Read this if you haven't met these characters before: Alix is functionally amphibious with a few related physical quirks, but lived most of his life with humans and has human parents, and looks basically human unless you know what to look for. Weaver is a little blue critter from another dimension who looks like a cross between a bat and a teddy bear, and Dax is a large, sorta lion-like-but-bipedal (maybe with a little goat thrown in) land creature from the same dimension.
Weaver and Dax are "training" Alix to live in the wild and have been doing so for a while when this scene opens. Weaver and Dax have no memories from before they arrived in the human world. Negative One readers will understand why. Ahh, and about Alix and his mermaids? He sometimes hallucinates while he's under the water. On more than one occasion he's thought a mermaid was calling him.]
Alix soon discovered that their stretch of land had many quirks. A couple of the local ponds were freshwater, something that surprised him so close to the ocean. There was one very odd one, Alix’s favorite, that looked like it contained liquid mercury instead of water. He’d never seen silvery water before in all his life, but he chalked it up to there being plenty of things he’d never heard of in his sheltered experience. There were some strange plants around the area that he’d never seen or eaten before, but Dax and Weaver knew well enough what they were and if they were edible. But the one thing that struck him as the strangest was that he could swear he heard a woman singing in the forest.
At first he never said anything when he heard it. He was quite well aware of the fact that anyone who thinks he sees mermaids might be prone to auditory hallucinations as well. But he decided to say something when he was with Weaver one day and the tune picked up again, far to the east of the forest.
“’Course I hear it,” Weaver replied, sounding cross. And then, unbelievably, he didn’t comment further.
“Well, what is it?” Alix prompted.
“It’s a girl singing.”
Alix rolled his eyes. “I knew that much.” Weaver continued to pick nuts above him as he watched. “You don’t think it’s weird that there’s some girl in our forest and we’ve never seen her?”
“Well, it’s hard to see someone who’s invisible.”
“She’s invisible, the lady’s invisible.”
“You don’t think . . . it could be a trick of the wind or something?”
Weaver stuck his face out of the foliage. “Don’t get me wrong, wind can sing. But that ain’t what it sounds like.”
Alix ignored the cryptic comment and began to wander, vaguely toward the voice. It seemed to be moving, but he heard no steps. It was definitely a woman singing, though, or rather it sounded like humming.
He began trying to use his new tracking skills to find her, but with absolutely nothing to go on but a wispy voice, he found it hard to pick a direction. He kept her in earshot, though, and soon enough he seemed to be right on top of her, able to hear actual physical breaths between the humming. A person was humming right under his nose and he couldn’t see her!
He scanned the clearing with his eyes, and he realized there was a bit of a warped spot in his vision—some kind of wiggle in space. What the hell was that? He argued with himself about this for a few moments, listening to the humming. Did he really see anything? Or was he just wanting to, like with the mermaids he never caught? No, Weaver could hear her too. While he was still trying to figure out what to do, he realized that the humming was moving again, and before he knew what was happening a wind like the flutter of birds’ wings brushed against his body, and the humming was above him.
Alix half-walked, half-ran back to the nut-picking site where he’d last seen Weaver. He found him in a different tree, plucking away. Alix bounded up to the base of the tree, heart racing.
“Weaver!” he shouted. “That thing that’s been humming—I think I saw it!”
“How can you see something invisible?” Weaver scoffed.
“She wasn’t quite invisible, I just couldn’t see. I could see there was something there. And then . . . well, I think it flew away. I swear, I think it can fly on top of all this.”
“Of course it can,” Weaver replied, again sounding unsurprised.
“Well, you don’t think this is a little insane, maybe? It’s invisible, it flies, and it can sing like a human woman?”
“I can sing pretty good too, ya know,” Weaver said agreeably, and began treating Alix to an absolutely raunchy display of screechy sounds. Alix clamped his hands over his ears.
“Would you put a cork in it!” Alix demanded, and Weaver giggled and silenced himself.
“Tips are always appreciated,” Weaver said in a haughty voice. Alix tossed a pebble at him, but the tree got in the way.
“Seriously, Weaver, I just saw something really weird and you don’t even seem to care about it. You keep acting like you already know everything I tell you.”
“Well, I’ve lived here for a while.”
