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-Home-made Champagne-

 

I am at this very minute sipping on my first glass of home-made champagne of the night. "Impossible"!, I hear you say. But no, it is true.

I recently had to send my alcohol making equipment to an acquaintance's house while going through court on a somewhat trumped-up stalking charge, because during the court process I felt that the chances of getting randomly searched (as conditions of my previously held probationary status allows) were better than average.

That person asked if they could use the equipment while storing it, and I readily agreed as long as I could have a little skim of the "cream". They mixed up a batch of low-grade wine prior to converting it to the good stuff, as is required. I received 2 jugs of "wine" and 1 jug of hi-test. When I went to taste the wine earlier I tipped up the bottle for a little chug, and to my amazement when I tipped it back it frothed out of the bottle like a well-shaken bottle of Coke. It looks like pepto-bismol, and the taste has a sort of pleasant vinagrette tang to it, but it bubbles like the finest champagne.

So here I sit with an ice filled solo cup of home-made champagne. I'm DEFINITELY letting that acquaintance use my equipment again, even though court is over with a slap on the wrist 30 day house arrest with no bracelet, a small fine, and 2 years of big brother monthly visits at the probation office.

I've got to see if those results can be repeated using concentrated fruit juice as the main flavorant.

     I lifted the shotgun to my shoulder and trotted toward Smoky, who was still sniffing the pieces of shattered door glass. Smoke rose from his nostrils with each exhalation.

     I am so about to get myself barbecued, I thought. I wish Cooper was here; he'd know exactly what to do.

     Tears welled up in my eyes. Where was he? Was he okay? If he'd been sucked into that black pit of nightmares I'd seen ... damn it, I should have insisted we wait another day to summon the rain. We never should have gone out that night.

     I could have been curled up on the couch with Cooper, watching an old movie with little terrier-sized Smoky on his lap and my ferret on my lap, eating popcorn and laughing and smiling and kissing instead of being wet and scared and alone and not knowing what the hell I was doing in this stinking parking garage.

     I was about a dozen yards from Smoky. Close enough for a clean, strong hit with the shotgun, although I didn't want to do that. In the yellow lights of the garage, he was truly frightening: part dog, part Asian dragon, part centipede, all wrong. Green slime caked the edges of his lips -- blood, poison, or both? His eyes, I realized, were faceted like an insect's. Would he recognize me through his new eyes, or would I look as monstrous to him as he did to me?

     I set the shotgun muzzle down and leaned the stock against my damp leg so it would be close at hand. While Smoky had never been able to speak to anyone but Cooper, I hoped to get some kind of friendly response, and figured pointing a firearm at him wasn't the best tactic.

     I whistled at him. "Smoky! Smoky, whatcha looking at there, buddy?"

     His head jerked up from the smashed glass and he stared at me. His lips drew back from his daggerlike teeth in a snarl. Green poison dripped from the tips. A growl like an anvil dragging across concrete rolled out of his throat.

     Not the response I'd been hoping for.

     "Smoky, don't be like that. It's me, Jessie. You know me, I'm your friend. I fed you just this morning. Cooper's missing, and I need your help if we're gonna get him back."

     I slowly reached into my pocket, hoping I had a rubber band or hair tie in there, but could only find a loose thread from the stitching. It would have to do. I broke it off, and began to chant old words for "bind".

     At the first weak touch of my magic, Smoky lunged at me, fast as a striking cobra.

     No time to finish. I snatched up the shotgun, swung the muzzle up toward Smoky and squeezed the trigger. It blasted into his open mouth.

     Smoky roared and jerked back, shaking his head like a dog with a wasp-stung nose. I pumped the gun, aimed for his eye and fired again.

     Smoky bucked, and I didn't see his tail flailing toward me until it was too late. The tail slammed into my left shoulder, knocking me off my feet and the shotgun out of my hands.

     I tumbled across the concrete and landed backfirst against the cinderblock wall, knocking my head painfully. I lay there, dazed, expecting to feel Smoky's hot breath on my skin as his jaws clamped down on my prone body --

     -- but instead I heard glass breaking. I turned my head in time to see Smoky's tail disappearing through what was left of the doors to the Riffe Center. The shotgun lay ten yards away from me.

     "Oh great," I moaned, awkwardly sitting up. I'd banged up my knees and elbows and hands pretty well during my tumble. "This is going well."

     At least you're not barbecue, I reminded myself. Or giblet surprise.

     I scratched an itch on my left forearm, and my hand came away sticky with blood. Smoky's tail had torn my tee shirt and opened a three-inch gash in my shoulder. I couldn't see anything but blood in the wound.

     I tried to raise my left arm, and was answered with a bright blue spike of pain from the muscles and joint. It even hurt to make a fist. I had to take care of the arm before I could even think about tracking down Smoky.

     Bracing myself against the wall with my good arm, I climbed to my feet. There was a wriggling movement on the floor near the broken glass. I retrieved the shotgun and slowly approached it.

     Smoky's green blood had spattered on the floor, and a strange moss was growing from it. As I watched, the moss sprouted thorny tendrils that wiggled out across the concrete like earthworms seeking dirt. Or tentacles seeking meat.

     I stepped back out of tendril reach. You don't know what that is; don't even think about touching it, I thought. This ain't biology class; don't experiment.

     But if a few drops of blood produced this ... he was bound to bleed a lot more if I had to kill him. Would the strange flora die with him, or would it survive him?

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