It's a thing. Who knew?
Chapter 3, 14: Skunked
“I can’t believe you thought I made out with the Black Ninja!”
Rose’s words drifted through the darkness of the cabin, like the pine scent of the forest, and the puffs of night air from the lake that were slowly cooling Paradise Island from the day’s heat. Charlotte arched her head a little on the pillow to catch one of them, waiting to hear what Dora had to say for herself.
“Is that a denial?”
“We talked. And then he slipped up, and I got away.”
“That’s not a denial.”
“Oh, you’re so mean! No. He did not give me a hickie. I showed you! Remember? After dinner.”
“Uhm, I’m going to sound like a parrot now,” Dora began, though not with the idea of finishing, Charlotte could tell.
Outside on the roof, Ginger croaked, agreeing that Dora was not a parrot.
There was an intake of breath from the top of Dora’s bunk, where Rose was lying, staring upwards into the darkness like Charlotte. Who tensed, thrilled inside at the revelation that she suspected was coming.
“We held hands,” Rose conceded. “But it could have been anything. He was holding me captive!”
“Really? How did he hold your hands?” Images, of gold-on-gold, just bright enough to be seen, played across the cabin roof, like the lights you see when you squeeze your eyelids shut too tight. First, of a manly hand brutally gripping a girl’s wrists, changing into the same hands, now wrapped around the same hands, but with a light grip, like when you held a kitten’s paws and squeezed so gently, until their claws popped out. “There’s a difference,” Dora added.
Charlotte tended to agree. Somehow, Dora’s picture show made hand holding look kind of . . . hot.
‘I…uhm, more like the second, actually.” Rose sounded embarrassed.
“Ha! I thought so! For I am the sultry, worldly wise Latina,” Dora said in triumph.
Rose pounced on the change of subject that her friend offered her. “Oh, cut the crap, Dora. You’re the principal’s daughter, and you always will be.”
Charlotte perked up again. Knowing Dora, she was going to draw Charlotte into the conversation now.
And sure enough, “Sometimes the principal’s daughter is the bad one, you know. Instead of the one out of three who doesn’t have a boy crazy for her.”
Oh, that was too much. “Scout’s not crazy for me. He’s, like, way too cool to even notice I’m a girl.”
“Sheah, right,” Dora answered.
“Anyway,” Rose added, “What about Bruce?”
The pit dropped out of Charlotte’s stomach. “We’re just friends. I don’t even like Bruce that way. Why? What did he say about me?”
“What doesn’t he say about you?”
“Oh, come on, dish!” Charlotte said, amazed at how passionately the words came out of her mouth.
“Nothing,” Rose answered. In a very unconvincing tone.
Wow, Charlotte thought. That’s that question answered. Just wow. Bruce? But he was so immature. She had to think about this. And the more she thought about it, the more she realised just how much hotter Scout was than Bruce. Way to bring it into focus, Rose!
“So you’re not going to say deny about what he didn’t tell you?”
“Can I diagram that sentence before I answer it?”
“Is that an excuse to not answer?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“He told you not to tell me, didn’t he?”
“I have no recollection of any such event.”
Charlotte decided not to press it any further. Rose was too nice to fink out Bruce. Not even to Charlotte. But knowing that told Charlotte what she needed to know, and now it was her turn to feel the need to turn the conversation back on her friend. “So you know that my brother thinks that the Black Ninja is a Morlock agent, sent back from your future alternate timeline to stop you from stopping the Apocalypse Plague, right, Rose.”
“The theory has come up,” Rose said, deadpan. They’d spent hours hashing it over one night last spring in the basement of the Yurt after streaming Terminator 4. “And I still don’t know what to think.”
“The Ethics of Time Travel is a hard subject,” Dora said, lightly.
“No, it’s not,” Rose answered. “Ms. Grey sat me down and raked me over the coals on that one. Morlocks right, people who sent me back, wrong. Full sentence, period, stop. But, you know, if I believe that, I get to live. And I feel so guilty….”
