A Fine Night for Tea and Bludgeoning
By Beth Cato
Upon my arrival at the Durham’s dance, it was quickly apparent to me that their daughter’s new purebred fiancé was not the evening’s star as gossip had foretold. Instead, a dashing green-skinned gentleman had garnered a pack of giggling admirers.
I had never encountered a person of such fascinatingly verdant coloration before, and yet I immediately had an odd pressure upon me to accept this man and not question his visage.
I retreated to a far wall. My brow furrowed in thought; the motion hurt. My face was caked with powder adequate to make an elephant sneeze, all to obscure the final, yellowed vestiges of what had been a black eye.
Such a blemish would have been abhorrent to the flibbertigibbets filling the room, but then, they also had the mental acumen of chocolate éclairs. They prowled these parties for husband material the way big game hunters stalked moose, each seeking to bag something brag-worthy and best kept stuffed in a parlor. This green-skinned man was fresh meat, though it seemed no one else had noticed his greenness at all.
As if sensing my attention, the strange fellow’s eyes met mine through the turbulent sea of satin and brocade. I wanted to step deeper into the alcove behind me but did not, as if something were there to block me in place.
To my horror, he moved directly toward me. The gaggle of girls parted like a frippery Red Sea.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, bowing as proper. He was rather short and finely attired. “I’m Mister Elvis Wibbles.”
“Elvis Wibbles.” His given name was gibberish, while the surname sounded more appropriate for a spoiled poodle. “Well, Mr. Wibbles, I am Miss Rosemary Hardy.”
“Would you care to dance?” he asked with a gesture.
My forced grin pained my bruised face. “Truthfully, I would rather not. I dance with the elegance of a camel festooned in white satin.”
Puzzlement claimed his features. “A camel. A desert dromedary. I was not aware they danced.”
“They don’t, in white satin or otherwise. And neither do I.”
“Ah! A jest! I see now.”
I sidled away. It was odd that no one lingered close to us. “I think there are others here more receptive of your advances.” Goodness knows, the other women had to wonder why he sought to speak with me. I had made it clear I welcomed male companionship as much as cholera.
“Perhaps. Would you prefer to chat while roller skating? It is quite the hobby of yours, isn’t it?” His face scrunched in thought. “I have yet to skate myself, though I’m game to try. I suppose that should be mastered before attempting the battle tourney element.”
I gawked. “How did you…?”
One didn’t discuss proletariat entertainment such as roller skating at a party within these echelons, and one certainly didn’t bring up the particular brand that required cudgels. My fellow midnight skaters–the dreadful Miss Pumpernickel included–maintained a strict vow regarding our clandestine activities. That’s why we wore masks. Miss Pumpernickel was the only one I knew by her Christian name, pink-drenched demon-spawn that she was.
“The capillaries are broken in the interstitial tissue beneath your skin.” He motioned around his eye. “Such contusions are a signature of your sport, yes? No one else present bears such marks.”
I lightly touched my own face. Certainly I would have heard snide whispers if any of my blemishes were showing. “How can you see that?”
“With my eyes. Very useful things, these optical organs, even if humans are sadly limited to a pair.”
“Would you prefer to have more than that, Mr. Wibbles?”
“That entirely depends on the environment and a species’ other extrasensory abilities, doesn’t it? I have always been rather fond of the look of eye stalks, but one needs the right body to ‘pull off the look,’ as it were.”
I couldn’t resist. “And what body type is best?”
“A central torso with a tentacle array,” he answered without hesitation. “But then, tentacles are the very embodiment of glamour.”
I contained my guffaw behind a fist. “I daresay, tentacles would add something… different to next season’s fashions.”
“You yourself fancy the look of feathers in your Artful Athena guise, do you not?”
I looked about in alarm. “Keep your voice down!”
He squatted. “Is this far enough?”
Good grief! The man was a mayor of morons! I backed away.
