My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 10

My absence hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Lucian flagged me down first thing next morning. I was doing my routine lap in the air above the campsite and finding out how annoying it really was to have a telepath poking around in your head.

Where were you yesterday‽  he demanded. I was waiting for you for hours!

Didn’t Leslie tell you? I replied coolly. She was teaching me how to make a wand. It’s really complicated, so she took me to the other side of the marsh to do it.

Leslie and I had decided that Mark and Emma should be the only people who knew about my issue. I had to keep communications with Lucian minimal so that he didn’t find out I was hiding something. I didn’t dare think about the day before while he was focusing on my mind.

Well, come on down! Lucian said, sounding antsy. We actually have breakfast today. Leslie arranged something. And then I want to teach you…

Nothing today, I’m afraid. I’m leaving today.

What! Lucian’s indignance sailed up to me. I gave a sigh—should have known. Emma said she wasn’t planning on leaving until the day after tomorrow! I still haven’t shown you…

He rambled for a while. I focused my attention on flying for as long as I could, but the prospect of food was very tempting. I’d hardly eaten yesterday, and Leslie and Emma knew it.

Checking to make sure I still had arms as well as wings, I dived. Sure enough, the tables were piled with fruit, meat and bread. I grabbed a lot of everything.

Lucian was still muttering to me, but it seemed like he was doing it more aloud than he was mentally. That was cool with me.

I found Mark and Emma sitting at a blanket, ready to go. They’d packed. I had, too, but my backpack was still in the tree, balanced on the two branches I usually slept on.

“So, are you ready to go?” Emma asked.

“I have been for days,” I said.

“What, you don’t like watching Lucian in his ninja-imitation endeavors?”

“Maybe it would be better if I never saw him try to do a jump kick again.”

“Well, you’ll be working with pros at Cirque du Soleil,” Emma said.

Mark did a little dance. “Yeah, see how professional I am?”

“You’re a clown,” Emma said. “You don’t count.” Turning to me, she said, “I’ve told the other performers about our predicament. They were thrilled that you’re coming along, of course—half of them are magical.  The shows have long since been done in Florida, though; this is just where our group likes to spend extra time. Even with the rain.”

“What time are we leaving?” I asked, flicking my unbrushed and flightblown hair out of my face.

“After everyone’s done eating, we’re hitching a ride on a dragon to get us across the marsh. Well, Mark is. We can fly.”

“I think Mark might want a little help with the luggage,” I said carefully. A polar bear and a dragon? It didn’t sound like a very good combination, especially if he was the only one riding. “I think our bags might be a little too much for one person, that’s all. Er… are there any gryphons around here?”

“Sure,” Emma said conversationally.

“Might we fly with one of those instead?”

“I suppose so,” Emma said, looking confused. Apparently, she hadn’t spotted the obvious problem with the plan.

Gryphons had to be better than dragons, I reasoned. Mark was used to feathers, but scales sounded sharp. If Mark had to fly, better to be on an eagle/lion cross than a dragon.

I looked at Mark. He seemed to know where I was going with this.

“Gryphons are more energetic,” Emma warned. “And less amiable—dragons are easier to communicate with.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Mark said.

An hour later, I had a full stomach, a duffel bag, a backpack and a large computer case.

“Did you have to take the PDA that runs on Linux and the one that uses Unix, and all the old phones that don’t work any longer?” I moaned as I hauled the bags up to Mark, who had already tentatively mounted the gryphon. “Is this all essential gear?”

“Hey, what do you think I’ve been doing lately?” he shot back. “Half of those phones work now. Key is excellent with that sort of thing.”

Oh, yes, I thought. Wonder why he’s not moping about leaving her behind?

“High time we kicked off, guys,” Emma called. “Let’s go!”

We took off. Mark looked a little peaky at first, but a little into the ride, he seemed to calm down. Still, he held on tightly to the gryphon’s neck, and to his precious bags of technology. I hung on to Mark firmly, hoping that my touch felt reassuring rather than sweaty.

We were about halfway through the trip over the marsh when a voice from behind began to curse Samsonite for not making their computer bags big enough. A female voice.

