by Joanna M. Weston
Vicky meandered through labyrinths of myth. Greek gods and mortal flesh seethed in her mind; visions of swords poised over exposed skin merged with dreams of bones stewing in silver cauldrons. Bullfinch’s Mythology lay open on her stomach: studying for her second-year university exams had made her sleepy.
She blinked: the sunlight that dappled the sitting-room floor through square-paned windows had woken her. She took a lemon-cream cookie from the box beside her on the chesterfield, bit into it, and exchanged Bullfinch for Dick Francis’ To the Hilt with more burnt flesh, mystery and mayhem.
A knock on the back door startled her. She put a marker in the book reluctantly, unwilling to leave people who ranged through life with such voracious appetites.
She took another cookie as she stood up and caught a glimpse through the half-glazed door of a dark head going down the staircase from the sun deck.
Vicky opened the door and saw a girl looking up at her from the bottom step: a tall thin-faced girl with long straight hair caught behind large ears. Her denim overalls were faded, the patch pockets drooping and mended.
Vicky shook herself mentally, discharging myth, and called to the girl, “Are you looking for someone?”
The girl said, “Could you tell me about your wisteria? How strong is it? How healthy?”
Vicky, medium-tall, medium brown hair, was glad to be standing above the girl whose thin body made her feel obese and awkward. She hitched her size-16 jeans higher and glanced at the wisteria that wound up the rails and around the deck, lush green tendrils cascading in all directions. Purple flowers, their languid perfume an incense heavy on the air, stirred in the breeze.
“We’ve never had any trouble with it,” she said, “we prune it regularly and mulch it in the fall.”
“Does it get lots of sun?” the girl asked.
“We face south, so yes, it does.”
“How old is it?” the girl asked.
“I don’t know, it was here, and old, when we moved in twenty years ago.” Vicky wanted to go back to mysteries and cookies. But the girl studied the stairs, wisteria, the deck — and Vicky’s wide figure.
As if I was a side of beef, Vicky thought, but maybe she’s looking for a place to rent? She didn’t seem ready to leave.
What looked like an overgrown puppy came round the corner of the house and approached the girl who bent and stroked it. It sat down beside her and looked up at Vicky. She became abruptly wide awake, wondering where her cats were.
“What kind of dog is that?” she asked.
“He’s a lion cub,” the girl answered. Two more came from the woods to the right of the house and settled around the girl. One licked its lips, then began to clean its paws.
“Would they have eaten my cats?”
“This one doesn’t seem to like live meat yet, I have to kill it first, and I haven’t seen your cats.”
“What about the others?”
“I don’t think so, but it’s possible,” the girl said. She caressed the head of the nearest cub.
“Do you kill cats for them?” Vicky asked, regarding with anxiety the three cubs, their eyes half-closed, fur shining in the slanting sunlight.
“Cats don’t have enough meat on them to make it worthwhile.”
“Some dogs make good eating though.” The girl crouched to fondle the cubs, who licked her face, nuzzled her body. “And humans, of course.” Vicky shuddered.
“Why did you want to know about the wisteria?” She asked, trying to find a more predictable social level.
“It looks healthy and I wondered if it was strong enough to climb.”
“I have a chimp in a cage and he needs climbing space, something strong.”
This girl was outside Vicky’s understanding. Was she a dream? An extension of story? “It would take ten years to grow a wisteria strong as this one,” Vicky said.
“I don’t intend to wait that long.”
“But they don’t grow quickly.” Vicky was convinced that this conversation was a dream, or a nightmare. She wanted to wake up.
“I’m moving in with you.” The girl glanced up from the cubs.
“You can’t do that,” Vicky said, “I don’t know you — and I’ve not invited you.”
“My name is Etta and I’m moving in – now.” The girl started up the stairs. “I don’t need an invitation, the cubs know a good cave when they find it.”
The tawny animals leapt ahead, sniffing at Vicky’s legs as they brushed past her. A strong feral scent filled Vicky’s nose.
Drops of blood clung to the muzzle of the last cub.
Copyright © 2006 by Joanna M. Weston