NIGHTFiRE, by Charha word1aABrA CADABRA
by Vixyy Fox
Text ©2008 Vixyy Fox; illustration ©2008 Charha

Home -=- #20 -=- ANTHRO #20 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-

   The Storyteller walked among the crowd gathered to hear her. It was the little village’s Harvest Festival, and every family of the locality was out well after the sun went down; all enjoyed the excuse to visit and have fun. They were honest, hard-working farmers, understanding little beyond the tending of their fields. Reading and writing were unknown to them, so stories of far-off places and mysterious people were a rare treat.
   Thus far, the Fox had not disappointed.
   Earlier, amidst blueberry pie, there were stories for the children. With the pie was a knowing wink to the parents, assuring them her words would remain childlike and loving with good morals added in abundance. After the day’s wonderful dessert and her comforting stories of toy jesters and friendly sock dolls come to life, there would be a glass of warm milk and bed.
   Soon after, just a bit later in the evening, there were stories for the young lovers. These were the older children, just finding out the opposite sex was not as horrible as they’d once believed. The attraction of these males and females was like that of lodestone and iron, so she had to work hard to keep their attention. Her words now were of knights in shining armor saving princesses from very bad fates… and yet, before the knight received his ‘just desserts’, there was always a wedding.
   In the evening, when the mothers returned, she would perform a romantic play all by herself, taking on the role of no less than six different characters. This was done by the light of torches set around her stage in the flattened dirt. Afterwards, the ladies who’d attended would swear she had help. The big eared Fox could hear them talking about it in tittering voices as they walked away… and this pleased her.
   And finally, to the flickering of the last of the torches’ light, she performed for the men; some of whom drunkenly passed out as soon as they sat to watch. Her body language and blinking, winking, heavily-painted eyes cajoled them to loud laughter. She was the King’s own strumpet—farting, burping, and scratching her back side to their utmost delight. Her bawdy words made them howl with delight, giving them reason to forget their troubles for that last remaining hour… and she was loved for this.
   In the remaining few minutes of her day (and for good reason!), she always finished with the poem about the Gypsy Cat. It was a reminder to this drunken lot that they should go straight home to bed—the one containing their softly snoring wives. In this, the Storyteller encouraged her listeners to forgo any mischief they might have thought about while drinking their wine.
   One by one, she extinguished all but three of her torches. Then, after quietly fixing all of their attention directly on her face, she changed expressions, affecting one that was very sinister and foreboding.

   “Hark to my words, now
   “And pay me good heed!
   “The Gypsy Cat prowls the night;
   “Hunting bad deeds.”

   “Her bright eyes are keen;
   “Her ears, finely honed.
   “What you do in private
   “Will surely be known.”

  (Here she extinguished one of the three torches. Taking the remaining two in paw, she walked among them.)

   “She creeps through the night,
   “She snoops and she pries,
   “And she ever remembers
   “The least of your lies.”

   “She’s Satan’s own mistress,
   “That slight, pretty thing
   “Who strikes from the darkness
   “Like Bats on the wing.”

   “The riches you boast of
   “And hide in your home?
   “You’ll not see the Gypsy Cat
   “Make them her own.”


   “Good sir, guard your purse!
   “But guard your heart, too
   “The Gypsy Cat’s well-versed
   “In all arts of woo.”

   “Should you meet this night,
   “She’ll ask you to choose:
   “Your gold or your heart?
   “Now, which would you lose?”

   (At this point, she was again standing in front of her small audience. With the last line, she planted the torches firmly again in the dirt.)

   “Pray, go to your homes,
   “My friends. That’s my advice.
   “To sleep with one’s own
   “Is a jewel without price.”

   When her audience finally left, including one overly drunk Fox who tried to seduce her, she tiredly extinguished one of the two remaining torches. This she placed to cool before retiring to her own small camp; the other she left burning to light her way. Its orange-tinged illumination cast long shadows around her in the darkness. This was something she used to good effect in her act, especially when telling stories of strange happenings and stolen souls lost to the Darkness. For now, however, it was simply the light by which she counted the few coins in her small ‘donation bowl’ which had been set out for each performance.
   Sitting on the small wall surrounding the center of the square, she took out a canteen from her duffle and slacked her thirst. It had been a long day and her throat was very dry. Pity this was such a small village in comparison to most… her take was but a few coins, and the one tavern was closed soon after the moon came up. She so yearned for something stronger than water… medicinal, of course, for her tired bones.
   The slightest of noises reached her big ears, and the fur on the back of her neck stood on end. She froze in position, appearing stone-like as she listened intently for the source of the sound. When she was sure nothing lurked in the nearby darkness, she breathed again…then, slipping the coins and the canteen into the pouch on her side, she smiled at her fancies. Though her tales were in some sense rooted in reality, she ought to know better than to accept them as true! Fancies, indeed…