“You shouldn’t feel guilty about having a chance to live, to love someone. Near, far. . . .”
Charlotte interrupted before Dora could actually start singing. “Oh, come on! That song isn’t remotely relevant.”
Dora stopped singing to answer. “You’re just embarrassed because Celine Dion sang it all cheesy, and you’re Canadian.”
“Dual citizen, thank you very much.”
“You’re building a great big dream castle, Dora,” Rose protested. “It’s just regular superhero/supervillain stuff. Black Ninja is worried that I’m on this planet looking for Mr. Suzuki, because he’s the only person who might have a cure for the Apocalypse Plague that I can bring to the past of my timeline.”
“Not to mention that Professor Paradigm can use to bribe people once he sets the Plague loose in the V’hanian Empire.”
“Oh, he would never go along with that,” Rose said. “Istvatha V’han rules a hundred million dimensions. Who knows how many of them have humans in them that the Plague would wipe out.”
“What are you saying about your boyfriend?” Dora asked.
“What says girl with no boyfriend?”
“Ouch!” Dora laughed. “I think I’m finally dragging you down to my level, Rose.”
The creepy feeling of menace that tickled down the back of Charlotte’s neck was like a motor. She was on the floor of the cabin –the surprisingly cold floor—before she even thought about getting up. Both big toes were firmly planted, her left hand down, three fingers out, like she was doing one-handed push-ups for her uncle. With her right hand she reached out under the bunk, letting her fingers lightly play over the hilt of the Pearl Tranquility as the creepy touch danced.
There! In the murky darkness, a flash of white, familiar in some ways, but different. “Guys? I think there’s a skunk in the room.” Charlotte whispered.
“Are you sure it’s not just a cat with a streak of white paint down its back?” Dora asked, lightly.
Heh. After the conversation they’d had, Charlotte couldn’t help thinking that herself. Unfortunately, “No. It’s Pepe for real.”
A creak sounded through the cabin, gently. And, in the slow time taught by Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu, Charlotte sprang off her fingers and toes and back onto her bed, rolling over and dropping down on the other side, where the bulk of the bed was between her and the skunk. In a hopefully unthreatening way, she rolled down the side wall of the bunkhouse, between the empty beds waiting for next year’s campers until she was opposite the window that someone had so stealthily opened. She stuck the scabbarded tip of the Pearl Tranquility into the window just before the sash bashed closed, presumably startling the skunk into letting loose.
A black, vigorous mass squirmed through the opening as she did so. Ginger was in the house! Through the window, against the black background of the forest, Charlotte caught a glimpse of an unfamiliar male, distinctly varsity, quarterback-looking face that would look just so right with Brittany hanging off of. Not that Charlotte was jumping to any conclusions about who was behind this, oh no. I’ll remember that face, Charlotte shot, telepathically. And I know I’ll see you again.
“What do we do know?” Dora asked.
In response, their wristcoms vibrated. Charlotte looked down at it. “Who’s this ‘we’ I hear you talking about, Paleface?” Rose typed so fast that she never had to use texttalk when she didn’t want to.
The front door of the bunkhouse gave a slight clicking noise. “She ditched us!” Dora hissed.
Another vibration. “It wouldn’t do us any good for us all to get sprayed. Don’t worry. I’ll sent the help when I get to Fort Apache.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Dora said. A golden glow sprang up around her bunk. One friend superfast, one friend with forcefield. Well, Charlotte was faster than a skunk, too. What a pathetic prank. But, oh, wait. “R clths,” she typed.
“Damn.” Buzzed back.
There was only one thing to do. Charlotte rolled over her bed and reached up, this time, at the little package she’d stuck to the bottom of the top bunk. Carefully, she pried it open.
