Friday, 5 June 2020
Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn within 45*
Russians and Americans.
Nalda was chatting with Sophia when the child ran down the hill, and past them. The two women squinted at her pursuer.
"A three way merge." Nalda frowned.
"I think an American, a Russian and one of the Horned Ones." Sophia exchanged glances with the other old woman. They stepped into each other . . . merged and walked out to confront the Hunter.
"Enough, old woman, the girl is our legitimate prey, a pathetic throwback, unable to change." He tossed his head. No muzzle, with two humans in the merge, but his horns still arched over his head.
"You have chased her into the dry lands. Let her go, to live or die by her own cleverness."
"We do not take orders from a female. Would you like to Dance with us? I can make you like it. Or perhaps you would like to be the gift to the Lady of the Moon?"
The old woman stood firmly in their path. "Three of you in there, I see. Three worlds. The Alignment is coming, best we all stay away from the weak spot and tend to our own."
The merged men sneered. "Better we seize the opportunity."
"Hunter, your people, of all worlds, stand to lose the most, by adding genes from people with no magic."
"Yet some of the worlds are strong. Even some of those 'Americans' are able." He flicked his flat cheek bone with a dismissive gesture. "Even this one. A man simply has to be cautious about who he merges with. As always, some will win and some will lose."
The old woman sighed. "And many will die. Go back Hunter. Attend to your dance and don't let this ambitious fool lead you astray."
The Hunter raised his head and eyed the shimmering curtains of light beyond the woman. They were getting thin, nearly invisible, and pulling slowly back to the Nexus. As it swept up behind the old woman, the Hunter prepared a spell. The old woman's eyes narrowed.
The curtain swept over her. The Hunter threw the spell.
The women split, as their worlds split. As their protective spell split, it collapsed. They dived for the ground, one to each side. Not that they could see each other, anymore.
Across the two curtains, the Hunter cursed as he realized he'd hit the wrong old woman. The Hunter faded as the first curtain touched. The two men left in the merge turned and ran, staying within the fringes of the effect. Without the Hunter, they were no match for the old woman.
They ran across the hill, getting trees between them and the old woman . . . then the retreating curtain faded altogether, and they were each alone in their own world.
The man stepped around a tree, and watched the old woman pick herself up off the ground. She clutched her chest as if in pain and staggered into the house.
"If she dies . . . I'll have a free hand with the nexus, just as the Alignment begins. Now wouldn't that be nice."
Chapter Two Cleaning, Tickets
Thursday, 18 July 2020
Earth, Jupiter and Saturn within 35*
"What a filthy wreck." Delphi Hyde stood in the doorway, appalled.
"Let me see!" Her sister tried to peer past her. "Ewww!"
Del edged in. To the narrow center of the room. There were stacks of papers and magazines all over the room. Lining the walls. Half collapsed cardboard boxes. All covered with dust.
Del sniffed carefully. A faint rotted odor. She eased over to look deeper into the house. She reached and flipped a switch. A single bulb lit, halfway down a hallway, to the left. To the right, a dark hallway. Ahead, a dining room. Table stacked high with newspapers, a stack of letters, crumpled packaging . . . more piles tucked into the corners of the room. The smell was stronger.
There was a sliding glass door at back of the dining room . . . half blocked by piled . . . stuff. Del looked through the dusty glass. What was left of the old dairy barn to the right, the horse and hay barn to the left, the dry pasture climbed most of the way up a low ridge beyond them.
Prissy shuffled in behind her. "I know Aunt Sophia was . . . eccentric . . . but . . ."
"But this is, well, old age, isolation, maybe dementia. What a mess." Delphi braced her shoulders and picked her way over the peeling linoleum to the refrigerator. Opened it. Shut it. "Well, cleaning that out will not be pleasant. I wonder when garbage pick up is? We should do it that morning, so it doesn't sit around and get warmer and even smellier."
They followed the path through heaps and boxes and bags, down the unlit hallway and around the corner, five doors . . . the last was larger and heavier, and led to the garage. Half filled by a dusty pickup.
"Oooo! I just got my learner's permit!"
"It's got four flat tires." Del wiped off some dust . . . "last registered twelve years ago?"
Prissy tried the truck doors, gave up with a sigh. "Locked. I wonder where the keys are?"
"Under twelve years of detritus, most likely."
It had been a week since the call from the police, to inform her of her aunt's death.
Reilly Creek was a small town. The police had had no problem finding someone old enough to know about Aunt Sophia's orphaned nieces.
And with a name like Delphi, the police had had no problem finding the right Hyde, to notify her of her Aunt's death.
"It's going to take forever." Prissy sounded cheerful. "I was afraid I'd wind up babysitting the brat pack all summer."