“You want to tell me everything you know about this mysterious phantom hummer?”
“Don’t know much myself.”
“Well, when I said it could fly, you said ‘of course’ like you already knew. How’d you find that out?”
Weaver inched out on a branch, lying on his belly.
“I met her in a tree once,” Weaver admitted. “Dax didn’t believe me.”
“Did you talk to her?”
“Uh, no. I was in a tree, and she flew into it.”
“You saw her fly into it?”
“No, like I said, she was invisible, you dumbass!”
“How do you know she flew, then?”
Weaver shrugged. “She got in the tree awful easy.”
“There’s more than one easy way to get up a tree, ya know.”
“Yeah, but your way sucks!”
“We’ll see about that!” Alix scrambled up the tree in record time (for him), sending Weaver scurrying to the other side. He screeched, laughing.
“You couldn’t catch me if your life depended on it!” Weaver went further up the tree, onto branches that wouldn’t hold Alix. He just stood on the thinnest one he trusted and tried to reach Weaver’s foot with his long arms. He gave up in a hurry when Weaver began fumbling with his sword belt, threatening that he was suddenly hearing an insistent call from nature. Weaver was not above spitting on people; Alix didn’t trust him not to extend the concept to taking a vengeful whiz from above. He took one of the sacks of nuts and left Weaver to himself.
Alix came back to the main camp and told his tale to Dax. He seemed surprised to hear it, replying that Weaver had also had some kind of encounter with an invisible singer. He hadn’t believed him, he admitted, but since Alix and Weaver were pretty unlikely to conspire on a practical joke against him, Dax tended to believe Alix’s story. Strange things were afoot in the forest, that was for sure; he and Weaver were proof of that.
“I’ve heard the singing,” Dax said. “I just didn’t pay much attention to it. Sometimes, I’d just tell myself it was, maybe, the voice of the Earth, something like that.”
“Voice of the earth?”
“Yes. That maybe . . . She was pleased with something I’d done, and rewarded me with a song.”
“Do you believe the Earth is alive?” asked Alix with interest.
“I believe She’s our Mother, and She talks to us in many ways.”
Alix asked some more questions, and Dax answered, hesitantly because he’d never intended to tell Alix much about their beliefs. But he seemed genuinely interested, and was never patronizing when he heard the answers. Faith was a hard thing to explain, so Dax was pleased when Alix seemed to understand.
“Is that why . . . you kind of make a little offering after you’ve hunted successfully?” Alix asked. It had struck him as odd, being that they had so little surplus.
“That’s why. It shows I really mean it when I say ‘thank you’ to Her.”
Weaver had very good hearing. He’d been gliding above wanting to find one of the big guys to carry the sacks away before some other animal did, but he’d run into this conversation instead. Flying soundlessly by using his wings like a hang glider, he remained unnoticed by his friends below. He could scarcely believe what he was hearing. Dax was telling Alix about their way. When he’d promised Weaver he wouldn’t.
Feeling cheated and bitter, Weaver made a beeline for somewhere else. He noticed that he was headed vaguely toward the useless berry farm, but he figured that was as good a direction as any. He wasn’t going to another place—he was just going away.
When he got tired of his bat-out-of-hell pace, Weaver let fatigue land him in a tree. He angrily ate a pear, sucking the juice out and leaving the skin. He looked at the withered skin and had the thought that his soul probably looked the same. He’d been betrayed. By his best friend. To that stupid lotion-using hippie.
Weaver stewed until he started getting sleepy. It was the middle of the day, but he usually slept at this time. He and Dax had never figured out why his own body needed so much sleep, but his internal clock demanded naps twice as often as Dax’s did. It gave him twelve-hour “days” to Dax’s twenty-four.
Missing his favorite hanging perches, Weaver stubbornly tried to get comfortable hanging in the pear tree. Sleep overtook him once all the blood had rushed comfortably to his head.
As the sun made its way past the highest point in the sky, Dax began to wonder where his friend was. Weaver never scheduled treks that had him out around midday, and he hadn’t seen him fly back to his favorite sleeping spots. He had an immediate twinge that something was wrong, and broke off answering one of Alix’s questions to brood about it.
“What’s wrong?” Alix asked.
