My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter 9

Sophie, needless to say, wasn’t sure what to make of this reaction. She knew she didn’t want to be considered a sissy to have a boyfriend, and she knew that she liked Daniel a lot, although she’d never admit it, but the fact that he’d gone straight from smacking her in the face to saying she was beautiful came to quite an unusual… thing.
So she changed the subject while Daniel stood there blinking, wondering why in the world he’d just said that.
It ended up as, “So what now?”
“Well, we’ve got to find some stuff to take with us. I mean, we should go with some money and some food and stuff,” Daniel said.
“Um, not really,” Mage said. “In the Mirrorworld, since things are backwards, the restaurants pay you, not the other way around. But money is bad there.”
“Awesome!” Sophie said. “Bookstore shopping spree! It’s not like we’re ever gonna go back there, so why worry about that?”
“It’s kind of a nice place. If you get a job as a garbage truck driver, you get all the candy you can eat. And kids can drive – they have to. Anyone over 16 can’t,” Mage said.
“Sounds good to me. Maybe we’ll go on vacation, but we’re not really going to go back otherwise,” Daniel said. “Plus, we can go into the real world, bury the Mirrorworld money in the backyard or in a compost pile, and be debt-free when we go back. Oh, and aren’t we going into the book store anyway? To get back the magical books?”
“We’re not going to take them all back,” Mage said. “Some of them like the Mirrorworld. We’re just going to take our share, the ones who don’t want to live there. We get them free, anyways.”
“Well, we should take food and water. Portable stuff. We might need to go weird places. I know the locations of a few books who really, really hate the Mirrorworld, and they’re in forest chests and mountain caves. Keep a change of clothes with you,” Tress said. “Also, wear comfy shoes. Preferably without jingle-bells.”
Sophie looked at her feet and blushed. “That was so weird. I felt… caged. It was obvious to me that something else was in control of me, and I was just peering out from the two holes in front of my head while some sissy did everything. I finally fell asleep, but the thing didn’t, and it kept doing its sissy stuff. I could tell. I couldn’t escape. And then somebody – Tress – called me and in my sleep, I was alerted, and since the other thing in control of me had gotten used to my name, it got alerted too. Then somebody smacked me – Daniel – and I woke up, and the thing, whatever it was, fled. But now I feel… different. Not bad, but different. Able to do… I dunno. I’m probably not making any sense at all to you.”
“You are, actually,” Tress said. “It’s hard to explain.”
“No, it’s not,” Daniel said. “You can do magic, and according to what I’ve overheard from Tress, reality will bend for you at your will. Apparently, I can do that, too. I know I can teleport a bunch of police back to their station and weird out a secretary, and I can make you light enough to carry around. I guess I can make up spells on the spot. You’re some sort of enchantress type. Did you find the equipment?”
“What equipment?” Sophie asked.
“Maybe the fog you were in put the stuff in your backpack. I put mine in my backpack. That’s why I fled the school when the cops wanted to search our packs. I’m glad that Mage was in mine and Tress was in Sophie’s. Otherwise we’d be in a pretty pickle there. I saw cops making sure no one got out. They didn’t guard the windows, though.”
Sophie searched her backpack. “Here they are. Hold on. Are we going soon?”
“Yes. As soon as we find some portable food and bottled water.”
“Then I’ll change into these. I’m not going to tramp around the Mirrorworld in this getup.”
Daniel shrugged. “I just threw mine over my T-shirt and jeans. No big fat hairy deal.”
Sophie looked back on her way to the bathroom. “Are you in a skirt with jingle-bells on the hem?”
“Good point.”
*    *    *
So they gathered up and set off. Daniel grabbed a box of 48 granola bars at the store – they were given out for free, because Sophie had willed it that way. She justified it in that they were doing something to help postpone the destruction of humanity, and that was worth a couple bucks. It was “just a coincidence” (of course) that the store owners were also giving out huge bags of mini water bottles. Just a coincidence. Yeah. Sophie was grinning the whole time.
