Feltus Ovalton LeRoi looked around the drum circle and wondered once again what he was doing in this small sleepy village ninety miles north of home. It was the first sunny weekend theyd had this spring and he was sitting on a cold stone bench with a couple of strangers staring at a lot of boarded up windows and for sale signs. He could have been riding his skateboard or hanging out at the comic book shop or throwing a ball in the park with his best friend Percy Flannery. But no, instead he’d been pushed, against his will, onto a bus which smelled of toilet fumes, over ripe bananas and vomit. Then hed had to endure two and a half hours of discomfort, squashed into less than half a seat, trying his best to avoid the huge man sitting next to him, who kept falling asleep and keeled over every five minutes. The guy had snored and breathed gustily through his mouth and although Feltus didn’t know for sure, he was willing to bet the guy had shoved a pastrami- on- rye â€“with- extra â€“strong- mustard down his gullet shortly before theyd left the station. Feltus told himself that he would have said something harsh even though the man was the size of a gorilla and had faded blue tattoos of spider webs spread over his knuckles but he was pretty sure the man had a heart condition, he was sweating so lavishly. And now, staring at the bongos, and tin drums and collection of battered pots and pans and wooden spoons piling up in front of him, he was wondering for the umpteenth time: why exactly was he here?
“You’re going to Woodstick because I’m telling you to go to Woodstick,” his great aunt Eunida had told him the previous night when her image magically swam into view in the middle of the spaghetti dinner he was enjoying in the warm surroundings of the kitchen. Hed barely had time to swallow the first delicious mouthful before her sallow face and birds nest hair appeared. â€œThere’s something happening up there. I can feel it in my bunions,” she’d added. Great Aunt Eunida was a soothsayer and she received messages from many different sources.
â€œSo why arent you going?â€ Feltus had asked in a low whisper. His mother was busy jotting something in her date-book and appeared preoccupied but still Feltus bent down low over his plate and spoke out of the corner of his mouth.
Great Aunt Eunida glared. â€œBecause I am not a guide. You are a guide. And besides, Im only just getting over the wobbly flu, and let me tell you, it was not pretty: fumes and flutters, vapors and vacillating and a good deal of expelling.â€ Feltus put his fork down and pushed his bowl aside, ignoring the surprised look his mother gave him. She was perched on a stool next to the telephone, red pen in one hand and small leather bound datebook in the other, organizing things. His mother liked to control people and events as much as she could.
â€œHair in my food,â€ he said, and then added quickly, â€œIt was mine!â€ He didnt want Rose the housekeeper getting into trouble. His mother raked her gaze over him, her lips pressed together in a thin line. His hand crept up to his head, he pushed his bangs away from his eyes and tried a small smile. It didnt work.
â€œIll schedule you for a haircut next week, Feltus Ovalton,â€ said his mother, making a note in her calendar. Feltus stifled a groan. It had taken him months to grow out the last haircut given him by some sadist who seemed to think that the monk look was in for teenage boys. He was just starting to look normal!
A whistling sound like air escaping through a slow leak rose from his bowl. Feltus cleared his throat noisily and hunched over his dinner again. His mother stared at him for a long moment, tiny lines of worry etched into her forehead. Feltus beamed at her, holding the smile for so long his drying lips stuck on his teeth. The worry lines deepened and then his mother sighed.
Once her attention was back on her calendar Feltus looked down. His great aunt seemed annoyed. Her lemon yellow eyes flashed fire. A meatball was superimposed over her nose like a huge, juicy wart and the gray and black wires of her hair tangled with the noodles. Her sallow face was tinged an unhealthy shade of tomato. She wasnt really there of course. This was a sending, sort of like an instant visual letter, the simplest sort of magic and basically the only kind Great Aunt Eunida was capable of. Sort of like seeing a talking mirage but it was still unappetizing and a mood destroyer even without the order she was giving him.
â€œThis is your job, Feltus. This is what you signed up for as a guide.â€
â€œI didnt sign up for anything,â€ he muttered through his teeth.
She snorted with impatience. â€œLets not swing that old ferret again.â€ Her finger came up and poked in the direction of his face. It was a gnarled twig-like thing and the nail was filthy. Feltus stifled a groan and the desire to scrape the remains of his dinner into the garbage pail and retire to his bedroom with a comic book and a chocolate bar.