“When was the last time you saw Weaver?”
“Umm. When he was standing above me threatening to go number one on my head. Why?”
“Who noticed the time?”
Dax shook his head. That was something else to work on: Alix needed more practice telling time by the sun. Dax got up and brushed the sand out of his light brown fur.
“I think he’s in trouble, or something. I just have a really bad feeling.”
“I pity the raccoon who tries to eat Weaver,” Alix joked.
“I’m really serious.” Dax scanned the heavens and the treetops as best he could. He cursed under his breath because he knew his eyes were useless in a situation like this.
Dax and Alix combed the area. They hiked around to the drinking waters, and they went to one of Weaver’s favorite cliffs, a big pile of black rocks that gave off the thermal air currents he enjoyed riding to the stratosphere. He wasn’t in any of the usual places, and they found no evidence that he hadn’t just vanished.
“He’s always rubbing it in that we can’t travel like he does,” Alix reminded Dax, trying to reassure him. “He could have gone forty miles away and crossed the state line. What else can we do?”
“Beyond starting lunch I’m out of ideas.” Dax grinned despite his worry, referring to Weaver’s uncanny ability to show up precisely when and where food was being prepared.
“This just really worries me,” Dax continued. “Either he’s trapped somewhere, hurt really bad, or he doesn’t want to be found.” He began to wind his clawed fingers around and around in his curly white hair, something Alix had never seen him do before. Then again, Dax hadn’t ever been the nervous type. What could make you nervous if you were almost seven feet tall and built like a lion? Apparently, losing your little blue bat buddy was enough.
“Well, I don’t think the crap I said to him was bad enough to drive him into hiding,” Alix offered. “I just threw little teases at him like I always do, and he was the same old Weaver in response. Whatever it is it isn’t my fault.”
“No one said it was.” Dax’s voice started to acquire a tired growl. It made Alix’s stomach hurt. He fell silent and walked a few steps behind, which wasn’t unusual considering the length of Dax’s stride.
When they made it back to their main camp, they rested in silence, Dax leaning against the base of the cave and Alix swinging his legs from its top. He observed Dax’s slow, rhythmic breathing and thought at first he might be sleeping, but then he realized he must be meditating. Alix wondered if Dax was asking his “Mother” what to do about Weaver. Alix scraped some sand off of his toes and tried to think. Maybe the weird invisible thing in the forest had eaten him.
Alix got tired of worrying, realizing as he did that he’d never been very worried. Dax was overreacting and Weaver would turn up. He climbed down the shelter’s side and went for the ocean. It was still freezing, but the worst of winter was over, and he wanted to catch some fish to distract his mind. With a final glance at Dax, he went to the sea.
Around the time that the sun was in the wings, preparing for its sunset show, Weaver woke up. He felt rested, but disoriented, remembering quickly where he was and why. The bitterness had faded a bit, but he was still mad. Alix had proved himself a worthy survival partner and a possible future friend, but he was too new and too human to share his Mother. Dax was his brother by Her, and he didn’t want Alix to be his step-brother. He sighed, stretched his wings, and caught himself in a practiced swoop when his feet released the tree branch.
He couldn’t talk to either of them about this, that was for sure. He knew, with his deep understanding of the Mother, that he didn’t own Her or Her knowledge. If Alix wanted it and Dax had seen fit to give it, he shouldn’t be angry at Her will. Well, he could be angry, but he certainly couldn’t admit it without sounding selfish. Dax understood Mother just like he did, and would never betray Her. He had lots of faith in his friend’s judgment. He just wished he had been consulted.
So he wouldn’t mention it, and he wouldn’t let on that he knew. If Dax wanted to tell him, fine. If he never mentioned it, Weaver would act the same as always. If Dax admitted it, Weaver wouldn’t blow up, he’d play it cool. But the idea of Alix making offerings to the Lady, or praying to Her, or really viewing the Earth as Her sacred body . . . it made him feel creepy. He couldn’t picture Alix having reverence for the land itself. Maybe he could just go worship the ocean. That’d be more his league.
Though he was content with his plan, Weaver found no reason to hurry back. Let them worry, he decided. Or at least let Dax worry; Alix wouldn’t miss him. If they’d even noticed he was gone. Weaver flew for a while, rested, and flew again. Before long he was farther from the beach than he’d ever been since coming there the first time.
