Feb 25

Mulberry Wands Chapter Twenty-Three


Want to start at the beginning? Go here.

Chapter Twenty-Three



Griff had an amulet from Maggie that she said would make him invisible to owls, but just when his entrepreneurial spirit picked up, she also said that it wouldn’t last more than a couple of days. He’d been having nightmares about Fallon, so he came back early to get a new one.

He looked in the sky and trees and rooftops as he approached the trailer, but there weren’t any owls around. He knocked on the screen door with the carton of cigarettes he’d brought her.

Maggie opened the door, glancing at him, then the cigarettes “Hey, cool.” She opened the door just long enough to take the carton, then turned back inside.

He thought that might have been an invitation, so he followed her into the trailer. The place was a mess, with the usual assortment of dirty dishes and splayed spell components. The bed in the back looked like a laundry heap of mismatched linens, mostly purple and paisley.

Maggie took a seat on the bed and opened the carton of cigarettes. She had the television on loud, what looked like one of the reality shows where has-been actresses go to drug rehab. After she got out a pack, she opened it and put the paper on the floor.

“So, I guess you know Susan is back.”

“Yeah,” she said. She fumbled around in the blankets, then came up with a zippo. She hesitated before putting the pack on the table, and shook out a second cigarette. “You want one?”

He shook his head.

She lit a cigarette and inhaled. “What do you care?” she said, but she wasn’t talking to him, she was talking to the lizard clinging to the window curtain. “Yeah, whatever, old man.”

Griff wondered what the lizard had said, but he didn’t wonder so much that he’d be willing to breathe that nasty smoke again. He took the amulet off his neck and set it on the table. “I brought this back for a recharge.”

She pulled away from the skinny women on the reality show long enough to glance at the amulet, puzzled, like she couldn’t remember ever seeing it. “What’s that?”

“The amulet you made me. To keep the owls away.”

“The owls are gone. We had a talk. It’s cool now.” Maggie laughed and pointed at one of the actresses, who was vomiting into a vinyl diner booth. “Damn, Miles, you called it! Puke-o-rama.”

“You had a talk. Um, great.”

Maggie grabbed an empty Coke can to ash in, then turned the volume up even louder.

“Maggie, um.” Griff cleared his throat. “I wanted to ask about the rumblers. The fey. You didn’t kill them, did you?”

Maggie made a grunt that could have been a no.

“So, where are they?”

She shrugged and breathed out smoke. “I dunno, I put them outside after I’d trapped them. They’re probably around here somewhere. The trap’s still under the trailer, if you wanna take it back to Susan.”

Griff went outside and circled around the trailer until he found where a panel was loose and leaning instead of attached. When he moved it, there was a small opening about two feet wide by eighteen inches high. He crawled underneath. It was dusty and dark, and he could still hear the television through the floor of the trailer above. The trap had been set to one side, open but not set, and two small creatures were licking the bait-plate.

Griff wriggled further underneath and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. Susan was right. The fey had been demagicked, and were now completely visible. The creatures were unlike any he’d seen before. They looked a little like hedgehogs, just as Alex had said. Like pets that had been released into the wild, they didn’t run away from him. They milled around, making a sound halfway between a cat’s purr and a man muttering “rumble rumble”.

“Rumblers,” he said out loud. “That’s why they call them that.”

The rumblers shied away from the sound of his voice, but only briefly.

Griff backed out from under the trailer and got his work gloves from the storage bin on the back of his bike. He had half a Powerbar too, so he grabbed that to use as bait. Did rumblers eat Powerbars?

Turned out that they did. When he put the Powerbar on the ground, the nearest rumbler waddled over, sniffed it, and started eating, muttering happily. The other rumblers approached, cautiously at first, then with enthusiasm when they figured out there was food. They seemed remarkably tame. Maybe that came from being invisible to most creatures.

“Okay, easy now,” he muttered, as he picked the nearest one up.

He gently put it inside the cat trap, where it squeaked and tried to escape. Once he’d put the others in there, (and most importantly, the food) they settled down. He found nine total, five healthy, three lying on their side and lethargic, and one that looked dead but was breathing shallowly. There were other dead ones, but he wasn’t sure how many because insects had eaten everything but a pile of spines. He caught every one that was still alive. Even the healthiest ones couldn’t move fast enough to get away from him. Without their magic, they were as defenseless as flightless parrots.

He put them all in the silvered cat trap, then used a bungee cord to hold it on to his bike. He went as slowly as he could back to the house, avoiding major streets and speed bumps. The poor little things had suffered enough.

After he took them home, he put them in Nullus’ larger cage, moving the rat to the tiny travel cage. Nullus squeaked in protest at his eviction.

“It’s only for a little while, buddy,” he told the rat.

He pulled his Ptolemy book off the shelf, and pulled one of his emergency twenties out. He looked over at the rumblers, who were climbing over each other and squeaking, trying to huddle in a ball. Nullus was standing on his back paws, sniffing for a way out of the plastic aquarium. Griff shook the book to release more bills, then put them in his wallet.

At the pet store, he bought another water dish, and a hollow log for them to hide under. The aquariums were expensive, even the used ones, far more than he could afford especially now that he didn’t have the wand-selling business, but he bought one anyway, along with some pine bedding and a package of sunflower seeds. He bought some crickets, and rabbit kibble too, and sugar-glider food, and ferret chow, not knowing what rumblers ate.

When he took it home and transferred the rumblers to their new cage, they seemed much happier. They ate everything, except the crickets, which they weren’t fast enough to catch. He force-fed the lethargic rumblers water with the eye-dropper he used to give Nullus medicine.

Zoë knocked on his door. She was wearing a tight pink camisole and some cargo pants. She’d recently cut all the black off her hair, so it was short and white-blonde. “I hear you have some new pets.”

“I’m sorry about the stink,” he said. He tried not to stare at Zoë, as much as he liked looking at her. Zoë, like a wild animal, got skittish if you showed too much attention. “Since they got de-magicked, they can’t survive on their own. I feel responsible for them. I’m hoping I can rehabilitate them.”

“De-magicked?” she asked, coming into the room. She peered into the cage and tapped on the glass. “Are these the garden fey Susan was talking about?”

She bent over with her face close to the glass, enrapt, which gave Griff a few moments to stare at her. “They’re so cute!”

“You, uh, you want to hold one?” he asked.

Zoë nodded, and stepped away to make room for him. Griff lifted the lid and chose the healthiest one, picking it up carefully so that its spines didn’t prick him. He laid it in Zoë’s small hand. His fingertips brushed hers as he pulled his hands away, and he met her eyes.

She held his gaze for a moment, then looked down at the garden fey. She stroked it on the forehead, and the rumbler rumbled in pleasure. She touched its spines too, gently, laying them flat against its back like fur.

“You have a way with animals,” he said. “They must sense they can trust you.”

She held it without moving, patient and so quiet that it curled up and fell asleep in the warmth of her hand. Zoë’s face melted in amazement.

If Griff were a rumbler, he would have been rumbling in pleasure just to see that expression on her face.

“Thank you,” she said. She set the rumbler down in the cage so gently that it didn’t wake up. “I’ve always wanted to see a garden fey.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. “I’m glad I could make you happy.”

She was already on her way out, but at the door she paused and looked at him, holding his gaze just long enough to fan the spark of hope into a conflagration.




Buy the book for a sample chapter from the sequel to MULBERRY WANDS, THE HEAT STEALER.


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