Home

About

What's New!

Books

Scripts (new!)

FAQ Books

Short Stories

Writing FAQ

Appearances

Links

Merchandise

Pat's Picks

Contact

The Trial of Agent B

Copyright 2008 P.N. Elrod All Rights Reserved. Please respect the site policy regarding excerpts and links.

Legal stuff: The stories posted are not released from copyright, under creative commons or any other licensing procedure.  They are not for reproduction elsewhere, with the exception of small excerpts for the purpose of linking or commentary and other purposes covered under fair use. 

THANK YOU for respecting this! -- P.N. Elrod

_____________________________________

 

The Tea Room Beasts 

by P.N. Elrod

 Originally published in Creature Fantastic, DAW Books, 2002, Edited by Denise Little

  

Ellen stared in disbelief at yet another letter from her future ex-husband.  She wanted to tear the thing to shreds and make its threat go away, but it would have to go into the growing legal folder she’d begun since he’d filed for divorce.  When she was calm enough, Ellen called her lawyer.  Marissa had gotten her copy of the letter that morning.

            “I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do,” Marissa said in a cheerfully sympathetic, but ultimately unhelpful, tone.  “His name’s on the ownership papers, so he has rights to half your business.  And then there’s community property, you know.”

            “He doesn’t need my tea room. This is pure greed and spite.”  Ten years ago it had been necessary to have her brand-new husband Randall in on the contract.  The idea had been if anything happened to her, he could inherit without any trouble.  Ten years ago Ellen had been utterly besotted with him, quite blind to his faults.  Everyone had faults, but nothing that enough love couldn’t cure, and she had oceans of love for him.

            Except that she’d finally, unbelievably, run out.  He’d sucked her dry, then mocked the remaining husk.  Gradually the abuses, mental and physical, the daily, sometimes hourly fights, had done it.  She used to forgive, supplied him with excuses so he wouldn’t leave her, and he was so sweet afterwards with his apologies.  Each fight was to always going to be their last, after all.  Later, in therapy, she’d learned the ins and outs of things called “co-dependency,” “enabling,” and “battered wife syndrome” and could have kicked herself for being so naive, but that would have been self-destructive, which was also a no-no.

            “But what can I do?”  she demanded of Marissa.  “He’ll sell his half or insist I sell to him or the bank at a loss or something.  He knows I don’t have the money to fight him on this.”

            Marissa made comforting noises, but the papers, signed ten years ago in a fit of cupid-inspired sentiment, were iron-clad.

            Sick in heart, Ellen hung up and considered her options.  Even if she burned the place down he’d take half the insurance—after finding a way of proving arson and throwing her in jail.  He had all the money; he had all the power.  He had the whole town on his side, for God’s sake.

            Randall had apparently planned his divorce strategy long in advance.  As a lawyer himself, he knew just how to do it.  He’d hidden his own money very well and signed his major properties over to an old and trusted friend to hold for him until after the settlement.  Community property laws would not benefit her, only him.  He only wanted her little tea room just to heap more insult onto injury.

            She discovered he’d been spreading rumors about her through the small seaside town she had called home.  Bit by bit, Ellen learned to her shock that she was a rapacious man-eater who had betrayed her marriage vows to poor, long-suffering Randall again and again.  People she’d thought of as friends were now too busy to speak to her, though they were more than happy to gossip.  Everyone was firmly on injured Randall’s side, especially all his old cronies in the legal system.  She suspected her own lawyer was on his side as well, with only the high fees keeping Marissa on the case.

            Ellen quit her tiny office and went out front to look with new eyes on the little tea room she had made for herself.  Randall couldn’t want it for the money, for business wasn’t that good. In fact, it was terribly marginal.  She ran the place as a labor of love.  It had always been her one joyful escape from her ’til-death-us-do-part tormentor.

            She thought glumly of selling the fixtures and fittings, then lying about the amount of money she got for them, but those would not net her much of anything.  Her cozy little refuge with its cucumber sandwiches, consignment souvenirs, and occasional antique sales was worth more open than closed.  Maybe I could paint a line down the middle and give him the less profitable half.

            “Maybe I could strangle him.”

            She hadn’t meant to speak aloud.  She’d wanted to scream it.  Wonderfully violent images came to her: Randall squirming on a roasting spit, Randall plummeting into a bottomless gorge, Randall being audited by the IRS. . .