Del looked down the dim hallway. "I have a job. I need to get this done and get back to New York." I could have come sooner, but work . . . not to mention the cost of the tickets on short notice . . .
Her little sister just laughed. "It's going to take weeks just to clean and clear out the house." Prissy brushed her wild hair out of her face—again—and gestured at the room. "It looks like Aunt Sophia never threw anything out."
Del shrugged. "I don't need to be here for the legal stuff. I will sort out the financial situation . . . if we can find any paperwork in this rat's nest. And I don't care how hot it is, I'm opening some windows."
"The air conditioner . . ."
". . . is a swamp cooler, it won't help the humidity one bit. Assuming we can get to it, to see if it works. So I'm going to start with a window."
Prissy snickered. "Go ahead—if you can."
Del backtracked and eyed the piles of newspapers and magazines heaped all over the living room. "Just as well she refused to adopt us when Mom and Dad died. She was obviously sick in the head." Pretty Prissy was five, and was adopted. I was sixteen and no one wanted me. Well. The foster parents could have been worse. I was alternately yelled at and ignored until I graduated. Then the Navy was home for four years. And then I got as far away from California as possible.
She reached over a stack of tottering newspaper and pulled the curtain back. Dust puffed from the folds and the swag awkwardly draped across the top. Del drew back, and the newspaper pile slid down to heap on the floor, covering what passed for a path through the hoarded . . . crap.
She growled, and leaned back in . . . the window sash wouldn't budge. The paint was peeling and flaking, and still sealing the window shut. "Right. There were recycling bins outside that school down the road. Surely one of them is for paper. I'm taking a load there right now."
"But, but, there could be something valuable in here. I read a book where they got a Medium in to psychically locate a valuable stamp in a house like this . . . " Prissy broke off. "You don't need to glare! I just . . ."
"Okay, look, I know this is all new to you. You turned eighteen a couple of weeks ago . . . " Del sighed. "Okay. Newspapers and magazines only. The other paper stuff we'll look through before we pitch it."
"At least there wasn't much in the refrigerator to mold."
"Yeah, it could have been a lot worse. But we can't put this stuff out for the garbage men. There's too much of it. C'mon, grab an armful. We'll fill up the trunk and backseat of my car."
It didn't take long.
Hideous cheap rented econobox. Maybe I'll buy a used SUV or something. Cheaper than the rental, in the long run. I can give it to Prissy when I leave.
Prissy held a last load on her lap as Del backed out of the cracked driveway.
She shied away from the thought that Prissy might want to come with her. She has a loving family. She barely remembers me.
She spotted the red and blue flashing lights, and dropped her gaze to the speedometer. A hair over thirty . . . what was the speed limit? Surely . . . she pulled over and the patrol car pulled over behind her.
"Oh!" Prissy sucked in a breath. "You are going to get a ticket!"
Del sighed. "No doubt. I suppose you'd be in trouble with your parents if you did." She wound her window down and dug out her license and insurance card.
"You'd better believe it!"
The officer wore wrap around reflecting sunglasses that hid his eyes and all expression. His voice was challenging. “Miss, do you know what the speed limit is here?”
“I didn’t notice a sign, so I expect it’s twenty-five miles an hours.” Del kept her voice neutral. If he wanted an argument, he would have to look elsewhere.
“Exactly. Now I have you on radar at thirty-one. While this is not very far over the limit, there is a school ahead on this street. There have been some problems, so we are working to make everyone aware of the speed limit, and that it will be dropping down to twenty right in front of the school.” He sounded like he was warning her against taking aim at children walking to school.
“I see.” Arg! And I’d better not mouth off about the school being in session for another hour at least!
He frowned at her license. "Delfy or Del Fi, like the Oracle?"
"Huh." He walked back to his car. Del watched him in the rear view mirror. Nice shoulders, a rebel part of her brain pointed out. She ground her teeth. I’m not noticing!
"Ooo! He's cute!"
Del rolled her eyes. "Don't let your parent's hear you say that!"
She giggled. "You ought to let your hair grow. You look too professional. Guys like long hair."
"I am a professional, and I'm not shopping for men."
Officer Reflecting Sunglasses strode back. "Please sign here. It is not an admission of guilt, it is simply an acknowledgement of the receipt of this ticket and a promise to appear in court. On the reverse side you will find the instructions for handling this through the mail.” He sounded like a robot, emotionless.
She signed and took her copies.
“Please drive safely and have a nice day.”
Six miles an hour over the speed limit. It hardly warranted a warning, as the visibility had been good, the road surface clean and dry, no bicycles, hours before school let out . . . Well, she'd pay it and forget it. She had more important things to worry about today.
Prissy snatched the citation and peered at it from several angles. Sighed. "I can't read his name. I think the first initial is H. and his last name starts with a B and ends with a Y."
