“Nurse, Nurse! Why can’t I move my arms, Nurse?”
Nurse ignored me, carrying another rock to the big pile of rocks.
“Nurse, what’s the big pile of rocks for?”
I can’t move my legs. Why am I tied up?
“Nurse, did I do something bad?”
“Nurse why aren’t you talking to me?”
“You told me to only talk to you, if you called me what I am, or if you ask why I won’t talk to you.”
“Oh. I don’t remember telling you that, Nurse, I’m sorry. You can talk if you want to!”
Nurse walked away, and didn’t talk any more.
“Nurse, did I say something wrong?”
What did Nurse do wrong that made me tell them not to talk to me?
Maybe I got mad at them because they wouldn’t talk to me?
That must be it.
“Nurse, I’m sorry. You can talk to me if you want.”
“Nurse, is that a shark’s tooth?”
Nurse didn’t talk. They just walked closer and knelt next to me, with the shark tooth in one hand and a hot rock from the fire in the other.
“Do I have cancer nurse? Is that why you have to keep cutting me?”
“I’m a big boy, nurse. A little shark’s tooth can’t make me cry, see?”
“Did you get the cancer this time, Nurse?”
“Please talk to me Nurse?”
“Nurse, why won’t you talk to me?”
Nurse started talking! “You told me to only talk to you, if you called me what I am, or if you ask why I won’t talk to you.”
Why doesn’t her mouth move?
Oh, she’s wearing a mask.
“Why is your skin so shiny, nurse?”
“Am I sick, Nurse, is that why you wear a mask?”
Nurse just walked away, still carrying the big rock.
“Nurse, I’m tired of jerky. Can you bring me a hamburger, with a milkshake?”
“Nurse! Nurse! Why are you running away, Nurse!”
Did I scare her? Maybe that’s why I’m tied up and can’t move?
“Nurse, don’t leave me, Nurse! I’m sorry if I scared you! I didn’t mean to!”
“Mr. Collins requires immediate medical assistance. He is also severely mentally impaired due to mental trauma and malnutrition.”
“Is my father here, Nurse? He’s hurt? Please let me see my father!”
“Explain. Be brief.” That wasn’t Nurse!!
That’s not Pops either.
He sounds smart!
“Doctor, is that you?”
“This place has nothing a human can eat for sustenance. Mr. Collins directed me to use his own body as a food source. It has been seventy-two days now. He has fallen into a state of childhood regression with frequent hallucinations.”
Is that why I can’t move my arms and legs?
“Nurse why didn’t you tell me I had fallen? Please come back, Nurse!”
What did I fall into?
I remember Pops said I should never go near a well if he or Mom weren’t there.
“Did I fall into a well, Nurse? Who is that?”
Someone walked around so I could see them. They were bright and hard to look at, with big teeth.
“Oh, Laddie! You found me!! Good Dog!! Go find Tommy, and get Nurse, I think I’ve fallen into a well!”
Laddie shook his head at me. “Way too much trouble to read him like this.”
“Laddie, you’re smart, but you can’t talk, or read, please go get Tommy!”
Laddie just stared at me.
Did I get my lines mixed up?
“Please, Laddie, you’re my only hope! Go get Tommy!”
A smaller person walked around me. From the other side.
Oh, there’s Tommy!
“Tommy! Did you bring a hamburger and milkshake like you promised?”
Tommy stared, his eyes looking up and down as he faced me. “What did you do to yourself, Zeke?”
Laddie was just looking at me. “He survived, Ali.”
They’re doing it all wrong!
I looked at Tommy. “Don’t stare. That’s not polite! You supposed to just look long enough to see that I’m in danger, then you go get the neighbors!” I turned to look at Laddie next. “Laddie, stop talking! That’s off script!”
Could Tommy really not see what had happened?
Maybe if I say it slower?
“Tommy. I. Fell. Into. A. well.”
Tommy still wasn’t doing anything.
I took a deep breath. “Tommy, Laddie needs to go get help, and you owe me a hamburger and a vanilla shake. But I’ll take anything. Except jerky. That’s all the hospital has.”
Tommy still looked confused and maybe a little mad.
Laddie was just watching Tommy.
Maybe they just forgot their lines? “Remember the script, Tommy!”
Laddie stopped looking at Tommy and turned his head to me. “Not quite what we were expecting. I’ll stabilize him, if you don’t trust yourself to, but I can’t heal his mind, not damage this bad. That’s never been a skill of mine. Yet. I’m working on it.”
I sighed and turned my head.
They’re hopeless. They’ll never make it in the movie industry. And such a clever dog too. It must be his trainer.
“Fine, you two ignore me. The director will cut you and bring in people who can follow the script.”
Laddie looked back and forth between Tommy and me again. “On some level I think he’s still in there. He’s recognizing us as a rescue of some sort, Ali.”
