Final Scoop

Ice Cream Parlor

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day

 

The smell of sugar was nauseating, the air conditioning was turned too low, and no matter how many times Dave had cleaned them, the inside tables were still sticky, and the outside tables were still clammy with the thick Florida humidity that hovered over everything on summer evenings. If he were lucky, it would rain, and break the monotony.

Dave was never that lucky.

He glanced at the Elvis clock on the wall above the menu board. Both hands were pointing downward from the King’s crotch.  Six-thirty. Ninety minutes to go.

The song changed from a Jan & Dean surf tune to an older piece. Judy Garland crooning about forgetting your troubles. Funny, he thought, how even when she was urging people to get happy, she still sounded sad.

The stand-up poster of James Dean, standing guard over the freezer case full of ice cream cakes and six-packs of Dixie cups – the old-fashioned kind with the wooden paddles that tasted like tongue depressors when you sucked the ice cream off them – seemed to reflect Dave’s mood. The movie star looked even flatter than a cardboard cutout had any right to.

The penultimate hour of his shift was typical of the beachfront ice cream parlor. A group of teenagers came in giggling and asking to taste five different flavors apiece before choosing their single-scoop cones. A tired-looking mother entered with two children in tow, got them each a single-scoop sundae and took them out to the brightly lit patio to eat them. “…so you won’t mess up the floor if you spill…” She got an espresso, affogato style, for herself.

Dave didn’t have the heart to tell her that he had to clean the patio floor, too, before he could go home.

It was eight-forty-five when She appeared: a large woman on an electric scooter. The door rattled open, and the bell attached to it seemed to shiver rather than ring, and she bumped it several times as she lined up her mobility device with the entryway that was just barely ADA-compliant.

“Ma’am,” Dave offered. “If it’s easier for you, I can serve you from the window.” The walk-up window was a remnant from the days when the parlor had been more of a shack, and kids had been encouraged to remain outside.

“No need.” She maneuvered the scooter inside with a sort of metaphysical pop. “Might need your help getting out though.”

“Sure, happy to…” He wasn’t, really, but what was he supposed to say. “Do you know what you want?”

“You,” she said, and while she was smiling, Dave wasn’t entirely certain that she was kidding.

“Aw, thanks, but my girlfriend might have a problem with that.” He didn’t have a girlfriend, but weird customers hit on him a lot, and it was his stock response.

“Mmm. Then I need a minute.”

“Sure. Take your time.” Dave busied himself with the beginning of closing prep while he watched the woman on the scooter. She wasn’t overweight, exactly. She was just… big. Thick ankles, thick wrists, a more-than-ample bosom that her sports bra and tank top barely contained… even her hair, which desperately needed a brush run through it, was big.

“Mint chocolate chip. The green kind. In a cup, with hot fudge.”

“Do you want whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry – the whole sundae experience?”

“No,” she said. “Just the hot fudge.” Her eyes, when they met his, were nearly black. “A lot of hot fudge.”

“You can pay over there.” He gestured to the cash register counter, where the spoons were hidden. It was the way they guaranteed no one would walk out without paying. Spoons weren’t provided until after cash had exchanged hands.

ice-cream-2194062_1920She rolled up to the other counter and met his eyes again, passing him a ten-dollar bill and asking, “You enjoy working here?”

“Truth?” he asked.

“Always tell the truth, so you’re ready for the judgement day,” she said, her tone ominous.

“There are worse jobs,” Dave answered honestly. “But sometimes I swear the smell of ice cream will never wash out of my hair or clothes. Like, it feels like that sickly-sweet sugary sent will linger on my skin forever.”

“Not forever, Dave…” she reached for the ice cream cup, and he flinched when their fingers touched.

He forced a smile. “I sure hope not.”

She rolled over to one of the tables by the window and he finished the closing process while she ate, then held the door when she indicated she was ready to leave.

“It’s coming soon, Dave,” she said. “Get ready for the judgement day. The ice cream was good. Be careful when you leave; rain’s coming and the roads will be slippery.”

He didn’t ask how she knew his name. Probably, he’d actually remembered to wear his nametag. Or maybe she’d been in before, but you’d think he’d remember. “Uh, thanks for the advice.”