They got into the Mirrorworld. Since going between two mirrors only worked with books, Sophie’s reality-changing magic got them there. The world didn’t look or sound much different; the people didn’t speak backwards, and the air smelled the same, but it was fall instead of spring.
“We should get the books in the forests and caves first,” Tress said. “That way, we’ll just be carrying a few books around, instead of the whole bookstore.”
The others agreed to this. However, they decided to book a hotel and rent a car first. Daniel vaguely remembered watching his mom drive. Sophie never watched; she was always looking out the window, so she made Daniel drive. It was a small enough car to fit into tight spots, but big enough to hold them and, if it came to it, several other people. Daniel had demanded four-wheel drive if they were going to go into the forest. The car dealer shouted at them to never bring it back. Daniel reasoned that this must be considered a junky old thing in the Mirrorworld. With a glance of humor, he thought that here, he’d be considered a safe and responsible driver.
They booked a hotel at the Nuclear Inn, which was rumored to be the “worst” place around, and which gave out everything the good hotels in the regular world gave: complimentary breakfast that consisted of more than three tablespoons of cereal and a half-pint of super-sweet strawberry milk, fancy room service and pristine rooms. It reminded Daniel of the one time he’d gone to Colorado and stayed in some sort of suite that had a fancy little bathtub that had a whirlpool feature, or something. He’d been maybe eight or nine years old.
So then they went into the room and off-loaded about 75% of the granola bars and water bottles. Then they hopped into the car and sped away, with Daniel’s fast but smooth driving, into the forest. He slowed down when the trees started. Eventually he came to a complete halt and said, “We can’t go any farther. The trees are too thick, and this car is too big. We have to go on foot from here.”
So they went on foot from there. After a while, Daniel and Sophie got a little restless.
“Are you sure there are books hidden around here?” Sophie asked.
“Yes,” Tress said. “I’ve been here before. There’s a cave soon. Keep looking along the rock wall.”
The rock wall stood beside them, maybe a mile high. The Mirrorworld, as far as land forms went, didn’t match the regular world at all. Which made sense, but Daniel didn’t have a map of it memorized, like he did for most of the area around the school and his house in the regular world.
And then Sophie spotted a small cave opening in the hard, solid rock wall.
“It gets bigger on the inside,” Tress assured them.
It did. The first thing they saw, however, was a large slab of stone with a girl on it, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, looking quite dead except she was breathing, albeit struggling to do so.
She wore a small locket. On it, her name was engraved in cursive: Hannah.
Daniel studied the locket, leaning against the wall. There wasn’t a picture inside. Suddenly, he heard a click, which he ignored. Sophie healed the girl, who tried to sit up. She failed.
“My head…”
Sophie dropped her pack. She gave the girl a bottle of water. “Drink.”
The girl blinked. She rubbed her forehead, then took the bottle. She was sensible enough not to decline.
Daniel looked up. “Is your name Hannah?”
“Hannah,” the girl said. “Hannah. That sounds right. Yes. I’m Hannah. I can’t remember… anything  except…”
“You looked kinda dead,” Sophie said bluntly.
Hannah blinked and sat up. “I don’t really know what you’re talking about. I feel fine. Sort of.” She fell back, just a little, but she caught herself before hitting the stone.
“That’s because of Sophie’s magic,” Daniel said.
Sophie handed the girl a granola bar. “Eat.” Sophie wasn’t much for small talk, not until the work was done.
“Sophie’s getting stronger,” Tress said. “I can tell.”
“I guess I should thank you, then. You probably saved my life. I might be of use to you. I can remember a few things… but my amnesia is bad.”
“Amnesia?” Daniel asked.
“It’s like when you can’t remember who you are,” Hannah explained. “But I remember a little. I think I was some sort of herbalist.” She scanned the room. “Yes. And… let’s see, there’s a stick that looks a bit different. Oh, I know. It’s cut, and there aren’t any trees surrounding this cave, but the leaf is still green. It’s not even wilted. Must be a wand. Maybe I can do magic…”
She shook her head. “I can’t remember any spells, though. Bring me that jar of capsules.”
