Plugs

Buzzing black flies careen into the dusty plate-glass window. Through it, I see him park his Harley by the ancient pipe-cactus at the side of the road. He opens the door. It jingles and a blast of hot, dry air circulates the aroma of coffee, frying burgers, and burnt bacon. Before the door closes I feel, more than hear, the thrum and warble of the thing over the bend, though there is a sound that carries above the tinny classic rock coming from the little speakers in the booths.

Marla, that’s what her nametag says, extends her lower lip and blows a lock of her curly raven hair out of her eyes. Green eyes. Green eyes clearly frustrated with the customers. She notices him in a second, sure as a kangaroo rat knows a plump cactus blossom has fallen to the desert floor. She leaves her station, coffee pot in hand, and greets him.

He clanks his dinged metal thermos on the counter. This guy isn’t here for science, or profit, not on that bike. Curiosity or art, maybe. But I don’t think so.

“Damn if I know where my next cup is coming from,” he says. “Better fill ‘er up.”

Her body language screams disappointment. Those green eyes search for something more. I think of all the last stop diners I’ve been to. All the signs that said “last gas for 200 miles” and I laugh, then stop myself.

I came for the thing that opened up round the bend. But I was heading away, out of town, when I stopped in and saw her.

I understand why she wants to go. She’s seen the interviews of prospectors and storytellers and their tales of beauty and wonder on the other side. Those that come back. The lucky few that do, show up in random places. Tuscaloosa. Perth. Johannesburg are the hot spots, lately. Those that aren’t mad, have been “touched”. I guess you can call it that. Touched with a bliss that is apparent and infectious even from a TV screen.

What is it about this guy? Is he a Prospector? A treasure seeker? A thrill chaser? Just another pilot of purple twilight doing it just because? I want to ask him, maybe convince him to take me along, but it will ruin their moment.

She walks with him outside. That whine and warble is louder now. The government men will be here soon and I don’t want to be around when they do. Being detained is not pleasant.

I watch them kiss goodbye. Why he doesn’t stay with her or take her with him, I don’t know. Guess I never will. Some people just have to drive.

He speeds off, trailing a cloud of dust. When the sound of his engine fades, I will go to her, or think of something witty to say if she comes to refill my coffee. There is nothing here for her now; soon there will be nothing for me.

-END-

This is my last regularly scheduled story for the Daily Cabal.  I have contributed since 2007.  I leave reluctantly—but like Dana I try to do what I say will, and my professional writing commitments are about to increase.  Thank you to all our readers, and thank you to everyone at the Cabal, especially Rudi, for your support and your patience!  Enjoy this last offering, and please visit me at katspaw.com.

Mirabelle Hayes discovered early on that Dana Yamamoto would take any dare if Mirabelle looked at her out of the corner of her eye and lifted her chin.  Yet so far from getting Dana in trouble over Samhain, she found she’d raised Dana’s status instead.  Frustrating.

Getting Dana to spook Dr Somerville’s horse helped a bit.  More promising: convincing her to write a dirty poem in Japanese on the doorsill of Dr Fujiwara’s tea house while the Doctor was away.  Mirabelle didn’t accompany her; by now she knew that Dana would do whatever she said she would do.

Dana waited in the dojo until the last light in the teacher’s quarters went out.  She thought of all the dirty poems she knew in Japanese.  She wondered if she would be expelled.  She thought about Hayes.  Samantha MacKinnon had asked Dana, “Why do you let her have such power over you?”  Dana had snapped, “Don’t you think I ask myself that every day?”

If they sent her home, her mother the General would lift her chin and look at her out of the corner of her eye.  Dana remembered a particular look from the day she had told her mother she was afraid to compete in the kendo bouts at school.  She never told her mother she was afraid again, ever.

Suddenly she understood why Hayes had power over her.

Still: the ink was drying on the inkstone, and she always did what she said she would.  She drew back her sleeve, lifted the brush at the correct angle, and began to write.