Dave couldn’t lock the door fast enough.

The rain came as he was leaving, one of those torrential summer storms that pops up for an hour and leaves no trace. He watched the lightning for a while from inside the door, then locked it behind him and headed home.

He never saw the truck that swerved on the rain-slick pavement and hit him. The next thing Dave knew was the soft squishiness of the large scooter-woman’s breasts against his back. “Am I dead?” he asked. “Is this heaven?”

“You already lived through hell, Dave.” Her voice vibrated through him. “You’re not in heaven yet, though. It’s down the road a way.”

He accepted that. It was easier to just agree.

She changed a setting on her scooter, and they glided down the road to a place where he’d never have to scoop ice cream again.

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day!

 

“Get Happy” was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler.

Written for Brief #2 of Like the Prose 2021: Heaven and/or Hell.

 

 

Wait and Hope (A Basil and Zoe Story)

“How much longer?” I asked, feeling like all the time in the universe had passed at the same time that none of it had.

My partner’s response was patient. “Three minutes, twenty-six seconds.”

I sighed. “That long?”

But Basil, always imperturbable, didn’t react to my mood. Instead, he went to the other end of our quarters and replicated a single cup of chamomile tea with honey. “Sit,” he said, gesturing to the couch. “Drink,” he continued, once I’d followed his first instruction. “By the time you finish this tea, the required time for the test will have elapsed and we will know if our most recent insemination attempt was successful.

I could have argued with him, but when organics attempted to argue with synthetic life forms, it was never pretty. Especially when said synthetic life form had known you since you were seventeen.

“Do you think it worked?” I asked, after making a show of sipping from the cup.

“I prefer not to speculate. But I sincerely hope our change of venue was helpful. Certainly you were more relaxed during the process this last time.”

“Babies shouldn’t be created in antiseptic surroundings,” I said. “I’m glad that you agreed to try again after we lost…” I trailed off. The infant son we’d lost eight months before had barely lived long enough to breathe. It might have been caused by the extreme levels of radiation in the region of space we’d been in during his conception and the early months of my pregnancy, but Dr. Ogillvie had told us that sometimes “things just happen,” even in the twenty-fourth century, and even when you live on a spaceship. “I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologize,” Basil requested. “Zoe, I could remind you that my studies of human emotional states have shown that feeling grief months, or even years, after such a loss is normal. I could also remind you that you did nothing wrong while you were pregnant. Instead, let me remind you that I also feel that loss, and I believe we will eventually have a child.”

“How much longer?” I asked again.

“One minute, seventeen seconds.”

I nodded, sipped more tea, and thought about how our most recent insemination attempt had been private and low-key. Dr. Ogilvie had expressed her concern over not doing the procedure in med-bay, but Basil and I had prevailed. We’d taken the vial of donor sperm back to our cabin, piled pillows on the bed, and made it a romantic event. We would never be able to make a baby the way two organic beings of compatible species could, but we could  – and did – at least remove the clinical element.

After I’d waited the proscribed amount of time after the technical part of the act, we’d made love, talking softly as we moved against each other, and making it as natural a process as possible.

Basil joined me on the couch, and I leaned up to kiss him. “Zoe?”

“I love you,” I told him. “I’m not sure I say it often enough.”

“I will never tire of hearing it, Dearest. I love you, also.”

I set the tea down – chamomile was my least favorite herbal brew – and kissed him again, turning our waiting period into a make-out session. We were just getting to the point when relocating to the bed would typically occur when Basil held me away from him.

“Basil… ?”

“It is time, Zoe.”

“Oh.”

We went to the bathroom to read the result on our test-kit, and once I saw it, I buried my face in Basil’s solid chest, letting the thrum of his internal systems move through me as I cried happy tears onto his uniform jacket.

“Zoe…? Dearest…? Are you alright?”

“No,” I said. “I’m happy and scared and nervous and excited… but I have a feeling it’ll stick this time.”

Basil held me close, stroking my hair. “We can only hope,” he said softly. “We can only wait and hope.”

 

Written for Brief #1 of Like the Prose 2021: Waiting.

