#Chapter 3-Hare There and Everywhere#
There’s this moment when something very fast and very bad has happened where you’re kind of sitting there full of nothing but blank as you try to figure out if you’re still alive or not. That’s where I was now as I attempted to blink the stars out of my eyes and the fizzing copper taste out of my mouth. I honestly didn’t know where I was or how I’d gotten there.
“What the…” I mumbled, then jerked as I saw the words fly out of my mouth and take wing like little firebirds before each vanished into a puff of smoke when they hit the ceiling.
POOF, POOF, POOF…
It took me another long moment to realize the ceiling was directly in front of me…which meant I must be flat on my back. In turn, that meant the short flight of stairs that looked like I was about to walk down them were really above me and I was lying at the bottom.
I blinked some more and tried to reconstruct what happened. The last thing I remembered was waving at Aleta, which reminded me of the gym and…oh. I sat up and looked around. I was at the base of the stairs in the little hallway, about ten feet from the light switch which…oh again.
The long black scorch mark on the wall was impressive enough in a I-am-in-sooo-much-trouble-if-I-get-caught kind of way, but that wasn’t what really fixed my attention. No, that was the bright red rabbit hanging by its ears from the switch plate. Its front legs were crossed in front of its chest in the classic disappointed parent pose, and the look on its face made me want to melt into a puddle and drain quietly away.
“Uhm, hello?” I waved a hand vaguely at the rabbit—no, hare, I was pretty sure it was the same one.
“Jerk,” replied the hare, confirming my guess.
“You heard me, jerk.”
“I…uh, do you need some help?”
“No, of course not. I love hanging up by my ears where any mortal with half a hint of the sight could spot me at a minute’s notice. Or worse, one of the delvers might come by and decide to skin me. It’s my favorite thing in the whole wide world!”
“Oh, good, I’m glad you’re not…” I trailed off as the hare’s rolling eyes belatedly twigged me in to his sarcasm. Normally, I’m better with that stuff—it’s Oscar’s favorite parenting mode—but I’d had quite a shock. Both literally and figuratively.
“I’m sorry. Let me see what I can do.” When I stood, the whole world went purple and wobbly and I had to grab the handrail, but I managed to stay on my feet and drag myself up the stairs.
As I got closer to where the hare was hung up I saw that the nail I’d used on the light switch had half melted, curving into a downward pointing hook. Somehow, that had pinned the hare’s ears to the wall, though I couldn’t think of any natural explanation for that. Or, well, anything about this situation, really.
Closer still and I saw that the hare had a pair of tiny red stone hoops through his ears about halfway down, and the nail was bent through those. “I don’t suppose you know how I can get that loose?”
The hare’s eyes rolled again. “Conjure and abjure me, of course. I don’t know what they’re teaching you children these days.”
“Huh?” I realized my mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut.
“Do you have wax in your ears, boy? Or are you simply too dumb to know the meaning of words?”
“N-neither. I heard you, and I know what conjure and abjure mean.” I ought to, I’d read enough fantasy novels where someone summoned a genie or demon or something.
“Well then, get it over with. It’s your summoning. But you’d better believe I’m going to make you pay for it when I get my freedom back.”
“Are you sure you’re not an idiot?” asked the hare. “Because from where I’m sitting you’re really starting to sound like one.”
“But I didn’t summon anyone!” …which sounded whiny even to me.
“Then how exactly did I get here, do you suppose?”
“I don’t know. How did you get to the hill yesterday?”
“What the…wait. You’re serious.” The hare swore venomously. At least, I presumed he was swearing—I recognized the tone if not the language, which sounded very hot and crackly. Finally, he slowed down and gave me a hard look. “Tell me exactly what you were doing before I wound up here hanging by my ears and you ended up down on the floor staring at the ceiling.”
“I don’t know, the last thing I remember is the cafeteria.”
The hare clenched his jaw for three long beats, opened it, closed it again, then sighed. “Speculate. I presume you’ve been here before. How did you get here then?” He waved a foreleg around vaguely.