Dakota, Emma and Mark greeted Key. Emma and Dakota stopped in midair to wave as Key’s dragon, young and feisty and not quite up to human communication yet, swerved. Key struggled to keep control of her computer bag, which she was holding onto like grim death. I doubted that the computer bag issue was Samsonite’s fault; to fit all Key’s gear in, the bag would have to open into one of those parallel dimensions Mark keeps going on about.

Then I noticed someone hanging on behind Key: Leslie!

“Leslie! What are you doing here?” I shouted over the wind.

“Well, Emma said that her circus needed a new violinist,” Leslie replied.

“You play the violin?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Leslie said, surprised. “You didn’t notice? I usually have it with me.”

“And you’re usually keeping me busy!”

She shrugged. “Is that bad?”

“We’re almost there, guys,” Emma interrupted. Within sixty seconds, we’d landed on the other side of the marsh. A blue VW was waiting for us by the warehouse.

“Pile in, peeps,” the driver called. Mark, Emma, Dakota, Key, Leslie and I did so. The gryphon and dragon started back toward the campground.

It was cramped, even though there had obviously been magical alterations to give the van a third row of seats. Emma snagged the front seat. Key jumped into the middle, closely followed by Dakota, who apparently thought it best that she prevent Mark from sitting next to Key. Leslie and I, being skinny seventh-grade girls, slid into the back. Mark followed suit, unhappily.

“So,” I said to Leslie. “Do you usually perform with the violin?”

“I’ve done it once or twice. I had a dancing routine once, too, for a school play.”

“How’d that go?” I asked, intrigued.

“Perfectly fine,” Leslie said. “My character had glasses. I bought a pair that made it so that I couldn’t see far away. I couldn’t see the audience. Then I just pretended I was in my room, doing one of those routines you never ever show to anyone else.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” I said. “That wouldn’t be good for my health, not with this gig.”

“You’ll be fine,” Leslie said, rolling her eyes. “You’ve got the right personality?”

“Like, what?” I asked, confused over what the eye-rolling meant.

“You’re… sparky,” she said, and we locked eyes.

“Is that supposed to be a pun, or are you serious?” I asked.

“If I said it was supposed to be a pun, I would sound wittier,” she said.

“So yes, or no?”

“What is yes and what is no?”

“You’re confuzzling me.”

Leslie shrugged. “It’s a hobby.”

Suddenly, Mark cursed, and a few screws fell onto the seat.

“We went temporarily deaf there for a few seconds, didn’t we, Phoebe?” Leslie asked kindly.

“Oh, yeah, I think we did,” I said. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” Mark muttered.

Dakota and Key were making polite conversation. I could tell Dakota wanted someone who was halfway normal to talk with for once, and she certainly wasn’t getting it from Key, who talked in some sort of geek code that I couldn’t understand.

There was a question I’d been meaning to ask, though, and I wasn’t going to ask Emma.

“Is this safe?” I interrupted Key, cutting off some sentence about suboptimizing matrices in some video game she was trying to program. “Cirque du Soleil. Is it safe? Won’t people be putting pictures out on the Internet?”

“No, that’s forbidden,” Dakota said. “Some people try, but mostly they use cell phones to do it so they don’t get caught, and for how high up you’re going to be, and how much makeup you’ll have on, you won’t be giving away anything that the magical community doesn’t already know.”

Key’s head whipped around, her short blonde hair flying. “Oh, yeah!” she said with a broad grin. “Cirque du Soleil makeup. I can’t wait to paint someone blue!” I realized that Key must have been the new makeup artist.

“Not you,” Dakota assured me.

“When’s our first show?”

“After a lot of training,” Dakota said. “A lot. A month, at least, and that’s with magical help. But we’ll be working in real facilities, not just trees.”

That definitely sounded nice.

Mark grumbled something else that was fortunately unintelligible, and another screw went flying. He located it in a nearby water bottle, and I watched as he worked out: Can’t pour it in the car. Magical windows don’t open. Must drink. He almost swallowed the screw.

Needless to say, for the duration of the ride, Mark was a reason why you didn’t need a TV.

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