The Guardian of Aloons/1
|Genre||Fantasy, Humor, Mystery|
When I came to, I was kissing the gravel. She was gone. I tried to raise myself up and that’s when I noticed a few of the rarer things in life: getting clocked by a six-inch heel feels much like a jab from a two-bit thug, and this was the third time my pants were missing. You’d think that I’d be getting used it by now. The beatings, not the pants.
It was about two weeks ago, that first beating. I had walked into her yard like each blade of grass was mine to tread upon, a flattener of crops whose message was more theatrics than mystery. Her back was to me as she planted zhur fruits, sitting on her knees and leaning forward like a polka-dotted bloomer ornament. I waved her letter like a white flag and asked when I could come home.
A gardening trowel, when properly wielded, scales near the end of blunt sharpness: a fist has none, a heel narrows to a coin-sized square, but a trowel, well, whether it’s a slice or a jab there’s going to be a cut and there’s going to be blood. Mine didn’t taste so good but, seeing her eyes burn the way they did, her blouse ruffling in the wind, it was worth it. I still loved Olivia Birns and I was sure I could sweet-talk her back. After she invited me in to atone for the trowel it’d be downhill and fireworks, y’know?
That time however, she must have forgotten to clean the house because she tried to give my right cheek twin artistry. I caught her thrust with my left and pulled her in. I could see the midday sweat on her neck escaping the loose folds of the kerchief she wore. There’s something special about a lady working up an effort, doubly so when it’s her own initiative.
“What’s that, Liv?” I nodded down to the letter that had fallen when she threw herself at me.
“It’s over, Henry.” she said, and pulled away. “We’re done.”
“You know you won’t follow through.”
“You’ll get the paperwork tomorrow.”
“I’ll wait you out. I’ve more patience.”
“You’re right, you know that Henry?” She turned back to me, a zhur plant in her gloved hand, new roots poking through sod and soil. “I have lost all patience! With you, your job”, I could see the air quotes, “your lifestyle. You’ve yet to create a single puzzle! To broach a single conundrum!”
“Oh, I know all about the margins.” She had a talent for dripping the sort of acid one would gladly swim through. “Venn ain’t got nothing on you, Henry! But it’s not enough. Children need these challenges and I need a man who can provide them.” She turned away, giving me a good look at her long neck. “Go away, Henry”.
I turned to go. I’d wait her out, like I said. I’d give her a question. I’d go home right now and give a sprout a question that’d take months, no, years!, to answer. That’d make her proud. I turned to tell her as much when I felt a wind ruffling the hair on my legs, which I knew somewhere deep inside shouldn’t have been possible. She noticed it first.
“Henry! Quezlar's ghost, put some pants on and get the hell outta here!” She had raised the trowel again and I rushed back to my wagon. Not because I was afraid mind you, but because blood was reaching my shirt and I couldn’t really afford the laundering. As the creak of the wheels cracked the occasional stick in the mud, I remember staring down at my undergarments and thinking it the funniest thing. Me, a Hive-Lord, wandering around town unclothed. I couldn’t help but laugh but I also wondered if it would improve my reputation: I could pass it off as research for a really tough question. That’d gain me respect.
I never did find out where my pants went that day, but I sent Liv’s mailing to the same null and void. Badge extrication was a procedure I knew she couldn't afford, and no one wanted a marked filly. I wasn’t quite sure she’d be willing to lose the honor of being branded a Hive-Lord’s wife either.
A week later, I was mulling over the commonalities of fefferberries and interrobangs when a knock shook me awake. It was one of the children, Lenvard something-or-other, wondering if I had come up with his challenge yet. I beckoned him in, being certain to look lost in thought, the weight of the orthogonality spread out unevenly upon my shoulders. I pointed to a chair, returned to my desk, and went back to staring at fefferberries.
I’d say it was about thirty minutes or so before I remembered he was there. By then the berries had started to drip a little, and the enthusiasm of the ‘bang was on the wane. “Yes,” I murmured, as if some great insight had come to me. I nodded to myself. Menward was impressed. Lenvard. Edward? Something or other.
“Nothing today, boy.” I said.
“Sir, I’m nearing five years.” He wouldn’t stare me in the face and I took his statement of fact as just that. I’m the one who implies the questions, not him.
“I said, nothing today!” and for theatric effect, for it pays to keep the children in line, I swept the fefferberry jar to the floor. It smashed, the dying light from the glass giving a barely poetic show to the juice that sprayed. The boy scurried out the front though I knew he'd be back tomorrow. I chuckled and rubbed my mandibles.
And sisters be damned if I didn’t feel something dripping down my legs.
That was the second time my pants went missing and I wiped up a track of fefferberry juice and savored the sweetness of it. I wasn’t too worried about the disappearance - not only was I in my office where few could see me (but fi!, the missed opportunity to proclaim a breakthrough in my research!), but I happened to have another set in the wagon. Liv had dropped a suitcase off the other day, hiding her kindness and love under excuses of cleaning house and asking whether I had signed the papers.
As I ruffled through the back of my wagon, I heard the whistling. So did Mrs. Gurptshonis, whom I caught from the corner of my eye taking her gaze from me to look at the sky. I shared her fixation: it was a bi... no, a flock of birds. On fire. With mail bags. This would be considered relatively abnormal but I hadn’t a chance to state as such before they slammed into the roo... no, make that through the roof, of my office. Things started bursting into flames.
“My margins!” The thought tore a hole through my carapace and became sound. Pants or no pants, I ran in the side door only to be pushed back by a wave of heat. My papers, my scrawled side notes, all were aflame. So too were the avians, a dozen or more, broken wings, charred talons. In the air was the flit-flit of undelivered mail dancing on jetstreams of heat.
Somewhere in the roar of flames and exasperation, I felt a jabbing sensation. It was Gurptshonis, poking at me with that damned hook of hers. Her lips mouthed something about “getting out of there” and “pants”, then she yanked hard: she hadn't been just poking but scrabbling for a hold. As I was pulled back, I clutched at anything to keep me there, anything to comprehend what was going on. All I got was two or three scraps of burning notes and a charred bird's leg.