            But no, he’d get away with it.  He’d stolen ten of her best years, would steal or control her tea room haven, and leave her scratching for pennies.  He’d laugh his head off.  Look at how he’d originally served her notice—the divorce papers had been in the gift box he’d presented to her on their tenth anniversary.  How he’d hooted at the shattered look on her face as she ran screaming to the bedroom to weep over this last violation of trust.

            How could she have ever fallen in love with such a cruel bastard?

            The answer to that would have to wait.  Well-to-do women, craving her shop’s quaint, ladies-only charm, were beginning to wander in for lunch.  They deliberated over what to eat and what to drink and debated hotly over the shortcomings of their neighbors.  Ellen knew from the looks sometimes directed her way that she was one of the topics, but she endured with a brave smile and made sure everyone got free refills so they would keep coming back.

            Thanks to Randall’s propaganda campaign, Ellen had no one to whom she could truly confide her troubles.  She felt the isolation keenly in the crowded room, yet almost savored it.  This might be the last time she would ever be here.  The thought of losing it made even the bitterness a precious thing.

            She stared bleakly at the shop she’d built up.  It wasn’t much, but her devotion to its success shone from every corner.  She had found the right location, had decorated it, made the gourmet delectables, and smiled at the customers with the sincerity of fulfillment.  Randall had visited it perhaps twice during their marriage, and until now had dismissed all her work.  It was rightfully hers. How dare he take it away?

            “Because he’s a bastard.”

            Ellen jumped as though she’d gotten a static shock, for someone had spoken her own answer aloud.  She found herself eye-to-eye with another forty-ish, slightly plump woman, a total stranger.

            “I beg your pardon?”  said Ellen.

            The woman had large sad eyes, no...they were more compassionate than sad.  She possessed an air of having seen a lot of life’s sorrows, not unlike Ellen’s therapist, but in less trendy clothes.

            “My name is Phylis,”  said the woman.  “I apologize for intruding, but your thoughts were so loud I couldn’t help but hear you.”

            “My thoughts?”

            “About that man who’s trying to take this sweet place away from you—oh, there I go again.  I’m sorry.  I’d like a pot of jasmine tea and one of those really large chocolate éclairs, please.”

            The switch threw Ellen slightly off balance, but she had presence of mind to ring up the sale.

            “Oh, that’s awful what’s he’s doing to you,” said Phylis.

            What?

            Phylis grimaced.  “Drat, did it again.  I should shut it off, but when I get low blood sugar it takes more concentration than I can spare.  On the other hand, maybe I’m supposed to be here and eavesdropping on your mind.  I’ll be at that nice little corner booth.  I love the flower picture you have there.”

            Dazed, Ellen took the money and hurried to fill the order.  The woman’s a crazy, but looks harmless.

            Phylis smiled benignly from the booth.  Ellen wondered if there was a distance limit for telepathy.  Why am I even believing in this?  And inside she shrugged and answered, Why not?  You need the distraction.  A little lunacy can’t hurt.

            She delivered the tray herself, turning cash register duty over to her part-time helper.

            “Are you a witch?”  Ellen asked, half-jokingly.  Her shop was near the local college and some of the students there wore pentacles.  Ellen had overheard things from them about spells and ceremonies, but fobbed it off as nothing more than youthful experimentation. 

            Phylis snickered.  “Oh, no, that takes years of study, I don’t have the discipline for it, I just dabble a little for myself.  Nothing weighty.”

            “You’re serious?”

            “Hardly ever, if I can help it.”

            Ellen smiled in spite of herself.

            “You need to talk, don’t you?”  Phylis motioned to the opposite side of the booth, inviting her to sit.

            “I pay my therapist for that.  No need to burden you with my problems.”

            “Oh, my dear, I’m a very good listener, I never judge, and I never repeat what I’m told.”

            Ellen found herself fighting tears.  How she wanted to talk to someone, anyone.  Even a stranger who would be gone as soon as she finished her meal.

            “I’ll stick around,”  Phylis promised.  “I’m an artist, you know.  I’m in town for awhile to paint some of the sights and enjoy the quiet.  You deal with this lunch rush, then we’ll sit down like we’re old friends, and you can tell me all about it.”

            Ellen did just that.  While her part-timer cleaned up, Ellen quietly poured her heart out to Phylis, who nodded and tsked as needed and handed over bushels of paper napkins for nose-blowing and tear-wiping.