Across the room, the little skunk’s nose perked up. Yeah, Charlotte thought. I’m there for cheese and crackers, too. A slight flutter of feathers behind her let Charlotte know that Ginger was vetoing any plan that involved her morning snack. Yeah, well, somehow I don’t think you’re going to get sprayed, bird, Charlotte thought.
Very slowly, Charlotte got into a knees-up crouch on the floor. “Hey, skunkie,” she whispered, in her best baby-talk voice. “Who’s a good little skunk? Does skunkie want some crackers?”
The skunk looked over at her warily. Charlotte let her hand on the floor and slid a cracker over in a direction that led the skunk further away from her. The skunk scurried after the cracker and wolfed it down, faster than she’d ever seen a skunk move. Which wasn’t actually that fast, because skunks didn’t have to be fast.
“Was that good?” Charlotte asked. “Have another one.” This one she flicked a little harder, a little more directly at the skunk. It snapped it up, and made a not-quite growly sound of happiness.
“Oh, you’re hungry, are you? But I bet you’re not hungry enough to hang around in the bad place.” She held back a long moment, to see what the skunk did next. And, sure enough, it got up on its hinfeet and tapped its talons against the mosquito screen of the nearest window.
Door, I need a door, Charlotte thought. This was the tricky part. Get to a door, open it, and lead the skunk through it without getting too close to the skittish animal. Carefully, slowly, Charlotte stood up, leaning back and away from the skunk as she did so. I’m totally not getting ready to pounce, Charlotte willed at the little skunk. In response, it curled up into a ball and tried to push itself into the wall, looking comically surprised that it didn’t give way and hide her. It. The skunk wasn’t a “her,” Charlotte corrected herself. Well, maybe it was. Who could tell? Boy skunks? Boy skunks were stupid, Charlotte thought, if Pepe LePew was anything to go by. Like most boys. But would most boys think a cat was actually a girl if she had a white streak painted down her back?
Charlotte shook her head. That analogy didn’t work at all. And Pepe LePew was a cartoon character, too. Not necessarily representative of skunks of the boy gender, was what she was saying to herself.
Charlotte walked, not so slowly now, since she was moving away from the skunk, to the west door of the cabin. The big, green-painted wooden door was already chocked open to let in the night air, so she only had to throw the latch on the mosquito screen door and open it, then set the catch on the sliding pushrod that held it open. The air came spilling in, green with the forest. It was surprising just how much the mesh screen held out. Charlotte put a cracker down in the door, and then backed away as far as she could in the bunkroom and still be moving away from both door and skunk.
Finally, after what seemed like hours and was probably only a minute or so, the skunk scurried forward and took the cracker. Then it paused, sniffing the outside, for another moment. Finally, it looked over its shoulder at Charlotte, the wariness in its eyes giving way to something a little more complicated.
It’s a he, she suddenly realised. And she knew what to call him, too. “Good-bye, Bruce,” she whispered. And the little skunk vanished into the darkness.
“Coast clear,” Charlotte tapped, then slowly made her way over to the door. No point in spooking Bruce the Skunk, in case he was hanging around the door waiting for another handout. Fortunately, there was no sign of a white-and-black furry critter when she got to the door.
Charlotte put her hand to the catch on the screen door and began to turn it loose, when her eyes caught something in the dark undergrowth. Something was out there, something. . . . spooky? Softly, smoothly, Charlotte sprang into the trees and moved forward, dropping one cracker after another as she followed the path towards the central clearing and the cookhouse. Below her, she could see white-on-black, contentedly ambling along, snapping up the crackers as he went.
Just before the trail opened up, Charlotte saw a boy and girl below. The boy, she recognised. The girl, she almost didn’t. It was Ken.
“Well?” Ken asked.
“The window didn’t slam,” the boy answered, sulkily.
“Why not? Never mind. Maybe the skunk won’t spray them, after all. That might be a bit too mean.”
“What are you saying?” The boy answered, far too loudly, just as Bruce walked into them.
Charlotte, for all her kung fu reflexes, just barely got clear of the rising spray of skunk mist.