By the time Dr. Fujiwara returned, everyone had seen the graffiti, though none could read it all.

“I will leave the matter up to you,” said Dr Eire.

Dr Fujiwara read the poem and smiled.

“Do you recognize the handwriting?”  Asked Dr Eire.

“I don’t need to; she put her name in the poem.”

She translated.

After they finished laughing, Dr. Fujiwara looked towards the faces at the door.

“Bring me Yamamoto,” she said.

Everyone else came too, of course.  Dana tried hard not to shake.

Dr. Fujiwara said, “I believe you have defeated your adversary in the most important of bouts.  Please translate your poem for the benefit of the school; no other punishment awaits you.”

Dana read:

Rich soil Fuji gives

From dirt roots

I have grown mountains

Thank you

This ink is

Washable.

According to the pulps, when you want to raid a wizard’s tower you just strap on a broadsword and a loincloth and go at it. Truth is you need a permit with fifteen signatures. Still the government spooks give me enough talismans I make Mr T look restrained. Hopefully they’ll get me further than the permit, which only buys me a stunned doorman and a ride in the penthouse elevator.
Now a tower wouldn’t be complete without a damsel in distress–April Wilcox, heiress of the Wilcox sock empire. Vesu Telquist made all six feet five of her disappear at his show tonight and has yet to make her reappear.
Mundane security’s at the door. So I drop them with rubber bullets. The permit might have worked but this feels more satisfying. There’s so many talisman’s round my neck I don’t which one defeats locks, so in the end I just kick in the door.
I clear the living room and the kitchen, then I open the bedroom door and almost gag–blood and shit spread over the room. The body’s in the bed. What’s left of it. Head’s gone. Belly’s open and the guts lie in circles on crimson sheets. Sick bastard.
I’m right on top of it when I realize it’s too short. April Wilcox is an Amazon with a brunette dye job. This is a shrimp with excessive leg hair.
She comes out of the wardrobe with a knife and goes for the talisman’s at my throat. Apparently her scrying let her know what was being sent to get her back. Vesu didn’t see it coming. Neither did I. We tustle and break. Just in case I’m still thinking of rescuing her, she opens her mouth a breathes fire at me. Some joke about a hot date occurs to me and I’m so ashamed I almost let her roast me. As it is my jacket’s on fire before I find the right talisman. We go at it then, she flinging elemental forces at me, me getting pummeled and my hands caught in ancient chains.
Eventually she and I both get sick of it. She tries fire again and I take the hit. That gives me time to line up the shot, and her blood mixes with Vesu’s. I have the talisman ready in my pocket from the first attack but most of my clothes are ash by the time I summon the water to douse me.
I leave the mess for the spooks to clean up and ride down the elevator pulling off the remains of my shirt. I look at what’s left in the mirrored walls. And on top of it all it turns out a loin cloth isn’t a good look for me anyway.

I stood amongst the cedar trees, my snowshoes caked with snow, listening and waiting.  I checked my weapons again, the icicle in my left, the sharpened peppermint stick in my right, making certain I had not cracked them without noticing.  This would be the final battle. There was not enough belief in the world for all of us.

I had tracked Grandfather Frost for miles before catching him by the shores of the Baltic. Hours we fought, before I finally knocked him down, then held his head under the surf until he finally grew still.  When I let go, he melted away, leaving only a faint scent of snow and gingerbread.

I made camp in the forest, but that night a sound woke me. I awoke to find a small present wrapped in silver and gold by my head.  I unwrapped it to find a lump of coal and a note: I SEE YOU.

I burned the coal and the note in my campfire. “Ho ho ho,” I whispered in the flickering light.  In the morning I traveled north. I knew where to find him.  It had come down to the two of us, as I had known it would all along.

Behind me I heard the sound of jingle bells.  I turned and there he was, blue eyes blazing above red robes.  “Kris,” he said with a wink.

I nodded back. “Nicholas.  I’ve got a present for you.”

As we charged, our laughter echoed in the forest.

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