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He heard footsteps behind him. Frank and May had spied the fire and were coming down.
"That's it," he told them. "It's just a bag of fluid. If you think it's getting away, put more gas on it." Then he turned and walked back toward the house.
He felt dead inside.
* 49 - THEY WATCHED THE fire as it followed the sinking substance. Geode was right: the monster was just a bag of fluid, in the end. The fire was cooking it like so much egg white. There was no doubt it was the firefly; they had felt the strength of its pheromones. It was oddly insubstantial now, spread out on the pavement, burning down.
"Not with a bang, but a whimper," May murmured.
"Just a carnivorous jellyfish," Frank said. "I guess it hunted by night because it didn't have any fur or weapons. Just its smell."
"Lake a succubus," she said. "Coming to make men dream of s.e.x, though it killed them. And women too. I'm almost sad for it."
"Me too. I thought I was crazy, but-" He shrugged.
"Speaking of crazy," she said, "I hope I am not being unkind, but I suspect that both Geode and none were some of that. He seems to have had a deprived life, and compensated by developing his inner resources, perhaps too far. He believes he can talk to animals. He was hospitalized for a time, so now he isn't open about the matter, but he does still believe it."
"But he did a good enough job here," Frank said. "He has been a good man, as far as my dealings with him are concerned. Let's face it, we're all a little crazy about something. My wife thought I was crazy to blow the whistle on my employer and get myself blacklisted, and maybe she was right."
"Yes, I agree," she said. "I respect Geode for coping as he has. I like him personally, and I think he was very good for none-and she for him. But I have to say that she was farther gone than he. She had multiple personalities, which I think stemmed from the abuse she suffered as a child."
"Abuse? She seemed like one winsome little lady to me, once I got to know her."
"Too winsome! Some little girls are taught to be that way, cajoling men, proceeding on into s.e.xual precocity. Some grown women act childish in order to wheedle favors from men too. none had what appears to have been voluntary s.e.x with an adult man when she was only five years old."
He stared at her. "Five?"
"Five. Her father and her brother had been at her s.e.xually, so she thought that that was the only way to gain love. She seems to have closed off much of the bad memories by separating that personality from her adopted one, but she remained s.e.xually biased. Yet I think she really loved Geode, and I'm sure he loved her. Society might call her crazy, but I have suffered enough myself to understand the pressure she was under. I mean, what is a child warped by s.e.xual abuse that can not be escaped supposed to do? How does she adjust, once she is grown, with those terrible scars remaining internally? Our society has barely addressed the problem, and it is unfortunately widespread. So if none was crazy, I don't blame her, I blame our callous society."
"If there was evidence of abuse, why didn't they take it to court?
"They did. They convicted, perhaps, the wrong man-and sent her back to her family. So much for justice, for her. No wonder she retreated to fantasy!"
"So much for justice," he echoed glumly, remembering his own experience with it. "The world is one h.e.l.l of a place."
"We can't all choose our estate in life. Often we have to make compromises, sometimes serious ones, just to get through."
He glanced at her. "What are you getting at?"
"You know that they are only waiting for confirmation of the monster's death before they fire you," she said.
"But they'll give me a decent reference, because in the end I pulled it out, and there won't be much bad publicity."
"But your reputation will precede you, wherever you go. I fear you are finished in law enforcement, Frank."
He sighed. He knew she was right, and that it meant he would have to start again in some other line. It would be years before he was sufficiently established to be able to think of marrying. He had done what he had to do, here, but there was no joy in it.
"Then I guess this is good-bye," he said. "I can't say I didn't wish for some other way out. It's been great knowing you, May."
"If you had a good job, you could marry again," she said. "But are you too proud to take what offers?"
He laughed bitterly. "I am a proud cuss, and I can't afford it! If I had a good, secure job right now, I'd-" But he cut it off; what was the point?
"In the process of saving the county's reputation, you have also saved Mid's ranch," she said. "Mid has a better set of values than politically conscious county administrators do. Two days ago I called him, and today he called me back. He is rea.s.signing Geode to another estate; only he knows where. This ranch needs a new caretaker. The work is simple and not demanding. I realize it would be no challenge for a man like you, far beneath your competence, but it has compensations."
Frank was surprised. "Me? Mid wants to hire me?"
"I mentioned sometime back that Mid takes care of his own, and you have become one of his own-if you want to be. He is impressed by your resume; you have always been competent and honest, and have gotten in trouble for it. He might soon have more challenging uses for your expertise. But at the moment what he needs is a caretaker. The pay is good, and you get free board, and occasional gifts, and-"
He turned to her, aware that she was holding back something. "And what?"
