For Shannon, thank you for this amusing starter 🙂 And yes, I did mean Jabberwalky.
Sometimes all it takes to ruin a date is to ask a rhetorical question like: how many chickens could we fit in that car?
Other times it wasn’t so easy to quickly and efficiently get out of the torture trap of a date one was no longer interested in. As the renowned Mr. Shaw said: the fickleness of the women I love is only equaled by the infernal constancy of the women who love me.
Too true, Alor though with dismay as he took another sip of beer and tried not to look at the person sitting across from him. Making eye contact was a bad idea. She was appealing enough to look at – blue eyes, blond hair, and a pleasant face – and nice enough to be around, but her unblinking, raptured gaze was giving him the creeps. That, and the monosyllable answers to the his questions.
“So,” Alor tried again. “Do you like sports?”
“Yes,” she breathed. “Do you?”
Alor sighed. He knew where this was going. Now they would spend the next ten minutes talking about what sports he liked, what sports he played, how many goals he’d scored, ad infinitum. Fortunately, Alor was good at making things up about who he was and where he’d been. It was one of his Talents, but she was trying him to the limit.
This woman was going to know everything about him down to his first word and favorite drink, and he was going to know nothing but her name. Or not, he amended when he remembered that he actually didn’t remember her name. He tried to think of what it was, and then wondered if she hadn’t introduced herself at all.
That’s ridiculous, Alor told himself. Of course she did; you just weren’t paying attention. It was hard to convince himself though, because usually he was better at remembering names. That’s just another sign that this is going nowhere. Time to get out of this before I waste any more time.
He looked up, trying to find a polite and rapid way of ending this line of questioning, and then the date, and saw his reflection staring back at him out of her eyes, crystal clear and magnified by her retina. A faint suspicion blossomed, and the reflection narrowed its eyes and frowned. Alor took another sip of beer to buy some time and worded his next question with care.
“Where did you say you grew up?”
“Nowhere special,” she replied, gazing at him with round eyes, leaning forward on the table. “Where did you grow up?”
They had already covered this. Alor had been prompted to recount almost all of his childhood activities, habits, and pastimes, including what his imaginary parents fed him, and the things his imaginary older brothers and sisters did to torment him. The suspicion grew. For the first time, the woman blinked.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You already said.” She paused, and looked like she was searching for words.
“What do you do for fun?” he asked casually.
She brightened and leaned even closer. “Not much. What do you do for fun?”
His suspicion confirmed, he downed the beer with one gulp and stood. “Well, it was real nice meeting you, but I have to go.”
Alor walked away before she had a chance to answer. He didn’t bother keeping an eye on her. A Jabberwalky wasn’t really dangerous, not in the physical sense. The information they extracted from their unsuspecting victim could of course be used against them, in a court of law, or worse, in a spell, but Alor was in no danger from that, thanks to his Talent.
He was more worried about who had sent the Jabberwalky after him in the first place. Who was this person, and what did they think they could gain? There was nothing unusual to attract attention to Alor — he made sure of that. He was average height, with brown hair and a short beard. He wore clothes that were just drab yet well-tailored enough to be boring while not making people think he sat on the side of the road with a tin cup.
Alor walked out of the little tavern with the red roof, candlelight spilling from the windows into the purple dusk, his eyes darting from side to side. Jabberwalkies had to be controlled by eyesight, so the person could be outside, looking through a window.
Glancing through the glass as he walked past, Alor noted the table they had been sitting at, and the woman was now gone. That was bad. Alor flattened himself against the wall, pleased to have his back covered. He edged to the corner and peered around. It was hard to see in the failing light, but he didn’t think there was anyone lurking in the trees behind the tavern.
Taking a deep breath, he darted around the corner and dashed for the relative safety of the trees. He had taken no more than two steps when something grabbed his ankle, sending him crashing to the ground. Before he came to rest, he was already kicking and thrashing with all his might to dislodge his attacker. He looked back into the blue eyes of the Jabberwalky, still glassy and staring. Now, this was new, he thought, and redoubled his effort.
Her nose gave way under his heel, and the blood sprayed into her eyes. For an instant, she was disoriented, and Alor used it to pull free and scramble for the trees. Fingers brushed his back, but found no hold as he launched his body forward. He skirted the tree, the Jabberwalky on the other side, maneuvering around to try to break the eye contact of whoever was controlling it.
No matter where he went, the Jabberwalky continued to come after him, and he started to get worried. This wasn’t like anything he had experienced before. Alor reached for the knife in his belt. Nothing for it, he thought. I’m going to have to risk killing it.
Spells could be hidden in the life force, unleashed when the force fled. Usually the spell-wrought blade he carried protected him from such a thing, but this was no ordinary Jabberwalky. He couldn’t be sure how it would react, but he didn’t see how else he was going to get away. If it was still active, the Jabberwalky would talk, telling where he had gone, and enable someone to track him. He darted out from behind the tree and slashed at the woman. He caught her arm, and bright red blood stained her white shirt, low cut to leave only a little to the imagination.
The spell-made creature didn’t give any sign of pain, though the glassiness faded from her eyes. She fell back, and sudden, overwhelming fear etched itself on her face. What is going on? Alor groaned to himself. This was just supposed to be a nice dinner…
“Please don’t hurt me,” the woman said.
“Who are you?” he demanded, waving his weapon in front of her face.
“My name is Susan,” she answered quickly, as if her words could fend off his knife. “I…I’m…I don’t know what’s happening!”
The lie in her eyes snagged his attention, another one of his Talents.
“You’re a sorceress,” he accused, and then things began to align. “You spelled yourself! You turned yourself into a Jabberywalky!” It was crazy, mind-boggling, some might say impossible, but showed a sort of brilliance, if a suicidal one. “Why?”
She shrugged. “I thought you would find it more attractive. There aren’t many men who would have me in this town.”
It was a half-truth, but his Talent still caught it. Not wanting to give it away, he nodded.
“You know I can’t let you go,” he said.
“Please, I won’t hurt you. I’ll just leave you alone,” she said, as her hand came up.
The green light under her fingernails warned him in time, and he brought the knife up to deflect the power she tried to fry him with. The metal was spell-protected, and the vibrant lightning shattered on the blade. Enough’s enough, he thought. She’s got to go.
It was easy to change the motion of the knife from a parry to a stab. Her soft flesh did not offer much resistance, and the knife was buried up to the hilt in a blink of an eye. She gasped, breathed once, and then slumped, the life going out of her eyes. Alor braced himself, preparing for the spell that could be unleashed, but none came. After a moment, he relaxed and glanced down at his stalker/attacker.
In her fist was a piece of crumpled paper. Alor wrenched it out of the stiffening grip and scanned down it. He had seen it a dozen times before, and he was sure he would see it at least once more before he died. No doubt there were more of them, up around the town on lamp posts and store walls.
The picture was fuzzy, but looked enough like him. The only difference was the reward had gone up, and the list of offenses had grown. Soon the murder of the woman in front of him would be added to it.
Time to get out of town. Alor sighed. I was just getting to like this place, he thought. But I suppose there’s another town just like it over the horizon, where they don’t know who I am. Yet.