“What are they?” Daniel asked as he picked them up.
“Aspirin.” She took one with a swig of water and sighed.
“If you’re rested enough, we can go back through the forest, and you can stay in our hotel room. Which world are you from?”
“What?” Hannah asked, as if she’d never heard anything crazier.
“I mean, the Mirrorworld or the regular world? This is the Mirrorworld.”
“I don’t know. All I know is I’m craving a Coke.”
“She’s from the regular world,” Sophie said. “I saw people giving away Coke in little cans for use as plant fertilizer. It was weird.”
“That is weird,” the girl agreed.
“We should leave and get you rested up,” Daniel said. “But one more thing – is there a book in here somewhere?”
“Yes. In the chest in the corner.”
Daniel opened it. Inside was only one thing: the book. Daniel picked it up. It sneezed.
“Ulck. Finally, out of that dusty chest.”
“Who are you?” Daniel asked.
“I remember you!” Hannah said. “Herbalist. Long time no see.”
Herbalist coughed. “Nickname’s Herb. Now, exactly why was I in that chest so long?”
“I wish we knew,” Sophie said. “Hannah can’t remember anything, and we were looking for you to take you back to the regular world and preserve the magic.”
“About time someone sent out some magic wielders… Oh, crud. There’s only two of you, and then Hannah?”
“Yeah. What’s wrong with that?”
“Um–” Herb started, then stopped abruptly. Something was standing in the mouth of the cave. Daniel got a bad feeling about this.
The thing was nothing more than a black cloak, hooded, with the hood up, and the only discernable features were blocky, huge feet it used for movement. It looked weird. Daniel wondered how it could lift those feet.
Whatever it was, Daniel knew it wasn’t good.
Stomp, came a voice from Daniel’s head, out of nowhere. He cast a glance at Sophie and Hannah. They obviously hadn’t heard it, but Daniel saw a little bit of movement in the back of the cave, gray, unlike the tan sedimentary walls. That was obviously why the ceiling was so flat and neat; sedimentary was stone pressed together, down on itself. It was the kind that split into tiles easily.
Daniel mentally sighed, chiding himself for reading all those encyclopedias.
The voice came again. Stomp, I said. Only Daniel heard it. He decided to take the advice. He charged forward confidently.
“Daniel, what are you doing?” Mage said. “Are you crazy?”
But Daniel ignored him. He went right up to the black cloak and tried to look it in the eye. He failed – it didn’t have any. Just blackness under the hood.
So he just skipped it, took all his energy, and lifted one foot, bringing it down with force.
The thing stopped, faded, and left. Vanished. It managed to let out a vague cry of pain, but not, “YAAAAAAHH!” just “Aaaaaaah,” a nonhuman-sounding note of some sort, like a dial tone.
“What the heck was that?” Daniel asked.
THAT was a Gateguard.
“A Gateguard?” Daniel said, but it wasn’t said in the tone of a guess.
“What?” Tress said. “Daniel, are you crazy?”
“Crazy or not, he’s right,” Mage said. “And he knew how to get rid of them, too. Although for stronger ones, you need to stomp with two feet.”
“Is it normal for him to go nuts, too?” Sophie asked. “‘Cause if he’s gonna start ranting about fairies and butterflies, I’m gonna hurl.”
“No. I heard…” Daniel shook his head. “I think it’s gone now.”
No, I’m not.
“Daniel, you’re not well. Sophie, what’s wrong with him?”
“I really don’t know,” Sophie said. “From a magic point of view, he hasn’t been taken over by anything, and he seems well. Perhaps not mentally, though.”
“I should probably just shut up now, shouldn’t I?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Sophie said. “Unless this is going to keep you from being able to drive. We need to get Hannah rested up. And we should probably take these jars with us. We have to carry them for now. We’ll get Hannah a backpack later so she has the stuff she needs at hand.”
They gathered the jars. Hannah started to recognize some of them, but gave no hints as to her past. Daniel guessed that she probably couldn’t remember.