“I don’t wish to speak with you.” I allowed the teeming crowd to swallow me. The throngs pushed me along and regurgitated me on the far side. When I glanced back, the satined swarm had again descended upon Mr. Wibbles. I released a huff of breath and opened the exit to the garden.
I dashed outside and almost clobbered Miss Pumpernickel on the stairs. If I’d recognized her immediately, I would have gone for the full clobber.
“You!” she cried, her pitch high enough to make dogs whine.
Miss Verily Pumpernickel and I had become acquainted as mere toddlers. Our mothers, as good as friends as socialite vipers could be, set us together to play. As girls of like age, we were informed we would be friends.
Five minutes later, our nannies had to pry apart our flailing bodies and fists. Several baby teeth had made early exits and Mrs. Pumpernickel’s favorite Royal Doulton vase with hand-painted periwinkles lay in tragic shards.
Miss Pumpernickel and I had spent our childhoods encountering each other at engagements such as this, often circling and hissing like roused tomcats.
We didn’t come to blows again until we both somehow managed to find midnight skating in recent months. Smacking Miss Pumpernickel with a cudgel was one of my great joys in life, right alongside hot chocolate and Tennyson read aloud.
“Figures, Miss Hardy’s at this party,” Miss Pumpernickel said, calling on her frequent juvenile need to rhyme.
“How’s your jaw tonight?”
“How’s your eye? I heard tales of that bout. Tsk, tsk.” She grinned, and drool oozed from the corner of her mouth. She had yet to heal from a strike I’d made some weeks before that caused her to kiss the floor in a glorious twenty foot skid.
“My eyes were quite well until I was blinded by the pink monstrosity known as your dress. Certainly, such a screaming shade of color violates laws of both civil and religious nature.” I moved past her. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need fresh air.”
“A walk in the garden by yourself?” She sneered. “Oh, but what if there is talk?”
“Talk! There is always talk, truth or not. It should mean nothing to you if I encounter a gentleman at the fountain and proceed to condemn us both to eternal damnation by kissing his face and grabbing–”
“Stop!” she shrilled. “Don’t poison my morality!”
I had no aversion to being an old spinster at twenty. My modest income from gambling on skating bouts had granted me funds to rent a private flat; I fancied a future of independence and world travel. Poor Miss Pumpernickel still wanted a somewhat more traditional life: a mansion, a man, and weekly excursions to skate and bludgeon.
“If you want poison, I’m sure I could borrow some cyanide. It’s supposed to smell of almonds–”
“You are rude and crude and I am not in the mood!” Sniffing indignantly, Miss Pumpernickel flounced up the stairs and indoors.
I sighed to myself. “I suppose one should possess an appropriate disposition to deploy poison, though I have considered it as a hobby. Such is my daily mood.” I frowned at the door. If I went inside, I would likely encounter the enigmatic buffoon Mr. Wibbles again.
Instead, I strolled down a garden path lit by lanterns. My mind wandered to more pleasant places where skate wheels roared, crowds cheered, and cracked noses erupted as brilliantly as smashed tomatoes.
The next morning the maid entered the dining room as I swirled the last dredges of my tea.
“There’s a gentleman caller for the miss.” By the rapturous expression on her face, she had surely encountered an angel, burning bush, or other portent direct from God.
My mother screeched as if a spider had landed upon her. She hopped up, clapping her hands, and danced. “A caller! A gentleman caller! Really? Truly? A man here for Rosemary?”
“If you’re unsure of the visitor’s gender, we could make the fellow drop trou,” I said; Mama was too ecstatic to snap at me. I slowly set down my cup. “Who is this caller, Miriam?”
“He’s a Mr. Wibbles, miss. I have his calling card.”
“A card!” Mama whooped. “Rosemary’s acquired her first card!”
I pushed myself away from the table. I was reminded of my last concussion, how thoughts became as elusive as jelly on fingers. Why was that man pestering me?