            “You have every right to be angry and afraid with that man,” said Phylis, shaking her head.  “I had one like him myself.  Any little thing would set him off into screaming and hitting me, then he’d say he was sorry and make it up in some nice way to get me back.  I finally wised up that I’d married a two-year-old.  Divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

            “Why does he hate me so?”  It was the one question Ellen could not answer.  She had been a good wife, always loving, always forgiving.  Too much so, it seemed.

            “Oh, it nothing to do with you, he’s the one with the problem.  He’s a sadist and still trying to hurt you, but it’s time to change things in your favor.  I think I might be able to help you keep your shop, but the solution may be a bit Draconian.”

            Ellen’s heart sank.  “How much will it cost?”

            Phylis blinked.  “Cost?”

            “Half my bank account or my immortal soul?”

            Phylis giggled.  “Sorry, I don’t need either one.  I’m helping you for my own selfish purposes.  I like this place, it’s got lovely energy.  I don’t want to see it shut down.  If I can help you save it, I will.”

            “Is it some sort of witchcraft?”  Ellen whispered the last word.

            “Well, it does involve a spell, but that’s pretty much like saying a prayer.”

            Ellen liked the sound of that.  “What will you do?”

            “It’s what we will do.  Nothing harmful to us, though.  Have you a quiet place where we won’t be disturbed?”

            “I’ve a storage room in the back.”

            “Great.  Let’s start now while I’m still full of righteous anger.”

            In the back room Phylis lighted four of the shop’s decorative candles, placing them on a small table. She linked hands with Ellen across the table.  Phylis shut her eyes and hummed a bit to herself, then asked for help to be sent to restore Ellen’s “balance.”  Ellen felt nothing happening, but she didn’t know what to expect.  Her experience with magic was limited to TV shows.  No special effects took place for her. 

            What if. . .what if Randall had sent this woman?  How awful, how humiliating.  If some newspaper person with a camera burst in on them just now—

            Ellen shook her hands free.

            “I wish you hadn’t done that,”  Phylis said, chagrined.

            “I’m sorry, this is just—I mean, it’s—”

            “Silly?  I think not.”  Phylis pointed.

            In spite of her sudden flash of distrust Ellen turned to look and saw. . .

            Them. 

            She stifled a shriek of abject horror and flung herself backwards, upsetting the table and candles.

            “Oh, dear.  You shouldn’t have done that,”  said Phylis, ducking out of the way.

            Eeeee!  screamed Ellen.  She fled to the broom closet and shut herself in.

            “Now don’t be like that, you’ll hurt their feelings,” chided Phylis.

            “What.  Are.  Those.  Things?!?  Ellen shoved a folding chair under the doorknob and hoped it would hold.

            “I think they’re elementals.  I know they look a little strange, but they can really be quite helpful if you give them half a chance.

            “Strange?!  They’re awful!  I can’t stand them!  Make them go away!”

            “But you broke the circle I made.  We’re sort of stuck with them for the time being.”

            One of the creatures, the goat-sized, slimy one with a lower jaw better suited to a gorilla, appeared in the closet next to Ellen.  Though it was pitch dark within, she could see its glowing blue eyes and skin.  It showed a mouthful of needle teeth and reached for her with a web-fingered appendage.

            Ellen screamed and clawed her way out, nearly running Phylis over.  Phylis caught her and held her in place, showing surprising strength.  “Calm down!  They won’t hurt you!  They’re here to help you.”

            Ellen gulped back her panic.  The slimy one ambled from the closet, walking through a stack of plastic crates, and rejoined its companions.  It sat on its haunches and began licking its front paws just like a cat.  The others, both bipedal in contrast, squatted down and stared at her.  She hoped they weren’t hungry.

            “Not for food as you know it,” said Phylis, picking up the thought.  “They live off energy.  You’re giving them a feast with all the fear you’re projecting.  That’s why Water went after you.  Like a pet begging for scraps at the table.”

            “W-w-water?”

            “Yes, it looks like you are in real need; we’ve got a fine assortment: Water, Earth, and Fire.  Wonder what happened to Air?”

            One of the plastic crates jumped from the stack and crashed to the floor.  Ellen jumped.  She heard the whoosh of a strong gust of wind, but felt nothing.

            Phylis clapped her hands.  “Good, there you are.  Would you please make yourself more visible to us?  That’s better, thank you.  This is much more than I expected.  I think you had something to do with that, Ellen.  I’ll bet you have some latent powers in your genes that gave the spell some extra oomph.  You could be a natural witch, you know.  That would explain all the positive energy you put into the tea room.  It could be a sub-conscious thing.”