Of course it’s a rescue. The people watching the show want something exciting to happen.
I wanted to cross my arms and stare at them, but my arms couldn’t move, so I just stared.
“I don’t trust myself to heal him, Coyote. Not right now. He clearly doesn’t have the energy reserves to support induced regeneration, and there’s barely any human tissue nearby for me to integrate into him. What is around is all dried or ground into powder and mixed with water. On top of all that, I can’t understand half of what Father did in his brain to disable his powers. If I made a mistake fiddling around in his mind to fix what father broke, I might kill him. Contract or not, right now, I’m not sure it would be a mistake if I killed him.”
Is Tommy a doctor?
“Am I terminal, doctor?”
Tommy just stared at me, and said nothing.
When the doctor won’t talk, that’s bad.
“Can I say goodbye to my mother and father first, please?”
Laddie paused. “In that case, I’ll stabilize him, and get him away from here. If you haven’t been paying attention, Matty is talking to the suit over at the grave. She seems distracted, and could probably use a shoulder to lean on.”
A suit? What is a lawyer doing here?
Laddie looked at Tommy, staring at him, and Tommy looked a little worried or sad, maybe both. Laddie started talking again. “As a friend of your father’s, I ask that you don’t damage the suit or modify anything Zeke changed here, yet. If you haven’t already, look at the connections Zeke built between himself and the grave, the suit, and the cairn. They are powerful. I know it was your father’s place, and I know you’re conflicted, but your father was my friend, and there’s a lot of answers here. I can feel them. I’m not sure Mr. Collins will ever be able to give us good answers. I will be unhappy if you destroy the answers here before I have an opportunity to explore them myself.”
Tommy swallowed, and nodded, then walked away, and Laddie started to talk again. “Thank you for helping us find this place, Hildr, Ahmed hid it well. I’m not sure why you are still here though.”
Laddie stared at me, touched my forehead with his finger, and warmth spread through my body.
“I was charged with watching him. I couldn’t do that if he was hidden. After I found this place, and you found a way in, I saw there was still a chance I would be needed to do more than find him. I’m still amazed that you found a way into this place. I still don’t see how you managed it.”
Laddie turned to look in the direction Tommy had walked. “True, to the first part. As for the second, I don’t even know how I do it, sometimes. I’d be willing to bet that you don’t know how you can always follow and find the ones you’ve been told to watch.”
“No bet.” The woman’s voice, again.
I couldn’t turn my head far enough to see the woman who was speaking. “It’s not polite to talk over someone’s head.”
Laddie looked over my head, and laughed. I heard the woman laughing too.
“I’m surprised you haven’t silenced him, Coyote.”
Laddie is a Collie, not a Coyote.
“Oh, no, Hildr, I’m hoping he will remember at least parts of this conversation if he recovers most or all of his senses. It might be useful to have him remember how accommodating I was with him.”
Hildr. I know that name. Can’t remember from where.
More laughter. “I see that there’s still something of the trickster in you, despite your recent activities.”
“I hope there always will be. As humans become more aware of us, I’m finding it more difficult to forge my own path. I acted soon enough that I’ve cemented myself as a god to be called on for help, and that will do, if need be, but I was hoping for more.”
“Time will tell. Humans can be strange.”
Nobody said anything for a few seconds. I thought I heard Nurse start to talk, far away.
“I’m not complaining, but why are you still here, Hildr? Surely you do not suspect I will end his life.”
Laddie would never kill anyone! That would be completely off script!
“You can restore his body when you get him out of this place, I know, but as you said, you are not a mind healer. You’ve always been more concerned with playing mind games than fixing minds.”
Laddie put his finger on my forehead again. My head felt warm. “I can’t fix this. He’s pretty severely damaged, especially around the pain and emotion centers. There’s a real mess in a few of the cognitive sections associated with magic in humans as well. Ahmed did something in there that I can’t begin to understand. I was hoping Ahmed’s son would have some insights, or his daughter, but they are both too distraught. They might be able to help, eventually. There are others who might assist, but he’s in no position to bargain, and it would be an extreme stretch of my interests and obligations to bargain for him.”
After a second, the woman’s voice spoke again. “Just to let you know, this human has a pending major boon, offered by someone rather high up in my pantheon. He had never been told about it though. The holder of the boon had been holding it, knowing it would be needed, but not knowing why, until Ahmed’s workings began to unravel.”
Laddie paused. “A mortal has to request the boon. Unfortunately, he’s in no condition to be offered a boon. Not with any confidence that it wouldn’t be wasted.” After a couple seconds in thought, Laddie continued. “It would be a memorable moment though, for Odin to offer a major boon, and have it be fulfilled by the creation of a stuffed toy, or a hamburger and milkshake.” Laddie’s tongue stuck out the side of his mouth, briefly, then he licked his nose.