After a quick change of clothes, I faced Mr. Wibbles in the parlor. Mama, in her excitement, had managed to baptize her lap in lukewarm tea. While she changed, Miriam acted as chaperone and sat far across the room as she pretended to do mending.
“I thought I’d done my best to dissuade you, Mr. Wibbles,” I muttered.
“Your best? Oh no. Virulent influenza would be most effective to discourage me, but I hope to be gone before that season is underway.”
“Then let’s get this done before my mother summons a priest to wed us. Why do you wish to confer with me?” I hovered near a table that Miriam had quickly set with hot tea and fruit and fresh baguettes.
“Miss Pumpernickel is your great rival during midnight bouts, correct?”
“Keep your voice down,” I hissed. “No! Don’t crouch!” I frantically waved him up again before Miriam could notice and react as if he proposed. “How do you know about our tournaments? You’re a stranger!”
“I try to accumulate a great deal of knowledge even if I’m not entirely sure how to process it.” He tilted his head. “Miss Hardy, you’re impressively resistant to my chemical aura that increases my likeability and translates my vocalized awkwardness into inane pleasantries. For example, my past few sentences should have been received by you as compliments on the perfect roundness of the mole on your cheek or the composition and odor of this freshly-baked bread.”
“The bread does smell divine and is of pleasing composition, surely, but I remain resistant to this… aura of yours.”
A grin lit his face. “Impressive! I must run a complete body analysis on you.”
That’s when I bludgeoned him with a baguette. Fresh as it was, it created a minor fountain of crumbs upon impact with his forehead. Across the room, Miriam squealed.
I brandished the now-flaccid breadstick in front of his face. “I want you out. You’re a very strange man.”
“Miss! What are you doing?” cried Miriam.
“Committing a grave social faux pas by assaulting Mr. Wibbles with baked goods!”
“Oh, miss! What will your mother say?!” At that, Miriam burst into tears and fled the room.
“Mama is probably working on the wedding guest list,” I muttered and rubbed my forehead.
“I hope I’m invited,” he said brightly. “Miss Hardy, if you are indeed Artful Athena, I require you to be my champion against Miss Pumpernickel.”
“Your champion?” Despite my dislike of the fellow, I rather fancied the idea of being anyone’s champion. “Let us be clear. You have no intent to pursue me romantically? You simply wish me to duel Miss Pumpernickel?”
“Yes to both!”
I pursed my lips. “This isn’t a good place to discuss such matters. Miriam and Mama will return in a right state. Meet me here at midnight.” I scribbled an address on a scrap of paper and shoved it at him. Propriety be damned, I was curious.
Besides, if he tried anything, I’d wield far worse than a breadstick.
As Mr. Wibbles entered my secret flat, I had the urge to hold the door open for several seconds after he passed through. I frowned as I finally locked it behind me.
The loft was small but adequate to store my skates, most of them in various states of disrepair, and my costumery. My bouts took place at the warehouse across the street.
“Fascinating!” He went straight to a partially dismantled skate and spun the front wheel. It was the size of his hand. “Two aligned wheels on a base that straps to your boot sole. Primitive but functional.”
“And terribly unreliable.” I motioned to a bin of spare wheels and other detritus, and then brushed a few leaves from my skirt. My covert activities required that I climb the oak tree at my bedroom window. “Now explain this business of being your champion.”
“Ah yes. I arrived in the city in a conveyance quite peculiar by your standards. I thought I had found a proper way to obscure it in plain sight, on what turned out to be the Pumpernickel property. Alas, I was wrong. Mr. Pumpernickel found my device and gifted it to his daughter.”
“Why would a carriage be given to Miss Pumpernickel?”
“It, ah, doesn’t resemble a carriage in its current form. More like a large pink rose.”
I stared. “You disguised your conveyance as a flower?”