            Ellen barely heard her, staring.  Air was only slightly less repulsive than the other three, but only because its outlines were very vague.  Ellen shivered, but tried quell her fear.  She didn’t want those monstrosities coming any closer for snacks.  “W-w-what do we do with them?”

            “Well, they’re here to do things for us, nearly any kind of thing that involves working with the four elements.  We send them back when we’re done.  Simple as that.”

            “Send them now!”

            “Oh, I’m too tired for now.  Look, as long as they’re here, let’s have some fun.”

            But Ellen was in no mood for recreational activities.  Regaining some measure of inner control, she demanded an explanation from Phylis about the creatures.  Phylis was forthcoming with confusing information about different planes and dimensions, interlaced with reassurances that however ugly the things might be, they were harmless.

            “At least to us.  Now if we sent them to visit your husband, that’s another matter. . .”

            Ellen paused and considered.  “They’d scare him half to death.”

            “They can do more than that, I’m sure.  Don’t you want to get him off your back?”

            “Yes!  But won’t it return onto me in some way?”  Ellen had overheard enough conversations between the pentacle-adorned students to understand that revenge magic wasn’t a wise or constructive thing to attempt.

            “Not if it involves a restoration of your balance.  He would be getting repaid what he dished out to you over the years.  From what you said I think he deserves whatever he gets.  Don’t you?”

            Ellen bit her lip, staring at three—four—of the absolutely ugliest things she’d ever seen or ever hoped to see.  Then she measured them against her ten years of isolated, secret abuse and the prospect of a poverty-stricken future.  Should there be consequences to her for siccing these monsters on Randall. . . well, they’d be worth it. 

            “Okay,” she said.  “How do we start?”

#

            Ellen left her part-timer in charge and went off with Phylis, elementals invisibly in tow.  “You’re sure they’re still here?”

            “Oh, yes.  No one will see them but us, and we’ll only see them when we want to.  I had to make them understand that.”

            “Why are they so ugly?”

            “I’m not sure, it’s atypical as I understand things.  Take Water, for example—it should be quite nice-looking.  I’m thinking that these turned up looking just this bad because whatever purpose is ahead required them to be like this.  Isn’t it wonderful how the universe provides?  They’re smart like dogs and loyal, too.  I think this bunch really likes you.”

            Ellen found herself strangely touched.  She loved dogs, but, along with a child, Randall forbade her to have one, citing his allergies as the reason.  He’d used his allergies to squirm out of everything from the joys of a pet to mowing the lawn or even going to the movies.  She felt herself getting steamed again for those wasted years of isolation.

            “Take it easy,” Phylis warned.  You can feed them on a nice roast of anger after the job is done.”

            She and Phylis walked to the town marina, only a few blocks from the tea room.  Randall kept his forty-foot boat there.  Somehow his allergies were very forgiving of sea air.  Ellen had only ever seen the boat from the dock.  Randall had convinced her she would break something on it or fall overboard.  He also maintained that he needed a “private space” to call his own.  “You have your hen parties at that shop, I have my boat,” he’d sniffed.

            And she’d swallowed it, telling herself that he knew best, and besides, she was too busy with business to go on weekend fishing trips with him.  Too late she came to learn his ‘trips’ always involved other women.  She suspected her lawyer might even be one of them.  He had suspended philandering for the time being. He was smart enough to play the injured husband role to the hilt right now.

            “What a nice big boat,” said Phylis.

            “It cost more than our house—his house, I mean.”  Both boat and house would eventually return to Randall, once the divorce was settled.  The same went for his hidden savings.

            “Oh, that bastard!  He didn’t tell you how much he made a year?”

            Ellen was getting quite used to Phylis picking up her thoughts.  “Not a penny.  I earned what I could with the shop, shared that with him because he said he needed it, and all the time he was—oh, I could kill him!”

            “Yes, betrayal is an awful thing.  My ex did it to me, all perfectly legal, too.  That’s why I turned to my dabbling.  I was looking for a way to get some of my life back.  What a day it was when one of my little spells activated my mind-reading.”

            “Really?  I thought people were born with those abilities.”

            “I suppose they are.  I think I always had the gift, but it got smothered by my upbringing and life in general.  Then one day it was like taking out some ear plugs.  It was scary at first, but I’ve learned to trust and control it.  Maybe that’s what drew me into your tea room, I must have sensed a kindred vibration in its energy today.  Come on, let’s go save your place.”