   By one of those quirks for which the Fates are famous, an actual Gypsy Cat did creep through this night. Her name was Charha, and she stood on a rain barrel, peering into the bedroom of Patricia Porcupine. There was but one candle burning on the night stand… just enough illumination to see by. This was a poor village, and such things as candles were hoarded against their expense. The fact that a candle burned meant that a certain visitor to the bedchamber was very highly thought of. The young Porcupine was not alone; with her would be a gentleman caller. This was unusual, in that having sex outside of wedlock was forbidden by law, on pain of a severe and humiliating penalty. At the same time, it was also perfectly normal, in that it happened all the time regardless of the law and its punishment.
   The Gypsy Cat was curious. If she could find out who the other person was, she would have one more secret to hold close. Secrets were so very precious… secrets were—
   The water barrel fell out from under her with a galooosh of spilled liquid.
   “What we got ’ere?” said a rough, masculine, ursine voice. “I do b’lieve we gots a peeping Tom Cat.”
   Another voice, this one canine, laughed. “Thomasina is more like it, Bern. I ain’t ever seen a Tom wearing no skirts afore.”
   “Posh, says I!” the bear said. “’Tis a Gypsy, and they wears what they wants, males and females alike; garish colors, too. They’s an uncultured breed with no manners a’tall. Good job we caught this ’un!”
   Charha held on to the window’s ledge, her legs dangling a good body’s length from the ground. She could easily drop down, but would be immediately apprehended by the village constables.
   Patricia Porcupine, night dress pressing against a less than supple body, poked her head out of the window. “Here now—what goes on? It’s night, and sleep is dear!”
   “These two are here to arrest you,” Charha hissed at her.
   “You have your man friend to think of. I’m a Gypsy—I know these things. Prison and the stocks will not be good for either of you. I can help if you’ll pull me up.”
   The first constable grabbed at the Cat’s dangling foot. “Here now, my lovely, let me assist you down nicely-like. We’ve a warm cell awaiting ye, an’ by tomorrow night you’ll have a nice new coating of tar and feathers to keep the chill off.”
   The Cat managed to kick him in the chest. The Bear’s affable manner took a sudden sharp downturn, accented with a curse.
   “Leave the young lovers alone, you brute!” she yelled at him.
   Patricia, aghast that her secret was suddenly known, swiftly reached down and hoisted the Cat through her window. In the dimly-lit bedroom, Charha saw Patricia’s lover, as she knew she would. Their eyes locked and she smiled at him. He was quite handsome in his nakedness—though the quills standing up on his back would have made for a lively time should his lovemaking get out of sync. If he were to zig while his partner zagged…
   “Get under the bed, silly man-thing,” she hissed at him, “before you’re caught out!” Turning quickly to Patricia, she handed her the scarf from her own head. “Put this on and lean back out the window. Tell the big oaf it’s the ‘Night of the Dead’, and we all dress up to fool the roaming spirits and our neighbors. Tell him you invited me here for a sleepover, and I was having fun trying to sneak up on you.”
   Patricia, now frantic that she and her lover would be arrested and dragged off, did exactly that; even adding her own angry shouts at the constable for good measure.
   “If I were you,” she told him, “I’d go back to my prison cells and stay there for the rest of the night!”
   “Pray tell us why, mum?” the constable asked, his voice dripping sarcasm.
   The Porcupine’s mouth opened… but she couldn’t think of a suitable lie. The Gypsy Cat’s wits were quicker: “Tell him the Demon Ripkin roams this night! Say that if Ripkin catches him, he’ll live an eternity underground, buggered till he bleeds!” hissed the Cat behind her.
   “But, I, you..?” the Porcupine asked, confused.
   “Just do it! And make it sound as horrible as you can! The Bear wears a talisman against this Demon—I saw it around his neck. He’ll believe!”
   “If Ripkin catches you out this night,” Patricia yelled at the Bear, “and guesses who you are, you’ll live an eternity underground with him poking you in the butt! Just you think about that, you mean, mean thing! You’ll never, ever see daylight again!”
   “What?” the Bear asked suddenly shocked that his personal fear was being spoken of.
   “Ripkin!” she called out. “Ripkin… come hence and meet your new mate!”
   The Bear immediately made the sign of ‘The Circle’ in the air with his right pinky finger as a ward against Demons. “Don’t say sech t’ings, Miss! He’ll hear you and come a-runnin’! Our job of pertectin’ ya during the night, it’s hard enough without havin’ ta be wary of ever’ shadow we sees!”
   Sensing the Bear’s unease, Patricia immediately pressed her attack home. “Your job is to watch for fires! But look there—you dumped my water barrel like the dumb thing you are! Make it right, oaf Bear; and then you and your Doggy friend better find yourselves costumes to wear. Remember what I told you. If Ripkin guesses who you are…” Pointing across the way, she gasped, “It’s him! I just saw him. Black-furred and naked, he is—and oh my, would you look at the size of his erection!”
   With a yelp, both constables were off at a run; the rain barrel, a tool in their battle against the fires they watched for, was forgotten in their flight to safety.
   Patricia fell backwards to the floor and began giggling hysterically.
   Charha rose to her knees. Reaching into her pouch, she withdrew a crystal ball, and holding it up, yelled loudly in a sing-songy voice, “Ripkin my darling lover… come to me that we might make merry… come to me Ripkin, oh imaginary imp, and be my loverrrrr.”
   During her song, an evil red eye appeared in the convex surface of the glass; blinked; and then disappeared again before anyone noticed.
   Patricia’s unofficial husband-to-be stuck his head out from under the bed. “They’re gone?” he asked in a whisper.
   “Long gone, like the Devil was chasing them,” Patricia informed him and the three within her bedchamber laughed until they had tears. When the laughter was done, however, the Porcupine couple found themselves looking suspiciously at the Gypsy.
   The Cat smiled back, and without skipping a beat, held the crystal ball before her, telling them, “I received word from the Other World that you were in danger. I came to warn you both.” Looking to the naked male, she said, “This is… Peter?”
   “Percival,” Patricia told her, quickly on the defensive. “I don’t know any Peter.”
   “’Cept for mine,” Percival added plainly. He received a frown from his intended for it. “What?” he asked. “I’m laying under your bed, as naked as birth, and she’s not to know that?”
   “The Spirits were not so sure of his name, Patricia,” the Gypsy Cat stated. “Only that it began with a ‘p’ and an ‘e’. I guessed Peter as common enough to fit, so the Spirits were right and I was wrong. Still, as odd as my entrance was, it’s fortuitous I came in as I did, saving you from those two dumb brutes, lest you be caught and dragged to their cells. Tell me: Did they run well?”
   Patricia smiled at the image in her memory. “Like the path was made of hot coals and their feet were dry wood.” Leaning forward, she then asked, “Can you truly contact the Other Side? Might I speak with my Mum? I do so miss her…”

   Vixyy looked up from the ground and spit out dirt. The faint outline of the two creatures who’d bowled her over like a skittle pin quickly disappeared into the night. With the hit, her unlit torches fell around her like a child’s game of ‘pick up sticks’. The single lit torch now sputtered its last and went out. One of the brutes was definitely a largish Bear; the other, she thought, was a Dog.
   “Pox on you both!” she shouted at their backs. Getting up to her knees, she suddenly wondered if she, too, should be running from whatever had spooked the pair… and immediately dismissed this notion. The night was her friend these days, and it was rare that she encountered anything evil within its covering darkness. “Danged sissies,” she grumbled, struggling to stand. “The bigger they are, the more frightened of the dark they become. Makes my job easier, it does. With that kind of imagination…”
   She stopped and looked around; the fur on the back of her neck stood on end. Perhaps those two were running with good reason, after all..? Taking up her extinguished torch, she held it in a defensive posture. She then made a slow circle, peering into the darkness… nothing. One time, but only one time, she thought she’d heard rough breathing. Twitch her ears as she might, however, she could not locate the source. Making the sign of ‘The Circle’ with her right pinky finger, she spit on the ground. Picking up her many torches, she let her mind race and became uneasy. Though her camp was but a short distance outside the village, she decided it might be a good idea to head back into the village. Sleep would be found curled up by the wall of the village square. A Fox stays alive by wit and cunning… and by paying attention to the sixth sense.
   Right now, that sixth sense was telling her something was not what it should be.