That sounds good.
“I’m hungry. Really hungry. Can we please get me out of the well and go get a hamburger and milkshake?”
The woman spoke, from behind me. “One of my sisters has just finished speaking to his wife. He created mortal contingency documents and instructions that cover many scenarios, including documents giving her permission to act in his stead, if his mind were to be damaged. She has agreed to represent Mr. Collins and request the boon.”
“Rather emphatically too, I imagine.” Laddie stopped talking for a moment. “She’s a strong woman, but it would be poor form to let her see him in this physical condition. Her sanity might suffer, resulting in an inappropriate boon request. I can’t fix his mind, but I can fix his body. I’d really rather not do it with pure magic though, I’ve already expended a great deal to stabilize him. Since he’s now stable, there’s no extreme urgency. I know just the person to help out.”
“You know where to find us.”
“I certainly do. Heimdallr and I have a little game we play.”
I heard a loud laugh from the woman, and then I heard hooves striking the ground as a horse begin to walk, then trot, and finally gallop, then there was silence. That was really strange. “Horses can’t stop that fast, Laddie. Is the horse OK?”
Laddie had been looking behind me, but looked down to me as I spoke. “I am going to enjoy taunting you about these moments from time to time, Mr. Collins. Let’s get you out of here.” He looked away from me in a different direction. “Matty, I’ve already spoken to Ali, but please do not destroy anything here. As your father’s friend, I would also like the opportunity to know exactly what happened, without having to resort to years of scrying.
“We will preserve the place for you and for our other siblings, Coyote.” A woman’s voice, a different woman. It sounded like she might have been crying.
Laddie nodded at me and then all of a sudden I moved.
This is fast. Wow. I feel like a race car!
We moved so fast. I couldn’t even tell if anything else was moving. Cars don’t park on highways though, so I figured Laddie was super-fast.
That would explain some of the things he did in the show!
“Hahaha! This is awesome.”
Why are we stopping?
Laddie knocked on the door in front of him, using a cool white cane with a sparkly top, like a disco ball.
“All you have to do is bark, Laddie. You don’t have to knock.”
Laddie looked at me and laughed.
The door opened, and Laddie spoke to a short, chubby lady who answered it. “Cupcake, I have someone here in need. Can you assist? He needs a lot of calories so I can induce regeneration. I’d rather not take him to a buffet. As funny as it might be, I think he deserves some privacy.”
The lady looked up at me as I was flying next to Laddie. “Of course. Please enter. Bring him in. Another torture or burn victim, Coyote? Is he stable, or do you need something immediately?” She looked at me again. “No arms, no legs. He’ll need to regrow a lot of muscle and bone. Definitely going to need a few hundred pounds of proteins and high calcium foods.”
“He’s stable. The circumstances around the injuries are his story, if he wishes to tell it after we fix his body and see if we can repair his mind.” I flew in the door, following in after Laddie.
Two adults were talking, but I couldn’t help myself. “That was fun, Laddie, can we do it again?”
The lady stopped, turned about halfway around and looked at me and Laddie with a big smile. “Laddie?”
Laddie growled. “Allowances can be made for those who are very young or mentally infirm and have no grasp of the importance of dignity. If others who do understand dignity were to insist upon using unflattering names to address me, I would be forced to respond in ways which might be very embarrassing to said unwise individuals.”
“I would not dream of insulting you, Coyote.” She paused. “Well, I wouldn’t act on it.” The lady grinned, and turned away, talking as she walked. “He seems familiar, especially the voice, but I can’t place him. Does he have powers?”
“Not right now. They have been disabled.”
“I see. I didn’t know you could do that.” The woman stopped and turned again to look at us.
She looks like mom does after I get cookies without asking.
“I didn’t do it, Cupcake. I can see the damage, but I can’t fix it directly.” Laddie looked at me. “There’s no way that simple regeneration will reactivate his powers.”
The woman walked into a kitchen, and I heard pots banging together. “Does he have a working digestive tract, or will we have to start with sugar water and milk? Baby foods?”
It sounded like she was asking what I wanted to eat. “Anything but jerky, please, that’s all the hospital had. A hamburger and milkshake would be awesome, ma’am.”
“No diet restrictions, Cupcake, just avoid food with shells or bones.”
The pots and pans stopped banging. The Lady’s head popped around the corner, and her eyes were wide open. “I knew I remembered that voice. His beard threw me, I’ve never seen him except when he was clean shaven. That’s Strangest. Tell me again that his power won’t activate while he heals. I do not even want to imagine what chaos he could cause in team headquarters.”
Laddie sounded very patient. “As I said, his powers won’t activate.”
“As he heals, will he need restraining?” She was looking at me like I had scared her.
“I’m sorry if I scared you, ma’am. I’ll be a good boy. I promise. Cross my heart.”