It was time to go to sleep, but Dax wouldn’t lie down. Alix tried to persuade him to at least rest a little since worrying did no good, but when Dax wouldn’t listen, Alix felt guilty for trying to sleep and resigned himself to staying up with his friend. Dax stared into the fire with his teeth clenched, only relaxing his jaw to answer the few questions Alix asked him: Did he think this was a prank? Had Weaver ever done this sort of thing before? How would Weaver call for help if he was hurt somewhere?
The night passed without incident, and Dax had a lot of time to just think after Alix fell asleep snoring against the rocks. A few times he offered a silent prayer, his head bowed so his forehead touched the sand, asking the Mother to protect Weaver and bring him home safe. He wished he knew how this would all turn out.
Weaver, for his part, was nowhere near ready to come home. As day dawned, his stomach rumbled, and he searched for food among the trees. He ended up digging up a few stubby roots since there wasn’t any fruit around. Then he saw something that both scared him and piqued his interest. A barn.
That meant people lived nearby. And that in turn meant danger, but also opportunity. There could be food for now, toys or reading material to steal for later. He swung around at an impressive altitude for a while to make sure no humans were roaming, and then he descended and landed on the roof. The heavy wooden bars holding the windows shut were difficult to maneuver, but Weaver summoned his little body’s full power and managed to get himself in.
Inside, he found three interesting things: One, a slightly damp newspaper, which he flipped through and discarded; two, a half-eaten package of gum, which he tried and then stuck in his belt for the flight home; and three, a pair of binoculars. They were sort of heavy, but Weaver was able to fly all right with the contraption hung around his neck. Wait until Dax got a load of these! Weaver wished he was bigger or stronger so he could carry more items. He had a strong desire to look for more abandoned goodies, so he made his way back over the landscape and began to scour the ground.
On his way over a heavily wooded area, something disturbing happened. A lone figure, dressed in an oversized black hooded robe, seemed to be waving to him. He figured that was impossible, since anyone on the ground who even noticed him would probably just think he was some obscenely ugly bird. He ignored the figure, but decided to loop back to see if the person would do it again. Well, he wasn’t disappointed. That was definitely a little wave there.
Why would anyone wave at him? Any human who could see him would probably assume he was some mutant animal, not a sentient creature who would understand a wave. Who knew, maybe that weirdo down there just liked waving at things in the sky, though. He picked up the speed and cut away from the woods. He put it out of his mind when he found another barn.
This one was a luckier find in that its window was already open, but the only food item inside was some long-bad cottage cheese, and the only reading material was a paper grocery bag. Weaver also found a plastic clip-on earring that had been stomped into the hay by a horse recently, but unless he was planning to give it to Alix, he saw no use for it and left it there.
Some ways away from that barn, he found a more residential area that made him nervous. A few human houses sat on farming land. After a very good scout, Weaver dubbed a treehouse safe and took a gander.
Score! Obviously teenaged boys—or really immature men—hung out here. Weaver found beer. He’d never actually tried the stuff, but he liked how it smelled once he’d twisted the cap free. He took a swig. The flavor was a little strange but he liked it. He kept sipping it as he explored inside milk crate storage shelves.
He could not possibly take all this reading material home with him. One of the crates was exactly half full of magazines. Half delighted and half desperate, Weaver dug them out and spread them on the low table, reading what he could. He was amazed at how many pictures of scantily-clad chicks he found. He tore out his favorite ones. Human females didn’t make him feel interested, but for some reason their definite femininity appealed to him. He didn’t know what it meant. He tried to imagine what their voices would sound like.
Score again! Weaver found a deck of playing cards and decided to steal those too. He left the cigarettes alone but took the lighter. He drank more of the beer and tucked its bottlecap into his sword’s sheath so he could prove to the others what he’d been up to. Hmm, there were some dollar bills under the ashtray. He took those. And he took a pair of fingernail clippers. He liked them.
After a final swig from the bottle, Weaver left the treehouse and went about his business. His next stop was a secluded gazebo where someone had recently been at work on a typewriter.