So, I explained about the gym and the nail and the light switch, realizing for the first time that the lights were on—so, that much had worked anyway. “Do you know anything about how you got here?”
“There was a great burst of fire and someone called my true name in the summoning mode. Come here, and let me examine you more closely.” He looked me up and down. “Right hand.”
It was only as I extended it toward him that I noticed more char on my finger and thumb tips, though I didn’t feel any pain. He sniffed at my hand and humphed.
Then, “Open your mouth and say ahh.” He practically stuck his head in there as I leaned in close. “Yep. That’s it then. It’s all over you.”
“Words of fire, words of smoke, words of ash, and words of oak.”
But the hare didn’t answer. Instead, he shook his head and sighed. “What are the freaking odds, man? What are the odds?”
I leaned against the nearest wall and slid to the floor, putting my chin on my knees rather numbly. “I don’t understand this at all.” That was it, I was going crazy.
“Clearly!” Then he sighed again and his expression softened. “Here’s what I think happened. I think you came in here like an idiot, and stuck a nail in an electrical fixture like a complete moron, and then you got electrocuted as any sane person would know to expect.”
“So this is all just a hallucination?” I asked rather hopefully—it shouldn’t count as going crazy if you’d just electrocuted yourself, right?
“Sadly for both of us, no. If you were an everyday sort of human they’d probably be packing you off to the emergency room about now…well, assuming you survived the experience, and that you had the sense to make your way out to someplace they’d notice you before you passed out. Which, I might add, I wouldn’t bet a flash or a flicker on.”
“I don’t understand again.”
“Well, of course not. I’m a long way from finished and I’ll never get there if you keep interrupting me.”
“You should be, and not just for that. This predicament I’m in is all your fault. Now, as I was saying. Idiot, complete moron, insanity, and Luck’s fool.”
“Luck’s fool…” The hare gave me a sharp look and I snapped my mouth closed.
“Electricity is fire’s tricksy sibling. You may be a young fire lord in the making, cousin, but you’ve no business messing with the lightning even if you’ve a limited sort of affinity. And that’s exactly what you’ve done. When you took that shock it not only threw you down the stairs it also must have caused you to convulse pretty badly. I’m guessing you shouted mid-convulsion and by the hand of Luck or Fate you blurted out my true name in the shout.”
“I…okay. But how? And why?”
“Well, if it was Luck, I’m guessing I’ve irritated her somehow and you’re my punishment. Wouldn’t be the first time. And, if it’s Fate, well, I don’t like to think about that at all. Not here in the deeps of the fall fallow. In either case, I’m stuck here on your word, and it’s you who’ll need to get me loose.”
“This again? What’s wrong with you? I’m the one who’s pinned up here by my ears with a blinding headache. Conjure and abjure me, of course. Then you can free me.”
“All right, how?”
“Am I really going to have hold your hand through the whole thing? No, don’t answer that. It’s obvious.” He sighed heavily. “Say, ‘I conjure and abjure thee, insert my true name here, and—'”
I held up a hand. “Wait a second, I don’t know your true name. You’ll have to tell me what it is if you want me to do that.”
He looked positively scandalized. “I am NOT telling you anything of the kind. If I did, you could command me to serve you for the rest of your life.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“Sure, you say that now, but once you had the power in your hand? I do not trust you half so far as I could fling you.”
“All right then, how do I get you loose?”
“Conjure and…oh. Drat. That is a conundrum. And it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.” The hare crossed his forelegs angrily again and clenched his jaw tight shut.
My stomach growled then and I remembered the food in my pack which was…ah, there, at the bottom of the stairs.
“Where are you going?” demanded the hare.
“To grab my snack.”
“Without getting me loose?”
“I haven’t any idea how, and even if I did, I’m not entirely certain you’re real. If you come up with something, let me know. Until then…” I shrugged. I was hungry. Besides, food was good. Food was normal. Food didn’t tell you that you were some kind of child of fire.
A few moments later I settled down against the wall again. “Banana?”
