Once Cursed, Twice Shy
I ran fast and hard, my footing sure as I flew over the forest floor.
“Stop!” I yelled as I caught sight of the woman’s back.
She glanced over her shoulder and picked up her pace.
I ran faster, catching up with her just as she reached a small clearing where a bonfire raged.
She swung the net in an arc, ready to send the rabbit flying into the fire.
“No!” I screamed.
Sensing me behind her, she ducked as I attempted a tackle. I missed her, but my hand got caught in the net holding the rabbit.
My momentum knocked us both to the ground, and we scrambled around in the dirt, having a life-and-death tug-of-war over the bunny.
She was stronger than she looked, and we were evenly matched for the fight. Every time I thought I was winning, she rallied and dug her heels in. Beside us, the fire crackled and popped, the heat making me break into a sweat, slicking my palms against the rope I was trying to hold on to.
“Let go and I won’t kill you,” she offered breathlessly, her face flushed.
I shook my head.
“A step back can offer the vantage point to win the battle,” Conroy said.
“I’m trying to step back,” I told him, gritting my teeth. My shoulders ached from the effort of holding on to the net as I strained with all my might to pull it away from her.
“Release and regroup,” he chided.
I let go.
My sudden surrender sent the woman tumbling backward. Hard.
I heard her pained gasp as the air was knocked out of her. It wasn’t the only thing she lost. The net flew out of her hands.
And straight toward the fire.
The bunny was toast.
So, like I said, I don’t really understand the magic thing, but in addition to being able to see shimmers, I think I can slow down time. Or maybe I speed myself up. I don’t really know. Conroy has refused to discuss it. Either way, there are moments when, just for a second or two, I can move faster than the world around me. This is one of those times.
I jumped toward the flying net and pulled the rabbit out of the air, singeing the shoelace of my sneaker as I landed at the edge of the fire. With the creature cradled against my chest, I leapt away from the heat as time returned to normal.
The woman, realizing I’d saved the hare, let out a scream of frustration.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” I told the bunny as he wriggled against me, trying to get free.
On the other hand, the woman’s shimmer glowed bluer as she got to her feet, pawing the ground like an angry bull getting ready to charge.
“I didn’t hurt your friends,” I told her, attempting to defuse the situation.
“They’re not my friends. They’re my underlings,” she boomed.
I rolled my eyes. “Aren’t you all full of yourself? Underlings shmunderlings.”
She made a sound similar to the growl of a wild dog.
The rabbit tried to bolt. Clasping the wiggling animal against me with one arm, I used my free hand to reach behind me. I pulled out the spray bottle and leveled it at the angry woman. “Stay back!”
She hesitated and studied my weapon. “Is that a water bottle?”
“What are you going to do with that?” she scoffed.
“I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz and I know how to use this,” I warned. I knew the water was effective against Mildred but didn’t know whether that’s because of her current cat status, or if it was actually an effective deterrent against witches.
Not that I knew whether the woman in front of me was even a witch. All I knew for sure was that she was a filcher.
She took a step closer, and I sprayed her right between the eyes. I’m a deadly shot with a spray bottle.
Unfortunately, the water didn’t kill her. It didn’t wound her. It didn’t even deter her. She kept coming.
“Give me the rabbit,” she demanded, holding out her hand as I backed up to the fringe of the fire, its warmth, once again, lapping at my shoes.
I wondered if I clicked my heels together three times whether I’d end up back in the RV. The bunny had stopped moving around. Now, with him pressed firmly against me, I could feel the panicked racing of his heart. “You can’t have him.”
“You’re willing to die for him?”
“Uhh, die?” I asked. “No. I really don’t want to die. Especially now. I mean, if I die, my life will be a living hell. For eternity. I mean, who wants a life of living hell for eternity? Not me.”
She cocked her head to the side as I rambled.
“No. I most definitely don’t want to die,” I concluded forcefully.