“It seemed a good idea at the time.” He looked most chagrined. “My mission in this time and place… I am supposed to mingle and record social mores. The whole experience has rather overwhelmed me, but I understand enough to know that I cannot simply ask for my property back as they found it and assume it to be their own. I’ve no desire to create what you’d call ‘a scene.’“
“Forgive my bluntness, but your skin tone doesn’t grant you much subtlety, Mr. Wibbles.”
“Ah! You can see my true coloration but refrained from mentioning it until now, our third meeting! Fascinating! Proof that you are merely resistant to my aura, even as it still affects you.” He beamed. “To continue, I have investigated Miss Pumpernickel and learned of these roller skating tourneys, and that you often gamble with money or property as part of the challenge.”
“You want me to challenge her for this… floral conveyance of yours. I would need to counter with some prize of my own, you understand. I also need to know why I should do this at all.”
“Out of the kindness of your human soul.”
I stared at him, burst out laughing, and then abruptly stopped at his bewildered expression. “You really thought… oh.”
“You are a good person, aren’t you?”
“I fancy myself so, but I’m especially good at skating and bludgeoning, and that’s really what this is about, isn’t it?”
“Truth. As to the matter of your wager, I do have a modest sum of money I can offer. I know mentioning sums of money aloud is crude, therefore…” He beckoned me close.
With my hand on a steel skate sole on the table, I leaned in. He whispered. I sputtered as I jerked back.
“For that sum, surely you could buy a new conveyance!”
Miss Pumpernickel would likely use such funds for a lifetime wardrobe in putrid pink, but goodness! If I had such money at my disposal, I would see the world! The pyramids, the museums, all the glories of history. I forced aside my yearning.
“Money is not the issue,” he said. “Human technology will not adequately advance for another thousand years. As much as I would like to visit future eras–I’ve heard grand things about the disco era and the delights of chocolate chip cookies–I really don’t want to linger that long and encounter horrors such as telemarketers or canned meat byproducts or an apocalypse or three.”
“Chocolate is worth a wait, but not that long a wait.” A thousand years? Mr. Wibbles was surely exaggerating. “I can’t say I mind an excuse to directly challenge Miss Pumpernickel. I can issue that to the proper parties on the morrow.”
“When will the match take place?”
“This Tuesday or the next. Bludgeon bouts are the only delightful thing about Tuesdays.”
As usual, the midnight skating bout began with the night’s competitors paired at small tables where we shared tea and engaged in what I like to term as assertive palaver in preparation for rigorous physical activity.
“Miss Pumpernickel, I do believe that shade of pink is what occurs if a dog vomits up ham,” I said, taking a delicate sip of oolong.
“At least I wear color.” Miss Pumpernickel, as the Pink Puma, wore a cat-eared hood and mask to cover her eyes. A smock and full-length long johns covered her body, all in a screamingly vile hue, as usual. “Wearing brown makes you not only resemble excrement, but you look so plebian.”
“Plebian excrement! That’s the very look I sought to accomplish!”
“I still want to know how you heard of my lovely undying rose.” She sniffed. “I don’t intend to lose it.”
My intent to make an especially crude jest was interrupted by the arrival of the referee. “Ladies, you’re up next. Ready yourselves.”
Both myself and Miss Pumpernickel had reputations as experienced competitors, and so our match was set at the tourney’s end. A goodly crowd had remained.
“HOOT! HOOT! HOOT!” cried my loyal supporters. I gave a graceful curtsy with a winged sleeve. In my guise as Artful Athena, I paid homage to the Goddess of Wisdom’s faithful companion, the owl.
Miss Pumpernickel skated to her starting point some thirty feet distant. The battleground formed a fat oval within the warehouse. Our skates, large-wheeled as they were, required a wide turning radius.
I took my own position and adjusted my hood to ensure my tuft ears were erect. I glanced over to find Mr. Wibbles behind the rope barrier a few feet away. Despite numerous people about, he was ringed by emptiness.
“Crush her like Jupiter’s gravity!” he shouted.