The hare sighed. “No, but thank you…wait. Yes.” As I proffered the banana, the hare suddenly froze mid-reach. “Noooo, that’d never work. Would it? It wouldn’t obviate the summoning or cut me loose of you, that’s sure. But it might get me down off this wall, which solves the immediate problem. What do you know about use names?”
“Not a single thing.”
“Good. You’re about to learn the bits I think you need to know. Given the way this all started…hmm. Yes, that will do nicely. Call me Sparx.”
“Sparx?” I nodded. “All right.”
There was a long silence before the hare put his face in his paws and shook his head as well as his ears would allow. Finally, “Repeat after me, ‘I conjure and abjure thee, Sparx. By fire and smoke, by ash and oak, by the flame in the darkness and the powers it awoke.”
“All right.” If it worked, the stupid hare would be out of my life, and I could go back to pretending I’d never met him.
So, I did. Nothing happened. Before I could speak though, he angrily held up one paw. “‘I conjure and abjure thee, Sparx. Come now and do my bidding.'”
I repeated that as well, and with a flash and a pop the hare vanished from the wall and reappeared on the floor in front of me.
“Oh, hallelujah, it worked.” Then he took off like all the hounds of hell were after him, racing headfirst into the nearest wall. He hit with a THUD I could feel through my feet before bouncing off and landing on his back on the floor. He looked so stunned I half expected little cartoon birds to appear and fly around his head.
“Are you all right?” I knelt and reached out toward him, though I didn’t quite dare touch him.
“What in the ever loving fires of blame just happened?”
“You ran facefirst into a wall like an idiot, and bounced off it like a complete moron, as any sane person would have known to expect.”
“That sounds vaguely familiar,” replied the hare. “Also, touché. However, and for the record, I’m a spirit of fire and I am not, under normal circumstance, subject to the rules of the material world.”
“So, what happened with the wall then, smart guy?”
“I have no freaking clue.”
“Do you need a hand getting up?”
“No!” With a sudden twist the hare was back on his feet.
“Maybe we should go talk this out,” I pointed toward the gym.
“Sure, why not? There’s nothing in the world I’d like better than to spend more time with someone who conjured and abjured me into magical servitude. We spirits of the elements absolutely adore us some bringers and binders. It’s just all love and…” he ran down and gave me a bit of a sheepish look. “Over the top?”
“A little, maybe. After all, it was an ACCIDENT!”
The hare rocked back onto his hind feet and held his paws up placatingly. “Hey, no reason to get all yelley about it. Yeesh. All right, let’s go talk.”
There was another eight feet or so of hallway at the bottom of the stairs ending at the next steel door. I pulled it open and was just starting to step through when a blur of red went past my ankles and shot away into the hall.
“See yah, suck—URK!” About thirty feet down the hall the hare came to an abrupt halt like a yap dog hitting the end of its leash, as he once again ended up flat on his back.
When I caught up to him he was swearing in that strange crackly language full of hisses and sizzles and sharp popping sounds. After a while he spat out one last fiery word so pungent that it actually flared briefly in the air in front of his face before it puffed into smoke.
“You okay?” I asked.
“No. I am not okay.” The hare’s voice sounded husky and harsh, as though he really had been yanked back by a collar around his throat. “Nor am I all right, or any other human inanity. I am, in point of fact, bound to a mortal sorcerer, burn and blight you.”
“I’m not, you know.”
“Bound?” he growled. “Of course not!”
“No. A sorcerer. Not by any means or measure.” Nope, I was just going slowly mad.
“Not even, say, the binding of spirits of fire? Because your binding is what just kept me from making my exit stage right.”
“I… Well, when you put it that way, I don’t know what to say.”
He raised a paw like a student in class.
“What?” I asked.
“Say, ‘yes.’ Because, in the only way that matters from my point of view, you are definitely a sorcerer, and not the good kind.”
“I’m sorry! I’d release you if you’d just tell me your true name and how to do it.”
“Not happening, kid. Look, can we try an experiment? Because this has been a really crappy day for me and I’d like to know exactly how bad it’s going to get.”
“Sure, what do you want to do?”
