I understand that most people assume that since I can talk to animals, that woodland creatures of all kinds flock to help with my chores, sing me songs and brighten my days. After all, that’s what certain animation companies would like us to believe.
The reality was, at that moment, that a tailless squirrel was letting out a blood-curdling scream. “Leave Tess alone!” All while trying to jab out my left eye with a spear he’d fashioned from a twig.
Instinctively, cherishing my eyesight, I batted him away. I didn’t think I hit him that hard, but the small furry creature went tumbling into the bed of fallen leaves and pine needles covering the ground.
I jumped to my feet, ready to defend myself against his next attack.
“Bully,” he groused, brushing dirt off his chest.
“You attacked me,” I told him indignantly. “I was only defending myself.”
“Using your superior size to your advantage,” he retorted.
I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. “Listen, Garrett. May I call you Garrett?”
“How do you know my name?” he asked suspiciously.
Not wanting to throw Sol under the bus, or the camper van as the case may be, knowing the small rodent might attack him in retaliation, I replied carefully, “Somebody mentioned it.”
“The rabbit?” he asked with scorn.
I shook my head. The white rabbit had never spoken to me. I assumed that was because he was so traumatized by the Filchers trapping and attempting to kill him.
“You need to leave my Tess alone,” the squirrel reiterated, picking up his spear and waving it in what I assume he thought was a menacing manner. At most, I figured I’d end up with a splinter in my toe if he chose to charge.
I wondered why he was so territorial about the campground owner. Was it a squirrel thing? Did he think I was going to steal his source of nuts or seeds or whatever it was she fed him?
“I mean you no harm,” I assured him. I crouched down so that I could get a better look at him. “And I’m not here to interfere with Tess.”
“Then why are you here?” he asked. “It’s obvious you’re not here to camp. You can’t park for shit.”
Since it was an accurate assessment of my lack of ability, I chose not to take offense. “I’m looking for you.”
“What does that mean?” Garrett wanted to know. I heard a combination of curiosity and fear weaving through his tone.
“My mother-in-law, my former mother-in-law,” I began. “She needs to…” I paused for a moment, not sure why Mildred needed him. For all I knew, she wanted to eat the squirrel. “She wants to see you.”
“Your mother-in-law?” Garrett mocked. “I assume she’s human?”
I tilted my head from side to side, unsure of how to answer that. “She’s a ghost,” I revealed, deciding that the truth, even as ridiculous as it sounded, was probably the best option. Especially when considering I was having this conversation with a squirrel who didn’t have a tail. “Mildred had me come here to–”
“Mildred Bloodworth?” he shrieked so loudly that I was sure the entire campground could hear him.
“That’s her,” I said.
“You’re here to fetch me for Mildred Bloodworth?” There was no more fear in his voice, no more curiosity, just a seething animosity that reached out to me like a poisonous gas.
Instinctively I took a step back, feeling like I was under attack again.
I raised my hands in a gesture of surrender. “Listen, Garrett,” I said. “I don’t know what you have to do with her, but I’m just trying to get rid of her.”
“But you said she’s a ghost,” he reminded me.
I nodded. “She’s haunting me. She’s ruining my life.”
“She has that effect on people,” Garrett replied.
“How do you know her?” I asked peering closely at him. It didn’t make sense that he knew the witch.
“Just stay away from Tess,” he warned. Taking his spear with him, he scurried off into the woods.
I could have chased after him, but I was still desperately in need of a bathroom. I hurried toward Princess, the camper van, hoping that I’d be allowed inside.
When I arrived, there was no yellow crime scene tape surrounding it, even though I had anticipated there would be. It also wasn’t parked where it had been, having been rolled forward. I assumed that was so they could remove the body of the warlock that had been underneath.
I hurried toward it and saw that the spray bottle I’d given to the cop was sitting on the step outside the side door. There was a sign posted on the side door that said simply, “OK to enter” and a large scrawled signature that no doubt belonged to Corporal Welton.
I picked up the bottle, opened the door and climbed inside.
“Where have you been?” Mildred meowed.
