," he finished with a statisfied chuckle.
"What's so funny all of a sudden?" she asked him curiously.
"Oh, just us arguing like a couple of school kids," he said. "Remember Becca? How we used to in college..."
* * *
Billy was squirmingly distracted, and even Carolin managed to
look even less interested than usual.
"Here," she said jabbing a napkin at Billy. "Think of something creative."
He took the napkin, thought a moment, then wadded it into a tight ball. Flicking lightly, he sent it spinning lightly to bop the synx on the nose.
"Mrp?" it said, waking up at this unruly disturbance. Looking slowly from Billy, waiting there eagerly, to the ball of paper in front of her nose, Tasci's paw snaked out to tap at it.
Tasci stomped it, rising up straight legged, then bending her head down to examine the wrinkled corner of the napkin trapped underneath her paw. She leaned forward to pick it up, but it slipped out of her snap of teeth. Pouncing sideways, she intercepted the roll of paper just as she and the paper went tumbling down into the empty booth below.
There was silence. Then a furry head popped up, napkin in mouth. Billy giggled and she hopped up to the boothback. There she sat on her haunches and purred, crinkling the napkin delightedly.
Billy smiled with a satisfied air and turned back to the table. A rolled up paper napkin hit him on the side of the head.
Carolin allowed a thin smile as Billy looked in outrage at the oh, so innocent synx, now without a napkin for some reason. He threw the napkin back at the synx who batted it out of the air, waiting for him to look away again.
Grinning craftily, Billy pretended to start to look away then let fly with a hidden napkin he'd rolled up under the table. Tasci ducked, not soon enough, and the paper caromed soundly on her left ear. Tossing the paper she had snagged from Billy, Tasci dove after the other one, vanishing as she followed it underneath the table.
Shuffle shuffle. *crinkle*
Billy peered down between his legs into the darkness underneath the table as a rolled up paper napkin shot out from the darkness, striking him soundly across the jaw. Spluttering, Billy tossed his paper at Tasci who returned it a bit too quickly, missing Billy entirely. It headed in a slow arc toward Carolin who caught it with a quick movement of one hand. Carolin was still smiling.
Both Carolin and Billy volleyed their napkins at the same time, causing frenzied sounds of bouncing, meeping and crinkling paper. Carolin grabbed another napkin, but Tasci hopped up onto the seat of the booth, the back of the booth, then onto Billy's head, wielding a rolled up paper napkin threateningly.
"We have a hostage situation," Billy said with muffled authority into his rolled up paper napkin. "An' I'm the hostage!"
Carolin's disgusted rolled up paper napkin beaned Billy on the cheek.
"Ah!" he said to Carolin, toppling like a log. "Lieutenant! Treachery!" he enunciated, falling to his side and forcing Tasci to jump back to the stable safety of the booth's back.
Tasci threw her paper at Carolin who recovered it, gloating. "Ah hah, now that I control the resources you will bow--"
"WILL YOU KIDS ZIP IT?" both parents exclaimed capital-letter-istically.
Sighing as thought she knew all along it wasn't going to last, Carolin pushed the wadded up pieces of paper into a neat pile, and pulled out a black compact, looking appraisingly into the mirror.
Billy was unrepentant. "Can we keep her dad?" he said. "She's so much fun!"
"Absolutely not," his mother said. "And not another word," his father added.
Several minutes later, far too many minutes for Billy who was looking to squirm all the way into the next dimension, the family pushed their chairs aside and slowly made their way out of the small restaurant. They did not notice that the spot where the synx once lay was unoccupied.
* * *
The car was strangely silent. "C'mon gang!" Jim said. "Let's
make things a bit more lively."
The family began to sing a simple melody. "Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts..."
In the back seat, Billy sang thinly but enthusiastically. The words died in his throat as the sounds of the others faded from his attention into ghostly whispers. His eyes shifted slowly to the right, though he dared not shift his head. Something behind him... moved. Delicate insect legs tickled the back of his neck...