Weaver took a very quick look around, hurrying because of the threat of the human returning. The only thing he was interested in stealing was a cool technological gizmo he liked. It looked like a very small radio, but only had tape buttons, as if it were for recording. Dax and Alix would help him figure out what it was.
Weaver had trouble getting altitude once he was further weighed down by the recorder. The binoculars felt very heavy around his neck as he focused on keeping his wings open. This was not going to be easy.
He made it as far as the forest before he really had to take a rest. He took a moment to get rid of the extra weight in his bladder, feeling disoriented from all the exertion of flying with heavy loads. He wished he could just snap his fingers and be home, or at least teleport his stuff there.
Footsteps approached his hiding tree. What the hell? Maybe, after all his internal complaining about it, he should make some use of the stuff he’d stolen. He used the binoculars to get a better look at the owner of the steps.
Surprise almost knocked him off his perch. That weirdo in the black costume was there! How could he be here again? Is this even the same forest? Weaver wondered. Was he being followed? He employed his best hiding skills, but the hooded figure made it to his tree anyway, and though the figure didn’t look up, he knew he was being regarded.
“You probably ought to go give that back,” said a voice, sounding just a little doubtful. A woman’s voice. Just a bit low, but definitely female. That surprised Weaver, and for some reason made him think of the women in the magazines. He shifted uncomfortably, hoping to ignore her.
“I know you’re there,” came the voice again, a little hushed. The jig was definitely up. Weaver felt a little sick.
“Who are you?” he squeaked, giving up all pretenses.
“Never you mind that, for now. You really should give that recorder back to the man who owns it.”
“What do you care?”
The woman made a small movement that could have been a shrug. “I just think it’s important.” There was a pause, and when the voice came again it sounded lighter, more like a whisper. “That man’s a writer. He’s got some important bits recorded on that tape. He’d be devastated if he knew they were lost forever.”
“I suppose next you’ll want me to give the binoculars back too?” Weaver felt like he might fall out of the tree. He was arguing with some strange woman, and he couldn’t even see her face. Maybe there’d been something wacky in that beer. He might be hallucinating. No, he’d seen her before he’d drunk any, unless that was only his current perceptions of time being screwed up.
“That guy doesn’t care about his binoculars,” said the voice, sounding almost scornful. “He deludes himself that he’s a birdwatcher, but he’d rather watch TV. He won’t miss them.” She chuckled, this neat sound like bells. Girl laugh. “And those boys will miss their underwear models, but I can’t see appealing to higher morals over those.”
Weaver swallowed. “How do you know all that stuff?”
“Oh, how do I know,” she said, sounding wry. “You can never mind that too.”
“Who are you?” Weaver demanded again, feeling a growl working its way into his voice.
“Glad to have met you,” she offered, backing away (still without looking up). “I’m glad you came back this way even if this was all we got to know of each other.” She spun, a bit too quickly, and began to march through the leaves.
“But wait!” Weaver started to take off after her, but his heavy loads and his slight intoxication made flying unpleasant, and he couldn’t get his bearings before she was long out of reach. His last resort was to try the binoculars, through which he spotted the fleeing figure and distinctly saw a lock of very long red hair trailing out from beneath the hood. Wow, a real girl, long hair and everything. He wished he could keep a lock of that hair for his own to prove this experience, like the beer, was also real.
Alix thought Dax looked tired. If he were human, Alix joked to himself, his eyes would be bloodshot. Since Dax’s eyes were always a featureless opaque red anyway, Alix assumed they couldn’t exactly get bloodshot. Alix wondered how Dax could even see without visible pupils. Whatever he saw, though, he saw quite well. Alix could tell Dax was meeting his eyes when he walked out of the forest once more.
“Don’t you think if I’d found anything I’d tell you?” Alix grumped. There was no sign of him anywhere. This was beginning to be very worrisome. What if Weaver didn’t come back? What if they never found out what had become of him? That would drive Alix crazy, and he could only imagine what it would do to Dax.
Alix flopped down and mopped his forehead, which was covered with sweat despite the cold. He was hungry, but didn’t want to suggest breakfast. Then again, maybe that was just what he and Dax needed. He began to prepare a berry paste to press onto their favorite edible leaves, but he was stopped by Dax’s shout of surprise.