"And me," she finished. "If you want me, Frank. Of course I'll be traveling a lot, on his a.s.signments, but when I'm not, I'll be glad to stay here at this lovely ranch with-"
He cut her off with his kiss. She did, after all, want him as much as he wanted her, and she had arranged it so that he could not refuse, regardless of his pride.
The fire guttered down, but they were heedless of it.
* 50 - IN THE GROUND, nearby, the egg reposed, motionless, quiescent. Only its mind was active, as it shaped its future nature according to its past nature.
On the battlefield a soldier lay grievously wounded, dying. As night closed, hope faded, for his unit had not found him amid the carnage and a.s.sumed he was already dead.
A child from a ruined farmstead wandered out. Her house had been destroyed and her family was dead; only she survived, and she did not know what to do. "Mommy!" she called, unable to believe what had happened. "Daddy! Where are you?"
The dying soldier groaned. Attracted to the sound, she went to him. "Daddy?"
His awareness shrouded by loss of blood and the beginning of hallucination, he thought she said "Daryl," which was his name. "Gina?" he rasped, dreaming he was back home with his true love.
She thought he said "Gisela," which was her name. "Yes!" she cried, and plumped down beside him, and cradled his head in her arms. "Are you all right?"
"I am now," he said, delighting in her loving embrace.
So they endured through the night, each giving the other comfort, and by morning, when the truth became evident, they had new reasons to endure. She helped him drag himself up, and he took her with him, and they were a family.
The mind shifted, perhaps sleeping. The ent.i.ty was as yet imperfectly formed, for though flesh could be readily dissolved, it took time to shape it into a cohesive, fully functioning firefly. That was why the quiescent stage was necessary. Then the mind resumed, in its fashion dreaming.
Any number of matchings were possible, but few were perfect. Physically there was no problem; any man could match with any woman. But emotionally it was more difficult. The quest was for perfect love. This could be judged by the glow.
When one person was attracted to another, he/she glowed. When a person was truly committed, the glow was stronger. Complete love made him glow so brightly as to shine. The trick was to match up the glows, so that they enhanced each other and generated a greater mutual brilliance.
However, s.e.xual interest also caused a glow, of a different hue. Sometimes the object of the s.e.x-glow did not match the object of the love-glow. Then it could get complicated.
One day an ardent couple discovered that...
The egg continued the story, warming into it. One day these stories will be told to one who would listen, one who loved. For now, they were only being rehea.r.s.ed.
A man found a beautiful woman. But she was like a zombie; she lacked self-a.s.sertion. She did anything he asked, no matter what it was, but never initiated anything, even a thought. At first he was delighted, for what he wanted of her had little to do with intellect. It had to do with her lying down naked and spreading her legs every hour or two, which she did without question or emotion. What delight!
But in time even this grew stale; he discovered that a woman with no will of her own was scarcely better than a mannequin. She was no good as a companion, because she never said anything except "yes." She could not be trusted with ch.o.r.es on her own, because she needed specific instructions for every detail. He could tell her to "pick up that bucket" and she would do so, but then he would have to tell her what to do with it. He couldn't tell her to wash the dishes, only to pick up a dish, pa.s.s the sponge over it, put it under the tap, turn on the water, let it rinse off the dish, turn off the water, and set the dish down. Then the same series for the next dish. It was easier to do it himself. She really was good only for one thing, and as it turned out, not awfully good at that. Because after he had sated himself upon her, she just lay there, not even cleaning herself up, until he instructed her to do it, step by step. That diminished the effect somewhat.
Finally he realized what the problem was. She had no personality! Perhaps she had no soul. She was just the body of a woman, not the whole of her. For the first time he appreciated the fact that a woman needed to be more than an attractive body, and it was a considerable revelation.
So he decided to do something about it. Obviously she had had a personality once; she must have lost it. He went on a quest to find that lost personality. When he found it, he would restore it to her, and then he would have a whole woman-and be ready to appreciate her that way.
He set out with her, and had many adventures along the way, and...
The tale continued. The author had lost her essence, but surely would recover it in due course. That had to be believed. It had to be!