"Eyaaaah!" Billy screamed, turning as far as his seatbelt would allow. A curious, bewhiskered nose vanished underneath the blankets over the luggage in the back. "That's not how the song goes!" his dad called. "Eighteen eyeballs rolling down..."
Throwing the blanket aside like a billowing cloak, Billy came face to face with that creature they saw at the rest stop. It licked his nose.
Billy ewwed, shrinking back and wiping at his nose while a tall thin lump in the seat next to him, recently covered by a blanket said, "Billy, you are so dead."
* * *
Tasci chuckled inwardly as the uneasy atmosphere popped when
Billy went "Eww!" The boy fell back, wiping at his nose even as
his blanket covered sister said, "Billy, you are so dead."
"What's goin' on back there?" the dad shouted congenially.
Carolin pulled the blanket over her head in one swift move. She remained silent, her glare speaking volumes of future retribution to Billy. Billy looked fearfully at Tasci, then gulped nervously. After a moment of thought, he said, "Uh... n-nothing dad."
"Can't have a good rousing car song these days..." Jim grumbled.
"Don't worry dear," his wife Rebecca reassured him. "At least nothing exploded."
Billy whewed. Tasci whewed.
"Billy, what was that noise?" his mom asked dangerously.
* * *
The car listed to the side of the road then came screeching
to a halt. The door opened and Jim stalked out of the side after
Billy burst free of his own back door, stumbling to a halt with
a defensive stare towards his father. Tasci hopped out, followed
by Carolin, who stood aside warily.
"Look, kids." John sighed. "We've been through this before. We can't just pick up animals off the side of the road."
"But dad..." Billy complained.
"Wild animals are not toys!" Rebecca cut curtly, joining the side of Jim. "It might bite you or --"
"Like Adder?" Carolin mentioned carefully.
"Yes like -- no not like Adder! He's a harmless gopher snake, wouldn't hurt us at all." Rebecca combed her hand through her hair exasperatedly.
"And Mr. Tuffles?"
"Carolin, Mr. Tuffles is the sweetest, most spoiled hamster to walk the planet," her mother exclaimed. "I'm ashamed you think just because we rescued him from that discarded cage on the --"
"The side of the road," Carolin continued directly. "They were both picked up on the side of the road."
"That is a wild animal," Jim proclaimed. "It's dangerous. You should never have snuck it out of the cafe."
"We didn't --" Carolin started to say, cut off as Jim continued his tirade.
"Now we're going to have to take her all the way back to the rest stop," he said chidingly.
"They don't own her!" Billy protested. "They said so."
Jim thumped his chest emphatically. "No sir, absolutely not!"
* * *
Jim drove, bemusedly listening to the strange little critter
bustling about the back of their car. He couldn't remember for
the life of him how the kids had talked him into this.
"She'll probably run away," he thought. "Most critters we pick up do that anyway." John continued driving forward, to the water, to the city, to home.
Carolin was puzzled before, now she was positively worried. Never had she or Billy convinced their parents to "rescue" anything larger than a rat. Certainly not a creature so odd and mysterious as this one. She looked out the window thoughtfully, frowning in concentration.
How had it happened? Carolin tried to recall the last she remembered of the scene...
Jim thumped his chest emphatically. "No sir, absolutely not! It's a dangerous animal." Jim was clearly flustered. He sighed putting his fingers to his eyebrows.
"She won't hurt us." Billy demanded. "She's nice!"
"Look kids," the dad pleaded. "I'd love to bring her along but we just can't take her away..."
He looked down as Tasci nosed his foot then looked up towards him soulfully.
"See dad," Billy said eagerly. "She likes you!"
"...she is kinda cute," he said, bending down to rub the fur on her back while Tasci crooned happily.
"Dear!" his wife said, outraged. She took a deep breath to berate him for his weak will, then paused for a moment before relaxing into helpless laughter.
"So is that a yes?" Jim asked, smiling as well.
"John, we already know the outcome of this argument," she smiled, shrugging her shoulders. "We might as well not fight about it."