She grinned. “Too bad.” She charged straight toward me.
So, here’s the thing about the whole time-slowing thing. I really don’t have control over it. It’s some sort of instinct that kicks in when I’m afraid. So, while it probably looked like what I did next was intentional, it really wasn’t. It was just a survival instinct. Really.
She charged, arms outstretched, ready to push me backwards into the flames. All I did was step aside, so fast she never saw me move.
Realizing what was happening, I reached for her, I really did. But time had changed again, and all I grabbed was air as she charged headlong into the fire.
She screamed and there was some kind of explosion. An invisible wall of force slammed me through the air, and I landed on my back staring up at the tops of trees outlined against the sky. Struggling into an upright position, the rabbit still clutched to my chest, I saw a deep crater where the fire had been. A cloud of blue smoke rose out of it.
There was no sign of the woman.
My whole body went cold as I realized what happened, and I began to shake. “I didn’t mean it.”
“What didn’t you intend?” Conroy asked, his voice muffled by the fluffball covering him.
I put the rabbit, still ensnared in the net, on the ground. “I didn’t mean to kill her.”
“Oh, my precious whippersnapper,” Conroy harrumphed. “Your opinion of yourself is outsized.”
“I didn’t kill her?” I asked.
I waited for him to elaborate, but as is his most frustrating habit, he did not.
Beside me, the rabbit stirred.
Working quickly, I got him untangled and then held him up, marveling at the softness of his fur. “Are you okay?”
His nose twitched in response, making his whiskers bounce.
“I don’t know what to do next,” I told him. “If I take you with me, I’m afraid Mildred will try to eat you.”
“A hypothesis not without merit,” Conroy piped up.
“But you don’t look like the kind who can survive out here on your own,” I said, pulling the creature close to me. I rested my chin on his head, his ears tickling my cheeks. “I guess I could ask Link, but I left him in the camper, so you’ll have to come with me for now.”
Cradling the bunny against my chest, I slowly got to my feet and retraced my steps back to the RV, taking care to give the two men, still out cold, a wide berth.
When we got back to the road, I saw that Princess, the bright pink camper van, was listing slightly. Upon closer examination, I realized the vehicle had a flat tire, the result of skidding off the road.
Sighing heavily, I told the rabbit, “You caused a lot of trouble for me, little guy. And frankly, I was in a lot of trouble before we even met.”
He stared at me intently and wiggled his ears.
I frowned at him. “How come I can’t hear you?”
Normally, well, at least my normal, I can understand animals, but I hadn’t heard him say a word through this entire ordeal.
The rabbit froze, but I felt his heartbeat speed up.
“Conroy?” I asked. “Why can’t I understand him?”
“Ahh, The Case of Quiet Coney,” the owl mused. “Quite the conundrum.”
“What?” I asked.
“Conundrum…a confusing question,” Conroy defined.
“No, not that,” I said, peering closely at the bunny. “The Coney Island thing.”
“Not Coney Island,” Conroy replied, making a distressed coughing sound. “A coney…a rabbit. It’s English.”
“I think he understands me,” I said. I offered the rabbit a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you.”
His whiskers twitched.
Without any warning, he kicked me, landing a roundhouse on my nose.
One bunny kick and I was knocked on my butt. Surprised by the attack and the pain, those little hind legs are strong, I dropped him as I fell.
“That’s what you get for trying to do a good deed,” Mildred meowed from inside the van as I grabbed my nose, trying to tell if it was broken.
The rabbit hopped a few yards away and then looked back at me. He twitched his nose in one last apology and then sprinted across the street, quickly disappearing from view.
Dusting myself off, I eyed the spare tire on the back of the van.
“Now we won’t get there until after sunset,” Mildred griped, watching me through a window.
“Get where?” I asked, wrestling the tire down.
I glanced up at the cat. “What’s that?”
The cat flashed a canary-eating grin. “Where your next test will be.”