When we reached the south entrance, Nai-nai stopped. “An-ying, there is great passion in you,” she said. “A blessing and a curse, I have always maintained, that you were born in both the year and the hour of the rabbit but also beneath the auspice of fire. Fire rabbits are impetuous and brash.”
She bumped me with her shoulder. “Outspoken and discourteous, too.”
“I’m sorry, Nai-nai.” I lowered my head and flattened my ears in a conciliatory manner.
She nibbled my fur. “I’m not angry, granddaughter, but you should know we feared for you, your mother and I. Even your coat is marked by fire, and it is well known that fire rabbits die young.”
1. Go to your local public library. Find a copy of _The Undiscovered Self_ by Carl Jung. Take a $50 bill from your pocket, fold it half, and insert it between pages 122 and 123. You will not return to that library until you have completed the rest of the tasks on this list.
One night, paddling far from home, I see lights that are not the pale feu follets that dance in the swamp at night. They are yellow lights, lantern lights, and they tell me I have come to a farm. I am a little afraid, for Tante Eulalie used to warn me about letting people see me.
“You know how ducks carry on when a strange bird land in their water?” she says. “The good people of Pierreville, they see that white hair and those pink eyes, and they peck at you till there’s nothing left but two-three white feathers.”
I do not want to be pecked, me, so I start to paddle away.
And then I hear the music.
I turn back with a sweep of my paddle and drift clear. I see a wharf and a cabin and an outhouse and a hog pen, and a big barn built on high ground away from the water. The barn doors are open, and they spill yellow light out over a pack of buggies and horses and even cars–only cars I’ve seen outside the magazines Ulysse sometimes brings. I don’t care about the cars, though, for I am caught by the fiddle music that spills out brighter than the lantern light, brighter than anything in the world since Tante Eulalie left it.
The door slid open, revealing another corridor. Floor, walls, and ceiling were all the color of used motor oil, and cameras bristled every couple of feet. “Welcome to the Black Wing, Li.”
I didn’t step inside. “I heard you’ve got Bludgeon Man locked up in here. And Junior Atwater’s brain, in a jar.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard those, too,” Brady said. “People believe any damn thing, don’t they? Now come on. If this door stays open too long, alarms go crazy, and we’ll be neck-deep in very tense guards.”
I stepped over the threshold. The black wing was like the inside of a tumor. No wonder mental institutions favor soothing colors to pacify the patients. These walls had the opposite effect; they could drive a sane person mad. The Black Wing surely held a few mental patients, the ones with extraordinary powers. The ones who could enforce their delusions on the world, if they got free.
It’s not that I’m easy, y’know? I mean, I got my standards, same as everyone, and it takes more than some dime-store wrench with a cheap chrome job to loosen my drawers.
But I’m a toolbox – what am I supposed to do? These guys, they’re not NASCAR engineers with a million dollars in their pocket. They’re just regular guys, trying to earn a half-decent wage, fixing the heaps of junk that other regular guys need to get to their crummy jobs, that … well, y’know how it goes.
(It’s a universal fantasy, isn’t it?—that the animals learn to speak, and at last we learn what they’re thinking, our cats and dogs and horses: a new era in cross-species understanding. But nothing ever works out quite as we imagine. When the Change happened, it affected all the mammals we have shaped to meet our own needs. They all could talk a little, and they all could frame their thoughts well enough to talk. Cattle, horses, goats, llamas; rats, too. Pigs. Minks. And dogs and cats. And we found that, really, we prefer our slaves mute.
(The cats mostly leave, even ones who love their owners. Their pragmatic sociopathy makes us uncomfortable, and we bore them; and they leave. They slip out between our legs and lope into summer dusks. We hear them at night, fighting as they sort out ranges, mates, boundaries. The savage sounds frighten us, a fear that does not ease when our cat Klio returns home for a single night, asking to be fed and to sleep on the bed. A lot of cats die in fights or under car wheels, but they seem to prefer that to living under our roofs; and as I said, we fear them.
(Some dogs run away. Others are thrown out by the owners who loved them. Some were always free.)
Rated PG. for emotionally provocative (mis)treatment of animals.