* * *
"What is that thing anyway?" Carolin asked herself. But try
as she might, Carolin could not remember ever seeing anything
like it before. A tiny weight landed in her lap.
She stared, frozen, down at it. The creature was light, so light... not half what it should have weighed. Taking a closer look, she could see that it was male, definitely a mammal, but those wings.... Carolin put out a trembling hand and it raised its head up to caress her pale skin soothingly. Then it curled up in a soft ball in her lap, all without the slightest note of alarm. Billy started to say something, but Carolin fiercely shushed him.
It wasn't too dirty, certainly smelling of dust, but not too gamey. There was another odor, something like cinnamon, but Carolin couldn't place it. With more confidence, she ran her hand down the head, and down to the wings. Teasing at the tips poking out of the otherwise featureless fur, she caught her breath when the wing spread fully, but a soft, downy, orange membrane between delicate batlike wing bones.
Carolin was not feeling comfortable at this point. The thing had wings, by Erde! Nothing had wings and all four legs. Not even bats or birds. The wing slipped back as Carolin removed her hands. Gently pushing the creature off her lap, it hopped down to the foot area, then looked at Carolin with a long, sideways glance. She shivered despite herself.
* * *
~/o Alfalfa is the King / Sweet luscious sprouts of spring / They're just a tas-ty thing. / And that is why we sing, / Alfalfa is the King... o/~
The song resounded to the tune of Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay, infectious and catchy, and so Tasci sang along.
Jim had led up a hearty baritone while everyone else sang on top. Rockin' on the alfalfa, the whole family was filling the car with song. And so of course, Tasci sang along.
Billy stopped for a moment at the sound of the little synx's croon and cheered, "Dad! She's singing along!"
"Alfalfa is the King," Jim replied in song, nodding emphatically. Billy rejoined the car song, encouraging Tasci eagerly. A sweet and wordless melody rose over the main chorus, matching harmony, and lifting the notes ephemerally. Starling was swaying slowly, eyes closed, quickly leading them along in the canonical chorus.
"Traffic," the dad roared in warning as the hulf of a plugged freeway loomed on the horizon. A chorus of groans went up, ending the impromptu hallelujah on alfalfa.
"Hold on, gang," Jim said, his hand tight against the steering wheel. "We're taking the backroads."
As the station wagon slowed to a halt behind the endless ribbon of crawling cars, an off-ramp glimmered seductively in the distance ahead. "There's an exit," the dad said, "Not much more to go." Silence ensued.
Carolin twirled one finger lazily in the air, singing faintly, "Alfalfa is the Lord, / Oh god I am so bored."
"Alfalfa is the Lord," Jim interrupted, singing expressively, "Oh god I am so bored," beckoning with his non-driving hand for everyone to join in. The rest of the family joined in and soon everyone was laughing and cheering to the chorus of "Alfalfa is the Lord, / Oh God I am so bored."
Billy raised his hand with a snap halfway through a stanza, and once again Tasci witnessed the unusual ritual. Everyone else fell silent on cue as the stanza ended, and Billy continued alone with a new verse.
"If only this car soared," he sang, "The other cars ignored. Alfalfa is the Lord..." When Billy returned to the original song, everyone joined in again, incorporating the new lines in their repeating refrain.
Tasci smiled bemusedly. It was crazy, hard to believe, but it worked so well why question it? She resumed providing wordless harmony now in the alto range.
* * *
The car crept along, then zipped down the exit ramp. It wove
and turned expertly through side streets, clearly piloted by a
professional quality traffic avoider. The little fluid filled
compass bouncing on the front of the car remained fixed on North.
As one more hour drew past, the car left one city and entered
another, moving on up into the hills above a third city.
The sun, high in the sky, was obscured by pleasant greyness covering all the land. An overcast sky greeted the car when it finally pulled up a little side street and onto a wide driveway.
The house wasn't fancy. It was a pastel peach stucco color, with a slightly sagging roof. There was a small front yeard covered in ankle high grass. The family cleared out of the car, Billy doing handflips and Carolin just standing, eyes closed, staring up at the sky.