Then they went back the way they’d come, found the car, and drove to the hotel. Every step of the way, Sophie noticed that something was moving, peering at them from among the trees. Daniel seemed to be fine.
Hannah rested up, and although she brushed her auburn-brown hair, it still lay in separate strands. The style fit her, though.
The next day, Tress directed them to go across the same forest, to a small stable. The voice in the back of Daniel’s head told him about a little way off the beaten path, right up against the rock wall, where the car could easily fit. The trip was much faster, and they reached the stable in thirty minutes.
Daniel got out of the car and went up to the first person he saw. It was a boy, maybe 14, who was sitting on a sack of oats and reading a book.
“Hey, youse. What ya need?” the boy said.
“Are you the manager or something?” Daniel asked.
“O’course not. I’m not that low on the chain. I’m the stablehand.”
Daniel remembered that this was the Mirrorworld, then said, “Of course. I bet all the managers are out there shoveling dung.”
“Well, duh. They don’t ever do anything else. There’s only a couple who come to feed the horses, but they’re in the morning. I’m Ryder.”
Of course. That fits, Daniel thought.
“Well?” Ryder said. “Whatcha need?”
“A book,” Sophie said. “A talking book.”
“Hm. Why wouldja need somethin’ boring like ‘at? Oo, are you on some sorta quest or somth’n? Hey, can I come? It’s sooooooo borin’ here.”
“If you really want to. Can you help us find the book? We’re trying to keep the other world’s magic preserved.”
“Oh, that. That’s intr’sting. So you’re hikin’ to the pretty ends of the world lookin’?”
“Um, yeah,” Daniel said. Daniel wasn’t sure what to make of this. As far as dialect, he and Ryder were complete opposites.
Ryder grabbed a piece of gum. “I think I know what book you want. T’s actually pretty intr’sting.”
He led them into a bedroom. “Hey, Wiz, wheredja go?”
“Are all of you named after magic wielder types?” Daniel asked.
“Pretty much. We’re sort of teachers. We direct the magic, but how strong the person gets depends on what the magic does with them, and what they let it do. If the person doesn’t believe in magic, it just doesn’t do anything. The librarian held Mage, looking for a particularly bookish child to give it to, because mages are generally intelligent people who are willing to think a little. If that type of magic didn’t fit your description, you’d be weak in it. Like, if books that trained shapeshifters existed, and you got a hold of one, you would be incredibly inept at it. Shapeshifters – Shapees – are all video game freaks. It’s nuts. I believe the librarian is a mermaid in disguise – isn’t she, Mage?”
“Yes, I think she said something of the like.”
“Yeah. That’s something that doesn’t need to be taught. The powers just come. Usually the younger, more gullible kids who still believe in magic are taken by it first. Some are taken at birth. If the magic just finds them on its own, the person usually ends up as a magical creature. If a book leads the magic to them, they stay human but get magical powers. It’s complicated.”
“I can tell,” Daniel said. “How many books do we need?”
“Ten from the weird places. Then we raid the bookstore and take them back.”
“Okay. Now we have the book from here,” Sophie said. Ryder had Wiz in his hand. He grabbed his backpack and some more supplies (as if they needed them) and left with them.
*    *    *
“Oh, dang it!” Daniel said. He tried again. No go. “Out of gas.”
“I guess we have to go all the way across the forest again. On foot,” Sophie said.
“Hold on,” Ryder said. “I’m going to yell at a manager to get a couple cans of gas up here. We’ll load it in when we come back.”
“We’re not going to wait for it?” Sophie asked.
“O’course not! Them managers take hours to get around to it. Hey, Jeff!”
“Whut?” Jeff called back.
“Get some gas!”
“You mean eat some beans?”
“No, the car kind!”
“Oh, dat.”
Jeff started into the forest on foot.
“Doesn’t he have a car?” Sophie asked.
“O’course not! Nobody needs a car when they got horses around. Jeff’s too stupid to do that, though.”
“Well, why don’t we use the horses?”
“Jeff, wake up.” Sophie made a face. Ryder went out to the stable, then brought back two large, muscular horses.