No mistaking it. That was the little jerk now. A blue and black furry blur against the sky, tearing up the air on noisy wings. Dax was on his feet in a split second.
By the time Alix got his butt out of the cave, Weaver was already perched on one of Dax’s arms, in a posture that was probably as close as the two got to hugging. Dax was clutching Weaver’s little shoulder harness with two fingers, holding him steady so that he didn’t grip too hard with his feet. Dax was rephrasing the sentence “Where the hell were you?” a hundred different ways when Alix hurried up to them.
“We looked everywhere,” Alix opened, “all this time we had no idea what happened!”
“Had you worried?” Weaver winked one of his mischievous blue eyes.
“Well hell yeah, you did!” Alix put his pride aside and grabbed Weaver in a weird little embrace, which turned into a sort of headlock to preserve emotional distance.
“Got trapped by wild mongooses,” Weaver joked, digging his claws into Alix’s elbow to make him let go. He resumed his preferred position on Dax’s arm.
“Where did you go, all day and all night? We were worried sick!”
“You my mom now?”
“Your ‘Mom’ was worried too, Weaver.”
The toothy grin dropped off of Weaver’s face. He remembered why he’d gone away in the first place, and decided they didn’t deserve the whole story. But he did begin to remove his new goodies from their various hiding places and tell stories of how he’d come upon them.
Some time later, the three had eaten their fill of berry rolls, and Weaver had given a couple versions of the mysterious woman story.
“Sounds like you were drunk off your ass, boy,” Alix said, shoving Weaver so he fell on his back. “Lemme see that cap again.”
Weaver surrendered the bottlecap, and Alix pointed out that that particular brand tasted best with a slice of lime in the bottle. Weaver commented that limes had not been lying around the treehouse. At that point he began to reveal his dirty pictures. After in-depth discussions of these, Alix taught them a game with the poker deck.
That night after Alix and Dax were asleep, Weaver sat on the shelter picking his toes. He’d had a damn good time, but he was glad to be back. He wasn’t mad, or at least particularly mad, anymore. He thought about the woman and wished someone was there to talk to him. He’d given the recording thing back like she’d asked him to, but now he wished he even had it to soak up his words.
As if by some divine decree, Dax stirred then and came out of the cave into the moonlight. He saw his pal sitting among the ivy and stone, and he asked him what was up.
Weaver told him everything.
“No, no, you’ve got it wrong,” Dax protested. “I wasn’t teaching him. I was just answering his questions.”
“I thought we agreed not to talk to him about Mother.”
“I never said that. She’s not a secret.”
“Well, no, but She’s ours.”
“Yes, but I don’t see the harm in just answering when he wants to know.” Dax looked at Weaver. “She’s ours, but not just ours. You know Her like I do and you know Her whole purpose is to be shared.”
“Then why did we make a promise to avoid teaching Alix Mother’s way?”
Dax sighed. “This is complicated. But I didn’t betray you. I thought . . . I thought it was okay for Alix to know, as long as he doesn’t expect me to be his teacher or anything.”
“What’s the diff?”
“The ‘diff’ is that I think it’s wrong to withhold knowledge. That’s a different thing entirely from specifically setting out to teach.”
“Anyway, I liked it that he was interested. But I think . . . I think maybe he was curious about it because we’re his friends, and friends talk about that stuff. He hasn’t tried to start practicing it or anything.”
“Nope. But if he does want to someday, and he comes to me, I won’t do it.”
“What’s to stop you?”
Dax shrugged. “I couldn’t teach him. I could point him where to go to get the knowledge, but if he’s ready for Her, Mother will tell him all he needs to know.”
“You’re a wise bastard when you wanna be, you know that Dax?”
Dax closed his eyes. “I try.”
After the conversation wound down, Dax crawled back inside, and Weaver took a moonlight flight. He thought more about that woman, and how she’d known weird impossible things and had pretty red hair. His list of people he’d interacted with could just barely be counted on one hand, so she’d made a serious impression on him just by existing, not to even mention how mysterious she was. He sort of missed her, strange as she’d been. The girly pictures weren’t going to be much company, even if the one with the lollipop was endlessly amusing to look at. He sighed, put it out of his mind, and pushed on out over the ocean.
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