"Aw c'mon," the dad said as his wife cheered in the background. "It's just a little car ride."
"The Hoover Dam was not just a little car ride," Carolin said furiously.
"They're just happy to be home," his wife said, leaning on Jim's shoulder. "The Hoover Dam was a bit long of a car ride, so now let's just sit back and..."
"Aw, honey," he complained. "But it's not just the dam we went for. The journey is as important as the destination."
She flung her hand up, retorting, "With all the places you would have us go, it's a wonder we haven't seen all of America yet."
When Jim looked crestfallen, she smiled and hugged him tenderly, placing one kiss on his cheek. "You know I'm playing with you, Jim." she said warmly. "We had a wonderful time, and yes even the car ride was made fun by your presence."
"But the sights..." he mumbled, "The landmarks..." letting himself be led away by the shoulder.
"Look, dear!" she said excitedly. "They restarted our paper route this very morning, just like you asked them to." Rebecca was looking down at the newspaper resting on their doorstep.
"I can't say the same for the mail," Jim said, looking at their overstuffed mailbox. The newspaper lay on the front porch where it had knocked their welcome mat askew.
* * *
The synx had gotten on top of the car, and was perched on the
luggage, which was on the luggage rack, trilling fiercly down
at the children. Jim and Rebecca approached, laughing a bit at
the overwhelming... cuteness of it all. The newspaper trailed
in Jim's left hand, unopened.
"What's she doing Billy?" Rebecca asked the boy as she and her husband came closer to the car.
"I dunno mom," said Billy, trying to lift his scrawny form up the side of the car to reach the synx. "She just jumped up there lookin' at me."
Carolin gave an exasperated sigh, turning in a huff away from her family. "You people are all so unobservant," she said cryptically over her back, tossing up a hand and retreating.
"I think she's aiming for your head, Billy," Jim concluded wisely as Tasci hopped from the luggage lightly onto Billy's head.
Billy smiled goofily, his brown bangs pushed down over his eyes. "She's cute," he murmured.
"Actually, it's 'he' not 'she'," Tasci spoke clearly. Bounding off of Billy's shock of hair, she fluttered up to the branch of a maple tree in the front yard. "Carolin had it right the first time."
"Thank you for the ride," Tasci called down to the stunned family once a good foothold had been obtained on the branch. "And the song. I have some things to do now, but I wanted to thank you before I left."
Tasci cocked her head towards Carolin who alone stared back not with bewilderment, but with an equally calculating gaze Tasci was giving her. Then leaving the tree branch shaking behind, the Starling lifted off into the air.
You will meet again.
"We will meet again!" Tasci crowed as soaring through the air and vanishing over the rooftops.
Some moments later, Jim said, "I wonder if that had anything to do with this headline," lifting up the newspaper for all to read. "LTF: New Findings in the Search for a Cure".
* * *
Some time later, Tasci paused with a skitter on a sloping stretch
of rooftop. Flapping her wings backwards clumsily, she managed
not to go tumbling this time.
"Well you've been awfully quiet lately," the Starling declared.
I like to separate our conversations so as not to distract the readers.
"From the story line, I see." Tasci said, surveying the quiet rooftops. They were touched by the late afternoon sun, going from house to house down the hill to the city. Nothing sounded more than the noisy rush of cars. A few birds chirped in the distance.
"Judging from the lack of action, I'd say this is one of those times," Tasci concluded, sitting down.
You got it.
"Okay, so what should we talk about?" the synx said pleasantly, though a trifle impatiently.
Actually I had a question...
Are you a guy or a girl?
Tasci twitched. "Er... I've been male since my transformation, but you know that right?"
Oh geez, and I've been using all those feminine pronouns. The readers must be so confused...
"Tell me you knew," Tasci said in a shocked tone.
"You didn't even notice that I had been changed into a guy?" Tasci yipped in shock. "How could you write something and not even know about it?"
You don't hafta shout.
"Dude," Tasci went on, "It isn't exactly the sort of thing you don't notice."