Sleeping Positions (A Basil and Zoe vignette)

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background“You don’t sleep.”

“Zoe?”

We’d just been intimate – sexually intimate – for the first time, and while there’d been some pleasant pillow-talk before and some flirtatious talk during, after had me feeling a bit off-kilter.

“You don’t sleep,” I repeated. “I mean, I know people don’t always spend the night after sex, but skulking back to my mother’s quarters isn’t my idea of fun, ever, and especially after…”

“Have I done something to cause you discomfort?” Concern filled Basil’s voice, and when I turned onto my side to look at him, I saw that it was evident on his silvery features as well.

“No, not at all. It’s just… you don’t sleep, and I’ve never… I mean all my other experience was in summer camp dorms or at home, hoping a parent wouldn’t show up at an inopportune time. I don’t know the protocol for…this… especially with you. You don’t sleep.”

Basil reached out and brushed some of my hair out of my face. “It is true that I do not require sleep,” he said in a gentle tone. “But I am capable of sleep. However, I do not believe that is your real concern. You have ‘crashed’ here many times while I was working or writing.”

“Yeah, but none of those times ended up with us naked in your bed.” I pointed out. “It’s different.”

“It is,” he agreed. “And it is not.”

“Now you sound like me.”

“Zoe, dearest,  if I ‘sound like you’ it is only because we are spending significant time together and your patterns are becoming integrated into my own. However, we are digressing from the issue at hand. If you are truly uncomfortable remaining here, I will not be offended if you return to your mother’s quarters. It will not be ‘skulking,’ however, as we have nothing to hide.”

“O… kay?”

Basil continued. “I would much prefer that you remain here, though.” His silver features softened into a vulnerable expression. “I have never had a sexual encounter last through the night. I’ve also  never had a lover wake up in my bed. I find I want both.”

“With me?”

“Yes, with you.”

I relaxed back into the bed. “So… your programing prevents you from hogging the covers, right?”

“I am afraid we will have to discover that together.”

I couldn’t think of an adequate response, so I just curled against him. “I can live with that,” I said. “But if you decide to experiment with snoring, it’s grounds for a break-up.”

Basil didn’t answer me. Instead, he just ordered the computer to dim the lights for sleeping.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth Photo by Kathy GreyShe walks, following the pattern of the stones. Her feet sink into the soft earth and when she’s on the outer rims of the shape the evergreens reach out to snatch bits of her hair, letting go with only a little reluctance.

The only sounds she hears are the birds above, and her own breath. The ground is clear enough, soft enough, that her bare feet make no sound.

She traces the switchback paths with her whole body, one quadrant at a time until the circle is complete. The sun is partially occluded by lingering morning fog, but she likes it that way. It makes this place feel more mystical.

A smile curves the corners of her mouth upward; she is amused by her own whimsy.

Half-way through the ritual, standing in the center of the circle, she pauses to reflect. Unlike the story, there is no spool of thread to guide her out if she loses her way. Instead, the only tether she has is the one that binds her to friends and family. A mixture of love and obligation, of belonging and duty… life isn’t ever purely one thing or another, after all.

There isn’t a great beast waiting in the dark to prey upon her. Sadly, David Bowie doesn’t lurk here waiting to escort her to a different world, either.

But there are still monsters.

There are always monsters.

These monsters, though, aren’t tangible. Rather, they go by names like Fear and Doubt, and they travel with impish sidekicks like Impatience and Annoyance.

She moves on, into the last quarter of her journey, and considers: no king created this collection of stones. She’s pretty sure most of the maintenance on it is done by women. And she likes that notion.

Women’s hands, women’s work creating a sacred space for all to walk, and think, and just be. She wonders if they sang while they worked, sending their energy into the rocks, trees, and soil. She hopes they did. She imagines they did. She thinks she might hear the echoes of their voices blended into the whispers of the trees.

The end of the path is met with a sigh. She has completed the circle, and emerged back into the light, and maybe no big decisions were made, or problems solved during her walk, but maybe that isn’t the point.

Maybe it’s enough that she walked the trail with her monsters and left them behind to make their own way out, shrinking in the sun – as such creatures are wont to do.

