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I stand on the stage before the curtain draws back, struggling to breathe. I wonder why I thought this was a good idea. I have rehearsed as much as I can, yet I hear the snarl in my head. The one that agrees with the other kids and my father. I'm not good enough. The one that sounds like my boyfriend adds its own voice: I'm only ordinary. They might be right, yet it's too late to run from this. The curtain rises and I am an adult again, and I am dancing no matter what they say.
"You don't look like a runner." I look at the reporter and shrug. I get that a lot. These days, if you don't appear to have an eating disorder then you supposedly can't manage a fifty mile run, never mind a five mile jog around the park. I go on to tell her that I am not good at running short distances. Even a one legged man can beat me in a 5K. But sign me up for a 12 hour run in a downpour and I will kick your ass. Sadly, endurance matters little in this speed-obsessed age.
I would walk along the shore at dawn, waiting for the red of the sun in the east to turn orange and then blue. The marsh grass would bring along its own pungent smell as the tides changed and altered course. The cry of the gulls could be heard as they fought each other for food, and that would cause me to muse on "Jonathan Livingston Seagull". Did Richard Bach ever really watch these birds for more than five minutes? They are the blue jays of sea birds, when you think about it. And yet high schoolers read it anyway.
I stood jargogled in the doorway of a very old temple. I had been told to come here not an hour before by a rather jollux old man looking for his lost designer dog. Pugadoodle? I honestly hadn't been paying much attention, having just survived a brannigan with my cousin at the pub. I frecked down the aisle between several decayed pews, trying to whistle and sound friendly. The dog must have thought I was a hoddypeak and gone into hiding elsewhere. Or maybe he was stealing my last pint back at the pub. "Here, Snickerdoodle!" Oh, my head hurt.
Red River Woman looked around the valley near the Land O' Lakes and sighed. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she grumbled.
The Chili Thief turned to her and smirked. "Yes you can. That's why you dragged me along." He scratched beneath his collar and sniffed. "Literally."
River looked at him. "Are you sure you didn't just tell the Parakeet of Protection to go pound sand when you made the offerings at the crossroads to Twinlandia?"
"Well I nev- well I guess I could have." He shrugged. "You mean we might be in the Rusted Belt Buckle again?"
The travelers had to trek twelve miles back to the crossroads. The conversation went something like this: "Do you have to piss off everybody that we meet along the way? What are you going to do when we find her?"
"Like you should talk. You're the one who punched your ex's new girlfriend in the nose!"
"He was still dating me! And... she shouldn't have called me that!"
"All I'm saying is, I'm not the one who had assault charges pending."
The conversation probably would have gotten much worse if it weren't for the fox sitting in the road.
"Why don't roses stay in bloom forever?" the fox turned to ask them.
Not being the type who ever got flowers (much less the meaning behind them), River shrugged and answered, "How long are chopped up flowers supposed to last in a clunky glass vase?"
The fox muttered something unintelligible before standing up. "You humans truly are marvels." She turned to the thief. "Is she always this clueless?"
The Chili Thief cocked his head. "Now that you mention it, I-"
"Excuse me?" River snapped. "I'm standing right here!"
"Right. Thank you, Madam Obvious." The fox smirked. "My name's Cleverer."
"Do you know how to find the Queen?" River asked as she rubbed the sweat out of her eyes.
Cleverer gave what might be considered a shrug. "Depends on which one you seek. I know a few drag queens in the capital of Twinlandia."
"No, this one is supposed to be over in OshKoshGosh," the thief said as he chewed on a burr with his eyes half-closed. River noticed this but said nothing. She had no idea how he could stand eating those diminutive thorned balls of pain.
The fox looked puzzled. "You mean... the Queen of Dairy?"
River nodded solemnly at the fox and replied, "Yes, the Dairy Queen."
The fox's eyes managed to get a little wider. "What on earth for? She's a facetious little tart and-"
The Chili Thief looked over at River. "See? I told you! You're better off tracking down that pock-marked milkmaid."
"She doesn't have any peanuts!" River said ruefully. "Specifically, Peanut Buster Parfaits."
Cleverer made a not-quite-growling noise. "You're really willing to risk traveling into hostile territory to parley with the Queen of Dairy?"
"No!" River couldn't help but shout. "I just want a specific kind of sundae!"
Red River Woman had not always lived near the Dust Bowl. Once, several years ago and in another lifetime, she had lived under the rule of Old Man Winter. When she was 13, her family had pledged her to be his bride, as she was the youngest child in the family and that was what tradition demanded. Despite being inept at magic, she had managed to flee that fate and found herself in an foreign land with little snow and a "real job". The frosty deity still wanted his child bride, however, and Cleverer was ordered to bring her back.