Next stop, the hardware store for the basics. WD-40 and duck tape. A cheap razor blade knife. I'll take a look around the garage for tools before I spend any more.
The street was parked up, blocking visibility, as she left the store's parking lot. She eased out far enough to see, but for all the parked cars there wasn't much traffic.
Red lights in the rear view mirror. Del muttered a few choice words under her breath and pulled over.
Prissy sucked in an apprehensive breath. "Ooo! Delphi!"
Yes, the same bloody cop. "I was not speeding."
"You also were not stopping before pulling out onto a street."
She set her teeth and handed over her license. Again.
He walked back to his car. Returned a few minutes later, clipboard in hand.
And next do I get the lecture about keeping my license and registration up to date, right?
"I see you are from New York, and the car rented. Are you moving here?"
"No. I am here to deal with my recently deceased Aunt's estate."
His hands froze for a moment. "Would that perhaps be Sophia Jeffries?"
"Yes. Our mother's sister."
A pause. “My condolences. Sign here."
After three trips to the recycling bin, and as many to the garage to scavenge for tools to get the window open, the living room was nearly livable.
"Not bad for a first day." Del admitted, finally relaxing. "After all, we just got the keys this morning. The funeral will be tomorrow. Such as it is."
"Do you suppose anyone will come? I have no idea who her friends are. Or if she even had any." Prissy looked around the depressing room. "It almost looks worse without the piles."
"Yeah. I thought there'd be other furniture underneath stuff. One chair is . . . sad. It would be nice if we could unearth a working vacuum cleaner in here, somewhere." Del shrugged in irritation. "Is your family going to come collect you, or do you want to sleep here?"
Prissy shuddered. "Mom said they'd come at eight . . . they're late. Mom always is."
Mom. Damn you for having people who care about you!
Prissy's eyebrows dove. "Where are you staying? Not here!"
Del looked down the hall. Piles, boxes, the old vacuum that hadn't worked and more stuff lined the wall, leaving a path along one side. Four bedrooms, each worse than the next. And I'm not sleeping in Aunt H's bed. Nor using the bathroom where they found her body. "No. Not here. I'll drive out to the freeway, there were two motels there."
When Prissy's parents showed up at nine, they—and the six other foster and adopted kids—they gave them a brief tour. The kids were rowdy and loud.
"Delphi, these are my parents, Angelina and Collin Mayhew ." Prissy started pointing at kids. "Guadalupe, Patrick, Todd , Wayne, Tammy and . . ." Prissy looked around. "Where did Richie go?"
Del looked at the kids as they scattered. "Pleased to meet you?" She felt herself flush at the dubious tones in her voice.
Angelina laughed. "Yes, they can be a bit overwhelming. And loud."
"Hey! Look what I found!" echoed from somewhere down the hallway. Small bodies homed in on it.
"Goodness. Um, how old are they?"
Collin chuckled. "Prissy's our oldest adoptee. Guadelupe's fifteen. Patrick's twelve, Wayne's fourteen, and Tammy and Richie are both eight."
"Wow . . . you guys are brave." Del followed the cheerful voices to a back bedroom full of . . . Things. Formerly shiny stainless steel tanks and, one of the kids, Wayne, she thought was waving a tentacled monster . . . "Oh, that's all Grandfather's old milking equipment. Good grief, it does look . . . "
"Alien!" Wayne screamed. "It's going to suck all your brains out!"
Guadelupe shrieked and ran, Wayne chased her, waving the milking machine's tubes . . . Tammy hid behind Prissy, who gave the other boys a stern look. They took off down the hall, trying to catch the older girl.
Del surveyed the equipment. "Why didn't they just leave it all out in the dairy?"
"Because the roof was collapsing? What is all this stuff?"
"That's a pump, it all ran on a vacuum system. That's the cooler, to drop the temperature quickly, that's the cream separator . . . pasteurizer . . . more milking machines. They had straps that went over the cows' back, so they hung up off the ground."
"It looks like a monster." Tammy continued to cling.
"Yeah. the suction cup things on the hoses went on the cow's teats and the milk was collected in the . . . I don't remember what they called it. Maybe just a tank." Del shoved the thing back out of the way.
"Alien spaceship, sucking your brains out!" The kid troop galloped past, apparently now chasing one of the boys.
Collin was hot on their trail, and they could hear Angelina's voice raised and telling the kids to calm down and assemble. The kids galloped back, and Prissy reached out and grabbed the alien spacecraft as they passed. She cleared her throat. "Mom and Dad may have finally overdone the foster thing."
Del made polite noises as they were all herded back into their humongous green SUV—apparently named the Green Monster.
And sagged in relief when they drove away.
.......No room at the Inns, return to the house.
Sleep—poorly—in the car. In the garage.