   Charha backed out of the door to Patricia Porcupine’s abode, closing it quietly so as to not disturb the lovers. After calling to ‘the Other Side’ with her crystal ball and speaking with Patricia’s mother—all was well in the Beyond, and the ball mysteriously went dark before more pointed questions could be asked; this was conveniently explained away with blame squarely placed upon ‘the Night of the Dead’—the Cat took the liberty of instructing the pair on the art of making love Gypsy-style. The couple was quite excited by this; within moments, they were totally oblivious to the fact that she was even in the room… Though she would have loved to watch, prudence dictated a quick, quiet exit.
   A few blocks to the west, safely away from the entwined townsfolk, the Gypsy Cat examined the prize she held in her paw: A copper coin she’d found within Percival’s shoe. Most likely it was kept there for luck and against the possibilities of hard times. To Charha’s mind, this was more than fair trade for the secrets she’d imparted upon them. Though she’d made up half of what she told them, it was nothing she wouldn’t have tried herself, given the right partner.
   She froze to the spot when she heard someone loudly wish a Pox on someone else. This was odd—normally, that phrase was shouted at her when she was caught being bad. Perhaps it was another Gypsy, but she didn’t think so; she’d seen none of her kind’s secret signals. Perhaps she would investigate the angry shout? The night was yet young, and there were always secrets to be gathered. Smiling to herself, she also thought of the errant purse she might be able to pilfer. Both of these possibilities made her quite pleased.
   With those thoughts in her mind, the Gypsy Cat headed off in the direction of the shout.

   There were two entrances to the Village Square. On this night, one could have been named Fox Gate, and the other Cat Gate, for both females entered the area through these respective places. This put them squarely on opposite sides at the same moment.
   Cat and Fox froze, sensing the prickly-skinned feeling of close contact with an unknown. They listened and sniffed the air, then crept forward. Circling the Square, both moved to their right.
   The vixen stalked three steps and stopped, as did the kitten. Sniff… listen… taste the air with every sense… and three more steps. Many minutes passed before they both came to the opposite gate from where they began. That was when both caught the scent of the other from the tracks left behind.
   “Fox…” whispered the Cat.
   “Cat…” hissed the Fox.
   Vixyy quietly placed her pile of torches on the ground, keeping one as a cudgel. Charha, hearing the mild ‘tunk’ of wood touching wood, crouched a little lower. She’d been beaten enough times to know how a stout stick could punish; but this time, she had an advantage in knowing her attackers were there. Reaching into her pouch, she took out her crystal ball and held it in front of her like a talisman.
   “I will not be afraid and run away,” she whispered. “I will not be beaten again for no good reason.” The ball felt warm in her paws.
   The Fox’s sharp ears heard, and she silently smiled. Though she’d not understood the words, she was now sure there were two Cats; and they were plotting to rob her of the few coins she’d earned that day. They would circle the square in opposite directions to surround her front and back… but she would be waiting for them. Moving forward like a blind person, she felt for the small stone wall surrounding the Square. Finding it, she turned and sat, draping her tail comfortably over the side. When the thieves met in front of her, she would sweep their legs with the unlit wooden torch and then strike them about the head and shoulders.
   Charha stood straight-backed, and placed a paw on the same stone wall. She would use it as a guide as she bravely walked, holding the crystal ball in the other paw. The Gypsy implement had never actually revealed any secret knowledge to her, so perhaps it could serve in a more practical manner, by bashing in the heads of her attackers.
   The Cat stepped…
   The Fox’s ear twitched…
   The Cat sniffed…
   The Fox exhaled…
   And within the shadows of the village’s buildings, the night remained pitch black.
   Again and again the process was repeated until both Cat and Fox were no more than inches apart, waiting… seeking… and then their paws touched with a crack of static electricity. The miniature lighting bolt shocked them both equally, and then leapt to the crystal ball.
   With a shout, the Fox jumped back to a defensive crouch, holding the torch across her small chest.
   With a cry, the Cat jumped back, the ball leaving her paw and flying into the air. It flashed one time like lightning, and each one saw the other as a frozen figure. The image remained in their minds as darkness again swallowed them both.
   The ball thunked to the ground in the darkness between them.
   “What are you doing?” hissed the Fox, mindful that the village still slept even with the ruckus they’d both just made.
   “You were going to beat me with that stick!” the Gypsy meowed back defensively. “I meant to strike first.”
   “You meant to rob me!”
   “I do not rob anyone.”
   “You’re a Gypsy,” the Fox accused, “You steal things!”
   “I borrow and repay,” the Cat replied with lofty dignity. After a smiling pause, she added, “Eventually.”
   “Do you.” The Fox’s eyes narrowed in the darkness. “Have you ever repaid anything? And be honest, the moon watches you.”
   The Cat’s eyes narrowed, just a bit. “‘Eventually’ has not come yet… and there is no moon or it would not be so cursed dark.”
   The Fox thought about this. “A fair answer,” she conceded. “If you’ve a quick match, I’ll light this torch and we can parley within its light.”
   “I have but a flint and steel,” the Gypsy returned.
   “Bring it and we’ll see what we can do.”
   When the Gypsy’s flint caused only sparks, the Fox finally told her to look away lest she be blinded.
   “What do you intend?” Charha asked innocently.
   Fawhump! and the area was lighted by a huge flash.