Do I still have to go to the sleep clinic in two hours if I am already tired? Probably. I am likely to wake up in three hours and stay awake for the rest of the night even if I did manage to fall asleep now. If work wasn't enough to make me feel low, the hour that I spent at the dentist afterwards certainly managed to accomplish the rest. I can't even remember where my story was going at the moment. It can wait until tomorrow. First up: reheating leftovers before they rise up and take over the fridge.
The fox looked the woman over once more and asked cautiously, "So... did you live under the rule of the King of the Mountain?"
River shrugged. "Not really. I left when I was young. I heard he fell to his death a few years ago."
Cleverer moved her upper lip slightly. Either this woman was playing her for a fool- a poor decision- or she genuinely did not remember the part she was supposed to play in her homeland. 'And why would she? Who wants to be a child bride to *that* crude monster?' a voice asked in her mind.
"Look," Cleverer said. "I can get you to the... Dairy Queen, but after that you've got to come back to the White Mountains with me."
River looked puzzled."Why's that? My family all left there."
The fox realized that she truly had forgotten, somehow. She looked briefly at the Chili Thief before turning her attention back to the human. "Old Man Winter is moving south and marshaling his forces to wage war on any and all in his path."
The human shrugged. "So why do I have to go back north?"
Cleverer's eyes widened briefly. "Because he looks for you."
River spent nearly twenty years wandering the plains like a nomad, believing herself to be plagued by nightmares. Wherever she would lay her head down to rest, she would close her eyes and see a dark sky above and ice and snow all around her. She would rub her torso with her arms, trying to stay warm, until the tracks would appear before her. Large footprints with a missing toe on one side. Then the groaning would start. 'It's coming from the south.' She would turn slowly and see slowly something rise above the pine trees behind her, not quite human.
The Chili Thief kept looking at the fox warily and opted to stay ahead of her and River as they made their way back to the perch of the Parakeet of Protection. The thief looked behind him and waited for the woman to produce another offering of seed. Once that was settled, he looked up at the ornery bright green bird.
The parakeet looked down at him condescendingly. "Mirp?"
The thief looked sideways. "I know for a fact you know who we are, and why we're here."
"Look," the Chili Thief snapped. "You're not fooling anybody!"
I don't ask for much from my co-workers. If you need to smoke a couple of times a shift, fine, but don't spend 45 minutes doing it. Leaving me to run a hall myself while you kiss the superior's ass also doesn't go over well. I know that I can/ do run circles around most of the staff on my unit. That's largely because I've been there for so long, but it's still no excuse to be lazy.
I would like to thank the guy in the Superman jammies at the supermarket for the brief laughs after work.
Screw it. I don't feel like coming up with anything worthwhile for today's entry. The last four days at work were grueling and fried my brain. Small wonder, then, that I can't even begin to figure out where Red River Woman and her companions are going to wander off to next. I can't come up with anything else about anything either right now. So I have about 35 more words to go until the end of this entry, and I intend to ramble until the merciful ending. What's left that I can cram in with so few words to go?
River looked over at the fox, who was licking her lips absentmindedly at the green snack above them. 'No help there', she decided. "Look, just point the way to the Dairy Queen. Please."
The parakeet cocked its head at the woman and then cranked its neck around to preen its tailfeathers. River was about to step forward towards the bird's perch when a cold gust of wind arrived from the east. She slowly turned and looked up at the near-black clouds heading straight towards them, along with the strong scent of iron that came from dried blood- and nightmares.
The Chili Thief followed River's gaze. "Pick a direction and start running," he growled, the hairs standing on the back of his neck. River nodded, turned to the west and began running. The thief followed. Cleverer barely acknowledged what the other two were doing, as her hunting instincts were taken over by the little winged smartass above her.
All of this, unbeknownst to the odd group before her, had been part of the Parakeet of Protection's plan. They had failed to realize that it was only her job to protect those who made offerings, not be a local travel service.
The fox leaped at the bird and suddenly found herself helplessly floating in mid-air. She swore the bird gave her a mocking look as it disappeared. She pawed at the air, but it felt like swimming in slow motion. Then she tried to gallop and found herself upside down and bobbing gently up and down. Cleverer quietly fumed. "I don't believe this!" she thought to herself as she tried to right herself. "I've been outdone by a bird with a brain smaller than my paw!" She wondered if the other two would turn around and see her like this.
The Chili Thief turned around briefly and saw Cleverer's predicament. He shrugged it off and kept walking beside River. She looked over at him. "What did you see?" she asked.