“Gotta pee,” I replied, heading for the toilet, uncomfortably aware that I sounded a lot like my friend Maggie’s dog.
The cat decided to block my path.
I’d had it with animals trying to dictate my actions. I didn’t hesitate to spray her straight in the face.
She yowled her dismay, swiping at me with her paw. Thankfully she missed and instead of trying again, dove back into the front passenger seat where she likes to spend the majority of her time.
Unhindered, I was at last finally able to answer the call of nature.
When I was done, I emerged from the tiny bathroom. “What did you do to Garret?”
The cat narrowed her eyes. “Whatever do you mean?” she purred.
It was the most malicious sound I’d ever heard. It made me want to spray her again.
“How do you know his name?” she asked. “Did Tess tell you her tale of woe?”
“He told me himself,” I lied.
She sat up straight and flexed her claws. “You met him?”
“And you didn’t bring him to me?”
“He may prove to be trickier to catch than we’d imagined.”
Considering the squirrel’s reaction to hearing her name, I wasn’t sure that capturing him for her would be the right thing to do.
“You must,” she insisted. “and quickly.”
I studied the tenseness of her body language. This was obviously important to her. “Why?”
Instead of answering me, the cat turned her back on me and twitched her tail.
“Tell me,” I demanded. “Or I won’t help you.”
She looked over her shoulder at me and sneered as only a cat can. “If you don’t help me, you’re not helping yourself.”
The cat and I glared at each other for a long moment.
“Well,” she asked impatiently “what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know yet,” I replied. I jumped out of the camper, slamming the door behind me and stalked away.
“You can’t run away from your problems,” Conroy reminded me from beneath my shirt. “Especially this one. You have to deal with it or be haunted forever.”
“First I’ve got to find Link,” I muttered, desperate for his guidance. I scanned the area where I believed he had fallen when I had tossed him into the air the night before, but I saw no copper glittering in the dirt.
“Link,” I called “are you here?” I dropped to my knees and began to slowly and methodically search the ground.
I searched for well over an hour on my hands and knees and was starting to lose hope.
“Did you lose something?” a voice asked from behind me.
Startled, I turned around. Sol, was standing there in all of his lavender shimmer, watching me with interest and more than a hint of amusement. Now that I was seeing him in daylight, I took in his dark hair and angular features. He wasn’t traditionally handsome, but there was something very compelling about his appearance.
“Help you find something?” he asked. “You look distraught.”
“I dropped my lucky penny,” I told him.
If he thought that was a strange thing to say, he didn’t remark on it. Instead, he walked over and began to scan the ground. “Why do you think you lost it here?”
“Because I tossed it in the air just before Ernie arrived last night.” I kept sifting through the dirt with my fingers like a crazed gold miner looking for a valuable nugget.
“I think it’s here,” Sol said.
I crawled closer to where he was standing. “Where?”
He closed the distance between us with a quick step and reached out toward my head.
Thinking he was about to box my ear, I recoiled, falling backward. After all, I’d already been attacked by a squirrel.
“Easy,” he soothed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he held a copper disc between his fingers. He offered it to me. “Here you go.”
I held up my hand and he dropped the coin into my palm. There wasn’t a speck of dirt on Link.
“You found it,” I said getting slowly to my feet and swaying unsteadily.
“Are you okay?” Sol asked. He reached out a hand as though to steady me and then dropped it back to his side.
“Just stiff from sleeping on the office floor and crawling in the dirt,” I told him. I didn’t mention the tumble I’d taken at the squirrel’s hands…or paws.
“A shower might help,” he suggested gently.
Realizing I was probably filthy from all the time I’d spent on the ground, I looked away, embarrassed.
“Are you staying?” he asked.
I looked back at him. “For a night or two.”
“Well…enjoy yourself.” He moved away, back in the direction of the woods he’d come from.
“Thank you!” I called after him. “Thank you for helping me find the penny.”
He grinned and made a motion like he was tipping an invisible cap. “It was my pleasure.”
“I don’t know how you did it,” I admitted, remembering how long I’d searched.
“Easy,” he said with a wink. “I’m a magician.”