“I’m going to lay here on the floor and try to get my throat to stop feeling like I swallowed a hedgehog and you are going to walk back up the hall to that door and a little bit past it. But not far past and not very fast. Do you understand?”
“Just go, please.”
I shrugged and went. When I got to the door I turned around so I could see Sparx, and then I began slowly backing up. As I passed the edge of the frame I felt a faint tugging sensation in the hand with the char marks from the nail. I also noticed that Sparx seemed to be moving with me, though at this distance it was hard to be sure.
“Stop,” called the hare. “Come back.” As I got closer I could hear him mumbling to himself. “Right, I’m in hell. And it looks exactly like an American high school. Is anyone surprised? Yeah, didn’t think so.”
I squatted on the tile beside him. “Now do you want to talk about it?”
“Fine. Whatever. I can’t see what good it’ll do, but we’re stuck with each other for the moment, so we might as well chatter away like a couple of airheaded sprites.”
“My teachers all say communication can solve a lot of problems if you give it a chance.”
“Of course they do,” said the hare, “they’re crunchy-granola, liberal, tree-huggers. They probably use ‘dialoguing’ as a verb and want you to be in touch with your feelings. Barf!”
I didn’t bother to answer. Instead, I headed down to the end of the hall, where someone had parked an old desk and some big metal shelves in a corner. Climbing them got me up to ceiling height, where I was able to push aside one of the tiles in the dropped ceiling and go from there to the top of the wall between the hall and the locker rooms. Sparx followed me up as nimbly as a cat.
Putting the tile back in place left me in complete darkness. I had added a little LED flashlight to my bag after the incident under the capitol, but I didn’t bother getting it out. I wasn’t going to be there long. Past exploration told me everything I needed to know about the area. It was full of dust and cobwebs and the top of the wall was the only solid footing. Which was too bad, because the narrow space between the true ceiling and the tiles was pretty cool in other ways. Tight and secret and protected. I’d always loved places like that—closets, the hidden space behind the drawers under my bed, the low tunnels through the underbrush on the hill above the school.
I raised a ceiling tile on the other side and climbed down to the top of the lockers. The first had had its door ripped off by some previous student and it made a dandy ladder. The gym beyond was dimly lit by a few high and filthy clerestory windows, so I didn’t turn the lights on, just climbed up to the top of the bleachers where the windows normally gave me enough light to read.
Going up there also made it dead easy to hide by ducking between the benches if someone did poke a nose into the gym—no teacher ever bothered to climb all the way to the top to check. Setting my jacket on the floor between the top two benches as a pad, I settled in and put my back against the side wall.
Sparx perched himself on a bench a few feet away. “It’s your nickel.”
“What? I’m confused again.”
The hare sighed. “About a million years ago, in the days before cell phones stalked the Earth, there used to be these things called pay phones that allowed you to make calls from public places by putting coins into them and… Forget it. You’re too young for that to even be funny anymore. You wanted to talk. Talk.” He settled back on his haunches and crossed his front legs impatiently.
“I…uh…that is…” What did you say to magic hare that you didn’t entirely believe in?
“Very enlightening. Do you always make this much sense? Or is it my lucky day? I have lots of those, you know. I’ve got four lucky rabbit feet. Ba-dum-tss!” When I didn’t respond, he shook his head. “Come on, kid, that was a joke—you can tell by the rim shot noise—work with me. Laugh.”
“I’m not really in a laughing mood.”
“Why’s that? I’m the one whose bound in durance vile, and you’re the wicked sorcerer who put me there. Oh, and there’s clearly something wrong with my powers since I can’t seem to walk through walls to save my fuzzy soul. I’m the one who ought to be in down in the dumps, not you.”
It was my turn to sigh. “Well, one of two things is true. Either I’m going crazy like my mom.” But then I shook my head. “Which, at this point I’m going to put aside, because I’m pretty sure I’m not clever enough to hallucinate something as simultaneously sarcastic and preposterous as you.”
“Or?” The hare cocked one ear forward.
“Or, you’re for real and magic is for real.”