The lady looked at me then turned around and walked into the kitchen again, talking to herself with words I didn’t hear very well.
“If he does, I’ll handle it.” Laddie looked at me. “He’s given no indication of violence though, since we found him.”
“What happened to him, I thought he was unkillable.”
Laddie started talking with a funny accent. “Well, e’s not dead yet. Just flesh wounds.”
Lady started laughing loudly in the kitchen for a couple seconds. “Sorry, you’re perhaps the last person I’d imagine watching that show. Since he seems to want them, and they have a lot of what he needs, I’ll start with a few cheeseburgers and vanilla protein shakes. Set him in the recovery room, please. I’ll start bringing food shortly.”
Laddie’s voice returned to normal, and the next thing I knew, we were in a different room. There was a really big bathtub with stairs leading down into it.
I watched in amazement as a little table and a couple chairs flew through the air, coming into this room through the door behind me and Laddie. They set themselves up in the bottom of the bathtub.
“Wow, this place has flying furniture too!”
It looked like a bathroom, sort of. There was no sink or toilet though. It looked like there was a trapeze above the bathtub.
I saw one of these bathtubs in a hotel once next to a big pool. What is it mom called it, a jackoozie? There’s no water in this one though. I don’t remember a table in the one at the hotel. Maybe it was under water.
I looked at the trapeze. The bathtub was really big but not big enough for a diving board. And the water wouldn’t be that deep when it was full. I could maybe see using the trapeze to hang upside down over the water, or do a few tricks. I’d have to remember to ask the lady if her children could show me how to use the trapeze safely. I could see someone getting hurt pretty bad if they didn’t know what they were doing.
The lady came in through the door, carrying a plate with hamburgers and cups on it. I took a deep breath in through my nose.
Oh, that smells so good.
Laddie started talking again when the lady started walking down the stairs to us. “Cupcake, I’ll answer your earlier question now, without flippancy. As we’ve been discussing recently, there are a great many beings in the world that are similar to me to varying degrees. Quite a few beings similar to me can kill Strangest. One of them nearly did. I’m still not sure exactly how he managed to win the fight, but he apparently did. He should not have. I certainly would have bet against him winning.”
The lady put the big plate down on the table and touched the blanket around my shoulder. “I see.” She paused a moment, looking at me. “What is this blanket he’s wrapped in made from?”
Oh, that’s an easy one.
“Nurse made the blanket to help keep me warm.”
The lady blinked and shook her head, then looked at Laddie.
Laddie’s tongue fell out the side of his mouth for a second, then he licked his nose. “Ferns. I need to remove it now, so his body doesn’t try to grow into and around it where it presses into where the pectoral and gluteus maximus muscles used to be. Can you bring a couple towels? His torso musculature will regenerate first, then his limbs. I’ll be able to put a towel on him and not worry about his body trying to incorporate it within a couple minutes.”
The lady took the burgers and shakes off the plate and stacked them on the table in front of me, and then she tucked the plate under her arm. “That smells sooo good, ma’am. Can someone untie me so I can eat? I can’t eat without being able to move my arms.”
In a patient voice, Laddie spoke to me.”Soon, Zeke. You will be able to move your arms soon.”
“But I want to eat now! Please!”
Laddie reached out with his claws and cut my blanket. The blanket started to unwind from around me.
The lady’s face got weird-looking and her mouth opened a little.
I can’t say anything. That wouldn’t be polite.
After she stared at me for a couple seconds, the lady swallowed, looked away, and then started climbing the stairs out of the jackoozie. “I’ll… go get towels. What in the hell happened to him, Coyote?”
“To us, he’s only been missing eight days. For him, it’s been well over two months. Seventy-two days, according to his armor suit, which was feeding and tending him. There was nothing else he could eat where he was.”
I could barely hear the lady as she talked. “Anything but jerky.” I heard her start running, and a door closed. After that I could hear her making sick sounds.
Laddie shook his head, looking towards where the lady had gone to.
“Is the lady sick? Will she be OK?”
“She’ll be better soon. Here Zeke, take a bite of this cheeseburger.” Laddie was holding a cheeseburger up to my mouth.
I took a huge bite. “Mmm. If goot! Beft Efer.”
I swallowed. “Sorry, Mom would be so mad I talked with my mouth full. Please don’t tell her?
“I won’t tell.” Laddie winked at me. “It’ll be just between us, Zeke. Keep eating. If you want a drink of milkshake, tell me.”
“Thanks Laddie, you’re awesome.”
With a smile, Laddie touched my forehead with the finger on his other hand, the one that didn’t have a cheeseburger in it. All of a sudden I felt super hungry, even hungrier than before. My stomach growled, really loud, like it was mad at me. I couldn’t stop myself from leaning over and taking another big bite of the cheeseburger Laddie was holding for me.