   The Gypsy held on to the Storyteller’s arm as she led the way back to her camp. The Fox bore the one lit torch before them like a talisman, occasionally sweeping the air ahead of them. The Cat clutched the unlit torches under her other arm, her crystal ball safe again in her pouch. She stumbled slightly, clutching the Fox’s arm to maintain her balance.
   “I’ve never been blind before,” she said softly.
   “I told you to look away,” the vixen pointed out. “Your night vision will come back in a small while. Can you see anything yet?”
   “I see the flames of your torch, but nothing more. What was it you did—magic?”
   Vixyy hawked and spat. “No,” she told the Cat. “Not magic. It’s something I carry with me should I need a quick escape. The secret was taught to me by a foreign fellow who was also a Storyteller. In smaller amounts it lends itself well as a special effect to spinning a believable yarn, making much smoke and a bright flash. In a pinch, it works equally well at lighting a stubborn torch; as you now know.”
   “Do you have more?”
   “Then why did you use it?”
   “Aren’t you the curious one?” the Fox chuckled.
   “I’m a Cat.”
   “And a Gypsy, too… Well, Gypsy Cat, I needed a torch lit and it was convenient. Tell me about your crystal ball. How did you get it to light like that?”
   Charha paused, forcing them both to stop as she adjusted the torches for a better grip. She then said, “I don’t know. My mother left it to me when she went away. I’ve never actually been able to do anything with it, other than make rainbows in the sun.”
   “You tell fortunes, don’t you?” the Storyteller asked.
   “That’s something, isn’t it? Seeing the future is a great gift by anyone’s standards.”
   “True enough—but I don’t have that gift,” the Cat admitted. “Mostly I fake it. That’s easy; if you watch a fortune-seeker closely, they’ll tell you what they wish to hear. Do that, and you will make far more money than if you tell their future truthfully.”
   The vixen pointed with her torch. “We’re almost there.”
   “Tell me, Fox,” the Gypsy said. “Why did you come back to the village instead of traveling right on to your camp?”
   “I was traveling right on—until I got run over by two fellows like they was trying to get away from the Devil.”
   “A Bear and a Dog?”
   The Storyteller stopped and looked at the Cat. “Yes. How did you know that? And don’t give me any of that Gypsy mumbo-jumbo.”
   Charha blinked her eyes, peered at the Fox, and told her, “I can see you finally.”
   “Well enough to manage on your own?”
   “I think so. As to the Dog and Bear…” She then related the story of Patricia Porcupine as they walked the last bit of distance to the camp. The mention of Ripkin caused the Fox unease, but she did not let it show.
   “You may call me Vixyy,” she offered, as she knelt in the dirt to light her camp fire with the torch. “How is it you know of Ripkin?”
   “He is long of our lore; a Demon with black fur, standing no taller than me. Cat-like, but not a Cat, he has long pointy ears and a totally white head of hair. His is the face of a Jackal, the lust of a raging Bull, and a taste for blood by the bucket.”
   “Ever horny and as nasty as they come,” the Fox finished for her, making the sign of ‘The Circle’ as she did. “Not one you want around, though he will come if you call to him.” Seeing the Cat flinch, she asked softly, “You didn’t call him… did you?”
   The vixen looked at her, squinting her eyes… forcing the truth from the young Gypsy.
   “I only said it in jest…” she said quickly.
   The Storyteller then used a word best not repeated.

   Red eyes blinked in the darkness near the camp and a large smile showed pointed white teeth. Ripkin peered out at them from his place behind a tree. Though his black fur and cape blended well with the surrounding darkness, he was not one to take a risk when what he wanted was so close at hand. The Cat had called to him, and the Fox was rather fetching. They would be so much better than a Bear and a Dog. Those two had hardly even been worth playing with! He glanced to the burlap sack at his feet. ‘All fear and no bravery make for a boring interlude of painful noise,’ he reflected, ‘And little else.’ Perhaps these two would be more entertaining..?
   He was already feeling the pangs of lust creeping up from between his legs.

   “Help me now,” Vixyy told Charha from her place next to the fire. It was not yet burning well, but there were other things yet to be accomplished. “The damage is done, and the best we can do is try to hold him off until the dawn. We must prepare the torches and set them out in a circle around the camp. Be sure not to venture away from the light. It won’t stop him, but he doesn’t like it much.”
   The Cat was mystified by this. “Don’t tell me you actually believe in this silliness? Ripkin is nothing more than an old Gypsy superstition! Even my own mother, may the Devil take her, didn’t truly believe in him.”
   The Fox stopped doing what she was doing and gave the Cat a very hard look. Weighing her words, she finally said, “The Devil may take all of us in the end, but he’s more concerned with destroying the entire world. Get in his way and he’ll hurt you; stay out of his way, and he’ll leave you alone. Ripkin, on the other paw, has no joy other than to cause extreme misery to those around him. I have seen this personally.”
   She bent and after soaking the end of a torch in her pitch bucket, touched it to the fire. It flamed, smoking terribly. Charha took it from her, and said simply, “Pleae, tell me what you know.”
   Vixyy dipped another torch into the pitch bucket. “There was a village. It was smaller than this and many hundreds of leagues distant. I was a good deal younger then; an untried vixen, still pure in my thoughts and ways. On ‘The Night of the Dead’, Ripkin came in search of his fun. The screams I heard that night still haunt my dreams… and so I travel the country, never taking up residence, that I might not again be witness to such a thing.”
   Charha walked five paces from the fire and planted the torch in the dirt. She then turned to look at the Fox. “How is it you lived and the others died?”
   Vixyy shrugged. “I hid. When he finally found me, I seduced him with my innocence. In this way, I kept him at bay until the sun was just broaching the neighboring fields. Promising him heaven on earth, I then took him into my mouth and bit down as hard as I could.”
   There was a gasp from the darkness near them, and then a throaty scream as the Demon ran at her: It was youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu..!”
   Grabbing the torch next to her, Charha stuck its shaft between his legs as he passed her. He tripped, tumbling in a very hard manner and rolling to a stop at the Storyteller’s feet. In a flash, she took her torch from the pitch bucket, touched it to the fire and immediately pressed it to the Demon’s black cape.
   “Burn, evil spirit!” she cried out. “Leave us and go back from whence you came!”
   Ripkin, caught by surprise, squealed as the flames treated his body very much the same way as he wanted to do to the Cat and Fox. Leaping up, he danced about and then ran off into the woods until the flame that was him blinked out and the area was again in darkness.
   “Quickly now, Gypsy! He has come for us; help me get the rest of the torches out!”
    Within moments, all twelve torches were placed in a circle around them and they sat next to the fire holding each other.