"Nothing besides more clouds," he replied. River knew him well enough to know when the thief was lying and looked over her shoulder to see the fox suddenly drop to the ground with a graceless thud.
"Pashalmah!" Cleverer cursed under her breath as she jumped up on all fours and growled at the branch where the parakeet had been. A moment later, she was looking at a very large bird.
Cleverer guessed that what she was looking at was a condor. "A cute trick," she nodded at the bird. The bird didn't respond. Not even a blink. "You can change back any time now." With that, the condor simply stretched out its large wings and left them unfurled for a very long moment. Then it finally looked down at the fox and opened its beak briefly.
The fox backed up a few steps. "Ah, I see."
'No doubt you do,' an unfamiliar voice said in her mind. 'The river woman is not to be harmed. As for the thief...'
River and the thief knew that they could not outrun the fast-approaching storm behind them. They needed to find shelter, and soon. The Chili Thief still had a question that hadn't been answered. "Why didn't you tell me you were a runaway child bride?"
"Something happened when I left the White Mountains. I... don't know what, exactly. I saw the King of the Mountain before he died, and his advisor said... something...." Her voice trailed off. Something to do with Old Man Winter, yes, but what?
Cleverer knew, and now she was chasing her quarry to stop a war.
I have been trying to work with a deaf dog that somebody dumped by a local convenience store around Xmas. Why is it that something that once came so easily to me as a kid now seems so much harder now that I am firmly entrenched in adulthood? Do we really have to lose our empathy and warmness just to muddle through our days once we stop being kids? Every time the dog and I have yet another setback, I keep wanting to go back to my 12 year old self and ask her what the hell happened to me.
"Look," Cleverer panted as she drew close to River. "You really should go back home. I don't think you know what's at stake-"
River interrupted her with, "Maybe I don't want to!" She wasn't sure, but she thought that those recurring nightmares weren't just "strange but familiar" now. Then she suddenly remembered what became of the child brides of Old Man Winter and nearly tripped over her own feet.
It was good that she had run away on the Winter Solstice all those years ago, she concluded. Especially since she rather liked being alive and not sacrificed against her will.
There had been bodies in the ice near the river. All female. All young. River remembered seeing them when she was brought to Old Man Winter's cave. Their faces had long since been covered with ice and bits of snow, all distorted. At first, she thought they had simply frozen to death until she saw the sixth girl. River could see rope around her wrists. She had been bound. River stepped forward and saw that her head wasn't deformed like she had first thought. It had been crushed on the left side of her head. Her blood mingled with hair.
Cleverer tried again. "You really do need to turn around. Now."
River stopped in the middle of the road but kept her back to the east. "Do you even know why he sent you after me?"
"You're a runaway bride," the fox said flatly.
The human snorted. "You really have no idea what the King of the Mountain demanded of each youngest human girl."
"It's not in my job description," Cleverer replied, though she didn't mean it.
While the human and the fox talked, the Chili Thief saw something out of the corner of his eye. The Sandman, with sand.
The Chili Thief tried to deal with the Sandman on his own while River dealt with Cleverer. He bared his teeth and made a faint growl, but the mostly-closed eyes of the new adversary seemed transfixed on him (at least as far as the thief could tell). He saw the worn yellow nails that protruded from torn leather gloves that covered the wraith's hands. He was vaguely aware that the Sandman had a hole where a nose would be, and that his mouth had been stitched closed. More importantly, however, the thief knew that he was rapidly losing consciousness.
I'm just trying to get my quota for today before I head over to the sleep clinic in two hours. I tried to come up with a worthwhile entry, but my brain has officially shut down so that isn't happening. I am still in scrubs and should really change out of them and shower so I look fairly presentable for the technicians. I am sure they will enjoy putting a couple dozen electrodes somewhere in my long hair. I am still trying to determine if I can manage to sleep without the dog taking over the pillow next to me.
i am fighting sedation and nearly forgot to write an entry for today. i haven't slept well, i punched a guy at the sleep clinic because I didn't know he wasn't part o fth e nightmare and sedation i s so hard all i see are green spinning spheres on the screen and i start to dip near the keyboard I see a running woman in my mind and i stand at the station and see guns i am falling over and to my side. collars and people blur i can't understand them. what happened last night?
Today's lessons with the surprise puppy include: My Ankle Bones Do Not Need Piercing, Please Stop Dragging My Leather Sandals Out of the Closet, and My Clothing Does Not Need Teeth Marks. Oh well. At least housebreaking and proper use of the doggy door came rather quickly for her. We're still working on crate training (she just doesn't like resting in it, but who knows where she was born or how she was raised before that jackass dumped her on my friend's road), but I think, so long as I have at least one sweatshirt in there she'll be happy.
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