â€œIf you hadnt meddled in the first place, messing with spells and such, we wouldnt be where we are now.â€ A spray of saliva shot from her mouth. Great Aunt Eunida tended to forget what manners she had when she was excited.
Feltus closed his eyes. In his head he retorted, Well if you hadnt left your old spell book lying around I would never have known about the Veil or the worlds beyond or magic or any of it. Id be hanging out at the video arcade and reading comic books instead of figuring out how to send Great Horned Crapples and Shimmering Lumpen Hogs back where they belong.
But out loud he said nothing. He was pretty much ok with the whole guide thing at this point. It had taken some getting used to and hed been angry at first that working one little spell had changed everything in his life so drastically, but now he practically- well â€˜enjoyed might be too strong a word- but accepted the way things were. Most of the time his life was school, homework, parents and trying to score as much chocolate as he could, but every once in a while, an inter-dimensional traveler would make a wrong turn somewhere and end up in his bedroom, and then Feltus would figure out where it belonged and escort it there. He had more friends that he could count suddenly and some of them looked more like blobs of mucus or flying sheets than anything else.
But what his great aunt was mumbling about now was different. He seized on the detail. â€œThis isnt a lost wayfarer though,â€ he argued.
â€œIts a matter concerning the Veil and it falls within your jurisdiction,â€ she said thickly. Somehow shed gotten hold of a sandwich of some kind and had shoved half of it into her mouth. He could distinguish enough to know it was one of her own creations- cream cheese, beets, anchovies and slabs of dark chocolate on a baguette with a thick frosting of whipped butter.
â€œWhat jurisdiction?â€ he said, darting a quick glance at his mother. She was on the phone now, speaking quickly in a low voice and jabbing her pen repeatedly at the paper in front of her. â€œThats the patrols department, not mine.â€ The Patrol were these gigantic, golden winged creatures with zero tolerance and no sense of humor who monitored the Veil and kept an eye out for illegal crossings.
Eunida looked irritated for a few seconds. â€œYes, well, Dare Al Luce is indisposed at the moment.â€
â€œHe doesnt have the wobbly flu too?â€ Feltus asked facetiously. He couldnt imagine a virus or bacteria that would dare come within twenty feet of Dare Al Luce. He was unapproachable and about as far from earthly as you could get. He wasâ€¦what was the word? Celestial, and he always made Feltus feel as if he was covered in grime even if hed just had a bath and spent a good chunk of time scrubbing his ears and neck.
â€œHis fatal weakness,â€ Great Aunt Eunida pronounced, licking beet juice off her fingers which were now stained pink.
She nodded. The patrol member was intrigued by cats and seemed to think they needed rescuing. Rescuing from trees, from telephone poles, from the tops of high buildings, from wherever they were sunning themselves or acting cat-like. Apparently felines didnt like him much. They fought back vigorously. The last three times Feltus had seen Dare Al Luce, hed been sporting various bruises, abrasions, wicked scratches and broken bones. It appeared that he was not immune to hurting himself if he fell a great distance. Feltus had never mustered up the courage to ask why he didnt just fly instead of dropping like a stone. What good was a massive pair of golden wings if you didnt use them?
He eyed his great aunt wondering if there was anyway he could squirm out of the job. Her yellow eyes narrowed as if she was reading his mind. The silky hairs on her ears stood up like moths antennae. He rubbed a forefinger over his own furry ears while he feverishly tried to think of an excuse.
He knew his great-aunt wouldnt give up as long as she saw something troublesome looming.
â€œOk, then,â€ he said feeling deflated.
She beamed and a croak of laughter escaped her mouth. â€œAtta boy,â€ she said, â€œReport in when you get back,â€ and her image faded leaving a clump of cold spaghetti and congealed sauce. Under cover of the table, Feltus scraped the remains of his dinner into his napkin and stuffed it into his pocket, leaving the room before his mother could ask any questions or remind him to do something he definitely didnt want to do.
For a little while after seeing his great aunt hed felt sort of important. How many other kids were sent on missions? How many others could navigate through mystical worlds like aâ€¦well like a homing pigeon but much, much cooler? But then the reality set in. He was off to who- knew- where with the usual vague instructions and he didnt have a clue what to expect.