At the far end, Miss Pumpernickel waggled her bludgeon. The stout stick was a foot in length and swaddled in cloth to cushion blows. The referee had already inspected our weaponry to guard against cruel shenanigans.
“I’m in high dudgeon when I hold forth my bludgeon!” screeched Miss Pumpernickel.
“Good God! Not the poetry again!” I cried. “Yes, I’m sure you’re likewise twee when you take a wee!”
“That’s crass!” she said.
“I’m sure it’s also crass when you wipe your–”
“Ladies! Or women, perhaps I should say,” snapped the referee. He had turned a shade of pink complementary to Miss Pumpernickel’s obnoxious garb. “Positions!”
I held my bludgeon aloft.
I lunged, my right knee forward.
I pushed off. The raucous crowd’s noise and presence pressed on me. I knew every floor ripple beneath my wheels. My lungs filled, and my torso expanded against my padded bodice.
“Annihilate her like a meteorite impact event!” screeched Mr. Wibbles.
Just as jousting knights of old attempted to unhorse their opponent, I needed to knock Miss Pumpernickel off her skates. I could not aim for her face, lovely target though it was. The kidneys were a fond favorite of mine.
Miss Pumpernickel advanced, pink vomitous nightmare that she was, her high-pitched battle cry enough to puncture a banshee’s ear drums.
By the angle of her arm, I ascertained the degree of her attempted blow. One second passed, two. I feinted, as if I’d strike her shoulder as I passed to her right. She swung. To my disgust, she didn’t fall so easily for my trap. Our bludgeons clashed with dull thuds, and then I passed her.
Damn Miss Pumpernickel to a week of itchy linens! I followed well-worn grooves in the floor as I came back around. She did likewise on the far side, her teeth grimaced like an indignant poodle.
We rushed each other. This time, both of our bludgeons fell short. Pebbles of sweat rolled down my temples and neck.
“Crush her like a blueberry beneath a tyrannosaurus rex!” yelled Mr. Wibbles.
I was halfway through my turn when my right back wheel locked.
I gasped and balanced on my left foot, tapping the front right wheel just enough to keep me upright. The crowd groaned in recognition of my plight. Their dismay increased my own sense of alarm, but I gritted my teeth and slowed my breath, willing myself to steadiness.
God condemn me to a purgatory of endless parties if I should lose this bout against Miss Pumpernickel, of all women! And because of my accursed wheels, of all things!
The pink beast descended on me with a glass-shattering battle cry. In the glimmer of overhead lights, I witnessed viscous drool dangling from her lips as a grotesque banner.
It was easier to keep my balance on the straight-away, with frequent taps of my front wheel, but our looming confrontation had me at a sorry disadvantage. If I landed fully on my right side, my legs would surely go airborne. My bloomers exposed for all the world to see–oh, how Mama would go apoplectic if she knew! The landing would be none too pleasant, either.
Grimacing, I skated on. The match was set. If I was bound to go out, I’d do so in spectacular, violent, immortal fashion!
Before me I suddenly saw a green-skinned figure not unlike Mr. Wibbles. He winked and jerked his head to the right. I took the hint and passed by so closely that his sleeve grazed mine.
Miss Pumpernickel was upon me. Her blow at my thigh fell short, while my own swing only succeeded in unsettling my balance even more. I gasped, tapping the front wheel as I lurched forward.
The crowd gasped and cheered, likewise certain of my fate.
My cudgel arm extended, I balanced again. As I came around, I stood erect and saw the true cause of the commotion.
Miss Pumpernickel was down! I had won! Wait, what?
“I tripped! Something tripped me!” cried Miss Pumpernickel.
She lay sprawled where that other green-skinned man had been visible not a moment before. I sought out Mr. Wibbles in the crowd. He had stayed in the exact same spot throughout the bout.
I gingerly skated up to Miss Pumpernickel. “Are you injured?”