She wonders how long it will take them, then smiles at the thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SwimTime

I’m participating in the Summer Love Notes project this summer. (If you’d like to contribute, feel free to drop me a line.) Here’s an excerpt from my piece “SwimTime,” which ran on June 8th.

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She drapes her pink and white striped beach towel across the arms of one of the patio chairs and leaves her flip-flops underneath it. Her sunglasses, she leaves on as she descends the steps into the pool. They’re a little too tall for her, so her movements aren’t graceful, like a reverse Aphrodite slipping back into the water, but more half-way between a step and a hop.

Read the rest of this piece here: SwimTime at SummerLoveNotes

Deception Betwixt R and T

markos-mant-Al3Q7FJFSdE-unsplash

a lipogram

 

It had begun, like much did, at a bar. There hadn’t been a band that night. Rather, the entertainer had been a magician, of a kind.

The title he’d claimed had been “Mental Deceiver,” but I remain certain that he were better called a charlatan or conniver.

The food and liquor had flowed like – well, like food and liquor tend to flow in a place where the barkeep let you run a tab and the final check never actually arrived. Gourmet, all of it, or high-end where gourmet didn’t apply.

The blue drink offered by the Deceiver, we imbibed by the tumbler, one after another after another.

And then the he began to… nudge.

Not out loud, but with a piercing look, a tiny hand movement, a voice in your head.

To me, the order came mentally: For a fiveday, no longer will be, that letter betwixt the ‘r’ and ‘t’.

I laughed… anyone would. The Deceiver couldn’t really eliminate a letter. Could he?

But come morning, I found to my horror that he could.

Annoyance!

Anger!

The feeling of being completely tongue-tied and fighting it.

For a week, I could neither greet my lover by name nor utter my own.

I could not even affix it to a legal document.

The initial two of the fiveday were extremely difficult.

After that, I learned to be mindful of my thinking, I learned to hear the tweeting and chirping of the flying and the feathered. I appreciated the din of a downpour and let ever-whirring electrical hum be my lullaby at night.

At midnight on the final day, I heard the Deceiver announce in my head “Challenge Completed.”

I let my mouth curl up in glee and gave in to my dreaming  knowing that in the morning, all would be like before.

Mainly.

Photo by Markos Mant on Unsplash

Cognitive Dissonance

File Jun 11, 10 27 00 PM

A Basil and Zoe story

“Basil… ” I hesitated because I know this is going to be a sensitive subject. “Why do you always hide your laser gun the second you come home?”

My partner regarded me with his sapphire eyes, and answered in his usual well-modulated tone. “I am not hiding it, Zoe. I am simply stowing it in a safe place until I require it for another away mission.”

“You’re not Security.”

“No, I am not. You are well aware my specialties are science and research, as well as navigation and – ”

“Basil!”

“You have more to say.” It was not a question. We’d been dating for two years… not that you can really date on a spaceship, especially when half the couple is away at a music conservatory a good chunk of the time.

“It’s not just for show, though, right? You’ve used it.”

“Yes, I have”

“And, when you’ve been on the bridge, there’ve been times when you’ve had to fire torpedoes or lasers or order someone else to do so?”

“That is also true.”

“But you’re not a killer.”

“I… do not believe so. My core programming includes a strong prohibition against committing violent acts of any kind, and the beliefs I have acquired since my activation support that belief.  Is there something specific troubling you, beloved?”

I sat on the couch, not in the corner as I often did when we were sharing tea, or watching an entertainment program, but in the center, cross-legged. Basil remained standing, directly across the coffee table from me. “The mission you just returned from… resettling the Seluvians… it made the news-nets. You… they showed you shooting at someone.”

“I did ‘shoot at someone,'” Basil confirmed. “But it was only after they shot at our team. It was self-defense, and we were careful to minimize the…” he paused before using the technical term. “… collateral damage.”

“I’ve never seen you fire a weapon before.”

“And it bothers you that I have?”

“No. Yes.  I don’t know. I think of you as a poet and a scientist, and then watching video clips of you being all ruthless and soldiery…”

“Soldiery?”

“You know. Military… scary.”