   An hour passed in silence as they watched the surrounding forest. Though they could see nothing in the darkness, his presence could be felt to their very souls. There was no moon this sacred night, and under the umbrella of the tree tops, not even the stars seemed to exist.
   “What will happen to us?” Charha finally asked the older Fox.
   “Nothing… for now.”
   “For now?”
   “He’s waiting. Eventually the torches will go out, and the campfire will extinguish itself. That’s when he’ll take us, together or one at a time. He wants me badly, so if I give myself to him willingly, you’ll have a chance to run. Perhaps I can chew on him again before my death; and you might reach the safety of the village.”
   The Gypsy looked from the Fox to the darkness. “And that’s the best plan you could come up with?”
   “Perhaps you could think of one that is better?” the Fox replied. “You did wish him upon us…”
   The Cat’s ears fell. “You hate me, don’t you?”
   Vixyy sighed. “No… I don’t hate you. Being young and naïve doesn’t mean you are an evil creature like Ripkin. It simply means you’ll make the same mistakes I most likely made, and perhaps learn from them if you live to see the next day. It’s how we all learn.”
   The Cat leaned closer and hugged the Fox. “I am afraid,” she said in childlike voice. “Could you tell me a story?”
   The Storyteller saw a pair of red eyes staring at them from just outside the line of torches. She felt something flow over her—a hatred she’d not felt for many years. It supplanted the fear in her heart.
   Steeling her nerve, Vixyy began with more confidence than she truly felt: “Once upon a time…”
   There was a thump in the dirt near them, followed by a second thump. Cat and Fox both jumped up. Both sucked in a deep breath; but neither screamed. In the dirt near them was two severed heads, one of a Bear, the other of a Dog.
   “Do you recognize them?” the Fox asked the Cat.
   “They are the two constables who meant to arrest me.”
   “And so now you see what harm your mischief has wrought.”
   “I meant no harm— I only wished to escape them! They were bullies.”
   “And now they’re picking potatoes for the Devil.”
   The Gypsy looked at her. “The Devil eats potatoes?”
   “Every day,” the Storyteller replied. “He likes them burned to charcoal, though.”
   One of the torches flickered and went out. The red eyes blinked, but Ripkin said nothing. It was but midnight; he was at his strongest now, and time was on his side. When the last torch burned out and the fire was low, he would swoop in and capture his prey.
   “Once upon a time,” the Storyteller repeated loudly, “there was a Princess.”
   “What are you doing?” the Gypsy hissed at her.
   “Staying alive,” she whispered back. Then, returning to her performing voice, she went on: “And this Princess was captured by a terrible Dragon.” Whispering once again, she said, “If I can keep him focused on a story, he’ll not think of more unpleasant things. In the meantime, maybe we’ll figure a way out of this mess. What about that crystal ball you’re toting around? Maybe there’s some magic in it you’re not aware of. It may have just been a flash, but it did light up the entire village square. Hold it up and try some of that Gypsy mumbo-jumbo on it.”
   “I can hold it up,” the Gypsy Cat murmured as she reached into her pouch. “But I don’t know any of the mumbo-jumbos.”
   The bushes shook nearby and a very small sounding voice called out to them. “Do you know what I’m going to do to you?” Ripkin asked from his safe place within the woods. The voice was quiet sounding and hinted at no violence.
   “And that was exactly what the Dragon asked the Princess,” the Storyteller replied, ignoring his threat. “She was not afraid of the monster, even though he made a certain Demon look like small potatoes. He was big… hugely big… and breathed fire, which he was not afraid of.”
   “I am not afraid!” Ripkin screamed at her.
   Charha began making chicken sounds at the Demon, and this infuriated him.
   “And I will do you, too, Gypsy; right after I do the old hag! I’m going to play jump rope with your guts, Fox!” There was a short space of time, and he said in a calmer voice, “You called me to you, Gypsy. You called me to be your lover. You held your crystal ball up and you told it: ‘Ripkin my darling lover… come to me that we might make merry… come to me Ripkin you imaginary imp and be my loverrrrr.’” His imitation of her voice was perfect. “You belong to me now, my sweet. Help me take the Fox and we shall marry. You, too, can become as I, and we shall live together… forever.”
   Vixyy looked to Charha. “Did you really say that?” she asked.
   “Ashamed I am,” the Cat sighed, “but… yes.”
   They both looked back to the red eyes, and the Storyteller continued on as if not even interrupted: “This Dragon was very mean and terrifying, and he kept the Princess in an iron cage, against her will. He threatened to eat her should she ever try to run away; and so she was very afraid.”
   “She should have been,” grumbled the Demon. “Stupid bitch probably didn’t even offer to screw him.”
   “Ah, but she did!” the vixen exclaimed. “Unlike a certain Demon I have personal knowledge of, this Dragon was very large. He could have satisfied ten Princesses all at the same time, but he chose to remain with just her.”
   The red eyes winked out and in a moment, his voice came from behind them. “I’m better than large,” he said smugly.
   “If a damsel asked you to give her twelve inches, Rippy,” the Fox countered, turning to face him, “you’d have to make love to her four times and add the sums.”
   “That is so not funny,” he told her flatly.
   The eyes winked out again and he moved to a third location. One of the torches suddenly flew, dancing, through the blackness of the forest before it winked out.
   “He’s quick,” whispered the Cat.
   “As a wink,” added the Fox and then touched her head with a finger. “But not so much up here, I’m thinking.”
   “I heard that! And don’t think I won’t add to your pain and suffering for it. I have plans for you that go beyond any twelve inches you could possibly dream of.”
   “Abra,” Charha hissed, and her crystal ball flickered. “I remember now! My mother used to use an incantation that began with ‘abra’. She was able to do wonderful things … oooo… abra abra abra abra… what what what?” Each time she pronounced the word, the crystal ball flickered.
   “Abra…” echoed Ripkin from the darkness, and giggled. “I know the rest of it, but I’m not about to spill that sack of beans.”
   “And that,” the Storyteller declaimed, “is what the Dragon told the Princess when she told him she knew the magic word to open her cage. He didn’t believe her, of course; and that was his undoing. He loved her, you see, and was so afraid she would run away.”
   “Stupid Dragon,” Ripkin shouted from the wood.
   “Stupid Dragon,” repeated the Bear’s severed head.
   Charha and Vixyy both jumped, which made Ripkin laugh uproariously.
   “Stupid Dragon,” sang out the Dog’s head, followed by the Bear, again and again, in alternating chorus.
   The Fox, angry that she’d been made to jump again, moved forward and picked both jabbering heads up by their ears. Turning, she tossed them into the fire. They immediately stopped speaking. The fire’s height grew to ten feet, the flames snapping angrily until the heads were consumed. “And their souls are released,” she said with finality.
   “That wasn’t very nice!” Ripkin yelled, from his original location in the woods. “Those heads belonged to me! Their souls were forfeit!”
   “And so the Dragon told the Princess; ‘You are mine and I shall never let you go!’” the Fox roared, looking directly at the red eyes. “Her life was forfeit; and yet the Princess replied to the Dragon that the magic word belonged to her. It was in her heart and she could use it whenever she wished… but she didn’t.”
   “The stupid Bitch didn’t know any magic word—she was lying,” the Demon groused.
   The Fox smiled, and came close to the Cat, whispering into her ear.
   “No secrets!” Ripkin yelled. With a sudden movement, another of the torches was extinguished. Turning, he then flipped his cape up and pulled his pants down, mooning them both before jumping back into the shadows.
   “Girls have secrets all the time,” Charha replied calmly, her accent marking her words as icing decorates a fancy cake. “There are things I know about you that I have told no one.”
   “What things?” the Demon asked levelly.
   “It would seem that your moods are fickle and change like those of a little girl,” she taunted. Though she was scared to death, she was willing to face that death and tease it with impudence, if just a little. “But that is hardly a secret.”
   “I’m curious, is all,” he said calmly, his mood apparently changing exactly as the Cat had said it would. “If you have heard some secret or another about me, then say it. I might be persuaded to let you live longer if you do.”
   “You stick cloves of garlic up your butt as suppositories to rid you of your piles,” she announced loudly.
   “Who told you that!? It’s a lie—they don’t work—I still have my…” He was still for a moment. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?
   “Does… does it matter?” Charha asked, shocked that her blind shot had struck home. “You’re going to kill me in any case, so who could I tell?”
   “And so said the Princess to the Dragon,” added the Fox. “To the Princess, the Dragon replied—”
   “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the dragon said to the Princess!” Ripkin screamed at her.
   There was a hollow pause. Vixyy held her breath… and then the Demon asked civilly, “What did the Dragon say to her? Not that I really want to know, mind you.”
   Perhaps the Gypsy was right about his moods, too? the Fox thought. If so— “Of course you don’t, and I don’t blame you. It’s a silly story… silly, and sad, with much death and destruction. Not your sort of thing at all.”
   “There’s death and destruction?”
   “Of course there is!” the Storyteller replied, eyeing the fire. At best, they had but three hours of light left. “This Dragon was wanton in his destruction of entire villages, just for the sheer pleasure of killing.”
   “Sounds like my kind of… wait a minute… you’re trying to trick me. There never was such a Dragon, or I would know about him! We would have been very good friends.”
   The Storyteller placed her paws upon her hips and frowned. “It’s a story, you silly twit! If it was anything but fanciful, do you think I would have begun it with ‘once upon a time’?”
   “Abra cadaver,” the Cat whispered, and the ball flickered with a sickly yellow light. It stayed lit a bit longer than it had before. “I think I remembered,” she said softly.
   There was a noise behind them and the Fox turned to it expecting to see Ripkin making another charge at the torches. Instead, she saw the headless body of a Bear crawling towards them.
   “What did you do?” she hissed at the Gypsy.
   “Nothing—I swear—”
   Ripkin laughed harshly; he could now be seen peering at them from behind a tree.
   “Abra… abra… abra… abra…” Charha stuttered as the Bear’s body crept closer, and closer, and…
   Taking one of the torches, the Storyteller touched it to the bod —which sizzled. A great gust of air and blood and mucus, all evilly mingled, escaped from the headless neck. Undoubtedly this would have been a scream, had the body been complete. Again and again and again the process was repeated, the Fox deftly dodging the corpse’s clumsy counter-attacks, until the now-flaming body had turned itself around and crawled away as quickly as it could.
   Turning back to the Cat, the vixen frowned. “Whatever you did—don’t you dare do it again!”
   “What’s wrong?” Ripkin teased loudly. “Aren’t you going to tell me what the Dragon did this time?”
   From out of the darkness, the Dog’s body danced like a mad thing. Its arms were outstretched as if searching for something… fingers groping… flexing open and closed and then open again.
   “I think he wants a new head!” the Demon called out. “Hey, Dog-breath!” he yelled.
   The body stopped moving and turned to him.
   “You can have whichever head you manage to pull off. Just leave the other one for me.”
   With what should have been a bellow but was only a release of bloody spume, the Dog’s body turned and charged into the little camp. It made to grab the Gypsy, but she snatched one of the torches up and defended herself, swinging it around and around in a fiery arc, keeping the Dog back. The Fox, falling to all fours, crawled up behind him. Charha, seeing her opening, struck him square in the chest. Thus tripped by the Storyteller, he fell backwards, arms flailing the air. In short order, he was a dancing pillar of fire as the pair pummeled him with their torches.
   Unfortunately for Ripkin, the headless body sought for its master as a child will seek its parent. For a brief few minutes he was forced to stop laughing and dodge about the bushes, until the undead thing collapsed and burst into a cloud of sparks.
   “We should run!” Charha told the Fox.
   “No—it’s still night and the bastard would catch us all too easily,” she replied. “Our best bet is to stay where we are and stall for daylight.”
   “The fire and torches won’t last,” the Gypsy argued.
   The Storyteller said nothing in return as she watched the darkness for the red eyes to reappear. She smiled as a sudden thought occurred to her and she quickly bent close and whispered into the Gypsy’s ear.
   “Do you think it will work?” the Cat asked her.
   Vixyy shrugged. “Work or not work, at least it’s a plan,” she replied. When she saw Ripkin’s red eyes back by the tree, she called out to him, “Are you all right, my love? That flaming cadaver thing didn’t catch you, did it?”
   “No, it didn’t catch me,” he taunted back in a reflection of her own voice. “Since a certain someone released their souls,” he added icily in his own voice, “it was just a little bit harder to control.”
   “It had to burn itself out?” Charha asked with a giggle.
   “Yes… and I wonder how long you will last when I set you on fire from the friction of sex, my lovely Cat! There will be hours and hours and hours of sex.”
   “And so the Dragon said to the Princess,” the Storyteller said. “Although I must acknowledge that he said so with true concern for her.”
   “He was stupid then!” yelled the Demon. “Stupid Dragon!” He waited a moment, and then added, “Oh yes… I forgot those two were released. All the same, I still have the two of you, and it’s but a short while until we shall all sing about how stupid the Dragon was.”
   “The Dragon was not stupid, Rippy,” the Fox said. “He was in love.”
   “I love no one!”
   “Did I say you? I think I did not! I said the Dragon was in love.”
   “Why didn’t he just say so to the Princess?” Charha asked innocently.
   “Because he didn’t know how,” the Fox replied in seemingly equal innocence. “How do you suppose he should have told her, Rippy?”
   “He should have flamed her and gobbled her down as she screamed!” the Demon replied as he stepped out from behind his tree.
   “Well, it’s true he was hungry,” the Storyteller replied, holding up a finger, “And horny… but he was also in love with her. Had he devoured the Princess, he would not have had the pleasure of her company, nor the use of her body. As well, there were his twelve inches to consider. I’m sure she would have screamed equally as loud when he pressed it home between her legs, hmm?”
   The Demon’s chuckles were clearly heard as he thought about this. “I like the way you think, Fox! So then tell me… how did the Dragon make the Princess understand that he loved her and meant her no harm? That is… no harm other than what his organ would have caused.”
   Charha and Vixyy exchanged glances: The fish had taken the bait.
   “They played a game,” the Storyteller said.
   “What game? Strip poker? Can you imagine the size of those cards?” Ripkin giggled. “Or maybe they played spin-the-cadaver… oh wait, those burned up. Or… they didn’t burn up in the story, did they?”
   “Both of those games are good,” the Storyteller agreed, “but the lovers chose not to play either one. And as it happened, the Dragon was very surprised by what the Princess could do for him in the way of love and lust. In fact, his climax was so powerful that it was he who screamed, and not her—but I’m getting ahead of myself.”
   “And she was covered…” the Demon gasped, just thinking of the scene. “I can see it in my mind; he screams—eeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaoooooohhhhhhhhhhh—and…”
   “Absolutely covered,” agreed the Fox, feeding into his sudden excitement. “And this was made even better because the Princess was not simply taken… she asked for it.”
   “Oh, oh, oh… how did she ask for it? Tell me, tell me, tell me!” And now Ripkin flopped to the ground, like one of the children she’d told stories to earlier the day before.
   Vixyy gave a small bow, and made an arm gesture to Charha.
   The Cat slowly stood. Opening her arms wide, she moaned in a deep, throaty, sensual way: “I neeeed you, Draaaagon,” she said. “I neeed you so baaadlyyyyy!”
   Ripkin chortled in glee. “And the Dragon shouted back, ‘Good! Now, lay down and spread ’em!’”
   “That is not what he yelled!” the Storyteller shouted back at him. “He was a Dragon, not some low-life Demon!”
   “Oh—excuse me all to hell and back. I thought you said this was a good story. Apparently I was mistaken.”
   “It’s about having a lover, and l-o-v-i-n-g them… not dismembering them for soup. If I wanted to tell that sort of tale, I would have told a story about you.”
   “And what you’re saying is that I’m not interesting enough?” he asked sarcastically.
   “How can I tell a story about you, to you?” she countered.
   The Demon looked at her, his red eyes unblinking. “Well… I suppose maybe…”
   “Maybe we could play the same game, my darling,” Charha told him with a smile. “I called to you. Does this not mean anything?”
   “Ripkin… I need you,” she whispered, with a wink and a shake of her bosom.
   “You do?”
   Stepping smoothly in, the Storyteller stated: “And the Princess said to the Dragon, ‘I have magic in my heart, and you have the key to unlock it. Won’t you help me unlock it so I can love you, Dragon?’ And so she described to him the game they would play.”
   “What game?” the Demon asked, his eyes never leaving the Gypsy Cat.
   “She called it the ‘back-and-forth matching game’. You see, Rippy, she had a plan. There was a way for her to show the Dragon they belonged together. ‘You say a word Sir Dragon, and I will match it just as quickly as my brain will let me. We must go nine times back and forth without stumbling, and then on the final match… the tenth match… we will let our hearts sing out without thought. In this way we will both know what match our beings cry out for.’ By now she was desperate to have his love.”
   “She saw his dingaling, didn’t she?” the Demon asked.
   “His dangling dingaling,” Charha replied with a wink. She then held out her arms, measuring the space between as a fisherman will show the size of a fish that got away.
   “Oh, oh, oh, oh… how did they play the game?” Ripkin asked.
   The Fox puffed herself up in imitation of the Dragon, and the Cat became even more demure-like, kneeling in the dirt and looking up so the Demon could better imagine the size difference between the two fairytale creatures.
   “And the Dragon said, ‘Cat’,” the Storyteller pronounced.
   “And the Princess replied, ‘Dog’, Charha responded.
   They then began in earnest:


   At this last match, Gypsy and the Storyteller both paused and looked to Ripkin. His red eyes blinked, and then a look of understanding came across his features. “Ohhhhh, I get it now! Their souls called to each other, and then they screwed!”
   The Fox stomped her foot in disgust. “Absolutely not! That was only the first time they played the game. Two more times they ran through the match game, and each time the final match was always the same; Dragon-Princess.”
   “And then they screwed.”
   “Yeeesssss…” both mortals said together with a roll of the eyes.
   “Now then, Rippy,” Vixyy told him. “Pay attention here—I will even speak slowly, so there is no misunderstanding. Charha… called… to… you. Did she not?”
   He nodded his head, smiling.
   “We all agree that taking her in love would be much better than just forcing her to your will, yes?”
   He nodded his head again.
   “Play the game with me,” the Cat called to him, holding her arms out.
   Ripkin stood and pulling his pants down shook himself at her.
   “That’s not the game!” both females both yelled.
   “But you said she could see his dingle dangle down,” he replied, slowly and sullenly pulling his pants back up.
   “Dragons don’t wear clothes!” they both again yelled, hitting on the same explanation in synchronicity.
   Charha slapped her forehead, and the Fox frowned deeply.
   “Am I to be cursed with a lover who is an idiot?” the Cat asked of the night. “Pfaugh! I am sure he won’t know anything more than ‘poka da hole—poka da hole’.”
   Ripkin growled at her.
   Vixyy placed a paw on her arm. “Patience, dear; there is hope… but you’ll have to train him. Let us see how quick he is in playing the game.” Looking at the Demon, she held up three fingers. “Three times you have to match without faltering, Rippy. Three times through, and this Cat will teach you things you never even dreamed of.”
   “I’m ready,” he told her with a grin. “This is going to be so easy.”
   “Heaven,” Charha shouted at him.
   “Hell,” the Demon responded.