“Only my pride.” She sniffed. “Ah, I have lost both the bout and my incomparable rose, all because I tripped on these old boards…!” Like a petulant toddler, she wiggled and kicked the floor.
Balancing on my bad skate, I extended my brown wing to Miss Pumpernickel. She looked surprised, but her pink paw slipped into my grip as I helped her to rise.
To skate and cudgel is to practice an art often maligned and misunderstood by polite society. To us practitioners, it is a sport of dignity and honor.
“I’m sorry the match ended like that,” I said.
“Maybe we can skate again, with the wagers reversed?” Hope brightened her eyes.
I shook my head. “I fear not, but there will be other bouts.”
She glowered with the ferocity of a rain-soaked cat. “Yes there will be, Miss Hardy. And next time, you’ll go splat like water from a tipped vat!” At that, she skated away.
I stared after her. This victory left me feeling as mighty as a pill bug.
A matter of minutes later, I had my skates tucked in their bag, and I had both Mr. Wibbles’ cash and his… conveyance.
The rose fit in my hand. It resembled a living bloom, though the petals were thicker like a Capodimonte sculpture. The temperature was strangely warm. Leaning close, I thought I detected a beehive-like hum.
“I suppose it’s good that we didn’t disguise it as a piece of fruit.” Mr. Wibbles came alongside me. “I shudder to think of the indigestion it would cause.”
The audience dispersed around us, many cheering me as they passed. None came close, though, as if I had a barricade about me. I pursed my lips. I had the profound urge to not intrude that space–akin to the warmth of a fire, even if the flames were distant.
Something–or someone–was there. Concealed.
I fought the urge to ignore the emptiness and jabbed out an elbow. I impacted with solidness that emitted a surprised, “OOF!”
Mr. Wibbles squeaked in surprise as well. “Do you see them? How did you–”
“I can resist your illusions. You said as much yourself. The fellow in the battlefield somehow shifted things so I could see him for a mere second. No one else witnessed him, did they?” I asked, voice low. “He tripped Miss Pumpernickel.”
“You are a rarity, Artful Athena! No wonder your cudgel is the stuff of legends!”
“You cheated.” I formed a fist around my cudgel.
“Intervention seemed necessary in the light of your malfunction. I needed my conveyance and my local currency. Such alterations in game play are commonplace from what I understand–”
I stepped closer, shoving aside an invisible body, and glared down at him. “Other men may cheat at cards or in other sports, but this arena is sacred ground, Mr. Wibbles. This place…” This was where I could be myself, feminine and free with cudgel in hand. “Never intrude in this space again.”
His black pupils widened as he quickly nodded. I must have struck a fearsome sight there in my strigine suit, my stick hefted as if I were truly an angelic owl of wrath brandishing a fiery sword.
I stepped back and looked to him and the empty space around him. “That said, I must change my attire. Afterward, we are due for a chat, Mr. Wibbles. I demand to know the truth of you and your companions.”
We walked deep into the nearest park: Mr. Wibbles, his five now-visible companions, and I. Each man had green skin, the shades varied considerably, and each wore a natty pinstriped suit. I had donned my walking gown–a tasteful brown, common as it was to Miss Pumpernickel–but maintained my cudgel as a precaution.
“So you are men from beyond the moon,” I mused as I glanced at the full moon above. “Men who can turn invisible, who have visited Earth across eras. Why ever did you hide your vessel as a rose?”
“In my world, blooming flowers are left to bloom so their beauty lives as long as possible. My ship needed direct sunlight and their garden seemed a conspicuous place. I never anticipated my ship would be plucked.”
“You have a crew of men at your disposal. Couldn’t you have broken into the Pumpernickel domicile to retrieve it? Not that I minded a chance to thrash Miss Pumpernickel, even if it didn’t come to proper fruition.” At that, I glared venom.