            They walked down a short pier to the boat.  It looked huge to Ellen, magnificent.

            I helped pay for it and never once enjoyed it.

            “You’re sure your name isn’t on the ownership papers?”  asked Phylis.

            “He made a point of throwing that in my face.”

            “That’s good, then no one can point an accusing finger at you.”

            “Accusing me of what?”

            “Hm, well, whatever you’d like.  Our little friends here are very versatile.  Air could blow him off course, Water could make a nasty whirlpool to suck him under, or they could work together as a really violent squall.”

            Ellen considered these new possibilities, feeling the stretching of her world as an almost physical pleasure.  “I wouldn’t want to hurt other people who might be out sailing.”

            “Yes, all right.  I’m sure we can find some way to avoid dragging them in.  Why don’t you test Water out?  Look at it, all raring to go.”

            Water had indeed jumped things, going visible to them and slipping into the normal water next to the pier.  It darted around the pilings like an otter.  A goat-sized otter with really huge, sharp teeth.  Water grinned, made happy gurgling noises, and kicked up little waves.  It was quite endearing, really.

            “Er, ah, Water?”  Ellen felt a little foolish at her diffidence, but the elemental instantly came when called, looking up attentively.  “Would you—”  what did she want?  “—would you please do something appropriate to that boat there, if you’re able, that is.”

            Water certainly proved able.  Flashing its needle teeth in a joyous grin, it vanished under the pier.  After a moment, Ellen heard a deep rolling wash of sound.  The whole of the bay seemed to vibrate from it.  Then a great watery fist rose thirty feet from the sea and smashed down on Randall’s beautiful boat.  The craft rocked drunkenly under the assault.  The spray of impact soaked Ellen and Phylis, but Ellen didn’t care, and Phylis was cheering.

            “Oh, look at it go!  I bet it’ll cost a fortune to have that cleaned!”

            The boat’s deck was not only awash with water, but with greasy, muddy flotsam dredged up from the bottom.  The once-pristine superstructure and fittings were alive with flopping fish, misplaced crabs, shells, foul-smelling seaweed and waterlogged garbage.  People from other boats nearby came out to stare.

            “We should get out of here before someone recognizes me,” said Ellen.

            “Yes, you’re right, but what fun!  Come along, Water, oh, there’s a good elemental.  Who’s the dear little creature, then?  Who’s mommie’s little sweetie?”  Water scampered soggily ahead, playing a chasing game with the other three.  “That was a wonderful start, Ellen.  Have you any ideas of how to use the rest now?”

            Ellen did, and began forming solid plans, much better than her roasting-Randall-on-a-spit fantasies, because she actually could implement them.  Or rather her newfound friends could.

            From that point forward Randall began to suffer where it hurt the most: his bank account.  The following day, after he was advised of the damage to his precious boat and had had time to fully appreciate the wreckage, other disasters overtook him.  Ellen was safe in her tea room serving lunch to a dozen witnesses to her whereabouts when Randall’s house mysteriously caught fire.  A freak wind kept the flames from traveling to any other homes, yet seemed to whip the blaze into an all-consuming frenzy.  When the fire trucks arrived, the water hydrants refused to live up to their potential.  Water pressure was down to a mere trickle for some reason.  This lasted only until the house was reduced to a few charred sticks.

            Ellen lost nothing in it.  Randall had been careful to box up all her things when he’d thrown her out.  She soon learned from gossip that her future ex-husband was stunned, devastated, and gripped in the horrors of utter shock.  For every hour of his anguish, Ellen felt months of her own pain falling away from her soul.

            Payback was a wonderful thing.

            Randall retreated to his boat to live on, dead fish and all.  He lost work time from his law office.  His partners were not amused.  What made things worse was that each day he came home to a renewal of the smelly, filthy mess.  Neighbors at the marina told tales of freak waterspouts and strange high waves.

            His car was her next target.  While Ellen had made do with a wheezing, stuttering wreck that she’d driven since before their marriage, Randall had that year’s top-of-the-line Lexus.  “Have to let my clients know I can win for them,”  he’d told her.  She’d never been allowed to drive any of his new cars, and only rarely got to ride in them.