“You are having trouble incorporating the person you know me to be with the officer you saw on the news?”

“Yeah. Pretty much. I mean… I didn’t like seeing you firing the laser.”

“And I disliked that I had to. It was a last resort, Zoe. It is not a first choice, ever.”

“I guess it’s… there are people who think I’m with you because you’re somehow safe. Not a threat. And it that moment I realized how scary, how dangerous you could be. And it bothered me, and then it bothered me that it bothered me, because I know you’re not a killer. It was part of your job and…”

“The experience you are having is called cognitive dissonance,” Basil interrupted. “It is a typical response to  seemingly opposing information, ideas, or observations.”

“So, how do I get past it?” I asked.

“Perhaps begin by asking yourself if you are afraid of me.”

He had a point.

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m truly not. I know you’d never hurt me, and it’s not just because of your programming. It’s because you’re just not that kind of person.”

“Perhaps it would also be beneficial for you to allow me to explain our missions to you, before we leave.”

“Can you?” I asked. “I mean… wasn’t it classified?”

“Officers are allowed to share sensitive information with their spouses, Zoe.”

“But we’re not married.”

“No, but we are in a committed relationship, are we not?”

“Well, yes.”

“And we share a home,” Basil added.

“We do when I’m not at the conservatory, yes.”

“Then if it will help you to be less ‘bothered’ by the more unsavory aspects of my ‘job,’ I see no reason to withhold information from you.”

I nodded. “Okay.” Then I moved from my cross-legged position. “Could we start now? Would you explain the background of the Seluvian conflict?”

“I will be happy to do so. Would you care for some tea while we talk?”

“I’d love some,” I said, and then I added. “Thank you for putting up with me.”

But Basil didn’t accept that. “There is no thanks needed, Zoe. You are my partner, and you are troubled. It is my duty to assist you in easing that state, if I can. Just as you have done for me.”

I laughed. “Okay, fine. But…”

Basil favored me with the slight smile that was just between us. “You are welcome, Zoe. Always.”

Swing on a Star

0921 - StarMaidThere are many kinds of mermaids. Sirens. Whatever you want to call them.

The mermaids you know, the kind on earth, the kind that spend their lives in the ocean –  they have fins and tails and can breathe saltwater as well as they can breathe air. Their inspiration is bilingual, in a sense.

These sirens, their bodies hybrids of human and fish (well, really porpoise – they’re mammals, after all – how else could they interbreed?) are thought to call ships toward rocky endings in order to find new blood  – new partners – with which to mate.

It’s not true, of course. Just a tall tale told by sailors who saw lonely comrades jump overboard because they fell in love with a voluptuous figure, a beautiful face, a lustrous head of hair.

But my kind… my kind swims through a different sea. Instead of starfish, we have actual stars to play with… like that old earth song. “Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar?”

And we do. Swing from one astral body to another. Play hide and seek inside nebulae. Have incredible games of follow-the-leader through asteroid fields. Surf on solar flares. Like humans, and saltwater mermaids, we are made of stardust, but we are a bit more of the star than the dust.

Also like our cousins on that big,  blue and green marble, we love to dance.

Our cousins – sisters, really – dance on sand or stone, under constructed roofs, or under the moon. They dance with partners, sometimes just for fun, sometimes as a precursor to another, more private sort of dance.

But while we do merge with others of our kind from time to time, our dancing is pure art. Or pure physics. You decide.

I have pirouetted around Pluto and jitterbugged in and out of the rings of Jupiter. I’ve mamboed from earth’s moon to the mountains of Mars and bopped my way to Betelgeuse. Or at least, that’s the closest description I can come up with in human language.

Because when we astral mermaids – starmaids – dance, we make dark matter wish it were light. We grab onto the tails of passing comets and let the whiplash whirl us across the cosmos. We spiral around the Milky Way to the beat of the Universe’s heart.

And then we rest.

We are not the sirens you thought you knew. We don’t call astronauts to mate with us… though we do peek into passing ships, and flash space station viewports, and when we aren’t dancing, we do sing.

Our call isn’t easy to discern, but if you listen to the sounds your scientists refer to as “space noise,”  – listen with all your imagination – you might – just might – be able to hear our song.