“C’mon.” He mounted one. Hannah climbed on behind him. (Brave Hannah.) Sophie mounted the other one.
“Aren’t you coming?” she said to Daniel.
“Yeah.” Daniel climbed on behind Sophie. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“I’m not that stupid.”
Sophie knew how to ride a horse perfectly well, Daniel was surprised to see. They rode through the forest. They were about halfway when the shadows deepened.
Get ready to fight, the voice said. Daniel frowned. He made Sophie stop, dismounted, then snuck toward a tree. Faster than light, Daniel rounded it and jumped on a Gateguard’s feet with both of his.
Then Daniel ran behind another tree.
Then Daniel ran behind another tree.
Then Daniel ran behind another tree.
Then Daniel ran behind another tree.
Then Daniel ran behind another tree.
“Are you quite finished?” Sophie asked.
“Hold it –”
“Okay, I don’t think there are any more.” Daniel remounted.
“Hey, what’s that? I hear someone!” Hannah said.
“Well, that sounds interesting,” Daniel said. Sophie directed the horse, fast, in that direction. Ryder followed.
*    *    *
They approached a clearing. There stood a girl, perhaps twelve years old. This wasn’t the usual kind of girl.
This girl had wings.
*    *    *
“What’s wrong?” she asked as the group came closer.
“Are you a faerie?” Sophie asked.
“Then what are you?”
The girl considered this. “I don’t really know.”
“She’s not a faerie,” Mage said. “She only has the top half of her wings.”
The girl reached up to grab the tips of her wings, then flew toward them, trying to move her wings with her hands. She wasn’t very good at it.
“I don’t know anything. Not really. I can’t read. I can’t write. I don’t know any math doohickeys. As far as I know, I was born here in the forest. I’m forced to survive in the wild. I hate it. You see on TV – those Survivordude shows? They stay for like five days. This is my life. I’ve been a vegetarian for ages now. I can’t bring myself to kill something. I’m sure there are better places out there. I’ve seen them. But people are a little weird – and they keep asking me for three wishes or something. What’s up with that?”
“Search me,” Sophie said. “But what did you do to that Gateguard? You actually got a mildly humanlike response out of it!”
“I just pulled back the hood and yelled – here, I’ll turn away – ILLUMINATE!”
A flash of blinding light leaped from her wand.
“I can see why that would hurt more than stomping on their foot.” Sophie cringed.
“That’s what you did? It was all like, Aaaaah. Some weird mechanical noise.”
“If you want to come with us, you can,” Sophie said.
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I?”
“Can you fly?”
“Yes. Just enough to get out of here. I’m not great, but I can if I try. I need the practice, anyway.”
And they set off. They figured out that the girl didn’t even know her name. They rattled off a list of names before the girl settled on Angel. She, for once in her life, felt lucky. It wasn’t often, she reasoned, that someone got to choose her own name. After this she told the others she was going just above the treetops to see how far they were. She swooped, riding the high air currents for a few minutes, then came back down in a rush just in front of the horses, but avoided getting run over by quickly flying up and then down again. She was obviously a lot better at flying than she’d been previously. Daniel thought for a minute that it could have been because she was happier. Mage knew what he was thinking and said, “There’s magic in a name.”
Apparently he was right. Angel went right back above the trees occasionally to try new tricks and check progress. This was probably the happiest time in her life. She knew she was going somewhere other than a place where she had to live off of dandelion leaves, ripping the leafy part off from the sappy stem, knowing that the sap was poisonous and being very, very cautious. She had a name, and she could fly better than ever. And now she was enjoying traveling with a bunch of 12-14-year-old kids who were collecting books to preserve the magic in a distant world. Kids who’d just stepped out of a fairy-tale, on their black and dark brown horses who’d found her. Like she was a part of the fairy-tale, too. She still didn’t know what species she was, but she didn’t care – she could do magic, she could fly – and she had Angel for a name. That was enough for her.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 6:54 pm and is filed under Mirrorworld. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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