            Again, she was safe serving another tasty lunch to her regulars when a sinkhole opened up in the street in front of her tea room just as Randall was driving past to the marina.  The front end of the Lexus plowed into the four-foot deep, eight-foot wide hole at forty miles an hour, stopping the car dead with a noisy and expensive-sounding crunch.  All the air-bags deployed.  Randall was badly bruised by their unnatural force.

            Phylis went to the hospital to check on him, returning with a juicy report.

            “He’s in a neck brace for at least a week,” she said.  “And he had some kind of mishap when he tried to take his contact lenses out that scratched his corneas.  The doctors had to blindfold and sedate him so he wouldn’t claw his eyes out from the agony.”

            Ellen rocked with laughter and didn’t feel a bit guilty.  Hadn’t he given her a daily dose of pain every day?  She still had the visible scars, but began to lose her shame of them.

            Randall tried to bring a suit against the city to replace his totaled car and pay for his hospital stay.  He cited shoddy paving as the cause of his mishap, but even his old friend the judge could not rule against a sinkhole in the earth, which was determined to be an “act of God.”  Odd, perhaps, for this part of the world, but a perfectly normal geologic occurrence.

            And one not covered by Randall’s insurance.

            Ellen rejoiced.  She and Phylis celebrated by going to a Mel Gibson film that night and pigging out on chocolate eclairs and satisfaction.

            The elementals were now Ellen’s fourfold joys.  She’d grown very fond of them, and no longer saw them as ugly, but found them endearing, like the little alien from the Spielberg movie.  She cooed and told them they were marvelous and fed them servings of Randall’s frazzled feelings.  In turn they adored her and Phylis.

            “Don’t you have anything you want them to do for you?”  she’d asked Phylis.

            “No, I took care of my ex years ago.”

            “You used elementals against him?”

            “Just one.  I wasn’t too practiced with summonings back then.  All I got was a dear little air elemental.  It wasn’t very large or powerful, but it was enough.”

            “What did it do?”

            “Well, it’s still being done.  My ex is in the hospital a lot, suffering from a strange shortness of breath.  The doctors are unable to explain it.  His lungs are perfectly healthy, but he just can’t seem to breathe in enough air.  They think he’s crazy by now.  He’s spent a fortune in therapy.”

            “Oh, Phylis, that’s absolutely wicked!  I wish I’d thought of that!”

            “The condition comes and goes at the worst times, too.  I don’t think he’s had sex in the last eight years.  A fair payback for all the times he was in the mood and I wasn’t.”

            Ellen screamed with delight and made a mental note about it and continued with her fun.

            But one day Phylis rushed into the tea room, wearing a worried look.  She dragged Ellen to the back and shut the door.  “You got trouble,” she blurted.  “I was taking the kids for an outing in the park across from the courthouse. . .”

            Early on they had begun to refer to the elementals as “the kids.”

            “. . .and Randall walked past me!  He knows you and I are friends.”

            “So?”

            “So the sight of me sparked off a line of thought with him.  It was so loud he might as well have had a bullhorn.”

            “What was he thinking?”

            “It’s awful!  He’s planning to kill you!”

            What?

            “He was positively gloating about it.  I saw everything!  He’s going out on his boat, then he’ll sneak back and make it look like an interrupted robbery.  Oh, I’ve run up against some terrible people, but this one is diseased!

            Ellen grabbed the edge of a plastic crate to steady herself, suddenly sick.  “B-but why should he?  There’s no reason.”

            “I think it’s to do with your tea room.  He’s not going to risk getting only half.  He must want it all.”

            “Have you any proof?”

            “I wish I did.”

            In response to her emotional surge the four elementals swept through the closed door and surrounded her, leaning in close to feed.  Impulsively seeking comfort, she reached down to pet them.  They fawned even closer, though her hands passed right through them.

            “This is too much.”  Ellen shook off the choking feeling that threatened to take her over.  She used to get it all the time, but not lately.  She’d almost forgotten what it felt like.  I am not going to go back to it, either!

            “I think this was inevitable,” said Phylis.  “He’s been deprived of all his other resources, of course he’d look on the shop as his last hope of restoring his funds.”

            “Yes, I’d thought of that.  But to take this direction. . .it’s wicked.”

            “Oh, Ellen, we’ve got to do something!  You’ve got to leave town.”

            “No!  I won’t run from him!”  Ellen thought fast, and a wonderful, terrible plan blossomed.  She almost shivered away from it.  Almost.  She knew all too well that Randall was absolutely capable of any crime if he thought he could get away with it.  But not this time.  She regarded the kids—her saviors—fondly.  “You little dears.  It’s been playtime until now, with just a few little snacks.  How would you like a real banquet?”