Image copyright: Hugh Pindur

 

 

But, the Wolf?

But, the Wolf

But, the Wolf

 

They found her, naked, curled into a protective ball – not quite the fetal position – nestled in between the great roots of a giant tree.

“We’re so glad we found you,” they said. They didn’t ask how she’d  come to be there; they simply accepted her return.  “Here, put this on.”

It was her cape, of course, the red one she hadn’t worn since childhood. (And she was quite obviously no longer a child.)  She wanted to shred the thing, but conceding to the cold and their false modesty (for they were looking at her nude form, all of them) she wrapped it around her,  at least enough that her soft, pink parts were hidden from the public eye.

“Were you miserable?” they demanded. “Alone with that creature?”

“No,” she said. “He was quite lovely, really.”

“But he swallowed you. The woodsman saw it.”

“No, he saw what he wanted to see. The wolf protected me from Grandmother’s dark beliefs and black magic.”

“But he had such big teeth, such demonic eyes – surely you were afraid?”

“No,” she said. “He made sure I was warm and dry and well fed. He made sure no danger approached me. My sleep was untroubled.”

She didn’t tell them that the wolf’s fur was softer than any of the mink coats the old women lusted after, winter after winter, but never dared to make or buy. She didn’t tell them that his thick tail would loop around her wrist when she was frightened, or that he would curl himself around her when the nights were freezing, or below.

She certainly didn’t tell him, that he wasn’t really a wolf at all, but a werewolf, in full control of both form and faculties.

And she absolutely didn’t tell them that it was possible she was carrying his child. Or children. Or pups. (Would they be pups? Would it matter if they were?)

She wanted to run back to his  – well, lair wasn’t really the right word. Cave? Home? Den. Yes… den. Den connoted a safe and cozy feeling, and she had been both, and more.

“But the wolf,” she asked, her voice trembling because of her worry for him, “is he unharmed?”

“We couldn’t find him,” one of the hunters said. “It’s like he never existed.”

They took her to her mother’s home, where she found the woman much diminished. Her father had long since disappeared into the forest. Maybe he’d found a she-wolf companion – they said these things ran in families – but more likely, he’d found a bottle, and a river, and a rock, and would never been seen again.

Pity.

She’d have liked to have words with him. About not telling her that his mother was a dark witch who wanted to lock her up til she was thirty. About not telling her that the forest creatures weren’t always dangerous. About not telling her to think first and slash out with her knife second.

She’d cut him. Not her father, but the wolf. She’d drawn his blood while he never drew hers. Well, not with a knife. But she’d been a virgin the first time he’d lain with her, and that kind of bloodstain was better earned.

A week passed, then a fortnight, then a month. On the day after the full moon, he came to her door in human form.

“I love your daughter,” he told her poor, insane mother. “I wish to marry her. She’s carrying my child.”

Her mother approved; the date was set. After the old woman was well asleep, he went to her bedroom.

“I love you,” he gave her the words he’d shared with her parent. “I’ve missed you.”

“But, the wolf?” she asked, her hand curving protectively around her belly.

His eyes flashed amber for a moment, then soft brown replaced them. “Oh, the wolf… he loves you too.”

Image Copyright : Natalia Lukiyanova via 123rf.com

Zenia’s Bedraglon

0930 - Bedraglon

 

“Mama! Come look! There’s a bedraglon on the beach! We have to help it!”

 

“A what?” My child confused me sometimes.

 

“A bedraglon,” she repeated. “You know, when a thing is all mussed and tired and fade-y it’s bedraggled, right?”

 

I couldn’t fault her vocabulary. Since moving to Vios, she’d had little to do but read. She read in the house when I was preparing our meals, or in the back of flitter when I made house calls. And as the only xeno-veterinarian in the colony, I made a lot of house calls.

 

But the girl was still talking.

 

“Well, the animal on the beach is a dragon. And it’s bedraggled, so it’s a bedraglon, and we have to help it.” She looked up at me with her liquid blue-grey eyes, the color precisely the same as that of the stormy skies above us. “You can help it, can’t you, Mama?”