   “Ripkin,” the Cat pronounced loudly.
   “Gypsy!” the Demon shouted with a grin. “That’s one time through without falter,” he then said to the Fox, holding up a finger.
   The Cat slowly rose to her feet, smiling at him. “My name is Charha, ‘Oh Love Of Eternity’. You should call me this as it would please me greatly.”
   “Charhaaaa…” he repeated, and began to drool.
   “Again!” the Storyteller cried out.
   “Charhaaaaa,” he said once more, giving the Fox a curious look.
   “I meant the game,” she explained.
   “Salt,” the Gypsy began, choosing something easy as she walked towards the Demon.
   “Pepper,” he replied, seeming to go weak at the knees.
   By the time they got to the tenth match, the Gypsy was standing no more than six inches from him, looking directly into his red eyes. “Ripkin,” she said, and he felt her breath on his face.
   “Charha,” he responded, reaching out for her… but she danced backwards, waggling a finger at him.
   “One more time!” the Storyteller cried out. “This is it, Rippy—get it right and she’s all yours!”
   “Cock,” the Gypsy said, just loud enough to be heard.
   “Puss,” the Demon replied, beginning to vibrate.
   As they began the game again, the Cat moving forward again in a very slow and sensual fashion.
   “Lips,” she said.
   “Kiss,” he replied.
   “Breasts,” was whispered next, and her paw moved up to rest on his loins.
   “Nipples,” he managed, holding himself back as if he was already about to explode.
   “Vagina,” she crooned, leaning forward and letting her lips brush his.
   “Testicles,” he stammered, missing her lips and kissing only air.
   “Abra,” she whispered in his ear; letting the warmth of her breath tickle its inner hairs.
   “Cadabra,” he squeaked—
   Fawhoooooommmpp!!! And the crystal ball came to life, throwing enough light that it appeared as high noon and brighter.
   Charha leapt backwards as Ripkin angrily grabbed for her.
   You tricked me! he screamed at the pair. Attempting to charge them, he smashed into an unseen barrier, his nose taking the brunt of the impact. He stood for a moment glaring at them, holding his face with both paws. In a flash, he attacked the barrier again, his jaws and teeth growing to immense proportion as he bit and slashed at the unseen thing which kept him from the pair.
   The crystal ball slowly began to rise into the air, and from what sounded to be so very far away, they heard the sounds of a horse’s hooves.
   No! That’s not fair! I won’t go back! the Demon screamed.
   Ripkin turned to run, but slammed into another invisible barrier. He bounced off and fell to the ground in obvious pain. Jumping back up, he tried to run in a different direction and again smashed into the barrier. Holding his nose with one paw, he placed the other on the barrier and walked around the circumference of his invisible prison; it was not so very large. That he would go back to wherever he’d come from seemed inevitable. Slowly, with his free paw, he dusted himself off and stared at the pair in true hatred. He then faded into nothingness… and was gone.
   From the glass of the ball appeared a firey horse, its mane made of flames that flowed in the night. It peered at them in what could only be called a look of pity for the mortals they were. It snorted but once… and then was gone, the ball falling unlit to the ground with a thump.
   With the sound of the crystal finding the earth, the two constables appeared standing in front of them.
   The Bear and the Dog looked around themselves, and then grabbed each other in a truly terrified hug. The Fox and the Cat did exactly the same.
   And all four let out with a fearful scream.