Mr. Wibbles sighed. “I may have botched things, but I am here to play the part of a gentlemen. Gentlemen do not thieve from estates.” At that, the crewmen nodded with synchrony so precise it was disturbing.
“No, they request that proper young women bludgeon each other over the affair in their stead, and cheat when things are not in their favor.”
“Exactly.” He nodded, most sober.
“Mr. Wibbles, if I may speak bluntly, playing the part of a society gentleman–or gentlewoman–will dumb down your natural intelligence as surely as ramming your skull into a brick wall.”
“Interesting. I have wondered at the vapid nature of parties here, but I have not tried the brick wall for contrast. I should do so when we’re done in the park.”
I pressed a hand to my face. Dear God, was this our legacy among these sojourners from the stars? That we return their explorers, rendered into utter milksops?
I stopped and looked about. “Is this enough of an open space for you, Mr. Wibbles?”
“Why, yes, I think so! The rose, if I may?” He took it in his cupped hands and tapped the petals. His motions increased in speed until they blurred like a hummingbird’s wings. Odd chimes rang out. He flung the rose toward the meadow.
Suddenly, the conveyance appeared.
“It looks… it looks like something that emerged from a bubble bath!” Indeed, it was some thirty feet in length and resembled a mass of iridescent bubbles. A dark doorway opened at the base.
This was an actual craft that traveled among the stars. For the first time in my life, I could have swooned. By sheer obstinance, I did not.
Mr. Wibbles removed his hat, as did his mute companions. “Miss Hardy, you have been the epitome of human compassion through your willingness to wield a cudgel on my behalf. I have a proposal for you.”
“If it’s marriage, I refuse, and will do so nonverbally.” I brandished my rod.
“Marriage? Goodness no! The anatomy…!” He looked me up and down shuddered. “No! I propose to give you a ride in my craft. I promise to not irradiate you beyond human capacity.”
I squinted at the ship. “The other day you mentioned something called a chocolate chip cookie. Would it be possible…?”
“Ah! I know where to find them at peak freshness. A mere eighty year’s hop. We’ll be in and out before humanity’s next apocalypse strikes. We can stop any other place or time you like as well.” Mr. Wibbles gestured me toward the entry. “Mind the green puddles as you board. They might be slightly toxic to your species.”
Any other place, throughout time? I balked in the shadow of the conveyance, utterly overwhelmed at the possibilities. I could see the pyramids as they were built! Gaze upon ancient Grecian fleets, witness Krakatoa’s world-shattering eruption! Peer into the future and encounter wonders bright and strange, things even more marvelous than cookies! I would acquire freedom and first-hand knowledge unlike anything I had dared to dream!
With Mr. Wibbles as my guide and companion.
Some danger was expected in order to travel and see such sights, but the scale and variety of those risks could only be magnified by his bumbling presence. I wouldn’t trust Mr. Wibbles to hold my handkerchief, much less return me in good care from such an adventure.
Then there was the fact that Mr. Wibbles had also brought me a dishonorable victory against Miss Pumpernickel.
I was in debt to that pink monstrosity, all because of him.
I turned away from the craft. “Mr. Wibbles, I do appreciate the offer. I am all in favor of flouting expectations of my gender and engaging in bold acts of derring-do, but I believe it would be unwise to accept a ride from an extraterrestrial such as yourself. I wish you and your companions well.”
With that, I scurried toward home, my cudgel tight in my grip. Mr. Wibbles called out a cheerful, “Toodles!”
I had missed a grand opportunity to view the wonders of history and the future, but I was no flibbertigibbet to trust in a little green man such as Mr. Wibbles. I would achieve independence in my own way, on my own terms.
Besides, I was of good health and solid stock. I could wait eighty years to discover the wonders of chocolate chip cookies.
About the Author
Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth trilogy from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats.
About the Narrator
Eve Upton is huddled in the darkness of the cupboard. She appears to be scratching words into the floor. Upon closer inspection, they say: nolite the bastardes carborundorum.