 

Ah, the faith of fools and children! You must never intentionally break either. “Let me get my bag,” I told her. “And I’ll see what I can do.”

 

The little girl half-led, half-pulled me down the beach from our back door, to where the poor creature had collapsed in the surf, and I had to admit, her name for it was sadly accurate.

 

I’d only ever glimpsed these native flyers in the air, and once I saw the evidence one of them left behind on one of Mr. Copnick’s sheep, but I’d never been up-close-and-personal with one, and even as a sodden heap, it was a bit intimidating.

 

“Easy there,” I said to it, speaking as I would to a spooked horse. “I’m here to help.”

 

It seemed to understand that I meant no harm because its dark eyes brightened slightly.

 

I walked around the creature making a visual assessment, and that’s when I realized what had happened: the poor beast had been snared by a fisherfolk’s drift net. Long since banned for ocean use, these nets were used on Vios and other colony worlds to catch aerial prey. Specifically, the fisherfolk here cast them out from trawling shuttles to snare the flying turkeys that had become one of our staple foods. Apparently, even when used in the skies instead of the seas, they still caught other creatures unintentionally.

 

“Zenia, darling, will you do Mama a huge favor and bring the big shears from my bag?”

 

“Okay!” She trotted over with them, carried point-down as I’d told her so many times. “Can I help?”

 

I hesitated. I needed someone to keep the dra – bedraglon – calm, but I wasn’t certain it was safe. I did my own sort of casting out, probing the creature with my vet-sense. There was no return crackle of danger, so I took a chance.

 

“Go sit near its head, sweetie. If it lets you touch it – like this -“ and I demonstrated, giving the animal’s side a firm but gentle stroke with my flattened hand “- then pet it, and talk to it. Talk soft and slow, like you do with Spot.”

 

Spot was our dog. Or cat. I hadn’t yet determined if the local domestic was analogous to canine or feline house pets, but we referred to them as Viosian Cloud Leopard Dogs, and almost every family had adopted one.

 

“Okay, Mama.”

 

I gave the bedraglon – I was thinking of it that way, by then – a few minutes to settle, and was relieved to see that Zenia had dropped into a cross-legged position and coaxed the great beast’s head into her lap. Then I went to work with my shears.

 

Freeing the first wing was easy enough, but the second was folded backwards and the ribs were straining. I had to find the tension point before I could start snipping and balancing it with one hand while I clipped the strands of the net with the other was a little awkward. But I managed, and even though it felt like hours, it was only a few minutes before the animal was completely free.

 

I sensed the bedraglon’s motion before I saw it move. “Sweetie, move back,” I warned, but my daughter was already up on her feet.

 

The animal rocked back and forth a few times, then got to its feet. It snaked its thick neck around to look at me, then blew warm air into my face. I could have lived without the strong scent of masticated fish, but I understood it as a gesture of thanks.

 

“You’re welcome,” I told it.

 

I walked toward the front of its body, running my hands along its side as I did so. Nothing felt wrong, but what did I know? What surprised me was that it wasn’t scaled like a lizard or leathery like bats. Rather it had the coarse hair of a Terran hunting dog. A pointer, maybe.

 

By the time I got to where my daughter was standing, the bedraglon had turned back to look at her. She also received the animal’s breath of gratitude, and her expression of disgust only matched her delighted giggles for pure adorableness.

 

We watched as the creature launched itself into the air, and if its first few wing strokes were a bit wobbly, who could blame it.

 

I expected that would be the end of our first encounter with Bedraglon Zenian, as it was officially named, but about a week later as we were sitting on the sand right below our house, a shadow obscured the twin suns for a moment and then our friend was standing before us.

 

Zenia was racing toward it before I could even get up, but I needn’t have worried. The bedraglon had lowered its head so my daughter could hug its neck, just like she had with our ponies back on Earth.

 

My husband came out to join us then, bringing me a glass of iced mint tea. “What’s going on there?” he asked. “Should I worry?”

 

“Nope,” I told him. “That’s just a girl and her bedraglon. It’s all good.”

 

And it was.

Art by: Rasmus Berggreen – http://conceptartworld.com/artists/rasmus-berggreen/