It must have slipped my mind.
"So you forgot --" Tasci paused to nibble at his haunch irritably. "What about that whole fiasco where I first tried to go to the bathroom?" Tasci grimaced. "There's a memory I could do without."
"You didn't know. Even after clearly identifying me as male back in the car scene, you didn't know."
The car scene? I never... oh... yeh, looks like I did. Silence reigned, then Tasci started to chuckle, then collapsed in hysteric laughter, almost rolling off the roof gleefully. Hey, don't laugh! It was an honest mistake!
Tasci whooped out, "I pulled a fast one on the author. The author! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled. Hornswoggled!"
Well I feel sheepish.
"Alright, you ba-a-a-ad boy," Tasci said sheepishly.
But no more freebies!
"Okay okay, enough obscure movie quotes," Tasci said abruptly, lying on his back and talking up to the sky. "But seriously, you did know about this beforehand, really."
"That's just not funny," Tasci snapped. "Someone had to write it. If you're writing things you're not aware of, that is called crazy. So which is it? Did a mysterious higher power guide your hand for my bathroom scene, or are you schizophrenic."
I uh... the bathroom scene was never written.
Tasci put a paw under his chin in thought. "But how did I experience something that hasn't been written?"
Perhaps you think you experienced it, but instead you're generating the memories on the spot and not even realizing it.
"Oh, I hadn't thought of it that way," he said in a small voice. "But isn't there some solution not so metaphysical?"
Well I could be lying to you.
"There is that," Tasci said, chuckling. He flipped around and dug his footclaws into the pliant roof shingles. Looking at the falling sun, he remarked, "It's getting on in the day. Shall we move on then?"
* * *
There was an unusual amount of activity at the zoo, even after
darkness had fallen. A few men stood around lazily in soldiers'
garb, sporting impressively automatic weaponry. That, apparantly,
was enough, as the crowd of people glaring in the soldiers' direction
wasn't doing anything foolish. The rest of the people lined up
in a semi-formal line for the right to crowd around a flickering
monitor. The monitor showed a scene from a camera in a lush zoo
enclosure. In the baleful glare of the halogen lights, something
moved. Something big and scaly, and white.
A brief shadow flickered overhead, flitting from tree to tree above the soldier's heads. "Oh man," it whispered, looking at the soldiers. The shadow paused briefly at the signs marked "DANGER! Dangerous animal ahead," and "EXTREME RISK TO LIFE" and "Do not proceed." "Oh man," it said, ignoring the signs and going on.
Tasci came up slowly through the bushes to the high walled enclosure. Barbed-wire had been hastily thrown up around the walls, beyond which a 12 foot drop led to a slowly sloping forested hillock.
"OH man," the synx said, poking his head out of the bushes to peer through the barbed wire, down the sheer walls. Something was resting down there, not bothering to seek cover. Nor did it need to, being 24 feet long with talons like razors, a jaw like a steel trap and a total interlocking coat of milky white scales strong as steel. It whipped its tail back and forth, then yawned revealing an impressive array of sharp teeth. Then it quietly went back to sleep.
"Oh no, mom, not a white dragon," Tasci whispered despairingly. He let out a little huff. "I've got to find a way to help you, I just gotta. This is too big for me to deal with by myself. I don't suppose you have any suggestions."
The dragon was silent.
"I meant you."
Oh. Sorry, I'm not supposed to interfere. Story universe rules. Besides it wouldn't be good for the story if I told you what to do; you know that.
"Yeah..." Tasci sighed, standing up and turning around.
"Well, time to go." he concluded.
Where will you go?
Tasci shrugged. "I don't know. She seems safe where she is for the moment. I'll just let fate take me where it will, and I should find help somewhere along the line."
Good idea! That way I can help without --
"Ssssh!" Tasci whispered conspiratorially.
Oh, right. The dragon beneath him turned over and went to sleep.
"Now all I have to do," Tasci mused, "Is figure out how to go."
Well, trucks go everywhere...
[more to come]