My love set out on his quest through the wilds of the wilderness, running, running indefatigably. He ran along the hard pavement of the road, and it pounded against his feet, but he did not yield. He ran through the blackberry bushes, and the fierce thorns caught at his legs, but he did not pause. He ran through a horrendous patch of sandspur gra.s.s, and the cruel little barbed b.a.l.l.s stuck in his socks. Now he paused to take them out, but then a great swarm of black biting flies descended on him. He swatted them away and went on, and the sugary sand gave way beneath his feet, sapping his speed and balance, but he kept on. He ran past rabbits and tortoises, past toads and rattlesnakes, even a beautiful little coral snake. Above him a great pileated woodp.e.c.k.e.r pecked in its tree, marveling at his persistence in the oppressive heat. He came to the verge of the lake, where alligators lurked. He would not be stopped!
But at last he came to me, down by the edge of the pond. Oh my love, my darling, you have reached me at last! Now our love can be complete, and we shall forage together, because for the first time our kind will have human intelligence and knowledge. We will know how to handle human prey...
* Author's Note
This is, as you may have gathered, a special novel, the first of several unrelated projects I have had in mind for some time that are of more consequence than my fantasy. From inception to completion was about seven years, because I did not pursue it until I was satisfied about its nature. It is technically a monster story, concluding with a suggestion of the horror to come when alien fireflies who understand man are loosed on the world. If one ignorant monster could cause such mischief, what of the knowledgeable ones? I have no sequel in mind; the reader may imagine that aspect for himself. The essence of this novel is in the characters, especially none. I am of course in love with her, as I am with all my leading ladies, and I hope you are too, if you are male, and that you understand her if you are female. She represents the triumph of imagination over dull reality or quiet desperation, and I think there are many women like her to some degree. This can be an ugly world.
This novel addresses more than peripherally the problem of abuse. It occurs in many forms, physical and emotional, and is exacerbated by the insensitivity, ignorance, or downright malice of others. It does happen in "nice" families, and much of it is not of the screaming rape type. It may be subtle and persistent, yet it can be h.e.l.lish. The games five-year-old Nymph played with Mad were a joy to her at the time, but it was nevertheless abuse by our society's definition (not necessarily by that of other societies), and her life was significantly colored by the experience thirty years later. What happened to May is unfortunately also not that rare. I don't know what to do about such problems, but surely there will be no genuine solutions until there is a proper recognition of the situation.
The setting for this novel is my home; none used our guest bedroom. The house, cabin, landscape, roads, trees, and wildlife are as described, except for location; my avocation is tree farming. I believe that the salvation of the world well may lie in trees, and not just the commercial varieties. The community of wild creatures resides in the noncommercial wilderness.
One of the included stories was written by Santiago Hernandez, in prison for pedophilia. This is one of the few nons.e.xual, nonromantic entries: the one about two professors pondering exchanging their spouses, concluding with a reference to me: the ogre in the Flower State near the cartoon-comic city. This is the story none did not tell; Geode dreamed she was telling it, so it was a product of his own imagination, and came out completely different from any she would have told. The point is that later, when the monster starts telling him stories, he knows it really is none, because he can not invent anything similar himself. I know this one is not the kind I would devise, because I did not; to me it is mostly incomprehensible, as a wild dream might be.
But this is another bit of evidence of the problem in our society: as far as I know, Santiago Hernandez did not hurt anyone. He just happens to be s.e.xually attracted to small boys. We a.s.sume that the only normal state is adult heteros.e.xuality, and certainly this is my own preference, but I am in doubt whether other types of interest are not also natural to our species. h.o.m.os.e.xual men, for example, are not likely to produce many offspring, yet around the world the percentage of h.o.m.os.e.xuals remains fairly constant at about ten percent. I suspect there is a similarly constant percentage of bis.e.xuals, and of other supposedly deviant preferences. There seems to be a broad spectrum of human desire, and what we call normal is only the central component. May's s.a.d.i.s.tic husband was s.e.xually normal by the standard definition. It may be that the problem is not with what is deviant, but with our definitions. I suggest in the novel that little Nymph was abused not by the man with whom she had s.e.x, but by members of her family who warped her taste, and by the society that preferred to condemn her lover rather than address the source of the problem in her family.
Those who feel that none's stories represent abnormal taste should read My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday, which details some of the s.e.xual fantasies of women. Neither is Nymph an invention; similar cases are all too frequent. These aspects were from my research rather than my imagination. I don't know what is right and what is wrong; I merely hope to raise some social questions along with the entertainment provided in the novel. I suspect our priorities are confused. We have problems enough with world hunger and injustice, without making more by punishing people for deviant but perhaps harmless behavior.