            They gurgled, growled, rumbled, and wheezed eagerly.

            “Who’s Mommie’s little sweeties?  Hmm?”

#

            Ellen was on lookout duty by the front door of the tea room, waiting for Randall to drive by.  It was only lunch time, but he always cheated on Fridays, leaving his office early to get to his boat.  He finally appeared, in a much less spectacular used Hyundai, the only thing he could get since the insurance company was still investigating the burning of the house.  They were not yet ready to dismiss arson as the cause of the blaze, and there was a problem with the house being in his old friend’s name.

            Randall saw her and slowed as she stepped outside.  They got a good look at each other.  Ellen showed no expression.  Randall, uncharacteristically, broke into a wide smile and waved, a man without a care in the world. 

            That decided her.  His satisfied grin, rife with confidence, was her proof of his intentions.  Had he still been worried over his future, he’d have sneered.

            Phylis came to stand next to her.  She went sheet-white.  “Oh, God.  It’s tonight.  He’s going to break into your flat with a crowbar and. . .”

            “It’s all right.”  Ellen softly called the kids over.  “See the car?  See the man inside?  Go get him!”  she whispered.

            They surged joyfully past, chasing the vehicle down the street like a mis-matched wolf pack seeking easy quarry.

            “How I wish I could watch.” 

            “There might be a way,”  said Phylis.  “I’ve been reading a lot lately about scrying.  Have you a black bowl?”

            They made do with a large blue mixing bowl, setting it on the little table in the back room, and filling it with bottled spring water.  While the part-timer coped with the rush, Ellen and Phylis lighted candles, placing them carefully so none of their light reflected in the water.

            “Now a deep breath,”  said Phylis.  “Concentrate on Randall and let the image come to you.”

            Ellen breathed deep and waited.  She didn’t expect much, staring into the dark depths of the still water, then to her surprise an image did indeed surface.  It was faint, just a blink, but she saw it like a still photograph: Randall, still in his business suit, climbing aboard his boat. 

            “Oh!  Did you see that?”

            “Yes!  I didn’t think it’d work this well.  It must be you boosting the power again.  Keep looking!”

            Ellen was strongly reminded of a slide show.  But this version of vacation pictures was vastly more riveting.  More little images came to her in the water.  She found she could hold on to them for longer periods, and suddenly one of them showed movement, like a film projector finally grinding to life.

            “Are you getting that, too?”  she asked Phylis.

            “Practice makes perfect.  This is fun!

            They watched steadily as the afternoon wore away.  Randall at the wheel, Randall knocking back a number of beers, Randall taking a leak into the bay.

            “What a pig,”  said Phylis.

            “I know.  He always left the seat up, too.”

            “Not any more.”

            The kids stayed close to him, invisible to his eyes.  Air made its presence known by shifting the wind.  Randall jumped and cursed as his own pee was blown onto his Armani-clad legs.

            “I heard him!”  Ellen exclaimed.  “Oh, I love this!”

            Randall went below to wash and change pants.  Water followed and saw to his thorough soaking when something went wrong with the faucet pressure.  At the same time the toilet backed up.

            “I hope you have something for Fire and Earth to do,”  said Phylis.

            “It’s coming.”

            The boat cut farther out into the bay toward open sea.  Randall was an experienced sailor and gave a tumble of boulders marking the mouth of the bay a wide berth. 

            Air and Water had other ideas, though.  A sudden blast of wind struck the side of the boat, accompanied by an equally unexpected wave.  Two stories tall.  Both had a devastating effect on the craft and its captain.  The boat heeled drunkenly over, riding the water tipsily toward the rocks.  Despite Randall’s frantic efforts at hauling the wheel around he was helpless against the forces of nature.

            Or supernature, Ellen silently added.  Phylis, picking up the thought, giggled.  What a shame about the boat, though.

             Smashing brutally into the rocks, the forty-footer creaked and groaned like a live thing caught in a trap.  Ellen could hear Randall’s yells and cursing, a too familiar sound, always directed at her, now directed at the elements.

            If he only knew.

            As though in response to her thought, all four elementals became visible.  To Randall. 

            Ellen could hear his terrified screams.  My, but he was loud.  He had every right to be.  She recalled her initial shock at seeing them, and they’d been friendly toward her.  No such restraints now.  All of them did their best to induce the most fear in him, which wasn’t too difficult with their looks.

