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Tea Room Beasts
published in Creature Fantastic, DAW Books, 2002, Edited by
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
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
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
I could paint a line down the middle and give him the less
“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
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?”
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.”
“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,
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 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.
delivered the tray herself, turning cash register duty over to her
“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
“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
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
In spite of her sudden
flash of distrust Ellen turned to look and saw. . .
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.
screamed Ellen. She fled to the broom closet and shut herself in.
“Now don’t be like that, you’ll hurt their feelings,”
“What. Are. Those.
Ellen shoved a folding chair under the doorknob and hoped it
“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.”
“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
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.
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?”
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
“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,”
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
“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
“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?”
“He made a point of throwing that in my face.”
“That’s good, then no one can point an accusing finger at
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
“. . .and Randall walked past me!
He knows you and I are friends.”
“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!”
“He was positively gloating
about it. I saw
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
Ellen grabbed the edge of a plastic crate to steady herself,
suddenly sick. “B-but
why should he? There’s
“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
seeking comfort, she reached down to pet them.
They fawned even closer, though her hands passed right
“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
They gurgled, growled, rumbled, and wheezed eagerly.
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
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
“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
“Oh! Did you see that?”
“Yes! I didn’t think it’d work this well. It must be you boosting the power again.
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
“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
“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,”
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.
Ellen silently added. Phylis,
picking up the thought, giggled. What a shame about the
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
If he only knew.
As though in response to her thought, all four elementals
became visible. To
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
“That’s where I got the idea.
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,”
“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
“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
“Get me out of here!”
“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
“Why is that?” asked
“So they find water in his lungs instead of soil.
It should look like a natural drowning as a result of the
“Ellen, are you sure? You can still
“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.
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
“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