   Charha and the Storyteller…
   Vixyy and the Gypsy…
   Both left the village that morning from their respective gates, having bought breakfast for the two unsuspecting constables.
   “It was a terrible nightmare,” the Bear told them as he munched upon a fine loaf of bread, coated liberally with honey, “Horrible beyond description! I ne’er had one like it afore, nor do I ever wish for it again.” He paused to make the sign of ‘The Circle’ with his right pinky finger. Everyone at the table followed suit. “Pity we cannot control our dreams…”
   “’Specially on a night like this last,” added the Dog with a full mouth.
   “You mean ‘The Night Of The Dead’?” asked the Gypsy sweetly.
   Both constables nearly choked.
   At the Fox’s insistence, the constables left without paying: Their meal was free to them for their company the night before, and the escort given back to the village when the sun came up. It was a wage, she explained, gladly accepted by a pair of helpless females who’d been in need.
   “Well,” said the vixen, sipping her tea, “I, at least, have more fodder for my story telling.”
   “And I learned some ‘Gypsy mumbo jumbo’,” added the Cat with a smile.
   “You did,” Vixyy agreed. “And given the ease with which you guessed one of Ripkin’s secrets, I think you may be a better fortune-teller than you believe yourself to be…”
   When the tavern’s proprietor came to collect his bill, Charha reached into her pouch and brought out her copper coin.
   Vixyy placed a paw on the Cat’s, and told her softly, “I think ‘eventually’ has arrived. If you wish to complete this adventure and seal what has happened for all time, you must find Percival Porcupine and repay his unwitting loan of that coin.”
   The Cat smiled at her; ever the Gypsy. She nodded in acknowledgement. It was only right that she did so, and a fitting end to things as they were.
   Parting was harder than either anticipated, but after a long hug, part they did. Both were the itinerant traveler; both were who they were. However, it would be wrong to assume they never again found each other… because they did.
   But that, of course, is a story for another time.

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