            Water finally swept him overboard, then threw him up high so Air could catch him in a miniature tornado.  As Randall whirled around in exquisite slow motion, Fire busily dealt with the boat’s fuel tanks.

            Ellen heard the deep whump as the hapless craft blew into a thousand pieces, the fireball rising over the bay like a vast orange and black flower.

            “Gosh!”  said Phylis.  “That’s something right out of a James Bond film.  You go, girl!”

            Air flung Randall toward land.  He fell into a spongy area just past the outcrop of boulders.  The ground there wasn’t normally spongy, but that was Earth’s doing.  Randall had just begun to feebly move when he was sucked down.  Water and Earth had worked together to make a wonderfully soupy quicksand.

            “Oh!”  said Phylis.  “That’s great!  They did it in a Tarzan movie!”

            “That’s where I got the idea.  Come on!”

            Ellen led the way to the rear door of her establishment, which opened to a wide, unpaved alley lined with a high fence.  None of the neighbors would see.  She soon felt a quivering beneath her feet.  Moments later Earth opened up, and Randall’s torso emerged like an exotic plant.  A very muddy one.  He slumped over with a groan, gasping for air.

            “Ew!”  said Ellen.  “What a stink!  Earth must have dragged him through the sewer lines.”

            “I didn’t know Earth could do that,”  said Phylis.

            “Neither did I, but they’ve all been getting very strong over the last few weeks.”

            “Nothing like a steady diet.”

            “Ellen?”  Randall croaked.  He stared up, bleary and blinking.  “Ellen, help me!”

            “Why should I?”  she asked, astonished.

            “For God’s sake, help me!”

            “Not this or any other time.  You brought this on yourself.  You were going to kill me tonight, weren’t you?”

            Randall’s jaw dropped, and he made no reply.  His terrified gaze shifted to the elementals that were gathering about him.  They had grown.  “Get me out of here!”

            “Apologize.”

            “What?”

            “I want to hear you say you’re sorry for—”

            Randall was a man quick to assess the fantastic situation and judge his best course of action.  He began babbling a series of profound apologies about everything.  None were too specific, but all were music to Ellen’s ears.  When he ran out of breath and began begging for help again, she held up her hand.

            “Enough.  I know you only said all that to save yourself and you don’t mean a word, but it was good to hear all the same.  You’re a pathetic bully, Randall, and I’m going to do the next woman in your life a favor and make sure she never meets you.”  At a word from her, Earth sucked Randall under again.  The last she heard from him was his abruptly smothered scream as the ground knitted up solidly over his head.  The remaining three “kids” swirled up, laughing in their own way, and shot off, heading toward the bay again.

            Ellen felt grimly amused and decidedly free.  “I hope he can hold his breath until Earth takes him out the other side again,”  she remarked.

            “Why is that?”  asked Phylis.

            “So they find water in his lungs instead of soil.  It should look like a natural drowning as a result of the boat accident.” 

            “Ellen, are you sure?  You can still stop them.”

            “I’m sure.  This is self-defense, pure and simple.”

            “True.  The things I saw in his mind, what he was going to do. . .”

            “Well, try to forget it.”  Ellen straightened, doing a mental dusting off.  “I suppose we’d better clean up the scrying stuff.”

            Phylis gladly seized the change of subject.  “Yes.  Wouldn’t want to leave that lying around.”

            “Then afterwards I’d love to have a look at some of your reading materials.  I think I must have a talent for this kind of thing.”

            “You should explore it, that’s how I came to be an artist.”

            “I have an idea. . .”

            Phylis caught the thought and grinned.  “About helping others?”

            “Lots of women come into my shop with problems.  You’d be able to tell which ones were in real need, and then together we could help them.  With our four little friends, that is.”

            “Count me in.”

            “Besides, I really love the little dears.  I’d hate to send them back.”

            “Oh, no, not when there’s so much more for them to do!”

            “But tomorrow,” Ellen said firmly.  “Tonight there’s going to be a Lethal Weapon marathon at the rerun house. . .”

            “Great!  Let’s see if there’s any éclairs left!”

 


Copyright 2007 P.N. Elrod

The stories posted are not released from copyright, under creative commons or any other licensing procedure.  They are not for reproduction elsewhere, with the exception of small excerpts for the purpose of linking or commentary and other purposes covered under fair use. 

THANK YOU for respecting this! -- P.N. Elrod